One of the things that is sorely missing from today's version of professional wrestling are oddities. In other eras, they would be billed as "freaks", "monstrosities', "attractions". The last descriptor was the most accurate. These men and women were special attractions that would help a card to sell out. Wrestling's oddities gave fans a change of pace; something unique and often a breather in intensity before another "legitimate" match would occur. When critics would lambaste wrestling over the decades for its phony qualities, the oddities were always first amongst the complaints. But those oddities meant success at the box office for many promotions. Some promoters-like Jack Pfeffer-made their career off of promoting oddities in the ring. Let's take a look at a nearly extinct species-the wrestling oddity.
Women and Midgets: Not to be at all confused with "Divas", "Knockouts" and "El Torito" or "Hornswoggle", the women and midget wrestlers of the territorial era actually *wrestled*. Their matches were top-heavy in comedy and silly spots, but almost all of the midgets knew how to work a great match, and the majority of women in the business (whether from the Billy Wolfe, Mildred Burke or Fabulous Moolah schools of combat) could work a passable, if repetitive match.
Sky Low Low and Mildred Burke were legitimate shooters. As far-fetched as that may seem to those raised on what passes for women and little people in the ring today, both of those grapplers could put people in the hospital if they needed to do so. Sky Low Low (nee Marcel Gauthier) was the policeman for the midget troupe promoted by Bert Ruby, and more than once forced recalcitrant promoters to cough up monies promised. Mildred Burke could beat up any woman or man if they got in her way.
The womens and midgets matches gave the fans a chance to simply enjoy a wrestling match. Laughter, gasps of astonishment and all around good feelings tended to happen after matches like these. In a wrestling world where today almost every match looks the same and the wrestlers can barely be told apart by style, a return to some fun wouldn't hurt.
Angels and Beasts: The French Angel (Maurice Tillet); The Swedish Angel; The Lady Angel; The Moon Man; The Wolfman; The Beast: The Canadian Wildman. Grapplers who were either bald and grotesque, or covered with more hair than most grizzly bears, these wrestlers brought out the fear factor in people. They rarely spoke, always had a handler or manager to "control" them, and generally brought chaos wherever they performed.
The Angels and Beasts of wrestling provided a thrill factor. Long before people became blasé to the Undertaker's "mystical powers", or chuckled at Bray Wyatt's "mind-controlling powers", people would get legitimately afraid at the appearance of a beast. The fear was that somehow this monster would break free of its handlers and attack someone in the crowd. Since they never spoke and always seemed one grunt away from exploding, people couldn't get close enough to these wrestlers to see that their image was just an act. Who in today's version of the business can raise legitimate fear in people over the age of ten? No one to my knowledge.
The Angels died out in the late seventies-early eighties with Brute Bernard, George "The Animal" Steele and The Missing Link being the last of the breed. Beasts? They seem to be completely extinct.
The Huge and the Gigantic: Yes, before you say it: The Big Show, Kevin Nash, Yokozuna. It is not as if large and tall men no longer exist. But the style of the heavy or giant wrestler seems to have died with Haystacks Calhoun and Andre the Giant. When was the last time that you saw a huge man in the ring that never was pinned and never submitted? When was the last time that you saw a man over seven feet in height wrestle like a giant; rarely sell; and dominate all opposition? Big Show loses as many matches as he wins. Yokozuna ended his career in the WWF doing jobs for everyone.
What happened to the immovable object? The giant who could only lose by countout or disqualification? The people whom you *knew* couldn't be beat directly? When did the larger-than-life wrestlers become ordinary?
Masked Wrestlers (Who you wanted to see unmasked): One of the big draws of the masked wrestler in days past was that he would voluntarily unmask if pinned or made to submit. Or, wrestlers would vow to remove the masked man's hood no matter what. The intrigue! Who could that masked man be? Whenever a masked wrestler was in jeopardy of losing their mask, the crowd noise would swell and people would strain forward in their seats, hoping to see a face under the material.
Now masked wrestlers come and go. They wear the mask in some places, they remove it elsewhere. No one really cares whether the guy has a hood or not, and thanks to the Internet, everyone knows who the guy is anyway-even if the name means nothing to them. Why did we give up the thrill of mystery without a fight? Is it simply that fans are "too smart" for such things, or that people forgot what such things were so cool in the first place?
There are many other oddities that I have not mentioned for sake of space and time, but my point is made. The variety that once made professional wrestling a draw for peoples of all ages, backgrounds and tastes no longer exists. Today's wrestlers wrestle the same, look the same for the most part, give the same, canned interviews and exhibit the same emotionless emotion.
People don't watch wrestling now for the matches, the wrestlers or the variety. They watch it as they would watch any touring show, circus or concert event. They watch it for the event itself. The problem is, that event once seen, never changes. Take one wrestler out, put another in his place and the same show is presented again and again.
We need variety. We need originality. We need oddities in wrestling.
By Harry Grover
As unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society