The Walton Tribune – November 11, 2001
By Chris Bridges
Today’s wrestling fan knows about The Rock, Goldberg, Triple H, The Undertaker and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
While Charlie Smith knows about these pro wrestling superstars, he also knows about former world champions Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski and literally hundreds of other wrestlers. Beginning in the 1950s, Smith, a Loganville resident, entered the grunt and groan business and became known himself, not as a wrestler, but as a referee.
“My brother was the one who got me started going to the matches in 1948,” Smith, now 70, said. “He was a big fan and went every Friday night.”
It didn’t take long for Smith to become a fan as well as he soon was inquiring about securing a job as an usher so he could attend the matches free. Smith was successful in obtaining an usher’s job and did that for about a year.
In fact, Smith actually wrestled himself in the “semi-pro” ranks to raise money for the Boys Club. However, weighing only 125 pounds, Smith decided being a referee might be a better calling.
In 1954, Smith went to work for the Georgia branch of the National Wrestling Alliance, a division of ABC Booking Corporation based in Atlanta. His bosses were Ray Gunkel, Paul Jones and Don McIntyre, all familiar names to longtime pro grappling fans.
On a Friday night several decades ago, Smith got the opportunity to referee when he traveled to Eastman to fill in for a sick referee. He also set up and took down the ring that night, taking home a grand total of $25 for his efforts. The two wrestlers in the ring with Smith for his first refereeing venture that night were Bill Dromo and El Lobo.
However, from those humble beginnings, a career was born.
“When I went back to Atlanta the bosses said they had heard good reports about the job I had done,” Smith said. “I was able to referee once or twice a week. I didn’t get in the clique right away. I was able to work some on Fridays in the Atlanta City Auditorium and other smaller cities throughout Georgia.”
Recalling his start in the business, Smith finds it amazing that the chief of the ring crew today makes approximately $50,000.
Back then Smith was making a living in pro wrestling on $100 a week because he also worked in the main office in Atlanta helping sell tickets and distribute paychecks. Smith also eventually began putting together a weekly wrestling program.
Recalling his years in the business, Smith said he worked with and became friends with virtually everyone associated with pro wrestling. He said Dory Funk Jr. was the greatest world champion he ever saw. Funk wrestled in more one-hour matches than anyone else Smith could remember.
Smith himself was no stranger to long bouts as he once went 2 – hours in the ring.
“I was not as tired as I thought I might be after that match,” Smith said.
While Smith primarily worked the Georgia circuit, he also refereed matches in Japan and the Bahamas as well as across the United States. Many times he would be called in as a “special referee” in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.
Eventually, Smith earned $100 per show, but he also recalls a time when he worked for Vince McMahon (owner of the World Wrestling Federation) and earned $500. During his time working for McMahon, Smith worked with such stars as Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan.
While the majority of his memories in the mat sport are good ones, Smith also recalls the time he suffered ligament damage in his knee while refereeing a match in Savannah, causing him to miss three weeks of action. He also saw his share of riots among fans and even had a fan cut him with a knife. Smith was even burned while working a match with The Sheik, who earned a reputation for doing anything duringa match. He also saw several wrestlers through the years stabbed by fans who disapproved of the match result.
While Smith is not involved in the wrestling game on a daily basis anymore, he still occasionally climbs in the ring. He was the referee for a “Legends Match” between “Bullet” Bob Armstrong and former WWF champion Iron Sheik in Conyers two years ago and more recently refereed a match in Cordele between Ted Oates and Dutch Mantell that lasted an hour.
Today, Smith enjoys watching wrestling on television with his grandkids, who also have grown into fans.
Smith recalls the exact date he moved to the Loganville area (April 6, 1960) with his wife, who once jokingly told him she married him to obtain free wrestling tickets.
“I may not live in the biggest or fanciest house, but I enjoyed what I did,” Smith said. “That counts for something.”