Pittsburgh And Blanchard's Venerable Independent Professionals Mark 20 Years Atop Pennsylvania's VIP Perch

September 23, 2019
By Trapper Tom, Editor, KSWA Digest

Shawn Blanchard wanted to make an impact on the professional wrestling scene when he came up with a novel, yet borrowed idea.

The VIPs began their historic professional wrestling journey on September 24, 1999. The group came into existence before even the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) itself by a few months. The early VIPs right before Y2K, Minneapolis, Minnesota native Shawn Blanchard, 24, the North Shore of Pittsburgh’s Lou Martin, 23, and Las Vegas winner Tommy Faime, 32, toiled in what is now the long-extinct Western Pennsylvania Wrestling Alliance (WPWA). The WPWA was a pre-cursor to the KSWA with some of the same players involved in both promotions. Independence was something both Blanchard and Martin yearned to possess. .

In context: With the VIPs still a faction at 20 years in 2019, the group has outlived legendary pairings such as Devastation Inc. (10 years in Texas), the Fabulous Freebirds (15) and even the Four Horsemen (15). Now all of those groups perfected their feats in a bygone era, and this is about Independent longevity in a stable of like-minded wrestlers. When Pittsburgh’s VIPs came into existence, Bill Clinton was President, Lou Bega’s Mambo #5 was on the charts, people were watching in movie theaters watching George Clooney star in Three Kings, and Pittsburgh’s John Wehner was playing left field for the Pittsburgh Pirates and hitting .180. .

Blanchard was collecting partners who shared his appreciation for booze, women and first-class accommodations. The VIPs, a mentality (as well as a t-shirt) was quickly born. .

The roster of VIPs—just like other long-running groups—have changed over the years, but Blanchard and Martin (along with Faime for stretches of time) have anchored a collection that has included some surprising names: The Latin Assassin, Jeff Lockhart, a pre-“King” Del Douglas, Edric Everhart and Tyler Cross. .

In addition, fan favorites such as Anthony Alexander, Shane Starr and Justin Sane (during stops in West Virginia and Ohio) were a part of the VIP engine at one point in their careers. The VIPs even sported their own referee in Dick Wigglesworth. .

In those early KSWA days, there were valets Mercedes, Star and Chastity. Budding wrestler and valet Sara Brooks went along for the custom ride in West Virginia and Ohio about a dozen years ago. And last but certainly not least, the VIPs have been led at times by two different and distinct Advisors—Frank Durso and legendary Business Associate James J. Dillon. .

Excluding the managers, Blanchard had some tough words regarding those who have spent just a fleeting part of their wrestling careers with the VIPs. It seems that not everyone is worthy to wear the Orange and Black, whether it be fan or prized professional wrestlers. “I will go on record and say that they didn’t get it,” Blanchard said. “They didn’t have the drive or passion. The cream rises to the top and Lou Martin, Tommy Faime and I were always on top.” .

But first, back to the beginning. On September 24, 1999 the original VIPs—Blanchard and Martin—wrestled two tag team matches for the WPWA at Perry High School. The first was a Triple Threat match was in a losing effort against Glamm Slamm Duo and Phi Betta Kappa. In the second contest, they defeated Sam Slej and JT Rogers. Blanchard said that the WPWA had good attendance, and he believed this show drew about 300 fans. .

But the WPWA was not around too much after that. In fact, when the KSWA formed, the VIPs were among the first to join what was to become a historic promotion in the Commonwealth’s second-largest city. .

From the very first KSWA event in February, 2000 the VIPs have been a constant force in Pittsburgh. When Blanchard won his first KSWA Heavyweight Championship, he was a card-carrying member of the VIPs. When Tommy Faime was first Commissioner and boasted his KSWA title reign, he was a VIP. When Lou Martin won his first KSWA Championship, he was a VIP. Although Martin at one time abandoned his VIP roots (and served as a top fan favorite for a few years), he did ultimately return and was in the select club when he won his second Heavyweight Championship reign. .

Blanchard, meanwhile, lived the VIP lifestyle for all six of his runs as the most important professional wrestler in Pennsylvania. In fact, he upheld the VIP banner during all of his title reigns, regardless of the championship, from tag team to Brawl Under the Bridge championships. The career has been truly remarkable. .

In November, 2000 Blanchard, then in his first KSWA Championship reign, defeated Commissioner Faime in a match that “forced Faime to retire.” The hiatus was short-lived (two events). Faime returned and defeated Blanchard for the same KSWA Heavyweight Championship at the Bloomfield VFW. Blanchard would be the Megastar that defeated Faime in November, 2002, also at the KSWA’s first home base. .

Faime wrestled alongside the VIPs and sometimes against his stablemates until 2005 when he underwent his second in-ring interruption. He returned in 2008 and wrestled against Blanchard and Martin in a 2010 Ultimate Survivor Match. Faime retired again after that match. .

All this time, Blanchard and Martin preserved and excelled. For the very first time, the duo looked younger for their next member. The duo was able to persuade 22-year-old Shane Starr to join their exclusive club. The VIPs that consisted of Martin and Starr won the KSWA tag team championship in 2009 when they bested one of the promotion’s most unorthodox teams in The Latin Assassin and Blood Beast. They didn’t hold onto the belts long, as Ric Rumsky and Vinnie Stone were an up and coming tandem at the time. Starr’s time with the VIPs was limited; he went back to being a fan favorite in early 2010. .

