Monday, March 11, 2013


     If you’ve been a fan of pro wrestling for at least a few years you’ve no doubt heard of if not seen the movie “Beyond the Mat” which was first released in March of 2000.  “Everybody knows about that movie” Colt Cabana once said on his podcast and Roddy Piper called it “The Best Documentary ever made about Professional Wrestling.”  The movie which was produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Films and put together and directed by Barry Blaustein, offered a behind the scenes look at professional wrestling and followed the day to day lives of pro wrestlers who were at various stages in their careers.
     And profiled in the beginning stages of their careers were professional wrestlers Mike Modest and Tony Jones, who were part of Roland Alexander’s All Pro Wrestling promotion in Hayward, California.  While people came away from the movie with differing views of Roland Alexander, some having a desire to meet and train with him, some feeling he was a “prick”, and others wanting to bear his children, what I’ve found to be indisputable is that Roland Alexander is a fan of pro wrestling and is very passionate about it.
     I first began communicating with Roland through the California Classic Wrestling Facebook page.  Growing up in Hayward, California (about 45 miles from San Francisco) he was a fan of Pro Wrestling and in particular a fan of Roy Shire’s Northern California promotion.
    “My father had been a prizefighter before meeting my mother and we used to go the store where he would pick up copies of “Ring” magazine because he still followed the sport” Said Roland in our recent interview. “And one day when I was 7 years old, I noticed that there was a small section in the magazine devoted to Pro Wrestling.  And he took notice that I had begun to watch wrestling on television and so one day when we went to the store he said, ‘It’s only fair that if I get a magazine that we should get one for you.’  So I looked around and settled on a magazine called ‘Wrestling Revue’.  And I grew to love that magazine, absolutely loved it!  But my mom hated it because it always came with centerfold full-color pinups of the wrestlers that I would tape to my bedroom wall.  And when I would decide to replace an old pinup poster with a new one, not only would the old poster come off of the wall but some of the paint too.  And that really pissed her off!”
     “After my father passed away I had an Uncle who loved Pro wrestling and began taking me to the TV tapings at the Channel 2 Studios of KTVU.  What a great scene, as it was near the water and they would have the bleachers there, and they would have the play by play guy who was Walt Harris and the athletic commission Doctor sitting at ringside, which really contributed to making things more believable.  I had a wrestling autograph book which was the greatest thing that you could have as a kid.  I got to meet lots of the wrestlers like Pepper Gomez, Edouard Carpentier and others.  I miss that and it’s sad that they don’t have that these days.  Now they have barricades, where before in the 60’s and 70’s they didn’t.  You’d see a wrestler standing in one corner of the ring before the match started and he’d be signing autographs for the fans.  I remember Pepper Gomez doing that, and he’d be facing his corner but he’d also have one eye on his opponent on the lookout of a sneak attack.  Something like that also helped make everything so believable.”
    I can certainly identify with those memories that Roland has of being a young wrestling fan, as two of the important aspects of that era were the existence of kayfabe and the intimacy a fan felt with the sport because they had an access to the wrestlers that you often find in the Indies but you just don’t find with the “Big Two” these days.  One of the biggest scores I ever had as a young wrestling fan was just before a lumberjack match at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, where I just casually walked around the ring and collected all of the wrestler’s autographs!
     Roland himself would continue to collect not only autographs but great memories of watching such wrestling legends as Ray Stevens, Pepper Gomez, Pat Patterson, Harley Race, and Rocky Johnson, just to name a few.  In fact, Roland would become friends with many of the wrestlers, with wrestler Paul Diamond (the original one) “smartening him up” to the business when still in his teens, and also becoming quite close with Rocky Johnson.  “I would hang out with and work out with Rocky, play ‘cribbage’ with his beautiful wife Ata, and even babysat a then 2 year old Dewey, not knowing that one day he’d grow up to be known as ‘The Rock.’”
