THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 1-2001
281 POUND CARNERA TAKES ON 2 MEN HERE TONIGHT
(Wenatchee, Wash., Daily World, Thursday, Dec. 13, 1952)
Primo Carnera, once heavyweight boxing king of the world, will be in Wenatchee tonight, but this time using his brute strength to wrestle instead of punch.
Carnera is billed as the main attraction on Promoter Tex Porter’s Armory mat card.
The six-foot-seven-inch, 281-pound giant will be taking on two other wrestlers in a tag team bout that is scheduled to last 20 minutes, or until one of the three is pinned. In the ring with Carnera will be the wrestling referee, Abe Yourist, and Rudy Kowalski, who will attempt to pin him.
Two other bouts are on the program. Hardy Kruskamp, former All-American football player from Ohio State, will appear, as will Steve Gob, a veteran of ring wars.
Dick Hayes, former Northwest intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling king who is now taking a post-graduate course at the University of Washington, will grapple in the lid opener at 8:30.
Bouts are scheduled to get under way in the Armory at 8:30 tonight.
(ED. NOTE – The following article ran on the front page of the Wenatchee Daily World. Steve Gob, in a few years, would find headline status in Midwest rings after pairing up with Ivan Kameroff and recreating themselves as Nicoli and Boris Volkoff. Carnera would continue wrestling around the world for another decade. And, a week after the night described below, he would wrestle Lou Thesz in the main event of a card at Seattle’s Civic Auditorium. That, boys and girls, would be the first live wrestling show ever witnessed by your WAWLI Papers editor.)
WRESTLING PAYS FOR EX-WORLD’S CHAMP
(Wenatchee, Wash., Daily World, Friday, Dec. 12, 1952)
By Roy Snodgrass
How does it feel to be the heavyweight boxing champion of the world . . . ?
. . . To be wined and dined in all the big cities, and honored by all the important people?
. . . To be feted in Madison Square Garden before thousands upon thousands of avid fight fans?
. . . And then, 20 years later, to climb in the ring in every tank town in the United States as a wrestler . . . mixing sweat and sometimes blood with every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes along?
Primo Carnera, probably the only man in the Universe who could actually answer those questions, refused to do so here last night.
The 281-pound, six-foot-seven-inch mountain that walks, talks and fights like a man, encountered two over-averaged size opponents as the feature attraction on the Armory mat card here last night. We say encountered, because his size was enough to win, if there is any such thing as winning in the wrestling game.
Carnera now appears practically every night of the week in some city throughout the world as heavyweight title contender in the wrestling ranks, of which there must be thousands. He draws down, probably, a fantastic salary, more than he ever got as a boxing king when he held that title.
"Da Preem" won the coveted fight crown in 1933 from Jack Sharkey and lost it while taking a merciless beating from Max Baer a year later. From then on, he fought most anyone, anywhere, beating some, and taking poundings from most. His money dwindled away, what little he had after his many managers, handlers, agents and hangers-on took their cuts. So now he wrestles.
He enters a barren room in some city in the U.S. every night, dons a pair of trunks and some shoes, and makes a 20-minute appearance before a packed house – oh, yes, he’s still got name enough to draw the packed house – that’s why he’s still in demand, and will be until he dies, or people stop coming to watch him.
That’s the man we encountered at the Armory last night just before fight time.
We climbed the stairs and entered the room. In one corner three wrestlers were discussing foreign languages. In another, one was reading a super mystery book. Over against the wall was Carnera.
We strolled over and introduced ourselves. He held out a fist, which looked big enough to crawl into, and said, "Hi."
"Mr. Carnera, how do you like this wrestling business?" we asked.
"What do ya mean, how I like dis wrestlin’ business? How you like your job?" he countered, starting at us out of glazed eyes.
"Oh, so, so," we replied, "sometimes good, sometimes bad."
"Dat’s da way I like heem, too," he said. "Dat’s a silly question, ‘how I like wrestlin.’ Ha! Ha!’
"Well, do you like wrestling better than boxing," we queried.
"Why you ask me silly question like that for? Dat’s da second silly question you ask me. How I answer silly question like that?"
The massive mauler continued donning his working togs, with us as interested but not very welcome guests, becoming quieter as the seconds ticked off. But finally he began to don his shoes and our naturally curious mind could be still no longer.
"How big are those shoes?" we asked.
"Wha’ a silly question. How I know how big dey are? Wha’ you keep askin’ me silly questions like that for? How can I answer silly questions like dat? Dat’s da third silly question you ask me."
Three is a big number, so we slowly tipped our hat and made our exit, to become one of the packed house below who cheered lustily when this man who had reached the top came into view.
But we didn’t feel too sorry for Primo and all of his lost glory – after all, he probably makes more money than the President of the United States – without answering silly questions, either.
RECORD CROWD SEES CARNERA AT ARMORY
(Wenatchee, Wash., Daily World, Friday, Dec. 12, 1952)
Primo Carnera, former world’s heavyweight boxing champion, now turned wrestler, provided the attraction to draw the largest audience of mat fans in local history last night.
The Armory was jammed to standing-room-only capacity as 904 spectators watched the 276-pound Carnera show his skill as a wrestler.
A tag team of Abe Yourist, 222 pounds, and Rudy Kowalski, 200, was hardly a match for the giant ex-boxer, however. Taking on the two smaller men one at a time, Carnera pinned Kowalski and then Yourist in an elapsed time of 11 minutes.
After he settled his huge frame on an opponent, there was no way to escape the inevitable shoulders-on-the-mat result.
In other bouts, Steve Gob defeated Hardy Kruskamp in a two of three-fall main
event, and Dick Hayes of Seattle won over Jack Kontos, Ellensburg, in the
(ED. NOTE – In wrestling’s halcyon days of the 1930s and ‘40s, sportswriters across North America regularly received sizeable under-the-table payoffs from mat promoters to write lengthy advances and summaries of weekly shows. By the 1960s, newspapers were displaying "integrity" by not taking envelopes full of money. And wrestling fans were lucky to get a few lines each week, as in the two December, 1963 articles below from the Los Angeles Times. It is noteworthy that the "payola" system first foundered when L.A. promoter "Carnation Lou" Daro became the focal point of a state legislative investigation into his "bribes" to Los Angeles-area sportswriters.)
WRIGHT, BLASSIE IN OLYMPIC MAIN
(Los Angeles Times, Friday, Dec. 13, 1963)
Two former heavyweight boxers, Bearcat Wright and Freddie Blassie, clash in the main event of a wrestling card tonight at the Olympic Auditorium.
The Scufflin’ Hillbillies meet Count Billy Varga and Nikita Mulkovich. Kintaro Oki and Mr. Moto face Fritz von Goering and Bobby Duranton in co-features.
In other bouts, Edouard Carpentier meets Red Bastien, Don Savage squares off with The Mummy, the Preacher is in with Bob Stanlee, and Steve Stanlee tackles Judo Gene LeBell.
BEARCAT WRIGHT BUTTS WAY TO MAT TRIUMPH
(Los Angeles Times, Saturday, Dec. 14, 1963)
Bearcat Wright really used his head to retain his claim to the world’s wrestling title at the Olympic Friday night. Wright won the first and third falls with head butts to defeat Freddie Blassie before a turnaway throng of 10,400 fans.
Count Billy Varga and Nikita Mulkovich defeated the Hillbillies, two of three falls, in a tag match; The Mummy defeated Don Savage; Kintaro Oki and Mr. Moto drew with Bobby Duranton and Fritz Von Goering, the Preacher beat Bob Stanlee and Gene LeBell went over Steve Stanlee.
RIKIDOZAN, MAT IDOL OF JAPAN, STABBED, DIES
(Los Angeles Times News Service, Monday, Dec. 16, 1963)
By Ted Sell
TOKYO – Rikidozan, who brought American-style professional wrestling to Japan, died Sunday of a stab wound received from a Tokyo gangster last week.
The towering Japanese wrestler had performed in California and expected to return early next year to meet American Lou Thesz, from whom Rikidozan took the international heavyweight championship three years ago.
Rikidozan, a Korean by descent but naturalized as a Japanese, was a millionaire and the strong-man idol of Japanese children who watched him on television.
Police said his business connections, including ownership of bars, apartment houses and a nightclub and sports center in Tokyo, had brought him into close connection with one of the numerous gangs which dominate and regulate Tokyo night life.
He was stabbed during a restroom altercation with a member of a rival gang in one of Tokyo’s plushest and most expensive night clubs on Dec. 8.
The assailant was arrested several hours later after members of the two gangs had begun preparations for what police feared would be a large scale bloodletting.
EATON SUIT DISMISSED
(Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 1963)
Cal Eaton and his wife, Aileen, promoters of wrestling shows at the Olympic Auditorium, Monday won a suit for $105,000 damages brought against them by Luchadores, Inc.
The complaint had charged that the Eatons wrongfully induced wrestler Danny McShain to break a contract under which he was to appear for Luchadores Nov. 25, 1961. But Superior Court Judge Leon T. David ordered dismissal of the suit after finding it did not warrant a trial.
Luchadores was described as having been organized by TV announcer Bill Welch and John J. Doyle, former Eaton association now living in Detroit.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.2-2001
HUGE TASK FACES GODFREY TONIGHT
(The Globe, Toronto, Monday, July 13, 1931)
George Godfrey, huge Leiperville, Pa., colored heavyweight, will attempt to make sport history for Toronto by winning a boxing and a wrestling bout on the same program of the show to be held at the Arena Gardens under the joint auspices of the Shamrock and Arena Athletic Clubs. Godfrey, who has been training here over the weekend, is confident that he can accomplish the herculean task which has been set for him.
In the boxing match, which will be his first task, Godfrey will oppose George Gemas, a strong and hard-hitting Philadelphia boxer, whose record shows that he at least does not lack experience, as he has met, among others, "Young" Stribling, "Tuffy" Griffiths, Jack Gagnon and Emmett Rocco. He has a long list of names of those he has knocked out, and should make it interesting for his opponent.
Godfrey will come to grips with the Polish villain, Stanley Stasiak, in the wrestling match, and this should furnish thrills and action galore. Godfrey is said to be a good wrestler, as well as an outstanding boxer, and is big enough to retaliate in kind when Stasiak starts the rough work for which he is noted. Jimmy Dougherty, manager of Godfrey, claims the colored star has won forty wrestling matches during the past year, and that he drew with John Pesek in the other.
The other bouts, one boxing and one wrestling, should be quite interesting. The show will open with a middleweight boxing bout, lightest match on the card, in which Harry Sacks, Toronto middleweight, and Virgil Kincade of Buffalo will meet for the second time. Kincade won a close decision in a sensational bout on the occasion of their last encounter.
Following the opener, Godfrey and Gemas will meet. Then Gene Lamarque, who made such a favorable impression at the last two restling shows, will meet the veteran Karl Popeshil. The final bout will be the Godfrey-Stasiak exchange of hostilities.
STASIAK SUBDUES GIGANTIC GODFREY
(The Globe, Toronto, Tuesday, July 14, 1931)
By M.J. Rodden
Sixty-five hundred fans turned out to see the unusual mixed wrestling and boxing show staged at the Arena Gardens last night, and the vast majority went home satisfied that they had seen a real attraction. George Godfrey, the Leopard of Lieperville, Pa., was the headliner in that he participated in a winning boxing match and in a losing grappling tilt. He tried the "ironman" stunt and broke even.
Godfrey, whom some claim is the world’s greatest mittman, outclassed George Gemas of Philadelphia and knocked that worthy out midway in the second round.Gemas never had a chance. Outweighed and outboxed, he became a target for the sharpshooting Godfrey, and even in the first round it was apparent that he would not go the distance.
This bout was just one of those things, but when Godfrey came out for the final against Stanley Stasiak – the weights were Godfrey 268, Stasiak 257 – they presented an amazing spectacle. Seldom in history have two men of such poundage tried conclusions on the mat. Stasiak won in 11 minutes and 43 seconds.
The Polish giant showed no temerity in mingling with the giant from Leiperville. He made it a great show. He slapped Godfrey with rabbit punches just as often as he has done against other opponents of inferior ability and reputation. The colored man had no terrors for him.
