Welcome to Windy City Slam!
By Mike Pankow
August 2, 2018
Laying on my family’s living-room floor as a young child, acting as the human remote control for our old console television, was where I had some of my earliest memories of professional wrestling.
On Saturday afternoons, usually my Dad, Mom and I, would be engrossed with these men in tights with larger-than-life personalities. Gentleman Chris Adams, Iceman King Parsons, the Fabulous Freebirds, and of course, those Von Erich boys from World Class Championship Wresting would be the central focus in our home on the Southwest Side of Chicago.
Then there was WWE (then-WWF) Superstars of Wrestling and Wrestling Challenge on Channel 32. I often stayed up late Friday nights to watch Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura broadcast the exploits of Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Big Boss Man and the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
With the introduction of cable television into our humble abode came the comical interactions between Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on USA Network’s PrimeTime Wrestling. Let’s not forget 6:05 Saturday nights on TBS (actually 5:05 for us Central time folks) for World Championship Wrestling where we were mesmerized by the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and his band of Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger and Sting. We’d also occasionally catch some of Verne Gagne’s AWA on ESPN and Sam DeCero’s Windy City Wrestling (aka Windy City Pro Wrestling) on Showcase Chicago Channel 25 on our local cable system.
My Mom would often tell me the story of how she got the International Amphitheatre to turn against Johnny Valentine, father of Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, by simply yelling “phony” toward Valentine. Now I’m not sure if it was a tall tale or the first time a Chicago wrestling crowd rebelled against the product presented to them.
My indoctrination to live wrestling came on an August evening in 1986 at the Milwaukee Mile at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wis. There was a women’s match, a little persons’ match and Jake “The Snake” Roberts (with his python, Damien) against one of the hillbillies. The main event was the first time and only time I got to see Hulk Hogan perform in person. The Hulkster defeated Hercules Hernandez to the adoration of beer- and cheese-loving Wisconsinites (and those of us visiting from Illinois).
On a Saturday night in January 1992, just a couple of days after my 17th birthday, my Dad told me to get dressed and get in the car. I had no idea what was in store for the evening, but as we drove on the Tri-State Tollway and approached O’Hare Airport, I figured out what was up. WWE was in town at what was known then as the Rosemont Horizon. My Dad and I took in an event featuring WWE Champion Ric Flair and newly-minted Intercontinental Champion “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. We also saw the Undertaker, IRS, Ted DiBiase, Hercules and Sid Justice (better known as Sid Vicious). It was also the only time I got to see Owen Hart in person. He teamed up with his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, to face the Beverly Brothers.
I can thank my parents from bringing wrestling into my life. We also saw a Windy City show at the Amphitheatre in 1991 with one of the featured matches being Ken Patera against Lanny Poffo.
My folks also took me to see my only WCW live show at the Horizon, which was Spring Stampede ’94, which featured another classic main event of Ric Flair against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. That card also featured “Stunning” Steve Austin, Big Van Vader, Sting, the Great Muta, Rick Rude and Dustin Rhodes among others.
My Dad passed away in 1997, not long after I turned 22 years old. Watching and following wrestling always conjured up many happy memories of my days with my father. Wrestling has always been there for me throughout my life through all of the ups and downs.
I’ve been to a number of shows over the last two decades, including three WWE Raws (one in Milwaukee and two more in Chicago), three WWE house shows or non-televised shows (one in Chicago and two in Moline, Ill.), two independent shows (Pro Wrestling Blitz) in suburban Chicago, and most recently, NXT TakeOver Chicago II at Allstate Arena in June.
Last, but not least, the biggest event I’ve ever attended was WrestleMania 22 at Allstate Arena in 2006.
When tickets went on sale for the event in October 2005, I was going through some difficult times in my personal life and it was my dream to attend at least one WrestleMania. I decided to log on to Ticketmaster’s website and search for a ticket … and a few minutes later, I saw a ticket for Section 7, Row 8, Seat 2, just off the entrance aisle. The cost? Well, it was the most expensive ticket I’ve ever purchased, but I told myself, “(Screw) it. I’m doing it.”
It was totally worth it! I got to see a great Money in the Bank ladder match, which featured Ric Flair and was won by Rob Van Dam. I saw one of my all-time favorites, Kurt Angle, defend his World Heavyweight Championship against Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio. I also enjoyed the hottest women’s match at a Mania before the current Women’s Revolution with Mickie James defeating Trish Stratus for the WWE Women’s Championship. Then there was the story of Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon and the hardcore match between Edge and Mick Foley, which was remembered for Edge’s spear of Foley through a flaming table.
On top of all that, I probably own over 1,000 wrestling magazines, hundreds of action figures and collectibles, dozens of books and probably about 20 wrestling t-shirts. You could say that I’m “All In.”
In terms of hobbies, my passion for wrestling can only be equaled by my love for sports and writing.
Just a few years after I started watching wrestling, I dabbled in “making newspapers.” I started out creating my own two-page (one sheet, front and back) daily, handwritten “newspaper,” called The Pankow Times while I was in grammar school. At that point, I can’t say I was a very good writer despite my active imagination.
Through the years I was on the staffs of my grammar school paper for two years, my high school paper for two years and my college paper for nearly four years before starting my professional journey with the Chicago Tribune (for nearly two decades) and a smattering of freelance experience with websites and magazines.
My favorite story as a full-time member of the Tribune sports department was a feature on Chris Nowinski in 2002. Nowinski, fresh off a runner-up finish in WWE’s Tough Enough reality show, just joined the Raw main roster in June 2002. I pitched the idea of the story in a meeting with my boss. He loved it, so the wheels were set in motion. Nowinski was a Chicago-area native who was named a Tribune Scholar Athlete before matriculating to Harvard before deciding on a career in professional wrestling.
That gave me a small taste of what I wanted to do at some point in the future and that’s what brings us to August 2018 and the creation of Windy City Slam.
I can’t thank my wife, Jen, enough for her love and support, and my parents for me helping to cultivate this dream.
It is my intention for Windy City Slam to feature stories ranging from WWE to promotions like Ring of Honor to independent companies in and around the Chicago area. With a primary focus on Chicago-area talents or those with Chicago-area connections, I want to get inside the minds of the men and women who perform. However, I won’t be limited to just Chicago stories all the time, wrestling is huge all over the world and Chicago is just the tip of the iceberg.
To advertise, suggest story ideas or submit information for Chicago area shows for our calendar of events, please email editor Mike Pankow at email@example.com.