THE WAY IT WAS
by Percival A. Friend
(The EPITOME of Wrestling Managers)
Percival's Photo Of The Week
Wild Bull Curry, circa 1965
Wild Bull Curry vs. The Sheik
This past week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with The Sheik and his wonderful wife at one of their estate's in lower Michigan. It was a great time reminiscing over old times with the man that made wrestling feuds famous. May God continue to watch over you both for many more years to come.--Percival
Thursday nights were a tradition in Toledo, Ohio. The Toledo Sports Arena had hosted just about every major event that hit town ... until the new Seagate Center in downtown opened.
The year was 1967, and I had been in the business for four years. I had done just about everything that was expected of me as a human being. I say just about everything because the story I am about to tell changed my life and way of thinking that the business of Pro Wrestling was an easy business.
I had started as a ring announcer, filling in for Irv Chimovitz, who was the announcer at the old Flint Arena. I then went on as an official referee when Al Thomas, a popular Pontiac, Michigan school teacher and referee, was a no show due to illness at the Saginaw Civic Center for promoter Johnny Doyle.
I was later invited to go to Toledo and wrestle under a mask to fill in for someone that got hurt. I won my first pro match by disqualification people were happy for me even though they couldn't see my face under the mask I wore. The Green Hornet was my alter ego and an identity I took on for my pro debut.
I had returned to Toledo to wrestle many times under the mask and felt really confident about my ability in the ring. I had beaten a lot of local and imported talent that matchmaker Martino Angelo had signed to face me. Some were seasoned veterans who gave me a pretty good run for my money.
It was the start of the 1967-68 season, and the feature bout on the card was The Sheik against Wild Bull Curry. The Sheik was the current U.S. Champion and had held wins over the likes of Bobo Brazil, The Stomper (Guy Mitchell), Ben Justice, Mark Lewin, Killer Karl Kox, Big Ernie Ladd, Chief White Owl, and Bull's own son, Flyin' Fred Curry.
Promoter Francis Fleser had bought out the partnership of Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle during the summer off-season and had vowed to bring bigger and better bouts to the area of the Great Lakes. He certainly had done his best in bringing the top talent in for this card. I was scheduled to wrestle in the opener against Cowboy Frankie Laine.
I had arrived at the Arena at 6 p.m., wearing my bright Kelly Green mask with the white face ... a little ahead of the big crowds ... of course, there were the diehard fans that were awaiting outside the front doors. As I eased my big red Lincoln Convertible into the parking spot at the rear of the building, I saw fans starting towards my car. One of them shouted as I was getting out, "Watch out for that Bulldog move that Frankie Laine uses ... he's a pretty tough hombre." I thanked the fans and, as always, signed a few autographs, took a couple of pictures, and went into the building to my dressing room.
I was getting ready for the evening, loosening up by doing sit-ups, push-ups and squats. I was into a pretty good workout when Martino Angelo approached me. He walked over to the area I was in and extended his hand, and I gave him mine back. He was a former pro wrestler from the golden era of the 40's and 50's himself and one of the true good guys as far as helping the new kids on the turf.
"Kid ... Frankie Laine is not going to be here tonight, but you have come a long way to be here, so I want you to do me a favor," Martino said. "I want you to be a referee in the Main Event tonight." I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I always carried a referee shirt and slacks in my bag, out of habit. I was grateful for the chance to make a paycheck instead of going home with the short end of the stick, so I agreed. I thanked Martino and asked if there was anything else I could do to repay his kindness. He said, "No, kid ... just go out there and be the best you can be. Call 'em like you see 'em."
As I stood in the rear of the arena, watching most of the matches, not one fan came to me and said I looked a lot like the Green Hornet. Not one fan came to me and asked who I was, or why I was in the referee outfit. I was used to the hoopla and the attention I had received over the past four years. It really felt funny... I hadn't refereed in Toledo ever before.
The bell sounded for the Main Event and I headed for the ring, confident that I could do the job I had been asked to do. Bull Curry entered the ring first and was actually cheered. He had to have been the ugliest man, besides the Swedish Angel, that God had set on this earth. He had eyebrows that were combed upwards toward his hair. They had to be at least two inches long. His body, which was not heavily muscled, gave you the impression that he couldn't do much ... WRONG ... he had a toughness within him that once led him to the ring to fight a draw match with the former great Boxing Champ Jack Dempsey. Bull Curry was not a cream puff.
Just then, I heard the sound of screams and chairs being knocked down by people trying to get out of the way of The Sheik. This man's looks could scare the living "yell" out of you. Attired in his native garb, he climbed between the ropes and began his pre match ritual, which included praying to Allah on his prayer rug.
To Be Continued....
Percival A. Friend, Retired
Percival at the Cook Bank Building in Rhyolite, 2001
(Photo courtesy Teri Minnick)
(MIDI Musical Selection: "Kokomo")
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