Don Callis Remembers Bad News Allen
March 9, 2007
When Lance Evers called me to tell me that News had passed away I felt like someone had kicked me in the chest. While it is a sad reality that there have been far too many deaths in this business over the years, nothing prepares you for the death of a truly close friend and mentor.
News lived a very healthy life, never drank, smoked or took drugs or steroids. He exercised every day, doing pushups and sit ups early in the morning in his room when we were on the road. I suppose if there is a lesson here it is that life is short and there are no guarantees, even if you do all the right things.
I haven’t put pen to paper about the wrestling business for a long time, and honestly thought I never would. But after spending most of last night on the phone with mutual friends like Gerry Morrow, Gama Singh, Lance and Chris Jericho, I woke up with the need to do something, anything, to remember my friend.
I first met News on a tour to South Africa in 1994. He was arriving a week into the tour and everyone was talking about him and we had heard all the usual stories: “don’t mess with News, one of the toughest ever in the business, real hardass”. After a VERY respectful introduction, likely aided by the fact that Gerry Morrow had put me over to him, I slowly began to build a friendship with him, making a point of having breakfast and dinner with him every day at our hotel.
This meant I had to get up MUCH earlier than I would have liked, but News had a lot to teach, and I wanted to learn. We spent many mornings along with Jason Anderson and Rod Blackbeard, sitting for hours in the hotel restaurant where he would tell what must be some of the best stories in professional wrestling history. Many are well known through various interviews he had done over the years but I remember the classics like challenging Andre the Giant to a fight, beating up a few of the Guerrero clan in a shower in Mexico, hilarious Abdullah the Butcher tales to name just a few. Over the years of knowing News, I think I heard all of his stories at least a dozen times, and he knew it too, but would always preface each repeat with “I may have told you this one but….” And then launch into the classic, most of which were still great the tenth time around.
News also gave a lot of great advice to me about how to work and be a heel. I have heard from several sources that the late Stu Hart often referred to News as his best heel of all time and that the Bad News – Dynamite Kid program was the hottest draw ever in Stampede Wrestling, and to me, News was the consummate heel that the fans hated, believed in and would pay to see get beat up, so when he gave advice it was always money.
We spent six weeks in South Africa, then another four in Europe and became great friends and he really became a mentor to me in the business. He had taken to calling me “Champ”, referencing Abdullah the Butcher’s penchant for calling everyone Champ. We both loved our respective Abby stories, of which there were many. News had a great sense of humor and was well read on a variety of non-wrestling issues, so he was great company.
News even took time to show some of us shoot stuff to help us in the ring, but was never a bully. In a sense, here was a guy who could go out and be the biggest bully in the ring if he wanted, given his credentials, but in fact was exactly the opposite. Even though in a shoot he could have likely beaten anyone, he understood that it was a business and if he liked you he was incredibly easy to work with. What he demanded was respect, and if you gave it to him everything was cool, if you didn’t, well, you had problems.
I was booking television in Winnipeg at the time and was working on top as a heel. Despite the fact that my promos were by far my greatest asset, I insisted to the promoter that he bring News in as my bodyguard/manager so that we could work together and I could learn from him. By that time he really wasn’t looking to wrestle a lot and was happy to be outside the ring while I took the bumps, so our tandem worked quite well and we had great chemistry together. He was such a good heel that he instantly gave my act a whole new dimension as a totally believable bodyguard (in a shoot, he would be many peoples first choice for protection, so it was a great fit). He came in for a drastically reduced rate, all to do me a favor.
My deal with him when I booked him was that it was only for promos etc, and no actual wrestling. I remember two days into a tour, I blew my knee out wrestling Lance Storm. I was scheduled to work with Rick Martel on a house show the next night and couldn’t even walk. The promoter was freaking on how he was going to find another opponent for Martel. News, who had only signed on to be a manager, volunteered. I felt bad about it and told him to just take it easy and not take any bumps. A blown away Rick Martel called me after the match and told me that News had worked and bumped his ass off in the match in front of about 200 people.
