Wrestling Then and Now

by Bill McCormack

There is something that fascinates, mesmerizes, attracts, and at the same time repulses, when we look at the ways in which a culture recreates itself. It's a soul searcher. It resembles a look into a special mirror that reflects beyond the physical image to expose the nerves and emotions denied to all save ourselves.

Prize fights with huge dollars being exchanged on wagers built upon the inflection of pain or even death leaps to mind. The escapism of shows, operas, the dance, and motion picture, all performed in the dark with only the spots on others. We are safe, if for only a while. We are voyeurs, and only our ticket stubs give us away.

Into this escapist niche comes the world of professional wrestling. The magnificent work, which, at its best, produces outlets for inner juices all too often dormant. At its worst, well, it still beats root canal. There is nothing new or American about one on one competition. Hell, Neolithic man, not Sting, invented the bat match. And you can read of rioting in England known as the Peasant's Revolt, in which London lawyers, landlords, and the Archbishop of London were murdered. Now there was a "Battle Royal!"

What, then, was there to single out the good old U.S. of A. in the world of worked ring wars? Strange as it may seem, it was a Pentecostal practice of the late Twenties and the "Grapes of Wrath" Thirties that produced the American foursome known as tag team wrestling. The Agrarianism of the Southwest and other regions where families were large and net wages small spawned a fire and brimstone sermon-centered fundamentalism with preachers of both the ordained and lay varieties. There were no time limits, as Dan Rather of CBS National News recalls from his youth. You did your Moses, Matthew, and Martha oratory with brush fire fervor until you began to run out of gas. With closing sputterings, you would maneuver yourself in front of the end folding chair on the elevated platform that housed elders, visiting dignitaries, Clem and Rufus, owners of the local grain store, and the good book singers. Without missing a beat, the preacher's left hand was extended, palm up, behind his back, and the morning's second performer would tag him and replace his partner and begin his onslaught on sin and Satan. How's that for a "hot tag"?

The transfer of this gimmick from the religious to the carny/small promos of the era was most natural. It was different. It saved the long in the tooth, out of shape grappler for a few more years. And it fed a whole new series of "blind ref" ring antics which moved the small house audiences to suggest, with obscene adjectives, that the official seek the services of the nearest "Pearle Vision Center."

By the time W.W. II was over and TV impacted upon wrestling, the fundamental bag of surprises had been studied and refined by the body slam brigade. The origins of the tag rope are not as clear, but as a weapon it was a wonderful prop. In many circles in the late 40s through the mid 60s the "Australian" descriptive was stuck before tag team, if only for exotic imported appeal. Whatever, the variety prospered and became a regular ingredient in cards from coast to coast.

The participants in tag team wrestling came in all shapes and sizes with each having a purpose. There were dressing room jobber throw togethers such as Chuck Richards and Frankie Williams who were thrashed from ring post to ring post by current territorial heels like the Valiant Brothers.

There were the midgets providing comic relief who, when not pulling trunks or attacking from the rear, made life miserable for the third man in the ring. A matching of Louis Martinez and Little Boy Blue vs. Beautiful Bruce and Sky Low Low stands as exhibit "A" in this genre.

For years these bouts were the best two out of three falls. The ground rules allowed for numerous outcome possibilities. One fall per team with the time limit expiring or curfew could sell both teams and feed rematches. Third fall disqualifications were not uncommon, and, of course, with two of these on a show, and a like format for the singles main event, it necessitated fewer wrestlers. Today's brief attention spans has everything at one fall to avoid the hollow heads' cries of "boring" after three minutes. Linking this behavior with an enormous increase in the sale of pop up books and instant erections pills would make for a highly provocative thesis.

Back in the nation's rings there were mid-card teams who lost more than they won but who were not squashed week after week. The Bavarian Boys, The Young Stallions, and any twosome with S.D. Jones on board fit this category.

Next there were the celebrity teams, usually a one shot deal pitted against established pairs. Fred Blassie and Warren Bockwinkel, Wilbur Snyder and Fred Blassie, Wilbur Snyder and Sandor Szabo, Verne Gagne and Wilbur Snyder, Verne Gagne and Ed Carpentier, Antonio Rocca and Pat O'Connor, and Antonio Rocca and Miguel Perez. The possibilities were limitless and made for some very fine bookings.

Lastly, there were those who bumped and bounced away the majority of their careers with a comrade clutching a strand of clothesline rope waiting to help out when needed. Here one becomes totally subjective in picking their favorites. The joys of watching them determines the wrestling junkie's list of faces and felons remembered as "The Best."

Our honor roll includes Mark Lewin and Don Curtis, The East/West Connection of Ventura and Adonis, the Original Kangaroos, Roy Heffernan and Al Costello, Art Neilson and Reggie Lisowski, Johnny Barend and Magnificent Maurice, The Tolos Brothers, Lord Layton and Lord Blears, The Blackjacks, Black Gordman and The Great Goliath, Murphy and Bernard, Bob Orton Sr. and The Great Scott, The Brisco Brothers, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. The British Bulldogs, and the Steiner Brothers.

At the top of every group there is a partnership that has that special something which we never forget. The tag team which during their run had it all. They knew each other's move and could perform on the mat. They were personalities who could drive an arena crowd crazy with the "heat" they manufactured. The Graham Brothers, Dr. Jerry and Eddie, remain the kings of the despicable. Such was their wildness that the New York State Athletic Commission revoked their licenses for moving a Madison Square Garden assemble to riot with their conduct in a match with fan favorites Rocca and Perez. To see them live after that night New Jersey or Pennsylvania were your choices. They still lit up the television screen from other geographic locations and were still at the top of their game when Eddie split with the rotund Jerry to pursue a singles career/promoter role in Florida. They have since passed on under tragic circumstances, but for that part of wrestling that is genuine American there will always be the legendary Graham Brothers: a tag team for the ages.

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