Turning the next page on a 40-year newspaper career

Mike Mooneyham is retiring after more than 40 years in the newspaper business.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

I’ve always liked that quote from Shakespeare, and find it most applicable today.

After more than 40 years in the newspaper business, and all but a couple here at The Post and Courier, I’m beginning a new chapter in my life called retirement. It’s a new journey for me, but one that I have been planning for the past four years.

I’m excited about what lies ahead. There are sunsets yet to be seen and roads less traveled to be explored. Maybe I’ll write more books or maybe I’ll just read more.

Retirement’s not an easy decision. I’ve spent more time in this building at 134 Columbus St. than any home I’ve ever lived in. In many ways, it has been home. Friendships and relationships have been forged inside these old walls, along with successes and failures, joy and sadness, smiles and tears. And at its best, it has produced an exhilarating feeling that’s hard to describe — even for a writer.

It also has provided a place for my column on professional wrestling, which has run weekly in The Post and Courier since 1989, making it the longest-running wrestling column in the country.

One of my first newspaper pieces almost 40 years ago was on a rather young upstart named Ric Flair. I knew the business pretty well by then since I had already begun writing for national wrestling magazines as a youngster a decade earlier. With press card in tow, I covered shows throughout the Southeast. Thank goodness no one ever asked my age.

I’m on the flip side now. While I still consider myself the new kid on the block, reality comes crashing down when some colleagues politely remind me that they weren’t even born when those early bylines appeared.

When I started in the mid-1970s, we used manual typewriters instead of Microsoft Word. Smart phones, email and the Internet were far into the future and bordered on science fiction.

The truth is I’ve had newsprint running through my veins forever. I still love the feel and smell of newspapers, and pray that they will always be around. And I promise you that they will never go gently into that good night.

It has been a privilege and pleasure writing this column for you over these many years. Any honors and awards have placed a distant second to the relationship I’ve enjoyed with a wonderful and engaged readership. You’ve all shown your support by making it one of the best-read columns in the newspaper, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

But I must admit that I’ve wrestled (pun intended) with a burning question that has weighed heavily on my mind in recent months: How can I leave you now?

The answer eventually became obvious: I can’t.

So while my retirement from the newspaper becomes effective this week, I’m happy to announce that I will continue to write my column, mostly every week, on a freelance basis.

Not only that, but the column will be moving back to its old, familiar spot in our Sunday print edition.

For those wishing to contact me via email, my new address is ByMikeMooneyham@gmail.com.

And even though I’ll be retired, I’ll always be a newspaperman. Guess I just always loved a good story.

I haven’t finished writing mine.

The thoughts and prayers of the wrestling world go out to Bret Hart, who revealed last week that he’s fighting prostate cancer.

The announcement came less than two weeks after older brother Smith Hart announced he had prostate cancer and bone cancer (in his hip).

“I’ve had a great lifelong dance and I’m a survivor of many hard battles,” the 58-year-old Hart said in an emotional social media post. “I now face my toughest battle. With hesitation and fear, I openly declare myself in my fight against prostate cancer. In the next few days, I will undergo surgery with the hope of defeating this nemesis once and for all.”

This isn’t Hart’s first major health struggle. He recalled how he “beat the odds” following a 2002 stroke, and made a “solemn vow” to fans that he “will wage my fearsome fight against cancer with one shield and one sword carrying my determination and my fury for life, emboldened by all the love that’s kept me going this long already.”

Hart, whose famous catchphrase was “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be,” was a five-time WWE world heavyweight champion, a five-time U.S. heavyweight champ and a two-time WCW world champion. He also was at the center of one of the biggest moments in pro wrestling history, the infamous 1997 Montreal Screwjob, which led to his departure from the company.

After years of animosity, Hart finally returned to the WWE in 2009 and has made sporadic appearances since.

