THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 211-2001
PESEK TO TRY COMEBACK IN NEXT RASSLE
(Lincoln Journal, Sunday, February 29, 1948)
Can the Tigerman come back?
This question will be answered at the fair grounds arena Wednesday night when John Pesek ends a three-months period of involuntary retirement.
Out of action since an early December operation, Pesek will take on Ken Fenelon of Dubuque, Ia., in the feature match of Wednesday’s rassle card.
Frank Taylor, winner of last week’s "popularity" match, will oppose Tulsa’s Leo Jensen in the semiwindup. Opening opponents will be Roberto Pico and Danny Plechas.
PESEK TO JOIN PRO ELEVEN
(Lincoln Journal, May 2, 1948)
Jack Pesek, starting end and leading University of Nebraska punter in 1946 and 1947, Saturday announced that he had signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Rams. No salary terms were disclosed in the announcement.
Pesek’s booming punts in 1947 elevated him to the Big Seven kicking crown and placed him fourth among the nation’s college kickers. The 23-year-old Ravenna native had two more years of eligibility at Nebraska. He missed the current spring drills because of an ankle injury, received during the basketball season.
At 6 feet 3 inches and 225 pounds, Pesek had the physical equipment to become one of the Cornhuskers’ all-time greats. He is the son of wrestler John Pesek, the famed Ravenna Tigerman.
Jack is expected to share punting chores with quarterback Bob Waterfield on the Rams. He will report in mid-summer to the Rams training camp at Loyola College, Los Angeles.
(ED. NOTE – Jack Pesek never appeared in a regular season NFL game. He was soon to become a professional wrestler.)
EX-HUSKER PESEK TO HEADLINE CARD HERE
(Lincoln Journal, Friday, September 16, 1949)
Jack Pesek, son of the old master "Tiger John," and former University of Nebraska end, has been signed by promoter Adam Krieger to headline his mat show at the fair grounds next Tuesday night.
The former Scarlet wingman, after a short fling at pro football, started his wrestling career under Tony Stecher’s wing last year. Tuesday will mark his first appearance in Lincoln. He will meet veteran Joe Dusek of Omaha in the finale.
BAREFOOT BOY WITH CHECKBOOK
(Lincoln Journal, circa early 1950s)
Jack Pesek, the educated grappler and ex-Cornhusker of the gridiron, is back at the university. He finishes work this semester on a bachelor of science degree in education.
Time was when he was known as (1) Smilin’ Jack, (2) Handsome Jack, or (3) Happy Jack.
He can now be called Jingling Jack, referring to the financial status of his pockets. There is coinage in Pesek’s jeans these days.
Since leaving Lincoln in August, Jack has wrestled some 85 matches in the east and arisen as sort of a national television hero. He’s taken a large step toward accumulating the loose change he wants to invest in a wheat and cattle ranch.
We looked over the former Husker, who in 1947 was the third ranking collegiate punter in the United States.
No cauliflower on the ears. No new marks on the face. He had weathered his eastern campaign well.
Jack, son of Ol’ Jawn, the Ravenna Tigerman, started his tour in Columbus, Ohio, on the preliminary bill. As his popularity grew, the grappling collegian progressed to 37 straight main events, all televised, some over the national channel. Several of his matches were broadcast over an Omaha TV outlet.
The amazing growth of television in the east still stumps Our Boy Jack. In Columbus alone, there are 200,000 sets.
So popular has wrestling grown on TV that a number of Pesek’s matches were staged in the television studio, before 100 spectators or so who were admitted gratis. The sponsors paid the wrestlers’ salaries.
Jack had intended to quit the game when he enrolled for second semester classes at the university.
His idea was to pick up that diploma and settle down to the combined life of a world history teacher and a gentleman farmer. On the side, he’d like to do some coaching.
Professor Adam Krieger, Lincoln promoter, however, had other ideas. He showed Jack a number of letters from wrestling fans, all requesting a Pesek return to the fairgrounds. Jack has always drawn well there.
"So why not do a little wrestling in Lincoln while you finish work on your diploma?" Prof. Krieger asked the ex-Husker.
And so Jack will make his return Tuesday night against Cowboy Meeker, the Rocky Mountain champion. Refereeing will be one of his old Husker grid mates, Sam Vacanti.
To keep in shape, Jack spent two weeks in January working out with Bob (Stogie) Webb’s Ravenna High team. Jack’s kid brother, Mickey, age 16, is the offensive and defensive star of Webb’s hearties.
There is one change in Jack’s repertoire. He no longer wears shoes in the ring.
"It gives me more speed, more use of my feet and seems to add to my endurance," he explained.
Only the dirty Duseks, he said, would stoop low enough to stomp his unprotected tootsies.
‘TIGER JAWN’ PESEK ENSHRINED
(Lincoln Journal, September 11, 1957)
By Jim Raglin
"I’ll put up $1,000 any day for a chance to meet the so-called ‘world champs’ of today."
That’s what the 64-year-old man said.
As you watched him move about with the grace of a youth in his prime, you were convinced that John Pesek wasn’t joking.
Today, "Tiger Jawn" Pesek joins the ranks of The Journal’s Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame. He is the 22nd athlete so honored. Pesek joins a former fellow champion and ex-rival in the ring, Dodge’s Joe Stecher, on the honor list.
Even harder to pin down in conversation than in the ring, the Tiger has devoted 50 years to professional wrestling – and he’s still going strong.
"I’ll be happy to battle any of the ‘champs’ today," says John. "But it would have to be a "shooting match’ and not vaudeville."
For John is a wrestler and to him the sport is a true test of skill, strength and courage.
"I never was one of the ‘alliance’ boys," he explains. Still a sound 200 pounds, "Jawn" has little respect for the circuit riders that populate the game today.
Pesek says it’s been 25 years since he has lost a match and his crammed scrapbook backs him up. As honest outside the ring as inside it, you have the feeling Pesek didn’t omit stories that listed him as the loser.
Born on a farm near Ravenna, Pesek always has lived in the Cornhusker State. He’s been married 36 years and his wife, Myrl, says, "we’ve had lots of fun and excitement, but never a fight."
The Pesek children include on wrestler, Jack, a former football standout at the University of Nebraska.
Others are Elizabeth, a nurse, at the Vet’s Hospital in Grand Island, Mrs. Virginia Nolder, Mary Lee and Mickey, all of Ravenna, Catherine and Steve, both of Lincoln.
Frequently, there’s a gathering of Peseks at the 155-acre farm on the outskirts of Ravenna. That means quite a crowd.
But Jawn’s farm is always a lively spot, even when the children aren’t around. Pesek’s place is populated by a dozen mutt dogs, some racing greyhounds, wild turkeys, Canadian geese, 50 peacocks, 100 head of Hereford cattle and assorted other animals.
Tucked away inside the confines of the two-story white frame farmhouse are many dusty trophies.
The latter were won by Pesek’s greyhounds when he was one of America’s leading dog owners. Trained by his brother Charlie, Pesek dogs won dozens of national coursing events.
One animal, Gangster, was the first greyhound to win two Waterloo and one Derby crowns. He was an Australian import John purchased after concluding a spectacular tour of that continent in 1929. Gangster was valued at $10,000 at one time.
Formerly Pesek’s property in Ravenna housed 200 greyhounds and a full sized track.
"I’ve lost interest in them and only own about 20 now. Some are racing and I have some on the farm," says John.
But Pesek hasn’t lost interest in wrestling.
"The game is sick today because there are too many clowns wrestling. They are too fat and slow and don’t know how to wrestle. I’d like to get in the ring with that Yukon Eric and those kind," Jawn says with conviction.
Chances are such a match won’t be made. Pesek claims wrestlers are avoiding him today just as they did when he was in his prime – a 190-pound mass of muscle, guts and skill.
Some of Pesek’s greatest matches were against Joe Stecher, another farm boy from Nebraska who amazed the world with his skill.
Once, in 1926 at St. Louis, the two drew 8,500 persons for a showdown for Stecher’s title. The best seats cost $11 a copy and the gate was almost $30,000.
PESEK INFANT DIES IN CRIB FROM SUFFOCATION
(Lincoln Journal, May 12, 1958)
Barbara Allison Pesek, infant daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Jack Pesek, 2315 Scott Ave., died Sunday.
The 10-day-old daughter of Pesek, a professional wrestler, suffocated in her crib as she slept, according to the attending physician.
Surviving besides the baby’s parents are her brothers, Bradley and Brian; sister, Leslie, all at home, and grandparents, Mr. And Mrs. John Pesek of Ravenna and Mrs. John Drake of Seneca.
LITTLE WOMAN’S IDEA PUTS PESEK IN RING
(Lincoln Journal, Sunday, March 24, 1963)
Jack Pesek hasn’t made a habit of grappling at Pershing Auditorium since he became a promoter several years ago.
But Tuesday night, the Ravenna heavyweight and former Nebraska kicking star, will make on of those rare appearances on the local scene – thanks to his wife.
Pesek has been rassling out of Minneapolis lately and turned over Lincoln promotion duties to his wife. Two weeks ago, Jack was refereeing an Omaha TV match and got into a hassle with Waldo Von Erich.
Fans from all over this area called the station and Mrs. Pesek – urging some arrangement that would permit them to meet in the ring. So Mrs. Pesek contacted a Minneapolis promoter, got some of Jack’s dates changed, and signed him to meet Von Erich.
They’ll settle the issue in the main event at Pershing Tuesday night. The card opens at 8:30 p.m.
Other standout matches include The Rebel versus Doug Gilbert in the semifinal; Bobby Managoff and big Bob Orton in the special event, and Guy Mitchell against Bob Geigel in the opening unit.’’
PESEK DRAWS TEACHING POST
(Lincoln Journal, August 17, 1967)
Jack Pesek, the former Cornhusker footballer turned rassler-promoter, is about to embark on a new career.
Pesek has signed to teach social science at Bennet High School near Lincoln. It will be his first teaching assignment.
A grid letter man in 1946-47, Pesek also has enrolled at the
University to study for a Master’s Degree.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 212-2001
PESEK CAPTURES MIDWEST CROWN
(Lincoln Journal, Sunday, July 4, 1971)
Jack pesek took the Midwest championship away from The Claw Saturday night at the Pershing Auditorium in the pro rassling match by taking two of three falls. The second fall was given to Pesek on a disqualification.
In another match, Cowboy Bob Ellis took five falls to Ox Baker’s one in a Texas Tornado match. Gerry Miller won over Ali Ben Khan and Treach Phillips and Tony Russo drew in other matches.
SCULPTOR IS BEHIND SCHEDULE
(Associated Press, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 1977)
RAVENNA, Neb. – A bronze sculpture of former champion wrestler John Pesek and two of his prize-winning greyhounds is going to take artist Nick Moffett longer to finish than he expected.
Moffett said when he started the project in early June that he’d be finished by the end of August, but now he figures it will be more like the end of September.
"It’s really a time-consuming business, and that’s why bronze statues are so expensive," he said.
Moffett received $1,500 from the Ravenna Chamber of Commerce, and the Nebraska Arts Council, in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts, matched it with another $1,500.
Moffett, a Ravenna native, said he got the idea for the sculpture about a year ago when he thought something should commemorate Pesek, the famous wrestler and greyhound racer from Ravenna.
"It’s been kind of an unusual experience," he said. A condition of the grant was that he work where the public could watch, ask questions and make suggestions.
The hardest part of the job, Moffett said, was getting Pesek’s permission to create the sculpture.
The "Tigerman" – who had gone undefeated for 25 years in international competition and who could not be pinned even when he was in his 60s – previously turned down writers’ offers to do his life story.
Pesek also turned Moffett down, but the artist said persistence paid off.
Moffett said he went back to the wrestler and mentioned his grandfather, Walter Schultz, who used to work out with Pesek, and his mother, Leota Schultz, whom the wrestler also knew.
Moffett said Pesek thought it over, then said, "Boy, I’m going to let you do it, but only because of your grandfather and mother."
Moffett said he’ll be pouring at least 200 pounds of bronze when the clay models are finished. The casting will be done at the foundry of Hastings College, where Moffett is a part-time teacher.
(ED. NOTE – The statue was unveiled in front of the Ravenna Bank on Sunday, May 28, 1979, some 11 weeks after the death of John Pesek.)
‘TIGER JAWN’ PESEK DIES AT AGE 84
(United Press International, Monday, Mar. 13, 1978)
RAVENNA, Neb. – John "Tiger Jawn" Pesek, a former world heavyweight wrestling champion, died Sunday at his home of an apparent heart attack. He was 84.
Pesek, who had gone undefeated for 25 years in international competition and who could not be pinned even when he was in his 60s, was eating breakfast in his Ravenna home when he collapsed.
A daughter, Elizabeth, a retired registered nurse, administered emergency procedures but was unable to revive Pesek.
Funeral arrangements were pending at Love & Rohde Mortuary in Ravenna.