     As the years went by Roland’s appreciation and passion for Pro Wrestling would continue to grow, as would his understanding of the different aspects that went into making a match one worth watching.  Eventually his involvement with Pro Wrestling would encompass much more than watching the Television tapings and Live Events put on by Roy Shire’s promotion or partying with “The Boys”.
     “It was 1991 and I was just too burnt out from my job as an accountant for a corporation and I wanted something else to do,” Roland continued. “Rick Thompson who had been a wrestler and helped the Samoans Afa and Sika break into wrestling, approached me and said, ‘You’ve got to good a head for wrestling, why didn’t you ever get into it, even as a manager?’” And so the idea of opening up a wrestling school was planted in Roland’s mind.
   “Well when I was growing up watching wrestling, there were only 2 schools that I heard of that were teaching wrestling and that was Verne Gagne’s in Minnesota and Stu Hart’s in Calgary.  I would later learn that the best one was being run by Boris Malenko, Dean’s Dad.”  Roland soon found out that there were now many more wrestling schools in the U.S. than he realized.
     “As a result of Pro Wrestling going from regional promotions to National ones like the WCW and WWF, there were lots of wrestlers who were suddenly out of jobs and some were now turning to running schools.”  Roland would also discover a problem in that, while many of the better wrestlers were able to secure jobs with the WWF and WCW, many of the ones who weren’t so good or sound in their craft weren’t able to.  Roland feels that it was some of these who were opening some of the wrestling schools, and thus as a result, it became a case of “the blind leading the blind.”
     Originally known as “Pacific Coast Sports”, the school which would come to be called “The Boot Camp” was opened up by Roland and a partner in 1991. “The first 5 years we struggled a bit and then we got a break when Spike Dudley (a former student of Roland’s) made it big in ECW, as well as when Vic Grimes and Crash Holly had success.” Other graduates of the “Boot Camp” include the Great Khali, Michael Modest, Donovan Morgan, Tony Jones, Brent Albright, and the “Queen of Wrestling” Sara Del Rey.
     Roland feels that there are several differences that separate his school and most others in the U.S.
  “I offer a two year program, although some learn a little quicker and can do it in a year. Because this is a complex sport, a complex performance art.  I couldn’t teach you to be a good cook at McDonald’s in 3 months.  I want my students to be absolutely ready when they graduate, to look good.”  Roland said that one of the biggest compliments he ever received was when Dave Meltzer stood in disbelief when finding out that one of Alexander’s students, who had just impressed Meltzer with his wrestling performance, was only making his pro debut. 
     Training in the APW Boot Camp consists of three stages: Beginner, Semi-Pro, and Pro.  The student learns the basics and fundamentals of wrestling (“We teach 5 different kinds of arm bars.  I don’t know any other school that does that”) and progresses into the higher stages where he learns such important facets of the game as detailed selling and advanced ring psychology.  Roland adds, “I’ve surrounded myself with good people over the years and I believe that we have one of the top 2 or 3 schools in the country."
     And one of those good people would undoubtedly have to be Bryan Danielson.  With the success of the movie “Beyond the Mat” came more awareness of Roland and his school.  “It was good for APW and I’ll be forever grateful” said Roland. (“Roland is known Worldwide” said “Wrestling’s Last Hope” writer Jose Haze) It also led to an increase in revenue for Roland that resulted in his producing 2 well known events in Independent Pro Wrestling history: The King of the Indies tournaments in 2000 and 2001.  The inaugural tournament was considered a success and received acclaim, but it was the 2001 event that proved to be a pivotal point in recent Indy history.

