THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 32-2001
BROWN AGAIN TAKES MATCH
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, January 2, 1943)
Orville Brown is still the master of Tom Zaharias, the free-wheeling Pueblo, Colo., heavyweight. Brown won over Zaharias in the main event of the wrestling show at the Auditorium last night by way of proving that a victory of 10 days was no fluke.
Brown got the jump on Zaharias, who demanded the rematch, by taking the first fall in 14 minutes, but Tom evened the match in 12 minutes to climax another rough session. A sensational airplane spin brought Brown the victory in just seven minutes and in a manner that left no room for another Zaharias squawk.
Ronnie Etchison, however, turned in the most impressive performance of the card when he defeated Bad Boy Brown in straight falls in the semi-final event. Etchison was in command the entire way and at the end of the show asked for a shot at Orville Brown, who has dominated the St. Joseph mat scene this season.
The powerful Ras Samara defeated Jay Steele in the special event. Mel Peters and Frank Frogge drew in the opener.
BLOW ON HEAD COST HIM MATCH, ETCHISON FEELS
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, January 9, 1943)
Ronnie Etchison is convinced today that had he not struck his head on a ring post when he missed a flying tackle last night he would have defeated Orville Brown in a main event match that climaxed one of the best wrestling cards of recent seasons at the Auditorium. And, there are a world of fans who share the opinion.
Etchison had been the aggressor through most of the contest and was even with Brown on falls when he crashed into the post with such force he shook the entire ring. He was so badly shaken up that the big Kansan had little trouble in ending the match.
"I’m more convinced than ever now that I can beat Brown," Etchison said today. "I’m on to his style and if I can get another shot at him I know that I’ll beat him. There isn’t much you can do to defend yourself after you’ve taken the kind of rap that I did."
It took Brown 32 minutes to wear Etchison down in the first session, which went to the former blacksmith on a smother. Etchison came back strong to even the match in just nine minutes with his own version of the same hold, and another nine minutes were consumed in the third and final fall.
Ras Samara turned back Jack Conley in two out of three falls in a semi-final event that saw Conley substituting for Tom Zaharias, who broke his leg in Kansas City, Kan., Thursday night. The injury to Zaharias necessitated a general revision of the card but, if anything, added to the show.
Bad Boy Brown defeated Jay Steele in the special, while Frank Frogge and Prospector Pete went to a fast draw in the opener.
OVER 3,000 MAT FANS GET TO SEE AN EXTRA CONTEST
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, January 16, 1943)
Some 3,700 enthusiastic wrestling fans got to see a match that wasn’t advertised last night at the Auditorium as Betty Weston, a gal in red tights, who flashed an attack that matched the brilliance of her ring togs, won the right to meet Mildred Burke for the women’s world mat title here next Friday.
As originally planned the winners of last night’s top matches were to come together next week for the right to meet Miss Burke here on Jan. 29. The champion got another offer to tour Mexico and asked that her match be moved up a week. So the entire elimination was run off last night before one of the biggest and liveliest crowds of several seasons.
And Miss Weston, a poker-faced blaster, left little doubt in the minds of the fans that she will give the champion some serious trouble on the basis of the Columbus, Ohio, girl’s showing last night. She got the jump on the "new" Elviry Snodgrass in the opening match and kept the Tennessee athlete on the defensive except for a brief spell when Elviry was mistress of the situation with a double reverse toehold.
The rest of the time Betty was punching, choking, gouging, kicking and generally forcing Elviry to seek cover. This test was wound in eight minutes with Weston taking the fall on a smother that looked like it would work Elviry right through the floor of the ring.
Gladys (Kill ‘Em) Gillem qualified for the finals by defeating Mae Young, who came out a dazzling but somewhat fuzzy blonde, with one of the most neatly executed maneuvers ever seen on the Auditorium mat. Gladys has developed a flying scissors that is deadly when it connects. She used it to climax five minutes of wild Texas rules action and it caught Young off guard completely. The gals piled up with Gillem all but sitting on Young’s neck and that was the match.
This same maneuver prolonged the finals but Weston sharpened up enough after being trapped once to keep Gillem from using the hold as a clincher. Two slams and a smother gave Weston the first fall in seven minutes, but Gillem used the scissors to even the match in six minutes after Weston had thrown herself out of the ring on a missed flying tackle.
The final fall went only two minutes. The girls opened with a rush and were still going at top speed when Weston broke through on a series of body slams and a smother.
Meanwhile, Elviry had issued a challenge to Weston in an appeal to the fans to help her get matchmaker Gust Karras to book the bout. The fans evidently felt that it should be done.
Emir Badui and Bad Boy Brown defeated Jack Dillon and Jay Steele in the tag team match.
MILDRED BURKE WINS BUT BERRY IS HELD TO DRAW
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, January 23, 1943)
More than 4,500 wrestling fans last night helped Gust Karras celebrate the 10th anniversary of his St. Joseph wrestling promotions and this all-time record crowd saw Mildred Burke make a successful defense of her woman’s world title against Betty Weston, while Wild Red Berry, light heavyweight champion, was held to a draw by Prospector Pete in the other title clash on the card.
Miss Burke, resplendent in white ring togs and in the best condition of her career, eliminated Miss Weston in straight falls by way of leaving little doubt of her superiority over the women grapplers. The first fall came in eight minutes after Miss Burke broke up a Texas rules attack to put Miss Weston on the defensive with a series of headlocks.
The Ohio girl continued to rough it in the other sessions but the champion, who is ready to open her first invasion of California, ended the contest in seven minutes. This time she employed an alligator clutch to subdue the girl who roughed her way through the elimination tournament last week to gain a shot at the title.
Berry returned to the Auditorium after an absence of 10 years to demonstrate the form that has taken him to the top. He gained the first fall in 21 minutes with his ivy twist, but Pete evened the match after Berry had tried to ram the prospector’s head into the ring post but himself was thrown against that support. The remaining seven minutes of the match were extremely rough.
Mae Young won the other woman’s match of the night over Gladys (Kill ‘Em) Gillem to gain a booking with Elviry Snodgrass here next week. Miss Gillem was her usual businesslike self, but was at a disadvantage when it came to speed. The blonde blaster got the jump on her and that was the difference.
Jack Dillon took the opener from Elmer Snodgrass in 11 minutes.
ELVIRY WINS HER CONTEST
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, January 30, 1943)
Elviry Snodgrass last night got the vindication she has been seeking since she was eliminated in the women’s wrestling tournament when she defeated Mae Young in the featured bout of the weekly Eagles Lodge show at the Auditorium.
In one of the roughest matches ever put on by women in St. Joseph, the Tennessee scuffler bested Mae Young in three rugged falls. Forgetting all they ever knew about scientific wrestling, the girls had at it for nine minutes before Young got the first fall with a series of headlocks. Elviry had a leg tangled in the rope at the time but the fall stood up anyway.
It took Mrs. Snodgrass just short of five minutes to even the contest. She was on the offensive throughout the session and the blonde Young left the ring pretty much the worse for the wear.
The final fall came after seven minutes of the wildest action of the night. Young went all out to add biting to her other Texas rules techniques and was twice knocked out of the ring for her trouble before the climax.
Everett Kibbons defeated Cowboy Luttrall in the semi-final event, while Ras Samara and Babe Zaharias went to a draw in the special. Bad Boy Brown won over Jack Dillon in the opener.
WILD RED BERRY BEATS PETE AND KEEPS HIS TITLE
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, February 6, 1943)
Wild Red Berry, a fugitive from the coal mines of Kansas, is still the light heavyweight wrestling champion of the world following a victory over Prospector Pete in the main event of last night’s Auditorium card, but the little fellow from Gold Lodge, Ariz., has stamped himself as a very worthy challenger.
The match went the full three falls and the champion found himself on the verge of defeat repeatedly in the final session.
Berry gained the first fall in 12 minutes with an ivy twist, but it took Pete less than two minutes to even the match. Berry rushed him at the start of the fall but wound up against a ring post when Pete got out of the way. Another ivy twist ended the match after 13 minutes of fast action that had the crowd on its feet most of the way.
Ronnie Etchison and Babe Zaharias went to a draw in the semi-final event without either gaining a fall. The St. Joseph wrestler made good use of leverage to keep the Pueblo, Colo., heavyweight in holds for extended periods of time. Etchison also met Zaharias’ Texas rules attack in kind.
Jimmy Coffield proved that he had lost none of his fire as a war worker when he defeated Bad Boy Brown in the special event, while Jack Hader won over Jack Nasworthy in the opener.
Bobby Managoff, the new world heavyweight champion, will meet Orville Brown here next week.
MANAGOFF IS MAT WINNER
(St. Joseph News-Press, Saturday, February 13, 1943)
Bobby Managoff, sensational young Chicago wrestler, successfully defended his world heavyweight championship against the challenge of Orville Brown last night at the Auditorium in the featured bout of a card that was filled with action.
Looking more like a college athlete than a professional champion, Managoff had to yield a fall to the burly Kansas veteran after taking the first pin in 19 minutes on a smother following a flying dropkick. Brown used a series of tackles to even the match in nine minutes only to have Managoff end the affair in another eight minutes with another dropkick.
Ronnie Etchison settled his ring discussion with Babe Zaharias by pinning the Pueblo, Colo., star in their one fall to a finish match. It took Etchison almost 24 minutes to end what was a rugged match all the way. After referee Whitey Baxter had left the ring, the athletes had an informal session of blasting.
Cowboy Luttrall made the most impressive showing of the night by scoring victories over both Bad Boy Brown and Jack Dillon in a handicap special event. Brown lasted only four minutes while Dillon was taken out in an additional six minutes.
Prospector Pete and Frank Frogge wrestled to a draw in the opener.
ST. JOSEPH (MO.) AUDITORIUM, results of February 19,
1943: Ronnie Etchison beat Cowboy Luttrall, Orville Brown drew Babe Zaharias,
Tom Zaharias beat Bad Boy Brown, Jim Coffield beat Frank Frogge. Scheduled for
February 26, 1943: Bill Longson, National Wrestling Association champion, versus
Ronnie Etchison (title defense). Longson regained the title from Bobby Managoff
in St. Louis on Friday, February 19, 1943.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 33-2001
PLAN GORGEOUS GEORGE SHOW
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Tuesday, January 10, 1950)
Gorgeous George, the man who brought wrestling back to the nation’s largest sports arenas and made the mat sport familiar to a vast television audience, will be on display in the Quad Cities on Friday night, January 20, it was announced today.
The Gorgeous One, in all his perfumed finery, will headline a wrestling show to be staged at Wharton Field House under sponsorship of the Quad City Blackhawks, professional basketball team.
"We have no intentions of entering other sports fields regularly," announced Ben Kerner, executive director of the Blackhawks, "but we had a chance to secure one of the greatest attractions in the sports and entertainment fields, so we took it. It’s a big league venture and something we think Quad City residents will enjoy."
Thus far no opponent for George has been named, but Kerner said that a top-notch grappler will be secured. A first-class supporting card also will be staged to round out the show, which is expected to attract several thousand persons to the fieldhouse.
G.G., who real name is George Wagner, won fame through a number of spectacular devices, including his butler, who sprays with perfume and disinfectant any area to be occupied by the Gorgeous One. George also flaunts a mop of glamorous blond hair, tastefully arranged by a skilled hairdresser and held in place by his famed "Georgie Pins."
Besides his headline appearances in the biggest wrestling shows, G.G. has kept himself in the spotlight with his mat antics before television audiences, his appearances as a guest star on radio programs with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and other celebrities of the air waves.
But, despite the fact that he is unusual and unorthodox in his manners, Gorgeous George is said to be primarily a powerful, highly trained athlete. He is one of the mat sport’s finest performers, a rugged, hard-hitting wrestling machine.
Tickets for the show are being sold at the Blackhawks’ office, 423 Seventeenth street, Rock Island, and other regular Blackhawk ticket agencies.
