THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 171-2001
(continued from New WAWLI Papers No. 170-2001)
CONCLUSION OF THE NICK BOCKWINKEL INTERVIEW
DB: Tell me a little bit more about the Las Vegas Wrestling Academy.
NB: Well, Gary Mills is a local fellow. His wrestling name is Rush. Heís about 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. He learned how to wrestle here two or three years back. And Scott Casey, and another gentleman by the name of Mike Williams, both wrestlers of pretty good reputation, they were friends of his. They got him started. And then he opened up this academy just a couple of months ago. It has been going fairly well. Like he said, if Dory Funk can get people to come to Ocala, Florida for 11 days or two weeks, he says, I think we should be able to get a few people who would want to come to Las Vegas. Itís within walking distance of one of the big hotels, so itís kind of close. He asked me to be affiliated with it. He respected my talents and my knowledge. So I said to him, "Well, Iím not physically in any position to get back in the ring and go bouncing around." But I can really fine-tune those engines. So itís gonna be my pleasure. And I come down, and Scott Casey will come down. They usually train on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday nights they have some matches. And just this past weekend, because Scott Casey was one of the guys who was very instrumental in getting Booker T started in the profession, he had asked Booker T to come down this past weekend, which he did, and put on a demonstration for some of the students. We had a nice evening, took a bunch of pictures with Booker T. Then he had to get back for Monday because he is involved in the WWF-WCW scenario.
DB: Right, he was actually the main event that Monday night. So it looks like youíre pretty well stocked for star power there at the Academy.
NB: Well yeah, we really do. Weíve got some good names. Scott Casey is somebody that didnít necessarily reach Ė thereís so many in the profession that only a few are fortunate and lucky enough to wind up right at the top. But there are tons of guys that are pushing on that category who at any given moment could burst into that. And Scott Casey was one of them, and heís a terrific talent and a very nice person. Mike Williams, he did a lot of wrestling down in the south, in Alabama, New Orleans, for [promoter Bill] Watts at that time. Mike is also an excellent performer. So I think that between the three of us, weíll keep these guys with their heads screwed on straight, I hope.
They try to be pretty inclusive, and if you want to be a referee, if you want to be a valet, you want to be a wrestler, you want to be an announcer, theyíll run you through the whole thing. Itís turning out the be real good, and Iím enjoying it. Itís fun to be able to give some of that knowledge that Iíve had for all these years, and pass it on to some younger bucks. [NOTE: If you'd like to inquire about joining the Las Vegas Wrestling Academy, call (702) 221-7874.]
DB: Let me ask you about Hulk Hogan. I know you worked with Hulk Hogan when he was really young in the AWA.
DB: What was your first impression of him?
NB: Well the first time I ever had a chance to see him is right after he started. He was down in Memphis. This was before he went to New York the first time. Jerry Jarrett was kind of touting this guy, that he had some real good talent and charisma. Needless to say, he did, and when I saw him I thought he did, too. Then of course, when the movie came out that he was in with Sylvester Stallone [Rocky III], about that time, he came to the AWA. And then he blossomed the way he did. Wrestlers are a strange creature. Theyíre kind of like plants or vegetables that you put in a garden. Some of them just take more nourishing, more vitamins, more minerals. Then all of a sudden, they do blossom. Then some, they just come along and theyíre growing, but theyíre not blossoming. And then all of a sudden, six months or a year or two years later, they bloom. They do blossom into a beautiful flower. Hogan, in a sense, was one of those when he was down in Tennessee. You could see potential, but you werenít really sure if it was just going to stay at that level or what. And then of course, he just turned into the talent that he did. And the way Iíve always judged, for instance, if I was wrestling somebody I would always ask the seconds, who go into either dressing room. I would say, "I want to know, is my opponent Ė is The Crusher, or is Hulk Hogan Ė is he all warmed up? Is he nice and sweaty, and ready to go?" The reason why I ask that is because that told me what level of professionalism that person had. Because when you step into the ring, you should be idling at about 4000 RPM. If youíre not idling at 4000 RPM, youíre not ready. And you have an obligation to those people who filled that arena and paid their money to give them the performance they deserve. So I always wanted to know, because I always went into the ring idling at 4000 RPM. And I wanted to make sure that my opponent was likewise. If he wasnít, that actually would piss me off. That didnít sit well with me at all.
DB: Peopleís perception of Hulk Hogan and their perception of you as former world champions are in stark contrast. They see you as the superior mat technician, which you were, and they see Hogan as more of a performer without a whole lot of wrestling background. Did you prefer one type of opponent over the other, or did it not matter?
NB: Well, basically, I mean God bless it all, it was a business and there are all the different elements that make up so many of the different personalities that you get in that business. Thereís a guy that wrote in a magazine two years back, and he rated the top 20 wrestlers in this last century. I think I was number eight. Of the 20, I would say there were probably two or three names that I would have stuck before me, and there were three or four names that I would have stuck after me. And thatís only because that was a judgment call on the [part of the] guy that wrote the article. My judgment would be a little bit different for different reasons. Yes, I was more of a technical wrestler, and in that article he said, "He didnít do anything out of the ordinary. He was just very good at wrestling." And I took that as a tremendous compliment, because I didnít have the blonde hair, the music and the big muscles. I didnít have a fantastic body. I only weighed 240 pounds. So to have accomplished what I did, looking back on it now, Iím more proud of what I did then than I was at the time I was doing it. Only because I realize now - being able to step back and see the whole picture Ė I realize now, you know, that I DID do a hell of a job.
How much more time we got? I want to tell that little story about Terry Funk.
DB: You can tell it right now, if you want.
NB: Well Terry Funk and I were in Japan. We were there for four weeks. He is CONSTANTLY on my case. "Bockwinkel! When you gonna get drunk with me? Goddamn, I mean, Jesus, I mean, what are ya? Did your wife tell you you couldnít drink while you were on this trip? What the hellís your story?" You know? So heís just RAGGING on my ass all the time. And I drink beer, and Iíve had a few GREAT hangovers in my life. But basically speaking, especially in Japan, it was easy to drink beer because youíd get through wrestling and youíd have to get on the bus. Maybe it was hot, you know, and Iíd down maybe a half a dozen. But I wouldnít completely annihilate myself, which Terry could do easier than I could. So he says, "Goddamn, Bockwinkel, youíre being a party-pooper! When the hell you gonna have a few beers with the boys? Why are youÖ what the hell. Your mom wonít get mad at you, donít worry. Iíll tell her you were a good boy!" Just ragging on me something fierce. So finally, itís the last night of the tour. [Shohei "Giant"] Baba and the TV people decide theyíre going to take out the American boys. So we got out, we have the steaks, and after we have this big steak dinner, we go to this very nice club. Weíre sitting there, and theyíve got these little round cocktail tables that are only about 20 inches in diameter. All the tables are real close. So Terryís sitting across from me in this big booth. Thereís about four guys one way, four the other. Itís like weíre two lines of about ten. So I said, "Terry Ė OK. Youíve been on my ass about getting drunk all the whole trip." And heís been ribbing me in front of all the TV executives, and all the people from the office, you know. So I said, "OK, weíre going to get drunk tonight!" "Well, g*d damn, Bockwinkel, itís about time! Gee whiz, I mean you sure made us all wait long enough!" And I said, "OK, so let me ask you, Terry Ė you want to do hot sake? Or Jack Daniels on the rocks? What do you want, Russian vodka straight up?" You know, heís looking at me, because Iím calling some pretty heavy stuff.
NB: So he said, "Well, god damn, Bockwinkel, whatever you want, I donít give a damn!" I said, "Well, you want me to get drunk, donít you?" "Well, yeah! We want to see you drunk!" I said, "OK, we can do that. Iím gonna be good enough to do that." So I pull my chair up real close to him, and heís sitting right across from me. And I push this little table to one side. Now my knee has gone in between his legs, and his knee is in between my legs. Our knees are touching each otherís balls. [laughs] Weíre sitting that close. My face is only about six, seven inches away from Terry. Everybodyís kind of looking. Theyíre going, "Well what the hell is going on here?" You know most of these guys, and Baba was always somebody who just kind of sat back, didnít make too many waves. Wasnít too expressive. Didnít talk too much. He was just kind of sitting back, and had a little smile on his face all the time. So Terry says, "Bockwinkel, I said I wanted to see you get drunk, I didnít say I wanted you to sit on my lap!" I said, "No Terry, you donít understand. You want me to get drunk. And Iím gonna do that. Youíre hoping that I will get silly, make an ass of myself and everybody will laugh at me. And thatís OK, I understand. I can be laughed at. But if IíM going to allow MYSELF to be laughed at, then YOU get to be laughed at, too! OK?" "Well, damn, Bockwinkel, whatís that mean?" I said, "Well what that means, Terry, is letís say we decide on hot sake. I am sure that about the third hot sake that gets guzzled down Ė for SURE, by the time I take the FOURTH hot sakeÖ" and weíd been out to this big steak dinner before this Ė I said, "You remember that big steak dinner we just all had?" He says, "Yeah?" I says, "Well mineís gonna come RIGHT BACK UP. And when it comes right back up, you want everybody to laugh at me, because Iím gonna get drunk. Theyíre gonna get to laugh at me getting drunk all over YOU! And then theyíll REALLY have a good laugh, wonít they, Terry?" And heís looking at me, and heís going "Oh, Bockwinkel, youíre such a wise-ass. Oh, sure, sure, you really think youíre cute Bockwinkel." And he just backed off so fast. He just changed the whole subject. [laughs] And itís kind of hard to get Terry, because Terry is one of those people where you have a tough time doing things to him.
DB: We saw you in the late 90s in WCW in a commissioner role. Is there any chance that, if it were to come up, you would accept a role similar to that in the future?
NB: Oh yeah, thereís no question about it. I mean, I love the business. And people have said to me "Nick, could you still be in the business if you wanted to?" Yes, I could. Vince has offered me a position a couple of times. I worked for him for about a year and a half, and then he had some changes. I think thereís no question that if I really wanted to work within the profession, that I could. The only thing is I donít have the desire to travel that much. Iíve got a lovely wife who Iím having enough of a struggle meeting on the golf course as it is right now. So Iíve got my toughest opponent right here at home. Iím still in the life insurance and investment business, and I still have what we call your book of clients that you have to take care of, and make sure everythingís going correctly. Iíve done that now for going on 12 years. But the commissioner thing was great before. It was usually a couple of weekends out of each month. I had to fly to Atlanta or wherever the WCW people wanted me to go. I really enjoyed that when I was doing it, yes.
DB: If you could go back in time, is there any one thing, any one moment, any one match that you would change from your career?
NB: Any that I would change? Iím not so sure I would change. I think probably one of my greatest accomplishments that very few people would know about was in Houston, Texas. Paul Boesch ultimately got wrestling Ė which was never allowed to be on Sundays Ė he got the state law changed, and wrestling was allowed on Sundays. He went into the big arena where the basketball team down there plays. It was a Sunday afternoon card. And it was the first time ever that all three champions Ė WWF, AWA and NWA Ė were on the card. It was Bruno Sammartino, Harley Race and myself. I wrestled Jose Lothario in a 20-minute draw. As I came out of the ring, Paul Boesch came to me and he says "Nick, Harley still isnít here. We promised a championship match, which was gonna be the NWA match. If we have to, can we have an AWA championship match?" And my opponent would have been Terry Funk, because Terry Funk had lost the match to Harley and he hurt his knee, and then he was out for about six months. So this was his first return engagement for the NWA title after he lost it to Harley Race. [Paul] said, "Can you call?" So I called Stanley Blackburn, and I called Wally Karbo to see if there was any problem. They said no. So I wrestled Terry Funk, and t hat night Sylvester Stallone had come to the matches because they were getting ready to do the wrestling movieÖ
DB: Paradise Alley.
NB: Yeah, they were just getting ready to do it. So Sylvester was sitting at ringside with Paul Boesch doing the play-by-play, doing the color. Then I wrestled Terry Funk for one hour. Now I want you to know that when I wrestled Jose Lothario for 20 minutes, I set my timer for 20 minutes. I knew that everybody was going to be watching the AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel, the WWF Champion Bruno Sammartino, and the NWA Champion Harley Race. I knew there was going to be Ė from the magazines and everybody else Ė there was going to be the big comparison. And so I wrestled, I went back in and blew my wad, so to speak, with Jose Lothario, and mustered it up from somewhere and wrestled Terry for one hour. And when I went back to my hotel, I had a suit on. When I came in, I sat down in a big easy chair. I called my wife, which I used to do every time when I was on the road after wrestling, and I woke up about 6 oíclock in the morning sitting in that chair. I was never so whipped, so exhausted in my entire life. It took me about three days to absolutely recover from the whole thing. But at the same time, I think it was probably one of my most proud days to have been able to do it. And Harley, it was an honest mistake and the booking NWA people did not tell him this was an afternoon show. So I come out of the ring about 7:30, and Harley had just walked in about a half an hour before. And all I said to Harley was, "Thanks for the payday." [laughs] And you know, at that time, Iíd already had 11 percent of Houston, which nobody knew. None of the wrestlers knew. And there was no need for anybody to know. There was going to be a time eventually where I would have made people aware.
DB: Now do you keep in touch with any of these people, like Verne, or Bobby Heenan?
NB: I do and I donít. I see Ken Patera, I see Jim Brunzell. You know, and I see Verne Gagne and Greg Gagne, only because I will go and make appearances back in the AWA parts of the country. Then of course I was just down in Florida, for Sgt. Slaughterís golf tournament, and had an opportunity to see some of the WWF boys. Sarge and I are old friends. So I donít get the opportunity, but then of course Iím one of the people on the board of the Cauliflower Alley Club, headquartered here in Vegas. Once a year we have our convention. So at that time, I get to see a LOT of the guys, which is really terrific. I occasionally will talk to "Sir Robert," and I talked to Gene Okerlund just this morning about something. It was good talking to Gene, because Gene and I are good friends from a long time ago. Then I run into Verne and Greg every now and then at charity golf tournaments. Iíll be going back to Minnesota the first weekend in August, and I will see Curt Hennig, "The Axe" Larry Hennig, Ken Patera, Jim Brunzell, who else Ė possibly Verne and Greg. And they will be playing in a charity golf tournament.
DB: I know you got a chance to catch up with Curt at Sargeís tournament, and it was kind of neat to see, because his career kind of took off right when yours was in its final moments.
NB: Itís the only thing I feel so bad about, with the fact that thereís only one organization. There is, out there, I would say probably two to three dozen top pieces of talent. And the thing is, when youíve only got one wrestling organization, itís hard for them to feature everybody. Itís just impossible for them to do it. And to think that somebodyís not featuring somebody as good as Curt Hennig is absolutely a sin. That is such a heartbreaker. And I saw Curt, but I guess heís getting quite a bit of bookings on independent shots all over the country. So like you said earlier, thereís enough to keep a lot of those guys busy. But is there enough to create another organization? That Iím not really sure of.
DB: Is there anybody that you never wrestled that you would have liked to have had a chance to wrestle?
