ECW original Kingpin Angel talks about his career, Paul Heyman, Hardcore RoadTrip and more
JAN MURPHY - Chinlock.com
|Angel Medina at Hardcore Roadtrip in London, Ontario, in the spring of 2013. Photo by Tabercil
"It all started when I was a sharecropper."
To get to know Angel Medina, the man, is to quickly learn that his wit is as sharp as some of the weapons he's used on opponents during his long and successful pro wrestling career.
Medina, better known the world over as the Kingpin Angel, an Extreme Championship Wrestling original, is equal parts fierce and funny, combined with a whole lot of intensity.
On this night, Medina, who will headline Hardcore RoadTrip's DTA: Don't Trust Anyone event in London, Ont., in April, is all three. After opening with a sharecopper wisecrack, Medina turns serious when reflecting on his beginnings.
"To be honest, I remember this like it was yesterday," he said over the phone when asked when wrestling came into his life. "I was in junior high school. My friend Peter, one of my classmates, he brings out an old (copy of) Pro Wrestling Illustrated. On the cover was the Four Horsemen," he said, adding that his friend sold him on the fact that what he was showing the young Medina was a very big deal.
"He let me borrow the magazine and I looked into it, and I got hooked," Medina said, adding that his friend also urged the impressionable young Medina to watch Clash of the Champions, the now legendary series of pro wrestling TV specials aired in the late 1980s and early 1990s by World Championship Wrestling.
"I (turned) on TBS and I started watching the Clash, and I was hooked. That's what influenced me, the Four Horseman, my friend Peter giving me that magazine and me turning on TBS to watch Clash of Champions."
The transformation from superfan to aspiring pro wrestler followed not long after, according to Medina.
"After I got the bug and I started watching it, and I started watching the stories -- Sting, [Lex] Luger, Nikita Koloff ... all those guys, they were just superheroes to me when I was a kid. I just loved it -- the fantasy, the action -- it's just what I wanted to do," he said.
It was as a 17-year-old, and while watching a morning talk show that Medina's dream would begin to become a reality. While watching the program, one of the hosts produced a segment live from Johnny Rodz's School of Unpredictable Wrestling. During the segment, which featured Rodz himself, the host put out a call for aspiring wrestlers.
That's all young Medina needed to hear.
"That came up and I'm like 'Oh my god, I want to be a wrestler.' So, at 17 years old, I (went) to Johnny Rodz's school."
What Medina found in Johnny Rodz, who has trained countless successful and legendary wrestlers including the likes of Tommy Dreamer, the Dudleys, Taz and Matt Striker, was not only a trainer, but a mentor.
"When I first signed up for the school, Johnny knew I didn't have money. I was an underprivileged kid ... I'm not saying I was poor, but my mom was a single mom, my dad passed away when I was 14 ... (my mom) was working in the sweat shop making mink coats, supporting me.
"Johnny understood that, and he would say 'kid, just pay what you can.' He told me the price, and I've always remembered, it was $1,500. He said 'just pay what you can and I will just notate in that book.' "
Looking back, Medina can now admit he wasn't ready for what pro wrestling had to offer.
"So I get into the ring, and in this ring there were guys like Hugh Morris, Damien Demento, known as Mondo Kleen at the time, Bill DeMott, or Big Sweet Williams at the time, guys like Taz, Dreamer ... these were the guys that were in the ring, bigger than life. I didn't know who they were because they were still nobodies at the time, they were huge, these guys were just monsters."
The teenaged Medina recalls the beatings he took in his first attempt at entering the business.
"I didn't take it seriously," he said of his training. "They just beat me up. They beat me up until I bled out every hole that I had. I didn't learn wrestling is real."
Medina now admits he wasn't prepared for the commitment it takes to make it in the business.
"I didn't understand the work ethic that's involved in pro wrestling," he said. "Wrestling is an art, just like being a stuntman. If you jump out of a 20-storey building into a pillow on the floor, and you don't know how to fall, and you don't know how to land right on that pillow ... you're going to get hurt. Yeah, it's fake, that stunt is fake, but if you don't know how to do the technique, you're a dead man."
Medina was quickly smartened up, as they say.
