Wild Bill: The Sideline Report
An Interview with Les Thatcher
Wild Bill: The Sideline Report
An Interview with Les Thatcher
The epitome of a wrestling fan's existence can usually be measured in what they view as their most cherished memories of the sport. When Bret Hart went out to place his glasses on a young fan at ringside before his match, you knew there was no way that kid would take off those glasses for at least two months!! For some fans, they get a favorite wrestler's autograph, for others a picture with a top heel!
Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting a interview which quickly became a great conversation with a man who has worn all the hats in the wrestling business, Les Thatcher. A former wrestler who wrestled from the late 60's into the late 70's, Les then moved outside the ring to the jobs of trainer, booker, promtoer, TV producer and broadcaster.
WBill: Welcome everyone to the first installment of Wild Bill's Sideline Report My special guest at this time is former wrestler, announcer, and current promoter Les Thatcher. Les thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Les: Well, it's my pleasure Bill. I always enjoy talking to wrestling fans and of course about the wrestling business.
WBill: In order to give everybody just a general background of your experience, I want to begin by reading just a small portion of a bio written about you by Chris Newman as it is posted at The Wrestling Channel's website.
For the past 38 years Les Thatcher has been a wrestler, trainer, booker, promoter, TV producer and broadcaster. His awards include NWA Rookie of the Year, Commentator of the Year (for Smokey Mountain Wrestling and Southeastern Championship Wrestling), and Best Program of the Year for Southeastern Championship Wrestling. He has held tag team championships in partnership with Roger Kirby, Nelson Royal, Danny Miller, Dennis Hall and Whitey Caldwell. He has held the Southern Jr. Heavyweight championship belt. Currently, he's working as a TV production consultant, promoter for Heartland Wrestling and builder of tomorrow's champions at his Main Event Pro-Wrestling training camp in Cincinnati. To this list, he has recently added duties as a Director of the Wrestling Channel, where he is involved in all aspects of the channel's operations.
WBill: Sounds like you've been involved in every aspect of professional wrestling...let's begin with your ring career! When did you first decide you wanted to get into professional wrestling and where did you get your start?
Les: Well, I guess I really first decided when I was about 8 years old when wrestling became one of the staples of television back in the late 40's. Actually, I guess it wasn't paramount in my mind from that point on, but it was always one of the top two, you know how kids will always change their mind about what they want to be anyway. To move on to where I started, I actually had my...I wrestled some amateur around home in Cincinnati in the YMCA's. And I got my professional training through Tony Santos, a promoter based in Boston, Massachusetts. That was in 1960, and he had a gym up there and he was a promoter and ran a lot of towns around the New England area. So I went up there in February of 1960 and I had my first match July 4th, 1960 in Blue Hills, Maine.
WBill: How old were you at the time?
Les: I was 19 years old.
WBill: Was that about the average age for guys to get into the business?
Les: I don't know, I guess some guys got started in their early twenties. A couple of guys I've wrestled over the years, notably Harley Race and Terry Gordy both started at 15. I can't really say that 15 is a good age..it's like some of these young basketball players who jump from high school to professional basketball. It's not to say that their physical skills may not be there, or their physical tools, but to develop mentally...I would say obviously that Terry Gordy and Harley Race both spanned that gap. But I wouldn't think that the average 15 year old would be ready. I won't take anybody in our camp until they're 18. I think that is a better age at which to start...of course at that point also there's no legal ramifications, you don't have to have parents sign for licenses and so forth and so on. I guess late teens, early twenties...I've seen some guys start as as late as their late twenties and be successful, but I wouldn't recommend that either.
WBill: When did you win your NWA Rookie of the Year?
Les: Actually that was for '66, but it was presented to me in '67 in Tampa. That was actually '66 was my first full year in NWA competition. Before that I wrestled for a lot of small...what they would call indy's today...independents, well, actually I worked for a couple of big offices as well, but never over the period of a year. So that was my first year. That was real hot..that was also when I met Gordon Solie who kind of was the guy I patterned, or tried to pattern some of my work after as a commentator. Gordon was the very first commentator that I though Wow, there's somebody who cares about our profession.
WBill: Who did you beat out for the rookie of the year, do you remember?
Les: Well, it was Terry Funk and Bobby Shane.
WBill: That's pretty good competition! I remember reading a magazine when Bobby Shane passed away in that plane crash.
Les: That's right, in fact that was in Tampa Bay. That was many years later...yes, that was where I first met Terry Funk in 1967 in Tampa. And then Bobby and I became partners for a short period of time. We became friends in 1968...or closer friends when he came into Nashville. I actually met Bobby...Bobby was carrying jackets in St. Louis for the promotion there the first time I ever wrestled in St. Louis for their TV, which was 1962. Bobby was just carrying jackets, had wrestled amateur, and was just getting started with some training himself. Actually, he turned pro I think about 17.
WBill: Another young man!
WBill: Who else was in that plane crash, do you remember?
Les: Gary Hart, Mike McCord (Austin Idol), and Buddy Colt...Colt was the pilot.
WBill: It was a tragedy at the time when I read it
Les: Yes. One of the ironic things there Bill was that Bobby Shane did not like small planes and he was also afraid of water. And that he was in a small plane and died in Tampa Bay...it's just very ironic. A great talent wasted.
WBill: I know you can't name a favorite, but tell us a little about some of the organizations you wrestled for in your early years.
Les: Well, as I said, I started in Boston. I got my first shot at a much larger promotion with Barnett Doyle, which had offices in Indianapolis and Detroit, that was early in 1962...I worked for Stu Hart in Calgary...the Crocketts in the Carolinas on several different occasions...the Atlanta Office, the Tampa Office, Mobile, out of the Phoenix Office, Kansas City...
WBill: All over!
Les: Yes, for several different organizations, but mainly the NWA. Then from '66 on I pretty much settled in the Southeast...with the exception of a run up in Canada for awhile. But I had such a successful run down there, that I saw no reason to go anywhere else!
