Remembering The Akron Armory
December 8, 2005 by Dale Pierce
The lone statue of Akron's beloved "Guardsman" still stands, just as he did for decades in front of the old Akron Armory, which was condemned in the early 1980s. He used to greet the wrestling fans every Saturday night, in this two level building that was once a hotbed for pro wrestling in Ohio. Now it is all gone and few of the younger fans even remember that wrestling was once held on this location.
"Good," George Steele once commented in a phone conversation with me, when I told him the arena he used to appear at so often was torn down. "I hated walking up all those steps." The arena was on a hill in the heart of downtown, a few streets above the main drag, with a level entrance in the back and a gigantic hike for people coming in the front.
Clearly, Steele didn’t miss the old arena, unless he was being sarcastic. Nostalgia buffs, however, are starting to feel differently, especially with even the most obscure of indy promotions not bothering with this city any longer.
It was in the old armory that Sam Sheppard, the doctor accused of killing his wife, made his professional wrestling debut, to a packed arena, full of angry people wanting to see him get tromped. This case was much like the one involving O.J. Simpson, where eventually released in one of the most controversial incidents of the 1960's, many in the area believed him guilty.
The golden age for this building came from the 1950s through the early 1970s, when Walter Moore ran the shows, using people from Detroit, New York and Pittsburgh as well as other places.
Buddy Rogers was a headliner in this arena, both before and during his title reign. Usually, the public jeered him, but when he confronted super villain, Hans Schmidt, he was suddenly a knight in white armor. The bout went two out of three falls, the first time they met, with no clear decision. The ring fell apart and ended with the two men pounding each other with the free-flying turnbuckles.
Primo Carnera was another big draw at the old arena, where boxing fans and wrestling fans alike came to see him in his new profession. Having lost the bulk of his money to gangster managers (The film, The Harder They Fall, is based upon him), he was forced into the wrestling world for money. While wrestling fans rejoiced, boxing fans considered it a step downward. They were critical of the man for becoming a "phony", while ignoring just how many of his boxing bouts beforehand (as touched upon in the film) had been rigged.
During the 1960s, Haystacks Calhoun became a top draw, beloved by the audience as a jolly hillbilly who would be pushed only too far, before grabbing the horseshoe he wore in the ring and pounding the hell out of whoever crossed him.
As much as Calhoun was loved, The Love Brothers, oddly enough, were hated. Two hippies with weird clothes, sunglasses and long hair, capitalized on the controversy of the Vietnam War. Supposedly standing for peace and harmony, they perpetrated the vilest tactics known to man when in the ring. Even the most hated of villains, as in the case of Rogers versus Schmidt long before, became instant heroes when confronting these two "brothers" in the squared circle. Even the likes of George "Crybaby" Cannon and crew received cheers when they were pitted against the dastardly duo, but they seldom won. The two heels always had some little, sneaky tactic to help them win.
During the 1970s, all of the big guns from the Midwest were being seen there. The Sheik came in on a regular basis, as did Killer Tim Brooks. Wild Bull Curry was a regular, being booed, while Flying Fred Curry, his son, received cheers. George Steele (lugging his suitcase up the steps) was brought in to feud with Bobo Brazil and Tony Marino. The Stomper was there too; He would later become Jerry Valiant. Domenic DeNucci and Tony Parisi frequently walked the aisle, while Andre The Giant was booked from time to time. As late as the mid-1970s, Hans Schmidt and Bill Miller still did an occasional match with each other, though sadly confined to the under card, where two decades before, they would have been a main event anywhere in the world.
Ernie Ladd, Bulldog Brower, Kurt Von Hess, Bad Billy Coleman, Jerry Graham, Zulu, Iron Mike Loren, The Mongols, Bill Bethune, Ronnie Lee, Chief White Owl, Abdullah the Butcher, Sweet Daddy Siki, The Gallagher Brothers, the Kelly Brothers, Pampero Firpo, Waldo Von Erich, Tex McKenzie, Igor, Vic Rossetani, Eric The Red, Pete Sanchez, Don Kent, Aztec Joe, Don Red Cloud, Jimmy Banks, Jay Strongbow, Bob Durcos, Johnny Valentine, John (Greg Valentine) Fargo & Don Fargo, Victor Rivera, Chuck Richards, The Outlaws, Cowboy Parker, Black Angus, Bull Ortega, Kabuki, Johnny Powers, Cowboy Hondo, Tommy Young, Brady Howard, Danny Miller, El Toro, Ali Baba, Cowboy Bob Ellis and many more all appeared there on a regular basis.
One my personal memories from the place does not revolve around the wrestling, but when my father won a raffle there, from his number in the program and won a large container of potato chips. He was as happy with that as he was watching the matches.
I also remember working up the nerve, when I was a teenager; to actually go up and talk to Hans Schmidt who was loitering by the locker room between matches. He was probably one of the scariest looking individuals I'd ever met, but he was cordial enough and even signed an autograph for me.
I mentioned my father had seen him face Rogers in the aforementioned bout, long before.
"He was a great wrestler, that Buddy Rogers," was all Schmidt said and walked away, excusing himself. It was as if I'd struck a nostalgic memory for him as well.
It wasn't always like that though; I remember Killer Brooks slamming the door when I approached him for an autograph. He probably had a good laugh about it on the other side.
The old building has been gone for over twenty years now, but I still think of it when in downtown Akron. There were some great matches there and some great memories, which have, like too many others, slowly started to vanish from the records of history.
What a shame it would be, if in the case of the Akron Armory, those memories faded completely and were lost forever.
by Dale Pierce..
Tom Glunt wrote:
I never had the opportunity to attend wrestling matches at the Akron Armory. However, growing up near Cleveland, I did see many of these same men wrestle at the Cleveland Arena and a few local high schools.
In my youth, I did have a couple of expereinces with some wrestlers. My father had taken me to see "The Wrestling" at a local high school. Prior to the first match, Killer Tim Brooks came to one of the doors that happened to be locked. Seeing Mr. Brooks standing outside, my Dad tells me to go over and let the man in. "Dad, are you kidding! Do you know who that is?" So with a little encouragment I open the door for Killer Tim Brooks. When I opened the door, for one of the biggest heels on the card, the man thanked me and rubbed my head. A few minutes later, I happened to see Louie Martinez, I am extatic to see one of the biggest face wrestlers around. I run up to him yelling, "Louie, Louie, Louie let me hear you say areba." I can not tell you how upset I was when the man I idolized basically told me to get lost. Later that evening, a teble was set up for kids to go get autographs. When I apporached the table, I got every wrestlers autograph except for Louie Martinez. It took me a long time to understand that these wrestlers were people, not just the gimmick that they used.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading your letter about wrestling from the Akron Armory. It brought back many great memories.
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