The WAWLI Papers No. 709...

ABORTED ATTEMPT AT PROMOTING IN SEATTLE

(ED. NOTE - While professional wrestling in nearby Portland, Ore., enjoyed fairly decent business on a regular basis throughout the 1920s, shows were few and far between in Seattle. One aborted effort at promotion occurred in the fall of 1927, when the American Legion Athletic Commission, president Henry Cramer, bankrolled two cards at the old President's Theater, Third Avenue at Madison, in downtown Seattle. William Helig was the matchmaker. Jim Londos headlined the first, and was to have returned to face the winner of the second show's main event - but no third show was held, due to sparse attendance. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the morning Hearst paper, was liberal with its coverage; the afternoon Seattle Times barely ran a word about the two shows.) 

Seattle, Washington - Thursday, Oct. 6, 1927

Jim Londos beat Milo Steinborn, Sam Leathers vs. Moose Norbeck, Jim Lamb vs. Bill Wright (Spokane welterweight).

Seattle, Washington - Thursday, Oct. 20, 1927

Joe Garbarini, 197, Scranton beat Fred Mortensen, 190, Seattle, 2 falls to 1 (51 total minutes); Moose Norbeck, 211, Bellingham drew Bill Donovan, 205, San Francisco, 60:00 (no falls); Ken Jones, 190, Seattle beat Logger Smith, 12:00.

(ED. NOTE - In between the two shows above, Norbeck, who for a number of years attempted to earn his living primarily as a boxer, engaged in a boxer vs. wrestler match at the White Center Athletic Club in Burien, Wash., a south Seattle suburb. Norbeck, boxing, was pinned handily by George Barnes, then of Tacoma (and a brother to Pete Sauer, aka Ray Steele), in three rounds. The bout took place on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 1927, and was the main event on an otherwise all-amateur boxing card.)

RECORD 20,982 AT GARDEN

(New York Times, July 10, 1970)

Bruno Sammartino pinned Crusher Verdu of Spain last night in a return exhibition at Madison Square Garden before 20,982 fans, a record for wrestling at the Garden.

The Mongols won a tag-team match from Gorilla Monsoon and Bill Miller. In a midget tag-team match, Jamaica Kid and Little Beaver won from Billy the Kid and Frenchy Lamont.

In other matches, Jay Strongbow defeated Joe Turco, George (The Animal) Steele and Mario Milano drew, Johnny Rodz was beaten by Victor Rivera, and Jose Rivera pinned Mike Conrad.

DORY FUNK SR. DIES FROM HEART ATTACK

(Official Program, San Antonio, June 13, 1973)

Another of the wrestling world's greatest stars has taken the count for the last time - Dory Funk Sr.

Only 54 years old, the former junior heavyweight champion of the world died last week at his home in Umbarger, Tex. - only a couple of days after he had teamed with his son, Dory Jr., to win a tag team match in Amarillo.

Funk was buried at Canyon, near his Panhandle ranch.

Although a long-time star in his own right, Funk may be best remembered because he trained Dory Jr. into the world's heavyweight championship and then steered his son so successfully that the younger Dory held the big title for four years against the toughest competition that could be found.

It was only three weeks ago that Harley Race upset Dory Jr. at Kansas City, Kan., and took the championship from the Funk family.

The head of the Funk clan, whose career ended near where it began (in Amarillo), was at the Auditorium the last time about a year ago for matches featuring Dory Jr., the champion.

Our condolences go to Dory Jr. and other members of the family.

'HERCULES' HITS 90

(Newsday, Monday, September 18, 1995)

By Jeremy Quittner

NEW YORK - People love to tell the story of how, 10 years ago, when Abe Coleman was 80, the former professional wrestling star was taking a walk and was jumped by two teenagers who tried to mug him in Forest Hills.

He gave one guy a right hook and the other guy a left hook and knocked them both unconscious.

"They didn't know what they were getting into," snorted Lawrence Weinman, 75, of Forest Hills.

True, Coleman could hold his own in any fight, but it's his humanity that his friends like to remember.

"He's got more love in his little pinky than everyone put together. He's pure love and he's loved," Weinman said.

Yesterday at Coleman's 90th birthday party at the Torath Emeth Jewish Center in Flushing, nearly 100 relatives and friends poured out their own expressions of love as they paid tribute to Coleman as a legend and as a friend.

"I don't believe I'm 90," Coleman said. "I still weigh 200 pounds."

Coleman was dressed in a gray pin-striped suit. A doting cousin buttoned down his collar and straightened his tie when he walked in.

Conan the Barbarian dolls held balloons in the center of tables laden with baked goods like rugelah and challah.

The Johnny Love Trio, minus Johnny Love, played Elvis Presley songs and "Hava Nagilah."

Many of Abe Coleman's old wrestling buddies were on hand to celebrate his birthday, which is actually Wednesday. Although no two people told the stories the same way or remembered the exact location of where things took place, the names echoed with the bygone sounds of the wrestling ring.

"He fought Jim Londos in Mexico City for two hours; it ended in a draw," said Al Samson, who was born with the surname Vass but was known during his brief wrestling career as "Mr. Brooklyn."

Names such as Joe Savoldi, the Dusek brothers, Ed (Strangler) Lewis and the Garibaldi brothers still seemed to be mixing it up in the Coney island Velodrome as they passed from people's lips.

"You look at Abie's cauliflower ears," said Samson, 60. "That happens from the headlocks, all the blood is forced into your ears."

At 5-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Abe Coleman was dubbed the "Jewish Tarzan" and the "Hebrew Hercules" by sports publicity people in the 1930s.

He was born in Zychlin, Poland, in 1905 as Abba Kelmer, one of 16 children, some of whom were killed during the Holocaust. He came to the United States in 1925.

He has lived in Queens since 1941.

Coleman said his first professional wrestling match, fought in Brooklyn in 1929, earned him $25. Later in his career, he earned about 10 percent of the profits, or $10,000 to $12,000 for a match. He worked consistently throughout the Depression and had a reputation for helping his family and friends.

"During the Depression, he supported the family," said Harold Coleman, 75, Coleman's nephew from Princeton, N.J. "He was the fountain of wealth for anybody who needed help. And we had a large family."

Coleman also was known for bringing the drop-kick to the United States wrestling world and for perfecting a double-wristlock.

"I went to Australia in 1930. I used to watch the kangaroos kick," Coleman said. "Then I used it in the ring. They called it the drop kick."

He married his wife, June Miller, in 1936, and he loves to tell the story of how they met.

"I was wrestling at Madison Square Garden in the spring of 1936. I was thrown out of the ring and landed right in her lap," he laughed.

Friends said Miller died some time ago but were not certain of the date. They had no children.

Family and friends talk worshipfully about Coleman's physical prowess, remembering the time in Long Beach, for instance, when his car got blocked in and he supposedly picked it up and moved it by hand. But the stories seemed part of a past that has mostly vanished.

"Wrestling in those days was very different," said his niece, Ruth Caster. "They won honestly. It wasn't theatrical like it is today."

BAD NEWS FROM THE GRAPEVINE

Subj: Fwd: BAD NEWS!!!!!!!! liz chase

Date: 2/28/00 6:21:02 AM Pacific Standard Time

From: Penibanner

To: Oldfallguy

Talked with Leilani Kai last night ,she informed me that Chainsaw Liz Chase died on Saturday during an operation. Details are not known.

-----------------

Subj: Fwd: Liz Chase Update

Date: 2/29/00 5:57:49 AM Pacific Standard Time

From: Penibanner

To: Oldfallguy

Folks, I regret to report that I've confirmed the death of Liz (Chase) Burggraaf from a friend and reliable source. It appears that Liz went to Costa Rica for cosmetic body surgery, and did not survive. Her widower is apparently either in Costa Rica or on his way there to bring her body home.

Liz was known to close friends as a generous and giving person, and even took in one friend when he had no where to live and cared for him. She was in discussions with others in Florida to train a new troupe of lady wrestlers.

RASSLIN' IS NOT A SPORT

(Cleveland, Miss., Bolivar Commercial, July 5, 1999)

By David Johnson

Is professional wrestling a sport? The answer depends on who you ask.

There are those die-hard fans who hold fast that wrestling, or rasslin' as we that inhabit the region below the Mason-Dixon line say, is just as real as a fourth-and-goal play at the Super Bowl. That Hulk Hogan or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's athletic accomplishments are as great as those of Mark McGwire or John Elway.

"It's real, Im telling you," said one fan who nevers misses an episode of a popular week-night cable wrestling show. "Those guys are really going at it. I bet you wouldn't tell any of them it's fake to their face."

While I must admit Hulk Hogan is not standing by my side as I write this, here it goes: 

IT IS FAKE. IT IS NOT A SPORT. AT BEST, IT IS ENTERTAINMENT OF SOME SORDID SORTS.

Whew, I feel much better now.

There is not a trace of sportsmanship in professional wrestling. Besides being bad dressers, wrestlers are traditionally bad losers, always taunting or doing something outside the rules (see any televised event for a folding chair over the head or sand in the eyes).

While the Houston Astros suspended a real athletic competition last month when manager Larry Dierker collapsed with a seizure in the dugout, the World Wrestling Federation refused to cancel a live pay-per-view event when wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death from the top of an arena in the midst of a night of highly touted matches. Maybe it was all the testosterone flowing that got in the way of the WWF's judgement. Or maybe it was a case of the almighty dollar. It was definitely in bad taste.

I actually caught a glimpse of a regional wrestler sending a pro-drug message a few weeks ago right there on my television set (I was channel surfing, I do not watch wrestling). I sat there astounded and angered as "Grass Man", or whatever his ring name was, paraded around the ring with a sign that read "Keep on the grass." The message was obvious.

Might want to think twice before letting the little ones cozy up to the tube for a night of hair-pulling fun.

On occasion I have received phone calls from professional wrestling fans astonished that we do not cover this form of entertainment on the sports pages.

Caller: "I noticed y'all didn't run an article on the rasslin' from this weekend and I want to know why."

Me: "Because professional wrestling is not a sport. There is no element of competition. Everything is choreographed. The winner is pre-determined."

Caller: "You calling it fake? I bet you wouldn't say that to "Stone Cold." How 'bout I come down there and put you in a figure four?"

Me: "Okay. But first let me put on some tight purple pajama pants and run out and buy some bleached-blonde hair extensions (I'm figuring the sight of that alone will be enough to blind this guy.) "

Caller (now intimidated by what he considers tough-boy looks): "Do what? What kind a feller are you, anyway?"

Me: "A realist. Goodbye."

PRO WRESTLERS MORE ATHLETES THAN CLOWNS

(Cleveland Bolivar Commercial, January 5, 2000)

By Andy Collier

It's fake, it's fake, it's fake! That's all I hear about professional wrestling and what goes on in the wrestling world.

Everyone has it pegged to be a spectacle where a bunch of fat, overweight slobs with no athletic ability jump around a ring for a few minutes a night. Many believe there is nothing to it. Anybody can do it.

It's true. It is entertainment instead of a sport. Everything in wrestling is practically choreographed, preplanned and scripted. The participants in the ring throw punches and kicks and do their moves in a fashion so the other wrestlers won't get seriously injured. But that is where the make believe stops.

The training it takes to be a professional wrestler is very grueling. In a wrestling school owned by World Championship Wrestling called the Power Plant, the drills that the students do have been often compared to something you would do at boot camp. Each wrestler spends hours a day training and practicing on getting their moves down pat for each night they wrestle.

Some of their moves consist of getting body slammed over and over again, while others have some 500-pounder land on top of them.

I've been an avid wrestling fan since I was a kid. I watch all the wrestling shows like WCW, WWF and ECW. Every now and then, I go to some of the local shows at the National Guard Armory. Whether it's preplanned or not, the thought of jumping off a 30-foot high balcony and landing on a table isn't my idea of something I would try at home.

Some of the theatrics in wrestling have to be executed perfectly or something tragic could happen. One case of that was the death of wrestler Owen Hart last summer. Hart's entrance consisted of a stunt were he had to ascend down to the wrestling ring from the ceiling. One little thing went wrong, and Hart fell over 50-feet to his end.

During the course of their careers, wrestlers develop back, neck and knee injuries just to name a few. A lot of times, wrestlers have to under go extensive surgeries just to keep their careers going. The injuries come from the wear and tear of doing these moves that are perceived to be fake over a long period of time.

Many people make a big fuss about wrestling because people get hurt or killed trying the moves that wrestlers do with ease. When Superman first came out, there were reports of kids getting hurt because they jumped off certain places trying to see if they could fly.

Wrestlers show a lot of talent and skill by executing these moves without getting hurt. That is why they are professionals.

HANK WILEY AND WRESTLING TO RETURN

(Natchez, Miss., Democrat, Sept. 28, 1999)

Hank Wiley will return to the wrestling ring in Natchez Oct. 23 in a tribute to Junkyard Dog.

The wrestling event will be held at Thompson Gym at 8 p.m.

Joining Wiley in a list of bouts will be Kamala Jr., One Man Gang, Scandor Acbar, Hector Geurrero, Assasin, Tojoyamamoto, Jr. and midgets Little Hit Man and Little Josh.

Junkyard Dog's son, Deputy Dog, will be a featured guest.

A new twist will have a match between two amateurs whose names will be drawn on the night of the matches.

Any two men 21 or older who would like a chance to wrestle on the same card with professionals to send their names and ages to Joey Martin, Natchez Democrat, P.O. Box 503, Natchez, Miss., 39120. Those names will be passed on to Wiley.

"We will train those two people for one night of wrestling," Wiley said.

The Junkyard Dog, a former wrestling champion, was killed in a car accident last year.

"Junkyard Dog was a good friend of mine for years," Wiley said. "We've been on the same card and even wrestled against each other."

Wiley had a successful return home this spring when he defeated Kamala Jr., in the main event.

"That went great," Wiley said. 'I couldn't have asked for anything better."

Ringside seats for the matches are $15, while general admission is $12.

WRESTLING HAS HEADLOCK ON U.S. POP CULTURE

(New York Daily News, March 2, 2000)

The temperature in Times Square on a windy January night was plunging through the 20s. Heedless of the cold, roughly 1,000 screaming and jostling wrestling fans jammed the traffic median for a block along Broadway.

The objects of the crowd's attention - muscular men and in their finest leather, spandex and tattoos - acknowledged the cheers and jeers as they strutted beneath a "There Goes the Neighborhood" sign erected for the grand opening of the World Wrestling Federation restaurant.

The shouts intensified as a man in a black leather jacket and cap uncoiled his 6-foot-4, 246-pound bulk from the rear of a black limousine. Across his shoulder lay a belt with an improbably wide gold-and-blue buckle.

Once, he was Paul Levesque of Nashua, N.H., a gym manager.

No more. After years of weightlifting, a wrestling school stint and dues-paying in countless mat melees, Levesque morphed into Hunter Hearst Helmsley - Triple H - the reigning WWF heavyweight champion.

Climbing into the spotlight shining on a platform outside the restaurant, the beetle-browed star grabbed a microphone, thrust his title belt to the sky and roared, "The WWF owns New York City!"

Wrong.

At this particular moment in time, the world of men in tights who pretend to beat each other up with theatrical kicks, punches and the occasional chair shot to the head has not only captured the city, it has a headlock on U.S. popular culture.

Even as the industry confronts complaints about its violence, obscenity and sexual content - and rocks from new hits about steroid and drug abuse - wrestling is reaching for a grip on the rest of the planet.

Crowded arena shows. Pay-per-view specials. Compact disks. Hardcover best-sellers. Internet Web sites. Action figures. Magazines, T-shirts, monster trucks, cologne and an almost endless array of other spinoffs and cross-promotions have built a business Goliath.

The once-scorned industry has shucked its lowbrow image as adeptly as a grappler slips a choke hold and battled its way into a billion-dollar business with fans across the economic spectrum and one of its own, Jesse Ventura, in the Minnesota governor's office.

"It's a wrestling world today, and we're living in it," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for Study of Popular Television.

Once upon a time, fans of the squared circle fed their rasslin' jones by sneaking off to the black-an-white TV in the basement to watch two men in dark tights toss each other around a dingy-looking ring.

Today's wrestling is live and in color, in your face and calculatedly mainstream. By day, 28-year-old Brooklynite Paul Wein is a 5-foot-8, 160-pound employee in a serious Manhattan office. After hours, he's a 5-foot-8, 160-pound self-confessed wrestling nut and emcee of "Ring Fever," a weekly cable TV show devoted to legions of fans like himself.

From his home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Wein also spends hours updating www.ringfever.com, an elaborate wrestling fan Web site on the Internet.

"It's larger-than-life behemoths who get in the ring and beat the hell out of each other," said Wein. "I still have the same love of it I had when I was 6."

These days, there's more than ever to love.

The industry's two largest companies - Vincent McMahon's World Wrestling Federation and Time Warner/Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling - pump out a combined 16 hours of new TV programming a week, 52 weeks a year.

McMahon, whose WWF empire is based in a sleek, Stamford, Conn., complex that boasts cutting-edge production studios and its own gym, is No. 1 with attitude - the company's current corporate buzzword.

The WWF's "Raw is War" show regularly draws about 5 million households on Monday nights, making it cable's top draw. The company's Thursday night "Smackdown!" show on the United Paramount Network, attracts even better numbers.

"It's the single most important reason why UPN is still standing," said Stacey Lynn Koerner of ad buyer TN Media.

Atlanta-based WCW lags, with a bit under 3 million homes for its flagship shows, Monday night's "Nitro" and "Thunder" on Wednesdays.

From these TV bases, which draw more young male viewers than any other shows, wrestling's corporate giants have launched a wide variety of spinoffs and cross-promotions.

From the WWF corner, autobiographies by Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and Mick (Mankind) Foley have fought their way into the top five on best-seller lists. WWF action figures outsell Pokemon characters.

Billboard magazine ranked seven WWF videos among the top 10 best-sellers in last year's sports category rating. The company's most recent rock and heavy metal compilation went platinum last year, selling well over 1.4 million copies.

The WWF also is a cyberspace titan. In December, the company's chief Internet Web site recorded more than 1.3 million first-time visits, a better hit rate than the National Basketball Association site.

On tap are a "Saturday Night Live" hosting slot for The Rock this month and plans for a new, football league, the XFL, next February.

Bottom line? The WWF projects about $340 million in sales this year, up from $250 million in 1999.

WCW, the Hertz of the industry, counters with NASCAR sponsorship, Nitro "fragrance for men" and wrestling-themed monster trucks that debuted at this year's annual Toy Fair. "Ready to Rumble," a Warner Bros. movie featuring WCW stars, is set for April release.

It's definitely not your father's wrestling anymore.

Until the 1980s, the industry largely followed a traditional formula of good ys versus bad guys writhing on a mat in battles of fists, holds and falls that promoters sometimes angrily refused to concede were anything less than 100% gen-u-ine.

Today, promoters all but shout that matches are scripted plots of betrayal, revenge, jealousy and one-upsmanship that unwind nearly as often outside the ring as inside the ropes.

The WWF even spelled out the reality of the unreality. In the prospectus for its 1999 stock offering, the company explained that writers develop "soap opera-like story lines employing the same techniques that are used by many successful dramatic television series."

Surprise: Fans didn't care.

Far from tuning out, aficionados avidly tune in and shell out big bucks for arena shows to follow their favorites. Here, too, the babyfaces and heels - wrestlingspeak for good guys and bad guys - have undergone a 21st century makeover.

Increasingly, both have been smacked aside by six- and seven-figure-earning stars whose ring incarnations are more complex and decidedly dark. Bill Goldberg, a top WCW draw, rocketed to stardom based on a take-no-prisoners persona. The WWF's Stone Cold Steve Austin is the beer-drinking everyman who loudly and with profane attention to anatomical detail tells Boss McMahon just where he can shove his job.

Mix these stars with rock music, fireworks and laser displays - not to mention female performers getting stripped down to bras and panties - and what have you got?

"It's like you walked into your favorite comic book, and it's live, in color and 3D," said Adam Ware, UPN's chief operating officer.

Differentiating between fantasy and reality isn't always easy, even for the wrestlers.

"You don't have a personal life, because you are that character the fans see on TV," said Levesque, who added that his persona as an insolent schemer with a cool cachet is an exaggerated version of his true self.

Some critics warn that the industry's reliance on more physically challenging slams, leaps and flips - plus outside-the-ring fights with chairs, tables and other gimmicks - have produced a rising number of all-too-real injuries.

Eddie Guerrero, a wrestler who recently bolted from the WCW to the WWF, landed on the mat in unscripted agony in late January when he dived from the ring's top rope and suffered a badly separated elbow.

Bret Hart, a top WCW star, has been sidelined with a concussion he suffered in December from an errant kick to the head by Goldberg.

The industry also has been jolted by periodic episodes of drug or steroid abuse, including a little-noticed pending case involving a Midwest physician.

Yet pro wrestling has managed to avoid comprehensive government oversight by virtue of its hybrid designation as sports entertainment.

Stepping into that breach, cultural and religious critics are attacking the heavier use of R- and even X-rated content, such as the "Suck It" logo on the jerseys worn by members of the WWF's D-Generation X.

Even Bruno Sammartino, a revered wrestling title holder from the 1960s, angrily slams the use of partial nudity and profanity. "Who would have ever believed they could do things like this and get away with it?" he asked.

Sammartino predicts the excesses will eventually kill the wrestling craze. Not if impresarios such as McMahon can help it. He pointedly calls his performers superstars, not wrestlers, and forcefully corrects those who dare typecast his shows.

"We're not a wrestling company, we're an entertainment company," said McMahon, with trademark Barnum-esque bravado. "We're the only successful variety show on television."

TO THE RESCUE OF UNITED PARAMOUNT

(New York Daily News, March 2, 2000)

By Kevin McCoy

Less than a year ago, the United Paramount Network was in more trouble than an Old West soldiers in a besieged fort.

Ratings were down. Ad revenue was weak. And the rival WB Network was attracting more viewers, critic interest and the industry's hottest buzz.

If the five-year-old Los Angeles-based UPN had been a TV Western, it would have been long past time to cue the hero riding to the rescue.

Instead, UPN officials called out an unusual cavalry of heavily muscled performers in tights and leather, often with bizarre names and personas.

Thanks almost exclusively to its alliance with the World Wrestling Federation, UPN now exerts the industry's firmest grip on coveted male viewers from 18 to 25. The network's fortunes have never been brighter.

"What it did for us, overnight, was give us a vehicle to talk to that audience - and not just for an hour, but two hours," said Adam Ware, UPN's chief operating officer. "We believe it has resulted in higher audiences across all of our programming."

Despite complaints over vulgar, violent and sexual content, the WWF's Thursday night "Smackdown!" reaches roughly 6 million UPN viewers per show. Nielsen Media Research statistics show that the Jan. 20 audience hit 7.8 million, placing UPN fourth for the night among all broadcast networks, ahead of both WB and Fox.

The ratings are up 171% from the audience UPN attracted for movies that the network aired Thursday nights in 1998-99.

Analysts say that's almost as if Stone Cold Steve Austin reached through the tube and grabbed potential consumers by the eyeballs - to the cheers of advertisers.

"They're doing great numbers," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, vice president of ad buying firm TN Media. "Whether you like it [WWF programming] or you don't, they're delivering an audience that advertisers want to reach."

The Connecticut-based wrestling company sells all but a few minutes of the "Smackdown!" ad time, then pays UPN a fixed percentage of advertising revenue or a guaranteed minimum amount.

Both sides benefit. UPN gets paid for airing a hot show that identifies the once-struggling network with wrestling. And the WWF, long relegated to cable TV, gets a prime-time outlet on free broadcast television, plus control over advertising.

Although some advertisers withdrew over content concerns, the WWF reported in December that TV ad sales would reach $33 million for the fourth quarter. That's more than triple the amount from the same period a year earlier.

While declining to discuss dollar specifics, Ware acknowledged the deal "has been very beneficial to us."

So beneficial that the network sent a truck convoy to New Orleans late last month for the WB Network's meeting with affiliate stations. Each truck carried a large sign touting UPN's ratings growth - and WB's decline.

This month, UPN officials moved to maximize its wrestling impact by placing WWF performers in other network shows. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson guest-starred on UPN's other major hit, "Star Trek: Voyager," as a dangerous battling alien.

UPN officials also are angling for TV rights to the XFL, the eight-team football league that WWF owner Vince McMahon recently said he would launch next year.

The network's wrestling success has not gone unnoticed.

In recent months, a behind-the-scenes grab for wrestling programming has broken out among UPN, CBS, Fox and other TV outlets.

"Wrestling is one of the hot things in TV right now," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. "Everybody wants it."

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WRESTLING

(New York Daily News, March 2, 2000)

By Kevin McCoy

Americans have had a love affair with wrestling from the days when there was no United States and the grapplers competed for keeps.

George Washington was a wrestler. Ten years before he was inaugurated as the nation's first President, he defeated several challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.

Abe Lincoln was even better. In a renowned Illinois bout, the President-to-be used his superior size to beat Jack Armstrong, a feared local champion.

By the turn of the 20th century, wrestling was the most popular sport in the land. In April 1908, an estimated 8,000 fans crowded Chicago's old Dexter Park Pavilion for a much-anticipated match.

Frank Gotch, an Iowa farmer who was reigning U.S. champ, took on George (the Russian Lion) Hackenschmidt, a 219-pounder who boasted a string of 400 consecutive wins.

After about two hours of struggle and strategy, the 196-pound Gotch finally gained an advantage. According to The New York Times' account, Gotch "slammed his opponent to the mat and came within an ace of securing a toe hold, following this up by lifting Hackenschmidt clear of the mat and slamming him on his shoulders with terrific force."

The Russian Lion cried uncle. But he came back for a September 1911 rematch that some say set the stage for the professional wrestling of today. More than 30,000 fans packed the recently opened Comiskey Park in Chicago to see whether Gotch could repeat his victory. He did, pinning Hackenschmidt twice in less than 20 minutes.

Rumors afterward speculated the outcome had been scripted. Mike Chapman, executive director of the International Wrestling Institute, challenges that conclusion.

"Gotch would never have submitted to it,"said Chapman, who has researched the historic matches for decades.

But there is little argument about the 1922 bout between then-U.S. champ Ed (Strangler) Lewis and Wayne (Big) Munn, a University of Nebraska football player. The previously unbeatable Lewis, reportedly promised a payoff if he lost his title, threw the match.

"In my estimation, that was the first title switch," said Chapman.

From then on, most unscripted U.S. wrestling matches took place only in high schools and colleges.

Pro grapplers rose to new popularity in the 1950s with the rise of television. The new medium needed easy-to-film action neatly packaged in half-hour or hour-long segments.

Wrestling promoters were only too happy to oblige because TV offered interviews that made grapplers like (Gorgeous George) Wagner and Walter (Killer) Kowalski household heroes.

At that time, wrestlers worked in territories controlled by promoters who agreed not to compete on one another's turf. Vincent McMahon, the third generation of a wrestling promotion family and head of today's World Wrestling Federation, changed all that.

During the 1980s, he revolutionized the industry by raiding wrestling talent from other promoters, providing WWF videotapes to independent TV stations and using TV syndication to expand his reach nationally. The strategy raised fan demand for McMahon's stars, led at the time by Terry (Hulk Hogan) Bollea.

The tactic also winnowed the field to two big promoters: McMahon's WWF and the Ted Turner-founded World Championship Wrestling, now owned by Time Warner. Over the last decade, the two have vied for fan and dollar supremacy in a battle currently being won by McMahon. Far from focusing on old-fashioned grappling, both sides have increasingly turned to complex plots, music, fireworks and stunts such as wrestlers belted with chairs.

"The old style of wrestling has just disappeared,"said Chapman. "That's not what fans seem to want to see anymore."

INSIDE THE BIG MAT PROMOTIONS

(New York Daily News, March 2, 2000)

WWF (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc.)

Corporate Base: Stamford, Conn.

Owner: Vincent McMahon and family, through Titan Sports.

Stars: (Stone Cold) Steve Austin, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Mick (Mankind) Foley. Top TV Shows: "Raw Is War," Monday, 9-11 p.m., USA Cable; "Smackdown," Thursday, 8-10 p.m., United Paramount Network (UPN); "Sunday Night Heat," 7-8 p.m., USA Cable.

Related Promotions: WWF Magazine, WWF Restaurant in Times Square.

Internet Web site: www.wwf.com

-------------------

WCW (World Championship Wrestling)

Corporate Base: Atlanta.

Owner: Time Warner Inc., Ted Turner.

Stars: Bill Goldberg, Bret (Hitman) Hart, Page (Diamond Dallas Page) Falkinburg. Top TV Shows: "Monday Night Nitro," 8-10 p.m., TNT Cable; "Thunder," Wednesday, 9-11 p.m., TBS Cable.

Related Promotions: WCW Magazine; Nitro Grill, Las Vegas.

Internet Web site: www.wcw.com

-------------------------

ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling)

Corporate Base: Philadelphia.

Owner: Paul Heyman.

Stars: Robert (Rob Van Dam) Szatkowski, Mike (Mike Awesome) Alphonso, Masato Tanaka.

Top TV Show: "ECW Wrestling," Friday, 8-9 p.m., TNN Cable.

Related Promotions: ECW Magazine.

Internet Web site: www.ecwwrestling.com

MARKETING THE MAJOR PROMOTIONS

(New York Daily News, March 2, 2000)

Television

WWF star The Rock guest-starred last month on "Star Trek: Voyager," helping to deliver the United Paramount Network show's highest ratings since last February.

Triple H and Hardcore Holly made guest appearances on two other UPN broadcasts.

Electronic games

WCW offers "WCW Mayhem," starring Kevin Nash, Sting and Diamond Dallas Page. The WWF counters with "Wrestlemania 2000," featuring The Rock, Triple H and other stars.

Action Figures

WCW "Tuff Talkin' Wrestlers" like Bill Goldberg and Hollywood Hogan spout trademark lines recorded on microchips.

Miniature re-creations of WWF stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin won the 1999-2000 boys' Toy of the Year award from British toy retailers.

Auto Racing

The WWF sponsors National Hot Rod Association funny cars. In 1999, two cars were painted to promote Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker.

Goldberg, whose company is a NASCAR sponsor, was grand marshal for the 1999 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 in Atlanta.

Books

Dwayne Johnson's "The Rock Says" and Mick (Mankind) Foley's "Have a Nice Day" rule best-seller lists.

Up next: similar autobiographies by WCW's Diamond Dallas Page and WWF's Chyna.

WWF PUTS SQUEEZE ON MAT DOCUMENTARY

(USA Today, Thursday, March 2, 2000)

By Josh Chetwynd

Is the World Wrestling Federation putting an advertising headlock on Beyond the Mat, an upcoming feature documentary on the sport?

The WWF is backing off on a signed deal to promote Imagine Entertainment's Mat, which is being distributed by Lions Gate Films.

Moreover, Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg says UPN, which airs the successful WWF Smackdown!, is now refusing to accept any ads for the film.

''(WWF chief) Vince McMahon spent three years trying to buy the movie, and when he couldn't get it, he got angry,'' Ortenberg says. ''We have signed contracts with the WWF, and they are not living up to the agreement. We are now exploring our legal options to counteract this outrageous act.''

After representatives for the WWF saw "Beyond the Mat," a behind-the-scenes look at the pro-wrestling world, they put out a statement: ''We have no financial or emotional attachment to this film.''

WWF spokesman Jim Byrne would not elaborate on why the company has distanced itself from the movie after helping in the film's production. But he did say there was precedent for the about-face on allowing advertising for the film to air between WWF shows on UPN, USA Network or in syndication. (The WWF controls most of the advertising between its shows.)

''We do not permit third-party wrestling product to be advertised in the body of our shows,'' Byrne says. ''It creates confusion.''

UPN declined to comment.

"Beyond the Mat," one of the 12 semifinalists for the best-documentary Oscar, will be released in 50 markets on March 17.

The WAWLI Papers No. 710...

(ED. NOTE -- Mike Smith, "our man in Ojai," is rapidly becoming one of the most industrious of the "new" wrestling historians who are sprouting up across North America, sends along another satchel of Xerox copies from his work, this time centering on the Mike Hirsch promotion in Ventura, Calif., in the late 1930s. Hirsch, at the same time, also ran weekly bouts in Santa Monica at Ocean Park Arena. Our thanks to Mike for a) doing the work and b) sharing it with the rest of us.)

WINNER TO GET DETTON BOUT

(Ventura County Star, Feb. 16, 1937)

Dr. Len Hall, virtually unknown in coast wrestling ranks before he won the recent heavyweight tournament staged at the Ventura arena, gets his big chance tonight.

For Hall, who has not been defeated in three bouts here, will meet the giant Mexican and former world's champion, Vincent Lopez, for the right to clash with Dean Detton, current title holder, for the championship next Tuesday in the local ring.

Many wrestling fans claim that Lopez, right in the midst of a successful comeback, will have no trouble in defeating the scientific doctor who has shown a good deal of ability in winning his bouts at the local club.

Hall has developed a new hold - the bouncing bear hug - which he tried for the first time on Howard "Hangman"Cantonwine last week. The erstwhile Iowa bully was completely flabbergasted by the innovation and lost to Hall in straight falls.

Sammy Stein, who used to bowl them all over with his famous flying tackle, will try a little of the same on Tony Felice, Italian bad man and comic, in tonight's semifinal bout.

Felice, who is regarded as one of the best wrestlers on the coast, will prove a dangerous foe for the former collegiate football player and may be able to down Stein.

King Chewacki, the gypsy menace, comes back in the special event tonight to meet Casey Berger in a return match. Chewacki won their last encounter but was getting the worst of an unofficial brawl at the end of the match when both men were hustled out of the ring.

Tonight's rematch is expected to be the wildest bout on the card.

Herb Freeman, 315 pounds of bad medicine, will open the show against Rudy Skarda, the "Flying Finn."

PAIR OUSTED FOR ROUGH WORK

(Ventura County Star, Feb. 17, 1937)

By Larry Mulvaney

Last night's main event at the Ventura Athletic Club, local house of heave and haul, was one of the roughest shindigs to play here in a long time. Not since the dear, dead days of Buddy O'Brien has there been a wilder and rougher affair.

Vincent Lopez, ex-world champion, and Dr. Len Hall were the roughhousers, and when the smoke of battle cleared neither one had lost a thing, as both were disqualified for failing to confine their grappling to the ring.

The first fall was a rough, knock-down and drag-out affair that saw most of the grappling done in the ringsiders' laps. Hall was making a monkey out of Lopez, so the Mexican idol dragged his foe outside the ring and tried a little plain and fancy slugging.

Hall is usually a very clean and good natured grappler, but last night he met Lopez at his own game and knocked the stuffings out of him - inside and out of the ring. Hall was willing to wrestle, but every time he got a good hold, Lopez crawled to the safety of the ropes, so there was nothing else to do but slug it out with him.

This went on for 26 minutes and 57 seconds and finally Hall brought his old standby into play and took the fall with a "kick off the ropes."

About three minutes later Lopez evened things up with a series of forearms and a body press. He used unethical methods in doing this and Hall protested during the rest period. One thing led to another and pretty soon both men were going round and round, outside the ropes. Referee Mickey McMasters disqualified both of them and the show was over. Lopez was still a challenger for the world's championship and Hall was still champ of Ventura. A neat arrangement!

The semi-final between Casey Berger and King Chewacki was a rough one, with Chewacki winning on a body press after 8 minutes, 47 seconds. Biting and other forms of mayhem featured the bout.

A few forearms to the jaw and a body press gave Tony Felice a win over Ray Mallote, afte 13 minutes, 22 seconds of roughhouse work.

Rudy Skarda, a 190-pound grappler, proved that a good little man is better than a poor big man when he held Herb Freeman, 300-pound behemoth, to a draw in the curtain raiser. Skarda was ahead all the way and won a moral victory to say the least.

MAY BE LAST WRESTLING PROGRAM

(Ventura County Star, February 23, 1937)

What probably will be the last wrestling show in Ventura for some time, unless something unforeseen happens, will be held tonight at the Ventura Arena with Dr. Len Hall, recently crowned Ventura champion, facing Dick Lever, southern sensation, in the main event.

The lease held by promoter Mike Hirsch and the Ventura Athletic Club upon the wrestling location is up and as the owners want to put the building to other use, Mike must take his wrestlers elsewhere. To date, they have found nothing in Ventura and may pull out completely.

"We'll have to start wrecking the place early tomorrow morning," Henry Oliva, head of the Athletic Club, announced today.

Dr. Hall has proven his prowess at the Ventura pit of punishment by winning the recent tournament, conquering King Chewacki, Howard "Hangman" Cantonwine and going to a draw with Vincent Lopez.

Lever, a dead ringer for Ernie Dusek, has yet to prove himself locally, but comes with a great record from the other big-league circuits. He instituted a veritable one-man reign of terror in the south after leaving the University of Tennessee, where he was a football star, and went on to take the east by storm. He appeared several times in Madison Square Garden in New York which is ample testimony to the boy's class.

He claims 119 starts without a defeat.

Lever, like Buddy O'Brien, is a rather nice looking fellow but not so nice in his actions. When angered, he tears into his foes. He has gone to the top in a hurry. He is only 24 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds.

Another title contender, but one about which virtually nothing is known except that he is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 320 pounds, is the Golden Terror, who will clash with Rudy Skarda in the semifinal.

The Golden Terror has posted $5,000 with the state athletic commission in a move to force the champion into the ring with him. Not until he wins the title or is defeated will he remove his mask, the giant swears.

Ray Richards vs. Eddie Kruml and Rudy Strongberg vs. Tony Felice will complete the card.

HALL WINNER OVER DICK LEVER

(Ventura County Star, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1937)

By Larry Mulvaney

"That's all there is, there isn't any more" - and that just about describes wrestling at the old Ventura Athletic Club arena.

Because last night's meeting between Dr. Len Hall, Ventura champion, and Dick Lever was "30" insofar as the Athletic arena goes and Promoters Mike Hirsch and Henry Oliva was must take their wrestlers elsewhere.

The good doctor was the winner last night, but only after a torrid bout that had the small crowd yelling bloody murder.

Lever tore from his corner at the sound of the bell and before Hall knew what it was all about, he found himself on the mat with Lever on top. The time for this fall was 51 seconds and was won by a series of forearms and a body press.

Hall evened things up in the next stanza by reversing the process and slugging his pugnacious fore about the ring. A series of forearms and a body press gave him the fall in 1 minute, 15 seconds.

The final heat lasted a bit longer, taking 14 minutes, 47 seconds, before Hall could apply a body press to take the deciding fall and the match. There were plenty of fireworks during this fall, which saw both grapplers and Referee Dick Rutherford fall out of the ring.

The latest masked marvel, the Golden Terror, was misnamed according to the fans, who saw him pick Rudy Skarda up and bend him over the steel ring supports. He should have been the "Yellow Terror." The Yellow or Golden Terror, or whatever he was, won the match when Skarda was unable to continue and had to be carried from the ring.

Irish Jack McArthur tossed Eddie Kruml out of the ring a couple of times and then used a few forearms and a body press to take his match in 17 minutes, 53 seconds. It was a roughhouse most of the way with the Irishman doing most of the roughing.

The show was opened by Steve Strelich and Rudy Strongberg with the latter winning with a body press, after Strelich missed a drop kick and fell flat on his back.

WILL RENOVATE ANCIENT SITE OF FIGHTS

(Ventura County Star, February 24, 1937)

By Tom Hennion

History will live again before many weeks have passed for Ventura sports fans.

Old-timers here, followers of boxing and wrestling, remember the El Rio Athletic Club. Not so many years ago it was one of the busiest and best-known fight arenas on the Pacific Coast.

Then, the Ventura Athletic Club came into being. The El Rio emporium has been dark for many seasons. It has literally become the "haunted house" of the fight racket. But its rafters are still sturdy and it's an ideal clubhouse. You'll find that out before long.

Within the next month, the "El Rio" will again buzz with activity. Not the arena of old, but a sparkling shiny rassling factory, in which champions will go on parade every week.

The reason: Mike Hirsch, Henry Oliva, Lew Frishman, et al, have been forced to give up the Ventura Athletic Club which has held forth with wrestling shows each Tuesday for the past three years. The lease has expired and an automobile concern has taken over the plant for use as a garage.

Before you finish reading this, wrecking crews will be at work, dismantling the V.A.C. fixtures and getting the good ones ready to transportation to El Rio.

Hirsch unfolded his story to us last night in the lobby of the Ventura Athletic Club, as he prepared to stage his last "colossus" at the W. Main Street arena.

"It may take us two weeks, but we'll be at El Rio going full blast again before very long. And we intend to let everyone know we're there," said Mike.

"Don't be alarmed at the condition of the El Rio club now, or as it was before it folded up years ago. We're going to make a modern emporium of swing and swat out of it. It'll be the busiest and brightest spot in Ventura county."

