With this expectation of broke athletes, performance enhancing drugs and brain damage due to concussions, we often forget about those who left their sport behind to successfully achieve careers outside the athletic landscape. A lot of them are out there; though too often we choose not to look for them…good news doesn’t sell.
Regardless of what your views are on Professional Wrestling, the parallel with former mainstream athletes is unquestionable. In 2008, the Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler, was praised not only as a motion picture, but by wrestlers for an accurate portrayal of what life was like on the wrestling scene. However, the movie did not show the wrestlers who were able to save their money and find success in other lines of work. Perhaps this is why I sought out former WWF Superstar, B. Brian Blair who not only ascended to great heights in the world’s largest wrestling organization, but did so in the business and political sector as well.
Brian Blair was born in Gary, Indiana and despite the look of a white middle class male that he may have appeared to be embody in the ring, he did not grow up in a rich household by any stretch of the imagination. By the time he was in his mid-teens, he was already on his own, working multiple jobs, yet still attending high school. A natural athlete, Blair played football and was good enough to be recruited by the University of Louisville, where he received a scholarship. Although athletics was his passion, Brian already had a long term vision graduating with a Business and Political Science degree, though before he would implement those skills, the world of wrestling had called.
B. Brian Blair may mostly be known for his days in the then named, World Wrestling Federation, but he had an extensive career for six years in various regional territories before performing exclusively for Vince McMahon Jr.. He had a very good run in the Florida territory of the NWA where he was their Heavyweight Champion twice in the 1980’s. Although the region was not as healthy as it was in the previous decade, it was still one of the most respected in the United States and the championship belt had a lineage dating back to the 1930’s.
Blair joined the World Wrestling Federation in late 1984 at the onset of what was to be a National explosion. After a singles run (highlighted by a series of brilliant matches with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff) Blair was paired with “Jumping” Jim Brunzell who had just entered the WWF after departing from the Minneapolis based American Wrestling Association.
Dubbed “The Killer Bees” Blair and Brunzell entered the highest profile spots in their careers. Not only was the wrestling business (and the WWF in particular) reaching a stratospheric level, but the mid to late 80’s are arguably the greatest period that the organization had in terms of tag teams. Aside from the Bees, this period featured the innovative British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation, and Demolition. Even when teams were thrown together, (like the Dream Team and Strike Force) they were presented as valuable entities that performed and acted like they were meant to be together. Tag teams were often the main event of star studded cards that the WWF had in this era, and these matches were often the best on the show.
Although the Bees did not win the Tag Team Championship in the WWF, they left behind a legacy of solid matches in their three and a half year run. Frustrated with the failed promises by management of a Tag Team Title run, Blair left the World Wrestling Federation and appeared in various independent promotions and in Japan. Simultaneously, he put his business knowledge to work and became successful as a licensee of Gold’s Gym in Florida, and would later successfully become the County Commissioner in Hillsborough County (also in Florida).
We here at notinhalloffame.com had the opportunity to speak with Brian candidly about his wrestling career, his transition away from it and what he is up to now.
I know that when a lot of people speak with you they want to address you they immediately want to talk about your wrestling career, however I wanted to talk to you first about your post wrestling career. A few years ago, the movie, “The Wrestler” came out and it did not exactly depict wrestlers in the greatest glory. Many of them have fallen on hard times, as have had many past NFL and NBA players. I believe that a study came out that said that over half of former NBA players go bankrupt. You obviously had a plan early on while you were still on top. I am curious if there was a moment in your career that triggered an exit strategy away from wrestling?
“Well, it started very early in life actually. I was about twenty-five years old and I read a book that was called “The Richest Man in Babylon”. The main premise of the story was saving ten percent; basically paying yourself first. It is the same idea as the ten percent to a church or a savings account, just a little more disciplined because you make it your very first bill.
I knew I wanted to something in business and I really wasn’t sure what it would be. I was wrestling and in the gym all the time. I always worked out, I still work out and in talking about that exit strategy, I started looking at the health club industry and I happened to have a friend named Pete Grymkowski who was the majority owner of Gold’s Gym.
