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A Lion's Tale
Around the World in Spandex
With Peter Thomas Fornatale
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Format:ebook $7.99 $9.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 25, 2007. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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To Jesus Christ for allowing me to live my dream. Thank you sir!
To Jessica my princess and the love of my life, for her belief and tolerance of me. To our children, Ash, Cheyenne, and Sierra, for teaching me how to be a man. Love is too small a word.
To my dad, Ted, for being my biggest supporter and my best friend.
To my mom, Loretta, for being my true hero and for teaching me how to love.
To Chad and Todd Holowatuk for being the brothers I always had.
To Grandma Jesse for getting me into this whole mess.
To Grandpa Jake for granting me amnesty.
To Auntie Joan for encouraging and sparking my creativity.
To Lance Storm, Lenny Olson, Mike Lozanski, and Bret Como for their friendship and for being there from the beginning. We toured the world and elsewhere…
To the Palko Family—Jerry, Bev, Brad, and Tyler. Without your love and support this journey never would've taken place.
To Chris Benoit for being a mentor, a big brother, and for always having my back. Love and respect to the man I knew.
To Mick Foley and Andy Summers, whose autobiographies are the templates for what mine aspires to be.
To Pete Fornatale for your advice and assistance as I was writing this masterpiece. I couldn't have chosen a better collaborator.
To Mick Foley for going through the book with me line by line because he cared. His "bestselling author" suggestions and insightful advice were invaluable in making this a better book.
To my editor, Melanie Murray, at Grand Central Publishing, for picking up someone else's vision and crafting it masterfully into her own; and for putting up with my OCD!
To Barry Bloom, Leland LaBarre, and everyone at Diverse, Nicole Nassar, and Kelly Kupper for being the quarterbacks of Team Jericho.
To Rich Ward and Mark Willis for helping to make rock 'n' roll dreams come true.
To Marc Gerald, Seth Rappaport, and Jason Pinter for putting this idea into my head and helping me realize there was something interesting to write about after all.
To all of the promoters who enabled me to turn this fantasy into reality: Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, Paul Heyman, Genichiro Tenryu, Antonio Inoki, Atsushi Onita, Paco Alonso, Carlos Elizondo, Jim Cornette, Rene Lasartesse, Ed Langley, Bob Puppets, Fred Jung, Tony Condello, and Bob Holliday. This is all your fault!
To Owen Hart, Ricky Steamboat, and Shawn Michaels for capturing my imagination and being heroes.
To Jim Ross for writing (as only he can) the perfect Foreword.
To all of those on the long and winding road whose friendship, love, and support helped to make it all possible: Ryan Ahoff, Dave Spivak, Kevin Ahoff, Craig Wallace, Warren Rumpel, Lee Wren, Don Callis, Tonga Fifita, Norman Smiley, Charles Ashenoff, Chavo Guererro Jr., Negro Casas, Yoshihiro Asai, Ajax Olson, Dean Malenko, Shane Helms, Hector Guerrero, Shane McMahon, Ed Aborn, all the past and present members of Fozzy, Sean Delson, Mike Martin, Bob Castillo and all at Grand Central Publishing for their understanding, Flamur Tonuzi, Bonnie Irvine, Paula and Tony Ford, Dave Meltzer for the fact checking, Paul Gargano, Lisa Ortiz, Masa Horie, Stephanie McMahon, Mary Klewchuk, Herb Irvine, Donna, Josh, and Dylan Campanaro, Kevin Dunn, Fred Chase, Zakk Wylde, Michael Braverman, Hal Sparks for the Beaver Birthday Cake line, Dale Thompson for Fistful of Bees, Mike Portnoy, the Irvine family, the Lockhart family, the Wheeldon family, the Malones, the Klewchuk family, the Holowatuk family, Pastor Chris Bonham, Rich McFarlin, and everyone at Grace Family Church, all of the Jerichoholics and Fozzy Fanatics worldwide and, most importantly, YOU!