WBill: Who was the biggest influence for you during your career in the ring?
Les: Buddy Rogers was my idol when I was a kid. Of course, looking back on it now that I've become educated to the business, I realized I couldn't have picked a better one. He had the whole package...the look, quite a showmen, could go to the air, mat wrestle, good interview, just a complete guy. That was my inspiration I think as a child. I don't know, a lot of guys...you know I was so lucky through my career to be able to rub elbows with Thesz, the Briscoes, and the Funks, Harley Race, Gene Kiniski, Pat O'Connor, of course Flair...there were so many great wrestlers that I picked up varying moves from or characteristics or psychology and philosophy...the time, the place and the atmosphere contributed.
WBill: Did you ever get a chance to wrestle Nature Boy Buddy Rogers?
Les: Never did. Always wanted to but it never was an opportunity that I had. I have a picture of myself when I was about 13 years old, taken with him. That was at Music Hall here in Cincinnati, when I was a fan of course. Never had the opportunity, I always wanted to wrestle him. Another guy was Dickie Steinborn, who was a good friend. Dickie was a great psychologist in the ring and I always wanted to lock up with him and never had the opportunity.
WBill: It's kind of hard to remember all the matches you've had, but if you had to..if you could take some off the top of your head, which ones would you think were your favorite matches?
Les: Wow...I guess one of the first was my first opportunity to wrestle in a main event in the Charlotte Coliseum, which would have been Christmas of 1967. That was with Johnny Weaver and George Becker as my partners against the Infernos and their manager J.C. Dykes. At that time, we set a record for Christmas show attendance in the Charlotte promotion. There have been so many Bill....I guess one that several fans continually remind me of when I'm in Knoxville, they will say I remember when you wrestled Danny Hodge here in the Coliseum and that was not when Danny was the champion, but when Ken Mantel was the champion and we were wrestling to see who got the shot in that area when Mantel came through. We went to a draw, and then two five minute overtimes, then they finally just awarded it to Danny simply because he had been the champion in the past. Seniority or whatever (ha)!! So anyway, the fact that I survived was the highlight!
WBill: In your wrestling career what were some of your favorite holds and moves you liked to perform?
Les: Nothing super or stupendous. I was an aerialist, if that's what you want to call it at that time, it wouldn't be considered too wild today. Head scissors, flying head scissors, dropkicks, I use to use abdominal stretch, stump puller, flying cross body as finishers. But as Lou Thesz was always fond of saying, A great wrestler is never a one hold wrestler! As much as some guys may have had specialties, I think that the more diverse you were the more potent you were.
WBill: This is a question that strikes close to my heart because I like humor, but tell me one of the funniest things you have ever seen happen in wrestling.
Les: Funniest thing I have seen...that I can share with the public?
WBill: (haha) That's at least PG rated!
Les: Well, one that comes to mind, and I'm of the understanding this has happened in our business more than once, but I've only known it one time and I won't name the person. I will say it wasn't MYSELF, I never wore long robes. A lot of the wrestlers use to sit around and play cards years ago and we would get caught up in these card games before it was time to go to the ring. Anyhow, one night in Birmingham, Alabama, it was the heat of the card game and finally he waited until the last moment, and he had a full length robe. He rushed to the ring and was introduced and untied the belt on the robe...he forgotten his trunks, and all he had on was his supporter! (ha ha)
WBill: I wonder how they handled that when it happened?
Les: The minute he was aware, of the refereee waving at him, he closed it ASAP!!
WBill: That had to be an embarassing moment for him! Tell us some of the other things you remember the most working in the wrestling ring, some of the greats you have known.
Les: I guess all the champions at that time! You know, Lou Thesz, certainly would have to be the classiest world champion. I think through that era Bill when people start talking about who was the greatest of all time they always throw in Dory Jr., Brisco, Thesz, O'Connor, Flair obviously, Harley...they were all during that time. You know Gene Kiniski, maybe is forgotten because he wasn't as colorful maybe as the rest but Kiniski was quite a wrestler as well. There was just so many...it was a time from '60, well, I finally hung the tights up in '79...I was lucky like I say, the knowledge that I have to offer my students. I'm not going to tell you I was that good, but I sat around so many guys where I have good memories where I remember all the things I learned from them. It was a time of a lot of great wrestlers. I can remember going into my first major league dressing room which was in Indianapolis for a television date on a Saturday. It was the first time I ever went over there by myself not knowing any of these people, and never met them, and never worked the area. Went in and there was the Sheik, the original, theBruiser, Art Nelson, Joe Blanchard, Angelo Poffo, to name a few!
WBill: Kind of intimidating isn't it?
Les: Yeah, guys that I've bought tickets to WATCH!! But it was a great time for the business. You know people talk about the big houses now and the money, and this is true. But back then I think depth of talent was greater...and of course the opportunity to learn like I said earlier, you and I were talking before this interview started that with my generation, we were talking about young guys now who might say they're in the business three years, which could constitute SIX matches! Some of these guys are lucky if they wrestle ONCE a month! To really perfect your craft is very tough...we had the opportunity to wrestle 4, 5, 6 nights a week...AND with good guys! When I started I had the opportunity to wrestle some very good entry level guys, some guys who had quite a bit of experience. Terry Garvin, Pat Patterson, Ronnie Dupree, Alex Medina, these guys were all available out of this office that I worked for in Boston. They were young, but they had been around...well, Patterson was just getting started. Terry Garvin had been around, Ronnie Dupree, Alex Medina, that's where Luke Graham started. We had an opportunity to work with veterans and to LEARN...some of these young guys will only work at their own level, so it's much tougher to advance. You know, one good match with a veteran...I was at a show last night, and a young independent, young man got the opportunity to wrestle Ricky Morton. I told him, it's an education...you'll learn more in twenty minutes in there with him than you will with someone at your level if you wrestle him ten, twenty times.
