THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 151-2001
CALLS STRODE ‘GREATEST END’
(Chicago Defender, February 26, 1944)
MARCH FIELD, Calif. – In a recent after-dinner speech before members of the San Francisco Press Club, Major Paul J. Schissler, March Field athletic officer, described Cpl. Woody Strode, former UCLA track and football athlete, as "the greatest end in the United States."
Corporal Strode, who brought distinction to both his race and March Field when he won many individual championships in track and football, earned such a reputation at the field last year as the backbone of the track team and the "lead man" of the football line.
He played football with the Fourth Air Force, which ranked tenth in the nation in the Associated Press standings. His top mark in football is four touchdowns scored on passes.
He won titles in the shot put, discus and high jump. His top mark for the high jump is six feet, three inches.
Corporal Strode came to March Field after a brief pre-war career in professional football with the Coast champion Hollywood Bears.
While at UCLA, Corporal Strode starred at football and won the discus and shot put titles in both 1939 and 1940. In 1939 he helped them to the Coast Conference football co-championship by catching a succession of game-winning touchdown passes from Kenny Washington.
(ED. NOTE – Woody Strode, in addition to considerable notoriety earned in the motion pictures as he grew older, also was a top-flight professional wrestler for more than a decade in the 1940s and ‘50s.)
JIM ROSS ANALYZES WCW’S ANNOUNCING TEAM
(ED. NOTE --This it the fifth installment that originally was published in Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter #178 where Jim Ross talks about WCW announcers at the time and the prep work that goes into his announcing. Wade Keller did the interviewing.)
Wade Keller: What kind of preparation goes into a live pay-per-view or Clash broadcast for you. Do you not prepare because of your experience or do you surround yourself with fact cards on the wrestlers or do you talk to wrestlers or bookers ahead of time to see what they want stressed?
Jim Ross: Every show you do, you know it has a focus, and it has a reason, whether a TBS show should focus on pay-per-views, Clashes, or Omni events. The syndicated shows are more focused on the arena events with a secondary focus on pay-per-views. Every show serves a need that's clearly defined even before you get out there. I know what's booked and what direction we're going as far as the feuds. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell that Steamboat is pretty pissed off at Rude right now. If I have a Steamboat match, I know what context to tie into it between holds, and that's Rude.
Keller: How about specifically before pay-per-views and Clashes?
Ross: Before a pay-per-view or a Clash, I'll generally spend a week before the event preparing all my notes and looking up all kinds of material for each person on the card, define that one fact I can use that night, or two things that I can tie in. I always talk to the guys that afternoon to see how the guys are feeling and if they're injured. And if they're injured, I find out if that will prevent them from doing certain things. So I prepare about a week ahead of time. I do a lot of reading, a lot of note-taking, but when I go out to broadcast, there are very few notes on my format sheet. There are buzz words, and I try to read my notes so many times that the buzz words remind me of what I'm looking for. I try to do that. I don't know why other announcers don't do it enough. Some of the younger guys are coming along and doing it.
One thing that really offends me -- we do it sometimes, I've been guilty of it -- sometimes inadvertently and sometimes it's premeditated, unfortunately you say things you wish you didn't have to say because you know it's going to insult the intelligence of longtime fans. But that's one of the hazards of the duty. It goes with the territory, unfortunately. So I try to overcompensate for that if I can. I started doing all those background things on the pay-per-views and the Clashes and people seemed to like it because really nobody else was doing it. And a lot of the information was known. I don't have any revelations there. From time to time I'll have something new, but people remember it and it shows you respect the people that follow the sport for a long time by acknowledging something they experienced as a fan. A reference to Johnny Valentine or talking about some of the other champions. It's just something I want to do and management is fully behind it.
Keller: Speaking of young announcers, what is your impression of the progress of Eric Bischoff at this point?
Ross: I think Eric has gotten a lot better since he's been
here. He's getting a lot more comfortable on camera. He was a little stiff when
he first came to work here, but he had a heck of a lot of pressure on him, too.
Obviously, he came from a totally different environment from this place. He's
really progressed well. He's writing and producing the WCW Magazine (TV
segments). He and Teddy Long do the main event. I think it's too bad that more
people can't hear them. I think more people would like to hear them, believe it
not. I mean "believe it or not" in that a year and a half ago nobody
ever thought of those two working together. Teddy was managing and I guess Eric
was in Minnesota. So, I mean, it's a new deal and I suggested they put them
together and everybody agreed upstairs. They're doing a lot better than a lot of
people would perceive. I've been really pleased with the effort they're putting
I think Eric's niche is doing what he's doing right now. He enjoys writing; he's getting better at his writing. He's gonna get better at picking out footage. He's getting more comfortable on camera, that's a key thing. But I think a news, interviewer, feature type capacity is where he is probably going to flourish in the early part of his career. Then somewhere along the line he may move into more mainstream play-by-play.
Keller: How about Tony Schiavone. He's been a longtime colleague of yours and he's been in the old NWA, the WWF, and WCW. What's your impression of what he brings to WCW?
Ross: He's a real organized person. He has a lot of detail things to do. He's very systematic with good organization skills. I think he learned a lot of those at Titan because he had the opportunity to do several different things. He produced Coliseum Home Video in addition to working on the air. I think what he brings to the table which has been really good is organization of who does what interview where and keeping track of the local customized information that goes into the shows for the local events and what TVs need to go in. He does a lot of meticulous work that if it's mistaken, it's really glaring, such as the wrong promo airing in the wrong market.
I think he's probably in my opinion underrated as a play-by-play announcer. He's got great voice inflection, he's got genuine enthusiasm. He's a fan like me. We talk about it all the time. Both of us, like a lot of people, in grade school and junior high didn't mind people knowing we were wrestling fans, but in high school we started keeping it a secret because we got tired of the ridicule and persecution for being wrestling fans. I think a lot of people can identify with that. We have a lot in common in that regard. Tony and Jesse, I think, are really going to mesh well. He's really easy to work with and he work's hard. You know he's tireless because he's got five kids.
Keller: Missy Hyatt's role as an announcer in WCW has been criticized by a lot of people. She's the only female broadcaster in WCW and she's been portrayed off and on to differing degrees in the stereotypical "dumb blond" role. She sometimes portrays herself as more interested in interviewing men in the locker room or dating Tom Zenk than doing what you do, which is build up matches or feuds. Is the natural reaction to that, "Oh, it's just wrestling and that's what our fans want." Or is there a better role for either Missy Hyatt or another female announcer to play a more straight role to add a different perspective to the broadcasts?
Ross: I think that Missy is cast into the role that she is in because we feel that best fits her personality. Missy is a very bubblely, spontaneous person. If you met her in a hotel somewhere or a restaurant, you're going to see the same person you see on television. She's very natural on camera. She's there to add some sex appeal and some sizzle. She has had a lot of television exposure from the days on World Class on ESPN and their widespread syndicated network, to the Mid-South network through syndication, then to Crockett when he bought it out, then to TBS. So when you think of her as a television character - and that's what she is, a television character - we're portraying Missy to be a quasi-journalist. Hell, I'm a quasi-journalist. I'm not Dan Rather, either. So it's an entertainment entity and she's a character in that scheme of things. She's there to add some humor at times, some sex appeal at times, and to change the pace at times.
I'd like to see her do more interviews and structure them so she's asking more pertinent questions, questions that are predetermined. But, over the course of time, I have no idea why the American public has been infatuated and emotional with a bonafide opinion on aptly endowed, blond women. It goes back to May West and Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. Yeah, they're stereotypes, but it still sells. Look at other television shows. She's not trying to reinvent Connie Chung or Jane Pauley. She's closer to Goldie Hawn than Jane Pauley. What we hope is she's an entertaining character on a television program that has gotten lots of exposure. You can't discount her name identity. I'll tell you one thing, when I was doing the Main Event with her, and I've worked with her on and off for a long time on various programs. I probably get as many questions from guys about her as I do about any wrestler I've had here. You do have an opinion on her and yes she is often criticized and we get mail and calls about what she wears. They're reacting. We're not going to put her in a compromising deal. That thing in the horse trough surprised everyone, especially Missy. The issue is, I don't think the company is going to let women get into a degrading situation. I hope that women who read this aren't offended. It isn't WCW's opinion that all women are like Missy Hyatt. Missy Hyatt is a character that's been developed over the last several years that we're just trying to take advantage of in a controlled environment. She's not on doing color because that's not her forte'. She's doing a "Missy Does Mail" segment and that's structured for her. I think she's a valuable character for what we're doing within her little character description.
Now, the other issue is as far as a legitimate female journalist who is not as striking or glamourous perhaps as Missy Hyatt, maybe more articulate or businesslike, more conservative, I think there is a place for someone like that in our company.
Keller: Probably in all sports broadcasting?
Ross: Absolutely. The way people get a position is to make an aircheck, put something on videotape, and send it to WCW. Missy may be miscast. But it's just a situation where she's in a controlled situation doing specialized reports and she's there because of the entertainment value, some humor sometimes or gossip. She also has the second-highest response on her hotline segment. To say she has no purpose in the company is ludicrous.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 152-2001
JIM ROSS EVALUATES STING’S INTERVIEW ABILITIES
(ED. NOTE -- This it the sixth installment that originally was published in Pro WrestlingTorch newsletter #178 where Jim Ross tells Wade Keller about his interest in broadcasting professional football, his thoughts on Paul E. Dangerously, Lex Luger, Jesse Ventura, Rick Steamboat, and Sting's dedication to improving his interviews.)
Wade Keller: With your great interest in football, would you like to move on some day to football broadcasting on TBS or TNT or are you to the point where you are going to stick exclusively with wrestling (Note: This interview took place before Ross was hired to be part of the Atlanta Falcons radio broadcast team)?
Jim Ross: I never want to leave wrestling because I'm a fan and I still enjoy wrestling. I'm watching wrestling right now as we're talking, the "WWF Wrestling Challenge", as a matter of fact. People misinterpret my mentions of football. I officiated football for 18 years and I played high school football. I grew up in Oklahoma and it was special to play football on the same field in high school where your father played on Friday nights. So I have a little bit more pride as far as the football thing. I oversell it, there's no doubt about it. But I'm a football fan and a lot of lessons that I learned and a lot of the analogies I use I relate to football because I'm comfortable with it. Bill Watts did a lot of that, too, and quite frankly I learned a lot from him. Quite frankly, I learned a heck of a lot from him, so he made things so understandable by using a football analogy sometimes. But don't let anybody misunderstand that I would jump at doing football. If I could do football that wouldn't interfere with my wrestling work, that would be a real dream come true.
Keller: Do you see yourself running into the argument that by doing professional wrestling you don't have enough credibility to do "legitimate" sports like Jesse Ventura ran into at KFAN in Minneapolis?
Ross: There is absolutely something to it. Jesse Ventura is encountering something very real. That station may believe Jesse has no credibility because he happens to earn a hell of a living, probably more than the general manager of that radio station, working in wrestling. I found this out a couple of years ago when I was hired to do the wrestling at the Goodwill Games. So I went to Toledo to call the freestyle finals tournament and it came down to the USA vs. the Soviet Union. I did the play-by-play. I can't tell you how many hours of footage I looked at before I went up there. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to be able to do that. Then when they found out I was the guy on WCW Saturday night wrestling, they (the amateur wrestling association) freaked out. They demanded that I not appear in Seattle in any shape, form, or fashion and to be replaced immediately. I support the company's decision, they did not fight it, and removed me from the assignment. What really hurt my feelings was I really prepared and I spent about two hours talking with Bumgardner about the upcoming final match, but they accused me of trying to recruit him. That's the grounds they used to get me removed. Bumgardner later recanted that and said I never tried to recruit him and that was a misunderstanding they had. But they were very uncomfortable with a pro wrestling announcer touching their sanctimonious sport. But I thought this was a chance to really do something mainstream within wrestling and I was really pumped up about it. I did the thing in Toledo, but they voiced over it. I'm going to try to get a tape of it and watch it when I'm old. Because of that prejudice, I probably will never be given an opportunity to do sports.
For example, my radio show is getting ready to expand to two hours. Cox Communications that owns the station that my program is on is working on syndicating the show. They say they've got 30 stations in 5 states ready to take it and that would be another feed I would do on a weeknight. And that's all wrestling-produced. Wrestling is what brought me to the dance, as they say. They're making me an offer to host a Falcon tailgate party with the pre-game festivities and interviews, and stuff like that. It all depends on working out details and time restraints and all that. I'm working at TBS five days a week and do my radio show on Sundays. The bottom line is I got those opportunities because of my involvement in wrestling. The radio show is because of wrestling. If I do the tailgate thing with the Falcons it's because I have some name identity through wrestling in Atlanta.
I tell ya' what I'd do. If I could find some small college or high school within driving distance of Atlanta and do radio for that team, regardless of what I was getting paid, that would probably quench my football fever, so to speak. I'm just a fan. It was a gas doing football on the radio. It was a really great experience. I'd love to do it for the fun of it, but wrestling got me where I am and I just want to stay in wrestling as long as somebody will have me. You never know. I've seen guys lose jobs that I thought never in my life would. I'm going to do all I can to be sure that doesn't occur to me.
Keller: What are your thoughts on Paul E. Dangerously and his transition from color commentary back to managing?
Ross: I think that being on color probably helped Paul for forming his thoughts on interviews. I like to think he became even more a student of the game by having to analyze so many matches. He always had great abilities from his early days with his antics at ringside. He's got lots of energy. For most people, Paul's very easy to hate. He's got the exact right personality for a wrestling manager. He's another that loves the business. From the time he could formulate coherent thoughts, he was thinking about the wrestling business. As he got older, he set his sights on being a wrestling manager because of who he associated with back when he was a teenager, the Freddie Blassies and Grand Wizards. And they're obviously going to have an impression on someone who is a fan.
