Saturday, August 27, 2022

Gateway Interview: Baron Von Raschke (Part 1)

The following is an interview conducted back 2004 with the great Baron Von Raschke. Of course a lot has happened in the past 18 years that won't be reflected here, including the 2021 documentary "The Claw", but this interview stands the test of time because of the subject matter it does cover. For us, that means always looking back fondly. It is presented here in four parts, just as it was on the old Mid-Atlantic Gateway 18 years ago. - D. Bourne

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When Baron Von Raschke entered the Mid-Atlantic area during the summer of 1977, his national reputation clearly preceded him. Most Mid-Atlantic fans had already seen the Baron’s picture plastered all over the national wrestling magazines. But one still had to wonder, when he actually arrived in Charlotte , would the Baron be as good as advertised? It didn’t take long for that question to be answered with a resounding…YES!

Tearing through his early opponents in 1977 with his feared ‘Brain Claw’ hold, the Baron quickly established himself as a major star to be reckoned with in Jim Crockett Promotions. That star would shine brightly straight through into 1980. Even after leaving the Mid-Atlantic area, the Baron came back to Charlotte for two shorter visits years later. But even when he left the area, no Mid-Atlantic fan could forget Baron Von Raschke.

In this interview, the Baron talks about his early amateur wrestling days, including an unfortunate injury that kept him out of the 1964 Olympics. He takes us through his early professional wrestling transformation from Jim Raschke to the infamous Baron Von Raschke. And we’ll find out the origins of his Claw hold, and some of the wrestling areas he competed in before he finally landed in Charlotte. 

The Baron talks at length about all of his major angles, feuds and championship reigns while in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. He chats about many of the personalities we remember so fondly from the Mid-Atlantic days, including Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Paul Jones, Greg Valentine, Tim Woods, Johnny Weaver, Blackjack Mulligan, Wahoo McDaniel, Jim my Snuka and others.

And speaking of personalities, stay alert at all times during this interview, as the Baron will jump into character at a moments notice. You have been warned!

Special thanks to the Baron’s son, Karl Raschke, for all of his assistance and help with this interview.

And thanks most of all to Baron Von Raschke for being so generous with his time, and allowing the Mid-Atlantic Gateway to do a bit of reminiscing with him. Through the Gateway, it was great having the Baron back in the Mid-Atlantic area, even if it was only for about 90 minutes on the telephone!

Baron…you are a true wrestling legend in the Carolinas, and you will always be fondly remembered by all the fans in the Mid-Atlantic area. And as someone might have once said, "That is all you need to know!"

- David Chappell, 2004 

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David Chappell: Baron, thank you for speaking with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway this evening. It’s great to talk with you. 

Baron Von Raschke: Okay, David . I’m glad to talk with you. 

Chappell: First off, congratulations on your recently being honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club. Your former Mid-Atlantic partner Paul Jones was honored at the same time, I understand. 

Raschke: Well, thank you very much. Yeah…Paul was out there, and a lot of my good old friends. 

Chappell: How was it out there in Las Vegas for the CAC event? 

Raschke: It was nice to get together with a lot of guys that I hadn’t seen for a long, long time…catching up on the news of different people around the country. There were also a lot of great fans out there…and people I had never met in the business. It was great! 

Chappell: What was it like seeing your old partner Paul Jones again? 

Raschke: [Paul] really enjoyed being out there this year, and I understand he went out there last year for the first time and really had a good time then. This year, he was honored also…and his brothers and his son were there. So, it was really very nice. 

Chappell: That’s great….and particularly nice that both of you were honored in the same year! Well, leaving the present and heading back in time for a bit…despite the ‘Baron From Germany’ wrestling persona that so many people know you from, you actually grew up in Nebraska , I believe? 

Raschke: I was raised in Nebraska …yes. 

Chappell: You were an outstanding wrestler in Nebraska from an early age, weren’t you? 

Raschke: I was high school state champion in wrestling my senior year. Also, during my junior year, we won the state high school championship in football. From there, I went to the University of Nebraska …I went there originally on an academic scholarship. I walked on, and later got a football scholarship.

Chappell: How long did you play college football for the Cornhuskers? 

Raschke: I played football for my first three years. 

Chappell: Great football fans at Nebraska … 

Raschke: Oh yeah…great fans! They follow them everywhere. Lincoln probably doubles in size on football Saturdays! 

Chappell: I didn’t realize you had such a football background at the University of Nebraska ! I have to ask you about (former Oakland Raider coach) Bill Callahan, your new coach out there? 

Raschke: (laughing) I don’t know him…I’ve just read a little bit about him in the paper. That’s Big 12 country now, and I live in Minnesota now which is Big 10 country…we don’t get too much Big 12 coverage here. It’s kind of like being on the west coast and not hearing much about [ACC] basketball…but you still know it’s the best! 

Chappell: (laughing) That’s right! Now…you continued to wrestle when you attended the University of Nebraska , didn’t you? 

Raschke: Yes, I continued my amateur wrestling there. Luckily for me, they hired a wrestling coach named Bill Smith before I got there, who was an Olympic Champion. He taught me a lot of good stuff about amateur wrestling. I had some good years there. 

