THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It)
PAPERS No. 261-2002
(ED. NOTE – I’ve been telling you for years that Steve Yohe, whose stuff often finds its way into the WAWLI archive, is one of the most diligent and energetic and entertaining of that rarest of breeds: professional wrestling historians. Once again, after his recent visit to the 36th – some say 35th – annual Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas, Yohe proves me right.)
MY DINNER WITH THE DESTROYER
(posted to tOA message board, otherarena.com, Feb. 19, 2002)
Cauliflower Alley Club
Feb. 8, 2002
Las Vegas, Nevada
Ever since I started watching wrestling in 1962, The Destroyer has been my idol. Over the years, I've been called the World's Greatest Destroyer Fan … mainly by myself, but lately I've had people actually say it to me. It's a rumor I'd like to see perpetuated. I wouldn't bore you any further, but I needed an opening and a way to set the foundation for this article, so that was it.
Every year, I go to the CAC dinners for a lot of reasons: show respect, meet friends, see famous wrestlers, etc., but my main motivation is to spend what ever time I can get with Dick Beyer. Up until the last few years it was a hard thing to do, but with the CAC now stretching the event out to three days, it's become easier. 2001 was really great and my hopes were up for this year.
I arrived in Las Vegas around noon on Friday and spent a few hours with my wife and kid before heading for the Riviera Hotel banquet hall around 5:00. I entered and didn't see Dick, so I worked the room talking to old friends and checking out the books people like Killer Kowalski and Fritz Von Goering were selling. I even spent 5 minutes with the Killer trying to convince him that the WWWF should have used his Nov. 11, 1962 title win over Buddy Rogers to set up Bruno Sammartino's World Title claim, instead of saying Rogers defeated Antonino Rocca in Rio de Janeiro, but Killer wasn't following my screwy idea, so I moved on. I talked with Harry White and the gang for a while and then helped solve the old mystery about whether Buddy Austin and Fritz Von Goering were brothers. (No, they weren't.) Then he entered the room.
Standing near the door, Dick looked great. I had seen him only a few months earlier at the King of the Ring tournament in San Francisco and he had seemed worn out after hurting his shoulder. On this night he looked in top shape. Shaking his hand he told me he had lost over 20 lbs and weighed about 210 lbs., which is lighter than his wrestling weight. With his mask on, he looked like a kid. He said he always tells the athletes he coaches to lose weight when injured and he took some of his own advice.
Over the years we have talked and I've sensed that he hadn't
completely given up the kayfabe ways. I kind of felt there still existed in him
the code that kept him from revealing everything. I understood this and never
pushed my questions past asking. I was happy with anything he would give me.
This night seemed different. A few months before I had gotten a lot of new info
from historian Libnan Ayoub on Dick's stay in New Zealand during 1971. Among the
results, I had found out that The Destroyer had teamed up with the AWA's Dr. X
in tag matches.
Everyone knows Dick was Dr. X, so I figured Dick or someone was having fun playing with fans minds on the other side of the world. He also wrestled in New Zealand as Dick Beyer once. I e-mailed Dick and asked him who was playing Dr. X. His return e-mail said that he would go over the whole 1971World Tour at some later date, when he had more time. I felt there was a good chance he would forget about it. But on this night he brought it back up and wanted to talk.
As the end of 1970 approached, Dick set up tours of Hawaii
(Sept. 30 to Dec. 16) and Japan (April & May 1971). Beyer came up with an
idea where he would take his family and wrestle his way around the world. At
this time he was wrestling as Dr. X in the AWA, so he went to his boss Verne
Gagne and told him of his plans.
Verne said great, "that's something I always wanted to do." They talked and Dick revealed to Gagne that he had a hole in his schedule in January through March. Verne said that Jim Barnett, the promoter in Australia, had been bugging him for years to send him some top talent, so he picked up the phone in front of Beyer and called Barnett. Gagne offered either Dr. X, The Destroyer or Dick Beyer to Barnett and Barnett said great: "I'll take The Destroyer". Beyer said he'd work for $650 a week, and the deal was made.
I asked Dick if Gagne was upset about him leaving the AWA for a year. He said "no." I got him to admit that the world tour was the reason for Dr. X losing his mask to Blackjack Lanza. I asked "why Lanza" and the answer was that Lanza was just lucky to be in the area at the time. I asked if Gagne and he had agreed to a unmasking before he signed with the AWA, and Dick said no. I said, "I thought that was the reason for you switching to Dr. X." He said no. Gagne said he didn't want The Destroyer because "everyone knew The Destroyer was Dick Beyer." In 1967 this was true, but no one seemed to care. Gagne wanted a masked man who wasn't known, so Dick got a standard mask, wore a shirt, dressed in black, wore different shoes and even covered his nose. Everything was done so people wouldn't connect Dr. X with The Destroyer. Gagne had Dr. X sit ringside for three weeks with the mask on, then had X jump into the ring and "kick his ass" (Verne's). I asked how Verne was to work with and Dick said fine, that he was very good. There also seemed to be no plan to turn Dr. X babyface when Dick returned from the World tour. I asked him whose idea was it to have him wear a white mask after the turn and Dick said it was his. I commented that he always liked being The Destroyer better than Dr. X. He said, "Hell, I've got nothing against Dr. X. I made more money being the Doctor than I ever did being The Destroyer." Seems he liked Verne's payoffs. I always felt there may have been a element of shoot to the angle of Ray Stevens injuring his knee (6-3-72) because Dick pulled his mask up to breath during it, but he claimed the whole thing was a work because he was to take time off for knee surgery. He didn't seem to remember taking his mask off.
This conversation was interrupted by visits from Ox Baker and Larry "The Axe" Hennig. He and Baker reminisced about a match in Texas, while Dick and Hennig talked about Curt's new WWF contract, and what good shape the kid had gotten himself into. A meal had been set up in the other room and we moved across the hall with Dick's wife Wilma. I kind of felt I had lost him to the masses. In the other room I started a conversation with Johnny Legend and some other people who wanted copies of the Blassie and Destroyer record books. Then to my surprise, Beyer called me over and invited me to his table. I didn't really want to eat but he said, "Come on, let's talk." As we sat we were joined by Mike and Karen Tenay (Mike doesn't miss WCW. He's writing for the L.A. Kings hockey team and building a new house in Utah.)
Before Dick went to Hawaii in Sept. 1970, he booked himself for a card in Mexico City. He was supposed to pick up visa papers at the Mexican embassy in Chicago but when he arrived there were no papers. The next day was the same. So he canceled Mexico City and flew to Las Vegas for a week's vacation. He then traveled to Honolulu and won the North American Title from Pedro Morales on Sept. 31, 1970. The belt they gave him was old and beat up, so he called beltmaker Reg Parks and had a nice new one made up. While in Hawaii or maybe even earlier, he had a conversation with Peter Maivia in which Dick mentioned the Australian tour. Maivia told him he was going back to his native home Samoa for the first time in 15 years and he planed to book The Destroyer to come to Samoa for a huge international match-up. Dick agreed. In Honolulu, Dick became friends with Billy Robinson. Robinson had never wrestled in America, so Dick called Verne and got Billy booked in the AWA. Billy in turn helped Beyer get European dates starting in June. On Dec. 16, 1970, after matches with The Sheik and Johnny Barend, The Destroyer dropped the North America Title to Robinson and headed for Samoa. Before leaving, Hawaii promoter Ed Francis wanted him to leave behind the new belt but Dick refused. He changed the name to the U.S. Title.
In Samoa he had his big match with Chief Peter Maivia. In The Destroyer Record Book, there is no result. So I asked him who won. He said: "Damn straight I lost. Dropped the U.S. Title." Seems the ring was surrounded by Samoans, who probably had never seen a pro wrestling match (so close their arms were sticking into the ring), and every time The Destroyer put a armbar on Maivia, Dick thought he was going to get killed. Dick said it would take two hours to tell me everything about the match. Anyway, Dick did the job and lived.
Still in Samoa, Dick called Australia and the office told him that he'd been canceled. In Australia, Mark Lewin was a big star and he got Jim Barnett to cancel Beyer. Lewin's dislike for Beyer goes back to March 24, 1967. Lewin was being pushed as the WWA World Champion in Los Angles and Jules Strongbow asked Beyer if he wanted to stay a couple of weeks in town on his way to a Japanese tour and work a big Olympic card versus Mark Lewin. Dick agreed, but told Strongbow that he was doing the Japanese tour, and wasn't in a position to put over Lewin. So the night of the match Strongbow left his booker, Lewin, and Beyer in the locker room and told the two to "work out the finish." It was then that Lewin was told about Dick not jobbing and they argued. The match ended up being a 60-minute draw. It seems Lewin never forgot and screwed Beyer out of the Australia bookings. This may be the only person Beyer didn't get along with in his career, at least that I know of. When Beyer started living in Japan, working full time with All-Japan Pro Wrestling, one of his few losses was an April 14, 1973 job to Mark Lewin in the Carnival Tournament. I asked if this was a make up for the match in Los Angeles, and Dick said no. I asked if it was clean. He said: "Yes," and that it was done because Baba wanted it. Dick liked Lewin's brothers a lot but said it wasn't a good idea to turn your back on Mark. I said I liked Lewin's work in Los Angeles before he started doing all his goofy stuff and Dick just said: "Drugs."
Beyer, still stuck in Samoa, talked with someone (I forget) who got him a few dates in New Zealand and contacted promoter Steve Rickard. Dick flew over and rented a house by the beach for his wife and kids. Soon after he went into a newspaper office in Auckland and gave an interview as Dick Beyer. He wrestled soon after as Dick Beyer and sold out the arena. Then he got a phone call from the promoter Steve Rickard who was wrestling in Japan under a mask as The Devil Butcher. Rickard sets Dick up for a series of main events in which he is to remain unbeaten until February, when Rickard would returned. Rickard also told him he wanted him to wrestle as The Destroyer. All this worked out fine, with The Destroyer defending his U.S. Title vs. Rickard and Mario Milano. The next week he went into the same newspaper office with his mask on and none of them realized it was Dick Beyer. I asked Beyer about The Destroyer teaming up with Dr. X in Auckland and he didn't remember anything about it. I told him my sources (Libnan Ayoub) told me it was Bruno Bekker, and he said "could be." He ended up making $800 to $900 a week in New Zealand because of a deal with Rickard for 25% of the gates. Soon after, Jim Barnett heard about all the sold out cards and asked Beyer to come over to Australia. Beyer told him "no."
Beyer then traveled to Japan (April through May), India, Rome, Switzerland, and Germany (June through August), before returning to the AWA in late Oct. 71. We never talked about any of this because he got pulled over to take photos with Harley Race and Larry Hennig. Race looked very fit, not all banged up like I expected. When Beyer and I sat down again, I asked him what it was like to work with Race. He said Race was great, very solid and everything he did in the ring was for a purpose. He slowed down and talked with respect. He then told me the same story about Race he told everyone the next night at the banquet about a car ride in which Race drove so fast that Beyer had to get out and hitched a ride from a truck driver. I made some comment about Harley's history with speed and boats.
I then realized I was on a roll and could ask him anything, so I brought up his matches with Mil Mascaras. He said "Mil wouldn't give you anything ... if you wanted a hold from him, you had to take it." It wasn't like working with
Red Bastien, where you could flow from one hold to another, it was like a battle within a work. He said it was hard planning the matches because of the language problem. I brought up how everyone loves those matches and asked about the Bombs Away move he did versus Mil to win the 2nd fall in the match everyone talks about on the internet. I commented that he usually came off the 2nd rope instead of the top. He said I was right and part of his answer was that ropes in those days were very hard to balance on and he preferred the 2nd rope. There was also something technical about dragging his back leg that I didn't completely get.
We talked about his handstand knee drop and he admitted that he had some gymnastic training. I commented that no one had ever been able to duplicate the move, with the same body control and speed. "Yeah, but his knee was paying for it now," he said, adding that kneepads late in his career helped, but his knee hurt from landing on it.
I asked him about Buddy Rogers and the figure four and he came back with the story about how he learned it from Lord Blears in Hawaii. He likes to make people think Rogers had retired by the time he started using it, but he learned it in the first part of 1962 and Buddy lasted through 1963. I didn't say anything. I made the point that Buddy just crossed the legs and laid back into the hold, while The Destroyer did that spinning grapevine on the leg to set it. He agreed that he was the first to do that and had in fact invented the move.
I wondered if Ray "Thunder" Stern was similar to working with Bastien. Dick said he didn't wrestle that much with Stern, just the one big match at the Olympic, but watched him a lot when he was first starting. He respected Stern a great deal and thought he was the best pure babyface he had ever seen.
He told me his famous lost tooth wasn't knocked out by Rikidozan or Baba, but happened in another sport. It went by me fast, so I'm not sure, but he may have said soccer. He didn't lose it during a wrestling match.
About this time Penny Banner jumped on his lap and started playing around with him in front of Mrs. Beyer. Beyer told the story about how Penny Banner started with him at the age of 18 in the same Al Haft gym in Columbus, Ohio, in 1952. He said she "almost made me forget about pro wrestling!" Some of his trainers were Ray Stevens and Bill Miller, so I asked him about Stevens. He said Ray was great from day one, that he was a main eventer from the beginning to the end.
He told me a story about how he got his first main event in Buffalo (from his ring record, I believe it may have really been Syracuse). He had main-evented in many places but promoter Pedro Martinez didn't have faith enough in him to base his card around him in Beyer's hometown. Beyer complained, so Martinez told him he'd sell him the main event. Beyer said: "What do you mean?" Martinez explained that his average card in Buffalo did $6,000. He could draw $3,000, no matter what he did, so he made a deal with Beyer that for $3,000 he would give Beyer his #1 heel, Fritz Von Erich, one TV show and a main event on one of his Buffalo shows. Dick had faith in himself and agreed. After mortgaging his house, he gave Martinez a check for $3,000. The night of the card, right before Dick was going to go on with Fritz, Martinez came into the locker room with the check and tore it up. Martinez said the house was $13,000, that Beyer was going over Von Erich and that a rematch was made for the next week. The rematch the next week did $17,000 and Beyer was set as a main eventer. I couldn't get Dick to say anything bad about Fritz and he said he was great to work with.