Pesek, whose wife, Myrl, died in 1966, is survived by three sons, Jack, a former University of Nebraska football player, Kevin and Stephen, and four daughters, Elizabeth, Mary Lee, Virginia and Catherine.
Born on a farm near Ravenna, Pesek flourished in an era when Nebraska was a hotbed of wrestling and devoted more than 50 years to professional wrestling.
The 1920s were the golden years for Pesek. He began a winning streak in those years and went 20 years without losing a match. He was named the world champion by the National Wrestling Association in 1932 (sic).
Pesek was still wrestling in exhibition matches in the mid-1950s. His matches with Joe Stecher of Dodge, Neb., have become ring classics. He also met and defeated Ed (Strangler) Lewis, Wladek Zbyszko, Charlie Hansen, George Zaharias, Ray Steele, Jim Browning, Jim Londos and Everette Marshall.
Pesek, who was inducted into the Lincoln Journal’s Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame in 1957, also was one of America’s leading greyhound dog owners. Trained by his brother, Charlie, Pesek dogs won dozens of national coursing events.
"Just Andrew" and "Gangster," both Australian greyhounds of Pesek, were honored in the Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene, Kan.
The racing magazine, the Greyhound Review, said that bloodlines of Pesek imports from Australia are present in more than 70 percent of all greyhounds.
OFFBEAT: JOE AND JAWN
(Lincoln Journal, Sunday, March 28, 1982)
By Don Pieper
In the box of stuff Ross Rasmussen bought at a farm auction the other day was an old poster announcing "Stecher’s Belt Day."
The affair was held Oct. 9, 1915, at Dodge in the "mammoth pavilion erected for the occasion" and it must have been quite a show. The program included introductory remarks, a welcome and no fewer than seven addresses by such luminaries as Superintendent F.J. Vogltanc of Schuyler and Col. James Elliott of West Point. Music was provided by Misses Carrie and Mabel Hrabak and other talented locals.
But the big deal was the presentation by Gov. John H. Morehead of the diamond-studded belt Joe Stecher’s friends and neighbors had purchased to proclaim him world wrestling champion.
Joe had won the world’s championship that July 4 in Omaha before 16,000 cheering fans by using his famous scissors hold on Charlie Cutler.
The discovery of the poster among the old papers he had purchased got Ross to thinking about colorful contributions Nebraskans have made to professional wrestling. "Scissors Joe" Stecher from Dodge wasn’t the only world’s champ. There was the equally famous John "Tiger Jawn" Pesek of Ravenna, a frequent foe of Joe’s.
They wrestled in the days when it was a legitimate professional event. But Nebraska also has made important contributions to the vaudeville "sport" of rassling. Tiger Jawn’s boy, Jack Pesek, and Omaha’s Mike DiBiase are among the Husker football heroes who have gained international reputations as rasslers.
Then there are Omaha’s Dusek brothers – Joe, Emil and Ernie (ED. NOTE – Rudy?). They were promoters as well as participants and they entertained thousands of fans in this area and throughout the world.
Anyway, all this wrestling/rassling heritage, Ross reasoned, should be acknowledged somehow. He says there should be a Nebraska wrestling hall of fame, where such memorabilia as the "Stecher Belt Day" poster – the Stecher belt, for that matter, if it could be found and donated – could be on display.
Ross thinks the appropriate place to house the exhibits is the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
That suggestion caught Jim Ross, who manages the Devaney facility, by surprise. Jim didn’t want to reject the idea out of hand, but neither did he want to endorse it immediately. He called time out so he could check further, which is only fair.
Ross’ poster sent me to the newspaper’s library to do some research on Stecher and Pesek. What marvelous characters they were. Each is a member of the Journal’s Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame.
There is in the files a 1954 Omaha World-Herald story by Howdie Wolff in which Tony Stecher tells how brother Joe developed his famous scissors hold:
"’Joe had exceptionally long and powerful legs,’ Tony recalls. ‘He used to clamp those scissors on a full grain sack and then put on the pressure until the sack broke. Any wonder he nearly killed a half-hundred wrestlers with that hold?’
"’When Joe had developed the muscles and learned the proper pressure to rip the grain sacks, he shifted to the hogs in Pap’s feed lot. That was the best kind of practice because the pigs had a natural tendency to resist and so they worked very hard to break the grip.
"’Pretty hard on the pigs,’ Tony confesses, ‘but Joe got in his final licks on the mules. That was really graduation day. Joe’d get up on the back of a mule, put on the pressure and finally force the stubborn animal to its knees.
"’It was hard on the mules, too. But Joe was developing the most famous legs in wrestling history.’"
FORMER HUSKER FOOTBALL PLAYER PESEK DIES
(Lincoln Journal, Tuesday, July 3, 1990)
Former Nebraska football player Jack Pesek, who still holds the school record for career punting average, died Monday at the Veterans Administration Medical Center. He was 66.
Pesek, a Ravenna native who played for Nebraska in 1946 and 1947, averaged 41.5 yards for 62 kicks. The Huskers, under coach Bernie Masterson, were a combined 5-12 in those seasons. Pesek signed with the Los Angeles Rams after the ’47 season.
In addition to playing football, Pesek was involved in professional wrestling as a competitor and promoter.
Pesek was the son of the late John Pesek of Ravenna. John Pesek, a member of the Lincoln Journal Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame, went 18 years without losing a wrestling match in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Butherus-Maser & Love Mortuary. Services are pending.
EX-HUSKER PESEK WASN’T YOUR USUAL PRO WRESTLER
(Lincoln Journal, Wednesday, July 4, 1990)
By Mike Babcock
You could recognize Jack Pesek by his raspy voice.
His words sounded as if they had been abused, each one twisted in the abdominal stretch, that dreaded submission hold with which Pesek won many a professional wrestling match.
I once used the abdominal stretch on my brother, but with no noticeable effect. The key to the hold, which looked similar to what runners do before starting a marathon, was leverage – and, as I later learned, complicity on the part of the victim.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Pesek could apply leverage. He was large, and his size was magnified in the eyes of a young fan, who watched him on television. Every Thursday night, KHAS in Hastings carried an hour-long wrestling program, and Pesek was the resident good guy, a "pencil-neck farmer," according to bad guy Otto Von Krupp, the despised "Baron" from Munich, Germany.
Several years later, as the Cold War became heated, I saw a despised "Mad Russian," who looked and sounded like the Baron, wrestle in Southern California. The similarities were curious, not suspicious. But, as Pesek once told a newspaper reporter, "Everybody doesn’t go to the community theater for entertainment."
Pesek was an entertainer and athlete. He earned varsity letters playing football at Nebraska in 1946 and 1947.
Pesek played end and was the Cornhusker punter, ranking fourth in the nation in 1947. He averaged 41.5 yards per punt during his college career. That’s still the school record.
His friends always kidded him about the record, said Don Bryant, Nebraska’s sports information director and assistant athletic director. Bryant was among those friends. His father used to hunt on land near Ravenna that Pesek’s father farmed.
Pesek was able to average 41.5 yards per punt, his friends would tell him, because he always had the whole field "to boom it."
For one thing, the Cornhusker teams on which he played always seemed to find themselves a long way from their opponent’s goal line in fourth-down situations. For another, every time Nebraska needed a short punt, deep in an opponent’s territory, Pesek would defer to teammate Jim "Squat" Myers, because "you didn’t want to ruin your average." That’s what they told him, good-naturedly.
Pesek signed a National Football League contract with the Los Angeles Rams followed his sophomore season at Nebraska. But professional wrestling, which was enjoying dramatic growth because of television, had a greater, if not inherent appeal for Pesek. His father, John, was one of wrestling’s early stars.
"Tiger John," who competed when wrestling was more sport than melodrama, boasted of never having been pinned.
Jack became both competitor and promoter, wrestling in Japan and every Canadian province as well as throughout the Midwest. For more than 20 years, he competed with an against the likes of Verne Gagne, Omaha’s Dusek brothers – Joe, Ernie and Emil – Mad Dog Vachon, Dick the Bruiser, The Crusher, the Mighty Atlas and Doctor X.
Often, Bryant, then a local sports writer, was the ring announcer and Tom Novak, a former football teammate at Nebraska, was the referee for matches Pesek promoted in Lincoln.
"We’d known him a long time," Bryant said. "Jack was a real sharp guy, belying the pro wrestling image. He was a history buff and he taught school (at Bennet High)."
Still, the image I have of Pesek, who died on Monday, is one in a wrestling ring at the City Auditorium in York, the first professional match I ever attended. My dad and I watched Pesek whip an opponent, long since forgotten, with the abdominal stretch.
Many years later, I met Pesek for the first time in the newspaper office. He had that distinctive, unforgettable voice.
Pro wrestling might have had something to do with the rusty quality of Pesek’s voice, Bryant said. Once, in a match with an opponent trained in the martial arts, Pesek took a judo chop in the throat, full force.
"He didn’t duck enough and really got hit," Bryant
said. "I don’t know if it affected his voice, but it sure did that night.
I didn’t think he’d ever talk again."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 213-2001
HE CAN’T ESCAPE MEMORY OF ARMLOCKS, TOEHOLDS
(Memphis Commercial Appeal, Sunday, June 11, 1978)
By Mike Fleming
Sid Markus, now 70, works out "every chance I get" at the Jewish Community Center at 6560 Poplar.
"I like to stay in shape because it’s good for you. Besides, once you begin to work out on a regular basis you can’t just stop; it’s like eating breakfast. You can’t stop … "
Markus then rubbed his stomach.
"Feel it," he said. "Pretty solid, huh? Yeah, I’m, in good shape, real good shape and I could wrestle a little right now if I wanted to. Well, not really but I wouldn’t mind it. Wrestling has been a big part of my life. Say, I can remember the time … "
It doesn’t take much for Markus, the Memphian for 40 years who lives at 5170 Meadowcrest Drive, to remember "the good times" he spent as a wrestler and later, after his career as a wrestler was over, as a referee for wrestling matches throughout the Mid-South.
Actually, Markus at first wanted to become a boxer as a youngster living in Boston.
"Right, a boxer," Markus said yesterday.
"I started working out in a gym in Boston and I guess, oh, I was about 16, 17 at the time. I wanted to be a boxer in the worst way. I thought it was a great way to make a living.
"Well, I finally wrangled a few fights and won ‘em both and I thought I was really on my way. I even managed to get a job on the side, a candy company. Man, I was lovin’ it."
But an accident at the candy company one day cast a pall over Markus’ future.
"Maybe I wasn’t watching good enough but what happened was this: I was workin’ real hard, see, trying to get through quick so I could still get to the gym in time to work out. All of a sudden my hand got caught. It was bad … "
Two of Markus’ fingers on his left hand were cut off.
"My fingers were caught by the gears and, well, you can see it chewed ‘em up pretty good. That ended my boxing. It really knocked me for a loop, not being able to box. I didn’t know what to do."
He did nothing for almost a year after that. He quit his job.
"I felt like I didn’t have any friends and the world was moving right along without me. But I kept goin’ to the gym just to watch the other guys."
One day while watching "the other guys" he met Bob Russell, called "Rebel Bob" by his friends.
Russell, apparently touched by Markus’ predicament, asked Markus one day to "work out."
"He said to me, ‘C’mon.’ But I didn’t know much about him.
"I asked him, ‘What kind of workout? I can’t box.’
"’Not boxing, kid. Wrestling. This is gonna be a wrestling workout, okay?’
"I told him, ‘No way. You’ll rip me up. Will you take it easy on me?’
"Well, I got in the ring and it was unbelievable. He nearly killed me. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But it was kinda fun, too."
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and Markus slowly moved into the world of wrestling.
He had worked out about a month with Russell and then, all of a sudden, Markus got his chance.
"Russell said to me, ‘Are you hungry/’
"’Hungry? Naw, not really (but I was thinking to myself that I was stupid sayin’ that because I was hardly stayin’ alive; I didn’t have a dime to my name. I didn’t want him to know how bad off I was.)’
"He told me I was on a program in Quincy, Mass., in a day or so.
"I was about to become a wrestler."
Markus’ first match ended in a draw and now he can’t even remember who it was against.
"I made $50, though, and you’d have thought I was a millionaire. It was the first folding money I had had in what seemed like years. I went right out and bought the biggest steak I could find. It was the best meal I had ever had in my life."
Markus moved around quite a bit after that first match. He displayed wrestling skills that pleased promoters and he landed assignments in New York, Texas, Mexico, California, all over.
He came to Birmingham in the early ‘40s and thought he had finally found a place to settle down. But his wife, Ida, had other ideas.
"She was born and raised in Memphis and she wanted to come back home. So, we came back home. We got here in, oh, it must have been 1935. I had wrestled a lot by then and thought I might settle down and do something else."
Markus tried painting for his wife’s father.
"I couldn’t stand it. I ain’t no painter," Markus explained.
That’s when he ran into Charlie Rentrop, a wrestling promoter.
