Rasslin’ with my dad

I can’t speak for its literary merits but this is the most fun I ever had writing a post. It deserves a reprise.


One of the few places my dad took my brother and I when we were kids was the professional wrestling matches in the old, now demolished, Cleveland Arena on Euclid Avenue. The Cleveland Area was the site for Alan Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball, which is considered to be the first rock and roll concert. The show was oversold and ended in a near riot (of course).

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A snowy night at the Cleveland Arena

The Arena might’ve had historical value but by the time we were going there for wrestling matches it had become a broken down hulk in a terrible neighborhood. One night, we saw some poor guy get hit by a car that must have been going 60 mph down Euclid. It happened right in front of us. He was knocked high into the air and was spinning with his arms and legs spread out like a pinwheel. He was carrying a box of popcorn and he never let go. He hit the street and the popcorn flew everywhere. My dad said, “Do you guys want to go have a look?!” We said no thanks, dad. I knew he wanted to.

My brother and I were big wrestling fans. We watched Championship Wrestling on channel 43 and Big Time Wrestling on channel 61.Going downtown to see our heroes do battle in the flesh thrilled my tiny 10-year old bones to the very marrow. I had NO IDEA the matches were fixed and the outcomes predetermined and I was embarrassingly old when I finally realized it.

This was Bobo Brazil.

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A massive black man. A face. (That‘s what they called the good guys.) During one match we attended, Bobo’s head was smashed into the turnbuckle by the heel. (That‘s what they called the bad guys.) While he was shaking his head and regaining his senses, the heel snuck a metal folding chair into the ring and smashed Bobo over the head a few times. The ref didn’t see the chair. That should’ve been my tip-off that something was up.

A huge black woman sitting behind me started crying hysterically. Real tears and weeping! She stood up and started screaming at the top of her lungs, “Git up Bobo! Git UP!” Our seats were so far away that there’s no way he heard her.

Of course, Bobo got up. (They always got up.) And, boy, was he upset about the folding chair. Every wrestler had a signature closing move that got him out of a jam and Bobo’s was the Coco Butt. It’s an exotic name for a head-butt. He applied a few Coco Butts to the heel and the woman behind me started laughing and shouting, “That’s RIGHT Bobo! That’s RIGHT! KILL him! KILL HIM!” It was fantastic.

This hairy bastard was Wild Bull Curry.

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A heel. During one match at the Arena, someone about 20 rows up held up a big, cardboard sign that said, “BOOOO! FAKE!” I was incredulous. What do you mean fake!? Wild Bull was even angrier. He climbed out of the ring, ran through the crowd, up into the stands, grabbed the sign and ripped it to shreds. In hindsight, I think it might’ve been a plant but it was genuine drama to me at the time.

This was my favorite heel. Pamparo Firpo, the Wild Beast from the Pampas.

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When he appeared on TV, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He had a voice like gravel and would punctuate his sentences with, “Oohhhh YEAAAAHH! He would drool into his beard. He’d taunt his opponents while petting a shrunken head (shown above). His closing move was the Claw Hold. He would clamp his big hand on the top of his opponent’s skull and squeeeeeze. His opponents would howl in pain. God, I loved it.

This was Johnny Powers, The Man of the Hour. He was the biggest face in Cleveland. A pretty boy. A star.

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His closing move was the Power Lock (shown above). He’d get his opponent’s legs all twisted up and they’d be in so much agony they’d tap out. But then, disaster struck. A heel (I forgot which one) discovered a COUNTER MOVE to the Power Lock. (You roll over.) It was a sad Saturday afternoon when that happened.

Power’s arch nemesis was Reginald Love. He and his brother, Hartford Love, were The Love Brothers.

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They were the heel’s heel. They dressed in hippie beads and psychedelic wrestling tights. I later discovered that they weren’t actually brothers. And Reginald and Hartford weren’t even their real names. They said they chose those names because they “wanted to sound like snobs.”

