The WAWLI Papers No. 700...
DR. DEATH JOINS PRO WRESTLING RANKS
(Daily Oklahoman, May 25, 1982)
By Dave Pego & Mike Sherman
Steve Williams will be able to come back to University of Oklahoma football practices this fall and have the most fascinating "What I did on my summer vacation" story on the squad.
Williams, a 300-pound offensive guard, said he will spend the summer traveling the southwest as a professional wrestler. Not that he is unaccustomed to the wrestling world. The OU lineman placed second to Bruce Baumgartner of Indiana State by only two points in this year's NCAA wrestling championships.
"Dr. Death," as Williams has been known at OU, will make his pro debut Wednesday in Shreveport, La., against an opponent yet to be named. He will be in Oklahoma City Sunday for a 2:30 p.m. match at the fairgounds and will wrestle in Tulsa at 7:30 Sunday night. Those opponents are also not yet known.
"I'm tired of going out on the mat and not getting paid for it," Williams said from a Shreveport motel room. "Now, I can go out there and get paid."
Williams has wrestled four years at OU, but has another year of football eligibility left because he was redshirted his freshman season.
Head football coach Barry Switzer was consulted about the unusual summer job, Williams said.
"He said just make sure you're in shape for the Orange Bowl," Williams said. "And that's where we're headed next year. And I'm going to lead them."
OU line coach Merv Johnson said he had heard of Williams' plans and approved of them.
"It is probably a good way for him to stay in shape and it could be financially beneficial," Johnson said.
The 22-year-old Williams said he is just learning the pro wrestling business and doesn't even know exactly how financially beneficial it might be. However, he admits it probably will be a lot.
"And as for people asking me if it's real," Williams said, "I'll say I know I'm real. I'm as real as wrestling and right now I'm bruised up and sore. I've hit just like we did in amateur wrestling and football."
Williams said he will simply wear his OU wrestling singlet and robe when he steps through the ropes. "I'm gonna promote Oklahoma," he said.
"But I don't need no mask," Williams said. "I'm ugly enough I don't need one. I don't need no such thing as a gimmick. I'm the real thing. I'm Dr. Death!"
Although the pro wrestling matches are somewhat longer than college matches, Williams said he is already learning some things which can extend his time in the ring.
"Like I can hit a guy and make some blood come
out of him," Williams said. "It's just like what I've been doing all my life. I
love to hurt people. And I love to see blood come out of them."
FOR DR. DEATH, IT'S REAL ENOUGH
(Daily Oklahoman, May 31, 1982)
By Dave Pego
The Turk hobbled away, ducking jeers from the Sunday afternoon fairgrounds arena crowd.
"Hey, Turk, you jerk," a fan shouted. "Turk's a jerk. Har, har, haaarrrr."
The fatigued wrestler stopped to lean against the cinder-block wall.
He resembled an aging, bearded Curly of the Three Stooges. Where once had been ears, the Turkish native has only gnarled lumps of cartilage and skin. And Dr. Death had just given him a few more lumps.
"In the last couple of years, there hasn't been a guy who just turned pro as good as Steve Williams," the 33-year-old Turk said.
The Turk was the fifth victim in Williams' five-day-old pro wrestling career. Williams returns to the University of Oklahoma next fall for a fourth season as a Sooner offensive guard. Until then, he will spend summer picking up big bucks and bigger bruises in southern arenas against guys like the Turk.
Williams put on quite a show in his Oklahoma City debut. No sooner than a fan shouted, "Go get em, Doc," Williams had sent the Turk tumbling with an arm throw. The Turk went wailing to the ref.
Williams caught the Turk again, put him in a head lock and rolled him over his hip. The Turk bounced up and threw a forearm into Williams' chest. The Doctor returned the blow, grabbed the bulky Turk and sent him reeling across the ring into the turnbuckle.
The stunned Turk was in trouble and the crowd of about 1,000 fans loved it. Dr. Death sensed the kill and used a familiar move the same shoulder block he uses to level Cornhuskers and Trojans. The Turk bounced off the canvas. Then Dr. Death picked up the wobbly opponent and ran across the ring with the bulky body held high.
The Turk's back hit the canvas with a mighty "wwuummpphh" as Williams dropped him. Dr. Death simply lay atop his opponent for the winning three-count from the referee.
"See, like I said it was just like another amateur match," said Williams, who wrestled four years at OU and was the 1982 NCAA heavyweight runner-up. "I just beat the hell out of some guy named the Turk. I feel like a million dollars."
Wrestlers don't always feel like a million bucks. Dr. Death, 22, already has faced a lot of reality.
"Last night, I must have stayed in the cockroach motel in Baton Rouge," Williams said.
Preliminary match performers don't rate first class accommodations like Williams is used to as a University of Oklahoma "performer."
"After a match, we're off driving to the next town," he explained.
"You rent a car or borrow a car or go with one of the guys that drives. If a guy's got a small car, that's the way you gotta go."
And the aches and pain follow you.
Williams raised his arm to show a softball-sized purple patch on his rib cage. Then his lowered the edge of his OU wrestling singlet to reveal another.
"For people who think this is fake, I can answer that in two words," Williams said, turning on his menacing Dr. Death glower. "Am I fake?"
He stopped, smiling sheepishly.
"Oh, that was three words. Well, I was close, wasn't I?"
Williams is following in the footsteps of another former OU wrestler-turned-pro, promoter Bill Watts. Dr. Death even wears Cowboy Bill's old wrestling boots.
"I definitely thing he's got the capability," Watts said. "The first thing we've been trying to do is to get him to stay out of the holds he wasn't used to as an amateur the front-face lock and the blood-chokes like a sleeper hold."
Watts has also given Williams his secret weapon the move Doc used to demolish the Turk.
"That's my hold the Oklahoma Stampede," Watts said proudly.
"Steve just picks the other guy up, takes off across the ring and dives with him. When they hit the mat, his momentum just crushes into the other guy's chest. That was my favorite move and Steve is my protege."
There is no doubt Steve Williams at 6-0 and 300 pounds has the physical size for the ring. But can he be entertaining?
"Promoting yourself is the toughest part," Williams said, looking suddenly serious. "We did a TV bit for this show. I just puckered up and didn't know what to say."
Watts said the showmanship aspect is very important in building crowds.
"Certainly, you have to be a crowd pleaser," Watts said. "If Steve went out and just tied his opponent up, they would boo him out of the ring."
A guy also has to be JPT just plain tough.
"I don't try to tell everybody everything is on the up and up in all of pro wrestling because I don't believe that myself," Watts said.
"But I've had five of my friends die either in the ring or the dressing room."
"I guess you could categorize me with the crazy people," Williams said.
But, maybe he isn't so crazy. As he points out, he is not taking the risk of being hurt in an oil field accident or bored to death by paperwork in his summer job.
"I'm going to be a better man, too," he said. "Bill is teaching me how to take care of my books. I have to watch how much I spend on motels, food and taxicabs."
And for a man just a couple months away from wearing sweaty football pads under a hot Oklahoma sun, his current training regimen probably seems like heaven.
"You have a match, a six-pack of beer, a good steak," Williams said. "Then you crash."
Until the inevitable tomorrow, bringing more sore
muscles and another match.
DR. DEATH IS MAKING MINCEMEAT
(Daily Oklahoman, June 16, 1982)
By Jim Lassiter
Dr. Death slung his foe into the ropes and instinctively dropped down into a three-point football stance to apply the coup de grace.
As Billy Starr came sling-shotting back, his stringy blond hair flying, "Death" answered his audience by springing forward as if he was seeing Cornhusker red and dug a shoulder into the middle of the man dressed all in black. Starr gave a primeval grunt and went down for the count as the referee lazily tapped the canvas three times to make Steve Williams 12-0, or is it 13 now.
Whatever, Mid-South Wrestling's newest "find" continues to make mincemeat of every foe promoter Bill Watts sends in the ring against him. If nothing more, Dr. Death is proving you don't necessarily have to be the boss' son to start out at the top.
For all their notoriety and public appeal, many football stars at the University of Oklahoma earn their summer money in exotic ways but none quiet so exotically as offensive right guard Steve Williams.
As a rare two-sport performer at OU, Williams exhausted his collegiate wrestling eligibility in March, losing in the NCAA heavyweight finals to Bruce Baumgartner of Iowa State. But since he sat out a football season as a redshirt, he still has one last autumn in the crimson and cream at Owen Field.
Collegiate rules say you can be a professional athlete so long as you do not participate in that sport as a collegian. That is how John Elway can play quarterback for Stanford and first base for a Yankee farm club in the summer and Williams can wrestle professionally during his between-semesters vacation and block for Stanley Wilson this fall.
Trained and physically equipped as he is, Williams is likely to have his career choice next year the aches and pains of the NFL or, as some say, the fakes and games of Mid-South. You would think financial opportunity ultimately will settle the issue and if so, it's already settled.
"I played football one year in the American Football League," said Watts, a former OU heavyweight champ who has quietly assumed control of pro wrestling hereabouts from aging LeRoy McGuirk. "But because of wrestling, I couldn't afford to go back."
Wrestlers often drive Cadillacs to their matches. An annual salary of $100,000 is not that uncommon and main-eventers expect $1,000-per-night pay days. Yet what Williams might expect to earn between now and his "retirement" date of August 1, is a well-kept secret.
"That's something between Steve and the IRS," is the way Watts, who has taken personal control of Williams to the extent that Dr. Death spends many hours at Watts' Bixby home perfecting his moves, puts it.
"But it pays better than most summer jobs I ever heard of."
Williams says its already the best-paying summer job he has had while at Oklahoma. "I never even had a job before," he says. "I was always trying to get in shape for football."
Barry Switzer reportedly was appalled recently when he heard that the Mid-South ring announcer was promoting Dr. Death as a 300-pounder.
So is Williams. "I'm about 280 now," he says, "on my way down to 260 for football."
As might be expected, Williams is strictly an under-card grappler at the moment. Sunday, when he put out Billy Starr at the Fairgrounds Arena, he appeared as the second event.
Ernie Ladd, another former football player, followed by bashing the daylights out of Killer Kahn and Kahn's despicable manager, a character who wears the head dress of an Arabian oil sheik. Then, in the main event, Dick Murdoch bloodied The One Man Gang, another disciple of the Arabian, who wears a vest adorned with the logo of a camel just in case you need clues as to his ancestry.
After Dr. Death has vanquished Starr, who was tauted as "Billy Goat" by the ringside regulars, he hung around to talk with friends, including Stan Abel, his wrestling coach at OU.
"This is the first time I've seen Steve," said Abel. "I was supposed to come before but couldn't make. Steve sent a message that he was going to come after me If I didn't come see him. I'm impressed. His timing is really great."
In the Mid-South ring Williams trades exclusively on his OU reputation, down to wearing his red OU robe and wrestling tights. He plans to keep that affiliation and, in time, might add a mask in keeping with his "Dr. Death" image.
It's hard to say whether Williams' OU affiliation or his football-star status has taken hold of the pro wrestling fans. Or even whether they care at all.
One of Watts' lieutenants looked around at the slim crowd Sunday and guessed it hasn't. Then he added that Sunday, obviously, is not the day for pro wrestling in Oklahoma City.
While Williams stood around greeting old friends, Kahn seemed to be getting the best of Murdoch in their "Texas bull rope match."
Suddenly, from a darkened corner appeared Ladd, who will be 44 this November if he gave his correct birth date to San Diego Chargers when they drafted him into the old American Football League on the 15th round in 1961.
With a spring in his step belying his age, the "Big Cat" dove into the ring and pounced on The One Man Gang and his Arabian sidekick, pounding them both as Murdoch won the no disqualification match. The results sent the crowd home agreeably pleased that the "good guy" had won every match on the card.
Williams watched Ladd with a bemused look, perhaps wondering if he'll still be doing this 20 years from now. Ladd limped past as he headed for the communal locker room but assuredly you don't seen any NFL veterans still around in their 40s.
As to the inevitable question whether pro wrestling
is real, Williams offers the inevitable challenge to get in the ring with him and find
out. The question hardly begs that complete an answer because even if you don't know about
Dr. Death the wrestler, you're sure Steve Williams the football player is who he says he
DR. DEATH PLAYS FOOTBALL, TOO
(Daily Oklahoman, October 24, 1982)
By Dave Pego
The teacher looked out across the roomful of small faces, then pointed her finger at a little boy in the back of the room. He squirmed nervously in his seat, then stood. His voice sounded hoarse as he began talking: "Well, on my summer vacation, I. . ." It's been years since anybody really wanted to know what Steve Williams did on his summer vacation.
But everybody wants to know this year what the University of Oklahoma football player did during the summer. When the big guy starts talking, you'd think he was that E.F. Whatsisname. Everybody listens.
"All the coaches asked me how my summer was," Williams said.
"They were all curious. And the players asked me lots of questions.
They all want to know what it was about. But I don't know anybody as crazy as me, Dr. Death. No one has asked how to get into it."
The gray-haired announcer climbed into the ring and motioned to the two wrestlers to begin making their way into the large arena. As Steve Williams got close to the ring, he had to squint his eyes to adjust them to the bright overhead lights. The robe he used to wear as a nationally ranked wrestler at OU made an audible rustling noise as he walked. Now he was a larger-than-life pro "rassler." A fan shouted as he walked past: "Hey, go get 'em, Doc."
"People just keep asking me if the pro wrestling stuff is real," Williams said with a slight sigh. "I must get asked that question by 100 people an hour. All I can say to the guys who ask me if it's fake is that they don't knock it until they get into a ring and get beaten up until they can't walk. Then I'll ask them if they think it's fake."
Williams is a starting offensive guard in his senior season at OU this fall. He wasn't sure at first about a summer of pro wrestling when Tulsa promoter Bill Watts asked him to try it, but decided it might be a good way to pick up a little extra spending money. After all, he had been an outstanding college wrestler for four years at OU, although he still had a year of football eligibility left. The two men quickly became close friends and Watts gave Williams a crash course in pro wrestling.
"The first week I wrestled, I got 42 bruises on my ribs from hitting the turnbuckles and being thrown outside the ring," Williams recalled.
Williams quickly figured he had to get tougher. His wrestling nickname, which he had been tagged with since high school, was Dr. Death, but he was the one getting killed early in the summer.
"So I got in the weight room and started getting my muscles toned up so I could handle it. I feel real strong now. I feel I'm going to be one of the strongest guys on the football team."
Wrestling four or five matches a week re-shaped his massive body.
Williams reported for fall football drills weighing 275 pounds, 25 less than last spring. The physical change was so dramatic Williams started wearing smaller wrestling tights at the end of summer.
Steve was complaining vigorously, shaking his head wildly and waving his arms at the referee. Meanwhile, Bob Rupe slipped to the opposite corner and slyly slipped his hand into the waistband of his wrestling trunks. The crowd shouted wildly at the referee, but too late. Even as the referee turned his attention to Rupe, the wily veteran already was pounding on Steve's head. "I thought he broke my jaw," Steve would say later. The youngster dropped to the canvas with a thud, and lay motionless. All the referee could do was shrug his shoulders and begin the count. Rupe raised his arm, then left the ring quickly. The fans then stood, wondering if Steve would be able to do the same. A small group of other wrestlers, who had been watching from a distance, came to the ring and dragged the motionless athlete off like a group of dock workers struggling with a crate. "I finally came to in the locker room when they gave me some smelling salts," Steve said. "That night, I signed a contract to re-wrestle him."
Williams took his summer job seriously. He mostly appeared in preliminary bouts, but ran into pro wrestling's headliners every couple weeks. The ex-OU mat star only lost twice once to Rupe and once to a wild oriental wrestler named Killer Kahn.
"Aw, he used a lot of karate moves," Williams explained of the latter loss. He hit me a couple of times in the Adam's apple. It really knocked me out."
Williams eventually gained revenge for being decked by Rupe. It was a satisfying victory in front of 40,000 Louisiana Superdome fans who gave Williams a cheer he had only heard before while sharing it with 10 other OU players.
"It was fabulous," Williams said. "This was a great summer job. I enjoyed it and made a little bit of money too."
No man before had ever intimidated Steve. He had butted heads with some of the best football players in America. But this was no ordinary man standing before him. The wrestler offering his hand to Steve was Andre the Giant, a 7-4, 485-pound mountain whose name is perhaps an understatement. Andre was to be Steve's tag team partner in a main event against Big John Stud and the Super Destroyer in a few days and the two men were doing a TV promo for the match. "I looked down while I was shaking his hand, and my hand was gone," Steve said. "It kind of makes you think you're not so big after all." Andre then took a Sun Bowl championship ring from Steve's finger and tried it on for size.
"It covered the fingernail of his pinky," Steve said.
The entire summer was a learning experience for Williams.
"I learned a lot about life," he said. "When you look at the outside world, college is easy. When you get out there, it's pretty tough."
Traveling five days a week through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, Williams stayed in "rotten hotels as well as nice places."
"I had to learn how to keep a budget," Williams said. "There's a business part to learn in wrestling."
Williams also had to learn to deal with pro wrestling fans who adore their heroes and hate the sport's bad guys with a vengeance. Luckily, Dr. Death was considered a crowd favorite everywhere he went but even that was not without problems."
"You have your groupies in pro wrestling," Williams said. "It's like being a rock star. There are all kinds of groupies, and when you're a pro wrestler they love you."
Williams tried to be obliging.
"I let them enjoy as much as they wanted to when they came to see Dr. Death," he said. "I'd sign autographs and give them kisses.
That's great. they're my fans."
Sometimes, though, the young man found it all hard to believe.
"One time, I had to move out of my hotel in Baton Rouge," Williams said. "And I've seen some cars get vandalized. There are some kind of wild ladies around."
But Williams won't tell just how wild they were.
"You know I can't say that in the paper," he said with a husky laugh.
Steve can now "jaw" like a pro wrestler. Sometimes his answers remind you of a chest-thumping, masked man staring wildly into a TV camera. Everything comes in a rush of words: "All this football work is nothing to me. I'm ready to play. I'm definitely going to do some damage. I'm going to physically beat the other players to death. I want to take players out of the game. I figure if you take the No. 1 player out of the game, then the No. 2, pretty soon you're all the way down the line and they don't have anybody left to play."
Right now, Williams is serious about football.
"I'm here to win the national championship, then go to the Orange Bowl," he says.
He hasn't counted out a pro football career yet.
"We'll see what happens if they draft me," he said.
But when football finally ends for the OU offensive guard, he will walk back to the wrestling ring.
"I think sooner or later, he'll see he has a
bigger future monetarily and career-wise in pro wrestling than football," said Watts.
"Football is not all it's cracked up to be especially for a lineman."
DR. DEATH SEEKS 'CLASS' EXIT
(Daily Oklahoman, December 31, 1982)
By Tim Cowlishaw
The legend grows.
1. Arizona State's Dan Saleaumua, needing help from the audience to perform his Samoan love song, asks, "Is there a Steve Williams in the house?"
The Oklahoma offensive guard strides onto the stage and answers, "You can call me "Doctor.' "
2. On the plane ride out here the previous day, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams sat in the back of the charter, drinking bourbon and coke. An OU assistant turned to another member of the athletic staff and said, "You think I'm going to tell him to stop?"
3. Entire rosters, redshirts and all, were introduced at a Monday morning brunch. Approximately 170 players walked across the stage at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Approximately 169 wore the Fiesta Bowl sweaters they had been issued upon arrival. Steve Williams did not.
"They gave me one and I got it on, but when I went like this," he explained, crossing his arms in front of him, "the shoulders ripped out."
Probably not all that surprising to a guy accustomed to searching clothing racks for a size 56 coat. And Steve Williams, listed at 6-2, 280, could easily be sporting an extra 20 pounds these days.
4. After another routine workout, the Sooners head for their dressing room at Scottsdale Community College. Williams shouts, "The bus goes straight to the bar. Anyone who wants to go to the hotel can get another bus."
Coach Barry Switzer shakes his head, "Isn't he a piece of work?"
The legend of Dr. Death grows as the only professional wrestler on a Big Eight football roster prepares for his final college performance.
"I want to go out with class. I want to play my heart out. I figure this is my last game to show people I can play football," he said.
That has always been his first priority, yet it has never been the easiest thing for him to do. As a wrestler, he was three times All-Big Eight. As an entertainer, he is the Sooners' most delightful interview.
But as a football player, he could not win a starting job with OU until his fifth season. His aggressive play, and perhaps his reputation, helped place him on UPI's All-Big Eight team.
"I love football . . . more than wrestling. I've played football all my life, wrestling kinda came to me second-hand. I come from a football family," he said.
Older brother Jeff played tight end for the Sooners. He scored his only career touchdown in 1981 against Oregon State and indirectly contributed to the legend of Dr. Death.
Switzer was saying after the game that the touchdown had been rather pointless but that it was nice for Jeff to get his first score.
Someone asked if he thought Steve was proud of his older brother.
Switzer deadpanned, "I don't think Steve knows he has a brother."
Another time, Williams called sports information director Mike Treps and asked if a copy of the spring football guide could be mailed to his cousin.
"Sure," Treps replied. "What's your cousin's name?"
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "I knew you were going to ask that question," Williams said.
Williams made his name, rather, his nickname, in wrestling. Always a crowdbaiter home or away, Dr. Death became bigger than his matches.
Oklahoma State sports fans have never cheered longer or harder than last winter when Williams, needing only to avoid a pin for an OU victory, was, indeed, nailed to the mat by Mitch Shelton.
During the summer months, Williams toured the "Mid-South" as it is called on the pro wrestling circuit, his college eligibility having been used up in that sport. Still an OU athlete, even wearing his OU ringlet, he was "a good guy."
When or if he returns to the professional ring, Williams recently admitted that he may one day cause the crowd to turn on him. "People really respond to me as a nice guy, but I don't know. Someday maybe I'll have to turn on a nice guy to win a title."
Wiliams has worked hard to earn his own title, an unusual monicker by his own admission.
"You don't often get a Dr. Death on a college team. I enjoy it and I think people who read papers enjoy it. Some of these guys out here won't tell you what's going on with the football team but I will. And the people want to know what's happening."
Although teammates call him "Doc" or "Death," not everyone has taken to the name.
"My mom she hasn't really realized that who I am is Dr. Death.
I'm still her little boy. She calls me Steve, but that's all right. I'm the baby of the family."
Mrs. Williams' baby is hoping to hear from a National Football League club soon. The United States Football League has already been calling.
"I've been getting letters. The San Diego team has called and the Denver Gold. I've heard a lot from the New Jersey Generals. My high school coach, Pete Levine, is up there (along with Chuck Fairbanks)," he said.
"I'm going to get my (recreation) degree in May and it'll help me out if football doesn't."
The offensive line and Williams have made drastic improvement from the early part of the season and Williams says the credit belongs to assistant head coach Merv Johnson. "He's the brightest one of 'em all.
He's brought us far from when we weren't doing so well. He's helped me a lot, too.
"I wasn't too hot on some of the plays 'cause I didn't understand why you had to do things a certain way. Merv took the time to sit down and talk with me and it really helped."
The only senior on the line, Williams has played an important leadership role with the Sooners.
"The guys look up to me. I know what it takes, I've been in the meatgrinder in both wrestling and football. I think I kinda make it easy because I enjoy football so much. It will be sad when I have to leave.
"I'll miss coach Switzer. We weren't too close until two years ago. We had some words and then I realized who was the boss and who was the player. But he laughs and I think he enjoys having me around."
After the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooner coaches will look for a new right guard. But a replacement for Dr. Death? Hardly.
In pro football, in pro wrestling, somewhere the
legend will go on.
IT'S ENOUGH TO MAKE A GUY TURN PRO
(Daily Oklahoman, August 2, 1985)
By Jim Lassiter
Most of America's Olympians, I would venture to say, didn't expect to get rich as a result of their participation in the '84 Games.
But neither did most of them anticipate their fellow countrymen would forget them so quickly.
Take America's Olympic wrestlers for instance. Of the 20 gold medals offered in the wrestling events in the Games of the XXIII Olympiad, nine of them stayed right here in the good old USA. But none of America's gold medal winners have couped any real financial reward.
For most of them, in fact, it's been just the opposite. It was a financial struggle for them before the Olympics and is still a struggle today. It's impossible to win if you don't train and it's impossible to train and hold down a full-time job.
No athlete is more dedicated to his pursuit than a wrestler. Dieting to make weight and injury are constant companions. No matter what they do, though, amateur wrestlers can't seem to catch a break. Even at an event like the National Sports Festival.
The U.S. is using the Sports Festival as a qualifying tournament for the World Championships coming up in October. The winners here compete in Hungary, meaning America has its very best athletes on hand for this event.
So how are the wrestlers treated? They are bivouaced at the Louisiana School for the Deaf which is located more than 10 miles out of town. Their venue is furthest away from the center of the sports activity and least likely to draw a crowd.
The wrestlers are sleeping in five-foot-long beds and have to wait up to two hours for shuttle buses that carry them from their Deaf School campus dorm to the eating facilities on the LSU campus. On top of that, they work out in a building without air conditioning.
"The letter W comes near the end of the alphabet," shrugged heavyweight champion Bruce Baumgartner. "It's like they think of us last."
The treatment is so shabby and the neglect so obvious, one would think it would be enough to make them quit. Why don't they toss in the towel? Why don't they turn to something that would at least reward them financially?
They could you know. Pro wrestling has never been more popular.
Night after night, pro wrestlers fill arenas around the country.
Wrestling is seen on almost every TV channel, network as well as cable.
Certain pro wrestlers are among America's highest paid athletes.
Promoters have mixed wrestling with rock music and both have thrived as a result of the unholy alliance. Wrestling and rock are the fad of the '80s.
This spring's "Wrestlemania" drew one of the highest TV ratings ever. Cindy Lauper and Hulk Hogan are both better off as a result of discovering one another's fans.
With all that money there for the taking, though, Baumgartner refuses to partake of it. He knows a man has nothing if he doesn't have his dignity. Without honor and self-esteem, he would be stripped of everything worth having.
"Pro wrestling's just not for me," said Baumgartner, who trained at Oklahoma State the year before the Olympics. "I'm not interested in making money that way."
The other night while the amateurs were sitting around watching TV, a pro wrestling show came on. Baumgartner sat and watched a while, hooting and hollering. Then a familiar face came on the screen.
When they were both in college, Baumgartner defeated OU's Steve Williams four times. Never lost to him in fact. Now "Dr. Death," as he is known to his pro fans, makes a living on the pro circuit while Baumgartner coaches for a meager existence.
"I chose amateur and he chose pros," said Baumgartner. "He's making money and I'm not."
"I saw Death recently," said Mark Schultz, another U.S. gold medal winner in Los Angeles, who was Williams' teammate at OU. "He had gold chains around his neck and diamonds on his wrist. He's in the bucks."
Schultz knows that Baumgartner could make the same kind of bucks if he went pro. Mark looks at the muscular heavyweight, arguably the best in the world today, and sees nothing but dollar signs.
"He'd be a multimillionaire," Schultz says of his larger teammate.
"They could call him the Human Torture Device."
But Bruce has chosen to stay amateur and it is not a decision open to debate. Not at the present time, anyway. But despite his choice, Baumgartner does not scoff at the professionals or the way they make their living.
"They're athletes. But they're not wrestlers," he says.
"You have to have some ability to do a flying scissors and take all those falls. But it makes me wonder when they hit one another over the head with a chair and nobody gets killed."
Quite possibly, though, sooner or later Baumgartner will give in to the pressure and turn professional once he has achieved all his amateur goals. Every once in a while Cowboy Bill Watts, a popular promoter, phones him and ups the ante.
Baumgartner didn't go to LA to get rich, no question. But he didn't
win to stay poor either.
The WAWLI Papers No.
THE CRUSHER'S WEB PAGE
George Lentz, a Milwaukee historian of note for some three decades, checks in with the following news:
"A couple of things:
"Number one, I just completed another edition of "The Crusher Record Book" and was wondering if you would review it in the WAWLI Papers if I send a copy to you.
"Number two, I have a website devoted to The Crusher that is constantly under construction that your readers may be interested in. The URL is: http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Court/8214/
"Number 3, I will be sending you some info from Mlwaukee on a regular basis. My interest in the history of wrestling here has been renewed in the last year or so, and being on the web has shown me that a lot more people than I imagined are also interested in the "old" days, as well. Here are a few results from Milwaukee, 1945 that I dug up recently:
"Tuesday, June 5, Bahn Frei Hall -- Walter Palmer won 2/3 falls over Cyclone Anaya, Al Williams beat Bad Man Louie, Gordon Hessel beat Hans von Buesing. Ref: Rowdy Pocan (Note: Palmer beat Anaya by COR several weeks earlier).
"Tuesday, June 12, Bahn Frei Hall -- Al Williams and Joe Dorsetti vs. Sam and Charlie Wong, Gordon Hessel vs. Jesus Hernandez-2/3 falls, Sgt. Fritz (Frederich) von Schacht vs. Jack Reeder-2/3 falls (Von Schacht was on leave from the army).
"Tuesday, June 19, Bahn Frei Hall -- Walter Palmer beat Sgt. Fritz von Schacht, who was DQed in the 3rd fall for "roughness," Tex Hager beat Jesus Hernandez, Leo Kirilenko beat Jose Manuel.
"Tuesday, June 26, Bahn Frei Hall -- Jesus Hernandez and Jose Manuel beat Al Williams and Joe Dorsetti, Cyclone Anaya won 2/3 falls over Tex Hager, Hans von Buesing beat Fritz von Schacht by DQ (for "roughness" again) in a scheduled 2/3 falls.
"See ya on the web,
"George "CrusherBolo" Lentz
"PS -- Oh, yeah, I'm always in the market for
more Crusher results and appearances. Thanks!"
ODD FALL TAKEN FROM THE STRANGLER
(Associated Press, Saturday, Feb. 8, 1936)
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Tiger Daula, the massive Hindu from India, undefeated since his return from Australia, tonight took an odd-fall victory from Ed (Strangler) Lewis of Los Angeles, onetime world's champion, after pulling the American into the ring in the fifth round and forcing the match.
After a slow first round, Lewis put his famous headlock on the Hindu and Daula was unable to wriggle free. Lewis finally won the fall.
Lewis tried the strangle hold in the fourth round and when he persisted after being warned, the referee awarded a fall to Daula.
When they came back for the fifth round, Lewis delayed in entering the ring and was grabbed by the massive Hindu and pulled bodily through the ropes. Daula took the winning fall shortly after with a body slam.
TIGER DAULA THROWS BOB KRUSE
(Seattle Times, February 1, 1936)
The championship pretenders will get very little satisfaction out of the results of last night's main wrestling match in which "Tiger" Daula, powerful Hindu from Bombay, India, administered a thorough defeat to Bob Kruse, the Flying Dutchman from Oswego, Ore. Two vise-like "hammerlocks" administered in the third and fourth rounds put an end to Kruse's winning streak.
For seven minutes of the third round Kruse writed in a hammerlock and finally patted the canvas. The second fall came in the fourth stanza.
Jack Forsgren, Vancouver fireman in the semi-windup, went down before Wee Willie Davis, the ex-Devil Dog from Wheeling, W. Va. A body slam in the fourth heat was the only fall and it went to Davis.
Mayes McLain, dynamic Cherokee Indian, delivered his third straight win here over King Elliott in the special event. Elliott hit McLain with two "flying tackles," and then McLain pinned him with a surprise "flying scissors."
Fred Carone flattened Dr. Nap DeVora with a "flying tackle" in the third round of the curtain-raiser.
SHIKAT BEATS MAT CHAMPION
(Associated Press, March 3, 1936)
NEW YORK, March 2 -- Dick Shikat of Philadelphia tonight became claimant to the world heavyweight wrestling title when he defeated Danno O'Mahoney of Ireland in a one-fall match. Shikat, who weighed 227, two pounds more than the Irishman, forced O'Mahoney to quit after applying a hammerlock in 18 minutes and 57 seconds before a crowd of 9,000.
The German had O'Mahoney in the hammerlock for two minutes before applying the pressure that turned what seemed to be an innocent grip into a hold that won the championship. Shikat had forced the battle throughout.
At the outset both grapplers proceeded cautiously. After five minutes Shikat applied a vise-like armlock which the Irishman was hard put to break. Shifting quickly, O'Mahoney put a leg spread on the German, but the latter wriggled free.
O'Mahoney put Shikat on the mat by reaching between his legs to grab Shikat's foot, the latter having a bear hug on him, but a minute after O'Mahoney was forced to crawl under the ropes to get away from a grip of Shikat. A series of toeholds by Shikat failed to bring O'Mahoney into position. Suddenly, the German applied the hold that brought him victory.
After the fall, O'Mahoney seemed to be in pain. He arose, rubbing his stomach.
THE POPULARITY OF WRESTLING
(Naples Daily News, May 6, 1999)
By Brent Batten
A Fort Myers car dealer is offering tickets to Friday night's pro wrestling show at the Everblades Arena as an enticement to bring customers to the lot.
I'm not sure if he's a genius (people so dense that they would go out of their way to see professional wrestling might be easily duped into overspending on a car) or an idiot (the dentally impaired dimwits who fill wrestling arenas can't possibly afford anything better than the rust-riddled bolt buckets they use to get to and from their jobs at the Food-A-Rama).
In either case, the fact that the car dealer is one of the few places to get a ticket to wrestling, since the show sold out in less time than it takes for Ric Flair to double-cross a tag-team partner, is disturbing.
It seems there was a time, not so many years ago, when professional wrestling was funny.
Wrestling was an inside joke that we were all privy to. We'd express mock surprise when the referee would fail to notice that foreign object, a belt buckle maybe, in the ring.
Everybody has chuckled at a story about someone's grandma who used to yell at the TV because she thought it was "real."
At its best professional wrestling was a sort of morality play pitting good against evil. A melodrama played out on a stage bounded by three ropes.
But somewhere along the line things have gone terribly awry.
Emboldened by the television success of the Jerry Springers of the world, wrestling now targets an ever baser instinct in its audience.
Soap-opera scripts of alliances and betrayals have replaced the good guys vs. bad guys storylines of previous decades.
Violence has always been king in professional wrestling, but now the violence is packaged with profanity and sex and offered for sale to an audience made up largely of children and equally impressionable simpletons.
This year, in California, a handful of teen-age morons had to be stopped from putting on makeshift exhibitions in which they cut themselves with cheese graters and leaped from a garage roof onto a picnic table, all in preparation for their envisioned careers as pro wrestlers.
A current theme in the World Wrestling Federation, the outfit putting on Friday's show, has wrestlers taunting each other by pointing towards their crotch and declaring "Suck it." Young imitators can be seen in the audience aping the gesture and "Suck It" signs dot the stands.
The illegal belt buckle has been replaced by more dangerous props. In a recent episode, a wrestler held a pistol to the head of WWF chief Vince McMahon. When he pulled the trigger, a flag unfurled. Hilarious.
The popularity of modern-day wrestling is a symptom of more troubling trends.
The demise of civility, the rise of situational ethics and the glorification of gangs are demonstrated in each televised card.
The number of people who believe the matches are actual competitions is still probably low, but the willingness of so many people to set aside the norms of decent behavior and become part of the spectacle does not speak well for society.
Professional wrestling offers stupid people a forum in which they can be themselves.
It grants everyone else a license to be stupid.
At this moment in time, that is the last thing we
WRESTLING TO EVERBLADES ARENA
(Naples Daily News, May 8, 1999)
By Rebecca Wakefield
The tan Cherokee minivan with a "Beany 2" license plate driving into the parking lot of the Everblades Arena on Friday night didn't seem to fit with an outsider's image of the World Wrestling Federation.
Traveling just behind the minivan was a Ford F150 truck that did, its back window sticker proudly proclaiming, "Absolute Redneck & Damn Proud of It." One could imagine professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin riding quite comfortably to his latest match in such a vehicle.
On close inspection of the crowd gathered for various tailgating activities outside the Estero arena, the picture of just who goes to WWF events changed. As it has been changing for several years, bringing the world of wrasslin' to a whole new demographic.
Sure, the roving bands of young men in jeans holding koolie cups of Budweiser were there in force. A man calling himself "Moose," for instance, held court with a few friends before the concert.
Jonathon "Moose" Jones, a San Carlos Park resident, described the appeal of the soap-opera wrestling phenomenon.
"It's like 'The Young and the Restless' for men," he said, starting to ham it up. "You come home from work and it's there for relaxing. We aren't allowed to beat nobody up no more because they lock you up, so there's this."
Moose and crew, though well represented, were not the only fans who forked over perfectly good cash for a chance to see Austin and the other stars pummel each other in the ringed stage.
Bob Blusiewicz, who owns a roofing business, brought his family from Fort Myers to see the show. He knows it's not real, but he is a fan from way back.
"It's exciting," he said. "It's loud, something you can get into. It's a nice release, just like going to a hockey game."
"You gotta put your hands up like this," said 12-year-old Tyler Woodrell of Naples, demonstrating the correct posture for a wrestler known as DX.
Despite the fact that the first ever professional wrestling exhibition at the Everblades Arena sold out in less than an hour to more than 8,000 fans, some fans seemed a bit embarrassed by their attraction to the sport-as-theater.
Jim, an employee at Lee Memorial Hospital, refused to give his last name to a newspaper reporter because he was afraid of the razzing he would get at work the next day.
"I'm not giving you my last name because my reputation would suffer," Jim said, over the cajoling tones of his friends.
Jim and friends had brought an assortment of offspring to the event. The offspring, including Jim's son, Andrew Sproul, 12, were busy making appropriate signs to cheer on the combatants such as, "Open a damn can."
Another boy in the group, Adam Wilkie, 18, said the main appeal of the WWF for him was Austin.
"He has the attitude," he said. "He doesn't take anything from anybody."
Entertainment venues are paying attention to the new faces. Numbers like 8,000-plus fans speak loudly to the arena bookers.
Sims Hinds, vice president of arena management for Gale Force Sports and Entertainment, which handles Everblades bookings, said Southwest Florida audiences are broader than many entertainment executives might think.
"Wrestling over the last two or three years has become much more mainstream," he said. "You will see everyone from guys coming off construction sites to corporate executives to kids."
Hinds said his group has a multi-year contract with WWF to bring four major events to the Everblades arena each year. The next one is scheduled for Oct. 3. Ann Schad, for one, intends to be there. She and daughter, Patty, barely made this exhibition. They won the last two tickets from a 96K-rock radio station give-away, less than an hour before the show.
"Oh yeah, Stone Cold all the way," said
'FUN BOY' AND 'THE GIGOLO' GOOD READING
(Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2000)
By Johnathon E. Briggs
Former First Lady Barbara Bush did it. So has her son, Texas Gov. and presidential hopeful George W. Bush, California Gov. Gray Davis, Gen. Colin Powell, dozens of Hollywood stars and myriad corporate czars.
Now you can add to the list Robert "The Brown Bomber" Thompson, the high-flying pro wrestling ruffian who would just as well leap off ring posts and crush your skull as shake your hand.
There he was Wednesday, sitting among a bunch of third-graders at Arthur Hapgood Elementary School in Lompoc, reading from James Howe's "I Wish I Were a Butterfly." Aloud.
Joining Thompson for this literacy moment were Donovan "Fun Boy" Morgan, the brash rule-breaker, and Vinny "The Gigolo" Massaro, the Italian masked menace who stressed in broken English why reading is fundamental.
Move over, Mister Rogers. Everybody seems to be reading to schoolchildren these days, even professional brutes who are usually parading in skintight Speedos. And as more people jump on the literacy bandwagon for good reason, some are also reaping a collateral benefit in good public relations.
"It's a wonderful photo opportunity," said Carolyn Garrett Cline, an expert on public relations at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.
Cline and others credit former First Lady Bush with popularizing the act of reading to children during the early 1990s, when she made literacy an issue. Her reading forays--from classrooms to airwaves--earned her the name of "America's reading grandmother."
Since then, plenty of politicians and others have followed suit. A sampling:
* Former Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ruben Zacarias, ousted after a bitter political fight, spent part of his last day on the job Jan. 14 by reading Dr. Suess' "Green Eggs and Ham" to a kindergarten class at Breed Street Elementary School.
* To underscore his proposal to overhaul the Head Start program, Texas Gov. Bush swung by Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood last September to read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to kindergartners.
* Actor James Earl Jones kept a roomful of Washington schoolchildren spellbound with his commanding voice last December as he read a book to celebrate a $20,000 donation by Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages.
* First Union Bank announced what it called the nation's "largest face-to-face corporate literacy event" by pledging to donate 75,000 Dr. Seuss books and sending volunteers to read in 75,000 classrooms, from London to Florida. Powell, hero of the Persian Gulf War, helped kick off the campaign.
Experts say there's good reason that the public pays attention: People are worried that children can't read.
Literacy and reading programs have shot to the top of almost everyone's agenda on the strength of dismal news from standardized tests--such as the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which showed that only a quarter of fourth-graders were proficient in reading.
The results have inspired an army of parents, corporate leaders, retirees and others to go back into America's classrooms, pick up books and read to elementary students. The overwhelming number do so without fanfare.
The trend hasn't been lost on some who do welcome the spotlight. For
instance, the folks at All-Pro Wrestling, a Hayward, Calif.-based school that trains
wrestling wannabes who aspire to the big leagues, like the World Wrestling Federation.
"There's so much publicity about how no one really knows how to read," said "Fun Boy" Morgan, All-Pro Wrestling's marketing director and assistant wrestling instructor. "Illiteracy is becoming more and more of an issue."
Roland Alexander, a onetime accountant who owns All-Pro Wrestling, said he saw the reading sessions as a way to soften the profession's rough-and-tumble image, as well as help promote exhibition fund-raising matches his wrestlers put on at schools.
"Wrestling has always been an adult soap opera that has catered to sex and violence," said Alexander, noting that one television promotion for another wrestling circuit featured an athlete opening a can of beer with his head.
"That's not the role model I would want for my kids," he said.
Alexander said that in the past, his wrestlers have appeared at school assemblies to hype fund-raising matches and deliver wholesome messages: "Just Say No to Drugs"; stay in school; obey your teachers; and listen to your parents.
But that got old, he said, and a light went on in September, when some teachers suggested something new. "The kids have heard all that before, why don't you come and read to them?" Alexander recalled them saying, adding that he heard that Golden State Warriors basketball players were going to classrooms as well.
"If they can pull it off, there's no reason we can't," he thought, "although wrestlers are a different breed than the normal human being."
Most of the aspiring wrestlers, who range from gas station attendants to teachers, are fully up to the task, he said.
But then there's All-Pro Wrestling bad boy Jimmy "The Mack Daddy" Ripp.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable with Jimmy going in there and reading to kids because he's got missing teeth," said Morgan, adding that Ripp doesn't even brush the surviving ones.
Ripp aside, Alexander said the forays have been a hit. Besides reading Dr. Seuss, the wrestlers also tell how literacy helps them with their profession: They need to read contracts, maps leading to the matches, and the TelePrompTer during television tapings.
"The kids just think these guys are gods," said John McReynolds, a local promoter who booked the classroom visits last September.
"They told the kids, 'It's important to read' and the kids were like, 'Yeah! I'll read,' " he said.
On Wednesday, the students got into the act again, this time helping "The Gigolo" Massaro, a native of Sicily, get through "Amelia Bedelia," the story of an eager-to-please housekeeper with a knack for reading things quite literally.
Third-grade teacher Noelle Barthel said later that she didn't know whether Massaro's stumbling over the words was real or a clever act to get her students involved. Whatever the case, they were impressed, even if they didn't quite grasp the meaning of Massaro's professional moniker.
"We've got to tell our moms the gigolo came today!," Barthel quoted her students as saying.
Cline, the USC public relations expert, said having hulking wrestlers read to the children is a brilliant stroke. "It's the gentle giant idea.
"I don't want to know what [Minnesota Gov.] Jesse Ventura reads," she said, "but [pro wrestling] seems to be cleaning up its act and this is one good way to do it."
The WAWLI Papers No. 702...
THE DEATH OF BOBBY DUNCUM JR.
(Austin American-Statesman, Jan. 25, 2000)
By Mark Wangrin
Growing up a boy in the Duncum family meant being tough, whether it was standing up to bullies who questioned whether they were as tough as their professional-wrestling father, or surviving a 20-foot fall into a creekbed that left a gash on the head and a leg broken in four places. It meant sucking it up and moving on.
Today, it means it more than ever. Monday morning, Bobby Duncum Jr., who followed in his father's steps as a college and pro football player and a pro wrestler, was found dead at his home outside Leander. Duncum, who was on medical leave from World Championship Wrestling to rehabilitate a shoulder injury at the time of his death, was 34 years old.
"I'm still a little shocked," said brother Duane, 18 months Bobby's junior and his only sibling. "It hit me hard this morning. It's not easy to go over and set up a funeral for a 34-year-old. It seems like such a waste."
Police answered a 911 call at around 5:20 a.m. Monday to find the former Texas Longhorn football player's body in his bed. He appeared to have been dead for several hours, said Detective Lee Jones of the Travis County Sheriff's Department. Jones said there was no sign of trauma. "It doesn't appear to be a suicide or any indication of foul play," Jones said.
An autopsy revealed no cause of death, pending toxicology tests, which could be available in one to three weeks, said Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, Deputy Medical Examiner for Travis County.
Former UT Coach David McWilliams, who recruited Duncum, remembered him for his work ethic and his toughness. During the Horns' game against Missouri in 1986, Duncum blew out a knee -- and jogged to the sideline, where he calmly announced, "I think I blew out my knee."
"He didn't want surgery. He wanted to play," McWilliams recalled. "They finally told him, `You have to have surgery.' If he could have played without it, he would have. Nobody was tougher than Bobby Duncum, mentally or physically.
"I always liked his enthusiasm. I always thought he was a great, tough leader."
Duncum earned four letters (1985-88) as a defensive end and linebacker at Texas, where his career was interrupted by injuries. He played briefly with the San Antonio Riders in the World League of American Football and spent two seasons with the Dallas Texans of the Arena League, playing alongside Duane in 1993.
He learned to wrestle before he played a down of football, and chose to follow in the footsteps of his father -- who grappled under the name "Big Bad" Bobby Duncum in Japan and with the World Wrestling Federation. He had planned to form a tag team with Duane, but his younger brother had a serious knee injury that precluded such a pairing.
Like his father, Bobby was a big hit in Japan, before signing with the World Championship Wrestling in November 1998, where he regularly performed until having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff last fall.
Duncum, whose stock was rising in the WCW before his surgery, had a natural performer's flair, his younger brother said. When Duane and Bobby were teammates at Texas, Duane said, "My mom always told him if he didn't make it in football, she'd get him a one-way ticket to Hollywood, and he'd make it there."
"He had a real, real charm about him," Duane said. "People who knew him loved him. He had a certain air about him. And he was a guy you knew would always be there for you."
Duncum's funeral has been tentatively set for Friday, though the
site and time had yet to be determined as of late Monday. Visitation will be at Harrell
Funeral Home. He is survived by his wife Michelle, daughter Cassidy, 2, and son Austen,
13, his brother and his parents, Bobby and Glenda, all of Austin.
THE READERS ALWAYS WRITE
From Penny Banner:
To: J Michael Kenyon
Terry Majors passed away this morning (Jan. 26) . .
. She was in the past married to Jesse James years ago . . . since then married to Tom
Crane here in Charlotte, N.C. . . . she and Jesse had two children . . . now both grown up
"Sharon and Bubby" . . . she had cancer of the bronchial tubes . . . she
wrestled around the Carolinas as Tammy Jones and was 65 years old . . .
MRS. BETTY 'TERRY' CRANE, 65
(Charlotte Observer, January 28, 2000)
Mrs. Betty "Terry" Crane, 65, of Charlotte, passed away on January 26, 2000, at Mercy Hospital in Charlotte.
Betty is a native of Lancaster, Kentucky, where she lived before moving to Charlotte 30 years ago. Mrs. Crane was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church for 15 years. Betty was also a professional wrestler for 20 years where she was known to all her fans as "Tammy Jones.'' Betty has wrestled for such big promoters as Jim Crockett. After retiring from the wrestling ring, Betty became a homemaker. Betty was preceded in death by her father Sanford Major and her mother Myrtle Bentley. She was also preceded in death by several brothers and sisters.
Mrs. Crane is survived by her husband of 22 years Thomas P. Crane, of Charlotte; two children, Jimmy S. James, of Charlotte, and Sharon Lechner and her husband Mark, of Fort Mill, SC; one sister, June Patchell, of Nashville, Tenn; and five grandchildren, Justin R. Adams, of Charlotte, and Lindsay A. Adams, Caycee Lynn Adams, Joshua J. Adams, and Chayne Lechner, all of Fort Mill, SC; former husband, Jimmie James, also known as "Jesse James'' to all of his wrestling fans.
Funeral services will be held 11:00 AM Saturday, January 29, 2000 at Hankins and Whittington, Dilworth Chapel, with the Rev. Rick Aulden, officiating.. Entombment will follow at Forest Lawn West Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 7:00-9:00 PM Friday evening at Hankins and Whittington.
Arrangements are in the care of Hankins & Whittington, Dilworth Chapel, 1111 East Boulevard.
AL COSTELLO, LAST OF THE KANGAROOS
Word flashed across the Internet Monday concerning the death of Al Costello, one half of the original Fabulous Kangaroos, on Saturday, January 22. He was 80 years old. An existing heart problem was made worse by a case of pneumonia.
His real name was Giacoma Costa and he began his wrestling career in Australia in the late 1930s.
With Roy Heffernan, along with the legendary Wild Red Berry as their manager, Costellos Kangaroos occupied a top spot on the eastern wheel in the late 50s and early 60s. Later, when Heffernan left the team, Costello continued the Kangaroo pairing with Don (Bulldog) Kent. Heffernan died in his native Sydney, Australia, at age 67, from a heart ailment in 1992.
In an interview later printed in "Whatever Happened To . . .
?" Heffernan described the teams formation:
"Al Costello and I made our debut as The Fabulous Kangaroos in New York in `57. We had little boomerangs that we threw to the crowds, and we had our manager with us. We had a big banner with `The Fabulous Kangaroos` on it, and a recording of `Waltzing Matilda` that we`d march down to the ring to. I remember the first time carrying the banner. It was a low ceiling and the top of the banner hit it. Then our manager, Red Berry, starts to fall. Al Costello tries to catch him. And he starts to fall. So, I try to catch them both. And suddenly, all three of us fall down! And this is our grand opening. Our debut! All three of us are floundering around, our hats are all twisted, and we look just like the Three Stooges! We never lived that down. (laughter) It was awful."
Costello and Heffernan won the WWWF tag team belts on several
occasions, the first time on July 21, 1960, in Washington, D.C., when they defeated Red
and Lou Bastien (Klein).
SARPOLIS SET FOR IMPORTANT GO
(San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 1932)
Dr. Karl Sarpolis, the wrestling medico of Cleveland, is going to try Tuesday night at the Dreamland Auditorium to do what hundreds before him have vainly tried to do.
That is to pin the massive shoulders of Jimmy Londos, who is recognized in practically every state as the worlds champion, to the mat.
And Jimmy, with his crown cocked jauntily on his curly raven locks, is going to attempt to prove once more that its a tough job to put a good Greek down.
For sixteen years, Londos has worked and sweated to reach the heights, which he gained by flopping Dick Shikat, the German phenom, to the mat in a Philadelphia ring two years ago.
And since he won from Shikat, no one has ever put his shoulders to the floor of a ring for a fall. So it looks like a tough evening ahead for the grappling medico in the match Tuesday night.
Londos today is generally regarded as not only a marvel in physique but the most crafty, cunning and scientific of matmen. In late years he has developed a number of new holds holds that are not only punishing, but well nigh inescapable. The champion uses many Japanese jiu jitsu grips to win his matches.
Sarpolis has been coming along so fast that he is rated the countrys outstanding contender for the title. The doc is a clever chap, strong and his middle name is Gameness.
He is the inventor of what he calls the flying hook body scissors, which has brought down some of the games best performers.
The Londos-Sarpolis title tilt will be preceded by the three
following high-class matches: Ray Steele vs. Don Andreas Costanos, one hour, one fall;
Abie Coleman vs. Dick Raines, one hour, one fall; John Freberg vs. Bob Kruse, thirty
minutes, one fall.
LONDOS RISKS MAT TITLE TONIGHT
(San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 1932)
Jimmy Londos will return to action on the local mat for the first time in several years tonight to put on his variety of grappling holds, which for two years have kept the sturdy Greek at the top of the heap.
Facing Londos will be Dr. Karl Sarpolis, giant Lithuanian wrestling medico of Cleveland, who has been mowing down his recent opponents.
The match will be a no time limit affair, with the best two in three falls deciding the victor.
Londos will not only have his title at stake in tonights match, but also a record of never having lost a fall in the hundreds of bouts he has engaged in since he beat Dick Shikat of Germany for the championship in Philadelphia.
It is the prediction of many local wrestling experts that Sarpolis will gain a fall on the Greek, even though he may not win. The doctor will be in there trying every inch of the way to accomplish this rather hard task.
Londos and Sarpolis have never clashed, despite the fact that they have been wrestling for a long time.
With both grapplers in fine shape, a hot struggle is sure to be witnessed by the spectators. They also will see some scientific work, for the two behemoths are past masters at the grappling art.
The other matches follow: Ray Steele vs. Andreas
Costanos, one hour, one fall; Abie Coleman vs. Dick Raines, one hour, one fall; Bob Kruse
vs. John Freberg, thirty minutes, one fall.
MAT CHAMPION RETAINS TITLE
(San Francisco Chroncile, July 13, 1932)
By Harry B. Smith
Jimmy Londos is not only champion wrestler of the Atlantic seaboard, but he annexed a fair share of the Pacific Coast when he tossed Dr. Karl Sarpolis in two straight falls at Dreamland Auditorium last night.
One fall came after 32 minutes of action, during which the doctor did a fair bit of the work, only to be thrown with a series of body slams and crotch holds. Sarpolis appeared to be in a hazy condition and was several minutes recovering from his impact with the canvas.
Londos, once having found the enemy, made it fast and snappy for the second fall. The Greek started after Sarpolis like "nobodys business" and slammed his rival down in three minutes with a series of headlocks, a reverse headlock and finally an airplane spin that left Sarpolis gasping for his breath once more.
A banner crowd greeted the nights engagement and the folks witnessed a good performance not only in the main event of the evening, but throughout the preliminaries.
The house was estimated at $9876 with something like 7,700 fans and in this day and age, believe me, brother, thats showing a lot of interest.
The gallery section was crowded to the guards, with a lot of folks standing in the aisles and much the same went for the downstairs sector, where the seating space was equally congested.
It has been five years since Londos has appeared on a San Francisco wrestling card and many behind that since I watched him in those old days when Ad Santel ruled the roost in San Francisco.
Meanwhile Jimmy has put on a lot of weight and learned a great deal about the game. Last night, without being unduly rough, as are so many of the boys, Londos was master of the situation all the way and won about as he pleased.
His technique has improved and although, several times before he gained the first fall, Sarpolis appeared to have him in jeopardy, Londos wriggled out of harms way and finally grappled his way to an easy win.
In the past two years, so they tell me, Londos hasnt lost a fall. He held to that tradition last night and I figure he can still come back for another banner crowd.
The first fall, that lasted thirty-two minutes, held plenty of interest. Londos was chiefly the aggressor, but he was apparently in trouble on several occasions. Sarpolis, at least twice, cramped on a body scissors, that had Londos bridging to keep away from harm. It was not the Joe Stecher scissors, however, and the Greek worked his way back to safety.
Jimmy used several toeholds that had Sarpolis in apparent pain, but it was his fierce attack at the close, with a series of body scissors and finally a crotch hold, that brought him the fall.
After that it was easy for the now New Yorker. Sarpolis didnt go to his chair as the fall was called, but sat flat on the canvas, evidently in more or less pain.
He managed to stagger to his feet as referee McDonald from Los Angeles called the pair together for the second try.
After that it was more or less an easy affair for Londos. Having gauged his man, he started for the doctor with a series of head clamps and then gave Sarpolis an airplane spin that left Sarpolis gasping for his breath.
It was "nobodys business" the way Londos finally won when he made up his mind the evenings performance was about to end.
Abie Coleman, pride of the New York ghetto, butted out a victory over Dick Raines of Texas with a series of flying tackles in the semi-windup. It lasted 22 minutes.
Bob Kruse, Northwest bad man, and big John Freberg of Sweden went to a one-hour draw in the special attraction. The boys played real rough, but neither was able to secure a fall.
Hans Graber of Germany body-slammed Ray Jerome of New Mexico into
defeat after seven minutes of uninspiring heaving and hauling, while Mustapha Pasha, the
robust Terrible Turk, finished Leo Papiano with a slam in fifteen minutes.
BIG BEEFY BOYS ENTERTAIN
(Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wa., Feb. 27, 1935)
Big beefy boys of bizarre brutality in three acts and a stanza filled the Masonic Temple arena almost to capacity last night and from the roundelays of jeers and cheers brought unalloyed joy to the faithful.
There was a roaring lion, a terrible Swede, a corn-husking Nebraskan and King Kong Cox among the gladiators. Louis Taylor lost his shirt, water buckets, bottles and ring chairs, to say nothing of mayhem and hair pulling, all were part of the display which from a standpoint of showmanship was excellent all the way through.
The crowd seemed to enjoy the rough tactics of King Kong Cox, with the exception of Cliff Macdonald of the state boxing commission. After his rowdy exhibition, Mr. Macdonald announced: "Ill give Cox one more chance to come here and act as he should or hell go on the shelf."
Antoher who came under the disfavor of Mr. Macdonald was Ted Stacey of New York, who failed to appear for the professional wrestling debut of Frank Stojack, former running guard of W.S.C. Stacey drewd 30 days suspension as a result. Ralph Bernardi, carnival star, substituted and looked as if he was due for 30 days in the hospital after the roughing Stojack gave him in two quick falls. Stojack used his blocking skill largely in his victory.
The eyeopener was an exhibition between Count Cassi Columbo of Italy and Michael Strelich, the jaguar of Yugoslavia. They staged a slick tumbling act and both emerged with a hand in the air.
Joe Hubka, the Nebraska cornhusker, and Cliff Olson, Minnesota Swede, drew in five rounds with a fall each. Both shed as much perspiration as a crocodile is said to shed tears with Olson throwing a few Minnesota lakes at Hubka from his drenched hair and husking Hubkas nose to his disgust. Often they were so entangled they got toe holds on themselves.
In the bout between Rumberg, Spokanes own, and King Kong Cox, the tough guy from Lodi got the first fall in the third round with lefts and flying tackles, only to be pinned quickly in the next round. In the final he got more interested battling Louis Taylor and his own second than Rumberg, and Taylor awarded the match to Rumberg before he called for help to take Cox away from there. Taylor had less clothes on than the wrestlers after it was all over.
J. Emmett Royce substituted for Joe Albi as
announcer, but Albi drew no suspension for his absence. Herm Sutherland was timekeeper.
(ED. NOTE A brief-lived attempt by Jack Ganson, one of professional wrestling promotions wandering types, to run opposition to the long-entrenched junior heavies of the Pacific Northwest lasted less than two weeks in the spring of 1951. Ganson went back East, to Cleveland, where he promoted until his premature death later on in the decade.)
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 7, 1951)
WRESTLING TONITE CIVIC ICE ARENA
Ralph GARIBALDI vs. Ras SAMARA
Four Other Great Bouts Including 1,000-lb. Tag Match
Dusek, Hurley, Plechas, Swikert, Geigel and Dr. Len Hall
STARS OF EASTERN TV
Tickets on sale Central Ticket Agency, 1411 3rd Ave.; Green Cigar Store, 1311 3rd Ave.; Springs Cigar Store, 316 Pike, or Ice Arena Box Office
(These bouts will not be televised but main event will be broadcast
over radio station KRSC.)
GARIBALDI IN MAT VICTORY
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 8, 1951)
Ralph Garibaldi of St. Louis won the main event wrestling exhibition at the Ice Arena Thursday night when he took the only fall from Ras Samara of Birmingham.
Joe Dusek of Omaha, Neb., took two out of three falls from Frank
Hurley, Australia. Dr. Len Hall of San Francisco was disqualified in his match against Bob
Geigel, Des Moines. Bill Swikert of Vallejo, Calif., got the referees decision over
Danny Plechas, Humboldt, Ia.
HEAVIES SLATE RETURN TO MAT
(Oregonian, Portland, Ore., June 10, 1951)
Heavyweight wrestling will return to Portland Wednesday night, when Ralph Garibaldi and Joe Dusek are scheduled to clash in the main event of a program at the auditorium.
Wednesdays matches, first in a series, will be promoted by Ivan Michaeiloff, recently arrived from the East coast.
Garibaldi, well known to mat fans nationally, will be making his first Portland start. Dusek is one of the famed Dusek brothers from Omaha, Neb.
Jack Pesek, son of John Pesek, the Nebraska Tiger Man, will engage Seelie Samara, huge crowd-pleaser, in Wednesdays semifinal.
Other tiffs are to send Dr. Len Hall against Billy Earl Swigert and Danny Plechas against Bob Geigel.
Winding up the opening program will be a tag match between winners
and losers of the first two bouts.
HEAVY CARD CALLED OFF
(Oregonian, Portland, Ore., June 12, 1951)
Heavyweight wrestling wont make its 1951 debut at the auditorium Wednesday night after all, according to an announcement Monday. In fact, it might not bow in at all.
Promoter Ivan Micheiloff was inexplicit in calling off the card, but
said heavyweight programs might be presented later if "troubles" can be
overcome. He said he was going to Seattle in that connection.
GANSON BOWS OUT OF HERE
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 13, 1951)
Jack Ganson, Cleveland, Ohio, promoter of one wrestling show in Seattle last Thursday night at the Ice Arena, announced Tuesday that he was canceling his future mat cards in the Northwest.
In a letter to the head of the Eagleson Post of VFW, under whose auspices Ganson expected to operate in Seattle and other Northwest cities, he explained his failure to obtain licenses in other cities prompted his withdrawal.
(ED. NOTE One of the fanzines which proliferated in the 1970s
was produced by Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz of Kew Gardens, N.Y. Among their contributors
was Earl Elder of Baltimore, a familiar wrestling magazine byline of the era. The second
issue contained highlights of the previous months WWWF television wrestling.)
(Main Event, December, 1974)
Nov. 2 Larry Zbyszko-Jose Gonzales drew Jimmy Valiant-Johnny Valiant, S.D. Jones beat Jack Evans, Susan Greene beat Paula Kaye dq, Hans Schroeder beat Jeff Rhodes, Wladek Kowalski beat Dennis Johnson
Nov. 5 Jose Gonzales drew Butcher Nova, Larry Zbyszko beat Jack Evans, Bobby Duncum beat Tony Vee-Tom Stanton hdcp, Dean Ho-Tony Garea beat Dennis Johnson-Bill White, Hans Schroeder beat Jeff Rhodes
Nov. 9 Dean Ho-Tony Garea beat Bill White-Hans Schroeder, Spiros Arion beat Jeff Rhodes, Johnny Valiant-Jimmy Valiant beat Jose Gonzales-Tony Vee, Joyce Grable-Susan Greene beat Paula Kaye-Peggy Paterson, Bobby Duncum beat S.D. Jones-Gentleman Jim hdcp
Nov. 12 Larry Zbyszko beat Bill White, Butcher Nova beat Tony Vee, Spiros Airon beat Gentleman Jim, Bobby Duncum beat Dennis Albert-S.D. Jones hdcp, Tony Garea-Dean Ho beat Jack Evans-Hans Schroeder
Nov. 16 Bobby Duncum drew Jose Gonzales nc
Nov. 23 Spiros Arion-Jay Strongbow beat Jack Evans-Tony Altimore
Nov. 26 Larry Zbyszko drew Bill White
The WAWLI Papers No. 703...
WRESTLING WRENCHES THE EMOTIONS
(Baton Rouge Advocate, March 16, 1998)
By Michelle Millhollon
Randy Desbordes of Mandeville admits hes a "wrestling fiend."
The 24-year-old camped out 13 hours to snag tickets when World Championship Wrestling came to New Orleans. He spent three hours in line to get a seat at Thursdays show in Baton Rouge.
"Its a soap opera for men," Desbordes said before the start of last weeks show here as he showed off one of $20 T-shirts hed just purchased.
"If my girlfriend can watch Days of Our Lives and not get hassled about it, we shouldnt get hassled about wrestling," he said.
But wrestlings fan following is far from being limited to men. Women also flock to the matches, snap up the souvenirs and scream into the ever-present television cameras.
The event at the Centroplex Thursday was sold-out, proving wrestling packs as much of a punch locally as it does nationwide. WCW organizers were so impressed with the turnout that theyre returning in July.
Thirteen-year-old Austin Tarver gasped with excitement at the news from his floor seat at the arena.
"My birthdays in July," Austin said, looking over at his father.
John Tarver, 45, just sighed.
Pro wrestling, which waned in popularity during the 1980s, has resurfaced as a flashy, money-making blockbuster, reviving the careers of old-timers like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.World Championship Wrestling is the highest rated series in cable history.
Featuring ongoing story lines and an array of personalities, the shows pit the good guys against the New World Order villains.
The popular Sting regularly trounces bad guy Hogan in energetic matches. And fans from Milwaukee to Houma love it.
A recent show at the civic center in Thibodaux quickly sold out, a local resident said.
"People love it," Andrew Wise, 32, said. "They seem to have a lot of interest down here."
Centroplex usher Julie Loubiere eagerly volunteered to work the Baton Rouge show.
"I begged," she admitted.
Loubiere, 19, is a longtime wrestling fan as is her boyfriend, Jeremy Daley. A week before the event, Daley was seriously injured in a car accident. He remained unconscious in a New Orleans hospital the night of the show.
"He would love to be here tonight, so I asked to work so I could get his favorite wrestlers to sign a card for him," Loubiere said.
On Sunday, Loubiere said Daley still hadnt regained consciousness but that the card is by his bedside for when he does.
"Hes going to flip," she said.
She said doctors are optimistic Daley will recover and they speculate that heavy medication may be keeping him unconscious. They plan to begin reducing his medication this week, she said.
Surveying the crowd at the Centroplex, Loubiere said she has only seen one event that attracted more people to the arena.
"The Garth Brooks concert was pretty big," she said.
Because she was working the wrestling match, Loubiere didnt have to buy a ticket to witness the excitement.
Others werent so lucky.
Fans who werent fortunate enough to get a ticket hovered outside the building, perhaps hoping to nab a no-shows seat.
Austin Tarver begged for months to attend the Centroplex show until his father finally phoned about buying tickets. After being told when they would go on sale, John Tarver was warned to come early.
He was glad he did. The tickets were snapped up fast, leaving many parents scrambling.
Tiffany Mercante got tickets at the last minute from a local radio station but didnt let her son Robert, 8, in on the good news.
"I put him in the car and he didnt have a clue where we were going until we got here," Mercante, 27, said.
Roberts favorite wrestler is Sting and on his way into the arena he bought a Sting mask. He sat riveted in his seat high up in the stands. His face registered an array of emotions as he gazed fixedly at the ring.
His only concern was whether or not his friends would believe he had been there.
"I probably need to be on TV so I can prove to them that Ive been to World Championship Wrestling," he said with a worried look.
His mother assured him he could show them the ticket stubs if his face wasnt flashed across TV screens.
Friends Aiman Bayoumi, Nathanael Richardson and Justin Angelle, all 16, also hoped to catch the attention of the cameras and quickly shed their shirts to show off their chests. Each had painted on a letter to spell out "N-W-O," for New World Order.
"I see it like in football games," Richardson explained. "People paint their team names."
Richardsons father, Tracy, looked bemused at the display as he sat next to them.
"I dont care what they do," he said. "Theyre having fun and Im having fun watching them."
Other fans held up signs, some obscene, and cheered as their favorite wrestlers strutted into the ring. One poster reflected current news instead of sports. "Another shameless Lewinsky reference" it read.
But for at least this night, wrestling was the main
SOAPS ON THE ROPES
(Decatur Herald-Review, Nov. 14, 1999)
By David Burke
Drop by Gary Nein's house on a Monday night, and you'll likely find him watching TV, watching the moves of the muscular men.
But the 47-year-old Argenta man is not engrossed in "Monday Night Football." He's likely watching the World Wrestling Federation on cable television.
"I watch it quite a bit, yeah," said Nein, an auditor for Caterpillar Inc. in Decatur. "It's kind of comical. You really don't know what's going to go on from one Monday to the next."
Nein said he's been a wrestling fan for 10 years, after his brother got him hooked on it.
"It's all fake, and everybody tells me that. But I tell them, 'You watch movies all the time. Is that real or is that fake?' " he said. "They don't have anything to say after that."
Nein said his wife Kim will generally leave the room when he watches wrestling, but he'll spend the time in front of the TV with his 10-year-old son, Dylan.
"My friends just got 'No Mercy' on pay-per-view the other night, and a bunch of us watched it over there," said Dylan, a fifth-grader at Argenta Grade School. "It costs $30, so we don't get that too often."
The father and son are part of a growing population -- fans of professional wrestling.
From the pages of Playboy to the Minnesota governor's mansion, professional wrestling is virtually everywhere. And, beginning Nov. 20, that includes the Herald & Review, which will start running a wrestling column in the Classifieds section.
"I've loved wrestling since I was 4 years old. That's all I've followed, inside and out," said BlackJack Brown, whose column will run in the newspaper. "I never cared for baseball or football or basketball or anything else."
Brown, a 42-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native, has been writing about wrestling for various magazines for 23 years and has had his own column for the last decade.
Pro wrestling, Brown said, is more popular now than it's ever been. And he said the main reason is its stars and its storylines.
"It's still climbing," he said.
Unlike the last wrestling craze in the mid-1980s, wrestlers are performers now more than ever.
"At that time, wrestlers weren't good talkers. Now, it's a different story," Brown said. "They can read a script; they can follow the program."
Yes, the script. While previous incarnations of wrestling tried to trade on the legend that it was spontaneous combustion in the ring, today's wrestling makes no bones about its preparation.
Big news was made in the wrestling world a few weeks ago when Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, head writers for the World Wrestling Federation, jumped to rival organization World Championship Wrestling, owned by Ted Turner.
"For a whole year, WCW was dominating the industry, and last year WWF went ahead of them in the ratings," Brown said. "The competition is so great. Both feel like they have to be the strong one."
The two organizations duel it out on Monday nights, with the WWF on USA Network cable and WCW on Turner-owned TNT cable. Together, they bring in higher ratings than "Monday Night Football."
Wrestling has given a jump start to everything from MTV to CBS' cop show "Nash Bridges," where Brown says ratings skyrocket when a wrestler is featured. Highbrow cable network A&E even has a wrestling week scheduled in its "Biography" series beginning Monday.
"Whatever they touch, whatever they're a part of, turns to gold now," Brown said. "It's just so cool to be involved with wrestling now."
Three times this year, Playboy has featured shots in the altogether of WWF wrestling vixen Sable, who blew the whistle on the organization for getting too kinky with its scripts.
"The WWF doesn't need her anymore," Brown said. "They can make other stars."
The most famous ex-pro wrestler, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, was elected governor by the people of Minnesota last year.
"The reason why? The popularity of wrestling. He knows that," Brown said. "That's why he went back to (referee matches in the pay-per-view) 'Wrestlemania,' and he'll go back again."
Wrestling has also made celebrities of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan and dozens more.
While Brown said the dialogue made outside the ring is totally scripted, he said what happens in the ring can still be unpredictable -- except for the predetermined outcome.
He compares it to a children's game of play fighting that gets out of hand.
"A lot of fans believe what they see," he said. "It's like 'The Jerry Springer Show' -- they don't know what's real and what's fake."
One of the celebrities wrestling has created is Diamond Dallas Page, who's been wrestling for eight years after being a manager and color commentator for three years before that.
The 50-year-old New Jersey native has parlayed his success into two movies. The first, "The President's Daughter," was made for cable's TBS Superstation and drew high ratings. The second, a theatrical film called "Get Ready to Rumble," is slated for 2000. It co-stars a bevy of other wrestlers as well as actors David Arquette, Oliver Platt and Rose McGowan.
"It's like 'Wayne's World' meets wrestling," said Page, who plays one of the villains.
Page was in Central Illinois a year ago to sign autographs at Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth. Fans lined up three-fourths of the way around the exterior of the J.C. Penney store for autographs.
Born Page Falkinburg, the wrestler said the competition between the WWF and WCW is a main reason for wrestling's renaissance.
"Anytime you create controversy, it makes people pay attention," he said. "And when (the organizations) pay attention to the product, people are going to watch."
Page said he thinks wrestling is going for a "Howard Stern type of shock" with more adult themes.
"Kids are still 15 to 20 percent of our audience, and when I say kids, I mean (ages) 2 to 11," he said. "No matter what, the kids are going to like wrestling and watch wrestling whether it's adult-themed or not"
Unfortunately, he said, the wrestling organizations "went to the next level ... soft porn."
While Page credits Hulk Hogan as being the dominant figure in wrestling for the past year and a half, he said credibility for the genre came from an unlikely source. "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno invited Page, Hogan and National Basketball Association stars Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman on the show to talk about an upcoming two-on-two match.
"I mean, Jay Leno. Who's a more reputable guy?" Page said. "If there's a sweeter guy than Jay Leno, I want to meet him."
Leno eventually got into the ring with Page, in a match against Hogan and wrestler Eric Bischoff.
It's the fans' connections with the wrestlers that is another key to the success, Page said.
"You have to have a personal bond with the combatants, whether it's the L.A. Lakers versus the Utah Jazz or whatever," Page said. "Everybody's got a personal investment in a team. In wrestling, you've got to have it with the guy."
Page said he believes wrestling fans realize and appreciate it for what it is. "It's like a soap opera, only better," he said. "To me, wrestling is an American art form. If you really look at it, we are the greatest improvisational, theatrical athletes on the planet. I can give you a billion examples why."
Amused and amazed at the success of wrestling is Frank McAndrew, a faculty member at Knox College in Galesburg. Not only is McAndrew a psychology professor, he's also coach of the college's wrestling team.
McAndrew said the first image in people's minds of wrestling is the professional variety, not the competitive sport he coaches.
But he said he still understands professional wrestling's appeal.
"If you think of the things most people watch in their spare
time, it's either sports or movies and plays. Pro wrestling kind of combines the
two," McAndrew said. "There are certain types of things males are programmed to
be interested in. Pro wrestling tries to build that in there -- political intrigue, power
struggles, and there's always a running story line -- like a soap opera."
WHY AMERICAS HOOKED ON WRESTLING
(Newsweek, February 7, 2000)
By John Leland
On Dec. 13 of last year, the World Wrestling Federation was broadcasting live from Tampa, Fla., and trouble, as they say, was afoot. Baseball legend Wade Boggs was in the house; the nation's No. 1 author, a man in a leather mask named World Wrestling Federation Mankind, was scheduled to wrestle; the women's chocolate-pudding match was good to go. Yet all was not right: not for the WWF, not for Vince McMahon, its chairman and mastermind. On the previous week's broadcast, his real-life daughter, Stephanie, had been "tricked" into marrying his arch nemesis, the wrestler Triple H. Now McMahon was running into the ring with a sledgehammer, out for blood. Stephanie had a surprise for him. She was in love with Triple H, she told him. And further, they were taking control of the company. "Triple H outsmarted you by making business personal. That's something you know all about."
This is the same Vince McMahon who, from a sleek corporate office in Stamford, Conn., presides over a huge media empire. In the last 17 years, using tactics not so different from the Machiavellian drama on screen, he has transformed a modest family company into a media machine of surprising scale and synergya louder, raunchier version of the Disney kingdom. To the uninitiated or unconvinced, pro wrestling may seem like a dopey spectacle in which really big guys put on silly tights and pretend to beat each other up. And OK, it is that, but it is also a very big business, and has become an addiction for a broad cross section of young America. The WWF's "Raw Is War," watched by about 5 million households weekly, is the highest-rated show on cable; "SmackDown!," seen in another 5 million, is the top-rated show on UPN. These are just the wheels of the machine, though. The WWF's home videos routinely rank No. 1 in sports, its action figures outsell Pokemon's and its Web site is one of the first outlets to turn streaming video into profits (other than porn sites, of courseand some would argue the distinction is subtle). The autobiographies of two WWF wrestlers, Mankind (Mick Foley) and the Rock (Dwayne Johnson), are currently Nos. 1 and 3 on The New York Times best-seller list. Add in revenue from live ticket sales, pay-per-views, platinum-selling CDs and a new theme restaurant, all in turn promoting the shows and each other. "If someone said, 'Build me a model program, something that'll have all kinds of synergies and profit centers'," McMahon says, "you would build this."
You should be so savvy. The company is projecting sales of $340 million for this year, up from $250 million in 1999. The stock market values the company, 83 percent of which is owned by the family, at more than $1 billion. At a time when television has lost the ability to seduce young male viewers with sex and violence, McMahon has crafted a luridly compelling new delivery system: comic, winking, with daredevil action, larger-than-life cleavage and soap-opera plots. For a jaded audience raised on Quentin Tarantino and bored by political correctness, he gave up the pretense that wrestling was real. In its place, he framed the bouts with a "behind the scenes" saga about his own family, full of sex and intrigue, and starring the McMahons themselvesa second layer of unreality, creating ironic distance from the first. You could take it straight, or with a twist. Here was something to believe in: the candidly, honestly fake.
Of course, the company is not Disney, and not just because it's more popular with 14-year-olds. A third-generation wrestling promoter, McMahon has set new standards of sleaze, outraging some parents and embarrassing many of the genre's legends. Cardboard good guys and bad guys were replaced with pimps, porn stars and sociopaths. "Darwin proved there was a theory of evolution," says Jim (Baron Von) Raschke, 59, who wrestled until the early '90s. "McMahon has taken us back to where we started." The story of his rise, and the enemies he has made along the way, is made for a family soap opera. It is made, in fact, for "SmackDown!" The Rock, a third-generation grappler himself, understands that life inside the squared circle is like no other. "Frankly," he says, "if you're not born in the business, it's hard to grasp."
Vincent Kennedy McMahon was born on Aug. 24, 1945, the second son of parents already speeding toward divorce. Raised by his mother and stepfather in rural North Carolina, he met his father when he was 12, and began his twin obsessions with family and business that would govern his adult life. From his offices in Washington, D.C.'s Franklin Park Hotel, Vincent James McMahon ran Capital Wrestling, a regional circuit that put on shows from Virginia to Maine.
In that era, wrestlers worked in "territories," performing throughout one region of the country for crowds of a few hundred to a few thousand. The promoters had an unwritten agreement not to invade each other's turf or steal each other's wrestlers. It was a period of louche glamour. Wrestlers lived in a state of nomadic grace, a nightly caravan of big men in big cars. The pay wasn't like today, when big-timers can make $5 million a year, plus stock options, but the performers' resourcefulness was the stuff of legend. "I've seen four midgets in one bed in a hotel room," says "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe. "And four broads knocking on the door to get in." They were their own outsize tribe, "the last of the Gypsies," says McMahon. "Of course I came along and drove all that out."
As he grew closer to his father, Vince fell under the thrall of a flamboyant blond wrestler named Dr. Jerry Graham. What Dr. Jerry offered the boy was a far cry from life in his mother's trailer park. "How often do you get to ride around in a 1959 blood red Cadillac convertible, lighting a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill, not stopping at stoplights?" asks McMahon. He was hooked. When his father suspected an underling of stealing from him, he reluctantly let Vince take over the shows in Bangor, Maine, a minor Capital outpost.
Where his father was polished, Vince was brashly ambitious, a Sonny Corleone in a world of spandex and brawn. He was a cocky kid, a born "heel" (villain) in the only industry in which becoming the most-hated man in America qualifies as a noble career objective. He expanded into neighboring towns and urged his father to wage a broader turf war. What worked in the East, he figured, would work even better nationwide. To his father, this was apostasy.
By 1982, the old man was talking about selling the business, threatening to put Vince out of a job. Borrowing money, Vince and his wife, Linda, made him and his partners an offer: four quarterly payments of about $250,000 each; if they missed any payment, they forfeited the company and whatever money they'd put in. "It was one of the original LBOs," says Linda. "We really bought it with the revenue that we were generating from the business itself." To boost cash flow, McMahon started promoting shows in other territories.
The enemies McMahon was making were often former wrestlers, sometimes rough men"the type of guys who'd steal a hot stove and come back later for the lid," says veteran wrestling and boxing writer Bert Sugar. Jim Ross, now an announcer and talent scout at the WWF, was working for another promoter at the time, and remembers attending a kind of general war council in Kansas City to organize against the young upstart. In the men's room, says Ross, he overheard two promoters discussing an extreme remedy. "They started saying, 'One way we can put an end to this is to have the s.o.b. killed.' I'm sitting on the throne, creeping my legs up so they won't see me. I was dead certain they were serious." In the end, though, nothing came of the meeting, or the plot. Says Ross, "They couldn't cooperate on that, either."
One of the men McMahon put out of business was Verne Gagne, who ran the American Wrestling Alliance out of Minneapolis. "I have no love for Vince McMahon," says Gagne, now 73. In the 1970s and early '80s, Gagne built a rippled pantheon that included Hulk Hogan, Jesse (The Body) Ventura and Ric Flair, among others. Since the promoters mostly cooperated with one anotheroften to the detriment of the wrestlersGagne did not need to have his stars under contract. Then McMahon came along. "He took 37 of my people, including my announcer," Mean Gene Okerlund, says Gagne. "Then he came into my territory and used them against me."
By the mid-1980s, McMahon's scorched-earth tactics had winnowed the field of big-time wresting promoters to the WWF and a limping circuit called the National Wrestling Alliance. Through TV syndication, McMahon could build his wrestlers' profiles over all the old territories at the same time. He flooded independent stations with videotapes of his matchesoften paying to have them airedstoking demand for his wrestlers, not the local guy's. He made his money from the live gate, writing off TV costs as the price of promotion. It was risky, but this was the Reagan era. McMahon was developing a slicker, kid-friendly product, with cartoonish stars like Hulk Hogan doing commercials telling kids to eat their vitamins. Micromanaging every detail, from wrestlers' names to the color of their tights, he was pushing the grappling game farther from the scruffy realm of the carnival and closer to the workaholic template of a high-budget, high-concept Hollywood star factory.
With the advent of pay-per-view technology, McMahon seized another emerging medium and trampled another wrestling dictum. Though the public may have been dubious (no one ever bet on pro wrestling), promoters had for decades presented their spectacle as honest sport. Accordingly, it fell under the purview of state athletic commissions. Now these commissions wanted to tax pay-per-view broadcasts. Vince and Linda repositioned their product as "sports entertainment," convincing authorities that their matches were scripted, the outcomes fixed. Though WWF folks paint this as a bold move in the direction of candor, really it was a way out of an onerous tax. A funny thing happened: wrestling began to seem less alien to mainstream entertainments and advertisers, crossing into music videos and network TV. It grew more popular than ever. For a 1987 show at the Pontiac Silverdome, the company sold 93,000 tickets, with more tuning in on pay-per-view.
Then trouble struck. In the early 1990s, the company found itself mired in a steroid scandal and allegations of sexual misconduct. As the WWF reeled, a newly reinvigorated National Wrestling Alliance, now owned by Ted Turner and rechristened World Championship Wrestling, gained ground by experimenting with higher production values and more sophisticated "story lines," the mock behind-the-scenes soap operas that were beginning to overshadow the grappling. McMahon, who casts the competition as a steel-cage match between himself and Billionaire Ted, was being beaten at his own game. "We didn't give the audience what they wanted," he admits. "We weren't relevant." Starting in July 1996, the WCW began 83 consecutive weeks ahead in the ratings war.
The WWF roared back, however, and now doubles the ratings of its competition. McMahon did it the old-fashioned way, with extra helpings of savvy and sleaze. Hiring writers from Conan O'Brien and MTV, McMahon has let his inner miscreant run free: one plot had a wrestler winning another's wife in a poker game, and sending videos of the consummation; for Thanksgiving, two women wrestled in gravy. He pushes the boundaries of civility as gleefully as his stars trample the rules of the ring: you never know what might happen. For the converted, this is a recipe for great television, but it is a gambit. When Coke pulled ads from "SmackDown!," McMahon cleaned up the show to get a PG rating. "It was Vince's decision," says UPN head Dean Valentine, who brought wrestling to the new network last summer. "I was supportive. I would have been supportive if he hadn't. I didn't have a problem before, I don't have one now." But even cleaned up, the WWF kept growing. A month after the change, he says, ratings are up 10 percent.
The old carny days are dead and gone. Last Monday, in the bowels of the First Union Center in Philadelphia, a couple of dozen "superstars" (WWF-speak for wrestlers) killed the hours before showtime watching a videotape of the previous night's pay-per-view, the Royal Rumble. Like any group of traveling athletes, they divided into cliques, each looking up to check his or her performance. When the wrestler Darren Drozdov entered the room in a wheelchair, paralyzed after fracturing his neck in the ring last October, they all applauded, then lined up to hug their fallen colleague. A languid camaraderie pervades. "When a new guy comes in, I try to give him financial tips," says Mick Foley, who doubles as both the lovable Mankind and the redneck psychopath Cactus Jack. "I hear Bradshaw knows a lot, but he delves into individual stocks, and they scare me." Bradshaw is John Layfield, a former NFL player who is known among the other wrestlers for bringing a bruising verisimilitude to his hits. The son of a banker, Layfield says he earned 88 percent on his investments last year and 73 percent the year before. "That just shouldn't happen."
McMahon is now in expansion mode once again. Though the stock price has lagged lately (analysts blame the advertiser imbroglio and an injury to star Stone Cold Steve Austin), last October's initial public offering still raised $170 million to expand the WWF's online activities. In his unprepossessing office at the WWF, Shane McMahon spins a basketball on his finger as he discusses the destiny of his father's company. Shane, 30, is the WWF's president of new media; his childhood friends wrestle as the Mean Street Posse, a group of rich kids from the snooty suburb of Greenwich, Conn.which, in fact, they are. "We do over 6 million video streams a month," he says, most of them free of charge. Like his father at the same age, Shane represents the future of the family business. "We know that the Internet will be our own 24/7 network," says Linda. Shane worked intensely with techies at Microsoft to customize a new format for bringing the WWF's pay-per-views online. "The WWF has been a pioneer in using new media to bring events to broad audiences," says Dave Fester, director of marketing for Microsoft's Digital Media Division. "We've learned a lot working with them."
But McMahon's most cherished innovation remains his familythe on-screen version and the real. As TV's malevolent Mr. McMahon, he plays a natty corporate monster who would destroy anyone, including his wrestlers, in the pursuit of power. Here is a heel any wrestling fan can get behindpreferably to shove down the stairs. It is a role many said he'd been playing all along. The current story line has Stephanie and her "husband," Triple H, running the company with vindictive malicea filial jihad that might ring a bell among students of the real McMahon saga. It is a gloriously multilevel play between what wrestlers call the work and the shoot, the staged and the real-real. And it suits the times. As Triple H says, in the post-cold-war era "there is no horror now. To the average person, the real-life enemy now is their boss." Shane has sided with Vince; Linda with Stephanie, a formidable team. But don't count the patriarch out yet. Though he is secretive about story lines, he allows himself a little laugh about the family drama to come. "I've got one coming up with Stephanie and Linda that Linda doesn't know about," he says, chuckling. Then, punctuating each word like a slap, he recites a line of prospective dialogue: "Oh, you bitch."
