Thursday, August 27, 2015

Asking For More

by Wayne Brower

Another opportunity to attend wrestling matches in Lexington occurred during the spring of 1965.  Since my school grades and steadily worsening teenage behavior were not yet to a level that would prohibit extra-curricular entertainment, my cousin and I had plotted various ways for her parents to take us to a return engagement at the YMCA arena.  We found them willing to do so since they continued to be fans, and Channel 3 and Channel 8 television wrestling shows kept everyone up to date on storylines and matches in the viewing area.  This was a great time for the region as a rotation of top grapplers worked interesting feuds that continued until a definite conclusion.  You could actually miss a week and still know what was going on.

George "Two Ton" Harris
Before we departed to attend the Blue Collar Ballet, I confided to my cousin that I now preferred the heel characters over the increasingly wimpy babyfaces.  To my pleasure she admitted liking Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, and also thought Two Ton Harris was funny.  Rip and Swede were my favorites, so we had a lengthy conversation about how enlightened we were in comparison to the typical wrestling fans.

Upon our arrival at the YMCA a large crowd was gathering at the entrance.  As creatures of habit we bought general admission tickets and sat in the same area as before.  I even recognized some people in the section that had been at previous events.  There were also new fans, especially one nearby group that I was sure were the Darlins from the Andy Griffith Show.  The overall action and activities were similar to those at other wrestling cards:  people in outlandish costumes, performing bizarre acts that were highlighted with boisterous behaviors – and all this was before any of the wrestlers appeared.

The crowd broke into sustained applause and cheers as Charlie Harville walked to the ring.  In addition to hosting WGHP-TV sports and wrestling shows, Charlie was often the ring announcer at wrestling events throughout the area.   As he picked up the microphone, on cue rang the bell…DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Lexington YMCA for the best in professional wrestling from Jim Crockett Promotions…our first event of the evening… one fall with a twenty minute time limit…entering the ring…from Concord, North Carolina…Ken Yates.”  Yates got a good pop from the audience which he acknowledged with a nice wave and nod of the head.  “And his opponent, from…” BOOOOOOO!  The fans’ displeasure was so loud you could barely hear the remaining portion of the introduction - “Jack ‘The Neck’ Vansky…Jack Vansky, ladies and gentlemen.”

The Viking
It was then that my cousin and I decided to curtail any open cheering of the bad guys as we probably would have few tag team partners if a riot broke out here in the cheap seats.  To the delight of the assembled throng Ken Yates won the opening bout.  The next match pitted the villainous Mike Valentino against Ray Villmer.  Villmer was announced as returning to Lexington after a long absence, and the locals seemed pleased to have him back.  More cheers and happiness erupted as the highly-touted star took the victory.  Two matches and my favored heels have lost both.  And I had thought it was tough being a Washington Redskins fan.

After the intermission Charlie was back in the ring for the semi-final tag team event.  Abe Jacobs and his partner Emil Dupree were introduced to a rousing pop.  “And their opponents…”  BOOOOOOO!  “From Norway…weighing in at…”  BOOOOOOO!  “The Viking.”  The Viking was a rugged dude who looked just like the mascot for the Minnesota football team.  He even had a fur covered helmet with cattle horns.  I was hoping that he would wear it during the match.  “And his partner…”  BOOOOOOO!  “From London, England…Sir Nelson Royal.”  Sir Nelson was another bearded heel that drew similar audience heat and as many thrown drink cups as The Viking.

[Little did any of us know that a few weeks down the road Sir Nelson Royal would turn into a babyface wrestler.  The switch made profound changes in his life as he lost the beard, his title of “Sir” was forfeited, and he became a beloved Texas cowboy living in nearby Mooresville, North Carolina.  Wow.  I thought I should remember that in case I got into some real serious trouble at school or home.  “Mom, Dad…I’m the good guy now, you can forget all of the evil things I have ever done”.]

