You grope around the shelves in the medicine chest for something which might coax your stomach out of the fast lane when you’re blind-sided by a divine revelation. A faraway voice, the same one that warns you not to answer the phone because it might be the MasterCard guy, suddenly whispers, "That was no dream, you damn fool. It really happened."
Yeah, yeah. It all comes back now. The wrestling matches. You actually went. God, what an experience.
The phenomenon of professional wrestling, like American politics, maintains a genealogy which eventually traces its way to the circus.
It goes back at least a century, when the key attraction of a one-night-stand tent show touring the sticks was an act where the muscle-bound bad boy would issue a challenge to the rubes.
A "plant" in the audience would materialize and the combat which followed provided tantalizing entertainment for the hillbillies. The entire show was based on P.T. Barnum’s hypothesis that the yokels of the world will believe anything if it’s packaged just right, a premise which Lyndon B. Johnson exploited to optimum benefit.
The carnival routine, thanks to the miracle of television, has been refined into the spectacle currently available to viewers in the Dallas/Fort Worth market every Saturday night at 10 p.m. on Channel 11.
The people who print the big-time metropolitan dailies apparently think so, since their commentary on the wrestling matches is compressed into a one-paragraph agate type summary which appears once a week.
Professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich considers that situation and says, "They call it fake. I’ve never known of a sportswriter yet who put on a pair of tights and climbed into a ring to find out. I’ve been in this business a lot of years and I know of no instance where the winner of the match wasn’t the best man in the ring."
Von Erich, who is perhaps the finest athlete produced in Dallas - although it’s unlikely he’ll ever ben inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame - has every right to make such a statement.
"The sports pages don’t pay any attention to us all, since there are so many other topics to tear down these days," Von Erich said. "I’m just as glad."
Whatever the media may have to say about his profession should be of little consequence to Von Erich, who has become a millionaire through wrestling and owns an impressive estate on Lake Dallas which is not unlike Southfork.
Von Erich bears a startling resemblance to an athlete named Jack Adkisson who played football at SMU and set the discus record there in 1950. They are, in fact, the same person.
"My mother’s maiden name is Von Erich and my grandfather’s name was Fritz," he explains. "When I got into wrestling, it occurred to me that Fritz Von Erich beat the heck out of Jack Adkisson when you put it on a marquee.
"Back in those days, I couldn’t do a damn thing without getting hurt. People think of Fritz Von Erich, the great wrestler. They’d be amazed to find out I lost my first 12 professional matches.
"I finally won against an Australian guy named Jack Pinchoff (sic=George Pencheff). He was an old guy, beat the hill, but really knew the business. I beat him in Austin. I wrestled him again the next night in Corpus Christi and he broke my shoulder."
Von Erich now pretty much presides beat the pro wrestling scene in Dallas, and three of his sons, David, Kevin, and Kerry, are the leading attractions in the incredible productions which happen ever Sunday night at the Sportatorium.
For the uninitiated, an evening at Sportatorium wrestling will prove spectacularly entertaining and, at times, viscerally disconcerting.
"I’ve been coming here about once a week for 26 years," a man at the Sportatorium beer stand explained. "At first, I came to watch the wrestlers. Now I come to watch the fans."
When McLemore broke away from the Houston-controlled wrestling circuit in the early Fifties and began importing his own talent (such as 400-pound Farmer Brown), someone torched the Sportatorium. A truce was accomplished and the arena was rebuilt.
The fans arrived early on wrestling night at the Sportatorium and cluster around the parking lot, taking snapshots of their favorites and getting autographs.
Most of the wrestling fans are apparently not from the higher echelons of the social ladder in Big D. In fact, many of them display the Thorazine eyes which can typically be found in the day room at the Rusk State Hospital.
By 7:30, when the first of the preliminary matches begin, the Sportatorium is packed. The early matches consist of candidates for the big money who haven’t established their reputations. "A guy starting out in the business can look forward to making maybe 25 grand a year for the first couple of years," Von Erich says.
"But since you have to pay your expenses on the road, you only break even at that level - if that. But if a guy has the determination to stick it out and has fan appeal, he ought to start getting some semifinal matches by his third year and then he might be on his way.
"Harley Race, the world champion, grosses a half-million easily and probably doesn’t work but 30 or 35 matches a year."
"To get into the top money in wrestling," said an "insider" in the business, "is kind of like getting into the Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in. But it’s hell getting in."
A wrestler called The Monk appeared in one of the earlier matches at the Sportatorium. He is clearly not yet "in."
The Monk is actually Steve Miller, who was a heavyweight Golden Gloves champion in the early Seventies in Fort Worth.
His career is remembered there because Miller would often burst into tears while knocking his boxing opponent into New Jerusalem.
Now he enters the wrestling ring with a shaven head, full beard, and clerical robe that appears to have come from the closet of Ming the Merciless. Apparently, The Monk still maintains his affectation of crying in the ring.
"Hey, Grapehead!" shouted one of the ringside fans. "You gonna cry for us tonight?"
"You shut the hell up," The Monk responded.
"Frankly, I wasn’t so good as a boxer, but I was notoriously odd," said Miller.
"I was a little weird, very emotional. I’d get everybody excited and got ‘em laughing for a long time. I have clippings in my scrapbook with headlines like ‘Crybaby Miller Wins Again.’ There was this story in the sports pages after I beat Larry Montgomery for the championship where his coach said, ‘I saw those tears and knew we were in trouble.’
"After I’d won an important bout in the state tournament, I was shopping in Arlington and a kid came up and asked me for my autograph. That had never happened to me before and I’d never felt so proud. I signed the piece of paper and the kid said, ‘Aren’t you Red Bastien, the wrestler?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m Steve Miller, the heavyweight boxing champion of Fort Worth.’
"The kid just walked off, and I saw him wad up the paper with my autograph on it and throw it away. That’s when I started thinking about a wrestling career."
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