THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.101-2001
PORTLAND DAYS: AN INTERVIEW WITH BARRY OWEN
Barry Owen, third generation sports promoter, recently provided The Tom Zenk Page an interview about the Pacific Northwest Wrestling federation, its long history and Tom Zenk's tour there in 1985/86.
Until PNW's closing in 1992, it was one of the longest-running family owned sports promotions in the country.
As was the fashion in the early 1900s, local sports' promoting primarily dealt with boxing, and the Owen family's promotion in Oregon was no different.
"My grandfather, Herb Owen, was a boxing and wrestling promoter. The legendary Jack Dempsey even boxed in his federation! Later, he became strictly a wrestling promoter, " stated Owen. And before George became Gorgeous, he wrestled for the Owen's promotion. "George was wrestling for PNW and married a girl in the area. She started sewing his outfits and spent a lot of money and time on them. George didn't want to just throw them over the ropes, he wanted to fold them properly to protect the outcome of his wife's labor. The crowd got annoyed with his fussiness and began badgering George to hurry and start the match. This became his gimmick. He took longer and longer, and the outfits got gaudier and gaudier. Then came the hair. Before long he'd acquired the nickname 'Gorgeous.'"
He was not to be the only wrestler who gained fame during or after their time in PNW. Sergeant Slaughter got his start there, Lou Thesz, Jesse Ventura, the Funks, Briscos, Rick Martel (twice PNW champion), Mad Dog Vachon and Billy Jack Hayes were more names that started out, or made their way into, the PNW.
Other than Tom Zenk, "Two guys that really stood out in my mind were Ric Flair and Roddy Piper," reminisced Owen. "Flair was the greatest there ever was for his showmanship and ability. And Roddy Piper was one of the best talents that ever came through. I remember he drove clear to Pendleton one week with a ripped thumb and never complained." So loyal to PNW was Piper that he made a rare appearance at a wrestling card to present Don Owen with a plaque commemorating Owen's decades-long career in the sport on Feb. 18, 1995. (PWI's 1997 Wrestling Almanac)
"My dad, Don, and his brother, Elton, used to wrestle and referee for PNW. Both of them promoted in the '50s. Together, they ran a big territory in Oregon, Washington, Vancouver and even Hawaii. I grew up in this business. Setting up rings, putting out chairs, selling tickets, I did it all working my way up. I saw the fun and downside of this business, like getting sued everyday for something. I came into the management end of the business when Uncle Elton retired in 1982."
It wasn't long after that when another young and promising star made his way into PNW. Tommy Zenk "248lbs from Chicago," became a favorite among the fans and management alike. "Tommy had a good work ethic, was honest and showed up to do his spots. He was a man of his word, not a troublemaker. And he could wrestle...and talk (during the interview segments)."
A 'typical' work week for the 15 or so stable of wrestlers in PNW in Zenk's time was anything but typical. "We would have worked the guys 7 nights a week if we could have. They were all anxious to work, and we worked them long and hard hours. Some would work 5-6 nights a week, others 4-5, but we tried to keep them busy all the time! Plus, the crowds loved to see the feuds escalate from the TV show! They would turn out to see a feud and we'd carry that angle all week in the different towns. And that's what was great about PNW. The wrestlers were able to hone their crafts by working so much. They could go to the gym during the day, then hit the road at night."
There were about 10 towns in PNW's federation area that were covered weekly. "Medford was the longest distance from Portland, and that meant that I would travel with the guys and break up the trip with an overnighter so they wouldn't have to drive all night back home. It's funny but many of the wrestlers came from the south and had never seen ice and snow, much less drive in it. There were some accidents. A few guys would take off and get in the mountains with snow and didn't know how to drive in it or put on chains and that caused some problems," recalled the younger Owen.
"We tried to hit Eugene, Salem and Tacoma every week and Seattle and Portland every two weeks. Many towns were smaller and we did quite a few fund-raisers in these areas. I remember Hermiston had a county fair area and we'd wrestle there." They would have to hose down the rodeo area to keep the dust down, or remove some of the livestock remains.
And the Sports Center in Portland was a converted bowling alley. "We needed a place quick and with a few renovations, it fit the bill. But there were many nights I worried about the wrestlers hitting the lights with their boots when they were put in supplexes!! But Portland was where the Saturday night TV shows were done...live, starting in 1948! That's something certainly not done today! We'd go from match to interview with a wideshot covering the lull in the action. If a wrestler was a no-show, we'd scramble to fill up that slot with another match, while figuring what to do next. That kind of thing really threw a wrench into my hard thought booking plans! For graphics, we'd have a menu board set up with the next week's card. It was great fun," Owen remembers.
"The guy's salaries was a percentage of the house. If they didn't wrestle, they didn't get paid. The pay depended on the house money, some houses had 500 fans, others up to 3,000 so every town was different. The guys worked hard and a lot of them made good money. My dad and I tried to treat the guys fairly. We tried to work with them and help out if they needed it. We were like a family and we tried to treat them all well." This fair dealing by the Owens would come into play in the years ahead.
"Tommy Zenk was undefeated in PNW at the time of his departure," Owen remembers. "He had become a star in the fed and the people loved him. Tommy got along with most of the guys and was a dedicated ring technician. The wrestlers became a family somewhat because they were all trying to make a living. To cut expenses, they might ride together and room together too. If they could get along long enough to ride together, that was fine. Actually, they didn't always know who they were wrestling until they got to a town. So a heel and face riding together wasn't all that uncommon. I didn't keep up with where the guys stayed or went when they weren't wrestling, but many, like Scott Doring and Zenk would go to Lake Oswego to train."
"Professional athletes will be athletes at times and I remember one time walking in on a fight in the dressing room where one guy was trying to tear another guy's eye out. Sorry to say I don't remember who it was. But I do remember that Billy Jack Haynes and Tommy had some heat between them at one time. I don't remember exactly what it was, but probably had something to do with the popularity factor. There were rumors that Haynes prevented Zenk from selling his picture at the towns. Haynes was an employee like the other wrestlers, and had no say so on the business end of things. He might have tried to throw his weight around, but that wouldn't fly in the front office."
"Tommy's leaving PNW seemed pretty abrupt, even with five weeks notice. He had a great undefeated record with us and it just seems a really abrupt end to his short PNW career. We wished he'd stayed."
What made PNW so popular with the wrestlers was the small town feel and personal touch. The wrestlers were out there every night and the local folks thought of them as friends, not just TV personalities. The wrestlers were told to never turn down a request for an autograph.
"The people were paying good money and we wanted to entertain them. We'd also have special nights ("Kids Free with Paying Adult," etc.) to help out the house. Prices were usually $8.00 for ringside, $7.00 for the floor and $5.00 general admission. This was small town America and there wasn't much to do in many of these towns so the shows were family events," Owen recalls.
The early '90s saw an end to PNW. There was a new executive director of the Boxing and Wrestling Commission of Oregon, Bruce Anderson. And Billy Jack Haynes had come back to town trying to start up a new federation in 1988. Haynes got the necessary licensing and then attempted to woo away PNW's main talent (Brian Adams, Moondog Moretti, Rip Oliver and Mike Miller were among those who defected).
"A few guys came back to help us out on the opening night of Haynes' fed and Tommy was one of them" stated Owen. "Haynes' promotion only lasted about 3 or 4 months [officially closing 7/17/88] but Haynes' actions left a bad taste in many people's mouths. All of this added to PNW losing the TV show we had for over 40 years. Some of the sponsors (particularly long time sponsor Tom Peterson) went bankrupt and the station wouldn't keep producing the show (despite 'Portland Wrestling' drawing consistently good ratings in its time slot from the time when TV was invented). We sold the Sports Arena to a neighboring church."
On May 30, 1992, Don Owen said goodbye to the fans.
"It was hard to end that tradition. But it was time to close up and get on with something else. And the talent pool was getting smaller with the big boys [WWF and WCW] taking the all."
Barry Owen's thoughts on present day grappling. "Today's wrestling really pains me. There's no wrestling, only screaming and flying around. WWF is a sad thing now, I bet Mr. McMahon Sr. is rolling in his grave. Although WCW has more wrestling than WWF, that's not saying much."
"There's been such a change in the business now that Tommy is better off in doing what he's doing. He's just not that kind of guy."
Barry Owen currently owns an emergency wrecker service in the
Portland area and his father Don is enjoying retirement. But both still enjoy
watching a good match .... when they can find one.
A TRIBUTE TO THE LATE JONATHAN BOYD
By Mark Nulty
Jonathan Boyd's death barely made a blip on the wrestling news radar. That's not too surprising. Last I heard of him wrestling was in Memphis before he moved back to Oregon in 1987.
But it seems like just yesterday that I was in the San Antonio office and Boyd was throwing an irrational tantrum about something. John Boyd was one of the first bookers I ever worked with and one of the oddest individuals I ever met in this business.
When the best teams of the 80s are listed, Boyd and Luke Williams probably aren’t mentioned, but they should be. The Sheepherders were pure violence. They drew money in Alabama and were the perfect heel combination to work with the recently formed combination of Steve Keirn and Stan Lane in Tennessee.
I first hooked up with Jonathan Boyd in Texas in the mid-80s. Joe Blanchard had just brought me into the San Antonio office and Luke Williams was booking. Boyd was his assistant.
Rather than giving the typical chronological bio and "wasn't he great" platitudes, here are some stories that demonstrate what made this man unique, even in the context of the wrestling business.
John Boyd was the only guy I ever knew that had a DeLorean automobile. It was only fitting that Boyd would own a car that would have such a strange albeit short history. Boyd's wrestling career was thought to be over when he was involved in a horrible automobile accident that wrecked his back and broke his legs. Not only did Boyd rehabilitate to the point he could walk; he resumed his wrestling career. It was a testament to both his toughness and his dedication to the wrestling business.
There wasn't a line Boyd wouldn't cross to draw heat. Boyd's interviews were effective. They were nastier than they were clever, but they were effective. Joe Blanchard was promoting San Antonio and his hip had deteriorated to the point he walked with a pronounced limp. Boyd was managing all the heels in the territory and was barely off crutches. They wrestled each other on television to further an angle. Boyd delighted in referring to the match on television as, "Cripple vs. Cripple." Boyd's heat came from being anti-American. On one interview, he was doing his tirade about how much he hated America and we had to edit out his comment: "And I hope all your babies die."
How tough were John Boyd and Scott Casey? I'll never forget a match these two had in Corpus Christi, TX. They were wrestling a barbwire match with the ring ropes being completely encircled with barbwire. At one point, Boyd told Casey to throw him out of the ring. Casey hesitated at first, but Boyd insisted. Boyd was thrown through the barbwire onto the floor. Boyd then had to climb through the barbwire back into the ring. Not to be outdone, Casey insisted on taking the same bump. You could actually hear the crowd grimace.
Nobody could throw a tantrum better than John Boyd. When Boyd got the book in San Antonio, he went on a power trip that would make Jimmy Johnson proud. He used to boast to other wrestlers that no one worked for promoter Fred Behrend but him. All the wrestlers worked for Boyd and not Behrend. At one point, Boyd got a magazine to run a feature on him if Boyd provided the article. Boyd asked me to write it and I told him that I get paid for magazine pieces. A week later I was refereeing a card in Waco. I was in one of the dressing rooms (in the days of separate dressing rooms) and Boyd asked me if I had written the piece yet. I told him again that I wouldn't do it unless the magazine paid me. Boyd threw a fit. His bald head went beet red while yelling and screaming. He screamed that he wanted me to repeat every finish the boys gave me word for word.
The Grappler, Len Denton, got a kick out of Boyd's instructions and went out of his way to give me an especially long, complicated finish for his match - in carny (a coded language that wrestlers occasionally speak to each other).
"Pretentious? Moi?" While he was in the office Boyd decided that he no longer wanted to make phone calls himself. He told the two women that worked in the office, to call who he wanted to talk to and then ask them to hold for Boyd. "That way, I sound more important," Boyd explained. Boyd got into trouble for keeping a wrestler on the roster that had absolutely no talent but had agreed to drive Boyd around and carry his stuff.
John Boyd: Ladies Man. It was amazing to watch Boyd around women. He had a bald head with a ton of scar tissue, a gray beard and tattoos. He had a decent physique for that era, but he would never be confused with Kerry Von Erich. Yet he strutted around like he was James Bond. One of the biggest laughs we ever got in the office was when Janie noticed an attractive teenage girl walking across the street from the window. Boyd goes, "Watch this," takes off his shirt and stands outside with his hands on his hips. Janie looks at me in shock and goes, "Does he really think this is bothering her?!?!"
John Boyd: Ladies Man II. At one point Boyd, in his early-to-mid 40s, started seeing this 15-year-old girl from Houston. When we asked Boyd if he was worried about going to jail, Boyd told us that he had a signed consent form from the girl's father. If it could possibly be worse, the age difference was accentuated by the fact that Boyd's bald head, gray beard and tattered body made him look even older. At one point, Al Madril said to Boyd, "I think it's great that you're dating her. When you go to the movies, she can get in on the child ticket and you get the senior citizen discount. You must be saving a fortune."
One punch knockout. When John Boyd was booking, he brought Killer Brooks in for television tapings at Gilley's. We shot two shows a night and gave Brooks two wins. After Brooks' second match, he packed up his gear and prepared to leave as normal. Boyd was standing at the urinal and, without any warning, Brooks came up from behind and sucker punched him. A few years later I asked Brooks why he knocked out Boyd. "I just never liked him."
