Frost Proof, Florida and Eddie Graham

Eddie 

This story goes a long way back. To the mid-70’s to be exact. I had only been wrestling a couple of years when I booked myself in Florida for Championship Wrestling which was one of the leading NWA offices in the country. Back in those days, there were lots of regional promotions around the country. Not one office or promotion controlled the country like WWE does today. I had always heard that the Florida promotion had a unique wrestling style than some of the other places I’d worked. The style in Florida was a more realistic style than some of the other places I’d worked. But to me, it still looked the same as to what I’d been exposed to before.

The FCW promotion was based out of Tampa and Eddie Graham was the owner. We worked our asses off working 7 days a week and sometimes twice a day.  Trips were long but bearable but I liked working in Florida. I liked the company, I liked the weather and the people that ran it. Plus I got paid pretty good and for a kid still learning what this wrestling business was all about, I thought it was great. We worked every hole in the road town that they could throw a dart at and hit on a Rand/McNally Florida road map. I don’t think there was a town in Florida that I didn’t work or at least go through. We worked every day, Sundays included and the only times I remember being off was on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Easter Sunday. All the other holidays were booked and attendance in those days was excellent. In the company at the time was the great Ernie Ladd whom I had met before in Atlanta, Harley Race who was the booker,  Eddie Graham who was considered one of the great minds of wrestling and after being around him for a while, I agreed. Pat Patterson who later became one of Vince McMahon’s right hand men was there, Jack and Jerry Briscoe, Bob Roop, Lars Anderson, Killer Karl Kox who I learned so much from, Steve Keirn, Mike Graham, Oliver Humperdink, Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes. Thinking back on that crew now is almost like reciting a Hall of Fame roster list. I learned so much from all of them and it was a pleasure to have worked alongside those guys night after night.

Keep in mind that in the mid-’70s, wrestling fans in Florida, except for the most hardcore fan, didn’t even know there was wrestling outside of Florida. But when you worked a territory like Florida with the TV and the TV coverage they had at the time, every wrestler mentioned above was as over and as well known as a John Cena or Triple H are today…or an Undertaker or a Stone Cold in their heyday. Everybody knew who the wrestlers were. Fans even knew me and I was only a kid still learning the ropes. It didn’t matter whether you were the Main Event or whether you were the 1st match guy, fans knew who you were and knew your story.

The reason they knew your story was because of a man named Gordon Solie who could make two dogs screwing in a driveway seem important. Gordon Solie, at the time, and even up to this day was considered one of the best play by play announcers ever to grace a commentary mike. Gordon was great at what he did and his contribution to the Florida wrestling product can never be overstated. I think I may have stated this fact before but back in those days, fans truly believed that the wrestling game was more or less totally legit. We protected the image of the wrestling profession a hundred times more than it’s protected today. But with that reasoning, professional wrestlers were targets of fans who thought they were just as tough as the wrestlers they saw on TV. Those were the ones that were dangerous. I should know. I ran into a fan just like that one night in Frostproof, Florida.

Frostproof, Florida. What a name for a town I always thought. Where is it?  Well, its in the middle of the state about 90- miles east of Tampa and about the same distance south of Orlando. It was a nothing happening town but when we went to wrestle there, the high school gym was packed out with 2,000 screaming fans. I don’t know where they came from because Frost Proof, Florida was a teen tiny town on Hwy. 17 S that was stuck out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a bunch of orange trees and strawberry fields.

Since business, at the time, was red hot, the Frost Proof high school gym was completely sold out. I remember how crazy the crowds were in those days and the Frost Proof crowd was no exception. It’s really fun to wrestle in front of a big enthusiastic crowd. Great show, no problems…another successful day at the office. So after the matches were over…we all hopped back into the car for the two-hour ride back to Tampa where we all lived. Or so I thought.

As per wrestling custom in those days, we stopped at the first  7-11 convenience store that had big beer neon signs in their windows advertising Budweiser or Miller HiLife beer.  We didn’t care what the brand was…it could have been beer that was made out of camel peepee..,.I didn’t care.  We came up to a 7-11  right on the outskirts of Frost Proof and pulled in.  It was late July and the heat that day in Florida had been unbearably hot. You can imagine how hot it had been in that gym we had worked in that night. But as they say in Florida, it’s not the heat, its the “humidity’ to which I never agreed. If it was hot, it was hot GAWD DAMMIT!!

Since it was so hot, I was looking forward to grabbing a few beers. I don’t drink anymore but back in my younger days, I drank like a fish. So as we pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store, I could see it wasn’t crowded with only one beat-up pickup truck with a gun rack in the window parked in front of the store. That meant we could be in, out and down the highway in 5 minutes.