A fan stopped me long enough to ask Dick if he ever wrestled Terry Funk. Beyer looked over to me and I said: "Yeah ... August 1, 1969 in Los Angeles. The Destroyer beat him with the figure four and then called out for Dory, Jr. to come ringside so he could beat him, too." On Terry, Beyer said he was great but wondered if he got caught up too much in the matches some time. He said he was wrestling him one night and Terry started going nuts on him. Beyer said he whispered to him "What did I do?" As Funk beat the stuffing out of The Destroyer in the corner he yelled: "You did nothing! ... You did nothing!"
I felt I needed to get Rikidozan name into the conversation so I asked if he knew what was going to be the plan in their feud if Riki hadn't died. I always wondered if Dozan wanted to unmask The Destroyer. He said he didn't know about any plan, "maybe Riki had one."
In late 1964 The Destroyer lost the WWA World Title to Toyonobori in Japan, but continued to claim the title in California until losing it to Pedro Morales. This would later set off a series of title unification matches between the Japanese title and the Los Angeles version. I asked him if he had lost the title in Japan without the consent of promoter Strongbow. He said the whole story line was booked by the Los Angeles office.
This brought up the name of Jumbo Tsuruta. Dick helped train him in Japan. I said, "Jumbo was the best of the Japanese?" He said: "Yeah, he was."
Some of the above is out of order and there were many other things talked about: snow in Buffalo, his swim team, etc. It was a great honor to get to sit at his table and watch him eat. He was interrupted many times by fans and they all had their own stories of The Destroyer to tell. He'll listen like he had never heard them before. After signing their photos and books, he'd thank them. He seemed to enjoy every contact he made. He was the same great guy I saw surrounded by kids in the balcony of the Olympic Auditorium in 1962.
I can't remember how it ended. I think he was pulled away by Tenay to go show photos to Sir Oliver Humperdink, who had played Santa Claus to Dick's kids one Xmas. That night I couldn't sleep, thinking about the great time I'd had. The next night I warned The Destroyer that I might put it to paper. He said: "Go ahead. It's all true."
So, I did.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 262-2002
STARS SHINE BRIGHT ON WOODY STRODE
(Pittsburgh Courier, February 11, 1961)
HOLLYWOOD – Woody Strode, the rangy, muscular ex-UCLA grid star and former professional wrestler-turned-actor, has gotten his first carload of fan mail.
Piling up consistently since his title role in the John Ford, Warner Bros. Production, "The Trial of Sergeant Rutledge," Strode’s fan mail became a jackpot of hosannas with his recent appearance on the "Rawhide" TV show.
More than 60,000,000 viewers saw the show, and at last count it seemed that a large percentage of them became letter-writing Strode fans.
Nothing makes a star out of an actor faster than big piles of fan mail … so, now, it appears that the big, 6’4", 210-pound panther-sleek giant is well on his way to fame and fortune.
Up to the time he won a starring role as Braxton Rutledge in Ford’s epic about the Ninth Cavalry, however, Strode had begun to suspect he was the invisible man of motion pictures. Although he had been on and off the various Hollywood lots, playing a great variety of minor roles, the big breaks just didn’t come his way.
Fresh from an outstanding football career at UCLA, where he played end on a team that included, also, Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson, Strode recalls that he broke into the movies playing jungle roles as early as 1940.
Later, he won a role as the King of Ethiopia in "The Ten Commandments," but his principal activity on movie lots was in the "Tarzan" series, and as "Ramar" in the Mandrake series.
"I had a seven-year contract to do the Mandrake films, but the series went broke," Strode says. "Later, after I had done the ‘Ten Commandments,’ Cecil B. DeMille gave me his word that he would use me in at least one picture a year. Then he died. All the breaks seemed against me."
Somewhat frustrated, "Woody" says that he went into professional wrestling mainly to keep the wolf away from the door. He realizes, now, however, that the years he spent on the "grunt and groan" circuit were great preparation for acting in the movies.
Although he played a pivotal role in "The Buccaneer," Strode considers his role as a battle-shy GI in "Pork Chop Hill," with Gregory Peck, Jimmy Edwards and Harry Guardino, as his first and most important dramatic part.
"Jimmy Edwards helped me a great deal with that role. He coached me and encouraged me, and I thought I did pretty well. But all of the principals got contracts after it was released except me," Strode reminisces.
In recent times, Dame Fortune has been kinder.
Two years ago, and nearly 20 years since his first movie role, "Woody" got a big break when he won a role in "Spartacus," in which he fights an epic battle as a gladiator, with Kirk Douglas.
"I would have lost that role if I hadn’t been in shape," he states, "and if I hadn’t had a lot of experience as a wrestler. It took skill to do that fight scene without actually hurting myself or hurting Douglas."
Between assignments on "Spartacus," which took 24 months to make, Strode won another key role in "The Last Voyage," in which he saves the lives of the principals because of his strength and stamina.
His magnificent physique was beginning to pay off for him when Academy Award-winning director John Ford chose him for the starring role in "The Trial of Sergeant Rutledge." Accused of criminal assault involving a white girl, he is cleared and vindicated after a stirring court-room sequence.
It is such a powerful role and so dramatically moving that Hollywood directors, actors and critics were in unanimous agreement that "Woody" Strode not only stands quite tall as one of the film capital’s most striking actors in appearance, but really he is a capable dramatic actor.
Director Gordon Douglas immediately cast Strode for the important role of "Muwango," the "medicine" man, in the stirring Warner Bros. Technicolor production, "The Sins of Rachel Cade."
This moving story, adapted from the best-selling novel by Charles Mesner, details the conflict of religious scruples versus sexual desires in a Belgian Congo setting, during World War II. Angie Dickinson, in the title role, is a missionary nurse, seeking to rid the Africans "of disease and sin," but is blocked by "Woody" Strode as the witch doctor.
No sooner had he completed this role when again, he was hired by John Ford to play the part of a villainous Comanche Indian, in "Two Rode Together," starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark.
"I like the role as a Comanche," Strode asserts. "It not only means I have gotten out of the jungle, but that casting directors feel I can do a greater number of roles effectively."
How effective Hollywood directors feel "Woody" will be in his brightening future, is indicated by his recent assignment to appear in segments of the "Wagon Train" TV series. Also, he is being taped for a precedent-making role as a gun-toting, bad man who draws and fires it out with a villain in a new series called "Gunslinger."
Strode recalls that while making "The Trial of Sergeant Rutledge," Juano Hernandez, veteran actor, called his attention to a scene in which he leads a troop of Negro cavalrymen out of an ambush, and saves the life of his white lieutenant. Few such scenes of the valor of Negro soldiers ever have been filmed before.
"Son, you’re making history," Hernandez told him.
"Well, it begins, now, to look like I’m going to get a chance, really, to make some history," Strode observes as he looks at his tall stacks of mail.
(ED. NOTE – Woodrow Wilson Woolwine "Woody" Strode was honored, both as a Reel Member inductee and as the winner of the prestigious Iron Mike Mazurki Award, at the Cauliflower Alley Club’s 25th annual reunion awards banquet in 1992. He was 78 at the time. Not quite three years later, he was dead of lung cancer. His next big movie role after this article appeared was "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," as Pompey.)
TAN WRESTLERS GAIN DETROIT MAT SPOTLIGHT
(Pittsburgh Courier, February 18, 1961)
DETROIT – The Negro wrestler is finally coming into the limelight.
No, he hasn’t reached the stage of such fabulous men of the mat as Gorgeous George or Lou Thesz.
But he’s on his way up the ladder.
For instance, there’s Bearcat Wright, 6-foot-4 Jamaican who appeared here recently. His initial appearance here was a bit short of sensational, and fans agree that there are few grapplers who can match his style.
It was just last year that Bearcat set an all-time wrestling attendance record of 30,725 fans who paid $89,675 to see his match in Chicago.
Arman Hussein, a fez-wearing Sudanese Negro star, came upon the Detroit scene six months ago, and in that short period of time has become one of the big local gate attractions.
This young newcomer to the wrestling world stands 6-feet-2 and weighs in at 235 pounds. Born in the Egyptian Sudan, he was reared in Detroit but now lives in St. Paul, Minn.
He was a crack athlete in high school, but focused his attention on boxing. In 1956 he was the Golden Gloves lightweight champion of Detroit. Later, he entered the Nebraska weight-lifting competition with a team in Omaha, Neb., and won recognition with his 350-pound "bench press," and squats with 325 pounds in sets of 10.
Like Sugar Ray Robinson and Bearcat Wright, Hussein has developed his intricate footwork by training to the beat of the bongo drams in African-Cuban recordings.
Since dancing is his hobby, he uses this to an advantage in his wrestling and wherever he appears he attracts the attention of new fans with his speed and wrestling ability.
Another tan wrestler among the top-ranking grunt and groaners is Bobo Brazil, the big challenger from Benton Harbor, Mich.
In a grunt and groan performance at Olympia, Brazil defeated his opponent, Dick the Bruiser, but he did not win Dick’s heavyweight crown. That was not at stake. It was his second non-title win over the burly "Bruiser."
He has had three matches with Lou Thesz.
Two of the matches ended in draws, but Thesz managed to take the decision in the third match after 45 minutes of wrestling.
Brazil charges that such top wrestlers as Dick Hutton, Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan, Edouard Carpentier and Pat O’Connor – who succeeded Thesz as champion (sic) – have dodged him.
Brazil recently vaulted into title contention on a TV wrestling match with Dick the Bruiser.
At that time the Bruiser expressed contempt for Brazil’s Ko-Ko Bump, a modern weapon of the game. He dared Brazil to try to hurt him with the weapon.
At first Brazil was reluctant to test his head-smashing ability against the Bruiser.
When the Bruiser continued to shout his defiance, Brazil grabbed him and brought his sturdy head against his foe’s noggin with fearful impact.
Attendants carried the unconscious Bruiser to the dressing room where the ring physician had to take a dozen stitches to close the wound.
(ED. NOTE – Actually, Bobo Brazil had wrestled Lou Thesz at least 11 times before the above article was written, losing nine of the matches and drawing the other two, in such widely separated locales as San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Tucson, Honolulu, Toronto, Columbus, Canton and Cincinnati.)
LAST OF THE FAMOUS CASEY BROTHERS DEAD
(The Kerryman, http://www.unison.ie/kerryman, February 21, 2002)
Paddy Casey, the sole surviving brother of the legendary Caseys of Sneem, died in London at the weekend.
He had celebrated his 92nd birthday just a week previously.
His death closes an incredible chapter of sporting achievements that made the seven Crusher Casey brothers famous not alone in Ireland but also in the United States and England.
It's just over a year since the Caseys were given the Hall of Fame Award at the Kerry Sports Stars night in Killarney.
It was with much regret that Paddy was unable to travel from his home in England to personally accept the award. But his son, Patrick, proudly stood on the rostrum in his place.
It was the first time since he married Agnes Honey of Kilkenny in 1942 that Paddy Casey could not make the journey back to the county that he loved. An injury that he sustained over 60 years previously had finally caught up on him.
Steve, the eldest of the Caseys and the man sportsmen everywhere came to know as Crusher, was to become world heavyweight wrestling champion in 1938.
Paddy held the Irish heavyweight wrestling title for three years from 1936, Jim was Pacific Coast heavyweight wrestling champion in the USA in the early Forties and Tom became British Amateur Heavyweight champion in 1937 just nine days after donning gloves the first time.
Mick wrestled as professional and Jack, the only brother to never leave Kerry, was considered by his brothers to have been the strongest of the lot of them.
Dan was an outstanding oarsman, a sport in which all the Caseys were to assert themselves from an early age.
Paddy's career as a wrestler ended in 1938 after breaking his back in a fight that he won.
That was in Manchester and the damage to his spine in that contest was to leave its mark on him for the rest of his life.
But the accident never diminished his interest in sport.
He went on to promote the wrestling game in England with contests for his much feared brother Mick high on the agenda.
The Irish in post-war London will remember Paddy Casey for the entertainment he provided for them at three clubs he established there -- the Glocamora in Bayswater, the Inisfree in Ealing Broadway and the Shamrock Club in Elephant and Castle.
He began the Glocamora in partnership with fellow Kerryman Bill Fuller but bought him out to become sole owner.
He sold his interest in the clubs in the late Sixtes and all his summers - and indeed parts of his springs, autumns and winters too - were spent in Sneem where he revelled in a revival of the regatta racing that was so much part of his young life in South Kerry.
Paddy often admitted that rowing was his outstanding passion and loved to recall fun and feats going back to his teenage years when he and his brothers were being tutored by their father, Mick Casey. Races against the Mahonys of Ardcost and crews from Whiddy, Bantry, Cahersiveen and Killarney never dimmed in his memory.
Pride of place among all the trophies that the Caseys won over the years is the Salter Cup which the five Casey brothers -- Steve, Paddy, Tom, Jim and Dan (cox) -- won outright in Killarney in August 1933.
They had won it in 1930 and ‘31 but there was no regatta in ‘32.
The organisers told the Caseys in 1933 that even is they triumphed that year they could not keep the trophy as it had to be won in three successive years.
The Caseys, suspicious that an effort was being made to diddle them out of the cup, protested and their case was upheld. They went on to win the race and the Salter Cup outright.
The organisers tried to buy back the cup for £60. But there was no parting with the silver, which has adorned the Casey sideboard in Golders Green for many years.
Steve, Paddy, Tom and Mick won the All-England rowing championhsip in 1936 for the Ace Rowing Club and looked destined to compete in the Olympics in Berlin that year. But they were disqualified because Steve and Paddy had wrestled professionally.