WBill: Did the veterans try to help bring you along just like you're talking about Ricky Morton and this young man did?
Les: Well, not ALWAYS!! (ha ha) The hazing was a little stiffer back then. I'm not going to get into, Well, it was tougher in our time kid because it's always tough to start anything. Depending on how tough and what category is the time you're starting. They taught us respect...and then they taught us the business!
WBill: Respect always first though
Les: Yeah, and to respect the business. It's like your father teaching you how to use a firearm to let you know it can harm you. Or if you've ever written a motorcycle, the minute you think you've mastered that bike, it's going to show you you haven't. You know you've got to always show some respect and realize it's capable of controlling you, as well as you it! I think that's good, I try to teach my students respect for the business, I mean I don't try to run a dungeon or torture chamber or anything like that (ha ha). But we make them work hard, it's a business that will only give you what you give it.
WBill: Moving on to when you decided to hang up the trunks, what made you decide that you wanted to get in the behind the scenes action of wrestling?
Les: Well, actually I got started with television by accident! Rudy Kay and his brothers were promoting the Maritime Provinces. Rudy and I had wrestled as tag team partners in the Carolinas, become good friends, so I went up there to wrestle. They ran a six month season, and I went up there to wrestle and this had been something I had always talked about. When I was a kid in drag racing, I had helped calling the races from the timing tower at the drag strip that our car club helped run. Always had aspirations to be Wolfman Jack or something (ha ha), you know a disc jockey. Well anyway, Rudy knew about this because you kill a lot of time in the car back in those days. Sometimes you knew more about your tag team partner than you knew about your wife! Anyways, I was up there to wrestle and their television commentator had to leave and go...I believe it was to Toronto, where his family was from. Death in the family, some kind of tragedy anway. It was a spur of the moment thing. He called me and said Remember how we use to talk about this...he led me into this, I stuck my chin out. Well, bring your coat...your suit and tie, sport coat and tie, whatever it was, tomorrow because you're going to host the show!! Just like that! This was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We wrestled there Tuesday night and Wednesday I went in there, had never read a format, had never hosted. And this wasn't like I was going to co-host...I WAS THE HOST!
WBill: A lot of pressure!
Les: I mean, I had to open the show, call for commercial breaks, one thing or another...I had never done any of this in my life! (ha ha) That's how I got my feet wet, it's like here, sink or swim! So as it were, I finished out the season, like I said they ran a six month season because of the weather. So I finished up the season, and the other guy just stayed in Toronto. That's how I got started! Then when I came back to the states, I went to the Nashville territory, and then from there to Florida, and then from Florida Danny Miller and I went into the Carolinas as a team. How I got started up there in your stomping grounds was Lord Littlebrook, who had come up to the Maritimes when I was doing TV up there. We were sitting around the dressing room, and Jim Crockett Sr. was there and 'Brook asked him why I wasn't involved in their TV. Jim said What do you mean? And he said, Les hasn't told you that he does TV. Jim said I don't know what you're talking about. So Lord precedes to tell him about that, so one thing led to another, Jim said You want to try it? So I said, Well, if you want me to! So I start sitting in with Big Bill Ward in Charlotte, who was an institution there! And then they started sending me with Charlie Harvell, and then I started going to Raleigh! So I really got immersed into the thing, and it just took off from there!
WBill: What do you like most...the wrestling or behind the scenes? Can you compare the two?
Les: Oh Wow..both...actually as much as I tell my students that the wrestling is a lot more mental than they would think...and it is! Obviously, the plus about doing the TV, your body doesn't take the beating...you'll go brain dead! (ha ha) They both have their ups and down, I enjoy them both. But it just got to be such a merry go round Bill that I had to give something up! I figured I could run my mouth a lot more years than I could manage to wrestle!! (ha ha)
WBill: Looking at the independent circuits, as we talked earlier, how do they compete with the Big 2 organizations?
Les: Well you don't...you can't possibly. The independent scene...it's a shambles! I just got involved in it about 3 1/2 years ago, and it was a cultural shock for me! This goes on in our business? And when I say that, I don't mean every independent promoter...there are reputable promoters out there, guys who really try hard. But then there's just, these guys...I don't know, I don't have a classification for them, but they certainly don't know anything about our business. They just run very slip shod operations. It's bad for the business, they don't draw anything. Well, the biggest thing is your independents don't have the money to do television, or at least not on any major scale. Let's say for example if I wanted to try and run a territory like the old territories out of Cincinnati...I would need a LOT of TV's! You can't go in and barter on a major station any longer...now it's BUY that hour!! It's one of the things that has been a deterent to a lot of these independents. They have to get out...if you want to get into a major market, you have to BUY! Even that, the AWF, if you recall, they didn't run very long.
WBill: SGT Slaughter's outfit.
Les: Well, he was in some capacity...an executive I guess. I can't think of the guy's name who had the money in it. But they were spending God knows how many hundreds of thousands dollars a week to get into these major markets, but yet they weren't pulling into town. Of course, that is, they tried to start too big anyway I think Bill, but you can't compete with the majors. The best thing to do is just try to give the people a good solid show and build on it. You see that in some of the places, it works out for some of the independents, but it's a tough struggle! It really it. That's the other thing where these young guys trying to break into the business now don't have the opportunity to work a full week..they may work one day or weekend, if that, some of these guys only work once or twice a month. So to make a living in the business, as someone put it the other day we were talking , there is no instant gratification...and that's true! There's not! Not any longer, although we need that...when I say we need that I don't expect the business to turn around and go back to 25 territories or anything like that, but I think the Big 2, forget they have some training centers and stuff, but they need a minor league!
WBill: And it has to start small and work it's way up if it's going to survive.