NB: Oh, I wrestled Dory Funk, I wrestled Terry Funk. Wrestled Backlund. Wrestled Ric Flair, actually Ė again, another time that the NWA Champion wrestled the AWA Champion, in Winnipeg, Canada. It was the only time, and that match wound up being a draw as well. Iím sure there would have been a lot that I would have loved to have stepped into the ring with, and put my skill and ability up against theirs. But it didnít come to pass. I donít feel bad about it. Itís just too bad it didnít take place when it could have.
DB: Is there anything else youíd like to add?
NB: Only that, from a career point of view, I enjoyed myself tremendously. Iím so happy that the dear lord allowed me to work with so many great, great people. So many quality people, both wrestlers and the promotional end of the whole thing. I think itís one of the more honorable professions, in the sense that regardless of what people want to say, whether itís doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs, like I like to tell people: when I have stepped into the ring, I have given 100 percent, all the time, and the people have always gotten their moneyís worth. I know a lot of attorneys, and a lot of doctors who, believe me Ė did their client get 100 percent for the money they paid? No. So I get very uptight when people make disparaging remarks about the profession, because again, what did you give whatever your occupation is? Did you give 100 percent value for the money they paid you? I always did.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 172-2001
THE ONE & ONLY STRANGLER
(Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, January 9, 1982)
By Dave Engel
Wrestlers are the champions of River City.
Names like Jack Reinwand, Ed Seen, Dave Witt, Mike Webb and Lafe Enkro inspire grammar-school aspirants to the grapplersí hall of fame.
But more renowned than any interscholastic matman was the notorious Strangler.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis, a Nekoosa native born in 1890, reigned as world champion heavyweight from 1920 until 1932. He held the title five separate times.
According to a 1956 Wood County Centennial edition of the Daily Tribune, "The name of Ed ĎStranglerí Lewis Ė born Bob Friedrich Ė has been indelibly carved on the record books along with such great names as Hackenschmidt, Gotch, Stecher, Caddock and Londos."
Lewis in 44 years of professional wrestling earned somewhere between $3 million and $15 million in some 6,200 matches, of which he lost only 33 (sic). His most famous may have been in Omaha in 1916 against the Scissors King, Joe Stecher.
The match lasted over five hours and resulted in a draw.
Arthur Crowns, 96, 1203 Prospect Ave., Nekoosa, grew up with the boy then known as Bob Friedrich.
"Bob and I were raised together," said Crowns. "We played baseball, went swimming, all the things kids do.
"I was two years older than him," he said. "I used to be able to put him on his back more than anyone else. Then all of a sudden it stopped."
Crowns and Friedrich both played for the Nekoosa city baseball team in 1908. At a baseball game in Pittsville, receipts were so low that Friedrich found himself wrestling the "pride of Pittsville," a young man named Brown, in order to pay the way home to Nekoosa.
Friedrich picked Brown up off the ground and squeezed him until he turned blue. He used similar tactics against another locally famed wrestler, Dave Sharkey of Rudolph. After beating Sharkey, Friedrich moved in 1910 to Kentucky University at Lexington to play baseball and develop a new identity.
As the Strangler, a name he borrowed from a previous wrestler, "his name was synonymous with the punishing hold," wrote national sports columnist Ted Carroll after Lewisí retirement. "With master showman Jack Curley fanning the flames of publicity, Lewis himself flashed an instinct for ballyhoo."
Over the years, Lewis wrestled in almost every major city of the world and once claimed that there wasnít a town or city in the entire United States of more than 5,000 population in which he had not appeared.
The Strangler claimed the world title in 1914, at a New York tournament in which he threw all comers. His claim, however, was not recognized until 1920. Through two generations, Lewis would be a dominant figure in world wrestling.
"Bob was not quarrelsome, just athletic," Crowns said. "He had a peaceful attitude. He was raised in a German family, where Dad was the boss.
Friedrichís father, Jake, was a Nekoosa policeman. "He was strong," said Crowns.
The Strangler studied the sensitive nerves of the neck and soon began gaining advantages over opponents by applying pressure to these nerve centers. He practiced the famed headlock on a wooden dummy fitted with strong springs.
"You could see Bob would never get any place playing ball," said Crowns.
Friedrich worked as a delivery boy for the Guthell Grocery in Nekoosa, where his strength allowed him to move 300-pound kegs. "His value was somewhat lessened," said the 1956 Daily Tribune, "by a penchant for stopping his horse and buggy delivery wagon anywhere to play ball."
"Not overly tall, his beefiness was concentrated in his upper body upon comparatively slender legs," wrote Carroll. But, as Strangler, "he more than compensated for his physical unsightliness with an innate athletic skill surpassing that of most wrestlers."
A Kansas City Star of 1949 wrote that "Lewis was a dramatic figure, overpowering in his size with his massive chest, thick neck, powerful arms. He walked through the usual capacity crowd at the old Convention Hall to the cacophonies of the almost hysterical spectators, who booed his step and hooted his entrance into the ring.
The Star described a typical strangle:
"The routine seldom deviated. The Strangler would be flung with a terrific crash on the mat; tears would stream from his eyes. His face, screwed-up in pain, presented a rapturous picture to the gloating fan.
"The Strangler, with a mighty burst, would loosen the grasp of his opponent. Lunging toward his foe, he would secure his famous grip, the headlock. Hurled down, the opponent would stagger groggily to his feet. Hurled down again, he had difficulty arising. It was all over."
The occasion for the Star article was the transformation of the Strangler, now "more vitally concerned with the reformation of the nationís underprivileged youngsters."
Having been nearly blinded by trachoma, an infectious disease apparently passed among the eye-gougers, Lewis had turned to the Christian Science religion and had joined the lecture circuit.
"He was generous," said Crowns. "The people of Nekoosa were proud of him. Kids followed him around. He was a hero."
Friedrich would never live in Nekoosa again, but he came now and again to visit his mother, sister and old friends.
"He always came back and put on a wrestling bout when any of the kids needed money," said Crowns.
If the Strangler came back a hero, he also often came back empty-handed.
"Despite his dedication to the art of wrestling," wrote Carroll, "Strangler Lewis let none of lifeís pleasures pass him by. In the modern parlance, he was a Ďswinger,í check-grabber and good-time Charley.
"If the Stranglerís headlock was viselike, his grip on a dollar was too easily broken and he spent his final years in heart-breaking fashion dependent upon charity and with his eyesight gone."
"He always wanted $20," said Crowns. "I couldnít turn him down, because of our friendship."
A youngster once asked the Strangler: "Did you ever wrestle Jesus?"
"No, but for 15 years now I have been wrestling on his team," replied the heavyweight champion.
After he "got religion," having lost his fortune, Lewis returned to Nekoosa now and then. "The last time I saw him," said Crowns, "he wanted to borrow $20 from me.
"But I didnít want him to take another $20. So the last time I saw him, I beat it."
In 1966, at the age of 76, Robert Friedrich, also known as Strangler Lewis, died of a lingering illness in a Tulsa, Okla., nursing home. He had wrestled with Art Crowns, Wayne "Big" Munn, Alex Garkawienko and Kola Kwariani. He had wrestled for Jesus, he said.
The Strangler, who had won a million with a crushing headlock, and who lost it all. The Strangler, a muscular myth among the lore of River City.
20/20 SPARKED WRESTLING MOVIEíS WOES?
(New York Post, March 8, 2000)
By Don Kaplan
A 20/20 profile of pro-wrestling star Mick Foley was the spark that ignited a war between WWF honcho Vince McMahon and the makers of a new wrestling film called Beyond the Mat.
The day after the 20/20 piece aired, McMahon accused Beyond the Mat distributor Lions Gate Films of using the ABC newsmagazine to promote the movie.
"Vince McMahon called up one of our assistants in New York and started yelling the day after the 20/20 segment," Lions Gate honco Tom Ortenberg said.
"In typical bully fashion, he screamed that he owned Mick Foley and that Foley was not allowed to promote our movie," Ortenberg said. "We didn't even set up the [Foley] interview for 20/20", Ortenberg said. "Mick Foley hasn't been available to us."
The 20/20 profile contained clips from the movie and an interview with its writer/director, Barry Blaustein.
WWF officials would not comment "on conversations we believe to be private," a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, on Monday the TV tabloid show National Enquirer abruptly canned a story about the controversy after getting flack from WWF officials, Ortenberg said.
"They told me that the WWF was not cooperating with their story, that until now they had a good working relationship with the WWF and that they didn't want to jeapordize it over this story," Ortenberg said.
The 20/20 piece also spurred McMahon to compare the appearance of Foley's wife, Colette, to Robin Givens' famous rip on Mike Tyson while he was a guest on a sports radio talk show.
McMahon and Foley later reconciled.
Last week, the WWF -- which controls most of the advertising on its shows -- banned advertisements for Beyond the Mat on UPN and the USA Network, despite signing contracts with the film's distributors to air the ads.
In order to not jeopardize their relationships with the WWF, both USA and UPN have refused to air commercials for the movie during any of their other programs.
UPN's Smackdown is responsible for reviving the ailing network's ratings, while Raw is the highest rated show on the USA Network.
Lions Gate officials say they are contemplating legal action against the WWF, but probably won't file a suit until after the film opens on March 17.
"It will be a lot easier to claim damages if the film doesn't do well," a studio source said.
UPN officials declined to comment, but according to published reports some local station officials told Lions Gate executives they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their relationship with the WWF. After the WWF banned the ad, Lions Gate officials separately approached 54 local stations that carry UPN and Smackdown to try to buy some local slots that the WWF does not control -- all but nine rejected the ad.
"This may be the first time a supplier of network programming has controlled the local advertising on individual TV stations [the supplier] doesn't sell," a media executive told Ad Age, an industry trade magazine.
In the New York area, WWOR/Channel 9 initially agreed to air an ad for Beyond the Mat but said it would charge $15,000 for 30 seconds. A day later the station raised its rate to $30,000 to air the ad.
When Lions Gate accepted the terms, WWOR officials changed their minds again, saying that they wouldn't accept the ad for any amount of money.
Channel 9 officials could not be reached for comment.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 173-2001
MARKER AT BOYHOOD HOME HONORS STRANGLER LEWIS
(Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, July 7, 1966)
(ED. NOTE Ė A plaque, erected between and supported by two log posts about eight feet high, was dedicated by the city of Nekoosa, Wisc., and the South Wood County Historical Corp., with the test written by Marshall Buehler. An early trainer, Fred Bentz, posed with the historical marker, the inscription upon which is printed below.)
ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Robert Friedrich, who devoted a lifetime to the sport of wrestling, claims Nekoosa as his boyhood home. Born in 1890, he began his wrestling career at the age of sixteen when he challenger another local rival to raise funds for his baseball team. While Assistant Athletic Director at Kentucky University, he studied anatomy, thereby learning which nerve centers he might apply pressure to and thereby gain an advantage over his opponents. He gave to the sport of wrestling a scientific study which it had never before known.
Adopting the name, Strangler Lewis, he is the only man to be recognized on five different occasions as heavyweight champion of the world. For twenty years, he challenged and defeated all contenders. His greatest asset was his famed headlock, which he pitted against Joe Stecherís famed scissors hold to capture the crown in 1920.
He retired to a life of youth work, devoting his time to working with underprivileged boys.
A member of the Athletic Hall of Fame, Lewisí name is carved in the record books, along with other great names like Hackenschmidt, Londos, Stecher and Caddock.
WRESTLING LEGEND ARN ANDERSON HEADS TICKET
(Kingsport TN Times-News, May 10, 2001)
By Matthew Lane
Wrestling legend and Four Horsemen founding member Arn Anderson is scheduled to appear at the Mark Curtis Memorial Weekend of Champions, being held at 8 p.m., Saturday at the National Guard Armory. Presented by Southern States Wrestling, the match honors WCW referee Mark "Brian Hildebrand" Curtis who died on Sept. 8, 1999 after a long battle with cancer. Proceeds go to Childrenís Miracle Network.
I spoke last week with The Enforcer from his home in Charlotte about what heís doing now, about the sale of WCW to the WWF, and if weíll ever see Double A on television again.
Matthew: What are you doing these days?
Arn: Iím working a few little shows that are within driving distance around here. I worked a couple in Hickory, and Concord. Basically, Iíve had 18 years in the business. Iíve had two stretches of off time and both were as a result of a broken neck. One in 1990 and this last time, which ended my career. In 18 years, Iíve never had over 10 days off. This is a first for me to have a few months off. Iím getting to be a dad and getting to be a neighbor and kinda getting to be a husband and itís pretty cool.
Matthew: What is your status with WCW?
Arn: Time Warner treated me more than fairly. I can go out and make a living tomorrow and Time Warner honored everything we had pending. I couldnít be happier. After being with them 10 years, it meant something to be treated the way they treated me on the way out, and I have nothing but good things to say about the way they handled everything where Iím concerned.
Matthew: Your comment on the future of WCW.
Arn: [Vince McMahon] is going to produce a WCW show and I take him at his word and itís just a question of when he can get all of his ducks in a row. One thing I know about Vince McMahon after working for him for 14 months in 1989, he runs everything like a business and heís very professional and will do this also and itíll be a success.
Matthew: Was it emotional for you when WCW was sold?
Arn: Itís a funny thing. I was there that night in Panama City and a lot of people were handling it in different ways. The people who had been around since day one, it was a real harsh reality. Some of the younger guys didnít really understand what was going on but it was a very emotional day. I didnít look at it as the death of anything because the meeting Shane [McMahon] had earlier in the day was very positive. To me, it was the birth of something new, it wasnít the death of anything. Itís going to be a brand new day, a brand new product and I hope and think Iíll be apart of it, but you never know.
Matthew: Has the WWF been in contact with you?
Arn: Iíve had a meeting with Jim Ross, a very good, very positive meeting, just discussing their philosophy of the business. I met with them in Atlanta. No promises were made and nothing was signed. It was a general "find out what weíre all about" meeting.
Matthew: How much arm-twisting did [SSW] have to do to get you to appear this Saturday?
Arn: All they had to do was ask. I was honored. I knew Mark Curtis. Iíve never seen anyone that loved the business to the degree he did, with maybe the exception of Jim Cornette. Anything we can do to honor his memory, Iím honored to be apart of.
Matthew: Which wrestler today impresses you the most?
Arn: Chris Benoit. Iíve been saying for the past three years, of the younger guys, heís got it all. You may say, Benoitís too small. Maybe when he walking to the ring, heís got a good physique, but heís not that tall. Five minutes after the match starts no one asks how tall Chris Benoit is.
Matthew: Who was your best opponent in the ring?
Arn: The match that will always stand out is when I wrestled Ric [Flair] at a pay-per-view event in Asheville, N.C., Fall Brawl. It was a learning experience, a pleasure, and a horrible beating. It was the best of the best and the worst of the worst. I did something Iíve never done before or since...before the match I was so nervous, I threw up.
Matthew: During your career, how has the wrestling business changed and has it been for the better or worse?
Arn: What weíve done as a business, weíve almost made it impossible to follow our own act. The one-upsmanship on a weekly basis. I think how you establish yourself in this business is over the course of time, people see you and every time, bell to bell, you give them everything you have. Weíve just hot-shotted ourselves into a hole.
Matthew: Who were the best of the Four Horsemen?
