More Stampede Memories
After the great response that I received from last week’s column I’ve decided to take another dive into the past and bring back to memory my dad’s big Stampede show from July 3, 1981.
It was a very big show, especially in the minds of all the Hart boys. Stu’s budget was limited because the show was being held in the Stampede Pavilion instead of the Coral, where the gate would have helped recoup most of his expenses. I can remember that it was a real cooker, about 100 degrees. By the time I walked to the Pavilion from Scotsman’s Hill, carrying my bags, I was sweating as though I’d already worked.
The dressing room was packed with the usual unusual assortment of freaks and pro wrestlers of all shapes and sizes from around the world. I took one look at the disappointed face of a young, thin seventeen year old kid, Davey Boy Smith, who was a long way from being The British Bulldog. He was quite distressed being that it was such a big show that he would have to face the one and only Mandingo!
Mandingo was actually from Honolulu. He was a bell boy in real life, with nice, neat short hair that probably went well with his uniform when he brought people’s bags to their rooms. My brother Bruce appreciated his kindness in helping him with his accommodations while visiting Hawaii and because he was trying to break into pro wrestling Bruce invited him up to visit during the Stampede.
Despite the fact that Mandingo had never actually wrestled he was now sitting in a chair in the dressing room with a chain around his neck and J.R. Foley standing next to him holding a plastic bag containing raw beef livers and kidneys.
It was the second match of the star studded evening and the unassuming bell boy was suddenly frothing at the mouth as J.R. dragged him out for his match. Davey rolled his eyes and proceeded to go out and throw him around for ten minutes before beating him with a running powerslam. I do remember Bruce laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes!
The very next match was the legendary Sky Low Low against Frenchie Lamont. It was special for me in the sense that Sky Low Low was undoubtedly the greatest midget wrestler of all time and this would be one of his final curtain calls. He’d been hanging around J.R. Foley too much and much like J.R., Sky was a little tipsy as he made his way to the ring. Frenchie Lamont was one of the strongest midgets and he was somewhat of a hometown hero around the St. Regis and the Cecil. He made a point of launching Sky, who was easily in his sixties, like a cannonball, yet Sky gave him his greatest match that night. The third match saw Bruce get the best of Adorable Adrian Street, a blonde haired Brit working the over the top gay gimmick. Bruce was one of Calgary’s wildest cowboys year round - not just at the Stampede! After Bruce gave Adrian one of his famous running bulldogs for the finish it wouldn’t have surprised any of the fans if he’d have grabbed an arm and both legs and tied them up like a rodeo calf.
The highlight of the card was the six man triple tag team match with none other than the legendary Dr. D. David Schultz, along with one of the greatest tag team combos Stampede Wrestling ever had in Kerry Brown and Duke Myers. They had a real barnburner with Randy Tyler, Bill Irwin and the mangy Scotsman Duffy O’Rourke. What I remember most about that match is Dave Schultz poking Duffy in the chest declaring, “You stink boy! You stink bad! You need to take a damn bath before you step in the ring with me again!”
The Dynamite Kid, pound for pound, is probably the greatest pro wrestler of all time. In a world mid heavyweight championship match that night he squared off with my older brother, Keith. Keith was a top hand with a good background in amateur style wrestling. Dynamite may also have been hanging around with ole J.R. and seemed to wrestle with reckless abandon. Fans may appreciate remembering that Dynamite invented the tombstone pile driver, not Undertaker or anyone else, and after he tombstoned Keith he climbed to the top turnbuckle pad and most amazingly dove three quarters of the way across the ring to deliver a beautiful knee drop not quite perfectly, chipping some of Keith’s teeth before beating him.
I went out that hot July night for my AWA world title match against Nick Bockwinkle, one of the all time greatest champions of any league, with special guest referee seven time world champion Lou Thesz. I was wearing my dad’s once famous black velvet ring robe and I was as nervous as I can ever remember. The Pavilion, like every Stampede, was completely packed, standing room only. At that time I was a long way from being The Hitman. There were fans patting me on the back as I made my way to the ring, some that I remembered selling programs to as a kid and many that’d known me my entire life. Working with a bona fide world champ meant that he would lead the entire match and I would have to be up to snuff to follow. But after fifty eight minutes of a grueling paced catch as catch can where if I wasn’t in a hold I was putting one on, falls evened up at one a piece. I was sunk in deep with an abdominal stretch with no chance that the champ could ever reach the ropes. J.R. Foley cost me the match by casually strolling up to Tommy Carr the timekeeper right next to Ed Whalen and with his steel-tipped cane he rang the bell. The match ended in confusion with seventy year old Thesz peeling off his shirt and knocking Foley all over the ring! Just as Ed Whalen closed out the show with the immortal words, “ ... another ring a ding dong dandy!”
I’ve been wrestled around the world a few times over since that match with Bockwinkle and it still stands out as one of my favorite championship matches of my career. I learned so much from Bockwinkle, and from Harley Race, there’s no doubt they helped set me on the right course to winning seven world championships of my own.