In wrestling, though, truth is often funkier than fiction. The McMahon family boasts of tight blood ties. Shane calls his father "my best friend, my hero, my boss, my mentor, my brother, my confidant, my buddy." When he married three years ago, Shane asked his father to be his best man. Stephanie, 23, sells ads, and is similarly devoted. Their mother, Linda McMahon, 51, has run the company's day-to-day affairs from the beginning. The first time Vince's brother, Rod, saw them all together, at Shane's wedding, he thought, "An outsider might have thought they were phony, they were so demonstrative. Maybe that comes from what [Vince] lacked growing up."So at its heart, this is still a story about an American family. OK, there's power, money and some blood. And one thing is for sureit's all turned up really loud.
(Newsweek, February 7, 2000)
Anatomy of a Family Business The McMahon clanchairman Vince, CEO Linda, new-media president Shane and account executive Stephaniecommands a far-reaching media empire.
TV: Airing four nights a week with no reruns, the WWF seldom takes a breather. "Raw Is War" has been cable's highest-rated regular show for 48 straight weeks. "SmackDown!" is UPN's top- rated show. More than half a million fans plunk down $30 a month for pay-per-views.
Stock: Despite a recent stone-cold price, the WWF is still valued at over $1 billion.
Blockbusters: WWF auteurs have penned two recent New York Times No. 1 best sellers. Other chart toppers: two platinum CDs, a million-selling videogame and eight of the top 10 sports videos.
Web site: More than 1 million people visit the WWF Web site monthly. But they get out sometimes, too. Live events drew 2.5 million last year.
Merchandise: From stuffed bears and dog tags to Vince McMahon action
figures, retail sales from consumer products last year were more than $400 million.
(Newsweek, February 7, 2000)
By Barbara Kantrowitz & Joseph Contreras
Just a few years ago, the center of 11-year-old Anthony Arroyave's sporting universe was baseball's Ken Griffey Jr. No longer. Now it's Triple H, Jeff Hardy and Scotty Too Hotty. Home runs are boringhe's "hooked" on the drama. When he's not watching matches on TV, Anthony's playing WrestleMania 2000 on his Nintendo or practicing the Power Bomb and other submission holds on pals at his south Florida elementary school. Although his mom disapproves, Anthony dreams of a career in the ring. He's even thought up his character: a "heel" named Ice Tray who wears silver tights, black boots, red hair and a black goatee.
Scottie Too Hotty as a role model? Can this be good for kids? Not really, say psychologists who study the effects of TV violence on children. In fact, most advise keeping youngsters under 8 away from wrestling shows; they're too immature to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Studies have shown that kids who are exposed to on-screen carnage at an early age are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as teens and adults. Wrestling in particular could be harmful because it suggests that disputes should be settled by fighting rather than talking. The sexual content is also obviously inappropriate for young children.
Parents should be equally vigilant in monitoring the viewing habits of middle-schoolers, especially preteen boys. They're struggling to establish their identities, says John Murray, professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, and can become fixated on "hypermasculine role models... of what a boy should be." That's why boys this age are huge fans of action stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But watching too much of this stuff could make boys aggressive or even fearful, Murray says, because they might see the world as "a mean and dangerous place... as dangerous as it is on TV."
For kids this age (and for older teens as well), explaining what's
wrong with wrestling is more practical than forbidding it outright. "Forbidden fruit
is a lot more appealing," says Steve Danish, a sports psychologist at Virginia
Commonwealth University. "They'll just watch it at a friend's house." Instead,
Danish advises "demystifying" the action, explaining that wrestlers are actors,
not athletic idols. In fact, if anything, they're role models of how to be a bad sport.
"They trash-talk and take advantage of other people's failures," Danish says. No
major leaguer would ever do that, right?
(Newsweek, February 7, 2000)
By John Leland
Cliff Compton, as he is known professionally, stands 6 feet 1½ inches, weighs 215 pounds and owns his own gymon the whole, not the sort of guy I'd choose to tussle with. But on a cold morning in January, the two of us square off in an unheated cinder-block hangar in south Jersey. "Come on, NEWSWEEK," taunts an onlooker helpfully. "It's time to get slammed."
Cliff and I circle each other warily, then tie up in the center of the ringour arms locked at each other's necks and elbows, bodies torqued in opposition. With a nod for me to jump up, Cliff lifts me off the mat, raising me horizontally at chin level. Then, like the man says, it is time to get slammed. For an instant I am in free fall, until wham! the concussive thump of a 40-year-old back slamming flat against the dirty canvas. I take inventory of the damage: nothing I can't walk away from. Let's do it again, from the top. Tie-up; lift; wham! So goes another lesson at the Monster Factory, a place that gives full meaning to the phrase, School of Hard Knocks.
In the world of professional wrestling, some men are born to cartoon greatness. But most learn it in institutions like the Monster Factory, one of a couple of dozen schools across the country where guys like Cliff learn the fine art of making it look real. For $3,500, "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe, a former top pro himself, molds able bodies into what they hope will be the next generation of WWF superstars. The lessons usually take about six to eight months, but Larry and his deputy, Ed Atlas, have agreed to run me through a four-day crash course, or as long as I can hang. I'm down for pain, I say, but not lasting injury. Ed smiles at the first part.
Larry has trained some of the top names in wrestling, including the Big Show and King Kong Bundy, but on this day, a half-dozen lesser mortals pace the ring: beer distributors, security guards, bodybuilders, schoolteachers. We start with the basic "bump": fold your arms across your chest, tuck in your chin and fall flat on your back. And again. Most rings have a coiled spring under the center to absorb some of the impact, but this one relies on the natural give of the plywood, which is covered by an inch and a half of foam padding. The goal is to land flat, distributing the shock over as broad an area as possible. It is the wrestling student's first act of faith. Like fledgling actors or musicians, my classmates believe unshakably that from this humble tumble lies the road to stone-cold greatness. "I'm positive that I'm going to do it," says Ryan Miller, 19, a butcher who has emptied his savings to pursue this dream. "I met Ravishing Rick Rude when I was 7 years old. I said right then, 'I want to be a wrestler'."
Larry offers a frank assessment of my prospects. At 49, he has bleached hair, a giant cigar and a shiny Cadillac.
Because of a run-in with the gout, he drinks only champagne. "You're not going to walk out of here and get a job with the WWF, that's for sure," he says in his flat south Jersey accent. After decades as a "heel"the guy fans love to hatehe communicates in the broad, expressive gestures of his profession. "If you concentrate, work hard, I can teach you how to wrestle. You would wrestle part-time and make your money back." After this counsel, it is my turn to inflict some damage. I fling Jack McFadden, 31, an interior designer, against the ropes (he helps), then guide him through an aerial flip over my hip: my first hip toss. As he crashes to the canvas, "selling" the pain with a so-so paroxysm, I can see how guys get hooked. Jack whips me wrenchingly against a turnbuckle, to Ed's withering appraisal. "That's better, NEWSWEEK," he yells. "It still sucked, but it wasn't ridiculous." This is the nicest thing he ever says to me, and I take it as a compliment.
Larry and Ed work on the basics: always twist your opponent's left arm; two squeezes on your hand signal that it's time for you to take over; keep your posture theatrically upright to play to the cheap seats, even in a side headlock. If you hurt your opponent for real, he might "get a receipt," or return the favor. "It's like a waltz," yells Ed, counting off a one-two-three rhythm. "Your opponent is really your partner."
Though it is premature, Larry agrees to steer me toward my gimmick, or ring persona. A good gimmick exaggerates one facet of a wrestler's real personality. Larry sizes me up as a heel. This is good news. Heels generate the emotional energy, or "heat," in any match, and are usually the "ring generals," directing the moves (most wrestlers plan their opening and closing sequences, improvising in between). "With you," says Larry, warming to the subject, "your personality is slightly introverted; your posture is not outstanding. You could be a sneak or a tricky guy that would hide gimmicks. You could take a beating, then every once in a while pull something dirty and sneaky and underhanded. Maybe a thumb to the Adam's apple, or hiding brass knuckles or a roll of dimes in your tights." Who wouldn't love this game?
By the fourth morning, however, I reassess the damage. My ankles are on fire, my calves cramped. My right temple throbs from an inadvertent kick. My ribs hurt when I inhale, and I have to lift my head with my hands to get out of bed. Critics of professional wrestling scoff that the daring feats are all bogus, but wrestling fans buy into a trickier illusion: that a man can tumble headlong onto a table from 10 feet above and not be hurtbecause everyone knows wrestling is fake. In fact, that man is in pain. For my last day, I decide, I will just watch.
As they run through the moves, Ryan takes a nasty header onto his face. A student named Anthony aggravates a separated shoulder. A rope comes loose, nearly spilling everyone onto the concrete. Larry offers bags of ice (everybody has already signed a release waiving his right to sue) and sympathy. "You gotta love the pain," says Ronnie Koreck, a beefy insurance adjuster from Pennsylvania. Though he is 37, Ronnie assures me that he has lined up sponsors to help him reach the next level, wrestling in gyms and VFW halls for small paychecks en route to the top.
It is this faith that offsets the day's pains, and the next day's as
well. No one teases me for wimping out. I say my farewell, but I will long remember my
days in the squared circle. Every time I get out of bed.
NITRO COMES TO THE BEACH
(Panama City News Herald, Mar. 20, 1998)
By Troy Espe
Lights, cameras, action and guys with really, really big pecs.
It must have been World Championship Wrestling Monday Nitro.
WCW Monday Nitro broadcast live Monday on TNT from Panama City Beach. More than 5,000 fans packed a sold-out Club La Vela to watch pro wrestling's biggest stars.
They all were there: Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Booker T, Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page and Sting.
Club La Vela danced with lights and rock 'n' roll as a helicopter circled overhead. Fans lined up in the parking lot, waiting to get in or scavenging tickets.
"If you do not have tickets, we do not have tickets," a doorman announced over the loud speaker. "You can't get in."
Inside, Hollywood Hulk Hogan set the stage as soon as Monday Nitro went live. Hogan marched members of the New World Order -- the bad boys of pro wrestling -- onto the floating ring.
Hogan and fellow NWO member Randy "Macho Man" Savage haven't seen eye to eye. Hogan made amends for a rift in the NWO and announced he and Macho Man would battle Lex Luger and Sting.
"Macho Man, I love you so much, more than anybody I've ever loved," Hogan said.
The crowd went wild. Fans pressed against metal gates, shouting expletives about which rival organization is better: WCW or NWO. Most fans brought signs. Some read NWO 4 LIFE and FLAIR GUMS HIS FOOD.
Monday Nitro is shown to 25 million viewers each week, making it cable television's biggest show. It was the second year in a row TNT has broadcast Monday Nitro live from Club La Vela.
Wrestlers spent the weekend interacting with fans. WCW hosted a party tent, athletic competitions, sumo wrestling and the 1998 Burst Gum Miss Nitro Contest.
It was Monday Nitro the fans wanted to see. The first match pitted Lodi against Goldburg. Lodi came out in a floatie and swim goggles to the crowd's chant of "Lodi sucks!" Goldburg tossed him like a rag doll, pinning Lodi in no time. Lodi's gang jumped in the ring but Goldburg dismantled the bunch.
Shortly after, Savage moseyed onto the ring. He made clear that all was not well with the NWO.
"I'm going to predict the future for you," Savage said. "I'm going to beat Sting. I'm going to control the NWO and the NWO is going to control the world. Hollywood Hogan is going to know what it feels like to be at the bottom of the pecking order."
Raven pinned the Crippler. Booker T successfully defended his title. Dallas Diamond Page retained his crown. Chris Jericho was disqualified, sacrificing his belt. Three wrestlers went into the pool either by force or to avert the Giant.
Monday Nitro offered more than bone-crunching wrestling. WCW's mascot Wildman Willy performed flips in the ring and egged on the crowd. Miss Nitro 1998 strutted her stuff. Nitro Girls performed sexy dance numbers.
The three-hour event culminated when Hogan and Savage took on Lex Luger and Sting. It looked like Sting wasn't going to show. A helicopter then hovered over the stage and Sting descended down a rope.
Fans -- many wearing white-face Sting masks -- went nuts. Hogan and Savage lost composure. When Sting and Luger weren't pummeling them, Hogan and Savage fought each other.
The last minutes turned into a free-for-all. The whole NWO gang stormed the ring. Sting and Luger fought them off. Hogan and Savage bashed each other into metal railings. Savage ended up with a gash on his forehead while Luger and Sting held onto the title.
With such fan support, don't be surprised if WCW returns to Panama
City Beach a third year. As one fan's sign claimed: PCB IS WCW COUNTRY.
This past Sunday night, for what would likely be the first time in the history of Madison Square Garden -- all four of them -- an event, by design and declaration, included either nudity or apparent nudity.
At least as noteworthy is that the sellout crowd -- it was the hottest ticket in town -- was comprised largely of children.
If what was seen was nudity, as opposed to an illusion, that might place both the Garden and the show's producer in violation of New York State and New York City morality laws. The producer of the event, naturally, was Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation.
Also, Sunday's "Royal Rumble" at the Garden would be the second consecutive WWF pay-per-view show that included a topless female act. But this time, there was no laughable claim of "accident" by the WWF. Sunday's pay-per-view began with a disclaimer noting that nudity would be included.
The previous event, Dec. 12 in Ft. Lauderdale, featured a young woman removing her bra at the conclusion of an "evening gown match," one that saw women wrestlers rip each other's clothes off down to their undersized bras or bikini tops and thong panties -- standard fare for pro wrestling, these days.
Sunday's nudity -- if it was nudity -- at the packed Garden, saw 78-year-old Mae Young, an ex-pro wrestler, pull down her bathing-suit top and stroll about the ring, breasts exposed.
A WWF spokesman said that Young was "actually wearing a prosthesis" on her breasts, although he acknowledged that the prosthesis included "exaggerated" nipples. Adult eyewitnesses, however, are convinced that the woman appeared naked from the waist up, which, prosthesis or not, was the whole idea.
The WWF spokesperson said that while Young wasn't technically bare chested, the home TV audience was prevented from seeing her by a red band marked "censored" that covered 80 percent of the screen. In other words, the WWF claims that Young didn't appear topless, yet the WWF not only censored the scene on TV, it attached an N (nudity) rating to the top of the telecast.
(It's worth noting here that while on hold to the WWF's Stamford, Conn., offices yesterday, music piped into the phone included the lyrics, "Suck it," -- a WWF signature and merchandising slogan -- and, "Who's gonna kick your ass?")
Regardless, a Garden spokesperson said that MSG was "caught unaware of the show's content and executives here are aggressively pursuing the matter." The spokesman noted that the Garden, in the recent past, has precluded the WWF from selling merchandise that MSG deems "inappropriate."
Later, a Garden source said that lawyers are investigating whether the WWF violated conduct clauses in its contract with MSG. The WWF's next show at the Garden, "Raw is War," is scheduled for Feb. 28.
A storyline that was taped Wednesday during a WWF show in Baltimore, a show scheduled to air last night nationally on UPN (Ch. 9 here), found 78-year-old Young pregnant by a current wrestler.
The WWF has weathered a recent storm that saw several big-ticket advertisers, including the U.S. Armed Forces, pull out as TV sponsors in response to the WWF's increased sexual content and profane language.
There's more. Monday, the day after the Garden played host to thousands of minors being entertained by a real or perceived topless female performer, there was another quiet death of an active pro wrestler, the latest in a line so long that it has become difficult to keep track.
Bobby Duncum, who was working for Ted Turner's WCW, was found dead in his home, near Austin, Texas. The former University of Texas football player and son of ex-NFL lineman Bob Duncum, was 34.
While no cause of death was provided, pro wrestling sources say that Duncum, like so many other modern pro wrestlers -- dead and alive -- enabled his career through drug use.
But who cares about any of this? Pro wrestling's hot. Red hot. The wrestlers, while real human beings, are expendable and interchangeable. Their real-life deaths mean nothing. At the same time, the marketing of pornographic acts and images to children mean nothing to adults who can reap the benefits of pandering to the sleaziest side of pop culture.TV networks, magazines, celebrities, newspapers, book publishers, politicians and everyone and anything else looking for cross promotion and a boost in ratings or sales are running to rub elbows with pro wrestling. No questions asked.
By Ellen Goodstein
He's the roughest, toughest, most injured man in pro wrestling with a battered body held together by hundreds of stitches. He wears a Hannibal Lecter-mask, hurls his 297-pound body off the top of steel cages and crashes through hard wooden tables without flinching.
Millions of admiring fans know him as Mankind -- famed for his near-suicidal ring stunts -- but The ENQUIRER has learned that he's really a gentle giant who cries at sad movies, has a big soft spot for sick kids and nearly became a minister instead of a grappler!
The 6-foot-2 World Wrestling Federation superstar, whose real name is Mick Foley, is such a sentimental guy that he plays Christmas music all-year-round at his Florida home.
Mick recently stunned the literary world when his riveting new autobiography -- "Mankind: Have a Nice Day! A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks" -- soared to the top of The New York Times best-seller list.
The book describes some of his most grueling matches -- including one in which his right ear was severed. But despite his reputation for taking and dishing out punishment, 34-year-old Mick admitted in an exclusive ENQUIRER interview: "I'm a big softie!"
