By Paul Stratoti, Contributing Writer
Our very own CAC reporter Paul Stratoti was on hand February 10, 2007 at Turner’s Hall when Greg Valentine presented a Wrestling Training Seminar for Cleveland All Pro Wrestling. Four years later, my friend JT was gone. It is my honor to share with the CAPW and Cauliflower Alley Club communities a look at one of JT’s many memorable events and look forward to shedding more CAPW memories in the weeks to come:
Greg: “Well, I’ll tell you, when I first got into the business, a lot of the older guys were the ones who were on top. They worked with the young guys and that’s how we were taught. Eventually I became an old guy and now I’m teaching the young guys. That’s the nature of the business.
“How Vince did it, all these guys that he wanted to get rid of the new guys had to make their own star. There was nobody to pass the torch the right way. Understand? He got rid of all these guys who wanted more money or knew the business as much as he did and he figured that he could create everything himself but you can’t do that because you need the older guys passing the torch to the younger guys. Old guys vs young guys; that’s the nature of the business. Hopefully, I’m going to work the same no matter what. Like the match I had last night I worked on a guy’s wrist, then he took over and got heat on me on one hold and that was it, we went home.
Future WWE superstar Johnny Gargano works over another green CAPW wrestler as Greg Valentine observes intently
“Confidence and less is more as JT says. With the nature of the business here where the old guys are not around to reach the young guys… I guess the reason I and guys like Ricky Steamboat learned so fast is that he was in there with Legends every night. When there is a veteran every night you’re going to learn quicker than not. When there are 2 green horns in there against each other then you have the blind leading the blind. You still have to work through that. Unfortunately, the business has changed because of the way Vince changed it. He thinks that you can take someone off the street who has a good body and teach him how to work. Ultimate Warrior is a perfect example. Everybody hated to work. He didn’t even like the business and he made all kinds of money and finally he held Vince up and now he’s gone.
“I was talking to JT about back in the day. The business is easier to get into now. Anyone can setup a school and teach these young guys to lace up their boots and learn how to wrestle. It’s easier to get into but a lot harder these days to make money and make it on top because of Vince. The quality of the wrestlers that come in is down. Also, the territories are gone. It’s a sad thing. We just have to work it out. I would love to see a resurgence of independents. JT’s got television. That’s great.
“When WCW got bought out Vince controlled the whole damn thing. Why should he control the whole business? Johnny Valentine, Dick the Bruiser, Ernie Ladd; these guys had the business and the ones who owned the business. Why should he own you? It’s sad and it really stinks. We can change that. Get out there and make these independents worth coming to watch. Respect yourself, then we can change it. Maybe not in my lifetime.”
“I spent most of my career as a heel. I’ve been a babyface here in the independents. What I like to do is put that babyface over during the 1st part of the match. Get him selling it. Then get him down and build a comeback. I spend a lot of time right there in that corner. Get the referee to get in between you and your opponent. Just little tricks to get heat.
“Tag team wrestling; the best way to get heat is wrestling with cheap heat like pulling stuff out of your trunks, gouging eyes, whatever. Wrestling heat is the best way to get heat. The heels who draw a lot of money are the ones who can wrestle. It came to a point where people knew they could wrestle but then they would cheat and piss the fans off. Reverse psychology there. Learn how to wrestle a heel and then you don’t have to cheat. Cheat anyway so the fans say ‘What? He’s a good wrestler. Why did he have to do that?
“Do legal tags so the referee sees it. You may make frequent tags back and forth. I used to tag Beefcake in then together throw our opponent into the corner. He’d fall down and start crawling. These were legal tags. Try to keep everything visual and then when you do sneak a tag in once and awhile, don’t bury the referee, don’t bury the babyfaces. Babyfaces can hurt the referee too if he holds the referee too long and he pushes the babyface out and you have a beating frenzy here in the corner. When the babyface gets pushed out all the heat goes to him if he doesn’t let the referee turn around. There’s a thin line there. That’s where the heels can stop that from happening. Don’t have a cheating frenzy like that. Let the wrestlers turn around.