SHUT UP, KID,
OR I'LL SLAP YOUR FACE
The first time I ever watched pro wrestling was with my grandma in her basement in Winnipeg when I was seven. She was a quiet lady but whenever the AWA was on TV, she would freak out and start yelling and screaming. AWA stood for American Wrestling Association and was one of three major wrestling companies in North America, along with the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and NWA (National Wrestling Alliance).
My grandma's name was Jesse and the wrestler who most drew her ire was a do-ragged-sporting, Elton John–sunglasses–wearing bad guy named Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Ventura, who sported a fashionable jewel in the dimple of his chin, was part of a tag team with the biker-looking Adrian Adonis. Jesse was a flamboyant loudmouth and I couldn't get enough of him. My grandma couldn't stand the Body or his antics.
My family went to my grandparents' house every Saturday night to watch the Holy Trinity of Childhood Television™, which began with the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour at five, followed by the AWA at six, and ending with Hockey Night in Canada at seven. My dad's name was Ted Irvine, and he played hockey in the NHL for ten years with the Los Angeles Kings (where he assisted on the very first power play goal in Kings history), the New York Rangers (where he went all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in 1972, only to lose to Bobby Orr and his Boston Bruins), and the St. Louis Blues (where he ended his career in 1977). He was known as the Baby-Faced Assassin and was one of the most feared players in the league. Legendary tough guys like Dave Shultz and Keith Magnuson would challenge him to try and make a name for themselves. But he could also score and ended up with a total of 170 NHL goals and with his combination of skill and strength he was one of the original power forwards. So hockey was a big part of our family, but pro wrestling was beginning to become an even bigger part.
My grandma smoked a lot, which gave her a raspy voice which got raspier when she yelled at the TV, "Come on! Hit him!" I wholeheartedly joined my grandma in cheering our favorites and jeering the guys we hated...although I stayed neutral when the Body was on. Whenever my aunts or my dad said anything to her about wrestling being staged, she refused to acknowledge it. She also refused to acknowledge it years earlier when my dad had his first ever close-up on the nationally televised Hockey Night in Canada after missing a breakaway and greeting the nation with a resounding "FUCK!" "He never said that," she said. "He would never say that."
The first wrestler to become my hero was Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster was in the AWA before he became a national star with the World Wrestling Federation, and I loved his huge mustache and long blond hair. He had the biggest muscles I'd ever seen and his charisma was off the charts. To me, the combination of all these qualities made him cooler than the Fonz. He was also the first wrestler that I became emotionally attached to because of a story line, when champion Nick Bockwinkel and his evil goons injured Hulk's arm and put him out of action. I couldn't wait for him to return and exact his revenge.
Eventually, my dad took me to the matches at the Winnipeg Arena. The old barn was big and dark and I was so excited when we got to our seats. All of my eight-year-old dreams and thoughts of what seeing wrestling would be like in person were about to be realized! Only the lights above the ring were illuminated, creating a mystical atmosphere, accentuated by the thick clouds of cigarette smoke that hung in the air underneath the lights. The place was packed. I had never before experienced such a range of emotions from a group of people watching the same event. There was cheering, booing, taunting, happiness, anger, elation, and disappointment.
All of the wrestlers seemed larger than life and I had a list of favorites. The High Flyers: a good-guy tag team made up of Jumpin' Jimmy Brunzell and Greg Gagne, who was AWA promoter Verne Gagne's son. I watched their match with intense concentration, cheering them on, begging for Greg to make the tag to Jimmy after being beaten on for what seemed like an hour and absolutely exploding off my seat when he finally did. King Tonga, a 300-pound Islander, who had a huge scar on his arm that was apparently caused by a shark attack on his native island...a shark that the King was forced to kill with his bare hands! Jerry Blackwell was a short, disgustingly obese guy the crowd tortured by chanting "Fatwell" during his match. After he threatened to "slap the shit out" of me when I yelled at him timidly as he passed by me on his way to the ring, I joined in the chant with extra vim and vigor (what the hell does vim mean anyway?). Then there was Baron Von Raschke, a bald, strange-looking dude who resembled one of the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes and spoke in a thick, hard-to-place Eastern European accent. But he was a Winnipeg favorite and I went nuts for him as he paraded around in his black tights and red cape, threatening to administer his devastating finishing move, the Claw, to his hapless opponent.
