Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"The Lariat" Knocks Heads Off Of Readers Everywhere

It's nearly impossible to read every single wrestling book available out there. Before Mick Foley made it "fashionable" for wrestlers to write, you could've easily devoured every book written about the squared circle in less than a week. For the past decade it seems that grapplers from all eras and levels of stardom have thrown their hats into the literary ring.

While some have been very good and others pure rubbish, it's good to know in advance just which ones are going to be worth investing your time into. It's become widely known that wrestling books published by Scott Teal's Crowbar Press are by and large going to be worth every penny you pay for the book as well as each second you devote to reading it.

With books written by such names as J.J. Dillon, Ole Anderson, Tony Atlas, and The Assassin, Crowbar Press has carved a reputation for publishing books that tell good stories and the honest truth. Well, we all know that wrestlers have the reputation to embellish stories just a bit, but you can rest assured that the tales are told without any agenda or edits due to "company policy." While the WWE has released many good titles under their publishing umbrella, most of the company's books leave you wondering just what stories the higher-ups simply didn't want told. In other words, a book by the infamously frank Ole Anderson would have never seen the light of day if it weren't for publishing houses such as Crowbar.

The Crowbar Press books also, largely in part due to their individual authors, usually take you back to a specific point in the history of the wrestling industry. Obviously the wrestlers entire stories are told, but most of these stars spent large portions of their career in a certain territory or era. In many of these cases, stories from these particular vantage points have rarely been told. For example, while stories from the mid-'80s Jim Crockett Promotions era have been told far and wide, Ole Anderson's book spends a lot of time covering his ownership of Georgia Championship Wrestling. Similarly, James J. Dillon's book details his time working side by side with Vince McMahon in the late '80s and early '90s covering a time period rarely documented to fans.

The latest effort from Crowbar Press is no different and may just be their best book yet. Earlier this month at NWA Fanfest in Atlanta, fans were treated to an exclusive early release of "The Last Outlaw" by Stan Hansen. Hansen, who was on hand to sign the books, seemed just as excited about the release as the fans were.

At over 400 pages "The Last Outlaw" is no short read, but you may not be able to pry yourself away. Similar to the books described above, Hansen's story does indeed cover his entire career, but also covers an area never described in so much detail before: the life of an American wrestler in Japan.

Hansen's career as a "gaijin" (the Japanese word for foreigner) makes this book different from any other wrestling book from the start. The fact that he may have been the most successful gaijin wrestler of all-time takes it to a whole different level. Hansen wasn't just another wrestler in the Land of the Rising Sun, "The Lariat" was a bonafide star. Dealing with the mysterious fathers of puroresu (Japanese wrestling) such as Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba are things that many wrestlers were not privy to, much less fans.

Hansen takes you inside the exciting, glamorous, and sometimes very lonely world of a wrestling superstar in Japan. From touring the country to interacting with fellow wrestlers and fans as well as food and culture, the book explores a world unknown to most of us. And if you've ever had the opportunity to consume Japanese Sapporo beer in the past, you'll be craving it again after finishing this book.

Hansen's journey has many turns outside of Japan as well, including a promising football career at West Texas State (meeting The Funk's, Ted DiBiase, and longtime friend Bruiser Brody) and stints in the wrestling territories including the WWWF, WCW, and AWA.

What about the story of Hansen and the AWA belt? The "tobacco juice" run in WCW? Breaking Bruno's neck at MSG? It's all here. Fans of late stars such as Brody, Terry Gordy, and Steve "Dr. Death" Williams won't want to pass this one up either.

Although Crowbar Press books are usually tightly edited, perhaps an approaching deadline or wanting to keep a "stream of consciousness" in the book causes many things to repeated as much as four times. I enjoy getting more bang for my buck, but the book probably could've shed about 15 pages had some sentences (and a paragraph at one or two points) not been repeated. It's a minor complaint overall and doesn't detract from this book's place in the list of "Best Wrestling Books."

Overall, Hansen comes across as a very level-minded and likeable guy. Each time that I've had the opportunity to meet with him, he's come across this way as well. What's not to like about a man who became a star in his profession in two countries and knew just the right time to leave it behind? Two thumbs up for "The Last Outlaw" which can be purchased (and probably autographed like most of their publications) at

Don't forget that this blog has been nominated in the "Everything Else" category in CBS Pittsburgh's "2011 Most Valuable Blogger Awards." By following this link, you can vote once a day! I appreciate each and every vote and thank you for voting and as always for reading!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Donna Christanello 1942-2011

It seems as if just as we resign to the thought of a wrestling hero passing yet another is taken from us. I don't care to remember how many years in a row this has been the case, as it has been far too many.