I decided to give the Gold’s Gyms a shot. We built one in 1989 and I was actually still wrestling. I had left the WWF, but I still had a deal in Japan. I wound up owning the rights to eight of them and if you dial 1-800-99GOLDS anywhere in the country I developed that whole system. I developed it locally with fourteen clubs and sold it to Gold’s Corporate, and I sold my business when it wasn’t for sale, which is a good thing. I guess the rumour was that Gold’s Gyms was going public and I got a few calls about selling my clubs and that wound up being so in 2000 to the highest bidder. So my exit strategy was successful and I’m grateful that I had that book, because I probably wouldn’t have had enough money. In wrestling it isn’t how much you make, but how much you save. Unfortunately, so many people in the wrestling industry spend $1,000 on $100 show, so to speak as Hank Williams would sing, or maybe Hank Williams Jr.”
I never got past the Tear in my Beer song!
Sorry, going for a joke. Not always as funny up here in Canada!
“I love Canada. Mr. T was our manager for a while and when we were in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens and I remember selling out the place when I was one of the Killer Bees.”
Actually, I remember being there (Maple Leaf Gardens) when you and Jim (Brunzell) won the Frank Tunney Tag Team Tournament.
I remember how you worked four matches on the card, and how the people were still popping for everything that you and Jim did.
“I appreciate that. Those were some fun days. I actually still wrestle. I will be in Atlantic City March 2nd and in Las Vegas April 16th.”
Is that for the Cauliflower Alley Club?
Now your foray into politics; you were a Political Science major right?
“Yes, I was a Poli-Sci major, and I really started to get into politics when Jesse Ventura and I were together for six months.”
When were you together with Jesse?
“In the Kansas City territiory. We talked about it often.”
So politics was always on your radar?
“I liked politics, but I never thought I would become a politician. Politics as it turned out is way more brutal than wrestling especially if you’re a Conservative. It’s a full contact sport; they try to knock you out. If you don’t do what the newspapers want you to do, especially in Hillsborough County, which is a very corrupt county, they will tar and feather you.”
I was going to ask you before, I would have thought that a career in wrestling with all the politics that are involved in that industry that a transition to politics would have been easier.
“Yeah it is. It is far more of a mental beating than the physical one you take in wrestling.”
So you’re happier now being in the business sector as opposed to politics?
“Yes. Yes I am. Although I do miss it sometimes. When I see some of the foolish things from these politicians that don’t have a business background, and that’s what wrong with our nation today”
So do you view yourself more of a Libertarian?
“No, I view myself more as Conservative Libertarian. I do have some fundamental beliefs. I do believe that we should take care of those who can not take care of themselves, but I do believe that we have no obligation to take care of those who will not (take care of themselves)”
Understood. I am curious though, are you known more in Florida for wrestling or politics? I think a lot of wrestling fans are unaware of what happened outside the WWE or the then named WWF, but you had a very good run in the Florida territory where you were a star in were its champion.
“I get recognized probably more as a wrestler.”
I would have thought it would have been the other way now.
“I think it’s because where I’m at. When I go to general places, wrestling is always the first thing mentioned.”
Does that bother you, or are you still flattered by the fact that so many fans still remember?
“No. I love the wrestling fans. I always have and I always will.”
I have studied some of the other interviews that you have done and noticed that you mention consistently that Paul Orndorff was one of your favourite opponents. Were there other singles opponents that you had where you felt you had great matches be it in the WWF or other territories that stand out in your mind?
“Ravishing Rick Rude in Florida. Jesse Barr in Florida.”
I actually watched those matches you had with Orndorff and got me wondering how come you never had a singles push in the WWF the same way you had in Florida.
“I don’t know. I did wrestle there (the WWF) as a singles competitor and a lot in Florida. I got a call when I was in Florida to come in to the WWF, and I was hoping to do so as it was becoming the big thing from Hulk Hogan. Hogan gave me a call to bring me in. Terry was also one of the ushers at my wedding along with Paul Orndorff.”
Oh, I didn’t know that!
