By Jim Phillips, Columnist
During the late seventies, most of the federated territories were flying the N.W.A. banner in solidarity. Some promotions were deemed “outlaw promotions” if they were not affiliated with the organization. Still others went as far as running shows directly against N.W.A. endorsed events. This spirit of competition was one of the driving factors of the territories. Angelo Poffo opened ICW under just such an ideal. He did things his own way, like it or not.
Poffo was born in 1925, the son of Italian immigrants and raised in a hard working family. He grew up just west of Chicago in the suburb of Downer’s Grove, and attended De-Paul University playing as a catcher for their baseball team. It was here that he met his wife Judy, who he would go on to wed in 1949. They would give birth to two of the most influential wrestlers of the next generation. One of which was the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots.
Poffo’s wrestling career mirrored his philosophy in the ring: he was a heel. He worked for 30 years, across the country and earned his chops as the villain. He worked for such managers as Bronco Lubich as a singles wrestler and for the likes of Bobby Heenan during his Devil’s Duo tag team days. It was after a run through Canada that he began to wrestle as the Miser under the blue mask adorned with a large dollar sign that his ICW promotion came into view.
Poffo founded ICW in the summer of 1978. Based out of Lexington, Kentucky, the company was in direct competition with the promotions ran by Ron Fuller at SECW, the fore runner of CWC to later be covered in this series and the Gulas NWA associated territory. As ICW grew, it began to draw in workers from all of these surrounding territories. This expansive growth also brought them into conflict with more promoters and territories as they crossed those lines to create a new fan base. The N.W.A. would bring suit against Poffo for this, but it was too far gone at that point. His ICW was becoming a force in the Ohio Valley and could be felt all the way to St. Louis. With the television deals he secured at several small stations he was able to get his product out to the masses much more effectively than by just putting on live events. This was how I was introduced to his product at the young age of nine. It was on WSIL-TV every Friday night and we never missed it.
There were many stars that spent time working at ICW during its run. Greats like Bob Orton Jr. and his younger brother Barry, Hustlin Rip Rogers, Pistol Pez Whatley, Hoot Gibson, Dennis Condrey, Ox Baker, Boris Malenko, Bob Roop, The Great Kabuki, and Crusher Broomfield, who went on to fame as One Man Gang and Akeem in WWF. The two main draws without a doubt were his sons Leaping Lanny Poffo, and the immortal, Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Lanny and Savage would trade the ICW Title back and forth several times. It wasn’t until the arrival of Ronnie Garvin, then billed as The One Man Gang himself, from SECW that things really started to heat up. He had several rivalries with all the babyfaces in the troupe and even turned Savage over with the crowd despite his heel status.
Garvin famously cut the hair of Pez Whatley in a match and he was forced to wear a wig for weeks after, gaining himself the nickname of Mop Head with the crowd. Garvin also grew to fame when he knocked the dentures out of Ox Baker’s mouth only to stomp on them after they hit the floor. He proved to be a force to be reckoned with during his time at ICW.
One other very famous face that came out of ICW was Elizabeth Hulette. Starting out as the ticket girl, her beauty and poise moved her quickly in front of the camera as the on camera host of their television programming. This was where Miss Elizabeth first met Randy Savage and their storied history began. They were the original power couple of wrestling. The promotion finally closed it’s doors in 1984 due to poor attendance and it’s rights and assets were sold to Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler in Memphis. Jarrett had a long standing competition to the point of confrontation with ICW both financially and territorially. Savage would follow to that area and have a long running rivalry with Lawler that would eventually lead to his acquisition by the WWF. The rest as they say, for he and Liz, was a glorious history. Sadly, both of them are no longer with us, but the impact they made on the wrestling business can still be felt today.
Poffo continued to work until 1991 and made wrestling appearances for a few more years. He was even reunited with his son in the ring when he managed Randy in WCW later on in 1995. He was inducted into the WCW Hall Of Fame that year, and was also honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1996 at their Tampa, Florida gathering alongside The Briscoes, Gordon Solie and Wahoo McDaniel, just to name a few that year. After retiring from wrestling Angelo went on to teach physical education before he passed away in Sarasota, Florida at the age of 84.
Angelo Poffo and his ICW left behind a history of non-conformity. Like all who chose to walk their own path in the face of adversity, he left a huge mark in his field. His legacy can still be seen today in the shadow of his family name. Lanny still bears the Poffo torch and is active in his writings and can be seen from time to time at wrestling gatherings. For me the ICW promotion was one of the sparks that lit my love for this business. I have vivid memories of shows at the civic center, and VFW in our community. These territorial companies built the foundations for the business we all enjoy today. For some of us they mean so much more.
Join me again next time wrestling fans, as we head to the Gateway to the West, my home city of St. Louis and the home of The Wrestling Club. Thank you for reading our flagship spot in this series. We need to preserve it and keep it’s history alive. Our wrestling heritage is gold, so DIG IT! Peace.