Monday, January 24, 2022

Friend Encounters: Sasha Banks and Jim Strong

Friend Encounters is a weekly series featuring friends who have met celebrities.

Jim Strong has met a lot of celebrities. We have even met a bunch together. I like seeing Jim's pictures, unless I also wanted to meet the celeb. Such was the case with Mercedes Justine Kaestner-Varnado, better known as Sasha Banks of the WWE.
Actually, the day Jim met Sasha, I was meeting AJ Lee, Aimee Garcia and The Undertaker. It wa a tradeoff, although I still would have liked to meet Banks.
She has held the WWE Women's title four times, the NXT title once and the WWE Women's tag titles twice (with Bayley). That's almost one title for every year she has been in the WWE.
Jim reported that Banks was a lot of fun and in great spirits. The line was naturally very long, but Banks made everyone feel special during their moment with her. That's all you can ever want with any celebrity encounter.
I haven't seen Jim since a night at the Chicago Knockouts Roller Derby.I hope to see my buddy soon and meet some celebs together.
Sasha Banks ad Jim Strong in Chicago, IL-November 2019.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Celebrity Jersey Cards #571 Billy Crystal & Mario Lopez

Celebrity Jersey Cards is a weekly series featuring celebrities wearing sports jerseys. Today I salute teams ousted from the playoffs last week.

Born in New York, Billy Crystal rose to fame on tv's Soap and Saturday Night Live. He went on to an excellent movie career, including City Slickers, one of my favorites. I don't know the circumstances of him wearing the Dallas Cowboys jersey, but I know he earned a Celebrity Jersey Card for it. The #9 was most notably worn by Tony Romo.

San Diego native Mario Lopez has built quite a career. He was a Saturday morning staple on Saved By the Bell and progressed into hosting and reporting roles on several shows, including his current position on Access Hollywood. For his Celebrity Jersey Card, Lopez and his wife stayed true to his SD roots, donning a Chargers #99 worn most notably by defensive end Raylee Johnson. Unfortunately for Lopez, the Chargers moved back to Los Angeles, staying true to their LA roots.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

On the Beat With Erika Piancastelli

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Piancastelli, softball star of the Italian National Team and Athletes Unlimited. Erika is part of RISR, a venture which is about to launch in early March. Erika was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to discuss all of that with me.

Born in Modena, Italy, Erika's family moved to California when she was five. Softball is in her blood, as her mother Loredana Auletta competed for Italy in the 2000 Olympics.

Erika starred at McNeese State University, where she racked up many awards and accolades. She was the Southland Conference Player of the Year four times. She finished her career there with a .401 batting average, with 75 HRs, 212 RBIs, 70 steals, and an .868 slugging percentage.

In 2020, Erika played in the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited Softball. Last year, she played for Team Italy in the Tokyo Olympics, followed by her second season with AU Softball. In our interview, she also confirmed she will return for AU Seasons Three and Four!

Our interview started with Erika talking about playing in the Olympics, I know she has been asked about that experience many times, but I don't often get to talk to an Olympian and I had to hear it directly.

I then asked her for her thoughts on the unique scoring system and play of AU Softball. As GWSR readers know, AU utilizes a scoring system where points are awarded for team and individual statistics. Teams are redrafted every week. At the end of the season, one champion is crowned. Erika had nothing but praise for the league, system and players. Obviously, if she is signed for two more seasons, she must enjoy it, but it says a lot to have a softball lifer embrace and endorse groundbreaking setup of AU.

Last and most timely right now, Erika talked about RISR. Launching in early March, RISR is an app connecting the viewer with athletes through training content specifically tailored to meet all levels of players. The four instructors are Erika, Amanda Chidester, Haylie McCleney and Janie Reed. That's an elite quartet, made of four Olympians.

RISR focuses on hitting and mental training. The content is designated for specific ages and levels of players. RISR has individual lessons and specific goal-oriented training programs. RISR will fit perfectly with a player's coach and private instructor.

Next Tuesday, January 25, the RISR Team of Erika, Amanda, Haylie and Janie will present an exclusive Live Mental Training Panel. Subscribe to RISR for access to this unique Zoom opportunity.

Our interview can be found at On the Beat With Erika Piancastelli. I plan on doing more updates with the elite athletes of RISR. Until then, go to to learn all about this upcoming app.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Terri Runnels at GLCW's Golden Days

Terri Runnels has had a fascinating career in wrestling. She started in World Championship Wrestling as Alexandra York, leader of the York Foundation, a group of wrestlers who used high tech computer info to defeat opponents. She moved to the WWE as Marlena, valet to then-husband Goldust. The cigar-smoking Marlena added a new layer to the intriguing Goldust character. Eventually, Terri assumed her true identity and became a manager for others. The little she-devil even won the Hardcore title once.