Les: Well, some of these guys are thrown to the lions! There's guys in both federations who aren't really ready to be MAJOR players! They need seasoning, and they've got to get that at a lower level, and to do that effectively they have got to be able to work at least four nights a week. I think it would behoove one of these two organizations to subsidize some small promotion you know. Well, like this Truth Commission...they were getting some seasoning in the USWA in the Mephis office. I assume they will continue that relationship to some degree, but there needs to be more! That's the other thing too is that the WWF had to subsidize and they couldn't make a living at USWA. Of course now with the new management and new ownership, I don't know if that will change or not. See that's the problem...I have guys who say, Well, I'd like to come there to train. Of course I've got to get a job, and the job has to fit the training schedule, and it is a PAIN...but then again, that's just the way the business is evolving!
WBill: Now taking a look at some of the wrestling styles that are out there in wrestling today, what are your thoughts about the Lucha Libre style of wrestling?
Les: I think it's entertaining and these guys are great athletes! But I just don't think that it's ever going to be the major player in this country that a few people seem to believe in, for several reasons Bill. It doesn't really have psychology, it doesn't really tell a story, and the mask mystique in Mexico is a real big thing, but it doesn't play as well here. The Mexican wrestlers, for the most part, don't speak good English, so interview skills are limited. Now, like Dean Malenko, or Chris Benoit, or Ultimo Dragon..the way these guys mix it in with catch as catch can style, and of course all those particular guys I named also mix it in with a little bit of Japanese style. But I think it, in itself, is entertainment. I don't mean this to say that these guys don't work hard or that they aren't tremendous athletes...in fact, they'll be dead before I WIll with some of the bumps they're taking!
WBill: They do take some risks!
Les: Yes, they do! Yes they do! You know, who am I to say...some of them are taking bumps that I..never mind, couldn't do....wouldn't TRY!! Couldn't tell you if I could or not, wouldn't even make the ATTEMPT!! (ha ha) But, the point is, it's good mid card entertainment here. There a guy like the Ultimo Dragon or Dean Malenko who can intermix the styles and make it work. The thing that is selling in this country, to a degree is SIZE! Let's face it, the United States is obsessed with SIZE!! BIG!!...right, 350 pound football lineman, 7 foot and over in the middle of a basketball floor. It's about size one way or another. If you look at the guys in the main events, of course now Bret Hart's not a huge guy, but if you start looking....you've got the older guys with experience with some psychology, for the most part, there are guys who are there and shouldn't be, and BIG guys! Well Syxx maybe is one of the smaller...he's quite a performer! Shawn Michaels, but again, his performance overcomes his size...but anyway, size is a big important thing here! Like I say, I think these guys are entertaining, and I think if they could conform...if they could learn the language better...I don't mean they shouldn't have an accent at all, they don't have to go to a theatrical diction coach or anything like that. You know again, you've got to see some FACES! Sometimes I think if I were just a casual viewer and I were channel surfing and I came across like one of those six man lucha jobs, right, with six guys in masks, I'd think HEY, Mardi Gras with acrobats!
WBill: That's about it!
Les: You know, and again, not being facious, but I'm just saying, you're talking about marketing a product here! I don't think....again it will never lead the industry in this country. Push it or not push it...and again, I admire these guys because they do some tremendous bumps.
WBill: Going in the opposite direction, perhaps, the hardcore angle of Extreme Championship Wrestling. Do you see that as the future of professional wrestling?
Les: I don't see it as the future...I see it as a part of something that has evolved. I'm currently involved with the IWA, Ian Rotten's promotion in Louisville. I'm more in the capacity of commissioner. I'm down at their main show every Thursday night in Louisville, and just started doing TV, so I'm doing their play by play, and helping put the show together. Now this is my first MAJOR involvement in that...but there is a market for it. But I don't see it overcoming everything else either. And I think my problem...well the corkscrew plancha on to three guys...after you've seen it a dozen times, well I've seen it! And I think that after one table, and two tables, and three tables...and at some point, ok, I've seen you bleed 52 weeks in a row, what are you going to do for me next?
WBill: We've seen every brand of frying pan there is!
Les: Yeah, are you going to die? Or decapitate someone or what exactly, where do you move. I think probably the WCW has come closer to finding a mix. Not knowing first hand, I will attribute that to Kevin Sullivan because he was the booker, and had worked the ECW and was very familiar with the guys as well. What they did there with Public Enemy, they bring in some of the guys out of Mexico, then of course some of the Japanese guys, Chono and Muta and so forth, is to give you a diverse style throughout the card...and I think that's good! And sometimes the undercard much overpowers the top card as far as WCW's concerned, but....again, it's still those marquee names! Not only big names, but some fairly good size boys, that are actually the marquee names. I just don't think you're going to get....Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psychosis...you market that as your very, very top match on a PPV and it's not going to do the job for you! And that's not to demean their talent one bit, it's just a matter of business!
WBill: You and I talked once before, and one of the key things you brought up at that time was that wrestling needs to have a thread of credibility. Can you explain that?
Les: Well I think that, in terms of story lines, the angles, and again...everybody has a different philosophy. When I've been involved with that aspect of the business, whether it be my own personal matches or helping run an office for somebody, my first thought is to parallel what I am creating with something that IS in fact happening, to have a parallel that is believeable. I'll give you a for example, and it's done a lot...stealing of the belt! I don't believe in that, and this is why...this coming Super Bowl, if the losing coach runs and grabs the Super Bowl Trophy out of the hands of the winning coach, how long is he going to hold on to that before Paul Tagliabue finds his rear end and tells him to return that trophy or you're out of the league, right!
WBill: He won't get out of the stadium with it!
Les: That's it! No, he won't get across the field! See? See where I'm coming from. What I'm saying is, it's not so bad that he took it...but now he's kept it for six weeks? And nobody can make him give it back? Then who's running this zoo? The animals, I'm assuming right. That's why that Dillon and SGT Slaughter, the two commissioners if you will of WCW and WWF, have to answer...but again, that has to be believeable too! I very much believe in showmanship, listen I can't go back so far as to talk about every match should be a shoot, or there should be no showmanship.
