July 9, 2011

Rock Hollow Gun Club , Freeport, IL

by Dr. Abner Mality

I wasn't looking for it, but I found America in a sandpit behind a gun club in Freeport, Illinois on a warm July day. It was Mom and Dad, Grampa and Grandma, loud-mouthed little kids, bikers, farmers and weirdos like me all gathered together in the Midwest to see grown men (and women) beat each other silly. It was Frontier Championship Wrestling's Wrestlerock 3!

This is wrestling the way it was meant to be. Up close and in your face, in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd of real fans there to cheer for the hometown hero and against the arrogant heel. Not the bland, plastic talkathon you get on TV these days, presented with all the spontaneity and grittiness of an episode of "Hannah Montana". Screw corporate wrestling! This was the real deal!

I didn't even know that Rock Hollow, the home of many an excellent ILDM metal show, was playing host to Frontier Championship Wrestling on a regular basis, but apparently this small but vigorous promotion has been running there since 2009 and had stars like Brutus Beefcake, Buck "Rock N' Roll" Zum Hofe, ODB and more along for the ride. Once I found out the biggest FCW event of the year was going to be at Rock Hollow, I knew I couldn't miss the show!

This year's line-up was particularly strong and featured about the most eclectic group of wrestlers you could imagine. The whole bash was hosted by none other than Steve "Mongo" McMichael, the infamous Pro Bowl defenseman for the Chicago Bears who became an equally notorious pro wrestler and member of the elite Four Horseman clique. Now the Good Doctor is a diehard Green Bay Packer fan, so it stuck in my craw to play nice with Mongo. By the end of the evening, my misgivings about McMichael proved to be correct, but before then, I managed to get an autograph from the big man and even chat with him for a bit.

As for the actual wrestlers, they included the long time veteran Tracy Smothers the "wild eyed Southern Boy", the huge Samoan and part-time superhero Rosey of WWE fame, the notorious hardcore freak Madman Pondo who has probably bled more than any wrestler alive and the young and cocky Ryan "Skid Mark" Howe, who had recently participated in WWE's "Tough Enough" competition. Along with these more well-known names, we had the FCW regulars, who almost all come from the local area. That included FCW champ Stumpy from nearby Warren, the obnoxious Captain Jack who is also a DJ on WXRX and high flying Bucky Collins, amongst others. And the ladies also put in an appearance...ultra-tough and foul-mouthed Mickie Knuckles and pretty Jessie Belle Smothers, daughter of Tracy. The only thing missing were midgets! Maybe next time!

I got to the Hollow plenty early and laid down $20 for a "meet-and-greet" with Mongo and the other wrestlers. Let me describe to you the cool layout for wrestling at Rock Hollow. First, you come through the hunt club itself, complete with full service bar and kitchen (the poppers are excellent!). After you walk through that, you are on a spacious wooden deck where the wrestlers have their "gimmick tables" where they sell souvenirs, sign autographs and talk to the fans. Wooden stairs lead down to the grassy area below, where a huge sand pit usually used for volleyball holds the wrestling ring. There are no bleachers here, folks! The crowd brings their own lawn chairs or sits on the grass. It's a basic set up but oh so cool. None of the sterile chrome-and-steel ramps, giant video screens or overdone sets you see on TV...this is rasslin' not too different from the old carny days of the early 20th century!

Up on the deck, I managed to get the autograph of Steve McMichael along with a picture and listen to the veteran talk. Mongo was pretty much the kind of guy I thought he'd be...a big, easy-going jock who relaxed and didn't take things too seriously. He made some remarks about Dusty Rhodes' daughter who was a pro football cheerleader ("she had the goods, brother!"), being present at Arn Anderson's last match in Green Bay, and his former Chicago Bear team-mate Wilbur Marshall ("that man was too much for wrestlin'...he'd throw enough potato shots to put the whole locker room in the hospital!").  Things got serious when the subject of deceased wrestlers came up. "Chris Benoit was my best friend in the biz," Mongo said. "They say it's the quiet ones that lose it." He also mentioned the late Curt Hennig as another good buddy. McMichael took plenty of times for pictures and autographs, especially with the kids. Alas, we would all find out later on it was just a facade...

