Saturday, June 29, 2013


     I was 11 years old and I was pissed. We were so close and yet so far.  We were that close to victory and yet again it was snatched from our grasp at the last second.   And yet when I say “we” that is not to say that I was an actual combatant in the contest.  And yet like the thousands of others in 1980 Southern California who witnessed Ron Starr narrowly escape defeat in the wrestling ring, we felt as if we had lost as well. 
     And that’s what a good “heel” does in pro wrestling.  He collaborates with his opponent to suck you in, to be emotionally invested in the match and its outcome, to make you feel as if your hero’s defeats and victories are your own.  And the heel tactics that he employed were often subtle.  He didn’t yell or scream as heels so often do, rather he was matter of fact and very articulate in his promos.  I think what got to me and others as well, was that it often seemed as if he didn’t have to cheat.  He just seemed very competent in the ring, with an air of great confidence, and with him being a heel or bad guy, it just made me want to see him lose all the more.  If I was able to articulate it back then, I’d say his being so damn good is what pissed me off the most.  He got heat from being a heel that could actually wrestle and back up everything that he said.
     Ron Starr began that run in Southern California in the early part of the year after recently working in Leroy McGuirk’s Tri-State area promotion, and shortly before that in Don Owens’s Pacific Northwest territory as well Roy Shire’s Northern California wrestling territory.  As a matter of fact he would still make trips up to Shire’s neck of the woods to wrestle shows while he was making his mark in Southern California.  And as was typical for Ron Starr when he entered a territory, making his mark didn’t take him long to do.
     “I’ve wrestled in Africa, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Canada, Japan, and all over the United States.  The West Coast was one of the places that I really loved wrestling in.  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oregon…I had good times there” Ron recently told me.
     Initially he wrestled in promoter Mike LeBelle’s territory under a mask as “Spoiler II,”, and it was under this mask that he would make waves in the area, utilizing his dreaded claw hold that he administered with a gloved hand.  Within a few months even our perennial champion Chavo Guerrero fell victim to his claw hold, losing a televised matched before eventually losing the America’s Heavyweight title as well on April 18, 1980.
     The Spoiler II would eventually unmask to reveal himself as Starr and would not only draw the ire of wrestling fans by wrestling in single matches, but soon would enlist partners and join the tag team ranks as well.  Only his first tag team partner, the Hood, with whom he won the Los Angles version of the NWA World Tag Team titles, wasn’t exactly a new acquaintance. 
     Johnny Mantell, who wrestled in Los Angeles under a mask as the Hood, had been a friend and ring opponent of Ron’s in both Northern California and Oregon, having spent many miles on the road with Starr.  Mantell credits Ron with really teaching him much during his formative years in the wrestling business and the chemistry and genuine friendship really became evident.  In Los Angeles many people found it difficult to think of one without thinking of the other and for the longest time some even thought Ron Starr (and in some cases Roddy Piper) was the man wrestling as “The Hood”.
     In fact Los Angeles wrestling legend John Tolos considered them so indistinguishable from one another, that was one reason he nicknamed them “Donny and Danny…The Dildo brothers.”  Of course it was also the jokes that they so often played on people that also contributed to that nickname.
   “We had so much fun, but we really played some terrible jokes at times, although none of it was mean spirited.  Ring announcer Jimmy Lennon was the sweetest guy and one time Johnny told him ‘Hey, did you hear that Ron’s brother is a talented pianist and recently played his first concert? He’s really proud.’”
     Lennon then approached Ron with a smile to offer his sincere congratulations.  A horrified Ron Starr then responded, “How could you say that?!  Is this a cruel joke?!  Don’t you know that my brother just lost his fingers in a car accident?!”
     “Lennon had tears in his eyes as he apologized over and over again.  I kind of felt a little bad about that one as he was such a nice guy.”  One rib that Ron definitely doesn’t apologize for and recalls with a very hearty laugh is the one he played on Roddy Piper when he, Piper and Tim Brooks were sharing an apartment when working the Portland territory in 1979.
     “This girl showed up at the arena and had given me a Doberman pinscher puppy which I then took home to the apartment.  Roddy was a great guy but he had the most sensitive stomach and would easily get nauseated.  So I went into the kitchen and mixed up some mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish and little strips of meat and placed in on a newspaper.  I then went and placed the newspaper under my bed.  Then at one point when we were all in the living room I gave Brooks the ‘high sign’, as if to say, ‘watch this.’”
     Ron continues “I said ‘Hey Roddy can you do me a favor? ‘  He said ‘sure’.  I then said ‘Go into my room and reach under my bed.  I have a .22 gun that I want to clean.’  So Roddy goes into my bed and reaches under the bed and all of a sudden we hear retching ‘Bleh…Bleh…’ he thought the dog had thrown up and thinking that he had it on his hand, he threw up to!”

