Monday, August 13, 2012

How I Ended Up In Pittsburgh

    I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the School of Arts & Sciences from The Ohio State University on August 31, 2000.  The week before that, I had packed all of my belongings up, and moved to Pittsburgh.

    My senior year at Ohio State was a lot of me being torn in different directions.  I wanted to complete work on my Journalism degree, and at the same time I was training and starting to work as a professional wrestler.  I was busting my ass during the week working a third-shift job loading trucks at UPS, so that I could spend my weekends out of town training or working shows.  I was spending a lot of time in Pittsburgh, so upon graduation it actually made a bit of sense to move up there.

    The guy that took me under his wing and helped break me into the business the right way was Anthony "Kingdom" James.  Kingdom was originally trained and started working as a professional wrestler up north in his native land of Canada, but I had met him when he was living in Pittsburgh.  He was wrestling regularly there, as well as in my hometown of Cincinnati.  Kingdom had talked to the head trainer at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Academy, a guy known as Mad Mike, and it was worked out so that I was able to come up to the Wrestleplex on the weekends and workout with Mike and his students - even if I wasn't working for the company.  I started traveling up to Pittsburgh on Friday afternoons, and I would work out with Chris Hero and one of his students, Cuefa the Flyin' Hawaiian.  Then I would hang out and watch the matches at the Wrestleplex that night if there was a card.   On Saturdays I would workout with the guys training with Mad Mike, like Sterling James Keenan, Orion, and Scottie Gash.  If there was a small show in the area I might try to get booked on the card, or I would maybe hang out again and check out the show at the Wrestleplex.  Sometimes guys like Brandon K and Mr. Bigg would workout on Sundays, so I might squeeze a workout in before heading back to Columbus.

    I started dating a girl in the business that was going to school in the Pittsburgh area, and she ended up needing a roommate right at the same time I was graduating from Ohio State.   So, with me spending so much time in Pittsburgh and not having any kind of job lined up after graduation, I decided to take her up on the offer and moved in with her.

    Bad move.

    After about six weeks living in Pittsburgh I didn't have any kind of solid full-time employment, I was dating a girl that was blatantly cheating on me with any guy in wrestling trunks, and I didn't have two nickles to rub together.  Oh, and suddenly there was a halt in wrestling activity in Pittsburgh.

    The promoter that was running shows out of the Wrestleplex was a guy named Jim Miller.  The Wrestleplex was nothing more than an empty storefront at a rundown mall in suburban Pittsburgh.  Miller had converted the shop to a wrestling arena once his candy and sports collectibles business failed at that location.  During the time-span that I was commuting to Pittsburgh from Columbus, Miller lost his lease at the mall, and had moved the promotion's operations to a nearby Turner's Club.  It was the proverbial beer hall.  After running events at the hall for a couple of months the Turner's decided they no longer wanted to work with Miller, and the promotion stopped running shows.  One of the wrestlers was also a local radio personality, and he ended up finding a concert hall to run shows at.  Because of his radio connections a television deal ended up being on the table for Miller's promotion, but the two had a conflict.  Virtually the entire locker room ended up defecting to a new promotion backed by the radio guy, with the promise of this television deal paying them enough to quit their jobs and being full-blown wrestling superstars.  Not only was Miller was not part of this deal anymore, but he was also involved in a serious auto accident, and was putting very little effort into promoting shows and saving his business.

    So here I was, a rookie trying to follow his dream of being a big-time pro wrestler, and I was already sucked into a tough situation because of politics in the business.  I tried to stay out of everything, and I just focused on picking up bookings.  I was starting to pick up work regularly in West Virginia, and I was able to work some small-time events the Pittsburgh area, but I didn't have anywhere to train, so I wasn't going to keep improving.  I was beginning to think that moving to Pittsburgh was a bad idea.  This is a thought that I would revisit a lot over the next six years.

    I had actually found a decent day-job to make some of my ends come close to meeting, but I was still kind of screwed on a place to live. There was no way that I was going to be able to find a place of my own. At this point I really had two options: find someone looking for a roommate, or move back home with my folks and regroup.  I really felt like my first foray into the real world couldn't end in failure, and having to trek three-hundred miles back to where I grew up seemed like failure to me.

    Unlike most of the other guys I had worked with in Pittsburgh, I didn't jump over to Miller's new rival because of the enticement of being on television.  I was a greenhorn with a bad spot who was just lucky to be on the card; I knew I was only jerking the curtain because the promotion was running weekly and needed enhancement talent.  The guy that was booking the new promotion was the guy that was booking Miller's promotion, and when he sent me the line-up for the first show and I was listed on the card without ever having been asked if I wanted the booking, I took it as a bad sign.  I had no loyalty to the booker, and if he was wanting me to jump ship just to be a jobber, why should I jump?  I wasn't making any money wrestling in Pittsburgh at all, and I didn't really deserve to.  I was a guy in desperate need of ring time to work on my craft, both in training and in front of real live crowds.  If I wasn't going to get that in Pittsburgh, why stay?

    I contacted Miller and laid out what was going on - I was grateful for the opportunity to improve myself there in Pittsburgh, but if he was not going to have a new facility or a place to work, I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in Pittsburgh.  Miller responded by inviting me to a meeting that he was having with his top lieutenants about future plans and for what he had in the works. Since I didn't have much else going on, I said "what the hell", and went to the get-together.

    At the meeting I had a lot of smoke blown up my ass, and I was told that I was the future of the company, and that once everything was up and running again, I was going to have a big part of the book, and maybe even be the champion.  Considering that I was green as grass, I knew that if this was even remotely true it was stupid from a business point-of-view.  However, Miller did put a pretty decent financial offer on the table.  

    Miller had a rental property that was sitting empty because the last couple tenants had pretty much torn the place up and not paid their rent on time, if at all. Miller offered me the property rent-free, as long as I maintained the property and paid the utilities.  We worked out an agreement on how much this was worth, and put it down in a lease agreement.  I think the agreement was that this was worth $400 a month, and that if I brought in any roommates, they would split utilities with me, and kick $100 to him for rent.

    At this point, I decided to stay in Pittsburgh, because I was suddenly doing something that 99% of the guys that enter this business never do; I was putting a roof over my head thanks to wrestling.

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