ON THE ROAD IN THE 90s
Just for a moment, I thought I would reflect a bit and return to my wrestling roots and the road trips that it took to make it all happen.
Back in the early 90s, I met up with a guy named Dave DeJohn at an action figure stand in the middle of a baseball card convention. We got talking and ended up hitting things off pretty well. We both talked about our fascination with WWF and everything about it. Not even a few weeks later, we found ourselves both training out of a small closed down old furniture shop in Elmira, New York. There is where Dave was soon to became “DANGER”.
Since we both had a three hour drive or so, rides would be lonely if we didn’t have someone to talk with. Dave and I were coming from different areas so we didn’t often car pool, until we entered the independent scene. During these training days I had brought along a friend of mine, “Sweet” Pete Waters, who now wrestles as Thornn. Danger brought along his friend Mike Stark, who would later wrestle as his tag team partner under the name of Hazard… then later Johnny Kain… then later Mike Hardy. So at first, it was just the four of us, coming from remote areas of the Capital District, every Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday who would make this sabbatical religiously every weekend to our wrestling get away.
Day one, the four of us from the Albany area were there and we met up with the only local student at that time, and the gyms first only real student before us. Matt Knowles was a smaller guy at this time, with a big heart, a big stomach and an ever bigger craving for pizza. Little did we know that we were looking at future ECW Superstar, HC Loc.
After a full day of training, we would stay in a cheesy 70’s style pop-up camper that was actually inside the building. It really was quite a joke. We did sleep there at first, watching wrestling tapes until the wee hours in the morning, laughing and beating on each other… but eventually Dave, Mike and Matt found that it was more comfortable to spring the extra $10 for a cheap cockroach hotel room down the road. Pete and I eventually would follow -though we were (and still are) considered to be -ahem- “spendthrifts”.
After a number of months of some intense training with an old Mid-Atlantic NWA tag champion as our mentor, TC Reynolds grouped us up. Collectively Danger and Hazard were known as Damage Inc. and I became “The Prince of Passion” Kenny Casanova, their manager.
BOB BAILEY’s USWF
While we trained in Elmira, we got onto a number of the local promotion’s USWF shows. The promoter, who was also the operator of the training facility, was a real wacko to say the least. But Bob Bailey was the only promoter we knew at the time. Being new to the “business” (or what I like to call the circus,) we had to make due with this retired used car salesman who smoked cheap cigars, slept with a body double for The Adams Family’s Morticia and dragged around a half dead and diseased poodle named Kruncher.
Bailey Production’s USWF ran about a show every two months or so in its prime. We often were paid with pizza slices, but that was okay with us. You got to start somewhere. Damage Incorporated wrestled each show for USWF on the weekends, and continued to train every weekend when there was no show booked.
THE CLASS GROWS
Gradually, I told some of my friends, as did Dave and Mike. This lead to a few other people coming into the mix, thus filling up the first official class of USWF School of Professional Wrestling. All but two; Papa Chill and The Milwaukee Mauler, were friends of either Danger, Hazard and Casanova.
After a few months of intense USWF training, Danger and Hazard enlisted some of their friends to help pay Bob Bailey’s growing bill stack. The likes of Chip Stetson and Tony Militta were brought in as new students for car pool purposes and for company.
At about the same time, I brought in a friend from high school, who would soon become Hotbod Todd Taylor. (Ole’ Hotbod incidentally gave me the sobriquet of “Prince of Passion”. I, in turn, gave him his stage of “Taylor”, naming him after my grandmother’s surname.) Todd is awesome. I can’t give him enough accolades. (His farts suck though.)
Later in the game, Pete and I also brought in a few people that we had met from our days working together at the then mythological and now legendary comic book store called “Actionman,” that had graciously supplied us with the financial support needed to get to Elmira every weekend.
This lead to “the white trash infiltration of USWF” by Slammin’ Dan Scroady and Shotgun Steve Hunter, and even a one trip journey by “The North American Hurricane” Frank Buckland.
