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Stefene Russell of St. Louis Magazine interviewed author Larry Matysik about his upcoming bookThe 50 Greatest Wrestlers of All Time”.

If you talk about wrestling in St. Louis, you can’t not talk about Larry Matysik. Not only did he work for Sam Muchnick—the man who built St. Louis into the pro wrestling capital of the universe—but in the 1970s and ’80s, Matyskik hosted the legendary Wrestling at the Chase. In 2005, Matysik published Wresting at the Chase: The Inside Story of Sam Muchnick and the Legends of Professional Wrestling. He followed that up with Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s RebelDrawing Heat the Hard Way; and From the Golden Era. This January, he’s got a new book coming out, The 50 Greatest Wrestlers of All Time. We talked to Matysik by phone about his writing and announcing career, how he was a firsthand witness to the changes in the wrestling business, and young wrestlers to keep an eye out for in local, independent matches. Note: this web exclusive corresponds to a short feature in our November issue, Faces, Heels, and Tweeners.

So you have a new book coming out this January…

The galleys just came back. It’s 477 pages. It’ll shrink when they set type, but it’s still going to be about 400 pages. My fear when I write these books—this is my fifth one—is that I’m not going to have enough material. And then I always end up with 300 pages. It’s scary. This one, the subject matter lent itself to a lot of writing, so I thought what the heck, let it rip; you never know when you’re going to get another chance.

Wrestling doesn’t lend itself to a whole lot of statistical analysis, so what I tried to do was to featurize it. Each [section] has about 2000–2500 words, and I tried to make it a little more reader-friendly. And I explain why we picked who we picked, why we didn’t pick these people. It gave me a chance to go off on different tangents.

And in terms of St. Louis wrestlers, how many made the top 50?

Well, Lou Thesz is going to be number one. That’s because I’m from here, and it’s amazing how over the years, a lot of these guys—not only the ones who made the top 50, but I also talked to another 75 that were close and didn’t make it—how many of them came through St. Louis. So there are various stories that pop up within the book about Sam Muchnick, about Wrestling at the Chase, or something that happened in St. Louis. I guess one of the oldest names in there would be Ed “Strangler” Lewis. And of course, Thesz. They both trained at a place called the Business Man’s Health Club. It was at Sixth and Olive. It’s the parking garage for what used to be Famous-Barr. In the’20s and ’30s, it was the big hangout for all the sports people in town, and in fact Sam Muchnick, when he was a sportswriter for the St. Louis Times, played handball there. And that’s how he originally met the wrestlers, and got involved in the wrestling business. He met Lou Thesz there, when Thesz was a teenager and in training; he met Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Ray Steele. And this will sound familiar to a journalist—when his newspaper folded and merged with another paper to become the Star-Times, he was out of a job. That’s when he went into the wrestling business, in 1932.

So it was like a gym, but also a sort of social meetup place?

Yeah, and this was the ’20s and ’30s, so you’re talking like handball courts, wrestling mats, a boxing ring…Harry Cook was a referee. His real last name was Cassimatis. His grandkids are probably still around here. His daughter dated a wrestler by the name of Joe Milich, and we became good friends, in fact we shared hockey tickets. [Laughs.] By again, in St. Louis, we talk about tradition, you can trace it well back into the 1920s. Easily.

And then I guess in some cases, like with Lou Thesz, it’s going back even further, because you have his Hungarian dad teaching him this ancient Greco-Roman style of wrestling. Which of of course is sort of the farthest thing from where we are now!

And that’s really the reason I made Thesz number one. Because he won his original championship in 1937, when he was only 21 years old. And he was still a champion in 1964, ’65 when he was well into his 40s. He wrestled in era when it was a stricter style, a stiffer style, a UFC Mixed Marital Arts style, really, back in the ’30s. And he was part of the television revolution back in the 1950s and early ’60s, and when the sport really opened up with a lot of that slam-bang flying stuff, Thesz had a foot in all of these different things, and was successful in all of them. Some of the latest fans, who have never seen this, never understood it, say ‘How could Thesz do some of that flying-around stuff that people do today?’ Well, if Thesz had been born 30 years ago, instead of 90 years ago, he would have the benefits of modern training, modern diet, if he wanted to have performance-enhancing drugs, he’d have all those benefits, too. If he was that great of an athlete in the ’20s and ’30s, why would he not be a great athlete today? So if you say ‘Well he couldn’t do that,’ maybe the tougher question is, could somebody like John Cena, if he were born in the ’20s or ’30s, be able to handle that strict physical style, where you really had to be a tough guy? The question goes both ways. I say in the book, the bottom line being that people say, old-timers look at everything and they say how wonderful everything was. But that’s what the new people do, too. They look at things today, and all they see are blue skies. So there’s good and bad in both things. Wrestling’s no different than baseball, or football. You’re trying to balance the changes in style. Was Stan Musial a better hitter than Albert Pujols? I don’t know. But you should be able to make a judgment if you want to make a list like this. And in the end, no one is going to die because you made a list like this! It’s for fun.