“Many times I got into the ring with a green referee and had a finish just perfect. My opponent’s shoulders were down and the ref went 1, 2, and he didn’t count to 3. DAMN! We had to do something else. That happened a lot of times. It’s up to you guys to make sure that you don’t get counted out. You know what the finish is. He knows what the finish is but if everybody is laying down there and doesn’t pull up his shoulders in time he should be counted out. I used to do a thing with Earl Hebner, me, Beefcake and the Rougeaus. I hated working with the Rougeaus…They had us doing the same stupid things so I was messing with Earl. He was counting my shoulders on the mat and I used to do this to him all the time: He’d get close to counting to 3 and I kept raising my shoulder. I kept doing it and doing it. Finally, he just counted me out anyway. Well, I got called to the office and they asked ‘What the hell did you let the Rougeaus go over for? I said ‘I didn’t. I pulled my shoulder up and he counted me out anyway. He got mad because I was making him work. Being a referee is a tough job.”
Promoter JT Lightning then had this to say: “Another thing is do consistent counts. If you’re fast, stay fast. I tell my guys to keep their eyes on the referee.”
Greg: “Very important. The 3 count has to be with authority. That’s the key. Help him out because he’s the middle guy there. He’s the one who can get all the heat and take the heat away from you if you’re the heel but if you’re the babyface he can put the heat on you too. So you’ve got to take care of the referee. It’s important for him to learn the business too. It’s a tough job. I refereed when I first started out and I hated it. It’s a horrible job. He’s the weaker guy but he’s the authority figure.”
One of the students asked him what made him want to get involved in the business:
“Because of my Dad. I was going to college and I wasn’t even living with him. He was in Texas and my parents were split up. So I went on the road with him in Texas in 1969 or 1970 when he was the Texas Heavyweight champion. It was a great territory which ran Dallas every week, San Antonio, Corpus Christy, Houston, a spot show every Saturday night, and Dad was over like a SOB. I’d watch some of the matches and there weren’t any really bad matches but I didn’t really grasp my attention until I saw him work and notice the difference. There were a few other guys like Killer Karl Cox, Fritz von Erich and the different people who had the intensity level who caught your attention to where you enjoyed watching it and it got me hooked. He wanted me to go back to college but I didn’t have any desire to go so he sent me to Stu Hart’s Dungeon and I became a changed man. I stood up there about 8 months when I finally called him and begged him to get me out of there and to send me some place else so he sent me up to Detroit with the original Sheik and that was great.”
NOTE: During this time I wanted to bring up his then tag partner, not to interfere with the seminar, merely injecting a new transition should Greg be wondering where to refer to next.
Strat: …and might I add that during that time you were wrestling as Johnny Fargo.
Strat: “and you were very successful tag teaming with Donnie Fargo.”
Greg: “That was because of him because after I came from Stu’s I was still really, really green and in Detroit, still green of course only being in the business a year or 2. He liked me and said ‘You don’t have to use the Valentine name yet. You’re not ready for it.’ And I wasn’t. The promoters wanted to use it but I didn’t want to be a hindrance to my father so I became Johnny Fargo. It was a great situation because Don was a great person to learn off of in tag team wrestling which is a great way to learn especially since my partner was a veteran and I was a new guy. We wrestled right here at one of the greatest outdoor events at the old Cleveland Indians Stadium.
Strat: “The Wrestling Super bowl”
Greg: “…and my Dad was on that card, too…”
Strat: “In the main event.”
Greg: “…against Johnny Powers. The Fargo Brothers were against Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Chief White Owl. That’s really when I started learning. Like I said, you learn from the veterans. JT is teaching you guys to be a veteran. This big guy here may be a veteran someday.”
[Greg points to his tag-team partner for the following night’s main event, Jason Bane.]
“So, you aught to listen to the guys who have been around for awhile because those are the only guys that you can learn from. Watch old school matches too. You’ll learn a lot from that.
“I know that you like the flying stuff. I appreciate the athleticism but there’s a difference…
“There are a lot of people who criticize John Cena…He’s been pushed to the max, but he’s not as good as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He’s on the same wavelength, but they’re trying to push him down your throat.
