Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Finally! In my last post I talked about keeping in touch with friends and told you that I had spoken to Pork Chops Cash and Izzy Slapawitz both of whom are doing great, and that I was still trying to get in touch with another old friend. Well today I talked with my friend James Harris from Senatobia, Mississippi. I know many of you are wondering who James Harris is, so I am about to tell you. I first met James in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1978 at one of our weekly wrestling events at the Sportatorium. This is during the time that we were running our own AWA Wrestling Promotion and we were bringing in new talent since we had broken away from the Mid-South promotion. Some of the talent we brought in was on recommendations from other wrestlers already here and The Great Mephisto Frankie Cain, who was our Booker, brought a few guys in that he had worked with in different territories. We also received a lot of letters and photos from young guys wanting a chance to work. I don't remember if James had sent us a letter and pictures or if someone else knew of him but since he was not too awfully far from Greenwood we told him to come in early, bring his wrestling gear just in case and we would talk and possibly get him on the card, no guarantees. None of us knew what to expect. Well, a car pulls up in the parking lot early before the crowd started arriving, a bit earlier than we had told him to be there and this huge guy gets out with bag in hand and I happened to be outside the door at the time. He introduced himself, we walked in the building, I took him to the ticket office and then went and got my father and Frankie. When they came in we began talking, well actually I was mostly listening, and Frankie began asking him questions as to who he had trained with, what he could do, etc.. James was very mild mannered and seemed a bit nervous and the whole time I am standing there thinking how comical this actually looked because Frankie was maybe 5'8" tall looking up at this huge man of around 6'7" and 300+ pounds and grilling him with questions! Come to find out that James had been "training" with an old timer Mario Gallento in Memphis but so far had only been running around a track and doing exercises. He had never had a single match! And no real wrestling training! After a bit Frankie told him to go get dressed and get ready for the opening match... against HIM... The Great Mephisto!! James was Really nervous now! Frankie was great at seeing potential in guys and making the most of it and being creative, and since he (Frankie) was already wrestling in the Main Event that night we announced this opening match as a special added Challenge Match, or something of that nature. That way if it looked like it was going to be a real stinker of a match Frankie would have just eaten him up and ended it quick. If however, Frankie saw that the guy had any potential at all to learn and his attitude was right, then he would try and stretch it out and see how the crowd reacted. Well, the crowd reacted well and so began the career of "Sugar Bear" Harris, later known as "Ugly Bear" Harris here in Mississippi when Percy Pringle began to manage him.
If you were a wrestling fan during those days in Mississippi you remember this well. If not, then you remember seeing James as Kimala or maybe The Ugandan Warrior in territories such as Memphis, WCW, WWE and others. He became a huge star and I am proud for him! Super nice guy! For those that are not aware James has been through some very difficult times since November 2011 when he had one leg amputated due to Diabetes and high blood pressure then shortly after that had to have his other leg removed. We had a great talk today. His spirits are high and I was so glad to hear him laughing in that low, child like laughter I remember so well. Of course I had to pick at him a bit about some funny memories but it all goes back to the Brotherhood and friendships that were formed during those days. And by the way, the last time I actually saw James was in the summer of 2011 when I went to a match that Pork Chops promoted in Madison, Mississippi. I went just to see some old friends and "Kimala" was on the card in the main event. So happens one of the wrestlers was unable to make it and Chops had to juggle the card around a bit and asked me if I would do him a huge favor and referee the Main Event. Of course I did. It was fun. Another story for another time.
Till next time, Stay Tuned! And, Keep In Touch!!
Sunday, October 13, 2013
I have been sitting and watching football today and my Saints lost in the last seconds to the Patriots (BOO). Now watching the Sunday night game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys and I won't even get into the ridiculous name thing but if I were to comment on that subject I would probably say something like "Keep the damn name! It is a tradition, not offensive!" Anybody can find something to be offended by if they try hard enough and don't have anything better to worry about. But, I am not going to comment on that. So what do wrestling and football have in common? Besides the referees being blind sometimes and other obvious things such as come-backs, tonight's game jogged my memory a bit since this Blog is about Mississippi and Wrestling. There have been more than a few guys that played professional football then had careers in professional wrestling. I am not going to attempt to name them all because I would probably leave some out but I do want to talk about one in particular from Mississippi, Verlon Biggs, a Mississippi native that made the move from pro football to professional wrestling.
Verlon Biggs was a young man from Moss Point, Mississippi who played college football at Jackson State and was drafted by the New York Jets in the early 60's, I believe he was about a 3rd round pick, and had a great career there playing Defensive End and was a key player in the Jets' 1969 Superbowl win. At 6'4" and around 285 pounds Verlon was known as a fierce pass rusher and tackler. After his contract ran out there in the early 70's he signed with the Washington Redskins (Keep the damn Name) and finished his career around 1974 I think in Washington. At some point he entered into professional wrestling for a short run of about three years and that is where I met Vernon.
