In December of 1908 a Louisville promoter announced a special attraction to take place on January 1, 1909. A man from Africa named Huperfulagas, who claimed to be a descendant of Zulu royalty, announced his intentions to wrestle a live bull bare-handed. The Louisville Courier-Journal covered the lead up to the match closely, following along as Huperfulagas assisted the promoters in picking his opponent from the Bourbon Stockyards on New Year’s Day. Huperfulagas expressed no fear entering the match, proclaiming he would not be in the slightest danger, while the bull, he vowed, would not suffer more than “temporary discomfort.”
Huperfulagas squared off against the bull the night of January 1, 1909, wearing traditional native Zulu face paint and attire “somewhat modified to meet the local ordinances.” The results of this match did not appear in the January 2, 1909, edition of The Courier-Journal, but 50 years later, after a flashback story appeared in the paper, a former Louisville police officer named H. D. Browning wrote into the paper to share the results.
Browning was on duty the night of the match, and when the bull was led into the Coliseum at Fourth and A Streets, he appeared to be half-starved and not at all interested in the proceedings. The so-called Zulu prince spent 30 minutes twisting the hungry beast by the horns, trying to bring the creature down, but when Huperfulagas began bleeding from the nose, police stepped in and stopped the match.
“We led Huper to a chair and he nearly collapsed,” said Browning. “The bull seemed more hungry than wild. If it had been wild, Huper would not have lasted three seconds.”
While the bull wrestling match is certainly unique in Louisville’s wrestling history, it was far from the only man vs. nature battle to take place. Here’s a run down of some of the most memorable beasts to work the town during Louisville’s golden age of wrestling.
August 10, 1937. “Hillbilly” Lem Stecklin defeated Maurice La Chapelle in an outdoor show at the Swiss Park Arena. Stecklin was a hit with the fans because his brought his pet raccoon Oscar to the ring with him.
April 19, 1938. Whitey Govro took on an unnamed 450 pound bear during the Allen Athletic Club’s weekly show at the Columbia Gym. It was the first bear wrestling match hosted by the promotion and drew 1504 people. Govro took the victory that night.
October 11, 1938. Oscar the raccoon made his second Louisville appearance at the Columbia Gym, where his pal “Hillbilly” Lem Stecklin defeated Dick Griffin.
June 30, 1942. Ginger the Wrestling Bear made her first Louisville appearance working against two men: Buddy Atkinson and Floyd Bird. There were many different Gingers over the years. This particular Ginger was a 305-pound Canadian Black Bear trained by Roy Welch, who later partnered with Nick Gulas to promote Memphis wrestling. After Ginger successfully defeated Bird, but the Atkinson match was a no finish. Atkinson mostly ran from the bear the whole time.
January 21, 1947. In one of the final shows ever hosted by Allen Club founder Heywood Allen, a Florida man named Gil Woodworth astonished the Louisville fans by wrestling a live alligator. The seven-foot “orgy of terror” thrilled and frightened the crowd of 7300 fans but was no match for Woodworth, who also claimed to have been a stand-in for Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films. Later that same evening, fans saw Woodworth marry Miss Perma Crook of Ripley, Tennessee in the ring, with women’s rapper June Byers standing in as her maid of honor.
January 6, 1948. Tuffy Truesdale claimed victory over a 500 pound alligator. Truesdale (whose name was also spelled Truesdell) was an alligator wrestling specialist and later trained one of the most famous wrestling bears, the Coca-Cola loving Victor.
January 26, 1950. Ginger defeated Moody Palmer at the Columbia Gym when he fell 25 seconds short of lasting five minutes with the 370 pound black bear.
May 6, 1950. Ginger defeated Pete Peterson and Floyd Bird in a two-on-one handicap match. Peterson and Bird worked as a tag team against Ginger and lasted 11 minutes and 15 seconds before Ginger pinned Peterson.
May 1, 1951. Tuffy Truesdale returned for an encore performance and topped his previous victory by defeating an 800 pound alligator.
July 10, 1951. Farmer Jones made his debut in Louisville defeating Flash Clifford. Jones had a pet pig who accompanied him, and both Jones and the pig became regular guests of the Allen Club over the next four years.
July 28, 1953. Farmer Jones and his pet pig faced off against Leo “The Lion” Newman. Newman had an animal mascot of his own, a 210-pound lion cub, who regularly accompanied him to the ring. Sadly for Louisville fans, promoter Francis McDonogh would not permit Newman to bring the lion with him.
May 18, 1954. Ada Ash became the first woman to take part in an inter-species bout in Louisville when she defeated a 6-foot long 200 pound alligator.
October 26, 1954. On this fateful evening, fans were promised a match between Fearless Lawless and a 400 pound grizzly bear, but the match never took place. Slated to go on last, the bear was to follow the tag match pitting Cyclone Anaya and Guy Brunetti against Stu Gibson and “Mystery Man.” When the crooked heel Gibson and his masked partner stole a victory by unsavory means, Anaya and Brunetti staged a sit down strike to protest. Fans stomped their feet in solidarity, creating such a commotion that the grizzly bear refused to climb the steps from the lower level to the gymnasium. Said the Courier-Journal story on October 27, “The belligerent bear, at last report, was at the bottom of the basement steps, resisting the efforts of a half-dozen handlers to get him to his truck.”