WWE Hall of Fame (B.) Ware, Union City’s Koko gets call
By KENNETH COKER, Messenger Sports Reporter
On Monday evening’s edition of “WWE Raw”, it was announced that Union City native and professional wrestling legend Koko B. Ware is set to be inducted into the company’s HOF on April 4 in Houston.
The ceremony will take place on the eve of WrestleMania XXV and Ware — known as James or “Bubba” to many area residents — is slated to be enshrined alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr. and “Cowboy” Bill Watts.
Ware will also make an appearance live on pay-per-view in front of the WrestleMania crowd the following evening.
“I think it’s an honor,” Ware told The Messenger on Monday night in a telephone interview. “I just think it goes to show that I’ve achieved something and now God has given me a moment to celebrate it and I hope the people back home will celebrate it, too. Wherever I go, I’ve always represented Union City because you can’t forget where you come from.”
Indeed, Ware, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Ware Sr., hasn’t forgotten his roots.
As a matter of a fact, in the wrestling landscape where Florida boy Hulk Hogan was claiming Venice Beach, Ca., as his hometown and New York native Mick Foley said his place of residence was Truth of New Consequences, N.M., Ware always was billed as from Union City.
“When I started wrestling in Memphis, the question came up, ‘Where do you want to be from?’” Ware, who graduated from Union City High School and began wrestling soon thereafter, said. “I said ‘Union City’ and the promoters said, ‘Why don’t you try another town?’”
“I didn’t want to try another town because I don’t know about Chicago and I don’t know about Los Angeles. I wanted to be able to represent Union City, and when fans came up to me to talk about where I was from, I wanted to be able to tell them about my hometown.”
Furthermore, Ware fondly recalls his football career at UC under head coach Jim Graves and later Larry Shanks, along with then-assistant coach Randy Barnes.
“Those coaches really pushed me,” Ware said. “I was fortunate to play under Coach Graves, Coach Barnes and Coach Shanks because they wanted us to be champions and I took the experiences I had with them with me when I began wrestling.”
Ware began his wrestling career in 1978.
A fan of professional wrestling since he was a child attending Thursday night events at the Berry Brothers Building, Ware, who was officially trained by Dyersburg native Herb Welch, debuted as the Koko Kid on a Paducah card.
From there, he bounced around in numerous territorial promotions throughout the United States until 1986, when he joined what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE.
It was there the “Birdman,” as Ware had been nicknamed because of his high-flying maneuvers, became complete as the powers-that-be at the company added a parrot named Frankie to his act.
“Me and that bird had some rough times getting along at first,” Ware said. “He was wild and he bit me and scratched me. To be honest, I didn’t think it was gonna work out, but it did and he became a great friend.”
Unlike many of the wrestlers who had animal companions in the 1980s, Ware took care of Frankie off-the-air.
Unfortunately, Ware lost his feathered friend in a 2001 house fire.
However, Ware said the WWE has assured him that he will have a new macaw — Frankie Jr. — at his side during WrestleMania weekend alongside the other honorees and 68 performers (both retired and active) who are presently in the HOF.
Though not as active as he once was when participating in over 300 wrestling shows a year, Ware, who now resides in Collierville, still makes appearances at wrestling legends fan fest events abroad.
Ware told The Messenger that he had recently come back from such an event in Manchester, England.
Aside from that and the occasional match here and there, Koko owns and operates his own painting company in the Memphis area.
And he claims his singing voice, which was featured prominently on “The Wrestling Album” over 20 years ago, is still intact.
“I still sing, but now I’m doing it for the Lord in the men’s choir at church,” Ware told excitedly.
For the Lord has been good to Koko, as he admits, and the Birdman claims the sky is the limit for those that have came behind him.
“To the younger generation out there, there is no limit to what can be accomplished,” Ware said. “It doesn’t matter what color someone is whether they’re black, white, purple… It doesn’t matter. Color or a poor background isn’t an excuse. I know that’s true.
“We’re all God’s children and everyone in this country has the same opportunity to make something of themselves.”
Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.