Wrestling ribs can be used as teaching tools and as tests of heart and dedication. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit under the learning tree, hearing light-hearted and hard-hitting adventures from friends who spent the majority of their adult lives trekking the globe to entertain in the ring. Here is a collection of seven of my favorite tales.
1. “The Mabel” – One of the Most Famous Wrestling Ribs
Ribs or practical jokes in wrestling are not only there to bring a laugh to road-weary warriors but can be used as a way to test the heart of green wrestlers and new workers coming into an established territory. There are many stories of the old guard putting new workers through the wringer to make sure they were "one of the boys." It was a rite of passage that had to be passed to be allowed into their inner circle.
Roddy Piper once told a story about being dropped off at a gas station to run in for sandwiches, only to be left as the folks in his car drove off laughing. The youngster had to walk the rest of the way to the arena to make it to the matches on time. It took a couple of hours, but Piper earned the respect of his peers by walking to the show, not giving up, and taking it on the chin.
It is a story much like this one that we bring to you.
Don Jardine was a wrestler who worked his way through the southern states and into the Florida territory in the 1970s. He was famously known as The Spoiler after his run in Big Time Wrestling. Big Time would later evolve into the Von Erich World Class Championship Wrestling juggernaut.
His iron claw finisher was feared by most, but the move he became known for was the rope walk.
Old school, back when it was the new school. Don Jardine was the first big man to make walking the ropes a standard part of his matches. When the Undertaker does it, it’s an homage to the man who trained him.
He would take his opponent’s arm and walk out onto the top rope and drop a huge hammerfist down onto them. This move was taken to worldwide acclaim after it was later made famous by one of his students, The Undertaker.
Jardine was known to be a no-nonsense type of man who took the business pretty seriously, in and out of the ring. This level of respect for the business was passed along to anyone he trained or worked with.
Upon his arrival in Florida, the boys decided he would be the recipient of one of the most classic wrestling ribs. It was “The Mabel,” and this is how it went.
The boys would tell a new worker in the area that this mystery woman named Mabel had eyes for him. They really sold it up and got many guys fired up about this good looking woman who wanted to get together with them.
At some point in the build-up, usually a week or two later, the boys would have a girlfriend or one of the wives call up the mark of the rib and talk them up on the phone. She would tell them to get some liquor and bring some food over so they could party and have a "good time."
Now, of course, the worker would get all excited and go over to her house. She would explain how her husband was out of town and tell how jealous of a man he is. This was the setup. After an hour, another plant would storm in with a shotgun and send the scared worker running out of the house naked, where all the boys would be waiting to witness the charade. The crew would then go into the house and enjoy all the booze and food the mark had brought to the party.
A version of this rib made it to the ’80s cult classic movie Porky’s, which was also set in Florida.
Enter Don Jardine.
He had been working the territory only a short time before he was chosen to be Mabel’s next target of affection. The rib was built, and everything was made ready to get the new guy.
One night at a show, the phone rang in the dressing room, and Mabel made her date with Jardine. He showered up after the show and went to her house to meet her. Things went as planned, and the fake husband busted into the house as the boys looked on from outside.
Several minutes passed, but no frantic naked wrestler had emerged.
As the boys were starting to wonder what was happening, a racket was heard coming from inside the house. Don Jardine had taken the gun away from the man and was tearing his attacker and house to pieces. The boys had to run in and stop him from murdering the guy.
Jardine got the last laugh that night, spawning one of the great rib stories in wrestling lore. It was never revealed whether or not he knew what was going to happen in advance, or if he legitimately reacted in a way only he knew how. Either way, it would become the stuff of locker room legend.
2. Getting in Touch with Nature
Former NWA President Bruce Tharpe raises the ante with this following tale. For this, we roll the clock back to 1983.
