The first two articles have been about the basics of being involved in the wrestling business from the perspective of a referee, but there are so many intangibles about being “in the biz” that do not even necessarily take place in the ring.
Some of the best moments in wrestling are those spent meeting people and traveling. In future articles, I will go in depth on the travel life of an indy ref, but this week, I wanted to discuss someone who had a huge influence on my career, the recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee Paul Bearer aka Percival Pringle III aka William Moody or as he was known to us, “Uncle Percy.”
Many people remember Paul Bearer from his amazing run with The Undertaker that spanned decades. He was one of those men that simply transcended the business and was a part of popular culture. Years after his initial run with Undertaker had completed, he was still brought onto WWE television from time to time, almost always to be assaulted by one member of the roster or another. He was one of those larger than life characters that you see on TV and are just drawn to because of how amazing they are at their job.
Percy had incredible longevity in wrestling because of his incredible ability to manage just about anyone. He immediately legitimized that person because of the incredible group of people he had worked with over the years. Even as his time in WWE became less and less frequent, he remained incredible active on the independent circuit and that is where our stories interjected. There is a national television promotion in Los Angeles called “Championship Wrestling from Hollywood,” and they began to use Uncle Percy on a frequent basis as their show started. I came into the fold after Percy had already been a part of the show for more than a year. For the first several shows that we worked together, I simply shook his hand, said, “Nice to see you,” and continued to the “referee’s corner” of the locker room. He was a legend hanging out with the main eventers and I was just a young referee. The trajectories of our careers couldn’t have been any different. His was sky high and mine was barely off the ground.
As time progressed, Percy began to come to Los Angeles more frequently and he began to make friends with more of the roster than he already had. We had so many mutual friends, that finally at one show almost three years ago, I was finally formally introduced to William “Uncle Percy” Moody and it was one of those moments I will never forget as long as I live. It is incredible whenever you meet someone who is a celebrity, but to meet someone at the level of Percy Pringle III, a rock star in our industry. In wrestling, there is a very serious pecking order and on the scale referee’s are at the absolute bottom, so it was only natural for me to be a bit shocked when this man who is beyond the top to take the time to shake my hand and say hello. For him, it was the smallest of gestures, for me it was something that completely changed my outlook on professional wrestling and life for that matter. I had always been taught that these people were coworkers and to treat them as such, but it was just too damn difficult. This man was responsible for quite possibly one of the biggest acts in the history of professional wrestling.
After meeting him a few times, I began to forge a friendship with him. Percy, even with his stature in the business, was by far the most approachable person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. My trainers had always told me, if you get the chance to sit and talk to a legend, take as much time as you can and take advantage of it, because you never know when it will dry up. So, every time I saw him, I began to talk to him, and with each conversation we became a little closer. I would just sit with him in his locker room while he ate his lunch and listen to him gripe about the independents and about life and wrestling. There were three things Percy and I connected on and truly believe they were three of his favorite things in life: country music, Alabama football (even though I am a diehard UCLA Bruins fan), and wrestling. We could talk literally for hours, sometimes to the point, where the production assistants would come looking for me or for Percy for us to do our respective spots on the show.
Sadly, in the two years plus that I knew Percy, I never once got to referee a match that he was involved in and looking back on that, it was my biggest regret. However, the things that Percy gave to me were much bigger than anything you can get in the ring. He gave me encouragement and the idea that I was worth something. He very easily could have just said his hellos and walked away, but he always took the time to make me feel like I was a legend, instead of just a referee.
At this point in my career and in my life, I was dealing with some very serious demons. There was a small group of guys that stayed along with me during that ride and Percy was one of them. It amazed me that a man that had seen it all and had been everywhere would not only take the time to get to know me, but would actually care enough to check on me and single me out as one of his favorites. I do not think Percy will ever realize the impact that he had on me during that time, but the issues I was having were taking a serious toll on my life and his support was something that meant so much to me.