In 2013, Blanchard and Martin branched out in a way that they had never done before. The VIPs looked to two up-and-coming wrestlers in J.P. Goulet and Drew Belanger, both 24. The Canadian imports were tapped by Blanchard and Martin as younger versions of themselves. The two were welcomed under the VIP banner after wearing orange masks and attacking foes of Blanchard and Martin. The two competed in tag team and eight-man contests as the largest contingent of VIPs in years. Before the teaming, at FanFest 2011 Belanger and Goulet nearly bested Party Gras for the tag team championships. It took a reversal of the finish (called by Studio Wrestling legend The Battman no less) to right a potential wrong. The partnership never really took as Belanger and Goulet disavowed their “Canadian Perfection” birthright, VIP connections and advanced to names they had used in regional promotions in West Virginia and other stops: Tyler Cross and Edric Everhart. In 2013 with George “The Animal” Steele in attendance, the duo would win the KSWA tag team championships and ultimately lose them to Mike Malachi and Jack Massacre during an event witnessed by the Wall Street Journal. By 2015, the duo had left the immediate Pittsburgh scene. .

“The cream rises to the top and Lou Martin, Tommy Faime and I were always on top,” commented Blanchard. .

One of the most controversial additions to the VIPs was when established fan favorite and former KSWA Champion Anthony Alexander, 34, shocked the pro wrestling world when he joined their ranks at FanFest 2009. After one of the most spectacular feuds of all time, Alexander dumfounded the Krazies by helping Blanchard defeat the Latin Assassin for the KSWA Heavyweight Championship. In 2010, Alexander teamed with the VIPs and wore the stable’s colors when he defeated Justin Sane to become the Golden Triangle Champion in September, 2010. .

When a nagging shoulder injury shelved Alexander, that belt was help up. The Prime-Time Player would be gone for nearly six entire years before returning. When he returned, Alexander came back against Blanchard in the Joe Abby Memorial Tournament. That partnership was gone just as suddenly as it started. .

Faime, the sometime VIP, was the first KSWA Original to be inducted into the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in 2013. That year he joined George “The Animal” Steele, referee Bucky Palermo as well as North Hills native “Luscious” Johnny Valiant in Hall of Fame that would become Independent Wrestling’s most prestigious nod. .

Not long after that, the competitive juices returned for Faime and he returned, through suspect means, as Co-Owner along with Bobby O of the city’s professional wrestling outlet. Tommy Faime: “I always go back to my return as owner and the way the VIPs [had already been handled]. They called me. Blanchard was dropping matches to the top guys and Lou as a laughing stock wearing a chicken costume (a stipulation of losing to Lord Zoltan).” .

“I was inspired to get back in shape, while also putting them in matches that could help them regain their confidence and know that they could handle being pushed to greatness! Once that started to unfold, and we reunited, the world was ours! They motivated me to be great, or at least the best version I could be. We have always made each other better and those two are amazing as individuals so I was honored. It’s a bond that had been for nearly two decades and I cherish this last run that we shared. I will always be there when they need me and a pro wrestler never really, truly stays retired.” .

Earlier this year, Faime took a step back from in-ring activities after sharing the tag team titles with Blanchard. Faime had held the tag team straps two previous times, with Del Douglas and Mike Malachi. .

KSWA Owner Bobby O has battled the VIPs for the entire time he has owned Pittsburgh’s official professional wrestling organization. “The VIP’s are no doubt part of the foundation of the KSWA. How can you not respect their accomplishments and their abilities? It’s too bad they quite often take short cuts to accomplish their goals. Those who know the history of the KSWA, The VIP’s and myself know that many times we have bumped heads, literally! They have been the group that has presented the most obstacles in my career as the owner of the KSWA. Although they present a challenge year in and year out to myself and the KSWA Championship Committee, and say what you want about their tactics, they have been the most decorated faction in our history. Not that we see eye-to-eye, but after all these years, I can’t help but have some respect for what they have accomplished, especially Shawn Blanchard and Lou Martin.” .

After losing Faime, Blanchard reteamed with Martin and once again reclaimed the KSWA tag team titles from BROhemoth and Mitch Napier. The veteran duo lost the belts from the Best Bros Around but won them back again. In addition to being a six-time former KSWA Heavyweight Champion, Blanchard is now a reigning six-time tag team champion. Martin has also held the tag team championship half a dozen times. The duo was the first KSWA tag team champions, back in 2000. .

“From Day One, Shawn Blanchard and I set out to make our mark on the KSWA by any means necessary and I feel that after 20 years we have done that without question,” said Martin. “When you think KSWA Wrestling, the first thing that comes to mind is The VIPs. No matter who was part of the VIPs at one time or another, total dominance was the objective. Accomplishments are always talked about in all walks of life and the VIPs impact on the history of the KSWA is second to none.” .

While the VIPs continue to do things their way, there is no signs of slowing down. .

“There are fans who hate us and I am ok with that. But they have to respect us,” continued Blanchard. “The VIPs will last forever and nobody will ever stop us from dominating the world of professional wrestling. With Faime and Martin, we are three different individuals thinking and acting as one for the common goal of being the best.” .

After 20 years, Shawn Blanchard has done more than make an impact in professional wrestling. Along with Lou Martin and Tommy Faime, the VIPs have become a Pittsburgh institution. .

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