“Yeah, I’ve never really shared that publically. He (Hogan) was in the AWA with Verne Gagne and he knew Jim Brunzell who was one half of the High Flyers with Greg Gagne. Jimmy had called Terry trying to get away (from the AWA) and Jimmy said he wanted a tag team partner. Terry thought about me for that role and we were put together. We were in Brantford (where the WWF held regular TV Tapings) which was the first time that Jimmy and met up. George Scott was the booker and said we are going tag you guys up and we need to think of something to call you. Now, I was a Miami Dolphins fan back from when they were undefeated in 1972, and they had a Defence called the “Killer Bees” which was based on their last names. George Scott immediately laughed and smiled and said ‘I know Vince is going to like that’. Lanny Poffo happened to be there and ironically he reached out in his bag and pulled out a pair of trunks which were basically like the same ones that we would use for years, with the yellow and black stripes.”
Wait, Poffo just happened to have these trunks on him?
“Yep, he just happened to have them in his bag! Lanny would wear all kinds of different stuff.”
I guess it was just meant to be!
“I guess it was.”
I have also read that in prior interviews that you said Vince McMahon had promised you and Jim the Tag Team Titles on three different occasions. Do you recall when they were?
“Probably six months before Wrestlemania III, and a week after we started teaming we were told we would be Tag Team champs. It kept going on and on.”
So it was basically a ‘don’t worry, we’ll take care of you’ type of deal that was just perpetual.
“Exactly. George Scott who was the booker the whole time, and I thought it would happen. When it became too much, I left but I did not burn a bridge. I don’t believe in doing that. Jimmy stayed. Vince never cared for Jimmy is what I heard and that he had some heat with him.”
Well, based on the way he was booked after you left it sure seemed like it.
“Yeah, exactly. Jimmy was real down with Jesse Ventura about forming a union and Vince really got pissed about that.”
Do you think there could ever be a union in wrestling?
“No. When it comes down to it, there are too many people hungry for that top spot. What Vince has done to prevent it, rather than making the wrestlers so big; and I’m not saying that names like The Rock, Hulk Hogan aren’t big names, but he (Vince McMahon) has made the brand the most important name. That makes it more difficult in my opinion for them to unionize. You would have to get eight out of ten people on board, or Vince would just replace them all.”
Now, in my opinion, 1987 The Killer Bees had two of their biggest wins in the WWF; that being the Frank Tunney Tag Team Tournament that we talked about in Toronto and being one of the surviving teams at the first Survivor Series. Now on that card, the other survivors were pushed towards other things. Randy Savage who survived his match went on to continue to feud with the Honky Tonk Man over the Intercontinental Title and won the World Title six months later. Andre the Giant winning his Survivor Series Match set up his rematch with Hulk Hogan and even the Jumping Bomb Angels winning the women’s match set them up to win the Ladies Tag Team Title. The four of you (The Killer Bees & The Young Stallions) didn’t have any program of any kind after you won that big match.
“Right, and it wasn’t long after that I knew it was time to leave. My real strong feeling was that Vince was still pissed (about the union talk). Now, nothing was ever said to me about a union, but I would have been on board, because I do think it would be good for wrestlers to have one. However, I guess the cards were shown too early.”
Going back to that tag team Survivor Series Match, the Tag Team Champs at the time were Strike Force (Martel and Santana) who just won the belts and were wrestling as baby faces. I couldn’t figure out why they had two face teams win, when neither was going to put in a position to chase for the Tag Team belts, unless they were going to do a three chase for the belts which they didn’t do. Also, I don’t believe you even had much of a program with the Islanders who were the last team defeated on the heel team on the match.
“Right, and I admire your recall. The fact that we didn’t get the titles has been questioned by eight out of ten people that I speak with. I can’t think of any other reason why we didn’t get them.”
You were certainly an over team. The people responded to you and Jim, especially with your matches with the Hart Foundation.
“Yeah, our best matches were with the Hart Foundation. Bret Hart said I believe that his best tag team match was with us in Los Angeles and he was referring to I believe the match we had for Saturday Night’s Main Event”.
