November 14th, 1941
Mr. Jack Pheffer
Broadway and 42nd St.
New York City, New York
First, you will have to excuse me because I didnt answer your kind letter a long time ago that you sent me; and told me in your letter that you wanted me to come to New York and be your partner, which I appreciated very much, but I dont want to be in the promotion business any more.
In this part of the country, wrestling isnt like it used to be. A lot of bad people and double-crossers are in it now, and I just couldnt work with those kind of fellows because that is not my character. As far as I am concerned, wrestling is dead for me, and it has been proved for the last three weeks that it is dead because the present promoter in the auditorium who promoted three shows up to datethe first show drew $1,100, the second show, which was for one of the world championnships, drew $920 and the last show was pitiful because it only drew about $800.00. The next week, I think they are going to put a lot of fly paper around the auditorium to catch some flies, and stop and put a lot of rat traps out to catch a lot of rats and double-crossers. That is all the news at this time about wrestling in Los Angeles, but from now on, I will send you some more.
I am really busy at my new ranch, raising a lot of turkeys and alfalfa. We have already killed twenty thousand turkeys for Thanksgiving and I have six thousand left. I am not in the city very often. All the rats that remaining in the wrestling business wont see me, they are only going to FEEL ME, just like they have felt you for the last ten years. You sure fixed them up beautifully, they all respect you now. They are out of the business and broke, but you will be in it for a long time. They cant kick an innocent man around like they kicked you around all these years.
This is all for this time. Hope you are feeling well and please let me hear from you anytime I can do something for you.
March 7, 1949
Mr. Jack Pfefer
Hollywood Plaza Hotel
Have been so busy since Friday that this is first chance I have had to write. I hope you have received the clippings. I have been mailing them to you. Compare the stories after my matches to the stories after their matches and youll see the difference.
The Indian is in demand all over and we have to satisfy him to keep him. You and I know that a contract doesnt mean anything. I talked to the old man and told him everything would be alright. He is as much of an asset to you as to me and it means money to all of us.
Please let me know if Buddy will be okay for April 1st. I may not be in a position to use Don on that date and it will be necessary to use one or the other that date and I prefer Buddy for the spot, so let me know as I have to let Al know as soon as possible as Cincinnati and other spots go that night.
When you are here I will show you my clipping book and if I missed sending you any stories I can always get them from the papers.
Will have the posters tomorrow and the In The Rings on Wednesday. Gave a good play to Buddy and Billy.
The card is: Eagle vs. Rogers; Kashey vs. Bruns; Darnell vs. Freeman; TagKuss and Carlson vs. Wright and Zimovich. I had Sonny Myers set to come in but put Darnell in his spot as I know you wanted him on the card.
With best wishes, I remain
Wednesday (March 9, 1949)
Dear Sam (Muchnick):
Just received your letter and also the clippings. I can smell and feel there is a lot of cunning going onhard to out-smart me, and also to out-smart Buddy. Remember, Sam, up until I started to help you with advice how to handle your programs and also up until Buddy came to help you as an attraction your shows mostly were losing money - - - so dont let yourself in to the wrong advice of some smart guys and start a mess - - - since Buddy started for you the big sell-outs, all what I have heard since is that the Indian is a big cardthe Indian says that, or the Indian wants thatlooks like he is the big primadonna and that he is the guy that is responsible for the $10,000 sell-outwhy kid ourselves?
But believe me, I can see whats cooking far ahead, more than all the wise guys together. I am always far sighted in the smelling game and that is why I am still around punching and holding my own. As I said before, I am your friend and willing to be your friend and trying to help you, but dont let anybody of your advisers try to push me, or Buddy, around with some old fashion tricksI know them all and I also know all the answers. I have known these old tricks long time before todays manipulators were born. Remember first of all, we are trying to beat the enemy and with pulling tricks inside we will only help the opposition and the smart enemyI expect to be in St. Louis about Sat. the 19th or Sunday the 20th, so we can talk things over for the benefit of all the parties concerned. From St. Louis I will go to Columbus where I expect to stay for a big program in that territory and for a long run. Naturally, I expect Buddy will be okay for April 1st, if everything runs smooth without inside indifference or interference and politics. Its a funny great game with a lot of jealousy like in all show business, which most of the time ruins big business.
You see I was here for nine months and did a terrific business and as you know when I got here this territory was ruined by the opposition, but I know how to handle things and built the business up to capacity houses and you know, my dear Sam, to keep a program running for nine months with twelve clubs to handle it is a tough job, and especially with big opposition who had attractions established, still I did not fear, and did a good job, now I can leave because I established Nichols territory in great shape. The reason my stay here was such a success was only because nobody messed it up and the programs run like a clock, and I was not afraid of the outside opposition.
Write me an answer, and wishing you more and more sell-outs.
March 10, 1949
You are wrong about anyone around here trying to out-maneuver you or outsmart you. All I know is that everyone wants to cooperate with you and work hand in hand with you.
We do not manage the Indian. We are merely booking him. the Chief feels that he has a big attraction and he has. He took the match on Feb. 4 and was willing to take it on Feb. 18. But you yourself wanted Bobby in that spot. Two days later when I had the programs and posters printed you phoned me and wanted to make the change and it was too late.
The Indian isnt asking for anything much and when I talked to you, you said we wouldnt have any trouble, not to worry and everything would be alright. I talked to the chief and he took the match. Now I cant be going and telling him something different. He has confidence in me, just like everybody has, because they know my word is good.
He is working in Als territory and if you can talk to Al and have him change his mind it will be alright.
I know that Buddy has been a big help to me, but remember that there are others who have helped, too. It hasnt been a one man deal. The best proof of this is the last show. Bruns, beaten 3 times by Rogers, wrestles Brown and we gross $8898. I didnt think we would gross over $7,000. Maybe the Indian and Kashey drew it, I dont know, but it was there.
Perhaps when you get here and we can talk better you will see a lot of things.
I usually work on the next show that night or the next day so will have to know by Saturday morning, Feb. 19 what your ideas are. Remember I have a battle here and must be on my toes and if I dont get the program out fast, I wouldnt be in the position I am in now. Regards.
February 19, 1952
Mr. Jack Pfefer
I just had a call from Orville Brown and he told me you were going to send men in opposition to him. I told him that as a non-member of the Alliance you were free to do whatever you wish. You are under obligation to noone. I told him the only one you wouldnt go in opposition to was us in St. Louis because you love us like brothers.
Jack, you know Im a man of peace and if there is anything I can do to stop a war let me know.
We are doing very well here and hope you are doing likewise.
I have a friend in the Fitzsimmons General Hospital, a sports writer from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Bill Fairbairn. If you can send Moolah over there sometime to cheer him up it will make him very happy. Keep in touch and best wishes.
February 21, 1952
My dear Sam (Muchnick):
Just received your letter and sure was happy to hear from you. About the call which you received from the double-crossing burglar, I am sure that he did not tell you the whole story, as usually yellow rats never tell the truth and the yellow guys always like to cry when somebody punches back. I am sure getting sick and tired after nearly thirty years in the game to be the fall guy and to be the victim of every big and low double crosser or burglar or back stabber. During all these long years, I have been robbed in cold blood, I have been double-crossed in cold blood and I have been stabbed in the back so many times that it will take pages to mention them all. Now as you know me so well, it will be easy for you to understand me. I just want to ask you how much can a man take without being a nervous wreck. I have done so much for people to help people get along and in return, what is the pay-off????? Mostly the same, no appreciation, no thankfulness and not even a smile for all my good nature and help to people in the game. During these long years, I had to most of the time spend day and nite just fighting to protect my shirt and to protect myself from assault, insults and robbery.But in the old days, years ago, at least I had to fight the big people in the game, the smart people in the game and the intelligent people in the game, so maybe it was worth while the good fight, and there was no punches barred. And I always believed in a good fight because the world loves a good fighter and everybody hates a yellow rat who loves to stab from the dark corners and hide, but today it is twenty five years later and once again I have to fight, but at this time I am fighting a few certain mad dogs of the game and I can assure you I will not relax until this fight will be over to a complete finish. Or I will crush somebody or if somebody can crush me I sure will take off my hat and give the mad dogs credit for having the goods which I think they do not have. I have proven in all the long years that I can take care of myself and hope to do so as long as I will be able to fight. Just remember I am a peace loving person just as well as you are. Why spend our time and health fighting, but I believe in the saying of the great immortal writer, Tolstoi, "If you want peace be prepared for war." And that is the only way a man can keep up and stay in our game. --- You as the President and head of the big organization will realize the danger that some members become members of the alliance and they think they can cover up with the membership card to do acts of double crossing and get away with it that nobody will have the nerve to punch back because they are members of the alliance, which would not be right, the reason why I did not want to become a member of the big organization is because I want to be a free lancer, so I have the full right and privilege to help whom I want and not be obligated to any double crosser who wants to grab the world and get away with it. I believe that just signing papers of comradeship and brotherhood is not worth a dime if people are not honest to make good their signatures. I do believe in loyalty, friendship and cooperation without having to sign any papers. There are hundreds of people in the game, I mean of the big people, who are still around and most of them know me and I do not think there is a person who honestly can say that I have stolen a penny or I have stolen somebody elses stars or that I did not keep my word or promise. You know the whole deal of the latest double cross which I got. It was the dirtiest and the lowest action in my thirty years of experience and still certain greedy people are trying to play the part of honest big man who are trying to peddle with the things which I have built with my hard work for years, but before closing, this long letter, do not let the burglars and double crossers think that they will scare me with threatening or with black listing. I will carry this fight to a finish just to remind a few of the mad dogs in the game that "Crime Does Not Pay," and let the best man win. This letter is not confidential, you can show it to all the members of the alliance and to whom you care to show, because there must be sometimes come to justice the wrong doings of greedy, falsefaced gentlemen.
(Colorado Springs Gazette, Nov. 11, 1999)
By Bill Radford
Professional wrestling doesnt exactly have a choke-hold on the comics industry, but it is entering the comics arena.
