We’re in 1982, and I’m going to my very first independent wrestling show.
And I wasn’t a wrestling fan.
I had heard a few of my friends and my cousin Frank talking about Jimmy Snuka and such, but I was FAR more in to my martial arts (I currently hold four black belts in karate and kung fu) and tournament fighting.
My cousin offered for me to come to a show with him and my uncle, but I declined as if it wasn’t kickboxing, I felt it just wasn’t for me.
To this day, I’m STILL a shameless Chuck Norris fan!! Movies aside, the man was a KILLER in the ring, a gentleman outside of it and a great ambassador for contact sports in general and combat sports in particular.
Sorry, got off topic there, but Chuck deserves his props.
My dad was a casual wrestling fan and when he heard his brother was taking his son to the matches every two weeks, I guess he saw a father/son bonding experience in this plus just a great way to have an evening out with his brother in the process so I was almost “forced” to go.
So it was off to Scarborough Arena and a night of pro wrestling featuring the superstars of Big Time Wrestling. When we got to the arena, it was PACKED! A real “blue collar” type crowd all buying 8×10 photos of the various wrestlers on the card that evening and hoping to find them in the parking lot later to tell them how awesome they were and humbly ask for a autograph.
Honestly, I didn’t get how this could be considered “big time” as it simply looked like I was about to see a bunch of guys with big bellies rolling around in their underwear.
My dad took me aside and tried to “hip me” to the truth of the business.
He told me that even though these were HUGE men and they looked like they were beating the tar out of one another, it was a SHOW 1st and foremost so I shouldn’t get to shocked by the violence.
I could have gone to the movies or even back to the dojo to train but instead I was here to watch a SHOW? A PLAY-FIGHT? Man, was I less than enthusiastic!!
We made our way through the crowd and it seemed like every 10 feet my dad would run in to another friend from his childhood he hadn’t seen in years. This gave my cousin a chance to “wise me up” to the “truth” about the wrestling shows that only kids know and adults ignore.
HOLY CRAP, IT’S REAL!!!
I was told that the Bear-Man was a legitimate half man/half monster from the forests of the great Canadian Northwest and that while a complete savage, had a “heart of pure gold” and seemed to get stronger when he heard crowds chanting the only word in English he knew… his own name.
Frank swore up and down how this gentle giant would be one step away from death’s door, but once he got the crowds screaming his name, his primal instincts took over and he felt no pain and was able to score a win “against all odds.” It never occurred to me to ask how a “monster” who only understood one word in English would still have the sense to stay inside the ring, let alone understand the reasoning for holding a man’s shoulders to the mat for a three count or why that would make the fight end (bad with English, great with math, I suppose), but I was pretty much sold. He then told me about the “World Champ”… the dreaded Sheik!!
I was to always stay at least 10 feet away from the Sheik at all times, as he was known to punch children (and sometimes bite chunks of flesh from their faces) if they got too close. He was another mad man (wrestling has a wellness policy for drugs, but psychological testing costs extra so I guess we don’t bother) who had ties with the actual devil and was a master of the dark arts who could summon “Hell Fire” from his very hands to burn the soul of anyone it touched.
Color me impressed!! This I GOTTA see!
In truth, I had to admit that the whole “dark arts” thing made me skeptical again as I thought that ANYONE with powers like that would probably try and take over the world as a “super villain” rather than just hold on to a title for a promotion that ran such a small venue.
But it kept nagging a big “what if?” in the back of my mind.
Eventually, the show began and since this was before the “rock and wrestling connection,” ring entrances were simply guys in tights and jackets walking to the ring and slapping a few hands on the way.
Being that I have seen (and been involved in) thousands of matches, it’s really hard to recall any of the specifics of the matches — I do get hit in the head for a living — but I do remember getting swept up in the riot mentality of the matches and event.
I got to see the crowd get all worked up over the good versus evil stories throughout the night and I have to admit, it was working on me. I saw old ladies who looked in their eighties screaming and yelling (and sometimes even attacking!!) wrestlers who broke the sacred rules of the sport.
I even got to see a match in the rookie year of a young Terry Brunk whom you might now recognize as the suicidal, homicidal, genocidal… SABU (oooooooooooooo)!!
Sure enough, the Bear Man did exactly as my cousin said and, as the cheers and chants for the “Bear Man” rang and hung in the air, he struggled it out against insurmountable odds and went on to glorious victory. My voice was hoarse from screaming his name and it was worth it. I helped the good guy win and I’m willing to bet I was more worn out than the guys in the ring.
Congrats, Bear Man. You defied the odds again!
An intermission, which conveniently gave us an opportunity to purchase wrestling merchandise, followed and we rolled on with two more matches that kept us complacent and interested in the night’s proceeding until it was time for what the crowd really paid to see.
It was time for the main event and it was for the World Championship!!
How fortunate for us that such a prestigious title would be defended in such a murky old arena. I figured there must be some history to Scarborough Arena that I didn’t know about as I couldn’t imagine anything so important as a World Title match being held anywhere but in the largest arenas in the world. Not in some small arena where I could go and play hockey myself any day of the week.
Still, luck was on our side and hopefully it would be on the side of good over evil as it was a title match between the hated champion, The Sheik (that terrifying child abuser that my cousin had warned me about) and the beloved superstar Bobo Brazil.
By this time, the Sheik was more in the twilight of his career as far as in ring work was considered, but it would be hard to this day to spot a guy who made the crowd believe in him more. He would come out with a snake (I’m guessing to indicate the snake in the Bible who messed things up for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and would bow down on his prayer mat towards Mecca.
I’m guessing it was simply a different time where people just felt the Muslim religion was a metaphor for “Devil Worship” and Canadian Muslims felt it wouldn’t be necessary to protest something like that.
Either way, Sheik was on his game, the fans were furious, I was a little bit scared, and then our hero of the evening stepped in to the arena to a THUNDEROUS ovation.
Bobo was a huge black wrestler who had a smile that simply welcomed you in as a friend and you felt almost obligated to welcome him back. He wasn’t overly animated in his body language nor did he cut a promo on the mic for us to follow along with in terms of “catch phrases” (though when in doubt, rhymes ALWAYS work. “Sheik’s a Geek, Sheik’s a Freak” seemed to be the order of the day for the villain, “Let’s Go Bobo” to rally our man Brazil), but even without it, he had a certain charm and understated charisma that willed you to root for this guy.
I was so lost in the match, the moment and the thrill of the whole evening that I really would have risked having my soul lightly toasted by this horrible Sheik in order to help this wonderful stranger named Bobo triumph with good over evil.
It probably took 10 or more minutes for them to even lock up with The Sheik and his pre-match rituals, but the entire crowd was on its feet. Once they began, Bobo had The Sheik on the run for most of the match. We were all excited. We could feel it in the air that Bobo would FINALLY down the awful foreign invader and bring the title home (I had NO idea how long the Sheik had the belt at this point, but once the match started, I knew it was too long) to the people who supported all that was good and right with the world.
Bobo was our champion.
Bobo was MY champion and I’d never seen the guy before in my life.
Bobo bodyslammed the Sheik and looked to the crowd. Without saying a word his look told us “tonight, WE are the champions”!
The referee had been knocked out during the match (they are a brittle breed), but even THAT couldn’t help the Sheik on this night. It was Bobo’s night and we all knew it. The arena smelled of hotdogs, popcorn and sweat, but all we could smell was impending victory for our beloved hero who (so I had overheard from fans around us) had been chasing the title for months and months only to have the awful Arabian cheat or cower away at every turn. The noise and energy from the audience were so loud and tangible it was like being hit by a wave in the ocean, but it couldn’t knock you down.
This Sheik person was the champion? HIM? Not, as far as I was concerned, when we had Bobo Brazil on our side!!
I didn’t know what Bobo’s finishing move was (actually in hindsight, I didn’t even know about the CONCEPT of a finishing move), but when Bobo looked back at the prone body of the Sheik, holding his stomach with a look on his face screaming regret for every transgression he’d ever made against the good people of this land, you just stood on your chair and screamed. You screamed for victory.
It was classic good over evil.
It was a hero defeating a villain.
It was me beating up a bully in a schoolyard.
It was the home team rallying to victory over the outsiders invaders.
It was one of the few perfect moments in life where you left yourself behind and BECAME the hero in the ring and you surrendered yourself to it.
If Bobo can do it, I can do it! And we were going to do win it together.
Bobo grabbed the Sheik by the hair to raise him to his feet, look him in the eye and then knock him out for the 3 count!!
I was ready.
The crowd was ready.
Bobo was ready!!
The Sheik was ready too!
I actually screamed in horror!! I had witnessed an act of pure evil and a glimpse of the terrors and torture of HELL as the Sheik had summoned up a burst of flame from his hands (just like my cousin had claimed he could) and torched the eyes and face of my new hero.
Magically, the ref came around and slowly made the 3-count on a prone Bobo who was COVERED in blood from the scary Arabs unholy crime.
The ring filled with popcorn boxes, pop cups and what ever else the broken hearted audience could get their hands on. Security made a circle around the Sheik and got him back to the dressing room and the audience turned back to the ring where Bobo looked a broken man. We applauded our hero even in defeat and let him know he’s still won our hearts. He asked for forgiveness for letting us down, but we didn’t have to forgive. He was the rightful champion and had his heart broken by the Devil himself. How could we hold a grudge against a guy who lost to THOSE odds?
I HAD to meet him and tell him it was OK. I didn’t know if I’d EVER see him again and I felt he needed to know I considered him the REAL winner.
But I found out that I WOULD see him again. Because in 2 weeks, he wanted a rematch with the Sheik (which spoke VOLUMES about his bravery to me as he already felt the icy cold/ burning hot sting of real HellFire on his soul! Clearly, this belt meant EVERYTHING to him!) but in no ordinary match… but within the confines of a 10 foot high STEEL CAGE!! Now THAT sounded dangerous!!
I don’t think my feet touched the ground as we made our way out to the parking lot. I was BEGGING my dad to get in to the HUGE line at the box office and get our tickets in advance.
He didn’t have the cash on him, but said he’d try and sort some tickets later in the week. I then saw a big black gentleman standing out in front of the building. For a second I thought it was Bobo and wanted to run over and tell him how much he’d affected my life from the 1st moment I saw him and how I’d be right there “willing” him to victory in 2 weeks. But it wasn’t Bobo and I guess that was a good thing because the show sold out before I got tickets and I had to hear from my cousin how Bobo got ripped off again. But my dad was awfully interested in meeting this guy so we made our way over. My dad told this man how he used to see him at Maple Leaf Gardens (THE big arena in Toronto for YEARS) and how “in the day” he was a huge fan. He didn’t wrestle that night so I have to admit that my interest was less that peaked when meeting him, but to kinda appease my dad, I got his autograph anyway and stood by while they talked.
He was a big, strong looking guy and came off as a really gentle soul. But I guess you could say that the thing that struck me most was his big, blond afro.
It was time to go, so my dad said his goodbyes and shook his hand. As I was always told to be polite, I offered my hand as well and said “It’s nice to meet you, my name is Joe.”
He took my hand firmly and said “My pleasure. My name is Sweet Daddy Siki”
Sweet Daddy Siki, a boyhood hero of my dad’s.
Sweet Daddy Siki, some wrestler I didn’t know, but seemed nice enough.
Sweet Daddy Siki, the man who would eventually co-train me for a career in pro wrestling.
If my dad hadn’t been a fan of his, I might have simply gone off looking for Bobo (much like Monty Burns) and never met the man. My whole future might have been different.
If my dad had told me at home what he “knew” about wrestling, I might have never gone that night. That night that pretty much changed my life. My whole future might have been different.
I might never have wrestled.
I might never have traveled.
I might never have met my wife, had my sons or done anything more than mediocre with my life.
So I’ve got one more “thank you” that I owe that I didn’t put at the beginning of this column because I believe it’s a gratitude that stands on it’s own and deserves (actually, more than) it’s own line here.
THANK YOU DAD!!! You made my life better. I love ya!
Now, I HAD to get more involved with this “pro wrestling” lark.
But first, I had to try this stuff out on my high school friends.
Tell you about THAT next time.