The pear-shaped brawler enjoys watching such family classics as "Old Yeller" and "The Iron Giant" and he confesses they bring tears to his eyes.
"I've proven over and over again what a really tough guy I am, which makes it easier to let a few tears go," said Mick, who planned to watch his favorite "Happy Days" episode right after talking to an ENQUIRER reporter.
His resume of pain includes: more than 325 stitches, a broken jaw, dislocated and separated shoulders, five broken ribs, a bruised kidney, second-degree burns, a broken wrist, two herniated discs, a torn abdominal muscle, torn knee cartilage, a twice-broken nose, at least eight concussions, four teeth knocked out and, of course, the severed ear.
"Mick Foley is the toughest SOB I have ever encountered," World Wrestling Federation commentator Jim Ross said. "He's unbelievably indestructible."
While the public never sees him give in to pain, Mick's big heart visibly breaks when he encounters children who are seriously ill.
He was deeply touched by a little boy named Antonio who recently approached him at a book signing. "It was obvious that he had been very badly burned.
"I let the little guy sit on my lap while I signed books. I know it meant so much to him and his family.
"What they don't know, is that it meant just as much to me."
The tough guy with the heart of gold invited the Boston boy backstage the next day. He got six of the other WWF stars to pose for pictures and greet Antonio.
"We felt just as happy about it as he did."
Foley also befriended a young Indiana girl with muscular dystrophy.
"I met Terri DePriest back in 1988. She wasn't hard to spot. She was a little girl in a wheelchair and one of the few who came to watch me wrestle back then."
A close relationship developed with Terri and her family.
Tragically, the brave youngster died in 1993 but Mick continues to be friends with her dad.
"Her father makes these beautiful ceramic Santas and has been sending them to me every year at Christmas," revealed the bear-like wrestler, who cherishes his collection of seven Santas and keeps them out all the time. He also admits to listening to Christmas music all year!
At one point in his life, Mick was so inspired by the Bible that he considered becoming a preacher. "I was 18 years old and fighting these two conflicting feelings about becoming a man of religion or a man of wrestling."
The ring won out over the robes, and as a wrestler Mick attracted many admiring female fans -- not bad for a guy who couldn't get a date. "I was a flop with girls -- I didn't have date one in high school, not even to the prom," he admits. He didn't do much better in college, but then as a young man, he was bowled over by a beauty named Colette.
"Incredibly, the toughest man in wrestling was afraid to ask her for a date!
"Colette loved the fact that I didn't have the guts to ask her out myself. I had somebody else do it.
"She thought that was admirable; other women would claim that it was cowardice," laughed Mick, who married his sweetheart in 1992.
Fearless Foley prides himself on being an involved family man, who gained 30 pounds of sympathy weight when his wife was pregnant with their son.
He loves nothing better than spending time with Colette, a former Revlon model, and his two adorable children -- Dewey, 7, and Noelle, 6. "My family comes first," he says. "There's no place I'd rather be than home."
Mick has wrestled under the names Cactus Jack, Dude Love -- and now the super-popular Mankind. He's won all sorts of titles, but the most unexpected is "best-selling author."
Without the help of a ghostwriter, Mick churned out 760 handwritten pages.
"I did this book lovingly. It took 50 days, averaging seven hours of writing a day," he told The ENQUIRER.
"I am very excited to have my story told in The ENQUIRER. I know it will reach a lot of people."I'd like to be a role model not for what I do in the ring but for people trying to do something they never thought they could -- like I did writing my book."
By Scott Newman
STAMFORD, CT World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. shares fell 25 percent as the producers of the most-watched programs on cable television unveiled plans to start a professional football league.
WWF shares fell 4 3/16, or 25 percent, to 12 5/16 in Nasdaq trading of 6.14 million shares, about 20 times the three-month daily average. They earlier fell to 12, the lowest the stock has traded since its initial public offering in October at $17.
The company said it's starting an eight-team league, to be called the XFL, that will begin play in February 2001 with a 10-game schedule. The WWF is negotiating a television agreement with its long-time cable television partner USA Networks Inc.
While the WWF has captured viewers around the U.S. with its violent, scripted wrestling shows, building a football league could be more difficult. Two other leagues have failed in the past 30 years, and General Electric Co.'s NBC and Time Warner Inc.'s Turner Sports late last year dropped plans for a similar made-for-TV effort.
"The concern is they're getting into something they don't have a lot of experience with," said analyst Seth Weber of Merrill Lynch & Co., which assisted on the company's initial public offering. "Some people feel the money could have been better spent elsewhere, like developing wrestling more."
Weber downgraded the stock to long-term accumulate from long-term buy.
Chairman Vince McMahon, speaking at a news conference in New York, said the start-up costs for the league are less than $100 million, and its teams would have to abide by a salary cap.
"I don't mind (Wall Street) being skeptical," McMahon said. "This is good for my stockholders. This is good for my company. All I want is a chance to prove it."
The WWF reported revenue of $88.2 million for its fiscal second quarter ended Oct. 29, up 65 percent from $53.4 million a year earlier. Net income fell 36 percent to $7.8 million, or 14 cents a share, from $12.2 million, or 22 cents, a year earlier because it had to pay higher taxes after its stock sale.
McMahon has been adept at turning professional wrestling into a business, operating a highly profitable wrestling Web site. Two books by WWF wrestlers have been at or near the top of the New York Times bestseller list in recent months.
"If there's anyone that can pull this off, it's the WWF," said Jordan Rohan, an analyst with Wit Capital Group Inc. who covers the WWF. "It's like a new studio releasing a big budget film like Titanic. Either it's going to be huge or it's going to be a total write off."
Although no football effort has become a formidable rival to the National Football League, professional wrestling has at least eaten into the NFL's television audience.
Three of the five highest-rated hours in all of basic cable each week are WWF's wrestling programs airing on the USA Network.
The WWF's league expects to have franchises in Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco; and Washington. Two additional franchises will be added later. The league will have a four-team playoff and a championship game at a neutral site.
USA Network Chief Executive Barry Diller said his company's negotiations with the WWF include discussions about football, but "it's not automatic" that the network would broadcast them.
McMahon doesn't pretend that wrestling matches are real. He writes many of the scripts himself and in the past 12 months they have gotten more violent and sexually graphic.
But just as he did for Hulk Hogan, McMahon has turned wrestlers such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and the "Rock" into marketing machines whose faces are found on T-shirts, dolls and videos.
"They're experts at reaching young males, which is a tough demographic to reach," Rohan said, "but they've got several things in their favor."
Football will be a new endeavor entirely, though. Fans in the U.S. have shown little interest over the years in anything but the National Football League. Neal Pilson, a former CBS Sports president who runs his own television consulting firm, said the future for the WWF's plan isn't bright.
"I think it's doomed to fail," Pilson said. "We did years of research when I was at CBS and I've done some myself, and there's just no market whatsoever for an offseason professional football league."
Besides NBC and Turner Sports' plan last year, the most recent effort was the United States Football League, which was founded in 1982 and played three seasons before folding. The World Football League lasted two seasons, in 1974 and 1975.
The CFL entered the U.S. in 1993, then pulled out after the 1995
season amid poor attendance in all the U.S. markets except Baltimore.
The WAWLI Papers No. 705... EXTREME CAGE FIGHTING DEBUTS
(Panama City News Herald, June 18, 1999)
By Troy Espe
Daryle Burkey is a soft-spoken, clean-cut young man you wouldn't mind introducing to your daughter. But tonight, he'll be locked in a cage with an opponent who wants to rip off his head - and would be within the rules doing it.
Burkey, 26, of Panama City, makes his Extreme Cage Fight debut at 7 p.m. tonight at the Marina Civic Center.
But don't let the Mr. Nice Guy persona fool you.
"I am a low-key, peaceful guy," Burkey says. "I think you can have skills and be a nice guy at the same time."
Extreme Cage Fighting comes to Panama City for the first time tonight. Men combat in 12 matches -- some in tournament form and some as single bouts.
The concept is simple. Put two men in a square 20-foot steel cage and let them pulverize each other.
Anything goes -- almost.
"You can't gouge a guy in the eye," said Scott Maling, president of Ring Pros Inc., which is promoting the event. "You can't bite him. You can't pull his hair. You can't kick him in the (groin)."
Extreme Cage Fighting is a cousin of Ultimate Fighting, which gained popularity in the early 1990s. It combines every form of combat -- boxing, wrestling, karate, taekwondo, street fighting and jujitsu.
"You got to be well-versed in all disciplines," Maling said. "As the sport progresses, the fighters are getting more versed in different disciplines and more professional."
Extreme Cage Fighting is structured like boxing. Fighters battle for three four-minute rounds. A fighter wins by knocking out his opponent or making him submit. Submitting is the equivalent of crying "uncle." Fighters make their opponents give up usually by choking them or breaking a limb.
But if you're looking for a barroom brawl, you probably won't see it during Extreme Cage Fighting.
"They're all professionals," Maling said. "They all have techniques. I haven't seen as many cuts in this as I have in boxing."
The worst Maling has seen is a broken nose and broken arm, he said. Yet violence remains a draw for Extreme Cage Fighting fans, he said.
"I don't believe the sport is any more dangerous than boxing -- but it is dangerous," he said.
Burkey has been a fan of Ultimate Fighting since the inception. He agreed that it's not as gory as some think.
"It's not going to be like the Gallagher show where you have to put up plastic because a melon is going to get squished," he said. "I don't think any blood is going to get splattered. I don't think it's gory at all. It's technique. You don't get a bunch of brawlers in there. A punch or two might get thrown but it usually goes right to the floor."
Burkey was born and raised in Panama City. He graduated from Mosley High School. He is a trainer at Lee's Fitness Center in Panama City Beach.
Burkey always has been strong, athletic and always liked to tussle. He became a big fan of Ultimate Fighting. He started wrestling at the gym.
"I love wrestling and getting people in the headlock," he said. "I got better and better and I decided to test my ability."
When Extreme Cage Fighting decided to book a night in Panama City, Burkey signed up to "see what you're about, the attraction of the wild side."
Burkey, 5-8 and 195 pounds, has been training for two months. Workouts include sparring, grappling and weightlifting. He's a little nervous but expects a hometown crowd for his first match tonight.
"I'm going into this as the underdog," he said. "These guys have records. I have no record."
That's the allure of Extreme Cage Fighting, Maling said. Everyday guys see who's the toughest.
"It's really the guy down the street getting in there and anything goes," Maling said.
Extreme Cage Fighting is gaining in popularity, especially as fans lose faith in boxing. The sport is scheduled to be a part of the 2004 Olympics.
Yet the sport gets a bad reputation, Burkey said.
"There's a lot more violence on TV and cartoons," he said. "They forget that it is a sport. It's been around since the caveman days with cavemen wrestling around and putting each other in headlocks. It's a real-life situation."
Burkey will find out tonight.
"I'm a nice guy just going in there to test my skills," he said. "It's something to do. I'm not good at golf." _______________________________________BEST SEAT ISN'T THE PLASTIC CHAIR
(Oregonian, Portland, Ore., Jan. 25, 2000)
By Steve Duin
Were you front row at the Roseland Theater Saturday night, you might have wondered when Portland Wrestling decided a hard "R" rating was better business than that ol' "PG" family entertainment.
You might have found yourself laughing at the over-the-hill gang of pot-bellied Ritchie Magnet and Billy Two Eagles, especially when the latter arrived with a war bonnet and a wrestling belt looking older than Cochise.
Or you might have spent three hours looking over your shoulder, eyeing the fans who -- after all these years -- still aren't in on the joke.
Me? I'm wondering about the referee.
In a wild night at the Roseland, Two Eagles thumped Smart Bart Sawyer; Moondog Manson bled corn syrup and red dye all over the ring; Mark Large's manager, Gino Bambino, was beaten unconscious, as he justly deserved; and everyone took a few direct hits from a plastic chair.
Sitting ringside Saturday, I got to see it all. And I also had the pleasure of watching Mark Watson perform several officiating moves straight out of the pro wrestling hall of fame:
The comatose ref. The distracted ref. The ref who can't count to three.
A 39-year-old maintenance superintendent in Clackamas County, Watson has been a fan of pro wrestling since Dutch Savage and the Kangaroos were kicking the stuffing out of all comers at Salem's Grand Theater.
He always figured he had a ref's psyche: "I'd been watching it forever. I could predict the finish before it happened on TV."
Watson learned the trade during four years in a ring set up in Tough Tony Borne's back yard. He learned how to frisk wrestlers and not find anything important. He learned how to stagger his count. To surrender his dignity. To look the other way or put himself in a position where it's easy not to see something.
Best of all, Watson learned how to keep a straight face no matter how hilarious the wrestling gets.
The ref's job is to keep a semblance of order, to convince the true believers that one person in the ring believes in truth, justice and the American way. You don't need Watson to tell you -- and he won't -- that he is a crucial character in the tightly scripted mayhem.
If a real zebra -- the NBA model, perhaps -- was in charge of this zoo, one tag team wouldn't enter the ring with Super Soakers. Michelle Starr, 280 pounds of confused sexuality, wouldn't get away with his soft-porn act.
And the crowd -- a crowd that bursts into flattered applause when it's labeled "alcoholic scum" -- probably wouldn't have such a rousing good time.
No one had more fun than the four high-school freshmen I was chaperoning. Then again, 14-year-olds always get giddy when your standard blond wrestling wench with long legs and black stockings sashays past and gives them the finger.
Through it all, Watson had the best seat in the house. Of course, he wasn't always in it. Watson was thrown from the ring in Mark Large's bout with Big Daddy Thunder. And he was knocked unconscious when he got caught between the corner pole and all 305 pounds of Lou "The Bull" Andrews.
Watson stayed down for the two crucial minutes in which several of the lead actors in the cast entered the ring and turned the match in Andrews' favor.
What was he thinking about? "I was thinking about when I gotta get back up," Watson said. "And not getting back up too soon."
Amazingly enough -- and without the aid of oxygen or a trauma team --Watson sprang up just in time to count out Bruiser Brian Cox, Andrews' opponent.
What a sense of drama. What a pro.
In the end, Two Eagles and Bruiser Brian arranged a grudge match at the Roseland next month. A 5-year-old girl with a heart of gold tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Be careful of the blood, you almost stepped in it."
And to the final bell, Watson stayed in character, never counting to
three, never cracking the smile that might ruin the storyline.
For a few seconds, anyway, Neil Bzibziak went flying through the
But that's what you get when you battle a 6-foot, 360-pound thug nicknamed Big Evil. First, Big Evil swung his fists at Bzibziak's face. Bzibziak had the nerve to duck, so Big Evil pushed him into the ropes. After a few more swings and misses, Bzibziak was lifted off his feet and thrown into the air. Landing on his back. On a carpeted and canvased padding, stretching over some nice wooden boards.
Welcome to Les Thatcher's Main Event Pro-Wrestling Camp. Want to learn how to be thrown over a man's shoulders? Want to be kicked in the chest? Beaten to a pulp? Here's your chance .
They come from all over for that chance. Big Evil, a.k.a. Jamie Harris, is a 29-year-old from Pittsburgh claiming a world record in bench pressing. He's here for about a week, brushing up on his wrestling skills.
Bzibziak has lived in Norwood since September; before that, the 19-year-old was in Buffalo. So was his best friend, Jesse Guilmette, 19. To pay the rent, Bzibziak and Guilmette are working as waiters at Ruby Tuesday's at Tri-County Mall. But they're here in Cincinnati, having bypassed college in hopes of pursuing their dreams to become professional wrestlers.
Even if your eyes glaze over when you hear the names Steve Austin or the Undertaker, there's no denying that a wrestling renaissance has a chokehold on America. Television has embraced it, as has Wall Street. And wrestlers' mugs can be found on coffee mugs and everything from bedsheets to action figures.
With the most famous wrestlers earning millions of dollars for a spectacle that's half entertainment (yes, it's all choreographed) and half sport (yes, it hurts to be body-slammed), it's no wonder that the camp, run by Thatcher's company, the Heartland Wrestling Association , is attracting attention. The notice hasn't been just from wrestling hopefuls with stars in their eyes but media outlets like MTV and MSNBC, which have recently profiled Thatcher and his students.
Many of those students, like 27-year-old Anthony McMurphy from Norwood, are already professional wrestlers, but they haven't ascended to an echelon that lets them give up their day jobs. McMurphy drives a taxi, and at night he's practicing his wrestling. During the weekends, he's driving to events, where he performs as Taxi Driver.
''When I'm driving here, I sometimes can't believe that I'm going to a training facilit y for wrestling, to sharpen my moves,'' Murphy said. ''Most people go to the gym to run or work out, or they hit the local bar for a hobby. But I guess we're just nuts, that we come up here and pay people to beat us up.''
The students pay $2,500 for six months of approximately 12 hours a week of training, and McMurphy isn't exaggerating about being beaten up, according to Tim McCrossen, a chiropractor from Colerain, who volunteers his services to the camp.
''As they say, the outcomes are choreographed, but the injuries are real,'' says McCrossen, who was a brakeman on the 1994 Olympic bobsled team. He volunteers here because he admires the tenacity of these wrestlers. Neck sprains, back xxx sprains and shoulder problems ar e their most common injuries, he says.
So why wrestle?
''The end-all goal is to make money and to make a living at it,'' says Bryon Woermann, a 24-year-old student who gets paid for wrestling almost every weekend. But, for Woermann, who delivers dentures to dental offices as his day job, there's more to wrestling than riches:
''It's art. It's not a beat-the-heck-out-of-the-other-guy thing, like a lot of people perceive it as. It's a fine line between beating the heck out of somebody and dancing with them. You're right there, straddling that line. You've got to look like you're knocking th em out, but you've got to be in sync with each other.