"Nash," a series featuring wrestler Kevin Nash and published by Image Comics, debuted in August. Nash was billed as creator and co-writer of the bloody action-adventure comic, set in 2023. Chaos Comics, meanwhile, has a partnership with the World Wrestling Federation and an ongoing "Undertaker" series.
Undertaker is a pro wrestler, as are rivals Mankind and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The latter duo achieved comic book fame when Chaos published a "Mankind" one-shot in August and launched a four-part Austin miniseries in October.
The seeds for the marriage between Chaos Comics and the WWF were planted by two young guys working in Chaos warehouse who are big fans of wrestling, said Gregg Pisani, managing editor of Chaos wrestling comics. "You gotta check this out," the two men told him and others, bringing in a video of an Undertaker battle.
"We watched it and I said, This guy would be perfect for a comic book," said Pisani.
So he and Brian Pulido, president of Chaos, met with the head of licensing at the WWF and pitched the idea of an Undertaker comic.
"They thought we were a good match for what theyre doing," Pisani said. "Theyre a large, edgy company; were a small, edgy company. ... So far, everything weve pitched them, theyve been interested in."
The comics, Pisani said, are simply an extension of the wrestlers personas. "What were trying to do is take these characters and pull them out of the arena, not change their personalities but build on some of the story lines that have already been developed and create a new niche of cool stories with really good art that not only the comics fans but also the wrestling fans will enjoy."
While the wrestlers in Chaos books dont contribute to the story the way Nash does in his series, they do all have input, Pisani said. They read the scripts and see the art ahead of time. "Stone Cold approved the cover to No. 1 in person," he noted.
Pisani said Chaos has built a fan base in the comics market for the wrestling comics; now the company is trying to establish a foothold in wrestling, as well. An "Undertaker" trade paperback will be sold in arenas. Chaos is placing ads in WWFs magazine and has been mentioned on the air.
"Wrestling fans have a pretty good diet of wrestling
entertainment on TV," Pisani said. "To get them to buy something different,
thats not a T-shirt or an action figure, but something that gives them more story
content ... is a little more difficult."
(Allentown Morning Call, April 26, 1984)
By Joe Kita
Whether pro wrestling is real or fake has been argued since Gorgeous George shook his flowing mane and proceeded to gouge the eyes of an opponent.
The critics call it entertainment; the wrestlers flex their football physiques and say, "Challenge me." Disbelievers scream, "Blood capsule!" but the competitors point to the scars.
Purists scoff at the circus-like interviews, but the participants counter with, "How much different was Muhammad Ali?" While the skeptics might be quick to notice the open-handed punches, the theatrical expressions and the soft turnbuckles, the wrestlers just smile and add another zero after their bank balance.
Obviously, not all of the mayhem in the ring can be true; if it were, the life span of a professional wrestler would be shorter than a Christians in Roman times.
However, these boys ARE big. Rarely under 200 pounds, it is no illusion when they lift an opponent overhead. Most of them spend long hours in the weight room and many have athletic backgrounds. The Concrete Cowboy, for instance, claims he was scouted by the Denver Broncos while D.C. Drake is the 1983 New Jersey Law Enforcement Officers bench press champion.
Professional wrestlers have been hurtsome of them critically with precision and care. It is, as the Cowboy could readily attest, another form of stunt workacting in the general sense, but still dangerous.
Professional wrestlers and their referees must also be licensed by the state athletic commission. Subjected to the same rules of licensing as boxers, they must undergo an annual physical and submit the necessary paperwork.
"Im most certainly an athlete," said the Cowboy. "Im not an entertainer. I dont sing in the ring."
Comedian Andy Kaufman, of "Taxi" fame, is probably the best-known pro wrestling skeptic as evidenced by his not so successful challenge match with world champion Jerry Lawler in April 1982. After he was hospitalized with a neck injury received in that bout, he was further humiliated by Lawler when he was slapped in the face on "Late Night With David Letterman."
"Showmanship is prevalent in every sport," mused Drake, who would go on to vanquish the Cowboy in their chain match on April 13 in Easton and win the CWAs heavyweight belt. "Its just that the media put the magnifying glass on wrestling. Maybe all the debate is for the better, though, because anytime theres controversy, youll always have people wanting to see what its all about."
Unlike many other more legitimate sports that have tested the waters of professionalism and eventually drowned, wrestling endures. While some contend its because of this hurricane of controversy, others theorize that good vs. evil is always attractive, especially when its packaged as affordable family entertainment.
"Where does good end and evil begin nowadays?" asked Drake.
There are no heroes for kids to look up to anymore. Most of the pro athletes are being busted for drugs or getting into scrapes with the law. In wrestling, good doesnt always win over evil, but thats the way life is. And for $5 or so, you can come and be excited for two or three hours. No other sport promises that."
"Its endured," drawled the Cowboy, "because you got these fans who work their 9-to-5 jobs all week. They dig their ditches, grease monkey their hands, deliver the milk to the door and they realize that theyre never gonna make those two points as the buzzer sounds . . . never gonna have their hand raised in victory for anything. Their big thing becomes living vicariously through someone else. Its a release for them.
"Football is a fine physical sport," he said, "but youre relying on a team, and with the offense, the defense and the specialty teams, sometimes its 40 guys against 40 guys. For a one-on-one sport, it comes down to boxing and wrestling, and after Ali left, boxing became like corn flakes when you leave the milk on too long. Ali was controversial, he was the spark and the color. He was a little black boy who was hungry and poor, and when youre hungry and poor you go out and hustle yourself. For us, this is a hustle . . . and for the fans, its a release, a fantasyland."
Jim Perkin, a psychological therapist in Bethlehem, supports the Cowboys theory, citing Freuds belief in the cathartic effect of watching violence.
"While Freud certainly wasnt making a comment on pro wrestling," he explained, "he did believe that man has innate aggressive impulses and they have to be released in some way. There are non-acceptable ways of doing this like displacement, which might involve punching someone, and there are acceptable ways like watching Dirty Harry in his fight for justice. That is catharsis, releasing aggression through some type of fantasy expression."
"I come here to work off the frustration I build up in school," agreed an 18-year-old fan, Joe Capie from the Childrens Home in Easton. "Its better to take them out here than on the streets. Except for having a sore throat, I feel a lot better when I leave."
Perkin warns, however, that there is another, more popular school of thought, that considers such violent theatrics as pro wrestling and television crime shows, dangerous. "A popular view these days," he said," is that rather than being an instinct, aggression is a socially learned behavior. Through observation, we become more aggressive. Id tend to agree with this because kids do learn behavior through observation, so certainly aggression can be learned in regards to the pro wrestling concept. Whereas an adult can make a more conscious decision on whether to model or not, a child is much more easily persuaded. For them, it could be dangerous."
"They really pump you up," said one 11-year-old boy while flexing his scrawny muscle and periodically beating on his buddy. "We play it at home . . . the pile drivers and all, right on the concrete. I want to grow up and be a wrestler."
To illustrate the volatile nature of pro wrestling, consider an incident that occurred at the VFW after the Damien Kane-Mike Kaluha match, a bout that spilled over into the aisle and featured the two wrestlers trading blows with a pliers and a sandal. Excited to a feverish pitch, one teen-age fan shoved another spectator and threatened him with a folding chair before being subdued. In addition to performing their usual array of double neck-breakers, drop kicks and flying elbow smashes, wrestlers also entice the crowd through barbs and insults directed at some of the more vulnerable, like the fat, the crippled and the less than beautiful fans.
"Hey, fat boy," yelled Bill Borzak at a particularly plump spectator. "That Phillies shirt youre wearing could fit the whole team!"
Such antagonism can result in something as harmless as an old lady chasing a wrestler with her high-heeled shoe or a scene as ugly as the riot that Drake witnessed while performing in Manila. Recently, an 81-year-old Scranton resident was assaulted by a professional wrestler called Mr. Wonderful, who reportedly struck him while lashing out at a few hecklers in the Scranton Catholic Youth Center audience. The elderly man ended up with three broken false teeth, a broken nose, a fractured sinus, a fractured bone near his eye, and neck and back problems.
"Violence is, unfortunately, a part of life," said the Cowboy.
"Whether it be on Saturday morning cartoons where the
Roadrunner is getting blown away or in professional wrestling, mommy and daddy have to sit
down with the kids and take the time to explain it to them. When they ask, Mommy,
why did that man jump off the top rope and drive his head through that mans
chest? they got to explain this is life. If somebody jumps out of the bushes after
school and says, Give me your milk money! dont be a dummy . . . win.
Aint nobody out there playing by the rules and most arent playing with a full
(Allentown Morning Call, April 26, 1984)
By Joe Kita
Its Friday night at the Easton VFW. Along with the cigarette smoke, anticipation hangs heavy in the air. Tonight, theres gonna be a fight.
"Hes one of the most obnoxious people I know," said Don D.C. Drake, rubbing his fist in expectation. "Hes always belching and spitting tobacco juice on the floor. Hes been known to kick people when theyre down and then stand on their faces. Hes a slob. I dont want kids looking up to someone like that."
"Drakes nothing but a Flex-O-Matic," sneered the one called Cowboy. "The man pumps some iron before breakfast, probably 10 pounds for 500 reps, and then walks around like a puffed up peacock the rest of the day. Sure hes strong, but theres more to it than that. Youll see."
There is, indeed, a lot more to it. While the events that would transpire in this dank bingo hall have all the characteristics of an alley brawlthe chains, the blood, the roars of painthey would, in reality, be just props in a carefully arranged stage show that some say belongs on Broadway. If the Easton VFW had a marquee, it might have flashed in neon:
"Professional Wrestling Tonight, D.C. Drake vs. Concrete Cowboy, Texas Chain Match."
Wrestling, in its most basic roll-in-the-dirt form, has existed since the dawn of man. Cavemen, the ancient Greeks, even a soldier in George Washingtons command dubbed The Giant all engaged in this most rudimentary of sports. In those early days, it was largely a macho test of strengtha John Sullivan, bare-knuckles type of combat witnessed by hordes of whooping, wagering spectators.