Boyd was found dead Aug. 7 in his duplex in Oregon. He was found by his first wife, who despite being divorced for many years, still shared the house even after Boyd remarried and later divorced. He had undergone back surgery a few weeks earlier and it is thought the heart attack may be related.
Of all the times the cliché "gone but not forgotten" is used, it's fair to say that anyone that knew John Boyd will never forget him.
Mark Nulty is a professional journalist that has been in the
professional wrestling industry since the mid-80s as an announcer, referee and
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.102-2001
"A lot of people want to put a lot of the blame on Vince
McMahon for changing wrestling as we know it. But wrestling ran its course in
different areas. When it ran its course, it was over. In a lot of cases, Vince
had little or nothing to do with it. Certain areas just ran their course. After
25 or 30 years of any type of pop culture, staying power isn't easy. Brittany
Spears is not going to stay on top for the next 25 years. Some where used to
running in front of 12,000 people once a week or month. When it went to 2,000 to
3,000, the promoter usually scrambled and got scared and made stupid decisions.
Before you know it, one thing led to another and it was over."
Q: What was your inspiration to write the book?
Pope: "Ray and I are long-time wrestling fans. Between us, it's safe to say we've got 40 to 50 years experience of watching wrestling. I always had a journalistic interest when studying in school and Ray was a part-time writer in Minneapolis for many years. It was natural those two interests would come together -- writing and watch wrestling. We got an opportunity with the Pro Wrestling Collectibles book. Based on the success of that, Krause wanted to do another book and asked us to do another one. They asked for some ideas. Based on the feedback we got from the first book, we felt it was a good opportunity to look into the history of the sport. Unfortunately, wrestling has kind of neglected its history through the years. Whether it's a romantic idea or not, I don't know. But we've always felt like we wanted to do history justice and keep the torch lit. We felt this was a good opportunity to give fans a look into history. We were cognizant that there are lots of new fans of wrestling. We wanted to give people who just started watching a look at the guys who came before and paved the way for today's stars, like The Rock and Steve Austin."
Q: Is there any way to compress 100 years of wrestling history into 176 pages?
Pope: "I don't think any book can do the history of wrestling justice. The whole history of wrestling couldn't even be told in a 10-volume set. The challenge in paring it down for a 176-page book was not just separating things into eras ... Instead of doing something 1900-1910, we felt a better idea was just putting a flag on different areas and saying these are more important than others to look at when you look back."
Q: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Pope: "The old eras were extremely difficult to research. There was just not a lot of verifiable information ... A lot of people who know about the history of wrestling we talked to. There were people out there that we trusted their insight and research. We kind of went on that and our gut feel. We knew there where things we needed to weed out and some outrageous statements made about history or actual dates and sites and cities and things like that."
Q: What's your favorite part of the book?
Pope: "Tracing the main organizations. That kind of paved the way for what we have today. Unfortunately, there's just one organization now. But even less than a year ago, we had three."
Q: Why are there so many mentions of wrestling collectibles in the book, do either of you dabble in that stuff and is there really a market for this stuff?
Pope: "Neither one of us is a collector ... There is a market for this stuff. It's not equal to baseball or football by any means. It's a niche market, but it is a market. And it's a viable market, no question about it. You can go on e-bay and at any given time 3,000 to 6,000 different items can be bought or sold. There are a lot of true-blues fans who are 40 or 50 or 60 that are still harking back to the good old days. They want a piece of their childhood. It means a lot more than a dollar value"
Q: What is your favorite era in wrestling?
Pope: "I grew up watching wrestling from 1982 in San Diego. San Diego is not a hotbed itself for pro wrestling but I watched on cable. I got Georgia Championship Wrestling and the WWF. The first live shows I went to had the Iron Sheik and Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper. That's what I grew up with but my favorite era and where I got really interested was when the Road Warriors hit the scene in the NWA in 1986 or 1987. There was (Dusty) Rhodes vs. (Ric) Flair and Starrcade. I watch everything growing up. If I was traveling with my family, the first thing I'd do is check the TV guide and see when wrestling was on. To a large extent, that passion is still there. It's changed because I look at wrestling differently than I used to. It's not as romantic a view as I used to have, but there are times when I will still mark out big for an interview with The Rock or something like that."
Q: What are your thoughts on the future of the business and do you think the industry will survive long enough so that you can write another book like this in 20 years?
Pope: "Certainly from the standpoint of an outsider looking in, the business is in a real tough spot right now. I don't think anybody can deny that, not even the corporate bigwigs when they look in the mirror and say, 'Honest to goodness, do I have a chance of having another 20 years in the business?' Hopefully, it will happen. That's why we wrote this book -- to try and help that in some respects. I know it's an idealistic viewpoint, but it's a big reason why we wrote this book. Wrestling has a history. History needs to be told and acknowledged so the business can survive."
Alex Marvez's weekly pro wrestling column can be found in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Denver Rocky Mountain News and a host of other newspapers that subscribe to the Scripps-Howard News Service.
(David Meltzer recently has incorporated
site into that of LAW, or Live Audio Wrestling. The page is at: http://www.liveaudiowrestling.com/wo/)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 103-2001
(ED. NOTE – The late Jim Casey, one of those marvelous
Casey brothers of wrestling fame and lore, was lucky enough to have been married
to the beautiful and stalwart Myrtle Casey for over 55 years. Along the way,
Myrtle wound up in charge of the family scrapbook. And now she has been kind
enough to share some of the items with the WAWLI Papers readers. This is the
first of what will be a series of vignettes concerning the Casey boys.)
LEGENDARY CASEYS OF SNEEM: TOUGHEST FAMILY ON EARTH
(The Kerryman, County Kerry, circa 2000)
By Seamus McConville
Paddy Casey is the sole surviving brother of the seven Casey men from Sneem who were known in their time as the Toughest Family on Earth.
Packed inside his head is a stack of memories of incredible sporting feats which made the brothers household names on two sides of the Atlantic in their youth.
Many of those feats took place more than 60 years ago but the legend which grew up around their achievements still makes the Caseys of Sneem familiar names even today.
Between them the seven brothers were unbeatable in whatever sport they chose to participate in – from rowing to tug of war, from wrestling to boxing.
Steven – the man passed on the Crusher nickname to all the brothers – was the eldest of the family and he was born in 1908. Then came Paddy in 1910, Jack in 1911, Jim in 1912, Mick in 1913, Tom in 1914 and Dan in 1917.
In between came three sisters, Mary Margaret in 1916, Josephine in 1920 and Catherine in 1922.
Steve became world wrestling champion in 1938.
His statue now stands in the North Square of his native
village, a monument not alone to him but to a family of men who saw no challenge
too great and no adversary too powerful to take on.
Paddy Casey has often admitted that while the brothers were internationally recognised for their wrestling or boxing skills, their first love was rowing.
And he and his brothers would almost certainlyhave won Olympic medals in rowing in Berlin in 1936 had they not previously fought for money in the wrestling ring.
Indeed there is no knowing what Paddy Casey would have achieved had he not broken his back in a fight in 1938.
Paddy had already won the all-Ireland heavyweight wrestling title that year in a clash with Belfast’s Tug Wilson at Tolka Park in Dublin and after much success in England he was planning to go to the U.S. to join his world champion brother in his own quest for glory.
But cruel fate intervened.
He was injured in a fight which he won in Manchester.
On his way home with his brother Jim, he complained of severe pain in his back.
A doctor examined him and discovered that not only had Paddy broken his back but that his spinal cord was badly damaged.
It was a huge price to pay for victory. Paddy’s plans for a wrestling career in the United States ended that night in Manchester but the accident never dampened his enthusiasm for not only wrestling but for all kinds of sport.
Almost 40 years later I saw him cox a boat in which his own two sons and two of Steve’s sons joined forces to score a famous victory at a regatta in Castletownbere.
It was their first time rowing together and they were just as frustrated by lack of information about the course as had their fathers been in another time when race organisers pulled many tricks to try and keep the Caseys from continuous winning.
But the duchas outed that day in 1975 and Paddy, even though bent with the burden of his broken back, urged the young Caseys to row to a famous victory over the local Cork crews.
His pride on the occasion was nearly as great as that felt on an August day in 1933 when he and his brothers, Steve, Tom, Jim and Dan (cox) won the Salter’s Cup outright at Killarney Regatta.
The Cup was a huge prize then and no crews had ever succeeded in winning it in three consecutive years.
The Caseys set their competitive eyes on an outright win after triumphing in 1930 and again in 1931.
But no regatta was held in 1932 and the suspicion at the time was that the organising committee wanted to make sure that the Salter’s Cup was not going to leave Killarney.
Indeed, when the Casey crew won the four-oar race the following year their suspicions were confirmed when the committee at first maintained that the win was not a consecutive one and therefore was reluctant to hand over the Cup for good.
But a large dose of Casey indignation and a threat of legal action over the committee’s behaviour saw the Killarney committee relent and the Cup became permanent Casey property.
The committee immediately offered to buy it back for 60 pounds but this was a prize that money could not buy and so the Cup went to Ballaugh for keeps.
Three years later, Steve, Paddy, Tom and Mick Casey, as members of the Ace Rowing Club in London, won the all-England rowing championship and were destined to head to Germany to compete in a variety of rowing races at the Olympic Games.
But somebody reported that the Caseys had fought for money as wrestlers or boxers and so they were disqualified from going to Berlin and the prospect of joining the great Jesse Owens in winning Olympic glory.
The Caseys never had any doubt in their minds that they could have won all six gold medals in the rowing events of that year had they been given the opportunity.
An event took place in Boston a few years later that would lead one to believe that claim.
Steve, Jim and Tom posted a notice in the Boston Globe challenging any four men in the country – or the world, for that matter – to a race on the Charles River.
If the challenge was accepted, it was planned to bring Dan, Mick or Jack out to make up the full crew.
There were several initial challengers but they all backed down, one by one, after seeing the Caseys in training on the river.
One man, Russell Codman, who had recently won a silver medal in the American national singles championships, declared that it was "a shame that these men who would rather race than eat could not get anyone to race them." And he said he was prepared to take them on in single sculls.
They accepted the challenge, and the governor of Massachusetts, Leverett Saltonstall, put up a cup for the winner.
The race took place on Nov. 10, 1940, and an estimated 250,000 people lined the banks of the Charles River for the event.
Tom, Jim and Steve finished the race 1-2-3 as Codman looked on in open-mouthed amazement at the speed and grace of the three brothers from Sneem as they left him almost standing in the river.
Among the onlookers that day was a young Jack Kennedy, the man who later became president of the U.S.A.
Steve at that time had already become world heavyweight wrestling champion.
That happened on Feb. 11, 1938, in Boston Garden, when his opponent was the reigning champ, Lou Thesz.
And the man who declared the Sneem man champion that night after he had felled Thesz twice was none other than the Babe Ruth (!), the greatest American baseball player of all time.
Steve subsequently performed so well in the boxing ring that Jack Dempsey, among others, suggested that he take on Joe Louis, then the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion.
But the Brown Bomber said no to the fight and a $50,000 stake which the Crusher was prepared to put up.
Jim Casey, meanwhile, was earning his own enviable reputation as a wrestler and in 1944 won Canadian and South American championships.
He had an opportunity of greater glory when Steve was involved in a naval accident and was unable to defend his title. But Jim honourably passed this up.
As he did on another occasion when he beat the great Danno O’Mahoney in a win which qualified him for a tilt at Steve’s title.
Tom Casey was the boxer in the family. He had been spotted in an English wrestling ring in 1937 by a promoter who thought his movements were those of a boxer.
Nine days later, he was the British amateur heavyweight boxing champion.
He was to box professionally both in England and the U.S. but he was dogged by hand injuries, which eventually made him give up the game.
Mick Casey, after being trained in the finer points of wrestling by broken-backed Paddy, was involved in about 200 bouts in a career that spanned two decades.
He was eventually to retire to run a pub in Sneem.
Jack Casey was the only brother never to leave Sneem and brother Jim reckoned that he was the strongest of the seven.
Dan was pulling senior tug of war with his brothers when he was only 13 and observers said he was the finest oarsmen of all the Caseys – and that was saying something.
Yes, indeed, Mick Casey and his wife, Bridget, from Ballaugh in Sneem, reared an incredible family.
And Paddy, the man who broke his back 62 years ago, is now the sole survivor of that clan.
BIG MEN PUT ON A WEAK SHOW
(River Cities Reader, Davenport IA, Sept. 28, 2000)
It’s not shocking to see muscle-bound, sweaty men with beer bellies, tattooed pythons, and long, greasy hair all wrapped up in tiny bikini briefs. What is astounding is that thousands of men, women, and children paid good money to watch them at WWF at The Mark – and loved it.
Back in the ’80s, when professional wrestling first hit it big, the WWF swore the action was real. Now the Federation doesn’t even bother and casts the show almost like a soap opera, and millions of fans are still drawn to it. Perhaps it’s the action, the violence, the drama, or the comedy – it definitely encompasses all of these. But one thing is certain: The music announcing the next match is barely a few chords old when the auditorium is filled with applause, boos, or some wrestler’s chant.
And even though upon entering the building I was taken back by the overwhelming stench of body odor, the crowd wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s time all the white-collar types came out of the closet. They can deny it all they want, but I saw them sprinkled throughout the audience enjoying themselves immensely.