He's very focused. We've focused a lot of things on him. He's expected to produce and maintain a certain level of intensity. So far he's risen to the occasion. It's a great responsibility to be the lead manager in a company this big. You normally are involved in more than one program, more than one angle. You have to be very careful and organized on interviews. He's involved in Rude vs. Steamboat, the Zbyszko situation, Anderson & Eaton, and Austin. It's a great mental challenge, but he doesn't think about much else than wrestling, anyway, so he's handling it all right.
Keller: Where can he improve?
Ross: The thing that Paul can improve on more than anything is time management. He allows his surroundings to get him in a time element that is not conducive to creativity and planning. He needs to manage his time more diligently. I'm not saying Paul's not dependable. He never misses work unless he's deathly sick. But just managing his time and it's a big job when you're on the road. You've got responsibility with your talent, with your wardrobe, with your lodging and your travel and your meals, plus you've got to maintain a certain appearance and decorum. When they see Paul E. in Omaha, they want to see Paul E. Dangerously in a fresh suit and a good looking outfit because he's "successful as the CEO of the Dangerous Alliance." It's a real challenge to be a manager. So I think the biggest thing he could do to help himself is manage his time so he's not always at a frantic place. It'll make him old in a hurry.
Keller: Who do you believe is the most valuable wrestler or MVP of WCW today?
Ross: The MVP on the babyface side is probably Ricky Steamboat because of his consistency night after night. The interviews he's done have been a positive spark to compliment Sting on the fan favorite side. As far as the other, it would have to be Rude. Since the first time he was here at Halloween Havoc, he has created an aura of something special around him. He is in my opinion the hottest heel in all of professional wrestling. He can talk, he can wrestle, he can brawl, he can do anything you ask him to do. He is a pure professional. We've got some guys like Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson, they're so damn underrated, and I hope they're never underappreciated. It's like a good referee in a ballgame that you didn't notice that did a really good job. Sometimes they're so error free and machine-like we take them for granted. I would hate to think where we would be quite frankly without the Dangerous Alliance. Dusty created the Dangerous Alliance. He decided that Paul was going to be featured and he decided to put this group together. That was his creation. He's done a real good job. When you start mending fences that he inherited in this mess I think any booker would tell you one of the first things you do is to rebuild your heels. He has done that and added some credibility to what they've already established. Plus add Vader. But all five of the guys in the Dangerous Alliance are really talented and have been the catalysts in what we've been doing. But if you have to pick one most valuable guy, it would have to be Rude. He's had some hellacious matches with Sting and some classics with Steamboat. He's also got some genuine heat in the arenas. I respect him for that because he endures that. He's not intimidated by the fans and they respect that.
Keller: What are your thoughts on the Lex Luger situation and how that's unfolded this year?
Ross: I think he was genuinely burned out on the business. I think if you asked him if he watched wrestling as a youngster like we talked about with Jim Cornette and Tony Schiavone, he would say no. I don't think he was ever really a big fan of the sport. It was strictly business to him. He didn't have a lot of emotional attachments. So things started eroding away for him in that regard to where I think he got tired of coming to work. I hope he does well with whatever he does. He's a very unique man, very intelligent, but he has some unique views on things. He probably made the right decision for himself at this point. I think he was really burned out on the night after night grind of going to the towns. He really didn't have that love for the business because he got into it and shortly thereafter he was making a lot of money, then he got a big guaranteed contract. It was kind of like he went out of high school and right into major league baseball without going through the minor leagues.
Keller: Would you say it is in the minors where you not only learn to appreciate the sport but also the other people who have had to work their way through the system?
Ross: I think so. I think you have a whole new appreciation for the sport you're in if you pay your dues. You can't blame him. If someone comes in during your second or third year in the business and offers you a six-figure contract, you're not going to turn them down.
Keller: In talking about Lex Luger earlier, Sting has a similar background with not being a wrestling fan as he grew up, being offered guarantees early, and not paying dues as much as some of his fellow wrestlers. How has Sting adapted differently?
Ross: I think he has adapted differently because he worked in Memphis for a while, he worked for us for a good time and made car trips and earned $40 a night and $50 a night. He was involved in bloodbaths and wild things and hectic schedules and a demanding boss. I think his and Luger's introduction into the business were very different. Again, you find a guy with phenomenal charisma, a great look, natural athletic skills, great spring in his legs. He's just a great athlete. He certainly in the last three years has accelerated his wrestling abilities. I've had a chance to call some matches where he was involved in excellent matches, such as those he had with Rude. You really can't blame the guy for taking the money. I think Sting is a little bit more comfortable in the business than Lex was. Sting is a real personable guy. He likes to joke with the guys. He's always in conversation with somebody. He's not a loner, he's not introverted. Their personalities are different in that regard. Sting's personality is much more compatible for being on the road like he is than Lex. I also think he appreciates the business a lot more. I think his time in Mid-South helped him a great deal. Then he was on the road with the B-team. When Crockett bought the UWF, he was on the road working the mid-cards in the second or third match until he finally got that match with Flair in March of 1988. So a combination of things on that particular day elevated him to that particular level.
Keller: What are some of things Sting needs to work on, such as interviews?
Ross: If he could work on one area in the entire spectrum of things, it would be his interviews. I think he'd probably agree with that.
Keller: Does he put forth effort necessary to improve that?
Ross: Well, a lot has to do with the amount of production that they're asked to do in a condensed amount of time. Often we're on a deadline in having to do so much television that it's unfortunate that time restraints do play a part in the quality of interviews. They are done on a very long production day that is culminated by 25 or 30 wrestling matches that night. Until the system is a little bit more compatible to the wrestlers and their skill levels, the interviews are not going to improve.
I think the interviews need to be done on a separate day where the focus is on interviews, not the television show we're getting ready to shoot. At that point, a lot of our guys that are not as strong on interviews would get a chance to do it more times and get more comfortable with more assistance and management help. I think the system itself does not lend to a mediocre interviewer getting a lot better.
The other thing is it is a tremendous art to interview. It's an overlooked skill, but the great performers and wage earners in this business historically have been able to speak. There are a lot of guys that have gotten over for other reasons, but in any event, that's an underrated skill. That's something that's very, very important. We've got a lot of guys where that's not their strength. That's not to say they're not working on it, but the system needs to change to facilitate more improvement. The bell is going to ring at 7 o'clock for the taping so the interviews have to be finished. There has been talk of designating one day a month as interview day. If that happens, then slowly but surely the focus that day will be on interviews. Then the other days can be dedicated to making good television. They should be both produced and structured on their own merits. That's my theory on interviewing 101.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 153-2001
ZBYSZKO SIGNED FOR JULY 8 BOUT
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, June 17, 1925)
Stanislaus Zbyszko, who twice has won and lost the world’s wrestling championship, will appear in a bout here July 8, promoter Tom (Hat) Freeman announced yesterday, after receiving a telegram from Emil Klank, the Pole’s manager, who agreed to bring the wrestler here for that date.
The telegram followed a series of letters between the Spokane promoter and Mr. Klank, and assured fans of the chance to see one of the great figures of the wrestling world. The gigantic wrestler is one of the oldtimers of sport. There is some dispute about his age, but he is as reticent as a woman about the number of his summers, but Bob Edgren, veteran authority on athletics, states that the picturesque master is 58 years old, and other authorities agree that Zbyszko has passed the half-century mark.
A number of candidates are eager to meet Zbyszko. Leo LaMonteaux of Montreal may be brought here for the out. LaMonteaux is claimant of the French-Canadian heavyweight crown. He weighs 235 pounds.
Jack Taylor, who appeared here a score of years ago and returned last winter, is also after the match. Taylor is now in Butte. Chris Friberg of Chicago also has asked Hat Freeman for a chance at the wrestling Pole.
The bout will probably be staged at the S.A.A.C. and will probably be a finish match.
WRESTLERS MOANING; IT’S SO UNUSUAL
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sunday, May 4, 1941)
By Royal Brougham
With all the tragedy and sorrowing in the world, a good chuckle is worth the price of the newspaper.
If there isn’t a laugh in this resolution from the Wrestling Mob, then quit reading the column and turn over to Blondie and Dagwood.
In a serious vein, the rasslers are broadcasting a protest against the "ludicrous manner in which the dignified professional is treated in a current moving picture." Among the Whereases is this one:
"WHEREAS: The Wrestling Profession, being a profession of
dignity and one which rightfully imbues its members with a feeling of pride, its
roster being composed of the Flower of American Manhood …"
(Honest, it really says that!)
"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That members of the profession join together for the purpose of maintaining its existence on the high plane which it has attained, and the motion picture producers be importuned to refrain in the future from belittling the wrestling profession and otherwise casting aspersions upon its dignity."
(That’s the same dignified profession which features mud wrestling matches, blindfolded gladiators, clowns in long whiskers and fake battles royal.)
Among the Groan and Grunters who signed this gem was Jim Londos, leader of the gang which recently staged a sour Greek Relief show in Seattle. With sympathy for the poor Greeks welling up from their kind hearts, Portland’s Ted Thye and Spokane’s Charley York were co-promoters with Londos in this beautiful philanthropic movement which ended in the usual scandal.
The mat trust was just trying to jimmy its way back into the Seattle sports program on the assumption that one or two of us skeptics had forgotten the very unfunny finish to one of the last shows held here last year. During the phony riot act a man got killed and the jig was up.
Comes now a national protest from the honest, dignified
rassling trust and if that isn’t funny, then you get your nickel back.
JIM ROSS’S OVERALL FIRST DRAFT PICK OUTSIDE WCW
(ED. NOTE -- The following is part seven in a seven-part series of "Torch Talks" with Jim Ross. The interview was conducted by phone on Apr. 25, 1992, with WCW's lead announcer. In this final segment, Ross talks about pay-per-view, TitanGate, who he would draft for WCW of any non-WCW wrestler, and his thoughts on what Hulk Hogan has done for pro wrestling.)
Wade Keller: What is your view on the number of pay-per-views that should be promoted in this age of wrestling?
Jim Ross: As a business we're probably promoting too many pay-per-views. If we promoted four pay-per-views a year, I think that would be very, very advantageous. I think that's the thing to do, four pay-per-views and four Clashes.
Keller: Do you think the total number of dollars taken in through pay-per-view would increase with four shows instead of eight?
Ross: I believe we'll be able to build the buy rates because we'll have a better build-up and a better product and a better storyline. We'll have more time to develop some interesting things.
Keller: And less exposure, so there will be a reason to attend the arena shows again?
Ross: Well, that's it. The main thing is it's going to re-emphasize the house shows. I think we ought to have four pay-per-views with a title defense on one, maybe two at most. Have three theme events, a WarGames or something, and then one title defense out of four.
Keller: Similar to the WWF's theme shows like Rumble and Survivor Series.
Ross: Right. Then the title shots return to be an important, exclusive part of arena shows. Maybe once a year you have a champion defend the World Title on the Clash when a feud is coming to an end.
Keller: That is what Vince McMahon used to do on Saturday Night's Main Events on NBC. He would have World Title matches involving the people at the end of a house show run. Then he wouldn't lose any house show interest because another challenger was already being built up.
Ross: It's was great planning. The business now has to serve so many masters. It used to be just house shows. Now it's diversified and the attention is split. There's pay-per-view, hotlines, magazines, merchandising. Now it's like the Home Shopping Network, we've always got something to pitch. I wish we didn't have to do that. We probably have to think of a better way of doing that, in a more condensed form. We can't eliminate those revenue sources.
Keller: If you could handpick one wrestler to join WCW who is not currently part of WCW, who would that be?
Ross: Well, I mentioned on your radio show that it would be Hulk Hogan because obviously he is the most marketable, most recognizable name in the history of the wrestling business. He has done more good things for the wrestling business than the bad things he is now being accused of. He has created an awareness for our industry that cannot be measured in dollars and cents because of the way the WWF marketed him. If you take everything into consideration and weight everything out, he has been a whole lot better for wrestling than he has been bad for wrestling. It's just unfortunate that the focus lately has been on the steroid controversy. But you look at the guy who has created so much awareness for our business and created sponsors and opened doors to commercials and wrestlers being in movies. He's opened the doors. Now whether other wrestlers get the same opportunities or take advantage of those opportunities remains to be seen. He did a lot for the business. I say this with you knowing I've never met Hulk Hogan, nor have I spoken to Hulk Hogan throughout my career. So it isn't that he and I are good buddies -- to get back to that Jim Herd returning handshakes theory. I do know that when Hulkamania started the business seemed to explode. I know that we had some phenomenal business in our area because of the heightened interest in wrestling in general that was stimulated by the character Hulk Hogan. I feel badly for the stuff that has gone on and you certainly want to think and hope a lot of it isn't true.
But for those of us getting a paycheck regularly out of this business, you've got to say Hogan helped us get jump-started. With him as a stimulant, you have a syndicated network that developed. And so they (the WWF) became the prototype for what we're doing. They had this character Hogan who starred in a movie and was the star of their show and then they combined that with a technically superb product lighting- and audio-wise, and then they went out and were able to clear excellent timeslots on very viable television stations. But the core, the heartbeat of that whole syndicated effort and mass clearance of television stations was because the WWF was so popular. The reason they were so popular was because of Hulk Hogan. So when others saw that you could go out to a market you never had gone to and talk to a station and clear your show and sell advertising on your show to create a new stream of income, well, what a hell of an idea. That's what we did in the Mid-South in our region. That's what Crockett did in the Mid-Atlantic and then he expanded. We expanded some. But everybody followed McMahon's structure because it was so perfect in how it worked. But McMahon was riding on the popularity of his own creativity as he created Hulk Hogan. Some people perceive McMahon as an enemy, and he's another guy I've never met. But when you make a living off of this business, you've got to admire what he's done and because he has elevated wrestling to where it has created more money streams and has higher revenues than ever before. That allows guys like me to make more money than my predecessors made.
Keller: But obviously no matter what good he has done, he should also be held accountable for that which he has done wrong?