"Johnny Rodz, man, he's old, I mean he's in his 70s (now), but when that f---er grabs you and gets you on the ground ... Just like Stu Hart did. Yeah, you know, Stu Hart walked around like he was crippled and stuff, but once he grabbed you, man, and he had you on that floor, you're SOL, he'll make you scream. And that's what I didn't understand."
Medina's dream, it seemed at the time, was squashed, quite literally.
"I quit," he said. "I quit because I got beat up."
It was later, while seeing some of the graduates of Rodz's school finding success, that Medina was inspired to make another run of it.
Angel in an ECW press photo.
At the age of 21, Medina marched back into Rodz's school.
"Johnny was like 'I remember you kid.'"
After a heart to heart with his mentor, Medina made a promise to himself.
"I promised myself I would not quit, no matter how much I was pushed, no matter how much they dug my face into the mat, I would not quit. I will be the best, I will be one of the best."
The second time was a charm for Medina, who would emerge from Rodz's school and ultimately end up in Paul Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Asked about his time in ECW, Medina speaks as though he's remembering a long lost best friend.
"ECW ... it was a different time. It was a camaraderie, it had something that no company had ever done, and (has) never duplicated," he said. "That is think about the fans. Think about the fans, think about the boys in the locker room. I mean we loved to work with each other. There were no egos. We wanted to put each other over, we wanted to show the fans 110%.
"We wrestled hurt and we were known as the company (with guys) who would wrestle hurt. We didn't say on the sidelines. Paul used to have to fight us, tooth and nail, because we didn't want to be set on the sidelines," Medina said of Heyman.
The conversation turns to Heyman, now regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in wrestling history.
"Paul was a bigger-than-life person," Medina said. "I know I joke around about the bounced cheques and how I'm mad at him. I'm not mad at him. You know how the situation occurred," he said, referring to ECW's bankruptcy that resulted in a lot of the talent being owed money. "We've gotta vent."
Any ill will toward Heyman that may have existed post-ECW is clearly long forgotten for Medina.
"I love the guy because he's the only one that gave me my opportunity to be where I am today."
Medina then praised his former boss.
"That mother f---er was Ceasar," he said, affectionately. "I know it's funny, but dude, he that mother f---er would tell you the sky is green, and you'd go up there and look the sky until that f---ing sun would burn your retinas until the sky did turn green."
Medina remains grateful for Heyman's influence on his career.
"He put time in me," he said. "He was the one that pulled me to the side and said 'kid, you need to do it like this. Kid, you need to work on this.'"
Heyman is also the mind behind Medina's wrestling alter ego, Kingpin Angel.
New Jack clobbers the Baldies.
"The promo that we did with New Jack in the subway, the reason why he called me the Kingpin is because if you look at the video, the hat that I'm wearing, a company called Kingpin gave me free clothes just to wear in the ring," Medina revealed. "They gave me the clothing line and I put on the hat. I'm behind the bars and we're cutting a promo behind the bars in the subway system and before he rolls action, he goes 'Angel, what's that say on your hat?' And I go 'what's that say on my hat, Paul? Says Kingpin.' 'Perfect.' And that's all I f---ing found out. He says 'perfect, action,' (we) cut the promo, (and) a couple days later "Here comes the Kingpin Angel coming out of the curtains." That's how the name Kingpin came about. Creative genius."
While WWE never came calling for the Kingpin, Heyman, Medina says, saw something in him.
"Paul gave a kid from Brooklyn, New York, born in Brooklyn, raised in Queensbridge, raised in the Bronx, hanging out with his family on Fordham Road, (a chance)."
That Medina even got an opportunity to make his mark on Heyman came courtesy of an invitation from a friend.
" I got to ECW because Devon (Dudley) invited me. I had a workout in the ring with Tracy Smothers, Little Guido, we had all these workouts before a show. I had a workout with Guido, I didn't know Paul was looking at me, as soon as I walked through the curtain and I'm walking to my bad, and Paul's standing looking at war plans like Gen. MacArthur, with Sabu and Rob Van Dam, and he's standing there and he's standing there and he looks up and he goes 'kid.' And I go 'me?' He goes 'I like what I saw out there, stick around.' 'Stick around for what?' 'Just stick around kid.'
"Then I run to Devon (and tell him) 'Devon, Paul just told me just to 'stick around,' but he didn' t give me like an understanding for what.'
