Torch Interview revisited

Al Snow, by all accounts, is about to become a bigger star than ever, due to his standout role in the upcoming WWFE-produced series on MTV, "Tough Enough'. In this 1995 'Torch Talk', Snow talks about his early years in the wrestling industry, and the dues he paid before becoming nationally known. Interview conducted January 2, 1995 by Wade Keller, originally published in Pro Wrestling Newsletter #315.

Al Snow is a lot like Sabu was two years ago, and 1-2-3 Kid was three years ago--an unknown independent wrestler who had to wrestle many years before getting a big break. Sabu was 29 before being recognized as a potential star. Kid wrestled professionally since he was fourteen, and got a break six years later with Joe Pedicino's GWF on ESPN. Snow, 31, has wrestled over twelve years and is only now getting recognition as a good worker.

His matches in Michigan and Ohio with Sabu have been the landmark matches of his career. This Saturday in Philadelphia he may begin to move to the next stage of his career with television exposure and a push for the first time. After doing jobs around the country early in his career, he'll finally have the chance to show whether promoters have made a mistake in overlooking him for over a decade.

At 6'1", 230, and an athletic build, he has the size and look to fit in with today's wrestlers. In this 'Torch Talk' conducted January2, Snow talks about his tough initiation into the wrestling business with Ole and Arn Anderson in 1982, how he has tried to get the big breaks, how he has dealt with not getting the big breaks, and what role he may have in ECW beginning this month.

Keller: A lot of people are starting to hear about Al Snow, but few realize you've been involved in wrestling longer than most 'rising independent stars'. How long have you been in wrestling?

Al: I've been wrestling professionally for twelve and a half years; it will be thirteen years on May 22.

Keller: How did you originally get involved in wrestling?

Al: When I was 16, I decided I wanted to be a professional wrestler. At the time I wanted to become a professional wrestler, there weren't a lot of schools around like there are now. I spent about two years making long-distance phone calls, accidentally got ahold of Gene Anderson down at Jim Crockett's office. He informed me of a tryout they were having down there. I took the bus down there, pretty much got my ass kicked, and then drove back.

Keller: Tell us more about that experience.

Al: Well, you paid $250 just to try out. I got there a day early, walked five miles from the bus station to a hotel near the Charlotte Coliseum. I stayed the night. The next day I got up and went to the Coliseum. Gene Anderson was there. I gave him the 250 dollars. He gave me a release to sign. I signed it. There was a blank spot, so I put Gene's name down. So then the tryout began. Ole Anderson showed up with five or six of the students they were working with at the time, who I have never seen in the business since. We ran five miles. None of these numbers are made up. Please believe me when I say they made me do this. They made us do 500 pre-squats. Then they made us run up and down the coliseum stairs. Then we came down and did 400 push-ups. Then if it wasn't your time to get into the ring, first you got a partner, put him on your back, and you ran back and forth across the coliseum. Then you did jumping jacks when it was your time. Finally, when it was your time, you got down on all fours in the amateur position. The thing they were showing us was pancaking out, grapevining his leg, and putting him in a rear chinlock. I had never amateur wrestled before in my life. As it was, I was near exhaustion. I got through the first guy, got through the second guy, the third guy got me down twice, and the routine was that then Ole wrestled you. He pretty much stretched you. I had mistakenly put Gene's name on the release, so he got in, and I got down on all fours.He proceeded to grab hair, stick his fingers in my mouth. I did the same back to him. Finally, he rolled me over, and stuck his thumb in my eye and asked me if I wanted to lose my eye or not, and Ole said, 'Leave him alone.' He told me to leave. I walked back to the dressing room, put my clothes on, shook his hand, asked him when the show was that night, and came back and watched the show that night. I watched the show that night, and took a painful five mile walk the next morning back to the bus station and took a 24-hour ride back home.

Keller: Did you at least see a good wrestling card?

