A Farewell to Arms – professional wrestler Mike Barton – Interview
Leaving his Bart Gunn persona behind in the United States, Mike Barton resurrects his career in Japan
MANY AMERICAN WRESTLERS who have wrestled in Japan look back on their time spent there with great fondness. Performers such as Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Rick Steiner, and Scott Steiner have extensive experience wrestling in “the land of the rising sun” and have mentioned what a profound effect it has had on their wrestling careers. In addition to great experiences, wrestling in Japan offers the chance for some American-born performers to prolong their careers. People such as Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, Terry Funk, Vader, and Scott Norton have achieved legendary status in Japan long after their careers faded in the United States.
Mike Barton may be the next in line. Formerly Bart Gunn of the WWF, Barton has found a new life working for All Japan Professional Wrestling as the “man with the golden left.” We recently talked with Barton in Tokyo as he prepared for a match in the Champion Carnival. Among other topics, we discussed the WWF’s Brawl For All, his boxing loss to Butterbean, and his experiences wrestling in Japan.
WRESTLING DIGEST: American fans really got to know you in the WWF when you teamed with Billy Gunn as part of the Smoking Gunns. What was it like working with Billy Gunn?
MIKE BARTON: Billy Gunn and I got along quite well. We’re similar individuals. We like all the same stuff–the same movies, the same food, the same kind of lifestyle. Traveling together worked out really well. That chemistry helped us become one of the top tag teams in the WWF. We really didn’t have a push, as they say. We pretty much developed it on our own in the time we were there, and it turned out to be really successful. [Editor’s note: The Smoking Gunns won the WWF world tag team title three times from January 1995 to May 1996.] We tagged for about five years before they broke us up.
WD: What did you do after the breakup of the Smoking Gunns?
MB: We went our separate ways. He did Bronco Billy and way down the road, of course, D-Generation X. They still had me under contract, but they weren’t really doing anything with me. I tagged for a while with Bob Holly as the Tuesday Night Express with Jim Cornette. Bob was a good friend of mine, and I still stay in close contact with him. For some reason, they quit using us for a little bit, and later they came up with the Brawl For All idea.
WD: what exactly was Brawl For All?
MB: It is essentially boxing with bigger gloves and is very similar to those toughman contests. I went in with the edge that I was going to win. That’s basically what I did, and they were quite stunned. Actually the Brawl For All was quite interesting with the rules that they had, with the 20-ounce gloves. It kind of shocked people that I had three knockouts. I surprised a lot of people, except for myself.
WD: Who are some of the guys who participated?
MB: “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. He’s the one who put me on the map. I need to thank him for my career here in Japan. The Goodfather and Bradshaw also participated, and they had me fight my tag partner, Bob Holly, in the first round. He’s the only one I didn’t knock out. He’s a tough son-of-a-gun.
WD: This was certainly different than wrestling. why did you choose to do this?
MB: They weren’t doing anything with me, and, actually, I didn’t really want to do it. Then I sat back and thought about it. There were a couple of people in the WWF who said, “You ought to do this if they’re not using you.” There were a couple other people who knew I was going to win, and they said, “If you do this, they gotta do something with you.” And I said it was a good idea, and I decided to enter.
WD: You essentially defeated all challengers during the Brawl For All leading up to Wrestlemania 15. You were supposed to resume your wrestling career, but a meeting with Butterbean at Wrestlemania on March 28, 1999, changed all that.
MB: Yeah. After the Brawl For All, they again didn’t know what to do with me. I don’t know if they thought I was uncontrollable or what. I was pretty much business-like. They told me they were trying to match things up with Butterbean. They finally decided to put that together and scheduled it for Wrestlemania.
WD: Did Butterbean beat you?
MB: Yes, he did.
WD: For all the fans who suspect, was it a shoot?