There was also Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin, who was accompanied to the ring by his valet, Precious, an attractive blonde in a tight spandex shirt and hot pants. I was shocked when the crowd began to chant "Show Your Tits!" I was double-shocked when the crowd began to chant "Asshole!" at Garvin when he covered Precious with his jacket. I sat there thinking, "You can't say tits and you sure as heck can't say asshole! When my dad hears that, he is not going to be happy." But he just laughed it off. That's when I figured out that the normal rules of conduct for a hockey or football game didn't apply at the wrestling matches. I liked this rowdy crowd.
At the intermission, the company would sell tickets for the next month's card and my dad and I always bought them. The ring announcer, Mean Gene Okerlund, would say "Get your tickets now...doncha dare miss it!" and we didn't. Wrestling became me and my dad's thing. No matter what was going on, we always knew that once a month, we'd be able to spend time together at the matches.
Since my dad had retired from the NHL years before, he had taken a side job as a radio commentator for the Winnipeg Jets. That job helped him make some major connections for his day job as a financial planner. Because of that he was able to get me autographs from some of the top wrestlers like Black Jack Lanza and Nick Bockwinkel. The fringe benefits continued as my dad scored us front-row tickets to one of the biggest cards in Winnipeg history, featuring the main event of new champion Rick Martel against the evil Russian Boris Zukoff in a steel cage match. John Ferguson, the GM of the Jets, was the special referee. Sitting so close to the action opened a whole new world for us as fans and as observers. You could see and hear things that you couldn't see on TV. You could feel the force of the blows...or lack thereof. The reactions of the guys in the ring were more pronounced as well. A newcomer named Scott Hall gave a guy a back drop and said to his partner in disbelief, "Hey, did you see how high he went?" My dad and I both heard it and shot each other an astonished look.
A true conflict arose one month when a famous hypnotist known as the Man They Call Raveen came to town. I had to see Raveen...I needed to see Raveen...I begged my mom to take me to see Raveen! She finally agreed to take me to see damn Raveen but what I didn't know was that Raveen had the audacity to schedule his show the same night as the AWA. At this point after all the begging and the pleading that I had laid onto my mom, I couldn't back out. So my mom and I went to see the amazing mind controller hypnotist, and my dad and my aunts went to see the amazing mind controller wrestlers. As soon as I got to the Raveen show I realized I had made a huge mistake. After a few minutes of watching the Wolfman Jack look-alike in a velvet jacket making people bark like dogs, act like babies, and smell nonexisting farts, all I could think about was how Hogan was getting revenge on Bockwinkel only a few miles away at that very moment...and I was missing it!
The first thing I did after Raveen had restored everyone back to normal with a simple snap of his amazing fingers was to call my dad to find out what had happened at the Arena. I was pretty pissed off that I'd made the wrong decision and chosen something lame instead of the sure bet of wrestling. It never happened again.
Then one month when I went to the AWA show, I was surprised when the ring announcer welcomed us to the debut of a new wrestling league at the Winnipeg Arena. With no warning, the AWA had been replaced by the World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon, the head honcho of this new company, had muscled his way into taking over the Winnipeg wrestling scene, replacing Gagne's show with his own. It didn't take long to realize that the WWF show was all that the AWA was and a whole lot more. These guys had glitzier names—like Jake the Snake, Macho Man Savage, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat—and they were huge, massively built muscleheads who were the complete opposites of the skinny or beer-bellied athletes the AWA was offering. But the real kicker came when the WWF's new champion walked through the curtain on his way to the ring: Hulk Hogan was back! If the Hulkster was down with the new boss, then so was I. I instantly turned traitor on the AWA and embraced my new favorite wrestling league.