But in the early 1950s, wrestling took a bizarre turn. Into the ring strutted Gorgeous George with his flowing hair and sweeping capes. He ranted and raved and wrestled in a P.T. Barnum style that people loved to hate. Announcers like Dennis James cracked chicken bones near their microphones as radio listeners recoiled in fascinated horror. Before long, television brought the Backbreaker Joes and No Neck Nicks of this world into the living rooms of America. Professional wrestling, in all its glittery show biz splendor, was on its way to becoming the multi-million dollar industry it is today.
According to the Concrete Cowboy, professional wrestling is the largest spectator sport in the world, boasting a multitude of federations and nearly 2,000 wrestlers.
Bruno Sammartino, one of the most popular wrestlers of all time, once earned $325,000 in a single year and appeared before sold-out Madison Square Garden crowds 187 times. The sport grosses between $100 million and $150 million annually.
Locally, the Continental Wrestling Alliance (CWA) is trying to capitalize on this popularity. Founded in 1982 in the Philadelphia area, the CWA merged with two other wrestling federations and then became independent again in late 1983. Currently, it is headquartered in Easton and Ardsley, a Philadelphia suburb, with a stable of about 50 wrestlers and a cable network that includes five stations, including Twin County, Blue Ridge, Allegheny, Lower Bucks and Berks County.
Likening itself to the burgeoning United States Football League, the CWA is trying to gain a foothold in an area where the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) has traditionally been strong. Holding periodic shows at the Allentown Fairgrounds, the Connecticut-based WWF, which is controlled by Titan Sports, has been in existence since the early 60s and features most of the popular wrestling names like Sgt. Slaughter and Captain Lou Albano.
The CWA stresses that it is trying to co-exist with Titan rather than wage a war against it. According to Drake, Bruno Sammartino tried to start a similar organization in the Lehigh Valley a few years ago, but was "squeezed out" by Titan.
"Were trying to learn from his mistakes," said Drake, "and give the people something new. Our wrestlers are younger and more hungry. They give 150 percent whereas Titans are living on past names."
All of the wrestlers in the CWA are classified as "independents," meaning they are not under contract by any federation. Some, like Phillipsburg native Eddie Mirenda, are just beginning careers, while others, like Drake and the Concrete Cowboy have been body slammed in many different organizations in many different parts of the world including Japan, Africa and the Philippines.
"Theyre vicious people," said Drake, referring to some of the other federations. "They do use wrestlers. If youre an independent and you dont like the deal youre getting, you can always go elsewhere. But if you sign a contract with one of them, they can make anything out of you they want."
While CWA wrestlers might be young and sometimes unproven, their characters are vintage professional wrestling. Consider the Concrete Cowboy, a bearded 6-foot 9-inch, 310-pounder who could probably hogtie his native state of Texas. A former movie stunt man and Mick Jagger bodyguard, this good ol boy has been known to wrestle grizzly bears, eat 23 hard-boiled eggs in 10 minutes and turn a car on its side if he loses a decision.
In a sport where good and evil are clearly defined, the Cowboy is as nasty as a razor cut. He has kicked an opponent off a stretcher and is fond of blowing his nose on fallen adversaries. To escape the hatred this usually engenders, the Cowboy says he likes to watch television in the nude while munching chili and ribs.
Complementing the Cowboy is Dr. Jack Stone, his manager. "Thats without a D on the end," he emphasized from behind reflective blue sunglasses and a Confederate hat. Stone lists San Quentin, Calif., as his home address and is fond of dying his hair purple and sniffing from an Elmers glue bottle at ringside. As loathed as the Cowboy, he was once bitten on the leg by an effusive fan.
Joining this lineup of the reviled are Damien Kane, whose eyes look like they belong on the Alien; the Borzak brothers, who claim that Larry Holmes Drive will one day be renamed after them with only Cadillacs being allowed to drive on it; Sweet Daddy White, who carries a cat-o-nine-tails; Bull Butcher and Jack Valiant, who reportedly got kicked out of an Easton restaurant for throwing sandwiches; and, as always, the Masked Henchman, a sinister creature whose identity is unknown even to his mother.
All are brawlers with a license to do the unacceptable. They affect crude, base and sexist behavior. The Cowboy doesnt mind if you photograph him with his finger up his nose. Offsetting these black-vested, wild-haired villains, who consider tattoos fine jewelry, are the handsome, God-fearing "good guys" who are usually brightly dressed, clean-shaven and adept at the most difficult of wrestling moves. If it was possible to ride into the ring on a white horse, they would.
One of the CWAs most gallant knights is D.C. Drake, whose very name conjures thoughts of Capitol Hill. A former prison guard who sports a 54-inch chest and 21-inch biceps, he is a champion of justice and a hero of the young. A graduate of Phillipsburg High School and an idolizer of Bruno Sammartino, he is living his childhood dream. He doesnt smoke, he doesnt drink and seems forever on his way to visit an ailing tot in the hospital.
Eddie Mirenda, a childhood friend of Drakes and the CWAs co-rookie of the year, is another Christopher Reeve type. Also a prison guard, he is a 22- year-old advocate of clean living and rigorous training. His wide-eyed, puppy dog personality is especially appealing to female fans, one of whom sported an "Eddie" T-shirt at the Friday night fights.
Similarly adored is humble Hawaiian Mike Kaluha, who bounces into the ring wearing a lei and lightning bolts on his tights. Approach him for an autograph and hell be as gentle as the South Seas; cross him and hell erupt with volcanic force.
According to Drake, the crowd ultimately determines what personality a wrestler adopts. Sometimes, he says, a promoter will pit a budding wrestler against a villain to measure fan reaction. If the spectators yawn and head for the concession stand, then he probably lacks the pizzazz to carry a match. On the contrary, if they cheer and whiten their knuckles in support, his white horse will be waiting outside.
While such lively roles and the attention they generate make professional wrestling seem like a glamorous career, it is, in reality, only partially so.
While Drake once made $4,200 for a 25-minute bout in the Philippines and the Cowboy signed his first contract for $1,000 a week, some wrestlers might earn only $50 a match, forcing them to hold full-time jobs elsewhere.
Sweet Melanie, for instance, is a petite female wrestler with a 7-year-old daughter. On April 13, she drove from Warrington for her scheduled catfight at the Easton VFW. When her opponent, Nature Girl, didnt show, she had to drive home five hours later with her needle on empty.
"Guys like Eddie (Mirenda) may think its glamorous, but thats just because theyre starting out," said the 256-pound Drake, who had his first bout in 1980 against The Hangman in Jersey City. "Its glamorous only in the respect that I like people and I love seeing kids happy. But its not everything I thought it would be. Youre the butt of a lot of criticism and that gets tiring after a while. You have to be dedicated. Ive been on the circuit. You go from one hotel room to another and some of them are nasty hotel rooms. I was in the Philippines the end of November and it was 10 days of constant traveling . . . working 12-15 hours a day. The 15 minutes of what you see is only the tip of the iceberg."
"I went to a wrestling camp," explained the Cowboy, who estimates hes grappled more than a thousand times in his seven-year career, some of which was spent with Titan. "My first bout was somewhere in Southern California . . . some high school, I dont remember. They all start looking alike after a while, just pills and pimples. When you start out, you struggle. But if youre smart, you dont struggle for long. You got to hustle yourself. I make a good living now, I take care of mine.
"Its not easy to survive," he continued, after outlining the broken bones hes had over the years. "You got to be hungry . . . the eye of the tiger. Should I wake up tomorrow unhappy, Ill quit. I can go back to my ranch, back to the rodeo or back to doing movie stunts. Most people think wrestlers have the IQ of small appliances, but Ive been to a few different colleges and picked up a few different degrees. Besides a degree in insanity, I have a doctorate in psychology, but thats for later down the road. Ive put my time in and so have most wrestlers. They know which end of the pencil to sharpen."
If wrestlers are as intelligent as the Cowboy hints, then they must have realized that the Easton VFW is a long way from Madison Square Garden. On this Friday the 13th in April, the crowd could be counted by hand. Some of the wrestlers were delayed by Route 22 construction and the first bout was postponed for an hour and 10 minutes past the original 7 p.m. starting time. To pass the time, there were hot dogs, soda, wrestling magazines or a even a quick bit of bowling at the lanes in the VFW basement. Despite the delay and the fact that Twin County cameramen rearranged the fans to fill their TV monitors, the fans were patient.
"Its cool . . . its neat . . . its fun," chorused a troupe of young boys, tugging at each other in Hulk Hogan impersonation. "Im 9 and Ive been a fan since I was 1," said a youngster. "I have over 300 wrestling books," said another, "and my moms afraid to come into my room because I have this big poster on the wall."
"I hate the Cowboy," a young boy added, softly. "But dont tell him."
Generally, pro wrestling fans are an earthy people quick to make gestures and voice their feelings. Many times they are as entertaining as the wrestlers. In the corner of the room is a fan with a fishing license hanging from his hat and a Polaroid swinging from his wrist; over there is a fellow wearing a wide tie and shoulder length hair who calls himself E.T. and says this beats bar hopping; in the front row is a peaceable grandmother who loves dancing, bingo and back breakers; toward the rear is a 300-pound teen-ager who dreams of being in the ring; and if you look closely, youll spot 6-year-old Lisa Lamb in her barettes, blue jeans and black "Mongos" T-shirt.
"This is fun," she says sweetly, "but I want to be a teacher when I grow up."
While the fans are diverse, a number of things unite them. Most noticeable are the smiles that stretch their faces for most of the evening - reflecting the enjoyment they derive from the resounding snap of bodies on the board.
Second is their critical acclaim for the CWA, which they feel gives them an opportunity to witness the sport they love at reach-out-and-touch-someone distance. Finally, they admit that pro wrestling is not all fact.
"I only believe some of it," shrugged Evelio
E.T. Torres of Easton, "but its still enjoyable."
