Before Shoot Interviews: Eddie Sharkey–Part 2

Eddie Sharkey turns his attention to his Pro Wrestling America (PWA) promotion in the second part of this 1991 interview. In addition to describing the dynamics of trying to be an independent promoter at a time when the World Wrestling Federation had driven many other regional wrestling promotions out of business, Mr. Sharkey provides some insights into wrestler interactions with fans inside and outside of arenas.

SHARKEY: The PWA, we have no television, we do no advertising. People come to us. I think mine was about the second wrestling school in the country. That’s why I made so much money. I had it all to myself, the whole area. I think Killer Kowalski had the first one, but that was way out East somewhere. I was also the first independent–the only independent promotion–never to lose money. The PWA has never lost money.

But I’m training guys now differently. I’m retraining wrestlers. Things are different now. I don’t even call them wrestlers anymore, I call them sports hustlers, because wrestling isn’t enough. To be a good wrestler right now, unless you’re with the World Wrestling Federation, you’re not gonna make a living. You have to go out and promote talents. I gotta get publicity in different ways. I got them working with other independent groups. So all we are is just a bunch of hustlers. Sometimes we work the boxing matches. My friend who sets up the ring for me is a boxing promoter here. He’s got several good fighters. So sometimes we’ll go work the fights, do security work there. We have to handle the crowds. I’m learning to be a boxing referee. You have to be a judge and everything there, so…anything for a buck.

The times are tough for the independent wrestler right now. Anything we can do to make a couple of dollars–we have different things like selling pictures. Babyfaces will always make over a hundred dollars selling pictures. We have a big homeless show every year where we let everyone in free. We draw thousands of people for that.

When I worked for the American Wrestling Association [owned by Minnesotan Verne Gagne], they were the biggest in the world. It was unbelievable. But the pressure of the business got to Verne, and he just quit paying. Actually he cheated everybody. That’s why he’s got such powerful enemies. You get a guy like Hulk Hogan or Jesse Ventura, and the list goes on and on, they’ll come to Minneapolis and they’ll wrestle free just to hurt Verne. They came in when the World Wrestling Federation first started here. They didn’t care if they got paid or not. They just wanted to hurt Verne.

Eddie Sharkey, older and wearing glasses, smiling
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And then I went back to Verne-of all people, because we were enemies for years. I really did him a hell of a favor after Hulk Hogan and everybody else. I brought the Road Warriors in. I brought the Road Warriors back, and I had a real good crowd. You think maybe the guy would appreciate it a little, but he got us all again. The younger guys, like the Road Warriors, they were still pretty young then, you can understand that–but you’d think I’d be a little smarter. But Verne was so charming, when he wants to be, but then he’s got us again. It’s kind of pathetic now. It is too bad. He could have given Vince McMahon a run for his money. 

At that time, I had quit wrestling for about 10 years. I just walked away from it. I felt sick of it. I was totally burned out. Then I came back because of the Road Warriors. I put them in the business, and they brought me back. So we all helped each other. We still work together and help each other. So I came back to the business, and at that time Vince McMahon called me up and wanted me to work for him. Which I did for a while. But then I quit Vince and went to Verne, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve made some bad decisions in the last 10 years, but that was the worst one. I probably could have gotten the Minneapolis/St. Paul/Milwaukee territory to run. I could have had it all. I’d be a very rich man today. I’d be working in the office with all my old friends. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

In the meantime, Vince offered Verne $6 million for this territory here. And Verne got real nasty with him. I don’t know what he said. I had only talked to Vince once in my life, and he was telling me that he hated Verne. Verne can really be an ass. So Vince just took it from him. Town by town by town, he took all the big cities, and I took all the small towns. We would simply promote very good matches. We were always invited back. Just being nice to people, I think, being good to the fans, especially good to the wrestlers, is the key. That’s why I’ll never really be a great promoter, because I’ll always be a wrestler. You know, some people are born to be promoters, like Vince McMahon. He had never wrestled, but his father was a promoter. So rather than hanging out with someone in a business suit, I want to sit in the dressing room and drink beer with the boys. Just hang out. I like it, I’m happy with it.

There’s big headlines in the sports sections these days: “Don’t let your kids be like Hulk Hogan.” “Hulk Hogan’s on steroids; he’s selling steroids. Keep your kids away.” “He’s not a hero; he’s not a role model for your kids.”

I know there’s a lot of steroid abuse. I’m anti-steroids, I’m anti-drugs, I’m anti-everything. I hear the conversations, I know it’s around, but I don’t know who’s taking them and who’s not taking them. But I’ll tell you one thing, we’re gonna see a lot of small wrestlers. I might make a comeback except I’ll be too big. The problem here with taking steroids is that the guys are on the road–the guys that work real hard, like in the WWF, they’re on the road and they can’t train properly.

