I love pro wrestling. Always have. I love everything about it. It has been a huge part of my life for sixty years. I have been watching and going to pro wrestling shows since before I first entered elementary school. It is a generational thing. Some of the greatest wrestlers in the world battled in my grandfathers living room in Edina. He had a lot of connections in Japan and Minnesota and personally knew many of the all time greats. My dad loved it. We watched together and he took me to my first live shows. He took me in Minneapolis back in the glory days. And he took me so many times in Albuquerque and west Texas. My first real graps heros were Rapid Ricky Romero and the Funk family. The TV tapings with MIke London in Albuquerque are still fresh in my mind. Trips to live events were a treat never to be forgotten. I remember and I am forever grateful. Sometimes I dream about it. Thank God.
When I moved to Chattanooga at age 16 I quickly realized that I had entered a new hotbed of wrestling. Sitting squarely in the middle of wrestling meccas Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and Charlotte made the scenic city the perfect spot for a layover. We got all the big stars from Flair to Lawler. This was Nick Gulas territory and Harry Thornton was a legendary announcer. Homegrown stars included Bam Bam Gordy and Pistol Pez Whatley (a friend of mine from college, the first Black wrestler at UT Chattanooga and a damn good one). I loved the baby faces, of course, but must confess a long time affinity for really good heels. My favorite tag team was the hated pairing of the legendary Gypsy Joe and Tojo Yamamoto. The brutal bloody brawls! Oh, the humanity! Tojo chopping and Harry Thornton chirping about Pearl Harbor. What a time to be alive.
I moved to Charleston shortly after the birth of my first son, Dylan. My love affair with wrestling continued in the heart of Ric Flair country. There was the bizarre show at the King Street Palace and the Diaper Match at James Island High School. The Hales Clan marked out for WWE referee Charles Robinson at this event. Then there was the time Ric Flair bumped into me at a show and said “excuse me, sir.” Papa Hales was the head wrestling coach at St. Andrews High School when we traveled to Orangeburg and faced Shelton Benjamin on the mat. And there was this trip to Columbia where a murder occurred in the next room and Papa Hales gave the local authorities a tongue lashing they will not soon forget for blocking us in the parking lot. A near riot erupted over this situation. Folks, you just can’t make this stuff up. My life is a damn shoot.
Now you have to understand that these endless trips were in addition to the thousands of hours spent watching TV and video. My fascination with Terry Funk and hardcore wrestling led me to an inevitable obsession with ECW. Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu and all the rest. The list is endless. The brawling and the chaos. What a time in its heyday. Naturally this would result in Dylan and me making towns. It had to happen. So Papa and Dylan and Drew Hales took off an an ECW tour. At Asbury Park, Paul Heyman told me to take a piss in the ocean when I asked for directions to the bathroom. We stayed at the Red Bull Inn in the darkest hotel room on the planet. In Allentown fans lined up with a multitude of weapons including crowbars, glass, barbed wire, and all the rest. A near riot broke out at this event when fans interfered and touched Francine. The wrestlers and fans locked up in an unforgettable shoot, chasing each other around the venue and exchanging blows. Just another night in the life of Papa Hales.
I moved back to the Chattanooga area in 2000 and watched my two younger sons Dustin and Devon compete in wrestling tournaments in middle and high school. Dustin is the only proven success in the ring and he has the medals to prove it! Watch the Element versus Fly Guy on youtube for his pro debut. This was many years before Dylan’s appearance in an Evolve ring. But Papa is equally proud of all of his boys. Devon gave his all when he broke his collarbone in a shoot fight on the stairs. The Hales Clan has enjoyed many great shows in Chattanooga including several great cards at the UTC Arena. But my favorite local promotions are the original UEW which featured stars like Tank and Iceburg and Empire with guys like Drew Delight, Ace Rockwell, and Gunner Miller along with a host of other stars. One of the best things about Chattanooga is its proximity to so many great independent venues and promotions.
I retired because of a severe heart condition and failing vision two years ago. I loved teaching like I love wrestling. I miss it so much. Not the adults and not the crap. It’s the kids I love and miss. In the classroom and on the field I marveled at their courage and determination. I loved being a small part of their success. I loved staying after school to help kids and spending lunch tutoring math and chemistry. I loved when they “got it.” Papa once got called to the carpet for telling someone to get the hell out of teaching if he didn’t like kids. I stand by this comment today. These kids bought me so much joy. They gave my life real meaning. I know that many would not have a diploma without my help. And I am proud of that. But I am really MUCH prouder of them. Enough of this, back to the graps!
I left teaching on the last day of summer school when my principal called my wife and ordered me out of the room. I went straight to the Chattanooga Heart Institute and they scheduled open heart surgery to repair a huge hole in my heart. I could not walk 20 feet without gasping and stopping. I could not walk from my car to my apartment. A thirty year battle with diabetes was stealing my vision. I could not see kids in the back of my classroom. Thank God they didn’t know! What the hell was Papa going to do? Pack it in? Give up the Ghost? HELL NO!!! I had open heart surgery more than a year ago and I am taking injections in the eyeball to help delay my vision loss. I can now walk 50 feet without gasping and stopping. And I can see most of what happens if I sit in the front row. So what did I decide to do in the face of these challenges??? Make Towns!!!
