In the spirit of the holidays, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Buck Zumhofe’s mission statement begins with a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “To keep alive a way of life that we hold dear.”
That sentiment has rung true for the self-proclaimed “original rock and roller” and owner of Rock n Roll Wrestling for more than a decade. “That’s right, we started my little Rock n Roll Wrestling promotion here, goin’ on 11 years,” Zumhofe told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Cyrus, Minnesota. “We haven’t had a weekend off in nine years!”
That’s not about to change any time soon, as Zumhofe has shows booked every weekend this month, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The former AWA World Light Heavyweight Champion will also be making a rare appearance at K & S WrestleFest in Essington, PA on Saturday, December 11th. “I don’t do conventions very often because I’m in charge of keeping everything on the road, making sure the ring is in good shape and the truck is tuned up,” said Zumhofe, having just returned from an event in Oaks, ND. “And along with owning the company, I still climb in the ring and wrestle.”
Likely, many wrestling fans remember Zumhofe primarily as and AWA mid-carder who carried a boom box. “But I had my heyday of being a headliner,” he said. “In the early ’80s, I actually wrestled main event matches against Mad Dog Vachon here and there. I wrestled with Greg (Gagne) and Jim (Brunzell) in six-man tags all over the place. I wrestled with the Baron (Von Raschke), he and I wrestled Sheikh Adnan Alkaissy and Ken Patera, or somebody in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Chicago.”
A nostalgic wrestling audience, plus a lot of hard work has made Rock n Roll Wrestling a success for Zumhofe, aided by a good location and name recognition, he admits. “I believe the reason we’re still doing well around here is because we’re tapping into a lot of people who remember All Star Wrestling,” he said. “So I use that all the time when I ask people, ‘Do you remember All Star Wrestling? I was the guy with the big radio!’ and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember you!’ So that makes it an easier sell.
“Plus we have the lovely ladies who wrestle, including my daughter, ‘The Virgin,’ who has made quite a name for herself in our company. Boy, people call for her all the time because they want to see The Virgin. She’s a big show for us. Plus, we have our own set of midgets that we use regularly.”
Rock n Roll Wrestling also has a seven-foot-one giant. “His name is Big Rig and he’s 520 pounds,” Zumhofe boasts. “He’s only 24 years old and I think he would be an excellent candidate for the WWE. And this is really off the wall, but I’ve also got a kid here that’s only 21 years old and is a dead ringer for Shawn Michaels. When the young fans come to the wrestling shows, like the county fair, they actually think he is Shawn Michaels! I’ve been trying to get a hold of Vince (McMahon) to put this kid over because he’s great — he can do all the high-flying head scissors, old school traditional wrestling, new style, he can do it all. I have big expectations for him, but I’d hate to lose him because, boy, he’s a big sell for me also.”
Along with young aspiring wrestlers, some of whom are graduates of the Gagne Wrestling Academy, Rock n Roll Wrestling has featured AWA legends Baron Bon Raschke, Mad Dog Vachon and Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie, along with WWE superstars Brutus Beefcake and Eugene, since the promotion’s first show at Checker’s Bar in Hewitt, MN in September 2000.
“And I still love gettin’ into that ring to wrestle,” said Zumhofe, who still dons his trademark rock and roll jump suit. “I’m pretty proud, I think I’m in my 38th year comin’ up. I’m a year or two behind Ric Flair y’know, and I’m a couple of years ahead of Hulk Hogan. I’ve been in the ring with just about anybody who was anybody, in a tag or single match.
“Of course, I have to give credit to Verne Gagne, he was the one who trained me and brought me in. And the second was Ed Francis who booked and ran Honolulu, Hawaii. They would bring in Harley (Race) and Nick (Bockwinkel) and whoever the top wrestler was at the time would get to wrestle the champion.
“When I was in Honolulu, I liked the way Wahoo McDaniel would get beat up, and beat up, then he would get up and do his tomahawk chop and his dance to make his comeback. Then when I was in the ring, I would get beat up, and beat up, and I would dance and shake my booty when I would make my comeback. And then it was Ed Francis who took me aside and said, ‘Y’know Buck, those Hawaiian girls really, really like it when you do that dance.’ And I said, ‘Dance? What dance?’ And he said, ‘Y’know, when you wiggle your butt.’ So that was it, the wiggle turned into the rock and roll thing, then the rock and roll thing evolved into me wearing the wrestling rock and roll suit. Then it was almost two years later I added the (boom box) radio, and that completed it.”
Zumhofe would perch that trademark ghettoblaster high on his shoulder, one night blaring Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll Music, the next night Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing (in the days before the copyright police would nix such infractions). “When I’m promoting my wrestling shows today, the radio is always brought up as people ask, ‘You still bring your radio to the show, right?’ Absolutely, I say — same old cassettes too!
“But the biggest memory of all the fans have, of course, which will go on ’til eternity is when my radio got busted by Bobby Heenan. In that era of people watching me on television every week, the fans really accepted my radio, kinda like it was my heartbeat. So not only did Heenan bust my radio, but he broke my heart. It’s like he killed me, you might say. He took something that I adored, something I love, something that makes me tick. And by him taking it away from me and destroying it, it actually evoked hate in the wrestling fans — it was brilliant!”
Along with the infamous radio-smashing incident, Zumhofe has documented his career through his site, RocknRollWrestling.com, which features plenty of footage both past and present. “Yeah, you can see that bout where Tito Santana and me are wrestling Bob Duncum and Ken Patera in a tag team match, and I had Bob Duncum in a Boston crab. Tito was chasing Kenny Patera all over the place and it looked to me like Bob Duncum was ready to submit, and it was then that Bobby Heenan threw the radio at me,” Zumhofe recalled with a laugh. Zumhofe then became serious, thinking of Heenan’s recent struggles with a variety of health problems: “I love Bobby Heenan. I wish him the best.”
Zumhofe only wishes he could get his hands on footage from the Portland territory, much of which he believes was in the home of “Playboy” Buddy Rose. “Buddy Rose, I loved him like a brother. We’re both Minnesota boys — we talk alike, we act alike, and we’re both a little crazy. I remember he would tape all those wrestling shows in Portland, we’d do, and we’d watch them afterwards.
“One of my favourite memories of Portland was I wrestled Roddy Piper many, many times. We were in Seattle, Roddy Piper was in the ring and he’s playing his bagpipes and at the same time, I’ve got my radio blastin’ and the crowd is just booin’ the crap out of Piper — what a sight! I wish I had it on tape, boy, ’cause he would play his bagpipes louder and louder, and the fans would boo louder and louder. Then I got on the microphone and cranked my radio louder and louder ’til finally it was like the whole damn building exploded because we maxed it out. He was burnin’ red as a beet trying to outdo my radio, as I was trying to outdo him. I remember that match vividly because of those stupid bagpipes and my radio — what a night!”
Zumhofe’s life in wrestling has taken him from coast to coast, winning both singles and tag team championships, feuding with Steve “Mr. Electricity” Regal over the AWA World Light Heavyweight Championship, and tag teaming with the likes of Iceman King Parsons, Jimmy Snuka and Andre the Giant. “I’ve been truly blessed to be livin’ the dream, but at the same time, I’m saddened because of the guys who left before us, like the Von Erichs, who died far too young,” said Zumhofe, recalling his days working for World Class Championship Wrestling. “My goodness, it’s so sad how young those guys were, and I tell ya, if they were alive today they would be running Texas just as well as they did 25 years ago. Believe me, they we like some kind of a god down there.”
As Zumhofe’s career as a full-time wrestler began to wind down, he found himself in the WWF, taking on the role of the wise veteran helping out new talent. “Triple H, he had his first match against me, and I didn’t know him from the man on the moon,” Zumhofe said with a laugh. “I’ve wrestled so many guys in their first match they’ve ever had, I could make an entire tape of it. Gene Kiniski’s kid, Kelly, had his first match against me in Seattle. And with WWF, they gotta have somebody who knows what they’re doin’.
“I wrestled The Undertaker, and I’m the first guy to be put in the body bag. It scared me a little bit because I can’t even stand being in a real small bathroom — I’m claustrophobic. And when you’re in that bag, you can’t even see anything except the little bitty lines where the zipper goes up and down. I actually had to put my lips right to the zipper holes so I could suck some air. I was freakin’ out a little because it was so hard to breathe.
“I’ve also had the hundred dollar bill shoved in my mouth by Ted DiBiase,” Zumhofe added with a chuckle. “I guess you could say I’ve done it all.”
Unfortunately, Zumhofe’s time wrestling for the WWF wasn’t as long as he had hoped. “I blame myself, really. I was a little naughty, I guess,” said Zumhofe. “Vince wants guys who are very, very, loyal and you have to be willing, almost to the point where you can’t do anything without being supervised. You see, when I worked for Verne, they knew me and were OK when I would come in a little late, 20 minutes sometimes. I remember I’d wrestle for Al DeRusha in what they called ‘spot shows,’ and I’d get to the arena about 10 minutes before I was about to wrestle. I’d have my boots and my rock and roll suit on and I’d jump right out of the car at the fairgrounds and run right through the audience, jump in the ring and wrestle my match. I was a bit younger and a bit of a party animal, I guess, and that’s how I worked.
“And with Vince, I can see now what he was looking for, because I’m doing exactly what he does — running a wrestling company, except I’m doing it in a small way, obviously. He wants loyalty, he wants guys who work out, he wants these big humongous giants — and I wasn’t any of that. I was a 220-pound outlaw who liked smokin’ big cigars, drinkin’ a few beers, and when you tell me who I gotta wrestle and what I have to do, then I’ll do it. So as you can see, it was kind of my fault.
“That’s why someone like The Undertaker is the kind of wrestler any promoter would want. He’s a real gentleman, very kind, a keen businessman, and he’s loyal. He’s just a great guy and he does his character to the max. I was loyal too, though. I was the most loyal wrestler that ever was, but I was a little bit naughty, like I said. Vince didn’t like that. Time’s gone by now. I’ll get over it.”
Watching WWE programming today, Zumhofe believes he could still captivate a wide wrestling audience if given an opportunity. “Even if I didn’t wrestle, hell, I could still get on the WWF and rip up a bunch of interviews,” said Zumhofe. “I’m not trying to be smart, but I’m as good a talker as anybody. But I’m not really looking for anything. I’m happy where I’m at, we’re startin’ year 11 with Rock n Roll Wrestling, and we’re very, very busy. And, I guess I want to thank all the good wrestling fans for that.”
It’s the wrestling fans, Zumhofe said, who keep him working every weekend, bringing his Rock n Roll Wrestling promotion to Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, North and South Dakota. “Every weekend is booked, like, forever,” he said. “I get calls and requests lots of times, but I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, ’cause I have to show up to my wrestling shows where I already have posters and advance tickets sold, with a few hundred people expecting me at that legion, or softball tournament, or whatever.
“Sometimes a guy calls me, offering money to fly somewhere, get in a day early or stay a day late, and then I’d be there for three days and have to miss two or three of my own venues. And for that reason, I do very little of those conventions, with the exception of the one coming up in Philadelphia. But then again, I am gettin’ a little older, so perhaps I should be taking more advantage of this kind of thing.
“I’ve never even been to the Las Vegas Cauliflower Ear [he’s referring to the Cauliflower Alley Club for wrestling veterans], and I want to go there too! Last year, my daughter Heather and I were gonna go down, but our wrestling show was part of a big festival and we couldn’t go to Vegas, y’know? But boy, I hope to do it soon.”
Zumhofe paused, then reflected on a life well lived in a business he still loves. “It’s like our mission statement says, our goal has been to provide the old-fashioned fun wrestling that fans are nostalgic for, along with the new, highly entertaining style. And boy, I hope we can keep entertaining those great fans for a long time to come.”
Echoing the words of Charles Dickens: “To keep alive a way of life that we hold dear.”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll” Buck Zumhofe will be appearing at K&S Wrestlefest this Saturday, December 11, from 9am to 2pm at the Ramada Hotel in Essington, PA. Other featured guests include Horace Hogan, Kimona, Dave Sullivan, Tom Pritchard, Alex Porteau, Tomko, Big Bully Busick, Reis, Angela Fong, Sick Boy, Mark Young, along with vendor guests, Jimmy Snuka, Nikolai Volkoff, Matt Hardy, Perry Saturn, Snitzky, Pitbull Gary Wolfe, Blue Meanie, and many more. For more information visit K & S WrestleFest website.