Sunday, August 22, 2010
Mike Mooneyham's column for Sunday, 8-22 "Life is Fragile"
Final bell tolls for wrestling stars
By Mike Mooneyham
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Life is fragile. That message was driven home by the sudden passing last Thursday of two beloved wrestling figures who just two weeks ago were interacting with fans at the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest in Charlotte.
A third legend is scheduled to undergo open heart surgery next week after reportedly suffering a heart attack at the event.
Ted Allen, a mainstay on the Southern wrestling circuit for more than 35 years, was found dead at his Georgia home Thursday of an apparent heart attack. He was only 55.
General Skandor Akbar, one of pro wrestling’s most celebrated managers, also died late Thursday at his home in Garland, Texas, at the age of 75.
Johnny Walker, who as Mr. Wrestling No. 2 was one of the most successful masked men in the history of the business, remains hospitalized in Charlotte awaiting surgery after experiencing heart problems during Fanfest weekend activities.
“Nightmare” Ted Allen
He never won a world heavyweight title, headlined a Wrestlemania or stole the show at Madison Square Garden.
But what Ted Allen did, at least in the minds of many of those who have been around the business, was just as important.
In wrestling terms, Allen was known as a journeyman, a veteran who quietly plied his trade with skill and grace. To those who knew him, Allen was highly respected as a molder and trainer of young talent, one of the best ring-builders in the business and, even more importantly, someone who loved his profession with a passion.
And while he may not have often occupied the main-event position, Allen could be counted on to deliver as solid a performance as you’d be likely to see on any show he was a part of.
Allen worked for most of his career under a hood — as The Masked Nightmare. He first broke into the business in 1975 under the moniker of Ted Atlas before returning to Atlanta as Ted Allen. He first donned the mask in 1981, teaming with Danny Davis as The Nightmares, before being replaced in the group by Ken Wayne. The Nightmare gimmick, though, would stick with him the rest of his career.
“Ted loved the wrestling business more than anything else. He lived and breathed it and never wanted to do anything else,” said wrestling author and historian Scott Teal.
Allen was particularly proud of the wrestlers he trained, a list that consisted of such prominent Georgia-bred stars as Arn Anderson (Marty Lunde) and Big Bossman (Ray Traylor), and also included Scotty Riggs, Ranger Ross, Tony Zane and referee Pee Wee Anderson.
“I never heard Ted say a bad thing about anyone,” said Teal. “He was always smiling and in a good mood.”
Teal first crossed paths with Allen, whose real name was Ted Lipscomb, through a wrestling magazine fan column.
“In 1969, my name was published in the Pen Pal section of Wrestling Revue magazine,” recalled Teal. “The first person to write me was Ted Lipscomb. He became my first wrestling friend, and we corresponded for many years.”
Veteran Georgia-based referee Charlie Smith remembers a 13-year-old Ted Lipscomb approaching him at a show in Cartersville, Ga., asking for a job.
“Ted would come to the matches in Cartersville, and he asked me about doing something in the wrestling business,” said Smith, who is now 80. “I asked him if he could announce, and he said he could. I told him he could be the announcer. He was still in middle school.”
That early meeting would develop into a lifelong relationship.
“Me and Ted talked every single day,” said Smith, who last spoke to Allen the day before his passing.
“He told me he was going to Phenix City to wrestle. I told him, ‘OK, buddy, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’”
That call never came.
Allen was scheduled to perform at an event Thursday night in Phenix City, Ala. Kyle Matthews, who was Allen’s scheduled opponent and travel partner, became concerned when Allen was late in picking him up and went to his residence, where he and his girlfriend reportedly found Allen dead of an apparent massive heart attack.
Smith said he wasn’t aware of any prior health problems.
“His daddy died when he was 55 of a heart attack,” said Smith. “The only thing he had was gout. Me and Ted have been up and down the highway a lot of miles. And he never mentioned anything.”
Allen and Smith were part of a close-knit group of Georgia wrestling friends who met every so often for fellowship. That group included former wrestling official Bobby Simmons.
“We were both 14 years old when we met,” said Simmons. “Ted was announcing for the Cartersville promoter, and I was running errands for Charlie Harbin in the Atlanta office.”
Simmons said he’d see Allen at the matches periodically in Atlanta.
“We were both in the same boat, chasing a dream, but coming from different angles,” said Simmons. “He wanted to wrestle, and I just had my mind on refereeing. We reconnected when Ted came to Atlanta to do TV, and we’ve been close friends ever since. I had the privilege of refereeing a lot of his matches, and I got to wrestle him a few times when I’d fill in for someone who didn’t show up. Anytime you saw Ted’s name on a card and you knew you were working with him, you knew you had a night off. He was such a pleasure to be in the ring with.”
