Wrestling Then and Now

by Dale Pierce

DALE PIERCE: Didn't you get involved with wrestling as a sheet editor, long before sheets were commonplace?

DR. THOM PARKS: Yes, I started my own newsletter in 1980. It did pretty well.

DP: What is the big difference, if any, between the sheets then and now?

TP: Well, for one thing, there were more sheets back then. Now, the Internet has really beaten up the sheet business. In order to have a print newsletter, you either have to be established like the Torch or the Observer or you have to fill a specific niche like Wrestling- Then & Now or the Wrestling Chatterbox.

DP: What about the way wrestlers treated sheet people then as opposed to now?

TP: Back in the 80s, most wrestlers treated sheet editors as "marks" for the most part. There were a few exceptions, but not many. Wrestlers would almost never give you the straight story on anything. Now, when news breaks, half the boys break their necks running to the phone to call Meltzer or Keller.

DP: Do you still read or write for the sheets? What about the Web?

TP: I write for sheets from time to time. WT&N's Evan Ginzburg has been very gracious and offered to let me write as I desire. As far as reading sheets, I love WT&N and the Wrestling Chatterbox. They're the best. I check out the wrestling news Web sites from time to time.

DP: You did most of your work as a referee, correct? How and when did you start?

TP: I did mainly referee. I started on Southeast "outlaw" groups in October 1982. I guess they would be called indy promotions today. A few years later, I landed a job as the Virginia promoter for a South Carolina-based promotion called Atlantic Coast Wrestling. It was during this time that I learned a lot about wrestling and managing, as well as refereeing and promotion.

DP: Didn't you also do some wrestling and managing?

TP: I did. I would wrestle if someone didn't show up or something like that. Promoters also discovered that I had a loud mouth and a good feel for what would get a guy some heat from the crowd. Every now and again, I'd end up managing a new guy who looked good and could work a little, but who didn't have the greatest speaking skills.

DP: Of all these things, you have been the referee most of all. Is this your role of choice in wrestling?

TP: I do like to referee. I always tried to give it my very best as a ref. I always wanted to have a little bit of a personality, but not to the point of taking the attention off of the wrestlers. After all, the wrestlers are the show. These days, to be honest, if I work another show, I would prefer to do it as a manager. These days, it fits my style and personality better.

DP: You were also a ringside photographer, correct?

TP: I sure was. I used to take photos for the Wrestling News and a few other magazines. That was always a lot of fun.

DP: You started out down south. Any memories of some of the southerners?

TP: I worked with a lot of the indy guys (or outlaws as we were called then) like T.J. Parker, Randy Colt, The Red Demon, and a bunch of others. These guys may not be household names, but they were great wrestlers. They really knew how to put on a show. Of course, growing up in the area that was promoted by Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, I got to cross paths with some of the greats like Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan, Paul Jones, Jack Brisco, and the like, but it will be the indy guys that I remember best, because they're the ones I worked with the most.

DP: You knew Jimmy Leon, who was a real character. Tell people about this guy.

TP: What can you say about Medardo James Leon? He was a character. He was a party animal, but he was also a very talented grappler. I really think he would have went far had he lived longer. Jimmy was funny and he could have a four star match versus a broom. He really had a lot of talent. It's just too bad that more people didn't get to see it. Of course, when you party as much as he did and do some of the unwise things he did, you can't expect a long lifespan. Even though we didn't see eye to eye on everything, Jimmy was probably my best friend in the wrestling business. Rest in peace, Jimmy. I sure miss you.

DP: Did you ever have an actual bout with him?

TP: No, I never wrestled Jim. I've refereed a ton of his matches, but I never had the opportunity to wrestle him. That's probably a good thing, because I don't think I could have kept up with him. He didn't care if there were only 25 fans at a show, he treated it as though there were 25,000. He gave it his all.

DP: In the early 1990s, you went to Arizona, and frankly, didn't think too much of some of the indys there. What was their main problem? What about now, as you still live there?

TP: Well, the Arizona independents had some talent, but none of them really seemed to have a vision of where they wanted to go or the commitment to go anywhere at all. It all seemed like a bad rerun of the Our Gang movies where one kid would say, "Hey, Gang. Let's put on a show."

In 2000, things took a turn for the better when Western States Wrestling was running. WSW was by far the best promotion I've seen in Arizona. They managed to combine old-school styles with some of the high-flying stuff from today and make it work. It's too bad that they lost their building.

Now, we have promotions in this state that are made up of backyarders who buy a ring. For the most part, their matches are horrid, but there have been some talented wrestlers to come out of these groups, once they received a little bit of real training. Of course, we also have Impact Zone Wrestling, which is a fairly professional group. Basically, IZW is a reincarnation of WSW with different booking. They try hard, and have great talent, but somehow miss catching whatever it was that made WSW so special. Overall, IZW is pretty good though.

DP: There were some standouts though. Who were they?

TP: Back in the early 90s when I moved to Arizona, some of the standouts here were guys like C.C. Starr, who is pretty much a legend in Arizona indy ranks. Then you had guys like Black Mamba and Mike Contreras who were always great to watch. Mamba is always entertaining, and I'm very proud that he's my friend. Other standouts who I enjoyed then would be the Mercenary from "Special Forces" and Hatchet Jack. The Mercenary moved away, and I'm not sure what happened to Hatchet Jack. He's another one who could have been great if not for the personal demons. I'm very glad that I had the chance to see one of the all-time greats like Tony Hernandez. That was great. Of course, I also got to see the premier manager in Arizona wrestling, The Time Traveler. Over the past few years, I tried to live up to the legacy that he started in Arizona wrestling, but as a manager, I suspect I fell a little short on that goal.

