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21st Century Old-School: The Levi Shapiro Interview

Ever since I started to watch Championship Wrestling from Hollywood a little over a year ago, Levi Shapiro has been a performer that has gotten me excited as soon as I’ve seen that he is on the card; he’s that damn good.

A classic heel in the Mid-South/Mid-Atlantic Ted Dibiase/Barry Windham mold, and accompanied by the ever-devious (and wonderful) Howdy Price, Levi Shapiro is a delight to watch. Bringing a good understanding of the psychology of generating heat from his audience, the current United Wrestling Network TV Champion is always a stand out when he wrestles for Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, West Coast Pro Wrestling and others, he’s a name you should look out for because I promise you won’t regret it.

I spoke to Levi about his love for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling of 1982, what it means to be 21st Century Old-School, his thoughts on what it would take to make wrestling a pop-cultural force again, and everyone’s favourite musical genre, punk rock…

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Sports Obsessive: So, for any of our readers who may not have come across you before, and if not, why not, tell them who ‘Timeless’ Levi Shapiro is. What’s ‘Timeless’ all about?

Levi Shapiro: Well, it started as kinda a tribute to everything before and everything like that. When I was coming up, I was a big fan of old-school wrestling, everything essentially pre-1984, right? It was a pretty big period that really kinda opened my eyes when I was like ‘I wanna do all this old-school stuff,’ you know. I’m only thirty, so I was raised on WWF, WCW, Monday Night Wars and stuff like that. And I loved all of it, but then, more and more as I kinda got into wrestling and just growing up, just the history of it really. I mean, I’m from San Francisco, so we have the Cow Palace and Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson. So really, as the time went, it just went deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, essentially, of wrestling.

I was wrestling a match with Mustafa Saed from The Gangstas, right, and he was in our area and he was like, “kid, that wasn’t old-school. Like, you ever heard of Swede Hanson, Rip Hawk, you know?” And I was like, “no, I’ve never heard of these guys.” He’s like, “go home and watch everything from before January ’84,” because that’s when (Hulk) Hogan got the title, you know. And he’s like, “that’s really what wrestling is.” After that, it’s still wrestling, and it’s what it is today, you know. But Vince McMahon came in and totally manipulated the entire business, the entire industry, what anybody even really thinks wrestling is today.

So that’s really where the catalyst came from. I used to be in a tag team called the Classic Connection, and that was really the 80s tag team tribute. So the Timeless thing is really starting to teach about previous generations, previous decades and stuff like that and what was pre what wrestling is now. So it’s a style that not a lot of people are used to.

SO: It’s funny you should mention it because I know there was something on Twitter where Fite TV had said, “what’s your favourite promotion?” and Papo Esco had answered NWA. The wrestling geek in me loved it that you came back and you wrote, “Mid-Atlantic, NWA, 1982.” I just loved how specific it is, it pleased the wrestling nerd in my heart. What was it about that promotion, that territory, at that time for you that makes it the peak?

Levi Shapiro: Before the Network, I don’t know if they had it out across the pond, but they had WWE 24/7 and it was on-demand on the cable access stuff, right?  I used to watch that religiously. Like, I came in and my time is kinda like right after tape trading got done and it was right when torrents were becoming a thing. I found some wrestling forums and communities, which were essentially tape traders. So they would send torrents back and forth…so that’s really where I got a hold on a lot of this old stuff because I would watch ‘Legends of Wrestling’ round tables where they’d talk about all this stuff. I was like, ‘ok, who are these people? What was the first territory?” stuff like that.

So as I went back, I found this pack of Mid-Atlantic ’82 and it was incredible, man, ‘cause it was really the first time I got to see a lot of footage of Ray Stevens. There was the whole Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat feud, Roddy Piper, Sgt Slaughter, Don Kernodle. It was so stacked that the stories that they were telling there is really where you can see that, you know…some of them were revisited down the line, as a lot of stuff is. So, it just was the camaraderie, and then (there was) Bob Caudle: “I’m Bob Caudle, welcome to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling!” It’s like, it’s so wholesome and you don’t get that kind of stuff anymore.

SO: No, you don’t! And it’s interesting that, for a certain generation of people, when they think about the NWA, really they’re thinking about Mid-Atlantic, Jim Crockett Promotions as opposed to, say, St. Louis or Championship Wrestling from Florida or what have you.

LS: Continental, even.

SO: Yeah! And it goes to show because they had that wealth of talent. I mean…was ’82 the Sgt Slaughter/Don Kernodle/Steamboat-Youngblood feud or was that ’83?

LS: Yeah, I think…(it was) right in those times.

SO: Yeah, it was amazing, the Final Battle in the cage in Atlanta, it was great. I applaud your taste, absolutely (laughs).

Levi Shapiro: (laughs) It’s great stuff, you know! I’ve thought about Timeless things and I’ve thought about trying to gimmick it up and try to like really please the Twitter universe. I thought about making Levi Shapiro a timeless entity and he’s been at this point and all these periods of wrestling. So, I was like, you get a picture, you see Giant Baba and The Destroyer in Japan, and they’re eating in Ribera or something, and you see Levi Shapiro in the background eating too.

SO: (laughs)

LS: I’ve seen all this stuff so I know how to capitalize on modern-day, you know, but then at the same time, I think the story aspect of it is having some of these modern-day wrestlers, they know my tricks too because it’s timeless. So it’s the thing that everyone knows. A good quote I heard is that,  “just because timeless movies are timeless, it doesn’t mean that everybody always wants to go back to watch them.” They’re always there; people are always gonna want them and own them and watch them every now and again, some people more than others, right? But it’s mixing it in with some new-age stuff and that’s kinda what I call 21st Century Old School.