Godfrey lacks the experience of a Stastiak, but he is a powerful, courageous athlete. He asked for no favors and he gave none. He had many supporters in the crowd who cheered lustily when it seemed that he had Stasiak in trouble. But the Pole was having the time of his career. No hold that Godfrey could clamp on him put him in serious danger, and he might have won in even faster time had he so decided.
It was the old story of trying to beat a man at his own game, and Godfrey, who claims that he was never previously defeated on the mat, went to the well once too often. Stasiak slammed him around with rare good will on occasions and finally picked him up bodily and by use of a vicious body slam pinned his shoulders to the mat.
This main bout caused a lot of excitement, but the semi-final didn’t, even if Gene Lamarque and Karl Popeshil did put on one of the most scientific bouts ever seen locally. Lamarque, who gave away 24 pounds, won the decision, and earned it, but the margin of victory was close. The Frenchman was a marvel in evading holds, and he had Popeshil baffled most of the way.
Some of the fans – not many of them – gave those hard-trying grapplers the well-known Bronx cheer, but critics like Cliff Chilcott and Phil Lawson disagreed. They know wrestling when they see it. It must have been disheartening for the wrestlers to listen to such verbal abuse, but they did not permit the anvil chorus to interfere with their good work.
The opening boxing bout on the card was a thriller, yet, as in the semi-final, there were those who yelled to "throw them out." Harry Sacks of Toronto and Virgil Kincade of Buffalo, two middleweights, gave everything they had in a bitter, hard-hitting melee, and Sacks won the decision. The local mittman won three rounds, Kincade one, while two were even.
The boxing final between Gemas and Godfrey was a "washout." The big colored man toyed with the Philadelphian, and scored a knockdown of one count in the first round. During the intermission Godfrey disdained to even sit down, and when the next session commenced he went to work coolly and cleverly. Gemas hit the canvas twice in succession, next took a count of nine and then the "kayo" count being necessary.
GODFREY WRESTLES FOR LIVELIHOOD IN BELGIUM, PARIS
(Baltimore Afro-American, Saturday, Jan. 19, 1935)
PARIS – Those curious individuals who may have found time to wonder what happened to George Godfrey may learn herein that the erstwhile Leiperville, Pa., battler is earning his coffee and buns over here with a wrestling act.
John Kiernan employs a true Georgia style in the following paragraphs to relate what happened when Godfrey performed in the vicinity of Flanders Field, where poppies grow – when not disturbed by tramping soldiers:
"It was a note in one of the Paris newspapers that revealed to this astonished observer the presence in foreign parts of Mr. Gawge Godfrey, the erstwhile Leaping Leopard of Leiperville, Pa., who is now acting the part of the Clouded Leopard of the Devastated Regions.
"According to information and belief, the Clouded Leopard had what is known hereabouts as a bright interval in Brussels, Belgium, a few nights ago, and then headed toward Paris, hoping to live off the country on the way.
"But this route lies through the heart of the section that will always be known as the Devastated Regions, and Mistoh Gawge may find it hard going. There are hard-hearted fellows on the Rue Volney who are now laying 3 to 2, in centimes, that he won’t make it alive.
"The bright interval at Brussels must be explained. The term is borrowed from the daily weather report for Channel crossings. The traveler generally is promised bright intervals, which means that despite the rain, wind and high seas, the traveler will have moments when he will think that he is going to live.
"That was what happened to the former Leaping Leopard of Leiperville in Belgium’s capital where there was revelry by night.
"The large, dusky, and now somewhat melancholy Mistoh Gawge enjoyed a bright interval in Brussels because he threw an opponent in a wrestling match, he was paid off and he went out and ate heartily. It must be remembered that it’s a long way from Leiperville, Pa., to Continental Europe, that Gawge is a stranger in a strange land and that the breadfruit tree and the coconut palm are not native to these parts.
"Gawge retired some time ago – or lost his commission – as the Leaping Leopard of Leiperville, the puzzle of the prize ring. Having worn out himself and the spectators in many years of pugilistic effort – if it could be called that – Gawge had to turn to something else.
"It was only as a last resort that he turned. Gawge was always a fellow who believed in sitting still. The only concession he made for years was that, in active training for a big bout, he would do his road work in a rocking chair.
"Not the last, but perhaps the outstanding, appearance of Gawge in the American ring was in what was called the Mid-Summer Nightmare in the Philly ball park over in Quakertown.
"Gawge was in there with Primo Carnera. The Leaping Leopard against the Awful Alp. The bout proceeded a few rounds, with Primo snorting and prancing and doing no harm. Which is to say, he was doing his best.
"The Leaping Leopard was just walking slowly around, putting in an evening, when suddenly he seemed to remember something. Possibly it was an engagement elsewhere. So he walloped Signor Carnera somewhere abaft the right knee and was thrown out – for fouling.
"There was great dissatisfaction around the ringside and Signor Carnera, from the horrible faces he was making on the canvas, was none too pleased about it, either. But the Leaping Leopard was purring like a cat up to its ears in cream. He walked over to the radio microphone and said sweetly:
"’I just fouled Carnera. I hope he gives me a return bout. I thank you very much.’
"There had been other bouts in which Gawge had not been seen as a combination Dempsey-Tunney-Corbett-Sullivan fighting machine and after the Carnera episode, Mistoh Gawge found the tide setting against him.
"There were promoters who admonished him severely never to darken their doors again. So Gawge, the Leaping Leopard of Leiperville, changed his spots and became a wrestler.
"This was a terrific shock to his few surviving admirers. The only excuse offered by Gawge was that a man must live. Apparently he took no stock in the comment of the philosopher who replied to such a statement with the remark: ‘I don’t see the necessity.’
"In any case, Gawge bowed his head and took the wage of wrestling. But so crowded was the profession in the United States that Gawge had to eat the bitter bread of banishment with it. He came abroad. However, there is the possibility that Gawge was satisfied to be far away from home when wrestling. They might not know about his fall in social standing. They might think he merely had gone to St. Moritz for the winter sport season.
"There was some fear in this corner that perhaps the Clouded Leopard of the grappling game had ruined his chances of popularity and success on the mat over here in his recent Brussels sprouting.
"He wrestled a local hero named Sailor Constant and the announcement in one of the French newspapers was that:
"’George Godfrey (Am.) tombe Constant-le-Marin (Belge) en 57m., par un etranglement.’
"Threw him in 57 minutes by an ‘etranglement.’ A glance at a pocket dictionary brought the information that an ‘etranglement’ was ‘a throttling, a strangling, a choking, &c.’ Oh, la, la! Surely such treatment of a Belgian in Brussels would require police attention if it didn’t arouse public indignation.
"But inquiry along the Rue Volney led to the discovery that the ‘thorttling, strangling, choking’ hold in European wrestling is quite legal and acceptable to every one except the victim of the etranglement.
"There are friends of the Clouded Leopard of the Devastated Regions who hope he makes his way to the gates of Paris because they expect to give him another bright interval or two here if it can be arranged.
"They are talking to the promoters now. According to them, the Clouded Leopard is ready to jump in either direction. He will box or he will wrestle. Just tell him what is offered and the choice will be automatic after Gawge has seen the figures worked out on paper.
"It might be better for the Clouded Leopard to go back into the ring. He may be old. He may never have been much. But he could, if he wasn’t just too tired or something, fight a little bit at odd times in a bruising way. He had a whipping left to the body that wasn’t any New Year’s gift.
"They probably wouldn’t let him past the doors at Madison Square Garden in New York unless it was a hockey night but, nevertheless, Mistoh Gawge might take a life extension course in pugilism over here. George Cook, who recently gave Jack Peterson a hard fight, was a bearded veteran when Gawge Godfrey was a pickaninny.
"Mr. Tom Webster, the distinguished British artist, recalls that George Carpentier, a youngish chap, knocked out George Cook, a veteran, in four rounds 12 years ago. Possibly the Clouded Leopard should be told to turn back and head for London with boxing gloves on his paws."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.3-2001
REFEREE SOARS, AUDIENCE RIOTS, WOMAN IS HURT
(Associated Press, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 1935)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Mrs. Louisa La Place, 55 years old, wife of a state traffic inspector, was here yesterday recovering from injuries received in a riot which followed a wrestling bout here. John J. Shields, state athletic inspector, ordered an investigation of the affair.
Mrs. La Place was knocked down and trampled in the riot after Hardy Kruskamp, one of the wrestlers, hurled referee Kenneth Larson over the ropes and out of the ring as a protest against Larson’s decision awarding the match to Gus Sonnenberg here Monday night.
Larson said today some woman ground her heel into his forehead while he was on the floor during the melee.
ERIC WHITEHEAD’S FAN FARE
(Vancouver Daily Province, Thursday, Jan. 18, 1951)
A lot of nice honest wrestlers will probably be hurt by this, but having recently viewed both Gorgeous Gussie and Gorgeous George at reasonably close quarters, I must cast my vote for Gussie.
Not that George isn’t cute. He is. And he smells much prettier than Gussie. But . . . well . . . there’s a subtle difference somewhere. Maybe it’s because Gussie is a little younger.
However, inasmuch as it was Gorgeous George who introduced the shoe-horn to wrestling arenas and the creature is news whether you like it or not, here are some pertinent and impertinent facts as culled from his dressing room last night, courtesy his valet and a shrewd nose for publicity.
From carefully enunciated phrases that issued from beneath his snood-shrouded, pin-curled noggin, we learned that . . . He has long since learned not to resent being caught before a fight with his golden locks up in pins . . . He left his wife Betty in Los Angeles – as she is not near so pretty as George and inclined to be insanely jealous . . .
That . . . the Gorgeous one is doing a bit of canny nest-egging before he gets over the golden hills . . . He owns business and residential property in Los Angeles . . . He owns a huge, 170-acre turkey farm in Beaumont, Calif. . . breeds 20,000 turkeys per year . . . That all turkeys and eggs connected with the Gorgeous one’s career are confined strictly to that ranch . . . He has yet to lay an egg, financially, that is, in the ring . . . Running up a monotonous string of sellouts, he works (?) three to five nights per week, collects up to 40% of the gate, plus television rights . . . His biggest single cut was the $11,000 he picked up at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for emoting a gent named Louis Thesz, one of 59 recognized official world champions . . .
That he has all his own teeth, most of them . . . That he has long since paid off the mortage on three gold ones . . . He holds 26 B.O. records (this is freely translated as Box-Office Records) . . . That he is barred in one state: Michigan, for refusing to pay a $300 fine after a smellagant affair with Primo Carnera . . .
That he is only 34 years of age . . . Jack Benny is only 39 . . . That Gorgeous is not too worried about the recent 10-cent increase in the price of haircuts . . . That he is worried over the giant U.S. aircraft building program, which threatens the supply of metal bobbypins . . . That he is the greatest actor since the decline of Lionel Barrymore . . . And that he figures P.T. Barnum was a piker: there were actually not one but two suckers born every minute . . .
And, in closing, egad, that Promoter Cliff Parker was a man of mixed emotions
as he packed in 3,000-plus customers, and shooed another couple of thousand away
. . . And that the gol-dangest,c leanest, and most ferocious fight in years was
last night’s draw between Maurice LaChapelle and Strong Man George Dusette . .
. Oh, yes, and that the Gorgeous One, reading straight from the script,
deodorized Skagway Clements two falls out of three . . . That vodvil, unlike
Minsky, is not dead.
(ED. NOTE – Over the years, Tom Burke of Springfield, Mass., a prominent director of the Cauliflower Alley Club, has made sizeable contributions to the preservation and collection of pro wrestling history. Tom, in the ‘70s, wrote for Ring Magazine. One day, in response to a letter, he received the following response from then-Houston promoter Paul Boesch.)
HOUSTON WRESTLING HEADQUARTERS TICKET OFFICE
2022 San Jacinto, Houston, Texas 77002
GULF ATHLETIC CLUB, Inc.
Paul Boesch, Promoter
Reservations and Information (713) 222-2388
(dated August 1, 1975)
You came to the right place!
I have long been aware that TEAM MATCHES got their start in Texas. Your letter compelled me to look through the vast stack of cards we have preserved in our files here to find out just when . . . and whom! I came up with the right card.
Team matches got their start when Morris Sigel was promoter here in Houston. He did that job well for almost 50 years. His nephew, Leonard Burke, now a successful businessman here in Houston, was a young child at the time. He came out of the bathroom, where he had evidently been doing some thinking, and asked his uncle:
"Uncle Morris, if you can put two men in the ring to wrestle, why couldn’t you put four in the ring at the same time to do the same thing?"