Also hobnobbed with some other wrestlers on the deck. Mr. Tracy Smothers, who has been wrestling since the early 80's, is about as soft spoken and gracious a guy as you could imagine. He also was glad to sign autographs and take pictures and he brought a huge collection of luchador masks with him to sell. As quiet as he was on the deck, later on in the ring he'd let loose with a barrage of insults and BS in true Southern heel tradition. I also talked to local wrestler Dan The Man, who takes his superhero gimmick seriously. The two "life partners" Peter B. Beautiful and Juicy Jimmy Felcher, complete with pink ring gear and sparkly make-up, admired my John Wayne Gacy T-shirt. These two bouncing behemoths provided much of the entertainment at Wrestlerock with their campy antics. Also on deck was the fearsome looking Madman Pondo, a dude who has bled almost as much as he has made others bleed.

After a relaxing time hanging out with the performers and meeting my friend Slayer, the show kicked off with an introduction from our host, Mongo McMichael, who told us how glad he was to be with "kinfolk" at Rock Hollow. He was rudely interrupted by Captain Jack, local DJ at WXRX turned musclebound heel. Accompanied by a couple of comely skanks, Jack at first seemed to kiss up to McMichael before dropping the bomb on him that he was "over-rated". That led to a dust-up between the two. Jack would return for the night's main event, a cage match with FCW champion and hometown boy Stumpy. Jack has really improved, both physically and on the mike, since the early days I saw him as a clumsy babyface in Randy Ricci's old promotion. Little did we know the turn events would take later on...

First match featured Judge Jesse versus Freeport's own Alan Flawlezz. Jesse took his judicial duties seriously, wearing a ten cent judge's wig and black robe while coming out to the theme music from "The People's Court". He was the obvious heel and drew calls of "Judge Judy!", "Overruled!", etc. Flawlezz looks like Li'l Wayne's brother jacked up to the max. Flawlezz got the pin after a decent match.

Next we had tag team action. Matt Longtime is aptly named, because he's been involved in the Midwest wrestling scene for a long time. He's an excellent athlete and cocky heel who's done some enhancement work for WWE. His partner was the much greener, not quite as athletic but still plenty cocky Joey Rose. They faced an odd duo known as Public Works. Chad Falcon is a skinny guy in street gear who comes out with a lovable puppy to make sure he gets on the crowd's good side. Jack Carpenter comes out with a hammer and hard hat and hails from...where else?...Carpentersville. Public Works got the win when Falcon hit Rose with a very nice frog splash from the top rope. Kinda surprised that Longtime didn't pick up the win.

A word about the crowd. There were a bunch of loud-mouthed screaming kids jumping on the heels in every match with clever comments like "You suck!". Thank God they were there, because the rest of the crowd was slow to react to anything except big spots. But the kids were good foils for the heels and kept a good, steady level of noise going.

A good old fashioned squash was up next. Peter B. Beautiful, the "Hardcore Homosexual", brought out his life partner Juicy Jimmy Felcher for the next bout. These guys are no-fear queers who are in your face with their gay schtick, calling each other "honey" and "sweety". C.M. Punk would probably hate them. They are also VERY big. Juicy Jimmy is a mammoth hunk of man meat, weighing in at over 400 pounds. His victim for this bout was A.J. Brody from my own hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Poor A.J. looked about 150 lbs soaking wet and was totally engulfed by the monstrous Felcher. Some wag from the crowd yelled "I have had turds bigger than this guy!". As you might expect, Juicy Jimmy squashed Brody with a big splash that had the audience cringing.

Mr. Ryan "Skid Marks" Howe, fresh off the WWE reality show "Tough Enough", was in the next bout. He's a very athletic looking blond haired heel who took great pains to tell the audience not to refer to him as "Skid Mark"...which totally ensured that they would do just that. His opponent was a small masked luchador guy known as American Kickboxer 2. These guys had a cool little match with a lot of athleticism. If Kickboxer had about 20 extra pounds, he could really be something, but again, the size and power differential took its toll and "Skid Mark" picked up a hard fought win. This is a guy who could really go places.

A four way tag team elimination match would determine who the first FCW tag team champs would be. This was one of the strangest matches I've ever seen, complete with four of the weirdest tag combinations you could imagine. First we had "The New F.B.I", which was Tracy Smothers reprising the old phony Italian gimmick he did in ECW but this time with the rotund Romeo Valentino as his partner. Next up was "The Athletic Department", comprised of Coach Halvorson and Tyler "Dodgeball" Preigle, who came to the ring toting a bag of ...you guessed it...dodgeballs. Don't know if Coach is a real coach, but before the match started, he got on his cellphone and put in an order for two Little Caesar's pizzas to be delivered to "T. Smothers and R. Valentino". This would have a BIG bearing on the outcome of the match.

