There’s no doubt that the recent road for Wahoo McDaniel has been tough.
Here’s McDaniel on the phone with SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Charlotte, talking about having both kidneys removed, while being on a waiting list for kidney dialysis. Yet it isn’t his own fate that has got him down, it’s losing long-time friends like Florida announcer Gordon Solie, who died last Thursday.
“I’m telling you, there’s been so many of them gone and died. A lot of my buddies have died,” McDaniel said.
“It just seems like when all of them get over 55, between 55 and 60, it seems like ‘boom!’, they’re gone. I don’t know what it is.”
Wahoo is 62 himself now and keeps pretty busy looking after his son Zack, who is 12, and golfing just about every day.
He speaks very highly of Solie, whose memorial service is this Saturday. “[Solie] was a super guy. … We had great times, he was an all-around great guy. He pushed the wrestling real good and we did well when he was there.”
McDaniel continued. “He was just one of the guys, but he was a good announcer too. You really didn’t think of him as an announcer, just one of the guys.”
The five-foot-eleven, 280-pound Ed McDaniel first got involved with pro wrestling in 1960 during the off-season of his very successful pro football career. He ended up with over 30 years in wrestling.
“I wrestled all over. I wrestled in the main event everywhere I was, I was lucky there. But you know, I played football half a year and I wrestled half a year for 10 years, which worked out good for me. I went from football to wrestling and from wrestling right back into football. Then I wrestled in New York when I was there playing football, then I wrestled in Denver when I was there playing football, then I wrestled in Florida when I was there playing football. So it worked out good for me. It helped me with the team there.”
In January 1964, he was traded from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets. The trade made McDaniel excited because he knew that he’d be soon headlining at Madison Square Gardens in the off-season, especially because MSG owner Sonny Werblin was also involved in the ownership of the Jets. On many occasions, he worked MSG with his boss and his teammates cheering him on.
There’s hardly a name in the sport from the ’60s to the ’70s to the ’80s that Wahoo didn’t fight at one time or another. His long, bloody feuds with the likes of Blackjack Mulligan, Ric Flair, Johnny & Greg Valentine, the Funks, the Koloffs, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Nick Bockwinkel, and Sgt. Slaughter are the stuff of legend. And the end of most feuds would climax in an Indian Strap Match.
“I wrestled all the top wrestlers in the world, and I travelled a lot,” said McDaniel. “I got to see a lot of places that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see.”
He played both good guy and bad guy during different periods of his career, yet his style in the ring didn’t really ever change. Same with titles. While he acquired a boatload of them over his career, they weren’t central to his existence, to his persona. Wahoo’s pride in both his Native American heritage and his athletic career was almost the equivalent of a title anyways.
Wahoo McDaniel doesn’t begrudge today’s wrestlers, bringing in the big money as big-name celebrities, even if he doesn’t watch the matches much now.
“I’m happy for the wrestlers. I hope that they make a lot of money. They deserve it,” he said.
When there’s a show in Charlotte, he’ll be there seeing his old friends backstage, like Jerry Brisco or Pat Patterson, and talking to the new generation of wrestling stars. “We talk. They treat me very nice,” he said of the youngsters. “They all come up, shake my hand. Very polite.”