The Final Bell

The passing of wrestling promoter Sam Muchnick rekindles interest in the wrestling days of yore

After traveling around the country, St. Wayne would find "that the Muchnick group made more with less. In other circuits, there'd be bleeding a couple times a night. Here you'd maybe bleed a couple times a year. It made things more special that way."

As fans of the show will remember, the action and all the additional accessories were stripped to a bare minimum. Costumes were threadbare, with a turban for a Middle Eastern wrestler, a cowboy hat for a Southerner -- pretty basic stuff. The wrestling was both simpler and more complex; the athletes were known to grapple for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a shot, sometimes going as long as an hour in title bouts. Holds, not flash, were the staple.

"I think, deep down, Sam didn't like what's going on now," says Garagiola. "Randy Savage started out with him but wanted the big money. He's the Macho Man. He added the beard, sunglasses, the dress he wears now. Ric Flair, he also started with us. I think Sam liked the old-timers -- Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Pat O'Connor. These were the greatest guys in the world. College-educated, not some flaky guys who bunked down by the river. You looked at their background, you wouldn't know it, but they really learned the art of acting."

Matysik recalls that the last Muchnick bill was a going-away show for him at the Arena -- then known as the Checkerdome -- on Jan. 1, 1982. It was sold out, though the changing tide of the sport -- which would include Channel 11's cancellation of the old-style Chase show -- seemed inevitable. Glitz was coming into vogue, and the old champs were giving way to a new breed of showmen who were more interested in hyping the matches than in wrestling them.

"There was a surprise party for him after the show at the Arena Club, or the Dome Club, or whatever it was called at the time," Matysik says. "We brought out everybody in sports to pay tribute to him. We tricked him into the ring and brought out Joe Garagiola, who flew in, and others. Afterwards, the police gave him a nightstick,continued on next pagecontinued from previous pageinscribed with his name. They'd worked for him for years and wanted to give him a thank-you. They all came to honor Sam.

"And many of us thought things would change, that things would be different one day. Unfortunately, we were right."

Mickey Garagiola certainly has a lot of memories. He recalls a time when his brother was chased around the ring by Kiniski. Muchnick expressly forbade wrestlers from attacking the crew, and he scolded Kiniski for the transgression. He didn't know that later in the evening, Kiniski and Garagiola would wind up drinking a few at Smokey Joe's in Gaslight Square.

"And here he'd gone and chewed the guy out," Garagiola says.
In fact, Garagiola wound up the last person to see Muchnick, outside of family, before his death. As it turned out, Garagiola's wife was on the same floor of the hospital.

"I'll never forget," Garagiola says. "He'd ask a nurse or patient if they knew who I was. If they said no, he'd say, 'He's the greatest ring announcer in wrestling.' The next day, he was gone. Here's a man 93 years old, and he was sharp as you and I. He took sick about a year ago. I always said he was my godfather. He was good to the Garagiola boys."

Though Muchnick wouldn't be around to see it, Matysik believes there is a market for the kind of smaller-scale productions Muchnick produced. (Unfortunately, there will never be reruns: Channel 11, tragically, never made copies of the original Wrestling at the Chase programs; however, some bouts from that era occasionally appear late nights on the Classic Sports Network.) He feels that viewers would need to be "educated to it, just as they've been educated to what's on now. I don't know if there's room for that. And the talent of guys coming in wouldn't be there. Now, it's a fabulous entry, face paint, explosions, then three or four minutes in the ring."

St. Wayne, too, wouldn't mind a return to the old style. Like the others, he doesn't have much interest in the current style of pro grappling.

"I agree," he says. "There's a lot of people I correspond with who'd like to see wrestling the way it was. I'd like to see it. It could come in right at the same time that we bring back the streetcars.

« Previous Page