The Superheroes were the red-masked and diminutive Dan The Man and fellow crimefighter, the huge masked Samoan Rosey. Rosey had some mild fame in the WWE doing the superhero gimmick with "Hurricane" Helms. These guys were a Mutt-and-Jeff tag team if ever there was one. The fourth team was the roughest and toughest, Honor and Justice. Paulie Thomaselli was the "Honor" part of the team and resembled a human pitbull while Justice Jones was a big, intimidating guy who came to the ring with a police nightstick.

Smothers started with a lot of heel blab about how much of a hicktown Freeport was and how much better "Nashville, Italy" was. He tried to bribe big Rosey to turn against his partner for the princely sum of five bucks. When Rosey turned that down, the FBI challenged the Superheros to a dance-off, which led to Smothers and Valentino twitching spastically for a few minutes until Honor and Justice got tired of the nonsense and started to brawl.

Dan The Man can move good, but this little guy took ungodly punishment during the match and seemed to be legitimately thrashed. Despite a valiant fight from the crimefighters, Dan was finally pinned by Honor and Justice. While this was going on, the pizzas arrived for Smothers and Valentino, who were so overwhelmed by the goodies that they quit the match to munch pizza and drink beer on the sidelines. Now that might be good for a brief laugh, but what does it say about the importance of the tag titles when a team quits the match for pizza? And CRAPPY pizza at that? Bad booking is what I call that.

That left the Athletic Department, who had barely wrestled at all so far, against Honor and Justice in a straight tag battle for the titles. Coach showed a lot of fire and fight but Preigle didn't do much. Against thugs like Honor and Justice, he should have at least used the dodgeballs but they never were a factor. In the end, the power and sheer meanness of Honor and Justice overcame the jocks. That made sense, because they were clearly the most cohesive unit. Your new FCW tag team champions...Honor and Justice!

The intensity was kicked up to the extreme with the next match, a falls count anywhere ladies match between Mickie Knuckles and Jessie Belle Smothers, the pretty blonde daughter of Tracy Smothers. Mickie has quite a reputation in the Midwest for being one of the meanest, most hardcore female wrestlers around and she lived up to it here. Earlier in the day, she had been sweetness and light and even complimented me on my hat. But after her ring introduction, she unleashed a foul-mouthed torrent of insults that probably shocked the hell out of the moms and dads in the audience. These two gals tore into each other like a couple of raging she-cats and the match went every and anywhere! Slayer and me were almost trampled by the duo and Mickie was slammed HARD into the telephone pole next to us! Almost none of the match took place in the ring. Despite putting up a stiff fight, the size, strength and sheer bitchiness of Knuckles won the day. For good measure, she clobbered the ref and decked the ring announcer so hard that he couldn't do the next match!

Due to that incident, Captain Jack returned to insult the crowd and Steve McMichael some more. He also brought along one of his skanks to announce the next bout. Well, if Mickie Knuckles vs. Jessie Belle Smothers was hardcore, this was another step above that...the "Hardcore Homosexual" Peter B. Beautiful vs the legendary extreme freak Madman Pondo. Let me tell you a little something about Pondo...this guy lives to bleed and bleeds to live. Not really a "wrestler" in the strictest sense of the word, he's a sadomasochistic brawler known for his crazy acts of violence in indy leagues like CZW and most recently, Juggalo Championship Wrestling. He can take it as well as dish it out and one look at his face tells you all you need to know about Madman Pondo. It looks like somebody scrapes his forehead with a cheese grater every night. True to form, Pondo came to this match with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, a STOP sign and a folding steel chair.

Despite his preference for pink and horrible choice of entrance music, Peter B. Beautiful is more than an interior decorator gone bad. He's not afraid to go to the extreme and he proved it in this bloodbath of a match. Peter B. brought along his life partner, the hulking Juicy Jimmy, to help him out. Jimmy was a hoot yelling "Don't hurt my man!" during the mayhem.