MB: I’d like to say it was a work but to be totally honest [it wasn’t]. I give the utmost respect to boxers. They’re tough sons-of-a-gun. Their training is unbelievable. Going into that fight, Butterbean had 40 professional fights. I myself had never boxed before, except in the back alleys and as a kid growing up. I never put gloves on, and I did this Brawl For All. I went and actually trained for five weeks before Wrestlemania at a gym in upstate New York where I actually learned how to box. I changed my whole strategy, learned how to box, how to hold my hands, throw punches, and it totally took me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t the same person in that fight as I was in other fights.
So the boxing training complicated matters?
MB: It did. At the time I thought it was the best thing I could have done. But after looking back, I would have done a whole lot better if I would have just went with my instincts and fought the way I’ve always fought. He’s an experienced guy. I can’t say anything else about it. He’s a professional fighter with 40 fights–that’s 40 more than I had.
WD: After you were defeated, you disappeared. What happened?
MB: They didn’t know what to do with me before Brawl For All, then after the Butterbean loss they really didn’t know what to do with me. I got an opportunity to come over to wrestle for All Japan. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams was, and still is, a top star in All Japan, and he helped me get my foot in the door here. That’s when I changed my name to Mike Barton and started tagging with Johnny Ace. The rest has pretty much been history.
WRESTLING IN JAPAN
WD: What has it been like wrestling in Japan for the past two-plus years? Jericho and Benoit, who are known for their technical prowess, say the competition is phenomenal.
MB: It’s a lot more physical. It’s a lot different from the States, especially how they play with the crowd, [In Japan] it is more straight-up wrestling.
Is it a lot more stiff, and does it fit with your brawling style?
MB: Yes, it’s very comfortable. When I first got here, I was forced to adapt to the changes. But once I got into the routine, it’s great I love it.
WD: Does your family live in Japan, or do you travel back and forth?
MB: I travel back and forth from western Kentucky. They come over several times a year. I have a wife and son at home. Actually, I have three children. Two from a previous marriage, and one with my wife, Chezley, now. It works out really well travel-wise, because I come over here for two or three weeks, then I go home for three, four, or five weeks, and that’s a lot of quality time I spend at home. In a relationship with a regular nine-to-five job, you get up at 5:30 a.m., and in the morning you don’t have any interaction with your kids or your wife–you just go to work. When you come home there’s only two or three hours that you actually spend with your family. Then you take that over the week, and it’s only 15 hours. On the weekend you have things to do in my case, when I come home I have four weeks at home, and I have all day to spend with my son and all day to spend with my wife. So it’s a good relationship with a lot more quality time.
WD: On a personal level, what do you like most about being an American wrestling in Japan?
MB: The food is great. The people are wonderful. They are very considerate, very nice.
WD: It’s said that Japanese people always treat the performers very well. Do you find that to be the case?
MB: It’s first class all the way. One of the differences is when you wrestle in the States, you’re gone every weekend. You have to rent cars, book hotels, the whole nine yards. But with All Japan, we have a bus that takes us from city to dry. Hotels are prearranged. You just walk in and get a key. And once again, the people are nice. When we go into restaurants, hotels, or on the street, everybody’s so polite. They’re not pushy. They’ll come up to you and ask you for an autograph, please. Or ask “May I take a picture?” instead of, “Hey, come here. Sign this.”
WD: Since the WWF bought WCW, many guys are not going to make the final cut in terms of the WWF roster. This may mean increased competition for Americans to wrestle in Japan. First, what do you think the purchase means for wrestling as a whole? And second, what do you think that means for you in particular in Japan?
MB: As it pertains to wrestling, I guess it could have its good points and it could have its bad points. Everybody always wanted to see the inner rivalry between WCW and the WWF. That never could happen, and now there is the possibility that it will. As far as talent-wise, there’s going to be a lot more talent available because they’re not making the roster. That will immediately drive up the level of competition over here and in Mexico. But overall it should be good for the business. I’m looking forward to being a part of that over here.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group