PARTS UNKNOWN: Bye bye, Banger

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First Posted: 9/16/2013

“Banger” Ritch Howe jumped off the turnbuckle for the last time on Friday, Sept. 6. The ring shook as he hit his opponent with his signature top rope leg drop. One pin and three seconds later, Howe’s 14-year career as a professional wrestler was over.

Prior to the Orang-K Pro Wrestling show that signaled the end, Howe looked back to the beginning.

“I sent a letter to (World Championship Wrestling) when I was about 17,” Howe, now 33, said. “WCW was the biggest thing at the time. I didn’t have any delusions that they’d say, ‘Oh, come work for us at 17 with no experience.’ I was just hoping I’d hear something back because otherwise I had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know how to get started.”

To Howe’s surprise, he actually did hear back from WCW. A letter directed him to the company’s in-house training school. Shortly after that, however, Howe learned his first son was on the way and hung up his squared circle dreams in order to take care of his newly expanding family.

Nevertheless, when underground wrestling came to Pennsylvania in the mid-‘90s with the formation of Valley Championship Wrestling, it wasn’t long before Howe found himself in the mix. Inspired by VCW’s self-trained brawlers, Howe’s dreams got a new, D.I.Y.-style lease on life.

“It was a very long process of ‘Find whoever you can to teach you however much they can,’” Howe said. “After 14 years, I figured out there is no way to ‘be trained.’ You have to condition yourself to always be learning. You don’t stop.”

Since then, there have been few local promotions Howe hasn’t worked with, and more than a few he started himself. He’s played major roles both in the ring and behind the scenes of such groups as Pride of Wrestling, Action Unlimited: Anthracite Wrestling, Keystone State Wrestling, and, most recently, Orang-K Pro Wrestling (which he continues to be a backer of).

One experience Howe remembers fondly saw him team with WWF superstar Stevie Richards against two other WWF superstars, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, for the main event of a Championship Pro Wrestling show. Exposure matches such as that one allowed Howe to make a name for himself and wrestle for other promotions around the country.

Still, it all begins to take its toll over time.

“It just clicked in my head: I’m done,” Howe said, grateful he was able to bounce back from a knee injury suffered earlier this year that could have been much worse.

“I took up surfing last summer. I did a lot of surfing this summer, and I want to be able to do more next summer. I did the wrestling thing; I did what I wanted to do. I want to be able to do other things. So many people get out of the business because they’re injured. I’m not injured. That’s why I want to get out now.”

Recently married, Howe’s retirement isn’t just a gift to himself, but to his family as well.

Back to Howe’s last match: In the middle of the ring, the retiring Banger sat down and untied his wrestling boots. Then he grabbed a mic.

“Thank you for letting me do this for as long as I’ve done it,” Howe said. “I’ve headlined shows. I didn’t deserve that. I was KSW heavyweight champion. I didn’t deserve that either. I’m just a kid from Wilkes-Barre who likes wrestling.”

Howe invited his son, Matt, into the ring and handed the boy his boots. Reflecting on his long career entertaining “other dads’ kids,” Howe ended his speech simply.

“Dad’s coming home,” he said, “and dad’s staying home.”

Until next time, remember: When fact is stranger than fiction, wrestling is at least as real as anything else.