It’s every parent’s dream to have their children follow in their footsteps and enter into the family business. It’s not as common as one would think, but in professional wrestling, it happens more often than not. Years from now, wrestling fans of different generations will remember names such as Dibiase, Hart, Funk, Orton, Armstrong, Guerrero and McMahon, particularly because more than one member of each family has been there to constantly remind them where they came from.
These days, whenever a father sits with his son to watch a wrestling match and sees a group such as Legacy on the screen, it gives him a chance to reflect back on the old days, when he used to watch their fathers (or in Dibiase’s case, his grandmother too!) compete in that same ring years ago. The wrestling business certainly brings families closer together and if nothing else, one thing that every wrestling family has in common is that they are all part of the extended family of sports entertainment.
“Bullet” Bob Armstrong wasn’t exactly thrilled at the thought of his sons joining him in the wrestling business, because he knew first-hand the toll it would take on their bodies and the sacrifices they would have to make. But his boys were just as passionate about the business as he was and eventually he realized they weren’t going to take no for an answer.
“I didn’t want any of my sons to become wrestlers, and I honestly didn’t think they would want to either,” Armstrong said. “They would see me come home with bumps and bruises all over my body and I didn’t think that was something they’d want to go through. But they all did.”
Scott, Steve, Brad and Brian (BG James/Road Dogg) all had a tremendous amount of respect for their father and were just as determined as he was. So needless to say, it was only a matter of time before the name Armstrong would be heard again.
Bullet Bob knew that he was never going to be able to change his sons’ minds, so he took it upon himself to personally train them. He says if they were going to go through with it, they needed to do it the right way.
“I never took it easy on them,” Armstrong said. “We’re a pretty tight family and I told them all to be ready for anything.”
Armstrong just recently turned 70, but he still laces up the boots occasionally, anytime he’s presented with an opportunity to team up with one of his sons.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase Sr. shared the same philosophy as Armstrong at first, but under different circumstances. He wasn’t as concerned about the physical toll that wrestling would have on his sons’ bodies, but he was more concerned about the surrounding environment of pro wrestling as he knew it.
It wasn’t until Dibiase became a WWE road agent in 2005 that he realized that the business had changed and changed for the better.
“There was a very high divorce rate in wrestling. It was similar to rock and roll. We went from the next town to the next party to the next girl. I didn’t want my kids to have to go through that,” Dibiase said. “I wanted to see them get an education and have an easier life than I did. When I went back to the WWE in 2005, I had seen that the industry had changed. Vince [McMahon] cleaned it up. They (WWE) are marketing to kids now and not only was the audience younger, but the talent was younger. These guys wrestle now for four days a week and get three days off, unless they have to wrestle on foreign tours. The money is also much greater than it was. So that’s why I eventually changed my mind.”
Every father wants what’s best for his children. Being a second generation wrestler himself, Dibiase is well aware of the pressure of following in his father’s footsteps and the expectations that come with having his last name.
Like Armstrong, he wanted his sons to have the best training possible, so they could be responsible for the success of their own careers and wouldn’t have to rely on their last name alone. He had all of his sons train under the tutelage of Harley Race and the Youngbloods, so they would be at the top of their game when they eventually started training at the WWE’s developmental territory in Florida.
“The only place to end up in this business where you can make serious money is the WWE,” Dibiase said. “I advised all my boys to always be the first guy in the ring and the last to leave. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”
Dibiase is as proud as any father could be. All of his sons are involved in the business, in one capacity or another. His oldest son Mike DiBiase is making a name for himself on the independent scene. His youngest son Brett is honing his skills in WWE developmental. And his middle son Ted DiBiase Jr. is doing his family proud on WWE Raw every week, as part of Legacy.
The bond between a father and son is indeed a special one. But perhaps an even closer bond is the one shared between siblings. They grow up together. They learn life’s lessons together. And occasionally, they even wrestle together.
Sixty years ago, any wrestling fan south of the U.S. border knew the name Guerrero. Fast forward to the present day, and wrestling fans around the world know the name Guerrero. Gory Guerrero established his family’s legacy in the 1940s as part of a tag team with the legendary El Santo. And since then, that legacy grew to international fame, thanks to Gory’s children. His sons, Chavo Sr., Mando Guerrero and Hector all made names for themselves in North America. But when today’s generation of wrestling fans hear the name Guerrero, they think of the youngest brother, the late Eddie Guerrero, and current WWE star Chavo Guerrero Jr. (Chavo’s son, nephew to the others).
As the oldest Guerrero brother, Chavo Sr. had the unwritten responsibility to look out for his younger brothers and be the protector of the family when his father wasn’t around. But because the Guerrero family has always been close, Chavo never considered it a responsibility; it was more of a privilege.
“The Guerreros have always been competitors,” he said. “Even when we were little, we would always compete for dad’s attention. We all wanted to be wrestlers and we respected each other and that’s why we’ve always been close.”
Chavo’s Mexican heritage is very important to him as well, which is why he not only looks out for his own family, but also considers guys like Rey Mysterio as part of the family also. He even came up with the idea of involving his mother in an angle in 2004, just for the purpose of getting his brother Eddie over as the sympathetic babyface.
“We’ve had our problems in the past, but what family hasn’t? But when someone outside the family comes and tries to start something with one of our relatives, we’re all going to gang up and beat the shit out of them,” Guerrero said. “We respect each other and we’ve always been close. We’re Guerreros and we’ll never leave this business.”