"Rentrop wanted me and I decided to give it a shot. Everything went pretty well for a while … "
World War II interrupted Markus’ new relationship, however, and following the war he came back to Memphis to work at an Italian restaurant. In 1954, Markus was approached by Les Wolfe, a Memphis promoter who had bought out Rentrop. He needed a referee.
"I thought about it for a while and then said, sure, why not. I refereed for about nine years and even wrestled some more when somebody wouldn’t show up for a match. I was, I must admit, still pretty good in those days. It was a lot of fun."
Markus retired from wrestling in the early ‘60s and went to work for Lazarov Brothers Tin Compress Co., Inc. Now he is retired, period.
He doesn’t have any regrets.
"Not from wrestling, at least. The only thing I do feel bad about is not saving my money better."
He does not attend wrestling matches here anymore.
But he does react sharply when somebody mentions that the image some have of wrestling is that it is a theatrical, rigged sport.
"I’d like to have a dollar for every injury I’ve received wrestling. I’ve had a broken shoulder, broken ribs, broken arm, even a broken toe on my left foot. It’s very real … and very tough.
"I saw on television now long ago where Man Mountain, I think it was him, threw Jerry Lawler clear out of the ring and onto a table at ringside. Lawler bounced off the table. You can’t stage something like that.
"When you see blood, it’s real blood.
"Look, I can cut a man to ribbons right now with my open hand if I wanted to. I’m 70 but I don’t look like a man of 70."
Markus couldn’t help but remember an incident here in June of 1975 when all of his wrestling skills didn’t help him one bit.
He was the victim of a holdup outside a First National Bank branch at 1298 North Danny Thomas Blvd.
"I bent over to open the trunk of my car and somebody stuck a shotgun to my chest and said, ‘Give it to me.’ I said, ‘Here, it’s yours.’ Money means nothing. My wife loves me and I’ve got to live. I didn’t have the first thought of trying anything. I ain’t dumb."
One of Markus’ fondest remembrances of his career in wrestling was serving as Gorgeous George’s valet for a week.
"Gorgeous used to have the guy come in and spray the ring before he wrestled. Well, the guy got sick or something and Gorgeous asked me if I wanted to make a little extra. I went in there and sprayed the hell out of that ring. I did it for a week and got good money. Gorgeous made a lot of money, about $100,000 a year in his prime, and I was honored to work for him.
"How did I feel about sprayin’ the ring and hearin’ all the hoots from the people? Why, it didn’t bother me none. It was fun. Those were the days. I wish I could start over again."
‘LAUGHING KILLER’ THEY ALL LOVED
(8 O’Clock, Auckland, New Zealand, July 3, 1982)
They called him the "laughing killer."
The big strapping Samoan high chief who grew up in New Zealand and wrestled his way to world ring and movie fame in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Just four years ago the tattooed matman drew a record 10,000 fans to Western Springs for his world title challenge against Harley Race, and four years before that he fought before 8,000 people at Carlaw Park.
Tragically, Maivia won’t be seen again. He died in Hawaii late last month from cancer.
Though he knew he was suffering, Maivia continued to wrestle and promote the fight game until just a few months before he died.
Maivia had at least three shots at the world crown and several times beat Harley Race, the champion. But because he won on disqualifications he couldn’t claim the title.
His main claim to fame, however, was his celebrated role as a killer taxi driver in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice which starred Sean Connery.
Because of his affectionate smile Maivia became known from then on as the "laughing killer."
Auckland wrestling personality Dave Cameron recalls Maivia as a young man who first earned a living in New Zealand as a carpenter and as a worker at the timber mills in Tokoroa.
Says Dave: "he became one of the few wrestlers who could pack the Auckland YMCA 10 weeks in a row."
"Though he topped bills at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden, and wrestled in France, Japan, Malaysia, Belgium and all the Pacific islands, he took great delight in returning to New Zealand and wrestling in front of his people."
Because of his following here Maivia often wrote to the 8 O’Clock with news of his fights.
Steve Rickard remembers Maivia as his first signing and "the last off" when he became a promoter in the early ‘60s. And how when wrestling hit hard times they split Steve’s last $60 and parted friends.
Maivia, he says, went overseas to fight but always kept in touch.
Television’s On the Mat programme will pay tribute to Maivia
on Tuesday week by screening videotapes of two of his fights.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 214-2001
WRESTLING ‘NOT FAKE’
(Dallas Morning News, circa March 1975)
By James Dunlap
The sign in front of the vast, corrugated metal structure at Cadiz and Industrial bore the ominous inscription "TEXAS DEATH MATCH," appropriately spelled out in blood-red letters.
Inside, all eyes were riveted on a spotlighted American flag while a tinny recording of the national anthem played. As it ended, a great cheer went up, launching another Tuesday night of wrestling at the Sportatorium.
For most people, wrestling is just something that appears momentarily on the screen as they absently flip through the television channels on a slow Saturday night.
But for the folks of all ages and colors who pay $2 to $4.50 to pack the Sportatorium’s wooden bleachers each week, it’s a basic social institution that rivals going to church.
Wrestling provides its hard-core fans with fast-moving entertainment and a bizarre, colorful collection of stars. And on a different, more complex level, it achieves a violence, somewhere between fantasy and reality, that relieves pent-up anger and frustration in its viewers.
"Everybody gets their kicks somehow," explained truck driver Morris Oliver.
"It’s not fake," said his brother, Tommy. "It’s acting, just like in the movies." Tommy, who is big enough to be a wrestler himself, winked and added, "Besides, I’ve been coming since 1950, and there’s no sense stopping now."
Under the bleachers between matches, the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, tacos and French fries mingles with body odor as people jockey for position at the concession stands. Sweat pours off the besieged men behind the counter as they serve thousands of cold beers.
Like groupies hovering near a rock star, kids jam around the dressing room door to touch their favorite wrestler as he strides by.
Beside that door, 72-year-old Walter McDaniel has been shining shoes every Tuesday night since 1938. "Sometimes it’s full up and sometimes it’s not, but the crowd’s not any different," McDaniel said.
Loyally denying there is anything fake about it, McDaniel explained the Sportatorium’s attraction with "fans like the wrestling matches, and that’s all it is."
In the arena, another clutter of kids, with heads thrust under the ring’s lowest rope, vibrate with excitement as they clutch their programs and hope for their hero’s autograph.
To warm up the crowd for the main event, gladiators like Kim Duk, Big Jos. Leduc, the Great Dane, and Alberto Madril brutally embrace in short matches of concentrated combat that seemingly would leave ordinary mortals maimed for life.
Between evens, 28-year-old R.C. Williams said he comes for the excitement. "I just like to sit here and drink beer and holler."
Williams, who works on a loading dock, and his friend, Richard Rogers, come every Tuesday and bet a beer on every match.
"I remember when we used to be kids sitting up in general admission sneaking beers," he recalled. Pointing to a vendor walking up the aisle, Williams said, "See that old buzzard there, he use to sell it to us."
Although Williams and Rogers kept their hollering on a relatively calm level, some of the other people got caught up in the drama from time to time and yelled themselves hoarse. Occasionally, beer-fueled fights break out among the more emotional members of the audience.
"Don’t get no blood until the main event," Williams said, "and then everybody is so drunk they don’t know what it is."
Considering the level of violence in the ring, blood is relatively scarce. But sometimes, a swung fist or chair draws a red liquid of questionable origin. The fans don’t seem to care whether it flows from veins or gelatin capsules.
"Everybody is waiting for blood in this one," confided a young man with long blond hair as Fritz Von Erich and Black Jack Lanza, the opponents in the "TEXAS DEATH MATCH," made their appearance.
In a death match, the program explained, "No falls count, there are no disqualifications, no time limit, almost anything is legal and it continues until one man can’t defend himself."
Judging from the cheers and applause, Fritz, a hulking form in red briefs, was clearly favored by the crowd.
Looking like the evil gunslinger in a thousand "B" westerns, Black Jack, dressed in black hat, vest, boots, briefs and a leather guard on his right hand, was greeted by almost universal booing and hissing.
As if to justify the people’s choice, he grabbed Fritz from behind as he politely scrawled autographs for his admiring, young fans. Nobody asked Black Jack for his autograph.
From the first bell, everybody knew it was going to be a deadly duel with the infamous "claw" hold as the chosen weapon.
Besides the claw, they kicked, punched, gouged, strangled, pulled hair and bounced off the ropes onto each other, and the folks in the bleachers went wild.
Jumping to their feet, with screams that reached a deafening pitch, the audience completely disregarded the mundane issue of whether what they were watching was real or not.
"Go, Fritz, go!" they chanted as Fritz won the first fall and laid Black Jack out on the mat like a dead fish.
Apparently, the trainer who massaged Black Jack’s ravaged brow during the rest period did some good, because Fritz took some heavy punishment and lost the second fall.
The battle between the almost larger than life grapplers went back and forth for a while, and then Gran Marcus, a masked wrestler, came down and talked to Black Jack.
From the shouts, it was evident that the crowd was convinced that Gran Marcus had slipped Black Jack something that he put in his claw hand.
"It’s in his glove," they pleaded. "Check his glove!" But their cry failed to impress the referee, and Fritz went down for the count.
Gloom hung heavy in the air. The hero was on the mat, defeated. The villain, with his sinister, leather-covered fist held aloft, strutted around the ring.
Black Jack withdrew and disappeared into the bowels of the Sportatorium, and Fritz was still down.
Slowly, he rose and limped up the aisle. A cheer echoed in the arena, and the hands of the faithful stretched out and gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder as he passed.
They knew he’d be back. And next Tuesday night, so would they.
WRESTLING WITH DEATH
(New York Daily News, Sunday, Apr. 11, 1993)
By Barry Meisel
SHADY SHORES, Tex. – Jack Adkisson was growing worried about Kerry. It had been maybe 45 minutes since his deeply troubled son had jumped into the yellow jeep and had driven off to be alone somewhere on the family’s land.
In happier times, Kerry would hunt quail and doves with older brothers David and Kevin on their 140-acre ranch, chase younger brothers Mike and Chris through the thorny brush, climb the tall cedar trees, pelt his brothers with wild plums and blackberries. Or he’d hop on a bike, rev the engine, and tear out laughing as he spit rich, red, Texas soil everywhere.
But that was long before the Adkisson boys – a wildly popular clan of professional wrestlers known as The Von Erichs – started dying.
On Feb. 18, 1993, in Shady Shores, a little town 20 miles north and a world away from Dallas, Kerry had told his father he needed the keys to his father’s jeep. "I really love you, Dad," he said, embracing the huge bear of a man who for decades had dominated the world of pro wrestling as Fritz Von Erich. "I just want to go out and drive for a while. I need to be alone, to think about some things."
Kerry often told his father that he loved him. The embrace was what initially unsettled Jack. It wasn’t unusual for their tight-knit family to show affection, but something about that hug left Jack feeling apprehensive when Kerry drove off alone at 1:30 p.m., and still hadn’t come back by 2:15.
Everybody knew Kerry was hurting, that he was losing his tenuous grasp on reality. Kerry Von Erich, who nine years earlier had won a world heavyweight championship belt before 43,000 fans at Texas Stadium, couldn’t even be trusted to show up on time for his Friday night matches at the Sportatorium, a grimy little arena in a darkened section of downtown Dallas that had been magically transformed into the Von Erichs’ personal palace.
Away from the ring, Kerry was not coping with the divorce from Cathy that split him from the two most important people in his life, his daughters, Hollie, 8, and Lacey, 6. He was still not coping with the loss of his right foot, finally amputated in 1987 (although the public did not know he wrestled with a prosthesis in his oversized boot) after a 1986 motorcycle accident.
Despite his inept denials, Kerry was still addicted to drugs: Cocaine and the prescription pain-killers he gobbled to numb the ceaseless throbbing in his lower leg. And he still hadn’t come to terms with David’s death at age 25 from a sudden intestinal inflammation in 1984, or Mike’s suicide at age 23 in 1987, or Chris’ suicide at age 21 in 1991.
Everybody knew Kerry was suicidal, and not just because two of his brothers had done it. After he had been convicted on felony drug charges last September and sentenced to 10 years’ probation, he said over and over that he’d kill himself before he’d ever spend a day in jail.
On Jan. 13, 1993, he was arrested again on cocaine possession charges. On Feb. 17, the grand-jury indictment came down. The following morning, a Thursday, Kerry tried calling his lawyer and friend, Charles Caperton, who was in court. He called Kevin, 180 miles away in Jefferson, Texas, and said he might kill himself on Monday. He went for lunch with his ex-wife, and for the umpteenth time told Cathy he’d kill himself if they couldn’t get back together.
After lunch, Kerry picked up his close friend, Elaine Barrett, and together they made the 30-minute drive from North Dallas to Shady Shores. "He was pretty quiet," Elaine painfully recalled. "The closer he got to his father’s place, the quieter he got."
Neither Jack nor Elaine knew that, before Kerry drove off in the jeep, he had gotten his father’s .44-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun. Neither Jack nor Elaine knew what Kerry had said to Cathy at lunch, or what Kerry had said to Kevin over the phone.
