New England pro wrestling Hall of Fame spotlight "John Callahan"
John Callahan aka Sgt. Muldoon Biography
Callahan is best known as a former professional wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and later, as the Circulation Director of the Milford Daily News in Milford, Massachusetts. He held the New England Heavyweight title twice, from June 1994 to November 1995, and the New England Tag Team title (along with fellow wrestler Big City Mike) from November 1993 to July 1995
Callahan was born on August 21, 1960 in Milord, Massachusetts. Growing up in Milford he was exposed to Saturday morning wrestling at a very early age. The neighborhood where he grew up was derived of blue collar, manufacturing workers. Everybody had televisions but only a few homes had UHF channels and even fewer had color sets. On Saturday mornings the kids in the neighborhood would gather at the homes that had UHF television to watch Capital Wrestling on channel 56, and All Star wrestling on channels 38 and 27. His friends joined him in the construction of a makeshift wrestling ring, or "squared circle", and imitated the mannerisms and techniques of their heroes, holding their own matches.
As time passed and his friends went on with their lives, Callahan came to a decision which would change his life - he decided to pursue his passion and join the world of professional wrestling. In 1979, he packed his bags and left home to study the sport under the guidance of a man recognized as a true master, the legendary Edward Władysław Spulnik, better known as "Killer Kowalski", in Salem, Massachusetts On Friday June 4, 1979 the kid from Milford started his journey with one of the greatest wrestlers of all time as his teacher.
Training was held four times weekly, there were five wrestlers in the school when Callahan started, occasionally Callahan would be the only student to show up on a Saturday. When that happened he had a private four hour session with Walter. The training was tough, Walter would be a perfectionist on holds and moves, but that paid off as his career kicked off only two months into training. Kowalski found him to be a gifted pupil blessed with raw physical and athletic gifts, so much so that within just a few short months he deemed Callahan ready to turn professional.
In August 1979 the NBC television show Real People contacted Walter to do a segment on the school, the filming took place all afternoon at the training room, later in the evening a live event was held in the main gymnasium. Callahan had his first match in front of a live audience. He wrestled a huge 367lbs trainee named Huggy Bear. The match was a total disaster as Huggy Bear could not catch his breath after only 30 seconds in the ring. After five minutes of standing in place due to the poor conditioning of his opponent Callahan hit the ref and got disqualified.
A few months later Walter received a call from the WWF. They were in need of three wrestlers to fill out a card in Manchester Center Vermont. Callahan, Dan Petty, and Kevin Butcher Hughes were sent to the event. Callahan was matched up with Domenic Denucci. While this match was a huge opportunity the butterflies that usually distort a young wrestler’s ability took over and Callahan found himself being sent back to training with the voice of disapproval. The experience did not deter him from pursuing his dream, when talking to Kevin Hughes about how to overcome the nervous freeze up, Hughes explained it in such a way the nerves never came back. “You already train with one of the greatest wrestlers in the world, you’re not nervous getting into the ring with Walter. Why would you be nervous wrestling anybody else?”
Those words were gold for Callahan as the next call was to go to the WWF television tapings in Allentown and Hamburg Pennsylvania. Not knowing his talent level Vince McMahon put him in a tag team match Johnny Rodz would be his partner against the WWF Tag Team Champions Ivan Putski and Tito Santana. The second night of taping he was matched with Tony “Mr. USA” Atlas. Following the Atlas match Callahan was approached by Captain Lou Albano. Albano liked what he saw telling Callahan “you have a lot of potential, keep pumping iron and working with Walter, and you’ll do ok.”
A career in wrestling has a lot of twists and turns, sometimes you take bad advice, and sometimes the advice is good but the person who gave it to you becomes blackballed and you are guilty by association. In 1980 that was the way the business ran. Through the next few years Callahan would wrestle in the WWF, Lutte International in Montreal, and other promotions just looking to get ring time. In 1980 Callahan caught a break wrestling on the Bedlam from Boston show. The promotion was costly for many of the top stars, but was an important stepping stone for the undercard
Callahan wrestled mostly in opening matches for the WWF against less than top talent. Callahan's first major match took place in April 1981 against another young wrestler who perhaps more than anyone helped elevate the popularity of the sport of wrestling and the WWF, Hulk Hogan. The match took place in the Boston Garden in front of a packed house, which included many of Callahan's friends and family members. Unfortunately, Callahan was defeated and later recalled, "All I saw was the heads (of the crowd) silhouetted by the lights." Despite the loss, he was encouraged by the fact that his nervousness had melted away as soon as he got into character and entered the ring. "Once you start doing what you do, you forget there are 22,000 people watching’.
In addition to Hulk Hogan, Callahan wrestled such notable personalities as the Junkyard Dog, Tony Atlas and Rowdy Roddy Piper, Magnificent Muraco, Sgt. Slaughter, Swede Hanson, Tiger Chung Lee, Mr. Fugi, David Schultz, Mr Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Tito Santana and Pedro Morales. A personal favorite was his epic Allentown, PA battle against the WWF heavyweight Champion Iron Sheik, which resulted in another Callahan defeat, this time within three minutes. Callahan was one of only 9 wrestlers the Sheik faced through his short tenure as champion.