SIGN TEMPLE TO WRESTLE GORGEOUS ONE
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Friday, January 13, 1950)
George Temple, big brother of Shirley Temple, the movie actress, has been signed as an opponent for Gorgeous George in the feature bout of the wrestling show to be staged January 20 at Wharton Fieldhouse.
Completion of the lineup for the main go was revealed by Ben Kerner, executive director of the Quad City Blackhawks, who are sponsoring the show. The bout will top a card that will include two other fast bouts, according to Kerner.
The signing of Temple to face Gorgeous George brings together two mat rivals who have been competing for some time for public attention in their own backyard. Temple lists Hollywood, Calif., as his home town and Gorgeous George is a Los Angeles resident.
Temple, a comparative newcomer to the professional wrestling game, started his mat career following his discharge from the Marine Corps.
Temple has insisted that he doesn’t need the help of Shirley’s reputation to get along as a wrestler and has proceeded to prove his point by working his way through tough opposition to the top. Since the debates following his pro start in 1946, he reportedly has won the blessings of other members of the family, with the exception of his mother.
EXPECT BIG CROWD TONIGHT
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Friday, January 20, 1950)
With the largest crowd ever to witness a wrestling show in the Quad Cities expected to be on hand, big-time grappling of the type that has taken the television world by storm will make its debut at Wharton Fieldhouse tonight.
The mat program, which is being sponsored by the Quad City Blackhawks, will furnish a possible 2½ hours of action, starting at 8 p.m.
The main event will have Gorgeous George as one of its principals. The $100,000 beauty, whose blondined permanents, dainty costumes, perfumery and disinfectant-squirting butler have made him one of the top drawing cards in wrestling and television circles, will meet George Temple of Hollywood, Calif., in the final bout of the night.
The battle is somewhat of a natural, as the two have been rivals for some time for attentions of West Coast grappling fans. Temple, brother of Shirley, the movie actress, also bears a famous name and has been winning a full share of approval in the grappling world.
Both are fast and furious mixers and will be well matched in size, as both will enter the ring in the neighborhood of 210 pounds.
For action, it is highly possible that the semi-windup might steal the show. That bout, scheduled for the same distance as the feature bout, brings together two of the leading candidates for the world’s junior heavyweight title, a target for grapplers who weigh under 200 pounds.
Billy Goelz formerly held that bauble, but lost it recently to LeRoy McGuirk of Tulsa, Okla. Billy Parks is the Canadian champion at that weight and aims at the world’s crown. Both are fast, smooth grapplers who are active in the biggest sports arenas.
And on the strictly brutal side, the attraction is the opener, which will bring into action Rudy Kay, the rowdy Chicagoan who is known as one of the foremost villains of the grappling game.
Kay, whose past performances have been against such opposition as Jim Londos, Gorgeous George and other topnotchers, will take on a real handful in Howard Cantonwine of Los Angeles. Cantonwine, at 235 pounds, is about the same weight as the mauling Kay and he is a cagy veteran of several years in the best grappling circles.
In order to accommodate the prospective audience, the ticket office at the fieldhouse was scheduled to open at 5 this evening.
DRAMA COMES TO FIELD HOUSE
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Saturday, January 21, 1950)
(ED. NOTE – Feeling itself inadequate to deal with the thespian elegancies of the Gorgeous George show at Wharton Fieldhouse last night, the sports department called upon the Dispatch drama critic, Jim Dix, to do the reporting.)
By Jim Dix
One thing may be said in praise of the drama (see footnote No. 1) at Wharton Fieldhouse last night. The timing was perfect. It started out on a dramaturgically correct minor key (see footnote 2), setting the mood for the coming of the star, and then, at exactly the right moment, the star appeared, like a disdainful Caesar, come to intimidate the Roman senate.
First appeared the straight man, an earnest, brown-haired young fellow named George Temple. Unaccompanied, he went on stage – that is to say, the ring in the center of the basketball floor – walked to his corner like little Jack Horner and stood there mum – a well executed piece of business but a relatively easy one in that it didn’t require any memorizing of lines.
Second to show was a little man with a bald head and mustache, dressing in morning coat and trousers, black tie and green vest.
He was bottle-bearer to the star. After laying out a yellow towel and blue mat, he, with spray gun in hand, proceeded to wet down the surroundings with cologne – a sensible precaution. It turned out, in view of the slightly different olfactory nature of what was to transpire, and a service to the public regrettably lacking at certain theatrical presentations.
Channel Cat No. 5, I believe it was.
Finally, at precisely 9:38 p.m. while the atmosphere swelled with organ music and smelled like clover and some other cash grain crop, in came The Presence.
Gorgeous George had made his entry. Entry? Ah, no, his manifestation.
Most of the 3,600 citizens present stood up to see him come down the northwest passageway, bowing his marcelled locks (a Moline-produced coiffure) to the balcony and sashaying saucily to the ring like a prize bull that has just eaten the farmer.
Inside the ropes, he bowed again, from the hips, whereupon his batboy ministered to his toilet.
At this point, it was time for that scantily clad girl to walk across the stage, followed by that lecherous-eyed old man. But somebody, possibly the Quad City Blackhawks management, who produced the show, had neglectfully overlooked this bit.
So next the three principal performers, Mr. Temple, whose sister Shirley also acts; Gorgeous, and a master of ceremonies, one Ed Whalen of Chicago, displaying remarkable artistic discipline in keeping straight faces, met at the center of the ring. This as to allow Mr. Whalen to search the other two for concealed gats, or something.
Whatever the purpose, G.G., clutching his black, gold-spangled, yellow-lined toga about him, would not let the emcee lay a hand on him. His line, exquisitely delivered and, as all good lines are, surely audible in the back row, was:
"Keep your filthy hands off me."
The fertile creator of the snappy dialog remains modestly unidentified in the program.
Pretty soon, Straight Man George and Gorgeous George went into their song and dance, and during the next half hour, at quiet moments, you could hear Farmer Burns turning in the grave.
(That would be a sensational gimmick to work into the act, come to think of it.)
From 9:55 to 10:10, Gorgeous and Not Gorgeous were doing the samba (perhaps it was the maxixe – I’m a little hazy on the dance) or were on the mat executing what appeared to be a horizontal t;erpsichorean interpretation of les crappes. For these episodes the M.C. got down there with them, calling out numbers from time to time, symbolizing, probably, the tragic fate of man, crapping out every time with a two or a three.
At 10:10, time enough for Gorgeous’ retainer to have changed costume, they stopped a while to rest, G.G. having pinned his partner with a toe hold in 15 minutes, 10 seconds. Enter valet, in green sweater, and with smellsalts. Exit valet.
In the second scene, I am saddened to relate, Gorgeous let his role get away from him. He ran the gamut (good word; like to work it into my critiques wherever I can) from tortured pain, to stormy anger, to injured innocence, and, in a burst to histrionic heights, screamed "No! No! No!" while Mr. Temple broke his leg.
All of these bits had possibilities, but they were slightly over-done. Gorgeous should remember Hamlet’s dictum to The Players: "Oh, it offens me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags . . . " All high-class drama, and all high-class reviews, should bear due reference to Shakespeare.
After 3 minutes, 18 seconds, Mr. Temple leaps into the air, kicks up his heels, and almost boots Gorgeous in the mouth. Gorgeous staggers, Gorgeous falls to his knees, Gorgeous collapses on the canvas – a direct steal from the demise of Don Jose in the last act of Carmen, only this one was accomplished by a kangaroo kick and body twist, an angle Bizet never thought of.
That makes a horse on Gorgeous. Tied up.
Enter caddie with mirror. Examining of teeth to see if any are missing. Exit caddie.
Gorgeous George has a fresh approach. As he dispatches the other George practically to death’s door with mighty body slams, excruciating wrist locks and mortifying double-action, dyna-flow (half gainers with a left-hand thread and two dips of ice cream, he barks just like a dog.
He goes: "Grrf. Grrf."
And George Temple now gets some dialog.
He bleats like a sheep while Big Bo Beep fractures the knuckles of his left hand, one by one.
Gorgeous George holds George Temple still with a body press, at 9 minutes 35 seconds.
Gorgeous George becomes world champion of Wharton Fieldhouse. Make that the middle of the basketball floor at Wharton Fieldhouse.
FOOTNOTES: (No. 1) – Drama is the generic term. Wrestling was the particular form in question, catch-as-catch-can wrestling, by which term It is not to be assumed that the participants catch only cans, but also noses, fingers, hair, anything handy.
(No. 2) There were two preliminaries to Gorgeous George. Howard Cantonwine of Los Angeles beat Carlos Rodriguez of Mexico City, a substitute for Rudy Kay of Chicago, with a body slam in 12 minutes, 30 seconds of a scheduled 30-minute bout. Billy Goelz of Chicago won over Bill Parks of Montreal, two out of three in a scheduled one-hour fight: first fall, Goelz, wristlock, 17:54; second, Parks, reverse double leg Nelson, 11:58; third, Goelz, reverse left Nelson, 10:51.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Our critic was seen going home at 1:55:18 a.m. with a hammer lock on himself, and hasn’t been seen at the office all day.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 34-2001
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO . . . "Handsome" HARLEY RACE
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, June 24, 2001)
By Joe Holleman
ELDON, Mo. - He won the National Wrestling Alliance world
championship eight times and became a favorite at the Chase and Kiel after
starting in the ring at age 15 because he'd punched his high school principal.
The man from Quitman, Mo., never quit -- he spent five decades in his sport, traveling the world, and now operates a wrestling academy at Lake of the Ozarks.
He bragged, strutted, cheated and bruised his way to the top. He made millions by being the object of hatred and the target of verbal abuse. He was cocky and brutal, tough and cunning.
He was known around the world, with both his fans and his detractors clamoring for his autograph.
He even had his own action figure.
He's "Handsome" Harley Race, an eight-time world champion of the National Wrestling Alliance. Aside from a few losses that spawned venomous and lucrative rematches, Race held the belt from 1973 to 1983. He was a fixture, the top draw, at Kiel Auditorium and KPLR-TV's "Wrestling at the Chase."
Before Hulk Hogan, before Stone Cold Steve Austin, before The Rock, Race was THE wrestler. He is the bridge between old-style and modern pro wrestling.
Before Race, sweaty grapplers played to a relatively small, but loyal and dedicated, group of fans. After Race, wrestling is a megabillion-dollar industry with huge television contracts, pay-per-view spectacles and a sleazy soap-opera sensibility.
Mickey Garagiola, the longtime ring announcer for "Wrestling at the Chase," said Race was the biggest draw in the 1970s.
"Harley Race was the tops. He was a great wrestler and a great guy," said Garagiola, who also is the brother of baseball and NBC's Joe Garagiola. "And he wrestled inside the ring, not like all this Hollywood hullabaloo they have now. He was involved in some of the greatest matches I ever saw at the Chase."
Race, 58, also is an engaging gentleman, a gripping storyteller and one heck of a nice guy.
He lives in Eldon, the northern gate to the Lake of the Ozarks, about 140 miles west of St. Louis. He and his wife, B.J., run a wrestling school -- the Harley Race Wrestling Academy -- out of a two-story brick storefront on Maple Street, the closest thing to a Main Street in this town of roughly 5,000.
Race is president of World League Wrestling, a minor-league circuit that supplies wrestlers to VFW halls and school auditoriums throughout the Midwest.
He's a Mason, a Shriner and a regular at Donna's Diner. With his polo shirt, khaki shorts, deck shoes and tanned skin, he looks like any of a thousand retired lake lovers, living life in three-quarter time.
And, most of all, he's a happy man.
Harley Leland Race was born April 11, 1943, in Quitman, Mo., a town near Maryville in Missouri's northwest corner. Race was one of six children, a substantial portion of the town's 103 residents.
"Last time I was up there, I think the sign said there were 47 people still there," Race said in a recent interview.
Race hit the road when he was 15, due in almost equal parts to his love for wrestling and his temper.