Al: Ricky Steamboat was on it. There was a dog collar match between (Roddy) Piper and Greg Valentine. Jake Roberts, Sgt. Slaughter, and Don Kernodle--back then they were getting some serious heat. So I came home. Prior to going down there, I had met a guy named Jim Lancaster who sponsered a show that Dick the Bruiser came over and ran at my high school with Spike huber and Bobo Brazil. I got his number and talked to him, and convinced him to train me. I went out, found a building, which was actually a run-down black community center. He started training me one day a week in a side room with two half-inch tumbling mats. When we started doing the ring stuff, we went upstairs into the boxing ring. It wasn't fun. I started out that way. I had my first match May22, 1982 in a big, two-ring, over the top battle royal with guys like Al Perez, Austin Idol, in Springfield, Ohio. I then worked for Sam Mushnick in St.Louis, and Verne Gagne in Minnesota and the Poffos in Kentucky and George Cannon in Canada. I went around doing jobs on TV.

Keller: Why did you originally want to be a wrestler?

Al: The Sheik had run the territory here in Lima, Ohio for years. I grew up watching that, but I really wasn't too interested. Then we started getting TBS. I can remember the first match I saw was when Dusty Rhodes had done this angle where he was supposed to be a special referree of a match with Ole Anderson and Ivan Koloff as a team. He came crawling in where Ole and Ivan had jumped him in a parking lot and he was all bloody and his t-shirt was all torn. Then I started watching again and became hooked and decided that was what I wanted to do. I made that decision and pursued it.

Keller: Did you play sports while growing up?

Al: I didn't play High School sports, but was involved in maartial arts. I had a black belt in kempo karate and a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and studied a lot of other ones. I tried kickboxing and geet kune do. I got so involved watching wrestling and loved it so much that I knew that was what I wanted to do so I quit doing al the other stuff.

Keller: When did you get involved in the gym business?

Al: About three years ago, as far as the wrestling business, things were kinda slow. I really wasn't getting a whole lot of recognition. I was training guys who didn't know--not to say I necessarily knew, I'm not trying to pat myself on the back--but guys were showing guys stuff when they didn't really know what they were doing. So it was kind of the blind leading the blind. I thought if there are going to be guys out there getting trained, I'm going to make sure at least some of these guys know what they are doing because the business needs new faces and talents.

Al: The business doesn't just need people who know moves, mind you, because you can learn how to do moves from watching television or watching a tape of wrestling. But to know not only how to do a move, but when to do it and why to do it, those are the two most important things that I think that a lot of people are missing these days. You can do practically any move in the world. It's not just moves that put people in the seats, it's heat that puts people in the seats. If you know how to do that, then the business will be that much better for it.

Keller: In your twelve years wrestling, what efforts have you made to get a big break with a full-time promotion, and why haven't they worked?

Al: One of the things was I became too controlled by the guy who trained me. I let him control my career to a point so in ways that held me back. I guess part of it was that I was just never in the right place at the right time. I did work for Crockett when he did his regional shows up here in Ohio and Michigan and they liked me. Nick Bockwinkle took an interest in me one time in Minnesota, but I guess that it was just never my turn. The biggest thing that really affected my career was I got into the business just as the territories themselves were kind of going on their way out because of Vince and his national takeover. So a lot of areas that I would have normally got the chance to go in and get some experience and get that polish and make a name for myself, when I first started in, were starting to die out. I never got a chance to get established first. Because of it being a new thing, the independent scene wasn't being covered quite the same as it is now. It wasn't quite on the level it is now.

Keller: Were there times you resigned yourself to not pursuing wrestling as a full-time career, but only continue to do it part-time? Or have you believed for 12 years that some day you'll go national and make a good living?

Al: At certain times I've resigned myself to the frustrations and just thought, 'Well, I'm not going to go anywhere. I'm going to have to accept that, but I will continue to wrestle because I love to do it." But then there's always been this nagging thing in the back of my head that one of these days I've got to get a turn. I've got to keep giving 100 percent. I've always worked my butt off and tried to give the people 100 percent even of there were only 5 people there. That's now beginning to show more and I think it's beginning to pay off. It's just taken a little longer for me than other people.

Keller: Do you know how many matches you've wrestled in your career?

Al: To be honest, Wade, I've totally lost count. There have been years I've wrestled less often. I've kept fairly busy. The second year that I got into the business there was a six month period that I didn't have anything. That really sucked.

Keller: Now you've been wrestling independent in Lima, Ohio, and up in Michigan and a few dates outside of that area. How often are you wrestling now in a given month?

Al: Pretty much every weekend now. In January I'm booked Friday and Saturday the whole month. February looks like its going to be busy. Same with March already.