I got a taste of the excitement that surrounds the participation of the Caseys in a rowing event in Castletownbere in 1970.
The sons of Paddy and Steve entered the four-oak gig race in the annual regatta of that year.
Paddy was the cox that day and he was not too happy when the course changed in mid race.
He had been led to understand that the boats were to round two buoys. The Caseys were in front when they discovered the local crew taking a shorter route.
The Sneem men had to change course and give chase. But with Paddy fuming at the stern the younger generation dug their oars deep and almost lifted the boat out of the water as they powered to the front in a memorable finish. Fathers’ hearts burst with pride that day.
Paddy telephoned me from his home in London's Golders Green one night last August to tell me that his two sons, Steve and Patrick and two grandsons had that day won the four-oar race at the All-Ireland coastal rowing championships at Schull.
"It is one of the proudest days of my life," he told me. The skill and will to win was still alive and well and flowing in the Casey blood!
The Casey men got their strength from two sides of the family.
Their father Mick, sparred with John L Sullivan in his young days in America.
John L, whose family roots are in Finuge, was bare knuckle world heavyweight boxing champion in his day.
Big Mick Casey also was a powerful oarsman and spent summers of his youth rowing for the Vanderbilts in Rhode Island. The mother of the seven Casey boys and three girls -- Margaret, Jospehine and Catherine -- was Brigid Sullivan, whose family were known locally as the Mountains.
Her brothers were famous oarsmen who had as a crew member from time to time Mick Casey.
That's how the great Casey story began. Rowing brought Mick Casey and Brigid Mountain Sullivan together. It was chapter one in a fascinating story that is hardly ever likely to be repeated.
We offer our sympathy to Mrs Casey, to Patrick and Steve and Bernadette and Patricia.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 263-2002
BARNES PLAYED BIG PART IN ROLLER MAT SUCCESS
(Springfield MA Union, April 20, 1933)
By Harold W. Heinz
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Roller is dead. A noted surgeon before and after a wrestling career that brought him the United States championship, he passed on at the age of 58 yesterday in Doctors’ Hospital, New York, a victim of pneumonia, but leaving memories of being one of the most colorful grapplers of his time. Roller was one of the most popular mat figures ever to appear in this city.
Jim Barnes, local wrestling promoter, who staged matches in which Roller took part from 1915 through 1921 at Graves Hall, the old Gilmore Theater and the Auditorium, mourned the death of a personal friend last night.
It was Barnes, himself a former middleweight champion, who took Roller in hand soon after the "Doc," as he was affectionately known among friends and followers, had made a name for himself as a heavyweight after leaving Washington State University (sic) where he was professor of physiology and supervisor of sports.
Roller was a topnotcher at the time but he was getting nowhere. He won more than his share of matches to be counted with those in the charmed circle of those in line for title consideration but he was standing still. He needed a certain spark to make him one of the really great matmen of the day.
Barnes had invented the double wrist lock, which up to that time was an unknown hold. One day Roller was telling his troubles to Barnes. Right then and there his troubles were over. Barnes showed him the mysteries of the double wrist lock and Roller left town to go out and take the American title away from Charley Cutler and keep his title for a period of two years.
Roller was born in Newman, Ill., and was a graduate of De Pauw University, where he was captain of the track and football teams. He also was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.
When Roller decided to embark on a wrestling career he is said to have had a $30,000 a year practise in Seattle, Wash. He retired from the mat when 43 years of age after a successful career. His first move on giving up wrestling was to establish a general surgical practise at 260 West Seventy Second Street, New York. Later he moved his office to Chicago. He leaves his second wife, Jane Norris, whom he married in April, 1930.
Roller, who always weighed around 215 pounds, engaged in the second longest match ever staged in this city. He and Wladek Zbyszko went two hours and 50 minutes without a fall at the Auditorium and the bout was declared a draw. The only match on record that went any longer than this one was the Jack Sherry-Wladek Zbyszko tussle at the Auditorium which lasted three hours and 30 minutes.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis was defeated in this city by Roller before Lewis won the world’s title. Others Roller defeated here were John Freberg, Fred Pilakoff, John Olin, among others in a list too numerous to mention.
Frank Gotch, the recognized world’s champion, once agreed to a handicap match in which he declared he would throw Roller twice within an hour. Gotch failed to toss him once.
In his heyday, Roller also was booked for bouts in Europe. While in England Roller trained the gigantic George Hackenschmidt for his role as challenger to Gotch’s title in 1911. Gotch retained his crown, however, the bout being held in Chicago.
Although he put his heart and soul into the wrestling game while he was in it, Roller always kept up with his study of medicine while traveling. Then when he left the mat he made it a point to keep his body in trim by making frequent visits to the gym to play handball.
Wrestlers all over the country always had a good word to say about the "Doc" and now he is gone.
WALLACE BEERY IN ROLE OF WRESTLER
(Springfield Union, August 29, 1933)
Three wrestling bouts in one day, and pitted against professionals in each, was enough rough work to satisfy Wallace Beery when he was making the big championship sequences to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s "Flesh," current attraction at Loew’s.
In one he wrestles for the German championship, in another for the American and finally against old Wladek Zbyszko for the world title.
Other fighters in the huge cast include "Wild Bill" Betts and Nat Pendleton, grapplers, and Jack Herrick and Larry Williams, former sparring partners of Jack Dempsey.
The story, which concerns the wrestling profession and the love affair of a good-natured giant, was especially written for Beery by Edmund Goulding.
PREMATURE TAP ON GONG ROBS MAN MOUNTAIN OF WIN
(United Press, October 25, 1933)
By Jack Cuddy
NEW YORK – Frank (Man Mountain) Dean, bearded, 302-pound
wrestler from Georgia, has two mortal enemies today.
One is "Jumping Joe" Savoldi, a grunter and groaner from Notre Dame’s gridiron. The other is an unidentified scoundrel who tapped the gong at Newark, N.J., last night.
Neither Dean nor the Newark police were able to apprehend the rascal, who struck the time-keeper’s bell at Laurel Garden just when the Matterhorn of the mat though he had Sandor Szabo’s shoulders pinned to the canvas. Szabo is a bone-crusher from Hungary.
In the near-riot that followed, the Man Mountain’s comely wife, Doris, leaped from a ringside seat brandishing an umbrella like a cavalry man wielding a sabre. The buxom Doris whammed the miscreant twice over the cocoanut. Again the flapping weapon descended, but it beaned an innocent spectator. While Doris grappled with his irate individual, the gong-tapper escaped.
Meanwhile, Dean, thinking the match over, started ambling to his corner. He was almost thrown from the ring when the Hungarian hurricane suddenly renewed the brawl. Again the gong sounded, and the match was called a draw.
During at chat at his New York apartment after the match, Dean growled through his black shrubbery that the gong-tapping incident seemed "right funny."
"Yes," chimed in Doris. "It was right funny – and what about that other fellow who tried to burn your leg with a cigarette when you were under the ropes. Did I slap his mouth? Did I scratch his face?"
The writer asked:
"Are you folks related to Dizzy Dean, the ball player?"
With a whistling intake of breath, little Frankie expanded under his green bathrobe like a bearded Gordon Bennett balloon. He roared, "No! No!"
Unruffled by the interruption, Doris raced on. "That’s what I don’t like about wrestling. Everybody thinks they’re just acting in the ring, when actually those fellows are trying to murder my husband. Take that fellow Savoldi."
"Let me take him," snarled Dean. "I’ll ruin that guy the next time I get him in the ring. Why, I’ll … "
It seems that Dean never heard of the "drop kick" when he met Savoldi in a Buffalo ring several months ago. Accordingly, Savoldi planted both feet in Dean’s beard, fracturing his jaw and knocking out a tooth. The next time they met at Buffalo, Dean understood this kick was barred. He claims Savoldi tried a kick and missed, so he knocked Joe down and kicked him in the face. He was suspended.
After reinstatement, he was wrestling on the same card with Savoldi about a month ago at Madison Square Garden. Dean was entering the ring as Savoldi was leaving. They collided outside the ropes and Savoldi fell upon a newspaperman, cutting the latter’s face.
"I didn’t hit him," Dean insisted. "We just bumped. He called me a big ox and told me to go in and take my beating. Well, I was suspended again, and Governor Talmadge of Georgia helped me get reinstated. If I ever get Savoldi in the ring, I’ll probably need a governor’s pardon."
ROBERT THROWS SIKI IN FEATURE BOUT
(Springfield MA Union, October 28, 1933)
HOLYOKE, Mass. – Yvon Robert, French youngster from Montreal, tricked Reginald Siki, giant from Abyssinia, quickly and definitely at crucial moments here tonight on the mat of the Valley Arena to win in straight falls of an unusually clever and exciting match. More than 1,400 sat ini on the show, which bristled with action.
Siki had height and at 220 had four pounds on his rival. Robert encountered difficulty working inside the long arms of the Abyssinian, but once at close quarters gave Siki a busy campaign of it. So cleanly did the boys wrestle that the referee, Ernie Rosseau, was seldom forced to part them.
Siki had Robert on the floor from a series of leg trips, nearly knocking him out on the last trip, but the Montrealer gained his feet and gave Regis an unexpected back leg trip to dump the Negro. Stunned from the suddenness of the tumble, Siki was easy prey for Robert, who used a body press to clamp his shoulders. The time was 19:28.
For the second fall Siki was again the aggressor, but was caught off his guard once more while trying some leg trips. Quick as a flash, Robert scaled off the mat and used an inside crotch lift and body slam to pin him in 6:18.
Dividing honors in the supporting bouts were Tommy Rae, the flaxen-haired boy from South Hadley Falls, and Al Mercier, the pride of Springfield. In his fourth professional start, Rae went all even with George Linehan of Boston after 30 fast minutes of grappling. The former Springfield College athlete never appeared to better advantage and had Linehan on the run a major part of the way.
Mercier outlasted John Spellman and then proceeded to throw him in 15:51 with a body butt and body press. Spellman roughed up Al, but the Home City lad came right back at him. Mercier tried his flying body scissors twice, but missed. Spellman landed two flying tackles, went wide on a third and on the rebound off theropes was downed by Mercier.
Pat Fraley, the New York Irishman, as wild as ever, flattened Fred Carone of Italy in another bout. Fraley was given a hard tussle of it, but used a few short rights to the chin to stretch Carone on his back, and then proceeded to pick him up and slam him down again in 21:07. Chick Rae refereed the first two matches.
ZBYSZKO WOULD WRESTLE WHOLE FOOTBALL TEAM
(United Press, November 30, 1933)
By Henry McLemore
NEW YORK – Football players, with their thick chests and burly shoulders, may be the pride of the campus, the darlings of the co-eds, but to Stanislaus Zbyszko, three times heavyweight wrestling champion of the world, they are just another covey of nudgevvers. Stanislaus revealed his magnificent contempt for the species footballus in a letter to this desk today. Read it, you co-eds, and then go out and fall for a real man! Stanislaus’ letter follows:
"Here is a little proposition which may be of interest to you. If so, please publish and oblige.
"I hereby respectfully challenge any college football team in the country to meet me in a handicap wrestling match for the benefit of some worthy charity.
"I will gladly donate my services and agree to throw each and every member of the eleven in one hour or forfeit the decision.
"Such a contest should attract considerable attention and also draw strong enough to be of material help to some good cause. Almost any time or place will be agreeable to me.
"Due to the fact that all charitable funds are in such desperate straits I think the football players could secure special permission from the Amateur Athletic Union officials to meet me in a benefit bout such as propose without forfeiting their amateur standing.
"I am even willing to take on Yale, Harvard and Princeton on the same night and agreed to beat the entire 33 men in three hours or forfeit the decision. The same offer goes for Army, Navy and Columbia.
"Yours very truly,
There can be no doubt as to what S. Zbyszko means. He believes he can take any football team in this country and, starting with the left end, go through the regular lineup like an old maid through a nudist colony. S. Zbyszko is convinced that he could take the 2,000 pounds of the average football team like Notre Dame took Army.
But we don’t think the idea is at all practical. As Stanislaus suggests, the footballers probably would have no trouble gaining the permission of the A.A.U. But how would they ever get the permission of their parents, sweethearts, insurance agents, physicians and others who are interested in their ability to negotiate the campus without benefit of wheelchair, crutch and cane?
The footballers probably wouldn’t lose their amateur status by such a bout. But they’d be lucky to lose only that , for once Stanislaus got a hold of ‘em, it would be ribs, arms, legs, vertebrae and circulation, and not such an unimportant item as amateur status, which would be at stake.
However, if you know 11 young men who are tired of it all and seek surcease from life’s labors, then communicate with S. Zbyszko, 1454 Walton Avenue, New York City. Day and night phone, Jerome 6-0163.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 264-2002
ALEX MARVEZ INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN SULLIVAN
(wrestlingobserver.com, August 23, 2001)
Considering the way retirement stipulations are adhered to in today's wrestling world, Kevin Sullivan's five years away from the ring constitute an eternity. Sullivan, who lost a storied retirement match to Chris Benoit in 1996, returned to the ring Aug. 18 for Florida Championship Wrestling and headlines an FCW show on Aug. 24 in Coral Springs, Fla.
In part one of the following interview, Sullivan (who will collect on a WCW front-office contract through Dec. 2002) talks about the state of today's business and some of his most memorable moments, including his "worked shoot" with the late Brian Pillman in 1996 and his good vs. evil feud with Dusty Rhodes in the early 1980s.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current wrestling scene?
Sullivan: "It's like anything else. What really made wrestling fun was when the two companies were going head to head. It helped both companies. It helped Vince (McMahon) be creative. Now that he's No. 1, he can do almost anything he wants to do and people will still watch because they're wrestling fans. But I still think they have some of the best talent in the world and I enjoy watching them, but I think there's room for competition."
Q: I know you've accepting independent bookings again. How long do you want to do that?
Sullivan: "I don't know. I really don't. I've still got
another year on my (WCW) contract. I was just sitting around watching sometimes.