And in the meantime as we get back to Los Angeles

     …Ron was still enjoying his successful run as a heel in 1980, feuding with mainstay Chavo Guerrero as well as continuing to wrestle in tag matches.  Ron had a good amateur background having wrestled in high school and college, and along with his professionalism and lessons learned as a pro, he had developed a great reputation as someone who could have a good match with most opponents.
     Add to that his great ability to draw heat; it wasn’t much of a surprise that when World Wrestling Federation Champion Bob Backlund came to town, Ron was the man tabbed to face him for the title.  It was also a card that would feature a young Hulk Hogan appearing in Los Angeles for the first time, years before Hulkamania was running wild.  And while Ron lost his bid to defeat Backlund for the title, things could’ve been worse.  For while Ron wrestled for the World title that night, his partner the Hood got stuck wrestling “Smokey the wrestling bear.”
     I also asked Ron about his memories of working with another visiting wrestler, someone whom is a legend in the business but about whom opponents have differing view on what it’s like to work with him.
     “Mil Mascaras was a good wrestler and I liked working with him and I knew how to get heat.  The very same day our match was announced, the Olympic sold out.”  Years later Ron would face Mascaras in the ring again in Puerto Rico, where Mil teamed up with the Invaders in a 6 man tag match against Ron and the Funk brothers.  But it was after a wrestling card in Houston, Texas that Ron would have an encounter with Mil that was more impressionable.
     “I was wrestling on the same card that Mascaras was but earlier in the night.  Later on in a bar a guy came up to me and said ‘You really had a great match tonight Ron.  I always enjoy your matches.’”
     Ron was dumbfounded as to whom the man was and the fact that he spoke to Ron as if he knew him.  “I soon realized that it was Mil Mascaras!  I had never seen him without his mask because he even showered with it on.  I was surprised at what a good looking guy he was!  He liked me and even gave my number to a promoter in Guatemala who later gave me some work.”
     And in 1980 Bob Backlund wasn’t the only man to hold a WWF title that Ron would challenge for and Mil Mascaras wasn’t the only international wrestler who would show respect to Ron Starr.

To some he was known as “Champ”

     While he never made the big money that today’s WWE wrestling superstars earn, he still got to travel throughout the country during his wrestling career as well as to other parts of the world. 
          “I miss the places I got to go, like Puerto Rico and Japan…People save all of their lives hoping to go there.”  And not only did he get to travel outside of the Continental U.S., he had the respect of the people he wrestled in front of and against in those other lands.  Ron made several trips to wrestle in Japan, and it was and still is a place where they have the utmost respect for actual wrestling ability.  And on several occasions he challenged Tatsumi “Dragon” Fujinami for the WWF Jr. Heavyweight title.  While many fans today may not be aware of whom Ron Starr was, there are still plenty who do and respect and admired his work and ability, as did many of his opponents. 
     .  “I did my first tour of Japan in 1976, when I was working out of the Tampa office.  They kind of used us as foreigners as jobbers but they always let us get our stuff in.  Fujinami was a guy I liked working with and he always called me 'Champ'.  The first time I wrestled him I was kind of nervous and I was wary, as I didn't want him to shoot in on my leg.  They work tighter over there.  He was light as a feather but still a tough son of a bitch.  He knew what he was doing in the ring.”
     And without a doubt, so did Ron Starr.

Next time: There’s a change for Ron in Los Angeles, Roy Shire displays his confidence, memories of Buddy Rose, and Harley comes to town!

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