The Hirsch-Frishman-Oliva combine plans to install several new features in the El Rio club when negotiations for its use have been completed.

And, if everything goes right, they'll give rebirth to professional boxing. Not a spasmodic rebirth. That's not the way Hirsch does things. But a real honest-to-gosh comeback for the fistic sport.

JUI JITSU BOUT TO HEAD FIRST SHOW

(Ventura County Star, Tuesday, Apr. 20, 1937)

All was in readiness today for the long-awaited grand opening of the new El Rio stadium tonight with one of the greatest wrestling programs ever staged in Ventura county. Looking forward to this premier of the new arena probably with more eagerness than anybody else is Kimon Kudo, 170-pound Japanese jiu-jitsu artist who will meet Buddy O'Brien, Irish riot man, in the three-fall main event.

Kudo has been waiting for many months for a chance to revenge himself on O'Brien, and at last his time has come. The battle tonight will be with jiu-jitsu jackets and will be to a finish, probably the finish of O'Brien because a master of jiu-jitsu, if he wants to, can break the bones, snap the tendons, disjoint the joints and thoroughly bruise the body of a foe.

In their last meeting, it will be remembered, O'Brien in an "oil field style" combat opened up on the Japanese with such a vicious attack that he ws arrested and thrown into the Ventura jail. Promoter Mike Hirsch paid a $100 fine for the mad Irishman the next morning.

Howard "Hangman" Cantonwine, the Iowa noose artist who is one of the most popular grapplers ever seen in Ventura county, will engage 286-pound Jules Strongbow, rampaging Cherokee Indian, in the semi-final tonight. Although he will be outweighed by 40 pounds, Cantonwine will be favored because of his deadly "hangman" hold, by which he throttles his foe with the ring ropes.

Casey Columbo will clash with Bull Martin in a bout which may steal the show as the special event tonight.

Opening the show will be George "Roughhouse" Maloney vs. Jose Murguia, sensational new Mexican giant.

Winner of the main event tonight has been promised a shot at Dean Detton or Vincent Lopez in two weeks.

O'BRIEN TAMED BY KUDO IN MAIN GO

(Ventura County Star, April 21, 1937)

By Tom Hennion

Old ghosts clamped hands over their ears and rolled over in their graves last night.

And there was a good reason. Sixteen hundred wild-eyed rassling fans were celebrating the opening of the completely reconditioned El Rio stadium, seven miles east of Ventura.

Who won the matches? Even the crowd doesn't know that. But every single one got his money's worth. If you've ever heard so much racket that all seems silent then you can get ome idea of how the crowd enjoyed the bouts. The noise was just a shrill whistle. Each bout except the curtainraiser was marked by a near riot. Bottles, peanuts, and various and sundry other debris - as it was called by announcer Hippo Espinosa - hurtled through the air at hated rasslers and unpopular referees.

Kimon Kudo settled Buddy O'Brien's long-postponed hash in the main event when Kudo won the first fall and O'Brien was disqualified for rough stuff in the second.

After forcing O'Brien to concede the first heat with a jiu-jitsu unconscous hold after 8 minutes, 12 seconds of the first joust, Kudo agreed to catch-as-catch-can wrestling for the second fall.

O'Brien turned on his well-known heat and pelted the tiny Japanese with kicks and slugs. The Irishman was disqualified by referee Dick Rutherford.

Work of Bull Martin, gray-haired ring veteran, as referee of the semi-final bout between Howard "Hangman" Cantonwine and Jules Strongbow drew the wrath of the packed house. Martin refereed while Rutherford was undergoing repairs to his left hand, injured in the previous match.

The crowd nearly ripped the roof off the stadium when Martin took one of Cantonwine's arms, Strongbow the other, and both hurled him into and over the ropes. Several times, so-called referee Martin pinned Cantonwine's arms behind him while Strongbow turned loose vicious rights and lefts at the Hangman's body.

When Martin awarded the verdict to Strongbow, bottles, cigar and cigarette butts and peanuts showered into the ring. Cantonwine raised his own hand and the crowd chose him as the winner.

Martin, in the role of a rassler, appeared in the special event against Casey Columbo, which came to an end with referee Rutherford being packed from the ring with an injured hand.

Martin, a villainous veteran, and Columbo, an old Ventura favorite, had grappled on even terms until Rutherford was hurt and the bout halted. The verdict was given to Columbo.

Jose Murguia made short week of Roughhouse Maloney in the opener, giving the rough and tough irishman a one-two as the bout opened and pouncing on him for the fall.

VENTURA, CALIFORNIA WRESTLING CARDS (1937)

Ventura CA - January 5, 1937 (Athletic Club arena)

Sandor Szabo drew Nick Lutze, Herb Freeman beat Tiny Roebuck, Al Baffert beat Fred Carone

Ventura CA - January 12, 1937

Chief Little Wolf beat Herb Freeman (w/Buddy O'Brien) dq, Chief Chewacki beat Ray Mallotte, Bobby Coleman beat Gege Gravante

Ventura CA - January 19, 1937

Vincent Lopez beat Chief Chewacki dq, Al Baffert drew Dr. Len Hall, Jack McArthur beat Benny Ginsberg, Masked Marvel beat Steve Strelich

Ventura CA - January 26, 1937

(Ventura title tournament) Steve Strelich beat Jack McArthur, Al Baffert beat Brother Jonathan dq, Dr. Len Hall drew Jules Strongbow, Chief Chewacki beat Myron Cox, Dr. Len Hall beat Al Baffert, Steve Strelich beat Jules Strongbow dq, Chief Chewacki beat Steve Strelich, Dr. Len Hall beat Chief Chewacki dq (tournament title bout), Gege Gravante beat Norwood Randall

Ventura CA - February 2, 1937

Dr. Len Hall beat Chief Chewacki, Jules Strongbow beat Al Bisignano, Steve Strelich vs. Wild Man Zimm, Gege Gravante vs. Housepainter Hogan

Ventura CA - February 9, 1937

Dr. Len Hall beat Howard Cantonwine, Steve Strelich drew Rudy Skarda, Chief Chewacki beat Casey Berger, Jack McArthur drew Hans Schultz

Ventura CA - February 16, 1937

Vincent Lopez drew Dr. Len Hall nc, Chief Chewacki beat Casey Berger, Rudy Skarda drew Herb Freeman

Ventura CA - February 23, 1937

Dr. Len Hall beat Dick Lever, Golden Terror (Bobby Stewart) beat Rudy Skarda, Jack McArthur beat Ed Kruml, Rudy Strongberg beat Steve Strelich

Ventura CA - April 20, 1937 (El Rio Stadium)

Kimon Kudo beat Buddy O'Brien, Jules Strongbow beat Howard Cantonwine, Casey Columbo beat Bull Martin dec

Ventura CA - April 27, 1937

Howard Cantonwine beat Jules Strongbow-Bull Martin (handicap), Ben Morgan beat Tony Cantolino, Casey Columbo drew Dr. Len Hall, Jose Murguia beat Hans Schultz

Ventura CA - May 4, 1937

Gus Sonnenberg beat Buddy O'Brien, Bull Martin drew Jules Strongbow nc, Leo Numa drew Casey Columbo, Jose Murguia beat Pete Mehringer cor

Ventura CA - May 11, 1937

Sandor Szabo beat Buddy O'Brien, Gus Sonnenberg (sub for Golden Terror) drew Jules Strongbow, Gus Sonnenberg beat Sonny O'Brien, Leo Numa beat Wild Man Zimm

Ventura CA - May 18, 1937

Clara Mortensen beat Mildred Unger, Hardy Kruskamp beat Buddy O'Brien dq, Golden Terror beat Wild Man Zimm, Pat Fraley drew Leo Numa (A - 1,600)

Ventura CA - May 25, 1937

Golden Terror beat Nick Lutze, Hans Steinke beat Pat Fraley dec, Hardy Kruskamp beat Leo Numa cor, Pat Riley beat Harold Murphy

Ventura CA - June 1, 1937

Golden Terror beat Nick Lutze, Clara Mortensen beat Marian Blondell, Hardy Kruskamp beat Harold Murphy, Leo Numa beat Bill (Bluebeard) Lewis

Ventura CA - June 8, 1937

Vincent Lopez beat Leo Numa, Nick Lutze drew Pat Riley, Golden Terror beat Benny Ginsberg, Ed White beat Rudy Strongberg

Ventura CA - June 15, 1937

Leo (Daniel Boone) Savage beat Golden Terror (unmasked and identified as "Bruce Mondt, Chicago, brother of promoter Toots Mondt" - although later known as Bobby Stewart), Leo Numa beat Count Von Busing, Benny Ginsberg drew Ed White, Rudy Strongberg beat Sonny O'Brien

Ventura CA - June 22, 1937

Buddy O'Brien beat Hardy Kruskamp dq, Leo (Daniel Boone) Savage beat Ed White, Benny Ginsberg drew Rudy Strongberg, Benny Ginsberg beat Count Von Busing

Ventura CA - June 29, 1937

Hardy Kruskamp drew Pat Fraley, Leo Numa beat Pat Meehan, Jimmy Sarandos beat Red Vagnone

Ventura CA - July 6, 1937

Bobby Stewart beat Hardy Kruskamp, Leo Numa beat Pat Fraley cnc, Jules Strongbow beat Red Vagnone, Bobby Coleman drew Gege Gravante

Ventura CA - July 13, 1937

Leo Numa beat Gus Sonnenberg, Jules Strongbow beat Pat Fraley, Tommy Marvin beat Vic Hill, Jimmy Sarandos beat Ed White

Ventura CA - July 20, 1937

Jules Strongbow beat Leo Numa, Mildred Unger beat Lillian Blondell, Tommy Marvin beat Buddy O'Brien cor, Jimmy Sarandos beat Pat Riley

Ventura CA - July 27, 1937

Buddy O'Brien drew Tommy Marvin nc (referee Hans Steinke), Hardy Kruskamp beat Louie Miller, Mrs. Dick Rutherford beat Lillian Blondell, Jimmy Sarandos beat Dick Lever dq

Ventura CA - August 3, 1937

Tommy Marvin beat Buddy O'Brien (referee Max Baer), Hardy Kruskamp beat Laverne Baxter dq, Ted Key drew Louie Miller, Del Kunkel beat Hans Schultz

Ventura CA - August 10, 1937

Tommy Marvin drew Hardy Kruskamp, Ted Key beat Buddy O'Brien dq, Babe Zaharias beat Myron Cox dec, Dick Lever beat Laverne Baxter

Ventura CA - August 17, 1937

Dean Detton beat Hardy Kruskamp cnc, Kimon Kudo beat Dick Lever dq, Nick Lutze beat Babe Zaharias, Dick Lever beat Juan Oliquivel

Ventura CA - August 24, 1937

Kimon Kudo beat Babe Zaharias, Nick Lutze beat Juls Strongbow cor, Tommy Marvin drew Pat Meehan, Ted Key beat Dick Lever

Ventura CA - August 31, 1937

Dean Detton beat Hardy Kruskamp, Nick Lutze beat Jules Strongbow, Ted Key beat Tommy Marvin, Pat Meehan beat Dick Lever

Ventura CA - September 7, 1937

Gino Garibaldi beat Kimon Kudo, Hardy Kruskamp drew Nick Lutze, Juan Oliquivel beat Jack McArthur, Paul Boesch beat Pat Riley dq

Ventura CA - September 14, 1937

Gino Garibaldi beat Buddy O'Brien cor, Kimon Kudo beat Juan Oliquivel, Ted Key beat Paul Boesch

Ventura CA - September 21, 1937

Gino Garibaldi beat Kimon Kudo, Ted Key beat Casey Columbo, El Martinez beat Pat Riley dq

Ventura CA - September 28, 1937

Leo (Daniel Boone) Savage beat Luigi Bacigalupi, Gege Gravante (boxer) beat Bobby Coleman (wrestler) dq, Casey Columbo beat Pat Riley, Vic Hill beat Pat Meehan

Ventura CA - November 23, 1937

Nick Lutze beat Joe Parelli (one fall on mat, one fall in mud), Jimmy El Pulpo beat Brother Jonathan, Chris Zaharias beat Ted Key, Pat Fraley beat Dick Lever

Ventura CA - November 30, 1937

Jimmy El Pulpo beat Chris Zaharias, Nick Lutze beat Bobby Stewart, Leo Numa beat Ahmet Youseff, Rusty Wescoatt beat Bull Martin dq

Ventura CA - December 7, 1937

Dean Detton beat Pat Fraley, Chris Zaharias beat Casey Columbo (20-second pin), Ede Virag beat Al Mills, Joe Parelli beat Bobby Coleman, Bull Martin drew Del Kunkel

Ventura CA - December 14, 1937

Jimmy El Pulpo beat Chris Zaharias, Ede Virag drew Casey Columbo, Bull Martin beat Rusty Wescoatt, Del Kunkel vs. Frank Cutler

Ventura CA - December 21, 1937

Nick Lutze drew Jimmy El Pulpo, Bull Martin beat Rusty Wescoatt cor, Chris Zaharias beat Abe Goldberg, Ted Key drew Casey Columbo

Ventura CA - December 28, 1937

Nick Lutze beat Bull Martin, Chris Zaharias (w/George Zaharias) beat Rusty Wescoatt, Foots Foster beat Andy Meixner, Tiny Roebuck beat Ted Key

HARLEY RACE OPENS A WRESTLING SCHOOL

(Jefferson City News Tribune, Oct. 31, 1999)

By Gerry Tritz

ELDON -- The sleepy town of Eldon is being jolted like a flying dropkick to the head.

Former pro wrestling great "Handsome" Harley Race, who wrestled throughout the United States and abroad, has picked the unlikely setting of Eldon, population 4,419, as his headquarters to build a new wrestling league and school.

A small, scrappy building along downtown Maple Street is now the training grounds for several men who dream of making it big like their teacher, an eight-time world champion.

He started the Harley Race Wrestling Academy and World League Wrestling in mid-September, after working at a different wrestling operation in Springfield. He based the operation in Eldon because it's a short 15-minute drive from his Lake Ozark home, and because rent is less in Eldon than at the Lake.

The location also gives Race marketing space between competing wrestling events in St. Louis and Kansas City. And it gives him an opportunity to bring events to small towns that haven't had a chance to see live wrestling before.

Race's WLW league has already grappled in two events -- one in eastern Missouri in September and one at Eldon High School last month. A Nov. 13 grand opening in Eldon for the league and school will feature an autograph-signing session by league wrestlers and Ed Buddy, a Hall of Fame player for the Kansas City Chiefs. That evening, WLW wrestlers will compete at the Lake's Marina Bay. Ticket prices are between $10 and $15, depending on the seats. The next night, the league will travel to Oak Park High School in Kansas City.

"It's nothing compared to what you see in the WCW or WWF. We're no ways near that. I don't have fifty million dollars to start with," Race said in an interview in his Eldon office. A simple sign on the front door of the office reads, "The Champ." His world title belt is displayed in a display case above his desk.

Race doesn't want his league to be like the others. He'd wants it to be a throwback to the 1970s, when wrestling was more about competing than about special effects and intricate storylines.

"Wrestling was really wrestling then. What they've got going now is not wrestling. You've got scriptwriters writing crap" that goes as far as having people being kidnapped, he said. "All it is now is a big, huge, continuing physical soap opera."

In the 1990s, Race brought two young wrestlers through the ropes to become WCW champions -- Lex Luger and Vader. His prodigy now is Derek "The Sheik" Stone, who is Race's head trainer at the academy and the champion of his startup league.

Stone, 27, is "just as legit" as Luger or Vader, Race says.

For now, Stone seems committed to the WLW. He believes the league can grow into a big Midwest promoter. "You don't see a good, quality show that comes to the small towns anymore. And that used to be a mainstay in wrestling," he said. "I'd really be happy to be in the kind of company that went into towns like Eldon, Missouri, all over the country."

Race mostly hires independent wrestlers from Missouri and neighboring states for WLW shows.

So far, just two of Race's students are far enough along to wrestle in his league. One is Eldon resident Matt "The Missile" Murphy. He has a 2-0-1 singles record and recently won a "Battle Royale," in which wrestlers are eliminated by being tossed over the top rope and the last wrestler in the ring wins.

Murphy, a thin, athletic 20-year-old, was hooked on watching pro wrestling at the age of 7. Race said normally his students aren't ready to wrestle professionally until they finish his six-month course. Murphy's a quick study, and he hopes to take his talents all the way to the top.

During a break from practice Thursday, Murphy said: "I hope people will say 'He's the greatest wrestler to step in the ring.' If I was coming into this sport to say I want to be the second best, I'd be wasting my time."

Murphy is one of several hopefuls who paid $3,000 for Race's half-year course. Graduates or other pro wrestlers can pay $1,000 for a six-week advanced course.

During a practice session last Thursday evening, Stone put several wrestlers through various drills, stopping them occasionally to teach technique. Race looked on from ringside as students practiced moves such as the "O'Connor roll" and the "Irish whip," occasionally stopping the action to give tips. "Put your whole body into it," he told a student who stuck out his arm to throw a "clothesline" on another student. His advice on being on the receiving end of a clothesline: Go with it and fall backward on the mat to minimize the impact, just as you would pull back your head if someone threw a punch at you.

Stone does everything he requires of his students, including a grueling two-minute freestyle wrestling drill that left even the most in-shape wrestlers sucking air. The drill was literally gut-wrenching for one Chicago pro wrestler who announced after finishing: "I'm going to go throw up."

Race lets Stone do most of the in-ring training, but he occasionally steps in to go through slow-speed maneuvers to demonstrate proper form.

Some of the students grew up street fighting, while others were glued to pro wrestling on TV. Most wrestled in high school, although it's not a prerequisite. Many of the students were too young to remember Race wrestling in his heyday -- they're closer to the Hulk Hogan generation -- but they have the utmost respect for Race and the wrestlers of his era.

Only once did Race have to recently prove to a student why he won the title eight times.

"One of the guys decided I was an old man, and he could kind of show me how it's all done. It took me awhile to get it accomplished, but you could hear him screaming up and down Maple Street," he said. "But, I try not to have to do that."

Race still gets recognized, and even after a career spanning four decades, he isn't tired of shaking hands and signing autographs. "They personally paid my bills all my life," Race said of his fans. "I went through Party Cove, starting down one side and back up the other, and by the time I got halfway through it, they're all chanting, 'Harley, Harley.' Sure it makes you feel good."

HIGHS, LOWS DON'T TAKE JOY AWAY FROM RACE

(Jefferson City Tribune, October 31, 1999)

By Gerry Tritz

At the age of 13, Harley Race saw a professional wrestling match on television and informed his parents that's what he'd be doing for a living. In 1959, at the age of 15, he dropped out of high school and made good on his word.

Throughout the 1970s and mid-80s, Race was one of the biggest attractions in pro wrestling. He was the National Wrestling Alliance world champion eight different times, and was once named WWF's King of the Ring. During that time, he also was in a partnership that that ran a five-state league, with matches broadcast on 13 television stations.

At the height of his career in the late 1970s, he was earning over $400,000 a year -- a huge sum then, although it pales in comparison to today's multi-million dollar salaries. He lived in a 7,000-square-foot home in Kansas City with nine bedrooms.

But fame and fortune often come at a price, as Race found out toward the twilight of his wrestling career. In 1983, he relinquished the NWA world title belt for the last time. By the mid-80s, "the big guys" -- the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling -- squeezed his midwest wrestling alliance out of business.

He wrestled until injuries forced him into retirement in 1988. Then, he continued managing for WWF and WCW until 1995, when a car accident did what countless body slams and piledrivers couldn't -- keep him out of competing in the ring for good. The accident led to surgery and a hip replacement. A divorce and financial problems added to his woes. He went from living in a 7,000-square-foot home with nine bedrooms to sharing a small apartment with a friend and three of his cats. "And I hate (expletive) cats," he says with a laugh.

Life is much better these days, and Race seems truly happy. He's remarried and lives with his wife, B.J., in a comfortable Lake Ozark home.

Now, at a time when pro wrestling is more popular than ever, Race is trying to make a comeback with a new league and a new group of wide-eyed young athletes bent on turning a passion into a profession.

"She (B.J.) said whatever amount of time we're going to have left, we might as well live it where we enjoy it," he said.

Race admits his life has been filled with highs and lows, but overall it's been the stuff of dreams. He's made a living -- and continues to do so -- doing what he loves.

"I've probably regressed 10 years in age in the last four of five months I've been involved in this thing," he said. "I've probably been as fortunate as anyone alive in that I've been able to do what I love to do my entire life, which is being involved in wrestling in one way or another."

A LEGEND TAKES IT EASY, LAKESIDE

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 5, 1999)

By Keith Schildroth

One of the last living legends of "Wrestling at the Chase"is taking life easy these days at Lake of the Ozarks.

Wrestling is still a part of Harley Race's life. However, because of serious

back and neck problems from numerous diving head butts from the top rope and a broken pelvis suffered in an automobile accident, Race retired as a competitor in the early 1990s.

Race owns and operates the Harley Race Wrestling School in Eldon, Mo., and he is

the "boss" of World League Wrestling, a small-time promotions group that puts on cards all over Missouri.

"I'm getting my neck fused this winter, but my back has felt fine lately," said Race, 55, an eight-time world champion. "I started with World League Wrestling in July and we've had some pretty good shows in places like Farmington and Eldon. We had close to 1,000 people at a show at Oak Park High School in Kansas City."

Race began his career in 1959 on "Wrestling at the Chase." He was 15. "The atmosphere itself, in the Khorassan Room, I really didn't appreciate at the time," said Race. "As time went on, I grew to respect what we had. St. Louis was the place to wrestle and work for Sam Muchnick at the Chase, Kiel Auditorium and The Arena. I can't believe some of the stuff that's going on now."

Reached at his lakeside home Monday night, Race was watching WCW Monday Night Nitro on TNT. "I'm just sitting here watching this crap," said Race, laughing.

When told longtime nemesis Ric Flair, who is still involved with WCW, stiffed producer/researcher Randy Liebler for an interview for "Wrestling at The Chase: A Look Back,"

Race didn't hesitate to add an incendiary comment. "I think Ric's at the end of his rope," said Race. "They've put that guy through so much."

THE TOUGHEST THING THEY'LL EVER DO

(Associated Press, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2000)

By Paul Sloca

ELDON, Mo. - They travel from all over to find the red-brick building along Maple Street -- sandwiched between the computer store and antique shop -- to learn the art of the body slam from the man they call The Champ.

Nestled between the state capital in Jefferson City and the resorts in the Lake of the Ozarks, this sleepy town of about 5,000 is where they come to seek the fame and fortune that professional wrestling can sometimes bring.

At the center of their world is Handsome Harley Race, the "King of the Ring," the eight-time world champion of professional wrestling.

When would-be wrestlers walk through the door at the Harley Race Wrestling Academy, they know his story.

They've heard about how he left his home in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1959 at age 15 to pursue a wrestling career that ultimately would take him around the world.

Race wasn't always the good guy. Sometimes, he was the champion whom fans loved to hate - strutting, boisterous, loud. He bullied his opponents and fans. In 1969, he created the "suplex," when a wrestler holds his opponent up in the air, then drops him flat on his back. The move remains very popular in the ring today.

One of those who walked through Race's door a few months ago was Matt "The Missile" Murphy.

Murphy, 21, at 5-feet, 11-inches tall and 205 pounds, knows he's smaller than most of his contemporaries and just one of a thousand up-and-comers who think they have what it takes to make wrestling a career.

But Murphy said he has an advantage.

"I'm being trained by Harley Race. You can't learn greatness from somebody average," said Murphy, a Kahoka, Mo., native who fell in love with the sport at age 5.

Race's office off the main training area is small. The words "The Champ" are on his door. Above his desk sits a leather-and-metal world championship belt won long before age set in.

Race, 56, retired from the ring in 1993 but continued as a manager for the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling organizations until 1995, when he was injured in a car accident.

The time away from the daily grind of professional wrestling was tough.

"I've never done anything else," said Race, who lives 12 miles from Eldon in a lakefront home with his wife, B.J. "There have been no odd jobs. I have been wrestling from day one."

Last year, Race created World League Wrestling and opened the academy that doubles as a shrine to his wrestling career.

Race is recovering from a back operation earlier this year and wears a brace. He walks slowly and rests often, a condition caused by his operation and the years of being battered in the ring. His hands resemble bear paws and word around the academy is that he can still bend a beer bottle cap in two between his forefingers.

While he encourages his wrestlers to succeed, Race knows the harsh reality: Most won't make it to the glitzy, high-dollar world of professional wrestling.

"The odds of any of these kids ever making it to the big-time are slim to none," Race said in his deep, gravely voice. "Basically, if they're here to learn how to wrestle, I can teach them that. If they meet my expectations."

Those expectations are understandably high for what many consider one of the greatest wrestlers of the 1970s and 1980s. The walls of his academy are lined with memorabilia from his career, including pictures of the wrestling greats of today, from Hulk Hogan to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

While Race helped those wrestlers reach the pinnacle of their sport, he doesn't have much use for the over-the-top antics of the WWF and WCW.

"This is wrestling right here. This is how all the big names had to start," said Race, a baseball cap emblazoned with "Shut Up and Wrestle" sitting on his weathered head. "What they've done with it, some is good and some is bad."

There are about 20 wrestlers -- from the experienced to the novice -- attending the academy, with a steady stream of prospects walking through the door every day.

Those with some wrestling experience pay $1,000 for six weeks at the academy. For those without experience, the training could last up to six months at a cost of $3,000.

While some students long to make wrestling a full-time career, most juggle full-time jobs.

There's a rigorous one-hour tryout outside the ring that Race said has left many a would-be wrestler throwing up and walking out the door.

If they survive, then it's into the ring.

"This is probably the toughest thing you're ever going to do in your life," Race said he tells his wrestlers.

"Sheik" Derek Stone, known as a "bad guy" in wrestling vernacular and Race's head instructor, is one of those who has made a successful career out of wrestling. He started in the sport in 1993 and now has his own T-shirt.

At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, the dark bearded "Sheik" is far from menacing when discussing his life's passion.

"If it takes me to Japan for 10 years and working the independents, that's OK," said the 27-year-old from Lawrence, Kan. "Everything that we're doing is work. To be really successful at anything, you have to work at it. It's not easy."

To wrestlers like Matt "The Missile" Murphy, Race is a father figure. Race admits that he'll lend one of his wrestlers a few bucks from time to time. Even listen to their personal problems.

As far as Murphy is concerned, what he's learned from Race will help him realize his dream of making wrestling a lifelong career.

"This isn't a hobby. This is my life," Murphy said.

Just like The Champ.

PRESENCE OF WWF COULD SMASH CBS REP

(Baltimore Sun, March 5, 2000)

By Milton Kent

CBS CEO Mel Karmazin is on the verge of making a big mistake if he continues to court the World Wrestling Federation, as has been reported this week.

The reputation of the "Tiffany Network" will take an incalculable hit if it strikes a rumored broadcast/cable deal with the WWF, which takes sleaze and depravity to new lows each week on its various programs . . . 

The WAWLI Papers No. 711...

A SHOULDER AND ELBOW CONTEST

(Boston Daily Advertiser, Thursday, Dec. 28, 1876)

The wrestling match between Colonel John H. McLaughlin of Detroit and James Owens of Fairfield, Vt., drew an immense audience to Music Hall last evening. The match was for $500 a side, the proceeds of the house, and the championship belt of America, which was held by Mr. McLaughlin. The audience was composed entirely of men, and it was an exceedingly respectable gathering. Dr. John T. Ordway was the referee, and J.R. Smith of Detroit umpire for McLaughlin and Mr. M. Kirk of Fairfield, Vt., for Owens. The contestants were unevenly matched as to size, McLaughlin weighing nearly thirty pounds more than his antagonist, and taller and larger every way. He is splendidly developed, and of very great strength. Owens is wiry and agile as a cat, and also of very great strength and power of endurance. The advantage which McLaughlin's superior strength and greater weight gave him was, however, more than matched by the fact that his left foot was entirely useless to him, having been severely injured about three weeks ago. He was unable to raise himself upon the ball of it, and had to keep it flat all the time.

The disproportion in the physical appearance of the men put the audience in sympathy with Owens from the start. They came together at a quarter past eight, and did not finally leave the stage till half-past one, when Owens obtained his second fair fall and was declared the victor. The contest was very uninteresting, McLaughlin acting on the defensive throughout the entire evening, and Owens being exceedingly wary in the advances which he made. His favorite method of attack was to get his antagonist across his hip, and every time he threw him it was with this hold. The men had worked half an hour when, to the surprise of everybody, Owens threw McLaughlin, quick as a flash, but upon his side, the rules requiring the fall to be upon both shoulders and a hip, or upon both hips, and a shoulder. A rest of fifteen minutes was taken, when the men came together again. Each was evidently afraid of the other, and it was not till eleven o'clock that they got fairly clinched again. This time, after a violent struggle, McLaughlin's hold was broken and he fell upon his knees. The breaking of the hold, under the rules, made the fall a fair one, and the referee so announced it amid wild applause. The contestants retired to their waiting rooms for a few minutes, and upon returning entered upon the next bout. They were both evidently much fatigued. In the course of half an hour Owens threw McLaughlin twice, each time upon his side. At twelve o'clock they retired again, and both were satisfied to call it a draw. Their umpires agreed to it, but Dr. Ordway was determined that there should be no action that should look like a put-up job, with his consent, and he refused to consent to it. So the men came together again with reluctance, however, which increased after every rest they took. At a quarter past one neither had been able to gain another fall, and they left the stage determined not to wrestle any more. But the spectators, the great majority of the audience of the early evening remaining with wonderful persisency, became very boisterous and would not go till the match had been fairly settled, and the men were obliged to come out again. They were evidently determined to finish it up quickly and they worked hard. Finally, at half past one, Owens got McLaughlin over his hip and threw him after a violent struggle squarely upon his back, winning the second fall and the match.

The victory was a hard one to win, notwithstanding Mr. McLaughlin's condition, and had his left foot been like his right, the result might have been different. The contest was a fair one, and there is the best of feeling between the contestants who, by the way, never saw each other till they met upon the stage. Mr. Owens acted with great courtesy and kindness towards Mr. McLaughlin, appreciating the fact that he was not in condition, and being perfectly willing to call the match a draw. Dr. Ordway's firm persistence in his course, however, is to be commended, for it was the only action that could have prevented the affair from appearing in a very disgraceful light.

Professor Bauer, of Graeco-Roman fame, has announced himself ready to match himself with Owens for $250 or $500 a side, one bout collar and elbow, one Graeco-Roman and one "catch as catch can," best two in three.

CHICAGO'S WRESTLER VICTORIOUS

(New York Times, Sunday, Nov. 24, 1878)

CHICAGO, Nov. 23 - The wrestling match between McLaughlin, of Detroit, and McMahon, of Chicago, which took place in McCormick Hall this evening, called forth an enormous crowd. The contest was for $1,000 a side, collar and elbow hold, best two in three. The general opinion before the match was that McMahon would win, and this belief found its backing in the pools at the rate of two to one and in private bets, with large odds on McMahon. As to size and weight, the two men were not equally matched, for McLaughlin weighs 243 and McMahon 204 pounds, but, while the former has the advantage of size, the latter is possessed of superior skill and dexterity. His record gave additional weight to the favor in which he was held; and while his adversary towered a half-head above him, and gave every evidence of muscular superiority, McMahon made up in superior staying qualities and science, which comes of continuous practice. The two men were in excellent trim in every particular, and were enthusiastically received when they appeared upon the stage preparatory to the first fall.

Beginning their preliminary fencing, several minutes elapsed before temporary advantage was gained by either, and then only a trip by McLaughlin. This was followed by several others and two fouls, in the latter of which the two men displayed great muscular power. McMahon's favorite trick was the inside lock, which he applied with great rapidity and dexterity, but it availed him nothing beyond the demonstration of his superior strength as matched against McLaughlin's herculean powers. The little man gave his adversary some very good work, but was not sufficiently quick in his movements. Finally, when attempting to gain his favorite position, McLaughlin took advantage of his opening and threw him squarely and neatly. Fall for McLaughlin. Time - 22:00.

In coming out for the second fall the contestants showed much vigor, and enteredinto the work with a heartiness that gave great zest to the occasion. With dogged obstinacy and stubborn determination to w9in, both men entered into the preliminary fencing, stepping lightly and gracefully about the stage, and endeavoring to get the advantage. Seven trips followed, during which McMahon was several times brought to his knees, and McLaughlin likewise given a taste of science and muscle, but neither one would give way, and the fight waxed warm. The Chicago man, resorting to his favorite tactics, finally succeeded in bringing McLaughlin to time, and with the rapidity of lightning laid the Detroit man flat on his back, amid the deafening yells of the spectators. Fall for McMahon. Time - 25 minutes.

The next and deciding fall was the most stubbornly contested one of the evening. Both of the wrestlers brought every resource into play, of muscle, skill, and science, and alternately achieved trips. It finally culiminated in one of the most warmly contested struggles ever witnessed. Fencing skillfully for an opening, and endeavoring to get an outside lock, McLaughlin for an instant left his guard open, and McMahon, taking advantage of what he could not capture by mere strength, caught his adversary's left toe with his left foot, and with the quickness of lightning laid McLaughlin's two shoulders on the stage. This act was received with deafening cheers, and the great crowd at once broke out in the most uproarious demonstrations. The fall was declared for McMahon. Time - 30:00.

This won the match and secured the championship belt to McMahon. The contest lasted over two hours and a half, and was not over until after 11 o'clock. There appears to be no question as to the honesty of the contestants in the endeavor of each to win, and those who witnessed the match are well convinced that it was square in every particular. Large sums of money changed hands on the result. The referee was F.F. Clark, of Boston; the umpires, Brink, of Detroit, and Brennan, of Chicago.

(ED. NOTE - Demon mat researcher Steve Yohe unearthed this the other day and kindly sent it along.)

A MAT TRAITOR OR, RASSLIN' KILLJOY

(San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 1936)

By Will Connolly

A man who profits by the hippodrome element in modern wrestling is traitorous to his source of livelihood and thinks out loud that they ought to cut out the horse play.

The old kill-joy is Jack Reynolds, welterweight champion of the world who is hereby getting free publicity for his match with Mr. X this week. I can't help it. Colonel Reynolds is quite a personality and ripe for a writeup.The proud old Kentucky Colonel from Iowa is not only a yeoman rassler but also an office executive in the circuit of the little guys, the 160 pounders and under, as opposed to the big guys.

Therefore, when the little guys clown, kick, bite, gouge, throw stools and otherwise run amuck by design, Colonel Reynolds profits from the increased gate.

I fear the Colonel is an incorrigible purist.

"It isn't wrestling," he insists. "Wrestling and swimming are the finest sports for developing a puny youngster, but a boy in grammar school would be frightened away by the rough spectacle he sees in the ring."

"If the horseplay keeps up, the science of wrestling will be lost. Sure, I know the gag acts draw the crowds, but so would good wrestling. Gotch and Hachenschmidt hold the record for wrestling crowds in the White Sox ballpark and they didn't clown."

"Skillful wrestling isn't dull. Most of the clowns are clowns." The colonel may be giving a backhand slap at the heavyweights, who are studded with clowns, but he is also kicking the shins of his own lightweights who are not without staff cutups.

The current heavyweights he dismisses with:"Gotch could have thrown any three of them in 30 minutes."

Maybe the Kentuckian is prejudiced. He was born in Iowa, a whoop and a holler from the birthplace of Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch and Earl Caddock. He was tutored by Burns, a hint he is prejudiced toward the classical school.

Wrestling saved his life. As a boy on Iowa's steppes he was tubercular. His folks sent him to Idaho to seek health. He took to amateur wrestling and eventually tossed not only the bacilli but every man in his weight in the pro ranks.

He reached the dignified estate of wrestling coach at University of Indiana from 1920 to 1927 when the Hoosiers ruled the Big Ten. The old Colonel retains professional enthusiasm for his subject, which was probably listed in the Indiana prospectus as "Wrestling 2C, Professor J. V. Reynolds."

The Clown or villain is not new in wrestling. Reynolds remembers 25 years ago when a Italian named Leo Pardello landed in New York with the avowed purpose of making the fans hate him -- and come back every week to see him beaten. Pardello gloried in gallery boos.

He insulted his clientele, glowered at ringsiders and visited foul tortures on his opponents to provoke the fine instinct of revenge in the hearts of the fans. He succeeded.

Another was Kalla Pasha, whose villainy was so lifelike that he got a job in the movies as bosom thumper and utility bad man. Kalla was in vague when Theda Bara was hot stuff.

It seems the wrestlers were always given to cute tricks. The fun loving boys of the present crop bring the crowd to their feet with such mischief as secreting an ether sponge in their trunks, throwing red pepper, producing a rope from nowhere and strangling their opponents, and lining their legs with cardboard set with tacks.

Joe Parelli, the wild Italian, practices the innocent prank of staining his toenails red and wrestling barefooted. In the old days, too, they did anything for a laugh.

Farmer Burns, the classicist, allowed himself to be droped through a standard scaffold at Rockford, Ill., to show his neck development. He chatted with reporters while dangling from the rope.

John Pesek, in recent memory, made a trade of having an auto run over his chest to demonstrate his free wheezing.

Ollie Olsen of Chicago, ballyhooed his matches by going to the ballpark and having the pitchers sock him on the konk with a high fast one. As a warmup, Ollie used to splinter one-inch boards on his scalp. He never had dandruff.

I fear the old Colonel Reynolds will go to his grave years hence without having seen a renaissance in the most ancient of codified sports.

As long as a kick in the trousers remains the great national laugh, the wrestlers will continue to kick and the victim will continue to feign agony.

It rolls'em in the aisles.

NOTES ABOUT THIS AND THAT:

THE ... yes, you read that right. Capital T-H-E. THE most complete record of professional wrestling titles and titleholders ever published is now available.

The latest, and most likely last, edition of "Wrestling Title Histories" is now available.

Gary Will and Royal Duncan have finally released the latest edition of the "Wrestling Title Histories" book and it's the crowning achievement of their many years of work. Research by many of wrestling's top historians makes this a book that is chock full of fascinating reading.

From coast-to-coast in North America, to Japan and around the world -- from William Muldoon in the 19th century to The Rock -- Wrestling Title Histories is the ultimate guide to pro wrestling's greatest champions.

Over 2,000 titles!

Contains information on titles from the WWF, WCW, ECW, NWA, Canada, Japan,Mexico, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, all the old territories -- Florida, Mid-Atlantic, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Toronto, Dallas, Portland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Atlanta, Calgary, Memphis, Knoxville, Montreal, Puerto Rico, Mid-South and more -- as well as hundreds of independent promotions from across the U.S. (including now-defunct favorites like Smoky Mountain, the UWF, and the USWA).

Check it out and get your copy now. It's worth EVERY penny. You can find more information at:

http://www.garywill.com/wrestling/wresbook.htm

FROM BOXING RING TO MAT REFEREE

Former British and Commonwealth 154-pound champion Steve Foster followed in the footsteps of Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Primo Carnera, Joe Louis and Tony Galento when he stepped into the wrestling ring on Sunday (March 12). He was guest referee for the WCW World Tag Team championship at the Manchester MEN Arena.

AND THIS FROM IDA MAE MARTINEZ:

...Also, I'm going to NYC to meet Carol (McCutcheon) and Red (Bastien), Ted Lewin and his wife and some others. We are meeting at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame on Hudson St. Guess what? I'm going to yodel there on April 26 at 7PM in case you should be in the area. On the other hand if you would like Mozart or Strauss I can't help you. My favorite is Chopin and that's the other side of me. I have a friend who plays it like you have never heard before. Oh well, Stay well and God's blessings to you both. Ida Ho!

AND THIS FROM DR. MIKE LANO (received March 14, 2000):

J Michael: Let me know who you might need pictures of (for "On Top: The Encyclopedic History of Professional in North America, 1876-2001") from 1966 to this year's CAC. I helped an autograph show with Mil Mascaras last Saturday and drove him to/from SFO -- still a gentleman and despite my worries, he drew a paying crowd solidly in SF for the 2 hours we ran it. He had a lot of negative things to say about the biz -- all the insane dives, chairs, tables, "stunts that show the boys don't know how to wrestle at all" to the exposing of the biz which he really went off on. "If anyone had put out those newsletters in the '70s, they wouldn't be allowed anywhere near an arena -- and they wouldn't have lasted long." All the current exposing of the biz he is very upset about.

He also had a lot to say about boys ruining their bodies for the longterm using steroids, GHB, HGH -- saying he knew Billy Graham was giving it to the other boys but he never used it and most of the oldtimer lucha guys never used it until the '80s when it sadly became standard. He hates the painkillers these kids are killing themselves with and said in the '60s and '70s it was only booze and occasional grass for any of the boys to deal with their aches and pains that he said few complained about the way they do now.

