By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff:
The outcomes of professional wrestling matches may be pre-determined but the physical toll they take is real. Body slams and chair shots to the head are painful and lasting.
Just ask Brian Blair, a marquee attraction for World Wrestling Entertainment before he turned to local politics and business.
Blair has scars on his hand from the time an opponent accidentally stabbed him with a glass bottle and a scar down his neck from surgery required after he was dropped on his head and back in his 5,000-plus matches.
Not to mention bad knees, fingers broken and still bent, and four concussions.
Still, Blair is financially sound so he can take care of his injuries. Some of his former colleagues cannot.
Blair has come to their aid through a nonprofit group that helps professional wrestlers in financial trouble by loaning them money for groceries, medical expenses and other needs. On Saturday, he’ll be honored for his 12 years of work — the last 18 months as president — with the Seattle-based Cauliflower Alley Club.
“I think people would be surprised to learn the big names we have helped,” said Blair, noting that those who receive loans remain anonymous. “It breaks my heart to see friends going through difficult times. But that’s what the club is for.”
The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Iowa will present Blair with the Lou Thesz Award, named for the legendary pro wrestler and given to another wrestler for exemplary public service. On the same evening, Blair also will be inducted into the museum’s Hall of Fame.
Blair estimates he has given 7,000 hours to more than 20 different organizations, including Tampa’s Police Athletic League and local little leagues.
He also served four years on the Hillsborough County Commission before he was defeated in a bid for a second term.
All have been fulfilling, Blair said, but his work with the Cauliflower Alley Club holds a special place in his heart.
The Dan Gable Museum, named for one of the greatest amateur wrestlers and collegiate coaches in U.S. history, celebrates wrestling in all forms — its earliest days in the Greek culture; collegiate, international and Olympics; and scripted professional wrestling.
Blair earned his way onto the roll of some 85 Hall of Fame members as a professional wrestler.
He is best known for his time in the WWE in the 1980s as part of the Killer Bees tag team with partner “Jumping” Jim Brunzell.
But his career spanned 38 years, took him to 40 countries and continues today part time.
“When I was a kid I wanted to be Superman,” Blair said. “Someone laughed at me and said, ‘You’ll never be Superman. He wears a costume, is always on TV and fights bad guys.’ Well, it turns out my prayers were answered. I did all that as a wrestler.”
Still, unlike Superman, professional wrestlers are not indestructible.
Blair speaks of one former wrestler who recently had his feet amputated due to diabetes. The Cauliflower Alley Club bought a van for him and made it handicap accessible.
The organization has also helped with hip replacements, back surgeries, dental work and medicine.
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