Over the years, the Indianapolis based WWA (World Wrestling Association/Alliance) has gained a sort of cult following, and is always associated with its founder/co-owner, William Afflis a.k.a. Dick the Bruiser, who was also its first champion, and who went on to hold that belt 9 times.
Championship Wrestling of Indiana, Inc, first started in March of 1964, and was the brainchild of both the Bruiser and his partner, Wilbur Snyder. They had previously been working for the local promoter of the time, Balk Estes, and in fact, were his AWA tag team champions at the time they went into business for themselves.
Unlike most wrestlers of the time that took over a territory, Bruiser and Snyder made no bones about the fact they owned the promotion outright, and it had a dramatic effect on their fledgling business for some time to come. Since wrestlers could not hold a license to promote and wrestle at the same time, Bruiser and Snyder simply put the promotional license in their wives' names, and the early ads for their cards read, "L. Afflis presents.... Championship Wrestling. The real problem with this idea was, in 1964, audiences of "sports entertainment" were not as accepting of the fact that professional wrestling was more "entertainment" than "sport". There were already rival shows across town, and on October 31,1963, there was an explosion at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds Coliseum that left no suitable year round venue for some considerable time (and local fans were a bit paranoid about going to any event in the explosion's aftermath).
Bruiser and Snyder going into business for themselves seemed then like a logical step on paper. Local big stars (like the Sheik, Verne Gagne, Ray Gunkel, etc.) had long realized there was much more profit to be made by being in business for themselves, and through hook or crook, managed to slot themselves at the top of their respective territories. Bruiser and Snyder, though in the ring were a contrast, outside the ring had much in common and had formed a lasting friendship.
Wilbur Snyder was originally from Van Nuys, California, and had gone to the University of Utah before entering pro football, where he eventually made his way up to Canada to play for Edmonton. One of Wilbur's teammates was a young Gene Kiniski, who had been moonlighting as a wrestler, and was making several times more money than he had been as a football player. Wilbur, who at the time was a phenomenal athlete, decided to try his hand at wrestling, and broke into the business in his native California in 1955.
The good looking, fast moving Snyder was an immediate smash, and even went to a 1 hour draw with then NWA champion, Lou Thesz, further cementing his reputation. In 1957, or thereabouts, he was brought into the Chicago/Milwaukee region, controlled by wrestling czar, Fred Kohler (who at one time, because of his network wrestling show, controlled the booking of a large segment of the major wrestling talent in the U.S., not unlike the big two do today) and put over Verne Gagne for the U.S. TV title (and how many people have ever went over Verne in the middle of the ring?). Wilbur was in huge demand all over the country, and he eventually set up shop in Indianapolis, working for Balk Estes, who was drawing record houses at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
William Afflis was born in Lafayette, Indiana to wealthy parents, and moved to Indianapolis as a boy, attending Shortridge High School. When he was growing up in Indianapolis, his father died and his mother remarried and moved away from Indianapolis, letting Dick have his own apartment at the tender age of 16! When he graduated from high school (as a top rated lineman) he enrolled at Purdue, where he was suspended for beaning the assistant coach (who had demeaned Dick on the field in front of the other players) on the head with his football helmet. Several schools and a name change (from William to Richard, hence "Dick") he finally ended up at the University of Nevada, where he graduated with a degree in engineering. From 1951 to 1955, he was an offensive lineman for the pre-Lombardi Greenbay Packers, finally quitting for the greener pastures of pro-wrestling (or, as one legend has it, because he was suspended for deliberately breaking the leg of an opposing teams lineman). The Packers, at the time, were the worst team in pro football, and spent more time partying than training for their games. Dick started wrestling for Tony Stetcher in Minneapolis in 1955,and a few months after his debut, wrestled Lou Thesz for the NWA Title. By 1956, Dick was perfecting his style, and was one of the first to actually boast and brag about himself in interviews ("working the stick"). His matches became more riotous, with Dick bringing in chairs, tables, or anything else he could get his hands on. This sort of thing, though passe today, was groundbreaking in its time. Wherever he performed, he drew large houses, and finally was given the U.S. TV title in 1957 over his future partner, Wilbur Snyder. Dick continued to be a mainstay in the Midwest region, making his home in Indianapolis, and wrestling there for local promoter Dick Patton. The riot in Madison Square Garden in late 1957 (resulting in Dick's ban from New York) only further enhanced his reputation.
Dick and Wilbur, by the late 50's,were top draw cards in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and all points in between. They were to this region, as much of a contrast as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were in the early 90's. And their feuds with each other were box office magic.
One story had Bruiser buying into Fred Kohler's office as far back as 1960. At any rate, by 1963, Kohler had taken on Jack Pfeffier as a booking agent, and Pfeffier proceeded to run Chicago into the ground, booking in sound-alike wrestlers like Bummy Rogers and Hobo Brazil. Fans, and top-flight talent, stayed away in droves. Wrestling in Chicago nearly died all together. Johnny Doyle owned the Detroit promotion, selling it outright to Eddie Farhat (The Sheik) in 1965. Sheik used his father-in-law, Francis Fleser, as his frontman. So, another market closed up for Bruiser, as Sheik had a penchant for booking himself on top.
Bruiser had taken to working in southern California for Eileen Eaton's (Mike LeBell's) WWA office, and between the WWA office, and Verne Gagne's, they put together a loose alliance to take over and build a large Midwest territory.
When Dick and Wilbur started showing TV tapes prior to running their first wrestling card (at the Southside Armory in Indianapolis, April 25,1964) they were showing tapes from Los Angeles. On April 22,1964,Bruiser won the WWA (California version) heavyweight title from Freddie Blassie. The California WWA title was an offshoot of Fred Kohler's heavyweight title, stemming from a match between Edouard Carpentier and Lou Thesz on 6/14/57, where Carpentier won a disputed decision over Thesz and was recognized as champ. Even though Carpentier lost that claim to the title in Omaha to Verne Gagne in August of 1958, Carpentier was recognized as champ going into a 6/12/61 match with Freddie Blassie in Los Angleles, and lost the title to Blassie. The title had gone through a succession of hands and would go back to Blassie before the April 1964 match with Bruiser. (Dick would eventually lose the California version to Dick "the Destroyer" Beyer on a count out on 7/22/64), and the tape of that match was used to build a feud between him and Bruiser in the Midwest.
On their first card, Bruiser and Snyder defended their "World tag team titles" against the Miller Brothers, going to a 60 minutes draw. Bruiser and Snyder had been Estes' AWA Tag Team champs, as a result of a victory over Cyclone Negro and the Masked Terror (Jay York) on 12/10/63 in Indianapolis. They continued to claim the now Worldwide Wrestling Alliance tag team titles, as well as Dick having the heavyweight belt. This might have been pure ego, but more than likely, it was done to establish the straps and the viability of anyone who would take them off of Bruiser and Snyder. Dick and Wilbur, in the future, would use their reps to get new talent over and develop new stars.
Whenever Bruiser bought Kohler out, it wasn't until March 6,1964, when bigger stars started to appear in Chicago, with Pat O'Connor and Art Thomas being brought in to headline at the Amphitheater. Bruiser finally headlined his first show on May 15,1964, going to a no contest with O'Connor. There were no more cards held that year in the Amphitheater until September 12, when Dick defended his WWA Heavyweight belt against O'Connor, and the team of Angelo Poffo and Nikolai Volkoff defended their newly awarded NWA Tag Team titles against Roger Kirby and Dennis Hall. Now… are you ready for this? Volkoff and Poffo had won the WWA belts from Bruiser and Snyder on 7/30/64, and lost them back to Snyder and Bruiser on 9/4/64 in Indianapolis. Poffo and Volkoff were the new tag champs in Chicago. On October 8,1964, Bruiser and Snyder did their first live TV taping in Indianapolis at the Southside Armory, which was to be shown in Chicago as well as Indianapolis. Poffo and Volkoff, who had lost the WWA Tag Team titles, defended their newly awarded NWA Tag Team titles against Bobby Managoff and Bobby Hire. And this was in an era of kayfaybe!
One other market that they went into was Detroit, working with Olympia Stadium general manager Lincoln Cavaleri. They brought in talent from Verne Gagne's AWA, including tag champs Larry Hennig and Harley Race.
So, the whole territory that was the original WWA included Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Louisville, and possibly parts of Ontario (I have yet to confirm this as of this writing). It also included such towns as Champaign, Danville, Peoria, and Springfield, Ill., Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Hammond and Elkhart, Indiana.
Balk Estes folded his office in Indianapolis in September of 1964, leaving Bruiser and Snyder with run of the entire territory. Though nothing can be substantiated, it appears that Bruiser and Snyder may've had some kind of agreement with the athletic commission to keep anyone else from getting a promoter's license, and therefore, there was no opposition to Bruiser and Snyder in Indiana until the early 1980's, when the athletic commission was dismantled.
The territory, on paper, looked great. However, there are always logistic problems in trying to run an organization this large, coupled with the fact that in many cases, the crowds weren't that large, and in some areas, like Detroit, there was steady competition. Whatever the problems, by 1965, Bruiser and Snyder started dismantling their territory.
First, they closed up shop in Detroit in May of 1965, and wouldn't go back there until 1971. Next, Bruiser and Verne Gagne set up a partnership in Chicago, and the WWA titles were systematically eliminated, starting on February 26,1966,with a wrestle-off between AWA champion Maurice Vachon and WWA champ ion Bruiser (leaving only Verne's AWA belts). Bruiser, as stated above, had been using several of Verne's guys in Detroit, and they may have in fact, been partners there as well.
They leased Louisville and Evansville to Nick Gulas, who eventually lost the licensing to Jerry Jarrett in the 70's. Hammond and the Illinois towns became AWA, while Elkhart and Ft. Wayne remained WWA. After that, Indianapolis basically became a farm league for the AWA and St. Louis. What Bruiser and Snyder lost in territory, they gained in power, and they had a lot of stroke in the wrestling business for most of the remainder of their careers.
From Indianapolis, during this period, many greats emerged. The Blackjacks, the Valiants, Bobby Heenan, the Chain Gang, Greg Valentine (as Babyface Fargo), Baron von Raschke, Ernie Ladd, were just some of the names. It was also a trying ground for different feuds, and a place where perennial mid-carders (by this point) like Art Thomas, Billy Red Cloud, and Moose Cholak, could be featured.
In 1971, Bruiser and Snyder, along with Lincoln Cavaleri, started running shows in Detroit again in the aging Olympia Stadium. This seemed like a strange move at the time, as Sheik's promotion was an NWA promotion, and usually if you opposed the NWA, you were blacklisted. During this time, several of Dick's stars as well as himself were appearing in St. Louis, the home of the NWA. The NWA did initially send in reinforcements to the Sheik, and the early crowds for the WWA were pretty low, but with TV tapings now being done at the new Expo Center in Indianapolis, and the main events being broadcast, things started picking up. A talent exchange between the Bearman's promotion in Ontario, the Rougeau's in Montreal, and Bruno Sammartino's Pittsburgh promotion also helped. In addition, there was some luring away of talent from the Sheik, which soon caused the WWA houses to overtake the established NWA promotion, doing turn-away business in most of the towns on the circuit. Through 1972 and1973, Indianapolis was frequently SRO, with main events like Bruiser and Crusher vs. The Blackjacks, Bruiser and Bruno Sammartino vs. Ernie Ladd and Baron Von Raschke, Cowboy Bob Ellis vs. Baron Von Raschke, and Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Valiant vs. Art Thomas and Pepper Gomez. One of the more strange things that the WWA did, however, was have different champs in Detroit than in Indianapolis. For example, Art Thomas was given the title in a phantom switch, while Billy Red Cloud was champ in Indianapolis.
In 1974, the Vietnam Conflict had ended, and unemployment started to rise, along with gas shortages and run away inflation. Crowds for both promotions were dropping, and several territories besides these two were hurt. It was announced on Big Time Wrestling in Detroit in April of 1974 that the promotional war was over, and that the WWA titles would no longer be recognized in Detroit. Bruiser and the Sheik had gone into a loose partnership, and started one of the most violent feuds in wrestling history. Cobo Hall was packed for their meetings, and the new Market Square Arena drew nearly 15,000 fans to see them.
By 1975, Indianapolis had gone back to being a farm type league… a haven for new talent and aging veterans or established stars between jobs. It was also a stop-off point for performers working the Chicago/St. Louis circuit. Dick would also use it to bring in major talent for a string of matches between himself, taking it to Chicago, St. Louis and Ft. Wayne. Some of the more notables included Bruiser Brody, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel.
With Bruiser and Sheik going into partnership, and the Detroit leg of the territory closing shop, several mainstays of the W.W.A. looked to greener pastures, and by the end of 1974, several new faces made their debut.
First out were the Valiant Brothers, who dropped their W.W.A. belts that were won from Bruiser and Sammartino to Pepper Gomez and Wilbur Snyder on May 4 of 1974. On the next show, June 15, Sgt. Jacques (Rene) Goulet and Ox Baker debuted, teaming up to beat Tom DeMarco and another newcomer, Jim Starr, who would soon find his status elevated. Roger Kirby was slated to come in as Goulet's partner, rumored to be managed by Lord Al Hayes, but only made one appearance on June 29, losing to Sailor Art Thomas via submission. Goulet had made the transition right to the main event with Bruiser on the same show, stopping Dick in an Algerian Death Match, where each wrestler wore a black hood and couldn't see his opponent. This show, which was also Stan Kowalski’s last appearance here, featured the lowest attendance of the year, reportedly 6,000.
Bruiser won the rematch on July 20th, winning a Gestapo Death Match, a match that is won when a wrestler's second waves a white flag. Bobby Heenan was Goulet's second, and waved the flag when he and Goulet got into an altercation. This was Heenan’s last show until September 21st. Making his return debut on this card was the Sheik, who defended his U.S. Title by throwing fire on Art Thomas in a 4 minute squash that nearly triggered a riot. August 10th saw Bruiser and Thomas squaring off against Sheik and Goulet, which saw the Sheik throw fire on Bruiser, who was counted out of the ring. On the undercard, Ox Baker scored the W.W.A. Title against Bob Ellis. The high spot of this match was Ellis taking a razor and juicing Ox in front of everyone, then calmly putting the blade back in his trunks. Everyone was shocked that fan favorite Ellis would use a "foreign object" on his opponent. Gomez and Snyder were fighting champs, beating Mitsu Arakawa and Kim Duk (Tiger Chung Lee) on 6/15, Duk and Stan Kowalski on 6/29, Bill Miller and the Ox on 7/20, and Miller and Kim Duk in an exciting one on 8/31.
On the undercard of the 8/31 show, Ellis and Baker were both counted out in a rematch, and Don Fargo debuted as Goulet's partner, Pvt. Don Fargo from Corsica defeated Bill Nixon, and helped Goulet in his match with Art Thomas. On September 21,the new Market Square Arena hosted wrestling for the first time. A reported crowd of 15,800 saw Bruiser (managed by Bobby Heenan, who hadn't been seen since July 20th) go against the hated Sheik, managed by Eddie Creatchman.
That match went to a double DQ, as Heenan turned on Bruiser, and all 3 heels put the boots to Dick. Ox Baker defended his newly won title against Andre the Giant in a groan fest, and the Legionnaires defeated Snyder and Gomez for the W.W.A. Titles. (In an amusing aside, Fargo either forgot, or was playing a rib on himself, by coming into the ring with nothing but red briefs under his white cotton outer pants. He masted them down and was taking off his shirt when he looked down and quickly pulled them up. He wore his long pants for the rest of the bout.)
Bobby Heenan made his last Indianapolis appearance as a full time worker (not counting future spot appearances) on October 12 by teaming with the Sheik against Bruiser and Bobo Brazil, which saw Heenan do his usual mask of blood schtick before being pinned by the Bruiser. For some odd reason, this house was way down following the huge turnout at MSA. On November 16, Ox Baker debuted his new manager, the aforementioned Jim Starr, who was now Handsome Johnny Starr (trying to fill Heenan's BIG shoes) in his defense against Art Thomas. Goulet and Fargo won over Ellis and Bruiser in a match which saw Ellis stuff Fargo in a dress he brought out, meant for the opposition. November 29 saw the Sheik beat Bruiser in a chain match (where Sheik "accidentally" choked Bruiser until he passed out and so the ref counted 3. Ox defeated Mighty Igor, and the Legionnaires lost 1 fall of a 2/3 falls match, that went the full 60 minutes, to Gomez and Ellis, so Goulet and Fargo retained the belts.
On the December 26th show, Sheik burned Bob Ellis, setting Ellis' wig on fire, and retaining the U.S. Title. The Legionnaires, who were now managed by Starr as well, went to a double DQ with Snyder and Gomez. Starr's interference started a feud between him and Gomez, and the Ox was DQ.'d against Bobo Brazil. Before this match, totally unannounced, and in a shrewd bit of booking, Ernie Ladd came out and challenged Ox Baker for what Ox had done to him in the past (they later showed the Cleveland riot footage ad nauseum, from the Cleveland office). The pop from the audience was to be experienced, as Ladd was a long time favorite (even as a heel) to the Indianapolis fans. (On a side note, Fargo had dropped about 30 lbs. between the 11/29 and 12/26 shows. He was trimmed down and cut up, but looked really puny next to the others. I'm not sure if this was done as commentary about his payoffs, or if he just did it out of personal interest.)
Going into 1975, the houses had dropped marginally, but stayed pretty consistent considering the turnover of talent. They also were still working decent (for the era) angles and the shows seemed to have a solid sense of direction. Of the mainstay heels, the Legionnaires seemed to be the most solid of drawing cards, even with their rocky start.
The first handicap the tag champs had was the gimmick itself. Even in 1974, noone thought they were from the French Foreign Legion. Of course, Don Fargo was well know as Jack Dillinger, and Bruiser must have thought none of us read wrestling mags or had heard of the Fargos. Goulet, of course, had been an A.W.A.jobber/mid-carder for some while, and before that, a WWWF tag champ. If they had played the gimmick for what it was, a sendup, it would have gone down much better. On top of that, Goulet looked pretty bad in being compared to a supervillain such as the Sheik, in teaming him up to go against the Bruiser and Thomas. In spite of all of that, Fargo and Goulet went down well on the circuit, as in Indiana and the territory, the rugged heels like Raschke, Ladd, the Blackjacks, etc. seemed to draw well.
On the January 25th card, the double main was Bruiser and Moose in a non-title lumberjack match against the Legion, and Ladd vs. Ox at the Convention Center. Across town, at Market Square Arena, Led Zepplin was playing to a SRO crowd. Everyone that wasn’t at the concert must have been at wrestling because the place was packed (capacity, which was 9,000 at the time)! Besides the Ladd/Baker angle, they had also worked a real hokey angle between the Legionnaires and Moose from Chicago TV where Don Fargo broke a 2 X 4 over Moose head (reportedly a shoot). Bruiser and Moose won the main (natch!) and Ladd went on to get DQ’d against Ox, setting up a semi main for the next card. This show was the last appearance as well of Kim Duk.
The next show was back at MSA, and about 12,000 turned out to see Bruiser and the Sheik in a cage match, and the Legion stop Moose and Snyder. Ladd lost to the Ox in a no DQ match when Johnny Starr hit Ladd three times with the most powder puff shots in wrestling history. When Ladd sold it, the biggest hoot came from the crowd I’ve ever heard. Fortunately, the camera angle was kind on the TV broadcast, as it was out of position. The Legion survived a rematch with Moose and Snyder, but lost a 6 man tag, teaming with Ox Baker, to face Bruiser, Gomez and Bruno Sammartino, in a match that saw Pepper pop his knee cap out.
There had been some rumble backstage (I was on the ring crew during that period) about how well Fargo and Goulet hadn’t gotten along, and it came to a head one night in (reportedly) Elkhart, Indiana (where the Legion had been drawing solid houses, no less). One story had Fargo running his van into Goulet’s car, and Goulet trashing Don, one had the blowup in the ring (Goulet had taped the ornaments back on the faceplate of his belt to give some weight to that) and still another had to with an incident that can’t be legally talked about (sorry!). At any rate, the March 15 show was the last time Fargo was seen in Indianapolis. The promos for the April 19 show had Fargo and Goulet together, and a little blurb was added that the debut of Soldier LeBeouf would take place that night. So imagine the surprise when this husky, muscular blond comes out in Fargo’s place to take on Moose and Ellis. To get them over, they worked a hasty angle where Ellis came into the ring with a bad knee, and the Legion took advantage of it. Moose and Ellis lost the first fall on DQ, and Ellis sold for the second fall before submitting to a double leglock. Later, they concocted a story on TV of how Fargo was dismissed for "lying" and LeBeouf was brought in to take his place. The one thing about LeBeouf was that he was legit French, French-Canadian anyway. He spoke French fluently, as this was his main language, and it did give an air of authenticity to his character. Also, he was more of an unknown. He actually worked out of the Montreal booking office, but was someone I wasn’t familiar with (he later went on to greater fame as one of the Lumberjacks in the WWF).
Nevertheless, by this time the houses were starting to drop (at least in Indianapolis, and I’ve often wondered if the Ladd chairshots helped things along, the crowds weren’t comprised of "smarks" in those days of kayfabe )so Dick did what he always did when that problem arose, he brought in Crusher. Anyone who had visions of grandeur about another Blackjack/Bruiser-Crusher would be disappointed, as Dick and Reg were a bit "past it" by that point, and Goulet and LeBeouf were no Lanza and Mulligan. Still, it had its effect, and houses came up by about 2,000 heads. Goulet and LeBeouf lost the first encounter with 2 straight falls on a DQ, and in an angle straight out of 1972 (the players then were Raschke and the Blackjacks, same exact finish), lost the no DQ rematch when Ox hit Bruiser over the head with a plastic chair, giving Goulet the win. This triggered off a feud between Ox and Bruiser, before Bruiser and Crusher resumed with the Legionnaires. First,on August 30th, B&C won a hooded Algerian Death Match when they tore off their hoods and beat the crap out of the Legion, then they won a Gestapo Death Match when Johnny Starr waved the flag before Dick and Reg tossed him into the 3rd row of seats (up until this point, Starr had only seconded the Legion sporadically).
For the October 18th show, Saul Weingeroff was brought in to manage the Legion on what was to be the final run of his 40+ year career. With Saul at the helm, a legitimate effort was made to rebuild the Legion, and make them look stronger in the eyes of the fans. On the road it was hit and miss, however. Terre Haute and Champaign were drawing respectable houses (and usually rioted when Saul interferred) but shows like Muncie and Lapel, for example, drew poorly. (A feud between Saul and Sam was built on, but both of them at that point were past their prime, and so little came of it.) On the November 29th show, the Legionnaires left Bruiser and Crusher laid out when Saul hit them with his briefcase, and the Legion were disqualified. The return saw B&C disqualified, and the Legionnaires still looking dominate. The final encounter was on December 26th,with 7,000 in attendance. Ox and Chuck O’Connor interfered, and the Legion and Saul left over the top of the cage.
Bruiser and Crusher were declared the winners, but the feud was never really settled. I don’t know if there were more plans to continue the angle, but the Legion made one last appearance on January 17,1976, and lost via DQ to Art Thomas and Moose Cholak. Goulet moved on to Georgia and the Mid Atlantic region, LeBeouf went on to become a Yukon Lumberjack as mentioned, as well as doing the Russian Stomper gimmick for Gulas and Bruiser.Saul retired and went back into sign painting and working as a sheriff’s deputy, as well as training hopefuls in the grappling art.
To give you an idea of the booking for that time period, here’s an itinerary for November 1975:
1st - Amphitheatre, Chicago
5th - Muncie, IN
6th - Wabash, IN
7th - Kokomo, IN
8th - Expo Center, IN.
12th - Elwood, IN
13th - Ft. Wayne, IN
14th - Danville, IL
15th - Champaign, IL
19th - Muncie, IN (drew maybe 100-150)
20th - Richmond, IN
21st - Terre Haute, IN
26th - Delphi, IN
29th - Expo Center, IN.
As the reader can see, not a lot of opportunity to make money. Terre Haute usually drew approximately 500-700 people every show. It was a small, hot crowd, with always good atmosphere, but you couldn’t get rich there.
The 1976 wrestling season started off with a whimper after the fine turnout of the Christmas ‘ 75 show. The main event was another encounter between Ox Baker and Dick the Bruiser in a Brass Knuckles match on January 17th. The crowd was approximately 4,500, and that was probably being kind. The match itself was a plodding affair, with Ox coming out the winner after Johnny Starr and Chuck O’Connor interfered. The throng sat mostly quiet, and filed out peacefully after the main. In the semi main, Pepper Gomez kept his WWA title on a reverse decision over Chuck O’Connor (see earlier installment). The February 21st card had Bruiser and Crusher defending their belts against Ox and Chuck O’Connor which had one referee getting knocked out and a standby making the count, only to get knocked out himself and the original ref making the opposite decision. The match was ruled a draw, and the tag belts were held up. Gomez gained a draw to retain his WWA title. This show marked the end of the 2/3 fall tag team title match (other than special occasions). From this time on, all WWA tag team title bouts were one fall. The March 13th show saw B&C paired again against Ox and O’Connor, with Starr barred from the building. In actual fact, he was getting married on this date. At any rate, Ox and O’Connor annexed the straps from the brawling cousins in one of the lamer finishes seen. Ox hit Crusher with a plastic chair that couldn’t break an egg at full force, and he only grazed him with the edge of the seat. Crusher went down as if hit by a sledge hammer, and Ox got the win. Many people in the crowd shook their heads in disbelief. 4,900 was listed as attendance. The March 27th show saw Bruiser against O’Connor and Crusher against Ox in singles bouts. At this time channel 6, WRTV, couldn’t get down to tape the matches, so Dick had a film crew come in and film the two main bouts on 16mm,and they were later inserted onto other footage Dick had in the can. Bruiser won over O’Connor in a match that saw the still green O’Connor struggle to get a few drops of blood from a poor and apparent juice job. He struggled for several minutes, but just couldn’t get it done. A big foot from the ropes brought this one to an end. (This footage was shown on the first David Letterman afternoon show that Dick guested on years later. Dick then demonstrated his "claw" on the then ample girth of one up and coming Roseanne Barr, who complained that it tickled.)
Crusher and Ox had an excellent bout. Of course, with these two you knew it wasn’t going to be a bump fest, but it ended when their respective partners entered the fray, causing a double dQ. 4,100 filled the seats at the Expo Center. I might add that at this time you had an undercard that comprised of: Jackie Ruffin, Tom DeMarco, Ferdinand La Pantera, Rodeo Jones, Cowboy Bob Kelly, Emilio Zapata, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Gino Martino, amongst other all time greats. There were too many squash matches for TV to draw serious money.
There were no Indianapolis shows in April, but a hub of activity going on in the region. Hammond was intent on building interest in a Bruiser and Crusher/Ox and O’Connor main event for the AWA tag titles at the Amphitheatre in Chicago, and fed Ox and O’Connor teams like Moose and Snyder, and Moose and Christy. Bob Luce, in his typical laid back hyperbole, dubbed them the "Blood Quota Gang" (I swear its true!). Pepper Gomez and the Strangler had been headlining Terre Haute cards, and Pepper also gained a double count out decision against Paul Christy in a rare babyface match there to retain his title. Terre Haute continued to be a small but solid draw, no matter what they put in the ring there. One fellow foisted on them was named the Golden Viking, who was a big, rough-looking, pre-WWF Berserker prototype, who reportedly did great in the gym. Only problem was, he froze like stone when he got in the ring in front of a crowd. Moose got the unenviable job of trying to carry this stiff, even selling his "brass knuckle" shots to the head and getting very obvious juice (I saw the blade from the back of the building) in a match that lasted only a few minutes. They had a rematch 2 weeks later, and by that time all hope was given up on this "Viking", and Moose squashed him in a bout 3 minutes.
The May 1st Market Square Arena show (Dick usually didn’t run at all in Indy in May because of the Indy 500) saw Bruiser and Crusher take the belts back away from Ox and O’Connor in a cage match where the loser of the fall left town. O’Connor went down as he had in the past to try and get juice to little avail. Whether he zipped himself too deep going to the cage, or if he just potatoed himself on the wire, when he fell backwards, blood just started spurting from an artery in his head. O’Connor was a big man, but he was covered in blood. All of us at ringside had splatters on us, as well as the time keeper, Sam Menacker, the "doctor", and other seconds.
Finally, O’Connor was pinned and Reg and Dick reclaimed the straps. The undercard saw (to n oone’s surprise) Strangler (Guy Mitchell) take the WWA title from Pepper Gomez with a loaded headbutt. Art Thomas won a 16-man battle royal, but lost in an earlier encounter with AWA champ Nick Bockwinkle, who defended his newly crafted "big license plate". Fans didn’t truly know what to think of Nick at first, but he methodically won them over; ie: got heat from the crowd. He beat Thomas with a piledriver in the middle of the ring, right in front of the referee. This is noteworthy because the piledriver was a no-no in Indiana, and angles had been worked around that rule. I guess since this was a sanctioned AWA title defense, the piledriver rule was waived? This show also saw the debut of Jimmy Kent’s Bounty Hunters, who beat Steve Regal and Bobby Bold Eagle (Bob Boyer). 81,000 was listed as the attendance. Somehow, I think that was a typo, but you never know…
June 12th saw Andre the Giant return to team with the Bruiser against Ox and Karl Krupp that went to a double DQ. Strangler stopped Bill Miller in his first Indianapolis WWA defense. (He defended it the week after he won it in Terre Haute against former champ Gomez. They had been booked to work each other on that show, but Gomez was billed as champ, and Strangler challenger. By match time the roles had reversed.) The Bounty Hunters stopped Paul Christy and Dom DeNucci, who made his debut.
June 25th saw the Ali-Inoki "Farcial Arts" match from Tokyo on closed circuit. This didn’t draw very well in Indianapolis, as I think the hefty (for the time) price tag of $15 discouraged many fans. One newspaper account listed the throng it at nearly 5,000, but a friend who went didn’t list it more that a couple of thousand. He called me from the show, and it was dead quiet in the background. Besides having Bruiser and Crusher defending the AWA titles against Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncum from a packed Amphitheatre, there were four live bouts, with Snyder going through with the Strangler in a non title match, Ox and Krupp beating Thomas and Gomez, the Bounty Hunters stopping Christy and Spike Huber, and Johnny Starr getting a draw against Steve Regal.
Back to normal wrestling on July 10, Bruiser and Crusher defended the WWA belts, getting a double count out with Ox and Krupp, the Strangler beating Gomez, and the Bounty Hunters stopping Wilbur Snyder and his son in law, Steve Regal. Attendance 4,100. The July 31st card had Bruiser and Crusher successfully defending the belts against Ox and Krupp in a 2/3 falls match. For one night they returned to the 2/3 falls format, but didn’t tell the ring announcer. So when B&C won the first fall, ring announcer Bob Beach declared that Reg and Dick had won the match. Dick had to explain that it was a 2/3 fall bout, which looked REALLY stupid. Ox and Krupp took the second fall with a wrench to Crusher’s head, but he came back to score the 3rd over Krupp. After the match, Starr and Ox put the boots to Krupp, and he wasn’t seen around here after that. The Strangler won 2/3 falls over Snyder. In the first, Snyder took the fall with the abdominal stretch. He lost the second from a loaded Strangler headbutt. Before the 3rd, Pepper Gomez came to Snyder’s aid and attacked the Strangler, taking away his gimmick, and then putting the sleeper on Strangler and refused to let go. He finally had to be pried off of the Strangler, but Snyder lost the fall. 5,100 was listed as the attendance. The August 14th show saw the Bounty Hunters take the WWA belts from Bruiser and Crusher when Jimmy Kent came off on to the Bruiser’s head while the ref was distracted. Before the bout, Starr, Strangler and Ox came to the ring and challenged Bruiser and Crusher on the next show, putting a nifty swerve on the outcome. Gomez won a Mexican Strap Match over the Strangler. The September 4th show saw the Bounty Hunters win 2/3 falls when Crusher was hit with a boot in the 3rd fall. Bruiser lost the first fall on a count out in this "no DQ" match. The Strangler won over Art Thomas in a WWA title defense.
The October 9th show had an interesting turn of events. Ox and Gomez were matched in a "wrestler’s choice" match, where the only one of them could win is by a finish specified by the wrestler. Ox chose the heart punch, and Pepper the sleeper.
Somewhere along the line, the Strangler interfered, and Ox pinned Gomez. So much for the choice. After the match, Starr and Strangler put the boots to Gomez, and after several attempts on Ox’s part to stop them, they attacked Ox! With them finally leaving, Ox got to his feet and helped Pepper back to the dressing room. During the main event, Bruiser taking on the Strangler for the title, Gomez was slated to second Bruiser to keep Starr from interfering. With Pepper "hurt", Dick was on his own. During the match, Starr and Strangler ganged up on Dick getting Strangler DQ’d, when out from the dressing room came the Ox! The place erupted. Ox was soon to find his niche as a babyface. Also on the card that attracted 5,100, the Bounty Hunters stopped Bill Miller and Wilbur Snyder when one of the Hunters came off the top rope with one of Jim Kent’s boots to Miller, and pinned him. The October 23rd show saw Bruiser and Crusher trying to regain their titles again with Jimmy Kent handcuffed to Ox. The match was as usual, a riot, with Bruiser and Crusher getting them selves DQ’d. Ox made his debut as a babyface against one of the Bounty Hunters in an earlier match, and was over like crazy. Ox quickly showed that he was a graduate of the Dick the Bruiser school of selling, however, and became impervious to anything. Nevertheless, he was far superior as a good guy than he was a bad guy, and the fans loved him. Also, Pepper Gomez made his last appearance, losing, once again, to the Strangler in a $2,000 versus the mask title match. Strangler also won the 18-man battle royal before 6,000 fans. The November 6th show saw Bruiser and Crusher finally beating the Bounty Hunters in a non-title "Saloon" (Lumberjack) match. Wilbur Snyder gained a DQ victory over the Strangler before 6,100 fans. The annual Thanksgiving show saw Bruiser beat the Strangler by DQ, with Ox Baker as the ref. During the match, Strangler and Starr attacked the Ox, bloodying him. Starr and Strangler also were busted open, with Dick tearing half of the Strangler’s hood off, and taking his foreign object out of it. The Bounty Hunters beat Ox and Art Thomas when Thomas was tripped as he had one of the Hunters in a bearhug, who fell on him for the pin.
The December 11th show featured two specials: the teaming of long time foes Bruiser and Ox, to take on the Bounty Hunters, and the return of the Sheik. The Sheik stormed in and burned Paul Christy in a US title match, and had to be stopped by Bruiser from attacking an injured Christy after the match. The Strangler stopped Bill Miller in defense of his title, and the Bounty Hunters won over Bruiser and Ox, when the Sheik came down as Bruiser had one of the Hunters on the ropes and hit Dick in the head with a billy club. Dick had a nice goose egg for his trouble. This, of course, was to help set the stage for another Bruiser-Sheik feud. The December 27th Christmas show featured Bruiser and Sam Menacker against the Sheik and Eddie Creatchman. They had pushed a small feud with Creatchman and Sam that had started years back, and came up with this main to try and build heat for the aforementioned Bruiser-Sheik showdown. It was a pretty flat match,however. Sheik’s shtick was to avoid contact with the Bruiser, so all he did was run, and what could Sam and Creatchman do? You get the idea. Finally, by some quirk of fate, Sam was left in the ring with the Sheik while Bruiser went after Creatchman. Sheik used his gimmick on Sam’s ear, and Sam got color. The ref looked at Menacker’s condition and determined that he could no longer continue, and awarded the match to Sheik and Creatchman. It was a very flat finish, so flat that the injury looked legit. Sam was selling like he couldn’t walk due to his equilibrium being compromised. One of the early "shoot" finishes, perhaps. There was a real air of concern for Sam from the throng in attendance, nothing like today’s crowds who could care less if the performers get hurt or not, and it generated legit heat on the Sheik to help set up a revenge match with the Bruiser. The Bounty Hunters went to a double DQ with Snyder and Bobo Brazil in a strange finish. All four men were in the ring at the same time and the ref stopped the match saying it was out of control. There had been matches that had gone far more excessive than this and continued, so it was a very unsatisfying finish for the crowd. Ox also got a shot at his old belt, but was DQ’d as well against the Strangler. Up in Ft. Wayne, about a week after, Bruiser and Ox wrestled a match against Strangler and Sheik, with the Sheik throwing fire on Bruiser while he had a claw hold on the Strangler, setting off the Bruiser-Sheik angle in that area as well. There were a lot of changes in store for 1977,which was good. As you can clearly see, 1976 hadn’t been a banner year for WWA wrestling.
I couldn’t do any column on Indianapolis/WWA wrestling without a word about our line-up programs, which have to rate as the cruddiest and most gut wretchingly funny ever done. What we were stuck with were Bob Luce’s Chicago mat posters with an insert sheet of the lineup. Now, when Bob did the inserts, they usually had some cock-ups but were at least readable. In 1975, Bob stopped doing them, and SOMEONE else (I think the little program seller, Shorty Gathier) started doing the insert sheets. They were and remain, timeless classics. (I might add, anyone who’s seen any of Luce’s mat posters know how nowhere THOSE things were, in and of them selves. Excerpts of Wrestling Life articles from the 50’s, and photos from the same era. Seldom ANYTHING on the current wrestling scene. The only thing they did was show you how badly some of the top AWA-WWA stars were aging). Without further ado, some of my personal favorites:
(from the February 12,1977 lineup)
THAT INSANE, WILD, MADMAN, THE MAD SHEIK MANAGED BY E.CREECHMAN
THE WORLDS MOST FEARED WRESTLER, THAT BAR ROOM BRAULINY(?) DICK THE BRUISER
(from the March 4th,1978 lineup)
TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
THE CHAMPIONS WITH THIER MANAGER MAJOR DUKE GEORGE THE LUNATIC
THESE ARE CAVE MEN OF THE MOST VISCIOUS KILLER TYPE LIVING
THE HANDSOME JIMMY AND LUSCIOUS JOHN VALIANT -BRUITAL KILLERS
TWO OF THE MOST FABULOUS AND DYNAMIC WRESTLERS OF THE RING TODAY
THAT OUT STANDING BIG AND POWERFULL GENTLEMAN BRUNNO SAMMARTINO
WITH THE WORLDS MOST SCIENTIFIC AND CLEANEST WRESTLER TODAY
THE WRESTLING FANS HERO AND A GENTLEMAN THE GREAT WILBER SNYDER
FROM PARTS UNKNOWN THE UNKNOWN MASKED STRANGLER
THAT YOUNG CROWD PLEASER GOLDIN BOY PAUL CHRISTY
(from the April 30th,1977,a personal favorite)
THE MATCH OF BIG MEAT
(400) LB FORMER U.S. OLYMPIC CHAMPION BIG CHRIS TAYLOR
FROM RUSSIA THE MAD MEAN INHUMAN VICIOUS EGOR VOLKOFF
THE CROWD PLEASING SPIKE HUBER
THAT NEW NAME KRAUSER
Pro wrestling in this area took an upswing in 1977 with the Sheik/Bruiser feud topping the bill. On the January 15th show, they went at it to a double DQ decision, fighting all the way back to the back area where the wrestlers would come out. Dick ran Sheik's head into the wooden back fence several times, and Sheik did nothing to block it, causing loud thuds to resound throughout the arena. The match itself lasted only a few minutes, but the fighting through the crowd went ten or fifteen minutes. Sheik at one point scaled one of the metal bleacher sections and went after the fans. In Indianapolis in that time period, the fans had never seen anything so out of hand. Several people were actually hurt as the crowd surged to get around the combatants. Just when the Sheik would retreat and you thought it was over, out the Sheik would come and attack Brusier, and it would start all over again. It was hard to doubt the intensity between these two after that, and it went along way to restoring some credibility to the proceedings. Attendance was about 7,000 for this show. Even though it had been advertised as no TV, they did tape and show a clip of the "riot" after the match was over. I can't help but note the contrast to today's performers who look like they are waiting to be hurt to show how tough they are, or whatever they're trying to prove; Sheik and Bruiser did look like they were fighting for their lives. Afterward, as the ring was being dismantled, Sheik and his manager Eddie Creatchman came to the ring and did a promo. There were still several hundred people milling around while it was being cut. It was a pretty strange scene as most were still riled from the main event. The canvas had been taken off of the ring as well, and the ropes were just hanging. It made for a very strange evening. The Bruiser and Sheik had also started working a program in Ft. Wayne, starting on the 13th, going to a double DQ, as well as working a few other towns in the region. The undercard had the Strangler defeat Ox Baker in a WWA title bout with the stip that the loser had to leave town. The Bounty Hunters kept their WWA belts against Snyder and Bobo Brazil, losing by DQ. Ivan Koloff also debuted, defeating perennial whipping boy, Paul Christy.
The next big event saw them move to the larger Market Square Arena on February 12th for the Sheik/Bruiser confrontation in the steel cage. A clip of this bout can be seen in the movie "I Like To Hurt People", the finish having the masked Strangler come down and kick the door down to gain entrance and attack the Bruiser. This allowed the Sheik to escape and be counted out (no job tonite, eh Eddie??). Sheik took a metal bar from the broken cage door and chased fans throughout the arena. He was a sight to behold (Writer's note: I helped set up the cage that night and never suspected the cage door had been gimmicked).
The undercard had Ivan Koloff beating semi-perennial whipping boy Wilbur Snyder for the European title. Ivan actually had a new belt which he defended. Usually, they would bill someone as champ but no belt was ever in evidence. The Strangler was successful in beating Bobo Brazil on countout to retain his WWA title, and in a shocking upset, Moose Cholak and Paul Christy stopped the Bounty Hunters to win the WWA tag team titles! Historically speaking, this was the first time that the tag team title was put on a babyface team that didn't have either Bruiser or Snyder as one of the members. Its true,its true! Attendance was listed as 9,200. On the 18th in Champaign, Illinois, Jimmy Valiant made his return to the WWA, a tag team match with Johnny Starr as his partner, losing to Steve Regal and Spike Huber. February 25th in Ft. Wayne saw Bobo Brazil win via the DQ route over the Sheik in a U.S. title match.
The culmination of Strangler interfering was a blowoff match on March 5th for the WWA title between Bruiser and Strangler. The stips were, that each man wore a mask (of course, Strangler was always masked, and Dick never did, so the logic escaped me); Dick's $6000 vs. the WWA belt, and they would be chained ankle to ankle with the loser leaving town. Dick managed to beat the Strangler, who of course was Guy Mitchell, unmask him and win the title. On the undercard, Ivan Koloff retained his European title with a win over Moose Cholak, and co-won a Battle Royal with returning Zarinoff LeBeouf, who was going as Igor Volkoff now. Apparently, it was slated to team the two Russians at some point, but it later got cancelled. Paul Christy and Art Thomas came out the winners over the departing Bounty Hunters. A crowd of 8,500 was on hand.
The April 2nd show saw the WWA title against the European title, as Bruiser wrestled against Ivan Koloff. There was a real buzz out on this match at the time, much like Bruiser's confrontations with Sheik, Ladd and others. The highlight of the bout, however, was watching the ref pass the blade to Bruiser, who turned to the camera and gaffed between the eyes, then gave the stomach claw to Koloff, passing the blade into Ivan's tights. After getting Dick to release the hold, Ivan reached down and pulled it out, and used it after Bruiser ran his head into the ring post. The match itself, while a good one, seemed to lack some of the intensity it should have had. Still, a good one over all. Christy and Moose put up their belts against the returning Valiant brothers, who lost on DQ. The finish was amusing as Jimmy was supposed to jump on Moose from the top rope after Moose had El Squasho'd Johnny, but Jim actually slipped and fell off the top onto Moose and Johnny instead. I can't imagine how John felt under all of that. Chris Taylor made his last Indy appearance by beating Johnny Starr and Jim Lancaster in a handicap match. The handicap was that Taylor couldn't work (RIP). The April 30th show saw a no-DQ rematch between Koloff and Bruiser, which saw the main ref knocked out, and having Bruiser get the pin as a sub ref came into the ring After the decision, Koloff kneed Bruiser in the back and the sub ref was knocked down, and the original ref came to and counted Bruiser down. The two refs disputed who won, and Koloff in the confusion ran off with the championship belt, ala Kiniski in 1965. The belt was held up pending a review by the commission (ie:rematch). On television, Christy and Moose were presented with new belts to replace the battle-scarred straps that had been abused for so many years. Imagine everyone's surprise, after all of the fanfare, when Moose and Christy came into the ring to defend them against the then latest version of the Kangaroos (Al Costello and Bruce"Hefner"Swazye) with old straps still in hand. Seems that Christy had forgotten and left them at home. Moose and Christy had a successful defense, beating the Kangaroos when Christy won with a sunset flip. In another bout, Christy was defeated by Igor Volkoff! (This was the problem with doing TV out of the house, this bout was designed to get heat for the title defenses on the road that Moose and Christy had against Volkoff and various partners, but it looked stupid at a house show.) Koloff hit Christy in the back of the head while Christy had Volkoff in the sleeper. The ref was checking Volkoff and didn't see Koloff interfere. Bruiser and Snyder seldom ran in May because of the race, so the next big show was June 16th, and had a Texas Death Match to decide who was the WWA champ after all, between Koloff and Bruiser.
Around the area, Jimmy Valiant and Koloff and Volkoff were the top main eventers. March 10th in Ft. Wayne saw Bruiser beat the Sheik in a cage bout when Sheik left and was counted out. Snyder and Brazil beat Jimmy Valiant and Igor Volkoff in the undercard. The 18th in Terre Haute saw Bruiser and Moose beat the Russians when Jimmy Valiant interfered. March 23rd saw Bruiser successfully defend his title in Anderson, getting a DQ win over Jim Valiant. April 1st in Terre Haute saw the reunited Valiants beat Bruiser and Moose. April 2nd saw the Valiants loss to Moose and Christy in Indianapolis. The Valiants had changed their image quite a bit from the last go around. Jimmy had trimmed down considerably and had grown a Fu Manchu mustache. Johnny had cut his hair short, and they had acquired the services of Major Duke George as their manager. Duke was a long time job boy for Bruiser who claimed that his father was Gorgeous George. He wasn't much of a worker, but seemed to fit in good with the Valiants, even if he did wear a major's outfit that made him look like a Boy Scout. Most of the matches where Jimmy lost by DQ that are listed were through Duke's interference, usually hitting Jimmy's opponent with a riding crop that George carried to the ring with him. As Johnny Starr was gradually turned babyface, George was brought in to take his place as top area manager. The fact that Duke was blond and could juice until he was bathing in blood probably played a large part in his ascension to the top, as Dick had a weakness for bleeding blonds. On the 15th of April, Moose and Christy had a successful title defense against Jimmy Valiant and Igor Volkoff in a match that had Johnny Starr make the save for the champs. The 19th in Wabash, Indiana, Moose and Christy again won, beating the Russians by DQ. In a WWA title match, Bruiser and Jim Valiant went to a double DQ.
The month of May had a lot of action on the road. The 6th in Kokomo had Jimmy Valiant winning a Battle Royal, as well as going to a draw with Wilbur Snyder. Terre Haute on the 14th Huber and Snyder beating Volkoff and Starr and Jim Valiant beating Moose. The 18th in Bedford, Indiana had Bruiser keeping his title with another DQ win over Jimmy, and Snyder and Huber again beating Starr and Volkoff. May 20th in Columbus, Indiana had Bruiser and Moose beating the Russians. Apparently, Igor Volkoff had given his notice (to go work for Gulas, no less) which is why he was being jobbed out. Bruiser brought in Phil Heddon as Russian Ivan Volkoff. Phil was from down in Kentucky, and was a fair hand, but no where near the caliber of the Valiants, Koloff etc. The 26th saw the debut of the new Strangler (Karl Afflis, later Bobby Van)and Ivan Volkoff lose to Steve Regal and Spike Huber. Snyder beat
Jim Valiant by (are you ready for this?) DQ.
The month of June saw Art Thomas re-team with the Bruiser to go to a double DQ with Jimmy Valiant and the Strangler in Joliet, Illinois on the 3rd.The next night in Terre Haute saw the Valiants defeating Bruiser and Christy. On the 10th in Richmond, Indiana, Moose and Christy successfully defended their belts against the Strangler and Jim Lancaster, with the Bruiser beating Jimmy Valiant by DQ once again in the main event. The big show in Indianapolis on June 18th saw Bruiser and Ivan Koloff go at it in a Texas Death Match to decide who would get the held up WWA title. After 7 falls, Bruiser had things pretty much his way, with Ivan out on the mat bleeding profusely, when the Valiant Brother came out of the dressing room and were threatening Sam Menacker. Dick went out to help and the Valiants picked up the ringside table and hit Bruiser over the head, ko'ing Dick, who was counted OUT of the ring (even though Ivan was out IN the ring) and the belt was given to the barely concious Koloff. In the other main event, the Valiants regained the WWA belts, beating Christy and Moose when they dropped Paul throat first over the top rope while the ref was pushing Moose out of the ring.
Hello gang, I’m back to finish my 1977 report from… how long ago was it? I left off with Ivan Koloff taking the WWA belt from Bruiser on June 18th.
In July, Dick and Co. ran many smaller towns on the circuit, the 1st in Elwood saw Ivan Volkoff draw with Spike Huber, and Cholak and Snyder beat Jimmy Valiant and the Strangler, Warren the 2nd had Huber and Christy beating Ivan Volkoff and the Bounty Hunter Jack Cougar, in one of his many gimmicks in the area, and Snyder beating Jimmy Valiant on DQ. Cayuga on the 15th had Christy and Huber beating John Valiant and Cougar and Bruiser beating the Strangler. One of Bruiser’s booking deficiencies becomes very evident, he would beat or not push certain talent on his TV show, book few angles, then put said workers in the main events and semi main events on the road, and expect to draw with them. Huber and Christy as a tag team is a good example, as they are seen here semi- main eventing they should have been given a push on TV, but as we’ll look at Indianapolis results, they weren’t teamed at all. Same with guys like Cougar and Volkoff, who were sound alike gimmicks anyway, but they were there, why not do something with them?
The 16th in Indianapolis saw Johnny Valiant triumph over Steve Regal by DQ, Art Thomas beat Jack Cougar, Huber won over Jerry Jaffee (Jerry Graham Jr.), Jose Martinez drew with Paul Christy, Snyder beating Ivan Koloff by DQ in a WWA title match (this being Ivan’s first WWA title defense), and the Valiant Brother beating Moose and Bruiser in a WWA title defense, when the Valiants dropped Moose throat first across the top rope (behind the refs back). Dick having both Valiants in town, booked them in Loogootee on the 19th, winning over Cholak and Snyder.
Huber and Regal started getting some action as a tag team, in Elnora on the 22nd beating Ivan Volkoff and Jon Valiant on the under card of another Koloff/Snyder battle, which ended in DDQ, in Paris, Illinois, Huber and Regal whipped Chi Chi Rodriquez and Jose Pantera. On this card Pedro Morales made the first of a handful of whistlestops before mysteriously leaving as quickly, beating Jon Valiant, and Bruiser once again beating Jimmy Valiant on DQ. The 25th in Champaign, Illinois, Morales beat the Starngler and the Valaiants defeated Bruiser and Christy. Nobelsville, Indiana had Morales once again beating Jon Valiant, and Bruiser and Christy beating Volkoff and Jimmy Valiant.
August 5th in Terre Haute saw Huber and Christy teamed again, stopping Volkoff and Cougar, Moose and Jon Valiant both DQ’d, and Snyder whipping Jimmy Valiant in a chain match on a count out of the ring(?).The 6th was back in Indianapolis, with Ivan Koloff winning a no DQ WWA title bout over Wilbur Snyder, and the Bruiser/Little Atlas team stopping the Valiants. After the match, the Valiants attacked and injured the midget star (didn’t this ALWAYS happen), dropping him throat first across the top rope.
The following Indianapolis show on the 27th had Huber and Regal teaming to defeat Dutch Savage (Steve Howe) and Jack Cougar, Moose beating Ivan Koloff in a non title Lumberjack match, and the Valiants going to a double count out with Bruiser and Snyder. Snyder and Bruiser vowed they were going to win the belts for a “third time”, apparently not knowing that in their own mythology, they had already been tag champs three times. Whoops.
Moving ahead as we are to September, on the 17th in Indianapolis, Huber and Regal once again teamed to beat that always dangerous and dastardly duo of Jose Pantera and Blackie Guzman, Art Thomas stopped Jon Valiant on a DQ, Jimmy Valiant beat Snyder in a Texas Death match. This bout was most notable for the ref, Johnny Shorn, passing a blade to Wilbur as he raises his hand, and it was caught on camera. As a matter of fact, it was so obvious the whole arena caught it. As soon as it was handed to him, right in the middle of the ring, Wilbur looks down and starts peeling the cover tape from it. Not a speck of a hint of trying to cover for it. Both Valiants attacked him between falls and hit him with one of the “Convention Center specials”, plastic chairs so light and flimsy a small child could pick one up, and about as likely to bust someone open as a the uncooked contents of an egg.
Wilbur took the count out of the ring. Jimmy wasn’t much better blading, now that I think about it. One of the other attractions was a pole battle royal, and there was the pole mounted to one of the ring posts. Jimmy got his blade from manager Duke George between falls, then made a mad dash at Wilbur who moved, and Jimmy “struck” his head on said pole, going down and gaffing, right in the middle of the ring. It had no context in the match, Wilbur didn’t ram him into it or anything, it just… happened. The Valiants came back and won the battle royal and “$5,000”, and Jimmy came back out for the main event, causing Bruiser to get counted out in his quest to regain the WWA title. It was a Valiant night at the wrestling corral.
Hammond had an odd one on the 24th, as Ivan Volkoff and Jimmy Valiant beat Bruiser and Moose by count out.The 30th in Terre Haute saw the Valiants keep their belts with a win over Huber (subbing for Moose) and Bruiser.
October 1st, in the booming metropolis of Romeoville, Illinois saw Regal and Huber once again win, this time over Buddy Rogers, Jr. and the evil, dastardly Jose Pantera, aqnd Bruiser beating the Strangler on a great, all star card. Bruiser and Huber won the battle royal. On the 8th, Indianapolis saw Huber and Regal beat the Strangler and Jerry Jaffee, Sheik defend his U.S. title by “burning” Moose Cholak. This was the bout they televised where they showed repeatedly in slow motion that the fire didn’t even come close to hitting Moose, who was just dying on the canvas. A caged Texas Death bout saw Bruiser and Snyder stop the Valiants, non title of course. Jon was in the corner, nonchalantly pulls the blade out of his tights, tries to pull the tape off and can’t get it, so he puts it in his teeth and bites it off. These guys and their blades. Bloomington, Indiana on the 14th had the Valiants stop Snyder and Huber. The 28th in Jasper had Huber and Regal stopping the Bounty Hunters. Yep, it was Bobby Vann (formerly the Strangler) and Jack Cougar. The Valiants stopped Bruiser and Christy in the main. The next night in Terre Haute saw a tremendous 6 man tag, with Ivan Volkoff, Buddy Rogers Jr. and Jon Valiant stopping Regal, Huber and Moose. This bout was probably better than it looks on paper, as Rogers Jr. and Phil Heddon (Volkoff) weren’t bad hands at all. Bruiser stopped Jim Valiant and Duke George in a handicap bout.
The November 12th Indianapolis show saw Huber and Regal stop Cougar and Volkoff, the Valiants stop Dom DeNucci and Snyder in a tag team title bout, and Bruiser stopping Ivan Koloff to rewin the WWA belt, only to have the decision overruled, as Dick used the illegal piledriver while the ref was down. The belt was upheld after this bout. Something to note, with Koloff on top as champ, the belt was seldom by this point EVER defended on the smaller shows, making it an Indianapolis only championship. The 18th saw wrestling return to Terre Haute (which I might add was a small but very rowdy crowd, that loyally supported wrestling at the armory) with Jon Valiant and Duke George defeating Huber and Regal on count out, and Moose stopping Jimmy Valiant in a Lumberjack match. Bloomington, Indiana on the 25th saw the return of Wilbur’s son Mike, who beat Duke George on DQ, Jon Valiant stopped Huber on count out, Moose stopped Jim Valiant on a count out, and Jimmy came back to win a battle royal.
December 2nd takes us back to Terre Haute, where in a 6 man elimination bout, the Valiants and George stopped Huber, Regal and Moose. On the 10th in Indianapolis, which saw the return of Ernie Ladd, the Valiants had a non title “Coward’s Wave The Flag” match, which in fact was the old “German Gestapo Death” match dusted off, and Bruiser and DeNucci (with Moose as their second) stopped the Valiants (with Ladd as their second) when Ladd attacked Bruiser and DeNucci with the flag, which unfurled and the ref rules was “waved”. The annual Christmas show on the 26th had Huber and Regal getting a DQ win over Bulldog Don Kent and Killer (Crusher) Verdue (hey, there was only ONE Crusher in WWA land gang!), Moose and Sheik were both counted out in a US title rematch (Slicin’ Eddie found a new use for duct tape when he took a roll from the gaffer at ringside and proceeded to tape Moose to the ropes by the throat, right in front of the ref, natch. Prior to this, the old wild man managed to bean the ref in the head with a flying chair right after the bout first started, probably not 30 seconds into it. It really made the ref, the late, great Johnny Shorn, look like a dork. When talking about the Sheik years later, he would just shake his head, the kayfabe rule being rescinded when Sheik was “working”.) The Valiants stopped Snyder and DeNucci in a tag title defense, and Brusier stopped Koloff for the vacant title in a cage. Ivan did the “Superfly” off the cage, years before Snuka made it famous. Good solid bout, and a great capper to what had been a good feud. Houses had been up for all of these bouts, around the 8,000 range.
Finishing out the year, Springfield ,Illinois on the 28th saw Huber and Regal stop Buddy Rogers’ Jr. and the Strangler, and the Valiants retain the WWA belts over Bruiser and Christy, who subbed for Larry Hennig. The 29th in Terre Haute saw Mike Snyder (who was probably home for the holidays) stop Jack Cougar, Huber and Regal stop Rogers Jr. and Volkoff, the Big Whiz beat Jon Valiant and Duke George in a handicap match, and Snyder stop Jim Valiant in a cage.
Even though Dick the Bruiser’s WWA is thought of by many “historians” as a minor promotion, it usually during its inception featured top name performers from top to bottom. Each year the promotion held annual holiday shows that were true treats for its fans. With the holiday season approaching, I thought it might be good to look back at some of the big cards the WWA featured in Indianapolis at their special Thanksgiving and Christmas shows.
The very first Thanksgiving show for the WWA way back in 1964 at the Northside Tyndall Armory on November 26th in Indianapolis (all shows in this article will have taken place in Indianapolis) featured the WWA tag team title match when the Von Brauners successfully defended their title against the challenge of Wilbur Snyder and Big Bill Miller, when the Germans double teamed Miller in the 3rd fall to take the win at the 4 minute mark. Johnny Valentine defended his U.S. title against WWWF and Montreal stalwart Tony Parisi in 38 minutes, Angelo Poffo stopped Guy Mitchell in 14 minutes, former champ Bobby Managoff got a disqualification win over Nicoli Volkoff (Steve Gob) in 15 minutes, and Cora Combs stopped Sandra (Sara?) Lee in 15 minutes.
Their first Christmas show was on Christmas night, again at the Armory, and they featured a main event between Johnny Valentine successfully defending his U.S. title by going to a no contest against Wilbur Snyder in 29 minutes. Boris and Nicoli Volkoff defeated the Scufflin Hillbillies 2 out of 3 falls in 18 minutes. Bobo Brazil beat Jack Wilson 9 minutes, Cal Pullins defeated Roger Kirby, 14 minutes, and Angelo Poffo drew with Luis “Rocky” Montero 20 minutes. Interesting to note that Dick the Bruiser didn’t appear on either show, and actually was gone from mid-October until January 22nd, to be brought in as a special referee.
The following year, 1965, saw pro wrestling return to the Fairgrounds Coliseum on November 25th, and what a main event, Gene Kiniski lost a decision, but not the WWA title to the great Bobo Brazil. Gene lost the only fall in a 2 out of 3 falls title bout before the 60 minute time limit ran out, but the title couldn’t change hands back then unless 2 falls were scored. The Masked Assassins stopped Bobby Managoff and Moose Cholak to retain their WWA tag team title in 16 minutes. Johnny Valentine was back at it for another year against Wilbur Snyder for the U.S. title, with Valentine winning in 22 minutes. Cora Combs and Jean Lane stopped Rita Crawford and Kathy O’Brien, 15 minutes, Masked Hercules stopped Tom Jones, and Sweet Daddy Long stopped Dennis Dolly 10 minutes.
The big Christmas show, also at the Coliseum on Christmas night, saw Dick the Bruiser stop Big Thunder Gene Kiniski to regain the WWA belt in 18 minutes. This night was a double title change because Wilbur Snyder and Moose Cholak upended the Assassins in 25 minutes to take the WWA belts. Johnny Valentine had a successful U.S. title defense when he stopped Bobo Brazil on a disqualification. Angelo Poffo drew with Huey Long 20 minutes, Ray Gordon stopped the Masked Hercules in 12 minutes, and in a midgets match, Jamaica Kid stopped Fuzzy Cupid in 14 minutes. Its interesting to note that gene Kiniski would go on a week and a half later to take Lou Thesz NWA belt and hold it for over 2 years. Kiniski came back several times to defend said NWA belt in the WWA territory. Attendance for this show was listed at 5,200.
Rolling into 1966, Mitsu Arakawa had taken the WWA belt from Dick the Bruiser, and in a non-title Texas Death Match on November 24th (Thanksgiving night), a reported 7,000 fans saw Bruiser stop Mitsu by breaking a chair over the champion’s head. Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff successfully defended their WWA trophy, stopping Wilbur Snyder and Jack Lanza (subbing for Red Lyons). Moose Cholak pinned Bobby Graham 20 minutes, Cora Combs stopped Sharon Lass (wife of Chicago promoter Bob Luce)10 minutes, Haru Sasaki (Odd Job in the James Bond movie Goldfinger) pinned Joe Tomasso 15 minutes, Prince Pullins drew with Igor Volkoff.
The December 28th (after) Christmas show saw the first WWA pairing of Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher, who had not appeared as a team in Indianapolis since 1958, went to a no contest with Poffo and Markoff in a challenge to the latter’s WWA trophy, in a WWA title bout, Mitsu Arakawa went to no decision with Wilbur Snyder, Jack Lanza won/dq over Moose Cholak, Igor Volkoff went to a draw with Mario Milano, Joe Tomasso stopped Len Rossi in 8 minutes, Darling Dagmar and Betty Bouchette stopped Diamond Lil and Toni Rose in 14 minutes.
Moving along to the year of 1967,the November 23rd Thanksgiving Day card saw Wilbur Snyder defend his WWA belt against Johnny Powers. Mitsu Arakawa and Dr.Moto went to a no contest to retain their AWA-WWA tag team title against Bruiser and the Moose. Blackjack Lanza stopped Assassin Joe Tomasso, Bobby Heenan stopped Bob Boyer, Paul Christy and Bad Bart went to a 20 minute draw, and here she is!: Gorgeous Mae Young drew with Cora Combs. A crowd of 6,800 was on hand.
The December 27th Coliseum show saw Blackjack Lanza make Wilbur Snyder’s reign a short one, as he walked away with the WWA championship before 5,500 fans. Arakawa and Moto retained their tag team title although losing to former champs Bruiser and Crusher on a disqualification. Paul Christy stopped Dennis Dolly 10:23, Assassin #2 pinned Doug Gilbert 14:10, Lord Littlebrook pinned Mighty Atom 12:47, Moose Cholak stopped Johnny Powers 15:35.
In the year of 1968, the November 28th Thanksgiving Day show at the Coliseum saw the
WWA champs Mitsu Arakawa and Dr. Moto lose to Wilbur Snyder and Dick the Bruiser. The tag title was held up as all 4 men were in the ring for the deciding fall. It was last appearance for the unpopular champs, as Bruiser and Crusher stopped them December 28th in Chicago and were awarded both AWA and WWA tag team titles. Blackjack Lanza kept his WWA title with a disqualification loss against Edouard Carpentier. Moose Cholak stopped Frank Dillinger (subbing for Chris Markoff), the Chain Gang stopped Luis Martinez and Fernando Stampos, Prince Pullins, subbing for Paul Christy and Igor Volkoff, won decisions over both Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff. Attendance was 6,000.
The December 27th Christmas show saw a WWA heavyweight title bout booked with defending champ Lanza putting his laurels on the line against Eduoard Carpentier, and the Chain Gang taking on Bruiser and Moose Cholak at the Coliseum. Carpentier didn’t make the show, however, so Bruiser saw double duty. Bruiser’s team lost to the villainous Chain Gang 2 out of 3 falls, but Bruiser came back to beat champ Lanza 2 out of 3 in a non title bout. Other bouts saw Luis Martinez stop Chris Markoff in 24 minutes, Angelo Poffo draw with Paul Christy in 30 minutes, Prince Pullins defeat Kenny Russell 14 minutes, and Johnny Kace draw with the Assassin Joe Tomasso 15 minutes. Looking at the lengths of the bouts its obvious they were stalling trying to give Carpentier a chance to get to the show, who was reported weather bound. Attendance was 4,500.
The next night in Chicago, Bruiser and Crusher gave their fans a belated Christmas present when they stopped the hated Japanese duo of Mitsu Arakawa and Dr.Moto to win both the WWA and AWA tag team titles.
Moving to the year 1969, we see the reconstituted Chain Gang, dubbed as the new Dillingers, take the WWA title back with a 2 straight fall win over Moose and Bruiser on the November 27th Thanksgiving show. Jim Dillinger (Chuck Harris) was brought in to replace Frank Dillinger (Laurence McMullen) who had been shot and lost his leg as a result, and the WWA title had been vacant until this night. Other bouts saw rising Baron Von Raschke battle to a draw with Wilbur Snyder, Bobo Brazil stop Chico Garcia, Apache Louie stop mainstay Joe Tomasso, Angelo Poffo beat Porky Pig Loren, and Jay Valen (a young Jimmy Valiant) stop Ken Russell. Parts of this show looked like a Cobo lineup.
The December 26th Christmas show had the Chain Gang defend their newly rewon WWA belts with a 2 out of 3 falls win over the Fabulous Kangaroos! I would have loved to have seen that one. The Sheik returned to Indianapolis for a one off date and went to a 3 falls draw with Wilbur Snyder, each winning a fall before going to the floor in the 3rd stanza. Bobo Brazil lost to Baron Von Raschke when he headbutted the ref, Paul Christy stopped Joe Tomasso, Angelo Poffo went over Gary Valen, and Apache Chief Louie defeated Bobby Heenan. With the presence of the Sheik its obvious there were some ties between the Detroit and Indianapolis offices which explains the influx of Cobo performers on the cards of the time. In a little over a year the offices would be rivals in the Detroit market.
For 1970, I have no Thanksgiving card listed, the dates being November 7th and December 5th. But December featured two cards as on the 26th the annual Christmas card featured Wilbur Snyder and Moose Cholak defeating the Fabulous Kangaroos to take the WWA tag team title once again. They won their first tag title on Christmas night in 1965, so the Christmas shows must have been good luck for them. The other main event at the Coliseum featured Baron Von Raschke stopping Bobo Brazil to retain his WWA title. Mighty Igor stopped Mitsu Arakawa in 15 minutes, Bill Miller stopped Luis Martinez, now shed of his Apache Louis gimmick in 22 minutes, Ivan Kalmikoff defeat Bull Ramos, and Jack Dillinger draw with Paul Christy.
Pro wrestling always played on TV when I was growing up, and I used to watch it, sometimes more intently than others, but it wasn't until 1972 that I became a "fan". My earliest memories of watching wrestling on the tube was sitting on my step-dad's lap after "Nightmare Theater" on Channel 4, hosted by Sammy Terry, who was in fact wrestling TV interview host Bob Carter. I, of course, knew all of the big stars by name if not always by face; Bruiser, Bobo Brazil, Cowboy Ellis, Wilbur Snyder, Angelo Poffo, Moose Cholak. These names and images were indelibly branded into my psyche from a very early age, but still, I wasn't a "fan". I remember the Devil's Duo, the Assassins (Joe Tomasso's name always struck me as amusing, and I remember the big deal that was made when the Assassin was "unmasked"). Later, I remember George Cannon, manager of the Fabulous Kangaroos, beating incessantly on the ring apron with a boomerang while blowing this nerve-racking whistle. I can recall Dick the Bruiser teaming with a midget against the Chain Gang, and then bringing the thoroughly beaten little guy out on a promo, holding him like a ventriloquist dummy lamenting how they "beat up his midget". I remember my grandmother's boyfriend Jake telling me about the match he saw at Bush Stadium, a cage match, between Baron Von Raschke and Dick the Bruiser. He took great relish in the apparent beating the Baron received after failing in his bid to climb over the wire mesh. I can remember how scary I thought Mitsu Arakawa and Dr. Moto were. So many other memories, but still I wasn't a "fan", not until I attended my first ever-pro wrestling card at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, the longtime home for wrestling in Indianapolis, on February 29th, 1972.
What actually inspired my family to make the trek to said Coliseum (now the Pepsi Coliseum) in the first place bears repeating. My neighborhood cronies and myself had been following it a bit more than usual at the time, and one day I received a call from my longtime boyhood chum Don Rice, who told me Bobby Heenan had gotten busted wide open on TV and to turn it on quickly before I missed it (this in the day long before VCR's). There doing an interview with his Blackjacks was a massively bloody Bobby Heenan with just a bandage on his forehead, swearing he wasn't going to wrestle an Indian, and how disgusted he was at Billy Red Cloud for injuring him like that. Of course, I wanted to see more, and we were lucky here in the fact that wrestling was repeated after midnight, following the late movie on Saturday night. I made it a point to stay up, as not to miss this, and my efforts were not in vain.
Billy Red Cloud had arrived in Indianapolis only a few weeks before, and everyone had taken a shine to the bald Indian from White Earth, Minnesota. As was the custom back then, the TV matches usually consisted of one-side bouts where a big star would wrestle a weaker opponent, aptly named by my cousin Corky as "dummy guys". Today was different, though. Heenan made his way to the ring, and then came Billy Red Cloud. Billy, like most Native American grapplers of the days, came in full Indian regalia, including bringing a peace pipe given to him by his "grandfather", and beads made by the children of his reservation. The pipe had been passed down several generations and was "quite old". Of course, Red Cloud bounced Heenan around once the action started, and we fans couldn't have been happier seeing Bobby finally "get his". Things were progressing nicely for Red Cloud, Bobby could mount no real offense, so he did what Bobby Heenan always does when being outclassed, he did something totally spiteful, and destroyed the pipe and necklace!
Seeing this, Red Cloud went berserk! Going outside, he ran Heenan's head into the bell on the table at ringside. Heenan went down, and while he tried to regain his composure, Red Cloud went into a war dance right there on the Channel 4 studio floor. When he picked Bobby up, Heenan was bleeding like a gusher. The sight of blood seemed to work the Indian star into a frenzy, and he proceeded to wail away at the wounded head of Heenan, who by now had his blond locks completely stained red with his blood. The Blackjacks hit the ring to try and save their fallen comrade, but Red Cloud handled them with ease and went back to work on his prey. The locker room poured into the room and were finally able to pry Billy off of Heenan, and the Blackjacks helped Bobby back to the dressing room area. Bobby, before he was carted off, tried to plea his case to commentator Sam Menacker by saying, "all of this over.......a pipe...........", Bobby's voice trailing. Red Cloud, fighting back tears of rage wondered out loud, "How can I face my people?"
Heenan recovered though, and continued to make a nuisance of himself. He had a couple of bouts against the angered Indian, but each time would vacate back to the dressing room, never staying in the ring to fight. Two weeks before the February 29th Coliseum show the promotion ran their usual Tuesday night show at the Tyndall Armory, and on that card, former tag champs Wilbur Snyder and Paul Christy had a non-title bout against the men that dethroned them, the Blackjacks, with the promise of another title bout should they be victorious. For this reason, Snyder had agreed to team with Art Thomas and the Bruiser on the 29th show against the Blackjacks and Gene Kiniski, hoping to possibly help soften the Blackjacks up before he and Christy got their return bout. Sadly, it was not to be. During the course of the bout that saw Snyder and Christy handling the big cowboys with relative ease (especially considering how badly the Blackjacks had slaughtered Christy and Snyder to win the belts), Heenan once again stuck his two cents in, holding the top rope so Christy couldn't grab it as he has back dropped over it by Lanza. Hitting the floor with a sickening thud, Christy was not only counted out, but also put out of action. Snyder, without a partner now, volunteered to not only drop out of the 6 man tag, making it another title shot for Bruiser and Thomas against the Blackjacks, but he also agreed to referee the bout to keep Lanza and Mulligan from their usual shenanigans. The final problem was, "what to do to keep Heenan from interfering?" The solution was simple, put him in an Indian chain match with Red Cloud, and let Billy take care of Heenan. It was those two bouts that got us fired up enough to buy tickets and attend.
And what an all-star card it was, too! You also had Moose Cholak challenging Baron Von Raschke for his World title, Prince Pullins and The Professor were taking on Ken Dillinger and his manager Big Bad John, the girls were there when Paula Steele faced the challenge of ultra fine Donna Lemke, and Angelo Poffo was taking on Killer Cortez. I couldn't wait. My cousin Corky, his dad, my mom and assorted others piled into the station wagon and up to the Coliseum we went. Going to the Coliseum was always a trip back in time. It was built in the 30's, and it has its original ticket windows that were installed back then. I think it also has the same toilets but I'm not sure. Sure seemed like it.
Anyways, we get there, get out our tickets, have them torn, and we enter another world. Program sellers hawking programs, pictures, and a Crusher Country All Star Wrestling book that featured stars I had never heard of before. As a matter of fact, I didn't know half the people on my lineup program poster. Who was this bald headed old guy, Gag-knee? Hennig? Finally, after scoring the stalest popcorn in existence (probably popped in the 1930's) we make our way to our seats. Seating back then was pretty free form. It's not a sell out so you can pretty much sit anywhere, and the lack of security means we had free run of the place.
The lights go down, there are just a battery of lights over the ring, the rest of the place is pitch dark. Out come two grapplers. Killer Cortez I recognize. The young, well-built black man I don't. His name according to announcer Sam Menacker is Frankie Adonis. Adonis is pretty much eaten alive by Cortez, and he gets very little offense. Still, he manages to gut out the 10-minute time limit. It weirds me out to not hear a TV announcer calling the match, just the sound of the ring and the sound of bodies hitting together. Also, with the mat being white and red ring ropes, it gives the grapplers an eerie red glow. Next up are the girls, and the fine looking Donna Lemke triumphs over her heavier opponent after taking some abuse. This 13 year old was sad to see Donna go. Out next come Angelo Poffo and Ken Dillinger. Angelo I'd been seeing on my TV screen for years. Ken had been one of those aforementioned "dummy guys" for years, what the heck was he going to do. Next out were Prince Pullins and the popular Professor. Well, I knew who was going to win this one. Pullins and the Pro were pretty much having things their own way when Pullins mistimed a dropkick over the top rope coming into the ring. The Professor, usually an even tempered individual, let go on Pullins and beat the snot out of him, making him an easy prey for Dillinger and Poffo, now calling themselves the Graduates, to eek out a win. (The P.A. was so bad I at first thought they called them "the Cratchetts", God bless us all!) What in the world was wrong with that idiot, we all knew it was a mistake?
Next out was Billy Red Cloud, and we were comforted in knowing there was NO WAY Heenan was going to get away without a beating. Finally, Bobby comes out and informs us this is a regulation match, not a chain match. I couldn't ever figure out why if he thought that he tapes his wrist. I guess he wanted to be safe? The referee, Red Cloud and one of Indianapolis finest hold Bobby long enough for the ref to lock the padlock on Heenan's wrist, and the game was ON!!!! Bobby ran out of the ring, Red Cloud pulled him back, again it happens, and again. Billy is just toying with Heenan. He puts he chain in Bobby's mouth and runs it back and forth, he chokes Bobby. That darn Heenan HAD THIS COMING for what he did to Red Cloud's personal belongings. Finally, Bobby fights back. He starts hitting Red Cloud in the head with the chain, and the Indian IS BLEEDING! Billy's in trouble. We all stamp our feet and do Indian war whoops to rally our hero, and it works. Billy goes into his war dance. Heenan's dead meat now! Red Cloud pounds Bobby's forehead with the chain until he's a bloody mess. And then he whips the hated manager with the chain. No WAY that's fake, NO WAY! Finally, Billy ties Bobby into the ropes with the chain and chokes him, and Heenan concedes. My cousin and other rush down to the main floor where Heenan was being carted out, his feet dragging, blood spurting, SPURTING out of his forehead. We all chant, "Bleed, Heenan, bleed". He tore up Red Cloud's belongings, pulled the rope down injuring Christy, Heenan DESERVED this.
