By Jim Phillips, Columnist
Welcome back once again, Bruthas and Sistas. This week I wanna go back and look at the home of one of my favorite wrestlers/managers ever; Freddie Blassie. When I think of wrestling in California he is one of the first names that always comes to mind for me. He was just one of many that would come out of the Worldwide Wrestling Associates to make a name for themselves. Like so many other wrestling territories, it had it’s roots in the N.W.A.
Cal Eaton was hired by Frank Garbutt in 1947, to promote his shows out of the Grande Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Eaton found success in the organization, as well as a wife, when he married Garbutt’s secretary the following year. They began to promote boxing and wrestling in the L.A. area and throughout Southern California. The Fifties would be profitable once the Eatons combined forces with a trio of partners to form a conglomerate that would later be dubbed, The California Combine. As their expansion radiated out to all parts of California, the Federal Government stepped in and began to investigate the group under Antitrust laws. This lasted until the end of 1957, and left the group disbanded, with the Eatons looking to rebuild and start again in the wake of the Federal ruling.
During this same time, the N.W.A. was also embroiled in controversy, with the defeat of Lou Thesz by Edouard Carpentier, earlier that July. Some members of the organization refused to recognize Thesz as their Champion. This led to N.W.A. President at that time, Sam Muchnick, having to use his diplomatic skills to put out small fires all over the territorial map.
Cal Eaton, who was a member of the N.W.A., got back into promoting in the Southern California area with his North American Wrestling Alliance venture in 1958. He was one of the members that refused to push Thesz as Champion and after having difficult relations with the organization over the following year, the Eatons left the N.W.A. in 1959. They re-branded and re-launched their promotion as Worldwide Wrestling Associates in 1961. They recognized Carpentier as their champion and the WWA Heavyweight Title was born. It wasn’t long before a contender would arrive to take that title and start one of the most legendary Heel runs in the history of professional wrestling.
The lineage of wrestling greatness, in many forms, can be traced back the brown banks of Old Man River. When the young German immigrant couple of Jacob and Anna settled in Missouri in 1914, the world was about to be hurled into WWI. Four years later, Frederick Blassie was born in St. Louis, on February 8th. He was an only child, and Freddie would joke later that it was because of his fifteen pound girth, that made his mother fear going through the birth of another child. Sadly, like many other children at that time, he grew up in a home broken by alcoholism. Every great heel has something that they can pull from, to go to that place and become “the bad guy”. At the age of thirteen, during one of his father’s drunken rages of abusiveness, the young Blassie stepped between his mother and father with a baseball bat to let his father know that he was not going to stand by and allow this to continue any further. With this in his past, Freddie knew without a doubt what a bad guy was, and stayed away from drinking alcohol throughout the duration of his life.
Despite winning the boxing championship at his local Community Center in his teenage years, it was wrestling, not boxing, that he yearned to be a part of. After his frequent attendance at the local gym to watch the wrestlers work, they began to take notice of him, and allowed him into the fold. In those days, you had to earn your way into that secret brotherhood. If they liked you, then you were in. If not, then a wrestler either left, or came back to prove their heart and desire. Blassie began to train with them and it wasn’t long before he was ready to hit the carny circuit.
It was during his time in the carnies that he adopted his famous “pencil necked geek” catch line that he used to describe the chicken head biting attraction there. He soon started working the Missouri territories for Tom Packs in St. Louis, and George Simpson in the Kansas city area. This time on the roads was when a young worker learned the business, and perfected their trade. Blassie worked these territories until he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. He served for forty-two months, fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese. We was crowned wrestling champion of the 7th Naval District during his tour of duty. After he was discharged from the Navy, he returned to California and his new bride, who he had married on one of his shore leaves there. He worked for a short time with Jack Pfefer, who was known for using sideshow type gimmicks in his show. He worked there with fellow wrestlers Tor Johnson, of Ed Wood fame, and Lillian Ellison, the “Slave Girl Moolah”, later to become synonymous with women’s wrestling as The Fabulous Moolah. It wasn’t long before the call of the road had him headed to Georgia, where he died his hair bleach blond and began working his heel persona throughout the state. He started to brandish a file in interviews, and rake it across his teeth to work his Vampire gimmick. He became know for mercilessly biting his opponents, causing plenty of blood, which incited the crowds to a fever pitch. In 1960, he took this heel style of performance back to California and began his run with promoter Jules Strongbow and Worldwide Wrestling Associates.
