…is, indeed, still beating. Saturday night, my brother, my uncle and I attended the Chair City Clash, a charity wrestling event held at Thomasville High School and featuring the stars of AIWF Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. This is the first wrestling event any of the three of us had ever attended. Originally, we were only attending because Ricky Morton, one half of the Rock & Roll Express and one of my favorite wrestlers as a child, was going to be there. Not only did we get to see Ricky Morton, but we saw a whole lot more.
We arrived about a half-hour before bell-time and the first thing we noticed is that it was a smaller turnout than I had anticipated. This immediately made me feel two things. First, I was disappointed because of the sold-out arenas I usually see on TV. This turned out to be a blessing, of sorts, but I’ll explain that in a few moments. Secondly, I wondered what type of reaction the crowd would have to the action. I wondered how many of the people in attendance were actual wrestling fans, how many only came because it was a charity event, and how many, like I and my kin, were experiencing the wrestling phenomenon live for the first time.
There were tables set up near the entrance, but the first thing we did was look for a seat. We had ringside seats, but I never expected them to be “ringside” seats. In the days leading up to the event, I pictured us on the bottom set of bleachers, the same bleachers I sat on as a teenager in high school. As it happened, the bleachers were different and looked much fancier than the ones I was used to. In the end, that didn’t matter, because as I said, we had ringside seats. And that meant steel chairs, baby. One of the staples of wrestling. I wondered idly as we looked around for a good spot whether anyone would get whacked with one of these cold grey beauties before the night was over.
We took a seat in the second row and to the right, with my uncle getting the aisle seat, my brother beside him, and myself furthest in, with our backs facing the doors to the lobby area. Immediately, our eyes started darting around randomly, taking in the scene around us. There was an actual wrestling ring in front of us, three or four rows of chairs on every side. It wasn’t until much later that the thought occurred to me, but it bears mentioning now instead, this was quite an intimate little setup, and the fact that there weren’t as many people in attendance, rather than being a detriment to the experience, took me further back in my remembrances than I would have imagined. Over the course of the evening, there would be several times that I thought about my earliest memories of watching wrestling on television in the 1980s. The small crowds of the NWA, where I first “met” Ricky Morton and his contemporaries. These were those types of audiences, where the number was small in comparison to the WWE audiences of the 2000s. Somehow, it felt right to me, as if I’d come full circle. That feeling would intensify further as the night wore on.
My uncle had brought his digital camera with him because the one thing I wanted out of tonight, if at all possible, was to get my picture taken with Ricky Morton. And to get his autograph, the TWO things I wanted…Anyway, we kept glancing back at the tables near the entrance. There were three of them, and they appeared to be merchandise tables. Ricky Morton was walking around near the third table, and talking to a couple of people. After several rounds of “Do you want to go over there?” “Yeah, but I’m waiting for a good moment…”, my brother took the initiative and stood up. We followed him, and the three of us went over to check out the tables. The first had polaroid-looking shots, and a couple of books, one of which was on Hulk Hogan, for some strange reason. I’m pretty certain he wasn’t part of this particular wrestling organization, so I couldn’t figure out why they had the book there. It’d be like selling Wolverine comics at an Archie convention. The second table had DVDs. We didn’t get too close to those tables because we really had no intention of buying anything from them. We wouldn’t have known most of the wrestlers on these DVDs anyway, because I believe they were from this organization, which we had not been following.
Ricky actually called out to us first, while finishing up a conversation with the people he had been talking to earlier. He thanked us for coming, and we told him that we had come to see him because “I’ve been watching you since the 80s on NWA with the Rock & Roll Express”. He shook my hand and thanked me, and said he’d been wrestling since 1977. I told him I couldn’t exactly watch him back then because it was the year I was born, but maybe after February…? He seemed to get a kick out of that, and he said “I’m 55, but I still wrestle like I was 20, and I promise I’m not gonna let you guys down tonight.” I hoped that was the case. When the event was first announced, Ricky didn’t have a belt, and this match was supposed to be for the title. When I found out he had already won the title, I feared the worst. I feared that he would lose the belt tonight. While that was something that I didn’t want to happen, I wouldn’t have minded that bad, I don’t think, because at least I’d have seen him wrestle once.
