The Three Count
My Life in Stripes as a WWE Referee
By Jimmy Korderas
ECW PRESS Copyright © 2013 Jimmy Korderas
All rights reserved.
How It All Began
My journey began many years prior to that moment in Orlando, a long time before I began working for the premier wrestling/sports entertainment company on the planet. Watching wrestling on TV was not high on my Greek immigrant parents' priority list. Excelling in school and going on to college or university was all that mattered to them. If that did not happen, plan B was to follow my father into the family business. My dad was a licensed auto mechanic who owned a gas station and repair shop in the heart of Toronto's GreekTown, affectionately called the Danforth after its main street. As much as I respected my father's wishes and as much as I liked tinkering with cars, the garage business was not what I wanted to get into. I did however work for him part-time while I attended school. When it became clear that a post-secondary education did not appeal to me, it was pretty much set in my parents' mind that I would work full-time for Dad. One thing was certain, I had not given up on a very different dream that I wanted to pursue. It was extremely difficult not to be a wrestling fan growing up in the epicentre of the Canadian wrestling scene, Toronto. Let me explain by taking you back to where my passion for this unique form of entertainment originated.
Before the days when World Wrestling Entertainment ruled the sports entertainment landscape, before the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection, and even before the Incredible Hulk Hogan, professional wrestling was a territorial business. Promoters divided North America into specific regions with the agreement that they would not run wrestling shows in the others' territory. Although they often worked together by trading talent and so forth, there was also a healthy competition between them.
Arguments arose among wrestling fans as to which area of North America had the best wrestling on television. After all, St. Louis had Wrestling at the Chase, Texas had World Class Championship Wrestling, there was the AWA in the midwest, plus the NWA and WWF, just to name a few. As a diehard wrestling fan growing up in Toronto, Ontario, I believe that I had access to the best wrestling on television you could possibly get anywhere. Each weekend provided me with countless hours of enjoyment watching my favourite sports heroes — outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs of course. I am a proud Canadian, after all!
Let me run down for you what a typical weekend of watching wrestling on television consisted of for me. On the weekends, we here in Toronto were able to watch the AWA on Global Television Network, Stampede Wrestling from Calgary on CKVR Channel 3 from Barrie, International Wrestling from Montreal on CityTV, All Star Wrestling from Vancouver airing on CKOC Kitchener, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling on Buffalo's Channel 4, WWF on Channel 29 from Buffalo, and of course Maple Leaf Wrestling on CHCHTV Channel 11 out of Hamilton. I can't think of anywhere else on the continent where you could watch that many different promotions on TV in one city. There were a few others, but these were the major players for me.
Many a Saturday afternoon Mama Korderas would break out the floppy slipper (or as we call it in Greek, the pandofla) trying to drag me away from the television set to do my homework or maybe some chores, or even go outside and do something, anything other than watch wrestling on television. I was hooked, though. There was no chance I was going to give up watching guys like the Original Sheik, Tex Mckenzie, the Tolos Brothers, Hartford and Reginald (the Love Brothers), and the rest of those crazy characters that I loved to watch. For some reason, I really enjoyed Tex Mckenzie and Chief Jay Strongbow as a youngster. Tex was tall and lanky. I loved when he did this high knee lift, followed by this cowboy stomp around the ring, and finished off his opponent with the dreaded Bulldog. Chief Jay I liked because when he got angry, he did this little "war dance" while giving his opponent tomahawk chops. Maybe the dancing both guys did was what I found entertaining. I was always drawn towards the more colourful characters.
So I continued to defy my mother and entrench myself smack dab in front of that black and white set. There was colour television back then; we just could not convince my dad it was worth it to buy one. My mom also thought that we would go blind from colour TV. When I wasn't watching wrestling on TV, I was outside playing with my friends. The odd thing about that was although we would talk for hours on end about wrestling and who our favourites were and what happened this past week, we never "play-wrestled" with each other. We thought that if we performed the moves we saw on television on each other, someone would get hurt really badly. We believed everything in wrestling was real and didn't want to take any chances that would jeopardize our weekend ritual by getting hurt imitating our heroes. My, how times have changed.
Another sign of the times in those days was that wrestling action figures were nonexistent. That didn't stop me. Even at a young age, I showed some creativity. I made a makeshift wrestling ring out of an old box. Substituting for my favourite wrestlers was a bendable Gumby, his sidekick, Pokey, and a few G.I. Joes, including one with the kung fu grip. Not quite what the kids have access to today but hey, you make do with what you have.
