Eddie Sharkey - the mythic Twin Cities' trainer of wrestling superstars - Road Warriors, Rick Rude and Tom Zenk
Part 3 of a story by Mike Mosedale
from City Pages

Eddie Sharkey vs 'King' Harley Race

 

"Sharkey proceeded to shoot up the AWA headquarters with a 9 mm pistol..."



As the years wore on, Sharkey grew weary of the constant travel. Looking for another source of income in the late Sixties, he partnered up with Peterson on the first of several mutual business ventures, opening a massage parlor in downtown Minneapolis. Around that same time he became smitten with a woman wrestler named Dixie Jordan. Like Sharkey, Jordan worked for the AWA, wrestling under the name Princess Littlecloud. In the early 70s, an episode involving the Princess cemented Sharkey's reputation as a wild man. According to Peterson, it all began when Sharkey caught wind of the AWA's plans to send Princess Littlecloud to Japan. As Sharkey, the Princess, and Peterson sat at a downtown tavern discussing the matter, Sharkey grew convinced that Gagne had improper designs on his girlfriend. Incensed, he marched down to the old Dykeman Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, where the AWA had its headquarters, and proceeded to shoot up the empty offices with a 9 mm pistol. (Sharkey confirms the story, but prefers not to discuss the details. Gagne, who insists he doesn't remember Princess Littlecloud, says he was never certain who shot up his offices, though he always suspected Sharkey.)

Whatever the truth of the matter, the incident ended Sharkey's career with the AWA. He and Peterson went into the gym business for a couple of years, training boxers and wrestlers. But after marrying Princess Littlecloud and having a son and a daughter, Sharkey decided it was time to settle down. He sold his interest in the gym, began dabbling in antiques and military collectibles, then quit the wrestling business for eight years.
 
 

Charlie Norris, Ed Sharkey's star pupil, looks on as wrestlers work on a headlock
PHOTO BY MICHAEL DVORAK


 

"Sharkey had stumbled on to what would become the hottest tag team of the Eighties: the Road Warriors."


By the early Eighties, wrestling was beginning to change radically. A tag-team duo known as the British Bulldogs, influenced by the pioneering acrobatics of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, began incorporating risky, high-flying, off-the-ropes stunts into their act, spawning a slew of imitators. Wrestlers were also becoming stronger and sporting bigger muscles, in part because of an increase in steroid use. Meanwhile, wrestling's old order was upset by the brash, scorched-earth tactics of the New York-based World Wrestling Federation. The WWF spent much of the decade raiding Gagne's AWA of its top talent and built its brand by syndicating shows in every major television market in the country.

WWF president Vince McMahon further shocked the wrestling establishment by publicly declaring professional wrestling "sports entertainment." The move laid to rest the conceit that wrestling was an honest contest, freeing promoters from the watchful eye of state athletic commissions. It also paved the way for the bombastic plot lines and rock 'n' roll production values that would become staples of RAW IS WAR and Smackdown!, currently cable TV's highest-rated programs. "Now, of course, nobody will defend wrestling as 'real.' But it was McMahon who pulled the thorn out of the paw," observes writer Bert Sugar. As the WWF, and its chief rival the WCW, ate into the fan base, the old system of territories began to wither. As it turned out, the WWF's ascent, and the accompanying decline of the AWA, created an opening for small, independent promoters.

In 1982 Sharkey drifted back into the squared circle. Like his initial entry into the business, the return came by accident. At the time, he was tending bar at a northeast Minneapolis establishment called Grandma B's, when two young bouncers who were aware of Sharkey's wrestling background came calling for some tutelage. Looking to make a few bucks, Sharkey agreed. As it turned out, he had stumbled on to what would become the hottest tag team of the Eighties: the Road Warriors. Back in action as a trainer, Sharkey decided to cash in on the wrestling boom by putting on his own indie cards at bars and nightclubs under the banner of Pro Wrestling America (PWA). He also began supplying talent to other small-time promoters.

"Eddie had his hands in a lot of different shows. In the mid-Eighties he was doing phenomenally well at a place called George's in Fridley, and a lot of the guys he was training were getting tryouts in New York and Atlanta," says TV's wrestling announcer Mick Karch. "And a lot of the guys he trained over the years became superstars, guys like Rick Rude and the Road Warriors and Jesse [Ventura]. I don't know how much of that had to do with Eddie's training. I just think that he's been around long enough that he has a lot of established contacts and respect. And when he's had talent on his hands, he's been able to point them in the right direction."
 


"So all of the sudden the ref keeps telling me, 'Go home! Go home!' I didn't know what the hell it meant, so I just kept wrestling."



He was also willing to take risks, says wrestler Lenny Lane, who began his career with Sharkey. "Eddie got me the third match of my life in front of 17,000 in Des Moines. It was WWF show. Pay-per-view," Lane recalls. "Eddie told me, 'They're gonna ask you how many matches you've had. Tell 'em you've had 200. This is wrestling, so you have to exaggerate.'" The match was a disaster. While Lane already had the talent to wrestle, Sharkey hadn't instructed him on the fine points of industry lingo. In television tapings, referees routinely instruct wrestlers to "go home," which means finish the match. "Eddie never told me any of this. All I'd ever done was two independent shows," Lane remembers with a chuckle. "So all of the sudden the ref keeps telling me, 'Go home! Go home!' I didn't know what the hell it meant, so I just kept wrestling." In the locker room afterwards, Lane's opponent berated him mercilessly. As it turned out, the setback was only temporary. Lane, who ultimately signed on with the WCW and earned enough money to quit his day job in construction, remains loyal to Sharkey. To this day he occasionally wrestles in his shows and gives tips to students at Sharkey and Fox's camp.

Sharkey's successes as a trainer, meanwhile, gave him an in with the WWF, for whom he periodically works as a referee and talent scout. Unlike many old-timers, Sharkey regards today's wrestlers as superior athletes and showmen. "When I was wrestling, a match might last an hour, and you might spend a lot of the time working on an arm hold," he says. "Each generation is better than the next." In addition to putting on his own shows, Sharkey regularly supplies talent for other promoters, occasionally traveling as far as Japan and Kuwait. He says he has no intention of leaving the racket again. "It's all I do. I don't even fight it anymore. It's pretty hard to do anything else after you've been in this business," he says. "Kinda ruins you for anything else."

According to Sharkey, the PWA now stands as the longest-running indie wrestling promotion in the country. There have been occasional disruptions since his comeback, the longest of which came in the wake of a row with a fellow promoter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. "He [the other promoter] shorted us a hundred dollars, so I punched him," Sharkey explains matter-of-factly. "Then, just to be cute, I broke a beer bottle over his head. If I had just behaved myself, I would have gotten simple assault, but instead I got a felony." At trial, Sharkey cracked a bottle over his own head in an effort to prove that the particular brand of beer bottle was unlikely to cause serious injury. The judge was not impressed, and Sharkey got a six-month sentence, which he served at the Hennepin County Workhouse. "It was a terrible inconvenience and it cost me a ton of money, so that was pretty much the end of my brawling days," Sharkey says. "I was just sticking up for the boys. I sure hope they appreciated it."


Next week - Final

""If I could only go back and stand on the old street corners. The old great Hennepin Avenue .....I miss it. Every day of my life. I miss everything about it. Learning how to cheat. How to spot a cheater. It was all just so wonderful. Everybody was a character. Nobody was normal."
 
 

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