March 20, 2015
Story and Photos by Brian Stanley / South Bay Pulse Staff
Dating back to the 1960s, independent professional wrestling in the Bay Area has taken bumps over the years but is still fighting strong.
Promoter Roy Shire established the original Big Time Wrestling in San Francisco in 1968 and operated the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Bay Area territory, according to wrestling promoter Kirk White.
Building a stable of wrestlers, Shire recruited Ray Stevens, Pepper Gomez, Kinji Shibuya and Woody Farmer to work regularly for the NWA territory.
Farmer’s son “Bad Ass” Shane Kody said his father was introduced to wrestling by Stevens, Gomez and Shibuya in the early 1960’s while Farmer was working as a bouncer at Jack London Square in Oakland.
“My dad got into the business back in 1962,” Kody said. “He did it for a living, he traveled the world.”
Shire’s company also featured many of the top wrestlers of the era that included “Superstar” Billy Graham, Rocky Johnson, Pedro Morales and Pat Patterson.
Also performing as a strong man, Farmer carried a piano up Lombard Street in San Francisco.
The 1980’s heralded the rise of the national promotion company World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), known as World Wrestling Federation at the time, and promoter Vince McMahon signed numerous top tier wrestlers to long term contracts.
Lacking the marquee wrestlers, multiple NWA wrestling territories were forced to close, including Shire’s San Francisco operation in 1981.
Growing up around the wrestling business, Kody began training at 23-years-old to become a professional wrestler in 1985 at his father’s wrestling school.
Reviving the legendary name, White launched the second generation of Big Time Wrestling (BTW) in the 1990s, operating as an independent promotion company from Newark, Calif.
Kody signed on to join the BTW roster in the companies infancy and is now the local headliner of White’s wrestling events.
White’s first show was in November of 1996 featuring various independent wrestlers from around the Bay Area, with an attendance of 183 people.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot but as it turns out an independent show that draws about 200 people is really good,” White said.
Wanting to draw a bigger crowd for BTW’s second show, White enlisted the help of veteran Bay Area wrestler Alexis Smirnoff to book wrestlers with name recognition.
Smirnoff was able to help White book former WWE talent Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.
The attendance doubled by having names that people would see on television because they wanted to see them in person, White said.
The new BTW continued to grow and expanded in 2000 when wrestler Jason Styles collaborated with White to open a wrestling school as part of the promotion.
White began using wrestlers from his school in the opening matches of his shows while continually bringing in former WWE A-list contract wrestlers for the main event.
As the student wrestlers hone their skills in the ring, they also begin to develop a gimmick they want to portray while performing in the ring.
In 2004 Kody’s son Riot jumped in the ring at 21-years-old to begin his training to be a professional wrestler at the BTW school.
“I don’t think I had a choice with the passion, I believe it came in my blood,” Riot said.
With Farmer still wrestling at the 72-years-old and Riot a couple months into training, White suggested the three generations of Farmers team up in a 6-man tag team match.
“It’s never been done,” Kody said. “We made history with that.”
In the three generation tag team’s last time in the ring together a riot broke out during the match and Riot was improperly belly-to-back suplex onto the hardwood floor resulting in a lower spinal injury.
Riot said he stopped training and competing because he couldn’t manage the pain from the injury.
“The doctors said there was nothing they could do,” Riot said.
The BTW training facility continues to develop wrestlers including Victor Sterling and El Mero Mero Kaka Meng, who started their independent careers with BTW.
Even with an injury that ended his career 10 years ago, Riot returned to BTW late last year to pick up where he left off with his wrestling training.
“It’s been so long the pain is normal, so it’s much easier to withstand the pain and train compared to what it was,” Riot said.
Riot said he all he wants to do is get back into the ring to wrestle with his father again.
At the 53-years-old Kody doesn’t see his wrestling career ending anytime soon.
“I’m just going to take it until I can’t do it no more or until Kirk says ‘it’s time to hang your boots up’,” Shane said.
Behind the curtain wrestlers and promoters craft story lines that carry over from event to event as well as planning out the sequence of the match, with the winner being picked out in advance by the promoter.
Even with fans knowing that professional wrestling is scripted and staged, Sterling said fans return time after time, just like people continually watch the Harlem Globetrotters.
“You know they are going to win 100 percent of the time but you want to see how,” Sterling said. “You want to see their tricks, the pageantry of it all.”
BTW operates family orientated shows that are appropriate for all ages, which White attributes to the organization’s success.
“Fans are going to see something wholesome, without profanity or nudity when they come to a show,” White said.
Sterling said keeping the fans entertained and making them feel they got their money’s worth for a Friday or Saturday night is what keeps them coming back.
An Independent promotion will generally host a show in their territory every four to six weeks.
“With the WWE not being here as often, it makes people want to go watch wrestling,” Sterling said. “The guys who watch it on television, they want to come in and watch it with their kids to experience it live.”
Wrestling fans typically only get the opportunity to attend live WWE events twice a year when the promotion goes on west coast tours.
Independent shows are a lot cheaper than WWE shows, Sterling said.
Other independent promotions around the Bay Area and across Northern California include All Pro Wrestling in Hayward, Hoodslam in Oakland, Devil Mountain Wrestling in Martinez, West Coast Wrestling Federation in Yuba City, Fighting Spirit Pro in Atwater and Supreme Pro Wrestling in Sacramento.