Saturday, May 25, 2013



     It wasn’t any one thing that led to the decline of Joe Malcewicz as a wrestling promoter in Northern California, nor was it any one thing that led to the rise of Roy Shire as the new kingpin of that same area.

     Malcewicz had seen lots of things change in the wrestling business during his 30 years as a promoter but not much seemed to change about him.  While he had once carried the nickname “The Utica Cat”, Malcewicz was now often referred to as “Waffle Ears” which was an accurate description of his heavily cauliflowered ears but may have also been symbolic of the fact that Joe was as old school as it got.   While business wasn’t exactly in the toilet, it wasn’t what it once was and in Roy Shire’s mind, not what it could potentially be.

     While Malcewicz had run a show at the Cow Palace on March 22, 1955 that drew a crowd of 12,253 with Lou Thesz defending his NWA World title against Leo Nomellini, that was the exception.  His shows were regularly run at smaller venues on a weekly basis in San Francisco with crowds now running anywhere from 1500 to 3,000 each show.  While he sometimes brought in outside talent, he typically ran with the same old group of guys, few of which were notable, and the product had become somewhat stale.  It seemed that only the diehard fans were sticking around.

     In spite of this, Roy Shire was still in need of a crew to run in opposition to Malcewicz.  Not long before he rode into town Roy Shire took part in what is now considered a classic group photo.  It was a team photo of sorts which included Roy and several of his fellow wrestlers with whom he had worked in Indianapolis.  Taken in 1960, this photo would include several of the workers that Roy would recruit to work in his new San Francisco promotion.  They would comprise the first ingredient for what would become Roy’s recipe for success.  It was the ingredient of fresh faces that Malcewicz was sorely lacking in his promotion.

     Among those pictured in that classic photo and who would later work for Shire’s promotion were Kinji Shibuya, Pepper Gomez, Wilbur Snyder, Guy Brunetti, Mitsu Arakawa, Joe Brunetti, Cowboy Bob Ellis, and Ray Stevens.

A Young Ray Stevens
     Also, this initial use of outside talent would foreshadow the exchange of talent he would eventually engage in with promoters from other regions.  This is something that would contribute to fresh faces for fans in his territory, keeping the product fresh and increasing ticket sales.  And if the wrestler was someone of note whom some of the fans may have read about in the wrestling magazines, Roy would often use the incoming talent to get over his regular talent in one fashion or another.

     While he may have not been overly ambitious or forward thinking in the running of his territory, Malcewicz still wasn’t going to go down without some kind of fight.  I suppose it was kind of like the guy who’s been with the same woman for a while and doesn’t give his relationship the same type of attention and energy he once did.  However when competition surfaces and a new guy shows interest in his lady, he’s prepared to put up some kind of fight.  For while his interest may no longer be what it once was, it’s still HIS woman.

     For assistance in dealing with this new invader, Joe turned to bringing in visiting wrestlers to boost attendance, some of whom had worked for him before.  And one of the individuals he turned to had wrestled some shows for him at the Dreamland Auditorium in 1937.  And while he was no longer wrestling, this person could offer more potential help to Joe now than when he was sporting the wrestling tights.

     While Jules Strongbow enjoyed a successful career in the ring, he made an even larger impact when he retired and turned to promoting.  He had been booking matches at the Hollywood Legion Stadium in Southern California and was one of the faces of “Wrestling from Hollywood Legion Stadium”, the television show that would broadcast some of the matches from that venue.  In 1958 he joined forces with the husband and wife team of Cal and Eileen Eaton who were promoting boxing and wrestling at the Olympic Auditorium.  Strongbow would begin booking the wrestling shows at the Olympic in addition to the shows he was running out of Hollywood Legion Stadium.

     Jules was considered to be a genius promoter, and some of his roster made up some of the visiting talents on Malcewicz’s wrestling cards in 1961.  Some of the names appearing on those cards included Lord James Blears, Art Neilson, Vic Christy, Shag Thomas, Dick Hutton, and household names like Lou Thesz, Mr. Moto, and Freddie Blassie.  What would the results be for Joe?  Would his attendance increase?  Would Shire’s promotion bomb miserably and quickly fade away?

     The show that Joe ran on January 10, 1961 with the in-ring talent that Strongbow lent had an attendance of 4, 108.  While it was higher than average it was hardly spectacular and thereafter he would only top that mark on one occasion, with the other shows running an attendance between 1, 300 and 3, 200.  It would only be 10 days after this show that Shire would fire his first volley and would add the second ingredient to what would be his recipe for success.

The Idiot Box
       On November 11, 1947, in what Entertainment Weekly magazine would later name as one of the top 100 “Greatest Moments in Television”, many of the then 1,000,000 households that had television tuned in to watch Gorgeous George on the first televised wrestling broadcast.

     It seemed to be a marriage made in heaven as wrestling was cheap programming for television stations and in turn, television was a great way to promote wrestling events.  In particular, wrestling promotions in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago used the medium to make household names out of pro wrestlers like Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Argentina Rocca, Verne Gagne, Buddy Rogers, Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, and others.

