Posted January 1st, 2015 by jshannon

Ringside Remembrances: Farewells in 2014

Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter”—Winston Churchill

2014 is winding down as I type this and, sadly, it is time to say our goodbyes to the men and women we lost during the year. I started this tradition, six years ago, when my first wife, Linda, died suddenly from a heart attack. Every year, I do this as a tribute to her memory and to pay my respects to the fantastic performers who moved on to the next reality. As always, I apologize, in advance, if I should happen to accidentally omit someone.

Cuddles Anderson – September 12th

She was a pioneer of women’s wrestling. As wrestling moved from the Golden Age of the 1950s into the more modern age, Anderson was there to help keep women’s wrestling alive. Cuddles was a small women, standing on 4’6” tall. They say dynamite comes in small packages and Cuddles was packed with TNT. Cuddles, born Marilu Walker, grew up in Thief River Falls, MN. She began wrestling…on a dare. She passed away on September 12th.

Ox Baker—October 20th

Doug Baker began his career back in the 1960s. He was a true Journeyman that worked just about every territory possible. Ox mostly worked as a heel. Back in the early 70s, two different men died after competing against Ox in the South. Ox agreed to accept his reputation as a “Killer”, though it always bothered him (as he told me a few months before he passed away). Ox also had numerous film roles, mos notably as “Slag” in the John Carpenter epic, “Escape from New York”. Ox, or should I say Doug, was also an accomplished chef and even wrote a few children’s books. One of his final appearances was as part of the upcoming documentary, “350 Days”. It was during this filming that I had the honor of speaking with Baker. I have to wipe a tear as I remember him telling me that he was told I was his “Number One” fan. I was and always will be, Ox. Smile.

Gloria Barattini—January 27th

Gloria wrestled between 1949-62. The oddest thing was she got more attention because of what she gave up to become a wrestler. Before donning the tights, Gloria was a top-level Opera Singer. She was considered a founding member of the 2nd wave of female wrestlers, along with Mae Young, June Byers and Nell Stewart. She passed just 3 weeks after her long-time friend, Mae.

Tom Barbola—February 3rd

He was a journeyman wrestler in the 60s and 70s.

Johnny Canuck—July 17th

Born John Collins, Johnny Canuck began working in British Columbia. He was born in Quebec and his father was well-known boxer Gerald Collins. Johnny worked both a Loverboy and Lumberjack gimmick during his career. He was very well-respected by his peers and much-beloved by the fans.

Don Chuy—January 6th

He played pro football for the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams. When his football career came to an end, in 1969, Chuy moved to a brief career in wrestling.
Johnny Lee Clary—October 21st

He wrestled, very briefly, as Johnny Angel in the 1980s. Johnny spent more time on the Jerry Springer Show than in a wrestling ring. Why? Because Johnny was a former Ku Klux Klan member that changed his life, dramatically, and became a travelling evangelist (as well as a pro wrestler. Clary received some of his training from the legendary Danny Hodge.

Johnny Czeslaw—January 4th

He was a mid-card superstar in the 1950s and 60s. He worked as both a heel and face, but mostly as a face.

Dr. Wagner—September 12th

Dr. Wagner (Sr.) was one of the architects of Lucha Libre wrestling. He passed his vast knowledge on to his two sons, Dr. Wagner Jr. and Black Tiger aka Silver King. Wagner was 68 when he passed away from a heart attack. Born Manuel Gonzales Rivera, Dr. Wagner took over the much-despised “Evil Doctor” gimmick, in 1961. He was originally supposed to partner with the originator of the gimmick, El Medico Aseino. Sadly, Medico died in 1960. Wagner went back and forth between “Technico” (Face) and “Rudo” (Heel) in his long and storied career. His career came to an end, in 1986, when he was involved in a car accident that killed fellow wrestler, Angel Blanco. Dr. Wagner would help train both his sons, as well as numerous other Lucha stars in the decades that followed.

“Dandy” Jack Donovan—November 27th

Donovan’s beginning in the business almost caused him to quit forever. He was the “Aide” to Gorgeous George in 1956. He spent five months trying to keep George out of trouble, as George had a massive drinking problem and needed watched. After five months, Donovan threw up his hands and walked away. A freak broken ankle helped launch the career of Dale Hey aka Buddy Jack Roberts. Donovan had a brutal feud with Danny Hodge. Donovan was extremely successful in tag teaming, winning championships with multiple partners.

