Monday, August 12, 2013


   Just a few years earlier the two men had paired up a few times, partners against common enemies; now they were on opposite sides, both seeking vengeance.  It was November 10, 1973 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and Pat Patterson and “Moondog” Lonnie Mayne were set to clash in the main event for Patterson’s United States Heavyweight Wrestling Title.  4 weeks earlier, Mayne had bloodied Pepper Martin for the second time in a matter of weeks and Patterson saved Martin from a more serious beating.  Now he was looking to avenge that beating and Mayne was looking to avenge the interference.  And if he won the U.S. title in the process that would just be the icing on the cake.

   With fans rooting for their hero Patterson to tame the wild Moondog, the two battled fiercely in a match that resulted in a draw, and even when they met again on December 1st, with legendary tough guy Peter Maivia as the special referee, nothing was settled as Moondog Mayne lost the 3rd fall of the rematch on a count out.  The only things that were decided was that Patterson and Mayne wanted another shot at each other and that Maivia had made a new enemy as he and Lonnie had gotten physical during the match up.

   10,000 fans had been treated to an intense back and forth battle and promoter Roy Shire knew he had gold.  3 weeks later the two were matched up yet again, and 12, 517 screaming fans packed the Cow Palace and ponied up $52,006 to watch Moondog Mayne once again challenge the champion.  That was almost twice the audience and gate that had witnessed Dutch Savage do the same thing less than 3 months earlier.  As was expected, the two fought tooth and nail, and to the shock and dismay of those in attendance, Moondog Mayne defeated Patterson in the 2 out of 3 fall event and was the new U.S. Heavyweight champion! 

   There would be rematches with Patterson as well as challenges from other formidable foes such as Don Muraco, Rocky Johnson, and Peter Maivia.  And in the summer of ’74 Moondog would find himself in the position of challenger once again.

The Champ comes to town

   NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco was coming to San Francisco for a rare visit and as the U.S. Heavyweight Champion, Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne was the number one contender in the territory.  The two seemed like complete polar opposites in the ring as former NCAA National wrestling champion Brisco relied on his technical wrestling whereas the “Moondog” character that Lonnie Mayne had developed was a fierce brawler, prone to baying like a wild dog and biting into the flesh of his opponents every chance he got.  This would not be the first time or the last that Lonnie Mayne would fight for a World title.  And as he always did, he gave the champ all that he could handle.  Could you imagine the reaction the Cow Palace fans would have, if this dog food eating, glass chewing animal who held the U.S. title would become the World champion as well?  Their hearts must’ve momentarily stopped because it nearly happened!

   Each man had won a fall in the July 27, 1974 title match when Mayne cracked the champion with a devastating punch while wearing brass knuckles!  It went unseen by referee Larry Williams who then delivered the 3 count as Mayne covered Brisco for the pin and it seemed that there was a new champion.  However the Moondog’s victory was short lived as another referee, Frank Nocetti, entered the ring and informed Williams that Mayne had used brass knuckles.  The decision was reversed with Moondog Mayne now being disqualified and Brisco escaping with his title!  Well easy come, easy go.

   Of course this called for a rematch and Shire was willing to give the NWA Champion his typical healthy slice of the gate for their return match 3 weeks later which also saw Brisco leave with his title claim intact.  Well at least Moondog still had his U.S. title belt.  At least for a couple of months anyway as Peter Maivia would win the belt on October 12th.  Rematches in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Las Vegas would ensue, along with a rekindled feud with Pat Patterson which was more hot and heavy than their first time around.

   And in the sometimes strange world of professional wrestling, Lonnie Mayne again displayed some of his versatility as a performer in the summer of ’75 when he not only became a “good guy” but he also began teaming with ex-bitter enemy Pat Patterson and even Pepper Martin himself!  The fans were now rooting enthusiastically for the “Moondog” but this run in San Francisco was quickly coming to its end.

On The Road Again

   After a stopover in Portland it was on to Georgia for Lonnie Mayne where he again “flipped the script” becoming a hated heel, teaming with the likes of “Crazy” Luke Graham and Abdullah the Butcher, and opposing such “fan favorites” as Mr. Wrestling II, Dick Slater, Bob Backlund, Bobo Brazil, and Thunderbolt Patterson.  After 6 months of that it was on to the Lone Star State, where he feuded for several months with Jose Lothario, challenged the America’s Heavyweight Champion Chavo Guerrero in a rare title defense outside of Los Angeles, and won a battle royal. 

   And as if things weren’t interesting enough, as 1976 was drawing to a close, the vicious Moondog again became a fan favorite, just in time to engage in a series of matches against the Sheik in what must’ve been like watching two pit bulls going at it.  Lonnie found a place in the hearts of the Texas Wrestling fans.  It inspired Ricky Ringside to produce a 45 single entitled “The Ballad of Moondog Mayne” which was played during Moondog’s walk to the ring and sold at the arena concession stands, and it caused fans to delight as Mayne stormed the ring dressed as Santa Claus and swung a bag of toys at the heels who made a quick exit.

