By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
"My first night in India, they had a news conference," says Orton, a onetime NWA tag-team champion who still wrestles on occasion in Legends matches. "Tiger Singh was their big star. In the middle of the press conference, I slapped him off his chair. I turned around and had twenty rifles pointed at me. Every night for nineteen more nights, I had those rifles pointed at me in the ring."
Understates Orton: "It was very peculiar."
As Vince McMahon marched toward monopoly, regional touring circuits became increasingly irrelevant. The result: Gary Jackson arrived on the scene about five years too late to get swept to prominence. Nowadays the WWE has just one official feeder organization, Ohio Valley Wrestling. WWE's chief upstart rival, TNA (short for Total Nonstop Action), tapes its cards for pay-per-view on a Universal Studios lot in Orlando.
"There's no question Gary would have gotten his chance in the old style of wrestling," Larry Matysik asserts. "Everybody knew who the best performers were. Today that isn't the case."
The matches were scripted in the glory days of the Chase, too, but the old-timers say there was a difference: Back then audiences knew wrestling skill when they saw it. In a realm that lived or died according to its regional fan base, a colorful personality wasn't enough. You had to have the moves.
"It used to be wrestling," Tony Casta laments. "Now everybody wants to do too much circus stuff. And Gary's really not into all that flying crap."
Kids today -- once they grasp the rudimentary holds, most pups shun them in favor of crowd-pleasing acrobatics, a style favored by Phil E. Blunt and talented younger wrestlers like Spoiled Steven Kennedy, who'd leap at the opportunity to join OVW or TNA.
But should they seek the counsel of the graybeard local champ while training at the South Broadway's annex, Gorgeous Gary will oblige with a coaching session, and he'll wash down the tips on grips with the ipecac of reality.
"They send their photos to Vince McMahon, who gets 300 of those per day," Matysik says. "Gary and [fellow veteran] Ron Powers take them under their wings and say, 'Hey, don't quit your day jobs.'
"Gary's the old guy now," Matysik reflects. "God, that's scary."
When Gorgeous Gary Jackson was coming up, St. Louis' north side was home to scores of community centers, and West Florissant Avenue was chock-full of small businesses.
"The closest you came to a gang in my day was sports teams," recalls Jackson, pulling his tan Chrysler into his driveway. Permanently affixed to the brown brick above Jackson's doorstep is a sign offering a $500 reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest of vandals on the property, half of which houses a daycare center operated by Jackie, Gary's gorgeous wife of thirteen years.
Jackson earns his keep as a transporter with the city sheriff's department, shuttling prisoners to and from the workhouse in a specially equipped van. But when the nation is at war, he takes leave to assume his post with the 131st Fighter Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard, headquartered at Lambert Field.
At the 131st Jackson serves with workaday soldiers and local luminaries alike, chief among them St. Louis Ram Bryce Fisher, who often visits area schools to share his experiences in the service with impressionable youngsters. Jackson, who holds the rank of tech sergeant, performs less glamorous roles: running base gymnasiums, cooking and serving food to his fellow soldiers, making travel and lodging arrangements for personnel in transit and conducting search-and-recovery expeditions in post-disaster areas like the site of the felled World Trade Center towers in New York City.
In short, Jackson is a sort of utility man, or in military parlance, an "augmentee." He doesn't man the cockpit of an F-15; he's the guy behind the guy behind the guy. And this particular guy's versatility has enabled him to see the world, lengthy stints in Germany and the Persian Gulf counting among his many military travels.
Given his druthers, Jackson would have -- and still would -- hit the road with even more frequency for his true love: wrestling.
"I was just waiting for the opportunity to go," says Jackson, who picked up scores of stand-in gigs on the now-defunct National Wrestling Alliance and World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) circuits in the Midwest and South. "I was ready for the road. My wife was ready. She accepted the fact that I could be out on the road for three months at a time. If somebody called me right now and asked me to wrestle in an hour, I'd go. I was called at work one day at ten and asked to be in Louisville by six. I took a half-day off and drove.
"Everything within a 250-mile radius, I'm going to go check it out myself," Jackson adds. "I've always had a good-running car and a good solid phone number."
Just when Jackson's star might have had a chance to shine on the national stage, the wrestler was stymied by a fellow pro. Koko B. Ware, with a build identical to Gorgeous Gary's, would parade into the ring with a bird on his shoulder, arms flapping, to the strains of Morris Day's "Squawk, Hallelujah." At one point, according to Larry Matysik, Vince McMahon and WWF brass considered pairing Jackson and Ware as a tag team. They decided against it, Matysik says, because the federation already had one black duo -- and that one was enough for the time being.