Analysis: It's Been Five Years Since KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive Became Pittsburgh's Must-See Holiday Showcase
November 20, 2016
by Trapper Tom, Ring Announcer/Wrestling Journalist
Although the claim can’t be verified, it was rumored on WPXI TV, Channel 11 that news reporters couldn’t understand why there were so many people in Lawrenceville. Pittsburgh city police noted that in addition to jamming more than 500 Krazies into the Arena on 51st Street, at least 250 were turned away at the door, simply because no more fans could be sardined into the event.
The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) FanFest/Toy Drive which was held on Saturday, December 3, 2011 forever changed the complexion of professional wrestling in Pittsburgh, and in particular the promotion’s tent pole attraction.
[Let the records show that in all actuality, the KSWA’s original FanFest took place on Saturday, December 3, 2005, the date itself has become a historical landmark all in itself. Starting in 2005, the Krazies have been encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to FanFest. The toys, which have amassed in the tens of thousands since that initial request, all benefit the Allegheny County Holiday Project.]
Attendance had continually been on the upswing for the KSWA back in what is now deemed the “Modern Era.” In November, 2005 the organization got the first of many tastes of big time exposure by being featured on the front page of the Pittsburgh City Paper. The first FanFest set an attendance record with around 300 fans.
That was only the beginning for December 3rd in KSWA lore.
George “The Animal” Steele
On that ideal Saturday night in early December, 2011, the KSWA welcomed all-time favorite George “The Animal” Steele to the KSWA Arena. For years leading up to the event, an informal poll was conducted regarding which Studio Wrestling legend (aside from Bruno Sammartino) fans would most like to see. Steele was by far the leading candidate. And once relationships were built between the KSWA and one of wrestling’s most unique characters, wheels were set in motion for an appearance.
The morning of December 3 was unique. South Hills chiropractor Mike Martini had created the independent, not-associated with KSWA FanFest “Friendly Roast” of Dominic DeNucci. The lunchtime event was to be a fundraiser for the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, New York. Some KSWA personnel became associated with the event, including ring announcer “Trapper” Tom Leturgey, who served as emcee. Long-time veterans Lord Zoltan (Ken Jugan) and “Big Bully” Nick Busick were among those in attendance.
Bill Peduto, a longtime fan of DeNucci, KSWA supporter and at the time a Pittsburgh City Councilman, arrived with a proclamation proclaiming Saturday, December 3, 2001 as “Dominic DeNucci Day” in the city of Pittsburgh. Peduto’s association with the KSWA continues well into his first term as Mayor of Pittsburgh.
Then-TNA star Matt Morgan flew into Pittsburgh on his own dime to attend the event. Then-PWHF President Tony Vellano, “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe, “Irish” Davey O’Hannon, and “Battman” Tony Marino were all seated for the buffet. (Sammartino, who did not attend, later said he simply didn’t receive an invitation until a day or two before the affair.)
Each of the presenters spoke kindly of DeNucci, including Busick and Zoltan. None could brutalize the legend (and Class of 2010 KSWA Hall of Famer) DeNucci. [Based on his performance at the roast, Jugan was asked by PWHF brass to emcee the next PWHF Induction Ceremony (which he accepted). For his part, Busick would start a relationship with the KSWA from here that would lead him to the KSWA Hall of Fame in 2014.]
As DeNucci spoke, Steele arrived at the back of the DoubleTree Hotel. As an ardent supporter of the PWHF, Steele had become aware of the Roast and made a surprise visit from the airport en route to the KSWA Arena.
After the conclusion of the event, Vellano, Sharpe, O’Hannon, Marino, DeNucci and local wrestler-turned producer Cody Michaels would make their way to KSWA FanFest later that night.
More than an hour before FanFest 2011 was to commence, fans with arms full of new, unwrapped toys started to line up outside of the KSWA Arena near the corner of 51st and Butler Streets in Lawrenceville. It was clear that the KSWA Championship Committee had generated buzz with the card of action, as well as the special guests that were scheduled. In addition to Steele, as well as the unexpected “Roasters” of Sharpe, O’Hannon, Michaels and DeNucci, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and former Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster-turned MSN sportscaster Lanny Frattare were on hand.
As an added bonus, Nels Cleath, the originator of the Western Pennsylvania Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, presented his last-ever class of Hall of Famers during Intermission of the extravaganza. The last inductees included “Gentleman” Joe Perri and Donna Christiantello, who joined Dominic DeNucci in the 2010 Class of the KSWA Hall of Fame.
As stated, the KSWA Championship Committee assembled an outstanding array of in-ring action. The first match of the evening was a tag team contest. In it, members of the Mayor Mystery-led “Legion of the Apocalypse” had already dispatched all of Ric Rumsky’s potential tag team partners, including Alex Arcadian (sadly, Alex was a fan favorite who due to a series of injuries was never to return to professional wrestling). But Rumsky went “International” and found former KSWA World Champion La Lucha to serve as his partner. The team won when the injured Jack Massacre entered the ring and power bombed a member of the Legion on behalf of Rumsky and La Lucha. The already electric crowd was apocalyptic when Massacre made his statement.
KSWA Owner Bobby O and then-Interim Kommissioner “Gentleman” Joe Perri came to the ring. Bobby O lifted the title “Interim” from Perri’s title and since that time, the former nefarious manager has been an objective representative of the KSWA Championship Committee. The two proceeded to welcome FanFest’s special guest, George “The Animal” Steele to the ring. The Animal captivated the crowd with his familiar barks and grunts, before switching gears and talking like the true Jim Myers, a college-educated former football coach and ambassador for professional wrestling. The capacity crowd was enwrapped with everything he said.
