Kirk White was a controversial wrestling promoter who ran Big Time Wrestling out of northern California for several years. He was also a longtime manager of Bret Hart, handling many of The Hitman’s appearances, signings, etc., for over twenty years. I remember my friend, someone I had known since he was just a fan.
Kirk White Remembered
Kirk White, Northern California wrestling promoter and longtime manager of Bret Hart, died on Christmas Eve, 2021, at only 63.
The March 26th, 2022 Big Time Wrestling promotion card (based out of the Bay Area in California) became a tribute wrestling show to him.
I had known him since he was just a fan. I later became his first event photographer as he morphed from doing solo wrestler autograph shows to free cable access wrestling cards.
Devoted Big Time Wrestling in San Francisco promoter Roy Shire fan Kirk said he “always wanted to follow in Roy’s shoes.”
And eventually, he did evolve into becoming an actual promoter.
There’s no denying the success of his typically packed shows, fanfests, and influence on wrestling.
A Longtime Friendship
I first met Kirk White as a fan when he came up to me ringside during intermission at a Roy Shire show at the Cow Palace, where I was a ringside photographer.
He asked if I’d sell him photos of top names I’d taken there like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Prince Peter Maivia (not yet a High Chief), Pepper Martin, Pepper Gomez, Rocky Johnson, and others.
At this point, I was listed as “the official photographer” for Roy’s program Action Wrestling Magazine.
Besides my articles and photos in newsstand magazines like Wrestling World, Ring Wrestling, Wrestling Guide, Big Book Of Wrestling, Norm Kietzer, Jim Melby’s many titles, etc., I shot my first Shire card in 1972 with babyfaces Pat Patterson and Rocky Johnson taking on Kenji Shibuya and Massa Saito as heel World Tag Team champs.
We bonded at these shows, little knowing it would be a friendship lasting a half-century.
Before there was an absolute multitude of conventions and fanfests (other than the Wrestling Fans International Association in the ’70s and John Arezzi’s Weekend of Champions in the ’90s), Kirk, in 1998, began holding minor autograph signings at what he claimed was his sports collectible store.
He soon expanded to larger venues like East Bay high schools. He felt fans wanted to meet past legends and whichever current ones he could book.
I gave Kirk contacts for longtime Shire stars Jimmy Snuka and Buddy Rose, plus names like Greg Valentine, Brutus Beefcake, and Tito Santana. Kindly Woody Farmer gave him even more, trying to best help him, including asking talent not to overcharge or work Kirk on price.
I helped him for years doing publicity and bringing in names like Pat Patterson for Pat’s first-ever fanfest.
Inspired by Legendary Promoter Roy Shire
Kirk White’s idol was my former boss in crusty promoter Roy Shire. Roy aggressively took over Northern California pro wrestling in the early ’60s from Joe Malcewicz, who was older and unprepared for the fight.
That upset the NWA and its legendary president Sam Muchnick. Joe had little TV experience and quickly faded away. Ironically, Shire would not only join the NWA years later, but Roy would serve as their Vice-President in the early 1970s.
When he started, Roy’s program was put together by former NWA World Junior Champion John Swenski; he later became Roy’s “policeman” and promoted San Jose for him.
Then Viktor Berry wrote and edited it in the early 1970s until Roy’s ring announcer Allan Bolte took over in 1973 until Roy closed shop in 1981.
I was already one of the Lebell Los Angeles promotion ringside photographers for their program, flying up for Roy’s annual January 18-man Battle Royals and bigger shows.
Bolte began listing me on the title page as program photographer until Roy retired and shuttered his “Big Time Wrestling” promotion.
You can learn more about the Big Time Wrestling in San Fransico wrestling territory here:
California Wrestling Post-Roy Shire
California wrestling changed dramatically once Roy Shire retired. My Southern California territory boss Mike Lebell said he’d sold his circuit to Vince McMahon, Jr. in December 1982. Thus two longtime legends were gone.
Woody Farmer, who wrestled for Shire and others for years before settling permanently in the Bay Area, began promoting smaller cards.
Legitimate strongman Woody was Shawn Michaels’ first tag champion partner in Kansas City for Bob Geigel. He was an incredibly giving person who I saw Shire berate backstage at the Cow Palace after a match Roy claimed he “missed a spot” in.
