The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 768
SEVERE TEST TONIGHT FOR GROBMEIER
(Washington Post, July 7, 1932)
The final chapter in the rise and fall of Fred Grobmeier is expected to be read tonight at Griffith Stadium when the scrawny scissors expert, whose winning streak here is as long as his legs, meets rough and ready Gino Garibaldi, who shows signs of replacing Grobmeier as a local favorite.
The match is one of five exhibitions which will begin at 8:30 o’clock. Women, with paying escorts, will be admitted free of charge. The feature match goes on about 10:30, if nothing untoward happens in the preliminaries.
The preliminaries this week should be tolerably good. An amusing match should be the Chief White Feather-Marshall Blackstock affair. Both boys go in for a quantity of bareknuckle stuff and if luck is with them may land some blows tonight. White Feather still holds the record for real venom in the ring, with this clean knockout on the point of Tiger Nelson’s chin last fall. Blackstock is another good punching bag.
Rudy Dusek meets Lou Plummer, one of the Notre Dame football players who made good. Lou beat Rudy’s little brother, Ernie Dusek, and the honor of the Dusek family is likely to be avenged, for Rudy is still an unhealthy gent to meet in anybody’s rassling ring.
Frank Brunowicz, who seems to be building up a following here, meets Jack Zarnos, and Vic Christy, a convert from amateurism, dabbles with paunchy Pat O’Shocker.
But it is the feature which carries the big punch tonight. Garibaldi is as good as any wrestler extant today. He has everything except a brimful of personality – or he probably would be champion, for he can do things that Londos, Lewis and the other high salaried boys dassent.
ROUGHNESS ON THE MAT AT BOLLING
(Washington Post, Wednesday, July 13, 1932)
By Bob Considine
Umpire Billy Jones, the only rassling referee who fraternizes with the growlers, hauled off and disqualified two of his pals last night at Bolling Field while a crowd of about 1,000 fretted and griped and couldn’t quite make up its mind whether to be sore at the disqualifications or because of them.
Dick Shikat, whom Philadelphia papers say is training religiously in Philadelphia for his match there Friday night with Gus Sonnenberg, was the beneficiary of disqualification No. 1, when George McLeod was ruled off the course for his habit of stamping on the former champion’s tootsies. Billy Bartush received the other disqualification, after gentlemanly Frank Speer, introduced by the floundering bridgework of Mugsy Morris as "The Golden Tornado from Georgia Tech," had knocked him cold by jumping up and down on his neck.
Jack Sherry, one of the best of the uncrowned champions, defeated Alex Aberg, the Russian rassler who is as bald as an electric light bulb, and wrestles a great deal like one, in eleven minutes. George Calza and Danny Winters went 30 minutes to a draw and the Masked Marvel revealed a rugged torso while beating Jerry Monoghan in thirteen minutes.
McLeod confined all of his wrestling to pumping rights and lefts into Shikat’s tummy and then edging close and jumping heavily on Shikat’s toes. The rest of McLeod’s science consisted of ramming his knee into the back of Shikat as the former champion fled around the ring. Jones disqualified him after several neck-locks, which were ruled strangle holds.
The Speer-Bartush match was about the most interesting, and more real blows were struck than in an average month of rassling shows. Once the two rolled out of the ring and began to pummel one another in impromptu fashion along the sidelines. Several women in the vicinity fled and the promoters woke up a couple of military police and dispersed the fighting, but neither of the boys seemed inclined to go back in the ring, so Bartush chased Speer halfway around the ring, planting rights to the shoulder blades.
They strangled each other during the rest of the match, and when Jones tried to break Speer’s holds he was pushed severely aside, and once was thrown for a clean loss. Finally Speer got Bartush down with a series of strangle locks and solar plexus blows, and finished him off with several jump-on-the-neck "holts." Jones pushed Speer aside helped Bartush rise to a semivertical position and held up his hand, whereupon Bartush promptly sank to the mattress again.
6,000 WATCH GARIBALDI TRIUMPH
(Washington Post, Friday, July 15, 1932)
By Bob Considine
Griffith Stadium went back on the growl and leer standard again last night after a two-week layoff, and ten sultans of suet produced themselves an interesting wrestling show, brought to a rather dynamic finish when Gino Garibaldi pasted Fred Grobmeier three beautiful socks on the chin and knocked the city’s favorite son into a condition which only a mop could remedy. All this before some 6,000 fans.
It was Garibaldi’s second sensational win here. Two weeks ago he stowed away another erstwhile people’s choice in Rudy Dusek, whom he knocked out with a combiantion kick in the breadbasket and barroom-brawl fist barrage.
Excepting two appearances against Jim Londos, last night’s was Grobmeier’s first defeat here since Joe Turner won him in a package of zig zag last January. Garibaldi did the job properly, in 32 minutes, unleashing the whole assortment of modern and sound wrestling holds, against which Grobmeier and his single hold, the figure four scissors, often appeared amateurish.
Garibaldi escaped three of Grobmeier’s pet holds, by dragging the scrawny figure clamped on his back across the ring to the haven of the ropes. On the offensive Garibaldi was unquestionably twice as good as the loser, tricking him frequently.
The winner is one of the greatest athletes in the wrestling game. He took four consecutive falls out of the ring with the ease of a great tumbler. Once he secured a cradle scissors and spun Grobmeier around and around the ring with express train speed. He finished off the Iowa leg expert after breaking the third of Fred’s scissors locks, upsetting him with a great crash, throwing him by body slams twice and then finishing him off with three nice rights, followed by a body press.
The preliminary boys wore a trench around the ring with their dives. Rudy Dusek beat Lou Plummer in 37 minutes after Plummer had fallen heavily twice to the infield, and Rudy himself had gone out a couple of times. Jim McMillen beat a toughy in Floyd Marshall in 17 minutes of much tumbling about in and out of the ring. Marshall earned one of the greatest boos of all times when he left the ring. Vic Christy, the amateur convert, tossed Jack Zarnos in 11 minutes, and Frank Brunowicz and Pat O’Shocker tugged to a 30-minute draw in other bouts.
SPEER BEATS WILSON AT BOLLING
(Washington Post, Wednesday, July 20, 1932)
When they make rassling matches louder and funnier, look to Messrs. Ahearn and Bertolini and their Bolling Field playboys. The troupe made merry in the little arena on the banks of the Anacostia last night and 1,000 staggered home holding their sides.
It began at 8:30 when Arthur Dick and Buck Olson started falling around on referee Billy Jones and ended about three hours later with Frankenstein Frank Speer blowing his nose without benefit of handkerchief on ringsiders, as his victim, Handsome Ralph Wilson, lay prostrate on the mat.
All of them swung punches that missed by miles, and all, when on the receiving end, fell without getting hit. Then they snorted and stomped and skipped, crawled and ran, and aimed blows at the referee. George McLeod punched a spectator when that brave soul left his seat and tried to stop him from kicking George Manich in the face.
But there was a serious angle at that. Everybody expected the popular Dr. Wilson to beat Speer because Wilson, as past performances have shown, is one of the built-up performers of the game. So for once there was an upset in rassling and to the villain went the spoils.
Speer seemed to enjoy the fans’ distinctly express hatred, judging from the businesslike manner in which he spat in all directions beyond the ring. Finally, after 32 minutes of assorted assault and mayhem, he pinned Wilson with successive flying mares and body slams.
Glenn Munn, 6-foot-6 Nebraskan and brother of the late world’s champion, Wayne Munn, won his second straight bout by stretching out the overstuffed Herb Freeman, of New York, after 9 minutes of the semifinal.
McLeod and Manich quit the ring all even after 30 minutes.
The Masked Marvel required only 3 minutes to subdue Tony Felice, who was openly accused of being Chief White Feather, while Joe DeVito drew in 20 minutes with Jerry Monoghan, and Arthur Dick tossed Buck Olson in 11.
LEWIS VICTOR AS McLEOD IS HURT
(Washington Post, Tuesday, July 20, 1932)
Everything – that is, most everything – went wrong at the rassle carnival at Bolling Field last night. And the unfortunate part of it is that about 3,000, the largest crowd yet attracted to one of the aviation field’s mat shows, was on hand.
In the first place, the perfectly good summer evening breezes were not used when, because of trouble with the lights, the affair had to be shifted to the gymnasium. Secondly, the first two-out-of-three bout match listed here in some time ended with only one fall being registered; and, thirdly, two of the first three bouts were such poor burlesques that the crowd thought they were funny rather than good, but not quite funny enough to get by.
The last two bouts saved the show, even if the scheduled feature ended in one fall instead of two out of three as listed. In it, Ed (Strangler) Lewis, one of the claimants of the world’s championship, defeated George McLeod. The latter put up quite a scrap for a while, but after nineteen minutes, he made a flying tackle, missed his mark, injured himself as he fell out of the ring, and was an easy victim of the veteran when he staggered back into the arena. A series of headlocks finished him. He had to be carried out and he never came back for the second fall.
Billy Bartush and Frank Speer, former Georgia Tech grid star, furnished the thrills of the evening. They seemed to have a personal feud to settle, and while they were on the mat, occasionally doling out punishment, both preferred to stand up and slug, and they put up a hot scrap throughout. It ended in a 45-minute draw.
Glenn Munn used his figure four body scissors to dispose of Joe DeVito in six minutes in the only other bout worth mentioning. George Manich appeared to outclass Arthur Dix, yet waited for seventeen minutes before making the spill.
In the curtain-raiser, Bill Middlekauf, former Florida grid star, who failed as a fighter, showed that he is even a worse wrestler. He and a mustached Indian named Fazal Daula put up a joke contest, which ended in Daula’s favor in three minutes, while the Bull Komar-Masked Marvel affair, which followed, was even more of a joke. The boys yelled before pulled punches reached them, and were so crude in trying to appear rough that the fans jeered practically all the seventeen minutes of its duration.
(ED. NOTE – The following articles originally ran in the 173rd edition of the current series of WAWLI Papers, dated October 23, 1997.)
IT TOOK THE INEVITABLE TO PIN FRANK SPEER
(Atlanta Constitution, Sunday, June 12, 1938)
By Thad Holt
It took death, the inevitable and unseen foe, to pin the massive shoulders of Frank Speer.
Slow comes the realization that this great athlete, who had the strength of a half dozen ordinary men and a spirit indomitable, is gone from this world in which he was needed so badly.
These things, we on this earth, cannot understand. God willed that Frank go. Perhaps the old Tech star's strength and courage and great heart were needed in the other world. May God comfort and care for the dear wife and child Frank left behind.
He was just a big kid to those of us who knew him well. In the ring or on the football field he was rough and vicious and hard to beat. But there were moments when he was just a boy again, tender and kind and lovable.
It was Frank's supreme confidence in his own physical powers that played a part in his untimely death. He was ill when he went into the ring for that last match. He had wrestled and played football in the past when he didn't feel well. And besides, there were the fans who would be disappointed. And the money was an important item.
Frank knew success and failure. He made a considerable amount of money. Hard luck dogged his trail during the past year. He lost everything. He took it all with a smile and went bravely on. He had been down before and had fought his way back to success. This time death stopped another march upward.
Frank Speer was a friend, faithful, considerate and true. He made mistakes because he was very human. But today, those errors, minor that they were, seem to have been completely forgotten. One seems to remember only that Frank Speer was a big, lovable kid who adored his family and his friends. And was in turn adored by them.
JOE COX WINS ON 'FRANK SPEER NIGHT'
(Atlanta Constitution, Thursday, June 30, 1938)
The wife and seven-year-old son of the late Frank Speer will receive five hundred and eighty five dollars from "Frank Speer Night," observed last night at Warren Arena.
That amount was left for the family after federal and state taxes were deducted and included a personal check from L.C. Warren for $50, the refund of $25 which the former Tech grid star paid for a 1938 promotional license that he did not use, and a $25 donation from Atlanta Elks Club, of which Speer was a member.
The total amount also included an offering from fans assembled at last night's wrestling show in response to a suggestion from the ring by former Governor Eugene Talmadge that an educational fund be established for Frank Speer Jr.
Every one paid and while the attendance was a disappointment to many friends of Frank Speer, those who were on hand saw an interesting card and had the satisfaction of knowing they were paying tribute to a game warrior.
The wrestlers paid their own transportation and hotel expenses here and donated their services, as did Referees Tiny Ruff and Marshall Blackstock and every one connected with the show.
In the main event, Joe Cox was ruled winner in the third fall over Henry Piers, although Referee Blackstock appeared not to see that Cox was pressing his legs against the strands of the rope to keep his man pinned.
Frank Sexton tossed Floyd Marshall in the semifinal and George Ligosky won on
a foul from Dick Lever in the opener.
The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 769
(ED. NOTE: The following comes from the web site erected
by the people who
brought you "The Ultimate Professional Wrestling Book of Lists," $15,
including shipping & handling, from DragonKing Press, P.O. Box 781,
Haleyville AL 35565. Also available: The DragonKing Update Report
Newsletter, regularly updating lists in the book. Go to www.angelfire.com/al/dragonking
for further details.)
By Karl E. Stern
It's alarming and sobering. Professional wrestling almost certainly has the
highest pre-forty death rate of any professional sport. The problems and
situations that have lead to such a high mortality rate are many. Frequent
travel over long distances increase the risk for automobile wrecks and plane
crashes. No off season leads to cumulative injuries. Cumulative injuries
sometimes lead to dependence on medication and prescription pain relievers,
and so on. Neither professional football, nor professional basketball can
touch to pre-forty mortality rate of wrestling. While deaths inside the
boxing ring far out number deaths inside the wrestling ring, the death rate
for wrestlers in general seems to be much higher (there is no hard data on
the subject.) Here is a list of all the pre-forty year of age deaths of
professional wrestlers we could verify, I'm sure there are more, especially
considering the proliferation of tiny independent groups that have little
news coverage. Also listed is their cause of death, as best as could be
determined. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Key: Ring Name: (Real Name if known: Age).
Adonis, Adrian: (Keith Franke: Age of 34): Veteran of the NWA, AWA, and WWF
was killed on July 4, 1988 in a car accident in Canada (see "Curse of the
Forth of July list.). Adonis had left the WWF several months earlier and had
been competing in the AWA.
Baker, Eddie: (Eddie Baker: Age of 36): Southern journeyman wrestler dies on
May 14, 1937 in Corinth, MS, following a match with Ray Welch (of the Welch-
Fuller wrestling family). Baker is believed to have suffered a heart attack.
Barr, Art: (Art Barr: Age of 28): Dies while wrestling in Mexico as The
American Love Machine. Was gaining a lot of attention before his unexpected
death. The exact cause of death was never officially determined, though some
drugs were found in his system, though they were not initially thought to be
the cause. He died in his sleep on November 23, 1994.