     Jules Strongbow was certainly aware of this, as in the Los Angeles market, not only was he the host of his own televised wrestling show, but the Olympic Auditorium was broadcasting a weekly show too.  Also at one time other Southern California venues in Long Beach and Ocean Park had their own televised broadcasts as well.  Roy Shire was also well aware of the power of television.

      When Roy Shire was wrestling he was called “The Professor” and his character was presented as an individual of superior intelligence. And in real life Shire was both intelligent and astute enough to recognize the value of television in promoting a wrestling product and live events.  While I once knew an older gentleman whose wife referred to their television set as “that idiot box”, Shire knew different.

     Shire acquired television time and on January 20th, 1961, his “National All-Star Wrestling” television show debuted on the Bay area KTVU Television channel 2 on a Friday night.  Roy acquired tapes from the “Big Time Wrestling” promotion in Indianapolis and over the next 6 weeks Roy would expose fans to his wrestling product, familiarizing them with the wrestlers that he would be bringing in to his promotion.

     Finally, on March 4, 1961, the day of reckoning had arrived. Roy Shire’s “Big Time Wrestling” promotion would be running its first show at the San Francisco Cow Palace. Malcewicz, who had been promoting wrestling shows in the city without opposition for the last 30 years had just run a show a few days earlier in the city on February 28th, drawing a crowd of 2,892.  How would Shire fare with his new venture?  Would it end up being a “one shot” house show for his imported talent?

     Roy was taking no chances and stacked his first wrestling card at the Cow Palace, bringing in the up and coming Bruno Sammartino, booking a match between Argentina Rocca and Don Leo Jonathan, pitting Bill Melby against Mitsu Arakawa, and Verne Gagne vs. Angelo Savoldi.  And the main event featured Cowboy Bob Ellis against the man who would be his headlining heel for years to come, his former tag partner Ray Stevens.

     And the results? A wrestling event that has a special place in history and is still spoken of with reverence to this day; and an attendance of 16,553, with a standing room only count of 1,500 people.  3 days later Joe Malcewicz would run his next card in the city, drawing a crowd of 2,841 to see Dick Hutton take on Lou Thesz.

    Okay, it could’ve been a fluke right?  Maybe some saw Roy’s inaugural card as something of a novelty, especially since he brought in some famous names for a “one shot”.

     Perhaps that’s what Malcewicz was thinking too as Roy’s next show on March 30, 1961 “only” brought in 7,921 spectators, less than half of his inaugural show.   However Roy was still drawing about as many people to the Cow Palace show that he was running every three weeks as Joe was drawing to the 4 weekly shows combined that he was running at alternating venues.  And while the attendance numbers for Roy’s shows would begin to climb again, the same couldn’t be said for Joe’s.

The Genius

     Once while watching a classic episode of “The Three Stooges”, I laughed when after finding a “magic” lamp, “Larry” requested a wish from the “genius” of the lamp.  With the characters never being known for their intelligence (I mean they’re “Stooges,” right?) I figured that Larry in his ignorance thought he was correctly referring to the “genie” as “genius”.  But for some reason, I was curious about what he said, wondering if what I initially perceived to be an error of ignorance on his part wasn’t in fact an error at all.  I knew that “genie” was probably an English corruption of the word “jiin” which in Arabic meant “spirit”, a spirit who granted wishes, created.  And I soon found that two of the definitions of “genius”, were “creator”, and “someone or something that has influence over people”.  And when it came to creativity in a wrestling performance and exerting influence over the emotional involvement of the fans, Ray “The Crippler” Stevens epitomized the word “genius”.

     Historically, I think it’s safe to say that almost every wresting promotion has only been as good as its top heel.  Roy understood this well as he had previously formed a successful tag team partnership in the Midwest with his “brother” Ray Shire, who was in actuality Ray Stevens, who had begun wrestling professionally at the young age of 15.  And it would be Stevens who was to become the headlining heel of Roy’s “Big Time Wrestling” promotion and was introduced to Northern Californian wrestling fans as the “United States Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.”

     Beginning with that first Cow Palace Show that he main evented  defending his title against Cowboy Bob Ellis, Stevens would continue to be “Gold” for Roy Shire, having 11 titles reigns as the U.S. Champion. In addition he would also be a multiple time holder of the San Francisco version of the World tag team titles.

     Years later in an interview, wrestling’s “Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino said, “Ray Stevens was a great, great talent…I truly thought that Ray Stevens was just super, super great.  He was tremendous in the ring.  I will tell you this…everybody has their opinions about who is great and what have you.  I don’t see anybody around that I have seen that was better than Ray Stevens.” (1) Great praise indeed, especially when you consider that Sammartino isn’t known to throw praise in just anybody’s direction.

     And the praise and respect that Stevens earned from those in the industry and fans alike was well justified.  Employing great psychology in and out of the ring and drawing tremendous “heat” on the mic, Stevens drove the fans to clamor for live event tickets in hopes that a wrestling fan favorite would finally defeat him.  And with the way that Steven took bumps in the ring and really put over his opponent (while still managing to hold onto his title) the fans felt that at any given live event his opponent could wrest the title from him.