I was also amazed at how many families with small children were there. Toddlers through teens were in every other seat holding bright signs spouting off messages – some vulgar, some clean – to their favorite wrestling hero. Hero: a scary thought.
As fake as it was – and WWF wrestling up close and personal is even less realistic than on television – there are obvious moments of real pain, moments when maneuvers go wrong or fictitious fights escalate into something real. And the sweat and spit flung into the stands is real.
The "hardcore" matches were actually the most laughable, yet they still drew "ooh"s and "ow"s from the spectators. Paper-thin trash cans and lids bashed over heads, aerial drops onto weak tables, and backs beaten with cracked broomsticks and malleable chairs all delighted fans. The moves that actually had fans cringing were a beating by numb-chuck and a fake mace-spraying. Also cringe-worthy was the sexual innuendo among the men. In at least two matches, including the grand finale, the losing team collapsed to the floor with one man’s head conveniently landing in the crotch of the other. And there was one wrestler’s coveted prop, a mannequin head, which was used to get chants from the young audience: "We want more head!"
A favorite line of the evening came from one of the Dudley Boyz, Buh Buh Ray Dudley, who said, "Real men drink beer. Real men use gratuitous violence. Real men put other men through tables." After that, he proceeded to throw his opponent through a flimsy table, following it up with the statement, "To hell with that. Let’s go to the bar and get drunk!"
But the real highlight of the night wasn’t the wrestling but the dancing of Too Cool, the trio of Scotty Too Hotty, Grandmaster Sexay, and the 401-pound Samoan, Rikishi. I almost felt sorry for Rikishi. He was clearly exhausted and definitely made himself a laughingstock, but he stole the show with his "phat" gyrating. I guess swallowing his pride and dignity to shake his cellulite is a small price to pay for fame and fortune.
Runner-up to the threesome’s performance was Scotty Too Hotty’s "The Worm." Reminiscent of the 1980s breakdancing move the Centipede, the "move" involves Scotty writhing on the floor right before pouncing on his victim. Even though it’s ludicrous to even call "The Worm" a move, fans loved it.
While there were some great "fights," unfortunately the overall entertainment was weak. Fans were deprived of the hottest WWF celebrities, and those who were there, with the exception of Scotty, failed to give us of their signature moves; American Bad-Ass was without his Harley, Rikishi only teased us with his "stinkface," and the mountainous Chyna didn’t lift a finger. (While Chyna denies being "exploited" because she actually "wrestles," she seemed quite the hypocrite at the Saturday night event. She merely played trophy to her beau, Eddie Guerrero.)
All in all, it was a disappointing night redeemed by a few laughs. If it’s real wrestling you want to see, stay home and watch it on the Olympics. And if you’re after the real WWF experience, that’s on TV, too.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.104-2001
(Tacoma News Tribune, Tuesday, August 4, 1925)
Henry Steinborn, the German giant and physical wonder, went down before Dick Daviscourt, nationally known American heavyweight, in an exciting match Monday night at the Auditorium. Daviscourt’s skill overcame the greater strength of Steinborn. Daviscourt took the first fall, while the German strong man took the second. The third and deciding fall went to the American.
Daviscourt took the first fall in 2- ½ minutes, applying a short-arm scissors hold and carrying his powerful rival to the mat. The going was furious during the tussle with both men working hard for the fall. Steinborn’s strength held him in stead until the scientific Daviscourt managed to clamp his winning hold.
At the call for renewal of activities, the gigantic German concentrated on the toe hold, made famous by the late Frank Gotch, former world’s champion. So consistent was Steinborn that he gradually weakened the American and finally obtained a tortuous toe hold that brought the signal of defeat – a pat by Daviscourt upon the mat. Seventeen and a fraction minutes were occupied in the second fall.
The "rubber" fall was at stake when the big men clashed a third time. Each was eager to get the edge and they went at it hammer and tongs. Daviscourt revealed his skill in keeping away from the traps set by Steinborn at the same time laying in wait for an opening. A combination head scissors and Japanese arm lock finally was obtained by Daviscourt and Steinborn’s shoulder blades again kissed the canvas. Thirteen minutes were occupied.
"Cowboy" Ray, former Tacoma policeman, which means he is a heavyweight, from from Sam Brokas, Seattle heavyweight, after 20 minutes of fast grappling. Ray knew too much for Brokas and his strength was too great. Brokas was game to the core but Ray was a better mat man.
Young Togo and Young Myaki, Japanese, staged a preliminary event, Myaki winning on points in 20 minutes of action.
Professor Takagashi of Seattle, jiu-jitsu expert, challenged the winner in a mixed bout.
Joe Schmidt of the Y.M.C.A., a former wrestler, acted as referee.
The show was promoted by Tom Law, former (Wichita) Kansas promoter, who has settled in Tacoma. While the show failed to draw a big house, promoter Law says he is not a whit discouraged and plans to stake another card soon.
NO CHANCE: THE INSIDE STORY OF VINCE McMAHON AND THE WWF
(Solie’s Wrestling Newsletter #648, http://users.aol.com/Solie/svwn.html)
By Earl Oliver
Before I get into this review, I want to say that I enjoyed reading this book. I will tell you right off the bat, however, that this reads more like a series of magazine articles gathered under one cover, then a book as such.
I would classify this as "after dinner reading", meaning that it can be easily read in the time between when you finish eating and when you go to bed, without having to stay up past your normal bedtime to do so. At 115 pages, this is a slim volume to say the least. You would think, with a character as ripe as Vince McMahon, this author could find more to say about him.
The brevity of this "tome" is exacerbated by the paucity of its original information. In fact, almost half of the book is reprinted from various articles and interviews, including the Bob Costas and Inside Edition interviews with Vince McMahon, and Greg Oliver's (no relation) interview with Bret Hart, which are reprinted verbatim. Not that these transcripts aren't fascinating material in and of themselves - but they do take up and awful lot of the real estate therein.
In reading Chapter 1, entitled, "Vince McMahon the Man," I was struck immediately by the feeling that I had read these words somewhere before. As I read on through the first three pages I became mistakenly convinced that our author was guilty of plagiarism! In the next section of that chapter, the focus changed from Vince McMahon the elder to Vince McMahon the younger and here the material was apparently original. At the end of the chapter, there were some footnotes which revealed the source of my confusion. Those first three pages were indeed lifted word-for-word from an article by Lou Sahadi called, "Vince McMahon: The Tradition Lives On" (this article is, in fact, reprinted in the Articles section of this web site) and Mr. (Cliff) Droke, or the publisher (who would appear to be Mr. Droke) misplaced the footnote reference numbers. It would seem that some tightening up on the editing might be in order before this book is released to the public.
In the press release, which I received along with this promotional copy, the following statement is made:
"...No Chance is more than just a story of how Vince built WWFE. The book reveals highly kept secrets that few outside the McMahon clan are even aware of," says Droke. "Such as how Vince is about to unveil his greatest business coup ever, how shares of WWF stock have been under heavy accumulation by big institutional firms for months in anticipation of the meteoric rise in WWF stock, and how the WWF is in the process of landing a major prime time deal with one of the 'Big Three' T.V. networks."
I searched in vain for the above information. I actually read the book twice (in one afternoon!) trying to uncover Vince's pending "business coup". As to the story about institutional firms accumulating WWFE stock - I didn't find that in there either. In fact, Mr. Droke's theory about WWFE's business future seemed rather bleak as I read it in the book itself (Chapter 6 is entitled, "The Financial Demise of Vince McMahon and the WWF"). I also was not able to find any mention of a pending deal with a "Big Three" network. The closest thing to this latter claim would have been the XFL's deal with NBC - and we all know how that turned out. As a matter of fact, the author does a pretty thorough job of laying out that entire fiasco within the pages of the book.
One has to wonder whether Mr. Droke reread his own book before he wrote the promotional copy. Maybe he was thinking of stuff he meant to include...
It was in the aforementioned Chapter 6 where I found some of the most interesting reading. Although none of the revelations in it could be described as "breathtaking", the author's excerpts from the WWFE stock prospectus would be sufficient to give anyone contemplating investment in the company the "willies."
Despite its faults, repetitions and hyperbole (at one point, Droke refers to the WWF as, "...the world's largest entertainment empire..." - sorry Clif, I think Time-Warner, Disney, and a few others would probably dispute that claim), I have to say (again) that this was actually an enjoyable read. There is no denying that Vince McMahon is a fascinating character, and Mr. Droke has done an admirable job of researching his facts and laying them out for our perusal. And I can't say that I found any serious inaccuracies, which tend to crop up in droves in wrestling business books of this sort (See my review of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wrestling" for an example) - so that is another point in Droke's favor.
Interestingly, I looked this book up on Amazon.com, and there it is called, "No Chance: The Sordid Story of Vince McMahon Jr. and the WWF". Possibly a more appropriate title...
Whether or not this book breaks new ground, as stated in the promotional copy, is doubtful. Would I pay $10.00 (plus $2.50 shipping and handling) for this book? Probably. Would I recommend that my readers do the same? Well, that's another question...
No Chance: The Inside Story of Vince McMahon and the WWF by
Clif Droke (ISMB:09707283-3-6) is available for $10.00 + $2.50 shipping from
Publishing Concepts, 1101 Holston Ave., Bristol, TN 37620. Also available on
line from Amazon.com (for $17.00!) Publisher guarantees satisfaction.
THEY WILL CARRY THE TORCH
(Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville FL, October 5, 2001)
By Gordon Jackson
KINGSLAND -- Bruce Pobanz made his living for 24 years by wearing a mask, carrying a noose and busting wooden chairs over skulls -- often his own -- before retiring two years ago.
After work, Pobanz, also known as the professional wrestler The Hangman, autographed chunks of shattered chairs picked up by fans during his matches.
"Having 30,000 people cheer for you, that's the part I miss," Pobanz said. "The more chairs I broke, the more money I made. But every morning my body tells me where I've been."
Despite the fame of being a former light-heavyweight champion, Pobanz said a recent honor overshadows anything he accomplished as a professional wrestler.
Pobanz, 44, was selected, along with his wife, Jacqueline Branch-Pobanz, to carry the Olympic torch Dec. 7 on the route between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
"I think carrying the torch will be the pinnacle of my life," Pobanz said. "Being a champion is great, but carrying the torch is a symbol of the Olympic spirit of being the best you can be."
Despite the role he played as a villain, where he'd use his rope to hang his opponents over the ring ropes, Pobanz had a softer side when he wasn't performing.
Pobanz said he spent much of his time visiting sick children in hospitals and volunteering for different charities throughout the world during his wrestling career.
He has several plaques on his living room wall honoring him for community service.
Branch-Pobanz said she nominated her husband for the honor of carrying the torch because of his years spent volunteering for charitable causes. She believes her husband's community service earned him the nomination.
But Branch-Pobanz said she was stunned to learn she was also one of the estimated 13,500 people who will carry the torch through 46 states en route to the Winter Olympics, when the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee sent the letter accepting the nomination.
The torch route starts Dec. 4 in Atlanta and will arrive in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8, in time for the ceremony to light the Olympic flame.
"Not only will your nominee help carry the flame to Salt Lake City, but we would like to highlight your story by having you carry the flame as well," the acceptance letter from the committee said. "As an inspirational pair, we will team the two of you so that you pass or receive the flame from the person who has been a source of inspiration in your life."
Branch-Pobanz, 53, said she wasn't surprised her husband was accepted but she never expected to also earn the honor.
"It's just now starting to overwhelm me," she said. "I just thought I would be standing along the road and waving."
Pobanz has continued his role of community activism since moving from Las Vegas to Kingsland in June to live closer to relatives.
He volunteered as a photographer for the city's Labor Day Catfish Festival and serves as publicity chairman and media liaison for the Kingsland Betterment Program, said Tonya Rosado, marketing director for the Kingsland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"He's come in and created new enthusiasm and good ideas," Rosado said. Pobanz said he has the extra time to volunteer because he isn't working currently. He described himself as a "house husband."
When he isn't volunteering, Pobanz said he works on his acting career, which spans 29 movies, including small parts in Lethal Weapon II, Casino, Play It to the Bone and Showgirls, he said.
He also has a small role in Undisputed, starring Wesley Snipes and Peter Falk, scheduled for release Nov. 9, and a speaking role with Julia Roberts in the remake of Ocean's 11, scheduled for release Dec. 7, he said.
The scene with Julia Roberts may get cut, Pobanz said, because of an explosion scene that producers think may have too many similarities with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Movie roles and wrestling matches will not compare with the feeling Pobanz said he will have carrying the torch, however.
And the best part is the cheers he will hear, after a career of boos, Pobanz said.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," Pobanz said.
"I may not be skilled enough to go after the gold, but I get a chance to be
part of the Olympic spirit."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.105-2001
TAKING IN A PRO WRESTLING MATCH GREAT FATHER-SON RITUAL
(Cincinnati Post, March 23, 1999)
By William Weathers
'So close. So close.'
I remember those words going through my head as I watched live professional wrestling on the old Zenith. The show came from a studio at a station in Nashville, about 60 miles away.
My father and I would watch. When Mr. Tojo, I think his name was (a terrible villain supposedly from the recently vanquished Empire of Japan) took his good-guy opponent by the arm and slung him across the ring toward the corner, the good guy would run across the ring and flop head-first into the turnbuckle.
'How hard do you think you'd have to throw a 200-pound man to get him to run across the ring,' my father would ask teasingly. Thus he began to clue me in on the professional wrestling scene.