Beale, Jimmy: (Age 25?): South African wrestler who died in the dressing
room following a match in South Africa of unknown causes on August 1, 1993.
Brown, Leroy: (Ronald Daniels: Age of 38): Former tag team partner of Ray
Candy, known as the Zambuie Express Elijah Akeem. Brown wrestled throughout the south. Died of a heart attack on September 6, 1988 in a Georgia
hospital. Ironically his tag team partner Ray Candy, known as Zambuie
Express Kareem Mohammed, died in a Georgia hospital of a heart attack at the
age of 43 on May 23, 1994.
Clarey, Dennis: (Vincent Lizdennis: Age of 31): Unknown cause of death on
January 30, 1955.
Columbo, Rocky: (John Columbo: Age of 35): Unknown cause of death on March
Demetroff, Dimitri: (Dimitri Demetroff: Age of 37): Dies on May 9, 1932 of
Doyal, "Lucha" Larry: (Age of 37): Unknown cause of death on June 21, 1998.
Note: This is the wrestler who I couldn't identify in the book as Le Femme
Nikita Koloff, which was just one of his identities since he was a long time
southern California wrestler.
Drake, "Catalina" George: (Age of 39): Unknown cause of death on December
Erik the Red: (Eric Hansen: Age of 34): Is killed on November 18, 1978 while
changing a car tire near Miami, FL when he was struck and killed by another
Gantner, Ed "The Bull": (Edward Gantner: Age of 31): Former football star
turned wrestler with the NWA Florida Championship Wrestling promotion. Held
the NWA Florida title in early 1987. Commits suicide on December 31, 1990
following a lengthy battle with kidney disease.
Gilbert, Eddie: (Thomas Edward Gilbert, III.: Age of 33) A major star in
virtually every territory and major independent in the late 1980's and early
1990's. Had brief, but memorable, stints in the WWF and pre-WCW NWA as well.
The present version of the NWA still honors him every year with a memorial
show. Was either a booker or wrestler, or both for Continental Wrestling
Federation, USWA, ECW, Global Wrestling Federation, Smoky Mountain
Wrestling, Bill Watt's UWF and World Wrestling Council. Major star in
Memphis area. Held numerous region titles, as well as the NWA United States
tag team title. Died of an apparent heart attack while working for WWC in
Puerto Rico. Was married at one time to Missy Hyatt and later to Debra
"Madusa" Miceli. Died February 18, 1995.
Gotch, Frank: (Frank Gotch: Age of 39) Early 20th century world heavyweight
champion. Arch rival of George Hackenschmidt. Some consider him the greatest
pure wrestler of all time, despite a reputation as a rule breaker. Died of
either uremic poisoning or syphilis, depending on what source you believe,
on December 16, 1917. It should be noted that some news paper accounts list
him as 41 at the time of his death.
Hady, Jim: (Age of 38): Unknown cause of death on January 12, 1968.
Hart, Owen: (Age of 34): Former WWF Intercontinental and World tag team
title holder and member of the legendary Stu Hart family, was killed in a
horrific fall during the WWF Over the Edge PPV on May 23, 1999. While
attempting to enter the ring as "The Blue Blazer" while being lowered into
the ring from the arena ceiling, the cable holding him became detaching
which sent him into a seventy-foot plus fall, after which he struck the
turnbuckle and was killed instantly.
Hasegawa, Satoshi: (Age of 22): Wrestler for the Pancrase organization of
Japan. Died on March 1, 1999 after falling three stories off an apartment
building in a freak accident.
Hernandez, Gino: (Charles Wolfe: Age of 29): Stand out star in the Texas
based World Class Championship Wrestling organization. Many pegged him as a
future big star. Team frequently with Chris Adams, then later feuded with
him. Died of a cocaine overdose on February 4, 1986.
Hester, Frank: (Frank Hester: Age of 37): Is killed on July 26, 1976, along
with Sam Bass and Pepe Lopez, in a car accident near Dickson, TN.
Idol, Lance: (Steve Schumann: Age of 32): A journeyman independent wrestler
who competed under such names as Lance Idol, Ray Evans, Steve Winters, Star
Rider, and Steve Austin (not "Stone Cold"). Idol often reportedly bragged of
his drug use, though he appeared to have a serious heart condition, which is
eventually what got him on October 21, 1991.
Irwin, Scott: (Age of 35): The brother of "Wild" Bill Irwin, with whom he
formed the AWA tag team combo of "The Long Riders". Scott had also wrestled
for a number of years, most notably in the NWA as The Super Destroyer. Irwin
died of a brain tumor on September 5, 1987.
Kado, Emiko: (Age of 23): A wrestler for the Japanese women's group Arsion.
Kado was teaming with Michiko Omukai against the team of Mariko Yoshida &
Mikiko Futagami on a small show at Fukuoka Acros Hall in Fukuoka, Japan when
she struck her head hard on the mat. After she was pinned, her fellow
wrestlers were unable to revive her. She was rushed to the hospital
following the March 31, 1999 show and died on April 9, 1999. She remained in
a coma the entire time.
Kasavubu: (Jimmy Banks: Age of 26): Unknown cause of death on July 27, 1982.
Koma, Maseo: (Hideo Koma: Age of 36): Cause of death unknown on March 21,
Lopez, Pepe: (Rubin Rodriguez: Age of 39): A southern journeyman wrestler
who was killed in a car accident near Dickson, TN on July 26, 1976, which
also killed Sam Bass and Frank Hester.
Lovett, Yuel: (Alex Lovett: Age of 25): Florida independent wrestler who
died of apparent cardiac arrest while eating at a steak house while on a
tour of Peru with Steve Keirn. Lovett died on July 31, 1999.
Lynam, Joe: (Joe Lynam: Age of 31): Killed in a plane crash in Oregon on
September 25, 1948.
Mansfield, Randy: (Randy Toslinski: Age of 23): Cause of death unknown in
Mariko, Plum: (Mariko Umeda: Age of 29) Died of what is believed to be a
culmination of ring injuries which resulted in a brain abscess. The young
Mariko had suffered several concussions previously, but had continued to
wrestle. Following a match on August 15, 1997 where she teamed with Commando Boirshoi against Mayumi Ozaki & Rieko Amano, Mariko passed out and died a few hours later on August 16, 1997.
Martello, Rick: (Age of 38): Cause of death unknown on January 3, 1997.
Martin, Bull (Murray Grondin: Age of 34): Following a match in St. John's,
Newfoundland, Martin suffered a heart attack and died on July 31, 1979.
Mayne, "Moondog" Lonnie (Ronald Mayne: Age of 33): Cause of death unknown on August 13, 1978.
McGraw, Rick: (Rick McGraw: Age of 31): Former southern journeyman wrestler
during the early 1980's who ended up with the WWF around 1984 working
underneath as a jobber. Had one famous match in the WWF with Roddy Piper
shortly before his death of a heart attack on November 1, 1985. Former
friend Steve Travis (Steve Musulin) blamed the heart attack on drugs.
McGuire, Billy: (Billy McCreary: Age of 32): Cause of death unknown on July
Medina, Alex: (Age of 32): Cause of death unknown on April 20, 1973.
Munn, Wayne "Big": (Wayne Munn: Age of 35): World heavyweight champion in
1925 dies on January 9, 1931.
Murphy, Skull: (John Murphy: Age of 39): Cause of death unknown on March 23,
Nuhammed, Hassen "The Terrible Turk": (Hassen Nuhammed: Age of 38): Early
20th century wrestler who was killed on January 28, 1929 in a car accident
near Phoenix, AZ.
O'Mahoney, Danno: (Daniel A. Mahoney: Age of 37): Cause of death unknown on November 4, 1950. Oklahoma Kid: (Elmer Gearlds: Age of 29): Cause of death unknown in 1968.
Oski, Jerry: (Jerry Arotski: Age of 32): Cause of death unknown in December
Oro: (Age of 21): His death is believed to have been from a brain aneurysm
on October 26, 1993. Oro was a dynamic high flier, ahead of his time in
Mexico where high fling was already an art. Oro collapsed following a chop
to the chest during a six man tag team match in Mexico City where he was
teaming with La Fiera & Brazo de Plata against Dr. Wagner, Jr. & Kaho I &
Papineau, Louis: (Age of 36): Dies following a match with Gino Brito in
Garden City, MI on March 7, 1964.
Peterson, D.J.: (Dave Peterson: Age of 33): Former co-holder of the AWA
World tag team championship was killed in a truck accident on May 25, 1993.
Pillman, Brian: (Brian Pillman: Age of 35) Headliner for both WCW and WWF
who died of a heart attack in Bloomington, MN on October 5, 1997. Pillman,
who had begun his career in Calgary and later moved up the ladder in WCW
from being a mid-card lightweight champion and tag team wrestler to being a
member of the Four Horsemen was wrestling for the WWF at the time as an
associate member of the Hart Foundation. Pillman had suffered a serious car
accident about a year earlier and initial belief that pain killers mixed
with alcohol, or a cocaine overdose caused the death proved false as none of
the above appeared in any significant amount in his system and no illegal
drugs or alcohol were in his system. Pillman was born on May 22, 1962.
Renegade: (Richard C. Williams: Age of 33): Committed suicide in front of
his girlfriend in February 1999 in Marietta, GA. Allegedly despondent over
not being used by World Championship Wrestling (WCW) where he had been a
past television champion under an Ultimate Warrior rip off gimmick. Renegade
was allegedly facing financial and personal problems and confronted his
girlfriend and shot himself with a .38 caliber handgun. Renegade was born
October 16, 1965.
Rikidozan: (Mitsuharu Momota: Age of 39): Killed in a gangland style
stabbing in Japan on December 15, 1963.
Romano, Mike: (age of 36). Cause of death unknown in June 1936.
Rutten, Jackie: (Age of 23). Cause of death unknown on June 19, 1982.
Sangre India: (Age of 23): Died after missing a tope in Mexico City and
breaking his back on December 25, 1979.
Sawyer, Buzz: (Bruce Woyan: Age of 32): Stand out star in Texas, Louisiana,
Florida, and Georgia. Had a famous feud in the NWA with Tommy Rich, and was
later part of Gary Hart's stable with the The Great Muta that feuded with
the Four Horsemen. Top star in World Class Championship Wrestling and a
former UWF TV champion. Brother of Brett Wayne Sawyer dies a drug related
death on February 7, 1992.
Seleem, Iben: (Charles Halvey: Age of 27): Dies on February 17, 1939 in a
car accident near Hot Springs, NM.
Shamrock, Shane: (Brian Hauser: Age of 23) Maryland independent wrestler was
shot by police during a domestic altercation on August 17, 1998.
Shane, Bobby: (Bob Schoenberger: Age of 29): Is killed when the plane that
he, Buddy Colt, Mike McCord (Austin Idol), and Gary Hart are flying in
crashes. All others survive. Shane is killed on February 20, 1975.
Sleaze, Big E. (Jeremy Sumpter: Age of 22) Maryland independent wrestler
died from a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head.
Speer, Frank: (Frank Speer: Age of 32): Dies on June 10, 1938 from pneumonia
in Atlanta, GA.
Spicolli, Louie: (Louis Mucciolo: Age of 27) Wrestled for the WWF, AAA, ECW,
and WCW. Was wrestling for WCW at the time of his death on February 15, 1998
from an apparent overdose of prescription pain killers mixed with alcohol.
He was laid to rest in San Pedro, CA at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic
Sugai, Don: (Don Sugai: Age of 39): Killed in a car accident on October 14,
1952 in Ontario, Canada.
Superior, Neil "The Power": (Neil Caricofe: Age of 33): Died following a
confrontation with police in Ocean City, Maryland on August 23, 1996.
Superior was nude and causing a disturbance when police arrived and became
involved in a confrontation with Superior, who died a few hours later. At
the time this book was published, his family was still involved in
litigation with the Ocean City Police department.
Sweetan, Freddie: (Fred Sweetan: Age of 36): Dies in an accident at his home
on July 26, 1974.
Taylor, Chris: (Christopher Taylor: Age of 29): Olympic super heavyweight
wrestling bronze medalist who wrestled for the AWA dies following a lengthy
illness on June 30, 1979.
Torres, Alberto: (Age of 37). Cause of death unknown on June 17, 1971,
Von Erich, Chris: (Chris Barton Adkisson: Age of 21): The youngest of the
Von Erich brothers commits suicide with a self inflicted gunshot wound on
September 12, 1991.
Von Erich, David: (David Adkisson: Age of 25): Dies on February 10, 1984,
allegedly of acute enteritis, although rumors and stories have persisted for
years that his death was drug related. Von Erich died in his hotel room in
Tokyo, Japan while on tour.
Von Erich, Kerry: (Kerry Adkisson: Age of 33): The longest living of the Von
Erich brothers, with the exception of the still living Kevin. The most
nationally successful of the family, having won the NWA World heavyweight
title in 1984 from Ric Flair, and later held the WWF Intercontinental title.
Had a severe motorcycle accident in 1986 which lead to the amputation of his
foot, though he wrestled for years afterward with a prosthesis, keeping the
amputation a secret. Developed a serious drug problem after the accident
which lead to several arrest and eventually being put on probation. Kerry
was then arrested for prescription forgery while on probation and was
looking, quite possibly, at serious jail time. Instead he shot himself in
the chest with a .44 magnum on February 18, 1993.
Von Erich, Mike: (Michael Adkisson: Age of 23): Member of the infamous Von
Erich family of Texas wrestling. Suffered a near fatal bout of toxic shock
syndrome in 1986, but pushed himself, or was pushed by his father, to return
to the ring. Never fully recovered from the illness and on April 12, 1987,
committed suicide with an overdose of Placidyl.
Wright, Tex: (Age of 28): Dies following a match on March 11, 1934 with
Harry "Ali Baba" Ekizian in Greeley, CO.
Youngblood, Jay: (Steve Romero: Age of 30): Former multi-time NWA World tag
team title holder with Rick Steamboat, dies in New Zealand after rupturing
his spleen and suffering a heart attack on September 1, 1985.
BRILLIANT SURGEON IS WRESTLING STAR
(Globe and Mail, Tuesday, July 12, 1932)
One ould think that a surgeon would be out of place in a wrestling ring, but such is not the case with Ralph Wilson, M.D., M.S., A.B., of Philadelphia, one of the most brilliant of the younger set of wrestlers, who, it was announced last night by Promoter Jack Corcoran of the Queensbury Club, will make his Toronto debut as a wrestler at Thursday night’s show at the Maple Leaf Gardens. The match will be a preliminary, but Wilson will be brought back for a main bout if he makes good. His opponent will be Nazzarino Poggi of Italy.