     And they all wanted to be there to see that.  And Stevens and Shire would continue to dangle that carrot as well as give the fans a great night of entertainment resulting in Stevens selling out the Cow Palace 10 times that he headlined and drawing 10,000 plus on more than 50 other occasions.  And that was in addition to selling out shows at the other towns in Shire’s territory which included such places as Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Fresno, Watsonville, Sacramento, Stockton, Pleasanton, Santa Rosa, and Modesto.

     Knowing that when it came to wrestling angles, that delayed gratification for the fans equaled greater ticket sales, Roy Shire took his time in letting the storylines develop and play out.  “The problem is figuring out what can I do that the fans will buy…that will get another rematch.  Say your heel is the champion, wrestling a babyface.  Last fall.  Your champion goes into his finishing hold and slams the baby face into the ring post.  He blades himself, gets some heat.  Take the 20-count then comes back to beat the heel, your champion.  Thing is, in my territory, the ref is allowed to stop a fight on cuts.  He had stopped the fight.  Everybody thinks the baby face has won, but here comes the ref to announce he stopped the bout because the baby face was cut too badly to continue.  Almost have a riot.  The thing to do in this case is to bring them back for a rematch, bill it: ‘No stopping for blood.’” (2)

     Roy was meticulous in his plans and in the details, having a reputation for being controlling, hard to work for and often very abrasive.  However Shire also had a well deserved reputation for being a master at ring psychology and knowing how to book compelling angles. 

Roy Returns The Favor

     And it was those talents along with Ray Stevens, the perfect ring performer to help execute his plans that played a big part in Roy continuing to outdraw Joe Malcewicz.  And this occurred even with Southern Californian promoter Jules Strongbow helping out Joe.  Roy may have had this in mind when Johnny Doyle came knocking.

     Johnny Doyle was once the NWA representative in Southern California, and until 1954, he was also the premier booking agent in the area and represented many of the top wrestlers in the territory.  He was also part of a pro wrestling syndicate which included among others, Cal and Eileen Eaton, who promoted boxing and pro wrestling out of the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium.

     After a falling out with the Eatons in 1954, he left the area with the intentions of heading east, only to return in 1955 in a failed attempt to compete against the Eatons with his own Southern Californian wrestling promotion.  In 1957 he renewed his war with the Eatons, launching allegations that led to the Eatons being investigated for being part of a monopoly of the Southern California Wrestling scene.

     Years later the bad blood would remain and in late 1961, along with a couple of partners, he would launch another competing promotion in Southern California.  One of those partners was Bill Welsh, who had formerly been the commentator for Jules Strongbow’s television program broadcasting from Hollywood Legion Stadium.  Welsh also happened to be the original commentator for Roy Shire’s “National All-Star Wrestling” television program in the Bay area.

     What does all this have to do with Roy Shire?  Just as Shire did when first launching his “Big Time Wrestling” promotion, Doyle needed a crew to work his shows.  Perhaps he wanted to return the favor for Strongbow aiding Malcewicz with booking, or maybe he was looking to expand his interests into Southern California; whatever his reasons, Roy certainly lent Doyle a helping hand.

     Doyle was able to acquire television time on KTLA in order to promote his upcoming Oct. 7th show at the new Los Angeles Sports Arena, which had a larger audience capacity than the Olympic Auditorium where the Eaton/Strongbow combo ran their shows.  He ran 4 weekly television shows featuring Shire’s talent, and on the big day, his Sports Arena card was headlined by Ray Stevens vs. Ray Stern and Dick the Bruiser vs. Cowboy Bob Ellis.  Doyle and Shire weren’t taking any chances however and determined to blow the competition out of the water, they stacked the card deep.  As if those headliners weren’t enough, how about Killer Kowalski, Red Bastien, Wilbur Snyder, and Don Leo Jonathan?  How about Roy Shire himself donning the tights once again to take on Pepper Gomez?  However, Strongbow booked the Olympic Auditorium the night before with Freddie Blassie vs. Ricki Starr being on top.  What were the results of this head to head competition?

     In a card that would’ve easily sold out the Cow Palace, the Doyle/Shire booked card only attracted 4,000 fans.  Earlier in the year when Freddie Blassie and Ricki Starr had been involved in main events for Joe Malcewicz, those cards only drew around 3,000 fans each.  On October 6, 1961 at the Olympic Auditorium, that main even helped to attract a standing room only crowd of 12,138 when a sell out for the Olympic was 10,400.  Later in the month Doyle and Shire would try again, drawing 3,500 fans to the Sports Arena on October 28th, with a main event of Ray Stevens vs. Bobo Brazil.  The night before, Freddie Blassie beat Antonino Rocca by disqualification in front of an Olympic Auditorium crowd of 10,660.  The War was over and Roy headed back home, where his War up North would soon come to an end.