Were there people on there that you wanted to include but couldn’t—especially St. Louis people?

Well, not people who were born here. There were guys who wrestled here that I would have loved to include, one being a guy by the name of Dick Murdoch, who was a fabulous worker. And he was a good friend. But I really couldn’t put him in the top 50, because he wasn’t quite that good. And even there, you’re saying, jeez, he wasn’t good enough to be in the top 50, but how many people do you think wrestled over the last 110 years? You can trace this back to its start in like 1890. So how many people wrestled? And you say, well, he wasn’t in the top 50, he was only in the top 150. There were probably 2,000 people who wrestled in that era. So it’s not like you are saying he was a bum. [Laughs.] Cowboy Bob Ellis was another. Guys like that. So who’s in the top 50? I’m trying to think of names people would know. Ric Flair, of course. Pat O’Connor. Dick the Bruiser. Fritz von Erich. Jack Brisco. King Kong Brody. Anyone who follows wrestling, even casually, will recognize the names in the top 50. And of course, that’s why they’re in the top 50—one of the considerations along with skill, how they drew and all of that, would be the legacy they left. Do people remember? If you walk through downtown St. Louis and ask, ‘Do you remember Dick the Bruiser?’ People would know what you’re talking about. And I think you would be surprised at how many people would say, ‘Oh, my God, yeah, my dad watched him, and I watched him as a little boy with my grandpa.’

Circling back to TV—that was the force that changed the nature of wrestling, right, specifically the influence of Gorgeous George?

Well, he was part of it. In the early ’50s, there was an TV network called the DuMont Network, and they had a national show that came out of Chicago, and Gorgeous George was one of its early stars, because he was the flamboyant one, the blond one. But the other stars were Lou Thesz, Vern Gagne, and Killer Kowalski, people like that. They were on there, too, and they all became, in the early ’50s, national stars. Because wow, I’ve got this thing called television in my front room, and there’s this live action with these characters. Gorgeous George was certainly part of that, in that he started the blond hair and the flamboyant thing. But that was part of wrestling’s appeal. You had the straight guys, the Thesz, the Gagne, the O’Connors. You had the characters, the Gorgeous Georges. And you had the rowdy, wild ones, like Killer Kowalski and Hans Schmidt. That’s what television allowed wrestling to take to an audience, just as it allowed football and baseball to go to a much larger audience. But then wrestling died on television in the mid-to-late ’50s. In typical fashion, they overexposed it; it was on constantly. And they had a couple of scandals: ‘Oh, this isn’t real….’ Things like that. Bottom line is, they overexposed it. And it went off television for a couple of years, until Wrestling at the Chase, one of the first shows to really say, let’s take a look at that wrestling thing, there’s something there.

Something else I had read was that putting wrestling on TV greatly widened its female fan base, because at one point, it was just not considered ladylike to be seen at a wrestling match.

I wasn’t around back then either, but based on what I’ve heard, yes, that is correct. Probably a lot of sports back then were like that; you saw very, very few females. But once it got on television, they saw it, and they liked it. Mickey Garagiola always told this story about when Wrestling at the Chase started. So here’s wrestling at the Khorassan Room, at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. You went there for the Veiled Prophet Ball, for a wedding, for some fancy banquet, or whatever. Well, the husband would say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Khorassan Room tonight,’ not telling the wife what they were going there for. Well, we’re going to go get something to eat. Instead, they go in…and it’s wrestling! As they got into it, they saw that hey, that Cowboy Bob Ellis is a pretty handsome guy. I kinda like him! And the action was good, and the personalities connected with the public, female and male alike, and it made the fan base grow. That was a huge, huge part of its success. Today, I don’t know; I’m sure you could find demographics somewhere. I’m guessing 35 to 40 percent of their TV audience certainly even for Monday Night RAW is female. We had a real hot spell attendance-wise right around 1979, 1980. I always thought part of it, from what I could see in the ring, we had a couple of wrestlers by the name of the von Erich brothers, you’ve probably heard of, Dave and Kevin von Erich, and also Ted DiBiase. They were young, good-looking guys. And I could tell the difference in the crowd noise, that we had suddenly gained this female, teenaged fan portion. Because their voices were different when they yelled—so it was kind of like the fan base you’d have for a Bon Jovi, maybe.