    Going from the previous year’s 8 man to a 16 man format in 2001, the tournament featured a who’s who of North America’s Independent Wrestling talent.  “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Brian “Spanky” Kendrick, Tony Jones, AJ Styles, Bison Smith, Frankie Kazarian, Doug Williams, Christopher Daniels and Adam Pearce were just some of the wrestlers who participated.  RF video (who distributes the 2 Disc DVD set of the event), whose owner and President Rob Feinstein would go on to found Ring of Honor, has referred to this tournament as the inspiration for the forming of ROH.

     In the opening round Danielson and Spanky would set the tone for the rest of the weekend tournament with an incredible match.  Danielson has said of this match: :  “I wasn’t supposed to win the match, but we put on such a good match that Nick(Bockwinkel who along with the Destroyer was one of the legends in attendance) went up to Roland and told him that ‘that kid should win this tournament. Roland offered me a job to wrestle and train (at APW), gave me a good salary on top of that and the flexibility to do my Indy bookings.”

     Roland paid Danielson $350 a week (Almost 3 times what he normally paid) to be a trainer at the Boot Camp and offered him a room in his house to live in while he was training Roland’s students during an 8 month period in 1992.  Roland loved Danielson’s work ethic, abilities, and attitude.  Roland says, “I like Brian because Brian was a wrestler.  His room was lined with several hundred wrestling tapes and he never came out of his room, he was too busy watching, studying tapes.  He was a student of the game.” And regarding Danielson’s continued success, Roland says “This guy is a wrestler [meaning someone who uses actual wrestling holds and techniques], and at one time Japan and ROH were better for him.  I’m not surprised that he got over, but I was surprised that WWE allowed him to get over, because Vince McMahon hasn’t catered to wrestlers.  Now that Vince’s product has gotten stale, it might be different.”

      The school has had its ups and downs over the years as has Roland’s physical health, and the downturn in the economy has affected many businesses, and while Roland’s hasn’t been immune to that, he continues to persevere.  “The Wrestling School business is a struggle today”, observes Roland. “The California Classics facebook board has rejuvenated me. While I may not like how the wrestling business is today, I still have a large passion for pro wrestling. I started as a fan and I’m still a fan.”  

    In my personal communications with Roland it’s very obvious that he’s still a fan and I’m glad that he is, because he has a wealth of knowledge and memories to pass along.  One of the first lessons he learned from Paul Diamond that he still continues to pass along is “Keep your mouth shut, your ears open, and absorb like a sponge.” 

     That’s wise advice to follow, whether on the mat or beyond.  – RR

     In the near future I’ll be doing an in-depth retrospective of The King of the Indies 2001 tournament complete with interviews, so stay tuned!  Below are links for APW’s website, twitter page and their YouTube channel which has tons of APW matches and a great in-depth panel discussion on the past and present of Pro Wrestling.  You can also keep up to date on my future articles (and take a look at my past ones) via my twitter and blog links which are also below.

APW Official Website:

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Sunday, March 3, 2013


     Pro Wrestling, especially when it’s done right, can be a wonderful world of escapism.  And while on occasion it can still be done right, for those of us who have been following the sport for some time, we know that there was a time when it was done right far more often.  And it’s not just a case of nostalgia tainting our opinions.  We have valid reasons to feel that way.  Daniel Garcia, who’s first exposure to Pro Wrestling came from Mike LeBelle’s Los Angeles promotion in the mid 70’s, is one of those who remembers those days fondly and certainly agrees that it was a great time.  He and I spoke of those days recently at his shop in The City of Industry, California where he sells Pro Wrestling Merchandise.
     “It was the way that they did the angles... You couldn’t drag me to a live event these days…it’s just not the same.  I’d rather sit at home and watch the kind of DVDs that I got from you.  (Tatsumi) Fujinami wrestling against Mando Guerrero or Carlos Mata at the Olympic Auditorium, with them using actual wrestling holds…you just don’t see that anymore.  Even the Lucha mask vs mask matches aren’t the same...back then, they had more meaning, more seemed to be at stake.”

     “When I was young I’d spend lots of time at my Grandmother’s house in East Los Angeles, and my Uncle had a room at the back of the house.  One Wednesday night when I was about 6 or 7, I went back there and he was watching wrestling on television.  And there was Chavo Guerrero on the screen, and there was something about him that just reached out and grabbed me!  There were other wrestlers who would do moves like him, like Mil Mascaras and a few others, but there was something about Chavo that was magnetic.” 

    After watching a few episodes of “Lucha Libre” (as the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium wrestling program was called on L.A.’s Spanish channel 34) Daniel then witnessed an angle develop between Chavo Guerrero and “Maniac” John Tolos that was so compelling that he could no longer remain satisfied to only watch Wrestling on television.  “I asked my Uncle if he could take me to the Olympic to watch the match between Chavo and Tolos, and my Uncle’s girlfriend was a HUGE John Tolos fan.  So she said, “Ok Mijo, we’ll take you.”