As a wrestler Wilson is said to be as fast and clever, as much of the crowdpleaser, as Sammy Stein, the flashy Hebrew heavyweight from New York, who is to meet Ed (Strangler) Lewis in the main bout. The wrestling and educational careers of the young doctor are both interesting, and a bright future is predicted for him in either he wishes to concentrate on, he having don remarkably well in both to date.
Wilson began his wrestling while a high school student and during his second year as a student at University of Indiana won the all-conference championship. Then his father, also a doctor and a specialist in anaesthesia, was killed in a laboratory explosion, and Wilson turned professional to complete his education. He received his A.B. degree in chemistry, and then secured his M.D.
After graduating, the doctor-wrestler, who had by this time made progress in heavyweight wrestling ranks, just as in his studies, served his internship at the Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis. For the past two years he has been a resident surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Graduates’ Hospital, Philadelphia, and it has not been uncommon for him to operate until late in the afternoon and then proceed to New York or some other nearby centre to take part in a feature wrestling bout. He accepted only matches which would not take him away from the hospital during his hours of duty there, and it is only the fact that his two years there have elapsed that enables him to come to Toronto for bouts.
Just last month Dr. Wilson added a third degree to his name, the University of Pennsylvania conferring on him the degree of Master of Surgery, the highest honor a surgeon could receive from a United States university.
To date, Dr. Wilson has expended $40,000 on his education, making the money by his wrestling activities. Without neglecting his studies he has been able to train at night, and make as much progress in wrestling as any man of his age, having beaten Jim McMillen, Gino Garibaldi, Rudy Dusek and other stellar grapplers. It is the doctor’s intention to continue his studies in Vienna at some later date, but he would like very much to win the heavyweight wrestling championship of the world in the meantime.
Poggi, though he has had only two Toronto bouts, one last year and one more recently, is a clever, aggressive wrestler, who should give Wilson a real battle. He has twice beaten Gino Garibaldi and a few months ago he gave "Strangler" Lewis a hard battle.
ED LEWIS SCORES ONLY FALL OF BOUT
(Globe and Mail, Friday, July 15, 1932)
By W.T. Munns
Dramatic incidents characterized the main bout of the Queensbury Club wrestling show at Maple Leaf Gardens last evening, and particularly dramatic was the finish of the match when Ed (Strangler) Lewis crawled back in the ring just in time to be credited with the only fall of his match with Sammy Stein, New York Jewish star.
Stein, making a splendid showing against his heavier and more experienced opponent, had Lewis very much in distress from a series of body scissors. Three times Lewis’ shoulders appeared down, but each time he freed himself, only to have the agile Stein dash back to close quarters to repeat his gruelling scissors. Finally Lewis struggled to his feet, with Stein’s legs clamped tightly around his middle. He lifted his opponent high in the air and slammed him to the mat. Stein’s head hit the floor with sickening force and he was "out." Lewis, the pressure released, collapsed and rolled under the ropes.
It was an unusual situation and the fans were breathless as referee Jack Forbes commenced to count. There was Stein prostrate on the floor, with Lewis in groggy condition outside the ropes. It appeared that Stein, though unconscious, might win the fall by default, but Lewis struggled back into the ring just as the referee prepared to toll the tenth second, crawled to Stein on hands and knees, and was declared victor. It was the first and, as it transpired, the only fall of the bout. Stein was carried to the dressing room still unconscious, and at the end of the ten-minute rest interval was still in no condition to return to the ring. The time of the fall was 45 minutes and 25 seconds.
The bout was the best of the five in which Lewis has participated in Toronto. The veteran, still one of the most effective wrestlers in the world, appeared to be in excellent condition, and close students of the sport were amazed at the way in which he broke holds and countered with perfectly applied ones of his own. Despite his ponderous appearance, he had a certain amount of grace to his movements, and at times the speed with which he snapped into his work was little short of amazing.
In actual wrestling Lewis had the better of the bout most of the way, but the remarkable speed and dexterity of the Jewish heavyweight kept the latter in the running and the threat of his flying tackle constituted a constant menace to his thick-set opponent. Lewis did not by any means avoid all of Stein’s tackles, but he managed to escape the full force of most of them, though he was knocked under the ropes several times. Lewis was quick to go into retreat whenever Stein essayed a tackle, but despite his watchfulness was caught several times by the flying butts of his fast-moving opponent.
Stein was on the offensive from the commencement of the bout and twice within the first few minutes took Lewis to the mat with wristlocks. It was apparent as the match progressed that Lewis was able to break Stein’s holds easier than the latter was able to escape from those of the "strangler." Fairly early in the bout the battle of the favorite offensive moves of the pair commenced. Lewis tossed Stein with two headlocks, and the Jewish wrestler came back with a pair of tackles, the second of which sent the veteran under the ropes. Some minutes later Stein countered a Lewis headlock with a flying head scissors.
This work of Stein, fast and spectacular, and the workmanlike style of the older wrestler, combined to make an interesting, and for the most part, exciting match. Just a few minutes before the fall Lewis resorted to headlocks, only to have Stein counter with flying tackles. Lewis returned to his headlocks, and Stein jumped up to apply a body scissors. It looked very much like a fall in favor of Stein, but Lewis freed himself.
Stein was on his feet in a flash and repeated the hold. Again Lewis worked his way free just in time, but again and yet again Stein applied the scissors. Lewis appeared to be weakening, but finally he made a desperate effort, gained his feet and slammed Stein into unconsciousness. The finish occurred as already noted and left Stein the favorite of the fans, although Lewis won the bout.
In the best of the preliminary bouts Doctor Ralph Wilson of Philadelphia made a most auspicious Toronto debut by throwing Nazzarino Poggi, rough and ready Italian, after 17 minutes and 24 seconds of speedy wrestling. A leg split and body scissors, a complicated hooking hold or combination of holds, ended the match after a hectic combat in which Wilson had slightly the better of it despite dangerous attacks by the villainous looking Poggi.
Wilson might well be called the "flying surgeon." He is extremely fast and spectacular, uses the flying tackle in daring manner, and varies his other work very well. The Doctor started proceedings with a thrill for the cash customers by leaving his corner in a wild dash across the ring to catch Poggi with a flying leg hold in the latter’s own corner.
In the semi-final, Earl McCready, husky wrestler from Western Canada, won a close decision from George Vassell. The Greek wrestled well and made it close, but McCready showed an aggressiveness that was formerly lacking in his work and was not slow to retaliate when Vassell started his usual rough work.
The opening bout also went the time limit with the Masked Marvel scoring his third Toronto victory at the expense of "Whitey" Hewitt. The masked wrestler showed to better advantage than in his previous two Toronto bouts, wrestling better and doing more attacking, but he had no easy time with the rugged Hewitt, who was his usual tempestuous self.
The summary follows:
The Masked Marvel (later revealed to be Al Getzewich, aka Al Getz), 215 pounds, beat Whitey Hewitt, 216, Memphis, decision after 30 minutes.
Doctor Ralph Wilson, 197, Philadelphia, threw Nazzarino Poggi, 188, Italy, with a leg split and scissors hold; time 17:24.
Earl McCready, 224, Regina, beat George Vassell, 205, Los Angeles, decision after 30 minutes.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis, 239, Kentucky, threw Sammy Stein, 204, New York, time
45:25. Stein unable to return to the ring.
The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 770
(ED. NOTE: If, for some reason, you have not made wrestling.ign.com a regular stop on your cyberspace tours, do so immediately. These Richard Berger pieces, plus a couple of brief interviews, are just the tip of the iceberg insofar as the comprehensive coverage of professional wrestling – past, present and future.)
LEGENDARY ANNOUNCER, GORDON SOLIE, 71
(wrestling.ign.com, July 28, 2000)
By Richard Berger
For those of us who grew up watching pro wrestling in the 1960s and ‘70s, the name Gordon Solie meant one thing: intelligence and quality announcing. More than just a shill, Gordon put believability into his call of the matches. He taught viewers the proper names of wrestling holds and why they were having the effect they did. He was the living definition of what it meant to be a true professional. Over time, he was given the nickname The Dean of Announcers. The moniker stuck and rightly remained with him to the end.
Gordon Solie passed away July 27, 2000 at the age of 71. In fact, the great voice had been silenced more than a year before, after suffering the ravages of cancer. It was the height of cruel irony that he underwent an operation which resulted in the loss of his speaking ability, the talent that was his greatest claim to fame. While Mr. Solie contributed to our sport in many ways, the announcing skill he exhibited throughout his life will always be remembered as his greatest accomplishment.
His career behind the microphone began in Florida in 1960, where his flawless call of the matches was immediately apparent. As the decade wore on, Gordon quickly gained the reputation as a "shoot-style announcer in a worked sport." His seamless ringside oratory combined with promoter Eddie Graham’s superior wrestling product. As a result, Florida Championship Wrestling packed a hell of a 1-2 punch. It’s safe to say that the program wouldn’t have been quite the same without the efforts of Gordon Solie.
Among his highlights, Solie announced for promotions in Georgia and other parts of the South. Late in his career, Gordon did some work for the New Japan promotion, attaching his golden vocal cords to a version of the show beamed throughout Europe. While Solie became somewhat displeased with the direction of the business in North America as pro wrestling moved into the sports entertainment era, he remained enthusiastic for the young talent he saw.
Along with the late Dick Lane, Gordon Solie was one of the true innovators and contributed in a large way to making wrestling so popular. With his passing, the wrestling industry has lost a pioneer. For that, we are all much poorer.
Rest in peace, Mr. Solie. Through eternity, you shall always have the gratitude of those who appreciate solid, reality-based announcing. Your place in the history of the wrestling business is assured.
BERGER’S BRUSH WITH FRED BLASSIE
(wrestling.ign.com, July 26, 2000)
By Richard Berger
The Rock has his legion of fans, both young and old. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Sting and the Undertaker also have devoted followers. In the early 1960s, when I was growing up in Los Angeles and watching wrestling, there was one man who stood head and shoulders above everyone. Believe it or not, in those innocent days when it was easy to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys, I always got a special thrill when Freddie Blassie, self-proclaimed King of Men, put in an appearance.
There was no mistaking that Fred was a heel. His bleached blond hair, the exaggerated strut and the evil-doing during his matches redefined the word "vicious." Blassie spent many years in L.A. working for the World Wrestling Association (WWA), which recognized him as their champion during much of that time. He fought everyone in the territory and defeated them all. He also took on outsiders, many of whom were well-established stars elsewhere.
Freddie was beloved by many, although he was hated by many more. As the story goes, he was once on his way to the ring at Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium when a crazed fan in the balcony threw a small bottle of acid that hit him on the back of his upper leg. The deadly substance trickled down Blassie’s leg, but he ignored it. It was only after his match that he discovered the full extent of the damage. The acid had worked its way down the full length of his leg and into his boot, where it burned a small hole in his foot.
Recently, I had occasion to reminisce about my interest in wrestling and how it developed. A young man, who also has a healthy respect for the history of the business, wanted to know if I had met any famous wrestlers back in the "old days." I didn’t have to think too hard, and I relayed the following story to him:
It was the summer of 1962, and as a native southern Californian, I spent most days at either Venice or Santa Monica Beach with my buddies. Being 12 years old and out of school until the fall, the time was my own to do with as I chose.
On this particular day, I spotted a gathering of kids in the distance, most of whom appeared to be somewhere around my age. They were surrounding a figure that looked vaguely familiar. However, from where I stood, it was difficult to be precisely certain just who it was.
Curiosity forced me to approach the crowd for a closer look. As I got within 20 feet, the mystery was solved. It was none other than The King of Men, the WWA World Heavyweight Champeen (as he said it), Freddie Blassie! I got terribly excited and wormed my way through the mob, trying not to step on the smaller kids. I was determined to get just as close as possible, and nothing but nothing was going to deter me.
The kids were hanging on to every word he uttered. Freddie Blassie was a legitimate celebrity, and the swelling crowd was thrilled to see him live and in the flesh. The braver members were firing off questions at him, and he handled them as only an experienced wrestler could. We instinctively detected that beneath the bravado and heelish stance he had an affection for kids, and we lapped it up. We knew we were in the presence of greatness.
After a few minutes of staring at him in awe, I could contain myself no longer. Mind you, this was long before the business of wrestling had been exposed to the public. Yes, I was pretty certain that wrestling was mostly a work. Still, with Fred standing right in front of me in all his glory, it was impossible not to to mark out completely. When a slight lull occurred, I blurted out something like this at breakneck speed:
"Gosh, Mr. Blassie, if you could just follow the rules more and not do mean things to nice guys like 'Cowboy' Bob Ellis you would be the greatest hero who ever lived and no one would ever be able to beat you and I've seen you fight Bearcat Wright and you kept choking him and then you hurt Edouard Carpentier's eye and if you could just be nicer in the ring you'd see how great it is when everybody's cheering for you."
I had to stop at that point or risk passing out from a lack of oxygen. As I gasped for breath, I looked up beseechingly at him in the hopes that my plea was having a positive effect. The entire time I had been speaking, Freddie had stood in front of me, his face a stony, impassive mask. His arms had remained folded across his chest, his feet were spaced slightly apart, and he looked to me like he was 20 feet tall. For a brief moment, I thought he might have been sizing me up as he would an opponent. Hey, wait a sec! I didn’t want to be Blassie’s next victim!
For what seemed like forever, he said nothing. I felt a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead. A few seconds later, he threw his head back and laughed long and hard. I was flattered that something (anything!) I said would have an impact on one of my wrestling heroes. I just hoped that he wasn’t laughing at me. And then he confirmed that he had, in fact, been impressed with my little outburst.
Fred Blassie gently placed his hands on my shoulders and steered me towards a nearby lemonade stand. There, he bought a hot-dog-on-a-stick and a large lemonade for me. I was overwhelmed by his unexpectedly generous act and babbled my thanks over and over.
For the next couple of weeks, I experienced an incredible high that has yet to be surpassed. When word got around my school, I became something of a minor celebrity for a short time. No doubt about it … WWA World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Freddie Blassie was my friend, and I was the luckiest guy in Los Angeles, if not the world.
Suffice it to say, Mr. Blassie provided a kid who suffered from a lack of real self-esteem with one hell of a booster shot. I can state with total honesty that in later years, when I began working in the business of professional wrestling, I met quite a few people. Some were likeable and decent and have become good friends. While I cannot claim that Fred and I have become close (we haven’t even talked), he will always be a genuine and legitimate hero to me because of his sincere and selfless act.