With Wrestling at the Chase, it sounds like the approach was pretty radically different than what they were beaming out of Chicago back in the ’50s.

I think so. Sam was the one who had the mission; when it started up in 1959, I’d just turned 12 years old. But I’d seen old wrestling tapes, a thing called Texas Wrastlin’ from Dallas, stuff like that. So I’d seen it. But the Khorassan Room was just a whole different thing. It was a brilliant touch by Sam—and Harold Koplar, who put it there. It was a melding of high society and low society. But it was a good mixture. It’s funny, I always read the USA Today Sports Weekly, that’s their baseball and football stuff. And their lead story this week is about a guy, he’s living in New York, but he’s a huge Cardinals fan. And they go to a bar, Foley’s, and he talks about how all the Cards fans go there during the Playoffs, or during the World Series. And he makes the point in there, you don’t know who’s here. There’s Obama supporters, there’s Romney supporters. There are drug addicts, there are socialites. But when we are in that bar, we don’t talk about any of that stuff, we just enjoy Cardinal baseball. And that was what wrestling was able to tap into. And when wrestling is done right—which doesn’t happen all that often, I’d like to say that it’s more often than it is—when it’s done right, that is what you can tap into. For an hour or two hours, whether it’s on television or in person, we’re all just enjoying this spectacle. And what’s wrong with that? This is a tough world. You might as well find something you enjoy.

You and Herb Simmons have been broadcasting a lot of those old Chase matches onWrestling Explosion, which runs Sundays at noon on Charter Channels 8 and 89, along with the new matches. Is there a process as far as picking out what footage to run?

Not really! There’s a lot of me looking at it and saying let’s run this one and this one this week [Laughs]. Very bluntly, I didn’t think we would last this long. It’s hard to get advertising, and I salute Herb. He’s done all the work on this thing. And we’ve been on the air two years now. I don’t know how long it will last, because there is a limited amount of the old footage, though we continue to do new matches, of course. But I think it’s a fun little show that gives you a touch of what the independent market is like today. Some of the young guys who are trying to make it, or some of those like a Ron Powers, who came awful close, and probably should have made it. But because they love it, they are still doing it. And then you can get a little touch of Wrestling at the Chase in the late ’70s, early ’80s era. I only have one hour of black and white from 1962 in the Khorassan Room. And we can’t run that every week; we’ve only got three matches there, but it does have Joe Garagiola there, Pat O’Connor and Lorenzo Parenti, whose family opened the restaurant at the corner of Hampton and Arsenal, that’s now Joey B’s, it was originally Parenti’s. I love to run that match about every eight months. It’s a very good match, for one thing, and it’s just also just neat to look back and see the women at the side in their pearl necklaces, and dressed to the nines, and men in coats and ties.

Have you gotten feedback about the show? Calls, emails?

More calls. Or I’ll be at Schnucks and someone will come up to me and say ‘Hey, I saw that thing on TV!’ And you know, I don’t know who they are, but I’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s terrific! We appreciate you watching.’ I guess what I recognize now, more than when I was doing the show, and we were doing new, fresh shows every week, for 13 years or for however long I did the show there, you have a certain amount of, I hate to say this, celebrity, and I didn’t even realize it and I almost cringed from it. I thought, oh, I don’t know if that’s good or not…I mean, I’m just the announcer, whatever. And I still have people coming up to me and saying it, and I realize, hey, that’s kind of cool. They enjoyed what we did. It’s something to be happy about, and proud of. I think I appreciate it more now than I did when it was happening.

