By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor
Welcome back, Bruthas and Sistas, to a new edition of Life Through the Lens. In this series, we take a look back at the effects and changes the world of professional wrestling has had in my opinion, it gives the scope of the full journey from talent hopeful to weathered veteran, and delivers the full gambit of what it was like for these stars as they made their way through it all.
I’m not sure at what point the label of ‘jobber’ took on the level of insult. For many workers, if you told them they had jobbed off or worked under to a rising star, most would opt to tell you some excuse filled, term twisted line about how they would never be a jobber, or turn their noses up as if you were handing them a dish of acrid self-loathing. It’s puzzling why they would rather be tarred and feathered, than be called jobber. So let’s take a little deeper look into the men who have held that title, and then a deeper look in to the business from the perspective of a man that worked those ranks in early 1990‘s WWF.
The list of men that have held this moniker holds some of the standout men of my wrestling memories. Let’s just throw a few names out there: The Mulkeys, Brooklyn Brawler, “Iron” Mike Sharpe, Barry Horowitz, Jake “Milkman” Milliman, and George South are just a drop in the bucket of the men that were considered by most to be “forgettable” because some fans had no clue as to what they really brought to the match or the business.
These men were the ones that went out there and helped give the rub to up and coming wrestlers, or high profile workers that just wanted to come in and work an easy match or “squash”. More often than not, they were the unsung heroes of the business, who may have not had that intangible it factor that was needed to get over on the main event level matches, but were still able hands in the ring who could be counted on to “get the job done”. They also worked most of the top level guys during the ascensions of their careers.
Christopher Michaels never grew up with aspirations of being a wrestler, but when the opportunity presented itself, he gave it his all. A New York native born Bill Pierce in 1961 Bayshore, Long Island, Michaels was familiar with wrestling, having grown up in one of the major hotbeds of the sport during one of it’s heydays in the Seventies. He grew up not far away in Oakdale, where he attended high school and dabbled in wrestling, gymnastics, and drama club. All of which would serve him later on in his wrestling career.
After graduating High School, joining the military seemed a more feasible choice than college, and Bill headed off to basic training in November of 1983, found himself situated firmly in middle America at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He got his advanced training there in Echo Company as a tank crewman. After completion of that program, he went to Fort Polk in Louisiana, where he spent the next three and a half years, and first became aware of what professional wrestling really had to offer with not much else to do around the base.
“On weekends, there wasn’t much to on the television. We only had two cable channels, and I got to see Mid-South Wrestling on the Shreveport channel. That became my program of choice because down there you really didn’t have much to watch on TV during the weekend. You could either watch high school or college football, or fishing. So wrestling, it was. The fans down there believed it was real. It was like a religion to them, and I appreciated that.”
He became a fan of the matches, and would go to see them live when he was able. Over the next year of his life was taken up with his military career and growing love for his weekend wrestling fix. It was during this time, as it usually does, that life chose to come calling and deliver some heartbreaking news to young soldier. His mother had suffered a stroke and was on life support in the hospital. After several days brain functions ceased, and they family took her off life support. Bill tried pick up the pieces and move on.
He was close enough to his discharge date that the Army gave him a family needs discharge, and just like that, he was a civilian again. He spoke briefly about his time and the heritage of military service in his family.
“My Grandfather who immigrated here from Italy, enlisted and fought in World War I and World War II. My Father was in during WWII, and his brother was in the Korean War. Also my younger son, Michael served for twelve years in Afghanistan, the Philippines, among other places as a paratrooper. I never served overseas, but I wrote a blank check with my life to go if my country needed me. There are those that do, and those that don’t. Or as we say in the wrestling business, there are those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that stand there wondering what the Hell just happened. All said and done, I’m proud of my family’s service. I enjoyed my time in and had it not been for that, I probably wouldn’t have had the strength to make it through the passing of my Mother.”
The pull of the business was like magnetism for Pierce, and he had made up his mind he was going to make it in, one way or the other. It was, like for so many others, being in the right place at the right time. He was working at a Channel Home Centers in Happauge, for the New Yorkers in attendance, when he started horsing around about bodyslaming a fellow employee. She turned out to be the daughter of a local wrestler, and that helped him get his foot into the door to begin his training at the school her father ran. He talked a little about the realities that hit him when he arrived:
“I went to his wrestling school and it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. Everybody thinks wrestling is so glamorous, because all they see is the stage show. They don’t see the behind-the-scenes,…the sacrifice that it takes to become a professional wrestler. So I go to this guy’s house and asked where is the wrestling school and he tells me it’s in his garage? IN HIS GARAGE?!?!”
Upon entering the school he saw that they had no ring, but he also saw that he wasn’t alone. Other students were there to give it a go as well. The “ring” was just a representation by having ropes strung up against the ceiling supports, with plywood and a thin mat to cover the concrete floor that they would be taking bumps on. his mind was eased a bit as he saw a young Cactus Jack, Mick Foley, there giving advice and working out alongside the rest of them. Foley was doing spots for WCCW at the time, and would workout there in between trips to Texas. Now that, is old school and paying your dues, Bruthas and Sistas.
