Saturday night at the fights. Old School wrestling is making a comeback, thanks, in part, to the Oscar-worthy film “The Wrestler” featuring Mickey Rourke, which some say, parallels the life and fights of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Here are the legends and the upstarts at a recent fight night at a muscle fitness club in Clayton, N.C. ( With apologies to Vanity Fair Magazine, Annie Leibowitz , and the many subjects of the magazine’s gorgeous photo essays)
The Snake and the Charmer
With one foot firmly planted on the dark side and the other searching for the light, Jake “The Snake” Roberts battles his own demons as ferociously as he knocks down his foes in the ring. As much as he hates the snake, he craves the adoration that this serpent gives him, creating striking metaphors: His struggles to stay in the light even as the devil has him by the heartstrings, and his obsessive relationships with his now dead father and his living mistress – the wrestling mat. He has spent more than half his life in the ring, and at 53, the dramatic and charismatic wrestler’s eyes fill with tears and his voice gets rough when he reveals his greatest regrets: that he was not a better father to his children and that he could not have saved many wrestling friends from committing suicide.
The Russian (Teddy) Bear
In his prime, Ivan Koloff was the fearsome Russian Bear, a legendary heel with an affected Russian accent and intimidating facial hair. Over the years, Ivan, 67, grew from a bad wrestling dude who could party with the best of them into a kindly minister. In real life, this Russian Bear is really a Canadian teddy bear, married to the same loving wife for nearly four decades. He still craves the theatre of the ring, but his age and injuries early in his career have slowed him down. Still he shows up at the fan fests, signs autographs, poses for pictures with kids, conducts his ministry and remains beloved inside and outside the ring. His peers honored him when they christened the Ivan Koloff Tag Team Championship.
The Young Upstart
Long harboring a love for wrestling, Louis Moore has found a keen knack for the sport both inside the rough and tumble wrestling ring and on the business side of the sport as a smart, young promoter who knows how to please the crowds. A sales associate in his local Walmart, he works by day to survive while growing his fight promotion business and showing what he can do on the mats. On one rainy, dreary Saturday night, the 22-year old donned his alter-ego, and as Sudden Impact, faced the weathered master, Jake the Snake Roberts, allowing himself to be vanquished and to the delight of the 300 people assembled for the event, lay “unconscious” while The Snake shoved an actual Burmese Python head first down his pants.
The Fairy Princess
The Fabulous Frankie Fountaine intimidates his fiercest foes using nothing more sinister than blowing bubbles and planting kisses on their foreheads. Frankie is a lovable, effeminate, little fellow with the physique of a pot-bellied pig, prancing and preening, twirling and posing, and eventually emerging victorious. You have not lived until you have been in a conversation with Jake the Snake Roberts and Fabulous Frankie Fountaine, discussing the fact that the monkey Frankie wears below his belly had become so dirty and nasty from people touching it and rubbing it, that he had to wash it and its squeaker had broken in the washer. Jake was sympathetic.
The Clown Prince of the Ropes
Otto Schwanz struts, chicken walks, dances, prances, and pounces. He’s been called the German Beef, but his name’s really Murray, and just 15 years ago, he was living life on the college gridiron as a co-captain on the Georgetown Hoyas football team. Moonlighting in the ring is Otto’s escape from real life as a history teacher and high school wrestling coach. Despite never being intimidated by the most fearsome of his foes, the sight of his student athletes at a match would be enough to crumble the mighty Otto.
Tennessee Ernie Nord is neither a Nordic Viking, nor from Tennessee, and his name is not Ernie. It’s Chad. In Ernie’s skin, the blonde bombshell performs comedic wrestling maneuvers, while charming and thrilling his fans all at the same time. When he stands in just the right place on top of the ropes, holds his gavel high in the air and lets out a roar, he makes the wrestling ring look like an opera stage. Now that’s a thought. An old-school opera about wrestling, staged in a barren ring. Act I: in which the warriors circle the wagons: Act II: In which they let loose on their opponents. Act III: In which they sing each other down to the finish. Puccini would roll over in his grave.
The American Hero
Consequences Creed rules, with his defined pecs and six-pack abs. On the side of the flag, he conquers his foes with the cool control of a super hero. His opponents can get him down, stomp his face, twist his arms, tug so hard on his lush afro his neck arches back, and crush him into the mat, but he always rises to fight again to the delight of his fans. Then he turns on his sweet smile and flashes a set of deep dimples, and rules the ring with the charm of a college heart throb, which he probably was, and not too long ago. Creed (aka Austin Watkins) hails from Georgia, and graduated from Furman University last summer with two degrees: Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and Philosophy. He’s a new character on the scene, but already making an impact with the kids.
The Old Pros
Rich Landrum and Bob Caudle are the legendary voices of World Wide Wrestling and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. With the cool professionalism notable in broadcasters, and tongues firmly planted in cheeks, this team infused a certain gravitas into professional wrestling, immediately creating an oxymoron for a sport that thrives on humor, exaggeration, schtick, and a heavy dose of fun. Back in the day, Bob and Rich were accepted into the boys’ fight club, becoming a part of the lives of the wrestlers even as they avoided the lifestyles. Their love of the sport is evident in their voices. On the rare nights now, when Bob and Rich take the stage together, audiences witness a segment of pop culture so retro that it takes the adults all the way back to their own childhoods when they were as thrilled as kids are today by the Wide, Wild World of Championship Wrestling, the way it is supposed to be done.