Profound question. It started the fertile brain of Morris Sigel and that of Dr. Karl Sarpolis to thinking and they came up with the first team match.
The card indicates that two wrestlers from India, huge men and tough, Tiger Daula and Fazul Mohammed, were teammed against the fabled Whiskers Savage and strongman Milo Steinborn on October 2, 1936.
Milo is still alive and strong and promotes wrestling in Orlando, Florida.
I would call your attention to the book, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GORGEOUS GEORGE, by Joe Jares . . . page 108. This interview took place last year and contains essentially the same story. Your letter prompted me to hunt down the exact date and the men. I really was not sure I would find it, but thanks, you have added to my knowledge.
Now that was team wrestling. Four men in the ring at once. To corroborate this I recall that I was in the Pacific Northwest in 1937 when we first heard of the new thing that was taking place in Texas. We had team matches up there late in ’37 and in ’38.
With regard to TAG TEAM, one man in and one man out . .. shortly after that someone discovered that with all four in the ring at once the possibilities of excitement were limited and some genius hit on the tag idea. They called in AUSTRALIAN TAG TEAM wrestling although I am certain it did not originate in Australia. Neither did it originate in the mind of Jack Pfefer, I am certain of that. It did not originate here in Texas although our records indicate that we had what was one of the very earliest GIRL’S TAG TEAM MATCHES on November 13, 1942 . . . Elviry Snodgrass and Mae Weston met the Golden Flash (mask) and Gladys "Kill ‘em" Gillem, here in Houston.
I hope this is of help to you. We have a wealth of information here because we have an equal amount of interest in wrestling and love it. I started in 1932 and I am aware of the quality magazine you published. Nat Fleischer was my friend, lived in my home town of Long Beach, New York. In his museum you will find several articles I donated to him at the end of the war. He gave me boxing gloves to take with me when I went overseas and we used them on the troop transport and left them with the Navy.
Thanks for asking, it sure started a wave of nostalgia here as we went through stacks of cards, hundreds of men whose names and their part in wrestling most likely only exist here in my office . . . we keep the walls full of pictures which prompt many inquiries from fans and we take pride in our ability to answer them.
With me wrestling is not just a vocation, it is my avocation. I am grateful for what it has done for me and when I am no longer here I hope to hand something down to it that will make some future participant in the sport glad that I was here.
(ED. NOTE – The first girls’ tag-team bout in the editor’s files belongs to Columbus, Ohio, where, on December 28, 1939, Mildred Burke and Princess Rose White Cloud combined to stop Wilma Gordon and Gladys Gillem. The masked Golden Flash, in the 1942 Houston bout, was probably Mae Young, who spent most of the year touring with Snodgrass, Gillem and Weston. The latter often donned a mask, too, although she was usually the "Purple" Flash.)
TERROR, SHEIK IN MAT FEATURE
(Indianapolis Star, Monday, July 22, 1963)
The Masked Terror, who in many of his past victories has been aided by his manager, Tony Angelo, may have to face the Sheik in the feature event of Tuesday’s pro wrestling program at the Armory without Angelo in his corner.
Earlier in the night Big Bill Miller will meet Angelo in a special handicap event in which he must pin the Terror’s manager twice within 20 minutes. Three weeks ago, Angelo’s interference in a Sheik-Terror match brought about a triumph for the Terror. Miller, who is the Sheik’s tag partner, has vowed that Angelo will be incapable of aiding the Terror this time.
Bob Clark and Don Jewell, the flash Negro tag team which has made a hit with local mat fans, will try to keep their winning streak alive. They’ll take on Bozo Brown and Johnny King.
Promoter Balk Estes has signed two other matches to round out the 8:30 card. Steve Stanlee will tangle with Angelo Poffo and Bob Stanlee will battle newcomer Gerd Topsnik.
TRIPPING HELPS MASKED TERROR
(Indianapolis Star, Wednesday, July 24, 1963)
The Masked Terror beat The Sheik in the feature event of the Armory’s pro wrestling program last night.
The Terror’s manager, Tony Angelo, tripped the Sheik, enabling The Terror to pin him.
In an earlier match, Angelo had beaten Big Bill Miller although there were no falls. It was a handicap affair in which Miller had to pin his foe twice within 20 minutes.
In other bouts, Bob Clark and Don Jewell continued their unbeaten skein by topping Johnny King and Bozo Brown, two out of three falls, 29 minutes; Angelo Poffo defeated Dennis Hall, 13 minutes, and Bob Stanlee pinned Gerd Topsnik, 15 minutes.
(ED. NOTE – The Masked Terror in the show described above was Jay York, perhaps better known to older fans as The Alaskan. Angelo Poffo, of course, is the father of Randy Poffo, aka Randy Savage.)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.4-2001
RUFUS WAS THE KING OF WRESTLING
(Charleston, S.C., Post & Courier, November 27, 1993)
He was the "king" of wrestling, and he had a crown to prove it.
Long before stars like Jerry Lawler and Bret Hart claimed that title, a South Carolina native by the name of Rufus R. Jones was the undisputed king. It wasn’t a self-proclaimed moniker – he was presented the crown by a legion of fans one night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones, who entertained thousands of wrestling fans for more than two decades, is dead at the age of 60. Jones, whose real name was Carey Lloyd, died of a heart attack Nov. 13 while on a hunting trip near his home in Kansas City, Mo.
The personable Jones, who used running shoulder blocks known as the "freight trains" to soften up his opponents for his finishing head butt maneuver, was also known for his colorful, yet sometimes disjointed, television interviews.
"My name is Rufus R. Jones, and the ‘R" stands for guts," became his rallying cry in several of his vintage spiels.
Jones, who began his mat career in the mid-1960s, retired from the sport in 1987 and worked for two years as a security guard at a dog-racing track before opening Rufus’ Ringside Restaurant and Bar in Kansas City in 1991. And, like most of the things he took on, it was a success.
Jones held an assortment of titles during his career – among them the Mid-Atlantic title, the Mid-Atlantic TV title and the Central States tag-team title with the Mongolian Stomper, Bulldog Bob Brown, Bob Geigel, Mike George and Dewey Robertson.
Jones, who maintained a fighting weight of 275 pounds, was a native of Dillon and played college football at S.C. State in Orangeburg. He had a brief stint in boxing, and as a Golden Gloves boxer, he had a record of 32 wins and three losses. He wrestled early in his career under the name Big Buster Lloyd.
Jones gained great popularity wrestling for St. Louis promoter and former NWA president Sam Muchnick in the ‘70s, and once drew a sellout crowd at the storied Kiel Auditorium in a 60-minute draw with the then-world champion Dory Funk Jr. He also was a main-event attraction in the Carolinas-Virginia area during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and in the Kansas City area that was, over the years, run by such promoters as Gust Karras, Pat O’Connor, Dory Funk Sr., and Bob Geigel.
Moncks Corner native Burrhead Jones, who formed a successful team with Rufus in the ‘60s and ‘70s, broke into the sport with Jones. The two were billed as cousins.
"I met Rufus in New York City in the late ‘50s," recalls Burrhead. "He’d come over to my house and we’d run around New York City together. We became very, very close because were looking for the same future in life. We weren’t wrestling at the time, but we both liked the sport. We met a few of the guys – Bobo Brazil, John and Chris Tolos, Mark Lewin and Don Curtis – and we decided that’s what we wanted to do.
"I went to the gym first, and I told Rufus and he went the next week. He turned pro before I did, since he was a much bigger fellow than I was. During that time, of course, steroids were a secret. They wanted me to get on to it so I could improve my weight a little bit, but I was scared of needles and that’s why I didn’t get on steroids. And now I’m glad that I didn’t.
"Rufus didn’t need them, either, since he was already a big fellow. He weighed 250 pounds before he went into the gym. Bobo Brazil and a couple others told him he’d never make a pro wrestler because he was too big and clumsy, but he sure made Bobo out a liar. When we started, there were less than 10 black guys in the business – and that included Bobo, Ernie Ladd, Sailor Art Thomas, Luther Lindsey, Bearcat Wright, Sweet Daddy Siki and Dory Dixon.
"After Rufus turned pro, he went to Kansas City, and I went to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia," says Burrhead. "I went to Kansas City to wrestle for Bob Geigel. Rufus came later and made some very good money for Dory Funk Sr. He eventually made Kansas City his home."
Burrhead first teamed with Rufus in the New York City area and later rejoined him in the mid-‘70s for the Charlotte-based Jim Crockett Promotions.
"We made a heckuva team and we drew some good money together," said Burrhead. "He was one hell of a good wrestler and he really liked the fans here in Charleston. It’s a tragic loss to the profession. A lot of people I work with still ask about him. Many of the wrestlers from that period really looked up to him and respected him. This is going to make guys like Ric Flair, Black Jack Mulligan, Paul Jones and Wahoo McDaniel sit back a little bit."
Burrhead Jones recounts an incident nearly 20 years ago in which he credits his "cousin" with saving his life.
"Rufus saved me from permanent damage," recalls Burrhead, referring to a televised match in which the 6-8, 300-pound Black Jack Mulligan nearly destroyed his much smaller opponent until Rufus came to the rescue to stop the slaughter.
Mulligan, however, was later joined by cohorts Ric Flair and Gene and Ole Anderson, who held Rufus R. while Black Jack jumped off the top rope on top of Rufus, smashing his crown. To add insult to injury, the villainous rowdies slapped Rufus in the face while putting a chauffeur’s cap on his head. It was one of the promotion’s most memorable angles from that era.
"He saved my life that day," jokes Burrhead. "I’ll always owe him for that."
Burrhead, like many of his colleagues in the sport, remembers Rufus Jones as a man with a sincere genuineness and a big smile.
"He really had a good sense of humor," recalls Burrhead. "And
he really did like those pork chops and rice and beans that he’d always talk
about. Although he was a professional wrestler, he still didn’t think he was
better than anybody else. He was born and raised in the country, and he always
loved his home cooking. To prove the point, after he got out of the business, he
got himself a great little rib shack.
What can we say? The man enjoyed life while he lived it, and he brought a lot of happiness to a whole lot of people. He’s really, really going to be missed by a lot of sports fans around here. Especially me, Burrhead Jones. He was a special part of my life, and it seems like a part of my life has faded away with his passing. I know that there will never be a chance for me to call him on the phone. The last time I called him was last year when we watched the Super Bowl together. I was in South Carolina and he was in Kansas City, and I called him up.
"It’s a real tragedy. But, like anything else, all good things must come to an end. Somewhere along the line, we all need to say a prayer for him."
"Rufus was extremely popular," recalls longtime promoter Jim Crockett. "During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he was really hot. He had one of the most unique styles of interviews. The first time I heard him do an interview, he was talking about a watermelon in his pocket, and I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. But I later found out it was just a slang term that I had never heard, and I’ll never forget, that meant having a lot of money."
Nelson Royal, who frequently teamed with Jones in the Carolinas and Kansas City territories, called himone of the most likable men in the sport.
"I always enjoyed teaming with Rufus," said Royal, who now runs a country-and-western supply store in Mooresville, N.C. "He was a very nice man and a real crowd-pleaser in the ring. I’m just shocked and saddened that he’s gone. He was a very talented person. He knew more about the business than a lot of people. He and I did a lot of stuff together."
"He was a hard-working, great guy to be around," recalled former NWA star Jerry Brisco.
"Rufus was just a great personality, an outstanding person. He was so funny all the time. I really enjoyed being around the guy. You knew you could trust him.
"He went out doing what he liked to do – hunting – because he loved to hunt."
Jones’ wife of 30 years, Brooksie (Lloyd) Jones, says she will continue to run the restaurant and plans to erect a statue in her husband’s honor.
"I’ve been asked to do a memorial, and I figure probably the best way to do that is to erect a statue," she said. "I’m going to put it (the statue) in the building, on the building or around this building. But it will go up. Vine Street, where the restaurant is located, is a very historical street. We’re on 23rd and Vine, and we were like pioneers on this corner. It had been dead for so long, and everybody gives him (Rufus) credit for bringing it back. There’s a lot of history in this place."
Jones leaves behind three grown daughters – Melaney, Crystal and Kendall. He also had an adopted son – the Rev. Kenneth Johnson – better known to wrestling fans as "The Reverend Slick."