  Before he left the area in the spring of ’77, Lonnie would wrestle NWA World Champion Terry Funk to a draw and also challenge new champion Harley Race as well.  While he didn’t walk away with the title, he gained many new fans who remember the man for whom “every day is like Christmas” and who seemed at times to be a mischievous butt-kicking version of old St. Nick himself.

Did He Really Call You Crazy?

   In February of 1967, almost right from the start of Lonnie Mayne’s career in the Pacific Northwest, Ringside commentator Frank Bonnema was right by his side along for the ride.  Bonnema was always the epitome of composure which was in stark contrast to the sometimes chaotic atmosphere which was part of the Portland Wrestling television program.  Shown live beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday nights, Bonnema was a cherished fixture, as much as the salesmen hawking used cars with vinyl seats, mobile homes and recreational vehicles, and appliances from Tom Peterson’s where you could pick up anything from washers and dryers to cb radios and faux wood console stereos complete with AM/FM radio, an 8 track cassette player and flashing disco lights. And Frank and Lonnie seemed to complement each other perfectly.

   Now, it was the spring of 1977, 10 years since they first worked together, and Lonnie Mayne was back in Oregon. With his strong drawing power at the box office and the working relationship between Roy Shire and Don Owen it wasn’t unusual for Lonnie to make an occasional trip to San Francisco while simultaneously working for Don Owen in Oregon.  And with Frank Bonnema holding the microphone, Lonnie was discussing his upcoming match with U.S. Champion Alexis Smirnoff at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

   “Because all I heard”, Lonnie was saying during his promo, “He said I was crazy and let me you one thing Smirnoff…tonight in the Cow Palace I got a United States Championship match.  I had that before Frank.  I had that belt and tonight I got it again and you know what’s goin?  I’m going to beat him like raw hamburger!”  Lonnie then began eating raw hamburger on camera and then threw some down on the studio floor where he began to stomp it, as if to demonstrate what he would be doing to his opponent.  In mock surprise Bonnema then asked Lonnie, “Did he really say you were crazy?”

   While he never liked to be called “crazy” Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne seemed to do all he could to convince the fans that he was and there was a method to his “madness”, as he could alternately cause his audience to fear and despise him, or embrace him warmly.  And in the Pacific Northwest it was with open arms that he was welcomed back.

   Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest territory was promoted in a way that would appeal to its audience who were mostly comprised of simple, unpretentious, blue collar workers and their families, who had a strong sense of community.  It wasn’t unheard of for Don Owen to offer “specials” where for each paid adult admission a child would get in free or to offer free coloring books to the children for showed up to the arena events.      

    These were wrestling fans that no doubt agreed with the policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick” although those fans could get quite loud and vocal in the Portland Sports Arena and little old ladies were known to substitute a swing of a cane for a big stick.  They boisterously booed the villains and wholeheartedly cheered and embraced their heroes and Lonnie was one of the most popular wrestlers ever in the area.

     This wild looking man who wasn’t always articulate in his interviews but would still leave no doubt as to the point he was making, was a genius at cultivating the love the fans had for him.  He would dedicate his victories to his fans and promise to “do it for the people” and was known to sometimes where t-shirts to the ring that read “Love Oregon or bite me!”  Although his character was simple and sometimes even crude, that wasn’t something that worked against him but rather in his favor.  He spoke much like many in the audience probably did and with the type of dastardly opponents he faced, the fans no doubt felt that someone who was a bit of a roughneck is just who was needed to put the heels in their place.  Ed Wiskowski referred to him as a “blue collar Robin Hood” and that’s exactly how the fans saw him, as there to right the wrongs. 

     He was also a “Pied Piper” as this man who had in years past struck fear in the hearts of ringside fans and had even been billed alternately as “MadDog Mayne”, “Moondog Mayne” and  “Mauler Mayne” in some instances, now had children running up to him to touch him and shake his hand on his way to the ring.  In the Northwest, he was simply known as “Lonnie”.  I can still recall the image of him soundly thrashing Buddy Rose and tenaciously chasing him around the ring, only to soon after have a girl around the age of 5 run up and give him a hug.  He would then lift the child in his arms and walk with her up the aisle to the applause and smiles of those in attendance.  He was that crazy but loveable uncle, Santa Claus with a couple of shots of Southern comfort in him to keep himself warm on a cold Christmas Eve.  It was a testament not only to his appeal with the fans but to his tremendous versatility as a performer.  – RR


Next:  Saying Good bye to Lonnie            
Special thanks to Doug McCleer for sharing some of his photos for this article.  
Top photo by Viktor Berry       



No comments:

Post a Comment