Tagged in: Freddie Blassie

Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Legacy

I wrote a while back that if you visit the Muhammed Ali Center in Louisville, there’s one fight from the Champ’s career that is very conspicuous by its absence. It’s the legendary – some would say infamous – boxer vs. wrestler match that took place in 1976 against Japan’s Antonio Inoki. While many people look on that match (if they glance at it at all) as a disaster and a public failure, the battle between Ali and Inoki in many ways opened the door not only for the rise of sports entertainment and the WWE, but mixed martial arts. At least that’s the contention of MMA writer Josh Gross, who has shed a bright light on the forgotten Ali match in his book, Ali Vs. Inoki.

Gross has put together a phenomenal look at one of the most bizarre chapters in boxing and wrestling history. The 320 page work is an exhaustive look at the events leading up to the fight, the participants on both sides, the fight itself, and the aftermath. Gross covers the fight from all sides, giving his reader a perspective from all sides on the fight including Ali and his handlers; Ali’s corner man, the great Freddie Blassie; referee and deciding judge “Judo” Gene LeBell; and the enigmatic Inoki and his seconds, including the legendary shooter Karl Gotch, whom Gross maintains could hardly contain himself from entering the ring and twisting both men, Ali and Inoki, in knots. Gross also tells some amusing stories about the WWWF side of the story, including a tale told by Vince McMahon, Jr., about taking Ali down in his hotel room. The reader is left to decide for him or herself if they believe McMahan’s version of events. (I for one, am not buying!)

Gross is an MMA guy, and his bent leans toward the world of mixed martial arts all the way. Nevertheless, he gives a fair and balanced look at the world of professional wrestling as well as boxing. Ali Vs. Inoki is a must read for any fight sports fan and a must have for wrestling book collectors. It’s a brilliant look at the fight some want to forget but no one ever will, a turning point in the career of Muhammed Ali (who never was the same after the bruising his legs took during the bout), and a groundbreaking matchup that inspired a new wave of fight sports that continues to thrive to this day.

Ali Vs. Inoki is available on Amazon.com.

On Sale Tomorrow!

Louisville’s Greatest show is a labor of love that is truly four years in the making. When I started digging deep into Louisville’s rich wrestling history for Bluegrass Brawlers, I had no trouble finding stories about the OVW and Memphis years, but it was the “golden age” from 1935-1957 that fascinated me most. While I barely scratched the surface when I wrote Bluegrass Brawlers, Louisville’s Greatest Show will give you a year by year account of the Allen Athletic Club – the wrestlers, the shows, and the city that hosted them both.

In addition to the year by year account of the promotion and owners Heywood Allen and Francis S. McDonogh, Louisville’s Greatest Show also features more than twenty profiles of local and national wrestling stars, including:

Indiana University wrestling coach Billy Thom

Lord Patrick Lansdowne

Blacksmith Pedigo

Hall of Fame Hydroplane racer Wild Bill Cantrell

Kid Scotty Williams

Hans Schnabel

Kentucky Athletic Commissioner Johnson S. Mattingly

The legendary Wild Bill Longson

“Cousin Alviry” Elvira Snodgrass

Fred Blassie, before he was “classy”

Promoter’s wife Betty McDonogh

Chicago Bears star Fred Davis

Sgt. Buck Moore of the Louisville Police

Colonel Stu Gibson

WHAS sports director Jimmy Finegan

Ed “Strangler” Lewis

Mel Meiners

“The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell

Louisville police detective and ref Ellis Joseph

Ring announcer George Lewis

Wee Willie Davis

Louisville’s Greatest Show is the story of a city that loved wrestling and the men and women who made wrestling a Tuesday night tradition. The book is filled with never-before-published photos and stories you won’t find anywhere else.

Louisville’s Greatest Show will be available on Amazon.com and other online retailers this weekend!

Louisville’s Greatest Show – Coming Soon!

Coming Soon!!

