Taking Care of the Fans – After Refueled XVII
With the fans still buzzing about the way Refueled XVIII ended with the giant white ladder truck that allowed Max Kael to snatch the HOW Tag Team title belts hanging above the ring and win the match for the Group of Death, a line stretches up and around the corner in the concourse just outside Section 214.
Because thirty-five minutes after the show’s ended, Joe Bergman is still there, hanging out in the concourse, taking care of his people. He’s learned a few things over the years – it’s the retail part of the gig – one of the most important lessons is putting forth effort to cultivate and spending quality time with his supporters. It’s a simple thing he learned from Ray McAvay and his way of giving back to the people who’d supported him over the past year. So Joe leans against the wall and patiently spends time with every person who takes their time in waiting in line just to say hi, get an autograph, or get a picture taken with him.
“Your name is . . .” Joe says to a young boy looking up at him with a friendly smile.
The boy gives him his name. Joe signs his name on a promotional photo and hands it back to the youngster. Then he drops to a knee so his father can snap a picture of the two.
“Thank you for stopping by,” Joe says to them at the end.
Once done, the father and son move along and someone else takes his place. The cycle repeats itself over and over until finally about twelve-fifteen in the evening – with the remaining Allstate Arena staff on hand just dying to go home – the final autograph of the night gets signed and Joe grabs his things and gets ready to head out for the evening.
Do You Really Believe All That Stuff?
Twenty minutes later, Joe’s outside the Allstate Arena having a conversation with Brian Bare of all people in the parking lot heading towards their cars.
The roguish backstage interviewer grips a bottle of Jack Daniels tightly in his hand while matching Bergman’s walking pace stride for stride.
“. . .Joe I gotta ask, do you really believe all that stuff you’re saying?”
“All the stuff I’m saying?” Joe repeats back to him while hopping over a parking block.
“Yeah. All that crap about being for the people, standing with the people, your faction being the people.”
Joe rolls his eyes at the abject cynicism dripping through Bare’s road-weary voice. “Yes.”
“You really think you can survive in HOW without having someone watching your back?” Bare persists.
“Yes Brian.” Joe reaches in his pocket for the keys to his car.
Brian keeps on pushing. “I think you’re just saying that because it’s easy to just say that and it makes you look good.”
By now, Joe realizes why not many people choose to be interviewed by the ‘senior’ member of the HOW backstage interview team.
“With all due respect Brian, I’m not going to put a fake front out just for appearances. I can’t hide who I am,” Joe responds, trying not to allow any hint of aggravation or annoyance to creep into this voice. “I am who I am. Like it or not.”
Bare tries to cut in but now Joe’s not having any of it.
“And another thing Brian, I’m not going to be the equivalent of . . . “ Joe pauses and thinks of an adequate analogy. Then it comes to him. “I’m not going to be the equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival.”
This confuses Brian.
“The who what?”
“The Sundance Film Festival. Once upon a time Sundance claimed to be for the small-time, independent film creators until they turned around and allowed big money corporations and the media to turn it into a huge party for elitists, celebrities, and major studios. That’s not me.”
Bergman glances over to gauge Bare’s reaction. He’s not disappointed. Bare’s face is a mixture of glazed over indifference with the anticipation of how soon he’d be able to attack the bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand.
“Okay well whatever,” Bare finally says. “You have a good night.” He veers off and bolts towards his car in the parking lot. He does add a parting shot, “I sure will!”
Joe shakes his head and pulls the keys to his 2015 Volkswagen Jetta out of his pants pocket. After he unlocks the driver’s side door and throws his stuff over the front seat into the back, Joe settles into the driver’s seat and closes the driver’s side door. He catches one last glimpse of Bare pulling out of the parking lot and spinning his tires causing his beater vehicle to fish tail while hurtling towards the exit towards whatever party destination was in his immediate future.
Joe checks his cell phone. There’s a new text message that’s just popped up marked urgent. He opens up the text.
“Call me right away.”
Lake Worth, Texas -The Next Afternoon
Dawn McGill sits in a chair – one part of a fifteen chair circle located in a conference room at the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital.
