Who was (insert masked wrestler's name here)?
This list covers the masked men who appeared in World Class between 1982 and 1990.
- Checkmate: Tony Charles (although this has been a topic of debate on pro wrestling message boards, where it's also been claimed by some that Les Thornton was behind the mask)
- El Diablo Grande: Buddy Moreno (aka Omar Atlas)
- Friday (Kamala's masked handler): Frank Dalton
- Grapplers I & II: Len Denton / Rick Hazzard
- The Hood: Jeff Gaylord (previously worked for Wild West Wrestling under the same mask as The New Spoiler)
- Jimmy Jack Funk: Jesse Barr
- The Magic Dragon: Kazuharu Sonoda
- Mil Mascaras: Aaron Rodriguez
- Mr. Ebony: Tom Jones
- Mr. X (Reunion Arena, 12/25/84): Mike "The Alaskan" York, who was called in to work the losers-leave-Texas elimination bout at the last minute when Killer Khan no-showed
- The Punisher: Mark Calaway (AKA The Undertaker)
- Red River Jack: Bruiser Brody / Rick Davidson (when "Jack" appeared alongside Brody)
- Socko (Tarrant County Convention Center, 9/1/86): Possibly Mark Miller, one of Jim "Dingo Warrior" Hellwig's former teammates in Rick Bassman's Power Team USA group, but this is as yet unverified
- Super Destroyers I & II: Scott & Bill Irwin
- The Spoiler: Don Jardine
- Super Zodiacs I & II: Cactus Jack / Gary Young
- The Superfly: Ray Candy (not James "Kamala" Harris, who is sometimes said to have played this character but was actually wrestling in Memphis at the time)
- Texas Red: Mark Calaway
Who was (insert non-masked wrestler working under a gimmick name here)?
The sinister Japanese heel seen teaming with Frank Dusek and Bill Irwin against the Von Erichs in WWE's The Most Powerful Families in Wrestling DVD was played, for most of his time in Dallas-Fort Worth, by Kazuo Sakurada, who was best known as Kendo Nagasaki in the Florida territory. He had worked as Mr. Sakurada (partner of Mr. Hito) a year earlier in Texas, and would come in again for a short time in 1988 as manager of the Super Black Ninja (Keiji Mutoh, aka The Great Muta).
Sakurada was not the first wrestler to portray the character, however. In his TV debut on KTVT in mid-1981, the role of Ten Gu (who was heavily hyped prior to his arrival in the area by manager Gary Hart as being even more dangerous than the Great Kabuki) was played by a worker who was in no way convincing, either as a person of Japanese heritage or as a martial arts master, and in fact, appeared to be somewhat elderly. The actual match (a squash) came off so poorly that, immediately after the commercial break, Bruiser Brody interrupted a promo by Bill Mercer for an upcoming card to declare that the man fans had just seen in the ring was an imposter.
According to Gary Hart's son Jason, the Kabuki character had been so successful that Gary -- who was then booking for the promotion -- was being pressured by others in the front office to create an equally menacing tag team partner for him. Hart, feeling that Kabuki's gimmick would be watered down by such a move, deliberately nipped the idea in the bud by bringing in an inferior worker for the debut. The identity of this "fake" Ten Gu, who appeared only in this one bout, remains a mystery.
No, this wasn't Ricky Steamboat, nor was it Tito Santana. This Richard Blood, who performed in D/FW rings from late 1981 through mid-'82, was Tommy Wright, an undercard worker in the Florida and Mid-South territories. Frank Dusek, posting at Wrestling Classics, fills us in:
Gary Hart just loved the name "Richard Blood." In fact, he liked it so much he wanted to have a "Richard Blood" on the cards in Texas.
For several weeks, all he told Bill Irwin & I was that we were going to get a new tag partner & we were going to call him "Richard Blood." We knew it wasn't Tito Santana or Rick Steamboat, but Gary assured us he would be a "player" who would live up to the name "Richard Blood."
Believe me, after all the build up we gave the fans on camera (& all the build up Gary Hart gave us in the dressing room), no one was more surprized that Bill Irwin & me to see Tommy Wright.
The 2nd week in the territory we "turned" on Tommy, discharging him from our army. That led to the infamous headline in a Dallas program that read, "Dusek Discharges Blood!"
You gotta love Texas "Rasslin!
...Koko the Clown?
The jolly, dancing pie-thrower who appeared briefly as Bugsy McGraw's "manager", after he turned babyface in 1982? None other than WCCW TV producer Mickey Grant, who thought donning the clown suit would be fun when the angle was mentioned to him by Bugsy (whose idea it reportedly was).
...Mike Sharpe, Ben Sharpe and Tom Steele (who lost to David Von Erich, Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy at Christmas Star Wars '82)?
Mike Sharpe was in fact the real "Iron Mike", on loan from Mid-South. On the other hand, the guys he teamed with may have later had WCCW fans wondering where they'd seen them before: "Ben Sharpe" was actually Kelly Kiniski, while "Tom Steele" was veteran grappler Gene Lewis, who would return to World Class a few months later as The Mongol.
...Stella Mae French?
The tough, truck-driving "aunt" who filled in for Valerie "Sunshine" French during her 1984 leave of absence was played by Tanya West. Ms. West, a one-time womens' prison guard who was active as a wrestler from the early '60s until about 1980, worked for much of her career in Detroit and other northern territories.
According to her daughter in a post on the Wrestling Classics message board, Tanya West passed away on May 11, 1996.
...The Thing and The Real Thing?
Online World of Wrestling, where this pic was first posted, identifies the original Thing as Brian Carriero (that's Phil Apollo, AKA Playboy Vince Apollo, on the right). Carriero later worked as enhancement talent in WCW circa 1990 under the name Brian Carr, and on the indy circuit as Piranha Steele and The Terminator.