Just a few short hours ago, many of us fans learned of the passing of yet another wrestling legend. The losses seem to get tougher and tougher. For me, this is very much the case.

Donna Alfonsi, a pioneer in women's wrestling, passed away today at the age of 69. In the industry, Donna went by the last name of Christanello, Christianello, or even Christentello depending on where you saw her perform. In real life, she only asked that you call her Donna.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Donna caught the wrestling bug sometime in the 1960's while attending matches with a friend. Shortly thereafter, Donna was trained by The Fabulous Moolah and began not only her career but also a lifelong friendship. In an article on WWE's website shortly after Moolah's death, Donna proclaimed her mentor to be her "chosen sister." In her autobiography, Moolah had similar terms of endearment for her protege.

In the '60s and '70s, Donna dominated the singles and tag team scenes in women's wrestling. Donna and longtime partner Toni Rose held the Women's Tag Team Championship for many years and are closely associated with the titles to this day.

Donna would go on to assist Moolah in training many other female stars of the industry, but her career was not nearly over. In the 1980's, Donna made many appearances in the WWF. A quick search of YouTube will unearth many treasures including a pinfall victory over Wendi Richter, who at the time was red hot due to her association with Cyndi Lauper. Donna will also always be remembered for her appearance in the very first Survivor Series pay-per-view event.

From speaking to many of her colleagues over the years, it was obvious that Donna was a very beloved individual. I feel so very fortunate that I was able to find this out for myself.

Several years ago, the KSWA promotion here in Pittsburgh brought in Demolition for one of their shows. Before the event, Ax and Smash were set up near ringside meeting their fans. After my friends and I had visited with the legendary tag team, I noticed a familiar looking woman going up to see them. For a moment, I thought that the woman was Donna Christanello. Not wanting to pass up a chance to meet her, I approached the woman. That night, I did indeed meet the pioneering ladies star and came away with an autograph as well as a photo.

Donna and her niece (former wrestler Angie Minelli) attended many of the KSWA shows after that and I always took the opportunity to stop and chat. Donna would ask how I was doing with my writing and was always more than happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

A particularly memorable night was when the KSWA inducted Donna into their Hall of Fame. Many of Donna's family members came out for the honor, but one of her most lovable traits was present as well: her humbleness. A pioneer in her industry, member of several Hall of Fame's (including the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame), and definable legend, visiting with Donna was more like spending time with an aunt than a Hall of Fame wrestler.

It was a mere two months ago that I last had the pleasure of seeing Donna. For several weeks my job brought me very near to Donna's workplace and I had the opportunity to visit her on several occasions. Greeting me with a big smile and a "Hi Josh!," I hope that our short chats brightened her day as much as they did mine. I had some memorabilia from her career and told her that I hoped to give them to her the next time we saw each other outside of our respective jobs. Sadly, that was not to be.

I could probably go on forever about what a special lady we've lost tonight, but I will confine my thoughts to only a few more paragraphs.

In Donna's memory, I think that everyone should seek out to learn more about her amazing career. In addition to the match that I mentioned above, several of Donna's other matches are available on YouTube. One pitting Donna and Toni against Joyce Grable and Vicki Williams is particularly memorable and will show you just how underrated the ladies were in the 1970's. Be sure to also check out Donna's official site which is run by a great guy, wrestler, and friend of Donna's by the name of Shawn Blanchard. Many of Donna's personal photos are included and take you through her entire career. The site can be found at:

If her friends and fans feel this stunned, shocked, and saddened, I cannot begin to imagine how her family feels. My heart, thoughts, and prayers are with them tonight.

I think that I will most remember Donna for being as humble as she was. Unlike so many other stars of the wrestling industry, Donna was the most down-to-earth lady you would ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Miss Donna Alfonsi, you'll always be our star. Your fans and friends love you...

...till we meet again. Goodnight, my lady.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!

I've been known to cover Bruno Sammartino and Pittsburgh wrestling fairly frequently here, but why not? For various reasons Pittsburgh is one of the least covered classic wrestling territories. The area had all of the in-ring action like the west coast and the unpredictable characters like the south. I'd also put the blue collar steel worker toughness up against that of the Texas roughneck stars any day. So why is Pittsburgh all but "forgotten?"

Unlike most of the territories that fell sometime in the 1980's, the true blue Pittsburgh wrestling office ceased to exist in the early 1970's for all intents and purposes. While lots of television and arena footage is still collected and traded of Charlotte, Florida, Minneapolis, and New York, the Pittsburgh action is only replayed in the memories of those who originally viewed it.

