Mat Fans

The Evening Independent – March 28, 1975
Jon Wilson

Alike Only In That They Dig The Wrestling

Two women stood outside Tampa’s Sportatorium, the operations base of area professional wrestling, and spoke of a match one week old.  In that one, a favorite had fallen on evil times.  He was victimized by dirty tactics, the women said.

“If I had $25 for bail, I would have gone to jail,” said one.  “I would’ve gotten right up there in the ring,” she said.

“I was going to kick that bald —- right where it hurts the most,” said the other.  The women were talking about a brawl between Eddie Graham, who had rushed into the ring wearing his street clothes to join an unscheduled fight, and The Mongolian Stomper, an arch-villain.

The Stomper, aided by one or two partners in villainy, tore off Eddie Graham’s shirt, tangled him in the ring ropes and worked him over while the crowd bellowed.  A woman who threw a Coke into the ring was taken away by police.

Slater Patriot Weaver 3-27-75

Dick Slater holds down The Patriot while partner Johnny Weaver moves to intercept George McCreary, who aims a kick at Slater. Referee Corsica Jean watches on his knees.

That’s one view of professional wrestling fans.  It’s not the only one.

The people who come to watch the big men throw one another around cannot be neatly lumped and placed in one bag.  Some come for blood and violence, some come to worship their heroes, some to sit and simply enjoy.

You see them in business suits, halter tops and platform shoes, boy scout uniforms, and big plastic curlers.  There are long-hairs, crewcuts, blacks and whites, men past 80 and kids barely six.  They come in vans, on motorcycles, in Cadillacs and in wheelchairs.  Some scream, others sit quietly and puff their pipes.  But all of them dig the wrestling.

“They’re my men, they’re number one,” said Jose Antonio-Borrero, who is 19 and wants to be a wrestler.  His favorite was Bobby Shane, killed in a plane crash Feb. 20, and Jose’s worship was without reservation.  “He called me a nigger once, but it didn’t bother me,” said Jose.  “He’d had a rough match and he was upset, so I knew he didn’t mean it.”

They pick their heroes and their villains, these fans, and they go all the way with it.  You can hear them calling the bad guys: “Coward, you’re a coward (Bob) Roop… Hey Stomper, you’re garbage, you know that?”

But then you see two guys in sports clothes, sitting sedately through the matches, and in between, they’re discussing oil refineries in Manatee County and how they might affect Tampa Bay.

Someone asks a woman escorting two children why she takes her kids to wrestling matches and perhaps turn them on to violence.  “Well,” she considers, “I would rather have them be seeing fighting than out on the streets somewhere getting into trouble.”

Mildred Marcus lives in Lutz and comes almost every Thursday to the Sportatorium.  She said she comes to get out of the house.  “I like the wrestling better than soap operas, and those guys, they’re MEN,” she said.

In the Sportatorium lobby are pictures of Tampa’s current wrestlers.  Before the ticket office opens, the people walk the row of pictures, like they were visiting a museum or a library and should be quiet.  It is the hero’s gallery they’re seeing, and in the arena they can buy pictures of their favorites for 50 cents.

A woman looks at one picture on the wall for maybe two minutes, in silence.  She walks away, speaking to herself.  “I’ll bet his mouth is 23 inches wide, but he sure does his thing in the ring.”

That’s what they come for.

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