Wrestling Journalism Pioneer John Arezzi Talks Catching Vince McMahon in a Lie on Donahue

Apr 26, 2021 - by James Walsh

Show: Wrestling Epicenter
Guest: John Arezzi
Date: 04/20/2021
Your Host: James Walsh

Pro Wrestling Spotlight was a shoot wrestling talk show on the radio long before the Internet as a blip on the wrestling radar. If you wanted to know what was really going on, it was John Arezzi’s talk show for “smart” wrestling fan. Quite honestly, who knows if a show like ours would even exist if he didn’t lay the foundation for it back in the 1980’s?

Well, John joins us to promote his new book, Mat Memories, talking about his life and times in pro wrestling, country music, and with the New York Mets.

This is a can’t miss for any inside wrestling, or inside baseball as the term has become, fan!

Buy John Arezzi’s Mat Memories at www.MatMemories.com!

To listen, visit www.WrestlingEpicenter.com!





On the reaction to the book thus far:
“As of today, we are the #1 new wrestling title on Amazon.com. It has been doing quite well. Ever since it was put up for pre-sale in October for release on April the 6th, it has been at the top of the charts. So, I’m really quite pleased! The response I’ve gotten from those within professional wrestling and country music have been really phenomenal. I think at this point, it has exceeded any expectations that we may have had for it.”

On having Greg Oliver as a co-author:
“Greg is… I call him my pshologist. There would be no Mat Memories without Greg. When I reached out to ECW Press about this project, Michael Holmes – He knew who I was. He didn’t know my whole story. But, he said, “You’re a first time author. We need to get you hooked up with someone to work with you on this project. And, if you can get one of these people that I recamend, I think we may have a deal.” One of those guys was Greg Oliver. I met Greg at the Cauliflower Alley Club. Greg was like, “Well, I’ve done a lot of wrestling books.” But, then, when he heard my story and the changing of my name and going into country music and working for the (New York) Mets, he found it compelling. When he signed on to do it, the deal happened pretty quick!”

On his view of the finished product:
“It is an easy read. It flows nicely. But, there are a lot of twists and turns. There’s drama. There’s love lost. There’s professional wrestling! It is an interesting rollercoaster!”

On the magic of working Madison Square Garden:
“Well, I never wrestled at the Garden but I did go to every show from April 30, 1971 through 1977. I was a ringside photographer. Madison Square Garden is magic. It is the MECCA. Back then, when you had the opportunity to see Andre the Giant’s first match in New York and you got to see Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Classy Freddie Blassie, and so many others. It was the place to be! I was really young! When I got my press credentials, I was 16. I was sitting beside George Napalatano and Bill Apter. It was just amazing to me to have that opportunity to shoot all those major stars at the Garden. I still have my archives. And, even pre-dating my press credentials, I was just a kid taking my 8 milimeter camera to the Garden and filming matches. So, I have Andre the Giant’s first match at the Garden. I have Mil Mascaras’ first match. I have the first women’s match! I have all of that footage and that, to me, is priceless today.”

On what he hopes to with that footage:
“I share those clips on social media. I hope to eventually distribute this footage either by myself or with a partner. I think it is a part of history that needs to be kept alive. It is stuff that no one has. The WWWF, really, never taped the matches at the Garden until 1976, 1977, The stuff that I have pre-dates that.”

On getting involved with the New York Mets:
“I was a fan. My first game was in 1966. They have broken my heart hundreds of times through the years. So, a friend of mine that I went to college with went to the Baseball Winter Meetings in 1979 and got himself a job with the Seattle franchise in the minors. He suggested I go to the Winter Meetings because they would have a job fair there for those who were looking to break into the game. So, I went to the Winter Meetings in Dallas, Texas in 1980 and I saw a posting for an opening with the New York Mets Single A affiliate in Shelby, North Carolina which was the South Atlantic League. So, I sought out the owner of the franchise and finally got to sit down with him. He hired me on the spot. And, in 1981, I moved to North Carolina and I was literally a part of everything. I was a part of sponsorship sales, I announced some of the games, And, i had some real cool roommates. John Gibbons, who at the time was a Mets catching prospect. He went on to do great things with the Toronto Blue Jays as a manager – He wrote one of the forwards of the book. Another roommate of mine was JP Rochardi who went on to upper management with the Toronto Blue Jays and is still in the game. On that team was Lenny Dykstra who was a very eccentric kid and still is today. He was a bit of a nut. Roger McDowell was on the team… We had a good team!”

