Sunday, August 28, 2022

Gateway Interview: Baron Von Raschke (Part 2)


Miss something? Get caught up with PART ONE


David Chappell: Who were the guys that were most influential to you when you first broke in? 

Baron Von Raschke: After three or four months of setting up the ring, I was refereeing and Mad Dog Vachon noticed me. Mad Dog was getting ready to leave the AWA for a while, and go up to Quebec , Canada …the Montreal area. He wanted a partner, and took a liking to me. Mad Dog was on the Canadian Olympic team…two Olympics before I was almost on the U.S. team. So, he had a natural inclination to take me under his wing…and he did. 

Chappell: Did Mad Dog help you develop the ‘Baron’ persona? 

Raschke: [Editor’s Note: The Baron Is In Character Voice Here!] Mad Dog said to me, ‘YOU WOULD MAKE A VERY GOOD GERMAN!’

Chappell: (laughing)

Raschke: I told him, ‘I AM A GERMAN! MY PARENTS MADE ME A GERMAN!’ (everybody laughs)
He said, ‘WELL…COME TO CANADA WITH ME AND BE MY NEW PARTNER!’ So, I took my new bride, the lovely Bonnie, and we got in our little Mustang with the trailer on the back and headed for adventures unknown. 

Chappell: What made Mad Dog see the ‘Baron’ from Jim Raschke? 

Raschke: I think I looked the part to him, so I just went with it. It turned out that ‘Baron Von Raschke’ was always there, even though he was inside me…he was my alter ego. 

Chappell: Wasn’t Mad Dog injured in a car wreck fairly soon after you all started teaming up? 

Raschke: Yeah, I went up to Montreal and teamed with him. For people that don’t know Mad Dog, he wasn’t a tall man…he was quite a bit shorter than I am. And, he probably isn’t the best looking man now, but he was quite handsome then. And I was this big and tall bald guy…and for some reason the crowd automatically didn’t like us from the get-go. He would play up to that, and I’d follow suit. Pretty soon, the crowds didn’t like us at all…but we were filling up all the arenas! 

Chappell: I recently interviewed Ivan Koloff, and he was up there in Montreal about this same time. Weren’t the Rougeaus the big fan favorites up there then? 

Raschke: Actually, [Ivan] was the next guy they had in after I left. The territory popped with the Mad Dog and I. Regarding the accident…for some reason I was in another town in a different area that day. Mad Dog was coming back from Chicoutimi …which is way up north---about 350 miles north of Montreal . As you can imagine, it’s very icy there in the winter, and the car slipped off the road and went into the ditch. Anyway, it wound up that Mad Dog separated his pelvis… 

Chappell: I guess he was fortunate that the accident wasn’t any worse? 

Raschke: They had midget wrestlers on that same card, and the midgets found the wreck and were able to help. Mad Dog didn’t know if they were angels or devils, but there they were! 

Chappell: He was no doubt glad to see them, whoever they were! 

Raschke: (laughs) Yeah…they were able to get him to the hospital. Mad Dog was out of business for several months. In the meantime, Hans Schmidt was in the area, so we teamed up and were just as hot as Mad Dog and I were. 

Chappell: Ivan told me he teamed with Hans Schmidt up there too, and it got pretty wild! 

Raschke: It was pretty intense. We had riots all the time. We’d leave the ring, and often times the fans would fill the ring with chairs… 

Chappell: That’s what Ivan told me! But I figured it was probably a one night only incident… 


Chappell: (laughing hard) Man, that was unbelievable up there! 

Raschke: We had to take care of ourselves! 

Chappell: Everyone from the Mid-Atlantic area remembers your devastating ‘Brain Claw’ hold. Did you develop the Claw hold during these early years? 

Raschke: Yes. I was wrestling against Pat O’Connor in St. Louis , and we had a talk after the match. He suggested that I use the Claw, and I told him I didn’t even know what it was! I hadn’t seen it up to that point. I was only in St. Louis for that one night. I was working in Detroit for Eddie Farhat then…this was shortly after I was in Montreal

Chappell: So, you were just in St. Louis at that point for a single shot? 

Raschke: They had a call in for a guy to go in and work against O’Connor…so they flew me into St. Louis from Detroit . We were in the old Kiel Auditorium. 

Chappell: A great venue. 

Raschke: Yes…and O’Connor and I had a pretty decent match. He kind of liked me, and took me under his wing and asked me about the Claw. But then I sort of forgot about [the Claw] for a while, because I was doing other things. 

Chappell: So you didn’t start using the Claw immediately? 

Raschke: No, actually, because after I left the Detroit territory I went down and wrestled for Fritz Von Erich… 

Chappell: You probably weren’t allowed to use the Claw in Fritz’s territory! (laughs) 

Raschke: Well, I still didn’t really know what the Claw was all about…even then. So I didn’t look to use it there, particularly down there! I had my own things I could use. 