Arn: Thereís no way to ever duplicate the original. Itís the best scenario you see in most situations. I would say the first group was the best because it was unique for that time. Tully Blanchard is probably the best partner I ever had. Ric has been the constant and without him, the Horsemen wouldnít have had the glitz and glamour and power and stroke that they had.
Matthew: I want to throw a few names at you and for you to give your impression or opinion of them. Hulk Hogan.
Arn: Bigger than the business.
Matthew: Eric Bischoff.
Arn: Iíd rather pass.
Matthew: Vince McMahon.
Arn: Smartest man in the history of the business.
Arn: The most honest guy Iíve ever met in the wrestling business.
Matthew: Vince Russo.
Arn: A lot of great ideas, but the nuts and bolts of the business was his weakness. Very creative but on scale of what people would actually swallow, he had a few problems with that.
Arn: Phenomenon, unprecedented. May not see another.
Matthew: The Rock.
Arn: Donít know him personally, but he came from nowhere and got somewhere real fast. My hatís off to him.
Matthew: Ric Flair.
Arn: The quintessential pro.
Matthew: And how would you describe yourself?
Arn: Probably a guy that should have been more politically oriented. Maybe should have said "no" more. Was just glad to be one of the boys and when all said and done Iím able to walk into the dressing room without anybody going "shhhh." Thatís a compliment.
Matthew: Any regrets?
Arn: Not really. Only thing I regret was not watching my first son grow up. Iíve got a 4-year-old and when my first boy was his age I was with the WWF and working 24 days a month. The WWF treated me like gold, but to be gone 24 days a month, if youíve never done it for 14 months, itís pretty extreme. People think you show up on TV and you go out and for 10 minutes you showcase your talents and thatís the end of it. If they only knew that most nights you get a shower, lay on an ice pack for 15 minutes, fold up into a car and drive 200 miles, get in at 2:30 in the morning and pray thereís a Waffle House there so you can grab some food to take to your room only to get up at 9 a.m. the next morning because youíve got to be there by noon. Iím not complaining because itís the life I chose. In the 1986 I wrestled 336 days. A lot of those days were double-shots. Thatís the kind of grind that if people really knew that the guys used to go through, it kind of makes you look at wrestlers a little differently and appreciate what they do a little more.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 174-2001
STRANGLER LEWIS THREW GREATEST
(Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Wood County Centennial Edition, 1956)
The parallel in the lives of Fred Beell and Ed Lewis ends with the fact that they were both heavyweight champions of the world.
Lewis left the area at an early age to seek his fame and fortune in the ring. He was and is a big man, doing most of his wrestling at weights between 228 and 245 pounds. He devoted a lifetime to the sport, and after the end of his championship days, became the manager of another worldís champion, the presently recognized king, Lou Thesz.
During his heyday, Lewis met and defeated all the greatest wrestlers in the world for a period of over 20 years.
He is the only man to have been the recognized heavyweight champion of the world five times, and in addition he was a logical claimant for the title on at least one other occasion.
In recent years, Lewis has devoted a good share of his time and energy to giving lectures before boysí clubs and homes for boys throughout the length and breadth of the nation, doing more than his share in impressing these boys, some of them underprivileged, with the importance of clean living and fair play.
According to a sister, Mrs. J. Buckley, now living in Wisconsin Rapids, Bob Friedrich, world famous as Ed (Strangler) Lewis, has retired from active management of Thesz and he now lives in what, for him, must be a quiet atmosphere, in Tulsa, Okla.
Sixty-six years of age on June 2, Bob Friedrich was born in the town of Port Edwards, southwest of Nekoosa. His father later was on the police force in Nekoosa until his death, and the future champion grew up in Nekoosa.
Young Bob was a strapping lad and at an early age was one of the strongest young men in the area. Clyde Herrick of Nekoosa recalls clerking at the Gutheil Grocery in Nekoosa when Bob Friedrich was the delivery boy there.
His amazing strength made him valuable around a store because he had little trouble picking up two or three sacks of sugar or flour at once and depositing them on some customersí doorstep. He handled barrels of salt that weighed over 300 pounds alone, where normally it took at least two men. His value was somewhat lessened by a penchant for stopping his horse and buggy delivery wagon anywhere to play ball.
His first remembered wrestling match came about in a somewhat unusual manner. He was a member of the Nekoosa baseball team which went to Pittsville to play a game when young Bob was only 15 or 16 years of age. The receipts from the game were so small that the Nekoosa team had no means by which to return home.
A wrestling match was arranged between young Friedrich and the pride of the Pittsville area of that time, a man by the name of Brown. Young Bob won the match and so incapacitated Brown that he needed medical attention.
After that Bob began training in and around Nekoosa, sometimes in the old city hall, sometimes in a boathouse along the Wisconsin River.
Leo Huber recalled a time when Friedrich asked him to accompany him to Rudolph for a match against another locally famed wrestler of the time, Dave Sharkey. He pinned Sharkey and began looking for wider fields to conquer.
Oldtimers recall that Friedrich and Beell met in the ring just once. It came at a time when the famed Marshfield strong man was at his peak and Friedrich a strapping lad. Beell won the fall and was credited with saying he could throw Friedrich at any time because of his inexperience, but also that "that lad is the strongest young man I have ever had hold of, and some day will be champion."
While still in his teens, Friedrich left the Nekoosa area to step out into the rugged world on his own.
It is reported that in 1910 he entered Kentucky University, where he starred in football, baseball, basketball and wrestling. After one year he was declared ineligible because he played professional baseball in the Blue Grass League. He was considered the best amateur wrestler in the Middle West and had few peers as a basketball player.
It was his venture into Kentucky that gained for Friedrich the name he was to make famous in the wrestling world and the hold which was to take him to the top of the mat sport as a recognized champion over a span of 20 years.
He became assistant physical education director at Kentucky to help pay his way through school and also studied anatomy, with special emphasis on the nervous system. By learning where certain sensitive nerves were located he soon began gaining advantages over opponents by applying pressure to these nerve centers. He spent years in perfecting the famed head lock with which he rose to the top and stayed there.
To help him gain maximum pressure from the famed hold, Friedrich constructed a wooden dummy of a human head which was split in the middle and joined together by powerful springs. By constant practice on this dummy, Friedrich developed the necessary technique and strength for holding an opponentís head in a vise-like grip for protracted periods of time.
It is related that his first real effort at pro wrestling was against a carnival strong man near the Kentucky campus, and Friedrich almost smothered him with a powerful headlock. He was far below his later weight of a normal 228 pounds and because of his method of attack in the ring he soon became known as the Strangler.
Then someone called him Strangler Lewis, after the original Strangler Lewis, and as Strangler Lewis he has been known ever since, and Strangler Lewis he will henceforth be called in this article.
Lewis first laid claim to the worldís title in 1914 (sic) when the important eastern matchmaker Jack Curley staged an elimination catch-as-catch-can tournament in New York in which Lewis threw all comers. However, he was not universally recognized in view of the claims of such giants of the game as Charley Cutler, Joe Stecher and Earl Caddock.
It is safe to say that Lewis sprang into prominence through his series of matches with the Scissors King, Joe Stecher.
Just how many times these two famed grapplers met each other is somewhat vague, but in their second bout in 1916 in Omaha, fans were treated to what is recognized as one of the great championship clashes of all time. The two gladiators wrestled for five hours and 10 minutes to a draw, with Stecher claiming he would have thrown Lewis but for Lewisí defensive tactics.
Stecher then lost and regained his crown from Earl Caddock, a fighter who also defeated Lewis while Caddock held the crown.
The match in which Lewis lifted the crown from Stecher and became recognized world champ for the first time took place in New York City before a packed house on Dec. 13, 1920.
It was the famed scissors hold of Stecherís against Lewisí deadly headlock. Near the end of the match, Lewis applied the headlock on Stecher three times in rapid succession, and finally forced him into submission.
Stecher is quoted by Nat Fleischer in his book, "From Milo to Londos," as saying that of all the great men he wrestled during his career, Jim Londos was the best wrestler but Strangler Lewis was the toughest to beat.
Lewis lost his title to Stanislaus Zbyszko in January of 1922 (sic) when an accident enabled the gigantic Pole to pin him. Lewis had all the better of the match for the first 20 minutes until Zbyszko obtained a punishing toe hold. Lewis broke this hold, and in a rage leaped at the challenger. He missed and landed hard on his back and Zbyszko was quick to pounce upon him and pin him.
Zbyszko held the title only two months (sic) before the Strangler regained it in a match at Wichita, Kan., in March of 1922. Zbyszko won the first fall, but Lewis applied the stunning headlock to take the next two falls in short order and reclaim the title officially for the second time.
Then followed the longest period during which Lewis was recognized officially as world champion. He met and beat all comers until a giant Nebraskan named Wayne "Big" Munn came along. Munn was not an accomplished wrestler, but was tremendously strong. He picked Lewis up bodily at one stage of the match and dropped him on the ring apron, injuring Lewisí back and making the dethroning of the popular champion an easy matter. Lewis lost the title Jan. 8, 1925, in Kansas City.
This match caused an effect on the wrestling game which is nothing new to followers of the present confusing title picture. Lewis claimed he should have been awarded the match on a foul, and after the bout there were no less than five claimants to the title.
Lewis later beat Munn with the help of 21 headlocks in succession in a bout that drew over 20,000 fans and from which Lewis realized some $30,000.
Munnís reign was brief, the veteran Stanislaus Zbyszko lifting his crown three months after he won it. Zbyszkoís reign was also short-lived, as Joe Stecher again won the title, and with Lewis a popular drawing card, it was felt the two should meet for the championship again.
Stecher evaded Lewis until 1928 when Billy Sandow, Lewisí manager, arranged a match in St. Louis. Lewis was the aggressor and won the first fall in 2 hours, 16 minutes, only to be tossed by the Scissors King in 56 seconds for the second fall. But Lewis lifted the crown by winning the third fall.
Three weeks after his win over Stecher, Lewis accepted the challenge of Alex Garkawienko, the Russian Giant, and threw him twice in 38 minutes.
On Feb. 5, 1929, Lewis engaged in a match in New York that almost caused his downfall. He went against Kola Kwariani, the Russian Cossack, and came close to losing his title (sic). The Russian held the upper hand, three times picking Lewis up and slamming him to the canvas, but on his fourth attempt at this strategy, he slipped, Lewis picked him up and tossed him from the ring, and the challenger was counted out.
That bout had an added significance. It was Lewisí last as undisputed champion. He had split with Curley, the eastern promoter, who did all he could to belittle Lewis and set up other title claimants. From that time to the present day, the field has been clogged with those who claimed to be the worldís title holder. With the year 1930, the period of universal recognition of heavyweight champions ended.
The break between Lewis and Curley resulted in Dick Shikat being set up as eastern title holder and eventually led to the rather confusing situation of having no less than five champions reigning in different parts of the country at the same time.
(It is interesting to note that within a few years Curley and Lewis again became fast friends, and Curley has publicly declared that he regarded the Strangler as the greatest of wrestlers Ė barring Hackenschmidt.)
Late in 1929 (sic), a former Dartmouth football player, Gus Sonnenberg, surprised the Strangler and claimed his title. Sonnenbergís flying tackles were too much for the veteran title holder. Sonnenberg beat Lewis again that same year.
Meanwhile, Dick Shikat claimed the title on the strength of a win over Jim Londos under the auspices of Curley. Ed Don George then defeated Sonnenberg to claim the title.
In April of 1931, Lewis beat George and won back the NBA title, but then lost it in a freak happening in Canada.
Unable to corner the eastern claimant to the title, Lewis decided to defend his title against Henri Deglane in Canada.
Lewis had all the better of the match, but while he held Deglane on the canvas, the challenger set up a howl that Lewis had bitten him. The Canadian referee, quick to sense the title might come to his country, allowed the claim and awarded the title to Deglane on a foul.
Lewis refused to accept the verdict and had the backing of the National Boxing Association, which in those days also determined the wrestling champ. That cut the field of claimants to three, Lewis the holder of the NBA title, Londos in the east, and Deglane in Canada. Then Don George beat Deglane and took over his claim.
It was here that Lewis established a valid claim to the title for the fifth and last time. Londos and Curley had broken relations, and Shikat once more became eastern champ. On June 10, 1932, Lewis defeated Shikat and again became champion.
Lewis, Londos and Ed Don George all claimed the title here, but Lewis had the most valid claim and was generally recognized as the champ. Lewis defended his title against Jim Browning successfully in January of 1933, but a month later Browning reversed the decision to become champion and Lewis was never recognized title holder again.
Although he won no championship and, in fact, was beaten, one of Lewisí most memorable matches was staged in Wrigley Field, Chicago, on Sept. 20, 1934, before a crowd that paid a record gate to see a wrestling match.
There were 35,000 people on hand and they paid over $96,000, according to Nat Fleischer, to watch the match between Lewis and Jim Londos. Lewis had beaten Londos 14 times before that night and after that the Greek adamantly refused to meet the Strangler until at last they got together in Chicago.
It was a sad match for the powerful veteran from Nekoosa. He injured an arm when it became entangled in the ropes and Londos was awarded the fall.
The Strangler wrestled for years after that, but never again regained the title. However, in managing Thesz, he saw his protťgť claim the title on four different occasions (sic), and he has been recognized as the champion since 1948.
No sport can lay greater claim to ancient origin than wrestling. From far beyond the record of history, man has grappled both for sport and for life. It is recorded that Abe Lincoln was one of the great wrestlers of his day. The advent of television has meant that the sport has become more of a show than a contest in many instances, but that was not the case in the heyday of Strangler Lewis.
Whether the sport deteriorated forever to counterfeit exhibitions where grimaces and grunts replace skill and the strain of muscle, or whether it regains the classic dignity it held in the days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the name of Ed (Strangler) Lewis Ė born Bob Friedrich, in Nekoosa Ė has been indelibly carved on the record books along with such great names as Hackenschmidt, Gotch, Stecher, Caddock and Londos.
He gave to the sport of wrestling a scientific study it never knew before or since, and likely any contemporary who makes the headlock his favorite hold will be tagged with the nickname of "Strangler."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 175-2001
By Hardy Kruskamp
The wrestling game has produced much fame,
Since the beginning of time;
There has been great praise of every phase,
In history, rhythm and rhyme.
First, Samson, the strong, then Milo came Ďlong
To show the way of strength.
Hercules, we skip, to Gotch, who was a pip,
Name them all at great length.
But I want to talk about a man who could walk
On the mat with any man.
He knew no fear, this man of good cheer,
He was born in Wisconsin land.
They called him Bob and you couldnít rob
Him of his ability.
Exceedingly strong and in endurance long,
Also with nimble agility.
He started out and Iíll say about Ė
For the Lord knows when.
He wrestled for pay and I want to say,
He was a man amongst men.
He never shirked, this man of work,
When the going got tough.
He tried them all, if they didnít fall,
Then got rougher than rough.
Wrestling for a song, he found it was wrong
To handle his money affair.
So he got a gent, who was business bent,
And they made a great pair.
With Bob on the mat, Bill in the corner sat,
Counseling his every move.
When his opponent fell, I want to tell,
It was a sight to sooth.