SO: Awesome. And that will lead me on to a question later. But what I need to ask you first; you’ve been having a great run recently as the United Wrestling Network TV Champion, your most recent victory being over Memphis’ Brett Michaels. How’s it been so far holding the gold?

Levi Shapiro and Howdy Price display the gold
Levi Shapiro and Howdy Price display the gold

Levi Shapiro: It’s a surreal experience, to be honest. It’s awesome because working for Dave Marquez and the United Wrestling Network, it’s a big deal for me. It was one of the goals I had when I broke in and stuff like that and it’s, again, not the same style as a lot of…you know, GCW, or any of these really kind of big independents. Like, Ring of Honor has a different feel. Even though I’d say Hollywood, United Wrestling Network, NWA, Ring of Honor, obviously WWE and AEW, like, it’s all TV wrestling and that’s a lot different than a lot of the major capital independent promotions right now, which aren’t TV style. And it’s different, it really is different. A lot of people don’t think about that stuff but, you know, some people don’t realize the camera’s on them on these big independent shows where, yeah, there’s maybe 500, maybe more, in the audience and you definitely still want to give them their money’s worth, but there’s vast beyond and the camera’s going to catch it for years to come, you know what I mean?

It goes back to a lot of these old arena footage matches, you know what I mean? You see these eight-millimeter films—I was very lucky to score very rare San Francisco Cow Palace footage from the ‘60s. They’re real, you know, and no sound really and stuff. But everybody who was there, they remember some of it, but that footage is gonna live on forever. That footage will be timeless. So it’s things like that that have really made the Championship good thing for me because I feel like I’m going to be able to look back on it for as long as I can, especially in the digital age. It’s not on a VHS tape or a reel where it could be damaged, you know what I mean, it’s fairly safe within computers, unless there’s a Y2J shortage again or something, you know what I mean?

SO: That’s it. You’re gonna be preserved forever.

LS: Yeah. But it’s really great, man, and especially mixing with different talents. I’m excited to see the next year in the growth of the United Wrestling Network. They did pretty well through the pandemic too, you know, with Prime Time Live and stuff like that. That was a surreal experience, wrestling basically on live pay-per-view with zero people in the crowd. And it’s a lot different than filming television with nobody in the crowd than a live pay-per-view.

SO: Yeah. I mean, funny you should mention it, you had that match with Dan Joseph on the first Prime Time Live. What happened with that, because it seemed to come to an abrupt stop? I’d assumed maybe that you’d had to stop because other matches had overrun and the main event needed the time. Was that the case?

Levi Shapiro: That was a bit of the case.  I mean, live TV is live TV and if we go in there with ten matches and you have 90 minutes, and the main event is supposed to have 30 minutes or something, you know what I mean? It was the first live taping so…you know, definitely some time got mixed up and stuff like that and it was definitely out of nowhere. The dropkick was definitely worthy of a pin, I could say (laughs). But it was definitely an experience and a lesson that I learned for sure coming out of that. You know you always hear those stories of people in WWE where they’re like, ‘ok, you have twelve minutes,’ right? And then, as you’re walking to gorilla, they’re like, ‘alright, you have six minutes.’ And as you’re walking out of the curtain, they say, ‘ok, you have two minutes.’ And so, (it was) one of those kind of cases.

SO: It must have been a bit surreal. With the United Wrestling Network, I think, looking at your old-school sensibility, what’s interesting about the United Wrestling Network at the moment is it almost feels like its own alliance, its own NWA, but run by one man in David Marquez. You’ve got Hollywood now, you’ve got Memphis, obviously if Arizona comes back, Atlanta, and now Championship Wrestling from Sunshine State. So it’s an exciting time in that respect for the United Wrestling Network.

LS: Yeah, 100%, not to mention that I think they have Gulf Coast also, in Louisiana. And then we have a San Francisco version up here which I co-host, but we’re trying to make it a more permanent one, kinda like Memphis, where we have our own talent roster and everything and we’re just trying to plug and play. And that’s incredible because, you know, the NWA coming back was such a cool thing, and even Dave being a part of that, you know, Dave’s had his hand in the NWA for almost a decade or two, two decades, right? And (there’s been) some differences between them and separations, that’s a whole other story between them, but with the United Wrestling Network really taking that vintage, classic approach to something like that, it’s cool.

And there’s no World Champion right now, so the TV title is the most prestigious title in the network and with more places opening up, I wanna be a defending champion, I wanna travel out. I told Brett Michaels, I said ‘I’ll give you another chance but I want it on your turf,’ you know what I mean?

I want to go out to Florida. I want to go out to everywhere. I’d love to go out of the country again. Japan’s been a huge, huge thing for me. I’d love to achieve that and get a Romero jacket, you know, that’s one of the top five on my goals list (laughs).

SO: You mentioned it before, you were part of a tag team, ‘The Classic Connection’, with Buddy Royal, Brian Zane was your manager. There looked to be a feud building up between you and Royal on Hollywood pre-pandemic. We’re yet to see the pay-off. What happened there? Is that something we could see in the future?

LS: I hope so, I really do. Me and Bud have built a lot of recognition together as a tag team, you know, and then he was going to go off to the New Japan dojo, he was chosen by Shibata personally. And then, just, you know, life got in the way and just like that. And as he returned to Hollywood, we were fire. And that’s a story that I wanna tell to and so does Bud. We really wanna kinda get there and give people the payoff. Because like you said right there, we’ve yet to see one. It initially started outside of the United Wrestling Network, right, and we were doing it on All-Pro Wrestling and on Brian Zane’s Wrestling with Regret channel, and it had some traction, and people believed because they loved us as a tag team. You know, I think just the pandemic really drove a hard spike into it. I know Bud has some family stuff going on. I know he still wants to come back and try his chance against ‘The Timeless One’, but I guess only time is gonna tell.