But when Kerry was gone for nearly 45 minutes, suicide crept from the backs of their minds. It didn’t have to crawl far.
"I drove out to look for him," Jack said, his booming voice interrupted by long sights forged by decades of raw cigaret smoke and years of immeasurable emotional pain. "Here, this is just where Kerry went out."
Jack was in the jeep now, following the tracks left by the tires that chugged through the land muddied by the winter’s rain. He retraced Kerry’s steps as best he could, as if he was still trying to chase his son and stop him before Kerry met his horrible fate.
"I passed a few favorite spots where the boys hunted. I saw the jeep, but for a while I didn’t see Kerry. Finally, I turned around and spotted him dead. The gun was right there next to his hand. I said to him, ‘My God, Kerry, what have you done?’"
Kerry Gene Adkisson lie sprawled, his arms outstretched, dead of a single bullet wound to the chest that punctuated his aorta. He was 33.
What had he done? Only what Mike had done more than six years earlier, and what Chris had done 16 months earlier. He had continued a fatal pattern. A pattern in which the Von Erichs’ triumphs masked the Adkissons’ problems. A pattern in which wrestling’s fame and fantasies blurred life’s painful realities.
Five of Doris and Jack Adkisson’s six sons are dead, three by their own hand. The oldest, Jack, Jr., was electrocuted in 1959 at the age of seven when he stepped on a live wire in the family’s Niagara Falls, Ont., trailer park. Only Kevin, 35, the second-oldest, is still alive.
Doris and Jack divorced last July after 42 years.
How did all of this happen? Where did it go so wrong?
"I think people are getting awfully simplistic when they start looking for a reason," said Doris, 60, a petite, perky woman who was born in central Louisiana, moved to Dallas when she was 11, and married Jack six weeks after she met him. "You’re talking about a lifetime of all current emotions. To say it’s all so-and-so’s fault is awfully simplistic. It’s ignorant. It’s like saying it’s all my fault because I married him. It’s all my fault because I married him at 17 (Jack was 20) instead of waiting until he was 30.
"And maybe then it means it’s all Fritz’s mom’s fault for having him. Or all my mother’s fault for having me in the first place. There are no real answers."
"I don’t rationalize it, there’s no way," said Jack, 63, the son of a Texas sheriff who played football and threw the discus at SMU. "I don’t have any answer. It’s hard to believe that we’ve had this many tragedies in our family: Six children and we have one left."
All five of their grown sons followed their charismatci father into the surreal world of professional wrestling, where the decisions are fixed, but the actors seem real. Kevin was first, in 1978, followed by David, the most physically gifted at 6-7 and 250 pounds, and Kerry, the teen heartthrob with the chiseled jaw, flowing blond hair and rock star magnetism.
Inevitably, Mike and Chris matriculated into this world, although neither was particularly suited for it. At a lean 6-1, Mike wasn’t as tall and muscular as his brothers, and he loved to play the guitar. Chris was an asthmatic whose growth was stunted at 5-5.
To their thousands of loyal fans, the Von Erichs epitomized truth, justice and the American way. There were honest, hard-working, God-fearing boys who never quit. They always stood faithfully behind their beloved fathe. They stood up for each other.
And they always beat the bad guys.
Fritz was a wrestling villain for more than 15 years. He stood an intimidating 6-4 and 275 pounds, with a huge head and ruggedly handsome face. His voice thundered from his massive barrel chest, so deeply that he could intimidate just by saying hello. He was a fearless competitor who invented "The Iron Claw." When he cupped his massive hands around an opponent'’ head and used his vise-like grip to squeeze blood from his foe’s head, crowds gasped.
But when he warmly threw his huge arms around his young sons’ shoulders as they followed him like dutiful puppies after matches, people smiled. And they liked it when Fritz promised that one day his five sons would all be champs.
He started out earning $5 a night. He quickly invented Fritz Von Erich, the Nazi villain who capitalized on the American people’s hatred for the hideous symbol after World War II. Promoters gladly booked him because he drew the venom out of wrestling fans after wooing them into the building.
But by 1978, his fans had transformed the colorful character into a good guy. Who could hate a father with such cute sons? Fritz milked the adulation, all the while laying the groundwork in Texas for the wrestling boom that would make the family rich and famous in the early 1980s.
Years before the rival World Wrestling Federation turned Hulk Hogan into a toy store doll, Fritz’ vision was World Class Championship Wrestling. With the Von Erichs as the main event, the WCCW packed the Sportatorium, drew stupendous ratings on their weekly TV show, and syndicated the program overseas to places as diverse as Lebanon and Israel. Their 1986 video sold 20,000 copies.
But while the popularity skyrocketed, their lives plummeted. What nobody knew then was that the poisonous seeds had been unwittingly planted long ago.
(The Von Erichs’ sad story continues in New WAWLI No.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 215-2001
(continued from New WAWLI Papers No. 214-2001)
BEGINNING OF THE END
(New York Daily News, Monday, April 12, 1993)
By Barry Meisel
SHADY SHORES, Tex. – Kevin Adkisson was 22 months old when his 7-year-old brother Jackie touched a live wire and was electrocuted in 1959.
Neither Kevin nor his 8-month-old brother David understood what had happened. But over the next few years they watched how their father Jack dealt silently with the horror of losing his first-born son.
Jack considered Kerry’s birth 11 months after Jackie’s death to be a reincarnation. And so Kerry immediately was special. "I can’t help that," Jack said. "I loved all my sons, not one more than anybody else. But it was like (Jackie) was returning to us."
In the pro wrestling ring, where his father was known as the popular villain Fritz Von Erich, young Kevin saw Jack deal with his and his wife Doris’ staggering loss in another way. "My Dad was so miserable after that boy died he wanted to die," Kevin recalled. "He was really dangerous, a loose cannon. I remember his rage. He didn’t care what happened to himself. I remember the fans would boo all the other bad guys when they were outside the building. But not my Dad.
"They’d all be real quiet. It was fear."
Jack was a disciplinarian with Kevin, David and Kerry. When he found a window broken one day when the boys were 9, 10 and 12, he hung a leather strap from a nail and ordered all three to drop their pants until the guilty one confessed, voluntarily or after the two innocents threatened him with a second whipping.
He was also a loving, caring father. When it became apparent his three oldest sons loved sports, he coached them in football and track. When it became evident he was not skilled enough to coach a particular sport, he hired a coach who could. When any of his All-State sons had track meets, or basketball or football games, Jack and Doris were in the stands.
"It was the most fun I ever had in my life," Jack said. "So many people today have kids and don’t even want them. They give them a $20 bill to go to the movie and get a soda. I feel sorry for those kind of people because they don’t know what life’s all about. We hardly ever got a sitter, we took the kids everywhere we went."
Jack wanted his boys to be successful, whether they were lawyers, doctors or athletes. He swore he never wanted them to follow him into the ring, despite the on-air histrionics on TV in which Fritz Von Erich proudly displayed his sons and said they’d one day be champs.
But the line between the Adkissons and the Von Erichs began blurring in the 1970s, when Fritz turned into a good guy and his Texas wrestling business began to boom.
The boys felt the world watching them – Daddy’s ruggedly adorable tykes – and were seduced by the attention. They grew up in public. And somehow they never learned that they didn’t owe it to their fans to let them see how they turned out.
That bug hit the Adkissons’ two youngest sons especially hard. Mike, who played the guitar, was born in 1964. Chris, a talented artist who was severely asthmatic, followed in 1969. Mike, a wisp at 6-1, did not love sports like the elder trio but felt he had to continue the wrestling legacy.
Chris, a chubby 5-5 due to the prescription drug prednisone that stunted his growth and caused water retention, felt wholly inadequate. Especially when cruel fans would shout, "Hey, runt! Why aren’t you big like your brothers?"
But he was always around the ring. The boys always were.
Nobody was bigger in the family business than David, who stood 6-7 and was the true matinee idol. He was also the most responsible brother, the one who held the airline tickets whenever the boys wrestled on the road, the one who organized the itinerary.
By 1983, the fairy tale had exceeded the family’s wildest dreams. Kevin met the president of Israel. David wrestled in front of more than 30,000 fans in Texas Stadium. Doris and Jack bought a 500-acre ranch in Chandler, 80 miles east of Dallas, and built a 9,000-square-foot home for the entire family. Kevin, David and Kerry had married, although the wives were instructed not to wear their rings or reveal their status, lest the adoring female fans lose any interest.
But as the Von Erich industry grew, the Adkisson family began to fall apart. And it started with David’s shocking death.
Doris and Jack knew he had a flu when he left in early February to wrestle in Tokyo. The telephone call on Feb. 9, 1984 in which they were told he was dead – of an intestinal inflammation called gastroenteritis, they ultimately learned – changed the family forever.
"That was the beginning of all of it," said Kevin, failing to camouflage his tears. "When Dave died, it burned my heart out. I lost my capacity to love. I was devastated by that. Crippled inside."
"I loved the business, we were still on top," Jack said. "But I lost my initiative. I lost a lot of my desire to do anything."
Not immediately. David, dubbed "The Yellow Rose of Texas," was supposed to defeat Ric Flair for the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship that May. It was renamed the David Von Erich Memorial Match. Kerry stepped in and won the title before 43,013 fans at Texas Stadium.
Forget that the match was staged, or that Flair reclaimed the belt from Kerry later that month in Japan. Just imagine the pressure Kerry felt striding into the ring as women threw yellow roses at him, screaming for him and crying over David.
"I don’t think they really had a grasp on life," said Bill Mercer, the Von Erichs’ longtime TV announcer. "I think they thought they did. But they were so mixed up. When David died it was, ‘We’re all going to stand up and do what we have to do in David’s memory.’"
David’s death opened a spot for Mike to fill. A little over a year later, however, Mike dislocated his shoulder wrestling in Israel. On the operating table back home, he contracted toxic shock syndrome. He had 107-degree fever for several days.
Incredibly, he survived. But the severe weight loss, coupled with the loss of his equilibrium, knocked him out of the ring. His drug use increased.
And at a time when Fritz warned him to stay out of trouble because the Von Erichs were setting up a new marketing venture and they didn’t need any bad publicity, he started getting into minor scrapes with the law. There was an embarrassing incident where he grew impatient in the waiting room and punched a doctor, then the time he was pulled over for irregular driving, which turned into drug and alcohol charges.
That’s when he had the fight with his father. Jack said Mike was drunk when he sternly scolded him for messing up. Mike kicked at his father’s groin. Jack knocked him down.
Soon after, on Saturday, April 11, 1987, Mike drove to a park near the family’s home, crawled into a sleeping bag with a six-pack of beer, and took a fatal dose of the anti-depressant drug placidyl.
He was found five days later, the date of death estimated as April 12. When the family unlocked his apartment, they found this note:
"Mom, I’m sorry. I love you. Kev, Kerry, I love y’all and I love your families. But I’m a screw-up. I just can’t quit screwing up."
Asked how he felt that his son’s note lacked a farewell for him, Jack struggled to hold back tears.
"Yeah, it does hurt," he said. "But I can’t help those things. It’s the way it is."
Chris was an angry boy who turned into an angry young man. He desperately wanted to prove himself worthy of the Von Erich name, although he was warned not to wrestle because he was too small and because prednisone had made his bones brittle.
"Chris overcame more obstacles than any human being should have to," Doris said. "He was the only person I’d ever known that nothing good ever happened to. Everything stayed just out of his reach. All because of the asthma."
Chris idolized Kerry. Kerry did drugs, so Chris did drugs. Kerry was a champion, so Chris wanted to be a champion.
Mike’s death crushed Chris since they were such close friends. For four years Chris struggled to cope. And then came the last obstacle. Chris, insisting that he be allowed to wrestle and getting the OK from a family that couldn’t bear to see him so unhappy, seriously broke his elbow. He needed surgery. The doctor told him that he’d be risking the loss of his entire arm by wrestling again.
"Basically he was saying, ‘The one thing you dreamed about all your life is finished, kid. You’re out of it,’" Doris explained. "That’s what Chris heard."
On Oct. 12, 1991, Chris drove to one of his favorite spots on the family’s 500-acre Chandler ranch with a gun and put a hole in his head. Kevin found him there, gasping weakly, and put his fingers through his brother’s skull trying to pick him up to see if he was all right.
Chris’ note said he loved the entire family:
"It’s nobody’s fault. I’ll be with my brothers."
Kerry’s suicide two months ago – a single gunshot wound to the aorta while at his father’s ranch – was the inevitable detonation of a timebomb. He told his ex-wife, Cathy, at lunch that day that he was going to kill himself and wanted the following pallbearers. She made a list, but reminded herself that he had been threatening suicide for years in an attempt to get her to take him back.
She knew he was inching closer to the edge, so before they left the restaurant, she tried getting Kerry to promise they’d talk that night. She thought she had. She didn’t know until way too late that before he took the 30-minute ride to his father’s ranch, he grabbed a crayon and scribbled his fate on the paper tablecloth:
"Tonight, I walk with my brothers."
