Why You Need to Visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Waterloo, Iowa might just be the center of the wrestling universe. The city lives and breathes wrestling. The President’s Hotel, now an apartment complex, was the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Waterloo. This city loves wrestling at all stages: high school, college, Olympic, and pro. Waterloo is the hometown of Dan Gable, a man considered by many to be the greatest wrestler of all time and one of the greatest sportsmen of the 20th century. It is also home to the museum that bears Gable’s name: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.

The name is quite a mouthful, but the museum, which doesn’t look all that big from the outside, is just as jam packed as the name it bears. Located just up the street from the old President’s Hotel, the Dan Gable Museum is a shrine to wrestling’s past and present. The museum pays homage to the champions of NCAA wrestling and Olympic wrestling (including Indiana University’s Billy Thom) as well as the legends and icons of professional wrestling. It is dedicated to preserving the past while inspiring wrestlers at all levels for the future.

The pro wrestling wing of the museum features an impressive number of rare artifacts going back to the days of Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. A trunk belonging to Gotch is on display in the gallery near Lou Thesz’s robe and title belt.

You’ll see robes belonging the multiple generations of the Henning family and the legendary Tiger Man, Joe Pesek. A marble statue with a fascinating backstory that once belonged to Thesz sits in the same gallery as does one of three death masks made of the original French Angel, Maurice Tillet. Modern fans will also find a spinner belt signed by John Cena, the singlet worn by Kurt Angle when he won a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck,” and the signature black and pink jacket once worn by Bret Hart.

The Dan Gable Museum has exhibit areas devoted to Olympic wrestling, NCAA wrestling, and the history of wrestling itself, starting with one wall dedicated to the legendary confrontation between Jacob and an angel in the book of Genesis. Other highlights included several posters for the Barnum and Bailey “At Show” wrestling exhibitions, some beautiful original art work paying tribute to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees, and this unique artifact from Brock Lesnar’s pre-WWE days as an NCAA champion in Minnesota.

The Dan Gable Museum is more than just a place to learn about wrestling. They also host clinics on a weekly basis in the Dan Gable Teaching Center, an area they plan to expand in the coming year. The museum has $1.7 million dollars in planned renovations now starting, including interactive exhibits in the pro wrestling wing. Museum director Kyle Klingman gave me a quick tour of the storage area where even more amazing wrestling artifacts are waiting their turn to be put on display in the galleries above.

If your summer plans are still flexible, here’s another reason to plan a quick trip to Waterloo: the museum is hosting their second annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in less than two weeks. Special guests for the July 20-22 festivities include Jim Ross, Shelton Benjamin, Chuck Taylor, B. Brian Blair, American Alpha, Sabu, Paul Orndorff, Magnum T.A., Larry Henning, Baron von Raschke, J.J. Dillon, Gerry Briscoe, and the museum’s namesake himself, Dan Gable.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is located in Waterloo, Iowa, and is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information visit their website or find them on Facebook.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path. Yes, it’s out of the way. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the effort. I know I’ll be back again soon.

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 Gardens – then and now

Early in my research on Louisville’s pro wrestling history, I found this photo in the U of L archives:

This week, my friend Herschel Zahnd took this photo of the same building with his drone:

This was the house that played host to Strangler Lewis, Lou Thesz, Orville Brown, Bill Longson, Buddy Rogers, Mildred Burke, Johnny Valentine, Gorgeous George, Freddie Blassie, and Mae Young. It also played host to the legends of Memphis Wrestling and OVW as well as Elvis, Sinatra, and even Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both photos will appear in Louisville’s Greatest Show, coming in March!

And yes, Herschel is for hire. If you need a drone pilot in the Louisville area, get in touch with me and I’ll connect you.

Lord Carlton book giveaway

lord carlton cover-3My newest wrestling book, Lord Carlton: Wrestler, Artist, My Father, is now for sale on Amazon, but if you’re a Goodreads member, you can sign up for a free giveaway this week!

Three copies of this amazing biography will be given away on October 18. Here’s how to enter:

If you are a Goodreads member, click the link below and sign up now!

If you’re not already on Goodreads, click the link below, set up an account, and enter the contest.

This is the first of six giveaways coming in October and November. If you’ve never heard of Lord Carlton, this is your chance to discover a man whose life outside the ring was as surprising as his flamboyant career inside the squared circle!

Click here to enter and win a copy of Lord Carlton!

“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.

Arizona Wrestling Historian Gives Thumbs Up to Lord Carlton

lord carlton cover-3Dale Pierce, author of the Ohio wrestling history “Wrestling in Akron,” is now blogging about the history of pro wrestling in Arizona. He’s got a great website, filled with wonderful stories, and he was kind enough to do a review of Lord Carlton, which you can read here.

Hate that we were unable to capture the Phil Melby feud he mentions in the book, but the beautiful thing about self-publishing is… you can always go back and revise one day.

Happy to say Dale enjoyed the book and gave it his endorsement. I’m equally happy to recommend that if you’re a fan of wrestling and want to know the rich history of the sport, Dale’s blog is a must read.

Bookmark the Arizona Pro Wresting History blog, and enjoy!

Mud Slingin’ in Louisville

The_Courier_Journal_Wed__Dec_15__1937_Wrestling promotions are always slinging mud. Here in Southern Indiana there are a half dozen promotions running at any given time, and not a day goes by some fan, wrestler, or promoter doesn’t pitch a little mud on Facebook. In December of 1937, the feud between the Allen Athletic Club and the Kentucky Athletic Club turned to actual mud slinging when the two hosted a series of mud matches.

The Kentucky Athletic Club hurled the first clod of mud when they announced a match between local favorite Blacksmith Pedigo and mud wrestling expert Prince Omar of Persia. The K.A.C. ran shows downtown at the Savoy Theater, and the match held on December 2 was a smash. A standing room only crowd of 1563 packed the Theater to see the local favorite defeat his Persian foe.

Fans of the Allen Athletic Club begged promoter Heywood Allen to put on a mud match of his own. Allen, who was the booker for the K.A.C. when it was still known as the Savoy Club, was reluctant to get into the mud with his former boss, but on December 7 at the Columbia Gym, Allen cut a promo against the K.A.C. and his former and future ally Blacksmith Pedigo when he announced a mud match for the following week between Shinuchi Shikima and Nanjo Singh. Never one to be outdone, Allen told his fans that the Allen Club mud match would be completely encased in cellophane so that no one in the crowd would get muddy.

Allen did a lot of things right in his career, and it wasn’t long after this that he was the only promoter in town, but the mud match proved to be a total nightmare. It took the ring crew 75 minutes to set up the ring. The mud was the easy part; it was the cellophane wrapper that proved to be a nuisance. The thin material would no cooperate and kept falling and tearing. Allen paced the Gym floor, smoking cigarettes and fuming as he watched and waited for the main event he never wanted in the first place to get off the ground.

“You all wanted to see a real mud match, and here it is,” said Allen once all was set for the main event. “As far as I’m concerned, phooey on mud matches!”

The match itself proved to be just as much of a muddle as the set up. Referee Heywood Allen, Jr., lost his mud boots within the first minute of the bout and ended up barefoot along with the competitors. Singh got mud in his eyes early in the bout, and when the southern wall of cellophane collapsed, fans went scrambling for cover from the flying mud. It took only twenty minutes for a muddy Shikima to score two straight falls and claim victory.

Despite the technical problems, not a single fan left early. A solid crowd of 2386 stuck it out and stayed until 11:30 PM on a winter’s night to see how things would turn out.

Allen was done with mud wrestling, but the K.A.C. came back a week later with another mud bout on December 23 between Kentuckian Billy Love and another so-called mud wrestling impresario, Biriam Bey. Love won in two straight falls in what would turn out to be the final mud match in Louisville.

It was the Kentucky Athletic Commission who finally put an end to the mess. Commissioner Johnson S. Mattingly, who watched over both promotions like a hawk, announced at the December 23 Savoy show that he would no longer sanction mud matches in Kentucky. It was a brief and thrilling run for the fans, but in January of 1938 the wrestling promoters went back to slinging mud with words instead of slop.

A Life Lesson from the Miz

02Roni Jonah, who is now hosting Eat Sleep Wrestle: The Golden Age on the INC Channel, used to be a wrestler herself. In fact, when she was at Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, she was the Miz’s valet/ girlfriend. Want to know how that happened? She shared the story with me for Bluegrass Brawlers. It’s a fun story involving Miz and Heyman, and whether you like him or not, we can all learn a little something about seizing the day from the Miz.

Roni was in the amateur class at OVW when Paul Heyman arrived, and one of her best friends was Seth Skyfire, a former OVW main eventer whose star had fallen in recent months.

“Seth was no longer getting time on the show because he wasn’t under contract with WWE,” says Jonah. “When Paul came down to OVW, he wanted to showcase those guys and give them a chance.”

Roni wanted to make sure Seth got noticed by the new boss. She sat with her friends dead center in the audience and held signs calling out for Seth. Heyman noticed, and when he put Skyfire back on TV, he was impressed with what he saw. Heyman was equally impressed by the determined young woman in the crowd. “One night, he told Seth to go out to the ring and kiss ‘his girlfriend’ in the audience,” says Jonah. “Seth said, ‘But, she isn’t my girlfriend.’ Paul said, ‘She is now.'”

Seth did as he was told, but the kiss was weaker than Heyman wanted. When Heyman called him out on the weak kiss, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin chimed in: “She can be my girlfriend.”

Shortly after the backstage incident, Roni “left” Seth Skyfire for the Miz on OVW television. The angle elevated the both of them to top heel status in OVW, and the Miz was one step closer to his his WWE dream.

Read more OVW stories and discover over 130 years of wrestling history in Louisville in Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville.

One year later… top ten posts

It’s been a year since I started this blog experiment, and it’s been exciting to see it grow. Here are the top ten posts from the past year:

The Black Panther Jim Mitchell1. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell – Still working on this book, though it’s taking longer than anticipated. Other opportunities and the difficulty of finding solid info on this forgotten trail blazer have made it difficult, but it’s still in the works. Happy to see this was the top post from year one.

2. Help Kenny Bolin Tell His Story – The story is now out and available from Amazon.com, with some help from fans who responded.

3. Everybody Loves Blue Pants – Interview with NXT’s most electric unsigned star. Thanks again to Mad Man Pondo for the hook up.

4. Who is Dean Hill? – Profile on OVW’s legendary announcer.

5. Khloe Belle Turns Hero – “Sista don’t care” in the ring, but outside the ring is another matter.

6. The Outlaw Returns – Profile on wrestler turned actor Ben Wood.

7. Is Shane Goode Enough? – Shane Mercer’s had a tough month, but he got some well deserved attention during the lead up to Tough Enough.

8. Meet the New Owner of HWA – A second life for a beloved promotion in Ohio promotion.

9. A New Hoosier Promotion EMERGEs – Profile on central Indiana’s EMERGE wrestling, available to watch on Roku’s Indie Wrestling Channel.

10. Meet Mary Elizabeth Monroe – She’s now going by Kelly Klein in Ring of Honor, and she’s one to watch in 2016.

Given that independent wrestling dominates the top ten, you can expect more of the same in 2016 from this blog. I also have several book projects in the works in addition to the Black Panther. I’ve been working with the daughter of Lord Leslie Carlton on his biography. I just started a book on women’s wrestling. And research continues on a new Louisville book focused on the Allen Athletic Club of the 1930s-1950s.

Thanks for reading.