“Here comes the Ax, here comes the Smasher … The Demolition, a walking disaster.”
It’s among the most iconic wrestling entrance music in history, befitting two of the most memorable wrestlers of their generation and beyond.
Together, Ax and Smash dominated the tag team wrestling scene in the 1980s and early ‘90s as the leather-wearing, face-painted behemouths known as Demolition, an alliance that continues, albeit more sparingly, to this day.
But before there was Ax or Smash, there was Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow, the men behind those iconic characters.
Eadie, a native of Pennsylvania, and Darsow, a lifelong Minnesotan, would each carve out successful solo wrestling careers before they formed an unforgettable alliance that will live forever.
“I grew up here in Robbinsdale, Minnesota,” Darsow said in a television interview ahead of Demolition’s next appearance, in Kingston on May 7.
Given Minnesota’s long history of churning out legendary pro wrestlers, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a young Darsow was a wrestling fan.
“I grew up watching Verne Gagne and Larry ‘The Ax’ Hennig and Harley Race and Baron von Raschke and the Crusher and the Bruiser,” Darsow said. “On Sunday morning after church, I’d run home and watch those guys on TV. That’s when I got hooked on wrestling.”
The now 56-year-old Darsow grew up a fan and later developed the build of a wrestler, becoming a 300-plus pound mountain of muscle, but wrestling for a living never crossed his mind, he said.
Instead, it was while working as a bouncer at bar – the same bar where future wrestling icons like Hawk and Animal (the Road Warriors) and Nikita Koloff and Rick Rude worked – that Darsow’s fate was sealed.
“We were all pretty good size guys and working at the bar and one of the bartenders was Eddie Sharkey, who was a pro wrestler on Verne Gagne’s TV. One Friday night, we were all having a couple of beers after work and Eddie goes, ‘You know, I’m going to get you guys into wrestling.’ There had just been an all-out brawl at the bar and we were throwing people out the doors. We were kind of laughing and thought ‘Are you serious?’ And he goes, ‘Well, yeah, if you want to get into wrestling.’ So he trained us.”
Sharkey’s good friend, wrestling legend Ole Anderson, used to happen by Sharkey’s training school and became instrumental in Darsow getting into the business.
In those days, Darsow said, the wrestling territories were very much still alive and well. It’s a trend, he said, that he sees re-emerging in the world of wrestling today.
“It’s kind of the same scenario, but what’s changed now, in the United States at least, is there is still territories everywhere around here now,” Darsow said. “So every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a lot of the guys are starting to make a hundred, $200 bucks a show. It’s good matches that are out there. Ax and myself, we go out about twice a month now, we hit these small shows. We can’t do anything in the ring like we used to. We’re getting old. But to help these guys out, you give them your knowledge and what you’ve gone through over all of the years, and it is so fun to watch. They’re getting 400, 500, 600, 700 people in a lot of these buildings now and they’ve got their own little territories. Those guys, they know they’re not going to be in the WWE, they’ve got their own little territories going and they’re excited about it and the people around the towns are excited about it. It’s kind of like back in the old days.”
Early in his career, Darsow worked all over the world, including making his debut in Hawaii as Tsar Mongo. Other characters from the early part of his career included Crusher Darsow with Mid-South Wrestling and Krusher Khruschev, the first character Darsow enjoyed big-time success as. He would spend a couple of years working for Jim Crockett Promotions before joining the then World Wrestling Federation in the late 1980s.
Like nearly every wrestler in those days, Darsow paid his dues, sleeping his car, working for less than gas money and spending month after month, year after year, on the road.
One of Darsow’s more memorable road stories involved an overnight road trip between cities with the legendary Ivan Koloff.
“Ivan Koloff would laugh about it,” Darsow said before telling his story. “My wife is sitting right here and she’s probably going to cringe when I say it.”
Darsow set the stage by explaining that they’d finished a TV taping on a Saturday and then flew to Huntington, WV, to work.
“We wrestled in Richmond, Virginia, so we had to drive from TV to Richmond, got to Richmond, we wrestled, we were on last so we got out of the building about midnight and we had to be in Charleston, South Carolina, the next afternoon, so really, you had to drive all the way.”
They had a full night of driving ahead of them, on little to no sleep.
