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APW PROMOTER ROLAND ALEXANDER PASSES AWAY

By Mike Johnson on 2013-11-06 08:16:07
"A Father to West Coast Wrestling" - Luke Williams on Roland Alexander

PWInsider.com is sorry to report that Roland Alexander, who had owned and operated Hayward, California's All Pro Wrestling from 1991 on, passed away yesterday at the age of 59. Alexander had been dealing with heart and diabetes issues for some time.

Alexander had been around the wrestling business since the territory days of Roy Shires' promotion, even having once babysat a young Dwayne Johnson while his father Rocky was working in California.

Alexander opened APW in 1991 under the title "Pacific Coast Sports." The school was pretty much in a garage, which the promotion touted by naming it's events "Garage Wars."

There were a number of talents that came out of the school to make legitimate names for themselves in the pro wrestling world, including Matt "Spike Dudley" Hyson, Mike Modest, Donovan Morgan, Bison Smith, Mike "Crash Holly" Lockwood and Vic Grimes, among others, all of whom had runs with WWE, ECW or Pro Wrestling NOAH.

With the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s, Alexander used the medium to promote the company and its shows, feeling the talent was on par or better than most of the more popular East Coast independent companies. He was a lightning rod for controversy at times for pushing his company so hard, but when it came to pure wrestling talent, more often than not, Alexander could back his claims.

Alexander often talked of wanting to build APW into a larger force, something akin to California to what ECW on the East Coast during that era, but was never able to build APW beyond a small promotion and training school. However, it's impossible not to see his fingerprints in the DNA of the business today, as you'll soon see.

Whether APW became this huge force or not was inconsequential when it came to the quality of the actual in-ring product. Most often, the shows were, for the most part, excellent, with a lot of great talent working them. Vic Grimes vs. Erin O'Grady (Lockwood) was a cornerstone feud for the promotion and when the two were given a WWF dark match, they were both immediately signed to the promotion. Other talents including Robert Thompson, Modest, Morgan, Steve Rizzono, Vinnie Massaro and Boyce LeGrande, all populated the shows, which from a pure pro wrestling standpoint, were considered excellent.

Alexander, as a promoter, was someone who would have fit into the previous generations of the "cigar-smoking" old school stereotypical promoter. He was great at talking up his talent and his promotion, but at times was often bad-mouthed by those who left his umbrella of not appreciating what they had done for him or for how Alexander handled certain situations - but he was the type of character unique to the pro wrestling business.

Alexander absolutely loved the business and especially the history. Nothing made him more excited than the history of the business and when a name from the past, like a Nick Bockwinkel, would be in attendance at one of their shows, so that APW could show off their crop of talent. In many ways, he was the West Coast equivalent of the late Dennis Coralluzo, beating the drums for the talent that was out there and if someone didn't want to hear it, he was going to fight them tooth and nail to make them - that didn't come without controversy, as you might imagine.

Alexander's boisterous nature could earn him enemies at times online and there were absolutely "flame wars" as they were termed back in the day between Alexander and others in the business as well as fans, specifically on the old AOL message boards, where Alexander pushed his company relentlessly, trying to build its fan base.

The height of that animosity came after Alexander's APW was featured in the Barry Blaustein documentary "Beyond the Mat." In the film, Blaustein chronicled independent wrestlers Mike Modest and Tony Jones, who were struggling independent wrestlers. Alexander's school was featured in several scenes and through Blaustein's connections, the pair were given a WWF dark match, which was filmed for the documentary as well.

In the end, neither were hired, although Modest went on to have a short, short run in WCW before finding his niche in Pro Wrestling NOAH while Jones certainly fits under the description of someone that should have made it, had timing been different.

In the documentary, all sides of Alexander that were mentioned above were portrayed. Depending on the scene, he was either a benevolent trainer or someone who was a carny (as he was described at the end of the film), depending on their point of view.

The film left the door open for detractors to take their shots, but also showcased the idea that great wrestlers were being molded in APW. Whether the film portrayed Alexander in the best light is a matter of opinion, but in the end - it didn't even matter, because the exposure led to an increased interest in the promotion's school, which signed up a number of new potential trainees.

2000 through 2001 may have been the brightest and darkest times for the promotion. In December 2000, the promotion, inspired by one of the best independent events of that era, the Jim Kettner promoted ECWA Super 8, ran their first King of the Indies, won by Christopher Daniels.

A year later, the promotion ran the tournament again, bringing in an insanely stacked crew of talent including Samoa Joe, Daniels, Low Ki, Adam Pearce, Doug Williams, Daniel Bryan, Bryan Kendrick, Scott Andrews, AJ Styles, Super Dragon, Kazarian and more. The show was beyond spectacular, including the first-ever Ki vs. Joe and Ki vs. Bryan (then Bryan Danielson) match.

The King of Indies event (and the ICW promotion running in NYC at the time) directly led to the formation of Ring of Honor when original founders Rob Feinstein and Gabe Sapolsky saw the potential of using similar talents when tape sales went through the roof. Undoubtedly, some form of what is now ROH would have existed at some point, but in many ways that APW event is something of a grandfather to the current ROH product now seen across the country via Sinclair Broadcasting.

When learning of Alexander's death, Samoa Joe referred to him as "One of the most passionate people I have ever met in wrestling."

In a small piece of trivia, after that event, Alexander offered Daniel Bryan the chance to move to Hayward and become the school's trainer. Danielson was there for a year and ended up helping to train current WWE developmental trainer Sara del Rey.

Unfortunately, APW as a promotion made the national news again when the family of a trainee, Brian Ong, sued the promotion for Ong's death after a May 2001 training session. The family alleged that Ong was allowed to continue training in the ring with Dalip Singh (WWE's Great Khali) despite suffering a concussion in the same session, which led to Ong collapsing and dying after taking another blow to the head while bumping. In July 2005, a jury trial took place, with the jurors voting unanimously in favor of the Ong family. APW was forced to pay $1.3 million in damages.

The glory days of APW's initial era ended by 2002 as a good portion of the roster, led by trainers Morgan and Modest, split from Alexander and went on to form Pro Wrestling Iron. But, APW continued on with a new generation of students and talents led by booker Gabe Ramirez, although Ramirez in the end, would depart to form his own company, Pro Wrestling Revolution, within a few years.

APW still persevered, running local TV in San Francisco and Alexander loved the business, continuing to run all the way through his passing. In recent years, Colt Cabana, Timothy Thatcher, B-Boy and Drake Younger were among the more well known independent talents who worked for Alexander. In many ways, APW and Alexander were one in the same and it's seemingly impossible to consider it moving forward without him.

Our deepest condolences to Alexander's friends, family, students and fans on his passing. He was truly one of a kind - the type of character that was made for the pro wrestling world.