He still loves performing in front of others and had a big 6-man last Sunday in TJ.

THE BATTLE FOR TV WRESTLING

(New York Post, March 21, 2000)

By Allyson Lieberman

It's not clear what UPN will become if Viacom-CBS is allowed to keep it -- but pro-wrestling may very well play a big role.

Viacom will now lobby for the right to keep the little network, after Chris-Craft sold its 50 percent stake in UPN to Viacom yesterday for $5 million.

Chris-Craft was faced with a so-called "buy-sell" provision for its stake, triggered 45 days ago by Viacom.

Insiders say it is likely Viacom will build on UPN's successful wrestling programs and focus on males aged 18-to-49.

One source said it's possible, with Viacom's deep pockets and resources, that the company could buy out rival USA Network's wrestling shows or turn the network in another direction altogether -- perhaps to children's programming.

"Right now it's an empty pipeline. It's only as good as the programming they put into it. And you've got to remember Viacom's programming expertise. There's all kinds of things they can do with it," said Richard Read of Credit Lyonnais Securities.

Sumner Redstone's Viacom can't complete its $46-billion acquisition of CBS until the UPN ownership issue is resolved.

It is still not clear that the Federal Communications Commission will allow Viacom to hang on to UPN.

Under current law, a company can't own two broadcast networks if one of those networks is among the top four in audience ratings -- as CBS is.

But The Post learned last month that the FCC was closer than ever to granting a dual-network ownership waiver to Viacom in an effort to keep the network afloat.

"The FCC would rather preserve the number of editorial voices in the broadcast community rather than allow UPN to go off the air," said Prudential Securities analyst Katherine Styponais.

"I think there's a good chance Viacom will hold on to both networks," she added.

And Viacom apparently thinks so too, considering Redstone's reaction to yesterday's news.

"We are pleased that UPN will now be a wholly-owned part of the Viacom family and that working with Dean Valentine and his excellent UPN management team, we can continue to build on the tremendous momentum they have created," Redstone said in a statement.

Industry insiders were not surprised Chris-Craft chief Herb Siegel let go of UPN, considering the UPN joint venture has lost about $800 million since it was launched by Chris-Craft subsidiary BHC Communications and Viacom in 1995 -- and is only now becoming a competitor to the other networks with its high-rated wrestling programming.

"Chris-Craft and BHC were faced with huge operating losses," said Read of Credit Lyonnais.

"The popularity of wrestling aside -- it's a cyclical business. What happens when wrestling goes into a down cycle? If Viacom is able to hold onto UPN, there's a lot more they can do with it."

Insiders say it is still too soon to tell what direction Viacom will take with UPN, but it is likely the company will build on the wrestling theme and focus on the male audience.

One source said it's possible Viacom will buy out rival USA Network's wrestling shows.

VULGAR VISIONARY

(Globe & Mail, Toronto, March 30, 2000)

Those who choose not to take Vince McMahon seriously do so at their own peril.

That was the suggestion here a few months back when McMahon, the brains behind the World Wrestling Federation, announced that he was getting into the business of professional football.

This was going to be a different product, McMahon maintained, the anti-National Football League, real sport, but in entertainment terms a hybrid between traditional pro games and wrestling's pecs-breasts-and-biceps theatre.

The schedule would be played in the spring, beginning after the Super Bowl, players would have breakout personalities, it would be rough and tough and wild, unshackled from corporate restraints.

There weren't any teams yet, or players, and there wasn't a television deal, but that would all fall into place, he maintained, in time to open the league's first season in 2001.

A lot of people didn't believe him. There had been enough setbacks when McMahon ventured outside the 'rasslin world -- a failed bodybuilding promotion and a controversial initial public offering -- to suggest that the XFL might never even kick off. Other leagues that would be affected by its entry into the marketplace -- the Canadian Football League foremost among them -- quietly hoped that it would all fall apart, as so many phantom football projects have in the recent past.

But as of yesterday, for sure, the XFL is for real. At a press conference in New York, NBC, which had been outbid for the NFL and shut out of the current broadcasting contract, announced that it had acquired 50-per-cent ownership in the XFL and that it would begin broadcasting games in prime time on Saturday nights beginning next February.

The network's president, Dick Ebersol, once upon a time gave McMahon's wrestling promotions a wider audience by giving them a Saturday night network slot.

Now they're partners. And now, for everyone else, it won't be business as usual.

The CFL obviously faces the most direct challenge. Before McMahon decided to venture out on his own, he attempted to cut a deal with the CFL owners, offering them the chance to become part of the new venture, albeit on his terms. After some spirited internal debate, they declined. Moving to the spring, moving back into cross-border operation, moving into WWF territory wasn't a comfortable fit, even though there was no other clear business strategy for the future.

It was tough to argue with the CFL owners' decision, but also hard to like the choice they were forced to make. If they'd gone along, the CFL as we know it would be dead, though some of the teams and owners might have prospered. If they didn't go along and McMahon succeeded in establishing a beachhead, the price of football talent would immediately escalate. Inflation, the CFL simply can't afford.

And since he's never been one to play nice with the competition, it's hard to imagine establishing a co-operative relationship, even though the two leagues' seasons don't coincide. Tough, challenging times lie ahead.

But it's not just the CFL that is going to feel the tremors. Everyone in pro sports, even the great god NFL, is going to have to adapt to a shift in the marketplace.

If he achieves nothing else, McMahon will certainly change the tone -- lower it, many would argue -- of "legitimate" sports entertainment. Before, there was real sport (the big leagues, the Olympics) and there was junk sport -- professional wrestling and American Gladiators and the World's Strongest Man and all the rest. Now, that line will be intentionally blurred. Barriers of taste and acceptability will be broken. What's "real" will be made to look less "real" -- by the same person who understood that the consumers of his wrestling shows no longer required the pretense that matches were on the level.

It's easy enough to suggest now that people won't go for that, that the wrestling audience and the sports audience are looking for two different things, that minor-league football is minor-league football, no matter what the packaging, and no one else has been successful trying to make it work, even with a network television contract. Why should the XFL meet a different fate than the World Football League, or the United States Football League, both of which withered and died in the NFL's shadow?

Perhaps because this guy knows his stuff. Because this guy has his finger on the pulse when it comes to a certain, not insubstantial, segment of the marketplace. Because this guy took on the full financial might of Ted Turner and won. Because this guy's cable wrestling show already gives Monday Night Football a run for its money.

In one corner, there's tradition, the status quo, the way it's always been. In the other stands the great and vulgar visionary. And this time, the fix isn't in.

SHE IS NOT A FAN OF PRO WRESTLING

(Toledo Blade, Saturday, April 1, 2000)

By Nanciann Cherry

I'm not a fan of pro wrestling. In fact, when I bother to think of it at all, it's in terms of "why in the world would anyone watch this?"

But packed arenas, mega-TV contracts, and the World Wrestling Federation's new deal with NBC to form a football league would indicate that this attitude is in the minority. Pro wrestling has fans - a lot of them. One of these is Barry Blaustein, a writer for Saturday Night Live who spent five years working on a documentary about the "sport."

His film, Beyond the Mat, is unlikely to change any minds about pro wrestling, and he doesn't make any major revelations about the WWF and similar organizations. Most fans are smart enough to know that just about everything is scripted, he maintains. They're in it for the theater, the spectacle.

What Blaustein does in his sometimes funny, often sad film is offer viewers a look at some of the major players as people. He neither glorifies his subjects nor makes fun of them. He simply strips away the theater and lets viewers make their own decisions about the men and women who practice an exceedingly violent, dangerous form of performance art.

The outcome of the matches may be fake, Blaustein says, but the blood isn't.

By way of introduction, Blaustein starts at the top, in the head offices of Vince McMahon, whose ability to turn hulking performers into entertainment icons has created a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry known as the WWF. We meet McMahon as he is in discussions with former Denver Bronco Darren Drozdov. Drozdov has the singular ability to vomit on command, so McMahon wants to turn him into a wrestling star named Puke, who wins his matches by regurgitating on opponents and referees.

After the meeting, Drozdov can't wait to get to the phone. "Mom," he says in an excited, gentle voice, "I'm going to be a wrestling star named Puke."

Poignancy wrestles with hilarity.

Puke never caught on with the fans, for which some of us are exceedingly grateful, but many wrestlers do, and Blaustein's cameras settle on several.

There is WWF star Mick "Mankind" Foley, whose professional attire is generally white shirt, tie, and leather Hannibal Lecter-type mask. In the ring, he does just about anything from taking a 15-foot fall to bashing his opponents - and getting bashed in return - with a metal folding chair. In private, Foley is a sweet, articulate man, a loving husband and doting father to young Noelle and Dewey.

Chyna, voted "Diva of the Year" by WWF fans, is the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament. She says her mother tried to turn her into a ruffle-and-frills kind of girl.

Jake "the Snake" Roberts is a crowd pleaser who terrifies opponents with his boa constrictor. In private, he talks about his pain and loneliness, and we watch him try to reconnect with a daughter he abandoned years ago. It doesn't really work; he's not comfortable without his costumes and wrestling persona, and he turns to drugs for relief.

In contrast, Terry Funk, a wrestling legend in the area around Amarillo, Tex., has the support of his loving wife, Vicki, and daughters. But he lives in constant pain, and just getting out of bed in the morning takes a physical toll. Although Funk announces his retirement during the film, Blaustein tells us that he can't stay away from the spotlight, and he unretires himself within three months.

The finale of Beyond the Mat is really its heart. Foley is meeting The Rock (Rocky Maivia) in a championship match. Beforehand, the pair, who are good friends, chat, joke, and plan their moves. They talk to Foley's children, explaining that it's all fake and even when Daddy seems to be getting hurt, it's just not true.

None of that matters to the children as they watch their father being pounded during the particularly grueling, violent match. In near hysterics, they leave the arena with their mother, who also has trouble dealing with the sight.

Foley is knocked almost senseless, and after the match, when he can hold a thought, his main concern is that he gave fans enough for their money. He seems surprised that his children are upset.

Blaustein later takes the film to Foley's home and the wrestler is visibly disturbed and guilt-stricken as he watches his children's reaction.

By the end of Beyond the Mat, Blaustein has done the impossible: He has turned a collection of hulking weirdos into individuals with normal fears, concerns, and desires to be good at their jobs.

We may not like what they do, but somehow it's hard not to empathize.

THAT'S THE KIND OF A WIFE TO HAVE

(Associated Press, March 26, 1923)

CHICAGO - When Ed (Strangler) Lewis, world's champion heavyweight wrestler, demanded a guarantee of $10,000, win, lose or draw, before he would consent to meet Renato Gardini of Boston, Mrs. Gardini wired her father, a Boston banker, for the money and obtained it. Lewis and Gardini will meet here April 3.

MUNN IS ILL FOLLOWING BOUT

(Washington Post, April 17, 1925)

PHILADELPHIA - Wayne (Big) Munn, who was shorn of his world's heavyweight wrestling title last night by Stanislaus Zbyszko, was confined to a hotel bed today with tonsilitis and influenza. Gabe Kaufman, his manager, said that all wrestling engagements have been canceled.

Both Kaufman and Dr. Abraham Baron, of Philadelphia, who examined the giant wrestler before his bout last night, said he has a servere case of tonsilitis. Today he had a temperature of 104.

Dr. Baron said he tried to persuade Munn not to enter the ring. "I examined Munn fifteen minutes before the bout," said the doctor. "He showed a temperature of 102. I found him suffering from acute tonsilitis. I told him he should not wrestle, but the man's attitude was one that would mislead anyone. He ws confident he could win and desired not to disappoint the crowd. He even fooled himself as to how sick he really was. In the face of his own desire, the Pennsylvania athletic commissioner present did not interpose an objection to Munn going on."

While the big Nebraskan is in bed fighting illness, Zbyszko, the veteran grappler whose age is variously reported to be 52 to 58 years, basked in the limelight of a world's championship, an honor that he had won and lost several times.

Ed (Strangler) Lewis, former heavyweight wrestling champion, will substitute for Wayne (Big) Munn tonight in a scheduled match with Alex Lunden, Swedish heavyweight, in Boston. Lewis, who lost his title recently to Munn, was signed to meet Lunden this afternoon when word came from Philadelphia that Munn, who was dethroned last night by Stanislaus Zbyszko, was ill with tonsilitis and could not make the trip to Boston.

Lunden won the right to meet Munn in an elimination series here in which many heavyweight wrestlers participated.

GENTLE JOHN AND CHIEF CHEWACKI STAGE WAR

(United Press, December 19, 1933)

COLUMBUS, Ohio - At a mixed wrestling-boxing match here last night between "Gentle" John Kilonis and Chief Chewchki (Chewacki), here's what happened:

In the first round each swung a metal stool, Kilonis suffering a deep gash in the head.

There was fierce fighting in the second period.

In the third round Kilonis took a pair of scissors from his trunks, snipped the Indian's hair and pummeled him unmercifully. The Indian swung wildly and knocked out referee Leo Alexander.

As Chewacki jerked off the sack, the Greek fled through the audience. He reached the street and escaped in a taxi.

The Indian came back to the ring and was declared victory by default.

MRS. BAER SAYS NO ON WRESTLING

(United Press, January 14, 1936)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Mary Ellen Sullivan Baer put her foot down firmly today on proposals that her husband, Max Baer, former heavyweight champion, turn wrestler.

Maxie was intrigued by the "soft dough" dangled before him by Lou Daro, Los Angeles wrestling impresario, but Mary said "Nothing doing."

"No wrestling for my Maxie if I can help it," she said.

Mary said no once before. That was after Maxie lost his title to Jim Braddock. She didn't want him to meet Joe Louis. If Max had listened to Mary he would have spared the ignominy of that fourth-round knockout and his worst defeat.

So maybe Max will listen to Mary this time.

ERNIE PILUSO VICTOR IN PORTLAND

(Associated Press, March 3, 1936)

PORTLAND, Ore. - Ernie Piluso tossed Jack Lipscomb last night to win the one-fall main event on a mat card.

MARSHALL IN DEBUT AS MAT REFEREE

(Associated Press, January 31, 1945)

PUEBLO, Colo. - A heavyweight wrestling match with ex-heavyweight wrestler Everett O. Marshall as probable referee instead of a contestant has been carded for February 6 in Pueblo - this steel town's first mat event in two years. Marshall, who has been onion farming near La Junta, Colo., two years, must first obtain a referee's license.

(ED. NOTE - Probably no one else who made a handsome living from his exploits in the professional wrestling ring was so routinely outspoken as Bronko Nagurski about how much he disliked the business. Yet, despite repeated protestations, such as below, he repeatedly returned to the mat pay window. In this case, for another 15 or 16 years. In other words, Bronko Nagurski ranks very high on our list of all-time wrestling hypocrites.)

NOW NAGURSKI TO PLOW THROUGH CROPS

(Associated Press, February 9, 1945)

MINNEAPOLIS - Bronko Nagurski, former University of Minnesota and Chicago Bears football star, said in an interview here today that he was through with football coaching and planned to devote all his time to farming.

Nagurski stopped off here en route from Los Angeles, where he has been backfield coach at the University of California at Los Angeles, to his home in International Falls.

"I prefer farming to coaching," he said, "and will devote my time in the future to my farm in International Falls. I like farming and the outdoor life that goes with it."

Nagurski made it clear, too, that he did not plan to return to professional wrestling.

MRS. NICK LUTZE FILES FOR DIVORCE

(United Press, Saturday, February 10, 1945)

LOS ANGELES - Nick Lutze, sports promoter and former wrestler, Saturday was named in a divorce action filed by Mrs. Bernice Lutze, who charged him with such cruelty that married life was no longer possible. They were married in Chicago in 1928 and separated last January 13.

BIG, LITTLE, FAT AND SKINNY COLLIDE

(San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 1945)

Wrestlers of all sizes, descriptions and styles will be paraded forth by promoter Joe Malcewicz in the Civic Auditorium ring tonight. From the standpoint of variety, Malcewicz figures it to be one of his best cards in weeks.

Featured in the one-hour main event will be Jim (Thunderbolt) Casey, clever and smooth-working Irishman, and Wild Bill Bartush, powerful and rough 280-pound Chicagoan.

This is a rematch. Several weeks ago the behemoths wrestled a sensational bout, with Casey scoring a fluke-fall victory that Bartush disputed. Since that time he has been demanding another match over the longer distance, and with two out of three falls deciding the winner, figuring his big weight advantage and rough tactics would be benefited by it.

Ex-champion Vincent Lopez and Hardy Kruskamp clash in a 30-minute, one-fall semi-windup, in which elbow smashes, body slams and dropkicks will play an important part. In the other engagements, "Flash" Rogers of St. Louis collides with Cy Williams, 30 minutes, one fall, and Abie Coleman, New York's Jewish 5x5 matster, goes against Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, 20 minutes, one fall. First bout at 8:30 o'clock.

JIM CASEY WHIPS BILL BARTUSH

(San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 1945)

Jim Casey took the "Wild" out of "Wild Bill" Bartush with a hold dubbed the Killarney Whip to win the main event on the Civic Auditorium wrestling card Tuesday. Casey won the opener in 27:55 when he entered the ring through the ropes. The Killarney Whip finished Bartush's challenge eight minutes later.

Vincent Lopez employed his famed elbow smash to take Hardy Kruskamp into camp in 13:10 of the semi-windup. Flash Rogers, a newcomer to the local mat, made short work of Cy Williams, winning with a body scissors in 12:10, and Carlos Ortiz and Abie Coleman went 20 minutes to a draw. The crowd was augmented by several hundred servicemen, veterans of the South Pacific, who were guests of Joe Malcewicz.

THESZ WINS MAT WRESTLING BOUT

(Aberdeen Daily World, November 3, 1945)

Cpl. Louie Thesz, 230-pound wrestler, billed as a former world's champion, took two of three falls from Hal Rumberg, former Washington State College athlete, in the main event of the first Gray's Harbor showing of the Ted Thye grunt and groan syndicate last night at the former Hoquiam Boeing plant, Seventh and K Streets.

Thesz won the first fall in 21 minutes with a flying tackle and body press. Rumberg came back nine minutes later to gain a fall after a series of headlocks and Thesz, four minutes later, copped the deciding fall with a cradle hold.

Johnny Walker of New York, 215-pound matman, was awarded the semi-windup event when his opponent Sgt. Dick Raines of Dallas, Texas, was disqualified for roughness.

Mickey Gravas, New Yorker now stationed at Fort Lewis, hit Frank Stojack of Tacoma, former Washington State College and professional football player, with a flying tackle and followed it with a body press to cop the special event opener in 21 minutes.

The next show, promoter Al Basden of Aberdeen reported, will be presented Saturday night, Nov. 10, at the same location. Among wrestlers appearing then will be Chief Thunderbird, Chief Little Wolf, Seelie Samara and Jim Wright.

250-POUND WRESTLER PHYSICALLY UNFIT

(Associated Press, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 1946)

DENVER, Colo. - Frank A. (Tarzan) Florentine, 250-pound policeman who has a 60-inch chest and bends six penny nails with his bare hands, is going to lose his job - because he isn't physically fit. He's 40 pounds overweight.

Florentine said he would return to his old job as a professional wrestler.

KOHLBUS, BISHOP AT ONE VICTORY APIECE

(Vancouver Province, January 10, 1946)

Another capacity crowd was on hand at the Seamen's Club last night to witness the resumption of mat hostilities between Mickey Kohlbus and Sailor Les Bishop, and although it was short, ringsiders were well satisfied with the manner in which the navyman evened up the box score between himself and the Mick.

Dirt was not at a premium by the time Les gave the Kohlbus the old airplane heave-ho in the second, so Mickey came back with everything in the book in the third in his efforts to even things up. The net results after Les came off the floor to flop on the loser, who missed a flying tackle, were: One badly wrenched shoulder on the Kohlbus part and to teeth less on that of the Bishop.

Paul Singh and Mickey Walker grunted their way to a six-round, one-fall draw and Johnny Martin bested Ole Knight, two out of three, in the other bouts on the card.

WOMEN'S MAT CHAMP IS GOING ABROAD

(Newspaper Enterprise Association, January 7, 1947)

LOS ANGELES - Pretty Mildred burke has started on a tour that will include Australia, New Zealand, England and France.

A professional wrestler for 12 years, Miss Burke, who spent the holidays at her Los Angeles home, has displayed her wares in 42 states - six bar feminine grapplers - and Mexico and Cuba.

Miss Burke will launch here 1947 campaign in Seattle, and will travel an estimated 110,000 miles before another new year rolls around.

Despite the fact that she has participated in and won 2,000 bouts, the world's women's champion is an attractive, unscathed and unscarred brunette with a charming manner.

The neighborhood tomboy playing games with boys as a little girl in Kansas City, she liked wrestling and decided to capitalize on popularizing the women's version of it. Wrestling to her is vastly more than showmanship. She studied the holds of master craftsmen, and has a full assortment of hammers and locks.

She has fought to have her trade rated as something besides an exhibition and entertainment.

LONDOS BACK TO CLEAN OUT IMPOSTORS

(Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1949)

Jimmy Londos, colorful Golden Greek who spread his name across the wrestling skies when such men as Ed (Strangler) Lewis, Joe Stecher and Gus Sonnenberg were active, marches back to the mat wars tonight at the Hollywood Legion Stadium to meet Red Koko. The Greek will be defending his international heavyweight title which he won nearly two decades ago.

While Londos is a wealthy man he has announced that his purpose of going into action, although he is around the 50 mark, is to clean out the impostors that claim they are champions.

It was natural for different sections to develop champions since Londos hasn't worked often in recent years. In 1948 he made a world tour meeting all comers of Australia and New Zealand.

Koko is known as the swivel king because of the way he swings with his leverages. If Londos beats Koko he may meet the winner of the Demon-Nature Boy Buddy Rogers bout which is the second half of tonight's double main. The Demon claims the heavyweight belt, and Nature Boy, who once held it, will be out to retrieve.

Sheik Lawrence of Arabia, a fast man, tackles Pierre LaSartes of France in a one-fall feature. Carlos Mojica, Mexico's jumping bean, meets George Bruckman and Izzy Becker tangles with Flash Barker.

LONDOS BOPS KOKO IN MAT FEATURE

(Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1949)

Jim Londos, the slightly aging Golden Greek, reached back to the Atlantic seaboard for a couple of Beantown tricks - a Boston Crab and a Boston Cradle - with which he subdued Red Koko before 4,000 wrestling fans last night at the Hollywood Legion Stadium.

Londos was in action about 11 minutes during his two-fall stint.

Nature Boy Buddy Rogers topped Billy Darnell, who subbed for The Demon, who was reported ill. Pierre LaSartes whipped Frank Hickey, who understudied Sheik Lawrence, who also was reported ill. Carlos Mojica downed George Bruckman and Izzy Becker drew with Dude Chick.

POLICE, GROANTER TANGLE IN WILD MELEE

(Vancouver Province, Thursday, Jan. 3, 1952)

By Eric Whitehead

A brief but violent mob scene that broke loose at the end of Wednesday night's Exhibition Garden wrestling show brought charge and counter-charge as a special-duty police constable "slugged" a heavyweight wrestler and was then slammed to the floor - with the wrestler on top.

In a completely unrehearsed, perfectly legit free-for-all that followed the last bout of the night, special-duty Constable Pete Pelletier, an ex-lacrosse star with Vancouver Indians, tangled in the aisle with Australian heavyweight Jack O'Reilly.

Const. Pelletier had raced over to break up the angry mob that mauled O'Reilly as he tried to push through to his dressing room. O'Reilly and partner Andy Tremayne had just been disqualified after a rough-house tag match with Kemal Mahmout and Carl Engstrom.

As Const. Pelletier pushed through the crowd toward O'Reilly, the policeman lunged out and O'Reilly pushed two belligerent fans aside. The next thing the screaming crowd knew, Const. Pelletier was flat on his back in the aisle, with O'Reilly on top.

The fight was broken up by seconds and other wrestlers, and O'Reilly was bustled into his dressing room, where he had to barricade himself in from the mob.

The police officer immediately protested to wrestling promoter Cliff Parker and threatened to bring charges against O'Reilly.

According to Parker, Const. Pelletier told him: "This is the second time I've been mauled by your wrestlers. And if I'd have had something up my sleeve, you'd be short a wrestler right now."

The officer's version of the battle is that O'Reilly hit him first.

O'Reilly said: "I was just trying to push back these two crazy fans and all of a sudden this cop comes up and say, 'Hey, wait a minute, Jack,' and slugs me right on the jaw. I had to slam him down in self defence."

Promoter Parker says that in the event of an official charge against O'Reilly, he has "plenty of witnesses" to prove that the policeman slugged O'Reilly first.

SHARPE BROTHERS, DESPITE TRAGEDY, WIN MATCH

(San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 1952)

World tag team champions Mike and Ben Sharpe, wrestling a few hours after their father had been killed in a fall at his Hamilton, Ontario, home, defeated Leo Nomellini and Hombre Montana last night at Winterland before a standing room only crowd that grossed $12,159.

Digby Sharpe, 58-year-old father of the champs, slipped on the basement steps yesterday while going to tend the furnace and was killed.

None of the spectators knew of the tragedy as Mike pinned Montana in 16:51 with a body press. Nomellini brought the match square by dropping Ben in 5:10 with a flying tackle series. In the deciding fall, Nomellini was counted out when he left the ring, where he was wrestling Mike, to charge Ben. The time was 7:10.

In the preliminaries, Danny Plechas defeated Gino Vagnone in 24:26 and 1:25, both times using step-over-toe holds; Lee Henning stopped Hardy Kruskamp in 14:28 with a body press, and Bobby Nelson and George Pencheff drew in 30 minutes.

GUARD, TACKLE AND WRESTLER, LINDSAY JOINS LIONS

(Vancouver Province, Friday, Feb. 26, 1954)

By Al Hartin

Luther Lindsay, 26-year-old Negro wrestler, has signed a try-out contract with the B.C. Lions in the Western Interprovincial Football Union, coach Annis Stukus announced today.

Lindsay, who claims the world's colored heavyweight title, is currently wrestling on the Northwest circuit. He will report to the Lions' training camp in July.

A graduate of Hampton Institute at West Virginia, he was named to the third All-American team in 1949. While there he was a teammate of halfback Tom Casey who has received All-Canada mention two years running with Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the WIFU.

Lindsay, who plays guard or tackle, spent two years with the Jersey City Giants, a semi-pro farm club for New York Giants of the National Football League.

He stands five-foot-eight and weighs 230 pounds and is regarded as one of the fastest men for his weight in a wrestling ring.

Lindsay, contemplating a wrestling tour of Hawaii, offered to give up the trip in order to be on hand when the club opens spring training here in May.

"However," says Stukus, "we advised him to go ahead with his plans. He's one guy we know is in shape."

Lindsay is the second player to have signed a contract on a try-out basis. Tom Nickoloff, University of Southern California end, was signed at the turn of the year.

"I'm afraid we're going to have to give up on Nickoloff, though," says Stukus. "We feel he wants too much money."

JERRY GRAHAM FACES SUSPENSION

(Associated Press, December 17, 1959)

RICHMOND, Va. - Jerry Graham has been ordered by the state athletic commission to show cause within 15 days why his Virginia license to wrestle should not be suspended.

Graham had been subpoenaed by the commission to appear before it Tuesday at a public hearing on charges that a wrestling monopoly exists in the state. He did not show but sent a telegram from New York saying he had a commitment to wrestle elsewhere Tuesday.

IVAN THE TERRIBLE TAKES THE COUNT

(Associated Press, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 1989)

DALLAS, Tex. - Services were held Wednesday for John Robert Shaw, who was a headline pro wrestler known as "Ivan the Terrible" during the 1950s and 1960s.

Shaw, who was 65, died Sunday following a lengthy illness.

He got his start by wrestling and boxing in carnivals while he was a Dallas police officer, and became well-known for wrestling bears.

After quitting his job as a policeman, Shaw began wrestling full time as one of the Kowalski Brothers and later starred as "Ivan Bulba, the mad Russian from Minsky" during the 1950s and 1960s, during a period when pro wrestling was a popular diversion and an early television staple.

Shaw retired from the ring to become a rancher in the '60s, but poor health forced him out of agriculture and he began training young wrestlers.

WRESTLING PROMOTER NICK GULAS DIES

(Nashville Tennessean, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 1991)

Retired wrestling promoter Nicholas Tom (Nick) Gulas, 76 - who boosted the carrers of Hulk Hogan and the late Gorgeous George, among others - died yesterday at Bordeaux Hospital following an extended illness.

Services will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church with the Rev. Harry Pappas officiating. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Visitation with the family will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today at Marshall-Donnelly-Combs Funeral Home. Trisagion services will be held there at 8 p.m. today.

Mr. Gulas was a native of Birmingham, Ala., where he got his start as an assistant to wrestling promoter Chris Jodan.

"Chris Jordan gave him little odds and ends to do, from ticket taking to ticket selling," said his son, George N. Gulas. "He kind of broke him in that way."

Mr. Gulas moved to Nashville in about 1947, and went on to earn a fortune as a promoter, becoming the first in the nation to stage live television studio wrestling.

"He was very outgoing and likable, always had a smile on his face," said his son, a former wrestler.

"He loved everyone, ages 6 to 90."

At the peak of his career, Mr. Gulas promoted wrestling matches in 48 Southern cities.

Former Tennessean sports editor Raymond Johnson recalls Mr. Gulas' early days in Nashville.

"Nick came to me and asked me if I'd help him get the wrestling promotion in Nashville," Johnson recalls.

"Nick worked out a deal with 7-Up here to sell wrestling tickets for 50 cents and his promotion career just took off. All the success and big television money for professional wrestling these days are the result of promoters like Nick Gulas."

A story circulates that because The Tennessean planned an early press run one night because of snow and ice, Mr. Gulas was told his wrestling results would not make the next morning's paper.

He was quoted as saying, "That's all right. I'll give you the results right now because I know who's gonna win."

Mr. Gulas staged his first professional wrestling bouts at the old Hippodrome Skating Rink, on the site now occupied by the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt. The events were later moved to the State Fairgrounds.

At one time, he and his partner, Herb Welch, had 20 to 25 professional wrestlers touring the circuits.

He helped boost the early careers of six-time world heavyweight champion Lou Thesz, the late Gorgeous George, Randy (Macho Man) Savage, and Hulk Hogan. Mr. Gulas' wrestlers also included Jackie Fargo, Tojo Yamamoto, Len Rossi, Rick Morton (now belongs to Rock 'n Roll Express), Bobby Eaton, the Welch brothers, Koko B. Ware, Jerry (The King) Lawler, Hillbilly Jim, Don Greene, Al Greene, Tommy Rich and others.

Mr. Gulas retired from full-time wrestling promotion in 1980, but continued to promote some dates for a few more years.

He was the son of the late Tom and Evelyn Skevis Gulas.

He was married in 1947 to the former Katherine Bushulen, who died in 1986.

Survivors, in addition to his son, include three brothers, Alex, George and Phil Gulas, all of Birmingham; and two sisters, Tula Paulson and Athena Morris, Birmingham.

GULAS, Mr. Nick - Age 76 years, Monday, January 21, 1991

(Nashville Tennessean obituary, January 22, 1991)

Survived by a son, George Gulas, Nashville; sisters Athena Morris, Toula Paulson; brothers, Phil Gulas, Alec Gulas and George Gulas, all of Birmingham AL; devoted nephew, Jimmy Stathis, Nashville. Funeral services will be held 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 4905 Franklin Rd., conducted by Father Harry Pappas. Pallbearers, honorary, all former wrestling associates, members of the World Wrestling Federation, members of the National Wrestling Alliance. Active, Gary Miller, Leo Martin, Roy Newman, Jimmy Stathis, Harry Gill, Campbell Brandon, Raymond Morton, Gipson Groom. Visitation with the family, 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday. The Trisagion services will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Interment, Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the Building Fund of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. MARSHALL-DONNELLY & COMBS, 327-1111

The WAWLI Papers # 712 ... 

REALITIES DREW HIM TO THE MOVIE

(Kansas City Star, March 23, 2000)

By Robert W. Butler

When Hollywood screenwriter Barry W. Blaustein decided to indulge his "guilty" love of professional wrestling by making a documentary, he had no illusions about wrestling being a true competitive sport. It was, he acknowledged, show business.

"I'll admit it, though not proudly: I like to watch wrestling," said the 45-year-old writer. "I've got a wife and two kids, all of whom hate wrestling with a passion. But I like the absurdity of it. When I watch it I'm embarrassed for myself, but I can't help it. It's like moth to flame."

Still, while shooting "Beyond the Mat," which opened Friday at several area theaters, Blaustein learned a lot about the bigger-than-life grapplers.

"What surprised me most was the pain, both the physical and the psychological," he said in a recent phone interview from his Hollywood office. "These guys actually do get hurt a lot more than they let on.

"But the worst pain may be behind the scenes -- the pressure of maintaining your position in a really cutthroat business. And especially the loneliness. You're on the road all the time. You get your 10 minutes of adulation in the ring, then it's back to a motel in the middle of the night. The restaurants are closed, there's nothing to do.

"So many of these guys play these outlandish characters, and slowly they become that character. They lose a sense of who they really are.

"And then there are always those escapes into women and pills. As an old wrestler told me, `If you want to stay married, don't be a wrestler.' "

While "Beyond the Mat" is certain to appeal to wrestling fans, Blaustein -- whose screenwriting credits include "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor" -- said he made the movie "for people who couldn't care less. On one level it's about wrestling, but on another it's a movie about families."

The film focuses on three wrestlers and their families. Mick Foley, who played the popular character Mankind, is a devoted family man. Terry Funk is a 30-year wrestling veteran whose success on the Midwestern circuit has allowed him to raise a family in relative affluence. And then there's Jake "The Snake" Roberts, reduced to performing in small towns and whose personal life is one disaster after another.

In one of the film's most disturbing moments, Blaustein's camera captures Foley's terrified young children as they watch their father's bloodied head being pounded with a metal folding chair.

"Unlike most wrestling retirements, Mick's seems to be real," Blaustein said. "I'm not saying that my movie is the reason he retired, but he's admitted it was a big factor. Even someone as intelligent as Mick can lose perspective in the world of wrestling. After he saw my footage of his kids' reactions, I think he realized that all this wasn't the right thing for them to be seeing."

(Actually Foley, whose book Have a Nice Day topped the best-seller lists for several weeks this winter, will do at least one more match; on Monday it was announced he will participate in the main event at Wrestlemania April 2 in Anaheim, Calif.)

Pro wrestling's fallout has spread throughout society, Blaustein asserts. "I've shown the film to teachers, many of whom report big problems with school kids emulating wrestler behavior -- everything from wrestler moves to wrestler talk and attitude. And the teachers are increasingly concerned because the kids believe there's no consequence to all this violence."

"Beyond the Mat" was submitted for Oscar consideration and first-timer Blaustein did get a nomination from the Directors Guild of America.

His main concern now is that his film gets seen. Lions Gate Films, which is distributing the documentary, had hoped to advertise "Beyond the Mat" during televised World Wrestling Federation matches on the USA and UPN networks. But WWF president Vince McMahon, who appears in the film, nixed that idea.

"The real reason Vince McMahon doesn't want the film to succeed is that I wouldn't sell it to him," Blaustein said. "He offered to pay me triple the production budget, and I wouldn't sell it to him. If I'd done that it wouldn't have been a documentary -- it would have been seen as a WWF promo film."

McMahon also approached the film's production company, Imagine Films, with an offer to purchase the picture.

"Imagine Films had the opportunity to sell it to Vince for a big profit, and they didn't. For one thing, I think they didn't want to be bullied. But also, they knew I'd worked very hard on it for five years, and they realized they would have been doing a disservice to a filmmaker.

"Also, I'm concerned that the WWF has become so powerful that it can dictate advertising policy to an entire network. The NFL wasn't terribly happy with Oliver Stone's `Any Given Sunday,' but they didn't pressure CBS or Fox not to run ads for the movie.

"Actually, I enjoy Vince McMahon. There are decent sides to the guy. He's just not showing them to me right now."

A Q & A WITH DIRECTOR BARRY BLAUSTEIN

(http://www.salon.com)

"Beyond the Mat" starts with you saying that you can't explain why you like wrestling. But at some point you must have come to grips with it. Is that statement a kind of posture, so that we in the audience know we're going to see wrestlers without a lot of external editorializing? Or is it totally true?

It's totally true. At one time I thought I was going to analyze why I like it. Essentially it came down to, I just do. I knew I loved the theatricality. I knew I loved the in-your-face element. At one time I thought I was going to analyze why I like it. [He laughs derisively.] Is it the repressed homosexuality? Is it because I didn't challenge a kid to a fight in seventh grade? And I realized that after all these years, I just don't know why. At the beginning I wanted to state that this is not "a study of wrestling as a popular social phenomenon and the effect it has on people." It's a view of the wrestling world from the perspective of a guy who likes it. He's embarrassed he likes it, and up until recently he would never tell another human being he likes it. To this day, I'm not proud I like it. But the only thing that makes me wonder why I like it now is that it's become so mainstream and so popular, it's lost that tainted, dirty feeling, which I enjoy so much. Up till now, it's been something you're not supposed to like, which gives you more reason to like it.

You include a clip of Max Von Sydow saying, 'Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?'

That's from "Hannah and Her Sisters" -- Woody Allen! It's the first time Woody Allen has lent a clip out to anything. And I was real excited because now I have a framed contract, a release, between me and Woody Allen. But I was more excited because at the end of the movie I was able to put in "Personal thanks to Woody Allen and to Afa the Wild Samoan" one after the other -- a great combination.

Hasn't wrestling changed tremendously since you started watching it 30 years ago?

Yeah, it's changed, but there are more similarities than differences. It's just more hyped. Like movies today -- everything is amped up more. The characters and the violence are more extreme. But the same essential theatricality was always prevalent. I like the outrageousness of it and the political incorrectness of it.

Of course, there are things that make me uncomfortable. I met a lot of midget wrestlers -- I'm not going to say "vertically challenged wrestlers." There are not many of them left; they are almost always older guys. They're always the big comedy act. I never thought I minded it, but I remember even as a kid I thought it was humiliating when a ref picked up a midget wrestler and spanked him. I always thought, "Was that really needed?" And I asked them, "Was this really going too far?" And they said, "No, it was part of the show and we were getting paid good money."

For non-fans like myself, what's shocking about your movie is how much real punishment these guys take. We all grow up thinking it's choreographed and thus harmless.

It is choreographed, but these are huge bodies! When they get hit with a chair, people think, "Oh, it's a fake chair." I don't even know what the concept of a fake chair is. They are getting hit over the head with real metal chairs, and when they land on concrete, they land on concrete. The rings are not that padded and the ropes are really hard -- that was the big shocker to me. And when you see blood, it's real blood -- it's not capsules, it's blood, whether it's self-inflicted or not.

Vince McMahon said to me once -- when we were talking -- "It's funny. In the past the industry would go, 'It's real, it's real, it's real, it's real, it's real, it's real,' but it was just pulled muscles and stuff, not life-threatening. Now everyone goes, 'It's sports entertainment, it's fake, it's fake, it's fake,' and the reality is guys are really brutalizing themselves in the ring."

Unfortunately, you have fans who go, "OK -- you exploded yourself this time, what can you do next? How are you going to top that?" That's why I am glad Mick Foley is retired and out of wrestling; I think it is going to stick longer than most wrestling retirements. He retired two or three weeks ago; ironically, the day after Vince started pulling ads.

Since you bring him up -- let's jump ahead to the climax of the movie. You present Mick Foley as a prince, but then you show him bringing his little kids to a match where he ends up with a bandaged head.

Mick was going to bring his kids regardless. The WWF had wanted his wife at that match; they wanted to showcase him having a decent, regular wife and family, though they backed away from it the day before. The kids wanted to be there, but I said, "Mick, you know, I think this is a bad decision. As a father, I think this is bad." And Mick was like, "But the kids really want to go, they'll be prepared." And Mick did ask the kids if they really wanted to go, and did try to keep them from being scared. He did tell them that the Rock is his friend. As you see in the movie, the Rock goes to meet them and is really good with the kids. But the reality is no matter how well you prepare them, they're still seeing Daddy being brutalized.

Mick spoke to me about two weeks afterward and asked how the footage of the kids watching the match turned out. I said, "Mick, it's horrendous, it's absolutely horrendous." And he said, "You know, the kids seemed fine backstage afterwards." And you know, even if Mick was bleeding, the kids were kind of fine -- he never let go of his daughter or his son's hand. So I wanted to show Mick this footage for two reasons: First, he needed to see it. Second, from an editorial standpoint, I didn't want the last image of Mick to be that he's a terrible human being and father. Because I've been around him long enough to know that he's a wonderful father. He made a mistake in judgment. I'm a parent -- we make mistakes in judgment. That happens. And you like to be accountable, particularly when you make bad ones. I thought part of what was happening was that when you're in this lifestyle for so long, you lose all perspective on everything.