    Like many fans who attended their first match, especially during that era, and even more so when it was at such a hallowed venue like the Olympic Auditorium, Daniel spent the whole car ride to the event in excited anticipation.  And the experience made a permanent impression on him, as he was able to vividly recall in detail the fond memory of that evening.  Daniel’s eyes had a far away look as it was obvious that he was being transported back to what was a very special time and place.  “After arriving in the parking lot, I remember being in awe as we entered the building, and I couldn’t believe that I was in the place that I had been watching on TV.  It was like a dream come true.  I remember the ticket taker taking our tickets, the little built-in booths where they were selling beer, the posters on the wall, and walking up the ramp to be first greeted with a view of smoke, and seeing how it hung just below the lights.  And then at the top of the ramp I was able to look down at the ring, and it looked so bright to me!  There was just something special about that building, the atmosphere!”
   Daniel would continue to be a wrestling fan, but like many of us, there was a period of time when his interest drifted to other things, and Daniel would become more occupied with his love of Rock music and his participation in a band.  And it was while attending a Comic convention in Pasadena, Ca. in the year 2000 that Daniel would come across a vending table with music memorabilia. But the vendor had much more than music related items to offer.  He also had Lucha Libre merchandise.  Daniel instantly gravitated towards it and soon found his love for Pro Wrestling, particularly old school wrestling and Lucha Libre, rekindled.

   The vendor’s name was Bart Kapitzke, who as it turned out would have much more wrestling merchandise at a booth he operated at the “Frank and Son Collectibles Show” in the City of Industry.  And Daniel, who like everyone who’s ever been to that collectible show, was awestruck on his first visit to the incredibly unique Indoor Bazaar/Swap meet that is Frank and Son’s. 

    “It was amazing, they had so many great items available, and so many different things to see, it’s easy to see how some people can spend all day there looking around.”  At the time Bart, along with 2 partners, was the only one really offering Wrestling merchandise, and after visiting a few times, Daniel saw that was something was missing.  “Bart had his American wrestling and Lucha merchandise, Pat (Wrestling historian Pat Hoed aka wrestling commentator “Larry Rivera”) and Louie had the Japan stuff, and so I brought along some Godzilla and Old School television videos.”  The four worked together for several years, sharing a love for Rock music as well as Pro Wrestling.  “We had some fun times back then, even attending a few Lucha shows in Tijuana together.”

     And it was during that time that I first met Dan as I would stop by the shop for merchandise or to purchase tickets for the AWS independent wrestling shows that Bart promoted. However at the time our conversation with each other was fairly minimal.  Eventually the foursome would go there separate ways and Daniel would open his own shop at a different booth located in Frank and Son’s.  And after you enter his shop, especially after talking to Daniel for a bit, it quickly becomes evident that his shop is an extension of him.  “Everything here comes from my heart,” Daniel says, “its all stuff that I loved and grew up with.” 

     I always say that you can tell a man’s age by the types of cartoons, movies, and interests that he fondly remembers.  And while the shop is relatively small, you can still spend quite a bit of time in the shop browsing from one item to another and enjoying the flashback of good memories and emotions that come flooding back to you.  The shops features a variety of memorabilia from retro movies and television shows like Johnny Sokko and Giant Robot, Godzilla, Speed Racer, The Power Rangers, and from Rock Bands like “Kiss”, and of course there’s the Wrestling merchandise and memorabilia.  And it was Old School Wrestling from the Olympic Dvds that former L.A. wrestler Al Madril was looking for when he stopped at Daniel's shop twice in the last several months.  The second time, I had just missed him by about an hour.  "You just missed him!" Daniel later told me.  "We all would've had a great time talking about the old Olympic days!  He's a very humble guy, and he was looking for old footage from the Olympic, so I gave him a video tape.  He said his favorite times as a Wrestler were when he was working in L.A. and in Dallas."

