Remembering Bill Kunkel: The ‘Desert Deathmatch?’

While most of my brushes with Bill Kunkel deal with video games, he was also a player in the professional wrestling industry in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He had stints with magazines and radio shows under the moniker “Potshot,” which I saw him use in a few of his online usernames, and I was able to hear a few short stories from him about working on the first video game that ever featured the WWF license – MicroLeague Wrestling for various computer formats.

Thinking back, I really wished I would have talked up pro wrestling more with Bill. I didn’t have much access to professional wrestling growing up, and never got the chance to fully get into it until the mid-1990s. It was in the mid-2000s that I started becoming aware of the multitude of VHS tapes available of the pay-per-view events held throughout history, so it took a while for 1980s wrestling to hit my radar. Going back and looking at what Bill covered in the realm of professional wrestling makes me wonder how many stories he could have shared about the biggest names in wrestling of the previous decades.

I was able to meet up with Bill at the 2009 VGXPO event held in Philadelphia, and one of the guests of the show was The Blue Meanie. So, at some point during the show, Bill and I made the rounds of the exhibition hall and stopped to talk to him. Bill spoke with him and shared stories he had with Stevie Richards, one of The Blue Meanie’s cohorts in the Blue World Order stable.

The VGXPO had a successful year in 2008, but for 2009 it made promises for a bigger event and did not have nearly the attendance to back that up. The attendance was so sparse for the huge event that it put a lot of the vendors and guests in a disappointed mood, and, from my perspective, I think that carried over to The Blue Meanie at this time. At this point in the event, it was clear there was a dark cloud lingering around VGXPO’s future, so I’m not speaking ill of The Blue Meanie, but at this time, he seemed like he would have rather been anywhere else but VGXPO. And, believe me, being at the event over that weekend, I completely understand that if that was the case.

After a little bit of time, Bill kind of threw in the towel on trying to make conversation. We walked around an area that had a couple of independent wrestlers at the time, and that was about the extent of my pro wrestling interactions with Bill.

However, there is an email exchange between Bill and I that always sticks out in my mind. I don’t quite recall how the conversation got to this point, but he relayed a story from his time working with “Hotline” Ric Carter.

It wasn’t until I recently revisited this email that I decided to look more into Ric Carter, and I’m equally impressed with what he was able to accomplish along with Bill. It seems Ric Carter had a professional wrestling radio show that featured some very notable talent. It comes nearly two decades too late, but I was disheartened to learn Ric Carter is also no longer with us, which was shared by Bill, but I only recently learned the details – Ric was a victim of a hit and run after he left his vehicle to try to assist someone whose vehicle became disabled alongside a highway.

Pro wrestling certainly seemed like a completely different beast with every decade that passed. It’s unfortunate that I am just now starting to realize some of these windows into the past are possibly starting to close – how many magazines/newsletters, radio shows or local television broadcasts will be lost to time before we can round them up for others to learn from?

Well, here is a story Bill Kunkel shared to me about some very notable pro wrestling names, which I’m going to pass along for the very first time:

“I will tell you about the time I was doing a wrestling radio show in Vegas around ’89 with my late friend, ‘Hotline’ Ric Carter. We had Mick Foley on the phone for an interview, and I mentioned that I felt he was transforming into a bump machine – gaining weight to absorb bumps and becoming a stuntman rather than a wrestler – and he didn’t take it well at first.

“‘Excuse me, are you saying I’m not an athlete?” he demanded, and I smartassed, ‘So, Mick, if you’re an athlete, what’s your training regimen? You eat a Big Mac and jump off a cliff?’

“He actually laughed at that and it seemed cool. Anyway, he wrestled at the Silver Nugget a couple of weeks later and, for some reason, became convinced that it was my partner Ric who had besmirched his athleticism.

“So he’s in the ring with Sabu (this is the show where they went into business for themselves, ran upstairs into the casino and did a piledriver spot on a live 21 table, much to the displeasure of the Nevada Gaming Commission), and during a rest spot, he grabs the ring mic and starts screaming: ‘You c*cks*cker Ric Carter, you don’t think I’ve got it any more?! I’ll show you what I’ve got left!’

“This became a recurring theme throughout the match, but during the break Ric went to Mick to apologize and Mick laughed it off – especially when he found out it was somebody else mouthing off. He gave Ric a Cactus Jack T-shirt with his actual blood on it and signed it. It remained one of Ric’s most prized possessions until the day he died (auto accident).

“Mick and Sabu had two matches at a Vegas dump called the Silver Nugget (NEVER to be confused with the Golden Nugget), and after they did the piledriver spot on the live blackjack table, the promoter actually got clearance for a second match a month later. But the Gaming Commish insisted it be a steel cage match and the wrestlers stay the hell away from the casino.”

I recently decided to dig into this information, and, while the year doesn’t quite seem to match, I have to believe Bill was referring to the National Wrestling Conference’s “Desert Death Match” between Sabu and Cactus Jack. It has a spot where Mick suddenly grabs the mic and starts yelling (I can’t tell exactly what he says in this video) and it absolutely has the brawl between the wrestlers in the casino instead of the pavilion where the ring is located.

As the wrestlers leave the ring area, the cameras struggle to catch up with them so the piledriver is not shown, but the commentator exclaims, “And Cactus Jack has just delivered a PILEDRIVER to Sabu on the blackjack table!” They continue to brawl in the casino area while an elderly lady stares daggers through Cactus Jack and Sabu.

Looking at more National Wrestling Conference content, Sabu and Cactus Jack did indeed meet once again three months later. This was billed as “Desert Deathmatch 2: Cage of Weapons,” which, as Bill described did take place inside of a steel cage. To further support what Bill was talking about, the match starts with the commentator stating the Nevada State Athletic Commission mandated the cage in order to protect the casino’s patrons.

I’m glad I came across these matches, as they are entertaining to watch even today. It gives you a glimpse at some early ’90s action that measures up to what most people associate with the Extreme Championship Wrestling style of match. And, I mean, they did a piledriver on a blackjack table. What more do you want?

The best part of this to me is I likely have some context now as to what Bill was sharing with this story. Seeing these events unfold in a real-time manner thanks to the archives of YouTube puts a big smile on my face!

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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