By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor
This week, Senior Editor Jim Phillips re-visits some of his classic stories of road trip debauchery:
The Night the Lights Went Out in Florida
Hello road soldiers, and welcome back to our journey through the funny bone of the world of professional wrestling. Beginning this week I will be bringing you the stories of some of wrestling’s favorite sons and daughters as experienced by those who were to see it happen. This week we travel back to the heyday of the 1980‘s scene, to hear a pair of tales from the famous Eddie Graham promotion, Championship Wrestling from Florida. They come from the former owner of the NWA, Bruce Tharpe. He grew up in this business, and was good enough to pass along these two gems.
The year was 1983. The place was Orlando. Florida. The heat inside the Eddie Graham Sports Complex was stifling, but that wasn’t going to keep away the crowds of people that would pack the building to see the greats of Florida pro wrestling. I was working as a referee and earning my stripes in the business. The card was stacked and the house was loaded. Wahoo McDaniel, Rip Rogers, and Johnny Valentine were some of the big names that were working the show, but the things that stands out in my mind was what went down between Manny Fernandez and Nikolai Volkoff. Let’s build a foundation by saying that Manny was known for being heavy handed on those that he thought would be easily intimidated by such tactics. New guys and faces fell prey to his this in the ring and out of it on a regular basis in those days. That’s just how things were. It was one of the way things were done sometimes by the boys to keep the pecking order in check. It’s a pro sport fueled by posturing, just as much as politics and revenue potentials.
Now let me say that Nikolai is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met He was all smiles and always willing to do what was needed for the show. For whatever reason, Manny decided to try Nikolai with a few stiff shots to show he was running the match. What Manny did NOT realize, however, was that Volkoff had been a legit boxer in his youth. He knew full well how to handle himself in these situations. He shuffle stepped Fernandez, and delivered a fast three punch combo to his face. Stunned and bloodied, Fernandez went stiff as a board, then fell back to the ring. He was out cold before he hit the mat. It looked like the Nestea Plunge when he went back. Nikolai showed that night that it was better to walk softly and carry a big left cross.
Fast forward two years to south Florida. It was July and we were all feeling the height of the summer heat. I was working a referee spot that night, with part of that job being to deliver finishes between the locker rooms. In those days, heels and faces didn’t dress together. They didn’t travel together like today. Most of the time, they didn’t even see each other until they got into the ring and were facing off. They matches were worked, not planned out to the every move. The finishes were passed between the locker rooms by go betweens like referees. It was kayfabe all the way. The locker rooms were located behind the bleachers in this building. In between matches and during the intermissions, fans would clamor by the doors in hopes of getting a picture or autograph.
I had worked my last match and went into the heel dressing room to grab a shower before heading out on the town. This, in hindsight, was probably a mistake on my part. I went in to get my bag, passing by Percy Pringle, Rick Rude and Jessie Barr. For those who may not know, Jessie went on to WWF fame as the black masked outlaw, Jimmy Jack Funk. I was mid shower and washing my hair when I felt a pair of hands on my back in the shower. Before I knew what was going on, Rude and Barr was dragging my soap covered carcass to the locker room door. I tried to grab the walls, the benches, anything I could to keep from being ejected into the hallway full of fans, but my hands and feet were too slippery to stop the inevitable. I was thrown out of the door and into the spotlight of the hallway. I kicked and tried to push open the door, but it did no good as I could hear the laughs coming from behind it. The only option was to run thru the crowd to the face locker room across the hall. I slid that was as I did my best to keep my manhood covered and not bust my ass on the polished concrete floor. I managed to make it safely. They got me good that night. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
I’d like to thank Bruce for these stories, and being brave enough to share a really funny rib on himself. Ribs help to build brotherhood/sisterhood and, that in turn helps to build trust. When you’re putting your health and body in someone else’s hands, trust is paramount. You don’t hear as many stories these days out of the locker room because of the public face that these promotions have to keep up now in this day of digital media and social awareness. It was a different time, with different rules. For those of us who remember it fondly, it will be missed.
Well, that brings us to the end of another edition of the road diaries. As always, keep the wheels turning and the freedom burning. I’ll see you back here next week for some more laughs and an admiring look back into our wrestling history from the road.
The Spoiler Meets Mable
Welcome back friends, to our logbook of wrestling travels and practical jokers. This week, I want to focus on wrestling heritage and paying dues. Ribs on the road and in the business were not only there to bring a laugh to the road weary boys, but were a way to test the heart of the green wrestlers and the new workers coming into an established territory. There are many famous stories of the old garde putting new workers through the ringer to make sure that they were “one of the boys”. It was a rite of passage, that had to be passed, in order to be allowed into their inner circle. Roddy Piper once told a story about being dropped off at a gas station to run in for sandwiches, only to be left as the boys drove off laughing. The youngster had to walk the rest of the way to the arena to make it. It took a couple hours, but Piper earned their respect by walking on to the show and not giving up.
It is a story much like this one, that we bring to you this week. Don Jardine was a journeyman wrestler that had worked his way through the southern states, and into the Florida territory in the 70s. He was famously known as The Spoiler after his run in Big Time Wrestling. Big Time would later evolve into the Von Erich World Class Championship Wrestling juggernaut. His iron claw finisher was feared by most, but the move he became known for was rope walk. He would take the arm of his opponent and walk out onto the top rope and drop a huge hammer fist down onto them. This move was taken to worldwide acclaim after it was later made famous by one of his students, The Undertaker in the 90‘s. Jardine was known to be a no nonsense type of guy that took the business pretty seriously, in and out of the ring. This level of respect of the business was passed along to anyone he trained or worked with. His feuds with Chief Jay Strongbow were legend.
