Monday, 11 March 2013
Going Beyond The Mat With Roland Alexander By Rock Rims
If you’ve been a fan of pro wrestling for at least a few years you’ve no doubt heard of if not seen the movie “Beyond the Mat” which was first released in March of 2000. “Everybody knows about that movie” Colt Cabana once said on his podcast and Roddy Piper called it “The Best Documentary ever made about Professional Wrestling.” The movie which was produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Films and put together and directed by Barry Blaustein, offered a behind the scenes look at professional wrestling and followed the day to day lives of pro wrestlers who were at various stages in their careers.
And profiled in the beginning stages of their careers were professional wrestlers Mike Modest and Tony Jones, who were part of Roland Alexander’s All Pro Wrestling promotion in Hayward, California. While people came away from the movie with differing views of Roland Alexander, some having a desire to meet and train with him, some feeling he was a “prick”, and others wanting to bear his children, what I’ve found to be indisputable is that Roland Alexander is a fan of pro wrestling and is very passionate about it.
I first met began communicating with Roland through the California Classic Wrestling Facebook page. Growing up in Hayward, California (about 45 miles from San Francisco) he was a fan of Pro Wrestling and in particular a fan of Roy Shire’s Northern California promotion.
“My father had been a prizefighter before meeting my mother and we used to go the store where he would pick up copies of “Ring” magazine because he still followed the sport” Said Roland in our recent interview. “And one day when I was 7 years old, I noticed that there was a small section in the magazine devoted to Pro Wrestling. And he took notice that I had begun to watch wrestling on television and so one day when we went to the store he said, ‘It’s only fair that if I get a magazine that we should get one for you.’ So I looked around and settled on a magazine called ‘Wrestling Revue’. And I grew to love that magazine, absolutely loved it! But my mom hated it because it always came with centerfold full-color pinups that I would tape to my bedroom wall. And when I would decide to replace an old pinup poster with a new one, not only would the old poster come off of the wall but some of the paint too. And that really pissed her off!”
“After my father passed away I had an Uncle who loved Pro wrestling and began taking me to the TV tapings at the Channel 2 Studios of KTVU. What a great scene, as it was near the water and they would have the bleachers there, and they would have the play by play guy who was Walt Harris and the athletic commission Doctor sitting at ringside, which really contributed to making things more believable. I had a wrestling autograph book which was the greatest thing that you could have as a kid. I got to meet lots of the wrestlers like Pepper Gomez, Edouard Carpentier and others. I miss that and it’s sad that they don’t have that these days. Now they have barricades, where before in the 60’s and 70’s they didn’t. You’d see a wrestler standing in one corner of the ring before the match started and he’d be signing autographs for the fans. I remember Pepper Gomez doing that, and he’d be facing his corner but he’d also have one eye on his opponent on the lookout of a sneak attack. Something like that also helped make everything so believable.”
I can certainly identify with those memories that Roland has of being a young wrestling fan, as two of the important aspects of that era were the existence of kayfabe and the intimacy a fan felt with the sport because they had an access to the wrestlers that you often find in the Indies but you just don’t find with the “Big Two” these days. One of the biggest scores I ever had as a young wrestling fan was just before a lumberjack match at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, where I just casually walked around the ring and collected all of the wrestler’s autographs!
Roland himself would continue to collect not only autographs but great memories of watching such wrestling legends as Ray Stevens, Pepper Gomez, Pat Patterson, Harley Race, and Rocky Johnson, just to name a few. In fact, Roland would become friends with many of the wrestlers, with wrestler Paul Diamond (the original one) “smartening him up” to the business when still in his teens, and also becoming quite close with Rocky Johnson. “I would hang out with and work out with Rocky, play ‘cribbage’ with his beautiful wife Ata, and even babysat a then 2 year old Dewey, not knowing that one day he’d grow up to be known as ‘The Rock.’”
As the years went by Roland’s appreciation and passion for Pro Wrestling would continue to grow, as would his understanding of the different aspects that went into making a match one worth watching. Eventually his involvement with Pro Wrestling would encompass much more than watching the Television tapings and Live Events put on by Roy Shire’s promotion or partying with “The Boys”.
“It was 1991 and I was just too burnt out from my job as an accountant for a corporation and I wanted something else to do,” Roland continued. “Rick Thompson who had been a wrestler and helped the Samoans Afa and Sika break into wrestling, approached me and said, ‘You’ve got to good a head for wrestling, why didn’t you ever get into it, even as a manager?’” And so the idea of opening up a wrestling school was planted in Roland’s mind.
“Well when I was growing up watching wrestling, there were only 2 schools that I heard of that were teaching wrestling and that was Verne Gagne’s in Minnesota and Stu Hart’s in Calgary. I would later learn that the best one was being run by Boris Malenko, Dean’s Dad.” Roland soon found out that there were now many more wrestling schools in the U.S. than he realized.
“As a result of Pro Wrestling going from regional promotions to National ones like the WCW and WWF, there were lots of wrestlers who were suddenly out of jobs and some were now turning to running schools.” Roland would also discover a problem in that, while many of the better wrestlers were able to secure jobs with the WWF and WCW, many of the ones who weren’t so good or sound in their craft weren’t able to. Roland feels that it was some of these who were opening some of the wrestling schools, and thus as a result, it became a case of “the blind leading the blind.”