But I’m definitely on my toes at all times. Don’t think that I haven’t had this TV title this entire time and not constantly watched over my back, because I know at any moment he will pop up. He knows me, he knows me like the back of his hand. We know each other so well. We had this one match together as part of the tag team still, but against each other. It was up here in Northern California for a company called Prestige. It’s kind of a little bit more of a shoot aspect and stuff. That was one of my favourite matches, but it really showed how well we knew each other and it only bleeds more into that if it comes into the blood feud. 

SO: If it does come into Hollywood, obviously you’ve got an insurance policy in Howdy Price –

LS: I’ve got a lot of things in the back pocket right there.

SO: – that’s right! There’s something in your glove as well.

LS: (gives me a look)

SO: Hey, I didn’t say that! Brian Zane was previously your manager. Obviously, you work now with Howdy Price. I love Howdy, and that’s nothing against Brian Zane, but there’s something about Howdy. How did that switch happen? What’s the biggest difference between working with the two? I know you’ve described Howdy as being like a modern Paul Jones.

Levi Shapiro: Yeah, it’s great. And Brian was one of the first managers that I ever had when I broke in and stuff like that. So this all pre-the YouTube channel and stuff like that, which was really cool. I was delighted to see him get all his success with the channel and everything like that. But I think it was mainly a distance thing, to be honest. And then, in Hollywood, just the Howdy Price character, it fits so well with what I was trying to do. He had Los Rancheros before that and, even since the inception, me and Howdy have always really kind of merged together in common interests and stuff.

Levi Shapiro and Howdy Price 'claw' their way to victory
Levi Shapiro and Howdy Price ‘claw’ their way to victory (Credit: Justin Cotterell)

And when it comes to ringside, he really gets the style. Not to knock Brian, because Brian was trained by actually ‘Playboy’ Buddy Rose as a real wrestler. So he has the knowledge of being a cornerman and he’s done a great job, but I think the slight difference is just Howdy Price is a man of the art in that point, you know? When we bleed together, he understands where I’m going as Levi Shapiro, you know what I mean, that’s the bad guy. And he understands the manipulation aspect, and just when we get together for a promo and stuff like that, it’s just like glue, you know? I mean, obviously, Mid-Atlantic is my area, so I’m a very Southern-style, old-school wrestler. And people don’t get that sometimes. When they say, “what do you do, what’s your style?” Like, I’m a Southern-style, old school wrestler, you know, and that goes completely over people’s heads sometimes ’cause they don’t understand the difference.

SO: That’s crazy. And Howdy Price, he put on Twitter that he’s got a pair of sneakers with The Red Room from Twin Peaks on. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a fan, but he’s got my infinite respect. If you see him, you’ve got to tell him he’s got my infinite respect (laughs).

LS: (laughs) Definitely. I will, I will. I don’t know the Twin Peaks thing, to be honest. 

SO: It’s cool, it’s cool, yeah. Infinite respect. You’ve recently performed in front of a live crowd again for West Coast Pro against Juicy Finau (at their Cruel Summer show). How was that experience after fans being away for so long?

Levi Shapiro: It was great. I had one other show before that, a couple of weeks ago down in Fresno, ‘Best of the West,’ so just the first two, but this one being in my hometown and stuff, it’s great. Because, you know, you need the style, you need the fans there. Obviously, wrestling works through the pandemic because of the style of today, right? It’s not as driven on fan interaction. Outside, and see…ok (laughs) I get deep with this one sometimes because, I think the biggest thing today, right, there’s an old saying Harley Race used to say, and he would always say that, “you as the fans are the puppets.” Then he would take a long drag off his cigarette and he would say, “But me, I’m the puppet master.” You know? 

And that’s a deep saying, right? That’s a little fourth wall right there. I feel today that the fans are the puppet masters and the wrestlers are the puppets to some (degree) because they are working to give the fans what they want, all the time, no matter what. This kind of gets into the aspects of wrestling that we talked about where if no one cares and if nobody really dives into it, what’s going to give the fan? The smart fans get it, and there’s a lot of smart fans. They get it. They come, they know the role. But if you bring your girlfriend, or you bring a couple of friends, just for the time, right, they’re going to think it’s corny because this guy’s up here and he’s not making it believable because he thinks that everybody just gets it, you know what I mean?

Just a little bit, you need just a little bit of realism to actually kinda bring it in, and that’s where the fans come back in because without the fans, you know, like that was the craziest thing, like, “ok, how am I gonna work through this screen right here, through this video camera? How am I gonna emote what I want from the crowd?” And I’m imaging it back through the camera, you know what I mean? So there was a lot of manifestation in the imagination, which was really creative I felt, and it helped me coming back. I’m like, “ok, the fans are there, like, I’m ready, I’m feeling this whole thing, I’m ready. I’ve learned how to work a room, essentially, an empty room. Now the room is filled with fans again. Not just one, not just ten; but there were 250 people, you know? And so it’s like, “ok, each person has a different aspect on this thing, and now I can focus on some people. Sympathy is back, you know what I mean, I can really garner real emotion and sympathy, and that’s the best part.

SO: Yeah, and it’s incredible how in some matches, the fans can make that difference. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience where you watch a match but you turn the sound off. It’s like a light goes out, it feels a little bit dead now, whereas where wrestlers are playing with the audience and they’re getting those peaks and troughs and the heat and cheering, it is like Harley Race said, you’re being the puppet masters, but it adds such an emotional depth to the wrestling.