Yeah, you won that match. Again, that is another curious thing. You beat the Harts right before they won the Tag Team Title over the British Bulldogs, which would in my mind put you as an automatic top contender for the Titles, especially with Dynamite’s injury.
“Exactly, and that’s what I thought. That’s from Booking 101 and it makes perfect sense. I don’t think Vince maximized what he could have done with us. Who knows. I can second guess it all day long, but I can’t go back and I can’t change history.”
If I can though, it doesn’t take away from the fans minds what kind of team you were. A couple of years later, the Rockers never won the titles either and they are still held in high regard. In a way it is a bit of an honour as your team is always mentioned as a team that should have won the titles but didn’t. Not every team can say that.
“I guess, you know I’m grateful for every match I had. I’ve lived a life that most people only dream of; belts or no belts.”
Well from football to wrestling to politics, that would be three dreams in one life.
“Yes, it is amazing when I look back and see what I have accomplished, I have so many stories. I believe I am a humble guy, and I try to be as humble as I possibly can. We’ve been to Russia and wined and dined with the crooked politicians there for a week. We’ve had Broadway style shows there; and all of this was from a tour that the Samoans put together. Most people don’t realize what a career I had after the WWF. It may not have been as good as the WWF, but I went to Japan, I went to Malaysia, Singapore, Guam; I went all over the place. I’d have to sit back and look at my passport and see just how many countries I have been to. I counted around thirty when I checked on it one time. I have hung out with George Thorogood in Australia for a week.”
So if you hung out with Thorogood, did you have the bourbon, the scotch or the beer?
“(Laughs) I think we had many of each! It was all a lot of fun. I met Cyndi Lauper, we did that wrestling album. It was all amazing. Hulkster got to know Willie G. Davidson, and I still have the Harley that Willie G. Davidson sold me. We were in L.A. and Willie asked me us if we wanted one at cost. Terry said ‘heck yeah’ and ordered one right away. I said ‘I was saving my money, and that I loved your motorcycles, but what is cost?’ I knew it was still a lot, but I said yes. I became friends with a guy named Tony Carlini who was one of the premiere motorcycle design gurus for fixing them up and customizing them. When I got the bill it was $4,589 and they tricked it out, custom paint job, pipes, chrome and flew it here to a Harley Davidson dealer that has since closed down. I still have the receipt that says ship to T. Bollea. It retails for $10,995. That was a heck of a deal.”
That sounds amazing! I hate asking this, and I am sure you get asked this every day by wrestling fans; The Iron Sheik obviously has a major problem with you, which I can’t for the life of me figure out how it started. It seems like the most random attack. I can’t find one instance on any shoot interview that you ever did where you attack anybody. It has put you in a terrible position, as you can’t psychically attack a man who is close to being crippled.
Do you know why it started?
“I don’t know. I think he still had a grudge. We had a shoot where he tried to hook me and hold me down, and I got out and started stretching him and made him tap. He was always supposed to be the toughest shooter.”
Was this on a house card?
“Yeah, I think it was in Hershey, Pennsylvania. You know, most people didn’t really know about it. It just looked like part of the match. Some of the wrestlers knew about it, but that was it. It was kind of like a stroke to his ego, and it was eating at him. There was another instance where we going to Australia and Jim Brunzell and I were sitting next to JYD. It gets dark in the cabin (in the plane) and all of the sudden I smell this funny smell and I look over and JYD had smuggled some crack in the bottom of a popcorn bag, and their (JYD and Sheik) smoking crack on the airplane. I told him what an asshole he was, and I gave him a piece of my mind. That could kill a reputation. I’m sitting next to him; Brunzell’s sitting next to him and we don’t need that kind of stuff. He called me a jabroni or whatever. I never started stuff, but I would never leave something like that alone. We never fought or anything over it. It was just an embarrassing thing for me to have guys that known all over the world smoking crack on the airplane.”
If I remember right, Sheik was arrested with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in 1987 for possession while they were feuding.
“Yes, that’s right. I remember that.”
I imagine everything must seem a little surreal in a way for you. If you Google your name, the Iron Sheik comes up right away. I would think that has to burn you on some level.