Keller: Where do you currently stand with ECW?

Al: I guess I'm going to be starting this Saturday. They had talked to me when I came in there and worked with Taz. They wanted me to start the very next weekend on the 16th and 17th. I don't know how wise a career decision this was but I told them that I couldn't because I had already given my word to Dan (Severn) that I'd be there for him at the Ultimate Fight and I didn't want to go back on that.

Keller: Did Paul Heyman and Tod Gordon take that well?

Al: They seemed to. They still were very interested and proceeded to ask me if I could come in on the 6th or 7th. There have been discussions of me doing a chess-master chameleon or a mirror-man-type gimmick where I guess, because of my versatility, they want me to come in and whoever I'm wrestling, I'll wrestle their gimmick and do some of their signature moves. I'll still have my own signature moves, but use some of their moves against them. If I were to wrestle Taz, I'd do suplexes. If I were to wrestle Dean Malenko, I'd do some shoot wrestling. If I'm going to wrestle Sabu, I'd do more aerial stuff. It's intriguing. I think I can do it. I think it'd be fun. K: You speak about being versatile. What are the strong points and weak points of your style? Al: I can do any style. Not to say anybody else can't do any style, but I can do any style, and have a good match, I feel, with anybody in any style. I think I've proven that be it Japanese, a traditional American-style match, or a shoot style match. I can go in there no matter what their skill-level or style and I can work to that level and make them look good and also myself. I think that's a strong point. Another strong point in my favor is I haven't had a whole lot of national attention as far as with the general wrestling audience, so I'm pretty much a clean slate. Unlike a lot of the guys who are on top these days, they kind of bounce back and forth from WCW to the WWF. No matter how you repackage them, they're still the same guy. I come in, and I'm a completely different person and pretty much a clean slate, so they could pretty much give me any gimmick they wanted. I've got the experience to work any gimmick they want. A weak point. Lack of national attention. A lack of quality opponents. I've had the chance to work with Sabu. Another weak point is probably a lack of gimmick at this point and the lack of some kind of colorful character-type that people can identify with. I've kept myself blank because I've tried not to pigeonhole myself so a promoter can make me whatever they want. But that's actually worked to my disadvantage because it's not catching anyone's attention. I think Sabu and I are on the same level pretty much as far as working, but I think he'll always have the edge as far as drawing because he's so much more colorful and has the look. At this point I hate to bring myself to boxing myself in like that and say I'm so-and-so.

Keller: As you've wanted to work more, have you put resumes and sample tapes in the mail to national promoters? Or have you relied on word of mouth?

Al: I guess that again is a weak point of mine. Because of the fact that I let the guy who trained me run my career so much I had never really learned how to get myself booked. Late in the game, I had to learn how to do it on my own. I've pretty much let a lot of word of mouth do it. It seems the word of mouth is doing it more and more. It's been working. I guess if I went out there and sold myself I could get booked more, but I think it shows a little more and means a little more if I get booked by word of mouth instead of begging like a car salesman or insurance salesman to get promoters to use me.

In this second part of a 'Torch Talk' with Al Snow, conducted on January 2, 1995, he gives his opinions on the state of the industry and whether he feels it is getting relatively late in his career to get his first big break.

Keller: What are some of the key corrections that need to be made for wrestling to reach greater heights than it is, at least at this point?

Al: Well, first off, realize that I'm no expert. My opinion is that wrestling in the States has become way too predictable. Everybody is afraid of doing the infamous job. Nobody wants to get beat, and if you get beat, it has to be a screwjob finish. I remember when Dusty Rhodes was booking for Crockett and it got to the point where you saw two name guys in the ring and everybody in the building turned and looked at the dressing room expecting the run-in. That's the last thing in wrestling you want.

The key to wrestling is unpredictability. I think that's what makes things so strong in Japan. At any given time, anybody can lose. Right there in the middle, they can be beat. I think that's what needs to be done here. It needs to be done on a regular basis--anyone can lose or win anytime. If it gets back to that way, I think people would be surprised. I think it would start turning around. The business has become far too ego-driven. Too many people are saying, 'If I lose a match, the fans may not come back to see me.' Well, if you win every match, it's been proven they won't come back to see you. I don't think it works in the long run, and I think it hurts the business in the long run. I think people have to put aside the ego stuff and start making some clear-cut decisions based on what's good for the overall long-term business. Their own business and the wrestling business on a whole. One of those things is doing jobs here and there when it's appropriate. You don't want to let just anybody beat you, but if you're in there with a quality opponent, there's no reason not to do the job. <> Also, if you look at all the top names in the business, how many of them have been around for 20-plus years? How many times can you see the same guy dressed up a different way and pushed a different way? How many times can you see that before going, 'Forget that. It's too predictable.' ?

