Cowboy Bob Orton has been wrestling a long time. Now, at 49, he can look back at his career with ease, savouring the good times, but not dwelling on the problems, the could-have beens.
These days, he plays golf during the summer, and helps to coach high school wrestling during the winter. And three or four times a month, he puts the trunks back on and is a pro wrestler again.
“I love wrestling. I’ve wrestled since I was nine years old. It’s in the blood,” Orton recently told SLAM! Wrestling. His father Bob Orton Sr. was a well-known pro wrestler, and Junior knew that he had to follow his father.
It wasn’t an easy path to follow. Senior “was against it at first,” said Orton Jr. “He thought I was too small. But once I started going, and was successful, he got on the bandwagon.”
Orton Jr. started as a referee in the early seventies. “Eddie Graham was the promoter down in Florida, who I started wrestling amateur for when I was about nine. He had a wrestling school down there. So I got married, and decided that school wasn’t going to work. [Graham] wouldn’t let me wrestle, but he would let me referee. I got up to a couple hundred pounds, I think it was — there weren’t any ‘roids or anything back then, or at least I didn’t know about them.”
Orton Jr. trained with Hiro Matsuda, Jack Brisco and Eddie Graham. He lost his first match in Florida to George McCreary.
For the next twenty years, Orton was on the road. His base was the American southeast, mainly Florida and Georgia. His favorite promoter was Sam Muchnick in St. Louis.
He made many trips to Japan, even though he didn’t enjoy it. “After I’d been [to Japan] once or twice, it got to where I just wanted to go home,” Orton explained. “It’s an annoying country, if you can understand what I mean,” going on to say that everything is smaller – especially to an American the size of Orton – and he didn’t speak the language. Yet for three or four years, all that Orton did was travel to Japan because he made good money.
Being away from home was tough, but it wasn’t strange to him – his father had led the same nomadic lifestyle.
“[My father] was gone a lot, just like my kids when they were younger, I was gone a lot,” Orton Jr. said. “I didn’t really know my dad until I was probably out of school. It’s tough. You’ve got to take care of yourself a lot. Of course, my mom was great. You know, it’s just the way life is. You’ve got to go with what you’re dealt.”
Cowboy Bob Orton never got to be a world champion, though he battled many of them. “I guess I wasn’t ready for it,” Orton surmised. “I had a lot of regional championships, and world tag team championships and stuff. So, I’ve been on top and looked down the hill at everybody.”
He also never got to see his brother Barry rise much above jobber status as Barry O.
“He never got a break,” said Orton of his brother. “It’s a shame, because he was a pretty good hand.” He said that his brother now does computer work in Las Vegas.
When asked about his regrets, and whether he would do it all again, Orton offered an interesting response. “I wouldn’t take the goofy bumps. Maybe the back wouldn’t have went out and I wouldn’t have had to needed to substance abuse there for a while to keep going, there’s so much pain. I would’ve done more with the weights, I never was a real big weightlifter-type. I think it will protect your frame. I think that’s where I kind of ran into a problem. My son, now I’m grooming my son to start. He’s 19, 6’5″, probably weighs 250 [pounds].”
Turns out that just as he followed his father Bob Orton Sr. into the squared circle, and now he’s training his son Randy to be a professional wrestler.
There’s no talk of Bob Orton Jr. Jr. as a gimmick though. Orton said that Randy will “be whatever Randy wants to be.” ‘Ace’ Orton is not a big fan of today’s wrestling scene, and said that on Monday nights he has to leave the house because his son watches so much of it.
Orton would like to see his son go to WCW. “It seems like they wrestle more down there and they’ve got the more qualified guys in the ring. It seems like New York, they have kind of gone towards that extreme thing, I guess.”
FAN Q & A
Q: I’ve never asked anyone this, but I’ve always meant to. What was it like to have a doll of yourself? I loved that you could take off the hat! [Greg Oliver]
A: My kids have a couple of them lying around. Heck, man, it’s pretty neat. You see all them other dolls, and then you’re right there with them, you know, Space Rangers and all that other stuff. Hey, great.
Q: Who were your great friends on the road? [Neil Harris, Manchester, England]
A: Ah, Piper and Muraco were probably my two best friends. Dickie Slater maybe. And we were together a long time.
Q: What was the highlight of your career? [Matthew H. Gardner]
A: The highlight of my career, I guess, was stepping into the ring in Detroit, 93,000 people. That was just phenomenal.
Q: Did you have any idea when you stepped into the ring at Madison Square Gardens for WrestleMania I of what it was going to become?
A: I never gave it a whole lot of thought. McMahon took care of all that stuff and I was just there to wrestle. You know, I thought it was great, and the crowd reaction and everything was phenomenal. The newspapers even got behind wrestling for a while. So it was a turning point for sure.
Q: Would you consider returning to one of the Big 2 for a backstage job, or as a manager for somebody like Bradshaw, or the West Texas Rednecks? [Matthew H. Gardner]
A: Manager or something like that. I don’t know, I’d just have to talk to somebody. Probably not. You know, once or twice, three, four times, whatever I go a month, that’s plenty.
Q: Did you save your money? Are you in good financial shape?
A: Not too bad.
Q: In my opinion, some of your greatest matches were with Ric Flair, Jimmy Snuka and Dick Slater. Who do you feel you had your best run/matches against? [Terry Harris]
A: Well, I fought so many great wrestlers. I really had a whole, whole lot of classic matches … I think Jack Brisco I had some of my best matches with. Flair and Snuka, yeah. Bobby Backlund. There’s a lot of guys that I had very good matches with.
Q: Did you feel being Roddy Piper’s bodyguard at all tarnished your career, usually rookies start out as bodyguards, not full fledged heels? [Terry Harris]
A: To be honest with you, in the mid, early 80s, I hurt my back real, real bad. And to do that stint with Piper was really, really good for me because I didn’t have to do what I normally did in the ring. At the time, it was just like easy money. And at the same time, it was a lot of fun being with Piper. My god, the guy’s just mad!
Q: Do you still keep in touch with him?
A: Yeah, I talk to him every once in a while.
Q: Who else do you keep in touch with?
A: Muraco, Piper. That’s pretty much it. I do talk to George ‘The Animal’ Steele every once in a while.
Q: What was the Grand Wizard like to work? [Terry Harris]
A: That was fantastic because he took care of everything. You didn’t have to do a thing. Any place you went, everything was ready. He was a very, very shrewd manager also so I learned a lot from the Wizard. It was a great thing for me.
Q: Who was your favourite manager to work with? [Terry Harris]
A: Favourite manager to work with? I was with Bobby Heenan for a number of years, a year anyway. I was with The Grand Wizard, of course. Gary Hart in ’72 or ’73, way back when. They were all the top guys in their profession. But, I guess if you talk about humorous, it would have to be Heenan. Down to earth, the Wizard. Gary Hart was methodical, serious, very serious.
Q: The promos you used to cut I think would be very over today, your interviews were almost ahead of their time, any thoughts on that statement? [Terry Harris]
A: I never thought that I was a very good interview. I left that to Piper and whatever manager I was with at the time.
Q: How is the arm? Are you still wearing the cast?
A: I was playing golf the other day, and the ball was kind of behind a tree and I tried to do one of those Sergio Garcia shots, and I hit the tree! So I don’t know. I might have to wear the cast down there [at Heroes of Wrestling]. I have to see how this thing gets to feeling. But it was doing great until I hit that tree!
Q: You were one of the first to really use a cast in the ring, using it as a gimmick. How did that idea come about?
A: That was all McMahon.