My busiest weekend – WrestleMania

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My view from the press box at the Houston Astrodome for WrestleMania 17.

The wrestling world is pretty excited that it is WrestleMania weekend. For me, it’s a little different.

It’s been years since I went to a WrestleMania — in Chicago for #22 in 2006, in fact. (I also went to WM VI as a fan in Toronto, and worked at WM XV in Philadelphia, WM 2000 in Anaheim, and WM 17 in Houston.) Since then, the SLAM! Wrestling site has continued to grow, along with the whole weekend. Whereas there were “just” a couple of Ring of Honor shows in Chicago in 2006 (including an incredible 65-minute draw between ROH World champion Bryan Danielson, er, Daniel Bryan, and Roderick Strong), now there is a smorgasbord of yummy wrestling shows for fans of all walks of life all around town.

Therefore my focus has switched from being the writer on site to being the editor in charge.

Much of my time the last week was spent arranging media credentials, discussing plans for filing stories and photos, and balancing when to run content on the site.

For the record, SLAM! Wrestling has Jan Murphy of the Kingston Whig-Standard heading down as the writer, filing to the entire Sun Media chain. Naturally, what we want at SLAM! Wrestling is a little different than what a mainstream newspaper would want, so Jan and I talked about what opportunities there would be. For example, Finn Balor is on the promised list of wrestlers at one event Jan has been invited to; well, we don’t need a Finn Balor story up before Mania, but we’d LOVE to have one — so if he gets him great (and I sent along a question for a long-range story for good measure).

But Roman Reigns for two minutes talking about his main event bout against Brock Lesnar is a gimme of a story.

We’ll have two photographers in town.

Veteran Mike Mastrandrea heads down from Toronto and will shoot mainly WWE events, including the WWE Hall of Fame and WrestleMania itself. He’s in the pit at Mania, along with the other photographers, which provides its own challenges. But he’s come through with some great stuff every year he’s gone, and I look forward to what Mike comes up with this year — including shots of Jan Murphy marking out for and/or getting pummeled by Brock Lesnar.

The other photographer is local, Devin Chen, from San Francisco. He’s done some great galleries for us in the past, and I’ve always been impressed with his work. His biggest weakness, which we talked about, is an inability to pare down the photos — I don’t need every photo sent to me, and it’s even less so now if the Sun Media papers are going to be picking up some. Devin is shooting Ring of Honor and all the amazing WWN Live events — SHIMMER, EVOLVE, the supershow — and hopefully WrestleCon. He’ll also shoot Smackdown on Tuesday.

As for me, I’m at home base, and I’ll live vicariously through my guys in town, and other friends who will be there (“When’s your birthday, Lewis Curry?”). Someone has to deal with Jan’s dozen stories or so, and the hundreds and hundreds of photos that come through. Plus there’s the live coverage of the PPV itself on Sunday night (headed by Nick Tylwalk and Dale Plummer), along with the PPV report from John Powell, and coordinating coverage with the rest of Canoe and Sun Media.

I debated going out, particularly since it’s in the Bay Area, and I have extended family there, but the reality is that I’d be spending hours in a hotel room with often-shaky wi-fi, uploading photos and updating the site.

Safe travels to all my friends and all the fans heading out to WrestleMania. It’ll be a great time, whether it’s your first or your 15th time.

Prepping for a card show

You’d think by now that I’d be better organized for the whole sales part of being an author.
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But I’m not.

It always feels like a scramble, when it probably really isn’t.

Things to do ahead of time, always, include: checking book inventory and ordering more books if necessary; getting the various accessories together, like price sheets, accounts book (taxman will want to know about it all down the road), and the ever-important duct tape, because you just never know when you’ll need it.

If it’s a wrestling-show, how many hockey books do I bring? If it’s a hockey card show, people ALWAYS come over to talk wrestling. What about the wrestling T-shirts? Will they sell?

Fortunately, this weekend, it’s the Niagara Falls Sports Expo, which includes both hockey and wrestling … and baseball, football, and all kinds of other goodies. If you are near Niagara Falls, come on down and be sure to say hello.

One thing we’re trying this go-round are some handouts. I already had a great ad put together by the wonderful promotional team at ECW Press, with all nine of my books on the sheet. But on Tuesday, I made up a “hockey card” for Big Duckie. Who’s that? It’s Quinn’s favourite stuffed animal, and the protagonist in Duck with the Puck.

The theory is that Quinn can wander around, engage other kids, give them a card, and invite them to come see our table.

Fingers crossed it works out that way.

The coach and Bill Apter

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This lovely note came a while back from Bill Apter, he of the “Apter mag” fame and one of the best, most-important pro wrestling journalists in history. (Incidentally, he hates the Apter mag label.)

I’ve had the privilege of editing Bill’s book, which will be published by ECW Press in the fall of 2015.

It’s called, Is Wrestling Fixed… I Didn’t Even Know It Was Broken, and it’s really something, taking you all over his life: growing up a wrestling fan, getting into the business, photography, writing, his love of classic comedy (note the Laurel & Hardy letterhead), karaoke, Japan, his family, boxing.

Like Bill, it’s all over the place, bubbling with enthusiasm, and never dull.

I first met Bill at WrestleMania in Philadelphia back in, yikes, 1999. In 2003, we did a chat session on SLAM! Wrestling, and that’s when the friendship really started. That winter, my wife and I met Bill for breakfast outside Philadelphia, fought over a title belt (a great Christmas card that year), and worked on convincing Bill to write his autobiography.

Note that was 11 years ago.

He finally got serious about it a couple of years back, and my wife and I, along with our son, visited Bill at his home outside Philly, and furthered the plan, and brought back a whack of photos to be scanned. At this point, I’d hooked him up with ECW Press as a publisher.