Once on Championship Wrestling, Powers was admiring a wristwatch that’d just been presented to him for his birthday by the Cleveland chapter of the Johnny Powers Fan Club. Reginald walked into the studio, made fun of the watch and called Powers “a donkey.” Powers said, “I have something you don’t have…fans.” Reginald countered with, “Well, I have something you don’t have…A HAMMER!” He pulled a hammer out of his back pocket and smashed the watch to bits. They started wrestling on the studio floor. Excellent! I read in a Powers interview years later that he had no idea Reginald was going to do that. It was completely unscripted. He was genuinely angry that the watch had been smashed.

This was more than a decade before Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and the rest of those pussies showed up. It lost something for me when it became stadium spectacular. The only wrestler from that era worth a damn was Brutus the Barber Beefcake. His closing move was to knock his opponent out with a sleeper hold and give them a really shitty haircut. That took balls.

One evening on the way home from the matches we stopped at the L&K Diner for sundaes. My dad started flirting with the much younger waitress. She asked how he wanted his coffee and he said, “Blonde. Like you.” and winked. I was embarrassed.

72 thoughts on “Rasslin’ with my dad

  1. I had a friend in high school who talked incessantly about Rick Flair and “Elizabeth.” I was insanely jealous of her, mostly because he said she was “so hot.” I knew nothing of wrestling before that, or of the men you mentioned. Thanks for sharing some history and a great memory.

  2. What a blast from the past! This post was epic, Mark! I didn’t grow up in Cleveland, so I’m not familiar with it’s wrestling history, but I recognize some of the wrestlers from when my dad and brother would watch them on TV. The names and pictures are hysterical!!!
    When my brother was a kid, he really got into it and I would tease him about how fake it all was – never understood it myself. I’m sure you heard about “Chyna’s” death, a female WWE wrestler, who passed away yesterday (I think.)

  3. WUAB Channel 43 Cleveland!!! Wasn’t the station right up on Day Drive near Parmatown Mall? i remember the now long gone building, it was the station that played cartoons on weekday mornings before school and had Super Host on Saturday where i became well versed in all the old monster flicks, Godzilla, Mothra, etal, remember seeing a young Michael Landon in some monster spider flick and of course my favorite of all-time, The Gargoyles, fucking head gargoyle freaked me out and when he escapes at the end with some females to start a new colony i spent days on end pondering it in my 8-10yr old head… i too remember seeing rasslin’ but i think it was at the Sportsmen Show in the old Convention Center? where the guys wrestled bears, the days of good clean fun!!

    • Now, you’re talking deep cuts. That studio on Day Drive is where the TV matches were held. It’s where Power’s watch was smashed. I never went but should’ve. What a lost opportunity! Channel 43 was the mid-day spin-a-movie with John Lanagan. Channel 61 was The Ghoul. Landon was in “I was a Teenage Werewolf.” Maybe I need to pay a little visit to YouTube.

      • My mom used to listen to Lanagan in the morning while i was getting ready for school, how anyone knew the old movie clips they played to some shit prize is beyond me. I associate the mid-day movie with being home sick from school and they always sucked compared to Super Host. That station was right in front of the old Parmatown Lanes where i used to play video games and eat a fantastic cheeseburger and chocolate shake while my parents attended their monthly couples bowling league… oh the simple,happy times…

  4. I can remember watching wrestling matches on TV as a kid. I would be mortified at the violence and wonder how the wrestlers ever got back up. Like you, it was years before I learned it was all scripted. I think my dad might have told me that once I was old enough to understand it.

  5. Loved this piece. Reminded me of Sunday mornings in St. Louis, when we watched our local version of this stuff on UHF TV. My favorite was Dick The Bruiser. Great jargon too: the heel vs the face.

    Oh, nostalgia!