WBill: One of the things, after we talked about that thread of credibility, I got to thinking about some of the events that have happened in professional wrestling recently. And two of them definitely stuck out in my mind as NOT being very credible...one being, when Macho Man joined the NWO after being beaten up so many times..
Les: Right, and his wife, or his girlfriend/wife whatever, taken away, right, by the NWO....yeah, I know exactly what you're saying!
WBill: And then when Ahmed Johnson, in the WWF, joined the Nation of Domination after Ron Simmons/Faaroqq had injured him previously!
Les: Well now what's even more lacking credibility is the fact that as of this past Monday, now it looks like Ahmed is back, is he a double agent? (ha ha)
WBill: The world may never know...it gets crazy sometimes!! (ha ha)
Les: Yes it does, and not only in our business. But you know, listen I love this business, I mean...I'm not gonna say well, get out if you don't like it...I love it! But I just think, you know, and again...Bill, let's take you as a fan. I would rather have you go home tonight after you've jumped up and down and got out of your seat, screamed and yelled and booed and cheered and whatever..and go home and when you've calmed down, thought about it, You know...maybe they REALLY were mad at each other!...you know, I'm not sure Instead of saying, Well, now that I've stopped to think about it, that was all BS...that could never possibly happen!
Les: Because now you're going to be more interested in coming. You know, as long, if I'm a magician, as long as I don't show you how I cut that lady in half, you know damn well I didn't cut her in half! But as long as I don't tell you HOW I do it, you keep watching!
WBill: That's right! Take an example like Bret Hart and his situation right now with Shawn Michaels. EVERYBODY on the Internet has an idea, but they never know! They don't know if there is real friction between those two men, or if it's all just a part of the act!
Les: Yeah, but there's always professional friction...even among friends sometimes! I think what we're seeing in wrestling now, is like you see in other sports, right. I'm not adverse to these guys making the money they're making, I'm just adverse at having not earned it! Forget wrestling, if a particular football player comes into camp 30 pounds overweight, and he's making $2.5 million a year, and in the off season he's got nothing else to do anyway, then he's indignant because the team asked him to be in shape! Bill, for $2.5 million...ask me what you want!! (ha ha)
WBill: It's yours!! (ha ha)
Les: Hey, I mean, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me!
WBill: Well, in wrestling, do you see it kind of a lack of respect, like the Tradition Bites angle that was recently going on in the NWO with Ric Flair and Syxx?
Les: I think, right now...let's move to another sport again, let's parallel this...Charles Barkley made the comment that Allen Iverson needs to get his act together, that he showed no respect, and said he wouldn't to the veterans, right, to the Larry Bird's, and the Magic Johnson's, and the Barkley's indeed, and the Michael Jordan's...I think that's WRONG! Again, I have no problem with these guys making...I'm not jealous, I'm envious! I'm not mad, I'm envious!! (ha ha)
WBill: Where were you when I was wrestling? (ha ha)
Les: Exactly! But you know there was a time when we made money, we had to earn it! In other words, what I mean by that is you got paid by a percentage of the house. And there are guys on guaranteed contracts that I'll guarantee you don't have the physical talents to earn that! But I'm not mad at them...I just want to know HOW they...I want them to tell me how I can get a contract like that!! (ha ha) You know, in fact I know that some of these companies are paying guy's relatives to STAY HOME!! I'd probably stay home a lot CHEAPER!! (ha ha)
WBill: (ha ha) Let's look at the behind the scenes action, who have been some of your favorite people to work with?
Les: Oh Wow! You know there have been some great promoters! Jim Crockett Sr. was a tremendous guy to work with. In the promotional end, a personal friend of mine, Ron Fuller, who had the territory of Knoxville and the Southeastern territory. And a guy that he and I indoctrinated in the business, named Bob Polk, who now manages the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville. In the television end...of course, I've been very fortunate..you know, it's great because I had the chance to work with the very best TV people as well as I did the best wrestlers I think. Obviously, Gordon Solie...Gordon and I became buddies in '67 when I was in Tampa before I ever had aspirations to do the television. Then I got to work with him in '73 for the first time. Then of course I've work with Bob Caudle, I've worked with Lance Russell...Ed Capprell, who doesn't get mentioned a lot, but Ed was the voice of Georgia Championship Wrestling way before Gordon or myself or anybody else got involved down there. Charlie Platt, who worked the Gulf Coast, and Jim Ross...Jim and I did Smokey together. So I've been blessed in that respect, to have had an opportunity...it's highlights, you were talking about highlights of my career, I think the opportunity to work and meet those kind of people...and it's always a great challenge! That's the thing, at my advanced age Bill, keeps the nostrils flared and I get that rush...when I say compete, I don't mean can you top this? type right, but just go out there and just BE! You know, if I can hang with Jim Ross, or I can hang with Gordon Solie...or if I can hang with Terry Funk or Harley Race, you know?
WBill: As long as you're there WITH them!
Les: That's it, exactly!
WBill: If you had to do a short list of some up and coming young stars in wrestling today, whether they've made the majors or not, who would be on that short list for you?
Les: Wow...Well, I'd have to go with some of the guys that are today. Not all so young necessarily, but certainly, the next tier of this business...Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Chris Candido, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels...I'll tell you, Dallas Page has come a long way. He still has some stuff to learn, but here's a guy who was given an opportunity and he took advantage of it...became a talent, you know you can see him improve! I admire...I don't even know the man, but I admire anybody who's willing to roll up their sleeves and bust their hind...I call it the Larry Bird work ethic. That's something I admire, I don't care how much natural talent you do or don't have, the fact that you're willing to dig in and give what you've got to do something, you've got to admire that!
WBill: The good work ethic...and then good skills behind the microphone to help sell your matches!
