Thursday, July 4, 2013



     With the sound of angry voices calling for his blood and the sound of nearby gunfire ringing loudly in his ears, it seemed like a case of Déjà vu for Ron Starr as he had tried to make his escape from a precarious situation.

     “I thought I was in Viet Nam all over again!” Ron Starr recalled.  While this situation that Ron found himself in was long after Viet Nam had ended, it hadn’t seem that long since Ron had just returned home to Atlanta, Georgia after his second tour of duty in the Viet Nam war.

      “My father was in the construction business in Atlanta and through him I had met the Torres Brothers who were at the time living in an apartment building there.  They later introduced me to the business and Ray Gunkel who was still promoting at the time.” 

          Ramon and Alberto Torres had followed their older brother Enrique into pro wrestling during the 50’s and were tag team specialists decades before the phrase became popular.  Whether tagging with each other, their brother Enrique, or with other partners, the California natives earned countless tag titles in L.A., San Francisco, Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, the Midwest, Florida, and Georgia.  Ramon would even distinguish himself as a singles wrestler, winning the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title from Roger Kirby on Sept. 10, 1971.  It was a title Ron himself would later hold on two occasions.  Sadly, Alberto Torres was rushed to the hospital after participating in a tag match on June 13, 1971.  Unbeknownst to the promoters or even his family members, Alberto had entered the match with a ruptured spleen.  It was an injury that was further aggravated by participating in a tag team wrestling match. 

     “Ox Baker had Alberto against the ropes and then reached back and punched him in the chest with an overhand right” Ron recalls.  “Later while sitting in the dressing room Alberto said ‘it almost feels like I’m having a heart attack’.  He then collapsed on the floor.”  Alberto was rushed to the hospital and would die 3 days later and Ox Baker as well as various wrestling promoters would use the incident to build a notorious reputation for him and his “heart punch.”

     The incident not only resulted in the loss of one of Ron’s friends but also gave him pause for thought.  “I wondered ‘What am I getting into here?  I just came back from Viet Nam and now I’m going into a business where people are getting hurt or dying?’”  But Ron was undeterred and would enter pro wrestling in 1972 and it soon became evident that he caught the Pro Wrestling bug.  “In the beginning I would still work part of the summers with my Dad in his construction business but before the summer was over, he always knew I’d be off to another territory.”

     Ron started his career wrestling in Georgia, but regardless of where he worked, Ron was always eager to learn from the veterans of the business and was an avid student of the game.  In his first year in the business he entered the ring with the likes of The Great Malenko, Jack Brisco, and Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown of the original “Hollywood Blondes.

 “I told the promoters I don’t mind doing the job for someone; just put me in there with someone that I can learn from.  I remember that I was working in Georgia and had only been in the business about 6 months, and I was green as grass.  Then I was in a tag match working against Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown, the Hollywood Blondes, and Buddy kept telling me ‘Drop kick me!  Throw the dropkick!  I had never done that before but finally I did.  It was my first drop kick.  He really helped me.”  And I for one am grateful that he did because Ron Starr’s dropkick would become a beauty to behold where he utilized great leg extension, making the move look impressive while still protecting his opponent.  It was something that he could deliver several times in rapid succession, often rotating his body so that when he landed, he was already in position to immediately deliver the next one.

     And Ron kept on moving and kept on learning.  His love for the game and his appreciation and respect for the veterans he learned from are still evident to this day.  “Danny Hodge wasn’t the biggest of guys”, Ron says, “But he was a great wrestler and incredibly strong!  He used to tell me ‘Keep your thumbs in, in case someone tries to grab your hand.’  If you look at pictures of Danny Hodge, you’ll often see that in his wrestling stance he keeps his thumbs tucked in.  He had a barn behind his house where he had a 2 inch thick hemp rope that hung from the ceiling practically down to the floor.  He used to climb that rope hand over hand, not using his legs at all, and would go all the way to the top and back down again.”

     And Danny Hodge wasn’t the only wrestling legend and shooter that Ron would learn from.

     “Sometimes in the dressing room while the other matches were on, I’d ask Karl Gotch to show me something or how to get out of a certain move. He was impossible to beat.  In my mind, he was the best there ever was.  He could teach you something everyday.  It didn’t matter how many times you asked him or how many times you were in the ring with him, you’d always learn something new.” 

    Along the way Ron would learn the importance of psychology and was considered by some to be a master of it. “Controlling the crowd was something that I always tried to do.  I would sit out in the seats watching the guys in the main event so that I could learn.  And I learned that the first and the last matches make the show.”  And whether it was working with the Von Erichs, the Harts, the Funks, the Guerreros, the Assassins, or Mr. Wrestling or Mr. Wrestling II, Ron gained a reputation as a solid worker who could always be counted on to turn in a good match, whether he was in the middle of the card or on top.  Unlike many of today’s workers who focus on highspot after highspot, trying to turn in what they think is a main event match regardless of their place on the card; Ron knew what was good for the business.  He understood that a wrestling card is much like an individual wrestling match, in that it should be well paced, with a gradual build up until it hits a crescendo.  Every match has its place on the card.