“I don’t watch TNA. It isn’t because I don’t like it. I just don’t watch it. I watch WWE of course, but not all the time either. I enjoy watching one of the old school guy’s son, Randy Orton. He started out really young and he’s my favorite of the young guys. He’s got the old school and mixes it with the flying stuff and confidence…”
The Training Seminar commences.
On Mic Time
“You’re really better off learning how to talk yourself than having a manager. Usually a manager is with a heel. Boy, it’s really an important part, being able to talk because being able to talk you can get yourself over. Ox Baker could do a beautiful interview by putting up that big ol’ fist and that ugly face. Then he would go wrestle and draw a big house and that would be about it. One time around, he did that interview and threw that “Heart Punch” and he got over. I wouldn’t say that only one match and he was finished but pretty soon they started seeing through it and they didn’t like him. He didn’t draw anymore.
“A lot of guys can draw money with just an interview. But you have to be able to back it up in the ring after that. It’s very important that you learn how to wrestle and how to do interviews. I don’t really like yelling and screaming but if you have a heated issue with another guy you’ve got to be emotional about it. Back in the old days I’d see people watching TV and they would see wrestlers yelling on TV. They’d shut it off. But if you breathe down to a level where they’ve got to listen to what you’re saying whether you’re yelling or screaming at them then they’ve got to listen a little bit with your highs and lows, then you can pull them right in and you’ve got them. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about and what you’re going to say. Make it with an outline.
“Gene Okerlund was beautiful because he can take a guy who could not talk and make him talk. He’d bring it right out of him. That’s super but not everybody has mic guys like that. It’s very important to have interviews and if you’ve got television that’s great because that’s the only way to learn. You can learn the basics here but the real learning comes in front of the crowd. You’re going to have butterflies probably until the end of your career, that’s nothing to worry about because you’re anxious and want to have a good match but once you get into the ring and you look up the butterflies should be gone and you’ll be on your way. That’s just anticipation and that’s normal. The adrenaline is going to flow especially with a big crowd. I’ve wrestled in some small crowds and I know that it hurts when you feel every little body slam, every little punch and every chop 10 times more than it normally would than with a big crowd but you’ve still got to do it and you still have to stick to your guns. OK, let’s have some questions.”
“What’s it the atmosphere like at WrestleMania, is it like a Superbowl?
“I guess it is the Superbowl of wrestling now. They have so many different pay-per-views. The first pay-per-view was in ’85. Then they had 3 other ones in Royal Rumble, Survivor Series and Summer Slam. Now they have one every month. Then in WCW they had 2 every month. But WrestleMaina is the grand-daddy Superbowl. I guess number 23 is coming up…
“You know, I was thinking about this today. Who’s seen this MTV thing?
Strat: “I’ve seen it a couple of times.”
Greg: “You saw it?”
Greg: “What did you think of it?”
JT: “Why did you watch it a couple of times, (expletive)!”
[The students laugh]
Greg: “Yeah, my wife had it on but it was on another show that featured highlights of what was coming on Tuesday night. I saw a guy hit his head real hard on the railing and you could tell that he messed himself up real good and they just kept on going and there was just no sense of it at all and I’m not making fun of small guys, but these guys were small. I’ve never seen small guys draw money doing that kind of crazy stuff because it makes no sense. Unfortunately, this business is like boxing. To draw big money there’s heavyweight division. That’s why guys wanted to get as big as they could. The biggest crowd I ever saw had two of the biggest guys when Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant. New Yorkhas always been a Heavyweight territory. I know that they’ve mixed, matched and put smaller guys in there but the fans want to see the heavyweights.”
JT: “Look at it this way. Who is drawing more money, John Cena or the X-Division in TNA? …”
Greg: “If you want to make this a good career and not just a weekend hobby, you want to learn how to work and not learn all these crazy things because if you do you’re going to get hurt. Those guys are going to get hurt. I know 10 years from now they won’t be working. They aren’t going to last 35 years like I did.
