Eddie Sharkey - the mythic Twin Cities' trainer of wrestling superstars - Road Warriors, Rick Rude and Tom Zenk
FINAL - Part 4 of a story by Mike Mosedale
from City Pages
"Sharkey's admiration for the WWF's Vince McMahon, and his contempt for the WCW, the outfit that dumped Charlie Norris and screwed Lenny Lane"
It is November 4, a little after 6:00 p.m., when Sharkey arrives at Grumpy's in Coon Rapids. Dressed in jeans, a leather sport coat, and a canary-yellow shirt, he is a bundle of nerves. "I'm up to my neck in shit as usual. Story of my life," he sighs, sidling up to a barstool. He explains that he just sold his home in Edina. His divorce from Princess Littlecloud has just been finalized, and he has been scrambling to find a condo or an apartment by the end of the month. For now, though, he is worried about the bottom line.
A good turnout could mean a regular gig; maybe here, maybe at the bigger Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis. As usual, Sharkey has enlisted his wrestlers from camp to sell tickets. Ten bucks a pop. "I've got a lot of new guys on tonight. New guys sell a lot of tickets," he explains. "The old guys don't, and they shouldn't have to."
Terry Fox, Sharkey's partner, is already on hand, busily assembling the ring with the assistance of a few wrestlers who are paying off their camp tuition with a little sweat. The ring is wedged into a corner of the bar, pressed up against a pair of big picture windows. Because of the room's long, narrow shape, the best view is from the parking lot. This worries Sharkey. "We gotta make sure the crowd gets in a good mood from the start," he says, assessing the situation through his thick wire-framed glasses. The wrestlers have a more pressing concern than sightlines. A section of suspended ceiling hangs dangerously low over the ring. In one corner, a metal fire sprinkler mounted to the ceiling looks particularly hazardous. "Five to one somebody's gonna hit their head," offers Patrick Cooper, a camp regular who has come to man one of the television cameras for a cable-access taping. Sharkey eyeballs the ceiling: "The guys better be careful tonight. Damn careful." Of course, Sharkey notes, anyone who has wrestled in the garage at camp ought to know a thing or two about working around a low ceiling.
How to take a hit and not get hurt: At Ed Sharkey's wrestling school, students learn the basicsPHOTO BY MICHAEL DVORAK
Sharkey is carrying a note pad on which he has scribbled tonight's card. Seven matches, mostly guys and gals from camp. The wrestlers arrive in dribs and drabs. Mitch Paradise, a strapping six-foot-five-inch, 27-year-old farmer from New Prague, ambles in an hour or so before show time. Sharkey is optimistic about Paradise's chance to make the big time. "He's got the look, and he's natural," he says, meaning that Paradise has the sort of bulk and cut the WWF looks for, without the use of steroids. Another Sharkey student, "Doctor" Darin Davis, arrives a few minutes later. In real life The Doctor is a soft-spoken computer programmer who bears a striking resemblance to actor Timothy Busfield. And he has the gimmick to end all gimmicks, one that has made him a fan favorite. He's a proctologist. In all his matches, Davis inevitably produces a rubber glove, which he waves about with a devilish smirk. And, invariably, the crowd loves it. "It's funny, when I started out with Dr. Darin, I was definitely a heel. But the fans turned, and so now I'm usually a face," the Doctor says, pointing out with an amiable grin, that the glove is not his finishing move.
One by one, the rest of the wrestlers lope off to a corner of the bar's kitchen, which serves as tonight's locker room. It is cramped, but Sharkey has seen worse. In a recent show at another north-metro bar, Sharkey says, there was absolutely nowhere to change, which forced the wrestlers to don their spandex outside by a dumpster and a grease bin. By the time the show begins, the tiny bar is packed with some 250 people, standing room only. After tweaking the lineup one last time, Sharkey plops down in the middle of the crowd to watch as his students take to the mat.