EARLY ROAD TRIPS
Once our car was filled, my recruitment days were over. Weekly three hour tours to Elmira were hell. From our location, I drove a jam packed geo metro filled with the likes of Scroady, Thornn, Shotgun and Hotbod, sitting behind an over worked 3 cylinder engine no less. We made the trips fun by creating various songs like “The Bozack Blues,” which we would later get to sing with Superfly Snuka. Thornn would often play his harmonica (poorly I might add) and would also bust out a Snoopy mouth harp, whil I would sing and Todd would do a “slammin pig beat” beat box like one of the Fat Boys.
Trips would also include the saying of the same stupid jokes at all the strange landmarks that we would encounter. For instance, every time we would pass this one farm we would discuss the cruelty of Greyhound racing. It made little sense, but we did it every time. Passing yet another place called “Dairy Cream,” a florescent paint striped ice cream trailer, we would burst into a celebratory song to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar. We never ate there, we just sang. And around exit 1 off 88 by the intersection of 17 we would encounter the sign for Mygott Street and we would all scream “Oh My Gott!!!” like ECW commentator Joey Styles. It was ridiculous, as we are to this very day, but it also got us through the arduous trip with a smile.
After about two years of this, Bob Bailey grew sick of our group. We had fun with everything that we did. Bailey didn’t like it, because he was a miserable, grumpy old fart who only had us around to make money off us, hiding his motivation in a two-faced friendship with us. After we “graduated” he quickly axed most of the people from our car. All with the exception of Hotbod Todd at first, who became a NY State licenced Referee and had also finely mastered the art of ass-kissing. Eventually Todd got the CHD too. (The Cold Hard Diss.)
In hindsight, Bailey was kind of dumb. He brought in wrestlers that were terrible from where ever he could find them and paid them $100 or more each. On most occasions they were so bad that his own students out shined them a hundred times over, but he almost never used his own younger talent. The younger guys were their merely to put cash into his pocket. When the money dried up, it seemed to most of us that we would get our walking papers.
Through Bob Bailey’s shows we did make some connections. After Damage Inc got the axe, Danger and I founded New Breed Wrestling, using a list of phone numbers that HC Loc had liberated for us from one of Bob Bailey’s file cabinets.
New Breed Wrestling was born.
NEW BREED WRESTLING
To cut down on road trips for ring time training, since a big portion of Bob’s students were from our area, we rented an empty store face in the Amsterdam Mall. There, we built our own ring. It was huge; a twenty-five footer and ominous to say the least. After it was built we trained in the mall for a short time. After speaking with a number of people, we figured out a way to use another promoter’s license and not have to go through all the paper work and hassle that comes with running a show in NY State. Empire State Wrestling’s Lou Reardon kinda ripped us off, but again, we were happy to be making names for our selves
The first show came with some students that we had acquired and people that we had contacted. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka headlined our first show. I had promoted it with Pete’s help out of Actionman and had an autograph signing with Snuka that drew over a 750 people. It was really quite impressive.
NBW’s first show also had “Head of Security” Slammin Dan Scroady written in as a plant who was put through a table by the 7-foot tall Primo Carnera. Dan actually hurt his neck and that stinks for him. However, he did really want to do it at the time, so there is no sour grapes from the 5 foot Italian midget. The crowd went nuts. Dan achieved his dream. Dan was hardcore.
For the next show we used King Kong Bundy, Nikolai Volkoff and Iron Mike Sharpe. Lou Reardon made us use Primo Carnara again and forced us to book Bundy verses Primo. When the show finally came, we had a full house of almost 500 people. Everything went well, except for Thornn’s head getting split open by Danger’s Nintendo shot in a 3-way hardcore match along with Shotgun. “Feel The Power!”
