The WWE stops in Fresno on Saturday night (Sept. 23) at the Save Mart Center and mega-stars such as John Cena and Roman Reigns will headline the show.
Now, Darrell Nickel isn’t a household name, but he knows the ins and outs of professional wrestling. The Fresnan wrestled in the late-1980s and early-1990s, including time in the WWE (or WWF as it was known then).
Since then, Nickel has traded the ring for a diamond.
When I caught up with him last week, Nickel was behind the plate at a youth league baseball game. It was one of the 200-plus games he will work this year. He estimates he has umpired more than 4,000 games in his career.
The road to sports started for Nickel on the gridiron. He was a standout lineman for Immanuel High School and Fresno City College before a brief stop at Fresno State.
But, it was the time in the gym to his next adventure.
Football to the WWF
Around 1987, Nickel trained to become a pro wrestler in Pennsylvania under D.C. Drake and Damien Kane. His first major match was on WWF TV against a big star, Killer Khan, taped from the famed Cow Palace near San Francisco on Aug. 25, 1987.
Nickel wrestled around California and Pennsylvania. His most notable appearances were working on TV for the AWA, which was on ESPN at the time, and the WWF. One infamous match was against Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Nickel admittedly is afraid of snakes. Yet, one night in 1990, he was matched up against the Hall of Fame wrestler. Nickel just closed his eyes after suffering the DDT and Jake’s pet snake Damien slithering all over him.
He always enjoyed lifting weights and became a championship power lifter, where he trained with a familiar name, current Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
In 1993, Nickel made the decision to retire from the ring and join a Christian ministry show, where he showcased his faith by performing feats of strength.
Umpiring is Next
His body beginning to tire, Nickel turned from muscles and kissy tights to stripes and an umpire’s mask. He became a sports official.
A mistake at his first baseball game haunts Nickel to this day. On the game’s second pitch, Nickel rang up up the batter with a call of “Strike Three!”
Today he is the lead umpire for the San Joaquin Valley Officials Association, which assigns games for most schools and youth leagues. He is especially proud to work on the field with sons Blake and Chad.
A New Canvas
And when he is not on the field, Nickel turns to art. Mainly oil on canvas. He does it to keep his mind stimulated. He favors darker, nighttime scenes.
Nickel isn’t planning to attend Saturday night’s WWE show, and he says he rarely keeps tabs on pro wrestling. He is perfectly happy with his post-ring life on the diamond — and on the canvas.
Nickel talks about his “Kissy Tights”
(Want to become an umpire? Fill out the info box at this link. Further information is available at 559 355 7467.)