Category Archives: Women’s Wrestling

The Real Queen of the Ring the WWE Won’t Tell You About

The WWE loves to rewrite history in its own image. They want you to believe that Bruno Sammartino was a greater champion than Lou Thesz. They want you to believe Andre the Giant never lost a match until Wrestlemania III. They want you to forget that Chris Benoit ever existed.

You get the idea.

The WWE is about to present its first all-women’s tournament, the Mae Young Classic. While there’s no question that Mae is a legend and a beloved figure within the WWE, naming the tournament after Mae is another subtle step to covering up the true history of women’s wrestling in favor of the WWE line.

I won’t disagree with those who say Mae Young is one of the greatest stars in women’s wrestling history. Mae was already a Hall of Fame- worthy star when Vince, Jr., was just in diapers, a gorgeous but violent gal who smoked cigars and picked fights with men in bars just to blow off steam. My issue is with the larger narrative the WWE has sold for years about women’s wrestling. It’s not about Mae; it’s about the lady the WWE sells as the “greatest” of all time.

You see the WWE wants you to believe that in the history of women’s wrestling, only one women stands above Mae’s legacy: the Fabulous Moolah. The WWE line is that Moolah was the greatest women’s champion of all time, reigning for 28 years straight. Moolah was the pride of Vince McMahon, Sr., and the gatekeeper for women’s wrestling for more than three decades. If you wanted to get into the business, you better get in good with Moolah, but don’t dare cross her.

Here’s what the WWE won’t tell you: Moolah was never a main event star. Moolah didn’t work two out of three falls matches multiple nights every week. Moolah did not pack auditoriums and stadiums from coast to coast based on her name alone.

Long story short: the Fabulous Moolah was no Mildred Burke!

For the better part of three decades, Mildred Burke was not only the top star in women’s wrestling but one of the biggest names in professional wrestling, period. Burke was a single mother living in Kansas when she met former wrestler turned promoter Billy Wolfe. Burke knew Wolfe was in the business promoting women’s wrestlers, and she saw an opportunity to give herself and her son a better life. Wolfe thought Burke was too small, and when she came in for a tryout, he handpicked a group of men to rough her up and send her packing. Burke took the beating and impressed Wolfe in the process, so Wolfe took her under his wing and trained her.

Burke began her career in the ring working the carnival circuit taking on all comers, including men. She allegedly wrestled more than 200 men in those early days, losing only once. She defeated Clara Mortenson to claim the women’s world champion, and her rise to the top began.

Wolfe knew he had a star in Burke, and he began to build a company of women’s wrestlers around her, including Ida Mae Martinez, Mae Weston, Gloria Barratini, June Byers, Gladys “Kill ‘Em” Gillam, and of course, Mae Young. Burke was a powerful and dynamic athlete who impressed the fans with her skill but could still dazzle them with her beauty and fashion sense.

Wolfe and Burke dominated the women’s wrestling scene from the late 1930s into the 1950s. They were married, but their marriage was more of a business arrangement than a vow of love. Burke had her affairs, including Billy’s son. Billy slept with numerous members of his troupe, anyone willing to trade sex for an advancement in their career.

The names at the top of the cards changed over the years, and most of the ladies had their shot working the big matches, including Mae Young. The one constant, however, was Burke, who proved without a doubt she was the top draw and the top talent in the group.

Burke’s run at the top ended shortly after her marriage to Wolfe, a bitter war culminating in a shoot match between Burke and Wolfe’s specially trained successor, June Byers. The match ended in a no-contest, with only one fall out of two decided against Burke. Burke and Wolfe both lobbied the NWA to be recognized that the go-to for women’s wrestling, but the NWA chose to wash its hands of both of them. Burke was blackballed by most of the promoters. Byers retired as champion, never becoming the money draw Burke had been.

The door of opportunity opened, and Moolah and her supporters seized the moment.

