“Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.” -Micheal J. Fox
While Micheal J. Fox is known for his Hollywood roles of paling around with Doc Brown as Marty McFly, his message of family is something those from the big screen to the local scene can identify with. Similar to many genres of entertainment, professional wrestling has its share of family ties. Terry and Dory Jr. blazed a trail for decades, following the footsteps of Dory Sr., known in his heyday as the pioneer of the Texas Deathmatch. More recently, Brian Pillman Jr. and Dominik Mysterio also pursued the family business. Let’s not forget the notable Samoan Dynasty that has numerous cousins, brothers, and uncles involved in the squared circle.
An example of family heritage on the Pittsburgh circuit is 19-year pro Dean Radford, a powerhouse of a grappler that was introduced to the concept of independent wrestling when his cousin, the late great, Ron “The Beast” Williams was scheduled for an appearance at the now-demolished Eastland Mall in North Versailles, located roughly 25 minutes outside of the city. Dean was in attendance for that card in the late-90s and it was an experience that left a profound impression on him.
“Man, it was like a larger-than life-situation, I was watching the sport I loved and also my family put on a great show. The best part was later in my life, I got the privilege of forming a tag team with my cousin Ron and won the tag championships, it’s a memory I’ll never forget,” Dean explained.
Growing up a diehard “Hulkamaniac,” Dean’s exposure to live wrestling occurred early in life, as his brother took him to outdoor AWA shows when he was in kindergarten, and the sport was always a part of family activities. Throughout his youth, he stayed glued to the television, memorized by the over-the-top heroes he saw beamed through the screen. Once he made up his mind, he was set on making his way into the pro ranks, preparing in high school to eventually step into the squared circle. With Hogan and Macho Man posters plastered on his wall, he used the Mega Powers inspiration to begin a dedicated weight training regiment to prepare his body for the tedious process to learn how to become a pro wrestler.
— Dean Radford (@DeanRadford) October 31, 2020
“I did a lot of power lifting to bulk, tons of protein, and was in the gym twice a day, if I could. I made sure to get in the ring at least once a week, but if more was possible, I’d be there. The ring can work you out better than a gym for cardio,” Radford remarked.
How Dean ended up in his first training sessions and who he learned from are stories that only the world of sports entertainment could produce for an aspiring hopeful.
As mentioned, he had family ties to the local scene and found himself at live cards as often as he could, particularly during the surge in popularity of the 90s. Through his fandom, he met one of the godfathers of the Pittsburgh indy circuit, Norm Connors, who promoted Steel City Wrestling throughout the late-90s and then the International Wrestling Cartel for nearly a decade before he retired from the genre. Both promotions booked some featured stars of their time, including Cactus Jack, Dan Severn, Stevie Richards, and others, while the IWC later had AJ Styles, CM Punk, and Chris Sabin scheduled for events.
If you are ashamed of growing up a wrestling fan and ended up in the wrestling business then you shouldn’t be a wrestler. Here is a throwback of me and my buddy the @BlueMeanieBWO pic.twitter.com/JGUieS7O9j
— Dean Radford (@DeanRadford) October 24, 2020
Despite getting to work as a staffer on Steel City events where many notable stars appeared, there wasn’t exactly anything glamours about Dean’s job as ring crew, security, and bringing a few hundred chairs into venues. However, it was something he remained enthusiastic about, simply because he wanted to be involved in the industry any way he could.
“Norm took a young kid and let him in the business. I helped set the ring up, chairs, entrance way, and sometimes security. Norm went out of his way to teach me the business and half the time he didn’t even know it, but that’s Norm, always helping someone. Norm is my wrestling dad and I owe him a great debt for allowing me into his shows and his life. I’m happy to call him my friend,” Dean said.
Once he was in the loop of the western PA scene, he finally got the chance to begin his training in late-1999 with a few names well-known inside as well as outside of the steel city. T. Rantula, a giant wrestler that is regarded as a local legend and in his heyday appeared at various times for WWF, WCW, and ECW. Shane Douglas, who was still local to the area even though he worked on national TV at the time, stopped by the building to assist when he could and keep his own skills sharp. Finally, the eccentric Matt Borne, the performer that originally worked as Doink The Clown, lived in the area for a short time, working at the training school. Later on, Radford finished the course and polished his techniques under the guidance of Shirley Doe and Super Henti, a pair of some of the most respected figures in the area that each have nearly 25-year careers on their resume.