Keller: Is there a right way and wrong way to do that? Because Jumbo Tsuruta, other than health problems, might still be a top draw in Japan, after being there forever. What makes that different in the United States? And should veteran wrestlers be weeded out and have no job security, or should there be long-term loyalty to veterans?

Al: I guess that is going to depend on the wrestlers themselves. Jumbo Tsuruta obviously has the charisma and the talent and the working ability to keep those peoples' interest or else I don't think Baba would keep him in a position he doesn't deserve. Part of the reason he stayed fresh for so long is he loses and he wins and he loses and he wins. It's not to the point where Jumbo Tsuruta walked down the aisle and fans knew he was going to automatically win and how he was going to win.

When the WWF tried to sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum for Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter for Wrestlemania a few years ago, and, of course, miserably failed at it--why was that? Because the dumbest mark, the person who sits in the hills and eats dogfood for a month so they can save up money to watch wrestling, knew in their heart that Hogan was going to win, and exactly how he was going to win. So why pay money to see it? You want fans to have questions. You want them to feel compelled to come watch it. If they've already answered the questions before they bought the ticket, why do they need to buy the ticket?

Keller: Especially when what you're going to see in the ring, even if you know what the outcome is, is going to be predictable. It's not just the finish, it's the lack of remarkable athleticism.

Al: You're not going to see anything different. You're going to see the Big Boot to the face and The Legdrop. You'll see the same match, worked exactly the same way. Sell, sell, sell, Superman comeback, boot to the face, big legdrop, and that's it; then the posing routine. Well, nothing against Hogan. I'm just using him as an example, but..

Keller: And burying any chance you have of working for WCW while Hogan is there, too..

Al: (laughs) Regardless, I'll be as honest as possible. He's the most well-known example and the easiest to explain. If you already know what he is going to do before you buy the ticket, why are you going to buy the ticket? Part of the fun of going to a wrestling show is having those questions. I wonder what would happen if Sabu took on So-and-So? What would happen if these guys met? That's the fun. Otherwise, why bother to pay to see it?

People have to realize, that to keep things in perspective, everybody talks about the salaries of the big stars and things like that. One thing more so than anything, is we as wrestlers were fans once, too. Most of us, even though not all of us will admit it, probably did this stuff in our backyards or in the living rooms with our brothers. What we do in the ring, we do for free. We really do. We'd be doing it anyway. The money is out of necessity for one thing.

Money is a sign of respect, it's a sign that you've reached a certain point, that you're worth something. It's also a payment for the aggravation and the frustration you've put up with for all those years and the travel. Getting to the place to do it. Let's face facts, though, what a wrestler does in the ring, he primarily does it because he enjoys it. You can tell the guys who just go through the motions and do it for the money. We don't have to name names. There are plenty of names in the major promotions. You take one look at them and can tell the difference. You can tell who loves it, and are doing it because they enjoy it. And you can tell who's doing it just for the paycheck. I hope to God I never become one of those guys no matter how much money I'm making. If that day ever comes, I hope I'm never doing it just for the paycheck. I really, sincerely hope that's not the case.

Actually, it would be nice to suffer from that once, then kick yourself back to reality. I'm sure one day, my opportunity will come. This past year, I can't complain, as far as the recognition I have received. Things have gotten a lot better. I've become more certain that my turn will eventually come.

Keller: Are there any limits on how long you are willing to wrestle?

Al: I'm sure physically and emotionally it's at least 10 or 12 years away. Hopefully at that point I will realize I am no longer an asset to the business, but in some regards an embarrassment and will step out of the way so that somebody who is in the position I'm at now will get their shot.

Keller: When you hit 30 did you think it was getting too late to get your first break?

