-The thing to understand about the wrestling business is that it's ugly. No, actually ugly is the wrong word. Ugly makes you think of the boys who make a living because they can scare small children just by looking at them funny. Most of those guys are all right. It's the pretty boys that you have to watch for. The word is sordid. The wrestling business is fucking sordid. Sordid is a good fucking word. It sounds like the word you would use for what you see when you turn on the light in the kitchen at three am when you go for a glass of water and you can just see the cockroaches scurrying into the corners looking for the dark. Yeah, so wrestling is sordid, but you know the very first time that I saw it, I got it - the light and the dark, the honesty and the lies, the promises and the betrayal - I was eight but I saw it all, so I can't say that I didn't know what I was getting into. But see for me I also knew that it was a way out. My dad was a farmer, growing rocks mostly, and damned if I was going to end up like him, old before his time, bent like a fishing rod with a ten pound trout on the line. Of course, here I am my back's fucked just like my Dad.
Anyway, I saw right away that wrestling was my out. I mean I knew I wasn't smart enough to get anywhere in school or at least I was smart enough to know that I wasn't getting anywhere in school unless I worked my ass off and frankly, I'm lazy, still am. Plus my Dad was always yanking me out of school to help on the farm. And I wasn't really a good enough athlete to get out that way. I mean I was okay at hockey, baseball, football - we never played basketball - but I knew I wasn't quite good enough to get anywhere on raw talent, and I wasn't really ready to do the work to get better. But I could fight and I could bullshit, and I just knew looking at wrestling that was what you needed: fighting and bullshitting.
So when the promotion from Montreal did their summer tour, every time that they unloaded, I was there, helping them unload, helping them set-up that sort of thing. That got me in free to the shows and the wrestlers, usually the heels, would show me a few moves that I could use to make the other kids knuckle under. Pretty soon, I could beat pretty much any kid within twenty miles. If I couldn't beat him clean, I beat him dirty, and if I couldn't beat him dirty, I’d hook him with a move that some ear-less, toothless bastard had showed in the back of the wrestling tent. I always had to watch out the wrestlers that wanted to grab your ass or your dick, but I was always quick...
-As fascinating as all this is, there's no way in hell that I'm going to be able to help you with a thirty year old molestation charge that happened in another country.
-Aren't you listening? I was always too quick for the grab-asses. No, this is about something right here. I just have to set it up for you is all. See, my problem was that the spotlight, the glory came too easy. Lots of boys struggled for years in shit-hole towns honing their craft. Me, I turned 16, I headed for Montreal and I hooked up with the Lutte Quebec International, who had the territory for all of Quebec. They knew me from the summer and they let me help set up the ring and do all the grunt work, and I badgered everyone to train me. Eventually, this old hooker - it's not what you think a hooker is a guy who knew all kinds of hooks, ways to knock a man down and keep him down - anyway this old hooker who was called Le Monstre - he made me a deal, if I did all his laundry and the ring was set up properly, he would train me until the rest of the boys showed to use the ring. So, every morning I would be at the crack of dawn, tightening shit and making sure that the ring was set up properly, sometimes I had to set up the ring completely because we had done a show outside of Montreal, and let me tell you a wrestling ring is fucking heavy work to set up. It's really a four man job, but I started figuring out little shortcuts to get it done by myself and to get it done fast, because the earlier it was set up the more training time I would have.
-I thought you said you were lazy?
-Smart-ass. Anyway within a year, maybe a bit more I was trained to the point where if someone would get hurt, I would put a mask on and replace him. I was still a scrawny kid, but I knew the moves and the fans liked watching a kid get the better of Le Monstre for a little while even if I always got beaten in the end. Then eventually, the booker - the guy who arranges the matches for the fed, a guy named Rene Cloutier, he told me to grow my hair long and dye it blonde, and I started wrestling as M. la Blonde which was a bit of a joke because in Quebec “la blonde” means your girlfriend. So it was a gay gimmick - literally - but the crowds loved to see me get my ass kicked. I did that for a while and then I got a chance to go to Puerto Rico using the same gimmick. When I got there, my first match out, I did something that I did a lot in Quebec - I took a swig of water and then hissed at the crowd - not quite spitting at them but not showing much respect either. The crowd went nuts. I mean mental. Taking swings at me, pulling out knives, the whole ball of wax. When I got back, the promoters were ecstatic, but the first thing that they said was we have to change your name - la Blonde is fucking stupid, no one gets it. We kicked around a few things and then someone said that when I hissed it sounded like a snake. From there, we came up with the Rattler within minutes. At that point it was just the name, all the other stuff came later.