It was around 1979 or so when we had broken away from Mid-South and formed our own Mississippi AWA promotion and we were bringing in new talent that we heard that Vernon had been doing a bit of wrestling, I don't remember where he was at the time, but we got in touch with him and asked him if he would be interested in working for us. Former pro football star, Mississippi boy, made perfect sense. Well, he agreed but not on a full time schedule because he had other business interests at the time, so we booked him mostly around the Coastal towns once or twice a week, being as that was close to his home and the fans there were very familiar with the name and football reputation. He did not have a great deal of experience in wrestling but he would wear his New York Jets jersey to the ring and the fans loved him! I am not saying that he was not a good wrestler because he was, he just did not have the experience at the time to be a main event draw, but was a great guy to have on any card.
So, watching the Redskins (Keep the damn Name) play tonight reminded me of Verlon Biggs wrestling in Mississippi for us. Another similarity between football and wrestling is injuries, especially head injuries, and some athletes taking cheap shots. Now remember when I talk about wrestling in Mississippi, I am talking about the way it used to be. Most veterans in each sport will work with younger athletes to teach them the right way and give them the knowledge of their experience, to "pass the torch". But you always have the "few" that resent and do not have the patience to work with the younger guys. Verlon was a big, humble, soft-spoken guy but had the misfortune of being in a match with a tough, temperamental wrestling veteran in Biloxi, Mississippi in his last match with us which ended up putting him in the hospital for a few days. It was totally uncalled for but, another story for another time. Gotta save the details for my book that I will hopefully finish soon. Till next time my friends!
Sunday, October 6, 2013
It has been one week and three days since my last post so I am getting a little better towards my goal of one post a week, and I regret that I must start this one off on a sad note. Three days after my last post I got the news that Gene Petit had passed away. I knew Gene as Gene Lewis, who I met early on after I got involved in the promotion here in Mississippi. Some of you may remember him as Cousin Luke, The Mongol, or another name depending on the area you lived and which territory matches you watched. Gene was wrestling as the brother of Dale Lewis when we were booking talent through Leroy McGuirk and Bill Watts and after we broke away and formed our own AWA group Gene was living in Jackson, Ms. and came to work for us in many capacities. Also his wife at the time, Addie, had been working with us for quite awhile before we went on our own so the connection was really close. Gene would either wrestle, referee, or even he and Addie would help set up and run "spot shows" or when we were running two towns a night at times.
In my last post I mentioned that I was going to try and talk to a couple of guys that I had not spoken to in awhile and let you know how they were doing. Gene was one of those guys. I did not make that call soon enough. Sure wish I had. The last time I talked to Gene was when he was on Johnny Mantell's Blog talk radio show Mantell's Corral and I called in. The three of us had a nice long talk and a few laughs about our memories and experiences here in Mississippi. I think that has been a little over a year ago but I remember when we were signing off Gene saying "Gil, it was great talking to you and a big surprise. You made my day and we need to exchange phone numbers so we can chat some more". We agreed to do that but unfortunately the next "chat" never happened. I could actually feel the pain in his voice. Gene had suffered with M.S. for quite a long time but I could also tell a difference in his voice, one of happiness and joy when talking about those memories. I am sad along with many others for the loss but at the same time, I am truly happy for Gene that his pain has ended and he is now enjoying his ultimate reward. My thoughts and prayers are with his children, family and many, many friends.
On a brighter note, I did talk to two dear friends of mine in the last few days that you all should be familiar with and can report that they are both doing great! Pork Chops Cash and Izzy Slapawitz! We have all kept in touch over the years but it had been awhile since I had talked to them. Well, Chops said he is feeling great, no aches or pains, and when I told Izzy what Chops said his response was "He's a damn liar"! Typical Izzy! We all had a few laughs. I will have to tell y'all sometime about the match that Chops had with AWA Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkle in Jackson, Mississippi that went "Over an Hour" (Gene was actually the referee in that match), the reason why, and some of the antics of Izzy! Great memories! I have one more person I have tried to get in touch with and will sure do it in the next few days. Have tried twice with no luck but will do for sure and give you a report on how they are doing next time. I do know Chops and Izzy have spoken with him recently and give positive reports. One thing I did after our phone conversations was to make a note in my address book of the date we last talked talked so that I can flip through it at times and see just how long it has been. That way if I see it has been awhile and I haven't heard from them I'll pick up the phone and call!
If you were fortunate enough to have been involved with professional wrestling during the territory days as I was then you will know exactly what I mean when I say that it was truly a Brotherhood unlike any other I know of and it was a time when really great friendships were made that are never broken, even if you haven't spoken to someone in awhile, when you do, the connection is always there. If you were not, I don't believe there is any possible way I could explain it to you, so I will just try and share my thoughts and experiences with you. Keep in touch with your friends. Don't find yourself saying "I should have called sooner and had that chat", You may just make someone's day and bring a smile to their face.... and Yours! Till next time my friends!