The Miami News – March 19, 1977
By Bill Brubaker
A top-name professional wrestler who is married and living in Tampa recently told me: “Don’t put anything in the Miami paper about me being married. I can get in a lot of heat down there. I have women in Miami.”
Later, I learned that the wrestler was no longer living with his wife.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Our marriage isn’t working out because I’m on the road so much,” the wrestler said. “The temptations are great. The groupies are everywhere.”
* * *
The Groupies. They are as difficult to stereotype as they are to ignore. They may be executive secretaries or junior varsity cheerleaders. Teenaged or middle-aged. Black or white. Rich or poor. Fat, skinny or in-between.
They can be found in the shadows of arenas throughout America, these professional wrestling groupies.
They flock to the matches hoping to “score” – that is, to leave the arenas with their favorite wrestlers.
To some wrestlers, groupies are bothersome. “They get on my nerves,” says Dusty Rhodes.
To others, they are welcomed. When a wrestler is on the road six or seven nights a week, he can get very lonely, after all.
“And it’s an ego trip,” says Steve Keirn, one of Florida’s most popular pro wrestlers. “A lot of wrestlers never get married because they know they can ‘live’ off groupies for the rest of their lives. You know, different women all the tim.”
“I’ll put it this way,” says Kevin Sullivan, a Bostonian now wrestling in Florida. “If you’re in this business and you’re single, unless you’re going to be a priest you’ve ‘made it’ with a groupie.”
Sullivan is married and the father of a two-year-old girl. He says he doesn’t mess with the groupies now. “But when I was single, I used to go home and tell my college and high school buddies stories about these groupies and they’d look at me and say, ‘You’re full of (bleep).’ But these stories are true.”
Most of these stories are unprintable, however, at least in daily newspapers. They are bizarre stories. And most every pro wrestler has stories to tell. Many wrestlers can talk about groupies from first-hand experience.
“It starts out as a physical attraction,” says Sullivan. “Let’s face it, we’re a lot bigger than the average guy. Not many girls get to see guys with almost nothing on. A guy can go into a bar and see a broad naked all the time. For some girls, this is their attraction. Also, they want to be seen with someone who is – to them – important.”
Gordon Solie, the TV wrestling commentator, calls groupies “a phenomena that has swept the country” and admits they are an undeniable part of the pro wrestling scene.
“(Pro) Wrestling has developed groupies by leaps and bounds,” says Solie. “From just watching him on television one time, a girl can learn all there is to know about a guy’s physique. Sure, wrestling has a sexual appeal. It’s a tremendous stimulous for some girls. It’s got to be awfully difficult for a guy to walk out of a match and see a half dozen girls throwing themselves at him. And all of them have motel rooms ready.”
* * *
In the lobby of a Tampa movie theatre, a man recently introduced himself to Steve Keirn, the 25-year-old Southern Heavyweight Champion of the National Wrestling Alliance.
“Steve, I have the same first and last name as you do, only it’s spelled a little different – K-E-R-N,” the man told Keirn. “The problem is, I’m the only Steve Kern in the Tampa phone book and I’ve been getting phone calls at all hours of the night. My wife is ready to divorce me because she’ll answer the phone and the girls will say ‘Is Steve Keirn there?’”
Later, Keirn was asked to meet the man’s wife to assure her that the phone calls were intended for him – and not for her husband.
Says Keirn, laughing: “I’ve had groupies from 8 to 80, blind, crippled and crazy.”
Steve Keirn may be the No. 1 target of groupies in Florida.
Keirn has a handsome face, a muscular physique, a solid record in the ring, and a wife.
I have seen Steve wrestle in three cities – Miami Beach, Orlando and Tampa.
In each city, I have seen groupies waiting for Steve after the matches. In each city, Steve has signed autographs and posed for photos with them, but has otherwise chosen to ignore them.
Keirn can talk authoritatively about groupies, however.
He freely admits he has known many of them – before he was married, he says.
“I know if I was a single guy, I’d have no trouble getting anything I wanted every night of the wek, and I would have my choice of maybe five girls each night, on an average,” Keirn said, after a recent match in Orlando.