“I once was doing a lot of flips, and flips off the ropes when a guy once told me I was doing too many flips, ‘You’re flopping around. Learn how to work. Be a fighter. Watch Muhammad Ali box.’ So I watched Ali box and I saw him mixing boxing with wrestling. That kind of crap doesn’t make it look like a shoot. Make it look like a shoot. I’ve been in this business 36 years and I feel like I’ve been in it 10 years. It just goes that quick. Life goes quick and if you want to be in this business for a long time, then learn how to wrestle. Don’t worry about flipping. If that’s all they’re going to hire down there, as far as I’m concerned, Jeff Jarrett doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. He ain’t got a clue. He’s nothing but a mid card guy and always has been and puts himself on top. I’ll say that right to his face. I was on some show on ESPN because they brought me in because they wanted someone from WWE because TNA had switched networks. I told them that the ring looks different and they’d never be on WWE unless they change it.
I worked in Puerto Rico once right after I finished up in WWE in ‘92 with Carlos Colon. I didn’t have to stay down there but I’d come in on the weekend for about 10 years. They’d have some gimmick matches but basically the people believed in it, they’d beat on a guy but then they’d grab a hold and work that hold. I can sell this arm and make the whole match selling the arm. That’s how you last.
“My Dad used to put guys in the “Front Facelock” for 20 minutes. You’d never see the guy’s face. The people were so pissed because they couldn’t even see the babyface. He made them anxious and got control of them.
“They used to have some fat guy who came down to Allentown TV and started shouting ‘BORING, BORING!’ when I told Vince McMahon Sr. ‘Get rid of that guy!’ because every place we went where we tried to work a hold people started shouting ‘BORING, etc’ and all the guys would get nervous because this fat piece of shit , I’m not against people who are fat, my brother-in-law is fat, but this guy would go all over with us and when us guys would start trying to work a hold and this guy would keep yelling ‘BORING. BORING’ and people like Pat Patterson and the other agents who think they know everything about work told me to ignore them. Don’t let the people tell you what to do in your match! You do what you want to do in your match. My Dad told me ‘To hell with them. They can say ‘BORING’ all night. Don’t listen to the crowd, re-educate them!’ He was the ultimate ring psychologist.
“All fans want to believe in wrestling. When you go see a movie you know that the movie is a work. You know that it’s not for real but you go in and watch it. If it’s a good movie you’re sitting on the edge of your seat and you’re forgetting about all the bills and hassles. You’re not picking apart the event and saying that it’s phony. You’re in to it.”
[One of the students then asks about back stage etiquette.]
“I don’t worry about whether the guys in the locker room respect me or not. However, for your organization you guys have to respect your elders and no fighting in the dressing room. That’s a no-no and I’ve seen it in the big time where guys would get into fights and it’s all awful. And no fighting out here either. I’ve seen that happen and that ruins the business. If you want to go fight, go out into the parking lot. I don’t like it at all. It’s a cancer in the dressing room and if you have an attitude like that you should be fired and told to hit the road. It’s all about respecting each other too. Care about the guy you’re working with. When you pick him up and slam him, think about his body hitting the ground. You’re not out here to kill the guy.
On Chemical Dependency
“Another thing is try to stay clean on everything. The bad thing about steroids we’re finding about now is that so many of the guys’ muscles tear away from the ligaments after so many years of abuse. You screw up your organs and your muscles become stronger than the ligament and it starts pulling away from the bone. I know that some guys are going to do it anyway, but just don’t do too much of it. Watch yourself on drugs. It’s all bad. I’ve done it like a big rock and roll band going all over the country. I’ve learned my lesson. I know the temptation. I’ve done it all, been there, done that. Stay away from that. Keep your head clear. I know the first 5 or 6 years that I was learning this business I wouldn’t even drink a beer. I wanted to be focused to learn, to learn, and to learn more. Once I thought I knew something, then I’d indulge in some stuff but you’ve got to keep your mind open and clear. Being juiced up, coked up, or speeded up is not good. In the end you’ll get a DUI and ruin your career.
