Twenty years is a long time for an indy wrestling promotion to survive. In fact, since the end of the territory days in the early 1980s, only one promotion has made it to its 20th birthday in Southern California. That promotion is the EWF*.
Founded in 1996 by Jesse Hernadez and Bill Anderson, they had their debut show on May 5, 1996. A few years in Jesse and Bill had a nasty split that probably would have destroyed most promotions. Bill Anderson left and formed the IWC taking some of the bigger stars of the promotion with him. Jesse Hernandez retained control of the EWF and the School of Hard Knocks, and continued on. While the IWC only lasted a few years, the EWF is still one of the most respected promotions in Southern California.
With the 20th anniversary coming up in May, a few months ago the EWF announced they would be forming an EWF hall of fame. While the most obvious choice to be inducted would be promoter and Southern California hall of famer Jesse Hernandez, they announced early on he would not be inducted as he is on the voting committee. Over several weeks they announced their three inaugural inductees, Melina Perez, Bobby Bradley, and Frankie Kazarian.
If Bobby Bradley’s career started 15 years later, he’d be well known among wrestling fans, but since most of his career took place in the pre-internet days his stellar career is sadly largely unknown to fans today. This is a wrestler who was Rob Van Dam’s tag-team partner, wrestled in All Japan, and wrestled Jim Neidhart at the World Wrestling Peace Festival in 1996.
Trained by Jesse Hernandez and Great Goliath in the 1980s, Bradley quickly became one of the top stars in the territory. “Primetime” Peterson, who was one of the top wrestlers in the area in the late 90s and early 2000s, credited seeing Bobby Bradley at the WIN tapings in San Bernardino, that featured such names as Konnan and Eddie Guerrero, as getting him into wrestling. In 1991 Bradley actually teamed with Konnan and Rey Misterio to take on Bill Anderson, Huichol and Tim Patterson in Tijuana. He wrestled for both American and lucha promotions all over Southern California in the early 1990s, often being teamed against Louie Spicoli.
In 1994 he began wrestling for the National Wrestling Conference in Las Vegas, losing to Sabu at their debut show. It was at the National Wrestling Confrence where the tag-team he is probably best remembered for today was formed, Aerial Assault with Rob Van Dam. Together they would team all over the world, including in All Japan Pro Wrestling. They also won a tournament to win the NWC tag-team titles, and were the only champions in the history of the promotion. He would also work for the WWF, notably working against Doink and tag-teaming against Earthquake and Typhoon.
While still wrestling for NWC and teaming with Rob Van Dam, the EWF scheduled its first show for May 5, 1996. With their debut show they needed a standout main event. So they tapped Bobby Bradley to face Zuma in the main event of the first EWF show. On June 16, 1996 Bobby Bradley would once again defeat Zuma to become the first EWF Heavyweight champion. He would hold the title until November 3rd when he dropped it to the Irish Assassin.
Bradley would continue to team with Rob Van Dam in NWC, and they would never lose the tag titles. The NWC folded in 1998, and Rob Van Dam became a star in EWF. Bobby Bradley would remain in SoCal, wrestling for the EWF as well as other local promotions. On May 2, 1998 he would defeat the “Suicide Kid” Mikey Henderson to win the EWF Heavyweight title a 2nd time, losing it to the “Iceman” John Black on August 2, 1998. On October 3, 1998 he was in the semi-main event of San Diego’s CCW’s debut show, taking on Justin Sane (not the same one that would later team with Hardkore Kidd).
When Bill Anderson and Jesse Hernandez had their falling out, Keji Sakoda was the EWF Heavyweight champion. Sakoda decided to leave with Bill Anderson, vacating the EWF title. Once again the EWF turned to Bobby Bradley to help bring prestige back to the title, winning a battle royal (last eliminating Mando Guerrero) to win the title for a third time on May 14, 2000. He would lose it to “Cruiser” Eddie Williams on September 17, 2000. Bobby Bradley would pretty much retire as an in-ring competitor in 2002, though he continued on in a manager role after that.
Bobby Bradley was also one of the head trainers at EWF along with Jesse Hernandez, having a hand in helping to train countless wrestlers who have come through the School of Hard Knocks. When I think of EWF, after Jesse Hernandez the first name that comes to mind is Bobby Bradley.
“The Future” Frankie Kazarian has to be considered one of the best wrestlers to come out of Southern California in the last 20 years. He has wrestled all over the world, for almost every major promotion including WWE, TNA, ROH, PWG, NJPW, and AAA.
After hearing that Killer Kolwaski’s wrestling school was the best wrestling school in the world, Kazarian saved up for a year, and in 1998 at the age of 18 headed to the east coast to begin his wrestling training. After training for eight months, he returned to Southern California and joined up with EWF to continue his training at the School of Hard Knocks and to make a name for himself in the Southern California indy scene. He quickly became one of EWF’s biggest stars.
Initially teamed with Josh Galaxy to form the tag-team Bad Influence, they captured the EWF tag-team titles on April 17, 1999 when they defeated The Wrecking Crew, which consisted of Big Q and Billy D. On July 18, 1999 Bad Influence was stripped of the titles when Josh Galaxy was unable to wrestle due to injury. That same night however, Frankie Kazarian would capture the EWF Heavyweight title that had been declared vacant when Rico Costantino signed with the WWE. He would hold the title for a then record 250 days day, losing it to Keji Sakoda on March 24, 2000.