He offered to take a picture with us, and my brother and I took advantage of the opportunity. He even tried to get my uncle to get in the picture with us, but knowing how camera-shy my uncle is, I knew that just wasn’t gonna happen. So my uncle took the picture of us with Ricky and the belt, and then we bought a couple of signed photos, two for five dollars. Not bad at all, really, and he personalized them to my brother and I. I chose a photo of the Rock & Roll Express. I wouldn’t have minded a solo Ricky shot, but this may be my one chance to talk to a member of the R&R Express, and I wasn’t about to NOT choose a group shot. They were my boys, back in the day, and I had to respect that and go with the group shot. My brother took a solo photo instead. I’m glad, because it did suggest we didn’t just like the group as a whole, but him as an individual. It’s a psychological thing, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. He shook our hands again, and we wandered back to our seats. Ricky Morton was a true gentleman, really soft-spoken, and seemed like a great guy and really seemed to care for his fans.
So, we sat back down and an announcer came out and announced that the event was going to be taped for their television show. My uncle, who again is very camera-shy, decided he didn’t want to sit on the end where people could see him, so I agreed to swap places with him. We also noticed that everyone seemed to have a program, so I went to the lobby to look for one. I brought back two, just in case, and we settled in for the event. It was around that time that a couple of guys brought out some stairs for use in entering the ring. A detail we had forgotten, but one that just belongs and makes you feel like everything is legit and on the up-and-up. Like with the steel chairs before, I wondered if anyone would get their head smacked on those bad boys tonight.
As it got closer to bell-time, my mind began to race over what I was about to witness. What was proper etiquette, I wondered? Would I be the only one cheering or booing? It was rather a small event, and the thought of making a fool of myself when most of the others present didn’t have the appearance of being a wrestling fan worried me. No signs had been brought, and basically, the crowd looked as if it had wandered in off the street on the way home from work or whatever. It was definitely a concern. Also, I knew the general idea was to cheer, but when? More importantly, for whom? Apart from Ricky Morton, I didn’t know any of the people listed on the card for the night.
Finally, the time had come and the announcer came out to the ring, introducing a coach (presumably from the High School) who made a short speech and did a poor impression of the Rock and then left and it was time for the first match. I should point out at this point that the sound system left a little to be desired. When someone would speak into the microphone, it came out loud and semi-unintelligible. This was not good. Luckily, as I wrote this, my brother looked up and found the results of the event online, so this will help as I continue to tell you what went on that night.
The first match was Caleb Christian Vs. “Showcase” Ric Kelly. Ric Kelly came out first, and if I had any doubts about who to boo, they were laid to rest the minute he came out to ringside. Apart from the boos he was receiving from some of the audience who apparently knew who he was, it was easy to tell he was a villain, or “heel”, as they’re called in the wrestling business. This guy was channeling every wrestling heel I’ve ever seen, and what’s more, he was doing it with style. He demanded the referee hold the ropes for him as he entered the ring, and once inside proceeded to strut around majestically, as if he thought he owned the place. He had the look, he had the charisma, but did he have the talent to back it up? While I never thought that the indie wrestling circuit would be less skilled than what I saw on tv, I did wonder if we would see anything like what we were used to seeing on television. Would these be more technical, mat-based matches, or would we see something more exciting?
Caleb Christian came out and the fans cheered for him, whether by familiarity, instinct, or in direct opposition to Kelly’s heel character that immediately preceded him, I can’t say. All I know is that the wrestling term for good guy, “face”, really applied to Christian. He was a skinny, fresh-faced young man eager to perform. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was looking at actual shiny wrestling boots and stretchy wrestling trunks which, it must be said, did not leave much to the imagination. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an adult now or what, but I noticed their crotches a lot more than I would have wanted to. Not attracted to them, just very conscious that they were there. Even if I had the ability to wrestle, I doubt I could or would go out in public dressed like that, so I applaud their bravery in that regard. It’s something I never noticed about the wrestlers on television, so I guess you just had to be there.
The bell rang and the match started, and again, I felt like I had stepped back in time to when I was a boy. They did armbars on one another, one had another around the waist in some kind of hold, and the other attempted to break free. I’m sorry to say that my match descriptions are going to be inferior. I didn’t take notes and I don’t know what all the holds were called, but I do know what a wrestling match tends to look like, and this definitely was one. Some of the holds, seeing them in person, would seem like they might easily be broken, others not so much. The thing that does stand out for me about this match is Caleb Christian performing a shooting star press off the top rope onto Ric Kelly. Like the tagline for the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, at that moment, I did believe that a man could fly. It was truly gorgeous to see him fling himself into the air, flip over, and land on his opponent. I’d seen it on TV, but to see it in person, and realize what a man is capable of if he applies himself, to see such athleticism in person…I knew right then and there that, no matter what the rest of the night held, it was worth the time and admission fee just to see such a spectacle in person. I really wish I could properly convey what I felt at that moment, but I think despite my description above, I haven’t done it justice. I’ll simply say it was beautiful to behold, and leave it at that. Oh, and Caleb Christian won the match.
