One ring to bind them all …


Now Playing: “Lungs,” by Townes Van Zandt.
“Fingers walk the darkness down; Mind is on the midnight; Gather up the gold you’ve found; You fool, it’s only moonlight.
If you try to take it home; Your hands will turn to butter; You better leave this dream alone; Try to find another.”

No, I’m not talking about the one ring from the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows Lie.

The One Ring when I was growing up was the professional wrestling ring. I loved wrestling as a kid, but I don’t anymore. These days, it’s too ‘roided up, scripted too precisely and aimed to much to the endless pay-per-views. Maybe it’s too “adult.”

But back in the day, it was lots of fun. Growing up in Southside Virginia, I watched Mid-Atlantic Championship wrestling on Saturday afternoon on the Roanoke station and at 11:30 every Saturday night on WRAL from Raleigh.

The dominant good-guy team was George Becker and Johnny Weaver, who was always derided by the bad guys as “Skinny-necked” Johnny Weaver. The funny thing is, ring announcer Joe Murnick would introduce Johnny Weaver as the “Most Popular Young Wrestler in the Country Today” while Weaver was late into his 40s. He used the Sleeper hold, while Becker – who had to have been about 65 years old – used the Abdominal Stretch.

But I was never too thrilled by George and Johnny, or by George and Sandy Scott, or Nelson Royal and Paul Jones, or the other heroes of the day. No, my favorites were the bad guys: There were the Masked Infernos (one of whom had a loaded boot – I can still see him kicking the toe to the mat to “load” it, then pounding the heel to it to get it back to normal before the always clueless refs could check it; Rip Hawk and Swede Hansen – Rip favored the pile driver, regardless of whether it was legal at the time or not; Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubitch; and the Royal Kangaroos. And I always had a soft spot for the Missouri Mauler, whether his partner was the nefarious Hiro Matsuda or the tragic Brute Bernard, who wasn’t evil, just misguided with a limited intellect. I still can imitate Baron von Raschke, with his claw hold: “That is all the people need to know.”

Still, my favorite team back then was the Anderson Brothers, first Gene and Lars. It only got better when Ole replaced Lars (after Lars seriously injured his knee – in reality Lars moved to Hawaii). The Andersons, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, practiced what they called “scientific’ wrestling. They always concentrated on one body part, usually the arm but sometimes the leg or back, and pounded at it until the opponent submitted or was injured. I knew wrestling wasn’t real, but it seemed to me that if it were, this would be the proper strategy. I stuck with the Andersons when Gene left and was replaced by Arn. They were still the smartest, dirtiest team of them all. And the fact that their “cousin” was Ric Flair only made it better.

I wanted to be Ric Flair, to be the kiss-stealin’, wheeler-dealin, limousine-riding son of a gun who took the ladies for a ride on Space Mountain. Whoo! I rooted for him against Ricky Steamboat, Sting and all the other pretenders. And don’t get me started on Dusty Rhodes.

Not so much any more. I still love Ric, but the fact that he’s sold his Whoo! to so many sports teams – not to mention the North Carolina lottery – has kind of cheapened it. Ric also has let his legacy be tainted through his association with Vince McMahon. True story: I once had a sit-down interview with Vince, who attended East Carolina University, when I was at the Jacksonville paper on the N.C. coast. This was before Vince became the arrogant, evil Mr. McMahon, but let me tell you, he didn’t have far to go. Anyway, Vince was pretty guarded. The best response I got from him was when I asked him which wrestler Jacksonville was most like; he said the Junk Yard Dog. True story.

I always regretted that I never saw Ric wrestle live though. I went to some shows over the years, back when they came to high-school gyms and smaller venues. I saw Andre the Giant, Lex Luger and some other stars, but never the Nature Boy. Maybe it was for the best, though. It was always kind of dicey cheering for the bad guys in small gyms in rural Virginia. You got some funny looks. You never knew when somebody would grab Gen. Homer O’Dell’s loaded cane or Jim Cornette’s loaded tennis racket and whack you with it.

But I really miss those days. Through all the pile-driving and arm-breaking, they seemed nicer – and a lot more fun. And that is all the people need to know…

Happy weekend, all.

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