The WAWLI Papers # 637...
JOE McHUGHS HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY
(Allentown Morning Call, April 29, 1984)
By Dan Shope
Joe McHugh believes in mind over age. The wrinkled ring announcer will celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow, but he says he cant die. Hes booked until 2004.
"Im not going to die, because Im booked through my 100th birthday," McHugh says. "Most fellows start practicing to get old at 45. Thats when they start planning their retirement. They think old and they get old. Im not going to sit around and wait for the arteries to get hard. Im not going to wait for Dr. Death. Im keeping busy."
Upon seeing Dr. Death, McHugh probably wont be able to resist announcing his arrival, just like he has for Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Jack Sharkey, "Red" Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Ivan Putski and "The Incredible Hulk" Hogan.
"In this corner . . . Wearing black trunks . . . Weighing 10 million pounds . . . The current soul releaser . . . From Heavens Gate . . . Doctor . . . Death!" "Joooooe" McHugh has been a ring announcer since before the invention of professional wrestling. In fact, the Allentown native bills himself as "the oldest active announcer in the U.S." Nobodys going to argue.
With his lined face and knowing eyes, McHugh can sit for hours and discuss the past. He remembers well how his older brother, Terry, fought world bantomweight champion Pete Herman in 1919. He recalls working as a standup comedian in nightclubs during prohibition. And, almost grudgingly, he repeats how he hired "Red" Skelton to perform for $35 at Club Rio in Dorneyville, where the Bill Daniels Music Factory now stands.
McHugh would rather talk about the present. For its present technology which has made him a celebrity. Vaudeville, nightclubs and radio were fine in their time. But the television camera has made his face recognized from Brooklyn to London to Sydney, Australia
"I enjoy every minute of it," McHugh says. "Today I was walking up on Hamilton Street and some lady walks up to me and hands me all these snapshots of me and (local boxing and wrestling official) Mike Mittman. Where were these women 50 years ago?
"No matter where I go, people recognize me. I love kids, and they always come up to say hello. You know, when I announce, I always say This is your ring announcer Joooooe McHugh! So the kids always yell to me, Its Joooooe McHugh! "
In todays world of slick professional announcers who all seem to be Dick Clark clones, McHugh is an antique. When he began, there were no public address systems, microphones and stereophonic speakers. Only lung power. Instead of adjusting to the modern systems, he still belts out each phrase. Hes the Ethel Merman of the ring.
So when the Worldwide Wrestling Federation moved into the Allentown Fairgrounds Agriculture Hall and was televised on Allentowns Channel 69, New Yorks Channel 9 and USA Network, McHugh and his ancient voice became as famous as Putski, Bob Backlund and Chief Jay Strongbow.
"TV has changed everything," McHugh says.
"When I was announcing fights before it, only a handful of people heard me. Now there are millions of people. I get mail from around the world.
"Weve been taping at Ag Hall every three weeks for the last seven years. It started when the old Arena in Philly was torn down. The promoters were looking for a new place. They tried Ag Hall here in Allentown and fell in love with it.
"The people love it here because of the (Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton) airport. Its so convenient and there are few traffic problems. The promoters and wrestlers stay at the Hilton or George Washington, then they go on to Hamburg the next night."
Joe never dreamed of television when he was growing up on Gordon Street in the Irish section of Allentowns Sixth Ward. As was the case with many Irish families at the turn of the century, his dad, Owen, was a cop and his older brother was a boxer. After graduating from Allentown Catholic High, which had only 40 pupils in all four classes, he opted for show business.
"Not all the boxers were Irish," McHugh says. "A lot of them were Jewish, Polish. They just took Irish names. Fighting as an Irishman was the proper thing to do. Thats how they got work.
"At 14, I watched my older brother, Terry, fighting Pete Herman. Of course, that was before there was a boxing commission. Back then, the sports writers decided the winner. The champion carried his own ref, so it was pretty hard for a champion to lose.
"When I was 16, I went into vaudeville and worked all over the country. I did comedy and was an M.C. I used to tell stories about crabgrass, mothers-in- law and families. But then in 1928 or 29, I was licensed as a ring announcer.
"Back then, Allentown was a hub for boxing. We had some of the best in the country here in the 20s. But the guy I enjoyed best was Rocky Marciano. After retiring from boxing, he became a ref for pro wrestling. We worked the circuit together.
"The best boxer I ever saw was Rocky. He worked the ring like a mechanic. Outside the ring, he was a pussycat. Such a gentleman. He was one of the best people Ive ever met. It was a shame when he died in that airplane crash.
"I remember doing a benefit with his son in the crowd. Rockys wife was pregnant at the time of the crash, so he never met his father. Well, after I spoke, the kid came up to me and asked was my dad really that wonderful? I told him every word was true. And it was."
Many of McHughs best friends have passed away. Marciano is but one. All of Joes five brothers have died, including Jack, the father of Lehigh County Commissioner and former Allen High Principal Dr. John McHugh ("You think Doc McHugh is a good speaker, you should have heard his father," Joe says.)
Gone is his partner, Roy Eichelberger, with whom he ran a roofing and siding business until 12 years ago.
And gone is Joes wife, Barbara, who gave him his daughter, also Barbara, who now lives in New Jersey with her husband, a corporate lawyer. But McHugh has replaced the old friends with new. And most are made through TV.
"TV is the whole thing today," he says. "Years ago there were some great performers, but few people heard of them. Now, people are on TV once, and theyre stars. Half the people dont belong on it. "I get some funny mail. Last Christmas, I got a frame with 12 to 18 beautiful pictures in it. The note just said From your friends in Connecticut. Nothing else. Ladies are always sending me cakes. One little girl gave me a red carnation."
The secret is his voice. With it, he refuses to fade away. Its his weapon against Dr. Death. People love the gravel of his old-time announcing. And those people are keeping him active, keeping away Dr. Death.
"Over the years, announcers have changed," he says. "Once in a while, I go into a supermarket or a mall and hear an announcer speaking into the microphone like its a telephone. You cant do that. Youve gotta speak from your stomach.
"Its like my wife used to tell me when I left for work,
Keep your big mouth open. "
(Allentown Morning Call, May 3, 1984)
By John Kunda
For an hour or so early last night I wasnt sure if I wanted to laugh, cry, throw-up or walk out on the taping of a TV show called, "Super Athletes/ Super Entertainers: The World of Professional Wrestling."
At one time or another, I kind of thought that the lovely Shelley Brown Silfies, our TV host, might have had the same ideas.
The professional wrestling crowd had warned mehucksters like Capt. Lou Albano and Fred Blassie have a way of making blood boil. The performers themselves, Roddy Piper, in this case, arent too far behind, either.
Oh, there was a "good guy" on this panel show, a Phil Donahue kind of production created at WLVT-TV Channel 39. He goes by the name of Sgt. Slaughter, an ex-Marine who loves, honors and obeys everything that is America.
What got to me more than anything else was that the more arrogant Albano and Blassie became, the more the crowd (around a 100 who got in on free tickets) loved it. In fact, the crowd got a little arrogant, too, and, at one time during the audience question-and-answer participation, Silfies halted the proceedings and pleaded, "does anybody have an intelligent question?"
Bless those hucksters and their abrasiveness. Apparently thats what the pro wrestling crowd wants. The crowd eats it up. P.T. Barnum would have had Albano and Blassie on his side, you can bet on that. They would have been real captains in his army.
Obviously, they laugh themselves all the way to the bank. Its like Piper, a guy who wears a Scotish kilt as his gimmick, said when he was asked why he came up from Georgia. "For money," he said. When asked to elaborate, he said: "More money."
Ask anybody in the crowd what he or she (pro wrestling probably has more women followers than any other pro sport) thinks about the grunt-and-groan set and the answer rarely changes. Showmanship, they say. "They are great entertainers," said one young lady, who looked to be in her early 20s.
An older gentleman, who showed his support by wearing a yellow T-shirt that had the name and picture of Magnificent Muraco on the front, said he like the competitiveness of pro wrestling. It didnt matter to him that Albano and Blassie are the great manufacturers of competitiveness. There are good guys and bad guys, you know.
Albano, who says he built a reputation on politeness, etiquette, and grooming (actually, the opposite of all of the above), calls the performers in his sport, "the greatest athletes in the world . . . Id match them against any athlete in any other sport." The crowd gave that thought a rousing applause.
Albanos entrance was something of a spectacle. His dress code baggy warmup pants and beach sandalswas spectacle enough. Rubber bands hung from his ear, and another rubber band made his shaggy beard look like an ice cream cone dangling from his chin. "Thats grooming," he said of the rubber band around his beard.
Some of the crowd cheered him. Others, the majority, it seemed, booed him. Blassie, an elderly white-haired gentleman, fashions himself as a Dapper Dan. He wears diamond rings and a diamond in a gold chain around his neck. His big claim these days is his No. 1 man, the Iron Shiek, who has to be one of the bad guys in the business. Blassie sure is, and more than once, he was called a traitor by someone in the crowd. Must have done something to a good guy, I guess.
Talk about apple pie, hot dogs and the American flag and you have Sgt. Slaughter. Hes a hero no matter where he goes. He got a standing ovation when he marched into the studio, fatigues, combat boots, sunglasses and all.
His big gimmick right now is a Cobra Corps, a fan club of sorts, I presume. Hes got a wrestling hold called the Cobra Clutch, something he said he invented in the Marines and used it in Viet Nam. He even had some willing soul in the audience to come forward to demonstrate. "I wont apply any pressure," Slaughter said, taking the man around the neck in a hold that even looked dangerous.
Part of the show was Vince McMahon, a muscle kind of guy who runs Titan Sports, a promotional firm in pro wrestling. He knows the ins and outs of promotion, and when Silfies asked him if there was anything fake about the sport, he cleverly said, "it is part of the mystique of the sport."