Originally known as “Pacific Coast Sports”, the school which would come to be called “The Boot Camp” was opened up by Roland and a partner in 1991. “The first 5 years we struggled a bit and then we got a break when Spike Dudley (a former student of Roland’s) made it big in ECW, as well as when Vic Grimes and Crash Holly had success.” Other graduates of the “Boot Camp” include the Great Khali, Michael Modest, Donovan Morgan, Tony Jones, Brent Albright, and the “Queen of Wrestling” Sara Del Rey.
Roland feels that there are several differences that separate his school and most others in the U.S.
“I offer a two year program, although some learn a little quicker and can do it in a year. Because this is a complex sport, a complex performance art. I couldn’t teach you to be a good cook at McDonald’s in 3 months. I want my students to be absolutely ready when they graduate, to look good.” Roland said that one of the biggest compliments he ever received was when Dave Meltzer stood in disbelief when finding out that one of Alexander’s students, who had just impressed Meltzer with his wrestling performance, was only making his pro debut.
Training in the APW Boot Camp consists of three stages: Beginner, Semi-Pro, and Pro. The student learns the basics and fundamentals of wrestling (“We teach 5 different kinds of arm bars. I don’t know any other school that does that”) and progresses into the higher stages where he learns such important facets of the game as detailed selling and advanced ring psychology. Roland adds, “I’ve surrounded myself with good people over the years and I believe that we have one of the top 2 or 3 schools in the country.”
And one of those good people would undoubtedly have to be Bryan Danielson. With the success of the movie “Beyond the Mat” came more awareness of Roland and his school. “It was good for APW and I’ll be forever grateful” said Roland. (“Roland is known Worldwide” said “Wrestling’s Last Hope” writer Jose Haze) It also led to an increase in revenue for Roland that resulted in his producing 2 well known events in Independent Pro Wrestling history: The King of the Indies tournaments in 2000 and 2001. The inaugural tournament was considered a success and received acclaim, but it was the 2001 event that proved to be a pivotal point in recent Indy history.
Going from the previous year’s 8 man to a 16 man format in 2001, the tournament featured a who’s who of North America’s Independent Wrestling talent. “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Brian “Spanky” Kendrick, Tony Jones, AJ Styles, Bison Smith, Frankie Kazarian, Doug Williams, Christopher Daniels and Adam Pearce were just some of the wrestlers who participated. RF video (who distributes the 2 Disc DVD set of the event), whose owner and President Rob Feinstein would go on to found Ring of Honor, has referred to this tournament as the inspiration for the forming of ROH.
In the opening round Danielson and Spanky would set the tone for the rest of the weekend tournament with an incredible match. Danielson has said of this match: : “I wasn’t supposed to win the match, but we put on such a good match that Nick(Bockwinkel who along with the Destroyer was one of the legends in attendance) went up to Roland and told him that ‘that kid should win this tournament. Roland offered me a job to wrestle and train (at APW), gave me a good salary on top of that and the flexibility to do my Indy bookings.”
Roland paid Danielson $350 a week (Almost 3 times what he normally paid) to be a trainer at the Boot Camp and offered him a room in his house to live in while he was training Roland’s students during an 8 month period in 1992. Roland loved Danielson’s work ethic, abilities, and attitude. Roland says, “I like Brian because Brian was a wrestler. His room was lined with several hundred wrestling tapes and he never came out of his room, he was too busy watching, studying tapes. He was a student of the game.” And regarding Danielson’s continued success, Roland says “This guy is a wrestler [meaning someone who uses actual wrestling holds and techniques], and at one time Japan and ROH were better for him. I’m not surprised that he got over, but I was surprised that WWE allowed him to get over, because Vince McMahon hasn’t catered to wrestlers. Now that Vince’s product has gotten stale, it might be different.”
The school has had its ups and downs over the years as has Roland’s physical health, and the downturn in the economy has affected many businesses, and while Roland’s hasn’t been immune to that, he continues to persevere. “The Wrestling School business is a struggle today”, observes Roland. “The California Classics facebook board has rejuvenated me. While I may not like how the wrestling business is today, I still have a large passion for pro wrestling. I started as a fan and I’m still a fan.”
In my personal communications with Roland it’s very obvious that he’s still a fan and I’m glad that he is, because he has a wealth of knowledge and memories to pass along. One of the first lessons he learned from Paul Diamond that he still continues to pass along is “Keep your mouth shut, your ears open, and absorb like a sponge.”
That’s wise advice to follow, whether on the mat or beyond. – RR
In the near future I’ll be doing an in-depth retrospective of The King of the Indies 2001 tournament complete with interviews, so stay tuned! Below are links for APW’s website, twitter page and their YouTube channel which has tons of APW matches and a great in-depth panel discussion on the past and present of Pro Wrestling. You can also keep up to date on my future articles (and take a look at my past ones) via my twitter and blog links which are also below.
APW Official Website: www.allprowrestling.com/
Follow APW on twitter: http://twitter.com/allprowrestling
APW Then & Now http://youtu.be/J-H8cMdOF4I
Rock Rims’ twitter & blog pages: https://twitter.com/Rockrims