“I have never heard one bad thing from anybody about him,” added Simmons. “He was pleasant, and he was the same every time you saw him.”
“I never met anybody who didn’t like Ted,” echoed Smith. “He could work with anybody in the ring. It didn’t matter who he was. Anybody who would book him, he’d go. I don’t care how far it was or where it was.”
“He was a throwback to the kind of people I came into the business with,” said Simmons, who has been pastoring for the past 20 years. “He was proud to be a professional wrestler. He protected our business. He never showed up at the matches looking like anything but a professional. He never complained. He’d do anything you asked him to do.”
That Allen could be a spendthrift wasn’t a secret among the boys.
“He wasn’t a saint,” joked Simmons. “He made Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a big spender. But that was Ted, and it was the source of a lot of jokes over the years.”
Ted Allen represented a generation that is becoming all too rare.
“We’re losing them way too fast,” said Simmons. “The sad part is that unless something happens that I don’t foresee, when our generation is gone, the business that we knew is gone forever. Only the stories and the books that are left behind will remain.”
Most would agree that Ted Allen was much more than a wrestler.
“Ted’s going to be missed,” said Simmons. “More than the wrestling aspect, I’m glad I got to know Ted Lipscomb the man. He was a wonderful fellow that I’m going to miss dearly.”
Teal, who has published books on a number of wrestlers from that era, had plans to do a shoot interview with Allen.
“In Mobile last March, he said he was making notes about stories he wanted to tell and hoped to get to Nashville this summer so we could film it. Sad to say, it will never happen now.”
“I hate we never got around to getting a shoot DVD from him,” said Simmons. “He was a walking encyclopedia.”
“He was a very good friend of mine who I knew for many years,” said veteran wrestler Burrhead Jones (Melvin Nelson). “He had a great head on his shoulder about the business of wrestling. The fact that he trained Arn Anderson goes to show what knowledge Ted Allen had about the wrestling business. We spoke by phone a couple of weeks ago when he was in North Carolina. He was having a great time. He said he was doing fine and hoped to see me at the wrestling reunion in Mobile next year.”
“He was one of the very good guys in the business. I was very, very sorry to hear about his passing. But we’ll all have to make that trip one of these days.”
Gen. Skandor Akbar
Skandor Akbar, whose real name was Jim Wehba, was one of pro wrestling’s greatest managers during a time when managers were an integral part of the business.
Akbar, who started out in the pro ranks in the early ‘60s as “Wildman” Wehba, cashed in his ticket to fame when promoter Fritz Von Erich tabbed him with the name Skandor Akbar, which translates as “Alexander The Great,” and turned him into an evil Mideastener of Arabic descent.
Akbar went on to lead one of wrestling’s most feared heel stables, an unholy alliance called Devastation Inc., in Cowboy Bill Watts’ Mid-South and Universal Wrestling Federation promotions during the ‘80s, and later with the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. The group included such bad guys as Kamala, One Man Gang, The Great Kabuki, Abdullah The Butcher and King Kong Bundy.
Akbar was a man the fans loved to hate. He drew so much heat that he was forced to wear a bulletproof vest because of threats on his life. He was routinely attacked by unruly wrestling mobs throwing sticks and rocks, and had his tires slashed and his windshield shattered.
“Wrestling is good and evil,” he was fond of saying, “and I’m the evil part.”
In real life, of course, Akbar was a bona fide good guy and friend to many. The heat died with the end of kayfabe, and Akabr became a revered figure in later years.
And, like Allen, and many wrestlers of that era, he conserved wisely.
“Ak could squeeze blood out of a quarter and always told me that no one made too little money on the road to not save some of it,” WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross posted on his blog at www.jrsbarbq.com. “Ak knew the value of a dollar and always saved his money no matter if he had a great week thanks to working main events in front of many people, or if he was lower on the card working in front of only a few hundred people.”
The legendary Danny Hodge, who shared the U.S. tag-team belts with Akbar for 2 1/2 years, recalled their first meeting.
“I first met Skandor down in Tennessee. I was in a restaurant eating, and I noticed this face outside looking in the window. I motioned for him to come in. It was Skandor. It was his first territory, and I’d been in there a couple weeks. I bought him lunch and let him stay with me at my apartment. That’s how it started, and we were U.S. tag-team champs for 2 1/2 years.”
Akbar later turned heel in a storyline rivalry with Hodge that lasted even longer.
What many fans didn’t know was that Akbar, who once boasted a 56-inch chest, 19 1/2-inch biceps and 27-inch thigh, possessed incredible strength.
“He could press 600 pounds,” said Hodge. “He was quite a weight lifter. I was strong and probably quicker, but when he stretched his arms out, they looked like they were over six feet long. We had a great time together. What a great kid he was.”
Hodge said he thoroughly enjoyed his run with Akbar.