“At 18, training with T-Rantula for a year and had the great opportunity learning from Shane Douglas and Matt Borne while training with him. I really got my feet wet with IWC school learning under Shirley Doe and Super Hentai. It was a great learning from all features in this business,” Radford said.
By 2001, with a metal-inspired persona, Dean Radford rumbled his way to the ring for his rookie year in the sport that he idolized all of his life. Tattered shorts and a ruffled t-shirt accompanied his wrestling boots inside the ring ropes. But, when Dean was set to square off with an opponent, he wasn’t alone, as nearly two dozen of his family members were often in attendance with pride to watch him perform in the sport they all followed. After nearly six years of a prime run in IWC, including when he defeated the future Corey Graves for a championship, business outside of pro wrestling took him away from the steel city.
“It was a great time, I had the honor of working lots of very talented men. I had a great run with Sterling James Keenan. It was nice that my family would always come to the shows and having like 20 people there, they would rally and the other fans followed, it was nice,” Radford said.
Dean cites hugging his family in the front row after the initial championship win as one of the highlights of his nearly two decade career. However, it was his other career, as a representative of a marketing company that took him almost as far away from his hometown as possible when he was offered a position in Arizona. Still in the physical prime of his career, Radford looked to pursue an entirely new chapter of his story as the cactus plants that he saw there were a total switch from the snow usually associated with Western PA.
“While out there, I drove to meet a guy who I would learn is the measuring stick in Arizona wrestling and his name is Navajo Warrior. I met with him, and I came in thinking I was somebody,but he instantly made me realize that I was going to earn my spot. Best thing about being out there was really learning how to tell a story and learn to work a show like it was live tv. The way nav ran things was you run your match like the tv is live. I learned from so many down there and made some great friends,” Dean remarked.
“In 2006, a friend of mine from Ohio asked if I could give this wrestler from Pittsburgh a shot on one of our IZW shows, that is when I met Dean Radford. This big rugged 25-year-old comes waking in and introduces himself, and I was already impressed with his size. After watching Dean wrestle, I offered him a spot on our events. Dean was always looking to improve, and taking advice on how to better his in ring work. Outside of the ring, Dean and I became friends, and he and his family have become family to mine,” Navajo Warrior added.
By 2009, family again brought him back to the east coast, but under terrible circumstances, as he sister passed away from breast cancer, and Dean made it a priority to spend more time with his family. Returning to Pittsburgh, he saw things come full-circle, as he stepped back into the ring to team with his cousin Ron for the promotion that he first saw at the mall years earlier, the now-defunct Pro Wrestling Express league.
“I got to team with Ron and also work guys I never had the chance to before. Brandon K and I took over the school after being there a few years and had some really great students come thru, one specifically, Lee Moriarty, who is on his way to being a star. I enjoy training because it helps me stay within the business without beating my body up and pass on the right ways to do business,” Dean said.
Throughout his nearly 20 years in the ring, Dean suffered his share of injuries and required a few surgeries along the way, but he wouldn’t trade the experiences he had. Regardless of such and extensive and accomplished career, it was only in more recent times that he had the most thrilling experiences as a wrestler. Just like the family tradition, Dean’s three young kids got a chance to see their dad compete in the ring.
“It’s an amazing experience seeing their faces and truly feeling like Super man,it’s just amazing,” Radford said enthusiastically.
Currently, Dean Radford is one of the primary organizers for Fight Underground, the newest organization of the Pittsburgh region. With live events restricted during the pandemic, the Underground brings round table discussions and broadcasts of closed set matches to continue the fan interaction during the restrictions of the pandemic. Radford is excited to continue to work with the young talent that he sees as potentially the future of the industry in the area. Regardless of the uncertainty with the pandemic, one thing is for sure, when Dean Radford is back in the ring, as fans cheer him one, his family will be the proudest members of the audience.
For more information about Dean Radford, you can follow him on Twitter @DeanRadford
For more information about Fight Underground, you can go to https://www.facebook.com/FUThrowdown
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