Tagged in: women’s wrestling

Elvira Snodgrass: The Toughest “Girl” Wrestler of Them All

Mildred Burke was tough. She was a legitimate shooter trained by Billy Wolfe who could take on men as well as women. She held the women’s world championship for more than twenty years. She went two out of three falls most nights in the semi-main event or main most nights, and in the eyes of many fans, including me, she never lost it.

Mae Young was undeniably tough. She wrestled many of those main events against Mildred Burke and afterwards, went down to the bar to smoke cigars, drink beer, and pick fights with the men. She took bumps well into her eighties that made everyone cringe, and she never backed down from anyone.

Mildred was tough. Mae was tough. I’m here to tell you, Elvira Snodgrass was tougher than either of them.

Elvira has been a fascination of mine for a few years now. It started with the now debunked story that she and Mildred Burke once drew over 15,000 fans in Louisville, Kentucky for a main event, and grew from there. She’s the forgotten woman in the story of the golden age of female grapplers, largely due to her early exit and untimely death. The only clue as to what happened to her came from a scrapbook kept by Wild Bill Zim. Zim noted next to a photo of the two of them that she had lost an arm and died around 1957.

Now the truth can be told.

Just a few months ago, I received an email from Elvira’s nephew Aubrey Fuller, who read a previous story I posted about Elvira. He was able to fill in some amazing gaps in Elvira’s story – starting with the very beginning.

Elvira’s birth name was Gutherine Fuller and she was from Varnado, Louisiana. Her mother was a half-blooded Cherokee, and Elvira was proud of the fact she had “Indian blood” in her veins. Her first marriage was at an early age when she married Johnny Smith. Her only child was named Mae Bell Smith.  She is listed on the 1930 US Census as living in the house of her father, John Willie Fuller of Varnado. She would make annual trips to Louisiana to visit with her mother.

Elvira was married three times, Johnny Smith, Bob Snodgrass, and lastly Paul Hazelbaker. Aubrey’s father said Bob Snodgrass, who wrestled under the name Elmer Snodgrass, was the strongest person he ever met. “My dad was a very strong man whom no one would pick a fight with, but he said Elmer Snodgrass was the strongest person he had ever seen.  Dad said he could pick up a bale of cotton on his back and walk off with it.  MY dad was not prone to tell lies, so I always believed him.”

According to the 1930 US Census, Guthrine and her first husband Johnny were living with Guthrine’s parents with their daughter in 1930, along with all her younger siblings, including Aubrey’s father. By 1940 she had moved out, but daughter Mae Bell was still living with her grandparents. It’s believed she moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Billy Wolfe’s core group of lady wrestlers were based.

“Life was tough in rural Louisiana in the early part of the 1900s,” says Aubrey Fuller. “In 1940, my dad reported approximately 450 dollars for a full year of work.  Aunt Gutherine didn’t like the hardships of the area and moved to greener pastures.”

After she gained fame as a wrestler, Elvira would make trips back to Bogalusa, Louisiana to see her family.  She would let everyone know in advance when she would be home so that all of the nieces and nephews could be together when she came for her visit. “When she arrived, she would enter the building, throws handfuls of pennies, nickels, and dimes on the floor and holler ‘Razoo!’  She loved to see the children scrambling for the money.”

“When Aunt Gutherine visited Bogalusa, my mother would bake her a 4-5 pound fish called a buffalo. They are members of the carp family. They are not very tasty and smelled even worse as it was cooking in the oven.  I never understood why she liked that fish.”

Much has been said in latter years of the division between the lady wrestlers working for Wolfe, especially between Burke and the rest of the group. The story has been largely put forward by Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah, both of whom had their issues with Burke and Wolfe. Fuller recalls getting a much different impression from his aunt during these brief visits home.

“At one time, we had pictures of Aunt Gutherine eating dinner with Mildred Burke and other lady wrestlers of the era. She told us that most of the ladies got along well.”

Elvira was a fiercely independent woman who usually traveled alone on the long car rides from one show to the next. “When she traveled alone around the country in her car, match or no match, she would place a man’s hat upon the rear window sill of the car. The theory was that other men seeing the hat would think a man was sleeping on the back seat and not bother or attempt to molest her.  I think this was mostly done after she lost her arm in the accident.”

Yes, just as Wild Bill Zim recorded in his scrapbook, Elvira lost an arm in a single car crash near Florence, Kentucky. It’s the story of how she lost the arm that makes her arguably the toughest woman ever to lace up a pair of boots.