That it might not be strictly on the up-and-up never bothered me. I delighted in putting on swimming trunks and one of my parents' bathrobes and trying to get my neighbor, Norman, into a head-lock. Norman, who was older and who could have thrown me into a turnbuckle in a neighboring state, obliged.
My weekly devotion to TV wrestling was complete. The fact that I don't remember any of the good guys' names, but virtually all of the bad guys, seems telling. My favorites were Jackie and Don, the Fargo brothers. These guys looked huge, strutted large, and wore bleached blond ducktails -- with the duck's tail long and Brylcreemed into shape.
Every bit as entertaining as the matches were the commercials and the banter between the announcer and the promoter, one Nick Gulas. Gulas wore his black hair slicked back in a prototype of the Pat Riley cut. The sponsor was Shyer's Jewelers, the owner, Harold Shyer, functioning as on-air talent:
'If you don't know diamonds, know your jeweler. And if Harold says it's so - it's so.'
Harold had a way of pronouncing diii-aaahhh-munn-dds so that it had about seven syllables. My idyllic, farm boyhood -- prowling through cornfields with my collie-shepherd cross named Brownie and seining for minnows in the creek -- was wonderfully spiced by the sordid TV spectacle of Harold Shyer and Nick Gulas and Jackie and Don.
My father, seeing my devotion and my attempts to emulate the masters, once took me to our local high school gym to see one of the touring matches. What a thrill. I was probably all of 7 or 8. Daddy showed me how they set up the floor of the ring so that it had some 'give' to it, and so that it made a tremendous noise when, say, Mr. Tojo or one of the Fargo brothers would body slam one of the good guys.
I have since learned from several fathers of different generations that this taking of the son to the wrestling match is one of the great father-son rituals in our land. It spans eras from at least as far back as the 1930s to the present, and shows no sign of slowing as it hurls headlong toward the turnbuckle of the 21st century.
So it was that when the ticket fairy suddenly favored me with a pair for WCW Monday Nitro wrestling at Firstar Center last week, I took my almost-9-year-old. What a far cry from the high school gym of the 1950s. The cavernous coliseum crowd roared as laser beams swirled and smoke billowed up and across the gladiators' entryway. Richard Strauss' 'Also sprach Zarathustra' (the theme from the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey') swelled, timpani shots pounding, as 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair entered, accompanied by four sequined sweeties.
I was a little nervous because I'd heard rumors that modern pro wrestling featured beer-can-throwing fans. Not on this night. Tame as can be. An NFL crowd is rowdy by comparison.
The grand finale pitted Goldberg (current, top-of-the-heap sensation in World Championship Wrestling) and the Nature Boy against Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Kevin 'Big Sexy' Nash.
Aside from coliseum-sized light-and-sound accompaniment, what has really changed about pro wrestling in the past 40 years is the athleticism of the wrestlers. Billy Kidman at one point, after throwing Rey Mysterio Jr. out of the ring, stood on one of the ropes and bounced, using the rope as a catapult, springing into the air and doing a full 'one,' as gymnasts call it, a forward flip out of the ring, at least eight feet forward, and onto Mysterio as Mysterio lay on the concrete floor and functioned as a landing pad.
You won't catch me telling one of these guys that what he does is fake. When Post columnist David Wecker asserted to Ric Flair about 10 years ago, in an office at Channel 9, that pro wrestling is 'a dance,' the Nature Boy put Wecker (with Wecker's permission) in a combo figure-8 headlock scissors hold from which Wecker was still ailing two weeks later.
We ate pizza, swilled soft drinks, spilled popcorn, yelled a lot and generally loved the whole thing. What's not to love? I didn't get a bachelor's degree in drama by being ignorant of the fact that theater's elements include spectacle, plot, character, dialogue, music and scene. Wrestling's got 'em all. (Doubt the plot element? How about accusations Flair hijacked the WCW? Huh? Doubt the character element? How about the Hulkster's going over to the dark side?)
Speaking of spectacle, did I mention that the hiphop-dancing Nitro Girls are lovely and talented?
I even got a flash of remembrance from my boyhood when a guy a couple of rows back, showing himself to be a true believer, at one point yelled that his favorite combatant had been 'so close - so close.'
EX-PRO WRESTLER IS ROOKIE MUSHER
(Anchorage Daily News, March 7, 2000)
By Lew Freedman
Precious Paul competes in a different wardrobe these days.
He's gone from loincloth to Lycra. From scanty pants to snow pants. From bare chest to bearskins.
Oh, yeah, he's also gone from the World Wrestling Federation to the Iditarod.
The musher who dashed out of Anchorage wearing bib No. 79 Saturday is called Paul Ellering in real life. He's parked his half nelson and pulled on a parka. He's stopped talking about Hulk Hogan and started talking about Rick Swenson.
This is an Iditarod first. A professional wrestler tackles the 1,150-mile mush to Nome. Talk about your midlife career changes.
''I've always been a person who challenged myself,'' said Ellering, 46, of Grey Eagle, Minn. ''I think everybody needs something to make you want to jump out of bed.
Everybody needs a passion.''
As of early this morning, Ellering was in 74th place out of 81 mushers. Paul Gebhardt, who finished sixth last year, was the race's leader.
Racing the Iditarod wasn't a spur-of-the-moment leap for Ellering. He started his kennel by buying dogs from five-time champion Swenson. He's raced the 500-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota several times, and he's received pointers from 1989 Iditarod champion Joe Runyan.
In 1991, Ellering read a book about mushing and was intrigued. About the same time, he ran across Runyan giving a seminar. Ellering introduced himself. With common interests in hunting, fishing and mushing, they've been pals ever since.
''The guy's awesome,'' said Runyan, who lives in Cliff, N.M. ''He's the most inspirational guy I've ever met.''
Why? Runyan believes Ellering's attitude is Norman Vincent Peale-upbeat and that he is more motivated than Michael Jordan. Still, it's not as if Runyan believes Precious Paul will be Precocious Paul and win the Iditarod on his first try.
''I think he'll have a real steady team,'' Runyan said. ''It's not a championship team.''
Slimmed down from his wrestling weight of 255 pounds to 180, Ellering has a sturdy, muscular build and a thick mustache. When he arrived on Saturday morning, he was the man in black, wearing a dark sponsor cap, a black jersey and black pants -- and dark glasses.
Though he is new to the Iditarod, Ellering's mushing and wrestling careers overlapped before he gave up headlocks three months ago to operate a health club near Grey Eagle, his home 35 miles north of St. Cloud, Minn., and drive dogs on nearby trails. He shifted back and forth between the two disparate worlds for much of the 1990s. But while admitting that neither group really understands the peculiarities of the other, Ellering did adopt an aphorism to live by.
''Never trust a dog to guard your food,'' Ellering said. ''And never trust a wrestler to guard your food.''
Ellering said he always knew he'd try the Iditarod and this seemed like the right time.
''I want to put it on the old resume,'' Ellering said.
Not that he thinks it's going to be easy. He's broken the race into thirds: Relax the fir st third, pick up the pace the second third, and push it through the last third.
Ellering said he used the Precious Paul moniker because he invested in commodities and ''since I am such a precious commodity.'' Now that he's retired from wrestling, though, Ellering is in the market for a mushing nickname.
WRESTLING SCHOOL OWNER TIGHTENS HOLD
(Cincinnati Enquirer, July 27, 2000)
By Jim Knippenberg
A bit of this, that and the other thing gathered at the buffet table on the cocktail party circuit ...
Truthfully: Going to prove again, stomp on enough heads and sooner or later people take notice.
Witness one Les Thatcher, former pro wrestler and owner of Evendale's Main Event Pro Wrestling Center, a facility that trains men and women to bounce each other around in the ring.
He and his school already have been on three national shows about wrestlers in training: MTV's True Life and ABC's 20/20 in 1999; and MSNBC early this year. Now this ...
Thatcher flies to Burbank today to tape a segment on the revived To Tell the Truth, which will debut this fall. That's the late game show on which a panel would grill three people and try to figure out which one was telling the truth. All three contestants will claim to be Thatcher, pro wrestler trainer.
"As I understand it, I spend some time Friday prepping the two fakes, then tape it Saturday. I don't think I win anything if I fool them, but I do get four free days in California, and that's pretty much enough."
Truth will be syndicated, airing in 90 percent of U.S.
markets, (including here at 10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday on Channel 12) starting
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.106-2001
(Waxahachie Daily Light, Monday, October 8, 2001)
By Joann Livingston
Waxahachie Police responded to a 9-1-1 call early Sunday morning, finding pro wrestler "Gentleman" Chris Adams, 46, of Rowlett dead at a local residence.
"Mr. Adams died from a single gunshot wound to the chest," said Justice of the Peace Pct. 2 Jackie Miller Jr., who pronounced him dead at the scene at 2 a.m.
The incident occurred after midnight at 219 Sendero in the Indian Hills subdivision, the residence of William Parnell, 49, a business associate and promoter of Adams'.
Parnell was arrested at the scene and later arraigned on a charge of murder. Bond was set at $300,000.
"Officers responded to a 9-1-1 call at that location," Waxahachie detective Sgt. Nathan Bickerstaff said. "Someone called, saying they had just shot someone and they needed medical help."
Entry was made into the house after Parnell was taken into custody; Parnell's mother and aunt were at the residence, but were not awake at the time of the incident, Bickerstaff said.
"It is still under investigation," said Bickerstaff, who is assisted in the investigation by detective Todd Woodruff. "We do know they were wrestling and there was possibly alcohol involved in it. They got a little carried away and got mad at each other and started getting too rough inside the house. What it appears is that Mr. Parnell shot Mr. Adams."
Officers recovered a .38 caliber handgun at the scene.
Adams was found in the bedroom, lying on a bed, Bickerstaff said, with EMS efforts to resuscitate him unsuccessful.
Miller ordered an autopsy; the body was sent to the medical examiner's office in Dallas.
There was no association between Adams and Parnell, and a pro wrestling event organized by local pro wrestler Tim Brooks Sr. held Saturday night at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.
"They were not involved with us in any way. Neither one of them was at our event Saturday night," said Brooks, who had known Adams for about 20 years, but who did not know Parnell.
"I'm really saddened that it happened here, that it happened anywhere.
"It really surprised me," said Brooks. "I know Chris is married and has a 7-year-old daughter. That saddens me because it leaves his wife, and a 7-year-old child, without a parent."
Recalling Adams' life, Brooks said, "Chris was a guy that tried to live life to its fullest every day. He was a very upbeat type person and had a lot of energy. And he was a very, very good pro wrestler."
Brooks said that Adams, who was originally from England, was a top wrestler during the Von Erich period, and still made occasional wrestling appearances.
"I really don't know what to say about this," Brooks said. "I don't know any of the circumstances. All I know is that someone called me Sunday morning and told me the news. And I found it upsetting."
SCHOOL TEACHES WRESTLING, AND MORE
(Cincinnati Enquirer, May 21, 2000)
By Jim Knippenberg
Les Thatcher didn't even blink. His student was just slammed to the floor, had his arm twisted and his neck stomped. And he's talking about soap operas.
"That's pro wrestling. A soap opera. I tell my kids we don't care that people know it's all show. If you're a good performer, you bring about a suspension of disbelief and suck people in. A soap."
He's oblivious to the thumps 200 pounds make when they hit the mat at Main Event, the Evendale pro wrestling camp where he trains hopefuls for a career in the ring.
Thwuump. Another body.
The 6-year-old school has produced about 20 pros, and has been featured on MTV's Real Life, ABC's 20-20 and a wrestling special on MSNBC.
Thwaack. Slapped chest.
Trace that success to the 58-year-old Thatcher. A 40-year veteran of the industry, he spent 20 years body-slamming through the Southeast, then did play-by-play.
He's sharing that with 20 students tonight. Students like Matt Stryker, a 24-year-old grad who went pro 18 months ago but returns to work out. Known as a heel (dirty fighter), he has broken a sweat thwaacking 19 unfortunate souls into the ropes, then jumping them.
"I was the spot, calling the match, because heels almost always do. The moves look hard, but they aren't. Calling is the hard part."
Calling? Mr. Thatcher explains: "Two guys in there. One is the leader and calls the audibles — telling the opponent what to do next, like a quarterback.
"Say he has someone in a headlock. He might say, "I shoot you in; you duck clothesline, shoot back and slam.' He's saying "I release the headlock, throw you into the ropes; you bounce off, duck my clothesline (outstretched arm, throat level), fly into the ropes, bounce into me, then go down.'
"He's choreographing what moves to make when — and he has to know how to make one flow from the last.
"Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have said that. If someone asked if it's fake, I'd say, "you wanna go outside and find out?' But today, it's sports entertainment."
Doesn't look entertaining for Cody Hawk, a babyface (clean fighter) and pro who graduated four years ago and now helps run training sessions. He has just been under a heel's heel.
"Sometimes you get sore, but we emphasize safety," says Mr. Hawk. "The thing with training here is you get good and you get contracts, because of Les' reputation. I've been booked just because he said I was good."
Smaaaaack. Mr. Stryker flies out of the ring head first, jumps to his feet and agrees: "The school is that good, bar none. It's the reason we got the WCW contract."
Main Event recently signed a training and development deal with World Championship Wrestling, one of the three dominant federations on the circuit. WCW wrestlers can start at $100,000 and climb to the millions.
The alternative is the independent circuit where, Mr. Hawk says, "you make very little money, but you get experience and a chance to work up to a federation."