Les: Oh sure, sure. Well, you know there again there's a lot of flak in the wrestling press about who doesn't know how to call a plancha and you know what I think...who cares? That makes room for Mike Tenay...that makes room for Joey Styles! That's good that they want to know all that, but listen...Gordon Solie is STIlL the Dean! It's a shame that some major company doesn't WANT him back! You know? I have nothing against Joey Styles, he's good at what he does! And Tenay is improving on camera and he was a Sphynx when he first started, bless his heart. But he knows his lucha! So that's good, you know!
WBill: Sometimes it takes time for some people.
Les: I'll tell you who is the most unheralded is Zybysko...and I like Larry because Larry asks questions that I ask. Like, How did he get on our frequency? with his microphone...and I want to know who sneaks those monster trucks in their pockets that nobody sees them in the back! That's part of the credibility problem. But Larry, I mean seriously, I think Larry...he keeps a perspective, let's face it, if I'm being paid by a company, or he's being paid, or Tony Schiavone is being paid, or Gene Okerlund or whoever, we're shilling for that company....but we can do it with a little integrity and a little zest! Everything is not the greatest thing that ever happened in the world...just happened in front of you!
WBill: That's one of the problems you had with the organizations, when a star would go from one to another, it was almost like you had to ignore his past history!
Les: I alway thought that was kind of silly. I won't even get into names here because again, everyone has their own personal thing, and that's their business I guess, especially if they're signing the check. But I can recall at times working for promotions that would not acknowledge the death of a wrestler that was prominent in that particular area at one point in time simply because that person left there, or because it would give us a down attitude on the show. But it also adds some class, you know! That's why I think things like the vignettes that Ross did with Mick Foley/Mankind/Cactus Jack/Dude Love....
WBill: Mrs. Foley's baby boy! (ha ha)
Les: Whoever (ha ha)...bless his heart, I love him! What a character, what a great guy! But those things they did there are TREMENDOUS..that's an advancement for our business!
WBill: They've been well received among the fans.
Les: Well, I think it gave Mankind another dimension, right?
Les: And you could sit there and say, Yeah man, I wanted to be Dude Love when I was a kid, right?
Les: Sure, that human interest stuff is GREAT! I think it made Dustin's Goldust thing more palatable for a lot of fans! You know, OK, he's a father, and he's hetero, he's OK, I can accept it now!
WBill: And him and Marlena are married, when some people didn't know that!
Les: Right! So now everybody's happy! You know, it's a different time and I realize that. Listen, I'll tell you the truth...I see how different guys music gets the people hyped..I wish back when I was in my prime, we had had that kind of help! Now I don't want these idiots with play cards saying BOO, CHEER..that's nonsense! If you don't know if your wrestlers are over or not, you've got idiots doing that on TV, I think that's nonsensical! If he can't make people cheer or boo on his own, he has no business to be out there anyway! Yeah, times have changed...the music, and the lights! Of course again, every promotion can't afford that luxury, but still!
WBill: Indoor fireworks, things like that.
Les: Yeah, I think if the little promotions use their heads they can have some of these light shows, and some of them are trying to do that. It's an enhancement...hey, I'm not adverse to the pretty ladie's Bill! (ha ha) I'm old, I'm not DEAD!! (ha ha) Let's face it, SEX sells!!
WBill: (ha ha) Give Dude Love credit!
WBill: Moving on, we're talking about the way things are today, let's talk a little bit about your current activities as a trainer and promoter...tell us a little bit about that.
Les: Well, promoter...not so much. Actually a couple of other guys in the organization deal with some towns. That's something I'm least happy of doing in the business if I have a least happy thing! I'm not a big wheeler dealer as a promoter...but I'm training, I really enjoy working with young guys! Especially those who have that same fire in the belly I had when I was young, and wanted to this! I've got some good students, I haven't trained any world champions yet, but I've had a couple of my guys on WWF shows, they've had an opportunity to work with some of the bigger stars. And I see them improving...you know I enjoy it! I'm reestablishing my own career through them or whatever, but I enjoy it. I enjoy it very much. We're running some small towns. Like I said, I'm involved with Ian Rotten in Louisville. Now you probably thing that a guy who runs around with a aluminum barbed wire baseball bat is not real stable, but truthfully I'm impressed with the way Ian runs his business down there. He and Ricco are very professional...my short relationship with them thus far has been fine, they run a good business. So I'm involved with them and looking to expand...got a couple of things going on that I'm not sure about at this point so I just won't mention, but the possibility of expanding the promotion. Some of that is in the west, putting another TV in...when I say the west, just the west of us. Expanding the school. If somebody else promotes the town, I like booking the story lines and putting the matches together and training the guys, or calling up and getting some guys. Like the show we went to last night, I helped another promoter with it, they had Ricky Morton in, so I get to visit...I enjoy it! I guess after 38 years Bill, if I didn't love it I wouldn't be involved!
WBill: How long have you been training wrestlers?
Les: I've just actually been doing that about 3 1/2 years. I started for another guy and we had a very wide gap in philosophies, so to the mutual benefit of both of us, we parted company. I've got another partner in the business, Brady Labor, he also manages and wrestles a little bit, a young guy. He takes care of the book work, we have a couple of good guys who help us in other capacities. He and I started Main Event Pro Wrestling camp just a little over two years ago, and HWA is an offshoot of that. You know you come up with a wrestling organization, you've got to have some kind of name, so we settled on Heartland Wrestling! We're running, oh about maybe one or two shows a month, but our guys are getting booked at some of the other places as well. I keep saying I need to find something else to do, I don't have time!! (ha ha)
WBill: You were saying at one time about one of the things wrestling needs is a place for this young talent to develop, and that's what you provide there.