After years of watching my favourite wrestlers on the tube and dreaming of the opportunity to see my heroes in person, on June 6, 1971 I finally got the chance to see these larger-than-life characters live! My neighbour and best friend was Billy Koufis. His father was taking him to a special Maple Leaf Wrestling event that was being held outdoors at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. They asked me if I wanted to join them. It took almost two full days of begging and pleading with my mom, but, reluctantly, she gave in. I was going to my first live wrestling show at the tender age of nine. It was an amazing night for me and my best friend. We rode the subway, which was so cool. Not only did we see our first live wrestling show, we actually snuck down onto the field and watched the matches up close. We found it strange that no one asked to see our tickets or even bothered to question us. Awesome! The main event this night was the NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. defending his title against the Original Sheik. They fought to a double count out. It was a brutal and bloody match but I loved it. I had been hooked before, but now I was netted and landed in the boat.
The next time I got to attend a live wrestling event was in the company of my older brother Peter and his friends. Peter is nine years older than I am. The way he and his friends viewed pro wrestling was far different than the way I understood it. Let me explain. My brother Peter not so willingly allowed me to accompany him and his buddies to see a show at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was so happy and excited until the unthinkable happened. My brother and his cohorts began cheering for all the bad guys. As the lawyer Jackie Childs in an episode of Seinfeld said, "I was shocked, chagrined, and stupefied." How could my older brother, who I looked up to, cheer for these dastardly villains? The people around us were screaming obscenities at my brother and his friends while I attempted to hide under my seat, dodging popcorn and soda. At six feet two inches tall and 265 lbs — of muscle not fat — Peter was not intimidated by the little old ladies, scrawny men, and little kids in attendance. It wasn't until after we had gotten home that Peter explained his reasoning for his behaviour. He got a kick out of inciting the crowd. For him and his friends, pro wrestling was strictly entertainment. They did not take it seriously, whereas I believed it to be very real. I guess you could say Peter Korderas understood the term "sports entertainment" long before Vincent Kennedy McMahon made the phrase famous. Too bad my brother did not trademark that phrase. He might be a rich man today.
It would be many years before I got to attend another wrestling event at Maple Leaf Gardens. We moved to the suburbs in 1972 when I was ten years old and my brother stopped going to shows with his friends. I guess he outgrew wrestling, but of course I just couldn't let it go. For years I continued to watch it on television religiously. More years passed; I was now 16 years old with a driver's license and my own beater of a car. I didn't need anyone to take me to see wrestling any longer. I was more than capable of getting to Maple Leaf Gardens on my own. To help pay for my obsession, I had two part-time jobs. One was working as a pin chaser at a bowling alley and the other was helping my dad out at his gas station after school and on most weekends. It didn't matter to me if I had company or if I went alone. I was a regular at all "the Gardens" shows.
After I became a regular at the Gardens, I noticed that many of the other regular patrons were sitting in the same seats week after week. There were the female twins who sat front row ringside for every show. You could not miss them as they always dressed and had their hair styled as if they were trapped in the '50s or '60s. There were other fans but one I remain friends with to this day is Steve Argintaru. Steve also enjoyed taking photos at events and we often compared pictures. That and we both hung out on Wood Street, behind the Gardens, trying to get autographs from the wrestlers as they arrived or when they were leaving. It was hit or miss as there were many others trying to do the same. Steve now works in Toronto at TSN, Canada's first all-sports TV station. We still attend events these days, but now Steve brings his boys with him. We are influencing another generation of wrestling fans.
Seeing as I was going to every show at MLG, I had to find out whether there was such a thing as season tickets for wrestling. So, one day I decided I was going to visit the Tunney Sports Inc. wrestling office, located directly across the street from Maple Leaf Gardens to find out if I could get season tickets. When I got there I knocked on the door and a familiar voice boomed, "Come in." I opened the door and walked in, and there standing behind a counter was none other than the legendary ring announcer for Maple Leaf Wrestling, Mr. Norm Kimber. He asked me how he could help me. I shyly asked him how to go about getting the equivalent of season tickets to the wrestling shows. Mr. Kimber pulled out a seating chart and showed me what was available. I chose two floor seats, second row ringside, right beside the ramp that stretched from the entrance all the way to the ring. Mr. Kimber noted my seat selection in his ledger and told me my tickets would be at the box office before every show. I thanked him and left the office extremely excited. I couldn't wait for the next wrestling event. Finally, that day arrived. I went to the box office, picked up my tickets and rushed to my seat. The seats were amazing. I couldn't have asked for two better seats. If I couldn't get a friend to go with me, I would sell the ticket at the show, usually for a small profit. This led me to my next brilliant idea.