Tharpe, referee Bill Alfonso, Angelo Mosca Jr., and Japanese star Yoshiaki Yatsu were traveling down Alligator Alley in Southern Florida. Fonzie was at the wheel, with Bruce riding shotgun, when suddenly they noticed two red eyes staring at them in the middle of the road.
Bruce yelled out, "Gator!" right as it was felt bouncing underneath their car.
Moments later, they stopped the car, got out, and checked the damages to the car and their soon-to-be reptilian friend.
The car was fine, but the alligator didn’t fare as well.
They soon found themselves shuffling around their bags and loading the motionless carcass into the back of the car. Fonzie wanted to use the gator to create new ring boots and a belt. He was even crazy enough to joke around and put his head in the gator’s mouth like a lion tamer.
They packed everything back into the trunk and headed out down the highway.
Several miles down the road, they began to hear loud thumping coming from behind the backseat. More specifically, from the trunk.
It didn’t take them long to realize that the gator wasn’t as dead as they thought it was.
They continued to drive on, thinking that it would wear itself out, but after a few more miles, it was evident that was not going to be the case.
As the thrashing continued in the trunk, Angelo Mosca Jr. and Yatsu became more concerned that the gator would come through the backseat and into the car with them. Fonzie was having a good laugh at their expense and finally decided to pull the car over to check on the gator.
Now, at this point, in my mind, all I can envision is something akin to the famous scene in Good Fellas with Joe Pesci and Robert Deniro. Only in this rendition, Billy Batts is replaced with three hundred pounds of pissed-off alligator!
The gator, along with everyone’s bags, flew all over Fronzie’s trunk and spilled out into the road. Mosca and Yatsu stood back and watched in amazement as Bill managed to get the creature under control and shut the trunk once more. Bruce stood there laughing as they cautiously got back into the car and finished out the ride home.
Over the years, this story has been retold and adopted by more than a few wrestlers as if it were their own. You just never know what surprises Mother Nature has in store for you!
3. Always Expect the Unexpected
I was able to catch up with Silas Young fresh off his TV Championship defense at Ring of Honor’s Honor Reigns Supreme in February 2018. I asked him about his time out on the roads, and the “Last Real Man” threw down the gauntlet on a pair of stories from his days coming up through the indy scene.
Our first stop is just north of The Windy City in the frozen tundra of Green Bay.
The year was 2006, and the All-Star Championship Wrestling promotion was set up in a small hall rented out for all types of events.
As the workers began arriving, they noticed that they were sharing the hall’s adjoining section that afternoon with a wedding party.
As the show progressed and began to get rowdy, several people from the wedding reception next door were seen filtering over to enjoy the show. Word got around through the dressing room area that there was a party across the way.
When the matches had concluded, some wrestlers decided to stop next door to check things out for themselves. Not long later, Silas made his way up to the microphone under the guise of toasting the bride and groom.
Once on the stage and in front of the mic, he announced, "Since you came to watch our wrestling show, we’re here to crash your party!"
The wedding party accommodated the ACW crew as if they had any real choice in the matter, and the boys drank their beer and ate up their food in place of admission to the show. Sometimes you find a buffet where you can get one!
Our next stop appears in Chicago at an All American Wrestling show back in 2010.
The AAW worked shows all across the Chicagoland area and regularly drew top-tier workers into their events.
On this particular night, veteran worker Jerry Lynn was on the card, along with their regular stable of wrestlers.
Now, let me preface this story by saying that Jerry Lynn is known for being a well-mannered professional and an all-around good guy to have in your locker room. It had come to his attention that it was one of the boy’s birthdays, so he decided to have a little fun.
At some point in the show, Lynn strode into the crowded locker room and was not happy. He yelled that someone had gotten into his bag, and now items were missing. He was hot about it, and everyone was just watching, looking at each other in puzzlement. Enter the true heel, Silas Young, who says he thinks he saw wrestler Brian Cage by the bag.
Cage turned to Silas and stared a hole through him as Jerry Lynn opens up on him about getting into his bag. He was screaming at Cage and just tearing him a new one about locker room respect. Even knowing that he hadn’t been in his bag, he just stood there as Lynn unloaded on him.
