Ringside Remembrances: My List of Favorites
Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.
So, today is my 48th birthday. I have officially been watching this great sport for 45 years. A whole lot has changed since I started enjoying watching people step inside the ring and try to defeat their foe. I’m feeling all kinds of nostalgic, so I thought I’d put together a look at some of my favorite things/people as it relates to wrestling.
Favorite Arena (Classic): The Dallas Sportatorium, Dallas, Texas
The corner of Cadiz and Industrial was as much a childhood home to me as Elwood and Nursery (my home in Irving). The Sportatorium was a rat hole, no doubt, but we all loved it. It had no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. Bill Irwin talked about in-ring temps going near 120. But my grandfather (later my step-dad) saw all the greats: Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Rocky Johnson, Greg and Johnny Valentine, Abdullah the Butcher, plus all the World Class crew. Sadly, the Sportatorium is only a memory, these days. Some bums broke into the Sportatorium and made it their home back in December, 2001. The people set several fires, inside the Sportatorium, to ward off the bitter North Texas winter cold. Unfortunately, the fires caused significant damage to the point where the building was condemned and later torn down.
Favorite Arena (Current): The Neil Road Rec Center, Reno, Nevada
About 3 years ago, I became involved with the now-defunct Pro Wrestling Destination group. The Neil Road Rec Center was the normal venue for the bi-monthly shows. Yes, it’s a gym. It’s a spiffy little gym that can hold on or around 500 people. I started going there as a fan but later moved up to ring announcer and commentator. My mother got to see me working in the ring there. I met Winter, Greg Valentine, Abyss, Chris Masters, ODB, Val Venis and a total of fantastic local talent. PWD has since closed its doors but the Neil Road Rec Center has a new inhabitant, Reno Wrestle Factory. Last month, I was honored to be asked to return to my favorite little “arena” to work the microphone. I even got to see my old nemesis, Funky Brewster, who laid me out with a cane shot to the back of the head, a couple years back. I popped in the DVD of that show, a little earlier, and it just made me smile. It just feels so like home.
Favorite Announcer: Bill Mercer
I grew up listening to Bill calling the action in the World Class area. He, along with Marc Lowrance and Boyd Pierce, made wrestling special during my formative years. While I saw him for years, I didn’t really meet Bill until 1988. I had moved up to Denton, Texas to attend the University of North Texas. I decided to major in education and minor in Radio, Television and Film. One of my classes was Sports Broadcasting. One the first day of class, up on the 2nd floor of the old Smith Hall, in walked Bill Mercer. I learned so much from him in that semester. I doubt seriously that he would really remember me as I was a quiet kid, sitting in the back. I also saw him on a regular basis at the campus radio station (where I worked). My biggest memory of being around Bill was when I was asked to cover a wrestling show that was being done on campus. Over the years, I’ve done radio work and a television show about wrestling. Anytime that I’ve slipped on the headphones and sat before the microphone, the image of Bill Mercer has always come to mind. Thank you, Bill, for teaching me to be an announcer.
Favorite Manager: Jimmy Hart
This was probably the toughest category for me to make a choice in. I grew up during the Era of Managers. Bobby Heenan, Captain Lou Albano, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Gary Hart, General Skandor Akbar, Paul Ellering, James J. Dillon, Jim Cornette and dozens of others were always welcomed into my home by way of the television. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting quite a few managers, over the years. The one person that truly helped me was Hart. I met him, just about a year ago, as Rivalry Championship Wrestling was putting together our show in Poland (which got postponed due an injury). While I only spent a couple days working with Hart, we had talked on the phone, several times. Every conversation with him expanded my knowledge to levels I never thought I could reach. Sitting in the bar at the Holiday Inn in Garfield,NJ with Hart and my mentor and dear friend, Bill Apter, will be a memory that will never fade. Hart is a fountain of information about wrestling and so many other things (music, electronics, etc…). Jimmy Hart’s success in music and wrestling, as well as his willingness to help others learn and grow make Jimmy Hart my favorite manager. It also makes him one of my favorite people, in general.
