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WRESTLING COLUMNS

What Does A Wrestler Mean To Me
November 10, 2005 by T. Kroepfl


Not long ago I boldly told some co-workers that I was a devout wrestling fan. I got the normal reaction; " Oh I can't believe you." " I use to watch that stuff AS A KID!" We all know how it goes. But after a little while another co-worker admitted that he still watched wrestling to this day. We started talking about some of our favorite wrestlers going through the popular list of greats, Flair, Hogan, Piper, and then he asked me who was the one that influenced my life the most. The question stunned me, I had never thought about it. Sure I had for years quoted Sputnik Monroe, " I'm 235 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, with the body women want and men fear"; and Rick Flair; "To be the man, you got to beat the man." Wrestlers have all given us some great catchphrases to use in our daily life. The Rock alone could offer up a book of catchphrases. And what Dusty Rhodes has said over the years could fill volumes. But for a wrestler to influence my life" That was left to superheroes like my dad, Batman and Superman, or movie stars like John Wayne not wrestlers. But we kept talking about different favorites and different matches when it hit me, the realization of what wrestler was the most influential on my life, Tommy "Wildfire" Rich.

Let me explain the idea behind influence. When someone influences your life their actions or words are an inspiration to you and you have consciously or unconsciously mimicked, modelled, or adopted parts or all of their life and made it into your own. John Wayne's American way of doing the right thing because it's the right thing is a good example. During World War II although he never served in the service, with each war movie that he released enlistment rose 20 % during that time. People wanted to fight the good fight like John Wayne. In a more realistic realm Martin Luther King's dream of a world filled with equality, Gandhi's peace, love and understanding. Or on a more down home view Rocky Marciano the boxer who achieved greatness through practice and hard work. Any super bowl winners through teamwork. People who exhibit goals and qualities we wish to emulate in our lives. How does Tommy "Wildfire" Rich fit into this"

Allow me to set the stage; rural North East Arkansas in the late 1970's before cable, before satellite, before 300 channels to choose from, before the WWF became syndicated. With a pair of rabbit ears if you were lucky you got 4 channels (the local PBS) but more than likely just the three networks, ABC, CBS, NBC; WMC-TV from Memphis hosted a weekly wrestling show at 11:00 am. Through out their broadcasting range if you owned a television chances were that at 11:am Saturday you were watching wrestling. The show was so powerful that for years it affected sales at Wal-Mart. Their records show that sales in stores that were in the broadcast range of WMC-TV dropped to almost nothing for years during the height of the shows popularity. Sales everywhere from jewellery stores to head shops went to almost nothing at that time. If you wanted to rob a store Saturday at 11:am was the time to do it because nobody was around to stop you.

To go to Memphis on a Monday night from out of town, to see the matches at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum was considered a "big time" date like going to a Broadway show would be in New York. Dinner, Wrestling, dancing and drinks, high-class stuff in the 70's for a lot of farming communities around Memphis. It was the social event of the season to get a group together and spend a night in Memphis just to go see wrestling.

Jackie Fargo had been the top man for years. Now Jerry Lawler was king, with Bill Dundee, Austin Idle, Dutch Mantell, Boogie Woogie Valiant, and countless others in his court. They were local heroes who were fighting off invaders from other parts of the country, like the Funk brothers, Rick Flare and the horseman, the Freebirds, all to keep the Southern title in Memphis. That was their feud, their goal, to keep the title in Memphis. Yes they all wanted to own the title and there were plenty of great matches against each other but they were generals up against the rest of the wrestling world, they had no idea I existed much less would they have had the time to come to my side to help me.

I was in the 7th or 8th grade addicted to wrestling like so many others glued to the television each week. I was geeky, not an athlete, not on any teams, not good enough for the chess club. If the school bully was going to pick on someone I was his warm up. And although I dreamed and prayed that a Jerry Lawler or Bill Dundee would show up and stop the madness I knew they would not, they had their own fight to fight. But then came Tommy Rich. He was not the A-team wrestler. Although he had fought Lawler, Dundee and others he was never a big name. A jock in image he never came off as the starter on the team but a second stringer, cool enough to be in with the cool crowd but never the star player. He always seemed like the guy that would make fun of the geeks while in his crowd, driving his Corvette and dating a cheerleader. But if you were getting picked on by someone, your books scattered all along the hall, people stepping on your homework paper with muddy feet, Tommy Rich was the guy from the cool crowd who would walk over and help you pick up your things, give you a word of encouragement and send you on your way because he was compassionate but too cool to be seen for very long with the likes of the un-cool.

Something in his voice told you his mama raised him right and as cruel as the cool crowds could be he was the one with the good heart that would not allow that thin shell of humanity to crack on some poor picked on geek. He would never let it go that far. Quietly chastising the bully and stepping in like a champion to defend the weak and the meek, restoring dignity if he could by taking the time to help others when asked, showing how to fight, how to run, how to do what ever was in his power to share with whomever asked.

I realize that this is a rather romantic view of things but keep in mind to an 8th grader in 1974 Robin Hood was the man. And looking back all these years later so was Tommy Rich. Because of him and men like him that I have known in my life I went on to grow out of being the geek loser and fought my own fights when nobody would help. For a long time I had the tar beat out of me on more than one occasion; but then one day I started winning the fight. I started stepping in when the geeks and losers younger than me in school were getting picked on. I started stopping the cruelty. As I grew into manhood I started putting on the weight and became 235 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, with the body women want and men fear. But I was raised right, and I always try to fight the good fight. I didn't get all of that from Tommy Rich but I would have to say for someone who worshiped wrestling like I did, the qualities he displayed reinforced values I was instilled with.

I haven't seen Tommy wrestle in years, probably not since 1980. When Jerry Lawler became an employee of the WWF I was off to collage. I had stopped watching wrestling for a few years then I discovered Ted Turner loved wrestling and had it on the Super station, I started watching again but not with the religious devotion I had at one time. I have read that Tommy wrestles occasionally and I had heard that he is no longer the man I just described. I don't know a lot about Tommy, for all I know he might be a real bastard, who is drugged out most of the time and bitter because he never was the A-team guy. But Tommy for what it's worth whatever the truth about your life what I saw and thought it to be had an effect on mine.

And the guy I was talking to... after giving my reasons why Tommy Rich was the bigger influence on my life than any other wrestler he agreed with me and said that if it weren't for guys like that he would have never made it through middle school and high school alive. My friend's first choice as the most influential wrestler was the Ugandan Giant. Now he's rethinking his own question.

by T. Kroepfl ..


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