54-year-old Van VanHorn is from Memphis, Tennessee. He started wrestling when he was 22. In the span of three decades, he has wrestled professionally for only five years. Some might have certain perceptions about his short career, but for VanHorn it has been pretty amazing.
“I tell everybody that I am the Forest Gump of professional wrestling. I’m nobody, but I’ve been in the right place to be able to do some really cool and fun stuff,” said Van VanHorn. “I had wrestled for all three major promotions at the time, and I wrestled some amazing guys. I oftentimes ask myself, what am I doing here? This is awesome!”
Call it good luck, bad luck, opportunity, or misfortune, VanHorn has experienced it all. He was just like anybody else when he started out in wrestling. He just wanted his big break. VanHorn thought that his break came while wrestling in a tag team with John Stewart as The Beach Boys in Memphis under Jerry Jarrett’s Championship Wrestling promotion.
VanHorn was newly married and because he believed in what he was doing and the promoter was finally giving him and his partner the push they were looking for, he quit his full-time job hoping that this opportunity would turn into something promising.
The Beach Boys were on the road fulfilling their wrestling commitments and because beach boys wear Jamz, colorful cotton, knee-high shorts, VanHorn and Stewart wore them when they were wrestling. Stewart was about 230 pounds and he had a stocky build, so his body did not adapt well to the restricted material that the Jamz had to offer. For the second night in a week, he split the seat out from his wrestling shorts.
“We are walking down the hallway and we passed by Jerry Lawler”s dressing room. John ducks his head in and says hey King. do you think instead of wearing these Jamz we can wear spandex or something else because these things aren’t very athletic and I keep ripping them out,” said VanHorn. “Jerry said let me think about it and I will come to see you in a minute.”
Lawler was booking for Championship Wrestling at the time. After five minutes had passed, he met the Beach Boys, who were in the dressing room changing out of their wrestling attire.
“Jerry says John, I thought about what you said, and how about I just fire you tonight? Our chins hit the ground,” said VanHorn. “Jerry replied, the day somebody with five matches wants to tell me anything about this business will never happen.”
Not only did Stewart get fired, but so did VanHorn. The promotion had made a tag-team deal with the two men and Lawler said that there was no one else there to wrestle with VanHorn. The promotion let the Beach Boys wrestle for the next three weeks for the shows that they were already booked.
“Basically we put guys over for the next three weeks,” said VanHorn. “The push ended that night.”
VanHorn returned to working a full-time job, but at the same time, he is reaching out to his contacts on the independent wrestling scene. Before long, he finds a new tag team partner in Motley Cruz. The two men dress up as baseball players and take up the name, River City Bombers.
They begin to make a name for themselves and start wrestling every weekend throughout Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. While in Missouri, they get booked on a show that Bill Ash was putting on and wrestled on the same card as Bruiser Brody.
“He loved our baseball gimmick. He wanted our numbers and he said that he was booking shows in St. Louis,” said VanHorn. “He said that he would love to have us on those cards and this was in the early part of 1987.”
Bruiser followed through on what he told the River City Bombers and before long, he had the tag team coming in to work on some of the matches with him.
“Our very first time working for him, we look at the card, and it’s the River City Bombers against the Fantastics,” said VanHorn. “Now that’s a pretty good match for the Forest Gump of wrestling. What the heck am I doing in the ring with Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers?”
VanHorn and Cruz worked three or four shows for Brody and had given him some photographs because he wanted to get the team booked in Japan. In Japan, both baseball and wrestling is very popular and Brody thought the River City Bombers would be a hit over there.
“The last conversation we had with Brody, he told us to get our passports ready because they really liked the pictures he brought with him last year, and this time he was hoping to get us booked,” said VanHorn. “We didn’t get to see him when he came back from Japan, and the next thing we heard was that he was murdered in Puerto Rico.”
Around the same time as the River City Bombers were waiting for their opportunity in Japan, and prior to Brody’s death, Vanhorn had met a fellow wrestler in the indy circuit named Larry Williams. Van didn’t know Larry at all, but the two had been on a couple of wrestling shows together from time to time. One day in passing, Larry told Van that he had been going up to the WWF every three weeks to wrestle.
“He told me that they were looking for some new guys to go up there and put the stars over, and he wanted to know if I was interested,” said VanHorn. “Larry was asked if he knew of any good wrestlers and they would take them on his word.”
This was in late 1987 and things in the WWF were blowing up in the promotion with the Steamboat–Savage era about to take off. VanHorn jumped at the offer.
“The next thing I know, Larry has tickets mailed to my house,” said VanHorn.”He told me that I needed to bump like I never bumped before, say yes sir, and ask smart questions.”
Vanhorn would be stepping in the ring with some of the biggest names in the sport at the time. Names like Bret Hart, Rick Rude, Greg Valentine, and Randy Savage. The wrestler from Memphis knew what his role was going to be. Van was a “jobber” and his main purpose was to make the top talent look good.