Chappell: Did the Claw come naturally for you? I remember when you first came into the Mid-Atlantic area, they had you crush an apple with the hand you used for the Claw. You must have had terrific hand strength. 

Raschke: Well, you go with what you got. I had some abilities that maybe some other people didn’t have…and some other people certainly have abilities that I don’t have. But, I suppose I had a fairly good grip at that time. But, yeah, the Claw seemed to be a natural fit for me. 

Chappell: And when you had an opponent in the Claw, your facial expressions were priceless! I think those put the move over as much as anything.

Raschke: Well, David , I did the best I could. Speaking of my face, I get asked for autographs all the time---people think I’m Ben Affleck… 

Chappell: (laughs) Oh really? 

Raschke: Oh yeah…all the time! 

Chappell: Well, I want a current picture of you that we can put up on the site. We’ll create a ‘ Hollywood ’ section, and put you right in there! 

Raschke: There you go…is it Ben or is it Memorex? (everybody laughs) 

Chappell: But back to the Claw…I guess it was a combination of things that got that maneuver over so well. But that maniacal and diabolical look of yours was a big part of it for me! But, I digress…. 

Raschke: Well, yes, you do…(everybody laughs) But, it was a good hold for me…it worked well for me. 

Chappell: Where did you head after your stint in Texas with Fritz Von Erich? 

Raschke: I went to Indiana with (Dick The) Bruiser’s group. That’s where I started using the Claw. And I used it a different way than Fritz Von Erich did. 

Chappell: What was the distinction? 

Raschke: Well, [Von Erich] would throw it on very, very quickly without doing much to set it up. Basically, I would have to work to set it up…and then when the time was right, I would put it on. That made a lot of difference. 

Chappell: Oh…no doubt. Now, you had a good long run in Bruiser’s territory in the early 70s. Is it fair to say that was when Baron Von Raschke really took off? 

Raschke: Yes…there was a lot of great talent around that area. 

Chappell: Didn’t they put the WWA World belt on you pretty quickly there, and then you and Bruiser battled back and forth over it for a number of years? 

Raschke: Yeah…that’s what happened. 

Chappell: And I believe late in your run there, you and Ernie Ladd were the Tag Team Champions? 

Raschke: Yep…we had some of the best in the business in there then. 

Chappell: We’re into the mid 70s now, Baron. Where did you campaign before you ended up in the Mid-Atlantic area in the summer of 1977? 

Raschke: I went back to the AWA…I spent about two and a half years with Verne and Wally Karbo. Then I got a call from Vince McMahon, and I went up to New York for several months. Then, I went to Crockett. 

Chappell: You were working in the WWWF right before you entered the Mid-Atlantic area? 

Raschke: Yes, that’s right. 

Chappell: Well, we have you up to July of 1977. Tell us about how you came to enter the Mid-Atlantic area. 

Raschke: It came about in a kind of roundabout way. A bunch of people from Japan were going through the U.S. The top guy over there was Giant Baba… 

Chappell: Right… 

Raschke: Big, tall guy…about seven feet tall. Anyway, he needed an opponent in Greensboro . It was kind of the same story as with me and Pat O’Connor back a number of years before.

Chappell: Yep…I know exactly the Greensboro card you’re referring to---I collect event posters. It was March 20, 1977 . I always thought it was odd you were on that card, because you didn’t start in the Mid-Atlantic area for four more months. You were wrestling Baba for the ‘Pacific Wrestling Title!’ I seriously doubt that Title was defended much in the Mid-Atlantic area! (laughs)  

Raschke: (laughs) Yeah…and I had never met the Crocketts and hardly knew (the booker) George Scott. Anyway, I went there and worked with Giant Baba…because the Mid-Atlantic didn’t want to sacrifice one of their own guys at that juncture. 

Chappell: That’s a pretty tough assignment, for your first appearance in the territory! 

Raschke: He wasn’t the easiest guy to work with…but I wrestled him. And it went over really, really good. Next thing you know, I was booked to work in the Mid-Atlantic area full time. You said the Baba match was in March, so I started for Crockett in July. 

Chappell: Interesting! So as I understand it, your match with Baba in Greensboro impressed the ‘powers that be’ and they took notice of you, and wanted you to come into the Mid-Atlantic area full time?

 Raschke: Right…I think that’s how it worked out. 

Chappell: When you came in initially, you surely dealt with George Scott a lot in his capacity as the area’s booker. What did you think of George? 

Raschke: He was all business, but I liked him. 

Chappell: I remember that when you first came in, George put you over fast. You were annihilating everybody with your Brain Claw! I also remember the TV announcers mentioning that you were one of a very few guys to have beaten Bruno Sammartino, which was very unusual for our announcers to say something like that. So you were clearly a big deal! 

Raschke: I don’t know what they were thinking there, David . I just tried to come in and do what I did best. 

Chappell: Overall, what were your initial impressions of the Crockett territory? 

Raschke: I had never really been to the South before, and I fell in love with the area.

Chappell: Really? 

