The Best of Big Time Wrestling from Detroit

The Sheik, Terry Funk and other legends of Detroit’s Big Time Wrestling are showcased in matches from the 60’s and 70’s!!!

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Marching band music opens the show.  The host (Bob Finnegan) walks in from off screen as if this is a game show. He throws it to commercial right away. This is studio wrestling, so we are in a small blue room.  I love all of this so far!

From best I can tell, these early matches are from around 1968/69.

“World tag team Champions” the California Hell’s Angels vs. Arnold Skaaland and Jim Dillon

The announcer speaks in a hushed tone.  Dillon is indeed “James J. Dillon”, future wrestling manager extraordinaire, along with Arnie Skaaland, years before he handled Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund’s careers as an on screen manager.

The Hell’s Angels actually have a remarkable backstory.  They were portrayed as on screen brothers, Ron and Paul Dupree, but behind the scenes, they were lovers.  Openly homosexual to the wrestlers, but not the fans.  Ron died young of heart issues, but Paul went on to be known as “Chris Colt”, who had a number of surreal gimmicks as he wrestled into the later 1980’s.  He did some gay pornos after leaving the business, but rumors persist that he ended up as a born again Christian prior to dying homeless.

The heels cheat to control Dillon, with the ref missing Dillon desperately tagging off, leaving him to absorb more punishment.  The double tough bikers of course whine about hair pulls and bail to the floor when the fight is actually fair, like good heels should.

The Angels cheap shot Skaaland, opening him up to be smacked around in their corner.  When Arnie tries to work towards his partner, the heels double team him and use cheap moves like eye rakes.

Dillon tags back in, and is almost immediately beaten on. The heels down him and a flying knee finishes things in a shockingly clean manner.

“Thunderbolt” Patterson vs. Jim Paderewski(?)

There are no on screen graphics, so I have to do my best at spelling the names I am not familiar with.  Patterson is the heel here. The men have a realistic opening scrap as they jockey for position.  Patterson dominates quickly with a lot of clubberin’.  Patterson’s cocky walk and sly smile makes him easy to not like. Thunderbolt smacks his foe with a punch and wins this one with ease.

Spiros Arion vs. “The Spoiler”

Arion is about 5 or 6 years away from his famous heel run where he turned on his friend and partner Bruno Sammartino in the WWWF. He was already a renowned star in Australia by this point.

This is definitely not Don Jardine under the Spoiler hood. The Spoiler tries to use rough house tactics, but Arion out works him with some basic grappling. The Spoiler goes for a single leg takedown, but Arion is able to save himself by getting to the ropes. Arions hits “his move” as the announcer puts it, which is a knee breaker. A leg attack somehow knocks the Spoiler loopy enough to be pinned.  I am not sure this pro wrestling stuff is on the up and up.

Arion looked good physically.  Without a promo or better context, I can’t comment further on how he became a major attraction.

“Big” Jess Ortega vs. Blackjack Gordon

Ortega looks old and is rotund.  Gordon is dressed in a black singlet, and is named “Blackjack” but he still shakes hands before the match. Ortega slugs away. Gordon tries some token offense, but Ortega no sells his punches. Ortega uses a body scissors to wear at his opponent.  He slaps Gordon’s ears in order to get him to raise his arms and open himself up to more attacks.

Ortega doesn’t bother selling for an armbar and barely flinches for an eye rake. Gordon bumps for a shoulder block that Ortega doesn’t even bother positioning for, as Gordon just runs into him.  A splash ends this silly squash.

We jump ahead roughly a decade as we see action from the late 70’s:

“Maniac” Mark Lewin vs. ???????

Before Lewin can get to work, Terry Funk comes into the studio and starts to cut a promo. They do not turn his mic on for almost the first minute of his ranting.  Funk wants to get rid of the jobber and fight Lewin himself.

Mark Lewin vs. Terry Funk

Lewin dominates the early minutes with arm work as Funk tries to punch his way back into the fight. Lewin stays on the arm, dragging Funk around at his will. The announcers explain that this match is violating the bylaws of the NWA.  There is no insurance or money being offered as the men never signed a contract.

Funk finally gets his arm freed and he quickly takes the fight to the floor, where the ref DQ’s both men.  A chair is shattered, so the men attack one another with the shards of wood.  Lewin manages to lock Funk in a sleeper in the middle of the ring.

A big black dude named Walter Johnson comes in and KO’s Lewin with an object.  Funk senses his chance and attacks the downed Lewin with the broken chair leg. Johnson lays into Lewin with several shots with a blackjack or something.  A bloody Funk poses.  We are desensitized as wrestling fans, but an angle this wild in the 70’s probably drew weeks worth of good houses, since most if not all of the other action around it was “vanilla”, standard wrasslin’

Johnson apparently had played for the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, but is wrestling while holding out for a better contract.

Big Red vs Danny Fargo 

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!  A few weeks ago, I absolutely fawned over “Big Red” Reese showing up on Memphis Wrestling in 1986, and here he is much young and thinner.  Reese by 86 was ENORMOUS, but he cut a hell of a charismatic promo.