Meanwhile, out in the ring, a greenhorn is whispering: Lock up; thump; slam; thwack; arm drag; crash; leg drop; whoooomp. He's calling the match, but hasn't learned to do it quietly enough for opponents, but not spectators, to hear.
Thwuump. A heel just flung Jesse Guilmette over the top rope. He's almost finished training and ready for the independent circuit.
"It looks like it hurts, but it doesn't," says Mr. Guilmette. "We know how to land and what's next so we can brace."
Landings are always feet first, so the boot sole, not the human back, slams the mat and makes the noise.
"There are hundreds of moves they have to learn," Thatcher says, "how to make them and how to take them. When they don't learn, I get in their face. I yell, I scream, I let it out. They know what I think, and I don't get an ulcer."
In Main Event's six-month, $2,500 course training comes in phases: First, basics on how to take a fall and how to break a fall, but not a body. Then, it's holds, throws and variations.
"Then the hard part," Thatcher says, "Psychology. Understanding that you're a storyteller, communicating by using body and movement. This is where you learn to string things together — what fall to call, which hold to use — on the fly.
"We can teach a dolt to do a moonsault (back flip off the top rope). We can't teach him to know when and where to fit it in a match. That's why you can say what you want about these guys, but you can't say they're dumb jocks."
THE DEATH OF THE GIANT BABA
By Mark Nulty
The death of Shohei "Giant" Baba Jan. 31 sent shockwaves through professional wrestling both in Japan and internationally.
In the ring, Baba was one of the three biggest Japanese stars of all-time along with Rikidozan and Antonio Inoki.
Baba is a three-time NWA World heavyweight champion and was the first Japanese wrestler to win a major version of the World heavyweight title. Japanese fans still talk about his legendary matches with the original Destroyer(Dick Beyer), Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Gene Kiniski, Bruno Sammartino, Jack Brisco, Harley Race and many others.
The photo with this piece is Baba battling American star Paul Jones before a typical sell--out crowd.
Baba's dedication to the sport of professional wrestling was legendary. He once wrestled 4,000 consecutive matches without missing a date.
It was that type of devotion that earned the respect for all those that wrestled for Baba's All Japan promotion. As a promoter, he earned the same respect from the wrestlers and the fans that the late Sam Muchnick earned in North America.
Here are some comments of some of the athletes Monday when informed of Baba's death:
Butch Miller of the Bushwhackers/Sheepherders: "Baba was the biggest star in the country. In Japan, you didn't compare Baba's popularity to Hulk Hogan, you compare it to Michael Jordan. I was on a card with him, and the guy he was wrestling tried to get cute with him. Baba took those huge hands and nearly chopped him to death. He was a great man."
Frank Dusek: "I
went on two tours of Japan for Baba. You didn't have to worry about being a
foreign wrestler who didn't speak the language when you traveled for Baba. He
always made sure we had what we needed and were treated well. He made sure even
little things were taken care of, like being able to find an English movie
theater when we had time off."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.107-2001
(ED. NOTE – It’s been a fertile month for old scrapbooks arriving here at the WAWLI Archives. One devoted to the 1930s career of middleweight Les Stefter, copied and sent along by his grandson, Matthew S. Bolin of St. Louis. Our deepest appreciation goes to Matt for the submissions.)
IRISH GRUNT ACE EXPECTS TO BEAT FOE
(Huntsville AL Times, circa 1935)
It’s the Irish in me."
This is an old expression, but it means a lot, and Ernie Dugan expects his fighting Irish blood to be aroused tonight to such an extent that he will give Stanley (Honeyboy) Hackney, the man from Salina, the beating of his life.
The Dugans of old Dublin will turn over in their graves when one of their favorite sons takes on the popular Hackney in the main event of tonight’s wrestling card at the Legion Sports Arena.
Dugan, known as the Fighting Irishman, is everything the name implies, and he’ll have the opportunity to use all his weapons when he goes up against the kangaroo kicker expert.
Ali Hassan, the Terrible Turk, will meet Les Stefter, a newcomer from St. Louis, in the semi-final, which also promises to be a match that fans won’t forget for some time. The Turk makes a good match out of all he has, and against Stefter he will be facing a man capable of giving him a tough match.
Stefter is only one of a list of newcomers promoter Chris Jordan intends to bring to Huntsville this winter. Jordan is going out and getting some of the best men in the light-heavyweight division.
Tonight’s program will start at 8:15 o’clock
STEFTER BEATS FIRPO HERE AT SOCIAL CENTER
(East St. Louis Journal, circa 1937)
By Brady of The Journal Staff
Les Stefter, rugged St. Louisan, proved the winner over Emilio Firpo, wild Inca Indian from Argentina, after 14 minutes and 42 seconds of action in the final event of Rev. R.M. Gunn’s wrestling program here at the Social Center Wednesday night.
It wouldn’t be possible to term that affair which closed the card a wrestling match, however, for it was a brawl, nothing more nor less. Firpo had Stefter up in the air for a second body slam when he slipped, aided by a couple of punches to the body by Les, and they fell to the canvas with the Argentine on the bottom. All Stefter had to do was to use a block to win.
Very few grappling holds were used during the affair, but there was plenty of biting. The Argentine started it by nibbling out of a headlock and then a head scissors. Then they took turns biting on the other’s ears. For some time referee "Babe" Metheny tried to make them listen to reason but to no avail, and then he let them do about as they pleased.
Those who like their mat contests plenty wild were given a treat for it was a riot all the way. After 14 minutes Stefter twice pulled Firpo back into the ring with flying mares as the Argentine sought safety on the platform just outside the hempen strands and a punching bee followed. Then came the sudden finish. Firpo had a 167 pounds to 160 pounds edge in the weights.
BARON VON RASCHKE
By Jim Zordani
James Raschke was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1940. Raschke played football and wrestled at Omaha North high school, where he won the 1958 Nebraska state heavyweight wrestling championship as a high school senior. He was widely recruited by several colleges before settling on the University of Nebraska. Raschke was a two-time All-American wrestler capturing the Big Eight conference heavyweight championship in 1962. He won the bronze medal at the 1963 World games becoming only the second American wrestler to place in Greco-Roman wrestling. James qualified for the 1964 Olympic team but was injured three days before he was to leave for the Olympics, causing him to miss the event.
After a stint in the Army, James landed a teaching job in Omaha Nebraska. He had aspirations of becoming a professional wrestler and contacted Omaha promoter Joe Dusek, who introduced James to AWA boss Verne Gagne. Gagne told Raschke to move to Minnesota so he could begin training. While training, Raschke found employment as a substitute teacher, while also helping set up the wrestling ring before the matches and doing some refereeing.
The first match of Raschke's career took place on September 16, 1966 against Johnny Kace. James wrestled two more times before being told by Verne Gagne that he wasn't ready to wrestle full time and needed more training. Raschke resumed his refereeing duties and his training in the gym. Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon had befriended James taking him under his wing. Vachon told Raschke he looked like a German and needed a German gimmick. Mad Dog jokingly suggested Baron Von Pumpkin. They finally settled on the name Baron Von Raschke.
Mad Dog invited James to Montreal so they could team together. Baron and Mad Dog started tagging together but before their team could gel, Mad Dog was injured in an automobile accident. Hans Schmidt took Vachon's place as Von Raschke's tag team partner. The Baron captured his first singles title of his career in Montreal defeating Edouard Carpentier for the IWA Championship on November 27, 1967. Von Raschke held the belt for a few weeks before losing the strap to Johnny Rougeau.
The Baron left Montreal and wrestled a few matches for the Sheik in Detroit and for Sam Muchnick in St Louis. While in St Louis, Von Raschke was fortunate to battle former NWA champion Pat O'Connor. During their match, O'Connor instructed the Baron to use the brain claw. This marked the first time Baron Von Raschke ever used the claw hold.
The next stop for Baron Von Raschke was the Dallas Texas territory promoted by Fritz Von Erich. Raschke feuded with Von Erich in a battle of the Germans. The Baron also teamed with another young wrestler destined for stardom, Dusty Rhodes, to win the American tag team titles in the summer of 1969. Von Raschke did not use the claw hold during his stay in Texas but did receive permission from Fritz Von Erich to use the claw hold as his finishing maneuver once he left Texas.
In early 1970, Baron Von Raschke made his debut for Dick the Bruiser's Indianapolis, Indiana based World Wrestling Association. The Baron received a huge push upon his arrival capturing the WWA heavyweight title from Dick the Bruiser on March 7, 1970 in only his second month in the promotion. Von Raschke took on "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan as his manager and was booked as the top heel in the WWA. As the Baron's reign of terror continued in Indianapolis, the brain claw became the most feared hold in the promotion.
Bruiser really played up the fact Von Raschke was a German nazi. The Baron would goose step and speak in a German accent during his interviews. It became a rallying cry that an American hero was needed to stop the hated German superstar. Many of the WWA's most popular stars including Yukon Moose Cholak, Wilbur Snyder, Paul Christy and Sailor Art Thomas tried to defeat Von Raschke but were unsuccessful.
Eventually, Dick the Bruiser took it upon himself to beat Baron Von Raschke. The bouts between Bruiser and the Baron often ended in count-outs or double disqualifications. Special matches were signed between the two adversaries where there would be a conclusive winner. On October 14, 1971, Bruiser defeated Von Raschke in a steel cage match to regain the WWA title. Bruiser and Von Raschke continued their war throughout the Midwest taking it to towns such as St Louis, Detroit and Chicago. With the help of his manager Bobby Heenan, Von Raschke regained the WWA title from the Bruiser on November 29, 1971 in Indianapolis. The Baron was a well-known star throughout the country by this point. This mega-feud with Bruiser had put him on the map.
Von Raschke continued to dominate the WWA for the next several months. He did drop the WWA title twice in that period of time. The Baron lost the belt to Sailor Art Thomas in Detroit but regained it shortly thereafter. Billy Red Cloud also scored a title victory over Von Raschke only to see the hated Baron win it right back a few months later.
The Baron finally met his match on March 31, 1973 when Cowboy Bob Ellis defeated him for the WWA title. Instead of trying to regain the strap, Von Raschke formed a tag team with another Heenan stablemate, Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd. Raschke and Ladd defeated Bruiser and Crusher to win the WWA tag team titles. Baron and Ernie held the belts a few months before dropping them to Bruiser and Bruno Sammartino. Baron Von Raschke had accomplished all he could in the WWA. It was time to move on to another promotion.
The Baron toured the United States for the rest of 1973 even having three matches against Bruno Sammartino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before returning to Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association in early 1974. Von Raschke was immediately paired with German superstar Horst Hoffman as a heel tag team. Hoffman was a huge star in Europe and was brought to the AWA to not only team with the Baron but to feud with British legend Billy Robinson.
The biggest feud Hoffman and Von Raschke had in the AWA was against the team of Superstar Billy Graham and Dusty Rhodes. Horst and the Baron were using the loaded black glove gimmick at the time and used their gloves to score many victories over Rhodes and Graham early in this feud. Dusty and the Superstar did triumph in the final matches of the feud around the AWA circuit though. Horst Hoffman left the AWA once the feud was over.
With his partner Hoffman returning to Europe, Baron Von Raschke resumed his singles career in the AWA. The Baron also found time to team with his old friend Mad Dog Vachon. Von Raschke was also developing his interview skills. He would tell the fans during his promos about how devastating the claw hold was and how he loved to squeeze blood out his opponent's skull. These types of interviews would become Raschke's specialty for years to come.
In the summer of 1977, Baron Von Raschke left the AWA to work for Jim Crockett's Mid Atlantic wrestling promotion based in the Carolinas and Virginia. Von Raschke was an immediate success capturing the Mid-Atlantic television title from Rick Steamboat on October 12, 1977 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Paul Jones issued a challenge to the Baron for the television title. Von Raschke accepted the challenge with one stipulation that the Baron and Greg Valentine receive a title shot at NWA tag team champions Jones and Rick Steamboat on the same night as the television title match. That night June 7, 1978, saw Von Raschke lose the television title to Paul Jones. However the Baron gained revenge as he and Greg Valentine defeated Jones and Steamboat for the NWA tag team titles. Von Raschke and Valentine held the tag straps for nearly six months before losing them to Paul Orndorff and Jimmy Snuka.
The Baron's adversary, Paul Jones, had turned on partner Rick Steamboat. As a result, Jones and Von Raschke formed a tag team. The tag team was an immediate success as Baron and Paul defeated Snuka and Orndorff on April 28, 1979 to capture the NWA tag team titles. Von Raschke and Jones were an effective tag team combining their skills to make a nearly unbeatable unit. Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan beat Paul and the Baron for the tag straps on August 8, 1979 but Jones and Raschke regained the belts two weeks later. Paul and Baron would hold the NWA tag team titles for two more months before losing them to Rick Steamboat and his new partner Jay Youngblood. Von Raschke competed in Mid Atlantic wrestling for several more months even turning face after a disagreement with Paul Jones. The Baron had done all he could for Jim Crockett Promotions. It was time to move on.
Von Raschke's next stop was Georgia Championship Wrestling. The Baron immediately started feuding with Tommy Rich over the television title establishing himself as a hated heel in the territory. Von Raschke's greatest success in Georgia came on June 8, 1980 when he defeated Austin Idol to win the Georgia heavyweight championship. The Baron held the belt for two months before losing it to Steve Keirn. Von Raschke worked in Georgia a few more months then returned to the Mid Atlantic area to settle a few old scores. Suddenly word came from the Midwest that Baron's longtime friend, Mad Dog Vachon, had been injured by Jerry Blackwell and Big John Studd. Von Raschke took the next plane to the Midwest so he could help Mad Dog and The Crusher exact some revenge.