“Like, tonight, if I’d really wanted to ‘score,’ or whatever I wanted to do – I mean, if I’d wanted to do anything – I could’ve ordered them around, practically. I know, it sounds funny, but I’m telling you right out. It’s just as easy as that.
“When I started wrestling I was single, and I really took advantage of my situation,” Keirn said, “But it got old. It was an old thing. I got tired of it. Being in an area and waking up with a different girl every morning and you don’t even know who they are or how they got there half the time…
“And they’re not all super looking, either. Sometimes you’d really have to be spaced out to go with them. You’d have to be dreaming of Gina Lollobrigida.”
If a groupie “wants” a wrestler bad enough, she will tour the state with him. Keirn recalls seeing the same girls in Miami Beach, Jacksonville and Tallahassee on consecutive nights. He says the groupies all try to out-do each other to impress their favorite wrestlers.
Says Keirn: “They’ll wear short dresses, low-cut dresses and see-through dresses.”
Says Sullivan: “But there’s also competition among the wrestlers for the groupies. It’s a status thing, too, for the wrestlers to be seen with groupies.”
Some groupies have moved to Tampa, where most of the wrestlers on the Florida tour are based, Keirn says.
“Some of them are more brash and bold than others,” Keirn says. “Some of them are shy but if they got you alone they might be a complete animal. They’re looking for aggression from you because you’re in an aggressive sport. They want a freak almost. They feel you’re almost a freak.”
* * *
The scene is the Imperial room, a country and western lounge in Tampa that many pro wrestlers frequent after the Tuesday night matches at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. Dusty Rhodes, one of the most recognizable wrestlers in the nation, with his scarred face and bleached-blonde hair, has become a Tuesday night regular at the Imperial Room. “If you want to meet groupies,” Steve Keirn tells me, “that is the place.”
The groupies arrive at the lounge shortly after the matches end. They sit at tables in twos and threes, waiting for their heroes to arrive. On this Tuesday, Rhodes and his entourage walk in at midnight and head for a booth in a dark corner of the room. Dusty shows no interest in any of the girls, who seem to be about 18 or 19.
“At first, boy, groupies were a big deal. Man, it was unreal,” Dusty says later. “But, personally, because of my schedule, it’s not that big a thing anymore. I very seldom pay any attention to them. The children (wrestling fans) are first in my life. But those groupies are all over the place.”
At the table next to me, Skip Young, a muscular, personable black wrestler, sips a beer. Soon, he has three girls sitting at his table. Skip seems to be having a good time.
* * *
The problem with groupies, complains Steve Keirn, is that they are disloyal. Translation: they wouldn’t make good wives. Or girl friends.
“One night they’ll be going with one guy, the other night with someone else,” Keirn says.
Groupies have even sought to spend time with villain Ox Baker – “and how many people do you know who are as ugly as Ox Baker?” asks Keirn.
Baker, one of wrestling’s most hated villains, claims women wink at him all the time.
“I have groupies just like everybody else,” Ox says, “But I scare the groupies off. I say ‘GET OUT OF HERE!’ Most of the time, a woman will come up to me and say ‘Do you want to get a cup of coffee?’ just so she can tell her friends she had a coffee with Ox Baker.
“If someone comes up to me and says, ‘Ox, I think you’re cute,’ I’ll think, ‘Maybe I’ll go with her.’ But then I’ll think, ‘What’s the use?’ She wouldn’t be up to my level, as far as conversation goes. I’ve wrassled all over, from Montreal to the Alamo in Texas. I’ve picked up an education.”
Ox Baker says, “There is a lot of temptation in wrasslin’.” With perhaps a dozen groupies waiting outside arenas for the wrestlers most every night, the temptation can sometimes be overbearing. Ox Baker has been divorced twice.
“You need an understanding wife to be a wrestler,” says Kevin Sullivan.
“If the wives knew just how available the girls are,” adds Steve Keirn, “they’d be riding with us every night.”