Eddie Sharkey, smiling, posing in black wrestling trunks
Image Credit: @WrestlingIsKing, Twitter

I don’t care if a guy wants to go out drinking after the match and get in a barroom brawl, because my generation was like that. We’d go out and, jeez, we’d get in fights, some notorious barroom brawls that are legends. I don’t care. But I just don’t want any drugs around or steroids, because if you’re in the ring with a guy, and the guy’s on drugs, you don’t know what he’s going to do. You just don’t know. It’s bad. It’s hurt far worse than the people know, and it’s not over. The FBI’s in on this. They might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating the steroid situation, and they’re not gonna spend all that money for nothing. They’re gonna nail somebody. They’ve already started searching different wrestlers’ homes and cars.

It’s interesting because I follow it real closely. I don’t want to see anybody get in trouble, but if they do, I want to be the first to know. You know, wrestlers are terrible gossips. They have nothing else to do. You sit all day in a car, you sit in your dressing room, and what else do you have to talk about but other wrestlers? So we do gossip a bit, call each other on the phone. If people only knew how bad we are….

Hulk Hogan don’t deserve the bad publicity. Why him? Because he’s in the main event. He’s on top. He’s gonna carry the heat, because he plays to the kids, and the kids love it. And the guy is a legitimate nice guy. He’s not a bad guy. You know, there’s different guys who want their own dressing rooms because they’re stars, and he doesn’t. He dresses with the guys. He’s one of the boys. Hogan is, in my opinion, the greatest world champion who ever lived. I go by the box office. And I’ve known some great champions, like Harley Race and Gene Kiniski, and some other champions who were terribly overrated and never drew a nickel.

But with steroids, I’m glad they’re cleaning up their act. Otherwise we’re not gonna see any old wrestlers anymore. They’ll be dead by the time they’re 50. It’s true. And they still don’t know what it’s gonna do in another 10 years, to the guys who took them 10 years ago. I think it’s a scary thing. 

Eddie Sharkey, older, holds photo of his younger self in wrestling trunks.
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We did have a lot of fun. The fights were classics. I remember one time–see, I used to hang around with Harley Race. I bought a house here in south Minneapolis, and he lived with me. Harley’s a tough son-of-a-gun, you know. He can fight in the street like you can’t believe. Harley’s tough. Our fights were classics. He was in court all day. It wasn’t a question of whether we’d win or lose, it was how quick we could knock the guys out. And we went out for years like that.

Never run, you never run. You’ll panic the crowd, you know. You’ll never see a guy run from the ring with a crowd after him. You see, in those days we didn’t have the police protection we have now. There were no barricades, there was one cop. Now there’s barricades and a dozen cops. We never had that. I remember one time in Denver, I was standing around talking to some girl or something, and Harley Race came out. Somebody got the crowd mad, so they said, “Let’s grab Harley.” Now a guy grabs him around the waist, and somehow they were down. And in the meantime a woman was hitting him with a high-heeled shoe, and I’m only a few feet away. So I took about six steps and kicked the guy as hard as I could, right in the head, and it didn’t move him.

So I said, “We’re in trouble. I’m just gonna stick my finger in, and pull this guy’s eyeball right out.” I reached down, stuck my finger in his eye, and I stuck my finger in an empty eye socket. Harley had already ripped his eye out! The guy bit through Harley’s finger. I’d never felt anything like that in my life. It was just unexplainable, how that felt. And I looked down, and the guy’s eye is ripped out, and by this time, you know, we’re out of there. We were both barred for about three months. We couldn’t go back to Denver.

I’ve had times when I’ve been hurt in the ring. In Dubuque, Iowa, we just hooked up in a tag-team match, and the two [bad guys] had me in-between them. An old man in the audience was gonna save my life and threw his cane. They never hit the guy they aim at, you know. It just split my head wide open. There was blood all over. You break a finger, the bone comes right through the finger, you gotta keep wrestling with the bone sticking out of the finger. How we did things like that, I don’t know.

Finally, they got so many lawsuits and so many people getting hurt that they spend thousands of dollars now for security. We had terrible fights, constantly. But we had so much fun in those days too, we were laughing all the time. I tell the new guys one thing: “Have a good time, I don’t care, just have a good time, because you’re never gonna remember what you got paid tonight. Twenty years from now, all you’re gonna remember is the good times. That’s all you’re gonna have left in this business. You’re gonna have good times, good memories, and a bad back, and nothing else.”

They’re all comic book characters, they’re all half-nuts, or they wouldn’t be in this business. We’ve been accused of many things, but never of being dull people.

Thoughts from 2022:  Eddie Sharkey’s career as an active wrestler wrapped up in 1968, but he did return to the ring in 2004 for a very short-lived Minnesota-based promotion called the French Lake Wrestling Association (FLWA), beating Lenny Lane for the FLWA title!

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