Wrestling Indians

My heart goes out to Dany Heatley, his family and the family of Dan Synder.

With a sad shroud over the hockey world this week there was a good note.

One of my favorite players from junior hockey is Jordin Too Too. No, not Jacob Two Two, who I’ve written a lot about lately.

I met Jordin last season and he impressed me as a kind and genuine kid. I can only imagine what incredible obstacles he overcame to become the first Iniut to make it to the NHL Nashville Predators. In watching the highlights it was nice to see the feisty little Eskimo spark plug hangin’ and bangin’ with the best of ‘em. I can only hope that this will light the way and inspire more young native kids desperately in need of a hero.

I’d always hoped that former Calgary Hitmen stand out Brendt Dodginghourse would have made it to the NHL but, like me, severe concussions cut his career short. Being the good role model that he is you can still find him lending his good name to worthy native charities.

The world of wrestling was an open door for many native North Americans. My very first favorite wrestler as a kid was Chief Big Heart, a lumbering tree of a man who wrestled for my dad in the early 60’s.

There were a lot of wrestling Indians who weren’t really Indians at all. The famous midget, Little Beaver, was French. And WWF legend, Chief Jay Strongbow, whose stardom was second only to Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales in the 70’s, was actually an Italian from New Jersey.

The only Indian wrestling star of the 90’s was Tatanka, played by Chris Chavez, a full blooded native from the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. Jack Briscoe, one time Oklahoma state wrestling champion and eventually NWA World Champion was probably the most skilled technical genuine Indian wrestler of all time. He, like the late great Wahoo McDaniel, was a full blooded Cherokee. Wahoo was feared and respected on the football field as a NY Jet every bit as much as he was in the ring.

Of all the stories that I told my mom, one of her all time favorites was the one about how Vince McMahon was desperately in search of a real native American wrestler but in the mid 80’s there were none to be had. Unless, of course, you dressed up some Japanese or Mexican wrestlers. It’s not like it hadn’t been done before. Out of Colorado came Steve Gatorwolf, a three hundred pounder who, unfortunately, was lacking in experience and ability. But when they told him they had huge plans for him on the marketing side - action figures complete with headdress and lance, T- shirts, headdresses, foam tomahawks - Gatorwolf had little choice but to go for it and hope for the best! At his first TV taping I remember Chief Jay Strongbow carefully going over - and over - how absolutely critical it was for him to make sure that after his victory not to forget to do a war dance. Chief told Gatorwolf over and over, “Vince wants to see the war dance.” As all the wrestlers and Chief Jay watched on the TV monitors in the back we saw poor Gatorwolf trip and stumble through an absolutely horrible match, delivering a vicious tomahawk chop to his opponent’s head that wouldn’t have cracked an egg. After the ref counted the pin fall all the wrestlers, along with Chief Jay, waited to see Gatorwolf dance. But he didn’t!

When he came back through the curtain Chief exclaimed, “What happened to the war dance? Vince wanted to see the dance!”

Poor ole’ Gator turned pale and nearly broke into tears. “Oh no. I forgot.”

No one ever heard of Steve Gatorwolf after that.

My mom used to say, “Wrestling’s not for everyone, dahling.” She always got a chuckle because the only thing he needed to remember going in was to make sure he did the dance and they’d have made him a household name! I hope the fickle finger of fate will be much kinder to Jordin Too Too. I look forward to watching him become part of the next generation of Canadian hero.

Good luck Jordin.