Sunday, July 21, 2013

The "Hot Rod" visits the Mohawk Valley

Once again I've been negligent in my blog.  It's been five months since my post-Super Bowl entry and since then nothing.  But here I am again, just hours after one of the greatest interview experiences in my life, when I had the honor of talking to professional wrestling legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper!

The "Hot Rod" was at the Field of Dreams Complex in Schuyler to be a part of 2CW's "Bagpipes & Boilermakers" event.  He was joined by his son, Colt Toombs, an up and coming MMA fighter and pro wrestler himself.  Colt was supposed to take on 2CW's "Juggernaut" Jason Axe, but was unable to compete due to an injury suffered the previous night at an event in Watertown.  (Too bad, because I was curious to see how good Colt was.  Apparently he's half of a championship tag team in the northwest.)  Instead another of 2CW's rising stars substituted as "Piper's son," Colin Delaney, who ended up winning.  The "Hot Rod" even donned a ref's jersey when the assigned striped shirt was knocked out.

It was great to hear the bagpipes in person once again and see the 2005 WWE Hall of Fame and 2007 Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame (in Amsterdam) inductee in action and on the mic!  I'm pretty sure the last time I saw Piper in person was at a WCW Monday Nitro event at TD Garden in Boston (then known as the Fleet Center) back in June of 1997, during the midst of the nWo and Monday Night Wars era.  I've never seen him this close though, and even at 59 years old, he can still thrill a crowd like no one else.  Especially this group of about 400 rabid fans at 2CW.

Before I get to the incredible thrill of speaking to the "Hot Rod," however, I've got to mention how impressed I was with 2CW.  From the top down they're exactly what you want from a small, regional promotion in pro wrestling.  Kevin Parker is the man behind the scenes running the show and also doubles as a ringside official named "Jack Trades."  (Aptly titled as he does a little bit of everything, but  mainly keeping everyone involved in the production, from the wrestlers to the ring crew, working together.)  When I originally heard that Piper would be coming to the Mohawk Valley, I contacted the promotion through their website and Kevin got back to me, saying I could have all the access I wanted, from interviewing the "Hot Rod" to shooting video of the event to promoting it on the air and our website earlier in the week.  Kevin is a local boy, though he usually works out of Syracuse as 2CW holds shows all over the state, from Rome to Binghamton to Oswego among others.  

Their wrestlers are mainly up and coming young talents who hope to one day make a big promotion such as WWE or TNA.  Most people don't think much of pro wrestling (like my own mother who always hated my interest in it as a kid) and consider it to be not much more than a bunch of neanderthals yelling and pretending to beat each other up.  My days of defending it died out a few years back, but in just one night, 2CW reminded me why I caught on back in my youth.  While most of the moves are staged and the outcomes of the matches predetermined, it's still an entertaining art form when those moves and outcomes are executed the right way.  (Ever launch yourself in the air directly onto someone else on the floor?  That doesn't tickle.)  The characters are pretty over the top, like "Bin Hamin," an anti-american character from Iran, similar to another legend of Piper's era, the Iron Shiek.

The most underrated wrestler on the card was Mike Mondo, who challenged Isys Ephex for the 2CW championship belt.  Mondo was in the WWE a few years back as a character named "Mikey," a member of a male cheerleader-like group known as the "Spirit Squad."  I knew as soon as I saw him that he had been in the big time, as he had a certain look that only the top guys have.  Although he didn't win the title, the 2CW fans showed their appreciation for his work after the match, giving him an ovation as he was helped to the back.  This is a common occurrence at shows with fans who understand how the business works.  There's a lot of politics involved and the most hard working and talented guys don't always win.  That's why "smart" fans will show their appreciation whenever someone like Mondo gives them a great show.

Although they don't often come this close to Utica, 2CW usually does a handful of shows at Kennedy Arena in Rome every year.  Plus, they'll be at the NY State Woodsmen's Field Days for a few shows August 16th & 17th in Boonville and their special guests will be "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and Mickie James.  I can definitely see myself going back to cover a few of these shows in the future.  And yes, it has always been a dream of this broadcaster to be a part of a wrestling show as an announcer, referee or whatever.  In fact, during intermission, yours truly was almost as popular for the fans in attendance as the wrestlers!  I was hoping to get some video of the wrestlers who came out to sell their t-shirts and mingle with the fans, but instead I ended up taking a bunch of pictures with a handful of kids who were in awe of seeing the local sports guy.  (One little girl asked me to smile for her, then she and her brother posed with me, trying to emulate my smile!  Reminded me of my nephews, who are always copying all of my bits!)