For 22 years, the Allen Athletic Club’s weekly wrestling show at the Columbia Gym was the place to be on Tuesday night. Promoters Heywood Allen and his successors Francis and Betty McDonogh overcame the Great Depression, the 1937 flood, a World War, and a “crooked” athletic commissioner to bring the best of the golden age of wrestling to Louisville.

Now for the first time, author John Cosper (Bluegrass Brawlers) presents the full story of “That Gang of Allen’s,” the wrestlers, referees, announcers, and others who made Tuesday Louisville’s favorite night of the week. This is the story of the true golden age of wrestling, when men and women wore their Sunday best to see hometown heroes like Blacksmith Pedigo, Kid Scotty Williams, Stu Gibson, Mel Meiners, Sgt. Buck Moore, and “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell mix it up with Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, the French Angel, Buddy Rogers, Freddie Blassie, Johnny Valentine, Mildred Burke, Mae Young, Bobo Brazil, and Ginger the Wrestling Bear.

From mud matches to masked men; from Wild Bill Cantrell to Wild Bill Longson; from live TV to live alligators, the Allen Athletic Club was Louisville’s Greatest Show. This is the story of Louisville’s first great wrestling promotion and the families that made wrestling a vital part of the city they loved.

Louisville’s Greatest Show will be released in March!

“Wee Willie” Davis Comes to Louisville

What do you do after winning a huge prize on a game show? For “Wee Willie” Davis, the $24,000 answer was, “You open a wrestling promotion.”

Allegedly standing at 6’6” and weighing 285 pounds, “Wee Willie” Davis was a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a degree in horticulture and a masters in mechanical engineering. Davis applied his engineering skills when he and fellow wrestler Prince Ilaki Ibn Ali Hassan invented the Glowmeter, an early version of a “heads up display” that projected a car’s speed on the windshield – this all the way back in 1950.

A football player and track and field athlete in college, Davis made a smooth transition to professional wrestling. He was often paired with Frank Jares, either as a tag team or as rivals, and he is credited with giving former boxer Primo Carnera his first cauliflower eat.

Having moved to the West Coast after college, Davis parlayed his success as a wrestler into a successful film career. His film credits include Reap the Wild Wind, Mighty Joe Young, Samson and Delilah, Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, The Asphalt Jungle, Son of Paleface, and To Catch a Thief.

Davis only made a handful of appearances for the Allen Athletic Club in the 1940s and 1950s, but it was after a pair of game show spots that Davis made his biggest mark on Louisville wrestling. Davis won $16,000 on The $64,000 Question and another $8000 on The $64,000 Challenge. An avid gardener, Davis appeared on the former show as an expert on horticulture, surprising many viewers who only knew him from his movie roles and wrestling persona.

Davis relocated to Louisville with a plan to invest his game show winnings. Less than a year after the Allen Athletic Club closed for good, he partnered with Francis McDonough’s widow Betty to open the Golden Rod Club, a new wrestling promotion licensed in Louisville.

Golden Rod was not the only show in town when they opened shop in 1958. A promoter named Kara George already held a license for the so-called Louisville Athletic Club, but George’s inability to secure a venue opened the door for Davis and McDonough. They held their first show on March 11 at the Armory featuring names like Freddie Blassie, Wilbur Snyder, and Bill Longson.

Golden Rod struggled to find an audience, and early on, Davis found himself contemplating closing the promotion. Golden Rod only lasted a few short years.

Davis found a number of ways to keep himself in the news while living in Louisville. In 1959 Davis was in attendance at a playoff hockey game between the Louisville Rebels of the International Hockey League and the Troy (OH) Bruins. During the third period, a fight broke out in the penalty box between a Louisville player and a Troy player.

Hoping to “do a good deed,” Davis intervened in the melee. He never saw the Troy goalie, John “Plumber” Craig coming as he skated in and whacked Davis across the head.

