WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware set aside a few minutes of his schedule to answer questions from his fans, courtesy of SLAM! Wrestling. The Birdman shares his insight on everything from his early days with Norvell Austin to how he learned to do his bird dance. Check it out!
What was it like to wrestle “Superstar” Bill Dundee in the first scaffold match in Memphis? (Brian Westcott)
Koko: It was a very, very dangerous type of match. I wouldn’t want to do it again. I don’t think it had ever been done after us. It’s a really scary feeling to fall off that thing like I did and broke my wrists. I do not want to do it again.
What was your initial reaction when the match was proposed? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: At first, I didn’t want to do it. I was kind of saying, “Wow.” But someone told me, “Yeah, but Koko, can you imagine all the coverage that you’re going to get off of that? It’ll be like something in history. It never happened before. First time ever; you and Bill Dundee.” I was kind of like the guinea pig I guess, but I went out there and I did it and it did get a lot of coverage, but it scared the hell out of me though.
Can you talk about your first title run with the Mid-American Television Championship and the feud with Jimmy Valiant and Tojo Yamamoto? (James Hudgens)
Koko: Back in those days, it was great. It was my first chance to be a champion and Jimmy Valiant, he just couldn’t stand me after I beat him. I think I won on black and white TV. Any time you win a championship in the professional wrestling field, and I didn’t get the chance to take the TV title home to show my family or anything. It really freaked me out when he (Valiant) picked it up and just dropped it on national TV there. It just went into all kinds of pieces. I was so shocked; I just couldn’t believe it. Even today, I still haven’t gotten over that shock. Every time I see Jimmy Valiant now on different wrestling events, my mind just goes back to that black and white TV that he busted on TV.
It’s been reported that Tojo was legitimately tough. What was it about him that was so tough? (James Hudgens)
Koko: He had a lot of guts. He was just a mean little devil. He was just tough as nails and I just thought he was a scary thing back in the day. I learned a lot of stuff off of Tojo Yamamoto and God bless his heart. He was a good friend of mine. I wish he was still here, but man he was just so tough. He got those people to just hate him. I remember one time in Nashville, Tennessee, wrestling fans just sliced all his four tires in his vehicle and he didn’t let that bother him at all. But I got to see how mad the fans got at him that they slashed his tires.
What are your favourite memories of working in Memphis with Norvell Austin as the Pretty Young Things? (Brian Westcott)
Koko: Well because we was pretty (laughter). Our ratings went over Michael Jackson’s if you can believe that. It was great. The Pretty Young Things come out and it was like everybody was glued to the TV. Michael Jackson wrote a song about the Pretty Young Things, but we just picked up the PYT, which still stands for the Pretty Young Things. We played the Michael Jackson music and we did it all. We had the red jackets with the head band and came out with the glove. We had the one sparkling glove and we had glitter all over our hair. We had black sunglasses with black tights. We were the sharpest thing around man.
Was it that big of a transition from that gimmick to the James Brown/Birdman gimmick in the WWE? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: Oh no, that was totally different. We did our deal with the Pretty Young Things and then I fell solo with the Birdman and that just took off into another direction, brother.
Did you learn anything from him, being his partner? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: Oh yes. Norvell was a lot older than me and he taught me a lot of the ropes and stuff. I watched how he did things and stuff like that. I learned a lot from him and it really paid off in my wrestling career.
Who gave you the idea to form the group? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: Actually, believe it or not, Jerry Lawler. He’s a genius when it comes down to putting teams together and giving them managers and stuff like that back then. He had an incredible mind; a creator. He created Kamala, the Ugandan Giant. He created the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express and he had something to do with the Fabulous Ones, Steve Keirn and Stan Lane. He’s just such a genius. He’s got a brilliant head on him brother.
What was it like to work with him (Lawler) in the ring? (Brian Westcott)
Koko: It was like a piece of cake. I look to all the young guys that are trying to break into the business today and they need a trainer like Jerry Lawler and work with him and see how he feels in the ring. He feels so light and comfortable and will make you look like a million dollars. It’s just unbelievable how he can make you really look good.
What was your time like at Leroy McGuirk’s Tri-States promotion? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: It was great. I went to Tulsa and I got a chance to meet some beautiful people there like the McGuirks and Leroy, God bless his heart. I understand they’re still running shows there in Tulsa, near Oklahoma City. I got a lot of experience there. I wrestled Les Thornton for the Junior Heavyweight Championship there. We went one hour straight; I mean one hour Broadway. That was the longest wrestling time of my life. It felt like I was in the ring for 10 or 20 hours.