Ross: I don't know if those things will be proven or if they are true. McMahon is a human and he makes mistakes, but I can only judge him professionally. I'm not condoning these charges, I haven't seen anything or talked to someone who saw what happened, but the only thing I can judge events on is that he has through his and the WWF's success, created a field where I can make a very good living. If we didn't have the syndicated ad revenue and pay-per-view and prime time specials, I wouldn't have the opportunities I have now. But certainly I'm not downplaying the charges, but I can't comment on them without knowledge. If it's proven, then we've got a different set of circumstances.
Keller: But at this point, we've got gross inconsistencies and lies on one side, and a greater level of consistency on another side.
Ross: It's unfortunate that people's personal lives have to get involved in the business.
Keller: Is illegal drug use of a role model who preaches against it personal? Is somebody having to have sex with the boss to get advancements personal?
Ross: You're right about that. But I'm talking about big
things about Pat Patterson being a homosexual. I'm happy to say I'm a
heterosexual, but I certainly don't have homophobia. But I don't think that's a
fair analogy that all homosexual men have no morals or no character.
Keller: I'd be disappointed if that was something that came out of this coverage. But I don't think the idea that all heterosexuals rape somebody for job advancements has come out of this coverage, either.
Ross: I agree with that. I'll be happy when the whole industry can get back to focusing on producing interesting and thought-provoking exciting TV and having exciting house shows and having everybody talk about how bad that angle was or how good this was as it related to the product.
Keller: Although would you agree that when we eventually get back to that stage that it was worth going through this stage if that means steroid use is cut down, people don't have to sleep with somebody of the opposite sex or same sex to keep their job, and there isn't that type of abuse and lack of accountability. If all of that "good" comes out of this "bad", then would you say that we shouldn't complain about what's going on? After all, in the end this will have been beneficial for the business and beneficial to those who want to keep their jobs based on their wrestling skill, not who they sleep with?
Ross: I think that's probably the healthiest way to look at it because these situations have been well-covered and they're real in the sense that these allegations exist. I guess the healthiest way mentally to look at it is just what you're saying. Yes if anything good comes out of this thing, such as a heightened awareness of steroid abuse as a major issue, then it was worthwhile.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 154-2001
ZBYSZKO EXPECTS TO BE BEST AT AGE OF 60
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, Sunday, JULY 5, 1925)
Stanislaus Zbyszko, the famous Polish wrestler, who meets Leo L’Heureux here July 8 in a finish wrestling match, is one of the best known characters in the sports world. For 20 years Zbyszko has toured the globe, meeting all comers. Several times, the former world’s champion has announced his retirement, but the call of the mat game and the offer of big purses have proved too strong for the Polish superman.
In his globetrotting, Zbyszko has met with many queer adventures. During the war he was in Russia. In 1917, he was grabbed by the bolsheviki, who demanded to know what the Pole was doing in Russia, and proposed to execute Zbyszko offhand on the chance that he might be a spy or a capitalist.
"I am a wrestler," pleaded Zbyszko. "I know nothing of politics or money. I know nothing but wrestling."
"So you are a wrestler," said Zbyszko’s captors, laughing. "Well, we have a wrestler, he is Aberg. You have heard of him, yes? You shall wrestle Aberg to amuse the soldiers. If you can throw Aberg you are a wrestler and you can go. If you lose the match you are a spy and we shoot you immediately."
Aberg was a Russian heavyweight wrestler – one of the best in all Europe. Zbyszko says that match was the greatest thrill of his life. Soldiers, waiting to shoot him, sat around the ring, laughing and jeering. They knew Aberg and they didn’t know Zbyszko. There was a referee, who stepped on Zbyszko’s fingers and slyly kicked him as the wrestlers rolled about. But Zbyszko managed to get a fall and in the excitement following slipped back of the stage and bribed some of the soldiers to help him escape, with money he had hidden in his trunks.
Stanislaus Zbyszko has an interesting history. Like Hackenschmidt, he speaks nine languages and has a university education. He was born at Cracow. He studied law, but because of his tremendous natural strength, took up wrestling professionally and never went back to the legal grips and strangle holds. Zbyszko never developed any feature holds like the Gotch toe hold, Stecher scissors or the Lewis headlock. He always depended upon unlimited strength and endurance to wear opponents down. He has appeared in more than 2,000 matches.
He lives in the summertime on the beach at Old Orchard, Maine, staying in the sun all day, wearing only a bathing suit. He does not smoke or dissipate, or eat as much as his appetite demands. He trains four hours a day to keep his weight down and his muscles lean.
"When I am more than 60," says Zbyszko, "I will do my best wrestling."
He has a lot of ambition for a young fellow.
STAGE IS READY FOR MAT BATTLE
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, July 8, 1925)
Dyed-in-the-wool wrestling fans who know every hold from the body scissors to the headlock, and novices who have never seen a mat contest are expected to pack 1,200 seats in the S.A.A.C. gymnasium tonight at 8:30 when Stanislaus Zbyszko, veteran Polish wrestler, meets Leo L’Hereux, young Canadian champion, in a finish match. Nearly a quarter of a ton of beef and brawn will clash when the heavyweight grapplers meet for the championship of Canada, a title held by L’Hereux, and the championship of Europe, held by Zbyszko.
Final arrangements were completed yesterday by promoter Tom (Hat) Freeman. Tons of ice will be used to cool the air in the gymnasium if the night is warm. Dr. Charles Olson has been appointed referee for the main event with Joe Adams holding the watch and Herb Sutherland acting as announcer.
Mel Porter will meet Young Sampson, 160-pound wrestler, in the half-hour preliminary, with Lloyd Williams acting as referee.
Zbyszko, who has a barrel-like chest and huge, bulging muscles, is one of the colorful marvels of the mat. Yesterday he was introduced to the members of the Chamber of Commerce and today he is scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Advertising club. A graduate of the University of Vienna law department, he speaks nine languages, using an English vocabulary superior to the vocabulary of many native Americans. He has been a careful student of the science of wrestling and tonight it is expected that he will demonstrate many of his great tricks.
ZBYSZKO, ANCIENT POLISH WRESTLER, WINS
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, Thursday, July 9, 1925)
"Grow old along with me;
The best is yet to be … "
-- from "Rabbi Ben Ezra"
Taking the above little text from Robert Browning, Stanislaus Zbyszko, 58-year-old Polish wrestler, last night demonstrated his point by expeditiously taking two in three falls over Leo L’Hereux, an ambitious young star youthful enough to be his son at the S.A.A.C. gymnasium, while 1,000 fans shouted for the stocky heavyweight wrestlers.
Bronzed by romping in the sunshine, the Polish master presents a strange figure. His legs are round pillars and his muscular arms come from the shoulders of a barrel chest. He has a little gray grizzle of hair on a shiny, bald head, which fits on his neck with scarcely a curve.
When L’Hereux tried to clamp headlocks over Zbyszko’s shiny pate, he discovered that Stanislaus was as hard to grasp as a greased pig at a country fair.
Zbyszko learned wrestling by first mastering defense, and last night he showed his marvelous protection against the attack of the Canadian, who was as frisky as a colt and as fast as an express. The Pole wriggled out of headlocks, toeholds, wristlocks and head and arm scissors. After each escape he leaped to his feet, swelled his huge chest and romped around in the manner of a genial pachyderm.
The first fall came suddenly, after the Canadian had hurled his brown, pudgy rival to the mat with a flying mare. Zbyszko’s crimson trunks flashed through the air as the crowd howled for the youthful aspirant. Even as he fell, the Pole reached in with his huge arms and took a half-nelson and crotch hold which pinned his rival. Zbyszko leaped over the ropes, while L’Hereux lay panting on the floor.
The Canadian aspirant came gamely back for the second fall and frisked about his aged rival, then surprised the mob by taking the second fall. Several Japanese arm scissors weakened Zbyszko’s left arm. Time after time the youth applied the hold, while the old man suffered as patiently as Job. His eyes were calm as he remembered the painful holds which he had somehow escaped in the many battles of his long career.
Finally, the Canadian tumbled his rival with a headlock, dropped the hold, whirled and took the Japanese wristlock, forcing the Pole to the floor for a fall after 19 ½ minutes. He lay exhausted while Stanislaus walked around the ring, rubbing his tingling forearm.
In the last fall, Zbyszko forgot his defensive attitude, wishing to put a quick end to the match. L’Hereux wiggled away from several holds, with the browned veteran taking the role of a cat toying with a giant mouse. After eight minutes, Zbyszko reached his arms back over his shoulders and whirled his rival to the floor with a flying mare.
Fans crowded about the ring to shake hands with the veteran who had proved that age could not wither nor custom stale his infinite variety and promoter Tom Freeman grinned with joy at the close of a successful card. Zbyszko weighed 225 and his rival 210.
Young Sampson took the only fall of a 30-minute preliminary match with Mel Porter in six minutes, having the lead most of the way. Porter applied several punishing scissor holds, but unlike his biblical namesake, Samson escaped before the scissors had weakened him. They weighed 160 each.
C.C. Miller won the decision over Ted Brown in a 15-minute preliminary at 150 pounds. The preliminary battlers were Spokane men.
Herb Sutherland was announcer and Joe Adams timer. Dr. Charles Olson refereed the main event and Lloyd Williams the opening bouts.
ZBYSZKO ON WAY FOR MATCH HERE
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, Sunday, July 19, 1925)
Stanislaus Zbyszko is expected to arrive tomorrow morning from Portland for his match with Dan Koloff, Bulgarian champion, at the Fort George Wright open-air arena Thursday night, July 23. Koloff should reach Spokane Tuesday, as an engagement in Los Angeles July 19 prevents his arrival at an earlier date.
With the veteran Pole and the big coast heavyweight as the headliners for his open-air card at the post arena, promoter Hat Freeman is expecting a big turnout. Both have appeared in Spokane in bouts before, although on different cards.
This bout should prove a bigger thriller than the recent Zbyszko-L’Hereux bout, as the men are better matched. L’Hereux lacked the weight, experience and cunning to cope successfully with the crafty Pole, although he was game enough and willing to mix. Koloff had a marked advantage over the young Canadian in that he has had more experience, is some 15 pounds heavier and knows the game better. Hence he should prove a formidable foe for his agile and fast opponent.
Koloff has been winning consistently in his bouts on the Coast, although he lost a match to champion Joe Stecher in Los Angeles recently, when the scissors artist took two straight falls. Koloff made an excellent showing against Stecher here last fall, taking one of three falls from the present champ.
Zbyszko has been winning his bouts on the Coast without a great deal of difficulty, his last victim being Gobar, the mammoth Hindu, who tips the scales at 313 pounds. This will be Zbyszko’s third appearance in Spokane. The big Pole wrestled here first in 1912, in the days when Frank Gotch ruled as champion of the heavyweights, and made his second bow to local mat fans only a short time ago, when he tossed L’Hereux.
Always a clean sportsman as well as an exponent of the theory of clean living, the veteran Pole is popular in Spokane and is a big drawing card. Age does not seem to impair the skill and strength of the Polish wrestler, or at least he makes up in craftiness what he loses in strength, as his records testify.
Promoter Freeman expects to stage three high-class preliminaries before the Zbyszko-Koloff go. Young Sampson, S.A.A.C. grappler, will meet Corporal Oper of Fort Wright in one, and two soldiers, Jutras and Flynn, are scheduled to clash in the second preliminary. The former pair are in the 160 or 170-pound limit, while Jutras and Flynn are lightweights. Freeman plans on arranging another preliminary between now and the time of the match.
Freeman is doing his best to get Emmett Klank to referee this match. Klank is a widely known official of Portland. The Fort Wright open-air arena provides a cooler and more comfortable place than indoor arenas. It has a seating capacity of 4,000, which will give all Spokane fans a chance to see the two stars.
ZBYSZKO THROWS KOLOFF AT FORT
(Spokane Spokesman-Review, Friday, July 24, 1925)
After losing the first fall to Dan Koloff, Stanislaus Zbyszko, veteran of more than 2,000 matches, came back and took the next two falls and the match in the mat card at the Fort George Wright arena last night. A crowd of 1,000 people, including a liberal sprinkling of women, saw the two heavyweights go at each other with a vengeance from the start, and keep up the pace throughout the match.
Although the veteran Pole dropped the first fall to his younger rival, he appeared to be fresher and in better condition at the end of the fall than Koloff, who took the duke with a punishing wrist lock after 32 minutes of wrestling. Zbyszko remained on the offensive throughout most of the first fall, and kept the Bulgarian busy wriggling out of dangerous holds. Shortly before getting the fall, Koloff kicked out of a bad toe hold, only to have Zbyszko clamp a headlock on him. Koloff spun out of the headlock and regained his feet, and as the two men went down together to the mat with the Bulgarian on top, he applied a wrist lock, which Zbyszko couldn’t break.
Koloff was dizzy and staggered somewhat as he went to his corner at the end of the fall, while Zbyszko appeared to be the least tired of the two. Both used Strangler Lewis’ thunder throughout the match, applying painful headlocks, bringing cheers and applause from the audience as they squirmed out of them. Zbyszko was the aggressor at the start of the second fall, carrying the bout to Koloff, who was willing enough to mix. Zbyszko’s bald and slick head enabled him to slip out of many headlocks applied by the Bulgarian.
Zbyszko was on top most of the time during the first 10 minutes, but could not for a while secure any effective holds. Koloff regained his feet several times and finally succeeded in maneuvering around behind the veteran Pole. As he attempted to raise Zbyszko bodily and throw him to the mat, the Pole kicked Koloff’s feet out from under him and lit on top of him with a neat backward flip, which completely jarred the wind out of the Bulgarian. Zbyszko then turned and rolled over on top of Koloff and pinned his shoulders to the mat. The time was 11 minutes, 30 seconds.
Zbyszko came out of his corner and clamped a headlock on Koloff at the start of the last fall. Koloff broke this and a few seconds later got out of a bad toe hold. Zbyszko forced the issue and got another headlock, only to have Koloff break it. Two more headlocks in rapid succession weakened the Bulgarian and he succumbed a few seconds later to a flying mare, Zbyszko bringing him over his shoulder with a desperate heave and pinning his shoulders to the canvas. The time for this fall was 12 minutes.