     “If a promoter asked me to do something I did my best to do it.  If they wanted me to put someone over I’d do my best to make my opponent look good.  Ronnie Garvin was someone I really enjoyed working with in one of my runs in Georgia and we had a great run, selling out everywhere.   I had been blackballed because I had spoken up about wanting to start some kind of union for the wrestlers so I then approached Ole and Gene Anderson just outside the dressing room at an event in Atlanta.  I told them that I lived there in Atlanta and had a great respect for the business and I asked them if I could work for them. They walked me into the dressing room and getting all of the boy’s attention they asked, ‘Hey, does anyone have a problem working with Ron Starr?’ No one had a negative word to say.”

    “So Garvin and I were ‘married together’, meaning that we were going to work almost always against each other.”  It was a marriage made in heaven as Ron Starr and Ronnie Garvin would engage in a red hot feud in Georgia Championship Wrestling over the NWA National Heavyweight title in early 1985, really building heat, and it was a feud that also included several Texas Death matches.  “Ronnie was a great worker. Jim Crockett then took over the territory and Dusty Rhodes (who was booking for Crockett at the time) called me over in the dressing room one day and said he wanted me to put Garvin over.  I thought we still had a great thing going, but said ‘ok’.”

     Ron was able to do what was good for the business while still appearing strong while doing it, not losing any value in the eyes of the promoters or fans.  “I always remembered it was a work” Ron says.  This no doubt was one of the contributing factors to Ron being able to venture from territory to territory, always being able to find work.  He proved to be tremendously versatile, with the ability to work well either as a face or a heel.  But if you asked him his preference he’d say “I always liked being a heel better.”

    He continues “I was working down in Tennessee as a babyface and before one of my matches the ring announcer mixed up mine and my opponent’s name, calling us by the other’s name.  When I heard the heated reaction that the heel’s name received, I decided I’d rather be a heel.”  It was the ability to control a crowd, get a response, and leave them wanting to come back for more which intrigued Ron.  “I loved being able to make them rise out of their seats when I wanted and make them sit down when I wanted.  I loved watching them think I was about to get beat only to find a way to win and making them come back to see the next match.”  And it’s that delayed gratification that was such an integral part of match psychology and what made pro wrestling as great as it was during the territory days.  Ron wholeheartedly agreed with me when I said “That a territory was only as good as its top heel.”

     While he had successful runs as a babyface, it’s for his work as a heel that was great on the mic and exhibited great technical skill in the ring that he is most remembered.  Richard Berger who has worked as a wrestling columnist and was a ring announcer for Stampede Wrestling in Calgary while Ron was working there for the Harts, recalled his memories of Ron on, saying he was “… A genuine athlete and someone who knew how to get serious heat with his wrestling skills.  I’ll never forget that one time in Vancouver he had the crowd so worked up that after the bout, quite a few fans actively chased him around the lower level until he managed to make it back to the dressing room.  It is really difficult to over praise Ron Starr during his best years.”  And Berger was yet another person who enjoyed Starr’s articulate and understated way of delivering promos as a heel, a style that led the fans to take Ron more seriously and also resulted in his filling in as a color commentator on occasion.

     “When he did an interview, he would talk intelligently instead of just bellowing without saying anything.  The effect was that the fans couldn’t help but take him seriously; he refused to be a buffoon.”

     Ron had a good run in Canada including a brief singles program with a young Owen Hart.  He enjoyed working with Owen and was later saddened to hear of his tragic death.  “Owen was a good kid and easy to get along with.  In fact, all of the Harts were pretty easy to get along with except Bruce, who was spoiled by his mom.  I used to say that Bruce had ‘the tap of death’.  The reason was because he’d come behind you and tap you on the back telling you that you had a good match but would later stab you in the back.”  Still, Ron did well as a heel in Stampede and besides his singles matches with Owen and others, he had two reigns as one half of the Stampede International Tag Team Champions along with Wayne Ferris, “The Honkytonk Man”.

     Starr and Ferris were no strangers to each other as they had been part of an earlier incarnation of the “Midnight Express” tag team in Alabama’s “Southeastern Championship Wrestling” in 1983.  While in Stampede Starr and Ferris were known as “Devastation Inc.”  There first run as the International tag champions lasted several months while their second reign lasted only a week before they dropped the belts to the team of Chris Benoit and Hart Family in-law, Ben Bassarab.  There would be a few rematches but the Team of Starr and Ferris soon split up and before the year was out Ron was headed to Carlos Colon’s WWC in Puerto Rico and Ferris was headed to the WWF. 

     Ferris wasn’t the only former tag partner of Ron’s that ended up in the WWF.  While on one of his tours of Japan, Ron was tagging frequently with and rooming with a young Hulk Hogan.  One day on the tour Hogan received a phone call from Vince McMahon about working in the WWF.  Hogan was hesitant at which point Ron punched him in the arm to get his attention and whispered, “Don’t be stupid!  Tell him you’ll go, but only if he puts the title on you!”  Looking back it was damned good advice.

