Category Archives: Louisville Wrestling

Dr. D, Christmas, and Rasslin’ Memories

It’s always a pleasure to talk with Glen Braget on his wrestling podcast, Rasslin’ Memories, and this week, I made my third appearance. This time around, we talked about Dr. D David Schultz, whose autobiography should be ready to rock in January. We also hit on Mad Man Pondo, “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell, Louisville wrestling, and Season’s Beatings, my new Christmas wrestling book.

Glen has a real passion for preserving the history of professional wrestling. His show features some great guests and incredible stories that ever fan needs to hear, no matter what era of wrestling they prefer.

You can download this week’s episode of Rasslin’ Memories on Soundcloud when you click here!

Allen Gets Busted

I’ve been doing some long-overdue digging into Heywood Allen’s pre-Allen Club past in Louisville, specifically pulling results for the Savoy Athletic Club he booked prior to starting his own promotion. Allen became the booker for C. B. Blake’s promotion at the Savoy Theater in the spring of 1930, and in the fall of 1930, he found himself in a bit of a pickle with some local fans.

At a show on September 4, some fans inquired as to the health of local favorite Blacksmith Pedigo, who had been injured during his last match in Louisville and absent ever since. Allen told the fans that Pedigo was “coming around” and would soon be back in action. The fans then told Allen that they had seen Pedigo wrestle and defeat Ray Meyers in Indianapolis only a few days prior on Labor Day weekend.

Allen became “indignant,” according to a fan who shared this story in a letter to the Courier-Journal published on September 28. Allen claimed he had visited Pedigo on Labor Day and he was not at all in wrestling shape. The fan then went on to quote from the Indianapolis Star the results from the Labor Day show, in which Pedigo defeated Meyers 2 out of 3 falls.

It was easier to fool the fans in the days before the Internet, but as the old saying goes, you can’t fool all the people all the time. That said, I doubt that “J.F.B. of Indianapolis,” who said, “This sort of thing, in all fairness to the wrestling public, should be stopped,” was ever welcomed back to the matches in Louisville or Indianapolis with open arms.

Bluegrass Brawlers: A must-have for Louisville sports fans

From Ed “Strangler” Lewis to John Cena, the champs were here.

Louisville, Kentucky may not be the first name people associate with professional wrestling, but the River City has had a front row seat to witness the greatest stars in the history of the business. Bluegrass Brawlers tells the story from the very beginning, starting with the circus performers, the barn stormers, and the legendary 19th century champion William C. Muldoon. You’ll learn how Robert Fredericks became “Strangler” Lewis and see how the city first fell in love with the sport. You’ll discover the Allen Athletic Club era (also chronicled in Louisville’s Greatest Show) when Lou Thesz, Orville Brown, Mildred Burke, Wild Bill Longson, and Buddy Rogers put the gold in the golden age.

Memphis fans can relive the glory years of the Louisville Gardens, when Jerry Lawler was King. You’ll read about the world’s first scaffold match, rise of Jim Cornette, and the Jeff Jarrett-Dutch Mantell battle that took place at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. You’ll also read about the hey day of OVW, the developmental system that produced Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Batista, John Cena, and many more. Plus you’ll meet the man they call “Starmaker” Bolin and Ian Rotten, the unsinkable promoter of the legendary IWA Mid-South.

Bluegrass Brawlers is the book that started it all for me, and it’s still my top seller. It’s a great gift for wrestling fans of all ages.

Order now on Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

Meet the Black Panther in Louisville’s Greatest Show

If you’re interested in knowing more about The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, you won’t find any books dedicated to him – yet. I am hoping to change that in the next year or two, but in the mean time, you can get to know the Louisville native in my latest wrestling history, Louisville’s Greatest Show.

Louisville’s Greatest Show dives deep into the lost golden age of pro wrestling in the River City. For 22 years, the Allen Athletic Club was one of the top sports attractions in the city, bringing the best in professional wrestling to Louisville every Tuesday night at the Columbia Gym and other venues. This was the era of legendary stars like Orville Brown, Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, and Buddy Rogers. It was also the era of Mildred Burke, Mae Young, Elvira Snodgrass, and the biggest women’s wrestling stars in the history of the business. It was also a time of mud matches, midget wrestling, bear wrestling, alligator wrestling, and yes, even a wrestling wedding or two.

