Published on November 7th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
‘Brutal’ Honesty: Hanging With ROH’s BRUTAL BOB EVANS
Ten hours before bell time, the community center in Munford, Alabama is open. It’s just past 8 a.m. The wrestling ring is up, but there’s no crowd. The seating hasn’t even been set up yet. A small group of wrestlers–ranging from seasoned veterans to greenhorn trainees–surround the ring. Some of them are stretching. Some of them are goofing off. All of them are a little apprehensive. Ring of Honor veteran Brutal Bob Evans is on the way to teach a seminar for Southern Legacy Wrestling, and the attendees aren’t sure what to expect.
Evans is currently working the independent circuit and offering his 25+ years of experience through the seminars, which he’s coined #HangsWithBob on Twitter. The tag line is: Hangs with Bob. Gets better. We’re about to see if that’s true.
I’m one of the attendees, easily the oldest and most likely the most out of shape. I’m too heavy by sixty pounds, and I’ve got a torn meniscus in each knee, injuries caused by wear and tear and long ignored because I’m lazy. But I won’t realize how much my knees limit me–at least not for a while.
Evans comes in with SLW booker Jack Lord. Evans is personable–funny, down-to-earth–and he’s brought a couple of helpers: Mike Medina, who wrestles as Wildman Kongo, and Tough Tim Hughes, who partners with Evans as Tough Guys, Inc., on the independent circuit.
“I don’t care if you just want to be a weekend warrior,” Evans tells the class early on. “I don’t care if you want to stay in Munford, Alabama, all of your career. But wherever you go in this business, I want you to be the best that you can be at doing it.”
Right out of the box, we’re doing drills, running the ropes and ducking under clotheslines, taking bumps and jumping back up to do it again. The trainers tell us to pace ourselves, but even with that warning, we’re all blown up after the first drill. After that, we run a variation of the old ‘international’ spot, and that’s where my knees fail me. I can’t get up on the hiptoss. Not even after posting on another person’s hip. A hiptoss with no height on it is like a kiss without a squeeze. But that’s not the worst part. There’s a moment where I’m supposed to take a toss, then push my partner off with both feet when they come to lift me. It never happens. Instead, the muscle in my left buttock freezes, a charley horse of epic proportions. I can’t even lift my left leg. I have to roll out of the ring and let someone else finish the drill.
But the drills aren’t necessarily the most important part of the seminar. It’s what comes next, as various talent works out under the watchful eye of Evans and his assistants. The folks in the ring get critiqued. There is a lot of “Slow down, kid,” in those critiques. But Kongo explains the reasoning.
“When you became a fan of wrestling, it’s because those wrestlers created moments,” Kongo says. “You have to let the audience see those moments. You have to slow down and show them your reaction so that they can see what you’re doing and what it means.”
Those moments between moves are where workers can really shine, the trainers explain. Hughes, who has a gift for breaking down the minutiae of psychology, works with individual wrestlers to show them where they can improve. At one point he tells a worker that his selling is good, but he needs to lift his face toward the crowd so that they can see the expression of pain on his face. It’s little tweaks like that one that seem to have the most mileage for the pros who have been around the business for a little while.
“Bob, Tim, and Kongo were all super,” says Luke Lord, who will later team with KP King in the main event against Evans and Hughes. “They were brutally honest about the things that we all need to work on, but that’s something everyone needs, no matter what level you’re at. They genuinely wanted to help us get better and to make the business better overall. One of the best things is that I was able to take the advice they gave and put it into practice later that same night.”
While there was plenty of work in the ring during the seminar, it was probably Evans’ words that will most resonate with the seminar attendees. He challenged each of them to up their game, and they explained specific ways that wrestlers these days can actually make a living doing their own bookings, pushing themselves on social media, and creating their own merchandise.
“Why wouldn’t someone want a T-shirt of you?” He said. “You’re on a wrestling show. You’re a star. That’s the kind of attitude that you should have when it comes to creating your merchandise. If you’re not looking for ways to merchandise yourself at this point in the game, you are losing money.”
Evans was also quick to talk about how wrestlers formulate their gimmicks.
“Mine’s easy,” he said. “I’m an old man trying to hang on in a young man’s sport.” That tells viewers everything they need to know about Evans, and it’s a quick sketch of the wrestler–something that can be explained in a sentence. Wrestling is theater in the round, a morality play that doesn’t need to be too complex, especially on the indie scene, where mic work is often reserved only for the top talent or angles. But at the end of the day, every bit of advice about working in the ring that Evans and his crew impart is about how to become better entertainers in the ring.
“Don’t forget it’s fun,” Evans said. “Wrestling is supposed to be fun.”
The seminar ends about an hour and a half before the doors open to let the fans in. When the card starts, I’m slated to referee three matches, and two of them involve Evans’ crew. The first one, however, will be a revelation.