As we parked in front of the store, I saw that there was only a couple of good old country looking redneck types inside the store. One of them was wearing what they call denim overalls and wearing a baseball cap that said ‘John Deere’ on it. How, you ask, can you remember that?  Hang on, I’m getting to that.

Since I was in a hurry, I got out of the car first to go into the store which if I had waited 15 seconds, 20 seconds, I may have avoided what transpired a few moments later.

As I approached the door to enter the store, the biggest one of the redneck guys was approaching the door to exit. We met at the exact same time face to face in the doorway.   That big ole Deliverance looking redneck guy was blocking my entrance.  After a brief awkward pause, I moved to the right to enter…but he moved to the right too. Thinking that was just a mistake on his part, I then moved to the left to enter but he moved to the left too. I looked at him again…and said excuse me and tried to go around him one more time and he blocked me again.

I now got the feeling that I was going to have a little bit of trouble. I could see trouble ahead.  I could just feel it.  I looked in his eyes and could see that this guy was kinda drunk. I’ve learned a long time ago that being drunk leads to problems. I’ve always been able to sense when things aren’t kosher or exactly right in the world and I could always feel tension when it was in the air. I felt it at this point.

Just so you’ll know a little more about what I was feeling, this guy wasn’t a little guy either. He was about 6’1 and had to weigh in at 280 at least. I was 6′ but I only tipped the scales at the time at a mere 205, maybe.  Not only was this guy drunker than Cooter Brown, he looked like he hadn’t taken a bath since the Vietnam War ended and bore a striking resemblance to one of the mountain guys in the movie, Deliverance? Long hair, scruffy beard and overalls.

So as we stood there eyeball to eyeball, he spoke and said, “Yur one of dem rasslers, ain’t ye? I seent ye over at de high skool. Ye don’t look so tuff ta mee. Whur doo ye think ye’re going?”
Well, you know it’s going to be a problem when somebody asks you if “yur one of dem dam rasslers, ain’t ye?” Now I was convinced that this guy had actually BEEN in the movie, Deliverance, for REAL!!!  Patterns of speech and accents like this guy had can’t be taught, it had to be natural inbreeding. It wouldn’t have surprised me if somebody hadn’t started plucking out a tune on a banjo.  But, not to keep the asshole waiting, I replied, “Excuse me, I’m going inside”.

He shot back at me with, “Nah, ye ain’t.”

I said, “Yeah, I am.” He said again, “Nah, ye ain’t.” Now God Dammit…we were getting a little bit redundant here I thought. We had somewhat of a little Mexican standoff going on,  minus the Mexican, and I wanted to end this thing before it went any further.

Since it had turned into a personal challenge, I then told him point-blank, “I’m going into the store, excuse me.”

I then tried to go around him one more time and he blocked me again and this time it was the third time which pretty much made his intentions known. He wasn’t going to let me into the store which I took as a personal challenge. At this point, in retrospect, I should have said, screw it and backed away. But, in my way of thinking back in those days, that wasn’t my mindset.

So when he blocked me for the last time, I tried to push my way past this 280 pound fatass and when he pushed back, the fight broke out. Just like that. It took maybe 90 seconds from the time I got out of the car until this Deliverance looking bastard and me were throwing down in front of the good old 7-11 in beautiful Frost Proof, Florida. Now, that’s a great way to spend your evening hours. Fighting rednecks down at the local 7-11 convenience store parking lot.  Damn, sounds like f’n fun to me. Maybe we can get a FACEBOOK fan page dedicated to that cause.

As the incident broke down like a 12 gauge shotgun, out rushed Deliverance #2 but to his credit, he didn’t get involved. The two guys I were with didn’t do shit either. I was punching this bastard as hard as I could but all he was doing was shaking his head and moving forward. I landed some hellacious shots on this big bastard but it wasn’t having the desired effects that I wanted it to have.  Actually, I hit him so hard one time that I think it hurt me more than it did him. This whole thing had gone south fast and since my punches weren’t doing any damage except to my hand, I decided to shift strategy in the middle of the fight. I then tried to take him off his feet and maybe I could put some boots to him while he was down.

That brilliant shift in strategy ended up a mistake..as I soon learned.   As I tried to leverage under him, we both ended up crashing and burning head over heels over an old Tampa Tribune newspaper stand or rack. They don’t have racks like that anymore. Some people may still remember them but you had to put in a quarter and then the door would open and you would remove the morning newspaper.

As we both went over the top of the newspaper rack, I was trying to get this big asshole off me but 280 pounds of drunk ass redneck is hard to move. I finally got to my feet and the fight was continuing but by this time, the big guy was starting to breathe heavily and my punches had a little more sting to them. Funny, but his guy never hit me with one punch because while he was big, he was slow. But if he had ever connected with any of those haymakers he was throwing, he would have knocked me into the next county.

