Reading Rolling Thunder by A.J. Devlin which involves professional wrestling in B.C. in the 21st Century brought back memories of Stampede Wrestling. Back in the olden days of the 1960’s when I was growing up on the farm at Meskanaw we had a black and white television set and 2 channels, CKBI from Prince Albert and CFQC from Saskatoon. As with many Western Canadians I was fascinated by Stampede Wrestling from Calgary. Stu Hart’s wrestlers and the announcer, Ed Whalen, were staples of my television watching.
Each week there was drama in and around the ring as the wrestlers battled each other.
I found it amazing how they could roar around the ring and fly through the air and occasionally be tossed outside the ring.
I think watching Stampede Wrestling was one of my inspirations for studying judo. They had to have some special training to be able to survive the throws and bounce back up again. As I worked my way to my first degree black belt in judo I came to appreciate how well those wrestlers had learned how to fall.
My first judo instructor, Jack Burroughs, had done some professional wrestling to supplement his income while he was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force. To hide his identity from his superiors he wore a mask. He was one of the bad guys. With his big personality I expect he was a great bad guy.
I am sure I was in the minority in being interested in the techniques of Stampede wrestlers. Most people I knew were caught up in the action and their favourites.
I soon realized that professional wrestling was actually entertainment and the results were pre-arranged. I was surprised how many fans, especially women of mature years, viewed them as real fights and were outraged by the actions of the bad guys.
I do not remember many of the names of the wrestlers but I recall a series of epic confrontations between Dave Ruhl and Sweet Daddy Siki leading to the NWA North American Championship. Ruhl and Siki were household names throughout the West.
Outside the ring many of the wrestlers, especially the bad guys, were quick witted. They knew how to stoke the fires burning in the hearts of fans. They would fiercely threaten mayhem while Ed tried to remain stoic and keep possession of his microphone.
As I grew older I drifted away from watching wrestling. The WWE has never appealed to me. There is just too much choreography and too many long winded speeches.
In the 1990’s I came to know and love Bill “Buff” Reid who had worked at Stampede Wrestling as a protector before coming to Melfort to work as the trainer for the Melfort Mustangs. A big and burly man he would accompany wrestlers to and from the ring ensuring their backs were protected from over-excited fans. He said it was a challenge dealing with female fans as they had too many inappropriate places to grab. When he was protecting he wore a big black cowboy hat. As long as a wrestler could see the big man with the black hat was behind him he could focus on his persona. No one ever jumped a wrestler Buff was protecting.
I did have one evening in which I participated in professional wrestling. It was not the Stampede Wrestling organization but a different group that has faded away. As a member of the Melfort Rotary Club I led the way in having the wrestlers come to Melfort for a show. Unfortunately, we over-estimated the enthusiasm in Melfort for professional wrestling and lost money on the promotion. Still it was quite an evening.
The wrestlers were tough men. While the ring floor was designed to provide some give on throws a few times wrestlers ended up tumbling out of the ring and landing on boards placed over the ice of the local arena. I was impressed that they got back up again.
I had often wondered how real the action was when wrestlers hit each other with chairs. On that night it was very real action as they used regular arena chairs to bash one another. The City of Melfort was not amused and Rotary had to pay for 2-3 chairs that were broken by the wrestlers.
My special experience was being the ring announcer. Wearing a bright red bowtie and black suit I would step into the ring and enthusiastically proclaim the next match. There is not much left to do in life once you have been a ring announcer for professional wrestling.