It’s nice to reminisce about the good old days with people who shared the same experiences or appreciated what was going on in pro wrestling at the time. I’ll never forget Kevin Sullivan telling me he still wanted to be wrestling well into his sixties just like The Sheik. No, not The Iron Sheik but the Original, pencil stabbing, wild eyed, drooling, scare the living shit out of you (smart or not) Sheik! I too wanted to be one of those wily veterans that stepped into the ring and could still go.
October 20, 2005 marked 26 years since I had my first professional match in Bryan, Texas against El Satanico #2. I took pictures at ringside for various wrestling magazines growing up, beginning at age 12. Jim Cornette and Eddie Gilbert followed similar paths and we were all three passionate about our “sport.” I started working as a second at ringside when I was 15 and worked in the Houston Wrestling office during summers and sat ringside with Paul Boesch as his assistant every Friday night shortly after that. After graduating high school I went to work full time in the office, all the while meeting and rubbing elbows with my larger than life heroes.
I went to Louisville last week and visited with Danny Davis and Jim Cornette. Jim invited me to dinner and wanted to show me his newly renovated house. JC is a pack rat and once he gets his memorabilia put out and on his walls it will rival anything Paul Boesch or any promoter from the “old days” had. Boesch was famous for having a wrestling office that true fans could spend hours in looking at photos and catching a glimpse and conversation with Paul when he popped his head out.
A couple years ago somebody told me “Dinosaurs die.” What he was trying to say was without change and improvement, this business will go away. I think that’s a valid point but after spending time going thru some of JC’s stuff and seeing pictures of friends and wrestlers I grew up watching made me feel a little nostalgic and sad all at the same time.
In Texas there were basically four territories. Amarillo was run by the Funk family, Dallas was Fritz Von Erich, San Antonio was run by Joe Blanchard and every Friday night Paul Boesch would run Houston. Paul had one town and he booked his main event from other places and filled in his card with guys working for Dallas and later San Antonio. It was during the mid seventies when Paul booked Maniac Mark Lewin to come work just Houston on Fridays.
I didn’t know at the time, but I believe Mark was having trouble getting booked due to his unpredictable nature outside the ring at times. There are stories of Mark getting his payoff and while it might be substantial, it wasn’t substantial enough! Gary Hart was booking Dallas and had a pretty good crew coming to Houston to fill out the remainder of the card. It was Gary that finally convinced Fritz to use Lewin in his towns as well.
I got to know Mark because he was living off Telephone Road about 15 minutes from me and I found out he was training at the same gym I was. I ran into him one night and I introduced myself. I didn’t think he would know or remember that I actually worked for Paul at the Coliseum. He did remember and asked if I wanted to train with him.
That began a long and strange relationship with Mark Lewin. I knew Mark had been a major star in the business since a very young age but I didn’t know the reputation and quirks that came with the guy. Mark knew how to train every muscle and didn’t believe in over training. I didn’t care about being a body builder. I just wanted to get bigger so I could wrestle. The intensity and attitude Mark brought to the gym was infectious and I could not only see the changes but I could feel them.
At that time Mark was in his early to mid forties. I was 18. I am still amazed at how great Mark kept himself in shape and could change his look in an instant.
Bruiser Brody, Gino Hernandez, David, Kevin and Kerry Von Erich, The Iron Sheik, Jimmy Snuka, Superstar Billy Graham were just a few of the stars that either main evented or were featured performers in Houston and the surrounding area during that time. While I would work out in the gym with Mark Lewin, it was The Iron Sheik who stretched me for three months in the ring on Friday afternoons before the doors opened.
I was learning about training techniques. I was learning about traveling by car sometimes 250-300 miles one way and how you passed the time telling stories, drinking and smoking pot.
Smoking what? Yeah, one of the easiest (and fun) ways to pass the time in a car besides telling stories was getting drunk and high. To be honest I was shocked at how some guys were able to ingest as many different chemicals and still be able to stand, much less have a wrestling match, but I watched and learned. I trained my heart out in the car right there with them until I thought I had reached their level of “expertise.”
Look, we can all justify what we did in our youth. We were young, dumb and full of any substance that came across our noses! At least some of us were. Not everyone was partying and having a great ‘ol time walking in the dressing room loaded. The style was a hell of a lot different back then too in that you could work a hold and still get a decent reaction.
I can understand some of the old timers back then looking at the younger guys with disgust saying the business was now full of human garbage. In some cases they were right. In some cases they were hypocrites.
The culture and the times were dictating to some while others refused to compromise their beliefs. I know many guys who didn’t need to get drunk or high to have a match. But sometimes you got rockin’ and rollin’ down the road and the ideas were flyin’ and you got to the arena and it seemed like magic! You didn’t have to worry or even think about consequences in some towns because most of the city officials and cops were such big fans that they would turn a blind eye! What a life, huh!
