Recently, while researching something unrelated, I came across a 24-year-old post on the Usenet group rec.sport.pro-wrestling by Shane Hanson. Back in the 1990s, Usenet groups along with AOL boards were the social media of their time, before they were eventually diminished by message boards and eventually modern social media. And rec.sport.pro-wrestling (RSPW) had the largest audience in the early wrestling internet.
Shane Hanson regularly posted California wrestling news on RSPW, but it was his post dated June 26, 1997, that caught my attention. In it, he ranked the top 50 wrestlers in California.
While I started attending independent pro-wrestling events in Southern California in late 1998, all of the names he listed were familiar to me, and this list really took me back to that late 1990s era, which was different, but in a lot of ways the same.
The purpose of this column is to give my thoughts on some of the wrestlers listed and hopefully shine a light on a few people who are mostly unknown today because their careers took place before the modern internet or before the independent wrestling boom.
Note: This is not a critique at all on Hanson’s rankings, as his list was posted over a year before I attended any independent wrestling events in the region. I highly recommend reading his original rankings, which are linked in this article, for his complete thoughts.
1. “The Natural One” Michael Modest APW – Probably the best all-around wrestling in the state of California. Modest is the top heel in Hayward’s All Pro Wrestling and will most likely remain the main man until he gets picked up by one of the major promotions. A die-hard traditionalist, Modest hates high-fliers and risk-takers and prefers to keep his matches on the mat.
When I first started following independent wrestling in Southern California, there were two names who were always brought up as being the best wrestler in the state. Modest and Christopher Daniels. I can’t remember ever seeing a bad match from him. He is probably best known now for being featured in Beyond the Mat, but he was such a great wrestler. He did sign with WCW but then was released when WWF bought them. I have no idea why WWF never picked him up.
2. Louie Spicoli EWF – A journeyman wrestler who’s competed all over the globe makes his home in San Bernadino’s Empire Wrestling Federation. Spicoli has competed in Mexico (as Madonna’s Boyfriend), Japan, all over the U. S. including the WWF where he was known as Rad Radford.
I never had a chance to see Spicoli live, unfortunately. His success really inspired a lot of other wrestlers in the region, especially ones without great physiques, as it showed they had a chance to make it big. Sadly he died in early 1998.
3. “Brown Bomber” Robert Thompson APW
4. Irish Assassin EWF –
Irish Assassin is what Mick Tierney wrestled as when he was in Southern California. I never saw him live, as he signed with WWF and went to Memphis in early 1998.
5. “Maxx Justice” Mike Diamond APW
6. “Hollywood Blonde” Tim Patterson EWF –
Tim Patterson wrestled all over the world, and I remember he showed up on seemingly every FMW tape I got for a while. He also wrestled a lot for WWF. I never actually saw him on an independent show though. He had a pretty good career overall.
7. Chris Cole APW –
8. “Aerial Assault” Bobby Bradley EWF –
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 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.
EWF put Bradley in their Hall of Fame in 1996.
9. “Leprechaun” Erin O’Grady APW – Former APW Junior Heavyweight Champion, O’Grady is another high-flier but he’s got the strength of a man twice his size. Once a favorite of adults and children alike, O’Grady has become more and more aggressive since losing his title to Chris Cole.
Erin O’Grady became Crash Holly in WWF.
10. “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels EWF – Bobby Bradley’s tag team partner in the Bratt Pack is has also competed in Mexico for several lucha libre promotions. A high-flyer with abundant ring savvy, Daniels could make an impact in one of the major promotions some day.
As I mentioned earlier, by 1998, Christopher Daniels and Mike Modest were the consensus two best wrestlers in the state. I remember seeing Daniels wrestle for the first time in early 1999, and he was so much better than everyone else on the card it was insane. The greatest independent wrestler of all time.
11. “Cowboy” Frank Murdoch APW –
12. “Handsome” Jack Stud AIWA –
Only saw Stud a few times, but he also wrestled as Harley Racist in Incredibly Strange Wrestling and I always get a laugh out of that.