Well, things are looking up. Next out was Von Raschke taking on Moose Cholak for the belt. Moose will stop Baron, no problem. And this is odd, this bout is a best 2 out of 3 fall bout. I don't recollect seeing one of those. Oh well, Moose'll squash him. And he does. He throws the Baron in one corner and runs into him, the ring moves a half a foot. Then he repeats it in the other corner, the ring moves again. Finally, Moose mounts the 2nd rope and comes down with an El Squasho, breaking a ring slat in the meantime, and Baron is pinned. Moose gets up giving us all the victory (peace) sign. Well, Baron is finished. He's lying there clutching his ribs, what can he do? Baron keeps stalling in the 2nd fall, and wait!, that dirty Nazi is untying the tag team rope and putting it in his trunks. The stupid ref doesn't see him use it to choke Moose. C'mon ref, how can you be so BLIND?????????? Moose is weakened from being choked and gets pinned in the 2nd fall. That stupid ref!!!!!!!!!!! In the 3rd fall, Moose finally gets the rope, but he's weakened. Still, he manages to pummel Raschke, but the Baron's playing possum. Moose, DON'T GET ON THAT ROPE AND JUMP!,............too late, Baron moves and Moose hits the mat with a loud thud. 1-2-3, its all over, and the Baron is the winner.
During intermission, I and several of my generation HAVE to go down and check this thing called a ring out.
First thing we do is stick our fingers in the blood left over from the chain match. It sure LOOKS real enough. We watch as the ring crew takes the broken slat out from under the ring as they race to retighten the ring ropes, loosened from Moose standing on them. They retie the tag team rope that the Baron removed. I slap my hand on the canvas. It's a LOT harder than I thought. I get INTO the ring, but only briefly before I'm chased out. What a neat feeling it was, too, being up there. Hmmmmmmm.
Finally, out comes Wilbur Snyder to the ring, then the Blackjacks, and who's that with them, Heenan all bloody and bandaged, and Raschke! You know he's up to no good, the rotten cheat! Then the wrestler we all want to see, Dick the Bruiser and his partner, the powerhouse Art Thomas! These guys will take those belts off of the Blackjacks, Raschke and Heenan or no Raschke and Heenan. And we have an honest ref in there. I'm in the aisle in the front row, and I can hear the shots hit, this stuff ain't fake. No Way. NO WAY. Lanza accidentally hits HIS OWN PARTNER when Bruiser ducks, and Mulligan falls straight back onto the floor. The cowboys take a drubbing, Art wins the first fall handily when he puts Mulligan in a bear hug. When Wilbur isn't looking, both Blackjacks pick Art up and drop him over their knees in a backbreaker, and Art is pinned in the 2nd. Geez Wilbur, who"s side you on? During the start of the 3rd fall, the chant goes up for Red Cloud to come out and even things up. "We want Red Cloud, We want Red Cloud", out comes Billy to the entrance area with a huge bandage on his forehead, but he doesn't venture to ringside.
Finally, Heenan provides a distraction, and Lanza, in an illegal corner, loads his gloves and ko's Bruiser from behind, enters the ring and pins Bruiser. I mean 1-2-3. Wilbur finally rules after conferring with Sam Menacker and ALL OF US, that Lanza made an illegal tag in the wrong corner, and gives the bout to Bruiser and Thomas! Yea! New tag team champions! Lanza takes his loaded glove and hits Snyder. Wilbur goes down and comes up bleeding, but by then the villains have left. Bruiser and Thomas take their belts and leave the ring, and I got to walk right up to them, shake their hands and TOUCH THE BELTS! New champs, and I was there.
Well, this being on a Tuesday night, I went to school the next day with no voice, and I told everyone where I had been. Even though many scoffed at that faked stuff, I could tell just as many were envious they hadn't been.
As an extra bonus, when I got home mom had the Indianapolis paper with a shot of Red Cloud choking Heenan from last night's bouts. Imagine my disappointment when I read the results, that a title CAN'T change hands on a disqualification. I knew I had to get up on these rules, because after that night, I was a fan!
I'm sitting here 32 years later typing this, looking at the newspaper clipping and account, looking at my original program that has survived all of these years, and in my hand, the tag team belts that were the cornerstone of so many of the angles from back then. The next day after this show I met my buddy Joe Cagle at school, and within two years of that first night at the Fairgrounds, we were helping with setting up the ring. Six years later, we made our pro debuts. Over the years we were blessed with meeting many of our heroes so many that are no longer with us. A big thank you to all of them for still entertaining me all these years later. I can't imagine what life would have been like without them. I had fun.
Donna Lemke went on to change her name to Dawn, and then marry Dusty Rhodes. I still don't get it. Mulligan is retired and is a scuba instructor, plagued with arthritis from his ring years. Raschke is retired after having his own business, working at the Minneapolis zoo and doing substitute teaching. Wilbur and Dick died 6 weeks apart in 1991, Wilbur passing away on Christmas day. Moose died on Halloween 2002. Lanza works for the WWE, and Heenan survived a bout with throat cancer and has just finished his second book. You can find him at one of his many personal appearances, or at the Cauliflower Alley club banquets in Vegas. Red Cloud passed away in 1983. Art Thomas passed away after a brief illness at the age of 79. By all accounts a satisfied man with a large family.
I again take pen in hand and chronicle the exploits of the well-known sub culture known as WWA Championship Wrestling, and… aw, fergitaboutit…let’s focus on the 40th anniversary of Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder starting up their WWA promotion.
In the March 19th, 1964 Indianapolis Star newspaper, an article in the sports page announced that there would be a tourney to decide the new tag team champions of the Balk Estes AWA promotion based out of Indianapolis, belts that had been held by Dick the Bruiser and Snyder for some months. It was noted that Stanley Blackburn, AWA president “had relieved Snyder and Bruiser of the tag crown since they had recently taken out a licenses to book and promote wrestling cards. Blackburn had ruled that a promoter cannot remain active as a wrestler.” Thus the Indianapolis area was notified of Bruiser and Snyder’s intent to operate their own promotion for the first time. Another ad a few days before their initial show on April 25th, 1964 at the Southside Armory stated, “Headlining the inaugural event are the two men instrumental in setting up their new promotion, Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder.” The main event slated for the show included Snyder and Bruiser defending their tag team title against the Miller Brothers, Bill and Dan.
In the April 24th Indianapolis Times newspaper, there was a picture featured of Bruiser with his newly won WWA belt that he had taken from Fred Blassie in LA two nights before, and the April 25th Star had an article stating, “Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder, fresh from a successful St.Louis appearance Friday night; will defend their World Wrestling Alliance tag team championship at the Southside Armory, 2015 South Pennsylvania Street, Saturday night.” With that it was official; Bruiser and Snyder’s promotion was to be under the WWA banner, although the California WWA actually stood for Worldwide Wrestling Associates. The promotion was listed as being owned by Louise Afflis, Bruiser’s wife, and having mid carder Johnny King listed as the matchmaker. The full first card was: WWA tag team title- Bruiser and Snyder defending the tag title against the Millers, Joe Brunetti vs. Nicoli Volkoff (Steve Gob), The Mongol vs. Roger Kirby, Angelo Poffo vs. Tony Parente, and Billy Goelz vs. Ray Gordon. Leo Newman was brought in as the manager of the heels. The main went to a 60 minute draw, with Bill Miller stopping Snyder in 19 minutes with a backbreaker, Snyder stopping Dan Miller in 24 minutes with a body press before the 60 minute time ran out. “The Millers had the Bruiser and Snyder, who have held the World Wrestling Alliance title six months, on the run during the final 17 minutes and had them close to being pinned when the time ran out.” Joe Tangaro pinned Nicoli Volkoff 8 minutes, Mongol stopped Roger Kirby 9 minutes, Lorenzo Parente stopped Angelo Poffo 12 minutes on disqualification, and Billy Goelz drew with Ray Gordon 20 minutes.
The rematch at the Armory on May 9th saw Bruiser and Snyder win over the Millers in a return bout, Angelo Poffo and Joe Brunetti drew 30 minutes, Lorenzo Parente stopped Bill Frazier 12 minutes, Nicoli Volkoff defeated Ray Gordon 19 minutes, and Bobby Managoff won over Dennis Hall in 16 minutes.
All of this was a warm up for the big card held at Victory Field (later renamed Bush Stadium, not to be confused with the current Victory Field now in Indianapolis ) on May 29th, the day before the 500-mile race. The big main event featured Dick the Bruiser defending his WWA belt against the former champ, Fred Blassie. A major promotion was launched in conjunction with the Kroger food-store chain, with discount coupons being issued, hoping to fill out the stadium with 14,000 as had been the rule in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I might add that Victory Field had been the only major large sized venue in Indianapolis with an explosion at the Fairgrounds in October of 1963, closing the building for major repairs.
On a chilly May night before a disappointing 5,000 fans, Bruiser stopped Fred Blassie on a 3rd fall count out. Snyder and Bob Ellis were counted out against future champs Angelo Poffo and Nicoli Volkoff, managed by Leo Newman, when Joe Brunetti went after Volkoff, entering the ring. Brunetti had gone no contest earlier against Bobby Graham. Bob Whitlow, former Detroit Lions star, won over Bill Miller in 9 minutes on a DQ, Mongol stopped Dennis Hall in 8 minutes, Joe Blanchard drew in 20 minutes with Bobby Managoff, and Marcel Semard and Little Boy Blue stopped Pee Wee Lopez and Chico Santana in a midget’s match.
By September, Balk Estes had gone out of business, leaving Bruiser and Snyder the sole promoters in Indiana (other than Evansville) for 20 years until the WWF expansion in the early/mid 80’s, seeing groups like Jerry Jarrett, the AWA and WCW all trying to gain a foothold with no success.
Bruiser and Snyder also expanded into Ft. Wayne , Louisville , Detroit , Chicago (which had opened in January), Elkhart , and all points in between.
Championship Wrestling’s office was at the Claypool Hotel in downtown Indianapolis , Room 206, phone number ME6-1375, at that time the only major hotel in downtown Indy, which also doubled as a convention center, ticket agency and office building. It burned to the ground around 1968. Tickets could also be purchased at Bruiser’s Harem Lounge on 2208 North Meridian .
The recently deceased Pepper Gomez big night in the WWA came on November 29th, 1975 , when he upended big Ox Baker in a no disqualification match, to end Ox’s year plus reign. Pepper had put Ox in a sleeper hold and was putting him under when Ox’s partner, Chuck (Big John Studd) O’Connor entered the ring and accidentally hit Baker with brass knuckles in a blow intended for Gomez. After knocking O’Connor out of the ring, it was a simple matter for Gomez to pin Baker. The rest of the card saw Bruiser and Crusher defeat the Legionnaires in a WWA title defense on a DQ, Moose Cholak stopped Rodeo Jones, Steve Regal top Mark Manson, Art Thomas over Jim Lancaster, Spike Huber beat Duke George, and Chuck O’Connor pin Paul Christy, all before 5,500 fans.
written by Mike Dupree of Kayfabememories.com