They went along, this brain and brawn,
Soaring to great heights;
But I want to state, before itís too late,
Something of their great fights.
Stecher, the great, he certainly did rate
The name of the scissors king.
They wrestled five hours, those two great powers,
And neither could get the brass ring.
Wayne Munn, got rid of our hero kid
To get the crown for his head.
But again they did meet and Bob did beat
And put the boy to bed.
Zbyszko, the mighty, he wasnít flighty,
Plodding along like a clock.
It was a win that he didnít give in
When he ran into this rock.
Gus, the goat, arose to float
And soar to a great name.
From football play, he butted his way
To the pinnacle of fame.
He beat our hero, who wasnít Nero,
But Robert Fredericks to us.
Now donít get violent or stand there silent,
Iím speaking of "Strangler" Lewis.
He is still around and I want to pound
Into the head of the fan
The wrestling game has produced much fame,
But never such a MAN.
ROAD DOGG CONTINUES DOWN DESTRUCTIVE PATH
(Charleston Post & Courier, Sunday, June 3, 2001)
By Mike Mooneyham
Brian James, whose promising career in the wrestling business has been plagued by substance abuse problems, continued his downward spiral at an independent show May 26 at Conway High School.
James, better known to wrestling fans as "Road Dogg" Jesse James and Brian Armstrong, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after using excessive profanity at the show and resisting attempts by fellow wrestlers, workers and officers to calm him down. He had been booked to appear in the main event of the NWA card against The Barbarian.
James, 31, the youngest son of the famous Armstrong wrestling family that includes father "Bullet" Bob and brothers Brad, Steve and Scott, was released by the World Wrestling Federation earlier this year, several days after coming to a show in no condition to wrestle and telling company official Bruce Pritchard that he was having problems at home, in the midst of a messy divorce, and wanted to take time off from the business. James subsequently was suspended indefinitely and later received his termination notice, but officials didn't rule out the possibility of bringing him back "when he got his personal life in order."
James was a three-time WWF tag-team titleholder with Billy Gunn as The New Age Outlaws and also held the Intercontinental and hard-core titles during his WWF run.
Witnesses at the Conway show say Armstrong was signing autographs and taking Polaroids during intermission when be became belligerent after being asked to leave the ring. Intermission had already lasted more than 30 minutes, with the line still long and two main events remaining. James reportedly became irate when an official with the show asked him to sign autographs and take pictures in another part of the building to allow the final matches to come on. One source, however, said James was in no condition to take Polaroids with the fans.
James began spewing non-scripted obscenities in front of a crowd estimated to be in the 600 range, many of whom were teen-agers and younger children.
"He was acting like a total jerk," said one fan. "It was a good show until that point. He was cussing at the officials, screaming with kids standing right there. He said, 'We'll see just how interesting this next match will be.' "
James started taking pictures in a corner of the high school gym, where about 200 fans congregated, causing more distractions and drawing attention away from the action in the ring.
According to reports, police asked James to go outside the gym where he could calm down, and James kicked the door open and stormed out of the building.
"By then the cops started getting a little frustrated with him," said a fan. "His brother, Scott, went out with him. It wasn't working."
Arn Anderson, a longtime friend who also was on the show, followed him outside but was unable to cool him off.
"Arn Anderson went out and told him that the fans paid their hard-earned money and wanted a good show. I heard he took a swing at Arn. That's when they locked him up."
James was held for about an hour until bond was posted and officers were confident he was calm enough to leave.
"I don't think he had any intentions of wrestling," said Conway High School baseball coach Jody Jenrette. "I guess when he got here to the beach and it was Biker Weekend."
Jenrette said James was paid a thousand dollars in advance for the show in addition to the photos he was selling. "He could have made at least fifteen hundred dollars for three hours work. He would have sold at least a hundred pictures had he waited until after the show."
The main event between James and The Barbarian had to be quickly changed one match before the bout was to take place.
James no-showed a recent paid show at a casino in Biloxi, Miss., where he had been scheduled to headline against Jerry Lawler.
WRESTLING LEGENDS BACK IN BOUTWELL RING
(Birmingham News, June 8, 2001)
By Clyde Bolton
The World Wrestling Federation took wrestling to a new level. Many contend that level is sub-basement, though.
Pornography and profanity are staples of the wildly popular WWF television productions. Its writers create imaginative plots and its TV cameras shoot extra ring scenarios worthy of soap operas.
In the process of becoming symbolic with wrestling itself, the WWF swallowed up the weekly shows that used to play in cities over the country, including Birmingham.
A local woman, Linda Marx Keeble, believes there is a place for non-WWF style wrestling, though. She would like to see weekly wrestling return to Boutwell Auditorium, and she hopes to field a Legends of Wrestling Tour that would feature old favorites.
A wrestling card at Boutwell Auditorium on Saturday night will be a trial run for both endeavors. "This one is just testing the water," she said, "but I think it will do well. There's a lot of interest."
Robert Fuller and Jimmy Golden will meet Bob Armstrong and his son Steve in the main event. Ron Fuller, the Tennessee Stud, will be against his brother as the manager for the Armstrongs.
Other matches will be Tommy "Wildfire" Rich vs. the Dirty White Boy and Girl, the original Lord Humongous vs. Terry Gordy, the exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda vs. Gemini, Scott Armstrong vs. Robert Fuller Jr., the Great Kaiser and Dr. Johnny Peebles III vs. the Exterminator, and Buddy Landell vs. the Assassin.
Wrestling will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 ringside and $14 general admission.
"This will be old-time wrestling, like it used to be," said Keeble, who used to handle publicity for the weekly shows at Boutwell. "It used to be family oriented. It won't be anything like the WWF. We want it to be family fun. You can have fun without doing the things they do."
Keeble said weekly wrestling signed off at Boutwell some 15 years ago. But if Saturday's turnout is promising it could return.
Ron Fuller hopes there's a place for old-time wrestling.
"The sport has changed dramatically," he said. "It's not similar to what it used to be. I think fans from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are having a difficult time enjoying this WWF style. It's kind of on the edge. A lot of the things they do don't have anything to do with wrestling.
"They allow a lot of wrestlers to do things that are unnecessary. Their language and gestures are more than what they need to do to draw a crowd."
Ron Fuller is the grandson and son of wrestlers. Roy Welch, his grandfather, was a well known promoter of weekly shows.
Ron Fuller wrestled, but he was equally well known as a manager. "As I got older it was easier to run my mouth than to get slammed around," said the former Col. Parker.
Fuller, who hasn't been in wrestling full-time since 1988, said there are no more weekly wrestling shows. "Twenty years ago there were probably 30 different promoters," he said.
Can weekly wrestling cards make a comeback? "I guess we'll get a good idea Saturday night," Fuller answered.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 176-2001
STRANGLER LEWIS VISITS THIS CITY
(Milwaukee Journal, July 25, 1916)
Ed (Strangler) Lewis, a Wisconsin product, who with Joe Stecher is the logical claimant of worldís wrestling honors now that Frank Gotch has come out with a statement that he is through with the mat game, was a visitor in town for a few hours Monday evening. He stopped off at 6:40 p.m. and boarded a train at 9 oíclock for Richmond, Va., where he will transact a little real estate business during the next few days.
From Richmond he will travel to Old Orchard, Me., where he will appear in motion pictures, taking the part of Hector in a movie play entitled "Iliad." This will be the Stranglerís first appearance as a movie star and should he make good he may decided to stay in the business.
In regard to the Joe Stecher match which was held on July 4 at Omaha, Neb., he says that the bout was one of the hardest he has ever participated in. "We wrestled five hours without either of us securing a fall. At the end of the bout, which was halted by the referee, Stecher appeared to be all in. His pulse was 125 and according to those who witnessed the encounter he could not have stood the strain ten minutes longer.
"I offered Stecher a return match but he refused to accept it, saying he was through wrestling with me. I cannot account for his statement, as I always gave him a square deal in every one of our matches. I intend to rest up during the summe rmonths, getting back into the game some time in September. If Gotch retires, as he says he will, and Stecher makes good his statement that he will not wrestle with me again, I will lay claim to the heavyweight wrestle title.
"I would like awfully well to put on an exhibition in this city for the benefit of those interested in the sport."
Lewis gained fame when he won the championship at a tournament staged in New York recently. In the tournament, he defeated such men as Zbyszko, Dr. Roller, Charley Cutler, Hussane and a host of other well known grapplers. He was not defeated once and New York sport critics immediately hailed him as the worldís champion. Sport critics of Gotham claim that he is the greatest card and box office attraction now before the public.
Lewisí home is in Nekoosa, Wis., a little upstate town. He intends making a trip back to this town some time this winter in the hopes of stirring up something in the line of wrestling in Milaukee. "I have been in the game four years and I like it better every time I enter the ring," was his statement just before boarding the train for Richmond.
GOOD LETTER FROM GRAND RAPIDS BOY
(Wood County Reporter, April 17, 1919)
Lapwai, Ida., Apr. 9, 1919
To A.L. Fontaine,
Grand Rapids, Wis.
Dear Friend Fontaine: -- Just ran across this clipping regarding an old Nekoosa boy, Bob Fredericks (sic), who went to school when I was principal there in Ď98-í99.
"Strangler Lewis" to Wed
Announces Engagement to Widely Known California Woman
SAN JOSE, Cal., Apr. 8 Ė Robt. Frederick (sic), known to the sporting world as "Strangler Lewis," nationally famous wrestler, and Dr. Ada Scott Morton, one of the best known women surgeons in California, will be married May 1, in New York. They announced their engagement here today. Lewis expects to continue wrestling. They will return to San Jose after a wedding trip to England and make their home here.
The romance began more than two years ago, when Dr. Morton operated on Lewis after an accident at Butte, Mont., in which his ankle was broken Ö
ED TELLS THEM ALL ABOUT IT
(Milwaukee Journal, April 10, 1930)
Photo Caption: Ed (Strangler) Lewis, the man mountain who formerly held the world heavyweight wrestling championship, was in Milwaukee Wednesday and, as usual when he comes here, his mother and father came down from Nekoosa, Wis., to see him. A Journal photographer took this picture as the Strangler was telling his folks about his proposed tour around the world. Left to right, they are Jake Friedrich (which is the family name), Lewis and Mrs. Jake Friedrich.
A BOOST FOR RIPCO
(Ripples, Rhinelander Paper Company newsletter, September, 1945)
The following letter was sent to Ed Brodhag of our Sales Department and because of its contents, we felt it was worthy of a place in the Ripples.
(Monday) August 6, 1945
Rhinelander Paper Company
Attention: Mr. Eddy Brodhag
By accident, by partner and brother Frank, who is National Committeeman for the American Legion of the state of Montana, entertained Ed "Strangler" Lewis at lunch here last Friday.
In the course of the luncheon it developed that the "Strangler" asked my brother what line of business he was in, and he told him wholesale selective paper distributors Ö Ed then asked "Do you buy anything from Rhinelander," and he told him, "Yes, their RIPCO Autopak and MASTERWRAP."
Then Lewis said Ö "As a boy many years ago I worked on a paper cutter at Rhinelander" Ö and now comes the tribute to your mill Ö "I never worked or was associated with a finer bunch Ö They were a small mill then Ö They treated everybody fair and square, and I was very happy while in their employ Ö. You couldnít be buying from a better mill."
Ed Ö coming from the very leader in his own line of endeavor Ö the wrestling game Ö A man that has traveled five times around the world Ö A man who is honorary life-member of 26 American Legion posts Ö A man who has given over 2,500 free wrestling exhibitions Ö One of which he gave at 5:00 Friday night (August 3) to the 3,000 G.I.ís who keep the Seventh Ferrying Groupís planes flying here Ö That is the kind of a man that has paid your mill this tribute.
This letter, of course, is not for publication Ö But for your officers and employees Ö I feel it is a well-earned tribute, and you should be told these things because these are tough days for everyone connected with every branch in the paper industry.
(Signed) James J. Flaherty, President
GREAT FALLS PAPER COMPANY
(Bob Frederick Ė sic Ė or Ed "Strangler" Lewis was employed by the Rhinelander Paper Company for several years before World War I and during his stay in Rhinelander, he and Bob Caldwell, superintendent of our Pulp and Land Department, became great friends Ö Although he was very well known in Rhinelander for his wrestling bouts, his home was in Wood County. Thanks, Mr. "Strangler" Lewis for your fine "boost" for Ripco and your sentiments speak for many past and present employees.)
WALTER PALMER ON THE SPOT VS. LOU THESZ
(Wrestling As You Like It, Vol. 3, No. 10, Chicago IL, March 4, 1948)
Walter Palmer, back in top stride after entirely recovering from the injuries to his leg last year, is facing the toughest opponent of his career in meeting Lou Thesz of St. Louis next Wednesday night in the Rainbo Arena. This match is the turning point in Walterís mat career and he states he is ready for the test.
Thesz, who has held the worldís heavyweight title, is the newest athlete of the present-day mat game who can be compared to the powerhouse tactics that were in vogue in the days of Frank Gotch, Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, Everett Marshall and Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Lou is thoroughly acquainted with the knowledge of scientific wrestling and with the art of using leverage to the best advantage.
This match was a difficult one for promoter Fred Kohler to sign. Palamer has been through a hard campaign the past four months. He was desirous of taking on lighter and softer opponents, but Kohler convinced the north side idol that Walter with his ability and prestige should be wrestling none but the topnotchers.
Should Palmer obtain a victory over Thesz there would be nothing in his way toward obtaining a title battle with Hans Schnabel, the heavyweight title belt holder.
Thesz has enjoyed a colorful career. He not only has won the crown in the heavyweight division, but he has won blue ribbons and awards for his Doberman-Pinschers. The St. Louis idol always exhibits his dogs in kennel shows in Chicago whenever there is a canine show here. Lou has a farm in the south where he raises and breeds the animals.
However, getting back to next Wednesdayís mat clash, Thesz will scale around the 225-pound mark while Palmer finds his best weight is the 208 figure. This weight handicap suffered by Palmer will not be a detriment to Walter. Fans believe he moves faster than Lou and has a better opportunity to clamp on his holds. Walterís greatest success has been in featuring the spinning leg hold. Although Thesz has a sturdy pair of legs, Walterís devastating grip when applied with all the power at his command could have Lou at his mercy.
Thesz recently concluded a tour that saw him wrestling in Montreal, Quebec and other Canadian spots. Lou is a terrific drawing card in Canada and he campaigns there frequently. He is number one among the heavyweights and this top rating will be at stake in his match with Palmer next Wednesday.
It is understood that St. Louis promoters bid frantically for the Palmer-Thesz clash, but promoter Fred Kohler made such a generous offer to each contestant to wrestle here that they could not turn down the bid. The match will be the regulation one-hour time limit, with a two out of three fall verdict.
The Palmer-Thesz clash touches off a race for heavyweight honors that has such stars as Primo Carnera, Hans Schnabel, Ken Kenneth, Kay Bell, Jack Page and many others, including Abe Coleman, battling for the number one honors of the nation. Hans Schnabel, who holds the title belt, is anxious to face any of the present heavyweights now campaigning in the middle west. The victor of the Palmer-Thesz clash will no doubt face Hans in the near future.