Al: No. it has given me a little more drive to try to get the break. I didn't really think about how long I had been in the business. Then one day, somebody said to me, 'I've been around 8 years.' I said I had been around 10. It hit me at that point. That kind of gave me a greater sense of urgency. But physically, I feel I'm in better shape than I was 10 years ago. I think, polish-wise, as far as ability, I'm doing moves I never did before, and I'm doing them when they should be done in a match and not just in there doing them. I think, because of those things, I stand a far better chance now. I don't heal up as quickly as I used to. I have quite a few (injuries) from training Dan for the Ultimate Fight. Barring any major injuries, I don't see a problem doing it for another 10, 12 years, and loving every minute of it.

In this third and final installment of a Torch Talk conducted on January 2, 1995, Al talked about his experience training UFC4 finalist Dan Severn.

Keller: Before you participated as a trainer for Dan Severn, what was your impression of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Tournaments?

Al: I believed it was a total shoot, but was open because of cynicism from being involved in the business that I wouldn't put it past it being a work. We trained as if it was a shoot and were open to the idea it was a work. I have no reason to protect these people. I'm not involved in their business. I couldn't care less about it and I swear to God that that was a hundred percent from the day we arrived a shoot--all the way to the party afterwards. It was totally a shoot the whole way.

Keller: Was there anything about the process that surprised you?

Al: I was really surprised at how professionally they handled the whole thing. They were very well-organized this time. I was expecting it to be a total madhouse. I was also surprised at how little time there was between matches. It seemed like, boom, we got done with one, and bam, they were calling us out for another. Other than that, there really weren't a lot of surprises. I pretty well knew what to expect, being involved in the martial arts and stuff as far as competitions and stuff. I figured it would be along those same lines. They handled things very professionally. On the Wednesday before the fight, we had a full trainers-fighters-managers rules and regulations meeting so everybody understood what was expected. They had a professionally-done press conference the next day where they truly, legitimately took a bingo machine and took a ball out to set up the pairings for the next night. That night, it was more well done than the past ones.

Keller: There's a chance, then, that Severn vs. Gracie could have been the first match?

Al: Yeah. The thing they did was they took Jennum and they took Gracie and they explained it to us at the rules meeting the night before that they were seeding them. They said the promotion was based around them. They had made all the posters up and all that and the last thing they wanted to happen was for these guys to end up in a first round match. So they put Gracie in the first slot, and Jennum in the fifth slot. Everybody else got their ball with a number on it. They had matching numbers on balls in a bingo machine. They flipped the ring on and then the balls started popping out. Van Clief's number came up first. Then all the other guys. When Dan's number came up last against Masias, I thought perfect. He's last. I get to watch all the other guys fight before he does. I can sit there and tell him exactly who did what, and evaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are and report back to him so he'll know what to do so we can figure out a strategy. That's exactly what we did. I'd stand back there and tell Dan about the guy who won, what he looked like, what were some of the things to expect him to do, and go from there.

Keller: During the event, what was it like behind the scenes? Was everyone on their own, with their own posse, so to speak? Al: Yeah. The night of the event, they had set up the whole back area where everybody had their own separate area where nobody was allowed to enter. I think that was probably one of the most intense things I have ever done. We got off the plane in Tulsa. Milton Bowen was on the plane with us and a couple of the other fighters. I mean, from the minute we got off the plane, everybody was sizing everybody else up. Everybody had their game face on. At the rules and regulations meeting, we're sitting there and three or four guys are staring at me. I'm thinking, "What are these guys staring at me for? They don't think I'm fighting, do they?" They had these ace bandage wraps for the knees and elbows and Dans said, "Why don't you get me some?" So I went up there, and two guys came up and said, "Good luck Friday night." I said, "Well, yeah, thanks." I went back to Dan and told him, "These guys think I'm fighting." He said, "Yeah, I've watched about five guys sizing you up." I said, "Well, great, that will work to our advantage. They'll think I'm fighting, and then you'll come walking out."

Keller: Why did they think you and not Dan was fighting?

Al: I think because of the way I was dressed. Plus, I get pretty intense, too. I think I was just as focused as Dan. All the fighters were there in sweat pants and warm-ups. I was also dressed like that. And there's Dan sitting there in a tie and a shirt and I think that's what threw them off. I'm nowhere near Dan's size, but I think they figured it must be me.

Keller: How worn out was Dan after his fights?

