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ORIGINAL ECW BOOKER, TWA STAR LARRY WINTERS PASSES AWAY

By Mike Johnson on 2015-01-27 21:44:33

Larry Winters, a Philadelphia-area independent wrestling standout for Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance and Tod Gordon's ECW passed away earlier today. We don't have full details but the word that has made the rounds is that he suffered a heart attack.

Winters was best known in the Philadelphia area as a regular for the TWA, but prior to that, did wrestle in enhancement roles on TV for Verne Gagne's AWA, Puerto Rico's WWC and Jim Crockett Promotions.  In the late 1980s into the 1990s, however, the rise of what would eventually become the independent scene truly began. With WWF going national and the territories dying out one by one, that opened up a vacuum for promoters to start running smaller towns and even smaller venues in larger areas.

Violence for the sake of Violence

 

In the Northeast, one of the primary promotions of that era was the National Wrestling Federation, which featured Winters feuding with D.C. Drake over the NWF championship as one of the cornerstones of the promotion. While the WWF began focusing on caricature characters and appealing to families, the NWF pushed violence with all sorts of brawls, dog collar matches and cage matches. The promotion ran on a regular basis in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania area and even had local TV but was pretty much funded by "sold shows" where the venue or organization buys the show outright and then makes money on how much they get at the door. Over time, those backers and opportunities began to dry up and with that came the end of the NWF.

It was not, however, the end of Winters vs. Drake.

They Wrestle,  They Brawl.  They Do It All.

By 1990, Joel Goodhart formed and ran the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, which ran the Philly market regularly based off the power of Goodhart's radio show and became one of the first promotions trying specifically to market to the hardcore, die-hard, insider wrestling fans, that gave Winters his first real "home" promotion.

Winters vs. Drake migrated to TWA with all sorts of stipulation bouts including stretcher matches and dog collar matches. TWA was built around having four quarterly super-shows at the PA Convention Center with all sorts of names, from Abdullah the Butcher to Owen Hart to Steve Williams and so forth, that would appeal to hardcore, blue-collar wrestling fans on top in dream matches and regular storylines using the locals underneath, often mixed in with more nationally known names to give them a bit of a rub.

At the same time, Winters was also the trainer at Goodhart's wrestling school, training the likes of future ECW icon The Sandman and perennial ECW lower card favorite Don E. Allen.

Winters and Johnny Hotbody would go on to win the TWA Tag Team championships but by end of 1991, the TWA would announce that it was closing with promoter Goodhart disappearing into the night and fans left waiting out in the cold for a show scheduled to be headlined by Buddy Rogers vs. Buddy Landell. It would have been Rogers' final bout, but never came to be. The TWA was gone.

From the Ashes...

In it's place came the original ECW in it's earliest permutation, Eastern Championship Wrestling. Founder Tod Gordon, who had been a backer at times for Goodhart and a long-time wrestling fan, decided following a meeting with Winters and future ECW ring announcer Bob Artese that they would launch a new company out of the ashes of Tri-State, even using the same championship belts (now repainted).

Winters was tapped as the first booker of the company, but wouldn't last long in the role.  At the time, ECW was a little gritter then your average indy promotion but still only ran on a semi-regular basis, bringing in names like Davey Boy Smith, Ivan Koloff, Jimmy Snuka and even Terry Taylor to provide some name value and substance to the average fan while the remnants of the TWA roster provided the glue and the majority of the action.

While Winters was the first booker, he wouldn't last long in the role. Gordon, upset with an angle booked by Winters that led to JT Smith being painted white by Winters and Johnny Hotbody, removed Winters from the position. The approved angle was that Smith's partner D.C. Drake was supposed to be painted black as well. The black paint somehow never came into play and Gordon, with heavy ties to the Philadelphia chapter of the Variety Club charity, was done with Winters as a booker, upset with the obvious racial overtones.

Winters was replaced by Gordon himself before Eddie Gilbert was brought in when the company debuted on Sportschannel Philadelphia.  In time, Gilbert too, was replaced by Paul Heyman.

Winters remained with the company as a wrestler and appeared on many ECW cards in the early 1990s, often teaming with Hotbody, including a run with the ECW Tag Team championships. Hotbody evenutally turned on Winters and the two faced off at the first major ECW supercard in the ECW Arena, the Super Summer Sizzler Spectacular.  His influence and placement on the cards, however, slowly slide downward.

Every Regime Falls.

Over time, however, as Paul Heyman began bringing in his own crew of fresher, younger talents and found the right mix and vibe for what would eventually become Extreme Championship Wrestling, the old TWA guard were gone, one by one. Winters, like Tony Stetson, Johnny Hotbody and others, were replaced by Taz, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer and others. In the end, only JT Smith and The Sandman remained before Sandman was last man standing.  The Goodhart era had laid the foundation and now the Heyman era was building the house. Nothing lasts forever, especially in pro wrestling.

Winters quietly faded away, although in the early 2000s, began making some appearances on the Philadelphia indy scene again for groups like the now-defunct Pro Wrestling Unplugged, billed as "The Living Legend", in part to play off of matches with Larry Zbsyzko in the AWA and Zbyszko using the same nickname, but also as a show of respect for Winters' part in the earliest era of independent Philly wrestling.

 

When several TWA reunion shows were booked in New Jersey, Winters was among the roster that returned, defeating former TWA regular Jimmy Jannetty. Johnny Hotbody was in his corner. The TWA shows eventually ran their course and once again, Winters quietly disappeared from the business.

In some ways, Winters' legacy will have been training The Sandman, who went on to become the most famous TWA roster member of all time, evolving into a legitimate draw and star in ECW as well as having runs in WCW and WWE.  But, there was a time where fans in the Northeast knew that brawls and blood meant D.C. Drake vs. Larry Winters was on the card, and those matches weren't going to let them down - and that too, should be the legacy Winters is remembered for in the business.

On behalf of everyone associated with PWInsider.com, we'd like to express our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of a true Philadelphia original, Larry Winters.

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