The next match was something of an anomaly. The Special Guest Ring Announcer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman hit the ring for introductions. “Dr. Devastation” Lou Martin (along with Advisor Frank Durso) faced off against “The Drunken Luchadore” Joey Quervo. Martin was outwardly disgusted with the FanFest matchup with the 1-9 Quervo, but had to be happy with the easy ride. Quervo put up a fight, but the one-time KSWA Champion Martin put the feisty Luchadore’s shoulders on the mat. Quervo did get the last laugh, when he somehow got the house music director to play the familiar Holiday favorite, “The Grinch” in honor of Durso. The 2008 KSWA Hall of Famer and Studio Wrestling staple was none-too-pleased.
Junior Heavyweight Champion “Ice Man” Tony Johnson defended his title in a Gauntlet Match. Back in the early days of FanFest, each event hosted a Gauntlet Match. All of the competitors were introduced by Lanny Frattare in his second go-around as Special Guest Ring Announcer. Johnson took on The Jester first. Johnson defeated The Jester and then took on Diamond Dave Diamond. He defeats the Rock Star. Shane Starr is next. In a shocker of sorts, Starr pins Johnson so there will be a new Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Del Douglas was the next competitor. Their interaction was hard-hitting, but Starr was victorious. That led to Kris Kash. The two long-time friends fought gallantly, but Starr was the winner and new Jr. Heavyweight Champ. [The Jr. Heavyweight Championship would become the 5-Star title in 2012.]
Bad blood coursed through the veins of both Bobby Badfingers and Jay Flash as they battled for the Golden Triangle Championship. The belt, which is the second most important title in the Keystone State behind the KSWA Heavyweight title, was won by Flash after a grueling contest.
The KSWA tag team championship was next. Party Gras—the team of Lord Zoltan and Justin Sane—had won the titles in July and had jelled well ever since. Their opponents were the brash and arrogant Canadian Perfection—JB Goulet and Drew Bellanger. When the competitive match reached its crescendo, Goulet pinned Zoltan (but with his boots on the rope for leverage). The referee called the pin and the KSWA had new tag team champs. However, “Battman” himself, Tony Marino rushed the ring and called attention to the referee. Marino, who donned a Batman logo in the back of his hair line, told the referee of the infraction. Incredibly, the match was restarted and Zoltan rolled Goulet up for a quick one, two, three. Party Gras went on to dominate the KSWA tag team division for the next year and become the greatest tag team in KSWA history.
Defending KSWA Heavyweight Champion Ali Kaida faced the most daunting match of his career in the Fatal Four Way that highlighted the in-ring action at FanFest. The Afghani Assault Weapon took on former champions The Latin Assassin and Shawn Blanchard, in addition to Mitch Napier. The hard-fought battle kept the overflow crowd in on every punch, slap, kick and pin attempt. In the end, Shawn Blanchard tries to slap on the Figure Four, but Napier rolls him up in a small package and gets the win! The crowd blows the roof off of the KSWA Arena. Frank Durso grabs the microphone and hands it Blanchard. “The Enforcer” says that the “VIPs always have a plan.” As he makes that announcement, “Dr. Devastion” Lou Martin drags a referee to the ring. Martin cashes in his Battle Bowl opportunity at the KSWA heavyweight title. He perfectly waits 322 days and 16 KSWA events for the chance. At the last possible second, Martin tries for the championship. Napier turns around in the ring and gets kicked in the gut. Martin hits him with a signature Death Certificate and covers Napier for the pin. The dastardly deed was featured in Tony Norman’s Post-Gazette column the following week. Fans were shocked and Napier dismayed. Lou Martin became only the second Megastar to win the KSWA Heavyweight title multiple times, along with Blanchard.
Since KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive 2011, the KSWA Championship Committee and others within the organization have concerned itself with finding ways to “top” its success. The next year proved fruitful as long-time relationship building led to the crowning jewel of professional wrestling in Pittsburgh: Bruno Sammartino. The man known worldwide as “The Champ,” agreed to make an appearance at KSWA FanFest 2012. This was just months after picking up his ring at the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum induction weekend in which Dominic DeNucci was inducted. (The KSWA was the only professional wrestling promotion anywhere that sent three tables of representation.) Sammartino’s KSWA appearance proved to be his last-ever at an independent wrestling show.
In 2013, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant and Zach Gowen were booked. In 2014, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and The Honky Tonk Man ushered in a new era at the Teamster Temple. Honky Tonk Man wrestled against Lord Zoltan, who surprisingly an inexplicably came to the ring with his former manager, Mayor Mystery. Zoltan did turn on Mystery, who surprisingly and inexplicably was pinned in the match by HTM. Duggan took on “Nasty” Nick Crane and in an unusual moment, pinned Canada’s National Treasure while a full house serenated Hacksaw with the National Anthem.
In 2015, Hillbilly Jim rocked the Hall. Each and every year saw bigger attendance and more toys for needy children. And that was just the celebrities. Every December, the KSWA Megastars upped their game because this had simply become the most important pro wrestling event of its type on the Eastern seaboard.
Each and every year, the matches have improved and intensity increased. Most recently, Kris Kash won half of the KSWA tag team championship, as well as the KSWA Championship in the revolutionary “Championship Cavalcade.”
In a few short weeks, KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive returns on Saturday, December 3. Another exciting chapter (and another sell-out) in Pittsburgh professional wrestling is about to be written.