    • Thank you, very much, sir. I used to have a hard time taking compliments but, happily, I’ve learned to live with the discomfort it causes. (What? Me, worthy?) I remember Dick The Bruiser. Did you know Haystacks Calhoon? We could go on for days. Channel 61 and 43 were UHF stations. Programming gold. The Three Stooges. Japanese monster movies. The Little Rascals.

      • Oh, man, UHF was my after-school salvation. We had Speed Racer, Tobor the 8th Man, Gilligan’s Island, the Munsters … Sometimes I could forget my pre-adolescent problems and enjoy life for while.

  6. You’ve painted a whole new side of Cleveland for me I never knew about. Then again, I don’t know as much about the city as I should. I’m 30-40 minutes away and don’t go there much, but I’ve been there enough times to know some parts of Euclid are not where one should walk alone. If at all.

    How horrible you saw a guy get hit by a car! That could have some lingering psychological effects. Yikes.

  7. This was a very entertaining read. But even though the matches were fake, those guys all looked pretty big and strong to me so head-butting and getting hit over the head with a metal folding chair must have hurt. A lot of these guys must have been walking on Queer Street. Did you enjoy the film, “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke? I thought it was perfect casting.

    • The matches were “fake” but the injuries were very real. A lot of those guys (and girls) wound up permanently messed up. Just last week an ex-WWE wrestler died from an OD. That industry used people.

      I did see The Wrestler. It made me sad, which means it was good.

      Saw ‘Toast’ last night at 59e59. Loved it but the northern British accents made the dialogue hard to parse. Many walk-outs at intermission because of it. Big babies.

      • If you’re referring to Chyna, I read her obit in the Times earlier this week. She sure had a sad life!

        Did you read Brantley’s review of “American Psycho”? He nailed it! I’m under the weather. We might not see any plays this weekend.

  8. Ah, what a great trip down memory lane! I grew up in the Detroit area, so the wrestlers obviously went back and forth in that Midwest circuit. Big Time Wrestling I think aired twice a week, and it definitely filled the void during the long winter months when I couldn’t play baseball. My favorite wrestler was always “Big” Tex Mckenzie. I loved “Flying” Fred Curry and could not understand how he was the son of Bull Curry! Ernie Ladd had that piece of metal under his taped thumb, and the Great Igor was a perennial favorite of everyone. And of course the Sheik was the scariest! Somewhere I still have 8 x 10 photos of some of these guys — family mementos and work awards are long gone, but I have those photos! Go figure… 🙂

    • You are betraying your age somewhat, sir. Wasn’t Ernie ‘Big Cat’ Ladd an ex-NFL player? I think there were a few of those. Igor was a big Polish guy with a fisherman’s camp, right? I remember all those guys. Those photos would mean a lot more to me, too, instead of a bunch of crummy work awards.

      Did you ever listen to CKLW? The Canadians didn’t give a damn about FCC signal regulations so it beamed bright and clear and into Cleveland.

      • Yes, my age does always betray me in the end. Indeed Ernie I think played for the Baltimore Colts, and Igor wore the duds you describe. I also loved Lord Layton Layton and Dick The Bruiser. Lou Klein ran “Klein’s Gym” in suburban Allen Park, and he was a major investor in Big Time Wrestling. Lots of great, funky characters.

        I did indeed listen to CKLW! And yes they flung their middle finger at FCC rules! Were it not for CKLW Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” would not have been a hit. I mentioned the station in one of my posts recently: https://snakesinthegrassblog.com/2016/04/03/calling-cousin-brucie/ Your posts are always entertaining… keep writing! – Marty

  9. Brutus the Barber Beefcake sounds like someone down my local pub.

    Well I can see you got your ladies charming streak from you Daddy then 😉

    Sounds like a fun childhood, real lads childhood. Except for wanting to look at someone after being run over. That’s icky.

    • Someone down at your local pub or a transgender chap.

      Childhood had its moments but it wasn’t all funning games. Whose is? There were years and years of being invisible when, frankly, I could’ve used some advice. But not about women. He played that all wrong.