Odds are that this incident has long since faded from Mr. Blassie's memory. But it resides safely in mine, and I will continue to take it out periodically, dust it off and relive the event. Back in those long-ago days, when we weren’t privy to the behind-the-scenes doings, we had heroes who genuinely touched us. Believe me when I tell you it really did mean that much.
RENE GOULET INTERVIEW
(wrestling.ign.com, July 24, 2000)
(ED. NOTE -- The following interview was conducted by Shannon Rose of IGN Wrestling affiliate, Pro Wrestling Daily, on the second day of the Sgt. Slaughter Invitational Golf Tournament.)
Shannon Rose: Hi, I’m Shannon Rose, and I’m standing with world renowned legendary wrestler Rene Goulet, the master of the claw. What’s been happening with you lately Rene? Are you still working with the WWF?
Rene Goulet: No, I haven’t been working for the WWF the last two and a half years. Right now I’m considering myself retired from the wrestling business. I play golf and stay in shape. I work out at the 'Ric Flair' Gold’s Gym in Charlotte, North Carolina. [Laughs]
Rose: Now what happened with the WXO? I know you were personally involved with that.
Goulet: Everything was going down (As in happening), we had everything set up for going into the wrestling business. It was a new organization, and a new promotion. They had a lot of potential, but like any other business something happened at the end.
Rose: How are you doing in the tournament here [Editor's Note: This interview was done the second day of the tournament for charity in Miami, Florida]?
Goulet: The first day we played 'The Great White,' which is a great course. We didn’t do to good really. We finished with minus three. That is not very good when you're in a tournament, because the winners are like -12, -13, and -14. Today should be real good though.
Rose: Now you’ve been a road agent with the WWF, and you’ve been in the ring with the WWF. How do you feel wrestling has changed from the past to present?
Goulet: To tell you the truth wrestling will never change, as far as the two guys in the ring and wrestling. The aspect of entertaining the people is like night and day. Today is unbelievable. I wish I was in this era right now, because I really enjoy what they’re doing. It’s great because WWF is on top of the world. I think what they do is amazing because of the ratings on television, plus selling out house shows. Twenty, twenty-five thousand within 15-20 minutes. I had no doubt that one day it would be like that. That’s great. Both eras were great. My era was great. I enjoyed every minute of it. Then when I got in the ring, whether it was 10,000 people or 300 people, I had a good time in there. When you make a career in this business, that’s the way it should be. Otherwise get out of it and do something else.
Rose: What would you say was the single greatest story in your career, that some fans don’t know too much about that you can enlighten them about?
Goulet: I got a million stories to tell you the truth. [Laughs] Some of those guys write books. I’ve got a lot of stories from the wrestling business. My first match was in 1956.Can you imagine that? You were not even born then. How old was your dad? He was probably still a young man because you're a young kid. [Editors Note: LOL, I am 25] Like I said, I have so many stories it’s unbelievable. Right now just trying to think about it, I’d have to sit down and think. I’m just gonna put it my way. Wrestling from day one was a story 'till the end on my career. I wrestled all over the world, and I made friends where ever I was. I still have friends that live in Australia, and Europe, and any state in the United States. That is a great part of being in the wrestling business.
Rose: We see people in the ring still bumping like Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco. Are we ever going to see the 'Master of the Claw' return to the ring any time soon?
Goulet: I wish I was there one more time. You know what I mean? It would be a lot of fun. I would enjoy seeing Patterson and Brisco take a bump, and beat the hell out of people. I think it’s great. I love it, and they enjoy every minute of it. When you're made for this business, it doesn’t matter if you're 15 or 90 years old. It’s fun.
Rose: Now as I said you’ve been a road agent with the WWF. You’ve been there in the bad times, and you’ve been there in the good. How is it to work along the side of such a genius as Vince McMahon?
Goulet: Well it was great. The first time I went to New York, I worked for his father, Vince, Sr., in 1971. It was great to work for his dad. Then Vince Jr., over around 1982 or 1983. I remember when I was the road agent I was wrestling in the first match. Back to your question though. Vince was always great to work for. He’s fantastic, and he’s got so much guts it’s unbelievable. I really enjoyed the time that I worked for him.
Rose: Thank you Rene for your time.
Goulet: Have a great day.
PRO WRESTLING’S HEART AND SOLIE
(Tampa Tribune, May 29, 1997)
NEW PORT RICHEY - He witnessed some of the most brutal hand -to-hand combat anywhere. He watched men bleed and sweat for glory, money and pride. He saw feuds begin, end and rekindle. He chronicled betrayal, revenge, tragedy and triumph. He interviewed the colorful combatants at their most heated - all the while keeping a straight face.
Is this Wolf Blitzer? Ernie Pyle? Peter Arnett?
Try Gordon Solie, known as the "dean of professional wrestling announcers."
"I've had a chance to know some of the greatest athletes in the world," Solie said recently from his comfortable west Pasco County home. "I never went to work regretting that I had to go." Solie's love for the squared circle hasn't diminished after nearly half a century.
"It's human chess at its finest,'' he says, tossing out a line fans are sure to recognize. His heyday may have passed, but Solie has left his mark.
"I don't think there's a guy behind the wrestling microphone in the world today that wasn't affected by Gordon Solie," says "Mean" Gene Okerlund, a Sarasota resident who handles interviews for World Championship Wrestling.
"He basically was the voice of Florida wrestling for years and years and years," agrees Mike "Mr. Wallstreet'' Rotunda, a wrestler who lives near Brooksville. Now 68, Solie isn't affiliated with either of the main mat conglomerates: World Championship Wrestling or the World Wrestling Federation. Instead, Solie's promoting an Internet venture called Ring Warriors. The Web site can be visited at http://www.ringwarriors. com Ring Warriors brings wrestling action to cyberspace.
Gravel-voiced Solie handles play-by-play of Japanese pro wrestling, while former grappler Bruno Sammartino gives colour commentary and Sir Oliver Humperdink does interviews. With a motto of "pride, discipline and tradition," Ring Warriors aims to recapture what Solie considers wrestling's glory days. He dislikes the modern era, which led to his departure from World Championship Wrestling in June 1995.
"I don't care for some of the hype they're putting to it today," he says, pointing to story lines involving car wrecks and assaults with guns. "It was not my style of wrestling, for one thing. All of the subtleties are gone."
Solie got his start in 1950, back when promoters sold the steak, not the sizzle, he says. He was working at WEBK, 1590-AM, a tiny Ybor City station, and spicing up his 15-minute sports show by interviewing local athletes, including wrestlers and race car drivers. Wrestling promoter Cowboy Luttrell offered Solie a stint as a ring announcer, replacing a guy who had quit.
The pay? Five bucks - cash. Solie was earning just $50 a week,so he accepted. By 1960, Luttrell had started offering televised matches. When he couldn't find a recognizable name to handle play-by-play, he turned to Solie. "The rest, they say, is history."
His renowned deadpan delivery among the chaos that characterizes wrestling is legendary. He adopted his style the first time he went on air after asking Luttrell how he should announce. "He said, "Like you treat a paycheck. Very, very seriously," Solie recalls.
"I'm not the star of the show - they [the wrestlers] are. The high-wire act is just as dangerous without the drumroll. All I am is a drumroll to a wrestling match." The wrestlers always played up that drumroll. Every fan worth a body slam remembers grapplers starting an interview with,"Let me tell you something, Gordon Solie."
Even today, rare is the wrestler who doesn't begin an interview with some variation of "Let me tell you something." Wrestling's known for its flamboyance, but Solie added another dimension, says Okerlund, the interviewer from Sarasota. "When someone said something outrageous, he'd give a subtle look, then move on," Okerlund says.
Solie's fame grew as the Championship Wrestling from Florida promotion syndicated its programs. He later worked for the Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion, airing on WTBS in Atlanta. Satellites started beaming the station's signal in 1972, further expanding Solie's following.
Californian Earl Oliver, reached by e-mail, recalls seeing Solie for the first time on WTBS around 1980. "This guy was serious about it," writes Oliver, who runs a Web site, Solie's Vintage Wrestling - http://users.aol.com/solie/ - named in the announcer's honor.
"He was calling the holds and maneuvers as fast as they happened and, at the same time, offering insights into the lives and careers of the athletes. "It was a revelation to me and started me to seriously follow wrestling again after several years."
Solie was known for packing plenty of information into his play-by-play. In the process, he taught generations of fans a bit of physiology. When a beefy wrestler applied, say, a sleeper hold, Solie described how the move pinched the carotid artery, limiting blood flow to the brain. He learned much of the lingo from co-host Coach John Heath, a one-time wrestler who studied premed in college.
"I did some independent study as well," Solie says. "It brought sort of a new aspect to the sport." The medical lingo helped give fans an idea of what was going on in the ring, says Rotunda, the Hernando County wrestler. "He kind of had his doctoral in the terminology of professional wrestling," Rotunda says. "He was very adept at explaining what each and every hold did."
Dave Meltzer, a Californian who edits the Wrestling Observer newsletter, listened to audiotapes of Solie in pre-cable days. "For someone who couldn't see the picture, when I heard Florida wrestling, I knew exactly what was going on,'' Meltzer says. "He definitely was one of the best."
Aside from Solie's style, both wrestlers and fellow broadcasters knew him for his professionalism. Rotunda recalls 1984, the year he spent with Solie in working for the Championship Wrestling from Florida promotion. TV tapings were Wednesday mornings, followed by interviews and promos. They worked in a building without air conditioning.
"Everyone had to have a lighter side to them," Rotunda says. Solie deftly handled younger grapplers as they stumbled through interviews, and won respect for it. "The wrestlers themselves voted Gordon into the Hall of Fame," Okerlund says.
The feeling was mutual. Never a wrestler himself, Solie nonetheless admired how well they could perform, given the physical toll. "For all the jokes about wrestling, I'd see these guys in a lot of pain,'' he says. "I developed a lot of respect for their athletic ability and their ability to go out there five, six, seven times a week.
"I don't know of any wrestler that doesn't have back problems. The 26 movable vertebrae are not designed for body slams." While time isn't kind to wrestlers, the changing climate - regional promotions replaced by conglomerates - took its toll on Solie.
A month after his induction into the WCW Hall of Fame, he left the organization that evolved from Georgia Championship Wrestling. "I had never worked for a corporation before," he says. "I am not a corporate man."
Although largely out of the limelight these days, Solie is still stopped on the street by fans around the Bay area. In recent years, a man with his son in tow told the boy that he had just met "the greatest wrestling announcer that ever lived."
"I've developed a tremendous following I didn't know was out there," Solie says.
While it appears unlikely now, he doesn't rule out a return before the camera given the right opportunity. "I guess like any old war horse, I'd come out of the stable."
TONY ATLAS INTERVIEW
(wrestling.ign.com, July 17, 2000)
IGN's Josh Pontrelli recently caught up with former WWF Tag Team Champion, "Mr. USA" Tony Atlas.
Josh Pontrelli: We are joined by former WWF Tag Champ, Tony Atlas. Where did you get started in the wrestling business, and where did you get trained?
Tony Atlas: I started in Charlotte, NC and was eventually discovered. I was trained by Ole Anderson, Ken Patera, the list goes on and on; Larry Sharpe, alot of guys helped train me.
Josh: During your career, you had slight money problems. You returned to the WWF as Saba Simba. Can you give us the details?
Tony: Well, Saba Simba was the name that the Zulu people called me when I was over in Africa. Saba means seven, and Simba means lands. So Saba Simba means Seven Lands.
Josh: Did you have any regrets by doing that gimmick?
Tony: No, I am proud to be an African American.
Josh: After that, you returned to WCW. How was it like, considering that there were tons of management problems?
Tony: I have no regrets in anything I did in wrestling. They paid for my trips around the world. I've been to Austrailia, New Zealand, you name it, I have been there. I can't complain about the management.
Josh: Compare WWF to WCW at the times you were in them.
Tony: Well, both organizations are top of the line and successful organizations. They both have different styles of wrestling, but there is no comparison. Thye both are outstanding organizations.
Josh: You re-appeared in the WWF before Wrestlemania 13. Were there any plans for you to turn on The Rock there?
Tony: Not that I know of; I was just there for encouragement.
Josh: Were you hoping for a longer stay?
Tony: Actually, not really. You know, I have a gym that I run. I spend a lot of time with the family now. I've been on the road so much, I never had any time to spend with my daughter. Now, it's good to spend time with the daughter and the grandkids.
Josh: You won the WWF Tag Straps with Rocky Johnson. Do you still keep in touch with him and his son?
Tony: Not his son, but I keep in touch with Rocky.
Josh: Besides the tag belt win, do you have any favorite career highlight?
Tony: Just waking up everyday.
Josh: Are there any chances of you returning to the big 3?
Tony: You never know what is going to happen in the future.
Josh: About the MTV, do you have anything you would like to say?
Tony: They did a hell of a job.
Josh: Thanks, Tony, anything you would like to say before we depart?
Tony: Well, just keep your faith in your country and in your God. Thanks.
The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 771
(Tampa Tribune, August 6, 2000)
By Joey Johnston
It wasn't a goodbye mood. That's too harsh, too final. It was, well, what else?
So Long ... From The Sunshine State.
Gordon Solie's signature farewell was the tag line for every broadcast of "Championship Wrestling From Florida.'' During Saturday afternoon's memorial service for the legendary wrestling announcer, the phrase was embedded upon a 4-by-6-foot arrangement of 2,000 imported pompons and carnations, specially designed like a championship belt.
Solie's familiar catch phrases reverberated around the First Baptist Church during video and audio tributes. Many in the assembly of 500 mourners - including dozens of former and present professional wrestlers - gently nodded at the poignant memories and smiled through their tears.
"There was only one Gordon Solie and his words will live on,'' former wrestler Buddy Colt said.
"He wasn't one of the best. He was the very, very best.''
Solie, who was at his best as a deadpan straight man, died July 28 at his New Port Richey home after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 71. The family said Solie will be cremated, just like his wife, Eileen, who died in 1997. Their remains will be placed together in pottery created by Eileen.
During his final year, Solie's raspy delivery was failing. He communicated with a voice box, but mostly stayed away from the public eye. Still, he enjoyed the occasional get-togethers and lunches, usually arranged by wrestling friends B. Brian Blair, Steve Keirn and Jack Brisco.
Solie's final luncheon was July 13 with a requested guest - former major-league baseball player Wade Boggs, a big wrestling fan. Boggs had never met Solie and was admittedly nervous.
"I was shaking like it was my first at-bat in the big leagues and Gordon walks in bigger than life,'' Boggs said from the pulpit. "We started at 11:30 and we were talking about all the old names. I looked at my watch and it was 3:45. I said, ‘This is amazing. I'm having the time of my life.'
