By the time that Darryl pulls into St-Louis in late seventy-five, Mickey thanks to his own stubbornness, the help of uncle slash father Von Hess and to a lesser extent, the help of his doctors has made a remarkable recovery. His doctors thought he would never walk again, but Mickey is not just walking, heís back in training and talking about making a comeback for the Centennial show in Atlanta. This motivates Darryl to get back to work and cut down a bit on his diet, so when he hits the Checker-Dome, heís down to just under three hundred pounds. Darryl starts cracking jokes that the only thing worse than a monster in the ring is a fast, angry and hungry monster.
First night out, Darryl needs to make a splash. Old Man Clancy has kept Darrylís presence a secret. I mean all the fans want him to come and they have a general idea that he will show up in St-Louis eventually, but not when. Understand, at this point St-Louis is just another territory. A largish territory mind you, and one with cash in the coffers and good attendance, which is not the case for a lot of territories. Now Rory Clancy has been training for a while and has been featured in a couple of angles taking stupid bumps as necessary, but he has hasnít made his official debut yet. So, they do a backstage thing where Rory is badgering people to let him have his shot, give him a chance to show what he can do. They show him spending the whole show scurrying around back-stage trying to get someone, anyone to agree to let him wrestle. Finally, this old school heel named Crusher says that if Rory wants to wrestle badly enough, he can wrestle in the semi-main instead of him and fight his opponent. Rory rushes off happy as clam without even asking who heís facing. So they send Rory out for his first match ever and heís bouncing in the ring when Darrylís music hits and naturally Rory freaks out to cue the crowd and a few seconds later, the curtain parts and Darryl steps out. He gives the crowd a chance to see him and freak out and then he sprints for the ring.
Now, Darryl has always been a fast guy for his size, but having taken thirty pounds off, heís suddenly blazingly fast and the closer he gets to the ring, the more itís become obvious that Rory is going to die. Which is basically what happens. Rory gets a few hope spots thrown in, gets to kick Darryl in the face for all the good it does him. Darryl beats the crap out of Rory Ė and everyone finds out that Rory is one hell of a bumper Ė he's turning Darryl's clotheslines into an opportunity to do double axles with a twist. Darryl gives him a back body drop and he practically hits the lighting rig suspended over the ring. Darryl toys with Rory for a while and then gives him a power bomb that shakes the ring, but pulls him up at two. And then Darryl really goes to work on Rory who is acting punch drunk by this point in the match. The referee gets into Darryl's face about it, telling him just to pin Rory and get it over with. Darryl looks at the ref, grins and then knocks his block off. The bell rings, Rory's won his first match by disqualification and then his brothers hit the ring and a massive brawl breaks out and Darryl is tossing the twins one after the other and kicking Bill Jr. in the balls and at this point security hits the ring along with most of the wrestlers in the back to keep Darryl and Donny apart, because that is the real money match, the two brawlers going toe to toe.
In other words, it was a smashing success as a debut, both for Rory and for Darryl. They quickly became good friends. Rory was always a really easy kid to like. Big heart, willing to sell for people like mad, a crazy bumper and a real student of the business.
They start the fall tour of the Missouri area, hitting all the small towns with Darryl taking Rory apart night after night. That would be the other advantage of the territory system, was that in the days before pay-per-view guys would tour a match over a broad area, throwing in a few wrinkles here and there, but usually only progressing the angle when you hit the big city in the territory in this case, St-Louis. So, guys could perfect matches in the small towns before hitting the big cities. That's one of the reasons that the matches between me and Mongoose were so good, we had lots of time to perfect the bits and pieces of the match. We would do a ten minute match here and work on one section of what we wanted to do and then do another ten minute match with a completely different five minute section, so by the time our C&F match rolled around we had thirty minutes worth of good stuff that we cut down to twenty minutes and it was tight. Nowadays, with the internet pukes following people around everywhere and with the need to put on two TV shows a week, you don't have a chance to work on your matches the way we could in the day. I mean, you can use the house shows during the week to practice, but you have to be careful not to give too much away, or you get blasted for being repetitive when you roll out the match on live TV.
Anyway, at the time, hell, even now when he's more of a manager, no one practiced on his matches more than Darryl. So, they're in some bohunk, Missouri back-woods town on a Sunday morning and they are expecting a big crowd of farmers and hicks to see the show, but in this tiny little town the wrestler's have nothing to do but practice. Still, it's early in the morning and the guys who are there first to practice are Rory, Darryl, Bill Jr, who is also the road agent for the tour, and this Japanese guy named the Incredible Satoh, who does the martial arts thing along with some wacky submission wrestling and the mist thing that's sort of de rigueur for the Japanese guys to do. I've never really understood how blowing green food colouring in someone's eyes is supposed to cripple them but the fans like it. Satoh is a good guy though, he helped train me a couple of years later when he was touring through Montreal. Now, for Darryl practicing with Rory is doing absolutely nothing for him, because the match that they have been doing is working perfectly and it's mostly Rory bumping off Darryl's strikes and throws anyway, so Darryl suggests to Satoh that they do a work-out together.