Kerry also told Kevin on the morning of his death that he would kill himself, but told his brother he wouldn’t do it for a few days. Kevin never did get the chance to warn his father before Kerry showed up at the ranch and asked for some time to be alone.
Cathy tried to call Jack, but Jack was outside pouring concrete for a driveway and didn’t hear the phone. Kevin did call, but Jack was busy with the contractor and didn’t have time to talk. Kevin elected not to tell his father why he was calling.
"Because my Dad had already had three (four, counting Jackie) sons die," he explained. "My Dad, with my mother and the divorce, it was real rough on him. I didn’t want to hurt him with it, if it wasn’t true."
Incredibly, sadly, it is all true. Only one of Doris and Jack Adkisson’s six sons is alive today. There are cynics who think the pressure of the business helped kill them. There are critics who think Jack’s domineering style pushed them too far. There are friends who blame the burden of stardom, and the family’s naivete.
Understandably, Jack gets angry and defensive whenever the subject of blame is raised. It is the only time he raises his thunderous voice. "Man, I did everything in the world to keep my kids out of this damn business," he said. "But it was all they knew. A lot of boys don’t want to follow in their father’s footsteps. But there are those who do. Everybody likes recognition. They saw me getting a lot of it. They idolized me. I trained, was on television, a big name, why wouldn’t they want the same thing? It was as natural as anything in the world.
"I don’t think my kids were any more intimidated by me than any other father that loved his child. If that’s the case, then you’ve got to ask, ‘What is intimidation?’ Is it discipline? Most people think discipline is correction. It’s not. Discipline is love and correction. A certain amount of each. The balance is what’s important.
"If somebody has the gall to say that I forced my kids, and I’m responsible for their deaths in any way, shape or form, it makes me want to get a .45 and shoot somebody right in the ass. It burns me up."
Kevin agrees with his father. He became the first son – the first of the long-awaited second-generation Von Erich boys – to whet the public’s appetitite by turning pro in ’78. He signed on after blowing out his knee playing football at North Texas State.
David, a basketball player at the same school, followed Kevin into the ring a year later. Kerry turned pro in 1980, after he left the University of Houston following his sophomore year. Kerry had the potential to make the ’80 U.S. Olympic team in the discus, but when President Jimmy Carter ordered the boycott of the Moscow Games, Kerry dropped out rather than wait four more years.
"His father wanted him to stay in college," insisted Tom Tellez, Kerry’s U. of Houston track coach, who still coaches Carl Lewis. "Kerry loved to throw the discus, but there’s no question wrestling was in his blood."
It was in all the boys’ blood.
Kevin explained why.
"It was just fun to us to just mix it up, throw guys around, kick really hard. It felt natural. Inevitable."
"Us boys were like watchdogs," Kevin said. "We weren’t dominated by him. We just wanted to be good sons. We just wanted to do what was right. He was the only role model we had. My Dad is a real fair man. It might not look like this with four of five brothers dying (not counting Jackie), but let me tell you what makes my brothers die: I really think we’re just dangerous. We just take a lot of chances.
"My brothers and I were pretty reckless."
(The Von Erichs’ sad saga concludes in New WAWLI
Papers No. 216-2001)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 216-2001
(These are the final pieces in the Von Erich family series.)
(New York Daily News, Sunday, Apr. 11, 1993)
JACK ADKISSON=Fritz Von Erich
Patriarch of the Von Erichs, 63, Dallas’ first family of professional wrestling … Played football and threw discus at SMU … Lineman cut by NFL’s Dallas Texans in 1952 … Entered pro wrestling in ’54 … Joined National Wrestling Alliance (sic) in ’62 … Founded World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas in 1978 … Retired from ring in 1982.
KEVIN ADKISSON=Kevin Von Erich
Only surviving son of Jack and Doris Adkisson, 35 years old … Born May 15, 1957, was two years old when older brother Jackie died of electrocution at Niagara Falls, N.Y., trailer park … All-State in football and track at Lake Dallas High. Played football at North Texas State, 1975-78 … Entered pro wrestling in 1978, beginning legacy of Von Erich sons … Suffered severe concussion during 1987 match when head was inadvertently driven into steel post … Still wrestles professionally, mostly overseas.
DAVID ADKISSON=David Von Erich (The Yellow Rose of Texas)
Died of acute gastroenteritis, intestinal inflammation, in Tokyo, on Feb. 9, 1984 at age 25 … Blue-eyed, strawberry blond, 6-foot-7, matinee idol who was most popular Von Erich boy when family’s popularity peaked in early ‘80s … All-State in basketball and football at Lake Dallas High … Played basketball and football at North Texas State … Survived by wife, Trisha … Divorced in 1978 from first wife, Cathy, with whom he had one daughter, Natosha, who died of crib death at four months in 1978.
KERRY ADKISSON=Kerry Von Erich (The Texas Tornado)
Committed suicide on father’s ranch on Feb. 18, 1993 at age 33. Died of single gunshot wound to chest from father’s .44-caliber handgun, one day after grand jury indictment on cocaine possession charge that could have led to revocation of 10 years’ probation from 1992 drug conviction … Divorced in April 1992 from wife, Cathy, with whom he had two daughters: Hollie, 8, and Lacey, 6 … Mangled right foot in 1986 motorcycle accident. Foot amputated in 1987, before he returned to ring.
MICHAEL ADKISSON=Mike Von Erich
Committed suicide at Pilot Knoll Park near family’s Shady Shores ranch on April 16, 1987 at age 23. Died of overdose of placidyl, prescription drug used to combat depression … Survived usually fatal toxic shock syndrome in 1985 when undergoing shoulder surgery.
CHRIS ADKISSON=Chris Von Erich
Committed suicide Oct. 12, 1991 at age 21. Died of single gunshot wound to back of head from 9mm pistol … Severe asthmatic who grew to only 5-5 and 175 pounds – eight inches and 40 pounds lighter than his best friend, brother Mike … Single.
FAMILY’S PRIVATE PAIN SECRET NO MORE
(New York Daily News, Monday, Apr. 12, 1993)
By Barry Meisel
SHADY SHORES, Tex. – Cathy Adkisson always loved Kerry Adkisson, even after their divorce. It was Kerry Von Erich – the unreal wrestling character created by an unreal wrestling family – that she feared.
"(The Von Erichs) were brought up at a very young age to keep family secrets," Cathy said, specifically referring to Kerry’s 30-day stay at the Betty Ford Clinic, when the wrestling world was told he had an injury. "Everything they did was to uphold a certain image. Things that went on behind closed doors wer kept from the rest of the world. When you teach a child that, to say certain things in public just because you’re a Von Erich, then you lose yourself."
Suicide is a terribly difficult subject for a family to face alone, but Doris and Jack Adkisson never sought professional help when their sons started killing themselves. Not when Mike did it in ’87, not when Chris did it in ’91, nor when Kerry did it two months ago.
"Because I don’t think anyone has an answer," Doris said. "I think psychoanalysts are fine people who do the very best they can with what they’re taught. But I think it takes a whole bunch of birthdays before you know anything. And then you only find out how much you don’t know."
Cathy’s two daughters – Hollie, 8, and Lacey, 6 – are in therapy. So is Cathy, the daughter of an alcoholic father. They all are learning how to cope with their grief.
Asked if he suggested the family seek help after his brothers’ deaths, Kevin said, "I really don’t think we had a problem that needed some kind of counselor.
"I don’t want to sound arrogant, but what could somebody tell me? None of their brothers died, what are they going to say to me? What’re you going to say to Kerry? When Dave died, it killed me, too."
Still, it hurts Kevin to admit the family needed help.
"I wished somebody could have helped us," he whispered. "But I wouldn’t have known where to find it. We drew to each other for strength. Nobody had the Ph. D. that was called for, I guess."
Neither Kevin, his wife Pam, nor their four children (Kristen, 12; Jill, 8; Ross, 4, and Marshall, five months) are in counseling. Kevin says he’s not afraid he might commit suicide, despite preliminary studies that suggest multiple incidents in immediate families might not be coincidental.
"If I’m the only guy I have to worry about, then I’m not worried a bit," he said. "I’ve probably been so depressed during my brothers’ dying that maybe I have wanted to be dead, for a few hours or so. But as far as suicide … that’s a good way for a guy to get hurt."
Doris, 60, lives in Jefferson, Tex., an historic East Texas village 15 miles from the Louisiana border where the taverns in the center of town still hang the Confederate flag. Kevin and his family live a mile away, on a 12-acre ranch where he hopes to save enough money from his overseas wrestling gigs (he’s in Nigeria through April 27) to one day raise cattle.
These two surviving members of the Adkisson family live 180 miles from the only other survivor, Jack, 63. The retired patriarch lives alone in a small two-bedroom house on the ranch where the boys were raised. That plot was his half of the 1992 divorce settlement, the decree that ended a 42-year marriage.
Doris still owns the 92-acre plot across the road, the one with the huge house where the family lived, the one that was donated (along with 15 of the acres) to Baylor University Medical Center. They are both wealthy.
They are both still in pain.
When Jack and Kevin agreed last month to explain is family’s tragic history, Doris consented to an interview she said she would have otherwise refused. The men hoped that this would prove to be another in a lone line of benevolent endeavors that has been a family trademark for decades.
The Von Erichs made millions and donated millions. They generously, willingly donated their time. Kerry, in particular, was wonderful spending time with sick and underprivileged children.
"I only hope that our story can do some real good for some people," Jack said.
It already has. On March 25, a woman named Pamela Digby brought two of her children to Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas. Gina, 20, and Jared, 10, are huge wrestling fans who wanted to see Kerry Von Erich’s grave.
Their mother thought it was a good idea, since Jared’s grandfather had died and Jared was afraid to visit the plot. Jared is terminally ill and his mother wants to prepare him for death.
The Digbys stopped first at their grandfather’s plot. Jared stayed behind. Then they visited the Von Erichs’ site. The 13 bouquets of fresh flowers and love notes offered silent testimony to the sons’ enduring popularity.
Jared shyly approached Kerry’s plot. He noticed the angel on a tombstone. And when he turned to his mother, he summoned the courage to say, "I’m ready to go back to Papa’s grave."
CLARA DEFEATS RITA BEFORE FULL HOUSE
(San Bernardino County Sun, Saturday, January 16, 1943)
Clara Mortensen probably will continue to rule as the queen of lightweight wrestlers for an indefinite period.
She vanquished pretty Rita Hernandez, claimant to the championship of Mexico, in 18 minutes and 20 seconds last night before a capacity crowd of nearly 2,000 fans at the San Bernardino Club.
The first women’s wrestling championship in more than three years in this city resulted in several hundred fans being turned away, and it was twice necessary to halt matches to try and clear the congested aisles.
The girls’ scuffle was fast and not without a bit of rough tactics in which it seemed that Clara excelled although Rita retaliated in the hair pulling and face slapping.
Wrestling at top speed, the advantage seemed a bit in favor of the national champion but Rita was able to secure several good holds and gave an excellent account of herself.
Securing a flying body scissors off the ropes, Clara pinned her opponent to the mat and then applying a body press won the one-fall match.
In the final match on the card, Rube Wright won two of the three falls from Hans Schnabel of Milwaukee.
Wright lost the first fall to Schnabel as the result of a body block and press. Schnabel was the aggressor during the larger part of the 13-minute tussle.
Wright won the next two falls, both featured by a series of heavy elbow smashes and rough tactics.
Using the famed O’Mahoney Irish whip, a hand stretch, Wright tossed Schnabel to the mat several times before applying a press to win the fall in 10 minutes. The final fall went to Wright following a barrage of elbow smashes and back hand jolts, then a body press.
Mike Mazurki matched Wee Willie Davis’ roughhouse wrestling and won in 20 minutes and 50 seconds with a series of elbow smashes and a body slam.
In the opening encounter, Hardy Kruskamp won from Leo (Speedy)
Mortensen, a brother of Clara, in 15 minutes and 25 seconds with a body slam.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 217-2001
BLOODY GLORY IN A MASK
(Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2001)
By Richard Marosi
But to lose his mask was to lose something of himself.
According to the strange honor code that guides lucha libre -- literally "free fight" -- a wrestler's identity vanishes when he is unmasked. Camera flashes light the arena, and the wrestler's face appears in newspapers across Mexico. For fans, it's like watching a superhero being stripped of magical powers.
Cartoonish melodrama, true. But the matches can blend gripping morality tales and biting social commentary. The spectators boo wrestlers costumed as border patrolmen or Los Angeles police officers. When the Mexican economy was reeling, one tag-team appeared as the Dollar and the Peso. The Dollar was a muscular giant, the Peso a 3-foot-tall midget.
And while American wrestling's popularity seems to have peaked, lucha's appeal has stayed strong. It continues to pack arenas across Mexico, fueled by growing TV coverage, splashy magazines and, now, fan Web sites.
Mexican fans love their wrestlers for life, allowing some pudgy and balding stars to grapple well into their 50s. For the mostly working-class fans, lucha ranks as the ultimate in escapist entertainment, especially in hard economic times such as these.