I began bringing a camera with me to all the shows and taking pictures of all the wrestlers. Sitting right beside the entrance ramp made taking pictures that much easier. I was able to get some terrific shots of the guys. Here's where the brilliance comes in. I would get the film developed and get a second set of prints for a dollar; that way I could keep one set of the photos and sell the other ones. That is exactly what I did. I would show up early to the next event with pictures in hand ready to sell to the wrestling fans waiting outside. Believe it or not, I was getting two dollars a picture. I more often than not sold all of my pictures, which paid for the developing of the photos, my ticket for the show, and parking, and still left me with more than few bucks for refreshments. As a matter of fact, I was turning a small profit. That was until I got busted by one of Jack Tunney's employees.
Elio Zarlenga was responsible for making all the programs for the events, which included taking photographs during the matches that would be used for the programs. What I did not know was that he was also the person licensed by Tunney Sports Inc. to sell pictures of the wrestlers. Another thing that I didn't realize was that by selling pictures without a license, I was breaking the law. Elio approached me one day outside Maple Leaf Gardens and asked to see my pictures. Not knowing at the time who he was, I handed him my photos. As he looked through them, he complimented me on them, saying that I did good work. After I thanked him, he told me that I could be arrested for selling copyrighted material. I asked him what the hell he was talking about — these were my pictures. He replied, "You don't have permission from Tunney Sports and don't lie because I work for Jack Tunney." I began to panic. Here I was, almost 20 years old, thinking I'm going to go to jail. I guess Elio saw the panic on my face and went easy on me. He told me I could sell my pictures, just not in front of Maple Leaf Gardens. He suggested I could sell the pictures a little farther down the street and he wouldn't say anything to anyone. From that day forward, Elio and I began to become friends.
A few months passed and Elio finally decided it was time for him to introduce me to none other than WWF president Jack Tunney. I felt somewhat intimidated meeting him. Jack was a large man who had this aura surrounding him. He appeared stern and serious, but in actuality, he was a kind-hearted man with a good sense of humour. I guess he took a liking to me as he told Elio that they would "find something for me to do." Jack told me that he had only a few simple rules for me to follow. First, he said that I needed to be on time and never be late. Second, he said he expected an honest day's work of me. The third and final request he made of me was that as long as the boys showed up on time and in condition to work, he did not want to know about any of the goings-on away from the ring. He said that I was going to see a lot of things that would go on in this business, whether in the locker room, on the bus, in the hotel, or anywhere else. In a nutshell, he basically told me not to be a stooge. I had no problem with that.
To say that I was ecstatic about landing a job with the World Wrestling Federation would be a gross understatement. But not everyone shared my excitement. When I informed my parents that evening about my big job score, the look of disappointment on their faces caught me completely off guard. I asked them what the problem was. My mother said to me, in Greek mind you, "What kind of future could you possibly have working with all those crazy guys from the TV?" My dad did not say a word, but you could tell he was not happy at all. Again, I could not understand for the life of me what the problem was. It was several weeks later when I realized that both my parents, particularly my father, had expected me to follow in his footsteps and take over the family business one day. I consider myself a car guy and don't mind working on them. But it was not the career I envisioned for me. I must say, they did eventually come around.
As it turned out, my very first job for Jack Tunney and the WWF was to transport talent from Toronto to Brantford, southwest of the city, for television tapings. It was November 1985 and at that time the WWF ran shows at Maple Leaf Gardens every three weeks on Sunday nights. On the following Monday, they would tape three weeks' worth of their syndicated TV show Wrestling Challenge, which aired all over the world. Jack Tunney rented two minibuses for Elio and me to drive. One of us would drive the babyfaces while the other was assigned to take the heels. We alternated each week between faces and heels. We got to hang out all day at the Brantford Civic Centre watching pre-taped interviews, talking to the boys, watching the matches; basically I was having the time of my life and I was getting paid for it. My life in wrestling was just beginning. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Three Count by Jimmy Korderas. Copyright © 2013 Jimmy Korderas. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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