had heard good things about Lee Field’s Mobile, Alabama-based
wrestling promotion. It was sanctioned by the largest and most
prestigious governing body for professional wrestling in the world –
The National Wrestling Alliance. The money was supposed to be
fairly good, the trips were reported to be relatively short, and the
wrestling talent was unquestionably extraordinary. Best of all, I
could live directly on the beautiful white sands of Pensacola Beach,
I booked myself into the “Lee Fields territory.” My valet for a
time in the wrestling
business was a tall, blonde attractive lady by the name of Miss
Pamela. Ms. Pamela was my “co-pilot” on many of the longer trips.
I had three days before I was scheduled to wrestle in Pensacola. I
stopped for a few hours to visit with my parents in Burlington,
North Carolina. After lunch, Ms. Pamela and I headed south on
I-95. Five hundred miles later, we entered the city limits of
Jacksonville, Florida. “Great,” I commented. “Only five more hours
at this speed, and we’ll be on the beach in Pensacola. We should
arrive just after daylight and have the entire rest of the day to
relax and work on our tans.” It was going to be a fun place.
stopped for gas about an hour outside of Pensacola. “Hey, you’re
Rock Riddle, aren’t you?” asked the service station manager, “You’re
Mr. Wonderful. You’re going to be wrestling Ken Lucas at the
Pensacola Auditorium tomorrow night.” I hesitated for a moment
before responding. “Yes, that’s right. How did you know? I’ve
never been here before.” “Well,” the old gentleman answered, “Look
right over there in my front window.” There was a very large
wrestling poster with my name and photo prominently displayed. I
must have been driving for too long; I didn’t even notice it.
“Would you autograph it for me?” he asked. He didn’t wait for me to
answer. He rushed inside and grabbed the poster so fast that he
knocked over his Penzoil display. “Right there,” he continued,
indicating where my autograph would fit best on the poster. “Make
it out to ‘Jim.’ You know, I’ve seen you on television several
times. You’re a cocky, arrogant S.O.B., but you’re really good, and
you’re great on interviews.” That was very strange. I had not even
entered the city limits of Pensacola yet. I had never done
television there, so I wondered how this guy could have seen me. “I
guess you must have taped those interviews somewhere else,” he
suggested. He was right; I had forgotten them. I handed the guy a
twenty-dollar bill for the gas. “No, put your money away,” he said,
“This one’s on the house.” I thanked him, put the money back in my
wallet, and drove away with a half-smile on my face.
We stopped at a grocery store in Pensacola. I was surrounded by
people who knew who I was, especially kids. They followed me up and
down the isles. I felt like the pied piper. We checked into a
hotel. Again, everybody seemed to know me. We spent a couple of
hours on the beach, grabbed some lunch, and decided to catch a movie
since I wasn’t scheduled to wrestle that night. There was a fairly
long line of people waiting to buy tickets. We were only in line
for about ninety seconds when the manager briskly walked up to me.
“Oh, Mr. Riddle, welcome. You never have to wait in line at my
theatre,” he said. “Please follow me.” He took us in a side door.
“These are the best seats in the house,” he said. “Could I get you
some popcorn, soft drinks, anything?” “A large buttered popcorn, a
large Coke, a Diet Coke, and Raisinettes, thank you,” I responded.
A few minutes later, he was back with our “order.” I reached for my
wallet as he walked away. I looked at Ms. Pamela and smiled. “Free
gas, free movie tickets, and free food. This is going to be a very
next night, I headed to the auditorium/coliseum. It was the only
major arena I had ever seen that was built on a huge pier on the
ocean. I was the main event, and I would be wrestling the local
hero/legend/champion Ken Lucas. Ken Lucas was cheered wildly. I
headed to the ring amongst a thunderous blanket of “boo’s.”
Ms. Pamela was there to open the ring ropes for me. She did her job
well; I entered the ring with my
beautiful bleached blond hair untouched – not a hair out of place.
I made sure by gently stoking my hair while looking down my nose at
the fans. I stared at my opponent. “Tell baldy there not to touch
the hair,” I said to the referee, again stoking my golden locks.
Lucas made a move towards me. I grabbed Ms. Pamela and put her
between us. Her eyes became large. She wasn’t comfortable in that
predicament. I thought it was great. It kept Lucas away from me
for a few minutes, and it brought the decibel level of the “boos” to
a new record high. I knew I was successful; I tried not to smile.
“Now,” I thought to myself, “time to kick it up a notch.” Lucas
wanted to tie up right away, but I had my velvet “Mr. Wonderful”
robe and my special wrap-around sunglasses on. Ms. Pamela’s job was
to take my robe and glasses and to get them back to the dressing
room in one piece. My job, as I saw it that night, was to see how
long I could take to remove my robe and glasses. The longer I took,
the hotter and louder the crowd became. After about five minutes,
they were at a fever pitch.
Lucas was a brilliant wrestler. By the time we finally tied up, he
seemed totally frustrated. That was great. It helped me accomplish
what I wanted with the fans. They loved their humble, soft-spoken
hero, Ken Lucas. They already hated the arrogant, condescending,
hide-behind-a-women “bad-guy” Rock Riddle. They badly wanted to see
Lucas give me a great wrestling lesson and thoroughly defeat me. My
job was to disappoint them. If they got what they wanted, they
wouldn’t come back over and over to see rematches. I did my job
well. It was my first match in Pensacola, and I defeated their
local hero. Of course, I used a few “short-cuts,” which infuriated
the fans. I smiled as I was escorted back to the dressing room with
Ken Lucas’ Pensacola Heavyweight Wrestling Championship trophy.
A few days later, I did a live Pensacola TV interview. “I’m a
little disappointed,” I began, “I thought you had tough competition
here. This Lucas guy is supposed to be the toughest, and I beat him
easily. Oh, by the way, I’m used to gold, jeweled championship
belts. Look at this pathetic, championship ‘trophy.’ This is
unacceptable for someone of my class and stature. Follow me, mister
camera man. I want you to document me throwing the Ken Lucas trophy
off the end of the pier.” I tried not to smile. “We’re going to
sell out lots of arenas here, Rock,” I said to myself, “You’ve just
laid the foundation for a good nine to twelve month run.” Ah, yes …
Pensacola Beach. And it was, indeed, a great run – for a year and a
half! Until next week, keep those emails coming.