McMahon didnt mind answering a question about the money some of the stars make in pro wrestling. He said the incomes vary, depending on how much work a wrestler wants. The crowd almost fell to its feet when he said Mr. Hogan makes about $700,000 a year. "But," he said, "a guy like Frank Williams doesnt go to the bank that often."
The show, which is part of an overall package called, "Your
Turn, Lehigh Valley," will be aired twice later this month. It will be shown on May
26 at 10 p.m., and again on May 27 at 3 p.m.
(Allentown Morning Call, March 29, 1985)
By Paul Willistein
Theres a joke in The Morning Call newsroom and it goes like this:
Is it sports or entertainment?
What it is, is big business.
Take Sundays "Wrestlemania," featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. opposing Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff. Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, former Yankees manager Billy Martin and entertainer Liberace are getting into the act. Ali will be referee; Martin, emcee, and Liberace, timekeeper.
The match at Madison Square Garden is sold out. (Tickets are available for the 1 p.m. closed circuit telecast at Dieruff High School auditorium). It is estimated 1.8 million persons across the country will see the match.
Pro wrestling, of course, is nothing new. Its been around since at least the 1930s (in this area matches were held at the former Central Park in east Allentown). And its had peaks and valleys of popularity with the public. What is new is the renewed popularity of thesport? . . . entertainment? -- ever since the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) forged "the rock n wrestling connection."
That connection began last May at Allentown Fairgrounds Agricultural Hall. It started with some insults traded by Capt. Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper on "Pipers Pit," an interview segment shown between televised matches.
One thing led to another and soon Lauper was promoting woman wrestler Wendy Richter who "defeated" the Fabulous Moolah, coached by Albano in "The Brawl to Settle It All."
At an awards ceremony in December, Laupers manager David Wolff was roughed up. Then, Piper, refering to Lauper and her music, said, "I dont like rock n roll. Its not good for the family."
MTV got heavily into the act by telecasting clips of rock stars Kenny Loggins, Peter Wolf, Tina Turner, Greg Kihn, Patty Smyth, Ted Nugent and Dee Snider defending rock. Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro were shown taking sides ("Free speech and the WWF," chortled Steinem). Rock journalists Charles M. Young and Timothy White waxed philosophical.
The stage was set for "The War to Settle the Score" on Feb. 18, with Hogan against Piper before a sell-out crowd of 23,000 at Madison Square Garden. Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo and Mr. T were there, with the latter leaping into the ring, furthering the gambit and orchestrating Sundays match.
You can bet boxing promoter Don King is envious. We havent had match titles like these since "The Thrilla in Manila." And Mr. T andthe other celebs give professional wrestling a stamp of legitimacy. Still, professional wrestling amounts to perpetual promotionso why not Ali, Martin and Liberace, three of the biggest self-promoters in media history?
The rock n wrestling connection is apparently paying off. An article in Amusement Business estimated 2 million watched MTVs Feb. 18 telecast of the match"an audience five times greater than that for the normal viewing period." With MTVs viewership declining by an estimated 25 percent, professional wrestling is no laughing matter.
And the WWF is practically the only game in town. At a recent match sponsored by the rival National Wrestling Alliance, which booked Agricultural Hall after the WWF pulled out, the estimated 2,500 seats were half to three-quarters filled. The next night at Muhlenberg Memorial Hall, a WWF card attracted a crowd of about 3,500.
Vince McMahon, WWF president, told Amusement Business: "Wrestling has been traditionally a geographically fragmented industry." Now, according to McMahon, WWF matches are aired on more than 100 TV stations and cable, including USA Cable. "From some two dozen wrestlers under contract in the 60s, the WWF has grown to include a roster of roughly 200 stars," states a press release from New York publicity firm Bozell & Jacobs which is trumpeting Sundays match.
"Were in the entertainment business," McMahon told the entertainment newsweekly. "Its not really a sport or an entertainment in the purest sense of the word. Its in a category by itself."
Surely, that category is big business. The match on Palm Sunday will gross an estimated $18 million.
One final sidelight:
When professional wrestling was televised back in the black and white 50s, it appeared cardboard cutouts of people were placed in the back rows to make the shows seem sold-out. The cardboard people were frozen in paroxysms, faces contorted and fists raised.
The cardboard people concept intrigued me more than what was going on in the ring. At 6, I figured that if the wrestling promoters resorted to fake people in the audience, that had to reflect on the validity of the wrestling in the ring.
Now that the promoters dont need cardboard people to fill up the seats, how do the wrestling fans, especially the younger ones, know whether what they see in the ring is real?
With Mr. T there, maybe they wont even question it.
(Allentown Morning Call, April 1, 1985)
By Jeff Fleishman
The crowd of 2,200 in Dieruff High Schools gymnasium went wild when mild- mannered Andre The Giant body-slammed the villainous Big John Studd yesterday in a head-bashing Wrestlemania extravaganza that was beamed in via closed circuit television from New Yorks Madison Square Garden.
But Andres slam was only a warm-up for the Main Event, which featured a grudge match between "good guys" Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, of televisions "A Team," against "bad guys" Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Mr. Wonderful Orndorff.
A touch of class was added to the ring when boxing great Muhammad Ali acted as referee, pianist Liberaceflanked by showgirlsserved as timekeeper and hot-tempered former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin held his cool as ring announcer.
There was also the bizarre when orange-haired pop star Cyndi Lauper danced to her hit song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Lauper is a wrestling fanatic who featured a pro-wrestler in one of her music videos. She is also the enemy of Rowdy Piper.
After a whopping series of headlocks, hammerlocks, slams and flying leaps from the ropes, Hogan and Mr. T defeated Piper and Orndorff as the audience roared, capping nearly three hours of body slinging and wrestling madness.
The grudge match spilled out of the ring and into the front seats, where 300-pound Hogan was clobbered with a chair while Mr. T put a mean eye-gouge on Rowdy Piper. The sweaty bodies, grimaces and groans coming from the ring drew yells and whistles from the crowd. "Pandemonium," the announcer shrieked.
"It was awesome," said Brent Kistler. "I was rooting for the good guysHulk Hogan, Mr. T and the others." Susana Barry, 65, was also beaming when Hogan and Mr. T left the ring victorious. "It was wonderful. I was rooting for Mr. T. I love him."
The much-lauded event hit the height of media publicity recently and is said to be responsible for a resurgence in pro-wrestling popularity. More than 20,000 people jammed Madison Square Garden and another estimated 1.8 million are believed to have seen the show on closed circuit television at 200 locations in the United States and Canada.
The overly dramatized actions, the huge and muscular bodies and the bright colored outfits added to the excitement as spectators in the Dieruff gymnasium jabbered away in wrestling lingo and bragged about their heroes.
"I like Paul Orndorff. hes a fox," said one girl. Another responded, "I like Brutus Beefcakes leopard leotards."
Promoter for the local closed circuit television show was Father Joe Sica of the Pocono Central Catholic High School in Cresco. The proceeds went to the school. Tickets sold for $9 and about 300 people were turned away. Many fans began lining up outside Dieruff to buy tickets at 8:30 a.m. The event, which consisted of nine matches, started at 1 p.m.
A number of fans got rowdy themselves when the picture on the big screen became fuzzy numerous times during the first hour of the show. Wet wires were blamed. The picture was clear for the main event.
"I got into wrestling because my fathers into it. Its funny how people get crazy. Its like everyone knows its fake, but its entertaining," said Gary Arner of Lehighton.
When asked who his favorite wrestling star is, 11-year-old Eric Schummer responded, "Hulk Hogan. I go to all the wrestling stuff. Im not really excited about Mr. T. I like Hulks physique. Hes good and doesnt cheat."
Hogan, who stands over 6-foot-5 and has 24-inch biceps, is the favorite of many fans. His corn silk hair and tanned body, which was clad in yellow tights and matching boots, put him in with the likes of Gorgeous George. The match was the first for Mr. T, who starred in Rocky III.
"Hulk Hogan. Hes so good looking . . . It (the wrestling) is probably fake, but its just the fact that theyre entertaining you," said Jennie Hausman, 31, who been a fan for 20 years. A lot of excitement also surrounded the championship match between Wendi Richter, managed by Cyndi Lauper, and Leilani Kai. Kai defeated Richter in February, but yesterday, after hair-pulling and elbowing, Richter recaptured her championship belt.
Wrestling has also capitalized on fans patriotic sentiments. This was evident yesterday when The Iron Sheik and Russian Nikolai Volkoff teamed up against Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo.
There were loud boos and comments such as, "Go back and ride a camel" when the Sheik and Volkoff defeated the Americans. Volkoff rubbed it in by singing the Soviet anthem. For Lisa Hall, the day was made when Andre The Giant, who stands over seven feet tall and weighes over 400 pounds, left the ring victorious.
"I like Andre because hes so cute. And hes a good
wrestler. The best of all of them. Yeaaa Andre."
The WAWLI Papers # 638...
RAIN OR WILD, HOGS AND WRESTLING
(Allentown Morning Call, Aug. 22, 1986)
Rain or shine, the show had to go on. Professional wrestling was booked as last nights main attraction in front of the grandstand at the Carbon County Fair at the Lehighton Fairgrounds, and the show went on as scheduled, in the rain.
There were four two-man bouts and a womens tag team match, all staged on a specially erected ring on the race track in front of the grandstand. In the first match, Sgt. Slaughter took on the Russian Assassin.
Other matches had D.C. Drake, former CWA champion, wrestling Eddie Mirenda; Larry Winters wrestling Damien Kane, and Terry Daniels wrestling Sheik Al Shaad. The womens match concluded the program.
A steady rain had fallen all day, but wrestling promoter Bob Raskin of Philadelphia said "the show must go on."
Also, despite the rain, the annual Carbon County 4-H market hog sale
was held yesterday afternoon at the fairgrounds. There were 50 pigs with a total weight of
11,917 pounds sold atauction by Houser and Sons of New Ringgold R.1.
(Allentown Morning Call, March 9, 1987)
By Sylvia Lawler
Whats a soft-spoken, intellectual type like Channel 39s producer-director Kerwin Silfies doing trekking around the country with the barbarian likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage? Making a name for himself directing big-time wrestling on both network and syndicated television, is what. And helping producers rack up huge ratings in the doing.
