ROAD STORIES & RIBS – 12.26.2017: The Slap That Rocked Pro Wrestling

By Jim Phillips, Columnist

Welcome, once again friends, to another installment of our road soldier diaries.  As fans we get the chances to see really historic moments very rarely in the wrestling world.  Those who have paid their dues and proven themselves worthy to be let amongst the ranks of the greats of the squared circle have seen more than most.  I have traveled the roads for hundreds of miles in search of these moments.  Sometimes alone, and at other times accompanied by friends, or perhaps I was lucky enough to get to ride with some of the workers from show to show.  Whichever the case, I always savored the road and time spent among friends and at live events.  This week’s story comes from a time when I was in my teenage years and life was so much simpler.

It was March, 1988.  The smell was in the air, but not the smell of spring blossoms, or the freshness of that time of year. It was the smell of a fever; wrestling fever.  For the last few weeks it had been advertised that the newly constructed Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri would be the host to live wrestling from the WWF. The Superstars of Wrestling was headed to our area and we all had the itch to go.  Nothing was going to stand in our way from seeing what we loved more than anything.  It was decided that myself, my best friend Sam Jacobs, my two Uncles and a couple of their friends would make the hour and a half ride to Cape in late April to raise a lil’ hell.

My Uncle and I had traveled to many shows in Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri when I was younger. The Show-Me Center was definetly one of the nicest and newest arenas that I had been in. We had attended a house show there not long after it opened, and Vince McMahon did a vigorous business there all through the 80‘s and 90‘s.  This time, however, we had a crew along with us, and that Saturday afternoon in April couldn’t get there fast enough.  We were packed and ready to that morning and headed down the road with a carload full.  We got to the hotel and unpacked and went for a swim before we headed out. Showtime was at 4pm, and we did not wanna be late.

We got to our seats and not long after the lights went low. The electricity in the room was thick, as Howard Finkle announced that the show we were going to see would be used as tapings for multiple Superstars of Wrestling episodes.  We got to see “Iron” Mike Sharpe work the crowd but lose to the Red Rooster.  The Islanders battled the Bulldogs. Koko B. Ware and Frankie were on hand to dance and pump up the crowd even more.  We were lucky enough to see great matches all afternoon and some were worked multiple times by headline guys and “jobbers” to facilitate the different episodes being taped.

A few hours into the show, we all took notice of a very attractive young brunette being escorted to a ringside aisle seat. I’ll never forget the white, tassled jean jacket she had on, as it swashed back and forth on her way to her seat. For the next 30 minutes she was the focus of our attentions, until, it happened.  Rick Rude’s music hit, and we came to our feet. As a fan of the heels, he was always one of my most favorite workers to watch in the ring or on television.  He was accompanied by Bobby Heenan, dressed to the nine’s as always.  Rude made quick work of Jake “Milkman” Milliman with the Rude Awakening in the center of the ring, and Bobby bounded in with the microphone. It was time for his famous Sweathogs speech, where he chose a lady from the crowd to kiss. We all knew now why the girl in the special seat was there, but the implications of the next few minutes would start one of the great feuds in wrestling history.

That lady was Cheryl Roberts, and she was the spark for the explosion. Most hard core fans know what went down, but I think it’s good for the history to be preserved from a fan’s standpoint.  Rude did his best wiggle walk down to her seat and asked to come to the ring but she refused and said that she was not interested in him at all. Rude worked it so well, and demanded to know why. She told him that she was Jake the Snake Robert’s wife. Rude went livid. She delivered what was one of the great slaps ever in the wrestling business. We heard it all the way to our seats without help of the live mic Rude was holding.  This prompted him to grab her by the arm, and read her the riot act.  It wasn’t long before Jake was down the aisle and it was a full blown slobber knocker, as J.R. might say.  They fought up the aisle and off camera, but what was unseen by television was them fighting all through the backstage area to the locker room curtain.  Some of those shots looked legit to me and I’m sure there was a little bit of action there between them to really sell it.  This was the hard hitting 80‘s after all.  Little did we know how much that storyline would fuel the next few months television and pay per views.  It was a hot enough angle to turn one of the longest running heels, Jake Roberts a face, and cement Rick Rude as the premier heel in the WWF at that time. We were there and got to see it first hand.

Sometimes you get gifted with special happenings at live events, both on the primetime level and at your local indy events.  It’s always kinda cool to be able to say, “I was there to see it live, for myself.”.  As always, I urge you to get out and see live wrestling at any level of competition.  There is NO substitute for that feeling you get when the lights drop and the mayhem ensues.

Next month, I will start bringing you the road stories from some of the friends I’ve made in the wrestling business over the years.  They have collectively traveled all over the United States and to promotions worldwide.  I look forward to bring them to you and until then, keep the wheels turning and the freedom burning. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  Enjoy the New Years Eve celebrations and party responsibly. Peace Bruthas and Sistas.

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