The Baron immediately began feuding with Studd and Blackwell upon his return to the AWA. Von Raschke along with the Crusher and Mad Dog Vachon emerged victorious in their battles with Studd and Blackwell eventually driving John Studd out of the AWA. When Blackwell aligned himself with Sheik Adnan El Kaissy the Baron continued to team with Crusher and Mad Dog against the hated villains.
Von Raschke did receive a few title shots against AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel but came up just short of winning the world heavyweight title. The AWA fans loved the Baron making him one of the AWA's most popular wrestlers. Von Raschke also became one of the best interviews in professional wrestling constantly talking about the effectiveness of the claw hold.
After Blackwell and his new partner Ken Patera captured the AWA tag team titles from Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell, the Baron focused all his attention on winning the AWA tag titles with either Mad Dog or the Crusher. The trio of Raschke, Vachon and Crusher slowly wore down the champions until they were ripe for the picking. Finally, on May 6, 1984 in Green Bay Wisconsin, The Crusher and Baron Von Raschke defeated Jerry Blackwell and Ken Patera for the AWA tag team titles. Crusher and Baron held the straps for over three months before dropping the belts to the Road Warriors on August 25th, 1984 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Baron continued to wrestle in the AWA for several more months before moving on to the NWA for Jim Crockett Promotions. Von Raschke replaced Krusher Khrushchev as an ally of Ivan and Nikita Koloff. Together the Baron and the Russians reigned as NWA six-man champions until losing the title to Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors on May 17, 1986 in Baltimore, Maryland.
By 1987, Baron Von Raschke was starting to wind down his illustrious career. He began taking less matches so he could spend more time with his wife. The Baron even managed the Warlord and the Barbarian for a short time in the WWF. When the WWF didn't work out, Von Raschke returned to the AWA working an occasional match here and there. One of the Baron's final pushes was captaining a team called Baron's Blitzers in the AWA team challenge series. When the AWA folded in 1991, Von Raschke only wrestled once in awhile on independent shows in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
These days, James Raschke and his wife live about 200 miles
north of Minneapolis, Minnesota and own a gift-souvenir-lawn ornament shop that
is open during the spring and summer months. When the shop is closed during the
cold months, James Raschke works as a substitute teacher.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.
(Boston Globe, Monday, January 12, 1987)
By Edgar J. Driscoll Jr.
Steve (Crusher) Casey of Cohasset, former heavyweight wrestling champion of the world and retired owner of a Back Bay café, died Saturday in the Brockton Veterans Administration Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
Fit and active into his seventies, Mr. Casey had been described as "the last of the pre-television heroes in Boston. And perhaps in other parts of the country."
He also was a champion oarsmen and in recent years taught youngsters sculling on Cohasset’s Straights Pond.
Mr. Casey reigned over the matfrom 1936 to 1946, attracting crowds to Boston Arena, Boston Garden, Braves Field, Fenway Park, the old Mechanics Hall and such out of town emporiums as Madison Square Garden and San Francisco’s Cow Palace. He had wrestled in every state in the nation but Florida.
His opponents included wrestlers such as Strangler Lewis, The Shadow, The French Angel, Chief Little Wolf, The Sheik, The Hooded Terror, Tiger Tasker, The Hollywood Howitzer, The German Oak and Bronko Nagurski.
Mr. Casey, a native of County Kerry, Ireland, worked wonders on them all with his "Killarney Flip" and "Kerry Crush."
He first won the world championship in 1937 (sic). For the next decade the 220-pound, 6-footer defended his title against almost anyone who thought he could take it away from him. He lost his title for the last time to Frank Sexton in 1946 (sic).
"I never met a man I was afraid of – in or out of the ring," Mr. Casey told reporters when he first landed on the docks of East Boston in 1936 with 201 professional wrestling triumphs in Europe behind him. Sporting a pompadour haircut, he promptly posted a standing offer of $500 to anyone who could go 20 minutes with him in the ring.
He had been brought to this country at age 26 by the late wrestling promoter, Paul Bowser, of Lexington, who had guaranteed him $100,000 for a series of American matches that they both correctly felt would lead to the championship. Bowser once called him "the greatest athlete" he had ever seen.
When Mr. Casey arrived in the United States, wrestling was undergoing a great change, becoming more theater than skilled sport. A wrestler’s success was becoming more dependent on his acting ability than his wrestling ability. The mighty Crusher managed to combine both.
Mr. Casey developed his rowing skills, which he relied on to keep him in shape for his wrestling bouts, as a youngster in Ireland. He used to scull every day across Kenmare Bay to school and on Sundays to Mass. He also raced in regattas on Lake Killarney with his six brothers, father and grandfather.
"I never lost a rowing match," he used to say proudly. In 1932 (sic), he was headed for the Olympics but was ruled ineligible at the last minute when officials said that a wrestling bout for which he was paid the equivalent of $50 in U.S. currency made him a "pro."
After coming to this country, he continued sculling in mock races with Harvard crews on the Charles and participating in sculling events in other parts of New England and Canada.
He was especially delighted with the rowing victory he and two of his brothers, Jim and Tom, earned in 1940 over famed Boston scull racer Russell Codman, the city’s onetime fire commissioner.
The brothers won the one-mile contest from the Boston University Bridge to the Harvard Bridge. For their prowess, they received $1,000 from Codman and a cup donated by the late Bay State governor and U.S. senator, Leverett Saltonstall, a skilled rower himself.
"Codman was a real gentleman," Mr. Casey recalled. "He never thought three clucks from Ireland could beat him, but he finished fourth."
On retiring from professional wrestling after some 400 matches, Mr. Casey opened the Back Bay barroom bearing the name "Crusher Casey’s" in 1949. In 1968, Mr. Casey was critically wounded and one of his patrons killed when three armed men held up the bar.
In 1976, Mr. Casey, who maintained a camp in Princeton, was given a dinner in Hull attended by more than 240 people, including many noted names in the sports world.
Mr. Casey leaves his wife, Mary (Neiter) Casey; two sons, Patrick Casey of Cohasset and Michael Casey of Hull; a daughter, Margaret Marr of New York City; five brothers, James of Texas, and Patrick, Michael, John and Daniel, all of Ireland; a sister, Josephine Casey, also of Ireland, and three grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, in St. Anthony’s church, Cohasset.
THUNDERBOLT IS SILENCED
(Houston Chronicle, Thursday, January 6, 2000)
By Kevin Moran
DICKINSON – When television and gimmickry began taking over the world of professional wrestling, Jim "Thunderbolt" Casey knew it was time to bow out.
Performers such as George Raymond "Gorgeous George"
Wagner were moving in, and Casey refused to fake the action in his matches, his
wife, Myrtle, recalled Wednesday.
"He wasn’t going to play their game, so they could get others who did," she said. "He said if he was the better of the two, that’s the way the match was going to go."
So the Irish-born Casey – a legendary wrestler, boxer, rower, tug of war champion and member of what was billed as "the toughest family on earth" – left the ring in 1947 but didn’t quit looking for challenges.
The longtime Dickinson kennel owner, who schooled even NASA astronauts in the fine points of rowing, died Sunday at Mainland Medical Center of complications from a stroke. He was 87.
Services will be at 9:30 a.m. today in the Crowder Funeral Home chapel in Dickinson.
The former Pacific Coast and Texas state professional wrestling champion’s survivors include his wife of 54 years, a Galveston County native who met him when he literally fell in her lap after an opponent threw him from the ring during a 1945 wrestling match in Galveston.
Casey and his six brothers were champion rowers and national sports heroes in Irland before Jim, Tom and Steve came to the United States in the 1930s seeking their fortunes. Steve, nicknamed "Crusdher" Casey, won the world wrestling championship in Boston in 1938.
The seven brothers are enshrined in the Irish Sports Hall of Fame. The lone survivor among them now is Paddy, who is 90 and lives in Ireland.
"You don’t encounter many people in your lifetime like Jim Casey," longtime friend and Johnson Space Center director George Abbey said Wednesday. "What he did athletically over his career is amazing."
Abbey said he met Casey in the mid-1970s after a beefy Rice University team defeated Abbey, other NASA flight directors, scientists and astronauts in a tug of war during the annual Houston Highlanders Games.
"Jim and his brothers had won the Irish tug of war championship in 1932, when he was a young man," Abbey said. "They had trained for a year to go and take on the champion team that had won for many years. It was a continuous pull for 45 minutes before they finally beat them."
After training with Casey, Abbey and four other NASA men returned to the Highlander Games, stunning the Rice team, which was anchored by a star football lineman.
"They were standing there in amazement," he said. "It was really the technique that Jim taught us that enabled us to do it. He trained us and I think we won the next three or four years.
"He was anxious to get a rowing program started in the Clear Lake community and now we have one here," Abbey said.
Tales of the seven Irish brothers’ exploits abound. On display at today’s funeral will be a scrapbook containing hundreds of newspaper articles, wrestling-match posters and other items that tell the siblings’ story.
In November 1940, Jim and brothers Steve and Tom took up a challenge by New England rowing champion Russell Codman Jr. With the Joseph Kennedy family and thousands of other Irish-Americans cheering them from the banks of the Charles River in Boston, the Caseys humiliated Codman, who came in fourth out of four one-man sculls.
After Casey decided to quit wrestling, he and his wife opened successful nightclubs in the Boston area. When mobsters began trying to muscle into his business in the 1960s and threatened his family, Casey sold his club rather than go along with them, she said.
The family headed for California but never made it past Texas, said Myrtle Casey, 78.
They ended up in Galveston County, where Casey began buying and selling land. He and his wife opened one kennel, then built a larger kennel business on FM 646 that their son, James, and daughter-in-law, Gerianne, now operate.
"He was a good promoter and a good businessman and a success in everything he ever went into," his wife said.
Abbey noted that Casey also was a patriotic man who "came to be a real Texan, too."
"When he’d go back to visit in Ireland, he’d always have his cowboy boots and his white Stetson on," Abbey said. "He was a big man, but when you saw him with his boots and Stetson on, he was even more impressive."
DEATH OF FAMOUS SNEEM SPORTSMAN
(The Kerryman, County Kerry, Ireland, Friday, January 14, 2000)
By Seamus McConville
The famous family of seven Casey brothers from Sneem has been reduced to one sole survivor following the death in Texas last week of 87-year-old Jim Casey.
The survivor is Paddy Casey of Kingdom House, who celebrates his 90th birthday next month, just 62 years after Jim emigrated to the United States in the year his brother Steve won the world heavyweight wrestling championship.
The village of Sneem in its centenary publication has Steve Casey as their "millenium man" for his feat in being world heavyweight wrestling champion from 1938 to 1947 (sic).
The story of the Caseys of Sneem is legendary. All seven brothers were superb athletes, who excelled in a variety of disciplines, including boxing, wrestling, rowing and tug o’ war.
Paddy himself was to have joined Jim and Steve and their brother, Tom, in the United States in 1938 but broke his back and injured his spinal column in a wrestling match in Manchester. That accident put paid to his sporting career but never quenched his intense interest in sport.
Jim Casey started life in America in Boston where he and his brothers Steve and Tom performed a rowing feat in 1940 that became legendary in that city.
They had issued a challenge to race any four men in the country in a four-oar sweep. It was their intention, should the challenge be taken up, to bring one of their older brothers, either Mick, Dan or Jack, out from Europe to make up the crew.
There were no takers. But Russell Codman, a single sculls oarsman of repute, offered to race the Kerrymen. Before a throng of 250,000 lining the banks of the Charles River, the Caseys thrilled the crowd as they filled the first three places in the four-man race. Tom came in first, with Jim a length behind and Steve in third place.
Governor Saltonstall of Massachusetts presented the Caseys with the Governor’s Cu[p in honour of their famous victory and the cup was one of Jim’s most prized possessions at his home in Dickinson, Texas, where he died last week.
Jim Casey subsequently was to set a record time of 6 minutes and 35 seconds for single sculls over a 2,000-meter course on the Charles River.
On the wrestling scene, Jim was conscious of the fact that he
was living in the shadow of his brother Steve in the Boston area and he moved to
California where he was to become West Coast champion.
Jim sparred with and gave instructions to such notable screen stars as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. The latter two had wrestled in the amateur ranks before finding fame and fortune on the silver screen.
After winning Canadian and southern America wrestling titles in 1944, Jim moved to Texas, where he appeared in matches all over the Gulf coast as well as in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.
It was during a match in Galveston in 1945 that Jim had an unorthodox first meeting with the woman he was to marry, Myrtle Gillmore. He was thrown out of the ring by an opponent and all 240 pounds of him landed on the lap of the young lady.
It was not exactly love at first sight but they met at a theatre a few days later and they were married within a year.
Jim was unbeaten in many more years of wrestling and among the men he conquered was the great Dan O’Mahoney, the Corkman who had been world champion before Steve Casey arrived on the American scene.
In more recent years, Jim Casey kept dog kennels at Dickinson and coached teams of astronauts in the art of tug 'o war, which became part of their regime of training for trips into outer space.