My editor was against me showing it to Mick. My wife warned me, "You like Mick a lot. And although he has no editorial control whatsoever, he's going to want it out of the movie. And you're not going to want to take it out." So I brought it with me when I went to shoot the footage of him playing with his kids. Before he saw it, he kept saying, "I don't think it was so bad -- the kids got a trip to Disneyland." Finally, when I decided to show it to him, I had someone take the kids out for ice cream, because I didn't want them to see it or see the reaction Mick would have. And it was hard -- like really punching someone who dares you to hit him in the stomach. It was devastating to him. But actually, as I was leaving he said, "You know, it doesn't make me look particularly wonderful, but I think you should keep it in the film, because it's important." I was going to keep it in anyway, but I appreciated that.

One thing I kept saying to my editor, Jeff Werner, who did a terrific job, is that rather than keep going back to what the footage shows, we should go back to the way I felt about these people when I was there. Because let's face it, footage isn't holy -- you can manipulate it any way you want. That's why I desperately wanted to get Mick's reaction to the footage and put it in the film. Because if people would see how he reacts and still think he's an awful human being -- well, so be it, I guess that's their prerogative. When Mick saw the final film, he felt really proud to be in it. But he asked whether his son, Dewey, was in it as much as Noelle. He just wanted to be sure that one child wasn't favored over the other, and that sums him up.

That's what's so befuddling!

It is confusing, but it's not a black-and-white world we live in. It's all grays, man.

Is there a kind of mental and emotional as well as physical numbing you need to go through to participate in this sport?

Very much so. And I think that's one of the reasons Mick has stopped; he realized he can't go on like this any more.

You always like Mick, even when he errs. But then there's Jake the Snake Roberts, a charismatic loner who has demons, who does crack, and who spends five minutes with his daughter when he first meets her after a four-year absence. Your feelings about him must have changed continuously.

That's one of the things I hope to capture in the film. Jake would remind me of Sam Elliott; he would look great on camera, and had this great voice. There are times when he's very charming and you feel sorry for him. And there are times like after he left his daughter when I would want to throw him out of the car and I would think, this is the most disgusting human being.

It would be interesting to do a fictional treatment of Jake. Wrestlers had told me to be careful around him: They warned me, "You'll really think he likes you, and then you'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere because he'll take your car." And I remember when we were driving, I think through Kansas -- on the third or fourth day we made a stop, and Jake said, "It's kind of cold, why don't you give me the keys to the car and I'll meet you inside?" And I said, "Jake, I'm not going to give you the keys to the car and let you leave me here." And then he smiles that devilish smile and says, "Barry, I would never do that to you."

Terry Funk, the aging happy warrior, is the opposite of Jake. You say that Funk was your favorite wrestler growing up -- and at the end of the film he is still one of your favorites.

In seven days with Jake he ultimately bad-mouthed everybody, except Terry Funk. I tried to goad him, and say, "Don't you have anything bad to say about Terry?" And he would say [in Jake's gravelly voice], "Terry's good; Terry's one of the few good ones. The only good one. Well, there are a few others."

Terry is about to become a grandfather and he's wrestling again, despite his lousy knees and everything. Terry is wonderful. There would be no movie without Terry Funk. Terry is respected in the wrestling business, as a wrestler and as a person, as a man of principle, the way Lou Gehrig was in baseball. Terry signed on early and opened doors for me. He would call up other wrestlers and vouch for me. In the course of the film he announced his retirement, and I went to cover his retirement match. Then he went back to wrestling. And I got calls saying, "He went back to wrestle again, this is going to ruin the film!" I went, "Please, I'm not that naive." Because when we started it was like, [in Terry's soft Texas accent] "I'm going to do my last match." Then it was like, "I'm going to do my last match in the United States." Then towards the end it was like, "I'm going to do my last match in Amarillo." Terry has had more retirements than fill-in-the-blank has had facelifts.

There's a sweet quality to Terry's part of the movie. My favorite part of that is his relationship with Dennis Stamp, who is the guy who hasn't made it. As much of a noodge as Dennis can be, overbearing and ungrateful, especially with Terry, I think he exemplifies something everybody has. Everybody has this desire to belong, to be part of the group, no matter what they do.

Do the up-and-comers know what they're getting into?

They know and they can't wait. Look: The up-and-coming part is the struggle. The least savory people you meet are on the lower levels. Originally the film was going to be about following young guys. I must have seen about 150 young guys. The problem is, because they're young, their stories are not as interesting. There was one guy I was going to follow, who by the time I got my cameras and everything actually made it. He's in the picture, Matt Hyson; he's got his own kind of charisma.

He's the former third-grade teacher -- the English major. There's an odd moment when someone off camera asks him to wipe off some of his blood.

It's so bizarre. I'm squeamish around blood. But after a while you come to accept it. Matter of fact, when you talk to people, and blood is squirting from their heads, you're just having a regular conversation. But with Matt, we had to cut around it -- because I'm laughing. I was thinking to myself, "This is like a Monty Python sketch! Blood's shooting out everywhere!" And I think that's the absurdity of it that I like.

Is there any relationship between your love for wrestling and your comedy work?

I like to say I did this film so I could prove to Hollywood that I could work with white people! I gave Eddie Murphy a video and he said, "Wow, I saw it four times over the weekend. It's great." Eddie's got a real quick mimic's memory; he was blown away by the Jake stuff.

Does that mean wrestling, in your experience, is still almost exclusively white?

Well, it is mostly white, and there aren't many women either. In the ring, most women are used as sex objects. But some women do go to the matches and like wrestling. And Chyna is different, she isn't lumped together with the rest of the women wrestlers.

In her black leather hot pants, boots and halter, she has a Wonder Woman thing going.

Yeah, almost. Chyna has gone through life having to hear people say she looked like a man or she must be a lesbian, but she sees herself as a figure to empower women. In the movie I say she had her jaw restructured to enhance her femininity. She's recently got her breasts enlarged. I know she's conflicted about it, but it's a business decision, and if you're going to sell out you might as well go all the way. Her following is still predominantly male, but she feels great when little girls go up to her in a mall and say, "Wow, you're great -- you're someone to look up to, a woman who'll stand up for herself." She's Chyna: She fights the guys.

But to get back to the relationship between Eddie Murphy comedies and wrestling ...

Well, wrestlers are outsiders and Sherman Klump is an outsider in a weird way, because of his weight and his appearance. In the first "Nutty Professor" movie Eddie played all the characters but the family was only in two scenes. In -- I think it's now called, "Nutty II: The Klumps" -- there are only three scenes we shot where he wasn't at least two characters in it. Mama and Papa are having problems, marital problems; after all, Papa's getting older, so he's having performance problems and psychological problems. Granny has a fantasy love scene with Buddy Love [Sherman's slick alter ego] that we have to edit down to get a PG-13 rating. I think Eddie feels very close to these characters, all of them, and I think he gives an even better performance. What's amazing is that it never feels like "Here's a guy in makeup." I hope people respond to him in the role because Sherman is such a decent person. He has everything going for him except for his weight.

I think studios are always pushing Eddie into playing the Black Guy. The Black Guy in a White World. The Black Guy that Really Outsmarts White People. And you know what? As a white person, we're not always going to get tricked. But in the Nutty Professor films the characters are very close to him. He talks about the mother being based on his grandmother. For me, looking at Granny is just like looking at my own grandmother -- same look, kind of freaky. It's a real collaboration between Eddie, and me and David Sheffield.

As for wrestling, the worst thing for me is when they do comedy; it makes me cringe. Whenever I told people I was making a movie about wrestling, they'd say it was going to be funny. I said, "No, it's a serious film." Recently, I took my daughter to an art theater in downtown L.A. to see some documentary about inner-city kids. There were only six people there. But I remember saying with pride, "This is what it's going to be like when my movie opens. I'm going to be opening in art-house theaters. Enough of these big openings! I'm finally going to do an obscure movie!"

McMAHON'S BEST EFFORTS TO THE CONTRARY

(South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 24, 2000)

By Alex Marvez

"Beyond the Mat" is advertised as the movie "Vince McMahon doesn't want you to see" with good reason.

The documentary, which debuted at 200 theaters nationwide last weekend, doesn't portray the World Wrestling Federation owner in a negative light so much as bring a dose of reality to an industry steeped in fantasy. Some of the real-life situations involving the characters -- from Mick Foley's regrets about being whacked 11 times in the head with a chair in front of his family to Jake Roberts' crack-induced stupor -- show that what McMahon bills as "sports entertainment" sometimes is anything but.

Combined with other issues, the WWF, which has the toprated programming on UPN and USA, has pressured both networks into not running television advertisements for the movie, which was made by Barry Blaustein.

In an interview with the Orange County Register, WWF senior vice president of marketing Jim Byrne said, "For some reason, Barry Blaustein feels he has entitlement. He thinks he deserves access to our marketing machine. We screened the movie in December, and we did not find it entertaining in the least."

But Blaustein, who spent five years making the documentary, believes there's more to the dispute than money and content. Blaustein rebuked McMahon's overture to purchase a financial stake in the movie.

"It's an ego thing," said Blaustein, who received permission to film backstage WWF footage three years ago when the promotion was financially struggling. "He (McMahon) feels he has to have control of everything. ... But I didn't make the movie to get into a feud with Vince.

"Unfortunately, Vince's boycott has hurt the film tremendously. We had the biggest opening ever for a documentary that was non-musical. But when you look at the nine markets where UPN aired the ads, the grosses were much higher."

Blaustein hopes the WWF controversy doesn't overshadow the documentary itself, which was made for a paltry $500,000. A life-long wrestling fan, Blaustein, 45, was able to make ends meet during the filming because of the money he earned co-writing screenplays for Eddie Murphy vehicles "The Nutty Professor" and "Boomerang."

Beyond the Mat provides the most extensive behind-thescenes look at wrestling in industry history, ranging from how matches are scripted to the struggles of young wrestlers trying to reach the big time. Blaustein plans to include even more footage when the documentary is released on DVD.

"Vince said something very interesting when we were talking and not on camera," Blaustein said. "He said in the past that guys in the business would say, 'It's real. It's real,' when guys were getting hurt but not all that badly. Now that it's called sports entertainment and is known as 'fake,' the guys are really killing themselves out there.

"I still love wrestling, but I have to look at things in a different light. When I watch a guy get hit over the head with a chair, is that entertainment? Are fans asking too much?"

Questions and Answers

Q: Whatever happened to the Road Warriors? -- Richard Haberman, North Lauderdale, Fla.

A: After flopping in the WWF, the Roadies (Mike "Hawk" Hegstrandt and Joe "Animal" Laurinidas) have spent almost a year on the sidelines waiting for their contracts to expire. The Roadies are expected to begin accepting bookings for independent promotions this summer, but never will be able to recapture the success the team experienced in the 1980s.

PROFILE OF EXTREME CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING

(Kansas City Star, March 24, 2000)

By Ward W. Triplett III

The location of its Kansas City area debut -- the Uptown Theater -- says it all about where Extreme Championship Wrestling is on the power scale in pro wrestling right now.

It's doing better than independent promotions that set up in high schools.

It's not doing as well as big shots like the World Wrestling Federation that have claimed territory at Kemper Arena and Municipal Auditorium.

But ECW boasts big-time talent and an appeal that's small enough to make you feel like you're in on something new and dangerous. In the just-released movie "Beyond the Mat" the narrator calls ECW "the Ellis Island of pro wrestling."

What became Extreme Championship Wrestling started showing up in Eastern TV markets as part of the National Wrestling Alliance in 1983. Its main creative force was and is Paul Heyman, who had been on national shows as announcer/manager Paul E. Dangerously. Although he started out using veterans like Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, Terry Funk and Eddie Gilbert, Heyman quickly shifted to a "hard-core" approach that relied on younger wrestlers.

That meant more blood, more violence, more sex. The rules of ECW all but demand outside interference and foreign objects. It became customary for tables to be brought into rings and for huge bodies to get slammed through them. And if the tables were on fire at the time, or covered with thumbtacks ... all the better.

Slowly but surely, an audience developed. Stars were created. And the Internet love affair with wrestling gradually included this outlaw federation. By the time ECW got on national TV on TNN last fall, it had a small but fierce fan base whose Internet posts indicated they didn't want to be noticed by the mainstream.

But by then Vince McMahon of the WWF had indeed noticed. WWF matches started taking on some of the wildness of ECW fare. And ECW wrestlers, figuring if they were going to get beat up they might as well make more money for it, began to seek places in the top two feds.

Among the wrestlers now seen on Monday nights who have spent time in the ECW are Mankind, Chris Jericho, Perry Saturn, Al Snow, Taz, the Dudley Boyz, Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Sid Vicious, Bam Bam Bigelow, Stevie Richards, the Blue Meanie, Chris Benoit and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

Since McMahon stole some of ECW's thunder, the fed has struggled to keep some of its top performers under contract or healthy. The TNN contract has paid off some -- if nothing else, it has given that network its best ratings. But that's a cable rating of around .1, which is next to nothing compared to the .5's and .6's the WWF usually gets.

Then there's the uncertainty of what happens to ECW's show if or when the WWF gets out of its deal with the USA cable network and is brought under the CBS/Viacom umbrella. That merger would also put TNN under CBS/Viacom control, but there's little reason for CBS/Viacom to keep the ECW around with a prize like the WWF to promote. One possibility, which could work out great for ECW, would be for USA to pick up ECW to replace the WWF.

A WHO IS WHO IN THE ECW

(Kansas City Star, March 24, 2000)

By Ward H. Triplett III

Any kind of wrestling is more fun if you know what each person's deal is. So if you're considering going to the Extreme Championship Wrestling show tonight at the Uptown, here's a little primer:

Tommy Dreamer: One of the original ECW wrestlers, Dreamer is a hero type who is said to have two degenerative discs in his back but fights on anyway. He has feuded with almost every wrestler who has come through the company, always sticking up for the pride and honor of good old ECW. Among the odder episodes was a feud with the Sandman. After believing he had blinded the Sandman in a brawl, Dreamer dedicated his career to his old rival. A short while later, at the Sandman's retirement party, the Sandman unwrapped his "wounded" eyes and beat the stuffing out of Tommy.

Raven: After stints in both WCW and WWF (one as Scotty Flamingo, another as Johnny Polo), Scott Levy developed his self-obsessed, grungy character Raven in ECW. Among his programs was a feud with Dreamer over their former childhood playmate, the now very sexy Beulah. Raven spent some time in WCW, but returned to ECW last fall and formed a shaky team with Dreamer to win the ECW tag-team belts. Their most recent falling-out involved another woman, Beulah's old rival Francine.

Francine: The "Queen of Extreme" was introduced as a "fan" of then-ECW star Stevie Richards but became an effective manager. Her looks and less-is-best fashion sense made her a hit with male crowds (she's the one in red leaning over the ringpost in "Beyond the Mat"), but she's also earned their respect by taking hard "bumps" just like the men. She recently turned on Tommy and now wears a get-up similar to Raven's grungy attire.

Dawn Marie: Francine's new female rival hangs out with the fed's resident heels, the Impact Players. She's not a real wrestler like Francine, but inevitably the two get into rolling catfights that are quickly broken up by their respective male companions. She, too, dresses to be noticed, but unlike the ambitious Francine, Dawn Marie seems content to be a glamorous, meddlesome sidekick.

The Impact Players: Justin Credible and Lance Storm are the current ECW tag-team champions. Credible also assumed the Sandman's caning gimmick after the Sandman left for the WCW. Storm is among the better "scientific" or authentic wrestlers in the game. Their battle cry, which plays off Credible's ludicrous moniker, is "Now that's not just the coolest, that's not just the best ... that's just... incredible!"

The Sandman: A legend in ECW, James Fullington wasn't allowed to take his gimmick as a frequently drunk, cane-swinging psycho to the WCW. That group renamed him Hak and basically did nothing with him. When his contract ran out there, he returned to ECW's smaller venues and immediately crowds began singing along with his theme song, "Enter Sandman" by Metallica (though the version on the ECW CD of entrance music was a Grammy nominee this year for Motorhead).

Mike Awesome: He's the ECW champion, a role he assumed in September just as Internet reports leaked the news that Taz, the then-unbeatable ECW champion, had agreed to leave ECW at the end of 1999 for the WWF. Taz, wrestling under chants of "You sold out!," graciously handed the belt to Awesome after getting pinned in a quirky three-way match. Awesome is billed as the best athlete among wrestling's big men and, with manager Judge Jeff Jones, is generally a bad guy these days. (Ironically, when the renamed Tazz wrestles for the WWF in East Coast arenas now, an ECW chant goes up in his honor.)

Steve Corino: An average-size guy, Corino has stepped up to the role of the irritating but comic heel who leads a nefarious stable that includes a young tough named Rhino. Corino had a memorable stunt on TNN where he interrupted a sold-out Limp Bizkit concert to complain that the noise was interrupting his wrestling match in the hall next door. After he began insulting the music and the crowd for paying to hear it, a few other ECW wrestlers ran on the concert stage and beat up Corino, to the delight of thousands of Limp Bizkit fans.

Rob Van Dam: The people's champ of ECW, but he's currently limited to sideline work due to a legitimate broken leg. Van Dam's nickname, "The Whole (bleeping) Show," stems from his in-ring style based on lots of backflips, spin moves and showy suplexes -- as well as actual wrestling ability.

MICK FOLEY AT AUTO BOAT SPEED SHOW

(Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA, Mar. 26, 2000)

By Isamu Jordan

Pro wrestling fans snaked around rows of hot rods waiting for the chance to meet Mick Foley, better known to the wrestling world as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love.

The wrestling legend was shaking hands and signing autographs Saturday afternoon at the 37th annual Spokane Auto Boat Speed Show at the Interstate Fairgrounds.

The custom vehicle show features competition in several categories including hot rods, speed boats and motorcycles.

Foley recently retired after 15 years in the ring and wrote his memoir, "Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks."

Fans are divided by the three faces Foley wore in the ring. Some liked him as the deranged Mankind; others preferred him as Cactus Jack or the lady-killer, Dude Love.

Foley wrestled in a ring fenced with barbed wire, he survived more than one Death Tournament in Japan, and he's even had half his ear ripped off while freeing himself from the ropes of a hangmanlike wrestling hold, fans say.

And fans love him for it.

Buzz Barr, a 16-year-old Spokane man, idolizes Foley because the former eight-time tag team champion and three-time federation champ "has accomplished every dream he set out to accomplish," Barr said.

His friend Travis Springfield admires Foley for his barbed wire scars.

Travis' mother, Candy Springfield, said he has more scruples than other wrestling role models.

"He doesn't get down and dirty with the women like some of the other wrestlers," Candy said.

Kyle Payne, 12, is saving $50 to watch the pay per view broadcast of Foley's one-time return to the ring as Cactus Jack in the next Wrestle Mania on April 2.

Eric Smith and his 6-year-old daughter, Maide, made the trek from Coeur d'Alene.

" (Foley) is an awesome family man and the toughest in the business," said Smith, 28, who has been a Foley follower for more than 10 years.

Cheryl Gardner, 33, brought her son, Eli, and group of boys to the fairgrounds to meet the wrestling icon.

"He can take a hard lick and keep going," Gardner said. "That's something my son and I share together; that's two hours out of the week we can spend together.

"We've been through some tough times. That guy got his ear ripped off so you know he has gone through some tough times. He's still going strong and so are we."

Mari Cleveland is a sixth-grade teacher at Stevens Elementary and one of Foley's newest fans, thanks to her students.

She said the class will read Foley's book, but not until they've whited-out the foul language, she said.

An average of 40,000 people come through the Auto Boat Speed show over the weekend, according to organizers. About a third of them turned out to meet Foley.

"He's a big draw," said Nancy Wilbur, office manager and Jane-of-all-trades at the speed show.

Wilbur helps with promotions and recruiting and is also the co-owner of a 1928 Model A Ford pickup hot rod.

The show is sanctioned by the International Show Car Association, sanctions 50 shows a year across the United States and Alaska, Wilbur said.

BIG HOUSE CLEANING AT WCW

(Philadelphia Daily News, March 28, 2000)

By Michael Tearson

The wheel has spun again at the top of WCW.

Bill Busch, the company's top man since September, resigned as executive vice president on March 22, according to a statement issued by the company.

Eric Bischoff, dismissed from his position of power in October, is set to return to creative control.

Vince Russo, the head writer Busch exiled in January also will return.

The Nitro and Thunder for April 3 and 4 in Worcester, Mass., and Durham, N.H., have been canceled to give Russo time to start writing material to begin April 10.

Both Bischoff and Russo remained under contract to WCW while on the sidelines. Some observers have said Bischoff and Russo could be a disaster as a team. But early indications from an interview with Russo on 1wrestling.com are that he feels this new team could be the tonic for the ailing promotion.

Talking on the Internet radio show "WCW Live" Bischoff appears to have mellowed and might be more inclined to take a broader look at the situation.

This could even mean a phasing out of Hulk Hogan who has three or four big matches left on his WCW contract.

Former rock musician Bob Mould who had returned to the WCW booking committee earlier this year, has also resigned.

At this time, the futures of Kevin Sullivan, J.J. Dillon and Gary Juster, power brokers within WCW, looks shaky.

It appears that Bill Goldberg, now slated to return in May, was a major factor in getting Bischoff back. The Busch regime had been squarely in Goldberg's corner, but in very recent meetings, he said that he had no trouble with Bischoff's return. The changes swiftly followed.

All this upheaval comes after WCW's Uncensored pay-per-view, which had the lowest ratings in WCW history. February's SuperBrawl equaled the previous low mark. Last week's Thunder taping sold only 1,200 seats.

MANIA MADNESS: At last, WrestleMania week is here, and the card of the biggest wrestling pay-per-view of the year looks terrific.

The elimination four-way match for the WWF title at the top now includes McMahons in all four corners as Big Show with Shane, Triple H with Linda, the Rock with Vince and Mick Foley with Linda competing. A double three-way between Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho has both Kurt Angle's European and Intercontinental belts up for grabs. However, there will be two matches, one for each belt. Look for the Dog's predictions in the Daily News' Big Friday section.

The four-hour event starts at 8 p.m. with a $34.95 price tag. But this year you have another alternative. There is also a 12-hour broadcast starting at noon for $49.95, featuring plenty of backstage business, and highlights of past Manias.

COURT TV DOCUMENTARY: "Wrestling With Death" is a new Court TV production hosted by Catherine Crier.

It debuts 10 p.m. Monday. The focus is on children watching wrestling and the danger if they are unsupervised. An opening overview includes interviews with WWF CEO Linda McMahon, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer and wrestling announcer Chris Cruise.

Then the show focuses on two specific cases. One is a 24-year-old baby sitter, who left six children alone watching a wrestling PPV and came home to find an infant dead, stomped to death by a 4-year-old imitating moves.

In another case, 12-year-old Jason Whala did a jackknife power bomb (imitating Kevin Nash) on his 19-month-old cousin to become the youngest defendant to face a murder charge in Washington state.

The hour is hard-hitting.

MEMORIAL SHOW: Afa the Wild Samoan and WXW have assembled what may be the biggest independent show of the year.

The Gary Albright Memorial Show will be Wednesday, April 19 at Ag Hall on the State Fairgrounds in Allentown, with a 7 p.m. start.

For the event, Afa has rallied many wrestlers who were touched by Albright to honor their fallen friend.

Albright died of a heart attack suffered in the ring early in January at a WXW show in Nazareth, Pa. Albright was Afa's son-in-law. His greatest success had been in Japan.

Talent for the show includes ECW representatives Sabu, Bill Alphonso and Rob Van Dam (RVD will sign autographs), the WWF's Mick Foley, Rikishi, Too Cool and the Headbangers, current indie stars Gillberg, Big Dick Dudley, Axl Rotten and Nicole Bass. WXW stars include Headshrinker Samu, Dr. Death Steve Williams and Jimmy Snuka.

That afternoon the Rock will make a special photo-op appearance at the Wild Samoan Pro Wrestling Training Center, in Allentown, from noon to 3. The ticket for this includes a seat for the show that night. For information, call 610-435-1666. The show benefits Albright's widow.

MANKIND BACK FOR ONE LAST TIME

(USA Today, March 29, 2000)

By Brian Mansfield

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- From the first time he jumped off the roof of his parents' house as a teenager, Mick Foley knew he wanted nothing more than to be a professional wrestler.

He loved the drama. He loved the action. He loved imagining himself as Jimmy ''Superfly'' Snuka, leaping from atop steel cages in Madison Square Garden to the crowd's astonishment.

Despite a 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame, however, Foley was never a particularly gifted athlete, neither handsome enough nor massive enough to fit the typical star wrestler's profile. But Foley -- wrestling as Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love during a 16-year career -- knew how to take bumps, how to absorb falls and blows and make them look good. Though he has captured the World Wrestling Federation's heavyweight belt three times, his losses -- which include some of the bloodiest, most punishing matches in wrestling history -- often are more memorable than his victories.

''I think there's a quote from the second Dirty Harry movie (Magnum Force) where Clint Eastwood says, 'A man's got to know his limitations,' '' says Foley, 34. ''That's pretty much my full-time job.''

On Sunday, Foley will take part in what he expects to be his final match as an active wrestler. He'll battle Triple H, The Rock and Big Show in a Fatal Four Way title match at WrestleMania XVI in Anaheim, Calif. It'll be the first time, Foley notes with pride, that he wrestles under his own name.

Wrestling has been kind to Foley -- he has a central role in the documentary Beyond the Mat, his wrestling income hit seven figures in 1999, and he expects to match that on royalties from his autobiography, Have a Nice Day -- but it has been hell on his body.

In 1994 he tore off most of his right ear during a match in Germany. A 1995 Japanese Death Match with Terry Funk, in a ring rigged with barbed wire and C4 explosives, left him with a huge burn scar on one arm and cuts that required more than 40 stitches. He lost consciousness for about two minutes during his now legendary 1998 Hell in a Cell contest, but was revived and finished the match, despite having lost one tooth and half of another, which somehow wound up lodged in his nose after the 6-foot-10 Undertaker power-bombed him through the roof of a steel cage.

''After the Hell in a Cell match, (WWF chairman) Vince McMahon stood right there when they were stitching me up. Then he brought me into his office and said, 'I cannot tell you how impressed and thankful I am for what you just did; you've got to promise me you'll never do it again.' He then introduced me to the word 'governor,' which I guess is the apparatus on a car or bus that stops it from going too fast. So he placed a governor on me.''

That governor was Mr. Socko, a filthy sock puppet Foley's Mankind character used as both a comedy prop and a finishing move.

''I was much more successful and, going over my taxes now, obviously a lot more profitable being more of a comedy character in 1999 than I ever was being the King of Hardcore,'' Foley says. ''If I'd known I could make more money making people laugh than making people wince, I'd have done it a long time ago.''

Outside the ring, Foley is a gentle, soft-spoken man who decorates his house with Christmas collectibles, enjoys playing with dolphins and listens to country music. He loves, of course, to wrestle with his two children -- Dewey, 8, and Noelle, 6 -- though he had to teach them early on not to drop knees on Daddy.

''I stress to my kids that if they're going to wrestle each other, 'There's no throwing each other on the head,' '' Foley says. ''They've been given many lectures on human anatomy and physiology. They know what not to do to each other, and they know what hurts their dad. They know their dad is a tough S.O.B.''

That knowledge isn't always enough. TheHell in a Cell match remains a sore subject with his wife, Colette, two years later, and one of the most disturbing scenes in Beyond the Mat shows her and the kids reacting with terror to another particularly savage match.

''Unfortunately, one of our worst moments has been documented on film,'' Foley says. After that match, Foley and his wife spent a long time explaining that Daddy didn't get hurt like that every time he went to work. ''They've seen a lot of easier matches since then,'' says Colette, 39.

Foley may have cultivated a reputation as a soft-hearted family man, but his flair for combining hokey humor with unpredictable, apparently hazardous stunts give his in-ring personae a demented edge. He's cleverly played those incongruities off each other to tremendous effect.

''For me, the most endearing quality that Mick has is his intelligence,'' says Mike Samuda, a staff writer for WrestleLine and Wrestlemaniacs.com. ''The great wrestlers use their interviews to get their story line across. Foley is one of the best at that. I think his retirement speech ranks among the best in sports entertainment.''

Foley began to mention retirement in his book and discussed it with McMahon last fall. One day later, Stone Cold Steve Austin injured his neck, putting him out of action for several months. Foley agreed to delay his exit to help the WWF compensate for the loss of its biggest draw.

''If it hadn't been for him getting hurt,'' he reflects, ''I wouldn't have had this last run.''

Foley announced that he would retire if he lost to Triple H during the WWF's No Way Out pay-per-view event last month. He did lose, and he retreated quietly to his home in the Florida panhandle. After a call from McMahon inviting him to wrestle in Sunday's main event, Foley appeared on the WWF's RAW TV show March 20 to announce what's being billed as a one-night-only return to the ring.

Though that crowd reacted with deafening cheers, his return drew criticism from fans who have long considered Foley one of the most trustworthy personalities in a business that plays fast and loose with the truth. Knowing he'd risk that reputation, Foley says, he spent 20 minutes trying to convince McMahon that he shouldn't headline the WWF's highest-profile event.

''That was his biggest concern, about lying,'' Colette says.

''It may take some people a while to forgive me, but not as long as it would take me to forgive myself if I didn't do this,'' Foley says. ''Realistically, it's probably going to be more money than I've ever made. So 15 years from now, when everyone has forgiven me, my kids' college will be taken care of.''

After the success of his autobiography, which he wrote, longhand, on 760 pages of notebook paper, Foley plans to continue writing. He has begun a children's Christmas book. ''The nice thing about writing was that it was the first time in 15 years that I found something professionally that I loved besides wrestling.''

He and his wife also own a fitness gym near their house. The scar on his arm, the broken tooth and the missing ear remind Foley daily of his most famous matches. Other injuries make themselves known by general stiffness and soreness, particularly in his knees and lower back. But Foley says he knew the dangers of the job, and says promoters didn't pressure him for more. ''I have never been in a position where somebody has asked me to put my body on the line. I have always offered it.''

Most observers expect Foley to win the belt at WrestleMania. But few expected him to lose at No Way Out.

''Some people think they need to go out a winner,'' says Foley, who says he hasn't learned Sunday's intended outcome. ''I happen to think it's more romantic to go out the way I did (at No Way Out). And it's better for business. I firmly believe in doing what's best for the guys who have to stay there, whatever that may be.''

Foley swears Sunday's match will be his last as an active wrestler, the culmination of a career that began the year of the first WrestleMania. He'll remain under contract to the WWF and has offered his services as an announcer, special referee or ''troubleshooting commissioner.''

''By leaving now, I'm probably giving up on the most profitable year in my career,'' Foley says. ''But I was named after Mickey Mantle. I grew up hearing about how Mickey Mantle stuck around one season too long. I didn't want people to make the same comments about Mickey Foley.''

The WAWLI Papers # 713 ...

A FLAIR ALL HIS OWN

(Raleigh News & Observer, Jan. 27, 1991)

By Billy Warden & Jonathan Probber

To those of you who delight in pointing at the television during a wrestling show and saying confidently, "That stuff is fake," congratulations on your razor-keen powers of perception. But if by "fake" you mean that the outcome is predetermined, well, wrestling shares that certitude with life itself, doesn't it? But in wrestling, as in life, the journey matters. And no wrestler, anywhere, anytime, has dominated the peculiar blend of sport, theater and morality play as thoroughly as Ric Flair.

He is unmistakable: The Nature Boy, with filigreed silver hair and eyes the color of gunmetal. As he enters the ring and the spotlight picks him up, the baubles and floss on his extravagant robes throw light onto the faces of the fans.

Understand that there are other wrestlers who wear robes, and worse: helmets, masks, steam-spouting spiked shoulder pads, Mohawks. But they are not Ric Flair. Ric Flair is dead cool. Out of the feathered robe he leisurely steps, folds it carefully and hands it to an attendant. Never rushes. Never dithers. He brushes his opponent with his eyes, up and down, like a painter. But he paints contempt. He knows an easy mark, and he knows the joy of performing.

And when it is time, when it is exactly time, he throws back his head ecstatically, takes in the lights and the faces and the noise, and gives a great 'WOOOOOOOOOOOO!'

His particular talent is to switch from gleeful sadism to abject surrender. First, a devastating series of open-handed blows to the chest, the smacks reverberating through the arena. Then, the sudden reversal of fortune so peculiar to wrestling: Flair backing into the corner on his knees, hands prayerfully upraised, begging for mercy.

He milks every second, and he is masterful. Millions of people know this Nature Boy, seven times heavyweight champion of the National Wrestling Alliance (now called World Championship Wrestling) and owned since late 1988 by Ted Turner. They know him as a bedrock wrestler in a universe of shifting identities, loyalties, gimmicks and shtick.

He is on television, he is in magazines. But in many other respects he is the Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, an employee of a communications empire whose fate is decided by buttoned-down men in an Atlanta office building. So he sits behind curtains in arenas and worries about dwindling crowds, his place in the sport and employers who might not understand just how good he is.

There is this other Ric Flair who is on the cusp of 40 and trapped, ironically, by his 17 years of round-the-calendar, round-the-world wrestling, as well as the changing tastes of the industry's promoters and fans.

"When things go good, he gets the credit. When they go bad he gets the blame," says Dave Meltzer, wrestling columnist for the National, and publisher of the Wrestling Observer, the industry's leading newsletter.

"The promotion thought young fans couldn't relate to Flair, so there was a movement to phase Ric down."

This is apparent to any aficionado of wrestling. Fighters with years of experience, actual wrestling skill and great theatricality -- like Flair, Jerry "the King" Lawler, Arn Anderson and others -- are losing ground to monstrous, made-up, preternaturally muscle-bound cartoon characters who look awesome on TV but are zip in the ring. Flair's pride and his sense of craftsmanship have led him to disdain such gimmicks when he can.

Think a minute about what a professional wrestler's childhood might be like. Rough and tumble, right? Slum apartment, a boozy mom, a dad who disappeared. Ric Flair grew up in a well-to-do suburb of Minneapolis. His parents worshiped their only child. His father, Dick Fliehr, was a gynecologist and local theater director. Drama is in Flair's genes.

Flair owned a dog named Rinty, a playful black shepherd/lab.

He and a friend bought a busted old convertible when they were teens and turned it into a souped-up yellow hot-rod. Flair was not sharp in school, but he was popular. And big.

His mother, Kay, softens when she talks about how big and strong he was. In her eyes, he has become mythic. Dick and Kay Fliehr, both 72, are sitting on a wicker couch in the bright, spanking-clean kitchen of Ric Flair's red brick, three-story home in south Charlotte. At the other end of the kitchen sits Ric's second wife, Beth, a Floridian who was introduced to Ric by one of the Embers.

Two cute blond kids scurry about; Ashley is 4 and Reid is 2. Ashley finds her way back to her indulgent grandfather, who picks up the chat. "Listen," says Dr. Fliehr. "A lot of these wrestlers are very well educated."

"Yes, who was that one fellow, he used to sit and recite Shakespeare for us," says his wife. "Oh ... it was one of those bald-headed fellows ... ."

"Koloff."

"Yes! Ivan Koloff, a wonderful guy."

Flair does not recite Shakespeare. Flair dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his second year when his grades made him ineligible to play football. Not long after that, he fell under the sway of his friend Greg Gagne, who helped him decide to become a professional wrestler.

Greg is son of the storied wrestler and promoter Verne Gagne. But before Flair took this fateful turn, one last formality: "Dad," he said, "if this is going to cause you any embarrassment, I won't do it." Dr. Fliehr told his son, "Go ahead, do it. Just make sure you're the best."

To that end, Flair could find no better teacher than Verne Gagne. These weren't makeup and voice lessons. Flair quit training three times, but returned, exhibiting a single-mindedness familiar to his friends and mentors.

"It was clear that he had a plan," says Mike McGee, who recruited Flair for the University of Minnesota football team. "I had no doubt he would be successful. He had a lot of maturity and sense of goals."

Mr. McGee, who coached football at Duke University and is currently the athletic director of the University of Southern California, adds that Flair "had a career in whatever he chose to do." He chose wrestling.

But all the time, there are those who say wrestling is fake and that Ric Flair is a Sham King.

The accusations rattle his mother. "If it's all fake, then anybody can do it, just get in the ring and yell and scream. Then there would be nothing to it, right?" She believes pro wrestling is the most dangerous sport there is. Neither Mom nor Dad particularly like to watch their son on TV, they say, cringing. "You'll understand when you have a child."

As they speak, Dick and Kay Fliehr's boy is in his private gym, an outbuilding in back of the house next to the pool. He works out for at least 1 1/2 hours daily when home. On the road, he finds a health club. After finishing a tour of the gym, the highlight of which is a prized Stairmaster, Flair sits on a gray, padded weight bench. His 6-foot-1-inch, 244-pound body rests; his need to be champion again roils.

"They've gotta give me the deal back or else they're gonna go out of business." He realizes quickly that his Flair-sized ego is talking, and backs off, as though the boss suddenly walked by his desk. "No, no, no, I didn't mean that. They don't need anybody."

Playing catch-up The power of Ted Turner and his WCW is the power of television. Flair is on television less than he was a few years ago. His TV raps were once explosive, irresistible: "All the girls want to climb Space Mountain," he would yell, fingering the lapels of his suit. "I'm a Rolex-wearin', limousine ridin' son-of-a-gun, custom-made from head to toe," he'd say, giving a short sharp forward tilt for emphasis. "I am the man. And to be the man" -- tapping his chest -- "you've got to beat the man."

Then a toss of the silver mane and "WOOOOOOOOO!"

Now his TV talk seems restrained, even flat, and his hair has been cut. Thoughts of Samson shorn are hard to resist. Two years ago Flair found that he couldn't summon the juice he used to bring to the ring. He wallowed and wondered whether he was finished, and finally saw a sports psychologist.

"I was having a hard time getting myself up. I mean, I felt I was up but it was ... different. I saw myself as the most marketable person in the world, and there I was, all dressed up and nowhere to go."

Other wrestlers, meanwhile, migrated north to Vince McMahon Jr.'s World Wrestling Federation, the organization which in the mid-1980s turned the game from performance art for low functionals into a respectable yuppie pastime. Mr. McMahon created Hulk Hogan, the "rock-and-wrestling" connection with Cyndi Lauper, and secured from NBC wrestling's first major network television contract since the 1950s. Mr. McMahon's marketing savvy swamped the industry and forced other wrestling promotions, including Flair's NWA, to play marketing catch-up.

Thus, Flair has been the star player on wrestling's second string. Three years ago he passed up an opportunity to jump to the WWF out of loyalty to the NWA's previous owners. When the opportunity rolled around again, the NWA had changed hands and Flair signed a WCW contract with Mr. Turner, estimated by wrestling insiders at just shy of $1 million a year. By comparison, the WWF's just-deposed champion, the Ultimate Warrior, pulls down a reported $3 million a year.

Flair, like many fans, wonders what he missed. A showdown with Hogan would have been inevitable, a legitimate mega-event.

"It would have been three weeks of television, me and him, hollering at each other. We could have sold out the L.A. Coliseum," he muses. But Flair stayed with Mr. Turner, and in July lost the WCW championship belt to Sting.

Sting with his short spiked hair, face paint and blond bodybuilder's physique is wrestling's Latest Blond Thing. A wrestler of some five years experience, he is distinguished as much by his television appeal as by his ring savvy. He makes no secret of his career goals: some wrestling, followed by a tenure as an action/adventure muscleman, a la Schwarzenegger.

His foot is in the door; in February he makes his acting debut in an episode of "Super Force," which will be aired locally on WTVD. Such exposure fits with WCW's plans; the promotion needs a crossover smash like Hulk Hogan, someone whose appeal extends beyond the squared circle. Sting says that unlike Flair, he won't be in the ring when his 40th birthday rolls around.

Drawing a crowd Flair and Sting fight for the belt at the Greensboro Coliseum on a recent winter night. They've been taking this show all over the Southeast, and Sting always wins, sometimes just barely. Greensboro holds particular meaning for Flair. It's the arena where he won his second NWA championship, from Harley Race. And it is the arena he filled with regularity.

His matches and opponents are the stuff of wrestling legend: Greg Valentine, Dick "Captain Redneck" Murdoch, Roddy Piper, The Brisco brothers, the Funks, the Koloffs

Tonight, the promoter says they pulled a crowd of 2,500. The promoter is an optimist. Chris Broner is 17 and sports an athletic jacket emblazoned with MA (for Mount Airy High School) in big fuzzy white letters. Nine gold and silver medals dangle from the blue jacket, wrestling medals worn for all to see, worn like a championship belt. He is the prototypical late-period Ric Flair fan.