Louisville’s Greatest Show not only breaks down the 22 year history of the Allen Club, it gives you up close biographies of more than 20 local and national stars of the era. You’ll get to know The Schnitzelburg Giant Mel Meiners, WHAS sports legend Jimmy Finegan, Louisville homicide detective/ referee Ellis Joseph, IU wrestling legend Billy Thom, Blacksmith Pedigo, Betty McDonogh, Chicago Bear Fred Davis, and Kid Scotty Williams.

You’ll also get up close with three of my all-time favorite wrestlers: Jim Mitchell, Stu Gibson, and Elvira Snodgrass.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is available in paperback and on Kindle. Order it today on Amazon.com.

Lou Thesz vs. Gorgeous George

The Champ vs. the Human Orchid… it happened in Louisville. Thesz and George met on November 27, 1954 at the Jefferson County Armory (now the Louisville Gardens).

Thesz and George split the first two falls, but George refused to come out for the third fall while a “physician” examined George’s injuries. The unidentified medic said he believed George could go on, but George was reluctant. He finally decided to go to the ring, but as he was making his way to the ring, referee (and LPD homicide detective) Ellis Joseph was already raising Thesz’s hand, declaring him the winner.

Earlier in the evening, “The Mask”  defeated New Albany native Stu Gibson via DQ, Sonny Meyers drew with Johnny Valentine, and Billy Blassie defeated Sgt. Buck Moore. 4200 attendance.

Below is the Saturday newspaper ad for the big event, plus a page from a notebook kept by then-teenage fan Jim Oetkins, recording the results from the night.

Coming Together for Matt Cappotelli

Wrestlers give so much of themselves for the business the love and the fans who follow them. In less than two weeks, OVW fans will have a chance to give back to one of the greatest stars in the promotion’s history.

If you don’t know Matt Cappotelli’s story, it’s both inspiring and heart-breaking. Matt was on the verge of realizing his dream and becoming a WWE Superstar when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought the disease and beat it, but earlier this year, cancer returned for a re-match.

OVW is hosting a benefit show on Saturday, September 23, to help Matt pay his medical expenses as he fights cancer a second time. A number of current and former OVW stars will be on hand that night not to collect a pay check, but to support their friend as all proceeds will go to Matt’s medical fund. Jim Cornette has already announced he will be there, signing anything you bring for any donation you want to give. More announcements are on the way.

Indy wrestling isn’t about sports entertainment. It’s about family. If you’re in the area, please be at the Davis Arena Saturday night, September 23. This is a show you can’t miss.

Twenty Years Ago Today…

Bret Hart defended his WWF title against the Patriot by submission. It would be the final successful PPV title defense for the Hitman. Two months later came Montreal and the Screw Job.

 

Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker battled to a no-contest finish, setting up the first ever Hell in a Cell match a month later.

Brian Pillman defeated Goldust and forced Marlena to become his personal assistant for the next 30 days. It was Brian Pillman’s final appearance on a WWF pay-per-view, before his untimely death.

It all happened 20 years ago tonight in Louisville Gardens.

 

“The Money Is in the Rematch”

For those who are wondering why so many people are saying, “The money is in the rematch,” after last night’s fight, here’s a story from Louisville’s past – all the way back to 1881.

In that year, a Louisville “resident: named Robert M. Pennell went to the Courier-Journal newspaper office and issued a challenge. Pennell, who was locally known for his feats of strength in weightlifting, offered to fight for any sum of money against any citizen of the United States or Europe brave enough to step into the ring with him.

On August 21 the Courier-Journal published a response to Pennell’s challenge from Chicago grappler Charles Flynn. Flynn sent a man named Edward Morrill to Louisville to negotiate terms for the blockbuster match. Morrill and Pennell’s representatives agreed to a Greco-Roman contest with each side putting up $250. The contest would take place on September 17 at Woodland Garden, a popular beer garden located on Market Street. A number of stipulations were added to the contract, and the most significant one was the promise that no matter how long the match went, there would be no draw!

