Over the Top Rope

Rock Riddle's
Wrestling Revue

by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling

Scheduled Publication Date:   November 23, 2006

Click on any of the smaller photos to enlarge

We could always count on at least a few of the wrestlers complaining about their pay.  I was sitting in the dressing room in Sacramento, California.   One of the wrestlers was frowning.  He had been studying his “pay slip” from the preceding week.   He looked around to see who may have noticed his obvious displeasure.  I raised an eyebrow letting him know that I understood.  “Rock,” he asked, “what did you make for the Cow Palace?”  The Cow Palace, of course, was San Francisco’s major arena.  It could accommodate over 16,500 fans.  Elvis Presley sold it out, as did the Beatles.  But what sold it out more often than any other venue was professional wrestling.  In several cases, literally thousands of fans were turned away when every conceivable seat (and sometimes even “standing room”) had been filled.  Even when Roy Shire’s San Francisco-based, National Wrestling Alliance-sanctioned promotion did not sell out the Cow Palace, the attendance for professional wrestling cards averaged over 14,000.  Ticket prices were more than reasonable.  If a fan didn’t mind sitting in the back, he could attend the event for around $15.00.  The “take” for a Cow Palace wrestling event was usually between $120,000.00 and $160,000.00.

I looked at my pay slip.  I turned to the wrestler who had asked me the question.  “I got twelve hundred for the Cow Palace last week,” I said.  “Yeah?” he asked, sounding a little surprised.  “I made nine-fifty.  That cheap bastard promoter makes over a hundred grand and gives us a grand apiece.”  I smiled.  “Well,” I said, “you still probably made close to three grand last week.  It sure beats working for a living.  Just put a little aside each week, and down the road you can start your own wrestling promotion, and then YOU can cheat the ‘boys.’”  “Yeah, right,” he said as he picked up his gear, turned his back, and stomped over to the other side of the locker room.  He figured that he would certainly find more sympathetic ears there.  He was right.  I smiled as I heard him begin again.  “Hey, Jerry, how much did you get for working the Cow Palace last week …?”

I never complained about money.  Several years into my career, I sat down with paper, pen, and calculator to see just what my time in the ring brought me financially.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, in a number of venues, I was averaging between $21.00 and $64.00 PER MINUTE in the ring.  “Where else,” I thought, “could I possibly average over $1,200.00 per hour – doing something I would do for free?”  

When I began my AWA (American Wrestling Association) “tour,” I was told that Minneapolis would be a good, centralized base from which to operate.  I found a beautiful apartment in a new complex in the Brooklyn Park suburb.  The rent seemed to be very reasonable, so I told the landlord that I would take it.  “Well,” he said, “you’ll need to fill out this paperwork.  You see, the government has a deal with the owners.  If you make too much money, you won’t qualify.”  I had never heard of such a thing.  I talked with the wrestling promotion.  The Vice President tilted his head to the side and said, “Rock, you can put whatever you want on that apartment form, but the absolute minimum any wrestler could ever make here is $120,000.00 a year.” 

I knew I had chosen the perfect profession.  I was living my ultimate dream and being paid, I thought, very well for it.  Money was never a problem.  Because the wrestlers were recognized and respected considerably more that “major movie stars,” we received many “perqs.”  From McDonalds to major five-star restaurants, there was at least a one-in-four chance that the meal would be “on the house.”  We were celebrities, and we were treated as such.  I don’t remember, for example, ever standing in any line for anything for more than a few seconds during my entire wrestling career.  Many of us lost touch with the value of money.  Many times, three or four or five of us would go to a restaurant for a meal.  We never cared what anything cost, and usually, the first person who thought of it would drop three hundred-dollar bills on the table as a tip.  Occasionally, we would ask the waitress to bring us someone else’s bill as well.  “Yeah, you see those four people at that table?” we’d ask the waitress.  “Well, just add their bill to ours.”  Sometimes we’d anonymously send desserts or drinks to other diners, just to see their reactions.  It was strange:  On trips, we would go blocks out of our way to buy the cheapest gas, but we would leave a few hundred dollars as a tip at a restaurant.

I remember being in a grocery store in Pensacola, Florida.  Miss Pamela, a tall blonde lady who worked as my valet for a couple of years, was in the checkout line with me.  The checker was a huge fan and really went out of her way to be nice.  I had rented a beautiful seaside house directly on the water at Pensacola Beach, and I was stocking up.  We had two shopping carts full of food.  As the checker was ringing up our items, I looked at Ms. Pamela.  “This lady is doing a great job,” I said.  “What do you think about giving her a tip?”  “Sure, if you want to,” Ms. Pamela replied.  I thought for a moment and then asked, “Do you think a hundred and fifty dollars would be a good tip?  Would that mean something to someone who has a regular job?”  I asked the question in all sincerity.  I had become used to having money, so much so that I had lost track of its value.  I would frivolously spend one or two thousand dollars a week, week after week, for months at a time.  It was a strange but interesting situation in which to be.  I figured that it was better to have money and not understand its value, rather than understand its value but not have it.

Next week, I’m going to take you on a journey from “Minneapolis-base” to Green Bay, Wisconsin.  It’s winter, there’s a blizzard, and the wind chill factor is minus 40 degrees.  We’re going to take a shortcut through a national forest where we will be the only car on the road.  If we make it, I’ll take you into the dressing room and introduce you to the wrestlers.  Then I’ll take you with me on the trip back to Minneapolis.   We’ll stop, get out of the car, experience the crispness of the extreme cold, and watch the deer watching us.  We’ll stop around dawn to join a few of the other wrestlers for breakfast.  We’ll get too little sleep before we meet one of the other wrestlers to ride with him to the next night’s venue in North Dakota.  His car will break down, and we’ll end up riding “code 3” in several different police and sheriffs’ cars to make the match.  And, you’ll experience a few more surprises as you gain even greater insight and understanding into the wonderful world of professional wrestling.  Until next week, keep those e-mails coming.         

Note:  All monetary references in this column (Over the Top Rope #40) are expressed in “today’s dollars.”

This column welcomes your wrestling-related questions.  You may contact the author via email: RockRiddle@hotmail.com or Rock@HollywoodSuccess.com.  Be sure to put "Wrestling Question" in the subject line.

About the author:  Rock Riddle wrestled professionally for over 8½ years and 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, he 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 biography, complete with over 100 photos and lots of additional information, is available at www.HollywoodSuccess.com – just click on "Rock Riddle Bio."    If you have missed any of Rock’s columns, they are all available on the website by clicking "Wrestling Revue."

© 2006 Rock Riddle & Hollywood Success.

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