Silfies, a Bethlehem native, is in his second season as director of NBCs "Saturday Nights Main Event," the 90-minute taped World Federation of Wrestling bash seen on the network the weeks that "Saturday Night Live" is not. Obviously, a director of wrestling chooses angles and directs the camera action, not the fake-foolery going on in the ring.
Silfies has just about cornered the market in calling the shots for professional wrestling on television. He has been doing all the WWF shows for the past three years. Their three syndicated shows, "Superstars of Wrestling," "Wrestling Challenge" and "Wrestling Spotlight," are seen around here largely on Saturday mornings.
When Vince McMahon head of the WWFs parent company, Titan Sports, and his co-executive producer, Dick Ebersol, were about to embark on "Saturday Nights Main Event," it was natural that they approach Silfies, who already had a reputation as a director of wrestling. (Ebersol, the former producer of "Saturday Night Life," is married to actress Susan Saint James. Silfies is married to Channel 39 on-air personality and the stations director of special projects, Shelley Brown Silfies).
This coming Saturday at 11:30 p.m., audiences will see an unusual (for television) 20-man over-the-top-rope Battle Royale featuring a score of wrestling superstars including The Hulk. "Its a good show of particular interest," says Silfies; "a free-for-all where the wrestler are eliminated one at a time as they get thrown over the top rope."
He also does the live, once-a-year major event "Wrestlemania," which is shown on closed-circuit screens around the world and is set for later this month in Detroit. Silfies, who has a degree in broadcasting from Temple but says he really learned his trade over his 17 years with Channel 39, is getting a kick out of all of it. He does not disdain wrestling as so many do.
"I think its wonderful. Having done a whole lot of both collegiate and professional wrestling work for television over the years, I think its a great sport. In college, its wonderful for conditioning and for discipline. Professional wrestling? Its about as entertaining an event as you can go to. I have seen thousands of people come into arena and they always go away happy."
But isnt professional wrestling really programmed for the lowest common denominator?
"That perception couldnt be further from the truth," Silfies said. "Audiences are almost always more upscale than you would think. Theres also an enormous group of closest fans who wouldnt miss the shows."
Must be so. Its boggling to realize that among all syndicated
programming, the three shows Silfies directs for Titan Sports are third in the ratings,
after only "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."
(Allentown Morning Call, June 18, 1987)
By Gary R. Blockus
Paul "Paul Vallentine" Lebish proudly smiles and points to his chipped front tooth.
"Ivan Putski did this to me," he says, his blond tresses housed beneath a colorful polka dot bandana.
What "Polish Power" did to Lebish/Vallentine is nothing. Pro wrestlers like the Samoans, Stan Hansen, Killer Kowalski, Rocky Jones, Sgt. Slaughter and the Strong Bow Brothers have put quite a few beatings into the Northampton residents hide. A broken jaw, broken leg, broken toes and fingers have not led the 34- year-old Lebish/Vallentine to any great law suits or fortune, however.
Vallentine prefers to trade blows with these bastions of wrestling legerdemain. After all, wrestling under the name of Paul Vallentine, Lebish is the co-holder of the All-American Association of Wrestling (AAW) tag team championship. Vallentine and partner Sheik Molina of Iraq comprise "The Concorde Connection," because thats just about what it takes to get them together.
This notorious pair of bad guys is not known worldwide because the AAW does not have a television contract, but is still heartily booed and hissed, spit at and the object of flying objects from tomatoes to full soda cans.
While the AAW is a decided unknown against organizations like the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWF), the fans still come out.
"We have house shows," explains AAW promoter Tito Torrez, a former WWF wrestler who started the AAW about seven years ago.
"Once in a blue moon we go on cable television, but we cant count on that. We rely on the live gate."
Vallentine has been wrestling professionally for about five years, and started with the local "Continental Wrestling Alliance" out of Easton.
Another Northampton resident "Machine No. 2," is also wrestling for the AAW. Unfortunately, he wrestles with a mask to hide his true identity, and Torrez pleaded that Machine No. 2s true identity not be revealed.
Vallentine has been with the AAW for about two years, though he had some time off due to an injury. He and Sheik Molina defeated Larry Winter and Rick Reed for the vacant AAW tag team title.
Eliminator Machine is the heavyweight champion of the league, and Machine No. 2 is his tag team partner. Machine No. 2 stands about 6-foot-1 and weighs in around 375-pounds. Vallentine is 5-foot-8 and 235-pounds.
Both Vallentine/Lebish and Machine No. 2 work for the Atlas Grain Corporation and got their wrestling start through the D.C. Drake Wrestling School.
"He is kind of small," Torrez said of the tag team co-champion, "but he is a very good worker and understands what to do."
Vallentine undergoes rigorous training with weights and does road work, though he hates running as much as he hates his opponents. As is the case with most professional wrestling matches, the rules are left in the locker room once the bell sounds.
"Im master of the pile driver," Vallentine said with a sneer. "Ive been known to use brass knuckles and the infamous foreign object, even though I deny carrying either."
"I can bench press over 500 pounds, I squat about 640 and I can military press 390," Vallentine says of his strength. "Ive been known to deadlift very close to 700."
Vallentine/Lebish became interested in professional wrestling when he, his father and uncle, Bob Kish (a former Mr. Hawaii and Mr. Armed Forces bodybuilding title holder), used to take in the wrestling shows in Allentown.
Autographs were impossible to get, even from the legendaries like Bruno Sammartino and Ivan Koloff, and Lebish vowed that if he ever became a professional wrestler, he would be a different breed.
"Now that Im in that position, I take extra time for the kids," he said. "I check their muscles and I shake their hands. I go to the hospitals and talk to the little kids, share some time with the less fortunate.
"My own son is 11. I remember when he was five and I told him I would be one of the best wrestlers for my size in the United States. It seems like Ive worked my way up to being that right now."
Vallentine and Sheik Molina must make a mandatory title defense once a month, and upcoming matches are scheduled for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
"I eat nine square meals a day," Vallentine boasts, "and Ive been known to spend $20 in one shot at McDonalds.
"Im pretty solid and well-schooled in the martial arts. I have to study like a college student. I have a book with over 1,000 wrestling moves and I match them up in my mind."
Vallentine said the hardest part about being tag team champion is he never sees his partner. "He only speaks one or two words of English. I dont even know his real name."
Because his body takes such an extreme pounding, Vallentine/Lebish gets full body X-rays once a month. He also has a chiropractor taking care of his back and spinal alignment. Why does he subject himself to such abuse at the age of 34?
"This is the prime time of my life," he responded.
"Im not too old to be doing this and Im not too young and inexperienced
to to get badly hurt."
(Allentown Morning Call, Sept. 6, 1987)
By Rosa Salter
As best I can figure, in pro wrestling there are good guys and bad guys.
He-Man Lewis (of Lansdale, Pennsylvaaaania, proclaims the ring announcer) is a good guy. You can tell because hes tanned and blond and in shape and wears bright red, form-fitting trunks.
You can also tell because his opponent is named Mr. Anthony, and Mr. Anthony has magenta hair. He is wearing a matching satin cape and ruffled purple shorts, lisps when he yells at the ref, and carries a mink into the ring.
No, not a mink coat. A mink animal. Well, its not actually a mink. Its actually a ferret, says the teen-age girl who guards it while Mr. Anthony is being thrown against the ropes. Repeatedly. He-Man is managed, just this once, by Uncle Bob, the Q-100 (WQQQ-FM) personality, who can only be distinguished from the wrestlers by the fact he is wearing a goofy Hawaiian shirt.
Uncle Bob and He-Man dont get along too well. You could tell when He-Man smashed a painting over Uncle Bobs head when Uncle Bobs speech presenting it to the people of the Lehigh Valley went on too long.
He-Man Lewis wins this match by a sneaky move while Uncle Bob is still feuding with the referee over the painting. Mr. Anthony does not take his loss too well either. He leaves the ring sulkily stroking his ferret.
Sometimes its kinda hard to tell who the good guys are. The Beach Boys (not the rock group) look to be the good guys, since they wear red form-fitting trunks and one is tanned and blond. There are two of them, and they "wrestle" the Fantastics, who dress in black glitter suits and look like refugees from the Chippendales. Mostly, they slap each other in the head.
The idea here seems to be tag wrestling, one guy of ours handling one guy of theirs, until both Beach Boys gang up on one Fantastic and slam him on his back.
The ref doesnt seem to mind. The crowd loves it. The Fantastics try a similar move. The Beach Boys lose. But you can tell that theyre really the good guys, because after the match, one of them is deftly bottle-feeding a tiny baby just inside the backstage area where no one is supposed to be able to see him.
Also in pro wrestling, there are the contenders in the ring and then there is the audience. Sometimes its hard to tell the difference here, too, because a lot of the show takes place in the audience.
Like, for example, when woman World Champion Wendi Richter, who dances into the ring to Cyndi Laupers "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," throws challenger Heidi Lee Morgan across the ring, through the ropes and into the first and second rows.
Then theres Sgt. Slaughter. The Sgt. has tremendous biceps and a protruding chin that looks like it either should be on a character in Beetle Bailey or carved in granite. He takes it on the chin quite a few times from his opponent, the Russian Assassin, who is dressed in a blue one-piece bodysuit and wears a mask, so we cant see what his chin looks like.
The two are the first to wrestle in a 12-foot-high cage that has been erected around the ring and threatens to fall over at any moment, mostly the ones when one of the contenders has climbed it to get a better angle for jumping down on his opponents head.
Once or twice, the Assassin comes close to stepping on the Sgts head. The Sgt. almost stomps on the Assassins fingers. But the Sgt., who is a good guy, because he is defending the honor of the U.S.A., wins byescaping from the cage after coming close to strangling the Assassin while the latter, defenseless, lies flat on his back. This also is apparently OK with the ref.