There are many reasons for this kid's awe: 1. Confidence oozes out of Ric Flair. He would never pause even for a micro-second to worry about exams or complexion problems or curfews. 2. No one cows Ric Flair; he talks trash to one and all. 3. The blond locks and cocky strut drive women mad. 4. Flair raises cain on a regular basis with the Four Horsemen, a group of wrestling bad guys who have formed a near-legendary mutual defense association of the sort any high-school hellcat would yearn for.

"Yeah, Flair is bad. I like that. He was born bad." Is he as bad as he used to be? Some of the glow leaves Chris Broner's pink face. Before the boy can answer, an older man with greased back hair and a thin, fragile frame pushes forward. "Flair has lost his touch," insists James Buchanan, 51.

"His tricks, his ring action -- the touch just isn't there anymore. Before he used to come out and there'd be such energy. Now it's like he's lost interest." Chris Broner nods and fingers his medals before adding, "Yeah, he's lost a little bit. I used to see him wrestle Harley Race -- boy, he had it then."

Meanwhile, Ric Flair, wearing a soft, subdued purple sweater and a glittering Rolex, lowers himself into a brown folding chair behind the sprawling black curtain that separates the wrestlers' dressing rooms from the crowd. He asks a short Hispanic man to bring him coffee, then worries that the man might have to pay for it with his own money.

Flair does not need coffee. He is talkative, direct and incredibly focused. Nasally girls' voices from beyond the curtain call "Ric Flair sucks!" over and over again.

But he does not hear them. Focus is what Flair does best. Years ago he focused on wrestling and went on to dominate the sport for nearly two decades.

"Five years ago, when I started out, the only name I knew was Ric Flair. I knew he was the best," says Sting, who is about 31. "I remember wrestling him in Greensboro in '88, and being completely psyched up about being in the ring with him." Athletes from other sports admire him, too.

"Ric Flair has been the quintessential wrestler over the past decade," Brad Muster, a fullback for the Chicago Bears says. "They have to perform every day. He has a lot of athletic ability. People think they're just actors and performers, but it takes a great athlete to put in the years and take the bumps."

Flair says he'll take the punishment for another five years or so, even though some fans wish he would retire sooner, to save his reputation. If the Weekly World News is to be believed, Flair has a future as a member of President Bush's Cabinet. The News, one of the more creative tabloids, reported recently that Flair has become one of the President's "closest pals and political advisers."

The paper goes on to quote a "Washington insider" who said "Mr. Bush has consulted Ric Flair at virtually every stage of the Middle East troop deployment."

Flair and his wife assure one and all that a framed color photograph of the couple with Mr. Bush, taken at a fund-raiser for Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R.-N.C. is the extent of their White House involvement. When retirement does come, Flair has more prosaic plans: He may open a car dealership. But wrestling is still foremost in his mind.

"I like this business so much, I like the guys so much. I know it could be great again tomorrow," he says. "It's very difficult to wake up the best wrestler and know that there are some people out there who don't understand that." He flashes a grin as he gets up from his chair and offers a gentle handshake before he disappears into the dressing room.

As unpredictable as life Sloppy hotdogs wrapped in foil, hungry mouths, popcorn spilling on the messy concrete floor, and then, a spotlight. It strikes the back of the arena where Ric Flair stands, hands on hips, resplendent in a pink robe that looks stitched together from the red-hot dreams of a dozen Vegas showgirls. A leather-jacketed fan in a ringside seat frantically waves a sign in the air. "Nature Boy" it says in silver sparkling letters surrounded by matted white fringe.

Into the ring strides the Nature Boy. Then Sting, the champion, in lurid green tights with his trademark scorpion running up a well-muscled thigh. Hip toss, body slam, headlock, illegal use of the ropes! Now THIS is a fight. Flair the punisher, Flair the chicken, Flair the audience provocateur ... "WOOOOOOOOOOO!"

And then he is being beaten, beaten, beaten ... beaten bloody. The first time he bled in a wrestling match 17 years ago he rolled out of the ring, hurried back to the dressing room, looked in the mirror and "loved it." But it must be old hat now. Shoulders, two shoulders, Flair's shoulders flat on the mat. The ref counts: "One!" The crowd ... "Two!" ... counts along. "Three." A fist is raised in victory, Sting's fist.

The new guy, still the champ. Flair -- bloody, beaten, Vegas robe, matted fringe, the best. Beaten. When the the match is over, yellow ceiling lights flood the arena again. Two women gather their purses and prepare to leave.

Vicky Roberts, 40, a waitress, loves Ric Flair. Pam Johnson, 29, a pantyhose salesman, loves Sting. But, Ms. Johnson admits, "Flair is the man people pay to see."

"Flair IS wrestling," says Ms. Roberts. "When Flair quits, that's the end of wrestling."

Ten days later, Ric Flair won the world heavyweight championship for the seventh time, pinning Sting at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. He's back on top, but there is no way of knowing how long he will stay there. The same can be said of anyone. Wrestling, after all, shares that uncertainty with life itself.

YOUNG FANS EMBRACE U.S. PRO WRESTLERS

(Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1999)

By Laurie Goering

LIMA, Peru -- Hulking Richard Hogan, in his dyed blonde beard, buckskin fringe jacket and trademark black head scarf, knows just two phrases in Spanish: "Pollo, por favor"--"Chicken, please"-- and "Yo quiero Peru"--"I love Peru."

He hasn't needed much more. In his line of work, it's body language that counts and that's coming through loud and floor-shakingly clear.

"I like giving kids a few brief moments of peace and happiness," says the brawny wrestler and stuntman--who is not related, professionally or otherwise, to Hollywood's Hulk Hogan--as pre-pubescent fans squint through the dark windows of his Lima hotel, pointing and waving trading cards. "We've had an excellent reception. The people of Peru are fantastic."

Peru might seem an unlikely spot for an invasion of the bulging likes of Hogan, Cyborg, Venom and Marshall Law, but this Andean nation has become the first in South America to find itself in the crushing embrace of American live pro wrestling.

The reception has been wildly enthusiastic.

When the latest crew of wrestlers arrived at this desert capital's 14,000-seat Amauta Coliseum last week, screaming teenage fans nearly turned over the bus.

"I really thought it was going to flounder," said Alex Emery, a British media adviser who helped organize four nights of shows at the coliseum. Instead, eager fans slapped down $23 apiece for tickets, nearly filling the stadium the last two nights.

A second group of wrestlers, meanwhile, drew 11,500 fans on a three-day tour last week of the inland Peruvian cities of Arequipa and Huancayo, their organizer said.

Collectively, the shows grossed well over $1 million, an impressive take in a recession-wracked country where nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

With the growing U.S. cable television invasion of Latin America, a healthy percentage of people are intimately acquainted with U.S. professional wrestling. In Peru, World Champion Wrestling's "WCW Nitro" program airs Saturday nights, and children proudly brandish everything from action figures to trading cards of their favorite stars.

Mexico has become such a hotbed of professional wrestling in recent years that the Mexican wrestling leagues have lent top performers to U.S. leagues trying to woo Hispanic fans. Argentina and Bolivia are experimenting with forming their own leagues.

Peru, however, is the first South American nation to import U.S. professional wrestling whole, right down to the wild makeup, dry-ice fog, flashing lights and blaring rock music.

At a show last Saturday in Lima, screaming fans in the front row gang-hugged their sweating 250-pound heroes, cheered headlocks and grimaced at bone-crunching takedowns by the likes of pink bikini-clad Montana and black-faced Dante.

For most Peruvians, the good-versus-evil story line of professional wrestling is familiar from Latin America's own homegrown novellas, or soap operas.

Wrestling, "is like watching a novella, with the good guy and the guy who betrays him and all that, combined with a lot of athletic talent," said Jorge Cazana, a Miami-based Peruvian organizer who brought the first live show to his country in May.

"Most people understand it's not real," he said.

Sometimes the violence gets a little more real than organizers would like. After being dumped out of the ring onto his head during a final free-for-all Friday night, U.S. wrestler Alex Lovett, 28, went into convulsions at a Lima restaurant Saturday and died on the way to the hospital.

His cause of death was listed simply as cardiac arrest, though medical examiners were investigating contributing factors. Lovett, who played Dante in the ring, had been on his third tour of Peru.

For the growing legions of lesser-known U.S. professional wrestlers, working overseas can be appealing. Richard Hogan, a stuntman and look-alike for better-known Hulk Hogan, in reality has no blood ties to the television hero.

In Peru, however, Richard Hogan, in his trademark silver earring, gold chains and dark glasses, has his own enthusiastic following. As he and other bleached-blonde wrestlers lounged in the lobby of Lima's Bruce Hotel recently, kids pressed their noses against the dark glass, peering in at their heroes and gesturing excitedly.

"They's so cool," said Daniel Hijer, 12, fanning out a collection of wrestler trading cards. "The show was great."

"It makes me feel good hearing people yell, `Richard! Richard!' " Hogan said.

"The characters we first brought in May, including Richard, have become household names," Cazana said. "They're getting the attention they'd like to get in the United States. Here they're heroes from the moment they arrive at the airport."

Pro wrestling, while clearly on the rise, has yet to begin to challenge soccer in popularity.

So far, Peru's wrestling heroes are all from the United States, though a handful--like Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales-- have Latin roots.

That's likely to change in time, as professional wrestling body slams its way through Latin America.

"It'll move on to all the other countries," predicted Hogan. "Wrestling is wrestling in any country in the world."

A MIDDLE FINGER TO THE CUSTOMERS

(National Post, August 12, 1999)

By David Menzies

As he struts to the ring amid the multi-coloured spotlights, the rising dry ice mist and the ear-shattering rock music, "Hot Stuff" Scott D'Amore is certainly no ambassador for his home town of Las Vegas.

D'Amore steadfastly refuses to high-five any of the dozens of outstretched hands from wrestling fans who desperately crave even the smallest amount of acknowledgement.

Rather, D'Amore chooses to prominently display a skyward-bound middle finger to those paying customers unfortunate enough to make eye contact with the rotund rogue.

It's hard not to notice D'Amore. Decked out in neon green Spandex togs, "Hot Stuff" tips the scales at 271 pounds, and therefore is someone who shouldn't be wearing Spandex in the first place. Still, he is arrogance personified.

There are about 1,000 spectators seated within Toronto's Medieval Times arena on this rain-soaked August evening -- and they're loving every minute. If anything, certainly the venue is appropriately named, given the verbal jousting that's taking place within an atmosphere that is rife with the scent of beer, body odour and teenage testosterone.

This small congregation of wrestling diehards has gathered to take in an independently produced card called Slamtastic Summer Spectacular, staged by the Toronto-based Canadian Wrestling Allegiance (which, by the end of the night, announces that it is officially changing its name to the World Wrestling Alliance).

The mostly male, mostly blue-collar fans in attendance greet D'Amore with a never-ending stream of boos, catcalls and profanity, the volume of which increases every time D'Amore opens his mouth.

"Turn that shit down," barks D'Amore into the ring announcer's microphone, referring to his own theme music. D'Amore then projects his seething glare toward the cheap seats.

"You degenerates have sat through enough crap -- it's now time for you to see the very best," says D'Amore, referring, of course, to himself.

Alas, his salutation is greeted by an airborne plastic beer cup that just misses his gleaming bald head. "Nice throw, homo -- you missed me by six feet," D'Amore yells to the increasingly hostile crowd.

This is not a bad thing, mind you. Indeed, hostility is exactly the emotion D'Amore is hoping to generate.

As the WWA's top-ranked heel, being on the receiving end of catcalls and projectiles can only be considered a career-enhancing move.

D'Amore turns his attention to his opponent, Tatanka, a former World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Champion. Like every other aboriginal grappler in the history of professional wrestling, Tatanka likes to wear a full Indian headdress and face paint.

Alas, D'Amore doesn't much care for such expressions of native heritage. He offers his derogatory assessment to the fans and then points at the ring announcer, "Stonecold" Mike.

"It's time for an ass-kicking, so tell Tatanka to put down that bottle of Aqua Velva he's drinking and get in the ring so I can kick his ass!"

The baby face Tatanka, to the joyous approval of the crowd, promptly kicks D'Amore's ass -- several times, in fact.

Welcome to the world of independent professional wrestling. Striving to stay afloat in a market swamped by U.S.-based big-league product in the form of the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, an independent grappling card makes for a tough sell.

It's not that the talent is poor or the venue is shoddy. Quite the opposite. Rather, it all boils down to getting the word out that the WWA is in town. This is no mean feat given that the federation -- bereft of sponsors and a TV contract -- operates on a shoestring budget.

Indeed, on this night, more than 2,000 seats remain unsold for the Slamtastic Summer Spectacular, and the promoters admit that once expenses are taken care of and the wrestlers are paid, they'll be lucky if they break even.

Still, an observer must give the WWA full marks for trying. If anything, this independent circuit is doing its best to provide fans with the WWF and WCW experience -- albeit on a somewhat scaled-down basis.

In addition to the de rigueur headlocks and elbow smashes, a WWA show also serves up the glitzy extras. Thus, the three-hour card features flashy pyrotechnics, booming rock music, a frenetic light show, and, of course, T&A. (The WWA employs a troupe known as The FANtastic Girls -- eight scantily clad young ladies whose figures are one part Ma Nature, two parts Dow Chemical.) Judging by the noise, the fans certainly like what they're seeing.

Dominic Porto, who makes it known that he prefers to be called "Dom the Bomb Porno," is sans shirt, yet decked out in a white Arab headdress. By the time intermission hits, Porto has been rendered almost hoarse from his non-stop trash talking.

"These guys can really perform," says Porto, 21. "The wrestling is excellent, the seats are great . . . that's why I'm here tonight dressed like an idiot."

This is the third time Porto has attended a WWA card. Is a WWA extravaganza worth $23?

"Well, tonight, definitely, and the first time, yes, but not the last time."

Bad card?

"No, I got ejected by security. Some mother in the row in front of me didn't like my language and she complained to somebody."

Still, WWA CEO Brian Gill can certainly use more fans like "Dom the Bomb Porno." Marketing what amounts to minor-league pro wrestling is indeed a tough sell in a marketplace where the WWF and WCW can be found on the airwaves 15 hours per week.

Gill says the key to selling the WWA is offering pro wrestling at a reasonable price (tickets are just $23 and $17.25) in a venue where there is no such thing as a bad seat. The talent, he maintains, is top notch -- in fact, Gill says he wouldn't be surprised if he ends up losing some of his young, rising stars such as D'Amore and Larry Destiny.

The missing piece of the puzzle, says Gill, is TV exposure. The future of the WWA might very well depend on the federation getting a TV deal (at present, the WWA is negotiating with Toronto's Citytv to get some of its in-house-produced matches on the air.)

Television coverage of the circuit is crucial, says Gill, as "the wrestling fans will know that we're out there" and -- just as importantly -- TV exposure will serve as a springboard for the WWA to develop soap opera-style storylines.

For now, Gill says his "ace in the hole" is WWA president Jay Bowles, a.k.a. Ricky "Soulman" Johnson, a.k.a., "The People's Uncle" (so named because his nephew is WWF superstar Rocky "The People's Champion" Maivia).

"We have great talent, we have the venues -- it's just a matter of spreading the word," says Bowles.

The evening ends with a $25,000 Toronto Street Fight (no time limit, no disqualifications, weapons are allowed, and "pin falls count anywhere within the City of Toronto"). The combatants are "Too Cold" Scorpio and Sabu "Master of the Arabian Facebuster."

Luckily for Gill and Bowles, the promoters won't have to dig into the evening's take in order to pay out the $25,000 award. The referee ruled that each combatant wrestler pinned the other at the same time, so the match ended in a tie.

Sabu and Scorpio weren't happy with the call, but at least Gill and Bowles will have enough dough left over to ensure "Fall Brawl for it All" will be staged next month.

"It's gonna be our best card yet," says Bowles, in full promoter mode. "Tell the people out there to get their tickets early."

WHO ARE THE WRESTLERS IN THE WWA?

(National Post, August 12, 1999)

Who are the wrestlers that make up the WWA's stable of stars?

They fall into one of two categories: Up and comers, such as Larry Destiny and The Bruzer, are hopeful of one day breaking into the WWF or the WCW. Then there are the former superstars, such as Tatanka and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. They once revelled in the limelight of national TV.

The Bruzer, whose real name is Fred Leeks, has been wrestling for the last six years for an average paycheque of $100 per match (although he points out that he received precisely zero for his first 40 matches).

While Leeks remains ever hopeful of getting noticed by one of the major federations, he realizes that at 34, time is not on his side -- and the ultimate school of hard knocks is taking a toll on his body.

Given that he's now notched some 400 matches, what is it going to take to get noticed by the "big leagues"?

"I don't know . . . sometimes I really think it all comes down to who you know in this business," says Leeks. "It's also a bit of a numbers game -- the WWF gets maybe 500 tapes a day [from aspiring wrestlers] and I'm sure most of those tapes aren't even looked at."

Alas, Leeks says if he can't manage to sign on with a big name federation by the end of the year, he'll likely retire.

"I'm planning on getting into truck driving," he says.

On the other end of the scale are the likes of Snuka.

He spent the better part of a decade with the WWF, is still in excellent shape and can adroitly perform his trademark "superfly" (jumping from the top rope onto his hapless opponent). So why isn't he still in the big leagues?

"Well, you know how it is, brother. Vince [McMahon, WWF owner] likes to change things around, you know," says Snuka.

The Fiji Islands native says he continues to make a good living performing on independent cards across North America.

Even so, he once basked in the glory of international pay-per-view wrestling extravaganzas and his likeness once graced everything from posters to action figures sold the world over. Does the Superfly miss the WWF?

"Well . . . yes, I do, brother," says Snuka. "If they [WWF] wanted to give me a contract and the money is right, I'd go back, brother."

CARTOON HEROES IN THE COW PALACE

(San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, Aug. 23, 1999)

By James Sullivan

Ernest "The Cat'' Miller swiped the microphone from the ring announcer. The audience jeered. "You stupid people,'' roared the Cat, the first contestant of Friday's World Championship Wrestling card at the Cow Palace. "You should be glad to see me here. You wouldn't be doing a damn thing tonight.'' One 12-year-old cut his heckling short. "That's true,'' he mumbled.

What's a wrestling fan in the Bay Area to do?

Fans in Atlanta or Dallas get regular visits from their cartoonish heroes -- Sting, with his goalie-mask makeup; Goldberg, with his shaved pate and stack-of-bricks shoulders; Hollywood "Don't call me Hulk'' Hogan, with his famously tanned Venice Beach hide.

For Bay Areans, on the other hand, it's a rare occasion when these freaks of nature bring their human circus to town. The Cow Palace was half-full on Friday, but the audience was totally involved, stomping and bellowing and hanging on every twisted arm or plot.

With its "Monday Nitro'' events on Ted Turner's TNT network enjoying pumped-up ratings, the upstart WCW is stealing thunder from Vince McMahon's older World Wrestling Federation. Hogan was lured away from the WWF with $5 million a year; Sting, Goldberg and Buff Bagwell, some of the newer league's signature stars, were all on hand Friday.

Of course, what would wrestling be without its bad guys? There were plenty of them, too, at the Cow Palace. The love-handled pretty boy David Flair cowered his way through a match with Bagwell, who had one hand tied behind his back.

In one of the night's least subtle story lines, the West Texas Rednecks tag team trio took the ring to the yodeling lyric "I hate rap!'' Their opponents: the pint-size Latino trio Konnan, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, none of whom would draw a second glance on a city street.

That bout was comic genius. Diversity prevailed as the blond behemoths were bewildered into submission by the Latinos' agility and lightning speed -- leg whips, flying scissors, top-rope pig piles.

Fans are well aware that the wrestling is scripted. They just want it to look real. "Hey, he threw himself out of the ring!'' complained one boy after a particularly clumsy maneuver. "I saw!''

In a match made in rock 'n' roll heaven, the wildly popular superstar Sting fought Sid Vicious, a scowling titan in blond curls, big boots and tiny tight shorts. "Sting Me Anytime!'' read one young woman's sign. "Sid Is Gay!'' read three fans' cardboard triptych a few rows further back. PC, wrestling is not.

When Vicious informed the announcer that he wouldn't wrestle if the fans chanted Sting's name, the locals dutifully drummed up the cheer. "We're better off if he leaves,'' Sting barked. "We're all allergic to jackasses!''

Their awkward choreography was no match for Goldberg, who blazed through his round with the burly patsy Rick Steiner. The fan favorite charged like a bull and showed off some real athletic prowess, pile driving his opponent from chest level and jerking him overhead like a barbell.

The main event was a bit of a letdown. Earlier, the vacationing Bret "Hitman'' Hart had made an unscheduled appearance, taking the ring in his construction-worker civ vies -- jeans, T-shirt, work boots, baseball cap -- to announce that he was seeking a title bout with current WCW champion Hogan.

He had some unfinished business, he said, "so I decided to get on a plane and bring my wrestling gear.'' After noting the Cow Palace's long history of hosting wrestling in its early days, Hart asked for the crowd's blessing: "If you let me know, I'm ready to go!''

But despite some of Hart's well- placed head butts -- to Hogan's abdomen and spine -- the match was anticlimactic. It ended without a decision, as the night's other stars came hurtling down the runway, diving under the ropes into the fracas.

After a few minutes of good-versus-evil pandemonium, the franchise -- Hogan, Hart, Sting and Goldberg -- remained in the ring, closing the wagons as Vicious and the other bad guys retreated. Even the mayhem was predictable: The champ kept his title, the challenger kept his dignity, the villains wreaked some havoc but not too much.

"I'd think twice before I buy tickets again,'' said one beery guy in the parking lot. "I'd rather be home watching on pay-per-view.''

TERRY FUNK TOUTS 'BEYOND THE MAT'

(Amarillo Globe-News, Friday, Feb. 25, 2000)

By Chip Chandler

A wrestling documentary featuring local legend Terry Funk will premiere in Amarillo on March 15.

"Beyond the Mat" will show at 7 p.m. March 15 at the United Artists Amarillo Star theater at Intestate 40 and Soncy Road, said Pat Cathcart, executive direc-tor of development for the West Texas A&M University Foundation.

Tickets are $35 for the movie and an autographed poster and $100 for admission to a post-movie dinner and cocktail party at the ranch home of Bill and Helen Piehl north of Bushland, Cathcart said. Proceeds will benefit a WT football scholarship established in the Funk family name.

The movie is a "thought-provoking" look at the sport, Funk said.

"It gives a good slice of life, and it's not all pretty," Funk said.

Director and writer Barry Blaustein approached Funk about four years ago after a Las Vegas match, the wrestler said.

"He has a love for the sport, and this (the documentary) is kind of what it's about - why he does have this love," Funk said. "He questions himself.

"It gives a very broad look at the profession that you don't see on film. It's a backside look -- from the dressing room, the guys and their families and just the guys themselves."

The film premiered in New York and Los Angeles late last year in hopes of securing an Academy Award nomination. It did not, but Blaustein - who has written such features as "The Nutty Professor" and "Boomerang" --was nominated for a Directors Guild of America award.

"Beyond the Mat" opens in Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., on March 3.

The movie opens nationwide March 17, said a spokeswoman for the film's distributor, Lions Gate Films.

This isn't Funk's first foray into films. Funk acted in two Sylvester Stallone films -- "Paradise Alley" and "Over the Top" - and in "Road House."

THE MONEY LURES FUNK BACK TO RING

(Amarillo Globe-News, February 29, 2000)

By Michael Hughes

Terry Funk strode down the entrance ramp into a massive arena with penetrating strobe lights, loud music echoing off the walls and thousands of rowdy fans displaying their loyalty to their heroes with homemade signs.

The Texas Panhandle (if not international) legend was totally oblivious to all this, though. His attention was focused solely on the man who has been his nemesis, his Achille's heel, a thorn in his side for decades. The man who is King Kong to his Godzilla, Joe Frazier to his Muhammad Ali, heck, even Bill Clinton to his Kenneth Starr.

Nothing fires up Funk like Ric Flair - "The Nature Boy."

Here they were, at it again for the umpteenth time on a recent episode of "Monday Nitro."

The bleach-blond Flair stood squarely in the ring, microphone in hand. Funk was only to eager to confront "The Nature Boy" from the ramp entrance, also with mike in hand.

As far as professional wrestling goes, which is pretty far these days, this is dynamite stuff. Flair versus Funk.

Funk began the verbal spat, describing Flair's physical characteristics as "horse-toothed" and "banana-nosed."

Flair, who obviously knows which of Funk's buttons to push, had the audacity to call Funk's home in Canyon, the famous if not infamous "Double Cross Ranch," a "chicken ranch."

That was all it took.

In classic fashion, Funk erupted, and the two longtime enemies were renewing their acquaintance.

This is the world Funk finds himself in yet again.

The world of professional wrestling, where the fifty-something Funk is taking garbage cans to the head, being thrown through tables and doing back-flips from the top rope onto muscle-bound cretins half his age.

Why get back into the business now? While most men his age are relegating their exercise to a golf course, Funk is whacking people in the ribs with his trademark branding iron.

Funk answers this question rather simply: "Money -- what else? I can remember making $25 a night. I just couldn't turn this offer down. I would've like to of, but I couldn't. It was quite an offer."

Ted Turner's boys who run World Championship Wrestling wanted a marquee name to improve their standings in their volatile ratings battle with Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation.

They called Funk on New Year's Eve and showed him the money.

Funk, who was actually introduced as WCW "commissioner" to "clean up" a rebellious faction of wrestlers trying to overtake the company, signed a six-month contract.

Only a couple of days after the call, Funk was back in the ring.

"It really is fun being back," said Funk, who was recently nursing a possible broken foot after being slammed through a table.

What about Flair? What about the "chicken ranch" remark, a remark that should have offended the entire Panhandle?

`The thing about Ric is he is quite a charismatic character," Funk said with a laugh. "He is thinking about running for governor in Carolina, and he might win. Half the people there are related to him. I'm not talking about his brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles. I'm talking about his illegitimate kids."

Touche, Nature Boy.

Funk, who admits there is a little animosity between the young guns of pro wrestling and the older veterans, isn't worried. He has wrestled with a broken back and a concussion. A little competition isn't going to bother him.

The WCW recently played up this angle in its script, having Funk bring back a group of retired wrestlers to teach a lesson to the young bucks.

One of these wrestlers was Tito Santana, known away from the ring as Merced Solis, a former West Texas State football player along with Funk.

"That was really nostalgic for all of us," said Funk.

Rather than lay around his "chicken ranch," Funk is as busy as ever.

His career is still chugging along (he returned last week from a trip to Germany.)

A documentary on pro wrestling from the maker of "Coming to America" and "Beverly Hills Cop" is due out in March. The documentary, titled "Beyond the Mat," has received rave reviews in such publications as the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.

Funk is among three wrestlers featured in the revealing look at what pro wrestling really is, along with Mick Foley (Mankind, Cactus Jack) and Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

"It is really a good look at what wrestling is. A different look," said Funk, who is planning to attend premieres in Chicago and New York. "You really see who the people are. Some are rough to look at as far as the lives they live. This is really an intelligent look at something never been seen before."

For now, Funk is content to beat up on Flair, literally a battle for the ages that wrestling fans are only too happy to watch.

He has no immediate plans to run for political office (Randall County politics may be a little too violent for him right now) or write a book, a la Foley, whose biography is a New York Times' best-seller.

Funk tells the story of how McMahon, the WWF head honcho, called up a few years back trying to talk Funk into a campaign for governor.

"I called up (WT president) Russell Long and asked him what he thought of it. He said they'd bring up every piece of dirty laundry they can," Funk said. "That is not for me, not yet. I don't want to write a book either. I don't want to think that much about myself."

Some might consider Funk crazy. Like maybe one too many garbage cans to the head has clouded his judgment.

Not really. Even in his fifties, he is as able to do something he loves and is actually very good at. We should all be so lucky.

"I've hit a lot of home runs in the world of wrestling," Funk said. "But for some reason I also get around to second base and kind of meander out to center field and forget about third and home.

"I don't mind that though. I've been somewhat of an individualist in my profession. I've lived the life I've wanted to live."

TERRI RUNNELS: MAT'S 1ST LADY OF GLAMOUR

(Dallas Morning News, March 3, 2000)

By Cody Monk

Terri Runnels didn't mean to get involved in the wrestling business. She was simply trying to make a living.

Now known as just Terri in the WWF, Runnels has done quite a bit more than make ends meet. She has made an impact.

Working as a makeup artist on CNN's "Larry King Live" show in the mid-'80s, Runnels, then Terri Boatright, would occasionally cross paths with producers and wrestlers who worked for Ted Turner's wrestling organization. The conversations were rarely more than idle chit-chat until one day wrestling legend Ole Anderson suggested Runnels take her glamorous look for backstage to the main stage.

"I would see Ole around a lot," said Runnels, who grew up in Live Oak, Fla., but moved to Atlanta when she was 17. "But we never really talked about me getting involved (in the ring) until 1989. He suggested that we do something, so I started thinking."

It was then that Runnels created the WCW character "Alexandra York," wrestling's first true "glamour girl." She didn't get involved in the ring. Instead, she accompanied wrestlers to the ring as a manager, knowing she was at ringside to be seen rather than make an in-ring impact.

While playing Alexandra York, Runnels met Austin native Dustin Runnels, the son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes. Terri fell for Dustin's Texas draw and a presence she called "charming." The two began dating, were married in 1993 and had a daughter, Dakota, on Feb. 14, 1994.

After Dakota's birth, Terri decided the time was right to settle down and, for the next 18 months, stayed home "being mommy and changing diapers all day."

While Terri was at home, Dustin was making his way up the wrestling ladder. He signed with the WWF and was preparing for a major character change. The new character, Goldust, would transform Dustin into a mysterious film star from Hollywood who would be clad in all gold. It was an idea that got Terri thinking once again.

"One day (after Dustin had decided to go with Goldust), I saw a Barbie doll and immediately thought 'glamour.' That is what the WWF lacks. It doesn't have any glamour.'" Terri said. "At the time, they had women, but they didn't have anyone glamorous. They had Sunny, but nothing really glamorous. We thought what a perfect sidekick a glamorous character named Marlena would be for Goldust. I asked Dustin if he would call (WWF owner) Vince (McMahon) for me. Pat Patterson called me back and gave me the old 'we'll call you' line. I didn't think much of it until a month later he did call back and told us to get on a plane."

Marlena debuted at the 1996 Royal Rumble, and Terri's WWF career was launched. Although she and Dustin, now back in WCW, have divorced, Terri is still very much a part of WWF storylines. Until recently, she managed The Hardy Boys, a job that put her in harm's way at a recent taping.

The Hardys were taking on The Dudleys, whose hardcore reputation comes from their penchant for putting people through tables. That night it was Runnels' turn to go through the table. With the Hardys being "detained" by D-Von Dudley, she went to the top rope with Buh Buh Ray Dudley, who then powerbombed her through the table in the ring.

"I wanted to do (the move)," Runnels said. "I was really excited about doing it when they brought it up to me. I had no reservation at all with the move. I trusted Buh Buh. He's a sweetie. Actually, I probably should have taken more of that bump than I did. I was stiff the next day, but I know he was too. Probably even more than me. I've done bumps in the ring like that before, but never to that degree."

After the table incident, Runnels, 33, took several weeks off before returning at Sunday's "No Way Out" pay-per-view. While she was away from the ring, she spent time catching up on business, playing with her daughter and devoting time to her romantic interests.

"When I'm home, my days are pretty normal," said Runnels, the only female WWF performer who has children. "I get up at 6:45 a.m. and fix Dakota breakfast and get her ready for school (she's in kindergarten). I take her to school and then between nine and 10 I keep going and take care of business and run errands. I try to hop on the Stairmaster or hit the tanning bed. Then I pick Dakota up from school and try to devote the rest of the day to her. I love to have everything done in the evening and sit back with a glass of wine with the guy I'm seeing."

Seems like that's the way life should be for wrestling's first lady of glamour.

PRECIOUS PAUL TRADES WWF FOR IDITAROD

(Anchorage Daily News, March 5, 2000)

By Lew Freedman

Precious Paul competes in a different wardrobe these days.

He's gone from loincloth to lycra. From scanty pants to snowpants. From bare chest to bearskins.

Oh, yeah, he's also gone from the World Wrestling Federation to the Iditarod.

The musher who dashed out of Anchorage wearing bib No. 79 Saturday is called Paul Ellering in real life, and he really has switched from the World Wrestling Federation to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He's parked his half-nelson and pulled on a parka. He's stopped talking about Hulk Hogan and started talking about Rick "Hulk" Swenson.

This is an Idita-first. A professional wrestler tackles the 1,100-mile mush to Nome. Talk about your midlife career changes.

"I've always been a person who challenged myself," said Ellering, 46, of Grey Eagle, Minn. "I think everybody needs something to make you want to jump out of bed. Everybody needs a passion."

After the better part of a quarter-century in professional wrestling, Ellering is lucky he can do any more than roll out of bed and thump to the floor. He may have been a world-record weight lifter, as he claims. He may be a fitness maven too. But, hey, if you are abused by sleeper holds often enough, it's inevitable that eventually your back and knees will sound like Rice Krispies right after the milk is poured.

This all may be a hoot to us, but the Iditarod is no lark for Ellering. He once hung out with The Legion of Doom so he can probably tag-team his way to the Bering Sea Coast with a legion of huskies.

Racing the Iditarod was not a spur-of-the-moment leap for Ellering. He started his kennel by buying dogs from five-time champ Swenson. He's raced the 500-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota several times, and he's received pointers from 1989 Iditarod champ Joe Runyan.

In 1991, Ellering read a book about mushing and was intrigued. About the same time, he ran across Runyan giving a seminar. Ellering introduced himself. With common interests in hunting, fishing and mushing, they've been buds ever since.

"The guy's awesome," said Runyan, who now lives in Cliff, N.M. "He's the most inspirational guy I've ever met."

Why? Runyan thinks Ellering's attitude is Norman Vincent Peale-upbeat and that he is more motivated than Michael Jordan. Still, it's not as if Runyan thinks Precious Paul will be Precocious Paul and win the Iditarod on his first try.

"I think he'll have a real steady team," Runyan said. "It's not a championship team."

Slimmed down from his wrestling weight of 255 pounds to 180, Ellering has a sturdy, muscular build and a thick mustache. When he arrived on Fourth Avenue on Saturday morning, he was the man in black, wearing a dark sponsor cap, a black jersey and black pants -- and dark glasses.

Like most Iditarod rookies, Ellering didn't sleep much the night before the start.

"No rest for the wicked," he said with a wicked smile. "I've sort of trained on lack of sleep."

Though he is new to the Iditarod, Ellering's mushing and wrestling careers overlapped before he gave up headlocks three months ago to operate a health club near Grey Eagle, his home 35 miles north of St. Cloud, and drive dogs on nearby trails. He shifted back and forth between the two disparate worlds for much of the 1990s. But while admitting that neither group really understands the peculiarities of the other, Ellering did adopt an aphorism to live by.

"Never trust a dog to guard your food," Ellering said. "And never trust a wrestler to guard your food."

Ellering, who does not have the fanciest dog truck (driving north with his dog boxes resting on a flatbed trailer), said he always knew he'd try the Iditarod and this seemed like the right time. He liked the idea of being part of the first race of the new century and being part of a race that commemorates the contributions of the late Joe Redington, father of the Iditarod, who died in June.

"I want to put it on the old resume," Ellering said.

Not that he thinks it's going to be easy. He's broken the race into thirds: Relax the first third, pick up the pace the second third, and push it through the last third.

Ellering said he used the Precious Paul moniker because he invested in commodities and "since I am such a precious commodity." Now that he's retired from wrestling, though, Ellering is in the market for a mushing nickname. Once he makes Nome, he'll probably find a way to rhyme Ellering and Bering.

SUMO'S 'WAKA' RETIRES AS HIS 'TIME HAS PASSED'

(International Herald Tribune, March 17, 2000)

By Velisarios Kattoulas

TOKYO -- Wakanohana, one of sumo's premier wrestlers, announced his retirement on Thursday, effective immediately. The ailing yokozuna, or grand champion, said he was physically and mentally exhausted.

''My time has passed,'' he said at a news conference televised live and shown nationwide. ''I no longer have the mental strength to make up for the weakness of my body.''

The head of the Sumo Association, Tokitsukaze, was quick to praise Wakanohana. ''It's a terrible shame,'' he said of Wakanohana's retirement.

''However, I also want to say that he tried his hardest and gave it all he had.''

Born Masaru Hanada in Tokyo in January 1971, ''Waka'' - as he came to be known --grew up at the feet of two of the most powerful wrestlers of their generation. His father fought under the name Takanohana, and reached ozeki, sumo's second highest rank. And his uncle, from whom Wakanohana inherited his fighting name, reached yokozuna.

For its part, Japan became infatuated with Wakanohana as much for his antics out of the ring.

In particular, it was the bond between him and his younger brother, the yokozuna Takanohana, when they were in their late teens and early 20s, muscling their way to the pinnacle of an ancient sport.

Even later, fans never seemed to lose their affection for ''Waka-Taka,'' as the two are still called. People chose to overlook the distance between the two adults, and instead remembered the two young men clowning around in the back of a van, laughing and singing karaoke duets for a TV crew accompanying them.

Wakanohana had been under pressure to retire since a tournament last September.

In the competition, he recorded seven wins and eight losses. In the past, yokozuna who lost more bouts than they won took a bow.

In the run-up to the tournament that started in Osaka on Sunday, Wakanohana had been struggling with a leg injury he picked up in September. He had missed the last two tournaments because of it, and had only recently started training again.

Few sumo insiders expected him to step back into the ring until the next tournament, in Nagoya in May.

Although he won his first bout on Sunday, by the fourth day he had won two and lost two, and he was obviously struggling. In his final bout Wakanohana faced Tochiazuma, an up-and-comer. The crowd sensed Waka was in trouble, and started chanting his name before he entered the ring --a rare event in the staid world of sumo.

Nonetheless, he failed to muster much resistance against his nimbler, stronger rival, and was quickly pushed from the ring.

After 73 professional tournaments over 13 years, he finished with a record of 573 wins against 285 losses.

At around 130 kilograms (287 pounds) for most of his career, Wakanohana was small for a professional wrestler. He reached yokozuna largely because he was a better technical wrestler than any of his contemporaries.

Still, Wakanohana was never comfortable as a yokozuna. The day after his promotion in 1998 he displayed a sensitivity rarely seen in sumo wrestlers.

''It's going to be hard,'' he told an interviewer. ''Right now I feel nervous. I don't feel any happiness. In fact, I don't think I'll feel the happiness of reaching yokozuna until I retire.''

The WAWLI Papers No. 714...

THE NEW WRESTLING

(excerpted from 'Blue Blood on the Mat,' published 1971)

By Sir Atholl Oakley

Around 1925 Farmer Burns, the trainer of former World Champion Frank Gotch, decided that the only way in which wrestling could be re-popularised was to revise the rules of Catch-as-Catch-Can. Under the existing laws a man could only be defeated if his shoulders were simultaneously held down for a count of three. This style had, as I have said, originated years before in Lancashire.

The Padoubney-Zbyszko fiasco had proved that, when a heavyweight developed his body until it was oval, it became a sheer impossibility simultaneously to pin down both his shoulders. In the case of Zbyszko, apart from the fact it was difficult to tell whether he was standing up for sitting down, his body was so oval that, when you pressed down his second shoulder, he just rolled over on his face.

It may well be that the arrival in America of Miyaki, the Judo wrestling champion of the world, influenced Burns in his decision to revise the rules.

Under the Japanese code a contestant could win a match by so 'locking' his opponent's arms or legs that movement or escape became impossible and submission inevitable. Although this type of lock or hold had been strictly forbidden in the old Catch-as-Catch-Can and Graeco-Roman styles, under whose rules contests were fought in the days of Hackenschmidt and the great ringmasters of that time, Burns decided that the only way to overcome the difficulty, of what he called the 'Unpinnable Pachyderm,' was to include the Japanese submission locks in Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling. This he did, and the new style was named 'American Catch-as-Catch Can,' or, for short, 'American Catch.'

He did not call it 'All-In,' as some people seem to think. That name was given it by (Henri) Irslinger and myself, when we introduced it to England, because the new style included all the holds.

As soon as the new rules for wrestling were accepted by the American and Canadian athletic commissions, things began to hum.

Under the new rules wrestling soon began to recover its lost popularity in America. Crowds, thrilled by these contests, and the skill of the new world's heavyweight champion, Gus Sonnenberg, grew until 90,000 people watched his second defence of the championship.