"I used to watch wrestling on television. The DuMont network had a pro wrestling show, one hour long, from the Marigold (club) in Chicago. I decided then I wanted to be a wrestler," Race said, in a voice that hasn't lost a speck of its growl.
Race might not have started his career at 15, by which time he was already 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, if he hadn't had scholastic problems -- namely, punching out the principal of Quitman High.
One day in the school gym, Race and a classmate got into a fight. As they tangled, the principal yelled for them to stop. "I didn't hear him, so he came over and kneed me in the back of the head," Race said.
A woozy Race stood up and heard the principal reprimanding him.
The man had a sneer on his face, Race said, "so I got into a fight with the principal, and I punched him. That, basically, was the end of my high school career."
Race already had wrestled in carnivals that traveled around the Quitman area. As the carny wrestler, he would antagonize locals and then challenge them to step into the ring.
"If you won, you got paid. If you lost, the local guy got paid," Race recalled.
From that, he landed a plum job - at least for a pro wrestling devotee in the late 1950s. He became the driver for Happy Humphries, a legendary, 600-pound-plus wrestler.
"Happy was too damn big to drive, so I was his chauffeur for two years, starting when I was 16," Race said. "My first year, I drove more than 150,000 miles, town to town, with Happy. I made extra money by wrestling in the opening match or refereeing a match."
Race noted that wrestling was nowhere near the cable-extravaganza status it holds now.
"We drove all night to get to the next town. You'd stop, wrestle and then get back in the car."
Despite the rigors, Race said he knew his choice was a dream come true.
"Here I was, a teen-ager, and I was meeting all these famous wrestlers -- Lou Thesz, Pat O'Connor, Vern Gagne. I was having the time of my life."
Race set out on his own career in 1961 in Nashville, Tenn. He was wrestling five, six, even seven nights a week in small auditoriums. And then, in moves aimed at improving his standing in the industry, Race began to move around. And, boy, did he move.
He was in Nashville until 1963, then Kansas City for a year. Down to Amarillo, Texas, for a year, then San Francisco for several months. "Damn, I hated the traffic in that town," he said.
It was back to KC for a while, then off to Frisco for a year. He came back to Missouri for a bit, then set off for Minnesota, where he and Larry Hennig began to make waves as tag-team stars. The pair won the world tag-team title in 1969.
Soon after, Race was back in Amarillo for another year and then switched back to Kansas City in 1970.
Race also began visiting Japan.
"Pro wrestling started getting hugely popular over there in the early '60s," he said. "It's that way all over the Pacific Rim, and it obviously comes out of their love for sumo."
Ask Race what his favorite moment was during his career, and he has a ready answer.
"I'd be a liar if I said it was anything other than May 23, 1973. Kansas City, Mo. I defeated Dory Funk Jr. for the world title," Race said.
Of course, to win the belt eight times from 1973 to '83, he would have to lose the title seven times in the National Wrestling Alliance, headed by St. Louis' Sam Muchnick. He last lost the belt to "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Race was in wrestling's big time. In Japan, where beauty obviously lies in the beholder, he gained the nickname of "Handsome." He traveled all over the world.
"I wrestled on every continent except Antarctica, and I wrestled in every country in North America, South America, Europe and Asia -- except for Red China and the U.S.S.R.," he said.
He flew first-class, stayed in the nicest hotels and was pursued for his autograph everywhere. It would be easy to dwell on the jet-set notion of being the champion, but Race's best memories of that time revolve around education.
Race said he realized that he had a rare opportunity to educate himself and make up for his abbreviated career at Quitman High.
"I'd say that 99 percent of all wrestlers, when they travel, get up in their hotel, hang around there, go to the match, then go sit in some bar. But I decided to see things. I've toured the Vatican and the Catacombs. I met with Emperor Hirohito -- not his son, the old man. I went to museums and took tours.
"I still remember being incredibly moved in France. Off the coast of Nice, there is a little island with a monastery, where the monks did these carvings. I just stared at these wood carvings and was knocked out to think that some monk -- 800 years before me -- sat in the same spot, looking out at the same sea and made this beautiful art.
"I still remember when I was in Egypt and saw the pyramids. For all of your intelligence, we still can't figure out how they got a 20-ton piece of stone 300 feet in the air.
"That sort of stuff just intrigues the hell out of me."
Race's time at the top began to fade in the mid-1980s, when wrestling underwent a drastic change -- one that some say is a bad one. Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation introduced tons of sleaze to the business.
Now, wrestlers spend most of their time in the ring yelling obscenities at one another and lacing their diatribes with four-letter words.
"Championship matches used to be one-hour long, two out of three falls. Now, a half-hour match, if you're lucky, is the longest match on the card," Race said.
Race has worked in the promotional side of big-time wrestling. He said that he helped bring pro wrestling to Ted Turner's station, WTBS in Atlanta, back in the mid-1970s.
"I basically ran (World Championship Wrestling) from 1972 to '74," Race said. He also managed Van Vader, the WCW champion in the mid-1990s. But he is no fan of McMahon's style.
"I remember one night in Atlanta and Vince comes up to me and says I ought to sort of mince out effeminately. I looked at him and said, 'I spent my whole life making Harley Race a man's man, and you want me to ruin all in one night for a stupid stunt like that?'"
Race's last match was in 1991, and he walked away clean from the profession in 1996. No more managing, no more promoting, no more wrestling.
"The fun was gone," he said.
He wasn't gone for long. Race was living in Kansas City and dating his wife, B.J., who was a bank vice president. She said she was hesitant about Race when she found out he was a pro wrestler.
"I'd never heard of him and had never watched wrestling. But he was persistent. On our first date, he brought me a dozen roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon. He said we'd drink the champagne if he was lucky enough to get a second date.
"He's a romantic, basically. He was courteous and held every door. And he still does that now," she said. The couple has been together for nine years.
Race was married once before, a union that ended bitterly. He has two children.
When B.J. retired from the banking business, they moved full time to Eldon (Race had kept a summer home there for years.) But instead of taking it easy, he opened up a gym and his wrestling academy.
"I probably could still be doing something with McMahon, but I just don't want to," he said. "Since I've been down here, I've led a normal life. And I got to do something I've always wanted to do -- I became a Mason, and in December, I became a Shriner."
These days, Race sets up matches in towns such as Fort Riley, Kan.; Buffalo, Mo., and Clarinda, Iowa. He teaches students at his wrestling academy how to work inside the ring. But he is by no means, or by choice, a workaholic.
He loves to play golf, a game that has become a little more challenging because of Race's aches. He has had a hip replaced, five vertebrae fused together, eight abdominal surgeries and has a metal rod for a forearm.
"Some years ago, before all that crap, I was a 2 or 3 handicap. I still shoot in the mid-80s," he said.
Race is looking at getting a cable contract for his World League Wrestling, signing up more wrestlers and spreading his influence in the Lake of the Ozarks area. But he is not driven.
"I don't want to devote all of my time to this. I've enjoyed the big time, and I've had my fun in this business. But there are other things I like to do.
"I've been involved in wrestling, professionally, since I was 15 years old. I've been all around the world and made a lot of money. How many people can say that they've been able to do what they truly love for over 40 years?
"Do I consider myself lucky? Every day of my life."
To visit Harley Race online, go to www.harleyrace.com
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 35-2001
PHOTOGRAPHER FLEES AS WHIP WINS
(Toronto Star, Friday, April 27, 1956)
By Jim Proudfoot
Whipper Watson outpointed Hans Schmidt and Hardboiled Haggerty by a matter of two feet in last night’s wrestling headliner at Maple Leaf Gardens.
A cryptic statement, you say? Confusing? Leave us explain.
It was a handicap match, you see. First Whipper wrestled Schmitty to a finish. If he won – and he did – he would then wrestle Haggerty. Had he lost in either case, the team would have won. Well, as it turned out, the Whip pinned Schmidt and then tied with Haggerty when their segment of the two-part bout was ended by the 11 p.m. curfew. A win and a tie evidently gave Whipper victory, three points to one.
It was in the pinning of Schmidt that the two feet played a vital part. Two feet is the difference in waist measurements between referees Joe Gollob and Bert Maxwell. Whipper flattened Schmidt by bouncing off the ropes and knocking the terrible Teuton on top of Gollob. Even though the referee was trapped underneath. Schmitty’s shoulders apparently were touching the mat and out from under the German’s hulking body you could hear Gollob giving the one-two-three that proclaimed Watson the winner.
Now any wrestling fan can tell you that if Whip had knocked Schmidt on top of Maxwell, Han’s shoulders wouldn’t have been anywhere near the mat. He’d have been lying practically in mid-air. So you see the fact that Maxwell’s waist measures 58 inches, while Gollob’s goes only 34, was the key to the whole thing.
Not that anybody is suggesting Bert Maxwell is stout, or even a little plump. Far from it. He’s quite slim, as a matter of fact. But that Gollob. Is he thin?
When HBH entered the ring, though, the Whipper’s domination wasn’t so clear-cut. Watson was up and down like a Murphy bed. Haggerty ould clout Whipper down on to the cement floor. Whipper would struggle back into the ring. Down he’d go again. Up he’d come. Down he’d go. Between times, Haggerty would apply a headlock that looked suspiciously like a strangle to the 7,000-odd fans.
But the referee didn’t agree. After the curfew tolled, Schmidt appeared in the ring and hellped Haggerty belt Watson onto the shoulders of the crowd, which had, as usual, surged to ringside. The fans bore the Whip’s battered body to the dressing room door, thus writing finis to a weird evening.
Highlights of the match to track and field enthusiasts in the audience was the turn of speed shown by photographer Mike Burns on a couple of occasions. Mike was stationed at ringside and twice took shots of Hardboiled Haggerty just at the time a Watson manoeuvre had made him look ridiculous. HBH leaped out of the ring and gave chase, intending, no doubt, to destroy the embarrassing film. But Burns outfooted him and won going away each time.
A couple of promising newcomers hove into view in the earlier bouts. Aldo Bogni, as mean a rassler as has shown locally in some time, tore Maurice LaPointe to shreds. He polished him off with a South American neck snapper, which may sound like a species of fish, but is actually a hold of the most diabolical sort.
Dick Hutton also made his local debut and made it look easy (it probably was) in squelching Donn Lewin. Hutton is a neat and fast operator, whose style is highly scientific and he made quick work of Lewin.
SPORTS SEEN COLUMN
(Moline Daily Dispatch, December 7, 1960)
By Paul Carlson
A lot of people will react with a "So what?" when they hear that professional wrestling, on a big-time basis, is coming back to the Quad-Cities.
But a lot of others will applaud from now until Dec. 17, when the first big-time mat bout in more than two years will be staged in Moline’s Wharton Field House, because professional wrestling does have a huge audience, and its faithful are among the most devoted of all sports fans.
Professional wrestling is big business, and one of the biggest men in the business is Fred Kohler, matchmaker from Chicago.
Kohler was in town last night, helping stir up interest for the series of winter wrestling shows scheduled in Moline by Mike Fitzgerald, representing the wrestling division of Outdoor Recreation, Inc.
Kohler has been connected with wrestling since 1917, although he hardly appears old enough to have bounced off the mat 43 years ago. He owns Marigold Gardens in Chicago, owns a stable of some of the top names on the wrestling circuit, and has interests in wrestling all over the country.
One of Kohler’s big interests is television, which boomed pro wrestling into national prominence during the postwar years. The sport faded away a few years ago all over the country, not just in the Quad-City area. Kohler is helping revive it, with television figuring prominently in his efforts.
"Exposure is the big thing in making a successful promotion," Kohler says. "We film matches of these name stars and have the films run in various areas. Then these stars come into those areas for actual on-the-spot matches."
That’s the procedure in the Quad-City area. A series of hour-long television shows started last Saturday on WHBF-TV and will continue for 13 weeks. Fitzgerald plans to schedule about two live wrestling programs a month in Moline, and will promote additional matches in other cities within the WHBF-TV area.
