“Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. . .”
Mike Phillips passed away on April 20, 2023, and that won’t mean a lot to many. And that’s too bad.
Too bad in the sense that many never had the opportunity to get to know, and hang out with, a talented, bright man that entertained many in and out of a wrestling ring.
I knew Mike well. We lived together on both the east and west coast at various times as we toiled the roads making a living getting people to hate us in a wrestling ring. We were both heels to the fans but that is what we did for a job.
When just hanging out, we took delight in making each other laugh.
I first met Mike working for the AWA. We were both essentially breaking in to a big company doing TV tapings in Winnipeg and then wrestling in the Winnipeg Arena for Verne Gagne’s promotion. And that is where I caught my first glimpse of what a crazy sense of humor he had.
Mike was in a match at the Arena with Larry “The Ax” Hennig. After the match Mike pulled me into a smaller dressing room. “I s–t myself,” he said without expression.
I was dumfounded. “In the ring,” I asked? “In front of everyone?”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Hennig slammed me and I just let it go!” Then he laughed like a crazy man and, actually, I did too. So a friendship was born.
I wrestled Scott Hall that night, who went on to have a great run in the WWF later as Razor Ramon. I still kept thinking of Mike’s night however and kept laughing to myself.
After the show I was in the van with both the Hennigs, Larry and Curt, heading back to the hotel, the Polo Park Inn. Larry turned around to me and mentioned he noticed I was friends with the “big kid” he wrestled. “Can you do me a favor, brother, and talk to him about his hygiene?” Larry asked.
For the next few minutes of the ride I explained to Larry what happened. Curt thought this was the funniest thing he had ever heard. Curt became well known for playing jokes on people and this one he didn’t even have to participate in. Larry was thoroughly disgusted and the more he questioned me the more Curt and I laughed.
So we were off and running.
In Canada, wrestlers often wrestled either for Al Tomko in Vancouver or Stu Hart in Calgary in the winter and then would head to the east coast for the summer season. I ended up in Vancouver with Al and Mike stayed in Winnipeg but joined us out east that next summer. A bunch of us lived together in a big house that a wrestling family owned and it was a blast — to say the least.
As the season was winding down out east, Doug McColl and I wanted to bring Mad Dog Rex (whom we met out there and was a great guy) and Mike to Vancouver. But we needed to create a gimmick for Mike. We suggested he shave his head and we called Al and told him we had a King Kong Bundy double.
The shaving of the head was an ordeal in itself. The grandmother of the family was a huge wrestling fan so was in on the action. We put Mike in a chair in the middle of the kitchen. Granny pulled a chair right up next to him. She was going to oversee the event. “No brain, no pain” was her classic quote of the experience.
So myself, McColl, Rex, Brian Jewel and Caveman Broda gathered around to witness the making of King Kong JR Bundy!
Even with his head shaved Al still wanted to see him. So out to Vancouver he came where again we lived together and down to BCTV we went to introduce Mike to Al.
It was love at first sight. Al said he could do something with Mike and he did in a big way. Mike’s career took off with Al and he had a great run drawing Al money through the All-Star Wrestling territory.
There are a zillion great stories with Mike.
He and I drank a bar in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, out of Jack Daniels on a stopover one night. And laughed while we did it.
In British Columbia, Al packed a lot of buildings with him. One night in the arena in Victoria, Al advertised him as just King Kong Bundy. The fans got upset when they saw it wasn’t the “real” Bundy and hit the box office. Al came out and, in a classic moment in wrestling, asked the group, “Have you ever seen King Kong Bundy?” When they responded no, Al said, “What’s the difference then?” Oddly, they agreed and the show went on.
On another occasion, apparently Al thought he could make some money on getting Mike booked to the WWF. He said he called up Vince McMahon and told him he has a guy who looked more like Bundy than Bundy does! That got a lot of laughs in the van. Mike slapped his head and rolled his eyes. We loved Al.
Mike had an amazing run in Vancouver. Al’s show was national across Canada so his exposure was huge. It was, by far, his best run in the wrestling business.
The road is a grind. It is a huge grind and finally it was time for Mike to get off of it. He returned to Winnipeg and had surgery for his weight. At his peak he was headed to 400 pounds. He wasn’t a gym guy so that was a lot for him to carry and he wanted to do something about it.
Back home he settled into a normal life. He dropped a lot of weight and worked as a chef and in security. He wrestled on local shows around Manitoba and we kept in touch via Facebook.
I was sad and stunned when I got the call from Marty Goldstein about his passing. I sat down and reflected on a long-standing friendship.
Many fans saw him as a big brutal heel. They never got to have a conversation with him about his love of comic books. About the fun guy who used to take great joy in making others laugh and not in a mean way which often happened in wrestling dressing rooms. Any of the big stars of the day who met him loved him. The Fabulous Freebirds would entertain him in their room. He broke all barriers.
At one point Sir Joseph Cagle brought Mike down to Tennessee. Cagle’s mom loved him. It goes on and on.
Mike was a man who had the unique ability to laugh at himself even more than others. That is a lost art.
So yes, it is too bad that many just got to see Mike on TV or from afar in an arena. They never got to experience the real side of Mike Phillips.
But I did. And I am thankful. See you down the road brother.
TOP PHOTO: Mike Phillips as King Kong JR Bundy.