LS: Yeah. I heard Mike Quackenbush say one time, I think it was on the aspect of Chikara closing, right. He said, “I want the crowd to feel pain.” You know? And I bet that’s what they felt when the show was shut down so abruptly. They tore everything up, they left, and they didn’t run a show for two or three years or something. Like, that felt like pain, like, “where did my show go?” I wanna go, “ok, everybody’s having a good time, everybody’s enjoying it. Like, I want some people to get mad, you know? And it’s tough to get real garnered heat nowadays because, either the heat is gonna come back on you as a professional, so then you’re gonna get maybe cancelled or something on Twitter; it’s gonna come back on the promotion where, “oh, they book him, I don’t wanna go support him.” And it’s just, like, heat, it’s just real heat, you know what I mean, like, something that people aren’t used to nowadays.

Actually, after that West Coast show, slightly off-topic, but I came out and my car window was smashed, you know…

SO: No!

LS: None of my stuff was taken, none of my stuff was ruffled around, there was plenty of stuff in there. No other cars around me either, and we’re in San Francisco, so, you know, stuff happens. But they didn’t take any of my shirts that I had, I had a whole box of shirts. They didn’t take any of my stuff, they didn’t look for anything. So maybe it was because they were mad at me; maybe they knew that was my car. Maybe. Maybe.

SO: Timeless!

LS: You wanna be a real heel, you gotta live with real heel heat.

Jack Banning gets an 'eyeful' of Levi Shapiro
Jack Banning gets an ‘eyeful’ of Levi Shapiro

SO: That’s it! That’s it, absolutely. Well, I’ve heard you say previously that you came up in the L3 punk scene in California.

LS: Yeah!

SO: You talked about the great sense of community that came out of that. Do you think wrestling, with the smaller promotions at least, do you think it has the same type of community, between wrestlers, between fans, I mean, even between wrestlers and fans. For example, meeting fans at shows who, instead of turning you onto certain bands and records, might turn you on to other wrestlers and promotions instead, or maybe wrestlers encouraging people, the more persistent, respectful fans, to get involved in the business in some way; just in like the way you’d go see Fuguzi or Minor Threat or someone and they’d encourage you to get in a band.

Levi Shapiro: A hundred per cent. a hundred, hundred, hundred, hundred per cent. I get kinda some buzz feeling about it right now because I am, I really cherish that time in my life, right? It was a young, pre-adolescence, we’re getting into being a teenager and stuff like that, and to have the 924 Gillman, this legendary punk venue that Fugazi, Op Ivy, Rancid, Green Day, all these guys came out of there, you know, so that’s kinda where I came from. And then this punk scene, L3 punk-pop, right. There was this band called The Matches, you know, and they had a little bit of notoriety for a few years. But the L3 scene, right, the Live, Loud and Local, almost completely adjacent to what we’re building in some kind of wrestling circles, you know, because (there’s) very tight-knit fans that come no matter what. You can announce a show in some areas, right, and they don’t even care who’s on the card: they’re coming.

That’s how it was with us with those shows. Those L3 shows, we didn’t care who it was, we just wanted to go. We got in, we were kinda..it wasn’t really a clique, right, ’cause we welcomed everybody, but the people that know, know, you know what I mean? As for the performers, I’m sure they enjoyed it because I still talk to some of those guys now, where it’s like, “dude, like, you’re on your own.” One of the guitarists I used to see is the backup guitarist for Seal on, like, world tours and stuff like that, you know. And he just came out of this little venue in Oakland, playing pop-punk. 

SO: No way!

LS: So it’s definitely super-similar, and now I’m seeing it because, before, I was one of the hardcore fans. Now I’m seeing the other side where I’m the performer. I can only imagine how it was for those guys going up there and playing in bands and seeing the crowd react and getting what they wanted from it all and then continuing to want to do it, and continuing to want to strive to higher levels and stuff like that. I mean, I want to make a living at this. I want to be able to travel the world and pay this mansion off or whatever, I mean, ideally kind of thing, you know. I’m not a materialistic kinda guy but, like, those are the dreams and aspirations I want, you know what I mean?

SO: Yeah, absolutely! I mean, if nothing else, that ability to be able to wrestle full-time, make a living and travel the world, there’s something romantic about that in its way, absolutely.

LS: Definitely.

SO: Well, wrestling over the last twenty years then has had its equivalents of punk promotions, if you like, in terms of the presentation or how they positioned themselves against mainstream wrestling. So, like ECW, CZW, maybe Black Label Pro and GCW now. Early Ring of Honor was perhaps the straight edge contingent –

LS: (laughs) I think that’s a good analogy right there. 

SO: (laughs) I was proud of myself when I thought of that one, I’ll tell you (laughs). But who would you argue is the real punk promotion nowadays?

Levi Shapiro: Nowadays? A hundred per cent GCW. That’s punk rock to the fullest, man. DIY, you know, and it’s crazy to see…ok, so, they’re punk rock, right? But people would say maybe they’ve sold out in aspects, right, because they’re doing these bigger and bigger productions, and the more and more they go, higher and higher with The Collective and WrestleMania weekend—they did that show in goddamn Wyoming the other week, you know—and breed some of those stars to the mainstream, you know what I mean? Janella came strictly out of that, you know. Because before, it might have been, it was ECW, they were the CBGB’s of punk wrestling, right?