"Kenny actually adopted us as his parents years ago," said Mrs. Jones. "He and Rufus were very close. He’d come down at least once every three months to visit us."
Johnson, who has his own church in Fort Worth, Texas, delivered the service at Rufus’ funeral. A song composed by Rufus called "Lilacs Today" was performed at the service.
"The service was beautiful," said Mrs. Jones. "It had everyone spellbound. It was like nothing you had ever experienced before."
Mrs. Jones said many present and former wrestlers attended the service.
"He kept in touch with everybody. In fact, the local wrestling crowd comes down here about once a month on Mondays to have lunch."
Among that crowd are names like Bob Geigel, Bob Grown, Mike George, Aaron Jones, Benny Ramirez and Sapphire.
"The restaurant was our home away from home," Mrs. Jones said. "When he finally got wrestling out of his system, the restaurant got to be his life. He had something else he could do, and that made a difference.
"He was a great cook. In fact, he really taught me how to cook. I thought I could cook when we first got married, but after tasting his food, my food was nothing compared to his. He used to tell me, ‘Most people won’t tell you. But I’m going to let you know.’ And he did. He let me know I couldn’t cook. It hurt my feelings at first, but then again, it made me a better cook. There even got to be some things I could outdo him on. I know a friend of mine whose wife cooks so bad, he goes to a restaurant every day and has dinner, goes home, and says he’s not hungry. But why go through all that? I mean, we’re only human. If it’s bad, it’s bad."
Mrs. Jones also laughs when recalling opening night at the restaurant, with stars like Harley Race in attendance and Bruce (Butch) Reed riding a horse into the eatery at midnight.
She also fondly remembers the many wrestling trips with her husband.
"He used to bring the kids on summer vacation down there (the Carolinas). I remember the beach in Charleston with those funny-looking crabs. I have a lot of shells from there," she laughs.
Mrs. Jones says her husband lived to realize his final dream – seeing his first grandchild. And, she adds, she plans to continue another dream.
"He was very family oriented. He did love his family. His last dream was to see his first grandchild. And he did. She was six weeks old when he died. His other dream was to stay in this restaurant for a while and then open up an old folks home. I’m going to keep the restaurant going, and if at all possible, open up that old folks home one day. You have to keep living."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.5-2001
MAT’S GIANT-KILLER AT 34, FARMER BURNS DIES AT 76
(Omaha World-Herald, Saturday, January 9, 1937)
By Robert Phipps
It’s hard to believe that Farmer Burns, for years a shadowy and legendary figure on the streets of Omaha, is dead.
The facts of this man’s long career in athletics were almost lost in the wealth of stories that accompanied him everywhere. A main point was that he was a giant-killer at the age of 34, beating the original Strangler (Evan) Lewis in Chicago.
This won for him the world’s heavyweight championship in wrestling, then almost as important as the heavyweight fighting crown. Burns then and later was legitimately a lightheavyweight, never weighting more than 180 pounds.
He held the heavyweight title for three years, losing to Tom Jenkins. But he held the 175-pound crown for years after, and Pete Loch, who was associated with him for 12 years, doesn’t believe he ever lost it. Officially,he passed the title to Fred Beel (sic) around 1911.
"He beat everyone that was a lightheavyweight," said Loch. "He beat Frank Holman in Omaha at 168 pounds and he beat Tom O’Connors of England and every one else. There never was a man who could beat him at pulling sticks, or in a rough and tumble fight – the kind where you lock the doors on the two of them, and the man who comes out takes the money."
To latter-day rasslers and to the public tired of the fast, clean bouts of Burns’ day, the Farmer was a great but unhappy ghost of the great days in the past. He always attended matches in the Auditorium, sometimes audibly scorning the rowdies, sometimes keeping silent.
People pointed him out, always. A gnarled figure, leaning on a cane, speaking a husky voice. He could read only a little so watching rasslers was one of his few entertainments. A hip injury made him seem feeble when he was in reality taut and fit almost to the day of his death.
The name of Burns always brought up the name of Frank Gotch, only champion wrestler to retire undefeated. Burns found Gotch on a farm near Humboldt, Ia., tutored him and made him unbeatable.
Burns at the time was traveling with a carnival. He made countless tours with carnivals and rolled up a total of six thousand matches. It was his boast that he was beaten only six times in a lifetime, that he taught three thousand men to wrestle.
Burns taught skill, timing, lightning thinking on the mat. During his active career he was able to scale anywhere from 178 to 158 for bouts, but it was his delight and specialty to pin men weighing anywhere up to 320 pounds.
At least one Omaha man, Pete Loch, saw the famed hanging stunt at Rock Island, Ill., around 1906. It was a carnival stunt, offered whenever the gate receipts warranted. Burns took a regulation drop with the hangman’s noose around his neck.
The tremendous neck development was due to tremendous early training. In the days of the original Strangler, the choke hold was allowed. So well did Burns train his neck muscles that to the day of his death, no man could choke him with hands alone. Or stop his conversation while trying, either.
Burns stayed for years at the Carleton Hotel on Fifteenth Street. He was a familiar figure along Cigar Store Row, but never a part of it. He was 76 at death, approaching 77. He had been a part of Omaha’s athletic scene since 1901, and his presence here, and later that of Gotch, made this one of the wrestling centers of the nation for years.
PRO WRESTLING LEGEND PASSES AWAY
(St. Joseph News-Press, Tuesday, March 8, 1994)
By Allen Seifert
It was an era when Gust Karras owned Friday night.
His wrestling matches at rickety old St. Joseph Auditorium were such fixtures that other events – from basketball games to bingo nights – were scheduled around them.
Wrestling fans came from everywhere to jam that old arena to the rafters. A match between Sonny Myers and Lou Thesz, or Ronnie Etchison and Orville Brown, or a tag team showdown between the hated Dusek brothers and Myers and Etchison were major sporting events.
Ronnie Etchison, one of the cornerstones in that old Karras wrestling empire, died last week at the age of 73.
Karras was from the era when men like the Zbyszko brothers, Stanislaus and Wladek, from Andrew County, dominated his sport. A match might last for hours. Before becoming a promoter, Karras made his money wrestling all comers on the carny circuit.
Once he settled in St. Joseph, Karras not only began promoting wrestling, but teaching those old carnival skills to people like Etchison and Myers and Larry and Joe Hamilton. St. Joseph became, because of these competitors, known as the wrestling capital of the nation, if not the world.
St. Joseph became a wrestling mecca. Not only did Etchison and Sonny Myers and Larry and the Hamiltons call it home, but so did Thor Hagen and Cowboy Bob Ellis and Bob Brown and Rufus R. Jones and the Mongolian Stomper and Bob Geigel and the midget Lord Littlebrook. The latter had his own gym, where he developed and promoted midget wrestlers like Little Tokyo among others.
These were not men with masks and painted faces. These were not men who strutted like roosters spewing threats into a microphone. There was still a thread of authenticity running through it. Fans loved it, and Karras’ flair for setting up matches kept them coming back time and again.
Etchison began his professional career in 1939 after training under Karras, and immediately became a fan favorite. It was a career which took him to every state in the Union, as well as Canada, Japan and Australia – from Madison Square Garden to Candlestick Park.
Dependent upon Karras for bookings, Etchison took the world championship belt from Orville Brown one winter night at the old Auditorium in 1947. Before his career officially came to an end, he had met and defeated virtually every heavyweight wrestler then active.
That list of victims would read like a Who’s Who of matdom, from Orville Brown to Bob Brown, Harley Race to Joe Dusek, Antonino Rocca to Verne Gagne. To list the titles he held or shared would fill an entire chapter of a very thick book.
Included among his opponents was Joe Louis, the vaunted Brown Bomber, who went three rounds to a draw with Etchison with more than 4,000 fans packed into the old auditorium.
Etchison made two holds famous during his long career – the Giant Swing, in which he took a groggy opponent by the heels and swung him in a circle, and the Missouri Stump Puller, an off-beat leg lock he "adapted" from the overall-clad Haystack Calhoun.
During his outstanding career, Etchison was never too busy to help a younger wrestler learn the tricks of the trade. In a tiny, sweat-soaked gym under the auspices of the omnipresent Karras, Etchison helped develop latter-day mat stars like Ed Wiskoski and Mike George and the Junkyard Dog and many more.
He, along with the others, put St. Joseph on the wrestling map. No matter where he competed he always insisted that his correct hometown be listed. Etchison was as proud of St. Joseph as he was of the successes he achieved in a tough, tough business.
Today’s pro wrestlers are a pampered lot in a field where showmanship beats a good headlock. St. Joseph has lost a true champion who proved his mettle time and time again.
RUFUS R. JONES
(Kansas City Star, November 17, 1993)
Rufus R. Jones, 60, central Kansas City, a restaurant owner and former professional wrestler, died Nov. 13, 1993 in Brunswick, Mo. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church; burial in Forest Hill Cemetery. Friends may call from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Lawrence A. Jones Linwood Chapel and from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the church. Masonic services will be at 8 p.m. Friday at the chapel.
Mr. Jones was a professional wrestler from 1969 until he retired in 1987 and had been Central States and Mid-Atlantic States tag team champion in the World Wrestling Federation. He had owned the Ringside Restaurant and Bar since 1991. He was a Mason. He was a member of Twenty Good Men. He was born Carey L. Lloyd in Clio, S.C., and moved to this area in 1970.
Survivors include his wife, Brooksie Jones Lloyd of the home; three daughters, Kendall Lloyd of the home, Crystal Adams, Grandview, and Melaney Lloyd, Memphis, Tenn.; three brothers, Dan Lloyd, Jessie Lloyd and John Lloyd, and two sisters, Mary Brown and Ruth Frager, all of New York City; and a granddaughter.
JONES WILL HAVE HIS LOVES LIVE ON
(Kansas City Star, Saturday, November 27, 1993)
By Hearne Christopher Jr.
Two weeks ago today former pro wrestling star Rufus R. Jones went deer hunting.
"That was the first day of deer season," says Brooksie Lloyd, Jones’ widow. "The first I knew of anything the officer was walking in to tell me the news."
The big guy with the big heart died of an apparent heart attack.
"Super guy, everybody liked him," says "Texas" Bob Geigel, a former area wrestler and promoter.
"Let me tell you about this guy. Rufus was a high-class guy. He was a person who didn’t know whether he was black or white. I imagine he knew when he looked in the mirror, but if he’d walk in a room and there were 20 people there – 10 black and 10 white – he wouldn’t necessarily walk over to the blacks. He was a person."
A Who’s Who of old-time wrestlers attended Jones’ funeral. They included: Mike George, "Bulldog" Bob Brown, Roger "Nature Boy" Kirby, Tom Andrews (of the Medics tag team), Akio Sato, Betty Niccoli, Benny Ramirez (aka The Mummy) and Bruce Reed.
Jones leaves his widow, three daughters, a restaurant and the Ringside Social Club, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the needy.
Brooksie plans to continue the Ringside Bar and Restaurant at 23rd and Vine streets and the club.
"Everybody has been real supportive," she says. "It’s not just one person – it’s everybody. I’ve even had people say if I wanted to do a memorial for him, I have their financial support. To tell you the truth, I would like to do one.
"They’re getting ready to put murals on the (restaurant) wall. The bowling team is doing to do that. They’re called the Body Slammers."
Jones’ wrestling nicknames were "The Pork Chop" and "Freight Train."
"He’d run over people," Geigel says. "He’d head butt them and then knock ‘em down."
As for pork chops, he "loved to cook and eat," Brooksie says. "Everybody knew him for the wild game he would cook – he believed in feeding you."
Those feeds ranged from spaghetti and meatballs with corn in it to hog heads. "It wasn’t a big thing to him, but everybody else made a big thing out of it," says daughter Melaney of the hog heads. "They’d say, ‘Where’s the rest of the body?’"
Brooksie spent her first Rufus-less Thanksgiving in 30 years serving turkey dinners and champagne to people "in dire need" at the club.
Still "our thing was New Year’s," she says. "Rufus said if hog jowls and black-eyed peas give you good luck, then steak ought to give you better luck. So we just had steak, steak, steak, steak, steak."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.6-2001
HE WAS HONGRY
(Seattle Times, Sunday, February 23, 1936)
The three burly fellows sat down for dinner Friday evening at a downtown hotel, a few hours before the weekly wrestling show.