Probably the greatest wrestler performing in Arizona when I got here was "Thrillseeker" Terry Zeller. He was a total package. He had charisma and skill. He was very good and he knew it. Hanging around with the "Thrillseeker" was usually a lot of fun.

DP: "Thrillseeker" Terry Zeller had a lot of fans. You were impressed by him, right? Do you know where he is now?

TP: Terry was awesome to watch. He sure was popular. These days, I believe Terry is living in Las Vegas. I haven't talked to him in a while, but I hope he can make a trip back down to Arizona soon. Maybe I'll drive up to Vegas to say hi.

DP: Didn't you make a brief comeback as a manager in Arizona in 2000 or so?

TP: Yes. I came out of retirement to referee for WSW. I knew that C.C. Starr was going to do a retirement match at some point, and I wanted to referee that bout. Well, the retirement didn't happen as quickly as we thought, as C.C. had other plans. He was nice enough to name me as WSW's chief referee.

After a few months of refereeing, I started getting pushed aside in favor of some young, inexperienced referee that was friends with the Navajo Warrior. That caused me to re-think my career path a little bit.

At any rate, after being pushed aside, I left WSW as a referee and came back about a month later as a manager. I managed an awesome stable made up of the huge monster RAGE and the high-flying, tough-as-nails grappler known as Chainsaw. That was fun.

DP: What made you decide to quit?

TP: Well, I only came out of retirement to work with WSW. When they lost their venue at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I decided that the time was right to go back into retirement. Besides, I run my own Internet business, and with other interests, I really don't have a lot of time to devote to performing anymore. Besides, most indy promotions can't afford to put managers on the shows, and I really don't like working for free--that makes me pretty rare on today's indy circuit, but I think what I do has value, and I think I should be paid for it. Those are the major reasons.

DP: Now you're involved with the ministry, right?

TP: Yes. As I said, I'm an ordained minister with a non-denominational Christian church.

DP: There are a lot of wrestlers jumping on the religious bandwagon. Do you think many are sincere, or do you think a lot of them are working it?

TP: I hope most of them are sincere, and I think they are. Of course, you'll always have a few guys who'll try to work anything.

DP: Did you ever see Ted DiBiase and his Christian wrestling promotion? What do you think of it?

TP: I haven't seen it yet, but I have heard about it. They featured my pal Ivan Koloff a few times, and he told me about it. It sounds like they're doing pretty well.

DP: Did you ever meet "Superstar" Graham, who is also big on Christianity?

TP: Despite living in Arizona for 13 years, I've never met Superstar, but I would very much like to. I think his story is very inspirational.

DP: Don't you run a Web page or two now?

TP: Yes, I run my own Internet company. We design, host, and manage Web sites. One site we're working on now is wrestling-buzz.com. This site will be a store, a wrestler directory, and a place for young guys to get some publicity.

DP: You've started running a page for C.C. Starr also. Tell people about him. Why does he impress you?

TP: C.C. is just good. What else can you say? He knows the business. He loves the business, and he's got talent. A lot of the young guys out here owe their careers to C.C. Starr. We launched a Web site for C.C., it's www.ccstarr.com. After all, Arizona Wrestling's Hardcore Legend needs a Web site.

DP: Among Arizona indys, whom do you think is the best today?

TP: These days, some of the standouts would be guys like G.Q. Gallo, "Outlaw" Mike Nox, "Hawaiian Lion" John Williams, The Ballard Brothers, Rage & Chainsaw (I used to manage them. I have to include them) among others. We have a crop of good young talent in Arizona. I'm sure I left off many great youngsters, but this list is just what came immediately to mind.

DP: Do you still watch WWE and such, or are you jaded on it?

TP: I watch WWE from time to time, but not much. That's really sad, because there was a time in my life when I watched every minute of wrestling that was on TV. Of course what we're treated to today isn't really professional wrestling, it's "sports Entertainment." I just don't have a stomach for "sports entertainment."

DP: What are the biggest changes in the business since you started?

TP: There was a time when what took place in the ring was the whole show. Now, it's almost a side note. The WWE has people conditioned to a soap opera combined with a few five-minute matches. Wrestling used to be about psychology and getting the crowd into a match. I remember seeing a match where Ivan Koloff bloodied Ric Flair. The crowd went nuts. I though Ivan was going to be killed that night. Now, you can have a guy take fifty-seven chair shots to the head and be bleeding like a stuck pig and the crowd will either barely notice or they'll be talking and laughing. Today's product just doesn't get to the fans the way it once did.

DP: What wrestlers do you admire most of all?

TP: When I was growing up, I was a big fan of Johnny Weaver. Some younger fans may not know who he is, but he was awesome to watch. He was the very essence of what a "good guy" was. I'm also a big fan of Ric Flair, Nick Bockwinkel, Nelson Royal (RIP buddy) and a few others. Locally, I really look up to "Cowboy" Bob Yuma. He's a class act, and I'm so proud to call him my friend.

DP: Are there any you absolutely despise that you would want to mention, or is that a question you'd like to skip?

TP: No, I don't despise anyone. In fact, I try really hard to like everyone. It takes way too much energy to despise someone.

DP: Do you ever see yourself coming back to the ring?

TP: Not really. But I won't say it will never happen. If there's a promotion in town that I can make a real contribution to, I might make another comeback. At this point in my life, I don't have a real desire to travel, so it would have to be local in Phoenix. Who knows what tomorrow will hold?

DP: You know a lot about wrestling history. Why not write more?

TP: I love to write, but these days, it's just a matter of finding the time. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have all of them pretty filled up.

DP: Closing comments?

TP: I would like to thank everyone who has supported me during my career. I've had a wonderful time, and I hope that the people who have seen me perform have enjoyed themselves too. Take care and God bless, Everybody.

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