I met Delaware Mike at King of the Deathmatches 2014 after I got off the stage. However, this guy has been going to shows since the first Cage of Death. He did an interesting video with Luke Hadley talking about the history of CZW. They visit historic landmarks and discuss previously unknown details about deathmatch wrestling. Make sure to check that video out. But for now, let's take a trip down memory lane with Delaware Mike!
Delaware Mike: I was regularly going to ECW. Them and CZW ran shows at the same time for about two years. A guy named Craig Pendergast told me I should check out this promotion in New Jersey called CZW. This was a time before the internet was what it is today, so almost everything was word-of-mouth. I asked him, "What wrestlers are in CZW?" He said "You don't know the guys, but trust me, it's a good promotion."
So I went to the first Cage of Death with Justice Pain and Lobo. The event was held in the middle of nowhere, and it was at night. I actually brought my dad. I said "Hey dad, there's a cage match, and it looks like it's gonna be good. Let's go." I looked up the address, but back then, there was no GPS. So, I'm searching up and down this road, thinking "There's nothing here. There's no wrestling here!" We were early. My dad said "Let's go home, we're not gonna find it."
So literally, there was a police officer, pulled over doing something. I asked him, "Do you know where they're running a wrestling show?" And he goes "Oh yeah, it's down there, around that way. It's on a side street." Evidently, he knew about it.
So, finally, I find it. It's a long dirt road. There's no sign up that says "wrestling" or anything like that. We're in an industrial warehouse type of district. I missed the beginning of the show. The first match I saw had Nick Gage in it.
Everybody wrestled to the crowd every time. They were throwing chairs and busting up the place. There was an unprecedented level crowd participation. I thought "This is pretty good, and I've never even heard of these wrestlers!" Back in the day, if you didn't know the wrestlers, the show probably sucked.
After that, I started going to more CZW shows. The Backseat Boys always had good matches. Everywhere he went, Ric Blade was constantly diving all over the place. He was one of the first wild high-flyers. Every single match was always good. Tickets were like 10 bucks. You didn't even need ringside seats, because everybody was flying all over the place. There were no guardrails. The only bad thing about CZW back then was that it never started on time.
CZW had to leave Mantua, because of zoning of something. In Mantua, John would train wrestlers, and they had their shows in the same building. When he had to move, he set up the school (with all the weights and equipment) in a shopping center. After that, they found this place called Champ's Arena. It was in Sewell, New Jersey. Ric Blade almost ended his career there. He jumped off the top of a ledge, and overdid the table. He broke his leg.
After Cage of Death, and that excellent cage match, I kept coming back every month. Each card would get wilder and wilder. Wifebeater was always impressive. Then they brought in Ian Rotten and Pondo.
It's interesting how some of these guys got into the business. For example, with Jerry Lawler, he would draw pictures of the wrestlers. They liked his artwork. That's how he got his start. If it wasn't for his drawings, he may have never gotten into the wrestling business.
Lawler's mom told him "I remember my dad used to be an excellent artist. He could draw a horse so well." This is what encouraged Jerry to become interested in art. What talents lie dormant inside of you?
One night, at the end of Ian Rotten vs. John Zandig, Ian took a full, unopened wine bottle and smashed it over John's head. The bottle broke open. I was shocked! I thought, "Did I just witness a guy bust a full bottle over another man's head?" I couldn't believe it didn't kill him. How many people can say they saw that in an organized setting, and not in a bar fight?
I was standing in the lobby after the show, and ended up taking to Ian. I asked him why he used the bottle. Ian said "Well, someone handed it to me, and it wouldn't have been realistic if I didn't use it!" He was then talking about a deathmatch show that got cancelled. He was upset. We asked him, "Are you still going to have it?" He said "We're working on it for next year."
