It had been nearly a year to the day since I met Moondog Rover at DuBowl Lanes to interview him about his comeback match. The south city wrestling champ had suffered a heart attack in July 2022, only to make a monumental return last January. Now, almost a year after that comeback, I was invited to meet Moondog at the Lemay bowling alley once again. But this time, the tone was different.
A lot had transpired since we last spoke. For one thing, Moondog Rover had a giant scar across his throat, and his voice was reduced to a soft whisper. Moondog was also unable to bowl, his second greatest passion next to wrestling.
Despite these limitations, the celebrated wrestler made clear that nothing could stop him from being involved in what he loves. “When it comes to wrestling, let’s just say I'm stepping away, not retiring. I’ll be on the sidelines, offering advice and guidance to the new guys. Not just to train them, but to make them better than I was,” he told me.
Paul McKnight, a.k.a. Moondog Rover, has been dazzling and entertaining guests at wrestling events all across the country for 45 years, and 36 of those years have been at the historic South Broadway Athletic Club in Soulard, with its matches run by the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Alliance. Looking like a deranged Santa Claus on a warpath of destruction, Moondog is famous for sticking to the classics. His only form of communication is barking, he steals kids' shoes to pretend to pee on them and his dreaded weapon of choice is an oversized dog bone. Tragedy struck when Moondog suffered a heart attack after facing wrestler Dr. Dallas aka The Doctor of Decadence. The 57-year-old required open heart surgery and many months of rehabilitation, yet he was back in the ring just six months later — and defeated the very opponent who caused his heart attack.
Yet hardship continued to follow Moondog. “I will only wrestle if I can give it 110 percent,” he said. “If I can’t give the audience the show they deserve, then I know I need to step away.”
This was apparent in his matches immediately following his comeback. Moondog at first was in full force: tossing challengers left and right, and gnawing at their foreheads like a wild animal. Months later, however, you could see a limp in Moondog’s step. His matches were a bit slower, and a wrap was placed around his arm.
“Yeah, I had developed a dropped foot, and I was bit on my arm by a brown recluse. I guess you could say I’m just lucky,” Moondog said, showing me his scar from the spider bite.
While attempting to determine the root of Moondog’s dropped foot, doctors discovered the wrestler also had three herniated discs in his spinal column. It soon became apparent Moondog was in dire need of surgery. “I guess you could attribute that to years of getting hit over the back of the head with a chair,” Moondog chuckled. “Basically the doctors said I was at risk of being paralyzed. One wrong move, wrong turn, wrong hit…that’s when I realized it was time to slow down.” Moondog then made the decision to place wrestling on hiatus, and underwent an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion. For months he had to wear a cervical collar neck brace, and his voice suffered damage from the surgery.
“I may never get my voice back,” he said in a hushed tone, “but I'll be working on that one too”.
In true form, Moondog has only viewed these setbacks as mere obstacles to overcome. Between spinal surgery and introducing Australian punk band Alien Nosejob at their St. Louis show, an announcement was made that Moondog’s final match before stepping away would be in November. Despite the real possibility of the wrestler being paralyzed for life, he stated that he needed to give the crowd just one more round.
“This time it’s on my terms, and though there is a danger, I just need to give the audience what they deserve one more time,” he said. “There is still hope I can get back into the ring, the doctors said I could be reevaluated in about a year, but right now I really just need to do this for them — my fans — one more time.”
“If you could say anything to your fans, what would it be,” I asked. Moondog fell silent. In between the cracking of bowling balls hitting pins, Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” played softly in the background. Moondog's eyes began to well up, and although It seemed impossible for Moondog’s voice to get any softer, there was a specific tenderness in the wrestler’s words: “To my fans, I cannot thank you enough. Never have I ever felt anything so wonderful. It truly means the world to me, and I do this for you. I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for you, and I will always work 110 percent for you.”
Moondog’s final match was on Saturday, November 11, and to no surprise the only tickets left at the South Broadway Athletic Club were standing room only. Fans wore their best Moondog costumes and waved their accessorized dogbones. After a recognition of Veterans Day and the crowd ending the National Anthem by shouting “Home of the BLUES,” match after exciting match commenced. Wrestling fans stayed so hydrated while waiting for the main event, the taps at the bar ran dry.
Finally the time came for Moondog to step in the ring. With his cervical collar sitting tightly around his neck, Moondog rounded the arena greeting and barking at fans. As Moondog passed an unsuspecting child, the wrestler snatched off the boy’s shoe and pretended to urinate on it like a dog — to the delight of every single person in the room.
All of the wrestlers who had performed that evening then began to file in, kneeling around the ring as a sign of respect to their beloved colleague.
Dr. Dallas, Moondog’s historic nemesis, then made his way into the ring. Dr. Dallas proceeded to showboat, and mentioned the hospitalization he had been responsible for once before. While making comments regarding Moondog’s weakness, Moondog took advantage of the distracted Dr. Dallas, and removed his cervical brace. By the time Dr. Dallas realized Moondog had placed the cervical brace in his hand, it was too late for the unsuspecting Doctor of Decadence. Moondog unleashed everything he had, and the dog was certainly let out of its cage. Moondog placed Dr. Dallas in a vulnerable position, and like the child’s shoe, pretended to urinate on him like a canine. The crowd erupted into a frenzy.
Dr. Dallas returned with solid punches and throws, but underestimated Moondog’s greatest weapon: his bone. After one fatal swoop to the head, Moondog knocked out the very wrestler who caused his heart attack, and came back to pin him once more. Moondog had lived up to his promise, and certainly gave his fans one hell of a final show.
After the bell was rung and victory declared, Moondog’s family and fellow wrestlers swarmed the ring to give him hugs and show thanks. A final twist was included in this match: a previous bet had been made that if Dr. Dallas won, Moondog would have to retire for good. If Moondog won, Dr. Dallas had to wear a blonde wig until he wins another match.
Before adorning Dr. Dallas’ head with the blonde wig, Moondog ended the evening with a ceremonial gesture well-respected in the wrestling world. He removed and placed his boots in the center of the ring to commemorate stepping away.
On top of the boots, he laid his famous bone.