By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Welcome back Bruthas and Sistas, to another edition of Breaking In. This week I wanna take the time to talk about a promotion that holds a special place in my heart, and the man that is the creative heartbeat of that organization.
Born a child of the Seventies, and raised in Patchogue, NY., Joe Blumenfeld was drawn into wrestling early on by his older brother Jimmy. Being from New York, the two kids grew up on a diet of the weekly McMahon product offered up on their local television programming. He was immediately drawn to the heroic, fighter for truth and the American way, Sgt. Slaughter. As most forty-somethings remember, the character of the Sarge was reinforced on the G.I.Joe cartoon show in the Eighties. The ideals put forth by his idol and the real American heroes, always stayed with him and molded his actions as he grew older. When Joe was recalling his memories of childhood, I had to give a chuckle because I have very strong memories of doing the same thing he was describing to me:
“Me and my brother would push the furniture to the sides of the living room and roll around on the floor imitating the moves we saw the wrestlers doing. Eventually my Mom would come into the room to see what all the commotion was about, and try to separate us, but it never lasted long. We loved wrestling and we would dream of being able to get into that ring.”
I believe that any true fan, and almost every wrestler has had this same type of scenario in their formative years, and it is integral for anyone that really wants to embrace this business and succeed, to have some sort of knowledge of the history of how things were before the modern landscape that so many are only used to. The old school ways need to be observed more, and that is something that Joe and I agree on.
As he grew older, Joe’s broad shoulders, and size for his age was noticed by the football coach at his High School. He tried out for the football team and was put on the defense, where they quickly put his size and hitting power to use.
“I can remember I didn’t know that much about how to play the game of football. I was there because I was bigger than most of the other kids that were on the team. The coach put me in as a tackle and told me to hit anyone that had the ball. Just follow that ball and put whoever has it, in the dirt…that’s what he told me.”
After leaving high school, Joe went to on the the Blue Collar College of the Working Man, where he received his Master’s Degree in busting his ass and putting meat on the table for himself, his first wife. Life has a way of grabbing you by the nose and taking you where it thinks you want to go, but sometimes, that just isn’t your true plan. This was the case for Joe and when the path he was on wasn’t working out, he decided to start again fresh.
A friend told him he should try moving to the South, but he was leary because none of the representations he remembered being portrayed, didn’t paint it in a very appealing light. Every man comes to that point in his life where he must choose between the risk of failure in a new place and the trap of security that living in your hometown can bring. Those who leave and roll the dice to chance almost always come out on the winning end, as compared to those ascribing to the 9 to 5 mediocrity of the rat caught the maze on the unending hunt for the cheese of personal fulfillment that forever eludes them. Joe put the wind to his sails and headed to South Carolina, where he found it to be quite a different place from his expectations.
“When you live in the North all your life, you see and hear all these ideas about what the South is supposed to be about. Everyone wears bib overalls, and all the roads are dirt, that kinda thing. Let me tell you, nothing could have been farther from the truth. The people here are some of the nicest I’ve ever met, and the country here is so beautiful. I’m sure they had ideas about a New York boy too, but they were so welcoming to me. I wish I woulda came down here sooner.”
Joe is one of the hardest working people I know. It didn’t take him long before he landed a job at a small Italian restaurante’ that happened to be owned by a fellow New Yorker. Having a proper slice, and plate of pasta would give the transplant that little taste of home to ebb the feelings of missing family and friends. As we’ve learned, sometimes when you least expect it, life can hit you in the head like a dropkick from Okada.
On his trips back and forth from work each day, Joe would gaze into the windows as he passed. He instantly took notice of a cute, young blonde working at the salon next door to the restaurant he worked in. He decided he had to figure out someway of talking to her, so he passed her a not through one of her coworkers, and recalled her reaction.
“I was just down here trying to make a new start of it, and wasn’t looking to fall in love. But that’s exactly what happened. The first time I laid eyes on Mary Sue, I knew I had to get to know her. She told our friend that if I wanted to talk to her I needed to get the guts up to do it in person. I’m so glad I did. She’s my everything, and I can’t see living life without her being a part of it.”
The two dated and married not so long after. Joe continued to follow wrestling but establishing a foundation for his new family was his priority. As I stated before, Joe is a worker. When he’s not sleeping or eating….he’s at work somewhere until he takes the lone day off each week. He couldn’t get the idea of getting in the ring off his mind though. He discussed it with his new bride and decided to follow his dream in 1999, at the relatively late age of thirty-one.
He got introduced into the business by David Kerr in early 2000, with only a limited knowledge of the inner workings of the ring. He had his first match with Tommy Feather in South Carolina, and the story behind that is what this series is all about.