There are many reasons the WWE chose to push the Moolah’s revisionist history. Moolah had an axe to grind with Wolfe, who refused to let her take time off for her father’s funeral. Mae had her own axe to grind with Burke, whom she never got along with. Moolah and Mae pushed their version of women’s wrestling history in the documentary “Lipstick and Dynamite,” and the WWE furthered that story in their own programming and publications. To hear Moolah and Mae tell it, Mildred Burke was protected by Wolfe. Burke was no better a shooter than anyone else in the troupe. Both Moolah and Mae could have taken the great Mildred Burke down – had they only been given the chance.

History is written by the victors, and in some cases, by the survivors who live the longest. Burke’s star faded long before he death. She passed away in 1989, leaving no one to defend her legacy. Mae and Moolah were given a platform, and they rewrote the history of women’s wrestling in their own image.

Here’s the truth: without Mildred Burke, there is no Mae Young. Without Mildred Burke, there is no Moolah. Recent years have seen a great surge in the popularity of women’s wrestling, first in the independents and now in the WWE. But make no mistake: Burke reigned as Queen of the Ring in an era that to this day has not been surpassed.

I don’t want to diminish anyone’s enjoyment of the Mae Young Classic. Despite a few serious omissions (LuFisto, Mickie Knuckles, Kelly Klein), I am looking forward to the tournament as much as any women’s wrestling fan. I just want fans to be mindful of the WWE line and find out for themselves the true history of this sport.

Moolah is a Hall of Famer. Mae Young is a legend. But Mildred Burke is still the Queen of the Ring.

A Fan Remembers the Allen Athletic Club

I had the privilege of meeting a man named Jim Oetkins today. Jim was just a kid when the Allen Club was running on Tuesday nights at the Columbia Gym in Louisville, Kentucky, and he still has the scrapbook he used to record the weekly results. It’s an incredible treasure trove of big names and priceless memories. I’m looking forward to reading through it in the next few weeks.

Jim had some great stories about that era, including a road trip he took with two local stars, Mel Meiners and Sgt. Buck Moore of the Louisville Police Department. Mel (the father of WHAS host Terry Meiners) delivered milk to Jim’s home when he was a kid, and one day, Mel stopped to invite Jim on a road trip. “He was going to Owensboro with Buck Moore and some young guy they were training,” says Oetkins. “My father wasn’t too keen on me going, but he knew Mel, and everyone knew Buck.  He was as clean-cut, All-American as you can get.”

Jim rode with Meiners, Moore, and the trainee to Owensboro for a show promoted by former wrestler and Louisville favorite, “Kid Scotty” Williams. On their way into town, Meiners decided to have some fun. “He put on a wrestling mask, and he started to mess with the other drivers,” says Oetkins. “He would roll down the windows, get their attention, and grunt at them! I was afraid we’d all be arrested or something.”

Scotty Williams was on hand at the venue when they arrived along with his wife. “They were wonderful people,” Oetkins remembers. “They also had a joke waiting for Buck. Buck had some rather large breasts for a man, so his wife handed him a gift – a huge bra! ‘I thought you might need this tonight,’ she told him.”

Jim was able to confirm several things I had not been able to fully prove in my research. First and foremost was Scotty Williams’ promotion in Owensboro. I found mention that he was planning to move that way in the old newspaper clippings, but a friend in Owensboro was never able to find anything in their local papers to corroborate the story. Jim also confirmed that in the Lou Thesz-Buddy Rogers rivalry, the majority of local fans actually preferred Rogers over the champion Thesz.

Jim told me that Wild Bill Longson was also a big favorite, despite working as heel much of the time. “He was around for so many years, he was the guy to many people.” He also said there was only one true queen of the ring in that era. “There was something about Mildred Burke that stood out. You could tell she was different than the others.”

Jim was a teenager at the time, and he was old enough to know that something was not on the level with the wrestling he enjoyed every Tuesday night. He put the question to Mel while they were in the car. “Is it really fake?”

Mel thought a moment and answered.  “Let me put it this way. I’ve got a wife and several kids at home. And most of the guys I work with, they have kids at home. I’m out here doing a job to help put food in their mouths, and so is the guy I’m wrestling. I don’t want to ruin that guys’ chances to provide for his family, and I hope he doesn’t want to do that for mine. We’re out there to wrestle, but we’re also out there to do a job. And we want to keep on doing that job so we can keep taking care of out families. You know what I’m saying?”