Al Green—December 27th
AL worked the Southern Corridor during its heydays of the 1970s and 80s His death was reported, via Facebook, by long-time friend, Jerry Jarrett.

Jesse James—March 4th

He was another journeyman grappler that worked primarily in the Southern Corridor. Born James Judge, he passed at the age of 86.

“Cowboy” Bob Kelly—October 12th

Kelly spent nearly his entire career working in the Gulf Coast territory in Alabama. He was much beloved by the fans, which might explain why Kelly never chose to work the various other groups around the country. He was considered the cornerstone of Gulf Coast for decades.

Jerry Kozak—March 5th

The Canadian often worked with his brother, Nick, in the Amarillo area. Jerry was heavy into gymnastics, while in school. He sculptured his body by working as a Lumberjack. The Kozak Brothers became acquainted with numerous wrestlers in the Vancouver area through the gym that they trained at. Both brothers were recruited to wrestle. Nick started first and Jerry would follow, a few years later. Jerry worked as Jerry Parker, for a while, to avoid having to be in the shadow of his older brother. The two brothers would eventually reunite. Jerry would later mentor a young Dusty Rhodes before returning to Amarillo to work for Dory Funk, Sr. He did that until Dory Sr. died and the promotion was sold. Jerry went into semi-retirement when his wife took ill. He left the business and lived out the remainder of his life in the Texas area.

Ken Lucas—August 6th

Lucas worked almost exclusively in the Southern Corridor of Territories. He partnered with numerous partners, over the years. He mostly worked in Alabama but got his biggest exposure, nationally, on Southwest Championship Wrestling, out of San Antonio. That program pre-dated WWF programming on the USA Network. In recent years, Lucas as a staple on the convention circuit.

Mabel/Viscera/Big Daddy V—February 18th

The huge man reinvented himself, several times over. He first broke into the WWF as Mabel, one-half of Men on a Mission. He would eventually leave that group and win King of he Ring. When Undertaker formed his group, The Ministry, Mabel was brought in as Viscera. Later, Big Vis created a character “The World’s Largest Love Machine”. When ECW re-launched, a shirtless Nelson Frazier changed into Big Daddy V. After leaving the WWE, Frazier often went by the ring name of King V.

“Madman” Mahoney—January 4th

Not to be confused with “Balls” Mahoney, Madman worked all across the country in the 80s and 90s. His wild look earned him the nickname of “Madman”. He was only 57 when he left us.

Dan Manoukian—September 23rd

He was a member of the Oakland Raiders before entering the ring wars. Dan lived in Reno, Nevada most of his life but would often make the five hour drive over to San Francisco to compete. His mentor was Ray “The Crippler” Stevens.

Lee Marshall—April 26th

Lee was “The Voice” of the AWA for many years. He was an accomplished radio announcer before entering wrestling. He was one of only two announcers to work, in-ring, for WWE, WCW and AWA (the other being Gene Okerlund). Marshall also provided the voice for Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes) after the original orator, Thurl Ravenscroft, passed away. He did the ring announcing duties, in Los Angeles, for Wrestlemania 2. He was very respected by his peers and the fans.

Mini Chessman—January 29th

He was a leading midget (or Mini) wrestler in Mexico. He portrayed several characters before being brought in as the midget version of the very popular Chessman character. He mimicked the behaviors of the much larger namesake. He was only 46 when he left this world.

Ryu Nakata—February 15th

He was a solid member of the Japanese wrestling community during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Sean O’Haire—September 8th

He was trained at WCW’s Power Plant. He often teamed with fellow Power Plant alumni, Mark Jindrak. They held the WCW World Tag Team Titles. Sean also formed a great team with Chuck Palumbo. Sean was phased out of the WWE by 2004. He spent the last couple of years of his career working in Japan and the US indies. He retired in 2006. He was training for a possible MMA run when he took his own life.

Al Oeming—March 17th

Dr. Oeming worked in the Canadian indies, early in his life. Later on, he became a highly respected conservationist. He even had a short-lived animal program that he co-hosted with actor Leslie Nielsen.
David Rose—March 24th

Rose worked a “Cowboy” gimmick in the Southern Corridor in the 1970s.He passed away at age 68.