What was it like working with Buzz Sawyer? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: Buzz Sawyer was another good fellow that I met. You had to understand Buzz back then, because Buzz was just on a natural high man. He had so much energy and he’d talk crazy when he was doing his interviews. That was way back then, when Tommy Rich was hot. Everybody was kind of afraid of Buzz, but I got along with him and Buzz and I had some incredible matches back in the Mid South days for the other promoter, Bill Watts. We had some knock-down, drag-out fights in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Why do you think that Buzz was able to get along with you so well, while everyone else as you said was afraid of him? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: Well, just like I think of the business now, I don’t ever change. I just respect everybody as a human being. I don’t disrespect anybody. He knew I was this down to Earth person, so he thought, “Hey, Koko’s not the one that I need to be putting my guard up for.” He’s down to Earth as well. I can tell when someone’s in a bad mood and if they’re in a bad mood, I don’t fool with them. I speak to them, but I leave them alone, so the next time I meet them, we can be, “Hey Koko, how you doing man?” “Oh hey, how you doing?” “Good man” “Oh I’m doing fine.” I always know when a person’s in a good mood and until then, I leave them alone when they’re in a bad mood.
Did you feel you were unfairly criticized by people for being a black wrestler? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: Not at all, man. Hey, I was born black and I’m going to die black, so why would people be subconscious about that or have a problem with that? That didn’t have anything to do with it, brother. I did what I was supposed to do back in the day. I can’t do it now. I can’t do the same moves, but I can still wrestle a little bit. But the thing about it is when I was the Birdman, I was flying high all over the world and I knew I was flying high. I was flying higher than the 747.
Did you feel that certain characters that you portrayed, such as the Birdman, being such a soulful character. Did you think that was sort of a racial stereotype in any way? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: No, not at all. It was great entertainment, man. Everybody loved it. We went out as partners as the PYT and we got to reach out to the people and then I took it to another level and flew off and came in as the little Birdman. I wouldn’t change anything. I wish I could go back and do the PYT all over again and then come back to be the Birdman again. I wish I could do these things, but I can’t.
Do you think an all-black promotion would work, or are blacks only accepted as part of a promotion? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: It could work, but the thing about it though is that it’s going to be a little different. They have black cowboys and black rodeos and they do really successful business. If you got the black talent out there, who can get out there and perform just as good as WWE and get on the microphone and be able to talk and have announcers like Vince McMahon, or Jerry Lawler and J.R. and so on and so on and so on, it’s going to work. You got to have that whole package like they have. If you don’t have the full package, it won’t work.
I loved your song “Piledriver” from the old WWF Wrestling Album back in 1987. How did you develop your singing talent? (Brian Westcott)
Koko: Because I started singing in church. In fact, I just left there. I sing in a male chorus group at my church. I do a lot of singing. I love to sing gospel. God just gave me that talent so I could just sing, sing and sing and then I took it over to the wrestling business and it was just another blessing.
How did WWE actually discover that talent? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: When Vince McMahon was going around the territories and pulling out all the best talent that he could out of every small territory there was, I just happened to be down in Louisiana and after that he just called me and said, “We want you in the WWE. We definitely got to have you. You’re talented and you’re good. We need you.” Just like he picked the JYD, God bless his heart, and he picked many more, like Hulk Hogan. Next thing you know, everybody ended up there, but I was so glad when they called me up and I got into the WWE deal. It made me feel good that somebody loved my style more than me. I’m glad I got the opportunity.
What was your reaction to being paired with the mascot, Frankie? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: I thought we hit it off great. That was my idea of having a bird. I was already the Birdman and I wanted a character beside me, so I could relate to the little birds out there, the little kids and stuff like that. We got along great. Without that bird, it was just hard for me to function. When I come to all these places to wrestle, you know, America, Canada, Japan, China, Russia, Austria, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, all these places I go to wrestle, when I can’t take my bird, it kind of weakens the Birdman a little bit.