  10. Sweeeet…. I don’t know any of those wrestlers, I started with the Hulk Hogan club, we used to go watch in the arenas. They were big and loud but it was like a party. Used to go with my dad and my brother, one time my dad bought near-ringside seats. You know, the folding chairs they put on the arena floor, rather than the stands up above. I’ll never forget Big Bossman hitting the ground hard and spitting out a huge wad… the people in the crowd next to me all tried to catch it, and the person who did held it up like they’d just caught Maris’ 61st homerun ball. As cool as that was, a few weeks later we were watching TV and saw the exact same lineup and matches between the same wrestlers, with the same results… that pretty much ended it for me right there, but those were good days even if I never caught a spitwad.

    • Those guys are all before your time, Youngblood. I guess the best time to watch that stuff is when you were too young and dopy to figure anything out. And don’t kid yourself. It might be sold is entertainment and a fake sport but those guys get hurt for real. Scroll up and take a look at Wild Bull Curry’s ear. That’s a real hurt. Not faked it all.

      • Thought I’d know their names though, but nothing. Totally I can see those guys getting really hurt, even if the moves are rehearsed, there’s a lot of energy flying around that ring.

      • I understand why you never heard of these guys. This was pre-internet and pre-cable television. Wrestling was a regional affair. There were pockets all over the country until they were unified into one glorious mess. At its peak popularity, the filled up the Pontiac Superdome in Detroit. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

  11. I always thought these wrestling matches were a form of slapstick comedy that owed something to Laurel and Hardy. It’s nice that you believed in the fairy story when you were a child. Have you heard of a wrestler called Big Daddy? His real name Shirley Crabtree (no kidding!).

    • I wish you could’ve attended one of the matches in Cleveland with us all those years ago. They were no laughing matter! It was serious, hurtful, business. As I’ve said above, they show was fake, but injuries were real.

      I’ll bet he became a wrestler because his name was Shirley Crabtree. Calling Dr. Freud.

  12. The imagery of the guy hit by the car in pinwheel motion landing and your dad saying let’s have a look is understated and brill. I call it understated, but you said just enough. Bingo. And the last line, a nice hold. Makes me feel cared for, not squeezed. I like that I sort of have to be in the mood to read your posts because they have weight, like a good meal.

    • I have a horrific memory. Half of the stuff I uncover in these journals I have no awareness of. Not even on the periphery of my imagination. But I can remember that guy spinning, spinning, spinning above Euclid Avenue. That, I have no trouble remembering.

  13. Those were the days. Huh? And I’m wondering if you still ach it on TV or go to a match. I have always wondered how in the world those guy could endure so much crashing and smashing. Their bodies must have been made of steel.

    I always despised wrestling. I think that and boxing are too violent. You’d be surprised how many folks still believe those matches are real.

  14. i have been wracking my brain for 30 minutes trying to remember the name of the italian hunk that we all loved… a face, he was from the era of Bobo Brazil (also our hero) and The Shiek. Tony Marino? Maybe… or Johnny Valentine? None of the photos online get it…But it was a good 30 minute romp through a good part of my childhood… Andre the Giant and Haystacks Calhoun… damn. That was good television….

    • Glad I could provide something scintillating enough to cause a brain-wrack. I’m not sure who you’re referring to. Maybe he was too normal and didn’t stand out. I like the ones who were freak shows. I wonder what Dr. Freud would make of that?

  15. When I was growing up in Texas, wrestling was all about the feud between the Von Erichs and the Fabulous Freebirds. I was aware of it but not too into it, though I knew people who were crazy for it. Not sure if that was regional or nation-wide. Like Bill above, I too thought the image of the guy spinning with popcorn flying was a stand out. And you never can judge what posts will resonate with others and which ones won’t. Sometimes it’s a surprise. I enjoyed this.

  16. What? Professional wrestling is scripted???

    Hacksaw Jim Dugan, Manny the poet, (Randy Savages brother), Andre the giant. No. I had no interest in wrestling.