In CZW, you could go right up to the ring. So when they were doing stuff, everybody was standing inches from the action. There was no guardrail. There was nobody saying "stand back" in the old CZW. That's what made it good! I know you can't do that now because of safety, and rules and things like that. But back in the day, it was brawling like in your schoolyard, and everybody was circling the guys. That's the way you felt when you were in CZW. They would really go at it. If there was a weapon around, they would use it. They didn't care!
Particle Don: Tell us another story from that era.
Delaware Mike: At a CZW show, some fan brought a big lamp, which kind of looked like a vase. I think it was Lobo vs. Wifebeater. Wifebeater hit Lobo with it and it didn't break. So, Lobo took it and hit Wifebeater over the head. The lamp exploded! A FULL, thick lamp. It may have been the other way around (Wifebeater hitting Lobo), but it happened.
Here's another one. To this day, I still can't believe this. I was at a show in Philidephia, Pennsylvania. It was held at Johnny Kashmere's college. I have some pretty outrageous memories from that show. At one point, it was a viscous brawl all over the building. Somebody had a full-sized cash register. You know, an all-metal register that they have at the store. Well, the guy threw it, and Wifebeater took it to the head. A full cash register.
That's the same day the following story happened. It was Ric Blade and somebody vs. Low Ki and Mercury. Mercury was set up on a table. Ric Blade jumped up and grabbed a 10-foot basketball rim. He swung himself up and stood on the rim. He looked down. Then, he climbed higher, onto the top of the backboard. His shoes were about 14 feet in the air. His head was about 20 feet in the air. He did a legdrop onto Mercury. However, he didn't hit the table properly, and it didn't break. The force made him ricochet back, like a slingshot. He hit his head on the ground. He was knocked out.
I'm three feet away from all of this. I'm telling you, he's knocked out cold. Meanwhile, Mercury had fallen off the table from the impact. He's laying there in a daze, while Blade was still out cold from hitting his head on the ground. Low Ki comes over and starts stomping on Ric Blade. He doesn't know that Ric is knocked out. The ref knew something was wrong. Then, the locker room cleared out and the whole thing turned into a big squabble.
There's footage from an outdoor show where Ric jumped off a Ryder truck two times. He missed his senton and just landed on his butt. Back then, every time I would leave a CZW show, I would walk out shaking my head. I was always telling myself "I can't believe what I just saw. Did they just do that?" I had been going to ECW shows, and watching hardcore wrestling for a long time. However, every CZW show would just get crazier and crazier. It was outrageous. They would jump off high things and take insane bumps.
Lots of the guys back then stayed with CZW exclusively, and they'd only wrestle about once a month. Gage, Ric Blade, Justice Pain, Lobo...there was a whole core group of people that started out at the CZW school. Some guys were from other schools, like The Backseat Boys. They wrestled everywhere. So did Nick Burke. Every match was good. There was also a guy name "TLC" (Tables, Ladders and Chairs) that trained at the CZW school and wrestled briefly.
Particle Don: How does today's deathmatch scene stack up against the old school CZW roster?
Delaware Mike: Wifebeater, Necro, Gage, Zandig, Brain Damage, Toby Klein...it was like those guys were on a mission. They liked deathmatch wrestling. They wanted to do it. It's not like they got paid that much in Mid-South or Deep-South. I don't know what they got paid, but they didn't do it for the money. It's not like the promoter said "OK, you're getting paid $10,000 dollars. Do you want to take a bunch of punishment?" They wanted to participate in deathmatch wrestling. They would travel far distances to do the stuff. During the match, they would get into a zone. A focused state of mind where nothing else matters but deathmatch wrestling. They think nothing of going through tables, panes of glass and light tubes.
It's hard for you or me to understand that kind of mindset. You're not going to do it if you don't like the excitement of being a deathmatch worker. They feed on the fans. They like big crowds and people getting into it. They don't want you to just sit there silently. They want you to get into it. Gage loves the fans; they all love the fans. They feed off the fans. The match is better if the fans are into it. I mean, can you imagine everyone just sitting there twiddling their thumbs during a deathmatch?
