Sunday, April 15, 2018

Twice Bitten - Rediscovering My Love of Professional Wrestling

Since time out of mind, wrestling was always part of my life.  Some of my dimmest memories are sitting on the floor while my dad watched Wrestling at the Chase on KPLR every Sunday morning.  Watching Randy Savage cheat to beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental title was what eventually made the wrestling bug bite me.  For years, watching wrestling was my favorite part of the weekend.  Once we got cable when I was in my teens, I was a terminal case.  Or so I thought.

Years passed, occupied by the British Bulldogs, Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, Curt Hennig, and many more.  I played Champions of the Galaxy religiously, as well as any wrestling video game I could get my hands on.  The rise of the cruiserweights changed wrestling forever.  While I was a diehard WWF fan, I couldn't deny the thrill of watching the smaller guys compete.  Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko lead to me watching both Monday night shows simultaneously on side by side TVs in my parents' basement.  I saw the first Hell in the Cell match live at the Kiel Center and drove three hours each way to see the second last show of the original ECW in Poplar Bluff.  I saw The Rock win the WWF Heavyweight title for the first time and was in attendance at the somber RAW the night after Owen Hart died.  I wish I still had the ticket stubs.

Once the Monday Night Wars ended and both ECW and WCW were wiped out, my interest started to wane.  The job was getting in the way and wrestling seemed to be a lot more talk than I liked, although the first year of Ring of Honor kept the flame going a while longer.  My friends that also watched wrestling were drifting away.  Couple that with two of my favorites dying in the space of two years, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, and wrestling faded into the background for a while.

Sure, I still followed it from a distance and played the Legends of Wrestling card game from Filsinger Games, but I just didn’t have the time or desire to watch wrestling on TV anymore.  I played my wrestling card game and was pretty content.

Finally, after a drought lasting almost a decade, wrestling started worming its way back into my life, like Damien on a hapless victim of a Jake Roberts DDT.  A co-worker of my wife was a backyard wrestler and we went to one of his shows.  It wasn’t great, although the Vortex knew what he was doing, but it got me thinking about wrestling again.

A couple weeks later, I saw NXT was coming to town and the tickets were cheap. I grabbed the Vortex and had an enjoyable evening but it wasn’t enough. Nor was the WLW show where we met Vader a few weeks later.

Glory Pro had already run a couple shows at that point and they were bringing in some bigger name indy guys to work with the local wrestlers.  The first Glory Pro show I went to featured Michael Elgin vs. Cody Rhodes and Naomichi Marufuji vs. Dijak.  My rationale was that even if the rest of the show was crap, how often does Marufuji come to the greater St. Louis area?

Not only did Glory Pro hook me, I swallowed the hook all the way down to my asshole, as my dad would say.  While the bigger names drew me in, it was the other guys that captured my attention.  Since then, I’ve been to every Glory Pro show and bought every DVD, along with some shirts.

I’ve seen Curt Stallion go from being an underdog to a crowd favorite to a cowardly heel.  I’ve seen Jake Something climb the ladder to be Glory Pro champ.  I’ve seen Stephen Wolf go from being a substitute for DJZ to being part of the biggest angle in the company.  Not to mention Jake Parnell and Gary Jay brutalizing each other, Tyler Matrix’s chest chopped into hamburger, Davey Vega getting pounced through the ropes to the outside by T-Money, Hakim Zane becoming a contender, C-Lo Banks being the best referee in the business, and the whole slew of Indy names who have come through Glory Pro in the last year.

Naito!  I’ve gone from not watching wrestling at all to seeing Naito wrestle in the United States in less than a year!  I’ve seen LuFisto, AR Fox, Martin Stone, Ethan Page, Space Monkey, MJF, Shane Strickland, Jeff Cobb, Mance Warner, Air Wolf, ACH, DJZ, Shigehiro Irie, The Lucha Bros, the list goes on and on.

Funny how I don’t want to commit to a three hour wrestling show on TV but I’ll drive an hour each way on a Sunday afternoon to sit on an uncomfortable steel chair for five or six hours to watch wrestling in a crowded legion hall.  The appeal indy wrestling holds for me is a lot like the preference I have for going to smaller clubs to see bands.  There's an intimacy there, the performers are accessible, and you feel like your presence makes a difference, a far cry from a 20,000 seat arena.  I'd much rather risk having Cole Radrick backdropped into my lap than watch the WWE flavor of the month anyway.

And that’s it, I guess.  I’m looking forward to more Glory Pro events this year and I’ve got tickets to the steel cage showdown between Gary Jay and Jake Parnell in Mattoon for Zero One USA in May.  It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan.

Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley (Jimmy Veeder Fiasco)Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tomas Morales tracks down Juan's grandfather, Jimmy Veeder and his wife head to Mexico for a honeymoon and to meet up with him, with Bobby Maves and Grizelda in tow. Little does Jimmy Veeder know that he's stepping into a hornet's nest of drug dealers and killers...

I got this from Netgalley.

Johnny Shaw's dimwitted duo, Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, are back and in fine form. Jimmy gets married and heads to Mexico, only to stir up trouble as only he and Bobby Maves can. Things have changed since the last book, however. Jimmy has built a good life with Angie and Juan and has a lot more to lose.

As with the previous book, the humor is the star of the show. The book is peppered with hilarious lines, shades of early Joe Lansdale. In fact, if Joe Lansdale ever chooses to die and his estate wants to farm Hap and Leonard out to someone, he could do a lot worse than Johnny Shaw.

Speaking of Lansdale, Imperial Valley reminded me of Captains Outrageous, both because of the humor and of the structure, with the first half taking place in Mexico and the second, when the conflict comes home. While I knew Jimmy and Bobby wouldn't die, there were some tense moments.

One thing did irk me, however. When a book is this hilarious, it kind of deflates the sense of jeopardy. When everyone is cracking wise, it's hard to take the violence seriously. That being said, this book is high on violence but higher on laughs. I lost count of lines I would have uttered aloud if anyone was sitting within earshot.

Honestly, the third Jimmy Veeder fiasco does not disappoint. It's as funny as the previous two. Four out of five stars. Special bonus points to Shaw for including the World's Deadliest Mexican from Blood & Tacos #1 for a cameo appearance.

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