Sunday, June 30, 2013


                                                                   About Face

     In 1980 while the Southern California wrestling territory still had some talented workers, the roster wasn’t anywhere near as deep as it once was and ticket sales and interest were becoming negatively affected.  Ron Starr along with John Tolos were the biggest heels at the time but they were sorely in need of a strong babyface to work with.  Chavo Guerrero had been the top babyface for years but he was wrestling less frequently in the territory as he was earning more money on his tours of Japan and was occasionally doing shows in other U.S. territories as well.

     Walter Johnson was given a push but both his promo skills and ring work were solely lacking.  While Al Madril, Tom Pritchard worked well in the ring and Chavo’s brother Mando was even better, they all lacked the charisma and presence that Chavo had.  He had left some awfully big shoes to fill.

     By this time, Ron Starr had begun teaming with Tolos and the decision was made to turn Ron into a “babyface”, a “good guy.”  While Ron preferred to wrestle as a heel, the fans responded well to his face turn and one of the most hated heels in the territory was then voted “The most popular wrestler” in the area by the fans as he now had begun to battle Tolos and his cronies.  And it was late in the year that Al Madril was receiving a beatdown in the Olympic Auditorium ring as Ron Starr stormed the ring and delivered standing dropkick after dropkick, including a missile dropkick off the top rope to even up the odds.  The fan response was tremendous as many were jumping up and down and screaming enthusiastically as their new hero was cleaning house of Tolos, the Assassin, and Prof. Ito.

     But while this type of fan reaction to Ron Starr was something new in L.A., it had been going on for nearly two years up North in Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling promotion and almost nearly as long in Don Owens’s Portland Wrestling territory.

Anything but “Rotten”

     It was late in 1978 that Ron Starr entered Roy Shire’s Northern California territory but as would be his habit, he was quick about making an impact.  In his first few months in the territory he would have 2 reigns as one half of the San Francisco version of the NWA World Tag Team champions, first with Dean Ho and then later winning the tag team titles on November 23, 1978 with partner Enrique Vera, who was a former National Champion and future UWA Heavyweight Champion in Mexico.

    Ron was soon positioned as one of the top babyfaces in the promotion engaging in both a singles and tag team feud with Buddy Rose and Ed Wiskowski who were managed by the hated Dr. Ken Ramey, who was excellent at drawing heat.  While Big Time Wrestling was undoubtedly at it’s strongest during the 60’s, this feud was definitely a bright spot in the late 70’s and featured 4 people who were all excellent when it came to cutting compelling promos.

     Roy liked the way I did my promos” Ron says.  “He said ‘I like that you don’t yell and scream like so many other guys.’” And the feud was one that Ron enjoyed working and considering that things were changing for California Wrestling as a whole, it still did well and was even later extended to the Portland Wrestling territory as well.

     “I liked Buddy Rose and felt that he was a real good worker and good on the mic.  He was this fat, pudgy kid and sometimes he would ‘blow up’ on me a little bit in the ring but he would always drag out enough to do what he needed to do in the match.  He’d get winded but I’d just tell him ‘Just stay down for a minute and catch your breath’.  Yeah, he was a good guy to work with.”
     Ron began to be pushed more as a singles wrestler and won the Annual 18 man San Francisco Battle Royal in 1979 which included the likes of Superstar Billy Graham, Dory Funk Jr., and Harley Race, and was awarded a trophy as well as a $30,000 dollar check.  Later that night he would face Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight title.  Actually, Ron wasn’t the opponent that was originally slated to face the World Champion that evening in the Cow Palace.

     “Jimmy Snuka was originally scheduled to face Harley for the title but he missed his flight.  I then went up to Shire and said, ‘Hey Roy, I don’t want you to think I’m an asshole or anything, but since Snuka couldn’t make it, I’d like to be the one to wrestle Harley for the title.  I think we could have a good match.’ “

     Roy thought about it for a second and said, ‘I think you’re right.  Alright, you’ll be in the match with Harley tonight.” Ron then went out and cut a promo to set up the match.  “I went out and got on the mic and said ‘I know that Jimmy’s not here and he was supposed to wrestle Harley for the title tonight, but since he’s not here…I’ll challenge Race for the title…that is if he’s man enough to accept the challenge!”

     Snuka had been in the territory for a few months by that time and had been engaging in a feud with the United States Champion Buddy Rose over the title belt.  Although he was popular, the Cow Palace fans in attendance cheered enthusiastically when it was announced that Starr would in fact be substituting for Snuka and facing Race for the World Heavyweight title.  “They just ‘popped’ when they heard that.”

