Joe Babinsack on Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling reunion



 
Dateline: Greensburg, PA
 

This weekend I attended a Studio Wrestling Reunion event, meeting up with the global travelling/former WCW Announcer Chris Cruise, to meet the Living Legend himself and talk to some of his wrestling buddies.

It was the fourth installment of regional get-togethers of mostly Pittsburgh area wrestlers and wrestling history, and of course, Ivan Koloff is forever ingrained in the area’s pro wrestling lore, even though no one has any ill-will to the one time “Russian Bear” who dethroned The Living Legend some forty years ago in Madison Square Garden.

Koloff, of course, was one of Bruno’s favorite opponents, and that knee drop (which landed across Bruno’s neck or mid-section, depending on who’s recollecting the impact) launched a career that reached into the 1990’s, including long stints with WCW and well as various Tag Team and Six Man Tag Team Championships.

These days, Ivan is running a Christian Ministry, and while the twin tolls of time and the physical devastation of a high profile wrestling career seem to have slowed him a bit, there was nothing so interesting as seeing the fans interact with the old-timer, and nothing so nice as talking to the former WWWF Champion about the good old days.

The “Friends of Bruno” were in force, with President Christopher Cruise leading the introductions and initiating conversations with fans, event orchestrators and wrestlers alike. I was somewhat abashed at the introductions – my presence means nothing in the face of greats like Sammartino, Koloff, Zbyszko and “The Battman” himself, Tony Marino, plus an assortment of Pittsburgh greats like Frank Durso, Johnny DeFazio, Hurrican Hunt and Frank Holtz – but spending some time with one of WCW’s greatest announcers is always worth the time and travel.

And Chris Cruise thinks nothing of driving 250 miles or flying thousands of miles to meet Bruno!

Words can’t describe the scene when I was introduced to Larry Zbyszko by Bruno, with compliments on my writing and knowledge. I found Larry to be surprisingly in good humor, and while getting a knife-edge chop to the chest wasn’t pleasant, I guess that initiated me into talking shop. After asking Cruise (who talks to Larry monthly) what not to say to rile him up (or was that what to say to rile him up), we decided that TNA were the letters.

But Larry wasn’t biting.

Well, he did have his words for how idiotic it was for TNA not to make use of his color commentary skills and proximity to Orlando, but I think those of us who listened to Larry as a WCW commentator know how that goes!

Larry was interested in what I thought of his book, even though Chris emailed that review to him years ago. Well, actually, that’s what got me a chop in the chest. Nowhere near the devastation of Roderick Strong or Eddie Edwards, but Larry is a former AWA Champ, not a current or recently former ROH Champ.

By the way, I learned that Larry wrote out his book freehand and then had to type it in… Since I know all about notebooks piled two feet high in preparation for such writing, that was a definite impression.

I was regaled by the movies Larry was in, a brief talk about a former stripper girlfriend and some choice words and commentary about current and past promoters. Well, everyone knows what Bruno feels about the McMahons, and Larry speculates to Chris as to why he never went back to the WWF.

Larry once again confirmed what he said in his book and what I heard in conversations with someone else that knew, that his negotiating tactics during the Living Legend feud that skyrocketing his career were of his doing, but guided by another voice.

I have the privilege of getting Tony Marino’s card, and the former “Mr. America” – Bruno himself touted The Battman’s prowess as a body builder – and hope to talk to him in detail. Another great talk was had with Chilly Billy himself, Bill Cardille.

These two guys were great to meet in person, and what’s funny is that I’ve spent the past few days transcribing an awesome video of a documentary created in the 1970’s with the assistance of George Romero (the Pittsburgh native and all-time great horror director). This video, borrowed from the archives of Chris Cruise himself, is called “The Winners” and is an installment of a series of documentaries about Champions of the Decade of the 1970’s.

Bruno’s piece is called “Strong Man” and details much of his life, and a lot of the ‘realities’ of professional wrestling.

Two of the classic figures in the piece are Bill Cardille and Tony Marino (under a hood, as The Batman…. Which of course we all know is spelled The Battman (sorry, DC Comics!))

Another voice on the piece is Doctor CItovese, who was Bruno’s personal doctor and a physician who treated many wrestlers in that era.

Both the good doctor and Cardille had their working shoes on and presented a perspective on the sport that most of us who truly mark out about wrestling can appreciate. The amazing part of the video was the jarring image of Marino under the hood, after all this serious talk about professional wrestling.

But Marino was a solid voice in talking about what Bruno was like and his love of the sport and his adopted country.

I’m hesitant to do a full review of a video that is not readily available, but I know Bruno and his lawyer have the rights to produce it, and I believe there are talks to put this and several other Bruno videos out on DVD.

As always it is an honor and a pleasure to meet Bruno in person. After more than a half-decade of talking to THE MAN on the phone, he’s the essence of a gentleman, always remembers my wife’s name, and even when he’s rushing to meet his own appointments, he’s always appreciative of his fans.

I’m still waiting the final word on that movie deal so I can report it, and still hopeful of truly being able to say that I’m working on Bruno’s book, but meeting several guys with great perspectives on Bruno’s career was an important opportunity: Larry Z – Bruno’s most successful protégé; Ivan Koloff, one of two men who can claim to have bested Bruno for his Championship (and the better wrestler of the two!), and a man who worked with Bruno as a host of Studio Wrestling, before during and after the time when Bruno owned the local territory. Throw in the assorted Pittsburgh wrestling greats, the color commentator of “When Worlds Collide” and a wannabe ‘rasslin’ writer and that’s a pretty strong dais.

But the main point, as I don’t want to go on and on and on and then find out three months later that The Italian Tribune copped my drivel without attribute, is that local shows like this are important to the veteran wrestlers, and I highly recommend attending one in your area.

The old-timers don’t have much financial support other than the fan festivals, signings and conventions; and the promoters doing these events are putting up the risks of continuing these connections between fans and fan favorites.

And I can tell from seeing a few of them, that no matter what you pay for talking, autographs and pictures, it’s well worth the enjoyment…. And these guys talking to you really do appreciate being remembered as much as you want to enjoy the nostalgia yourself.

Joe Babinsack can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Edwards vs Strong, EVOLVE, DG USA, more ROH and getting back to Women’s wrestling soon, plus an interesting Kayfabe Commentary DVD to review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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