It's Saturday night, and South Broadway Athletic Club is packed for its monthly wrestling event because tonight wrestler Moondog Rover will be returning to the ring.
The event sold out days in advance, and many fans without tickets are turned away due to capacity restrictions. The crowd is a sea of Moondog Rover T-shirts, and some spectators have donned fake beards and tattered jeans to mimic the wrestler they love and adore. Moondog's family is here in support, and the building is a powder keg of energy and enthusiasm.
Already, there is nothing quite like a night of wrestling at South Broadway Athletic Club. Since 1985, the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Alliance has organized match after jaw-dropping match within the historic south city institution, a location that has hosted boxing and wrestling tournaments in the Soulard area since 1899.
Every second Saturday of the month, the building becomes an energetic melting pot, offering one of the most unique and entertaining cultural events one can experience in the City of St. Louis. Every walk of life attends, and nobody acts like a stranger. Two dollar draught beers flow like wine, and by the end of the night, your face hurts from smiling so much. But tonight, the energy is amped up to 11.
Moondog Rover, a.k.a. Paul McKnight, has been wrestling at South Broadway for 35 years, and his fans are legion. With shaggy white hair and an untamed beard, Moondog gives off the appearance of an unhinged Santa Claus out for revenge. His sole means of communication is barking like a feral canine, and a derelict rope is the only thing holding up his frayed pants.
Moondog is well known for hiking up his leg like man's best friend to pretend to pee on kids' shoes, and the maniac wrestler is not afraid to take a bite out of his opponents or hit them with his signature bone. To say the audience is charmed by Moondog's antics would be an absolute understatement. Every time he enters the ring, the room echoes with fans barking like wild dogs, and chanting "Moondog."
Then, 57-year-old Mcknight suffered a heart attack following a wrestling match in mid July. Thankfully, he survived the medical emergency, but McKnight was left with the real possibility of a fate worse than death in his own eyes: never being able to wrestle again.
For the last six months, McKnight has been on the road to recovery, undergoing test after test at a cardiac rehab facility while awaiting clearance from doctors to wrestle again.
Tonight is finally the night.
MMWA President Anthony Castaldi is the first to hop over the turnbuckle. He begins the evening by introducing Moondog Rover back into the ring. The crowd is uncontrollable as Moondog makes his way through the building, pure joy radiating from the wrestler.
Sitting in the front row near Moondog's family is the medical team that saved him after the heart attack. Castaldi asks for a round of applause for the doctor and his staff. While they stand and smile, the crowd lets out a thundering roar of cheers and dog barks. Suddenly, multiple wrestlers interrupt Castaldi's speech. These wrestlers are a part of the Kings of the Revolution, a group that includes the very wrestler whom Moondog Rover faced just before his heart attack: Dr. Dallas. There are boos and jeers, but the loudest insults come from Moondog Rover's mother. "He hurt my boy!" she yells, and points at Dr. Dallas.
The Kings of the Revolution taunt Moondog Rover, telling him that he "should have listened to his wife and stayed at home," and they are going to "send him right back to the hospital."
At this moment, a different group of wrestlers called the Brotherhood arrive to support Moondog. One method of support includes calling one of the Kings of the Revolution "Uncle Douche," which becomes a popular chant for the rest of the evening.
After the Brotherhood threatens the Kings with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, the Kings make their way back to the locker room. The two groups continue to trade insults before agreeing to face off again soon for the main event.
Other wrestlers get in the ring while Moondog signs autographs and takes photos with fans in between rounds. Then, a crackling recording of Moondog's signature walkout song (an original composition from musician Richard Lee) blasts through the speakers, and Moondog and the Brotherhood march into the ring.
As Moondog and the others are flexing, an audience member stands up to offer Moondog a bone he had brought with him from home. In a nearly biblical scene, the lighting focuses solely on this Moondog disciple as he holds the bone outright, and wrestler Ricky Cruz leaves the ring to retrieve it. Moondog's eye twinkles as Cruz extends the bone like an offering, and Moondog nods his head in approval.
The Kings of the Revolution arrive next, and the tension is at a breaking point. The bell rings, and a quadruple-tag-team match ensues. Moondog starts off a bit slow and easy, almost cautious. As the fight continues, Moondog lets the animal inside of him out a bit more. Then Moondog finally finds himself squaring off with the man who induced his cardiac arrest, Dr. Dallas.
Caution is thrown out the window as Moondog lifts and tosses Dr. Dallas around the ring. (A lot of fans are probably thankful there is a full surgical team in the building.) Moondog finishes Dr. Dallas by dropping him on the mat, getting down on all fours, and pretending to pee on him like a dog. The room explodes with applause.
Despite this, the Kings of the Revolution are declared the victors, which leads to a massive brawl spilling outside of the ring. It is pandemonium as wrestlers fight staff and toss chairs. Before long, bodies begin to line the floor. In the midst of all of the chaos is Moondog, standing just outside of the mayhem grinning ear to ear. If home is where the heart is, Moondog Rover's heart is in the ring, and he's finally home.Coming soon: Riverfront Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting St. Louis stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.
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