Kohler points out that there’s great cost involved in filming wrestling shows to gain the necessary exposure. But it all must be worthwhile.
"I had Argentine Rocca under contract, guaranteeing each of his two managers $12,500 and guaranteeing Rocca $25,000 a year, plus a maximum of $15,000 in expenses," Kohler says. "I know we paid Rocca $110,000 the first 10 months he was with us, and then paid him $44,000 the next four months before the contract was breached.
"I helped Verne Gagne make more than $100,000 annually," he adds.
Kohler says that professional wrestlers must have wrestling ability, a touch of histrionics, and box office appeal. The latter quality is what creates names like "Gorgeous George," "Yukon Eric," etc.
It is obvious that Kohler has been good to his wrestlers, as wrestling has been good to him. He recalls a party he once held for his stable in Chicago, at which he served steaks which weighed at least two pounds apiece. A Russian named Kola (Kwariani) was one of the guests, and he had an appetite.
"After he’d finished one steak, I asked Kola if he was still hungry. He said, ‘I could eat four of these, Fred.’ I bet him $100 he couldn’t eat four of them, and ordered another one for him.
"He got through the second one and the chef came out and told me he’d never finish four of them. But Kola vowed he’d eat three, and I bet him another $100 he wouldn’t. We split even on the bets.
"It wasn’t the amount of food he ate that disturbed me. I found out later that everyone had been passing drinks to him while he was eating. Somebody was counting, and Kola had 22 martinis and Manhattans – mixed – along with the three steaks."
GRAPPLERS MIX WITH FANS, RIOT ENDS PRO CARD
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Monday, December 19, 1960)
The Quad-Cities’ first wrestling show in two years ended in a riot Saturday night.
With all four wrestlers from the feature tag-team match going at it with the customers in the aisles at Wharton Field House, the Illinois State Athletic Commission disqualified everybody in sight and declared the match no contest.
The melee started during the tag-team match between Boris and Nicoli Volkoff and Don Curtis and Mark Lewin. One of the Russians, apparently caught up in the current missile craze, tried to put Lewin into orbit.
The first stage fired okay but the second stage failed to ignite and Lewin plummeted to earth right in the middle of the fourth row.
A group of pacifists in the crowd decided to punish the Russians for inhuman treatment after that, but when a man went after one of the Russians with a chair, the gendarmes stepped in.
The chair-wielder was run off the premises and various other agitators were quieted but the fight was declared no contest.
About 1,500 fans turned out for the wrestling show.
A top card featuring Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers will be presented at the field house on Thursday, December 29.
SCHMIDT SPLITS ON MAT; BOWS TO O’CONNOR, BEATS REFEREE
(Moline Daily Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1961)
Wrestler Hans Schmidt battled a pair of adversaries in Davenport last night – world heavyweight champion Pat O’Connor and referee Bob Sabre.
At the end of the wild evening, some doubt remained as to who beat whom, but officially, O’Connor beat Schmidt and Schmidt beat Sabre.
O’Connor didn’t take much more punishment than the defenseless referee.
Sabre battled Schmidt with threats of disqualification, while Schmidt battled Sabre with forearm blows and body tosses.
Soon after the match began, Schmidt, the huge man with the perpetual sneer, began his familiar act of choking, kicking, and whatever else is illegal in wrestling to wear down the champion.
When referee Sabre tried to intervene Schmidt turned on him, knocked him down and threw him out of the ring.
Meanwhile, O’Connor sat dazed on the mat, gasping for air. Schmidt returned to work on O’Connor, but when Sabre crawled back into the ring, the German started playing with both of them.
Deciding this situation was completely out of control, Sabre disqualified Schmidt and awarded the match to O’Connor, who after about five minutes of struggling, got free of Schmidt and left the ring.
But Schmidt remained in the ring, so incensing the crowd that O’Connor decided to return to see what he could do to calm the big man down.
Sabre allowed the match to continue, and Schmidt took up his choking act again.
Several times, however, O’Connor got in blows that flattened the big German. Sabre fared no better in this interlude, as he again shot out of the ring with Schmidt’s assistance.
With messed-up hair, and brown dirt on his white shirt and black pants, Sabre again climbed into the ring to attempt to establish order.
He promptly got jammed into the corner, with O’Connor in front of him. Schmidt enclosed both of them and rammed them against the turnbuckle.
O’Connor got free, but Sabre remained long enough to get belted in the chin by Schmidt, who then grabbed him by the hair and a leg and tossed him out of the ring again.
Schmidt grabbed O’Connor’s towel from the corner, wrapped it around the champion’s neck, choked him for a while and tossed him over his shoulder by using the towel.
O’Connor recovered sufficiently to belt Schmidt a few times, and the climax came when the champ bounced Schmidt off the ropes, landed on top of him, and pinned his shoulders, while Sabre hastily pounded three times on the mat.
Sabre moved in to declare O’Connor the winner, but as before, succeeded only in getting thrown out of the ring.
After the match, the breathless, perspiring referee said, "This guy Schmidt is really a nut."
When asked if he has ever been battered like this before, Sabre said:
"Sure. It happens continuously, especially in Iowa and Wisconsin. These states don’t have wrestling commissions, so you take a wrestler’s license away or penalize him."
From the time right before Schmidt’s disqualification, many of the nearly 2,000 who attended the match jammed around the ring, screaming for revenge. Police had trouble controlling the fans who wanted to help O’Connor and Sabre.
Police did succeed in removing a 10-foot beam that Schmidt brought up from under the ring with the intention of smashing the champion.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 36-2001
LONDOS MEETS BAXTER
(San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, December 13, 1938)
Boxcar Jeemy Londos, triple threat of the mat, returns to his old hangout at Dreamland Auditorium tonight to take the wild out of Wildman LaVerne Baxter in a two-hour, three-falls struggle for the world’s grapple belt.
Jeemy, who has mangled bodies from North America to the North Pole, has been holder of the world’s title three times, running over one opponent, passing over the other and kicking his way to victory over Bronko Nagurski recently in Philadelphia to complete his triple conquest.
The new throne holder will meet a guy that will make him look like a Singer midget. Baxter tips the Toledos at 265 pounds and is fresh from an elbow smashing victory over handsome Vic Christy. Baxter, like all the rest, will probably fall in sections when the clever Londos starts to work.
Chief Thunderbird, head feathers and all, gets a call to grapple a bona fide toughie in Dr. Freddie Meyers, the Chicago tooth terror. The Chief, a Saanich Indian, is unbeaten in local rings and gets a taste of his toughest opponent in the ex-fang physician.
Another undefeated mauler, clever and popular Otto Kuss, who doesn’t look unlike Max Baer, the curly-headed ring Adonis, draws Benny Ginsberg, a Jewish "villain" from New York.
Other matches on promoter Joe Malcewicz’s show bring together Ted Key and Pat O’Shocker, Stan Myslack and Art Shires, Pierre Dusette and Bronco Valdez.
JIM LONDOS STILL HAS IT, PINS BAXTER
(San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, December 14, 1938)
Jeemy Londos, the Greek Adonis, still has what it takes.
Before a banner house at Dreamland last night, Londos reduced LaVerne Baxter, erstwhile "bad man," to the status of teacher’s pet in two straight falls.
Londos won the first in 23:58, weakening Baxter with cradle holds and finishing him off with a body slam. The second fall took just 32 seconds.
Chief Thunderbird gave Dr. Freddie Meyers the "bird," winning with an Indian death toe hold. Otto Kuss won from Benny Ginsberg with a flying head scissors. Pat O’Shocker downed Ted Key with a back breaker. Pierre Dusette body slammed Bronco Valdez into submission. Stan Myslack and Art Shires opened the show with a fast draw.
GOTHAM MAY GLORIFY GRAPPLERS
(United Press, December 28, 1938)
By Jack Cuddy
NEW YORK – Big, cauliflower-eared Toots Mondt is in town now, preaching the gospel of grapple. He carries an olive branch in his huge hand. He is trying to elevate wrestling to the froglegs and beefsteaks to which it was accustomed – in the late Jack Curley’s day.
Toots, who used to wrap a mean headlock himself, insists that the wrestlers and promoters are their own worst enemies in not having a "big showcase" for their alleged sport. He believes that the mat industry should reach its peak in New York -–and there in the city of 7,000,000, be glorified to such an extent that virtually all other cities in the country would respond to the mauling cry of the behemoths.
Mondt is negotiating with the 20th Century Club to stage topflight wrestling bouts at the Hippodrome, Madison Square Garden, and the various ball parks – just like Promoter Mike Jacobs offers his boxing extravaganzas.
Toots said that he wanted to bring back big-name wrestling to New York City as it was from 1929 to 1931. He wanted big name matches to attract national attention, thereby stimulating the sport on all fronts.
"Jim Londos is champion now," he said, "the return of this great Greek wrestler to the throne is much the same as if Jack Dempsey could come back to the heavyweight boxing title. Dempsey was the man who drew the million-dollar gates in the prize ring. Londos is the man who drew the hundred-thousand dollar gates in wrestling.
"With Houlihan he drew $60,000; with Steele he drew $70,000; with Strangler Lewis he drew $100,000; with Sonnenberg he drew $74,000.
"Londos is still the greatest gate attraction in wrestling and still the best wrestler. If I can get the wrestling rights for the Hippodrome, Garden and Stadium, I’ll match Londos with any claimant for the title – regardless of what camp you mayk believe that claimant belongs to. And when Londos disposes of the various claimants, I’ll match him with the youngsters who are coming up in the game – just like Lou Nova in boxing. I mean youngsters like Ruffy Silverstein of Chicago, Terry McGinnis of Los Angeles and Vic Christy of Sundale, Cal. I’ll welcome someone who can beat Londos on the up and up."
JIMMY LONDOS SENDS OUT ARTISTIC BIT OF CHEER
(San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, December 30, 1938)
By Harry B. Smith
Jimmy Londos, once more champion wrestler, has sent forth to his friends in the sports world an unique Christmas gift. It is a drawing of Londos’ head done by our old Chronicle artist, Pete Llanuza. The picture frame is of wood and as artistic a job as I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s a great picture of the best of our wrestlers of today to hang up in the den. Or, for that matter, on the walls of our sports department, where we have a considerable collection.
WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THE RASSLERS?
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Thursday, February 23, 1939)
By Royal Brougham
Don’t look now, but have you noticed what has happened to the rassling gentry in our municipality?
The jolly pastime, which Musty Musgrave and his play fellows ballyhooed into the headlines only a few short years ago, has sunk so low that last week the grunters were doing their agonizing act in the basement of the Civic Auditorium.
This is no gloating hymn of a crusader, but several years ago this column tilted the cover off the garbage can and disclosed what was inside the wrestling business. Now, your old observer enjoys a laugh as well as the next fellow, and we didn’t start bellyaching about the amusing antics of the vaudevillians until Maestro Musgrave brought in Gus Sonnenberg and Ed Lewis for a "title" match, and packed the Civic Field with something like a $16,110 gate.
Sixteen thousand is a lot of peas and potatoes, and the janitors had to sprinkle chloride of lime about the premises when the mess was over. The very next night the same pair staged another "championship" affair in San Francisco.
It was here that your neighbor began tossing jibes at what had blossomed into a Grade A racket with important money involved.
To make it short, the jovial Musty Musgrave suddenly left town the other day, seeking greener pastures, not to mention suckers. And last week the groaners and the grunters played to a gate of $260.96 in the basement of the Civic Auditorium!
What was it Abe Lincoln said about fooling all of the people all of the time?
HEY BOY! WHERE’D YOU GET THEM EARS?
(excerpts from the autobiographical book, published privately)
By Paul Boesch
(In 1937) I decided to resume my career in the northwest where the least amount of time had passed since I last wrestled in the States.
