September 13, 2009
Swimming with Piranhas: A preview of the upcoming book II
By HOWARD BRODY - Special to SLAM! Wrestling
This week, Iím happy to present two excerpts from my forthcoming book, Swimming with Piranhas: Surviving the Politics of Pro Wrestling from ECW Press. The two passages, in a very odd sort of way are related to each other as they not only depict transition periods in the pro wrestling industry, but also represent transitional periods during my career in the business.
In 1991 through a series of events I found myself working with Herb Abrams, the colorful owner of the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF). Three years later, thanks to an introduction by Kevin Sullivan, I would find myself working with Tod Gordon, the owner of Eastern Championship Wrestling and his soon-to-be partner in Extreme Championship Wrestling, Paul Heyman.
Swimming with Piranhas is a candid look at professional wrestling from my point of view and covers a 25 year period in which I dealt with both the famous and infamous of a fascinating industry. Some of the people I discuss include: Abdullah the Butcher , Eric Bischoff, B. Brian Blair, Bruiser Brody, Dixie Carter, Buddy Colt, Dan Severn, Steve Corino, Jim Cornette, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jimmy Hart, Shinya Hashimoto, Hulk Hogan, Antonio Inoki, Jeff Jarrett, Jerry Jarrett, Steve Keirn, Jerry Lawler, Hiro Matsuda, Vince and Linda McMahon, Naoya Ogawa, Dusty Rhodes, Bob Roop, Jim Ross, Sabu, Dan Severn, Dick Slater, Gordon Solie, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, and many more.
From Chapter 8: "Running on Empty"
Although the October 1991 Fort Lauderdale UWF show was the last event I ever did with Herb Abrams, we did do one more piece of business. About a month later, he called to say he needed a monthís worth of original programming but didnít have any shows in the can to deliver to SportsChannel. He wanted to know if I would be willing to air the Wild Women of Wrestling (WWOW) shows as four one-hour specials under the UWF banner. While he had no money to offer, he said he would give us all the commercial advertising time he was allotted. While I knew we would not make much, the broadcast would give us the brand exposure we needed if we were to raise new funds. With that in mind, I agreed to the deal, and WWOW finally made it on the air.
That was the very last direct business I ever did with Herb. Sometimes he would call me up in the middle of the night just to say hello. Sometimes he would call to ask me if I was planning any shows. Sometimes he would call me just to tell me about his ongoing repugnant actions and behaviors.
And then there was the little game he liked to play.
"Howard," he would say when I answered the phone. "What have you done for the UWF today?"
Although he knew my answer was always, "Nothing Herb, what have you done for me today?" that simple question and answer game became a little ritual.
It took me many years to understand why Herb kept calling me: he felt guilty. He felt guilty that he had mistreated me and abused the friendship weíd initially forged. Even though I eventually moved on to different projects, I think, somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought that if he were ever to put the pieces of the UWF back together, I would go back to work for him.
Following an inevitably nasty divorce, Herbís last show took place on September 23, 1994, in Las Vegas, at the newly constructed 10,000-seat MGM Grand Arena. It was called the Blackjack Brawl. Televised live on SportsChannel, the show drew about 600 fans with a card that included not only UWF regulars, such as Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, Sonny Beach and Steve Ray, but other well-know wrestlers, like Dan Spivey, Johnny Ace, Tony Halme, Bob Orton Jr., Jimmy Snuka, Sid Vicious and Cactus Jack (Mick Foley). The show was highlighted by a drunken Herb Abrams getting on the MGM house microphone and shouting to the crowd, "Letís hear it for the Jews!" A comment that made Paul Heyman, Tod Gordon and I, who were watching the event together in a Tampa hotel room, cringe with embarrassment.
From Chapter 10: "1994"
Extreme Championship Wrestling was poised to take Florida by storm. But instead of a hurricane blowing in from the great northern city of Brotherly Love, ECW came in to the Sunshine State like a subtle breeze. Despite all the press coverage I got for them and the fact that they had decent TV ratings in the market, the Tampa show drew poorly for a Friday night, with less than 250 people paid. Before the show Dory and Marti Funk showed Tod and Paul a four-page newspaper spread about the live ECW event that they were able to get printed in the Ocala Banner. I donít know if Tod and Paul were just trying to put the Funks over or what, but at one point Tod turned to me and said something like, "This is the way you promote a show."
That pissed me off. I knew how much I had done for them, but still, I kept my mouth shut because I didnít want to make any waves. Whatever money I was getting from them at that point I wanted to last, so I played the subservient role for the night.
About halfway through the show, however, Tod came over to where my former WWOW partner Craig Cohen and I were standing at the back of the arena -- I had dragged Craig along since it didnít seem right to do a road trip without him -- and he was visibly upset. Tod claimed the show was an embarrassment to them. He told me that if anyone asked me what the attendance was to say 450. Craig and I had just done a rough head count and came up with 230. When it came time to settle with the building, Tod told me to go to the box office and settle up because he "wanted to watch the main event."
On the way to the box office Craig commented something to the effect of, "Perhaps if he was as concerned with the number of tickets he sold as he was about his main event, maybe they wouldíve drawn more." Craig did have a point, as we both knew firsthand what happens when as an owner you donít take a direct role in ticket sales.
After the show I met up with Tod and Paul in Paulís hotel room, where after watching the last of Herb Abramsís Blackjack Brawl we talked business. Even though Tod had made me feel guilty as hell earlier in the evening, saying the show was "an embarrassment," Paul softened the blow by acknowledging my efforts with the local media and said he understood the challenges that come along with promoting a new city. Surprisingly, he cited the same challenge they had when promoting other cities in New Jersey, claiming, "itís a dice roll."
Not surprisingly, however, Paul brought up my involvement with the NWA and wanted to know why I would want to work with "that buffoon Dennis Coralluzzo" when I was working with them. Although I explained my reason for joining the NWA, Paul responded by saying, "So promote under the NWA name. They have no money. They wonít come after you. Look what we did. Theyíre not coming after us." Although he was probably right, that wasnít my style.
I knew Tod was more disappointed than Paul was because thatís who I had forged a relationship with, but, for the business that I was going to do in Florida, the NWA name had too much value to discard. As pissed as I had been earlier in the night over some of the comments Tod had made, thatís how pissed off I knew they were that I would be working with Dennis.
The next night, in sharp contrast to the Tampa show, the Ocala show drew a little more than 600 paid, and the Funks did a great job getting people into the building. But what was good for the Funks was bad for me, as it fed into the notion that I was simply not a strong enough promoter for ECW. While I didnít buy that, I knew without anyone having to tell me that my first ECW promoted show would also be my last.
In Swimming With Piranhas, the former president of the National Wrestling Alliance, Howard Brody gives a first hand account of how heís been able to survive the world of pro wrestling politics, despite getting a few bloody noses along the way. It covers aspects of the pro wrestling business that have yet to be captured on paper. This book reveals the true war stories as Brody takes the reader into the boardrooms and back offices of the most exciting business in the world: professional wrestling.