In January of 2005, I headed up to Edmonton to catch a PWA show, and was caught of guard when Phoenix Taylor pulled me aside and told me that the original plan for him and partner Marky Mark to win the PWA tag team titles from Harry Smith and T.J. Wilson had been scrapped because of a posting I made on a message board. Part of me thought I was being ribbed, but Phoenix was pretty convincing.
I spent the rest of the night being sure I was being ribbed, until during the tag title match Duke Durrango and Randy Myers ran into the match, attacking the champions and costing the challengers the belts. I sat there in disbelief, until Wilson demanded the match be restarted and Mark and Phoenix won the belts. Immediately after having their arms raised, Phoenix popped out of the ring, came to me, and said “consider yourself ribbed.”
Ribbing, or practical jokes, is as old as professional wrestling itself. Sometimes, such as in the example involving me, it is meant to be friendly. In other cases it can be quite mean. Usually, it is among friends, as is the case of TNA’s Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley).
“Sometimes we like to jump on the bed, I mean who doesn’t like to jump on beds that aren’t theirs?” Sabin recalled. “Alex decided to take the ironing board and hide it underneath my sheets while my bed was still made. When I jumped on the bed straight on my back I landed on the ironing board.”
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even remember doing that one,” added Alex Shelley. “I have a pretty good one too. In the locker room, we have several seats to sit in and some are lawn chairs. It just so happened that one of those lawn chairs broke. We managed to camouflage it and cover it pretty well with towels so you didn’t know it was broken. Petey Williams managed to convince people to sit there. Every time somebody sat in the chair it completely caved in and they landed on their ass on the ground. I think that is one of my favorite memories of that locker room.”
Mr. Fuji was called devious in his on-screen persona, however the term could also be used to describe this legendary ribber backstage as well.
“Fred Blassie, he always kept his suitcase — like Walter Kowalski, the same thing — everything lined up, the towels, the shower shoes in the plastic, all nice and neat. Blassie was in the ring, and Fuji took some of his stuff — underpants, whatever, and he nailed it to the ceiling. Blassie got hot because he couldn’t find it. Then somebody said, ‘Why don’t you look up?'” recalled Dominic Denucci.
“Fuji’s were nonstop: in the arena, in hotels, in airports, in restaurants. And Fuji was an instigator. He’d find weak-minded wrestlers and have them do ribs for him, just to wreak more havoc. The man was incorrigible,” wrote “Classy” Fred Blassie in his 2003 biography Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks. “If you were sitting across from Fuji, drinking a cup of coffee, he was liable to slip in some laxatives when you weren’t looking. It would be time to go to the ring, and you’d be on the toilet, sh—— your guts out. If he heard you on the phone, making airplane reservations, he’d call up the airline after you hung up, and cancel your trip. You’d miss a booking, lose money, and Fuji would think it was funny.”
Jules Strongbow (Frank Hill) is someone who got one over on Fuji.
“Fuji tried to get silly in the ring with me one night. I let him get away with it because I figured somewhere down the line, I’m going to find out something about Fuji and I’m going to use it against him in a rib,” detailed the former partner of Chief Jay Strongbow. “Well, I found out that he had very ticklish feet. So one night me were in, I think it was Baltimore, and I grapevined his legs, and I started tickling him. I kept it up for about 10 minutes. To the crowd, it looked like he was in pain, absolute miserable pain. But he wasn’t, and I just kept it up, and kept it up. And after that, he never did anything to me. He never pulled a rib on me outside the ring.”
Don Muraco was also a big ribber, and “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe could not recall which of the two pulled off a rib on Pampero Firpo.
“If I can remember — it might have been him, or it might have been Fuji — but we were coming back from Guam. This is hard to imagine in this day and age, this was probably in ’78 or so. Don or Fuji had taken six-foot of chain, heavy chain, on to the plane. Firpo passed out on the plane and went to sleep. He had a Haliburton [suitcase] under his seat, and it got chained to the bottom of his airline seat, and the lock got super-glued shut. When he went to get off the plane, he had to explain to the flight attendant, ‘This is my bag, but I can’t get it open, and I don’t know how it got chained to this seat!’ Then after that, of course, he’s got to go through Customs, and he can’t get it open so they want to see what’s in it. It was quite a plane ride,” he recalled. “I saw Firpo eight or nine months later in Puerto Rico at a BBQ. He said, ‘Larry Sharpe, who pissed in my shoe? You or Fuji?’ He was always one of the guys going to the office. He thought that would protect his job.'”
JJ Dillon is another legend with some entertaining rib stories, such as the one he told to Bill Kociaba of Kayfabe-Wrestling.com.