When I entered my teens, I started to expand my wrestling fanaticism, as just going to the matches and watching them on TV wasn't enough. Someone found out that all the wrestlers stayed at the Polo Park Inn, adjacent to the Winnipeg Arena, when they were in the Peg and worked out at the Gold's Gym across the street. So when the matches came to town, I'd take the bus down to the Arena after school, watch the guys work out at the gym, then go hang out in the lobby of the Polo Park Inn hoping to catch another glimpse. When I got a little bit older, I started sneaking into the Polo Park Inn bar using a fake ID that my friend Warren and I made. Inside the bar, I stared as all the wrestlers hung around talking to girls and drinking Labatt's Blue. I couldn't believe the size of them, especially when I stood next to Andre The Giant. His hand was as big as my head. A few minutes later I saw the Hulkster himself, so I summoned all my courage and asked if I could shake his hand. Not only did he say yes but he asked me my name as well. I flipped out. The Hulkster knew my name! "We're friends!" I thought as I began to skip and dance around like Ed Grimley after he met Pat Sajak.
I always felt more comfortable approaching the smaller guys. Shawn Michaels was a member of the Rockers, my favorite tag team, and wasn't much taller than I was. After seeing him do a back flip off the top rope on TV, I decided I had to do one. When I saw him at the gym I asked him how and he said, "You just have to go up there and do it, brother." While the advice made sense, the fact that he called me brother didn't. To the best of my knowledge we weren't related. I didn't know that I had just been exposed to the most frequently used word in pro wrestling vernacular.
It was even easier for me to talk to a lower level guy named Koko B. Ware. Not only was he shorter than me but he also had the goofy gimmick of walking to the ring with his pet bird, Frankie. He barely ever won as it was but after I saw him wrestle in dress pants and dress shoes (his gear bag had been lost by the airline), his intimidation factor was lost to me forever. So anytime I had a question about wrestling, I just asked Koko.
"Hey Koko, I wanna gain weight. What's the best way to do it?"
"You have to drink a lot of beer."
Words to live by for aspiring athletes, street urchins, and chubby, parrot-packing grapplers. The conversation with Koko also started my tradition of asking wrestlers very stupid questions upon meeting them.
"Hey Koko, how do you plan on beating the Warlord? He's so much bigger than you."
"I'll just try to duck and dip around him." Also great advice...for dodgeball players.
When he proceeded to lose to the Warlord that night in like three minutes, I thought to myself with pure sincerity, "Damn, I guess dodging and ducking just didn't pan out for him."
The WWF had just released a record album (remember those?) called Piledriver which featured wrestlers, including Koko, singing. I brought my copy to the bar for Koko to sign, telling him that not only was he a great wrestler but a great singer as well. He looked at me quizzically as he signed, like even he didn't believe my statement.
I befriended Craig Wallace, aka Wallass, in gym class when we discovered that we both knew how to do a DDT (hands down, the most popular wrestling move for fans from my generation). He was as fanatical about wrestling as I was and we devised a plan to get our pictures with the wrestlers. Since neither one of us had the guts to simply ask them, one of us would stand by a wall in the hotel while the other stood nearby with a camera. When a wrestler walked into the frame of the guy standing next to the wall, the camera guy would say the wrestler's name. "Hey, One Man Gang!" "Hey Outback Jack!" or whatever. When the wrestler turned to look, the cameraman would snap a quick picture and shazam...instant personal portrait.
When I took pictures for Wallass, they always came out perfect. But whenever he took pictures for me, the wrestler wouldn't be looking or there'd only be half of me in the shot. It happened so many times that when my picture of Wallass and Bushwhacker Luke was perfect and his picture of me and the Honky Tonk Man was butchered, we got into a fistfight.
The first time I ever got an inkling that wrestling might not be completely legit was when I saw Sika, half of the Wild Samoans, at the hotel. On television, he spoke no English and had a manager who did the talking for the team. I wanted to get his autograph but he was alone, so I approached him gingerly with pen and paper in hand and spoke slowly and simply. "Mr. Sika," I said, pointing at the paper with my pen. "Autograph. Please. You sign. Here," I explained while pantomiming signing motions with my pen.
He looked at the pen and paper in my hand and then looked straight in my eyes and said in perfect English…
"Fuck off, kid."