Sonnenberg was around fifteen stone and five feet nine in height, not a big man by heavyweight wrestling standards. He was a product of the new rules, which were all in favour of the very fast and stocky fighter, the fighter who could fly at an opponent like an arrow from a bow. Who, by a series of chain holds, would wear down his opponent's resistance until, exhausted, he fell into the inevitable trap and submitted.

Gone were the days of the elephantine super-hercules whom no one could pin. Under the new rules, a step-over toe hold, crooked head scissors or Japanese leg lock made even the strongest and heaviest submit. No longer was it necessary for a man to look like an ox in order to be champion. The crowds flocked in.

Much of the popularity of American Catch was due to the extensive newsreel coverage. In London, in 1929, I saw the film of Sonnenberg's defence of his title. There was no doubt concerning its impact on critical West End audiences. They literally gasped at the speed and ferocity of the champion -- a master of the spectacular flying tackle and a former all-American footballer.

I realised that the new wrestling had come to stay.
____________________________

'BEYOND THE MAT': WHAT CRITICS THINK

(originally appeared at www.phocian.com -- The History of Sport site -- in late March and early April, 2000)


Including: First reviewer to figure out that Vince McMahon has pulled off a successful work while, ostensibly, "protesting" Barry Blaustein’s entertaining documentary (it hasn't quite happened yet).

Also including: Outrageous things said about professional wrestling by the effete snobs of "cinema" reviewing (surprisingly, very little of this, too).

And also including: The best things said by reviewers concerning this solid effort (The WAWLI Papers give it three stars on a scale of four).

And, to begin with, Barry Blaustein’s widely circulated, personal plea to wrestling fans to support the movie (seems like the least we can do):

Dear Wrestling Fans,

I have been following wrestling all my life. Like many of you, I've had to suffer the slings and arrows of friends who said "you actually like this crap." Well, I do!

I made BEYOND THE MAT to show all the non-believers out there what I love about wrestling.

I wanted to take fans and non-fans alike backstage so they could see the pain and preparation it takes to succeed in this most brutal of sports. To show everyone, the true pain in wrestling is not what happens in the ring, but what happens backstage. It's dealing with promoters. It's trying to keep your family together while being away from them 200 plus nights a year. I wanted to put a human face on this "sports-entertainment" I have loved since I was a child. I wanted BEYOND THE MAT to be a tribute and a personal thank you to everyone who ever stepped between the ropes and entered the ring.


Hopefully, I've succeeded. Early critical response has been wonderful from fans and non-fans alike. BEYOND THE MAT was recently honored with a nomination from the Director's Guild Of America for best documentary of the year. Many of the wrestlers who have seen the film, including some who are not even in it, have called and thanked me for finally telling the "true" wrestler's story.

Unfortunately, the only one who doesn't seem to like BEYOND THE MAT is Vince McMahon. I find this highly ironic since many times during the making of this film, Vince offered to invest in it. When the film was finished, Vince offered to buy it. I politely turned Vince down explaining that BEYOND THE MAT was a labor of love for me and that for the film to succeed on a creative level, it must remain independent.

Vince has chosen not to promote BEYOND THE MAT. That is his right. What isn't right is that he has barred any of his wrestlers from promoting the film. What isn't right is that he has put pressure on USA Network, UPN and the Chris-Craft Station Group to not run any advertising for BEYOND THE MAT on any shows on their network. And sadly, so far, he's succeeding. If Vince can't own BEYOND THE MAT, he's going to try his best to make sure wrestling fans don't know about it.

When I tried to tell Vince that my film tried to show wrestlers as real human beings and portray the "sport" with dignity and respect, Vince told me, "I don't care. That's not what I'm selling these days." It's unfortunate that Vince doesn't have the same amount of respect for the wrestlers and the wrestling profession that many of us have.

Nothing would make Vince more upset than the public going to see BEYOND THE MAT. I call on fans to send a message to Vince that while his strong arm tactics may work in the confines of the WWF, they can't work outside of it.

Please see the movie when it opens nationwide on March 17th and prove Vince wrong. If you're a fan, I'm pretty sure you'll like it. And if you never cared about wrestling before, I guarantee you'll never look at wrestling the same way again.

I wish this was a "work", but it's not.

Thanks for all your support,

Barry W. Blaustein

_______________________________

THE CRITICS EXPLORE 'BEYOND THE MAT'

EUGENE HERNANDEZ, indieWIRE.com:

Controversy sells and with a number of recent releases, Lions Gate has found itself at the center brewing media scuffles. Last year, the company released Kevin Smith's "Dogma" when Disney found it too hot to handle and the company has recently battled the MPAA over the rating of Mary Harron's upcoming "American Psycho."

Now, Lions Gate is at odds with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and its chief Vince McMahon over Barry Blaustein's new documentary, "Beyond the Mat."

In newspaper ads, Lions Gate calls its doc, "The Movie Vince McMahon Does Not Want You to See," referencing WWF's objections to advertising for the new movie. McMahon is arguably objecting as a result of his less-than-favorable depiction in the documentary.

The trouble began when WWF banned TV ads for the movie during its programming on the USA Network and UPN. Lions Gate countered by putting the ads on the movie's website (http://www.beyondthemat.com) and adding the McMahon comment to its print and radio ads. WWF followed with a letter, subsequently sent to indieWIRE by Lions Gate, which asks that Lions Gate stop referencing WWF and McMahon in its marketing for the movie.

"The WWF has gone to extreme measures to restrict our advertising campaign for this fine film, claiming that it competes with their product," stated Lions Gate's Tom Ortenberg in a prepared statement.

In its letter, WWF asked Lions Gate to stop using images of WWF wrestlers in its ads and also asked the the distributor stop referencing McMahon. "Failure to comply with these requests," WWF indicated in the letter, "will request (sic) in our instituting legal action."

The film tracks essentially the lives and families of three men, WWF superstar Mick Foley ("Mankind"), aging wrestler Terry Funk and former superstar Jake Roberts ("Jake the Snake"), with a section about the controversial figure, McMahon.

In a press release this week, Lions Gate indicated that it is rejecting WWF's "cease and desist" letter. In a prepared statement, Ortenberg said, "We have the contractual right to run the ads as they are and will not be intimidated by WWF's bully tactics, nor will we give in to the WWF's pressure to suppress this wonderful motion picture.

JIM BECKERMAN, BERGEN RECORD:

The point of Barry Blaustein's documentary is not that pro wrestling is fake, but that it's real. "People think, fake, fake, fake, fake," Blaustein says. "But that's not a fake chair he's being hit with. That's a real metal chair. They're taking real hits. When they're bleeding, it's their own blood."

How real is "Beyond the Mat"? Too real for Vince McMahon, the kingpin of the $1 billion-a-year World Wrestling Federation and a featured player in the film. McMahon has withdrawn his support for the movie and barred any advertising for it on his WWF broadcasts . . . "It hurts a lot," says Blaustein, who says he began the $500,000 film with McMahon's cooperation.

"I told Vince exactly what I was going to do, show these guys as real human beings, with real feelings and real families," Blaustein says. "When I brought that up to Vince later, he said, 'I don't care, that's not what I'm selling these days.'"

Blaustein, 44, began his career as a staff writer for "Saturday Night Live," creating (with partner David Sheffield) such classic Eddie Murphy bits as Gumby, Mr. Robinson, and Buckwheat. "Beyond the Mat" was a bone tossed to him from Imagine Films, the outfit for which he wrote several big-grossing Murphy movies.

"I always loved wrestling, even as a kid," Blaustein says. "I think it was the surrealism, the in-your-face theatricality of it. I think I also liked it because you're not supposed to like it. It worries me now that it's so popular."

His film . . . looks at the pro wrestling phenomenon from several angles. On the one hand, there are the young wannabes, eager hopefuls like Tony Jones and Mike Modest who are training in a fleabag California gym in hopes of hitting the big time. A step up from them is former NFL player Darren Drozdov, who gets as far as a WWF job interview in the film. Since Drozdov's specialty is vomiting on cue, McMahon suggests the perfect stage name: Puke (his career is short-lived; we're informed in a postscript that he suffered a serious injury in the ring).

At the other extreme are the old gladiators: Terry Funk on the eve of his retirement (sic) at age 53, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, crack-addicted and estranged from his family, doing $75-a-night gigs in Nebraska.
"The saddest part about Jake, the tragic part, is that he knows what's happening to him," Blaustein says. "He's very bright, he's very self-aware, but that doesn't stop him."

In between are the WWF's current megastars like Mankind, aka Cactus Jack, aka Mick Foley (his real name). Known for his violence and his ability to take incredible punishment in the ring, Foley is a pussycat in real life, with an adoring wife and two children he loves.

The most disturbing scenes in "Beyond the Mat" show Foley's wife, Collette, and his two small children Dewey and Noelle, cringing ringside as they watch a bout between Foley and WWF superstar The Rock. Beforehand, Foley has taken time out to prepare his kids: "You know Rock is really Daddy's friend, he's not going to hurt Daddy."

In fact, Foley is beaten to a pulp in the ring as his family sits crying and averting their glance. Later, as the whole family relives the nightmare on videotape, Foley is guilt-stricken at what he's put his loved ones through.

CODY MONK, DALLAS MORNING NEWS:

On the outside, Terry Funk looks like a beaten up 55-year-old who has hung on too long.

A look inside the Canyon, Texas native shows a man who simply has a burning passion for what he does.
He is the son of wrestler, Dory Funk Sr. He has spent almost 35 years in a business that has taken him to all corners of the world, but always led him back to his Double Cross Ranch outside Canyon. In short, Funk is a wrestling legend.

"I just really love the guys in the locker room," said Funk, who played football at West Texas State and was on the same college team as former Miami Dolphins running back Mercury Morris and former Cowboys running back Duane Thomas. "I love what I’m doing. I love the young guys. I know that we all have to stop at some point, and this is probably my last hurrah."

This time around Funk is playing a larger role in WCW storylines and an even bigger part in being an ambassador for the business and for the new documentary, "Beyond the Mat," which features Funk prominently.

Funk said he has no problems with how the film depicts the wrestling business. "It’s a good slice of life," Funk said. "It shows parts of the business that some people may not want seen."

When "Beyond the Mat" was filmed, Funk worked for ECW and the WWF. After leaving the WWF in early 1999, Funk returned to his ranch and figured he was finished wrestling.

He was intent on spending more time with his two grown daughters, Brandee and Stacey, his wife of 35 years, Vicki, and looking forward to his first grandchild, which is due is April. He was also making improvements around the ranch. Then WCW called.

"I was out putting up a milk barn on Dec. 31, 1999," Funk said, "when WCW called and said they needed me to come in for a pay-per-view. They made me a financial offer I couldn’t refuse. For guys who remember making $25 a night, a good financial offer is tough to turn down."

Funk joined WCW as the "commissioner" and has returned to a full-time schedule that keeps him on the road and in the ring.

MICHAEL SRAGOW, SALON.COM:

Barry W. Blaustein, a co-screenwriter of "The Nutty Professor" and a longtime writer for Eddie Murphy, just wanted to make a documentary on his closet passion for pro wrestling. He didn't count on winding up in a cage match with the World Wrestling Federation's colorful, pugnacious impresario, Vince McMahon.

But Blaustein's searching documentary on the sport, "Beyond the Mat," has come under fire from McMahon and his powerful franchise, culminating in a cease-and-desist letter aimed at disrupting the movie's advertising campaign.

McMahon is a charismatic on-camera presence in the movie; at one point he even wanted to invest in it. But now he's told his wrestlers that they can't help promote the film -- and he's used his muscle to keep the film's commercials off his shows. Blaustein says McMahon has even worked to bar TV ads from two networks -- a charge that the WWF denies. The contretemps has chagrined both Blaustein and his distributor, Lions Gate Releasing.

Mark Urman, co-president of Lions Gate, has said, "Mr. McMahon has decided that he doesn't like our film, so now he wants to prevent wrestling fans nationwide, who so far have embraced the film, from finding out about it."

How could such a battle come about -- and with such unlikely combatants?

Blaustein and his comedy partner, David Sheffield, have been writing for Murphy ever since the three joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1980. Blaustein and Sheffield share credit with other writers on "The Nutty Professor" (1996) and on the forthcoming "Nutty II: The Klumps," which Blaustein vows is better than the first.

But for a decade longer than he's known Murphy, Blaustein has been a fan of professional wrestling. When he was a kid in Westbury, N.Y., his dad would take him to wrestling bouts in West Hempstead and Queens. Blaustein never lost his love for it -- nor his embarrassment over it . . .

"When I approached Vince, wrestling was not as big as it is now," Blaustein recalled during a recent visit to San Francisco. "And Vince was getting a strong challenge from Ted Turner's wrestling group, World Championship Wrestling. I told Vince I wanted to do a movie to show why I like wrestling and to give non-fans an appreciation of what these guys go through. Not everybody can do what they do -- can go through the pain and still be these extraordinary performers -- and I thought they should be treated with respect. Usually, everything about wrestling is either negative or condescending. I promised Vince that this wouldn't be either."

McMahon didn't merely cooperate with Blaustein, he offered to triple his budget. Blaustein said no -- he wanted to maintain journalistic independence. Still, McMahon kept bidding to buy the movie. Michael Rosenberg, the president of the film's production company, Imagine, says, "During the three years of production on 'Beyond the Mat,' the WWF, through its owner, Vince McMahon, continued to try and convince Imagine to allow him to be an investor in the film." According to Blaustein, when McMahon saw the movie, he called Imagine and said, "Name your price." But Imagine turned him down.

The rebuff was apparently not what the scrappy WWF kingpin -- a bad-boy wrestling icon himself -- wanted to hear. Blaustein says, "Vince told me it's not the film he would have made: 'I like to put smiles on people's faces,' he said, 'but I think you did a great job, and I have no regrets knowing you. I'm just not going to do anything that would help you promote it.'"

He didn't want his wrestlers to promote it, either. "Six weeks ago, Mick Foley appeared on 'Good Morning, America' with me; Diane Sawyer said she'd never been a fan of wrestling but the film made her look on it as a different thing. Vince was very unhappy about that. He said, 'If any of these guys appear on any other programs with you, they do so at career risk. And if you care so much about Mick -- if he's your friend, as you claim him to be -- then you'll have him do nothing else.'"

McMahon's hardball tactics escalated. Lions Gate contends that the magnate is performing a pile driver on its ad campaign by vetoing TV spots for the film during the WWF wrestling shows "Raw is War," "Sunday Night Heat" and "SmackDown." Blaustein believes that McMahon went further. "He put pressure on UPN and USA not to run any commercials for the movie on any USA program or on any UPN program," Blaustein says.

Jim Byrne, senior vice president for marketing at the WWF, says that the company stands by its "longstanding policy" not to accept advertising for its TV shows from what he called "third-party wrestling product -- anything that isn't owned, controlled or managed by WWF Entertainment, Inc." He says there's "no truth" to the charge that the WWF pressured UPN and USA networks to decline advertising for "Beyond the Mat" on shows not produced by the WWF. And he chalks up the tangled relations between Blaustein and the WWF to misrepresentation on the filmmaker's part.

Says Byrne: "It was originally characterized as an art-house film, done as a major labor of love in 1997." But in the eyes of the WWF the film now appears to be "not an art-house film, but a major motion picture backed by major Hollywood players and a highly commercial venture." According to Byrne, WWF executives expected it to be shot and completed in 1997; McMahon continued to give Blaustein access precisely because he thought it was "an art-house film and labor of love. When we expressed interest, going back a year ago, for some financial stake in the film, [it was because] it uses our likenesses, trademarks and characters." But when the WWF honchos did take a look at the movie, in December, "We lost all emotional attachment to it. It just wasn't entertaining."

When I mentioned to Byrne that "Beyond the Mat" is only opening in 175 theaters, and that Lions Gate is primarily an art-house distributor, he countered, with a laugh: "We all know about 'Blair Witch Project'!" That comparison, at least, should make Blaustein happy.

UPN says, "No comment;" the USA network did not offer a response.

But Blaustein insists, "These broadcasters are bowing down to Vince. It's a frightening precedent. This movie is not negative toward Vince and the WWF. I think Vince's attitude is, if I can't have the film, I'm not going to let anybody else know about it."

Astonishingly, major newspapers by and large ignored this story. "They say, 'Oh it's just business.' But no it's not, guys, there's a civil liberties issue here. It doesn't matter if we have 600 TV stations -- if they are all owned by the same people, there's no freedom of choice. This is the nightmare scenario of synergy and of vertical integration."

As if to prove Blaustein's point, a week after we talked, the lead story on the New York Times' business page was about the "struggle for ownership" at UPN, which is complicated by the pending merger of UPN's co-owner, Viacom, and CBS. The story does not mention "Beyond the Mat," but it does emphasize the weight McMahon carries with Viacom and how valuable McMahon's WWF is to CBS, which reportedly wants Viacom to buy the rest of UPN from Chris-Craft Industries.

"I don't like what Vince is doing," says Blaustein, "but from a promoting standpoint and an entrepreneurial standpoint you have to step back and say, 'He's good at it.' And I have seen a softer side of the guy on occasion. I think he's been playing an SOB in the ring for so long he feels he's got to act that way outside of it all the time. I like to think the best of all people, so I hope Vince knows somewhere that what he's doing is ultimately wrong."

Blaustein says that when he went to the New York Times to rouse interest in his tale, he got turned down: "They say, 'Our readers don't watch wrestling.' Well, you'd be surprised who watches wrestling. The demographics of wrestling are higher than the demographics of Major League Baseball.

"Ironically," Blaustein continues, "The WCW, Ted Turner's outfit, didn't sign a release [to have its own wrestlers appear in 'Beyond the Mat.']. They wanted to have some sort of editorial control, so they're not in the movie. But when the movie had its Academy Award-qualifying run in L.A., a couple of WCW guys were in town and saw it. They called me up -- the person who wouldn't sign the release is no longer there -- and said, 'Boy, you've done something wonderful for the industry, we really regret not being in it.' They're running the ads, even though they have their own movie coming out a month from now! And not only are they running ads for my picture, they're having their guys talk about it on the air! They don't have problems at all."

Blaustein believes that if more mainstream media covered wrestling the way he does in his film -- or the way Meltzer does in his online newsletter and others do on Internet "dirt sheets" that treat wrestling as a business -- more people would be drawn into its strange amalgam of sport and entertainment. "You've got to understand wrestling fans are a lot more knowledgeable about what's going on than non-wrestling fans. They suspend their disbelief -- it's like going to a movie."

TOM BLOCK, CULTUREVULTURE.NET:

The film is populated by dozens of fascinating, and often unlikeable, characters: a two-bit promoter who chisels his wrestlers at every turn; two young hopefuls getting their shot at the big-time; a would-be impresario whose pep speeches are profanity-laced versions of the Horatio Alger ethos; an embittered never-was who pouts like a child until a superstar invites him to referee a match . . . Beyond the Mat is Blaustein’s first film, a fact that’s apparent in the short spurts where he finds himself more fascinating than his subject. Shots of the house where he grew up, or of him sharing a laugh with Jesse Ventura over some unheard joke, don’t tell us anything other than Barry Blaustein’s giddiness can sometimes get the best of him.

And "Beyond the Mat" never explicitly addresses one of the most troublesome aspects of pro wrestling. People who decry the sport often extend their disdain to those anonymous faces crying out from the semi-darkness of the stands. It’s easy to assume that all of those fans are undereducated trailer trash, but it would be just as easy to confront us with our own prejudices against them. It’s probably asking too much of this 90-minute documentary to take on all of America’s class biases, but pro wrestling occupies such a conspicuous fault-line in our culture that one wonders how Blaustein could avoid mentioning it altogether.

ROBERT HORTON, FILM.COM:

"Beyond the Mat" takes an easy target and turns it into something naggingly weird. Not that Blaustein ignores the cheesier pieces of the wrestling world, including a would-be WWF regular whose talent for regurgitating at will earns him the moniker Puke (WWF head honcho Vince McMahon pronounces the immortal line, "Puke has a nice connotation to it," which is why he gets the big bucks). . . . The film casts a painfully unblinking eye on (Jake) Roberts' reunion with a college-age daughter, whose anger at her absent, screwed-up father is reflected by Roberts' disastrous relationship with his own dad, also a wrestler. Roberts is obviously a man of some intelligence, which makes his addiction and embattled self-pity all the more difficult to watch . . .

The peripheral stuff is right on the money, too: There's something telling about seeing the wrestling fans, who moments before were yammering for blood, solemnly and sincerely singing the National Anthem before one of the big events. The rampant hucksterism of big-time wrestling is in a long American tradition, and "Beyond the Mat" is a very smart first step in opening the subject up to clearer view.

JEFF VICE, DESERET NEWS:

Admittedly, the film could have been more penetrating in its analysis (for one thing, the 1980s steroid scandal is completely overlooked). But for what it is — and filmmaker Barry Blaustein originally intended it to be a "valentine" to pro wrestling — the movie still manages to call into question the motives of wrestling promoters, as well as question the violent and vulgar content . . .

To be honest, the film probably won't make any new converts to the "sport," but one audience for whom the movie should be required viewing is its fans — especially parents who let their children watch these programs.

"Beyond the Mat" is rated R for wrestling violence (much of it shockingly graphic), gore (including glimpses of medical procedures), profanity and vulgarity (including some crude humor).

BOB LONGINO, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION:

("Beyond the Mat") is entertaining. It's also revealing, sickening and at times enthralling. It grabs professional wrestling by the throat and rarely lets go, pile-driving that trumped-up, we're-all-suckers brand of ringside soaptainment and brutality. It's both a homage and a wallop to wrestling, delivered with the same pointed precision as the Rock putting his dreaded People's Elbow move on a sprawled-out opponent.

MARK RAHNER, SEATTLE TIMES:

First-time director Blaustein is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer whose screenwriting credits include "The Nutty Professor" and "Boomerang." But don't look for any big punch lines here. Nor is this a bombastic, action-packed "Wrestlemania" type of outing . . . At the end of "Beyond the Mat," you'll feel less like smashing someone with a folding metal chair than giving someone a hug and guzzling a can of Miller Lite. The absurd men in tights are three-dimensional and human. Or, as Blaustein says in a voice-over, the wrestlers are "just like you and me, except they're really different."

WILLIAM ARNOLD, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER:

Shot in 16mm and video, and often sloppily constructed (despite having Ron Howard and his Imagine Entertainment on board as executive producer), the film is totally non-judgmental and makes the point that wrestling in America has become part-vaudeville, part-Wagnerian pageantry, in which the audience willingly suspends its disbelief to engage in a bizarre fantasy and morality play.

But the violence, while scripted and choreographed, is still very real, the blood that flows in almost every match is not ketchup, and the film communicates a numbing sense that this colorful cast of characters ultimately pay an enormous emotional and physical price for the privilege of practicing their art.

KEN HOFFMAN, HOUSTON CHRONICLE:

What's next for filmmaker Barry Blaustein, a documentary revealing that, back in 1973, the Easter Rabbit had a bunny out of wedlock? That's how mainstream pro wrestling has become. The most talked-about movie today, "Beyond the Mat, reveals that, yes, wrestling is fake, and the muscle-bound entertainers who portray wrestling's cartoon characters have very human failings.

For this we need a movie? I thought that's why we have "The Jerry Springer Show."

Do I really need to know that wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts' mother was only 13 years old when he was born? That his mother was raped in her sleep by Roberts' father, who was dating his mother's mother (Roberts' grandmother) at the time?

That is, if you're willing to believe a crack-addicted, bloated wrestler who's in and out of jail because he doesn't pay child support.

Come on, let us at least enjoy wrestling.

Jake the Snake used to be my favorite villain. I didn't know he really was a villain . . .

Blaustein, almost apologizing for breaking the bad news, repeatedly says, "Hey, I'm a wrestling fan." Like that makes it all right.

Describing how absurdly popular wrestling is, Blaustein gushes, "The World Wrestling Federation is worth almost $1 billion. That's more than the New York Knicks, the Mets and Rangers combined."

Pretty impressive. But not even close to accurate. New York's baseball, basketball and hockey teams are worth considerably more than the WWF.

But really, that's wrestling. Is it sport? Is it entertainment?

It's just not true.

DAVID STERRIT, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

Hollywood is so hooked on happy endings and feel-good stories that other types of movies, brought to the screen by independent and international filmmakers, often do a better job of providing serious looks at the darker sides of life . . . Documentaries (can) provide sober views of material that's frequently unpleasant to watch but has much to reveal about disquieting aspects of our world . . . "Beyond the Mat" is a rambunctious study of professional wrestling. Mature moviegoers might normally steer away from this so-called sport, but there's no denying that its shenanigans have gathered a large and varied audience in recent years. This qualifies it as a legitimate subject for serious commentators who want to understand its inner workings and illuminate them for the rest of us.

. . . See it if you want an eye-opening scoop on one of today's biggest pop-culture attractions - but stay far, far away unless you can handle the copious amounts of blood (some of it phony) and sometimes agonizing psychological problems (all of them real) that its participants face on what seems like a daily basis.

CRAIG KOPP, CINCINNATI POST:

Though perhaps a little too long for the non-fan, ''Beyond the Mat'' is still a captivating, strange, illuminating trip into one of the stranger manifestations of American pop culture.

It had me pinned to my seat.

ANDY PATRIZIO, WIRED.COM:

The documentary was a five-year labor of love by professional screenwriter and pro wrestling fan Blaustein. His employer, Ron Howard's Imagine Films, funded the movie and Blaustein, author of the films Coming to America and The Nutty Professor, sat in the director's chair for the first time. . . Originally scheduled for direct-to-video release, a successful one-week run in Los Angeles convinced distributor Lion's Gate Films to release it across the nation.

But ads scheduled for WWF's top-rated shows RAW is War and Smackdown on USA Networks and United Paramount Network to promote the film's 17 March debut were pulled at the last minute.

And not only did the ads not run during RAW and Smackdown, they weren't shown at all on USA and UPN despite the fact that Lion's Gate had received signed contracts from USA, the WWF, and UPN.
So Blaustein turned to an Internet radio program to spread the news about his inability to advertise the controversial film on mainstream media. He broke the story on the Wrestling Observer Live show on the Eyada.com network, and wrestling fans have taken up the cause with an email campaign aimed at McMahon.

"It's kind of scary with all of these media mergers and the power in so few people's hands," said Dave Meltzer, who hosts the radio program and publishes "The Wrestling Observer Newsletter," a wrestling fanzine.

Blaustein also has taken his cause to sites 1Wrestling and ScoopsWrestling.

Wrestling message boards are ablaze trying to get the word out. Sites like WrestleBoard and WrestleSite are discussing the lack of cable advertising, and Usenet newsgroups such as rec.sport.pro-wrestling, alt.pro-wrestling.wwf and alt.pro-wrestling.wcw are replete with posts.

There's also a petition being circulated by Electric Artists, collecting names of fans who are going to see the movie despite the WWF's wishes.

"The petition is to make sure that Vince knows that people want to see this movie," said Marc Schiller, CEO of Electric Artists. "It gives the power back to the fans, to give them a voice. That's what the Internet is all about."

So far fans seem to be spreading the word about the movie effectively, said Tom Ortenberg, co-president of Lion's Gate. "We're finally starting to reach critical mass."

"The bigger issue that people should be standing up and taking notice is the First Amendment issue," Ortenberg said. "If the NFL opposed Any Given Sunday and pressured its affiliate networks not to run ads for that movie, can you imagine what kind of uproar there would have been?"

Lion's Gate plans to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission as well as a lawsuit, according to Ortenberg. He said the company plans to wait until after the film's release before making any legal moves, however, since then it will be able to make a claim for lost revenue.

PETER STACK, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE:

It seems inevitable that once Blaustein went backstage at the freak show that has hoodwinked some into believing it is sport, he would meet alarming people and situations.

To Blaustein's credit, this die- hard fan of the shrill, glitzy and over-the-top showbiz imperatives of professional wrestling looks unflinchingly at that dark side -- it's what makes his film worth seeing.

But "Beyond the Mat'' is crazily entertaining, too. After all, its grunting, growling, violent and absurdist participants have turned the World Wrestling Federation into a major television entertainment empire. They may be cheesy, but they're stars. Former star Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura makes a brief appearance, and the film focuses on some of wrestling's other top figures who speak candidly about the hoops they jump through to keep audiences shrieking.

The film catches the cheap thrills, phony posturing, slick packaging and savvy show-business manipulations. It even looks at the Pacific Coast Sports gym in Hayward where pro wrestling wannabes study moves and develop ring personalities. They're as serious as anyone at a ballet school.

THE 'WORK'…

TERRY LAWSON, DETROIT FREE PRESS:

"Beyond the Mat" is neither a sociological analysis nor an apology. Blaustein leaves it to us to draw conclusions and assign significance, always returning to his own question: What kind of man makes a living ramming another man's head against a turnbuckle?. . .

Though Blaustein's portrait is mostly affectionate, he doesn't flinch at the irony of a fake sport in which everyone involved keeps upping the odds of serious injury to make it even more appealing to bloodthirsty audiences. Equally disturbing is a road trip he takes with Jake (the Snake) Roberts, the wrestler McMahon says could have remained the biggest attraction of all.

Roberts is now a fat, mottled crack addict, banging from small town rec center to smaller town gym with his trademark snake in a bag. Visiting his daughter for the first time in four years, Roberts plays on her sympathy by intimating he's considering suicide. "He means it, but it's also an act," says Roberts' embittered daughter afterward, succinctly summing up the world he lives in as well.

A couple of weeks ago, the WWF, which had cooperated in making "Beyond the Mat," announced that it was withdrawing its support and that it would accept no advertising for it on its broadcasts, a turn the film's distributor gleefully pounced on in hopes of attracting more attention. Con or no, it all sells tickets.

EDVINS BEITIKS, SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER:

In Barry Blaustein's new documentary on professional wrestling, World Wrestling Federation president Vince McMahon talks about wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts , saying there's no way to tell where the man begins and the performance ends. The same could be said of McMahon.

With his own OK, McMahon was portrayed in "Beyond the Mat" as equal parts multimillionaire, savvy villain and pseudo-philosopher. But when he was refused a chance to buy into "Beyond the Mat" and saw the final cuts, McMahon withdrew his endorsement of the movie. He's campaigning to keep commercials for the film off the air but, like everything else in pro wrestling, it's hard to know what's for show and what isn't.

Blaustein said none of it's for show. "Vince, as much as Jake, walks between his own truth and the real world," he said. "He tried to buy in, we wouldn't let him, and as a result he's trying to strangle the film. . . . He told his own wrestlers not to have anything to do or say about the film or they could suffer for it. That's wrong."

The McMahon flap, Blaustein acknowledged, "sounds like it has a wrestling angle. I wish it had a wrestling angle. But it's Vince --he's been playing an S.O.B. on TV so long he's gotten to feel he has to be one, all day long." McMahon was genuinely unhappy with the movie's depiction of "real pain, that these guys really got hurt, that it was not all fun and games," said Blaustein.
________________________

ROBERT BUTLER, KANSAS CITY STAR:

I was an anti-wrestling snob going into "Beyond the Mat," Barry W. Blaustein's documentary about the world of professional wrestling. In my ignorance I figured that only congenital morons would pay to see hulking idiots pretend to pound the stuffing out of one another.

In the wake of this funny/sad superb film, my opinion of the fans hasn't changed much, but I've a newfound respect for the wrestlers themselves. These guys practice a singularly violent form of performance art, a morality play that dares them to make it look as real as possible. The script and outcome of every match may have been settled in advance, but the blood and pain -- and the psychic trauma -- are very real.

("Beyond the Mat" was made before the accidental death last year of wrestler Owen Hart, who fell from a catwalk in Kemper Arena. But it's easy to see how the WWF's unending quest to provide bigger and more believable thrills could lead its performers to take dangerous chances.)

PAUL SHERMAN, BOSTON HERALD:

These are the sort of movie moments you can't script. "Beyond the Mat'' may be kind of clunky – as a piece of filmmaking, it's no "Wrestling With Shadows'' -- but as a realistic look at people in a business that's all about perverting reality, it's arresting, soulful and very meaty.

JAY CARR, BOSTON GLOBE:

Nobody can say that Barry Blaustein's wrestling documentary, "Beyond the Mat," isn't a zeitgeist movie. Like Las Vegas, wrestling has retooled its image, attached bells and whistles and glitz to its grunts and thuds, and presto! After helping TV get started in its early days, wrestling now is resuscitating networks like UPN, to say nothing of serving as a talent pool for future governors. It has become a multimillion-dollar merger of violence and showbiz. In "Beyond the Mat," wrestling gets in America's face and Blaustein gets in wrestling's face. It's a fascinating tango.

. . . He tracks at length three wrestlers with differing but equally valid claims on our attention: Terry Funk, Mike Foley, and Jake Roberts.

Funk is the most amazing. Winner of the Extreme Championship Wrestling belt in 1997 at the age of 53, he is a battered Texan whose right knee and various other body parts are shot, and who keeps on retiring, only to keep coming back. He embodies the aging gunslinger ethic, looking tough and durable in the ring and seeming a pussycat outside it. A dignified figure, he nevertheless cries at his daughter's wedding. And when a fellow wrestler and less successful longtime friend from Texas confronts him, he gets the guy a gig refereeing one of his matches. The gladiator's scars he carries with macho pride attest to the bedrock fact that while wrestling matches may be fixed, the pain and injuries are real.

Mick Foley, a bearded giant nicknamed Mankind, seems to make his living by absorbing enormous amounts of punishment. Off camera, he's a soft-spoken family man who demonstrates great affection for his kids, if not always great judgment. The film's most uncomfortable moment comes when Foley's kids are taken to a match in Anaheim by their mom, Collette, and clearly are traumatized by the sight of their dad being pounded into a bloody pulp. Later, healed and at home in Florida, Foley is shown that ringside footage and is appropriately guilt-stricken about having permitted his wife and kids to attend.

Jake Roberts, nicknamed The Snake for his gimmick of unnerving rivals by bringing a large reptile into the ring with him, personifies the athlete who is fine inside the ring and a mess outside it. Hobbled by alcohol and drug addiction, and an emotionally stingy father, he is barely hanging on. Blaustein accompanies him through a Midwestern barnstorming tour, where the sadness and anguish in his face are captured during long drives between bouts. The only time he feels fear during the tour, he says, is when he's due to meet, for the first time in years, the estranged grown daughter he hadn't seen since his marriage fell apart. It's a difficult meeting for both, with plenty of naked emotional pain to go with the routine physical pain inside the ring. "Beyond the Mat" does what the wrestling game, with its manufactured personas, doesn't. It stays with the wrestlers until we start seeing them as people.

LEWIS BEALE, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS:

If, as Blaustein says, he wants audiences seeing "Beyond the Mat" to "look at wrestling with new insight — these are human beings," then he has accomplished his goal. But shooting the documentary was also a revelation for its director. After years of working in mainstream media, Blaustein found the time he spent in the no-budget world of nonfiction movies to be a totally liberating experience.

"I was determined with this that I was going to approach it like I used to do in college," he says. "When I was in college, I wasn't scared to do anything. You just go out there and do it. I felt sort of like reborn again doing it."

MALCOLM JOHNSON, HARTFORD COURANT:

Like many fictional fight pictures, from "The Champ" to "Raging Bull," "Beyond the Mat" tells of gladiators beaten and often broken by the ring. The most obviously tragic figure is Jake the Snake, born to a 13-year-old who was raped, rising to fame and fortune in his brutal trade, then falling from grace through his addiction to crack cocaine.

Barnstorming the country and wowing the local yokels in third-rate arenas, Jake the Snake (so called because of the boa in his act) is a rugged, gravel-voiced, longhaired grizzly of a man, filled with regret for his ruined life. Yet there is a spark of intelligence about him, and a roughly eloquent self-knowledge.

One of the most affecting passages of a film that seeks to establish a link between the wrestlers' work and lives centers on Jake's brief reunion with his oldest daughter, Brandy, a psychology grad student who resembles Mama Cass. Always on the road, Jake never really knew Brandy, and she has compiled a strange scrapbook of her memories, which puts her father behind a symbolic screen. Despite her efforts to break through to him, the daughter fails, and Jake seeks solace with the crack pipe.

RON WEISKIND, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE:

In the ring (and, increasingly, in the areas surrounding it), these muscled behemoths batter each other with elbows and knees and folding chairs. They hurl each other into tables and pound their heads into the canvas, the cement floor, or whatever other hard surface is handy.

They deal out punishment no human could take, which explains why the action is scripted, choreographed and rehearsed beforehand. They pop their eyes, scowl and scream invective, take nicknames like "The Rock" or "Stone Cold" and play roles as outrageous in word, deed and costume as any Hollywood potboiler.
 
GRAYDON ROYCE, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE:

For a documentary to succeed, it needs three things: mythic real-life characters; great access to and footage of those characters, and enough luck to find in that footage a few serendipitous moments that go over the top.

Wrestling fan Barry Blaustein hits the trifecta in "Beyond the Mat," his paean to a game that has entertained him since childhood. A Hollywood screenwriter, Blaustein had the resources and access to do what thousands of fans across America would love to do themselves: find out who these guys are in real life . . .

WWF owner Vince McMahon has threatened legal action against this film, and with good reason. Far from a juicy look behind the scenes, the movie reveals pro wrestling as exploitative and violent.

CHRIS HEWITT, ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS:

How do you make an exposé about a subject that is already overexposed?

If you're documentary filmmaker Barry Blaustein and your subject is the World Wrestling Federation, you do it by taking the wrestlers, who seem like cartoons, and making them human.

Blaustein, a longtime fan of wrestling, tells us he never thought of it as a sport: "I looked at wrestling as theater at its most base." But when we see the backstage area, with dozens of guys dressed up as cowboys, executioners and flames, they don't look like athletes or actors. They look like trick-or-treaters.

GEMMA TARLACH, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL:

The movie's best moments deliver emotional wallops. As veteran pummeler Terry Funk gets some of his own ugly medicine in the ring, the camera cuts from rabid fans demanding more blood to Funk's family, also watching.

Vicki Funk and her children cringe with every blow not because they care who wins, but because they know Terry is in the ring against his doctor's orders, wrestling with a knee held together by sheer will.

In another poignant moment, Extreme Championship Wrestling's New Jack, his forehead scarred from repeated "juicing" (making shallow cuts with a razor blade to bleed in the ring), listens anxiously as a Hollywood casting director tap-dances around why he's not leading man material.

Mick Foley, who has wrestled on thumb tacks, barbed wire and plastic explosives, calmly explains that his higher pain threshold has made him "marketable" and admits that lately he's had some problems with his speech and motor skills.

For every scene in the film that lets us see the wrestlers as not-that-much-larger-than-life humans, there's another that feels exploitive.

Foley's two young children watch from their mother's arms ringside as Daddy takes repeated chair shots to the head. Both children, as well as Foley's wife, are in tears. Fake though pro wrestling is, the blood pouring from Foley's split-open scalp is real.

Why subject the kids to a close-up of Foley's battery? Apparently so director/narrator Barry Blaustein could show the tape to the wrestler a few days later and let him ruminate on camera whether he is a bad father
Blaustein, making his directorial debut, is best known for co-writing Hollywood popcorn hits such as "The Nutty Professor." His lack of experience shows and, like a sub-par wrestler's bad timing, almost ruins the whole thing.

Admitting he has been a lifelong fan of wrestling in the movie's opening moments, Blaustein interrupts the film's natural flow several times with pointless self-serving trivia. He and Mick Foley both grew up on Long Island! He "really bonds" with New Jack, who even calls him at home!

Blaustein also completely ignores the biggest real-life rasslin' villains: the WWF's increasing raunch and riskier stunts, which have led to more serious injuries and even the 1999 death of wrestler Owen Hart.
"Who are these guys?", the question that opens "Beyond the Mat," is a tantalizing one for both wrestling fans and critics unable to find any value in our modern faux gladiators. Despite the occasional gut-wrenching insights, it will take a better movie to reveal the answer.

ROGER EBERT, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES:

. . . It is a show, yes. "Beyond the Mat" makes no secret of the fact that every match is scripted and that the outcomes are not in doubt. But we knew that. What I didn't fully realize, until I saw this film, is how real the show is. Just because you script a guy being thrown out of the ring doesn't mean it's painless when he bounces off a table and onto the floor. You can't bleed unless you're cut. And sometimes things go wrong; a wire cage mesh breaks, and a wrestler falls maybe 20 feet to the mat. That hurts. Last year a wrestler named Owen Hart fell 70 feet and was killed when his harness failed while he was being lowered into a ring.

Mick "Mankind" Foley comes across as one of the nicest guys in the film, a family man with small children, who's a gentle teddy bear when he's not in the ring. He explains to his kids how it's all carefully planned, how his opponent doesn't really hate him, and then the two preschoolers sit at ringside as their daddy is handcuffed and beaten with a chair. He starts to bleed. They start to cry. "Close your eyes," their mother says, before finally taking them out of the stands. They watch in the dressing room as a medic applies first aid to Foley's cuts and checks for a concussion.