13. “Suicide Machine” Donovan Morgan APW –
14. Suicide Kid EWF – At only 16 years old, this youngster is already making a name for himself in the Southern California area. Teams regularly with veteran Louie Spicoli. High-flying style works well for him against larger opposition.
Talking about someone being before their time, Mikey Henderson, the Suicide Kid, would be a star if he was wrestling in this era. He was fantastic in the ring and had a great look. The only thing working against him was his size. I remember he and Christopher Daniels had a dark match at a WCW Nitro in Los Angeles and their match was by far the best match on the show.
15. “Vicious” Vic Grimes APW –
Vic Grimes was great. He took some insane bumps too, such as getting thrown off the scaffold by New Jack in XPW.
16. Lil’ Haystacks EWF –
17. “Gigolo” Steve Rizzono APW –
18. Gary “Krusher” Key EWF – Former mainstay in the now-defunct Bay Area Wrestling, Key is a powerhouse who now works mostly in San Bernadino for EWF but occasionally appears for T. C. Martin’s NWC out of Las Vegas. Good physique and upper body strength make him extremely dangerous.
Gary Key became TOOL in XPW. Had a great look, but I don’t remember him being great in the ring, but I didn’t see him wrestle until 1999.
19. “Psycho” Johnny Pain BTW –
20. El Toro Bravo SWF –
The last Slammers Heavyweight Champion.
21. “West Side Shooter” Tony Jones APW –
22. “Con the Rocker” Logan Kane BTW –
23. “Krazy” Kyle Haystacks EWF –
Every match I saw with the Haystacks were pretty much just brawls. Have never really been a fan of that style.
24. “Mad Mosher” Boom Boom Comini APW –
25. Super Diablo BTW –
26. Dick Danger EWF -.
27. “Big” Joe Applebaumer BTW –
He became Pogo the Clown in XPW.
28. “West Side Playa” Kuame Kamoze APW –
29. “Hawkeye” Shane Kody BTW –
30. Hombre De Oro SWF –
He became Carlito Montana in XPW. Was always fun to watch.
31. Eddie “The Cruiser” Williams EWF –
CCW in North County San Diego were the first Southern California independent wrestling events I attended, and “Cruiser” Eddie Williams was one of the stars. Really fun to watch. Would be a star if he wrestled today.
32. Chicano Flame APW –
33. “Naybah Hood” Tech Nine AIWA –
Another wrestler that left us too soon. Great wrestler. It felt like every show for a while had The Naybah Hoodz vs Supreme Kaos.
34. Johnny Starr BTW –
35. “West Side Playa” Jay Smooth APW –
36. “Naybah Hood” Crazed One AIWA –
Later became Crayz. He did a bunch of crazy deathmatches in Freddy Valentine’s ACW (he’s actually on the cover of ACW’s DVD along with Terry Funk).
37. “Ghetto Boy” Johnny Love EWF –
38. Jeff Lindberg SWF –
Long time Slammers Champion. I don’t believe I ever saw him wrestle.
39. “The Icon” Jason C. Clay APW –
40. “Ghetto Boy” John Black EWF –
The Iceman John Black was one of my favorite wrestlers to watch in the early 2000s. He got into MMA early and was a big fan of shoot-style. Had great feuds with Adam Pearce and Babi Slymm in WCWA in San Diego. Once a fan tried to jump in the ring with him and Black destroyed him in seconds.
41. “Beautiful” Bruce Beaudine SWF –
Never saw him wrestle in Southern California, but this was future WCW and WWF writer Ed Ferrara.
42. Cerberus 666 ISW –
43. Koko Samoa APW –
44. Tyrone “Tiny” Little SWF –
45. Ebony Blade AIWA – Hasn’t appeared for AIWA in some time but effective whenever he does. Proud of his African-American heritage, but once teamed with the racist Dixie Demon. That team didn’t last very long.
Not sure who this was, but Shane Hanson’s description is hilarious.
46. Frankie “Destruction” Dee ISW –
Frankie Dee was always fun to watch.
