A rarer sight in 2019, jobbers and journeyman wrestlers were a frequent fixture on fan’s screens in the 80s and 90s. There’s an unsung art to making a big star look good, albeit a certain cult status; few fans of the time have forgotten Barry Horowitz, Reno Riggins, or Duane Gill, while their star opponent of the week may have slipped from memory.
‘Pin Me, Pay Me – Have Boots, Will Travel’, the autobiography of Bobby ‘Blaze’ Smedley, provides a behind-the-scenes look at a life spent looking up at the lights rather than celebrating beneath them.
After seeing a ‘Handsome’ Jimmy Valiant promo on TV in the late 70s as a young boy, Smedley sets his sights on becoming a pro wrestler in an attempt to appease his uncaring father. Blaze is extremely open and frank about the effect his father issues have on him as a man, as well as how severe childhood ailments curbed him from playing sports as a kid.
Overcoming the latter, Smedley becomes a regular attendee at wrestling events, drops out of college at 21, and makes his pro debut in September of 1988. Not smartened up to the business, Blaze recounts the experience of his first match, after which he competes in a number of other matches under such gimmicks as Kendo The Samurai and The Scarecrow.
Falling under the tutelage of The Great Malenko, Bobby is really put through the wringer, with training techniques ranging from comprehensive to torturous. “Conditioning is your best hold” says Malenko, with Blaze agreeing that the training made him the professional he became. This allows him to get some bookings in Canada and Florida, before the World Wrestling Federation comes calling and Smedley, unexpectedly, turns them down.
Blaze is quickly booked on a tumultuous tour of South Africa, which provides a fascinating glimpse of a rarely seen side of wrestling and a country in flux. Things improve on an Australian tour alongside everyone from Jake “The Snake” Roberts to Jushin Liger. Shortly after returning to the USA, Blaze begins the most well-known part of his career with Smokey Mountain Wrestling.
As the underdog ‘No-Quit Kid’, Smedley upsets TV champion Tony Anthony and begins a programme with Killer Kyle, clearly a favorite opponent. Blaze is less enamored with the news that he will face new UFC Heavyweight Champion, Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn for SMW, though rebounds some time later with a Heavyweight Championship reign in Smokey Mountain before heading to Japan.
The chapter covering his time with Michinoku Pro is another highlight of the book, again casting light on a rarely documented promotion. It’s then that he is recruited to the biggest promotion at that time, World Championship Wrestling. Coming in during 1997, arguably the apex of the promotion, Blaze’s account of his two years there is compelling, and his comments about Eric Bischoff very telling. Rebounding from his 1999 release, he tours England, hilariously being misnamed by a ring announcer as “Blobby.” The main story ends with Smedley, heartwarmingly, getting qualified and finding a way out of the business, before launching into a coda where he salutes wrestlers who have passed. His comments on Chris Candido are particularly affecting.
Blaze is thankful for all of his opportunities, and comes across as a very humble individual. He’s clearly well-liked, with Jim Cornette providing a foreword and several in the industry singing his praises. Smedley must be applauded for not shying away from the dark side of the business too, although there are plenty of moments of laughter, from Don Muraco’s beer-drinking habits, to tales of Cornette, to suplexing a little person.
The book stumbles in other ways; the story bounces around a lot, and Blaze has a tendency to state his opinions at great length, breaking the momentum of his story. At worst, it sounds like soapboxing, but at other times he makes salient points that students of the game would be wise to heed. Bobby makes no apologies for his viewpoint, and is eager to make out that he is an accepting person, though at points the book uses language that some may find offensive.
Despite these issues, ‘Pin Me, Pay Me – Have Boots, Will Travel’ is an entertaining read that casts light on aspects of the business you may not have thought about from a host it’s hard to dislike.