“We get out of Richmond, Virginia., and me and Ivan are driving down the road and I am so tired,” Darsow recalled. “Ivan looks at me and says, ‘Hey Barry, do you want me to drive?’ I said ‘Iv, you know, I would just as soon drive.’ When I was on the road, I didn’t like anybody else to drive. I knew I could trust myself.”
Fatigue, however, got the best of Darsow.
“I was starting to nod off. I had the window open, I stopped the car a few times and ran around the car. Finally, I said, ‘Ivan, are you sure you’re going to be alright?’ and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I feel really good.’”
Darsow went against his better judgment, pulled over and let Koloff take the wheel. Despite his fatigue, he couldn’t stop worrying about his road mate behind the wheel.
“I’ve got one eye open looking at Ivan and he’s got the cruise control on at about 80 miles an hour and I’m a nervous wreck. I look at Ivan and Ivan’s starting to doze off. I said, ‘Ivan, you doing OK?’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I feel like a million bucks.’”
Darsow, still leery of Koloff at the command, pretends to nod off, a test for his friend, if you will.
“So I make like I’m sleeping and I look over at Ivan and Ivan’s head goes down and he is out cold, sleeping, cruise control on 80,” Darsow recalled, as if it was yesterday and not 30 years ago. “I reached over and I grabbed the wheel and I was driving the car down the freeway for what seemed like about 10 minutes, but it was probably about 15, 20 seconds to a minute or so. Then Ivan all of a sudden wakes up and he’s driving and I look at him and I go, ‘Ivan, how you feeling?’ He goes, ‘I’ve never felt so good in my life.’ I said, ‘Well, I suppose, you just took a half-hour nap!’”
After dominating the territories, Darsow finally got the call that every wrestler waits and hopes for, from WWE.
“I was in that Charlotte territory for Crockett and Jim Crockett promised me a certain amount of money on a big show and he didn’t pay me, so I ended up putting my notice in that I quit because I always believe that whatever they tell you … that’s the bond,” Darsow said. “That’s your contract. And he broke the contract so I quit.”
Vince McMahon caught wind of Darsow’s free agency and, in need of someone to be a less recognizable member of his Demolition creation than Moondog Rex (Randy Colley), called up Darsow. Rex was the original Smash, but fans easily recognized the hulking star, a no-no in the days of kayfabe.
“He called me up and he said, ‘Barry, I’ve got something for you if you’re interested, would you like to come up to the WWF?’ I said, ‘Vince, I’ve got to check my schedule, I’m awful busy, but hold on a minute …’ He was laughing. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m free, when do you want me?’ He said, ‘You’ve got a flight tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. and a limo will pick you up and I’ll meet you at the office tomorrow.’”
Darsow flew to WWE headquarters to meet the boss.
“He brought me about 10 different pictures of exactly what Demolition Smash would look like,” Darsow recalled. “And then he said, ‘Ax is going to be your partner’ and did I mind being partners with him and all this stuff. I had met Bill a long time ago in Atlanta when he was the Masked Superstar so we’d been in the same towns a few times and met and talked and everything. And he liked me.”
Darsow accepted the job with the condition that he could take a mini hiatus to clear his head and get ready for his fresh start.
“So he put me under contract right away and I didn’t work for about six months and then I started with Bill.”
The reformed Demolition was born, and a reign of dominance began that would reshape the tag team division. Demolition were heels – bad guys – but it wasn’t until manager Mr. Fuji joined the duo that they were truly reviled.
“Mr. Fuji actually made us more heels than what we were,” Darsow said. “Mr. Fuji was a heel for so many years. And when Johnny Valiant was our manager, it just wasn’t a serious gimmick. Once Fuji came on with us, then it became very serious. He helped us out a lot. He was actually a real manager to us, too. He’d critique the matches for us and we’d listen to him.”
Demolition reached the top of the wrestling world at WrestleMania IV, winning their first WWF tag team titles, holding the titles for a record reign of 478 days, which still stands today.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Darsow said of the titles. “It’s either you’re the world champion, in singles, or you’re the tag team champions. For us, it really did mean a lot because not only Vince McMahon trusted us with the belt, but the guys at that time were the best tag teams in the world, and there were a lot of them, they loved having us have the belts because they all wanted to work with us and we had good matches with everybody. It was a huge, huge honour.”
Darsow spoke fondly of that long reign, a feat he felt was deserved at the time.