"The fish is fine," suggested a comely waitress.
So she sold a fish order to Floyd Artillis Musgrave, major domo of Northwest wrestling.
And Bob Murray, Seattle theatre man and restaurateur, ventured with roast beef.
But not Sandor Szabo, the Hungarian. He had to wrestle in a few hours . . . he needed strength.
"Gif me," he explained, "a double filet mignon, ground fine, with two eggs and chopped onions."
"Well done, rare or medium?" was the customary question of the waitress.
"Not cooked! Not cooked!" screamed Sandor. "Raw! Raw!"
Soon came the double filet, crowned by the raw eggs and onions, nicely surrounded by pickles, olives and celery, but the onion was sliced, not diced.
So back to the kitchen went the order, and the onion WAS diced.
Next time Szabo accepted the dish, stirred it mightily as he beamed in anticipation.
The waitress . . . she left.
Szabo, who is all wrestler and doesn’t know anything about clowing, is elevated to the main event of Friday;s show, against "Wee Willie" Davis, the huge ex-Marine.
The Hungarian has delighted Seattle mat fans with his two victories over Fred Carone and Brother Jonathan Heaton in the last two weeks.
Handling the 260-pound Davis may be a bit more of a trick.
Szabo, who was a hungry orphan in Budapest during the World War, has ambitions to take the world’s championship back to the city where as an urchin he once begged his meals. So giants like Davis don’t worry him a lot.
Promoters August Sepp and Floyd Musgrave announce that Chief Little Wolf also will appear on the card, against some outstanding opponent.
(ED. NOTE – In the lengthy, two-issue article below, a wrestling "insider" repeatedly sets the author straight on what’s really happening. Could that insider have been a young Dave Meltzer? Or, either Tracy Ringolsby or Ken Leiker, then-nationally-known major league baseball writers – and wrestling fans – who probably knew author Shropshire from the time his mid-‘70s reportage was addressed to the plight of the pre-George Dubya Bush Texas Rangers? If you know, don’t hesitate to tell the editor firstname.lastname@example.org)
NO HOLDS BARRED
(D Magazine, Dallas, Tex., March, 1981)
By Mike Shropshire
You wake up a couple of hours before dawn, feeling drained and strung out from the savage dream which seemed as if it wouldn’t end.
The melancholy old building, eerie and half-lit like an abandoned subway station . . . the deformed multitudes, shouting and gesturing in some kind of grotesque agony . . . the bell clanging . . . the disturbing sensation of not being able to find your way out of there . . . that screaming Jap . . .
Right away, you decide not to retell this one to Dr. Weinglass, your shrink. The Freudian implications are simply too rich. Next time, lay off the guacamole.
The disturbing aspect of your latest subconscious docu-drama is that it’s simply too lifelike. That dictatorial voice droning on about, "One fall, 60-minute time limit for the Heavyweight Brass Knuckles Championship of Texas."
Maybe it had something to do with the tiff you and the little woman had in the kitchen the other night over the so-called lipstick she thought she found on the paper napkin on the floorboard.
You grope around the shelves in the medicine chest for something which might coax your stomach out of the fast lane when you’re blind-sided by a divine revelation. A faraway voice, the same one that warns you not to answer the phone because it might be the MasterCard guy, suddenly whispers, "That was no dream, you damn fool. It really happened."
Yeah, yeah. It all comes back now. The wrestling matches. You actually went. God, what an experience.
The phenomenon of professional wrestling, like American politics, maintains a genealogy which eventually traces its way to the circus.
It goes back at least a century, when the key attraction of a one-night-stand tent show touring the sticks was an act where the muscle-bound bad boy would issue a challenge to the rubes.
A "plant" in the audience would materialize and the combat which followed provided tantalizing entertainment for the hillbillies. The entire show was based on P.T. Barnum’s hypothesis that the yokels of the world will believe anything if it’s packaged just right, a premise which Lyndon B. Johnson exploited to optimum benefit.
The carnival routine, thanks to the miracle of television, has been refined into the spectacle currently available to viewers in the Dallas/Fort Worth market every Saturday night at 10 p.m. on Channel 11.
Is it fixed?
The people who print the big-time metropolitan dailies apparently think so, since their commentary on the wrestling matches is compressed into a one-paragraph agate type summary which appears once a week.
Professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich considers that situation and says, "They call it fake. I’ve never known of a sportswriter yet who put on a pair of tights and climbed into a ring to find out. I’ve been in this business a lot of years and I know of no instance where the winner of the match wasn’t the best man in the ring."
Von Erich, who is perhaps the finest athlete produced in Dallas – although it’s unlikely he’ll ever ben inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame – has every right to make such a statement.
There is no substantive evidence to indicate the outcome of professional wrestling matches is predetermined. If you believe that the wrestling matches are a scam then you must also consider the notion that the Dallas Cowboys’ "miracle" comeback against Atlanta was planned in one of the executive suites of the National Football League and intricately rehearsed on a secret practice field.
"The sports pages don’t pay any attention to us all, since there are so many other topics to tear down these days," Von Erich said. "I’m just as glad."
Whatever the media may have to say about his profession should be of little consequence to Von Erich, who has become a millionaire through wrestling and owns an impressive estate on Lake Dallas which is not unlike Southfork.
Von Erich bears a startling resemblance to an athlete named Jack Adkisson who played football at SMU and set the discus record there in 1950. They are, in fact, the same person.
"My mother’s maiden name is Von Erich and my grandfather’s name was Fritz," he explains. "When I got into wrestling, it occurred to me that Fritz Von Erich beat the heck out of Jack Adkisson when you put it on a marquee.
"Back in those days, I couldn’t do a damn thing without getting hurt. People think of Fritz Von Erich, the great wrestler. They’d be amazed to find out I lost my first 12 professional matches.
"I finally won against an Australian guy named Jack Pinchoff (sic=George Pencheff). He was an old guy, over the hill, but really knew the business. I beat him in Austin. I wrestled him again the next night in Corpus Christi and he broke my shoulder."
Von Erich now pretty much presides over the pro wrestling scene in Dallas, and three of his sons, David, Kevin, and Kerry, are the leading attractions in the incredible productions which happen ever Sunday night at the Sportatorium.
For the uninitiated, an evening at Sportatorium wrestling will prove spectacularly entertaining and, at times, viscerally disconcerting.
"I’ve been coming here about once a week for 26 years," a man at the Sportatorium beer stand explained. "At first, I came to watch the wrestlers. Now I come to watch the fans."
The Sportatorium, situated down on picturesque South Industrial Boulevard, is the result of the genius of the late Ed McLemore. The building, which consists mostly of corregated metal, was custom-designed for wrestling productions and country/western music shows. Total capacity is probably less than 5,000.
When McLemore broke away from the Houston-controlled wrestling circuit in the early Fifties and began importing his own talent (such as 400-pound Farmer Brown), someone torched the Sportatorium. A truce was accomplished and the arena was rebuilt.
The fans arrived early on wrestling night at the Sportatorium and cluster around the parking lot, taking snapshots of their favorites and getting autographs.
Most of the wrestling fans are apparently not from the higher echelons of the social ladder in Big D. In fact, many of them display the Thorazine eyes which can typically be found in the day room at the Rusk State Hospital.
By 7:30, when the first of the preliminary matches begin, the Sportatorium is packed. The early matches consist of candidates for the big money who haven’t established their reputations. "A guy starting out in the business can look forward to making maybe 25 grand a year for the first couple of years," Von Erich says.
"But since you have to pay your expenses on the road, you only break even at that level – if that. But if a guy has the determination to stick it out and has fan appeal, he ought to start getting some semifinal matches by his third year and then he might be on his way.
"Harley Race, the world champion, grosses a half-million easily and probably doesn’t work but 30 or 35 matches a year."
"To get into the top money in wrestling," said an "insider" in the business, "is kind of like getting into the Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in. But it’s hell getting in."
A wrestler called The Monk appeared in one of the earlier matches at the Sportatorium. He is clearly not yet "in."
The Monk is actually Steve Miller, who was a heavyweight Golden Gloves champion in the early Seventies in Fort Worth.
His career is remembered there because Miller would often burst into tears while knocking his boxing opponent into New Jerusalem.
Now he enters the wrestling ring with a shaven head, full beard, and clerical robe that appears to have come from the closet of Ming the Merciless. Apparently, The Monk still maintains his affectation of crying in the ring.
"Hey, Grapehead!" shouted one of the ringside fans. "You gonna cry for us tonight?"
"You shut the hell up," The Monk responded.
"Frankly, I wasn’t so good as a boxer, but I was notoriously odd," said Miller.
"I was a little weird, very emotional. I’d get everybody excited and got ‘em laughing for a long time. I have clippings in my scrapbook with headlines like ‘Crybaby Miller Wins Again.’ There was this story in the sports pages after I beat Larry Montgomery for the championship where his coach said, ‘I saw those tears and knew we were in trouble.’
"After I’d won an important bout in the state tournament, I was shopping in Arlington and a kid came up and asked me for my autograph. That had never happened to me before and I’d never felt so proud. I signed the piece of paper and the kid said, ‘Aren’t you Red Bastien, the wrestler?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m Steve Miller, the heavyweight boxing champion of Fort Worth.’
"The kid just walked off, and I saw him wad up the paper with my autograph on it and throw it away. That’s when I started thinking about a wrestling career."
(to be continued in The New WAWLI Papers 7-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.7-2001
(ED. NOTE – "No Holds Barred," by Mike Shropshire, appeared in D Magazine’s March, 1981 issue. It was a story of wrestling at Dallas’ famed Sportatorium and the first segment ended with neophyte wrestler Steve Miller trying to explain why he shaved his hair soon after entering the profession.)
(continued from The New WAWLI Papers 6-2001)
Miller decided to shave his head after one of his first appearances in pro wrestling. His opponent jerked out a fistful of Miller’s already thinning hair. It didn’t grow back.
"I don’t win many matches because I’m not that experienced. But I have something about me which will help, and that’s my big old ugly face. I have a face that would scare off a mongrel dog. That amounts to charisma and if you have it, you’re gonna make a lot of money in this business.
"I hope to be there in a couple of years. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m mean enough. I worked as a bouncer in the toughest bar in Alaska."
Miller lives in a mobile home in West Dallas. "I live in a scuzzy part of town, but I’m into it," Miller says. "Most of the wrestlers’ favorite joint is Café Dallas. But I never felt at ease around people who think they’re sophisticated and put on airs. I just like to go to low-rent dives and pat the Mexicans on the back."
The Monk lost his match to the "Baby Face," which is wrestling parlance for the good guy. The baby face in this case was some old cat of about 50.
The bad guys are known as "Heels," and all the talk is that you’ve got to be a Heel to make it in Dallas because the Baby Face market is currently monopolized by the three Von Erich boys.
Most of the leading Heels are managed by wrestler Gary Hart, who appears at matches wearing a business suit and fashionable hood, the kind popularly sported by medieval head choppers.
That costume probably generates dirty looks when Hart visits a 7-Eleven store or the bank. Wrestling fans like to bash out the headlights of his car and scratch the paint.
Hart gives the impression of being a Heel’s Heel. "Most of the people who dislike Gary really don’t know him," said a wrestling insider. "You have to get to know him before you can really dislike him."
The second match featured a performance by a miniature muscle god with the happy stage name, "Chief Billy White Cloud," a promising Baby Face. White Cloud actually comes from Monterrey, but the American Indian traditionally maintains a high appreciation index at the wrestling matches.
In fact, the most popular wrestler ever, perhaps, was Wahoo McDaniel, who, in real life, reputedly once won a substantial wager by chugalugging a quart of motor oil and running 40 miles without stopping.
"Well, I can believe the part about the motor oil," said one of Wahoo’s contemporaries. The University of Oklahoma kept this man on its classroom rolls for four years in return for his exploits on the field of honor.
Militants for the American Indian cause might be a little put off by Billy White Cloud’s spectacular feathered costume and his tendency to do rain dances and whoop "wa-wa-wa-wa-wa" just before he kicks his opponent in the neck.
White Cloud might counter that wrestling matches aren’t supposed to serve as a forum for politico-ethnic reform and point out that he can earn more money in a week with his Chief White Cloud parody than he could make in a lifetime sitting around Arizona roadsides selling Kachina dolls.
