(Dallas Observer, November 6-12, 1997)
By Thomas Korosec
In a tattered back office, behind a door with a scribbled sign asking, "Please Dry Off Before Coming In -- Buster," Rick Fowler turns down the acid rock on his dust-covered boom box and invites his visitor in.
The room, lighted by a single bare bulb on a pole, is all dirty carpet and stained acoustic tile and 1953 paneling resembling the stuff in those creepy Calvin Klein ads. A collection of rubber bands litters the floor in front of a baseboard next to Fowler's desk. He has been taking target practice at the house mouse -- a healthy, nose-twitching gray, about three inches in diameter.
An enormously friendly, cube-shaped man whose fondness for the Spandex sport immediately comes through, the 43-year-old Fowler is half of the current promotions team at the Sportatorium -- the fifth or sixth wrestling promoter in the building this decade.
Fowler hired Bart to start a school, the Power Pro Training Camp, as well as book wrestlers for the Friday night matches and "run the talent" on fight night. "People say the Sportatorium is deader than Kelsey's nuts for wrestling, but we're bringing it back," he says. "We'll try just about anything to bring up the house."
Two weeks ago, WFAA-Channel 8 bit on a publicity stunt of a story -- launched by a Fowler press release -- that the corrugated metal facility was going to be torn down and replaced with a drive-in beer barn. "Next month, wrestling promoters throw in the towel," reporter Doug Wilson told viewers in his "end-of-an-era" piece.
Today, Fowler laughs about his cheesy publicity gambit, saying he was just dying for some TV exposure to fill a few seats. He claims he has a new lease, although others connected somehow with the Sportatorium's byzantine ownership structure say the arena is still in danger.
On Friday match nights, crowds of between 200 and 400 bring in between $1,500 and $2,400, supporting a one-night payroll of 37 ushers, guards, and other assorted help, according to Fowler and Bart. The wrestlers make between $25 and perhaps $125 for the night depending on where they're placed on the card.
Welcome to the small time's super-heavyweight division. In the Connecticut-based World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner's World Champion Wrestling, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and their ex-NFL colleagues earn something between a good living and B-movie wages in well-rated televised matches. Elsewhere, wrestler paydays are more bust than boom.
In 1981, 13 million people attended professional wrestling matches in civic centers and auditoriums around the United States. Last year, fewer than 2 million did. Much of the $300 million a year generated by this world of cartoonish slapstick and superhero physiques ends up with the two TV series. Independent regional promoters have long complained that WWF and WCW have all but closed them down.
"You have guys who come in here and say, 'I want to be a superstar on TV,' and I think, 'You're not very bright,'" Fowler says. "If you weigh 170 pounds, it's not gonna happen."
"They have to have a look, a certain something," he adds. "We can help give 'em a look, work on the physical part of it, the showman part of it, teach 'em to do the TV interviews. People think you can just do this, but that's not true. It's like being computer-literate. "We got some guys in here now who weigh 170, but we can tell them how to put on the weight...We don't make any promises."
Fowler, who grew up playing high school football and running track for the Weatherford Kangaroos, was a construction worker in his late 20s when he began his own decade-long ring career. He met a few wrestlers while working out at a Weatherford gym, went to a wrestling school in the Fort Worth Stockyards, then made a small mark on the wrestling world as the 280-pound biker Buster Blackhart, Dog of War.
After he tattooed a flaming heart on his left arm, he "was pretty much stuck being a bad guy," he says. An old promotional shot of Fowler distending his lower lip on a ring pole indicates he wasn't miscast. "I loved performing," he says of his best days in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It didn't hurt that he knew a few beer-drinking brutes who would come over from Parker County and support his act.
Fowler joined up with Mike Morrow, who became Butch Blackhart, the other half of the Dogs of War wrestling team. The two men spent so much time on the road that they developed a seating plan for restaurant booths, to settle the running question of who would face the door. "We'd face the Blackhart tattoos out," Fowler says.
Now, a decade later, Fowler gets around on bad knees -- as Bart says, "his wheels gave out" -- and makes his living off of a video store, a tanning salon, and his wife's beauty parlor. They're in Brock, a tiny town west of Weatherford.