The tag match was full of back and forth exciting action.  With both teams having one fall each, Royal and The Viking used chicanery to take what appeared to be the deciding pin.  Thank goodness the bad guys finally won a match.  My cousin and I quietly grinned at each other while the crowd’s disapproval reached jihad levels.  What’s this?  Referee Angelo Martinelli is listening to Jacobs and Dupree as they emphatically pantomime and motion towards their opponents’ corner.  The referee looks out at the “unbiased” fans for an answer, then goes over and talks to Charlie.  “Ladies and Gentlemen…referee Angelo Martinelli has reversed the decision…due to illegal double-teaming…the winners of the match are Abe Jacobs and Emil Dupree!”   The roar of approval was almost deafening as I sat in disgust.

Brute Bernard and Skull Murphy
At least the main event was remaining.  During the few moments between matches many fans, especially the youngsters, would congregate around the separate entrances of the babyfaces and heels for an up-close look at the gladiators.  Several people were standing there when a loud and distinctive yell caused those at the bad guys’ door to stampede away in terror.  UH UH UH UH UH AH AH AH AH AH OH OH OH OH OH….it was Brute Bernard in full turkey-like strut yelling at the top of his lungs.  Way to go Brute.  He was followed by his equally menacing partner, Skull Murphy, as they defiantly went to the ring.  Liquids, crushed ice, balled-up paper cups, and various sundries hurled by the model citizens at ringside did not intimidate these guys.  Their opponents, George Becker and Johnny Weaver, received the most enthusiastic welcome of the evening while heading to the ring and the ovation continued during their introductions.

Charlie Harville then paused, held out a yellow sheet of paper and advised the crowd “I’ve just been delivered this telegram that the promotion has asked me to read…it’s addressed to George Becker and Johnny Weaver and states the following…due to the outcome of our recent matches, especially the no disqualification match last week in Lexington…we challenge you to a Texas Death Match next Saturday night…signed, The Beast and The Alaskan.”  Becker and Weaver looked at each other, and Charlie offered the microphone which Becker took and said “We’ll meet them anywhere, anytime…and in any type of match.”  A huge cheer went up from the audience, including me.  My ovation was not for the acceptance, but for the challenge.  As my cousin and I discussed, The Beast and The Alaskan had to be the coolest heels around.  Just think, they weren’t even on the card tonight and still sent a threatening message.

The main event was a furious battle as both teams were good workers.  Brute pinned Becker for the first fall due to a “head butt” by Skull that was delivered from outside the ropes while the referee’s back was turned.   The crowd protested but to no avail.  Becker took the second fall after a big comeback with his famous “abdominal stretch” to even the match.  The pop was tremendous as he was Lexington’s all-time favorite.  The large, vocal audience really got going during the final fall.  Serious mood swings went with the ebb and flow of the match, even to the point that a couple of the rocket scientists sitting in the front row reserved section got up and started to get a little too close to the action.  Fortunately for them they were escorted back to their seats.

Bernard and Murphy were taking control of the match while Angelo Martinelli was losing it.  He was all over the ring trying to keep both teams in line when Becker jumped in without a tag to save Weaver.  The referee was ordering Becker back to his corner when Brute and Skull used the illegal “head butt” technique that had won them the first fall.  But this time there was a problem.  As Skull began to clobber Weaver from outside the ropes, Becker grabbed the referee and turned him around just in time to see the foul.  Angelo looked at the timekeeper and shouted “Ring the bell…ring the bell…they’re disqualified!”  He raised the babyfaces hands in victory as Charlie announced over the public address system “Ladies and gentlemen…the winners by disqualification…George Becker and Johnny Weaver.”

George Becker and Johnny Weaver
Oh no.  My heels were 0 for 4, a complete shut-out.  I looked at my cousin and told her that I couldn’t believe it.  She came through as always, saying “But next week it’s a Texas Death Match.”  Yeah – a Texas Death Match – no rules, falls don’t count, the match continues until one team cannot go on – perfect for the bad guys.  I’m already feeling better when I look at my uncle and aunt and say “Texas Death Match…we’re coming back for that, aren’t we?”  My uncle appeared to be caught off guard and said “Uh….we’ll see.”  My aunt had already started laughing and answered with “Probably.”

Yet another advantage of a wrestling influenced youth:  You could impose yourself on family and friends with absolutely no remorse.   ❐

Originally Published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway in August 2004