Danger and I set up pretty much the whole show. We didn’t really know “show psychology” yet so most of the matches had tons of hardcore stuff happening for cheap heat. The fans loved it. Then came the second to the last event. Bundy verses Primo. The match did not live up to expectations, due to all the previous hardcore crap that was going on… But then something happened…. They broke the ring! A knee drop by Bundy broke a beam and the two monsters went down a few feet into the center, dangling by the canvass! While this seemed catastrophic at the time, it made all the magazines. We were a legend, due to our lack of ring-making skills.
With a broken ring, we still needed to make good with our promise of a final hardcore Battle royal at the end of the night. But with a huge crater in the center of the canvass, it seemed like there was no way we could get 20 wrestlers into the ring.
So after managing Bundy, I ran straight to the back and told the locker room that it was now a reverse battle royal. The first person in the ring would be declared the winner. I then made the announcement to the fans and the wrestlers began beating each other with garbage cans filled with weapons that fans had brought and left at the door. Dan attacked Primo again and got hurt again. It was like midget tossing. Dan was thrown into the steel rail and he hurt his neck. The crowd went nuts again. Dan achieved his dream again. Dan was hardcore.
By the next few shows Danger began his working relationship with Tom Brandi. Brandi helped us a lot and the shows attained a safer atmosphere for everyone. We got our own promoting license through one of Danger’s friends, Mike Cappano, and NBW became legit.
The tape production for NBW was awesome. We made some great stuff after the first few shows and these tapes are ones that I am still very proud of today. A guy named Jack Hojohnson filmed and digitally edited the footage and created a number of cool logos. Thornn often color commentated as The Sexicutioner, a funny Elvis like voice character that was actually inspired by a mall janitor that we met through Actionman Comics. Hell, we even had our own pyrotechnics set up!
Over NBW’s two years or so, we gave fans The Headbangers, Tito Santana, DOA’s Chainz (Prime Time Brian Lee), The Brooklyn Brawler, Doink The Clown and a number of other fairly decent names. But fans liked our characters. We actually developed quite a following. The Canadian Nightmares consisted of founder Johnny Kain (formerly Hazard) along with Tony Militia and Shotgun Steve Hunter. The Pie Mafia was formed. And it was here that Danger began teaming with HC Loc under the management of Kenny Casanova as Camp Casanova.
Here I really perfected the character of Kenny Casanova. Karaoke singing wouldn’t come for another year or so, but all the nonsense that I had wanted to test out in USWF was allowed. I had full creative freedom. I danced and did the full lounge singer wannabe ladies’ man gimmick and I actually carried a customized clip board for my persona everywhere I went. On it I would write something really stupid on poster board mocking the audience, then throw it in their face. It worked well, but carrying it really hindered my dancing. So I eventually retired it.
With the help of Danger, “Hazard” Johnny Kain, and myself Cappano put on some great shows. But like many promotions, after a few years of even only a few bad decisions, NBW slowed down in 1999. What happened was Mike Cappano tried to take the promotion to the next level and throw some huge shows. But after a big loss in Saratoga, where thousands of dollars in advertising did not pay off, as the Saratogians decided to go see Cher perform live the same night, NBW dissolved due to financial problems.
On one of NBW’s last big shows, Jack Prest an amateur wrestling coach showed interest in having us bring our ring to his facility in Schenectady, NY. By this time, the ring had been used some informally in an old gross warehouse in Cohoes. Thornn trained there a few days with some students as did Danger and Hazard. But because half of the wrestlers who trained there lived an hour away and the other half lived 10 minutes, the place didn’t seem to work out. People didn’t get equal ring time and felt that they shouldn’t have to pay the same rent. Paying rent became confusing so we pulled out and ventured to happy medium for everyone. World of Hurt Wrestling was soon to be born. It was relatively close to everyone, except for HC Loc who lived up near Elmira.
BARE-ASS EARTHQUAKE – Kenny’s Finisher?