“When I got my first real match, I told Tommy that I only knew like three moves and how to take bumps. He told me that’s all I needed to know and hit em when he said so. We went out there and he made me look like a million bucks, the match made not have been one for the ages, but it felt great.”
The lessons of the road weren’t always so good to him, and Joe suffered through a promotions or two that left him feeling like the wrestling business needed to see some changes on the promoting end of things. After driving through a winter snowstorm in order to make it for a booked spot at a promotion up North, he arrived only to find out there would be no gas money or hotel room taken care of. He worked the show anyway and when he got his envelope it only had five dollars in it. After that experience he vowed that if he ever had his own promotion that no worker would ever get a short envelope or less than what they had been promised.
He kept his big heart in the business and accepted the sacrifices and lumps as paying his dues. He continued to work his Sgt. Solitude character whenever he could get an opportunity to do so. He ran across an opponent at a show that he immediately took a liking too. It began as a working friendship with Dan “Hans Bumgartner” Johnson, that soon turned into a real life friendship between the two. That’s how it is with Joe and Mary Sue both; once you get to know them they welcome you in with open arms. Joe told me a story about how just after his Mom passed away this year that Dan, who had just pulled a three day run at his job at the Fire Department in Augusta, Georgia, drove straight through to see how his best friend was doing and to offer support when he heard Joe was hurting. THAT, Bruthas and Sistas is a true friend, and an excellent display of brotherhood. I saw Dan work as Hans when I first arrived in Georgia back in 2008. He had the heel angle of the hated German National down to a tee. I loved to watch him work it, and after talking to Joe about the character of the man, I liked his work even more.
Another man that helped Sgt. Solitude on his journey to learn the business, was “Playboy” Bob Keller. Bob helped him sculpt his work, and would eventually become an essential piece of the puzzle for what Old School Championship Wrestling would eventually be morphed into. When Joe decided to start running his own shows, Keller was there from the earliest days of the promotion, and attending the shows at Weekend’s Pub on Red Bank Road near Charleston, SC., and offering advice to the young upstart promoter. I reached out to Bob to see what he had to say about this time in the infancy of OSCW:
“I pulled Joe off to the side one night at a show at Weekend’s Pub, and told him that I thought the inmates were attempting to run his asylum, and that if let it continue for long that his promotion would go stale, and shows would start to drop in attendance. Guys just can’t show up with their own ideas about how they want a show to go on the night of the event, because they’ve spent the last two hours driving to the show with their buddy talking about how they think the show show come off. It just doens’t work, and that’s what I told Joe. I came on board with him, and brought the ring, and all the gear, to try and help him mold Old School into what he was looking for. He and Mary Sue come up with the pieces to the puzzle and I help them out it together, but it’s their puzzle.”
As the two began to bounce ideas off of each other, with Keller on the booking, the pieces indeed, started to fall into place. As they grew from business associates to friends, and then to family, OSCW also grew in both scope and clarity of the vision they wanted to bring forward to the fans of professional wrestling in South Carolina. Joe also continued to wrestle but never put himself over as the top Champion in the promotion, preferring to stand back and let others shine. This selflessness is one of the things that I, and everyone that I know, love about Joe. He gives of himself to a fault sometimes, but he never turns his back to a friend, or someone he feels deserves the chance. I think Bob really got it right when he said:
“It’s hard to talk about Joe without talking about Mary Sue. I mean, they’re family. That’s all that can be said. That’s how they treat you. Joe knows my home address and my brother doesn’t. That shows you how close I am to them. He’s the type of guy that. wholeheartedly, I can trust him. I could hand him my wallet full of money, and leave, knowing that when I came back Joe, my wallet, and all the money would still be there. That’s a rare thing these days, and there’s very few people on this Earth that you can do that with. Joe is one of the people that kept me in the wrestling business after my Father died. I love Joe and Mary Sue. I would do anything for either of them.”
It is the sense of family that binds OSCW together, and I can say from experience, when you walk into one of their events, you can feel that from the time you Mary Sue sells you your ticket. Everyone is happy, smiling, and they all know each other; fans and workers alike. The OSCW fans are some of the best I’ve ever encountered. They are there, every time the doors open up at their new home on Maybeline Road at the Hanahan Recreation Center. They moved to using that as their regular venue in 2011, and have used it as a platform to grow the promotion in the decade since.
Joe made it very clear that it was a Roman-like triumvirate of power sharing situation with him thinking up the concepts, Keller breathing life into them, and Mary Sue marketing the event and handling all of the bookkeeping logistics in order. Keller assured me that it was like Joe and Mary Sue were the parents and he was the crazy Uncle, and when Mom and Dad aren’t around, he’s in charge. I got a good laugh out of that, but it’s not far off the truth.