I started doing the TV in 1972, and then I did it through 1983. That’s when I started working with Vince McMahon and WWF, and I did some of the TV, the show that was on in St. Louis, I did the voiceover for probably another three years, until about 1985. But it was a national promotion. There was no room to fine-tune anything for a specific market. It was going to be the same show in St. Louis that you were going to see in Milwaukee that you were going to see in San Francisco that you were going to see in Atlanta. He really had gotten to the point, I could have my argument, well, if we did this for this match it would work in St. Louis. But that didn’t fit in with doing a national promotion. He wanted one, syndicated program, one set of matches, and they would go everywhere.

I had talked to Ron Powers backstage at the East Carondelet Community Center last month, and he’d talked about that era—so here he is, this young wrestler who has the talent and the drive to go national, but then has the bad luck to be rising up during this huge change in the industry, where wrestling shifts from a mom and pop or regional model to a big-box model.

Yes, and when that happened, you had the individual—I’m not talking politics here at all, though it almost sounds like it, and I guess to a certain extent we are—when you have a large national or global company that buys everything up, and the little boys get eaten up, those jobs go away. Here in wrestling, at that point, into the early 1980s when Ron was a teenager, there were 30, 32 promotions scattered around the country. Basically 32 small businesses. When Vince began his drive to take over the world, he’d go into markets, he’d buy out the TV, he’d strip the talent, he’d strip the two stars from that particular area, and the other guys would just be left out in the cold. So at one point, you had maybe 16 guys in each market; 16 times 30 is 480. So you have about 500 guys wrestling, total, in the United States. Now you have one guy, and he’s running two or three shows a night, with 16 guys in each show. So now we’ve gone from 480 jobs, to 48. It was a war, and it was a very bitter situation, because people were being put out of business, and promotions were closing. You found the national company, as I said, eating up the stars, and the young talent, especially back in that day, they were just not going to take the time to develop them. And that’s where Ron fell. Without question, he had the look; he was a good-looking guy. He was 22, 23 years old. He was hitting the weights, had a great physique, and he could do all the stuff. But there were just not the options for him. He had a couple of matches with WWF, but then they wanted this, they wanted that. And he had a chance to go to Japan, he wrestled in Japan and didn’t want to blow the Japan deal, so that got McMahon mad—‘Well, fine, if he wants to go to Japan, we’re not even going to look at him’—then of course Japan, they’re only going to take a look at you a couple of times a year. What are you going to do for the rest of the year? Then he eventually had an offer from WCW, which was World Championship Wrestling, the company out of Atlanta that was owned by Ted Turner, that has since gone broke. But by the time they made the offer, he was married; his wife was pregnant; he’s got a job as an electrician; he’s got a pension he’s starting to build at the age of 30; he’s got insurance. Now, do you want to go and become a wrestler? They’ll offer you $75,000, $100,000 guaranteed. That sounds good on paper, but you are going to be on the road 25 out of 30 days. While we will pay your trans, you pay for your own hotel, so every day, you’re spending $60 or $100, just to live. So that $75,000 to $100,000 suddenly isn’t so hot, is it? And that’s what Ron said. And it was a tough decision for guys like him. But we’ve talked about it since. If he’d done it, he probably would have been double-crossed, because the WCW at that point was starting to become dysfunctional. There were a lot of snakes in the grass, a lot of backstabbing, I’m going to take care of my guy. So if you didn’t have an angel looking out for you, it didn’t matter how good you were. And that was also the time when there was the heaviest amount of pressure from the promotions to use the steroids. You’ve probably seen all the guys that died in their late 30s and early 40s—Rick Rude, John Studd, Chris Benoit, eventually—Ron and I have talked about this often. And he says, If I’d have done it, maybe I would’ve made it. And I can’t help but think about that. But on the other hand, I might be divorced, I probably wouldn’t have any more kids. And I said, you know what, you probably would have been pressured to get even bigger than you were. You might also be dead.

So, was it good, or was it bad? It’s hard to grasp. I understand it too, because when I started working for McMahon, I was 37 years old, after St. Louis had folded. And I was sort of forced into this position with McMahon, working for WWF. And I was bitter. I probably still am, about how I was forced into it. And I recognize that St. Louis could not have stayed as it was. It could not have been a stand-alone town. It’s just not the reality of television, of business. But you’d like to think that you could have saved some portion of it at that level, and gotten something out of it. But it was not to be. So I go my way, and write my little books. We do the nostalgia shows. Just remember, I’m younger than Vince McMahon, and I’m one month younger than Letterman! [Laughs.] And I thinkI’m younger than Romney, but I’m not sure. [Laughs.]