Santos' career captures lucha in all its dopey glory. A native of Mexico now living in Montebello, the 38-year-old has wrestled in dingy rings on both sides of the border, fighting under the moniker Kiss, pronounced Keess in Spanish.
Though his aging body aches, and the rules of lucha forbid him from wearing the mask again, Santos keeps fighting. He's even become a promoter in Los Angeles, struggling along with his ex-wrestler wife and three boys to keep alive their never-ending show biz dreams.
The floor may sag and the ring posts bend, but for lucha's fans and wrestlers, the mat's thrills play out week after week.
And even an unassuming man such as Santos can reach for greatness, at least as lucha defines it. Because if you make it in lucha, you won't just be a star. Soccer players can be stars. But a luchador, improbable as it sounds, can also be a hero.
No wonder Santos--who usually discards the formal "de los" of his name--succinctly summed up his career one night for a Tijuana taxi driver. The driver took in Santos' bulk and battered face. Was he a luchador?
"Por la vida," Santos shot back.
Center ring sits in the Salon El Rey, a windowless banquet hall in unincorporated East Rancho Dominguez, one shabby block from the comparatively clean streets of Compton.
Barking Rottweilers patrolling fenced industrial lots near the hall greet fans filing into the dimly lit building, one of the few lucha outposts in Southern California.
It is a far cry from the huge arenas of Mexico City, where bouts draw thousands. But on this night, the 300-capacity hall is filling up.
Santos, a barrel-chested man weighing 225 pounds with smooth skin the color of tobacco, is promoting tonight. He serves cheese-drenched nachos to a pair of masked little boys and then goes ringside.
He cracks a perfect, toothy grin. "I have to create good matchups," says Santos, speaking in rapid-fire Spanish. "So the heat builds.
"These fighters up next," he adds, "son buenos." They're good.
The beloved Mariachi Loco enters the hall waving a giant sombrero. His partner is Huracan Ramirez Jr., a blue-masked wrestler who claims to be a scion of one of Mexico's most famous wresters. (Fans have lost count of how many others make the same claim.)
They face Rey Misterio, a body-building bad guy from Tijuana, and the 6-foot, 6-inch Hardkore Kidd, the evening's token white wrestler. The Kidd yells "Viva la Migra!"--Long Live the INS!--and the tiny hall rumbles with boos.
The wrestling commences. Arm-twists and boomerang moves stir the crowd, but the match really starts when the wrestlers spill out of the ring, where Santos has placed the chairs so close that spectators scatter--the men balancing beers, mothers clutching babies.
A longhaired beer-drinker urges on the bad guys, called rudos: "Los rudos! Los rudos! Los rudooooooos!"
A group of mothers then starts a counter chorus. "Abajo los rudoooooos!" Down with the rudos.
Some fans kick the wrestlers. Others hand them chairs so they can continue their beatings. Some spectators double over in laughter.
But then laughs turn to gasps as Rey Misterio strips off Huracan's mask and stuffs it in his shorts. Huracan dives to the mat to cover his face.
A fan throws him a towel, saving his hero from exposure.
Huracan recovers his mask and swaggers with Rey Misterio through the only exit, taking the fight to the parking lot. The audience follows in a funneling stampede that overwhelms the lone security guard.
By the time it's all over--after some hood-thumping grappling on parked cars--the crowd, deliriously spent, files back into the arena.
"What a great match," says Marin Ruesga, who brought along his 7-year-old son. "I love lucha. It's relaxing. Here you forget your problems."
By Santos' standards, the night was a success. So many people showed up, Santos boasts, that he ran to a mini-mart for extra nachos and soda. His profit: $500.
Lucha libre has American roots--arriving from the United States in the 1930s--but it evolved quickly into a uniquely Mexican spectacle.
Although Americans occasionally wore masks for their gimmicky appeal, in Mexico donning a hood became part of the sport's culture.
These days, almost every luchador wears a mask at some point in his career. Some of Mexico's greatest grapplers were buried in their headgear after open-casket funerals attended by thousands.
In concealing their identities, wrestlers tap into Mexico's love of symbols and imagery, dating to the country's pre-Hispanic roots, when Aztec warriors covered their faces with eagle-like masks.
These days, wrestlers don hoods to create character and mystique, taking inspiration from just about anywhere.
A fighting seminarian, El Seminarista, wore a blue mask emblazoned with a silver cross.
Super Pinocchio's mask features an elongated nose. One wrestler even wore a hood bearing a swastika.
He was known as El Fuehrer.
Santos drew his inspiration from the rock band Kiss. Known as El Kiss to many fans, he modeled his mask on the garish makeup of the group's bassist, Gene Simmons.
The name mystified many fans who hadn't heard of the band, but they liked his silver and gray body suit, the mask's demonic, flaming eyes and his fast fighting style. Lucha fused his love of athletics with another passion from his youth in the state of Zacatecas--comic books.
He fought in Mexico, the Caribbean and Japan. Among his proudest moments was the night he was heaved over the top rope at the Los Angeles Sports Arena by the biggest wrestler of all time, Andre the Giant.
It was a 22-man "battle royal" decades ago, and Andre--all 7 feet, 5 inches of him--tossed every opponent out of the ring. "Not bad," says Santos, his brown eyes lighting up at the memory.
In time the hectic pace caught up to him. The fights were staged, but the injuries were real. The most visible scars crisscross his forehead: Cuts, he says, left by hundreds of chair shots. (Insiders say such scars come from "blading," self-inflicted razor-blade cuts to make bloodier bouts.)
In 1998, Kiss bet his mask against his longtime rival, Pierroth, a hated Puerto Rican rudo. He was defeated in the cavernous Auditorio de Tijuana, where thousands of transfixed fans waited to see his face for the first time in almost two decades.
For such a personal moment a wrestler is allowed to select someone to remove his mask. Most want their mothers or children to do it.
But Kiss ripped off the mascara himself and ran from the ring. "I didn't want them to humiliate me," he says.
Like many unmasked wrestlers, Santos' career was never the same.
He became a long-haired rudo and turned to promoting in Los Angeles, one of many U.S. cities where Mexican immigrant populations keep lucha popular. Joining him were his wife and three boys--Santos calls them the "three kisses"--and the family's life soon evolved into a kind of vaudevillian existence.
The eldest--Eric, 18, and Arnold, 12--run the nacho and souvenir stands, while 8-year-old Dolph helps sweep up. Their mother, Angela (La Tejana in her wrestling days), takes tickets when she's not training with Eric, who aspires to wrestle, too. With her husband looking on with pride, she can easily arm-toss Eric to the mat.
Santos' shows feature Mexican stars as well as moonlighting scrap metal dealers, waiters and bartenders paid as little as $5 per match. They once performed in a venue so small that the Hardkore Kidd smashed his head on the ceiling during a leap off the ropes.
After each show, the ring comes down. Santos and his boys shoulder the heavy planks to the bed of his Ford truck. Last on board is the bell--scrap from an old school.
"We're always taking down, or setting up the ring. . . . It's like a circus," Santos says.
A week after the parking lot brawl, Santos motors toward the border in his red 1967 Mustang. In Los Angeles, he plays ringmaster, but in Tijuana he remains part of the show.
Tijuana is the city of Santos' greatest, albeit modest, fame, where restaurateurs still serve him double helpings. But lucha has changed since he took to the ring.
Chair-throwing melees now break out--among the fans. Fighters have smashed one another with fluorescent lightbulbs. And fans hurl anything into the ring: AAA batteries, chili-drenched pork rinds, even baby bottles.
A railed-off pit area separates ring and spectators, but that often doesn't help. Before the night is over, a flying metal chair will strike an elderly woman in the head.
"It's not a fight night in TJ if nobody bleeds," said Tracy Allan, a freelance writer for American wrestling publications.
A timekeeper smashes the bell with a socket wrench and the fight begins: Kiss tosses off his black, sequined cape and charges toward the red-masked Solar.
The mild-mannered father has disappeared. He swears. He tears at Solar's mask. He swats a vendor over the head with an aluminum tray.
Booing sweeps the auditorium, packed to the cheap 20-peso seats with 5,000 fans. They cheer when Kiss's forehead starts streaming blood.
The wrestlers topple into the pit, where a chubby-cheeked schoolgirl, 15-year-old Marissa Arroyo, swears at Kiss and makes an obscene gesture. She then swats him in the neck with her camera-laden black purse.
Kiss laughs ghoulishly, so the girl leans over the rail and spits at him. Kiss spits back, but misses. Then a man in the front row drenches Kiss with his Tecate.
"I hate him," Arroyo says, giggling with excitement. "He's a loser and he's a lousy wrestler."
In a four-hour show featuring acrobatic midget wrestlers and hated rudos from Mexico City, the Kiss bout draws some of the rowdiest response of the evening.
Afterward, fans wait outside the arena as the wrestlers, still masked, walk out of the tunnel. One midget luchador approaches a boy and draws the wiggle design of his mask as his autograph. He is then herded along with three other midgets into a white van that speeds off into the night.
Standing to one side, waiting for her grandchildren, is the elderly woman who was hit when the metal folding chair sailed out of the ring. Her head is wrapped in a bandage, and blood seeps through the cloth.
"It only hurt a little bit," says 71-year-old Rosario de la Cruz. "I've sat in the same place for 30 years. . . . I'll be back next week."
Kiss, a thin bandage partially covering a long cut across his forehead, emerges from the tunnel and slowly walks to a group of boisterous children. "Hola, Kiss. Can you sign my book, please?" says one little girl, holding up a pen.
Less than two hours ago, he was hurling insults and dodging beers. Now, all is forgiven. He puts down his garment bag and cracks a smile, calling little girls sweetheart, asking their names, posing for photographs.
Is this any way for a rudo to behave? Probably not. The most famous rudos don't mingle. After one blond, big-haired rudo from Mexico City picks up his pay, in cash, from the office, he dashes through a gantlet of young men to his waiting van.
"Agarren el dinero!" they scream. "Take his money!"
But Kiss remains with his fans, basking in a spotlight that, though fading, still shines.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 218-2001
11 MATCHES ON GRUNT TOURNEY
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, Sunday, Feb. 7, 1943)
An elimination tournament to determine the San Bernardino county champion pro wrestler will be determined at the San Bernardino Club Friday night. Eleven matches limited to 15 minutes each and excluding any draws will be offered on the full program.
Eleven of the outstanding grapplers on the Pacific Coast will compete in the tournament and this includes a Masked Marvel.
The wrestlers to appear comprise the following: Karol Krauser, Vic Holbrook, Mike Mazurki, Vic Hill, John Garibaldi, Hardy Kruskamp, Johnny Morgan, Myron Cox, Joe Savoldi, Mike Work and the Masked Marvel.
Each fall will be limited to 15 minutes and a decision will be given by the referee if no fall has been secured in that period of time. The final match, which determines the championship, will be a one-fall tussle to a finish.
GORGEOUS GEORGE AND GARIBALDI GRAB MATCH
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, Sunday, Feb. 29, 1948)
Gorgeous George, the blond cutie of the wrestling game, was paired with Gino Garibaldi, a surly Italian, to win two of the three falls in the tag team match against Enrique Torres, claimant to the mat championship, and his partner, Manuel Garza.
The third and deciding fall resulted in an unexpected manner in which Gorgeous George, although not a contestant in the ring, aided Garibaldi in pinning Garza’s shoulders to the mat in little more than two minutes of wrestling.
As Garibaldi was pushing Garza toward the corner occupied by George, the Gorgeous one climbed up to the top rung of the arena ropes, and leaped upon Garzan in the fashion of a drop kick. Garibaldi was quick to take advantage of the incident and fell on the prostrate Garza to secure a body press and the fall.
Garza had won the first fall with a reverse shoulder press over Garibaldi in 21 minutes, but in the next fall Gino beat Garza, pinning Garza’s shoulders to the mat in 16 minutes with a rolling body press.
Ellis Bashara, former Oklahoma University athletic star, and Marvin Jones wrestled to a draw, each securing a fall.
In the opening tussle, a one-fall affair, Jules Strongbow and Jimmy Mitchell mauled each other for 15 minutes when they fell out of the ring where they continued their elbow slugging. Referee Joe Varga counted the accustomed 20 for time outside the ring, but neither quit slugging and the match ended in a draw decision.
A crowd of more than 1,500 witnessed the wrestling matches. Mayor James E. Cunningham was present and the American Legion color guard stood at attention during the national anthem. A final tribute was given to Boyd A. (Musty) Musgrave, nationally known promoter, who died Friday. The club was darkened and a 20 count was rung on the ringside bell.
PRIMO CARNERA GETS MAT VERDICT OVER WEE WILLIE
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, Sunday, August 22, 1948)
Primo Carnera, the big, powerful ex-world heavyweight boxing champion, proved his superiority in the wrestling ring last night by downing Wee Willie Davis and Brother Frank Jares in a handicap match that turned into a wild free-for-all.