But the thing that I feel is different between, like, ECW, and even parts of CZW, even though CZW is definitely aligned with GCW—it’s coming out of the ashes, essentially—CZW is basically in the ground, in my opinion, and we haven’t really seen anything. GCW was all the former hardcore, bloodline of CZW in a whole other thing. And shout out to Nick Gage, right? Like, what a wild, crazy wrestler. You see all this stuff, with the Dark Side of the Ring and all that, right, and like, he was one of the guys I watched as a young one, man. I loved CZW breaking in. It was kinda interesting how I broke in. One of my friends was a Crazy Juggalo, you know, and he was all about ICP and the ICP wrestling thing, and then he showed me CZW, ‘Sick’ Nick Mondo, and then it bled on from there, right. But, getting to come full circle on that point, I met Nick Gage at a GCW show and he’s like (in Nick Gage voice) “what’s up dude, I’m Nick Gage. You’re cool, I’m cool, we’re cool.” And I was like, “awesome.” I thought he was going to curse me out or something, you know? And it just kinda shows that, you know, the community aspect of GCW, they are a family, dude, and they are very welcoming to a lot of the young talents of around. They have a niche they want, you know, and I may not fit that niche, and I think I’m ok with that, right? But I respect the punk rock aspect of it, as compared to back when ECW…they wanted to revitalize, they wanted to recreate and change the business essentially. GCW is like, “fuck you, WWE. I’ll play with you, AEW. But we are independent and we are ok with being independent and being a DIY…” It’s like a whole new thing, right. ECW wanted to be independent but they wanted to be mainstream. CZW, I don’t think they’re clamping onto being mainstream, but they want to be the biggest independent.

SO: I suppose, to take it further, GCW want to be independent, but you look at someone like AEW, maybe, and their kind of audience that The Young Bucks built up through Being The Elite or their merchandise or what have you, they’re almost The Clash signing to CBS and people went, “you sold out! You sold out!” And yet, years later, The Clash are a band that people would still have tattooed across their hearts, they mean that much. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that idea of it’s bad to be a big, mainstream promotion just because WWE has left a bad taste in certain people’s mouths.

Levi Shapiro: It all goes back to the beginning. Vince McMahon changed the entire wrestling industry, probably for the better, right, probably for the better. But still, I think that people are getting to the point where obviously, and it’s very apparent, WWE is, maybe not in a decline of money, right, but in a decline of, like, fans and viewership. Rock hard, right, we are rock hard wrestling fans. I feel like that’s not as prevalent now, it’s a little bit more…Disney-ish, we could say. And that is the direct aspect of changing everything.

And GCW and all these places are like, “no, man, we need to bring wrestling back to whatever it was.” It’s very deep and complex, right? The racial undertones, stereotypes, all the stuff that kinda made wrestling wrestling isn’t as good anymore, right? That kinda goes back on to the heat thing, and personally, that’s probably for the better, to be real, you know? But there’s ways to adapt on that, and there’s ways to think about how you can still recreate those hardships per see inside the world of wrestling today. And I think if people would just loosen up a little bit and understand that, you have to bend. Mid-Atlantic 1982, Georgia Championship, Florida Championship, all that was family-friendly wrestling. And when the blood came out, and all the vulgar stuff, that was supposed to be bad. That was supposed to drive that emotion out of you and go, “oh, no, you’re not watching that.” That’s what they wanted. 

So, I feel people are a little too on edge at times because they want to be so righteous and so accepted. And I’m not saying to go out and make fun and be racist, and I’m not saying to make fun of people in their lives, you know what I mean, but you have to find a way to create that animosity somehow. And even if you just go out there and say, “I don’t like you Effy, you wear too much pink!” That’s it, that alone. “I don’t like pink.” You know? It’s a little corny but that’s still a way to get off on it. 

Levi tries to bring Howdy back to life with the gold
Levi tries to bring Howdy back to life with the gold (Credit: Justin Cotterell)

SO: Yeah, yeah, absolutely! Yeah, I love it. Well, I’ve heard you say that you fell out of wrestling about 2000 and you came back in about 2005 and that’s when you started watching the territories. I had a similar experience, I started watching as a kid in 1991 and I stopped watching in 2001. And I couldn’t tell you why off the top of my head now, why I stopped watching other than I got heavily into music, and I was probably a little bit bitter that WCW and ECW had closed and the Invasion angle wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. But then I came back to it in 2013 in a big way. What was it that made you fall out of it for that time period?

LS: You know, I’m really trying to think about that also because I think, 2001, 2002 I kinda remember. I always kinda kept a finger on it, right, but it wasn’t as weekly and stuff like that. I guess when the Monday Night Wars ended, that was a big thing for me and my older brother watching it. I can’t really put a tail on why, it was probably just because it was dry, and I was growing up and starting to get into other stuff; music, friends. But it was that L3 scene where I met my buddy who was the Juggalo, Manik, right, and that was like 2005. And once the place closed down, it just drove me right back into it, dude. It’s 2005, I really felt that was a good year for WWE, you know. 2005, 2007 was super-solid and it felt like it was their, “alright, we need to change stuff,” you know, ’cause I always kinda think of it in the decades, right? 

So, think about from ’85 to ’95, right? I mean, that’s a big decade in general, so that one you might even break down. Think about ’85 to ’90. Big years for WWF, right? ’90 to ’95 was kind of transitional but it still had a lot of good. Like, those are probably my favourite, to be honest.

SO: The rise of Bret and Shawn and the New Generation.

LS: Yeah. And you know why? I learned a very important thing as to why I think that’s my favourite. Because Jerry Jarrett came in to book for WWF in like ’92, ’93, during the steroid trial. So Vince McMahon, if he went to jail for the steroid trial, he was fully ready to give the entire company to Jerry Jarrett.

SO: Wow! I didn’t actually know that.

LS: I think I heard that on a Bruce Pritchard podcast. Again, the main reason why I’m so fascinated, it was at first watching the documentaries, I read the books in high school. I still have books I’m trying to read, and just, like, podcasts. Give me all the information. I just want to know it, I don’t know why, I just want it. I just wanna know all of it. 

SO: It’s interesting, not that I’m stalking your Twitter or anything, but I did that you had posted about Bad Bunny—it is Bad Bunny, isn’t it?

LS: Yeah.

SO: I’m old and I don’t know these people (laughs).

LS: Oh yeah, no, I had to learn who it was too.