“I was thinking, what is this 24-year kid from Memphis, Tennessee who has been wrestling for two years doing wrestling on the biggest stage in professional wrestling,” said VanHorn. “No matter what my role was, I’m on that stage and you weren’t.”
Over a six-month period, Van wrestled in 14 matches with the WWF. If he wasn’t getting beat up by the One Man Gang or Bam Bam Bigelow in single matches, he and a partner were getting beat up by teams like the British Bulldogs, the Hart Foundation, and Demolition.
“After the first night of working with the Demolition, I was over with the guys. During our match, Smash gave me a chop in the ring that would knock down most big oaks,” said VanHorn. “After the match, we get in the dressing room and they both put their arm around me and say, so, you’re a tough guy. I told them I wasn’t really a tough guy, but I play one on television.”
Eventually, VanHorn got a full-time job with Federal Express and wasn’t able to travel during the week anymore. That led to the end of his wrestling career in the WWF.
“It was disappointing because at the time I was going up there for them. I made some good connections with some other job guys,” said VanHorn. “I ended up going out to Las Vegas to the Showboat twice and I did some shows for the AWA. At that time, the AWA started to not be the promotion that it had been because Vince was pulling in all the great talent from everywhere.
Participating in some matches here and there, life started to change for VanHorn. He started to experience some opportunities and more responsibilities with his full-time job. He continued to stay in good physical health, but eventually, the wrestling would stop.
In 2003, he would move back to Memphis, and after a few months of being home, he would call up his former tag team partner Motley Cruz. Van found out where his friend was training in Dyersburg, and once again, wrestling was waiting for him if he wanted it.
“I really didn’t want to wrestle. I was really doing it to hang out with him,” said VanHorn. “The passion wasn’t there.”
After his daughter was born in 2004, he tried wrestling once again, but his heart just wasn’t into the sport that he had loved his whole life. 10 years passed, and at that time, he was now 52 years old. VanHorn started thinking it was time to get back into the gym to see if he could put on a little muscle.
After a few months of working out and seeing some changes in his body, he considered calling Greg Anthony, a wrestler he met in Dyersburg 10 years earlier.
“I had no idea he was part of the NWA promotion. I had no idea what he had done with his career, and what he had done in all of the places he had traveled and who he had worked with,” said VanHorn. “I told him I was thinking about wrestling again, but I told him I needed someone I could trust to run me through the motions to see if I could do at that age.”
A week later, he found himself driving to Dyersburg to meet up with Greg. The two men briefly talked about how they were going to approach the day’s training schedule. Van got into the ring with one of Greg’s trainees, and after a couple of moves, Van takes a shoulder tackle and hits the mat.
“I took one of the best bumps that I have ever taken in my life. Greg walks over, stands across my chest, looks down at me, and says when do you want to wrestle,” said VanHorn.” You could tell that I wasn’t going to let anything see stop me. I was there physically and the passion was back.”
Today, VanHorn is wrestling in the NWA Mid-South Promotion. He and his partner Drop Dead Dale Wyld wrestle under the name the Love Connection, and they currently hold the NWA Mid South Tag Team Championship, which is their third time to hold the belts. In October, they challenged Rob Conway and Matt Riviera, and though they came up short, Van was happy with the outcome.
“A lot of people discount the NWA because it is not what it used to be, but at last count, the NWA was 32 promotions,” said VanHorn. “If you are in the ring competing for a belt that represents 32 promotions, that is still a pretty big deal to me.
In November, VanHorn got the opportunity of a lifetime when he stepped in the ring for his very first NWA Heavyweight Title match against Champion Tim Storm. The match only lasted about 20 minutes, with Storm winning by pinfall. VanHorn will never forget it.
“After the NWA tag match, somehow, it aligned me for a title match. I’m not sure how that happened,” said VanHorn. “What do you say? It’s the belt that Jack Brisco and Harley Race held.”
When VanHorn sits back and looks over his wrestling career, it humbles him. He still has a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that he was able to wrestle in the WWF for 18 months. Now 53, and wrestling once again, VanHorn is having opportunities to fight World Champion wrestlers in both single and tag team competition, proving that he has been blessed with opportunities in his wrestling career.
” I don’t know how to explain it. It’s incomprehensible, it’s overwhelming, it’s a blessing, it’s many things wrapped into one,” said VanHorn. “Everything has slowed down and there is a greater appreciation.”
Besides being 54, Van still feels that he is young when it comes to his in-ring wrestling ability. Because of that, he takes advantage of every chance he gets to improve himself. Last summer, he did a wrestling camp with Harley Race, and while he was there he met Hiroshi Tanahashi, an accomplished Japanese wrestler.
“I want to go and wrestle in Japan. I want to go fulfill that opportunity I had with Brody before he was murdered,” said VanHorn. “That has always eaten at me all of these years. I still physically think I can do it,”