(ED. NOTE Ė Thesz capped a busy, three-day swing through the "middle west" Ė which included a Monday night win over Ray Villmer in Memphis and a Tuesday night win over Mike Mazurki in Des Moines Ė by topping Walter Palmer in Chicago, Wednesday night, March 10, 1948. A little over four months later, in Indianapolis, Thesz would defeat Wild Bill Longson and begin an unprecedented, 7 Ĺ-year world title reign. Palmer remained a Chicago favorite for several more years, but never gained nationwide stardom.)
A KEN TUCCIO INTERVIEW WITH HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN
KT - What was it like working for the WWF when they first started to go mainstream with wrestling , when they first started to make it big ?
JD - It was a huge change from the regional companies, so much travel, such big crowds, it was great.
KT - What was the situation behind you leaving the WWF ?
JD - After 7 years I thought that I would leave for a year and then come back but then had the chance to go to the WCW with Hulk.
KT - You worked a match in WCW against Steve Austin before he became huge as Stone Cold. When working with him back then did you see the potential of him breaking out as the huge star he is now ?
JD - No, and I don't think that he would had ever had made it big if Vince did not change his name and style.
KT - Looking back on your career is there one match that stands out among all of them as a personal favorite of yours ?
JD - No question, the one that stands out was Andre. My highlight was working with him in a main event at Madison Square Garden.
KT - When Vince Russo first took the reigns of WCW he gave you a janitor gimmick . Did that bother you , what was your take on it ?
JD - The janitor deal did not bother me. It got me back on the show. I think that Russo thought that he would embarrass me but I thought that I was getting it over. As long as they put me on TV. I knew that I would get over no matter what they did. I think that it bothered them that I was over more than many of the guys that they pushed and thought were stars, They would use me to try to get other guys over but after the match the other guy would get out of the ring, then the crowd would give a big HOOOO and we would all chant USA USA.
KT - What , in your opinion , led to the downfall of the Russo / Ferrarra and Russo / Bischoff regimes in WCW ?
JD - It was that they thought if you did not fly and take crazy bumps then you were not a good wrestler. They would also use guys that were their friends, even if they were not getting over. Plus there were too many changes of personel in the front office.
KT - You turned heel this past year, teaming with Lance Storm and Team Canada. Can you give us your feelings on that ?
JD - I did not like it at all. I thought that they could have done more with me as a baby face, but they had me under contract. It did get me back on the show though.
KT - Looking at the young guys in wrestling nowadays , is there one whom stands out as a " keep an eye on " guy ?
JD - Hugh Morrus is big and strong and can also fly. His interviews have come a long way too , he is one that I would keep an eye on.
KT - This is something I and I am sure others have wondered about . Can you give us the origin of your trademark HOOOOO chant and the 2 x 4 ?
JD - The HOOOO is something that I just started to do to have more interaction with the fans and it worked. The 2x4 is because when I started so many guys had feathered boas and sequin robes, I wanted to not be fancy. There's nothing fancy about JD, just a 2x4 and the flag of The United States of America. HOOOOO!!!!
KT - I for one , as well as countless others, see you and your story of battling back from cancer as an inspiration. You are a symbol of never giving up , never quitting . How does it make you feel to have inspired so many people ?
JD - I feel that I am the luckiest man alive. God has blessed me. If I can help anyone, in anyway, that is the least I can do. And thanks to all who said a prayer for me and my family. I will never forget.
KT - What is in the future of JD , not just in wrestling but in life in general ?
JD - Who knows what the future will bring? My main goal is to be a good Dad to my two little girls. After my cancer I never thought that I would be back wrestling so you never know what the future will bring. I hope to be in wrestling for a few more years with a new company, the WWF or independents, but no matter what happens it has been a great run and I have been able to support my family and save some money for the future.
KT - Thanks for your time Hacksaw .
JD - Thanks Ken .
AN INTERVIEW WITH NWA CHAMPION STEVE CORINO
(www.wrestlerevolt.com, June 28, 2001)
By Kevin Malton
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with former ECW star and current NWA champion, Steve Corino.
Kevin M: Who did you do your training with and how did you get started in the business?
Steve Corino: Tom Brandi and King Kaluha. I enrolled in a wrestling school in 1994 and they were the teachers.
Kevin M: Can you tell me what the personal high point of your career so far is?
Steve Corino: Winning the World heavyweight title. Both the NWA and ECW.
Kevin M: During your time with ECW did you have any creative input and were you responsible for any of the angles that were used?
Steve Corino: Sometimes. But mostly I just threw ideas in every once in a while.
Kevin M: Who would you say is your favorite person to work with any why?
Steve Corino: Dusty Rhodes. He is such an honor to work with.
Kevin M: You are working the WrestleXpress show in England shortly, can you tell us who you will be working with and if you are looking forward to the event?
Steve Corino: Vampiro and I am very excited to wrestle him and VERY excited to be coming to the UK. (Note: this will be the first time Vampiro and Steve have worked together).
Kevin M: Do you have any other upcoming dates that you would like to inform your fans about?
Steve Corino: Keep checking stevecorino.com for more dates. (Note: Steve is scheduled for the Pillman Show).
Kevin M: What are your thoughts on the current WWF/WCW angle?
Steve Corino: I think it is great.
Kevin M: Finally a little word association:
Kevin M: Paul Heyman?
Steve Corino: Great at writing
Kevin M: Vince McMahon?
Steve Corino: The God of wrestling
Kevin M: Rhyno?
Steve Corino: The future of wrestling
Kevin M: Tommy Dreamer?
Steve Corino: A great mind
Thanks to Steve for his time.
For further information on Steve Corino visit
BLOOD AND BROKEN BONES: BULL CURRY VS. LOUIE TILLET
(Wrestling Revue, October, 1963)
France's "Flying Chef," Louis Tillet, sniffed distastefully. "Never in all my travels," he said, "have I ever seen such an ape as Bull Curry. Science should bottle him in alcohol because he is the missing link."
Tillet Had ample reason to be bitter. For one solid month, he and Curry had been waging physical and verbal warfare. The loquacious Frenchman had won the battle of words but Bull had given him a rough time in the ring.
On this humid night last April, Louis was facing bushy-browed Curry for the third time. Their two previous matches had ended in bloody brawls, but this one promised to be the most save scraps of all - a fight to the finish.
The grapplers wanted all the room they could get so they demanded that the referee perform his duties from the ring apron. Actually, he didn't have much to do anyway - his only function was to step in and raise the winner's hand.
The first fall started out with blazing speed, with Tillet getting the best of it. But he made one big mistake - he drew blood. If there's anything Curry can't stand, it's the sight of his own gore.
Spinning around in a rage, he tore into the Frenchman with such violence that even hardened mat fans recoiled in shock. After ripping Tillet's face and hammering his body to a pulp, Curry chased Louis right out of the ring.
Caught in the spray of blood was Wrestling Revue photographer Bob Verlin, who was frantically snapping away. After the bout, Verlin needed a towel to wipe the droplets off his camera.
As for the dazed Frenchman, he was at a loss for words when he recovered in his dressing room. Rocking from side to side, he kept muttering something that sounded like "Ape."
WOMAN RECALLS GRANDMOTHER WHO WRESTLED
(Jefferson City MO News-Tribune, December 26, 1999)
By Jon Detrixhe
Maudie "Mae" Wiseman Bartel Schaffer was a professional wrestler in the 1920s and '30s.
She billed herself as "Mae Stein, the Jewess from Cleveland," but to Geraldean Mae McMillin, Jefferson City, she will always be "Gram."
McMillin's new book, "Wrestling with Life: The Wisdom and Wit of a Woman Wrestler ... A Granddaughter Remembers" is a family history that includes many of Schaffer's adventures.
"I was an adult when I first heard Gram tell stories about her years as a professional wrestler," McMillin writes. "When I asked her how she came to get the title of 'Women's Middleweight Champion of the World,' she laughed heartily and explained that it was really very easy."
Of course, it wasn't easy, and McMillin's book examines just how tough it must have been for a woman to establish herself as a wrestler 80 years ago -- especially when she was only 5-foot-3 and 150 pounds.
"She was courageous," McMillin said. "But I don't know if she would have described herself that way. I see her independence as courage. It took courage to leave her abusive relationship with my grandfather. Then when she remarried, she not only married a wrestler, he was Jewish."
In 1922, Mae Wiseman married a professional wrestler named Lou Bartel, whom McMillin fondly remembers as "Papa Lou."
"Despite his size and bulk, he was gentle and sweet," McMillin said. "I can remember how he just adored me, as I did him. When we were together, we were inseparable."
The Bartels took their wrestling act on the road with a carnival. It was not an easy life, but through it all, they never lost their ability to laugh at life's travails.
"I remember their sense of humor," McMillin said. "Whenever they told stories, it was hilarious. I never heard them talk about the difficult times, the times when they were injured or tired of traveling. To them, it was a great adventure. They never gave me any indication that they were concerned about what society thought of them. And it never occurred to me. It was only as I grew up that I came to understand exactly how courageous my grandmother was."
Though her book covers more than 100 years of family history, McMillin is modest about her research efforts.
"I didn't do much research in the true sense of the word," she said. "It's more like family stories. The only real outside source that I have is a scrapbook that I found in a trunk in the basement."
McMillin, 68, has lived in Missouri since age 1. She graduated from high school in Eugene and married her high school sweetheart, Bob McMillin. When he died in 1956, she raised her three children, then got her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Lincoln University. She taught at Jefferson City High School from 1971 to 1991.
Happy as a teacher, McMillin never felt the call of the wrestling ring.
"No!" she said. "In fact, when I was in high school, I did everything I could to get out of physical education. I'd rather sit down and write or read. I work out three days a week at the gym, but only because I enjoy adventure travel. I can't do that if I don't stay in physical condition."
Like her grandmother, McMillin has a wild side. She has traveled to every continent and more countries than she can name. She's been on safari in Africa, taken a trans-Siberian railroad trip and counted freshwater dolphins on the Amazon.
"I've been to Antarctica and stood in the midst of tens of thousands of penguins which is kind of like standing at the bottom of a huge bird cage. This year, I used my travel budget to publish the book, but in November of last year, I went to Timbuktu in Mali, West Africa. I spent a week there and loved it."
On a trip to Luxor, Egypt, she arrived only three hours after terrorists killed a group of Swiss tourists.
"My kids were a little bit concerned," she said.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS Nos. 177-2001, 178-2001, 179-2001, 180-2001
AN INTERVIEW WITH SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM
(ED. NOTE -- Buck Woodward had the opportunity to talk to the legendary Superstar Billy Graham on July 8, 2000. The interview stretched for over two hours, and covered a wide variety of topics. Prior to the interview, there had been a discussion of the high risk moves involved in wrestling.)
Buck Woodward: So you think that everyone is trying to out do each other, be more like Cactus Jack, to where the bumps are a little too brutal?
Superstar Graham: Yeah, well Cactus raised the bar, along with Terry Funk. He's Cactus' mentor, but the bar has been raised, and these younger guys especially, even in the big two, are taking high risk moves, big bumps. It's scaring me, I'm glad I'm not in this era. [laughs] I was an era before. We tried to minimize the impact. It's an unbelievable sight to see, it's just incredible. I donít know where it is going to stop.
Woodward: Now, you got started in the Calgary area.
Graham: Yes, I got started with Stu Hart, in the Dungeon. I was one of the few guys to come out of the Dungeon, and I consider it an honor, to have been stretched by Stu Hart. [laughs] "Bend over here, let me see your neck, I want to show you a hold." And my neck has never been right since. I started there, and it was just on a whim. I never had any childhood dreams or any aspirations to be a pro wrestler, I just went up there. I had a friend who played for the Calgary Stampede, which is a pro football team up there, and I just went up on a whim, and I traveled those horrible, horrible, long distances, miles, in sub-zero, freezing ice.
Woodward: I know Canada well, it is brutal in the winter.
Graham: I came out of Arizona, I came out of the desert. It was 80 degrees in Phoenix, and in Calgary it was 60 below. It was a shock to me. I didn't even own a jacket! I lived in the desert. I owned a couple of sweaters, and a couple of windbreakers. The cold was a battle, battling the elements. It was tough up there. I broke in, I made it, and like I said, I'm really happy that I'm one of Stu's, and that I have that legacy of surviving the dungeon down there. It was good.
Woodward: You said you didnít have any aspirations to become a wrestler, so what made you give it a shot? Was it just something that looked like a way to make money at that time?
Graham: That was it exactly. My friend convinced me, and I was doing nothing else at that point with my life, late 1969, right after Christmas, around January 1st of '70. He used to go up and wrestle in the off season, that's what he'd do, and it was just a way to make some money. So that was it, I had nothing else going on. I had tried pro football, and I got injured, and I really didn't care for pro football that much, so I went. It was simple as that, and I loved being a professional wrestler.
Woodward: Now you hooked up with Dr. Jerry Graham in Los Angeles, and that's when you got the Billy Graham name. When you left Calgary for LA, had you left the business?
Graham: I left Calgary in May of '72, and ran into the good doctor, Jerry Graham at a bar, actually it was a big night club, held about 2000, and I was one of the bouncers. I used to throw Jerry Graham out of other bars, so that's how I knew who he was. It was very ironic, and the guy walks into this nightclub, and in walks the doctor, the infamous Dr. Jerry Graham, so I went up to him and said "Hey, Jerry Graham, Iím in the business now, Iím a working wrestler. And he says "Great, why donít you become another brother?" just like that, right there. Right in the lobby of the bar, I became another brother. [laughs]
Woodward: So he didnít even see you wrestle?
Graham: Nope, he didnít have a clue. We did some funny things on an Indian reservation that summer of í70, then I convinced the good doctor "Hey, letís go to LA. Letís give LA a try." And I became another brother, and sure enough we did. I drove to LA and to be honest, Michael LeBell, who was the promoter at the time, and Fred Blassie, who was in the office, they were not really happy to see us walk in the door.
Woodward: Because of Jerryís reputation at the time?
Graham: Yeah, Jerryís reputation preceded us. They were very unhappy about out presence in their office. I told Jerry thereís no way we were going to get a job over the telephone, but if we just walk in, and say "do you have a spot for us" something will happen, and it did. Itís funny, we were a tag team, the Graham brothers, and itís funny, I pulled out an old program the other day, actually itís an original program from our first match in San Diego, and one of our first opponents in a tag match was the Soulman, Rocky Johnson. Back in 1970, in San Diego. We tagged together in LA and eventually, Jerry self-destructed. He was given his notice and left, so I remained.
Woodward: Now when you became a Graham brother and went to LA to team with Jerry, did you feel any pressure to live up to the name?
Graham: No, not really, because at that point I wasnít aware of the impact that the Graham name had at that point in wrestling at that time. Jerry was on the tailend of his career, and tremendously overweight. I didnít feel any pressure at all. I just felt it was a chance to go to work in a good climate. The ocean, good gyms, short drives, suntan year round, and thaw out from being in Canada and the suffering I did there. I didnít have any pressure at all. Itís funny, but like I said, the Graham thing hadnít impacted on me at all at that point.
Woodward: You switched from extremes, from Calgary to Los Angeles, then to the East Coast for WWWF.