With characters like Hogan, Piper, and the Shiek leading the way, the popularity of wrestling grew to unprecedented heights. Callahan recognized the significance that marketing played in this, both to the sport as well as the individual careers of the people performing within it. Realizing he would be stagnant to stay in the WWF Callahan left for the AWA backed Montreal territory headed by Gino Brito and Dino Bravo. It was at this point that while some wrestlers took the path of the "good guy," Callahan opted for a "villain" persona. Thus the character of Sgt. Muldoon was created. The original character was that of an IRA freedom fighter. Ever the student of the sports entertainment aspect of professional wrestling, Callahan learned to listen to the audience and recognize where his limits were. "You want to work the audience so that at the end of the night, they know they saw something they want to come back and see again."
The Muldoon character proved to be too controversial as Callahan found himself battling members of the audience who took exception to his terrorist like demeanor. Mush Salow a promoter in Springfield, Massachusetts asked Callahan to change the Muldoon character to something less threatening. Callahan went back to using his own name wearing a karate gi, and using the moniker “Karate Kid”. The gimmick was a hit giving Callahan his first push in the business, but still not what he wanted to be doing. Through this time Callahan had the opportunity to wrestle with greats like Dory Funk Jr., Carlos Colon, Abdullah the butcher, and the New Zealand Sheep Herders later known as The Bushwhackers.
In 1986 Afa Anoai started the Trans-World Wrestling organization. Callahan quickly jumped ship joining trans-world as Sgt. Muldoon, although he was relegated to doing the opening matches he was much happier with the direction his career was heading. He opened the shows for several months until one night when David Schultz didn’t show up. Callahan wrestled Jules Strongbow in the main event. This match was a turning point as from that day on he began to be the main event. As the Trans-world wrestling office had a very quick rise in business, due to an over-zealous business manager it also had a very fast drop in business. Callahan found himself looking for a place to wrestle. Though trips to Puerto Rico, and Egypt filled some of the void he needed a full time office.
Callahan decided to make a few changes to his appearance and repackage Sgt. Muldoon. Early in his career he had approached Vincent J. McMahon with a New York City Police character. Mr. McMahon told him it was too close to impersonating a police officer and whereas New York was a major city for the WWF it wouldn’t fit. He also remembered a conversation with Ernie Roth (Grand Wizard) in which Roth told him the office isn’t always right in their thinking. Thus Sgt. Muldoon became a New York City police officer. A move that would prove to be the best one in his career. Not being on National television can have its drawbacks and the biggest blow came when Big Boss Man appeared for the first time on WWF tv. Their similarities were a little too close for comfort. Callahan decided not to let it hold him back he continued with the Muldoon Character in the independent circuits.
In 1990 he met a wrestler named Big City Mike (Rick Martello) they talked of becoming a tag team but the characters that both of them had didn’t seem to blend until Callahan accompanied Big City to his part-time bouncer job. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning, the idea was sitting right in front of us a New York City Cop and a night club bouncer, “Law and Order”. In 1993 Law and Order won the New England Pro wrestling tag team championship, In June of 1994, at The Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg Maine. Callahan took the place of Tully McShane in a match for the New England Heavyweight championship against Tony Atlas. Callahan won that match which was usual event for that time frame to hold both the singles and the tag team championships. Callahan defended both titles as often as possible on occasion both titles in the same night. In February 1995 Law and Order lost the belts to the Suicide Blonds, (Jeff Costa and Sonny Goodspeed) they would regain the belts ten days later. In July 1995 Muldoon lost the singles title to Rip Morrison. Two weeks later he would appear in the ring under a mask as Dr. Death with him at ringside was manager Dr. Quim. Morrison had injured his ankle early in the match, unable to continue Muldoon pinned Morrison to recapture the belt, as the announcer was declaring him the winner Muldoon unmasked. Big City came to the ring to protest Muldoon being with Dr. Quim. Muldoon attacked Big City sparking a feud that packed Champs arena in Salisbury Beach mass.
Muldoon relinquished the tag team title to focus on the singles belt. Now a hated villain he feuded with Big City, Tony Atlas, Eric Watts, and Rip Morrison. Muldoon lost the New England Title in November of 1995 to Tony Atlas
Ultimately, like many professional athletes the mental and physical rigors of constant travel and injuries began to take their toll on Callahan. Throughout his career he battled dislocated joints and broken bones. On at least one occasion, he fought through a 10-minute match despite a dislocated knee. On another, he continued wrestling even after his nose had been shattered, the match finally coming to an end when he could no longer breathe. "People come in looking to believe everything they see, so you might as well make it believable," Callahan later said.
It was during a match in 1999, though, when Callahan limped out of the ring for the last time - he had dislocated his hip. A doctor determined he needed a hip replacement. "I decided if I wasn't going to be able to put on a show anymore and really entertain, it wasn't worth doing," he later told an interviewer. Callahan quietly fell out of the spotlight and began an eight-year hiatus from the wrestling world he loved for most of his life. He claimed that he couldn't even bear to watch matches on television.
You can now see Callahan working as Sgt. Muldoon for the Woonsocket, Rhode Island based Showcase Pro Wrestling as the ring announcer and conducting interview segments during the shows. H also is the head trainer at the Showcase Pro wrestling Training Facility. Despite all of the hardships he endured in his wrestling career, Callahan always said he would go back and do it all over again if he could, perhaps, though, with some help from steroids and a "more vicious attitude.
"In 2011, he would be recognized officially by his induction to the New England Wrestling Hall of Fame. Looking back at his time in the ring, Callahan said, "It went by too fast. In the blink of an eye 30 years were gone”.