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Piledriver: The Unpublished (and unsubmitted) Article

 

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND...”

 

With the forum of this magazine open to reminiscences of the “Golden Era” of World Championship Wrestling, I think it would be remiss of me not to add my two bob's worth (there's the lingo of the time already!) as a young, impressionable 'mark'.

I used to attend Festival Hall in Brisbane, through the courtesy of my very lovable (if not slightly bent at times) aunt, who had a permanent front row booking every Wednesday night, as well as a permanent Thursday night for the “Roller Game” (and boy, did I love that Ralphie Valladares #6 jersey she made for me!). Through several years of weekly ritual, I feel reasonably qualified to offer the following observations for those too young (or sensible) to have seen, and for those who remember when....

 

  1. SOME MEMORABLE MATCHES / FEUDS

 

(A) The War

 

Australia's big contributions to the world in the last 75 years include the Hill's Hoist, Vegemite, Kylie Minogue and Big Bad John's Army vs the People's Army. This was pretty close to Jim Barnett's 'last hurrah' before America beckoned, and seems to me to have been a big experiment in mega-violence in retrospect. The same idea turned up in Western Canada not more than 18 months later (with some of the same players, I might add), and this had to be the inspiration for the Four Horsemen concept in later years (coincidentally in another J. Barnett area called WCW).

To the average fan of today, it would seem impossible after viewing the choreography of a tour these days, designed so as everyone gets through the thing unscathed to fight the next day, to imagine the participants in this chapter of wrestling history getting into the ring and basically beating the living bejeezus out of each other on a regular basis.

The one match that stands out in fading memory is a cage match, the noble warriors involved being Mark Lewin and King Curtis on one side, and Tiger Singh and Abdullah the Butcher on the other. Now, matching the foreheads of Abdullah and Curtis up in a cage match, there is a fair chance of a little claret flowing, but in this one, everyone decided to get in on the act, including Big Bad John from outside the ring. The upshot of the match was, with King Curtis non-compis mentis in a corner somewhere and the cage door open, Abby, the Tiger and BBJohn were all taking turn at turning Lewin's head into a street directory. Suddenly bounding down the aisle came another of BBJ's army, Killer Karl Kox. (I remember watching the replay of this and commentator Mike Cleary's plaintive cries of “Oh no! This is Lewin's deathbed!” Lovely G-Rated stuff!). To the stunned surprise of everone in the place, Kox did the biggest turn since Mussolini and cleared house. After encouragement, Lewin embraces Kox, and the crowd went stupid. Pro wrestling just doesn't get any better than that.

 

(B) Fred Blassie v Killer Karl Kox

 

KKK wasn't necessarily a favourite of mine. He just happened to be in two of the biggest blood-letters of the period. I remember thinking as this rare heel vs heel match started, that Kox was dreadfully overmatched. After all, Blassie had been a legend for 100 years and Kox was not much more than a local (albeit an imported one). I soon learned, however, never underestimate a cornered rat. After taking the father of a hiding from Blassie and his famous pearly whites, Kox introduced the audience (and Blassie) to an entirely different use for those little hooks the held the canvas to the steel frame. A donor's worth of blood later, the referee (who else but the legendary Wobbly Bob McMaster) called a double DQ for a merciful end to proceedings., but Kox's ingenuity in this match sure impressed the heck out of me.

 

(C ) Waldo von Erich v Larry O'Day

 

This was actually a TV title match (Austro-Asian TV title, for those who don't remember) and is actually only memorable for its upset result (Larry won). At least it was an upset until I was old enough to realise that, in Tony Koloni-land, Larry and Ron Miller were actually in charge of things, and they had to do something to get Larry taken seriously.

 

(D) Dominic Bianca vs Les Roberts

 

This should have been an unremarkable match featuring two unremarkable jobbers. Bianca was supposed to wrestle a big name who no-showed, so the call went out for volunteers. Down the aisle trots Roberts, who'd already wrestled, and, fresh from a guest spot on “Division 4”, fancies himself as 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

Now, either these two were better workers than Liger, Funk and Hart put together, or Dominic found out that Roberts had nicked his smokes or slept with his sister or something, because poor old Les copped so much, I'm surprised the RSPCA didn't intervene. The crowd cheered Dominic on, and I'm sure bloodlust set in, because Roberts became dancing partner with the ringpost, chairs, unprotected turnbuckles et al. My memory may be wrong, but I know that Roberts juiced, and I'm sure he didn't blade. After all, this was only a near-opening match.

If Dominic reads this, could you please write us and tell usexactly what happened?