When order was finally restored, Davis and a Louisville player were taken to Kentucky Baptist Hospital. Davis required 35 stitches to close the gash in his head, and a few days later, he appeared in a newspaper photo sporting a bandage covering his head and holding the goalie’s stick. Davis sued the Louisville and Troy hockey clubs as well as the company that booked the Armory for $12,500.

Davis was the first to admit he made a mistake, telling the Courier-Journal, “I shoulda kept my nose out.” Davis likely had taught a few fans a hard lesson about staying out of the ring in his many years as a wrestler. Hockey players fight, and just like in wrestling, if you step into their ring, you’re going to pay a penalty.

“I don’t blame the guys who hit me,” he said. “I was mad at the time, but actually I had no business there.”

Davis made the front page again in October of that same hear right as the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to open hearings on the legitimacy of television game shows. In the wake of the scandal involving the quiz show Twenty One among others, Davis came forward to claim he had received “no help” in preparing to be on The $64,000 Question. “They wouldn’t even loan me a book,” he said, referring to the reference book question writers used to prepare for his appearance on the show.

In 1961 Davis reorganized under the name Wilemar Athletic Club. As Wilemar, Davis partnered with the Indianapolis wrestling office, which would soon come under control of Wilbur Snyder and his partner, Indiana’s favorite wrestling legend Dick the Bruiser.

In Bobby Heenan’s autobiography, Heenan recalls seeing just how tough Davis could be as a promoter. Heenan was sitting in the locker room back stage at the Armory when Johnny Valentine burst in and locked the door behind him. Valentine had gotten into an altercation in the arena, punching a fan and a police officer, and Valentine was not keen to go to jail. The police pounded on the door, while the teenage Heenan watched a desperate Valentine from a bench, too scared to move.

It was “Wee Willie” Davis, not the Louisville police, who ended the stand off with Valentine. Davis grabbed a fighting stick, went into the dressing room, and beat Valentine over the head until he hit the ground. The cops got the cuffs on Valentine and escorted him from the building.

Davis found himself in custody in September of 1963 following an incident with a masked man at the Armory. “The Masked Terror” had just left the ring and was walking back to the locker room when he decided to take a swing at a fan. The fan turned out to be an off-duty policeman, who was taken to the hospital for treatment.

The Masked Terror escaped out the back door, and the police demanded answers. Davis refused to break kayfabe and tell police who the Masked Terror was or where he might be. Davis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

“Wee Willie” Davis would spend more time in the Jefferson County jail during the 1970s, but on the other side of the bars. Davis became a sheriff and worked as a guard at the jail for a few years before retiring.

Davis kept wrestling alive during a transitional era in Louisville. He never had the box office success of the Allen Club before him nor Memphis wrestling after, but Davis filled a void for the fans who had not lost their passion for wrestling in the wake of Francis McDonough’s death.

“Wee Willie” Davis passed away on April 9, 1981 at the age of 74 in his adopted home town of Louisville.

Ali vs. Inoki

A year or so ago, I wrote the following story for a book project I have since set aside. In honor of the recent passing of Muhammed Ali, I thought it would be fitting to share this.

He was the greatest fighter of all time. He was the undisputed sportsman of the 20th century. He appeared on more Sports Illustrated covers than anyone, including Michael Jordan. In a span of twenty one years, he won a gold medal, three world championships, and a total of 53 matches with only five losses. He survived a three and a half year exile enforced on him by his own government and returned in even greater form than before.

If you walk through the Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, you’ll learn about his early life. You’ll learn about the prejudice he faced as a child. You’ll learn about his conversion to Islam. You’ll learn about his many accomplishments as a fighter and as a champion for peace around the world. You can even sit and watch many of his most famous bouts in their entirety.

Still, there’s one match missing from this museum, one match that the champ and his people would like everyone to forget. It’s a match that everyone wanted to see but no one wants to remember, a match that reflected some of the great inter-fight matches of the past and foreshadowed the rise of MMA fighting some twenty years later. The match that took place in Japan in 1976 pitted the Greatest, Muhammed Ali, against a legendary Japanese fighter, Antonio Inoki.