The thing is for me is I've only got a short time to do this. It's a short
period for me to do something. I've been sitting on the sidelines for so long I
really wanted to get back in and see some young talent."
Q: So what did you think of the guys you saw the other night (at his Aug. 18 return on a Florida Championship Wrestling show)?
Sullivan: "They were very good. They've got some really good talent. Too bad I don't have a way-back machine because these kids should be working full-time. And I was impressed with (FCW owners) Bill (Brown) and Bernie (Siegal). They were real professional, one of the most professional places I've worked in the wrestling business.
"Progress is a wonderful thing and I can never say I wouldn't want to see a national territory. But there's got to be room for some guys to make a living and have the business progress with young talent. I don't know how these guys are ever going to get that chance. The sad thing is there is so much talent and a lot of good young talent that don't even know they never have a chance of getting picked up. That's the sad thing about not having another company to work for. There's no place else to go unless you can go and work in Japan."
Q: How hard was it to stop being an active wrestler?
Sullivan: "It really was not tough to do. I had done everything I needed to do in the business and been successful. I enjoyed it. It was a wonderful career. And I was spending time working in the (WCW) front office. I still had my finger on the pulse of it."
Q: So what went wrong for you in WCW (as booker)?
Sullivan: "The one thing I don't want to do is finger point. Sometimes things happen for a reason and that reason may not be best for me personally. But what basically happened was (Time-Warner executive) Brad Siegel undermined the people he put in charge. Not me, but he had no intention of ever going with (WCW executive vice president) Bill Busch and the other guys he put in charge that he had make change. He put a guy in (Busch) and used him for axing guys. He (Siegel) knew nothing about the business and it was obvious."
Q: Was it hard to step back?
Sullivan: "It was easy to walk away. I was being questioned on everything. I don't mind being questioned, but not by people who have no knowledge of the business at all."
Q: What do you think your wrestling legacy is going to be and was the Brian Pillman angle the most memorable part of your career?
Sullivan: "I have to think about this ... I'm one who is not going to try and look in my past. It's like Satchel Paige said: If you look behind, someone may be gaining on you.
"There have been a lot of tragedies in our business but to me the biggest tragedy was Brian Pillman. Brian was one of the most intense people I ever met. He had a Jeckyl and Hyde personality. To this day, people come up to me and say, 'You and Pillman must not have liked each other. I'm like, 'Wow.' It was exposed for what it was but it was brilliant. If he was alive, they (the WWF) would be way, way ahead of where there are now. You could have him and Austin and him and The Rock and him teaming with Austin and then The Rock. There are so many variables there. brian told company what do ever live do it amazing."
Q: I know Brian and (Cincinnati Bengals strength coach) Kim Wood thought of the idea of the worked shoot. What did you think when Brian approached you with it?
Sullivan: "I told him I thought it was brilliant. We sat down and came up with the whole thing. We used to talk every night. In fact, it became like two spies. He would call me on a pay telephone so nobody would see him. He would stir s*** up in the dressing room and call and say who was agreeing with him. You know about the inside joke we had about what he was going to do?
Q: You mean tying handcuffing himself to the goal-post at the Super Bowl?
Sullivan: (Laughs) Yeah. He said, 'How are they gonna cut away from showing me. I'm a screaming maniac getting zapped at the goal-line.' Most people would say that's stupid. I say he knew how to get publicity.
"The thing about Brian was is that he's not a big guy at all. He made the most of his talents. For a while he was Flyin' Brian the babyface. The Flyin' gimmick helped cover up that he didn't have that type of personality because the real Brian was a heel. When he took that persona over, he let his real self go, too. The sad thing was he was just starting. If he was alive, we'd be talking about Pillman right now saying, 'Did you see what Pillman did last night?' He had a real grasp on the business. You didn't say, 'Did he win last week or last night?' It was, 'Did you see what Pillman did?"
Q: Obviously, everyone has copied the idea since. What do you think about that?
Sullivan: "Nobody should have done it. It's like remaking Casablanca. It should have been left alone. Nobody believes the s*** that happens with anybody else. It's like a movie that makes it. All of a sudden, everybody jumps on the bandwagon and tries to copy it. It couldn't have been done without two certain types of personalities that we have. It couldn't have been done anybody else but Brian Pillman because it wasn't that he was just working this angle. He was working guys constantly. To this day, if you ask people who knew him about him, most would say he was strange. He was not strange. He was a real intelligent guy. Even people in the company bought the pay-per-view at the time just to see us wrestle."
Q: I remember when Brian made Bobby Heenan swear on a live WCW show by coming up behind him.
Sullivan: "Bobby never cracked but he did then. People were not sure about Brian. That's the unique thing about Brian. At times when we were in the middle of the thing, I wondered if he was working me. And he worked it so well that Eric (Bischoff) let him go from his contract. It was brilliant."
Q: I don't want to make you feel old, but I was about 12 years old when you did the good vs. evil angle with Dusty Rhodes in Florida. Can you take about what went into that?
Sullivan: "It was so simple. I have a thing I believe about wrestling: We're all 11 years old and really want to believe. People always had gone back and forth from heel to babyface, but for me, (fans) knew in their hearts they would never have to cheer me. They could hate me. I was the persona of everything evil and wrong with the world and (Rhodes) was the angel in the white robe. It was the ultimate thing with wrestling at that time. It was good vs. evil. You didn't have to turn on the TV every week to follow it. It wasn't like episodic adventures of today. You knew what the storyline was. I give (Rhodes) credit because he gave me a lot of leeway to do what I wanted to do. I created my own interviews and schtick. It was enjoyable."
Q: You seemed to have a wealth of knowledge about the subject. Where did you get that from?
Sullivan: "I had done a lot of reading. I had been to the Far East quite a bit."
Q: I'm sure with a gimmick like that you've got some pretty wild out-of-the-ring stories.
Sullivan: "I used to tell Brian what I did, and maybe it influenced him a little. I used to wear my robe everywhere. It was a different era then because we were a territorial company. Mondays we were in West Palm Beach, Tuesdays in Tampa, Wednesdays in Miami and so on. If (fans) saw me come to the arena wearing a sport shirt that said Sloppy Joe's with a hat and sandals and I went to the back and put on a black robe and face paint, they would know (it's a gimmick). That's why I used come to the arena already into it. People would say, 'Nobody would do this stuff unless they were really into it.' About the out-of-the-ring experiences, I've had people come to me and say they wanted me to come to seances. It was some real wild stuff."
Q: Another one of your best ideas was the Varsity Club (in the late 1980s). What was the idea behind that?
Sullivan: "The gimmick was the Three Stooges. If you look at it, that's what it was. (Rick) Steiner was Curly, Mike (Rotunda) was Larry and I was Moe. I've got some real inspirational people, huh?"
Q: Obviously, that gimmick had much more success than when WCW brought it back a few years ago with Steve Williams and Mike Rotunda.
Sullivan: "It never had a shot. The Varsity Club worked
because it was done straight. You can't do things like that as a cartoon and
have it work. The Three Stooges worked because they tried to be serious. All
good comedies are like that ... You can do that with three guys today. Not us
three but another three from today."
Q: What would you say your most memorable match was?
Sullivan: "I'd have to say it was the Baltimore Bash (retirement match against Chris Benoit in 1996). I still have people come up and talk to me about that. Those were really serious matches against Benoit ... Cactus (Jack a k a Mick Foley) and I had a match with the Nasty Boys in Philadelphia in 1995. Halfway through, one of the Nasty Boys hit me with a trash can and a board. Finally, I looked up and said (to lighten up). I was bleeding from the top of my head and my knee and they were hitting me with everything. I also did something clever before the match. I'm not one afraid to get an easy pop, so I came out with a Phillies Jon Kruk jersey and had a bird fly out of my hat like Casey Stengel had done a century earlier. Sometimes I do things myself to keep baseball nostalgia alive."
Q: What would you say was the best thing you did in WCW?
Sullivan: "Helping to turn (Hulk) Hogan heel (in 1996). He stayed at my house that night and we talked through it. He didn't want to do it but he did it."
Q: Why didn't he want to do it?
Sullivan: "It's like anything else. Everybody is afraid of change. He made a s***load of money talking to the Hulkamaniacs. He had some people who really liked him, but he realized it was time for a change."
Q: How long did it take to convince him?
Sullivan: "It was that night, but I had to make sure that he did not go anyplace and get influenced by anybody else. It was like I was in the bunker with Adolf (Hitler)."
Q: When and how did you break into the business?
Sullivan: "It was in 1970, and this is maybe why I look at wrestling a little differently. I was wrestling as an amateur in Boston at the second-oldest athletic club in the U.S. besides the one in New York City. When I was working amateur style, a guy would come up and ask if I wanted to work out. It was open mat and this guy was older than me. I started wrestling him and we had workouts together. The thing was that this guy was from South Africa (named Peter Berry) who had graduated from Oxford's business school. While we were working out, he asked me if I ever thought about becoming a pro wrestler. I said yeah, I had thought about it but I didn't know how go about it. Because this guy so wealthy, he was a closet wrestler. He did not want his family to know. He wrestled in England in the lighter weight classes and in Montreal. He set up my spot in Montreal, and that's how I got into the business. It took a guy who graduated from Oxford to hook me."
Q: How long did it take you to get comfortable?
Sullivan: "If you ask some of the guys, I have not gotten there yet. Here's the thing about the wrestling business. Eddie Graham used to say it takes five years to understand what you're doing. For me, it was about five years or maybe a little earlier because I had some great teachers. When I first came down here, me and Mike (Graham) were partners. The other day, someone told me they remembered when me and Mike Graham won our first titles. I couldn't even remember who we beat. I got to wrestle Bobby Shane, which was like wrestling a guy with Brian Pillman's talent. I got to wrestle against Dory and Terry Funk. I wrestled guys who used to use me as a punching bag. There was Jack and Jerry Brisco, Danny Hodge ... I was very lucky to have that opportunity. They guys who are now in the WWF don't have a chance to learn like that."
Q: So what are your long-term goals at this point?
Sullivan: "Certainly I'd like to do something because I think I'm a creative guy. I think I made the most out of my God-given ability. When you look back at my stature and physical limitations, I got more out of it than just about anybody else. I remember when I wrestled Andre the Giant in street fight matches. It was the only time I went out of character. I was in Miami. Andre loved me and all the guys hated me because of that because I could beat the s*** out of Andre. He would do everything he could for me. He would bleed for me. I'm sure Vince (McMahon) Sr. would have died had he known. Anyway, I was on the floor beating the s*** out of him when a lady reached over and scratched my back and screamed, 'Let him up! You're gonna kill him!' It was the only time I fell out of character. I said, 'Lady, he's 7-4 and 500 pounds. I'm 5-8 and 240. If he gets up, he's gonna beat me. Sit down.'
"I think I made the most out of being a student of the business. I hate the word 'mark' because if that's true, I'm a mark. I'm still a big wrestling fan and I think I have a lot to offer still if it happens. If not, I'm not going to dwell on it. The one thing is that being off this long has given me the chance to broaden my horizons and do other things ... I know people will not believe this, but I don't have tapes of myself. I don't have anything of anything I've ever done. Someday I'd like to make something, but I don't even have magazines because I feel if you look back you don't go forward. I would like to do something if the opportunity happens. I just don't want to sit at home and say I have a good idea. I have a wealth of knowledge and learned my job from some of the best (promoters) in the world. I learned from Eddie Graham, Vince Sr. and Jim Barnett. By osmosis, I must have picked up something."
Alex Marvez's weekly pro wrestling column can be found in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Denver Rocky Mountain News, Biloxi Sun-Herald and a host of other newspapers that subscribe to the Scripps-Howard News Service.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 265-2002
CAN PORTLAND’S MOST FAMOUS BAD BOY SAVE PRO WRESTLING FROM THE EVIL EMPIRE?
(Willamette Week, May 16, 2001)
By Zach Dundas
Winnipeg, Canada, sometime in 1968.
The arena stinks of sweat and ambient testosterone. Hundreds of fans pack ringside, eager to feast on pro wrestling's rich, yet simple, pleasures.
They're here to see closed fists smash temples.
Folding chairs crack skulls.
Legs pretzel until joints crackle like campfires.
Feuds, heels, heroes. Foreign objects. Skullduggery and vengeance and betrayal.
Hardly a place for a boy in a plaid skirt.
And yet, there he is. A fresh-faced piece of fresh meat walks down the aisle, sporting a tartan kilt. The kid can't be more than 16. Larry Hennig waits in the ring. Hennig's signature move is "The Axe." For him, this teenager's kilt just giftwraps another paycheck.
The kid carries a basket of dandelions, throwing them to the crowd. The revolted crowd throws them back. A small troupe of bagpipers, all in kilts, walks with him.
The kid is Roderick Toombs, runaway son of a Canadian railroad cop, just crazy and desperate enough to trade a grand royal ass-kicking for 25 Canadian dollars.
By the end of the night, he'll be on his way to becoming a legend.
Eugene, Ore., May 11, 2001.
Three thousand wrestling fanatics shriek, bellow, taunt and cajole in the MAC Court, the University of Oregon's athletic arena, as "Anarchy in Piper's Pit," the biggest wrestling event in Oregon in a decade, unfolds.
Six solid matches of vicious theater pass before a feeling of exhausted anticipation settles on the arena. The night's parade of high-flying offensives, down-and-dirty grappling, evil Canadians, heroic Americans, dog collars and blood has done little to fill the void everyone feels. Where's the man of the hour?
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper, né Toombs, is Oregon's resident wrestling legend and tonight's headline attraction. The University of Oregon's student cultural committee convinced him to come down from his mountaintop retreat outside Hillsboro for a night of "Anarchy."
"They say the word 'anarchy' is real big in Eugene," Piper says.