Terri has kept a bit of a low profile since leaving wrestling, although she does make appearances at various conventions and events. At the Motor City Comic Con many years ago, Terry started calling me "Jay Leno," a name I heard fairly often those days. This brought frustration to The Honkytonk Man, who was also there and thought he was the first to make that connection. Since then, I have seen Terri many times. She has been kind enough to give me a few interviews, a promo and even wore my shirt.

I will see Terri again Saturday at Great Lakes Championship Wrestling's Golden Days in Cedarburg, WI. It will be a great night of wrestling action, featuring Terri in a pre-show meet-and-greet. Will Terri get involved in any of the wrestling action? Will Terri attempt to mix it up with Linda Kay, the unexpected star of last month's Blizzard Brawl? I don't know, but I will find out while I am "On the Beat" there. I will report back here on all the action.

Go to for more info on Golden Days and other GLCW events. Check back here for my recurring coverage of GLCW.

Terri Runnels and me in Waukesha, WI-December 2012.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ryan Kross and Jeff Luxon in Waukesha, WI-December 2021

At Blizzard Brawl 2021, I reconnected with Ryan Kross and Jeff Luxon, two veteran wrestlers. Because the pair wrestles in northern Illinois and Wisconsin, I don't see them too often. 
Of course, that is one of the great things about Blizzard Brawl. Saturday, January 22, I should see the pair again at Great Lakes Championship Wrestling's Golden Days, featuring Terri Runnels. Not only do GLCW events have great wrestlers on the card, many wrestlers can be found in the audience. 
Kross and Luxon are scheduled to wrestle at Golden Days, just as they wrestled at Blizzard Brawl. They are a formidable tag team, capable of winning titles whenever they wrestle.
With all due respect to Kross, Luxon and the other fine wrestlers at GLCW, Golden Days is about Terri for me. I have met Terri several times and it is always a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to seeing her again and I thank GLCW for bringing her.
Of course, I am also expecting a great night of wrestling action. Backwoods Brown battles Luscious Lawrence for the GLCW Heavyweight Championship. Mr. Pec-tacular Jessie Godderz defends his OVW Heavyweight title against Joey Avalon. The GLCW Tag Titles are on the line when The Express battles The Fanny Pack Party. Drew Hernandez faces TW3. Also, my bud Kross battles Tony Gunn. Other matches may be added, but even though Luxon isn't scheduled to wrestle, I am quite sure he will be there.
Go to for all of the info on Golden Days and other events. I will be "On the Beat" there and will report back here and for and
Ryan Kross, Jeff Luxon and me in Waukesha, WI-December 2021.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

On the Beat With Enerjax

I have seen artist Enerjax at comic cons, but I never had the opportunity to talk to her at length due to the usual chaos of those events. We chatted a bit at C2E2 2021 and I told her I wanted to interview her. Yesterday, I finally had the chance to interview her about her career and art. Our interview can be found at On the Beat With Enerjax.

Enerjax was born in Indiana, but currently resides in the Chicago area. She studied animation and Japanese in college. After college, she actually taught English in Japan. She draws her favorite characters, as well as creating her own.

At comic cons, with literally hundreds of artists displaying their work, it is not easy to stand out. Enerjax and her beautiful art stand out. This is why I wanted to interview her and fortunately she graciously agreed to give me some time via Zoom.

Enerjax talked about how she got started, making a career of art, her style, her favorite characters, and much more. It was such a fun introductory interview. Enerjax has a lot of positive energy (hence her name) and made it very easy. It was just like having a conversation with her.

After you watch the video interview, check out Enerjax on social media and also go to for more info. I hope to get an update interview with Enerjax in the future, either at a comic con or via Zoom. Maybe I'll see her at C2E2 2022, which runs August 5-7.

I encourage everyone to follow her on social media @enerjax. If you see her at a comic con, stop by and check out her art. You'll be as fascinated as I am.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