Fowler's 14-year-old son, Dusty, comes along to the matches, helps work the lights, and has every intention of becoming a second-generation pro. "He's only known wrestling for what it really is," says Fowler. "He's never had the thrill these other kids get from it. "A lot of guys won't tell you the trade secrets. But it's like a stunt fight on TV -- 90 percent show. We teach these guys how to put a hammer lock or a wrist lock on someone, and how to put on a good 'un. Then you back off the pressure."
The trick is to wrestle "tight" enough to make it look good, he says.
There are other secrets as well. The major sections and moves in a match are scripted in the locker room, but many of the moment-to-moment combinations are "called" by the more senior of the two wrestlers while the two are locked in a clinch. When they're moving, they're always circling to the right to keep things predictable.
A timekeeper gives the referee a signal to end the match. That's when the preordained winner delivers a dramatic final move -- say, a flying cross-body -- and gets the "one, two, three."
Black Bart isn't one to help give any of this material away. "The guys talk to each other in this ring, but it's just practice," he says, spitting tobacco juice into a near-full Diet Dr Pepper bottle.
Ever a protector of the code, Bart is the only one in the group who demurs when asked to confirm his out-of-ring name. (Hint: the little 15-year-old Volkswagen he drives up is registered to Bonnie B. Jones, who lives with a guy named Rick.)
To be continued...
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The "Free-for-All" is what has become the usual mix of promos and rehashes of recent events (what ever happened to the mid-card matches they used to show during the pre-game show?)
The opening montage is filled with clips of the unfulfilled promise of the nuptuals that didn't come off for Stephanie and Test. Armageddon is on the air from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Sixteen Man Tag Team Battle Royal - the Dudleys come out first and Bubba gets to deliver his "biblical" rant followed by Edge and Christian and the battle is on before the rest of the combatants arrive. The Headbangers joins them, then the Hardey Boyz (w/Terri), The Mean Street Posse (Pete and Rodney w/Joey Abbs), The Acolytes, Too Cool, and The Godfather (w/garden tools)/Mark Henry (when did these two make up?) - the rules here are that if one member of a team is eliminated, both members are out. The winners will be the #1 contenders to the Tag Team Titles. Rodney is eliminated almost immediately but Abbs jumps in to take his place and gets away with it for a minute or so. Mosh is eliminated next, taking out the Headbangers. Mark Henry is thrown out by Too Cool, thus his team is gone. Brian Christopher is looking less then "Too Cool" at one point with his tights pulled down around his ankles. He struggles to pull them back up as his partner is tossed to the floor. Half the field is eliminated at this point. Christian gets pulled off the apron by Devon and they are gone. Matt Hardey then eliminates Devon a few moments later. It's down to the Acolytes vs. The Hardey Boyz. The outside referee gets knocked out. Matt Hardey and Bradshaw both fall to the floor but there is no referee to see it happen so they allow the match to continue, half in and half out of the ring. Eventually Jeff launches himself into space and out of the ring. The Acolytes get the Title shot at the Royal Rumble is January.
Lillian Garcia interviews Kurt Angle, who claims he is still undefeated despite his tag team loss on Smackdown Thursday.
Kurt Angle vs. Steve Blackman - it's good they are getting this one out of the way early because they really have no face wrestler in this match. Angle has sold himself quite effectively as a heel since his debut, and Blackman has been turned that way in recent months with his nonsensical attacks on everyone and his brother. Blackman takes the early advantage until he goes for a high risk move and blows it. Angle puts his opponent down then goes for a moonsault, which also fails to payoff. Blackman gets a bow and arrow but almost is counted out as his own shoulders are down. Angle is still a little out of it after his failed moonsault but soon pulls himself together as the fans start up a "boring" chant. JR actually calls attention to this, something I've never heard an announcer do before. Angle is outwrestling his opponent now as the crowd switches to "Angle Sucks!" Blackman turns the tables and the match goes into see-saw mode for a bit. Eventually Angle pulls off a German suplex and gets the pin. Afterward, Blackman gets a little pay back with a set of numchucks.
A seductive female figure is seen dressing behind a screen. It's BB - Mike Cole comes in to interview her and is completely tongued tied in the face of her beauty.
Greg Norman, the golfer known as the "Great White Shark", is seen at ringside.
Mae Young and Moolah comes to the ring to referee the next match.