Before it was over, Davis and Jares were joined in the ring by Hardy Kruskamp, Ted and Vic Christy and Alex Kasaboski. But out of the madhouse, referee Bobby Coleman (himself the victim of a blow from Jares) raised Carnera’s hand in victory.
Primo body-pressed Jares into submission in 10 minutes, but Frank didn’t like it and took a poke at Carnera during the rest period. The second fall went to Primo on disqualification, when both his foes were in the ring together.
The semi-windup went to the speedy Vic Christy who took two of the three falls from Hans Schnabel, both in five minutes with a flying scissors off the ropes. Schnabel won his fall with a body press in the rough match.
The opener went 20 minutes to a draw, with Hardy Kruskamp and Terry McGinnis turning in some clean grappling. The second match went to Ted Christy in 18 minutes over Alex Kasaboski. Both were in and out of the ring many times, with Ted using a toe hold to finally win out.
GEORGE MIXES WITH TERROR AT S.B. ARENA
(San Bernardino Daily Sun, October 2, 1948)
Gorgeous George, handsome and courageous, has selected one of the toughest wrestlers in the game as his opponent in the feature match tonight, when he meets the Golden Terror in the San Bernardino arena at 8:30.
The only wrestler who has a valet and a collection of expensive robes may give the fans an impression he might be a prima donna. But he is a good, tricky wrestler who might surprise even such a ruffian as the Terror.
A tag team match is also a strong attraction. A Mexican twosome comprising Jose and Jacobo Macias, in their first appearance here, meet Wee Willie Davis and Brother Frank Jares, a pair of huskies in the grunt and groan. Gorilla Macias will act as second for his brothers.
Tug Carlson, a former California Bear athlete, has been matched with Jimmy Mitchell, Toledo Negro wrestler, in a one-fall tussle.
Jimmy Lennon, of Los Angeles, a singer and radio artist, will appear tonight as the guest announcer.
GEORGE, TERROR DRAW AT ARENA
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, October 3, 1948)
Gorgeous George and the Golden Terror each secured a fall in their feature match at the San Bernardino arena, but when the wrestlers were striving for the deciding fall, both were counted out while outside the ropes and the match became a draw.
George had punched and mauled the Terror into the ringside seats. When the Terror returned to the ring George hot the hangman’s hold, pinning the Terror’s head between the ring ropes. But George made the mistake of stomping outside the ring to make the hangman hold secure, and was too busily occupied to notice referee Joe Varga tolling off the 20 count.
George won the first fall in 14 minutes with a series of headlocks. The Terror won the next by butting George’s head into the ring posts, then getting a body slam in seven minutes.
In an exciting tag team match Jacobo Macias and his brother, Jose, won from Wee Willie Davis and Brother Frank Jares. The Macias duo took the first fall when Jose used a body slam to flatten Davis in 24 minutes. The Davis-Jares team lost the next fall in nine minutes by disqualification.
In the opening match, an affair that was fairly clean and revealed the versatility of the two wrestlers, Jimmy Mitchell and Tug Carlson wrestled 30 minutes to a draw.
JOE LOUIS TO REFEREE MAIN EVENT TONIGHT
(San Bernardino Daily Sun, Saturday, April 9, 1949)
Jesse James, who at one time was a protégé of Ed (Strangler) Lewis, now rated with the topflight bone twisters in the mat game, will take on a tough assignment tonight in his match with George (K.O.) Koverly, the St. Louis bruiser, in a scheduled two out of three falls match.
Koverly is one of the most rugged gladiators in this muscle mangling pastime, and his characteristic style of wrestling often calls for police protection.
But tonight Koverly will face a real threat, and Joe Louis, retired heavyweight champion, will be riding hard on the wrestlers.
Promoter Jules Strongbow claims that Louis has had trouble with both Louis has had trouble with both Koverly and Lord Blears and that he is fed up on their antics. It must be clean tonight, according to Louis, and it sounds like a threat.
Koverly fears no one in or out of the ring. It should be different tonight with Joe Louis in the ring and the scheduled three-fall tussle should be a real attraction.
"Sing Sing" Talun, the elongated wrestler from Poland who towers six-feet-eight, has been matched with Duke Madry, a newcomer here. Madry recently returned to the Pacific Coast following a tour of South American where he won consistently. He held the Army titles for judo and ju-jitsu in Japan during World War II. This is also two out of three falls.
Mel Peters, of Oregon, has been matched with Raoul Lopez, of Brazil, in a one-fall tussle, limited to 30 minutes.
In the opening match, also one fall but limited to 20 minutes, Miguel Mosqueda, Santa Fe shop employe and a popular local wrestler, meets Paul Matty, of L.A., who also has been dubbed the mayor of Hoover Street. Both are light-heavyweights.
JESSE JAMES PINS KOVERLY IN TWO FALLS; 1,851 WATCH
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, Sunday, April 10, 1949)
George (K.O.) Koverly applied his rough tactics in his match with Jesse James last night, but with Joe Louis, retired heavyweight champion as the referee, perhaps it was a caution to Koverly.
Jesse James won the first fall in 16 minutes when referee Louis disqualified Koverly for rough tactics. Of course, Koverly protested, but not so vigorously as the packed house of 1,851 wrestling fans had anticipated.
The second fall also went to James after 18 minutes of rough mauling in which James took considerable punishment. In retaliation for the rough work by James, he displayed a few tricks, but it was a series of drop kicks that weakened Koverly for the fall.
It was apparent that Koverly tried all his rough stuff, but it also was evident that Louis did not have a great deal of trouble in breaking holds by Koverly when they were gained by hair pulling, eye gouging and knee jolts.
Sing Sing Talun, the 6-foot, 8-inch, 310-pound wrestler from Poland, had little trouble in taking two straight falls from George Holmes, of Texas. Talun won the first fall in six minutes and the second in five, both with body slams.
Miguel Mosqueda, Santa Fe shop employe, wrestled Paul Matty, winning the one-fall match in 14 minutes with a Boston crab leg hold.
Because Raoul Lopez failed to appear, Matty also opposed Mel Peters, of Oregon, in a one-fall match. Peters won in 26 minutes with a rolling headlock.
FRALEY, GOLIATH NAB TAG MATCH
(San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, December 1, 1949)
Pat Fraley and Goliath II made it two straight wins last night at the San Bernardino arena where they defeated Terry McGinnis and Vic Christy in a return tag team match.
After 26 minutes of rough wrestling, McGinnis was tossed out of the ring by Goliath twice. Thrown through the ropes for the third time, McGinnis was injured so badly that he was carried out. The club physician announced that McGinnis had probably suffered several fractured ribs.
Christy then tried to get the next fall, but after 20 minutes failed to stand the terrific punishment, and Fraley used a series of back breakers to win the fall.
In the opening tussle, Tony Morelli and Frank Murdoch wrestled to a 30-minute draw.
The semi-windup resulted in a two-fall victory for Lee Henning over Vic Holbrook. Henning took both falls with a painful wrist lock, the first in 18 minutes and the next in 9 minutes.
GORGEOUS GEORGE IS SUED BY SPECTATORS
(Associated Press, December 1, 1949)
LOS ANGELES – A $30,000 damage suit was filed yesterday against wrestlers Gorgeous George and Jim (Black Panther) Mitchell and the Olympic Auditorium proprietors.
The suit, filed by attorneys for three spectators, said they
were injured when Gorgeous (George Wagner) George threw the Panther out of the
ring and a "riot" ensued.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 219-2001
(New York Times, February 5, 1924
CHICAGO, Feb. 4 – Battling Siki, the Senegalese boxer, caused Ed (Strangler) Lewis, heavyweight wrestling champion, to jump out of a ring here the other night, it was revealed tonight. Siki didn’t challenge Lewis. Instead, he tried to kiss the heavyweight champion, following the French custom.
The Sengalese refereed an exhibition match in which Lewis appeared. When the Strangler was declared the winner, Siki started to throw his arms around him to implant a kiss on the cheek, but Lewis took it on the run.
WRESTLER CLAYBOURNE MAKES HIT IN HONOLULU
(Chicago Defender, May 1, 1948)
By Hubert H. White
HONOLULU – Jack Claybourne, world famous wrestler, arrived here from California two weeks ago and has become the greatest drawing card of wrestling events given every Sunday night at the Civic Auditorium.
He is one of the cleverest and fastest mat men ever to appear here.
When he made his debut two weeks ago with Maurice LaChappelle, junior heavyweight champion of California, he demonstrated unquestioned ability to use holds and tactics far superior to many of the wrestlers seen here.
Claybourne and LaChappelle wrestled to a 45-minute draw before 5,000 wildly applauding fans.
In Sunday night’s meet with Ted Travis (Christy), Hawaiian junior heavyweight champion and known "killer," Claybourne lost the match only because he made a spectacular dropkick and knocked himself out, while Travis, knocked groggy himself, fell across Claybourne’s body.
The match was jammed with sensational action and the 4,500 fans were kept in a constant state of uproar.
Travis won the first fall when he applied a reverse leg lock.
But in the second encounter, Claybourne came back and gave Travis one of the worst roughing up jobs ever witnessed here. He made a leap-frog spring over the referee and dropkicked Travis. And before Travis could recover from the surprise of his life, Claybourne used arm whips to slam him around before applying a body press to win the fall.
Claybourne was well on his way to a slashing victory, for he had Travis groggy and reeling after throwing him out of the ring several times in the third attack. But when he landed on his head from the "dropkick" he made, Travis was lucky to turn it into a fall.
(St. Petersburg Times, February 10, 2001)
By Jim Varsallone
Ready to hang up the football cleats in the early 1980s, and beginning a career in law enforcement in Tampa, FSU great Ron Simmons met Hiro Matsuda, a man who made an immediate impact on his life and lifestyle.
Matsuda, a long-time professional wrestler and master trainer, searched for athletic talent in the Sunshine State.
"I was working at the detention center in Hillsborough County in Tampa, and right behind the center was Hiro Matsuda's training facility," said Simmons, also known as WWF star Faarooq. "A TV crew was there one day, and I went to see what they were doing. Hiro saw me, came over and asked me who I was and to give him a little background on me. He also wanted to know what kind of health I was in.
"I thought he was out of his mind. Why was this man asking me all these questions? He didn't know who I was, and he had no interest in football. His daughter attended FSU, but I didn't know that till later on."
"I told him I was in good health and asked him why he was asking me all these funny questions. He asked me if I would consider getting involved in professional wrestling, and I told him he was out of his mind. I had just finished playing football, and I wanted nothing to do with any bodily contact."
Simmons, who majored in communication, played football for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League and the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL.
"He (Matsuda) did mention the profits that could come from it. At how much I was making at that point in comparison to what he said, I thought,'Well, it might be something to consider.' "
About a month later, Simmons attended Matsuda's wrestling school. Matsuda not only developed Simmons, the pride of Florida State University football, but also Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Scott Hall and former University of Miami football player Larry Pfohl (better known to wrestling fans as World Championship Wrestling star Lex Luger).
After stints with Florida Championship Wrestling, the UWF and the NWA, Simmons rose to the top and became the first African-American to win the WCW world title.
"There was no question winning the world title set a precedent," Simmons said. "It's no secret. If you look at the older tapes of professional wrestling, what did you see? It was mostly white. The sport at that point was monopolized by whites. Most times blacks have figured they didn't stand a chance. As in everything, there has to be somebody to break the ground.
"There's nothing like the feeling of being a world champion. There's a lot of work that goes into it, and only when you get to that level do you really appreciate it. It's like climbing a 15,000-foot mountain, when you finally get to the top. That's the feeling."
He spent some time in ECW and later jumped to the WWF as Faarooq, a great warrior managed by the beautiful Sunny. Eventually, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound gladiator left Sunny and followed his roots, forming the Nation of Domination with the Godfather Kama Mustafa, D-Lo Brown and the Rock. Then the Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw) were born when the Undertaker established a demonic entourage.
"We weren't really demonic," Simmons said, "but we approached things aggressively and with the mindset that no one was going to defeat us."
Currently, the Acolytes are two beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, card-playing men who love to hang out at bars and brawl. They even formed the Acolyte Protection Agency, providing protection to any WWF star who has plenty of cash and doesn't tick them off. Of course, they don't save the money. They just buy more beer.
"We go out there to win matches and give the people what they pay to see," Simmons said. 'It's fun as the Acolytes, but I'm not advocating big beer drinking, cigar smoking and all that. Some people are cut out for that, and some people aren't. That's not our everyday routine."
Twice Faarooq wore WWF tag team gold. "Bradshaw has been a fantastic partner, and he probably is the best partner I've ever had," Simmons said. "He is a good guy, a gentleman and a great wrestler. He is a very solid person all around, as a wrestler and as a human being."
Simmons added: "We also share stock tips, but those are secret." Bradshaw follows the stock market and has appeared on cable channel MSNBC to discuss stocks.