“When I worked in Kansas City we used to do a lot of shows in high schools. You would always find kids locks hanging on their lockers unlocked. It was a common rib to put one of the locks on a guy’s suitcase. They would have to go find bolt cutters to get it off. I never really got into pulling ribs because, well, you are always gonna get paid back, so I pretty much stayed out of it. Anyway one night I am sitting in the locker room and Terry Garvin comes in and leaves his bag. I just happen to notice this lock just hanging there and well I put it on his suitcase and leave. Later when Terry finds it, he really doesn’t sell it like I expected. We had ridden together and most of the ride home he was very quiet. Not like Terry at all. Finally he says, ‘I am trying to figure out who put the lock on my bag. I know it wasn’t you since you don’t pull ribs.’ He went through the whole roster trying to figure it out. About a week later, we are at another house show and the main event is a battle royal. So, everyone is in the ring and Terry takes a long length, maybe 10 feet of very heavy chain and strings it through the handles of everyone’s suitcases except mine and locks it to a radiator. Since I couldn’t have been the guy. Needless to say when the boys came back they were pissed. They wanted to get dressed and leave and they couldn’t. I remember Terry yelling, ‘I don’t know which one of you S.O.B.s got me, but I know I got you.’ Don’t know if I ever admitted to it or not.”
Probably the biggest ribbers from the 1990s are no longer with us. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart often were partners in crime, according to Tammy “Sunny” Sytch.
“Those two would crack you up like you wouldn’t believe with the ribs they pulled on each other, their friends and on me. I got ribbed left and right and it was awesome. Those are two guys I really miss dearly and I really think the world would be a better place if they were still with us.”
Sytch then spent several minutes telling hilarious stories, many of which she plans to include in an eventual book.
“We had two weeks on tour in the Toronto area, and to save money on car rentals 12 of us rented a 12-person van. If I can remember, it was me, Chris, Billy & Bart Gunn, Davey Boy, Marty Jannetty, Goldust — I can’t remember everybody. Owen Hart had a fan in the Toronto area that would drive him around because Owen was the cheapest man alive and wherever he could skim on a dollar he would and was riding behind us. At that time you could get fireworks anywhere, and Davey had this great idea to buy fireworks off the side of the road. He must have spent $200 on fireworks, and he had decided to start shooting Roman candles out the windows of the van at Owen behind us. Owen is driving into the candles to have them hit the grill, we driving 70 miles an hour on the QEW and cars are swerving because they are just seeing these fireballs coming at their windshields out of the van and they have no idea what is going on.”
After two weeks of fireworks and smoke bombs, the van was a mess, but leave it to Smith to turn it around.
“The middle seat on the van was torn right out, they broke the passenger side window and it wouldn’t even go up anymore, the carpet was burned and stained, the van smelled like it had been on fire. Davey goes to return the van to the rental agency and in his thick British accent said ‘I can’t believe you rented me a van like this, I had my children in this van and there are burns in the carpet, it smells like smoke, the window doesn’t go up and it’s the middle of winter, there and there is no middle seat.’ They believed him to the point where they credited the two weeks of rental onto his credit card and gave him a free rental for the next time he was in the area. The best part is, Davey isn’t even the one who rented the van. That was how convincing he could be. Let me tell you, when we got the van it was brand new. We destroyed it, it looked like a bomb hit it when we returned it. We were all just in amazement that Davey could convince them.
“He was very entertaining to be with on the road. We were on a chartered plane, and on a chartered plane you can pretty much do anything. I made the mistake of going to the bathroom and Davey was in the last row by the bathroom. He decided to wrap the seatbelt around the bathroom door so I couldn’t get out, he locked me in there for two and a half hours. Everyone on the flight knew I was in there, but why let me out? It was Davey’s rib, and he would have ribbed them if they let me out.”
While usually on the receiving end, Sytch spoke of a time when she teamed up with Smith to pull one over on Owen.
“We were in Germany at the hotel for our breakfast buffet before we had to go to the airport. Owen decided to take two cartons of orange juice with him so he wouldn’t have to buy something to drink on the plane. Owen used to travel with two carry-on bags, he would never check luggage he always carried the two duffel bags and took them on the plane. So I said to Davey, ‘Owen has a carton of orange juice in his bags and we have to get them checked.’ Davey thought it was a great idea and in typical Davey fashion convinced the check-in agent that there was no way Owen’s bags would fit on the plane and would have to be checked. They check his bags through, and I am laughing because I knew what would happen. We landed and were in baggage claim and here comes Owen’s two bags leaking orange juice, because of course they broke. They were oozing orange juice through his clothes and his wrestling gear. He had to wrestle in gear that stunk like orange juice. That was a combined effort by me and Davey Boy.”
Sytch is old school, which made her accepting of the ribbing.
“I got along well with everybody so I only got the friendly ribs, which was very nice. Yeah, I was ribbed a lot but nothing was hurtful. I understood that for a long time I was the only girl in a locker room full of men and would be the center of attention of ribs. I was raised old school so I expected it to happen. There are some girls in the business now that when they get ribbed they start crying and all hell breaks loose and they go complain to the office. That just makes you enemies, if you laugh off your rib it’s accepted. I did my share of ribbing too, I was taught by the masters.”
— With files from Greg Oliver