Normally, these two would never even get into the ring against one another, because they are both heels. But as they start working out together, a couple of things become clear. The first is that the two men are both great mat wrestlers. Now being a great mat wrestler is the hardest thing in the world. Most people assume that if you were a good amateur wrestler that you are automatically a good mat wrestler in professional wrestling. That's not true, it's not automatic. Because mat wrestling in professional wrestling is not the same as amateur wrestling. The key to being a great amateur wrestler is to win; the key to being a great mat wrestler is to take all the elements of amateur wrestling and put them together - use those elements to tell a story. And that's tricky because honestly most of the time mat wrestling can be about as interesting as watching wet paint. But these two guys are guys who can make it interesting - make it dramatic.
The other thing that the other wrestlers come to realize as they watch Darryl and Satoh lock up is that the two men are both gifted at improv. Now, me personally, I prefer to plan my matches. In fact, there are guys who turn and walk away when they see me coming towards them before a show because they know that I'll want to talk about a counter-reversal sequence that happens at the mid-point of the match. Some guys are comfortable with planning, some are comfortable with improv, some are comfortable with a mix of both or switching between the two. Like, I say me, I'm a planner, but that doesn't mean that I can't understand the beauty of two masters of the improv riffing off one another to create something entirely new. At its best it's like great jazz, wild and crazy, but at the same disciplined. And that's what Satoh and Darryl start pulling out of each other. They are only working at about three quarters speed and they are working just tight enough to be safe, but the wrestlers in the room drifting in for breakfast can already tell that they are watching something special.
It might have stayed there as something special that only the wrestlers know about, but this is Bill Jr's first real tour as a road agent, so he hasn't quite calcified into a total ass hole like his Dad, so the boys are able to work him over and convince him to showcase this match. Satoh has been working a gimmick where he uses his secret Orient techniques to beat guys with these nasty looking submissions, moves designed to beat someone who is bigger and stronger than Satoh although Satoh is plenty big for a Jap, nearly five ten and two fifty, but compared to Darryl it's no contest. So they do their match and all of the little kinks that they had in the morning they've worked out and they just go out and blaze through a twenty-five minute match like it was a sprint and the farmers are going nuts as this match goes on. This is way before the days of cam corders of course and no one was filming the match, so we only have the word of those who were there, but they all agree it was probably the best match that they ever saw, the kind of match where the audience can see a face and a heel both peeking together around the curtain to watch and it doesn't suspend your disbelief that they aren't fighting one another, because if you were in the back and this was going on, you would be peeking out too, and you probably wouldn't care who was standing next to you anyway. That and one of the great stories about that match is that Rory and Crusher are watching the match from the back in full view of the audience - earlier in the night, Rory snuck a victory over Crusher with a lucky roll-up. So the two men are watching the match, the audience is watching them, when the match is over, Crusher turns to go to the back and ever so casually turfs Rory to the ground with a clothesline as he walks to the dressing room. It's little touches like that that made an old school promotion I tell you.
Anyway, Satoh and Darryl have a match for the ages, Darryl counters Satoh's wacky submissions, but he is forced to counter them using skill and leverage rather than strength. The farmers go nuts for the match, the workers in the back go nuts for the match. Bill Jr. rounds everybody back to head back to St-Louis and he has reason to believe that he's done a pretty good job as a road agent...
But when they get back into town and Old Man Clancy hears what happened the shit hits the fan.
Yeah, I have a wrestling show in about twelve hours, so I have been running around getting last minute shit done for that. Actually, since I'm in charge of promotion what I have been really doing is getting stuff ready for the next show so that we hit the ground running once the show for tomorrow is done. Astonishingly, it looks like the promotional material for this show is going to be the best organized yet despite the novel.
But working on chapter seventeen.
Please feel free to let me know if there is stuff that I am doing that makes no sense, or if there are subjects or stories in wrestling that I ought to be covering that I haven't hit yet.
(The Jimmy Valiant story is going in as soon as I find a spot for it let me tell you.)
THE OBTUSE ANGLE The Incredible Journey of Billy Gunn January 12, 2003 by Jeb Tennyson Lund OnlineOnslaught.com/CitizenScholar.net There is a rumor going around that suggests Billy Gunn will retire due to nerve damage resulting from an injury.