When Flynn arrived in town on September 7, people were eager to learn all they could about Pennell’s challenger. Billed as as champion wrestler of the Northwest, Flynn stood at five foot nine and a half feet tall and weighed 182 pounds. Flynn was fairly new to the sport of wrestling, but in less than five years he had racked up a number of notable wins in his adopted hometown of Chicago. He was so confident he would win, he offered to double the stakes of the match to $500. Flynn also wanted the winner to take all the gate money, but Pennell refused, insisting the loser get one third of the box office.

A crowd of eight hundred, mostly young men, gathered at Woodland Gardens on the 17th to witness the battle between Pennell and Flynn. What happened was an unexpected and disappointing finish. Pennell was clearly the stronger of the two, but Flynn proved to be the superior technical wrestler. Flynn took the first fall, but after falling, the fans could see desperation in the challenger’s eyes.

The clock ticked passed midnight, and at 12:10 AM, Flynn shocked the fans by withdrawing from the match. The fans were outraged! They were assured there would be no draw in this contest. Edwin Morrill announced to the fans that Flynn had agreed to wrestle Pennell on September 17. Since it was now September 18, the written contract had been fulfilled. Flynn was done with Pennell.

The crowd was livid. They screamed for Flynn to finish the contest. The referee, hoping to appease the crowd, announced Pennell as the winner, but Pennell gallantly refused to accept the win. Ignoring the cry of the masses who wanted him to take the win and the $500, he told the crowd that Morrill had out-foxed him, and he agreed the match should end in a draw. But he also took the opportunity to demand a rematch, two weeks hence, for double the stakes – a $1000 purse! Flynn agreed to the rematch, and the evening was over.

The very next day, Flynn backed off from his promise of a rematch. Flynn said he had no objection to wrestling Pennell again in private, but he had no desire to step into a ring in Louisville with the city’s fans against him. Flynn had no immediate plans to leave town, stating he had made many friends and intended to stick around for a week or so, but the public rematch was out.

The next day, Flynn put up a deposit of $50 at the Courier-Journal to show he was sincere about the private rematch. He announced his intention to remain in Louisville until the races were concluded at Churchill, but he reiterated his stance he would not face Pennell in a public exhibition.

On September 22, Pennell met with Edward Morrill again to negotiate terms of a public rematch. With Flynn’s blessing, Morrill  agreed to a second match. This time, Pennell closed the loophole. The match would continue until there was a winner. There really and truly would be NO draw this time!

On September 30, a crowd of more than 1000 gathered to watch the strongest man in the world take on the champion of the Northwest. A good number of bettors and sports enthusiasts from Peoria and Chicago came in for the match to cheer on Chicago’s own, but the crowd was largely local and largely in Pennell’s corner.

When the opponents disrobed, it was clear Flynn was in better shape than his opponent that night. He was also much cooler and patient than in their previous match as the two locked up. Pennell matched Flynn’s caution, and both men took a defensive posture. Flynn took the early advantage when Pennell went for a neck hold, dropping him to mat, but when Flynn went for a hold, Pennell powered out and dropped Flynn on his shoulders, scoring a fall and drawing a roar from the partisan crowd.

Flynn came out more aggressively for round two. His scientific knowledge of the sport gave him the edge, and in ten minutes, Pennell was on his back, struggling to keep one shoulder off the mat. Flynn overpowered him, and the match was even at one fall a piece.

Flynn looked fresh as they began the third round just before 10 PM. Pennell, on the other hand, was showing serious signs of fatigue and suffering from sprained fingers. Pennell spent much of the round face down on the mat as Flynn struggled to flip him on his back. Unable to put his “Nelson grip” to use, Flynn ultimately used a neck lock to turn the stronger man over and take the third fall.

Pennell called for a surgeon during the third intermission and attempted to treat his badly damaged hand. It was of little use, and when Pennell answered the bell for the fourth round, he appeared “timid as a child.” Flynn kept Pennell on the defensive, chasing him all over the stage. At one point, Flynn had Pennell pressed against the floodlights, and Pennell, afraid he might be tossed off the stage, was heard saying, “Don’t hurt me, Flynn, don’t hurt me.” At that moment, Flynn flipped Pennell over one last time and scored the pin, taking the victory and ending the contest.