“He didn’t need to say any more,” said Jim. “I thought it was a wonderful way to put it.”

If you’d like to know more about Louisville’s golden age of wrestling, the era of Mel Meiners, Buck Moore, Scotty Williams (not to mention Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Bill Longson, Jim Mitchell, and Mildred Burke, you can find it all in Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club, now available in paperback and on Kindle.

Faces to Watch the Second Half of 2017

2017 has been an amazing year in independent wrestling. Half way through the year, Billy Corgan has assumed control of the NWA, Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force has overtaken Impact, and NJPW has begun its conquest of America.

It’s been a spectacular year at all levels of independent wrestling. Here are a few names and faces you need to be watching as we enter the second half of the year.

NICK DEPP

Nick Depp began the year by winning The Prince of the Deathmatches – and promptly found himself on the sidelines nursing an injury. The temporary set back hasn’t slowed him down  a bit. “The Sports Entertainer” is expanding his territory and gaining new ground not only due to his in-ring work, but his skills on the mic. Depp cuts an amazing promo as a face but especially as a heel. His mouth is going to take him far.

ALEX DANIELS

“The Real Ben Affleck” is the talk of the independent wrestling podcasts, and with good reason. Take away the Ben Affleck gimmick, he is one of the brightest and most talented workers in the Midwest. One observer told me privately he thinks Daniels will be in Ring of Honor in just a few years. The Ohio native is expanding his territory as well, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his big break.

MICKIE KNUCKLES

Mickie is no rookie. She’s been around for 17 years, breaking ground the WWE’s women are only now beginning to tread. Mickie has caught fire in 2017. She headlined a spectacular main event in Ft. Wayne covered in my blog back in April for Girl Fight. She and Randi West stirred controversy in Southern Indiana with a brutal falls count anywhere match. To top it all off, she just won the OVW Women’s Championship. This is Mickie’s year, and no one can stop her.

AMAZING MARIA

A Canadian transplant working out of Louisville, Kentucky, Amazing Maria is one of the most under-rated women in the women’s scene. Her skills in the ring are solid, and her character work as a heel improve with every outing. Whether she’s on her own, paired with Samantha Heights, or partnered with Horrorshow manager Jason Saint, Amazing Maria is a stand out on every show.

OI4K

I’ve been a fan of the Crist brothers, Dave and Jake, ever since they yanked the tag titles away from Aaron Williams and Ron Mathis at D1W a few years ago. Not only have they become regulars at IWA Mid-South, they’re making appearances for PWG in Los Angeles. Dave Crist has had an exceptional year, despite some injuries, having won the IWA Mid-South Championship and CZW’s Best of the Best 2017. A fellow wrestler told me he doesn’t think they’ll be exclusive to the Midwest for long. I couldn’t agree more.

INDY CARD MAFIA

The tag team of Thomas Brewington and Eric Emanon is starting to make deep inroads in the South and the Midwest. They put the southern territories on notice a few weeks ago when they invaded Atlanta’s AWE and shocked everyone by earning a victory over the red hot Carnies (another must see tag team, I might add). “Do we have your attention now?” Emanon asked on Facebook. Yes, sir, you do.

THE HITMAN FOR HIRE MR. GRIM

Mr. Grim is something special. His combination of speed, power, and high-flying make him a must-see attraction, but that’s not the reason you want to see this man live. You want to know what’s in the briefcase. You want to see what happens when the Hitman for Hire claims a victim. Grim is coming, and he’s headed your way sooner than you think.

KONGO KONG

Kong has already made the leap from indy darling to TV star, and his star’s about to get brighter. Kongo Kong was one of Jeff Jarrett’s early signees for Global Force Wrestling. Now, with GFW taking over and Jarrett firmly in control, there is no stopping the big man.

Please note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of the up and coming rising stars in independent wrestling. If you have a favorite you want to add to this list, please comment below. Let’s let the casual wrestling fans of the world know why they need to tune in to independent wrestling.

