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Wrong Guy to Double-Cross

By Frank Dusek

Sandor SzaboSandor Szabo was another great European champion before winning the World title.

My father, Wally Dusek, wrestled his first match for a promoter named Gus Karras at the tender age of 16. Soon after that first ring experience, he left his Missouri home, hopped a freight train and traveled south to join the circus. For the next two years he traveled across America, flying aerobatics and daredevil stunts during the day and wrestling "all comers" on the midway at night.

My father was also accomplished as a shooter or a hooker. He wrestled in the days when part of the criteria for holding a championship was to be able to protect it in case you were in a situation where an ambitious opponent or promoter tried to steal the title.

After spending 62 years in the wrestling business (35 as a wrestler and 27 as a road agent for Jim Crockett Promotions), my dad had lots of stories. Of all the tales he told me, this is my favorite. It involves a band of gypsies, a drunken goat, a Bulgarian king and a broken ankle.

Big money as European champ, even by today's standards...

At the height of the Great Depression my dad was one of the biggest stars in wrestling and the reigning European champion. Living in Paris, he wrestled across Europe, often times commanding purses of as much as $3500 per night. That was more money than the president of the college in his hometown made in a year!

On one occasion he was booked to defend the European title against the champion of Bulgaria in the Bulgarian capitol of Sofia. He arrived a few days early to do some pre-match publicity and acclimate himself to the Black Sea climate.

One evening, using a combination of broken French and English, he was able to make a taxi driver understand that he wanted to find a place to have a few drinks. On this fateful night, that taxi driver took my dad to a gypsy camp that was set up on the outskirts of town.

After giving the driver a big tip and the promise of another generous gratuity when he returned to pick him up, my dad headed on his night of entertainment.

The smell, he said, reminded him of his circus days. Sanitation had not been the main concern when the gypsies had pitched the tents and erected the shacks that made up the homes and businesses of this temporary city.

At the center of the camp, bordered by two massive bonfires, was a long picnic-style table. He took a seat on the bench and before long the wine was flowing. As daylight ebbed, the town’s people arrived and the party began in earnest.

The night air was alive with the sounds of music and laughter. Raven-haired beauties, strange and exotic, danced on the tables, their long, colorful skirts spinning dizzily in the night.

You haven't partied until you've partied with a goat...

As he sat, taking it all in, my dad felt a nudge at his elbow. There, standing beside him was the nastiest, smelliest goat that ever existed. Now my dad grew up in Missouri where they know a thing or two about stubborn creatures, so you can take his word for it when he said this was definitely one for the record books.

Every time my dad took a drink, the goat would use his head to give him a not-so-gentle nudge.

Finally, he was made to understand, "buy the goat a drink." He said he thought for a moment then figured, "what the hell." He bought the goat a drink.

While this was the first time my dad had ever drank with a goat (or at least the only time he would admit to me); this wasn’t the goat’s first rodeo. As soon as the bottle of wine was set on the table before him, the goat settled in and made himself comfortable. The goat sat propped his swollen belly on the bench where everyone else sat and put his callused elbows on the table. He then took the bottle between his hooves and turned it up to drink.

I once asked my dad what was going through his mind as he sat there on the shores of the Black Sea, getting drunk with a goat. He said that about the only thing he could remember thinking was that "no one back home will ever believe this!"

Dad said that the goat was just about the best drinking partner that he ever had. The goat never did pass out. He listened intently to everything my dad had to say, and, despite the fact that they got falling down drunk together, they never did get into a fight!

Dad’s only complaint about the goat was that he never did buy a round. But be assured that if my dad bought a round for himself and didn’t include the goat, there would be a firm nudge from his new "best friend."

At the appointed time the taxi driver returned. The last my dad saw of him, the goat was half-walking, half-crawling off in one direction while my dad half-walked, half-crawled off in the other direction.

It was more fun hanging out with the goat...

A couple of days later, the match was SRO. Over 40,000 people, including the country’s monarch, King Boris, jammed into the municipal stadium.

Despite the best plans, the outcome of matches in those days was sometimes decided in the ring. Double-crosses were rare, but they did happen. Champions had to be wary of situations where an opponent might not cooperate. Wrestlers would "give" an opponent a hold, but never a good enough hold to hurt or beat them. In other words, they never gave an opponent anything they couldn’t take away.

This was one of those matches. After a fall each, my dad realized that the Bulgarian champion was shooting for the win. They were going to try and steal the European title from my dad. After several minutes he got an ankle lock similar to the one used by Ken Shamrock on the Bulgarian. Rather than risk injury, the Bulgarian gave up. Or so it seemed.

Suddenly there was mass confusion in the ring. The Bulgarian champion and his representatives were frantically talking with the referee and the judges. Soon it became crystal clear. The local promoters didn’t want their boy to lose, especially in front of their king. They claimed that their man had not given up.

There were 40,000 screaming fans in the stands and the only two people who spoke English were my dad and a representative from the American Consulate. What choice did they have? The match continued.

It took another 15 minutes or so, but my dad finally got the same move from the other side. It seems no one had counted on his ability to wrestle equally well from the left or the right side.

This time, when the Bulgarian champion "gave up" my dad leaned forward one final time until he heard the sick snap of an anklebone.

There would be no doubt as to who was the winner this time!

Frank Dusek is a second-generation wrestler from one of the most famous wrestling families ever. He had a solid career as a wrestler and later managed several wrestlers to major titles. He also spent time as a broadcaster, promoter and matchmaker. His first memories of the wrestling business are selling programs for his father when he was 4 years old.

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1998 Wrestling Classics: Frank Dusek, Mark Nulty
1998 Design: Jan Herod
Created: October 1998