The man next to her is in the process of wrapping up his confessional to the other fourteen people gathered within the circle.
Her hair disheveled, eyes bloodshot red, fidgeting with her fingers and playing absent-mindedly with the strap to her purse, Dawn dreads the moment when it’s her turn to talk. The six foot blonde leans back in her chair wearing a long coat, simple button down shirt and jeans. Her face tilts towards the sky. She exhales a long breath as a pair of soft hands provide a most welcome and reassuring touch on her shoulders.
The hands belong to Laura Bergman.
Standing next to her? Joe Bergman.
After leaving the Allstate Arena following Refueled XVIII, Joe called Laura and booked a red-eye flight out of O’Hare straight to Dallas and met his wife there.
Laura booked a flight out of Lincoln, Nebraska where she’d overseen a MVW show the night before and arrived in Dallas roughly about the same time her husband did.
Standing behind Joe and Laura? Dawn’s ex-husband Ray McAvay and his wife – one half of West Texas Adult Entertainment Legends ‘Dark and Stormy’ (she’s ‘Dark’) – Stacee Perry. Laura alerted Ray to the situation at hand so he also flew down direct to Dallas from the MVW house show in Lincoln with Stacee.
McAvay and McGill carved out a friendly working relationship after their divorce went final in 2017 and worked out a flexible shared parenting agreement with their children. Plus, they also managed to have a constructive working relationship at Missouri Valley Wrestling after Ray become the CEO- even though technically Dawn had retired (again) from pro wrestling but continued to make random appearances in MVW and even at a couple HOW shows.
Once the two couples met up at the luggage claim area of the DFW International Airport, all four drove right over to Dawn’s house and conducted what amounted to be an intervention at eight o’clock in the morning- even though to be fair Dawn didn’t put up much of a fight.
Hence why she now sits quietly but uncomfortably in her chair as the man next to her finally ends his remarks.
“All right,” says the facilitator of the group. “Dawn, you’re next.”
Dawn rocks a little in her seat with her arms folded in front. Nowhere to run now, she thinks to herself. Nowhere to hide. So what the hell, just do it and get it over with.
“My name is Dawn McGill,” she says in a slow but clear cadence, “and I am an alcoholic.”
She pauses and sneaks a quick look behind her. Joe, Laura, Ray, and Stacee all try to appear as supportive as possible.
“I’ve always had a . . . a drinking problem,” she begins in fits and starts, “but it didn’t really become a big issue until about five years ago even though alcohol did play a major part in my first marriage ending in divorce.” Dawn pauses. “Before that, I’d served in the military when I was younger and nearly lost my leg to an IED. The blast tore my knee up pretty bad. Thanks to a great doctor I was able to keep my leg. I worked like hell to rehab my leg to the point where first, I could walk normally, and two, I could work in the wrestling industry. However, I still had nightmares about the whole experience and I used to use alcohol to excess as a means of self-medication. It became a problem in 2012 and it got to the point where I left wrestling for over two years to focus on raising my child and getting myself straightened out.”
She pauses to catch her breath before pushing on.
“Then in late 2014, Lee Best called and wanted to know if I was interested in coming back. I missed wrestling . . . a lot. My drinking was under control. I was going to meetings and doing the things I needed to do. And I needed the money because I tried to bring PCW back from the dead earlier that year and lost my shirt along with a few other people. It was a big step but I thought at the time I could manage it and come back – let’s face it, I really wanted to come back but I didn’t think my knee would put up with the wear and tear. So Lee and I worked it out where I would come back as a manager and then I brought Ray McAvay with me to HOW. So everything was fine for the first few weeks. Ray won some matches and lost some matches. I was staying sober and managing McAvay and myself pretty well. Then the incident happened. It was at a HOW House Show in late February 2015 – a few shows before March 2 Glory,” Dawn continues, remembering and beginning to recount what went down that night in Chicago. “I was wrestling Jill Berg- the CEO of Jill Berg Enterprises. At the time, she hated the fact I was managing Ray because she wanted me to be a part of her organization. So she came to the ring with a proposition – and a briefcase full of money. If I defeated her, I got the briefcase. If she defeated me, I had to go to work for her. I knew I could beat her in a fair scrap, but I never should have agreed to the stipulation . . .”