Jose Lothario, who’s been around forever, came into the ring next and made short work of Raul Castro, a masked wrestler.
Certain wrestlers are encouraged to wear masks simply because they have ordinary facial characteristics. Wrestlers find that they’re more professionally marketable if they look like movie stars or, preferably, are incredibly ugly.
Lothario has a sagging midsection, but moved around the ring like the Russian dancer Baryshnikov while working over Castro. At the conclusion of the match, Lothario attempted to rip off Castro’s mask, but the vanquished performer escaped and slinked back to the dressing room while the fans, many of whom could qualify for the World Museum of Chromosomal Disorders, hooted and jeered.
The referee, who bears a striking resemblance to Grandpa on The Munsters, raised Lothario’s arm in victory.
"Lothario’s gotta be in his mid-40s, probably," says Fritz Von Erich. "He’s typical of a lot of guys. He’s so skillful at what he does, he might be around another 10 years. That’s what I like about wrestling. Get to be this age in most other sports and, man, it’s over with."
Next came the main event, a three-person tag-team match. Two of the Von Erich boys, David and Kerry, along with Bruiser Brody, marched down the aisles of the Sportatorium with an air of patrician elan. Now the audience was wailing.
The Von Erich boys, in their mid- and early 20s, have the physical structure of Grecian deities.
"They’re gifted athletes," Fritz says, oozing with pride. "They all made all-state in football at Lake Dallas High, and Kerry, the youngest one, set an age group world record at the University of Houston in the discus."
The adoring crowd pressed around the ringside to have the photographs of the Von Erichs, available in the lobby for $2.25, personally autographed.
David, the oldest, has experienced his share of adversity. He lost his child in a crib-death tragedy and is now divorced.
"David’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders. The other two, well, they have some growing up to do still and sort of enjoy a good party, if you know what I mean," said the wrestling "insider."
But they’re all cashing in, and there are two more, supposedly, about to enter the profession.
After several minutes, the villains materialized behind a police escort which would have done credit to the late shah.
The cops come in handy. Gino Hernandez, formerly "under the care of Gary Hart" and therefore, a Heel, infuriated the Sportatorium crowd recently by ripping up some Von Erich photos belonging to kids seeking autographs. The ability to spur the crowd into a frenzy of hate is known in the trade as "giving heat," and Gino is good at it.
So good that, when he was later pitched over the top rope and into the crowd, someone approached him with a five-inch knife. (Fans who get out of hand in this fashion find they’ll be dealt with harshly.)
The villains on this occasion were Tim Brooks, who’s been known to work on his opponents with a dog chain; Gary Hart, wearing what looked like a Spiderman costume with "CHICAGO" stitched on the side of his tights; and a sensational Oriental import named Kabuki.
Kabuki’s face was painted white and he carried a sword.
This trio would clearly be out of place at the Mother’s Day buffet at Brook Hollow.
Brooks, who appears to have lived much of his life in a foxhole, although he’s actually from Waxahachie, spit at the crowd and cast an occasional French salute.
Kabuki, the assassin, approached David Von Erich and waved the sword underneath his chin. Von Erich looked like he didn’t know quite what to think. A week earlier, Kabuki had strangled an opponent with a coat hanger in Fort Worth.
Hart coaxed the sword away from Kabuki.
"Get that SOB out of there!" shrieked a middle-aged black woman seated at ringside. "He’s crazy!"
When the match began, Kabuki became a malevolent bundle of homicidal fury, seemingly jacked up on that same drug they used to feed Kamakazi pilots that transformed them into live-for-today no-accounts.
The Von Erich boys and the Bruiser put up a fierce effort and at one point, Tim Brooks staggered back into the corner with his face coated in blood.
"Make no mistake," said our wrestling informant. "The blood is real. Sometime during the match, while Kabuki was in the ring, Hart slipped Brooks a razor blade and then he just knicked his forehead and started bleeding like hell."
This procedure is known as "juicing" or a "blade job."
Harley Race, the current world champion, is renowned as the best "juicer" in the business, reputedly able to spread a few tiny drops over his face and arms so that it appears he just stumbled out of a train wreck.
On this occasion, the night belonged to Kabuki, who raised his right hand in clawlike fashion, then made the howling sound of a dive bomber heading into Pearl Harbor as he clutched one of the Von Erich boys around the abdominal region.
The audience was horrified. It was not a pleasant exhibition for Von Erich fans, along with anyone else who cherished truth, justice and the American Way.
"I don’t know how Hart got that guy into the United States," says Fritz Von Erich. "The SOB is dangerous.
"He’s a legend back in the Far East. I’ve had guys tell me they remembered him from when they served in Vietnam.
"I’d never seen a picture of him when he didn’t have that horrible face painted white. He must have some scars he’s trying to hide. But Kabuki’s really in demand now and he’ll draw a lot of money. It doesn’t make a damn about his reputation, though. Somebody’s going to beat him, and soon. I’d still like to know how Hart slipped him past the immigration authorities."
Some say it was not that difficult. They say, in fact, that Hart imported Kabuki from Kansas City, where he happened to be known as Takachika and was working the prelims, without benefit of the painted face.
The mystery of Kabuki’s origin simply enhances his value and he clearly has the potential to become one of the arch-villains in the lengthy process of fiends who’ve performed in the Sportatorium..
He may even join company with the likes of Duke Keomuka, Bull Curry and The Spoiler.
"I remember Bull, all right," says TV announcer Bill Mercer, who’s been doing wrestling in Dallas off and on since 1953.
"He kicked me in the face one time. That’s the only time I ever really had any bad trouble with a wrestler. It didn’t hurt much and left a little scrape over my eye.
"But he was a real Neanderthal."
The Spoiler, who was occasionally mistaken for the personification of Satan and was acrobatic enough to be able to tightrope walk his way around the ring on the top rope, once got on TV and explained how much he "hated the Sportatorium fans’ guts."
When asked how he felt about the fans who watched on TV, he said, "I hate them even worse because I don’t get any of their money."
Another classic was the late Moon Dog Mayne, who delighted in disgusting wrestling crowds everywhere by entering the ring and eating raw eggs, dog food, and, on one occasion, a dead fish.
"Gene Kiniski is a tough guy who really stands out in my mind," says Von Erich.
"Lou Thesz was probably the most skillful I ever wrestled, but Kiniski probably had to be the toughest. He’d knock your damn head off.
"He never did that to me, but he’s capable of it."
The Von Erich boys put up a brave effort to beat Kabuki and his two low-rent companions, Hart and Brooks.
David Von Erich delivered tough forearm chops to Kabuki’s thoraxial region with a massive "splat" and the audience roared.
A couple seated on the third row was hard to figure. The woman, kind of twentyish, seemed moderately hip. Her male companion, about 40, appeared to have gone around the bend intellectually some years earlier. He watched the matches intently through expressionless eyes glazed over from some long-ago trauma.
Finally, he was overcome by the sheer spectacle of it all and jumped from the chair to scream, "Tear his eyes out!"
"Oh, Sonny," gasped the fellow’s lady friend, who grabbed his sleeve and yanked him back down in his chair. Sonny wasn’t heard from for the rest of the evening.
Eventually, Kabuki dragged one of the Von Erichs into a corner and, along with his partners, triple-teamed their victim until the match ended.
The crowd, stunned, filed out. But the big majority obviously intended to return the following week to see justice, in some form, take its course.
The wrestlers, who are professionals after all, had done their job. There was nothing fake about the entertainment values at Sportatorium, and another evening of family fun had, all too soon, come to an end.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.8-2001
THE MONDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
(Memphis Magazine, May, 1983)
By David Dawson
Talk about a hell of a card. We got your Bruise Brothers and your Galaxians and your Sheepherders. We got your crowd-pleasing superhero muscle-flexers like Dutch Mantell and Sonny King and Bill Dundee and – yes, believe in it – Jerry "The King" Lawler. We got your newcomers like Philip Rougeau and Cowboy Jim Dalton. We got two – count ‘em, folks – two Heavyweight Title Matches, one for the Mid-American Crown and one for the International Crown. It’s Monday night at the Coliseum. The Fights. What more could a guy want?
Well, how about Sweet Brown Sugar, Jimmy Hart, Jacques Rougeau, Rick Morton, Bobby Eaton, King Cobra, Carl Fergie, Steve O. and Austin Idol? Disappointment over the fact that Abdula the Great is unable to make it tonight is quickly quelled by the thought of such a line-up. A small army of Big Guys, some of whom wear masks, some of whom have their heads shaved, some of whom bleach what hair they have white, some of whom actually bleed real blood right there in the ring, are all on hand to provide us with some of the absolute best wrassling action this side of Madison Square Garden.
Let’s go inside and check it out, shall we?
"I’m telling you, man, I got to go to the bathroom!" The speaker is a black man, about 35, who has on jeans and a Chicks baseball cap. He stands just inside the Coliseum doors, pleading with the man at the gate to let him in to relieve himself. "There ain’t no bathrooms outside, man. Listen, I’ll be right back."
"You ain’’t coming in here without a ticket," the gatekeeper says. "No way."
"But I got to go to the bathroom!" The man does indeed look desperate, even though he is not yet to the hopping-around-on-one-foot stage.
"Get out of here," the gatekeeper yells.
The man in the baseball cap goes outside the glass doors, turns, and shows the middle finger of his left hand to the gatekeeper inside. "That bastard tries that every week," he tells me. "He’ll just go around to one of the other doors and try it again. He won’t get in, though. Everybody around here knows him. Hell, you’d think he could come up with some other plan. He’s just about worn that trick out."
A group of teenagers arrives and asks how they can get downstairs to get some autographs. One is wearing a black Van Halen t-shirt, with the sleeves cut off. His girlfriend snuggles up into his hairy armpit. With them are two other girls, who look to be a bit younger, 13 perhaps. "Go down by the first aid station," the man tells them. "You might get to see one of the fighters, I don’t know."
The group runs down the stairs, their sneakers slapping against the stone floor. I ask the gatekeeper if that is yet another ruse to try and gain entry without paying. "Naw," he says, touching a match to an unfiltered cigarette. "Those are good kids. They come around here a lot. They’ll get ‘em some autographs, too, just you watch."
From inside the arena, I hear the strains of the national anthem being played over the p.a. system. It’s eight o’clock on the dot. This, at least, is one show that starts on time.
My seat is located on the floor, off to what would be sidecourt at a basketball game. After the national anthem we – the crowd and I, a distinction I am pleased to make all night – are treated to what writers of potboilers would call a "pregnant moment." The bloodlust is beginning to rise. The crowd begins a kind of wail, all eyes focused off to where six Memphis police officers – baseball caps in place – wait to escort the first wrestlers to the ring. There is about to be violence. The crowd could not be more ready.
In front of me sit three girls of about 15. All three are wearing brand-new Panama jack long-sleeved t-shirts: one pink, one white, one yellow. Jack himself stares at me in triplicate from their backs through his monocled eye. All three have similar hair-do’s as well: long on the sides and back, with a shorter portion combed neatly back upside their ears. All three are eating enormous Pronto Pups smeared with enough mustard to choke a horse.
The one to my left – in pink – elbows her friend in yellow. Her mouth is too full of Hot Pup to speak, so instead she points at a tall guy with shoulder length hair and a Rolling Stones shirt. "Yeah," the one in yellow agrees, "he’s cute. But not like Roy. That guy looks like a wimp." The guy walks past slowly, similar to the way a model passes your table at a cafeteria casting a sustained leer at the girls. "He’s gross," the one in white says as soon as the guy is out of earshot. "Ya’ll just wait until Philip Rougeau comes out. Now there’s a real hunk."
From the p.a. system, the rugged strains of the theme music to Peter Gunn come blasting out. Lance Russell, seated in the shower of light that bathes the ring and sets it off like a museum piece, begins his night’s work: "And now, weighing in at a combined weight of 428 pounds, the Bruise Brothers!"
From above my head, there is a thunder of applause. Yet around me, on the floor, there is a mere smattering. I look up and find that almost all of the people sitting up above the floor area are black. Downstairs, almost everyone is white.
In the subdued lighting of the Coliseum, as their theme music plays, the Bruise Brothers themselves make their way to the ring. They are both black, big, and dressed alike: blue jeans, dark jackets over no shirts, sunglasses, and pork pie hats. One carries a briefcase. They bop a little as they walk, as if both are afflicted about the knees.
