AS I SEE IT - 5/20/2002:
A Chill Falls in the Air Again...
I was prepared to reprise this week the 1999 column I wrote about the passing
of Owen Hart, given that Owen Hart died three years ago, almost to the day you're reading
Instead of that column...there are other sad things to write about.
The death chill has come over wrestling again.
I'm not talking about Lou Thesz, Wahoo McDaniel and former NWA World Title contender George Gordienko. While those who love them mourn their passing, each of them lived long, productive and colorful lives. Many stories have been told and will be told about their careers.
Instead, I'm talking about the death chill that comes from young men dying far too soon.
Four of them, to be precise. Four young men who will be viewed in very different places within the history of professional wrestling:
Shoichi Arai... co-founder, and later owner of the groundbreaking Japanese hardcore promotion, FMW.
Alex Rizzo (aka Big Dick Dudley)...a part of one of the more unique stables in one of the more unique American promotions ever.
Erich Kulas...a bit player within wrestling that was the victim in a bloody and scandalous night in Revere, Massachusetts that likely changed the direction of a wrestling promotion forever.
Davey Boy Smith...a wrestler known worldwide, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, winning title after title for the two major American wrestling promotions... yet suffered throughout much of his later life from the real life effects of the fame he achieved.
Shoichi Arai was the co-founder of the groundbreaking Japanese hardcore promotion, FMW, in 1989 together with Atsushi Onita. He worked as Vice President for the promotion, but was far more known by fans of Japanese wrestling as the ring announcer with the high shrill voice, adding to the dramatic countdowns during the "exploding ring" and fire matches between Onita against Mr. Pogo and Terry Funk.
After Onita's retirement, the company was sold to Arai in April 1995. This also featured Hayabusa's challenge of Atsushi Onita for a May 5, 1995 mega-match. Arai officially became FMW owner/President and used Hayabusa and Megumi Kudo as the heart and soul of FMW. Business dropped off some, but the promotion did continue to survive, until Onita returned in late 1996 to work some major shows and to help his friend.
In 1997 and 1998, the death match/hardcore style continued to draw fans, but was destroying FMW's wrestlers, who had to keep working through injuries suffered from the likes of barbedwire and many other hardcore gimmick matches.
Arai decided it was time to radically switch directions to a sports entertainment style (aka "Entertainment Pro Wrestling"). Throughout 1999, Hayabusa worked as the number one babyface and Kodo Fuyuki as the number one heel, with Onita continuing to work occasional matches to keep up crowd interest and attendance. Atsushi Onita finally had enough of this "sports entertainment" style and quit FMW for good one year later.
In a manner similar to Vince McMahon, Shoichi Arai then made himself a on screen heel owner, actually working a handful of sports entertainment gimmick matches.
Late in 1999, Arai turned face at the promotion's 10 year anniversary show. At the show Arai came out of character and told the crowd how difficult it had been to keep the company alive.
Arai was a major on-screen McMahon-like character through 2000 and 2001.
The promotion suffered a fatal blow on October 22, 2001 when Hayabusa was paralyzed after slipping on the rope while doing a quebrada (lionsault).
Without Hayabusa, business plummeted and after another star, Mr. Gannosuke, was injured, Arai was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, had to pay hospital bills for Hayabusa and Gannosuke, and lost his marriage. He finally declared bankruptcy for FMW on February 15, 2002.
Arai backed out on paying for Hayabusa's hospital bills, and failed to pay many of the FMW workers what they were owed...to the tune of 300 million yen ($2.4 million dollars).
Feeling ashamed and not knowing what else to do, Arai committed suicide at 6:20 AM Japanese time May 16th, 2002 in Tokyo's Mizumoto Park. A jogger found Arai's body laying there with a suicide note.
He was 36 years old.
Big Dick Dudley was one of the extended Dudley "family" created by Paul Heyman.
"Big Dick" was a larger-than-life character, to say the least. The stories of his taking on six New Jersey State Troopers (and rumored to have been winning until eventually being maced into submission) added to his reputation among some ECW fans.
He was also known for partying hard, even by the ECW standards. I can recall certain evenings and the post-Arena parties at the TraveLodge, where "Big Dick" would have partied hard enough... that you... well, let's say, you wanted to be sure he liked you when he'd been partying.
