August 6, 2013
by Trapper Tom, Ring Announcer/Wrestling Journalist
Always a bustling entrepreneur, Bobby O knew he could make big changes to the Pittsburgh Professional Wrestling scene. That’s the main reason why he bought into the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance at the beginning of 2005.
Largely because of overseas hair product endorsements, innovate follicle inventions like “The O,” a titanium-powered comb designed for gentleman with impeccable heads and chests of hair, as well as good old fashioned American fortitude, Bobby O became a very wealthy businessman.
Bobby O’s love of professional wrestling started like many fans, in his youth. That love became a true-life reality first in the mid-1980’s when he was an anchor of the World Radio Wrestling Federation (WRWF) on the Campus of California University of Pennsylvania. For short while, Bobby O was the champion of the federation—which consisted of hardcore matches—at least six years before another businessman stole the idea and created a federation in Philadelphia.
Upon graduation from college, Bobby launched a hair product empire that for a short time also spilled into a hot sauce business. Fueled by hair gel and hot sauce, Bobby O’s domain branched out. Soon he found a friend in Louie Syxmunki, Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Syxmunki Sports Entertainment. Syxmunki owned the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance since 2000. The KSWA was Pittsburgh’s professional wrestling organization but it did not operate shows frequently. Bobby O saw an opportunity to build something that lasted.
He and Syxmunki became fast friends. Syxmunki became aware of Bobby O’s experience and business savvy, so he was hired as a consultant. Then as a ring announcer. However, Syxmunki, who was known to not fare well with the bookies of Bloomfield, looked for a financial backer. In 2005 Bobby O invested in the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance.
The independent wrestling scene in Pittsburgh was non-existent. There were several promotions in western Pennsylvania during that time, and one or two were successful on a regional level. None ever committed to Pittsburgh. Bobby O was about to systematically alter that forever.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has been a hotbed for professional wrestling since its inception on television. The WIIC (now WPXI) TV program “Studio Wrestling” began in 1959. It was extremely popular throughout the 1960’s and into the early 1970’s, chiefly due to Pittsburgh implant Bruno Sammartino’s heavyweight championship run. Studio Wrestling went dark on WIIC in 1972, was re-tooled and supplanted to Erie. It went off of the air forever in 1974. Because of the way television was filmed then, almost no tapes survive. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling remains a popular subject to this very day. In most Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the term “Studio Wrestling” is synonymous with all professional wrestling.
In 2005, the KSWA heavyweight champion was “Dr. Devastation” Lou Martin. Martin had grabbed the world title in 2004 and would hold onto it until 2006. When Bobby O inked part ownership of the group on January 1, 2005, The Latin Assassin was the Golden Triangle Champion, Biker Al and La Lucha were tag team champs and Justin Sane was the newly-crowned Tri-State titleholder.
In 2004, the KSWA held five events. In 2005, there were eight events, with the first-ever visit to neighboring Millvale and FanFest. Always touting opportunity, Bobby O reached out to the KSWA Krazies and revolutionized the Pittsburgh independent wrestling landscape with FanFest. A $10,000 Battle Royal started that show. Big Mike Malachi was victorious. Martin would defeat Ali Kaida to retain the KSWA heavyweight belt and Justin Sane and La Lucha would win the tag team belts. FanFest was off and running, as was the “new” KSWA.
The KSWA would tout 13 events in 2006, including “Wrestle Rock,” which included a rock concert before the show. While crowds were increasing for every show—and Wrestle Rock was a success—Bobby O decided to nix that idea and stick to wrestling.
Under Bobby O’s ownership, which became full-ownership in 2006 (as Louie Syxmunki accepted a lucrative buyout plan) the KSWA hosted an incredibly successful fundraiser for a man suffering with diabetes. Strengthened by a world-class Chinese Auction and supportive friends, family and neighbors the man received an incredible fiscal boost. At 406 paid, the North Hills fundraiser was the largest KSWA crowd for several years.