When they are spotted, the white downstairs begins to cheer as well. There are the Good Guys for tonight. How that is determined, I don’t know, but the crowd does. Wrestlers change characterizations on a regular basis – today’s hero is next month’s villain. Somehow, from the very beginning of each match, you can tell who’s who, and how they stand with the crowd.
"They’re neat," says Panama Jack white in front of me. "That was a great movie," she adds, referring to the John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd film. Then, with no reason given, she says, "Let’s move." Her friends rise with her, and together they set out to wander the Coliseum.
As the bell rings starting the match between the Bruise Brothers and their tag-team opponents, King Cobra and Carl Fergie, I lose sight of the girls as they disappear shoulder-to-shoulder in the direction of the Pronto Pup stand. For them, anyway, the wrestling is secondary.
Beside the ring, Jimmy Hart, one-time rock-and-pop idol, runs around the ring like a fox trying to find a way into the chicken coop. He exhorts his Bruise Brothers, who have taken off their hats, glasses and jackets, to whomp tar out of their opponents. Each time one of the Brothers hits either Fergie or King Cobra (I was never able to figure out which was which), the crowd yells, "BOOM!" The wrestlers fling each other about the ring, and each time one hits the mat he does so with a thud, the ring bouncing almost as much as a trampoline. Then, with no fanfare, one of the Brothers climbs up the turnbuckle. The crowd – both upstairs and down – rises to its feet for this one. Hey, we know somebody’s gonna get crushed, right? Nobody wants to miss this. And sure enough, the Brother dives off onto an opponent who is lying prone in the ring.
"That sucker’s out!" a man three seats down from me yells. "He ain’t never getting’ up after that!"
The referee slaps his hand onto the ring three times. At 10:27 of the match, the first bout of the night is over.
"I told you they was bad," a man from upstairs screams.
Carl Fergie and King Cobra sit in the ring shaking their heads, trying to regain their senses by the looks of it, as the Bruise Brothers are led away triumphant between the rows of cops who have secured a path for them.
One down, seven to go. The crowd is just now getting worked up. They have seen a good belly-flopping dive which looked to smush a Bad Guy in the ring. Man, and what a dive it was!
The bloodlust is fully risen. Now is the time for some real action.
"That’s what you call the ‘Black Cloud,’" a man tells me. He gestures up to the seats above the floor, seats which are filled with black people. "I don’t know why they always sit up there, but they sure enough do."
The man has a goatee and a worn-looking stocking cap on, giving him the appearance of a Canadian lumberjack. His accent – and that of the woman with a blond Gidget-style hair-do who holds his hand – betrays this image. This man has never lived north of Dixie.
"It’s mainly because they like to holler at the white people," the man says. "I guess that’s it, anyhow." The woman disagrees. "It’s because they can’t afford the expensive seats," she says. Upstairs a seat costs $4. Downstairs they go for $5 and $6.
Whatever the reason, the crowd is very much aware of the racial separation at the Monday Night Wrestling Matches. I check this out with a black guy who gives his name as Andre. "Sure, man, this is a segregated affair, no doubt about that," he says.
The second match of the evening pits The Galaxians against Rick Morton and Cowboy Jim Dalton. The Galaxians appear dressed in purple and orange robes over similarly colored body suits. When they remove them, they reveal the fact that they are hooded, with wedge-shaped white masks covering their faces. Bad Guys. Any wrestler who appears masked and hooded is automatically deemed a Bad Guy, and in the case of the Galaxians, the crowd – upstairs and down – roars its disapproval in the form of a chorus of boo-ing and Bronx cheering.
Their opponents are announced next. The Good Guys. Rick Morton wears regular boxing trunks. Cowboy Jim Dalton has on blue jeans, suspenders over a bare chest, and on his hip is a holster with a big old six shooter in it. When his name goes out over the p.a. system, he steps to the center of the ring and draws the pistol. Before anyone can tell what’s what, he fires three blasts (blanks, mind you) into the air, sending the purple and orange Galaxians scampering out of the ring and up the side aisle. The crowd hoots at them as they go.
From out in the hall, a big guy in an Ole Miss t-shirt with his blue jeans pulled up too far comes running in and jumps onto an empty chair just in front of me. "What are they doing?" he says to no one in particular. "Are they shootin’ guns?" When he spots the pistol in Cowboy Jim’s paw, he lets out a huge "Heeeeehaaaaw," and waves his hand around in the air. "Ran their asses out of there, didn’t they?" he says.
A few minutes later, the Galaxians are led back to the ring, this time accompanied by cops. Cowboy Jim removes his big iron hogleg and puts it up, so that the bout can begin.
"BOOM, BOOM, BOOM," the crowd yells as either Rick or Cowboy Jim slug one of the Galaxians. You can hear the pop of fist on body suit each time they do; it sounds like somebody clapping his hands softly. For awhile, though, it looks bad for the Good Guys. The Galaxians are fighting dirty – one of them even has the gall to kick Rick in the thigh repeatedly.
But just after Lance Russell announces that there is one minute to go, Rick crawls over to his corner and reaches out to tag Cowboy Jim. The crowd rises to its feet. This is it, man, he’s gonna do it. Cowboy Jim races into the ring and grabs one of The Galaxians, and flings him all the way across it into the turnbuckle, leaving him flat on his back. Then he takes out after the other Galaxian, chases him out of the ring, catches him, drags him back, puts his chin onto one of the ropes, which he uses like a slingshot to bounce him back out of the ring again.
The big silver bell at ringside is struck. The match is over. A draw. Shoot, man, didn’t they see the way those Galaxians were cheating? No, Lance Russell announces the match as a draw. Boy. Just wait until next week. Those Galaxians are too much.
All four wrestlers are escorted out by police. Two matches down, five to go. It’s not even 8:30 yet. A body gets a lot of Fight for four bucks in this town, let me tell you.
(to be continued in The New WAWLI Papers 9-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.9-2001
THE MONDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
(Memphis Magazine, May, 1983)
(continued from The New WAWLI Papers 8-2001)
Sonny King defeated Philip Rougeau. Jacques Rougeau defeated Dutch Mantell. Bobby Eaton took the Mid-America Heavyweight Title home with him by defeating Sweet Brown Sugar. Bill Dundee, a crowd favorite who gets kissed a lot on his way from dressing room to ring, and Steve O beat the Sheepherders, bald guys with beards (another certain sign of Bad Guyness). And in the big match, the main event, Memphis superstar Jerry Lawler got whupped by Austin Idol, who thereby retained the International Heavyweight Title. Oh, and by the way, Sweet Brown Sugar had to leave town because of his loss. It was one of the conditions of the bout.
That’s what happened. But please, if you have any mercy about you at all you will forgive me for not tell you how. After the first two matches, my critical eye went stone blind. Thinking back, I’d be hard pressed to even give you a fair description of the wrestlers themselves. There was a steady stream of them – seven bouts, one right after the other – and frankly they begin to run together in the mind, despite the garish costumes and shaved heads.
My notebook offers no help. I find written in it such things as: "They look like puppy dogs, newly weaned, trying to nip one another’s ears on a carpet." Or: "Each time a punch is thrown, the puncher stomps his foot on the mat, and each time someone falls over from such a punch, he waves his arms like a windmill." Or, finally: "Each match seems to go the entire time limit. The wrestlers seem to take their cues from Lance Russell, who announces when there is only a minute to go. The match is resolved quickly after that."
From what I know of AAU wrestling – the kind that’s practiced in college or the Olympics – all I can say is that this ain’t it. The only bout that seemed similar to AAU wrestling was one between Philip Rougeau (the one that the Panama Jack girls thought was such a hunk) and Sonny King. The two went through about five minutes of trying to get the various holds – half-nelsons and the like – on the other, and the crowd liked it not one bit. They hooted and booed until finally (with about three minutes to go) the two started punching and kicking and flinging one another into the ropes, and the crowd then began to cheer.
Is it real? To even address such a question in print would be about the same as sitting down and writing an essay on why the Easter Bunny leaves no tracks in the flower beds. The important question here is: do the people who shell out good money to come and pretty much fill the Coliseum week after week think it’s real?
Here is what some of them had to say:
Whatever their opinions, the fans continue to pay and continue to holler for their heroes. They know the rules, and are very much aware of any infractions – usually committed when the referee’s back is conveniently turned – and most importantly, they seem to have a wonderful sense for a good performance. On the night I went, some of the wrestler seemed bored, or sleepy, like they were just going through the motions. The crowd rewarded them with catcalls. Enthusiasm was what counted. That, and a hell of a belly flop off the turnbuckle. That never failed to please.
Just before the Lawler/Idol match – the main event – I find myself in need of popcorn. Outside, in the line to the concession stand, I see the black guy in the Chicks cap who had been begging to get in to use the bathroom an hour and a half ago. He is walking along furtively, avoiding eye contact. Thank God for trusting gate keepers, I think. At least he’ll get to see the big Championship bout.
The guy ducks inside just as the contestants are being announced.
Jerry Lawler gets the biggest hand, of course. But he’s not, I am told by a woman there with her 8-year-old daughter, always so popular. "He’s the goat sometimes," she says. "Right now he’s not."
He and Austin Idol put on the most active show of the night. In other words, there is a lot more flinging into ropes and a lot less rolling around like puppy dogs. With just minutes to go, Idol dives on Jerry and the referee slaps the mat three times, very quickly. Lawler has been cheated, or so the crowd seems to believe, a victim of the old quick count. On the way out there is both cheering and booing for the two wrestlers. "Not everyone likes Jerry Lawler," the woman with her daughter tells me.
Outside, in the sudden chill of that spring evening, two young boys wrestle in the grass beside the Coliseum. One of them jumps up and says, "That’s not how he did it! He got his leg and did this" – the kid rolls his opponent over onto his back – "and then he pinned him."
"Oh," the other one says. "You mean like THAT."
Like dogs responding to one of those ultra-high pitched whistles, the two hear their names being called by a parent from way off in the parking lot; immediately they jump up and run through the slowly moving cards. The Fights are over – almost. It will be a whole week before such thrills are to be had again.
The phone rings at The Party Shop, next door to Buster’s Liquors at Poplar and Highland, about ten minutes after the main event has ended. "No, Bill Dundee has not come in yet," says George Gully, owner. "None of the wrestler have come by." Gully hangs up the phone and rings up a six-pack of Mexican beer. "Same person every Monday night," he tells me. "She always wants to know if she’s missed Bill Dundee."
For as long as anyone around The Party Shop can recall, the wrestlers have been stopping in after the matches to pick up beer and snacks to fortify themselves for the long trip back to Nashville, where most of them live, and which serves as something of a center for the Southern circuit. Since the store is located right on the way from the Coliseum to the freeway, their arrival has become an anticipated one. The fans are hip to them.
Tonight, the cars begin arriving about 10:20, just minutes after the Lawler/Idol match has ended. The faithful back their cars into the spaces, affording a better view of Highland; should one of the wrestlers decide not to stop, the fans who congregate here want to know about it. They want to be able to flip on that engine and go peeling out into the traffic to tail them out of town.
Most of the cars bear Mississippi license plates. Two Camaros, a Pinto, and several pick-up trucks are on hand tonight. "In the summertime we’ll get about 30 cars out here every Monday night," Gully says. "When school is in session, though, we usually don’t have that many."
Wait a minute. There’s something happening over at the Exxon station next door. A man with a shaven head and beard is transferring duffel bags from the trunk of one car to another. The moonlight shines on his pate and outlines the girth of his round belly. Could it be? Yes, it is. A Sheepherder! A Bad Guy, sure, but what the hell. One of the Camaros starts up and squeals its way over to the Exxon lot so that the three guys inside can get a better gander at whoever is over there. Who knows, maybe some Good Guys are over there as well. Just as they leave, one of the fifteen or so young girls gathered on the sidewalk in front of The Party Shop says, "Here they come," and points down Highland toward Central. A big grey and black Cadillac, with two smaller cars right up on its rear bumper, rolls into the lot.
Out of it steps Bill Dundee himself, wearing a red satin baseball jacket that says "Superstar" on the back in white cursive letters. With him is Philip Rougeau. He has a long-sleeved t-shirt on, with some kind of writing on the sleeves. It appears to be too small for him, but then he is a hell of a big guy.
