SPARTANBURG, SC — Lions, princesses, and Ivan Koloff? Oh my! Wrestling fans were treated to that, and much more, at the 2004 Beauty and the Beasts wrestling promotion on Saturday.

The event was sponsored by the Miss South Carolina Organization, which brought together the rare combination of pro wrestling and beauty pageantry in one of the south’s most historic wrestling arenas.

“We felt there was a segment of the population of South Carolina that did not know anything about wrestling or the Miss South Carolina organization, so we wanted to bring the two together and see if we could educate them about what we are as an organization and showcase something that is wonderful,” said Joseph Sanders IV, Vice President and Executive Producer of the Miss South Carolina Organization.

Ricky Steamboat, left, and George South. Photo by Annie Johnson

In attendance were Miss South Carolina and Miss Teen South Carolina, as well a handful of wild animals showcased by Hollywild Animal Park of Spartanburg, a primary sponsor of the Miss South Carolina organization. The animals included a tiger prowling at ringside and a white python posing for pictures with fans.

The wrestling side of the event was organized by former wrestler George South and his Exodus Wrestling Alliance, which promotes shows in the Carolinas.

More than 1,000 fans were able to meet and greet their childhood wrestling super stars. Among the legends were the “Boogie Woogie” Man Jimmy Valiant, Ole Anderson, Koloff, Rick Steamboat, and the still-popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

A throwback atmosphere invigorated fans as the event took place in the old Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, the long-time home of Tuesday night television tapings with Jim Crockett Promotions, the organization that dominated in the Mid-Atlantic into the late 1980s.

Unfortunately, pro wrestling has taken quite a bump in recent years, with less old-style wrestling and tasteless skits. As a result, events like this one are all fans of traditional wrestling have to hold onto. Anderson, author of Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Pro Wrestling, remarked on modern professional wrestling: “It’s a movie now, but a bad movie.”

The nostalgic atmosphere did, however, give fans the opportunity to forget the “bad movie” and remember wrestling the way it was.

A small, well-worn ring in the middle of the arena was the focal point of action as many old timers pulled their tights back on and hopped into the squared circle. The highlight of the evening occurred when Miss South Carolina, Jessica Eddins, got into the act, distracting the villainous team of the Masked Superstar and South in the main event match against the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

When they started to turn toward her, long-time fan favorite Johnny Weaver rushed from the back to slap a sleeper hold on South and help the good guys to the win.

The Legends were then presented with awards shaped like a crown from the Miss South Carolina Organization. Former star Don Kernodle joked, “I finally got a crown!” And David Flair accepted an award on behalf of his father, Ric Flair, who was the area’s top wrestler for years.

Wrestling has dramatically changed from the days when fans were legitimately scared of the likes of Ole Anderson. Events like this, and the recent Mid-Atlantic reunion in Charlotte, manage to keep an old sport alive and let adults relive their childhood dreams. And event officials said they hoped to run another mix of Beauty and the Beasts next year.

Match Results:
Jason Jones pinned Jason King
Chief Jay Eagle pinned Sonny Landel
Bambi pinned Peggy Lee Leather
Jimmy Valiant pinned the Masked Assassin
The Barbarian won a battle royal
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express beat George South and the Masked Superstar

Annie Johnson is a staff writer for The Johnsonian at Winthrop University, where she is studying mass communications.