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Kevin Eck is a former member of the WWE creative team and now blogs about pro wrestling for PressBox.
As I stood backstage talking with several wrestlers at MCW Pro Wrestling's show in Joppa, Md., July 15, WWE Hall of Famer Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat walked by and made eye contact with us.
In a customary show of respect, we introduced ourselves and shook the hand of the legendary former NWA World Champion and WWE Intercontinental Champion. Rather than walking away after the greeting, however, Steamboat engaged us in conversation.
What followed was an impromptu session under the learning tree. Steamboat talked to us in great detail about ring psychology, citing personal experiences from his near-20-year career to punctuate his points.
After Steamboat finished coaching us up and we thanked him, one of the guys in our group remarked how surreal it was to have someone of Steamboat's stature share his wisdom with us. It was priceless information.
Having written about or worked in the wrestling business for nearly 25 years, I've been extremely fortunate to have a number of memorable interactions such as this with some of wrestling's biggest stars.
Here are five of those instances:
1. The Guest Of The Final 'Piper's Pit'
I was obsessed with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper when I was a teenager, so much so that I even had a large photo of "Hot Rod" taped on my binder in high school. Walking around with a photo of a kilt-wearing pro wrestler on my binder didn't exactly impress the girls, but I was willing to make that sacrifice.
Fast-forward to 2015. Piper was scheduled to host a live 'Piper's Pit' at an MCW show in Joppa, and due to having a little history with Piper -- a few years earlier, when I was a member of the WWE creative team, I was the writer of a "Raw" segment he was in that ended up being a trainwreck -- I was booked as Piper's guest. Playing the role of a heel manager, I blamed Piper for costing me my job in WWE because of that segment (not true, of course).
There I was, standing across the ring from my childhood hero as we exchanged barbs on the microphone. Not surprisingly, Piper ended up slapping me in the face, which was truly an honor.
During our verbal sparring, I delivered the well-known line "you should never meet your heroes because they'll only disappoint you." In reality, working with Piper couldn't have been any more amazing. When we got backstage after it was finished, Piper shook my hand and said, "You were great out there." Talk about being humbled. He proceeded to give constructive criticism to all of us who were involved in the segment.
Sadly, less than two weeks later, Piper died in his sleep from a heart attack at 61. And thus, I have the bittersweet honor of being the
final guest of "Piper's Pit."
2. Auditioning 'Freaks' At A Strip Club With Scott Steiner
When I was the editor of
WCW Magazine, we did a cover story in 2001 on Steiner titled "Freaks & Peaks." The photo-driven article depicted Steiner working out in the gym while three of his "freaks" -- which is how he referred to his shapely female companions -- looked on.
Steiner's valet, Midajah, was one of the "freaks," but we had to cast the other two. Someone on the magazine staff suggested we find a couple dancers at a local gentleman's club to be in the shoot, so the photo editor and I arranged to interview potential candidates at The Gold Club in Atlanta. Hey, it was a dirty job but someone had to do it.
Steiner insisted on accompanying us because he wanted final approval on the women. We had put Steiner on the cover of a prior issue, and he was none too pleased with the photo of him that we chose for it, so he had no confidence in us at that point.
One by one, scantily clad dancers came over to us to be informally interviewed. The photo editor and I thought a few of them would be perfect, but Steiner gave the thumbs down to every one of them. It was hilarious to watch Steiner smile and chat with the dancers, and then as soon as they'd walk away, the smile would leave his face as he looked at us and growled, "She was [expletive] brutal, man."
We left The Gold Club that day with no one getting the gig. Steiner decided to take care of it himself by getting two young women that he knew from his gym to do the shoot.
3. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Signs My Stick
I've had the pleasure of interviewing The Rock on several occasions. The first time I went one-on-one with "The Great One" was in 1998 when he was a member of The Nation of Domination. I also interviewed him when he was the biggest star in wrestling in 1999 and 2000, and a couple times after he transitioned into acting.