I was shocked! I was agog! And not because he told me to fuck off. Oh no dear readers, I was shocked because I had discovered that Sika could actually speak English! "Oh my gosh! He speaks English! Did anybody else hear that?" I shouted to no one in particular. But alas, it was like seeing the head of the monster rising from the depths of Loch Ness with nobody else on the boat. I alone had discovered the savage Samoan's secret.
The dissing continued when I saw the Dynamite Kid sitting in the bar, pecs bursting out of an open dress shirt, drinking beer. When he saw me approaching with my pen, he glared at me and said in his thick Cockney accent, "Don't even fookin' try it." I turned on my heels and walked straight out of the bar without missing a beat.
My mission to be assaulted by a wrestler continued when Wallass and I decided to follow the Four Horsemen's limousine in my mom's car after we saw them buying beer at a vendor. After a thirty-minute cat-and-mouse session, they simply put the limo into reverse at a red light and began to chase us backward on and off the curb. We were desperately trying to escape, all the while envisioning the horrible fate that awaited should they catch us. Satisfied that their message had been delivered, they drove away laughing and taunting us all the way down the street. Tully Blanchard stuck his head out of the window and yelled, "You little fuckheads need to get girlfriends." Girlfriends? I had no time for girlfriends...I was too busy obsessing about wrestling.
I was a model WWF fan, the perfect sheep that could be manipulated into liking or hating whoever the TV show told me to. I was a huge fan of all the good guys and I hated all the bad guys. Before each match, I made my way down through the crowd to boo them as they came to the ring. I antagonized the Honky Tonk Man so much once, that he said to me in his thick Southern accent, "Shut up, kid, or I'll slap your face!" This time I was no timid amateur like I was when Fatwell threatened me. This time I challenged Honky Tonk to a fight. He just walked away and I'm lucky he didn't stab me with his sideburns.
Even as I got older, I was a firm believer that wrestling was one hundred percent legit. There was no Internet back then giving away the secrets of the matches, no insider newsletters discussing every last detail about the business. Of course some people said it wasn't real and there were moments—like my encounter with Sika—that made me wonder. But no one in my circle knew for sure. It was like Santa Claus. You believed in him because everyone told you to. It was that blind faith that made being a wrestling fan a truly magical experience. Sadly, the magic of those days is long gone and being a true wrestling fan in the year 2007 is an entirely different animal than being a true wrestling fan in the year 1987...and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
People always asked me, "Are you going to be a hockey player like your dad?" The truth of the matter was even though I'd been playing hockey since I was four, I really wasn't very good. Of course I was a hockey fanatic; there wasn't much to do in Peg in the winter other than play hockey, drink beer, and fight, and at four years old I was too young to fight. I enjoyed playing sports but it was my creativity that really fueled me. I was a huge comic book collector (with Batman and Archie being my favorites) and a voracious reader with the Hardy Boys (the death-defying mystery-solving brothers not the death-defying acrobatic wrestling brothers) and Stephen King leading the way. I loved Star Wars (I waited in line for twelve hours to see the first showing of Return of the Jedi), James Bond, Star Trek (I sent away for a Chekov autograph), and horror movies. My addiction to horror probably started when I awoke one night with my parents searching through my hair, looking for a 666 on my head after they'd just seen The Omen. Each week I perused the TV Guide and circled the late night horror movies that I wanted to see. My mom allowed me to watch them, but I had to go to bed at my normal time of 10 P.M. and set my alarm to wake up at midnight if I wanted to check out Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman or Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Oh the days before TIVO, my children… But along with wrestling it was rock 'n' roll that really captured my imagination. I had every Beatles record by the time I was ten and read every book about them I could get my hands on by the time I was twelve. I was fascinated by their music, the details of their lives, how they shaped the entire destiny of pop culture. But in the early 1980s the Beatles' popularity had been usurped (great word) by Martha and the Muffins and Rocky Burnette. "You don't like Loverboy?" my friends would ask. "What's wrong with you? Forget the Beatles; the Little River Band is where it's at." I'm happy to say that when I'm walking in the park and reminiscing, I'm quite proud that I stuck with listening to the legendary Beatles instead of the not so legendary Little River Band.
