WICHITA FALLS, Texas – At this past weekend’s Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame induction, there is little question that the star was inductee Pampero Firpo. At 88 years young, he was the center of attention, though he may not be the brawler or the speaker that he once was, and his trademark wild hair is long gone.
Firpo was a pioneer of hardcore wrestling, with a brawling style that meant that anything goes. His battles with the beer guzzling strongman, The Crusher, or Big Time Wrestling’s kingpin, The Sheik, are legendary. Blood commonly flowed during a Firpo match. He’d apply the “El Garfio” claw hold or his very bear-like “Bearhug” to finish off his hapless opponents.
As ace photographer, Wayne Palmer remembered, “Pampero was EXTREME, before they even came up with the term! He was as hardcore as it comes. When he came to the ring, you knew you were going to see an exciting brawl, more than likely with blood.”
Pampero is actually Juan Kachmanian, an Argentinian of Armenian descent, hence his induction into the International Division. He was trained by Rudy Dusek and made his debut in 1953. His career spanned four decades. During those years in the wrestling business, he made a tremendous name for himself, not only as a hard working wrestler but as a gentleman. He is a man of old world values. He is honorable. He respects his sport. He is a man of great character and integrity. At 88, he is still a humble yet strong stoic figure.
“He was very well respected. Pampero Firpo gained a great reputation as stand-up guy. My father Stu had a great deal of respect for him. He is adored by the Hart Family,” commented Ross Hart.
Accompanying their father to Wichita Falls for the 17th induction class of the Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame, its third in Texas, after its earlier incarnation in New York state, were Firpo’s son, John, and daughter, Mary.
“As a child we weren’t really aware of his career. When he was home, he was all about his family. It wasn’t until years later that we found out what role he played in the wrestling world,” remembered Mary Kachmanian Fries. “He didn’t want my brother nor I to know about it. He kept all his wrestling business separate from his personal life.” That’s incredible considering he had 8,882 matches.
It was evident that Firpo truly enjoyed himself. He was overjoyed by adulation and respect from everyone in attendance. As he was arriving, and walking into the venue to sign autographs, I approached him and greeted him. I shook his hand and I said (in a medium tone), “Oh Yeah!” His son immediately said to his dad, “See… they still remember.” He was just as happy to be there as everyone was to see him.
John Kachmanian remarked that his father always felt that the most important thing is life was to help people. Him being honored by the PWHF is the mission going full circle. At 88, he is aware of his age, and is aware that sometimes his memory isn’t spot on. He pre-recorded his acceptance speech, played over the microphone by his son at the Asbey Event Center on Saturday night. The room was glued to every word, and then, he ended the speech with the loud roar of “OHHHHHH YEAHHHH!” — his textbook howl that brought the attendees to their feet. Truth be told, I was teary-eyed, as I looked 30 feet to my left, and there the great man himself was on his feet accepting the applause.
Of his many traits, I admire his humility most. After the ceremony, everyone wanted to meet Pampero. He graciously took photos with his fellow brethren and followers. I approached him and shook his hand. I told him that I knew The Crusher very well, and that he greatly enjoyed seeing him years prior at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in 2001. Crusher always spoke very highly of him, and spoke of him often. I wanted to pass along that adoration to him from his late opponent. “The Wild Bull Of The Pampas” smiled ear to ear, with that infectious smile of his, he nodded said that Crusher was a good man. I then said, “Thank you, Sir”…he stopped me, corrected me, and replied, in his thick Armenian accent – “Don’t… call… me… Sir.”
The other living inductee on hand for induction was Women’s honoree Toni Rose. Originally from Indiana, she learned how to wrestle under Lillian “The Fabulous Moolah” Ellison, debuting at age 17 and wrestling her rough-house style into the 1970s. She was graciously introduced by Susan “Tex” Green, last year’s inductee in the same category.
The tag team division inductees were Billy Red Lyons and Red Bastien. Acceptance duties were handled by Lyons’ son who did an exceptional job in his emotional tribute speech.
Florida referee Randy Eller of WCW fame handled the honors for Referee inductee, Joe Higuchi.
Bob Roop, the legendary Florida shooter inducted the late trainer, Hiro Matsuda (both of whom were brilliant wrestlers) into the Territory, Colleague Division. Roop, who is a notorious tough guy, early in the afternoon, asked to pause a video interview due to some unexpected shooting pain in his neck. Without even a grimace on his face, he restarted the interview within twenty seconds. Mr. Roop, you are one tough S.O.B… true grit.
The Television Division inductees were Eddie Graham and Ernie Ladd, and the Pioneer Division welcomed Fred Beell and Ruffy Silverstein.
Many different wrestling stars were on hand at various times during the weekend, including Iceman Parsons, Sam Houston, Tiger Conway Jr., Ross Hart, Bullman Downs, Lisa the Adjuster, Frogman LeBlanc, Andrew Anderson, Beverly Shade, Larry Dwyer, and more.
There were matches on Friday night, presented outside by WF Wrestling Association. The card featured some impressive talent including The Dirty Blondes — Adam Patrick and Brian Brock — who were reminiscent of a 1980s Crockett Promotions team. The fans were also treated to a hard hitting, old Florida style match-up between Reinforcer Andrew Anderson and “Tokyo Monster” Kahagas, right out of the Ft Hesterly Armory. Old School Rasslin’ was alive and well in Wichita Falls.
Of course, all this wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of Cowboy Johnny Mantel and his hard-working wife “K” – who is still wrestling on occasion as Tygress Lourdes. The events on May 18 & 19, 2018, are a testament to their commitment to the PWHF, and all the volunteers that make it possible for a true bricks and mortal building for fans to visit.
While I’m close enough to Wichita Falls to drive, it’s worth everyone’s while to plan a trip to see the Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame, maybe for next year’s induction ceremony. Oooh yeahhhhhhh!
For more on the PWHF, see pwhf.org.