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Wrestling with Country Music and Baseball: “Mat Memories” is a Home Run

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Wrestling with Country Music and Baseball: “Mat Memories” is a Home Run

Had he continued on his ill-advised foray into becoming a professional wrestler, the Sultan of Schizophrenia would have been an appropriate moniker for John Arezzi.

By his own admission, Arezzi’s life has been a frenetic whirlwind of undeniable success, unavoidable obstacles, and missed opportunities, with a sprinkling of well-deserved, old-fashioned, luck for good measure. But perhaps most notable is that the chaos occurred in a variety of remarkably different professions – under different identities.

The aptly titled Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music, and with the Mets, written by Arezzi and co-authored by Greg Oliver, released April 6 from ECW Press, tells the fascinating tale of Arezzi’s aforementioned adventures in the three vastly diverse worlds the author made his indelible marks in. Occasionally incredulous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always riveting, the book covers the entrepreneur’s initial job with his beloved New York Mets via their Class A minor league affiliate, his fearless entry into the grappling game, his drastic career change to country music due to his extreme disillusionment with the wrestling business, and his eventual return to covering the gladiators of the mat.

John Arezzi holding a “Mat Memories” poster and t-shirt

Despite the amount of ground to cover, Arezzi still manages to give readers a substantial taste of his childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional Italian-American household in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York before a brief stint in Ridgewood, Queens, Arezzi and his family eventually settled in the suburbs of Long Island, where he still resides on a part-time basis today when he’s not in Nashville, Tennessee, the city he’s called home for the past 20 years. Early chapters explore his complicated relationships with his mother Mary (“Snooky”), who suffered with mental illness, and his hardworking father Salvatore (“Big Sam”), who was constantly hustling to provide for his brood.

Another key element to the book is Arezzi’s closeness to his younger sister Donna and her son Dominic, who he considers to be the son he never had. One particular story about the time Donna was a contestant on Deal or No Deal with future president of the United States Donald Trump has to be read to be believed.

Arezzi’s exposure to wrestling began in 1964 when his older sister Linda happened upon midget (then an acceptable term) wrestling, of all things, on television. While he was immediately intrigued, it was a match featuring the eventual “Living Legend” of the sport, Bruno Sammartino, that truly drew him in to the spectacle. Like many Italians from that era, Sammartino became Arezzi’s idol, and he was officially hooked. Eventually, he discovered Freddie Blassie, an archetypal “heel,” or bad guy, in the ring. Although the role of a “heel” is to make the fans hate you and cheer your opponent, Arezzi’s understanding of the inner workings of the business allowed him to appreciate how adept Blassie was at playing his part. And ultimately, the ambitious Arezzi parlayed his adoration for Blassie into creating an official fan club for him, which the grappler gave his blessing to, and led to a lifelong friendship between the pair. Incidentally, Arezzi would also become particularly close with his original hero, Sammartino, a bond covered in detail.

While Arezzi’s career as an actual wrestler only lasted for two matches in 1978, one of which consisted of him getting brutalized by the no-nonsense Dusty Rhodes, he’s undoubtedly best known for his groundbreaking Pro Wrestling Spotlight radio show that aired on various stations in many different incarnations until 1995, initially on his barely-heard college station in the mid ‘70s, and most famously on the 50,000 watt WEVD 1050 AM. The highlight (or lowlight, depending on your perspective) of his radio years occurred in the early ‘90s and it’s what really put Arezzi, and his show, on the map, so to speak. A litany of explosive scandals were exposed in the industry-leading World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) at the time, ranging from steroid and other, more serious, drug use, to a lengthy list of allegations of sexual misconduct, including the abuse of minors. Arezzi’s exhaustive coverage of the scandals was unrivaled and culminated in a 1992 appearance on The Phil Donahue Show, the top daytime talk show of its time. Also appearing on the program was Sammartino, Dave Meltzer, editor of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (widely considered to be “The New York Times of professional wrestling” to this day), former wrestler “Superstar” Billy Graham, an outspoken critic of the product at the time, and even WWE CEO Vince McMahon. It was an engrossing hour of television and the lead-up and fallout is covered extensively and is must-read material.

“Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music and with the Mets,” out now

Arezzi’s brief, yet infamous, partnership with Vince Russo, a polarizing figure who went on to great success as McMahon’s right-hand man in WWE, in addition to his pivotal role in creating wrestling conventions for fans, unheard of during that period but commonplace now, are fully elaborated on as well.

Arezzi’s disenchantment with the business aspect of wrestling, along with his love of music, led to his name change as the one-time John Arezzi (and occasional John Anthony) became John Alexander, country music account executive, salesman, manager, and countless other roles in the genre. Completely distancing himself from his former life, it became commonplace for wrestling fans to wonder “what ever happened to John Arezzi?,” with one prevailing rumor being that he was in the Witness Protection Program. That wasn’t true, of course. Instead, depending on the year, he was either discovering superstar Kelsea Ballerini, managing the careers of singers Sarah Darling and Patty Loveless, or accepting a pre-teen Taylor Swift’s demo tape, who randomly showed up with her mother at his office.

Baseball fans will especially appreciate Arezzi’s recollections from his tenure with the New York Mets’ Class A team in North Carolina in 1981.  Although his official title was “public relations director,” the Mets fanatic wore a plethora of hats. Whether he was selling advertising, announcing, booking talent for promotions, or housing ballplayers, Arezzi more than earned his quite modest minor league $500-per-month paycheck.

While Arezzi’s career in baseball was relatively short-lived, it still managed to produce its share of alluring narratives. From living with future major leaguer and eventual Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (who wrote one of the book’s three forewords, along with wrestler Mick Foley and television personality Suzanne Alexander), to drawing the ire of New York Yankees icon Don Mattingly by playing Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” after the future All-Star struck out at the plate, there is no shortage of whimsical tidbits.

One memorable anecdote recalls running into Mets favorite Lenny Dykstra three decades after first encountering the brash ballplayer as a rookie. Once Dykstra realized who Arezzi, in the music industry at the time of their reunion, was, he exclaimed “You must be fucking loaded, bro,” with his trademark candid delivery.

John Arezzi holding the first issue of the “Pro Wrestling Spotlight” newsletter, dated May 4, 1992 (Photo: Joe Puccio)

Perhaps most impressive is Arezzi’s knack for storytelling by making each tale interesting, whether the reader is a specific fan of that entertainment form or not. So if you’re a huge country music fan but have never seen a Mets game in your life…or if wrestling just isn’t your cup of tea but the 1986 World Series will always be your favorite…or, naturally, if you consider professional wrestling, country music, and baseball to be the ultimate trifecta – Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music, and with the Mets will not disappoint.

To order Mat Memories: My Wild Life in Pro Wrestling, Country Music, and with the Mets, click here.

To listen to Pro Wrestling Spotlight Then & Now, click here.
To subscribe to Pro Wrestling Spotlight Then & Now, click here.

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For more information on Greg Oliver, click here.

For more information on ECW Press, click here.