Miss Kitty vs. BB vs. Jacquline vs. Ivory - Evening Gown Four Corners match for the WWF Womens' Title - Jacquie and Miss Kitty start the fight before the other two arrive. This match is taking place is a shallow swimming pool? Why not? The crowd breaks into a "Let's Go Puppies!" chant as the fight gets underway in earnest. Jacquie loses her clothes first then Kitty and Ivory team up against BB. They strip BB to her underwear then Ivory tries to remove that as well, but fails to the crowds displeasure. Moments later Kitty gets Ivory's dress off and wins the match - so much for the promise of the underwearless Miss Kitty. Ivory is a sore loser. Kitty then announces that she knows the crowd came to see her get naked, and she doen't intend to disappoint them - but, she says, "They made me wear underwear..." She strips down then jumps into the pool, only to manage to actually flash us in the end by removing her bra before Sgt. Slaugter covers her up. Mae Young follows suit and spoils everybodys' lunch.
Rakishi talks to Kevin Kelly. He and Viscera will be facing the other "Super Heavyweight" tag team - the Hollys.
Rakishi Fatu/Viscera vs. The Hollys - almost a ton of beef in the ring...right... This is a silly match which the latter can only win via guile. Hardcore faces Rakishi to start and can hardly move him, let alone manhandle him the way he needs to. Viscera tags in and Bob's problems are magnified. Crash keeps having to save his butt from a pin. Bob finally gets a missle drop-kick from the top and is able to tag in Crash who lays in a drop-kick to the gut then another to the knee - then he goes for a sunset flip...the idiot. He is squashed and Rakishi tags in. Crash gets a DDT on him which accomplishes nothing. Rakishi gets his piledriver but then Viscera runs down his own partner by mistake and hands Crash the win. Rakishi is livid afterward and the two big guys go nose-to-nose then separate - Rakishi hits a kick to the face of his partner. Sgt. Slaughter and other break it up.
In the back, Val Venis talks to Lillian Garcia about his European Title match tonight.
Val Venis vs. D'Lo Brown vs. The British Bulldog (w/the Posse) -3-Way Dance WWF European Title match - Davey Boy's companions are ordered away from ringside before the action starts. Bulldog and Venis double up on D'Lo to start but he is up to the task and turns the tables on them with a double clothesline. The fight goes to the outside where Venis and the Bulldog dissolve their partnership - but D'Lo decides to weigh in against Val as well. That teamwork breaks down soon enough and it's every man for himself again. The Bulldog is knocked out and doesn;t participate for the next little while, Val and D'Lo take it back into the ring. Davey Boy returns to the ring and the match settles into the usual round of one guy out of it while the other two fight, then the thrid guy recovering in time to break up the pin (I hate these 3-way matches, can you tell..?) D'Lo is out of it for an extended period at one point as he is knocked to the floor then dropped again as he ties to re-enter the ring. He saves Venis from a pin from the outside by pulling his leg over the bottom rope a moment later. Eventually, Val wins it with a Money Shot on the Bulldog after D'Lo hits him first and is pushed aside.
X-Pac vs. Kane (w/Tori) - Cage Match - Kane can only win by pinfall while X-Pac is allowed to climb out to win. The door will be chained shut. This match was set-up due to a challenge made by Kane on Sunday Night Heat earlier this evening. X-Pac comes in first and locks himself inside the cage, forcing Kane to climb in over the wall. Once he is inside, the match gets underway. Kane dominates the early going. X-Pac is forced to flee for the wall but Kane follows him and prevents him leaving. Back inside, kane is felled by a spin kick and X-pac appears to be trying to climb out again but then drops a leg off the top and goes for a pin. No cigar. He drops the big guy again and again chooses to skip his chance to climb out. This time it is a mistake as Kane intercepts him in mid air. Here comes the New Age Outlaws with a set of bolt cutters. They break into the cage distract Kane then shut the door in his face as he goes after them. They throw a chair inside then reclose the door. X-Pac gets the X-Factor using the chair for extra emphasis. Now the Outlaws throw in a set of handcuffs. Kane is shackled and repeatedly hit with the chair. Now Tori enters the ring but X-Pac catches her in the X-Factor as well. He turns and goes at Kane with the chair again but Kane knocks it back in his face then breaks the handcuffs as X-Pac scrambles to leave the ring. Kane catches him and slams the door back in X-Pac's face, getting a little payback. He then climbs to the top of the cage and catches his opponent with a flying lariat from there as the latter regains his feet. The Tombstone Piledriver spells doom for X-Pac.