Jim Casey is survived by his wife, Myrtle, his sons, Steve and James, daughter Patricia and brother Paddy.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As
We Liked It) Papers No. 109-2001
A MAY, 2000 INTERVIEW WITH DAVE MELTZER
(www.superstarbillygraham.com, May 27, 2000)
(The following is a written transcript of a phone conversation which took place on 5/27/00 between Wrestling Observer owner/editor Dave Meltzer and superstarbillygraham.com webmaster Steve Slagle.)
SLAGLE: Hey everybody, thanks for joining us here at www.superstarbillygraham.com, I'm Steve Slagle, and today we've got a special treat for our listeners. I'm really excited about it because any serious fan of professional wrestling is well aware of our guest today. His ground-breaking Observer newsletter not only set the standard for the "sheets" that followed it, but in my opinion laid a lot of the groundwork for the current internet climate, where internet news is geared more towards smart fans and breaking kayefabe. And now, fifteen years, I believe, since he started it, it's the trade journal of professional wrestling. It certainly is my pleasure to welcome Dave Meltzer to the "Superstar" Billy Graham website. How are you doing, Dave?
MELTZER: I'm doin' really good. Actually, it's been eighteen years since I started The Observer.
SLAGLE: Eighteen years, now, huh? Did you ever see that it would go this far? Did you envision how successful it would be?
MELTZER: I think when I started it I had no idea that it would, but I also thought it had the potential to be as big as it was, or maybe even bigger. It was just one of those things. I was in college at the time, and I had a bunch of friends in one of my classes, a newspaper class. I was just starting to do the newsletter and like three or four guys in my newspaper class subscribed, and we used to always talk about wrestling. These are guys where the 'real or fake' thing was never an issue. It was one of those things where we knew what it was, and enjoyed it as entertainment.
MELTZER: I thought that the whole world of wrestling was missing that whole perspective, and the audience it could reach. I thought if I could get that many readers, you know, people who are interested in this type of writing, in that little classroom, the potential is millions. Obviously, it never reached that level, and I never expected it would, although it did turn out bigger that I expected. But I can say I always knew the potential was there from the day I started it. I think that there was a niche that wasn't being covered. And, you know, everyone in wrestling was afraid of it, I think for all the wrong reasons. They didn't really understand the potential of what wrestling was. So, um...
SLAGLE: Well, the reason I ask is because at the time, it was such a closed society and everything, the average fan just had no idea about...
MELTZER: No, there was no...yeah, and they could've, because there was that curiosity, I thought wrestling had phenomenal curiosity. Here it is, on TV, a lot of people watched it, and there was no avenue for real news, at all, none. It wasn't what I set out to do, I started, like, doing the newsletter just for people who I traded tapes with. Then, a couple of people heard about it, and, you know, that's where it came from. But I never had any qualms about...I was writing about wrestling as it was, I wasn't writing some pro wrestling magazine story. I thought, you know, "I'm too old for that stuff!"
SLAGLE: Exactly, it kind of insulted your intelligence as fan, and I mean, because the only thing you could buy at the time were newsstand wrestling magazines. It was like, all of these made-up stories and everything...
MELTZER: Well, what happened was, when I was younger I did a newsletter, so I was connected to the newsletter industry, and even then, the newsletters had far, far more information quicker than the wrestling magazines, although it's nothing like today. But I knew the people that did newsletters, and I started getting them again, and I realize that there's so much I could've done with newsletters. Just by, you know, reviewing tapes, and stuff like that, which was in its infancy. You know what I'm saying? Just more insider comments. And then it kind of just grew into an unofficial trade journal.
SLAGLE: So you were originally a journalism student.
MELTZER: Yeah, this was in a newspaper class when this was all going on. I mean, I was going to end up being an NFL writer when somehow it got derailed.
SLAGLE: Well, it's a good thing for the wrestling business that you did. You know, so many people read the Observer and enjoy it, I know Billy enjoys reading it and really looks forward it. And that's what we're here to talk about today, "Superstar" Billy Graham. Now, as a fan, you go back to Billy's earliest days in the U.S.I mean, originally, he started his career in Calgary as Wayne Coleman, as you know. Then, I believe it was like `70 or `71, he moved on to the California circuit.
SLAGLE: What were your thoughts about Billy then, if you can recall?
MELTZER: Well, Billy Graham, he was my favorite wrestler when I first started watching wrestling, he was the favorite of all of my friends, and he was a heel at the time. He was so colorful, it was, it was the interviews and the colorful garb, you know, that did it. Looking back, we had some of the greatest wrestlers in the business, with Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson, as far as in-ring workers. They were more popular with the rank-and-file fans, Pat Patterson was the heel, he was Billy Graham's partner, and Ray Stevens was the top babyface. Peter Maivia was there, Rocky Johnson, Billy, those were the top guys in the territory, Pepper Gomez was around a lot too. I guess Billy was my original favorite or the group, he wa definitely the most colorful. Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson were more like the great workers. But I didn't really...it took me awhile to appreciate the talent of Patterson, as far as like in the ring and how phenomenal he was. Stevens, I mean everybody raved about him and he was a real popular guy, but I didn't, you know, when you first watch wrestling you don't really understand how Ray Stevens selling was what made Billy Graham (chuckling) look like a good wrestler. It was very early in Billy's career. Now I can look back and think, you know, Ray Stevens was probably like the best worker in the business at that period. There are a lot of people who will tell you he was the best. I didn't...it took me a while to figure that out.
SLAGLE: So was that mainly who he feuded with during this time period we're talking about? Ray Stevens....
MELTZER: Ray Stevens and Rocky Johnson were the guys I saw him wrestle most of the time.
SLAGLE: Now, Rocky, he would've been just about a rookie then, too, wouldn't he have?
MELTZER: Rocky had been in for several years. I think Rocky probably started around the mid-sixties. Rocky was a helluva athlete. I wouldn't say Rocky was the worker that Patterson was, but Rocky was a very exciting wrestler as far as a tag team guy. Making the hot tag, Rocky's still one of the best I've ever seen.
SLAGLE: Yeah, and he had some good moves, too. That drop-kick was awesome!
MELTZER: He had a phenomenal drop-kick for his size, or any size. Rocky had one of the best drop-kicks I've ever seen, even going back thirty years later. And, you know, he would do the backdrops and land on his feet, he was very agile. Plus, Rocky had a good body. You know, in those days, Rocky and Billy were very different because most of the wrestlers did not have good physiques. That was another thing were Billy stood out. He was a real big guy, and he wasn't fat. Rocky, in those days, was even more muscular than Billy. Billy got more muscular later, but they had good physiques and the rest of the guys didn't. You know, Stevens and Patterson did not have good physiques at all, they just happened to be great workers.
SLAGLE: Now, I was speaking earlier to Billy, because he had sent me some photos for the website, and there were some pictures he sent of himself and Patterson when they were the tag champs for the NWA. This was `71 I believe. Now, in the photos, both men, but Pat in particular, are wearing masks. Billy was explaining this whole idea behind it to me, and how it used to get so much heat for them. I was wondering if you remember this masked gimmick?
MELTZER: You know, that was one of the earliest gimmicks I saw. They would do interviews, you know, the gimmick was that they would wear masks and they'd put a foreign object in the mask and then headbutt and pin the babyface. They did it all the time. Patterson actually probably originated the gimmick, although it may have been done years earlier in the territory, I don't know. But I recall, you know, Pat Patterson did the mask gimmick where, um, you know, the gimmick was that there faces were so pretty that they didn't want to let the fans see their faces. They would wrestle the whole match with masks and then they'd do the interviews with the mask off. But they would always win with the foreign object headbutt. So, that was what that was all about. In fact, that was what set up the Billy Graham-Ray Stevens feud. They had a tag team match at the Cow Palace where Billy Graham used a loaded headbutt and got the pin on Ray Stevens. The tag match set up the series of U.S. title matches that followed.
SLAGLE: That's great...because, I mean, the pictures were just amazing, and they'll be on the website so people will be able to see what I'm talking about. They're some really great photos. Now, in hindsight, how important do you think it was to Billy Graham's credibility in the beginning for him to be portrayed as a member of the Graham "family." It may not mean a lot to fans currently, but back in the sixties and seventies, I mean, you couldn't get much bigger than the Grahams, so, do you think that maybe Billy could've made it on his own, or did he need that gimmick to help him get established? What do you think about that?
MELTZER: I think with his looks and interview ability that he would've made it just as big on his own. It may have helped him...I mean, like, in San Francisco, they did bill him as being part of the famous Graham "family," but I don't think the Graham's...I mean, we had Luke Graham years later and it didn't mean anything. You know what I'm saying? I mean, at all. So, it's not like the Graham name was guarantee of anything. I think in the AWA, which is where he really hit it big as a main-eventer for a long run with Verne, which is the territory he worked, I don't know if it was directly after San Francisco, but it was shortly after it...
SLAGLE: Well, it was in 1973, `cause that's the first time I saw him, like you were saying you saw Billy, you know, the first time...
MELTZER: The first time was going back to Los Angeles, and then San Francisco, yeah, and then he went to the AWA. So when he went to the AWA, I don't think the Graham name had anything to do with it, because by then, you know, he had the right look and the right package. For New York, yeah, the Graham name was real big in New York, but he would've been just as big with any name in New York, I think.
SLAGLE: Well, I was just thinking maybe, like, when he was first coming into the L.A. territory, it might've helped him get a step up.
MELTZER: It probably helped him get his foot in the door, that he was with Jerry Graham. But, in some ways, it was almost as much a disadvantage just because, you know, Jerry Graham was Jerry Graham.
MELTZER: "My God, he's friends with Jerry Graham...what if he's like Jerry?"
MELTZER: You know, Jerry Graham was a phenomenal talent, but Jerry Graham also had incredible baggage.
SLAGLE: Well, he really made Billy look good in comparison, that's for sure, like as far as even just standing next to him.
MELTZER: Billy would be like a saint next to Jerry, to a promoter!
SLAGLE: Yeah...now, of course, Billy Graham has had a lot of imitators over the years. I don't think people...some people don't realize just how many people that he's really influenced. I mean there's the obvious ones, Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan and those guys, but I was wondering what your thoughts on some of the Graham imitators from over the years, guys like Austin Idol, Steve Strong, who wrestled in California during the seventies, I'm sure you're aware of him...
MELTZER: I know Steve Strong (pictured right), yeah.
SLAGLE: Who was your favorite of the Graham imitators, and who do you think really captured the essence of his character, and what The Superstar was all about?
MELTZER: I think Jesse was the closest. I mean, Hogan was the most successful. But Hogan took it to a different...and, you know, Jesse took it his own way, too.
SLAGLE: What about Austin Idol, what did you think about...
MELTZER: I mean, Austin Idol was a big star in the southeast, you know, so he did real well. Austin Idol was a combination, I saw Idol as sort of a, you know, there was Billy Graham there, no doubt about it, with the big arms and everything like that. You know, I'm sure there was that influence because when he was Dennis McCord, or Mike McCord, I mean, he wasn't, uh, he wasn't going anywhere. But I mean, as far as like, to me, the most entertaining was Ventura. To me personally.
SLAGLE: Now, is this Ventura in the AWA, or the WWF Ventura?
MELTZER: The AWA Jesse Ventura. Because, you know, he had the same type of dress as Graham, he took it a little bit further, because he came later. The same interview style as Graham, and maybe, actually, I think Jesse may have even been a better interview, I don't know...
SLAGLE: Ya think?
MELTZER: But I as a fan, like, Jesse was not a good wrestler in the ring, but as a fan, I always enjoyed Jesse Ventura as a personality a lot. Especially in the AWA.
SLAGLE: Yeah, `cause he wasn't afraid to be a heel, just like Graham. I mean, really making people hate him. And the same goes with the WWF, but they kind of portrayed him in a way that you could get behind his character. But whereas in the AWA, he was just, he was just a bad guy or whatever. So yeah, that's my choice too, definitely Jesse. Now, I wanted to touch on something that we kind of mentioned earlier, and that's that Billy is often thought of as a wrestler who basically got over on his charisma, and not necessarily his wrestling technique. Now, I kind of disagree with that in a sense because you know, granted, Superstar wasn't doing a lot of high-flying moves and such. But you touched on Ray Stevens' selling, earlier, and how that really kind of is a subtle way of being a professional. I really think that applies to Billy, because I've seen so many of his matches, and he just sold like crazy, for guys that were much smaller than him, and obviously couldn't overpower him. What do you think about Graham as a worker?
MELTZER: I mean, I wouldn't, you know...his forte' to me was the interview ability and the colorfulness. I think that's what got him over. I think as far as in the ring, I think his psychology was good. He knew, I mean, he really knew what to do in the ring as far as how to work a crowd. Then, obviously, he was a tremendous money draw for his day. He could reach the crowd. In that way, he was a smart worker. Athletically, he didn't do things you would normally associate with a great worker, like a Terry Funk or a Jack Brisco or anything like that. But...
SLAGLE: He always made his opponents look good, though...
MELTZER: Well, he sold. He wasn't an egomaniac out there in the ring, which, you know, a big guy like that could've gotten away with. Especially because he was a big star. Maybe that was the San Francisco territory indoctrination, because, you know, Roy Shire was such a detail man. In Roy Shire's match, everybody looks good. I grew up with that style of wrestling, everybody looks good. You could be the biggest star in the universe, and you go in there for a television match, and it wouldn't be a two-minute squash. It would be a seven minute match, and the guy who was losing would get three or four minutes, and I mean, one or two near falls. You had to do the complete match. We saw squash matches that were, I wouldn't say better matches than the matches of today because that wouldn't be fair. But they were, um, psychologically, better matches than the majority of matches today, because Roy Shire just had tremendous detail work about the match, and everything the match had to be. So, Billy's second territory...first of all, he's watching Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson, who were the premier workers in the business, and he's being told by Roy Shire everything he's doing wrong, so...I think that that probably stayed with him his whole career. That's why, you know, when he did matches, he knew how to make the other guy look good, rather than just making himself look good. And I guess he figured if he made the other guy look good, then because he was so big and strong, he had to show vulnerability. Because if he looked like Superman, I mean, why would the people pay to see a babyface beat him if they thought the babyface couldn't? So, you've gotta give `em...which is actually something that a lot of guys don't understand today. You've got to give them that hope for the babyface to win, because if the fans have no hope that the babyface will win, the last thing they want to do is spend their money to see the babyface get squashed by the big powerful guy. So, in that respect, he totally understood that. I mean, like, you watch his matches, and he didn't guzzle people up.
(to be concluded in New WAWLI Papers 110-2001)
A MAY, 2000 INTERVIEW WITH DAVE MELTZER (continued)
(The following concludes a written transcript of a phone conversation which took place on 5/27/00 between Wrestling Observer owner/editor Dave Meltzer and superstarbillygraham.com webmaster Steve Slagle. The first half appeared in The New WAWLI Papers 109-2001.)
SLAGLE: Yeah, not at all. Now, you know Graham feuded feuded all over the place with just about everybody you can think of during his era. He had some really classic feuds with a number of different individuals like Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes of course, Bob Backlund, Mil Mascaras, Peter Maivia, Ray Stevens, all those guys, Dick the Bruiser, is there one or two in particular that you feel really clicked best with Graham, in terms of of drawing heat and audiences and just the quality of matches? Does anybody stand out?
MELTZER: See, the thing is that in those days, we didn't see everything. So you're relying on wrestling magazines, which were, you know, fictional. I mean, I was lucky in the sense that what we used to do...you know, we didn't have VCR's until the early eighties, and Graham was then past his prime. His prime years were the seventies. So, we could trade pictures, but you can't tell anything in a picture, um, but I did get audio tapes. I always used to trade audio tapes with people in Chicago or Minneapolis or, you know, Denver, so I heard a lot of the promos in the AWA, and I heard all of his promos in the WWWF because I used to trade audio tapes with a guy in New York. So, in that sense, as far as promo work, to me, I would say, I mean the stuff that he did here with Stevens, I mean he was new, and he got much better afterwards. I think, to me, his interviews really clicked in the AWA with Wahoo and The Crusher. Bruno obviously drew the most money with him of anyone, so I guess that would be the biggest. I think he had great chemistry, because of the interviews, with Dusty Rhodes. Dusty stole some of his interview stuff, and they both were great interviews. Neither were great technical wrestlers, but it was like, they were both...you know, Dusty Rhodes was the top babyface outside of probably Bruno, as far as territorial babyfaces in the southeast. And Billy, Billy was arguably the top heel in the business at the time, certainly right up there. So, Dusty was a perfect opponent for him, where Bruno, in the northeast, was a perfect opponent for him. I remember the stuff with Crusher and Wahoo, maybe more The Crusher than Wahoo, and that's stuff that I remember, but I didn't see most of it. It's had to compare. The stuff I've seen on video, you know, I've seen a few old tapes of Bruno and Superstar Graham matches, and you know, Backlund matches. I didn't think Backlund was that great of a worker, so those matches weren't necessarily that good. They were better in the magazines than when I actually saw them. So that's the stuff I would say I remember, but, again, I didn't actually see most of it.
SLAGLE: Yeah, that's the only bad thing, he came ten years too soon. He missed out on not only the big contracts, but also small as having his matches on tape. I mean, there's still stuff out there, but...
MELTZER: Verne has those tapes, I know because I've seen the Billy Graham stuff advertised on Verne's PPV's. He'll still got all of those interview tapes, and those interviews, I would think the interview hold up better than the matches. I mean, I can remember Billy Graham interviews today, and they're on par with everyone but the very top interviews today. When I say most, I mean 90% of the guys today.
SLAGLE: Definitely, I would agree with you on that. Now, when Superstar returned to the WWF, as you remember, he he left in `79 and came back in `82, and that's when he had the new karate persona. Now for me at the time, as a fan, and I was just a young teenager at the time, you know, I thought it was kinda cool, just `cause it was something different. Although I liked the colorful Graham better, still, he was really intense and a really, you know, just a bad ass dude. I was wondering what your initial thoughts were about Graham's karate persona were at the time.
MELTZER: Actually, by then we had VCR's, so I saw all of that. I mean, physically, he wasn't what he once was. But, you know, I thought he was hilarious. He knew the facials, he did the interviews...on the interviews, angle-wise, I thought he was tremendous. That's why he still drew big money, even though physically he was not the Billy Graham that he was in the seventies. A lot of it was the name, that was a magical name in the northeast.
SLAGLE: Now, another big aspect of Graham when he was in the WWF was the Grand Wizard. In my opinion, the Wizard was just the about the perfect manager for a guy like "Superstar" Billy Graham. But they also had a couple of other managers who, as you remember, handled all of the bad guys, Albano and Blassie. Do you think maybe Graham would've been better off...or, how do you see him with a different manager? What are your thoughts on the Wizard?
MELTZER: With a lot of the guys, it
would've made a difference. But with Graham, I would say that his persona was so
powerful, he didn't need a manager. The guys who needed a manager were the ones
who needed help talking. I remember all of the pictures with Graham and the
Wizard, and you know, it would've worked just as well with Blassie, or even
Albano. I think Albano would've been the worst of the three for him, the way
that the mix was. Blassie would've been a good one. I don't think that who the
manager was made a bit of difference with him. With a lot of the guys, the
manager was the heat, more than the wrestler. That's in some of the cases, with
the weaker challengers. But in Billy's case, the name Billy Graham meant more
than any manager could.
SLAGLE: Now, we mentioned it earlier, how "Superstar" Graham was so far ahead of his time, and he brought so much that was new and different to the sport, and really, in a lot of ways, changed the business. At least here in the United States...
MELTZER: I would say that he changed the business, um, from an influence standpoint, I think he is one of the most influential wrestlers there ever was.
If you really look at it. I mean, because Billy Graham was the catalyst of Vince McMahon's vision of wrestling. That was Vince's favorite wrestler in the seventies. And, he wanted the wrestlers to look like Billy, and, you know, that whole aspect, with the steroids and everything. And then, just, you know, Hogan. You know, Hogan, I mean, he wouldn't have been Hulk Hogan without Billy Graham. That's what his character was copied after, and you know, if Hulk Hogan had copied himself after Jack Brisco, it wouldn't have worked to the same degree. It might've worked, but it...or Terry Funk, it wouldn't have worked to the degree that it did. Billy was a better copy for Terry Bollea. And you know, hey, if it wasn't for Billy Graham, we'd never have a Jesse Ventura, the government would be different. I mean, I'm serious. His influence, it's almost hilarious, his influence was so incredible in our culture, that it's almost staggering. I, uh, you know, I never really never think about it much, but then when I do, it's just like, my God, there would be no Jesse, there would be no Hogan, the wrestling of the eighties would've been totally different. I mean, he one of the most influential characters in the history of this business and pop culture. Not necessarily on what he did, but what he led to. And what he did, I mean, obviously he was a huge star in the seventies, but what he led to far outweighed what he actually did.
SLAGLE: Yeah, his legacy is really the key...
MELTZER: And if you look back on guys who influenced the business, he's up there, he's up there with the top guys. There were plenty of guys who held World titles longer, and probably made more money in the business and had more longevity and were better wrestlers or even better interviews, but they did not have his influence on changing the business. It's like, you take Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan out of this industry, and it's like, wow, think about that!
SLAGLE: Yeah, it sort of boggles your mind if you sit there and think, "What if Superstar Graham had never existed?" I mean, you know, it would change everything...
MELTZER: There would've never been...even Flair! I mean, Flair was not a Billy Graham copy...
SLAGLE: He was influenced, though, for sure...
MELTZER: Well, Ric Flair started wrestling...his career started at the same time Billy Graham was the top heel in the AWA. so, obviously, there's something there. I mean, you take Billy Graham out of the equation and it's just, wow, entirely...the business would be entirely different. I mean, I'm not trying to say he's as important as Hogan or Vince, but he shaped both of their visions of wrestling.
SLAGLE: Yeah, if it wasn't for him, both of those guys would have been radically different from what we know them as today.
MELTZER: Vince would've been a different person. He may very well have been just as successful. Hogan would've been a different person, and there's no way he would've been as successful. I mean, I'm sorry, but there is just no way. Like I said, it would've just been a completely different business.
SLAGLE: WIth that in mind, by today's standards, a ten-month reign is, you know, considered quite long. Other than, I mean, I guess Triple H has had it for that long, but in WCW it's inconceivable at this period in time to have a ten-month World title reign. But in the seventies, when Graham had the title for ten months, the WWWF title, it was considered pretty short. Now, in retrospect, do think that Vince Sr. made the right decision by taking the belt off Graham before he showed signs of his drawing power waning? Do you think it was the right time?
MELTZER: Well, you have to understand what the whole thing was. The W.W.W.F. was a formula promotion. It was built on a babyface champion, the babyface champion going over, good conquering evil. So, it's pretty hard to have a heel champion. If you look at Billy's reign as compared to Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales, it was relatively short. But his reign compared to the other transitional champions, which is really what Billy was, which is The Sheik, Stasiak and Ivan Koloff, which were all, you know, a few days, a few weeks, it was extremely long. So, he was the longest reigning World champion of that era. As far as...if you look back now, and you look at the attendance figures and Billy's success as a drawing card, yes, it was taken away from him too soon. But, you know, he'll tell you the story, the day he won it he basically knew the day he would lose it. It was like, i don't know what he told me, it was like 4 to 6 months before he won it when Vince Sr. called him up. He said, "OK, you're going to win the title here," you know, told him the day, told him the place. When he won the title, he already knew when he was going to lose it. Vince Sr. was like, he had the long-term plan. And the plan was...Billy was the transitional champion between Bruno, who was getting older and didn't want to do it anymore probably, and Backlund, who he was going to make into the new All-American boy, and that's just how it was. Those plans were made, and the fact that Billy drew so well...they didn't change the plan. I mean, if it was today, but today they wouldn't let anyone hold the title that long because they're too impatient, and it's just a different business, the way the TV is...
SLAGLE: Yeah, it's hard to compare the two.
MELTZER: You can't compare that ten-month reign, you know, with now. But, so, it's a different thing. Yeah, they could've sat there and gone, "You know what? He's drawing so well..." But at the same time, you only have so many top babyfaces in the territory. But, there could've been more guys. He could've gone on longer, there's no doubt about it because it's like...if the crowds were dwindling, and you're looking at it going, "OK, the crowds are dwindling, it's time to make a change." But with Billy, that never happened.
SLAGLE: Yeah, the crowds never waned at all...
MELTZER: No, they didn't. So this was the plan. Billy's role was to put Backlund over for the belt You know, when it was time for Backlund to get his shot, that was it. They made the decision to go with Backlund. Whether it was...you know, Backlund was a successful champion, which is hard to believe, looking back, but he was.
SLAGLE: Now Dave, I know you have to get going, you've got your own audio show to do in a few hours on Eyada.com, but I wanted to thank you for taking some time and talking to us here today about Billy. I know he really appreciates it too, and I just want to say thanks.
MELTZER: Yeah, well, Billy's been a friend of mine for years, and you know, I mean, seriously, I don't know if this is the case because you just never know, but I don't know that I would've been a big wrestling fan if he wouldn't have come along. Maybe I would've, you know, just watched wrestling for a month or two and then lost interest, but it was that period where he was in San Francisco and it just kind of sucked me in. And fortunately or unfortunately, I've never gotten out! And he did that with a lot of people. I think people today, because so many of the fans now are new fans, and there's not a lot of interest in wrestling history, but there are so many people in the AWA area and Texas and Florida and California and New York who got sucked into wrestling because of the charisma of Billy Graham. Hogan and Jesse being two of them...
SLAGLE: Well, I would be the third, because, I mean, I started watching wrestling when I was three years old because of "Superstar" Billy Graham. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have even started watching, but I saw this guy and it was like "Wow, look at him!"
SLAGLE: And, you know, I've been hooked ever since.
MELTZER: Well, I would've started
watching it, `cause I started watching it before he came into the territory, and
all the kids that were my age, fifth grade, they all watched it. But I don't
know if I would've stayed with it, I don't know if I would've been as interested
in it. I mean, when I first started begging my parents to take me to live
shows...you know, of the guys in the main event, he was the reason more than the
other ones. Maybe I would've ended up being just as big of a fan, I don't know.
I do that my first...I mean, Billy Graham & Pat Patterson were the guys I
wanted to see. But, you know, I was very fortunate in that I grew up where the
promoter was a detail man, where the wrestling actually made sense, and it kind
of, you know, you start learning what draws and what doesn't. That was a good
place to learn, because it's a lot better to learn when you see what makes sense
than from promotions that aren't doing well. It doesn't makes sense, and you
don't really understand, like, how wrestling...I don't know, he used a lot of
concepts of wrestling. Shire was, um, I think it was very fortunate for Billy to
work early for Shire, too. I think that probably helped him a lot, as far as
like his psychology.
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