I know it’s not on the same level as Wrestling at the Chase, but there is something really great about the independent wrestling circuit, about SBAC and the matches at East Carondelet. There’s so much heart and soul to it.

I think the guys—the reason I kind of got back into the booking part of it, just the shows in East Carondelet—Herb Simmons had asked me to help a couple of times, and I didn’t really want to get involved. And then Ron said he wanted to come back. And Ron and Herb talked me into doing it. [Laughs.] And I’ve talked to some of the guys in the back. And I say, hey, I don’t want to hear this old school, new school stuff. In the end, this is the same business it was 30 years ago. And it’s going to be the same 30 years from now. You gotta connect with the audience; you gotta be fighting, competing for something meaningful, so they can cheer you or boo you. All I ask is that you work hard. I can give you the framework. You guys have to do the hard work. Now, can they do as much as the biggest stars in the world? Probably not athletically, or they’d be there. But the guys I’ve worked with over in East Carondelet have really busted their butts. They’ve put in 110 percent. And we try to have a little bit of the feel of how St. Louis was booked, the way the matches were put together, to try to get a little bit of depth into what was happening. It’s been really fun. And it’s been satisfying to do. And just to see also, in particular, that a lot of things that were supposedly old school, though I don’t buy that theory at all, they work today. They’ll work forever. Because you know what? When the Cardinals go to the World Series today, it’s just as exciting as it was when they went in 1964, when I laid out on the sidewalk to buy bleachers seats at the old Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals play the Yankees. The basics stay the same. And it’s no different with wrestling. Maybe they fly more, maybe they throw more passes, maybe they have more relief pitchers. But the end result is still the same. The fans buy into it, and the talent, they’ll have the sense to do something that the people appreciate. One feeds on the other.

I was talking to Herb about this sticking point some people seem to have about wrestling being “not real.” His reply was that guys do get hurt, and do leave in ambulances. Not every night, but it happens.

It’s happened once or twice. And there are injuries. Sean Vincent is the one who is studying to become a nurse, he’s going to college now. He’s working as an aide in the spinal rehab facility in St. Luke’s Hospital. And that’s what he’s done. Actually I sent him some of my MRIs I’ve had done on my back, just so he would have them to look at and read through for some of the work he’s doing. They worked a benefit show in Hillsdale, Mo., an outdoor show, just for the city, to have something for the kids. And he took a terrible bump—we thought he was going to be paralyzed. But now, he may not be wrestling as much over the next year. He’s just so overwhelmed with the college work.

And he probably needs to heal up a little more?

Well, that happened about a year ago. But he was out for about three months. Nothing was broken, luckily. And even by the time they got him into the ambulance, he said I can feel everything, I can move everything. But you never know. And apparently he jammed his neck. It was like what a football player would call a ‘stinger,’ when the two helmets butt heads.

So who are some guys to watch right now, locally, among the independents?

We’ve got a couple young guys here who have the potential to go further; Ricky Cruz. He’s a little older now, he’s 32, but he had eight years of experience down in Puerto Rico, and before that, three years in Mexico. Dave Vaughn. Ken Kasa, the guy we call “Ironman.” He looks like one of these guys that runs marathons, he’s got that nice long, lean look. Chris Hargas. We’ve got a kid we’re going to bring in who’s from Harrisburg, Ill. We’ve had him on once or twice. His name is Heath Hatton; he’s another good young one. So there are some. Another name I should mention is Alexander Rudolph. He’s only 22, and he needs to get in better condition, and maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. It depends on where his life goes. Is he going to say, when do I get my chance with the WWE? Or you know what, I gave it my best shot, I still enjoy doing this, so I’ll keep doing this, even though I recognize that it’s—I hate to say a hobby, but to some extent it is, kind of a high-level hobby. And a dangerous hobby too, because they can still go out there and get hurt pretty bad.

And understandably, there are guys who come along and you see that they have a gift for it. But it’s the independent market, independent shows. There’s not enough there where they’re going to make any money. They’re making $25, $30 a night. So maybe they stay for a year, and they say this isn’t what I thought it would be. Or I thought I would get a chance with WWE by now. And it’s like yeah, you thought the Cardinals were going to call and say, ‘Hey, Pujols is gone. Come on over and play first base for me.’ It doesn’t work that way. A lot of young people get frustrated and they’re there for a year and they disappear. Or, now, a lot of young people who have the talent for it, and are former amateur wrestlers, they go into the mixed martial arts. That has drained off a lot of the young talent—both at the Vince McMahon level, and at the independent level. They feel like, ‘I can be more myself, and I don’t have to listen to a promoter who says I want you to do this, and I want this to happen.’ You’re in there on your own. Of course, it’s even worse; you’ve got to be the very best, because you can’t afford to lose.