Two preliminaries and a band concert preceded the main event. Corporal Jutras defeated Private Flynn in the first prelim, taking the one-fall match in seven minutes. Young Sampson, S.A.A.C. grappler, proved too much for Corporal Oper of Fort Wright, throwing him in eight and a half minutes, after the soldier had made a game stand. Dr. Charley Olson refereed the main event.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS
NICK LONDES STARTS A DRIVE TO ‘PURIFY’ WRESTLING GAME
(United Press, April 5, 1936)
DETROIT – Nick Londes, Detroit’s impressario of promotion, Saturday announced the opening of his campaign to purify the wrestling industry.
This benevolent movement, according to Londes, will help raise the gruant-and-groan profession to a high standard by eliminating the so-called gorillas, mustachioed fakirs, bearded beasts and small-fry wrestlers who, it is claimed, are running the sport into the ground.
The Detroit promoter, whose endeavors range from pugilism to grand opera, has requested the National Wrestling Association to sanction a professional tournament, to be held in Detroit "from now until we clean out the fakes."
Londes’ present plans call for a tournament with matches to be held weekly (if necessary) among wrestlers who think they can last 10 minutes in a gym workout with some of the present-day chieftains of the industry.
"In other words," Londes explained, "every wrestler in the country will have a chance. The gymnasium eliminations will push aside these man-eating monsters – the type that is disgusting the fans.
The school of wrestlers Londes would like to force out of the business are the ones he describes as the chair-smashing, eye-poking palookas, whose crowd appeal depends upon such stunts as eating spectators’ straw hats and slugging referees. Nick insists that Danno O’Mahoney, Jim Londos, Ray Steele, Strangler Lewis, Gus Sonnenberg or any of the other top-notchers could wrap any 10 "burlesque wrestlers" around the ring posts in two minute.
Londes’ plans were revealed following the suspension and late reinstatement this week of Dick Shikat, recognized world heavyweight champion, by the Michigan Athletic Commission. Indiana and Tennessee have barred the new N.W.A. champion because he failed to show up for contracted exhibitions.
Shikat, who recently wrested the heavyweight crown from O’Mahoney, is the No. 1 nomination on the Detroit promoter’s list of small-fry wrestlers.
"Any wrestler who jumps dates and is always complaining about the so-called wrestling trust is a disgrace to the sport," Nick insisted.
The Detroit promoter stamps as first-class wrestling flesh such performers as Lewis, Steele, O’Mahoney, Londos, Sonnenberg, Jim McMillen, Man Mountain Dean, the Dusek brothers, Joe Savoldi, Ed Don George, Dr. Karl Sarpolis, Hans Kampfer, Hans Steinke, Ray Richards, Fred Grubmeier, Leo Numa, Vincent Lopez, George Zaharias, Cliff Olson and Everett Marshall.
It might be well to mention that Londes is in the midst of bitter rivalry with Herr Adam Weissmuller for the title of Detroit’s No. 1 promoter. Shikat will wrestle at the Arena Gardens Monday with John Leon Grandovich under Weissmuller’s colors. The champion, with many extra pounds of blubber around his midsection, worked out yesterday, and told spectators that when he won the title from O’Mahoney he could have broken the Irishman’s arm with the triumphant bar hammerlock.
The Shikat-Grandovich match was approved by the State Athletic Board because the contracts were signed before the suspension was voted.
SHIKAT EASILY PINS RUSSIAN
(Detroit Free Press, April 7, 1936)
By Tod Rockwell
The odds were 3,000 to 2 that Dick Shikat, world wrestling champ, would pin one John Leon Grandovich, title claimant, last night at Arena Gardens. Dick did. Twenty-two minutes after Shikat, the stolid German, was introduced to about 3,500 spectators who grossed $3,500 for Adam Weissmuller. Dick had pinned John with the standard hold of grapplers everywhere – the body press.
But it wasn’t all quite that simple. There was plenty of mumbling about the dullness of the main event as the spectators filed from the ringside. Customers at Arena Garden have been accustomed to a heap more "drammer" than Herr Dick and John Leon displayed last night.
Much of the fault can be attached to John, introduced as the man from Yugoslavia. When they took the robe from his ample person, it was the tip-off. John had the bullet head and the thick neck that you look for in wrestlers. And his legs indeed were stout. But his waistline – it would compare very favorably with the distinguished proportions of Bingo Brown, head commissioner of all wrestlers in our state.
So it proved that John Leon wasn’t a good playmate for the plodding German, whose face proved as unemotional as Joe Louis’. Five minutes into the bout, Grandovich was plainly tired out. And so he became a seeker of refuge under the rope.
He reached out for ’em 15 out of the 22 ½ minutes. Herr Dick just couldn’t strut his stuff with a guy like that. Dick clamped on some smart armlocks, his famed head chanceries, combination nelsons and hammerlocks, but somehow they didn’t seem to register with the crowd. John kept seeking refuge under the ropes to spoil the show just when the German was about to turn on the pressure.
The champ allowed himself to be rolled into a leg split and toe hold after 10 minutes of the bout and John stormed at him in his native Jugoslavian that he’d tear off a foot. Dick paid him no heed. Instead, he kicked John in the face to register the lone punt of the evening.
From that time until near the end of the bout, it all was rather aimless. Shikat clamped some hammerlocks on the left arm of his opponent and the latter carried on as though his arm was broken. Near the end of the bout, John came out fromunder his rope refuge for the last time. Herr Dick decided that he had had enough of it all. Stupidly, Grandovich allowed himself to be picked up for a body slam. Dick flopped down on him like a wet mop and decided he’d do it just once more. And, with that, he was the winner.
Far more colorful and entertaining were the other bouts on the card. They follow: Ali Baba defeated Al George in 8:47; Ivan Rasputin pinned Hans Schnabel in 29:50; Walter Podolak defeated Frank Malcewicz on a foul in 10 minutes; Jose Manuel defeated Mike Kilonis in 12:10, and Baby Face Nelson pinned Muny Warham in 11:50. The latter bouts exhibited wrestling as we have come to know it in Detroit.
ALI BABA GIVEN SHIKAT MATCH
(Detroit Free Press, April 15, 1936)
Dick Shikat, world professional wrestling champion, has been signed to defend his title against Ali Baba, the Turk, promoter Adam Weissmuller announced Tuesday night. The match will be held Friday, April 24, at Olympia.
Ali Baba, who came to the United States six months ago, has become one of the leading contenders for the championship Shikat wrested from Danno O’Mahoney a little more than a month ago in Philadelphia (sic). He earned the chance for the title match Monday night by throwing the bearded Ivan Rasputin 22 minutes at Arena Gardens. The winner was promised a bout with Shikat.
Baba has wrestled seven times in Detroit and has won each time. Most of the matches lasted less than five minutes.
Weissmuller has booked the match for Olympia because the anticipated crowd is more than can be accomodated at the latter place.
Shikat probably will have a weight advantage on the small but chunky Ali Baba. Shikat has weighed approximately 230 for most of his matches, while Baba has weighed in at around 200.
SHIKAT VICTORY WORTH $50,000
(Detroit Free Press, April 19, 1936)
Adam Weissmuller, promoter of the heavyweight championship match Friday night at Olympia between the titleholder, Dick Shikat, and the challenger, sensational Ali Baba, was handed a new nickname by his friends Saturday. From now on he will be addressed as "$50,000 Weissmuller."
It appears that Herr Weissmuller stands an excellent chance of dropping "fifty grand" Friday night, for the simple reason that he has entered into an agreement with Shikat that, should the champion be defeated by Ali Baba here, Mr. Weissmuller must fork over to him $50,000 of his hard-earned savings.
And while $50,000 is a lot of money in Tasmania or Clawson, Mich., Herr Weissmuller has gone on record as prepared to pay off.
The first intimation that Detroit’s veteran mat promoter would be forced to pay Shikat $50,000 in lieu of a defeat occurred Wednesday when Weissmuller was called to Columbus to discuss with Shikat and his manager, Al Haft, some changes in the original contract signed by the giant German to risk his crown here against Ali Baba.
With Haft acting as spokesman, it was pointed out that Shikat and Haft had become convinced, after seeing Ali Baba in action, that he is quite some "chicks" as a wrestler, and that he had an excellent chance of winning. And should this come about, what about the $50,000 in purses Shikat would lose when he was no longer champion?
Haft produced contracts for Weissmuller’s scrutiny that showed a match for Shikat with Everett Marshall in May at Denver, for which Shikat will receive $25,000, win, lose or draw. Another contract called for Shikat to meet an unnamed challenge in June in New York City, with the champion’s end amounting to $15,000. And there were additional contracts that would give Shikat $10,000 hither and yon between the two title shots.
Haft demanded of Herr Weissmuller that the latter make some provisions and changes in the original contract to protect his charge against losing $50,000. After hours of wrangling, it was agreed that if Shikat is successful in pinning the shoulders of the powerful Ali Baba to the mat, he will receive 30 per cent of the net gate Friday night. Should the much-feared Turk wind up victorious, promoter Weissmuller must hand over the $50,000 to Shikat.
Thus, Weissmuller joined hands Saturday with Rube Marquard, former New York Giants southpaw pitcher. Both have become 20th Century $50,000 "beauties." And Mr. Weissmuller will be called, henceforth, by his close friends "$50,000 Weissmuller."
ANGERED MAT FAN ASSAULTS REFEREE
(Detroit Free Press, April 21, 1936)
An angered fan attacked referee Ted Greis as he stepped from the Arena Gardens ring last night but the ring official, strong and youthful, quite gallantly refused to strike back because his assailant was wearing glasses.
Greis started to retaliate but noticed the spectacles and his hand dropped to his side as police rushed in to hustle the demonstrator off to Canfield Police Station.
The fan claimed that Gries was favoring the villainous Nanjo Singh by refusing to call fouls perpetrated against Jose Manuel, Portuguese grappler, who eventually lost a fast three-fall match to the Hindu.
Singh won the first fall with his cobra head strangle in 20:05 and the third with the same hold in 2:50. Manuel took the middle fall with his judo headlock in 3:40 and he had the fans standing on the chairs a minute before the final fall when it appeared that Mr. Singh, public enemy No. 1 of the Arena fans, might lose the match. The wily Nanjo suddenly turned Jose’s judo hold into one of his own choice cobras for a victory.
John Swenski took Bad Man Lewis in two quick falls in the semi-final, the first in 4:51 and the second in 3:15. French LaRue beat Bobby Roberts in one of the supporting matches, while Whitey Wahlberg took Al George in the opener. More than 2,800 persons saw the bargain card.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 156-2001
SHIKAT WINS IN COURT, NOW TACKLES ALI BABA
(Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1936)
Cheered by the assurance that the federal court at Columbus will not allow opposing wrestling moguls to interfere with his defense of the newly won world mat title, Dick Shikat will place his crown on the block at Olympia Friday night with Ali Baba, the "Terrible Turk," as the first big bidder.
Baba, who has been sporting a clean record for some time, both here and in Chicago, will be the first to get a crack at the laurels which Shikat captured recently from Ireland’s Danno O’Mahoney and which the federal court says Mr. Shikat has a right to call his own.
The new champion will enter Olympia an odds-on favorite, but the Turk has made so fine a showing here in recent weeks that fan interest is sharply divided and with the court proceedings out of the way the argument of Baba’s championship ability can be settled once and for all.
There was some chance earlier in the week that the match might be called off because of a federal injunction issued against Shikat by a Boston promoter. But the way was paved for the bout here when Judge Mell Underwood, of the United States District Court at Columbus, Thursday lifted the temporary restraining order against Shikat.
Mat addicts here are basing their predictions for Baba to win on the "Terrible Turk’s" tremendous strength and also because Shikat is finding the title a big source of trouble. Injunctions and suspensions have harassed the German titleholder from the time he won the crown from Danno O’Mahoney last March.
It is pointed out that, in 19 matches in Detroit and throughout the state, Ali Baba has pinned his foes in one hour and 14 minutes, an average of six minutes a fall. The addicts also argue that the suspensions pinned upon Shikat during the past eight weeks by wrestling czars in several states and the injunction slapped on him by persons who are termed by Shikat and his handlers as "members of a disgruntled trust" will have an effect on the champion’s showing here.
Shikat’s admirers maintain the 30 pounds in weight Baba must spot the champion and the five-inch height advantage he must concede, together with Shikat’s wrestling experience, will carry him through ot victory. The Baba-Shikat match is a one-fall bout.
In the other bouts, Alex Kasaboski, billed as the "Pitiless Pole," takes on clever John Swenski in the 30-minute semi-final. Frank Sexton, 230-pound behemoth, tangles with 280-pound Pat McCleary in another 30-minute match. Jim Heffner, Texas cowhand, opposes Bill Kief. Frank Malcewicz, Utica, New York, takes on Ernie Peterson in the 20-minute opener.
ALI BABA THROWS SHIKAT TO CAPTURE WORLD MAT CROWN
(Detroit Free Press, April 26, 1936)
By Tod Rockwell
And now the heavyweight wrestling championship has come to Detroit!
It happened last night at Olympia when Ali Baba, strange man from Detroit’s Hendrie St., pinned the mighty shoulders of Dick Shikat, until then the titleholder, before more than 8,500 wildly cheering spectators. They paid $7,405.93 to see a top-notch show.
Turkey can claim Ali Baba no end, but the folks out in the 90 block of Hendrie St. know he’s been there long enough to vote. Ali weighed 201 ½ pounds and gave away 27 pounds to the German. The bout lasted 46 minutes and 40 seconds.
The big German had been giving the Hendrie St. favorite quite a going over until near the end of the match. Shikat had poked Detroit’s No. 1 grappler in the eye just once too often. So Ali picked up the big fellow and dumped him over the top rope.