So anyhow man, it was New Year’s Eve and the tenth year of my wrestling “career” was gone. I was typing an online interview to give to Bret Schwan, a great guy at The Wrestling Clothesline and I saw a familiar question question…
“6. What has been your most memorable moment in the sport thus far?”
It’s a bizarre story that I don’t often answer with the truth, but I figured this one time -ah, what the hell. At the end of a bout in NBW, I believe it was Tony Devito as a face taking on my man “Jackmaster” John Diamond of the Pittsburgh Steel Team. Diamond (no relation to Neil) had just lost and both wrestlers had left the ring while I continued to argue with the official. I was supposed to be power-bombed by a referee named Hotbod Todd Taylor. Through the whole match, I was giving him problems and he was going to finish me off after shoving him around.
It started well as planned. He was worried that he couldn’t lift my sandbag ass into the air and I told him I would post a little off his knees to make it an easier lift for him. Well, it was easier than he thought. He got me right up, and the momentum of ease startled him so that he lost grip somewhere above his head. Then I kind’a fell behind him so we both went down. The audience knew it wasn’t right. Todd was embarrassed. I was chuckling at his side.
He says to me on the mat, “They are chanting ‘You Suck!’ to me -and I’m the face! Get up and do a move. There’s nothing I can do! They will know I screwed up if I do it again!”
So I stumbled to my feet and thought a second to myself, how can I get over and fix this with a simple move? Then I smiled and said ever so softly, “Bare Ass Earthquake.”
And he was like … “…no…”
I’ll never forget the look of his helpless face as I uttered the spot.
During practice, I did an Earthquake splash once on a dummy, but mooned just before executing it to get a pop from the boys. The guys I were training with were rolling in laughter. So, in a move of desperation I decided that this spot maybe the only thing that could save the ref’s mistake.
I got up and did the stomps ala Earthquake, hit the ropes, mooned and dropped on the ref’s chest. The crowd died laughing. Here is a clip for the strong of stomach.
B.A. Earthquake… I fixed the spot, but Todd’s ref shirt will never be the same.
EASTERN STATES WRESTLING
After NBW stopped running on a regular basis, Brian Latham came onto the scene. World of Hurt Wrestling was probably getting its first few students around this time, in the likes of Jeff Starr and Shockwave. Danger taught pro wrestling at the amateur gym splitting the revenue with “Bozack” Jack Prest and splitting open people’s chests. But the shows at first were a spotlight of the student’s growing talent. Who would have thought that it would have grown and lasted this long?
While Danger did his teaching thing, Mike wanted to keep the shows going through Brian “Bumpy” Latham. Bumpy was at first a mark that Lou Reardon had hooked up with to run shows as a financial backer. After a while Brian began to think that Lou was out to rip him off. I wonder why?
Brian quickly made a bad name for himself, engaging in some practices that he said he had learned from Lou Reardon.
Anyhow here is where Mike Stark (aka Johnny Kain aka Hazard) stepped in. Mike took Brian under his wing and helped create Eastern States Wrestling with less the backstage hostility. Mike is good like that. He really knows how to get the wrestlers to come together.
Anyhow, with Mike’s help Camp Casanova and Damage Inc merged into “The Hardcore Society.” As the story goes, this group ran roughshod through its competition. We had great fun with it and had some really great angles.
One night after an ESW show, Slammin Dan, Hotbod Todd, JP Black, Danger and Thornn joined up with me at Eugene’s Side Door cafe. There I sang Karaoke. They almost died. I had done it a few years ago at Clifton Park’s Ground Round once with Thornn, at a special request by Johnny Flick, the inspiration for Thornn’s alter ego, The Sexicutioner. But this time was special. I sang “Just A Gigalo” and nailed it. I talked with the DJ and had him burn me a disc with some various karaoke tunes on it.
