October 18, 2009 12:07:00 AM
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a signed copy of Memphis historian Ron Hall''s latest book, "Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling."
As the name implies, the book chronicles the early years of Memphis wrestling with compilations of old posters, pictures and newspaper clippings from the late ''40s to the mid-''70s. This was a great gift as I am a true-blue (as we say around these parts) rasslin'' fan.
While reading the book, imagine how surprised I was to find on Page 142 a picture and caption from the Memphis Press Scimitar that ran Oct. 11, 1966, of a wrestler described as "eccentric" -- Tuffy Truesdale. Tuffy was famous, traveling the circuit wrestling his bear, Victor, as well as some, I presume, no-name alligators -- real man-eaters.
To think how back in the day I had to sit quietly and listen to some of my pals go on and on about being descendants of Dr. David Livingstone, lawyer Daniel Webster or Indian Chief Sitting Bull, and not knowing about Ole Cousin Tuffy, whose heroics in the ring would have trumped any of their claims to famous lineage. Well, darn!
Daniel Webster may have trounced the devil in a courtroom; however, I don''t recall one story of him ever pinning an alligator on the mat for a three-count.
I''m old school
I remember most of the greats featured in the book, like semi-bad guy Sputnik Monroe, Mario Galento, perhaps the meanest and most evil villain of all time. And Tojo Yamamoto, who to this day I believe should have been banned from the ring for life for all the terrible injuries he inflicted on opponents with judo chops that were so often overlooked by inept referees.
I''m suspect of the new breed of wrestlers.
Until the mid 1980s, when Vince McMahon''s gang hijacked the sport with steroided-out gymnasts, without a doubt wrestling was not -- as many of the enlightened claim -- fake. (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who believes in the Easter Bunny.)
Few of the enlightened will openly admit that they themselves have, on occasion, enjoyed watching burly, tattooed, overweight men covered with thick body hair beat the evermore stuffing out of each other via the magic of television in the privacy of their own homes.
I am proud to say that I don''t stand with this group. Not only have I set my VCR to record a grudge match, I have attended more than a few matches at roller rinks, gymnasiums and coliseums.
The real titans
Ted Turner''s World Championship Wrestling, in my opinion, was the best wrestling of all time -- no disrespect meant toward "The King," Jerry Lawler. Turner''s team combined the old-school style of wrestling with wrestlers who had the athleticism to "sell" the moves.
Cowboy Bill Watts was the rock-solid good guy. "Wildfire" Tommy Rich, with his honky-tonk angel platinum blonde hair, was every girl''s dream. Rick Flair had his jets, millions and power. Tony Atlas was every 90-pound weakling''s friend and hero.
I was living in Jackson during the WCW reign. A brother of a one of my best pals was a member of a WCW Championship Tag Team. They would come through Jackson every few months. Wrestling at that time was starting to catch fire, making it necessary to move the matches from the old Armory down at the Fairgrounds to the Coliseum. My friend always made sure I had a "family ticket." More often than not, only a couple of rows back from ringside.
One of my more memorable experiences was the night Stan "The Lariat" Hanson incapacitated a young upstart trying to make a name for himself with his signature move -- "the lariat" -- best described in football terms as a "clothesline."
The next morning in the shower I saw the bruise. I immediately remembered how a somewhat full-figured lady sitting next to me, in the excitement of the moment, dug all of her fingers into my thigh and screamed in my ear, "Now that''s what I come here to see!" What could I say but, "Me, too, ma''am. Me, too."
Another of the more memorable events in my life happened after one of the matches we attended. My pal''s brother invited us to have a few beers with him and some of the other wrestlers at the old Pyramid Lounge adjacent to the Sheraton on I-55, where they stayed when they came to town.
That night I received one of my most prized possessions. My favorite wrestler of all time presented me with an 8-inch-by-10-inch glossy black and white of himself, signed, "To Roger, From the Dream, Dusty Rhodes." To this very day that picture has a prominent spot in my office.
Getting back to Ole Cousin Tuffy, I''m really not sure that we are related. I have 268 pages of Truesdale genealogy going all the back to the 1600s in Ireland. I couldn''t find the first Tuffy. Not to be deterred, I did a little more digging online, and I decided that if DNA or genes have anything to do with how folks related to one another share like responses to problems, then Tuffy and I might very well be kinfolks.
I found a story recounting how, early in Tuffy''s career, he was scheduled to wrestle an alligator. Before the performance the alligator died. Tuffy, knowing how the show must go on, jumped in the water tank and wrestled the dead alligator.
That''s what I''d have done.
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.