Graham: Way before the east coast, I spent a year in the San Francisco area, I went up there in January of í71, and spent one whole year up there as Pat Pattersonís tag team partner, working for Ray Stevens and Peter Maivia and Soulman, and thatís where I really learned to become a worker. Those guys were the best, really smooth, and it was pure art when those guys were in the ring. Then, from San Francisco, I went back around for one more shot in Los Angeles in the summer of '72, and then I got the call from Ray Stevens to go to Minnesota.
Woodward: Thatís when you did your stint with the AWA.
Graham: I was in the AWA for three years in Minneapolis, and thatís where I really perfected my promos and my gimmick, and my ring attire, and really got into the show biz aspect, in Minneapolis. Then I went, in late October of 1975, for my first TV tapings in the old Philly Arena for Vince, Vince Sr. and began my relationship with Vince.
Woodward: Now, you mentioned your AWA stay, and itís funny, because when you look through the annals of history, in magazines or websites, people rarely talk about Billy Graham in the AWA. Itís always, either very early in your career, or later during your WWF time.
Graham: Exactly right.
Woodward: No one ever talks about you in the AWA, and I find it interesting that you perfected your television skills there. Who were the people that most influenced you while you were crafting your style, as far as promos and your persona go?
Graham: My promo ability and my mic skills came from Muhammad Ali. I always admired him, he was so comical, but he was a heel and a babyface all in one. He was tremendous, with all the little poems heíd come up with, and he was tremendous. Some of my early promos in Minneapolis, Iíd try to sound like Muhammad Ali, so that was my promo inspiration. As far as my ring appearance, that was strictly my own innovation. I had no one, like Jesse Ventura sitting out there looking at me saying "thatís what I want to be." There was no one that I looked at and said "Thatís what I want to look like." I just developed that ring appearance out of my own creativity. I didnít have a role model for that.
Woodward: So you took a little of Ali, and a little of yourself.
Graham: Certainly. I took a little Ali, and I realized right away that I was there to entertain people, and I certainly didnít have the wrestling skills to impress them with, so I went right for the show biz part, the entertainment value. And I started bodybuilding pretty hard at that time, the end of my run in Minneapolis, and I started adding the big 24" arms to the gimmick, but it was a self created ring appearance. A little of Ali, and a little of my own imagination.
Woodward: Everyone always thinks of the AWA as the "wrestlerís wrestler" promotion, with that Verne Gagne college trained types and mat workers, and you were for your era, one of the more flamboyant competitors, and you came out of the AWA and developed your style, where most of them was about anything but style.
Graham: It was quite a paradox. So many skilled technical wrestlers, Brad Rheingans, and all these mat wrestlers, but the one thing that made Verne Gagne a smart promoter, was he saw that I got over, and that I drew money, so he waived that technical wrestling part of the criteria. [laughs] It was not necessary since I was drawing money.
Woodward: Youíre not a NCAA champion, but the fans paid to see you.
Graham: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. Selling everything out, getting over without technical wrestling, it was probably a first for the Minnesota territory.
Woodward: You mentioned you started getting heavily into bodybuilding at that point. Were you looking to increase strength in the ring too, or was it strictly for the look?
Graham: It was strictly for the look, strictly for the ring appearance. I had a really strong influence when I trained with Arnold Schwarzeneger back in í72, and I actually first met him back in 1969. Then when I came back to LA in 19770 with Dr. Jerry Graham, I trained with him in Venice. There was a real impact on me by Arnold, and I wanted that look for the ring. Take his look, the bodybuilderís look, and put it in the ring, with my ring appearance, with the tie-dye and the color, and the rap and the bodybuilder look, I knew I would stand out, and it happened.
Woodward: You were definitely a colorful character in what was a black and white world. Very few outrageous characters, and you had the tie-dye, and a larger than life persona before that became the norm in wrestling. Now, when you came tot he WWF, it wasnít a monster like now, it was just another territory, the East Coast. They made you world Champion, was there any additional pressure being on top of the company.
Graham: I didnít feel any pressure, because I came in late í75, September of í75 I entered the Total Mr. America contest in NY, and placed 4th overall and won best arms, so I was in real great shape when I went in to do my first TV in October, and in late í75 I got over immediately. I had some matches with Bruno, in January of í76, and everything sold out. I was so over there was really no pressure whatsoever, because I knew I could draw. The belt meant so much because it had been on Bruno for so long, but I felt no pressure, because I knew I had a history of drawing people to Madison Square Garden, and the Northeast territory, so really, no pressure.
Woodward: Bruno was such a legend, especially at that time, with Bruno on his second title reign, which had lasted a couple of years. Then you came in and held if for ten months, and Bruno was the big, powerful champion, and you were flashy and flamboyant, and then you lose the title to Bob Backlund, who was another totally different persona from you and Bruno. In that span of a year, it all flip-flopped again.
Graham: It totally did. That was probably the thing that triggered my lack of enthusiasm in continuing on in the business at that point, because at the time I lost the strap to Backlund, I was so hot. I had come off three or four sellouts with Putski, and Pittsburgh in a cage, and Bruno in Philly in a cage, and the people were starting to turn me babyface. At the time, the people were really starting to like me. The love/hate thing. I tried to talk to Vince Sr. that I was so over that all you have to do is have Ivan Koloff turn on me, someone like that, and I can be an instant babyface and be hot for another three or four years. But he was already committed to Backlund. I believe Verne Gagne and Eddie Graham had sold Backlund to Vince as the next Bruno Sammartino, non-ethnic, but a good All American boy, that package, that idea. Vince, being a man of his word, he was committed to put the strap on Bob on a certain day, and he did. Nothing against bob, heís a great guy. Thereís nothing personal whatsoever against Bobby. Like you said it was a complete flip flop to a conservative wrestler, and a conservative attitude.
Woodward: It doesnít get much more opposite than you and Bob Backlund.
Graham: It was a total opposite. But thatís what happened, and it kind of disappointed me, even though I knew it was going to happen, that switch was coming. It disappointed me, and I felt I was missing out on a successful thing there. I was told ahead of time, over a year ahead of time. I was told when I was going to get it, and I was told when I was going to give it up to Bobby, by Vince Sr. in Ft, Lauderdale. I knew all this, but still, it kind of discouraged me, and I finished off my return matches with Bob Backlund in í78, and did some stuff with Dusty and different people, then I was kind of burned out. All the traveling was pretty hectic in í77 and í78, and then with the discouragement, I really thought I should have turned babyface and gotten a good run out of it. It discouraged me, so I just went home and didnít do anything for three years almost, just a few stops here and there. That was it.
Woodward: Going back to when you were champ for a minute, there was a match you had in 1978 in Florida, which probably carries more weight now than it did back then, but you wrestled Harley Race to a draw at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. You were the WWF World Champion, he was the NWA World Champion, and today, the thought of the two champions would never happen, but it happened then. How did it come about? Was it just the Florida office putting together a good match and getting both sides to agree?
Graham: Yeah. Basically, I was over strong in Florida, because I had been there in late 1976. After my first run in New York, I went to LA for a couple of things, and then in November of 1976, I went to Florida and got over real strong in Florida. Eddie Graham and Vince Sr. had a great working relationship together, and it was just one of those things, and they said "why not?" Throw these two titles against each other, and create a first. It really wasnít any different than any other title match, except it was for two different organizations. As far as pressure, it just wasnít that big of a deal, except for it being NWA vs. WWF in the Orange Bowl in the rain. [laughs] Slippery mat. Very slippery mat. It went down, and despite the rain, it was a real good house, but it did rain on us outdoors, but we went the sixty minutes and that was it, it was over.
Woodward: So after your big run as WWF champion, you essentially went home. Was it just being burnt out and tired?
Graham: Physically I was very tired, and emotionally I was drained, and I just decided to take time off. I shouldnít of, but I did. Even though Vince was committed to go with Backlund as champion, he was making a mistake when he had a hot champion right there, and all he had to do was turn me babyface. So the emotional and psychological drain, and that not happening, and the physical drain, I just went to lay out in the desert and rest. Rest my body, rest my mind, workout, and just get caught up on relaxation. Thatís all I did until I came back.
Woodward: Now, before your return in 1982 (from his hiatus from the ring), there was a rumor that you were dead. It was reported in a newspaper, and Gorilla Monsoon said you had died!
Graham: He wrote the article, for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a legit newspaper, that I had passed away, because no one had seen me or heard from me. I wasnít really in touch with anyone. So I had found out that Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream" had started a rumor that I had died.
Woodward: Just a rib.
Graham: Yeah, just as a rib, and in the wrestling business, things grow like wildfire, and Monsoon wrote this article, and somebody sent it to me from Philadelphia, and I read it and called Gorilla and said "I'm alright, I'm alive, you need to retract this." I mean, I got ten bells in Houston, [laughs], a ten-bell count in Houston from the great promoter, Paul Boesch, he gave me ten bells. It was the silliest thing. It was greatly exaggerated.
Woodward: I would say, since I'm talking to you right now. [Laughs] Not too many people get to read their own obituary.
Graham: Very true, it was kind of eerie. I asked Gorilla, "What kind of verification did you go through to verify that I was deceased", and he said "I called the Arizona Republic, the main newspaper in Phoenix, and asked them if they had heard of Superstar Billy Graham or Wayne Coleman", which is my real name, and they told him, "Yeah, we know him" and Gorilla asked "Is he alive or dead?" and they said "We don't know." [Laughs] So he called another paper in Scottsdale, which is a suburb of Phoenix, and he asked them "Do you know Wayne Coleman, he wrestled as Superstar Billy Graham, is he alive or dead?" and they said, "We don't know." So Monsoon told me, "I took it for granted that you were dead" [laughs] I told Monsoon, "You need to start checking those stories!"
Woodward: I guess as an offshoot of that, when you returned in 1982, you had a different look, you had a shaved head, the physique was still toned, but you weren't wearing tie-dye, you were wearing black tights, and the karate gimmick. A lot of people thought that you weren't Billy Graham!
Woodward: They thought the promoters had brought in a phony Billy Graham.
Graham: True, true. I shaved the head, had the dark mustache, and came in with the karate gimmick, and oddly, the people in New York, they had no problem believing it was me, because my first three matches with Backlund in the '82 comeback were all sellouts, three in a row. What was weird was when I went to Philadelphia to work with that shaved head and karate gimmick, the people really did not believe I was Superstar Billy Graham, because that was where the article came out originally.
Woodward: They thought you were dead.
Graham: Yeah, "This guys taking his name, and not even doing a good job of it. He doesn't even have tie-dye on!" "No blonde hair, no tie-dye, this guy's wearing a karate gi!" So Philadelphia really rejected me, the majority of them, that I was the real Billy Graham. I was having some huge drug problems at the time, the end of '82, the beginning of '83, and I was way down in bodyweight. Because of those drug problems, I didn't even look like the Superstar Billy Graham of '77 and '78. I was just a shadow of my former self, and it was definitely a case of mistaken identity, the people didnít believe, especially in Philly.
Woodward: What made you decide when you came back, obviously you had shaved your head, but what made you decide to go with the karate gimmick, as opposed to something closer to the original gimmick? Was it the WWF's idea, or your idea?
Graham: No, it wasn't them, it was strictly my idea. Actually, it was a very bad choice. It was part of the depression I was in out here, after my run as champion. I though "I'll come back with a new gimmick, a karate gimmick" It was very foolish. Even if I shaved my head, I should have kept the tie-dye, and then later on I had the blonde goatee. It was my idea, and it was a very poor choice, and I eventually went back to my look that I had established. It was a bad perception choice.
Woodward: What made you decide to go with karate?
Graham: I thought that would be an easy way to be vicious. Karate chops were illegal, to the throat, stuff like that. I could break some rules, and I "went to the mountain and meditated" [laughs] and became this new ferocious, more vicious Billy Graham, and studied the martial arts. I thought it would be a good gimmick, to show aggression and be a dangerous person. Like I said, it was self-done, and it wasnít a very good idea. If you have a great gimmick, you should stick with it.
Woodward: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Graham: Exactly. That's exactly right.
Woodward: Now after your return and your series with Backlund what led to you parting ways with the WWF in the mid-80's?
Graham: Yeah, it was in '83. I had gotten down so physically through my problems with drugs that I became, if people would see me today the way I looked in the WWF in 1983, they'd probably think I had HIV or AIDS. I was emaciated, I had lost all my weight, I quit training, I had overdoses on drugs, I was taken to hospitals unconscious, OD'd, on three or four different occasions in that run from late '82 and the beginning of '83. I was no good to the business, I was no good to myself, I was no good to Vince, I couldn't draw him any money, I was no good to anybody. I was in the throes of drugs, and it was just time to go, by mutual agreement. I was worthless as a live commodity, and as a performer, so there was no sense continuing. It was only about a six month run starting off in October, then by the following April I was out of there.
Woodward: You ended up in Florida, and you had what most people thought was a pretty good run there, feuding with Billy Jack Haynes, holding the title down there. Was the change of scenery, going to work in Florida full-time better for you, or was it just another place to work while you dealt with your problems?
Graham: I had a pretty good run, like you said, with Billy Jack Haynes, and also with Kevin Sullivan down there. We had a hot run, using the karate gimmick, then the "spell" of Kevin Sullivan and joining his troupe of oddities. Then we worked the angle where I broke off and became the babyface. I did start getting the drugs under control at that time, and I was getting healthier, as a matter of fact, I was in really excellent shape once I left New York and stayed in Florida. That 1984 run was a good thing.
Woodward: That was probably your first major run as a babyface, after being a heel most of your career. What was that like?
Graham: It was fun, it was a natural thing to do because, basically, except for the karate gimmick, back when I had my tie-dye gimmick, I had my fans. People wanted to like me, so I already had that taste of being a babyface all along. So when I finally turned, it was fun, I felt like I had more freedom to be nice to people. [Laughs] Instead of this monster heel that hates babies and tears up autographed pictures. It was nice; it was a good change for my character. It really was a good thing.
Woodward: I guess over into the mid-80's you worked some shows, including the first Great American Bash in '85, for Jim Crockett Promotions. You were a heel again, any memories of that run?
Graham: I followed Dusty up there. He was the booker in Florida, and when he left and went to the Crockett promotion in '84, '85, I followed Dusty to Charlotte for the Crocketts. I still had the karate gimmick at the beginning of that run in the Carolinas, and that was the point that I changed back over to the tie-dye, and the flashy look. I grew the beard out and dyed it blonde, and put in the earrings, and completely changed my style and persona back to the original look, and that's where that happened, that transition at that time.
Woodward: You were there in the Carolinas with the Crocketts and Dusty as the booker, while back in New York, Vince Jr. was beginning his national expansion, and changing the business. As someone who had been part of the "old" WWF, and seeing hat Vince was doing, at that time what were your thoughts on him taking the gamble of going national?