Once Jerry thought he had enough, he slapped him on the shoulder and said, "By the way, bud, Happy Birthday!"
They all had a good laugh and got the chance to get "The Machine" with a good birthday rib.
4. Blacked Out in Biloxi
Our travels take us further on a tour of the southern states, via Las Vegas, Nevada. I was able to catch up with G.L.O.W. alumni Sunny the California Girl, where she told me a pair of tales from her days with the illustrious company that forged the way for women in professional wrestling.
It was the fall of ’87, and the G.L.O.W. girls were headed out on their inaugural tour.
What started as nearly four hundred tryouts had been whittled down to the thirty-six ladies that made up the working roster — the majority of which were headed to Atlanta for the kick-off show.
The regular schedule called for working five days on and two days off. After having a successful premiere night in Georgia, they were headed next door to Alabama.
It didn’t take long before the confines of the tour bus and hotel were too much to handle. Most of the ladies could go out and party at night as long as they made it back on time. The writer/director of the show, Matt Cimber, also traveled with them and levied fines to anyone late. The average fine for these curfews were around two hundred dollars. It was a steep price to pay, out of the meager salary they were receiving. That was intended by design to make them not break the rules laid out.
Sunny was itching to get out and kick up her heels and managed to talk her friend Cheyenne Cher into joining her. The two soon took off for a few drinks and a night on the town.
Not long after settling into the bar’s atmosphere, they were approached by a couple of guys that recognized them as wrestlers. After a few drinks, the guys asked if it really hurt to be body-slammed and if they thought they could do that to someone their size. The two ladies laughed it off at first, but after showing some persistence, they took the two men off to the side to give them a little demonstration of wrestling.
Sunny told one of the men to follow her lead and not to struggle back. She then picked the curious George up over her head and plopped him on the ground with ease. The other man jeered at his buddy, and before he realized it, he was getting a lesson as well.
After many laughs and just as many cold ones, the girls realized the time and how late they were. It was time to grab a cab and head back to the hotel for the night.
Who else was waiting on them but a red hot Matt.
He let them have it but knew they both had to work the next night, so he didn’t go too hard on them. What would a road trip be without some cold ones at the local tap’n’keg?
The next few nights went like clockwork for the crew. Everyone brought their A-game to the shows and solidified themselves in the southern wrestling market. However, things were about to change for Sunny at the next night’s show in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Sunny was set to wrestle Beastie the Road Warrior that evening, someone she had worked with several times before without incident.
The two of them worked the crowd and made ’em howl. Sunny setup and Beastie followed through with a run-of-the-mill pile-driver. That is, of course, if there is anything run-of-the-mill about being spun upside down and dropped on the top of your head.
Beastie hit the move, and something just didn’t land right. Sunny was wheeled out on a stretcher and had to be taken to the local hospital.
Not being a stranger to injuries, having suffered three concussions previously (and two more to follow in her career), she knew something was off. After a close examination, it was determined that California Girl had suffered torn tendons and a sprained neck. The doctor at the hospital commented that he hoped she was getting paid well for this type of physical abuse. She told him her payout, and his only reply was, "Oh my."
The aches and pains of the wrestling business are all too real, in and out of the ring.
5. The Importance of Not Falling Asleep in the Car
Grab your overnight bags ’cause we have a little way to ride from where we left to get to the Mid-Atlantic area.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with retired pro wrestler and booker for Southern Legacy Wrestling Jack Lord, and he gave me this tale from his time in the wrestling business.
It was the summer of 1993, and the NWA was running strong at that time, and our first pair of tales from Jack comes from the shows that Paul Jones was booking in that area at the time.
Jack was working as a heel and did most of his riding between shows with Ronnie West.
West is known for his time as General Manager at Continental Wrestling Federation and his referee work throughout the south and southeast territories.
