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My First Match
by Marty Goldstein on 2001-06-13

June 19th is the anniversary of my first match. Boy, 21 years flies by when you have spent it on ice roads, fighting corrupt commissions, bailing your buddies out of jams, and generally tilting at windmills.

My life had been tossed upside down after my father died 2 months after I graduated high school.I ducked out of going to university for a year, and then further enraged my poor mother by going to little U. of Winnipeg, a liberal arts haven for the directionless, instead of the U. of Manitoba, which had both a law and medical faculty.

Worse yet, I got into a bad car wreck (my first of 10 broken beaks) with the Catholic girl I ended up marrying , and so by May of 1980 I was broke, engaged, estranged from my family and looking for work as a sportscaster. Enter Walter Shefchyk.

The Outlaw Promoter

I was introduced to Walter by Vince Deluca. Vince was my mom's hairstylist, and if you think that's funny, he wasn't the only Italian hairstylist/pro wrestler in Winnipeg. But his old friend, Tony Condello, had pretty much given up on running his West Four Wrestling Alliance (WFWA) against Verne Gagne's monolith AWA. Vince, who as a young competitor had worked with stars such as Bobo Brazil, was now a mainstay of New Brand Wrestling, which was getting a show on local cable and needed a host.

Now,in those days, there was no such thing as "competition", it was "opposition", and to an American like Verne, a local bunch that drew maybe 400 on a good day was a big threat. Verne had carefully cultivated the image of pro wrestling in his likeness, and was a master at inviting small regional stars to his TV and then having them not just squashed but stretched beyond recognition. Ask Joe Palardi.

That way, a poster headlining say Bobby Jones and his son Larry would be viewed by the average fan as a low-level knock off. After all, how good could a show be if the main event had an Arena opening match loser and his son was best known for lying about being a 76 Canadian Olympian who was beaten so badly in a TV match by Billy Robinson that Rodger Kent was screaming for the ref to stop the bout.

Walter, who had started in 1977 for Al Tomko when Al did tours of rural Manitoba out of his BC All Star wrestling base, had split from Condello, and with Chris Pepper had built a following by doing 3 things. One,the bouts were long (35 minutes) and competitive. Two, he promoted them as shoot/amateur bouts,( he didn't pay the boys, therefore it was not professional wrestling, it was pro-style wrestling), a subtle and clever difference ensuring the very corrupt Manitoba Boxing and Wrestling Commission could not easily intervene, despite Gagne's whining.Thirdly, his guys were hard workers who were not readily identified as jobbers for Verne's TV.

"Uncle Vince" was one of his stars, although he was not really that good or a tough guy. He got Walter to call me and based on my stint on college radio, I was invited to a meeting one night at New Brand's home base, the Chalmers Rec Centre. Walter was getting a 5 week tryout on cable and needed the show to stick, as in that era cable was very basic, there was only 12 broadcast channels, and only 3 local.

I Was Easily Led

For myself, I needed to use this to get a real media job. No one was getting rich working at this level. I was reasonably athletic and certainly knowledgable about pro wrestling for that era of sports fan, and Walter really wanted me to wrestle (for the record, he never discussed a training fee at all). However,my ambition was to become a broadcaster, not the next Salvatore Martino (then a big star for Tomko's TV, later more famous as Salvatore Bellomo) as Walter suggested.

However, he suggested hatching a storyline thru the 5 weeks that would include a confrontation and lead to a wrestler vs. announcer match. I sold the editor of the Winnipeg Tribune for a first person on my entree into this weird world and immediately launched into a program with the promoter and top heel, who was 6'4", light on his feet and rather strong. I was 5'6" and maybe 155 lbs. My family was not amused.

I watched episode 5, "the angle" with my grandparents, and thankfully my Baba and Zaida, mild fans at best, didn't think it was awful. I hit the ring when the ref went down, took a bump from a crazed Soulman John Shaw, did a hot, ok, lukewarm interview, daring the frontman promot er to sign a match, and read in the local promo story that I was in for a "bloody holocaust". My family was again not amused.

The crew, which included my career long friend Caveman Broda, Scotty Lightfoot, the aforementioned Jones family, and Ladies Choice favorite Maritime jobber Chris "The Warlord" Pepper, were rather bemused by this idea, which was unusual in those days of kayfabe and closed shop. But we were the outlaws, thumbing our noses at convention and authority and trying to get a break.

Getting Stretched in Front of Friends and Strangers

After a bit of rudimentary training, I took a night off from rehearsals for Rainbow Stage's production of Guys and Dolls (my cross-over into a carny form of entertainment was viewed rather dimly by the arts crowd in Winnipeg back then, but the owner Jack Shapira thought it was a great opportunity) and made my in-ring debut on June 19, 1980.

Everyone,like Don Greene and Bill Murdoch and Larry Anson, snuck up from the dressing room to watch. Walter laid out a simple match. I was to duck under twice, hook up finally, get backed into the corner, duck a slap, hook up, back Walter to the corner and slap him. That part worked fine. Then he took over. From his perspective, that worked fine too. However, I soon found out that 10 Lars Anderson Brainbuster suplexes and being slammed on the floor so hard I peed blood for a week was not so fine. The crowd loved it. I understood then that Walter wanted to ensure my story did not include the word "fake".

No problem. I was winded and beat on, but still following the call. At the 10 minute mark I got in a babyface comeback- OK, 3 weak punches- and whipped Walt to the corner. To my shock, the top turnbuckle came flying off. This was certainly not in the plan and I had actually never seen that happen before. I charged the corner but stopped and as I stared at the buckle on the canvas, Walter rolled past me and nailed a hardway nutshot. This guaranteed my hitting the deck, and he went home as planned, clamping on the Figure Four leg lock. I grabbed the ropes,sold like my life depended on it, which I was sure it did, and he was DQ'd. Pepper helped me out of the ring and told me I did great.

Now That My Future was Pre-ruined...

My childhood wrestling fan friends who were there, like Hartley Zelcer, whose family owned the Polo Park Inn that the AWA stayed at in Winnipeg, told my soon-to-be wife she should be proud of me. She was not,prefering the stage to the ring for my future,and my involvement in the wrestling industry definately helped grease the skids the marriage. I would also add that the Trib folded on Black Wednesday, August 27, 1980, 2 days after my wedding, 3 days before my story was to run.

So for the record, I won my first match. It took awhile, June 29,1988, to have my second match, which also involves Walter and a kid who came up to me at an AWA taping in 1983 and recognized me as the voice of New Brand Wrestling,(by then on CKY-TV).The kid grew up to be Chi Chi Cruz.

So thanks you, Walter, I guess... seriously, thanks. I've traveled places i never would have seen thanks to being involved in the business, and not all were godforsaken Indian reserves or dirty mexican waystations. I'm in LA for now, and it all started 21 years ago.

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Quotes from the boys: Ed Moretti says "Hey kid, its already ten minutes in, people are going crazy, and we ain't even tied up yet".
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