"It's a day I'll cherish for the rest of my life. I knew him for four hours and it felt like I'd known him for 30 years. He gave me a photograph and signed it, ‘To Wade, an American hero.' ''
Boggs paused, his voice cracking and his eyes welling with tears.
"Mr. Solie,'' he said, "you are the American hero.''
In his eulogy, Tribune sports columnist Tom McEwen said Solie was "one of our great hometown heroes'' and now he's off to "join a great broadcast with other departed friends like Milt Spencer, Salty Sol Fleischman and Andy Hardy.'' Blair read from Solie's final public statement, when he knew the end was near. Solie wrote that he had no regrets and had hoped to beat his illness, but understood that a life of heavy smoking had taken its toll.
The wrestling community was represented by 84-year-old Lou Thesz, Dory Funk Jr., Bobby "The Brain'' Heenan, Jack and Jerry Brisco, David Sierra (The Cuban Assassin), "Superstar'' Billy Graham, Don Curtis, Jimmy Hart, Ella Waldek and Colt. They all had stories to tell about Solie.
But none carried an impact like Solie's actual voice. Before going to a voice box, Solie granted an interview to Jacksonville radio station WBOJ. The memorial service concluded with his final words.
"This is my last official time on the air,'' Solie was saying in a painful-sounding whisper. "There's not enough voice to do anything with anyway. But it's been a pleasure over the years. I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.
"This is the last interview I'll do anywhere. If you don't mind, I'll sign off officially with a thank you ... and so long from the Sunshine State.''
GRIEF FOR SOLIE WAS NOT SCRIPTED
(Tampa Tribune, August 6, 2000)
By Tom McEwen
His last words to us all, before the cancer that took the voice of professional wrestling everywhere and so much of auto racing in Tampa, then the rest of him this week, were read to us by B. Brian Blair. They were read to us assembled for a memorial at Tampa's magnificent First Baptist Church by Blair, and in those words, Gordon Solie asked:
"While only the good Lord knows how much time I actually have left here, in my final days I ask you not to grieve for me ... but, rather remember me as you would an old friend. ... In my eyes I lived a full and satisfying life, that some only dream of fulfilling. Also, over the years I have had my share of heat with some people. ... How insignificant that seems today. ... So being reflective ... I hold no grudges and I have no ill will toward anyone. ... Let bygones be bygones.''
The part about ill will - and there had been some - fine.
The part about not grieving. Not so fast, I said Saturday from the pulpit, as he and his family asked trusted friend Blair in those last days, and I say again. Not so fast, SOLIE!, as the bad guys inevitably shouted at him on "Championship Wrestling From Florida.''
We want to grieve, we and your family. We did not want you to go. We miss you. Allow that for a bit, then we'll get on with our lives and remember the wonderful, sometimes weird times, bizarre times.
Before on Saturday afternoon at the church, hometown baseball hero Wade Boggs wept remembering his hero, Solie, at a last lunch at Malio's, and he was so sincere, and as Gordon in his work, so understated as "a professional baseball player.'' We all know Boggs is headed in five years for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Boggs and Solie exchanged autographed photos, Boggs said as he wept. Wonderful, isn't it, those men of such divergent sports, so admiring of each other?
Yes, Solie is already enshrined in that hall of fame of pro wrestling, a slide later would prove. And beside the pulpit was the gigantic floral arrangement that Solie's championship belt in flowers, prepared for him on behalf of Warner Bros. director-producer- announcer Gil Cabot. Cabot said Solie gave him his start years ago at the old Sportatorium here, when he asked the late wrestling impresarios, Cowboy Luttrall and Eddie Graham, to allow him to audition for Solie's announcing job on "Championship Wrestling From Florida.''
"Gordon,'' Cabot said by phone on location from Alaska, "was behind the door. Heard a pipsqueak like me asking for his job. But, he came out, shook my hand, and said, ‘for now, son, it's my job. Come back later.' He helped me to get another job and has ever since. I love him. Tell them, please.''
Now assembled there Saturday in the church's first row, before his photo, and other displays, were his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. His first wife, Betty, now just fine in North Carolina, and Solie gave us daughter Pamela Allyn, and son Jonard. When his late, great love, Smokey (who died July 24, 1997), and he were married, she brought young children, Eric, Greg, and Danise (Lanciault), whom he quickly adopted. The biggest enlargement was of Gordon and wife Smokey. He never could understand why "such a sinner as me, would not be taken before her.''
"We are so lucky,'' Jonard Solie said. "To have more than the usual brothers and sisters, and parents. We do not talk about broken homes by divorce. We talk the values of extended families. All of us.''
No one disagreed. "Dad said we will have problems, but we will fix them.''
Eric Solie noted that "nothing Dad taught us was more important than a sense of humor,'' dry as Solie's seemed to be, outlandish as it may be. We then discussed halls of fame.
Noted some of the halls of fame Solie was not in but should be, a demonstration of his sense of humor.
He should, of course, be in the Popov vodka Hall of Fame and the Benson and Hedges shrine, something Gordon had agreed with me earlier, so honestly.
"Sure. For 56 years I drank vodka, or something else and smoked,'' he told me. "I know. I know. The throat cancer.
"I loved it all. My decision. No one else's. Blame me, if you must,'' he said, causing pro wrestling and fitness friend Blair, to say: "It was his call. Strong man to admit it, I think.''
Finally, Eric suggested the Why Me? Hall of Fame for his dad. Once, with Andre the Giant and Haystacks Calhoun using stairs at the old Sportatorium on Albany Avenue, the stairs gave way only under his dad's 160 pounds. He broke an ankle. He broke the other one playing donkey softball, and broke a hip (later replaced) jumping from a ring to avoid two unhappy wrestlers.
Finally, Jonard remembers on an early show as spokesman and everything else for the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, on a first-night radio show, Gordon pronounced his Chitwood, with an `S'' instead of a "C.'' Chitwood did not fire him. Became another signature for him.
So as he asked, we quickly did as he said, and have begun to remember him, a 40-year friend of mine, not in grief, but relief of his suffering as he left, and for the good times, not the bad.
On Aug. 3, 1980, Solie helped stage the "Last Tangle in Tampa,'' a superb wrestling and light show at the south end zone of old Tampa Stadium, before 17,833 fans. Dusty Rhodes vs. Harley Race for the NWA heavyweight title; Race retained the title, although Dusty did manage a pinfall in the "best two out of three falls event.''
Solie remembered it fondly at our last meeting, saying his own ''last tangle can't be off.''
SENDING CONDOLENCES TO SOLIE FAMILY
A snail-mail address where people can send condolence cards to the Gordon Solie Family is: Solie Family, c/o Pam Allyn, 3494 Pocahontas Drive, Largo, FL 33774.
The family wants to remind everyone that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Solie's memory to either Hospice of Pasco County and/or the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches.
THE READERS ALWAYS WRITE
Subj: Re: The WAWLI Papers No. 769
Hey, J Michael. I finally looked at my E-mail. Wrestlers who died beforeage 40. I do believe that Mars Bennett was under 40 years old when she was killed in a car wreck outside Nashville, TN. Also, Janet Wolfe was approximately 15 years old when she was killed in the ring. I believe she was kicked in the stomach and if I remember her stomach burst. That was in 1951. Did they just forget that or did I read past it? Take care.
Ida Mae Martinez
Subj: Re: [oldfallguys] The WAWLI Papers No. 769
Mr. Kenyon -- I believe (but not positive) Leaping Larry Chene was also in his30s when he died in a car accident. Darn shame. He was just about to be really big when he dies.
LIFE HITTING WAHOO McDANIEL HARD
(SLAM! Wrestling, August 3, 2000)
By Greg Oliver
There's no doubt that the recent road for Wahoo McDaniel has been tough.
Here's McDaniel on the phone with SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Charlotte, talking about having both kidneys removed, while being on a waiting list for kidney dialysis. Yet it isn't his own fate that has got him down, it's losing long-time friends like Florida announcer Gordon Solie, who died last Thursday.
"I'm telling you, there's been so many of them gone and died. A lot of my buddies have died," McDaniel said.
(full article athttp://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBiosM/mcdaniel_wahoo.html)
WRESTLING STAR DEFENDS CONVENTION CAMEO
(United Press International, August 2, 2000)
PHILADELPHIA -- Pro wrestling star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson told his values-minded critics to back off Wednesday before he addressed the Republican convention over protests from conservatives against his appearance.
"Lighten up," The Rock said at news conference in the media pavilion outside the Philadelphia convention arena, where GOP delegates were gathering for an evening of speeches by The Rock, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other prominent Republican officials.
The Rock said critics who called his show excessively violent and sexually graphic were overreacting. He said the show, which features bloody wrestling matches between scantily clad men and women, was harmless entertainment.
He likened the violence in the program to "Three Stooges" shtick and said mainstream television programming was much more brutal and lascivious than SmackDown!
"What you see is tame compared to what you see on network television," The Rock said.
But the Parents Television Council, a family values watchdog group, had called for the Republican National Committee to cancel Rock's scheduled appearance.
"It is repugnant that a major political party would choose to showcase during prime time a person and an organization who believes it's responsible to show men treating women in such a way knowing that this show is watched by millions of impressionable children," said Mark Honig, the council's executive director who issued a statement Wednesday. "The GOP's decision is equally irresponsible and sends the wrong message to children."
The council rates SmackDown! as the worst show on television, saying it "exposes children to obscene, raunchy and violent content on a weekly basis" in its Web review.
"Episodes contained women mudwrestling, homosexual innuendo, and drug references," the council's Internet site said.
But GOP convention officials made no move to stop The Rock from delivering a short speech about the importance of party outreach to young voters.
"They all smell what The Rock is cooking," Rock said earlier, using
his trademark wrestling ring phrase among a crush of journalists. "Enjoy
COMING SOON: PRO WRESTLING, THE REAL STUFF
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 15, 1988)
By Kevin Horrigan
Psssst. Hey buddy, Got 100 grand on you? How's your credit at the bank? Can you get them to back you with a $1 million letter of credit? If so, have I got a deal for you. Watch my lips: ''Professional wrestling.''
No, not Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and Randy ''Macho Man'' Savage pro wrestling. That's theatrical rassling. We're talking real wrestling. Scientic wrestling. Athletic wrestling. We're talking the National Wrestling League, the NWL, an acronym soon to be as familiar as NFL, NHL and NBA, or at least NASL, MISL, USBL, USFL and CBA.
Yes, if Wayne Gerenstein has his way, the seemingly insatiable maw of the professional sports fan will soon be fed a legitimate professional wrestling league. The NWL will have eight franchises in eight cities, each team made up of 12 to 16 grapplers in eight weight classes, ranging from 120 pounds to the superheavyweights.
What? You say wrestling is boring? Worse than soccer even? You think Wayne Gerenstein is crazy? He doesn't sound crazy when he calls you from the NWL headquarters in Chicago. He sounds careful and cautious.
''If you're looking for a guarantee, a sure thing, then don't get involved,'' Gerenstein says of the NWL.
''Sure, there's a risk. There's a risk in anything that hasn't been tried before. What we're saying is there must be a niche in the market for us somewhere.''
Well, why not? The junk sports market is bullish. And one thing wrestling's got going for it - it's violent. ''The American sports fan likes intense, aggressive, combative, contact sports,'' according to an overview Gerenstein put together for potential investors.
''Which is exactly what wrestling offers.''
This is true. Indoor soccer would be alive today if they'd let the players kick one another as well as the ball. Gerenstein was a high school wrestling coach in the Chicago suburbs when the idea for pro wrestling came to him.
''I used to complain to other coaches that it was a shame that our kids didn't have any real pro heroes to look up to,'' he said. ''Then about five years ago, I decided it was time to quit complaining and do something about it.''
So between coaching wrestling and football, he immersed himself in the history of modern sports franchising. Then he began studying marketing statist ics. And the more he studied, he says, the more convinced he became that the concept would work.
''At our state tournament last year,'' he said, ''the finals drew 8 (thousand) to 10,000 people. People always say that the only fans at wrestling tournaments are parents. Well, there were only 48 kids in the meet, and 48 kids don't have 10,000 parents.''
Gerenstein found that in many states, high school wrestling finals outdrew finals in all other sports except football and basketball. The television ratings for the NCAA wrestling finals outperformed ratings for college baseball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball and track. He figured that if the NWL teams could attract 7,000 fans a night to their arenas, the league could make money.
So last year, he quit his coaching job and opened an office, copyrighting his concept and trying to lure owners into the league. ''I guess we had more than 200 inquiries or so,'' he said, ''and about 30 or 40 of them are still interested. We've been very up front about the risks. And because we want people who are committed, we are insisting on a $100,000 investment backed by a $1 million letter of credit.''
Gerenstein figured a hundred grand was the minimum needed for a ''first-class'' operation. He asked the $1 million letter of credit to scare off the fly-by-night guys. He wants serious investors looking for some thrills in their portfolios.
''The thrill of being a pioneer and founding father of a new professional sports league is considered by many to be the apex of business experiences,'' the NWL investment overview says.
Gerenstein is seeking corporate sponsors. He's willing to franchise the entire league to a single sponsor, the way TeamTennis was franchised to Domino's Pizza.
Or individual teams can be sold to major local sponsors. And he claims he's getting close to a deal. So close that he's planning to start his league this winter. A draft will be held in October, drawing from top college wrestlers as well as those who may have graduated in the last few years.
A home-and-home schedule of 14 matches is scheduled beginning in December and running until March. Wrestlers will be paid $18,000 to $35,000 a season.
''In the 1990s,'' Gerenstein's overview states, ''our goal is to operate at a level comparable to the National Hockey League.''
They should make that easy.
The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 772
EX-UT BOBBY DUNCUM’S BODY FOUND NEAR LEANDER
(Austin American-Statesman, January 25, 2000)
By Mark Wangrin
Growing up a boy in the Duncum family meant being tough, whether it was standing up to bullies who questioned whether they were as tough as their professional-wrestling father, or surviving a 20-foot fall into a creekbed that left a gash on the head and a leg broken in four places. It meant sucking it up and moving on.
Today, it means it more than ever. Monday morning, Bobby Duncum Jr., who followed in his father's steps as a college and pro football player and a pro wrestler, was found dead at his home outside Leander. Duncum, who was on medical leave from World Championship Wrestling to rehabilitate a shoulder injury at the time of his death, was 34 years old.
"I'm still a little shocked," said brother Duane, 18 months Bobby's junior and his only sibling. "It hit me hard this morning. It's not easy to go over and set up a funeral for a 34-year-old. It seems like such a waste."