Graham: I remember one time in '77 at one of the TV shows in the old Philly Arena, I asked Vince Jr. "When will all this be yours?" and I didn't mean WWF, or WWWF as it was, being given to him, or him buying it from his dad. He just looked at me and grinned, but I meant the whole country, because I knew for some reason, like a premonition, that Vince was going to go after the whole country once his dad stepped aside. The only thing holding him back was Vince Sr. and his working agreements and friendships with people in the business. Once Vince Sr. stepped aside and passed the torch, I knew things were going to open up. I thought it was great, more power to him. It didnít bother me at all, I thought it was fun, I thought it was exciting. Of course, he had the Hulkster as his battering ram to knock these territories over with. I thought it was interesting, and seeing my own prophecy come to pass. [Laughs]
Woodward: You became part of that massive thing in 1987, when you came back to the WWF.
Graham: I came back to the WWF, and I went up to Vince in June or July of 1986, I went to the offices in Stamford, and we talked, and he said "Let's go for another run." Then that's when my first hip operation, my hip went out on me in late '86, and then of course I had it operate on and taken out in October of '86, so that completely stalled my comeback for Vince, until the summer of '87. That's when I got the run, a very short run due to my health, in August of '87.
Woodward: That was a heavily publicized run. The magazine was filled with articles, there were vignettes on TV "The Return of Billy Graham", it was heavily hyped up, and then it got cut short again.
Graham: It was heavily hyped, we did a lot of publicity on it. The hip was taken out, and we used an injury angle, instead of a steroid connected angle, which they didn't do at all. You remember, they showed the operation?
Woodward: I was going to ask, that was the first operation they showed on TV?
Graham: Yeah, that was my first one. They actually showed it on TV.
Woodward: You can actually confirm this now, was that actually your hip being operated on?
Graham: Yes, it was.
Woodward: Because people have speculated over the years that it was footage of another operation, but that was really you that fans saw on Saturday mornings being sliced into.
Graham: It was funny, because Vince sent his film crew, and then my doctor, who was a renowned hip doctor, had his own film crew, because he would teach other doctors how to do the operation. So they shot that thing, and I have to say Vince was bold to put that on TV on Saturday mornings. It was so funny, cities like Detroit and Los Angeles, where they have gang violence on TV, they'd put a big "X" over the cut. They had to censor the cut. [laughs]
Woodward: Here in New York, I'm watching it as a kid, and I was stunned. They were showing the incision, and all the blood, and them putting the metal ball in, right on TV.
Graham: Exactly, and that was before the public broadcasting stations were showing films of surgeries. You see it everyday now on PBS, and Discovery channel. But that was probably the first time something like that was ever shown, and it was really a shocker. Vince put a tremendous amount of effort into that comeback. The hip surgery, the comeback, the thing with Butch Reed, everything. I was just not physically able to pull it off. I had hip problems, I had ankle problems, my ankles were falling apart, right after my hip surgery. The ankles were swelling, and the bone was falling apart, both ankles, as a matter of fact. So I was very, very unhealthy, so it was a big push, but I just couldnít live up to it because of my health.
Woodward: Almost as a contingency plan, since you couldn't work, they put you with Don Muraco, who had just been turned into a babyface after a long heel run as a heel. How did it feel to go from being an active competitor to working ringside, where you were still involved in the matches? I don't want to say second fiddle, but how did it feel to not be one of the men in the match?
Graham: You're right, it was a major depression thing for me. I was losing my health. From being a champion, and drawing sellouts, to be downgraded to nothing, a manager's position is not a degrading position, but for me, it felt like "What is happening to me." My health was so bad, I had to use a cane because my ankles were so bad when I was managing Muraco, I used canes to walk through airports and arenas. It was a bitter pill to see oneself disintegrating right there in front of everyone's eyes, and to be going down the ladder. Eventually, I couldn't even manage Muraco because of my health. I wasn't mobile enough to get in and out of the ring and do things that a manager was supposed to do. I couldn't do it because of my lack of mobility and my pain. Then I went into commentating. That was the next move from managing, and I really enjoyed commentating. I was happy in that role, but the big machine that Vince had rolling, even then, was geared towards youth. He wanted a youthful looking company, and he didnít want people who were obviously injured, like myself, for the image of the company. It was not a good thing, so we did the commentating, I did Summerslam '88 with Gorilla Monsoon, and I did some work in Boston, and slowly, I was phased out of that. Then the phone call came, and it was over. There was really nothing left, viably, for me to do in the WWF. That was it.
Woodward: When you left the WWF, would you say it was on good terms, bad terms, or were you just so depressed over your health and everything that had happened, that it was just another blow?
Graham: I recognized the fact that I could no perform as a manager or an active role in the ring, but I felt that I could continue as a commentator, but it was Vince's mindset that he was going for a younger look, and a healthy look too, and I didn't fit that criteria, so it was a bit depressing, to say the least. Vince and I were very close friends, and it would take me hours to discuss here, but it's very detailed in my book, about the relationship that Vince and I had, and the ensuing bitterness that erupted after the termination from Titan Sports.
Woodward: At this point, you had hip replacement done once, you had problems with your ankles, and your health had deteriorated, which has been attributed to steroids. Now, you had a second hip replacement in 1991?
Graham: Yeah, I had another replacement in 1991, because my doctor told me in October of 1986 "if you go back to wrestling, you're going to be back in my office wanting another hip replacement in five years or less, because you're not supposed to wrestle on a titanium hip. It just doesn't work. Walk on it, but you can't wrestle on it." But I said "I've got to make some more money." I didn't save my money, and people were starting to make some good money then. I said "I need another run at this thing" and he said "You'll be back in my office" and, sure enough, in 1991, after my ankle surgery in '90 to fuse my ankle, I was back in the office. My hip had loosened up. All the bumps and falls had loosened the stem, that goes into your bone, and it was hurting. It was loose, it was wobbly, and I went in for another hip operation, and got that hip done. The day I got home from the hospital, from that total hip replacement in 1991, I sat down in a chair and the telephone rang, which was on the floor, and I bent over to pick it up, and my hip popped right out of the socket. That was probably the worst pain I've ever felt. That imitation hip was all the way up my back. It was like someone had stuck a javelin in my hip and up my lower oblique, because that's where the ball and the socket were. I had to go back to the hospital and spent a week in the hospital. It became a chronic problem, and I had to have three more operations on my left side, and one on my right side, I had to have my right hip totally replaced. So it is a nightmare, to say the least.
Woodward: Now, you were having your health problems, you left the WWF, and I guess the last time, really, that you were in the public spotlight in 1992 when all the scandals seemed to break, and the infamous Donohue edition, and everything seemed to be going wrong for the WWF at that point. At the time, you were painted with the brush of being the "bitter ex-champion who canít work", for better or worse. There was a lot of mudslinging, both from the WWF and their side, and the people against Vince McMahon at that point. What are your thoughts on that period of time, and the way the public perceived everything?
Graham: Well, I was bitter. [laughs] I was very bitter. In the upcoming weeks and months, I am going to be showing on my website some actual documents from my attorney of the lawsuit I was involved with at that time against Vince and the drug companies for the damage that steroids had done to me. My lawyers actually wrote me a letter begging me not to go on Entertainment Tonight, 20/20, the talk shows, and show my bitterness towards Hulk and towards Vince. Because it certainly hurt my case, and like you said, painted me with the brushstroke of being a very bitter person because I was no longer able to perform. God, itís incredible, the bitterness, the things I said. That Donohue tape is like a nightmare. I have a copy of it, itís a horrible deal. And one of the people I attacked on that show, in 1992, was Pat Patterson. I attacked Pat Patterson, who was my mentor in í71, in San Francisco. On my website, I will be doing a big commentary on Pat Patterson, and I will be talking about the Donohue show, and Iíd like to invite your readers to log on and hear what I have to say about Patterson, and how Iím going to say it. Itís going to be very interesting. I struck out, I was like a cobra. I had such bitterness in me, and like I said, my book will give all the details, because it would take hours, heck itís taken me months to write a book. [laughs] Months and months, thereís so much detail going into it.
The one thing I felt really bitter about was Vince had promised me a lifetime job, and that Iíd always be taken care of. This was during my first hip surgery, and he promised my wife Valerie that I was part of the family, and that Iíd always be taken care of. So when I got the call in January of í89, when he said "I have to put you in the bullpen", because thatís where I was going, the bullpen, I felt that Vince had gone back on his word to me that Iíd always have a job. Whether it was announcing, commentating, in the office, doing something, Iíd have a lifetime job. So I was bitter, really, really, bitter over that, and he didnít even offer me a chance to go to Stamford and do anything, just to make a living. I really think I blew that out of proportion, but when it happens to you, and losing my health at the same time that I was losing my job. My health was getting worse and worse, and I was taking more and more drugs at that time to sedate myself. It was a vicious circle that I was going in, and the only thing I could think to do was lash out, and I did it. But there was a lot of unfortunate things that Iíve gone through since I was that bitter, but thatís all behind me now. Iíve gotten way over that, the bitterness is long gone, but it was a terrible thing to go through. Itís a terrible way to live, being bitter. Being angry and vindictive is a horrible way to live, and it probably takes years off your life with stress.
Woodward: I donít want to harp on the steroid issue, because thatís been done to death, but the comment has been made that Billy Graham was the first, and the innovator, for lack of a better term, for steroids. Obviously, your era was the first to have these drugs, and at the time they were perfectly legal to be used, and to be sold. Do you, in anyway, fell responsible for the surge of steroids in wrestling, and how everyone started doing them. In Dynamite Kidís book, he says how in the mid-80ís, everyone except Bob Backlund was doing them. How do you feel about being in the first generation of wrestlers that used steroids?
Graham: No question about it, I went out there, and the way I looked, I had a steroid enhanced physique. I was, just has a Vince said on the Donohue show in March of 1992, "Superstar, youíve got a lot of nerve talking about Hulk Hogan doing steroids, when you were the innovator. You were the one who set the standard in pro wrestling, and introduced the steroid enhanced physique, and was the guy everyone wanted to look like." Vince had a good point. But if it wasnít going to be me, it was probably going to be someone else. Steroids were starting to take off, and like you said, they were totally legal. You could get them from any doctor, anywhere, until they passed the law. I was the man who did bridge the gap from the old school of the normal looking big man, to the cut-up, bodybuilder physique. I was definitely the one responsible for it, and what can I say? I did it. I was the one that stood there, and the other guys followed me, and then it took off. I guess thatís part of my legacy. [laughs] For better or for worse, Iím the man.
Woodward: When was the last time you spoke to, or had contact with, Vince McMahon, Jr.?
Graham: I havenít really spoken to Vince Jr. probably, going way back, probably that Donohue show in í92 may have been the last time I spoke to him, in person. That could be the last time. Sometime after that, I dropped my lawsuit, because I knew that it wasnít a valid lawsuit against Vince or the drug companies that produced the steroids. I did write Vince a letter, a personal letter, in May of í96, and I sent it to his home. I apologized, very much, for the inconvenience and the lies that I had spoken, the bitterness, the things that werenít true. I felt that since we had been such close friends, I was kind of caught off guard when he terminated me with no explanation, and I was very sorry about all of that. That was my last communication, and I donít know if Vince ever got the letter. I sent it to his home, maybe his wife got it, saw who the return was from, and threw it away. [laughs] But I tried in May of í96, but Iím sure that Donohue show was the last exchange of words, and that was the last time that Iíve seen Vince in person. That was it, í92, Iím sure of it.
Woodward: For clarificationís sake, the lawsuit you had against the WWF and the steroid companies was for causing your failing health.
Graham: Yeah, for providing steroids, and pushing the steroid enhanced physique, and a lot of claims that simply werenít true. Like I said, since then Iíve dropped the lawsuit, because I really couldnít continue on with it. You know what I was really trying to do? I was going for one last payday. My health was gone, everything else was gone. No health, no future, and I thought "I need another payday. Give me another payday to help me through this thing." So that, along with the bitterness, was why that lawsuit went down. It wasnít true, there was no validity behind the lawsuit whatsoever, but I did it, and it cost a lot of money, and a lot of time. It really wasnít a good thing that Iíd done, but like I said, that was out of bitterness, and being in extremely poor health. No future, going on Social Security and disability. I was accepted for actual disability, I made it. They took me in, I think í91, I became officially disabled and went on Social Security disability. With all that, my failing health, being on disability, not having a job, I was promised a job, and that whole package, made me go for the lawsuit. I went with that lawsuit, in reality, hoping for a settlement out of court, and avoid the court procedure. I finally came to my senses and dropped the lawsuit, and thatís when I sent Vince that letter of apology in May of í96. It wasnít a good period in my life. It was very stressful and emotional, and I contemplated suicide. You name it, I considered it. So I went with the lawsuit, and not a completely honest lawsuit, and tried to make a big score.
Woodward: Since then, youíve made appearances at wrestling shows, signing autographs and such. Was there ever any thoughts of trying to work your way back into the business in some form, announcing or whatever, in any of the groups that have come up through the years? Or were you more content to stay away from it?
Graham: Physically, I couldnít do it now. My ankles are giving me a real hard time, my lower back, my spine is collapsing. Iíve lost three inches of height because of my lower back, my vertebrae and discs collapsing. Traveling is really hard for me, so I couldnít do it physically, even if I wanted to. And if I wanted to, itís a youth driven business now. They donít want people in their 50ís doing commentary and stuff like that. So I wouldnít be eligible even if I wanted to, because of the emphasis on youth.
Woodward: Youíve talked about some of your dark times, and I know that you are religious, and your faith has been a big part of getting you through this. A lot of people donít equate pro wrestlers with having any faith, [Graham laughs] or any beliefs. Do you find yourself to be more of the exception to the rule?
Graham: Iíll tell you, when I went through the period of the Donohue show, and accusing the Hulk of steroids and all the implications, and the stuff I put him and Vince through, and that whole lawsuit period, I was as far away as you can be from any spiritual relationship, of any kind. I was miserable, bitter and angry. If I was on the ball spiritually, I would never have done that. Since I put that behind me, I was able to write Vince that letter of apology, for all the crazy things I did that were unfounded, and also the Hulk. I was able to write Hulk a letter, and that was only after I got back on my feet spiritually. To answer your question, I donít know how many wrestlers have a spiritual life, but I know Iím facing eternity. [laughs] Iím 57 years old, Iím going to be going over to the other side one of these days, and you never know when you are going to check out. [laughs].
Woodward: Thatís true enough.
Graham: You could be hit by a truck or car, or have an airplane go down with you in it. Iíve got my spiritual life in check now and thatís really the only thing that keeps me going, so thank God Iíve got it. Who knows what other guys have got it, you never know, itís a hard business these days to really practice a spiritual life of some degree with. With the adult oriented shows, itís kind of a conflict.
Woodward: What do you think of Jake Roberts, who wore his religion on his sleeve, then when the gimmick was over, tossed it to the wind?
Graham: That was a tragedy of major proportions. I think what happened to Jake was that he was sincere about his spiritual beliefs, but I think he was thrown into the spotlight of the spiritual world. The television shows wanted him because he was ĎJake the Snakeí of the wrestling world, and they rushed him on so fast, that I donít think he really had time to mature as a Christian and in his spiritual life, and therefore, when the time for trials and tribulations came, he wasnít mature enough to handle the changes that came with his belief. It really is a tragedy, because I think he was sincere. He was involved in a big production with my church, over a thousand people, and we did a huge wrestling drama, and Jake was a part of it. He was rushed in that spotlight, and I donít think he ever got to that page in his life where he would be able to continue to work in the business as a Christian. I think that resulted in Steve Austinís biggest T-shirt deal?