Then, in 1997, he became key to Kirk White’s story.
Farmer and former Shire workers, like Alexis Smirnoff (Mike Dubois) and Jerry Monti, tried promoting individually here but wouldn’t work together to improve their houses. So Kirk and I were at most of their shows, helping those promoters.
On the other hand, Kirk was impressed that at least Monti held a sold show drawing 1,121 at the Vallejo County Fairgrounds, where fans who paid to get into the county fair got to see wrestling for free. Names like Don Muraco, Buddy Rose, Misty Blue Simmes, Sue Sexton, and Cheryl Rusa appeared.
Unfortunately, without mentioning the date/location of his next regular house show at the fair, Monti’s following event at a VFW Hall drew poorly. He lamented, “I didn’t gain any new fans.”
It wasn’t until Roland Alexander’s APW (All Pro Wrestling) began in 1993, first as a school and then soon after promoting their initial, actual money-making shows, that Norcal would have a homegrown resurgence.
Armed with his young up-and-coming APW-trained talents like Mike Modest, Donovan Morgan, San Francisco State amateur champ Tony Jones, and Mike Lockwood (later WWF’s Crash Holly), they raised the bar for Bay Area homegrown wrestling shows.
Kirk attended some of these and got the “fever.”
Kirk White, Wrestling Promoter
Kirk White’s cable access show in Newark (just north of San Jose, California) developed a following, and then Kirk capitalized on it by finally starting to promote actual house shows. This was two years after APW began. But, again, he benefited from their area buzz; he called his promotion Big Time Wrestling in tribute to Shire’s promotion.
He felt he arrived but usually told me of the stress the shows cost him. “I don’t want anything to go wrong, no f’ups, no one trying to cheat me,” he once told me.
He’d soon find the answer to his question about local promoters not working together.
“I get it. I don’t want to answer to anyone else. Just to myself, whether I flop or do great. I can’t trust anyone not to screw up or screw me over,” Kirk would say.
Woody Farmer once again was key, actually ceding his weekly cable access TV slot at tiny Newark, California United Artist Cable to Kirk.
Woody had just signed a deal with national Comcast to produce a weekly Bay Area cable TV show in a much larger location in nearby Fremont, California, where he had “The Great” Mae Young train his talent, help with the book and do some on-camera managing.
Woody’s wrestling son Rex (Hawkeye Shane Kody) also helped Kirk far beyond wrestling on some of Kirk’s earliest access shows. He was still wrestling for Kirk through 2021 as his longest-tenured BTW wrestler.
Kirk revamped the show, wanting to bring in other talents. So I hooked him up with names like Japan’s JWP touring star Reggie Bennett and her student Jessica “Black Ice” Sato. They had great TV matches, helping draw SRO crowds for the free tapings.
Newark is a smaller blue-collar town south of Oakland and north of San Jose, part of a large conglomerate of cities called The East Bay. The location suited homeowner Kirk, who became immersed in the local pro sports scene. The NFL’s Oakland Raiders, MLB Oakland A’s, and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors had talent appear in his sports collectible store.
His signings began drawing consistent crowds, and Kirk soon said, “It’s time to promote a real card that people pay money to come to see.”
Besides the Farmers, Kirk’s other early longtime aide would soon become his lead heel and later Kirk’s wrestling school trainer, Irresistible Jason Styles. Kirk’s perennial longtime BTW Champion was Styles for many years, usually wrestling the name fly-in talent like Kamala, Tito Santana, and Jay Lethal in the main events.
BTW shows also always had Styles’ trainees like Wild Storm and Davina Rose (WWE’s Bailey), besides the Ballard Twins, who wrestled for Kirk nearly since the start. In addition, an unusually named worker Dash Riprock was a takeoff on a ’60s Beverly Hillbillies character.
Styles and Farmer were mostly upper card, holding both singles and tag straps over the years.
Roy Shire’s ring announcer since 1973, Allan Bolte, also ring announced and did commentary. Whenever Allen was unavailable, or Kirk wasn’t using him, Kirk’s area friend Jim Davis did the ring announcing.
