Memories of Mike Lozanski
Just before I started working on the wrestling study for the goverment of Manitoba this spring, I realized that I was getting very upset every time I wrote an in-memorium column for Moondog Manson.com and other websites, because so many of them were about my contemporaries. Ric Rude, Curt Hennig, Rhonda Singh, all were around my age.
This one is the worst. Mike Lozanski's death is the closest to myself and my friends in my 23 years around the business.
He was 8 years younger than me.
In March 1989 I had promoted a short tour (my first group was called Can-Am Wrestling) and there was some movement in the dying days of the territories, guys opening doors here and there. I had a chance to go to Mexico to manage some Canadians who were the hated gringos, and I felt ready to try to make a push for myself elsewhere after working for Bob Geigel in Kansas City the year before.
Armond Mayer "The Warrior" had headlined my tour and now, in late June 1989, he was on top against Tim Flowers for another promoter in Winnipeg who had TV.
Tim was being driven around by this new kid, Mike Lozanski. Meanwhile I was packing up for an extended road trip. So in this hectic time, I first met Mike, this blondish kid from Calgary, good looking, muscled and tanned, he was short but had the "new look' body of that era. He was green as grass and awkward but he had natural ability and could leap. He also had a new car, a T-Bird I think.
I first met Diamond Timothy Flowers in August 1983 when he worked a shot for New Brand Wrestling when we were bringing in Vancouver guys like him and Dean Ho. He was a notorious wildman, a heat machine in and out of the ring, and also one of the best trainers of the time in Canada. Flowers got back in touch with me, 6 years later, so he had a hideaway when he came into town. Tim and Mike hooked up in Vancouver I believe a few weeks before, when Flowers got back to BC from the first Winnipeg TV taping.
Mike came through Winnipeg when a head to head indy war started, and when the scene in Vancouver was shifting as Al Tomko lost his TV and he folded. Stampede Wrestling in Calgary had just folded and the boys were scrambling for work. Wrestling was being turned upside down.
I did not have any idea, I was on the verge of an adventure with them that proved to be a major influence in the course of my life.
The guys working the circuits from Vancouver to Nova Scotia were characters and ringleaders, like Dirty Dan Denton and Diamond Tim Flowers, Joe Cagle, a very new Chi Chi Cruz, Eddie Watts. Young Michelle Starr was settling into what became almost an entire career homesteading in Vancouver trying to operate promotions with varying degrees of success, in the wake of Tomko's territory-killing TV. Others who started wrestling at the same time were Mike Roselli and Randy Tyler who went on to attempt to resurrect All-Star Wrestling and compete with Starr's ECCW in 2000.
So the roots of a lot of modern western Canadian history were sown that summer of 89 and Mike was part of it.
Tim and Mike and maybe Akam Singh dropped by someone's place in Winnipeg to see me as their tour started. Mike told me he had trained for 10 months in San Bernardino with Jesse Hernandez and Bobby Bradley Sr. after getting out of the Hart Dungeon. Mike was angling to get Bobby Bradley Jr. booked into Canada as a tag partner since they had teamed on small shows in San Bernardino.
Flowers felt Mike was rushing things and his style was too lucha oriented at the time for what was being done in Canada. The raw potential was there and Tim figured that being married with Mike as they worked for different offices was the best way to get him in the program. Also, Mike liked to party and Tim was at the time, the life of any party he walked into. In that era, wrestlers felt invincible, forever young and the kayfabe culture was still strong.
Mike was just 19 or 20, and when I asked how he was able to afford to spend all that time in SoCal, he said his parents supported his career. In Canada that was pretty rare, but Mike's dad was in business and they were well off. (That got Mike some heat in his career because he could afford to go and starve someplace like Memphis when the other boys couldn't do that and it was seen as driving down payoffs for everyone.) Mike was a very polite and quiet kid, kind of like a surfer dude and he was one guy who reminded me of what was written about Kerry Von Erich- the dumb jock type that didn't threaten the guys and all the girls wanted.