During the 1980s and 90s, Davy Rich wrestled as part of the Rich family, teaming with Johnny Rich and “Wildfire” Tommy Rich at various points in his career. He was part of the Party Patrol in Alabama’s Continental Championship Wrestling, and he’s worked in USWA, WCW, and underneath for WWE. He’s in his 50s now, but still in good shape. He’s come through tonight on a sort of legend’s tour, and he’s facing Kongo. Rich has always been a smaller, plucky babyface talent with great fire in his comebacks. Kongo is a natural heel, especially here in the deep South. In the dressing room, they ask me to be involved in their finish. I’m honored. I grew up watching Davy on TV and in person, and it’s very cool to be a part of his match. Even cooler to be involved in the finish. It’s a throwback Southern-style finish, but we’re going to slow down, kid. I want you to walk with me all the way through it.
Here’s why the match was so good: Kongo didn’t bump. Not once in the match. The only time he left his feet was during the finish. But he sold everything that Davy Rich did to him. They were so smooth in the ring together, and everything gelled the way it was supposed to. This was their first time facing off in the ring, and there was not one mistimed move, not a single false note to spoil things. And I’ll tell you something else: Davy Rich at 50-something is a better talent than he was when he was in his 20s. He moves a little slower, but his punches were there, man. I don’t know how some talents learn to throw working punches like that. His shots reminded me very much of Jerry Lawler’s, who was one of the great punchers in the business. Every single one of them looked like they were about to take Kongo’s head off, and Kongo stumbled around selling them like he’d been rocked by small explosive charges. He made Rich look great, but he never left his feet.
Kongo’s offense was easy for Rich to sell. As a smaller babyface, he was used to working from underneath. His strengths were always in his selling and in his fiery comebacks. He got to do both of those with Kongo, because Kongo wasn’t afraid to be a real heel. Rich, despite his age, took the bump of the night, an inside-out backflip in response to a Kongo clothesline. And Rich did it better at 50-something than most men in their 20s. It was an amazing moment to be in that ring, and it was a joy to watch two guys who were such smooth pros. They also worked in a little heat between Kongo and me through the match. We got into a bit of an altercation early on in the match when I worked to physically separate him from Rich in the corner. We jawed back and forth, playing off of one another, and the fans were into it. When Davy made his comeback, he mounted the turnbuckles to do a 10-punch series. I pulled Davy down, and Kongo scooped him up for a pinfall–using the ropes as leverage. I “caught” him cheating and didn’t allow the pinfall. Kongo began to berate me, finally shoving me. I shoved him back, hard, and Davy schoolboyed him. I leaped to count the pin, and then scooted out of the ring, selling fear as the crowd cheered for Rich.
Brutal Bob was right. Wrestling is supposed to be fun.
And the main event was just as much fun. Evans and Hughes are a terrific team in the ring. Again, it was a revelation to watch what they were doing from a psychological standpoint, as everything they did in the ring made sense for the story they wanted to tell. In the end, however, Hughes took the pinfall loss after a big boot from Lord and a splash from King.
One of the things that stands out: Southern Legacy Wrestling brings in good talent, and not just good in the ring. The promotion strives to set the standard for professionalism in the smaller southern promotions, and so far they’ve attained that standard. Evans and Hughes had given of their expertise earlier in the day. And this night, they’d also give their opponents a clean win in the middle of the ring in order to bolster the show. It’s a remarkable move, but none of Evans’ crew had any ego about putting over local talent. But Evans, Hughes, and Kongo were complete pros.
“It’s an incredible experience to be in the ring with guys who are that good, and to have them put you over at the end,” Lord said. “It was an honor to work with them, and I hope I’m able to do it again.”
After the main event, I went out of the ring to check on Bob, who had been run into the post on the outside. As we were talking, he said, “Hey, do you want to take a bump for us?”
This wasn’t planned out at all, but I didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” I said. So Brutal Bob and I began to argue on the outside. He threw me back in the ring, where Tim was waiting. They blamed me for the loss, while I pleaded my case. The crowd was unmoved by my dilemma and called for vengeance from Tough Guys, Inc. Bob grabbed me and applied an abdominal stretch. (As a fat guy, I thought my abdomen had been stretched enough, thankyouverymuch.) Tim backed off and gave me a superkick, right in the face.
As Tim was lining up for the kick, Bob whispered “Protect your face” or something like that. I misheard him. I thought he said “Face bump.” I didn’t get my hand up to catch Tim’s kick, and he ended up tagging me right above the bridge of the nose. It was very light, and not something he needed to apologize for at all, but he found me in the locker room afterward to make sure I was all right.
Was I all right? Was he kidding? I was grooving. Wrestling is supposed to be fun, after all. And I had a blast. As for the seminar? Hangs with Bob: Gets better. It’s 100 percent accurate. He gave his students so much to think about that they’ll be unpacking it and using his wisdom for months to come. I can’t recommend Brutal Bob Evans’ seminar highly enough. From the workout to the explanation of psychology to the examination of what it means to be involved in the professional wrestling industry in 2017, Bob Evans and crew were absolutely terrific.