Blassie became so hated in the Los Angeles area, that he had to have Police posted along the aisle and around the ring to keep the crowds back. In his autobiography, Listen, You Pencil Necked Geeks, he tells about having rolls of coins and batteries thrown at him from the stands. One story that blew my mind, was when he had acid poured on his back from above the entrance to the locker room as he was heading back from the ring, post-match. The fact is, in those days, kayfabe was still at full strength, and this only helped to bolster the heat that Blassie experienced wherever he went along the Pacific Coast. That’s one of the things that really made those old generation guys so much tougher than their modern day counterparts. While Roman Reigns may get booed at every stop along the tour, no one is out there trying to maim or scar him for the character he portrays. Back then, during the reign of the shooters and hookers, wrestling was as real as it ever would be. The fans were sold, and the greats were so over that they lived their gimmicks 24/7. As far as I’m concerned, that’s how it should be, and it makes me sad that things aren’t as protected as they used to be.
Upon his return to the WWA, Blassie was ran over with the welcome wagon, which was driven by The Destroyer. Dick Beyer is truly an American legend. He went to college at Syracuse University in New York, playing football and wrestling for the Orange. He played in the 1953 Orange Bowl, where he and his alma mater were decimated by The Crimson Tide that year. He won the WWA Title from Blassie in 1962 and held it for almost a year before Freddie was able to reclaim it. The Destroyer had several sold out matches against the Giant Baba in 1963, before he traveled to Japan, to the home of the famed Rikidozan, who was also one of Blassie’s rival. The Destroyer and Rikidozan sold out his debut match in Japan, as well as drawing almost seventy million fans on television. To say the The Destroyer was over in Japan would be a gross understatement. After he returned to America he had another run with the title at WWA, and then traveled up to Minnesota, where he spent 6 years working in the A.W.A. He went back to the shores of Japan in 1973, and stayed there for the next several years wrestling and working as booker for Giant Baba at the All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. Beyer went into semi-retirement in 1984.
After he managed to put the Destroyer in his rear-view, Blassie set his focus on winning his first WWA Championship from the man who had held it since it’s inception, Edouard Carpentier. Carpentier had held the WWA Title since the fallout of his match with Thesz in 1957. Freddie had made a name for himself in the area and defeating Carpentier sent a clear message that Blassie was there to stay and that title was his to lose. He took the strap in June of 1961 in a match that saw the French Champion unable to continue in the third and final fall of the match. Blassie held it for ten months, while cementing himself as the reviled King Heel of Los Angeles. As mentioned above, it was his Japanese counterpart, Rikidozan that came to America in search of Blassie’s gold, and took it from him after a vicious feud, in March of 1962. Blassie regained the title six months later, and then was drawn into a match, with The Destroyer who won the title from him only two days after his defeat of Rikidozan. Blassie followed Rikidozan to Japan and left the Japanese audience aghast at the way he treated their beloved icon. Blassie left him a bloody mess, and played the American boogeyman with the filed razor sharp teeth, to the hilt. It was during this tour that Blassie met and eventually wed the woman that would become his third wife. Tho reticent at his reputation, her parents allowed the marriage and the two returned to the States during the turbulent times of 1968. Not long after his return, he began to work with the W.W.W.F., and his long relationship with the McMahon family really took hold during those years. It was in 1971 that he crossed paths with another WWA alumni over the W.W.W.F. Title. That man’s name would also become forever linked with the McMahon’s and their New York promotion.
Pedro Morales hit the scene in California at the age of twenty three with his sights set on making a name for himself there. The charismatic young star won the Championship from The Destroyer after only being in the promotion for three months. His fiery Puerto Rican heritage lent him to have great sway with the fans, no matter where he wrestled. He teamed with countryman, Jose Luis Rivera in feuds with the teams of Mike DiBiase & Karl Gotch, as well as the pairing of Freddie Blassie & WWA mainstay Buddy Austin. Morales would also lose the WWA Heavyweight Title to Austin in 1966. He stayed on for a few more years before moving on to other territories, and ultimately the W.W.F.