The pair were embarked on a three-day tour, with Ronnie at the wheel, Jack at shotgun, and fellow wrestlers Randy Rogers and Mike Mason in the back of the big Lincoln Towncar that Ronnie owned.
They had left the first night’s show, and after a few hours under their belts, Ronnie noticed that the duo in the back had fallen asleep. This is a cardinal sin for any road trip, so he decided to subject said sleepy heads to be ribbed awake.
Ronnie gave Jack the nod to look back at their would-be targets. Jack turned around to see them snoozing away.
West whispered his accomplice to scream at the top of his lungs when he got the signal.
Before he had a chance to ask what the signal was going to be, West slammed on the brakes and locked up the wheels. Jack screamed bloody murder (like a little girl, according to Jack himself), and the two hit the deck in the back floorboard of the Lincoln.
When they skidded to a stop, the two sleeping passengers slowly emerged from the back with only the tops of their heads and eyes visible. Ronnie whipped around and asked the pair, "Y’all boys hungry?"
They never fell asleep for the rest of the weekend. When you teach a lesson the right way, it’ll stick with ‘em.
Sadly, Ronnie West left us in 2013. Rest in peace, road soldier.
6. The Night the Lights Went Out in Florida
We now travel back to the heyday of the 1980s scene to hear a pair of tales from the famous Eddie Graham promotion, Championship Wrestling from Florida. They come from the former owner of the NWA, Bruce Tharpe.
The year was 1983. The place was Orlando, Florida. The heat inside the Eddie Graham Sports Complex was stifling, but that wasn’t going to keep away the crowds of people that would pack the building to see the greats of Florida pro wrestling.
Tharpe explained, “I was working as a referee and earning my stripes in the business. The card was stacked, and the house was loaded. Wahoo McDaniel, Rip Rogers, and Johnny Valentine were some of the big names working the show, but the thing that stands out in my mind was what went down between Manny Fernandez and Nikolai Volkoff.”
He continued, “Let’s build a foundation by saying that Manny was known for being heavy-handed on those that he thought would be easily intimidated by such tactics. New guys and faces fell prey to this in the ring and out of it regularly in those days. That’s just how things were. It was one way things were done sometimes by the boys to keep the pecking order in check. It’s a pro sport fueled by posturing, just as much as politics and revenue potentials.
“Now let me say that Nikolai is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He was all smiles and always willing to do what was needed for the show.
“For whatever reason, Manny decided to try Nikolai with a few stiff shots to show he was running the match.
“What Manny did NOT realize, however, was that Volkoff had been a legit boxer in his youth. He knew full well how to handle himself in these situations.
“He shuffle-stepped Fernandez and delivered a fast three punch combo to his face. Stunned and bloodied, Fernandez went stiff as a board, then fell back to the ring. He was out cold before he hit the mat. It looked like the Nestea Plunge when he went back.
“Nikolai showed that night that it was better to walk softly and carry a big left cross.”
Tharpe proceeded with another great story.
“Fast forward two years to south Florida. It was July, and we were all feeling the height of the summer heat. I was working a referee spot that night, with part of that job being to deliver finishes between the locker rooms.
“In those days, heels and faces didn’t dress together. They didn’t travel together like today. Most of the time, they didn’t even see each other until they got into the ring and were facing off. The matches were worked, not planned out to the every move. The finishes were passed between the locker rooms by go-betweens like referees. It was kayfabe all the way.
“The locker rooms were located behind the bleachers in this building. In between matches and during the intermissions, fans would clamor by the doors in hopes of getting a picture or autograph.
“I had worked my last match and went into the heel dressing room to grab a shower before heading out on the town. This, in hindsight, was probably a mistake on my part.
“I went in to get my bag, passing by Percy Pringle, Rick Rude, and Jessie Barr.
“For those who may not know, Jessie went on to WWF fame as the black-masked outlaw, Jimmy Jack Funk.
