Call me an old fart (don’t you dare!) but I just bought some pro-wrestling DVD’s featuring the real “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Antonino Rocca, Killer Kowalski, Gorgeous George, Pat O’Connor, Verne Gagne and a host of others. I watched the first tape today, some 10 matches.
They were absolutely mesmerizing.
When I was a kid I went to all the shows at Madison Square Garden — this was in the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s. I saw all the old greats: those mentioned above, in addition to Sammartino, Dr. Jerry Graham, Haystacks Calhoun, Ricky Starr, Bobo Brazil and many, many others.
I was a true pro-wrestling fan.
To me, even then, I considered it a form of physical opera. The wrestlers themselves were always “themselves” as often as they could be. They even, mostly, had villain and hero dressing rooms.
So to most of the fans – many of them true fanatics – the matches were real. And they were expertly done; the matches actually seemed real and those “old-time” wrestlers played their parts to perfection. Killer Kowalski scared the hell out of some of my friends. Rocca delighted us. And Buddy Rogers (to me) was THE man (villain or not).
I lost track of wrestling after that. I got much more involved in boxing (had my head handed to me in my “farewell” fight) and then I turned to teaching, writing, marriage, children, divorce, a second marriage (to the one and only Beautiful AP) and challenging the casinos with several forms of advantage-play.
I flirted with wrestling during the Hulk Hogan era. I enjoyed it to a degree. But it was over-the-top. Yes, Macho Man was great and one of the best bouts I ever saw was his with Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III (I think it was III). I think Bret “the Hitman” Hart was also a great pro wrestler. But overall, the “new” wrestling just didn’t top the “old” wrestling.
Today? The “new” “new” group? Great athletes. Amazing physical skills. But…but…it just doesn’t have it. And I mean IT. The big IT! You know it is all a performance but it has become (I hate to say this) ridiculous. Outlandish, yes; and superb, yes; but mesmerizing? Not in the least.
If I were in control of the “sport”? I’d take it back several steps. Let’s go back to the “old” days, at least a little. Today’s jumping out of the ring on another wrestler (almost every show I have seen recently) has become trite, routine. Killer Kowalski glaring and shouting was amazing. He had more power than all the flying jumps of modern-day wrestling performers.
And Buddy Rogers? THE “nature boy” and one of a kind.
I wish I could go back in a time capsule and relive these great wrestlers live and in the arena.
(One problem with the DVD’s is this: The announcers are awful, just dreadful. Today’s announcers are far superior.)
Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.