I will admit it. In my younger days, I once went to see “Big Time Wrestling” at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio. If I recall this was an unofficial outing with several guys from my church youth group as well as some friends and the youth minister. It was back in the late 1970’s: before Hulk Hogan, before The Rock, before Steve Austin, before Jesse Ventura, before John Cena, before Roddy Piper, before Hacksaw Dugan (in the picture above).
Profession wrestling has a long and rather shady history from its beginning as a sideshow in traveling circuses and carnivals to today’s millionaire stars and bullion dollar industry. But in the days before Ted Turner resurrected professional wrestling to new heights (more about that in a moment), it was not as polished, but the characters were even quirkier than they are today. And one of the regular venues for Big Time Wrestling was Hara Arena which was home on alternating Monday evenings for the likes of the Sheik, Bobo Brazil, Wild Bill Curry and, my favorite Pampero Firpo.
I remember seeing The Sheik the night I went. This wrestler was, allegedly – very, very allegedly a rich and wild man from Syria. His approach was to get his opponent in a hold and refuse to break it, thus forcing him into submission. When this did not work he used hidden objects to cut his opponent’s face. Amazingly, he could always manage to pull these objects out and show the crowd when the referee was not looking. The Sheik’s most dramatic “move” was to throw a fireball into his opponents’ face. I believe The Sheik used this maneuver the evening I went and his opponent rolled off the canvas writhing in pain to be quickly placed n a stretcher no doubt to be whisked away for treatment or perhaps back stage for the rest of the performance.
Pampero Firpo was a recipient of The Shiek’s fireball from time to time. He was called “The Wild Bull of the Pampas.” Years before the “Macho Man” his catchphrase was “Oooohhh yeaaahh!” Word has it that after he retired from wrestling, he shaved his beard, trimmed his hair and took a job at a post office. I think I have seen Mr. Firpo’s wild stare from time to time at the post office.
I never really followed wrestling but the characters of The Sheik and Pampero Firpo have always stuck with me. During my college years, Ted Turner and his fairly new “super station” began to put professional wrestling back in the map. I believe there was block of wrestling on every Saturday afternoon. I remember weekly discussion with my roommate my sophomore year about what we would watch. (It had to be sophomore year because we did not have a television freshman year and the one we had sophomore year was a small black and white one). My roommate would always vote for wrestling. Me, being the intellectual, would always try to persuade him to watch “The Flintstones” instead. I think my roommate usually won the discussion, but then it was his TV.
Wrestling caught the attention of my boys for a brief (thankfully) time. One day when we were living in Western Kentucky, they heard that a real, live, professional wrestler was making an appearance at a local video store. So they talked us into going to see James Edward Duggan, better known as “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. His wrestling character was that of an American patriot, one who relishes in the “U-S-A” cheer, one with a battle cry of “Hooo!” and one who drives his point home in the ring with a 2×4 length of wood as a weapon. What could be more American?
It turned out that Mr. Dugan was a very personable guy and related extremely well to his fans including my boys. You can see everyone looks happy in the picture and I left very impressed with my moment with a real professional wrestler . Plus I was thankful he did not have to use his 2×4 to make an impression on me.
As I read this, every wrestler’s name I have either watched or went to see at Hara Arena as well. Thanks for the journey back to a time when “wrestling” was real and mindful of the fact that they had children as fans.
Good job, Leonard. I remember there was a running debate between those of us who thought prof. wrestling was “staged” (we said “fake”) and those who swore it was real. After all, they saw the “real” blood flow from heads when the chairs were used to bang them!
Nicely written Leonard, Your treatise brought back some names to me, Don Eagle, Gorgeous George, Lord Lansdowne, to name a few. I too use to take the faint of heart to Memorial Hall in Springfield, describing the buckets of blood that dripped off the stage. It really was a good show.
I often wondered how they kept from being maimed. Looked rather real at times. Thanks for the memories.