So Rex Farmer, Jason Styles, Allan Bolte, and Jim Davis were the longest core group of behind-the-scenes aides.
Big Time Wrestling Hits Its Stride
After a few more years, Kirk White hit his stride with his Big Time Wrestling Promotion from the early 2000s on.
Besides paying further tribute to his hero, Kirk also bought several items from Shire’s estate, including the annual gold cup trophy Roy presented to his annual January 18-man battle royal winners.
He’d hand the winner Roy’s famous cup whenever Kirk had a Battle Royal. But he never put anyone’s name on the plaque. Instead, he’d give the illusion that each winner got to “take it home and keep it.” Of course, like Roy, he immediately took it back after everyone got backstage.
Kirk would usually promote about every three months on a Friday or Saturday. He started at Stevenson High School in Fremont, California. Then, he discovered his permanent classic Newark Pavilion, which was like a rec center with several built-in concession areas and a bar.
Later he’d add a secondary show an hour away the next night, like in Eureka or near the California/Oregon border.
Of note is that BTW had the very first NorCal wrestling show outdoors while the rest of the world was shut in 2020, soon after our government allowed socially distanced, responsible events.
The Controversial Side of Kirk White
There was no shortage of wrestlers and staff who would leave Big Time Wrestling under Kirk White’s watch.
Kirk was a complex person, difficult to be friends with at times, echoed by people far closer to him than me. So many quit on him as he became more successful, from the sound crew, videographers, refs, etc.
And interestingly enough, some would come back, only to leave once again.
He often admitted putting a lot of pressure on himself and others after promoting his first few successful years. I’d often witnessed him yelling at even volunteer BTW staff and some of the talent. However, Kirk would also blow off his carping at the crew, saying, “It’s just like Shire.”
Jason Styles, for one, fought with him, leaving to start his school and area Lucha promotion a few years ago. When White and Styles had a falling out, BTW, wrestler L’Empereur, originally from the touring Incredibly Strange Wrestling (ISW) group, reportedly took over for Jason in training talent and overseeing booking.
Unlike Shire, Kirk would also try a new ring announcing voice every few years. Still, without telling longtimer Allan Bolte in advance, he’d briefly try Ron Hed, Jeff “R” Benson, and others, only to soon apologize and bring the affable Bolte back each time.
A few years ago, Allen, on the day of the BTW show, saw on social media Kirk was trying out a new female announcer starting that evening.
Allan later told me, “It broke my heart because he never said a word and had never said anything other than ‘great job’ to me. But she didn’t last long, and I was back quickly.”
Kirk White Working With the Legends
Kirk began flying in more televised stars. The most prominent names appeared earlier in the day at autograph signings like at the massive Hayward, California Shopping Mall. Impressively, The Hardys, Lita, Billy Gunn, Mick Foley, Steve Austin, and The Rock all appeared in 2001.
And when TNA got weekly TV, he brought in Samoa Joe, Frankie Kazarian, Christopher Daniels as Curry Man, Jay Lethal, Sabu, and more, usually the guys who still had homes in Southern California.
TNA’s Hall and Nash worked BTW cards. Then, about five years ago, when they streamed for-pay weekend shows with their talent on indies, Impact loaded BTW shows with their wrestlers to serve as streaming content again.
Kirk, too, began conducting in-ring interviews with guest talent like frequent autograph signee Bret Hart. He began to finally enjoy the spotlight, often last-minute pushing Allan Bolte aside. He thought he did his best mic work interviewing APW trainee/star Matt Hyson AKA Spike Dudley, and his opponent Justin Credible before their fanfest main event.
“Kirk did have nearly every major name in the business, including Hulk Hogan, come here,” Allan Bolte told me.
His brief show intermissions morphed into 40-minute for-pay-Polaroid/autograph signings in the ring. Kirk’s “Take a Polaroid With Top Stars” idea proved lucrative.
However, he was now more concerned with high talent fees, which he admitted often stressed him out.
Fly-in talent told me they loved Kirk, though. He’d often take his main idol, Bret, along with brother Owen, Cheryl Rusa, Sue Sexton, and Tom Brandi to local baseball, football, or basketball pro games the day before or after a show if they could hang around.