In addition to my burgeoning interest in the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, and Rick Dees ("Disco Duck," which for some reason was my favorite song for a time), I was also a very creative kid. So much so, that my Auntie Joan, who was the dean of the University of Manitoba, used me as an example of a highly imaginative child when she gave lectures to teachers. I wrote my own songs, tried to teach myself how to play guitar, and made my own tape-recorded radio shows. I acted out battles, adventures, and odysseys for hours with the most impressive collection of Star Wars and Star Trek dolls this side of Mos Eisley. I was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons and was convinced that the Loch Ness monster actually existed...I still am. I liked to draw my own comic book movies—which were basically just comic books done in movie storyboard fashion, complete with opening and closing credits. A lot of these movies starred the Mr. Rogers Band, a Beatles-influenced rock group that I'd created. I'd storyboard their movies, and draw their album covers and included every detail: the song titles, lyrics, credits, even clocking the song times. I'd cut a circle of black construction paper to represent the actual LP and slide it between the stapled front and back covers.
When I started high school, I had the attitude and look of a rocker, including a sweet mullet that I made worse by using a crimping iron to straighten the back. It fried my hair and earned me the nickname Steel Wool. But I also played hockey and was an all-star water polo goalie, the master of the egg beater (don't ask), so I had a lot of jock friends too. I had the same combination of athleticism and creativity that had originally attracted me to wrestling.
Meanwhile, wrestling was becoming a bigger part of my life. I missed the original WrestleMania, the WWF's version of the Super Bowl, but when it was time for WrestleMania 2 I took the bus down to the Winnipeg Arena and watched the show on closed circuit television, the archaic version of PPV. You paid for a ticket, which gave you the privilege of going to the Arena to watch the damn thing on a giant out-of-focus movie screen.
The glitz and excitement that surrounded WrestleMania took wrestling to a different level for me and I realized that the business was a hell of a lot bigger than what I saw in the Winnipeg Arena every month. I started to dream that maybe someday I could become a wrestler. The problem was that most of the guys in the WWF were huge and I was not. Another friend, Dave Fellowes, was also incredibly into wrestling and we had this crazy idea: Maybe if we hung out together at the Arena in muscle shirts, the British Bulldogs would see our muscularity and decide to take us under their wing and train us to be the Winnipeg Bulldogs. Of course they could just as easily have taken us to the basement, put ball gags in our mouths, and given us to the Gimp, but we'll never know now will we?
In 1986, Winnipeg started getting broadcasts of Stampede Wrestling out of Calgary. This new company looked cheap and was broadcast out of a livestock field house but the wrestling was off the charts. It was fast, hard-hitting, action-packed, and completely ahead of its time. It was a melting pot of styles, exciting to watch, and I realized that the WWF wasn't the only game in town.
There were a couple of other wrestling shows on the tube as well, and I watched them all. We had the local WFWA based out of Winnipeg, the UWF based out of Oklahoma, and the IWA based out of Montreal. The IWA featured all these guys with thick French accents who could hardly speak English and the show was even cheaper-looking than Stampede. But they had some great characters. There was a guy called Floyd Creachman who managed the Man of 1,000 Holds, Leo Burke. Creachman was doing an interview and said that Burke was the Man of 1,002 Holds, to which the interviewer butted in, "But I thought he was the Man of 1,000 Holds?" Creachman deadpanned, "He learned two more." That to me was the greatest line ever—a line so good I ripped it off a decade later.
- "Better than Mick Foley's Have a Nice Day."—Baltimore Sun
- "An action-packed, uplifting, exceed your dreams thrill ride."—Associated Press
- "Brash, funny, and compulsively readable. Jericho is a born storyteller."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Funny, insightful, and compulsively readable."—Publishers Weekly
"A funny, fast-paced romp that is as honest as any book written by anybody else int he know."
—Bret "Hitman" Hart
"Thoughtful, thorough, and laugh-out-loud funny."
- On Sale
- Oct 25, 2007
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing