THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.111-2001
(ED. NOTE – David Williamson produced a small pamphlet a couple of years ago entitled "Valentine Days: A Look Back at Johnny Valentine." It consisted of Xeroxed clippings of wrestling cards and match summaries, all of which featured the late Johnny Valentine. He charged a nominal sum for the pamphlet, now out of print, and donated a dollar of that toward Valentine’s medical bills. Here is "Valentine Days," all typed out for your reading enjoyment.)
Paterson NJ: February 14, 1959
(Armory) … Antonino Rocca and Miguel Perez vs Johnny Valentine and Tokyo Joe … Karl Von Hess and Don Evans vs Guy Brunetti and Joe Brunetti … Big Zebra and Little Zebra vs Pedro Escobar and Greg Jarque … Tony Martinelli vs. Dan Miller … Mr. Puerto Rico vs Larry Simon
New York City NY: January 23, 1961
(Madison Square Garden) … Antonino Rocca and Johnny Valentine beat Roy Heffernan and Al Costello … Primo Carnera and Bruno Sammartino beat Danny Mcshain and Reggie Lisowski … Pat O’Connor beat Hans Schmidt … Mark Lewin and Don Curtis beat Swede Hanson and Herb Larsen … Dick Steinborn beat Chick Garibaldi … Tito Carreon beat Angelo Savoldi
Charlotte NC: Monday, March 26, 1962
(Coliseum) … (WTM) Buddy Rogers* vs Johnny Valentine (Referee: Abe Jacobs) … Kurt Von Brauner and Karl Von Brauner and Saul Weingeroff vs George Becker and Eddie Graham and Dick Steinborn … Hans Schmidt vs Swede Hanson … Rip Hawk vs Johnny Weaver … Luther Lindsey vs Gypsy Joe … Chief Big Heart vs Mike Paidousis
London ON: February 12, 1964
(The Gardens) … Johnny Valentine vs Shohei Baba … Whipper Billy Watson vs The Destroyer … Hans Schmidt vs Jim Hady … Fred Atkins vs Billy Red Lyons
St. Louis MO: November 20, 1964
(Kiel Auditorium) … (WTM) Lou Thesz* vs John Paul Henning … Wilbur Snyder and Johnny Valentine vs Rip Hawk and Gene Kiniski … Bill Miller vs Pat O’Connor … Dick the Bruiser vs Joe Tangaro … Bobby Graham vs Don Slatton … Moose Evans vs Mongolian Stomper … Angelo Poffo vs Joe Tomasso
Chicago IL: January 22, 1966
(International Amphitheatre) … (WWA Title) Dick the Bruiser* vs Johnny Valentine … (AWA Title) Mad Dog Vachon* vs Wilbur Snyder … Moose Cholak vs Verne Gagne … Larry Hennig and Harley Race vs Angelo Poffo and Bobby Managoff … Dale Lewis vs Guy Mitchell … Jose Betancourt vs Huey Long
St. Louis MO: June 16, 1967
(Kiel Auditorium) … (WTM) Gene Kiniski* vs Edouard Carpentier … Reggie Lisowski and Fritz Von Erich and Moose Evans vs Dory Funk Jr. and John Paul Henning and Wilbur Snyder … Dick the Bruiser vs Johnny Valentine … (Ladies) Adrienne Ames vs Jessica Rogers … Guy Mitchell and Earl Maynard vs Mitsu Arakawa and Jack Donovan … Angelo Poffo vs Tor Kamata
VALENTINE BATTLES THE BRUISER IN SPECIAL ATTRACTION
(St. Louis program, June 16, 1967)
Dick "The Bruiser" is disappointed. "I didn’t get the title shot at Kiniski," he sneered.
As such, he plans to vent his anger on an old adversary, Johnny Valentine, in a special attraction event which is ticketed for one fall with a 20-minute time limit.
"The Bruiser" thought he should have had the title match, following his fine work against Kiniski in the May 19 tag feature. But Edouard Carpentier also was outstanding that night and has been for some time, so the Frenchman got the bid.
That doesn’t soothe The Bruiser’s anger, however, and he plans to take it out on Valentine.
However, blond Johnny has ideas of his own, for he, too, hopes for a title shot in the near future.
And, undoubtedly, Valentine has a psychological edge. For soon as he steps into the ring, the fans go wild with applause and cheers, setting up a din which drowns out the ring announcer.
Then, when John applies his brainbuster on top of his opponent’s head, the crowd roars approval again.
Of course, The Bruiser won’t be standing there taking it without attempting retribution. And he goes to any extreme to manhandle his foes, including picking up anything that’s not bolted down and occasionally using it.
A fast-moving 20 minutes is in prospect, if the bout lasts that long.
Miami Beach FL: June 19, 1968
(Auditorium) … Red Bastien vs Johnny Valentine … Wahoo McDaniel vs Great Malenko … Blue Demons vs Sputnik Monroe and Sam Steamboat … Miguel Perez vs Duke Keomuka
Fort Lauderdale FL: February 23, 1968
Johnny Valentine vs Joe Scarpa … Paul DeMarco and Lorenzo Parente vs Blue Demons … Duke Keomuka vs Tito Romero … Seiji Sakaguchi vs Dewey Robertson
Miami Beach FL: March 6, 1968
(Auditorium) … Johnny Valentine vs Eddie Graham … (Elimination Tournament) Wahoo McDaniel … Aldo Bogni … Jose Lothario … Yoshi Suzuki … Red Bastien … George Harris … Buddy Fuller vs Bronko Lubich
VALENTINE PINS GRAHAM
(Miami Herald, March 7, 1968)
Johnny Valentine beat Eddie Graham in the best-of-three-falls main event Wednesday night on the wrestling card at Miami Beach Auditorium.
In other contests before a crowd of 2,700, Wahoo McDaniel downed Aldo Bogni in the final of an elimination tournament. Buddy Fuller stopped Bronko Lubich and Jose Lothario drew with Red Bastien.
Miami Beach FL: March 15, 1968
(Auditorium) … Lou Thesz vs Johnny Valentine … Aldo Bogni and Bronko Lubich w/George Harris vs Eddie Graham and Lester Welch … Paul Vachon vs Jose Lothario … The Viking vs Sam Steamboat
KINISKI KEEPS MAT TITLE
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Nov. 2, 1968)
Gene Kiniski retained his world heavyweight wrestling title at the City Auditorium Friday night after he and The Professional were counted out of the ring after 21 minutes of the main event.
In other bouts for the night, the team of Bob Armstrong and the Torres brothers defeated Jim Starr and the Vachon brothers; Paul DeMarco and Johnny Valentine battled to a draw; Ray Gunkel whipped Billy Garrett; Dale Lewis was announced the winner after The Outlaw was disqualified, and Bill Dromo bested Oki Shikina
VALENTINE WINS GEORGIA TITLE
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Nov. 9, 1968)
In City Auditorium wrestling Friday, Johnny Valentine won the Georgia heavyweight title, defeating The Professional. The Torres brothers and Bob Armstrong stopped the Vachon brothers; Ray Gunkel and Bill Dromo beat The Outlaw and Seiji Sakaguchi; and Dale Lewis and Mario Galento fought to a "no decision."
VALENTINE HOLDS GEORGIA CROWN
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Nov. 16, 1968)
The Georgia heavyweight champ, Johnny Valentine, retained his title as he and The Professional were both disqualified in their match at the City Auditorium Friday night.
In a six-man tag match, the Torres brothers and The Outlaw beat Seiji Sakaguchi, Oki Shikina and Dandy Jack; Bob Armstrong beat Stan Vachon; Bill Dromo and Ray Gunkel beat Jim Starr and Billy Garrett, and Pepi Gomez stopped Ronnie Paul.
ASSASSINS WIN BOUT
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Nov. 23, 1968)
The Assassins won the Georgia tag team trophy by defeating the Torres brothers before a full house at the City Auditorium Friday night.
Mad Dog Vachon defeated Freddie Blassie and Johnny Valentine defeated Bob Armstrong in preliminary events. And in other matches, Seiji Sakaguchi beat The Outlaw; Ray Gunkel and Bill Dromo defeated Stan and Butcher Vachon; and Buddy Fuller won over Timmy Geohagen.
Boxing immortal Joe Louis will be on hand as a referee for next week’s bouts.
LOUIS UPHOLDS STATE MAT TITLE
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Nov. 30, 1968)
When both men were counted out outside the ring, referee Joe Louis decided not to award the Georgia heavyweight title to anybody Friday night in wrestling’s main event at the City Auditorium. The one-time great boxing champ refused to recognize either Johnny Valentine or The Professional.
In other bouts of the night, the team of Ray Gunkel, Buddy Fuller and Big Bill Dromo defeated the three Vachon brothers (Paul, Maurice and Stan); The Assassins whipped Bob Armstrong and Dick Steinborn; Dale Lewis outgrappled Bob Boyer; The Outlaw tamed Pepi Gomez, and the Torres Brothers whipped Skaguchi and Shikina.’
VALENTINE, THESZ DRAW
(Atlanta Constitution, Saturday, Dec. 14, 1968)
Lou Thesz and Johnny Valentine wrestled to a draw in the main event on the mat card at City Auditorium Friday night.
Other events went to The Assassins over Stan Vachon and Louie Tillet; Dale Lewis over The Outlaw; Ray Gunkel and Buddy Fuller over Seiki Sakaguchi and Oki Shikina; and Bill Dromo over Joe Turco.
FANS BACK VALENTINE
(Houston Post, Tuesday, March 8, 1970)
Johnny Valentine will have the crowd behind him when he goes into Friday’s main event at the Sam Houston Coliseum against Japan’s Toru Tanaka whether he likes it or not.
But the sudden popularity that the big blond will achieve will not change his style.
"I’m not in there for cheers," he told promoter Paul Boesch in a long distance call from Tokyo. "I am in there to do what nobody else seems to be able to do and that is to whip this Japanese with my own style."
Valentine flew to Japan to fulfill contracts that kept him over there a little over two weeks. He is not due back in Texas until Thursday night but he will arrive in top condition and with what he believes is the secret to stopping Tanaka’s karate.
The scrap is one fans have asked for repeatedly and should be wild, but Tanaka refuses to agree that Valentine has learned anything that will help him.
"I am Ichiban in Japan and Ichiban here, number one all the time, every place, number one!" he shouted.
Tickets are on sale at 2022 San Jacinto at Gray.
("Valentine Days" will conclude in The New
WAWLI Papers No. 112-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.112-2001
(ED. NOTE – This is the concluding installment of "Valentine Days," a pamphlet of wrestling cards and match summaries first issued by David Williamson. It is continued from The New WAWLI Papers No. 111-2001)
Houston TX: March 12, 1971
Pepper Gomez vs Toru Tanaka … (Ladies) Maria DeLeon vs Marie LaVerne … Gorgeous George II vs Bronko Lubich w/George Harris … Thunderbolt Patterson vs Tim Woods … Johnny Valentine vs Jimmy Valiant … George Scott vs Chris Markoff w/George Harris … (Referees: Dick Raines and Danny McShain)
‘WHERE’S WAHOO?’ DEMANDS J.V.!
(Houston Wrestling program, March 12, 1971)
"Where’s the Indian, where’s Wahoo, where’s the great champion, the favorite of the people?" sneeringly demands Johnny Valentine. "Did he run out because he knew I was going to challenge him? Is he in hiding in his teepee because a real champion, a man who holds double honors, the Brass Knucks trophy and the Texas state belt, wants to show him up as a real paper Indian who belongs on the comic pages? Where'’ Wahoo, did he toodle-oo with the belt so nobody could prove he is a gutless redskin, a warrior who doesn’t like the warpath?"
Greensboro NC: July 12, 1971
(Coliseum) Wahoo McDaniel vs Toru Tanaka … (Cage Match) Johnny Valentine vs. The Blimp (George Harris) (plus other matches)
St. Petersburg FL: February 8, 1972
(Bayfront Center) … (WTM) Dory Funk Jr.* vs Jack Brisco … Bob Roop vs Johnny Valentine … Bobby Shane vs Great Malenko … Shohei Baba and Hiro Matsuda vs Bobby Duncum and Ole Anderson … Infernos and J.C. Dykes and Ronny Garvin vs Johnny King and The Australians and Johnny Walker … The Sheik vs Mr. Wrestling … Bearcat Wright vs Mike Paidousis
Cleveland OH: May 4, 1972
(Arena) … (NWF "world" title) Waldo Von Erich* beat Hans Schmidt … Bruno Sammartino beat Luke Graham … Johnny Valentine drew Bobo Brazil (nc) … John Fargo and Don Fargo drew Dom DeNucci and Tony Parisi … Hartford Love and Reginald Love drew Dan Miller and Bill Miller … Tony Marino beat Buddy Austin (dq)
Dallas TX: September 26, 1972
(Sportatorium) … Johnny Valentine vs Mil Mascaras … Fritz Von Erich and Jose Lothario vs Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk … Bearcat Wright vs Lord Robert Duncum … Johnny Rico vs Christopher Colt … Frank Monte vs Ron DuPree
Buffalo NY: November 22, 1972
(Memorial Auditorium) … Johnny Valentine vs Ernie Ladd … John Fargo and Don Fargo vs Tony Parisi and Domenic DeNucci … Raul Castillo and Fidel Castillo vs Luis Martinez and Manuel Soto … Eric the Red vs Baron Scicluna … Jacques Rougeau vs Dr. X … Abdullah vs Bear Cat (plus ladies match)
Rochester NY: November 28, 1972
(War Memoral) … (world title match) Johnny Valentine* vs Ernie Ladd … John Fargo and Don Fargo vs Tony Parisi and Dom DeNucci … Waldo Von Erich vs The Executioner … (Mixed match) Eric the Red (plus midget) vs Ramond Rougeau (plus midget) … Fidel Castillo and Raul Castillo vs Luis Martinez and Jacques Rougeau
St. Louis MO: January 19, 1973
(Kiel Auditorium) … Johnny Valentine vs Harley Race (plus other matches)
St. Louis MO: February 2, 1973
(Kiel Auditorium) … (WTM) Dory Funk Jr.* vs Johnny Valentine (plus other matches)
Miami Beach FL: February 9, 1973
(Convention Hall) … (WTM) Dory Funk Jr.* vs Johnny Valentine … Jack Brisco vs Bobby Shane … Infernos w/J.C. Dykes vs Australians w/Jonny King … Great Malenko vs Mike Paidousis … Shohei Baba and Hiro Matsuda and Duke Keomuka vs The Alaskans and George Harris … Mr. Wrestling vs Ronny Garvin … Bearcat Wright vs Juan Lopez … Johnny Walker vs Ron Sanders
Toronto ON: February 11, 1973
(Maple Leaf Gardens) … (WTM) Dory Funk Jr.* vs Johnny Valentine … The Sheik w/Abdullah Farouk vs Tony Marino (plus other matches)
Detroit MI: May 5, 1973
(Cobo Arena) … The Sheik vs Johnny Valentine (wearing an asbestos mask) … Bobo Brazil and Tony Marino and Bull Curry vs Tim Brooks and Jerry Graham and Eddie Creatchman … Tex McKenzie vs Pampero Firpo … Fred Curry and Luis Martinez vs George Steele and Great Kabuki
Dallas TX: May 15, 1973
(Sportatorium) … Johnny Valentine and Ivan Putski and Billy Red Lyons vs. Blackjack Mulligan and Missouri Mauler and The Brute w/Gary Hart … Viking vs Ricky Hunter … Jose Lothario vs Tom Jones (plus other matches)
Tampa FL: July 24, 1973
(WTM) Jack Brisco* vs Johnny Valentine … Tio and Tapu (The Samoans) vs Mike Graham and Kevin Sullivan … Lou Thesz vs Chris Markoff … Paul Jones vs Great Mephisto… Don Carson vs Jerry Oates … (Midgets) Little Bobo and Wee Willie Wilson vs Little Bruiser and Billy the Kid … The Saint vs Stan Hansen
Miami Beach FL: August 1, 1973
(Convention Hall) … Lou Thesz and Paul Jones vs Johnny Valentine and Buddy Colt (Referee: Joe Walcott) … Tio and Tapu (The Samoans) vs Mike Graham and Kevin Sullivan w/Louie Tillet … Tim Woods vs Don Carson … (Midgets) Darling Dagmar vs Diamond Lil
Miami Beach FL: August 22, 1973
(Auditorium) … Tim Woods vs Great Mephisto … Johnny Valentine vs Bill Dromo … Mike Graham and Kevin Sullivan vs Tio and Tapu (The Samoans) (plus other matches)
Miami Beach FL: August 29, 1973
(Auditorium) … Johnny Valentine vs Bill Dromo … Tim Woods vs Don Carson … Dick Slater and Tio and Tapu (The Samoans) vs Paul Jones and Kevin Sullivan and Mike Graham (plus other matches)
Toronto ON: December 16, 1973
(Maple Leaf Gardens) … (WTM) Jack Brisco* vs Johnny Valentine … The Sheik vs Billy Red Lyons … (other matches featuring midgets, Lord Athol Layton, Raymond Rougeau and Jacques Rougeau)
Tampa FL: May 21, 1974
(Fort Hesterly Armory) … Buddy Colt vs Bill Watts … Pak Song vs Dusty Rhodes … Ron Fuller vs Johnny Valentine … (AWA title match) Verne Gagne* vs Red Beard (plus other matches)
Winston-Salem NC: April 18, 1974
(Memorial Coliseum) … Johnny Valentine vs Johnny Weaver … Ole Anderson vs Bearcat Wright … Paul Jones vs Gene Anderson … (Midgets) Haiti Kid vs Sonny Boy Hayes (plus other matches featuring Bob Bruggers, Sandy Scott and Abe Jacobs)
Winston-Salem NC: May 23, 1974
(Memorial Coliseum) … Swede Hanson vs Super Destroyer (Don Jardine) … Bob Bruggers and Paul Jones vs Johnny Valentine and Rip Hawk … Sandy Scott vs Mr. Ota … Haystack Calhoun vs George Harris … Tiger Conway Jr. vs Bill Ash … Ric Flair vs Ed Wiskowski … John Heideman vs Les Thatcher
Winston-Salem NC: June 13, 1974
(Memorial Coliseum) … Paul Jones and Bob Bruggers vs Johnny Valentine and Rip Hawk … Mr. Ota and Mr. Hayashi vs Sandy Scott and Tiger conway Jr. (plus other matches)
Greensboro NC: July 25, 1974
(Coliseum) … Johnny Valentine vs Sonny King … Paul Jones vs Super Destroyer … Chuck O’Connor and Ivan Koloff vs Klondike Bill and Danny Miller (other matches featuring The Avenger, Tommy Seigler, Les Thatcher and Ed Wiskowski)
Greensboro NC: September 5, 1974
(Coliseum) … Wahoo McDaniel vs Johnny Valentine … Ric Flair vs Tiger Conway Jr. … Andre the Giant vs Super Destroyer … Mr. Ota and Mr. Hayashi vs Danny Miller and Sandy Scott (plus other matches)
Greensboro NC: October 3, 1974
(Coliseum) Johnny Valentine vs Wahoo McDaniel … Ivan Koloff vs Paul Jones … Rip Hawk and Ric Flair vs Swede Hanson and Tiger Conway Jr. (plsuother matches featuring Art Nelson, Johnny Weaver, Sandy Scott and Abe Jacobs)
Winston-Salem NC: January 4, 1975
(Memorial Coliseum) … Wahoo McDaniel and Paul Jones and Sonny King vs Johnny Valentine and Ric Flair and Ivan Koloff … Gene Anderson and Ole Anderson vs Sandy Scott and Bob Bruggers … Chuck O’Connor vs Charlie Cook … Don Kernodle vs Frank Morrell … Mr. Hayashi vs Mike Stallings
Winston-Salem NC: February 8, 1975
(Memorial Coliseum) … Johnny Valentine vs Sonny King … Ivan Koloff vs Paul Jones … Art Nelson and Mr. Fuji vs Sandy Scott and Kevin Sullivan … George Harris vs Klondike Bill … Abe Jacobs vs Mike Paidousis … Joe Furr vs Frank Monte
Smithfield NC: February 25, 1975
(Smithfield-Selma High) … Paul Jones and Wahoo McDaniel beat Johnny Valentine and Ric Flair (plus other bouts)
Charlotte NC: March 3, 1975
(Park Center) … Johnny Valentine vs Paul Jones … Ric Flair vs Ken Patera … Cowboy Parker and Art Neilson vs Sandy Scott and Tommy Seigler … Mike Stallings vs Frank Morrell … Bill Crouch vs Joe Furr
Greensboro NC: March 13, 1975
(Coliseum) … Johnny Valentine vs Wahoo McDaniel … The Avenger vs Super Destroyer … Dusty Rhodes vs Ric Flair … Chris Taylor vs Brute Bernard
Greensboro NC: August 17, 1975
(Coliseum) … Johnny Valentine vs Dusty Rhodes … Ole Anderson and Gene Anderson vs Wahoo McDaniel and Paul Jones … Ric Flair vs Rufus R. Jones (plus other matches)
JONES, WOODS TO CHALLENGE VALENTINE, FLAIR
(Charleston Post & Courier, September 19, 1975)
This week’s Mid-Atlantic wrestling program will present a new face to local fans when Tim Woods (formerly masked Mr. Wrestling) teams up with Rufus R. Jones to take on the big blond team of Johnny Valentine and Ric Flair.
Last week, Valentine and Rufus fought one of the toughest matches of the year and both asked to take a partner for this week’s main event at County Hall Friday night.
In the semifinal match, Steve Keirn and Doug Gilbert will team up to take on the team of Ron Starr and The Avenger.
The No. 2 prelim will have Joe Soto meeting Klondike Bill. Opening the show at 8:15 p.m. will be Don Kernodle meeting Larry Sharpe.
VALENTINE, FLAIR DISQUALIFIED
(Charleston Post & Courier, Saturday, Sept. 20, 1975)
Ric Flair and Johnny Valentine were disqualified by the referee in Friday night’s main event at County Hall.
Flair and Valentine were disqualified for failing to obey the referee who had ordered them to stop beating on their opponents, Rufus "Freight Train" Jones and Tim Woods.
In the night’s other matches, Steve Keirn downed Doug Gilbert, Klondike Bill beat Joe Soto and Don Kernodle whipped Larry Sharpe.
Ron Starr and The Avenger wrestled to a draw.
Asheville NC: September 21, 1975
Johnny Valentine vs Wahoo McDaniel … Ric Flair vs Tim Woods
… Great Malenko and Missouri Mauler vs Tiger Conway Jr. and Steve Keirn
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.113-2001
FAMOUS SPORTING FAMILIES MEET
(Southern Star, County Cork, Ireland, Oct. 12, 1985)
(ED. NOTE: By way of explanation, from the "Danno Book" – "The different spelling of Danno’s surname will be noticed in the text due to the fact that, in Ireland, the name is spelled O’Mahony while, in America, it is O’Mahoney, with the accent on the letter ‘o’ in pronunciation.")
By John Wilcock
On Saturday, October 5, 1985, in Ballydehob, members of two of Ireland’s most famous sporting families met for the first time in the West Cork village, where the late Danno Mahony, world heavyweight wrestling champion in 1935, was born. Steve Casey from Sneem, Co. Kerry, who won the world heavyweight title in 1938, was home on holiday from the U.S.A. and together with his brother Paddy, also on holiday from London, and Jack, a successful farmer in Sneem, and a keen deep sea fisherman, travelled to Ballydehob to visit Danno’s brothers, William, Jack and Dermot.
It was a very special meeting for the famous six men, who excelled in sporting circles far and wide, powerful men in their day, exceeding six feet in height and upwards to 16 stone weight. All were splendid athletes, men of striking physique and remarkable strength, the O’Mahonys had many record performances in the 56 lb. weight and hammer events. At tug-‘o’war the fame of the Casey and O’Mahony brothers was recognised throughout Ireland and also abroad. The Casey brothers’ skills at rowing are unequalled to this day. Jack’s son, Michael Noel Casey, was coach to the England rowing team at last year’s Olympics in Los Angeles and Jack’s daughters Bernie and Caroline have been All-Ireland champions and in 1984 won the ‘sculls’ and ‘pairs’ at Henley’s famous regatta.
Paddy Casey had his career cut short by back injury. Viewers will have been him being interviewed by Brendan O’Reilly on R.T.E.’s "Talk of Times Past" shown on September 14. Paddy with three of his brothers won the ‘Henley Fours’ and wrestled for Britain at the Olympic semi-final in 1936. Steve Casey returned home to Cohasset, Mass., U.S.A. on Monday, October 7. Since his last wrestling bout in 1946 (sic) he has maintained his interest in sport and taught rowing and coached wrestling at Harvard University. The Casey brothers sp9oke with great affection of Danno. Steve said "we all lost a great friend when Danno died and more especially me." The meeting was at times emotional as they recalled old memories and it was very evident that both the O’Mahonys and Caseys had great respect for each other’s families, and their meeting that day marked an unforgettable experience long to be remembered by them and strengthen with affection their bond of friendship.
The reception for the occasion took place at "The Irish Whip" hosted by John and Cathy Wilcock who welcomed the Casey and O’Mahony brothers and said it was an honour to share such an historic occasion. John Levis, chairman of the Danno Memorial Committee, extended a warm welcome to the Casey brothers on behalf of his committee and the people of Ballydehob. It was, he said, a great honour to be in the presence of the great Steve (Crusher) Casey, who was the mightiest of Danno’s opponents. Mr. Levis went on to say that it was a great pleasure that through the efforts of Mr. Jack Pollard and Paddy Casey they were able to include so much in the Danno Book relating to the Casey family from Sneem.
It was indeed an historic day that will long be remembered in Ballydehob and he thanked them for coming to Ballydehob. Mr. Jack Pollard, author of the Danno book, read extracts from the book relating to the Caseys, and referred in particular to the "biggest hands in sport" Steve Casey’s, which measured an incredible 28’ span.
Mr. Pollard related that the "Casey reputation" goes back a generation. Their father Michael was a big man who sparred with the great John L. O’Sullivan, a mighty achievement indeed. John Levis also recalled that the O’Mahonys’ father, "Big Dan," also features in the Danno book, and how at a sports meeting at Union Hall Big Dan won six events and was known as "the idol of West Cork." There were numerous other tributes recalling the feats of both families, that will live on in memories and have their place in sporting records. Mrs. Nora McSweeney, Stouke, added to the warmth and friendliness of the occasion with a lovely floral arrangement and a beautifully decorated cake with the inscription "Welcome Steve, Paddy and Jack Casey from the O’Mahonys, Ballydehob."
CRUSHER CASEY: WAS HE IRELAND’S GREATEST SPORTSMAN?
(Irish Independent, Munster Edition, Wednesday, May 17, 2000)
The boys of the Kingdom of Kerry seen glory on many a
But the brothers called Casey from Kerry at wrestling were surely the cream,
The most famous of all at the spin, flip and fall,
Was the famous Steve Casey from Sneem
--from The Famous Steve Casey by Bryan McMahon, 1938
By John Daly
They don’t make men like Steve "Crusher" Casey any more.
In 1938 he was crowned Heavyweight Wrestling Champion of the World and retained the title for nine years until he retired, undefeated, in 1947 (sic). He is the only Irishman ever to retain a world title in any discipline for such an extended period of time and will be honoured in his native Sneem, Co. Kerry, this Saturday.
To mark the achievements of a man frequently described as "Ireland’s greatest sporting hero," a life-size bronze statute will be unveiled by Olympic medal winner Ronnie Delaney to celebrate one of the Kingdom’s most famous sons.
Born in 1908 in this picturesque village on the southwest Kerry coast, Steve Casey was one of a family of seven brothers who, in their younger days, claimed to be "the toughest family on earth." Famous locally for their exploits at rowing, tug-of-war, wrestling and boxing, the seven brothers were inducted into the Irish Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, the only group ever to receive that honour.
"It wasn’t from the hills or the mountains they brought it," goes a local saying in Kerry, and yet, in the Caseys’ case, the opposite holds true. Sprung from a union between Mike Casey, a renowned bare-knuckle boxer who was once a sparring partner for world boxing champion John L. Sullivan, and Bridget Mountain, a champion oarswoman on the Southern coast, the combined sporting gene pool clearly dictated the future glory of their seven sons.
Both parents worked for the Vanderbilt family at their summer estate in Newport, Rhose Island, during their younger days. Mike Casey oversaw the employment and operation of the extensive fleet of racing sculls maintained by the millionaire family, particularly during the Newport Regatta each summer.
"I told Mr. Vanderbilt if he’d pay passage for a gang of oarsmen from Sneem to come over, we’d beat all around us," Mike once recalled.
Cornelius Vanderbilt duly obliged and The Hibernians, as they were christened, won every event they entered for three years.
Possessed of a fine physique measuring 6’ 4" in height and 17st. weight, Steve Casey was an exception to the norm when plentiful food was hardly the staple diet of rural households.
"T’was never from eating too much we got it," he once remarked. "Whether it came from my father, my mother or God himself, we were blessed by nature."
A famous tale is often recalled of his teenage days working with the Forestry Department around Templenoe. The clearing of land involved six men working with a sturdy drayhorse constantly propelling a heavy turntable. One day, the horse dropped from exhaustion and all work stopped. Steve immediately tackled himself up to the horse harness and single-handedly powered the turntable for the rest of the day.
Having won every Irish rowing contest by the early 1930s, Steve and Paddy Casey became members of the British amateur wrestling team in 1935 and traveled across Europe winning every match in their categories. Being in need of extra money, as sporting grants were practically nonexistent at the time, both brothers wrestled professionally for ready cash.
"Steve and his brothers found it hard to get anyone in the ring with them after a while," recalled Gerald Egan, a wrestling manager who arranged many of their matches. "Nobody in England would take them on and pretty soon most of the European wrestlers felt the same way. The brothers were simply unstoppable and I advised them to move to America as quickly as possible to capitalise on their success."
Later that year, with the aid of brothers Tom and Mick, they entered and won the All-England Rowing Championships – a natural springboard for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Unfortunately, the fact that they had wrestled professionally forced their disqualification from the team that eventually went to Germany. Most observers of the time, and the Caseys themselves, were utterly confident they would have won all six rowing events they entered.
"Jesse Owens showed Adolf Hitler how poor his Aryan race really was," commented Jim Casey. "But if the Caseys went to Germany, we’d have drowned his ambitions with the spray of our oars." With little left to achieve in Europe, Steve Casey headed to America in search of greater glory. In quick succession he defeated the cream of U.S. wrestling – Bronko Nagurski, the French Angel, Charlie Stack, Rube Wright, the Dusek brothers aka the Omaha Terrors, Bibber McCoy and Louis Thesz.
In 1938, Casey was crowned the undisputed wrestling heavyweight champion of the world – a title he defended on numerous occasions without defeat (sic) over the next nine years.
"1938 is a long time ago," wrote Fionan O’Shea, retired national school teacher and secretary of the Sneem welcome home committee. "The economy of Ireland was at a very low point. There were no Celtic Tigers around, not even a fat mouse. When Steve came home a world champion, he lifted the spirits of Ireland with his sporting exploits and put Sneem on the world map." With a ruthless ability to tangle even the best opponents in his legendary "Killarney flip" in the ring, Casey also proved himself a media darling with his gift for understatement on the sidewalk.
"I never met a man I was afraid of – in or out of the ring," he once told the Boston Herald. "No man has ever harassed me. But if you think I’m good you should meet my six brothers. They are not only wrestlers – they will outfight, outrun or outrow any men in the world."
On another occasion when six intruders broke into his Boston bar, Crusher Casey’s, Steve took a bullet in the back defending the place. "They caught the three guys and gave them nine months. I had to spend a year in hospital, but I’m still alive. Irishmen never die until they’re dead."
Not content with his wrestling title, Steve Casey moved into the boxing ring in 1940 where he defeated the U.S. champion, Tiger Warrentown. "All who saw the Warrentown-Steve Casey fight, including Jack Dempsey, were of the opinion that Steve would beat Joe Louis," wrote journalist Dermot Clarke.
He immediately challenged Joe Louis for the world heavyweight championship. In the only refusal of his sporting career, Joe Louis declined the challenge. "Even the greatest run scared of the Sneem Machine," ran the New York Post headline.
Steve Casey and his wife Eileen had two sons and a daughter, Margaret, who distinguished herself as an oarswoman while a student at Harvard.
In 1983, the Casey family organised a family reunion in Sneem. While all seven brothers were alive at the time, only five were able to make the trip. Then in their 70s, the brothers climbed once again into the same four-oar boat they used to win the championships in 1930, ’31 and ’32. Although they had not rowed together in 50 years, the same unity and natural grace remained undimmed with the passing of time.
"Their oars broached and cleared the water in perfect unison," wrote Jim Hudson in his book, ":The Legend Of The Caseys." "Backs erect, arms outstretched, they propelled the boat through the shimmering waters as smoothly as a raindrop sliding down silk. Many of those crowding the shoreline found it difficult to cheer because of the lumps in their throats. They knew they were watching the final performance of the greatest oarsmen and finest individual athletes Ireland had ever seen."
In a career where he remained unbowed and unbeaten for over 40
glorious years, Steve Casey lost the only match of his life when he succumbed to
cancer in 1987. In a fitting tribute among the many thousands from around the
world, his brother Paddy put it best: "If it wasn’t for Steve, none of us
would have ever been heard of."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.114-2001
TWENTY QUESTIONS FOR THE ROCK
(Montreal Gazette, October 13, 2001)
By Dave Stubbs
Six years ago, Dwayne Johnson was sleeping on a soiled mattress he had hauled from a Dumpster in Calgary, finally quitting with $7 to his name when he failed to catch on with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders.
Today he’s The Rock, World Wrestling Federation and Hollywood action-movie star and a best-selling author, a millionaire many times over. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, he’ll lift the roof off Montreal's Molson Centre during a taping of WWF Smackdown!, and Ottawa's Corel Centre a night earlier, during Raw.
Twenty questions, then, with "the most electrifying man in sports entertainment" because, finally, The Rock has come back to Montreal:
1. Do your wife and family call you Dwayne, or The Rock?
Usually Dwayne, but sometimes a lot worse than that if I’m not on good behaviour.
2. How much money is in your pocket, at this minute?
$62, not counting credit cards.
3. You’re in airplanes almost constantly. How has your life changed since the horror of Sept. 11?
I find myself constantly thinking now of my baby daughter, and thinking of her genuine innocence and wanting to protect her at all costs, much like anyone else who has kids or a family. I don’t have the luxury of staying off planes, though I wish I did. However, I will stand by the notion that I will not live my life in fear.
4. Your trademark arched eyebrow -- "the People’s Eyebrow." Who’s the first person you ever gave it to?
My eighth-grade girlfriend. I was rounding third, getting ready to hit home, and she put up the big stop sign.
5. You’ve got many, but which is your favourite catchphrase?
I don't have one favourite but of course, "If you smell what The Rock is cooking" is one. Now, considering the time of crisis we’re in: "Just bring it." And on a lighter note, asking someone if they’d like to try some of "the People’s Strudel."
6. Most embarrassing moment in the business?
About three years ago, working as a heel in Madison Square Garden, I came out feeling frisky, sauntering as only The Rock can saunter, and made a quick leap into the ring. I slipped onto the ring apron and almost knocked my ribs through my back. Everybody started to laugh, and I started to laugh, trying to mask the pain.
7. How much Rock merchandise do you have in your home?
Actually, none. My mom, however, has an entire room solely dedicated to her baby boy. And it amazes me, because every single bit of merchandise is sent to my assistant, then sent to my mom, and it’s an amazing sight to me. Every time I go home there’s always something new in that room, from a little pinball machine to guys’ boxers.
8. Last thing you do as you leave the dressing room to go to the ring?
I give thanks to the Good Lord for giving me strength.
9. The best part of starring in The Mummy Returns and the upcoming Scorpion King, and the worst part of being a sports entertainer?
The best: being able to tell long, compelling, evocative stories -- and, of course, requesting chocolate-chip cookies in my trailer every day. And the worst: the honest answer is I have no answer -- I absolutely love the industry and what I do. (Laughs) But, if I’m booked in one more match against the Big Show, I’m quitting.
10. What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve been asked to autograph?
Not so much bizarre as pretty cool: signing a tattoo of my bull (logo), or just a pair of eyes with my eyebrow, or even my face, knowing this fan will then tattoo my signature on themselves. It’s on thighs, booty cheeks, backs, even breasts. (Laughs) Usually I sign "The Rock’s", apostrophe "s", as if it’s mine.
11. Who’s the most impressive person you’ve ever met?
Muhammad Ali. And if only I’d have been so lucky to have met Martin Luther King Jr.
12. You’ve got a fine voice. Do you serenade your baby daughter?
I’d like to think I have a decent voice, but I attempted to sing her a lullaby last night and it had the reverse effect. Instead of her falling asleep, she cried for hours.
13. It’s 2019, and she’s just turned turned 18. Do you approve of her dating a pro wrestler?
Assuming I haven’t been cloned by then, unequivocally, absolutely I do not approve. But then again, as bad as I was, hell no, across the board.
14. Best friend in the business?
Four, in the WWF: Pat Patterson, Steve Austin, Vince McMahon, and Shane McMahon.
15. You have a lot of time to kill backstage. How do you entertain yourself?
Generally I’m in some sort of meeting or on the phone, conducting business within the industry or, say, the movie business. I wish I had more time to kill -- the camaraderie in our locker room is second to none. I enjoy hanging out and laughing with the guys. But every TV (production) day, no matter if it’s a big match or just a promo segment in which I’m talking, I look at it like game day, with a game face.
16. When you’re in the ring, do you read the fans’ signs?
Every night. Anybody who knows me knows how much I appreciate the passionate fans we have, and I know how much time they put into their signs. I’ve loved a big moving eyebrow; a big moving hand saying "Just Bring It"; a woman's sign about pie that’s been Rock-tested and approved; and guys dressed up in aprons and chef hats, spelling: "We smell what The Rock is cooking." In Montreal, when I hear, "We smell what you’re cooking" in French, it doesn’t get any better than that.
17. When you have a championship belt, is it in your carry-on luggage or your checked bags?
I never have it with me. There’s a guy with the WWF who takes care of it. If I have it with me, everybody wants to see it. If it was in a checked bag, I’d be afraid it’d be stolen. (Laughs) At least I’m not like the Dudley Boyz, who wear theirs around their waists walking through airports.
18. What’s the most romantic thing Dwayne Johnson’s ever done?
Let me ask my wife. (He does.) OK, I was filming The Scorpion King on the West Coast, a long way from home, and my wife was three months pregnant. Any woman who’s gone through it knows the first trimester is the "hell period," and my being away was very difficult. So I hired a very good Elvis impersonator. He went and sang a specific list of love songs to her, with all the other women in her office around.
19. When did you last cry?
Dwayne cries every time he sees that damn movie Beaches. It really gets to me. The Rock cries every time he hears Tazz talk on the microphone, and he’ll cry the next time he hears Pat Patterson sing My Way in a karaoke bar.
20. OK, the referee’s back is turned. Under what circumstances would you advocate the use of a foreign object?
In the sports entertainment industry? Any time it helps you to prove your point. Outside the industry? (Laughs) Any time your mother-in-law thinks she has a point to prove.
VON ERICHS, ARENA IN DALLAS PART OF LORE
(Charleston Post & Courier, October 14, 2001)
By Mike Mooneyham
Few wrestling arenas in the country have generated as much
lore and fable as the now-aged Dallas Sportatorium. The heart and soul of World
Class Championship Wrestling during its heyday in the early and mid-1980s, it
was here that the lives of wrestling heroes somehow became entwined with the
fictional world of which they were a part. The candle burned out long ago at the
Sportatorium. The adoring, overflow crowds moved on.
The world famous Sportatorium is now a decaying structure. All that remains are the memories of those rocking Friday nights when the arena was a wrestling shrine for the Von Erich family and their red-hot World Class promotion.
Years ago the dark, run-down building would come to life on Friday nights when wrestling's favorite sons ... the Von Erichs ... and their renegade band of rowdies would transform the arena into a rock concert atmosphere of frenzied fans, especially teen-agers who were drawn to the good looks, athleticism and charisma exuded by the young gladiators and the loud, pulsating music that accompanied them to the ring.
Scantily clad females would flock to the arena each week hoping to exchange glances with the Von Erich brothers, comic book stars who were elevated to the level of gods, thanks in large part to their iron-fisted father's matchmaking magic.
The Sportatorium faithful in those days included a young, blond-haired dockworker named Steve Williams (the future Stone Cold Steve Austin) and a 6-9 basketball player at Fort Worth's Texas Wesleyan University named Mark Calaway (the future Undertaker).
The Von Erichs launched a televised wrestling revolution in the early '80s ... several years before Vince McMahon would take the wrestling industry to new levels. Von Erich family patriarch Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson) was producing a syndicated wrestling show called World Class Championship Wrestling, which ran in 66 national television markets, as well as Japan, Argentina and the Middle East. World Class evolved into a showcase for the Von Erich family.
His stars were seen on television sets from Texas all the way to Israel and South Africa. And, in the end, the All-American Von Erichs would always overcome tremendous odds to defeat the villains.
Unfortunately, in real life the lines between good guy and bad guy were not so closely drawn, and abuses ran rampant. Fritz Von Erich and four of his five sons who worked for the promotion died, three the victims of suicide, one from questionable circumstances during a tour of Japan.
Only Kevin Von Erich, the oldest son, would survive, barely escaping death. Tragedy would befall a number of wrestlers who gained fame and notoriety during the Von Erich era, with many from the ill-fated promotion dying before their time.
The list includes Bruiser Brody, Bobby Duncum Jr., Terry Gordy, Gino Hernandez, Scott Irwin, Dick Murdoch, Rick Rude, Buzz Sawyer, Jeep Swenson and ring announcer Ralph Pulley.
The glamour of the ring would die with them.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.115-2001
(Minneapolis City Pages, November 15, 2000)
By Mike Mosedale
"Okay guys," barks Eddie Sharkey. "Let's start
taking some bumps!" Taking a bump--learning how to fall without getting
hurt -- is the most basic lesson in professional wrestling. Eddie Sharkey, the
self-avowed Trainer of Champions, is a believer in the basics.
"You gotta get 'em so it's second nature," he explains during an afternoon lesson at his Pro Wrestling Camp. Sitting ringside in a folding metal chair, Sharkey is content to let Charlie Norris demonstrate. Norris, a veteran headliner and a longtime Sharkey protégé, climbs into the ring, and a dozen or so wrestlers -- fat and skinny, old and young -- form a line to wait their turn. One by one, the brawny Norris hurls them to the mat, which produces a loud thud, metallic clank, and a critique from Sharkey. "See how them people hit the mat? Look how they break their fall with both arms, how their chins are tucked on their chests," Sharkey says with a note of pride. "We protect 'em real well. Have to. This can be a dangerous business."
In the warm months, Sharkey's students take their bumps in the back yard of a 1940s-style bungalow, tucked in a quiet residential district of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. But with a cold front blowing in, Sharkey and his partner, Terry Fox, agreed it was time to move the ring into a two-car garage behind the house. "I hate it when we gotta move inside," Sharkey grouses. "It's just depressing." A short, muscular man of 63, Sharkey looks like an ex-wrestler straight out of central casting. He has a meaty face, an unruly shock of reddish hair, broad shoulders, and a barrel chest that speaks to a lifetime spent in the weight room.
A few exposed light bulbs dangle from the ceiling. There is not a lot of clearance between the rafters and the ring. So until outdoor practice resumes in the spring, Sharkey says, his wrestlers will simply have to forgo the high-flying, off-the-ropes stunts that are a mainstay of the contemporary game. "They can do mat work, learn how to sell," he says, finding the silver lining. "There's always things to work on. And we can practice later because we don't bother the neighbors as much when we're in the garage." The chipboard wall at the back of the garage is plastered with dozens of wrestling bills, advertising shows at bars, VFWs, and high school gyms. Some of the cards are promoted by Sharkey, under the banner of Wrestle America 2000 or Pro Wrestling America, others by Fox. It is strictly small-time, straight-to-cable-access stuff. But for students at Sharkey's camp, the shows provide a valuable opportunity to practice their craft in front of a live audience. Some even hope they will get good enough to win an audition with a bigtime outfit like the World Wrestling Federation.
In his four decades in the wrestling business, Sharkey has worked in surroundings more humble than Terry Fox's garage. A few years back he taught lessons on a makeshift boxing ring that sat on some railroad ties. For a while, he trained in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church in south Minneapolis. He didn't even have access to a ring, just a small padded mat. If a wrestler miscalculated while taking a fall, Sharkey says, a hard concrete floor did the teaching: "It's amazing how good they got. And how quick they got good."
Sharkey's prize pupil from that era, "Luscious" Lenny Lane, landed a contract with World Championship Wrestling -- wrestling's number two company -- less than two years after he began training with Sharkey. Graduates of Sharkey's other camps include some of the best-known names in the game: the wildly popular tag team the Road Warriors, the late "Ravishing" Rick Rude, even Jesse "The Body" Ventura. "A couple of years ago, I tried to sit down and count 'em all, but I couldn't," Sharkey says proudly. "There's been so many. I'm pretty sure I've had more world champions than anyone else."
In the past, Sharkey's camps (he resists the use of the term school) generally consisted of one, two, sometimes four guys. But since he partnered up with Fox, who grew up watching Sharkey wrestle and has been a nut for wrestling ever since, enrollment has boomed. Currently there are some 30 regulars at camp, each of whom shelled out $3,000 for the tutelage. "Nobody's getting rich off this," Sharkey insists, pointing out that tuition entitles wrestlers to participate in camp as long as they wish. Some come for three months. Others hang around for years.
Most days, camp is casual. Wrestlers drift in and out and work at their own pace. But today, Sharkey is looking for a more regimented workout. For most of the past year, Sharkey has promoted a monthly show at the Main Event sports bar in Fridley. A few weeks ago, following a disappointing turnout, Sharkey lost the gig, and he has no interest in begging for its return. "I wanna let 'em run it themselves once or twice. And if they go down the toilet, maybe we'll come back," he says. As luck would have it, Charlie Norris, who regularly headlines Sharkey's cards and occasionally co-promotes them, has lined up a show at a Grumpy's sports bar in Coon Rapids. Sharkey is hoping to parlay a success there into a gig at a Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis. Sharkey wants to get back downtown. That's where he cut his teeth. And, he says, that's where he could make a few bucks.
Growing up in south Minneapolis, Eddie Shyman (he didn't become Sharkey until he began his pro career) was a big wrestling fan. His father, Tom Shyman, was a first-generation immigrant from Poland who worked in the liquor-display business. On weekends in the late Forties the elder Shyman often took young Eddie to the old Minneapolis Auditorium for the regular shows. A wide-eyed Sharkey soaked it up. "There was a lot of great wrestlers in those days. Sometimes I just hung around outside the auditorium and hoped that somebody would let me in." At the time Sharkey harbored no desire to wrestle. But he always knew he wanted to be a tough guy. Undersized, he took to weightlifting. He also took to the streets, dropping out of Hopkins High School in the tenth grade. Much to the disappointment of his parents, Sharkey's taste for street brawling led to two stints at the boys' reformatory in Red Wing. Sharkey looks back on the experience fondly: "That was my education. I made lifelong friends there with kids and staff. I don't have any feelings for Hopkins High. But I've got emotions for Red Wing. I learned everything I needed to know there: hit hard, talk fast, and never forget what honor means."
By the time he was 17, Sharkey was full of wanderlust. Even then he didn't care for the cold, so he spent his winters in Hollywood, where he got by working a succession of menial jobs: washing dishes, painting cars, moving furniture, even hawking watches on the sidewalk. When he wasn't punching the clock, he sought out adventure in whatever form he could find it. He worked as a bouncer at a strip bar and, for a spell, lived with one of the dancers. "That was back when stripping was an honorable profession," he cracks. He also got an eyeful of the Hollywood street life. He remembers being awed at the sight of the legendary gangster Mickey Cohen, a diamond-flashing dandy, stepping from nightclub to limo. "I wish I had gone up and talked to him," he says wistfully. "That would have been something." In the summers Sharkey always returned to Minneapolis, where he rubbed elbows with a colorful cadre of con artists and muscle men who hung around the downtown bars, restaurants, and gyms. "It was wonderful," he says. "Nobody worked. We had the boosters. We had the shoplifters. We had 'em all. And everyone was a character. There was no weak guys. There was just the tough and the tougher."
Reform school had not cured Sharkey of his street-fighting ways, and, deciding it was time to put his fist and chin to work, he took up boxing. Planning to go straight to the pros, he trained at the now-defunct Mill City Gym in Minneapolis, where he got some valuable experience working as sparring partner with the great middleweight Del Flanagan. But as it turned out, Sharkey's efforts to make a name for himself came just as the Twin Cities boxing scene took one of its periodic and catastrophic downturns. After the only active promoter in the Twin Cities died, Sharkey started casting about for an alternative. He didn't know what he wanted to do. But he was sure about one thing: He didn't want to work a straight job.
Carnival wrestling seemed a natural fit. By the late Fifties the carnival era was drawing to a close, but Sharkey managed to hook up with a few of the remaining outfits, including one called Chief Little Wolf's Athletic Show. Wrestling as many as 12 times a day, he barnstormed across the state, mostly working county fairs. Sometimes he served as a jobber; the guy who would come out of the stands to take on and lose to a champion. Other times he would grapple with authentic challengers from the audience. ("Usually it was just some guy who drank too much, and he'd wind up throwing up all over the place. But sometimes they'd have pretty good amateur wrestlers come up.") He also wrestled in a pure novelty act. His adversary? A baboon known as Congo the Ape. "That ugly little son of a gun was real fast, and he had sharp fingernails," Sharkey laughs. "He scratched me a couple of times. But I smartened up. I would just bend down and let him play with my hair for a minute. I had to be careful. The promoter would always say to me, 'Don't lay on the ape!' He didn't give a shit about me -- he just didn't want me to hurt the baboon. It would actually be kind of boring, but you know what they say: There's a sucker born every minute."
While the money was decent ($30 to $40 bucks on a good day), the carnival hardly provided steady work. Sharkey began to wonder if there might be a better way to make a living. At the time, professional wrestling in the U.S. was split into some 20 territories, which regional promoters operated like personal fiefdoms. Minnesota was one of the hottest territories in the land. In 1960 Verne Gagne-- once a golden-boy halfback at the University of Minnesota and a standout amateur wrestler -- broke from the National Wrestling Alliance, which then held the Minnesota territory. In partnership with the late Wally Karbo, Gagne formed the American Wrestling Association, which televised its regular cards from a studio in the Calhoun Beach Club. Soon Gagne (who was also the AWA's longtime champ) was routinely packing auditoriums throughout the state. Minnesota became a national wrestling mecca.
Around the same time, Sharkey met Lenny Montana, who would later achieve cinematic fame playing the role of mob hit man Luca Brasi in "The Godfather." Montana was a popular wrestler, a fast-talking East Coast guy. After striking up a friendship, Montana clued Sharkey in on the then-unacknowledged truth about professional wrestling: The outcomes are all predetermined. "Everyone suspected it, but there was always an air of mystery, and you never quite knew," Sharkey remembers. A strict code of silence among wrestlers helped foster the illusion. "You'd talk to your fellow wrestlers about it. Anyone else, you'd die first. You wouldn't tell your own mother. And if you smartened anyone up, you'd get fired. Right away. That's just the way it was."
For contemporary viewers of professional wrestling, it is hard to imagine anyone would be suckered by the sport's obvious choreography. But wrestling fans, young and old, were a less skeptical bunch back in those days. Even the great orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini was among the millions duped by the spectacle. "He would be backstage at the Metropolitan Opera, watching the matches on TV, and he would be shouting, 'Keel heem! Keel heem!'" recalls wrestling historian Bert Sugar. "And he believed it was real. He absolutely believed it. That's the way it was."
Ironically, Sharkey got his toehold in the world of staged combat as a result of many bona fide brawls. As Sharkey tells it, back in 1961 Verne Gagne was on the lookout for genuine tough guys to round out the AWA roster. One night Sharkey was dining with a handful of AWA wrestlers at Luigi's Café, a favorite hangout of the group, when a fellow patron sucker-punched a woman sitting nearby. "I got up and knocked him out with a left hook, and then his buddy came running at me and I hit him with a right-hand. Boom! He went down." Word of the smiting spread, and two weeks later Sharkey was offered a fill-in spot on an AWA card in Fargo.
Despite his carnival experience, Sharkey was pretty raw. And his debut, he allows cheerily, was lousy. But he soon became popular among fans as a good guy or a "face," which in wrestling parlance is short for "baby face." "Eddie was a real popular face. I used to watch him all the time when I was a kid," remembers Mick Karch, a longtime Twin Cities wrestling announcer. "About once a year he'd get to wrestle Danny Hodge, who was an Olympic champion wrestler and very, very popular. Of course, Eddie would always get beat. But he was a good, solid wrestler."
For the next decade, Sharkey honed his craft; usually in Minnesota, but also in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Denver. If his act got stale, he would hit the road and work another territory. In the ring, Sharkey was almost always a face. Outside the ring Sharkey continued to scrap whenever the opportunity presented itself. "I think I knocked out more guys on Hennepin Avenue than anyone in the history of Hennepin Avenue," Sharkey says. "I was young, in shape, and I didn't give a shit about anything. I thought it was wonderful."
Sometimes, Sharkey's altercations were with wrestling fans. And sometimes, he says, a matter of self-defense. "Nowadays, you can associate freely with the fans, but back then it was a totally different story. They could be a scary bunch of people because they believed it was real," he says. "Wrestlers got stabbed sometimes, and they got attacked a lot. And we could fight back, because there weren't any lawsuits." In one memorable albeit gruesome episode following an event in Denver, Sharkey rushed to the defense of well-known champion Harley Race, who was mixing it up with an agitated fan. "The guy was biting Harley's finger, and so I grabbed him and I was gonna stick my hand in his eye, on the outside corner. But when I reached down, I stuck my finger in an empty socket. Harley had pulled the guy's eye out. So off they went to the hospital. They stitched up Harley's finger, and put the guy's eye back in the socket, and that was it."
Ron Peterson, a former wrestler turned boxing promoter, first met Sharkey in the mid-Sixties. Sharkey was already established and Peterson knew him by reputation alone. "He was my role model. I was a starstruck, stupid kid, and I'd seen him on TV. On TV, he was the quintessential good guy: all-American, rough and tough, always ready to climb in there with the monsters," Peterson says. "But in truth, he was just a tough prick. He was a little man, and he had that little-man complex, and he started the fights and he beat people up to earn recognition. That was the story. He was to be feared because he wasn't afraid of anybody."
(to be concluded in The New WAWLI Papers No. 116-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.
(Minneapolis City Pages, November 15, 2000)
(continued from The New WAWLI Papers No. 115-2001)
As the years wore on, Sharkey grew weary of the constant travel. Looking for another source of income in the late Sixties, he partnered up with Peterson on the first of several mutual business ventures, opening a massage parlor in downtown Minneapolis. Around that same time he became smitten with a woman wrestler named Dixie Jordan. Like Sharkey, Jordan worked for the AWA, wrestling under the name Princess Littlecloud. In the early 70s, an episode involving the Princess cemented Sharkey's reputation as a wild man. According to Peterson, it all began when Sharkey caught wind of the AWA's plans to send Princess Little Cloud to Japan. As Sharkey, the Princess, and Peterson sat at a downtown tavern discussing the matter, Sharkey grew convinced that Gagne had improper designs on his girlfriend. Incensed, he marched down to the old Dykeman Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, where the AWA had its headquarters, and proceeded to shoot up the empty offices with a 9 mm pistol. (Sharkey confirms the story, but prefers not to discuss the details. Gagne, who insists he doesn't remember Princess Little Cloud, says he was never certain who shot up his offices, though he always suspected Sharkey.)
Whatever the truth of the matter, the incident ended Sharkey's career with the AWA. He and Peterson went into the gym business for a couple of years, training boxers and wrestlers. But after marrying Princess Little Cloud and having a son and a daughter, Sharkey decided it was time to settle down. He sold his interest in the gym, began dabbling in antiques and military collectibles, then quit the wrestling business for eight years.
By the early Eighties, wrestling was beginning to change radically. A tag-team duo known as the British Bulldogs, influenced by the pioneering acrobatics of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, began incorporating risky, high-flying, off-the-ropes stunts into their act, spawning a slew of imitators. Wrestlers were also becoming stronger and sporting bigger muscles, in part because of an increase in steroid use. Meanwhile, wrestling's old order was upset by the brash, scorched-earth tactics of the New York-based World Wrestling Federation. The WWF spent much of the decade raiding Gagne's AWA of its top talent and built its brand by syndicating shows in every major television market in the country.
WWF president Vince McMahon further shocked the wrestling establishment by publicly declaring professional wrestling "sports entertainment." The move laid to rest the conceit that wrestling was an honest contest, freeing promoters from the watchful eye of state athletic commissions. It also paved the way for the bombastic plot lines and rock 'n' roll production values that would become staples of RAW IS WAR and Smackdown!, currently cable TV's highest-rated programs. "Now, of course, nobody will defend wrestling as 'real.' But it was McMahon who pulled the thorn out of the paw," observes writer Bert Sugar. As the WWF, and its chief rival the WCW, ate into the fan base, the old system of territories began to wither. As it turned out, the WWF's ascent, and the accompanying decline of the AWA, created an opening for small, independent promoters.
In 1982 Sharkey drifted back into the squared circle. Like his initial entry into the business, the return came by accident. At the time, he was tending bar at a northeast Minneapolis establishment called Grandma B's, when two young bouncers who were aware of Sharkey's wrestling background came calling for some tutelage. Looking to make a few bucks, Sharkey agreed. As it turned out, he had stumbled on to what would become the hottest tag team of the Eighties: the Road Warriors. Back in action as a trainer, Sharkey decided to cash in on the wrestling boom by putting on his own indie cards at bars and nightclubs under the banner of Pro Wrestling America (PWA). He also began supplying talent to other small-time promoters.
"Eddie had his hands in a lot of different shows. In the mid-Eighties he was doing phenomenally well at a place called George's in Fridley, and a lot of the guys he was training were getting tryouts in New York and Atlanta," says TV's wrestling announcer Mick Karch. "And a lot of the guys he trained over the years became superstars, guys like Rick Rude and the Road Warriors and Jesse [Ventura]. I don't know how much of that had to do with Eddie's training. I just think that he's been around long enough that he has a lot of established contacts and respect. And when he's had talent on his hands, he's been able to point them in the right direction."
He also was willing to take risks, says wrestler Lenny Lane, who began his career with Sharkey. "Eddie got me the third match of my life in front of 17,000 in Des Moines. It was WWF show. Pay-per-view," Lane recalls. "Eddie told me, 'They're gonna ask you how many matches you've had. Tell 'em you've had 200. This is wrestling, so you have to exaggerate.'" The match was a disaster. While Lane already had the talent to wrestle, Sharkey hadn't instructed him on the fine points of industry lingo. In television tapings, referees routinely instruct wrestlers to "go home," which means finish the match. "Eddie never told me any of this. All I'd ever done was two independent shows," Lane remembers with a chuckle. "So all of the sudden the ref keeps telling me, 'Go home! Go home!' I didn't know what the hell it meant, so I just kept wrestling." In the locker room afterwards, Lane's opponent berated him mercilessly. As it turned out, the setback was only temporary. Lane, who ultimately signed on with the WCW and earned enough money to quit his day job in construction, remains loyal to Sharkey. To this day he occasionally wrestles in his shows and gives tips to students at Sharkey and Fox's camp.
Sharkey's successes as a trainer, meanwhile, gave him an in with the WWF, for whom he periodically works as a referee and talent scout. Unlike many old-timers, Sharkey regards today's wrestlers as superior athletes and showmen. "When I was wrestling, a match might last an hour, and you might spend a lot of the time working on an arm hold," he says. "Each generation is better than the next." In addition to putting on his own shows, Sharkey regularly supplies talent for other promoters, occasionally traveling as far as Japan and Kuwait. He says he has no intention of leaving the racket again. "It's all I do. I don't even fight it anymore. It's pretty hard to do anything else after you've been in this business," he says. "Kinda ruins you for anything else."
According to Sharkey, the PWA now stands as the longest-running indie wrestling promotion in the country. There have been occasional disruptions since his comeback, the longest of which came in the wake of a row with a fellow promoter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. "He [the other promoter] shorted us a hundred dollars, so I punched him," Sharkey explains matter-of-factly. "Then, just to be cute, I broke a beer bottle over his head. If I had just behaved myself, I would have gotten simple assault, but instead I got a felony." At trial, Sharkey cracked a bottle over his own head in an effort to prove that the particular brand of beer bottle was unlikely to cause serious injury. The judge was not impressed, and Sharkey got a six-month sentence, which he served at the Hennepin County Workhouse. "It was a terrible inconvenience and it cost me a ton of money, so that was pretty much the end of my brawling days," Sharkey says. "I was just sticking up for the boys. I sure hope they appreciated it."
It is November 4, a little after 6:00 p.m., when Sharkey arrives at Grumpy's in Coon Rapids. Dressed in jeans, a leather sport coat, and a canary-yellow shirt, he is a bundle of nerves. "I'm up to my neck in shit as usual. Story of my life," he sighs, sidling up to a barstool. He explains that he just sold his home in Edina. His divorce from Princess Little Cloud has just been finalized, and he has been scrambling to find a condo or an apartment by the end of the month. For now, though, he is worried about the bottom line.
A good turnout could mean a regular gig; maybe here, maybe at the bigger Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis. As usual, Sharkey has enlisted his wrestlers from camp to sell tickets. Ten bucks a pop. "I've got a lot of new guys on tonight. New guys sell a lot of tickets," he explains. "The old guys don't, and they shouldn't have to."
Terry Fox, Sharkey's partner, is already on hand, busily assembling the ring with the assistance of a few wrestlers who are paying off their camp tuition with a little sweat. The ring is wedged into a corner of the bar, pressed up against a pair of big picture windows. Because of the room's long, narrow shape, the best view is from the parking lot. This worries Sharkey. "We gotta make sure the crowd gets in a good mood from the start," he says, assessing the situation through his thick wire-framed glasses. The wrestlers have a more pressing concern than sightlines. A section of suspended ceiling hangs dangerously low over the ring. In one corner, a metal fire sprinkler mounted to the ceiling looks particularly hazardous. "Five to one somebody's gonna hit their head," offers Patrick Cooper, a camp regular who has come to man one of the television cameras for a cable-access taping. Sharkey eyeballs the ceiling: "The guys better be careful tonight. Damn careful." Of course, Sharkey notes, anyone who has wrestled in the garage at camp ought to know a thing or two about working around a low ceiling.
Sharkey is carrying a note pad on which he has scribbled tonight's card: Seven matches, mostly guys and gals from camp. The wrestlers arrive in dribs and drabs. Mitch Paradise, a strapping six-foot-five-inch, 27-year-old farmer from New Prague, ambles in an hour or so before show time. Sharkey is optimistic about Paradise's chance to make the big time. "He's got the look, and he's natural," he says, meaning that Paradise has the sort of bulk and cut the WWF looks for, without the use of steroids. Another Sharkey student, "Doctor" Darin Davis, arrives a few minutes later. In real life The Doctor is a soft-spoken computer programmer who bears a striking resemblance to actor Timothy Busfield. And he has the gimmick to end all gimmicks, one that has made him a fan favorite. He's a proctologist. In all his matches, Davis inevitably produces a rubber glove, which he waves about with a devilish smirk. And, invariably, the crowd loves it. "It's funny, when I started out with Dr. Darin, I was definitely a heel. But the fans turned, and so now I'm usually a face," the Doctor says, pointing out with an amiable grin, that the glove is not his finishing move.
One by one, the rest of the wrestlers lope off to a corner of the bar's kitchen, which serves as tonight's locker room. It is cramped, but Sharkey has seen worse. In a recent show at another north-metro bar, Sharkey says, there was absolutely nowhere to change, which forced the wrestlers to don their spandex outside by a dumpster and a grease bin. By the time the show begins, the tiny bar is packed with some 250 people, standing room only. After tweaking the lineup one last time, Sharkey plops down in the middle of the crowd to watch as his students take to the mat.
Helmut, actually a 22-year-old video-game magazine writer named Justin Leeper, incites the crowd with classic, old-school shtick. "I am from Germany! Germany!" he bellows in an accent that appears to be derived from repeated viewings of Hogan's Heroes. His opponent is a security guard from the Little Earth Housing Project in south Minneapolis who uses the stage name Stormwolf. Stormwolf and Helmut wage the usual battle, face versus heel, ending with Stormwolf's inevitable, come-from-behind triumph. Then Lacey, a 17-year-old high school student and camp regular, sashays to the ring for the second bout. She's leggy. Blonde. Pure face. Her opponent is Ashley, a bulky brunette. To signal that Ashley is tonight's heel, the ring announcer introduces her by saying that she is "from Canada." The crowd boos. Another seesaw battle. Another victory for the face. And so it goes for nearly two hours; a mix of the amateurish and the professional. Much care is exercised to avoid the low ceiling.
Finally, the main event. Charlie Norris -- Sharkey's star pupil, the guy who puts the rookies through their paces at camp -- is the star attraction. The two go back to 1989, when Sharkey spotted the hulking Norris at a wrestling card at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis and offered to train him gratis. Growing up in Minneapolis and on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Norris was always a big wrestling fan, so he leaped at the opportunity. Within a month, Sharkey got Norris his first show, in front of 950 rabid fans. Norris never looked back. During the last decade he has wrestled everywhere from New Guinea to Texas to Japan. He had a brief taste of the big time in the mid-Nineties, when he signed a contract with World Championship Wrestling and fought for a pay-per-view audience. The WCW gig ended poorly, with Norris ultimately suing for discrimination. "They wanted me to act like a goofy Indian from F-Troop," he complains. The suit, he says, was settled for $50,000, but the experience left a sour taste. After a few years of bouncing around on the independent circuit, he returned to Minnesota. Although Norris often wrestles on Sharkey's cards, he also acts as a partner, occasionally lining up lucrative shows at Indian-run casinos in the state.
Norris's match is a tag team. He is paired with a kid named Nick Mondo, who pulls off the night's most expertly executed stunt. Standing on the second rope, facing a corner post, Mondo flips backward and then lands perfectly flush on top of his opponent, a kid named Primetime. The move is known as a moonsault. After the crowd cheers, Norris and Hellraiser Guts are tagged in, and Norris delivers some stiff forearms and clotheslines, and the crowd is riled. They chant "Char-LEE! Char-LEE!" over and over. Finally, Norris lands with a thud on top of Primetime and the ref bangs the mat three times. Show over.
As the fans begin to file out of the bar, Sharkey heads to the kitchen, where a small desk serves as the payout table. The cash ($30 to $70 dollars for most of the wrestlers) is quickly dispensed. "I love these bar shows," Sharkey says. "We get the gate, they get the drinks, and everybody leaves happy." He crams a wad of bills into his jeans. He is circumspect about tonight's profit margin but insists it is modest, a couple of hundred bucks at best. And then he returns to the barroom. Finally starting to relax, he takes a seat at an open table and begins to tell war stories. He talks of his juvenile incarceration at Red Wing, his winters in Hollywood, and the wrestlers from the old days: guys like his old friend Harley Race, who pulled out the fan's eye in Denver, and Badman Jose Quintero. The Badman was a classic, he says, "crazier than a shithouse rat." He also reminisces about more recent times, his admiration for the WWF's Vince McMahon, and his contempt for the WCW, the outfit that dumped Charlie Norris and screwed Lenny Lane "just when he was starting to get some heat." But mostly Sharkey talks about the beginning, about hanging out downtown with the boys.
"If I could only go back and stand on the old street corners. The old great Hennepin Avenue, not the shithole now," Sharkey says, letting the thought trail off for a moment, taking a sip from yet another brandy, sent over by an admiring fan. "I miss it. Every day of my life, I miss everything about it. Learning how to cheat. How to spot a cheater. It was all just so wonderful. Everybody was a character. Nobody was normal." Sharkey pauses again. He lets the thought sink in. And then Norris ambles over to the table with a final round of drinks. Full of high spirits, Norris declares the show a great success. "I had people hugging and kissin' me in the parking lot, and I didn't hardly do a thing," he says with a broad smile. "Eddie, you're my best friend, brother. We always have fun. We always have laughs."
Sharkey nods in agreement, then leans back in his chair,
stuffs his cigarette into the ashtray and dips a stalk of celery into a cup of
blue-cheese dressing. "We put asses in the seats, Charlie," he says,
gnawing on the celery. 'That's all that matters. Asses in the seats."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.
(Minneapolis City Pages, March 15, 2000)
By G.R. Anderson, Jr
Jumpin' Jim Brunzell has taken his share of life's knocks. Well, not knocks, actually, but vicious beatings. One year ago, I sat at a Perkins Restaurant in Shoreview with Brunzell, a former professional wrestler with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association and the World Wrestling Federation. At the time, I was collecting stories from several wrestlers who lived in town, trying to get a grasp on what some of the old-schoolers thought of the current state of the biz.
Pro wrestling had suddenly kicked into a high-stakes golden age, a moment when a century-old attraction became the billion-dollar industry Vince McMahon had envisioned when he bought the then-regional WWF from his father more than 20 years ago (sic). The WWF and its rival, the Time Warner-owned World Championship Wrestling, have since parlayed a dizzying combination of big TV ratings, merchandising revenue, countless magazine covers, and relentless barnstorming into a sports-entertainment empire. The industry registers annual grosses of more than $1 billion--about the same as the global take on Titanic, the highest-grossing movie of all time.
But Brunzell, now age 51, was looking at pro wrestling from the bottom up. He spoke frankly about the drug use that plagued pro wrestling during his era in the late Seventies and Eighties--about how pot, cocaine, and alcohol would help a wrestler "get up" before or "come down" after a match, and about how steroids became so widespread, not necessarily to build better physiques, but to help injuries heal faster. Brunzell, who noted that he'd lived cleaner than most, was really talking about a labor issue.
"There is a schedule that consists of 60 days without a day off, and if you're injured or tired, you can't miss a card or you'll be dropped," the still-buff wrestler explained. "I tried to get the guys on top of the AWA and WWF to unionize and give us guaranteed contracts and have insurance that pays for surgeries. But the big-money guys like Hulk Hogan, and certainly McMahon, would never go for that sort of thing. They just want you to wrestle at all costs, and for most guys, that's brutal."
A year later, pro wrestling now merits a feature-length, wide-release documentary that illuminates these same struggles in the industry, engaging even those viewers who couldn't tell a sleeper hold from a figure-four leg lock. "Beyond the Mat" does its job in stripping away the thin veneer of the sport's current gloss, showing, as the narrator says, that while pro wrestling may be fake, "the result of the violence is very real."
"Beyond the Mat" is directed and narrated by Barry W. Blaustein, an L.A. scriptwriter best known for "Coming to America," "Police Academy 2," and the remake of "The Nutty Professor." This unthreatening CV no doubt helped him win the cooperation of the image-savvy WWF and overcome the secrecy and skepticism common among wrestlers and promoters. Unfortunately, Blaustein often lives up to this toothless image, throwing himself into the narrative Wonder Years-style from the very beginning of the film by gushing about his childhood passion for the sport.
Had Blaustein offered investigative material instead of (faux?) naive encomiums, a more compelling tale might have emerged. Much of the WWF's past, which is littered with lawsuits, drug abuse, and rumblings of sexual harassment, seems to demand attention. Yet Blaustein never addresses any of this, as if the mere mention might have threatened his access. Nevertheless, enough unfavorable material surfaces that the WWF has distanced itself from the finished product, forcing the removal of copyrighted names from any promotion of the film.
While the WWF may embrace an image of extreme entertainment, the theme of grisly self-sacrifice that eventually emerges from "Beyond the Mat" is truly harrowing. A former Denver Bronco who can vomit on command "auditions" into a wastebasket for McMahon in the middle of the WWF's shiny corporate offices. "Puke is good," McMahon says earnestly, stumbling upon his new moniker for the wrestler. Moments later, we see "Puke" call his mama and tell her how proud she will be to hear about his new character.
In retrospect, though, this vignette is chilling. The wrestler, Darren Drozdov, eventually did a stint in the WWF as "The Droz" until he was paralyzed from the waist down during a match this fall in Uniondale, New York. (This latest chapter in Drozdov's career isn't in the film; it occurred after the documentary was completed.)
There are similar revelations sprinkled throughout "Beyond the Mat" about the fall from grace inherent in pro wrestling. Terry Funk, a 53-year-old legend from Amarillo, Texas, makes a grand entrance by struggling to get his war-torn body upright and out of bed in the morning. It's a startlingly intimate moment, edited with footage of a younger, bloodied Funk yelling like Rocky Balboa to a crowd, "Terry Funk forever, forever, forever!" after a particularly gory match. Funk eventually announces his retirement match -- his "final" retirement match, that is -- in early 1997. Afterward, he is seen staggering alone, melancholy, in an empty dressing room. Blaustein notes that Funk returned to the ring in less than three months, ignoring a doctor's orders to stay away.
There is still more grit in the film courtesy of wily antihero Jake "The Snake" Roberts, an unspectacular athlete who gained worldwide fame in the 1980s for his mastery of crowd psychology. Yet Roberts had completely disappeared by the early Nineties. Shockingly puffy and hoarse, he surfaces on a card in a North Platte, Nebraska, auditorium. After bringing a local girl up to the ring after a victory, the man announcer Mean Gene Okerlund often compared to Longfellow waxes poetic in his hotel room: "That kind little thing," Roberts says, "she'll probably be here all her life, have seven kids, have seven husbands, and wind up being a truck driver who cross-dresses or something. But she'll always remember tonight."
It's moving, because the trajectory of the Snake's own life has been no rosier: Over the course of his career, the wrestler picked up a crack addiction and abandoned his family -- a sordid track record that Roberts blames on his devotion to his craft. In an attempt at reconciliation, Roberts desperately tries to explain his absenteeism to his adult daughter. "If I had taken three months off, I would have been fired," he says tearfully. "Working for McMahon, I would have to wrestle every day."
The next time Roberts surfaces, he's high on crack in a hotel room. There he expounds upon the lifestyle that Brunzell also described. "You're wrestling 26, 27 days a month, twice on Saturday and Sunday, on eight or nine planes a week," Roberts says, periodically spacing out. "It's basically a necessity, just to continue--pills to go to sleep, pills to cure pain, cocaine to get up so you could perform, drink to go to sleep, sleeping pills to go to sleep. Cocaine speeds me up so fast, I can't think about my past."
Not everyone ends up trapped like Roberts, but tales of redemption are rare in "Beyond the Mat." Blaustein offers glimpses of other wrestlers and families that are funny, entertaining, and even, well, normal. (Wry family man Mick "Mankind" Foley stands out in this regard.) But the film's undercurrent of thwarted aspirations, faded accolades, and the obsessive struggles to keep wrestling make for a gutsy pathos.
This is the grind that Brunzell witnessed, the kind of
lifestyle of brutality that is the end game for many pro wrestlers. Roberts sums
it up with characteristically bleak eloquence: "What I hoped for was a Walt
Disney ending -- and not this Old Yeller kind, either."
THE WAY IT WAS
By Percival A. Friend, The Epitome of Wrestling Managers
(NOTE: This column ends the third year and begins the fourth year I have been spinning stories of old. Thanks for giving me the friendship and the opportunity to do so. I certainly hope that I can continue to give you and the fans memories that can be saved for generations to come. Thank you, Rob Moore.--Percival A. Friend)
During the "Golden Era" of sports, back in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, some of the greatest names in sports made their marks that have been etched into infamy. Some of these names, known to millions of devoted fans, were Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Big Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones, and, of course, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, just to name a few.
These men became household names long before the advent of television. Each, in his own way, held audiences in awe of their talents. They made front-page headlines in every major newspaper in the world. None of these giants held the spotlight as long as Lewis.
Ed Lewis earned his name by the trademark "Strangler" headlock he applied to win many of his 6,200 matches. He was a huge, barrel-chested man that headlined main events wherever he went. His heyday period was from 1916 to 1934, during which he won and lost the world championship four times.
He first won the belt by beating Joe Stecher in 1921. He lost the belt to Stanislaus Zbyszko, but later regained it in a vicious return match. In 1925, Wayne "Biggie" Munn beat Lewis. In 1928, Lewis again faced Stecher and regained the title, much to the dismay of many Stecher fans in attendance in St. Louis.
Gus Sonnenberg of Dartmouth football fame beat Lewis in a hotly contested battle in Boston in 1929. Two years later, in 1931 in Los Angeles, Lewis beat Ed Don George to again win the title. Just two months later, he would lose in Montreal to Henri Deglane.
Lewis would also battle such greats as the Duseks in Omaha and Jim Londos in Chicago during the Depression. These men drew 30,000 fans into the gate with a $96,000 receipt. This was a fantastic amount of money to pull into the turnstiles during the height of the times when most men were looking for some type of work and some were begging for theirs.
It was during that Great Depression that wrestling took a change in the style of combat in the ring. It changed from the "pure" wrestling to an "exhibition" between the men involved. More action was being involved in matches that had seen men locked in a hold for seemingly hours on end.
To give you an idea of those struggles, it was during an early match in 1916 between Joe Stecher and Lewis that these two men entered the ring in mid-afternoon and didn't leave the ring until the chill of the evening. That match lasted for five-and-a-half hours and resulted in a draw. Not one fan was reported leaving the event.
Ed Lewis was married three times (ED. NOTE: He was married at least four times and as many as seven times, by some estimates) and was deeply religious in his later years. He spent a lot of time after he had retired from the ring working with young athletes. He was blinded by trachoma and was without sight for some twenty years. Darkness fell upon him again, and he was hospitalized in a Veterans Administration Hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
He was born Robert H. Friedrich in a small farming town in Wisconsin. He was actively involved in the sport of wrestling for over 40 years. When he died on August 7, 1966, a large chapter of stirring and colorful history of wrestling closed forever.
(ED. NOTE – Please check out the entire archive
of fascinating wrestling memories of Percival A. (for Al) Friend, the
"Epitome of Wrestling Managers," at www.geocities.com/percivalafriend/friendarchive.htm)
ADAMS’ DEATH JUST THE LATEST SAD CHAPTER
(Charleston Post & Courier, Sunday, October 21, 2001)
By Mike Mooneyham
World Class Championship Wrestling once boasted some of the
top stars and hot test shows in the industry.
Today, sadly, the long-defunct Dallas-based promotion is more remembered as a graveyard for a stable of wrestlers who died far too young. News of the most recent casualty of a company whose fall from atop the wrestling world during the late '80s was as meteoric as its rise was more sobering than shocking. To some, it was yet another example of what many in the business have called the "Von Erich curse." To others, it was the sad end of what began 20 years earlier as a promising wrestling career whose full potential was never fully realized.
On Oct. 7, "Gentleman" Chris Adams was shot to death, allegedly by his best friend, in Waxahachie, Texas, not far from the city where he once headlined shows in front of thousands of fans.
The adoration and cheering ceased years ago, however, as the promotion's macabre body count began to turn away even the most fanatical followers. Chris Adams was a good-looking, three-time national judo champion from England who emigrated to the United States in the early '80s.
Adams, who was discovered by the Hart family during a tour of Europe, seemed a natural for the high-rolling Von Erich clique. He skyrocketed to fame, strutting to the ring in his trademark Union Jack attire and dropping opponents with his signature "superkick," a karate-like maneuver that would become the finisher for WWF champion Shawn Michaels a decade later.
Like the Von Erichs, the charismatic Adams lived bigger than life, at one time owning a house in England, land in Texas, a red Corvette, two condos and a Mazda RX7. But, also like the Von Erichs and many of his colleagues from that promotion, Adams' time in the sun would be tragically cut short by a lifestyle that would result in his personal collapse and, on Oct. 7, his death.
Police say 49-year-old William "Brent" Parnell, a man described as Adams' best friend and former roommate, shot the 46-year-old to death during a drunken brawl at the home of the suspect's mother. The two men had been drinking heavily and "roughhousing" when the shooting occurred, police said.
The suspect told police he shot Adams in self-defense with a .38-caliber handgun when Adams got out of control, lost his temper and wouldn't let go of Parnell.
Parnell had served as best man when Adams had married for the fourth time only a month earlier. The two had met 11 years ago while promoting wrestling matches together.
The incident was only the latest in Adams' long fall from grace. At the time of his death, Adams was awaiting trial on manslaughter charges in last year's drug death of a girlfriend and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
In 1986 Adams made headlines for an incident on an American Airlines flight heading for Dallas. Adams was returning from a Caribbean wrestling tour when engine trouble delayed the plane in Puerto Rico. When the plane took off again, a drunken Adams became belligerent after a flight attendant asked him to sit down. "I make 25 times the money you do, and no one like you is going to tell me what to do," Adams said before head-butting the co-pilot. A federal jury convicted him of misdemeanor assault.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.118-2001
HAWK AND HANSON: THE BLOND BOMBERS
By Mike Mooneyham, circa 1997
(ED. NOTE – This is the first installment of a two-part article.)
Swede Hanson chuckles when asked about wrestling's "old days."
The Big Swede, as he was affectionately known, was a main-eventer for most of his career and, with longtime partner Rip Hawk, was part of one of the business's most successful tag teams ever. But pro wrestling has changed dramatically since the days Hawk and Hanson were marquee attractions.
Hanson admits he doesn't keep up with wrestling today and doesn't even watch it on television.
"Too much Hollywood," he says. "I don't think about it anymore. Thirty years was enough."
Swede Hanson, a wrestler millions loved to hate, is now 62 years old, retired and lives in a double-wide trainer in the Lancaster County town of Indianland near Fort Mill on the South Carolina-North Carolina border. He no longer talks about beating his opponents senseless, but rather about fishing, playing bingo, following Duke football and taking in a movie like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" with his girlfriend.
"We seldom go to movies, but we recently went to see `Snow White' and I hadn't seen it in 50 years," says Hanson. "Here I was singing `Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho' aloud along with the Dwarves, and my girlfriend's sliding down in her chair. It was pretty funny."
Hanson, who for many years earned a reputation as a fast-living, hard-drinking individual, now appears well-suited to his new, more laid-back lifestyle.
"I love it here," he says. "Nobody bothers me. I live about a half a city block from the North Carolina state line. I was walking six miles every day. I have walked 24 miles home from work. My girl takes care of me. She makes sure I get my medicine every month."
Hanson, who has been married twice, has six children and nine grandchildren. His fiancee, Patsy Hughes, teaches gymnastics and swimming at a YMCA in Winston-Salem and visits on weekends.
"She's a real sweetheart," he says. "We sit around watching TV. I'll say something and she'll laugh. She thinks I'm crazy. We don't even drink. I took her up to New Jersey to meet my sisters, my grandchildren, nieces. She was sitting on the couch, and we were all going at it. She said, `No wonder you're crazy, your whole family's crazy.' They all loved her."
Hanson began his pro mat career in October 1957 and wrestled in four different decades. A native of Orange, N.J., Hanson was a high school football star who passed up a scholarship to Wake Forest when he quit his last year of high school to become an aviation mechanic.
"I've worked since I was about 9 years old," says Hanson. "My mom was having a hard time, so I quit school."
Hanson boxed as an amateur for seven years, winning a couple of Golden Gloves titles in New Jersey, and compiled a record of 61-3 with 37 knockouts.
"The three that I lost were all to the same guy. He had my number," recalls Hanson, who counts the late Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson among his boxing friends and sparred with Rocky Marciano and Archie Moore. "I wanted to become a professional boxer, but I just grew too big. Back in those days, I was 237 pounds and the other guys were 185 and on up."
Hanson says he has no regrets about deciding to go into wrestling.
"I really enjoyed it. I loved it because I got to see the world many times and it didn't cost me a penny. The only thing I paid for was liquor and food. I saw about everything."
Hanson has kept busy since retiring from the ring in 1986. He recently worked as a trainer at a Living Well fitness center and also went into the construction business framing houses with a friend. When his friend gave up the business, Swede went into "big-time construction," doing metal framing while building new wards for hospitals in Charlotte and the new wing at Charlotte's airport. The Big Swede, however, had to quit his last job as manager of a Rock Hill nightclub due to diabetes and high blood pressure.
"I'm still in pretty good shape, except for my legs," says Hanson. "My legs are getting bad, because I was on them 18 hours a day. I did just about everything myself to save money for the company. My legs were so blown up that I had to retire in April."
Hanson cashed in a retirement fund last year to pay off old debts. "I spent my money way too fast," says Hanson, who adds that he earned $72,000 in six months in 1985-86. "I didn't save the money I made. I lived life the way people thought wrestlers are supposed to. We were living what everybody thought we were living. I'm now collecting Social Security, so I've completely retired from everything. I got my first check last week."
Swede's new relaxed lifestyle is in stark contrast to the non-stop grind he kept as a wrestler. Hanson suffered a heart attack in 1971, and doctors told him he'd never be able to wrestle again.
"The doctor finally told me to go back to wrestling before I had another heart attack," he jokes. "When I quit wrestling, I quit drinking, except for one time, and I got caught and lost my license," says Hanson.
"In 1991 I was working my construction job plus bouncing for this guy I've known for years. We had worked seven days a week for four weeks 10 hours a day, plus I was doing the bouncing, which on Friday nights I had to work until 5 in the morning, then I had to get dressed and go to work at the other place. I was just so tired.
"I went in one night and he told me, `Swede, if you don't want to work tonight, Big Dave can handle it.' I said great, I'll sit down for a couple of hours, talk to my friends and listen to that country and western music. Then I realized I just can't sit at the bar. I had about 12 beers and hit the Crown Royal, and that did it. I went home early, but I found out I couldn't drink like I used to. Most people wouldn't believe what I used to drink back then."
Swede nowadays sits around the trailer and takes life easy. He once owned Lucille Ball's old Chrysler Imperial convertible, but a 1976 Cadillac now sits rusting in the driveway. He owns two pairs of basketball shoes that he acquired from former professional basketball star Julius Erving.
"My foot's a 17 now," notes Hanson. "Dr. J came to see me one time in Philly. I wore out a pair of shoes he had given me, and he got me some more."
The walls of Swede's trailer are adorned with sports memorabilia. The fact that's he a big Duke fan is displayed throughout his home.
"You wouldn't believe the collection I have. I have Duke T-shirts and pullover hooded jackets. I have Duke Coke cans for the championship and for the double championship."
But his life now is far removed from an era in which he and Rip Hawk ruled the tag-team roost and were known as one of the rowdiest pairs in the business.
"I live by myself now. I've got five acres and I've got a lot of work on it to do. But I've got time to do it. If it's not raining, I'll go out and do some work. When I sit down or go to bed, my legs have to be elevated. My legs still swell up, but I keep a watch on them now. I don't drive, so if my girl doesn't come down, I don't go anywhere."
"But I don't have anything to do with wrestling anymore," he adds. "It's nice for some guys. But my time is over."
They were physical opposites and seemed to share little in common - except for a love of wrestling. Hanson was the silent partner who, at 6-3 and nearly 300 pounds, dwarfed his 5-9, 240 teammate. Hawk did the talking, though, and he was good at it.
"We were quite a combination," says Hawk. "We made Swede the dummy. But he was a very nice guy. And he was so strong. He had no idea of how strong he really was."
Known as "The Blond Bombers" for their platinum hair
and rugged ring style, the duo became one of the most feared and hated teams
during the '60s and '70s. They were headliners throughout the world, but one of
their favorite stomping grounds was the Carolinas-Virginia territory, where they
engaged in bloodbaths with such popular tandems as The Scott Brothers, George
Becker and Johnny Weaver, The Kentuckians, and Nelson Royal and Paul Jones.
There were also notable brawls with fellow "bad-guy" teams such as The Assassins, Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard, Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubich, and The Anderson Brothers. Hawk and Hanson won the NWA world tag-team belts while in Florida and held several regional tag-team titles, but they also were in demand in Japan and Australia.
Hanson, now retired and living near Fort Mill on the South Carolina-North Carolina border, credits the late Charlotte promoter Jim Crockett Sr. with pairing the two.
"Jim Crockett put Rip and me together," says Hanson.
"We had the same kind of haircuts. I learned a lot wrestling with Rip Hawk
as a partner. A lot of times it was shaky, but we stayed together because the
team was one of the best in the world. I left Rip in Amarillo back in 1976 or
1977, and he's been there ever since."
(a second part of this article will appear in The New WAWLI Papers No. 119-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.119-2001
ALI BABA SCORES ANOTHER VICTORY
(Detroit Free Press, March 24, 1936)
Ali Baba, the Kurdistan wrestling sideshow, stepped into the Arena Gardens ring last night facing the serious task of turning aside Stanley Buresh’s challenge. The task was grave for Buresh represented more ability than the Turk had ever met and his record of a fall every three minutes was likely to tumble.
But Fiddler Baba grunted and met, and conquered, in 12 minutes
and 20 seconds. Buresh held defeat at arm’s length by matching Bab’s Turkish
bear hugs and Japanese scissors with a few of his kangaroo kicks. Finally Baba
tired of the canvas business and with a mighty clutch and body slam he sprawled
Buresh for the count and walked away twirling his mustache.
Walter Podolak, of Los Angeles, won his Detroit debut in the semifinal, taking two straight falls from Turp Grimes of Dayton. He accomplished both with swinging full nelsons. Cowboy Heffner, the Texan, tossed Charles Grubmyer in 36:55, and Jimmy Goodrich, of Flint, pinned Babe Kasaboski with a series of crotch body slams.
SHIKAT SUSPENDED BY MISSOURI BODY
(Associated Press, March 23, 1936)
ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Athletic Commission today indefinitely suspended Dick Shikat, claimant to the world heavyweight wrestling championship, for alleged breach of contract with his manager, Joe Alvarez.
Commissioner Ernest F. Oakley said Shikat had repudiated his contract with Alvarez and refused to go through with a match arranged by the latter here with Ed (Strangler) Lewis for April 3.
HAWK AND HANSON: THE BLOND BOMBERS (PART 2)
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Rip "The Profile" Hawk and Big Swede Hanson formed one of pro wrestling's top tag-teams for nearly two decades. In the concluding portion of Mike Mooneyham’s interesting interview with the two, Hawk relates how he broke into the business, and Hanson remembers the late Andre The Giant.)
Rip Hawk recalls the first time he met the soft-spoken Hanson.
"I'd been wrestling in St. Louis for Sam Muchnick back around 1958, and they would occasionally send me to Charlotte. That's where I met Swede. He was working the prelims. I was very fortunate that after I got out of the Marine Corps, it didn't take long to get on top. One night I walked into the locker room, looked at Swede and went around shaking all the guys' hands. I purposely ignored Swede completely, just for a rib. He just looked at me with those big raccoon eyes. I said, `Oh my God, you're still here, you haven't left this place yet?' He said, `Oh, I've been working here.' I said, `Well, it's about time you got off your butt, I'm going to take you with me.' And that kindled our friendship."
That partnership lasted nearly two decades, and and they took their ups and downs in stride.
"We were fortunate," says Hawk. "I think we got along better than most men and their wives. We were together everyday, traveling nights, days in cars, planes. We went around the world. We tried to make the best of everything."
The only problem was that Hawk and Hanson took the act outside the ring. They lived in the fast lane, and the grind took a toll. Hanson, 62, now suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. Hawk, 65, underwent a quadruple heart bypass 10 years ago.
"It was the hard life we lived," says Hawk. "We lived a very hard life. Our schedule was grueling. To overcome that because you're always on the go, you sit down and have a few drinks, you eat but you don't eat properly, and even though you go to the gym and train, you're just going to destroy it the next night with the food you eat."
"But we had some outstanding times," says Hawk, who now lives in Hereford, Texas, where he teaches at a junior high school and coaches wrestling at the YMCA. Hawk admits he enjoyed pulling ribs on his bigger partner, such as the time he hid Hanson's false teeth.
"We were in the Australian Outback, and we started drinking on the train since there was nothing else to do," recalls Hawk. "It took about five hours to go 70 miles out there. Swede had been drinking quite a bit. He always used to take his teeth out and put them on the counter when he went to bed. So I took his teeth and hid them. When he got up the next morning to get ready to go do TV, he couldn't find them and got very upset. He asked me and I told him he had been drinking a lot the night before. He went around to every wrestler's door accusingthem of stealing his teeth, and he even knocked one door off its hinges. Finally after a rampage of about 15 minutes, he came back and I had his teeth on the counter again. Boy was he hot. But I pulled ribs all the time. I had a constant rib with him."
As the silent partner, Hanson just nodded in agreement during interviews as the arrogant Hawk enraged fans with his rhetoric.
"Rip never wanted me to talk, but I cracked up (announcer) Charlie Harville one night," Hanson says. "We were having an interview on High Point TV, and Rip would ask me a question, and he'd tell me to shut up. When the interview was over, we started walking away, and I said `Charlie, it was nice talking to you,' and he nearly fell on the floor."
"I stole that line from Swede and now I use it," jokes Hawk.
Hawk's patented coup de grace was the piledriver, while he taught the reverse neckbreaker to Hanson.
Hawk and Hanson competed in an era in which wrestlers sported scars as badges of honor.
"We used to get hurt," says Hawk. "We used to get our heads busted. I had my nose broken eight times, got a cauliflower ear, ribs broken, both elbows broken, kneecap broken, I don't know how many times my ankles have been traumatized, and I had my sternum split. Other than that, it was pretty good."
Hanson fared little better in the injury department. Both, however, were as much on the defense against crazed fans as they were ring foes. Hanson recalls a fan slicing his leg with a knife during a match with Billy Two Rivers in Lynchburg, Va.
All good things must come to an end, however, and so it was for the team of Hawk and Hanson. The two parted ways in 1977. Hawk hung up the tights for good in 1982, Hanson four years later.
When Rip Hawk wrestled for the final time in 1982, he left the business with no regrets.
"I just got tired of it, plain and simple," Hawk says. "I always loved wrestling, but it was time to call it quits."
Hawk, who holds the distinction of having wrestled in five different decades, broke into the profession when bets were made on the outcome of matches.
"I remember walking to the ring and fans telling me they had a hundred on me," says Hawk. "Can you imagine that?"
Hawk, 65, has lived in the Texas Panhandle area for the past 19 years and has been involved with a number of successful business ventures.
"We were the originators of microwave popcorn on the cob," says Hawk. "It was a pretty good fad. I had business with Holiday Inns at Disney World in Florida, and sent it all over the world." Hawk, who teaches at a junior high school and coaches wrestling at a YMCA in Hereford, Texas, has also worked in the ice cream business and was instrumental in bringing a wrestling program to the local high school. But he says he watches very little pro wrestling these days.
