Sep 13, 2012 by

At some point in every boy’s life (and plenty of girls, too – Alan’s mom was a huge fan of Gorgeous George back in the day) we become fans of professional wrestling.  It’s a journey we all have to take; for most of us, the journey is limited to watching the matches on TV and occasional piledriving of the family dog or suplexing a little brother or two.  For others it’s something else entirely. Did you know there are thousands of wrestling events across the US and Canada on any given weekend?  These shows don’t have the glitz and glam of the WWE, but they’re just as crazy and a whole lot cheaper (usually around 10 bucks).  We even have three leagues right here in little ol’ Winston Salem.

Old 67 sat down with Devin Leshin, formerly “Extreme T&A” Devin Sturgis, a 10 year manager in regional professional wrestling and grilled him about his time in the ring.


How did you get involved in professional wrestling?

My brother and I grew up watching wrestling even back in the days when we had to fiddle with the rabbit ears to almost see through the static of the first pay-per-view (it was a Hulk Hogan match…maybe against Iron Sheik?). My dad was a school teacher so he always worked extra jobs; including running the bar at the local Elks Lodge. One night Dad called me to tell me he recognized some of the people that were putting on a show at the lodge.  They were from ECW: Steve Corino, Simon Diamond and Dawn Marie.

I headed out to the lodge and saw they had a bunch of issues with their set up, especially the ring entrance. I was working at the time for Hyatt in the Banquet Department; I used those connections to get some items to help them out.  As usual for my personality, I made some improvements. The owner of the company talked to me about joining their wrestling school since I was obviously interested and had a “mind” for it.

Little did I know, but that’s one of the biggest snow job lines in pro. I fell for it and next thing you know, I was a trainee.

I should point out for those that may not know, this was not ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling). There is a whole circuit of independent wrestling companies and this was one that ran in Northern VA. They then hire talent from wherever they can in the hopes of getting tickets sold. The ECW talent was brought in to increase the gate.

Describe your character (s)?

My character went through some transitions over the decade I was in wrestling.

I was a manager, which means I was with a group of wrestlers and I was definitely a big bad guy who was trying to take over the company.  I started out as Devin Sturgis because I had just bought my first Harley. It was a black and chrome 1200c, nothing fancy. I wore a black superman shirt with a leather jacket, boots, gloves, etc. I would ride in where possible on the bike.

Most other managers at the time were women, and because of that, I picked up the moniker “Extreme T&A”. So, now I was “Extreme T&A” Devin Sturgis. The shirt came off but the leather and everything else remained. Shorty Smalls, one of the guys I traveled with who also trained me, made the suggestion I take off the shirt so people would hate me more. Also, since strip clubs in Virginia required girls to wear pasties by law, I put some tape over my own as X’s. Needless to say, I was pretty good at people hating me.

I then went through a costume change. I bleached my hair platinum blonde and wore a blue velvet robe and pants along with blue and silver wrestling boots. WHOOOOOO! Yup, I was looking like a poor man’s Ric Flair. The character here was a bang to the head and he thought he was the greatest wrestler of all time who retired to manage. Those were fun days, I was running around talking about wrestling Hogan and all the other big named wrestlers at venues like Madison Square Garden (none of which was true, adding more reasons for the fans to hate me).

My next change was to the “pimp” look that went the rest of my career:  white fur coat, big floppy hat, cane, 5” platform shoes with goldfish in them, etc. I modeled myself after Dolemite, the iconic pimp from the 70s Blaxploitation flick of the same name. In an ironic twist of fate, I was signing autographs at a horror movie convention and Rudy Ray More, the actor who played Dolemite, was there. When I met him and told him what I did (I was in my outfit), he had me get on one knee and knighted me an official pimp and presented me with one of the canes he used in the movies. I have kept that to this day. I was officially pimped!

It was during that time that my war against women got even crazier as I had begun crashing bikini contests in Delaware and New Jersey. And by crashing, I mean competing! I actually won one in Delaware due to crowd response. Scary.

I kept the pimp look throughout the rest of my career with two minor exceptions. First, I was finally turned into a good guy in Virginia. Because of how that was done, I need a really angry good guy so I became “Deacon” Devin Sturgis. Think street preacher/pimp combo. Lot of pimp talk (keeping the pimp hand strong) mixed with hellfire and brimstone from the Bible.

I also had the AWESOME privilege of managing Chris Hamrick and Tracy Smothers, who had a team named Southern Comfort. Chris was awesome and had been around for years. Tracy Smothers started wrestling, I think, in the late 60’s and is one of the greatest vets I’ve been around. I learned more from my short time with him than many years previous. Since coming out with two confederate flag wielding rednecks wouldn’t work as a pimp, I donned a white cowboy hat and suit. Think Boss Hogg.

Describe a typical venue (including locations-cities/towns) and the audience. 

I’ve had shows where it was outdoors at a car dealership in front of 10 kids to high school gyms that had a few thousand people. The typical one was either a school or a National Armory. They either were running a fund raiser or the venue was really cheap to rent out. Towns varied as well. Some run in the heart of New York City to a small mining town in SW Virginia that you could only get to via one road that ran up into W.Va then back down and was gravel at some points. Even ECW, which gained a lot of fame, was run out of a bingo hall in Philly.

Does the film the Wrestler depict the wrestling life accurately? – Tell us what was most realistic and what was least.

I actually think the movie was based on Jake “The Snake” Roberts. There are a lot of parallels with the estranged daughter, the drug use, the beat up body giving out, the push for one last hoorah, etc.. There’s a documentary on Roberts that I recommend. Sad stuff but potent. The Wrestler was pretty accurate. I know some of the wrestlers that were in the movie. They filmed it up in NJ where I did a lot of shows. The only thing that was least realistic, to be honest, was that he didn’t end up dead from something drug or brain damage related. I know they were teasing the medical condition so that was close. All-in-all, it was pretty realistic. It certainly didn’t glam it up.