     While Daniel carries some recent DVD releases from WWE as well as 80’s and 90’s collectible WWF magazines and cards, and WWE Wrestling figures, after a little time it become apparent that it’s the Lucha Libre and 70’s Olympic Auditorium Pro Wrestling genres that are still closest to Daniel’s heart.  And I for one can certainly identify with that.  And mixed in with the Lucha Libre masks Daniel has for sale (including some signed by Legendary Luchadors) and the 80’s Lucha magazines are pictures of Daniel and some of the Lucha Legends he’s met over the years.  And while he proudly displays those picture of he and performers like Dos Caras, Mil Mascaras, Perro Aguayo and Rey Mysterio, it’s the blowup photos of 70’s Olympic Auditorium wrestlers like Chavo Guerrero that seem to be his most prized.

   “My love for wrestling,” Daniel says with a smile, “it all starts with Chavo.”  And that’s another thing that Daniel and I have in common and our enjoyable talks, especially when it comes to the old days of L.A. Wrestling, usually last much longer than originally intended.  And while Daniel shows me the pictures he has of some of Jeff Walton’s old 70’s wrestling programs signed by Chavo, I notice that many of the visitors to Daniel’s shop are regulars.  And after interacting with them and watching Daniel interact with them, it’s obvious that they’ve been made to feel very welcome.  “There’s a camaraderie there” observes Daniel.

     And that I feel is very important.  In a world that is often divided, it’s always nice, and necessary in fact, when people can find a common interest, a common ground, over which to bond.  And I think that can be especially nice when it comes to the Pro Wrestling fan.  While Pro Wrestling no longer has quite the stigma it once had, enjoying a wider acceptance into pop culture than in previous generations, the passion that its ardent fans possess isn’t shared by everyone.  And when those fans do come across someone who shares that passion, especially if it’s for the same genre or performers in Pro Wrestling, then it’s understandable that a comfortable camaraderie is likely to develop.

    In fact, at times being in Daniel’s shop reminds me of those old television shows I’d watch where the men in a small town would gather in the General Store on a regular basis, sitting in chairs arranged in a circle around a pickle barrel and a game of checkers.  No one is in a rush to go anywhere and no one is made to feel they need to go anywhere.  It’s like a home away from home.  “Being in the shop is like an escape for me” says Daniel.  “It allows me to de-stress and for a time get away from some of the other pressures and stresses of everyday life.”  And it seems to provide that same kind of release for Daniels customers, as you can see how much they enjoy being there, and when they find an item they want, it’s obvious that they have many pleasant memories associated with it.  They don’t just purchase merchandise, they purchase an experience. “People’s faces often light up when they find something in my shop that they love or fondly remember from their youth” says Daniel, “And it feels good to see that.”  Confucius once said. “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”  It’s both enviable and admirable that Daniel Garcia has done just that. – RR

Daniel Garcia’s shop is located at space #200 in the Frank & Son Collectible Show located at 19649 E. San Jose Ave. in the City of Industry.  He is in his shop on Wednesdays between the hours of  2:30 pm- 7:30 pm on Weds. and 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. on Saturdays.                                                                                    


   In addition to being a fan of wrestling, I’m also a fan of movies.  And one thing I’ve come to notice while sitting through some of the Marvel Comics movies, waiting for the end of the credits to see the bonus footage, is that there’s a hell of a lot of people involved with a movie production.  Certainly many more names that could ever fit on a movie marquee (do they still have those?) or promotional poster.  And while those individuals may not share top billing with the “stars” of the movie, every single one of them is essential to one degree or another to providing the finished product. 

    And I sincerely believe that to be the case as well with Pro Wrestling.  Because regardless of what product or genre of Pro Wrestling that we may be viewing, it takes much more that the in-ring talent to make it work (if it works that is…). 

     Everyone has a story to tell, and while their name may not be the one that’s placed on the marquee, that doesn’t mean they have a less compelling story to tell.  In fact, in some cases they may have an even more compelling story to tell.  It is my intention in future articles not only to profile memorable in-ring performers, memorable territories, promotions, and events, but some of the people behind the scenes or other than the wrestlers who have also contributed to make those people, places, events, and eras so memorable.  And as we have a common interest in either learning something new about or preserving the memory of a time and place that has brought us so much joy, I will also be profiling and interviewing some of those who strive to do just that.  For again, everyone has a story to tell, be they writer, promoter, former wrestler, referee, vendor, photographer, or ringside fan.  And I hope that you’ll join me in hearing some of them.