Police answered a 911 call at around 5:20 a.m. Monday to find the former Texas Longhorn football player's body in his bed. He appeared to have been dead for several hours, said Detective Lee Jones of the Travis County Sheriff's Department. Jones said there was no sign of trauma. "It doesn't appear to be a suicide or any indication of foul play," Jones said.
An autopsy revealed no cause of death, pending toxicology tests, which could be available in one to three weeks, said Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, Deputy Medical Examiner for Travis County.
Former UT Coach David McWilliams, who recruited Duncum, remembered him for his work ethic and his toughness. During the Horns' game against Missouri in 1986, Duncum blew out a knee -- and jogged to the sideline, where he calmly announced, "I think I blew out my knee."
"He didn't want surgery. He wanted to play," McWilliams recalled. "They finally told him, `You have to have surgery.' If he could have played without it, he would have. Nobody was tougher than Bobby Duncum, mentally or physically.
"I always liked his enthusiasm. I always thought he was a great, tough leader."
Duncum earned four letters (1985-88) as a defensive end and linebacker at Texas, where his career was interrupted by injuries. He played briefly with the San Antonio Riders in the World League of American Football and spent two seasons with the Dallas Texans of the Arena League, playing alongside Duane in 1993.
He learned to wrestle before he played a down of football, and chose to follow in the footsteps of his father -- who grappled under the name "Big Bad" Bobby Duncum in Japan and with the World Wrestling Federation. He had planned to form a tag team with Duane, but his younger brother had a serious knee injury that precluded such a pairing.
Like his father, Bobby was a big hit in Japan, before signing with the World Championship Wrestling in November 1998, where he regularly performed until having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff last fall.
Duncum, whose stock was rising in the WCW before his surgery, had a natural performer's flair, his younger brother said. When Duane and Bobby were teammates at Texas, Duane said, "My mom always told him if he didn't make it in football, she'd get him a one-way ticket to Hollywood, and he'd make it there."
"He had a real, real charm about him," Duane said. "People who knew him loved him. He had a certain air about him. And he was a guy you knew would always be there for you."
Duncum's funeral has been tentatively set for Friday, though the site and time had yet to be determined as of late Monday. Visitation will be at Harrell Funeral Home. He is survived by his wife Michelle, daughter Cassidy, 2, and son Austen, 13, his brother and his parents, Bobby and Glenda, all of Austin.
THE ULTIMATE PRICE
(Austin American-Statesman, August 7, 2000)
By John Maher
At the University of Texas, in arena football and later in professional wrestling, playing with pain was a point of pride, and a way of life for Bobby Duncum.
Pro wrestling friend Rob Van Dam related, "When Bobby and I were with someone who didn't know him, I'd say, `Why don't you tell him how many operations you've had?' He'd say, `I've had this knee done, and this shoulder and this finger . . . I'd heard it all before, but I was always amazed every time he talked about it."
"Bobby's shoulder surgery was probably No. 15 or 16 he had in the six years we were married," Michelle Duncum added. "At one point he was having an operation every six weeks . . . he was torn between his love of the job and the pain."
Eventually, dealing with pain became a way of death for the 34-year-old Duncum. On Jan. 24 the World Championship Wrestling performer was found dead in his Leander home with not one, but three patches of the extremely powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl on his battered body. For Duncum football, wrestling and painkillers finally became a deadly combination.
Football and wrestling were in Bobby Duncum Jr.'s blood.
His father had a cup of coffee in the NFL, playing four games with the St. Cardinals in 1968 after being a 13th-round pick as a 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound offensive tackle. The Travis High School product also played football professionally in Canada.
It was his college career at West Texas State in Canyon that provided Duncum Sr. with his entree into the tightknit world of professional wrestling. Two of Duncum Sr.'s college teammates were Terry and Dory Funk Jr. Their dad, the late Dory Funk Sr., was a Texas connection to pro wrestling and one of the main reasons that West Texas State, now known as West Texas A&M, is reputed to have produced more pro wrestlers than any other college.
The angle for Duncum was an easy-fitting one, a cowboy's black boots and a black hat and the moniker Big, Bad Bob Duncum. He wrestled successfully in the United States and Japan before retiring in 1985.
For his sons, however, he envisioned a different lifestyle. He once told a reporter, "I raised them from babies to be in the NFL. I had them running 40s, running bleachers, everything."
Younger brother Duane, who went on to play at UT, was the late bloomer. Bobby was the natural.
"Bob was the kid who was always just built like an athlete," Duane said. He also was the big brother who looked out for Duane in their nomadic existence as a wrestling family.
Bob and I went to nine or 10 different schools," said Duane, now an Austin businessman. Minnesota, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Colorado were among their stops. Rarely were the brothers in the same school for more than a year.
Duane recalled, "It seemed like everywhere we moved, Bob was immediately the most popular. He always had the prettiest girl. He was an all-state wrestler. In the ninth grade he was scouted by the Reds as a pitcher. But it seemed like he would always get tested at school. Someone would pick on him, and he'd have to prove himself. I don't remember him ever losing a fight.
"From the very beginning you could just tell he was tough. It was good for me. I was always the younger brother tagging along," Duane said.
By the time Bobby was a senior, the family had settled in Durango, Colo. Duane mused that baseball might have been Bob's best sport, but he was also darned good at football and loved the contact.
"I've got some unbelievable film of him as a high school player, making 25 to 30 tackles a game from sideline to sideline. And they weren't just tackles. They're highlight reel stuff, some of the hardest hits I've seen," Duane said.
That kind of talent got Duncum noticed at Texas, where in 1983 Coach Fred Akers was coming off an 11-1 season that ended a heartbeat away from a national championship. Akers' swaggering Longhorns had lost only five games in three years, and the 1984 recruiting class was ranked eighth in the nation by one expert.
Bobby Duncum was one of the blue-chip prizes.
During Duncum's freshman year, the Longhorns were ranked No. 1 early in the season and remained in the top 10 until a late November loss to Baylor. It was a talented team, particularly on defense, but Duncum's fearlessness and disregard for his body earned him a shot on special teams, where he made 11 tackles in three games.
"He was a great special-teams player. He had no fear. All he wanted to do was hit people," said Ed Cunningham, a former teammate who now is an Austin-based attorney and sports agent.
Duncum also was known for a life-of-the-party, reckless style off the field, but after his freshman year he picked up some serious responsibilities. He married and later had a son, Austen.
In his sophomore season, Duncum got action as a backup linebacker in five games before injuries sidelined him. Then 1986, his junior season, looked like it was going to be his year.
In the opener against Stanford, he started at strong-side linebacker and had nine unassisted tackles, a sack and a pass interception.
The second game that season was against Missouri. After a play, Duncum jogged to the Texas sideline.
"I think I blew out my knee," he said.
David McWilliams, who recruited Duncum, recalled, "He didn't want surgery. He wanted to play. If he could have played without it, he would have. Nobody was tougher mentally or physically than Bobby Duncum."
Duncum was out for the season, a disappointing 5-6 campaign that proved to be Akers' last at Texas. The next year, partly to protect his knee, Bobby was switched to defensive end while Duane was stationed at linebacker.
Bobby was a little light to be taking on big offensive linemen in the trenches, but he put his speed and his recklessness to good use there. He was third on the team in tackles with 87, quite an accomplishment for a lineman.
Cunningham said, "Bobby and Britt Hager were the same. They only had one speed. You could never have enough Bobby Duncums on your team. "
(to be continued in WAWLI No. 773)
The WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No. 773
With a year on the line under his belt, Bobby was counted on being one of the stars of a promising 1988 team. He did have a few moments, including a tackle that knocked Sooner quarterback Jamelle Hollieway out of the game in Dallas. But Oklahoma still won. Duncum was hampered by a groin injury most of the season, sometimes playing on legs that were a ghastly purple and black with bruises.
The once promising Longhorns slipped to 4-7 in Coach McWilliams' second season. The football experience at Texas, a powerhouse when he was recruited, wasn't what Duncum had anticipated.
"It was tough on everyone who played," Duane said. "But the thing about Bob is he showed up to play."
"He was a tough, tough guy. He'd play with any injury or do anything for you," Cunningham said. "It seemed like he always had an injury. He looked like a mummy before games. He taped everything."
Cunningham added, "Bobby planned on playing in the NFL. He could have, had he stayed healthy. He was just beat up. It's a game of pain. You only have so many hits in your body. Sometimes it's the guys that aren't as tough that last longer. If Bobby had stayed healthy he'd have been as good as (former Texas star Britt) Hager."
Hager, although smaller than Duncum, carved out a nice career in the pros as a linebacker. By NFL standards, Duncum was a tweener. He wasn't big enough to be handling 300-pound linemen every play as a down lineman and hadn't really played linebacker since high school.
He tried to catch on in Canada and in the upstart World League of American Football before finding his football niche in Dallas, not with the glamorous Cowboys, but with the Arena Football team there, the Texans.
"I see this as an opportunity to get better and get another shot at the NFL. That's my big dream, to make it to the big leagues," an optimistic Duncum said back then.
Although that might have been the dream, he also liked the hard-hitting reality, even if that was only $500 a game for being a gladiator in a pit. Like hockey players, arena footballers can be slammed into the boards. And unlike NFL stars, they go both ways to cut down on the sport's paychecks and overhead.
"Arena football was 10 times harder than wrestling. Anybody could blindside you at any minute. I don't think half the Dallas Cowboys could play in the Arena League," Michelle said.
Bobby had a flair for the game and even made the ESPN highlights after one 1993 game against the Cleveland Thunderbolts. He scooped up a fumble in the game's dying seconds and raced 30 yards to the end zone. That earned his Texans teammates a wild 51-47 win and an extra $150 bonus each.
His second and final season in Arena Football, 1994, brought a chance to team with Duane. They even shared an apartment and, well, some of the housekeeping duties. Duane and Bobby finally agreed that although the main living area would be kept presentable, Bobby could keep his room the way he preferred.
"He wasn't the neatest person," Duane acknowledged. "He dipped, and he wouldn't pick up his dip cups. And his room would look like a tornado hit it."
But when it came to future wife and Texans cheerleader Michelle, Bobby would clean up.
"I thought he was scary," Michelle recalled of her first impression of Bobby. "I went the opposite way. He was real intimidating."
They were married a little more than a year later, in July 1994, and Bobby decided it was time for a career switch.
"He wanted to get in the wrestling business," Duane said. "He idolized my dad. He wanted to be just like him. He got into wrestling in the off-season when he was playing Arena League football."
"Bobby was a great guy. He had a charm about him, a magnetism," Van Dam said. "And I never met a prouder man. If there was a symbol for his Texas pride, it was that cowboy hat. He was proud of being a Texan, proud of being his father's son, proud of having played football."
Bobby first planned to form a tag team with Duane. But for once, Duane was the injured party, having suffered a broken kneecap. Bobby set about getting himself healthy after years of playing football. Michelle said there were about a dozen operations that were spaced out over more than a year.
When Bobby did start wrestling, he was able to catch on for a five-month tour with All-Japan, a top organization in that country, where his father had been a star. The Japanese style of wrestling has fewer of the entertainment elements that U.S. pro wrestling does, and more wrestling.
" It's higher energy," Duane said. "The first night he broke his nose. He was wrestling five to six times a week."
"The wrestling over there is different," Van Dam added. "It's considered more competitive. And outside of the ring was crazy. A typical day we'd be on the bus 10 hours. We'd check into the hotel and have about an hour to eat. Then you'd bus to the arena. Then it's back to the hotel. The next day, you're back on the bus driving 10 hours to somewhere else."
The U.S. wrestlers on the tour, including the late Gary Albright, formed a bond. Van Dam and Duncum became especially good friends.
"We appreciated the same things," Van Dam said. "We looked at ourselves as people who were going somewhere. We wanted to get ahead. Bobby knew he didn't need that job in Japan. He knew he could go to the WCW."
Van Dam said it was in Japan that he began experimenting with painkillers to relieve the aches and the boredom of the routine. Painkillers have become a way for many wrestlers to deal with the demands of their profession.
"They get hurt so often it's inevitable they'll start taking medicine to get through the next night. It's a vicious circle," said Melanie King, the widow of Brian Pillman. Pillman, who died in October 1997, is one of an alarming number of professional wrestlers who have died in the last half-dozen years. Painkillers and other drugs have been the leading cause of death.
"The wrestling business itself is very tough," Michelle said. "You have to be a very strong individual not to succumb to the negative aspects. Ninety-five percent of the guys in the business are divorced. They might be married, but it's their second or third marriage."
Duncum came back from Japan with a shoulder injury and other ailments. But he also returned to a new daughter, Cassidy, and a nice opportunity. In 1998 he signed a three-year deal with Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling. Although not as popular on TV as Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, the WCW still produces very healthy ratings for Turner's cable station and seven-figure salaries for those who really make it.
Making it these days in wrestling requires more than bulging muscles or athletic ability. It requires an identity, an angle, a story line.
In the WCW, Duncum seemed poised for a breakthrough when he teamed with Curt Hennig and Barry and Kendall Windham to form the West Texas Rednecks. The Rednecks seemed to catch on with fans with a "Rap is Crap" angle, opposing such wrestlers as Ray Misterio Jr. and Konnan, part of Master P's No Limit Soldiers, and championing country music as an alternative to rap.
Yet that storyline fell apart as rapper/wrestler/agent/NBA wannabe Master P and the WCW quickly parted ways. Barry Windham was injured. Duncum took the time to get a much-needed operation for his shoulder.
"His rotator was so bad the doctor didn't think it was fixable. He'd wrestled with it for nine months," Michelle said.
Yet, the word in the industry was that the WCW also wanted Duncum to use the time to get his use of painkillers under control.
"A fentanyl patch is the last thing you should experiment with," said Dennis Larry, a Florida attorney. Larry twice has been involved in successful suits against makers of fentanyl patches, one of which involved a $5 million award to the family of the man who died from an overdose. In that Pennsylvania case, Hophan vs. Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., just the use of a heating pad and an electric blanket by the man were judged to be enough to increase his absorption of the drug by 2 1/2 times -- enough to kill him.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that was developed in the 1960s by Janssen, a Belgian company. It's 100 times as strong as morphine and is an effective painkiller used in surgery and for cancer patients and others with severe pain.
"The most potent drugs used are fentanyl and sufentanil," said Dr. William Arnold. Arnold, a professor at the University of Virginia, is chairman of the task force on chemical addiction for the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Injected, fentanyl can provide a quick, clean high. It has been the drug of choice for anesthesiologists and others in the medical profession with access to it. One number repeated in newspaper articles is that of those anesthesiologists addicted to drugs, 70 percent are addicted to fentanyl.
