Nasty Boys’ bond goes way back to school days
By Mike Pankow
October 18, 2018
A motorcycle helmet on the biggest stage in sports entertainment brought the Nasty Boys their greatest glory.
After a few years learning the ropes and coming up with the AWA and WCW, Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags had reached the top of the professional wrestling world at WrestleMania VII in March 1991.
The Nasty Boys felt they were “made men” in the wrestling business when they won the WWE World Tag Team Championship over the Hart Foundation that day in Los Angeles.
The Nastys’ manager, the legendary Jimmy Hart, tossed the helmet he wore out to the ring to Sags, who clocked Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart with it, leading to the decisive three count.
“That was what stamped us as a legitimate tag team and it was WrestleMania,” said Knobs during an appearance at Wizard World Chicago in August. “Anybody that’s in the professional wrestling business for much of their life wants to be a part of WrestleMania. If you’re going for one of the belts, it’s a big thrill.”
Sags agreed with his longtime tag team partner.
The greatest match of our career was beating the Hart Foundation for the titles at WrestleMania VII,” Sags said. “That was the pinnacle of our career.”
Sags also mentioned the Nasty Boys’ match with the Steiner Brothers in WCW at Halloween Havoc 1990 as a top match. They also engaged in a memorable brawl against Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and Maxx Payne at WCW Spring Stampede 1994 after their WWE run ended.
Knobbs and Sags were a couple of rough-and-tumble kids from Whitehall, Pa., a suburb of Allentown in the Lehigh Valley area. The duo knew each since they were able 10 years old, getting to know each other more closely while playing little league baseball together.
“The Stiles A’s, (Sags) was first baseman, I was left fielder,” Knobs said. “We didn’t win too many games, but we had fun.”
They both attended Whitehall High School, then they almost went down the wrong path before a family friend set them straight and directed them to pro wrestling.
“A good friend of ours, Matt Millen, pulled us aside,” Knobs explained. “We were getting in trouble at that time, getting a little bit too crazy. He said, ‘You guys need to straighten up or you’ll wind up in jail.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you try that pro wrestling.’ ”
Millen, also from Whitehall, went on to win four Super Bowl rings as an NFL linebacker with the Raiders, 49ers and Redskins.
The Nasty Boys sought out veteran wrestler George “The Animal” Steele for advice and the WWE Hall of Famer directed Knobbs and Sags to Verne Gagne in Minneapolis. Gagne ran the AWA for many years in the Midwest before expanding in the 1980’s and landing a TV deal with ESPN.
“We started wrestling in Minneapolis in 1985,” Sags said. “We went to train at Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp, taught by (former U.S. Olympian) Brad Rheingans.”
The Nasty Boys paid their dues before getting a break in the AWA.
“We would drive the ring truck while we were still full-out training,” Sags said. “That’s how we started our career.”
“It was a very tough school, but they trained you right,” Knobbs added. “We trained for 7 or 8 months. There were 22 people and me and Sags were the only ones that survived.”
Soon after training at Gagne’s school, Knobbs and Sags were given their team name.
“We’re not the Nasty Boys for nothing,” Sags said. “When we came up in the business, we were given that name by Verne Gagne’s daughter after she went out with us one night.”
It led to a fruitful career for the Nasty Boys, winning tag team titles in several promotions and wrestling in companies and territories like Mid-South, NWA, Florida Championship Wrestling and even IMPACT Wrestling.
Over their three-plus decades in wrestling, Knobbs and Sags developed long-lasting relationships with many other talents, including Hulk Hogan.
“I’ve known him forever, since like 1988,” said Knobbs, who had a recurring role in “Hogan Knows Best,” a reality show about Hogan’s family. “Good man. He’s a really good person. He was a really good mentor of mine.”
Knobbs also named Ric Flair and Bret Hart as people from whom he learned while Sags mentioned Curt Hennig prominently.
Both Nasty Boys had a deep respect for the Hart Foundation and were shocked by Neidhart’s recent passing.
“That was a sad thing, because he was a great friend and a great guy as was all of the Hart Family was to me and Knobbs,” Sags said. “We grew up with them all and they treated us like family. We always treated them like family.”
It has been one, wild and crazy ride for the Nasty Boys, who will return to the Chicago area for appearance Saturday night at the Haunted Flea Market at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in West suburban Wheaton.
It will be yet another fun time for Knobbs and Sags.
“We’ve known each other since we were 10,” Knobs said. “It was like we were good old buddies sticking together, running up and down the road. Forty-five years later, we’re still doing this.”
Chicago connection: The Nasty Boys are friends with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, another Pennsylvania native. Knobbs and Sags, who now in live in Florida, knew Maddon when he was the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays for several years.
“It was great when the Cubs won the World Series (in 2016), because (Maddon was) another very good friend to me and Sags. He’s been a friend of ours for a long time.”