BEST OF BULLDOG
The Rise & Fall Of ICW
Originally published June 14, 2014
It's been called the most innovative wrestling promotion to reach North American fans in the last 30 years. Wherever they went, the group received raucous chants of "I-C-W! I-C-W!" Unfortunately, the promotion's ultimate undoing was because of.... nahhhh, I'm just kidding. None of that is remotely true.
Truthfully, this column is less about the "rise and fall" of anything, and more about my semi-interesting adventure with an independent wrestling promotion that was trying to make a name for itself in Ontario during the height of the Monday Night Wars. Sorry for the bait and switch there....
ICW (International Championship Wrestling) was a promotion that traveled through Southeastern Ontario and booked a decent amount of talent from years past. They knew who their target audience was and made no bones about it - they were trying to appeal to fans who enjoyed the product in the 80's and were offput by the "attitude" WWF, WCW and ECW were showing at the time.
I was a freelance journalist at the time and was asked if I was interested in helping with the PR effort, namely by getting free tickets to the weekend's shows. Um, was I interested??? Let me check my schedule....
There were two shows this weekend in December 1998 - one in Hamilton, Ontario (home of the first Royal Rumble for a point of reference) and then one in Mississauga, Ontario (a West-end suburb of Toronto where ECW held some of their final television tapings). Neither were ridiculously out of the way for my crew.
Besides loading up their shows with grapplers from yesteryear, ICW also billed itself as "family-friendly", which meant the wrestlers worked the gimmick tables before the show and sold Polaroids of themselves with fans during the intermission.
Hey, you may think I'm being sarcastic, but this was a GREAT idea. I doled out 10 bucks so that I could get a snap of myself being choked out by my all-time hero King Kong Bundy. Still have the picture mounted on my wall today.
Even though they'd be seen as old-timers in today's market, 15 years ago ICW's talent roster wasn't bad at all.
On top, you had NWA World Champion Dan "The Beast" Severn and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. I'm trying to remember the results of the said show, but I believe Severn and Valentine may have traded the ICW Championship back and forth at the Hamilton and Mississauga shows.
You also had The Bushwhackers, whom if I remember correctly weren't legally allowed to call themselves that any more, a version of The Samoan Swat Team, the great King Kong Bundy, Native American Tatanka, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese and.... Bruiser Bedlam.
You may be hearing the name Bruiser Bedlam and thinking "who?", and you wouldn't be alone. Bedlam was known to old-school WWF fans, particularly in the Toronto/Hamilton area, as Johnny K-9, a jobber who would get on his knees and cross his arms like an X whenever he was announced.
Bedlam took on a much more colorful career after ditching the K-9 moniker. He went to Smoky Mountain Wrestling and famously roomed with Chris Jericho, which Y2J details in his book A Lion's Tale (you can even see his "True To The Crew" prison tattoo in the picture to your right!), he became associated with the Satan's Choice motorcycle gang (I'm sure there's a very cool advertising slogan built in to that) and in 2005, he was accused of murdering a couple on November 16, 1998 - roughly a month before I saw him wrestle in Hamilton!
The charges were withdrawn in 2006.
The in-ring action wasn't bad, but wasn't fantastic, either. Clearly many of the wrestlers had seen better days and weren't able to adapt to the style then being used by many in the WWF, WCW and ECW.
That's not to say the show wasn't without its charm. Duke "The Dumpster" Droese played heel in his match against Bundy, which was interesting to see, if nothing else (and he even chewed out my friend at ringside). This led to Bundy becoming the fan favorite (as he should have been all along) and getting the five-count.
At the Mississauga show, Live Audio Wrestling hosts Jeff Marek (who has gone on to become part of the Hockey Night in Canada crew) and "The Notorious T.I.D." Chris Tidwell had a match that was a fun little spectacle.
And on the undercard, we saw the Canadian debut of one... Daniel Bryan. Okay, not really - but you have to admit I had you there for a minute...
But the "highlight" of the weekend, for me, was when the promoter invited The Big Rybowski and I backstage to hang out with the crew and then party with the wrestlers at a nearby pub. I know what you're thinking.... that's a no-brainer! GO FOR IT!!!
So we followed them up to the dressing room and it was, how shall I put this.... super-depressing. We waited for over an hour as The Bushwhackers, Valentine and others sat around in their underwear, largely looking depressed for going to this show. The only wrestling-conversation I can recall was when one of The Bushwhackers asked someone else if he'd heard from Captain Lou Albano lately.
Then the promoter asked me to go up to introduce myself to an underwear-clad Bruiser Bedlam. Keep in mind, he was asking a twenty-something kid to go up to someone who had (allegedly) committed murder a month prior!!! Anyways, Bedlam grunted at me and farted in my general direction, and that was that.
So after an hour, Rybowski and I were invited to get into our car and follow the promoter to the pub. By this point, we'd kind of had enough of hanging out with the legends, strange as that may sound.
Hamilton, especially the downtown core, is known for having a plethora of one-way streets. So when we saw our opportunity, we "accidentally" turned on the wrong street and kept going back to Toronto, despite him waving his hands frantically signalling for us to turn left. My bad.
Despite ditching the wrestlers, I still ended up doing a bit of PR work for the group and then lost touch with them when (I believe) they stopped promoting shows shortly thereafter. Still, in terms of indy promotions, it really wasn't a bad group at all. I-C-Dub! I-C-Dub!