“I’m so proud of Bret Hart for coming forward about his battle with cancer and using his voice to help others,” posted Hart’s niece, WWE diva Natalya (Nattie Neidhart). “I know it’s taken a lot of courage for Bret to share this, but now his voice is a powerful tool that can help inspire the masses. If anyone can beat this, it’s Bret.”

Former pro wrestler Kenath Dwayne Peal, 57, was sentenced last week to 20 years in a Mississippi prison for possessing child pornography. He will serve five years with the remainder of his sentence under post-release supervision.

Peal, who was better known in the ‘80s as Ken Wayne, one half of the Masked Nightmares along with Danny Davis, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of child exploitation.

Peal also was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund, $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, and must register as a sex offender.

Peal was arrested Sept. 9, 2014, by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit and the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office after it was discovered that Peal possessed numerous images and videos of child pornography.

His father, longtime Memphis-based wrestler and promoter Buddy Wayne (Dwayne Peal), passed away last month at the age of 81 after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis.

Brian Knighton, better known in wrestling circles as Axl Rotten, passed away Thursday in Baltimore at the age of 44.

He was found dead in his car outside of a McDonald’s. Police told his family and friends that he went into cardiac arrest.

Knighton had battled drug issues in the past and had recently been confined to a wheelchair due to severe back problems.

Knighton appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast last June to help raise awareness of health issues that had resulted from his career. Jericho reportedly donated $10,000 to assist Knighton, who also had received help from WWE’s substance abuse program. He claimed he would need spinal surgery to walk again.

Knighton, whose career spanned two decades and included short stints in WCW, WWE and TNA, was best remembered for his feud with storyline brother and one-time protege Ian Rotten (John Williams) in the original Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Williams wrote in a Facebook post that he saw Knighton on Sunday, but was left with the feeling that it would be their last time together.

“When Axl left my house Sunday night, I pretty much knew I would never see him again,” wrote Willliams. “He would always say to me that he had no idea why he was still here. That God must have been making him suffer. I told him that it was God’s plan for him to write his book, and maybe that book would change one person’s life ... Unfortunately, now that book won’t be written. When he left my house, he told me he wrote this story and he knew how it ended.” Known for his extremely violent, hardcore matches that incorporated barbed wire baseball bats, flaming tables and broken glass, Knighton was a hard-living renegade who scarred himself and willingly sacrificed his body for the more extreme side of the independent wrestling scene.

Knighton made a brief appearance in WWE when he and other ECW characters were resurrected for a “one night only” event in 2005.

Former ECW champion Shane Douglas told the SLAM Wrestling website that Knighton was an underrated talent.

“Axl was a far better talent than his career ever ascended to. His demons and problems had a lot to do with that, but there were many others with the same or bigger issues that did still ascend to the apex of our industry.”

“Axl cost me at least a year off of my life,” recalled promoter Thomas Simpson. “He was a fun guy to be around. I ran across the New Jersey Turnpike to get away from the police at a bar where he and Manny Fernandez were. I got refuge with Baby Doll, Samantha Starr and Mickie James.”

Joe Blumenfeld and Mary Sue O’Donnell of the locally based Old School Championship Wrestling promotion had fond memories of a meeting with Knighton several years ago.

“We were saddened to hear the news of Axl Rotten’s passing,” they posted on Facebook. “He was here to appear at an OSCW event a few years back, but it was our first and only outdoor show (up to this date) and was unfortunately canceled at the last minute due to rain storms. He had already made the trip, so instead we spent an evening with him having dinner, lots of laughs and watching a movie. That chaotic day ended as an evening to look back on fondly. We remember him to be friendly, funny and a fantastic storyteller. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.”

For most fans, though, Axl Rotten will be remembered as one of the true hardcore figures in the wrestling business.

“His classic Taipei Death Match with Ian Rotten was one of my first tastes of ECW and changed the way I viewed wrestling as a kid. He will definitely be missed,” posted fan Jesse O’Quinn.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.