Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spotlight-Warren Bockwinkel

Plenty of people have heard of AWA legend Nick Bockwinkel but how many know of his father, Warren Bockwinkel? Warren was born May 21, 1911, and died March 24, 1986. Warren helped train his son Nick as well as wrestling great Wilbur Snyder. He wrestled mainly from the 1930's to the mid-1950's, working in St. Louis mainly but also in places like California and Calgary, Alberta.

Warren was one of the first wrestlers to put Lou Thesz over as Lou was receiving his first major push to the top of the wrestling world. Bockwinkel worked out with a young Lou Thesz in St. Louis and even introduced him to St. Louis promoter Tom Packs, and the two were close. On January 8, 1937, Bockwinkel and Thesz were scheduled for their big match in St. Louis but bad weather postponed it to the following day. On January 9, Thesz beat Bockwinkel for the St. Louis Championship. He was the #4 draw, overall, in 1944, and helped solidify Bill Longson's reign on top in St. Louis. For their match on July 23, 1943, they drew 10,197 and for a rematch on February 11, 1944, they drew an even larger 11,470.

Throughout the rest of the forties, he continued working in the St. Louis territory, as well as Hamilton, ON and Buffalo, NY.
Warren and Nick Bockwinkel
Warren worked Northern California/San Francisco in 1951-1952 for Joe Malciewicz, most importantly working with Killer Kowalski. Warren jumped to Southern California 1954 and worked often with Gene Kiniski. By this point, he began teaming with Nick and wrestled on the same cards as him in Los Angeles/Bakersfield.

By 1954, Warren was winding down his career in the Buffalo, Calgary, St. Louis, and Los Angeles territories. He may have worked Arizona as well but I don't currently have good Arizona records. Warren teamed with Mike Dibiase to face John Tolos and Gene Kiniski in LA, on October 20, 1954, and they lost, with a subsequent rematch on November 10. By 1955, Warren had retired and only returned for a match with Hans Schmidt on October 2, 1957 in Los Angeles.

Besides wrestling, Bockwinkel worked as a truck driver for a shoe company. It was this occupation, according to Lou Thesz in his book Hooker, that stopped Warren from becoming a bigger star in the business. Bockwinkel was inducted into the Lou Thesz/George Tragos Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, as part of the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum, in 2010.

On a side note concerning Nick Bockwinkel, when he was a baby he wet himself after Thesz was holding him. Another side note is that Bockwinkel seemed to have wrestled and beaten George Zaharias' famous wife, Mildred “Babe, Didrikson, on March 17, 1936 in St. Louis. 

(Thanks to Pat Laprade for a little help writing this piece, check out his book Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw jobs:The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped the World of Wrestling)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bill Melby

After a year hiatus, I am feeling the itch to do some research on various topics, so I have decided to continue work on the site. I will probably focus on doing obscure stuff for a bit since I just got a new PC and I have not been able to run DVDs properly yet. Please let me know what you think. I am starting with a bio on Bill Melby.

Bill started as a bodybuilder and became a pro wrestler later. He won the 1948 Mr. Pacific Coast competition and placed third in the 1949 Mr. America. By the start of the 50's, many bodybuilders were ushered into wrestling including Melby and Bob McCune. Melby is famous for teaming with Billy Darnell and winning tag titles including the Illinois/Wisconsin NWA tag belts a couple times. Melby worked all over the country including California, Oregon, Utah, Washington, New York, Colorado, and Illinois, among many other states.

Melby played a huge part in the three match main event in Roy Shire's big jump into the San Francisco Cow Palace, in 1960, which drew 16,553 people with several thousand turned away. The full main event listing featured Melby v. Mitsu Arakawa, Don Leo Johnathan v. Argentina Rocca, and Ray Stevens v. “Cowboy” Bob Ellis.

Melby is perhaps most well-known for the angle leading up to the 1960 match with Arakawa. Arakawa was born in Hawaii but he worked a Japanese gimmick, using the Stomach Claw as his finishing hold. His opponents would fall victim to the Claw and end up having to be stretchered out after repeated Claws. Finally, Melby had enough as he came out and told Arakawa to stop the misuse of the Claw or Melby would intercede. Arakawa failed to stop and Melby kept his word and made the save. Arakawa got the upper hand and put on the Claw only for Melby to no-sell the move. Melby's gimmick was that his abs were very strong, too strong for the Claw even. Melby made his comeback and Arakawa backed off and ran from the ring, setting up their match. Following the first Cow Palace success, Shire promoted his second Palace card involving a US Title match with Ray Stevens beating Melby.

Melby worked with several big names including Verne Gagne, Hans Schmidt, Ray Stevens, and Angelo Poffo, just to name a few. Some of his career highlights include teaming with Johnny Barend to win the NWA International Television Tag Team Title against Tom Rice and The Great Bolo on February 7, 1955 in Hollywood, CA. He and Angelo Poffo traded the NWA Midwest Title in 1957. Also, he won the Texas Heavyweight Title beating Crusher Duggan/Boris Malenko, in Houston on November 15, 1957. He then lost it to Johnny Valentine on January 21, 1958 in Dallas but he continued to defend it in Idaho and Utah until 1959. Shire and Melby feuded for a bit in 1958 over several matches, including a Texas Deathmatch. Other highlights include winning the Western States Title in 1959 and twice winning the Northwest Tri-State Tag Title in 1958 and 1959, with The Blue Avenger and Kit Fox respectively.
Melby (right) with bodybuilder Steve Reeves

By 1966, Melby had retired and started a career building apartment buildings.