The crowd's question remains unanswered throughout the entire Main Event. Though the fans are on their feet when U of O graduate Josh Wilcox survives a 20-Man Battle Royal to claim a $5,000 purse, there's a sense of deflated enthusiasm in the air. But as Wilcox, a former Duck tight end, soaks in the hometown applause, his final opponent, still in the ring, steals the bag of spoils.
Then, finally, it happens.
Piper rushes into the ring. Infuriated, he demands the money be returned to the rightful victor. The crowd, momentarily caught off-guard, explodes in thunderous approval at the sight of its hero.
The kilt is gone, but underneath his black suit, Piper wears a heather-gray pocket T-shirt. The wrestler-turned-organizer has not lost his Everyman appeal, nor his hard-knock touch. Piper unleashes a lightning battery of punches to the villain's head. Overcome, Curt Hennig, son of the man who awaited the teenage Rod Toombs in that Winnipeg ring, surrenders his ill-gotten gains.
In less than two minutes, Roddy Piper has re-established everything he ever was, and ever hopes to be. Despite the event's nihilistic name, the message of the MAC Court chaos couldn't be more clear: When it comes to pro wrestling in Oregon, the Piper is king.
Sometimes, it seems every thick-necked mook in America wears a World Wrestling Federation T-shirt.
The WWF, Piper's old employer, pimp-slaps Monday Night Football in TV's ratings war and trades on Wall Street. Wrestlers strut in Hollywood blockbusters and at the Republican National Convention. One ex-wrestler is the actual governor of a real American state.
Roddy Piper helped make all this happen.
In the 30 years since that night in Winnipeg, Piper distinguished himself as one of the greatest ever to kick a leg into the squared circle. In wrestling's musclebound melodrama, he's played trash-talking villain, blue-collar hero and elder statesman. In the mid-'80s, he was key to wrestling's transformation from flea-bitten sideshow to cable TV cash-spinner, wielding a sly sneer, rapier tongue and a deep capacity for punishment.
"Piper began when wrestling had a semblance of integrity," says Marvin Levich, a retired Reed College philosophy professor who used to make a study of wrestling. "He is a very verbal person, and very articulate, and that made him what he was."
"He could work the mic, talk to the crowd, improvise--and he could wrestle," says Rose City Rudo, editor of the Portland wrestling 'zine Polar Bear Vixen.
Serious grappling fans revere Piper as one of the last of the old school. The man himself, however, is unwilling to drift quietly into past tense. "There's this mystique that old wrestlers just fade away," says Piper. "Well, I'm just going to peak."
In fact, Piper's involved in a dizzying array of enterprises. His website, a well-developed look at all things Roddy, flogs videos, advice and goofy jokes. He plans to publish a memoir, with the boss working title If You're Gonna Die, Kid, Die in the Ring. Continuing his career-long rabble-rousing, he's suing TimeWarner/AOL, former owners of World Championship Wrestling, for breach of contract.
The WWF's recent buyout of WCW, its Ted Turner-founded rival, has made big-time wrestling a monopoly--ironically perhaps opening the door for independent operators with guts and drawing power to take the sport back to its grass roots.
"For a someone like Roddy Piper, now is the perfect time to flash his name," opines Rose City Rudo.
If you could have foretold the future to that snarling crowd in Winnipeg '68, young Roderick Toombs would have been the single most stunned boy/man in the house. Before facing Hennig and his Axe, he'd never so much as seen a pro-wrestling match.
After splitting home at 13, he bounced around the shady side of Canada, hitchhiking, heisting food from hotels and crashing in hostels. Somehow, he kept up with two boyhood loves: playing bagpipes (his mother was born in Belfast, his father in Glasgow) and fighting on amateur boxing and wrestling circuits.
Despite his ignorance of the sport, saying yes to pro wrestling didn't absorb a lot of thought.
"Somebody just didn't show up," he explains now. "My amateur wrestling coach at the time--a police officer--says, 'Rod, I can get you 25 bucks to fight this guy, but you'll lose your amateur status.' Well, it wasn't paying a lot."
He asked some guys from a pipe band he played with to accompany him to the ring ("They were proud I was doing something honest," he says). After Toombs' unusual entrance, Hennig clobbered the neophyte, broke his nose, slammed him and pinned him--all within 10 seconds. His face resembling the back of a butcher shop, Roderick retired to the locker room in shame.
"I'm sitting on a bench in the dressing room with my head down," he remembers. "I remember seeing the promoter's penny loafers coming over. I thought he was going to duke me out of my $25. But he said, 'Kid, you did great! How'd you like to go to Kansas City?' That night, they snuck me over the border. I was a renegade in the U.S. and Mexico 'til I was 19."
As Portland's tumescence over Benicio Del Toro reminds us, Oregon starves for celebrity. It is somewhat odd, then, that Roddy Piper, star of kitsch classics like They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown ("I still tell people that one was my evil twin," he says), mostly flies under local radar. Dwight Jaynes used to name-check him in his old Oregonian sports column, and wrestling cognoscenti surely know he's around. Mention Piper to most Portlanders, though, and they're likely to look at you with unexpected delight: "You mean, he lives around here?"
This is probably due, in part, to a certain reticence on Piper's part. Beyond starting Piper's Pit Stop Transmission Center, an auto repair shop on Southeast Division Street, he hasn't really milked local notoriety. Piper's 10-acre spread hides way the hell back in the Hillsboro farm country. Dirt roads twist up a small mountain, past old orchards and new houses. The place with the stone gargoyle in the front yard, that's Piper's.
Kitty Toombs, Piper's wife, opens the door. Piper once described her like so: "She's 4 foot 11...and she's the only thing I'm afraid of." Kitty wears her hair cropped into a spike with one long, narrow braid trailing from the back. Next to her stands Falon, 5 years old with golden hair and a braid like her mom's. Falon radiates almost frightening maturity, polite and precisely articulate as she leads the way through the rambling house, with a detour to inspect a closet flooded with board games.
At the back of the house, there's Rod's Lodge, a cavernous study plastered with wrestling memorabilia. To the right, stairs lead up to a loft office, where Roddy Piper sits at his computer, working the phone.
The smile hits you first. The warm grin contains just a hint of the mischief that made Piper, at various stages of his career, one of wrestling's most effective villains and most charismatic heroes. His voice is a volcanic rumble.
Then you notice the ears, ham-pink and gnarled with calcium deposits.
Piper's arms and torso, while not what they were in his pumped-up prime, are massive. One wrist takes a nasty and unnatural twist, an arm bone protruding beneath the skin. Piper rises from his office chair with noticeable effort.
"I was the first person ever to wrestle with a titanium hip," he says with a laugh. "Shows you how desperate a guy can get."
Wrestling's muse is notoriously fickle, and many who tether their fortunes to the sport end up flat busted. Beyond the Mat, a 1999 documentary, captured '80s star Jake "The Snake" Roberts smoking crack in a motel room; last year, Playboy Buddy Rose served 104 days in Clark County jail for unlawfully imprisoning his wife during a saga of divorce, suicide threats and alleged drug binges.
In contrast, Piper is on solid ground. He free-associates a bit, but his life's epic spills out in a weaving torrent of enthusiastic storytelling.
When he started, wrestling was a patchwork of small-time regional outfits operating at the outermost edge of respectability. Wrestlers comprised a wooly alternative world, descended from carnivals, vaudeville and circus culture. They lived out of suitcases, cars and hotel rooms, throwing down wherever a paycheck might be hiding, speaking a cryptic old carnie dialect amongst themselves. They meted out their own justice.
"My whole education is based on this very brutal world," Piper says. "Every night it was something different. I've been stabbed three times. All my original frat brothers are dead."
The wrestling netherworld eventually would make Piper rich and famous. For a teenager who'd lived on the streets for two years, though, the most immediate payoff came in the form of tough love at the hands of old-timers like Chick Garibaldi and Lord Alfred Hayes.
"I was handy," he recalls. "I had no real family, so if something happened to me, it didn't really matter. If they wanted to whip things up in a new town, they'd have me date the sheriff's daughter.
"What I found, though, was that these guys cared about me in the strangest ways. If I did something wrong, they'd smack me right in the face. But they were right--it was just brutal justice. As dysfunctional as it was, it was better than what I had been doing."
(to be concluded in New WAWLI Papers No. 266-2002)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 266-2002
RODDY PIPER (continued from New WAWLI No. 265-2002)
(Willamette Week, May 16, 2001)
Today, pro-wrestling academies dot the country, teaching hopefuls how to take falls and throw holds. Piper learned the trade in a different fashion.
"They'd beat me up for about an hour and a half solid," he says of the seasoned hands who schooled him. "They didn't want anyone who wasn't capable, so they really tried to deter you. I needed to eat, so I figured I'd take the pain."
Piper proved himself, becoming a young star on the rise. He also learned to live by wrestling's wild kingdom code.
"You can pretty much strip me naked, drop me off in any city and I'll find my way out," Piper says. "I learned the rules--like, never carry a dull knife or an empty gun, 'cause both'll get you in trouble and neither will do you any good. Never break bread with a promoter; that gives them a psychological advantage. Those kinds of rules."
Come the late '70s, Piper was a guaranteed draw. He did especially well in the Northwest, forging relationships in the region's independent wrestling scene that prompted his move here 16 years ago.
Piper could make a splash in a given territory within weeks, drumming up big crowds. He was in demand and sometimes fought twice a night.
"By that time," Piper says, "I was living it and breathing it."
Besides popularity and a crunching workload, the other mainstay of Piper's early career was conflict with promoters. Through the National Wrestling Alliance, the various regional hucksters maintained an uneasy peace and kept wrestlers in line. Wrestlers who tried to buck authority could find themselves blackballed, frozen out of all the territories for transgressing in one.
According to Piper, his first run-in with wrestling's powers-that-were came when he was 19 and distributed a newsletter urging solidarity to other grapplers.
"I took the NWA's circular crest and changed the words to No Wrestlers Allowed," Piper says. "I had a picture of a promoter with his arm around a wrestler. In his left hand, the promoter had a bag of money. In his right hand, he had the wrestler by the nuts. They were both smiling."
One night, when he had two engagements booked in Southern cities hundreds of miles apart, Piper showed up late for the second. The NWA blackballed him. Piper turned to chaotic Third World gigs to make ends meet. He remembers hiding out in a bunkerlike locker room while half the Dominican Republic chucked bricks outside. Then there was the bout in Kuwait, before a heavily armed audience of thousands and many of their camels.
In the midst of this madness, Piper got a call from Vince McMahon Sr. McMahon was a longtime promoter, operator of something called the World-Wide Wrestling Federation. He and his son, he explained, were putting together a new effort to use cable and videotape to transcend the old regional boundaries. Because they were breaking from the NWA, they needed wrestlers just desperate enough to take a risk. Wrestlers, in other words, like Piper.
"He called all the lone wolves," Piper says. "Now you've got 30 of us in a room. You've got George 'The Animal' Steel, André the Giant. You gotta understand, these guys don't care about nothin'."
The WWF soared to national prominence, riding savvy cable deals and the salesmanship of Vince McMahon Jr. It was the early '80s, and the younger McMahon was the first to see the potential of hitching wrestling to other rising pop-culture forces, specifically MTV. Singer Cindi Lauper plunged into wrestling at the height of her brief fame.
A blond surfer dude named Hulk Hogan became the first mega-hero of the rock 'n' wrestling era. In wrestling, of course, every hero needs an antihero, a foil. Hogan found his in Piper.
"Hogan, he was billed as American-made, but he wasn't blue-collar," says Rose City Rudo. "He was from Venice Beach, y'know? Piper was someone you hoped you didn't run into behind the pub after nine Guinnesses. He was a more realistic, blue-collar brawler."
The pair became inescapable; there were lunchboxes, dolls, cartoons. Hogan was the popular favorite, while Piper nurtured a classic "heel" image with his zest for belittling interviewers. Wrestling attained an unprecedented pop-culture saturation level.
"Geraldine Ferraro was running for vice president, and she was going, 'Rowdy Piper, why don't you fight like a man!'" Piper recalls. "Cindi Lauper wins Female Vocalist of the Year, and finishes her speech saying, 'Roddy Piper, you are going to get yours.' I walk into Madison Square Garden, and there are the Rockettes, there's Liberace--and what's wrong with that picture, eh? Little Richard's handing out Bibles. It's a circus."
That circus reached its highly lucrative crescendo in the spring of 1985 with the first Wrestlemania, an extravaganza billed as the wrestling equivalent of the Super Bowl. Piper's hilariously vitriolic feud with Hogan and Mr. T, at the time a bona-fide TV star, came to a head in the Main Event. Though Piper and his tag-team partner Paul Orndorff lost the showdown, wrestling's new gold standard had been set.
"Hogan and I were the original lab rats," says Piper of his old rival, now friend. "If somebody recognizes me, it's like, 'That is the guy who started Wrestlemania.' For kids who aren't even 19 yet, that's like saying, 'Oh yeah, he started the Super Bowl.'"
Piper says he sometimes barely recognizes the sex-fueled beast wrestling has become, with its stadium-rock pyrotechnics and invitations to "suck it."
In Piper's opinion, McMahon's operation has deliberately shifted its emphasis away from the talents of wrestlers in favor of a monolithic corporate identity.
"Back in the old days, the marquee would say 'HOGAN VS. PIPER,'" he says. "Now it just says 'WWF'. People get the spectacle, but they don't get the wrestling.
"I watched RAW the other night," Piper says, referring to the WWF's flagship weekly show. "One wrestler comes out and starts telling a story. Another wrestler comes out and picks up the same story. Soon there are six wrestlers out there, just talking. I think 27 minutes went by, and they didn't even think about having a match.
"That's not what I do for a living."
The marketing of big-time wrestling is not likely to change any time soon. Last month, Vince McMahon bought out World Championship Wrestling, winning a long-running commercial cage match. (WCW was the last major promotion to have Piper under contract; hence his pending lawsuit.) Though the two leagues will still compete for dramatic purposes, wrestling is now effectively a monopoly.
