This past week I returned to my Saturday night hobby for the first time in nearly two years. I had taken a sabbatical from my hobby after my work hours made it difficult to continue my weekend routine. However, prior to my temporary leave, I’d enjoyed my Saturday night pursuit for about a decade.
“So, what’s this hobby, Sherrill?” I hear you asking, eager for me to get to the point. “Drinking at the dive bars?”
That’s a good guess, but wrong. No, my guilty pleasure is being the general manager of Tennessee All-Pro Wrestling. That’s right. The real wrestling where people get hit by chairs, thrown into thumb tacks and raked through barbed wire.
“Whoa, Sherrill. I didn’t see that coming,” you say.
Most people who don’t know me well are surprised that, not only am I a wrestling fan but that I’m all “in charge” of an entire wrestling show. However, folks who have known me for a while know I’ve long been a fan of the squared circle, going back to when I was just a little kid.
My father was a huge wrestling fan. I can still vividly remember him sitting in his easy chair in the living room on Saturday mornings watching Memphis Wrestling and later, Georgia Championship Wrestling. He would dig his fingers into the arm of the chair and grind his teeth, watching the action intently. I learned not to walk between him and the television during show time.
I was taken to my first show when I was about seven. I remember seeing Tojo Yamamoto, Bear Cat Brown, Jerry Jarrett and the Fargo Brothers that first time at the old Southside School over in Warren County.
While I ended up preferring football to wrestling, I never totally lost sight of it and, about the time the McMahons started ramping up WWE, I was back into it, so much that I’ve viewed every Wrestlemania and even attended the one in Atlanta a few years back. I also passed down the enjoyment of wrestling to my oldest son Jack who I took to his first show when he was five.
Anyway, there came a time when I started writing a weekly wrestling column for the paper I used to work for, talking about what was going on in the business. That’s when I was contacted by an area federation, inviting me out to watch their show. I took them up on it and was hooked. I loved the live feel of the show because it was interactive. The wrestlers would jaw at the fans and the fans would jam back.
Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m the biggest extrovert you’ll ever meet. So, the whole ability to burn off some pent up frustration by screaming at a wrestling show was a perfect workout for me.
Now, let me point out I was what we called in the business as a smark. That’s a fan who kind of knows what’s going on behind the scenes. So, I’d give the wrestlers grief, and, being witty, I’d come off with some good zingers, trying to take them off their game.
Eventually, a promoter took notice and approached me after a show. “How would you like to be our new commissioner?” he asked. “You are loud and you’ve got that big personality. You’d be perfect.”
I remember thinking to myself – “my father would be so proud if he were alive to know I was getting in the business.”
I agreed and he said he’d be in touch. So, another few weeks go by and I’m out in the audience and one of the referees comes up to me. “We’re going to introduce you as the new commissioner,” he takes me by the arm. “Come on to the back.”
I eagerly followed. This was my first time behind the curtain. Within minutes they had cued up some music from me and I was emerging from the locker room and walking to the ring.
Frankly, it came natural. I was loud and obnoxious, perfect for my role. However, I had no training. I only “thought” I knew how things worked. So, when that same ref walked by me and muttered “you’re going to fire Plunkett and he’s going to punch you”, I was kind of confused.
“He’s going to what?” I asked.
The next thing I know this big, angry-looking wrestler is in my face in the middle of the ring, questioning my authority as the new commissioner. So, I did as I told. “Plunkett! You’re fired!”
The next thing I know I’m on my butt. In the haste to get me in the ring, now one had explained the whole art of “selling” the punch. It seems you’re supposed to move a bit to avoid actually getting slugged. I didn’t move.
That was over a decade ago. I’ve learned to sell, although that often doesn’t prevent me from painful situations. Whether you like wrestling or not, it is a physical sport. Gravity doesn’t lie. That steel chair across the skull doesn’t lie. And, I’ve yet to see any fake blood. All the blood I’ve seen in my shows is being supplied by the bleeder.
Personally, I try to avoid all the rough housing and just play my part. Despite being in good shape, I am getting a bit long in the tooth. However, there still comes special shows where I’m expected to take a bump.
The last one involved me and a table. It seems one of the heel wrestlers, that’s a bad guy, wanted to get all out of control and put the commissioner through a table. If you’ve seen wrestling on television, you may realize their tables are pre-broken so they break easier. Our tables were mostly used at church dinners the week before and are hard and rigid.
I suppose I could have declined the offer but there was peer pressure. What could go wrong?
So, the idea was that I was going to be held up in front of the table which was placed in the corner turnbuckle. I had been “beaten up” a bit right before that. I was to jump slightly just as the 225 pound wrestler speared me through the table.
Well, I did my part and he did his part. The table didn’t cooperate. It was like hitting a brick wall. I could hear my skin sliding down the unbroken table.
“Let’s go again,” the wrestler whispered to me.
“Go by yourself,” I said, trying to catch my breath.
What followed was three more attempts to break that table, all of which were unsuccessful. I rolled out of the ring and was dragged to the back to avoid the further mayhem.
So now you know my Saturday night secret. It’s all good, clean fun if your idea of fun is beating up your friends and putting them through tables.