Cut to a Millenium Bug tribute video followed by one for Chyna.
Chyna (w/Miss Kitty) vs. Chris Jericho - WWF Intercontinental Title match - both the ladies tote title belts to the ring for this one. Chyna attacks on the bell and takes the early advantage. JR makes snide remarks about a certain male wrestler who faced Chyna being gone from the promotion. The fight goes to the outside where Jericho goes nuts with a chair but gets it kicked back in his face. Chyna follows up by throwing Jericho into the stairs. Jericho returns the favor then grabs Kitty for a kiss. Back in the ring, Chyna re-asserts her authority but Jericho fights back with a spinning heel kick which causes Chyna to be hung up in the ropes. He then goes right to work on her injured thumb, drop-kicking it. They struggle for position then Jericho gets a vertical suplex but is lacksidaisical in his cover and fails to get the pin. He tears a pad off of one of the turnbuckles but he gets him with a clotheline, spoiling his immediate plans. He counters with a submission move nut she will not give up. He goes for a springboard moonsault but misses. She comes back with a swinging neck breaker and gets a two-count. Moments later Jericho is run into the exposed turnbuckle but kicks out of the pin attempt. Chyna goes for a pedegree but Jericho reverses it to a back slide and gets a two-count of his own. Moments later Jericho gets the "Walls of Jericho" but Chyna is fighting it. She can't quite reach the ropes then Jericho drags her to the center and re-applies the hold. Chyna taps out and Jericho wins his first WWF Title.
Cut to a commercial for the WWF music CD. I object - we paid $30 for this show!
Mike Cole interviews the new Intercontinental Champ. Chyna walks up and congratulates him but the Millenium Bug isn't capable of being gracious.
The Rock n' Sock Connection vs. The New Age Outlaws - WWF Tag Team Title match - we could see a title change here just to satisfy the Rocks "millions and millions of fans" - on the other hand, they are certain to have Al Snow to contend with (he doesn't have a match tonight) so that reduces the odds in their favor. The Dogg is about to go into his spiel but the crowd shouts him down with "Rocky!" chants. Sorry, Jesse. JR calls the Outlaws the "most honored tag team in WWF history". I would certainly call Billy Gunn the most honored WWF tag team wrestler with 8 titles reigns with two different partners. In the ring the match is a barn burner and goes to the floor almost immediately as Billy and the Rock brawl into the crowd while Mankind and the Dogg fight ringside. Back inside, the Outlaws try to isolate the Rock but that is a difficult proposition. They succeed only sporadically as Maivia continues to fight back. Back on the floor again, Billy is all over the Rock as Mankind is held back by the referee. Back inside, the Dogg takes over against Maivia, who is now being effectively held down. The Dogg showboats a little too much and almost allows Maivia to escape. Later a DDT puts Maivia down but the Dogg is out of it as well and the Rock is close to his own corner. Billy tags in but Mankind gets one as well and cuts him off. The referee is knocked down as the Dogg is also. Mankind misses the pin because the referee is out of it. He follows with a double arm DDT then pulls out Mr. Socko. Al Snow runs in and brains Foley with Head. Mankind is almost pinned but Maivia breaks it up then gos after Snow. Back in the ring Foley is hut with the ring bell but manages to kick out of the pinfall attempt. Maivia returna to his corner and the match continues. Billy gets a piledriver on Foley but still he kicks out. Both Outlaws are in th ring and a collision puts all three down. Foley struggles to the corner and gets the tag to Maivia who downs Billy then follows with the Rock Bottom. But then Snow runs in again and causes the DQ. The challengers win the match but not the titles. The Rock attacks Snow and hits the People's Elbow on him as the Tag Champs slink away.
Terri Runnels wishes us all a "Very Terri Christmas" then we geta re-cap of the feud between the Boss Man and the WWF Champion.
The Big Show vs. The Big Boss Man - WWF Title match - it's rather pathetic when the World Title match is relegated to a third main event. But that's what happens when you have a feud between two guys the fans don't really care that much about. I'm willing to admit that McMahon has done a masterful job of turning the charisma-less HHH into a sort of main eventer - but no amount of build up can do that for the Boss Man these days. I think also that it has been a fundemental mistake to make the giant Champion into a sympathetic victim in all of this - he really should be a monster heel if they want to get him over. TBS manhandles his opponent to start the match then takes him to the floor where Boss Man gets in a shot with the stairs to turn the tables. He then posts the Champ and floors him. The referee starts counting and the Boss Man is forced to roll back in to break the count. He struggles to shove the Champion back into the ring. Inside, TBS surprises everyone buy actually nipping up! He gets a chokeslam and this match is over in a flash.
