Barnstorming Proves Good Business

Minneapolis Star – December 18, 1953
By Bill Hengen

A wrestler is here today and gone tomorrow — but probably in the Upper Midwest they’re here all week. Some cynics have referred to their travels as “barnstorming,” or “carnival.” But to the wrestlers and promoters it is just good business. And the box office indicates fans have no objections. Let Promoter Tony Stecher explain why wrestlers work often within the same area:

“In the old days, the main event wrestlers received 50-60 per cent of the gate. There were no time limits (best two out of three falls, instead) and so there were fewer preliminaries.

“Today, a wrestling card features not two but eight or 10 good wrestlers. So, to do that, the main event can’t receive more than 20 per cent. Then preliminary wrestlers receive adequate compensation.

“Now, you can’t get the best wrestlers in the country here for one match at 20 per cent. So they come here and appear within this area (Winnipeg, Rochester, Austin, etc.) almost every night of the week.

“The wrestler is well paid for his trip here and every one usually makes good money.”

The multiple methods of transportation today make possible what never could have happened in the old days. The wrestler can be here on day and 2,000 miles away the next. Naturally, he wants to keep busy, says Stecher, and so he may wrestle from three to five times a week. That, in Stecher’s opinion, has helped, not hurt, the caliber of the sport.

For instance, Lou Thesz recently made the statement that he will have had 175 bouts this year. He’ll earn around $150,000, but to do so he will have traveled 250,000 miles.

“Sure, wrestling has changed,” said Stecher. “But haven’t the live ball in baseball, the one-two-one platoon systems in football, the style of play in professional basketball and hockey been changed to please the crowds, too, in recent years?”

Stecher is not afraid of innovations. When he became promoter here in 1932 he inaugurated time-limit matches, starting at one-and-a-half-hours and gradually whittling it down. Then he brought in more and better wrestlers. Apparently the public feels he has been right.

“Time limit matches give a wrestler a chance to travel at full speed. Speed means more spectacular action,” he said.

Stecher has his favorite wrestlers over the past 40 years. In the leverage era he rates Frank Gotch, his brother Joe Stecher and Ed (Strangler) Lewis as the big three. In the change-over his proven favorites are champion Thesz, Bronko Nagurski, Ray Steele, Sandor Szabo and Joe Pazandak.

Today, however, the promoter is a little reluctant to pick wrestlers with championship ability “without missing someone.” But if he were to name 10 they would be: Verne Gagne, Pat O’Connor, Wladek Kowalski, Paul Baillargeon, Ray Gunkel, Argentina Rocca, H.B. Haggerty, Leo Nomellini, Kinji Shibuya and Whipper Bill Watson.

Many of your favorites on that list?

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