Florida Times-Union – December 3, 1997
By Bill Foley, Columnist
Steker was the name, pilgrim.
Airplane spin was her game.
Out of the West Stella Steker came the fall of 1937 to the Main and Beaver arena, to settle questions long nettling the mind of man.
Could a good brunette whip a good blonde?
Could a grapplerette whomp a grunt and groaner?
Lived there a woman in this whole great land who could best Mildred Burke, women’s wrestling champeen of the entire meaningful world?
Stella Steker was a bit of a mystery. George Romanoff wanted it that way. Romanoff was commencing a legend when he brought Stella Steker to town.
He announced wrestling henceforth would be held at the arena each Tuesday and Friday, ”with good performers gracing both programs.”
Romanoff, himself, was somewhat a man of mystery. He, too, was an erstwhile grappler but, more, was said to be of the Russian royal family.
Either that or the original Tarzan, depending on what saloon you heard it in. Women had wrestled in Jacksonville before, but it had been more than a year since the mat-gals clashed at the local sport emporium.
And Stella would not be dumped on the undercard, where female wrestlers usually were billed, down there with the midgets and the battle royal.
This November it would be the Texas Dobie Osbornes and Red Devil Guthries in the prelims. The mysterious Stella Steker would head the card.
”Miss Steker, mythical holder of the women’s championship of Arizona, is a shapely miss,” said The Florida Times-Union.
”Her specialty, the spectacular airplane spin, went over big in Mexico, where she proved too much for the Senoritas of that territory.”
Nor would the airplane-spinning Arizonan be going against chopped liver.
Popular Dora Dean was coming to town.
Dora Dean, the favorite blonde of the wrestling world, was said in polite terms to be the protege of Man Mountain Dean, Georgia’s contribution to wrestling legend. Man Mountain taught Dora the flying scissors, which she used to great advantage.
Between Stella Steker’s airplane spin and Dora Dean’s flying scissors a tremendous aerial clash. The flower of local Sporting Life packed the arena. Stella pinned the Dixie darling in 13 minutes.
She fought lean, mean, down and dirty and got booed and hissed.
”The dark-haired Arizonan, who protrayed the role of villain that would have done credit to other ‘rough’ artists like Machine Gun Jack Evko, clamped on an airplane spin to end the festivities,” the Times-Union said.
”Miss Dean displayed by far a larger number of holds, including Irish whips, back-body drops and an assortment of arm locks but could not cope with the hair-pulling tactics of her opponent.”
Next stop for the dark-haired, hair-pulling, crowd-taunting, blonde-whipping, Man Mountain-tweaking shapely grapplerette: A man.
Romanoff announced Stella Steker’s next assault on Southern wrestledom would be the next week against local wrestler George Cowart.
”Miss Steker promises to give her male opponent plenty of trouble,” said the Jacksonville Journal.
”Bob holds an edge in the weights but is not expecting to have an easy time of it in the one-hour time limit,” said the Times-Union.
In two minutes less than it took her to launch Dora Dean Stella Steker whapped an airplane spin on wrestler George and dusted him off amid the boos and catcalls of the multitude, with nary a vicious hair-pull.
What next for the Arizona stranger?
Deep, deep water. Mildred Burke had had enough with the Western upstart. Romanoff stilled the local sporting crowd into hushed apprehension: Mildred Burke would fight Stella Steker, right here in the Main and Beaver street arena.
Burke came into the ring with a gold championship belt the papers said was worth $2,500, back when that was real money. She had recently won it from Clara Mortenson in New York City.
Tension was thick as the smoke over the ring as Steker and Burke climbed through the ropes. The jam-packed crowd already had seen Cowboy Dobie, Machine-Gun Jack and Florida state champ Allen Eustace win their matches.
”The champ did not have an easy time of it,” the Times-Union said. ”Miss Steker unleashed all her holds, but to no avail. Both of the tusslerettes landed in the aisle on one occasion and delighted the audience further by ripping off referee Gus Pappas’s undershirt.”
Mildred ended it with a ”neatly executed body slam.”
Three weeks, three bouts, 38 minutes; three matches that each drew more people to see wrestling in Jacksonville than any bout that did not involve Jack Dempsey, and the undisputed winner by a unanimous decision, with a nice assist from shaply brunette Arizona grapplerette Stella Steker, was promoter George Romanoff, a member of the Russian royal family or the original Tarzan, depending on which saloon you heard it in.