Various images flash through her mind as she recounts what happened.
. . . she walked back to her corner, bent down and reached for her kendo stick.
Suddenly, one of Jill Berg’s bodyguards, slightly larger than the others, jumped on the ring apron. He grabbed her by the back of the neck and jumped down to the floor . . .
“ . . . my neck hit the top rope and I slingshot off the rope through the air and landed real hard on my back . . . “
. . . the bodyguard removed his helmet- it’s Austin Reeves. Reeves shook his head up and down and leered over at McGill- laying on the mat stunned.
“ . . . I tried to roll left and right . . . to regain my bearings. Reeves came over, pulled me up by my hair, and launched me head first into the corner turnbuckle . . .”
. . . she collided with the corner post hard. The impact dropped her to her knees and she fell against the turnbuckle. Reeves directed the other bodyguards to set up a table. Two bodyguards pulled a table out from under the ring and set it up outside the ring while Reeves climbed the turnbuckle to the top rope. The other bodyguards pulled McGill back to her feet and lifted her up to Reeves . . .
“ . . . Reeves put me into a sitting position on his shoulders and took off from the top, powerbombing me through the table with great force. The impact on the floor caused me to flip over and I landed face first on the remnants of the table.
. . . more than satisfied with his handiwork, Reeves pulled her limp body off the floor. He rolled her back into the ring. Standing over her unconscious opponent, Jill Berg smirks and placed her foot on McGill’s chest . . .
“. . . the referee made the count…1…2…3. And I was screwed. And after two weeks of working with Jill Berg Enterprises, I was drinking again . . . heavily. For the next two years after that, with the exception being the time I was pregnant with the twins, I drank. Except for the first couple months after Ray and I got married in 2015, I was unhappy. I was struggling with trying to juggle being a mother and working. I ran Missouri Valley Wrestling for a while and that dumped on even more stress and even more reasons to drink. I was miserable. At home, I could keep it together. But when the kids were with Ray and I was left by myself, it became a completely different situation. I kept making horrible decision after horrible decision in not only my personal life but it creeped into my wrestling life as well. My whole world started to spiral out of control. And then the DUI happened in 2017 . . . ”
Dawn looks down at the floor and tries to compose herself.
“. . . the DUI in 2017 happened. The worst night of my life. It was all over the news. Dawn McGill gets picked up for DUI. God I was so embarrassed. And I was ready to give up. The absolute low point. Rock bottom. I called Ray because I didn’t know who else to call and God bless him, he and Stacee came down and bailed me out the next morning and then drove me straight to a rehab facility.”
She allows a wry smile to form.
“It took me about six months, but I got my act together. And life returned to some semblance of normalcy. I got married . . . again, last year. I helped bring Joe into HOW, managed him for a while, tried to retire yet again, and then decided to manage him again. Which brings us to today.”
Dawn reaches down into her purse and pulls out a folding manila envelope with a sliver of paper sticking out of the top. She pulls out the paperwork from the envelope and throws it on the ground.
“Loser husband number three . . .” Dawn stops and turns back to Ray. “No offense.”
“Yeah, none taken,” Ray reassures her.
“This showed up right as I was leaving to fly to Chicago for Refueled XVII two weeks ago. The bastard hadn’t come home for almost a week and didn’t have the balls to face me and tell me he wanted a divorce.”
Joe interjects a quick point. “I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact you were blasting everything in sight with a steel folding chair.”
Dawn makes a face at him.
“Sorry,” Joe says and hides behind Laura.
Dawn continues: “I was so pissed off when I showed up at the Allstate Arena that night. Blaire Moise came up for a segment right before the Brenton Cross-Max Kael match. Joe was talking about losing to Max the week before and there’s nothing he could do now to win the LBI and for some reason I just snapped. I told Blaire we weren’t giving up and we were going to fight like hell to find a way for Joe to win the DeNucci Group – which I thought the way I said that completely caught Blaire off guard. After Blaire left, I went downstairs and waited for a chance. It came when Max pulled Joel Hortega in front of him when Cross tried to hit a crossbody and took him out. I jumped the rail, grabbed a steel folding chair, and went to hit Max. Max somehow saw me and moved at the last second and I missed. I took out Cross instead by mistake.”
