Rasslin' with my dad
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).
A snowy night at the Cleveland Arena
The Arena might have had historical value, but by the time we were going to wrestling matches there, it had become a broken down hulk of a building 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 12-year old bones to the very marrow. I had NO IDEA the fights were fixed and the outcomes predetermined, and I was embarrassingly old when I finally realized it.
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 the bad guys were called.) 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 have been my tip-off that something was up.)
A huge black woman sitting right 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 pissed about the metal 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.
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. I suppose it was a plant but it was real drama to me at the time.
This was may favorite heel. Pamparo Firpo, the Wild Beast from the Pampas.
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 and dribble all over his beard. He would 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.
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 slap the mat and end the match. 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.
They were the heel’s heel. They dressed in hippie beads and psychedelic wrestling tights. I later discovered that in real life, 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 had just been presented to him for his birthday from 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 took a hammer out of his back pocked 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 really was angry that the watch had been smashed.
This was more than a decade before Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and all those pussies. 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 before reviving them. That took balls.
Another evening on the way home we stopped off 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 he winked. I was embarrassed.