     But Ron wasn’t done with Canada just yet and would return several times.  And when he did he didn’t limit himself to just wrestling in Calgary.      

     For of all the places that Ron traveled to during his long wrestling career one of his favorites had to be the Canadian Maritimes, including Nova Scotia.  It was there that he discovered he had a brother he never had.  “I was in a bar in this hotel when someone said, ‘Hey Ron, your brother is over there waiting for you!’  ‘My brother?!’ I asked.  I turned around and it was Ray Evans.”  Steve Schumann had formed a great friendship with Ron in Los Angeles when Steve was wrestling as “Bomber Ray Evans” and had looked up to and respected Ron so much that he had taken to using “Starr” as his last name in various territories.  Sadly, Steve Schumann would die prematurely a few years after this reunion at the young age of 32.

     And it was in the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling promotion in the Maritimes that Ron would find one of his most memorable opponents.  They originally started as tag partners, but it was as feuding opponents that they really tore up the territory.

  “Leo Burke is a guy that I just immediately ‘clicked’ with in the ring” Ron fondly recalls.  “He was one of those guys that I just had chemistry with.  We really complemented each other.  We gelled so well that some times when we were supposed to go to an hour ‘Broadway’ (draw), the crowd would be so into it and so would we that we’d end up wrestling 90 minutes instead!  We’d suck people in and work a false finish so well that sometimes the timekeeper would ring the bell when I had kicked out after the 1 count!” 

    Now that is what I call psychology.  It’s no wonder that Ron has fond memories of that rivalry over the Grand Prix International title, a feud that would not only involve technical mat wrestling exchanges, but brutal brawls in barbed wire, chain, and strap matches.  However not all of his memories of working with Leo were quite so fond.  “He was a heavy drinker, so he would often wrestle drunk.  That would cause him to sweat so much that when he’d have me on the mat and he was standing over me with his foot on my body, his sweat would just drip right onto me and I could almost taste it!”  Good thing for Ron that the Grand Prix promotion only ran in the Summer time!

     The Summer Nights would be much hotter for Ron however when he was working for Carlos Colon in Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council which operated under “Capitol Sports.”  And the tropical heat would prove to be nothing compared to some of the heat that Ron generated whether he was wrestling in singles or in a tag team.  Working as both a booker and a wrestler for the promotion, he would win the WWC Junior Heavyweight title, the WWC Caribbean tag team titles, and would feud with Invader I over the WWC Television title.  That feud would also at times involve Invader I enlisting Invader III as his partner to wage war against Ron and Chicky Starr (his “cousin”) over the WWC World Tag Team titles.  Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and others have recounted over the years how heated the Puerto Rican wrestling fans could get, and Ron has his own stories of just how dangerous a situation that could be. 

     “Chicky and I were wrestling Invader I and III in a stadium and we were really getting heat with the crowd and they looked as if they were going to riot.  I told Jackie (whom Ron married in Puerto Rico in 1989 and worked as his valet, “Peaches”) to go to the locker room and get our gear and meet us later.  The crowd ended up chasing us out of the stadium and into the parking lot.  We got in our car but they caught up to us and began rocking it.  They ended up flipping it over!”  And the drama would continue.

     “Then the police showed up in their riot gear and pointed their machine guns into the air and began firing!  I thought I was in Viet Nam all over again.  The riot broke up and the crowd scattered.  I was wondering if we’d ever get out alive!”

     But Ron did get out alive and he would have more runs in Puerto Rico as well as various promotions in the U.S. in addition to tours of Japan. 

     Through the years Ron saw ups and downs in the business, worked places where he felt greatly appreciated and a few where he felt he wasn’t.  He worked on the bottom, the middle, and the top of the card, and made friends who would support him and put in a good word for him, and knew others who considered him a threat to their spot.  After all is said and done he still misses wrestling.  While a lifetime of bumps in the ring have taken their toll on his body and he would no longer be able to perform in the ring, he still retains a mind that was a great asset to his wrestling performances which are still fondly remembered by the fans who recognized his talent.

     “For my wife, my wrestling career didn’t end fast enough, but for me it ended too quickly.  I miss wrestling and all the time, my mind is still coming up with finishes.”- RR

1 comment:

  1. I happened upon an article about ken Wayne the former. wrestler, convicted of child porn charges.
    I knew that day would come.
    In 1977, I was 13, and one of many groupies that came to memorial auditorium in Sacramento, CA, to watch, Big Time Wrestling, hoping we would be chosen to accompany the men to their rooms after the show.
    They came to the place I worked, without shame.
    My best friend got pregnant, by Ron Starr, and had twins, a boy and a girl, only the girl survived. Lisa Niece.
    Larry Mantel
    Mando Guerrero
    Hector Guerrero
    Ron Starr
    Ken Wayne
    These grown men all had their way with us, and we ate it up.
    We even kidded ourselves into thinking we were the only ones.
    Another stolen childhood.

    Thanks for listening.