Jun 27, 2007

My Introduction To Independent Wrestling

IPW: January 30, 1999
YMCA - Freeland, PA
It occurred to me when I was writing about the Chikara Young Lions Cup V shows that I had been following the career of Mike Quackenbush for nearly ten years despite never seeing him on television.  That got me thinking about the first indie wrestling show that I'd ever been to.  It was an International Pro Wrestling show at the YMCA in Freeland, Pennsylvania that I learned about from this article from the Standard Speaker newspaper a few weeks before the show.

In addition to Quack, this is a show that included two legendary pro wrestling managers of the 80's and 90's, a tag team that once held the ECW and WCW Tag Team Championships, a WWF wrestler who appeared on just about every show I ever watched when I was a kid, and three wrestlers who would go on to appear in the final episode of ECW Hardcore TV.

King Kong Bundy was advertised on the show to challenge Tom Brandi for the IPW Heavyweight Championship.  Bundy had long been one of my favorite wrestlers from his days on Saturday Night's Main Event, and his main event steel cage match against Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 2.  At the time of this show, it had been less than four years since he was appearing regularly on Monday Night Raw as a member of The Million Dollar Corporation, managed by Ted DiBiase.  I'm not sure what happened, but he didn't end up wrestling at this IPW show on January 30th, 1999.

Bundy was replaced in the championship match by Koko B. Ware.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Koko and his bird Frankie when I was a kid, and I was happy to have the opportunity to see him wrestle in person; however his match with Brandi was odd because Koko worked as a heel with fellow WWF alumni Harvey Wippleman as his manager.  Throughout his run in the 80's and 90's, Koko had always been a good guy, and without knowing any of the storylines that IPW had going at the time, it was pretty weird seeing him taunt the crowd and try to get booed.  It was a fine match, but definitely a strange experience.

The opening match on the night was between Johnny Graham and Maxx Crimson, the latter of whom was accompanied to the ring by his manager, Jim Cornette.  I met Mr. Graham during intermission and he signed the back of my ticket stub.  He was a very nice man and asked if I was enjoying the show, which I definitely was.  His character in the ring was a patriotic good guy who was also a member of the US Marines.  According to a biography I found online, this wasn't just a part of his gimmick.  Mr. Graham began his service in the United States Marine Corps in 1978 and started training for a career as a professional wrestler in 1987 with NWA affiliate World Pacific Wrestling in Hawaii, which was run by The Rock's grandmother, Lia Maivia, and he's still wrestling on the indies to this day (mostly for PWE and CPW).  He won the opening match at this show with his finishing move, the Graham Cracker, which is still one of the best names for a finisher that I've ever heard.

One of the best matches of the night was between Christian York (left) and Joey Matthews (right).  I had never heard of either of them before this show, but they were both young, athletic guys who delivered a fast-paced cruiserweight style match that would have fit in perfectly on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro.

I learned later that these two had been touring the independents for quite a while, both as opponents and as a tag team.  They signed with Extreme Championship Wrestling about a year and a half after this IPW show, and they remained on the ECW roster until the promotion folded in January 2001.  They teamed up for tag team matches in most of their appearances, but Christian York wrestled in a singles match against Jerry Lynn in the final episode of ECW Hardcore TV which aired on December 30'th, 2000.  Joey Matthews accompanied York to the ring and didn't wrestle that night, but he went on to greater success after signing with WWE where he wrestled as Joey Mercury and is a three-time tag team champion as a member of MNM with Johnny Nitro.

The wrestler who faced Mike Quackenbush at IPW was "Beef Stew" Lou Marconi, which is one of the greatest professional wrestling nicknames I've ever heard.  He had already wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation and Extreme Championship Wrestling before I saw him.  He was mostly used as enhancement talent for both companies, but his list of matches includes two appearances on WWF Superstars where he wrestled in a WWF Tag Team Championship match; first in 1994 against The Headshrinkers, and again two years later against The Smoking Gunns.  His tag team partner for that second match was Frank Stalletto, who wrestled in the main event of this IPW show.  He's wrestled quite a few other high profile opponents, but the highlight of his time in the WWF was a 1996 match with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

Chikara King Of Trios - February 16, 2007

The IPW Heavyweight Champion Tom Brandi defended his belt against Koko B. Ware in the second to last match on the card.  Brandi is a veteran who has wrestled just about everywhere in his career, with time spent in WCW (as Johnny Gunn), ECW (as Tom Brandi) and WWF (as Tom Brandi and Salvatore Sincere).  He has also appeared many times as The Patriot, including at the Chikara King Of Trios earlier this year.  This is where I met him, and he was a heck of a nice dude.