“This sounds kind of terrible, but I thought we deserved it,” he said. “I thought we were the guys who made wrestling look like it was real, I thought that the people hated us enough that they wanted the (British) Bulldogs to beat us, you know. And that’s what it’s all about. So, yeah it was a big honour and everything but I thought we deserved it and I really thought we did the belts justice.”
In life, they say all good things must come to an end. In pro wrestling, that’s all but a guarantee. After one of the most memorable and dominant runs by any duo in wrestling history, Demolition was demolished.
“Bill got sick eating seafood, he almost died and then they brought Crush in,” Darsow summarized when asked about the end of Demolition’s run, referring to Brian Adams. “That was right when the Road Warriors finished up their contract and they were going to come in also. Once the Road Warriors came in, we were babyfaces at the time. They wanted those guys to be babyfaces and us to be heels again. Well, the people just didn’t really want that. They tried to do all of these different things to make us heels and it was a terrible thing. They really blew the whole opportunity.”
Darsow said WWE left a lot of money on the table by not building a Road Warriors/Demolition rivalry slowly over time.
“When they came in, The Demolition should have never wrestled them,” Darsow said. “It should have been two or three or four years down the road. You could have built something that would have been just unbelievable. They just put it together for no reason and then it ended up hurting the Road Warriors and it ended up hurting Demolition. The Road Warriors were never really the Road Warriors again after that. I didn’t like the whole situation, but we can’t say anything. The office does what they’re going to do. So that ended up splitting us up and that was the end of The Demolition.”
While Smash was certainly the undisputed most successful character that Darsow portrayed during his career, they all hold special meaning, he said.
“It was great,” Darsow said of his time in Demolition. “But being the Repo Man was great. Being Krusher Khruschev, being the Black Top Bully, being all the different characters I was, they were all great. Mr. Hole In One, I loved that gimmick. In fact, I was trying to get (golfer) John Daly to be my manager and we were trying to do some different things and it just didn’t work out. I think it was going to get over too much so they didn’t want that. I am really a golfer. I was at one time.”
Repo Man, in particular, as a hit with fans. The character saw Darsow, sporting a black Domino mask, gleefully repossessing items along the way. Darsow developed the character in about a week.
“I’ve always said I can do anything,” he said when asked what his initial reaction to the character was. “I loved it because I knew I was going to make money.”
So popular was his Repo Man gimmick that Darsow still gets requests to reprise that role today.
“Oh yeah, but I don’t,” he said. “One of the reasons I go out is to be with Bill. We’re good friends.”
The now nearly lifelong friends will once again don the studs, leather and facepaint this weekend in Kingston, at Cataraqui Community Arena, as part of Great North Wrestling.
“It’s kind of nice to get up to Canada and see the old fans we haven’t seen for so long. Before, we didn’t shake hands with anybody, we yelled at everybody and now we actually talk to them and we like everybody. I love that whole Montreal-Kingston, that whole area around there, I have a lot of friends around there. I’m a fisherman and a hunter. The people up there, where you’re at, they’re fantastic. That’s really how I feel. And I love the food too.”
Darsow admitted he’s at a loss to explain the absence of Demolition on WWE TV since they were broken up and later left WWE.
“I don’t know what their deal is,” he said. “I suppose there’s probably some heat there somewhere, but if they asked, I’d go back. It’s just kind of strange that they haven’t asked us.”
Ditto for Demolition’s absence from the WWE Hall of Fame.
“It’d be a huge honour,” Darsow admitted. “That’s what it’s all about, but right now, to get into the hall of fame is such a work. It’s like wrestling, it’s not real anymore. They kind of just pick whoever they want to, it’s kind of a buddy system. I don’t quite understand the hall of fame. I don’t think they pick the best. It’s just whatever is going to be right at that situation, I guess. I don’t know.”
Eadie and Darsow were honoured with a tag team award at 2015’s Cauliflower Alley Club banquet.
The history books don’t lie. Darsow and Eadie are among the greatest tag teams of all time. For his part, Darsow will always look back with fondness on his time as part of Demolition.
“You look at all the tag teams and it was an honour to be one of the champions, and I thought that we really did our part in making wrestling look real, be professional and I thought we were a major part of that era to really have the fans watch wrestling.”
Great North Wrestling presents Demolition
When: Saturday, May 7
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Cataraqui Community Centre, 1030 Sunnyside Road, Kingston.