We get an extensive (about ten minutes worth) back story video montage on the McMahon/HHH feud.
Vince McMahon vs. HHH - No Holds Barred match - the stips in this one include HHH getting a WWF Title shot if he wins, or signing annulment papers, ending his marraige to Stephanie, if he loses - Stephanie comes out and takes a ringside seat. Look for her to get involved in this match... HHH comes to the ring with a weapon for this Anything Goes match - his sledge hammer. Vince makes his way slowly to the ring, looking like he is worried about what he has gotten himself into. But then he enters the ring and throws powder into his opponent's eyes! He starts slugging away as Helmsley back away and tries to cover up. He beats the "Game" in the corner then stands him up for a clothesline. He then delivers a low blow then tosses HHH onto the broadcast table. On the floor, HHH goes for a comeback but Vince counters by running him into the stairs then tossing him over the railing. He follows him into the crowd and continues to pound on him. HHH then turns the tables and Vince is taking it as they return to the ring area. Vince recovers and gets some shots in as Mankind runs in! He brings a bunch of plunder for the boss! McMahon selects a trash can lid but then as he approches Helmsley, the latter knocks it back in Vince's face. HHH pauses to wipe powder out of his eyes and that gives Vince a chance to strike. He hits HHH several times with the trash can lid. He grabs the trash can itself and uses that as well. Helmsley is reeling from all these shots. McMahon grabs a crutch and whacks HHH in the back with it, then uses it to choke his opponent. HHH then gets a low blow and turns the tables. He starts introducing McMahon to various weapons including a chain. Vince reverses the field using a stick but HHH gets another low blow then uses a sandbag on the boss. Give him credit, Vince keeps coming back. HHH runs the shopping cart Mankind brought out into Vince then whacks him again. Vince blocks a shot with a 2x4 then counters with several shots of his own. He grabs a big wrench and tries to use it but Helmsley blocks the blow and knocks him down. They fight to the entry way set where there are several military vehicles parked. They fight among the vehicles, using such things as turrett machins guns (unloaded I assume) as weapons. They fight into the area of the sound booth then back to where a steel roll-up door is triggered (apparently) by a blow to open up. Then HHH disappears from sight and Vince can't find him. The ref asks Vince if he wants to continue. He continues outside the arena looking for his opponent who can't be found. Vince and the referee search the parking area. Suddenly a car burst through a gate and HHH is in the driver's seat! He tries to run Vince down but it is unclear if he actually hit him. A replay from another camera angle shows that Vince avoided being hit. HHH gets out and the fight continues. Vince is run into a semi truck. They fight to the top of a limosine where Vince is slammed then elbowed to the concrete. The referee asks Vince to submit but he refuses. HHH shoves Vince back toward the arena, taking shots at him as they go. McMahon is reeling but still hanging in there. He gets hold of a steel pipe and turns the tables - HHH is back pedaling and tries to climb up a tower to escape. Vince relinquishes his weapon to follow him up the tower. Vince tumbles off the tower onto a bunker! He is out of sight as HHH climbs back down.We see that Vince is bleeding as HHH hits him with a gasoline can. HHH forces him to walk back toward the ring area whre he confronts Stephanie. Vince is who is on his feet again so HHH knocks him down and tells him to stay down. He brandishes a pipe and threatens Vince with it. McMahon is bleeding profusely. Back in the ring he is prepared to hit Vince but then goes for the sledge hammer instead. But Vince hits a low blow then gets hold of the pipe but then trades it for the hammer. Stephanie enters the ring and tells Vince she wants to do the honors. But she then changes her mind which gives HHH the chance to strike back. he uses the sledge hammer and takes the pin. He then threatens Steph with the hammer. But then she embraces him! Stephanie has turned on her family!! She and HHH leave together as her father lies unconscious in the ring.
I'll be back tomorrow night. Until then...
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
This page is a personal tribute and is in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie.
Copyright 1999 - Jump City Productions