Talk about steroid usage… Drug usage in general…

I never became a wrestler and stayed a manager because I did not want the pressure of having to maintain a “look”, especially when that was all that got hired by the WWE. When you have the big time wrestlers that would do appearances from 8am until they finished the show at 11pm, hopped a plane, landing around 2am, drove 4 hours to check into a hotel at 6 am to get back up at 8am again, 5 days/week or more…well, there’s only so many ways they can keep up that schedule and look. Not an excuse, just a sad reality. Drug use to deal with the up and down as well as the fact that you have no life outside of wrestling…there were a lot of people that wanted an escape. I think it’s more out there now so maybe it isn’t as bad.

When you have horrific events like the Benoit murders or melt downs like the Hardy Boys or early deaths (there are too many to list)…attention will fall to it. Roddy Piper used to call it “The Sickness”. You’d do anything for your spot even destroy yourself. I saw it too many times. The line of wrestlers from the 90’s that are no longer with us should be the wakeup call.

Tell us some stories

#1 Crowd Management

The one thing you NEVER do as a manager, and is a quick way to get out of wrestling, is to “steal heat”. Meaning, you keep the attention. It gets harder with kids because they get REALLY into what they’re yelling and VERY focused. There was this kid running around yelling at me. I would move to another side, he would follow. I would say something rude to him but nothing major and move. He would follow. The reason this was a big deal was because the crowd was starting to watch us more than the match. He was probably about 7 or 8. Goofiest looking kid I could imagine. After a couple minutes of this and more crowd distraction, I finally turned around, went for the knee jerk inbred wrestling fan insults and yelled “Hey kid, who let you out of the outhouse? With those big floppy ears, missing teeth, eyes all spread out on your head like a fish and the brain of a 1 year old, what happened to you? Are your momma and poppa brother and sister or something?” I hear the crowd go deathly silent, the kid’s eyes fill up with tears and at the same time his crying/wailing starts, I hear in a VERY bad southern drawl “You stupid son-of-a-b#$$%” and see this redneck charging at me from the crowd. Security grabbed him and escorted (eventually) him and his wife and kids out. After the match, when we were in the back wondering what happened, the school principal told me “You know how every town has a deep, dark secret that everyone knows but no one talks about or admits to knowing? Yeah, you just told it.” No lie, the kid’s parents were brother and sister. I had finally found the true inbred, redneck wrestling fan.

#2 On Partying with the Sandman

The hotel was across the street from Madison Square Garden, the heart of Manhattan where nothing closes. To start with, there were 6 of us at the table. Sandman brings over 7 Long Island Ice Teas. I was thinking “Wow, he’s buying first round? Awesome!” Nope, he SHOT (not drank, shot) ALL 7 of them then went back for a round of shots, again all for him. That continued for a good 30 minutes until we ate. Then he was bored and wanted to go to a bar. I wasn’t feeling well so I went back to the room to rest. Eventually, the rest of the crew, minus Sandman, piles in about 2:30/3am. About 4:30 am, there’s a knock at the door and some random guy who must have weighed all of 165 pounds was holding Sandman up.

Sandman had a beer in one hand and a pillow clutched to his chest in the other. He stumbled in and lay down. The guy told us he found him on the couch by the elevator on a different floor. We thought we’d get some sleep but Sandman kept calling his girlfriend on his cell every 5 minutes. He would forget they talked and call back. This went on until he finally passed out around 6:30/7am. The next morning (or rather, a couple hours later), as we sleepily went to the convention, we noticed the pillow missing on the couch and also noticed that they were sewn on. So, he ripped it off to take back to the room. We also found out that the hotel bar he was at downstairs, which never closed, closed because they ran out of liquor. Hopefully, he didn’t drink it all.

Other highlights from the interview…

His wrestling hero…

Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. That man revolutionized the role of the manager and defined how it should be.

On what happens backstage…

The good guys were in one and the bad guys in the other. Match orders were posted somewhere.  I’m sure there were shenanigans but I, unfortunately for this interview, did not see much of it….

The typical crowd size…

Smallest was the car dealership that started as 10 and ended up as 3. The biggest was probably in the 500-1000 range.

On the after the show festivities…

Wrestler parties are calmer than you would think. Most of the guys are so wiped out that the parties are more just sitting back with drinks and talking.

On getting paid…

There were times I drove 5 hours for $10 and a hot dog. Sometimes, just the hot dog because there were 10 fans. As I got more experienced about the business side, I would get at least $75-100 per show.

Craziest Fan Experience

As I mentioned, I was in a bikini contest in Delaware wearing a neon green, leopard print speedo. I was later contacted by a fan who wanted to buy them. This was pretty normal with the girls. Turns out, this fan (I think it was a he but I didn’t care to find out), had bought the other participant’s outfits and wanted mine so he could have a complete set. I guess it was a collector’s item to have the set. I told him/her I didn’t want to sell them. Honestly, it was a bit creepy. He offered $100 at first (I spent $9). I wasn’t telling him no to haggle, I was telling him no because it was creepy. I finally caved under pressure from the other girls who said to take the money and sold them for $575.

Other stuff…

After New Jack used wolverine claws to slash a local “wrestler” in an event held in a barn – This kid was gashed open and bleeding (outdoors in a barn in the summer, so imagine the risk of infection here) like you would not believe. New Jack took him in the back after the “match” and crazy glued the cuts shut and told him he taught him more that day than he would have learned in 5 years

Side note: it’s considered really rude to eat something that will make you gassy before a match if you think about head scissors or other moves where someone’s face is very close to where the gas would exit.

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