“Scandor was the greatest tag partner that I ever had. Our title run was longer than anybody. He and I traveled so many trips. We went all through Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. We were a holy terror.”
Hodge says he’s glad he got the opportunity to talk with his friend one last time at Fanfest in Charlotte two weeks ago.
“What a pleasure it was. It was a true Godsend that we got the chance to talk and take pictures together.”
Hodge says he noticed that Akbar was looking a little frail, and his movements were much slower.
“But you never know the end is that close,” said Hodge. “I knew he had bad knees. I knew he had prostate cancer and had heard that he had beat it, then I heard it had come back. Apparently it was back. But what a great person he was.”
Ross, who also worked with Akbar in the Mid-South territory, has fond memories of riding the roads with his late colleague.
“He was one of my very first traveling partners along with Dan Hodge, and of course (there’s the) the OU-Texas football rivalry. Ak is a Longhorn devotee and that was the topic we engaged in over hundreds of miles of highway back in the ‘70s ... The squatty fullback of the Vernon, Texas, Lions will always be one of my favorite guys. Many don’t know how instrumental Ak was in helping steer Steve Austin in the right direction early in Stone Cold’s career in Dallas.”
Ross also spoke of his last visit with Akbar at Fanfest.
“I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see him one last time. That get-together had to have been a gift from the Man upstairs. Skandor wasn’t getting around too well, but he never complained to me once. Jim Wehba was truly a man’s man and was one of the legit toughest guys I ever met in the wrestling business. Ak knew he had been dealt a challenging hand with prostate cancer, but he never complained to me about it.”
Akbar, who was among a group of famous managers who appeared at Fanfest, was still active in the wrestling business and had been advertised for a show today in Dallas.
Johnny “Mr. Wrestling No. 2” Walker
Johnny Walker, better known as Mr. Wrestling No. 2, remains in a Charlotte hospital after being rushed there on the final day of Fanfest on Aug. 8.
Walker was a major hit at the event where he signed autographs, took part in photo-ops and was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at a Friday night banquet.
Walker, 76, moved to Hawaii after retiring in the mid-’80s and has lived there ever since.
He is scheduled to undergo open heart surgery on Monday.
The events of the past couple weeks have given a number of folks in the business reason for pause.
Bobby Simmons may have summed it up best: “Life’s fragile; handle with care.”
The bell’s ringing for all of us,” concluded Danny Hodge. “My next one will be 80. But I’m looking forward to the next world too. ”
With one minor caveat.
“I’d like to stay around as long as I can.”
“Only God knows how long we’ll be here,” adds the man considered by many to be the greatest living wrestler. “I never really expected to be around this long ... with all the wrecks I’ve had. My neck’s been broken, I should have been paralyzed, I should have been drowned. I should have been, should have been. But I’m still here ... and this life has been such a thrill.”
-- Concussion expert and former WWE performer Chris Nowinski took a shot at his former employer when he said recent comments made by U.S. Senate candidate and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon were “kicking dirt on Lance Cade’s grave.”
Nowinski said Cade, who died recently of heart failure at the age of 29, personally told him that he wished he didn’t have to use steroids to be a pro wrestler.
McMahon says there is no way she should be held accountable.
“Considering this is such a health and wellness issue ... she’s kicking dirt on the guy’s grave,” said Nowinski.
-- Ring of Honor champ Tyler Black has reported to WWE developmental in Tampa.
He will be finishing up with ROH next month.
-- The always entertaining Dirty Dutch Mantel has posted a new blog on his site concerning the Tila Tequila incident that occurred recently at Cave In Rock, Ill., at the annual Insane Clown Posse Gathering festival.
Dutch has eyewitness accounts of the Tila incident from several wrestlers who were actually present during Tila’s concert .... and Dutch gives an “underlying reason” why the crowd turned on her in such a vicious fashion.
The blog is part of a three-part series in which Dutch, talking about the Gathering, describes it as something he has never, ever experienced before, and he also gives a reason as to why he finally decided to participate in the show.
Dutch goes on to say that he’s worked Wrestlemanias, Starrcades, appeared on sellouts at Madison Square Garden, Memphis, Puerto Rico, Tokyo and London, but never worked a show like the Insane Clown Posse Gathering.
Check it out at www.dutchmantell.com.
-- Old School Championship Wrestling will present “Tag Team Wars 5” on Aug. 29 at the Omar Shrine Auditorium, 176 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant.
Former WCW and WWE performer Hugh Morrus will meet Josh Magnum in a featured bout. Also on the bill will be the annual “Team Wars” tournament in which the winners will get a shot at the tag-team belts held by current champs John Skyler and “Fabulous Playboy” Bob Keller.
Bell time is at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5. Adult admission (cash at door) is $10; kids 12 and under $5.
For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.