Al: Not at all. Everybody says he didn't have finishing moves or anything. That's not the problem. He actually had Gracie at one point. I watched the tape. The problem is he went outside what we had planned as far as strategy. He started punching, and Dan's not a puncher. Everytime he did that, if you watch, he comes off of Royce. Royce scoots up on him, and into position. I go back to the old saying of, "Who runs faster, the fox or the rabbit? Well, the rabbit, of course, because he runs for his life, and the fox just runs for his dinner." Royce is like the rabbit. He's carrying 60 years of tradition on his back. If he loses, he's the first Gracie to lose in 60 years. Everybody else, Dan included, are out there to win and to show how tough they are and for the money. I've got to give credit to Royce. He's gonna lay there on his back, tie you up, and let you do practically anything to him, which Dan did. He came close to tearing his ear off at one point. Royce does not open up. He sits there and he waits and he waits and he waits. Dan could not get his full weight on him and Royce is that good. He had that much heart, that once he was on the ground, he reigns supreme.

Keller: If they fought once every few weeks, until they had fought ten times, who would win the most fights, in your opinion?

Al: If Dan changes his overall strategy, which is our plan, because we think we figured out some of Royce's weaknesses because everybody has them. I think he'll beat next time. At the level Royce is at, you can never predict beyond the next fight. All it takes is one mistake, and I think he would be able to capitalize on it. I think Royce is the type of true competitor that if he were to get beat by Dan a certain way, if Dan did not change things and try to up it again, Royce would figure out how he got beat and then make sure he didn't get beat that way again.

Keller: Was Dan disappointed about his loss or did he accept it easily?

Al: He was at first. He got up and I walked into the ring and told him, "Hey, it's okay. You did yourself proud." He said, "I gave it to him! I gave it to him, Al!" He was real down. We had two goals going out there. The one was to win, and the second was to increase Dan's marketability and get him over as strong as possible. Every chance we got, we wanted to make him look verbally as good as possible. I think that worked. I think we achieved the second goal. And let's face it, he won $19,000. That's a nice night's work.

Keller: Do you think the paydays will have to go up given the success of these events? Especially given what the athletes are putting on the line?

Al: I think it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect more, but let's face facts, even in the wrestling business, who makes all the money? The promotors. If you think you're gonna get paid what you are truly worth in this business, you're in the wrong business. It's just not gonna happen. I think that's going to be the case with that, too. I talked to Al Costello once, and he told me--I didn't understand it at the time, but it's crystal clear now--he worked in India. He said they drew over 100,000 people. I'm sure it may be true. He got paid $10,000. He said,"Al, they f*cked me. They didn't pay me what I had coming." I said, "You're crazy. Ten thousand dollars in one night isn't bad." Then I came to realize that if they drew 100,000 people, he's right, they did underpay him. But you're never going to truly get paid what you deserve. That's just the business. The sooner people realize that, the better off they are. I mean, you want to get what's reasonable, and try to get as much as you can, but when it really comes down to it, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, in drawing the sellout at the Silverdome and big pay-per-view dollars, even they didn't get paid what they truly deserved. They should have gotten 60 percent of the house. They obviously didn't get that much.

Keller: Formatically, from your experience at other martial arts tournaments, is there anything you would change about the Ultimate Fight format besides the idea that next time they are going to have Gracie in a Singles match and a Tournament separately?

Al: I don't like that change. I think Gracie should stay in the original format they have. People want to see that. The whole thing, the driving force behind the Ultimate Fight, is to see Gracie lose. The more chances people have to see Gracie lose, the better. I think that will help them as far as the buyrate. But to put him in one match, I think the first light that's going to go off in people's heads is, "It's obviously a work, because now they're protecting him." Let's face it, his brother and Art Davie are partners. It's gonna stink. It's gonna smell. I know they say that since Gracie is the reason people are buying, let's make sure he's the last person they see, but that's the last thing they want to do. People are going to say, "Aww, it's bullsh*t. They're obviously protecting Royce and trying to make sure he doesn't get involved in the earlier fights." I think they're going to run into a lot of trouble and it's going to backfire against them. The overall tournament and the idea behind the rules is the only thing that's not allowed are biting and eye-gouging. And they won't stop a match for that, they'll simply fine the person who does it a thousand dollars.