Simmons, perhaps the greatest defender in FSU history, totaled 25 quarterback sacks and 44 tackles for losses -- both FSU records -- during his career from 1977-80. Leading Florida State to consecutive Orange Bowl appearances (1979-80), he became the first Seminoles defender to have his number (50) retired by the university.
WWF star D-Lo Brown recalls traveling with Faarooq for a WWF show in Tallahassee just a few years ago. Simmons is a legend at FSU. "From the moment we stepped off the plane, people were pointing and saying, There's No. 50," Brown said. "We went to a restaurant, and when we went to pay, the owners said, "Your money is no good here." They treated us so well. It was incredible. He is like a god there."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 220-2001
A WRESTLING DYNASTY
(St. Petersburg FL Times, December 27, 2001)
By Dave Scheiber
LARGO -- They don't own a neighborhood bakery, a pub or a dry cleaning shop. But when it comes to having a nice little family business, it's tough to beat the Poffos. In fact, they've been doing most of the beating over the past half century -- not to mention pummeling, pile-driving and body-slamming, with some flying elbows for good measure.
In the biff-bam-pow world of professional wrestling, the Poffos have been boffo.
At 76, Angelo is head of the clan. He has thinning, gray hair and moves with the stiffness of a man whose joints have taken a few poundings in life. But he still has a chiseled profile and blue eyes that light up when family members visit.
On a recent morning, Angelo answers the door to his shaded, modern condo off Indian Rocks Road. One of his two sons, Lanny, has just stopped by from his unit a few blocks away.
Almost on cue, Poffo matriarch Judy -- tanned and trim at 74 from daily mile swims -- emerges from the kitchen with a plate of seedless grapes for the former wrestling headliners.
Her husband may not register on the recognition meter with such current marquee names as the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin or Goldberg. But for a spell in the late 1950s, during the pioneer pro wrestling days of Gorgeous George, Angelo Poffo was king -- a husky U.S. champ who drove from town to town with wife, making $300 in a good week, and who would wind up in the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Son Lanny grabs a handful of grapes. "I can always count on eating right over here," he says with a grin.
At 46, he still sports the solid, though not quite as brawny, physique from his 1980s heyday first as good guy Leaping Lanny Poffo, then as World Wrestling Federation ne'er-do-well Lanny "The Genius" Poffo.
The brainy nickname was well-founded. In 1988, Lanny self-published a 172-page book of his poetry titled Wrestling with Rhyme. Now, he's working on a book of anti-smoking limericks (he has already written 147 of the planned 300), is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Society and earns a living helping arrange loans for college students.
In the hallway, a deep, gravely voice can now be heard. The fourth Poffo has arrived in his black Humvee. The low-riding, military-esque vehicle stands out in the pack, as does the man who drives it.
In the family, he is Randy Poffo. But to the rest of the world, he is "Macho Man" Randy Savage -- a flamboyant, take-no-prisoners star who, along with fellow Pinellas County resident Hulk Hogan, helped thrust pro wrestling into a mega-million entertainment and pop cultural phenomenon.
Angelo and Judy's older boy -- dressed in black duds that showcase his heavily muscled arms and chest -- is semi-retired from the business that has made him rich and famous. But the Treasure Island resident, 49, remains in constant motion. He travels frequently as pitchman for Slim Jim beef jerky. He recently completed his role as dastardly "Bone Saw McGraw" in Columbia's Spider-Man, opening May 3.
And on this morning, he's preoccupied about his latest project -- a public challenge to former partner and now rival Hogan, with whom he has a testy relationship, to wrestle him at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.
The proposed match would reunite two of wrestling's former greats, with all proceeds going to All Children's Hospital. Savage, who sounds in person much how he sounds in the ring, is irked. "He was on the radio this morning jawing about it, but he hasn't accepted yet. I don't know why he wouldn't jump on this thing. We don't have to like each other -- this is for the kids!"
Still, one recent Savage project has more personal meaning than the all rest. He thought of it in August and finished in November with the help of a local private school. It is a lasting tribute to his father and the amazing feat he performed on July 4, 1945.
In a way, it captures what the Poffos are all about.
Angelo Poffo grew up with little excitement in his life. His parents had come to America from Italy, and he spoke no English when he began first grade in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove.
"I remember, my first day, it got to be around noon, and I didn't know what was going on, so I went home," he says. "That didn't go over real well."
Young Angelo got tough in a hurry, able to defend himself from kids who picked on him. But his immigrant parents were strict and overprotective. They insisted that he stay at home to study and do chores, and forbade him from working out in the high school gym or playing sports.
When Angelo joined the Navy during World War II, he saw his first weight room. He felt like a kid again. "I thought I was in heaven," he says. As a 24-year-old pharmacist mate, his unit was stationed at the Naval Destroyer Base in San Diego. Instead of taking leave, Angelo hit the gym for hours on end, sculpting his 6-foot, 200-pound physique.
He developed a burning drive to compete, but at what? After some checking, Angelo heard about a Naval record that might be attainable -- most consecutive sit-ups done at the fastest pace.
While his buddies went out on dates, Angelo became a human sit-up machine, doing endless repetitions with burning determination. The first time he tried for the mark, he amassed 5,000 rapid-fire sit-ups, and was told he had set the record. But his jubilation ended several days later.
He had used the wrong form.
To be official, the sit-ups had to comply with the standard form of the day: hands locked behind the neck, legs straight ahead, alternately touching right elbow to left knee, and left elbow to right knee.
Soon after, Angelo read of another man who had ruptured an aortic vessel and died while going for the record. Undeterred, he trained for another attempt.
Four official witnesses were on hand in the base gym, and several German prisoners of war were brought over to hold his legs down. He wore them out. Four hours and 10 minutes later, the raw skin of his lower back bleeding into the mat, Angelo had shattered the record for quantity and speed with 6,033 sit-ups -- an average of one every 21/2 seconds.
He had planned to stop at 6,000, but as a devout Roman Catholic who felt grateful he hadn't died during the marathon, "I did an extra 33, one for each year of the Lord's life."
He became an instant celebrity on the base, and word soon spread beyond the Navy. Ripley's Believe It Or Not contacted him, and showcased his achievement in their newspaper strip, and presented him with a gold belt emblazoned with his record.
In recent years, the mark has been bettered, says Angelo, but not by anyone using the old-fashioned, elbows-to-knee, locked-hands style.
Growing up, Savage loved hearing stories of the magical sit-up mark. It remained a source of pride for him throughout his father's wrestling career, and throughout his own. He often thought about finding a way to honor his father in a special way. Then, this year, everything fell into place.
While working out at the 66th Street Gold's Gym in Pinellas County, he befriended Bo Vespi, the football strength coach at St. Petersburg's Admiral Farragut Academy. Vespi invited Savage to speak to the football team at the Naval prep school. Savage looked at the modestly equipped weight room, and it hit him.
Renovate the workout facility -- and have it named for his dad, who had gone to Farragut boot camp in Idaho.
Savage did just that, paying for all new weight machines and weights, donating the old equipment to charity, and, with the school's blessing, staging a ceremony early last month in the school's gym.
Students and faculty packed the bleachers. Fellow pro wrestlers gave testimonials. Lanny read a poem he wrote, and Randy introduced his dad. An emotional Angelo got a standing ovation -- and saw his Ripley's portrait painted larger-than-life on the weight room wall by local artist Gary Smith, inscribed with "Angelo Poffo Powerhouse Gym."
"It was an incredible thing to watch," says Dave McKay, DJ at WQYK-FM 99.5, a Savage pal who hosted the event. "Randy was just determined to do something for his dad, while his dad was still able to enjoy the recognition. When Randy makes up his mind to do something, there's no stopping him."
Like father, like son.
It's fitting that the boys pursued sports with a vengeance, considering their parents met in a gym.
Angelo, having returned home from the Navy, enrolled in DePaul University in Chicago. One day, he slipped on the parallel bars while working out, and his foot whacked the shoulder of an attractive co-ed walking by. "So that was it, I had to marry her," he says.
He was older, but due to the war, she was a year ahead, a sophomore, in college on a diving scholarship. They joked about the mishap, started dating, and were married after Judy's senior year in 1949. It was a hard sell to his deeply Catholic parents, because Judy is Jewish.
"At the reception," Judy says, "all the Jewish people were on one side of the room, and all the Catholics were on the other, and his mother said to him in Italian, 'What have you done?' "
But they survived it and began careers. Judy taught physical education for the Chicago park district.
Angelo, meanwhile, took the advice of a friend, and decided to give pro wrestling a shot. He was strong and determined, and it turned out he was a natural. First came billings at small events and carnivals. He and Judy traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to work with an agent, and Angelo's ascent began. His fights were televised on the DuMont network, but much of his time was spent on dreary long-distance drives.
On one trip, he drove former boxing champ Joe Louis, who had become a wrestling referee, to a match in Minnesota. They stopped at a restaurant, but Louis was refused service because he was black. Angelo brought dinner back to the car so Louis could eat. On another trip in West Virginia, he escaped an angry mob with a police escort -- because he had wrestled a black man. "Blacks and whites could box together, but this crowd didn't like to see wrestlers' skin touching," he says.
Poffo's crowning moment came Dec. 27, 1958, when he dethroned Wilbur Snyder for the U.S. TV Title in Cincinnati. All the while, he and Judy were raising a family. They moved several times a year, enrolling Randy and Lanny in parochial schools wherever they went, to stick with a standard curriculum. The boys loved any chance they could to watch their dad wrestle, but all the moving was hard. Like their father, they learned to get tough quickly.
"Randy would come home from school with his tie off to the side, and his hair a mess, and I knew he'd been fighting," says Judy. "He couldn't take anyone saying a bad word about his dad if he'd lose a match. Lanny was calmer. He'd walk away. But not Randy."
Playing sports became the constant in the brothers' lives. They did everything -- basketball, football, wrestling. But for Randy, the ticket was baseball. In 1971, as a junior catcher, he batted .500 at Downers Grove North High School, then hit .521 as a senior.
And upon graduation, he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals organization as a switch-hitting catcher.
He was assigned to play in the rookie Gulf Coast League in Sarasota, and made the All-Star team his first two seasons. In his third year, his dream of a major league career was derailed when he collided full-force into the catcher on a close play at home. His right shoulder was badly separated. The muscles were torn. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds in the Florida State League in '74, but could see his prospects of ever throwing again with pro-ball power were nil.
So the son of the man who did 6,033 sit-ups in four-plus hours did something unheard of. He spent the next eight months in his own private rehab -- throwing 1,500 balls against the wall with his uninjured left arm in Sarasota.
"I wasn't naturally ambidextrous, but I taught myself to throw left-handed," he says. "I guess persistence was my best attribute. I felt if I can do that, I can do anything."
Savage could still hit, and he was good enough to earn a contract in '75 with a Chicago White Sox farm team as a left-handed first baseman. But he hadn't mastered the vital side-arm throw from first to second on double plays. The White Sox released him.
He was devastated. But there was a logical place to turn. The family business.
Lanny had already made the leap, joining his dad as a tag-team partner. Now, seeking a new career, Randy signed on, bulking up his 6-foot-1 frame to a rippled 230 pounds. "It was always in the back of my mind," he says. "I guess it was in my blood."
Angelo managed his two sons. And when the duo was signed by wrestling executive Vince McMahon in the mid-'80s, Angelo retired.
Unlike his father, who kept his surname due to his notoriety from the sit-up record, Randy sought a new identity. He was the Spider, the Executioner, the Destroyer, Macho King Randy Savage, and finally -- as one of wrestling's main attractions from the mid-'80s to the late '90s -- Macho Man.
Along the way, he won a dozen championships, including WCW heavyweight champion three times, and the WWF title three times. (He even dethroned Lanny for two smaller titles in the early '80s.)
He was known for his flying elbow-drop from the top rope, his athleticism and the eye-popping colors and stripes of his trunks, cape, sunglasses and cowboy hat. The garb was designed by Tampa artist Michael Braun, who outfitted rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge. He knows Savage well.
"The key thing about Randy is this: If your work habits measure, say, an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, he's going to be about a 15," Braun says. "When you're sleeping, he's working. This is no exaggeration. And anybody around him has a hard time keeping up, because he's always moving at a fever pitch."
It's the Poffo way, a relentless determination to accomplish a goal -- from the most sit-ups ever, to throwing 1,500 balls a day to become a lefty, to penning hundreds of public-service limericks and wrestling poems. Or Judy Poffo's boundless energy and calm to keep the family on an even keel.
Back at his parents' condo, Savage grabs his cell phone. He's checking his messages. He's talking to his manager. He's talking about his Hogan challenge to officials at All Children's, where he has helped in various fundraisers over the years.
Soon, he needs to take off for the gym and a daily two-hour workout. But he takes a moment to reflect.
"I'm just so proud of my mom and dad and brother," he says. "As as far as my dad is concerned, I'll never fill his shoes. He was a pioneer who did some amazing things that opened doors for us. That's why I wanted to give something back to him."
A thanks for the founder of the family business .
(RETURN TO WAWLI PAPERS INDEX PAGE)