"They think they're doing great with all that show biz. Clowns, midget clowns, guys with painted faces. It's a joke, a sideshow. They respected you back then. They just rattle today. Anybody could do it.
"They take these guys out of the gym and make them wrestlers. I can show you a jillion guys from the old days who didn't have much muscle, but they were hell in the ring. Guys were just natural characters back then. We didn't have to go out and act. We were ourselves. If you had the charisma, it showed. Just look at wrestlers like Johnny Valentine and Pat O'Connor. They had it.
"Wrestlers today don't have that desire. Years ago to get a position on a wrestling card, you had to earn it. Hawk gave Ric Flair one of his early career breaks in the early '70s when Flair was still a rookie. The "Nature Boy" was originally billed as Rip's nephew and teamed with him on occasion.
"I think that Flair's great," says Hawk. "The guy always had talent. And he still uses some moves. He hasn't forgotten what he learned."
Hawk's path to the wrestling game nearly took a detour since he was raised in a baseball family. Hawk, born Harvey Evers, was the son of a baseball star who played in the old Texas League. Related to Johnny Evers of the immortal Evers-to-Tinker-to-Chance trio, his father became a scout and trainer for the New York Yankees when his elbow gave out and cut short his pitching career.
"They pulled me into baseball all the time, but I couldn't take it," says Hawk. "It wasn't my thing. I loved wrestling. Hawk began wrestling in the late '40s. A stint in the Marine Corps and the Korean War interrupted his ring career until he returned in 1954.
Hawk speaks fondly, almost reverently, about the "old days" of the business.
"I was very fortunate to have wrestled in an era with old-timers who had been wrestling in the '30s and '40s," says Hawk. "They were outstanding wrestlers - guys like Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Jim Londos. Lewis was a classy guy. The old-timers would dress up, conduct themselves as athletes and gentlemen, and everyone respected them greatly back then.
"I wrestled guys like John Pesek, who used to take his mat under his arm and go to towns and challenge people. I was a young kid and scared to death, but to wrestle him was an honor."
Hawk was one of those who persevered. He had the ability and the desire, but his mat persona was not complete until a promoter came up with a catchy ring name.
"My sister started calling me Rip when I was about 10 years old," he says. "It was a good wrestling name. The Chicago promoter asked me my name, and I told him it was Rip Evers. He said that I had a sharp nose and I moved like a hawk. `We're going to call you Rip Hawk,' he said." The name stuck.
Rip "The Profile" Hawk met Swede "The Mule" Hanson in the late '50s and teamed with him for nearly 20 years. They parted ways in 1978 but never again found the success they had enjoyed as one of the greatest teams the sport had ever known.
Like his longtime partner, Hanson also has little interest in today's brand of pro wrestling. He did, however, make a rare appearance on a recent Smoky Mountain Wrestling show at the Grady Cole Center (formerly Park Center) in Charlotte. The program, billed as "Carolina Memories," featured many of the greats from the old NWA Mid-Atlantic area. The lineup of stars who were on hand to greet the fans included Johnny Weaver, "Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods, Nelson Royal, Sandy Scott, Abe Jacobs and referee Tommy Young.
"It was weird for me to walk back through Park Center," says Hanson, 62. "It was $3 ringside back then. The last time I had been there was in 1981. But it was sure nice to see a lot of my old friends there." One of Hanson's closest friends in the business was the late Andre The Giant.
"I cried when I heard he died," says Hanson. "I cried a lot because I loved they guy. He was a fantastic person, and we got along great. He was such a gentleman, and I learned a lot from him as far as being outside the ring. He always found time to sign autographs for his fans."
Hanson and Andre were travel partners whenever the two were booked in the same area.
(our thanks to www.mikemooneyham.com and the Mid-Atlantic Gateway "Press Club" at http://www.midatlanticwrestling.net/Resource%20Center/press%20club.htm)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.120-2001
DICK HUTTON: A TRUE LEGEND
By Bill Murdock (archived at www.mikemooneyham.com)
It is not surprising during the weekend of the hall of fame inductions at the International Wrestling Institute to see fans standing in line to meet and shake hands with wrestling greats such as Dan Gable, Danny Hodge, Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne. What is surprising, however, is to see these wrestling greats waiting their turn to speak and reminisce with one of their own.
That is exactly what happened last year at the Hall of Fame inductions. While waiting to speak to this man, Lou Thesz overheard a fan ask a friend, "Who is that man?" Lou turned to her and said, "Excuse me, I couldn’t help but to overhear your question. That man is THE man. That man is Dick Hutton."
Like a hero out of a Louis L’Amour novel, Dick Hutton rode out of Oklahoma and ruled the collegiate heavyweight division like no man before him or since. Hutton reigned supreme in his division losing only one match, winning three NCAA titles and belonging to two national championship teams. Dick’s four appearances in the NCAA finals with three championships left a record that was unmatched for 28 years and was not broken until 44 years later (when another young man from Oklahoma named Pat Smith won four consecutive NCAA titles). Coupled with a fifth-place finish in the 1948 Olympic Games in London and three AAU titles, he left a legacy in the annals of wrestling that is unparalleled.
Born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1923, the son of a bricklayer, Hutton began wrestling in junior high after not making the basketball team. Being cut, a dejected Dick Hutton happened to walk by wrestling coach Frank Brisco’s open office door. Coach Brisco called him in and Hutton began an undefeated career in junior high.
Dick remained undefeated at Daniel Webster High School in Red Fork, Okla. Undefeated, that is, until the finals of the state championship. Dick recalls, " We wrestled to a draw in the finals. We had three overtime periods but they finally gave it to him. He was the defending champion and they said he pushed me off more than I pushed him so I lost on criteria. I took second twice. My senior year I lost to a wrestler named Thurman Garrett. He weighed 325 to my 185. He became an All American tackle and played pro football."
Dick also excelled at football at Daniel Webster, playing
tackle on defense and running guard and fullback on offense.
"We played 60 minutes, ironman football. We had to, we only had 14 players on the team" Hutton remembers. He also tried his hand at throwing the shot put, but wrestling and football kept his focus.
From high school, Dick received scholarship offers from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Pittsburgh. But Hutton chose a school that didn’t offer him a free ride, Oklahoma A&M (Oklahoma State). "They didn’t offer me a scholarship, but I wanted to study architecture and A&M had a great program. Besides, Coach Brisco had wrestled there and said that was the place I should be. So that’s where I went," Hutton states. When he arrived at Oklahoma A&M there were 11 heavyweights out for the starting position. After about two months there were only three and Dick not only had his starting position but his scholarship as well.
There was another reason for Dick to attend Oklahoma A&M: the legendary coach Art Griffith. As great as he was on the mat, Hutton gives the lion’s share of the credit to Coach Griffith. "He had a tremendous amount of knowledge and developed what he called the spin system. If you learned it, you would be awfully hard to beat. Our team went more than 70 matches without being beaten." Hutton explains:
"One advantage I had was I knew more wrestling than most heavyweights. Most heavyweights at the time relied on power and not a lot on technique. I tried to learn all that Coach Griffith could teach me. I had fast hands and developed a short arm drag. I could shoot it with either hand. When an opponent would come in to me, I could hit it every time. I never liked to tie up. I would tie up and back off just to set up the drag. I wasn’t much of a pinner, either. I won most of my matches on points. When my opponents figured out how fast I was, they started keeping away from me and I would have to chase them around the mat."
Through out the 1940s and 1950s Griffith’s A&M wrestlers ran over most of their opponents to the point of the team being booed when they walked on the mat. Winning all the time made them the villains. It became difficult for them to schedule other schools to wrestle against. Hutton was learning early the price a champion has to pay.
Dick only had a half-year of college before volunteered to join a different kind of battle. He joined the army and served in Italy during the last two years of World War Two. After the war he returned to Oklahoma and the mat. Even though he was away from wrestling for three years, his experience as a drill instructor instilled in him more confidence than ever before. Enough confidence to carry him to undefeated seasons and national championships in 1947 and 1948.
In addition to his collegiate championships Hutton proudly represented his country and placed fifth in the 1948 Olympics. He had won his first three matches. In his forth match Hutton was wrestling the Australian team member when trying for a hip lock his foot got caught in the mat and instead of throwing his opponent, Dick fell back on his elbow and it started to swell. He was allowed injury time and when the match continued Hutton went for the hip lock again and once again his foot caught the mat and he fell on his elbow. This time his elbow went numb and Dick was forced to withdraw. His opponent went on to the finals and Dick returned to Oklahoma.
In 1949 with the national heavyweight championship at stake once again, Hutton wrestled in one of the most famous and controversial matches in NCAA history. A match that changed the how matches would be judged from then on.
At Colorado A&M in Fort Collins Colorado two of the most
renowned heavyweights in wrestling history met with the NCAA Heavyweight title
in the balance. Two athletes who would go on from the collegiate national
championship to the World’s Heavyweight Championship.
Hutton’s opponent was the 1948, 191-pound champion from Minnesota, Verne Gagne. They had met once before. In 1947 Hutton defeated Gagne on his way to the championship at the NCAA tournament at the University of Illinois. Verne dropped the next year to 191 pounds and took the title while Dick won his second heavyweight championship. So the stage was set for one of the most anticipated rematches in college history.
Hutton recollects the match vividly.
"Verne was an outstanding wrestler. Not only on the mat but how he sized up an opponent. He knew if he came into me, I would beat him decisively. He also knew in matches where my opponent stayed away from me, I would win maybe three to two or two to one. And that’s just what he did. In all honesty, I truly
believe I won that match. I don’t blame Verne. He came out to win and that’s just what he did. I believe they should have started him down for not being aggressive. I shot in and caught him in the last few seconds and that put me up three to two. Some kid comes out on the mat from the timekeeper’s table and tells the official that the time ran out before he gave me the two points. He took the two points away and walked over and raised Verne’s hand. The entire crowd became unglued. The coach of Nebraska was head of the tournament committee at the time. He told me that if coach Griffith would make a formal protest they would reverse the decision. I went to my coach but he wouldn’t protest. So I came in second."
Because of the controversial ending in the Gagne match, the rules were changed for championship matches. In addition to a referee, two judges were added.
In 1950 Dick was again in the finals wrestling for the heavyweight championship.
He continues his story, "Believe it or not, I ended up with the same referee that I had in the finals the year before. I was wrestling a guy named Stoeker from Iowa State Teachers College. All through the match his coaches were yelling at him to stay away from me. He kept running off the mat and the referee kept allowing it.
Again he wouldn’t put him down for not being aggressive. The match ended with the score tied one to one. I knew what was going to happen. The referee voted for Stoeker but the two judges voted for me. I had my third national title. I could never figure out that referee though. There must have been something about me he just didn’t like."
After graduating for Oklahoma A&M, Dick returned to the Army with a commission and was stationed in France for two years. The Army wanted Dick to once again to represent his country in the 1952 Olympics. But this time he turned them down. He was weighing about 285 pounds, 100 pounds heavier than his last Olympic appearance. Besides he would have only three weeks to get ready for the trials.
Although they never saw eye to eye on their match. Hutton and Gagne were and still are friends. They became such when they both represented the United States in London in the 1948 Olympics. In fact it was Verne who persuaded Dick into turning pro. "When I found out that Verne was making $150,000 a year in the ring, I thought I can do that, I beat him, I can do that" Hutton laughs.
Dick decided to try to turn his amateur success on the mat to fame and fortune in the ring. In 1953 he turned professional. This is not as unusual as it may seem;
many of his contemporaries did the same and did it well. Verne Gagne (Minnesota), Mike DiBiase (Nebraska), Ralph Silverstein (Illinois), Bob Giegel (Iowa) and Ray Gunkel of Purdue all made the transition from the nation’s top amateur wrestlers to some of the world’s top professionals.
Although the fame and fortune did not come right away. Dick earned $7 for his first match and learned the "ropes" by taking on all comers throughout the Midwest. They got a dollar a minute and a thousand dollars if they beat him. Night after night truck drivers; marines and farmers would try their skills against the former national champion. No one won the thousand dollars in fact only a few won anything at all. The average time of Dick’s wins was 15 seconds.
Even though Dick had an inauspicious beginning it wasn’t long until Hutton caught the attention of wrestling greats Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Lou Thesz. Through their coaching and encouragement, Hutton began appearing in main events in major cities in North America and in 1957 in Toronto, Canada, Dick became the heavyweight champion of the world by upsetting the legendary Lou Thesz.
"I set a goal to win the world title in five years. I accomplished it in four. It was a great honor to hold the NWA world’s title and competing against Lou. Lou Thesz set the standard for all of us -- in and out of the ring. To me he was and is the greatest champion of all time," Hutton states.
Thesz returns the praise for his longtime friend and opponent. When recently asked who his toughest opponent was in his more than 6,000 matches, Lou replied without any hesitation, "That’s easy, it was Dick Hutton."
Dick remained undefeated in the ring for more than two years defending his title nearly every night. In 1959 he lost the championship to Pat O’Connor and within five years left the ring for good.
Leaving the ring was far from the end of Dick’s story. He married and had three sons (two are ministers and one works for ESPN). He has spent many years raising and racing quarter horses.
He has returned to his roots and now lives on his old family homestead that belonged to his grandfather. He tends to the three oil wells and his 20 acres. He has family close, plays penny ante poker once a month with his old high school and college teammates, and takes in an occasional horse race.
He has had both knees replaced so he is getting around a little slower now, but as he states, "I think we are going to make it."
When talking to him at the International Wrestling Institute Hall of Fame inductions, Dick said in his usual humble way, "All this fuss for me. I can’t believe this. You made me feel like I was somebody."
Mr. Hutton, you not only are somebody, you are somebody that
we all would wait in line to meet.
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