Tripping It

Lehighton (PA) Times News

February 26, 1970

When Professional People Meet

Organ music trilled through the auditorium while people stood in Mute silence, heads bowed, listening to the bell chime. Runt Ruggins was dead. He had been a colorful, vibrant man during his prime, but three weeks ago The Grim Reaper had taken him away, and the people who had grown to know and love him over the years offered tribute to his memory. The loudspeaker had announced only moments before that Runt had died—it had been a well-kept secret for three weeks, having been saved for the right moment. The silence of the ring was deafening. The count of ten was through and Runt’s soul had apparently been willed to heaven by 1,000 professional wrestling fans.

The scene was the Hamburg Field House last night as the Keystone Wrestling Club featured a full bill of professional wrestling action, with everyone from Gorilla Monsoon to Erik the Red in on the action. It promised to be an…er…interesting night.

Between the announcement of old Runt’s demise and the beginning of the first match a woman off to the left was changing her baby’s diapers. No one noticed. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on the locker room door just right of the men’s room. She stopped working on the infant as the crowd began to roar their approval for the intrepid Mario Milano, who you could tell by the screams and cheers of the crowd was the favorite for the first match. The woman sat enraptured, a safety pin sticking out of her mouth, her baby’s diaper hanging off the end of her lap, and the baby seemingly resigned to the fact that he was going to have a draft on his behind for about an hour.

The assemblage began to hoot and jeer as a scarlet-clad fellow, looking like something out of The Fantastic Four comic books, came pounding into the ring. He wore a set of horns atop his reddish mop, and a fierce red beard, with long blond hair. When he removed his red cloak (with a white cross, a la Denmark’s flag) it was easy to see that he was a Vic Tanney reject in his red BVDs. It didn’t take a mastermind to figure out that this was the infamous Erik the Red.

The battle began with great upheavals of grunting and groaning, which probably came more from carrying themselves around the ring than from any real exertions they made. Mario weighed in at 265, while Erik was 310. You’ve seen it all on TV. Blows falling ruthlessly, foul-play from the bad guy, a na├»ve referee who is always looking the other way at the wrong time, while the crowd tries to tell him what’s going on behind his back. Anyway, eventually goodness prevailed and Mario won.

The second match pitted Willie Farkas, who the program listed as being from Detroit, but who the announcer said was from Romania. Willie had a well-groomed beard and looked like he’d just missed getting a role in one of the Son of Hercules television series shows. He weighed in at 235 and was scheduled to fight Pete Sanchez, who didn’t show up. Instead, he went up against a fellow whose name was lost among the boos, but who had the letter “K” on his boots and on his chest and who wore black. Obviously the crook. K did beat Willie, though, which brought a round of abuse from a front-row fan, who was obviously hired by the promoters as an agitator. He verbally abused old K and K verbally abused him back, inviting the fan into the ring. The fan got up out of his seat and approached the ring to further abuse K, which of course encouraged some of the other fans to go along with him. The every-ready, pre-positioned cop was there to break up the riot, though, and we were ready for bout three.

The third bout saw Professor Taro Tanaka (the bad guy, 265 lbs) going against Gorilla Monsoon (the good guy?, 401 lbs). Even if the crowd wouldn’t begin booing the villain, you could tell which one he is by the fact that the good guy signs the kids’ autograph books while the baddie feigns a kick at their sweet little heads. After going through a salt-throwing ritual, Taro (the Japanese Jujitsu champ) made ready for battle. I personally had to favor Taro, because anybody who goes up against a 400-pounder with only a bag of salt rates OK in my book. The match was going to be a draw all the way along, because they took turns battering each other and no one was really wiping out the other. Somewhere during the match it occurred to me that I’d seen these heavyweights somewhere before. I think it was at the Rajah Theatre in Reading at the Frazier-Ellis fight, when they were holding down one of the balcony boxes. The match, as anticipated, was a draw.

The big match, an hour-long confrontation (unless there was a fall before) was between Victor Rivera of Puerto Rico and Waldo Von Erich of Munich, Germany. The bout wasn’t the best, and the decision in Rivera’s favor could have been rather legitimately contested, but the potential race riot was the main feature. Victor’s Puerto Rican followers were obviously incensed by a girl in the front row who kept cheering Waldo (who was the bad guy of this bout, by the way), saying, “You can beat him, Waldo, you’re a German and you’re better.” The match, for a while, was more dangerous in the stands than in the ring. But all eventually settled down, and the great event was over for another night in the usually quiet borough of Hamburg, Penna.

The major letdown came on the way out of the auditorium when we ran into Erik the Red, dressed in very civilian, regular-type-guy clothes, with his wife and kid. Somehow, he’d just blown his whole image and professional wrestling would never be the same for me again.