For December, 2006’s FanFest, the KSWA was bolstered with mainstream attention for the first time. Earlier in the year the KSWA was featured in a front-page article for “The Front,” a Pittsburgh weekly newsmagazine. A couple of months later the KSWA was once again front page news with the “Pittsburgh City Paper.” KSWA heavyweight challenger La Lucha was featured on the cover in what has become an iconic pose.
FanFest 2006 saw La Lucha defeat Shawn Blanchard for the KSWA World Heavyweight Championship. It was also the first year that the KSWA formed a partnership with the Allegheny County Holiday Project in which toys are donated to needy children. More than 300 people—a record at the time for the KSWA Arena—were in attendance and hundreds upon hundreds of toys were donated. Each year since Allegheny County has sent proclamations to the KSWA for its work.
Since that time, the KSWA has grown in every conceivable fashion. Bobby O has helped bring Ax and Smash—Demolition—back to Pittsburgh to become KSWA tag team champions. He has helped honor “Killer” Joe Abby with a Memorial Tournament and the KSWA Hall of Fame. Bobby O has brought “Hurricane” Bobby Hunt back to prominence with a whole new generation by inducting the Studio Wrestling stalwart into the Hall of Fame.
Famed Studio Wrestling villain Frank Durso was employed by the KSWA and received a strong second career by guiding and advising the VIPs for several years.
Other Studio Wrestling “Megastars” like Dominic DeNucci and the late Ron Romano have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Bobby O inducted Bruno Sammartino into Pittsburgh pro wrestling's Hall of Fame months before the WWE came to terms with the Pittsburgh institution. A record-breaking crowd of more than 530 attended FanFest 2012.
The KSWA has reached out to other famous Pittsburgh wrestlers like Donna Christantello, who before her untimely death, received as warm an ovation as any other wrestler in the promotion’s history. In a world before “Divas,” Christantello legitimately bent opponents in two during her career, and enthusiastically greeted countless young girls with smiles at the KSWA Arena.
Bobby O has also honored the leading professional wrestling photographer of the entire east coast: Howard Kernats, with induction into the KSWA Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, George “The Animal” Steele was inducted into the Hall of Fame. “The Animal” returns to the KSWA on August 17.
Bobby O has always employed a Championship Committee and Kommissioner for assistance, especially where wrestling talent is concerned. While Bobby O has favored bringing in fresher, newer talent that is not jaded by the infamous “super indy scene,” some veterans with cache’ have been hired to wrestle in the KSWA, and most have flourished. Bobby O has counted the inking of Lord Zoltan as one of his highlights of recent years. For more than 35 years, Lord Zoltan has entertained untold masses. For the first time in many years, “Zoltan” had a home and he made the best of it. Along with Justin Sane, “Party Gras” was the most successful tag team in KSWA history. Bobby O also brought in Bobby Badfingers, Jonny Axx, “Nasty” Nick Crane, Sniper, J-Ru, Bulldozer, and the 7-foot-tall, Jack Massacre to Pittsburgh.
Bobby O brought in friend Lanny Frattarre into the KSWA Arena. The former “voice” of the Pittsburgh Pirates was visited three FanFests as the Special Guest Ring Announcer.
Bobby O’s accomplishments with the KSWA are countless. The organization received recognition from the city of Pittsburgh for its first 10 years in 2010. Many City and County politicians have visited the Arena over the past few years.
The organization has been featured in “Pittsburgh Magazine” twice (including a shout out for being the best place to stand with a PBR in the entire city), was shown on WPXI TV during a Millvale Days piece, and has been written about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, historic New Pittsburgh Courier and in numerous online pieces.
With his ambitious challenge—and loss—to Shawn Blanchard in a Lawrenceville Street Fight, the KSWA is in a definitive period of flux. Even Bobby O’s own position in the company is a mystery. Blanchard, who usually crows about such wins, has been relatively quiet about his plans for the company (he has since released a video updating some of his plans). More should be revealed with the KSWA returns to action on Saturday, August 17 at the Home of Professional Wrestling in Pittsburgh, the KSWA Arena!