By Mike Mooneyham

April 20, 2007

Deep South Wrestling has officially closed its doors.

Its parent company, WWE, severed ties with the Atlanta-based developmental territory last week following several months of speculation.

Former pro wrestling star Jody Hamilton, who was in charge of the Deep South operation, said the move caught him by surprise.

“It’s the wrestling business. (It) happens, and you’ve just got to learn to live with it. I’ve been in this business 51 years, and this is certainly not the most catastrophic thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Hamilton, who with the late Tom Renesto formed one of wrestling’s greatest masked teams, The Assassins, during the ’60s and ’70s.

Deep South held its inaugural show on Sept. 1, 2005. Last year the company secured a time slot on Comcast Sports South on Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. It often booked WWE talent, particularly at its big events at Six Flags Over Georgia, and ran house shows in nearby Georgia towns.

Hamilton, former director of WCW’s Power Plant, said the company had made strong inroads and had cultivated a loyal following for its weekly programs.

“We have some great talent down here – much better than a lot of the guys they have up there already. We had a great executive producer who did magical things with some not really expensive equipment. We built a very strong fan base here. I had seven more shows booked with Six Flags this season. But they’re (WWE) the big boys on the block, and they make the decisions.”

The move, which had been rumored for several months, was made official Wednesday following an evaluation by WWE official Bruce Prichard and a hastily arranged meeting.

Tom Prichard, Bruce’s older brother and head trainer at Deep South, called for the meeting with Deep South talent Wednesday evening at the McDonough, Ga., training facility. Hamilton said he wasn’t aware of the meeting until he was tipped off by one of his students.

WWE talent relations chief John Laurinaitis met with the Deep South crew for about 10 minutes before officially informing Hamilton that WWE was terminating the company’s association with the group.

Hamilton said the quick notice has caused problems with Deep South sponsors, including the Six Flags amusement park, where a show had been booked for Saturday night. “Six Flags has to be unhappy because they put a lot of money and advertising into this thing.” Hamilton added that he wasn’t even sure if WWE owner Vince McMahon was aware of the decision.

“Everybody tries to dump a lot of heat on Vince, but I’m not sure all this heat lies with Vince. I don’t think he has time to oversee every little detail of the company. I think a lot of stuff is done without his prior knowledge, and he probably doesn’t find out about it until after the fact. Then it’s already done, and it’s too late to undo it.”

The relationship between WWE and its training program reportedly soured following the removal of Bill DeMott as head trainer at the facility in January. Hamilton raised the ire of some company officials when he lashed out at WWE after DeMott’s ouster.

Hamilton posted in an early blog that the release had come as “a shock to everyone at Deep South Wrestling.”

“I love Bill DeMott as if he were my own son,” Hamilton said after DeMott’s firing. “Everyone needs to know Deep South Wrestling played no part in his release. On behalf of everyone here at DSW, I want Bill and everyone to know that I will always be his friend and biggest supporter. I don’t understand why this happened and the reasons I have been given as to why it happened don’t hold water.”

“This has been a gut-wrenching weekend for both me and my poor wife who is still crying over this,” Hamilton added. “If having the ability to shed tears is the sign of a real man, then I guess I am one (helluva) stud.”

Hamilton later removed the more controversial comments that had been posted online about DeMott’s removal, but it was a public sign of the friction that had been brewing between WWE and Hamilton.

“I voiced my disdain over how they did it,” Hamilton said, “so I got a lot of heat over that. They’re control freaks, and I’m not going to be controlled. There’s a difference between controlled and being expected to cooperate. I’ll cooperate and do whatever the office requires me to do, but as far as them dominating me and controlling every aspect, then I really can’t do them any good under those conditions. I’m not being me. I’m being what they’re telling me to be.”

Tom Prichard took DeMott’s spot as head coach at Deep South.

“I did everything I possibly could to smooth the way for him,” said Hamilton. “There was a lot of sentiment against the office and against him when he first started.”

Hamilton said DeMott was a valauble asset to the operation.