I really only got to know Percy well for about two and a half years and of that time we only really bonded at shows and via the occasional text message or Twitter back-and-forth. But, our times at shows were some of the best moments of my career and things I will never forget. I would like to take some time to share some of my favorite Percy stories. The moments that you never think truly matter, but make the biggest difference. Uncle Percy had an infectious laugh and smile and was one of the funniest, most laid back people you could ever meet, but when it came to college football, he was serious as they came. He was a Mobile, Alabama, and, man oh man, did he love Alabama football. And boy, did I love to get him riled up talking about it. I remember a particular occasion before Alabama was set to go to go their conference title game and I walked up to him and simply asked him, “What does Alabama football and a porn star have in common?” Well, Percy stopped dead in his tracks and stopped talking and looked at me. I remember thinking, oh crap, I just crossed that line and now he will not want to talk to me anymore. Well the exact opposite occurred, he turned around and said, “I don’t know, Stone, is it that they both get paid lots of money to go all the way, unlike your Bruins, who simply choke at the start!” That was Percy in a nutshell, quicker than hell on his feet and crazy smart. I could write hundreds of pages simply on the stories that occurred, but there is an old adage in wrestling that is a parallel to what happens in Vegas. However, that is still one of my all-time favorite moments with Percy.
As time progressed, I started to become more and more comfortable as a referee and decided it was time to make a move and change and went to Florida to train with the Dudley Boys and many people did
not understand or approve of my intent to move onto another area and try something different. Well, good ol’ Percy was one of the few positive people who was behind my idea. I remember one of the last shows we worked together before I decided to move to Florida and he told me that not a single star in professional wrestling ever made it by sitting around waiting for opportunities to happen. In fact, back when he first started in the territory days of wrestling, if you did not move every six to eight months, you could not be successful. That meant the world to me that he cared enough to not only give me these words of advice but really give me the PP3 stamp of approval, something that meant more to me than just about anyone else’s advice. So, in February of 2012, I packed up my car and drove from Los Angeles to Kissimmee, Florida to train under the Dudleys and on my way out to Florida, Percy was kind enough to invite to come have lunch in Mobile, unfortunately, my route missed his bedtime and I was never able to make it to see him. That is another one of the big regrets I will have forever. I can only imagine the great advice he would have had for me had I gone out to dinner and listened to him more.
Well sadly, I was only able to stay in Florida for about six months, and upon my return, the same people who had doubted me from the start began to flap their gums about how I should not try stuff like that and that I had failed. Well, once again, good old Percy set me straight. He told me that everyone was going to be a nay sayer and that they had their opinions based on jealousy or preconceived notions and that to listen to them and by proxy give up on my dreams would only be proving those same people right and that it did not matter what happened, I should continue to do what I was doing. I could continue on for another hundred pages about how Percy was always one of the few guys that was positive and gave me the will to continue, but instead, I will leave it with this.
Percy was one in a million. He was beyond a rock star and a legend in our sport and yet was one of the most humble, incredibly engaging, friendly, hilarious people you could ever meet. He gave every single person he knew a chance to show him the good in them. He befriended just about everyone he met in Southern California and such a large impact on a huge number of guys’ careers. Percy was not only a friend to me; he was a mentor and someone I will never forget. March 5, 2013, is a day I will never forget because it is the day, I lost the first person I was legitimately close within the wrestling business. Percy never had to take the time to get to know any of us; he could have simply given us a handshake and a hello and gone about his day. But, that was what made Percy so damn special. He never saw the difference in the levels on the totem pole, he simply saw human beings. I have to admit I have not cried as hard since his passing as I did when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. It was a fitting end to the life and career of one of wrestling’s greatest. Thank you Percy, for being a friend, a mentor, and someone I could truly look up to. You will forever be in my heart and mind and I love you for all that you did for my career. Whenever I think of the good times I have had in wrestling, you are certainly in most of them. And, in honor of Percy, “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!”