So Long Joe
    There’s something that I have to point out that’s very important.   In between those 2 L.A. Sports Arena shows, Roy had managed to run a show at the Cow Palace with his crew on October 21, 1961.  That show had an attendance of 12,000.  When the brief L.A. war was over, the first card that Roy held at the Cow Palace on November 11th also drew 12,000.  So why was Roy’s crew only able to draw a total of 7,500 between two shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena?  For the same reason that Malcewicz was never able to draw more than those same numbers utilizing Strongbow’s crew.  Television.

     Or to be more precise, the lack of television exposure.  It wasn’t nearly so much about the talent on the cards as it was about the familiarity with and exposure to them that was necessary on the part of the fans.  Malcewicz didn’t utilize television while Roy did.   Even if Malcewicz had been the master booker that Shire was, it wouldn’t have mattered because hardly anyone would’ve been aware of it.  And while both Shire and Strongbow were unbelievably talented at what they did, Jules had the hands down edge in Los Angeles due to television.  Los Angeles had at least 2 television programs running at that time, while the 4 weeks of television that the Doyle/Shire group had was hardly enough to gain an emotional investment from the fans for their product.  And while the Bay area fans might have been tired of Joe's product and welcoming to "the New Kid in town", The L.A. fans hadn't come close to tiring of what they'd been witnessing at the Olympic Auditorium.

     Up North, 1961 drew to a close and “Big Time Wrestling” was continuing to thrive.  Ray Stevens was still drawing both the rage and the interest of the fans (not to mention their money), Roy Shire was increasing his dexterity as a puppeteer, manipulating all the right strings, and World tag team champions Mitsu Arakawa and Kinji Shibuya were wreaking havoc in the tag team division.  1962 opened with a bang for “Big Time Wrestling” as their 1st Cow Palace Show on January 13th drew an incredible crowd of 17,061.  Apparently the fire Marshalls had good seats for the show.

     17 days later, only 2,500 fans showed up to witness Ricki Starr defeat Mr. Moto, in what would be the last show that Joe Malcewicz would every promote.  On April 20, 1962, in his early 60’s, Joe Malcewicz would pass away.

     Contrary to speculation, Roy Shire did not run Joe Malcewicz out of business.  Bucking the system, Shire had ignored Malcewicz’ status as an NWA member and invaded Northern California with the backing of the AWA (from the Midwest, but not the one Verne Gagne ran), bucket loads of ideas and ambition, and a wrestling crew that would include one of the greatest workers of all time.

     You can’t stop progress, and perhaps realizing this, it may be the reason why the other promoters of the NWA did not send help to Malcewicz to fight off Renegade Roy.  Perhaps they knew that Joe’s old way of doing things had to move over and perhaps Joe may have known this too.  If he did, he may have been simply too old to change.  And perhaps, he was too tired too. 

     No, Roy didn’t run Joe out of business.  Joe ran out of ideas, out of ambition, and perhaps out of energy.  And in the end, Joe simply ran out of time.  – RR


Next time:  Every great villain deserves a great hero and things heat up as one is produced; and the “genius” gets a partner!


(1) Bruno Sammartino interview with Bob Ryder – June 1997

(2) Confessions of a Pro Wrestling Booker by Richard Hoffer, Times Staff Writer 1984

Doug McLeer provided some great pics of his Roy Shire memorabilia and I extend my thanks and appreciation for that;

Thanks to Tim Hornbaker of for his in-depth research and match results which were of great help in piecing this puzzle together; As well as the folks at and Kayfabe memories, including “The Claw master” and Steve Yohe, for the hard work they put into coming up with match results; and the folks at for their comprehensive list of title changes.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