After the crowd left, the two competitors met in the presence of the judges, referee, and Courier-Journal representatives. Flynn received his prize of $1000 plus two thirds of the gate. Pennell admitted he had been soundly defeated and congratulated his opponent.

Having won the battle, Flynn declared his intention to next challenge Duncan Ross. Pennell and Flynn would leave town together on September 7th for Chicago for they hoped would be a run in with Ross, who would soon move to Louisville himself and set up shop.

It seems strange that two such bitter rivals would leave practically arm in arm in pursuit of their next challenge, but a year later, an article in the Courier-Journal would shine a different light on their so-called rivalry. A unidentified wrestler gave the Courier what he claimed to be the real story of Pennell and Flynn – it was all a work.

According to the unnamed source, Pennell and Flynn came into Louisville playing a very common game used by greedy promoters. A wrestler of some repute would move into a town where people could be “easily gulled.” The wrestler, now claiming to be a local, would issue open challenges that would be answered by a pre-selected opponent from out of town. The opponent would come to town, engage in a war of words with the challenger, and ultimately square off with him in a match.

What’s more, the outcome of these matches was often decided on the fly. Observers would watch the betting on the matches, and depending on who had the most money bet by the third of fourth round, decide the finish based on who could win the more money. By doing so, the promoters and their allies could maximize their profits by betting – and winning – on the perceived underdog.

“It is,” the source concluded, “a settled fact that all the wrestlers, who are abusing each other, are very good friends in reality and put on the disguise of enmity to gull the people more easily.”

The article couldn’t have come at a worse time for Louisville wrestling enthusiasts. The champion of the world, William Muldoon of New York, was in town wrestling against the latest wrestler to make Louisville his home and issue and open challenge to the world. That wrestler was none other than Duncan C. Ross, formerly of Chicago.

The rumors of a fix, combined with some heelish behavior from Muldoon, soured the Louisville sports fans on wrestling. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that men like William Barton and Heywood Allen would succeed in popularizing wrestling in the city again, igniting a passion for the sport that continues to this day.

The story of Pennell and Flynn, as well as the stories of Ross and Muldoon, appear in the book Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville.

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.

Praise for “Louisville’s Greatest Show” from a Fan Who Remembers

When you work on a book about events from 60-80 years ago, there’s always a nagging worry in the back of your mind you’ve got it wrong. In writing the book Louisville’s Greatest Show, all I really had to go on were the newspaper clippings I found online and a few scattered memories left by fans. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Allen McDonogh, son of Louisville promoter Francis “Mac” McDonogh, and get his perspective on the golden age of Louisville wrestling, but I never was able to find anyone who was there in the seats, just as a fan.

Today, one of those fans found me. His name is Jim Oetkins, and out of the blue, he called to give me a pat on the back and an “Atta boy” for bringing back some of the greatest memories of his adolescence.

Now 79 years of age, Jim was thirteen years old when he experienced wrestling at the Columbia Gym in 1951. His father got tickets to the Tuesday night shows through a connection at work, and wrestling became an almost weekly ritual.

“I remember seeing it live, and watching on TV with Jimmy Finegan calling the action. I remember all the ads you put in the book from the weekly papers. I worked as a paper boy for the Courier-Journal back then, and if I missed a week, the first thing I’d do Wednesday morning when I got my stack of papers was flip to the sports section to see who won the night before.

Jim shared a funny story about two men sitting in front of him one night during a bout between the hated German Hans Hermann and long-time Louisville stalwart “Wild Bill” Longson.

“One guy turns to the other and says, ‘Hermann’s gonna destroy your guy Longson!’ The other says, ‘You wanna make a bet on it?’ He pulled out his wallet and started flashing twenty dollar bills. The other guy leaned in and whispered, ‘You know it’s all fake, right? They aren’t really wrestling for real!’ But his friend wouldn’t have any of it. He kept pushing his pal to put some money on the line!”

Jim thanked me again for the trip down memory lane, promising to put the book in a prominent place on his bookshelf. I thanked him for one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive on a book like this one. It was my honor and pleasure to tell the story of this long-lost history.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is available in paperback and on Kindle. Go to Amazon.com to order your copy today.

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