By Andy Mannix
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Whatever the truth of the matter, the incident ended Sharkey's career with the AWA. He and Peterson went into the gym business for a couple of years, training boxers and wrestlers. But after marrying Princess Littlecloud and having a son and a daughter, Sharkey decided it was time to settle down. He sold his interest in the gym, began dabbling in antiques and military collectibles, then quit the wrestling business for eight years.
By the early Eighties, wrestling was beginning to change radically. A tag-team duo known as the British Bulldogs, influenced by the pioneering acrobatics of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, began incorporating risky, high-flying, off-the-ropes stunts into their act, spawning a slew of imitators. Wrestlers were also becoming stronger and sporting bigger muscles, in part because of an increase in steroid use. Meanwhile, wrestling's old order was upset by the brash, scorched-earth tactics of the New York-based World Wrestling Federation. The WWF spent much of the decade raiding Gagne's AWA of its top talent and built its brand by syndicating shows in every major television market in the country.
WWF president Vince McMahon further shocked the wrestling establishment by publicly declaring professional wrestling "sports entertainment." The move laid to rest the conceit that wrestling was an honest contest, freeing promoters from the watchful eye of state athletic commissions. It also paved the way for the bombastic plot lines and rock 'n' roll production values that would become staples of RAW IS WAR and Smackdown!, currently cable TV's highest-rated programs. "Now, of course, nobody will defend wrestling as 'real.' But it was McMahon who pulled the thorn out of the paw," observes writer Bert Sugar. As the WWF, and its chief rival the WCW, ate into the fan base, the old system of territories began to wither. As it turned out, the WWF's ascent, and the accompanying decline of the AWA, created an opening for small, independent promoters.
In 1982 Sharkey drifted back into the squared circle. Like his initial entry into the business, the return came by accident. At the time, he was tending bar at a northeast Minneapolis establishment called Grandma B's, when two young bouncers who were aware of Sharkey's wrestling background came calling for some tutelage. Looking to make a few bucks, Sharkey agreed. As it turned out, he had stumbled on to what would become the hottest tag team of the Eighties: the Road Warriors. Back in action as a trainer, Sharkey decided to cash in on the wrestling boom by putting on his own indie cards at bars and nightclubs under the banner of Pro Wrestling America (PWA). He also began supplying talent to other small-time promoters.
"Eddie had his hands in a lot of different shows. In the mid-Eighties he was doing phenomenally well at a place called George's in Fridley, and a lot of the guys he was training were getting tryouts in New York and Atlanta," says TV's wrestling announcer Mick Karch. "And a lot of the guys he trained over the years became superstars, guys like Rick Rude and the Road Warriors and Jesse [Ventura]. I don't know how much of that had to do with Eddie's training. I just think that he's been around long enough that he has a lot of established contacts and respect. And when he's had talent on his hands, he's been able to point them in the right direction."
He was also willing to take risks, says wrestler Lenny Lane, who began his career with Sharkey. "Eddie got me the third match of my life in front of 17,000 in Des Moines. It was WWF show. Pay-per-view," Lane recalls. "Eddie told me, 'They're gonna ask you how many matches you've had. Tell 'em you've had 200. This is wrestling, so you have to exaggerate.'" The match was a disaster. While Lane already had the talent to wrestle, Sharkey hadn't instructed him on the fine points of industry lingo. In television tapings, referees routinely instruct wrestlers to "go home," which means finish the match. "Eddie never told me any of this. All I'd ever done was two independent shows," Lane remembers with a chuckle. "So all of the sudden the ref keeps telling me, 'Go home! Go home!' I didn't know what the hell it meant, so I just kept wrestling." In the locker room afterwards, Lane's opponent berated him mercilessly. As it turned out, the setback was only temporary. Lane, who ultimately signed on with the WCW and earned enough money to quit his day job in construction, remains loyal to Sharkey. To this day he occasionally wrestles in his shows and gives tips to students at Sharkey and Fox's camp.
Sharkey's successes as a trainer, meanwhile, gave him an in with the WWF, for whom he periodically works as a referee and talent scout. Unlike many old-timers, Sharkey regards today's wrestlers as superior athletes and showmen. "When I was wrestling, a match might last an hour, and you might spend a lot of the time working on an arm hold," he says. "Each generation is better than the next." In addition to putting on his own shows, Sharkey regularly supplies talent for other promoters, occasionally traveling as far as Japan and Kuwait. He says he has no intention of leaving the racket again. "It's all I do. I don't even fight it anymore. It's pretty hard to do anything else after you've been in this business," he says. "Kinda ruins you for anything else."
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