But Shire's own ingenuity was key to his fed's notoriety.
According to long-time wrestling photographer, columnist, and all-around avid fan Mike Lano, the promoter a former wrestler was regarded by his wrestling business contemporaries as a promotional genius. For Shire, personality and a dynamic, athletic wrestling style were paramount. "[He] demanded excellence from his wrestlers," Lano says. "Matches had to be excellent or he would yell and chew the guys out." This democratic booking philosophy, which favored talent and originality over marketability, is closer to the indie wrestling scene of today than to the monolithic WWE.
The Bay Area's diversity played a major role in Shire's booking strategy. He promoted wrestlers of color as some of Big Time Wrestling's top stars, a savvy move that allowed the multifaceted Bay Area to see itself represented heroically in the ring. Afa Anoa'i Sr., better known to wrestling fans as Afa the Wild Samoan, followed in the footsteps of his legendary uncle, "High Chief" Peter Maivia (Rocky Johnson's father-In-law), who commanded a massive Pacific Islander fan base. Though he was a journeyman by nature, returning to the Bay to wrestle for Shire's promotion was always a special experience for the Wild Samoan. "Because we [had] a lot of my Samoan population there, sometime[s] [the] fans [would] get out of control and a riot [would] break out in the crowd," he remembers via e-mail. "But it was all good."
This story demonstrates a common truth in wrestling: when the drama in the ring speaks to one's own experiences and sensibilities, the event as a whole is that much more fun and engaging.
THE POLITICS OF WRESTLING
Fog City Wrestling promoter/cofounder Dominick Jerry started out as a Humboldt County concert promoter before relocating to San Francisco with his wife in 2003. Booking FCW's matches and storylines, he tells me, gives him the opportunity to play around with the politics of mainstream wrestling, a compelling provisional touch I suspect won't be on WWE's agenda any time soon.
Mainstream wrestling is often criticized for its socially conservative slant, a turn-off for many fans whose personal beliefs are less "kill the evil foreigner." But Jerry feels that in a town as singular as San Francisco, a promotion needs to cater to local sensibilities to survive. He cites, among other regional overtures, a handful of appearances by Differ'nt Strokes star Todd Bridges (no doubt drawing from his experiences battling the Gooch) as an appeal to '80s nostalgia.
Jerry is also interested in the reinvention of character types that a small SF-based promotion would allow for, and quite possibly necessitate. "Wrestling is not a sport that's very sensitive to race," he tells me over the phone. "But at the same time, it plays on race and it knows it. I see that I have a chance to change things and do things a little different."
He expresses pride in a recent storyline that saw a Middle Eastern wrestler named Sheik Khan Abadi become the promotion's most popular wrestler, genie pants and all. (Abadi recently relocated to Florida. When I interviewed the East Bay-born wrestler, he fondly recalled his experience wrestling in SF: "They cheered me 'cause they thought I wrestled well and [because] I was wrestling for them. That was one of the greatest feelings ever to be respected for what I do, and not just typecast for being Middle Eastern.")
The opening match on Fog City Wrestling's Saturday afternoon card sees your standard square-jawed tough guy face up against longtime California indie star Angel the Hardcore Homo. On the one hand, the persona borders on minstrelsy -- it's a sort of hybrid between the implicit button-pushing of Gorgeous George and lucha libre's rodeo clown-like "exotico" type.