SO: Bad Bunny talking to Jay Z and LeBron James on The Shop about how appearing at WrestleMania was bigger than the SuperBowl or The Grammys to him. And you said how cool it was that these world-renowned artists and champions were talking about wrestling and its popularity, and we needed more of that to bring it back to the mainstream. Because obviously, you’ve got your weekly bubble now, it’s popular in its weekly bubble, but wrestling is, the phrase you used was “pennies on the casual pop-culture level.” I mean, as someone who lived through the Monday Night Wars, I agree. Its obvious wrestling is nowhere near a pop-cultural force now as it used to be. The closest you probably get to that maybe is, you see people in Bullet Club t-shirts, that’s the closet that maybe it’s got. What do you think it would take for wrestling to smash back into the mainstream? Because I really don’t know.

Levi Shapiro: I mean, I think it’s kinda on its way back there, dude, you know. The Peacock thing was big, it really was, because people have Peacock. I dunno, maybe it’s just because of the algorithm, right, but a lot of wrestling stuff popped up on there, like, even just for the casual viewers. So, you gotta think it’s like, ok, if somebody’s watching The Fast and The Furious, with The Rock, right, Fast 7 or whatever which one he came in on. And then in the recommended from that, they’re gonna say, ‘oh, here’s some more Rock stuff, you know, here’s maybe a piece that he did with The Scorpion King, or an episode of Monday Night Raw, or here’s an SNL, you know. So, you have a chance to divert into some wrestling and stuff.

So that’s pretty big, you know, because as great as the Network was, the casual viewer is what we’re trying to achieve again. Listen to the numbers on AEW and Raw or SmackDown. Like, SmackDown does pretty good on the million numbers, you know, but Raw or like NXT and AEW, like, AEW kinda tips it every now and again. They build it up to these big matches and they get it, but it’s not consistent like it was. You’re not getting 1.4’s, you know what I mean, and that was low back when. So, you gotta understand the aspect of where and how it’s all being taken in; so I’m sure social media numbers can be fused into that or YouTube watch numbers. Like, it’s so accessible, more than it was, even just back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, you know.

So, having people like Bad Bunny, which was like, dude, huge, right? And then him to take that to that HBO show—that has nothing to do with wrestling, so barely any wrestling fans are even gonna watch that, and that’s Jay Z, that’s Bad Bunny, that’s LeBron James, those are all wrestling fans, LeBron is a well-known wrestling fan, (and they’re) just talking about it. So now these non-wrestling fans are gonna see it, and it’s just in the head again, you know. I mean, they have Cardi B hosting SummerSlam…Rock and Wrestling, that’s what brought it all in originally. You had Cyndi Lauper, Liberace, all that. So that, I think, is where it’s gonna be a big player again. 

It was cool as hell to hear Bad Bunny took time off to legitimately try to train. And it showed, he did fantastic, dude! I was so impressed and very happy with it. Because I had coworkers of mine who were listening to Bad Bunny all the time, like, at work. And then I was like, “oh ok, whatever, that’s cool.” Then I hear Bad Bunny is coming to WWE or whatever, and then they come up to me and, “Hey, I hear this dude’s wrestling. I mean, is he in there now?” And then they started watching—just for that, right, but then they saw it. So, some of those people who are just gonna tune in like that, they might keep, you know what I mean? That has to rely back on the product, and the product has to match and keep them, which I don’t think it is as much right now.

SO: Well, I’ve got a pet theory, and I’d be interested to know what you think. Part of the success with the WWF/WWE, where it was at its peak spots, the stars they were pushing or the stories they were pushing really synced with the times they were in. So, ‘Hulkamania’; there’s Hulk Hogan, bleach-blonde, the Pythons, and the 80s was all about the action movie, the bodies, Schwarzenegger, the muscles. Hogan chimed in with that. The late 90s, Steve Austin. The late 90s culturally had that quite cynical edge to it, and Austin’s there flipping the bird at his boss. You know, everybody, or most people at least, wanted to flip the bird at their boss, or stunner their boss. But it’s (tapping into) that kind of cultural zeitgeist. Whereas I’m not sure that the storylines they push now do tap it, but then again, I don’t know what you would say the modern cultural zeitgeist is either.

Levi Shapiro: And like you said, right, you can’t put someone out there…I don’t know if you do much South Park or something, right, but they have ‘PC Principal’ now. Unless you’re gonna put out a ‘PC Principal’ kinda character, right, it may not fit with the times because there’s either backlash against this or there’s backlash against that, or narrative here—there’s no concise thing in America right now, I feel, too. It’s like, what is the star? Brock Lesnar was the big guy. John Cena was obviously the late 2000’s coming in the 10’s, and you know, Brock Lesnar was big, and then they got the big boost on Goldberg, you know, like, nostalgia is really where it’s at. 

I have a slight focus on the theory too where, WWE doesn’t care about building any stars anymore, because they make more on their f****n’ memories than they do anything else already. That treasure show that was on A+E? That drew more than, like, Raw and NXT together–weekly, you know? People don’t care about that stuff right now. You have to be in the niche to want to watch NXT, you know what I mean, and sometimes even people who are in the niche don’t watch. There’s so much, but it’s never gonna get to the point where it’s all funneled in again, so you kinda have to find your niche; your flavor of ice cream, as they say. 

SO: The problem, I suppose, with nostalgia is you can only sustain it for so long until people go, “Well, I want something new.”

LS: Yeah.

SO: So, potentially, they’re gonna hit the same problem anyway, which is that people want something new. So where do you go from there? I really don’t know (laughs). But it does bring me on to my next point, which is, you’ve talked about the need for wrestling to evolve respectfully; you’ve asked on Twitter whether this will be wrestling’s final form or whether history’s going to circle around again. But you’ve also said you don’t think this evolution will last. Why is that and what do you think a respectful revolution would look like?