Which, to the thinking of some, leaves the iron hot for indie events like "Anarchy in Piper's Pit."
"With Vince holding all the purse strings, pay is gonna go down, and you're going to start to see top wrestlers looking for other opportunities," says Rose City Rudo. "Someone like Piper has the street cred, and he's smart enough, to take advantage."
Sitting across from Roddy, you realize that the real Roddy, self-deprecating and gentle, couldn't be more different from his grandstanding ring persona. When the cameras turn on, where does it come from?
The wall in Rod's Lodge provides a clue. There hangs a picture of Bret "The Hitman" Hart, a wrestler a full generation younger than Piper. In silver ink, the inscription thanks Piper for teaching Hart the ropes, so to speak. It ends with a line from Flaubert, perhaps a clue to what makes a life like Piper's work: Be quiet and humble in your ordinary life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
On the other hand, there may be no need to look to dead French poets for a summation of Piper's still-evolving career. The wrestler himself, while he offers no pretensions to great meaning in his life, says his success is a testament to luck, hard work and devotion to his craft.
"I come from a long line of fighters," he says. "You do get tired of getting beaten up, but my career has been serendipity from the beginning--'I know, I'll wear a kilt and play the bagpipes!' It has evolved into a strange place, but I take it in stride.
"I am wrestling. Wrestling's me. It's all I've ever done."
Live Action Heroes
The glory days of the '80s, when legions of wrestling fans flocked to events promoted by Portland Wrestling, have long passed. Since then, due in part to strict state regulations imposed on wrestlers, scripted squared-circle antics have sputtered along in the River City.
The local pro-wrestling scene recently suffered a significant loss when Johnny Fairplay tossed in New Dimension Wrestling's towel. As a consistent risk-taker, blood-letter and envelope-pusher, NDW could never catch a break in Portland (see "Busted Wide Open," March 7, 2001). "New Dimension Wrestling was extremely frustrating here in the Pacific Northwest," says Fairplay, who plans on moving to California at the end of the month. "Portland is supposed to be a 'wrestling town.' It isn't. There was lots of back-stabbing, as there always is in wrestling, but even more so here. A lot of the veterans didn't respect the fact that I was bringing wrestling into the 21st century."
Still, despite NDW's demise, one doesn't have to rely on the rare Portland Wrestling show, like last week's anarchy in Eugene, to witness men and women adopting cartoon personalities in the name of athletic absurdism. The scene may be in a holding pattern, but it ain't gone yet. Here's a couple ways to get your fix for live action.
Extreme Canadians: If you're one to wax nostalgic for the old-school days of local big names like Ed "Moondog" Moretti and "Playboy" Buddy Rose or would like a chance to check out a few hot names on the independent wrestling circuit, then you'll have to cross the Columbia River. Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling out of Vancouver, B.C., has turned the gymnasium of Vancouver, Wash.'s Marshall Community Center into the best regular local wrestling venue.
Attendance at the shows averages in the 250 to 300 range, with Buddy Rose's "homeboy" status cited as something of a star attraction for the 'Couv. Area talents like "Tornado" Tony Kozina, "Smart" Bart Sawyer and Billy Two Eagles bolster a revolving cast of colorful ECCW regulars. Next show: Saturday, May 26, Marshall Community Center (1009 E McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver).
Organic Panic: From out of the bowels of Portland's underground rock scene it comes: burrito-eating contests, trike races, heavy metal and occasional nudity, not to mention chaotic, unrehearsed brawling that potentially puts both performers and audience in harm's way. And it isn't even "real wrestling" (mostly). It is Portland Organic Wrestling, a kind of high-concept, alcohol-infused art-grappling that uses musicians instead of athletes, spurns the ring for the stage and trades scripted action for on-the-spot inspiration.
Once a month, Satyricon barflies metamorphose into pseudo-wrestlers of appropriately bent character types, taking on names like Harvey Hardcock Hellcat, Doctor Daddy Dotcom and Elvis the Destroyer. Though the physical end of their shtick may constitute nothing more than a series of awkward tumblings, these guys make up what they lack in professional training with cutting-edge personality and flaming mic skills.
That's not to say POW lacks serious action. The meat-and-potatoes wrestling at POW is left to the "real" wrestlers--mostly New Dimension Wrestling refugees who are allowed free rein to interact with the proceedings at hand. Beyond being quick to bash each other with chairs, chains and the odd ladder at hand, these guys can also be serious mic hogs. But who's going to stop them? THEY'RE DRINKING. Next show: Monday, June 11, Satyricon (125 NW 6th Ave., 243-2380).
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 267-2002
GOTCH IN THE KLONDIKE
INTRODUCTION -- During the summer of 1901, Frank Gotch
wrestled in the Klondike. As Gotch went on to become one of America's most
famous professional wrestlers, it is surprising that this portion of his career
has not received greater scrutiny, and this article is an effort to correct that
Admittedly there is the possibility that Gotch took part in impromptu matches toward establishing his credibility, but organized matches would have been held in a theater, gym, or saloon and would have received coverage by the news-hungry media. Therefore the following list of records is believed reasonably complete.
BACKGROUND -- Before and after the Yukon trip, both Gotch and his manager Joe Carroll, who was then using the name Ole Marsh, were members of Farmer Burns’ troupe. While there are some indications that Gotch was simply a happy-go-lucky farm kid out on a lark, Carroll, perhaps with Burns’ arrangement, was pulling what was known as the "badger game." In this oft-used pro wrestling scam of that era, Carroll would show up in a gold rush boomtown such as Dawson City in the Yukon Territory and proclaim himself "the champion of the Yukon." He would then orchestrate a series of challenge and "grudge" matches between himself and other wrestlers, in this case Col. J.H. McLaughlin and Gotch. McLaughlin had been a pro wrestler since the post- Civil War period and claimed the world collar and elbow championship since 1870. Gotch meanwhile was the "ringer." His cover was that of "Frank Kennedy" of Springfield, Missouri, and he was a Filipino-American War veteran prospecting for gold.
Following several matches that drew big crowds and generated lots of wagering, Carroll and Gotch left the Yukon Territory, and in February 1902 they appeared in Omaha for a series of bouts involving Farmer Burns and a pair of "Terrible Turks." Later that same year, Gotch was back wrestling in the Pacific Northwest as "Frank Kennedy." At this time, it is unknown if he made it back up to Dawson City, but during 1903-1904 he was in Bellingham, Washington, where he held a US championship match with Tom Jenkins.
While in the Pacific Northwest, Carroll served as Gotch’s
manager. But, after Gotch went on to defeat American champion Tom Jenkins, world
champion George Hackenschmidt, and all other challengers, he and Carroll parted
ways. Carroll remained in the Seattle area, where he wrestled, promoted, and
managed wrestlers such as Dr. B. F. Roller and Bert Warner. However, in 1910
Carroll was arrested, tried, and convicted as part of the Maybray Gang, a
nationwide group of swindlers led by John C. Maybray that scammed at least
$2,000,000 over a two-year period by fixing wrestling and boxing contests as
well as horse and foot races. In this organization, Carroll’s role was that of
a "steerer." In other words, it was his job to locate suckers and
steer them to bet on a contest. Carroll would assure the "mark" of the
result and then fleece him out of his wager. After serving a prison sentence in
Leavenworth, Carroll returned to the wrestling business and as J.C. Marsh
barnstormed the country, first with Marin Plestina and then with Jack Sherry.
July 24, 1901. Ole Marsh (Joe Carroll) issued a challenge to wrestle Frank Kennedy (Frank Gotch) at catch-as-catch-can style for $1000 a side "in public or in private." Marsh added. "If challenge is not accepted I will ignore all further bluffs."
July 26, 1901. Ole Marsh, "the Terrible Swede," and "the champion wrestler of the Yukon," weighing 190 lbs., and Col. J.H. McLaughlin, "collar and elbow champion of the world," and "champion of champions," weighing 230 lbs., signed articles to wrestle a collar and elbow contest. The first fall was to be in jackets, second fall in harness, style of the third fall if necessary to be picked by the wrestler who won the fastest fall. "The winner of the contest to take all the gate receipts." Marsh had spent the last year touring with Farmer Burns.
August 14, 1901. At the Orpheum Theater in Dawson City, Frank Kennedy, "of Springfield, Illinois," weighing192 lbs., beat Vincent White, "of San Francisco," weighing 175 lbs." It was a handicap match in which Kennedy agreed to throw White three in one hour at catch-as-catch-can style. Kennedy "won all three falls in about 18 ½ minutes." The referee was Ole Marsh. According to these reports, "Kennedy is a recent arrival… for three years a member of the United States volunteers… [he] saw considerable service both in Porto Rico and the Philippines.…He stated he was here to wrestle any and all comers and offered to take on both Frank Archer and Billy Murdock in the same ring one after another; he would bet any amount of money he could throw Ben Trenneman 10 x in an hour and issued a challenge to Ole Marsh for a purse of $1000 a side." (Archer was probably Silas Archer, a black wrestler known locally as the Colored Strangler. Despite later stories, there is no contemporary account of Gotch and Archer actually meeting.) Col. McLaughlin was introduced to the crowd before the contest, and afterwards, Marsh accepted Kennedy’s challenge "any time, today, tomorrow or in 6 weeks for $1000 to $2500…in private with three men on a side."
August 15, 1901. Frank Kennedy and Ole Marsh signed articles to wrestle in private, "one pin fall, catch-as-catch-can Police Gazette rules…before no more than 20 persons…for a side bet of $1000." The match was tentatively scheduled for September 4.
August 16, 1901. At the Standard Theater in Dawson City, Col. J.H. McLaughlin defeated Ole Marsh. In the first fall, with jackets, McLaughlin won in 7:22. The second fall, in harness, was won by Marsh in 13:22. The third fall, in jackets, was won by McLaughlin in 9 minutes. The referee was Leroy Tozier. The papers considered it "the most interesting and exciting wrestling match ever occurring in this city…a big house witnessed the event."
August 19, 1901. At the Orpheum, the week’s vaudeville performances included wrestling exhibitions between Ole Marsh and Jean Riley.
August 30, 1901. At the Standard, Ole Marsh defeated Frank Kennedy in a one-fall contest billed as "The Great Challenge Wrestling Match." The referee was Col. McLaughlin. In this bout, Marsh threw Kennedy through the ropes and into the orchestra pit using what later became known as the Beell Throw. Kennedy climbed back into the ring but was caught with a body hold, tossed face down, and pinned with a hammerlock. The match ended in 22 minutes. Kennedy was described as "remarkably agile as well as having an exact knowledge of the game." Reportedly $3000 changed hands on the outcome of the match, and "The Standard theater probably never held a larger crowd than that which witnessed the event."
August 31, 1901. At the Gymnasium, Ole Marsh threw both Yonson, "a big Swede employed at the Fairview hotel," and Jean Riley. Marsh had bet $50 he could toss the pair within 5 minutes; Yonson lasted 45 seconds, Riley lasted a little over a minute. The referee was Jack Merritt.
September 7, 1901. Ole Marsh issues a statement in which he said he had wrestled in over 300 contests, " all honestly contested," and "he defied anyone to refer to him as ever being mixed up in hippodrome," adding, "‘When I give exhibitions I advertise them as such.’"
September 13, 1901. At the Savoy Theater in Dawson City, Ole Marsh again beat Frank Kennedy. The promoter was John Mulligan and the referee was Col. McLaughlin, and the prize was $1000 Kennedy won the first fall at 14:20. According to the papers, Kennedy had Marsh clearly pinned three times before the referee finally called a fall. In the second bout, Kennedy threw Marsh with a flying fall but the ref disallowed it despite the protests of Kennedy and his seconds. Then Marsh pinned Kennedy with a half Nelson to take the fall in 11:31. Marsh gained the third fall in 29:20, after feinting with a hammerlock and then again using a half Nelson. "Some peculiar things happened during the progress of the match," said the paper, to include "the evidence of money ready to be wagered on Marsh even after he lost the fall…[and] Kennedy disappointing his friends by not using many locks which it is known he is thoroughly familiar with. To those who won money on the event the go was perfectly satisfactory…Those who lost on Kennedy, however, tell another story… In all matches there are many people who cry ‘fake’ and no few of them are doing so today…If it should be shown that the go was a hippodrome the victims can console themselves with the reflection that they lost money against a game which for cleverness of work and detail of preceding events has never been equaled in the history of the sport…Kennedy says that in the event of his winning the contest he would challenge Frank Slavin to box a 15- round go for a purse of $1000 a side, the winner to take all, including the gate receipts….By the way who is Kennedy?"
September 17, 1901. Kennedy claimed to have been "robbed" in his second match with Marsh and called referee McLaughlin "crazy," saying, "He evidently don’t know what a pinfall is." Kennedy further reiterated his challenge to box Slavin.
September 17, 1901. Articles were signed for a match to be held September 26 at the Orpheum between Jack Young "of Quincy, Illinois" and Zink Swanson, "the Nanaimo lad," to determine the welterweight wrestling championship of the Yukon. Young issued a sweeping challenge to face anyone in the Yukon within seven pounds of his weight for $1000 a side.
September 18, 1901. At the Bonanza Saloon in Dawson City, Frank Kennedy and Frank Slavin met to sign articles of agreement for their upcoming boxing match, which was to be "15 rounds to a decision, under Marquis of Queensbury rules… At one time it looked as though the match was off as Slavin insisted on making a side bet which Kennedy was not prepared to cover. The latter said that in the event of his winning the coming wrestling match [a three man tournament with Marsh and McLaughlin] he would put up all the money less $150, the same to be applied to his passage out of the country and further that he would agree to box Slavin winner take all."
