Sunday Star-News – June 16, 1985
By Ray Belew
It takes all kinds to make a professional wrestling crowd.
The recent bout at Legion Stadium had them all – teeny-boppers, bikers, farmers, rock ‘n’ rollers, blacks, whites, grandmothers, grandfathers… you name it. And then some.
Some 2,100 fans turned out on the hot, muggy night of June 7 to watch 12 monstrous men in tight-fitting trunks stomp on each other’s faces and throw each other around a loosely nailed, roped-in rectangle.
Some fans wore Izod shirts and Chinos, others had flannel shirts and Red Camel overalls and still others pulled on T-shirts and Wranglers with chains hanging out. Camouflage T-shirts were visible, but just barely.
The crowd’s composition was proof of either: a) media reports that rock ‘n’ roll singers like Cyndi Lauper and actors like Mr. T have started drawing fans of every stripe to wrestling matches; or b) the various types of fans’ contentions that they have been watching for years.
Fans gave many different reasons for paying $8 a head to see the event: the excitement, the muscles, the spectacle. But most came to yell.
They yelled for the heroes and at the villains. To make them feel really welcome, they chunked ice-filled cups at the bad guys. The marksmanship was remarkable.
Wilmington Police Officer Robert Clatty stood near the ring and told reporters it might be a good idea to go sit in the stands: “It gets kind of nasty down here sometimes.”
“I like the blood,” said Margaret Worley, 66, of Southport, after the event. “It’s exciting.”
She and two neighbors, Gertrude Johnson, 69, and Lillie Harrelson, 72, travel far and wide to watch wrestling. They also watch it on television several times during the week. Mrs. Worley knows the times and channels by heart.
“We enjoyed it, but it was a little gruesome,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I came to see wrestling, not fighting, and they were just fighting tonight.”
Mrs. Harrelson agreed. She recalled the Bolos – wrestling’s masked baddies of the 1950s: “They were mean fellows, but they came to wrestle, not fight.”
Mrs. Worley said rock ‘n’ rolls singers haven’t changed the age of wrestling fans: “There’s always a crowd of kids. Always has been.”
The ladies were typical of the crowd. The fans take their wrestling seriously, even though some say that at least part of the grappling is not all on the up-and-up.
“Yeah, it’s fake,” said Dan Southerland, 13, 0f 504 Rose Ave. in Wilmington.
“Hey, it’s not fake,” said Tommy Barnhill of 5446 Eastwind Road, Dan’s teammate on Hodges Electric Babe Ruth Baseball team. “They go up, and they bite, and they hit and they throw.”
Then Dan launched into a detailed description – complete with body English – of how you can tell it’s fake: “When they body-slam, the person’s who’s getting body-slammed pushes up and the one doing the body-slamming just flips him over easy. But his back hurts a little.”
“Yeah,” said a third teammate, Scott Cox of 669 Hidden Valley Drive, casting his vote with Dan.
“My mom doesn’t like it. She says they’re trying to kill each other,” Tommy rejoined.
“To an extent, it’s fake,” said Donna Buckley, 26, of Conway, S.C. “The main events are real. I’ve seen too many get hurt with chairs and chains and carried out on stretchers.”
“I used to pick up chairs and chase them to the dressing room,” she said. “I chased Ric Flair to the bathroom… because I used to hate him. He was always beating up on somebody, whoever my good man was.”
Miss Buckley, who has been watching wrestling for 11 years, changed her opinion of Flair because she “met him through a promoter. I go to all of these, and I know all of them. He’s a very soft-spoken, gentle man.”
But she believes the intrusion of rock stars and actors is “making it too commercial instead of a sport. It’s more for superstars. Like Mr. T – he’s not a wrestler.”
The hype hasn’t affected wrestling in the South as much as in the North, Miss Buckley claims.
But a few seats in front of her was evidence to the contrary: Angie and Robyn Buckalew of Wilmington.
“Cyndi Lauper is my hero,” said Robyn, 19. “I hope she gets Hulk Hogan, but I’ll take him if she doesn’t.”
“She ought to stay with David Wolf. That’s her manager,” said Angie, 15. “I want Hulk.”
And Tommy Barnhill said he began watching wrestling because of Miss Lauper, who manages Wendy Richter, a lady wrestler. “She looks good!” said Barnhill when asked how Miss Lauper influenced him.
But for J.J. Dillon, who manages a pair of wrestlers, the rockers haven’t had much effect on wrestling. “The faces change, the style of hair changes, but young and old – the crowd really doesn’t change from year to year.”
Dillon should know. He started wrestling in 1970 and now manages a pair of men. Patches of gray hair are cropping up on his furry, mostly blond chest.”
“Rockers can be a drawback to wrestling. It might just be a whim” with Miss Lauper, Dillon said. “Stars aren’t new to wrestling. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s Hollywood stars wanted to be seen with wrestlers. There was Errol Flynn. Elvis Presley… was a big fan, and so was one of the Everly brothers, Phil or Don.”
Krusher Khrushchev, at 25 a much younger man than Dillon, has a slightly different outlook on the glitter – and kids – the rockers have brought. “They’re bringing more people in. That means more money for us.”
And Khrushchev – from Minnesota – carries on the traditions of wrestling by being a real bad guy.
The 285-pounder slams the States: “America hasn’t done a lot for me. I’m a Russian wrestler. A lot of people call me a traitor. I’m not a traitor. I’m not a traitor to Ivan and Nikita Koloff,” his mentors.