     Robert Counts who grew up within walking distance of the Cow Palace and was a regular for years at the wrestling events, was there that night at well and remembers his reaction to the announcement.  “I was thrilled!  Though Snuka was popular and impressive, Ron was a step higher in most minds.  Starr was the technical wrestler that I always felt could out wrestle most, and out maneuver the rest.  The ‘dumb wrestler’ is the one who interferes with the twenty count at 18, and instead of attacking, would argue with the ref.  I was a fan who wanted the story to make sense, and Starr was ‘real’, as far as that’s possible to be in wrestling.  Snuka could hit Race with a crowbar and get rolled up in a small package by Race.  That wouldn’t happen to Starr.”

    Starr’s match with Race would be the first 1 hour Broadway (draw) that he was ever involved with.  Always priding himself on never “blowing up” or running out of gas, the match with the Wrestling Legend was a new experience for Ron.

        “I thought I was going to drop dead before it was over!  You talk about someone who could run you ragged…Harley Race could do it.  I was really nervous, worried that I might make a mistake or mess things up because I was in there with Harley Race, even though I had years of experience.  But Harley, he just took me by the hand and led me through it.”

     Roy Shire had definitely taken notice of what Starr could bring to the table, and as it turned out, he was not alone.

     “Buddy had gone up to work for Don Owens in Portland and Roy Shire then asked me ‘What do you think about working in Portland?’  I told him ‘I’ll go wherever you want me to go.’  My first time wrestling there I heard that Roy was talking with Don Owen while watching my match with Buddy Rose and Roy said ‘Now that’s what I call wrestling!’  I liked working there and we taped at the Portland Sports Arena, which was an old skating rink and Don Owen was always pretty good about the payoffs.  The first night I was there I heard some of the other guys griping about the payoffs but I told them ‘I don’t know what you guys are complaining about, because I’ve been to a lot of different territories and I’ll tell you, just from tonight, this is the one with the best payoffs yet.’”

     Tagging with Adrian Adonis, Ron continued the feud with Buddy Rose and Ed Wiskowski as it had worked so well in Shire’s territory and in April of ’79 they defeated Rose and Wiskowski for the Pacific Northwest Tag Team titles.  Ron was beginning a collection of titles as the month before, he had defeated Piper at the San Francisco Cow Palace for the U.S. Heavyweight title.  That feud was also extended to Owens’s territory and even featured a memorable angle where Starr came to the rescue of Women’s wrestling legend Vickie Williams.  Apparently Piper felt that all women should stay in the kitchen and tossed Vickie around before Ron intervened. 

     Like several of the wrestlers in the area, Ron split time during 1979 between Portland and San Francisco, driving back and forth to shows.  In Northern California he also picked up another rival in Bob Sweetan as they competed over the U.S. heavyweight title.  Another veteran that Ron would face is Ernie Ladd, whom he wrestled on the annual San Francisco Battle Royal card on January 26, 1980.  After a brief stop in the Leroy McGuirk’s Tri-State area, Ron soon wound up in L.A. where he split time between there and Roy Shire’s territory for much of the remaining year. 

     Roy Shire had been burnt out on the wrestling business for a few years by that point and by his own admission was running out of finishes and creative ideas.  The strongest years for his promotion had been during his first 24 months of operation and since then there had been a gradual decline in attendance at the shows.  Even when Patterson and Stevens were on top during the late 60’s and early 70’s there were fewer and fewer sellouts at the Cow Palace and 8,000-9,000 attendance numbers became more and more the norm, and by the time the late 70’s rolled around, it was more like 5.000-7.000.  While there were occasional spikes in attendance, they were rare and more often than not came on the nights of the annual battle royals.

     Shire would close shop in early ’81 and Ron Starr would work then work a bit for Antone Leone’s Western States Alliance promotion which was running shows in some of Shire’s former towns.  Ed Moretti worked as a referee for Roy Shire and later as a wrestler before Shire’s promotion closed.  Like many, he had great respect for Ron Starr and even faced him in the ring and had this to say about him on  “Bobby Eugene Nutt (Rotten Ron Starr) is/was one of the best workers I have ever seen, a really nice guy, a good booker…”  With a great track record as a worker, Ron would soon be off to new territories, reprising some old roles and finding himself in new ones.


Next time: We’ll visit some of the other places Ron’s career takes him, we’ll also travel back to the beginning, and we’ll hear the good advice Ron gave Hulk Hogan.

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