Woodward: Yeah, Austin 3:16.
Graham: Yeah, sold six million T-shirts. [laughs]
Woodward: At least something good came out of it.
Graham: Yeah, Jake was saying things about the bible, and Stone Cold said "Austin 3:16" and sold a bunch of shirts. [laughs]
Woodward: That was the biggest thing since Hulkamania for Vince.
Graham: Yeah, definitely. But it was a tragic thing with Jake, and heís really got to be hurting right now. Heís working the independent scene, and he was booking matches at one point for Vince.
Woodward: He had an office position, then he started missing shows and that was it.
Graham: Itís such a tragic story.
Woodward: Iíd like to throw some names at you, starting with some wrestlers that youíve influenced with your look and style, and get your comments on them. The one name that always comes up is Hulk Hogan. What are Billy Grahamís thoughts on Hulk Hogan?
Graham: Billy Grahamís thoughts on Hulk Hogan will be in my book, brother! [Laughs]
Woodward: That was a great way to get that plug in there!
Graham: Actually on my website, Iím going to talk about the Hulk, and the way I feel now. And as I said before, Iím going to have the transcripts from my lawyers, and show my bitterness on the internet for everyone to read. It was tumultuous, and we went from the best of friends to the most hated of enemies, the Hulk and I. I can say that today, I have no bitterness or anger towards the Hulk. I wish him the best all the way. I think that heís got so much money now, he ought to consider not wrestling anymore, before he gets a career threatening injury that might put him in a wheelchair or something like that. That would be tragic. I wish heíd end his career while still healthy, rather than end up in a wheelchair like Dynamite Kid.
Woodward: Do you think Hogan should step aside to let the younger talent through as well?
Graham: Well, thatís what I hear, thatís what I read everywhere, itís about that. Thatís Hulkís decision. I know thatís why Vince is so successful, because his guys are young, and the age demographics of wrestling is a young audience. Itís a hard, hard thing to cut loose of it. I remember the first time, in 1987, when I was making the transition from wrestler to Muracoís manager, and I had to do a stretcher. Thatís when Butch Reed , and remember Slick?
Woodward: Oh yeah, the Reverend Slick.
Graham: Slick, Butch Reed, and the One Man Gang came out and big splashed me before the Survivor Series of í87. I was supposed to be in that, but my health was failing, so they took me out and put Muraco in my spot. That was the first time, it was somewhere in upstate New York, that I heard someone yell "Hey Superstar, youíre an old man. Youíre weak. Itís time to get out." I heard that fan, and I can still here it echoing, and itís not a good thing to hear. Just something about it, Buck, that you just want to keep on wrestling. My friend Terry Funk, he just keeps on wrestling. [Laughs] Guys like him, itís just in their blood, they love it so much. Theyíre just going to keep on doing it. Itís their decision that they have to make. I never did love wrestling the way these guys love wrestling. Itís a great business, but I could never love it.
Woodward: You were never like a Terry Funk, who had to get back into it.
Graham: It was never in my blood. Itís a tough deal for these guys. Maybe itís in Hulkís blood to keep on working, keep on wrestling. He obviously doesnít have to, heís a rich man. Maybe itís just in his blood.
Woodward: Another name, and he resembles you look so much these days, is Scott Steiner. The goatee, bleached hair, and the physique, a lot of people look at him as the Billy Graham of today.
Graham: I did a commentary on Scott Steiner on my website. I did a 45 minute deal on Scott, so the people reading this can go into the archives on my website, and punch up my commentary on Scott Steiner from June 30th. Him taking my gimmick is a compliment. I mean, Jesse Ventura did me better than I did myself! [laughs]
Woodward: That was the next name I was going to ask you about.
Graham: Jesse and I are close friends. I remember Verne Gagne calling me saying "Iíve got a guy that can do you better than you do yourself, his name is Jesse Ventura." I said "Yeah, heís great, isnít he?" I think it is a great compliment when someone has been influenced by your persona. It is a tremendous compliment. I have some real good suggestions for him. [Laughs]
It just flashed through my mind, maybe for Hulk and Ric Flair, maybe itís hard to admit youíre getting older. I know Iím dealing with that now. Itís hard for me to deal with getting older, even though Iíve been out of the business for so long. Maybe its a mental thing. Itís just hard to convince themselves that theyíre getting older. Even though they physically can do it, theyíve gone down a few steps, but theyíre still getting the job done. Maybe thatís the thing, just accepting that youíre getting older. That may be the bottom line. I think that probably is the bottom line, itís a short life weíre living in, and weíve only got one shot at walking through it. Hulk has been doing it for so long, and he has such a name in the business, maybe he just canít step aside. The younger guys are calling for it, I know Scott Steiner and the other younger guys are calling for him to step aside, but itís a hard thing to say "Iím too old for the business" when the business has been your whole life. Heís contributed so much to the business, heís an icon.
Woodward: Heís the biggest name in the history of the business.
Graham: Heís a household name. In the 80ís, the Hulkster became a household name, and pretty much still is.
Woodward: Growing up with the WWF in the 80ís, one of the wrestlers I watched all the time was Big John Studd. You were very close with Studd, all the way to his untimely passing. It seems, in the generation gap, a lot of people donít talk about John Studd as much as they talk about Hogan, Andre, Piper and other stars from that 80ís era. You were probably closer to him than almost anyone else in the business. your thoughts on Big John Studd.
Graham: Big John Studd, he and I were very close. Especially for the last months of his journey here on earth, very close. He was a tremendous force in the business, and he was another one that proved you didnít need technical wrestling ability to draw money. [Laughs] Just like me, I couldnít wrestle a lick. I didnít have one scientific move, but I still drew money. Big John was another one of those cases, but just a really great guy. It is a bit odd that you donít hear his name like Andreís and the others, and I donít know why that is. I really donít. I do know that he was a great friend, great guy, very smart and was a very intelligent man. He saved his money, really was a great family man. Loved his family, loved his kids. We had a similar life. He was a loner, I was a bit of a loner, and he was one of my best friends. Couldnít say enough about him, really.
Woodward: Itís weird that he doesnít get mentioned, since, without him, who would Hogan and Andre have been fighting in the '80s?
Graham: Thatís very true. He was there for them. He told me that he wanted to be another Andre The Giant. He wanted to be Andreís size, John wanted to be in that place where he could be considered the "next" Andre The Giant. That was his ambition, that was his goal. Unfortunately, he took human growth hormone to get to that stature and his arms started getting longer, the space between his eyes got bigger, hands were getting bigger, that hormone was really kicking in, and unfortunately, the doctorís said that accelerated his Hodgkinís disease. He wanted to be the next Andre, and he was determined to do it, but he was cut short.
Woodward: The Superstar today. You have a website that is incredible, and Steve has done such an incredible job on it. So, hereís the opportunity to tell the fans about the official Superstar Billy Graham website.
Graham: This kid, Steve Slagle, did a tribute website to me some months back. Heís been a mark for me since he was three years old. [laughs] So he got the tribute site finished, and he got to me through Dave Meltzer, and he just wanted me to take a look at it. I looked at it, and it was right about the time that I wanted to create a website of my own to push my book. I told him, "Man, youíve done such a great job on this tribute site, lets make it the official Billy Graham website." So we did it, and the kid made www.SuperstarBillyGraham.com. Itís got history, and so many pictures, it could take hours to go through it. I do a commentary every week, talking about Scott Steiner, Terry Funk, lots of things. Bob Ryder is on my site. The Big Cheese!
Woodward: The boss!
Graham: The boss, Bob Ryder is on my website. And weíll keep going with different commentaries, and have a lot of fun. Just introduce the internet wrestling fans to who I am. Theyíve never heard of me, the younger generation, and I can just introduce myself to them. They can get to know me a little bit, and maybe buy my book! [Laughs]
Woodward: Letís talk about that. Youíre writing a book about your life. Now, is this going to be written by Billy Graham, or are you going to have someone else write the book and stick your name on it, like some wrestlers have done?
Graham: I would not cheat the fans by having a ghostwriter. I wouldnít let a ghostwriter affect my words. Iím writing everything. As a matter of fact, I donít write, I print, then I give it to my wife to transcribe on the computer, then I fax that chapter over to my editor in Los Angeles. No ghostwriters, this is strictly from my head and my heart, my autobiography. It will probably out in late November, and the fans just have to keep checking on my website, and theyíll see a release date, and they can get it right from my website. No ghostwriter, Iím writing every word myself, itís fun. Itís also a little bit scary, when you start to lay out your life, then all of a sudden you realize youíre writing about your life, and your life as a wrestler is over. Itís the thing we talked about a minute ago with the Hulk, afraid to admit youíre old. Itís hard for me to admit, with the long career that Iíve had, that itís something I donít do anymore. Itís very scary at times, very revealing. I talk about my suicide attempts, my drug overdoses. Of course, my lawsuits with Vince, my problems with Hulk, I lay it all out there. No ghostwriter.
Woodward: Itís all Billy Graham.
Graham: Itís all Superstar Billy Graham, telling the whole story himself. It may not be done eloquently, I may not have the range of vocabulary that a ghostwriter may have, but the fans will be getting the truth, directly from me. So be watching for that.
Woodward: The business has obviously changed in that you now have books, like the one you're going to put out, like Dynamite Kid's, like Mick Foley's, and movies like Beyond The Mat. The business is so "exposed", so to speak, everyone knows the deal now. It's athletes giving a performance. The fans accept it for what it is, and no one pretends that it's a sport, as in athletic competition. Do you feel it's better like this?
Graham: Actually, this may sound strange coming from a person who lived the kayfabe life to the max, and if you read my book, in the early 70's, you could see it. The kayfabe thing, where we protected this business, and it's incredible how I write about those old days, when it was protected, but I would rather be in it now, you get to live your life. We had to live the deception, we had to live the lie. I've heard of people who lost their wives over the years, because they never smartened them up! [laughs] Injuries, where they weren't really hurt after all, they were just working it. I always knew it was entertainment. I was never a technical wrestler, I was an entertainer. My goal was to entertain people from day one. Now, I know there are still some hardliners out there that don't want to talk about it being so open, but I think it's good. It frees you up, and I donít know if it made business better, but it's thriving. Vince is thriving, they sold out two nights in Pheonix, Raw and Smackdown, two nights in a row in the same building. Fans want to see The Rock, they want to see Vince McMahon. All along, I looked at it as show biz. Just entertain people, and they'll come back. The more they're entertained, the more they'll come back. You donít have to kayfabe them, just entertain them.
Woodward: In your era, with the owners and bookers then, you had wrestling bookers, but you didnít see Jim Crockett or Vince McMahon Sr., or Vince Jr. become a character to the extent they have now. Becoming a character that gets in the ring, taking bumps and going through tables. What do you think of the owners, bookers and TV writers getting in the ring and becoming part of their own stories.
Graham: In the case of Vince McMahon, I think it was a stroke of genius to interject himself the way he has. He brought the soap opera element in with his family, and I think that was a stroke of genius. The old time promoters and bookers were behind the scenes, they were never seen. Vince Sr. was hardly ever on television, maybe a brief two minute interview. It was always behind the scenes. I think Vince interjecting himself was a stroke of genius, and he could physically do it. He takes all those chair shots, some of them are probably too hard. He takes garbage can shots to the head, he gets chokeslammed, he gets bumped around, and it was brilliant. I'm telling it like it is, he was a smart man to do that. It's a cool thing, it's added more interest to the business, now they just have to keep it from getting stale. They have to keep that McMahon dysfunctional family from getting stale, but I thought it was a great idea.
Woodward: One of your contemporaries that you had a big run with, entertained a lot of fans and drew a lot of money with, was Bruno Sammartino. Bruno has stated that he adamantly despises the business today, does not even want to be associated with it. What are your thoughts on Bruno's view of wrestling, and the way Bruno sees the way the business has evolved, because obviously, he has a much different view than you do.
Graham: Much different view, big time. I think he just made his last appearance in Hamburg, at a convention about a month ago. I know he gave his last interview to Mike Mooneyham of the Charleston Courier, in Charleston, South Carolina. He said he took Bruno's last wrestling interview. I think it's sad, that Bruno, he was a living legend, and he gave so much, but man, it's a new millennium, it's the year 2000, it's a different world we live in. I donít know how you can be so attached to the business, that he would remain that bitter. I donít know. The business changed, and I donít really condone all the flesh that's out there, that stuff I donít think is a good thing, so I can see where Bruno's coming from in that aspect, but I just think it's sad that he has to remain so bitter about the business. It's gone in a different direction, and that's just the way it is. Like I said, I know what bitterness does to you, and it's a bad thing. Even though I donít agree with everything that's going on in wrestling right now, I donít look at it like he does. He's washing his hands of it, that's what he said, washing his hands of professional wrestling. That's Bruno, he's an old school hardliner, and it's just too bad that he has to spend the rest of his life being so bitter towards the business he contributed so much to. The business has changed, night and day, from his time, but I accept it for what it is, itís show business. It's like a circus, a performance, a Broadway play. That's where it's at now. I'm not that attached to it, and like I said, I think it's better now, because the boys donít have to kayfabe. It's out there, and people are flocking to it. It's too bad, for such a great man, to have such bitterness for it.
Woodward: You were in an era where there were lots of great managers. The Lou Albano's, the Fred Blassie's, the Grand Wizard's. Now, it seems that managing has become a lost art in wrestling, there are no managers per se, in wrestling anymore. There's valets, and women in skimpy outfits, but there is no one like the Grand Wizard, as there was in your era. Do you feel that managing just got lost along the way, or is there still a place for the mouthpiece in wrestling?
Graham: The mouthpiece, that's a good word. That's the exact word Vince McMahon told me when I came in in late '75. He introduced me to the Wizard. He said 'Superstar, I'd like you to meet Ernie Roth, heís the best mouthpiece in the business. [laughs] I thought he was talking about someone wearing a mouthpiece! It was so funny, the 'best mouthpiece in the business.' My feeling is that those characters did such a great job, like the Captain could never be duplicated, the Wiz could never be duplicated. But for me personally, I never wanted the Wizard, I never wanted a manager, because I could talk for myself. Those that don't have the natural gift of communication skills that arenít a good talker, a good manager would be the perfect thing for them. The valet thing is overkill now. Itís not a novelty any longer, the novelty has worn off, and I think it would be good if they could find someone to talk for some of these people, and bring that gimmick back. I really do, even though I wouldnít have wanted one, and didnít need one. I was capable of delivering the message to the fans myself.
Woodward: Is there anything the you, Superstar Billy Graham, would like to say to the fans that are reading this, which are internet fans, smart fans, some of whom didnít see you in your prime?
Graham: I would like to tell them to, BUY MY BOOK! [laughs] And log on to my website, www.SuperstarBillyGraham.com, you can learn all about the Superstar, the legend, the man who created the prototype for Hulk Hogan and all the others. Seriously, I hope people enjoy the book, and find it intriguing, and even though you are smart and enjoy it, keep watching wrestling, and have some fun.
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