With difficulty, the German crawled back at the count of eight and Ali picked him up again, like a bag of salt. Head first he dished the champ again over the top rope and Dick sprawled once more on the cement. As fate would have it, he landed at the feet of Buddy Rogers, widely known movie star. Buddy had been eating peanuts.
Dick’s perspiring back picked up most of Buddy’s peanut shells and the champ was a sorry sight as he climbed back into the ring, groggy at nine. Then the swarthy Hendrie St. man body-slammed Dick plenty. He plopped on his prostrate form and with three slaps on the back, referee Vern Clark signified that the title was Ali’s and Detroit’s.
Then there was a sight around Olympia’s ring. The head man was Hendrie St.’s favorite. His head was shaved shiny. But he sported a black moustache that was no phoney because Dick had twitched it with a will several times.
The new champion was barefooted. He sported scarlet trunks. Hairy chested, he stood in the center of the ring and stiffly bowed a neck that came straight up from his shoulders. The new champ truly can doff his collar without removing his tie. Of such is the bulk of his neck.
He bowed again and again as the cheers rang out. He disdained aiding the fallen Shikat, who was carried from the ring by three policemen and two ushers and another man. It seemed that Shikat’s underpins hadn’t recovered from the stretching Ali gave them a few minutes before the pinning thump.
Olympia fans tumbled for Ali as soon as he entered the ring sporting a maroon fez. For height, he’s just a little but, but his chest is bigger than most barrels. Tremendous shoulders and arms make him appear top heavy and make his legs seem spindly.
So short were the latter that at no time could he effect any of the usual scissors grips on Shikat. His legs were inches short of encircling the great torso of the German. Spectators whooped it up as he squatted cross-legged in his corner rather than stand up, as do all wrestlers prior to bouts.
He sat there as stoical as a cigar-store Indian. ‘Twas whispered that he couldn’t speak much English. But the folks out Hendrie St. way know better and so do ringsiders now. When Clark, following Shikat’s application of his famed and torturous hammerlock, asked Ali if he’d quit, he replied, as plain as could be:
Shikat flew to Detroit from Columbus, where he is involved in a lawsuit which attempts to prevent him from further wrestling. Injunctions, sought by Joe Alvarez of Boston, were denied his former manager who claims he owns a share of Shikat’s earnings. The court, however, impounded Shikat’s earnings. Alvarez undoubtedly will drop the suit, however, now that Shikat has lost his laurels. He said as much.
The supporting card of last night’s show stamped Adam Weissmuller as a worthy promoter. His bouts were entertaining and packed with action. It was his second card at Olympia. In the first bout, Frank Malcewicz and Ernie Peterson drew in 20 minutes; Frank Sexton pinned Pat McCleary in 11:15; Jim Heffner and Bill Kief drew in 30 minutes, and John Swenski pinned Alex Kasaboski in the semi-final at 16:52.
Following his defeat, Shikat was taken to Receiving Hospital complaining of pain in the pelvic girdle. Physicians X-rayed the pelvis to determine if the injury was serious.
FAME AND FORTUNE ARRIVED FOR MAT PROMOTER
(Detroit Free Press, April 26, 1936)
By Lewis H. Walters
Adam Weissmuller sat in his walnut-paneled office at Arena Gardens Saturday afternoon, looking over offers of thousands of dollars for the services of Ali Baba, the Turk who won the heavyweight wrestling championship of the world from Dick Shikat, of Germany, on the Olympia mat Friday night.
Weissmuller has the exclusive contract for the Turk’s services for the next five years and that’s why the wrestling world is looking to him. The phone was ringing. Calls were coming in from promoters in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. They wanted Ali Baba.
There was an offer from Col. John Reed Kilpatrick to bring Ali Baba into Madison Square Garden on May 5. There was an offer from the Ridgewood Grove in Brooklyn. The promoter there offered $18m,000 if Ali Baba would wrestle one match to open the new Dyckman Oval. Billy Johnson, promoter of the St. Nicholas Palace at New York, offered Adam $25,000 if he would bring the Turk in for three matches in defense of his title.
Money, money, money – they all offered money to Adam and the Turk. And what a contrast the scene offered to that of six years ago when the quiet little German began promoting wrestling at the Arena Gardens because his career as one of the leading welterweights of the world had been halted by an illness that threatened his eyesight.
It was tough going then, but Adam pulled through. He won his own loyal group of fans by going on with a wrestling show every Monday night, through hailstorms and blizzards, holidays and depression days. A $500 house was a big one at first as Adam put on his little fellows. He never touched the heavyweights then but his wrestlers, from light heavies down to welters, won fans by their furious action. Things picked up.
Step by step, Adam moved up the wrestling and financial ladder. He was winning his fight against blindness and his fight for fortune at the same time. The quiet little German didn’t fight with critics of wrestling. He didn’t challenge to duels those ho said the boys were just hippodroming; he just demanded that the wrestlers give the fans action and the boys responded. They gave the action and the fans gave the dollars.
"They seem to like it, don’t they?" Adam would say as he pointed out the queue of ticket buyers to some scoffers at wrestling.
Things began coming Adam’s way three years ago when he built up some big drawing cards like Lord Lansdowne Finnegan, who brought in several houses around the $4,500 mark. Shortly after that he made a big move toward success by joining forces with Al Haft, Columbus promoter who directed promotions through a big section of the Middle West.
Adam was promoting wrestling all over Michigan by that time with weekly shows in Lansing, Saginaw, Pontiac, Flint, Windsor and many smaller towns. With Haft in the picture, a very strong partnership was formed which allowed an interchange of talent and kept fresh faces before the wrestling fans. An army of wrestlers looked and still looks to Adam for support.
And say, with all this wild bidding going on, what city will be the first to see the new champion in action? Well, the answer may surprise New York, but it seems that the fans of Lansing will be first. Flint will be second and Pontiac third, for Ali Baba is booked in those cities for bouts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, respectively.
"After those battles, the Turk will start his big campaign," declared Weissmuller. "Who is he going to wrestle? He’ll wrestle anyone."
The New York promoters can pick Ali Baba’s foes, Weissmuller asserted, and campaign in the East although Weissmuller tentatively has arranged for a show at Olympia May 11.
Ali Baba and Weissmuller are very gracious in their plans for the future. Shikat can have a chance to win his title back when he recovers from his injury, Weissmuller declares. But in the meantime Ali Baba is willing to give another former champion a break. He would like to wrestle Danno O’Mahoney in Olympia May 11.
DETROIT PURSE IS IMPOUNDED
(Associated Press, April 28, 1936)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Dick Shikat, deposed champ of the wrestling heavyweights, used up about 3,000 words today in filing a federal court answer and counter claim to the charge of Joe Alvarez, Boston matchmaker, that he had "jumped" a managerial contract.
Alvarez was not in court to hear the answer, evidently having lost interest in the proceeding since Shikat dropped his title to Ali Baba in a Detroit ring Friday night.
Only Fred Rector, counsel for Alvarez, was present and he asked a continuance so he might secure the deposition of Paul Bowser, Boston promoter, whom Shikat claims is one of the leaders in his prosecution.
Judge Mell G. Underwood granted a continuance to May 12 and permitted Shikat to take part in any matches he has booked up to that time. Shikat’s end of the Detroit purse, however, was ordered impounded by the court until the case is settled.
Shikat’s answer denies that he entered into a contract with Alvarez, and contended that Bowser was to be the manager. It charged that the Bostonians had never arranged or paid him for a match, and that a promise to return to him $15,000 of a $20,000 forfeit had never been fulfilled;
Declared that he had never received 12 ½ per cent of the "gate" for any of his bouts, as called for in the contract;
Declared that he was forced to put up the $20,000 forfeit to show that he would obey orders relative to winning or losing matches;
Declared that he was ordered by Jack Curley and Rudy Dusek, of New York, to lose to Danno O’Mahoney in the world title match March 2 in Madison Square Garden, but that he "crossed" them and won;
Declared that Alvarez had not filed the managerial contract with the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission until 11 days after Shikat won the title, although it was signed more than two years before;
Asked that the contract be declared null and void, that the plaintiff’s plea be dismissed, and that Alvarez be forced to pay the court costs.
The answer also charged that six wrestling promoters had signed a profit-sharing contract, and that it was impossible to get matches in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other mat centers unless funds were posted as forfeits to assure that orders would be obeyed.
The promoters named by Shikat are Jack Curley, of New York; Paul Bowser, of Boston; Ray Fabiani, of Philadelphia; Ed White, of Chicago; Tom Packs, of St. Louis, and Joe Mondt, of California.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 157-2001
(Penthouse, October, 1988)
By Irving Muchnick
MAY 11, 1987. Less than a month after his brother Mike killed himself because he felt he couldn’t live up to the family name, Kevin Von Erich was working the main event in Fort Worth when something rare happened: a moment of spontaneous, unmediated terror. As the television cameras rolled, teenage girls squealed, and spectators shouted for blood, Kevin and his opponent crisscrossed off the ropes. No doubt they were setting up the usual wild finish – perhaps a variation on the patented Von Erich Iron Claw, or a violent collision followed by an out-of-control brawl outside the ring, or maybe a miscarriage of justice with the ref taking an accidental bump and failing to see the heel clobber the baby face with a foreign object.
We’ll never know what the climax of this match was supposed to be. For suddenly, without being touched, Kevin Von Erich’s abused body defied the script. Instead of snapping smartly off the ring’s taut ropes, he sagged heavily against the strands. Recoiling, he wobbled toward the center of the canvas, then collapsed, torso convulsing, pupils rolled heavenward.
The fans in attendance at the Will Rogers Coliseum probably thought they were witnessing the first documented case of a professional wrestler falling into holy rapture. What they were actually seeing, though, was the champion of the World Class Wrestling Association simply passing out in the middle of the ring in the middle of a match.
No matter what those in legit sports and others of respectable breeding may think, wrestling is a subtle, extemporaneous art form; experienced pros pride themselves on their ability to salvage even the most sour finish. But Kevin Von Erich’s swan dive supplied more grim reality than any ordinary eight-man tag-team match could bear. Chaos reigned at ringside. The bell rang. The TV cameras were switched off. Wrestler Tommy Rogers scrambled through the ropes and performed C.P.R. on his fallen partner, who was turning blue.
Later, after being released from Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, Kevin explained on television how he’d nearly been killed by a dreaded new oriental neck punch, courtesy of his hated rival, Brian Adias. Kevin vowed to avenge the blow the next time they met, whether it be in Fort Worth or Dallas or Mesquite or Lubbock or ...
With the heady brew of half-truth and chutzpah that only the hypemeisters of wrestling could concoct, a genuine brush with mortality became just another angle to sell tickets.
* * *
If you’ve been living anywhere north of the Seychelles Islands, you already know that the pro wrestling resurgence is the marketing phenomenon of the eighties. If you’re a fan of any seriousness, you’ve also heard of the Von Erichs, wrestling’s tragedy-plagued, All-American first family. Hard-core aficionados will tell you that long before Madison Avenue turned Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Andre the Giant into household names, the hottest promotion in the country wasn’t by New York’s World Wrestling Federation but by Dallas’s World Class Championship Wrestling.
The furor over World Class centers on the fuhrer of World Class: Jack B. Adkisson on his driver’s license, Fritz Von Erich to you and me – a Prussian bad guy who, through the magic of media manipulation, transmogrified into a God-fearing crowd favorite before retiring as an active wrestler. As a full-time promoter, Von Erich proceeded to build an empire around his photogenic sons: David, the rambunctious Yellow Rose of Texas; Kerry, the dumb but lovable jock with the long thick hair and Conan pecs; Kevin, the barefooted high-flying specialist; and Mike, the earnest overachiever. Together they pioneered the use of modern rock-video production techniques for their televised wrestling shows, and shattered attendance records in the early part of the decade.
Today the Von Erich dynasty is in ruins, both personally and professionally – a cautionary tale of the bitter price of celebrity, the excesses of parental authority, and the dangers in believing your own press clippings. Two of Fritz’s boys suffered drug-related deaths. A third continues to wrestle despite a crippling leg injury. The fourth and oldest, Kevin, is the hapless heartthrob who took that unscheduled pratfall in Fort Worth. At a show at Reunion Arena last Christmas, shortly after selling a share of the promotion to a new partner, Fritz pulled his latest stunt to drum up sympathy for himself and his kids: He faked a seizure that for a while, allegedly, left him near death.
Somewhere along the way, a cute concept decayed into a macabre body count. "I’ve been around a lot of special athletes, but I’ve never witnessed anything like the development of this single family that, in its day, completely conquered the world of wrestling," says Bill Mercer, a Dallas sportscaster who used to announce for the Von Erichs. "For one son to follow in his father’s footsteps is common enough. For two sons to do so is extraordinary. That a man could wield enough family control for three and four sons ... well, it’s all pretty amazing. And also pretty frightening."
Indeed, in the figure of patriarch Fritz Von Erich, this ten-gallon tragedy, rife with Texas-size scandal, becomes a melodrama of Shakespearean proportion. In addition to being one of the top powerbrokers in wrestling – that bizarre amalgam of sport and theatre rooted in the nineteenth-century carnival tent – Fritz is a born-again Christian, a respected member of the nation’s largest Southern Baptist congregation, a pillar of the community with ties to everyone from former presidential candidate Pat Robertson to Forbes 400 oilman H.R. "Bum" Bright, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. In those capacities, he airbrushes his sons' image, exploiting not only their bodies but also their misfortunes. The fall of the house of Von Erich is Jim Bakker with a dropkick, a combination of pseudo-athletic zeal and quasi-religious righteousness, a farcical footnote to the sleazy legacy of televangelism.
There’s one key difference, though. At the P.T.L. ministry the lietmotiv was sexual and financial impropriety; the scars were essentially psychology and fiduciary. At World Class Championship Wrestling, people are dying.
* * *
MAY 6, 1984. Wrestling history was made as 32,123 fans at Texas Stadium – plus other thousands via closed-circuit – attended the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions. In those pre-WrestleMania days, the $402,000 gate was the second-largest of all time.
