America’s First Wrestling Star

It’s been nearly twenty years since Jesse “The Body” Ventura was elected governor of the state of Minnesota. Since that time, wrestling fans have wondered when a professional wrestler would make a run for the nation’s highest office. Donald Trump may be a WWE Hall of Famer, but he hardly qualifies. And even if he did, he would be over 150 years too late to be the first wrestling superstar elected to the nation’s highest office. That honor belongs to a Kentucky-born attorney who made a name for himself as a grappler in the 1830s. His name is Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. Kentucky loves to boast of its Lincoln connection, as does Indiana, where young Lincoln spent much of his boyhood. In 1830 Lincoln left his father’s household to strike out on his own, landing in New Salem, Illinois. He went to work for a man named Denton Offutt, a local merchant. Together with a few other young men, Lincoln traveled by flatboat to new Orleans to sell some goods for his employer. It was there that Lincoln first witnessed the evils of slavery, an institution he fight against in his later years when he entered politics.

It was during his employment for Denton Offutt that Lincoln became known as a wrestler. Offutt loved to boast of the strength and athleticism of his young employee. Standing at 6’4”, Lincoln was very tall compared to other men of the day. Had he lived in our time, it’s likely he would have grown to be 6’10”, giving him the size that Vince McMahon craves in his top stars.

Lincoln could not only walk the walk, he could talk the talk. A first person account of the time records that Lincoln once dispatched a would-be challenger with a single toss. After subduing his opponent, Lincoln called out to those watching, “Any of you want to try it, come and wet yet horns!” The challenge went unanswered, and Lincoln left the scene standing tall.

Lincoln’s most legendary moment came when he faced off with a young man named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong was the leader of a local gang in New Salem known as the Clary’s Grove Boys. The Boys were trouble makers known for nailing guys inside of wooden barrels and rolling them down hills. They were natural heels, the kind of men an audience would pay heavily to see brought down a peg or two.

Armstrong goaded Lincoln into a face off, and the two locked horns in the streets of New Salem. Armstrong underestimated his lanky foe, and when he discovered just how strong Lincoln was, he turned dirty. He started kicking and stomping Lincoln out of frustration. Lincoln snapped. He grabbed Armstrong around the collar and began shaking him like a rag doll. Lincoln tossed Armstrong a few times and left him lying unconscious in the dirt.

Some accounts say that the confrontation led to a truce between the two men. Armstrong was impressed and humbled by Lincoln, and the two were friends from that day forward.

The match also enhanced Lincoln’s reputation as a wrestler and as a man, and when Lincoln ran for office later in life, that reputation proved to be a major selling point for the voters of Illinois. These frontier voters loved a man who could stand on his own two feet, and in their eyes a man who wrestle would fight for them in Congress.

Lincoln’s chief political rival Stephen Douglas even spoke about Lincoln’s wrestling skills. Douglas would often praise Lincoln’s strength and skill as a grappler before going on to attack his positions on slavery and state’s rights. Douglas, like Armstrong before him, would ultimately lose to Lincoln, but unlike Armstrong, Douglas did not suffer the indignity of being shaken like a rag doll.

Lincoln was elected President during a very turbulent time in American history. He was the first man to run as a candidate for the Republican party, and it was the issues of the day that carried him to victory. That said, it would be a mistake to assume his past had nothing to do with his popularity. Like so many politicians before and after him, Lincoln’s celebrity, chiefly as a wrestler, earned him more than a few votes on election day.

Lincoln is remembered best for keeping the Union together while emancipating the slaves, but pro wrestling also owes a debt to Lincoln. Lincoln wrestled over 300 matches before trading grappling for politics. He was ahead of his time as a wrestler and a trash talker. He also broke ground for men like Jesse Ventura, Antonio Inoki, and The Great Sasuke, wrestlers who would use their fame to run for office.

After his death in 1865, Lincoln’s friends and biographers went to great lengths to make sure his legacy stayed strong. As with many early American figures, some of the stories of Lincoln were exaggerated to the point of becoming tall tales. Hard to believe, I know, but it is at least possible some of the stories of Lincoln’s wrestling prowess might have been stretched. Still, his reputation as a grappler was enough to earn him the highest honor afforded a pro wrestler. In 1992 Abraham Lincoln was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Although the induction came 127 years after his death, and although he is rightly remembered more for his tenure as President of the United States, one can’t help but feel Lincoln would have been honored.

Jim Mitchell vs. Gorgeous George

12019762_10205121748430414_4640876728029337564_nHere’s a great little piece of history, courtesy of Tom Burke. This is the newspaper article about the riot that began after Gorgeous George got “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell disqualified during an August 24 match in Los Angeles. Not sure why Jim Mitchell is listed as Billy Mitchell, as I have no record of him working under that name, but I will be looking into it.

Jim Mitchell was a native of Louisville, Kentucky. He was an African American who helped to break the color barrier in wrestling. In fact Mitchell was wrestling before there even was a color barrier.

I’ve paused my work on Mitchell’s biography to work on the bio of Lord Leslie Carlton with his lordship’s daughter, but I am hoping to get back at it later this year in hopes of a 2016 release. If you have any stories, or know someone who does, about this forgotten legend, please pass the word.

A little gift for a Giant

Kenny Casanova’s running a small fund raiser for James Harris, aka Kamala the Ugandan Giant. James is a diabetic and currently spending 10 hours a day on dialysis. To help him pass the time, Kenny’s asking some fans to chip in and get him an iPad with Netflix. If you can give, please do.

I strongly urge you to pick up Kamala’s book as well. It’s a great read, and sales go to James too.

Click here to donate.

Thank you!

Take Your Spot, Ladies

11882266_1060478073985571_1326424868613623308_oThere’s a lot of talk about why Nikki Bella hasn’t dropped her Divas title, and whether or not she will break A.J. Lee’s record for most days as champion. I’m not going to speculate on WWE politics, but where some people see frustration, I see an opportunity.

Simply put: every time Nikki Bella walks back up the ramp with that title, the WWE opens the door another inch for someone else to take the ball and run with the women’s wrestling revolution.

The indies are already years ahead of the WWE in women’s wrestling. Is it really so far fetched to think that independent women’s wrestling can’t carve out a significant niche and fill the void WWE is too blind to see?

They have a saying in WWE and elsewhere: “You are not here to fill a spot; you are here to take a spot.”

Who’s going to take the WWE’s spot when they drop the ball on women’s wrestling? The ball is in mid-air. The time is now!

Special offer for Kenny Bolin fans!

BluegrassBrawlers-coverDid you get screwed by Kenny Bolin? Did you pay a king’s ransom to get his new biography signed by Ma Bolin? If so, I have a deal for you.

Now through August 16, just for Kenny’s fans, I have a special deal on my own wrestling books. You can get a signed copy of Bluegrass Brawlers and Eat Sleep Wrestle for only $24, including shipping. That’s more than $20 savings when you figure in shipping from Amazon.com.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Post a photo of your copy of Kenny’s book on Facebook and tag both me and the King.

2. Send me a message on Facebook. I’ll message you back with my Paypal address to send payment.

3. Send in your Paypal payment and wait for your books to arrive. I’ll email you to let you know when they go out.

Bluegrass Brawlers covers more than 130 years of professional wrestling in Louisville, including Kenny’s reign as the Starmaker. And Eat Sleep Wrestle is the perfect introduction to today’s indy wrestling scene. If you enjoyed Kenny’s book, here’s a chance to get two more by Kenny’s co-author to add to your wrestling library.

UPDATE: If you’d rather have the e-book version of the books, you can get both Bluegrass Brawlers and Eat Sleep Wrestle for only $12, half the price of the paperbacks. Follow the same steps as above but let me know you prefer the electronic versions instead.

It all happened in Louisville

BluegrassBrawlers-coverWhat era of Louisville wrestling do you remember best? Are you one who remembers the good ol’ days with Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, and the rest of the Memphis crew? Were you one of the few but proud who supported the Poffos back in the early 80s? Or are you one of those already missing the good ol’ days of OVW with Cena, Lesnar, Orton, and Batista?

Louisville’s wrestling goes much deeper and further back than OVW and Memphis. Louisville is the place where:

A female circus wrestler issued an open challenge and took on a local man to prove wrestling was not fake – in 1880!

A Zulu prince wrestled a bull on New Year’s Day in 1909.

Ed “Strangler” Lewis was given his famous moniker when he showed up two weeks late for a booking in 1913.

Orville Brown lost his world title to a surprise masked man in 1941, the only major title change to ever take place in Louisville.

A man wrestled an alligator and got married in the same ring, all in one night back in 1947.

Teenage Bobby Heenan made his in-ring debut and was burned by a fan’s cigar, all for a $5 pay off.

Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell battled in a ring set up inside Whitney Hall at Kentucky Center for the Arts in front of a classical music crowd.

And lest we forget, just a few miles north of Louisville, CM Punk battled for 93 minutes against Chris Hero. This after having a 41 minute tables and ladders match that brought the house down.

Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville, tells these stories and so many more. It’s a must for fans of wrestling history and proud Louisville natives who enjoy hearing some great tales of their city’s history.

Order now on Amazon.com.

Cora and Buddy

We seem to lose wrestling stars in waves. What began two weeks ago with Dusty Rhodes has sadly taken two more from us.

Cora Combs is not as well known to today’s wrestling fans, but the ladies who work the squared circle today owe her as much a debt as Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah. Combs entered the business in 1949 after Nick Gulas introduced her to Burke’s husband, manager, and trainer, Billy Wolfe. When Wolfe and Burke split, Combs went with Burke and saw her career take off. She had notable feuds with Burke, Moolah, Mae Young, June Byers, Nell Stewart, Ida May Martinez, and Gladys Gillman among others and was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Combs died at age 92.

“Nature Boy” Buddy Landel was only 53 years old. The Knoxville, Tennessee native had runs with WCW and Mid-Atlantic but is best known for his time with Jim Cornette’s Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Landel was an outspoken figure in there locker room, never one to hide his feelings or mince words. Colt Cabana did a wonderful interview with him a few months back on the Art of Wrestling Podcast.

RIP American Dream

There’s a story in Eat Sleep Wrestle about Dusty Rhodes from Ian Rotten. Ian was in his early twenties when he booked one of his great heroes for IWA Mid-South, Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes proved to be a gracious guest, who called Ian a week later to thank him for the booking and the beer in his hotel fridge. But it was when they were planning their tag match that Rhodes made the deepest impression on the young promoter. “He said, ‘How about when it’s time for the finish, I throw you the elbow pad, and you do the Atomic Elbow?’ When he said that, it was like I could hear angels singing from Heaven!”

Dusty was always doing things to encourage the future stars in the business. Kenny Bolin share with me how open and accessible Dusty was for the students at OVW. “The sad thing was, these kids had all access to Dusty any time they wanted him, and none of them knew who he was.”

Dusty left a huge mark on the WWE stars of today. Very few of the new stars coming out of the Performance Center have not been touched or coached by the American Dream. His spirit, his passion, and his wisdom will be sorely missed.

There was no one like Dusty Rhodes before him, and there never will be again. He is irreplaceable. He will never be forgotten.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and all who are grieving today.

Terry Garvin Wants to Rule the World!

One of the guys I enjoyed meeting while writing was Bluegrass Brawlers was Terry “Garvin” Simms. I first learned of Terry through my wife, an avid Reddit reader, who found an AMA (that’s ask me anything, for those of you like me who never go to Reddit) that he did one night. I got in touch with Terry through Facebook and then via phone. Simply put, he’s the most outstanding wrestling storyteller you’ve never heard of. He has a fascinating story of his own, and he has plenty to go around about the men he worked with. Still waiting for the right time and place to share one he shared with me about the Freebirds.

Thankfully for those like me who love good stories, Terry has joined the ranks of podcasters with his show World Domination with Terry “Garvin” Simms. It turns out Terry’s not only good sharing his stories but getting stories from some of wrestling’s biggest legends including Lance Russell, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, Doug Gilbert, Axl Rotten, Jeanie Clarke, Bull Pain, and Robert Fuller.

If you’re a fan of old time rasslin’, this is a fun, positive look back at the people and stories that made wrestling great without the usual lamentations about how the business “ain’t what it used to be.”

I’d like to send an extra special thank you to Terry’s recent guest Jimmy Valiant, who put Bluegrass Brawlers over not once, but twice on the show. I had the opportunity to meet Jimmy a few months back in Evansville and give him a copy of the book. I’m so glad he liked it and honored he’d give it such a great endorsement.