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Celebrating 23 years of Tommy The Dreamer
By TOMMY DREAMER - For SLAM! Wrestling


October 28 is a very important day to me; it is the 23rd anniversary of my very first match.

It was a great day in the fall of 1989. My hair was a picture-perfect wrestler mullet length -- I would kill for that hair today. I had been attending wrestling training for three months. Well, actually, I was basically getting beat up for three straight months by many other wrestlers, all seeking out their dreams.

I trained at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, N.Y., a famous hardcore boxing gym. Beside all the men boxing each other, shadow boxing, hitting the speed bag, heavy bag or jumping rope, and not far from the spit buckets, splattered blood and sweat stains, in the corner of the gym was a wrestling ring, where I practiced my craft.

Most of the time, I was the only Caucasian person in there, and would often be pulled aside by the boxing trainers, and they would tell me to "forget that bull crap wrestling" and to start boxing. They were all looking for the next "Great White Hope" fighter, and my young Sylvester Stallone looks had them champing at the bit. In my mind, there would be no "Yo Adrian!" moment for me inside a boxing ring. I have, however, been blessed with countless amazing moments inside a wrestling ring.

I actually hated boxing for a few reasons. First, when our wrestling ring broke, we had to train in one of the boxing rings, and it would have been easier to fall on the concrete than inside a ring that contained a giant, metal post right in the middle of it.

Second, when guys didn't show up for wrestling training, we would have to get out the heavy bag, pick it up, bodyslam it, then run the ropes, jumping over it, then deliver a move to it. We would also hit the ropes and my trainer, WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz, would throw the bag at us as we ran off the ropes, forcing us to catch it and let it fall on top of us. You don't know pain until someone throws a giant heavy bag at you, mid-run, and it hits you in the face, midsection, and your little "Dreamers" all at once. If that isn't enough, you also have to then quickly fall with it on top of you, which would result in getting hit all three places a wonderful second time. So, needless to say, the boxing world and Tommy Dreamer never became synonymous with one another.

Gleason's sits next to the famous Brooklyn Bridge, where a lot of TV and movie shots of the Manhattan skyline have been filmed. You look down the street and can't help but get caught in the hopes and dreams of making it in the big city.

Me, I just wanted to wrestle in Madison Square Garden (a goal accomplished many times). Gleason's also had an arena located directly under the bridge (sadly, it is now a parking garage). However, in its day, it held many pro wrestling and boxing events. With my family being from Brooklyn, I had, probably, 55 tickets sold for my first event. My mom, dad, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, girlfriends -- anyone who was special to me -- came out to support me that night.

I drove to the area by myself, getting there early so I could shake my nerves and apprehension. I can remember all I wanted to do was throw up. I was preparing myself to tell my trainer what my wrestling name would be -- Tommy Acid. I was going to paint my face in honour of The Great Muta, a Japanese wrestling legend who was on fire in the United States at the time. Muta was the first wrestler performing moonsaults and delivering running hand spring elbows to his opponents in the turnbuckles.

I wanted my entrance music to be a techno song called "This is Acid." And, just like The Great Muta, I would spit green acid in my opponents' faces, rendering them blind, until I hit my soon-to-be famous hand spring elbow combo. I was all set and nothing could stop me. Though, in hindsight, having acid in my mouth would have burned a hole in my jaw and throat, but this is pro wrestling right? Anything is believable, right? I knew we would have hours to prepare for the match. I figured I would tell my opponent what I wanted to do, he would have no problem doing it. It all seemed so straightforward as I drove in my car, listening to my future theme music.

I arrived so early, in fact, that nobody else was even there. I sat outside until a custodial worker let me in. I waited by the ring. Eventually, I saw some of the other wrestlers coming in. Nobody got into the ring. We all went upstairs and sat in a crowded locker room. Before I knew it, it was now only two hours until bell time and my opponent still hadn't arrived. The butterflies in my stomach were having a battle royal of their own. Next thing I know, it was an hour before match time. The nerves had gotten the better of me, and it was time to puke again. With 30 minutes until show time, Johnny told me that my opponent wasn't going to make it, and that I was now to face Diesel Don. Diesel Don was billed at 500 pounds, and wrestled as Curly Man Moe, doing a Three Stooges gimmick. He was probably five-foot-10 and 400 pounds, truth be told. I had seen him do a drop kick, and hit someone with a kick to the back of the head (an Enzaguri, also known as The Ghetto Blaster from Canada's Bad News Brown/Allen fame).

I looked over at him, in the corner of the room, and I turned to my trainer said "Him?!" in the highest-pitched voice ever. I reminded him that he promised I would wrestle The Shadow (we had trained together before many times). Johnny replied, "Well, Ralphie isn't going to make it and now you've got Don."

To tell you how clueless I was back then, I called my opponent Shadow and didn't know his real name was Ralphie. And I had no idea why my trainer was calling Curly Man Moe "Don," when all I knew him as was "Curly" or "Man" or "Moe!" I had no idea what the hell was going on. The only thing I was sure of was that I didn't want to wrestle this big, fat guy with whom I had never trained. Where the heck my original opponent was, only the Shadow knew, and I knew it was time to puke again.

