Over the Top Rope!
Rock Riddle's Wrestling Revue #4
by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling
I had wrestled the previous night in Atlanta, Georgia.
It was a grueling match, I was tired, and my body desperately wanted to sleep. Still, I was happy to receive the 3:00 AM wakeup call. I was booked to wrestle at Chicago’s International Amphitheater that night.
I had 769-miles of road ahead of me, but I was happy. I knew I was heading to the big time – the AWA – the American Wrestling Association. I also knew that I was about to double my income, and I made the entire 12-hour-plus drive with a smile on my face.
I arrived in Chicago a few minutes after four o’clock that afternoon. I had time to check into a hotel, clean up, and prepare for the evening’s festivities!
Even though I was in a new town, the hotel room regimen remained the same: Choose the shirt and suit you’re going to wear, hang them near the shower, turn on the hot water, and steam away all the wrinkles.
While that's going on, do the checklist for the wrestling bag: “Tights and trunks; check. Velvet robe, sequined jacket, other ring attire; check. Wrestling boots, extra laces; check. Knee and elbow braces and pads; check. Bandages and tape, check. Butterfly closures (they work much better than stitches to close a cut); check. Baby oil with iodine; check. First aid kit with ammonia inhaler capsules; check. Vitamins, pre and post-match nutritional drinks, bottled water, protein bars; check.” And, on it went.
When I was sure I had everything I could possibly need for the evening, I placed my wrestling bag in the trunk of the car next to my "back-up" wrestling bag. After all, you never know when some crazy wrestler might pull a sawed-off shotgun from his gear and blow a hole in your bag – Don’t laugh; it actually happened. That’s another story that awaits you in a future column.
It was a great feeling every time I arrived at an arena. When I saw the security/parking person, I simply said one magic word: “Wrestler.” The response was the same at Chicago’s International Amphitheater as it was everywhere; the guy directed me to the private VIP parking area where I used the "star entrance." Then, as usual, I met an official greeter. “Which way to the dressing room?” I asked. “Well,” the building official replied, “The bad guy’s dressing room is down there.”
Because the “good guys” and the “bad guys” had dressing rooms on opposite sides of the arena, I usually met my opponent for the very first time in the ring.
I met some amazing people in the dressing room that night: Baron Von Raschke, Blackjack Lanza, World Champion Harley Race, The Crusher, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (with whom I have been friends for many years now), Mad Dog Vachon, and several other major stars.
All of the guys were cordial, and one even went out of his way to be considerate. He seemed sincere in welcoming me as the “new guy in the territory.” His name was Stan Kowalski, “the Big K.”
“Hey, everybody,” he bellowed in an amazing deep and piercing voice, “This is Rock Riddle, the new kid on the block. It’s his first night here. Everybody say hello.” I thanked him for the introductions.
“Hey, kid,” he continued, “Who you wrestling tonight?“ I had no idea. The Big K looked around. “Who’s got a program? – Here, Riddle. Oh, crap, it looks like you’ve got Vaziri.”
“Okay,” I said with a questioning look.
“Well, maybe not,” the big man continued, “The guy’s a #*&%# a**hole. You’ve gotta show him who’s boss right away. I’m telling you this because I like you, kid. This p**ck will tighten up on you like a vise if you let him. If he gets too tight, put him across the ropes and really pop him – I mean hard! Then he’ll settle down, and you’ll have a good match.”
I thanked him again and headed towards the ring. There I saw my opponent for the first time -- an impressive, muscular, and obviously very accomplished athlete.
The bell sounded and we tied up. Big K was right. This guy became vise-like right away. I backed him into the ropes and hit him in the chest so hard that the noise startled people in the “cheap seats.”
Vaziri looked at me as if he were in shock. He could not imagine that I had actually hit him that hard.
A couple of minutes later, he got unnecessarily tight with me again, and I popped him a second time – only harder. The look on his face was one of sheer, absolute, and total disbelief. Although his astonished look never went away that night, he did "loosen up", and our match went on to be one of the best of the evening.
When I returned to the dressing room, I realized that all of the wrestlers had watched my match. They were laughing.
All, that is, except the Big K. He was howling and rolling on the floor.
Through tears of laughter, Big K managed to say "I thought they'd wheel you back on a stretcher."
One of the guys finally clued me in on the "joke." My opponent had been Khosrow Vaziri, an Olympic Gold Medal winner in Greco Roman wrestling and a former personal bodyguard to the Shah of Iran. This man would go on to wrestle as The Iron Sheik, become the Heavyweight Champion of the World, and be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In other words, he was one of the toughest men on the planet.
The “boys” in the dressing room knew that he could have easily turned me into a pretzel, and they thought it would be hysterical if he did -- that's the typical pro wrestler sense of humor. And, of course, it was my "initiation" into the AWA.
I gained Vaziri’s respect that evening, and we became good friends. To this day, I am grateful that he did not know how much better he was than I.
About the author: Rock Riddle wrestled professionally full-time (5 to 10 matches per week) for nearly ten years.* He helped sell out major arenas all over the country. He held numerous titles including the Americas Tag Team Championship (with John Tolos) and the East Coast Tag Team Championship (with Rocky Montana.) At the height of his career, Rock was given top billing over the heavyweight championship of the world. He is extremely well-connected in the world of professional wrestling and knows the business exceptionally well. His fascinating biographies, complete with 100+ photos and lots of additional information, will be shared on this site soon.
* After the first 10-years, Rock switched to a much easier "part time" schedule for a few decades and still manages to wrestle at least a couple of times per year. He also coaches, headlines seminars and training sessions, and currently does color commentary for Empire Wrestling Federation.
"I never met a camera or microphone that I didn't like." - Rock Riddle