This would serve Bill well as he learned that in Japan and Puerto Rico the rings were much stiffer than the American ones. He also found out fast that being given acceptance wasn’t going to be forthcoming either, as they began to give him and the rest of the students, what he called “the boot”.
“For people who don’t know what the boot was….basically, you get your ass kicked. What they are trying to do is separate the guys who are serious about being there from the jock sniffing fan boys. They want to make sure that you want to be part of the brotherhood, and not just some fan that wants to hang around to rub elbows with the boys. There was a lot of guys that didn’t make it past the boot.”
His time in Basic Training helped him when it came to the grueling hours spent doing drills and working out that he would endure in his future. It was in that garage that he learned the guts, and core of wrestling. He learned how to bump, and sell when he did.
We began to talk a little bit about the differences in the business, and what he thought about today’s product in comparison to when he broke in:
“I got into wrestling because I knew it was tough, but I also knew that there was a way to do it without really getting hurt, otherwise you wouldn’t have these eight month long feuds in the business. If you beat the crap out of your guys like they do in UFC, then that means you’re only going to working once a month. I tell the new kids, that you have a bump clock. Guys doing the flippity flop, the thigh-slapping super kicks, and the guys that slap their arms to sell their punches….please stop, you’re killing the business. You’re not convincing anyone that you’re hurting anybody. You’re looking like a damn fool. It’s not preserving the business and it makes the rest of us look like a joke. I don’t appreciate it. I digress”….(chuckles).
While everything may evolve in the business, without sticking to the core basics, then not only the legitimacy, but the safety of it’s workers is lost. Look at all the ECW guys that have left us too early. They may have gotten over, and got the Holy shit chants, or heard that this is awesome….but how great was the price that was paid? The guys that worked the old days of the territories had their bloodbaths with the blade, but how many of them died at thirty-five from consistent head traumas?
Let’s get back to late 1988 though, and Bill’s first match at a rock and roll bar in Bayshore, NY. It was less than a desirable spot to work, but the show must go on. Bill remembers that night fondly:
“The place was so dirty, you could hear the soles of your shoes stick to the floor when you walked around. I was like ‘What the Hell do they do in this place?’. It was so bad that when we doing something in the match and you had to get thrown out of the ring over the top, guys were landing on the apron and refused to hit the floor….and for good reason. Incidentally, Rocco Rock was working as the Cheetah Kid at that time, and he was there setting up the ring. I was still green as Hell, but everything went well, and I started to get more matches under my belt.”
Bill moved on from there and worked for the Savoldis at their ICW, which eventually morphed into IWCCW(International World Class Championship Wrestling), when Angelo bought into the Texas organization. Tony Atlas was their Champion at that time when Pierce arrived in Parsippany, New Jersey. He quickly became the gur that drove the truck that contained the ring, setting it up before the shows, and tearing it down after. This was and is a vital part of paying your dues for any aspiring young talent that is coming up in the business. Not only does it give you a greater appreciation for what goes into the show, and how to work safely, but it inevitably allows the ring crew the chance to learn other aspects of the business from there, as well as earn the respect of the promoter and their peers. He told me a funny story about his time setting up the ring that I want to share with you:
“Angelo Savoldi, who was the man who designed and built this particular ring, gave me a crash course in how to put it together. It was all color coded, because he realized wrestlers would be putting it together and he wanted to keep it as simple as possible..(We both laughed). The design was the most ingenious designed ring set-up that I’ve seen to this day. It was made out of round interlocking steel tubes. Once the ring posts were set up and locked in place, one person could put the entire ring together. I’d set up, then wrestle five or six times and put everybody over for the television spots, and tear the ring down when we’d work tapings. Normally Id just set up, wrestle, then tear down, pack the truck to travel to the next town, get to the hotel to try and get some sleep, and then do the whole thing all over again. I paid those dues for the next year or so.”
It was during this time that he not only learned the infrastructure of the ring, as well as the business, but he polished his craft as well. He had also established a name for himself as being a straight forward, and honest guy that would bust his ass for you, given the chance. That chance came for him in 1990, when he was called up by the then WWF to help out as an extra in one of their SummerSlam spots. Anyone that follows wrestling closely knows that this happens frequently so the WWF can assess the qualities of the talents, and get a closer look to “see for themselves” if they want to bring them on. Bill got that chance, and ran with it. We will bring Part I to a close with a great story he told me about the trip he made to SummerSlam with his father. We will pick back up in Part II of the Life Through the Lens as Bill begins to work under the Sir Christopher Michaels ring persona, as well as working with not only WWF, but ECW during the Heyman years as well. We also discuss the way that wrestling has evolved and the lost art of selling while staying on two feet. I hope you enjoyed this portion of the story Bruthas and Sistas, and always remember, that when you get a chance to get your foot in the door, kick it down!! Enjoy this story, and I’ll talk to you next Tuesday with the follow up…..Peace!!