Everyone is sure the final match, between Bruiser Brody and Abdulah the (probably 400-pound) Butcher will be a blood match. The children in the audience (who you can tell from the grown-ups because the children usually know more about the wrestlers) spend intermission debating whether its real blood or fake blood.
"I know its fake," says 14-year-old Ed Seidich of
Coplay, who says that other than the bad guys, who he always roots for, the blood is the
(Allentown Morning Call, Sept. 6, 1987)
By Tim Darragh
For almost everyone, enjoying a day at the Allentown Fair is simple enough. Theres plenty of parking, enough food for an army and entertainment ranging from the bizarre to the wholesome. But for Carl Brosious, the stage manager at the grandstand shows, coordinating a days entertainment at the trackside stands is anything but simple.
Take yesterday for example.
Brosious and his partner Joe Mininger had the pleasant task of coordinating a professional wrestling show and, four hoursafter the last body was slammed and the last eyeball gouged, turning on the stage lights for the rock group Chicago.
If you think thats easy, youve never dealt with equipment trucks that arrive early, other equipment trucks that arrive late, setting up several thousand chairs - only to take them down and reset them in another formation, and creating a band stage while a wrestling show goes on. But definitely toughest of all, tougher than coordinating all that, tougher than making all those people happy, was telling some very large wrestlers that they couldnt eat at the bands catering tent.
"The wrestlers came in" to the food tent, Brosious said, shaking his head. "I told the promoter they couldnt eat there. I wasnt going to tell them. I wasnt as big as them."
Happily, the wrestlers took the news well, he said, adding that he gave them soft drinks as a gesture of appreciation.
Before that, however, Brosious and crew had an early start to their problems. The first problem was one not usually associated with the production of rock shows. The first of Chicagos three 48-foot trailers pulled into the fairgrounds more than an hour early.
But the wrestling ring, coming up from Camden, N.J., was 90 minutes late. As the stagehands straggled in around 10:30 a.m., they began working on the band stage. That in itself, Brosious continued, created a problem because it prevented the wrestlers from making a quick exit from the ring.
"It creates a security problem," he said as the steel cage surrounding the ring was constructed. "Wrestlers dont like to be outside a restricted area." He pointed out that some fans get the urge to strike back at the "bad guys" whenever they get a chance. The seating was set up so that the wrestlers could enter and exit the ring in a quick walk accompanied by some burly security guards. None of the wrestlers, however, seemed to need security guards.
The wrestlers and their management also didnt mind the stage work the Chicago crew was doing during their performance, as long as they didnt make much noise, of course.
However, construction of the steel cage took longer than expectedat one point, a bar fell on the head of one of the workers - and pushed back the ending time of show. That also meant less time to rearrange the several thousand seats on the track in front of the bandstand.
The delay gave a few extra minutes to Sgt. Slaughter, the star wrestler who had to be flown in to Allentown. Later in the day, a driver would return to the airport, where Chicago would be landing after a flight from Lake Placid, N.Y.
Meanwhile, chefs from Quichessentials Catering were busy preparing for the bands requested entree, black-tip mako shark.
"These guys," Brosious said, "are real laid-back." Brosious said he could not say exactly how much the days production cost, saying no two shows are alike.
"This is my seventh year, and Ive seen it go as high as $2,700 and as low as $600." He said the country music performers are easiest to please. They usually just want some good barbecued chicken or ribs, he said.
Brosious wife Bonnie, the spokeswoman for the fair, said years ago it was easier to coordinate a couple of grandstand shows each day because the acts did not have such elaborate equipment. One bands manager was a "basket case" when he came out and saw a demolition derby going on before his bands concert.
With a wrestling show in the afternoon, fair planners had been hoping to have a rock act in the evening that would not require track seating. But Chicago, she said, insisted on it. Although it created a logistical problem, track seating is more comfortable for the audience, she noted. Such is the life of the backstage crew and producers.
An estimated 120,000 people visited the fair yesterday and last nights Chicago concert drew 7,274, according to Bonnie Brosious.
Members of the band Alabama, which was in town earlier last week, also gave Bonnie a rather unusual assessment of the 135th version of the Great Allentown Fair.
"Theyre at one gig after another," she said, "and they came back to the fair. They said it was a nice, nice fair. It doesnt even smell, " they told her.
Of course, wrestling and rock concerts were not the only things going on at the fairgrounds. One new item at the fair this year is the newest media star, Spuds McKenzie, Budweiser beers "party animal" mascot. Vendors at booths along the midway said the stuffed dogs wearing party hats, imitation Jams, sunglasses and party hats are big hits with the public.
"Spuds is very hot," Darren Wimmer said at the
tip-the-milk-bottle booth. "I gave a lot away." And Judd Goodhimself
wearing a Spuds T-shirtsaid the stuffed bull terriers are more popular at his booth
than the traditional teddy bear. At other booths, vendors, apparently trying to cash in on
the Spuds craze, offered Spuds look-alikes - stuffed bears wearing sunglasses and "I
love you" T-shirts.
(Allentown Morning Call, January 8, 1988)
Inclement weather in Atlanta and Nashville was blamed yesterday for the postponement of a World Wrestling Federation wrestling event at Agricultural Hall in Allentown.
The wrestling meet had been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. yesterday, but was rescheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow, according to wrestler Johnny Valiant.
"Some of the wrestlers were stranded at airports in Nashville and Atlanta and elsewhere due to inclement weather," said Valiant. "It had to be postponed until Saturday because the planes in those cities could not take off."
Valiant said Titan Sports of Stanford, Conn., the promoter of the wrestling show, "has added a 20-man over-the-top battle royal elimination bout to make up for the inconvenience" caused by the postponement.
The wrestling card will feature such stars as Junkyard Dog, Hercules and the British Bulldogs and an all-women tag team match.
A spokesman for the Ritz restaurant in the Allentown Fairgrounds, which sold about 500 tickets for the event, said last night only "eight or nine people" had sought a refund because of the postponement.
Jeff Stinner, the spokesman, said persons seeking refunds were instructed to return their tickets to the Federation in Stanford. He said one person became upset because he could not be given an immediate cash refund.
Stan Bloch, who contacted The Morning Call, complained that he purchased three $12 ringside seats earlier in the day. He said he was required to pay for them in cash. However, when he attempted to get his money back after learning of the postponement he said he was told he would have to send the tickets to the Federation for a refund.
Stinner gave two reasons for the policy. "First of all, a number of tickets were given to local radio stations as a promotion," he said, in suggesting that the Ritz has no way of distinguishing between those tickets and those that it sold.
Second, he said, it would be difficult for the restaurant to handle
large scale refund requests because of the amount of money that could be involved and the
(Allentown Morning Call, Feb. 14, 1988)
By Hal Marcovitz
Exterminator Machine No. 2 thought the question over for a moment, shrugged his massive shoulders and offered an answer. Yes, he said, it does get tedious keeping up the pace of a professional wrestler.
"You hop on a plane, get off, go to the arena and then back to a hotel. Its a rough life. Everybody thinks its peaches and cream, but its not," he said.
Paul Valentine nodded in agreement. "Ive broken my jaw, all my toes, all my fingers and a couple of ribs," he said. "But Im at the top of my game."
Exterminator Machine No. 2 and Valentine stopped off at the Quakertown Farmers Market in Richland Township yesterday for a personal appearance, taking a break from their 300-day-a-year schedule as competitors in the All- American Wrestling Association.
Exterminator Machine, who doesnt give out his real name, is a 375-pound mountain who dresses all in black, including a full-face mask. At 23, he has been wrestling for four years and confides that he is close to inking a deal for a title shot. His opponent will be his old tag-team partner, Exterminator Machine No. 1.
"The last match we had I hit him over the head with his belt," said Machine No. 2. "He knows I can beat him. I hope he reads this."
Valentine, 34, isnt so secretive. His real name is Paul Lebish and he is already a champion, sharing the tag-team belt with his partner, Sheik Moleno from Baghdad, Iraq.
Valentine and Exterminator Machine No. 2 both live in Northampton, but as they said, neither wrestler gets much of an opportunity to spend a lot of time at home. Valentine said they expect to be wrestling up and down the East Coast this year. Both men have matches scheduled in Australia at the end of the summer, and in Japan in 1989.
"Were never in any one place for more than three days," said Valentine.
Between matches they do a lot of personal appearances. Yesterday they were helping Joseph Zemba of Catasauqua stage the opening of his athletic wear store in the Quakertown market. Zemba said he got in touch with Valentine and Exterminator Machine No. 2 because he believes wrestlers are popular public figures who can draw customers to a store opening.
"To put it in perspective, its entertainment," said Zemba, while Valentine and Exterminator Machine No. 2 signed some autographs. "Its appealing to everyone." Valentine agreed, but he likes to talk about wrestling more in historical terms.
Professional wrestling is the last frontier. Its still a sport for gladiators, just like in the old days at the Colosseum," he said. "Certainly on some other planet, maybe one thats not as civilized as ours, the same thing is happening."
Valentine, whose 235-pound frame was decorated with his championship belt, a green tiger-striped bandanna and green-rimmed sunglasses, said he tried to break into wrestling for eight years before he was finally successful. That included a $5,000 investment to attend a "wrestling school."
Exterminator Machine No. 2 had an easier time getting in but a rougher time getting started. He rolled up his sleeve to reveal a nasty scar, the result of a torn rotator cuff he suffered during his first match. The injury kept him out of the ring for 18 months.
"My start was a little unlucky," he said. For now, Exterminator Machine No. 2 has his eye on his old partner and Valentine is looking forward to the day when he and Sheik Moleno can face off against the Shepherds, a pair of wrestlers who hold a grudge against the champions.
Will Valentine and Exterminator Machine No. 2 ever face each other in combat? Indeed, Valentine said, a promoter is working out the details for a "New York street fight type of thing." Valentine explained that the match, when it finally comes off, probably wont have many rules to get in the way of the action.