Anyway, that’s the current crew. Randy Orton, who’s one of the big names with WWE right now, grew up in Hazlewood. His dad, Bob Orton, was a wrestler. When Randy started, because his dad wanted him to see the other side of it, he actually started by working out with Ron Powers and Gary Jackson, and young guy who’s not wrestling anymore, Danny Boy Hawkins. Danny actually hurt his back, and he didn’t want to take any chances. They told him that if he takes another bump he’s going to really screw his back up. So he quit. But when Randy started out as a 20-year-old down at the South Broadway Athletic Club, he specifically trained with Ron, Gary and Danny. Of course, he had an in with WWE, because his dad wrestled for them. And he’s 6 foot 4, 240 pounds, and he’s a really outstanding natural athlete. So he got the opportunity, and a lot of people will say it’s just because of his dad. Yeah, that opened the door, but you know what? He’s good. He’s really good. There are other wrestlers’ sons who have tried to do it, and they’ll always give the son of a wrestler a chance. But Randy is the only one that’s made it to that level.

I wanted to ask about Women’s Wrestling, too—I know St. Louis produced a star in the ’60s, in Penny Banner.

Yep, she grew up in St. Louis—Mary Ann Kosteki.

And then there’s MsChif. I watched that Nova segment about the secret lives of scientists, which featured her talking about her career as a biochemist—and her career as a wrestler. I thought that was pretty cool.

She’s at Wash. U. Isn’t that amazing? That’s an even harder thing, though. Female wrestling kind of had its little spot, with Mildred Burke. In fact, there’s a book about her, and it was written by a guy from St. Louis who was back in the Post back in the 1970s. There was Mildred Burke, June Byers…so there was a spot for women’s wrestling. McMahon, when he started doing more of it in the early ’80s, he did a crossover promotion with Cyndi Lauper and a wrestler by the name of Wendy Richter, who had her fourth or fifth professional match here in Kiel Auditorium. I wrote about that in the Wrestling at the Chase book. I’ve never seen a human being so nervous. I thought she was going to faint. There were 10,000 people, and she said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this!’ And I told her, just go in there and let it happen, kid, you’re a pretty girl, you’re athletic, just get in there and let it happen. Anyhow, he had the idea that maybe it could become a bigger part of the show, and it didn’t work out. I don’t know if there is any particular reason. I mean, they have wrestlers, and there are a lot of good female athletes now. But he doesn’t draft them, and the ones who do come down generally get frustrated pretty quickly with how they’re treated by WWE. So they’re stuck with aspiring models like Stacy Keibler, who really just wanted to get modeling jobs and end up chasing George Clooney. [Laughs.] They’ve made it an eye candy thing, and it’s a shame. I knew a guy in the business who said that you’d have two girls who’d go out there early to have their match, and they’d tell them they have six minutes. But then they get out there and they say, you’ve only got four minutes. And it’s like, gosh, what are we going to do? And then at the last minute they come in and say, we’re tight on time, you’ve got two minutes. And they say, well we’ve got to get this bump in and that bump, and they tell them, ladies, don’t try to do too much. What’s going to happen is you’re going to get hurt. It’s a shame they are treating them that way, but it’s a very prejudiced business. I like having girls in the show, we’ve had MsChif on, and a couple of gals from the area. And again, you have to talk to the young guys how difficult it is to get a job and make a living, I had to talk to one of the girls, Stacy O’Brien, and I told her, you’re better than 90 percent of what Vince has up there right now. But the odds of you getting there, I’m not trying to discourage you, but go into it expecting the worst, the odds of you getting a chance are really low. But lady wrestling has a really strong history: Penny Banner, Vicky Williams, Joyce Grable, Wendy Richter, the Fabulous Moolah—she was a piece of work, a character. They were some fun athletes, who’d go in there and do some good matches.

The 50 Greatest Wrestlers of All Time is now available for preorder at Amazon.com, and will be available in area bookstores in January.