Lorenzo Parente—March 15th

He was a solid competitor that worked both in Mexico and the Southwest US. He died of natural causes at age 78.

Frank Parker—December 27th

Frank was one of the hardest working referees in Eastern Canada. His years of hard work earned him a well-deserved place in the Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Cancer took him from us, just a few days ago.

Ken Ramey—October 16th

Ken was the first referee to turn heel, during a match. That happened in Florida, many years ago. Ken would move from referee to work both as a manager and a booker. I met him, just briefly, a few years ago at a convention in the Bay Area. He was there for the honoring of West Coast Legend, Woody Farmer.

Joan Rivers—September 4th

Joan was a trailblazing female comic. Her career began in the 1950s. Her connection with wrestling began around 1984. Joan was subbing for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” when she brought out Hulk Hogan. Joan was later interview Hogan and Mr. T, prior to the original Wrestlemania. She would also have wrestlers show up on her own short-lived talk show. Joan also served as the Special Ring Announcer at the New York portion of Wrestlemania 2. Joan would make appearances, over the years, at WWE events. She is likely to go into the WWE Hall of Fame, Class of 2015, in the Celebrity Wing.

Billy Robinson—March 3rd

The Manchester native was considered one of the toughest men to ever compete in this sport. Robinson began his career, in Europe, in 1960. In 1969, Billy emigrated to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Robinson crossed swords with several wrestlers in Calgary. The story goes that Archie Gouldie walked away from an NWA World Title Shot to avoid having to work with Robinson. Billy became acquainted with Verne Gagne and later joined the AWA. He worked in the ring and also became a very strict taskmaster, as It related to training young wrestlers. Robinson became highly respected in the AWA. Robinson even had a brief run in the WWF, just before it went national. Robinson was still in high demand for advice from wrestlers, young and old, until just shortly before his passing.

Vic Rositanni—February 11th

He was a solid member of the mid-card roster of the 1970s AWA. He also did numerous behind-the-scenes work for Verne Gagne.

George Scott—January 20th

George was an excellent wrestler, often teaming with his real-life brother, Sandy. George was much more influential behind-the-scenes. He helped re-launch he NWA Mid-Atlantic area in the 1970s and was a major part of the WWF’s expansion in the 1980s. Scott was much beloved in Calgary’s Stampede promotion. It was “Whipper” Billy Watson that gave Scott his first big break, when fans shouted to see Scott while Watson was performing, in Calgary. After retiring, Scott and his wife relocated to Florida

Dave Shade—January

He was a journeyman wrestler during the 70s and 80s. He was a technical grappler that would throw down if the need would arise.

Ricky Starr—September 20th

Ricky was born in St. Louis but spent most of his active career in Europe. He was a contemporary of Gorgeous George but he took a more comedic turn with his character. He became well-known for wearing ballet slippers, instead of traditional wrestling footwear. Vince McMahon, Sr. did use Ricky in the old WWWF from 1957-62. Ricky would work in both Europe and North America, during that time. Ricky spent quite some time as a trainer before retiring and disappearing from sight. He spent his last few years living in the London area.

Joe Turner—May 1st

The Mobile, Alabama native helped build the Gulf Coast promotion, starting in the 1950s. Joe primarily worked in tag teams, during his career. Joe got his introduction into pro wrestling, thanks to his father. Joe’s dad, a policeman, moonlighted as a security officer for Gulf Coast. Joe would often come to the matches to spend time with his dad. The elder Turner would take his son to meet the promoter and he decided to give Joe a chance. He didn’t actually start inside the ring. He sold posters, set up the ring, and, eventually, refereeing of matches. By 1957, Joe had gotten into shape and had learned enough from the other wrestlers to begin his own wrestling career. Turner worked under numerous names, both masked and unmasked. After retiring, Turner remained active on the convention circuit, as well as managing apartment properties and remodeling residences.