“I was mid-shower and washing my hair when I felt a pair of hands on my back in the shower. Before I knew what was going on, Rude and Barr were dragging my soap-covered carcass to the locker room door.
“I tried to grab the walls, the benches, anything I could to keep from being ejected into the hallway full of fans, but my hands and feet were too slippery to stop the inevitable.
“I was thrown out of the door and into the spotlight of the hallway. I kicked and tried to push open the door, but it did no good as I could hear the laughs coming from behind it. The only option was to run through the crowd to the face locker room across the hall.
“I did my best to keep my manhood covered and not bust my ass on the polished concrete floor and managed to make it safely.
“They got me good that night. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
7. Strong Style, Save Me Now
Come along as we head out for our journey down the road together. This story comes to us from a distinguished third man in the ring, referee Doug Markham.
I reached out to Doug as he regaled me with a story of a match gone awry and a valuable lesson learned.
It was the middle of the summer of 2017, and The Arena in Jeffersonville, Indiana, was blazing hot. The poorly ventilated building was maybe the hottest venues the veteran ref had ever worked in his career. It was 92 degrees outside and even hotter inside the tiny sweatbox of a dressing room.
Whenever the boys weren’t working in the ring, everyone was standing outside to try and escape the heat. As anyone knows, these conditions can create irritability in the most even-tempered of workers.
Doug was set up to ref the next match between Lee Byford and The Amazing Pookie.
Lee is a really nice guy and always tries to take care of people in the ring. As far as The Amazing Pookie goes, he claimed to be trained by the duo of Danny Davis and Nick Dinsmore (who would later be known as Euguene in the WWE).
No one had ever heard of Pookie even though he had been in the business for a while. Both Davis and Dinsmore have good reputations as trainers, so they thought everything would be okay.
The Amazing Pookie was a scrawny kid but claimed to represent "strong style" as his preferred repertoire.
Now, LeeByford is a really big dude, built like King Kong Bundy. He actually looked enough like him to pull off the Jr. son gimmick if he chose to. To say it was a bit of a mismatch would be an understatement.
The bell rang, and it was obvious pretty that there was nothing amazing about The Amazing Pookie. Not in the least.
He shuffled around the ring and didn’t carry himself the way a well-trained worker would.
A few minutes into the match, Pookie landed an open hand shot across the ear of big Lee, and he grumbled something under his breath. Then, a minute or two later, the kid hit him with another slap to the ear.
Byford, having had enough by this point, cinched him up and told Pookie to stop hitting him in the ear so hard.
Not even a minute after this warning was heeded, the big man took yet another hard slap to the ear. At that moment, everything changed.
Byford backed Pookie into the corner and unloaded on him with stiff shots and combinations to the body and head. Pookie tried to get away, but he had nowhere to go. Byford took him to the mat, and Markham hit a fast three count in an attempt to diffuse the situation. It did no good as Lee no-sold the finish and continued to wail away.
The crowd was popping all over the place. They didn’t realize that this was a shoot, and nothing was going as planned.
Byford left the ring when he thought he had enough, but the damage was definitely done.
Pookie was all potatoed up. He stumbled to the back and licked his wounds. He was never to be heard from in that promotion again.
Sometimes things break down and go off the book in the ring. It can stem from some heat or dispute the two workers in the ring may have, but more often than not, it has to do with someone working too stiff and not taking care of the other man they are in the ring with.
While many may say that Byford went too far in this story, others will tell you that he did the right thing. Workers put their bodies in the hands of the men and women in the ring with them and risk serious injuries can occur every time they step through the ropes. When the code of etiquette is breached, a receipt can almost certainly be assured. Without a doubt, the Amazing Pookie learned what it meant to work stiff that night.
While our journey of road stories end in a bit of a sting, it is just one more thread that makes up the fabric of the tapestry of life in the wrestling business.
Until next time, brothers and sisters, keep those wheels turning and the freedom burning.