By that time Kazarian had also began working other promotions around Southern California, notably UIWA and Freddy Valentine’s ACW. On February 14, 2000 he wrestled in a WWE dark match, losing to Sho Funaki. In May 2000 he would begin working for UPW, which would end up giving him his biggest exposure to date. In August of 2000 UPW began to team Kazarian with former ECW star Nova (Simon Dean in WWE) as Evolution. They quickly became one of the top tag-teams in Southern California, finishing as runners up in the 2001 Southern California tag-team of the year award.
2001 was really a break out year. Still wrestling in UPW and teaming with Nova, in March 2001 he defeated Adam Pearce and Chris Daniels to become the first MPW champion (this match was also the first match of the month in SoCalUNCENSORED.com’s history, Frankie Kazarian would also be the first wrestler of the month). In April 2001 Kazarian and Nova faced WWE superstars Edge and Christian at a UPW show in Santa Ana. Then in May, Nova and Kazarian would work a WWE dark match defeating Chris Daniels and Mikey Henderson on the 22nd, and on the 30th they would win the UPW tag-team titles by defeating the Ballard Brothers.
In 2002 Frankie Kazarian made his Japan debut for Zero-1 teaming with Nova and defeating Steve Corino and C.W. Anderson. He would also make his European debut that year, wrestling all over Europe for WWA. In May of 2003 he debuted in Ring of Honor, in June he debuted in TNA, and in July he worked the very first PWG show, losing to AJ Styles in the main event. Frankie Kazarian was runner up in the Southern California wrestler of the year award in 2003 and 2004.
From 2003 through 2005 Kazarian was a regular with TNA, and on March 31, 2004 he won the X Division championship. He left TNA in February 2005, and quickly signed with WWE. He was assigned to their developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, and made his main roster debut on July 16, 2005 on an episode of Velocity. However in August Kazarian announced that he had left WWE, as he had asked for his release. He later stated in an interview with PWMania.com that he “wasn’t ready to be there on a mental level personally or professionally.”
He returned to PWG after his release from WWE and began a feud with Scorpio Sky that lasted over nine months (Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky will be facing each other again at EWF’s 20th anniversary show on May 6, 2016). The feud finally ended when Kazarian defeated Sky in a “Loser Leaves PWG” match on January 13, 2007. After WWE Kazarian had also returned to TNA, and wrestled there until 2014. Since that time he has continued to work all over the world, including returns to Southern California with PWG and AWS.
Along with being a great wrestler, he is also the bass guitarist for the rock band VexTemper.
A former Miss California, Melina began her training at the School of Hard Knocks in 2001 after being told about the school by Mikey Henderson. She made her debut in 2002 wrestling under the name Kyra. At the time people in the EWF told me that she had “the most natural ability of any female to come through their school.”
In late 2002 she auditioned for the WWE show “Tough Enough” but did not make the final 13. Despite not making the cut, she was highly praised by Tom Pritchard and Ivory. She began to work for UPW as well as continuing at EWF. In January 2004 it was announced that she had signed a developmental deal with WWE and would be heading to Ohio Valley Wrestling.
In Ohio Valley she began to team with Johnny Nitro and Joey Mathews (later Joey Mercury) to form the team MNM. In April 2005 MNM debuted on Smackdown, and the next week won the WWE tag-team titles from Rey Misterio and Eddie Guerrero. While she was the manager for MNM, she made her in ring debut against Michelle McCool on June 30, 2005 in a victory. Over time MNM broke up, and Melina was put in a program with Mick Foley, where Mick Foley lost an “I Quit” match in order to save her from Ric Flair, and agreeing to join the “Kiss My Ass Club” in order to save Melina’s job. However Melina turned on Foley and siding with Vince McMahon.
On February 19, 2007 Melina defeated Mickie James to win the WWE women’s championship for the first time. Melina also defeated Ashley Massaro at Wrestlemania 23 in a Lumberjill match to retain the WWE women’s title. She lost the title on April 24, 2007 at a house show in France when Mickie James pinned Victoria in a triple threat match. She was immediately given a rematch and won the title back that same night. On June 24, 2007 she lost the title to Candice Michelle at the Vengeance PPV.
In April 2008 Melina teamed with Beth Phoenix to defeat Maria and Ashley at Wrestlemania XXIV. On January 25, 2009, Melina won her third WWE Women’s Championship when she defeated Beth Phoenix at the Royal Rumble. She would lose the title in June to Michelle McCool. She then won the WWE Divas championship for the first time in October. She had to relinquish it due to injury in January 2010.
On August 15, 2010 Melina defeated Alicia Fox to win the Divas championship for the second time. On September 19, 2010 she was defeated by Michelle McCool at Night of Champions, allowing McCool to unify the WWE women’s championship and Divas championship. She continued in WWE until August 2011.
Since leaving WWE she has wrestled throughout the indies, including in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. She made an appearance for Lucha Underground at the first Ultima Lucha to help Johnny Mundo defeat Alberto del Rio. In 2015 she wrestled for the Japanese promotion Stardom during their USA tour.
Melina Perez is easily the most decorated women’s wrestler in Southern California history, have been a WWE women’s or Divas champion five times. She is also a very talented wrestler, who was called by none other than Bret Hart “one of the best wrestlers in the world” in a 2013 article on WWE.com naming her one of the 25 most impactful women in WWE history.
While there are plenty of deserving wrestlers over EWF’s long history of being inducted into their hall of fame, there is no doubt they made three great choices for their inaugural class. The hall of fame inductions will take place at their 20th anniversary show at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Covina on May 6, 2016.
*WPW is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year; however they have not run continuously for the entire time.