On July 1st as I recall I dropped off some of the Winnipeg vets, Doug McColl/Bobby Driver and Mike Phillips/JR Bundy probably, to gather for a tour up north for yet a third promoter - the head to head indy war I refered to. I had friends on both tours. In fact I had brokered some of the Winnipeg guys, and the ring, to this third promoter, so we all bid each other goodbye etc. That was the day I met Chris Irvine, his very first day in the business, getting paying his dues by helping Caveman Broda put up the ring. I had no idea how successful he would become as Chris Jericho.
I was routing to Mexico via Calgary 2 days later and my plan was to spend a few days there first. The night before I was to leave Armond suddenly called me. He and Flowers had walked off the tour in a pay dispute and they were getting Mike to drive them back to Calgary where Armond lived. They crashed at my girlfriends place first. We partied all night and I got maybe 3 hours sleep before flying off to Calgary, leaving them passed out all over her pristine and previously wrestler free apartment.
When we met up in Calgary a day later we went on a tear, eventually that week Tim and I spent a night at the Lozanski house. I was blown away. His mom and dad were pure class.
Mike's dad was an oil executive and had grown up on the same street I did in Winnipeg, albeit many years before. He had earned everything he had and that was saying a lot. The house was magnificently appointed. A beautiful family. At breakfast I was chatting with his mom when little brother Chris who was maybe 15 but already a huge football player in high school, bigger than Mike and just as polite, sat down and started eating for like an hour. He wanted to get into wrestling too. The parents were quite accepting of this, like they were hockey parents. Mike was never going to need anything that was obvious. He was not so much spoiled as maybe coddled in that they did not expect Mike to do anything other than achieve his goal of making the big leagues.
We were having such a fun time Flowers suggested I switch my flight to leave from Vancouver, and drive through the Rockies with them. That became my first trip to BC and I never did get to Mexico that summer...
Once in Vancouver Mike and I got to meet everyone in the BC scene, including seeing Al Tomko take down his ring in Cloverdale for the last time. On this trip Denton introduced me to Starr, a meeting that led to my working on Denton's documentary about, and my on and off involvement as a producer with, ECCW 10 years later in another phase of my life.
Tim had us train at Douglas College and I was challenged to step up beyond typical manager spots. Mike was young and strong and fast, but he had trouble with getting lost and Tim bellowed sequences from ringside for 3 days, having me play heel and beat on Mike trying to teach him to sell. We did the same basic 20 minute match over and over again.
For me I was in good shape and weighed 207, and this was when the light finally went on in my head about how to work properly and get heat. Mike was awkward and eager to please Tim which was not always a good combination for me. The third day Flowers was miserable with Mike because on his comeback his dropkicks were way low. Mike got pissed off and sure enough rocketed past my guard and his heel popped me right in the face, giving me my first black eye ever.
Tim got himself and Mike booked onto Fred Roselli's card. Roselli had bought what was left of Tomko's promotion and was going to push his son Mike "the Olympian" on top. The show had Rocky Della Sera vs Verne Siebert, Starr worked Ivan Gorki, I am sure Lazerjack Smith, Robotron (Tyler I think), and Fabio (who today runs All Star Wrestling) were also on the bill. Mike did a tope onto Flowers on the floor that shocked the crowd. Flowers led and Lozanski followed and the crowd got behind the babyface. Old school wrestling, on it's last legs, stole the show that night in Surrey.
But it was obvious that BC was dead for the summer, so Mike and Tim hatched a plan to go to Southern California where Tim had been a big star for the Los Angeles promotion 7 years before. Both had personal reasons for wanting to go as well, and I was more than happy to go along. I had never had so much fun in my life. Every day was an adventure, every night a misadventure.
So along with another real character, a used car salesman named Corman, we crossed the broder into Washington and headed off to Moondog Moretti's motel in Oregon, a waystation before getting to Bakersfield. We went to a spot show in Salem and Lozanski and I watched in disbelief as a bunch of little kids with their faces painted cheered skinny Art Barr as though Beetlejuice was Sting or something. Scott Levy I think was also on the card as was Joey Jackson, and the Grappler was booking. Strangely enough although Lozanski was highly regarded I do not recall him ever working in Oregon but at the time he would have gotten over huge there.
This was a road trip that memories were made of, working motels for rates, restaurants for meals, hangin in the pool all day and looking for parties or spot shows to crash every night. Lozanski was a chick magnet the likes of which I had never seen. Actually working on shows would have cramped his style at the time I think, he was on a real roll. He was like a Canadian surfer boy.