September 21, 1901. At the New Savoy Theater in Dawson City, a "three cornered contest," billed as "The Biggest Event in the History of Dawson," was held. The match was "to decide the best man. Five styles of wrestling Graeco-Roman, catch-as-catch-can, collar and elbow, sidehold, Cornish." The participants were Frank Kennedy, Ole Marsh, and "the mighty" Col. McLaughlin. The referee was Leroy Tozier, and the rules called for the three men to wrestle alternatively with styles decided by ballot until one man had been thrown twice, the remaining two to wrestle in the final. If one contestant gained two falls he drew a bye until one of the others had been eliminated. In the first fall, McLaughlin beat Marsh, collar and elbow with jackets, in minutes, using a cross buttock throw. In the second fall, Kennedy threw McLaughlin, Cornish style with jackets ("this style of wrestling allows the free use of the hands to any grip on the jacket."). Kennedy’s technique involved pulling the jacket over McLaughlin’s head, then choking him to his knees. McLaughlin broke free and regained his feet, only to be taken down and rolled for a pin. In the third fall, Marsh beat Kennedy in catch in 4:05. Both men were very aggressive, but Marsh took Kennedy with a rush, secured a back arm hold, and pinned him. In the fourth fall, Marsh defeated McLaughlin in sidehold. In this method of wrestling, the men each wore a belt and a ring, and had to grasp the belt and ring worn by the other. Marsh used a hip roll to throw the Colonel, thus eliminating him from the contest. This led to some confusion, however, as Marsh had two victories and one loss, McLaughlin had one win and two losses, and Kennedy had one win and one loss. Therefore Kennedy volunteered to face McLaughlin in Greco-Roman style, stipulating that if he lost, he would get another chance. In this fifth all, Kennedy beat McLaughlin in the Greco-Roman style, in which there were "no leg holds allowed." "At last McLaughlin went to the mat and there suffered a furious onslaught, Kennedy getting in the roughest kind of work, one arm choke lock, chin hold and finally threw him with a half-hammerlock." In the sixth fall, Kennedy beat Marsh at catch. Both men were aggressive throughout, "rushing, tossing each other into ropes…Kennedy lifted the Swede bodily and by sheer strength threw him on the mat. Like a tiger he was on top and then followed a fierce struggle in which Kennedy exhausted himself with violent lunges… catching a waist hold he bore Marsh to the mat with a Cornish heave, then changing to crotch lock…brought him to a bridge…Ole threw his leg over the rope and held on…notwithstanding the repeated cries of Kennedy the referee failed to see the move…Marsh broke away before the discovery…Kennedy… tore after his man like a maddened bull, hurling him in the air…forcing him to the ropes, dashing him to the mat he got a half Nelson" and worked it into a pin. Kennedy was proclaimed " the champion of champions." Marsh acknowledged his defeat and said he would make no claim to being "robbed." "The men will probably never meet again in this country," said the paper, "as Kennedy will go outside, after his match with Slavin."
September 24, 1901. Col. J.H. McLaughlin challenged Kennedy to wrestle " a fair, square match, collar and elbow…for the entire gate receipts of the house." He further offered to give Kennedy $100 if Kennedy gained even one fall.
September 25, 1901. Frank "Paddy" Slavin boxed Frank "The Young Hercules" Kennedy at the New Savoy Theater in Dawson City. It was a 15 Round Glove Contest…No Draw Goes…Winner Take All" affair fought for a $1,000 side bet. The referee was Leroy Tozier. Slavin’s money was guaranteed by Klondike Joe Boyle. Slavin was confident of winning, saying before the match, "If he’s a ‘ringer,’ he must have blown in from South Africa or China or some other heathen town. I’ll smash his face." During the first round, said the paper, "Kennedy was not in it for a minute, as Slavin had him entirely at his mercy from the call of time (although) Kennedy delivered two stiff jabs to the jaw which dazed (Slavin)." In the second, Slavin fouled Kennedy by delivering a blow after the call of time. "Kennedy to retaliate threw Slavin to the floor…Tozier declared…a foul and awarded the contest to Slavin…By the rules of the game the decision was just but Tozier made a mistake for he should have passed it up with a warning as rules or no rules the people who pay their money are the ones who come first, the fighters after. The game should have been allowed to progress and if Kennedy was overmatched he should have been compelled to take his medicine. Who is Kennedy? The question was answered last night by Slavin. His name is mud." In the preliminary, a three-round exhibition, the fighters were Caribou Sinclair and Smith.
POSTSCRIPT -- Gotch and Marsh left Dawson City soon after this match, and in the eyes of some, none too soon. For example, on October 11, at the Old Savoy Theater, Joe Burns beat L.M. Murphy in a handicap match. Both men weighed 135 pounds, and "Burns agreed to throw his opponent four times in one hour."
Burns won three falls in thirty minutes, "then Murphy forfeited, sick from the rough handling of his opponent." According to the paper, the match was "poorly attended, owing to the number of fakes pulled off recently."
As for Slavin’s pugilistic prowess, on April 24, 1902, he fought Nick Burley at the Orpheum for the championship of the Yukon. The result was Burley by TKO in the sixth.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 268-2002
SUBMISSION GRAPPLING/CATCH WRESTLING
By Mike Reilly
(ED. NOTE – Credit Mark Hewitt and Tony Cecchine with much of the historical data presented here.)
For the ancient Greeks wrestling part of life. Indeed cultures pre-dating the Greeks, Egyptians and Baboloyians practiced grappling in some form or another. The Tomb drawings of Nabu created 2500 B.C. show grappling techniques still used today At some point however a new element was added to the Greek style wrestling; an element of meanness; the sport was called Pankration. Pankration was an extremely vicious fighting style. Many matches ended in death or with crippling injuries. Under the "Spartan" rules no techniques were outlawed including biting or eye gouges. Since these matches were also fought in the nude I suspect they also gave a new meaning to joint locks. Some believe that it was the Pankration fighters who first brought martial arts east; first to India, then China. It has been argued that all martial arts are simply variations of Pankration. I would not go that far except to say there is nothing new under the Sun.
If their is one art today that could truly claim kinship with Pankration it would be Catch Wrestling. At the turn of the Century a group of these Catch Wrestlers toured the country in carnivals taking on all comers. Hookers as they were called used a combination of wrestling ability and an arsenal of vicious concession holds (hooks) to finish their opponents. Catch Wrestlers had the ability to fight anyone and let that person walk away amazed, bent and sore - but other wise unscathed - or to be sure their opponent would not walk away at all. One hooker of the early days was George Tragos who trained the great Lou Thesz. Tragos was well known for his vicious streak that ran twenty miles wide and seven bodies deep. One day a young hot shot decided to push Tragos. The brutal Greek caught the kid in a top wrist lock that Tragos drove home before the kid could surrender. The resulting injury of ripped muscles, tendons, ligaments and a separated bone became infected. This led to the kid losing his arm; but it is doubtful that Tragos lost any sleep over the incident. Most hookers were in no way so cruel - but all of them had the skill to be so at will.
This purely American style maybe the most complete of any grappling style. The primary goal of Submission Grappling is submission and everything is aimed at that goal. Every part of the body is a target for submission. Every position a prelude to the end. This art was fostered and furthered by the likes of Frank Gotch, John Pesak, Ed "The Strangler" Lewis, George Tragos and Ad Satell. These men were pro wrestling before the matches were worked - when the blood, sweat and tears were for real. Even when the matches were worked they still required great wrestling skill since the fan's were meant to believe what they were seeing.
TOM JENKINS -- A rough and tough customer to say the
least. An early master of the Catch as Can style. Jenkins lost an eye as a young
child due to a fireworks accident. His wrestling career started while a steel
worker during the men's daily break. Jenkins took on all comers including Gotch,
Farmer Burns and a trio of the enormous Terrible Turks. Jenkins did not win all
his matches however he was the man to really bring wrestling to a point that it
captured the American Imagination. Jenkins was said to be extremely strong with
hard rough hands that could scrape the skin off a man. Most of his matches with
Gotch as considered classics. The last two where well passed Jenkins prime
similar to when Jenkins defeated Martin "Farmer" Burns after his
prime. At 200 pounds Jenkins was a large man for his time. Often over shadowed
by Gotch, Hackenschmidt and others Jenkins really deserves recognition as one of
the great American grapplers. A true legend in the fighting arts.
JOHN PESEK -- When Ed the Stranger Lewis (the second man so named) had the world champion the wrestling world was in a state of flux. Many tough and unsavory folks were seeking to get their hands on the title any way they could and Lewis had more challengers then he could answer. So the Lewis camp needed a "Police man" to protect them against the many threats to the title. That Police man was John Pesak. At around 180 pounds Pesak was undersized. But he more then made up for his lack of size with speed, skill and strength. Some say that Pesak may have been the greatest grappler of all time although he rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Pesak Hospitalized a Burn & Gotch grappler Marin Plestina and broke the arm of Finnish great Armas Laiten. Pesak also Defeated Olympic Gold Medal winner Nat Pendleton in two straight falls, in under 41 minutes with leg locks. Known as the Tigerman Pesak earned his name and his place in grappling history.
FRANK GOTCH -- Considered by many to be the father of Pro Wrestling. Also widely regarded a vicious wrestler who has been accused of paying someone to injure an opponent, coating his body in lamp oil and gouging an already empty eye socket. In his day Gotch cast a Ruthian like shadow on the Sports world.
AD SANTEL -- I don't know much about Ad except that he was a middle weight and helped teach Lou Thesz many hooks. Taking up where Tragos left off Ad added to Thesz's already impressive skills to help create the most dangerous hooker in the last 50 years - Lou Thesz.
ED (STRANGLER) LEWIS -- Some credit - or blame Ed for
ushering in the era of the worked match. However matches have been being worked
since people started to pay for them. What ever else might be said about him I
can not think of any higher praise then to say that Lou Thesz thought the world
The Hookers were an amazing group of wrestlers. They combined the an Olympic level of wrestling skills with a set of devastating hooks. Hookers like Gotch, Lewis and Ad Satell defeated 100s of men in their careers. Many grapplers today boast such records; but with no real evidence they fought anyone but hand picked opponents. They also only count matches that occurred in certain formats. Jujitsu players count Vale Tudo wins; not Vale Tudo losses. But Hookers fought everyone and the rules were always very simple - when you gave up you lost.
Now add to this the fact that the Carnival wrestlers couldn't go to their backs. (no hiding in the guard). It is amazing to think how good these guys had to be. The point of any Carnny games is to get the marks to spend money - to make the game look easy on the surface but to be sure the results were fixed. It was the Hookers who put the fix in. Many of the great champions such as Farmer Burns, Gotch, Satell, Pesak, Lewis, Sputnik Monroe and other took part in the Carnival shows. Sometimes wrestling as many as 30 matches in a single day. Sputnik Monroe comments on wrestling in the Athletic Show saying , "That's the hardest kind of a guy to wrestle ... the guy that doesn't know how to wrestle, because if you wristlock him or something, he does the exact opposite of what you've trained yourself and learned to do in your career. So there's a specialty in wrestling idiots. You'd always try and give him your head or your hand ... You used 'marks' for referees, so they won't count the hometown boy out ... You always had to make them submit."
These were not huge, burly men who would destroy people in 15 seconds. If a Hooker were seen whipping the local golden boy in a heart beat it would discourage others from paying their money and taking their chances. Instead the Hooker had to work the match. To carry his opponent to near the end of the time limit and then at the last moment pull out the win. A good one could make it look like he won by accident. This would encourage others watching to step up and try their hand.
I've never really been that impressed by someone who could come out and simply beat someone fast. Generally this doesn't mean the winner was very good - it just means the guy who lost was really bad. Instead show me a guy who can work a match. Take an unskilled, or even moderate skilled player and carry him for five minutes. Allow him to get you in a compromised position and see if you can recover. Often times with my students or the first time I wrestle someone I let them throw me, hold me down and nearly get submissions on me before I will even attempt to compromise them.
The Hookers style relies on body control and pain. Once an opponent is vulnerable the Hooker seeks to make his life ever more uncomfortable. Body positing and control restrict an opponent's breathing. While torquing them into un-natural positions keeps them from utilizing the strength of their bodies. Caught underneath a hooker sends an opponent into a downward spiral of pain leading to the inevitable end - a painful bone breaking hook.
Today few people practice this style of grappling. Many think it's too mean, or a "dirty" style. However it is extremely effective and will take from any where. Personally I love it. I love that it goes for the win every time. Unlike the BJJ style which waits for a mistake, Catch Wrestler's make mistakes happen. The strive to keep the pressure on throughout the fight looking for the hooks from all angles; at all times. While at Bison Grappling we practice many styles and take skills from any and all grappling styles it is Submission Grappling that we hold the dearest.
I also like this style because it affords me the skills to work a match with someone. Regardless of the persons size and skill I feel that I can wrestle with them at their level. I've wrestled kids and 110 pound beginner women who come out of the match feeling like I really gave them all I had and that they were "in" the match all the way. I've given 250 pound Black Belts the same feeling. Too many arts treat sparring as me against him, you against the enemy. I don't feel that way. I always consider the person on the mat with me my partner. This must be true in practice to allow your partner success. If all you ever do is thrash people you will soon find your self alone. You may be a great fighter, but if you can't work with others what good are you. Catch Wrestling is a unique combination of pain inflicting cruelty and compassionate confidence building.
The person who introduced me to Catch Wrestling is Tony Ceccheni. You can order tapes from Tony or go to Chicago and see him. I guarantee it will be worth the trip
My only warning about this style of wrestling is that to do it you need to be in shape. You have to be tough both in mind and body. If your a teacher looking for a lot of students this is not the route to go as few people - even few grapplers will truly want to play this style very long. Pain and injury management in very important. The difference between Catch Wrestling and Akito is similar to that between Tai Chi and Thai Kick Boxing. If your not ready you will go home crying.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 269-2002
(ED. NOTE – The following article originally appeared in Wrestling Perspective, Volume VIII, Issue 68. Minor revisions have been made by the author, who would like to thank Mark S. Hewitt of Mat Marketplace for information concerning Mondt’s early years.)
