Drop-Kick Gorgeous

Bad timing and institutional racism kept Gary Jackson out of pro wrestling's spotlight. But he's got St. Louis in a hammer lock.

"If they ever put him and Koko together, they'd have made a great team," Matysik claims. "But McMahon said, 'I don't want two black teams.'"

Jim "J.R." Ross, a WWE executive vice president who doubles as announcer for the organization's hit Monday Night Raw telecasts, has been involved in the sport since the early 1970s. While he insists that pro wrestling has rid itself of even the slightest tinge of racism, he acknowledges that this is a fairly recent development, and that racial quotas weren't uncommon when Jackson was reaching his prime.

"Most of the promoters were Caucasian ex-wrestlers and many of them had significant racial bias," Ross says. "Depending on the size of the territory, you had X number of blacks. And if you were willing to book females on the card, you couldn't book midgets: If you had one attraction, you didn't need another. A black wrestler, oftentimes, was considered a novelty or an attraction.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

"A lot of these old-timers said, 'We can't have too many blacks on the show,'" Ross goes on. "Mid-South Wrestling got a lot of negative feedback for using the Junkyard Dog as its top hero in the '80s, which is ridiculous. The black guys had huge challenges. That's changed now."

Concludes Matysik: "The politics weren't right for Gary. It had nothing to do with talent -- it's all politics and business and bullshit. And Gary fell through the cracks."

Most South Broadway wrestlers were drawn to the ring as young bucks, via the top-rope cable-TV theatrics of Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, the Hart Foundation and the Rock. Gorgeous Gary Jackson fell for the sport of amateur wrestling in the mid-1970s when he transferred from Central to Vashon.

"It is boring. But it's where I started -- as an amateur wrestler on a mat," says Jackson, who was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and spent his grade-school years in Dallas before moving to St. Louis as a teen. "It's just something I grew up with."

Gorgeous Gary's technical proficiency earned him a steady coaching and performing gig with Harley Race's Missouri-based Central States Wrestling after the Chase run ended, and it has contributed greatly to his role as de facto coach and mentor for several of South Broadway's up and comers.

"Gary Jackson was the key to my training," says Xtreme Kim Chi, one of two woman wrestlers who ply South Broadway's ropes. "Once he figured out that he liked me, he was like, 'OK, let's hit it.'"

"You have to go to Gary first," adds Phil E. Blunt, who works for announcer Tim Miller at the Benton Park Shell. "He does a ground-based style. He's the old classic."

While his style remains steeped in tradition, Jackson is more than willing to mutate his image. He has been known to don a pink unitard for out-of-town shows, and he purchased his gladiator outfit at a south-side boutique that specializes in bondage gear. No big deal for a man who once begged a tiny wooden train whistle off a local bank to top off his erstwhile "Nite Train" persona, suggested to him by the late, great King Kong Brody.

"When you get a compliment like that, it means something," Jackson says of the Brody-bestowed nickname. "I'll probably go back to Nite Train before my career's over. But right now I enjoy being Gorgeous. I'm always shopping to look fresh.

"Your personal appearance is everything, and not just in sports," Jackson goes on. "All the guys I came up with used to come out in suits. That was my idea of what a professional was."

At South Broadway, Jackson is the Randy Orton of an alternate, local universe. He hosts a weekly online radio show, The Body Slam, on newblackcity.com, and his mug graces the center of every single two-color poster Tony Casta prints up to promote his monthly card. And Gorgeous Gary's exploits are broadcast on cable television, even if the signal struggles to reach beyond the banks of the Mississippi, much less from sea to shining sea.

So strong is the lure of Jackson and his MMWA-SICW cohorts that even on a night when the baseball Cardinals are set to lock horns with the Dodgers in a National League Divisional Series elimination game, South Broadway draws its usual sellout crowd -- including a surprise visit from Big Syke and a small entourage who have come to watch Gorgeous Gary defend his title belt against blaxploitation throwback "Shaft."

Though generally cast as one of the sport's good guys, being pitted against a crowd favorite like Shaft inspires Jackson to shift roles, comfortably slipping into the persona of a heel, egging on haters with a seemingly endless repertoire of zingers.

"You want a title shot?" Gorgeous addresses a heckler as he enters the ring resplendent in blue and gold. "Then get a license!"

The match begins with Jackson pinning his opponent doggy-style and slapping him in the face. Escaping Gorgeous Gary's grip, Shaft flips Jackson belly-down on the mat and tiptoes across his back. Unfazed, the champ loudly questions whether Shaft belongs in the same ring with Gorgeous Gary. "You got what it takes to wrassle me?" he cries, looking his rival dead in the eye before maneuvering him into another crotch-to-rear hold.

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