We made our way to San Bernardino to try and get booked with Red Bastein who was taping Spanish TV. Jesse Hernandez invited us to his house and tried to get us in. We went to the hall. Mike and I were sitting in a locker room, not getting booked, chatting with a rising star named Konnan, when Mando and Chavo Guerrero walked in. (Mando had a bad experience when working in Winnipeg the previous Christmas and he made it clear he had never been so cold in his whole life.) Lozanski loved the lucha style and made a good impression on them.
Finally out of funds (in other words my plastic was jacked) we made it back to BC in one long drive, and a couple of weeks later Lozanski disappeared one night and went back to Calgary. A few weeks later I flew back to Winnipeg unsure of what to do next.
I saw him a few times in Winnipeg that fall, when I got a job as a TV reporter and Mike became a regular in the territory despite having walked out of that earlier tour, because the promoter liked Lozanski so much as a person.
Within 3 years of that Summer of 89' road trip, he wrestled all over Canada, went to New Zealand in 1990, and got into Mexico and Japan as Canadian Tiger. He had a legendary feud with fellow Calgary product Bret "Thunderbird" Como that got them both a lot of notice internationally.
All my closest friends worked him during the early 90's. Eddie Watts made Lozanski look like a million bucks in a TV broadway. Chi Chi Cruz wrestled Lozanski all over Canada. Bret Como in Japan, Starr in BC. Bruiser Bastein remembered teaming with Mike in a tag match against a guy I brought into the business, Dave Levinski, and the guy who brought me in, Vince DeLuca. What a foursome, all connected to my life in the wrestling business in very important ways. Dave had no recollection of the match and asked if I have a copy. Of course I do.
My favorite Lozanski match from that period was a CNWA Calgary bout with Flowers where for some reason the tope missed and Mike landed head first on the concrete. Ed Whelan interviewed Mike after the match and he had a knot the size of a walnut on his forehead and should have been knocked goofy. But Lozanski finished the match and got through the interview. Mike Lozanski had a lot of great ingredients including ability, dedication, guts and a love for wrestling.
He had some bad breaks including a bad car accident a few years ago. I saw him at the All Star Wrestling facility in Vancouver in 2000 and almost didn't recognize him. It seemed to me that the accident and lifestyle had aged him quite a bit. We spoke of his tryout with ECW and how he got along with Paul Heyman. Most of all we remembered that crazy Summer of '89 when we learned what the wrestler life on the road was really all about, and how "kids these days" don't understand what it is means to pay dues.
The years had been hard on Mike but he was hopeful of getting back to Mexico with his longtime partner Dobie Gillis, and they did get in a run last year. They were planning to go back to Monterey, in April. (They had traveled in Mexico with Sarah Stock, Chi Chi's girlfriend. Amazing how the circle kept coming around for us all.)
Dobie wants everyone to know that Mike had spoken frequently of those early days in Winipeg and Mike really loved that time of his life, wrestling in his dad's hometown.
Dobie told me Mike had just been visiting him in Vancouver and went home for Christmas and to get his wind back. Apparently Mike broke a rib in Acapulco and his lungs had filled with fluid. He had a tube put in and taken out, and he was on the mend. It is thought that maybe the injury contributed to his sudden passing.
His death has hit home with a lot of us, across Canada and the world, because we all remember Mike as the eager curly haired kid with the bright smile, perfect teeth gleaming, tanned and fresh, wanting to get in the ring and have a good match ...
We remember the kid with the whole world at his feet and a whole future ahead of him.
For Dobie and myself, a little brother who we always loved and thought about no matter what the distance or passing of time.
For the boys a great guy to travel and hang out with.
For the fans a babyface they could get behind and cheer.
For his family a son and brother who followed his dream but came home for Christmas.
For 2 little kids he was their dad.
The legacy of Mike Lozanski is not measured in great matches or titles, it is measured by the lives he touched and the affection for him, all over the world, for a man who as Dobie said "you couldn't help but love".
Rest in peace, brother.
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from the boys:
Moondog Manson says "After a long hard thought about what I wanted to do, I realized retirement isn't what I wanted. Why would I give these knuckleheads the satisfaction of retirement when I can terrorize them ten fold in the ring.".