Later, the filmmakers show Foley their footage of his kids crying, and he is sobered. He vows never to let them watch a fight again. We sense the care in his voice, but we also wonder: What were they doing ringside in the first place? What do kids know about scripts?

JOHN PETRAKIS, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

. . . I'm not sure where the audience is for this film. If you find the whole activity moronic and repulsive, why would you want to dig deeper? And if you think the bloodletting and ritual are simply awesome just the way they are, why burst the balloon?

CLINT O’CONNOR, CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER:

("Beyond the Mat") is a sometimes fascinating documentary that examines the athlete-performers, their families and the producer-promoters. "What we’re really about," says WWF head Vince McMahon, "we make movies." And, lest you were wondering, we see how completely scripted the wrestling matches are, how lines of dialogue are written by WWF writers, how they are spoon-fed to combatants by WWF television producers, and how the battlers themselves prearrange the evening’s "free-for-all."

But that’s the least revealing aspect of "Beyond The Mat." This documentary is hardly scandalous or scathing. It is much more a character study of the wrestlers.

Terry Funk can barely drag himself out of bed, but he does manage to make a doctor’s appointment to learn that his knees are shot. Foley, a big Brian Wilson type with that glazed-happy look, learned at a young age that he could withstand pain better than most people. He doesn’t especially like it, but he doesn’t hate it either. The only thing worse than Jake "The Snake" Roberts’ relationship with his father is his disaster of a relationship with his much-neglected daughter.

This is not for young wrestling fans, by the way.

Jake teaches us about road life. In between shows, you get bored just scoring with one woman a day, so you progress to three a day. "Then it’s two at a time. Then two at a time with toys. Then two at a time with you watching." The bummer of it is, says Jake, that by the time you finally get home and try to make love to your wife, you just can’t do it. You need the visual stimulation.

At one point in the film, Jake disappears. When Blaustein catches up with him, he discovers Jake has been doing crack. His drug use contributed to his fall from grace with the WWF. He confesses to being addicted. "There isn’t an addict who is happy," says Jake.

For him, wrestling meant taking pills to stop the pain, doing cocaine to wake up and get jazzed for a performance, drinking to fall asleep. (The film’s postscript tells us that Jake is currently in jail for non-payment of child support.)

MARGARET A. McGURK, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER:

Despite his compassion for his subjects, Mr. Blaustein seems to be offering an unfinished work here. He doesn’t seem to know what to make of the wrestlers’ obsessive drive to keep getting back in the ring. He also ignores or glosses over many of the issues surrounding professional wrestling, including steroid abuse, the lethal dangers wrestlers face in the ring, and the impact on the audience of the escalating violence.

DESSON HOWE, WASHINGTON POST:

The real power of this movie--the part that hits home--is the brutal effect of the business on the performers' families. Yes, there are wives, kids, fathers and mothers connected to the likes of Jake the Snake, Mankind and Puke.

And yes, that would be Puke. In one of the most hilarious scenes in the film, a former NFL football player and aspiring wrestler sits in the office of World Wrestling Federation (WWF) owner Vince McMahon and tries to sell him on his "gimmick": the ability to vomit on demand.

McMahon, a wrestler himself, with the kind of hairdo that says "promoter," loves the idea. He asks Puke to demonstrate his trick. No problem. Puke fills the bucket provided.

"Puke is good," says McMahon approvingly. "Puke is nice. It fits the WWF attitude."

An amusing interlude, for sure. But the predominant mood in "Beyond the Mat" is in a more minor key, as people literally suffer for their art. Puke, also known as former Denver Broncos player Darren Drozdov, now suffers from partial paralysis as a result of wrestling.

JOYCE J. PERSICO, TRENTON TIMES:

Each of the wrestlers is fascinating, but Foley is a special case. Having officially retired since the film was made, he is an articulate, imaginative man whose different ring personas have served him both in comic roles and in hardcore matches. The film captures him on the cusp of retirement, his body aching, his wife and two small children horrified by the bloodbath in the ring between Foley and The Rock on the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.

Backstage, his face covered with blood, Foley tries to comfort his kids by describing his injuries as "boo-boos" and staring stoically into space as a plastic surgeon stitches his head. "I think we touched a lot of people tonight," he mumbles, turning to his wife. "I might touch you later, if you don't mind my saying so." Through her tears, Colette Foley manages a sexy grunt while trying to ask her husband a question to see if his mind is still functioning.

LOU LUMENICK, NEW YORK POST:

"Beyond the Mat," may not be strictly objective -- and it's far from the no-holds-barred exposé implied in the ads. But it's the most entertaining look at its world since "Pumping Iron" took on body-building.

SUSAN STARK, DETROIT NEWS:

The film concentrates on a trio of high-contrast, fascinating men who make big bucks in the human equivalent of a demolition derby.

They are legendary Texas champ Terry Funk, who, at 53 and despite a pair of tortured knees that hardly allow him to walk, persists as one of the sport’s greatest showmen; Mick Foley, not only a richly imagined, fearsome character in the ring, but also a tenderly dedicated husband and father of two young children ("It’s a boo-boo; a big boo-boo"); and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, the shrewd crowd-pleaser who, in his private life, is hobbled by oozing emotional scars and an addiction to drugs.

Blaustein elicits radiantly candid conversation from all three and snags illuminating footage of them on stage and off. The film is also remarkable for its tight editing. Clearly, there’s a humanizing impulse behind the entire project. That elevates it beyond the point even the most cerebral wrestling fans can anticipate.
To borrow from the famous, vintage advertising line for a certain brand of rye bread ("You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s"), you don’t have to be jiggy wit’ the WWF to dig "Beyond the Mat." It’s a smart, stringently focused look at the human beings behind the packaged, pretend freaks that have become this country’s wrestling superstars.

MICHAEL SRAGOW, SALON:

"Beyond the Mat" made the preliminary list of nominees for the best documentary Oscar and earned Blaustein a nomination from the Directors Guild of America. It's a potent piece of work, full of unresolved arguments and emotions. It leaves you in a state of visceral confusion toward intelligent, capable men who get paid for being bashed.

TED ANTHONY, NANDOTIMES.COM:

All for the price of one movie ticket: Thrill to the sight of a former third-grade teacher, his face drenched in blood, explaining how he "loves taking bumps!" See wives and children look on as husbands are pile-driven into mountains of fleshy pulp! Watch the president of a billion-dollar company shed his shirt and beat on employees with fists and chairs! Now that's entertainment!

Actually, it's professional wrestling. And in the documentary "Beyond the Mat," a mordant, probing look at the sport-cum-spectacle, screenwriter and wrestling fan Barry Blaustein poses a question and sets out to answer it: "What sort of human being bashes another man's skull into a ring post for a living?"

In an earnest, matter-of-fact fashion that manages to be both affectionate and skewering, Blaustein chronicles a world where choreographed violence grows more outrageous each year and ardent fans gobble up gore like Romans cheering on Christian-eating lions . . .

We hear Terry Funk, the 53-year-old "Living Legend" of wrestling, ponder the weirdness of being pals with the people you get paid to pummel. "What's so stupid about it," he says, "is the worse you hurt each other, the more money you make. And the more money you make, the better friends you are."

Throughout Blaustein's excursion into this world – he narrates it all, with an ideally flat and nonjudgmental tone – the outrageous scenes of wrestling and staged bloodshed are leavened, and in many cases outshined by, wrestlers' quiet moments offstage. This is where the ambivalence and humanity of real life takes over from the broad-brush drawings of pro-wrestling caricature.

Funk, for example, is battling knee and back problems and being pressured by his wife to quit. He loves her and adores his children, but the ring's allure is strong. And Jake "The Snake" Roberts, another aging wrestler, is amazingly candid with Blaustein about his troubles inside the ring and off – including excruciating, on-camera efforts to forge a relationship with his grown daughter . . .

Wrestling's ultimate question has always been this: real or staged? "Beyond the Mat," a work of genuine genius, makes clear that it's both. And the implications of that – good-natured entertainment with little real anger that nonetheless produces real bloodshed – are too appalling to contemplate.

JOE BALTAKE, SACRAMENTO BEE:

Sometimes, you find material for a good movie in the most unlikely place. Barry W. Blaustein's "Beyond the Mat," for example, is the kind of film one might have major reservations about seeing -- an inside look at what drives some men (and women) into the childishly primitive world of pro wrestling.

Shrewdly structured for both the aficionado of that dubious sport and the uninitiated, Blaustein's film works in equal measure as exploitation and essay -- a world that couples the allure of a circus sideshow act with brute force.

In the nonjudgmental way that it approaches its subject, "Beyond the Mat" is reminiscent of Robert Kaylor's "Derby," a 1971 documentary about roller derby stars that was a sensation in its day but is now a lost, largely forgotten film. Like "Derby," Blaustein's movie is enlightening in unexpected ways, locating a sort of cockeyed intelligence and rationality among the wrestling stars profiled, people who willingly submit to reckless body slams and potential concussions . . .

"Beyond the Mat," like all good movies, holds up a mirror in front of us -- at a different angle. And this time, the mirror is broken.
_______________________________

NBC MAKES DEAL WITH THE DEVIL

(New York Post, Sunday, April 2, 2000)

By Phil Mushnick

Early last week, as NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol was putting the final touches to NBC's partnership with his mirror-image, Vince McMahon, parents and guardians of students at Brooklyn's P.S. 29 received a letter.

Principal Eve MacCurry wrote to inform them that pro wrestling sold by McMahon on primetime TV has taken hold of many of their kids, that her grammar-schoolers are using the same "objectionable language and gestures" used by pro wrestlers. She added that students are emulating the brutality of pro wrestling, warning that if it doesn't cease someone will be hurt.

Attached to the letter was a response form acknowledging receipt of the letter and that the issue had been discussed with the child.

Ms. MacCurry did not specify the objectionable behavior, and I apologize preemptively if any of her students or any other kids read this, but it's important for responsible adults to know that the act she referenced is not limited to Ms. MacCurry's tastes. It's the act in which WWF wrestlers point to or grab their crotches while hollering, "Suck it!"

The fact is, Ms. MacCurry, that's an old one. There are newer and equally vile acts that serve McMahon as wildly successful weapons in the marketing of children.

"It's horrendous," Ms. MacCurry said by phone. "Parents are calling to complain about how their child was physically or verbally abused by other kids, in school or on the way home. And it all comes directly from pro wrestling on TV."

Ms. MacCurry joins the swelling ranks of principals of public, private and parochial schools, kindergarten through high school; the ranks of teachers, clergy, child psychologists and psychiatrists, social scientists and right-headed adults who recognize the price we pay for Vince McMahon, NBC's proud new partner.

Perhaps McMahon will respond to these folks the way he did when his WWF stock plunged following his announcement that he was getting into the football business. Perhaps he'll deliver the same, press-conferenced message he delivered to investors: "Kiss my ass!"

Tomorrow at 10 p.m., Court TV will air a one-hour show on what the soaring popularity of pro wrestling has done for America, including four recent cases of children, none older than 12, killing even younger children by emulating pro wrestlers. What once was a sad peculiarity -- pro wrestling-inspired death or serious injury of children -- is now coming with a rush.

Perhaps McMahon will tell the families of the murdered children that they, too, can kiss his ass.

How proud NBC and its parent company, General Electric, must be to now be in financial and programming partnership with Vince McMahon.

In addition to buying into McMahon's XFL, a football league aimed at young viewers through what a McMahon spokesperson calls its more "visceral" content (he couldn't say "crude"), NBC purchased $30 million in stock in McMahon's World Wrestling Federation Entertainment company. Proud as a peacock.

At Wednesday's media conference to announce the deal, Ebersol made with the same con that McMahon's so practiced at. He portrayed the WWF as just a fun thing -- "Where's your sense of humor?" he asked. And good, clean fun, at that -- "In my viewing of Vince's programming," he said, "I wouldn't classify anything as vulgar."

If that's the case, Ebersol wouldn't have a problem repeating or describing what's said and done on WWF programs, would he? He'd be eager to make his presentation at, say, a GE stockholders' meeting, wouldn't he? He could even bring some WWF videotape along for a little show and tell.

If it's not vulgar, why not treat an investors' conclave to some of McMahon's fun stuff? Show 'em what you and NBC and GE bought into, show 'em how NBC's new partner attracts kids and the Holy Grail of TV, "the younger, male demographic."

Ebersol can start by grabbing his crotch and shouting "Suck it!" Then he could point to some female stockholders and call them "bitches" and "ho's," perhaps even tear their clothes off, then slap 'em around, WWF-, primetime- style. Bar graphs showing the rise in WWF popularity among kids can serve as the backdrop.

Ebersol could even imitate WWF star, "The Rock," by calling for the women stockholders to give him some "sweet p------g pie." McMahon sells that one to kids on TV and T-shirts.

With his audience warmed up, Ebersol could then do an imitation of The Godfather, the stereotypical black street pimp, a recurring WWF character. Then a little homophobic stuff. He could strut around like a glitter queen, encouraging the stockholders to chant, "Faggot! Faggot!" -- the same way kids at televised WWF shows have done.

For his grand finale, Ebersol could roll the tape of McMahon's primetime presentation of a transvestite performing oral sex on a pro wrestler.

If any stockholders objects he can just say, "Hey, where's your sense of humor?" Or tell them to kiss his ass.

Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports and a former WWF TV partner of McMahon's, has never seen anything in McMahon's shows that he'd classify as vulgar. You believe him, don't you?

Last year, after UPN President Dean Valentine bought into the WWF -- and in the process sold out UPN's newscasts as WWF promotional tools -- he said much the same things as Ebersol did last week. Valentine called the WWF "an incredibly mild form of entertainment." He told people to "lighten up."

A few months later, UPN's incredibly mild form of entertainment moved several advertisers to pull out due to its pornographic content. Still, UPN's WWF ratings were huge. The WWF, at least temporarily, saved the desperate network from financial ruin.

Ebersol, in the kind of contradiction that McMahon specializes in, said that while McMahon programming isn't vulgar, some of it isn't appropriate for his 13-year old son. Huh?

If some of it's inappropriate for his 13-year-old, why is it appropriate for our 13-year-olds and younger? Ebersol knows that, like McMahon, McMahon's advertisers target children. He knows that aisles at Toys 'R Us are loaded with WWF merchandise. Why would he put NBC in bed with a guy who produces children's' programming that's inappropriate for children?

But what's done is done. The man who has had the cruelest, most twisted, most unconscionable impact on American children in the history of television is now in partnership with NBC.

And with McMahon's XFL (the X tells the story) now an NBC property, CBS/Viacom remains hungry for WWF primetime programming. CBS has made a bid believed to be roughly $100 million for an equity stake in the WWF. How proud CBS must be.

Late last week we received calls from several NBC staffers, all of them revulsed by NBC's embrace of McMahon. An NBC News employee said he was "literally sickened" by the news, "my stomach actually turned." After all, how can NBC News report on the ills of society when NBC has bought into a company that does such staggering dirt to us all?

NBC News should be investigating what McMahon does, how and to whom. But now McMahon's on the same team. While all network news divisions have been co-opted by their networks' programming, now it cuts to the bone.

As bad as it is, Principal MacCurry, be prepared: It's going to get worse. Garbage sells, the worst garbage sells best and the younger audiences are what TV fights hardest over. NBC has abandoned even its minimal sense of decency, CBS is on deck. We grow more diminished by the day.

But don't give up, Ms. MacCurry. You're on the side of the angels. Keep fighting for the kids.
______________________________

MUSHNICK RAMBLINGS WAY OFF BASE

(Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 2, 2000)

By Rennie Detore

If you've ever read a TV Guide column by Phil Mushnick, chances are it was about pro wrestling. It's no secret that Mushnick doesn't care too much for the sports-entertainment phenomenon.

Musnick's most recent attack was directed towards World Wrestling Federation superstar, The Rock.

In his March 12 column, Mushnick attacked The Rock, saying that he is a horrible role model and would bomb as host of "Saturday Night Live." This seemingly unprovoked attack had no basis to it whatsoever. It was simply Mushnick being himself.

Let's start with the first comment regarding The Rock being a poor role model for kids. If The Rock is one of the worst, then who's the best?

I guess Mushnick -- because he thinks that all pro wrestlers are evil -- feels that kids should look up to "real" athletes, instead of these phonies.

Take a look at some of those real athletes, Phil. From Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens to the NHL's stick-slashing Marty McSorley, pro sports aren't exactly filled with angels.

But the truth is The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, should (in terms of TV personas) be a role model for kids. He's a college graduate from the University of Miami. He's a down-to-earth family man, who still visits his hometown on a regular basis.

If anyone in wrestling has role model status, it would have to be The Rock. He doesn't have a criminal record like pro baseball's Darryl Strawberry, and he hasn't fled from the police like Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth.

As far as the second statement, I couldn't help but root for The Rock during his SNL appearance on March 18. But the truth is, The Rock doesn't need my support. He proved on that episode why he is the best entertainer around.

If Mushnick needs proof of that, just look at the numbers. It was the highest rated SNL this season, with 10.4 million steady viewers. The show peaked at 20 million viewers, making it the highest rated show since May 8th of last year.

Besides the Rock's performance, the other wrestlers on the show also played very good supporting roles - especially The Big Show. Who knew he was so entertaining? There were people who don't even follow wrestling that enjoyed the show.

I hope Mushnick enjoyed the show as much as the general public. This successful performance by The Rock won't hinder the hypocritical statements by Mushnick, however.

The guy is bitter towards wrestling for some reason, and he uses the TV Guide as his personal forum to bash it.

Every guy is entitled to his opinion, and Mushnick is no different. He should, however, try to add some facts to his columns. As is, they are groundless and idiotic, and further establish the fact that he doesn't think about something before he writes it. If he doesn't like Vince McMahon, that's fine. Hey, even Vince's wrestlers don't trust him.

That's doesn't mean Mushnick should bash McMahon's wrestlers in the process.

The XFL-NBC deal probably means that WWF programming will stay with USA, since NBC doesn't own a major cable network. The WWF still may shop around for another network, including TNN.

Vince Russo appeared on World Championship Wrestling's Internet show, "WCW Live," to address some of his ideas for the new-look WCW. Some of the key points included the continuing push of Vampiro and The Wall. He also said he'd like to bring The Warrior back to feud with Goldberg (huh?) and that the nWo still has some potential to draw.

Be sure to check your local listings for "Pro Wrestling Review," which airs every Saturday at midnight. Fans are invited to attend a live taping at 8 p.m., Tuesday at Casa D'Ice in North Versailles (Kmart plaza).

The Wrestlemania 2000 card looks very strong, especially the undercard. It would be hard to pick a show-stealing match, simply because there are so many worthy candidates. The three-way match for the Intercontinental and European titles between Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho should be stellar. This is the first Wrestlemania for these guys, so expect a huge effort. Angle will most likely keep one of the two titles. I'd give the other title to Benoit and start him on a singles push.

The other undercard match with possibility has to be the three-way ladder match between Edge and Christian, The Dudleys, and The Hardys. The Dudleys are way "over" with the WWF crowd, so they'll probably keep the titles. The heel turn by Edge and Christian was a nice touch and should freshen up their feud with The Hardys.

And finally, who could forget the main event. A lot of people probably, considering that the participants are simply a backdrop for the McMahon family storyline. Keep Vince, Shane and Stephanie, but get rid of Linda McMahon.

As far as the match goes, The Rock may not be the obvious choice in this one, because he is expected to take time off shortly to film the sequel to "The Mummy." Mick Foley should come away with this one. He deserves a proper sendoff, and the WWF shouldn't disappoint. Remember, the WWF said this is one match only and if Foley wins, he forfeits the title tommorow night on "Raw."

To the critics who say Foley lied about retirement, I say this: No one in the business of pro wrestling turns down a main-event spot at Wrestlemania, no matter the situation.

Foley responded to the critics in a USA Today article saying that the payoff from this one match (rumored to be about $500,000) may one day send his kids to college. I, and the rest of the fans, can forgive Foley for this one.

The WAWLI Papers No. 715...

(ED. NOTE – Gary Will, a chief architect of the recently reissued, bigger and better than ever Wrestling Ttitle Histories, sends along the following. Our thanks and, for info on how to get your copy of the extraordinary WTH, click over to http://www.garywill.com/wrestling/wresbook.htm )

MY CASE FOR WRESTLING

(SPORT Magazine, April, 1949)

By George Zaharias

(ED. NOTE: We’ve always regarded wrestling as a cross between melodrama and third-rate burlesque. But we like to hear both sides of any story, so we’ve asked an ex-grappler, now a promoter, to defend his chosen "sport." His arguments may not convince you—but they read well!)

Like everybody else, the Editors of this magazine have been hearing for years that wrestling is phony and every bout is fixed. So they asked me what wrestling has to say about it.

Well, I’ve been in the wrestling business for 20 years, and if wrestling is phony, I don’t know anything about it. And if it is phony, there are between five and six million people in the United States every year who are willing to pay to see this phony business. Because that’s the number of fans who buy tickets to sit in on wrestling matches all over the country each year.

Here’s something, too: There were half-a-dozen years in the 30’s when more people saw wrestling matches in this country than saw any other sport, except basketball. and football. Newspaper polls proved that.

People who sneer at wrestling say every bout is rehearsed or fixed. Well, one night I was wrestling in Washington, D. C. After finishing my bout, I came out to watch the rest of the matches. Mike Romano was wrestling Jack Donovan, and they’d gone about 14 or 15 minutes. Donovan had Mike in a wristlock and switched it into a head scissors. Mike kicked twice, then went limp. Donovan pinned him and it was all over.

People started to holler "fake" and "boo" and a lot of things like that. Donovan got up, but Mike didn’t. He was lying there, While everybody was hollering "phony" and yelling that he was faking his injuries. When they carried Mike out, he was dead. You just know that. Mike didn’t rehearse that one.

I started wrestling in 1928 and retired in 1941. Since. then, I’ve been promoting around Denver. Everything I have I owe to wrestling. What’s more, I don’t know a wrestler who has checked into the poorhouse lately. Lots of the boys are prominent in business and public life and they’ll tell you wrestling did it for them.

Take Harry Fields—Doctor Harry Fields, that is. Harry worked his way through college by wrestling, and earned his doctor’s degree. He’s now one of the most prominent baby specialists in Philadelphia.

And there’s Ralph Wilson, who is one of the best-known surgeons in Evansville, Indiana, and has his own hospital. He accomplished it through his earnings in wrestling.

Remember Bronko Nagurski? The Bronk was a topnotch pro football player, but the schedule let him play only 11 games a year. He wrestled about 125 matches a year, and fattened his bank roll. The Bronk now is one of the directors of a bank in International Falls, Minnesota. Pink Gardner, who was the light-heavy champ some years back, was elected Sheriff in Schenectady, New York, and still holds public office. As for myself, I might still be shining shoes in Pueblo, Colorado if it wasn’t for wrestling. I sold my shoeshine place to get nough money to learn to wrestle. Things were tough. I can’t tell you how many meals I missed until I was eady and I got my chance.

It came in 1928. I’d been training for two years, and ad bad only a few small bouts. I was working around Columbus, Ohio, when one day a telegram came asking there was some fellow handy they could send to South Bend, Indiana. There was no one else around except me, so I took the bout.

I was to meet Leo Alexander and he was undefeated in 49 bouts. I beat him. For my end, I was paid $25. That was a big pile of dough to me then, but it did me almost as much good when Leo said, "Boy, you’re a comer."

I was asked to come back the next week, and that time beat a fellow named Brown out of Chicago for another big $25. Then a match was set up between Alexander and me again. The house was a sell-out. My purse was $l26.26. I finally had hit pay dirt.

In the next 18 years, wrestling was pretty good to me. I received purses as high as $9,200. That doesn’t compare with the big ones Jim Londos and Ed (Strangler) Lewis collected. But it wasn’t hay, as they say.

During these years, I read articles saying wrestling was fixed or was phony. But I have yet to hear a dyed-in-the-wool wrestling fan talk in this manner. It’s only the people talking strictly from hearsay who say things like that.

Funny thing, too. People who believe that wrestling is phony, and are finally talked into seeing a wrestling match, often become dyed-in-the-wool fans and loyal followers from then on.

In California, I used to see Will Rogers at the matches every Wednesday night at the Olympic Auditorium. I always wanted to meet the man, but never had nerve enough to go up and talk to him.

Then one night—the Wednesday before he left with Wiley Post on that ill-fated trip—he came back to the dressing room with Al Jolson. Naturally, I was thrilled to meet him.

"I see you so many times here at the wrestling matches," I asked him. "Why do you come?"

"I enjoy them," he replied. "And when I’m here I can forget all my troubles watching them."

I told him I didn’t think a man like him, who made so many people happy, had any troubles. "But I’m glad, Mr. Rogers, if I can make a man like you forget any you may have."

One of the wrestling regulars is J. Edgar Hoover, the head G-man. He rarely missed a chance to see a match. And he’s asked several wrestlers how to work certain holds, so that his men could learn them and use them in preparing to become FBI agents. He even invited one wrestler to demonstrate holds to his men.

Are bouts rehearsed? Naturally, that was one of the questions the Editors of SPORT asked me. I can speak for myself. Wrestling bouts are no more rehearsed than football games or championship boxing matches or just about any sport you can think of, including chess.

A football team comes out every afternoon and rehearses the plays and formations it is going to usw on the following Saturday. A champion fighter hires sparring partners and drills with them on exactly the same punches and footwork he figures on using in his fight. The chess player practices moves to get ready for any situation. Why, even my wife, Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias, works on her golf shots with every club in her bag before a tournament.

In all sports, they get ready for competition by planning their moves in advance and rehearsing them. Even an army has maneuvers and sham battles, which are only rehearsals. Wrestlers, like boxers, go to gyms daily to train. They rehearse all the holds they expect to use in their next bouts.

But as far as I know, there never has been the kind of a rehearsal for an important wrestling match as has been pictured by unbelievers who have never seen one. By that I mean a rehearsal where the outcome is fixed in advance. And as a wrestler and promoter, I’ve sat in on probably 4,000 bouts.

Look at it this way: The guy on top makes the most money. The only way he can get on top is by ability. And I’ll let you in on something: A buck is just as important to a wrestler as it is to a banker.

Wrestling has opened up. It is no longer the drab affair that it was 20 years ago. Promoters all over the country are always on the lookout for something new; something exciting that will entertain the customers, send them away talking, and bring them back again.

I don’t necessarily mean fellows like Chief Chewacki—Chief Wacky, we used to call him. The chief was around a few years back, and one night he was wrestling Whitey Hewitt and getting the worst of it. So he reached down and grabbed Whitey by the hair and dragged him all over the ring. Naturally, he slammed him against the ring posts that way, and he beat him.

It was such a hectic finish, they were rematched a few weeks later. The Chief thought he was going to have some more of the same kind of fun with the hair business. But Wbitey showed up with his head cleanshaven. The chief was deprived of his best hold.

But the fellows I’m talking about are those who brought something new and exciting into the game. Gus Sonnenberg’s flying tackle, for instance, excited fans so much that he drew tremendous gates wherever he went. The night he won the title from Strangler Lewis in Boston in 1929, he revolutionized wrestling all over again.

All the young wrestlers forgot wrist-locks, headlocks, and toe holds and turned to the flying tackle, and were knocking their heads off against ring posts. Wrestlers specialized in the tackle—fellows like Jim McMillen from Chicago and Joe Savoldi, who used it with his famous drop kick that he brought from Notre Dame.

I even tried the tackle for a while. One night, I was having a lot of fun with this tackle wrestling Gino Garibaldi in St. Louis. I’d hit him with it about seven or eight times, so I thought maybe once or twice more wouldn’t hurt me any.

Gino maneuvered close to the ropes. As I came in with my tackle, he ducked under me and lifted me clean over the top rope, and let go. This gave me a slight 14-foot fall to the cement floor alongside the ring. The next thing I remember was in a hospital, two days later, when I woke up with flowers all over the room.

Just remember that wrestling was the national sport in ancient Greece and it’s still going strong. Matches in his country used to be fought in barns or dance halls and places like that. But since about 1902, it has come along until now it’s a big stadium affair.

The promoters developed the game. They put up big purses for the wrestlers to fight for. With that, the wrestlers no longer have to bet purse-against-purse in a match, like they used to, in order to make a satisfactory payday.

The promoters also discouraged betting among fans. For wrestling promoters are the smartest of all promoters. They know that losing bettors are the first to squawk about whether or not a sport is on the up-and-up. If you don’t think they’re smart, remember they’re still attracting some six million fans every year, in spite of all the stories about rehearsals and phonies.

I believe, though, that the big fault in wrestling today—why it is being kicked around and blasted by unfavorable criticism—is in the poor handling by local or state athletic or boxing commissions. Some groups are favorable to wrestling, but many favor boxing. The New York Commission, for instance, says that wrestling matches must be billed as "exhibitions," not contests. But the New York Commission still goes ahead using judges and referees at wrestling bouts, which it calls exhibitions, and continues collecting taxes from wrestling matches, which last Winter returned to Madison Square Garden—proof of the sport’s resurgence.

Other commissions, individually, recognize different wrestlers, as "world champions." This confusion started when no promoter was able to match Jim Londos and Gus Sonnenberg to settle their world title claims back in 1930. As a result, there were some 15 so-called "world champions" who have got the blessing of one commission or another.

Now this is not a bad situation for the wrestling promoters and the wrestlers, because it gives practically every promoter a chance to show a champion locally, who has recognition somewhere as a "world" champion. I believe the appointment of Ed (Strangler) Lewis, one of the game’s greatest figures, as national commissioner, will help a great deal to straighten out the ancient tangle caused by sectional champions. Until Lewis, with the help of all men who are interested in wrestling, can eliminate the criticism that the phony champions bring down on the sport, wrestling will have a hard time assuming its rightful place among major American sports.

Like the wrestler, the wrestling promoter has received a lot of benefit from the sport. Some of the outstanding promoters have been in the business for over 25 years. My first contact with a promoter was with Al Haft in Columbus, Ohio, who is one of the smartest and finest—and one of the wealthiest—men in Ohio. I was sent to him when I was 18 to learn to wrestle. He looked over my 265 pounds.

"You’re a pretty big boy," he grinned, "but we’ll cut that suet off you.

And, brother, did he! After one year, I still knew nothing about wrestling. I hadn’t earned a quarter, but I had earned this big cauliflower ear.

Promoting wrestling is big business and has meant a lot of money to those at the top. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the promoters make money only at the expense of the fellows who do the work. Jim Londos is reputed to be a millionaire. Sandor Szabo, Bronko Nagurski, Jim McMillen—who has a piece of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League—and practically all of the well-known grapplers are sitting on easy street.

Strangler Lewis lured about $6,500,000 through the gate while he was champion.

Ed’s take was roughly 30 percent of the total, say a million and three quarters. His largest gate—$108,000---was with Jim Londos in Chicago in 1934 for the Chicago Tribune fund.

The hottest gate attraction in wrestling history was the series of matches between Lewis and Londos. They wrestled about a dozen times. And if you have any idea that any of these might have been rehearsed, you didn’t know Ed and Jim. They liked each other about as much as pickles and ice cream. Any time they went to the post it was strictly a grudge match.

They fought one of the most grueling matches in wrestling history in the Coliseum in St. Louis. It started at 10 o’clock at night, and was still going strong at 3 a.m. The referee tired before they did. Lewis finally came out on top with his paralyzing headlock. Ed’s headlock was so strong, he could practically separate your head from your shoulders. In this particular match, he didn’t quite do that, but he dislocated Jim’s neck and put him out of commission for a while.

Back in those days, the title was figured to be worth half-a-million dollars to the man who held it. The titleholder could appear just about every night of the year, and take the champion’s end of the gate. That’s why the title matches were for blood.

One of the loudest criticisms aimed at wrestling is that the same wrestlers meet night after night and year after year. Well, football teams meet year after year, and during the season, the same golfers play each other practically every week in tournaments. So do tennis players. The New York Yankees meet each other club in the American League 22 times in the space of five months. That doesn’t mean those sports are phony.

So, why pick on wrestling? It’s a sport and it’s demanded by the public. No one puts a gun against Gus Fan’s head and drags him into the arena. Yet, he keeps coming, because he enjoys it.

Londos and Lewis met about a dozen times. Each one was a grudge match. The smallest gate they ever drew was $30,000 and the biggest, $108,000. If a match draws, the promoter wants it, the fans want it, the wrestlers want it. That goes for all sports, doesn’t it?

It’s only simple business—and wrestling is a business today, just like any sport which depends on its gate receipts for success.

WRESTLING’S YOUNG FANS SEE THROUGH FAKE VIOLENCE

(Orlando Sentinel, December 12, 1990)

By Sam Hodges

Ryan Pensy is a gifted student at Blankner Elementary in Orlando, Fla. The fifth-grader likes science, plans to be a doctor or lawyer and already plays golf.

What fires him up, though, is professional wrestling. When his parents let him (and their rules are pretty strict) he watches wrestling on TV. He also reads wrestling magazines, wears a "Hulk (Hogan) Rules" T-shirt, collects toy figures of Hulk and other wrestlers and can demonstrate wrestling holds like the "piledriver" and "suplex."

Asked if pro wrestling is real or fake, Ryan thinks it over and answers "mostly fake." But he says that that doesn't matter, that he thoroughly enjoys wrestling and that he in fact wrestles with his dad, Joe Pensy.

"Every time he walks in the door I jump on," Ryan said. Then he added: "Except when he's in a bad mood."

Ryan, 10, may be exceptionally bright, but he's not exceptionally a wrestling fan. There are millions in the United States; many are children and most of those are boys. Matwatch, a newsletter on professional wrestling, reports that in some TV markets more than a third of the wrestling audience consists of males under 14.

That translates into hundreds of thousands of boys, given the popularity of wrestling among cable TV viewers. Granted that many boys enjoy watching wrestling, how much of a headlock does it have on them? Is repeated exposure to its staged violence and caricatured personalities warping, or is wrestling merely an entertainment that they slip out of as easily and harmlessly as wrestlers slip out of headlocks (and all other holds) that a few seconds earlier had them screaming in agony?

Well, the boys aren't worried. As for adults, the answer is -- to shift to a boxing metaphor -- a split decision. Sitting in the negative corner is the National Council on Television Violence.

"We consider wrestling to be the worst form of sports violence on television today," said Brian Sullivan, director of television research for the coalition. "It's showcasing extremely aggressive behavior, and it glamorizes the violence. We're very concerned that this TV sporting event -- if you can call it a sport -- is targeted at children."

A less predictable and less strident opponent is Marie Hill, formerly principal at McCoy Elementary in Orlando and currently an instructor and researcher at the University of Central Florida. While noting that wrestling was hardly the greatest problem she faced as principal, she said she had to watch out for children who liked to try wrestling holds on one another. She also found little to admire in how wrestlers conduct themselves.

"So many wrestlers aren't good role models," she said. "They have vendettas, they carry grudges, they solve problems in physical ways. Children need to know they can solve problems in other ways. They need less violence in their lives."

Randy Jessee, wrestling coach at University High, disagreed that professional wrestling is a bad influence on young people. The kind of highly structured, rigidly officiated wrestling he coaches is far different from the rhinestone variety practiced by Hulk. But Mr. Jessee said young people aren't fooled by professional wrestling and enjoy it in the way adults do.

"I've got four kids, and they turn it on," he said. "I'll turn it on. It's entertaining. That's what's it's there for, to entertain. I don't think it's a good or bad thing."

Marilyn Everett, director of the Osceola branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida, also sees no big deal about pro wrestling. Some pro wrestling matches were held last month at the club gymnasium, and club members got to watch for free.

"They thought it was great," she said. "They cheered the heroes and booed the villains. They didn't take it too seriously. It was just entertainment to them, and I don't see any problem with that."

Professional wrestling has been around for decades, of course, and TV wrestling has been around about as long as television itself. Middle-agers of the 1990s very likely watched at least a little TV wrestling as children. But professional wrestling has changed greatly, even in the past few years.

Because of cable, it's on TV nearly every day, rather than just Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Also, it's nationally rather than regionally run, with two large organizations -- the World Wrestling Federation and National Wrestling Alliance -- replacing the many local promoters of just a few years back. The result is a richer industry, with Business Week magazine estimating two years ago that professional wrestling pulls in $300 million a year.

Another big change is that today's pro wrestling is aimed at children. It's on TV when children are likely to watch, including Saturday mornings as early as 9. There are all kinds of commercial tie-ins: toys, trading cards, cereals, cookies, T-shirts, posters, title belts, even Hulk Hogan vitamins.

The new professional wrestling also deals more in ideology and sexual stereotypes, said Gerald Morton, an English professor at Auburn University at Montgomery and author of "Wrestling to Rasslin': Ancient Sport to American Spectacle," one of the few academic books on professional wrestling.

Mr. Morton doesn't call for censorship of professional wrestling but encourages parents to explain to children "that the conflicts they see in wrestling are no more real than what they'd see on Mighty Mouse."
___________________________________

MAN POSING AS MAT STAR CHARGED WITH RAPE

(Raleigh News & Observer, Oct. 18, 1991)

By Pamela Babcock

He was no Hulk Hogan or "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, but police said a 5-foot-9, 140-pound man wooed a woman with claims that he was a professional wrestler, then held her captive and repeatedly beat and raped her.

Timothy Aubrey Dean, 30, was charged with second-degree rape, extortion and kidnapping Wednesday night after a bruised and hysterical woman in her early 20s came to the Raleigh Police Department, police said.

The woman, a clerk at a Wake County retail store, was treated at Wake Medical Center and released, said Raleigh Detective R.F. Holsclaw. He said the woman told police she met a man at a popular Raleigh night spot last Friday. The man was wearing a tuxedo and lots of gold jewelry, she said, and told her he was a professional wrestler named Ricky Garvin.

The detective said the man took the woman back to his rooming house, where he beat and raped her over several days. The woman said the suspect forced her to spend money on him and to phone her parents, assuring them she was safe.

On Wednesday as the man was filling his van with gas, the woman jumped into the driver's seat and drove off, Detective Holsclaw said. She headed straight to authorities to seek help, he said.

It was the second time in two months that Mr. Dean, of 1311 Wake Forest Road, Room C, was accused of victimizing a woman after luring her with a phony story about his fame as a pro wrestler.

On Aug. 18, Mr. Dean was charged with rape, extortion and kidnapping following an incident in which a woman in her 30s said she had been assaulted by a man purporting to be a wrestler named Ricky Garvin.

Mr. Dean pleaded guilty to lesser charges of assault on a female and false imprisonment. He was fined $200, received a suspended two-year sentence and was placed on probation for three years.

The victims in both cases told police that the man who called himself Ricky Garvin had portrayed himself as a sensitive, upright person.

"The initial come-on is 'I'm a nice guy,'" Detective Holsclaw said. "He presents himself to be a Christian with high moral standards. He tells them what he thinks they want to hear."

The Garvin name is not uncommon in the world of professional wrestling. The Garvin brothers became famous in the mid-1980s in the National Wrestling Alliance, which has since become World Championship Wrestling. Ronnie Garvin, a professional wrestler, was the former NWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Mr. Dean was being held in the Wake County Jail on $60,000 bond.
_____________________________

COMIC WRESTLED WITH MORE THAN ONE-LINERS

(Knight-Ridder News Service, May 24, 1993)

By Andy Wickstrom

Accusing a comedian of being crazy is usually a high compliment. In the case of Andy Kaufman, the eccentric performer most widely remembered as Latka on the series "Taxi," the word may be too accurate.

In the latter days of his career, the comedian lived out his proclaimed fantasy of becoming a big-time wrestler -- with a twist. On TV talk shows and on tour, he wrestled female volunteers from the audience, promising them a cash prize if they could beat him. They never did.

Kaufman's wrestling escapades are the subject of Shanachie Entertainment's "Andy Kaufman: I'm From Hollywood" (60 minutes, $24.98), and it's one of the strangest tapes you'll ever see. None of Kaufman's network material from "Saturday Night Live" or David Letterman's "Late Night" (two of his biggest TV forums) is here.

Instead, the producers have relied on local TV sports broadcasts (primarily in Memphis, scene of many of his matches), nightclub performances and news accounts of Kaufman's exploits. There are even some home video tapings -- fascinating stuff but of mediocre image quality.

You may remember that Kaufman, who died in 1984, liked to tease and exasperate his audience. His wrestling career took audience-baiting to unprecedented heights. The inability of women to defeat him in the ring, he insisted, was evidence of their physical inferiority. His inflammatory remarks were in the tradition of wrestling braggadocio, and he had women howling for his blood.

Soon a feud developed between Kaufman and professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, who said Kaufman was mocking his sport. The Yankee from Hollywood was certainly mocking the South in general and Memphis in particular.