“(Laughs) Yeah, I got to take it and just move forward. I don’t really care for the Sheik. I do feel sorry for him. His daughter died from an overdose, I knew his wife was going to leave him. I knew her in Georgia, and I don’t know how she put up with him. He was an abusive husband. If (Howard) Stern knew things about the Sheik that a lot of people don’t know, he probably would not have had him in on. He is certainly an entertaining person, at least he was. I don’t know what he is doing now. I wish there was a fair way for me to wrestle him.”
Well, you tried to sort of broker peace when you attended the Iron Sheik’s roast. Essentially, it appeared like you tried to be the bigger man.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
I am sure that people might have criticized you for attending the event, but it was also an opportunity to see many of your friends in the business. But again, with his mobility issues, you are stuck in an awful position.
“Is he still walking now?”
I don’t know, but I don’t believe he is moving particularly well.
“I know he’s having problems with his ankle. I would love to have a match with him, where he would be the manager and have an Iranian flag or something, and I would manage somebody. I don’t know, maybe Volkoff could be involved.”
You might be better off with it all in your rear view mirror. It just seems like a situation that you are better off avoiding.
“True. It’s not like it something I pursue, and it’s something I think about every day. I have basically put it behind me. It’s only in front of me when someone puts it in front of me.”
Can I do a bit of word association? I’ll just throw a few names at you of people you worked with in the past, and just say whatever comes to your mind.
“Sure, one word or a story?
Whatever sounds best. If one word sums it up, that’s good. If a story comes to mind, that’s fine too! Whatever you like!
I’ll start with Nikolai Volkoff.
“(Laughs) Clumsy! But a nice guy.
The Rougeau Brothers.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind with them?
“Yeah, because when they sucker punched him. Brunzell and I were there. That might have ended Dynamite’s career.
Dynamite was the next name I was going to bring up.
“I think of Japan. He was a great worker.”
“He makes me smile. I wish Davey Boy could see his son Harry now. He was a jokester and a half.”
“Rick Rude was a tremendous worker, even underrated. He was a natural heel. He was very intelligent in some ways. He could keep conversations with people on the street or with kings. The guy had a command with psychology and words. I loved working with Rick Rude.”
“Classic wrestler in our industry. A gentleman, a friend, probably doesn’t have an enemy in the world. He’s very well respected; everybody respects Terry. He is the nicest person I know to the fans. I emulate Terry as far as the fans go. I take my time and do whatever I can do to make the fans happy.”
“ (laughs) Patches.”
“It’s kind of an inside story. I was telling him how I grew up and he started calling me ‘Patches’ like that country song that was kind of depressing about all the hard stuff that ‘Patches’ went through. I have to Google it. I don’t even remember all the words to it.”
I’ll have to Google that. I don’t know that song.
“It’s a real tearjerker. Piper was another great guy who I had a lot of fun with. His interviews were so good on the mic that it took away from his actual wrestling skills.”
The Magnificent Muraco
“Oh gosh, Don! Muscles. A long time friend from before I was in the business. I admire him more now that I’ve got to befriend him.”
“One final one, ‘Cowboy’ Bob Orton
“Classic worker. Liked to save his money. He always questioned Vince why he didn’t get the title. He always wanted the World Title. He was just an incredible worker. He was the opposite of Piper. He wasn’t a bad talker, but Orton couldn’t talk like Piper could.”
Well, it’s hard when you are paired with Roddy, it’s got to be impossible to seem like a good mic worker.
“Well, that’s why they put them together. Where Piper couldn’t work, Orton could, and where Orton couldn’t talk, Piper would make it entertaining. Orton could work with a broomstick. I used to watch his dad work. His son, Randy is one of my favourite workers.”
So now you are the head of distribution of Celebritea. Can you tell me a bit about the product?
“Absolutely. Celebritea is an organic bottled tea. It’s considered a new age beverage. Right now, we have four flavors that are just off the charts good. We have Asian Pear, Ginger, Blueberry Acai and Pomegranate Blueberry. They are 80 calories, high in antioxidants, no GMOs, gluten free, and no sugar. If you go to our website, www.drinkcelebritea.com you can see the packaging of the product is really nice and it tastes better than it looks.