"In my experience it's more like 80 percent," said Dr. Eric Hedberg. Hedberg is the associate medical director at the Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, which is known for treating medical personnel. It has been claimed that one dozen anesthesiologists a year died from fentanyl abuse. The ASA currently is completing a lengthy study of fentanyl use in the profession, but Arnold declined to discuss such numbers.
There also are home-cooked versions of the drug. "China White" is one of about a dozen designer drug variations of fentanyl. The first drug overdose from that occurred in 1979, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the DEA, in 1992 more than 100 people in the Northeast alone died from overdoses of fentanyl analogs.
Fentanyl patches, which were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1990, are a way of slowing the release of the powerful drug and having it absorbed through the skin.
The patches don't look any more threatening than nicotine patches. But when used incorrectly, or in the wrong dosage, they can have the most serious side effects. Fentanyls can freeze chest muscles.
"You just start breathing less and less," Larry said. "If you're breathing eight times a minute, then it's seven, then six. If you're awake, you might be able to do something. If you're asleep . . ."
On Jan. 24, Duncum was found dead in his home in Leander wearing three fentanyl patches. One was on his scrotum, where the thinner skin would increase absorbency. An autopsy revealed traces of other painkillers and antidepressants.
Van Dam who has lost other friends in pro wrestling, said, "It was surprising, but it wasn't out of nowhere."
"He knew he was going to die early. He never expected to live past 30. He was a partyer, a risk-taker," Van Dam added.
Duane added, "It seemed like he went through life like it was a sprint, more than a marathon."
"Wrestling had changed him some. It changed all of us. A lot of that was recognition. Not being able to put gas in the car, not being able to go to the park with his daughter," said Michelle, who still was surprised by the response of fans to Duncum's death.
"If he knew how many people cared, his choices might have been a lot different," she said.
ALL ABOUT THE WRESTLER AS POLITICIAN 'THING'
(St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, August 6, 2000)
By Laura Billings
Until recently, a law degree was considered a solid prerequisite for a career in politics. Not only does it allude nicely to the career path of Abraham Lincoln, the law prepares potential candidates for stacks of paperwork written in tedious legalese and builds the skin-thickness necessary to endure the American public's constant scorn.
After all, it really makes no difference what you call a thousand lawyers or a thousand senators buried under the sea. The punchline is always ``A good start.''
A report in this paper confirmed this week that the law is still a good fall-back position for losing candidates, with newly minted J.D.s earning $100 grand. But after watching the Republicans welcome a World Wrestling Federation headcrusher known as ``The Rock'' to their convention as if he were an old friend from Kennebunkport, I wonder if potential pols wouldn't be wiser to drop the tort class and just lay down the smack.
"It has been a sort of a trend type thing,'' admits Jim Brunzell, a k a "Jumpin' Jim,'' the retired pro wrestler in White Bear Lake I consulted to explain why the square ring has become the new launch pad into the political ring. ``I guess it's all because of Jesse.''
Consider the grapplers who have declared their candidacy since Ventura was voted into office:
Jerry "The King'' Lawler, a wrestler who once k.o.'d comedian Andy Kaufman on Letterman, lost the mayoral race in Memphis, Tenn., in spite of his endearing penchant for referring to women's breasts as ``puppies.'' Jon Stewart, a k a ``The Beach Boy'' and "The Illustrious'' Jonnie Stewart, dropped out of an Illinois congressional race when Ventura didn't come forward to endorse him. (Future grudge match there.)
The former "Luscious Laurent'' Soucie ran for the Wisconsin Assembly, and Ric "Nature Boy'' Flair consulted with Ventura's own campaign manager before backing out of the North Carolina governor's race.
Five-time WWF champion "All American'' Bob Backlund (who beat Ventura 10 times in the ring) is seeking a Connecticut senate seat, while Stan ``The Killer'' Kowalski is after a seat in the Minnesota House.
Hulk (now Hollywood) Hogan announced his intention of running for president last year on Leno but has lain low since, a sign that he may be planning the same 11th-hour race entry Ventura keeps hinting at.
And in what must surely be a related trend, an Elvis impersonator ran as a write-in mayoral candidate in Wisconsin.
Former pro wrestler Greg Gagne says this wave of wrestlers makes nothing but sense in a political arena ruled by focus groups and sound bites. ``I tell you one thing that wrestlers are not afraid to do is to express their own opinion, and for most of these guys, they're not actors. They're expressing their inner self and the blue-collar people, that's what they want.''
For instance, when The Rock was challenged at the convention this week by critics of the sex and violence in pro wrestling, he replied, ``If they're truly upset with it, lighten up.''
This is a strategy Dick Cheney might want to try the next time someone asks him why he voted against Head Start.
Unlike our current president, who has been haunted by the skeletons in his bedroom, a wrestler would do nothing to hide the past. "You can dig up a ton of dirt on any of the wrestlers, but that stuff wouldn't bother me,'' says Gagne. "Politicians always pretend to be lily-white when they're not. Well, we wrestlers are the public, and we do make mistakes.''
The road-warrior lifestyle of the professional wrestler also provides a certain populist perspective often lacking in say, a lawyer.
"Most of these lawyers, they've never been with the general public except at a cocktail party,'' Gagne notes. "That's the advantage we wrestlers have is that we're in foreign countries, across America, in every big city and in every little town. We know what's out there, and we know the problems the farmers are having in Aberdeen, South Dakota,'' Gagne notes, sounding less like the car salesman he is and more like the candidate he's not.
"Cripes, right now the lawyers control our entire country, but they don't know what's real and they've got us right by the . . . '' Gagne says, considering a politic way to end that sentence. "Uh . . . they've got us by the throat.''
Gagne and Brunzell say several wrestlers on the current WWF tour might be presidential material, including "Stone Cold'' Steve Austin and The Rock (who has been positively Ventura-esque in his shrewd refusal to say which candidate he'll back in November).
"Wrestlers have strong egos and so do politicians,'' sighs Brunzell, who says he has turned down a few proposals to run for office. (``If I did it, it would be more of a local-type deal.'')
At first I thought they'd both been turnbuckled a few too many times, but then I heard The Rock's recent explanation of WWF rules and realized they were on to something big.
"There are no guns . . . '' says the Rock. "Steel chairs and garbage cans are allowed, but everyone lives for another day.''
Hey, somebody hire Bill Hillsman! This wrestler might actually have the rocks to do something about gun control.
BASEBALL FLOP FINDS SUCCESS IN THE RING
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, May 15,
By Jeff Gordon
In the early 1970s, Randy Poffo was just another low minor-leaguer who found himself lost in the Cardinals' organization.
''He was a real nice guy,'' Cardinals player development director Lee Thomas recalled. ''He seemed like such a quiet guy at the time.''
Paul Fauks, the longtime farm system administrator, found him somewhat boring. ''He didn't have much to say to anybody,'' he said. ''He was just one of those kids trying to make it in baseball with very little chance.''
Poffo played with four Class A farm teams in three organizations before finally striking out into professional wrestling.
''We knew he was moving on to something else, we didn't know what,'' Thomas said. ''Obviously that something else turned out very good for him.''
Randy Poffo was reborn as Randy ''Macho Man'' Savage. Like his father, Angelo Poffo, and his brother, ''Leaping'' Lanny Poffo, he entered the colorful world of drop kicks and sleeper holds.
He welded 45 pounds of solid muscle onto his 6-foot-1 frame and took the stage in 1975. Along the way he merged with Elizabeth, his outrageously attractive manager, and developed a spectacular ring persona.
After toiling in the Canadian, Midwest and the Mid- South regions, Savage reached the lucrative World Wrestling Federation in 1985.
''The way I explain it sometimes is this: I wasn't a bonus baby,'' Savage said. ''I bounced around the minors in baseball and I bounced around in the minors of wrestling, too, before I got called up by the WWF. If I have one major attribute, it's my drive.''
Now, as the successor to media monster Hulk Hogan, he is a millionaire in the making. On Friday, Savage will make his first St. Louis appearance as the WWF world champion when he meets fellow capitalist Ted ''Million Dollar Man'' DiBiase at Kiel Auditorium.
''It's amazing, it really is, to look at him now,'' Thomas said. ''I had no idea that he would end up like this now.''
The Sporting News keeps meticulous records on every player who passes through pro baseball. Associate editor Barry Siegel pulled Poffo's file and wasn't impressed with his place in baseball history.
''He was kind of a dot,'' Siegel observed. ''He must have known there would be something else in his life, another calling.''
Seigel eyeballed a 1971 minor- league team picture that included a harmless-looking Poffo. ''He looked like a regular goof,'' Siegel said. ''A Darrell Porter-type.''
Poffo, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound switch-hitter, was an Illinois All-State catcher at Downers Grove North High. He signed with the Cardinals in 1971 and hit .286 at Sarasota in the Gulf Coast League.
The next season at Sarasota he hit .286. In 1973, he hit .250 at Orangeburg, a co-op team in the Western Carolina League managed by legendary eccentric Jimmy Piersall. Then he returned to Sarasota and batted .344 before being released.
Poffo signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a designated hitter, batted .232 in 131 games for Tampa in the Florida State League in 1974 and was released.
''I wish Elizabeth had been around when he was trying to play baseball,'' said Russ Nixon, Tampa's manager that year. ''Maybe we could have gotten him out sooner.''
He signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1975 but didn't survive spring training with their Appleton club in the Midwest League.
It was time to go home, pump iron and get on with it.
''I was an all-state catcher a couple of years, but you sign and go down with a lot of other all-state players,'' he said. ''I had a couple of injuries along the way, but it was just a situation of being with a lot of other guys and only some could get called up. I just got lost in the shuffle.
''Wrestling had always been my first love,'' he said. ''Ever since I was a little kid. After I got out of high school I found myself at 175, 180 pounds and you can't go into wrestling at that size. So I gave baseball a shot.''
Thanks to intense body building, he became a new man.
''Later on, somebody pointed him out to me and said, 'Do you know who that is? Randy Poffo!' '' Nixon said. ''I said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I didn't recognize him at all.
''Piersall had him before I did, I guess that's why he went into wrestling,'' Nixon said. ''Most of the guys get into something legitimate. I know he's making a lot of money. I guess it's what the public needs.''
Bill Apter, the senior editor at Pro Wrestling Illustrated, has known Savage for 13 years.
''I saw him for the first time up in Canada,'' Apter said. ''I knew right away he would be great. He has Elizabeth and all that now, but he's a pretty good technical wrestler. He loves the business. Savage has been disciplined in the wrestling business since he was a kid.''
When the WWF lured Savage away from the Mid-South region, he was embroiled in a feud with Memphis celebrity Jerry Lawler - a perennial champ who gained national notoriety by driving the head of comedian Andy Kaufman into a mat.
The Macho Man burst onto the WWF scene with Elizabeth and, by combining clever theatrics with a busy wrestling style, he moved into the unofficial No. 2 spot behind Hogan. He was a villain, largely because of his surly posturing and the ceaseless abuse he heaped on a cowering Elizabeth in public.
His competition was heavy. The WWF employs a hoard of mutant warriors, behemoths like Andre The Giant, King Kong Bundy, The One Man Gang and Bam Bam Bigelow. These men have heads like cinder blocks and shopping centers of gravity.
''My big thing is coordination and quickness,'' Savage said. ''I'll never be 300, 400, 500 pounds like some of those guys. Before, you'd go into body building and a 220-pound guy was Mr. Olympia. Now there is somebody like The Ultimate Warrior who is 290 pounds. . . . I didn't know people like that were born.''
With perfectly toned musclemen flying about the squared circle with surprising agility, some of these exhibitions blend body building with ballet.
The WWF is also a zoo. Jake ''The Snake'' Roberts has long and slimy Damian, a reptile that slithers on the face of vanquished foes. The British Bulldogs have Matilda, a squat, jut-jawed pooch who menaces rival tag teams.
In this frantic marketplace, Savage claimed the Intercontinental title from Tito Santana. About 14 mon ths later, he lost it at Wrestlemania III to Ricky ''The Dragon'' Steamboat.
He kissed and made up with Elizabeth, became a good guy and fell into a futile rivalry with the Honky Tonk Man, who had swiped Steamboat's title. The HTM seems to be a chunky, marginal wrestler who survives because he is the WWF's resident Elvis impersonator.
''And he doesn't even do that very well,'' Apter sniffed.
Savage was slumping until, with The Hulkster's blessing, he won the world championship tournament in Wrestlemania IV on March 27.
In a controversial prime-time bout on NBC-TV in February, The Hulkster was dethroned by Andre The Giant. Replays indicated that the Giant didn't really pin the Hulkster's shoulders for the requisite three count.
As luck would have it, referee Dave Hebner had been detained and replaced by his evil twin, Earl, who counted out Hogan to the chagrin of 33 million viewers.
Maybe this was the weary Hulkster's cue to take a vacation. During Wrestlemania IV, he and the Giant eliminated themselves during a rules-breaking frenzy. That allowed Savage to face DiBiase for the title. After Elizabeth summoned the Hulkster to run interference, Savage, with his trademark flying elbow smash, landed on DiBiase's head like a 737.
After nearly 13 years in the business, Savage had found his pot of gold.
Savage could end up working 300 nights this year. As champion, he can command upwards of $10,000 a show.
Savage was in Minneapolis on Wednesday night and, because of some exhaustive TV taping sessions, he didn't go to bed until 3:30 a.m. On Thursday, he was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Friday he headed to Omaha, Neb. He did a phone interview from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport during a lay over Friday afternoon.
''My schedule has actually tripled,'' he said. ''Not as far as wrestling dates, but as far as being world champion. You're in demand. The press conferences, special appearances, interviews, it's all mixed together. It's a 24-hour a day thing, but I can handle it. It's something I'm excited about.''
Still, it's a grind.
''You have to be in shape mentally as well as physically,'' he said. ''Durability means a lot. What I worry about a lot is getting my training in. That's the No. 1 thing on my mind when I go into a city. The Gold's Gym and the arena, that's all I usually see. I like to work two hours a day in the
gym, then there is running, biking, swimming . . .''
And, of course, there's Elizabeth.
''Yeah, having a beautiful manager helps, too,'' Savage said, laughing. ''It makes it easier. We all travel alone. It's not like a baseball team where you have a four-game or an eight-game home stand. We go from one city to the next, night after night. You see guys come in and after two weeks on the road, you see the changes in them.''
Like Hogan, Bundy, George ''The Animal'' Steele and Jesse ''The Body'' Ventura, Savage figures to receive movie, commercials and sit-com offers. He is more concerned, however, about prospering as the WWF's point man.