While the footage is lost to time, there are many still determined to keep the memories of Bruno and his friends and foes alive as long as there are fans of old school wrestling.

Earlier this summer I wrote of the many Studio Wrestling reunion appearances that have been made over the past couple of years in the Pittsburgh area. Large crowds have turned out for each one proving that Pittsburgh wrestling does have the lasting appeal of which I speak. Attending them myself, I've had the opportunity to have many of the classic Bruno and Pittsburgh relics autographed. While more items were produced than one would think, very few survive so many decades later. Fans who attend the events simply to meet their heroes are often astounded that these items still exist.

Bruno Sammartino himself was one of the earliest marketed stars in the industry. Dating back to his very first magazine cover in March of 1960, Bruno obviously equaled green at the newsstands. In his autobiography, a photo of Sammartino sitting with a group of magazines is captioned "I must have been on more magazine covers than Elvis!" Whether that is true or not, Bruno was certainly on more wrestling magazine covers than most of his contemporaries.

Wrestling World, Wrestling Revue, The Wrestling News, The Wrestler, and later Pro Wrestling Illustrated are just a few of the covers in which Bruno graced. The publishers of The Wrestling News even released several publications devoted solely to the Italian-born champion.

After his final departure from the WWF in 1988, Bruno merchandise continued to be in demand. A deal with Pittsburgh-based Imagine Inc. produced not only an autobiography of The Living Legend but also a Wrestling Legends trading card series with heavy imput from the champ. An in-depth look at this deal and the card series was the subject of a previous entry.

My personal favorite Bruno collectibles actually cover the entire spectrum of classic Pittsburgh wrestling. In the 1960's, a series of five photo albums entitled "Tri-State Wrestling" were released by the Pittsburgh wrestling office. The first dates to just before Bruno defeated Buddy Rogers for the WWWF Championship and is the only one not to feature Sammartino on the cover. Stars that made an impact on Pittsburgh such as The Battman, Gorilla Monsoon, George Steele, Johnny DeFazio, Lou Albano, and Toru Tanaka grace the inside pages as do stars such as The Kangaroos, Bobo Brazil, Edouard Carpentier, and Wahoo McDaniel who were known more for their work nationally.

The albums were advertised on the Studio Wrestling television show and viewers were encouraged to order them directly. While they do appear for auction occasionally, they are by no means easy to acquire. One collectors note is that it seems many fans would take these to both Studio Wrestling television tapings and to spot shows all around western Pennsylvania. Because of this it is not unusual to find these publications adorned with authentic autographs.

As I touched on above, publications such as the Tri-State albums, event programs, and photos are just about all that is left from such an action packed era. It is comforting to know that many of the era's stars and key players are also still with us to meet and share stories and memories from the glory years. For a fan such as myself who previously only had memories of family members of which to imagine the Pittsburgh wrestling dynasty, talking with these legends is both a treat and an honor.

As for the champ himself, Mr. Sammartino is still going strong at age 75. A recent heart valve replacement surgery wasn't enough to even slow Sammartino down. Just a few months later, The Living Legend was back greeting his fans at yet another Studio Wrestling reunion discussing the old days and a seemingly endless stream of new projects which we can all look forward to.

Memphis. Florida. Charlotte. Calgary. You were all great wrestling territories, but it's time to make a little room on the pedestal for another great hotbed--Pittsburgh.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, this very blog has been nominated in the "Everything Else" category in CBS Pittsburgh's "2011 Most Valuable Blogger Awards." By following this link, you can vote once a day! I appreciate each and every vote and thank you for voting and as always for reading!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fanfest '11: The Aftermath

The phrase "a great time was had by all" may be overused, but it is certainly a fitting description of NWA Legends Fanfest 2011. Old friendships were renewed. New friendships were formed. Dreams came true. Treasures were uncovered. Memories were celebrated.

The event kicked off Thursday night with a trio of question and answer sessions. Bill "Masked Superstar/Demolition Ax" Eadie was up first sharing stories and memories of his entire career including great stories of friends and colleagues.

The second session featured controversial wrestlers "Dr. D" David Schultz and "Continental Lover" Eddie Mansfield. Both well remembered for their 1985 "20/20" television appearances, Mansfield did not entirely endear himself to the crowd with outspoken and long winded opinions. Schultz, on the other hand, chose his words wisely and came off to fans as a man very satisfied with how his life turned out. Mansfield seemed eager to convince not only the audience but himself that he had the same feeling regarding his own path.

