By MAURO RANALLO – For SLAM! Wrestling
Growing up, there weren’t many things my family did together. The one activity all of us enjoyed as a unit was tuning in to All-Star Wrestling on BCTV every Saturday afternoon and heading to Vancouver to take in the weekly cards on Monday nights.
It was a tradition that began when my grandparents and my mother immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1964. Not being able to say so much as “hello” in their new home’s language, they were attracted to the wrestling warriors due to the fact that the action housed in the arena told a story and they could be entertained even though they didn’t understand a word avuncular announcer Ron Morrier was saying.
My mother was enraptured by what she saw in the squared circle, and to this day I don’t know if it was because of the buff bodies paraded around in what can best be described as their underwear or the morality play of good versus evil. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for my mom and her parents to become fixtures at the weekly shows put on at the storied PNE Gardens in Vancouver and in the cozy confines of the Mission Legion.
During the sixties and seventies, the Vancouver promotion was under the aegis of the oldest governing body in pro-wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance, which was formed in 1948.
Back then, Vancouver was considered one of the jewels in the NWA crown. The territory featured Gene Kiniski, who defeated Lou Thesz in 1966 for the hallowed heavyweight championship before relinquishing it to Dory Funk Jr. in 1969.
Other grappling greats who graced the ring in Lotus Land included Don Leo Jonathan, Rocky Johnson, Bulldog Bob Brown, John Tolos, Steve Little Bear, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Playboy Buddy Rose, and Chief Jay Youngblood.
One of the earliest recollections I have of seeing the weekly TV show was as a timid six year old. I was subjected to the vile visage of The Brute on my boob tube and it sent me scurrying to my room in fear. It took plenty of coaxing from my amused dad before I finally emerged from under my bed ready to confront the freakish face staring at me from the 21-inch screen. My father, who started watching the mat maniacs when he came to the True North Strong and Free from Italy to exchange vows with my mom in 1967, tried to tell me that The Brute was just pretending to be crazy. He said he was just part of the show. Of course, to a kid who believed Santa existed well into his teens, I was having none of it. I thought the Brute and all the other characters whom we allowed into our humble abode every week were really as they appeared to be on television.
My dad was able to ascertain early on in his viewing career that Pro-wrestling was “fake”, but he allowed himself to suspend disbelief as myriad others did back then because the product looked “real”. The two combatants applied holds and counterholds and appeared to really be trying to beat each other.
Granted, there were some histrionics thrown into the mix, but wrestling remained the focal point. I can’t count how many times I was vituperated at school for steadfastly maintaining that pro wrestling was the genuine article and that it should be held in the same high esteem that was afforded other sports like hockey and baseball. Of course, I ended up eating my words when the “business” began being exposed by the mainstream media.
I must admit I felt like I had been betrayed by my best friend when I discovered that the combatants really didn’t despise each other and that the “sport” was as real as Rena Mero’s chest. After a brief mourning period, I decided it didn’t really matter to me that it was just a show. I still loved it.
Pro wrestling has been in my blood stream since I was in diapers and I envisioned myself being the World champ one day. Of course, the man upstairs had other ideas as he “blessed” me with a physique more suited for curling and slo-pitch than for the rigors of ‘rasslin.
I did not let my diminutive size stop me from pursuing a career in the world of wristlocks and dropkicks. Heck,if I couldn’t create the action maybe I could describe it. You see, there are many people who believe that when the doctor, upon my introduction into this world, spanked my bottom I started blabbing not bawling. Yes, it’s true! It’s true! (to coin a phrase) I enjoy talking as much as I enjoy wrestling. I decided if I couldn’t be the next Bruno Sammartino, I was going to be the next Gordon Solie.
Thankfully, I was able to see my dream come to fruition earlier than I could ever imagine as I made my debut as a wrestling announcer/manager in 1986 at the tender age of 16 for the same All-Star Wrestling show I had grown up watching. Over the next three years I would become one of the most despised heel managers in the Pacific Northwest.
The opportunity given to me by Promoter Al Tomko would help a launch a successful 12-year broadcasting career, which eventually led to a stint with the the revamped (but on hiatus) Stampede Wrestling in Calgary.
Mauro Ranallo can be heard in January doing play-by-play for a Kickboxing and Muay Thai fighting card on TSN.