Again, Bill being Bill, it took a little longer than anticipated, with a variety of real-life issues complicating things, like a tree falling into his home, his daughter’s wedding, and a couple of health scares.

In his thank you note, he thanks me for “coaching.”

That’s the perfect word to describe my relationship not just with him, but also most of my SLAM! Wrestling staff.
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For those who don’t know, my brother, Chris, is the head coach of the Windsor Lancers men’s basketball team, currently ranked #5 in Canada. He is the “pro” coach in the family, having gone on to do all the coaching levels you can, and put decades into it.

Me, I love coaching too, and have coached youth soccer in Toronto’s west end for 20 years now. It’s definitely different now that my son has been playing too — he’s eight.

With my SLAM! Wrestling staff, I feel like a coach as well, assigning roles / stories, cajoling pieces, encouraging, offering advice, interceding when necessary, for good and for bad. There’s a great joy when my “crew” succeeds in other ways too, whether it’s getting married, having kids, or finding a “real” job.

This isn’t the end of my coaching days by any means. Some people are cut out for it, and some aren’t.

And if “Wonderful Willie” says that I’m good at it, I must be.

Can’t wait to show you all Bill’s book this fall!




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“Have you ever been on TV, Dad?”

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As we were walking to school the other day, and talking about our upcoming appearance on Breakfast Television (Tuesday, February 17th, 6:20 a.m.!), Quinn asked me, “Have you ever been on TV, Dad?”

I had to laugh, because he’d been with me to a taping of TSN’s Off The Record in the spring of 2014, so he knew the answer. But I proceeded to list some of my TV appearances, at least the ones I remember.

  • Romper Room: I was only three or four, probably, but it was taped for national broadcast in Kitchener at the CKCO studios, so I was on the show. This was in the pre-VCR days, alas, so my talented romping is lost to all time. (I Googled Romper Room, and didn’t realize how many different versions of it there were.)
  • When I was a Cub Scout, I was on the local Rogers station interviewing Betty Clay, the youngest daughter of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting and Olave Baden-Powell, who founded the Guiding movement. It was a sit-down interview, and I seem to recall there was someone else there, like a Scout, asking questions as well. Man, I wish I had a copy of this!
  • Right at the run of my Canadian Wrestling Report, I appeared on the Kitchener CTV station, CFTO, during a talk show. I don’t remember the name of the show, but I remember the host, Tino Monte. I Googled him too, and he’s got his own website, http://tinomonte.tv/ … way to go Tino!
  • Do we count the time at Ryerson University in J-Skool? Though I wasn’t in the television stream, we had to learn the basics and filmed lots of things with those massive cameras we had to lug around. One of my fondest memories was going to Maple Leaf Gardens for Leafs practice. My first ever hockey interview? Paul Fenton! (I later sent him a copy of Don’t Call Me Goon care of the San Jose Sharks, where he was assistant GM; never heard back, which leads me to believe that the interview meant more to me than him.)
  • While working at Canoe.ca, circa 1998, Jane Hawtin Live! was looking for a talking head on a panel on Star Trek, which was hot with Next Generation, so I went down.
  • Wrestling-wise, there were a number of appearances in documentaries, especially Tiger!, about Tiger Jeet Singh. That one aired a ton on TVO, and was translated into a number of languages, so I’ve had many people mention seeing me on that one — including getting recognized on the bus once! Funny story, the first time I was at Tiger Jeet’s Milton home, his wife insisted that we had met before; turns out it was only because she knew me from the documentary, which Tiger still liked to watch.
  • The highest-profile appearance was probably on Entertainment Tonight Canada, where I was asked to talk about Chris Benoit, his life and the tragic ending, to coincide with the publication of Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport.

No doubt, I’m missing a bunch. I can’t remember what the documentary was that I was filmed at in The SPORT Gallery in Toronto, but I can remember doing it. Wrestling-related.

But the coming appearance on Tuesday will be extra special, because I know it’ll be Quinn’s first-time on TV. (Unless we count a background appearance on Breakfast Television during a Miracle on Main Street event a few years back … or when we were interviewed by J-Skool students at Ryerson while going for an alumni skate about the Mattamy Athletic Centre.)

And away it goes…

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Sending in a manuscript to the publisher is one of the true highlights of being a writer.

You worked for days, months, years on the book and it’s finally out of your hands.

There’s no more second-guessing on what to include, phrases to change, people to still call.

It’s a feeling that NEVER gets old, even after 11 books.

Blue Lines, Goal Lines and Bottom Lines: Hockey Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt went in to ECW Press today. It’s the sequel to Written in Blue & White, which focused on old Toronto Maple Leaf documents.

This one is across the map, from very early documents outside the NHL to tons from the Original Six era of the NHL, to the AHL, the WHA, and a few other minor leagues that aren’t around. There are some league memos too, and some real treats in there.

I’d love to tell you more about it, about what contracts and documents will be in there, but the truth is that I’m not totally sure.

Permitted free rein to write about the documents I found interesting, I just kept writing, so I’m about 10,000 words over the initial target. Yet the way things are set up, it’s dead simple to take out a piece on, say, Don Rope, who never made the NHL but whose paperwork spurred me to find out more about him and want to write something.

Maybe those chopped pieces will find their way onto this blog, or into an article for the Society for International Hockey Research, or The Hockey News. Or maybe there will be a third book on documents. Who knows.

I just firmly believe that if I found something interesting, surely there are other people out there who would also think so.

Of course, the flip side of all this is that the submission of the manuscript is only part of the work. Now we have to come up with a compelling cover, collect all the photos for the book, get the book edited and typeset, and then laid out, proofed, and printed. Oh yeah, and roughly a hundred historical documents need to be scanned and cleaned up too. Fun.