[Another student asks about fan interactions]
Greg: “Well, I couldn’t stand ECW but I guess they had fans participating in it where they’d go out beat on a guy. That’s a big time lawsuit and I don’t know how they got away with it. Fans participating in a match, that’s crazy, just crazy! I don’t like that at all.
The crowd should be behind the barriers and the only way that they should be able participate is by yelling and screaming and clap, whatever. If they bought a ticket then sit in that chair and any mark that gets in that ring you’ve got to take care of it. Knock his teeth out. You’re not going to get sued if he gets into that ring. But if you overly aggressively beat a mark up when he gets into the ring I think you can get into trouble. The best thing to do is get him out of there as fast as you can just don’t beat him up. You are a pro no matter if they think it’s fixed or not.”
JT: “I always tell these guys if a fan is paying for the opportunity to say “Fuck you” let them say it but as soon as they get into the ring you open up on them. Never f’n touch a guy unless they walk their head through those ropes. Then it’s open game. Even now that we’ve got the railing never touch a guy because my insurance only pays so much.”
Greg: “When a guy is yelling like that take it like a compliment, especially if you’re a heel. You cross a certain edge where even if a guy hits you first, you’re in a lawsuit because you’re in the fans’ territory. Down in Puerto Rico some guy right in front of me just got out of the ring and tried to get back and my partner started fighting and they all just swarmed us. If you’ve got that kind of heat, don’t hit him back, just keep moving because you’re the ones who pissed him off and it becomes a chain reaction, especially in Puerto Rico. Get to that dressing room. You’re a big pro wrestler. You can take a shot, now. You never know. You can be hanging out among the crowd and someone pulls a knife, it’s bad.”
[A student asks about balancing wrestling with married life]
“I was gone a whole week in some of these territories. I’d come back home and tried to make my wife happy in one or 2 days. I was tired. It’s not a great business to be married but you can do it. You think 3 strikes and you’re out but I said to hell with that, and I got married again for my 4th marriage. I’ve been with my wife for 22 years. It’s the hardest thing ever to be married in this business. In WWE I was married to the same woman I’m married to now, Julie. After 2 weeks of wrestling I’d come home and for 3 days I’d be like a zombie for the 1st 2 days and the 3rd day I came out of my shell. Then, bang, I’d be gone again. I’d be gone for 4 days, come back home which wasn’t so bad, then again I’d be gone from 10 – 14 days. It takes a good woman, and if you’re going to make this your career and you’re going to be in the big leagues then you are really married to the business. You’ve got to balance it. You’ve got to remember that you’ve got a wife, children, and God you’ve got to take care of that. You’ve got to let her know that this is your bread and butter. ‘You married me and you knew I was a wrestler’ – this is what you have to stick by. You know what I love. So many wives have tried to get their man to quit wrestling. Stick to your guns. You’re really married to this business if you’re in it for the long haul. This may sound harsh but it’s the only way you can make it work. You have to think about the business. You have to push the mic that is right there too. Do you guys make sense of that?
[The group of students concur in unison]
That’s why there is so many divorces in this business. Then you have to look at their track record too, you know? Where the woman has been. It’s not always the woman’s fault. Look at yourself too.
That’s why I like Florida; a lot of beaches and a lot of sexy women. That’s the fringe benefit of the business. If you’re a young guy in the business then I would advise you to go out there and have a good time enjoy the business as the fringe benefits are that women chase you all over. Have a good time in this a unique business. There’s no other business like it. Nobody can figure it out all the way and you can never kill it. That’s been proven because they’re trying to kill it. It’s a unique and great business.
I never had hobbies. I have a boat. You have to think about your body and do safe things. Riding a motorcycle definitely isn’t a safe thing. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don’t take high risk and don’t have risky hobbies.
My Dad and myself, we just loved this business. Just like my wife and kids, I love this business. This business can rip your heart out. It can tear you apart, or it can make you the happiest sunovabich in the world.”
Tracy Smothers, JT Lightning and Gypsy Joe (L to R)
Article by Paul Stratoti just sent to the Gorilla Position website