The atmosphere was much like it was at David’s funeral three months earlier at the First Baptist Church in Denton. On that occasion, almost 3,000 admirers – many of them kids listening to the service on a makeshift public-address system on the church lawn – paid their respects. You couldn’t buy a yellow rose in north Texas that day. Now his fans were waiting in the longest concession lines this side of a Prince concert to pay $10 for the same eight-by-ten color photo of David that used to go for $3. Underscoring the rock show mood was fan Glen Goza’s performance of his eulogy in song, "Heaven Needed a Champion," which had been getting airplay on Dallas radio stations.
The main event, between Kerry Von Erich and Ric Flair for the world title, had great heat. After 13 minutes, Kerry pinned Flair with a backslide; the championship that had been promised to his late brother was his. As the gold belt was presented to Kerry, who was surrounded by family and friends, tears flowed unashamedly under the searing Texas sun.
* * *
The Von Erichs refused to grant an interview for this story. "We see no reason to respond," Fritz wrote in a certified letter, because this article "is not based on fact and appears to be of malicious intent." A recent cover story in D, a Dallas magazine, describes Fritz bellowing to a business associate not to tell us a thing: "We’re not going to be written about like trash.... My family isn’t going to be in a damn pornographic magazine!" As we were going to press, Fritz’s partner, Ken Mantell, told the Dallas Times Herald that "anyone who says the Von Erichs are not a Christian family, well, that’s a crock. An outright lie.... Being a Christian does not mean you are perfect, does not mean you haven’t made mistakes in your life. There’s another book that says, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'"
A spokesman warned that the family was prepared to take legal action if any nuggets of official mythology, such as the circumstances of David Von Erich’s death, were challenged. "His sons’ image is very important to Mr. Von Erich, and he’ll do what he feels is necessary in order to protect it," the spokesman said.
That much is certainly true, according to friends and foes alike in the ultra-secretive wrestling business. "If you know Fritz," says a fellow promoter, "you know he’s sincere from the way he thinks. He truly believes the tragedies of his family have brought many, many youngsters to Christ. He thinks the Von Erichs are the most name-conscious family in sports." Another promoter agrees, but adds, "You have to wonder why, after all he’s been through, he doesn’t just find his kids a nice hamburger stand somewhere and say, ‘Here, you’ll live longer this way.’"
Jack and Doris Adkisson have known tragedy from early in their marriage. Their first son, Jack Jr., died in 1959, at the age of seven. In those days, climbing the wrestling ladder, Fritz Von Erich was on the road constantly, working not only big-city arenas, but also hundreds of tank towns in between.
Five more boys followed for the Adkissons, and by the time they were in their formative years, Von Erich had bought out Dallas promoter Ed McLemore. He was also a millionaire, largely through real estate investments in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex during a couple of building booms in the 1970s. At one point he owned three airplanes, a cattle herd, and 5,000 quail. The family homestead was a 168-acre ranch near Lake Dallas (now called Lewisville Lake) in the town of Corinth, a small Denton County community north of Dallas, where he served as a city councilman.
Two factors peculiar to the Dallas corporate culture contributed to Von Erich’s business success, the first being the mystique surrounding his tenure as a football player at Southern Methodist University. In fact, Fritz was only a part-time offensive guard for one season at S.M.U. in 1949. But he managed to parlay those 92 minutes of blocking in front of the legendary Doak Walker – as well as a record discus throw in a track meet the following spring – into a niche in the S.M.U. business clique: a circle of powerful friends, including insurance magnates, bankers, and politicians, that controls much of the city’s commercial life.
Then there was religion. In his recently published "The Von Erichs: A Family Album," Fritz recalls being deeply moved by a sermon given by Dr. W.A. Criswell at the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas around 1974. Shortly thereafter, a divine voice guided him to open his Bible to Psalms 23; not long after that, the same powerful force compelled him to pull his car over to the shoulder of Interstate 35E one day and ponder his sins. Jack "Fritz Von Erich" Adkisson was born again.
The potent alchemy of sports, show biz, and evangelism became explicit in the fall of 1981, when World Class Championship Wrestling began its relationship with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Dallas station, KXTX, Channel 39. A KXTX producer masterminded a new-style wrestling show that was briskly paced and employed four cameras, instant replays, and features edited to the beat of hit songs, a la MTV. In almost every respect, the program’s slick production values foreshadowed the manufacturing of "Hulkamania" on the East Coast three years later. At its peak, World Class was syndicated into more than 60 markets across the country. (Since 1986, it has also been seen regularly on ESPN, the cable sports network.) Fritz Von Erich even appeared several times on Pat Robertson’s CBN talk show, "The 700 Club."
Sons Kevin, David, and Kerry fit naturally into the core of the World Class talent stable – clean-cut, carefree country boys who looked good in the ring and even better on posters. "These boys were raised to be jocks," Fritz told The Dallas Morning News in 1983. "When they were youngsters, there were no kids scrawnier than mine. They were made into champions." A close observer describes his paternalistic style as "hands-on": "Fritz is a very aggressive, physical guy. When you saw him with the boys, there was always a lot of hugging and displays of raw affection. But he was also very strict. It was all ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir.’ He ruled the roost with an iron hand."
Kevin started at fullback as a freshman at North Texas State University before a knee injury ended his football career, and Kerry earned a track scholarship at the University of Houston by winning the state high school championship in the discus throw. Once they got into wrestling, though, David outshone both of them, due mostly to his fiercely independent spirit. As the boys grew older and married, Fritz continued to keep them on a short chain: For years, all of their families lived within a mile or so of their parents. But in 1981, David rebelled. After a dispute with his father, David went on the road. During nine months as a villain on the Florida circuit, he learned all the psychological tricks of the wrestling trade – working the crowd, calling the "spots" in a tough match, doing kick-ass interviews – with a thoroughness that would have never been possible if he hadn’t had the courage to leave Fritz’s glowering shadow. When David came back to Texas in late 1982, he was as polished and professional as the Beatles upon their return to Liverpool from Hamburg.
(to be concluded in The New WAWLI Papers No. 158-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 158-2001
BORN-AGAIN BASHING by Irving Muchnick
(continued from New
Thanks to David’s smarts, Kerry’s popularity, and their antagonists, the perfidious Fabulous Freebirds, Dallas grew into a major wrestling capital. In 1984, David was slated to capture the championship of the National Wrestling Alliance (one of the sport’s several major bodies). In February of that year, hoping to season himself further and enhance his recognition abroad, he embarked on his second tour of Japan. On the day of his first scheduled match, he was found dead on the floor of his hotel room in Tokyo. He was 25 years old.
The cause, or causes, of David’s death are a mystery. The Von Erichs say he died of a ruptured intestine caused by a hard lick during a match in Japan; but that’s obviously false, since David hadn’t yet wrestled there. Nor can we put much stock in the family’s other kaleidoscopic accounts, which have included, but are not limited to, (a) a stroke, (b) a heart attack after a strenuous match, and (c) food poisoning from eating sushi.
The gospel inside dressing rooms and booking offices has always been that David died of drugs. Sources close to the handful of American personnel who accompanied him on that tour confirm that, in the hours following the discovery of his body by a Japanese wrestling official and before the arrival of the police, drugs were flushed down the toilet. There is, in fact, even reason to wonder if an autopsy was performed before the body was flown back to the States. (The Von Erichs at first offered to show me a copy of David’s autopsy report and death certificate, but later reneged.)
The drug hidden from the authorities was a sleeping medication called Placidyl. If David mixed it with alcohol (and he was known to be fond of Jack Daniels), he may well have taken a lethal dose and, in the isolation of a foreign hotel room, been beyond the reach of timely help. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that a drug reaction compounded the effects of a stomach disorder.
Whatever it was that did David in, his loss devastated World Class. Fritz’s religious tone became more strident and sectarian than ever; the show now even featured an official World Class chaplain, a charismatic minister named Gary Holder who regularly used air time to sing his boss’s praises. The other brothers’ histrionics increasingly resembled those of just another old-fashioned local-family promotion with a flashy production number. Eventually Fritz lost interest in the day-to-day operations and retreated to his new house near Tyler. Weekly shows at the Sportatorium used to be automatic sellouts; now they were sometimes lucky to draw 200 people. The booking agenda lurched from the creation of a phony Von Erich "cousin" to the use of female mud wrestlers. In 1987, World Class tried to turn things around by parting company with KXTX and signing a new production deal with Bum Bright, whose personal fortune is estimated at more than $600 million. But by then Connecticut promoter Vince McMahon had already turned his World Wrestling Federation into a cash cow of unprecedented international multimedia merchandising.
Within the wrestling industry David’s demise was one of those events, like JFK’s assassination or Buddy Holly’s plane crash, that utterly reshaped the landscape. The hoopla surrounding his funeral created the uneasy sense that this goofy fringe form of junk entertainment was getting too big for its britches. Virtually overnight, wrestling repositioned itself near the mainstream of the show-biz spectrum via the brave new world of video – a sea change that would bring both unforeseen marketing opportunities and unforeseen human costs. And many in this enterprise of excess couldn’t handle the new responsibility.
Abuse of drugs, especially cocaine and steroids, had long been part of the game. Now the sums of disposable income grew larger, the pressure to beef up physiques more intense, the one-night stands more far-flung and demanding. During pro wrestling’s renaissance, the deaths of athletes in their twenties and thirties – not to mention the auto accidents and legal scrapes stemming from their impairment – became almost as commonplace as packed houses and children’s toy deals. Some of the most egregious examples have emanated from that bastion of Christian virtue: World Class.
The most potentially damaging drug incident was Kerry’s arrest in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in June 1983. Kerry and his wife were returning from their honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when U.S. Customs agents, during a routine inspection, caught him with 18 unmarked tablets in his right front pocket. Inside the crotch of his pants was a plastic bag containing an assortment of nearly 300 other pills (including codeine, diazapem, Librium, and possibly Percodan), ten grams of marijuana, and 6.5 grams of "blue and white powder." Eighteen months later the charges were dropped by the Tarrant County district attorney.
With that kind of discipline from the top, the word quickly spread that World Class was one of the worst drug offices in wrestling – a reputation reinforced in February 1986 when Gino Hernandez, one of its leading stars, died of a massive cocaine overdose. Shortly before his death, Hernandez was feuding on TV with Chris Adams, and they had recently done one of those ridiculous skits in which the dastardly Hernandez supposedly blinded the gentlemanly Adams. World Class announcer Bill Mercer later put everything in perspective. "We have suffered two terrible tragedies in the last week – the blinding of Chris Adams and the death of Gino Hernandez," Mercer deadpanned.
* * *
FEBRUARY 2, 1987. On crutches, Kerry Von Erich slipped undetected into the stage entrance of the Fort Worth Convention Center for his first match since June 1986, when suffered a dislocated hip, a crushed right ankle, and internal injuries in a motorcycle accident.
Fans were assured that Kerry was ready to rumble. What they didn’t know was that in the days after the accident – in which Kerry, traveling at an unsafe speed and making an ill-advised pass, plowed into the back of a patrol car – doctors almost had to amputate his foot. In 13 hours of delicate microsurgery, they transplanted tissue from other parts of Kerry’s body to his extremity in an effort to restore circulation and movement.
His opponent this evening was carefully instructed to "sell" for Kerry, for it was clear in advance that the man who was once among the most agile 250-pounders in wrestling would be virtually immobile. Still, they had to try to make a good show of it; so while Kerry changed into his trunks, a doctor filled a syringe with enough novacaine to numb Secretariat’s hoof. Thus fortified, Kerry discarded his crutches, gritted his teeth, and hobbled into the ring. The match lasted five minutes and, as planned, Kerry won. Afterward, when the novacaine wore off, an examination revealed that the ankle had rebroken. Four months later, in another operation, the foot was permanently fused into a walking position. On Thanksgiving in 1987, Kerry returned again, but he would never be the same.
* * *
One of the supreme ironies of World Class Championship Wrestling was that, through satellite technology, it became one of the most popular English-language programs in, of all places, Israel. It was on the August 1985 tour there that Mike Von Erich began the final fall of his short, tragic life.
If David’s death was a pharmacological fluke, and Gino Hernandez’s just an inevitable part of the business’s ruthless fallout, Mike’s was a crime against decency. He never should have been a wrestler in the first place. Insiders say that, with the possible exception of an occasional gimmick headliner such as Mr. T, Mike Von Erich was the single most pathetic piece of talent ever given a major push. Small, tentative, and uncoordinated inside the squared circle, weak and halting in interviews, he had nothing going for him except his name. Mike himself seemed to realize as much, and the guilt showed in his shifting eyes and erratic body language. Meanwhile, meeting his father’s rigid expectations took an incalculable toll on his personal growth. Desperate to be as big as his brothers (he was billed as 220 pounds but never weighed more than 180), he took dangerous doses of steroids. Despondent over what he interpreted as his inability to live up to the family name, he took uppers and downers. Once shy and naturally likable, he became unruly and troublesome. At the end, he made repeated cries for help – vague smoke signals at first, then stark sandwich-board signs, finally resorting to wanton binges of self-destruction.
"I know we’re only ‘rasslers,’ but we’re still people and we have to treat our children like people," says Lou Thesz, arguably the sport’s greatest performer from the forties through the mid-sixties. "And you can’t live your life through your kids. Fritz never understood that. I remember watching him one time backstage in Fort Worth. They had the TV monitor on, and there was this man – grossly overweight, chain-smoking – sitting there transfixed, watching his kids. Every time one of them did something, he’d turn and point to the screen and say, ‘Isn’t that great?’ It was embarrassing."
In the Von Erich hagiography, Mike was another great one, second only to Kevin in natural prowess. "He had a bad shoulder which stayed injured much of the time in high school," the "Family Album" states. "In track he was an All-District hurdler, long jumper, and discus thrower." The memory of Lloyd Taliaferro, the athletic director at Lake Dallas High School, varies slightly. "Mike was a good boy, but he didn’t compete much beyond the junior-varsity level," Taliaferro says. "Once, when he was a sophomore, he took a spill over a hurdle and hurt himself. That shook him up real bad."
