By JEREMIAH PLUNKETT – For SlamWrestling.net
Before I begin, I would like to thank Tommy Milagro, Greg Oliver, and everyone over at Slam Wrestling for the opportunity to pay tribute to my friend, Francisco Ciatso, who died on January 20.
I first met Francisco Ciatso and his wife Stormie Lee in November of 2016 at a wrestling event promoted by James Carver in Carthage, Tennessee. Frankie and Stormie had moved up from Florida to be a part of the now-defunct Arcadian Wrestling Association. Like other independent promotions that start out to take over the world, it was short-lived and reneged on the promises made to the talent that uprooted their lives to come be a part of the “next big thing.”
Around the Tennessee scene, specifically Middle Tennessee, I pride myself in knowing just about everyone on any card in the area. If I didn’t, my tag partner at the time and trainer, Buzz Dupp, usually did. Frankie and Stormie were definitely the odd members of the locker room on this night, but that didn’t last long.
Within 30 minutes, Frankie was chopping it up in the locker room like we were lifelong friends. You’d never knew what Frankie was going through. I’m not sure that I ever really knew until attending the Nashville premiere of his documentary, Journeyman. I would go into detail, but that’s Frankie and Stormie’s story to tell. Give it a watch if you have the opportunity. It is currently available on Tubi, and I highly recommend it.
From that first meeting, I knew I had made a new friend. I don’t use that term lightly, either. In professional wrestling, you will have many acquaintances. You may hug them. You may even call them “brother,” but real friends are worth their weight in gold. Frankie just had an endearing personality and a want to make everyone and everything around him the best it could be. If the locker room environment wasn’t conducive to a good time, Frankie was going to get everyone laughing. If a talent was green and wasn’t getting opportunities to learn, Frankie would request to work with them, elevate them, and give them a much-needed confidence boost. He truly was the best of us.
Frankie and I had limited in-ring interactions for the first few years I knew him, a six-man tag here and there, but that’s about it. Frankie was one of those guys that made everything so light and easy. If you could keep a straight face as Francisco Ciatso’s tag team partner on a random spot show in Nowhere, Tennessee , or Where-The-Heck, Indiana, you have no sense of humor. Frankie was the consummate entertainer and loved to give the crowd a chuckle at his expense. He was so unselfish. He was so far beyond being a “get my sh*t in” guy. He was a true pro.
The first time Frankie and I had the opportunity to tag together, it was simply a throwaway match. We were just two heels put together to work with a big, biker-themed tag team of raw-boned gentlemen that were going to lay it in, sell sparingly, and not exactly be a night off. Frankie, much like myself, preferred the “call it out there” style of work, especially in this scenario. We were going to have a good time. As the match goes, it’s hit or miss. Not a bad match whatsoever, but harder than I personally wanted it to be. I reached deep into my bag of tricks by literally reaching into my singlet, pulling out a clenched fist, hitting my opponent, and backing up to Frankie with my hand behind my back. As Frankie reached down to take my instrument of destruction from me… well, I don’t want to ruin everything, but let’s just say Frankie was smiling from ear to ear about my utilization of “the phantom.”
That night was a one-off, but Frankie and I would work many shows together, and it was always a pleasure. The locker room interaction and the dinner conversations afterward were the highlights of my evenings. Frankie would weave a tale like no other, and as hard as Frankie would be laughing, everyone else at the table would be laughing that much harder.
Fast forward to 2019. Frankie and I find ourselves both working “the other side of the coin” and the idea is floated to throw us together as a tag team, another one-off… or so we thought. Frankie had long been calling himself, among a myriad of nicknames, “The Journeyman,” and I had used a variation of this as “Wrestling’s Last Journeyman.” You’d think there would be some hard feelings or concerns about gimmick infringement, but never from Frankie. As we were putting our heads together about the match, having no idea why we were being put together, the idea came up to call ourselves “The Journeymen”, complete with satin jackets, one finger in the air, and all the 1980s babyface flare a team in the late twenty-teens could muster. [There is a sizzle reel of highlights here.]
To our surprise, the team was a hit and what was supposed to be a one-off, card-filler tag team became the satin-jacketed, multi-faceted, crisscrossing, hip tossing, drop kicking, monkey flipping, tag team champions of the universe, complete with every 1980s babyface trope and the cheesiest entrance music imaginable (“Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury… yes, the theme from Greatest American Hero).
We were having a blast! Now readers, I don’t know your beliefs on a higher power or fate, as I’m not even sure my own, but if something omnipotent was behind bringing Frankie and me closer during this time, I would not be surprised, because wrestling fans, I was bitter. The wear and tear on my body was adding up. I never regained the momentum I’d had before my shoulder surgery in 2015. I had a nagging neck injury, and I was not at all happy with the state of my position in the wrestling industry. However teaming with Frankie and having fun, and having the crowds have fun with us, it began to bring me out of the darkness.
In addition to having fun, I also had a big brother to bounce my feelings off of. Don’t get me wrong, I had my circle, but Frankie had been through exactly what I was going through multiple times. Frankie understood loving an industry that doesn’t always love you back and doesn’t owe you anything, and Frankie helped me through.
Much like myself, Frankie romanticized professional wrestling. It was all either of us had ever wanted to do with our lives. We grew close over the love of the industry. Hitting the roads with Frankie made the drives more enjoyable because he lived for them, made the matches more fun because he demanded we had fun, and made the lows not so low because Frankie brought everyone up around him.
Unfortunately for me, Frankie got an opportunity back in Florida he could not pass up, to be a trainer at the World Wrestling Network Training Center. Frankie and Stormie heading back to Florida made our Journeymen trips less frequent. Additionally, the progression of a neck injury made taking time off and seeking treatment a priority for me. Late 2019 was the last ride of the Journeymen, but it wasn’t necessarily planned that way. The world shutting down also put a damper on any kind of return, but what I would give to hit that curtain one more time with him as the audience sings along to the lyrics of Joey Scarbury as we look at each other and still question how this ever worked.
Frankie and I always kept in touch, though not as often as I would have liked. Frankie was always much better about the random feel-good text, or the drop-in just to check on you. It would always be the highlight of my night when Frankie would pop up at an event I was booked on, or I’d get a call or text from Frankie and a mutual friend working another event just wanting to say hi. It was like no time had ever passed…
…and now I wish none had.
I wish we could have paused time. I wish I could just sit and laugh with Frankie until the end of time. I wish Frankie was still here with us. I would be sure to thank him again for all he’s done for me. I would hug him tighter than I ever had before if I had the chance. I would make sure he knew how much he meant to me and how much I loved him. I know I’m not alone in that feeling either.
You search Francisco Ciatso on social media, and the overflow of love is everywhere. I hope Frankie sees it. I hope Frankie knows how highly I and everyone else in the industry regard him. Tracy Smothers once told me to “never stop being a good human.”
Francisco Ciatso was more than a journeyman. Frankie was a good human.
To end this, I’d like to quote the man himself, Francisco Ciatso: “The road is one big dream wrapped in asphalt. Those broken lines can lead to broken dreams. All you can do is roll the dice and take a gamble because we’re all just one roller bag away from stardom.”
You’re among the stars now, Frankie. I love you. I miss you. Say hi to Tracy Smothers for me.
Jeremiah Plunkett is a veteran of professional wrestling and currently competes in the NWA.