I went back to Quebec with that and we tried it there and the crowd liked it and we started adding stuff to it - Snakeskin boots and a cowboy hat and an Indian Rattle that I would hit people with. It went over really well, and I started tinkering with my moves too to make them more snake like. It was round this point that a Japanese wrestler called Mr. Taigo showed me this move where you let the other guy catch your foot and then you flip and nail him in the back of the head and we started calling that “The Bite”. That went over big with the crowds too. Then I went back to Puerto Rico and the crowd loved all that shit as well. But what really made a difference at this point is that I ended up feuding the entire time with the Clancy twins. Their Dad sent them to Puerto Rico partly as a favour to the local promoter, partly to give them seasoning for his promotion back here. So, the minute the tour is over, they come home and go to Old Man Clancy and say, “There's a guy called the Rattler that you have to bring in.” I land in Montreal and there's already a message to pack my bags and come here. Now, at the time the St-Louis territory and the Quebec territory were about the same size, maybe the Quebec one is a little bit bigger, but I had my own reasons to get out of Montreal and besides the further away from St-Anne-des-Plaines the better.
So, I land in St-Louis and three hours later, I’m kicking Jim Clancy in the back of the head and hissing at the crowd and their eating it up with a spoon. That was late 1978 and I had lucked out, because I had no idea that Old Man Clancy was a fucking genius.
At the time, there is the NWA which was drowning under its own bureaucracy, and there was Dallas, New York, Memphis and Minnesota, all kind of fighting it out. Nobody paid a fuck to St-Louis. They should have.
See, this sport channel called ESPN was just getting ready to start and they needed two things: advertisers and footage. Now the chairman of Budweiser comes to the shows at the Checkerdome with his grand kids every week and Budweiser is a sponsor of the show. So Clancy convinces him that advertising to sports fans on ESPN would be a really good idea. Then he walks into ESPN with an advertising deal with Budweiser in his hand conditional on getting an hour-long show on prime time on Tuesdays and a two hour show on Saturday afternoons.
-That’s where the Budweiser Wrestling Hour comes from?
-Yeah. So suddenly, St-Louis is a national fed. Then Budweiser sponsors a national tour. And Old Man Clancy does a very smart thing: he calls up all the bigger promotions across the country and he strikes a deal with them. You advertise our guys who everyone sees on TV every week. We’re getting paid by Budweiser so the local promoter doesn’t have to pay anything. The local promoter gets to keep the ticket sales, we keep the merchandise sales and we get to keep the footage of the show to use on TV later. So, we look even more like a national fed because we have footage from Portland to Bangor and some stuff from Canada. And since we broke with the NWA once we got on ESPN, every promotion that we partner with ends up getting into a pissing match with the NWA, but the deal is too good to pass up. The only thing is, while we’re visiting all these other promotions, Clancy is scouting talent, and when we get back to St-Louis, all the guys who are worth a damn get invited to come to St-Louis so that they get featured on TV. Then, Clancy starts picking off the weakest feds one by one, buying up the territories one by one. Most of them are losing money ‘cause he’s bought off their best talent. And they can’t go to NWA for help, because they just finished pissing the NWA off. So Clancy comes in offering them twice what the territory is worth spread over ten years. Most of them only get two payments, but by the time the third year rolls around and Clancy tells them to fuck off, Clancy already has deals with all the best arenas in the territory, so the old promoter can’t do a fucking thing, he’s cut off at the fucking knees and Clancy yanked his territory out from under him for half of what it was worth.
And then, Clancy gets that first PPV in 1981, and I end up doing that music video with George Thoroughgood for “Bad to the Bone” and all of a sudden we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone and People. The Clancy boys are the clean-cut All American heroes and their biggest enemy, the snake in the grass, the guy every one is lining up to hate is me. Then they bring in that pretty boy from Calgary, whose actually been wrestling since he was thirteen and one night I’m trying out a new move a throat stomp from the top, he flinches, I land right on the side of his head and his left ear which was always a little beat up from fights he had as a kid - anyway, I kick his left ear right off his head. The ref saves the ear and he ends up getting it resewn back on later that night, but it was on live TV and right then everyone knew that I was the biggest, baddest most vicious mother-fucker on the planet. And I'm barely twenty-one, even if every one in St-Louis thinks I'm twenty-five, and I'm in the fucking spotlight, a million miles from that small town in Quebec, and it's all luck and timing that got me there...
-Fucking entropy. The center can't fucking hold. It all falls apart.