Wrestling recompense far exceeds that obtained by other professional athletes but the penalty for their earnings is also far greater.
Disease dogs the footsteps of the modern pachyderms. Nightly jumps in trains, eating in out of the way restaurants, lack of proper rest and the strenuous schedules all contribute toward the sapping of a grappler’s strength, and while countless wrestlers earn fortunes their lives at best, despite the programs, often tax the body beyond human endurance.
Some matmen die in the ring, others succumb from the shocks sustained while taking those trick falls and out of the ring dives, and others end up mumbling and spatting like punchy fighters who walk on their heels.
Stanley Stasiak was the greatest of all the modern villains who graced the wrestling ring. A roaring lion when once within the ropes, outside the arena Stanley showed the tenderness of a mother toward a new born babe. He died from blood poisoning after being cut during a bout in Worcester, Massachusetts, with Jack Sherry.
Steve Snozsky, another superman of the mat succumbed from an attack of locomotor ataxia, directly traced to injuries caused from falls taken during wrestling bouts.
The strenuous schedule which a champion is called upon to observe sapped the strength of Jim Browning, one time world’s title holder, who died in June, 1936, after an operation for ulcers of the stomach.
Browning, though rated one of the toughest grapplers who held the title during the modern era of wrestling, spent the last few months of his life half blinded from the ravages of trachoma and in intense pain from the stomach ulcers. During the last months of his life Browning’s weight fell from two hundred and thirty pounds to one hundred and forty. He could scarcely lift his hand when taken to Mayo Brothers Hospital at Rochester, Minnesota, in May of 1936.
Mike Romano, veteran grappler who held over from the Sandow era, collapsed in a Washington, D. C. ring one night in June, 1936, while engaged in a bout with Jack Donovan, a run of the mine grappler.
When ambulance surgeons arrived at the scene to treat him they pronounced Romano beyond human aid. He had died from athlete’s heart, an ailment so common to other grapplers who follow the hard and strenuous schedules that participation in professional wrestling requires.
We pause at this point in our revelations of the machinations of the wrestling business to reveal the other side so that readers of this work won’t think it’s all peaches and cream for the neckbenders.
They, too, run hazardous risks in their efforts to please the public. At times their efforts lead to more serious consequences than injuries suffered by fighters, ball players or tennis stars. For it is sometimes more exacting to make a match interesting when the finish is a planned one than it would be to let the course of events develop.
Lansing McCurley, sports editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, presented the best argument in favor of the bonecrushers when on June 28th, 1936, he wrote:
I’d like to point out that you can’t fix, by any means or manner, this cold gray man of the night we know as Death. You can’t lodge the golden dollars of man’s coinage in his bony palm, you can’t buy betrayal from the hollow of his cavernous skull. What most wrestlers fake, if you really want to know, is that they like it all, that they can’t be hurt, that they are supermen. Even the tough Ernie Dusek said to me one night in all seriousness, “Look at me, Lanse, what a life I lead, cut and bruised and beaten if I win or lose or draw.” It’s a tough life, you fans, who make your living selling bonds or cigars or refrigerators or eight hours of mental exercise. Theirs is a life that leaves you with big ears that make people stare and talk below the ordinary tone and point and look quickly away when you catch them looking. It’s a life that leaves you lopsided, with great white stripes of scar tissue across your face and body, with endless boils from endless bouts in endless ill-equipped dressing rooms, with endless worries and endless fights, until they all seem one worry and one match.
Your head is squeezed until the bees of a thousand hives drone you to sleep. Your very insides are flattened until your organs make great knots of pain against your ribs and your chest is full to breaking and your heart cramps and your eyes see black streaks and floating bubbles and myriad specks. Your arms are pulled out of their very sockets and your legs twisted into bows of pain. And the chances are 100 to 1 you go blind in the end and see only with the mind the bitterness of the might have been.
And you get what? A few dollars that you spend on trains and hotels and doctors and rare vacations, or send home to the wife and kids like other married men send home their money. Only you can’t have any fun because you have to be fit and ready. You get great gashes over the head from ring posts and cracked bones and torn muscles.
You get noises in the head and funny spells. And you get shouts and accusations of fake and in the bag and one hundred and one other epithets.
Fake or not, the fact remains the bonecrushers do suffer injuries, and as Lanse McCurley observes: “You can’t beat death.” He doesn’t work programs!
There is, of course, the serious side and the comic to all mat bouts. When Mike Romano died he took many a secret to the grave with him and though many of the matmen can’t grapple worth talking about, yet in a profession so packed with trickery and double crossing, the fact remains that the public likes and supports wrestling despite the many smelly scandals with which the sport has been identified during the years past.
Wrestling is in its second childhood. Matdom took advantage of the slowing up in boxing interest and when the fighters began to wrestle, the wrestlers began to fight. Some of the fans know they are watching a show and feel certain of it when they witness the hokum and byplay between mat clowns, but when the going is rough and exciting they are less doubtful.
Wrestling, according to the theatrical trade paper, Variety, has an edge in the human spectacle it offers. Huge two hundred pounders, wallowing around the ring, flying through the air from human catapults, and landing heavily and noisily on domes and spines is a sight. Through this flash wrestling has its advantage over boxing.
A bad wrestling match can’t be as bad as a poor boxing bout. In a poor wrestling match there is always the heft and sometimes much more to laugh at.
The big pachyderms possess a natural comedy element lacking in other sports. The antics inside the ropes, the postures, and gestures and the grimaces are funny.
The apparent cruelty of the sport appeals to men. They roar when a victim’s head is apparently caught in a strangling arm vice. The women fans howl, too. Those fine looking college men in the mat game account for the feminine draw.
Bending an opponent’s foot back until it seems to touch a bald headed man’s conk in the first row is one of grappling’s most appetizing gestures.
They struggle, gasp, squirm, toss, roll, yelp and grunt to keep the shoulders off the mat and after a good deal of the “Toots” Mondt showmanship formula, the shoulders touch and it’s all over, not including the shouting.
It must be a pleasure for a wrestler to go home at night, slip into the soft hay, and lay both shoulders on the mattress without worrying about the referee slapping an opponent on the back as a token of victory.
So next time you see the mat harlequins bouncing around the canvas don’t take it too seriously.
And remember you never can tell when there’s going to be an epochal wrestling double cross. It has happened before and will happen again. Faction against clique and trust against small fry.
The fight goes merrily on -
And so as Thackeray says:
The play is done; the curtain drops, slow falling to the prompter’s bell and when he’s laughed and said his say he shows, as he removes his mask, a face that’s anything but gay.
Au plaisir de vous revoir!