On the Beat With Artist Sergio Santos

Several months ago, I discovered artist Sergio Santos on social media. On Friday, I had the pleasure of going "On the Beat" with Sergio of El Santos World to discuss his art.
Sergio has a unique style. He refers to it as "memorializing and reconstructing" images. That's better than I could have described his style. As you can see in the examples below, the images are completely identifiable, yet are not exact duplications.
This is such a fascinating art form to me. My mind doesn't work that way. I can sketch a fair approximation of an original, but I don't have the creativity to go out of the box the way Sergio does. The letters for the player names isn't precise. Sometimes a letter from the name or even the jersey might be floating above somewhere. When Sergio does it, I love the result. I would struggle with preciseness and not let my imagination roam like Sergio. That type of creativity coupled with his artistic talent makes his work incredible.
Sergio's work isn't limited to recreating trading cards. He has also put other athletes, wrestlers, musicians and more on trading cards. He also does a lot of art not connected to trading cards. It's all beautiful.
Another cool thing Sergio does is post Time-Lapse videos of his work in progress, complete with funky music that fits perfectly. It's not often you get to see the artist in action, but Sergio regularly posts his Time-Lapse creation process.
I talked to Sergio about all of that. He discussed his start in art, his creative process, choosing his subjects and more. We have common interests in pop culture of all sorts.
Pictured below are three of Sergio's creations of WNBA players Chamique Holdsclaw, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. It isn't often you see an artist featuring women athletes. Most artists do higher profile male athletes. Sergio does that, too, but he also does women, like these three, along with lesser known male subjects. The fact that Sergio is paying homage to women athletes is a major step in the right direction for women.
I finished the interview by requesting more women and I am sure Sergio will incorporate more into his work going forward. Sergio is very active on social media and he accepts suggestions, like he did with a Rowdy Roddy Piper request of mine. He also does commission, of course, where you buy the actual piece, instead of just enjoying it online.
Our interview can be found at On the Beat With Sergio Santos. Also, check out for more info and art.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Friend Encounters: Buzz Lightyear and Mad Man Pondo

Friend Encounters is a weekly series featuring friends who have met celebrities.

I have previously written several times about Mad Man Pondo. Several years ago at Resistance Pro Wrestling in Chicago, I had the pleasure of working with Pondo. Despite more than 1,000 interviews on my resume, I was intimidated about approaching Pondo, because of his hardcore reputation.
That reputation would prove to be completely accurate inside the ring, but outside of it, Pondo is one of the most laidback, coolest people I have met. In a time of turmoil at Resistance Pro, it was always calming to see Pondo at the events.
Pondo is a pro's pro. He is always willing to help any wrestler, without being pushy. The man has wrestled for 30+ years and has done it all. Although he prefers taking a stop sign to his opponent's head (or his own), Pondo is very capable of technical wrestling. He has an incredible mind for the business, too.
You might look at the picture of him and Buzz Lightyear and think it conflicts with his persona. It really doesn't, but if it did, Pondo wouldn't care. Pnndo does what he enjoys and he pays no mind to others.
I figured Pondo had a ton of great wrestling and non-wrestling stories and that was proven in Memoirs of a Mad Man, a book co-written by our mutual friend John Cosper. That book is awesome. There are so many great, interesting and funny stories (although I bet he hasn't even scratched the surface).
I have read a bunch of wrestling books and this one ranks up with the best. Pondo doesn't need to put himself over. He simply tells stories.
John is the perfect person to help with the book. As a knowledgeable, passionate and respectful wrestling fan, John knows exactly how to get the best stories and how to tell them. There are no stories about Pondo and Buzz Lightyear though. Maybe if there is a More Memoirs of a Mad Man, we can learn about Pondo meeting Buzz and some of the mascots we will see here in the future.
For more info on Memoirs of a Mad Man or any of John's other books, go to I am slowly filling my bookshelves with John's books and they all have been hits so far.
Buzz Lightyear and Mad Man Pondo at Hollywood Studios, FL-February 2020.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Celebrity Jersey Cards #570 David Giraud & Velvet Sky

Celebrity Jersey Cards is a weekly series featuring celebrities wearing sports jerseys. Today, I celebrate the two worst teams in the NFL (although I would argue the Chicago Bears belong in this discussion).

A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Matt Giraud sang and played drums all through school. Giraud finished in fifth place on the eighth season of American Idol. Giraud sang the national anthem for the Detroit Lions, earning his Celebrity Jersey Card.He wore the #66, most notably the number offormer  guard Bob Kowalkowski.

Velvet Sky has been featured here many times, thanks to her NFVel posters. She did one for every team and eventually I will get through all of them if I continue this that long. Velvet was a successful wrestler who is currently a color commentator for the NWA. For this Velvet Celebrity Jersey Card, she is wearing a #76 Luke Joeckel jersey. To see the other NFL posters and all of Velvet's other merch, go to

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Cards That Never Were: Merritt Kersey Topps 1976

Cards That Never Were is a recurring series in which I create virtual trading cards for players missed in various sets. It is a concept I have borrowed from far too many to list, but I appreciate all of their efforts. Other creations of mine and many others can be found in the Custom Baseball Cards Facebook group (which is not just baseball cards, despite the name).
Merritt Kersey played his college ball at West Chester, before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles before the 1974 season. He played two season with the Eagles, punting 97 times for a 3.5 yard average with no blocks.
For his efforts, Topps gave Kersey a card in the 1975 set, but left him out of the 1976 set. Spike Jones took over for Kersey in the '75 season and got a card in the '76 set. Still, I felt the need to give Kersey a "career capper," especially since I found an action shot of him.