The man that came to be know as “Killer” Buddy Austin got his start in professional wrestling in 1956 under his ring name of Austin, as his real name of Buddy Rogers was already a commodity in the business. He bleached his hair blond and began to book himself as the “Golden Gladiator” while he was working in the mid-western Missouri territory ran by Gus Karras. He also took the time to help train a young wrestler named Harley Race, while he was in there. In 1962, he took on the moniker of “Killer” and let his Heel side loose on the fans of the WWA. Though his first two title reigns were short lived, he held the WWA Championship on three occasions. The only other man to hold that title three times was The Destroyer and both were bested by Freddie Blassie, with four title reigns in the record books. In November of 1968, he and Blassie sold out the Olympic Auditorium when they culminated their feud in a stretcher match. He was a notorious partier and loved the drink, which is one of the reasons that led Blassie, not wanting to be around the drunkeness, to refuse to travel with him. Austin left California not long after and plied his trade in other territories, spanning all the way from Hawaii to Missouri. He retired from the ring in 1977, and passed away from heart problems four years later, at the age of fifty-two.
After Cal Eaton’s death in 1968, the WWA was taken over by Mike LeBell, who was his widow’s son from a previous marriage. LeBell was known in the boxing community and decided to step in as the head of WWA and subsequently returned it to the N.W.A. fold in 1969. He renamed the promotion NWA Hollywood Wrestling and it continued on until 1982, when the WWF came calling with it’s nationwide expansion.
Edouard Carpentier went on to start a wrestling school in Canada after his retirement, and also had a brief stint as color commentator for the Canadian wrestling promotion, Grand Prix Wrestling. Later he would work with the Canadian office of the WWF, and host the French version of the syndicated wrestling show Superstars, in the Eighties. He died from a heart attack on October 30, 2010 at age eighty-four.
Dick “Destroyer” Beyer continued his affiliation with Japanese wrestling and sports promotions throughout his retirement years. In 2010, he traveled to Japan once again for a charity event put together by the top promotions at that time; AJPW, NJPW, and Pro Wrestling NOAH. The event was called All Together, and the winner of the inaugural Destroyer Cup was crowned that evening. On November of last year he was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun, 5th Class, Gold and Silver Rays Award for his career of promoting bi-cultural exchanges and goodwill between Japan and the United States. He has remained active in the wrestling community, and served on the Board of Directors for the Cauliflower Alley Club for many years as well.
The career of “The Hollywood Fashion Plate” is one that can be discounted by few and touted by many. He was cut from the distinctive German heritage that flourished in St. Louis in the early 20th Century. He lived life with a zest and zeal that would be lost on many who tried to keep up with him. In preparation for this story, I had many friends tell me “confidential” Classy Freddie Blassie stories of their encounters with him, and the legendary tales they heard of his exploits in the U.S. and beyond Asia, that would be far too racy and over the top to print here….however, never let it be said that I bow to convention, so here is one of my favorites:
……Blassie used to be so over in Japan that he would walk the streets after the matches and “have a little fun” with the locals, while furthering his heel, wildman persona. As told to me by more than a couple people, Blassie would take a glass eyeball and place it inside the foreskin of his junk. Then, he’d unzip his fly, and let himself out there for all to see as he walked down the street. If the Japanese weren’t taken back in fear of his biting vampire gimmick, his own personal cyclops had to have sent them running. I laugh out loud at the idea of it, and would have loved to have been around the business in those days, and be on the road with guys like Freddie. Can you imagine, Bruthas and Sistas, what it would have been like if Blassie was the manager of The Four Horsemen during their apex in the Eighties, instead of J.J.?? No hotel bar would have been safe! Hahahahaha…..
Classy Freddie Blassie was memorialized in film as well, when he worked with huge fan, Andy Kaufman on 1982’s My Breakfast with Blassie. He also appeared in the Eighties wrestle-pic BodySlam, as well as a hilariously funny independent film in the early Nineties called, Mr. Blassie Goes to Washington. If you have never seen this, or his Kaufman work, I strongly suggest you seek them out. Freddie was definetly cast from a mold that was broken afterwards. He was one of a kind, and possibly my favorite old school heel of all time, which is a bold statement friends. He passed away on June 2, 2003 of combined heart and kidney failure. He was eighty-five years old.
The N.W.A. can once again be seen featured on wrestling programming emanating from Los Angeles on KDOC-TV. The N.W.A. Heavyweight Championship has been defended by former Champion Tim Storm, and most recently by Nick Aldis on the Championship Wrestling from Hollywood programming that is available in most West Coast markets, and reaches all the way out here to Denver on local television. It is a welcome addition to my weekend wrestling viewing.
I’d like to thank all of you, my wrestling Bruthas and Sistas out there, for continuing to come back week after week for this column. I believe that it offers not the opportunity to resurrect some of the great names and promotions of the past to those who remember them, but it’s vital that we show the youth of today the dirt road that has led us this wrestling superstructure we have spanning the globe now. The history is gold ya’ll……DIG IT!!!