Two for one on Kick Out at Two this weekend

Kick Out at Two Podcast brings you not one but two guests this weekend. Returning guest Tripp Cassidy makes an appearance to talk about the upcoming Dynamite Cup. The gang also talks to women’s wrestling star Angelus Layne at Punk Pro’s Get In the Pit.

Having seen both of these wrestlers in person, this is an episode I’m looking forward to. Great people, amazing stories. Discover what you’re missing by not visiting your local independent wrestling promotion.

Download the Kick Out at Two Podcast every weekend on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

Crazy is not her only Super Power

A. J. Mendez-Brooks, formerly known as A. J. Lee, may not seem to be the most likely candidate to write a memoir. Only 29 years of age when she completed it, hardly the age one associates with such a book. She had a memorable run as WWE Diva’s Champion, and she was involved in main event storylines involving Daniel Bryan, John Cena, CM Punk, and Kane. But still… a memoir? What story could she have to tell.

It turns out A. J. has quite the story to tell, a story that not only can fill a book for demands to be told. Crazy Is My Superpower is more than just a memoir of her time in the WWE. Its the story of a remarkable life and a young woman who overcame some major challenges to achieve her dream.

A. J. Mendez-Brooks grew up in poverty, the child of “cool parents” who never truly grew up. It’s a heart breaking story of a family that was constantly on the move, always hungry, and always paying for the missteps of her parents.

It’s also a story of mental illness and bi-polar disorder, an affliction A. J. inherited   from her mother. A. J. holds nothing back as she talks about her mother’s struggle to come to grips with the disease as well as her own battles. Mental illness is an uncomfortable subject most people would rather avoid, but Mendez-Brooks strives to remove the stigma of the disease in hopes that others can discuss it more freely and, if necessary, get the help they need.

Yes, A. J. delves into her wrestling career, including a heart-warming look at the man she once called “Grandpa” and now calls her husband, CM Punk, but fans hoping for some inside dirt and stories from the road may be disappointed. Mendez-Brooks takes the high road when discussing people who stood in her way, and the focus of the story throughout remains on the impoverished young woman who rose to become a record-setting WWE champion.

That’s not to say the book is disappointing; not in the slightest. A. J. Mendez-Brooks is a wonderful writer. She will make you belly laugh one minute and tug at your heart in the next. Crazy Is My Superpower succeeds at not only being an entertaining read, but an inspirational one. It’s about girl power, it’s about pursuing your dream, it’s about breaking the stigma of mental illness, and it’s about empowering those who need help to seek it out, just as she did.

Crazy Is My Superpower is a story wrestling fans and non-fans need to read. It’s more than just the memoir of a wrestling career. It’s an incredible story of overcoming all odds to achieve a dream.

Bravo, A. J. I hope this is only the first of many books we get from this superpowered writer.

Tell Me Again Why Women’s Wrestling Is No Good?

Women’s wrestling matches in the WWE were once called popcorn matches. It’s the match you got up and left to get popcorn and a drink or use the bathroom so you wouldn’t miss the next match. In all fairness, women’s wrestling in the WWE was, for a long time, not that great. It was exhibition, not wrestling, and thankfully, that era is over.

That said, the WWE is far behind the rest of the wrestling world when it comes to women’s wrestling. Women are in the main event more often than men. Women wrestle toe to toe with the men in many places. And some women, like Mickie Knuckles and Randi West, are consistently stealing the whole show wherever they go.

The clips below are from a PWF show two weeks ago. The ladies are currently “suspended” from the promotion due to what happens in the video below. Apparently, they picked the wrong car to mess with. It takes me back to one of the first indie shows I ever attended, when I saw Heidi Lovelace (Ruby Riot) and Jordynne Grace destroy each other in the parking lot during a “Falls Count Anywhere in Clark County” match at IWA Mid-South.

The clip does contain some language. Give it a look, and tell me you’d get up and go to the bathroom when these two ladies take the ring. I dare you.