Chappell: Didn’t you win a wrestling Championship in college as well? 

Raschke: Right, I placed second in the Big 8 (Conference) my sophomore year…freshmen weren’t eligible. I was in it my junior year, and won it my senior year in 1962. 

Chappell: And, your wrestling accomplishments continued to build after you graduated from Nebraska

Raschke: Yeah, after college I was drafted into the Army. After boot camp, they heard about my wrestling and talked to me and sent me to Brooklyn , New York …so I was able to continue my amateur career and represented the Army for two years. In between, by the way, I did make the U.S. team in the World Games and won a Bronze Medal in Greco-Roman wrestling. The World games were held in Sweden then…this was 1963. I was the second American to ever place in the World Games in Greco-Roman.

Chappell: Impressive! You also collected some accolades when you wrestled in the Army, didn’t you? 

Raschke: I won Gold Medals in the Army Wrestling Championships…these were in 1964 and 1965. In ‘64, I also won AAU National Championships in both Freestyle and Greco-Roman. 

Chappell: 1964 was also an Olympic year. I understand that you made the 1964 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, but through some incredibly bad luck you were not able to travel to Tokyo and participate. Please tell us what happened. 

Raschke: I made the Olympic team, but I got injured at the training camp in Annapolis …at the Academy. I got a hyper-extended elbow two days before the plane was to leave for Tokyo …so, I didn’t get to go. 

Chappell: Wow…I guess ‘disappointment’ doesn’t even begin to describe what you felt at that point? 

Raschke: To say the least. You remember the old show on ABC called the Wide World Of Sports? 

Chappell: Yes…definitely. 

Raschke: ‘The thrill of victory, and the agony of de-feat.’ My ‘feet’ hurt real bad! (everybody laughs) It was a bit of bad luck…but that’s life. I’m over it now! (laughs) 

Chappell: (laughing) Well, that’s good to hear! As they say, time heals all wounds. How did you rebound from that setback with the Olympics? 

Raschke: Actually, while I was in the Army I was working out and messing around with a smaller guy, about a 145 pounder, and I got my leg stuck in the mat the wrong way and it popped. So, I had to go in for knee surgery… 

Chappell: Baron, you really did have a run of bad luck in the mid 60s! 

Raschke: I was in the Naval Hospital in Queens , New York . I was in the Army, and they put me in a Naval Hospital ! 

Chappell: (laughing) 

Raschke: Anyway, a guy off of an atomic submarine was in [the hospital] with me…his name was John Cunningham. He was about my age, and John had the same operation on the same morning I had mine. So, being next to each other in the hospital, we got to be pretty good friends because we were going through a similar experience. 

Chappell: That’s understandable. 

Raschke: At that time, I wasn’t a wresting fan…a pro wrestling fan---but John was. So, every weekend he would drag me down to the TV room to watch wrestling…from Madison Square Garden or wherever it was from. 

Chappell: What were your first impressions of professional wrestling? 

Raschke: I said, ‘Gee, that might be something I’d be able to do.’ 

Chappell: Despite being a great amateur wrestler, professional wrestling didn’t mean anything to you until John got you to start watching it on television? 

Raschke: No, I wasn’t interested in [pro wrestling] at all before that. 

Chappell: Being such an outstanding amateur wrestler, did you look down on the professional side at that time? 

Raschke: I basically had no opinion about it then… 

Chappell: But obviously, you eventually took a liking to the professional side of wrestling.

Raschke: Yeah…John got me to watching it on TV, and before too long I wrote to the promoter in Omaha, Joe Dusek. I sent him a list of my credentials, and he wrote a nice letter back to me.

Chappell: What did Joe tell you? 

Raschke: He said he didn’t have the facilities to train anybody, but told me to come and see him later on after I got out of the Army, and he would introduce me to Verne Gagne. Meanwhile, I got my first teaching job. When I first got out of the Army, I decided I was going to teach school…and I did for about a year after I got out of the Army. 

Chappell: What did you teach, Baron? 

Raschke: Biology and general Science. That was the only year I taught full time. I taught fifteen or so years as a substitute (teacher)…not wanting to be tied down with it. But after the year of teaching, I thought I would see what I could do about trying professional wrestling. 

Chappell: Did you get back up with Joe Dusek then? 

Raschke: Yes…I contacted Joe Dusek again. They used to have a live television taping in a studio in Omaha…Verne Gagne came down from Minnesota, and Joe introduced us then.

Chappell: Did Verne show immediate interest in you? 

Raschke: Verne told me if I wanted to come up (to Minnesota ), he’d train me. So…right away I jumped in my brother’s car and drove up there. I got a hotel room, and contacted the Office. They let me sit there for six or seven days! 

Chappell: (laughing) 

Raschke: Finally, I got Verne cornered enough to where he started to train me. And, after a couple of months of training, I got to get with guys like Wilbur Snyder. Verne had a ring set up at a farm where we would train. After a few months of that, they gave me the job of hauling the ring around and setting it up in the different towns and for TV. And they also had me refereeing some of the matches then. So, that was sort of my introduction to the business.