Valentine glanced over toward Exterminator Machine No. 2. He said,
"The first one to go unconscious from loss of blood will lose. Other than that,
were close personal friends."
(Allentown Morning Call, March 5, 1988)
By Gay Elwell
Professional wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage greeted a former fans autograph request with a body slam, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Northampton County Court.
The suit says Savage, a Largo, Fla., resident now billed as a "good guy" on the World Wrestling Federation circuit, stood over the bleeding, injured man and said, "Hows that for an autograph, boy?"
Phillipsburg attorney Joseph J. Russo filed the suit on behalf of David Peschel of Washington R.1, N.J. Peschel is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Savage, whose real name is Randy Poffo.
Criminal charges are pending in Northampton County Court in the alleged May 7, 1986, attack on Peschel. Savage, who is 6-feet-4 and weighs 280 pounds, according to the suit, also has criminal charges pending against him in Florida for allegedly assaulting a 65-pound 9-year-old fan who asked him for a "high five."
According to Peschels complaint, he had attended a pro wrestling match featuring Savage on May 7, 1986, at Agricultural Hall in Allentown. Savage, whose picture was on the cover of the program, was at the time the holder of the WWFs "Intercontinental Championship." He had won that title from Tito Santano at the Boston Garden "after striking Tito Santanos head with a blatantly illegal blow utilizing a hidden weapon," the suit says.
Peschel, who is about 20 years old, was driving home along Route 22 when he spotted Savage, driving east in a blue Mercedes Benz. Savage was accompanied by his wife and manager, "Miss Elizabeth," and a 6-foot-tall, 350-pound bodyguard.
Savage exited at 13th Street in Easton, and Peschel followed. Savage stopped for a red light and Peschel motioned to him to autograph his program, then got out of his car and approached Savages.
Savage, Miss Elizabeth and the bodyguard all got out of the Mercedes and Peschel politely asked the wrestler for an autograph, the suit says. In response, Savage struck Peschel in the face, then lifted him above his head and threw him to the ground in a body slam.
As a result of the body slam, Peschel suffered a variety of
injuries, including fractured vertebrae, as well as facial cuts and bruises, bruised and
damaged ribs and blurred vision, the suit says. The complaint says the attack was
unprovoked, and Savage intentionally and maliciously committed battery on Peschel
"with wanton and reckless disregard for his rights, safety, life and limb."
(Allentown Morning Call, May 19, 1988)
By Carol Cleveland
Maybe it was that sorry little South Dakota town with its bars and quick- stop stores which finally led David Mosir to the Monster Factory.
Or maybe it was just the idea of spending another night on the grimy strip where men are always shooting pool and wishing for more.
"There were bars and movies and bowling there," says Mosir, standing by the square of bruised canvas where he practices nightly.
"Mostly, there was fighting. I used to be a bouncer at this bar. Id take the guys and throw them out by the throat, and theyd always be standing there screaming that theyd come back and get me.
"But they never did."
The backdrop for this scene is a hand-painted sign showing the Monster Factorys logo of a man squashing the blood from a chicken. Mosir ate a whole chicken plus some mashed potatoes before he came to practice, and now he says hes still hungry and hell eat more later. He weighs 430 pounds.
"This is how it is in wrestling. Every meals a banquet. Every paycheck is a fortune. And every group of men is a parade," says Mosir.
Its this life, this buffet of body blocks and grunts, that keeps men like Mosir coming to the Monster Factory. Here, for $3,000, former pro Larry Sharpe will teach a student enough strangle holds and scissor kicks to go from being a garage mechanic to being a pro wrestler, maybe someone with a name like Sergeant Slaughter or Bam Bam Bigelow.
Roughly 100 wrestlers have trained here since the school opened in 1984. Its current enrollment includes a prison guard; an Alaskan woman who calls herself The Arctic Fox; Mosir, known since November as Chief Thunder Mountain; and a 172-pound auto mechanic, who looks more like a schoolyard punk than a professional body slammer.
Some came to the factory when they left the Army. Others came when they left their marriages, and still more came after leaving bad jobs.
"Im not here to teach them super-phenomenal things, like jumping off the ropes and splashing down on people. Thats the kind of thing that comes with time," Sharpe says. "I just explain to them that theyll get enough here to have a preliminary match with another wrestler like them. To be a superstar, thats a pretty risky thing."
The first matches will pay $50 to $100, so with time, an aspiring wrestler can cover his tuition. It will take considerable luck to make millions.
Some Monster Factory grads may go on to the Spectrum or the Garden. Others will see their lifes work stenciled on a cardboard sign, like the ones that line the walls of the Monster Factory.
"Tag Team Match/ Special Midget Match/ Special 10 Man Battle Royal Lancaster Catholic High School/ June 20/ Ringside $7"
A days work will mean the long walk from locker room to the ring, past the crowd in its Budweiser frenzy, the kids waving their "Wrestling Eye" magazines, the girlfriends in stiletto heels. Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe wanted this existence from the time his father took him to his first match. Sharpe guesses he was about 8. He knew wrestling before he knew football or baseball.
"Its the glory that motivates people into this. Its the travel. Its the excitement," says Sharpe, 37. "I wrestled 375 times in one year. It wasnt as bad as it sounds."
He is wearing a T-shirt with the dead chicken logo, sitting at ringside in the Monster Factory building with its machine-shop feel of cinder blocks and concrete floors. His hair, bleached to the color of straw, hangs to his shoulders.
"I beat a bear in Molokai one time. I was the first guy to ever pin a bear. It was our 10th or 12th match, and Id wrestled him about eight minutes. He was declawed and he had a muzzle on, but theyre strong. Theyre extremely strong."
Light streams from the sport-a-torium ceiling to the vanilla canvas surrounded by rope. A crowd has gathered. Men cheer. The Fox. The Fox. The Fox. The Fox. TV cameras point toward the locker room, cigarette haze clouding over the lenses and the plaid suit the announcer chose for tonights big event.
The Fox. The Fox. The Fox. The Fox.
As the crowds collective voice swells, the Fox climbs into the ring.
This is what the future might look like for Cindy Austin, theArctic Fox. She came to the Factory from Alaska in February to train, and now shes busy working up an image. Her white leather boots will be glossy; laced up to the knee, they will sport a logo that says: "A Fox." She thought about wearing a white body suit at one point.
"But with those mats it would be so filthy," she says.
What the Arctic Fox may go for instead is a collapsible sled that she can use for the trip from locker room to ring. Her dog, part Husky and part wolf, will be part of the act.
"When I decide to do something, I do it. I always do everything major," says Austin, 32. Before she decided to become a pro wrestler, she was running a birthday greeting service in Anchorage. It was called "Burlesque-O-Grams," and featured Austin dancing and singing her way through banks and offices in frilly underwear.
"I did it for six years, but its not a challenge anymore. Its old hat," she says.
Her adult life has included the following: a six-month stint in the Army; a marriage to a truck driver; a divorce from the truck driver; the ownership of a housecleaning business; modeling; work as a bank teller; and her marriage to her husband, Dannie. She met Dannie when they were both working at a 7-Eleven store.
"About a year and a half ago, I was watching wrestling on TV one night with my husband. And I said, Thats what I want to do. I want to be a professional wrestler. He said to wait and talk about it in the morning," she says.
So they did. The decision was made for Austin to fly from Anchorage to the Monster Factory. Soon, she says, her husband will join her in New Jersey. Her dad owns a hardware store and when she calls home, he wants to know why she doesnt hold down a regular job.
"I think Im the trail blazer. Im very strong willed," shesays. "Being pregnant is not my thing in life, especially with the world the way it is today.
"I just love life. I dont think being ordinary is what everyone is supposed to be. I dont want to do what society says."
Her first match was two months ago. Her opponent threw her and slapped her around for 15 minutes. Austin felt like a Raggedy Ann in the clutches of a hyperactive child.
"A lot of people think this is fake, and I just laugh. This is a contact sport. You can get hurt," she says. "I was always the type of kid whose parents would tell me not to stick my finger on the iron, and then I would. I didnt know what burn would feel like until I had one."
What she hopes this pain will one day lead her to is a singing/television career. Pro wrestlers now show up regularly in commercials and sit-coms. Austin has been talking to officials from several wrestling federations to secure matches for the future.
"There arent that many good women wrestlers," she says. "Black people have a better chance in wrestling. Women have a better chance, and midgets have a better chance.
"Were all minorities. White midgets are a big draw."
This is a typical night at the Monster Factory: A man wearing a "Psychotic State" T-shirt straps on his boots while another wrestler works with barbells. The Arctic Fox is smoking a cigarette and offering visitors coffee, while outside, a Ford Escort has pulled up carrying three men who each weigh more than 300 pounds.
The canvas will be busy tonight. Pretty Boy Larry didnt know whether it would be. Last night only one man showed up to try out and he was drunk.
"Let me tell you, there is no easy way to take a bump," Sharpe says. His voice rolls toward four men whove arrived for a tryout. "But if you keep your chin close to your neck, your head wont recoil. When you go down and hit this pad, you wont get whiplash."
So big men bounce off ropes, their heads whipping back against the outstretched arms of their opponents. Other men lie with their knees twisted out of shape. Some ease their pain by slapping the canvas until it quivers.
"I have always been a fighter. I grew up in Jersey City. You learned to fight there," says Don "The Blaster" Griner, 35.
Three days weekly, Griner makes the hour trip from Trenton to Paulsboro for practice. The rest of his time is split between his shifts at Yardsville State Prison, where hes a guard, and taking care of his kids. His wife left him more than a decade ago, and now he is a single father of three.
He was once the kind of man who never shied from a barroom fight. He tinkered with Harleys and prided himself on the fighting savvy he learned as a kid in Jersey City. But all that changed with the birth of his first kid 17 years ago. Now hes the kind of man who keeps Kool-Aid and cold cuts in the fridge for the days when his children invite friends over to watch TV.
"I needed wrestling to mellow out. Working in a prison all day
long, you see some things that are pretty depressing," he says. "This just helps
cut down on a little bit of the frustration."