VIEW FROM THE RISING SUN
by Masanori Horie
One Fan's Garbage,
Another Fan's Treasure
Mike Samples and Masanori
Mike Samples, a blond-haired, Bruiser / Crusher look-a-like bad guy from Lexington, Kentucky, interfered at a Big Japan Pro Wrestling local spot show without warning at the end of April. He had had big aspirations to come to Japan and sent video tapes to the office for years. He signed a two-year contract with BJW's owner Shinya "Great" Kojika (Kojika is a comedy wrestler now, but he was actually a big-time heel in Los Angeles, California in the 1960s and as Kung Fu Lee in Amarillo, Texas in the 1970s). He became a regular gaijin (foreign) wrestler who comes to BJW every month with Abdullah the Butcher now.
Abdullah the Butcher vs. Mens Teioh (a.k.a. Terry Boy)
Mike Samples was an unknown gaijin for Japanese fans. Only limited hard core American Pro Wrestling marks in Japan, who have read news letters or traded video tapes, could have recognized him. His biggest fame was in the USWA in 1996 - 1997.
The USWA had inter-promotional angles with the WWF and even with ECW in those days. Samples was affiliated with the USWA's bad guys, such as Nation Of Domination (PG-13 [Jamie Dundee & Wolfie D], Kareem Olajuwon [Reggie B. Fine], Sir Mohammad [Sir Mo], Akeem Muhammad [Big Black Dog], Elijah [Spellbinder], Shaquille Ali [Tracy Smothers], Randy X [Randy Hales], and Queen Moishe [Miss Texas / Jacquelyn]) and Truth Commission (Tank [Mike "Mantaur" Hallick], Recon [Barry "The Punisher" Buchanan in SMW], and Interrogator [Robert "Kurrgan" Murray]), and they had a brutal feud with The Dream Team (Jerry "The King" Lawler, Brian Christopher, Bill Dundee, Mabel). Samples and his "snake eating dog" had a feud with Sean Venom and his snake in snake box matches. There were Razor Ramon (Rick "Big Titan" Bogner) & Diesel (Glen Jacobs / Unabom / Isaac Yankem / Doomsday / Kane), Grimm Twins (Ron & Don Harris), and Flex Kavana (Duane "Rocky Maivia" Johnson) in the territory, and do you remember ... Macho Warrior Ric Hogan, who did a gimmick where he combined the interviews and mannerisms of the four???
I had the opportunity to interview this man who has my favorite good old-fashioned mood. It went as follows:
How and when did you get involved in professional wrestling?
Mike Samples: As you can guess, just like almost all wrestlers, my favorite subject to talk about is ME. Actually, I got started in wrestling, not because I had been a wrestling fan all of my life, but because I wanted to be RICH! My athletic background includes the usual high school basketball and football, as well as some boxing, but it was Olympic-style weight lifting (snatch and clean & jerk) that was my main passion. I discovered that I had a talent for these difficult lifts and went on to win many state and regional titles in Olympic weight lifting. Since you don't really get paid for this sport, I also had to get a degree in business and decided that I would keep training and hopefully, one day, compete in the Olympics. Then, one day in a bookstore, I came across this book about different wrestlers, and the section about Ken Patera really caught my eye.
(Note: Ken Patera represented the USA in superheavyweight weightlifting at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972. He won a bronze medal, and the AWA's Verne Gagne scouted him. Gagne sent him to the IWE [International Wrestling Enterprise] in Japan with Larry Hennig in January 1973. It was a very rare and special experience for a newcomer.)
Mike Samples: Ken had been one of America's biggest Olympic lifters several years earlier and had gone on to become a professional wrestler. According to this book, "In his first year as a professional wrestler, former Olympic weightlifting champion Ken Patera earned over $250,000!" Right then, I knew what I was going to do. I couldn't imagine $250,000. Now, I have since gotten to know Ken very well. I have built two wrestling rings for him, and he has been to my home, and he still laughs at that story. He told me that he earned about $36,000 in his first year of wrestling, not bad for that day and time, but considerably less than the book said. Anyway, I had my sights set now on wrestling.
How did you train to become a professional wrestler?
Mike Samples: In the late 70's and early 80's, Randy Savage, his father (Angelo Poffo), his brother (Lanny "Genius" Poffo), and a guy named George Weingeroff (Sheik Abdul Hassan / son of the famous manager, Saul Weingeroff) ran a promotion near my hometown in Lexington, Kentucky, and it was called ICW (International Championship Wrestling). I used to watch them every Saturday on television as I was growing up, and they had stars like "One Man Gang" Ronnie Garvin, Cowboy Bob Orton Jr., The Sheik (original), Pistol Pez Whatley, and many others. They closed down in the early 80's, but they were very big in this area for several years. A few years later, George Weingeroff moved back to the Lexington area and decided to start a wrestling school. That was how I got into the wrestling game. I saw his ad and called him. Now, I could earn that "big money" that Ken Patera and others were earning. I started training as a wrestler in 1988.