Inoki was not a boxer. He was a professional wrestler. He stood 6’3” and weighted 240 pounds in his prime. Inoki trained with legends like Karl Gotch and Rikidozan. He began his fighting career in 1960, the same year young Cassius Clay (later Muhammed Ali) rose to national prominence in the United States. After eleven years fighting for the established Japanese promotions, Inoki struck out on his own to found his own promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Inoki was a professional wrestler and Ali a professional boxer. In days long past, the two disciplines went hand in hand, in the ring and out. In the late 19th century, William Muldoon faced off in the ring with his good friend, boxing champion John L. Sullivan. Wrestling champion “Strangler” Lewis had a close friendship with his contemporary, boxing champ Jack Dempsey. Lou Thesz was never shy about his friendship with African American boxing champion Joe Louis. By the 1970s, however, the two sports had long been divided. Boxing promoters refused to be categorized along side the sideshow of professional wrestling, while wrestling promoters doggedly insisted their sport was no less real than boxing.

A match between Ali and Inoki might never have happened if Ali hadn’t made the boast that, after beating men from nearly every other country in the world, he was looking for a champion from Japan. In an April 1975 meeting with Ichiro Hatta, the president of the Japanese Amateur Wrestling Association, Ali laid out the challenge. “Isn’t there any Oriental fighter who will challenge me? I’ll give him one million dollars if he wins.”

Inoki, as savvy a businessman as he was a grappler, saw an opportunity, and he challenged Ali to a fight. Inoki had already engaged in some mixed fighting competitions, most notably the 1972 Munich Olympics judo gold medalist Wilhelm Ruska. Inoki wanted to be viewed as a legitimate fighter, but there were some in the press who refused to be convinced the Ruska bout was not staged. Inoki saw an opportunity to be legitimized in the eyes of the press and the world, so when Ali made the challenge, Inoki answered him, offering Ali a pay day of six million dollars.

The money was a big factor in getting Ali to agree to the match, but Ali’s childhood attraction to the sport of professional wrestling likely played a role as well. Ali learned to fight at the Columbia Gym in downtown Louisville, where Heywood Allen and the Allen Athletic Club held wrestling exhibitions every Tuesday night. Young Cassius Clay might easily have seen Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Baron Leone, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, “Wild Bill” Longson, and his hero Gorgeous George competing in the same building where he trained.

Ali was also well aware that professional wrestling as a work with pre-arranged finishes designed to tell a good story. What Ali didn’t know was that in his case, Inoki had no intentions of working Muhammed Ali. As far as Inoki was concerned, Ali’s boast as an insult to his country and his people. Inoki was a professional wrestler, but he was also a shooter, and he had every intention on humbling the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Promoter Bob Arum, who also masterminded the Snake River Canyon jump of Evil Knievel, was brought in to help promote the fight that was broadcast on closed circuit TV in the United States. A pair of wrestling promoters from New York got involved and paired it with another boxer-vs-wrestler match to take place the same day at Shea Stadium between Chuck Wepner and Andre the Giant. The promoters were Vincent J. McMahon and his son, Vincent K. McMahon.

Arum was just as much in the dark about Inoki’s plan as Ali’s people. In fact he reassured worried members of Ali’s camp that they had nothing to worry about. “Professional wrestlers are performers. The thing is a fraud.”

Said Ali’s doctor Ferdie Pacheco, “Ali’s fight in Tokyo was basically a Bob Arum thought-up scam that was going to be ‘ha-ha, ho-ho. We’re going to go over there. It’s going to be orchestrated. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s just a joke.’ Well, when we got over there, we found out no one was laughing.”

Ali’s managers had reasons to be worried. The 1975 “Thrilla in Manilla” versus Joe Frazier had taken a huge toll on Ali’s body. In total, Ali had taken punishment from seven Hall of Fame fighters in his career. Doctors began advising the champ in 1975 that he needed to hang up the gloves sooner rather than later, citing severe damage to brain and kidney tissue as their chief concerns. Ali would continue to ignore this advice for another five years, facing one more Hall of Famer, Larry Holmes, on his way out.

With Arum’s reassurances that the champ would suffer no real damage, Ali made his way to Japan in the summer of 1976 for what he believed would be a fun and easy pay day. Ali even brought a special guest along to be his ringside manager, another of his childhood wrestling heroes, “Classy” Freddie Blassie.

Ali arrived on June 16, and the two competitors met for the first time at a lunch party for the media. Ali gave one of his trademark speeches, telling the world what he would do to Inoki at Nippon Budokan Arena. He nicknamed Inoki “The Pelican” because of Inoki’s “Big bullseye chin.” Inoki responded, “When your fist connects with my chin, take care that your fist is not damaged.” Inoki also handed Ali a gift, a wooden crutch to use after Inoki threw him from the ring.

There are conflicting stories as to how and when it was decided the match would be a shoot. Some in Ali’s camp claim that they were sold on the match being a work, but that Ali balked at the plan when he was told that Inoki expected him to lose. Fight journalist Jim Murphy says the finish called for Ali to accidentally knock out the ref. Ali would then check on the ref’s condition, allowing Inoki to get the quick roll up for a pin. Inoki would get the victory, but Ali would save face by being the good guy, concerned for the safety of the ref.

Inoki’s camp insisted the match was always intended to be a work. Ali only learned of this when he went to see Inoki train.

“OK, so when do we do the rehearsal?” Ali asked.

“No, no. This isn’t an exhibition,” replied Inoki. “It’s a real fight.”

However the decision/revelation took place, Ali’s team went to work renegotiating the rules of the fight. Ali, being the bigger name, had the upper hand in these negotiations, and the rules came out very one sided. Inoki would not be allowed to duplex Ali. He could not head-butt Ali, knee him below the belt knee blows, use open hands, or kick Ali over the belt.

Inoki was disappointed. Essentially, Ali’s people wanted him to go into the ring and be a punching bag. Inoki decided to take the matter lying down – literally. The result was one of the most memorable and boring and embarrassing bouts in fight history.

As soon as the bell rang, Inoki slid on his back and started to kick Ali. Inoki stayed there for most of the firs round, keeping Ali and his deadly fists at bay by kicking wildly at the champ’s legs.

The awkward battle continued round after round, with Inoki staying low and aiming for Ali’s legs, his only viable means of offense. In the sixth, Ali tried to grab Inoki’s leg. Inoki brought his other leg up tripped Ali to the mat, and sat on his chest.

Ali didn’t even throw a punch until the seventh round. He continued to dodge Inoki’s feet, waving his arms and yelling at Inoki to “fight like a man.” Inoki knew better and stayed flat on the mat.

In the eighth, Ali’s manager Angelo Dundee asked that the boots on Inoki’s feet be taped. The shoe laces had cut Ali’s legs, and it was clear Ali’s legs were taking a brutal beating.

The match went to the fifteen round time limit and was declared a draw. Inoki would have actually won the match it not for losing three points on a foul. Angry fans in the Budokan chanted for their money back. The two men collected their pay day, and the sports press of the world left the match shaking their collective heads over the fiasco.

The match was an embarrassment for Ali, but the damage went far deeper than merely hurting his public reputation. Ali’s legs were in terrible condition, and the champ suffered two blood clots from Inoki’s pounding feet. “Ali is bleeding from the legs,” recalled Bob Arum. “He gets an infection in his legs; almost has to have an amputation. Not only the [Ken] Norton fight would’ve been not happening, but Ali could’ve been a cripple for the rest of his life.”

Ali refused to seek immediate medical treatment or to curb his schedule, which included exhibition matches in South Korea and the Philippines. After completing his Asian trip, he spent a few weeks in the hospital back in Los Angeles.

In September, Ali stepped back into the ring with Ken Norton. Although Ali won the match by unanimous decision, it was clear he was not the same man he once was. Ali had lost a step, and he would never again win a match by knockout.

Five years later, Ali hung up the gloves for good. Two decades in the ring took a sad toll on the former champ’s body, but in retirement, Ali continued to use his status as the most popular athlete in the world to fight for justice and world peace.

Ali didn’t shy away from future opportunities to be a part of the wrestling business. Bill Watts brought Ali in to appear at ringside with The Snowman for a match against Jake “The Snake” Roberts at the Superdome in New Orleans. Ali was also a guest at the inaugural Wrestlemania, appearing as the special guest referee in the main event.

Inoki continued to wrestle for another twenty-two years, a luxury afforded him because his sport was a work. In 1986 he managed to convince Leon Spinks, the man who took Ali’s Heavyweight Championship, into a mixed fighting match, a match Inoki won by pin fall. In 1990 Inoki, like Ali before him, converted to Islam. Inoki has also served his country as an elected member of the House of Councillors.

The battle between the world’s greatest boxer and Japan’s greatest wrestler may not have high regard in the memory of sports fans, but it foreshadowed a change in the fighting sports. While boxing has steadily declined in popularity and wrestling has seen its ups and downs, Mixed Martial Arts has become the rage. UFC, Bellator, and other MMA promotions are now making millions by pitting fighters with diverse backgrounds against one another. What was once seen as a novelty is now a weekly ritual for fight fans. MMA has even allowed some professional wrestlers, most notably Brock Lesnar, to show the world that not all professional wrestlers are mere actors.

While the Ali-Inoki match is not not at all acknowledged in Ali’s museum, there’s a very nice epilogue to their story. In 1998 Inoki faced Don Frye in the final of a series of matches dubbed the Final Countdown. In honor of his former opponent, Muhammed Ali flew to Japan to witness his former adversary’s last match. After the match ended, Ali climbed into the ring to hug the man who had become his friend. A representative for Ali read a message from the champ.

“It was 1976 when I fought Antonio Inoki at the Budokan. In the ring, we were tough opponents. After that, we built love and friendship with mutual respect. So, I feel a little less lonely now that Antonio has retired. It is my honor to be standing on the ring with my good friend after 22 years. Our future is bright and has a clear vision. Antonio Inoki and I put our best efforts into making world peace through sports, to prove there is only one mankind beyond the sexual, ethnical or cultural differences. It is my pleasure to come here today.”

While Ali vs. Inoki is looked upon by some fight fans with the same “reverence” Star Wars fans have for the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, it’s a credit to both men that the fight did not tarnish their reputations. Ali and Inoki are both Hall of Fame talents, two of the greatest who ever lived, and the impact they had on their respective sports will be felt for years to come. Some even argue that their confrontation helped to launch a fighting style that would challenge boxing and wrestling for supremacy forty years later, Mixed Martial Arts.

Ali vs. Inoki is a unique match in the annals of both sports. It deserves to be remembered for its novelty and its legacy, but like the aforementioned Star Wars travesty, it’s best not to look at it too long.

The Derby Eve Rasslin’ Show

Last week, Ohio Valley Wrestling presented their second Run for the Ropes program as part of the Kentucky Derby Fest-a-Ville. The riverfront wrestling program is a welcome addition to the Kentucky Derby tradition. Not only is OVW a proud Louisville institution 20 years running, but wrestling was one of the earliest Derby traditions, going back 102 years.

The_Courier_Journal_Sun__May_2__1915_In 1915 promoter George Beuchel put on the first Derby Eve wrestling program, featuring a title bout between Charley Cutler and Louisville fan favorite Yusiff Hussane. The match lasted three hours and thirty-seven minutes, nearly half an hour longer than an episode of Monday Night Raw. Derby Eve proved to be a very profitable evening for the fights, with sports fans from around the country arriving in town for the horse race, and a new tradition began.

The 1935 edition proved to be a turning point in Louisville’s wrestling history. The Savoy Athletic Club ran a Friday night show at the Jefferson County Armory featuring Jack Reynolds, Lord Patrick Lansdowne, Leroy McGurk, High Nichols, Billy Thom, Cyclone Burns, Billy Love, and Roy Welch. The show grossed $1400, but Club owner C.J. Blake thought the expenses were too high. This led to a split between Blake and his booker, Heywood Allen, Sr., and Allen broke away to form his own promotion, the Allen Athletic Club.

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Allen took a number of the Savoy’s signature faces with him, including timekeeper Charley Schullman and the colorful ring announcer Georgie Lewis. The new promotion, based mostly out of the Columbia Gym on 4th Street, would become Louisville’s top wrestling promotion for the next 22 years.

Only a few years after Beuchel started the Derby Eve tradition, the local boxing promoters began jockeying for the Friday night spot. The Kentucky Athletic Commission held final say on who got the Armory and the coveted Friday night slot, based on whomever could present the best card of action, but when Allen took center stage in the wrestling game, he became very vocal about suspected under the table deals between the boxing promotions and Commissioner Johnson S. Mattingly.

In the spring of 1941 Allen became so incensed about losing out the boxers, he cut a promo in the ring at the Columbia Gym one night. Allen railed against Commissioner Mattingly and swore he had proof that the boxers were paying off the Athletic Commission to steal a place he believed was rightfully his. It wasn’t the first time Allen had let his thoughts fly on the matter. Allen and Mattingly had had a similar confrontation in 1938. This time, Mattingly responded to the comments by revoking Allen’s license, and Allen was forced to retract his claims in order to open the doors once more.

Allen and his successor Francis S. McDonough always made the best of Derby season, whether they had the Friday night show or not. In the coming years the Derby show would feature top stars like Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Wild Bill Longson, Baron Michele Leone, Johnny Valentine, Freddie Blassie, and Mae Young. The star-studded card below from 1951 featured two world title matches (Burke and Thesz) and a special appearance by a man with a special connection to Louisville, Ed “Strangler” Lewis.

It’s exciting to see OVW carry on the Derby wrestling tradition with a new tradition of their own. Louisville fans have always loved their wrestling, and Danny Davis’s boys are carrying on a heritage now more than a century old.

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Louisville’s Own Sgt. Buck Moore

Not every star who appeared on a card for the Allen Athletic Club was a national star. Heywood Allen and Francis McDonough brought many of the country’s biggest names to Louisville during the promotion’s 22 years, but they created many local legends along the way.

In January of 1949 Francis McDonough introduced Marvin Moore to the Tuesday night faithful at the Jefferson County Armory. Melvin “Buck” Moore was an eight year veteran of the Louisville Police Department. He was born December 2, 1916 in Lambert, OK and graduated from Louisville Male High School.

Moore served 33 years with the Louisville police department. He rode a motorcycle as a member of the traffic detail and also served as a detective. In later years Moore trained new recruits in skills such as hand-to-hand combat, and his students included OVW announcer Dean Hill as well as former Louisville Police Chief Doug Hamilton, who recalls that many of the moves taught by Moore bore a striking similarity to professional wrestling maneuvers.

Moore was instrumental in the founding of Louisville’s Fraternal Order of Police in 1960. He was also a cartoonist, and for twenty years he entertained his fellow officers with a series of cartoon strips.

Moore’s wrestling career spanned two decades. He was a fixture at the annual Police Benefit Shows in the 1950s, and he faced numerous opponents including Blacksmith Pedigo, Cherry Vallina, Freddie Blassie, Chris Zaharias, Frankie Bockwinkel, Bobby Bruns, Joe Millich, and fellow Louisville natives Stu Gibson and Mel Meiners.

Moore retired from the police force in 1974, when he put his artistic gifts to work as a sign painter.

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