In the past two years I have enjoyed excursions to many of the great promotions in wrestling. Several trips to Empire and Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment in Georgia have brought so many great moments and memories. Great stars like Martin Stone, Johnny Gargano, Chip Day, Tommaso Chiampa, Team IOU, Corey Hollis, and so many more. The list is endless. Then there was the trip to Piedmont, Alabama to see AJ Syles and Jimmy Rave battle. What a match! The Scenic City Invitational was an amazing experience in my own home town. You must come to this event if you can. This year Chris Hero and Matt Riddle join an incredible and diverse field for a two day event that will rock your world! On August 5-6 Chattanooga will be the epicenter of the pro wrestling universe.
Making towns is not just a short trek to your local promotion. Making towns is not just coming out to see WWE house shows in the area. Making towns is not a two hour trip to see a big PPV. Friends, making towns is a committed life style. It means real travel and a lot of it. It means planes, trains, and automobiles. It means planning and securing tickets. It means networking with friends from wrestling twitter. It means crap food and good food. It means meeting new friends It means endless mark pictures. It means face time with real indie wrestling stars. It means bringing your charger so twitter doesn’t die. It means trying to figure out how to cram new merch in your luggage. It means begging your boss for time off and lying to your boss. It means going rain or shine, sick or not. It’s not for everyone. But it is for Papa Hales.
In the midst of making towns Papa became obsessed with a singular goal, the Grand Slam of Wrestling. Yes, I decided at Survivor Series in Atlanta last year that I was going to make the Rumble, Mania, and Summerslam to complete the challenge. I added a Chicago tour and California visit to the mix just for good measure. While Survivor Series was a short run down the freeway, the Rumble required a Florida tour. What a tour it was! The crowd at Rumble was great and the entrance of AJ Styles was electric. Add in great Evolve shows, NXT, and a jaunt to Miami for RAW which ended when Papa got stranded on a drawbridge and nearly plunged into the Miami River.
Mania weekend was crazy beyond belief. I especially enjoyed my visit to Wrestlecon for mark pics with several stars. Hearing Dalton Castle screaming out “Papa Hales” in the Hyatt Regency was priceless. Seeing Jonny Gargano, AR Fox, and Candice LeRae at 2 in the morning at TexasMania was a unique treat. Ring of Honor put on a great show on Friday. It was my first time to see Cheesburger and get his shirt. The lines at Mania were long and this show and Raw were both interesting, but also perplexing. They left me underwhelmed. The highlight of this tour for me was the Evolve shows. Getting to see Dylan Hales tap to Johnny Gargano in the center of the rung was true poetic justice. The Terry Funk appearance in the ring was one for the ages. Seeing Ibushi any my favorite gal Andrea was great. Two of the best young stars in all of wrestling, Matt Riddle and Fred Yehi, were outstanding. It was so fun to talk to Fred after the show. The chants of BRO BRO BRO BRO are still ringing in my years.
I would be remiss if I failed to address my meeting with Terry Funk just before Mania. The Hales Clan went to his meet and greet and I almost broke down when I met my lifelong wrestling hero. We chatted with him for a full 20 minutes while the line grew longer and a few nasty glares came our way. I couldn’t help it. We talked about the old days in the Amarillo territory. About the Funk brothers and his dad. And we talked about his matches with the late Rapid Ricky Romero. If was emotional. But it was real. My lifelong affair with pro wrestling was coming full circle. We both understood what this memory meant. I will never forget and I doubt that Terry will, either.
Next on my agenda was the Chicago and California tour. Freelance and AAW shows were both outstanding in every way. I loved both promotions and witnessed many great matches. Dylan and I are so thankful to all who helped us to purchase great tickets and shuttle us around. We made many friends and had some great visits with twitter pals and indie stars. The Prince Mustafa Ali title match against Velazquez at Freelance was MOTY quality and the Gargano and Sabre, Jr. match at AAW was absolutely pro wrestling at its best. Sandwiched between these shows was a trip to California where Dylan got to spend time with the real Lana, his beautiful lady. We made a side trip to visit our good friends at the Talking Sheet to report on our adventures and had a super visit with Sealia and Hugh for graps chatter and good times. This tour ended in Atlanta at AWE on Father’s Day where me and three of my sons got to witness a truly special show. Team IOU won the tag team championship of AWE in a tournament that was fun from beginning to end. They did it in tribute to the late, great Gypsy Joe. Kerry Awful’s speech in the ring after the match is a moment. A real wrestling moment that you should see.
In case you were wondering, marks, the saga continues. I will be front row at AWE Atlanta for the season finale July 17. The 2016 Scenic City Invitational is just around the corner on Aug. 5 and 6. Believe me folks, this is the indie event of the year. And I will be completing the Wrestling Grand Slam in Brooklyn with my first born son Dylan, my constant companion. This trip includes Tier 1, NXT Takeover, and Evolve. Of course it does. Why not? Dylan and I will celebrate our birthdays together in New York. What a life!
So if you are feeling sorry for an old man with a big belly who can’t see very well or walk too far, you might just want to stop and think it over for a minute. Papa Hales is living the dream. Making Towns. Before my world grows dark.