Raschke: It was beautiful country. I lived in Charlotte, and that was a great place to live. Unfortunately, the business kept us on the road seven days a week…almost every day of the year. I’m glad I had a good strong family that stood behind me, because the schedule didn’t allow you much time to be at home. And when you were home, you were tired! 

Chappell: Baron, you certainly have hit on something that everybody from that time frame echoes…working for George Scott back then was VERY hard work! 

Raschke: Oh yeah! Work and travel was horrendous. 

Chappell: Was it worse in the Mid-Atlantic area than any other place you had been…or would go to in the future? 

Raschke: It was as bad as any place I’ve been. Actually, it was worse driving winter roads for a couple of weeks in northern Manitoba, Canada. Those are roads that nobody can take except for in the winter when it freezes up…because part of them are lakes! That was the only time they could get supplies to the villages overland. 

Chappell: Gee…the travel had to be unbelievably dangerous way up in northern Canada. At least you didn’t have to deal with that REALLY frigid weather down here!

Raschke: You’ve never driven in an ice storm, huh? 

Chappell: Nothing like you have, I’m sure! Everybody down here goes berserk at the sight of the first snowflake! You know…you’ve been down here. 

Raschke: You have to be careful wherever you drive. 

Chappell: Absolutely. Well, when you came into the Mid-Atlantic area, your first real significant match was against the youngster, Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat was getting pushed to the hilt then, and you were really the first guy to beat him in a meaningful match. You took the Mid-Atlantic TV Title from him in October of 1977. 

Raschke: Ricky was a great performer… 

Chappell: As a veteran coming in, I’m curious of what you thought about a young guy like Steamboat getting such a major push?

Raschke: I was tremendously impressed with Ricky Steamboat. He had a knack for the business…he picked it up right away. He was a young man that was going to go far---and he did. You know, he gave 100% in the ring…which is what I liked. That’s how you got a match over. He was a very, very good wrestler and colleague. 

Chappell: The first long running program you had in Crockett was against ‘Mr. Wrestling’ Tim Woods. This was set up by an amateur rules wrestling match that you all had on TV. That was a terrific angle…even though you lost the amateur rules match by a couple of points! (laughs) 

Raschke: I did? You sure about that? (laughs) 

Chappell: (laughing) I’m thinking you did…but it was nip and tuck all the way! Regardless of the outcome, I thought it was a great concept…something very different. 

Raschke: It was a wrinkle that George Scott thought up. He thought it would be interesting to the fans…a different kind of wrestling. I guess the midgets weren’t available that day! (everybody laughs) 

Chappell: So George thought that angle up? I would have thought with the amateur wrestling backgrounds of both you and Tim, that you all would have come up with that idea. 

Raschke: I think both Tim and I realized at that time that amateur wrestling was way too hard…to go through all the training and stuff. We were in our pro groove then! (pauses) You know, actually, maybe Tim suggested it. I don’t really remember… 

Chappell: But you know YOU didn’t suggest it! (laughs) 

Raschke: That’s right…I know I didn’t! Tim probably had something to do with it, though. 

Chappell: After you attacked Mr. Wrestling with the ring bell after that amateur rules match, you all had a strong program that lasted through 1977. Tell us about Tim Woods. 

Raschke: I learned to love the guy. He was just a great competitor, and a great guy. He was a very, very smart man. We always used to have real good matches…we had a real good rapport in the ring. I can’t say enough good things about him---I’m sorry he’s gone. 

Chappell: You held onto your Mid-Atlantic TV Title throughout that feud, and then early in 1978 the Mid-Atlantic TV Title became the NWA TV Title. The promotion said you went out and won a tournament to become the new NWA Television Champion. Funny thing, there were never any highlights shown of that tournament! Care to comment on that big tournament? (laughs) 

Raschke: I don’t remember that tournament! (laughs) 

Chappell: Actually, I’d be pretty worried if you did remember it Baron! (everybody laughs) This was the time frame that they put you together for a while with Johnny Weaver, and you all traded the TV Title. And as part of that, you all had the great TV angle with the Challenge Match of the Claw hold versus the Sleeper hold. How did that angle come about? 

Raschke: I don’t really recall all the details of how that came about. Sometimes, I have trouble remembering yesterday! But we used to have a meeting at the Office, and it might have been something we suggested there. John was a terrific performer, and I think we had really, really good matches. But that [angle] was a good one. It was something that kind of built off of a thing I used to do with Pat O’Connor in St. Louis…he had the Sleeper hold out there.

Chappell: There have certainly been some good Hold versus Hold angles over the years in wrestling, and this was definitely one of the best!

Raschke: You’re right…the Hold versus Hold is kind of a natural thing in wrestling.

Chappell: John actually won the Hold versus Hold contest, which was a little surprising…

Raschke: [Editor’s Note: The Baron Is Again In Character Voice Here!] ‘HE CHEATED…DON’T EVER FORGET IT!’

Chappell: (laughing) Yeah…I seem to remember you complaining that the Sleeper was actually a choke-hold!