What was it like to work Wrestlemania III and how was Butch Reed to work with? (Scott)
Koko: I don’t know about the matches, but it was the biggest of all time. The matches were great too, but it was the biggest crowd ever. We still hold the record of that, 93,175 in the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. That’s what you call a Wrestlemania and God bless all the young generation. I want them to top our record. I want them to beat our record. Wrestling “The Natural” Butch Reed was an incredible match that we had. He’s a big, tall, muscular guy and I was the little Birdman, but I’ll tell you, I was shake, rattle and roll on him brother. I didn’t win the match, but when he woke up on that couch, he’s like, “Did I win?” I had to tell him that he won.
What was it like teaming with Owen Hart as a part of High Energy? (Rob Adler)
Koko: Owen Hart was one of the classiest guys that you’d ever want to be around and be partners with. In fact, the whole Hart family I love to death and I still love them. I haven’t seen Bret Hart in so long. I haven’t seen him since Owen died. Just being partners with Owen, we had so much fun together. Owen loved to pull ribs on you and tell jokes and kind of rib you a lot. He didn’t want to spend a dime. That’s one thing about Owen Hart. He never spent any money and I guess that’s why he became a millionaire. If he spent a dollar, he would cry about it for three days (laughter).
Do you think we will see Owen in the WWE Hall of Fame? (Rob Feind)
Koko: I don’t know why not. He deserves it and I’m sure his time is coming, just like my time came and I would love to help induct Owen Hart myself. But I’m sure he’s got brothers to probably fill that spot. I would love to see Bret do that. If Bret didn’t do it, I guess I would be next in line.
Did you feel that you deserved a better push or a title reign in the WWE? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: I only did what I had to do brother. The only title I really had was my bird, brother. I wasn’t even thinking about any other title, because I didn’t want to get involved in the title matches and stuff like that, because I already had a bird to take out and if I had to take this belt out, that would just be too much weight, man (laughter).
You have been one of the most unique wrestlers I have ever seen. What inspired you to create the Birdman gimmick? (Ryan Conway)
Koko: Me and my wife were sitting at home and we were watching this old Morris Day, called Morris Day and The Time, and they were on the stage doing this bird dance and my wife is a dance teacher and she just got up and said, “You could do this dance really easy. Everybody can do this bird dance.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll take it to the ring.” And it took off.
What were the backstage politics like in those days? (Rob Fiend)
Koko: It was pretty tough, because we didn’t have any script writers back in the days. We had to come up with stuff off our heads and stuff like that. Everybody was just really careful like if a stranger came in the dressing room, we didn’t wait for the promoter. We were like, “Hey man, who are you? What do you need? Don’t go any further, stop right there.” We were real protective, but I don’t know how the officials are run now. I’m sure they’re run professionally with a real tight security that they don’t let anybody in the dressing room.
What was the WWE Hall of Fame like? (Courtney Marshall)
Koko: I thought it was the greatest thing in my life and every fan got their wish, and I got mine. I thank God for everybody that was saying, “When is Koko going to get into the Hall of Fame?” But when it happened, I’m sure all the people shed their tears all across the country and I know that I shed mine. So God bless us all. We made it.
What was the connection to you being inducted by The Honky Tonk Man? (SLAM! Wrestling)
Koko: It was a little strange, because this was the first time that it had ever came out that Honky Tonk Man and I, we kind of started out together wrestling. We got in at the same area where we lived at. He’s a Tennessee guy and I’m a Tennessee fellow myself; well slash Tennessee and Canadian. I still think of myself as part of Canada when I go there. I went to Toronto one time and from now on, I’m going to say I am part of Canada; I’m an American/Canadian. So that’s where Honky Tonk and I started and we worked out in the same area together. He would be the only one, besides Jerry Lawler or Jimmy Hart to induct me.
Any chance of seeing you make an appearance with TNA or WWE in the near future? (Rob Adler)
Koko: You saw what I did best out there. I was with TNA a while back when they did their pay per view and they just gave us the utmost respect and WWE just topped it off when they just brought me back and put me in the Hall of Fame and I got a chance to go to Smackdown and just sit out there in the audience and they put the camera on me for five seconds or ten seconds and announced me. There is no way that I can come out there and come off of those ladder matches or coming off of the top rope and start flying out on the floor with somebody. But if you give me the old school wrestling brother, I can do it.
Koko’s message to his fans: Hello Wrestling fans! This is the Birdman Koko B. Ware and I’m on my way back home right there in Canada. All you people in Thunder Bay, come on out! Check the Birdman out, because I’m telling you the WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware will be there on June the 18th! Don’t you dare miss it! The Birdman is flying high in Thunder Bay! Check out www.wrestlingsupershow.com/ for more info.