But back to the reason I was there in the first place.  "Rowdy" Roddy Piper is one of the guys I grew up watching and idolizing.  He was always one of the most hilarious talkers in pro wrestling, from his mic work during interviews, as well as his "Piper's" Pit segments and even when he shared a broadcast booth with the likes of Vince McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage.  This was the guy I wanted to be, as he combined athleticism along with the best communication skills of anyone in the mid-1980s through the 90s as well.  

As he walked into the building the legend greeted me warmly, asking me where I'm from and if I've got family.  "Yes sir" I say. "Most of them live in Boston, where I'm from."  I think of my brother, who got me into wrestling in the first place, from the MTV bits to the "Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling" cartoon, in which Piper was the big bad villain.  He asks me if I've got kids.  "No sir, not yet."  I think of my parents and how much they've always hated wrestling.  They reluctantly bought me the "Wrestlemania VII" show on Pay Per View for hitting the proverbial home run at my Bar Mitzvah.  Kevin then tells him that I'm a big fan.  I blush a little and think about Double J, my best friend from college, who's a much bigger wrestling fan than I'll ever be.  (Thanks to him I wound up in the fourth row ringside at "Wrestlemania XV" in Philly.)  He sees that my camera and mic are set up and says "You're all ready to go!"  "Yes sir, Mr. Piper," I say, until I ask, "should I call you Mr. Piper or Roddy?"  "Call me Hot Rod!" he exclaims as son Colt joins him for some support and to chime with a few classic bits of his own.  While I didn't get to see him wrestle, Colt's certainly got enough of his dad's personality to make it big one day.

Piper's battles with Hulk Hogan are well documented, from the "War to Settle the Score" leading up to the first "Wrestlemania" show at MSG during the height of the "Rock N' Wrestling Connection" era, which helped launch MTV as a media entity.  But he also feuded with Hogan during the nWo/Monday Night Wars era I mentioned earlier, with the two switching roles.  In 1985 Hogan was the "good guy" and Piper was the villain.  But in 1996, Hogan was the evil leader of the nWo and Piper showed up to give "Hollywood," as Hogan called himself, a "Reality Check."  While Hogan and Piper have always maintained a professional respect for one another, there's always been a heated personal rivalry between the two that will likely never fade.  

Piper also has a well-known dislike for Mr. T., with whom Hogan teamed in that first "Wrestlemania" show.  T and Piper would square off a year later in the second "Wrestlemania" show, during which they had a boxing match, instead of a wrestling match.  The "Hot Rod" and the man who once played "Clubber Lang" in Rocky III had a real life hatred that still simmers somewhat today.  (Apparently they still trade hate mails.)

Along with the original "Wrestlemania" show, Piper's fondest memory in the business was at "Wrestlemania III," when he fought "Adorable" Adrian Adonis (a native of Buffalo) in what was Piper's first "retirement match."  While the "Hot Rod" won with help from Brutus Beefcake, who would help shave Adonis's hair (thus kickstarting Beefcake's "Barber" gimmick), Piper was planning to step away from the business to film the movie "They Live" and just enjoy life a little.  The reason the Adonis match stands out in Piper's memory is that the event drew over 90,000 fans to the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, a crowd that set an indoor attendance record at the time.  I wish I would've had time to ask him about the crowd at the Hoosier Dome five years later, at "Wrestlemania VIII," which looked eerily similar to the one in Michigan.  In Indianapolis, Piper wrestled family friend Bret "Hitman" Hart for the company's "Intercontinental Title."  That match is considered my many, including myself, to be the best pure wrestling match of the "Hot Rod's" career.  

Like the Bret match, there are many other great moments in Piper's career I would've liked to talk about.  His ongoing friendship and rivalry with Ric Flair, who's in some big time trouble financially, for one.  I would've also asked him about another of my favorite guys I mentioned earlier, the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage.  It would've also been fun to talk about his infamous "dog collar" match against Greg "The Hammer" Valentine at the original "Starcade" show in 1983, before Piper's big run in the World Wrestling Federation.  

A lot of his life and career is covered in the WWE's DVD "Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story," like his most infamous "Piper's Pit" segments.  In my conversation with him, the "Hot Rod" referred to two of the most hilarious, when he humiliated lowly wrestler Frank Williams, as well as the time he broke a coconut over the head of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.  Piper also made a mention of painting himself half black for a match with "Bad News" Brown during "Wrestlemania VI" in Toronto and something about calling the late Andre the Giant.  On the DVD, Piper recounts the story of how Andre poured out the solution he needed to clean that paint off his body, so Piper had to cross the border painted half black.  

He's had a fantastic and colorful career in an industry that's often called "Sports Entertainment" and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper will forever be known as one of the greats to ever compete.  For a few brief moments, I had a chance to speak with this legend and while he abruptly ended it, it was clear he'd talked enough for the moment.   It was time to move on, for "Hot Rod," son Colt and yours truly as well.  But at the very least, this was a highlight of my broadcasting career.