Category Archives: Louisville Wrestling

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.

The First First Lady of Louisville Wrestling

Louisville, Kentucky is unique among wrestling cities because it is one of the few cities to have a female promoter. Teeny Jarrett never served as the booker for Memphis Wrestling, but there was no doubt she was the boss. She kept the fans happy, the wrestlers in line, and the Kentucky Athletic Commissioner at bay for more than two decades. She even gave breaks to a few of Louisville’s most famous wrestling faces, including a Louisville police officer named Dean Hill and a a young teenage photographer named Jim Cornette.

It’s unusual for a city to have one woman serving such a powerful role in a wrestling promotion, but Jarrett wasn’t the first woman to do so. Thirty five years before Teeny’s son Jerry began running at the Louisville Gardens, a pretty young Kindergarten teacher signed her name on the dotted line, becoming a partner and owner of a professional wrestling promotion.

When Heywood Allen went into business for himself, forming the Allen Athletic Club in 1935, a Betty McDonogh made a pretty big leap of her own. The newlywed bride of Allen’s press secretary, former Louisville Sports writer Francis “Mac” McDonogh, left her chosen vocation to become the ticket office manager for the new wrestling promotion. It was a huge risk for her and her husband, but it was a risk that paid dividends for the McDonoghs and the Allen Athletic Club.

Miss Betty, as she was known by the fans, was a remarkable woman with a keen nose for business and marketing. Over the years Betty created and maintained a massive card file of the regular wrestling patrons. She not only had names, addresses, and telephone numbers, she knew where they preferred to sit, what type of matches they enjoyed most, and other details that helped her sell more tickets and keep everyone happy.

Betty kept a relentless schedule, managing a family at home as well as running the business of the promotion. In the late 1940s she gave an interview to the Courier-Journal and outlined a typical day:

7:15 AM – Prepare breakfast.

8:30 – Drop her son Allen at school, return home for house cleaning.

9:15 – Leave home and head to the ticket office.

11:40 – Pick up Allen at school and take him home for lunch. After lunch, drop Allen with his grandmother and return to the office.

1:30 – Back in the office.

5:30 – Leave the office and head home to prepare dinner, unless it’s a show night.

On show nights, Betty was there before the fans to run the ticket table. She greeted everyone personally, many by name, and after the last patron was admitted, it was her job to count the gate. Betty usually stayed until 12:30 or 1 AM to finish up Club business before returning to the McDonogh apartment in Shawnee Park, only to get up at 7 AM the next day and start again.

Betty loved her job, and even as business grew, she refused to cede her responsibilities to anyone – save for a brief hiatus in 1942, when she became a mother to Allen, who was named after Heywood. Betty rarely got to see any of the matches, but she met everyone who worked for the Club and enjoyed their company, describing them as “always very courteous and intelligent nowadays since most are college graduates.”

Fans were often surprised to learn that it was Betty, not Mac, whose name was listed as one of the owners of the Allen Club. From the very beginning, the McDonoghs held a stake in the promotion, and Mac made sure their ownership was in Betty’s name. Betty more than earned her keep as a valued member of the team, especially in the late 1930s.

When business took a dive in 1938, it was Betty, along with Allen’s wife Mabel, who pointed out the lack of females in the crowd. Betty and Mabel believed that the Club could do more to attract female patrons to the matches, and with Mr. Allen’s blessing, they went to work.

Betty suggested giveaways for the ladies including flowers, candy, and other free gifts. They also instituted a “Ladies Night,” when women were admitted free. They also convinced Allen to begin tossing out the rowdier fans who made female patrons uncomfortable. Allen admitted that he often felt the shows were no place for a lady, especially when the fans got out of hand, and he consented to policing the crowd and removing offenders.

Betty’s efforts began to pay off slowly but surely. Beginning in 1939 and continuing through the war (when many of the male patrons were overseas fighting), attendance began to rise. By the mid 1940s the Allen Club was drawing 55% women on Tuesday nights. Louisville was one of the hottest towns in the country, drawing 4000 to 6000 fans for special events at the Armory. Betty was exceedingly proud of her accomplishments.

In 1947 Betty and her husband took another risk, buying out Heywood Allen when he chose to retire from the fight game. It was a calculated risk for Mac because he knew he had a solid business partner by his side. While Mac remained the public face of the Allen Club, Betty continued to manage the box office and handle the money on show nights. The McDonoghs were active in the Louisville community, supporting numerous local charities and events. They frequently hosted wrestlers in their home, and top stars like Baron Leone were their guests at the Kentucky Derby.

Betty took time away only twice: to give birth to their son Gary, and to care for her ailing husband when Mac was diagnosed with cancer in 1946. When Mac passed away in May of 1947, Betty sold the Allen Athletic Club to former Louisville baseball player Al LeCompte. The combination of the ownership change and a forced change of venue brought the promotion to a swift end.

