Dark Side of the Ring: Bikers, Bombs & Bedlam – What We Learned About Johnny K-9

Dark Side of the Ring Johnny K-9
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Season 3 of Dark Side of the Ring is rapidly drawing to a close. Last week’s episode focused on the Japanese wrestling promotion FMW, founded in 1989 by Atsushi Onita. This week, we move away from looking at entire promotions and return to looking at a sole, troubled individual in the wrestling business. Of course, this week’s episode centered around the double life of professional wrestler and biker gang terror instigator, Ion Croitorou, better known by his wrestling alias of Johnny K-9. Here’s what we learned from the episode.

Background Information

The opening of this intro focuses on the shock many had towards the actions of Johnny K-9. Chris Jericho, Jim Cornette, Lance Storm and others make it clear that the despicable actions of K-9 were shocking because the person they knew was more akin to a “teddy bear” than a violent, bombing criminal involved in assassinations and murders.

Johnny K-9, who also worked as Bruiser Bedlam for companies such as Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW), was a 6ft tall, near 300 lbs “bear” of a man notorious for his time in the WWF in the mid-1980s, where he worked primarily as a jobber and, most notably, against Hulk Hogan. He came into the business after being spotted by a wrestler, when he was working as a nightclub bouncer in his native Canada. Later, he would become involved with crime families, as well as the infamous Satan’s Choice Motorcycle Club. However, his life of crime began very early and only progressively became worse as time went on.

Crime Came Before Wrestling

Despite making decent money as a jobber in the then-WWF, Johnny K-9 was still – even then – actively involved in crime. His widow, Tracy Edwards, makes this clear towards the beginning of the episode. She states that she knew he had been to jail and prison because when she first met him in 1993, he had only just been released. Tracy also says that she met Johnny during her time as an exotic dancer and the moment they locked eyes for the first time when he entered the club she worked at, she knew they would be together. It is mentioned later that he grew up in a broken, abusive home where his father regularly beat his mother. He would hide from his father under his bed. This likely fueled and somewhat ignited K-9’s affinity for crime.

Fearless and Dedicated Performer

Ex-wrestler and friend of Johnny K-9, Scott D’Amore – along with Tracy Edwards – goes into detail on K9’s dedication to the craft of pro wrestling. In order to shake off the “jobber” stigma, he gained muscle mass and changed his look; transforming himself into a mean, “eyes bulging”, scary wrestler who looked every bit as mean he was. Edwards mentions here that Johnny always told his opponents that he doesn’t care how hard they hit him; he wanted blood in his matches to add to the realism. D’Amore also recalls a story where K-9 picked up a promoter by his neck for not paying a young worker what he was owed.

Sense of Humor

D’Amore and Edwards attempt to paint a picture of the humorous side of Johnny K-9. Edwards mentions that he would like to answer the door to pizza deliveries stark naked, just to make her laugh. Meanwhile, D’Amore tells a story of how he once made a room laugh by showing off his surprisingly good drumming skills. His singing ability, however, was not as good – but made people laugh.

“True to the Crew”

Jim Cornette describes his first meeting with K-9, backstage at a wrestling show in the early 1990s. Cornette instantly saw potential in bringing him to Smokey Mountain Wrestling as a “dominant, bad*ss heel”. He then mentions how he and the locker room once questioned K-9 about the big tattoo inscribed across his stomach, reading “True to the Crew”. K-9 explained to him that it was a tattoo he and his fellow jail inmates agreed to get. K-9 also explained to Cornette that if you promised your fellow inmates something, you always followed through; freedom or no freedom.

Change to Bruiser Bedlam

Lance Storm and Cornette mention here that Cornette did not like the Johnny K-9 name. Therefore, when he came into SMW and re-branded himself as a serious, legitimate heel, he was renamed “Bruiser Bedlam”. Bruiser Bedlam was even booked to beat Bob Armstrong, SMW’s biggest star, in one of his first matches. He was instantly legitimized as a top wrestling attraction, certainly within Smokey Mountain Wrestling. His fame would allow him to hide his double life as a criminal in broad daylight.

