by Doug McCleer
I'd like to take a look back at some of the heel wrestlers that I really enjoyed watching in the 1970s. All of these guys were great at drawing heat, and they drew big houses at the various WWWF shows of that era.
STAN "THE MAN" STASIAK - He had one of the shortest championship reigns in WWWF history, but was the master of one of the most feared finishers in the game, the dreaded "Heart Punch." This move was so over at the time, and I can recall the Grand Wizard coming out on TV with a huge chart, showing the effect of the punch on the heart. Billed as hailing from Buzzards Creek, Oregon, Stan had a menacing look, sporting long sideburns and a snarl. He captured the belt with a controversial pinfall over Pedro Morales on Dec. 1, 1973 at the Philadelphia Arena, only to lose it nine days later to Bruno at MSG.
DON LEO JONATHAN - One of the largest challengers to both Morales and Sammartino, this Vancouver, BC native had a very arrogant style both in the ring, and on interviews. He moved very quickly for his size, and would finish his opponents off with "The Mormon Swing." Another protégé of the hated Grand Wizard. Jonathan was well known for his "Battle of the Giants" meeting in Montreal with Andre the Giant.
LONNIE "MOONDOG" MAYNE - From Crabtree, Oregon, he portrayed a "crazy" type heel, wild and uncontrollable, barking and howling at the sky. He would eat glass during his TV interviews, and you'd never know what to expect from him. Another challenger to Morales' title, his brawling style and use of foreign objects fit in well in the WWWF in the early part of the 1970s.
"CLASSY" FREDDIE BLASSIE - The "Hollywood Fashion Plate" is one of my all-time favorites. Known for his sequined pastel color ring jackets and his violent antics in the ring. He would sharpen his teeth with a file on TV while threatening to bite his opponent into submission. I remember interviews where he was slamming himself over the head with a chair while yelling, "They call me the plastic surgeon!" Eye gouging, choking and biting were his favorite moves, and he wouldn't just beat his opponents, he would "annihilate the pencil neck geeks!"
SPIROS ARION - Boy, did we hate this guy after he turned on Chief Jay Strongbow. His mere presence would get the fans all riled up, as he exuded arrogance with everything he did. He challenged Sammartino to a series of matches in MSG that were all classics, and all of which were sell-outs with the overflow watching at the Felt Forum on closed circuit TV. Part of "Blassie's Army" later on, teaming with Waldo Von Erich.
WALDO VON ERICH - Tough, relentless veteran who also battled Sammartino in classic matchups. His knee drop from the top rope finished most of his opponents. He took a swing at me at the Westchester County Center one night after losing to Sammartino, as I was trying to take his photo.
by Evan Ginzburg
Doug's inspired me, as this was my territory and era as well. Sadly, we'll never see days or villains like these again.
"SUPERSTAR" BILLY GRAHAM - If anyone was more colorful, I sure as hell didn't know about it. The best interviews on the planet and a great brawler and bleeder. I saw him wrestle virtually everyone, with the greatest memory probably being him facing Mascaras, who NEVER (and I mean NEVER) lost in N.Y. When Mil lost on a technicality (DQ or COR--I forget) at MSG, the fans grew to a riotous pitch, and a sudden bad vibe came over the arena. Mil calmed the fans down with simple hand gestures, but I bet the guy was sweating under that mask. Most famous WWWF feuds were probably with Bruno and Dusty, but he also faced Maivia, Putski, Zybysko, Strongbow, White Wolf, Pat Barett, Garea (great match!), Monsoon (fabulous brawls), Backlund, Calhoun et al. When he came back with his shaved head/martial arts gimmick in the early eighties he was a mere shell of himself.
IVAN KOLOFF - Later in his career he was a top tag wrestler doing the evil Russian shtick, but on the East Coast he was a perennial singles contender. A powerhouse with unbelievable stamina, this guy had credibility to spare after actually winning the belt back when it meant something! Had a long-running feud with Bruno that set attendance records for the day and the first MSG cage match vs. Bruno as well. See the 1997 WT&N Annual for our Koloff tribute/interview for more on "The Russian Bear." By the way, this was one guy who always gave 110% in the ring, and he could wrestle as well as brawl. A bleeder, too with the scar tissue to prove it. It's a bug-out to interview him minus the Russian accent, as he was noted for his "Koloff beat Sammartino. Koloff humiliate Sammartino" spiel!
KILLER KOWALSKI - Take everything I said about Koloff and ditto here. Incredible conditioning, stamina, and work ethic. He was "no kid" even back in 1974 when I started to attend the live shows, but still at the top of the cards. In fact, he wrestled Morales on my first show in June 1974. I'd be curious to consult Georgiann Makropoulos' Bruno record book to see just how many times Kowalski and Bruno went at it; I bet it was in the hundreds! Besides Sheik-Brazil can you think of a longer-running feud?
PAT PATTERSON - Unfortunately a lot of younger fans and sheetsters remember Pat for his behind the scenes woes, but in the ring this guy was unbelievable. From the "old school" in that physically he didn't look like much, but he had charisma and boy, could he ever work. Wrestled Backlund an unprecedented four consecutive MSG main-events back in 1979 when he entered the promotion, and for the next two or so years had feuds with Sgt. Slaughter, Angelo Mosca, and Ivan Koloff. I would have loved to have seen him in his younger AWA days with Ray Stevens, but alas things were so regional back then that never the twain shall meet.
"KING" ERNIE LADD - You like heat? Few generated it like Ladd. From the crown to the arrogant walk and looks of disdain, the marks wanted his blood before the match even started. Also, a great talker. "You missed the birth of your mother and father--don't you miss this match!" Great speed and agility for a big man as well. Also a perennial contender who headlined all the territories and of course kept coming back to the East Coast for his shots at the crown. His taped thumb to the throat got the fans going! He also had a great stagger as well.
THE VALIANT BROTHERS - It may not be fair to include a tag team here, but in the mid-70s, these guys were "it." They held the belts 14 months and were legit and continuous main-eventers when this was virtually unheard of. Along with manager Lou Albano, their interviews were hyper-kinetic be-bop like stream of consciousness with references to "Grandma Valiant" and "Battlestar Valiant." Nobody knew what the heck they were talking about, but they sure sold tickets! Their matches with Bruno and Strongbow and Ho and Garea made the buildings SHAKE and were generally two out of three fall bloodbaths. Jimmy's bout with hepatitis resulted in the hapless Jerry Valiant's appearance in the late 70s, which pretty much was the death knell for this colorful team.