Elvira rolled her car into an embankment, just out of sight from the road. Her arm was badly mangled and pinned, and she was unable to get her arm free. She waited a long time for help to come, but when help never arrived, she did what she had to do. She cut the arm off just above the elbow herself. Once free of the vehicle, she crawled back up to the road and sought medical help.

Update: It should be noted that story in Daily Times from June 26, 1952, the lists Elvira’s injuries as a compound fracture of the left arm and a scalp laceration. I have two sources that claim Elvira did indeed lose the arm, but I can’t verify for certain how or when that might have been lost. Given the nature of her chosen profession, it’s possible there might have been some kayfabe involved in the newspaper story to keep her injury a secret at the time. I will be digging deeper on this story to find out what really happened.

Incredible as the story was, family lore has it that Elvira kept wrestling for a time with one arm. I have yet to confirm this story as well, but I will be going back into the newspapers.com archives in the future to find out.

One other rumor I had come across said that Elvira had died of a suicide. That story didn’t sit right after hearing how she had survived the car crash, and I can confirm the rumor is false. Elvira died at an early age from the same cause that Aubrey’s father and a few of his uncles: cardiac arrest. She died in Columbus, Ohio, and was buried in Glen Rest Memorial Estate on East Main Street in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

No doubt there is more to this incredible woman’s story to be told, and I’ll be sure to pass it on as I learn more. If nothing else, these new stories about Elvira’s toughness prove she deserves to take her place along side Mildred Burke and Mae Young as one of the strongest women ever to grace the squared circle.

You can read more of Elvira’s story in the book Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club.

Photo of Elvira and Wild Bill Zim courtesy of Mike Zim.

Six Inconvenient Truths About WWE and Indy Wrestling

I don’t like to editorialize about the WWE, and I don’t like to go negative in this space. That said, after hearing the air get sucked out of the building at the end of the Money in the Bank match, it’s time we face some inconvenient truths.

Inconvenient Truth #1: The WWE doesn’t want to push your favorite indy stars. Over the last several years they WWE has snatched up a dream roster of independent wrestling stars, but it’s becoming clear none of these signees are ever going to be “the guy.” Styles, Owens, and Rollins have done well carrying the top belts for long periods of time, but when push comes to shove, the WWE will always favor their own.

Inconvenient Truth #2: The WWE wants the next top guy(s) to be their guys. Never mind that independent wrestlers bring not only an established fan base but experience and ring saavy to the table. The WWE still believes it can manufacture stars from scratch at its Performance Center and push them over the independents. Get used to seeing Sami Zayn staring up in frustration at the latest home grown wrestler on top of the Money in the Bank ladder. This is your new reality in the WWE.

So why does the WWE continue to mine the independents?

Inconvenient Truth #3: The WWE is spending money on independent wrestlers to bleed the indies dry of their top stars. It’s not about enhancing the roster. It’s about hurting the competition by taking away their marquee stars and using those highly paid signees to put over their chosen elect.

So what does all this mean?

Inconvenient Truth #4: Any independent star who has a WWE contract needs to consider more than just the money. That’s a hard, hard thing to do when you’re looking at going from $25 a night to the top of the business, but is the WWE really going to give you your dream shot? The roster is overcrowded. Guys who were on top all around the world are forced to job to pre-fabbed stars. Dalton Castle, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks have made the right call, staying where they are instead of taking the money for a one way ticket to obscurity. (Remember how excited we all were when Anderson and Gallows got signed?)

Of course it’s easy for the guys who are being paid well to stay put, but what about the guys struggling to make it?

Here comes the most inconvenient truth of all.

Inconvenient Truth #5: Fans who are sick of it need to seriously consider where they spend their money. If you keep paying for a product you hate and refuse to spend a dime on ROH, NJPW, High Spots, CHIKARA, CZW, or any number of alternatives. Am I suggesting you cancel your Network subscription? Not necessarily. I am saying you should stop spending all that fat cash on T-shirts and Pops and Booty-O’s Cereal and spend a little more on a wrestling product you can care about!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: one ticket to a WWE show costs the same amount as six tickets to an independent show; or two tickets and two T-shirts; or a six month subscription to the alternative wrestling network of your choice. The money you spend there goes into the pockets of real men and women who need and appreciate it far more than a faceless corporation that long ago decided it knows better than you what you want to see.

Inconvenient Truth #6: The WWE is not about to change its ways any time soon. Indy stars will continue to take the WWE money, and Inconvenient Truths 1-3 will continue to play out.

Knowing this to be true, you have a choice. You can continue watching a product you hate and griping about it online, or you can make a choice to spend your time and hard-earned money on a wrestling show you do love.

Life’s too short to spend on these Internet rants. I’m going to find something I enjoy.

Tell Me Again Why Women’s Wrestling Is No Good?

Women’s wrestling matches in the WWE were once called popcorn matches. It’s the match you got up and left to get popcorn and a drink or use the bathroom so you wouldn’t miss the next match. In all fairness, women’s wrestling in the WWE was, for a long time, not that great. It was exhibition, not wrestling, and thankfully, that era is over.

That said, the WWE is far behind the rest of the wrestling world when it comes to women’s wrestling. Women are in the main event more often than men. Women wrestle toe to toe with the men in many places. And some women, like Mickie Knuckles and Randi West, are consistently stealing the whole show wherever they go.

The clips below are from a PWF show two weeks ago. The ladies are currently “suspended” from the promotion due to what happens in the video below. Apparently, they picked the wrong car to mess with. It takes me back to one of the first indie shows I ever attended, when I saw Heidi Lovelace (Ruby Riot) and Jordynne Grace destroy each other in the parking lot during a “Falls Count Anywhere in Clark County” match at IWA Mid-South.

The clip does contain some language. Give it a look, and tell me you’d get up and go to the bathroom when these two ladies take the ring. I dare you.

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!

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is a Knock Out

A few years ago I started work on what was going to be a history of women’s wrestling. I did some research, bought a few magazines, reached out to a few ladies about interviews, but ended up setting the project aside for another, and then another. I’m glad I did. Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy have delivered one of the most enjoyable and educational wrestling books I’ve read in a while, and it’s 100 times better than the book I envisioned writing.

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is both a history and a “who’s who.” They tell the story of women’s wrestling by introducing the reader to the ladies who wrote that history. Every era, from the dawn of the 20th century up until 2017, is thoroughly covered. You’ll meet the pioneers of women’s wrestling, Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe’s troupe, the women who trained under the Fabulous Moolah, the ladies of GLOW, the legends of Japan, the Divas, the Knockouts, the Shimmer Girls, and the current stars of the WWE.

As much as I enjoyed Pat’s previous collaboration with Bertrand Herbert, Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screwjobs, he and and Dan have outdone themselves. They cut through the kayfabe storylines and give you the real story behind the fight to legalize wrestling, the battle to legalize intergender wrestling, the checkered legacy of the Fabulous Moolah. They capture the struggle women have faced to be treated as equals, to receive equal pay, and to be taken seriously as wrestlers.

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s a minor one. There simply wasn’t the room to cover every influential woman in wrestling history, and my favorite golden age grappler Elvira Snodgrass is sadly missing. Nevertheless, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is a solid book and a must read for fans who love the history of this business. It’s enough of a page turner that when my long-awaited copy of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn arrived, Thrawn had to wait his turn until the ladies had their due.

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle is available on Amazon.com. Get it, read it, share it. Bravo, Dan and Pat. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Shayna Baszler on the Kick Out at Two Podcast

If you heard last week’s episode of the Kick Out at Two Podcast (and if you haven’t, shame on you!), you heard Britt Baker tell the story about the time she was called upon as a dental student to assist fellow wrestler and MMA star Shayna Baszler with a broken tooth after a match. The tooth story is only the tip of the iceberg with Baszler, according to Baker, and this week, the Kick Out at Two delivers with their second women’s interview in a row.

Get to know Shayna Baszler on this week’s edition of the KOAT podcast, available on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher. And if you missed Britt Baker go back and get last week’s episode as well.

Kick Out at Two is the place to meet the rising stars of Indy wrestling. Be sure to subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode!

Britt Baker on Kick Out at Two

I forgot to ask Righteous Jesse who was on the podcast this week. I usually check in with him on Thursday, the night Bonnaroo Brittany is frantically editing and uploading the new episode for the week. I just checked my Podcast app and was thrilled to see it is none other than Britt Baker.

Britt Baker is one of my favorite ladies on the independent scene, one I’m really hoping will swing out this way in the coming year. The pride of Pittsburgh has been on a roll over the last year, and she’s become a star to watch in 2017. This week she discusses a number of things with the KOAT gang, including donuts and her status as the “sweetheart” of AIW, and she answers questions from KOAT’s Twitter followers.

Download the Kick Out at Two Podcast every week from iTunes, Stitcher, or Soundcloud. It’s a great place to discover all that’s happening in independent wrestling.

Can’t Spell WWE without I-N-D-Y

Dear WWE and NXT Fans:

I’d like to introduce you to a few people.

This is Aaron Williams, “The Baddest Man Alive.” Aaron had a great weekend because he just won the Pro Wrestling Blitz Heavyweight Champion.

These are my pals Eric Emanon and Thomas Brewington. They had a great weekend as well. They are now the New Phoenix Gemini Tag Team Champions.

And this is the King of Dayton and proud member of Ohio Is 4 Killers, Dave Crist. Dave had a great weekend too. He pinned John Wayne Murdoch clean to become the new IWA Mid-South Heavyweight Champion.

Why am I telling you about these gentlemen? Because I want you to know them. I want you to follow them. I want you to support them.

As a WWE fan, I know you are aware just how many independent wrestlers have become part of the world’s largest wrestling promotion. A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Cesaro all had stellar careers in the indies before making it to NXT and WWE. If you’re also following NXT, then you’re already following the rise of Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Cassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero), Ruby Riot (aka Heidi Lovelace) and the other indy “darlings” the WWE has snatched up recently.

I want you to know that the independent wrestling promotions that Gargano, Ciampa, Hero, Lovelace, and the others left behind are not dying off like the old territories the WWF killed in the 1980s. They are thriving. They are growing not only in popularity, but in quality. I want you to know this because I want you to become a fan.

Yes, it is true, the independent scene is full of green wrestlers, spot monkeys, and guys who only care about getting their s*** in, but there are many men and women and tag teams still working the independents who could easily fill any spot on the NXT or WWE roster right now.

Independent wrestling is growing. There are more promotions in more places than there have been in a generation. Your local promotion(s) may run monthly or weekly, which means you can see live wrestling far more often than you are now with the WWE.

True, the crowds and venues are smaller in the indies, but that also means tickets are more affordable, and your access to the wrestlers is greater. You’re closer to the action and at a much better price, and the heels can actually hear you when you call them names.

And here’s the best part: you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to meet your favorite stars. The T-shirts at the gimmick tables are half of what you’ll pay at a WWE show. Everyone is happy to shake your hand and take a selfie – except maybe Mr. Darius Carter.

I’m not telling you to give up the WWE. I enjoy the Network and NXT as much as any fan. But make no mistake: the WWE and NXT would not be what they are without the INDY scene that has come to be. I’m offering you the chance to see more live wrestling. I’m asking you to give guys like Aaron, Dave, Eric, and Thomas a chance. I want you to get out there and discover other guys like Matt Riddle, Ron Mathis, The Hitman for Hire Mr. Grim, Desmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz, Gary Jay, Chip Day, Murder One, Timmy Lou Retton, Matt Cross, Michael Elgin, Menace, Facade, Jake Crist, Sami Callahan, and Jimmy Rave. I want you to discover the other ladies who fueled the “women’s revolution,” like Kelly Klein, LuFisto, Su Yung, Samantha Heights, Leva Bates (remember Blue Pants?), Mickie Knuckles, Rachel Ellering, Taeler Hendrix, Candice LeRae, Veda Scott, Mia Yim, Allisin Kay, Jessicka Havok, and Jordynne Grace. I want you to discover the amazing tag teams packing houses across the country including the Hooligans, Viking War Party, War Machine, OI4K, and the Carnies. You can even find comedy wrestlers, guys like Colt Cabana, Space Monkey, and the notorious party animal, Joey Ryan.

There’s never been a better time to get into independent wrestling than now. Search a few of these names on YouTube. Find and follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Then find a promotion running in your area. I’m not asking you to trade one for the other. Just get out and support the superstars of tomorrow, today. They will not let you down.

Sincerely,

A converted, die-hard indy wrestling fan

Watch Now: Jordynne Grace vs. Mr. Darius Carter

What’s better than seeing two of your favorite wrestlers matched in the ring? When the promoter of said match posts it for free online!

I first saw Jordynne Grace about three years ago in a “Falls Count Anywhere in Clark County” match at IWA Mid-South. It was a brutal affair between Jordynne and Heidi Lovelace that spilled out into the parking lot (but sadly, not much further). Jordynne won thanks to an assist from the notorious Kongo Kong, but both women left no doubt as to their toughness.

Grace has grown a lot in the last three years. She’s been tagging with another favorite of mine, LuFisto, and she’s getting high profile title shots like this one at Battle Club Pro against the notorious Mr. Darius Carter. Watch the match below, and be on the lookout for both of these young stars in your area.

Aria Blake on Kick Out at Two

As a fan of women’s wrestling, I was thrilled when Kick Out at Two did No Men November. I’m equally thrilled that they haven’t waited another full year to book their next female guest.

Aria Blake is only a few years into her career, but she’s off to a fast start. She’s an ACW Women’s Champion who has worked for SHINE, Girl Fight, and many other promotions. She’s a student of Jay Lethal, and this week, she’s sharing her story on the podcast.

Download Kick Out at Two every week on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

Get to know today’s indy wrestlers. They are the stars of the future.