47. The Unholy ISW –
48. Amazing Zu the Gargoyle SWF – Self-described “Most Disgusting
Wrestling in the World.” Actually made it into the Pro Wrestling
Illustrated annual top 500 wrestlers in the world. Notorious for biting
and chewing on opponent’s feet. Known to consume belly-bottom lint and
ear wax. Ugly as sin.
Another great description by Hanson.
49. Jason Styles BTW –
50. “Amigo” Diablo Valdez SWF –
I was surprised that Dynamite D, Supreme, and Primetime Peterson didn’t make the list. Though, it’s possible all three didn’t hit their strides till later.
Another thing that really stands out to me is how many of the wrestlers on this list had pretty much stopped wrestling by the year 2001 or so. A few stuck around, but largely within four years, most had retired (or in a few cases passed away). In the early 2000s, independent wrestling was evolving to become more fast-paced and high-flying, and that wasn’t the style of a lot of the wrestlers that were ranked. There was also the end of WCW and ECW, and with fewer major promotions for work, some probably decided to call it quits as well.
The 1990s independent scene has been largely forgotten unfortunately. I’m glad that occasionally a gem like this top 50 ranking can be found.
If you were attending wrestling events in California in the 1990s and have thoughts on this list or memories of the shows, please feel free to comment below.
That was fun to read. I started attending EWF shows around then. I think I’d seen The Iceman John Black on TV from the San Bernadino federation around then.
So… wow! I wrote that back in ’97! I had worked with or ended up working with at least 60% of these guys over the last 24-25 years. Some of these guys like Leprechaun and Tech Nine will be missed. Rest In Power.
Amigo Diablo Valdez, AKA Amigo, AKA Diablo. One of the best independent wrestlers there ever was. As his daughter, I took on the Roller Derby name Diablo’s Angel as tribute to my Dad. My teammates refer to him as Diablo.
1st SoCal Indy show I went to was in 99/00. I believe it was Bill Anderson’s IWC. I remember seeing Frankie Kazarian, B-Boy, The Havana Pitbulls and Pinoy Boy(TJP)
Those IWC shows were loaded with talent! Some of which we were aware of at the time, others who are still major stars in wrestling 20 years later. My friends and I used to fight traffic for 2-3 hrs on Friday nights just to make them. This is the first place I saw TJP in action, and the great Jon Ian.
Ebony Blade wrestled for Rev Pro in the Norwalk days. He helped train Sky. He moved back East in 2002 ish. He now practices law out of Redlands.
This list certainly takes me back. Ironically my first indy show was also in late 1998, the night before Survivor Series 98, when a friend of mine (Prodigy former UPW star) made his pro wrestling debut. I remember Cincinatti Red(surprised he wasn’t on this list) Jason Allgood, Ryan Mcbane, and Johnny Hemp were on the show. A young Kid Kaos stole the show athletically, and Lucky Pierre was a truly memorable gimmick. Anyways I read tons of pwi mags at this time and noticed three names frequently mentioned from the indy Christopher Daniels, Reckless Youth, and Micheal Modest. It’s strange Modest and Youth didn’t make it. I will say it makes sense a lot of the wrestlers mentioned stopped wrestling a couple of years later around this time. While the business was enjoying an all time boom period, in the 23 years I’ve been paying attention I don’t think there was a more difficult time for a indy wrestler to get a job with the WWE. Just too many top guys and international talent sticking around at the top. And while there is really NOTHING easy about being a pro wrestler (indy or otherwise), I do believe the business has changed to the point that there has never been a more likely time for indy talent to get a national tv gig in either the WWE/NXT AEW, ROH, or IMPACT Wrestling. And that’s a great thing to see.
Thanks for the Compliment, Shane. And thanks for remembering me Jake and telling me about this.
Actually I moved to Boston in 1997 and made some appearances in Socal from 2000-2002, but New England was my primary home base until 2006 and I then pretty much called it quits as an in-ring performer. I just wrestle with the law now.
I was elected to the New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
I have fond memories of so many of the boys listed here and miss several of them. And I agree there were a lot of people from that era that in the area I would have put on this list before me. So, it was an honor.