All of a sudden it seemed to come crashing down around us. People I had actually been down the road and in the ring with, ate dinner at their house and played with their kids were starting to die. But did that stop me or anybody else from keeping the party going? Hell no! All we had to do was get up, get stoned, go to the gym, get stoned, go to the town, get stoned and do it all over again!
And then more guys started to die. I’ll never forget the day I heard Gino Hernandez was found dead. It was the same day the first space shuttle blew up. I was back in Houston after suffering a broken ankle in Louisville and was watching the replay of the shuttle exploding when my dad came in and told me they found Gino dead. Wow. I partied with that guy. We weren’t close friends by any means but when you’re all partying together, you are close in that instance. Gino wasn’t even 30. That sickening feeling in my gut told me it had to be an overdose.
I don’t know of one person who even missed a beat even after finding out Gino died of acute cocaine poisoning. I sure didn’t. And the years went by with more people staying the course and partying like there’s no tomorrow.
I could have very well been one of those guys that went out for a good time and never woke up. Luckily in 2001 I went into rehab for fifteen weeks. I got out on 9-9-01. The world changed forever on 9-11-01 when we were attacked. All the times I packed or carried stuff in my bags went thru my mind immediately. Then, almost as instantly I remembered I didn’t have to worry about that any more because I don’t do that anymore! I’m clean and sober!
Oh yeah. When you leave rehab, they tell you that unless you stay with the program, get a sponsor and have some one hold you accountable, you will return to your old habits. Oh yeah? I’ll show them! I learned my lesson. Shit…
I looked at all the pictures of the friends and associates who are no longer with us and the one that got me the most was Chris Candido. Of all the people who should be here today proving it can be done it should be Chris. He was my inspiration and sanity when there was no where else to turn. I look at the new crop of athletes coming up and while they may be better athletes I truly don’t believe they are better wrestlers or performers than the guys I grew up and was fortunate enough to be around. You see, The Sheik really was crazy. Kevin Sullivan is the Taskmaster; I have never met a more real maniac than Mark Lewin. Bruiser Brody was hard to do business with but the promoters used him because he was that guy. He was Bruiser Brody and that wild look in his eyes was the real deal. The demons along with the talent and passion for professional wrestling were as real as it got with Chris Candido too. Chris conquered his demons and I truly believe he could have had another run in WWE. Not only as a performer but a mentor to the guys who are begging for guidance and advice from someone who doesn’t carry around a fifty pound bag of bullshit with them everywhere they go.
I think it’s good the business and the boys have cleaned up for the most part. I’m convinced here in Tennessee newborns get a complimentary carton of cigarettes along with a change of diapers. That seems to be one of the more popular vices these days; chain smoking cigarettes.
Hell, you’ve got to have something to keep you going I guess.
But there is an element of real danger missing and I don’t know if we’ll ever get it back. David Lee Roth once said “You don’t get a poem out of ice tea.” Rock and Roll is the same “mystical” business with stories of guys who snorted the Empire State building and stayed up for months without feeling a thing! Yeah and then there’s the Quiet Riot guys who were filling up Jack Daniels bottles on stage with…you guessed it…ice tea!
I believe you can be just as creative and entertaining without going overboard. The key word is “moderation.” I never learned that word so I’m not allowed to partake any more. I’m trying to be that “wily” veteran who uses his years of experiences and tales against these young punks who know it all.
I’m pretty sure everybody’s heard about the two bulls looking down at a herd of cattle and the young bull says “let’s run down there and f*** us a cow!” The old bull says “No, let’s walk down and f*** ‘em all.” There’s some really good talent out there today who have to find their way or niche. It’s tough these days for too many reasons to list. But one thing’s for sure: You can’t become old and wise if you were never young and crazy. I love you Chris and miss you every day.
Listed below are some of the dates where the EPWT Trainers will be appearing:
Harley Race will be appearing at these World League Wrestling events. 11/10 ST. Louis, MO. 11/12 Eldon, MPO. For details on all these events go to
Join Les and co-host Doc Young every Sunday evening 6 to 8: PM EST with their special guests on “Wrestling Weekly” by clicking on
Nov. 18, 19, 20, Les, Harley, and Dr. Tom will be joined by Tully Blanchard for a 3-day training camp in Spindale, NC. at the Spindale House sponsored by New Generation Wrestling with a star packed legends show on Friday in the same venue. There will be two rings and this event is open to beginner thru experienced wrestlers. See the entire line-up at EPWT.com and to sign up or for details contact Matt at email@example.com or call 864-878-9239.
Harley and Tom will join many other super stars in Spartanburg, SC. Sat. 11/19 for a “Tribute to Starcade”. More info can be had by going to
December 1, 2, 3 Les and Tom will be in West Liberty, KY. for a 3-day camp sponsored by Retro Wrestling Alliance at the Morgan Co. Community Center. For details or to sign up go to
or e-mail Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org.