There had been a change in the promotional set up since I left. (Ted) Thye and (Virgil) Hamilin had decided to take a rest from the hard work of trying to cover the entire northwest and had leased some of their contracts to a former employee of Toots Mondt, Floyd "Musty" Musgrave. Musty was an apt pupil with a retentive memory for the lessons Toots had taught. He also had a fertile mind and recognized the value of imagination in match making.
Musty used his connections in the east to bring some top action producers into the area and I was included among them. Thye had never been a high pressure promoter and Musgrave had never been known to resort to anything except high pressure in his promotional efforts. In Seattle he encouraged restaurateur Bob Murray to buy out the interests of August Sepp. Murray owned a restaurant called "The Dog House" and he used the eating spot as a pivotal area to disseminate information about wrestling.
The early months of 1937 were not particularly good for wrestling across the land. The era of the "big house" had faded from the picture and getting people out to matches demanded hard promotional labor. There were plenty of cities offering fans good wrestling and there was no dearth of good wrestlers. It was just that the culmination of weekly matchmaking into big gates by periodically moving into ballparks or larger arenas was missing. With it went the opportunity for national publicity and the chance to establish, through newsreels, newspapers and network radio, the colorful individuals who could attract additional fans.
The Northwest had its problems along with the rest of the nation, but the change in promotion provided a catalyst that made it better than most areas. There was constant travelling on both sides of the mountains and on both sides of the border. From Victoria, B.C., to Calgary; from Seattle to Spokane; from Portland to Vancouver, B.C., wrestling became an excellent way to translate geography into visual beauty and energy into cash . . .
During my stay in Seattle I became involved in helping Musgrave with his matchmaking and some of the details of promotion . . . One of the things I enjoyed in my contact with the promotional end of the game was the chance to write publicity . . . In retrospect I realize that the time I spent in the Northwest made the greatest impact on my professional life. It was there that I did my first radio broadcast and had my first contact with the promotional end of the game. It was an education that I class among the best things that ever happened to me.
Toward the fall of 1937 I became fully aware of how lucky I was to have an education in something besides headlocks and hammerlocks. I began to suffer sacroiliac pain from an eroding vertebra on which I had been bounced once too often. It looked as though my active days in wrestling had ended and I became more involved in broadcasting, publicity and matchmaking . . .
It was about this time I bought out the interests of Bob Murray in the Western Athletic Club and became Musgrave’s partner. Officially, I was a promoter and tagged as the World’s Youngest Promoter. I was twenty five years old and my "lifetime" in wrestling had lasted a full five years. My back injury was nagging me constantly and it looked as though I would not wrestle again . . .
(But) as 1938 wound half way through its span my back began to improve and I became restless to return to the ring. I decided to take a hiatus from promotion and concentrate on recovering. I maintained my interest in the Western Athletic Club, however, and headed East to Long Beach, New York. There a strict diet, a regiment of exercise, with emphasis on swimming and sunshine, and an occasional wrestling match in the New York area had a miraculous effect . . .
While my body was getting strong, my business interest in Seattle was dying a horrible death. Without a partner to restrain some of his wild ideas, Musgrave had literally run the promotion into the ground by the time I returned.
My education was broadening and I vowed that if I ever promoted again I would never have a partner. In November Thye and Hamlin broke off their deal with Musgrave. I quietly bowed out of the picture, sadder, but wiser, to coin a phrase, and a lot poorer.
After settling up all the debts Musty had scattered around, I had to go into hock to get out of town. Just then, my car fell apart (with an exquisite sense of timing). I didn’t have enough money to repair it so I traded it on a new one. So, with a pocket full of pawn tickets, but driving a brand new automobile, I headed toward Los Angeles where I had learned from experience there were a lot more four-flushers . . .
Musty Musgrave had also followed the coastal road from Seattle and had firmly established himself at the Olympic Auditorium as matchmaker for much of that area.
Somewhere I held the vague hope that because he had cost me so much money, hopes and dreams, he might at least give me the opportunity to recoup in California. It was a vain hope . . .
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 37-2001
SAVOLDI TO FACE JONATHAN ON OPENING CARD
(The Oregonian, Portland, Ore., Sunday, Dec. 21, 1941)
Brother Jonathan, Salt Lake City, will be Joe Savoldi’s main-event opponent at the opening heavyweight wrestling program at the auditorium New Year’s night, Jack Ganson, new promoter, announced Saturday. Brother Jonathan spent four years in Austalia and New Zealand, and returned to this country only last month.
Like his opponent, Jonathan was a football star before turning professional wrestler. He was a member of the Utah team for three years and was one of the toughest linemen ever turned out in the Rocky Mountain conference.
Jonathan already is here, but Savoldi, who first won national fame as an All-America fullback at Notre Dame, will not arrive until later in the week. The main event will be two falls out of three or a 1 ½-hour limit. If both men are on their feet at the end of the match and the falls are divided or no falls obtained, a referee and two judges will select the winner.
Ganson is trying to line up an opponent for Cy Williams, ex-Florida grid player and former world’s heavyweight champion, who already is here. Williams will be featured in the 45-minute semi-windup. Two 30-minute preliminaries and one 20-minute preliminary, the latter for local boys, will constitute the opening card.
SAVOLDI BESTS BEARDED RIVAL
(The Oregonian, Portland, Ore., Friday, January 2, 1942)
Heavyweight wrestling returned to Portland Thursday night, and more than 1,500 fans greeted the grapplers on promoter Jack Ganson’s five-match card at the auditorium.
Joe Savoldi, the old Notre Dame football player, won the main event by taking the first and third falls from Brother Jonathan, a bald and bearded gentleman from Salt Lake City.
Brother Jonathan persisted in employing nasty tactics, such as eye-gouging, but Savoldi managed to nab the first fall with flying tackles in 15 minutes and the third with a body slam, again in 15. It took Jonathan only four minutes to win the middle tumble with an airplane spin and body slam.
With his triumph Savoldi earned the right to meet Chief Little Wolf of Trinidad, Col., on next Wednesday night’s auditorium card.
Villainous Bob Wagner of Portland, a former world’s champion, dished out a bushel of rough stuff in the direction of Chief Thunderbird of Vancouver, B.C., in the semi-windup, and won with a body slam after 13 minutes of brawling.
Cy Williams, former University of Florida football player and another ex-world champion, made a colorful contribution to the program as he took a tumble out of Portland’s Herman Olsen in 12 minutes’ time.
The first two struggles were 20-minute draws. Hal Rumberg, ex-Washington State footballist, drew with Verne Baxter of Monroe, Wash., and Broccoli Bob Kruse, the Oswego farmer, drew with young Larry Gunthier of Sandy.
WRESTLING TO RETURN, SAYS JUMPING JOE
(The Oregonian, Portland, Ore., Sunday, January 4, 1942)
By David W. Hazen
"Jumping Joe" Savoldi is going to make Portland his jumping headquarters for a few months. Mrs. Savoldi and son Joe III are coming out from Three Oaks, Mich., to set up housekeeping while Joe is kicking ‘em cold on the new wrestling circuit.
"Oh, sure, wrestlin’ is on its way back," said Joe the Jumper, thumping his chest a couple of thumps. "And they’re goin’ to be better matches, the customers are goin’ to get tops; they demand it, so they’ll get it. The people are workin’ now, they got more money to spend. They are sport-minded, so the boys in our profession are goin’ to give them something in wrestlin’ that will be worth goin’ many miles to see.
"It’s part of the defense program – keep people entertained, busy, when they have time off from the shop. The government encourages sports. But, partner, I am willing and ready to do anything Uncle Sam wants me to do. When the call comes, I’m ready."
The former great Notre Dame fullback – many sports writers say Joe is the greatest fullback that ever jumped in a Notre Dame uniform – has become a business man, a manufacturer in Michigan since the days when he kicked ‘em over at the auditorium here a few years ago.
"I have a soft-drink plant back in Three Oaks," he said, "and have built up a very fine business. And now we are making our own feature drink, ‘Drop Kick,’ which is going to be a big seller in a few years. You’ll get it out here. It will give a certain soft drink that started down in Atlanta, Ga., a real run. ‘Drop Kick’ is a soft drink, sure, but everybody’s gonna like it."
So, after ordering a couple of cases, the talk fell to football. That’s Savoldi’s middle name.
"Notre Dame’s got a great coach now in Frank Leahy," announced the 32-year-old all-American. "He was a teammate of mine for three years. He was a tackle. Frank is a great coach, he’s got what it takes.
"He’s a wonderful showman, as well as knowing what a fellow should do and shouldn’t do in a game. He wants football played well, and he also wants the spectacular. He figures the public pays the freight and so he wants the public to see a good show."
Asked if there’s any difference in the game today and when he was starring (’28, ’29, ’30), "Jumping Joe" replied:
"I don’t see much difference, only they pass more now. We used to pass only when we were behind, or when there was a tie and we had to do something in a big hurry. But now, they’ll pass on the first down when they are 20 points ahead, or on the fourth down when they are ten points behind.
"The orthodox stuff seems to be out – three downs and then punt. ‘Rock’ would have killed us – he’d have fired the whole team – if we would have passed when we were ahead. The boys make fewer mistakes now that the coach can send in a man anytime, and the man can talk right away. It isn’t up to the quarterback like it used to be when Carideo called our signals."
GARDENS GOES TO THE MAT FOR ITS ‘LAST DANCE’
(Louisville Courier-Journal, Wednesday, June 27, 2001)
By Tom Heiser
As the doors close on the Gardens, it is impossible not to wax a little nostalgic.
I've watched great haunts of my youth -- the Vogue, the White Castle in the Highlands -- disappear from the local landscape without the benefit of a final lying-in-state, one last chance to say goodbye. With the Gardens I have that chance.
Tonight is "The Last Dance," a professional-wrestling extravaganza that promoters are marketing as the final event The Gardens will ever host.
Jefferson County government, which owns the building, is negotiating with two groups interested in taking over The Gardens -- the owner of the Louisville Panthers hockey team and some investors interested in turning it into a center for high-tech business. But the county isn't booking events at The Gardens past Saturday.
World Wrestling Federation stars Y2J Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle and others will mix it up with a cadre of Ohio Valley Wrestling's best on a 10-match supercard.
Beyond the title tilts and grudge matches, the night belongs to the memories of wrestling in The Gardens. Fans who have trekked to the corner of Sixth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard for years will have a chance to solemnize the historic venue and gaze at a handful of stars from the constellation of greats who've wrestled there.
The Fabulous Jackie Fargo, Bill "Superstar" Dundee, "Handsome" Jimmy Valiant, Rocky "Soul Man" Johnson -- names as familiar to me and other Louisvillians as Darrell Griffith or Harvey Sloane -- and others will take a final bow and a final look around the scene of so many memorable nights.
"I'm going to miss it," said Kevin Hale, my lifelong friend and shadow on many nights of wrestling at The Gardens. "The place was wrestling. Other stuff went on there, but for me, it was home for wrestling -- 'old school' wrestling. You were part of the action."
The Gardens is immutable -- a dogged stalwart of downtown. It hails from an age when wrestling took place in buildings with square-jawed names like The Civic Auditorium or Municipal Arena. (The Gardens, itself, was The Armory until 1975, when it became Louisville Gardens.) It would never tolerate a corporate logo jammed onto its side like a fraternity pin.
It scoffs at today's mollycoddling arenas with their well-appointed seats, luxury boxes, gourmet coffee and microbrew stands. It knew its beer was always a tad flat, the soft drinks too syrupy, the popcorn spongy and pretzels a hazard to oncoming molars. It made no apologies.
For me, Kevin and undoubtedly countless others growing up in Louisville in the 1970s, there was a time when Tuesday night wrestling at The Gardens was a passion on par with basketball. We were hoops fans, but scoring tickets to Freedom Hall or Rupp Arena was as likely as a date with Olivia Newton-John.
The Gardens was the locus of our sports dreams, and every Saturday afternoon Lance Russell let us know it.
