Los Angeles Times – September 10, 1952
By Jeane Hoffman
Will James Greenleaf Whittier object to a little revising, courtesy of Poetic License No. 354?
Change that line about “Blessings on thee, little man, barefoot boy with cheeks of tan.” Make it read: ” – barefoot boy with checks of green. Long green!”
Here, kiddies, we’ve been laboring under the delusion that success was achieved by using one’s head. So along comes Argentine Rocca, the Dandy of the Andes, who earns a mere $100,000 per year by using his feet. Argentine, who meets Lou Thesz at Chez Olympic tonight, may not be the first to land feet first in the top money bracket.
But he’s the first to prove that heels can be popular in the rasslin’ racket – HIS heels!
Rocca, whose arrival in California rates equal fanfare with the second coming of Aly Khan, hopes that his insteps will make World Champ Thesz out-step. For Rocca gets his socko by kicking like a bronco with soles tougher than tanned morocco – size 13 -. Thesz is no “shoe-in cinch” in their din of inequity meeting, for minus the leather, Rocca’s light as a feather and it’s an even guess whether he’ll be able to tether Lou the Theszzzer.
“Never have I worn shoes while wrestling,” declared the 28-year-old, 225-pound Italian who migrated to Argentina when he was 15. “Now, I wear shoes fo rwalking and playing rugby. But wrestling, that is different. Here is why: when I was 18 I was the star of the Rosario Athletic Club rugby team. We were a very good team. For three years straight we beat England in international matches.
“One time we are in Buenos Aires for a match, and I got to see a wrestling match at Luna Park in the evening. It is the first wrestling match I have ever seen, but in two minutes my mind is made up. I know I want to be a wrestler. So I approach the manager of Luna park and ask if I may enter his world championship wrestling tournament. He tells me first I must prove I ‘have the stuff.’
“He has me report to a gym, where he gives me a tryout against two international veterans, Kola Kwariani and Count Karol Nowina. But when he goes to outfit me with shoes, he finds he has none my size. They turn the gym upside down, but nowhere are wrestling shoes that big. So I say okay, I wrestle barefooted.”
Barefooted, but wearing a brilliant necktie on his hairy chest, Rocca – who couldn’t have distinguished a knee grip from a week-end grip – Roccaed Kola and made a no-account of the Count. He entered the Luna Park Invitational World Championship, won it by defeating all 26 contestants and Argentina lost its greatest rugby star.
“So I don’t bother with shoes thereafter,” shrugged Rocca, who is married to a beautiful blond Canadian girl, Louise Albert-Simmons.
Rocca, who was graduated from the University of Buenos Aires with a degree in electrical engineering and has had numerous musical compositions published, didn’t entirely neglect rugby in his switch to wrestling. He brought along the drop kick, and with it has won over 600 contests without a loss. He drew South America’s highest gate, $232,000, wrestling a Japanese in 1947. He also rates the lowest take: 25 shrunken human heads. That was when he was invited 3,000 miles up into the Amazon jungle to wrestle 18 huge natives who also specialized in barefoot booting.
“Their style is called ‘capoera,’” explained Rocca. “When I got there the tribe’s chief had lined up all 18, single file, and I took them on, one after another, for three hours. After I’d defeated them all, the chief solemnly handed me the shrunken heads as my prize.” A pure case of heads over heels, no doubt.