Wrestling first took hold of Smedley as a kid attending matches at the Ashland, Kentucky, National Guard Armory, the town’s version of The Omni. Years later I worked with him at the Ashland YMCA and watched him move up the card under the ring name “Bobby Blaze,” wrestling in exotic foreign countries and in regional school gyms. The arc of his career came when he defeated Jerry “The King” Lawler for the Smoky Mountain Championship.
Like prior published memoirs by Ric Flair or Rowdy Roddy Piper, this tale is not full exposure, but an explanation for those marks who became wise. A wealth of wrestling knowledge, the author goes beyond the good-versus-evil plotlines, the baby face against the heel, and takes the reader further into locker room dynamics and jargon. For example, a “potato” is a real, solid punch delivered in the ring, whether by accident or design. A “jobber” is a lesser-known wrestler who takes a fall for a star—an unfair pejorative in Smedley’s view as all professions have entry-level and supporting roles. And the “gorilla curtain” is wrestling’s equivalent to the on-deck circle.
Anyone who watched wrestling in the 1980s and ‘90s will admire this tale of a determined athlete who encountered notable wrestlers (the subtitle is Have Boots Will Travel). It will jar your memory of ring greats like Terry Funk, Bob’s chief mentor Boris Malenko, and the tennis racquet-wielding Jim Cornette. I found myself on YouTube reliving some classic bouts and heated rivalries.
His is also a commentary on how the regionalized wrestling business evolved into “Sports Entertainment” ala Vince McMahon. “[T]he guys of yesteryear didn’t need to rehearse for or go over their lines for a promo,” Bob declares, “They knew what they were talking about because they weren’t acting or playing wrestler . . . They were that character.”
Bobby Blaze’s story explains the ups and downs of such a career, reminiscent of the movie The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke. At the peak of the business, the accepted worldwide total number of guys making a legitimate living in the ring was 460. Bob reflects, “I was lucky enough to be one of them.” He also made Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 list several times, peaking at 109.
Those of us who know him, know Bob as a thinker, a reader, an athlete, and a showman. You will hear Bob’s original voice throughout this well-written memoir as he espouses the Smedley philosophy. He claims, “I’m probably the dumbest educated guy you’ll ever meet,” but don’t let him fool you. He delivers a few potatoes of his own. The reader becomes engrossed in a technical explanation of the business only to get struck by a hilarious sidebar or the recap of a lurid escapade. The book, like Bob, can be a bit repetitive. Yet, he is a walking catalogue of one-liners. There’s enough innuendo to keep the reader thinking.
He ends with his own tribute to those notable grapplers who’ve moved on rather early to that ring in the sky—an additional commentary on the institution.
As the author warns with his own caveat emptor in the introduction, Pin Me, Pay Me is not Sunday school reading. His life and this business is strewn with ups and downs, some cheap shots, questionable behavior, all delivered with straight talk. I enjoyed it all, and so will you.