Warrior aka Ultimate Warrior—April 8th

Trained by the legendary Red Bastien, Warrior began as part of Powerteam USA. Known as Rock, he and Steve Borden (Sting) were recruited by Jerry Jarrett to move to his CWF Promotion. Rock and Flash (later renamed Sting) did a team known as the Blade Runners. The characters were based on the Harrison Ford film about androids. They moved to Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory. Jim Hellwig, as he was known then, accepted an offer to move to World Class. Fritz Von Erich renamed his as the Dingo Warrior. He had a decent run, mostly working with Lance Von Erich (Ricky Vaughn). Hellwig was contacted by the WWF and invited to join them. He took the name of Ultimate Warrior (a name originally used by Bad News Allen/Brown). Vince McMahon Jr. knew there were so many different “Warriors” in wrestling and wanted to make it clear that Hellwig was the best or Ultimate one. At Summerslam 1988, Ultimate Warrior was a last minute replacement for Brutus Beefcake to go against Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title. Warrior decimate the longest-reigning IC champion. Warrior would then go on to cleanly pin Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. Warrior would lose the title to Sgt. Slaughter, thanks to an assist by Randy Savage. Warrior had a falling out with Vince McMahon Jr and was released by the WWE. Warrior then moved over to WCW for a forgettable run with the rival organization. Warrior was brought back, at Wrestlemania 12, to embarrass Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a Squash Match. HHH was in the dog house after the Cliq Incident at Madison Square Gardens. Warrior retired in 1998 and basically fell off the radar for close to a decade. He resurfaced, in 2008, for a brief run in Nu-Wrestling Evolution. Jim Hellwig officially changed his name to “Warrior”. He toured the world as a controversial motivational speaker. The wrestling world was both shocked and thrilled when it was announced that Warrior had come to terms with the WWE and showed up in one of their video games. He was announced as a Hall of Fame inductee for the Class of 2014. He appeared at the Hall of Fame ceremony and at Wrestlemania. His last appearance was on the Raw, the night after Wrestlemania. He made a touching speech where he talked about someday taking his last breath. Sadly, within 48 hours, he did exactly that. I’ve never been more shocked than when my buddy, Scooter, called me to break the news. I had been working and hadn’t had a chance to check the wrestling news, that day. He will always be remembered as one of the most unique characters in wrestling history.

Bonnie Watson—August 21st

Bonnie was working for the phone company when she was discovered by legendary women’s wrestling promoter, Billy Wolfe. She began wrestling in 1951. In the mid-50s, she married referee Stu Schwartz. They relocated to Florida. She continued to wrestle up into the 1970. She won the Florida Women’s title as late as 1972. Schwartz and Watson were married for more than 50 years. Both faced health problems over the last few years. She died in Florida, earlier this year.

(Johnnie) Mae Young—January 9th

Mae Young holds the record as the oldest female wrestler to ever compete in a wrestling match. She was in her 80s when she faced Michelle McCool and Layla, a few years back. Mae won! Mae and Fabulous Moolah were friends for decades and both set the stage for future Divas, Knockouts and female wrestlers, in general. Tough as nails, Mae stepped outside the “Beauty Queen” ideal for female wrestlers to become a roughneck battler that had no brakes on her style. She and Moolah lived together, for many years, in South Carolina with heir protégé, midget wrestler Diamond Lil. Mae and Moolah were instrumental in training several generations of female wrestlers. Mae also went to levels no woman was expected to go. Years before Dixie Carter did it in TNA, Mae was put through a table by BuhBuh Ray Dudley aka Bully Ray. Mae, in her 70s, had a storyline romantic affair with Mark Henry. Their “love” led to the birth of “Hand” (a fake rubber hand). Mae was flirtatious and frisky, especially during her later years. Mae had serious health issues over the last couple of years but kept fighting to the bitter end. She was the second female to go into the WWE Hall of Fame, behind her dear friend, Moolah.

Yuma—February 27th

He was a solid performer in the Mexican independents during the 70s and 80s. He worked under numerous identities but Yuma was the one that he was most recognized for.

Jim “Clawmaster” Zordani—September 22nd

He was one of the leading wrestling historians in the business. He was also an original online journalist, working for numerous early wrestling websites. He died at the too early age of 50.

In Conclusion:

I had the honor of meeting a few of the people that I’ve listed above. Many others I have heard of, in passing. Regardless of how well I knew the men and women above, they all share one thing…my respect. I also pray at the end of each of these columns that there will not be a continuation of the column, next year. I understand the reality that many of our heroes are aging and leave us for whatever comes beyond this world.

Gone but never forgotten…

(Rest in) Peace

–Jay Shannon

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