On Pro Wrestling Spotlight being a wrestling talk show long before that was common:
“I really started Pro Wrestling Spotlight in 1975 in college. I had approached the program director, who was a student, and pitched the idea. But, it was strictly kayfabe. When I put it on commercial radio in 1989, years later, there still were no shoot shows. But, the business was changing. I had no idea what the show would evolve into! But, it evolved into it organically! It began when Ricky Steamboat came on my show after leaving WCW, NWA at the time, after a contract dispute with Jim Herd. And, he talked openly about those negotiations. That was really the first shoot interview that I did. Then, the following week, Jim Herd came on to answer what Ricky said. From there, the show began to evolve. In March of 1990, when “Superstar” Billy Graham came on the show for an hour to talk about what steroids had done to him, and that, in his opinion, 90% of wrestlers were on steroids. The show just evolved! Then, I got knee deep into the Zahorian trials. But, the show evolved into a shoot show. It was groundbreaking at the time. It was not easy! There was no cooperation from WWE at all. WCW cooperated but there was a little hesitancy because of the subject matter we would cover. The show ran from 1989 into 1995 and it became the place that people would come on and… shoot!”

On the explosion of wrestling talk with the advent of the Internet:
“It is evolution. There are so many podcasts out there. Everyone’s got an opinion. But, you’ve got to weed them out. Like, for me. I like listening to Cornette… Just because, he’s Jim Cornette! He has no filter! And, he’s still a genius, in my opinion! I listen to a few! I listen to Konnan. I even listen to Vinny Ru (Vince Russo) on occasion!”

On his appearance on Donahue sitting beside Vince McMahon:
“It was probably the most stressful time period. News was breaking daily with the kid coming out and claiming sexual abuse and then some of the boys claiming sexual harassment. It was a very difficult thing for me to cover. I wasn’t happy with myself on that Donahue show. I just didn’t like the way I looked. I didn’t like the dark glasses. It just was not something I was very proud of even though it was a major historic part in wrestling history. To have Vince McMahon sitting 2 seats from you and catching him in a lie, he thought it was a set up… It was just very stressful! It was hard covering it on the radio show at that time. I had received a death threat. And, you don’t know who that came from. There were a lot of different pieces involved! It was such a scary time. And, you knew the thing you were reporting on coudl potentially bring the business down. That was something I didn’t want to happen. All I wanted to do with my coverage was see if the business could get cleaned up somewhat.”

On Vince McMahon being uncomfortable on that DOnahue show:
“He certainly didn’t want to be there! I did an interview recently with (Dave) Meltzer and Dave said during every commercial break, Vince was sitting there saying, “This is the worst day of my life!” He didn’t want to be there. And, we had found out that he had reached a settlement with Tom Cole and Tom Cole was a plant in the audience sat next to Linda McMahon and Miss Elizabeth. I think he (Vince) was hoping that someone would bring up Tom Cole’s name and he would dispute the claims that were being made. Tom Cole’s name never was brougt up. We all had found out about the settlement minutes before the Donahue show aired.”

On how the #SpeakingOut movement compared to the sex scandal of the early 90’s:
“I believe that if what happened then happened today, it would be all over for the WWE. Back then, not a lot of people in the mainstream media paid attention to wrestling. But, if those allegations came out in 2021, 2020, or 2019… That would have taken down a number of individuals. It wouldn’t have been a pretty scene.”

On the mainstream media disrespecting wrestling and just not getting it:
“Absolutely. The Benoit situation, to this day, gets me. Nancy was one of my dearest friends. To this day, it hurts me. But, the way it (wrestling) is covered in mainstream media… They don’t do their research. It still, in a lot of ways, is a joke. They don’t take it seriously. And, even to this day, something I take a lot of time on my soap box be it on Pro Wrestling Spotlight Then & Now or Pro Wrestling Spotlight Live streaming live on Facebook is that these guys still are independent contractors. They still don’t have health benefits. The fact that they can’t work for anybody else even though they’re still considered independent contractors… I believe because it is wrestling, people don’t really care.”