'When Paul tells you to stick around, stick around,' Medina recalled was Devon's reply.
"The f--- does that mean," he said with a laugh.
The rest, at long last, is history. Heyman's great mind would strike again for Medina.
"I stuck around and I stuck around and I stuck around and Paul just kept putting me in different little angles just to see what clicked, and all of a sudden, we're in Michigan and Tommy (Dreamer) and Paul call me and (Tony) Devito into the locker room and he said, and I quote: 'You guys, I have an idea. We're going to call you The Baldies, and we're going to have a core of guys, but you two are the main guys and we're going to work it, we're going to work the angle. And I looked at DeVito and DeVito looks at me and we're like 'OK.' That's all the conversation that we had. It was just like 'I'm going to stick this stick of dynamite in your ass, then I'm going to light it. Don't knock out the fuse. Now, lick your fingers and extinguish it.'
"You're like 'what the f--- is that going to do?' All of a sudden, boom, lightning strikes and you're a million dollars because Paul came up with this crazy guy. The guy's a genius."
After the sale of ECW to WWE, Medina spent some time Puerto Rico, but ultimately settled on a career change, eventually becoming a police officer in Wichita, Kansas.
"The reason I became a cop is because I needed to do something. I wanted to go to WWE, but dude, realistically, you've got to put food on the table and wrestling only could do so much. I loved wrestling, I still was continuing to wrestle, but I had to get a job and do something with myself. I become a cop for the Wichita Police Department."
That career change didn't stick. Medina has known his true calling since first opening up the pages of that Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine as a boy.
So Media again immersed himself in the business, carving out what has become a very successful career on the independent wrestling circuit, most notably with Hardcore RoadTrip. In March 2013, Kingpin Angel became the Hardcore RoadTrip champion, a title he will defend on April 26 at the London Ukrainian Centre.
His opponent will be the manbeast known as Rhino, another ECW original. While Angel respects his opponent, he has no intention of losing his title.
"I love Rhino," he said. "Don't get me wrong, we had some great memories, he's a good guy, we had some great moments on the road. We didn't share rooms together, but he's a good guy, but now it's business. Again, back to the 'You're trying to take food out of my family's mouth,' and that's not going to happen. The fact is he wants what I have and I'm going to keep what I have."
Angel knows he can't take his powerful opponent for granted.
"I have all total respect for Rhino," he said. The guys is a tremendous athlete. And I have nothing but respect for him. I've been training. I've be 'saying the prayers, taking my vitamins.' I've been doing the cardio, lifting the weights. I'm not going to pull the Bret Hart and the metal belly (plate) with Goldberg. I'm going to beat him fair and square. I'm going to show him that he's not bigger than life. I'm going to show the fans that he's just a normal man. If it bleeds, it can die. Rhino is a great athlete, he's not a fabulous athlete, he's not the best because I'm the best. If he was the best, he would be holding the title. I don't think he can beat me. The only thing that he is going to Gore is my left and my right fist in his mouth. And that's all I have to say about that."
Despite being close to his mid-40s, Medina says he remains as motivated as ever, thanks in large part to Hardcore RoadTrip and his Canadian fans.
"I'm going to be honest with you. What keeps me going, and this is not bullsh--, this is not something that I'm trying to get over to the fans. I thought that my career was over. I really thought 'this is it, this is the highest that I could ever go.' But once the Canadian fans really embraced me at that moment, they f---ing stuck a f---ing lightning rod up my ass. And that's why I appreciate London, Ontario, Canada. I love the fans. I see myself representing Canada. Don't get me wrong, I love the United States, but the United States only gave me so much. But when I went to Canada, they saw that I still had it. They saw that that fire was not out. And they're the ones that helped me build that fire. That's why I love being the champion at Hardcore RoadTrip. If it wasn't for them knocking that doubt -- that little sting in the back of my neck, that was pride f---ing with me -- and when they knocked that out of my head, and they showed me that I still had something in me, brother it was a breath of fresh air. I'm just there to represent the fans and I'll be damned if I'm going to let Rhino come out of nowhere, after all of my hard work, and try to take something that I've worked so hard to build."
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. He recently launched Chinlock.com to archive his wrestling stories, and this is his first original interview for it. You can follow Jan on Twitter at @Jan_Murphy.