''I want to stay up as long as I can,'' Savage said. ''Some people are overnight successes. I had to pay my dues. I dedicated my whole life to athletics. Now this means everything to me.''
WRESTLER GIVES HECKLER FAT LIP
(Associated Press, Saturday, March 12, 1988)
WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- Up to now, Martin Gallagher thought it was accepted practice to heckle the men inside the ring at a professional wrestling match.
But doing the usual triggered the unexpected at a recent match attended by Gallagher, a Watertown construction worker, when one of the wrestlers leaped from the ring and attacked him.
''That's what it's all about. You heckle these guys because that's the fun part of it,'' said Gallagher, 28, who was assaulted by World Wrestling Federation star David Sammartino.
It's certainly not their job to attack fans, said Basil DeVito, vice president of marketing for the WWF.
Sammartino, 27, of Symarna, Ga., was pulled from the slate of professional wrestlers who were scheduled to appear Thursday night in Sioux Falls, S.D., and will not reappear in any upcoming bouts, he said. ''Anybody who tells you that stuff is fake, they're full of it. This fat lip is for real,'' said Gallagher, who pressed harassment charges against the wrestler.
Sammartino, who stands 5-foot-9 and has 18-inch biceps, was released on $100 bail pending a court appearance April 4.
FOX THEATRE GETTING A HOLD OF WRESTLING
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Friday, February 5, 1988)
By Jerry Berger
WITH THE PRODUCERS: For the first time, a professional wrestling card will be presented on stage at the Fox Theatre, at 8:30 p.m. March 4, after which promoter Sam Muchnick will crown the winner of ''Super Wrestling Wars.''
The main event will be between King Kong Brody and 460-pound crusher Blackwell. To accommodate the ring, the Fox orchestra pit will be made level with the stage, improving sight lines for the entire audience. There will be ringside seating.
Other matches will feature Kimala, the Ugandan giant, against Gentleman Chris Adams of London, and the Fantasticks in a tag team with Nord the Barbarian and Spike Huber, plus midget wrestlers. . . .
Then there's Wendell Emrick, who, like Muchnick, has been presenting indoor attractions for more years than anyone can remember. Emrick said that he and Jerry Davis, along with other stockholders, have sold their interest in the St. Louis All Sports Show to the New York-based National Marine Manufacturers Association, which presents the big Chicago Boat Show each year. Observers say Emrick and his colleagues were paid almost $1 million for the show.
Emrick, 75, said he will retire and move with his wife, Marge, to Marathon, Fla. Asked if he is offended when someone refers to him as a promoter, Emrick said with a chuckle, ''We always called ourselves promoters, until we became big shots and preferred being called producers!''
MELODRAMA ON THE MATS
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Thursday, October 12, 1989)
By Thom Gross
An hour before the first match, the South Broadway Athletic Club is already teeming. But this looks less like a fight crowd than a church social.
Adults outfitted in their Saturday night best sit at tables and chat quietly. Some tend babies. Older children chase each other around the well-scrubbed, brightly lit room. Most people enter, greet friends and take their places with a comfortable familiarity.
At 8 p.m. sharp, all rise and pay somber heed to a recorded version of the national anthem.
Seconds later, as the night's first contestants make their opening feints toward each other, the air is filled with some of the vilest epithets you can expect to hear in public, expressed with simultaneous rage and delight.
The kids come up with the pithiest and most printable cheers.
''Cheater!'' shout the younger ones. ''No fair!''
One boy, about 12, inspires others in the peanut section to take up his taunt for an obese participant: ''Hey mister, get a bra!''
Fan interaction is the key to this entertainment called professional wrestling. The wrestlers spend equal amounts of time inside and outside the ring. Big Daddy, the ''manager'' for most of the villains, spends less time counseling his clients than hissing at the crowd.
If professional wrestling is less than a sport, it's also more. It's also a psychedelic melodrama with real-life comic-book heroes, a morality play with a theme of a narchy.
Evil triumphs over good, and good is forced beyond the rules to retaliate. Authority, in the form of the bumbling referee, is incompetent and impotent.
The ring contains no middle ground. Every color is the brightest, every sound the loudest, every feeling the strongest.
The appeal is undeniable. Professional wrestling keeps ascending to new heights of popularity. According to the World Wrestling Federation, 70 million Americans watch its televised matches each month. Its superstars, Hulk Hogan and Randy ''Macho Man'' Savage, are more widely known than the principals of the national pastime.
When Hogan and Savage get together these days to vie for the Beautiful Elizabeth - blending the comic-book motif with another popular literary genre, gothic romance - they can pack any arena in the country, as well as several satellite auditoriums carrying the closed-circuit broadcast.
But here at the South Broadway Athletic Club, the bouts constitute the minor leagues of pro wrestling. On this night, about 200 people turn out to watch aspiring Hulks mix it up with has-beens and never-wills.
Contestants arriving in the dressing rooms segregate themselves into Good Guys and Bad Guys.
Don't let their names deceive you. The Freedom Team is composed of bad guys. The Giant Assassin is a good guy.
The Assassin has dressed early and is hunched in a quiet corner, looking dark and unapproachable. But downstairs, the seats bearing his name make up the biggest reserved section ringside.
This contrast of imagery and popularity is no mystery to wrestling fans. The Assassin represents a well-established wrestling hybrid, the anti-hero. His attraction is that he apparently cares so little how we feel about him. So fiercely independent is he that he adopts as a ring persona the thing we most loath - the assassin, slayer of our real heroes.
''One day they like you, and one day they hate you,'' says the Assassin, also known as Joseph Zakibe, 29. ''Right now I'm kind of getting cheered, but for years - I mean, this is the first time in my life I've been getting cheers. They can cheer for me or boo me, it doesn't matter, it's all about winning and making some money.''
The Giant Assassin, a St. Louis native, has wrestled in bigger leagues and in locales as widespread as Hawaii and New York. Asked whether it was possible to make a good living at the local level, he responds, ''Hell, yes,'' but declines to give figures.
''I invested in some property here awhile back. I like to stick around and see that people pay their rents on time,'' he said. They do.
The Assassin is 6 feet 5, 320 pounds. ''Raw speed, buddy'' he says. ''I started out the Assassin. The Giant part came later.''
The Assassin is paired in a tag-team match tonight with Ron Powers, a handsome young up-and-comer from St. Charles.
They will fight Bronk Larson and Pit Bull Pruett to a no-decision, halted by the referee after 10 minutes 57 seconds, when the bad guys pull out a 20-foot tow chain.
Powers, 23, has trained hard for this since he was 14. ''I wanted to be a pro wrestler ever since I was old enough to turn on the TV,'' he recalls. His goal? ''To be the youngest world heavyweight champion,'' he says, earnestly.
Meanwhile, he makes ends meet with a job as a union electrician's apprentice. He admits that he gets teased on the job a bit, but his wrestling also helped him get the job.
''People say that to get in the union, you have to have a relative in it or something. But I just went down to the union hall, and they said, 'You're a big guy - you play football or something?' I said, 'No, I'm a professional wrestler.' That kind of broke the ice.''
Powers is 6 feet 1, 250 pounds, tanned, freshly barbered, with a clean-shaven, boyish face and an easy smile. Besides the musculature, the only menacing thing about him is the diamond stud in his left earlobe.
''Why a good guy? I could go either way - I mean it's money, now. But I guess I always wanted to be a good guy, a crowd favorite, pick up the women, you know,'' he says.
''I mean, I could go bad guy real easy - just act cocky. But right now I'm just being a good guy and acting confident, and that's pretty much my gimmick, the all-American boy kind of act.''
Powers turned pro at 18 and admits being slightly disillusioned. ''I always took it for just a sport. Until you get into it, then you find out it's an entertainment,'' he said. ''There's a real fine line between balancing entertainment and sport. You have to be athletic, but you have to be a favorite for the crowd, too.''
The big issue in pro wrestling is not whether it's an act - everybody knows it's an act - but whether the results are pre-determined.
On that, the participants are adamant.
Tony Casta, promoter and matchmaker for the South Broadway events, also wrestles on the side.
He is suiting up for a junior heavyweight title bout against the Executioner. The title belt represents the championship of the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Association and Southern Illinois Champions hip Wrestling.
Is the result pre-arranged? ''No. You may have some wrestlers who outside the ring talk to each other and associate a little bit. But it's like boxing - once you get in the ring, there's no friendships. You don't want your reputation to go down the drain. You give it your all.
''The people out there who come to these matches month after month or week after week can tell if you're trying to pull something, so you've got to be at your best.''
As it turns out, Casta gets incapacitated for long stretches in his match by a sleeper hold put on his neck by the Executioner. The crowd grows restless because the sleeper, while effective, is also boring.
Perhaps in response to the boos, the Executioner abandons the hold and begins bouncing Casta back and forth off the ropes. As he flies by, Casta tries to snare his opponent in a grapevine move, misses, but recovers with a beautiful reverse roll-up cradle and immediately gets the pin for the belt.
The sudden result, like a homer in the bottom of the ninth, leaves the crowd breathless.
Pre-determination? The Assassin, of course, doesn't care what critics think. ''If they don't watch it and don't get any enjoyment out of it, leave it alone. But don't spoil it for somebody else and don't try to ruin my livelihood.
''But I'll guarantee you, 99 percent of the people that are saying it's fake and fixed and that, let them get in the ring, and I'll kick the [stuffing out of them.''
But he offers this: ''I won't tell you one way or the other. But if the average person has a 100 IQ, a person with a 100 IQ ought to be able to figure it out for themselves. You don't have to ask me.''
Over in the Bad Guys dressing room, Big Daddy is pulling his pink-checked tuxedo jacket over his pink, sleeveless, spandex T-shirt. He stands about 6-4 and weighs close to 400 pounds. His red beard is neatly cropped, and his red, heavily dressed hair trails to his shoulders.
He is as much a participant in the matches as any of the wrestlers he manages, and the crowd keeps an eager eye out for him until his entrance before the fourth match.
His role? ''A lot of people say I interfere with the matches and cheat and stuff like that, but nothing could be further from the truth. All's I'm out there for is to show my men, to give them guidance. I don't want to say help them, but like if there's something I see they're doing wrong, I can take them outside the ring and tutor them and send them back into the ring with a little bit more of Big Daddy's vast wrestling knowledge.''
But to a spectator, Big Daddy's guidance seems to consist largely of dirty tricks, like pulling down the opponent's trunks and poking him with a cane.
''These people down here, the phrase is that they love to hate me. If they come down here because they hate me, that's fine. If it sells tickets, that's fine, and I don't care, because I hate them, too. They're a bunch of pencil-headed geeks.''
''What I think of Big Daddy you could never print,'' says Diane Baumgartner, 51, of south St. Louis. ''There wouldn't be any cheating if it weren't for him.''
She was introduced to the local matches four years ago by the Assassin, who was tending bar at her favorite bingo parlor. ''He's neat; he's just the best,'' she says.
Now, she says, ''I live for wrestling.''
Baumgartner has left her ringside seat to get an autograph, along with a big hug and kiss, from Jeff White. He is 21, a women's favorite who dresses in an all-white, fringed cowboy ensemble.
She admits favoring the young, clean-cut types. ''But they wouldn't be any good without the bad ones,'' she says.
Future wrestling dates at the South Broadway Athletic Club, 2301 South Seventh Street, are this Saturday, Oct. 14, and Dec. 1, Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 24. Bouts begin at 8 p.m.
SOME STRAIGHT TALK -- EVEN IF IT HURTS
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, February 19, 1989)
By Calvin Trillin
ACCORDING to a front-page story in The New York Times, the World Wrestling Federation has asked the New Jersey Senate to pass a law defining professional wrestling as ''an activity in which participants struggle hand-to-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest.''
This is more or less the equivalent of the toy industry asking a state legislature to define Santa Claus as ''a long-standing but purely fictional parental device.'' In other words, however strong the factual basis for the sentiment expressed, is it the sort of thing we ought to be discussing openly in the newspapers?
For instance, there's the matter of my Aunt Flo, in Kansas City. Aunt Flo happens to find great happiness in hating a professional wrestler who's called something like the Beast from the Primordial Goo (I can't remember the exact name, but I do know she calls him Goo for short.) She doesn't hate Goo because she believes he has faults as an entertainer. She hates him because in carrying on an athletic contest he cheats at every opportunity - just the sort of behavior she'd expect from someone from his background.
Apparently, the wrestling people were moved to make their confession by the prospect of being freed from the control of the State Athletic Commission, which now requires licensing for wrestling officials and physical examinations for wrestlers (''Well, everything looks OK, Mr. Man Mountain, although it wouldn't hurt you to take off a foothill or two.'')
But they must surely know the risk they're taking with people like my Aunt Flo. I would expect proponents of less government to use this turn of events as confirmation of their argument that the average businessmen would do almost anything to escape the burdens of bureaucratic regulation. It's possible that they're right. It may be that if pharmaceutical manufacturers were promised freedom from all of that paperwork the FDA requires before licensing a new drug, they'd be perfectly willing to carry a notice on aspirin labels saying ''Listen, aspirin is aspirin, so don't take those ads seriously.''
It may be, for that matter, that if congressmen were told they would no longer have to register campaign donations with the appropriate agency, they would agree to state, for the public record, their true feelings about, say, abortion. Naturally, I'm in favor of freeing small businessmen from government interference.
You could say that I'm a small businessman of sorts myself - ''of sorts'' in this case means exceedingly small - and I would certainly welcome less government interference in my affairs. To be absolutely blunt about it, I'd prefer not to pay my taxes.
Also, I'm obviously committed to candor in matters of public policy. When Black History Month comes around each February, for instance, I keep thinking, as I read the speeches and watch the television programs, that what I'd really like to hear discussed is whether it's simply a coincidence that the blacks were given the shortest month.
I have always thought that using the word ''honorarium'' to describe the payment a congressman gets for showing up at a lobbyist's function bears about as much connection with reality as those pre-match interviews that feature one professional wrestler or another saying, in effect, ''I'll moider da bum.''
Still, I can't help thinking about my Aunt Flo. A lot of people in my family believe that if Aunt Flo didn't have the Beast from the Primordial Goo to hate for his unethical and thoroughly despicable behavior, she'd transfer a lot of her animosity to her husband, my Uncle Eddie, who has been known to cut a few corners himself.
Uncle Eddie might be putting the last creative touches on the tax deductions he's taking for depreciation on his sump pump when Aunt Flo bears down on him, swinging her purse and yelling ''Scoundrel! Goo-monger!''
I know that the members of the New Jersey Senate
want to do the right thing, but it's not always absolutely clear what the right
thing is. It's at times like these that I'm relieved not to have the burden of