The next match was supposedly a “Midget Match”. I must confess that I do not know what terminology extremely short people wish to be referred to as, so I will use the term midget for the rest of this entry because it’s the general term used in wrestling when vertically-challenged people wrestle. Please be assured that no offense is intended. That disclaimer out of the way, the flyer for the event had promised a Midget Match, Blixx Vs. Justice, whoever they were. From what I understand, however, neither of those individuals were actually at the event and so a third midget, Joe Kidd, wrestled an average-height wrestler, “Terrific” Tony Lane. There was a bit of comedy to this match, but not as much as one might expect from a “gimmick” match. The one thing that stands out to me, apart from Kidd biting Lane on his bum at one point, was when they were bouncing across the ropes back and forth and doing that perpendicular criss-cross thing that wrestlers do, Kidd dropped to his stomach near the ropes and put his chin in his hands and just watched gleefully as Lane kept going back and forth, continuing to bounce off the ropes until he got tired and collapsed. Truly funny. Joe Kidd got the win, and everyone cheered.
The third match was on the flyer as being for the AIWF Mid-Atlantic Title, with Louis Moore fighting Rob McBride. This did not happen. Instead, Louis Moore had a far more interesting opponent. His name was Ouga Booga and he supposedly hailed from the depths of Africa or something to that effect. As far as I was concerned, he hailed from 80s/90s WWF/WWE. He had a similar gimmick to Kamala, the difference being that Ouga Booga wasn’t so wild-eyed and didn’t do odd neck rotations. His face was painted and he was wearing a bone necklace around his neck when he came to the ring, and he was doing this really weird chanting/foreign language thing. The best part of Ouga Booga, however, was that he didn’t break character all during the match. He would keep yelling out random things in Swahili or whatever made-up language he was speaking and it really freaked out his opponent, Louis Moore. Moore would shout “What’s he saying?!?” and the referee would yell back “I DON’T KNOW!!!” Oh, and Ouga Booga had a tongue that liked to stray out of his mouth, not loosely, but darting out hungrily. Ouga Booga was sharp, he had an intelligence in his eyes that you wouldn’t expect for a savage-persona character like the one he was portraying. Despite a couple of daring aerial moves on Ouga Booga’s part, he lost the match, but I have to say he gained three new fans. We all three thought he was awesome. If I had seen a single clip of this guy on YouTube beforehand and known he would have been at the event, I would have wanted to go, Morton or no Morton. Come to think of it, I’m going to go look for clips of him as soon as I finish typing this.
Intermission came after that, and apparently some of the wrestlers were outside signing autographs on the appropriate pages in the program guide. We stayed in our seats and talked about all we had witnessed so far. The intermission lasted about twenty minutes, and then it was back to the ring for more action.
The fourth match was Matt Smith Vs. Shawn Cruise. I honestly couldn’t believe my ears when they announced Matt Smith as a competitor. As many of you reading this may know, I’m a Doctor Who fan, and Matt Smith is also the name of the actor currently playing the title role on the show. Even if he had turned out to be a bad guy, I knew WHO I would be rooting for in this one, pun very much intended. I have to admit, however, the more interesting competitor in this match was Shawn Cruise. Cruise was creepy. Creepy like a spider. He had a long, gangly form, with just a bit of pudge on his belly, and a bald head with just a thin layer of dark fuzz growing on it, and eyes that always looked conspiratorially around, as if he were up to something. He had a grin on his face like he knew exactly what his appearance was doing to the people who saw it. You couldn’t help but like him, but you also knew it would be bad for you at the same time. Smith won this match, but unfortunately crowd reaction to the entire match was at an all-time low. It’s a shame, both men were good competitors, but all the momentum built up for the first half of the show had somehow been taken for a walk during the intermission and it had broken loose and ran away like a stray puppy. Again, I don’t blame the men or their match, it was just the crowd having calmed down and forgotten they were supposed to be cheering or booing. Luckily, the next match would quickly remind them how to behave during a wrestling match.
I’d like to take a moment beforehand though to say a word about the referees. There were three over the course of the entire evening. The first two alternated for the first four matches. One was a heavyset guy named Smiley. I liked him. Sadly, I don’t remember anything about the second referee except that it wasn’t Smiley. I don’t know why Smiley made such an impression on me, but he did. The main reason I wanted to talk about referees however, is because of the identity of the third referee of the evening, who presided over the last two matches. That referee was Tommy Young.