Upon his arrival in Florida, the boys decided he would be the recipient of one of the most classic ribs in wrestling. It was The Mable, and this is how it went. The boys would tell a new worker in the area that this mystery woman named Mable had eyes for him. They really sold it up, and got the guy all fired up about this hot woman that wanted to get together with him. At some point in the build up, usually a week or two later, the boys would have a girlfriend or one of the wives call up the mark of the rib and talk them up on the phone. She would tell them to get some liquor and bring some food over. They would party, and have a “good time”. Now, of course the worker would get all excited and go over to her house. She would explain how her husband was out of town, and tell how jealous he was. This was the set up. After an hour another plant would storm in with a shotgun and send the scared worker running out of the house naked, where all the boys would be waiting to see it. The crew would then go into the house, and enjoy all the booze and food that the mark had brought to the party. It was a good laugh had by all, except the poor target that was running naked around the local streets. A version of this rib made it to the 80’s cult classic movie Porky’s, which was also set in Florida.
Enter Don Jardine. He had been working the territory only a short time before he was chosen to be Mable’s next target of affection. The rib was built and everything was made ready to get the new guy. One night at a show, the phone rang in the dressing room and Mable made her date with Jardine. He showered up after the show and went to her house to meet her. Things went off as planned and the fake husband busted into the house as the boys looked on from outside. Several minutes passed, but no frantic naked wrestler had emerged. As the boys were starting to wonder what was happening, a racket was heard coming from inside the house. Don Jardine had taken the gun away from the man and was tearing the hell out of the house and his attacker. The boys had to run in and stop him from killing the guy.
Jardine got the last laugh that night, spawning one of the great rib stories in wrestling lore. It was never revealed if he knew what was going to happen and worked the boys back with the help of the husband or if he legitimately didn’t know. Either way, it would become the stuff of locker room legend.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s story, and continue to join us here every Tuesday for a trip down the highways of hilarity with Road Stories and Ribs. Keep the wheels turning and the freedom burning Bruthas and Sistas. Peace.
Strong Style, Save Me Now
Welcome back wrestling fans, as we head out on another journey down the road. Our story comes to us this week from a distinguished third man in the ring, Doug Markham. I was able to reach out to Doug this week as he regaled me with a story of a match gone awry, and a valuable lesson learned.
It was the middle of the summer of 2017, and The Arena in Jeffersonville, Indiana was blazing hot. The poorly ventilated building was maybe the hottest venues the veteran ref had ever worked in his career. It was 92 degrees outside and even hotter inside the tiny sweatbox of a dressing room. Whenever the boys weren’t working in the ring, everyone was standing outside to try and escape the heat. As anyone knows, these conditions can create irritability in the most even tempered of workers.
Doug was set up to ref the next match between Lee Byford and The Amazing Pookie. Lee is a really nice guy and always tries to take care of people in the ring. As far as The Amazing Pookie goes, he claimed to be trained by the duo of Danny Davis and Nick Dinsmore. No one had ever heard of him even though he had been in the business for awhile. Both of these guys have good reputations as trainers, so they thought everything would be ok. He was a scrawny kid but claimed to represent “strong style” as his preferred repertoire. Now, Byford is a really big dude, built like King Kong Bundy. He actually looked enough like him to pull off the Jr. son gimmick if he chose to. To say it was a bit of a mismatch would be an understatement.
The bell rang and it was obvious pretty that there was nothing amazing about The Amazing Pookie, not at all. He shuffled around the ring and didn’t carry himself the way a well trained worker would. A few minutes into the match Pookie landed an open hand shot across the ear of big Lee, and he grumbled something under his breath. Then, a minute or two later the kid hit him with another slap to the ear. Byford cinches him up, and tells Pookie to stop hitting him in the ear so hard. It wasn’t even a minute after his warning, that the big man took yet another hard slap to the ear. At that moment, everything changed.
Byford backed Pookie into the corner and unloaded on him with stiff shots and combinations to the body and head. Pookie tried to get away but he had no where to go. Byford took him to the mat and Markham hit a fast three count to try and diffuse the situation. It did no good as Lee no sold the finish and continued to wail away. The crowd was popping all over the place. They didn’t realize that this was a shoot and nothing was going as planned. Byford left the ring when he thought he had enough, but the damage was definitely done. Pookie was all potatoed up. He stumbled to the back and licked his wounds. He was never to be heard from in that promotion again.
Sometimes things break down and go off the book in the ring. It can stem out of some heat or dispute the two workers in the ring may have, but more often than not, it has to do with someone working too stiff and not taking care of the other man they are in the ring with. While many may say that Byford went too far in this story, there are the members of the old school way of thinking that will tell you that he did the right thing. Workers put their bodies in the hands of the men and women in the ring with them and risk serious injuries every time they step through the ropes. When the code of etiquette is breached, a receipt can almost certainly be assured. Without a doubt, the Amazing Pookie learned what it meant to work stiff that night.
While this week’s road story had a bit of a sting, it is just one more thread that makes up the fabric, that is the tapestry of life in the wrestling business. To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Until next week Bruthas and Sistas, keep those wheels turning and the freedom burning. Peace.