LS: Well, it’s always tough, and I’m always learning too, so, everything that I’m thinking, it can always either be crossed with someone proving a viable point or things like that. Most things I say, I’m never so confident in like, “this is the way,” right. I’m always open for people to chime in, obviously respectfully, right? I don’t want somebody coming in and thinking, you know, “you’re dumb, you don’t know anything, blah blah blah.” Like, “this is what I think, this is what I’ve seen, this is what I feel.” 

To kinda go back to the decades thing, 85-95, 95-2005, 2005-2015, and now we’re kinda in that back end of 15-25. And since 15 even, there’s been no clear guy. I mean, Roman Reigns, you know…I think the evolution of this spot, it won’t last because too many wrestlers cant have longevity. There’s not enough longevity in their careers, on their bodies. I mean, Brian Danielson even, look at Brian Danielson, Daniel Bryan, right? And he’s done a twenty, maybe a twenty-five year run at most, and he’s broken, you know? He is broken. And like, some guys in their twenty-fifth year, that’s just when they’re hitting their stride, you know, back when. Look at Terry Funk, Terry Funk is 77 and just finally starting to hit this kind of…I mean, he’s a whole different breed, right, but some of these older guys are like, it’s just kinda coming around the curve for them, even though they’ve worked this very, you know, style, and I think the style only increased because guys needed to get their itch because they’re not wrestling seven days a week anymore.

So, to be the one to understand, like, how the evolution of wrestling needs to be against what it is, you know, it’s…it’s all ice cream now. So, before, there was maybe two bins, you know, and you could chase from either. Now it’s the Baskin Robbins, you know, and you really have to put your niche into which flavor you want to excel in. And me, man, I want longevity. I’m eleven, going on twelve, years in and I’m starting to feel it now. You know? And I’ve always been a very smart wrestler and tried not to do a lot of stupid s**t. I don’t do a lot of high rope impact…my fish drop is probably the one thing that really gives me the biggest hurt, not at the time but longevity-wise.

But I mean, look at the intensity of some of this work, and not even wrestling, like, the hardcore stuff as well. Sick Nick Mondo only had a few years; he had like a three year run at the peak of his thing, and that was some of the most memorable s**t I’ll ever see. But then again, he only had three years doing it, so, do people want to have a short collection of their stuff, or would you like to see more of a wider spread?

SO: Yeah, yeah, and is it better to burn out than to fade away as the song goes. Yeah, it’s a fair point.

Levi Shapiro pulls on that deadly black glove
Timeless (Credit: Justin Cotterell)

Levi Shapiro: But to me, to be honest, I feel like I’m gonna be here, timeless, for a long time, because it’s not just about the in-ring; it’s everything. You need everything. Just as the fans make up a good match, sometimes the commentary makes a match even better and covers up anything that is not hidden to the naked eye. The camera operators, the directors in the back, the people in the headsets for the referees, the referees, you know. It’s all one big thing, so, if I feel like my time in the ring is gonna come to a stop, to do another point, like, I totally will, especially if I’m gonna make money. A hundred per cent.

SO: Well, I’d get in trouble if I didn’t mention this next question: Lam, who runs the Hollywood or Arizona fan news account on Twitter, told me I’ve got to ask you about pizza.

LS: (laughs) Ok.

SO: Because apparently you’re an absolute pizza fiend and you run a Twitch, I believe, and you talk about different pizzas that you’ve made.

LS: Yeah, yeah. It’s something I’ve always done on the side to supplement this wrestling journey. It’s been the job that’s helped fulfil it all. So, after a while, my buddy Zicky Dice got pretty big on Twitch and stuff like that, I helped him set up his channel and everything. He was like, “Hey man, you make some good pizza. I know that people would love to watch you.” It’s second nature to me, dude, you know? I’ve done it for so long now that now I’m setting up stuff in my house; I have a little mixer, I’ve got the streaming set up. So I said, why not? Why not? You know. And it gives me kind of a chance to stop thinking about wrestling for a little bit. Which, you know, is very rare ’cause I (laughs) love wrestling and I think about it all the time, and I’m always watching it, you know. But it’s the other love that I’ve had that…it’s great because wrestling has allowed me to fulfil a dream, right, and until I can make a complete living on it a hundred per cent, pizza has done that for me. So, I’d love to be able to switch it to where wrestling gets the hundred per cent fulfilment and pays for stuff, and I can really dive into my love of pizza a little bit more, but it’s so hard to stay in shape and eat pizza all the time, so it’s a constant balance. I’m trying to find the right way to do it. 

SO: It’s like having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

LS: Daily.

SO: Alright: where do you stand on pineapple? Does it belong on pizza?

LS: I’m for it, I’m for it. I’ll allow it, you know what I mean? There’s worse stuff that you could put on pizza than pineapple.

SO: I’m sure there is (laughs). Domino’s Pizza in England, they do a chocolate pizza now. Now, I love pizza; I love chocolate; I don’t know if I like them together.

LS: Is it like with pizza crust and chocolate on?

SO: Yeah, chocolate sauce, yeah. 

LS: That’s weird (laughs). That’s a little odd.

SO: Maybe there’s a niche for it, I don’t know (laughs) I’ve got one last question for you, Levi. I know that previously you’ve listed your top five wrestlers of the 80s. I tried to do my top five of the 80s; I got Steamboat, Flair, Tully Blanchard I think…

LS: Very good.

SO: Dynamite Kid—I went with Dynamite because his stuff with Tiger Mask in Japan is stand out work. If you get a chance, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, go on YouTube and watch Dynamite Kid vs. Marty Jones. It’s a World of Sport Wrestling one, but it’s one of the best old-school British matches I’ve ever seen. Dynamite and Marty Jones, it’s fantastic.