''You've got to have timing. And that's why I like doing it. Because, if I can come back and watch the tape the next day and if what I did looks like a good dance to me, then I did my job.''
Woermann, who wrestles under the name Matt Styker, conpares wrestling to ''telling a story. Just like a soap opera has a beginning, a middle and an end, a wrestling match has a beginning, a middle and an end, with a few more parts in between there. Like a good Shakespeare play.''
Wrestling is certainly a performance. That becomes clear when talking to the Heartland Wrestling Association's office manager, Brady Laber, who attends matches as a wrestling manager named G.Q. Masters.
''I hold their hand and spoon-feed them,'' Masters says with a smirk. ''These big, tough guys - I don't pay them to be smart. That's my job. As long as they do my bidding for me, th ey can be as stupid as they want.''
The wrestling camp honcho, Thatcher, 59, started wrestling professionally 40 years ago. Even now, with his white hair, goatee and glasses, he looks as though he's in better shape than most men his junior. And he proves it when he demonstrates a cartwheel to Big Evil, who wants to cartwheel across the ring and elbow Taxi Driver in the chest.
''Wrestling's very cardiovascular,'' says Harris. Before his days as Big Evil, Harris earned a spot in the record books by bench-pressing 760 pounds. After tearing a tricep trying to lift 800 pounds, he decided to switch careers.
''People don't realize how good a shape you need to be to do this,'' Woermann says. ''We had a guy a couple of weeks ago come in - he was 50 or 60 pounds overweight, and he couldn't get his feet over his head.''
''If somebody's launching you in the air,'' Woermann explains, ''and you do a flip in the air, and you land on your back, if you can't get your feet over your head, you can't do that move.''
Professional wrestling might be entertaining, but it's definitely athletic, says Woermann:
''It's the hardest thing I've ever done, and I did every sport imaginable in high school. ''
The feet-over-the-head-type moves are among the reasons Bzibziak's mother wishes her son had enrolled in culinary school instead of wrestling camp.
Bzibziak sighs, shaking his head.''She wanted me to be a chef.''
By J Michael Kenyon
LAS VEGAS -- The life and times of Rolland (Red) Bastien will, some day, make for a rather robust and revealing history of professional wrestling in the latter half of the 20th century. For, as distinct from most of his contemporaries, Mr. Bastiens career on the mat spanned not only five separate decades but bridged both ends of an epoch in pro grappling history, from the simple, hard-scrabble Midwestern soil that gave birth to American catch-as-catch-can, to the teeming arenas of the television age.
As a teen-aged youth growing up in his native Minnesota, young Rolland was first exposed, in the early and mid-1940s, to the wrestling game as presented by Tony Stechers historic Minneapolis Boxing & Wrestling Club in the glorious old Minneapolis Auditorium. From the general admission seats, he watched and marveled at the likes of Joe Pazandak, Cliff Gustafson, Sandor Szabo, Bronko Nagurski, Dr. Len Hall, Abe Kashey, Dirty Dick Raines, Butch Levy and countless others. Red knew, instinctively, that this was for him.
Circumstances soon combined to send young Mr. Bastien on his way to join the galaxy of ring greats. While working at odd jobs in the woods, he came in contact with some semi-pro wrestlers veritable "hookers," in the parlance of the trade for master gripsmen who befriended him and began showing him some of the ropes. Then, from hanging around local gyms, came the opportunity to pull on wrestling togs and actually trade grips with some of the old pros. The bumps and bruises were severe, but the result was to begin transforming him into an accomplished pro himself.
Always a personable and likeable sort, Red was quickly encouraged by his elders to give the profession a serious try. He began, as did so many of his forebearers, in the so-called AT, or athletic, shows of the carnival ballyhoo circuit. There, taking on all comers in grueling fashion while the pitchmans bluster encouraged the crowds to gather, Red Bastien learned wrestling from the ground up, the old-fashioned way. That early knowledge, combined with a remarkable facility to stay relatively healthy and free of major injury over the years to come, led to one of the more acclaimed pro wrestling careers of his generation.
It was Reds good fortune to launch his career amidst the rising allure of a new medium, television, which introduced wrestling to a huge new audience in the late 40s and early 50s. And Red, even though then not terribly imposing in physical size, combined enough verve, personality and athleticism in the agile, compact body of a junior heavyweight to make his way to one of the important early television centers, Chicago.
His appearances there were broadcast around the country, eventually leading to offers to perform in far-flung reaches of the land. Successful tours of red-hot mat centers like Texas, the Carolinas and the Pacific Northwest followed. Soon, the "big time" beckoned. New York and the legendary Madison Square Garden were calling and Red Bastien never looked back.
Elevated to main-event status as the spectacular half of the flying "Bastien Brothers" tag team, Red became an astounding fan favorite, a popularity that followed him not only all over North America but halfway around the globe to such far-off lands as Japan and Australia in the years to come.
All the principal mat centers New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Tampa, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo, Melbourne and beyond became familiar venues for the high-flying and ever-popular Red Bastien. Even when, in the latter stages of his active career he pulled on a mask and began to dispense with rough stuff, the antics of "Texas Red" were overwhelmingly appreciated by audiences everywhere.
Early in 1980, after having wrestled in five different decades, Red hung up his trunks for good but didnt turn his back on the business he knew so well. Various promotional stints, coupled with management positions in the huge, new, cable TV-inspired megolith promotions, followed. For a time, he trained youngsters for the mat, never getting far away from what had been his life for so long.
And, all the while, Red kept alive the old acquaintances, the old memories and the good times fostered by the close camaraderie of an intensely physical game. Always eager to travel and seek out new horizons, he continued to criss-cross the country, bolstering friendships and heartily embracing all friends of the ring. He was an early member of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a social organization inspired by the late Mike Mazurki, himself once a roving professional wrestler-turned-movie character actor. The CAC -- under presidents Mazurki, Archie Moore and former champion wrestler Lou Thesz vigorously embraced "the ring of friendship," extending its fraternal arms to not only wrestlers, but boxers and martial artists, even to their close friends in the realm of show business all men and women who have bonded amid the commonality of physical competition and/or extended stays in the limelight. Not surprisingly, they are for the most part a gregarious and fun-loving and big-hearted -- group.And so it is no surprise to see, at the dawn of a new millenium, the ascent of Rolland (Red) Bastien to the presidency of the Cauliflower Alley Club. He brings more than a half-century of experience and wisdom to the task, and there are few, if any, who may dispute that those assets, along with an enduring charm and bountiful proportions of personal charisma, will see him re-energize the Cauliflower Alley Club against the backdrop of a vibrant and challenging new century.
(Associated Press, January 24, 1941)
HILLSBORO, Tex. Billy Edwards, one of pro wrestlings
most picturesque figures for twenty years, died here yesterday from multiple injuries
massive brain concussion, wrenched back and severe lacerations received when
an auto he was riding in collided with a truck Tuesday.
(Associated Press, January 22, 1941)
By Felix R. McKnight
DALLAS, Tex. Villainous Billy Edwards, a sideburned old wrestling figure of 51 years who pioneered in mat hokum by taking a punch at Jack Dempsey "just for the hell of it," ended a violent, 32-year career in a country hospital Wednsday.
Broken by injuries, the squat and bald heavyweight who rose from circus sawdust to the original mat meanie, died in a Hillsboro hospital 32 hours after his automobile had collided head-on with a truck.
Basal skull fractures and internal injuries caused his death.
Old Billy, a glowering, conniving figure in the ring, who was the greatest wrestling attraction the Southwest ever knew, was really a gentle guy.
Just a misunderstood showman, insisted the multitude of friends of this cauliflowered veteran of at least 1,000 matches.
Sweet William panicked the sports world several years back with the famed Dempsey incident. The Manassa Mauler, who had just been retired by Gene Tunney, came into Dallas on a barnstorming tour as a wrestling referee.
Smack in the middle of the Edwards match, with 5,000 jammed into the old Fair Park livestock pavilion, Edwards suddenly stopped gnawing and beating on his opponent and turned on Dempsey.
Viciously he ripped off Dempseys shirt and then planted a mild right on the former champs ear. Just a little showmanship, you know. But Dempsey misunderstood.
He countered with a crushing blow that landed full on Edwards rather prominent proboscis.
The old wrestler crumbled to the floor coming back into this world some 20 minutes later.
"Had to eat soup for three days," he grinned later.
"Just couldnt chew. But what a gag!"
(Newark Star-Ledger, February 11, 2000)
By Eric Quinones
More than six years after he quit the World Wrestling Federation, Tito Santana is still working main events, surrounded by familiar names like "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka and King Kong Bundy.
But he is a long way from WrestleMania.
Santana, 46, of Succasunna, was once the second-most popular star in the WWF in the mid-1980s, behind Hulk Hogan. Santana held the Intercontinental title and the tag-team championship, wrestling in front of tens of thousands of fans in stadiums and arenas worldwide with his trademark cry of "Arriba!" He even had his own action figure.
These days, Santana wrestles just three or four times a month, working for small independent promotions in high school gyms and bingo halls around North America that may draw a few hundred fans on a good night. Whereas Santana once made between $300,000 and $500,000 per year as a WWF superstar, he now pulls in $700 to $1,000 for each of his independent bookings.
But even though pro wrestling is now more popular than ever and many top stars are multi-millionaires, Merced Solis the real man behind Tito Santana wouldn't give up his new life for another run with the WWF. Now a teacher and businessman, Solis has made his wife and three sons his priority and put wrestling on the side.
"My family became more important than the money I could be making on the road," Solis said from Santana's Styling Salon, which he and his wife, Leah, opened three years ago in their hometown.
During his decade with the WWF, Solis wrestled the opening match at the first-ever WrestleMania pay-per-view in 1985, and appeared before 93,000 fans at WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome. But in 1993, after a total of 16 years in wrestling, he quit the WWF. Solis realized his new character, "El Matador," was floundering and he was missing the chance to watch his boys Mark, now 13, Michael, 15, and Matt, 17 grow up.
"I was never crazy over El Matador," he said. "They really never had intentions to go anywhere with it and it didn't take me long to figure that out. I had been around the business long enough and the unhappiness wasn't worth me being away from home."
For the past four years, Solis has been working full time as a gym teacher at Smalley Elementary School in Bound Brook. After school, he works at the salon, sweeping hair and answering phones. He even waged an unsuccessful campaign for a council seat in his hometown last fall.
On many weekends, he heads back to the ring. Solis said he continues to wrestle to stay in shape and to see old friends like Snuka, Bundy and ex-WWF champ Bob Backlund, who are among many former big-time stars now toiling on the small-time circuits.
Unlike the thousands of aspiring wrestlers who work for little or no money, former stars such as Solis can earn decent pay to headline independent cards, as promoters hope their name recognition will draw bigger crowds.
Independent cards around the country often feature familiar names such as Jake "The Snake" Roberts, The Honky Tonk Man, The Bushwhackers, The Iron Shiek, George "The Animal" Steele or Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, stars of the 1980s who may wrestle every weekend or just a few times a year to capitalize on their "legend" status, years past their prime.
Although Solis does not need to continue wrestling for the money, he said many of his contemporaries didn't do much planning for the future.
"A lot of the guys didn't save their money, didn't invest their money. You have a tendency to think when you're in there that it's going to last forever," he said.
In January, Solis made a surprise appearance for World Championship Wrestling, the WWF's main rival, and defeated WCW bad boy Jeff Jarrett as part of an "old vs. young" storyline. But his spot on "WCW Monday Nitro," alongside fellow old-timers Snuka and Steele, was a one-shot deal.
While wrestling has always been about showmanship, Solis believes that in his day there was more of an emphasis on skill in the ring. The WWF's current popularity is based largely on anti-hero characters like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock, who are known primarily for their catch-phrases and cocky attitudes.
"Wrestling organizations that are going to make it have to
change with what the WWF is doing," he said. "There's a few people who enjoy our
style of wrestling, but it's never going to go back to that."
(Chicago Sun-Times, February 14, 2000)
By Abdon M. Pallasch
Rather than bring in the Harlem Globetrotters or sell candy, as they have in past years, Booster Club members at Waubonsie Valley High School have something else in mind to raise money for school teams and clubs.
They're bringing professional wrestling to the school gym.
Featured performers at the March 18 show will be such well-known personalities as the Polish Crippler, Greg "the Hammer" Valentine and, in a last-minute addition, midget wrestling with Lone Eagle.
"We've tried candy, and that gets old after a while," said Mike Ragowski, the athletic director at the school, which draws students from Naperville and Aurora. "We're just trying to raise some money for the kids. If it doesn't work out, we just go back to the drawing board and try something else."
Booster Club President Andrea Shadix hopes to attract families with elementary school children to the 2 p.m. show and parents and middle- and high-school students to the 7:30 p.m. show.
"A lot of my friends in elementary schools are bringing their boys," Shadix said. "It's not going to be a girl event, except for my daughter, who likes it. I have a son in college who's bringing a bunch of his buddies home to see this."
Though Shadix and Waubonsie Principal Marilyn Weaver said they've heard no complaints from parents, some child psychologists have raised alarms about kids watching pro wrestling.
"What we know from 30 years of studies is that children that watch a lot of violence are more likely to act aggressively," said John Murray, a Kansas State University professor. "There's no compelling need to expose kids to this kind of violence. The only compelling need is to make money."
Shadix says parents have to recognize that many kids watch it at home every week. Ratings show that at least 1 million kids ages 2 to 11 watch UPN's "WWF Smackdown" wrestling show every Thursday night.
"When you do a fund-raiser, you want to make money," Shadix said. "If parents are offended by it, they don't have to attend."
If the events sell out, the booster club could make $40,000, she
(Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2000)
By Patrik Jonsson
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Former pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura stunned the country when he claimed the governor's belt, er, chair in Minnesota. Now, it seems Ric "Nature Boy" Flair may try to put a similar stranglehold on politics here.
To the horror of the political elite in Raleigh, N.C. -- and the bemusement of a growing cast of voters disaffected with politics as usual -- the platinum-blond Flair says he's "90 percent" ready to announce his candidacy for governor of North Carolina.
The popularity of Governor Ventura, who last week quit the Reform Party, and the rise of maverick Sen. John McCain in recent presidential polls are evidence of voters yearning for a different kind of candidate. But even more than Ventura's surprise victory in 1998, political analysts say, a Flair candidacy would test exactly how far a public eager for straight-talkers is willing to go to shake up the political establishment.
"The kind of voters [who would vote for Flair] are the old school politicians' worst nightmares," says Sean Perry, a technical writer in Newmarket, N.H., who awoke out of an eight-year political stupor to back Senator McCain in his overwhelming New Hampshire primary win. "And that is that the people who they count on not showing up at the polls will show up."
Unlike Ventura, whose centrist views became well-known as a radio talk-show host and mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., Mr. Flair is still a political mystery.
Known for his swaggering style and outrageous egotism -- "Whooo, stylin' and profilin'!" is his war cry -- Flair, a 14-time wrestling champ, has spent 30 years building up a huge following of loudmouthed, placard-waving fans who love him more the worse he acts.
Outside the ring, however, he is known as a businessman and a shrewd political contributor.
The owner of a chain of successful bodybuilding gyms in Charlotte, N.C., Flair has stumped for former President George Bush and conservative Sen. Jesse Helms.
But he has yet to announce a platform for his own candidacy, and will have to file as an independent after missing last week's party filing deadlines.Now, instead of just paying a filing fee, Flair must gather 96,000 signatures by June 15 to get on the ballot as an independent.
If nothing else, Flair, who is not talking to the press until he makes up his mind, would spice up a luke-warm race between five low-profile candidates vying for the seat being vacated by popular four-term Gov. James Hunt.
"He loves the state of North Carolina, and he would serve the state well from the governor's chair," says Alan Sharp, a spokesman for World Championship Wrestling.
Despite Flair's past service to the Republicans, many party activists sighed in collective relief when Flair missed the filing deadline last week.
"This is all about the cynicism of the younger age groups," says Bernie Reeves, a conservative pundit and former editor of Raleigh's Spectator opinion weekly. "It cheapens a system that's cheap enough as it is. It's all about [Flair] exploiting the lowest common denominator and taking advantage of it through the media."
Other political figures were quick to quash any attempt to put Flair in the same group as McCain, a war hero with a well-defined populist message.
But up in New Hampshire, where McCain won the GOP primary by 19 points, Mr. Perry says Flair might have a certain McCain-like appeal. People are tired of slick politicians and want public servants to speak their mind unapologetically -- and loudly, if need be, he says. Who better than a pro wrestler for that?In a way, pro wrestling is a kooky doppelganger of American politics, where inflated rhetoric, mano a mano challenges, and prefab behind-the-scenes story lines seem to pull the strings behind what the public sees.Candidates like Ventura have redefined that picture, drawing aside the curtains to expose the inner workings.
Indeed, former pro wrestler Bob Backlund, who once played a right-wing wrestling character seeking the presidency, has also filed to vie for a US Senate seat from Connecticut.
"What draws people to these kind of candidates is that they say what they mean to say," Perry says. "They're not like George W. Bush or Al Gore, who'll do and say anything for a vote."
But he also says Flair would face tough questions about his policy and his past, should he decide to run.Moreover, North Carolina voters have tread carefully around independents and sports stars who have broached politics in the past.In 1996, retired race-car driver Richard Petty, despite a huge boost of pre-election press and expectations, lost a race for secretary of state by a wide margin.
Even Flair's family has doubts about the Nature Boy's chances. When
asked if he thinks his legendary son has a shot, retired doctor Richard Fliehr, says,
"No, I don't. But, then, there's lots I don't understand about politics."