Kevin, David, and Kerry at least had brief collegiate careers; Mike was funneled directly into wrestling. Within months he had a world-title shot. But despite Fritz’s efforts to sell Mike as a stud, the fans never bought it. His frustration over his chronic bad shoulder and inability to get "over" manifested itself in sprees of ill-tempered violence outside the ring. In May 1985, Mike was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault against Dr. Timothy Shepherd during an emergency-room altercation at First Texas Medical Center in Lewisville. A Denton County judge later acquitted him.
At Tel Aviv Stadium, a bad bump in a rock-hard ring caused Mike’s bum shoulder to pop out again. Following an operation on the shoulder as soon as he returned to Texas, he somehow contracted one of the rare male cases of toxic shock syndrome, a form of blood poisoning most commonly associated with tampon use. Transferred to Baylor University Medical Center with a 105-degree fever, his kidneys next to useless, Mike clung to life as calls from concerned fans flooded the hospital switchboard. (The Von Erichs, with characteristic modesty, say the outpouring exceeded that which accompanied President Kennedy’s trip to the Parkland Hospital emergency room in 1963.) The Von Erichs held a press conference for their fans to thank them for their prayers. "Folks, let me tell you, a miracle took place, just that we have Mike today," Kevin said.
Fritz, however, was never content with just having his son alive. Even though Mike’s weight dropped to 145 pounds, and many observers wondered if he’d suffered brain damage because of his slurred speech, Fritz lost no time in repackaging him for the wrestling "marks." Mike was nicknamed "The Living Miracle": Fans were promised that he would defeat the odds, wrestle again, and claim a championship for God and family. To give the gimmick momentum, Mike was wheeled out in a car to wave to the 25,000 fans at the big October show at the Cotton Bowl. He made his official return to the ring on July 4, 1986 – by which time he was also battling hepatitis.
"There’s almost nothing about pro wrestling that really outrages me, except for the Von Erichs," says Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer newsletter. In 1985, the publication named the exploitation of Mike’s illness "the most disgusting promotional stunt" of the year.
The extent of Mike’s physical and mental deterioration became apparent during the production of a TV special entitled "The Von Erich Trilogy." At a taping session at a local health club, Mike was shown working out and getting himself back into fighting shape. The only problem was that after almost an hour of takes, the crew couldn’t get a coherent interview out of Mike. Never one of the best "stick" men in wrestling, he was now hopelessly incompetent at the microphone. He fidgeted, complained about the heat, took his jacket off (revealing a stringy upper body), mentioned his wife (a no-no, for as a teen idol he was supposed to make the boppers believe he was eligible), and trailed off into a rambling monologue about the biblical character Hezekiah and his attending physician, Dr. William Sutker ("a great man who saved my life – he’s Jewish, by the way, but he told me this has meant a lot to him spiritually and everything"). When the production crew finally gave up on the shoot, Mike retreated into the corner with a young friend, and the two of them bragged loudly about gang-banging a girl the night before. The others at the gym turned away in revulsion. This wasn’t wrestling. This wasn’t religion. This was sickness.
Mike’s weird behavior started leaking to the public. In November 1985, he totaled his Lincoln Continental when he ran off an embankment on State Highway 121 in Lewisville; miraculously, he escaped with only a minor head injury. In May 1986, he was arrested in the early morning hours in Fort Worth and spent five hours in jail on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct. In February 1987, criminal mischief charges were dismissed by a Tarrant County judge when Mike agreed to pay a Fort Worth man $900 for kicking in the door of his car.
On April 11, 1987, Mike left a bar in Denton and was swerving severely on Highway 377, headed toward his apartment in Roanoke, when an officer pulled him over. Inside his Mercury Grand Marquis were a small quantity of marijuana and two prescription bottles. One of them, with a dirty label more than three months old, said it contained 50 tablets of Trinalin, an antihistamine commonly prescribed for hay fever. The bottle actually contained 78 pills of five varieties: 42 of a barbiturate; 15 of a drug that wasn’t analyzed but appeared to be Tedral, an asthma medicine; ten of Buspar, an anxiety-relieving agent; ten large, round reddish-orange pills that weren’t identified; and one tablet of Darvocet, a painkiller.
Mike tried to bribe the cop. When that failed, he agreed to a blood test. It showed a blood-alcohol content of .05 percent, well under the legal intoxication level of .10 percent, but probably dangerous in combination with the other drugs in his system: 30 mg/L of ethchlorvynol (presumably from Placidyl – a cruel echo of David’s fate), 1.1 mg/L of butabital (a barbiturate), and 0.26 mg/L of diazepam (suggesting the intake of Valium or its equivalent).
The Von Erichs dispatched the family lawyer to the Denton County jail to post his $3,500 bond for drunk-driving and controlled-substance charges. That was at 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, and it was the last time anyone ever saw Michael Brett Adkisson alive. Early the next week, a note was found in his apartment. It read: "PLEASE UNDERSTAND I’M A FUCK-UP! I’M SORRY." Along the side was scrawled: "I love U Kerry, Kevin & your families." On Wednesday evening, Mike’s car was spotted near the entrance to a park on the south shore of Lewisville Lake; inside was a second note, which said simply, "Mom and Dad, I’m in a better place. I’ll be watching."
While police combed the many square miles of woods around the lake, family members gathered for the vigil. But not Fritz – he attended a scheduled evangelical crusade in Denton. That night in Lubbock, where Mike was scheduled to wrestle, the crowd was told that he was missing and that "foul play" was suspected. To the bitter end, Fritz Von Erich was determined to burnish the family image. Hours later a K-9 corps dog located Mike’s body in a sleeping bag in a tangle of underbrush.
The cause of death was acute Placidyl intoxication. He was 23.
* * *
MAY 3, 1987. The spring wrestling extravaganza at the home of the Dallas Cowboys was now an established tradition in the Metroplex sports scene. Of course, the latest death in the family dictated a few adjustments in the format. For one thing, instead of the Fourth Annual David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, this was the David and Mike Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions; for another, Sweet Brown Sugar had to substitute for Mike in the Canadian lumberjack match against Brian Adias. There were many other changes – most notably the presence of only 5,900 fans, who paid a mere $71,000. The Von Erichs had publicized a $100 ticket entitling the holder to a luxury box seat and catered meal with the family; when only 14 fans signed up, that idea was scrapped.
Between bouts, gospel-singing prodigy Jill Floyd took to the ring to deliver a stirring reprise of "Heaven Needed a Champion." She was followed by the composer, Glen Goza, who recited a poem dedicated to young Mike.
And while Mike Von Erich’s hallowed Christian memory was being invoked, maintenance workers prepared the pit for an upcoming women’s mud-wrestling special attraction.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 159-2001
EDWARDS DEFEATED IN TERRIFIC BOUT
(The Oregonian, Portland OR, Saturday, July 18, 1925)
For the second time within three nights, Ira Dern of Salt Lake knocked out Billy Edwards, the headlocking caveman from Kansas City, in their wrestling match at the Heilig theater last night – knocked him so cold by catapulting him from the air backwards onto his head, after Edwards had clamped a body scissors onto Dern and Dern had clambered to his feet and locked Edwards’ legs with his hands so that he could not slide free, that Billy had to be carried from the mat, through for the night.
The other night when Dern lost his temper and stowed Edwards away with a left book to the jugular vein, it was a foul and Edwards took the decision. But the knockout last night, while fully as savage and as premeditated, was within the wrestling rules. Dern won.
The bout went only 39 minutes 40 seconds, but no two-hour match ever was more crowded with action. It was plainly a grudge bout. Each wrestler was out to commit modified manslaughter on his opponent, and both succeeded. They kept within the rules, but used every punishing hold in the wrestling category with evident attempt to maim.
Edwards took the first fall in 25 minutes 30 seconds with his chiropractic headlock after he had grabbed Dern five times by the head, thrown him heavily and kneaded and grated viciously the nerve over his eye.
Dern managed to wriggle out of the first two headlocks, but the second weakened him. Edwards charged him madly. Dern tried to stave off the murderous hold, but each time Edwards threw him harder, grated more ferociously over the eye.
With the fifth successive headlock, the house was in an uproar. Dern was so weak that he could no longer kick. Edwards seemed about to pin him or to let him up to headlock him again, when Dern’s seconds threw a towel into the ring to save their man from being seriously injured.
Even when referee Robin Reed patted Edwards on the back and told him he had the fall, the Kansas City grappler seemed reluctant to stop the punishment. Reed had to pry him loose. Dern tottered up, clear out of his head, staggered through the ropes and almost fell into the orchestra pit. He was so addled that when helped back through the ropes he began to flail out with his arms at the referee, Edwards and every one near him. It took several men to pinion and half drag, half carry him off the stage.
Dern took the 10 minutes and an extra five. His remarkable recuperative powers and the fact that the towel was thrown in before Edwards had him entirely unconscious saved him.
Edwards dashed at him as the second fall began, but Dern sidestepped and they went down in a tangle with Dern clamping on a flying toehold as he fell. Edwards managed to free himself, only to fall into a succession of punishing shortarm scissors.
Edwards was trying for another headlock but the nimble Dern kept his head out of the way. They punished each other in a furious succession of holds, with first Edwards down, then Dern, and back again.
Once, Dern almost got Edwards with his famous airplane spin, but Edwards saved himself by sprawling on outstretched hands. Then Edwards clamped a body scissors on Dern from sitting posture. Dern rose and went backwards with Edwards. The latter fell heavily but was little hurt.
That might have warned Edwards what Dern would risk to finish him, but apparently it didn’t. Again, Edwards applied a body scissors from sitting posture. Again, Dern clambered to his feet, rose clear upright this time, seizing one of Edwards’ legs with each hand as he did so to lock them so Edwards could by no possibility slip off.
Then, with Edwards’ legs clamped around him and his own arms holding Edwards’ legs in place, Dern deliberately flung himself backwards – jumped clear up off the mat and back – so you could see light between his feet and the floor. Backward he shot, a full eight feet, and fell with all his 173 pounds on Edwards, whose head hit the mat a frightful thump.
Then Dern twisted like lightening and pinned Edwards’ shoulders. He could have stood up and taken the fall by default, had he wished. Edwards was out. After 15 minutes he tottered to the ringside, but his handlers, on a doctor’s advice, would not let him continue.
The time of the second fall was only 14 minutes 10 seconds.
In a preliminary, Sailor Jack Wood beat Mart Mortensen in 21 minutes, 20 seconds with a double wristlock and head scissors.
Mortensen’s two youngers, a boy of 9 and a girl of 7, gave an interesting exhibition of youthful wrestling development. The crowd liked it so much that it showered the kids with silver.
Reed, the O.A.C. and Multnomah Club boy and Olympic lightweight champion, did a fine job of refereeing.
(ED. NOTE – The seven-year-old girl referred to in the last paragraph above was Clara Mortensen. In another dozen years, she became the first widely recognized women’s wrestling champion in U.S. history and was the dominant personage among the distaffers until supplanted by Mildred Burke. Her brother, Leo, also became a professional wrestler, in addition to road-agenting for Clara.)
WWF CONTENDS TBS TRYING TO DESTROY THEM
(Pro Wrestling Torch #374, February 17, 1996)
By Wade Keller
Titan Sports filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Feb. 8 regarding the effects the proposed TBS-Time Warner merger could have on competition. Says Titan's press release, "TBS has been engaged in a systematic plan, implemented by a series of steps, to destroy the WWF in order that TBS might achieve a monopoly over the professional wrestling business."
This is just the latest in a series of steps the WWF is taking to draw attention to what it sees as predatory practices by TBS and WCW. Titan Sports and Vince McMahon contend contract tampering, the aggressive scheduling of Nitro, and unfair syndication practices are among the most egregious of TBS's attempts to unfairly run them out of business.
McMahon says he believes Monday Nitro is evidence of WCW's and Ted Turner's motivations. "The Nitro thing is crazy. It's one thing to go head to head, but it's unprecedented for a network program to start a few minutes before the top of the hour and end a few minutes after," McMahon tells the Torch. "And not only have they scheduled Nitro head to head with us in every time zone but there is a second airing of Nitro so that it's seen in the clear everywhere that night also."
McMahon has gone on record saying that WCW or someone loosely representing WCW sent word to Kevin Nash (Diesel) that if he were to give his notice to the WWF and join WCW there would be a $750,000 a year deal waiting for him. WCW recently signed Pierre Outlet (Jean Pierre Lafitte) and may have had talks with him before his contract with the WWF expired. The Bushwackers were offered six-figure contracts to join WCW while still under contract with the WWF.
Sources have told the Torch at least two other top names in the WWF have received similar feelers as Diesel with annual guaranteed figures well over what they are making in the WWF with considerably fewer dates to wrestle. At least one of the major names in essence turned down the offer when his contract recently rolled over for another year. "The interference with many of our performers tends to create lousy morale," McMahon says.
McMahon isn't sure if the offers being made to current WWF wrestlers qualify as contract tampering by WCW. "It depends on the when and how of it," but he calls it "cute" how third parties not "officially" with WCW management are actually making the offers. McMahon adds that since he believes these individuals are essentially "deputized" by WCW to make the offers, it may be no different than if WCW were outright negotiating with WWF talent under contract.
McMahon agrees that Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart are among the least likely to even entertain big money offers from WCW. "I know some people will laugh out loud when I say this, but there is some loyalty in the business," he says. "Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels have the heart of performers. A lot of guys want to perform, not just be TV stars. But I understand, too, that it's important to make a living for yourself."
McMahon insists that in many areas TBS's tactics go beyond the scope of normal competition. "It's so unfair," McMahon says. "We'll fight the good fight, but our competition isn't WCW. I consider TBS our competition. We'd be glad to fight on an even playing field with WCW. But when Ted Turner was finally convinced I wasn't interested in working with him or selling out to him, then he got nasty and the predatory practices began. We sent document after document saying, ‘Please don't do this.' All along, we competed quite nicely against him, but then Nitro came along and it certainly became personal with Ted Turner.