Les: Yeah, we teach more than just holds Bill. I try to teach ring psychology, I try to teach a little about the politics of the business, dressing room etiquette if you will, professionalism, how to conduct themselves in terms of business. I try to help them with character development. You know I'll make up mythical cards and have them do interviews because that's something, believe me, is TOUGH to learn if you're not a natural at it. But it's a big part of our business obviously! We video tape our work outs a lot, go back and play them, look at the bad things as well as the good, slow mo them. I'll take some of the old '70's and '60's stuff and have these guys watch it...watch the mechanics of some of the great wrestlers, because, obviously the guy's styles are different today. Still, the basics are still the basics! It's more than just getting in the ring and throwing each other around or learning how to throw each other around. It's try to teach the whole spectrum. There's some good camps out there, but there's a lot of bogus stuff out there too!
WBill: You have to teach them the whole wrestling business!
Les: Try to...try to! The ever changing wrestling business (ha ha)! Just when I think I've got all the answers, they change the questions!
WBill: Now comes the question that really whets my appetite...tell us about The Wrestling Channel!
Les: Well, Bill, The Wrestling Channel...no simple way. It's the brain child, a dream of a gentleman named Chris Newman, who is based in Seattle, WA. He started the idea some 12 years ago or so, and came up with the idea then, and just started a little over a year ago in trying to make it a reality. Thus far there is a website up, which is still under development. And, of course, The Wrestling Channel gets its name from that! The proposed idea is to at some point have a 24 hour a day professional wrestling oriented channel, on a satellite hook up which can be seen around the world, or at least around North America to start with. And also go to radio, make it...like Chris likes to say, the Town Square of professional wrestling. From there, go wherever! I became involved...Chris and I began corresponding a little over a year ago. The television thing really whetted my appetite, so he asked me to be a member of the Board of Directors, and I am indeed a member of the Board of Directors. Mostly involved in the television end. Now, in terms of WHEN the TV thing will be up and flying....Bill, I can barely balance my checkbook, so I don't get involved in the finance! (ha, ha) That's more of Chris's alley! There are proposals out there, I know they're working on financial backing, satellite uplinks, and so forth and so on. When this thing gets rolling, I'll be involved in the actual programming, scheduling, production, so forth and so on.
WBill: Tell us a little about what type of shows we can expect to see on The Wrestling Channel. Will we see old organization's tapes?
Les: Well, yeah, that among other things. Certainly, we have, of course we have no binding contracts, but we have opened doors and talked to...well, Jim Cornette for Smokey Mountain Wrestling, the Hart Family for Stampede, the Watts Family for the Mid-South shows. We talked to my old friend Gordon Solie about doing a Scrapbook of sorts. Of course, Gordon does the Ring Warriors with Hiro Matsuda...the Japanese wrestling they are putting on the European cable at this point and time, we hope to have that show on the air. That's pretty much a foundation of some of the stuff. We have access to a library of old '50's films, converted to tape. Of course, we want to get involved in that as much as possible. Who knows, game shows...the independent promotions that have television will be something we will look into, talk shows, maybe movies starring professional wrestlers or involving professional wrestlers in featured roles.
WBill: Are there any plans to do a Live Wire type interactive show at The Wrestling Channel?
Les: Well, you know...yeah! I'm a computer illiterate actually (ha ha), but everyone else in the organization, thank God, is way ahead! But, yes, there is...they're wanting to do some things like that too. I'm more inclined for the call in thing. You know, I've got some ideas along those lines myself, like coming off a major PPV, which obviously we would not carry, but where you can have a couple of reporters giving their pro and con, you know point and counterpoint, on the strong and weak points of that particular production. And at the same time, have an 800 line open where you can have callers, you know where you get some instant feedback from the fans! So things like that...you know it will be run along the lines of, like networks like USA where they do an original programming and they will rerun that same program a couple of times through the week in different time slots. So that way, obviously, we will gear up to fit the prime time scheduling, just like any major network would, but then...say a program runs at 8:00 Tuesday night. It may run at 2:00 AM on Friday and noon on Sunday!
WBill: Everybody for working shift will have a chance to see it.
Les: Exactly! We want to do specials, we want to do our own original programming. I intend to do some sort of talk show. Hopefully, HWA will put together...I'm not sure what, but everything will be wrestling related! Hopefully, everything won't be the standard one hour format! (ha ha) You know, it's going to give people a chance to see....there are no guidelines at this point. This is something that has heated up the e-mail waves of arranging directors at The Wrestling Channel. But there are no guidelines...as of yet, in terms of what type of programming will or will not be available...although Chris does want to make it family viewing, you know, all the way through. Of course, the concept of that changes year to year...day to day (ha ha)!
WBill: The evolution of wrestling.
Les: Yeah, or the evolution of entertainment, and our society actually. But, yes you're right. You and I were talking about a young man...these guys think that wrestling started with the WWF in 1985! Some of these guys, right, they don't know there was a life before that! So this is going to give a lot of people a chance to see...you know we were talking about wrestling history hasn't been pushed. But you get a chance to see a lot of the great wrestlers, or some of the guys who are grizzled veterans now, when they were spindly young kids, I think a lot of people will GRASP at that opportunity! The other thing, I think, right now, you either sign with the WWF, WCW, or ECW, or you're virtually nonexistent as far as the general public is concerned. I could be the very best independent wrestler in the world today, and yet I'm not worth a $50 pay off from a guy in Kansas City because I can't put one rear end in one seat. Now, if I'm exposed on The Wrestling Channel in Kansas City, and I'm wrestling over here, now all of a sudden some of the patrons of this guy's promotion may say Hey, we saw that guy on The Wrestling Channel, so now he's in a position to pay me something decent, and fly me, because I'm in a position to draw him some money.
WBill: And that will cause some of the guys to work harder and get better.
Les: It should. Now here's something...I speak for no one but Les Thatcher when I say this. I don't speak for The Wrestling Channel. But some of these guys are going to have to get a grip on reality! You know a lot of these small promotions are fantasy camps...they're playing, they're bad parodies, that's the honest truth. So if you're going to make it, you know, you've got to get over that. It's got to be something that's going to want to make people watch it. Believe me Bill, I'm sure you channel surf at 3 AM as I do, or 3 PM, and there's some BAD stuff out there!