Helmut, actually a 22-year-old video-game magazine writer named Justin Leeper, incites the crowd with classic, old-school shtick. "I am from Germany! Germany!" he bellows in an accent that appears to be derived from repeated viewings of Hogan's Heroes. His opponent is a security guard from the Little Earth Housing Project in south Minneapolis who uses the stage name Stormwolf. Stormwolf and Helmut wage the usual battle, face versus heel, ending with Stormwolf's inevitable, come-from-behind triumph. Then Lacey, a 17-year-old high school student and camp regular, sashays to the ring for the second bout. She's leggy. Blonde. Pure face. Her opponent is Ashley, a bulky brunette. To signal that Ashley is tonight's heel, the ring announcer introduces her by saying that she is "from Canada." The crowd boos. Another seesaw battle. Another victory for the face. And so it goes for nearly two hours; a mix of the amateurish and the professional. Much care is exercised to avoid the low ceiling.
"The old great Hennepin Avenue...
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."
Finally, the main event. Charlie Norris--Sharkey's star pupil, the guy who puts the rookies through their paces at camp--is the star attraction. The two go back to 1989, when Sharkey spotted the hulking Norris at a wrestling card at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis and offered to train him gratis. Growing up in Minneapolis and on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Norris was always a big wrestling fan, so he leaped at the opportunity. Within a month, Sharkey got Norris his first show, in front of 950 rabid fans. Norris never looked back. During the last decade he has wrestled everywhere from New Guinea to Texas to Japan. He had a brief taste of the big time in the mid-Nineties, when he signed a contract with World Championship Wrestling and fought for a pay-per-view audience. The WCW gig ended poorly, with Norris ultimately suing for discrimination. "They wanted me to act like a goofy Indian from F-Troop," he complains. The suit, he says, was settled for $50,000, but the experience left a sour taste. After a few years of bouncing around on the independent circuit, he returned to Minnesota. Although Norris often wrestles on Sharkey's cards, he also acts as a partner, occasionally lining up lucrative shows at Indian-run casinos in the state.
Norris's match is a tag team. He is paired with a kid named Nick Mondo, who pulls off the night's most expertly executed stunt. Standing on the second rope, facing a corner post, Mondo flips backward and then lands perfectly flush on top of his opponent, a kid named Primetime. The move is known as a moonsault. After the crowd cheers, Norris and Hellraiser Guts are tagged in, and Norris delivers some stiff forearms and clotheslines, and the crowd is riled. They chant "Char-LEE! Char-LEE!" over and over. Finally, Norris lands with a thud on top of Primetime and the ref bangs the mat three times. Show over.
As the fans begin to file out of the bar, Sharkey heads to the kitchen, where a small desk serves as the payout table. The cash ($30 to $70 dollars for most of the wrestlers) is quickly dispensed. "I love these bar shows," Sharkey says. "We get the gate, they get the drinks, and everybody leaves happy." He crams a wad of bills into his jeans. He is circumspect about tonight's profit margin but insists it is modest, a couple of hundred bucks at best. And then he returns to the barroom. Finally starting to relax, he takes a seat at an open table and begins to tell war stories. He talks of his juvenile incarceration at Red Wing, his winters in Hollywood, and the wrestlers from the old days: guys like his old friend Harley Race, who pulled out the fan's eye in Denver, and Badman Jose Quintero. The Badman was a classic, he says, "crazier than a shithouse rat." He also reminisces about more recent times, his admiration for the WWF's Vince McMahon, and his contempt for the WCW, the outfit that dumped Charlie Norris and screwed Lenny Lane "just when he was starting to get some heat." But mostly Sharkey talks about the beginning, about hanging out downtown with the boys.
"If I could only go back and stand on the old street corners. The old great Hennepin Avenue, not the shithole now," Sharkey says, letting the thought trail off for a moment, taking a sip from yet another brandy, sent over by an admiring fan. "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." Sharkey pauses again. He lets the thought sink in. And then Norris ambles over to the table with a final round of drinks. Full of high spirits, Norris declares the show a great success. "I had people hugging and kissin' me in the parking lot, and I didn't hardly do a thing," he says with a broad smile. "Eddie, you're my best friend, brother. We always have fun. We always have laughs."
Sharkey nods in agreement, then leans back in his chair, stuffs his cigarette into the ashtray and dips a stalk of celery into a cup of blue-cheese dressing. "We put asses in the seats, Charlie," he says, gnawing on the celery. 'That's all that matters. Asses in the seats."
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
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