LS: Ok. I like Marty, I like Marty a lot so…

SO: Have you watched Marty?

LS: I’ve seen clips, you know, here and there and stuff, and I’ve even thought about trying to come across the pond to do some training with him I’ve had some friends do it.

SO: Awesome! And he’s still going, he’s still training people, he runs a pub in Oldham. So yeah, he’s still going. But going back to punk, who would your top five punk bands of all time be?

LS: Oh wow, you’re going deep with that one! Um…ok, how do you classify your punk? Because does pop-punk count? I’m a big pop-punk fan.

SO: Yeah, yeah! I mean, for my tastes personally, I like, being English I suppose, I like a lot of the English stuff like Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, then I like Husker Du, Black Flag, Fugazi, Bob Mould’s stuff generally, when he was in Sugar, that kind of thing. But you know, it’s all there!

Levi Shapiro: Let’s go on Spotify, let’s see what I’ve been playing lately. I know, right off the bat, The Matches. That’s the pop-punk band that I would always see around. They are just like the soundtrack to my career and my childhood and stuff, so that’s really the focal point and the stamp, you know. I’m a big Op Ivy guy, obviously, as well. Another local kind of thing and it’s super cool…like, Lars Frederiksen is a fan of mine, which is wild, right? 

SO: Is he? Oh wow! That’s amazing.

LS: He lives in the area. How wild is it for Lars Frederiksen to walk up to your merch table and buy your t-shirt at a show that you’re performing on? Again, another full circle thing, like, that’s so cool, man. I love that, and I love the camaraderie of stuff like that.

SO: Yeah, definitely!

LS: So, let’s see, if I go on here on my most played…I have a weird mix, right, because I go into a lot of hip-hop and stuff lately. We get down with a lot of the old-school ska, I’m a big Specials guy too, you know.

SO: Awesome! I love The Specials.

LS: It’s tough to get what would be my exacts, right? I’m a big Devo guy, I like Devo a lot, I don’t know if we could classify that (as punk), that’s a little bit more New Wave era.

SO: Their first album, with Jocko Homo and Mongoloid, Gut Feeling and things like that…

LS: Smart Patrol, Mr DNA is one of my favorite songs ever! And they do the best cover of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. By far.

SO: Yeah! The drummer plays like a metronome, it’s incredible.

LS: Yeah. I’m a big Descendents guy too, I like the Descendents a lot. It kinda throws into that skate punk vibe and stuff.

SO: Yeah, yeah! I like the album they did, ‘Cool To Be You‘, I think it was 2004, with ‘American’ on it.

LS: Yeah, so, you know, stuff like that. It’s tough for me to nail down top 5 things. And some of them are really obscure bands that people have never…like, I’m such a local guy, you know. Link 80 was a band that, I don’t know if they ever made it around. They’re kind of a ska-punk band that was pretty big. Bodessa was another one, Facing New York, all those L3 bands, you know. It was cool to see Forces of Evil, right, which was an offshoot band of Reel Big Fish. So, they had super-vulgar stuff. They did a really cool cover of Van Halen, ‘Dance The Night Away.’ Misfits too,I can’t knock on Misfits.

SO: Yeah, yeah! In England, the rockers, like the metalheads and punks in England, the Misfits, always in little, small post-industrial towns that have never been able to recover, they always seem to have a little pocket of Misfits fans somewhere. And a lot of them got into it off the back of Metallica’s covers, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Metallica’s cover of Last Caress…

LS: Hell yeah!

SO: …and Green Hell off, ‘Garage Inc.,’ I think it was.

LS: Yeah, yeah! And it’s crazy, right, the actual town that I live in, right, is El Cerrito, California. Richmond, El Cerrito, and it’s basically where Metallica came out of. Cliff Burton, the bassist, used to love here and so they have the Metallica House, you know, and it’s like three blocks from where I live. So it’s kinda cool I have the history of all this, right? Because I was raised on Metallica, I was raised on Slayer and stuff like that, you know what I mean? And those are all bands that are considered fairly local, you know, but everywhere else it’s like these crazy ideals of things that they never even thought about, but it’s like, nah dude, they were down the street.

Creedence Clearwater Revival wasn’t from the South, they were from El Cerrito. There’s no bayous in El Cerrito! So that’s kinda you know, I was raised by Dead Heads, man. So it’s, like, breaking into the Gillman scene, you know, obviously I know GG Allin, you know, obviously I love Gwar, so those are kinda like the differences but at the same time, you’ll catch me listening to Del the Funky Homosapien and Nas and Jay Z and stuff like that…

*

And there you have it. The music is much like the man; classic pop-punk alongside hip-hop: 21st Century Old-School. It’s clear from talking to him that Levi Shapiro cares immensely for the business and for his craft as well as the punk-like sense of community wrestling can foster. Bringing tried and tested practices of generating heel heat into the modern wrestling environment, Levi Shapiro is trying to use the lessons of the past to bring logic to and enrich the experience of the contemporary wrestling scene as well. Like Rat Pack-era Ted Dibiase matched with the swagger of Horseman-era Barry Windham, he is completely compelling as an in-ring performer and, with his well-thought-out analysis and understanding of the process of wrestling as demonstrated in this interview here, I now know that is by design rather than chance.

I get the feeling that it would take just one big moment, one big match or story to push Levi into more people’s attention, which he certainly deserves.

21st Century Old-School? Sounds good to me.

 

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out some of our others!

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Written by Chris Flackett

Wrestling obsessed since '91. Lived through the Monday Night Wars and is still here to tell the tale. Major fan of Strong Style, technical and Super Jr. Wrestling, as well as big versatile hosses smacking the hell out of each other. Lives in Manchester, England.

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