Then off in the distance, I heard sirens approaching and  getting louder and getting closer.  Now, this guy I was fighting looked kinda stupid but he wasn’t that stupid so we both broke off the fight right as the police car screeched into the parking lot. Apparently, the store employee had called the police and sure enough, up pulled the pride of Frost Proof, Florida, the city policeman with his blue and red lights flashing. The guy looked like Barney Fife as he approached us and I don’t blame him. He was alone and he didn’t know what he was stepping into. As a matter of fact, you could add two more people to that list. Me and the guy I was fighting.

We all were in the dark as to what was happening. All I knew is that a fight had broken out, for whatever reason, I don’t know. Looking at the policeman, he looked scared as this may have been his first call to handle a REAL INCIDENT.

As the policeman rushed up to us, he asked what the hell was going on?  I don’t know why I said this but I didn’t roll over on old Bubba and blame him, I just said “Nothing. We were just messing around”.  I lied like a bastard and had no idea of why I said that but I knew that if I was arrested, it was going to cost me at least $200 and maybe a nights stay in jail. I also knew that since I didn’t beat the crap out of this guy…I was in jeopardy of getting fired by ol Eddie Graham.

In those days, bookers and owners didn’t give a crap if you fought somebody on the street, all they cared about was if you won the fight. Since the guy I was fighting was still standing,  it could be construed as not winning.

The officer then looked at old buttface Bubba and asked him what was going on…and he must have taken the cue from me because he said “nuttin. Wes just playing round.”

I then realized that I may have been fighting a complete and utter idiot. because this son-of-a-bitch can’t even speak basic English!!! After -hearing him butcher the language, I had serious doubts that he had ever taken an English class or for that matter, any class. Bastard.

So there we were …11PM in the parking lot of a 7-11 convenience store in Frost Proof, Florida…a town I had never even passed through  in my life…fighting a guy I had only met 3 minutes earlier and a confused, jumpy police officer, with a gun on his hip,  standing in front of us with red lights blinking all over the place. How in the f**k did all this happen so quickly, I asked myself?

We stood there like little boys having gotten caught with their hands in the cookie jar…when the police officer, who was as confused as the rest of said, “OK break it up…and get the hell outta here before I arrest the both of you.”

Old Bubba walked over to the that beat up piece of crap truck he was riding in and drove off. I got back into the car I had just gotten out of a few minutes earlier. I never made it into the store, never got the beer I had stopped for and had almost gotten arrested for being stupid. Now I started to understand how quickly things can reach a tipping point and people could get really hurt. Why any of it happened, even today, is beyond me as stupid as that sounds.

As we pulled off from the store, I felt a little pulsing pain from my right ear and I reached up to feel it with my right hand, I felt a warm liquid on my fingers. As I pulled my hand down, I saw blood all over my fingers. I then looked down at my shirt and saw blood drops on my front. One of the guys with me took a look at it and said that my right ear lobe was cut and ripped and probably could take a few stitches. I don’t know how that happened as ole Bubba never really got a punch in on me. Apparently, when we went over the Tampa Tribune newspaper stand, my ear had either caught on the edge of the rack or the protruding brick window sill on the bottom of the plate glass window. We were still about 90 miles from Tampa so I had to wait until I got back to Tampa to dress my wound.

I got home about 1:30AM and by that time, I was half-drunk and with blood all over my shirt. Getting into a fight didn’t prevent me from stopping at the next convenience store for beer.   I got back to my apartment in Tampa and off to the ER I went.  Two hours and 8 stitches later and 200 dollars less rich, thanks to that asshole in Frost Proof, Florida, I emerged from the University of South Florida ER. I’ve said this a lot of times but being in the wrestling business back when I started, you got challenged and when you were challenged, you had to stand your ground. Not every challenge, of course, ended up in a physical fight but those things happened.  I know. One of those had just happened.

The night ended up costing me a couple hundred dollars but I knew that word would get back to Eddie Graham, the owner of the promotion, about the incident. I wasn’t so concerned about the money but I knew it was a matter of time before Eddie got around to asking me about it.  Sure enough, that Sunday in the Sports Arena in Orlando, Eddie walked up to me and asked me what happened. I told him the story just like I’ve written it here.

Eddie had a very piercing stare about him and when you were talking to him, he looked you directly in the eye which made it difficult for anyone to judge a reaction. When I finished telling him the story, I halfway expected him to say, well I got to finish you up. But he didn’t. Eddie was one of the sharpest minds in all of pro wrestling at the time and I wanted to stay on his good side but I learned something from Eddie that day. He was fair too. All he said to me was, “Good job kid. Work on your punches.” That’s all he said and never said another word about it. 

The END. 


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