Originally Published: March 16, 2006
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I had wrestled the previous night
in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a grueling match, I was tired, and my
body desperately wanted to sleep. Still, I was happy to receive the
3:00 AM wakeup call. I was booked to wrestle
at Chicago’s International Amphitheater that night. I had 769-miles
of road ahead of me, but I was happy. I knew I was heading to the
big time – the AWA – the American Wrestling Association. I
also knew that I was about to double my
income, and I
made the entire 12-hour-plus drive with a smile on my face.
arrived in Chicago a few minutes after four o’clock that afternoon.
I had time to check into a hotel, clean up, and prepare for the
evening’s festivities! Even though I was in
a new town, the hotel room regimen
remained the same: Choose the
shirt and suit you’re going to wear, hang them near the shower, turn
on the hot water, and steam away all the wrinkles.
While that's going on, do the checklist
for the wrestling bag: “Tights and trunks; check. Velvet robe,
sequined jacket, other ring attire;
check. Wrestling boots, extra laces; check. Knee
and elbow braces and pads; check.
Bandages and tape, check. Butterfly closures (they work much better
than stitches to close a cut); check. Baby
oil with iodine; check. First aid kit with
ammonia inhaler capsules; check. Vitamins, pre
and post-match nutritional drinks,
bottled water, protein bars; check.” And, on it went. When I was
sure I had everything I could possibly need for the evening, I
placed my wrestling bag in the trunk of the car next to
wrestling bag. After all, you never know when some crazy wrestler
might pull a sawed-off shotgun from his gear and blow a hole in your
bag – Don’t laugh; it actually happened. That’s another story that
awaits you in a future column.
was a great feeling every time I arrived at an arena. When I
saw the security/parking person, I
simply said one magic word: “Wrestler.”
The response was the same at Chicago’s International Amphitheater
as it was everywhere; the guy directed me to the private VIP parking
area where I used the "star entrance."
Then, as usual, I met an official greeter.
“Which way to the dressing room?” I asked. “Well,”
the building official replied, “The bad
guy’s dressing room is down there.” Because the “good guys” and the
“bad guys” had dressing rooms on opposite sides of the arena, I
usually met my opponent for the very first time in the ring.
met some amazing people in the dressing room that night: Baron Von
Raschke, Blackjack Lanza, World Champion Harley Race, The Crusher,
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (with whom I have been friends for many
years now), Mad Dog Vachon, and several other
major stars. All of the guys were cordial, and one
even went out of his way to be
He seemed sincere in welcoming me as the “new guy in the
territory.” His name was Stan Kowalski, “the Big K.”
everybody,” he bellowed in an amazing deep and piercing voice, “This
is Rock Riddle, the new kid on the block.
It’s his first night here. Everybody say hello.” I thanked him for
the introductions. “Hey, kid,” he continued, “Who you wrestling
tonight?“ I had no idea. The Big K looked around. “Who’s got a
program? – Here, Riddle. Oh, crap, it looks like you’ve got Vaziri.”
-- “Okay,” I said with a questioning look -- “Well, maybe not,”
the big man continued, “The guy’s a #*&%# a**hole. You’ve gotta
show him who’s boss right away. I’m telling you this because I like
you, kid. This p**ck will tighten up on you like a vise if you let
him. If he gets too tight, put him across the ropes and really pop
him – I mean hard! Then he’ll settle down, and you’ll have a good
I thanked him again and headed
towards the ring. There I saw my opponent for
the first time -- an impressive,
muscular, and obviously very accomplished athlete. The bell
sounded and we tied up. Big K was right. This guy became vise-like
right away. I
backed him into the ropes and hit him in the chest so hard
that the noise startled people in the
“cheap seats.” Vaziri looked at me as if he were in shock. He
could not imagine that I had actually hit him that hard. A couple of
minutes later, he got unnecessarily tight with me again, and I popped him a
second time – only harder. The look on his face was one
of sheer, absolute, and
total disbelief. Although his
astonished look never went away that night, he
did "loosen up", and
our match went on to be one of the best of the evening.
When I returned to the dressing
room, all of the guys were laughing. All,
that is, except the Big K;
he was howling and
rolling on the floor. Through
tears of laughter, Big K managed to say "I thought they'd wheel you
back on a stretcher." One of the guys finally clued me in on
the "joke." My opponent had been Khosrow Vaziri, an Olympic Gold
Medal winner in Greco Roman wrestling and a former personal
bodyguard to the Shah of Iran. This man
would go on to wrestle as The Iron Sheik, become the
of the World, and be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In
other words, he was one of the toughest men on the planet. The
“boys” in the dressing room knew that he could
have easily turned me into a
pretzel, and they thought it would be hysterical
if he did -- that's
the typical pro wrestler sense of humor.
And, of course, it was my "initiation" into the AWA.
I gained Vaziri’s respect that evening, and we became good
friends. To this day, I am grateful that
he did not know how much better he was than I.