Favorite Tag Team: The Fabulous Freebirds
I was slightly torn whether to choose “The Birds” or to go with The Road Warriors. The Freebirds were the first team to incorporate rock music in their entrances. That gained them major points. The Freebirds worked in just about every organization including World Class, Mid-South, AWA, WCW, NWA, and WWF (under the management of Cyndi Lauper). The Birds went through some personnel changes, over the years, but I will always be partial to Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts. Those were the three men that I got to meet, at North Texas, at the charity show that I talked about above. Goups like 3MB, the 3LiveKru, The Shield, etc… would never have existed if not for the Boys from Badstreet. 2 of the 3 original Freebirds have gone on to the next reality but they will always be my favorite team to watch.
Favorite Technical Wrestler: Ricky Steamboat
Ricky is one of those rare wrestlers that never worked as a heel. Steamboat combined martial arts with an almost unlimited wrestling moves arsenal. Steamboat kept the fans on the edges of their seats with his daredevil aerial maneuvers. When Steamboat added fire breathing to his entrance, the fans went wild. I didn’t much care for those theatrics. What I appreciated was the simple competitor that took both Randy Savage and Ric Flair to their very limits and beyond. Dozens of newer wrestlers have been lucky enough get training from “The Dragon”.
Favorite Brawler: Bruiser Brody
His action figure is one of the rarest that I have in my collection. He stands on top of my entertainment center, brandishing his signature logging chain. The real Brody was a very nice guy that impressed me when I was a young kid. I appreciated his ability to tear it up with some of the biggest and meanest of wrestlers. I was there when Brody fought Abdullah the Butcher inside a steel cage. I’ve watched his battlers, from Japan, against Abby, Jimmy Snuka, and so many more. Brody took the fight to no fewer than 5 reigning World Champions: Ric Flair, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkle, Bruno Sammartino, and Jerry Lawler. 30 years after his murder in Puerto Rico, I still fondly watch tapes of Brody. I hope he finds his way into the WWE Hall of Fame, soon.
Favorite Match of All Time: Ricky Steamboat vs Randy Savage, Intercontinental Title Match at Wrestlemania III.
Honestly, I’ve seen thousands of matches during the last 45 years. Some have been great. A lot more of them have been mediocre. A few have stunk like week old fish. Rising above all the rest was an undercard match from the best Wrestlemania ever (my opinion). The match just had it all: George Steele, Miss Elizabeth, brawling, spectacular high-flying moves and Steamboat finally gaining revenge on the Macho Man for his dastardly attack that nearly crushed Steamboat’s windpipe. When I worked as a trainer, that match was the one that I used to explain the type of match that all wrestlers should aspire to have. It was just THAT good.
Favorite Theme Music: Badstreet USA (Fabulous Freebirds)
Kicking bass and drums. Great guitar work. Plus, the lyrics are so “in character”. I actually still have the 45 of that song. The A side is the full song, while the flip side is an instrumental version of the song. While Badstreet wasn’t the Freebirds original theme song (they first used “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd), it is the one that will forever more be associated with them. The music video actually has all four Birds in it (Hayes, Roberts, Gordy and Jimmy Garvin). Garvin and Precious made a cameo as the ambulance driver that collects the carcasses after the Birds kick backside.
Favorite Person in Wrestling: Bill Apter
There are literally dozens of great people that I’ve come to know over the years. That being said, Bill has a special place, head and shoulders, above all the rest. I became a fan of Bill way back in the 70s. The magazines that he worked with were some of my favorite reading material, as a kid. Almost a decade ago, I sent a note to Bill about an opening here at 1wrestling.com. He took a chance on me. I’d only done worked online for maybe a year or so, back then. Three years ago, my wife Dianna and I got to meet Bill in person, at a convention in California. A picture taken of Bill, Dianna and me is framed and still hangs on the wall in our breakfast nook. Bill has helped me through the growing pains of trying to become a wrestling journalist. He has introduced me to so many great people, including my business partner, Darren. I can never thank Bill enough for all he has done for me. I wouldn’t be the person I am without all his guidance.
Today is a happy day for me. Normally, birthdays are a mix of happy thoughts and sad memories of those that are gone. No tears today. Today is about my families. One shares ties by birth or by marriage. The other shares a relationship based on a love for a sport of wild action, great talking and just a whole lot of fun. Thank you to one and all who have walked down this bumpy road with me. My birthday wish, to myself, is that we have many more roads to travel together.