NEW PORT RICHEY — The show hadn't even reached the tag team matches when the fracas erupted. The band demanded to be paid. The undercard wrestlers wanted their money, too. Facing an angry backstage crowd, veteran wrestling promoter Dino Puglia announced he was having a cardiac emergency — and took off.
A Saturday night tribute show to Randy "Macho Man" Savage at New Port Richey's All Sports Arena had enough behind-the-scenes drama to rival any wrestling story line, except the backstabbing was real.
"I've stopped answering (Puglia's) calls, and I don't want to have anything to do with him," said Savage's brother "the Genius" Lanny Poffo, who had given his blessing for the event. "I thought it would be a good thing for my brother's name, but I regret the outcome and would prefer to distance myself from the stench."
Among the problems:
• It was billed as a fundraiser for All Children's Hospital and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital — without either hospital's approval. Puglia now says he didn't raise enough money to cut a check to either charity.
• Of the eight star names used to promote the event, only half showed up. At least two — Poffo and the Honky Tonk Man, whose real name is Roy Wayne Farris — say they never agreed to attend.
Poffo said he told Puglia up front he would be in Niagara Falls that weekend. "I shouldn't have been mentioned in any advertising," Poffo said. "It makes me look bad to not show up."
Farris, who learned of the event Friday, posted a 15-minute clip on YouTube of a phone call in which he angrily confronts Puglia about "fraud" and "false advertising." Puglia blamed the errors on another organizer who made the posters.
• The local band Hollow Heroes and some of the wrestlers say they were never paid.
The Outlaw Ron Bass and Bugsy McGraw got their money, Puglia said, while "the Legend" Ox Baker only wanted to be reimbursed for his plane ticket from Connecticut. Puglia said he will repay Baker when he can.
Puglia said he gave money to fellow promoter Bob Hamill to pay the undercard wrestlers. Hamill declined to comment for this story. But the man who owns All Sports Arena, Matt Garry, said Hamill dug into his own pocket to pay some people.
And the band?
"I never promised them anything," Puglia said. "They volunteered their time, and suddenly after the show they try to hold me up for money."
The event drew about 150 people who paid between $5 and $10 for admission. But Puglia said the event didn't net enough money to donate to All Children's Hospital or St. Jude's, as the promotions promised.
In fact, neither hospital agreed to be associated with the event. St. Jude's knew nothing about it, a representative said, and All Children's didn't learn about it until they saw the promotions claiming the event was a fundraiser for the hospital.
"Our people then got in touch with Puglia to inform him that he would need to fill out paperwork for the event," said All Children's media coordinator Anne Miller. "When we looked at it, we decided that we didn't want our logo used and that he would need to provide copies of various types of event insurance and licenses, but he never did that. He went ahead and did the event using our name without our consenting to the event."
Others who supported the event, believing it was a bona fide fundraiser, were disappointed. Garry, the arena owner, said he will send his own donation to All Children's.
"It's really sad that All Children's Hospital gets nothing out of this," said Big Vito LoGrasso, a wrestler who lined up the ring and referees for the event and was also on the card. "This event and the way it was handled is a blemish on the name of wrestling. We do a lot of good charity work in this business, but (Puglia) didn't even have the consent of All Children's to do this. Normally, you'd have someone there from the hospital that you'd present a check to, but he didn't even have people collecting money for All Children's."
LoGrasso called the show "a rinky-dink operation." There was no sound system, no bell to ring. In honor of the Macho Man, Puglia held marginally observed moments of silence, repeating "ding" into the microphone.
LoGrasso helped organize the event until he and Puglia had a falling out. Puglia blamed LoGrasso for many of the event's problems, including the misleading promotions — which LoGrasso flatly denies. Puglia banned LoGrasso from the event, threatening to have him arrested if he showed up.
"He even deleted me from his friends on Facebook," LoGrasso said.
Puglia repeatedly insisted that he is not the bad guy and that he intended to do something great for All Children's and the Macho Man's memory. But none of this turned out to be the tribute Poffo envisioned for his late brother, who died in May of heart disease.
"I know Dino, and when he said he wanted to do the event, I said 'go ahead,' " Poffo said. "This was the first time he's ever asked me to work for him, and I can tell you this is the end of the relationship. He used my brother's name to promote an event and then he turns it into a disgrace. I'm sorry Randy's name was involved, but I know that it won't tarnish his legacy."