      It was hot and it was itchy and there was no way I was getting rid of it.  Thankfully, it didn’t require a trip to the free clinic. 
America's Heavyweight Champ
     I was living in East Los Angeles, it was October 31, 1971, and on this Halloween, the highlight for my 3 year old self wasn’t a big bag of candy, it was the fact that I was wearing a lucha libre wrestling mask for my costume.  And it wasn’t just any wrestling mask; it was a replica of the kind that Mil Mascaras wore.  Unlike the following Halloween, where my parents dressed me up as The Devil (complete with a long pitchfork) and dropped me off at a conservative Church function, this Halloween was memorable in a way that wouldn’t require later therapy.
    Halloween has always been a favorite holiday for me and this time was no exception.  The mask seemed to transform me in a way that few other costumes have since, and in addition to the fact that it made me feel empowered, almost like a superhero, I loved the positive attention I received from other trick or treaters.
     It probably wasn’t surprising that I’d feel that way, for the Luchadores of Mexico seemed to be more than just wrestlers.  They did in fact project the image of being true to life superheroes.  For along with the masks they would often wear colorful robes or ring jackets and often capes as well.  And in the case of Mil Mascaras, he was often portrayed as a Superhero type in the movies he starred in, whether he was fighting gangsters, Mummies, or other Supernatural creatures.
     I wonder if he felt the same way when he’d don one of his many colorful masks?  For while Aaron Rodriguez would distinguish himself as an amateur athlete, both as a competitive bodybuilder and as a National level Judo competitor in Mexico, it was as Mil Mascaras that he would reach legendary, perhaps even heroic status.  And while on that Halloween he had only been wrestling in the U.S. for 3 1/2 years, he had certainly already become a hero of mine.
      Initially wrestling under the name Ricardo Duran, Rodriguez would soon adopt the identity of “Mil Mascaras” the Man of a Thousand Masks, debuting in Guadalajara, Mexico in July of 1965.  Larger than many of  his fellow Mexican wrestlers, he competed as a Light Heavyweight and won his first EMLL Mexican National Light Heavyweight title in Mexico City on June 12, 1967 from El Espanto, who had in turn won the title from Lucha Legend El Santo.  Mascaras would win the title yet a second time from El Nazi on October 15, 1967 before eventually vacating the title on March 22, 1968 as he set his sights on wrestling in the United States.
    And I was only one of many who would be grateful that Mascaras always had great ambition.  For when Mil Mascaras arrived in Mike LeBelle’s Southern California territory in the Spring of 1968, he brought with him an exciting repertoire of high flying lucha moves and wrestling holds and counters.  His charismatic presence and wrestling skills combined with his colorful wrestling attire (which included beautiful capes, ring jackets, and an incredible selection of masks) to help him make an immediate impact and attract a huge following.  He was truly a ground breaker, as he would experience success that other masked luchadores, including the Legendary El Santo and Blue Demon, hadn't experienced in the United States. Wrestling in singles matches as well as teaming up with former WWA World Champion Pedro Morales in tag matches, it would only be mere weeks before Mascaras defeated Buddy Austin 2 falls to 1 in a tournament final at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium for the vacant America’s Heavyweight Championship (L.A. area) on June 6, 1968.
     Mascaras would hold the title for 3 months before losing it to El Mongol and leaving the area before returning to L.A. in the early part of 1969.  He quickly resumed his winning ways and regained the title by defeating the Sheik on April 25,1969.  By this time the WWA World Title had been retired for 5 months and the America’s title was now the most prestigious title in the area which was now affiliated with the NWA.  Over the next couple of years he would feud with such wrestling greats as Freddie Blassie, John Tolos, The Sheik, and Black Gordman over the America’s title and Mascaras would hold the belt a total of 5 times.  And in addition to those bouts for the area’s top single’s title, he would also wrestle Dory Funk Jr. to a draw and would also wrestle to a draw with “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer, beginning a friendly yet competitive rivalry.

     Also during that same 2 years Mil Mascaras would be a co-holder of the America’s Tag Team titles, winning it twice with tag partner Alfonso Dantes and a third time with Ray Mendoza from tag team legends Black Gordman and the Great Goliath.  He also rounded out his collection of titles in the area by being a part of the America’s 6 man tag team champions on 3 occasions. 

      Dubbed “The Superman of Wrestling” by LeBelle territory publicist Jeff Walton, Mascaras would capture the hearts and minds of the Los Angeles wrestling fans and would soon capture the attention of wrestling promoters and fans worldwide.  Mascaras continued his International exposure by wrestling and winning his first match in Japan against Kantaro Hoshino on February 19, 1971.  He immediately established himself as an attraction in Japan and went on to tour the country numerous times over the next few decades. While creating a legacy for himself in the Land of the Rising Sun, he also paved the way for other Mexican wrestling stars to regularly tour the country, something that contributed to an ongoing talent exchange that would help evolve the International wrestling scene. While he faced the top Japanese stars like Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, and Tiger Mask II in single or tag matches, and even challenged NWA World Champion Harley Race in 1980, his most memorable matches in Japan were the ones he had against fellow masked legend “The Destroyer.”

    Picking up right where they left on in L.A., their encounters never failed to captivate the Japanese audience or those who still discover those classic matches on video nearly 40 years later.  The 2 top International masked wrestlers in history put on displays of technical mat wrestling that were memorable not only for fans, but to the participants themselves. 
     “He was the best competitor that I ever wrestled,” Beyer said when the Cauliflower Alley Club honored Mascaras in 2006.  “He never gave you anything ‘it’s true’, but I didn’t give him anything either.  You talk about a shoot or half-shoot, and that’s the kind of match that it was.” (1)

      Mil Mascaras was in such demand that he would travel constantly around the world to wrestle, commanding top money as he was a great box office draw.  While he ventured there less frequently, he never neglected his home country of Mexico and one of his returns there included a match with Lou Thesz on July 26, 1975 for the UWA Heavyweight title that resulted in a draw.

     1975 would also see Mascaras winning the IWA heavyweight title, a title that he would successfully defend against such standouts as Ernie Ladd and former WWWF Heavyweight Champion Ivan Koloff. While in the U.S. he was most popular on the West Coast and in the Southwest, thanks to the sharing of wrestling film among promoters as well as the extensive coverage that Mascaras received in the wrestling magazines, other parts of the U.S. clamored to see the masked star as well. 