In recent years, Big Dick had worked for various Northeast independent promotions, including NWA-Jersey, until a motorcycle accident a year ago that had left him sidelined.
NWA-Jersey co-promoter had these thoughts on Rizzo:
...When Alex was released from ECW a couple of years ago, we here at the NWA were skeptical on using him because of the family style events that we stage. We also heard that Alex had some personality problems in terms of being a loose cannon. My 2 associates and I were most pleasantly surprised when we started booking Alex, that he always was a complete pleasure to work with.
Not only was Alex a pleasure, but always gave 100%, was always at the venue early (when not doing a double shot); and I can say getting to know him a real down to earth guy who cared very much about his family, the one outside of the ring and in the ring also...
When Alex was injured in a motor vehicle accident prior to last summer's NWA Jersey Wildwood arena campaign when he and his friend Phycko were booked as a running story line, he was heartbroken. The last thing he said to me was please do not let the fans forget me, and if I'm feeling better maybe I can come down and do the autograph signing the night before (which was SOP before the big shows on the boardwalk)...
...Later on, speaking to other promoters they had the same concern about him that I did. Everyone wanted to know how he was doing. He was that type of guy... very likable, not a prima donna, willing to do and go wherever needed.
I can remember one show in Wildwood when Alex went over and started playing his music and then had all the kids in the arena come in to the ring to dance with him,great gimmick even though it cost us $50 because a ring support broke, it was well worth it.
Alex always was kind to the fans, especially the young ones always was in gimmick and always liked to party after the shows. Big Dick Dudley will be remembered at Wildwood`s Ocean Club...
...Ironically, just this week, I was conversing with fellow promoter Frank Goodman who lived near Alex, and knew him very well. The conversation shifted to Alex, and Frank said that he was feeling a bit better but lost a considerable amount of weight. The good news was that Frank got him an autograph singing, and Alex was back out and was talking about possibly getting back in the ring after the summer. How sad indeed.
The 22 year old former wrestler was primarily known by ECW fans for the role he played in one of the most grotesque blade jobs ever seen...one that nearly prevented ECW's movement toward PPV in 1996.
Kulas died this past Tuesday at home. The funeral was held May 18th at Holy Cross Church in Providence, RI, near the family home in Cranston, RI.
Kulas was involved in one of the most controversial incidents in ECW history in 1996. At a show in Revere, MA the then 17 year old Kulas, working as "Mass Transit", serving as a last minute replacement for a no-show Axl Rotten in a tag match with D-Von Dudley vs. the Gangstas.
New Jack physically destroyed Kulas hitting him with gimmicks including a toaster. New Jack then cut him open with an Exacto knife. The blood was literally spurting out of Kulas's head. Medical personnel nearly panicked, as the scene fast resembled a slaughterhouse. The wound took nearly 50 stitches to close.
ECW briefly sold a tape of the event, before realizing the PR disaster they were about to create for themselves. The promotion never allowed footage of the incident to be used again, but the tape made its way around the country via bootleg copies of the footage. The footage nearly prevented ECW from making its way to PPV, delaying the PPV debut of the promotion until April 1997.
Criminal assault charges and a civil lawsuit were brought against New Jack (and in the civil case against ECW and others associated with the company). In both cases, New Jack and the promotion were somehow found not guilty.
Kulas's father claimed during the civil lawsuit that the incident had left Erich with a long-lasting trauma that had affected him greatly.
Davey Boy Smith
As I said in the November 2, 2000 AS I SEE IT, Davey Boy Smith went through considerable tragedy and heartbreak long before the death of Owen Hart that overshadowed the entire extended Hart family.
"...In February 1996, he was forced to fight, and ultimately beat, a charge of aggravated assault resulting from defending his wife at a bar three years previously. He had to deal with his name being dragged through the mud for three years.
In September 1998, Smith was injured as the result of being bodyslammed onto the area of the WCW ring that contained a gimmicked "trap door" used for appearances by the Ultimate Warrior. This injury would begin a two years downward spiral for Smith that he and the Hart family could not have imagined.
Smith had continued to work through the pain, even though injured. He developed an addiction to Demerol and morphine. By late December 1998, Smith checked into a 28 day rehab program to beat his addiction. Instead of 28 days, Smith stayed seven weeks.