Rougeau and Dundee stroll into The Party Shop and head for the beer cooler in the back. A small clot of fans – most of them young girls, with a few scruffy-looking guys thrown in – congregate by the front door to await their return.
While they are mulling over the beer assortment, the Sheepherder who was spotted over at the Exxon lot sticks his head in the door. "Where do you keep the 7-Up’s?" he asks. Gully tells him they are in the back. "Oh," he says, a snarl on his lip, before turning to leave. No one asks him for an autograph.
"The Bad Guys won’t come in here while the Good Guys are inside," Gully says. "Usually the Bad Guys show up first, before the fans get here even, and kind of clear the way for the Good Guys."
"You mean they take it that seriously?" I ask.
"I don’t know," Gully says. "That’s the way they do it, though."
Dundee and Rougeau decide on a domestic beer. They pay, and go through the door to greet the followers. Autographs are signed for twittering teen-aged girls, and Dundee allows several of them to give him a kiss on the cheek. As their Cadillac pulls out into the traffic on Highland, several cars follow, the fans inside wanting to preserve a view of their heroes as long as possible. After all, it will be a whole week before the faithful have another chance to see them live, up close, kissable.
Perhaps next week Dundee will be a Bad Guy, forced to wait while a Sheepherder or Galaxian makes up his mind over what brand of beer, what sort of cheese, what manner of cracker, to buy. In the world of professional wrestling, the fan is forced to grab glory while it’s available. You know, like who wants to kiss a Bad Guy anyway?
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 10-2001
MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY
(Special Report, November 1989-January 1990)
By Richard Blow
Big John Studd is twirling a forkful of fettuccine, oblivious to the knot of teenagers behind him who are about to shatter his domestic tranquillity. Decked out in matching blue-and-gold Riverside Mustangs jackets, the kids giggle and whisper to one another, no doubt surprised to find the World Wrestling Federation’s hottest property having lunch with his wife and kids at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Not that they could miss him. At 6-feet-10, 370 pounds, Studd is bigger than most of the exhibits.
Today Studd would kill for a little anonymity. He’s on his first real vacation in months following Wrestlemania, the WWF’s premier glitz-and-gore show, and he’s spending some rare quality time with the family – if only the Mustangs would cooperate.
Fat chance. Just as Studd shoves another forkful of pasta into his mouth, the kids hitch up their nerve and shout, "BIG! JOHN! STUDD!" Studd rolls his eyes, swallows, wipes his golden beard, and politely waves a massive paw.
"John, when we get out, you have to tell them, no autographs," says Studd’s wife, Donna, a petite woman with curly blond hair. She knows her husband hates to turn his fans away. "Yes, Donna," Studd replies, sounding relieved to have an out.
Across the table, 6-year-old Jannelle is sucking on a blue lollipop while the grilled cheese she ordered gets cold. She’s an attractive blonde like her brother, 8-year-old John Robert, whose huge-for-his-age wrists confirm a genetic link to Big John. He’s about to stuff a saltine into his mouth when he suddenly stops, puts the cracker down, and removes his retainer.
"My kids used to be jealous of all the attention that fans demand," Studd says, watching John Robert swipe Jannelle’s lollipop. "Now that they’re a little older, I think they enjoy having a famous dad. We have a good life because of who I am." With that, Studd reaches across the table and appropriates half of Jannelle’s grilled cheese.
Just then a young boy walks by, staring at Studd, but he’s too shy to approach the table. He’s so preoccupied with the wrestler that he stumbles into a waiter and, embarrassed, darts into the crowd.
Studd sighs. "It’s amazing how many people refuse to believe I have a normal life."
Is it any wonder fans can’t believe that Big John Studd puts on his size 48 pants one leg at a time? Most of them see him only TV, where the world’s second-biggest pro wrestler pummels behemoths like Andre the Giant for a living. In the ring, Studd is a long-haired, flat-faced, barrel-chested brute – the Cowardly Lion gone rabid.
True to form, three weeks before his encounter with the Mustangs, Big John Studd-as-Ward Cleaver is nowhere to be found. Instead he’s pacing anxiously backstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden, getting psyched to battle Akeem the African Dream in a match high on the marquee.
Outside, restless grousing gurgles up from the cheap seats; early bouts between relative nobodies have drawn jeers from the capacity crowd, which has paid as much as 12 bucks a head for some bloodthirsty wrestling. All they’ve seen so far is a bunch of guys in tight shorts shouting at each other, as entertaining as gorillas on speed – bizarre, but not very exciting once the novelty wears off.
Then an announcer’s voice turns the boos to delighted shouts: "Ladies and gentlemen – BIG . . . JOHN . . . STUDD!" Thousands of fans stamp their feet and chant: "Studd! Studd! STUDD!" as the wrestler strides down the aisle and clambers into the ring, his massive chest bare, muscles rippling beneath his red-and-white tights. The audience screams so loudly that the roof seems to shudder. All the while, Studd stalks about the ring, absorbing the applause: a gladiator reveling in the bloodlust of his fans.
Then his opponent climbs – flops, really – into the ring. In his sequined yellow-and-blue dashiki, with makeup all over his face, Akeem looks like an extra from "Cats" – though, at a whopping 457 pounds, hardly feline. The crowd hates him. They stop cheering Studd only long enough to jeer Akeem.
When the match begins, Akeem surprises Studd with a forearm that knocks him on his back, but then he makes a critical mistake. He tries to lift Studd, aiming for that most awesome of pro-wrestling feats, the body slam. Noone has ever slammed Big John Studd. Akeem’s arms quiver, then buckle, then give way altogether. Studd simply lands on him. So much for the record books.
With Akeem deflated, Studd takes control. Grabbing his opponent in one arm, he hurls him into a corner buckle, then again, and again. He picks Akeem up like a bulldozer carrying a load of dirt and dumps him over the ropes. When the hapless Akeem pleads for mercy, Studd grabs his hair and pulls him back in. He makes the coup de grace look easy, hoisting his nearly quarter-ton foe over his head – Akeem must be 10 feet off the ground – and hurling him earthward.
Then Studd swoops from the ring and heads for his locker, interrupted only by hand slaps and gentle tugs at his hair. To the fans who have witnessed his victory, it’s been a display of titan accomplishment: to Studd, it’s just another night at the office.
In private, John Studd changes everything about himself – starting with his clothes. At home for a three-day respite, he’s lounging around in sweats and sneakers, a far cry from the Halloween costume he wears in the ring. His house is a comfortable split-level in Burke, Virginia, an upper-middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C., where Donna runs a consulting business and Studd – a card-carrying Republican – is a big draw at political fund-raisers.
While Donna is in the kitchen making sandwiches and waiting for the kids to get home from school, Studd settles into a dining room chair and talks about his past. He used to have another name and another life, he says, but wrestling changed all that. It gave him two identities: the public Big John Studd, wrestler and performer; and the private John Studd, family man, a father and husband who just happens to body-slam people for a living.
Donna sets Studd’s lunch in front of him: turkey and Swiss on white bread, cut neatly into triangular halves, and a small bowl of potato salad. He picks up one half of the sandwich and nibbles at it. More mealtime restraint than you’d expect from a man his size – you get the feeling Studd would never so much as burp in front of his wife. "John doesn’t eat a lot at any one time," Donna says, "but he eats all day long."
Studd grew up on a farm in the small rural town of Butler, Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school, he was drafted into the Army in 1969 and served stateside for thee years as an MP. He was walking down a Los Angeles street in 1972, he says, when a wrestling promoter "discovered" him. For the next five years, Studd wrestled on the backroad circuit, earning 20 bucks a night in small Southern towns where farmers paid to see the local boys take on the traveling show.
Then things began to pick up. Studd was drawing crowds, breaking into the big time, wrestling in large arenas, and making more money. To mark his arrival, he christened himself Big John Studd – he doesn’t like to reveal his given name – because, he says, "I wanted a name that would imply strength, a name that everyone would remember."
In 1977 he met Donna Conklin while the two were waiting in a Montreal airport. They married the next year and moved to Burke, where Studd quickly made an impression with the neighbors. "I first met John at a neighborhood party," says John Bryant, a Texas congressman who lives behind the Studds. "Of course, the first thing you notice about him is his size. But after I got over that, I thought he was very nice, very humble. Now most people just think of him as they would any other neighbor. My kids play street hockey with his."
Though his popularity continued to grow through the ‘80s, Studd found that what had sustained him as a younger man was no longer enough. Now that he had a family, he didn’t want to be on the road 28 days a month. So in 1986 he told the WWF that he needed some time off. How much? The wrestling promoters asked. Two years, he said. "My family comes first."
Finishing his sandwich, Studd washes his plate and heads to the basement to work out, which he does every day when he’s home. The room is appropriately divided into half. On one side is the typical American family room with shag carpet, a sofa about eight yards long, and a TV big enough to double as a scoreboard.
On the other side, Studd’s weight machines reign. There’s no fancy Nautilus equipment here, just a lot of bars and chains and pulleys and cold steel weights. It looks like a torture chamber – except that on one wall is a huge poster of Studd, hanging from the ropes of a wrestling ring and shaking his fist.
"I had a couple of goals," Studd says of his decision to take a break and then return to the WWF with a reduced load. He talks between lat pulldowns, back exercises he’s doing in sets of 10: all told, 30 repetitions at a measly 150 pounds each. He sounds like an old steam locomotive: huff-clank-clank, huff-clank-clank.
"One goal was to be closer to my family," Studd says. His children had been virtual strangers to him. Now he takes them to school, to the Smithsonian, to Disneyland. He takes Donna to the palm, a Washington restaurant where local power brokers hobnob. You’re more likely to see Sam Donaldson or Lee Atwater at the Palm than professional wrestlers, but it’s the one public place where the Studds can eat without being disturbed.
He also began thinking about life after wrestling. He invested in some local real estate and took up acting, accepting small roles on TV’s "Hunter" and "Beauty and the Beast." (He was slated to co-star in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film "Predator" but couldn’t fit into the alien costume.) And when he returned to the ring in January, 1989, he found that his absence had made him more popular than ever.
From upstairs come the sounds of a door slamming and children’s voices: John Robert and Jannelle are home. Jannelle comes down to the basement, sees her father with a visitor, and runs away shyly. John Robert also descends, two school chums in tow. Studd takes his son onto his lap, where the embarrassed John Robert squirms. He hopes his friends won’t say anything, but they’re too amazed to speak. They stare at Studd as if he’s a Nintendo character come to life.
John Robert is asked, What’s it like to have a father who’s a professional wrestler?
"It has to be a two-words-or-more answer," his father says.
John Robert thinks for a while. "It’s fun," he says finally, just barely making the cutoff.
Why? "Because you get to see him on TV a lot and you get a lot of money."
"There’s more to it than that, huh?" chides his father.
"They like you," John Robert says, and Studd’s face lights up. It’s amazing what a few words from a child can accomplish.
Would John Robert want to be a professional wrestler? "No," he says quickly. "I’d rather play hockey, ‘cause you can check people through the boards."
That’s fine with his father, who’d like to see him go into professional sports but thinks wrestling is a life fit for only a select few. "It takes a certain kind of person to be a wrestler," Studd explains. "You have to be a little bit strange."
Having endured enough, John Robert jumps off his father’s lap and picks up a book of wrestling photos his friends have been perusing. "C’mon, I’ll show you the bloody ones," he says, and the three leave the room.
With one final lift, Studd finishes his workout. Exhausted, he lets the weights slam to the floor. From the next room comes another slamming noise, the sound of a young body crashing onto vinyl. "John, did you jump on the couch?" Studd shouts.
"No, Dad," his son fibs, giggling under his breath.
Studd sighs. "John, go do your homework, please."
Tomorrow Studd has to be in Vancouver for an early-evening match. He’ll get up at 5 a.m. to make an eight o’clock flight. Once in Vancouver, he’ll check into an airport hotel, work out at a nearby gym, change into his trademark red-and-white costume, and become Big John Studd, professional wrestler, terror of the ring.
But before he can do that, he has to keep his son from destroying the furniture.
After all, Big John Studd has his priorities.
(ED. NOTE – Big John Studd, whose given name was John William Minton, and who wrestled as Captain USA, Captain America, Executioner No. 2, Masked Superstar No. 2 and Chuck O’Connor, among various other wrestling identities, died of complications from liver cancer and Hodgkin’s disease on March 20, 1995. He was 46.)
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