REAL NAME: Roger Barnes
BORN: March 30, 1945 in Montreal, Quebec
AKA: Rugged Ronnie, Hands of Stone, The One Man Gang
Ronnie Garvin’s career is flying these days. Just not in the ring.
Garvin, who gave up pro wrestling on a regular basis in 1990, is a pilot, flying cargo across the U.S. He insists that if he had gotten a chance to fly as a youngster growing up in Montreal and Gaspe, that he likely would have never gotten into pro wrestling.
“If I had been flying when I was 17, I would have never wrestled,” he told SLAM! Wrestling backstage at the International Wrestling 2000 gala on December 29, 1999 in Montreal. Of course, it takes money to learn how to fly, something that was in short supply during his upbringing.
Garvin, whose real name is Roger Barnes, was born in Montreal in 1945. At the age of two, he moved with his family to Gaspe where he learned to hunt and fish. Ten years later, the family was back in east Montreal, and Garvin began making friends with some future wrestling stars — Pat Patterson (Pierre Clermont) and Terry Garvin (Terry Joyal).
“I used to go with Pat Patterson’s sister, I used to go out with Annette. Oh yeah, we went to the same schools, lived blocks away,” recalled Garvin. All three trained to be pro wrestlers at Loisiers St. Jean de Baptiste on Rachel St. in Montreal, which was run by a priest.
“They had everything at this place. They had boxing, judo, wrestling, professional wrestling, amateur wrestling,” said Garvin. He started learning amateur wrestling, then boxing (“I didn’t like boxing” said Garvin, the future ‘Hands of Stone’), and played hockey. It was Pat Girard that turned him into a pro wrestler, and helped him get started on small shows around Montreal.
Garvin left Montreal in 1962 at 17 years of age for Boston, a common destination for Montreal wrestlers. Chin Lee got him booked there. “I left home, I quit school. I never got along with my parents until later on,” he said, adding that three years later when he returned, it was a different story. Now he had made it, and was a pro wrestler on the way up.
Wrestling took him many places, but the initial success came for him as a partner to his ‘brother’ Terry Garvin. They were tag champions in Florida in 1967, and Georgia tag team champions in 1974. Despite the common east Montreal heritage, Ronnie insists that he wasn’t the best of friends with Terry. “We weren’t even close,” he said, explaining that he has never been a night person, never one to frequent the bars. Wahoo McDaniel was one of the few wrestlers that he said he was close with, partly because they would go hunting and fishing together. “All my other friends are out of wrestling.”
The other well-know Garvin ‘brother’ is Jimmy Garvin (James Williams). But unlike Terry, he actually does have a tie to the name — his mother married Ronnie Garvin.
Over the years, Garvin wrestled just about every big name out there. But a few stand out: “Flair was one of the best”; Ole, Gene Anderson: “I thought they were great”; The Missouri Mauler.
But it’s Johnny Valentine that gets him going, even to this day. “Lord have mercy, he was sweet,” he said. “If you hear him hit somebody, and you’re outside the building, you knew it was him in the ring, because you could hear it! [laughing] He was unbelievable.”
“You could hit him as hard as you could, and he’d look at you and laugh ‘Ha, Ha, Ha!’ He had that laugh. He’d get goosebumps. No kidding,” Garvin continued. Valentine’s ‘Hammer’ was a punch, not a slap, and after he hit you, you couldn’t breathe for 30 seconds.
The pinnacle of Garvin’s career was, without a doubt, his reign as NWA World champion in 1987. It was also the turning point of his career.
“When I became World champion, after that, I just started, I lost all my … sometimes you set a goal. I had actually told a lot of people when I was a kid that that was my goal. I’m going to be the World’s champion, because I remember Yvon Robert, guys like that, Buddy Rogers,” he said.
Talk of working in the Georgia-based NWA leads to the promoter Jim Crockett. In 1976 “me and [Jim] Crockett got into a BIG argument. … I forget what it was all about … he told me not to burn my bridges. I said I’m not burning my bridges, I’m blowing the f***** up. That was the last time I talked to him. … slammed the door and was gone,” recalled Garvin. Yet nine years later, he was back wrestling for Crockett, and was made world champion.
“I don’t think I would have wanted [the world title] two, three years,” said Garvin, who held the title from Sep. 25, 1987 to Nov. 26, 1987. “It’s hard. You’re never home. It’s demanding. You’ve got to do extra, extra, extra all the time. Usually if you just wrestle, you just wrestle. But you have to go special, an interview for this. Because you’re the world champion, you’ve got to make an appearance.”
Besides the NWA World title, Garvin was also the National TV champion on numerous occasions, a Florida tag champ with Ole Anderson in 1971, held both the National singles and tag titles in Georgia, was the Mid-Atlantic champion in 1986, U.S. tag champ with Barry Windham, a two-time WWC Universal champion in Puerto Rico, and AWA TV champion in 1988.
The champ also had the ability to attract monickers. “Hands of Stone? I got that from Gordon Solie,” he said. “The One Man Gang? Les Thatcher started that.” And the Rugged Ronnie name was the WWF’s idea.
Garvin quit pro wrestling in 1990 at age 45. “I came home, threw my bag in my closet and left it there for eight months. It was mildewed so bad because it was wet! I didn’t open my stuff to let it dry, just tossed it in my closet. I went hunting, I went fishing.” Eight months, he was bored at home, working occasionally going to pick up airplanes and flying them back.
He had been flying since the early 1970s, and would fly his own plane from show to show.
Through his airplane pick-up work, he met his future employer, who encouraged him to apply to the fledgling freight company. “I didn’t have much of a resume. I had wrestled for 30 years,” Garvin said. “I’d never made a job application in my life. Never.” In the expected salary slot, Garvin said that he put $200,000. That first year, he said that he maybe made $12,000 flying, a far cry from his wrestling salary.
Garvin had been “pretty tight” with his money over the years, and said that he is pretty comfortable today. “I don’t have to work — I work by choice. I take three months off a year, and in other two, three years, I’ve decided to only work six months,” he said. “I had a fantastic life, and now I’m on my second career.”
RONNIE GARVIN STORIES
- Jan. 12, 2000: A few more stories with Ronnie Garvin
My favorite memory about Ronnie, is when he won the NWA title. Me and my brother were watching NWA “Saturday night”, the show was just about over when “Good Old” Jim Ross, told us that Ron Garvin was wrestling Ric Flair in a steel cage for the title, and that they were going to take us there live. Sure enough they brought it to us just in time to see Ron jumping off the ropes and rolling up Ric for the 1, 2, 3!! What a great memory.
Jason Rivera, Lorain, Ohio
I used to love watching Ronnie Garvin wrestle. he would tie people up and make them look like human pretzels. I remember one match he was in. He had stepped in front of his opponent’s arm with his left leg, held on to his left leg held on to his right wrist and had a foot on his back to hold him down. his opponet looked in severe pain.
When he spoke it was straight forward and confidant he has always been my favorite wrestler and I would love to watch him wrestle again when he does for hall of fame shows.
I’ll never forget my first wrestling match. My pop took my brother and I to the Wheeling Civic Center in Wheeling WV in August of ’85. We had been watching wrestling on TBS (cable just came to our area) and we heard a show was coming to town. They always advertised by having the wrestlers talk about who they were fighting in your local city so it was exciting when they mentioned your area. Upon arriving at the civic center the NWA stars were having an autograph and photo session for the fans. The biggest star there was Ronnie Garvin and he signed our program and some papers and made special attention for some crippled kids who came to the show. He won that night, and as far as I remember he came to Wheeling for every show. He was our favorite just for being there.
Andy Smith, Yuma, AZ
The first time I saw Ronnie Garvin was in the old All star wrestling that Angelo Poffo ran. Some of the stars that wrestled there were champion Randy “the Macho Man ” Savage, Bob Roop, Bob Orton jr., the Miser (Angelo Poffo), Terry Gibbs, and others. One of the great stand outs was “the One Man Gang” Ronnie Garvin. Savage was “the Man” but the one guy who came across with his genuine toughness and skill as a worker was Ronnie Garvin. I remember Garvin teaming with a very young Terry Gibbs to win the world tag team championships. It was a great blend of the old tough veteran and the young green rookie. Right before we lost the feed to the All Star show Garvin was turning on Gibbs after losing the titles asking him, ” Wasn’t the money enough for you! Wasn’t the fame enough for you.” slapping Gibbs. I then remember Garvin resurfacing in WCW. He had a great feud with then WCW booker Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Garvin came off as a genuine tough guy whose chops were very stiff and whose Garvin stomp took him to the WCW world title beating Ric Flair. Garvin then was given the entire month off to train for the rematch with Flair. This was what was attributed to him losing the belt. He was rusty while Flair had continued to wrestle and stay in top ring shape. Garvin then briefly turned heel using his lethal Hands of Stone in a short feud with the EGG SUCKING DOG Dusty Rhodes. Ronnie then went to the WWF and wrestled a feud with Greg Valentine. Then he was off to the Caribbean to fight Carlos Colon. After that I lost track of The Hands of Stone. Thanks for the memories Ronnie Garvin, the man who made famous the (in a Canadian accent) the ” I don’t care hair cut!!!”
John Mozuke, Fairmont, West Virginia
I remember seeing Ronnie Garvin vs Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in 1989(?) in Tallahassee, FL during a WWF live event. Both men were getting older, but were in great shape, especially Ronnie. The event was headlined by The Ultimate Warrior vs Andre the Giant match, but when Valentine and Garvin came out, they were fantastic. As good wrestlers who are good friends often do, then put on a GREAT match, beating, punching and slapping the hell out of each other…you could hear Valentine’s chops on Garvin all over the arena, and he would be beet-red afterwards. I grew up watching his matches in Georgia Championship Wrestling, where he stomped opponents more often than not and was always of course, in amazing physical shape…great memories from a great wrestler!
John Powell, Gainesville FL
I was Ronnie’s brother-in-law years ago and lived two houses from him. I went to a match with him once in North Carolina and it was the experience of my life. Pulling into the gate entrance and people sticking ther hands into the car and shouting, we love you ronnie and in the bleachers where I sat. They even asked me for my autograph, can you believe that? We had some good times together and a lot of good memories. He was always a gentleman.
I remember Ronnie Garvin’s feud with Boris Malenko and at Chilhowee Park when he tried to drown him in the toilet. I also remember him beaten the hell out of Bob Orton Jr.
MY brother and I used to watch NWA wrestling every Saturday. Ronnie Garvin was always my favorite of all time. I remember watching the match when he won the NWA title from Ric Flair. I was so happy watching him roll Flair up in the cage and getting the 3 count. I also loved his finishing maneuver when the opponent would be dazed and turn around while Ronnie nailed him with the Hands Of Stone knocking them silly. thanks for the memories Ronnie, I’ll never forget you!!
Take care, hope sometime I can meet you in my lifetime!!!!
Russell Hull, Pendleton, Oregon
When I first started watching wrestling on TBS back in the early to mid-80’s I got to watch Ronnie Garvin fight some of the most NASTY fights I’ve every seen. Some of the matches he had with Jake Roberts for the Georgia TV title were awesome. I actually got to see him and King Kong Bundy battle the Road Warriors for the National tag team titles – live! – in Grand Rapids Michigan. I always liked “the man with the hands of stone” and in my opinion one of the most underrated wrestlers of all time. It’s men like Garvin that make men like DiBiase, Flair and the rest superstars!
ADM, Orillia, Ontario
Ronnie Garvin was one of my favorite wrestlers. In fact, the first match I ever saw was Garvin vs. Ox Baker for the old NWA National Title. One of my fondest wrestling memories is going with my Dad to see Garvin defend the NWA World Title against Tully Blanchard at the old Cleveland Public Hall when I was 12 years old; they fought to a bloody double-countout and the fans almost rioted afterwards. Talk about real heat! What I liked the most about Garvin is that he looked and talked like a regular guy; you could relate to him. And you also got the impression from his straightforward, meat-and-potatoes style that he was legitimately tough. If modern-day wrestling had more guys like that — instead of no-talent bums bashing each other with trash cans, unfunny backstage skits and prefabricated pretty boys spouting scripted, focus group-approved catchphrases — maybe it wouldn’t be so lame.
Mike Manges, Barberton, Ohio