The main event was a tag team match featuring recent ECW and WCW Tag Team Champions"Flyboy" Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge, collectively known as Public Enemy.  I was fortunate enough to be able to meet both of them during intermission and to have a Polaroid taken with both of them in the ring, which the two men autographed at the bottom.  I know I still have it somewhere, but I wasn't able to find it when I started writing this.  I remember that I was wearing my Jesse Ventura - Retaliate In '98 campaign shirt because Johnny pointed it out to Rocco and said it was cool, which totally made my day!  When I find the picture, I'll scan it and add it to this post.

Wrestling was red hot in the late 90's with the WWF Attitude Era and the ratings war between WWF Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro was in full effect.  The business hadn't been this popular since I was in elementary school in the mid to late 80's when Hulkamania was running wild.  It's probably not too surprising then that the crowd at this show was largely made up of young children who were around elementary school to middle school age, most of whom had probably just started to get interested in pro wrestling with the rise of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, and Bill Goldberg.  At 18 years old, I was probably the oldest person in the audience who hadn't come with a son or daughter or a younger sibling.  

Either Public Enemy themselves or the promoters of the show must have taken notice of the number of young children in attendance and booked the main event for them.  A big portion of the match had Rocco and Johnny calling their opponents chicken.  This led to the tag team calling every kid in the building to ringside where they led the children to follow them, single file, as they ran around the ring flapping their arms and clucking like chickens to taunt the villains.  Anybody who has ever watched The Public Enemy wrestle on television will tell you that this is uncharacteristic of them.  These are the same two guys who would introduce themselves to ECW crowds by dropping f-bombs before wrestling a bloody match where they put their opponent through tables (a gimmick that their former ECW colleagues, The Dudley Boys, completely ripped off when they went to the WWF), so I wouldn't doubt for a second that someone called an audible and decided to put on a more family friendly main event than the kind of match that put them on the map.  It made me respect them, and the company, even more.  Sure, the 18 year old me would have loved to see the four-time ECW Tag Team Champions put their opponents through a table, but they read the room and they instead delivered a match that was appropriate for the fans in attendance, and that no doubt gave each of them a lot to talk about the next day in school.

Shortly after this show, The Public Enemy signed with the World Wrestling Federation, but their stay was very short and they were treated anything but fairly.  They returned to WCW by the summer of 1999, and were back on the independent wrestling scene after both WCW and ECW closed and were absorbed by the WWF.

Sadly, both members of The Public Enemy have since passed away.  Rocco Rock was 49 years old when he died of a heart attack less than three years after this show.  Johnny Grunge passed away in February of last year due to complications from sleep apnea, but he was much younger than his tag team partner and was only 39 at the time of his death.

The target of the chicken clucking mockery in the main event was The Bounty Hunters, a tag team made up of Frank Stalletto and Julio Sanchez.  As far as I know, Stalletto and Sanchez didn't frequently team up as The Bounty Hunters, so this might have been a one-night-only type of deal.  Like Lou Marconi, Frank Stalletto had frequently worked as enhancement talent in the WWF with appearances on Monday Night Raw and Shotgun Saturday Night in matches against Vader, YokozunaRoad Dogg, Crush, and The Legion Of Doom.  Also like Lou, he's been a part of two televised WWF Tag Team Championship matches.  Both took place on episodes of Superstars Of Wrestling in 1996: once against The Smoking Gunns on August 20th, and again on the October 22nd against Owen Hart and The British Bulldog.

Julio Sanchez also worked as enhancement talent for mainstream promotions before this show.  He appeared on both WWF and WCW programs many times under the names Julio Sanchez and Julio Fantastico.  He got his big break in the unlikeliest of places eight months after this show when he wrestled against 2 Cold Scorpio in the only good match on the horrendous Heroes Of Wrestling pay-per-view.  Shortly afterward, he signed with Extreme Championship Wrestling where he changed his name to Julio Dinero and joined with EZ Money to form the tag team Hot Commodity.  He remained with ECW until its end, and like Joey Matthews and Christian York, he appeared on the final episode of ECW Hardcore TV.  After ECW closed its doors, he signed with TNA shortly thereafter where he was a member of Raven's faction, The Gathering.

It may not have been a night of five star classics that set the internet wrestling community on fire, but this was a very special night for me.  This show wasn't more than just a fun night.  It opened the door for me to a whole new world of professional wrestling that I hadn't really know about before.