In 2004 when I was with
The Baltimore Sun, I had a sit-down interview with him at a luxury hotel in Washington, D.C., during his press tour for the remake of "Walking Tall." We had a great conversation about the movie and his burgeoning acting career, and then in the final minutes of our allotted time we chatted off the record about WWE.
The night before the interview, Rock had wrestled in a tag team match at WrestleMania XX at Madison Square Garden in New York City in what ended up being his last match for 12 years. I was in attendance at WrestleMania XX, so we talked about his match and some of the other matches on the show.
After we wrapped things up and I began to leave the room, I grabbed the bag of "Walking Tall" promotional items that members of the press had been given. One of the items was a 2x4 with the "Walking Tall" logo on it. (In the movie, the main character, played by Rock, used a 2x4 when battling the bad guys).
Prior to the interview, as I was sitting in the lobby waiting for my turn to interview Rock, one of the PR people suggested I ask him to sign the 2x4. I politely declined, saying it would be unprofessional. In fact, I was violating
Sun policy by even accepting the swag bag.
However, as I was about to exit Rock's hotel room, I made the last-second decision to ask him if he would sign the 2x4. The signed stick is now proudly displayed in my office.
What, you think I comprised my journalistic integrity by getting an autograph? Well … it doesn't matter what you think! Sorry, I couldn't resist.
4. Pizza And Story Time With Terry Funk
I was the moderator of a Q&A session with the rugged, former NWA World Champion at a fan fest in 2011. That was an honor in itself, but the best part of the evening was running into Funk at the hotel bar after the event.
Funk, who began his career in 1965 and went to wrestle in six decades, invited me to sit with him at the bar and eat some of the pizza he had ordered. So, over pizza and a few cold ones, Funk and I chatted about the business and some of his crazy experiences in it.
Funk was an amazing storyteller, both in and out of the ring. My favorite story of his was about the time he got into a bar fight back in the day with a large fan who wanted to test himself against a "phony wrestler." Funk said he hit the guy once and he went down. When Funk tried to pick him up to dish out more punishment, the guy wrapped his arms around the base of a table. Funk said he grabbed the guy by the pants and yanked, and he ended up ripping off his pants -- and underwear, too.
With the guy's buttocks exposed as he maintained his death grip on the table, Funk said he didn't know what else to do, so he "bit a chunk out of his ass."
Funk said the guy sued him over the incident and they settled out of court.
"And that was the most expensive piece of ass I ever had," Funk said.
5. Breakfast With Bruno
I was scheduled to interview wrestling's "Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino in 2008 at a mall in Delaware, where he was doing an autograph signing. When I showed up at the mall that day, however, we couldn't do the interview due to a scheduling conflict. Bruno was extremely apologetic and asked if we could do the interview the following morning. He said we could have breakfast at his hotel and then do the interview in his room.
He didn't have to twist my arm, although later he did twist my neck -- I'll get to that in a second. Listening to Bruno -- the biggest star in wrestling in the 1960s and 1970s -- tell stories about his career as we broke bread together was fascinating.
During the interview in his room, which lasted nearly an hour, I asked him if he ever had to "stretch" an opponent who didn't want to "do business." Bruno said there was one time when he had to teach a hard lesson to an uncooperative opponent. He said he applied a front facelock on the guy and told him he was either going to say "I quit" loud enough for everyone in the arena to hear it or else. The guy wisely decided to do things the easy way.
After telling the story, Bruno wanted to put the hold on me so that I could understand how effective it was. I laughed off the suggestion, but Bruno insisted. "I give you my word I won't hurt you," he said.
So I allowed the strongest 73-year-old (at the time) in the world to put me in a front facelock. He cinched it in and turned my head in an awkward position that was quite uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, Bruno did know his own strength. After releasing me, he said that if he were to yank upward while applying the hold, it "would break any man's neck."
I left that day with a sore neck but a good story.