 

(E) Harley Race vs Ron Miller

 

These two wrestled a classic series of matches when Race came out here and defended his NWA title. This pairing is notable to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it was the first time I had actually noticed a wrestler pick up his opponent and whisper instructions into his ear (and funnier still to see Miller nodding his head furiously in agreement). Secondly, they produced some of the best actual 'wrestling' moves I'd seen in a long time. Say what you will about Harley, but when it came to scientific wrestling, he was up there with the best of them.

None of their title matches had a conclusive result, usually finishing as 1 hour draws, but the skill involved sent everyone away happy (I'm not sure about Ronnie's “Reverse Figure-Four Leglock” though. In hindsight, it probably had the same damage potential as a Hogan legdrop).

 

    1. SOME MEMORABLE WRESTERS / CHARACTERS

 

(a) Billy Robinson

 

Sorry Tina, but Billy Robinson was “simply the best”. Before Billy turned up on the scene, your basic WCW wrestler was either (a) a heel, who knew a few basic moves, which he interspersed between kicks and punches, (B) a face, who knew a few basic moves, which he interspersed between kicks and forearm smashes (good guys didn't punch), or (c ) a jobber who didn't get a chance to show any basic moves, let alone anything else. When Billy came along, he opened the eyes of the more discerning of us to what wrestling could be. His match with Jack Brisco was an absolute classic, and he actually inflicted on Jack his only defeat in Australia. One or two very good wrestlers of his ilk came along later (eg, John da Silva), but Billy Robinson remains the single best allround wrestler I ever saw.

 

(b) Tex McKenzie

 

Tex would have been a star in WWF if he'd been born 20 years later. While being merely adequate in terms of workrate and manouevres (sort of like a cross between Hillbilly Jim, Hulk Hogan and Erik Watts), his work on the mike was first class. He was everyone's best friend (“Well, hello there Sam!”), and even people who didn't like him couldn't help but like him (As my mother so succinctly put it, “Typical American bullshit artist!”).

 

(c ) Thunderbolt Patterson

 

The thing about T-Bolt that I liked (apart from the fact that he was the first guy to change his name and pretend we hadn't seen him before) was his 'jive talking'. He was the first guy that used the new “blaxploitation” pix talk as part of his vernacular. Since then, we have had a stream of guys like Dusty Rhodes, Rick Morton, and every second black wrestler. Thinking back, T-Bolt sure has a lot to answer for.

 

(d) Con Tolios

 

Con Tolios was the ultimate jobber (now THERE'S a name for a wrestler!). About Con's only offensive move was putting his arm around the guy helping him out of the ring. I once saw Con win a match by the other guy tripping over the bottom rope and being counted out. Con was almost barring up like he'd won Lotto at this turn of events. But to be fair, you should allow a guy who was fed a steady diet of Skull Murphys, Brute Bernards, Gorilla Monsoons and the like at least one day in the sun.

 

(e) Johnny Gray

 

Gray was almost the second coming of Billy (Sir William) Dundee, a transplanted Pom, who now calls Australia home. In the ring, Gray comes to mind when someone like the 123 Kid is wrestling – you just know that he's going to cop a shellacking, but he always puts up a good show, and there's always that chance....

Johnny Gray was really given his chance toward the end of WCW (when it was cheaper to push a local than import another piece of meat), when he was paired with another pushed Aussie, Kevin Martin. They even held a victory over 3-time WWWF tad champs, Prof. Tanaka & Mr. Fuji. The lasting memory of Johnny, though, was that whenever he was in a match, it was always a good'un, regardless of result.

 

  1. OBSERVATIONS

During the lifespan of WCW, the imported influence seemed to change at regular intervals. In the first handful of years, Australia were under the 'banner' of IWA (supposedly independent). The truth of the matter was, it was almost like a student exchange scheme with WWWF, particularly from 1967-69, with us receiving visitors the calibre of: - Sammartino, Kowalski, De Nucci, Monsoon etc, we did rather well out of a limited talent roster. To balance the sheet, Australia, in one way or another, supplied to them names like Milano, Arion and Prince Curtis (as he was known then).

When, for whatever reason. J. Barnett decided to affiliate with NWA (I guess he'd just met his future business partners), the origin of imports seemed to be more widespread (although California seemed to be a preferred area). With the advent of Larry O'Dea and Ron Miller as bookers (you know, Tony Koloni, Austro-Asian title, the 'new era'), the influence seemed to be from Florida and Alabama, with guys like Bobby Shane, Bob Roop, Bobby Hart and Lorenzo Parente. This is not really surprising when one considers that, one year previously, Miller and O'Dea toured the Florida and Continental circuits, in retrospect to sound out business connections for their promotion.