Jun 26, 2007

The Last Of A Dying Breed

Boardwalk Boulevard
Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
When I think of arcades in Hazleton, the first thing that always comes to mind is Aladdin's Castle.  Boardwalk Blvd. opened in 1989 in the same mall and pushed Aladdin's Castle out of business within a short amount of time.  I wasn't happy about it.  Where Aladdin's Castle focused on pinball and traditional arcade games, Boardwalk Blvd had a lot of ticket games and kiddie stuff.  I played the occasional Skee Ball here, but that was pretty much it.

I spent a lot of time here as a teenager during the Mortal Kombat / Street Fighter II arcade renaissance of the mid 90's.  At the time, there was a two player sit-down Daytona USA machine at the entrance on the right hand side, right next to Mortal Kombat II, so the intense battles on the joystick were always accompanied by the Daytona music.

The arcade has a second floor on the far right hand side.  It has a few retro games, like Super Sprint and Ms. Pac Man.  There was also an X-Men vs Street Fighter game there that I used to play on my lunch break when I worked at K-Mart in the late 90's.

These days, the arcade is nearly empty almost every time I go to the mall, but it's still chugging along.  I imagine they get a fair amount of birthday party business that keeps them going.  I was a bit grouchy about it when it first opened, but I'm glad that it's still here after all these years.

Jun 25, 2007

Great Wall Of China

Dad at the Great Wall of China.

Jun 24, 2007

Young Lions Cup V

Since 2002, Chikara has held an annual event as a showcase of talent who are young and/or relatively new to the business of professional wrestling.  It's a 24 man tournament that takes place over three days to determine who will be the holder of the Young Lions Cup.  The trophy is then defended like a championship until a new tournament is held the following year.

There are three rounds in the Young Lions Cup tournament, with a total of twelve matches in the first round, two matches in the second round, and one match in the third and final round.  Here's how it works.
  • Night One and Night Two each have six singles matches in the first round.  These are traditional one-on-one matches.  The winner moves on.  The loser is eliminated from the tournament.
  • The winners of the first round matches move on to the second round, which is a Six Man Elimination Match.  These are the main event matches of Night One and Night Two.
  • The winner of the second round match from Night One meets the winner of the second round match from Night Two in the final match in the tournament to determine the Young Lions Cup champion.  This final match takes place in the main event of Night Three.

It sounds more complicated than it is.  I'm not sure if I understood it until I was there, but it made total sense once I saw it in action.  The graph above does a better job of explaining it than words are likely to do (click here to enlarge).  It's basically just a three match tournament with the first and final match being regular one-on-one matches, with the one in the middle being a six man elimination match.

There were non-tournament matches on each of the three shows, particularly the final night which only featured one tournament match in the main event.

This show was everything I love about Chikara all wrapped up in a single card - wacky characters, fun stories and great professional wrestling.  How many shows feature a wrestler in a cow costume wearing a Soviet tights not once, but twice?  By the way, when I say cow costume, I'm not talking about a lucha libre mask like the kind that The Colony wear.  I'm talking about a dude wrestling in a giant cow head and a full body costume, complete with tail.  Just take a look at this, and while you're at it, have a listen at his incredible entrance theme music.

The way that they've come up with this character is pretty ingenious.  The wrestler under the cow head used to perform under the name Create-A-Wrestler, as in the feature found in just about every pro wrestling video game since the Playstation and N64 era.  So, they have allowed the fans to literally create their own wrestler and watch him perform in the ring.  Moscow the Communist Bovine was the winner in an online poll, and thus the newest character in Chikara was born.

Before the show, I bumped into one of my favorite wrestlers in the world today, "Lightning" Mike Quackenbush.  Quack has been a fixture on the independent wrestling scene for many years.  He wrestled at the very first indie show I had ever been to back in 1999.  Three years after that show, he founded Chikara (with fellow indie legend Reckless Youth), and he's recently started working for Ring Of Honor.  The dude is crazy talented.  I know that as soon as I hear the opening to Break It Down Again by Tears For Fears, I'm in for a hell of a fun wrestling match.

I met a few of other wrestlers on Night One, including Niles Young and Noel Harlow.  By the way, the t-shirt I'm wearing was something I threw together with a t-shirt transfer sheet.  It didn't come together exactly the way that I had in mind, but it's Chuck Taylor's head photoshopped over a big dude standing behind the counter at Dunkin' Donuts with a speech bubble of him wishing death on the donuts.  I don't know... it seemed funny to me at the time.