In the dressing room, he was a great influence, as he commanded so much respect that it tended to make the room more professional. In the ring he was a total pro, easy as pie. I wrestled him twice, and I believe I gave him one of his last matches, in which, against my suggestion, he insisted on putting me over. I also recall a match in Manitoba in front of 20 people where myself and News were scheduled to wrestle Christian and Gerry Morrow. We knew the crowd was small, so someone (likely me, as a rib on Christian) suggested that we make the match a ‘shoot’. We opened up with Gerry Morrow, who was also hard as nails, chasing me around the ring trying to stretch me while News busted a gut laughing on the ring apron. Christian got in and locked up with News and in lightning fast succession Christian was the victim of a sweet judo takedown right before screaming like a girl as News put some sort of shoot hold on him, laughing the whole time.
News was a total class act all the time. While his stories could be profanity-laden, he was a total gentleman in non-wrestling company. He remains one of my Mom’s favorite wrestlers to ever come to the house. I also recall a time when I sent some of my students to train in shoot with he and Gerry Morrow. News let them stay at the school so they could save money and took care of them. In return, I asked what I could do for him. Knowing that he was involved in booking for a small show in Calgary, I offered to trans myself in and make an appearance for free. He resisted but I said it would be a pleasure and that I would use my points to get there so I wouldn’t be out of pocket on the trans. After the show News slipped me a hundred bucks and thanked me for making the trip. I told him no, absolutely not, I told you I wanted to do this for free. He looked at me with that serious look he could have, and said, “Champ, no one works for me for free”.
For my money, there was no one better to be on the road with, as he was a genuinely wonderful person, with a great sense of humor. Rick Martel and I shared a car with him for four weeks in the Maritimes, working seven nights a week and doing lots of driving, and it never got boring. From a psychology and heat perspective, News, working every night of that tour, well into his fifties, needing a double knee replacement, and was still the best pure heel on any card I was ever on with him.
Last night I dug out some old tapes of News and I from Winnipeg. The promos and the heel heat were great, but what I kept focusing on was the emotion. When I watched myself I saw that I was on an emotional ride, laced with energy, knowing what it meant to have this legend standing next to me in the ring. What probably made me smile the most is watching Bad News, with that twinkle in his eye that meant he was having a blast, cracking up during some of the segments.
Another of News’ great traits was his willingness to help young guys make it in the business, helping in any way he could. If you were respectful of him and the business, he had nothing but time for you. It is well documented that he helped many wrestlers over the years, including getting Chris Benoit started up in New Japan, and the late Mike Lozanski, another friend who died too early, started in Mexico and Japan. I remember him telling me on many occasions how he wished he was still involved with New Japan so he could get me booked.
Oddly enough, I was just thinking of him a couple of days before he died, as it had been about a year since I had seen him, on a trip to Calgary the year before. I had made the drive out to his house, as seeing him was my top priority for the trip. I remember thinking how much I missed the old days when he and Gerry and Gama and I would be on overseas trips having fun and loving life.
I have often thought News was far too honest for this business, too black and white. With Bad News there were no ‘gray areas’ only right or wrong. His honesty, personal integrity and professionalism are a standard worth living up to, both inside and outside the business.
When I got out of the business years ago, I wondered whether I would miss performing or being branded as a wrestling ‘star’. I missed neither. What I missed were the guys, especially the few that you are really close friends with. When you leave the business, you find that that handful of guys are the ones that you reach out to and remember.
The tours, the many meals, car rides, great advice, the high standard that he held me to, the great stories which I retell to people to this day; these are some of my fondest memories of Bad News and of my entire time in the business. The fact that so many of my favorite memories surround time we were on tours together reinforces how special a man he was. For the friendship that we enjoyed and the example that he set for me, Bad News Allen is someone I will miss and always remember.