Have you ever noticed how when the fans scream "ONE MORE TIME", usually the wrestlers will do the move one more time? It's all about the fans. If they just did something, and people like it, fine! Do it again. It's an art and also a sport. It's first and foremost an art. Back then, though, it was just something special.
Particle Don: Give us an example of an experience you had at a deathmatch show that you'd never get at a mainstream show.
Delaware Mike: Deathmatches, especially Ian's shows...if you see these guys coming out of the ring, it's a lot different from TV. You're right there. You can actually participate in the match! Hand them a chair. Fans bring the weapons!
I remember one time Pondo ran a show. It was Deranged vs. Jaki Numazawa. Numazawa had control over Deranged on the outside. I held up a chair. Numazawa plowed Deranged into the chair. Deranged took it with his head. The force pushed me back about 20 feet, and I fell onto the ground! It's actually on the highlights. I was sent flying from the impact. I didn't think he would come at me with such force!
I was at an outdoor show in Delaware...it was one of the tournaments. This drunk guy jumped over the guardrail. He did a flip and landed on some light tubes.
Particle Don: How did you meet Luke Hadley?
Delaware Mike: I met Luke way back at a Gathering of the Juggalos, about 12 years ago. He was taping everything with a Handycam. Pondo recruited a bunch of IWA and CZW guys to wrestle at the Gathering. The indy guys would go crazy...Homeless Jimmy, Necro Butcher and Toby Klein. They would have great matches. They'd bleed everywhere. It was like 95 degrees outside. I'm thinking "Man, these guys are warriors." Luke had a limited amount of battery and tape space, so he had to budget what he filmed. He has a bunch of stuff up on YouTube. Luke was from 3 hours north of Milwaukee where there is not much wrestling.
Luke actually ran a show once. I helped him put it on. I picked up Drake Younger, Diehard Dustin Lee and Scotty Vortekz. They had a show the night before, and I picked them up. We drove to a radio show in Sturgeon Bay. They did an interview. Billy Gram was there. They all talked about wrestling.
At the time, Luke didn't know a lot of those guys, so I helped introduce him to them. Danny Havoc came out to the show, along with Toby Klein, Drake Younger, Necro Butcher and some other guys from IWA Mid-South. It was a really good outdoor show! There was a donkey entrance cart thing for Danny.
We all came in the day before the show. This guy named Nick owned the bar where we ended up at. He loved wrestling! The wrestlers were drinking all night for free. Myself, I had been up for a long time without sleep, since about 5 in the morning. I'm thinking "We gotta get these guys outta here. The show tomorrow starts in the afternoon, and they're all drunk!" I eventually say "Luke, we gotta get these guys outta here!" Then Insane Lane and Freakshow showed up. They wouldn't stop drinking, because Nick was giving them free drinks! The wrestlers had hit the jackpot.
Luke got the guys these cabins out in the woods, in this little cabin community. They were packed with people. Well, here we are, about 2 in the morning, and these guys were still drinking at Nick's bar. I tell Luke "Look, these guys aren't gonna be worth shit tomorrow! Somebody, anybody with half a brain has got to shut this down. By the time we get to bed, it's gonna be about 4 am, and you want these guys to be at the show at like 11!" Luke said "I'm trying! Nick keeps serving them!" Luke and Billy Gram were trying to organize the situation.
Well, we got back to the rooms, out in the middle of nowhere. Some guys stayed up all night! I got some sleep. I ended up having to sleep in a baby bed. The guys...they just kept drinking! That's what these guys did; party. They can outlast me. There's footage on YouTube of Scotty being set on fire in one of those cabins. You gotta watch these guys! They'll prank you. If you fall asleep, they might pull a rib on you.
I got up the next morning and saw Freakshow watching TV. I was like "Wow, this is wild. I'm in this cabin/resort in the middle of Sturgeon Bay with these guys."
The wrestlers got to the venue the next day and put on a great show. They were pros!
Particle Don: See you at TOD, Delaware Mike!
ParticleDon.com main site
ParticleDon.com main site