To anyone who has ever seen NWA wrestling in the 80s, Tommy Young was one of two referees used most frequently on television, the other being Randy “Pee Wee” Anderson. Tommy Young was notorious for being “knocked out” by heels or sometimes, accidentally, by faces so that an illegal move of some type could take place. Many times, however, this proved unnecessary because he tended to be blind as a bat at the most critical point of a match and miss a heel attacking a face with a foreign object or missing a wounded face make the tag to his partner waiting just outside the ring. True, these are staples of wrestling and of refereeing, but Tommy Young made it into an art form and was truly one of the greats. When they announced that he would be refereeing the next match, I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only was I going to see Ricky Morton in action later on that night, but I was going to see my favorite referee officiate a match.
Tommy came out to the ring and made a big show of checking over the ring for anything “below-board”. After fiddling with a turnbuckle on our side of the ring, he turned to the crowd, without even having attempted to correct the problem, pointed to the turnbuckle in question and said, “That looks dangerous!” I thought I would die laughing.
Anyway, the fifth and penultimate match was for the AIWF Mid-Atlantic Tag Titles. The current belt holders, Notorious (Drake Tungsten & “Manaconda” Matt Houston), came out first, being the perfect heels. One of the pair had on a Ric Flair-style robe, all flashy and fancy. Speaking of flashy, he flashed the crowd and made vain remarks about himself to one of the ladies on our side of the ring, and even went to the back row and sat on her lap. Hilariously done, but it was only the start of what would turn out to be the best match of the evening to that point.
Notorious’s advertised partners for the evening were Corey Duncum and Paco Loco. The first time I’d heard the name Paco Loco was on a WCW wrestling game for the N64, so I wondered if the game character was based on this guy, or if this guy had taken his identity from the game. Whatever the answer to my question may have been, Paco Loco came to the ring alone, Duncum nowhere in sight. There was a brief exchange between Paco Loco and the members of Notorious, something about someone in Paco’s family having died, but Paco said that whoever it was that had died was looking down from Heaven and was watching over him. As it happened, Paco’s guardian angel wasn’t the only help he had that night.
They announced Rob “Boogie Woogie Man” McBride, but sadly all I heard was “Boogie Woogie Man” and I thought the guy coming out to the ring was Jimmy Valiant. I hadn’t seen Valiant in years, so when he came out, tagging everybody’s hands, including my own, I thought I’d just made personal contact with someone else I’d seen on my television as a kid. Valiant or not, McBride turned out to be yet another highlight of the evening. He really knew how to get the crowd pumped up, and had them doing alternating chants of “Bald-Headed Geek” and “Chia Pet” to poke fun at one of the Notorious members.
What followed McBride’s entrance was an actual, honest-to-goodness tag team match. It had everything you’d expect to see if you’d ever seen one on tv. Notorious had a manager at ring side who kept distracting Tommy Young. It had a foreign object placed in the trunks. It had said foreign object being used at the most unfortunate moment for poor Paco Loco, aggravating an already-injured eye that had been bandaged up before he came out to the ring. It had the bad guys double-teaming Paco, while a desperate Rob McBride struggled to get past a recalcitrant Tommy Young. Paco managed to turn the tables and use the foreign object on one of Notorious and make them bleed. When Tommy Young turned around, he saw only the blood and was confused but let the match continue. McBride and Paco Loco managed to win and took the belts away from Notorious. I can’t believe I actually saw a title change hands. And for a tag match, at that! Truth be told, I’ve always preferred tag matches to singles competition when it comes to wrestling. The more wrestlers wrestling at one time, the better.
At long last, dear readers, came the moment I had been waiting for. It was time for the final match of the evening, Ricky Morton Vs. Jimi Love. It may seem strange to you, but this is the match I have the most trouble remembering. If you’ve ever seen one of those movie montages where a “greatest hits” of a boxer or athlete’s career stroll past while the music plays, all you have to do is subtract the music and you have what I saw. Every lock-up, every armbar, every move that Morton’s ever done, I saw that night. Okay, not every move. He didn’t fall off a scaffold. Everything else did happen though. Even chants of “ROCK AND ROLL!”, which I participated in, and that time, I didn’t even care whether anybody else was cheering or not. Most importantly of all, though, he won. He retained the title, and when I saw him lift that belt above his head, I felt as if I’d won too. As he started to leave, he gave high-fives to people as he passed. Even though we were in the second row, he stopped and shook hands with my uncle, my brother, and I, and thanked us again for coming out to see him.
And just like that, the show was over. We stood and made our way back out of the auditorium. It was raining, and as I held my autographed photo under my coat and made the journey back to the car, I couldn’t remember the last time I had had so much fun.