Crime Experts

Acclaimed crime journalist, Bill Dunphy – along with investigator, Len Isnor – explain that K9-s socio-economically deprived upbringing, and exposure to crime through his abusive father, was a very likely cause of some of K-9’s choices. They mention that, as a result of the type of neighborhood K-9 grew up in, there were not many options for him outside of crime. Aside from wrestling, it was all he knew. This is a possible explanation for how he became involved with the likes of the Gravelle Family and Satan’s Choice. His brother, also, was a member of bike gangs.

Mark Carlos

Mark Carlos was a former member of Satan’s Choice and knew Johnny. He mentions that the big picture for members was money and that it was easy for people like Johnny (that being someone from a similar background and his freakish size) to make “big money” in a life of crime.

Couldn’t Clean Dishes

Chris Jericho mentions how K-9 would stay with him as a roommate during their time on the road as a part of Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Jericho mentions how K-9’s duty was cleaning dishes, but the dishes would never be fully cleaned; containing bits of leftover food. This is perhaps indicative of K-9’s upbringing, where he didn’t learn basic life skills.

Solid Gold Strip Club

Johnny K-9 and some of his Satan’s Choice associates were refused entry into the Solid Gold strip club in 1996, because of their gang killers. Instead of leaving and forgetting about the event, like most people would, Johnny and a few associates were to bomb the strip club. Instead, the Satan’s Choice gang chose to bomb a police station – leaving Johnny feeling manipulated. This would eventually lead to Johnny’s arrest and exile from the gang.

SWAT Team Arrest and Jail

Tracy Edwards and Johnny K-9 were in bed when the flashing lights of the SWAT team arrived. Edwards assumed that a hit was about to take place on Johnny, but it was, of course, an arrest. Satan’s Choice had been wired for months and the bombing had led the police to numerous members of the gang, Johnny included. He was interrogated by the police and he was, of course, informed by the gang to not tell the police anything. However, he was accused of being a “rat” (a police informer) by the gang anyway. Johnny was sentenced to a prison sentence of 33 months. Tracy Edwards divorced him during this time. He followed Tracy back to Canada and she recalls here how the second she saw him, she fell in love with him again almost immediately. Johnny would soon after return to prison once again.

Double Murder Accusation

He was arrested again on the account of potentially being the instigator of a double murder. In November of 1988, Lynn and Fred Gilbank were the victims of a double murder traced back by authorities to Johnny K-9. However, he was released on the basis of insufficient evidence and Tracy Edwards, too, declares here that he definitely did not kill the Gilbanks. We might never know for sure.

Charged For Street Murder

Once again, he was charged for street murder in 2009. He would never live again as a free man. Johnny would end up in a halfway house, where he would eventually pass away on February 21st, 2017 at the age of 53. It is believed he died from a heart attack “likely brought on by his lifestyle”. However, narrator Chris Jericho mentions that his death has also been the subject of much speculation. His widow believes his death was related to being maced by prison officers.

Debate Over Crime

Investigators and journalists in the episode argue that “Johnny K-9 was a very dangerous person” and that they “don’t doubt for a minute that he was involved in homicide”. Cornette states that he was a “nice guy” within the wrestling business, but if you were to ask the families of victims relating to his crimes, they would argue the opposite. Widow Tracy Edwards states awareness to some of his crimes and acknowledges he was deeply troubled, but that he was not a murderer.

Conclusion

The life of Johnny K-9 was one of a deeply troubled, dark individual who spent the vast majority of his life in the criminal underworld. Unfortunately for Johnny, his wrestling career has become lesser know; an obvious result of the heinous crimes he committed, or was at least involved in in some way. Someone like Johnny, whether friendly towards his peers or not, will never be remembered for the good as, quite honestly, the despicable actions committed throughout his life will rightfully always overshadow the good he did. Johnny was outlived by his widow and three children.

More From LWOS Pro Wrestling

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Catch Dark Side of the Ring on VICE, with new episodes airing each Thursday at 9 PM EST.