Here’s a story that I’ve never told before. Never. Why I don’t know. I guess because I never had an opportunity to tell it. So kiddies pull up a seat and learn a little wrestling history.
Years ago, around the mid-70’s, I booked myself in Florida whose office headquartered in Tampa. I was like in my 2nd year as a pro and I had only worked Georgia and a little in Tennessee. Before I left, I worried that I wouldn’t fit in because I’d always heard that Florida was a territory that liked a lot of wrestling. Not a lot of what they called back in the day, hullabaloo. In other words, BS wrestling. I knew how to do the serious style but still I wondered how I’d do there. So on the first week, I watched every match on the card. Good matches but I didn’t see anything that set my style apart from what the standard was in Florida. Hard a fought and fast moving. Then I saw that I was perfect for Florida. I learned that I liked Florida and the style fit me more than I even imagined. Trips weren’t that long and the beaches and the pools were available even in January.
Mondays we worked in West Palm Beach, Tuesdays were in Tampa, Wednesday was the toughest day as we did weekly TV at the office in Tampa and then drove 300 miles to Miami. Thursday was Jacksonville, Friday was Tallahassee, Saturdays were short trips like Sarasota or Lakeland and Sunday was Orlando. Business was good and I didn’t mind 7 days a week. The older guys bitched about the schedule because they wanted some days off but the whole time I was in Florida, I don’t think I had any days off.
In the territory at the time were a lot of former amateur wrestlers like Jack and Jerry Brisco, both former Oklahoma State varsity wrestlers and Bob Roop, a former Olympian who had wrestled in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, City. I became pretty good friends with Bob and we made a lot of trips together and since I was still in the learning phase of my career, he taught me a lot. But about pro wrestling, not amateur wrestling.
On one particular trip, the conversation got around to fans who thought they could actually compete against a pro wrestler. As Bob was talking one night, I asked him had any fans actually challenged him to an amateur match. Bob turned his head and tilted an eyebrow and asked, “are you serious”? I said yes and he “kid you need to know a little story”.
This was where I started to learn more and more about this strange phenomenon called pro wrestling and the people I was working with night after night. Bob started out like a college professor asking have you ever heard of a place called the Snake Pit? I replied, “no should I”?
The next night in some town, I casually asked one of the guys what was the Snake Pit and they looked at me like I had 2 heads and said, “Brother you don’t want to go there. Ever”. I asked why and they said they’d heard nightmare stories of marks going there and literally getting the dog **** beat out of them by Bob Roop or Hiro Matsua or Jerry Brisco or any amateur that Eddie Graham had booked. Eddie loved amateur wrestling and loved amateur wrestlers because it gave the appearance of legitimacy to a sport much maligned in the press.
Bob continued by saying well you should because it’s a little place we have here in Tampa where we take overtalkative fans into the ring and stretch them a little and teach them that the our business isn’t the sham they think it is. They were taught the hard way that pro wrestling is brutal and by showing them this way, the overtalkative fans aren’t as talkative and dismissive as before. The Snake Pit was essentially the same studio and the same ring that we shot the weekly TV tapings in but minus the fans. The fan would be invited down under the assumption that if he did good, there might be a position for him on the roster of Florida Championship Wrestling but it would be under amateur rules.
Then I started asking around about the Snake Pit and how brutal it was for the poor souls who somehow had dreams of greatness coming in the door but nightmares of pain going out. I heard nothing but bad things about a place called the Snake Pit.
I was invited down once just to watch but I kindly begged off saying I had a doctor’s appointment or something, anything that I could use as an excuse.
The place was aptly named for what it was intended to do and that was to strike fear in the hearts of any wrestling fan who thought the business was fake and that all the wrestlers were nothing more than overly dramatic stuntmen. I heard that they used to video tape some of the encounters in the Snake Pit but had to stop due to a legal problem they were running into. After seeing this piece of video I’ve attached at the bottom, it’s easy to see why they ran into legal problems. Assault and battery and attempted murder are felonies in most states.
Also I learned that professional wrestlers are as different as any person on the street from the next one but this invention they called “wrestler” is a strange concoction. I learned that from Bob. But again….thanks to YOUTUBE, here’s a link that I hope still works by the time you read it. I don’t know how many tapes they made but here’s probably the only surviving tape of a poor unsuspecting victim who got ravaged at the hands of a man who trained for 20 years to get to a point in life where he was able to do this. WARNING: THIS VIDEO IS SHORT BUT BRUTAL.