By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Welcome back, wrestling fans, to another edition of Breaking In. In this installment I’d like to talk about a man that I call my Brutha, and a true road soldier in the business. I first met Vordell Walker back in 2007, when I was living in Savannah, Georgia. We worked together in a restaurant I was managing, and before long we were talking about the business, and not long after that I was riding the roads with him. I can’t think of a better example of perseverance and hard work in the face of trials and tribulations that than Vordell. Let’s take a look back to the Nineties, at a teenager that was driven to achieve.
Born in Hot-lanta in the Summer of 1980, Vordell was adopted while still a young baby by the Walker family and raised in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia. He attended private school until the third grade and then he moved over to public school and participated in pee-wee football, baseball, and soccer in middle school, but he was also on a diet of NWA and WCW in his freetime. The memories of the wrestling at the Savannah Civic Center still were crisp in his thoughts as he recounted those times:
“My Dad used to take me all the time to the Civic Center, and if I had family in town we’d all buy tickets and go. That was it man. I knew right then, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Like most kids of that generation, he wrestled around his backyard and in the trampolines of friends, fueling that fire to someday be in the ring. After graduating from middle school he attempted transfered to the only high school in the Savannah school district that offered a wrestling program, but he was unable to get it approved by the district. He attended Jenkins High School, but pressed his football coach to help him compete. His coach trained him in a three day crash course in amateur wrestling and he traveled to Groves High School and represented Jenkins, all by himself, in the 185 pound weight class. In doing this, he opened the door for other boys at high schools throughout Savannah, that didn’t offer full wrestling programs.
As the Nineties rolled on he, along with all the rest of us, got our first tastes of mixed-martial arts in it’s most pure form with the Bloodsport-esque arrival of the very first UFC tournament, and it made an impact on the young Walker.
“Shortly after watching the first UFC, with guys like Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie representing different styles, I said to myself that I gotta get involved in something like this. I made a bunch of calls and they ended up having a Judo school at the YMCA not far from where I lived, and another one way out by Port Wentworth, Georgia. I used to go out and train there for several years, and I enjoyed it. I really did man. It gave me a good foundation for pro-wrestling. It helped, I mean, it definetly didn’t hurt.”
Around the age of twenty, he started his professional wrestling training. He managed to scrape by, like most struggling college kids, and often donated plasma to pay for his MMA and wrestling instruction. When you want something bad enough, you’ll always find a way to make it happen. I’ve talked to many wrestlers that have done the same thing to try and hustle up the extra cash to keep their dream alive. They are truly giving of their heart and soul in pursuit of their craft.
As the early 2000’s rolled into view, Vordell was actively looking for wrestling schools to further his in-ring education. He talked to a close friend whose mother had been a wrestler back in the Seventies, and she told him the only school she was aware of was the Fabulous Moolah’s school in Columbia, SC. It was while working one of his two jobs that chance came knocking He was smart enough to recognize it, and answer.
“When I was working, this guy came into the restaurant and was asking directions. Myself, and another co-worker asked him what he was looking for, and he told us he was headed to the Civic Center. He said he was a promoter for WCW, and that he was looking for the venue to scout for an event. I told him I was looking for a wrestling school and that I wanted to try the Power Plant, or the ECW school, or Dory Funk’s school. So he told me about a guy that worked for a local car dealership who may be able to help and he gave me his name and number. I was so excited.”
He called the number and got in touch with Johnny Walker, not to be confused with the JW of Mr. Wrestling fame. This introduction opened up the door to a new school that Johnny told him about in the small town of Jesup, Georgia, not far from Savannah. Walker passed the number along for the promoter of the Georgia Wrestling Federation, and another door was opened for him. He contacted Ray Kinsey, who let him know that they were about to start weekly television tapings form an old shoe factory that was on Cherry Street there in Jesup. He told me a side story on his first times down the road:
“It was funny though man, cause I’m doing all this and making these connections, and I don’t have a car. So they hooked me up with another guy from Savannah that was going to be making to rides down, and we got together. From then on I was riding up twice a week to train and we’d do weekly shows on Saturday. We’d get up there and put the ring together and set up the chairs, cameras, sweep the floor…the grunt work. We were paying dues, though.”
The ring announcer for the promotion happened to also work for another promotion in up in South Carolina, and he noticed Vordell’s ability. He put out a good word, which resulted in Vordell and his riding buddy making the trips up there to work. With each and every new booking he was making a name for himself as a stand up guy, and a solid worker in the ring. It’s that “word of mouth advertising” that helps get many guys over throughout the independent circuit.