I've seen some tough hardcore matches before but this was pretty nuts. Every form of weapon was used, including a fork, a stapler, the barbed wire baseball bat, the stop sign and more. You see some of the aftermath here. Pondo hauled Beautiful up the stairs to the deck and stapled a dollar bill right to his forehead. Talk about making a tip the hard way! Peter bled like a stuck pig, but give this big man credit, he was right back at Pondo and managed to staple a dollar to Madman's ear, where it stayed for most of the match. To quote Gordon Solie, each man's face became a crimson mask. In what had to be considered a major upset, Peter B. Beautiful used the help of Juicy Jimmy to get the win on Madman Pondo! Pondo didn't take too kindly to that and used that barbed wire bat to carve up the queer compadres. He grabbed a mike and thanked the crowd for giving him the opportunity to entertain them. What a way to make a living!

A profusely bleeding Peter also grabbed the mike and delivered a shoot, saying it was one of his dreams to face Madman Pondo in a hardcore match. He also said that he was retiring from wrestling at next year's Wrestlerock 4, win, lose or draw. The crowd actually gave him a hand as he left the match area.

We were now getting to the nitty gritty of the afternoon. The FCW US title was on the line next as two aerial daredevils challenged each other in an unusual ladder match. Champion TW3, a cocky young dude, put his belt up against local favorite Bucky Collins. I actually talked to Bucky's dad inside the club when getting chow...a nice guy who's proud of his son. These guys delivered by far the best technical match of the day, one that wouldn't have been out of place in TNA's X-Division.

This ladder match was set up differently than any I've ever seen. Usually the belt hangs suspended on a wire above the ring, with both competitors trying to commandeer a ladder to grab the belt. Not this time. The belt hung high on a telephone pole OUSIDE the ring, with a ladder right under it. There was also a ladder in the ring and yet another one on the outside on the opposite side of the ring.

The match was full of innovative high impact moves, too many for me to adequately describe. Both men worked very stiff, particularly TW3, who delivers some devastating kicks. The ladders were often used as weapons, both inside and outside of the ring and there were plenty of times when both men came close to grabbing the belt. The crowd was on the edge of their seats. Finally, TW3 missed a huge move to the outside, allowing Bucky to grab the belt and become the new FCW US champion! The crowd showered the hometown hero with cheers, but TW3 looked like he legitimately hurt himself, as he needed the help of a couple of men to leave the ringisde area.

Last match of the card was the steel cage match between champ Stumpy and challenger Captain Jack. By now, the sun had gone down, leaving the ring area to be bathed by floodlights. It took quite a while for the 12 foot high cage to be erected...this was a real old-school cage with the wire right up against the ring ropes instead of a structure outside the whole ring area.

One of several referees working the show was local character Rocky James. This joker was formerly lead singer of the band Hogtied and currently singer for Final Days. Rocky's big enough to do some rasslin' himself, but he's apparently not a stranger to the striped shirt, having worked some other FCW events. I guess he's partial to heels and seems to be allied with Captain Jack. Before he entered the cage to ref the match, he was waffled with a steel chair held by Mongo McMichael. That was Mongo trying to help the odds for Stumpy...or so we thought.

By the time the main event started, I got the feeling the crowd was kind of tired. It was hard to make things out in the gloom, but I saw that Stumpy, the big lovable farmboy and FCW Champ, was busted open pretty good. Captain Jack is a great heel and in fine shape, but is not much of a technical wrestler. Ergo, the match itself was a lot of "clubberin'", as Dusty Rhodes would say, and each man tossing the other into the cage, which at times seemed to be dangerously close to falling apart completely.

After a tough struggle, a bloody Stumpy made his way to the cage door. The first man to leave would win and if Stumpy won, Captain Jack would be fired from FCW! Then came the big swerve. As Stumpy made ready to leave the cage, Mongo McMichael stepped up and slammed it as hard as he could into the big man's head! Mongo and Jack were in cahoots all along! A triumphant Captain Jack easily exited the cage to become the NEW FCW champion. He embraced his crony Mongo as his escort girls bounced up and down in glee.

All of which goes to prove one thing: NEVER TRUST A HORSEMAN! Or a CHICAGO BEAR!!!

So that was Wrestlerock 3! The FCW competitors are maybe not super high work rate wrestlers like the guys in ROH or Evolve, but they put a lot of heart and soul into their work and provide some good old fashioned rasslin' entertainment. In the beautiful country setting behind the Rock Hollow Gun Club on a fine day in July, you couldn't ask for a much better example of Americana.

See you next year at Wrestlerock 4!!!