“Bill was a motivator and an office guy from the get-go. He was 100 percent loyal to the company and to the office. When these guys are getting paid to go down there and learn their craft, and when there are slackers who don’t want to put forth the effort that is required to learn their craft properly, then Bill used to get on their (behind). Bill was a little gruff in his speech and so on, and somebody sent an anonymous letter and an anonymous e-mail to the office. It got to the legal department, and the legal department asked Laurinaitis about it, and Bill was fired. I’m not going to judge whether he was right or wrong in firing Bill. All I can do is judge on how I’ve been treated. And I think in this particular case I’m getting the (short) end of the stick.”

The move leaves the Louisville-based Ohio Valley Wrestling as the only developmental territory at this point. The talent from Deep South who will be retained by the company will be moved to OVW or to an unnamed facility in Florida.

Among the current WWE stars who trained in Deep South are Great Khali, The Miz, MVP, Matt Striker, and Deuce and Domino.

Hamilton said he’s not sure where his future in the wrestling business will take him.

“I’m just going to ride the crest of the wave and see what happens. They jerked everything out from underneath me. I sold all my rings when I started with them, because they want you to use their regulation, 20-foot rings with ropes that are always breaking. So I don’t have any rings or anything right now.”

– Traveling abroad always seems to provide its share of memorable moments for the WWE crew, and the group’s recent tour of Europe was no exception.

Everyone is breathing much easier following a scare Monday night when the WWE-chartered plane blew an engine on the runway of the airport in Milan, Italy, where the company had just held a special Raw taping.

“Everyone is OK,” road agent Tim White told the WWE Web site following the nerve-wracking experience. “Thankfully, the engine blew on the ground and not over the Atlantic.”

According to reports, the plane was taxying on the runway and the engine was revved too high, causing the engine fumes to heat up to more than 900 degrees – roughly two-and-a-half times the normal temperature the engine should operate at. At that point, a rod may have snapped, causing the engine to blow.

“I was sitting near the front (of the plane) and didn’t hear anything,” said White. “But the mechanic said those sitting near the engine would have heard a pop.”

Alternative travel plans were made, and the following night’s show in Rome went off smoothly.

– Randy Orton was sent home from the WWE European tour due to disciplinary reasons.

This latest incident is just another reason why Orton’s maturity level has kept the 27-year-old star out of serious consideration for another WWE title run.

Orton, whose out-of-the-ring behavior has prompted a number of suspensions and disciplinary actions, sports a less-than-glowing track record. Prior to his wrestling career, he was dishonorably discharged from the Marines for going AWOL for an extended period of time, and for disobeying an order from a commanding officer.

– Ohio Valley Wrestling’s Boris Alexiev is playing the role of new Intercontinental champ Santino Marella. The newcomer, billed from Italy, made his official WWE debut by upsetting Umaga for the title Monday night in Milan.

The wrestler, whose real name is Anthony Carelli, attracted some unwanted attention a couple of years ago when he was slapped backstage by then-OVW boss Jim Cornette. Carelli, who had been sitting in the audience during an OVW taping, drew the fiery Cornette’s wrath when he laughed at the sight of the hideous Boogeyman instead of feigning fear.

As a result, Cornette later was relieved of his duties as OVW booker, opening the door for Paul Heyman to come in and take charge of the developmental territory. Heyman immediately selected Alexiev as a pet project, capitalized on the OVW student’s shootfighting experience and christened him Boris Alexiev.

– TNA’s Chris Harris and James Storm put in a strong bid for “Worst Match of the Year” with their embarrassingly bad blindfold bout at last Sunday’s Lockdown pay-per-view. It was, as Jim Ross might say, “bowling shoe ugly.”

Once regarded as one of the top teams in the business, the ex-America’s Most Wanted partners stumbled and bumbled around the ring like a pair of chickens with their heads cut off. The bout conjured up some pretty bad memories of a similar match between Rick Martel and Jake Roberts at Wrestlemania VII where the two hooded competitors aimlessly searched for one another in the ring.

– Abyss (Chris Park) suffered a severe laceration that required 60 stitches to close at last week’s TNA taping.

– Old School Championship Wrestling will hold a show April 29 at Weekend’s Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. Main event is The Barbarian vs. Josh Mangum, with Mykata vs. Italian Ice in the semifinal. Bell time is 6 p.m. Admission is $8 at the door. For more information, call 824-1477.