Russell, a legend in a leisure suit, and his sidekick, Dave Brown, hosted the local wrestling show on WDRB-TV (in later years shifting to WAVE-TV), providing the play-by-play and analysis of the roiling mayhem unfolding in the studio.
Twice each show he promoted the week's upcoming matches, occasionally having to step aside to allow fulminations from an aggrieved wrestler. After reading the card Lance urged us, "Tuesday night at the Louisville Gardens. Be there!"
Fast forward to the '80s.
While we skulked around the halls of duPont Manual, turned up the collars on our Izod shirts and fed The Cars and Huey Lewis into our jam boxes, Kevin learned to drive.
Tuesday nights now called for us to hustle a crew together for wrestling. We packed into Kevin's '78 Malibu Classic and tore off to The Gardens -- Quiet Riot in full throat -- like soccer hooligans bound for Wembley Stadium.
After squealing into the parking lot across the street, we were greeted by the imposing severity of the Gardens entrance.
Inside, oxygen was scarce. The air was dense with smoke, nearly unbreathable. We pocketed our general-admission tickets and made our way through the gummy aisles to grab a seat of unrelenting steel and wood.
A truly egalitarian collection of fans poured through the turnstiles each Tuesday night: black, white, young and old. T-shirts and hats checklisted neighborhood Little Leagues, community centers and VFW posts from Portland to Fairdale, Jeffersontown to Shively.
As the arena lights dimmed, a smudged halo surrounded the ring, sending a frisson of anticipation through the crowd. It was bell time.
Only it never really sounded like a bell -- more like a tossed hubcap hitting the highway.
Next, combatants in each match paraded in. Fans leapt to their feet in adulation as the "faces" (wrestling appellation for "good guys") came by waving and shaking hands; streams of obscenities and plastic cups rained down on the dastardly "heels" (the "bad guys").
Kevin and I always rooted for the heels. They were the most charismatic, the most vicious. They did not need anyone's approval, nor care how many vulgar gestures were aimed their way.
We loved "Ravishing" Ric Rude, "The International Heart Throb" Austin Idol, The Dream Machine and "Dirty" Dutch Mantell, as well as perfidious managers like Jimmy Hart, Jim Cornette and Downtown Bruno -- men who duped unwitting referees, pulled concealed chains from their tights and tossed powder in the eyes of "faces."
No wrestler was more despised than Rude. A notorious cheater with a chiseled physique and Tom Selleck mustache, he arrived at ringside with a bump-and-grind musical accompaniment and contemptuous sneer. Rude mastered the art of arrogance and abusiveness while wearing a sequined robe and an airbrushed self-portrait on his periwinkle tights.
While the undercard whetted the appetite, epic blood feuds such as the grim and feral Moondogs against the frosted-haired flamboyance of the Fabulous Ones were pure red meat. Chairs crashed down over skulls, two-by-fours tattooed backs and shoulders. When the final bell sounded, the carnage and frenzy would have left Russell Crowe slinking away shamefaced.
No Tuesday night was complete without the main event: Jerry "The King" Lawler, the undisputed, un-faltering embodiment of wrestling in Louisville, against the challenge of some mammoth malefactor. Whether a title match, grudge match or wholesale "Pier 6 brawl," the exhausting ebb and flow of a Lawler match forced fists to clinch and knuckles to whiten.
Somewhere from the carcinogenic gloom a women's jangling voice would call out, "Come on, Jerry!" exhorting Lawler to reach down for some last burst of energy to inevitably catapult him to victory -- sending the crowd home ecstatic as "Ease on Down the Road" rose with the lights.
Brimming with adrenalin, we would partner up for an impromptu match of our own in the parking lot, usually culminating in one of our foreheads thudding against the hood of Kevin's car.
On the way home we deconstructed each match, the winners and losers, with the vehemence of the McLaughlin Group, hurling predictions for next Tuesday night and for many Tuesday nights to come.
Then the inescapable: high school ebullience blurred into adult responsibility and later calcified into familial obligation. Our nights at The Gardens receded into anecdotes.
Tuesday night wrestling also receded. The Gardens became an intermittent stop for the WWF and only an occasional home to local federations. With talk of renovation utterly stalled, the likelihood emerged that another precious landmark would slip away in silence.
Not if we could help it. The next step was brutally clear.
Kevin and I cleared our calendars, cleared it with our wives, studied the card and finalized plans to be part of yet another night of wrestling.
We hear you, Lance.
"Tuesday night at the Louisville Gardens. Be there!"
For if this truly is "The Last Dance," we would not miss it for the world.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 38-2001
LOPEZ, ANAYA BEAT SHARPES
(San Jose Mercury News, November 24, 1955)
Vincent Lopez and Cyclone Anaya took turns registering falls as they defeated Mike and Ben Sharpe in a one-hour tag match in the main event of last night’s wrestling card at the Civic Auditorium.
Lopez won the first fall as he pinned Ben Sharpe with elbow smashes and a body press in 13 minutes, 24 seconds.
Ben won the second fall with a body press after Lopez injured his knee when he was knocked out of the ring by Sharpe. Time for the fall was 7 minutes, 52 seconds. Anaya captured the deciding fall as he threw Ben with a body press in 4 minutes, 58 seconds.
Bud Curtis and Steve Stanlee went to a draw in the semi-wind-up, each gaining a fall. Curtis scored first with a body press in 25 minutes and 6 seconds, but Stanlee took the second fall in 12 minutes and 32 seconds. The 45-minute time limit expired before either could gain another fall.
Rocky Brown was awarded the decision over Juan Humberto in the opener when referee John Toupin stopped action after 9 minutes, 21 seconds and gave the bout to Brown because of Humberto’s rough tactics.
MILLER POSES NO PROBLEM TO KOWALSKI
(Montreal Gazette, December 29, 1955)
It’s two down and the rest of the field to go for giant Wladek Kowalski today. Last night, the big fella took the measure of Big Bill Miller in another bruising encounter that had the holiday crowd yipping throughout the three falls.
Things didn’t look too cushy in the first fall when Miller knocked off Wladek with a backbreaker, but it was back in business again for the wrestling Pole when he took the second fall with a series of knee drops and the clincher with his Boston crab hold.
Last night’s show also featured the midgets and virtue triumphed in this one as Little Beaver teamed with Cowboy Bradley to beat Ivan the Terrible and Otto Bowman. Larry Moquin and Paul Baillargeon joined to defeat Bull Curry and Jim Bernard in the regular team match.
Johnny Rougeau and Maurice Vachon had to be satisfied with a no-contest, while Eddie Auger and Ovila Asselin battled to a draw in the opener.
(ED. NOTE – The following article, which begins on page 90 of the magazine, includes a number of photos, including one of Wahoo McDaniel delivering a mighty forearm chop to the brow of a dazed Johnny Valentine.)
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? – WAHOO McDANIEL
(Sports Illustrated, July 2-9, 2001)
By Mike Shropshire
Wahoo McDaniel staggers as he attempts to negotiate the step up from the dining room into his kitchen. An inner-ear infection, caused by an antibiotic he took for a chest infection, has thrown off his balance. Endowed with the legs and hindquarters of a grizzly bear, the 6’1", 270-pound McDaniel steadies himself. He’s 63, he needs a new kidney, and he’s frustrated. "It’s not like I’m flopping around in this house getting ready to die," he says. "The Medication makes me dizzy, and that keeps me off the golf course. It also keeps me out of my bass boat, because I can’t swim. What if I fell out and drowned? Imagine that headline."
The man knows a thing or two about making news. In a prime that lasted more than 40 years, McDaniel was a figure larger than life and scarier than death. He was a pro linebacker and a world-renowned wrestler with a resume that included more than 10,000 matches and, by his estimation, 2,000 to 3,000 stitches.
These days he’s the single parent of a 12-year-old son, Zac. Wahoo and Zac must cope with the communication challenge of a gap of not one generation but two. Who is limp Bizkit, and how does he get away with using that language on his CDs? "I finally had to kick a couple of Zac’s friends out of the house," says Wahoo, whose given name is Edward. "Zac says one of ‘em likes to look at girls on the Internet. I said, ‘Let him look at ‘em on his own Internet.’ This is my house, and there are certain things I won’t put up with."
Father and son resides in a two-story brick home in a gentrified neighborhood in northwest Charlotte. The interior, arranged more for the tastes of Daniel Boone than Ralph Lauren, is cluttered with stuffed fish, outdoor gear and golf clubs. McDaniel, who retired from pro wrestling in 1995, drives a ’95 Dodge Ram pickup with a feather arrangement dangling from the rearview mirror, a symbol of his Native American heritage, and a sticker on the bumper that reads SURE, YOU CAN TRUST THE U.S. GOVERNMENT. JUST ASK AN INDIAN.
McDaniel has been married five times (to four women), and Zac is the product of his last union. "Fact is, when you wrestle for a living, you’re never home, and that’s hard on relationships, and, well, I never pretended to be an angel," says McDaniel, who was divorced from Zack’s mother, Karen McDaniel, when the boy was two. "She remarried, had two more children, and I got legal custody of Zac four or five years ago. It was all right with me, with her and with Zac, so why not? He still sees his mother (who lives in Tallahassee, Fla.), but I think Zac would rather go deer hunting with me."
McDaniel doesn’t do as much hunting as he used to because he’s waiting for a kidney transplant that should restore his health. Zac’s mother volunteered a kidney, says McDaniel, but she was the wrong blood type. "They had a kidney for me a few times," he says. "The first time it was too small. Then they had another one available, but I had an infection from the shunt they use for my dialysis. I couldn’t have the transplant because of the infection. But they tell me I’m at the top of the list now. Hopefully I’ll get one soon.
Says Zack, "I know that Dad will get the kidney he needs."
Zac’s devotion to his father seems absolute. "He cares a lot, he puts his foot down when I go too far," says the boy. "He lets me listen to my music when we’re driving. I know that he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t say anything. And his cooking is great. Steak. Taco soup."
The devotion is mutual, and for the father there is a clear sense of duty. That kidney is more for Zac than it is for him. Says McDaniel, "I want to be with Zac until he’s at least 20."
If Wahoo McDaniel’s ultimate ambition, as he says, is to lie beneath a gravestone inscribed PROUD FATHER AND ROLE MODEL, his many fans will insist on other engravings. BIGFOOT WITH CLEATS is what some will demand. Or PAUL BUNYAN IN A WAR BONNET, or perhaps THE JIM THORPE OF THE OIL PATCH.
The origins of the McDaniel folklore can be traced to Midland, Texas, in the early 1950s. Little Wahoo, as he was then nicknamed (his father, Hugh, a welding contractor, went by Big Wahoo), was the star catcher on a Pony League team that advanced to the state tournament in San Antonio. The Pony League coach was a Midland oilman named George Herbert Walker Bush. "I remember Wahoo McDaniel well," says the former president. "He was a good kid and a pretty fair baseball player. He has had his ups and downs, but I’ll always remember him as a wonderful kid who captured the imagination of West Texas in the 1950s. He was idolized by everyone who knew him."
"Yeah, Bush was my baseball coach, and in high school Nixon coached me in track," McDaniel says. That was Ed Nixon, who wanted to transform Little Wahoo into a decathlete who could evoke memories of Jim Thorpe. Certainly, McDaniel looked the part. "My father was one-sixteenth Choctaw and one-sixteenth Chickasaw," he says. "My mother was German. So you can do the math and determine what that makes me.
"I could run and jump, finished second in the state in the shot put with a toss of 58-plus feet and was third in the discus," he continues. "I never met Jim Thorpe, but his times and distances in the 1912 Olympics were scarcely better than mine in high school. But Coach Nixon simply could not teach me to pole vault." In truth, McDaniel was never fond of heights.