On Herb Abrams claiming Bruiser Brody would be UWF’s top draw 2 years after Brody was murdered:
“That comment got a lot of attention! That was at the first fan convention as we know them today. I was not in the room when he said that. But, it was heavily reported that he did. The thing that I do remember is that he said Blackjack Mulligan was going to be his booker and Blackjack Mulligan was in jail at the time. It was looked at as a joke with Herb. But, when he got started in late 1990, early 1991, he had a lot of big name stars there. Not signed. He never had anybody really signed like he said he did. The only way I could really help this guy was with Bruno Sammartino and Lou Albano who I had a relationship with. But, I had a short lived relationship with him (Herb Abrams). That lasted until the spring of 1991. I helped run New York. But, he bounced a bunch of checks. And, he was Herb. And, Herb was nuts!”

On why he left wrestling:
“Well, I was trying to keep my head above water. And, you have to realize, all those radio shows that I did, they were paid programming. I had to pay to get on the air. So, I didn’t make a lot of money. So, i began promoting. I had to deal with talent that would, in a lot of ways, chew you up and spit you out. They would use you. And, that particular show, the Arizona Fairgrounds in 1997, that one in particular stands out because one of my heroes, Mil Mascaras, came into the locker room and had upgraded his ticket to first class and wanted me to pay the difference. One of the Samoans had done the same thing. These people were using you. And, you had to realize… I was becoming one of them. And, I didn’t like who I had become.”

On if he regretted leaving wrestling just before it really got hot with the Nitro/Attitude Era:
“You know, I kept watching. And, I began lamenting the fact that I got out. But, the WWE wasn’t realy going to happen in terms of working with them. And, ECW was flourishing but that was really a short term thing if you really think about it. But, wrestling really took off… And, it reached success like it really had not reached before. Partially, (laughs), because of Vince Russo… A guy I brought into the business!”

On his relationship with Vince Russo:
“We had a tumultuous short-lived relationship that began when he advertised with Pro Wrestling Spotlight. Ironically, presented to me by Jim Cornette’s Fan Club President, a 14 year old kid named Andrew Goldberger. We had a short, strenuous relationship that lasted only about 3 or 4 months. But, ironically again, he is one of the reasons I’m back in the wrestling business. That happened because in 2018, I would say around Thanksgiving, he talked about me on his podcast and said some disparaging things. So, I decided after all of these years, it was time I would confront him. We had a YouTube face to face, we behaved like gentlemen, and we sort of developed a friendship. We talked a lot of things out. I do respect Vince and I do think he has enormous contributions to the Attitude Era.”

On changing his professional name to John Alexander:
“I didn’t like who I had become and I was ready to put John Arezzi in the rear-view. And, I was a big fan of Seinfeld. And, Jason Alexander played George Costanza. (laughs( I thought, “Alexander, that is kind of generic. I like that.” So, I started calling myself John Alexander. I changed my name and I didn’t look back.”

On if Jeff Jarrett knew who he was when he and Dixie Carter approached him for help with a TV deal years later:
“He was looking at me kind of funny. He couldn’t pinpoint how he might remember me. And, I didn’t lead on anything. When Jeff and Dixie sat with me in my office to pitch their TV show for GAT, Great American Country Television, they were amazed by how much I knew about wrestling. But, I never let on that I was in the wrestling business and I was John Arezzi. But, it was a fascinating meeting. And, it was the first time I met Dixie Carter.”

On Jeff Jarrett trying to work with him for Global Force years later:
“When he was starting Global, 5 or 6 years ago, he sat with me and he wanted me to work with him and do the marketing. We talked about everything. We talked Dixie, we talked Russo. We talked everything. But, I wasn’t going to work for free. And, I wasn’t going to work on commission. With all of these big aspirations that he ahd, but when someone doesn’t offer you a pay day. And, he knew I was very well connected on the sponsorship front… And, I did open some doors for him in Vegas. But, I did talk to Jeff. And, he was trying to put something together. It didn’t happen. But, I wasn’t going to go back down that road of being worked by anybody.”

On people wondering why they still watch wrestling every now and again:
“You’re not alone. I’ve been watching wrestling since 1964. A lot of it is evolution. It is never going back to the way it was. But, I think there are no larger than life performers the way there were back in the day. A lot of these guys look the same. You can’t tell them apart. There are some standouts. But, we’re never going back to the way it was. The historians and fans in my demographic, we remember the old times. And, we’re not enamored with what is going on today.”

Leave a Reply