    On December 18, 1972, New York’s Madison Square Garden would lift its ban on masked wrestlers allowing Mil Mascaras to make his MSG debut against the Spoiler, whom he defeated with his signature flying bodypress in a little less than 8 minutes. The WWWF and MSG would both play host to Mascaras on several other occasions, including two occasions where Mascaras challenged Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF Title in what were exciting matches in December of 1977.

    With all of his travel, being constantly on the move to fulfill his many wrestling bookings around the world, we saw less and less of Mascaras in Southern California.  But he would still manage to find his way out to our area a couple of times a year. Those were always highly anticipated events, especially among those fans, who like me, were of Latino Heritage.

     He was the Latino that I could look up to at the time.  In the 70’s most of the Latinos who appeared on television were portrayed as uneducated, often in roles of gardeners and maids and with success just outside of their reach.  And up to that point in real life, the only Latino that the young males in our family looked up to was our Uncle Jessie.  He was muscular and strong and was a good street fighter.  As young kids, we found that appealing and admirable.  It wouldn’t be long however, that I correctly realized that my Uncle Jessie also happened to be a chronic Dumbass who couldn’t keep himself out of jail. 

     Mascaras on the other hand, carried himself with dignity, was almost Regal in his manner (some would say arrogant), was successful at what he did, appeared on television, was strong and muscular, and (in his movies at least) drove kick-ass cars and got hot chicks!  And I didn’t recall ever seeing him being led away in handcuffs.

   So in between his visits to L.A.  I would enjoy the weekly wrestling television broadcasts from the Olympic Auditorium, always enjoying what I witnessed, but always hoping to hear of Mascaras’ next visit.  And when my Stepfather’s supply of the magazines that he kept under his mattress would run low, I always knew that I could go to the hall closet and pull out his “Ring” Boxing magazines and the few Pro Wrestling magazines that he had.  I would enjoy reading about the wrestlers that I was both familiar and unfamiliar with, and also hunt for anything that I could find on Mascaras.

    With such titles as “Mil Mascaras: ‘The Time had come to tell all’ ; What he looks like without his mask”  and "What I look for in a Woman: By Mil Mascaras",  I would be captivated by the words of fiction that were written as well as the pictures of my masked hero.
      And as could be expected, when Mascaras did visit Southern California, the box office ticket sales would dramatically increase wherever he appeared.  The air would be filled with excitement and anticipation, with many fans wearing replica masks as they cheered “The Superman of Wrestling” as he challenged the area’s top heel.

     However, while I was thrilled to watch his matches on television, sadly, I never got to see Mil Mascaras wrestle in person before the LeBelle Wrestling territory closed at the end of 1982 or before the Olympic Auditorium ceased hosting wrestling matches regardless of which promotion was running them.

     I saw less and less of Mascaras over the years, although he appeared on occasion on the undercards of the occasional U.S. promotion televised program.  In the early 80’s at the age of 16, I purchased tickets for a WWF event at the L.A. Sports Arena, mere months before the angles that led up to the very first Wrestlemania were to begin.  With front row seats, The Sports Arena event would be a spectacular and memorable event for my cousin and I, with “Mr. T” in the audience being taunted by the wrestlers, “Dr. D” David Shultz slapping a fan around not long before he did it to John Stossel, and Hulk Hogan would successful defend his World Title against Big John Studd.  But the main attraction that lured me there, causing me to take 3 or 4 buses to get to the venue, was Mil Mascaras participating in a 6 man tag match with the Samoans against WWF Tag Champs Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch, along with manager Lou Albano.  Although Mascaras was in a tag match and would probably spend less than 10 minutes in the ring, it was a thrill to see him in person for the first time!

     Nearly 20 years later, long after I thought the opportunity had passed me by, I had the opportunity to meet Mil Mascaras in person in the Spring of 2004.  I didn’t quite know what to expect, as in the interim, with the advent of the internet, the demise of kayfabe, and my progress from a kid into a mature adult, I had heard different things regarding Mascaras and I wondered if the experience might taint my memories of him. 

     In spite of some of the things that I had heard, he was humble, gracious, friendly, and with a perpetual smile, seemed genuinely honored to hear that he had provided so many with such great memories.  It was a dream come true to meet him and perhaps more importantly, he allowed my fond memories of him to remain intact, and sealed his legend in my eyes.  I would also witness him wrestle in a match a couple of months later, and being just shy of his 62nd birthday, he looked incredibly fit!

     While famed Southern California venues like the Olympic Auditorium are no longer playing host to wrestling or to Mil Mascaras, his accomplishments in the wrestling world have not ceased.  In 2009 he was inducted into the NWA Hall of fame and in July of 2011 he participated in a match to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his debut in Japan.  The following year he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April of 2013.  2 months later, just 1 month shy of his 70th birthday, Mil Mascaras would defeat rising star Samuray Del Sol.  And just one month before the time of this writing, Mil Mascaras won a match in Japan on April 11, 2013.

