Lifestyle: Television Wrestling
I recently viewed the television series G.L.O.W. on Netflicks and it was fabulous. I had no intention to watch it but my wife binge watched the show and spoke very highly of it. I put it on just to find out why so many critics gave it high marks and found they were right. Fun story line, very good acting and an upbeat feel.
G.LO.W. brought back memories of my childhood morphing into adulthood fondness of attending and watching wrestling.
It started when I spent summers in Asbury Park NJ. My family would rent a very small apartment near the shore so we could get away from the heat and humidity of NY City. I would stay there during the week with my mom and my father would spend the weekend with us, then head back to the city Sunday night.
During the week I would spend days at the beach and nights on the boardwalk which had plenty of activities such as rides, pinball and other carnival games. It also had weekly wrestling events at the Asbury Park Coliseum with many stars of the wrestling circuit. Names such as the Fabulous Kangaroos, Antonio Rocco, Argentina Apollo and my favorite, Handsome Johnny Valentine were often part of the card.
As an eight year old I ate this shit up and knew it was real, how could it not ? Channel 9 in New York had a Friday night wrestling show called Bedlam from Boston and it was always a must see the event for me. The TV was in black and white which I think made the matches seem even more real. There were other wrestling shows on the tube with several from Mexico. The participants either wore masks or were extremely fat. It was good versus evil.
As I got older my wrestling fascination was not as awe-inspiring but still on occasion watched a match. The leveling out continued through college but as I entered grad. school , I was struck by the wrestling bug once again.
My grad. school was in Cortland NY, a town of 30,000 in upstate NY. The winters were long, cold and snowy. Entertainment focused on drinking beer in the 60 plus bars in the city. I was not much of a beer guy but there were exceptions.
Every Saturday night at 12 pm a group of us sat down at the bar at the Cortland hotel, a run down barely functioning building where a lightbulb was considered a luxury item. There perhaps were 3 or 4 locals in the place sitting bar side not ever acknowledging we existed.
We existed. This was fine with my crew as the TV was all ours. The matches we watched were more than wrestling, the combatants were evil, dirty and without any remorse. Ox Baker, Black Jack Mulligan, Black Jack Lanza we’re devils. However they paled next to the big dude I worshipped, Superstar Billy Graham, ripped to shreds with massive biceps. In realty he was not much of a wrestler but tortured his rivals by an amazing headlock which was his signature submission hold. His bear hold was also devasting.
His main opponent was the legendary Bruno Sammartino from Pizzoferrato Italy. The two grapplers held death matches , a no holds barred fight till a winner was chosen. Bruno was the odds on favorite to keep the title as he never lost a title match.
Graham defeated Bruno on April 30 , 1977 and held the title for a mere nine months as new star on the block Bob Backlund defeated Superstar.
There is a side story about the Bruno/Superstar fight. My roommate in Cortland was a big Bruno fan and we had a bet who would win the fight. The wager was whoever lost would buy a belt for the winner. Championship wrestlers receive a diamond studded belt for their win. At least we thought it was diamonds but who really knew? So the belt was a symbolic gesture between the both of us.
The first fight ended up in a win for Bruno and I was forced to hand over a belt. The combatants had a second match which turned out to be a draw. The third tussle was as we know a win for Superstar.
There are other wrestling stories to be told but they will come at a later date.