At one point Kaufman appears in a tape apparently intended for Memphis TV stations in which he instructs Southerners on how to use soap, razors and toilet paper. Several matches with Lawler are shown, including the encounter in which Kaufman winds up hospitalized and in a neck brace.

One highlight of their feud is recounted only in newspaper clippings -- their joint appearance on the Letterman show, when Lawler struck Kaufman and the comedian exploded with a string of obscenities. Was it just an extended put-on, like so much else about pro wrestling?

Maybe it started out that way, but even Kaufman's friends seen here are uncomfortable at the proportions of the joke.

Tony Danza, Marilu Henner and Robin Williams, all speaking several years after Kaufman's death, testify to his comic gifts but remain perplexed by his behavior.

One person on the tape says Kaufman realized his happiest moments when being jeered by 10,000 irate wrestling fans.

"I'm From Hollywood" provides plenty of evidence for that view.

WRESTLING'S FRENZIED FANATICAL FOLLOWERS

(Raleigh News & Observer, January 4, 1994)

By Charles Salter Jr.

On this night, there are more than the usual reasons not to go to Dorton Arena and watch professional wrestling.

Outside, it's freezing and blustery. The weather folks on TV and radio have been warning against driving, since an ice storm was on the way. Inside, it's not much better. The arena is as warm as an igloo. Ringside seats are chilliest, as the metal chairs rest on inch-think boards covering the IceCaps' ice rink.

Compared to Starrcade, a World Championship Wrestling extravaganza held two nights earlier in Charlotte, the Raleigh bouts are meaningless. At Starrcade, several titles, including the heavyweight world championship (well, champion of this particular wrestling fiefdom) was on the line in front of a near-capacity crowd of about 9,000.

Ric Flair, who became champ for the 12th time, isn't even on the card in Raleigh. But none of this matters to about 1,500 loyal fans who make the pilgrimage to Dorton, once again the area's lone outpost of grappledom.

For years, there were weekly professional wrestling bouts in the arena. Since those were discontinued several years ago, however, the five or so wrestling events held here throughout the year have become more important to fans. They need their wrestlemania fix. One wacky night of lowbrow high drama. One night to see the unbelievably rough action live instead of on TV. One night of slapping, kicking and bad-mouthing. Not to mention what the wrestlers do.

The gawkers line the wall overlooking the tunnel to the dressing room. The wrestlers come and go, giving occasional high-fives and autographs.

Robert Fisher, 19, likes being this close to the celebrities. He spots a new face and elbows his buddy. Chris Strickland, 19, nods in awe. "Not an ounce of fat," he says.

It's not Flair or Sting (the wrestler, not the singer) that catches their eye. It's voluptuous Angela Cooper, one of the Hooters Girls who escorts wrestlers into the arena. She takes off her full-length coat to reveal her uniform for the night, clinging short shorts and clinging T-shirt, as tight as anything the wrestlers are wearing. She hops up and down to keep warm.

With the brute force of a tag-team duo, Fisher and Strickland, both from Zebulon, tear themselves away to join their other buddies in time for the first bout between Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and "All American" Ron Simmons.

"We know it's fake," says Strickland, a freshman at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, who is home for the holidays. "We come for the entertainment."

They act as if they're at a comedy club instead of a wrestling match, keeping a running commentary that sounds like something from "Mystery Science Theater."

As Steamboat and Simmons circle the ring, grabbing each other's hands to make a move, Fisher says: "I'm going to tell you one more time, Ricky. Let's shake hands and go out to my limo. I got a video we can watch."

Simmons flips Steamboat, who winces as if his back is broken. "My back! My back!" mocks Fisher, whose friends crack up, anticipating what happens next. Steamboat miraculously recovers.

Helen Simmons is a believer. The 41-year-old teacher assistant from Smithfield knows that the rasslers, as she calls them, sometimes overreact. But most of the action is real, she says. She can see it. And hear it.

Stunning Steve Austin corners Flyin' Brian Pillman on the ropes. Simmons, or should we say Hyper Helen Simmons, winces. "Did you hear how he slapped him?" she says, her voice filled with indignation. She's one of those incongruities of professional wrestling, a matronly middle-aged woman who's also a wrestling fanatic.

Before the match, she sits calmly in a blue coat, brown scarf and pink pants, like a dutiful PTA member. But once the action starts, she loses control. She kicks and slaps the air, as though she could reach the goons from the cheap seats. If she sat any closer, she says matter-of-factly, "I might throw a chair at them. And they might throw me out."

While Stunning Steve distracts the dumbfounded referee in the ring, his manager, Col. Parker, a character who looks like a cross between Col. Sanders and Mark Twain, sneaks up behind Flyin' Brian to strangle him. Simmons leaps to her feet. "That's not fair!" she shrieks. Flyin' Brian momentarily grounded, Stunning Steve goes for the pin. "Get up! Get up!" she pleads. The referee slaps the mat, counting, "One ... two ... THREE!"

It's over. Simmons slumps in her seat and slaps her knees. "He cheated, he cheated, he cheated." Such emotional outbursts are common for Simmons, who started following wrestling as a little girl. Her parents were avid fans. Now she comes with her husband Steve, a building inspector for Wake County, and 10-year-old daughter Jennifer, a Sting admirer.

"I love Ric," Simmons says demurely. "Ric Flair."

The family likes the good guys, who tend to have white-blond hair, better manners and flatter stomachs. "It's good against evil," Steve Simmons says.

"Hey, big, fat 'n' ugly!" "You're a loser!" "Get outta here, ya bum!"

This is what L.B. Council, 64, assistant chief in charge of security, hears as he escorts the bad guys to and from the ring. Bad guys tend to have lousy haircuts, stubble and colorful tatoos to go with their colorful vocabularies. At 6-feet-2 and 185 pounds, Council, who prefers basketball to wrestling, looks like a rugged and lean drill sergeant.

However, next to 450-pound Vader, the biggest, baddest meanie in the WCW, he looks puny. But no matter. Council and his 11-man force are here to handle the fans, not the wrestlers. That's twice as many public safety officers than at the IceCaps games -- not because the fans are unruly, he says, but because they're spread out on the floor.

"Throwing things is a no-no. Grabbing wrestlers is a no-no," he says. Heaping vocal abuse is encouraged -- to a point.

"You suck, Vader!" a teen screams. "Shut up!" Vader belches back, leaning over the ropes, which stretch against his considerable girth like year-old rubber bands.

"We let them say whatever they want, within reason. As long as it doesn't get filthy-mouthed," Council says, keeping an eye and ear on the rowdies. "The more they holler, the better it gets."

He was the first officer to work at the Dorton Arena matches back in the '50s. Been doing it ever since. The bigger-than-life theatrics, the fake-or-not-fake debate, the zealous, vociferous fans -- none of it has changed, he says. Once, he had to confiscate an outraged fan's purse, shoes and knife. While he was subduing her, he noticed someone behind him dart toward the ring. Council lunged, grabbing the fellow by the cuff of his pants.

"It was another wrestler," he says, shaking his head gravely. "It was quite embarrassing. I didn't know the script."

Backstage with the good guys. Guys like Ricky Steamboat, Sting and Road Warrior Hawk. It's minutes before the night's grand finale, the "20 Man Over the Top Rope Battle Royal."

The good guys are being their polite selves, waiting quietly in an orderly single-file line, as if they're at the bank. At the bottom of the stairs is Dustin Rhodes, as the backside of his snug blue shorts proclaims. He has agreed to a brief interview. Rhodes is the Kyle Petty of wrestling, having grown up watching his father, longtime champ Dusty Rhodes, bounce around the ring.

"When I was really little, if he was getting beaten up, I'd be really worried and start crying and all that," says Rhodes, who jumped from his high school wrestling team in Texas to the pro circuit several years ago.

Now 23, Rhodes looks like a younger, boyish version of his father, who was known as "The American Dream." Same too-white blond hair, same heavy brow, same love handles. The younger Rhodes stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 265 pounds. Calls himself "The Natural."

Though he seems mild-mannered and has a gentle handshake, it's not easy asking him if the action is fake or not. A reporter for "20/20" once asked another wrestler that question. Got his ears boxed. Comedian Richard Belzer also asked. He passed out moments later in a sleeper hold. Andy Kaufman wanted proof and wound up in a neck brace.

So, um, what does The Natural tell wrestling's non-believers (whoever they are)? Rhodes furrows his brow, his massive hands on his hips. "I tell them that it's a hard life to live. That we're in the entertainment business but it's also a sport," he says. "As far as it being fake, I've got an injured knee right now I'm going to have to get scoped as soon as I get home."

In pro wrestling, everyone breaks the rules. Even the fans. When Ric Flair finally appears, escorting another wrestler to the ring, the crowd goes nuts and Anthony Chase Wilson gets in position by the gawkers' wall. He has been a fan of Flair's since he was 5. He once tried dying his hair to look like Flair; it came out orange.

Flair's pictures lined Wilson's bedroom walls until he got married and his wife made him take them down. Waiting anxiously for Flair to return to the dressing room, Wilson cradles his camera and hopes for the impossible. He has one exposure left. One shot at a picture with Flair.

Ask any wrestler, any promoter. A desperate wrestling fan is harder to stop than Oprah on a feeding frenzy.

When Flair approaches, Wilson sneaks around the wall, avoids the guards and pleads with his idol. The security guards leave it up to Flair, who gives in. Despite being overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment, Wilson manages to remember to hold four fingers up in the photo.

As any fan can tell you, that's a reverent reference to Flair's old wrestling gang, "The Four Horsemen." Helen Simmons relies on persistence to get Flair, who stands by the dressing room watching "The Battle Royal." Sandwiched between autograph hounds her daughter's age, she calls and calls. "Ric! Ric! I love you, Ric! Ric, up here!'

Maybe it's her motherly voice. Or her protestations of love. Or the fact that the Hooters Girls have been getting an awful lot of attention from his wrestling fans. Whatever, Flair breaks down and looks up. Simmons hands him a scrap of paper with another wrestler's autograph on one side. Flair turns it over and signs the back.

At the end of night, Simmons is one of the last to leave the arena. Lingering with her daughter outside the dressing room tunnel for one more glimpse of the wrestlers, she shows off the treasured piece of paper. The side Flair signed appears blank. His pen was broken.

"I can't see it, but I know it's there," Simmons says and slides it into her pocket.

JURY GIVES INJURED WRESTLER $27 MILLION

(Associated Press, April 30, 1994)

TAMPA, Fla. -- A Florida jury has awarded $26.7 million to a former University of North Carolina football player in his lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation.

Former pro wrestler Charles Austin, who was left partially paralyzed from a supposedly safe stunt, sat in stunned silence Friday when the jury announced the award.

Austin, who landed headfirst on the mat and broke his neck during a 1990 tag-team match against WWF stars The Rockers, had only asked for about $3.8 million in his circuit court civil lawsuit. The jury deliberated seven hours over two days before returning a record award for pain and suffering in a Tampa court.

"They saw the truth," Austin said afterward. "They realized what the truth of the matter was, and justice did come out."

The jury awarded $20.2 million to Austin, $5.5 million to his wife, Holly, and $1 million to be split by their two sons. An appeal is expected. WWF attorney Joe Lopez did not comment immediately after the verdict and did not return a telephone message left at his office by The Associated Press.

Austin, 37, a former four-sport high school athlete and linebacker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, now walks unsteadily on crutches. He can no longer work and relies on painkillers.

In the choreographed world of pro wrestling, Austin was a "jobber": a part-time talent paid to make the stars look good, according to testimony in the two-week trial. Six weeks into his training, Austin got a shot at a December 1990 tag-team match against the Rockers before 15,000 fans at the University of South Florida Sun Dome. He was to be paid $150.

As they planned the action before the event, Austin learned he would take the final fall in the Rockers' signature move, the Rocker Dropper. But instead of doing a safe but convincing fall during the match, Austin landed on his head, paralyzing him from the neck down.

Marty Jannetty, one of the Rockers, testified he thought Austin was only "selling the move." So he rolled Austin onto his back and tagged co-Rocker Shawn Michaels, who slammed onto Austin from the top rope of the ring to end the match.

"When I hit the mat, there was nothing there," Austin testified of the fall. "At that time, I'm praying. I'm trying not to go into shock."

Austin, 37, sued the Rockers and WWF in 1991, claiming they committed assault and battery, negligence and misrepresentation in Austin's final bout. His attorn

ey, Richard Wilkes, said the organization treated Austin "like a prop in a show."

Wilkes argued that the Rockers downplayed the concerns Austin expressed about the Rocker Dropper before the match and told the neophyte wrestler that the move "was a piece of cake."

'MR. WRESTLING' TO MEET 'KAHN THE WARLORD'

(Raleigh News & Observer, June 17, 1994)

By Shannon Buggs

MORRISVILLE, N.C. -- Some say it started when the Bunn mayor insulted the town of Morrisville in a national gossip rag. Others say Morrisville's police chief picked a fight with the biggest, baddest, best-known Carolina wrestler in order to reclaim a reputation in the sport.

But no matter who started the trash talk, it's going to end tonight with the two men in a no-holds-barred wrestling match. Although a championship belt is not up for grabs, the two contenders plan to brawl until one of them begs for mercy.

"I'm going to send him back to Bunn with two sore buns," said Chief Bruce Newnam, whose ring alias was "Mr. Wrestling" during his part-time pro career in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But his challenger, who says he holds five state heavyweight titles, laughed at the taunt.

"I'm gonna teach him a lesson he'll never forget in front of God and everybody else in Morrisville," Mayor Jerry Kennett said. "He's messin' with the greatest thing that ever happened to the world of professional rasslin'."

All the fuss has to do with Morrisville's annual Day at the Park festival, which stretches over two days. It features duck, goat and pig races; the mayor and town manager in a dunking tank; and karate exhibitions. But the biggest draw is the spectacle of Morrisville's top cop decked out in metallic-blue Spandex, struggling to pin down Bunn's mayor, who says he's been a professional wrestler for 17 years.

Most weekends you can find Kennett's alter ego, "Kahn the Warlord," doing battle against colorful professional wrestlers from the Carolinas. During the week he works on the assembly line at the Siemens electrical equipment plant in Wendell.

In November, Kennett was elected mayor of Bunn, a Franklin County town of 366 people, drawing 47 votes and defeating three write-in candidates who received a total of 35 votes.

He's a little apprehensive about his bout with the chief, mainly because Newnam's been out of the ring so long. "But he's been flapping his mouth so much, he's gonna have to learn the hard way how to keep it closed," Kennett said.

During his self-imposed, decade-long exile from the sweaty mats, hard ropes and flashy costumes of professional wrestling, Newnam has built up the Morrisville Police Department from a one-man operation to a force with seven full-time and five part-time officers. But now he's ready to make a mat comeback. And, depending on how tonight goes, he may consider keeping his tights on

"I've always kept in contact with the rasslin' world," Newnam said. "But I've had to stay low-key because being a police chief and a professional rassler doesn't really go together."

As a good guy of the show biz sport, Newnam doesn't plan to use any dirty tricks to win. He's hoping his 6-foot-5-inch frame and 235 pounds plus a few well-timed maneuvers will overpower Kennett, who stands a mere inch over 6 feet but is 30 pounds heavier at 265.

But Newnam's wife, Phyllis, a Morrisville commissioner, isn't standing in her man's corner. She predicted at a recent town meeting that he would lose the match.

"Y'all make sure you come out and see the police chief get his behind beat Friday night," she told the town board. "No, no, he's supposed to win," protested Mayor Ernest Lumley. "He's our great hope," chimed in Town Manager Bill Cobey.

In mid-April, Cobey granted the chief's request for a three-week leave of absence from his police duties so that he could train for Mr. Wrestling's much-publicized return to the ring.

"I've been away so long, I needed to have some intense workout time," Newnam said. A few fist-sized, deep purple bruises are testament to Newnam's mission to get back in shape

In between tonight's rasslin' matches at Morrisville Community Park, country & western star Ronnie McDowell will perform. Known for hit songs such as "Older Women" and "All Tied Up," McDowell will give spectators a breather between five wrestling battles, including the headliner match pitting Jimmy "The Boogie Man" Valiant against The Masked Intruder.

Capping the night of body slams and country hits is a bunkhouse brawl -- a king-of-the-hill battle royal in which Newnam, Kennett and the eight other local pros will try to fling one another over, through and under the ropes until only one man is left.

"For the honor of Morrisville, I hope to be the last man standing in that ring," Newnam said.

MAYOR OUTWRESTLES POLICE CHIEF

(Raleigh News & Observer, June 19, 1994)

Bunn Mayor Jerry Kennett polished off Morrisville Police Chief Bruce Newnam in a no-holds-barred wrestling match during Morrisville's annual Day at the Park on Friday.

The Spandex-clad Newnam saved civic face for Morrisville by winning a 10-man rumble later in the evening. The wrestling matches capped a week of verbal taunting between the two community leaders, both of whom have wrestled professionally.

Kennett, mayor of Bunn since November but known as Kahn the Warlord in the ring, said he holds five state heavyweight titles.

Most weekends you can find the Warlord, 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, battling colorful professional wrestlers from around the Carolinas.

Newnam, known as Mr. Wrestling, wrestled part-time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and had hoped to use Friday's match as a step toward returning to the ring.

AS POLITICS GOES, THIS MATCH HAD IT ALL

(Raleigh News & Observer, June 20, 1994)

By Lisa Pollak

MORRISVILLE, N.C. -- You want backbiting? There was backbiting.

You want mud-slinging? There was mud-slinging.

There were platforms and promises, dirty tricks and cute kids, a controversial wife, a manipulative manager and big men wearing tights.

Yes, tights. This is all about the knock-down, drag-out political brawl in the little town of Morrisville on Friday when the mayor of Bunn (Jerry "Kahn the Warlord" Kennett) wrestled Morrisville police chief (Bruce "Mr. Wrestling" Newnam).

The bell clanged. The crowd roared. And when the dust had cleared, one man stood victorious, even as skeptics and sore losers shouted from their seats.

"It was fixed!" someone said.

"All fake!" yelled another.

"He didn't have a chance! It was dirty! Not a chance!" cried a third.

Ah, but that's to be expected in politics, isn't it? Not knowing whom to believe? Not knowing what is real and what is fake? Especially in a matchup as heated and anticipated as this one, laced with boasts and pledges, innuendo and rumor.

On the surface, the battle had come down to this: The police chief positioned himself as the ultimate Comeback Kid, the former professional wrestler who'd thrown in the tights in the early '80s to pursue a career in law enforcement and raise a family.

But he'd missed the roar of the crowd, the lights of the ring. Now his town's fourth annual Day at the Park festival gave Newnam the perfect excuse to come back.

The chief's supporters bragged about his skills: He'd bought Morrisville a drug dog. Checked in on elderly shut-ins. Started a Community Watch, an Explorer Post and a newcomer's welcome program. He was law and order in a town of 1,800. But could he wrestle?

"I am the good guy," he told reporters. "I don't resort to illegal tactics and I don't believe in them."

What political acumen! Of course, it was a well-worded jab at the chief's opponent, the mayor, who'd gotten the reputation as a sneaky trickster during 17 years of professional rasslin'.

"I didn't get caught, did I?" Khan was overheard saying after a contested victory recently. "And if I don't get caught, I don't consider it cheating."

But even Khan knew the public could tire of such tactics, so lately he'd been stressing his record. Six months in office and Bunn, population 366, was already turning around. There was a new duplex for senior citizens. Less fighting at town meetings. A plan to repair the town's seven wells.

Why, there was even talk of getting a Hardee's.

"People need to take what I'm doing as mayor seriously," sniffed the Warlord. "Before I was mayor, the town meetings were spent with people complaining about errors in water bills and dogs dookying in their yards. Once they spent the whole meeting arguing about what kind of coffee to serve at the next meeting. But now we run our town like a business."

As might be expected, both opponents worried about projecting the right image. The chief wore black tights, a black tank top and a Morrisville police department hat.

The mayor wore a red leotard, black tights, a black tattered T-shirt and a bearskin-trimmed belt. Also, two daggers and a sword.

By fight night, the tension was building. Folks in the crowd were muttering about how Bunn didn't even have a traffic light, and how Morrisville was nothing but a suburb of Cary.

"Khan looks like a big ol' roly-poly," 15-year-old Leslie Newnam -- the chief's sweet-faced daughter and manager -- told reporters. "He's a blueberry."

"I hope I humiliate him so bad that he has to retire from being police chief," said the mayor, making sure several television cameras and the chief could hear him.

"That's opinion," said the chief. "Everybody's got an opinion." "Everybody's got a rear-end, too, and mine smells better than yours," the mayor retorted.

The press, of course, had only fanned the flames. Just that morning the paper had printed an article saying the the chief's wife was predicting he'd lose.

"But I was joking!" Phyllis Newnam pleaded. "They misunderstood me! I've had phone calls today, people saying, 'What kind of wife are you?'"

It no longer mattered; the moment of truth had arrived. At about 9, the two men faced off in the ring in the center of Morrisville Community Park.

There was a bell. A scream. The mayor held the police chief against the ropes. He twisted his arm and hit his throat. The chief fought back and kneed the mayor in the chest.

A body-slam. A headlock. A tremendous leap off the ropes -- SLAM! The crowd was going crazy. "Watch out for the mayor's partner!" someone shouted, referring to a gap-toothed behemoth with a long red beard and a black leather vest inscribed with his name -- Bounty Hunter.

The manager was hovering at the side of the ring...and what was he doing slipping the mayor those brass knuckles? Two blows to the forehead and the police chief was down for the count. "Cheater!" came the outcry. "Cheater! Cheater!"

"Mayors are more powerful than police chiefs," said the mayor, after what appeared to be the end of the match. "You have to remember that....Dirty tricks work."

But the night wasn't over. A short time later, other fighters joined the mayor and police chief in the ring: The Viper. Jimmy "The Boogie Man" Valiant. The Intruder. The Blue Angel. The ring soon had more blowhards than a political fund-raiser -- 10 fighters in all -- but in a few minutes only the mayor and police chief were left standing.

But....what was The Boogie Man doing? Slipping the police chief the brass knuckles? Hadn't the chief pledged not to fight dirty?

"Chief! Chief! Chief!" yelled the crowd. The police chief slipped on the brass knuckles. He slugged the mayor. He won the fight.

"Daddy!" 15-year-old Leslie, blonde and beaming, rushed into the ring. "I'm so proud of you!" But what about the police chief's broken promise?

"He used a dirty trick on me," the chief rationalized later. "The lesson is, when somebody gets up and cheats, I'm going to turn around and use the same tactics on him."

So there you have it. The rest is left for the pundits to decide. Was the public fooled or served? How will it play in Peoria? Maybe the answer was outside the ring, along the glittering midway that'd been set up to entertain spectators.

Willie Estrich, 38, didn't watch the fight. He was too busy working at the booth where you win an inflatable hammer if you pierce a balloon with a dart. He does this job at carnivals from New York to Florida. He works 11 months a year. He makes $15,000. It used to be more.

"Who you rooting for, the mayor or the police chief?" Estrich was asked.

"I don't even know 'em. Don't know 'em at all," he said, pausing for a moment. "But they're all the same. They're all liars. People say carnys are the liars, you know, but those guys are the biggest crooks going."

"Are you talking wrestlers or politicians?" he was asked.

Estrich smiled and said nothing.

NATURE BOY WORKING OUT DURHAM DEAL

(Raleigh News & Observer, August 31, 1994)

By Carrick Mollenkamp

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair -- that silver-maned, smooth-talking, robe-wearing pro wrestler who likes to go "WOOOOOOOOO!" in the ring -- is headed for Durham.

Flair, who lost a world title match to the Hulkster last week, is expected to bring one of his Gold's Gyms to Loehmann's Plaza shopping center. If the deal is signed, it would be Flair's fourth Gold's Gym. The others are in Charlotte, Greensboro and St. Maarten.

"Nature Boy," of course is best known for his exploits in the ring. The former champion once had this to to say about himself: "I'm a Rolex-wearin', limousine ridin' son-of-a-gun, custom-made from head to toe."

Anyway, the forty-something Flair would be one of several partners to lease 17,000 square feet of the 28,000-square-foot former Winn-Dixie space at the center, which is at Hillandale Road and Interstate 85. Efforts to speak with Flair were fruitless.

The man is getting ready for a tour of Europe, said a spokesman with World Championship Wrestling, a subsidiary of Ted Turner's broadcasting empire. And Flair's Gold's Gym spokesman was at Gold's national convention in Las Vegas.

For the center, the gym would be good news as a partial replacement for the vacant Winn-Dixie space. A Durham real estate partnership, Ticon-Mattie Partnership, bought the center out of foreclosure for $3.5 million in January. Durham commercial real estate company Pickett/Sprouse is working the deal between Ticon-Mattie and Flair and his partners.

BOXING BILL WOULD OUTLAW NO-HOLDS-BARRED FIGHTS

(Raleigh News & Observer, May 6, 1995)

By Al Myatt

The Ultimate Fighting Championships will get an ultimatum if the legislature approves an amended version of a bill to establish a boxing commission. No-holds-barred fighting would not be allowed.

"If it doesn't use combative techniques approved by the commission, it won't be allowed," said Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten, whose department would supervise the proposed commission.

Organizers of the Ultimate Fighting Championships have said that the absence of a boxing commission in North Carolina was one reason they held the event in Charlotte recently. The commission would regulate boxing, kickboxing and tough-man competitions that use protective equipment. Pro wrestling would not be included.

"We wouldn't attempt to regulate pro wrestling any more than we would attempt to regulate a Broadway show," Edmisten said. "It's entertainment."

But Edmisten sees boxing as a sport with major economic potential, and so does James "Bonecrusher" Smith, a former WBA heavyweight champion who is interested in becoming the state's first boxing commissioner.

"You can't escape the fact that fans are tremendously enthusiastic about it," said Edmisten, who has attended cards at The Ritz in Raleigh. "It's an economic-development issue. Until the boxing commission is in place, we won't find our full economic potential."

Since the bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Black, D--Mecklenburg, in March, Edmisten's office has logged 28 phone calls from people interested in serving on a boxing commission.

"It's going to be as sought after as the highway commission, the wildlife commission or a the economic-development board,"

Edmisten said. Smith said he foresees major televised bouts in the state if a commission is formed. "It can happen, but it won't happen until a commission is in place," Edmisten said. "We're the best in the country in stock car racing, but imagine what racing would be without a governing body like NASCAR. We've got pro basketball in the state, and we're going to have pro football. We can be big in boxing, too."

North Carolina is one of four states without a boxing commission. House Bill 505 proposes that the commission get 6 percent of gate receipts at boxing cards, along with licensing fees from fighters, trainers, managers and promoters. Edmisten expects no problem getting the bill approved.

ORDINANCE PUTS HOLD ON PRO WRESTLER

(Raleigh News & Observer, May 31, 1997

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- In the ring, he gets away with slamming anybody. But when it appeared that pro wrestling legend Ric "Nature Boy" Flair was slamming a cold one on Franklin Street, an alert officer called a foul.

Flair was ticketed at 1 a.m. Thursday after an officer reported finding him putting the hammerlock on a beer bottle, police said.

The bleached-blond grappler was standing on the sidewalk near the Four Corners Restaurant at 175 E. Franklin St. when he was cited, a report stated.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound Flair, 48, whose real name is Richard Morgan Fliehr, lives in Charlotte.

A town ordinance makes carrying an open container of alcohol on public property a misdemeanor. The town adopted the ban as part of a crackdown on underage and excessive drinking.

Flair is due in Orange County District Court on July 28.

The typical penalty for someone who pleads guilty to the offense is a fine of $10 to $15 plus court costs of $65, Assistant District Attorney Jim Woodall said.

FLAIR PAYS FINE TO AVOID LIQUOR CHARGE

(Raleigh News & Observer, July 30, 1997)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Professional wrestling legend Ric Flair has scored a courthouse victory, getting a charge of slamming a cold one on Franklin Street dismissed.

Flair was ticketed at 1 a.m. May 29 after a police officer reported finding him putting the hammerlock on a beer bottle outside a downtown bar. Under a town ordinance, carrying an open container of alcohol on public property is a misdemeanor.

Flair avoided the legal pinfall earlier this month after paying a $65 fine, court records show. The district attorney's office dismissed the charge after Flair completed terms of a deferred prosecution agreement arranged by a local attorney.

Under the agreement, Flair had to pay the fine and incur no other violations for two weeks for the charge to be cleared from his record.

CAUSE LURES WRESTLERS TO SALEM EVENT

(Salem, Ore., Statesman-Journal, March 19, 2000)

By Dan De Carbonel

Mark Large held "The Tornado" Tony Kozina high above his head as more than 500 fans anticipated Kozina’s pending doom with boos and cheers.

Large obliged, slamming Kozina onto the mat, drawing groans of dismay throughout the Salem Armory. Professional wrestling had returned to Salem.

The event, a benefit to pay medical costs for Monica Garza of Salem, was thought to be just the second professional wrestling show to come to Salem in the past five or six years.

The fans were more than ready for the event. The booming popularity of World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling has created legions of new fans.

State regulations have deterred WWF and WCW from doing shows in Oregon.

"I get to see some real wrestling," said Raul Hernandez, 10. "I’ve seen it on TV, but I’ve never been before."

Raul’s favorite wrestler is Ray Mysterio of the WCW. He wasn’t familiar with any of Saturday’s combatants, all of whom wrestle for Portland Wrestling, but he didn’t mind.

The event’s card featured five matches including Billy Two Eagles and "Moondog" Ed Moretti.  Moretti, a Donald resident, has wrestled such stars as Ric Flair and Randy Savage.

Moretti, 42, said he hoped the benefit would attract new fans and show a more positive side of professional wrestling.

Portland Wrestling promoter and co-owner Jeff Kafoury said he looks forward to making Salem a regular stop on the circuit. Portland Wrestling currently holds regular events in Portland and Eugene. It will be back in Salem in April for a show at The Hoop.

For Saturday’s benefit event, Armory management lowered the rent and Portland Wrestling charged only overhead costs. The wrestlers even lowered their appearance fees, Kafoury said.

WRESTLING GETS DOWN TO BIG BUSINESS

(Associated Press, Sunday, April 2, 2000)

By Denise Lavoie

STAMFORD, Conn. -- CAN YOU SMELL WHAT THE WWF IS COOKING!!!!!?????

The Rock, the World Wrestling Federation's No. 1 good guy, usually invites an opponent to smell what he is cooking just before pounding him into the mat.

At the WWF, the main thing cooking is money -- lots of it.

WWF's "Raw is War," is the top-rated show on cable television, now watched in 6 million homes every Monday night on the USA Network. "SmackDown!" on the UPN Network is watched in another 5 million homes on Thursday nights.

WWF's live events sell out in minutes, its action figures are more popular than PokZmon's, and its pay-per-view events bring in millions more every month.

All this, plus home videos, CDs and a new theme restaurant make the WWF one of the most revenue-rich companies around, its stock trading on the Nasdaq exchange (ticker symbol WWFE).

On top of all that, two of its wrestlers -- "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson) and "Mankind" (Mick Foley) -- have autobiographies on The New York Times bestseller list.

When The Rock hosted "Saturday Night Live" on March 18, more than 20 million people watched -- the show's highest rating since Monica Lewinsky hosted in 1999.

WWF goes mainstream? What's going on here?

Isn't this the company that brought us Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Hulk Hogan and a whole band of fake, steroid-pumped wrestlers?

As The Rock would say, "SHUT YOUR MOUTH!"

This is not your father's WWF.

The new WWF is raunchier and more vulgar, but it is also more sophisticated. It still features men in outrageous costumes pretending to beat each other up. But its detailed story lines make it more like a soap opera than a wrestling match.

Its fans -- mainly men ages 18 to 34 -- are apparently willing to spend buckets of money on anything WWF-related.

Five million households bought WWF's pay-per-view programs in fiscal '99, bringing in revenues of $150 million.

Live and televised WWF entertainment events pulled in revenues of $178.2 million during the first nine months of this fiscal year, a 63 percent increase over this time last year. Revenues from WWF merchandise have already hit $84.7 million this year, up 76 percent from last year.

With all these cross-promotional sources of revenue, the WWF is a marketing and money-making machine. Yet the company has not been able to gain respect from Wall Street.

WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, who turned his father's modest company into a wrestling empire, said Wall Street just doesn't understand the WWF.

"If you look at the WWF as a 'WRESTLING company,' then maybe a lot of people would be surprised [at our success]," McMahon said.

"We're not 'WRESTLERS,' that's not what we do. We don't wrestle. We entertain you."

It didn't help when McMahon told Wall Street to "kiss my a--" on national television after his announcement about the formation of a new pro football league -- the XFL -- received a cold reception.

McMahon still gets angry when he talks about it, especially the two analysts who downgraded the company's stock even before he finished his press conference.

"At least show me some degree of respect . . . we didn't just pop up somewhere, we're not an overnight sensation here," he said in a recent interview at the WWF's Stamford headquarters.

McMahon followed his grandfather, Jess, and father, Vince, into Capital Wrestling, a northeast circuit. When Vince Sr. retired in 1982, Vince Jr. bought the business.

Eighteen years later, business is booming. So why aren't investors responding?

The stock got off to a strong start when the company went public in October, then faltered. Initially priced at $17 a share, it has swung from $34 to $9.75, but had settled back near the IPO price in late March.

In addition to the negative reaction to the XFL, analysts also noted that Coca-Cola Co. ended its two-year advertising relationship with the WWF because of what Coke said was objectionable content in WWF shows.
But the real problem, analysts said, is that Wall Street just doesn't take the company seriously.

"People will say, 'Pro wrestling. That's not a real business,' so they don't take the time to even look at the strengths and the cash-flow generation," said Breck Wheeler, a media and entertainment analyst for J.C. Bradford & Co. in Nashville, Tenn.

"But whether someone likes the product or not, there is a huge market out there," she said.

Every week, the WWF good guys (baby-faces) tangle with the bad guys (heels), with scripted stunts, wild costumes and VERY LOUD dialogue.

"The Godfather," a wrestler dressed as a pimp, struts into the ring with his "Ho Train," a collection of well-endowed, scantily clad women.

McMahon and his family are a big part of the act as they fight for control of the company. In one recent episode, McMahon threw his son, Shane, 30, to the mat, then hit him over the head with a metal chair.

The following week, McMahon's 23-year-old daughter, Stephanie, slapped her mother -- WWF Chief Executive Linda McMahon -- across the face.

McMahon sees it as a combination of soap opera, action, adventure and cartoon.

"We try and give you something for everyone," he said.

Whatever it is, the fans love it. Paul Sosnowski, a 31-year-old fan from Perth Amboy, N.J., spends about $1,500 a year on live matches and pay-per-view events.

Last fall, he and his fiance bought 100 shares of WWF stock at a cost of $2,500.

"I've been watching it since I was 15," he said. "I'm into it for the wrestling and the athletics."

His friend, Patrick Moore, 32, likes the story lines and the characters more than the actual wrestling.

"I just got caught up in it," he said.

Moore limits his WWF spending to about four live shows a year. His fiancZ, he explained, does not understand his devotion.

"She wants no part of it. I can't talk about it in front of her," he said.

The WWF has other detractors. It came under a wave of criticism last May after wrestler Owen Hart, known as "The Blue Blazer," fell to his death during a stunt for a show in Kansas City, Mo.

Five months later another wrestler, Darren "The Droz" Drozdov, was paralyzed below the waist after fracturing his neck during a match in Uniondale, N.Y.

"Beyond the Mat," a documentary released in theaters in mid-March, features Foley and several other professional wrestlers in an unflattering portrayal of pro wrestling.

The WWF's wrestlers -- they are called "talent" or "WWF superstars" within the company -- say the shows are not overly violent or sexually graphic when compared to some of what's seen on network television.

McMahon's remake of the WWF began about two years ago, when Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling was crushing WWF in the ratings. McMahon revamped the story lines, threw his family in the mix and soon WWF was back on top.

WWF's sales for the fiscal year that ends on April 30 are expected to jump to $340 million, up from $250 million.

Vince McMahon said he is confident Wall Street will eventually come around and see the value of WWF -- even if they don't like the shows.

"Wall Street can't measure the passion that we have for what we do, and that's worth -- if I'm an institutional investor or anyone else -- that's worth a lot of attention," he said.

WRESTLING MANIA

(Associated Press, April 3, 2000)

By Paul Sloca

ELDON, Mo. — There is something very pure about being held high above a wrestling ring, waiting for a man called the Sheik to body slam you to the mat.

It's pure anticipation. Pure fear. Pure adrenaline.

Pure stupidity?

As I hung more than six feet above the mat at the Harley Race Wrestling Academy, a scene from childhood flashed before me: I was 7 years old, sitting in my horsy pajamas on a Saturday morning. Cereal was softening in my bowl of milk, but I didn't care. Pro wrestling was on TV, and I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

So here I was, 27 years later, stepping weak-kneed into the ring in the presence of a childhood hero — Handsome Harley Race.

He's one of the legends of professional wrestling, an eight-time world champion once hailed as the King of the Ring. In 1959, at age 15, Race left his home in St. Joseph, Mo., to pursue a wrestling career that eventually took him around the world.

Today, at 56, he's back in Missouri, retired from the ring but cultivating a new crop of would-be wrestlers willing to put their bodies on the line to learn the art of the body slam from The Champ.

As for me, dreams of being a pro wrestler faded long ago, supplanted by a real career in journalism. A recent visit to Race's academy gave me a taste of the road not taken.

Stepping into the ring, I was keenly aware that my best athletic years were behind me. I had a daughter, responsibilities. My bosses had warned me not to get hurt. It occurred to me that I hadn't written out my will.

What was I doing here?

The Sheik, Race's head instructor, loomed before me. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at a well-muscled 240 pounds, the dark-bearded Sheik, known as Derek Stone outside the ring, gave me some tips on how to survive the drubbing he was about to deliver.

"Just relax," he said.

Riiight.

A feeling of calm came over me as he lifted me above his head. Then I hit the mat, hard.

"Not bad," I thought as I staggered to my feet, my back burning ever so slightly. The mat had given just a bit, and there was no permanent damage as far as I could tell.

I wanted more.

Race smiled from the sidelines, well aware of the ring's allure.

After years on the pro circuit — sometimes as the good guy, sometimes as a boisterous bully whom fans loved to hate — he retired from wrestling in 1993 but continued as a manager for both the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling organizations.

A car accident ended that involvement in 1995 and left him pining for the world of wrestling.

"I've never done anything else," Race said. "There have been no odd jobs. I have been wrestling from day one."

Last year, Race created World League Wrestling and opened the academy, which doubles as a shrine to his wrestling career. The academy is sandwiched between a computer store and an antique shop in this town of 5,000 near the state capital of Jefferson City.

Race lives 12 miles away in a lakefront home with his wife, B.J.

Race walks slowly and rests often, partly because of recent back surgery and partly from years of being battered in the ring. His hands resemble bear paws, and word around the academy is that he can still bend a beer bottle cap between his fingers.

About 20 wrestlers attend his school. Those with some wrestling experience pay $1,000 for six weeks of training. For novices, the training can stretch to six months at a cost of $3,000.

Before they even get in the ring, there is a rigorous one-hour tryout that Race said has left many a would-be wrestler throwing up and walking out the door.

If they stay, it only gets harder.

"This is probably the toughest thing you're ever going to do in your life," Race tells his wrestlers.

One who walked through Race's door a few months ago is Matt "The Missile" Murphy.

He's 21 years old, stands 5-feet-11 and weighs 205 pounds. He knows he's smaller than most of his competitors and is just one of a thousand up-and-comers who think they have what it takes to make wrestling a career.

But Murphy believes he has an advantage.

"I'm being trained by Harley Race," Murphy said. "You can't learn greatness from somebody average."

Race encourages his wrestlers to succeed but doesn't set his own hopes for them too high.

"The odds of any of these kids ever making it to the big time are slim to none," he said.

I was to be no exception, but for the moment I was riding high. Literally. The Sheik had lifted me up off the mat and was about to let gravity return me there.

SLAM!

It hurt more this time, right in my lower back, but I shrugged it off.

I wasn't done. I wanted to experience the "suplex," a move that Race created in 1969 and remains popular in the ring today. It involves having most of your body held erect in the air with your back to the mat while your opponent falls backwards and slams you to the ground.

Down we went.

WHAP!

Much scarier. More painful — at least for me. (Not a squeak from the Sheik.)

I walked — okay, wobbled — away with one thought ringing in my ears: Whatever people think about the cultural merits of professional wrestling, it hurts.

After a few photos for posterity, I thanked the Sheik for his lesson and bid farewell to Harley Race.

The Masked Muckraker — the name I had picked for my wrestling persona — was going into early retirement. I'm content with being the Terrible Typist.
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