WBill: Definitely! This will force them to get better, to get the attention, to draw the bigger money!
Les: Here's the thing too Bill. If you are given an opportunity, why wouldn't you take every advantage of that? If all of a sudden you are lamenting you are the young 22 year old wrestler who has been at this three or four years, and saying Why isn't Vince looking?, Why isn't Eric looking?, Why isn't Paul paying attention to me? Well, now here this thing opens up, and you work for a promoter that's on this Wrestling Channel. Why wouldn't you go to a gym and lift some weight and put on some decent size? Why wouldn't you eat properly so you look trim like an athlete? Why wouldn't you want to get in the gym and work out and be better prepared to get on that TV, because you ARE going to be seen! Somebody may actually want to sign you to some kind of contract, or start using you in a better capacity. I think, down the road, if everything comes to pass as we hope it does, it's going to give these guys a chance to make a living in this business without having to sign with a major promotion. And yet, it will never be in competition with the major promotions...it never will be! You know, they're going to be tickled to death to draw their 800 or 1,000 people, and that would be a major increase for a lot of guys! And when I say a living, you know...what is a living? Well, it's different to everybody obviously! What I'm saying is a guy can make in the high five figures and make it a full time occupation again, for a lot of guys who aren't in that position now! I think it's time...when I first heard the idea, I thought Yeah, I think it's time! You know there's a Gardening Channel, there's a Golf Channel, and I don't play that game, but I'm sure it gets a lot of play!
WBill: But the golfers who do, they watch it!
Les: Sure, and there are a lot of wrestling fans out there! I think it will be great to give people a lot more access to a lot more styles, you were talking about styles earlier, you're going to see a real mish-mash of wrestling styles on this thing.
WBill: One of the things we've discussed before, and lamented over, was the fact that so much of the old tape from wrestling is gone. Tell us a litte bit about what The Wrestling Channel is going to do to try and preserve that which is left.
Les: Well, you know, they actually want to, at some point, start developing a library. Obviously, anything that is shown on the channel, we'll want to make copies and hold on to. But then again, Chris does have aspirations of trying to preserve the tapes that are out there. I mentioned to you a library of '50's black and white stuff, that was old kineoscope or film, converted to tape. So they're wanting to...just like up in D.C., with the climate control, the whole nine yards, you know, so this stuff will be around forever! Of course it will all be made accessible through The Wrestling Channel website, through the radio...you know anything that is audio, possible to put out on radio situation...so you may see something on the channel, actually on the television end. Then you can get the transcription, you know down load it off the website, or possibly if it's in interview form, like you and I are doing now, it could be available on The Wrestling Channel radio division!
WBill: The possibilities are almost endless aren't they?
Les: They're STAGGERING Bill!! I just hope we stagger and get on the air real quick!
WBill: Well, I'm looking forward to it when it happens. Any closing thoughts you would like to send to those who will be listening or reading this interview?
Les: It's great to know the wrestling business continues to flourish in terms of a fan base! It seems like with the webs and the Internet that has made wrestling fans more close knit, and I think that's GREAT! Like I said earlier, after 38 years in the business, I obviously love it! I guess you're going to post my e-mail if anyone is interested in wrestling, promotions, we do a private party thing as well in house Bill, for like if you want to throw a birthday party for someone and their 75 favorite friends, you know we can do that for you too! But anyway, I'll be happy to have anyone that would be interested in wrestling or just contact us with any questions. I'll be happy to try and answer them for them.
WBill: Les's e-mail address for the Heartland Wrestling is HWAwrestle@aol.com. You also mentioned that you are going to have a couple of sites up at The Wrestling Channel.
Les: Right, well the HWA site will be up with the independent promotions. The Main Event Training Camp will be listed under wrestling schools, and I have a interview site, where I interview guys too Bill! Which is easier than being interviewed quite frankly (ha ha), which is called Wrestler's Eye View. If you start scrolling down the left site, I'm right down at the bottom...one step from being out the door Bill! (ha ha)
WBill: (ha ha) You've got several interviews at that website.
Les: Yeah, I've got to get back on the stick and do some more. Yeah, Gordon Solie is on there, Bill Eudy, who was the masked Superstar and one of Demolition, and Chris Candido, and the Fabulous Moolah are all on there! I've got some other guys, but I've just been so busy with everything else, I haven't had the opportunity to do that, but I need to get on that! On our wrestling school site, two of the students are going to do a diary, so if you're interested, or anyone is interested, in what it is like to learn the business, struggle around with the little independents, these guys are going to try and document that for you! You've got to change the chapter every third week or something like that. But you can check both of those sites if you want to see our guys in action, or if you want to contact us about the school, or almost anything Bill...or send us money!! (ha ha)
WBill: (ha ha) Well Les, I want to thank you again for taking the time to sit down for this interview, and we look forward to the day when The Wrestling Channel will be on cable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Les: Boy, I look forward to that myself Bill! It's always been a pleasure, especially to a guy from the Mid Atlantic area! One of my fondest memories!
WBill: Thank you Les!
As a closing note, as I have mentioned previously, this interview is one of my highlights of my life as a wrestling fan. We went into greater detail about a variety of topics, and Les was gracious enough to spend almost four hours on two separate occasions, on the phone talking to a fan who just took the opportunity to start e-mailing him, and it grew from that. There are times when the sport suffers from bad publicity and the self destruction of some of it's stars, but being able to sit down and talk about the business with somebody actively involved and from the aspect that both of you love the sport, was very special to me. It is my hope that you will visit the site and be just as anxious as I am for the day when the 24 hour, 7 day a week The Wrestling Channel premieres in YOUR living room!!
This is Wild Bill from the Sidelines!! Thank you for reading!!
Thank you Bill! I will be back later this evening with the regular Monday edition. Unitl then...
Anyway, that's the way I see it...
editor Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
(Editor's Note: If you have found anything thats been said here to be particularly offensive please read this disclaimer).
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