    Not to worry, it was as much fun for me to read as I imagine it was for you to write!

    • That’s EXACTLY how I felt when I found out, too! Completely betrayed. Worse than the Santa Clause or Tooth Fairy lie that was rammed down my throat.

      Randy Savage had a brother?! That’s news. I was out of the game by then, more or less. I’m off to Google land. A lot of them are dead now.

  17. Nice memories there Mark! I remember wrestling as being something annoyingly on TV on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid and was waiting for the early evening Saturday entertainment to start, Big Daddy was the only wrestler name I remember (we only had 3 channels on TV in the UK until I was 11, and then it went up to 4 channels, boy that was exciting).

    • Thanks, Vanessa. It felt nice to Google all those images and reimagine the past. Not to reduce you to a stereotype, but ALL girls find wrestling annoying. The Three Stooges, too. You’re not the target audience.

      Honestly, you were better off with three channels. Look at the mess we’re in now.

  18. My husband says he remembers Bobo, but said Vern Gagne and Baron Von Rashke were ‘the guys” for him when he was a kid. I remember the Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth because we used to sometimes watch that stuff when we were first married – it was delightfully campy.

    • Your husband must be an old geezer just like me. And a fine man of refinement and quality. Like me. Both Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth had tragic endings. That Miss Elizabeth sure wuz purdy. I think delightful + campy is the perfect description, Hey! Lighten up, snobs!

  19. Being from north central Ohio, Big Time Wrestling was ‘must see TV’. Fritz Von Erich was the first heel I remember. He tied a guy up in the ropes and beat on him for almost 20 minutes. It was so bad I started to cry and had to leave the room. My dad then told me it was only fake and not to get upset over it. I was 8 or 9 but I still can remember it. Years later Wild Bull Curry and others put on a show at the county fair one night. Since I knew the deal (fake), I taunted and called Wild Bull names. He lunged at me, and for a moment I thought I was toast. I also jumped back about ten steps and shut my mouth. He was scary and it seemed real.

    I use to watch Lanagan afternoon movies. On the weekend nights was Big Chuck & Hoolihan. I liked the dog who would always win the pizza eating contest. Bob Wells (Hoolihan) retired to the Tampa area. I would see him on TV down here. Was Ghoulardie out of Cleveland or Detroit?

    • Tom, you and I are cut from the same cloth. I detected a certain quality about you and couldn’t really nail it down but now it’s obvious. We’re both buckeyes infused with that old Cleveland culture. Hoolihand + Big Chuck were a big part of my life. We’d order a pizza from Master Pizza and chow down. I remember Mushmouth Mariano Pacetti being bested by a German shepherd but just as he was about to hand over his crown, a rule surfaced that the winner had to be a human being. Ghoulardi was Ernie Anderson, dad of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson named his production company Ghoulardi Productions. Anderson was out of Cleveland but Ron Sweede, who took over as The Ghoul eventually took the show to Detroit.

      • Paul wrote, directed and co-produced ‘Boogie Nights’ with Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg, “I am a big bright shiny star.”

  20. I hate to admit this, but I’m of the Hulk Hogan generation. My mother wouldn’t let us watch it when we were kids, but he and his ilk were big with all the boys at my elementary school.

    Those photos are terrifying.

    • Don’t be afraid to admit you were of the HH generation. You were a victim of your YOUTH. If you’d been born earlier, you could’ve see these older, superior gladiators. But you’d be a lot older. So there’s that to consider.

      • A few years ago, my husband got free box seats to a WWE event. I went for the free booze and the people watching. It was a trip, but I was pretty unimpressed with the wrestlers. The older generation of wrestlers looks far, far superior.

  21. I’m back blogging and reading! My Grandpa used to watch wrestling when I was young. I remember my Mom and Grandma “suggesting” we leave him to “his show” and find something else to do! Sort of turned me off the sport forever. LOL xoxoxo

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