     Mil Mascaras… The Man of a Thousand Masks, a Thousand holds, and countless more memorable wrestling moments. - RR

You can view a 1973 match between Mil Mascaras and the Destroyer on my Youtube channel by clicking this link:

Mil Mascaras in 6 man tag action at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium:

(1) Race & Hennig go over at Cauliflower Alley Club Banquet- By Greg Oliver - Slam! Wrestling - June 11, 2006

Sunday, May 19, 2013


The Hooker


     He didn’t exactly find a bloody Horse’s head next to him in his bed, but all the same, professional wrestling promoter Jack Ganson knew he had been made an offer he couldn't refuse.  San Francisco could be a tough town to do business in.

     And that wasn’t anything new.  While the population of San Francisco was only 1,000 in 1848, the Gold Rush of 1849 caused hordes of fortune seekers to flood the city, causing the population to rise to 25,000 by December of 1849.  And by 1890, that number swelled to 300,000, making San Francisco the 8th largest city in the nation.

     And not every one of the newcomers was a refined and highly polished citizen.  Aside from the criminals and prostitutes, there were also plenty of hardworking blue collar workers, who were aiding in the development of the city.  This collective group of the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century San Francisco could certainly be a rough and tumble crowd.  And often they went in for rough and tumble entertainment.

     Pro Wrestling could certainly fit the bill and it did, with professional wrestling events in the city being documented as early as the 1890’s.  The sport thrived in the city and by the early 30’s Jack Ganson was the man promoting shows in the area.

     With wrestlers such as Bill Longson, Ted Christie, Joe Savoldi, Ad Santel, Man Mountain Dean, and World Champions Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Jim Londos appearing on the cards, shows were being run at The Exposition Auditorium, the Civic Center, and the Dreamland Auditorium.

     However, Pro wrestling has always had its share of shady “goings on” behind the scenes and that time period was certainly no exception.  The toughest factions and the biggest heels often never made it to the ring.

     The period of 1935-37 saw the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge and also the beginning of Alcatraz’s use as a maximum security prison.  But Alcatraz wasn’t the only place in the area where you’d find the tough guys.  Pro Wrestling at that time was still rife with trusts or syndicates, collections of promoter and/or wrestlers who sought to monopolize or take over wrestling territories. 

     Wrestler Joe Malcewicz from New York was a shooter, a hooker, nicknamed the “Utica Cat” for his tenacity in the ring.  At various times he had challenged various holders of the World title including Joe Stecher, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Earl Caddock, and Jim Londos.  He was so capable that in 1923 in New York, World Champion Joe Stecher walked away from a match with Malcewicz.  Shoots and double crosses were not unheard of by promoter/wrestler combines who decided it’d be much more profitable or them to hold the belt, with or without the current Champs cooperation.  When a syndicate wanted something, they often just took it.

       At the end of 1935, with the backing of the syndicate of Lou Daro, Paul Bowser, and Joe “Toots” Mondt, Joe Malcewicz strong armed his way into taking over the territory.  While the city may have been named after a Saint, not everyone felt the need to conduct themselves like one.  Feeling he really had no choice, Ganson bowed out for $15,000.  Malcewicz would soon acquire a 20 year lease for the Dreamland auditorium where he would soon begin running shows.

     The “Syndicate” would gradually break up, but Malcewicz with the help of his brother would continue to be the “Czar” of San Francisco for some time to come, not only running shows at the Dreamland but at the Coliseum Bowl and the Civic Auditorium as well.  His territory extended throughout Northern California and he was running shows in various cities including but not limited to, Oakland, Richmond, Fresno, Sacramento, Stockton, and Eureka. In the late 40’s-early 50’s he even managed to bring in such attractions as Gorgeous George, Primo Carnera, and World Champion Lou Thesz to headline cards.  And many of the mainstays for various lengths of time included notables such as The Sharpe Brothers, Ben and Mike, as well as Sander Szabo, Bronko Nagurski, Mike Mazurki, and Pacific Coast Heavyweight Champion Frank Sexton.

     In the United States the first tag team match is said to have taken place in San Francisco in 1901 and tag team wrestling really didn’t become popular in rest of the country until the 1930’s.  And while Malcewicz saw success with capable singles wrestlers in his territory, he continued the tradition of keeping San Francisco as a hot bed for tag team wrestling.  Some of the teams that were prominent in the area through the years that Malcewicz was promoting were Emil and Ernie Dusek, Gene Kiniski and Lord James Blears, and Sandor Szabo, Enrique Torres, Leo Nomellini, and Ramon Torres also saw success when teaming with various partners.  And it was in San Francisco on April 4, 1950 that the first “World” Tag Team Champions were crowned when Ray Eckert and Hardboiled Haggerty defeated Ronnie Etchison and Larry Moquin.

     However nothing lasts forever, or in same cases not very long at all, and such was the case with their title reign.  But that was usually the case for any tag team champions when they were challenged by the brother combination that would dominate and become synonymous with the tag team division in San Francisco: Ben and Mike Sharpe.