The night wrapped up with a great showing from one of the all-time legends, Stan "The Lariat" Hansen. For a man who is usually quiet outside of the ring, Hansen was very humorous and lighthearted in his stories of the squared circle.

Friday kicked off with an opening look at the vendor room and a very special opportunity. Hansen's new autobiography was available for the first time with the legend present to autograph every copy. Most fans were unable to pass up a deal such as that.

While vendor tables were fewer in number than in previous years, there were still many treasures to be had. The original Michael Hayes "Off The Streets" LP and a production sample of the new Jakks Legends of the Ring Raven figure (purchased from the man himself) are just two of the items that I was able to covet. Hard-to-find publications, ring-worn gear, and even highly desired Wrestling All-Stars trading cards were also being offered with the latter going for as low as $1 per card.

Legends of not only Georgia Championship Wrestling but the entire wrestling world began to appear in both the main and autograph rooms. Ole Anderson, Mr. Wrestling II, Thunderbolt Patterson, Ron Simmons, Greg Valentine, and Jimmy Snuka were among the names available to meet.

Friday night was capped off by the annual Hall of Heroes banquet and induction ceremony. This year my friends and I were joined by some of the legends of ladies wrestling including Joyce Grable, Judy Martin, and Leilani Kai. Miss Kai, who was interviewed in our preview entry, was brand new to the wrestling convention scene and seemed to have an absolute blast. I've far kept it from secret that meeting the former WWF Women's Champion was a Fanfest opportunity which I was most looking forward to. The "Glamour Girl" went above and beyond for her fans and I'm certain that we've not seen the last of "The Hawaiian Princess!"

After the dinner was completed, James J. Dillon took the stage to induct the 2011 NWA Hall of Heroes Class. Superb inductions were made for Gordon Solie, Ronnie Garvin, The Assassins, Ted Turner, Ray Stevens, and Masked Superstar, but the highlight of the night for many was Sir Oliver Humperdink's special moment. Passing away earlier this year, Sir Oliver may not have been physically present to accept his honor but no one could have given the legendary manager a more dignified and touching induction than longtime friends Mick Karch and Diamond Dallas Page. Through their words and memories every fan could feel Humperdink's presence in the room, likely flanked by old friend Gary Hart.

Saturday featured opportunities to meet many more legends including rare appearances by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, Dick Slater. Paul Orndorff gave an amazing scoop to legendary wrestling journalist Bill Apter. "Mr. Wonderful," looking in great shape, announced that he was indeed cancer-free. His WrestleMania partner, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, himself a survivor of the disease, also made several appearances throughout the day. The coolest event surrounding "Hot Rod" was a photo op including his Starrcade '83 opponent Greg Valentine and the original dog collars used in that brutal contest.

The majority of the wrestlers at Fanfest look forward to the event as much as the fans. One superstar who has been clamoring to attend the event for years is Rob Van Dam. Because of RVD's busy schedule, a Fanfest appearance simply hasn't been in the cards--until 2011. RVD's enthusiasm and love of the business showed as he met with each and every fan in addition to many legends. Also like many of the other wrestlers, Van Dam was captivated by each and every piece of memorabilia that he autographed.

There are also always "surprise" guests that show up. From wrestlers tagging along for the ride with another colleague to ones simply coming to visit old friends, you never know just who might pop up at Fanfest. This year my favorite "bonus" meeting was with midget wrestling legend Darling Dagmar. A sweet and gracious lady, Dagmar had an extensive wrestling career and was simply happy to be there visiting friends. I hope more fans than just myself took the opportunity to ask for a photo and autograph from this legend who was more than happy to oblige.

Saturday night saw an off-site card of matches featuring current indy competitors such as Adam Pearce, Colt Cabana, Reid Flair, and Gunner. When that was all said and done, the "main event" for many came in the form of Roddy Piper spinning yarns in the form of a show entitled "All My Rowdy Friends." Reading Piper's tales is one thing, getting to hear the master himself tell the stories in uncensored form makes for a night that wrestling fans will treasure forever.

Sunday saw a quiet last day but definitely had no lack of star power. Tully Blanchard, Baby Doll, Masked Superstar, Tony Atlas, and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase were among the signers for the morning with DiBiase returning for a Sunday worship service later that day.

I honestly cannot cover everything that went on at Fanfest nor could I even begin to convey the fun and unforgettable experience that it truly is. Promoter Greg Price has said that the 2012 Fanfest (back in its home city of Charlotte) may very well be the last. With five different Fanfest events under my belt, I know that come Hell or high water I'll be there to feel that indescribable feeling one more time.