“It’s very hard to get distribution unless you’re Coca Cola or Pepsi in the new age beverage category. Nobody wants to be the first one on the block, so I had a challenge. My two partners, Steve Williams and Jeff Stone; I’m a minority shareholder, but even with a great product they couldn’t get distribution. Jeff did all the behind work, and I had the connections and the business savvy so I put a lot of my effort and connections to work and finally get in the Fresh Markets, and we will be going into Publix at the end of the month. It’s a tremendous, refreshing beverage that’s much better for you than a soda. For a couple of bucks it is very enjoyable. A lot of people mix it with vodka.”
Is there anything else you would to direct people too; be it a website or appearances?
“I will be at that Atlantic City show on March 2nd, and appearing at the Cauliflower Alley Club in April. My website is www.brianblair.com.
 CNN was on the air for eleven years before it became a regular choice for Americans for news coverage based on their coverage of the Persian Gulf War. Not exactly a story of sunshine that out them on the map.
 The wrestlers who held that title include Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Boris Malenko, Johnny Valentine, Jack Brisco, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Ernie Ladd, Don Muraco, Dory Funk Jr., Barry Windham, Mr. Wrestling II and Kevin Sullivan. Notable names of Ron Simmons and Rick Steiner held the belt after Blair. The belt was dissolved in 1988.
 Brunzell was coming off a very long and successful tag team with Greg Gagne in the AWA
 The AWA was a still a very viable promotion in 1985. Five years later, they were out of business.
 The Killer Bees are often mentioned in this glory period. They are the only ones out of those six who did not win the WWF World Tag Team Titles.
 Which in this era, would have been more financially lucrative as the Titles were held in high regard
 The Killer Bees won an eight team tournament defeating the teams of Kamala & Sika (First Round), King Kong Bundy & “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (Second Round) and Demolition (Finals) and then fought The Hart Foundation for the WWF World Tag Team Titles all in one night
 Brian was elected County Commissioner in Hillsborough County in Florida in 2004
 Brunzell was reduced to ‘jobber’ status and rarely won a match in the duration of his WWF tenure.
 The Killer Bees and The Young Stallions (Paul Roma & Jim Powers) won the ten tag team elimination match in a star studded contest. Their teammates were Strike Force (Rick Martel & Tom Zenk), The British Bulldogs & The Rougeau Brothers and they were against The Hart Foundation, The Islanders, Demolition, The Bolsheviks and the New Dream Team.
 The Dynamite Kid suffered a severe back injury in Hamilton, ON defending the Tag belts against “Cowboy” Bob Orton & The Magnificent Muraco. Dynamite could not wrestle for a couple of months and an angle was worked where they lost the belts to the Harts where Dynamite was attacked before the match began.
 Like the Young Stallions
 The Samoans being Sika & Afa (The Wild Samoans) who not only train wrestlers, but have their own promotion in Pennsylvania and put on many worldwide tours
 One of George Thorogood’s signature songs was called “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer”
 If you check shoot interviews with most wrestlers on YouTube, it almost always has that wrestler trashing one (or 1,000) other wrestlers. I looked up and down at all the interviews I could find with Blair, and there is none where he disrespects any other wrestler (other than Sheik), including the one i conducted with him.
 Considering that the WWF had not yet announced they were “entertainment” the two being caught together in a car with drugs was particularly embarrassing for the organization.
 Howard Stern started playing the Iron Sheik’s rants on his Sirius Radio Program. Sheik would eventually appear on the show and continue his rant against Blair (and other wrestlers) to a much larger audience. The Sheik would have multiple appearances on the Stern show.
 At the roast, Brian extended his hand to the Sheik, where he was met with a slap to his left ear. Brian was held back, while the Iron Sheik was ushered elsewhere in the building.
 A very good synopsis of the account can be found here: http://www.onlineworldofwrestling.com/columns/misc/ralphaeichenlaub01.html