He was fond of football, and that’s the sport in which he first made a name for himself. In 1955, after starring as a fullback for Midland High, he was recruited by big-time colleges. McDaniel declined a scholarship offer from Texas A&M and Bear Bryant but accepted Bud Wilkinson’s invitation to play for Oklahoma. Upon joining the Sooners, who were rich in swift-as-the-prairie-wind split T running backs, McDaniel was moved from the backfield to offensive and defensive end.
McDaniel did not enjoy a close relationship with Wilkinson. "He was kind of distant, and after some newspaper reported that I was drinking in a private club, he kicked me off the team," says McDaniel. "Then Bud allowed the team to vote me back."
Despite his prowess on both defense and offense – he was a three-year letterman for a program that went 27-5 from 1957 through ’59 – the legend of Wahoo McDaniel was cultivated off the field, where his eccentricities begat many a tale. "I’d been running 10 miles a day, training for the wrestling team, and I accepted a challenge from some people in the athletic dorm," he says. "The bet was that I could run from the front steps of the dorm in Norman to the city limits of Chickasha without stopping. So I put on shorts and a T-shirt and took off at noon. They followed me in a car to make sure I didn’t stop. It was brutal. Finally, I reached the top of a hill, and below there was Chickasha. Thirty-six miles in exactly six hours. I collected $185 for that."
He was not the type to turn down a wager, no matter how outlandish. When someone suggested that Wahoo could not drink a quart of motor oil, he drank, albeit only a few tablespoons. "That oil made me sick," says McDaniel. "For months every time I’d sweat, I could feel the stuff oozing out. I smelled like an old pickup truck. In those days I’d do anything on a bet. Eat a gallon can of jalapeno peppers. Didn’t matter."
McDaniel’s graduation from Oklahoma coincided with a seminal year in pro football: 1960, the inaugural season of the American Football League. McDaniel caught on with the Houston Oilers. "Their defense was already intact, but they had an opening at offensive guard," McDaniel says. He weighed less than 220 pounds, but he started for the Oilers in their win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the first AFL title game. The next season McDaniel transferred his talents to the Denver Broncos, for whom he played linebacker. His career would span all but the final season of the decade.
In 1964 Denver dealt him to the New York Jets in a nine-player trade. "Happiest years of my life," he says of his time in the Big Apple. "They take care of their athletes in New York." McDaniel, who was on the field for the debut of Joe Namath in 1965, drew plenty of attention himself. Soon the Shea Stadium fans were chanting, "Wa-HOO! Wa-HOO!"
By then, McDaniel was immersed in his off-season hobby: pro wrestling. "After that rookie year in Houston, somebody approached me and said that a wrestling promoter in Oklahoma City needed an Indian and wondered if I was interested," says McDaniel. "So I put on the trunks and had an audition. They were more interested in what I looked like than if I could wrestle."
Six weeks before the start of the 1961 season he entered a ring in Indianapolis. Thus began Chief Wahoo’s reign of mayhem, death matches, cage matches and Indian Strap matches that extended into the 1990s against the likes of Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan, Harley Race, Sergeant Slaughter and Jesse Ventura (who, McDaniel says, went to any length to avoid meeting Wahoo in the ring). After five years McDaniel experienced a career role reversal: His football income ($45,000 a year at its peak) was now only a supplement to his wrestling earnings (between $50,000 and $70,000 annually). "People can believe what they want," he says, "but what I experienced in the ring was as tough or tougher than anything I encountered on a football field. Rougher still was what wrestlers had to put up with outside the ring. I’ve been burned, stabbed."
Once, he says, while defending himself against a fan wielding a baseball bat in a parking lot in Atlanta, he pistol-whipped the guy. The 9-mm weapon accidentally discharged, and the bullet passed through the thigh of wrestler Dirty Dick Slater. "I had to pay Dick’s salary for six weeks," McDaniel says.
There are those who say that McDaniel was even more talented at golf than at football or wrestling. He often played friendly matches for money against Lee Trevino. "Old Wahoo used a hickory-shafted putter," Trevino says. "One time he missed a high-dollar putt and smashed the thing against a fence post near the green. The putter snapped back and the clubhead split his lip open. That was the angriest man I have ever seen on a golf course."
A set of weights sits on a covered porch in the rear of McDaniel’s house. Like his dad, Zac has shown an interest in wrestling. Sometimes, on the weight room floor, Wahoo teaches the boy basic college-style holds and maneuvers. "Zac’s like all kids – he has his defiant moments," Wahoo says. "One time, I offered to teach him moves that he hadn’t seen before, involving body slams and metal chairs. He said that if I did that, he’d call the police. All I could do was laugh.
"I started spending a lot of time driving Zac to these wrestling tournaments," adds Wahoo. "Fayetteville. Roanoke. He struggled for a while, then scored three pins in one day, and that seemed to light his fire."
Zac anticipates the next question. "Am I going to try to become another Wahoo McDaniel? Probably. Of course, I’ll never be half the" – he looks at his father – "I mean, I’ll be twice the wrestler he was."
Wahoo II? Let’s hope so. The American original is in short supply these days.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 39-2001
TERRY FUNK – IN HIS OWN WORDS
(www.wrestleline.com, August 30, 2000)
By Denny Burkholder
Hardcore legend Terry Funk has been one of the most frequently requested subjects for Circa. As much as I enjoy recounting the careers and history of wrestling legends on my own, I’m trying something different this time. I caught up with the Funker at a Future of Wrestling indie show this past Friday, and offered him the chance to tell his own story. Terry graciously agreed. Here – for the first time – a wrestling icon will give his own perspective on his career in Circa, in his own words. The following is my conversation with Terry Funk, the first part of it conducted at a Future of Wrestling show in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and the remainder over the telephone.
DB: When did you debut?
TF: I debuted in 1965. It was like December, so I’d say 35 years but it’s really been less.
DB: Your father [Dory Funk] was a wrestler. Your brother [Dory Funk, Jr.] is a wrestler. When did you decide you wanted to be a wrestler like your father, or was your father even a factor?
TF: Oh, it was a definite factor. I think you can’t help but have your father’s profession affecting you through life, no matter who it is. And my father definitely was a larger-than-life person to other people, but to me also, you know. I looked up to him and I idolized him. Anything that he would do, I would like to do, too. I mimicked him. And it was purposely that I mimicked him. I think we all do our fathers that way. But I also got an attachment to wrestling when I was very, very young. I used to go to the arenas when I was four years old. I would watch my father in Amarillo, Texas, in 1948, and watch him wrestle against the likes of
Wayne Martin and Frankie "Heel" Murdoch (Dick Murdoch’s father), Bob Cummings and Wayne Martin, Roy Shire, who later became a promoter out in the San Fransisco area, and the likes of those fellas. Which goes way, way, way back, you know. Back then, the territories were very small. Very, very small. You didn’t wrestle on Sundays because it was a day of rest. And everybody recognized that Sunday was a day of rest, so there was no wrestling on Sunday. You didn’t wrestle on Saturday most of the time, so wrestling was a five day a week profession. You would drive to the towns, but the towns weren’t as far as you’d think they’d be.
DB: Pretty close?
TF: Yeah, a close radius at that time. The Amarillo territory at that time consisted of about as far south as Lubbock, and as far north as Borger, and small towns in between.
DB: Did your brother Dory start wrestling before you did?
TF: Yes he did.
DB: About how much longer was it [before Terry debuted]?
TF: Approximately three years, because I was a freshman in college whenever he was a senior in college. He came out of West Texas State and turned pro the year that I went to West Texas State. I went to a junior college my sophomore year, so he would have started about three years before I did.
DB: I know that for most of your career, off and on, Dory and yourself wrestled together.
TF: A great deal of the time.
DB: Describe for me the experience of wrestling for decades with your own brother. How was it to come up through the ranks with your kin right there with you?
TF: It was great. It was really great. It was very rewarding, family-wise. You have to remember that we came from Amarillo, Texas, which is a very small area. My father dug and scratched in his profession, and I’m very proud that I am a second-generation wrestler. And believe me, it made things easier for my brother and I because he was there before us. He opened doors for us back then. He opened doors with all the promoters that he had met throughout the years. He opened doors by being an honest individual, by being a good performer. And therefore, guys that were just starting, they were starting from nothing. It would take them at least three or four years to get to the position that we started at.
DB: I always hear stories about when wrestler first start – Hulk Hogan tells this story – just about every wrestler has a story about a veteran, when they were just starting out, that tried to discourage them, that shot on them, or was a little rougher on them than they should have been. Did you ever have an experience like that when you were really young?
TF: Oh, there were always guys in the ring that would try it with you. That was much more a part of the wrestling business in the mid-60s because it was a different profession. You have to remember that we were dealing with people that started in the 50s, back in 1950, back in 1955. So we were dealing with a different mindset. We were dealing with guys that if you didn’t have a wrestling background, they didn’t want you in their profession. Same way with Eddie Graham here in Florida. You better be able to hold your pride in check, or else you’re not gonna be a part of his company. And it produced a good company, and it did around the country, too, for a lot of years. It was a stranger world back then. [It was] a tougher profession – in some ways – then. And now it’s a tougher profession than it was then, in some ways.
DB: You won the NWA world title in Miami Beach against Jack Brisco . You held it for about 14 months. You’re relatively young. You just hit the pinnacle. You are one of the three major world champions [along with WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino and AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel]. What’s going through your head? Did you think "this is the best it is ever going to get?"
TF: Not really. I was looking, at that time, to accumulate as much money as fast and as quick as I could possibly accumulate it in the profession. So that year I wrestled…310 times, I think. I had about 40 or 50 days off a year, so figure it out.
DB: Dory was also a former champion, right around the same time as you. Was there a rivalry there?
TF: Not at all, just tremendous elation. And if anything, what my brother did when he was champion was produce me with a fatter wallet. I would go in there, and so much as carry us across the country, and set up matches for him, you know, with the championship. Like the Brisco situation here [Florida]. Johnny Weaver in the Carolinas was very hot at that time, like Wahoo [McDaniel] in the Houston area, like Johnny Valentine in the St. Louis area. And on and on, across the country. Chavo Guerrero in the Los Angeles area. Gene Kiniski in the Canada area. So I would just set up the feuds, but in the process of setting up those feuds, I made good money.
DB: You’ve had feuds with just about everybody in the business at one point or another, The ones that stick out in my mind are the Briscos, Harley Race, Ric Flair….
TF: Dusty Rhodes…
DB: Dusty Rhodes…
DB: Abdullah the Butcher. Any of them stick out in your head as being particularly defining?
TF: All of them. All of them do. They stick in my mind because all of them are great. They stick in my mind as wonderful personalities. Harley Race was a wonderful personality, and a wild man, and a crazy person. Abdullah the same way, a great personality. I mean, these guys stood tall personality-wise. Sometimes in their craziness, sometimes other ways. All great personalities, and all of them were great performers.
DB: My first experience with you was as a child watching the WWF. One of the first matches I remember watching really intently was you as a heel against the Junkyard Dog in the WWF. I believe it was a Saturday Night’s Main Event. That was around the time Vince McMahon was trying to bring the sport worldwide and unify all the territories. Did you find…
TF: Let me correct you, he wasn’t trying to unify them. He was trying to take them over. [laughs]
DB: Well, unify them under his own…
TF: Under his banner, yes.
DB: Did you feel a definite effort on his part or the WWF’s part to cartoonize your character? I mean, you were a wild, cowboy type of character. Did they try to cartoonize you a little bit?
TF: I think a lot of times, I have been faced with promoters trying to cartoonize the profession. I think that WCW has somewhat of a problem with that now, is cartoonizing it. I’ve faced promoters trying to cartoonize me. But I always try to be as serious as I can. I try to be Terry Funk. I try to maintain who I am at all times. I don’t think it has ever been successful to "cartoon" myself. I don’t think "cartoon" is a good thing for a profession, but naturally we need humor in everything. WCW needs humor. But we are not a sitcom. We are not clowns. If clowns were so successful, we’d have a number of them in every major town in the United States, and we don’t. And you don’t have many clowns running around in circuses anymore. They’re almost gone. We need to keep that in our minds, that we must always maintain suspension of disbelief. That is very important in this profession, and the best way to do that is by being yourself, and having the performers be themselves. That’s of interest. Just who they are, why they are there, how they got there. Pretty good story.