OSCW would not have gotten where it is without a solid crew of hard working professionals like John Skyler, Brandon Paradise, Nick Kismet, The Washington Bullets, Reginald Vanderhoff, Brett Wolverton on the announce and commentating, and so many others that have established Old School as a destination promotion to work at in the Southeastern States. They also bring in top tier workers to headline events such as Gangrel, Al Snow, Vordell Walker, Luke Gallows, and of course, Sgt. Slaughter.
Like everyone else that crosses the threshold of Old School, they too become extended family. Gangrel had continued to come back time and again to work with Joe, as well as mentor the members of his crew. I reached out to journeyman wrestler Vordell Walker and ex-OSCW Champion Brandon Paradise to get their feelings on the family environment there.
Vordell spoke about it, and explained:
“You know man, it’s like being with your family, in and out of the ring. I just wished I still lived closer so I could see them more. I’ve had one of the best matches of my career there when I faced Harry Smith, the British Bulldog’s son, earlier this year.”
Brandon recalled a great moment from his wedding, that left Joe teary eyed and proud of his young mentee, and Joe got choked up when he tried to tell me this one, so I knew I had to get Paradise involved and get the story from the source:
“Joe and Mary Sue are two of the most incredible people on the face of this planet, bar none. They work so hard to put on theses shows and make sure everybody gets paid well. There hasn’t been one show where Mary Sue hasn’t had a whole heap of food laid out afterwards for all the workers and everything. We don’t expect any of that, but she always comes through with it. That just goes to show you how dedicated they are to their people. It’s a family there, we’re like their kids. As far as Joe goes, I could sit here for hours and tell you all the good things about him. He never stops. He eats, breathes, and lives Old School. He never complains or bitches, he just does what has to be done to keep the show going. personally as a fan, and a worker, they’ve done so much and mean so much to me.”
He went on to talk about his wedding and the special arrangements he had in mind:
“I didn’t wanna do the standard wedding entrance, there has got to be something different. So I thought of an NwO entrance, and I got to thinking about it. I was Champion at the time, and I knew Joe would love it too. I got my groomsmen involved and told then they would be coming out to NwO music, and I was going to come out to the Hollywood Hogan music. They came out doing the “too sweet”, and everything like that but then that music stopped and the Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child started up. I came out and had the OSCW championship belt doing the guitar on it, you know. I knelt down next to Joe and said, ‘This one’s for you Pops.’ as I walked past. It was awesome
I also talked with retired wrestling and sports writer for the Charleston Post and Courier, and my personal wrestling Guru, about the impact of OSCW, and how Joe has grown that promotion:
“Well you know, Old School is the longest running independent promotion in this area. It’s twelve years, and still going strong. I consider it more of a wrestling family than a wrestling company. Joe and Mary Sue are such great people, and I have never been part of any independent promotion that feels like that one does. They open their home to the workers, and it’s just a real nice vibe that they create.”
While Bob Keller may be the mad scientist in the shed out back of the house, cookin up the storylines, or Mary Sue greeting the fans with a smile, and feeding the bellies of her hard working crew, every family needs a strong patriarch to hold the whole mess together. Someone to turn to when times get tough because you know in your heart that you don’t have to wonder of they’re going to be there or not; he always is.
Another thing that sets Joe apart from most is his love of the soldiers and those serving in the military, and the patriotism that he has for his red, white and blue. Early on in our conversation he made his feeling very clear about this
“The four jobs that I have the most respect for are soldier, police officer, fireman/woman, and EMT people. The first responders that are there to help when we need it. You can say what you like about the government, but I don’t want to hear anyone knocking our soldiers that go out and do their jobs in places that no one wants to be in. First responders too. I have so much respect for them and what they do.”
It’s safe to say that I could have contacted everyone that Joe knows, and received the same response to my question on the character and what the man means to them. Joe is a father, brother, friend, and boot in the ass to those who need it. He has one of the biggest hearts in this business, and is always there for the people in his crew and fanbase. Being introduced to this group of people in the little city of Charleston, South Carolina is one of the moments in my travels across this country that I will always cherish. If all promotions ran like OSCW, there would be a Helluva lot less horror stories about workers getting screwed over in the business, and for sure a rise in the amount of solidarity and unity that is lacking out there as well.
Well that brings our time together to an end for this week. Have a safe and happy 4th of July. Drink good, eat better, and enjoy the festivities. Don’t go blowing your damn fingers off with fireworks, and make sure the animals are out of harm’s way when you spark em’ off. I will see you right back 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.