I debuted the singing Kenny Casanova Karaoke gimmick at The Schenectady City Center ESW show. As fans came in, where we would typically play rock, I sang lounge songs. Bumpy Latham eventually didn’t know what to think and made me stop, but the fans loved it. I would continue to work on this gimmick for the next year or so with what ever promoter who would dare let me. It was over. The Karaoke Icon was born.
ESW just as NBW ran into money problems. Bumpy owed some people some money and rumor has it that when he skipped town, he was killed by the polish mafia.
About this time HC Loc joined the ECW ring crew team and eventually became a ref. After getting busted open by Steve Corino (who we worked a bunch with early on at USWF) with Dusty Rhodes’ cowbell, he became ECW’s extreme official. Corino put him over with the powers that be and Loc disappeared.
I got ticked at first. I had heard some bad things about some behind the scenes ECW hapenings and told him that ECW was full of bad news. Everything turned out fime for him, however. We had same hard feelings for about six months because of my skepticism and I wish now that I had just told him to keep up the good work.
While the idea of the old ECW attitude where they didn’t talk to anyone else in the locker room still ticks me off, I have come to realize that Loc never had it.
He really has been a great friend forever and we still talk often.
JEFF STARR ON THE ROAD
Another year or so passed. Danger took time off and got married. Thornn moved to Rhode Island and I needed someone to ride with. Enter Danger’s number one student, “Mister Spotlight” Jeff Starr. I gave him the moniker “Spotlight” because Starr seemed to generic a name for someone as flashy as he. Jeff credits his wrestling ability and psychology to Dave but his character and ring personality development to me, which I am grateful. Jeff says that I taught him how to have fun with his character and show it in the ring. The thing that makes Jeff unique is that girls like his look, he can wrestle well and he mixes in some comedy. With all this, he has most of the bases covered. We still continue to do cheesy shows to this very day. Will I ever turn on him… I doubt it
Johnny Kain became “Mike Hardy” at the request of promoter Mike Sparta. Mike Hardy was held down some from wrestling by his girlfriend at this time. Eventually they parted ways. Mike found a new girl and got married.
HC Loc got married too and then ECW folded. Right about the time that Extreme Championship Wrestling closed its doors, Mike Hardy was tag teaming with Jeff Starr in TSW. Mike Hardy did a plancha and Oman Diablo dropped him on his ankle. (Oman claims I did something similar to him long ago, but he is on crack.) Mike was out on injury for about a year.
During this time I turned fan favorite with the karaoke gimmick that I had perfected in ESW at the new bigger WOHW shows. I made a CD of me singing and have sold over a hundred copies. (When I reach platinum I will let you know.)
DEVILLE, KAYLA & BERT
Come Y2K, the indy wrestling scene was falling apart. Everyone and their mothers were running really bad promotions with wrestlers on the card that should never have wrestled. The reason they often did this was that schools were added to promotions to generate revenue and they would crank out garbage talent that were wrongly promised spots on their shows. A lot of good talent gave up, because of this. Promoters didn’t have to pay talent because they had a supply of home-grown crap they could use. This also killed most areas as fans no longer could go to a wrestling show and see quality matches.
After this point, Miss Deville started tagging with Kayla Sparks as the Diva Killas. Since we still really had a love for the game would meet up with Buttery Bert Williams and drive to the furthest points of the earth to the most welfare shows we could find. We listened to Spice Girls tapes and Wesley Willis and had a good time every road trip. I’ll never forget these days as we would often perform for a crowd of 50 or less – but we didn’t care. We did it almost every weekend.
This eventually dried up even worse and became an expensive hobby.
Most wrestlers work in their own area, not so far from where they live. I make so much money DJ’ing that it is barely worth taking bookings for wrestling anymore – though I totally do when ever I can. The problem is a road trip ends up costing money that is not made up at the show and I usually have to turn down a lucrative DJ gig in order to take a wrestling one.
However, if I am open – I accept the challenge. And I will never forget the days and the excitement of the road trips to promotions with friends.