Keller: Is there an advantage for Gracie based on the way the ring is set up with the walls?

Al: No.

Keller: I read an article in a martial arts magazine that said Gracie's style would not do as well on a platform without walls where he couldn't back his opponents to a wall or back himself against the wall?

Al: No. I think Gracie's whole strategy is to get a person down on the ground. He doesn't necessarily try to get them up against the wall. He does it to limit their maneuverability to where they only have access out and that makes it easier to take them down. From what I've seen, that's the basic use he makes of the walls. He does use the walls if somebody puts him up against there for leverage, but his basic forte is to put people on the mat and keep them there. The walls are simply to corner somebody. If you set it up different to where is somebody goes past a certain point, they lose points, I think you're taking away from the no-holds-barred type of aspect they are trying to get across.

Keller: Did you see Gracie behind the scenes?

Al: Yes.

Keller: What was his demeanor behind the scenes compared to the almost vaccuous intensity you see when he approaches the ring?

Al: Same thing. All the way up to the fights. Afterward, he was a   nice guy. He was smiling. He was very quiet and very reserved, but prior to the fight he was the same as on camera. The only time he was seen was at the public functions where all the fighters had to be. At that time, he was very focused and never looked at anybody directly. He just did what he was supposed to, what was called for, he would sit in a certain place and look straight ahead. He did not bother sizing anybody up, because he has his family there to do that. And they were. I mean, they were taking notes on everybody. Otherwise, he was very quiet. All of the guys were very respectful of each other. Van Clief, outside of the wrestling business, is probably one of the classiest people I've ever met. The reason I say that is most of the older wrestlers I've met are some of the classiest people I've ever met. By classy, I mean, they don't look down upon you and they obviously feel secure about themselves, not having to prove anything to you or anybody else. They don't talk down to you or act above you. Almost all the fighters were like that, except for Melton Bowen, the boxer.

Keller: Did you run into Kimo and Joe San?

Al: They kept pretty much to themselves, too. They were a bit of an enigma before the fight. I know the office girls were complaining because, well, you had to see their room service tab because they ate constantly. I had even seen them bring food in to Joe San who was eating right before the fight. That kind of bothered me because I didn't know what Joe San Do was---and obviously, it wasn't sh*t. Kimo seems to be the guy who truly had belief in God and Joe San seems like, "We believe in God because Kimo does." You know what I mean? Kimo's his meal ticket. Kimo seems like a real nice, down-to-earth guy, but he leaves things up to Joe San a little too much, I think.

Keller: What's your opinion on the showmanship ring entrances?

Al: As far as Kimo is concerned, I think it was truly an expression of his beliefs, and he was using it as a vehicle to get those across. As far as Joe San is concerned, I think he was doing it as a gimmick. Nothing against Joe San, but that's the impression I got. They were pretty funny. When Keigh Hackney was fighting Gracie, they were back there watching the monitor and they were saying, "Praise the Lord, the Spirit is in the house. He's with Hackney. Oh, kill him. Hallelujah."

Keller: Were they making light of their seriousness?

Al: No, they were dead serious. They were dead serious. They were not intentionally funny. They were doing the gimmick without even realizing that they were doing the gimmick. That was really funny. I didnt see it at the time, but that idiot who was interviewing them, I don't even watch the interview, I watch him because he gets so disgusted. He was so inept.

Keller: You had the line of the night.

Al: I didn't even know if anybody had heard it. I thought it was a stupid question. What? He's gonna go back there and run himself until he's physically and mentally exhausted? It bothered me because I'm standing there and said, "I'm sure you've looked into Gracie Jiu Jitsu.", and this and that. No we hadn't. We didn't even bother. I'm thinking from a wrestling viewpoint, the guy is good, but let's not spend the whole two hours putting the sonovab*tch over. You're giving him the push and pushing him and pushing him. Let him stand on his own merits, okay guys? Don't do this like it's a wrestling show. I didn't want to talk over Dan, but when Dan's standing there and the guy asks him a stupid question and Dan standing there going, "Ahh, duh, ah, ah" ...I finally said, "Man, what do you think he's going to do? Go have sex?" I didn't think anybody heard me because he pulled the microphone away from me and gave me a real disgusted look. Everybody who's called me since has said, "That was great!"

reprint from the January 2, 1995 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter