For over 20 years Bobby Bass toured the world, living his dream of being a professional wrestler. When you talk to Bass you are instantly drawn in to his stories of life on the road, interesting matches and characters he encountered. When the topic turned to champions he faced Bass became animated as he squared off against many of the classic NWA World champions. From Thesz to Flair, Bass faced them in the ring.
You would think that taking on the world champion would be a nerve-wracking affair, but not for Bass. He got his first big break wrestling for the British Columbia territory owned by Al Tomko and former NWA champion Gene Kiniski. When he arrived in the Canadian West he felt he had a good foundation, when he left for Calgary’s Stampede territory he was a polished worker.
It was this strong base that enabled Bass to tour the now long gone wrestling territories and be put in a position where he could wrestle current or former world champions. It was in St. Louis where he faced Pat O’Connor and Lou Thesz. O’Connor liked how he worked in the ring, trusted him, and later matched him up with not only Thesz, but also Terry Funk and Harley Race.
Preparing to face a high-calibre wrestler could be daunting; so how would Bass wrestle the champs? “It is very simple,” said Bass. “I would wrestle the Bobby Bass way. Would I be nervous? No, because I had enough confidence in myself that I could do this. Pat O’Connor gave me stuff. Lou Thesz gave me stuff. He would say, ‘Come on kid, stay on me.'”
In Ric Flair’s autobiography To Be The Man, multiple time NWA champion Harley Race gave some insight in what was expected of the man who held the ten pounds of gold. “First off, the NWA champion had to be in a class of wrestler who could wrestle any human being at any time for an hour, if it was determined that he do so, and have a good match. It didn’t matter if your opponent was Ricky Steamboat or George Gulas, who was pushed as a main attraction, but as a worker was very, very limited.”
Bass obviously showed the promoters that he could be trusted wrestling the champion. That didn’t mean he didn’t run afoul of the main man every once in a while. When interviewed to promote an upcoming match with Gene Kiniski, Bass made a big mistake.
“You never call Gene Kiniski an old man in an interview,” recalled Bass. “When I was a young guy, I was doing an interview and we were fighting for the Pacific Coast championship and I called him an old man. The guys told me I was in for a beating. I said, ‘Why?’ I got in the ring with Gene and bam, bam, bam. I took it. I didn’t complain. He threw them chops.”
In fact it was Kiniski who gave Bass an interesting match that still had him laughing at a recent Crossfire Wrestling show in St. Catharines, Ontario. “Gene, he said, ‘You take the first one, I take the second one, you take the third one,'” remembered Bass. “I said, ‘I’m not dropping, Gene. You’ve been away three years, you came in. I got all of the heat and you are the babyface. Naw, it won’t go like that.’ He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’ll take the first, you take the second then we will go outside and go at it and disqualify us.'”
As the match wound down things in the ring changed without Bass’ prior knowledge. “That was alright; double crosser, we go outside and he kicked me back. He jumped in the ring and the referee yelled ten. I looked up and he gave me that big goofy smile of his. Did I get mad? Naw, I laughed. Back in the dressing room he said, ‘What do you think, kid?’ I said, ‘That is alright, Gene.’ It is a part of the business. If you get mad at your opponent, you’re an idiot. I have been double crossed so many times in the ring and I just laugh.”
Bass’ attitude was simply to give the fans his absolute best effort and to do what his employer wanted in the ring. “I worked with the Four Horsemen, Arn [Anderson], Ric Flair,” said Bass. “I never thought NWA champion. We just had the match and he went over and that was fine.”
Not everything was so simple. “I remember one time I was working with Terry Funk on Kansas City TV and Terry gave me a lot because he was going over,” said Bass. “Harley Race started to give him sh– about giving me too much. Terry said to Harley, ‘I’m the world champion and I call my own match.’ In other words, mind your own business. I traveled with Terry and Andre the Giant a lot. Terry liked me and liked working with me. I don’t know what it was, I just knew how to work, how to punch, kick, when to sell, when not to sell.”
Why would the champion give so much of a match to Bass? Perhaps it was because the champ knew they needed to make the home promotion wrestler look good in order to keep business strong in that territory? Maybe it was something else? “If they see something in you, maybe not right now, but a couple of years down the road, you can make something of yourself,” said Bass.
Terry Funk recalled wrestling many young wrestlers during his tenure as NWA champion. Funk pointed out that young wrestlers were often paired with the champion in order to gain experience and to learn from the best in the trade. Funk’s point of view concurred with the recollections of Bass.
“It is not a matter of destroying, it is a matter of working with the guy, a fellow opponent, whenever you go into the ring and it is between the two guys,” Funk told SLAM! Wrestling. “It was a situation where he was on TV in that position because he had a lack of experience, and that is not meant bad or anything, because later on they can be the greatest. It usually is because they don’t want to put someone in there with the champion who has a background and beat him, it is better to beat some guy who is a beginner.”
With the quality of opponents and the trust of the NWA champion wrestlers Bass was able to live the wrestling dream. Flair, O’Connor, Race, Funk, Thesz, Kiniski and Bass got to face them all.
- Feb. 23, 1999: Newspaper ad led to career of ‘No Class’ Bobby Bass
- April 17, 2012: Bobby Bass Guest Column: Laughing my way through the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion
- Oct. 2, 2017: Pull up a chair; Bobby Bass wants to teach you a lesson
Caleb Smith was very excited to receive a Gene Kiniski autograph. If you get the chance to talk to Bobby Bass you won’t regret it. He has a wealth of knowledge that he is willing to share.