In the late 1987 storyline, manager Killer Brooks offered to sell The Thing's contract to the highest bidder, with New Age Management (Apollo and Gary Hart) vying with Percy Pringle for his "services". Percy won when New Age withdrew their bid at the last minute, on the grounds that Brooks was offering what announcer Marc Lowrance called "a bogus Thing" (never mind the fact that he had been utterly annihilating every opponent he faced). It turned out that Apollo and Hart, while traveling around the world in their constant search for new talent, had been able to locate the genuine article in New Zealand. So, out went the "bogus" Thing (after doing a quick job to the returning Kerry Von Erich at Thanksgiving Star Wars), and in came Rip Morgan as -- what else? -- The Real Thing.
Brian Carriero suffered from Parkinson's disease during his final years, which he spent in a nursing home. He passed away on March 12, 2012 at the age of 65.
Memphis fans, no doubt, had little trouble recognizing Phil Hickerson as the none-too-convincing "Japanese" monster heel. Note the similarity to the name P.Y. Chung, which Hickerson's manager Tojo Yamamoto used in the Carolinas during the early '60s.
The man who shocked a Sportatorium crowd by beating Kerry Von Erich with a clawhold and sending him to the dressing room on a stretcher (as booked by Eric Embry) was Juan Reynosa, who had previously wrestled and worked as a referee in Joe Blanchard's Southwest Championship Wrestling and other territories.
Who are the wrestlers depicted in the WCCW logo?
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's record for the logo contains the statement, "The portrait shown on the drawing is merely fanciful and is not the likeness of any particular living individual." However, according to Kevin Von Erich (via his son-in-law Joey Nikolas at the now-defunct Heroes of World Class message board), the logo does depict two living individuals -- namely, Kevin (on top, applying the Iron Claw), and puroresu legend Tatsumi Fujinami.
Who was Ed Watt, the man listed as matchmaker on the Sportatorium wrestling programs? Was he a real person?
The "matchmaker" title was more kayfabe than fact, but Edwin Boyd Watt, Jr. -- a former boxer from Chicago who was related to Sportatorium impresario Ed McLemore by marriage -- was most definitely a real person.
Born on April 26, 1919, Watt was first brought to Dallas by McLemore in 1953 as booking agent for the Big D Jamboree. By all accounts a tough, no-nonsense businessman, Watt's job involved keeping a tight rein on the show's young and often wild talent, including rockabilly legend and Jamboree regular Gene Vincent (on one occasion, when Vincent was threatening his wife with a gun during a drunken argument, McLemore dispatched Watt to the site to defuse the situation), as well as booking package tours featuring the stars of the weekly music showcase. And according to Stanley Oberst and Lori Torrance in their book Elvis in Texas: The Undiscovered King 1954-1958, Watt once stood his ground against one of the most hardnosed, hard bargain-driving carneys of all time: Colonel Tom Parker. In September 1955, Parker reportedly attempted to renegotiate the contract for the next Jamboree appearance of the young, soon-to-be megastar Presley, demanding a steep increase in pay. Watt's response? "Go to hell and take Elvis with you."
David Dennard of Dragon Street Records, however, told the Dallas Observer of a different side of Watt: "...I think that he was the 'bad guy' for McLemore, though he was actually very sweet as a person when you got to know him."
After the Jamboree's demise in 1966, Watt continued to work in much the same capacity for Southwest Sports, booking spot shows (the cards that took place mostly in smaller, outlying towns, often done as charity/fundraising events). After McLemore was incapacitated by a heart attack in early 1968, leaving Fritz Von Erich in charge of the company, Watt also served as figurehead "matchmaker", remaining with the promotion throughout the WCCW era. To the best of our knowledge, he never appeared in public, but was often announced as having "signed a return match" after the initial meeting of two grapplers ended indecisively.
Ed Watt retired in 1989 and passed away on January 28, 2002.
Wikipedia's entry on WCCW lists Gene Summers as a ring announcer. Who is he?
Summers (born in Dallas in 1939) is a legendary rockabilly singer who may have become acquainted with Fritz Von Erich via Ed McLemore during the era of the Big D Jamboree (see above). His best known recording is probably "School of Rock and Roll" (1958), which received airplay on the XM Satellite Radio network in September 2006, courtesy of a somewhat well-known chap by the name of Bob Dylan.
As evidenced by the photo, Summers did indeed perform ring announcing duties briefly for the promotion before being replaced by Marc Lowrance in June 1980. This was not Summers' only involvement with wrestling in north Texas, though: in what may have been one of the first instances of entrance music in the modern era of pro wrestling -- predating even the Freebirds and Leroy Brown -- Summers' single "The Legend of Moondog Mayne", recorded under the pseudonym Ricky Ringside, was used by Mayne for his entrances in the Dallas/Fort Worth area after his late 1976 babyface turn. Mayne was killed in a San Bernardino, CA car crash on August 13, 1978.
Summers still performs live worldwide, particularly in Europe where 1950s rockabilly still has a devoted and fanatical following, and is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Who was Betty Ann Stout, the masked columnist who covered WCCW for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram?
The woman behind the mask was then-"Startlegram" sportswriter Jennifer Briggs Gerst (and no, before anyone asks, she's not related to former Dallas Times Herald drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs; his real name is John Bloom). Ms. Gerst, the first female journalist to cover the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers, is also the author of a number of books including Strive to Excel: The Will and Wisdom of Vince Lombardi; Quotable Billy Graham (the evangelist, not the wrestler); Nolan Ryan: The Authorized Pictorial Biography; The Book of Landry; Texas Speak: Advanced Course; and the Brady Bunch Movie tie-in book A Very Brady Guide to Life.