In 2002, many years before I was hired as Associate Producer on Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, I was approached by then-California based filmmaker Dwayne Walker to do a full-length documentary on pro wrestling. Mutual friend, Jeff Archer, author of the book Theater in a Squared Circle, had connected me with the quirky, eclectic indie filmmaker who was intrigued that a mild-mannered school teacher had friends with monikers like “Killer” Kowalski, Don “Dr. Death” Arnold, “Lowlife” Louie Ramos, etc. And we visited a ton of them including the beloved Nikolai Volkoff throughout the fun little flick.
Shot “on pennies,” the movie was from the heart, but without a proper distributor, we moved a few DVDs here and there. Folk watched it on YouTube, and it finally was placed on Amazon Prime in America where I’d get the occasional, “Hey, enjoyed seeing Wrestling Then & Now, Evan.” In short, it felt like a cult film without much of a cult.
So I was shocked that 17 years after the fact there was life in the old girl yet as director Dwayne Walker set up a screening in Las Vegas for November 13, 2019, at 5:30 pm at MILLENNIUM FANDOM 900 S. Las Vegas Blvd #140. Visit http://vegasapocalypse.com for more details. And suddenly, with wrestling red hot in a boom cycle, fans are telling me they’re watching and enjoying the film.
Now, this all means an awful lot to me personally, because during the past 17 years I’ve lost a half dozen folk in this film who I loved and respected, so Wrestling Then & Now has become a memorial in a sense to them. These are my late, beloved friends seen in the documentary:
Killer Kowalski– For somebody who was a top ten all-time heel and who accidentally ripped off Yukon Eric’s ear via a dropkick from the top rope, Walter was, believe it or not, a shy person. Unless you spoke first, he’d stare at you from the couch across the room. But once you broke the silence, he’d regale you with amazing tales of his worldwide travels and battling pretty much every top name that set foot in the ring during his lengthy career. I was blessed to see him late in his run as one-half of The Executioners with his protégé Big John Studd, but even more honored to have him as a columnist for my long-running Wrestling-Then & Now newsletter. And to call this wrestling immortal a friend was almost beyond my comprehension. He’s one of the few folks in wrestling that almost nobody can say a bad word about and it’s hard to believe he’s been gone for over a decade.
Nikolai Volkoff – As chronicled here on Pro Wrestling Stories, Nikolai and Freddie Blassie vs. Bruno Sammartino and Chief Jay Strongbow was the very first match I went to on that fateful night of June 24, 1974, at Madison Square Garden. My beloved father took me to see it. Today, every one of those five men are gone. Nikolai called me from his hospital bed to chat not long before he passed telling me he “felt better and was going home.” Who would have ever imagined this “health nut” and powerhouse would be gone days later? It, therefore, means so much to me that we capture him and his fun, warm, larger than life nature in the movie.
Don “Dr. Death” Arnold – Old school fans will remember Don Arnold as a perennial star and frequent headliner while many of today’s IWC may very well draw a blank. But Don wrestled in the greatest venues in the world and led quite the eclectic life as a nudist, author, speaker, and lover of life. I was saddened that he passed, but as few have chronicled his career, he lives forever in this film, and here you can savor his fun-filled nature in all his glory.
Tiger Khan – I tell folk that my beloved friend Tiger Khan’s death at age 33 was the “worst day of my life” and to this day I mean just that. I’d go up and down those roads with the 1990’s Calgary Stampede headliner and when he passed it was like the proverbial knife in my heart. I wear a necklace of his that his mom gave to me and I’ll be buried in that someday. THAT’S what Tiger Khan means to me. And it just means so much to me that someone whose life was cut so short will live on forever in this film.
You can read more about Khan in a heartfelt article I wrote entitled, Remembering Calgary Stampede Star, Tiger Khan.
Bobby Lombardi – A local indie promoter who ran the legendary Doghouse at the Brooklyn/Queens border, he weaned future stars like Low Ki and Homicide (who is also seen in this film). More importantly, he was a beloved father figure who kept a generation of kids off the street and out of trouble. When he passed a few years back from Diabetes, there wasn’t an empty seat or a dry eye at his memorial. A promoter with a huge heart; the wrestling business needs more just like him.
Fred Geobold – In 2002 there weren’t a lot of radio hosts on 50,000-Watt FM stations mixing wrestling and their regular Arts programming, but Fred who was weaned on the AWA in the Midwest was one such man. Moving to NYC, he gave me my break in radio on his show and it devastated me when he died of cancer over a decade ago. The fact that he is cherished in both the Arts and wrestling communities is remarkable.
You can read more about Geobold in an article I wrote in his memory, Fred Geobold: NYC Wrestling Radio Pioneer, Unsung Hero.
So, all these years later, I am delighted that this film has seen renewed interest and that folk can enjoy this slice of my life. Sometimes I pinch myself that I can call giants such as these friends. I am grateful that although so many of them have left us, they will live on- not only in our hearts but in a film from the heart, Wrestling Then & Now. Enjoy.
You can watch Wrestling Then & Now on-demand on Amazon Prime via this link.