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.


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