Pondo Revives 102 Year Old Tradition

On May 7, 1915, the night before the Kentucky Derby, wrestling promoter George Beuchel presented a show at Jefferson County Armory in which the World Champion Charley Cutler defended his title against Louisville favorite Yussif Hussane. For decades after, the Derby Eve fight show was a tradition for fight fans. The wrestling and boxing promoters competed heavily (and some would say underhandedly) for the coveted Friday night spot in the Armory.

On Friday night, May 5, Mad Man Pondo put on a Girl Fight Show at Derby Expo 5 for a Girl Fight Show. The ladies put on a stellar show, as always, and as you can see for yourself, they drew a standing room only crowd.

Could this be the revival of a classic Derby Eve tradition? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Congratulations, ladies. Here’s to many more!

The 1942 Derby Eve Wrestling Show

Seventy-five years ago today…

May 1, 1942 – Jefferson County Armory

Derby Eve Show, presented by the Allen Athletic Club. Heywood Allen, promoter.

NWA World Heavyweight champion Bill Longson def. Sandor Szabo two out of three falls.

Women’s World Champion Mildred Burke def. Mae Young

King Kong Clayton def. Haille Samara to capture the Negro World Heavyweight Title, two out of three falls.

Buddy Knox and Herb Welch drew

Chief Little Wolf and Don Louis Thesz drew

2800 attendance. Gate: $3,335.50.

Read more about the legacy of the Allen Club in John Cosper’s new book, Louisville’s Greatest Show!

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is a Knock Out

A few years ago I started work on what was going to be a history of women’s wrestling. I did some research, bought a few magazines, reached out to a few ladies about interviews, but ended up setting the project aside for another, and then another. I’m glad I did. Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy have delivered one of the most enjoyable and educational wrestling books I’ve read in a while, and it’s 100 times better than the book I envisioned writing.

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is both a history and a “who’s who.” They tell the story of women’s wrestling by introducing the reader to the ladies who wrote that history. Every era, from the dawn of the 20th century up until 2017, is thoroughly covered. You’ll meet the pioneers of women’s wrestling, Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe’s troupe, the women who trained under the Fabulous Moolah, the ladies of GLOW, the legends of Japan, the Divas, the Knockouts, the Shimmer Girls, and the current stars of the WWE.

As much as I enjoyed Pat’s previous collaboration with Bertrand Herbert, Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screwjobs, he and and Dan have outdone themselves. They cut through the kayfabe storylines and give you the real story behind the fight to legalize wrestling, the battle to legalize intergender wrestling, the checkered legacy of the Fabulous Moolah. They capture the struggle women have faced to be treated as equals, to receive equal pay, and to be taken seriously as wrestlers.

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s a minor one. There simply wasn’t the room to cover every influential woman in wrestling history, and my favorite golden age grappler Elvira Snodgrass is sadly missing. Nevertheless, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is a solid book and a must read for fans who love the history of this business. It’s enough of a page turner that when my long-awaited copy of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn arrived, Thrawn had to wait his turn until the ladies had their due.

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is available on Amazon.com. Get it, read it, share it. Bravo, Dan and Pat. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Next Time Someone Bashes Women’s Wrestling…

Sunday in Fort Wayne, the ladies took hold of an apathetic crowd and made them pay attention. Mickie Knuckles, Dementia D’Rose, Amazing Maria, and Samantha Heights fought all over the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in a fantastic No DQ/ Falls Count Anywhere battle.

The women's wrestling revolution did not begin or end with the E.

A post shared by Eat Sleep Wrestle (@eatsleepwrestle1) on

Later that evening, Randi West and Paloma Star did the same thing. Their battle for the Heroes and Legends title spilled out into and around the Arena. I personally overheard one man complaining to security about how “dangerous” he felt the match was, and according to others, one man demanded his money back because he and his girlfriend felt “unsafe.”

Next time someone tries to bash women’s wrestling, saying it’s all about sex and not as exciting about the men, tell them how some snowflake went and asked for his money back because he was scared of the ladies.

Tomorrow night, fans in Southern Indiana can witness just how brutal ladies wrestling can be. Mickie Knuckles will face Randi West at PWF’s one year anniversary show, Statement Made. And guess what? This match, too, will be No DQ/ Falls Count Anywhere.

Long live women’s wrestling.

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