June 16, 2005
S.D. Jones: An unforgotten gladiator
By DAVE HILLHOUSE - SLAM! Wrestling
Do you remember the gladiators that Russell Crowe defeated somewhere in the middle of his epic movie? The ones that trained for the part, strove for authenticity in their role, and yet were merely there to fall down before the star? If you are the type of fan that remembers those actors, then you probably remember S.D. Jones.
"Special Delivery" Jones -- perhaps best known for a nine-second loss to King Kong Bundy at the first WrestleMania -- shared his memories of a life inside and outside the ring, leading up to an appearance at Wrestling Reunion 3, Saturday, June 18th in Carteret, New Jersey.
Debuting in the early '70s, Conrad Efraim wrestled under the name Roosevelt Jones before settling on "Special Delivery" Jones as his moniker. After having enjoyed a solid following amongst fans, and having been immortalized wearing an LJN action figure, he has no reservations about his retirement.
"I'm through with it, man. I hung up the boots, gave away the tights to charity, I'm done," he told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in New York City.
This isn't the way most wrestlers cope with retirement, of course. Many retirements from wrestling are merely vacations only to be broken by an earth-shattering return to the ring. No, Efraim does not plan on following the Ultimate Warrior's model of coming back next Wrestlemania to squash Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Instead, he chose to help out with Wrestling Reunion 3.
"There are a couple of guys I've been told will be there that I haven't seen for 10 years or so. I just want to see them, have some laughs, be there for two hours and then I'm gone," he said. Others at the Reunion include Pedro Morales, Savio Vega, Abdullah the Butcher, Carlos Colon, Jose Estrada, Johnny Rodz, Ron Simmons, Butch Reed, and Kimberly Page.
At its heart, wrestling is just like any other business. When Efraim speaks of the friends he plans on meeting June 18th, such as his trainer Johnny Rodz, it's easy to tell that Wrestling Reunion is a chance for him to get together with "office buddies" years after they parted ways. Most everybody knows that being a wrestler means being on the road for most of the year and having the people you work with become your family. The only catch is that this family doesn't last forever.
"Well, after 22 years, how long can you go? I'm not a young boy anymore. I made up my mind. I went in to see Vince McMahon and he said, 'Well, do what you wanna do?' I just moved on. I've been out of it for almost 20 years," Jones explained.
The last time that Efraim followed his old profession with any regularity was 2000. Since then, he has lost all interest, and won't even stop channel-surfing if a wrestling match is on. For him, it is an all but closed chapter of his life. The environment that he competed in was, of course, different from the current state of wrestling in many ways. The curtain was still up -- the jury was still out on pro wrestling's legitimacy. When it came to the job, though, everyone understood the rules of the business.
"Everybody knows it's a show -- promoters call the shots. Everybody knows that. Sometimes you don't care, sometimes you care. Honestly, I knew there was no way I was going to get to that main championship, that's for sure. I never even thought about it. A lot of us guys, we knew there was no way we were going to get up there," he explained. "I was comfortable because I knew what they wanted. They want you to be there for Hulk Hogan and Pedro Morales; they want you to be an S.D. Jones, to be a Johnny Rodz. After a while you just get comfortable where you are, and that's it. You're doing a job, you're making a living, and you just keep on going."
Being involved in the expanding WWF of the mid-'80s meant Jones got to be a part of the boom period, featured in the 1986 LJN line of wrestling dolls (in fact, there are two S.D. Jones dolls, one with a red shirt, and one with a Hawaiian shirt), and appearing in the music video for Land of 1,000 Dances. He does not, however, have his own trading card, but he is shown on the #18 sticker from the 1985 WWF Pro Wrestling Stars set from Topps, being flipped by Rene Goulet.
Still, it hadn't been that long since Efraim, with the support of friends and family, had left his job working for a telephone company -- and found himself holding the NWA Americas Tag Team Titles along with Porkchop Cash in Los Angeles in 1975. Surely, his expectations were high.
"Oh, God, that's the '70s man. That's way, way back. I was young and stupid, and I didn't know what was going on. I had no idea where this was going to take me but I was having a good time. I didn't really expect it was going to go all the way like it has," he said. "Now I'm at home, and I have my own things that I do here. I have a job with the [New York] Daily News. I'm not that big anymore -- I took off all the weight. I'm not fat or anything, I still have the muscular body. I'm still the same old guy."
Besides Los Angeles and the WWWF/WWF, Jones worked the Georgia, for Jim Crockett Promotions in Charlotte, and even made it to Japan.
Efraim admits that he never put himself in a position to help out aspiring wrestlers, but would never turn down an opportunity to be of assistance. People such as "Captain" Lou Albano and Pedro Morales helped him find his feet in the beginning, and he tried to reach out to those breaking in when he could. In the end, he may be able to offer his most valuable piece of advice as he reflects on what got him through his career as a wrestler.
"I laugh. I used to do it before and I still do. I did it right through the end."
It's good advice for both champions and nameless gladiators. Anybody that can pull that off is likely to end up in as comfortable a position as the retired Special Delivery Jones.
Wrestling Reunion III is Saturday, June 18, 2005, from 9am-4pm, at Holiday Inn, Carteret, NJ
1000 Roosevelt Ave. www.wrestlingreunion.com
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Dave Hillhouse is a screenwriter living in St. Catharines, Ontario. He's certain that nine seconds in the ring with King Kong Bundy is nine seconds longer than he'd be comfortable with -- so back off with the jokes about the short match! He can be reached at email@example.com.