Monday, September 23, 2013



   Do you remember your first time?  Was it in an intimate setting with just you and a single partner, or did a whole group get involved?  Was there lots of sweating, lots of grunting and groaning?  Was it everything you expected?  Did it leave you wanting to come back for more?

   I can distinctly remember my first time.  I was just 3 years old.  Yeah, that’s right.  We got started early in my family.  I was 3 years old the first time I attended a live wrestling event and it definitely left me wanting to go back for more.

   I was living in East Los Angeles and I remember how excited I was that night in 1971, and my adrenaline was flowing not just from the anticipation of the upcoming live wrestling event, but because it seemed like my Stepfather and I were in danger of being late for the start of the event.  I can remember my Stepfather hopping our back fence so that we could take a shortcut to the bus stop and my Mother trying her best to help me up the side of the chain link fence so that my Stepfather could pull me over the other side.  We then crossed the huge dirt lot that was part of our neighbor’s property, a lot that would become bigger still in about a year when their house burned down.  I must have been a little bit of a sadist as a kid because I remember as the whole neighbor watched that family’s house burn to the ground; my very young uncle and I were munching on popcorn as we watched the blaze.

   My Stepfather and I had managed to catch the bus that would take us to the wrestling venue, and I would stare out the window of the bus at the lights of the city, with wonder as they contrasted with the darkness of the night while also trying to imagine what it might be like when we arrived at our destination.  Finally we had arrived at the historic Olympic Auditorium on 18th and Grand in Downtown Los Angeles.  We finally took our seats which between the fact that they were probably fairly high up in what was a packed house, and the fact that I was only a little kid, made the ring seem as if it were a world away.  I could see cigarette hovering above the ring and I stared in wonder at the men with funny little red and white striped paper hats who with unerring and amazing accuracy, could toss a bag of peanuts to the waiting hands of anyone, regardless of how far away they were.

   I slowly ate my bag of roasted peanuts while watching the wrestling matches, and I wish I could tell you who wrestled in those matches prior to the main event or even on what exact date the event took place.  But those facts escape me.  What doesn’t escape me was the fact that the main event was something I knew was of great importance.  I don’t remember what events, what angles had led up to this particular event, but I knew that it meant something.  For in the main event, the bitterest of enemies in Southern California wrestling, not only at that time, but perhaps in all of Southern California wrestling, were about to engage in a war.  And “Maniac” John Tolos and Freddie Blassie didn’t disappoint.

   What I can also tell you is that I was in the minority.  I wasn’t in the minority because I was a Mexican-American, hell, in the Olympic Auditorium you were probably in the minority if you weren’t.  I was in the minority because I was there to root for John Tolos.  Blame it on my upbringing if you will, but this 3 year old would be cheering for a man nicknamed “Maniac.”  John Tolos was the most hated wrestler in Los Angeles at this time and was the definite “heel” or “bad guy” in this feud that had stretched back to the summer of the previous year. By contrast, Freddie Blassie with his sequined and colorful outfits, sometimes accessorized with a sombrero, had definitely endeared himself to the hearts of the fans, many of whom were Latinos.

   Finally the main event began and a chill ran down my spine as the combatants were introduced.  And the match did not disappoint.  It was a melodrama, and being seated so far from the ring, the epic battle was almost a pantomime of sorts, with the only audible sounds or soundtrack being the screaming of the fans.  The match consisted of peaks and valleys and I sat with my eyes and attention riveted to the moral play unfolding in the ring.  There was blood…lots of blood…and I remember having to fight off breaking into tears as I saw Freddie Blassie bite into the head of my then-hero John Tolos. 

   If I remember correctly, Blassie won that match, much to my disappointment.  However to my delight, Tolos would return to fight another day.  Their feud would become the stuff of legend, and all throughout their 4 four years of battling off and on, they’d participate in every conceivable type of match against each other, including stretcher matches, cage matches, matches involving brass knuckles, chain matches, and “Gladiator Death matches.”  They would even return many years later in 1980 to square off in a tag team cage match.  Blassie would be in his early 60’s in this one and while the match was hardly a classic and the arena was less than half full, the “pop” they got from the crowd made it seem as if there were many more in the crowd than there actually was.

   The first wrestling “maneuver” that I ever learned was the “corkscrew” that John Tolos used on the temples of his opponents head.  My stepfather was gracious enough to demonstrate it’s effectiveness on me and I in turn couldn’t wait to show my brother how effective it was in producing a headache. 

   But why did a 3 year cheer for such a hated guy like John Tolos?  I guess I didn’t know any better.  On the other hand, I think I did.  Tolos was compelling, magnetic, and both his presence in the ring as well as his unique and intense interviews made you want to watch his every move, hang on his every word.  While the goal of Tolos and the storylines may have been to make the fans hate him, more importantly, the goal was to get us to watch him.  And watch him we did, he and Blassie both.  That year in 1971, the two would meet at the Los Angeles Coliseum in August and set what was then a record gate for a wrestling event as 25,847 fans paid $142,158.50 to watch Blassie defeat Tolos 2 falls to one in their “battle of the century”.

   And as a whole, pro wrestling itself was still very compelling at that time.  Even if we had the technology available back then, I guarantee you that no one would have been sending or checking their text messages or updating their facebook status.  For the only status they were concerned about was what was going on in a 20 x 20 foot ring and the only world they knew for 2 hours or so was the world within that arena.  And just as the world outside the wrestling arenas have changed so have the worlds inside them.  - RR

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