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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Memories from World Gym in Connecticut
September 5, 2005 by Roger Massie


My name is Roger Massie and I am 50 years young. I stumbled upon your web site while I was doing a kind of "whatever happened to" internet search to see where some of the pro wrestlers from "back in the day" are today. The back in the day time period I'm referring to is from the late 70's through the 80's the heyday if you will of Vince McMahon's WWF. I was one of the first members of World Gym East (later to become just World Gym) of Hamden Connecticut. World Gym in Hamden is where all the wrestlers (and there were many in that local area due to the proximity to the WWF headquarters in nearby Stamford CT.) came regularly to train. World Gym Hamden was a partnership owned by Mike Katz (of Pumping Iron fame) and Jerry Mastrangelo.

I have a custom made bench that Mike oversaw the making of. He inscribed his signature / autograph on the bench support with an electric engraving tool. It says: To Roger, keep on "Pumping Iron" your friend, Mike Katz. Mike is a former Mr. Universe and good friend and former workout partner of none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mike Katz would give you the shirt off his back if you asked, that is just the kind of guy he is. It's no wonder that all the wrestlers liked him and wanted to work out at his gym. Mike is not a professional wrestler but he is one of them in terms muscular size and heart. To meet Mike is to instantly like him. I still use that bench that he made for me when I workout at home which is now Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Any wrestler who was anybody at that time worked out at World Gym Hamden whenever they were wrestling at the New Haven Coliseum. I have been a weightlifter for 36 years and back then I was one of the regular gym-rats at World Gym.

At some point I worked out with almost everyone mentioned in your "A Slice Of 80's WWF Nostalgia" I remember one Saturday morning when Big John Studd came into the gym to train, he stood in the doorway and kind of surveyed the scene to see a virtual who's who of wrestling at that time. That was the first time I had ever seen Big John in person, and he literally filled up that doorway! He was always very soft-spoken and polite. As opposed to "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorf who was just as obnoxious in the gym as he portrayed in the ring, but he was the exception. I'll always remember Paul Orndorf as rude in the gym.

Now I've worked out with dozens of professional wrestlers and Paul Orndorff is the only one whose real personality didn't like. For the most part they were all gentle giants. I remember watching Tony Atlas bench press 500 lbs. He was the first person I had ever seen bench press that much weight. Then there was the all-round strongest wrestler that I ever had the honor of personally working out with........."The Polish Power" Ivan Putski. I remember I was working out my strongest body part "calves" when Ivan politely asked me if he could work in on the standing calf machine with me. I was thrilled to be working out with the man who patented the "Polish Hammer" as a finisher. I remember Ivan eating a couple of dozen hardboiled eggs during his workout. He would do a set then eat a couple of eggs, do another set eat a couple more eggs etc. Ivan's English was very broken back then but when I was laughing at his eating so many eggs during his workout he simply said "Putski eat, Putski push." and push he did......an amazing powerhouse!

We eventually had the calf machine maxed out with all the weight that it could handle. 1400 lbs. to be exact, we had the entire weight stack pegged plus hung and placed 100 lb. dumbells and plates anywhere on the machine that we could safely add to the resistance of that poor overloaded machine. We both did our last set with 1400 lbs. for several reps when Ivan downed a couple more eggs, then came over and patted me on the shoulder, gave me a thumbs up, and a wink, as he grabbed his gym bag off a nearby bench and headed to the locker room.......what a gentleman and a class act. Here I was, a nobody and Ivan Putski early in his career, himself a relative unknown on the verge of fame and recognition, acknowledging me as a sign of respect and humbleness.....WOW!


To this day I still think of Ivan Putski when I work my calves.

What great memories, and your web site is what brought them all back and inspired this e-mail. Below is a photo of my calf muscle taken a three years ago when I was 47.

Then there was the day when Hulk Hogan strolled in tall, tan and blonde. (he actually had hair on his head then) He walked up to a lat pulldown machine maxed out the weight stack and proceeded to do triceps pushdowns to help keep those "Pythons" big and strong. Terry was a genuine nice guy, on his way to superstardom.

In 1985 I bought a new Shadow 1100 motorcycle, one of the largest displacement engines available for a V Twin bike back then. I rode it to the gym one hot Summer afternoon soon after I got it. The overhead garage doors were up for added ventilation (the gym didn't have air conditioning at that time) and who but The Wild Samoans Afa and Sika were doing bench presses right in front of the open overhead doors where there was always a nice breeze. They both came out and were checking out the bike and asking me about it, and just kept going on about what a nice bike it was so I asked them if they would like to take it for a ride. Afa quickly took me up on my offer and rode it around the parking lot several times grinning from ear to ear. After he parked it he thanked me for letting him ride it and said he wanted to get one. Very cool......how many people can say that a Wild Samoan rode their bike" LOL Two of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.

Back in "85" Don "Magnificent" Muraco was always working on those HUGE shoulders of his, Rocky Johnson was still hittin' the iron. Speaking of Iron....The Iron Sheik made appearances every now and then. I remember how muscular Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka was but he always used very light weights to pump up his muscles. I never saw him use more than 135 lbs. on the flat bench press, though I'm sure he was capable of considerably more than that. His low altitude flight in the ring was something to behold in person, when he would go to the corner of the "squared circle" stand on the top rope, throw his arms in the air and proceed to sail across the ring like a flying squirrel.

I'd crossed paths with Mr. Fuji at World Gym but I don't recall ever seeing Lou Albano there. Randy "Macho Man" Savage was a patron from time to time and his hair was about as wild as The Samoans hair was! Chief Jay Strongbow was getting toward the end of his career but he came in from time to time.

I've also rubbed elbows with King Kong Bundy, Hillbilly Jim, Tito Santana, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts to name just a few......by the way I had a pet boa constrictor at that time and for over 22 years, she was 10 feet long and weighed a whopping 110 lbs. Alice Cooper was coming to the New Haven Coliseum on his Welcome to My Nightmare tour and his camp was doing a casting call for local area boa constrictor owners to loan their pet to be a part of his show. A one night loan where the only compensation was bragging rights to the lucky boa owner. Unfortunately for me, my snake was way too heavy for the diminutive "Alice" to carry around his neck during parts of his performance. He was looking for a boa less than half that weight. Oh well I went to the concert anyway (minus the snake) and had a great time. I could go on listing the names of colorful wrestlers that I've met and worked out with but suffice to say that I was in my prime and so was the World Wrestling Federation back in the mid 80's.

As a final note I must add that being in the same room with Andre The Giant is an experience that I will always remember. His head and hands were absolutely ...well.......gigantic! I always tried to see the matches of the wrestlers that I worked out with live when they came to New Haven. On one such occasion my then girlfriend and I had seventh row seats right next to the portal where the wrestlers made their entrance. My girlfriend was sitting on my left against the railing that kept you from falling down into the portal, when Andre walked through. She screamed when Andre walked in and his head was even with hers in the seventh row! She wasn't expecting a giant to stroll so closely by. I teased her about that scream for the longest time........what if Andre had said BOO! He was a gentle giant if ever there was one.

by Roger Massie..


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