“Once we made the trips to South Carolina, it was just kinda like the snowball effect. Alot of that had to do with being at the right place, at the right time too, where somebody saw me that knew somebody else, and connections were made. Cause I tell you brother, back in the day I’d send out VHS tapes, with pictures, a business card and my wrestling portfolio trying to get bookings. I’d go to the post office and send em all priority mail. I would send out ten tapes, and I might get one reply. But in my honest opinion, everything that I’ve got is just being at the right place when an opportunity is there.”
Coming up in the time before wrestling schools were in every major town, guys had to cut their teeth on the roads and put in the miles to advance up the learning tree. While many guys will tell you that going to the right school now can be the best way to get placement in the upper levels of the business, I personally believe that the road has so much more to teach you about the business, and life that paying five grand to a school will get you. I can’t argue with the fact that learning from the “right” teacher can def get you a foot up on some of your peers in the business. I asked Vordell how he felt that the roads had been for him in that regard:
“This isn’t knocking anybody, but I was burning up the road before it got cool to burn up the roads. The majority of my time in the sport, I’ve done these trips on my own. Alot of people questioned why I drove all over the place, and the only answer I had was that I wanted to learn more and not be a big fish in a small pond. If I hadn’t taken that aggressive approach, I probably wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now. The name value that I’ve gotten, with no national contract, just from tearing up the road, I’m good with that man, ya know. The fans where I’m at now just know about me here, but before that I was in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and California and Mexico, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, you know.”
“It’s no sleep sometimes on the road. I’ve done all that man, and I’ve loved every minute of it, and I wouldn’t change any of it. Everything that I’ve seen that I’ve seen that I wouldn’t have been able to see if it weren’t for wrestling, and the road. The friends that I have now, that are in this sport, are like family to me. I’ve always found peace on the road.”
It was those travels on the road that led him to an outdoor show in 2003, with a match against Disco Inferno. After the match he asked about getting a shot with TNA, who Disco was helping to book for at that time. He connected him with promoter, and agent Bill Behrens, who gave Vordell a shot with a few dates in the Nashville area. That led him to the chance to work in Orlando for a few matches for their television tapings and the ball was rolling, as they say.
While in Florida, he was contacted by a member of the Full Impact Pro promotion to work a show at the Sun-Dome in Tampa where he wrestled C.M. Punk. The FIP promotion saw many future stars of the business go through their doors, including AJ Styles, Roderick Strong, Austin Aries, Homocide, Jamie Noble, and Kahagas, just to name a few. Working with the management at FIP led him to an opportunity to head up to New Jersey and work the ROH Do or Die event. He talked about getting that call and how it sparked his fire to make an impact there.
“I was ecstatic because that’s where I wanted to be. I wrestled in the pre-show, and worked as Mick Foley’s special guest to take on Samoa Joe that evening. I came back a few more times after that and moved on to the next stop.”
As it always seems to happen in sports and wrestling in particular, when you think everything is in the bag and all is well, thats when the unexpected happens. Vordell was suffering from a nagging knee injury long before he worked for ROH, but it flared up, which left him nursing that for a little while. It deteriorated more over time and he eventually had to have two surgeries on his left knee, which side-lined him for almost a year, until late 2006. He trained hard to rehab his knee and was back to working the scene in 2007, which was around the same time I met him.
Since coming back from the knee surgeries, he has had some great matches to round out his career. He has worked with the WWE on a few occasions over the years, and worked the WrestleMania at the Reliant Center, and stood alongside numerous John Cena clones lined up down the rampway as the real Cena ran past to make his grand entrance. Since 2013, he’s worked several dark matches and on-air spots, and recently made a trip to Full Sail University this year for NXT, and met with some folks there. In what many consider to be the match of his career, he recently faced Harry Smith of the KES and also the son of the British Bulldog in Charleston, SC for the OSCW promotion.
These days, Vordell is working at the Fire Department in the town where he lives in Louisiana. He went through the fire academy and is living out another one of his dreams as a firefighter. I have the utmost respect for Vordell and the road that he has traveled in pursuit of his wrestling dream. We chewed up many miles together, and collected alot of great stories along the way. His travels have left him with one of the best outlooks that I’ve ever heard on the business and the sacrifices it takes to make a name for yourself. I wanna close this article with something he said that resonated with me about this:
“I would tell guys to find a good school, and do it the right way. Work hard and stay focused. There will be times when you wanna quit and throw in the towel, but persevere and keep going. You chase dreams that are not normal to the average person. You gata tune out the naysayers and make yourself happy. Always be the hardest worker in the room, and always do a little something extra. Give it your best and then give it a little bit more, you know. Honestly sometimes man, you can work really, really hard and it’s just not meant to be. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t try, or you didn’t work hard. Sometimes it just may not be the way you’re path is supposed to go. You can’t let the struggle consume you.”
I will see you right here next week, and always remember…. Bruthas, Sistas, Marks, and Maniacs…..no matter what you do to get your foot in the door, when you’re given the opportunity, break it down!! Peace.