"When he started with Nitro, I didn't know what the impact would be, but I knew it would be negative because by definition the audience would have to be split. What I didn't realize is that he would give away pay-per-view matches every week on TV because he doesn't have to make money on pay-per-view. We do. We're trying to compete, but not give any pay-per-view matches away on TV, but still give matches of quality."
McMahon also says WCW has engaged in an open checkbook policy, perhaps offering whatever it takes to some TV stations to get WWF programs off the air and replace them with WCW WorldWide. The WWF, through its complaint to the FTC, legal letters to WCW, and the Billionaire Ted skits, has publicized that there are cases of TBS requiring stations to pick up WCW WorldWide in order to carry CNN Headline News. "Syndication is a tough enough market as it is," McMahon says. "Those practices have hurt us." The WWF also pointed out in the Billionaire Ted skits that WCW is offering more hours of programming with a higher aggregate rating, but is intentionally undercutting the WWF's ad rates.
Independent sources have backed the WWF's claims that WCW's ad rates are cheaper even though WCW has given different numbers that conflict with the WWF's claims.
The Billionaire Ted skits, which drew a threatening legal letter from WCW two weeks ago, have been Titan's vehicle to spread word to the general public about what they believe are unfair, if not illegal, business practices. Last week Titan ran an ad in the New York Times business section. Although toned down from the ad shown on Raw the previous Monday, it did call attention to TBS and Time Warner stockholders and said Turner has a vendetta against the WWF. The Wall Street Journal followed up with a short article on Monday.
"We laid back as long as we could," McMahon explains. "We waited until January before responding. We're trying to tell our story in an entertaining light. The world thinks the WWF is this big, huge deal and WCW is whatever it is. If WCW was competing on some equal basis, great. But Turner is competing unfairly. I have to concentrate on making these points through humor. I could sit down on TV and in one sitting explain the points we're trying to get across in all of the skits, but everyone would turn the channel, so I have to do it through humor. It's easy to include Hogan in that humor because WCW is feeding him everything. I mean (Hogan) knocks everyone silly and gets up from everything. It's ridiculous and I would suggest one day the fans will be throwing up over it. So we're trying to entertain while at the same time telling a story."
McMahon says a new round of Billionaire Ted skits in a different setting will begin on the Feb. 19 Raw. What does McMahon hope to gain from the string of publicity aimed at TBS and Turner? "I'm not trying to be a stumbling block to the merger and I'm not trying to anger the stockholders," McMahon says. "We're trying to fight because we're tired of being beat on… These issues need to be brought to light so if (the merger) does go through, there may be stipulations based on investigations of these heavy-handed predatory practices. In our complaint filed with the FTC, we included a lot of issues, but not all of them. We left some out because the list was so overwhelming."
(to be concluded in New WAWLI Papers No. 160-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS
WWF CONTENDS TBS TRYING TO DESTROY THEM (continued)
DISAPPOINTED WITH HOGAN
McMahon believes Turner has a personal vendetta against him and is willing to subsidize the WCW division with the profits from other divisions in order to drive him out of business. He also believes it's gotten personal with Hulk Hogan
"Reasoning makes me wonder how he could be angry with me considering what he became and the money he made (in the WWF)," McMahon tells the Torch. "From a gut standpoint, I don't understand all the vitriol. Why would someone feel as he feels? It's almost hard for me to believe."
McMahon says he didn't decide to parody Hogan in the Billionaire Ted skits until Hogan made clear what his position is by taking direct shots at McMahon on WCW television. McMahon says there is no way he would ever work on a professional level with either Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage again. "That's an easy one," he says. "No. I have no idea why I'd like to do business with them again. They shook my hand and said I'm with you forever. No amount of money, not for a million dollars, would I ever work with them again."
McMahon says he is considering moving Monday Night Raw, but he wants to keep it on Monday nights. "I have thought about and talked with USA Network people trying to get Raw moved from 9 to 10 p.m." he says. "They reminded me that WWF programming has to work not just for the WWF, but also for USA Network. Rod Perth of USA also wonders what if WCW were to subsequently move Nitro along with Raw (to 10 p.m.) or do a two hour show so it was still head-to-head. Of course, that might water their product down too much. I would have liked to have moved Raw a while ago, but we're just (one program for) USA and it's their decision. I don't care if Eric Bischoff crows on the air if we were to move. That's not enough to prevent me from doing what's best for business and best for the fans."
McMahon says moving the timeslot to a different time on Monday has been the primary option explored. He added that if Raw moves from, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. it would be on during halftime of Monday Night Football. "We won't know if a move will work until we do it. We don't even know if viewers will want to watch a second hour of wrestling."
GETTING BLOODY AND HARDCORE
Part of the raised level of competition has come in the form of one upsmanship. When the WWF announced a cage match main event at In Your House, WCW changed their pay-per-view to feature two cage match main events. When Bret Hart bled at In Your House, WCW responded by lifting its no-blading policy. WCW has gone so far as to promise on television that there would be blood at SuperBrawl.
Said Gene Okerlund on his 900 segment on Saturday: "If you're sitting in the first ten rows at the Bayfront Center, wear a raincoat."
Said Hulk Hogan on TV: "Blood's gonna flow like wine at the Bayfront Center."
Said Ric Flair on TV: "I promise the wrestling world you will bleed, you will sweat…"
In response to the above comments, McMahon express-mailed a letter to Ted Turner on Thursday. The letter read as follows:
Since there's been no response to my repeated requests that you and your pro rasslin' company stop the practice of self-mutilation, I can only assume based on the last two weeks of Nitro that the practice of self-mutilation (slicing one's self with a razor blade) is not only condoned, but encouraged. As you know, Hulk Hogan has been bleeding all over the place the past two weeks. There have been numerous references on your rasslin' programming that this weekend's double-cage match will be so violent that one opponent will be "bleeding to the point of no recognition."
This encouraged practice of self-mutilation is disgusting, violent, potentially infectious, and completely contradictory in every way to your testimony before Congress in June of '93 and contrary to your 1995 participation in "Voices against Violence." Notwithstanding numerous unprecedented predatory practices against the World Wrestling Federation, if you continue to promote self-mutilation, I hope your stockholders hold you accountable for this unethically, gutteral, potentially unhealthy practice.
When posed with the idea of being a hypocrite for coming down so hard on WCW regarding blading, McMahon tells the Torch his policy on blading has remained unchanged going back to the Hulk Hogan era. "I am very concerned with blading and I'm vehemently against that," he says. "When you have quotes from WCW people on the air saying that there will be bleeding beyond recognition, I vehemently object to it."
McMahon says Bret Hart did not have permission to blade at the December pay-per-view. He says a doctor examined the cut and said it was too jagged to be from a blade and offered to put the Torch in touch with the doctor.
"I knew the Bret stuff would cause controversy," he says. "The nature of the cut wasn't clean. All the cynics thought immediately it was a blade job. I was wondering that myself because he's been such a super trooper. We all sat around and looked at the footage on tape later. Bruce Prichard or Jim Ross would say, ‘He could be doing it now!' ‘Well, is he?' I would ask in return. I have to take Bret's word (he didn't)."
Wrestlers in the WWF look at Bret Hart's insistence that he didn't blade as a "wink, wink" type of denial. McMahon says he will give no one permission to blade, and he says he has been consistent in that policy for years.
"That policy started when Hulk Hogan was around," McMahon says. "Hogan would slap me on occasion because he loved to blade. I told him it doesn't mean anything anymore. It's dangerous and nasty. But he would disobey me."
With the talk of the V-chip resurfacing last week and the elevated blood and violence in pro wrestling, McMahon says he's not overly concerned with the public perception of pro wrestling as somewhat violent, but, he adds, "You're always concerned if your competition is gratuitous about violence."
Perhaps in an effort to fend off the potential effect of the V-chip which would allow parents to systematically block shows they don't want their children to see, the WWF shifted its demographic focus away from young teens and expanded it to men 18-35. "We have become more aggressive and added sex appeal," McMahon says. "But we're not selling sex or violence. I mean, what comes after the chainsaw? A more judicious use of those elements is the way to go. I know what we're doing. I pay attention to what else is on TV and also what day part our show airs on. In certain markets we digitized Diesel's ‘high sign' - although, let's face it, kids do that to each other every day on the playground."
The one issue brought up in the Billionaire Ted skits that drew the most attention from WCW lawyers were implications that Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were on steroids and that WCW doesn't test for steroids.
WCW sent a letter to the WWF threatening legal action and contended they do drug test. The WWF responded by pointing out that WCW, perhaps tellingly, left out details of actually testing for steroids when saying they have a "comprehensive drug testing policy."
McMahon, though, says even though steroids have been brought up in Billionaire Ted skits, they are a separate issue from their contentions with the FTC - that being the unfair predatory practices of TBS. "Steroids have nothing to do with the complaint to the FTC," McMahon says.
He says he has two motivations - one selfish, and one not so selfish - for making a public issue of what he perceives to be a lack of diligence in steroid testing by WCW.
"In one (unselfish) sense, I'm concerned with the health and welfare of all the boys - not just the ones working here," McMahon says. "They are an eccentric lot, but they are close to my heart. In 1982 we had a cocaine problem so we instituted a drug testing policy at that time."
McMahon says his other element of concern with steroid use in WCW is more selfish, but that contention isn't that WCW wrestlers on steroids give WCW a competitive advantage. "I don't think that's the case. We've got some really big boys, too. I don't think that makes a difference."
Critics say McMahon can argue that WCW should be steroid testing, but who is he to be self-righteous given that he was dragged kicking and screaming into steroid testing amidst intense media scrutiny and government pressure? After all McMahon may be right about WCW's lack of diligence in steroid testing, but he surely isn't righteous.
"Well, I'd like to think that we would have gotten around to the steroid problem eventually," McMahon says. "I don't think I can be righteous. I mean, I took them (steroids), so how righteous can I be? I'm a quasi bodybuilder, I'm a lunatic in that way… But there will always be people who think I was guilty and got off. People who are wrongly accused of rape have that hanging around their necks for the rest of their lives. I'll never shake that with some people."
When steroid use was at its peak in the WWF in the mid-to-late '80s, when some estimates said over 90 percent of the wrestlers in the WWF were on steroids, there were slots on the roster informally set aside for a variety of body types. One of those slots was for bodybuilder types, with Hulk Hogan at the top. McMahon disagrees with the assessment that he had set slots aside for wrestlers who were obviously taking steroids. The contention of the government during the steroid trial was that McMahon knowingly and recklessly created an economic incentive for wrestlers to take steroids and that if they brought everything else to the table with them except they didn't have the steroid look, they would not have gotten one of the big money positions. The question wasn't if that was the case, but whether McMahon was legally culpable, not just morally culpable, for that approach to positioning wrestlers.
"I would not necessarily agree that there were slots set aside," McMahon says. "The top dog in any era gets emulated. Wrestlers say, ‘If I can be like him, then I'll be successful.' It wasn't a conscious effort on our part. The fact is the selling points of wrestling are storylines, athleticism, and characters. I've always thought that."
The crux of McMahon's "selfish" concern regarding steroids and WCW is the public relations nightmare that could resurface if a WCW wrestler were to be caught with steroids by law enforcement officials.
"From a selfish standpoint, and from a business standpoint, I'm concerned with someone getting picked up doing drugs again. That will mean we will inevitably get heat for it. The WWF will get bad publicity even if its a WCW wrestler."
Ironically, McMahon hopes if a WCW wrestler were to get caught with steroids that the WWF would take some heat in the media, because if the media didn't point to the WWF, that would mean the WWF was out of the media's focus and the WWF was no longer perceived by cursory followers of wrestling as the top promotion.
Says McMahon: "By bringing the steroid issue to light, I'm just trying to prevent a headline one day: ‘Wrestler arrested for steroid possession.'"
McMahon stresses that Titan's drug testing policy is not perfect, but that no drug testing policy can be.
One current problem in the WWF is overuse and abuse of pain killers and muscle relaxers. The problem is greater in the WWF because marijuana is a more risky option given that the WWF vigorously tests for marijuana and suspends wrestlers when they test positive. In the WWF the way to alleviate the grind of road life, either to block pain from taking bumps night after night or to help relax and sleep during an erratic road show schedule, is to take prescription pills. Some of the pills are obtained via legitimate prescription, but others are bought in bulk outside of the U.S. or from other suppliers.
McMahon says he is aware that abuse of prescription pills could be a problem that needs to be addressed.
"We've tried to be strict," McMahon says. "When we test, whatever is in the body will show up in the test. If Dr. (Mario) DePasquali sees something wrong, he will notify the talent and that talent has to present a prescription from a doctor. No policy is perfect, but we do our best. We police as best we can."
McMahon says some wrestlers need the prescription pills to get through the grinding road schedule of the WWF. "It's a copout most of the time," McMahon says. "But sometimes it's not. Last week the wrestlers had a 23 hour flight - one way - back from India. With the time zones being off, and then wanting to get some sleep - are they going to take a sleeping pill? You bet they are. We try to at least give the wrestlers business class seating, but that's still not the greatest ride, so they'll take some type of sleeping tablet."
McMahon says Melatonin is one alternative and natural substitute for the prescription pills.
"Face it, with stress from life on the road and being away from their families combined with the physical contact, these guys are on (call) 24 hours a day. It may appear to be glamorous -- and I guess it is to a certain extent - but the personal appearances that have to be done along with all the usual house show dates don't even leave time to hit the gym every day. The stress level is higher than it used to be because the demand on their time is greater. But these additional things need to be done."
McMahon says the stress of the war with TBS and the time it takes to deal with the FTC and put together the Billionaire Ted skits is not taking time away from other WWF matters. "This is not taking time away from other areas," he says. "My work ethic is pretty strong. The amount of time I spend on Billionaire Ted is minuscule."
But what's at stake isn't.
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