By Mike Mooneyham

July 15, 2007

One can’t seem to mention pro wrestling these days without reflecting on the recent tragedy involving Chris Benoit.

And that’s quite natural considering the relevance and gravity of the subject matter.

But United Wrestling Federation founder and promoter Hermie Sadler is looking forward to providing a respite for local wrestling fans when he brings his outfit into town Thursday night with a “good, old-fashioned wrestling show” at Rick Hendrick Jeep Chrysler on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.

“What happened in the Benoit tragedy doesn’t have anything to do with wrestling,” says Sadler. “I can’t imagine what may have gone through Chris Benoit’s mind or what was going on with him personally to make something like that happen. I think that whole incident far transcends anything that wrestling is all about.”

Sadler harkens back to the day when wrestling was a weekly ritual for families across the country.

“To me growing up as a kid, I enjoyed going to wrestling shows and being entertained, having a good time and having a nice night out with the family. That’s what our shows are built around. We can’t change anything that’s happened as far as that (Benoit tragedy) is concerned, but what we can do is bring a fun, family-friendly, kid-friendly event to Charleston so the people know that when done the right way, wrestling can be very entertaining for the entire family.”

hermiesadler2The UWF show is chockfull of talent and puts the spotlight on tag-team wrestling, a seemingly lost art in today’s mat business, with some of the top duos in the profession competing in the first round of the inaugural Rock ‘N Roll Express Tag-Team Tournament. The double-elimination tourney continues Friday night at the NASCAR Sports Grille in Myrtle Beach and will conclude the following evening at the Township Auditorium in Columbia.

The original Rock ‘N Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), for whom the tournament is named, will make an appearance at the show as one of the competing teams. The Express dominated the tag-team scene in the ’80s when they held the NWA world tag-team title on four different occasions. Rick and Scott Steiner, one of the most celebrated teams of the ’90s, also will join forces for the tourney.

“Big Papa Pump” Scott Steiner, who recently underwent trachea surgery after suffering an injury during a tour of Puerto Rico, will make his in-ring return with UWF at Thursday night’s event.

“He’s going to work the show,” says Sadler. “He’s been back training, he’s going to make his in-ring return for us on this three-day tournament to kind of knock the rust off and go from there.”

Sadler says he’s excited that two of the most decorated teams in the history of the business will be on hand.

“When you think about The Rock ‘N Roll Express and when you think about the Steiner Brothers and some of the new-generation guys like LAX (Latin American Exchange) … it’s shaping up to be a great event.”

Also reuniting on the show is former WWE tag-team champs Too Cool – Grand Master Sexay (Brian Christopher), son of Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Scotty Too Hotty (Scott Garland).

One of the tourney favorites, LAX (Homicide and Hernandez), will be accompanied by pro wrestling star Konnan (Carlos Ashenoff), who recently parted ways with TNA and has been vocal regarding industry reform in the wake of the Benoit tragedy.

Also featured will be two teams which got their start in the North Carolina-based OMEGA promotion founded by Jeff and Matt Hardy and former College of Charleston professor Thomas Simpson. Joey Matthews (Adam Birch), who most recently appeared in WWE as Joey Mercury, will reform his team with fellow OMEGA alum Christian York. Team Mackion (Kirby and TJ Mack), a high-flying twosome spawned by The Hardys, will bring their exciting aerial game to the tourney.

“They came and kind of filled in for us one night, and they helped us set up and take down the ring,” says Sadler. “We thought about using them and putting them in the ring, and they put on some of the best tag-team matches we’ve ever had in our promotion. Since then, they’ve been full-time on the roster and we love having them. The fans love them. It happened by chance, but it certainly worked out for us.”

For old-school fans, there’s The Old School Empire and The Extreme Horsemen (Steve “The King of Old School” Corino and “Enforcer” C.W. Anderson). Rounding out the competition will be TNA performers The Naturals (Chase Stevens and Andy Douglas) and Diamonds in the Rough (Elix Skipper and David Young).

Sadler, 1993 NASCAR Busch Series Rookie of the Year and brother of Nextel Cup driver Elliott Sadler, hopes the show will attract fans who enjoy a highly athletic form of wrestling as well as a wholesome, fan-friendly version.

“Charleston’s always been a great wrestling town as far as I’m concerned,” says Sadler, who also serves as a racing analyst on the Speed network. “We had a great show at The Plex last year, and we think with the talent we’ve got on our roster this year – the TNA talent as well as some of the other talent outside of TNA – it strengthens the card even more.”

The tournament, he says, will provide some interesting matchups.

“Being a big fan of wrestling and a big fan of tag-team wrestling, I’m really looking forward to the weekend myself.”

Also making appearances on the show will be former WCW valet Daffney and four-time WWE women’s champ Amy “Lita” Dumas, who will do an after-party show at The Plex with her punk band The Luchagors. Anyone with a ticket to the wrestling show will get free admission to the party at The Plex.

Longtime WWE senior official Earl Hebner, who gained notoriety for his role as referee in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” at the 1997 Survivor Series, will be on hand as well.

“There’s going to be a little something for everybody,” says Sadler. “If you’re 7 years old or 70 years old, we’re going to have somebody on that show that’ll you enjoy seeing.”

Ten teams will be competing in the tourney, but a bout that could steal match-of-the-night honors is a three-way featuring “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles, “Canadian Destroyer” Petey Williams and “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal.

“They’re three of the best athletes I’ve ever seen in the ring at one time. That’s going to be an awesome match,” says Sadler.

Doors open for Ultimate Experience meet-and-greet ticketholders at 6 p.m. and at 7 p.m. for the general public. Bell time is 8 p.m. General admission is $10, Ringside Gold Circle is $20 and Ultimate Experience is $50.

“It’ll be a full night of action. For about 10 bucks, you can be entertained from six o’clock to about midnight, so it’s pretty cheap entertainment from our side.”

In the case of rain, says Sadler, the wrestling show will move to The Plex. But he adds that they’ve had great success with outdoor shows under the lights. “We’ve had a lot of fun doing outside venues. But we don’t want weather to be an issue.”

– The first two callers with correct answers to the following question will each win a pair of Ultimate Experience passes to the UWF show. The question is: Who is TNA senior official Earl Hebner’s favorite referee of all time? Call (843) 937-5517 and leave your answer (one answer per entrant).

– For more information concerning the UWF show and other wrestling updates, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.

– Wrestling For Jesus will hold a benefit show Aug. 25 at B&H Banquet Hall, 1505 W. North St., Summerville. Among those performing will be former NWA world champ Ron “The Truth” Killings, Chris Hamrick, Dynamite Dave, T-Money and more. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12, and children under 6 are free. All proceeds go to Dell Atkinson, who in on a breathing machine, unable to move anything from her neck down, after suffering complications following quadruple bypass heart surgery in May 2006. For advance tickets or more information, call Willie Atkinson at 926-5774.