Surprisingly, Betty almost went back into the business a year later. Wee Willie Davis, a wrestler/ movie star/ famous game show winner moved to down and decided to open up a promotion of his own to fill the void. Betty agreed to partner with Davis on his first promotion, and the two applied for a license for what became known as the name Golden Rod Club.

Golden Rod ran for only a few years. When the business closed, Davis went on to open another promotion in conjunction with Dick the Bruiser in Indianapolis. Betty quit the business and went back to teaching, but she remained a member of the ticket sellers union. Gary recalls traveling all over town with her while she sold tickets for this show and that.

Betty made sure her boys got a great education, and both of them made her proud. Dr. Gary McDonogh is a professor of anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, and Dr. Allen McDonogh is a retired professor of political science. Allen and his ex-wife Dr. Karen O’Connor, herself a professor of Political Science at American University, have a daughter named Meghan O’Connor McDonogh who earned her doctorate in Sports Management at the University of Louisville and is now the Associate Athletic Director at the Catholic University of America.

Meghan made her own impact on Louisville’s sports scene as a graduate student at U of L. After founding a club program for women’s lacrosse at the University of Georgia, she began a similar program when she arrived at U of L. Women’s Lacrosse has since become part of the school’s growing Division I athletics program and is growing in popularity among Louisville area high schools.

“I recall a time when my daughter was growing up and she and her friends were caught up with the mega-wrestling,” Allen McDonogh told me. “All were stunned to find I knew anything about wrestling.”

Sadly, neither Karen nor Meghan ever had the opportunity to know Miss Betty. Betty McDonogh passed away in 1971, before Allen and Karen met. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Louisville next to her beloved husband.

No doubt Betty McDonogh’s proudest legacy is her family, but the legacy of the Allen Athletic Club owes as much to her as to Allen and Mac. Betty was there from day one as an owner and a partner. She knew the Louisville audience better than anyone, and her tireless efforts kept the Columbia Gym full in good times and bad. If there were a Hall of Fame for Pro Wrestling in Kentucky, Betty would deserve a place of honor alongside her husband and the Allen Club’s namesake. She is, without a doubt, the First First Lady of Louisville Wrestling.

Read more about Francis and Betty McDonogh in Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club.

Talkin’ the Business and Rasslin’ Memories

Whether you’re a fan of wrestling past or wrestling present, there are some amazing podcasts out there to please every wrestling fan. In the last few weeks, I had the privilege of visiting two of them.

Rasslin’ Memories was the first podcast that hosted me when I released Bluegrass Brawlers. Glen Braget and George Schire do a fantastic job chronicling the golden age of wrestling, and it as a pleasure to visit with Glen to talk about Louisville’s Greatest Show. Rasslin’ Memories has had a terrific run as of late, featuring guests like Pretty Boy Doug Sommers and Bob Backlund as well as authors Richard Vicek (Dick the Bruiser‘s biographer) and Dan Murphy (Sisterhood of the Squared Circle).

You can download Rasslin’ Memories from their website on Pioneer 90.1 Radio.

On the other end of the spectrum is Talkin’ the Business with KC and Dave, a podcast that thrives on telling the stories of today’s independent wrestlers. Kevin and Dave begin each show with some solid commentary on WWE, and they have had some terrific guests as of late including two of my favorites, Mr. Grim and Mickie Knuckles. This week Kevin and I talk a little recent Louisville history discussing the 20+ year legacy of OVW and IWA Mid-South. You can also get to know a young Ohio-based wrestler named Alex Daniels on this week’s show. Also known as “The Real Ben Affleck,” Daniels is a rising star with a bright future.

Talkin’ the Business can be downloaded on iTunes and PodBean.

Another Great Review!

Wrestle Book Review recently gave Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club. Guess what? They loved it!

If you haven’t taken a look at Louisville’s Greatest Show, you’re missing out on the true golden age of wrestling in the River City. Decades before OVW, IWA Mid-South, and even Memphis lit the city on fire, the Allen Athletic Club was a Tuesday night tradition, feeding wrestling fans a steady diet of world champions, tag teams, ladies matches, midgets, bears, and more.

This is the era of Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, Mildred Burke, Johnny Valentine. and Gorgeous George. It’s also the story of many long-forgotten Louisville heroes including Stu Gibson, “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell, Sgt. Buck Moore of the LPD, and Mel Meiners.

You can read the review by clicking here.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

RISE: It All Begins Here

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the first class of students to go through the Grindhouse Pro Wrestling Academy at The ArenA in Jeffersonville. This Saturday, the initial class invites you to come see their pro wrestling debut as Grindhouse Pro Wrestling Academy presents… RISE!

Trainers 2 Tuff Tony and Rudy Switchblade have poured their decades of knowledge and experience into the first class at Grindhouse. Now fans can get their first glimpse of the Buffet Brothers when they take on the Armada. They’ll also see Freddie Hudson vs. Toney Gunn, and a student versus trainer match when ZDP – Zach Dayton Pittman faces Rudy Switchblade himself!

Will this be the start of something new? Could the next ROH, NJPW, or WWE superstar be on the card Saturday? The students at Grindhouse are eager to convince you that anything is possible.

Show information is available on Facebook. For tickets, contact one of the students. Better hurry. They’ve hit the streets hard, and seats are going fast.

Louisville’s Greatest Show on Rasslin’ Memories

A few years ago when I release Bluegrass Brawlers, the first podcast to invite me on and talk about the book was Rasslin’ Memories, hosted by Glen Braget and George Schire. It was my great pleasure to catch up with Glen a few weeks ago and record a new episode of the program, this time in support of Louisville’s Greatest Show!

You can download the latest episode of Rasslin’ Memories and hear more about the new book on Soundcloud. Click here to download now!

No more excuses, Louisville

The next two weeks, hardly a night will go by when there’s not some independent wrestling to be had. If you’re disgruntled with the continued Roman Reigns push or that disappointing kendo stick on a pole match, it’s time to see what else is out there.

Wednesday night, June 7 – Ohio Valley Wrestling TV taping at the Davis Arena, 4400 Shepherdsville Road, Louisville. Bell time 7:30.

Thursday night, June 8 – IWA Mid-South Summer Sizzler, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN – Bell time 7:30.

Friday night, June 9 – Pro Wrestling Freedom, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN – Bell time 8 PM.

Saturday night, June 10 – IWA Mid-South, Memphis Flea Market, 13576 Memphis-Blue Lick Rd, Memphis, IN – Bell time 7:30.

Sunday, June 11 – OSWA Queen Raven Memorial Tag Team Tournament, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN – Bell time 5:15.

Sunday, June 11 – NWA Supreme, 167 S Main Cross St, Madison, IN. Bell time 6 PM.

Tuesday night, June 13 – Ohio Valley Wrestling at The Rusty Bucket, 934 Main Street in Charlestown, IN. Bell time 7:30.

Tuesday night, June 13 – Terry Harper Presents Pizza King of the Ring, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN. Doors open 7 PM.

Wednesday night, June 14 – Ohio Valley Wrestling TV taping at the Davis Arena, 4400 Shepherdsville Road, Louisville. Bell time 7:30.

Thursday night, June 15 – IWA Mid-South Summer Sizzler, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN – Bell time 7:30.

Friday night, June 16 – Evolution Pro Wrestling Returns! The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN – Bell time 7:30.

Saturday night, June 17, – Ohio Valley Wrestling, 105 Bishop Lane in Elizabethtown, KY. Bell time 7:30.

Saturday night, June 17 – IWA Mid-South, Memphis Flea Market, 13576 Memphis-Blue Lick Rd, Memphis, IN – Bell time 7:30.

Saturday night, June 17 – Grindhouse Pro Wrestling Academy: Rise. The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN. Bell time 7 PM.

Sunday, June 18 – OSWA, The ArenA, 1416 Spring St, Jeffersonville, IN. Bell time 5:15.

No more excuses.

Support indy wrestling!

Big Zo’s Big Impact

Some people like deathmatches.

Some people like the WWE.

Some people like flips and dives.

Some of my favorite wrestlers are guys like Big Zo, who are more concerned with making an impact outside the ring than inside. Click Here to see what this amazing young OVW star is doing to make a difference in the lives of kids.

 

 

A Tale of Two Photos

In 1950 Louisville wrestling promoter Francis McDonogh signed an agreement with WHAS TV to broadcast live professional wrestling in Louisville from the Columbia Gym on Fourth Street. McDonogh had been offered television a few years earlier, but he was reluctant to sign on fearing (as many promoters did) that television would cut into the live audience.

TV did not hurt the live crowds in Louisville any more than it had elsewhere in the country. Not only did TV bring more fans to the live events, wrestling proved to be the catalyst for many in the Louisville area to purchase their first television.

The two photos below were taken when McDonogh signed the deal with WHAS TV. The first photo appeared in the February 12, 1950 edition of the Courier-Journal when the TV deal was announced.

The photo below came from the personal collection of Dr. Gary McDonogh, Francis’s son. Same location, same faces. A fun “behind the scenes” look at this solemn and seminal moment in Louisville sports history.

WHAS carried live wrestling from the Columbia Gym sponsored by Fehr’s Beer for an hour every Tuesday night for more than three years, ending the run in the fall of 1953. Sadly no tape exists of this show because WHAS did not tape anything until just a few years later.

Read the full story of the Allen Athletic Club and the WHAS TV run in Louisville’s Greatest Show, now in print on Amazon.com.

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!

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