What was your first break in wrestling?
Mike Samples: I got my first "break" from the USWA, better known as "Memphis Wrestling," in 1990. I was on my way. It was only supposed to be for ONE day, but both Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler were impressed with my speaking (interview) ability, and they hired me full-time.
How did you get your start with the USWA?
Mike Samples: My first trip to the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum had me managing "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert! I got paid $200. Not the most money in the world, but considering that we were at ringside for only 10 minutes, I figured that I was doing fine. In the next two years, I learned a lot. First, I learned that I didn't know anything, and that was the beginning of my ability to start learning what wrestling was all about. It really is a very complex occupation. After a two-and-a-half year run with the USWA, I started actually training again with a person that I had become good friends with, Nightmare Danny Davis, who I helped to get a wrestling school opened. I trained with him and his students and also begin wrestling in other areas, as well as promoting wrestling on my own. I learned a lot and for the next four years was very successful in wrestling on a small time level.
(Note: Eddie Gilbert had just returned from the NWA to the USWA. At the WMC-TV taping on July 14, 1990, Eddie was talking to "a fan from Philadelphia," and the fan wanted a photo with Eddie. As it appeared they were posing, Eddie slapped him around. The fan was really Brian Hildebrand (a.k.a. Mark Curtis).
I remember that you wrestled in a tuxedo, with a limo bringing you to the TV studio (billed as "Hollywood" Mike and "Movie Star" Mike in those days).
Mike Samples: In late 1996, I returned to the USWA and stayed with them until the company closed in late 1997. During this time, I worked as a wrestler and as part of the office, even as booker for a while. I have lots of good stories from my ten years, to date, in wrestling, but the best ones seem to all come from my days in the USWA. We traveled every day. Monday night was Memphis, Tennessee; Tuesday night was Louisville, Kentucky (400 miles apart); Wednesday night was Evansville, Indiana; Thursday night and Friday night could be anywhere in a three or four state area, and then Saturday morning was live television in Memphis; and then Saturday night was Nashville, Tennessee (200 miles from Memphis), so you were in the car about 1,500 miles per week. But it was great. I have met and made so many good friends in wrestling. Also, because wrestling is such a strange business, I have lost a few very good friends. Some of the best guys are Rick Titan, Jeff Jarrett, Road Dogg Jesse James (Brian Armstrong), Sabu, Tracy Smothers, Ricky Morton, and the list goes on and on. Ricky Morton always has good stories and lots of jokes to tell you when you see him. Also, Jim Cornette can keep you laughing for hours. He rode back from Memphis to Nashville with me one night and the three-hour trip seemed like 15 minutes, he is great.
You had great time, didn't you?
Mike Samples: One of the funny stories from my USWA days involves Glen Jacobs. He was just starting, and he was doing this character called the Christmas Creature, which still embarrasses him to this day. We were doing these matches called "Moondog Battle Royals," where everybody went to the ring, one at a time, with a big board. We are all in the ring and I look over in the corner, and there is the Christmas Creature being beaten to death with a board by Eddie Marlin (grandfather of Jeff Jarrett). I went over and started choking Eddie Marlin and as Glen got away, he looked at me and said "Thank you Mike, he was killing me." Then, Eddie Marlin looked up and said, "Thank you Mike, I was about to have a heart attack beating on him so much."
Ryuji Yamakawa and Masanori---Yamakawa is Big Japan's Death Match Heavyweight Champion
What do you think about Big Japan Pro Wrestling?
Mike Samples: I like the company, and I like the boys. They are all very hard workers and take much pride in their work. Ryuji Yamakawa is very "BRAVE." I really did not realize the kind of bumps that he would take until I saw the video tape, which President Kojika gave me, with him taking big bumps into the barbed wire nets, etc. I had seen the scars on his back, but I didn't realize that he would do all of the "crazy" stuff with such little regard for his body. He is very good. The power bomb off of the roof of the truck took lots of courage. Shadow WX and Tomoaki Homma are also very good. This tour (June 14 - 30) was a very hard tour, but it was a lot of fun. I especially enjoy traveling with Abdullah. He has been telling me a lot of the "old stories," and I really like that. He has really helped me a lot, which I am not used to.
Shadow WX (Satoru Shiga) (l) vs. Tomoaki Homma (r) --- Homma, 23 years old, 6'1"-212 lb, is a "treasure" of the Japanese indie scene.
What is WRESTLING for you?
Mike Samples: There is NOTHING like wrestling. I love it! I'm very happy coming to Japan. We tried a lot of different things and ideas, and I think that everything is going to work out great. I want to do as much as possible to do good business. I'll stay as long as they let me.
"Mr. Danger" Mitsuhiro Matsunaga and Masanori
Mike Samples will return to Big Japan Pro Wrestling from July 25 to August 10, 1999. He has recently bought some books, tapes, and even a computer program for studying the Japanese language.
You may contact Masanori at email@example.com
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