Johnny then said, "What's the name and gimmick you want to do?" At least this much I knew for sure, and nothing was going to change. I handed him my cassette tape, told him that I am from Yonkers, New York, I am painting my face, and my name is Tommy Acid. My gimmick, I told him, is that I spit acid in guys' faces, then I win. Johnny took my tape, and said, "Your family is from Brooklyn, so you're from Brooklyn, New York. You're too good looking and clean-cut for that face paint crap and the gimmick is stupid. No acid. Your name is Tommy Laughlin. You don't need a gimmick."

I took one last shot.

I told Johnny that it was my dream to be a wrestler and that my favourite wrestler was "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. Could I please have something flashy, I begged. I also said I didn't want my family's name out there. So how about Tommy Dreamer, I asked.

He said "Who cares? If you like it, then it fits. Tommy The Dreamer. There you go. Listen to Don, and good luck tonight." He then walked away.

"WHAT?" I thought to myself. "No way, that name sucks!"

I was scared of my opponent, had no idea if I was winning, or what the hell was going on. Forget about, "Where's the Shadow." All I wanted to know was "where's the toilet" because my stomach couldn't take any more. Through all of that, I knew I had to make sure I did one thing and that was I had to tell my mom not to worry. Just then, I saw her walk in, beaming with pride. I quickly grabbed her and told her The Shadow wasn't there, and I was wrestling Diesel Don, or Curly Man Moe, or whatever his name was, but not to worry. I gave her a kiss and that was it. Saying it, and reading it back now, that is probably the craziest conversation a son can ever have with his mom.

I went to Don and he asked, "What can you do?" I said "I can do anything you want." (I couldn't.) "I can do a running hand spring elbow like The Great Muta."

He said, "OK, see you out there."

That was it?

See you out there?

Huh?

This is how we do it?

I had been practicing with the damned Shadow for two weeks. I was a bundle of nerves, with all of my friends and family watching and I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

As the show began, I watched all of the matches. I was supposed to be first, but now I was fifth. I watched Kid Krush, a Hawaiian guy, who painted his face, and who later became Taz -- the Human Suplex Machine, wrestle Big Sweet William, a 300-pound blond-haired good guy in fluorescent pink who would later become Hugh Morris (a.k.a. Bill DeMott). I saw Mondo Kleen, Johnny's star pupil, sit in the office with Johnny as he was preparing for his main-event match against Johnny. He later became Damian Demento and wrestled in the first main event on Monday Night Raw versus The Undertaker.

Then, I watched Curly Man Moe go to the ring. Next, I heard my music, but it wasn't "This is Acid." However, the crowd erupted when the ring announcer said my name, "Tommy The Dreamer." (I may have padded the joint in my favour.)

Once I got out there, I wasn't nervous in front of the people. The match was a blur, but all I remember was Curly Man Moe saying, at one point, "Do the Muta thing." As I ran at him, I had no gas in the tank, and hit him with the lamest clothesline in the corner, then turned to the fans and said "C'mon!" and they responded in cheers. He slammed me and said, "Don't move." I watched an eclipse happen right on top of me as he delivered an elbow drop that prompted my family to cringe and both my girlfriend's and mother's eyes welled up with tears. As I laid there, thinking not to move, the ref counted 1, 2 ... Moe pulled me up by the back of my head (early stages of my flowing mullet turning into my bald spot) then I heard him tell me to move. As he went for elbow again, I moved, and he told me to cover him. The referee counted 1-2-3! I was alive! It was my first "Yo Adrian -- I did it!" moment!

I was a hero, and it was the greatest feeling ever. Actually, I won my next bout in December and was undefeated in 1990. Take that Goldberg and Ryback. (I only had about eight matches in 1990, but undefeated is undefeated.)

Nowadays, I don't get nervous, but I do get emotional. I am still so happy to be doing something that have I loved for as long as I have. Many of my loved ones have passed away, but I feel they are still cheering and have the best seats in the house (skybox luxury seats) to watch me when I wrestle. I have set out on my path and accomplished my dreams. We all have a dream, and we all have a beginning. Tommy The Dreamer was born on October 28, 1989, and I am blessed to have performed and to continue to perform in front of you.

Thanks for reading.

TOMMY DREAMER LINKS

  • House of Hardcore website
  • Tommy Dreamer bio and story archive
  • Tommy Dreamer column archive
  • thetommydreamer.com

    Tommy Dreamer is a legendary and influential pro wrestler and a father and husband who has worked for World Wrestling Entertainment, Extreme Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action. His column appears in the Kingston Whig-Standard and on SLAM! Wrestling. Follow him on Twitter @THETOMMYDREAMER and check out his website at thetommydreamer.com. He can be booked for live appearances through his website. Check out his new, custom-designed T-shirts and merchandise on his website as well.