Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Interview With Dale Pierce, author of Riot At The Garden.

Thanks to Phx. Madison Square Garden Myspace page for reprinting permission.

An Interview With Dale Pierce, author of Riot At The Garden.

Q. You are considered one of the foremost authorities on wrestling at the old Phoenix Madison Square Garden...

A I do not really consider myself an authority because when someone claims to be an expert, I have found that person is usually full of himself and full of shit, so I try to decline any title of this nature. I simply have a good memory and happen to be one of the last people to cover the history of the arena, so people tend to ask me questions, but I do not think of myself as a big authority or consider myself to be an expert. There are others out there who would know more about the place than I do, but I just happen to be the person to glamorize it. Thus this title gets dumped on me.

Q. Tell us about the book Riot At The Garden.

A. It is a smaller book. What happened was I wrote this in 1979, right after the old arena closed down for goods, as I had just entered the wrestling business as a participant, doing a manager role. Beforehand, at the old Garden, I had been a photographer and designed the programs sold at the arena, so with the new book I had something extra to sell at other arenas. When it went out of print, it went out of print, period; as I had no copies left, even for myself. Then in 1996, this referee named Hicks wanted to reissue it and did. Then in 2005, he put it out again. The final go around he was charging more than I thought he should, but the money is going to a good cause. The bulk of it goes into a fund for the retired wrestlers in Phoenix and their annual reunions as a lot of these guys did not save anything, some have no insurance and so on. You can find out about the Garden and some of the other arenas and people/places wrestling in Phoenix at and about the Riot book at http://www.riotatthegarden and

Q. Your book has a lot of focus on a big riot that took place down there, ending in a massive fight between fans and wrestlers? This was in 1971
or so?

A I was there when it happened. This was NOT the only riot to ever take place in the building, but one of the worst, I think. Fans back then took the wrestling world deathly serious. They even had to have this swinging gate to section off the open space between the concession stand and the aisle where the bad guys came out, making their way to the ring. The riot in question took place during the height of a feud between The Comancharos and Ben Justice with his tag team partner, Pancho Pico. This one bout ended in a bloodbath with everyone bleeding and things just exploded. It was in the fall of 1971, but I cannot recall the exact date off the top of my head.

Q. A lot of wrestlers got their start down there?

A True. Jimmy Garvin had his first match there, as a manager for Terry Garvin. he noted this on his webpage. Bobby Jaggers had most of his early matches there, goign as Bobby Mayne. The Samoans had their early matches there as The isalnaders and I recall being there when Sika made his debut, running in to save Afa. Billy Anderson, who is better known as a trainer than a wrestler, had his first bouts there. You might say I started there, though I never wrestled or managed in the arena, because that is where I got my "in" so to speak, via doing the programs. Plus there were several area people whoc ould have made it big universally, but never wanted to leave the southwest. Danny Snyder and Hercules Stevenson come to mind. BIlly Graham has a couple of his early matches down there before heading to Los Angeles with Jerry and making history. Jody Arnold could have been a worldwide draw, but never wanted to leave the Arizona area. .

Q. Jody was a major heel there?

A Oh, you had better believe it. They brought him in as a "nephew" to Don Arnold, who was already a major villain, so just using the Arnold name got him instant heat with the people. He did not just coast on the name either, though he and Don Arnold were not really relations. He made it big on his own. His feuds with tito Montez were legendary, as were some of his matches with David Rose, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Cowboy Bob Yuma, Ron Protchard and some others. He was a big, muscular guy and very articulate with his interviews . I just wish some of the Garden tapes of him in action still existed, but a problem is the promotion kept reusing the same tape to save money, erasing the action from the week before, so many of his best bouts are gone forever. There is a limited amount of footage form other arenas, but nothing of him at the Garden as far as i know. Odd thing is he turned into a fan favorite in the early 1980s. Here is this son of a bitch people hated, then overnight they cheered him like Jesus returning to earth, when The Lumberjacks doublecrossed him.

Q. Have you thought of doing an expanded book on the Garden?

A. Possibly, but I am so wrapped up in so many things. You can find out about them at and anyone reading may feel free to join me as a friend, as I sometimes do wrestling blogs. My books, our no budget horror dvds amd such may also be found in my friends section, on seperate pages. Just drop me a message also when yous end a friend request, so I know you are not one of these damned my space sluts trying to sell me dirty poctures and I will approve you. There is also the possibility of a dvd documentary, but this is going to take some time and planning. No promises. I want to do it, but time is my enemy.

Q. Sadly, a lot of people who worked at the arena have died?

A True. Cowboy Bob Yuma, who fought to keep the Garden from being tikrn down, died in 2006. Sputnik Monroe, The Comancharos, Rudy Navarro, Dick Hutton, Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, the Christy Brothers, Mazurki, Ketonen, Man Mountain Mike, Haystacks Calhoun, Blassie, Red Berry, Kit Fox, Mildred Burke, Navajo Frank, Firpo Zybysco, Russ Barker, Lucifer, Dick Dunn, Eddie Sullivan, Frank Hickey, Don Kent, Gorilla Ramos, Duke Keomuka, Roberto Pico, Tarzan Tyler. They are all dead. SAome died long ago and some died more recently. I have heard Henry Pilusso and Chuck Karbo are dead but have never been able to confirm it,. You have to remember the Garden closed in `1979 and that was a long time ago in its own right. It stands to reason the bulk of those who appeared there except the very youngest, would be dying off by now.