Red is dressed in overalls.   One segment after talking about how rigid the NWA bylaws are, here the announcers explain that Reese was supposed to work against Terry Funk and Lewin with Fargo, but when the men wound up against each other, the promoters scrambled to put these men against one another instead.

Reese has obvious physical charisma, as he walks with a swag and a jive.  He is so darn big though that he struggles to execute a basic arm drag.  Reese takes a little offense, but dances himself back into control.   Reese sits on Fargo’s back and spanks him.  He then squats on Fargo and hovers over him for far too long.  More dancing and a poor looking splash end Fargo’s day.

Terry Funk, covered in blood that dripping down face and chest, comes out to cut a promo with Walter Johnson.  Funk cuts his usual good promo here covering how Johnson has his back like others should have had Dory Funk Jr.’s back during a previous Detroit area incident.

Funk is interrupted by fans who were chosen to ask him questions.  The first dude gets right in Funk’s face and asks how Funk lost to Harley Race if he’s so good.  Funk calls the fan fat and challenges the fan to wrestle him any time. He then mimics a backhand and the kid flinches.  The announcers get the fan out of there.  Walter Johnson is asked to explain why he quit the NFL for now. He explains his hold out and we cut to commercial as Funk tries to add to his promo.

Walter Johnson vs. Mike Wayne 

Looking up Johnson’s history, he was actually a bigger deal in the NFL than I expected.  He was a 3-time all-pro selection, and played 13 seasons in all.  His career had just ended by the time this Detroit run took place, however Johnson may not have planned for that at the time.

Wayne has mutton chops, the standard long 70’s hair, and a squatty, chubby frame.  Johnson is tall, and actually softer in the middle than you’d expect for a NFL lineman.  Johnson whacks him with some forearms and finishes with a shoulder block in short order.

We switch to another location for…

The Sheik vs. Bobby Blain(?)

Blain is wearing a sweater like you’d wear to Grandma’s each Christmas.  I’m flabbergasted.  The announcers speak on how the Sheik has been “vicious” lately.  You don’t say!?

The ref has the same haircut as Meathead from “All in the Family”.

Sheik milks his Muslim prayer rug bit for some cheap heat.  Once the turban comes off, you see his hair is grey. If he wanted to keep himself on top of his promotion and at least pretend he was younger than he actually was, a little hair dye seems like a good start.  When he tried promoting again in 1985, the Sheik was claiming to be a good 10 years younger than he actually was, if I recall correctly.

Sheik jumps the kid and gnaws at his head right away. Sheik claws at Blain’s face, then slaps him in the camel clutch for the quick submission. In a nice touch, the ring announcer recoils while announcing the winner as he wants to avoid the Sheik.

“Bulldog” Don Kent vs. Mike Thomas 

I assumed Thomas was just a jabroni, but he quickly takes Kent down with a series of headlock takeovers.  It turns out Thomas was actually the Sheik’s nephew.  There is not much info online about him.

Kent is built like a squatty powerlifter in the vein of Da Crusher. He was in his mid-40’s at this point, with grey hair and a fuzzy body. Thomas uses even more headlocks to maintain control.   With his scruffy beard, you can see the Sheik in Thomas’ face. His afro hair is very non-Syrian Muslim like.

Kent gets some blows in, but falls to more headlockery. The commentator talks about Kent not liking the nickname “the Bulldog”, but I am pretty sure he was announced by that moniker.  Kent gets a brief standing chinlock, which the announcer is smart enough to cover by explaining how the move pulls at the muscles in the neck.

Thomas escapes and the men trade some blows before Thomas traps Kent back in his lethal headlock. Kent fights out but is trapped by another headlock. Kent escapes and catches Thomas with a knee to the stomach. He drops an elbow and earns the win.  Kent swears he never cheats and the announcer cuts off his promo for a commercial.

Two ring battle royal: Former Olympian Chris Taylor, Bobo Brazil, Dominic DeNucci, and Andre the Giant are the big names in this match, with Chris Colt, the Wolfman, the Brute and other lesser luminaries being involved. It appears there are about 12 men in all.

When you are tossed from one ring, you go on to fight in the other.  Taylor uses his girth to smash some schmoe.  The Brute goes out first, but then owns the second ring as he tosses multiple men as they fall into his grasp. The eliminations are happening at a crazy pace.  Andre tosses Chris Taylor, who bumps on his shoulder.  Taylor chases a manager to eliminate himself in ring 2.  Andre and Bobo are left alone in the first ring after less than 4 minutes of action.  The Brute meanwhile has cleared ring number 2.

Andre and Brazil square off, with both men charging the other and not budging.  They trade head butts and neither sells. Andre shakes off some punches. The men stop for a chat and Andre volunteers to eliminate himself.  Brazil goes into ring number two.  He starts dancing.  The Brute decides that’s enough and eliminates himself to give Brazil the win at a bit after 6 minutes.  That was a dreadful ending!

Final thoughts: I enjoyed seeing unique faces and old timey TV studio sets, but the wrestling was largely AWFUL.  I still would watch more if it was available.

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.