    The two hulking brothers from Canada each stood around 6 “4” and averaged about 270 lbs. in weight.  This 2 man demolition crew possessed tremendous stamina and a relentless brawling style that caused the Humboldt (CA) Standard newspaper to say that they made “the so-called Pier 6 brawls look like a quiet meeting at the Monday Night Sewing club.”

     Eckert and Haggerty held the tag titles for only 5 weeks before losing them to the Sharpe brothers in what would be the first of 18 NWA World tag team title reigns for the brothers.  In fact even when they would lose the titles, the brothers would often win them back within 2 weeks.  While each saw success in brief runs in other territories and with other partners, it is in San Francisco where they made the most impact.  They were so impressive that Rikidozan imported them to Japan for an angle that eventually resulted in ad 60 minute draw between the Sharpes and the tag team of Rikidozan and Mahasiko Kimura.  This served to catapult the popularity of Pro Wrestling in Japan and helped greatly in establishing Rikidozan as an Icon in Japan.  And too this day, the Sharpes are revered in Japan just as much as they are in San Francisco for their tag team excellence.

     While he was extremely tenacious in the ring, Malcewicz, after his initial take over of the territory, gradually became complacent rather than tenacious.  He made a good living and business was very good at first, but a gradual decline began as he was not a man of tremendous vision or ambition.  He was content with what he had. San Francisco remained as his “Big Town” where althou he ran shows at the 5400 seat Winterland Ballroom (the former “Dreamland arena”) as well as other venues in the city on alternating weeks.  However neither the Winterland, the Kezar Pavilion, the Coliseum Bowl, nor the San Francisco Civic Auditorium was being filled to capacity during his wrestling cards.  And while there was once a time when he’d occasionally book the 15,000 seat Cow Palace, he was now finding himself in occasional situations where he was holding a show at the comparatively miniscule California Hall.

     But while Malcewicz was comfortable and was experiencing a decline, another man had an itch he had to scratch and was looking to move upward in both his life and in San Francisco.

Enter The Professor

    At the end of 1960 “Professor” Roy Shire who’d had a pretty successful career as a professional wrestler winning several regional singles titles as well as teaming with Ray Stevens (who had been billed as “Ray Shire” Roy’s “brother”) to win the NWA World Tag Team titles, was a 38 year old wrestler seeking to make the transition from wrestler to promoter.

     In the latter stages of his time in Texas, Roy was wrestling hurt after having torn ligaments in his knee from a missed drop kick.  Not wanting to lose his spot as the Texas Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, he did what many wrestlers have done and continued to do; He wrestled hurt, shooting himself up with Novocain to get through his matches.  However, a knife in the ass from an irate fan (one of the drawbacks of kayfabe and being great at drawing heat) along with his knee injury went a long way towards convincing Shire that his future lay in promoting the matches rather than wrestling them.

    Shire went to San Francisco and approached Joe Malcewicz with an offer to go in as partners or for Shire to buy him out, but Malcewicz turned down the offer.  Being single-minded in his desire to promote in the Northern California area, Shire ignored the “protected” status that Malcewicz enjoyed as an NWA member and began running shows in competition.  Malcewicz, the man once known for his tenaciousness and once caused World Champion Joe Stecher to walk away from a bout, was no match for Shire’s ambition and Roy wasn’t walking anywhere.

     Malcewicz continued running shows and while he may have felt that the 6,000-9,000 people that he was pulling in every month to his various San Francisco shows was as good as business could get, Roy was a visionary who had other ideas and bigger plans.

     Roy was still without an actual roster of wrestling talent when he went to the Cow Palace to speak to the Arena Manager regarding a long term lease for the 15,000 seat arena.  After they came to terms on the lease the building manager asked Roy if he was aware that Joe Malcewicz was already running shows at the San Francisco Civic Center and other venues, and that the shows were only drawing an average of 2,000 people each.  At best, Malcewicz might sometimes see an attendance at the Winterland that was north of 3,000 and maybe even 4,000.  Roy acknowledged that he did, and when the arena manager asked Shire why he wanted such a large venue and how how many wrestling fans he planned on drawing, Roy responded: “We’ll fill it.”

      Years later, Roy related the story and his response to Roland Alexander, who grew up a fan of the Shire territory and now runs the APW wrestling promotion.  According to Roland, Roy said: “The building manager then laughed, and when the deal was signed and I was heading to my car, I stopped halfway there and then turned out and went back inside.  I told him ‘One last thing, I just want you to know that the next time you laugh at me, I’m going to throw you out the fucking window.”

     While the deal was sealed and the arena manager never took an unscheduled flight, the question still remained:  How in the hell was Renegade Roy going to fill the Cow Palace?
Special thanks goes out to Roland Alexander for sharing his memories of the Shire territory, Tim Hornbaker of who wrote an excellent profile on the San Francisco territory from which I sourced some of my information; And to the gentlemen at for keeping a wealth of information on their site of past wrestling title holders.