Just north of the Mexican border in Amarillo, Texas, is the home of the legendary Funk family. While Dory Funk Sr. is certainly a legend in his own right, both as a wrestler and a promoter, his sons kept the legend alive by becoming the only two legitimate brothers to have both held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Both could wrestle and both could talk, which is a rarity in pro wrestling. But just like most brothers, they may have grown closer together through competition with each other. Dory Funk Jr. was a master in the ring, as was Terry Funk. But Terry later went on to make movies with the late Patrick Swayze and Sylvester Stallone. And just in case people still didn’t know the name Funk, he made sure of it by performing incredible moonsaults well into his fifties.
Being born into wrestling gave Terry Funk advantages just like anybody else. But it didn’t mean that he was getting a free ride in a fancy car. He and his brother had to work just as hard, if not, harder than everyone else, because the bar was already set at such a high altitude by their father.
“Thank God I was born into the wrestling business. It gave me a headstart,” Funk said. “You’d go to a territory at the time and everybody knew you. Wrestling fans can be much more forgiving than the wrestlers themselves or the promoters. You are seeing it today, everywhere. You’re seeing it absolutely, positively. I think it’s a wonderful thing, because I came into the wrestling business through nepotism. My brother came into the business through nepotism. But we produced.”
It’s difficult to say in this business that one person has it harder than another, because while Funk may have had the advantage of being born into a wrestling family, a lot more was expected of him and others, because of that. Funk further emphasized the point that no matter who someone is related to or what kind of connections a person has, it’s up to each individual person to make a name for him/herself.
“I love the guys that bust their asses to get in the business any way that they can. I’ve seen them through the years,” Funk said. “With a wrestling family, you get that opportunity to show yourself. If you can’t cut it, you won’t make it. That’s the way it was back then, you had the opportunity to be seen. Hell, reputation pretty well carried its way with us.”
Of course, being second or third generation is not always a guarantee of success in the wrestling business. Long before Carlito was spitting apples in his opponent’s faces in WWE, his father Carlos Colon was the Gorilla Monsoon-labelled “youngster,” who appeared in the 1993 Royal Rumble. But Carlos Colon has done so much more than that. His Puerto Rico-based promotion was a platform for young wrestlers to ply their craft in an international setting for years. And Colon was one of the most respected promoters in the business. Both of his sons, Carlito and Primo (Eddie), are now with the WWE, and despite the fact that neither has been used lately in anything high profile, they have both succeeded in keeping the Colon name alive.
Carlito agrees with Funk and others that it’s not as easy as one would think, being the son of a wrestling legend, because it’s a tough act to follow.
“I think all second-generation, third-generation guys all have an advantage than the new guys coming into the business,” he said. “Then again, a lot more is expected of out of us. We have to perform at a higher level, at an earlier pace. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Carlito says the biggest advantage for him being a wrestler’s son and for others in the same situation is that perhaps he understands the business more than others who are just coming in for the first time. And it’s because of that understanding that he tries to be as unique as possible, while still carrying on his family’s legacy.
“I always tried to have a different style. I would never live off my father’s name. I always tried to have my own name and my own persona,” Carlito said.
Most cases are similar to Carlito’s, where a lot is expected right off the bat. But in some cases, the pressure of those expectations is limited, because of the fact that those relationships are never acknowledged on camera.
There once was a wrestler named Grizzly Smith, who had three of his children follow him into the wrestling business. They all wrestled for the WWE at around the same time, and on many of the same nights. They were all fan favourites and everyone at the time knew who each of them were. But there was just one small catch: nobody knew that they were related. Rockin’ Robin, Sam Houston and Jake “The Snake” Roberts were all big stars in the ‘80s and each of them was different in their own way. Robin and Houston were biological siblings, while Roberts was their step-brother, but it was never acknowledged on camera.
Rockin’ Robin, whose real name is Robin Smith, actually initiated the idea for the WWE not to acknowledge that her and her brothers were related on camera. Some would think it would be difficult for a girl, growing up in a wrestling family, but Smith didn’t mind it and has very fond memories of her childhood and has never forgotten where she came from.
“Every time my doorbell would ring, it felt like I was in the circus,” Smith said. “I had a typical relationship with my dad and brothers. Dad was on the road a lot, while my mother was at home with me and my brother Mike (Sam Houston). We got to go to a lot of the shows and it was really exciting. They treated us like celebrities.”
Smith added that it was really never as hard for her being a wrestler’s kid, as it was for her brother. She says some of the neighbourhood kids and school children were quite ruthless at times.
“My brother got beat up quite a bit back then,” Smith said. “The kids used to tease us all the time that wrestling is fake. I used to say, ‘Is the big house, the cars and the swimming pool fake?'”
Today, most wrestling fans are well aware of who’s related and who’s not, because it’s usually acknowledged as soon as a person debuts. However, back then, it wasn’t as big a deal, because while wrestling was pushed as a legitimate sport at the time, people still had their doubts and might not have believed what they were told on camera anyway. In addition, there was no Internet for anyone to do their own research.
It might have actually worked out for the best for the Poffo brothers, Randy and Lanny, who followed their father Angelo Poffo into the business. They were never acknowledged as brothers on camera, yet Randy Savage went on to become one of the greatest WWE Champions of all time, while his brother Lanny was a solid performer as a heel or babyface, briefly headlining during his run as The Genius.
Lanny says despite the fact that they were never acknowledged as brothers on TV, they’ve always had a great relationship.
“My brother and I always got along and still do to this day,” Lanny said. “When he got called to go to WCW, he asked if I could come along. My brother never did anything but help me and I am truly grateful for that.”
Pro wrestling is as much a family business today as it was 50 years ago. And it produces family-oriented television, focused on bringing families closer together. So regardless if someone is born into the wrestling business or not, no matter where they came from or where they’ve been, they all have strong family values, because they now live under the same roof and share the same family.
— with files from Greg Oliver