THE FOUNDING FATHER
By The Phantom of The Ring
Professional wrestling is deceptive in more ways than one. Although it seems as if it has changed drastically from even, say, ten years ago, in truth it has not really changed one iota. Wrestling follows the same formula it has followed since 1919. While there have been additions, subtractions and other modifications during the years between then and today, the same basic rules apply.
I know the counter-arguments. The same basic formula since 1919? Didn’t wrestling evolve? What about television in the Forties? What about the cable television revolution? What about Pay-Per-View? What about Vince McMahon? What about merchandising? What about... yada, yada, yada.
My reply is this: modern professional wrestling was the brainchild of one lone genius. That genius was Joseph "Toots" Mondt.
One of the paradoxes of professional wrestling as we know it today was that it did not evolve from earlier forms. The idea of modern wrestling sprang full-blown from the head of Mondt like Athena from Zeus. The other, seamier (if that is possible) side of wrestling, promoter politics, while not invented by Mondt, was nevertheless refined by him into the Fine Art of the Screw Job. Many an "ingrate" wrestler was cheated of his rightful purse or glory because a) he refused to play along; (b) he was demanding too much money (i.e., his just share); or (c) expediency. One must therefore imagine Mondt’s utter surprise when the same thing was done to him by one of his prize pupils. His reaction? Just like one of the boys. Sit back and take orders from the new boss. The monster he had helped create claimed him as another of its many victims.
Before we examine his achievement, let’s first examine Mondt himself. Toots was born Joseph Raymond Mondt on a farm in Iowa in 1886. Where in Iowa Toots never made clear, although he would often bill himself from Humboldt, as did probably every other wrestler who hailed from Iowa. At any rate, Mondt’s father went broke as an Iowa farmer and moved the family to Greeley, Colorado, where he pursued a livelihood in the mines. Not wishing to spend the rest of his days in Greeley, Toots began learning the art of wrestling via correspondence courses from Farmer Burns. He combined this teaching with the strong body shaped from the family farm and made his debut in Greeley at the age of 16 taking on a carnival wrestler.
When the carnival left town it had a new employee. Toots worked a lot of carnivals over the years, for the mortality rate of carnivals, due to police activity, was extremely high. He would also try his hand in vaudeville as an acrobat, but he was unable to work his way past the lowest depths of the vaudevillian caste system. His big break came when he returned to carnival wrestling. There he was discovered by Burns during one of Burns’ many scouting trips. Working with Burns was the wrestling equivalent of a Ph.D. program and served Mondt well. Burns was also responsible for Mondt’s nickname. Mondt was the youngest wrestler in the Burns camp, and the nickname "Toots" had to do either with his small feet or his relative youth and baby face, depending which story you care to believe. Were it not for the tutelage of Burns it’s doubtful Toots would have graduated to the next level and professional wrestling wouldn’t be in the form we know it as today.
Enter the year 1919. Up until this time wrestling contests were slow-moving exhibitions mainly confined to the mat and lasting, on average, 60 minutes. Crowds no longer found this to be suitable entertainment and accordingly they began to dwindle. Thus, with the time was right for a new approach.
This new approach came from the fertile mind of Mondt, though not all at once. Mondt joined the camp of Ed "Strangler" Lewis on the recommendation of Burns and fit right in, serving in various capacities as sparring partner, trainer, sometime opponent and valuable policeman. Few wrestlers were as tough as Toots and he made sure that every Lewis opponent knew the "rules" of that night’s contest. As a sparring partner and trainer, he helped Lewis develop new holds and counters. As a pro wrestler, Toots was there when Lewis had trouble finding an opponent, for Toots lost to no one but the Strangler, giving the match a little juice at the gate.
Lewis and his manager/partner Billy Sandow were having trouble in getting Lewis’ claim to the heavyweight championship (won in a 1915 Jack Curley-sponsored tournament in New York City) recognized. Each promoter for the most part worked independently of other promoters and each had his own champ. Even Curley refused to recognize Lewis’ claim, having his own champion in Joe Stecher. This created a problem for the independent operator. Because he worked on a percentage of the gate, it was important to build up his matches. But this method was haphazard at best. Lewis could spend valuable time building up a match against Charley Cutler in New York and see it all come for naught when Cutler loses to Joe Stecher the week before. Word of Cutler’s loss would inevitably reach the Big Apple before the match resulting in a small gate and a small payoff for Lewis.
Given the size of the problem, Mondt’s solution was downright ingenuous. First, he convinced Sandow and Lewis that the days of wrestling in its current form were numbered. If they were to get the crowds, they had to change the style to meet the new expectations. Mondt’s suggestion was to combine features of boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling and the old-time lumber-camp style of fighting into what Mondt termed "Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling." This is essentially the form of wrestling we know today, save for the addition of acrobatics.
Next, reasoned Mondt, why were Sandow and Lewis allowing promoters to control them? With a little planning, they could be the ones calling the shots. Mondt simply reached back into his vaudeville days and conceived the plan to promote wrestlers and wrestling bouts on the same scale as vaudeville acts were booked and staged. He, Sandow and Lewis would act as a central booking agency and with the contacts they had among the wrestlers, the plan could be pulled off with little trouble.
To the credit of Mondt’s partners, they didn’t need a lot of wattage in order to see the light. They immediately set about convincing other wrestlers about the advantages of the new style of wrestling and signed hundreds of them to contracts. Under Sandow, Lewis and Mondt, the boys would be well paid and paid timely, no longer subject to the whims of a promoter. Within only six months Sandow was the new czar of wrestling. By signing every wrestler he saw, Sandow decimated the talent pools of the other promoters. Meanwhile, the new style of Slam-Bang Wrestling was completely over with the fans, drawing huge gates and providing sweet payoffs for the hundreds of new employees on Sandow’s payroll.
In the short space of only six months the trio of Lewis, Mondt and Sandow controlled the course of professional wrestling in America. More importantly, they also moved their product out of the burlesque theaters and back alley halls to the major sports venues in each city they promoted. It didn’t take long for the Gold Dust Trio (as they were nicknamed by sportswriters) to build their empire, but as with any successful revolution, the secret came not in gaining the prize, but in holding onto it. This was where the Trio made their mark on the history of wrestling. All new talent was tested in Sandow’s private ring. Routines and finishes were carefully worked out, most by Toots himself. Characters were refined. The art of "working" was born. When two men faced each other in the ring, each knew the other’s ability and style, and the best man usually won. To Sandow’s credit, a merit system was established. The best workers were kept on top. Those who had color but lacked ability were kept off the top rung. They became "ethnic" wrestlers; given a name and character to fit whatever crowd they were aimed at. Oh sure, the ethnic wrestler might receive a title shot now and then, but would never hold a title. The public would never buy an ethnic wrestler as champion and Sandow knew it. Any ethnic wrestler who possessed exceptional ability was "de-ethnicized," a lesson they learned when the failed to do so with Stan Zbyszko, one of their rare failures. Lewis would hold the belt for now, and when they determined that the public was tiring of the champ, a new champ, an all-American champ, would be selected to take the crown. All other good ethnic wrestlers would be built up as local favorites and given shots at the champ whenever he wandered into their area. Sandow’s conviction was that only a wrestler of exceptional ability should be champion. This was the reason Lewis dominated the belt during the Twenties. It lent an air of legitimacy to the proceedings and convinced the public everything was on the level. The point was no longer in the contest, but in how the contest went over.
(The Founding Father will conclude in New WAWLI Papers No. 270-2002)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) PAPERS No. 270-2002
THE FOUNDING FATHER by The Phantom of the Ring (continued)
In the new jargon of wrestling, a "program" was a series of bouts whose ultimate result was to build up a suitable opponent for the champ to meet when he came to town. The wrestler to be built up would be receiving a "push." He would work the program with another well-heralded matman, well-regarded with the fans, so when the man to be pushed went over, the fans accepted it. If the man to be pushed wasn’t going over with the fans, wasn’t getting that all-important "heat" (fan excitement), then he would work the job to his opponent. The fans always came first.
If one wrestler "hooked" (double-crossed) another, he would usually come face to face with the "policeman" in his next bout. The policeman knew everything he needed to about this rogue grappler because the policeman was usually the one who broke the wrestler in and trained him. That policeman was none other than Mondt himself, for that was Tootsie’s role in the organization. The match would be a "shoot," meaning on the level, at least on the part of the policeman. Mondt was so feared and respected that he rarely if ever had to engage in these kinds of matches. Besides, under the Sandow-Lewis-Mondt regime the boys were paid so much better that only a few had any reason at all to grumble. Sandow came up with an innovation so radical that it won the boys over without complaint: the regular paycheck. Wrestlers never had to worry where their next payoff was coming from or by who, or whether the promoter had absconded with the box-office receipts during the bouts. Sandow’s system led to the saying "loyal as his last paycheck."
This system worked so well that wrestling played to healthy crowds during the Twenties. Many fans became hooked on the weekly doings at their arena no matter how many times they saw their favorites wrestle each other. Another factor that made the fans come back for more was the complete absence of any form of wagering at the arena. Sandow hated betting, believing it gave his product a bad odor. Wrestlers and promoters who broke this taboo soon found themselves on the outside looking in. Wrestling for Sandow was "worked," not crooked.
While a good thing can’t be expected to last forever, the way in which the Gold Dust trio’s empire dissolved was positively ludicrous. A power struggle developed between Toots and Sandow’s brother Max that quickly led into a "him or me" demand by Mondt. To Mondt’s surprise, Sandow chose his brother and Toots was out in the cold - but not for long. He soon hooked up with Philadelphia impresario Ray Fabiani. Fabiani, one of the promoters who had to accept whatever he was given during the glory days of the Gold Dust Trio, snapped at the chance to be Mondt’s partner. Mondt for his part chose Fabiani because of his political connections in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The new combination wasted no time in choosing their new titleholder, Dick Shikat, a former circus strongman originally from Germany. When they determined Shikat’s reign as champion had run his course, they made Jim Londos the new champ and struck it rich as Londos became wrestling’s first matinee idol. Sandow and Lewis, on the other hand, allied themselves with Paul Bowser of Boston and put over another ex-college football player, Gus Sonnenberg, as their new champion. This partnership would end in 1931 when Bowser pulled the rug out from his partners in putting Henri DeGlane over on Lewis as champ in a crooked bout. Lewis and Sandow went into eclipse while Mondt’s star continued its rise.
With the immensely popular Londos as champ, Mondt and Fabiani consolidated their hold on the Northeast. From their base in Philadelphia, they moved north to New York City and Hartford, and south to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This is as far as Toots wished to expand; he had seen the pitfalls of a national operation from being involved with Lewis and Sandow. New York City was the toughest market to crack, controlled for many years by the formidable Jack Curley, who could often call on help from Bowser in Boston. Bowser, who did not like the fact the Mondt and Fabiani were invading his New England territory, gave Curley as much help as he could in repelling the invaders from Philadelphia.
For their part, Mondt and Fabiani had help in the form of Rudy Dusek, Jack Pfeffer, the Johnston Brothers, and Jess McMahon, who worked for the noted boxing promoter Tex Rickard. (Rickard, who despised wrestling, kept the game out of Madison Square Garden from 1939-48, claiming low attendance as the reason.) But the man who ultimately helped Toots triumph in the Big Apple was none other than Bernarr McFadden. McFadden, a physical culturalist and former wrestler turned millionaire cum philanthropist. In the Twenties, McFadden opposed the Gold Dust Trio, but different times bring different attitudes. Nursing a grudge against Curley, McFadden bankrolled Mondt’s invasion of New York. By the early Forties, Curley’s organization was gone and Toots reigned supreme.
Wrestling enjoyed a boom after World War II and Toots rode the cash wave along with everyone else. The popularity of Gorgeous George, combined with a new regime at Madison Square Garden, led to the return of wrestling in the arena in 1948. The main event that night saw Gorgeous George use his flying side headlock to defeat Ernie Dusek. But the attendance was not what the promoters expected. Toots quickly saw that salad days were upon him once again, but if the green was to continue to be a part of that salad, he would need a box office draw in the style of Londos. Mondt had already signed the giant ex-boxing champion, Primo Carnera and taught him the not-so-fine art of pro wrestling. Carnera, however, was never really over with New Yorkers, having left a bad taste in their mouths when he was Boxing’s Heavyweight Champion, with a little help from his friends Owney Madden and Lucky Luciano.
Toots needed a fresh face, yet an ethnic one for the East Coast fans. He found just that in 1948 when he pried Antonino Rocca away from his manager Kola Kwaraini. Rocca proved to be a gold mine for Mondt, bringing the customers back time and again. Taking note that more and more Latinos were in attendance, Mondt brought in new faces such as Miguel Perez to keep them happy. But in all the expansion he forgot to keep Rocca happy and that would come back to haunt him.
Rocca, miffed at the lack of attention and always on the lookout for a better financial deal, sided with Vince McMahon in a palace coup of sorts and overthrew Mondt as the lead man in the promotion. Mondt’s fate was sealed when lead partner Fabiani gave his blessing to the re-organization. Mondt had earlier alienated Fabiani when he, through some sort of misunderstanding, sold half the promotion to Pedro Martinez, ostensibly to settle gambling debts. When Martinez came to New York to collect, Mondt denied the whole thing. At which time Pedro decked Toots in full view of wrestlers and press in the dressing room. Martinez was eventually satisfied financially, but would hold a grudge against Fabiani and McMahon the rest of his life.
Now out of power, Toots became an aide-de-camp to the reorganized promotion. He still had influence among his fellow promoters, though, and used it to put Buddy Rogers over as NWA champ in 1961. That was to be Tootsie’s last hurrah, however. He was never really enthused about leaving the NWA to form the WWWF, and though he was an early supporter of the young Bruno Sammartino, preferring him to as Rogers, he no longer packed the power to see it through. After a couple of years booking angles for the new promotion, Toots retired to St. Louis, where he lived out the rest of his years in a peaceful retirement. When he passed from this earth in 1976, most wrestling fans had little or no idea who he was, but it was Toots who made the show possible.
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