DB: Like Beyond the Mat. I just saw that a couple of nights ago for the first time.
TF: Definitely, definitely. Let me mention one thing else, because I’m gonna put in a plug right here. I’m gonna put in a plug for [FOW promoter] Bobby Rogers, very seriously. He’s got some pretty good kids here. They enjoy what they are doing, and they bust their ass at it. I think that independents play an important part in my profession. I think that independents are a necessity to our business’s longevity. Talent has to arrive at a point on its own. Not always be designated and dictated to it. In other words, you can’t always create what the people want. These guys have much more liberation as to who they are. And they’re being who they want to be, and I think that’s pretty neat.
DB: You did stunt work in some movies. How did you come into that?
TF: Basically, I came into it through Paradise Alley. They wanted somebody to choreograph the wrestling for it and make the connection with the wrestlers, which I did, besides act in that movie. As time went by, I got into choreography. I helped choreograph Rambo, and Rocky, and several of them. I got connected with some of those guys out there. A lot of good stunt guys, I met a lot of them. I got to know even more of them in Road House.
(To be concluded in The New WAWLI Papers 40-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.40-2001
(Denny Burkholder’s www.wrestleline.com interview with Terry Funk from August, 2000, continues from The New WAWLI Papers 39-2001.)
DB: I want to talk about Mick Foley. What was your first impression of Mick Foley, when you first met him?
TF: I think truly the first time that I ever saw Mick Foley before I met him was sitting in my home watching Dallas TV. Mick was working down there. It was some show coming out of Dallas. I saw him, and I thought that he had a great deal of possibilities. I just saw something in Mick that I liked. I hadn’t even met him at that time. I can’t even remember where the first place was that I met Mick. I saw Mick, and knew of Mick, and I thought he’d do well in Japan. Mick was wanting to go very much to Japan at that time. Things were pretty tough for him. I recommended him and [Shohei "Giant"] Baba took him over there.
DB: In Japan, how did you personally fall into the hardcore death matches that you took part in over there for a few years?
TF: Out of somewhat of a necessity for myself.
DB: Why a necessity?
TF: Because I had choices, and I had to make them. The choice, to me, was spending a great deal of time over there and having to deal with one particular company, or any company. It didn’t matter. But if you go in with the majors, they wanted a contract for you not just for four or five weeks, or two or three tours. It grew into a great number of tours per year for the guys who were going in for All-Japan and New Japan. I’d already been through that, you know? Between all the years in with Baba. I was looking for something different. I was looking for a way to make the same amount of money, but with less appearances. And the independents were just really starting then. FMW was run by Atsushi Onita. I made a move to there, and then to IWA, and on down the road I went, because they would pay me more for one of the hardcore matches than I could make in a couple of weeks for All-Japan or New Japan. What I realized is that a picture is worth a thousand words. We didn’t have television, and that is what truly brought out the hardcore. It was always why I was hardcore in Japan, because I realized if you see a cobra clutch put on somebody, or [Antonio] Inoki’s finishing hold put on somebody in so many different ways through a camera, then it becomes an old picture. I realized that by doing this hardcore stuff, I could dominate in the periodicals, which I did.
DB: Some people think that Mick Foley’s involvement in hardcore matches is what shortened his career. Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe that could happen to you?
TF: What shortened Mick’s career is money; that’s what shortened his career. And this is not said with any animosity or anything. I am glad for Mick, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’m glad that he has made it. He’s made enough to provide for his family and be able to move in a different direction at a younger age. And I do not hold that resentment for any of the guys in the business in this day and age. They’re certainly all making a great deal more money than I ever dreamed when I was in my early career. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think that Mick has excessive injuries, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that he has reached a point where he can financially say "I don’t want to get hurt anymore." And we’re gonna be looking back at Mick again, I think, truthfully. You’ll see Mick back again, because he loves the business, which I do. Yes, I come back, and yes, I do love the business. But it is also a necessity for me to be in the business as far as financially is concerned. I’m not poor by any means. But life continually changes. The cost of living continually changes. And by gosh, you think, "By golly, I’m going back one more time, and grab a few more bucks just to put the icing on the cake." Do you follow me?
TF: I think Mick . . . I am very proud of everything he’s done. But if he was in a different era, he would have had to continue on. And I truthfully mean that. It’s not meant badly, but if he would have came from a different era in this business, he wouldn’t have been able to quit. You understand what I’m saying? And he does have a tremendous amount of injuries. But he would still be going. That’s the wonderful thing about this business today. I’ve gone down the road with so many guys, and what does a retired wrestler do? A retired wrestler looks for another job, and in my early career, it was looking for a job as a night watchman. It was looking for a job as anything they could get to provide for their family. It wasn’t retirement as we know retirement, or as the American public knows retirement. It was just being out of the business and having to find another job to provide. Usually what caused that was your injuries were so bad that you couldn’t work anymore and you had to take shortcuts in the ring, and promoters didn’t want you. So they kind of just put everybody through a sieve when you reached that point.
A lot of guys, they didn’t retire. There was no such thing as true retirement. I can’t think of many except for maybe Lou Thesz, and a few others, and I’m sure Lou would like to have a few more bucks right now, too. And that’s not meant badly toward Lou. It’s just the way things are. Right now, isn’t it wonderful that guys can come in the business and hit a three-year run . . . I mean, if they’re on top for three years in New York or WCW, they can set themselves up for a lifetime. That’s quite a deal, and I’m happy for them. I truly believe that we have better athletes right now than we have ever had in wrestling. I truly do. We have always had great athletes. I think that we’ve had better wrestlers in other times. I’m not talking about professional wrestlers; I’m talking about guys that came up in the amateur ranks. It was a different thing that we did in the ring. You had to perform differently; you had to use more psychology. Now it’s don’t be boring, four or five minutes of choreography, and get the hell out of there. It was a lot different, because you went into an arena with six guys on the card; you better make it an hour-and-a-half show, or a two-hour show. Somebody’s gotta put in some time.
DB: After Japan is where your modern, "Hardcore Legend" persona really took off in ECW. When you first went to ECW, what did you see in the promotion? It was basically a small independent when you first got there.
TF: When I first went there, Todd Gordon had it. Todd Gordon came to me, Joel Goodhart was up against the ropes, and he’d been knocked silly a few times with financial problems. Todd Gordon came in and said "I want to take it over and run a promotion up here." He wanted to have TV; he wanted to do this and this. I said, "I’ll help you." And I went up there, and I wondered what in the hell I was doing there the first night. What impressed me the first time I was up there was not the wrestlers. It was not the guys, and believe me, a lot of them were there that you see now up there. Hell, the Sandman was there, and all of these different guys. They really didn’t have that much ability, nor know what they were doing. But what I saw up there is... we were at a place that had about 200 people in it. I saw the fans that were up there, and I thought, you know, they love it. They want it. And that’s the truth, just the fans, Todd Gordon... by god, he was gonna do it, no matter what. So I helped him. The guys were... you learn in this business by "aping," and when I say aping, you ape whenever you copy somebody. And I think that I gave them a pretty good representation of what was needed to make this thing work. I think that a lot of guys watched, listened, paid attention, and wanted to make it, and wanted to make wrestling a part of their lives. I think that was as important as me being there, is having a group of guys that really want to be in the business. One thing kind of worked after another. In a strange way, ECW evolved.
DB: You mentioned the importance of the independent promotion in the way the business thrives. Do you see ECW as an example of that?
TF: Paul E. [Heyman] still has the ability to see something in the talent that is a plus and pull it from them. He can tell which grapes are sweet and which cantaloupes are ripe. And that’s pretty hard to do at times. But he can pick the ones, and he can see something in the talent. The funny part about it is Paul E. is not as structured as WCW or the WWF, and it’s successful for him. I mean, a guy comes in there, and a lot of it is created by the guy himself. Paul guides that. Whereas you go into [WCW] and you’re going to be Wee-Pee, or whoever it might be for WCW, whatever name they give you. And you’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna act like that. That’s not Paul E. A guy comes in there, and the guy has an idea, he knows what he wants to be, and the guy is trying to be it, and Paul guides him through it and produces decent talent. That’s part of the old style of professional wrestling. To see that, and nurture it, and to help those boys along. But to just go out there and say "You’re going to be this guy, and that’s the way it’s going to be," I can’t think of too many promotions that are successful like that. Vince [McMahon] does the same thing. I mean, sure, he gives them a name, but he leaves them with their own personality even though he gives them a name. You take the Road Dogg, you take those guys. They’re who they are. But just with a different name, because he wants to have the rights to the name. In WCW, they do the personalities. And sometimes that’s difficult to do.
DB: So you would say that ECW is a good place for a wrestler to discover who they want to be?
TF: Absolutely, absolutely. I think they’re still the better of the places, but I think that independent promotions are a great place for guys to learn, and to excel with their own creativity. Our business always needs to have creative wrestlers, not only creative writers. You gotta have creative talent. To be creative, you have to do it on your own. You have to have experience, and the only way you’re going to get that experience is in front of those people. And the only way you’re going to get that is by going to some of those independents and being in front of the people.
DB: As for WCW, do you plan to return there in the near future?
TF: Yes, the near future is the 22nd and 23rd of [September]. I’ll be doing those two shows with them, and it’ll probably be the last two shows. On top of that, I’m going to England on the 8th to open up Beyond the Mat with Barry Blaustein. I’ll be over there for a week in September. And that’ll probably be pretty much where I want to be right then, and probably pretty much through with everything.
DB: With the sport?
TF: Why sure, I made so much stinkin’ money this year. I don’t know how the hell... I’m gonna go ahead and pay my taxes, anyhow. I’m just filthy stinking rich. Nah, I’m just kidding.
DB: In 1997, you retired after a final match with Bret Hart. A few months later, you were in the WWF.
TF: That was my last match in Amarillo, but I’m going back there – I said I wasn’t – but I did not retire.
DB: You didn’t retire?
TF: No, I wasn’t. I had my last match in Amarillo, Texas. But I’m gonna have one more. [Laughs] So I had my last match, but I never did say I was going to retire. What happened up there in ECW, a lot of times it’s not me saying I’m going to retire. What happened in ECW was Paul E. needed something to run with on his first pay-per-view. Paul E. said to me, "Would you mind if I did this?" And I said, "Paul E., you do what you want to. I want to see the company make it and survive." That’s the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to see ECW exist and continue to make a buck for some of these young guys.
DB: So is it accurate to say that you expect to retire fully from pro wrestling within the next couple months?
TF: Again, as fully as this: Let me use Tiger Woods as an example. He just came off of winning one of the biggest golf tournaments of the year on Sunday. But he was there Monday night. And why was he there? You’d have to be a fool to do that, playing . . . what is it, 36 holes? Playing his ass off in those holes, and the stress of it. The next night though, he went right back on Monday night on television, didn’t he, against Garcia? Why did he do it?
DB: Love of the game?
TF: Why hell no – money! They’re in it for the money. $1.1 [million] for the winner and $400,000 for the loser. That’s not bad, is it? It’s money. So if somebody offers me... he would have been a fool not to play that Monday night game and come up with the ratings that he did off of it. But I would be a fool if somebody went ahead and said to me, "I’ll give you this outlandish amount of money if you come back one more time." I’d do that, sure I would. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter to me if I just hang ‘em up right now and nothing else happens.
DB: So let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you sit on the sidelines for a little while, and somebody does call you. Vince McMahon calls you, Vince Russo, somebody calls you and says, "We’ll give you X amount of dollars to wrestle one match," and you accept. If you got to pick the opponent, who would your last match in the business be against?
TF: Cactus or Sabu.
DB: Okay. Why?
TF: Because I love them. I think they’re great guys.
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