She shakes her head in disbelief.
“You know, I was once powerbombed by Chris Kostoff so hard that it felt like I was being drawn and quartered.”
Dawn starts counting the points she’s making one finger at a time.
“I faced the wrath of Mike Best in 2009 at the WWR Supershow when he nearly finished the job on my bad knee the IED didn’t.”
“Austin Reeves. Actually, I can handle dealing with Joe wrestling Austin Reeves this weekend even though seeing Reeves brings back bad memories.”
“And that all was okay. But the one night that I had one job – find a way to get Joe into the semi-finals of the LBI, and when the time came to put Max’s lights out with a chairshot I missed?!?
“I missed. Missed.”
Four fingers, one thumb
“I never miss . . .”
Her voice sharply rises . . .
. . . and then as quickly drops to a whisper.
“But I did. I cost Joe any shot of winning the group.”
Dawn shakes her head again and wipes both eyes with her hand.
“And when it happened, I just dropped the chair and left. Something snapped inside of me. Everything boiled over and I didn’t know what to do so I just left the arena without returning to Section 214 and went straight home. Joe called trying to find where I’d gone off too. I didn’t answer. He kept calling even though I wouldn’t pick up the call. Laura tried calling. Ray tried. For two weeks in a row everyone kept calling. For two weeks, I didn’t have the guts to answer the phone. Finally, last night I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Dawn,” the facilitator steps in, “everyone has their breaking point. Just because you fell down in a moment of weakness doesn’t mean-”
“I’m sorry?” he returns, not sure he understands what she’s just said.
Dawn looks up and makes eye contact with the facilitator.
“I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to. I drove to the liquor store. I purchased the whiskey. I put it on the kitchen table. I even put a glass next to it. But I didn’t drink it. I stared at the damn bottle for hours upon hours . . . wanting to open that bottle . . . actually, craving to open that bottle and forget everything for a few precious hours . . . instead . . . instead of walking down that road again . . . I had a moment of clarity. I texted Joe. Joe called me right back and the next thing I know, four people show up at my front door at eight o’clock this morning and here I am.”
She draws in and then exhales another long breath and finishes up.
“I didn’t take the drink. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t need help. That’s why I’m here.”
Thursday March 5th – Super 8 by Wyndham – Chicago Northlake O’Hare South – Mannheim Road – Northlake, Illinois
The HOTv camera guy arrives at the door to room 115 aka Joe’s Super 8 hotel room.
Underneath the ‘115’ plate on the door there’s a piece of masking tape with ‘The Presidential Suite’ written on it with a Sharpie.
The camera guy chuckles at the impromptu sign on the door. Then he puts the card key into the slot and opens the door.
Inside is Joe Bergman. He’s just tossed his briefcase and travel bag on the bed having arrived in Chicago a few minutes earlier. Joe came in a couple days early in order to train at a local gym before his match Saturday night against Austin Reeves.
But first . . .
The camera guy cues Joe to begin and starts to film.
Joe Bergman: This would usually be the place where I’d start talking about how I’m choosing to remain independent in the face of the formation of the big bad Group of Death and its counterpart 24K. I’d then talk about wrestling for the people – ordinary people and that I’ll never compromise my principles and what I stand for, even if that means never winning another title in HOW. Then I’d say something about if I ever win another title in my HOW career, I’ll do it my way or I won’t do it at all. Then I’d talk about Austin Reeves – my opponent this week – and how I plan on winning this match.
Joe Bergman: But I’m not feeling it this week.
He turns and opens up his suitcase to begin unpacking his clothes for the next couple of days. Joe pulls out his cell phone and dials. He turns away from the camera.
Joe Bergman: Hey Dawn. How was your day?
He nods and listens as she talks.
Joe Bergman: Good . . . good. Hey. Did you get the gift I sent you?
Joe smiles when Dawn asks him why the hell he sent her a fruit basket.
Joe Bergman: It’s a long story. . .