Finally, I got to meet Cabana Man Dan, which is one of the greatest wrestling names I have ever heard.  Dude is pretty solid in the ring too.  I'm looking forward to seeing the direction his career takes from here.

I'm guessing that there was a typo on the original printing of the Night Two tickets.  Night Three was at Hellertown, but Night Two was in Barnesville.

Ricochet was the star of the night.  He defeated Soldier Ant in his Round One match and went on to win the Round Two six man elimination match to move on to face Chuck Taylor in the third and final round on Sunday to determine the winner of the Young Lions Cup.

During intermission, I got to meet Arik Cannon, who was an excellent dude.  He made his name in IWA Mid South and has wrestled at Chikara events in the past.  This weekend was my first time seeing him, but I'm sure it won't be the last.

You can also see my custom t-shirt that I wore for Night Two in this photo.  It was a parody of the box art of Kid Icarus with Chikara star Icarus in place of the NES character.  It's not the most stunning example of graphics arts, but what the hell, it's not like I'm trying to sell these things.  It was just something to do for fun.

Speaking of IWA Mid South, I also got to meet The North Star Express.  That's Darin Corbin on the left and Ryan Cruz on the right.  They come out to the ring to Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom by Vengaboys, which has been stuck in my head ever since.  They were individually in the Young Lions Cup tournament and wrestled in singles matches on Night Two, but they returned in Night Three as a tag team that took on The Olsen Twins.


Chikara Young Lions Cup VNight Three
American Legion Hall - Hellertown, PA
Today's show was my favorite of the three nights.  It included a lot of great tag team matches, including The Kings Of Wrestling beating up on Cheech & Cloudy and Los Ice Creams taking on Icarus and AkumaThe Olsen Twins vs The North Star Express was a fun match between two teams that have a lot in common, but my favorite of the tag team matches was between BLK-OUT and The Colony.  It was absolutely incredible.

The main event between Ricochet and Chuck Taylor gets my vote for match of the night.  Either one of these guys would have been a good choice to win the tournament.  Taylor is one of the best heels in the business (indie or mainstream), and Ricochet is one of the most athletically gifted professional wrestlers I have seen in a very long time.  This kid has the potential to be better than Rey Mysterio Jr, and I'm not exaggerating.  Check out some of his highlight reels on YouTube.  I guarantee they will blow you away.

This is Shayne Hawke.  He impressed the hell out of me in his match with Tim Donst and the six man elimination match on Night Two, but his match with Quack was even better than the first two.  This dude has a hell of a future in professional wrestling.  When we took this photo, he was kind enough to let me wear his Young Lions Cup medallion (his idea).


Jun 18, 2007

Drink Schlitz And See A Mirage

Mirage Tour Poster
Fleetwood Mac (1982)
This poster was released by the Schlitz Brewing Company, who were a sponsor of Fleetwood Mac's 1982 tour.  The band was touring in support of their 13th studio album, Mirage, which was released 25 years ago today.

The Morning Call - Allentown, PA  (July 24, 1982)

Jun 17, 2007

You Probably Don't Even Hear It When It Happens

Made In America
The Sopranos - Season 6, Episode 21  (June 10, 2007)
The diner scene at the end of The Sopranos seems to have upset a lot of people, but I think it was perfect.  The reason that the music abruptly stops and that the screen goes black for a while before the credits roll is because Tony was assassinated.  It happens just like Bobby Bacala says it would in the flashback that Tony has in the previous episode: "You probably don't even hear it when it happens".  It's a brilliant end to an incredible show.

Jun 16, 2007

Relaxing With The Pup

My little buddy, Sammy, and me.

Jun 15, 2007

Black Diamond

Black Diamond Antiques & Collectibles
Schuylkill Mall - Frackville, PA
This is my absolute favorite store.  It's located in the former Hess Department Store anchor at the Schuylkill Mall, and it's feels like walking through eBay.  The store is divided up into about 75 separate vendors, each of which have merchandise set up on tables and shelves.  The people who are selling this merchandise aren't manning their stations like a flea market.  Instead, their items are tagged with stickers that identify which vendor they came from, which allows you to push a shopping cart through the place and pay for everything all at once at the same cash register.

Dad, Grandma and I took a trip there earlier today, and I managed to take a few photos of some of the items available for sale.  I could probably have taken a thousand pictures and still not come close to fully documenting this place, but the staff here is a little touchy about cameras, so I had to be a little careful about who was around when I took out the camera.  Still, this is a decent cross section of the kinds of things you'll find when shopping at Black Diamond.