Q What wrestlers were your favorites down there?

A I had several. Cowboy Bob Ellis, The Comancharos, Jody Arnold, Tito Montez, Bobby mayne. I was a kid, then a teenager, watching the shows. The place was like a second home. It sounds sappy, but truew. I was sad to see the building torn down and I really mean that. One of the Lumberjacks saved me a brick from the building, that I have to pick up whenever we make Arizona again. He went to the rubble and took a bunch of bricks to save for varied wrestlers. That shows how strong he felt, I felt and we all felt about seeing the building torn down.

Q You live in Ohio now, correct?

A. Yes, Glendale got too big for us. Had I still been living in Arizona, you can bet your ass I would have been involved with the fight to save the Garden a lot more physically and a lot more actively, but being over 2000 miles away, there wa slittle I could do. I heard Tito Montez flew in from Oregon several times to try to help save the arena. It was all for nothing.

Q. What is the wrestling like in Ohio?

A Well, sadly, a lot of the old buildings have been torn down, just like the Phoenix Madison square Garden. the Akron Armory downtown is gone. The old building on Euclid Avenue up in Cleveland is gone. A lot of history has been sacrificed to progress here too. As for the WWE, I do not know what they are doing and cannot even stomach watching them. there are some indy groups running around that run good shows, but others are absolutely horrible. The very nature of the wrestling world has changed any more and it flat is not the same as when I was a kid,. which saddens me. I do not like a lot of these changes. People do things out there now, in the ring, that would have gotten them fired in the old days. the profanity, the sexual angles, the bullshit. On and on. I could list a hundred fifferences and all of them are bad.

Q. Even though the Garden is gone, it seems like many sites are now covering the history of the building and it is long overdue.

A Hindsight is sadly the best sight, I think. People have started to appreciate too late, all the action that took place down there. It is better than nothing, but a lot of it is too litttle and too late, which again saddens me. So much history down there. So many memories. It depresses me to think the building is gone, but the memories will live on.

Q. What was it like to start in wrestling then as opposed to now?

A A whoile different ballgame . In the time where I started , it was almost like getting into the mafia in an episode of The Sopranos. A lot of the people fromt he Garden were dead set against me starting at first because they wanted me to stay a fan, taking pictures and doing the programs, but once I got in, they were all magnificent at helping me along. It was a family back then, a team atmosphere, not a place for individuality and big egos. Basiczlly back then you ahd to know someone whow a sin, who would convince the others to let you try your hand, but it was probationary and very closed doors . You kept your mouth shut, you did what you were told and you learned. Maniac Mike Gordon was the one who got me in and spoke for me. The Lumberjacks, David Rose, Pedro El Grande and others were all a major help. I learned so much from them. Also the late Eddie Sullivan. Now, you just go to a school, pay someone money and you are in. It didn;t work like that back then. It was a lot more exclusive and because the wrestling world is not like that now, the busines has suffered greatly.. Now if it is all the same to you, I would rather not talk about myself as a manager role. You see, I started working right after the old Garden closed, so this really does not fit the topic that much. Likewise, when you get me under mt, uh wrestling personality, you have to conduct the interview with that oersonality. When I do an interview as Dale Pierce, you get Dale Pierce. I do not blend the two roles as they are different businesses sides of me and dare I say, in a warped way, two different people. It is like having a split personality, yet being aware of it.

Q. There were other Madison Square Gardens that came after the original one on 7th and Van Buren?

A. Yes, another promtoer opened the "new" Madison Square Garden, a dumpy building on 40th Street and Van Buren or so, but he closed down in a copuple years in the 1980s, while a boxing gym wa susing that title in the 1990s, also somewhere on Van Buren. To most of us the only Garden will be the one that is now gone forever. That is the one on 7th Avenue & Van Buren.

Q. What do you know about Jim Wright dying in the building?

A. Before we lived in Arizona. I was not there to see it and have only heard others talk about it. I believe Jim Wright was the brother of Mongol Lu Kimm, but cannot be sure as lots of people cliam to be relatives who are not, both then and now. Anyway, he wa sin a tag team bout and fell off the apron, hitting his head on the hard wooden floor. The blow to the head and the hearta ttack that put him down were like a double curse,. Either would have killed him, but the combo did him in. I had heard the people he was wretslign had gotten really ticked off at him and they did a number on him, which accidentally caused his heart to give out, but again, who knows? That may be an urban legend. In any case, he fell over dead. This wa sin the early 1960s sometime.

Q. What wrestlers do you remember seeing there, from when you were attending bouts?

A. Oh God, so many. Kurt Von Steiger, Eddie Lopez, Ed Blair, Nano Ortega, Hercules Stevenson, Bob Yuma, Benny Mendeblis , The Comancharos, Chuck Hondo, Woody Farmer, Bill Kirk, The Spoiler, Tonah Tomah, Jimmy Kent, The Hornets, Pete Martinez (Marquez), Bambi Ball, Bob Lueck. This could go on and on.

Q. In closing, what was the greatest bout you ever saw there?

A The one written about in the book with The Comancharos facing Ben Justice & Pancho Pico. That was also the great feud I ever saw.

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