After getting clean, the pain returned. Doctors claimed they could find nothing wrong. During his last week in rehab, Smith collapsed and flew back to Calgary. Smith went to various hospitals, once having to travel by ambulance. Many believed Smith was trying to get painkillers again, and that there was no physical problem at all.
Smith first feared cancer, since cancer has run in his immediate family and taken the life of his sister Tracey that year at 27. Then, when a chiropractor friend suggested a bone scan, it was discovered that Smith indeed had something physically wrong.
Very wrong. It turned out to be three crushed discs in his back, and a virulent staph infection that some feared was life-threatening.
In the midst of all this, WCW fired Davey Boy Smith while injured with their one of their infamous Federal Express packages.
Then, after his recovery, the WWF made Davey Boy Smith an offer to return in July 1999, a deal ironically brokered months earlier by Owen Hart himself.
Bret Hart attacked Smith viciously in multiple Calgary Sun columns:
July 10, 1999: "Saw a strange sight yesterday. Dogs rolling in manure and loving every minute of it... For some reason, it made me think of how the British Bulldog will do anything to work for the WWF."
July 17, 1999 column: "There were these four little pigs in the pig races. The guy there told me they'd sell out their mothers and brothers and sisters to the slaughterhouse, just for those mini donuts. Kind of reminds me of ... er ... I won't go there this week."
Davey Boy Smith was shortly afterward interviewed in the Calgary Sun, and stated that Bret went so far as to say that "...if he saw Diana Smith strolling down the street while he was driving he would run her down...."
More from that November 2000 AS I SEE IT column...
...Smith slipped back into drug addiction. On February 22, 2000, Smith went to Vince McMahon prior to the Nashville, TN Smackdown tapings, and said that he was afraid that he was going to kill himself or someone else in the ring. His addictions to drugs were reported to have ranged from morphine to painkillers to somas to sleeping pills. McMahon paid the $75,000 tab to check Smith into another rehab program in Atlanta.
In July 2000, Davey Boy Smith was again admitted to a hospital in Calgary, first from a bout with pneumonia, then returned only days later to be treated for an infected shoulder, which nearly cost him his arm. after surgery was done to save his arm. The addiction to painkillers also continued. Graphic pictures of the infected shoulder made their way around the Internet. Further, stories surfaced of Smith having attempted suicide.
Then, on October 25th and 26th, 2000, the latest chapter of the tragedy occurred, as Davey Boy Smith was arrested and charged with making death threats to his estranged wife.
Smith had been arrested and charged with two counts of threatening to kill estranged wife Diana, and her sister Elizabeth Neidhart (wife of wrestler Jim Neidhart) according to Calgary Police Sergeant Mike Lamore in a Calgary Sun article.
Calgary Police reported that after Smith was released after the first arrest and charge, he made another threat on Diana's life when she arrived at his house yesterday. Police then arrested him again on October 26th after he turned himself in.
It was reported that Calgary Police have had to deal with several domestic disputes between the Smiths over the past few months.
The Sun article indicated that Diana Smith was said to be afraid for her life, particularly after the second incident when she went to his house to get her daughter, expecting that Davey Boy was still in custody, only to find him in the house. Mrs. Smith sought a restraining order against Davey Boy Smith on October 27th.
After the second threat, Smith was held in police custody over the weekend and appeared in Albertan provincial domestic abuse court on October 30 regarding the charges, where Albertan authorities sought to have Smith's bail revoked. Smith was instead granted bail on five counts of uttering threats to kill.
In another one of the many turns to the Shakespearean tragedy of the Hart family, Smith had recently become involved with Andrea Hart, the ex-wife of Bruce Hart, and was on vacation with her at the time of his death.
All these deaths in such a short time is truly scary.
You have to think that the physical and emotional stresses caused by the in-ring style prevalent over the last decade, as well as the alcohol, painkillers, and "recreational" drugs that many wrestlers choose to cope with them... as well as the side-effects of steroids, HGH, and other growth-enhancing drugs used by many within the business... play a major part in the deaths of young men such as these.
Condolences go out to the Arai, Rizzo, Kulas, and Smith (Hart) families from all of us at PWBTS and the wrestling world.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)