Kirk admitted often getting the tickets comped, but he did pay for everyone’s food and beverages.
He treated his fly-in stars well with perks like these.
Kirk White and Bret Hart
Kirk White’s autograph events increased over time. It led to him becoming very close primarily to Bret Hart, who soon became his focus for frequent appearances/signings.
Plus, acting as Bret’s defacto West Coast agent, he worked with others in that circle like Harry Smith.
I emailed Bret’s overall longest manager/agent in Marci Englestein for this article but did not get a reply by my submission date.
She’d possibly argue over Kirk being Bret’s “agent.”
But Kirk did get Bret on many non-BTW shows around the US, factoring in his fee.
Often during the mid-1990s on, Kirk and I would drive Bret and Owen to their WWF house shows and visit their aunt and uncle. They lived near my East Bay house in the exclusive Piedmont Neighborhood (an Oakland borough). My good friend Owen told me their Aunt was Helen’s sister.
Kirk also claimed that he helped introduce Bret to his recent wife from the Bay Area.
Kirk White Fanfests
With his all-day fanfests also growing in popularity, Kirk White nagged me and others routinely for more name contacts like ODB, Gail Kim, Steve Williams, Gangrel, and others.
This was before he could contact WWE, TNA, etc., directly on his own. Instead, name talent received secondary paydays when they wrestled and worked separate signing/Polaroid events or fanfests earlier in the day.
And he did show his less frantic, good side.
He always tried accommodating local legends he’d ask me to bring to his fests like Pepper Gomez, Kinji Shibuya, Mitsu Arakawa, the original AWA Paul Diamond, besides Roller Derby’s legendary Ann Calvello.
Ann was my TV show co-host for many years and equaled Lou Thesz’s landmark of performing in seven distinct decades. Her derby tours often overlapped in Japan and Honolulu with Roy Shire’s wrestlers and others like Nick Bockwinkel, and she was close friends with Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Pepper Gomez, and Bobby Heenan.
Kirk often attended my tapings, thrilled to meet his childhood heroes, and told Ann, “Derby always seemed to me like pro wrestling but on skates at high speed.”
He’d tell the Shire originals I brought that they could keep whatever they made doing autographs/Polaroids. But towards the end, he’d relent and give them more cash, which was the right thing to do as many of them had no pensions, insurance, or retirement.
Getting Pat Patterson to a BTW Fest was an “undertaking.” For many months, Kirk nagged me to try to convince my friend Pat to attend.
Pat kept telling me he’d “never done a fanfest, nor had any desire to,” but gave in as a favor to me.
As a condition, Pat said, “as long as your promoter friend takes us all out to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants the night before. Like Lorenzo Patrone’s North Beach Cafe or Little Joe’s that I used to go to in the early ”70s. Since you’re asking, I’ll do it, but I want to eat there in San Francisco’s North Beach Italian District.”
Somehow when we picked Pat up at the airport, Kirk finagled it into going instead to unrelated Westlake Joe’s well south of San Francisco. They had similar food but were much closer to Kirk’s fanfest hotel for talent. Pat grudgingly agreed, later made happy after some red wine and his favorite Cosmopolitan cocktails before the meal.
Pat offered to pay it in jest when the check arrived, never thinking Kirk might hold him to it.
Pat became upset again until Kirk took us out for breakfast the following day, pre-fanfest. “How that guy worked a worker, I’ll never get it,” Pat told me once he returned to Florida.
Pat was the fanfest highlight at the end when he started singing his famous Sinatra karaoke songs on a house mike.
So naturally, old-time Shire fans were ecstatic.
Kirk White’s Legacy
Kirk White died on December 24, 2021; He’s survived by his saint of a wife, Laurie, and their daughter Taylor.
Laurie, at times, helped smooth things over behind the scenes, primarily once he began promoting wrestling shows.
The March 26th, 2022 sold-out tribute show was fittingly at his long-running Newark, California Pavillion venue.
Over his many years in the business, he worked with the biggest stars and legends in pro wrestling history.
He also touched countless people.
And while some will sing his praises and others less so, nobody can deny Mr. Kirk White’s profound effect on NorCal wrestling.
Watch the Kirk White Tribute Show:
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