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Bodyslams and Piledrivers: A History of St. Louis Wrestling

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Dick the Bruiser

By Adam Allington, KWMU

Back before professional wrestling became pay-per-view staple that it is today, St. Louis was the epicenter of once-great system of interdependent wrestling territories.

Throughout the 60's and 70's wrestling matches would routinely sell out the downtown Kiel auditorium.

Wayne St. Wayne is a former wrestler who grew up going to matches at the downtown Kiel Auditorium.

"The smell of beer and cigar smoke reminds of the Kiel Auditorium on Friday night.
You'd go into the building and it would gradually fill up, and there was Dick the Bruiser," said Wayne.

As a kid, Wayne, aka Buddy Frankenstein , aka "Doctor Blood", was a big fan of horror movies and comic books. He says he was drawn to wrestling as a place where heroes and villains actually came to life.

"I have never ever been a sports fan as far as real actual sports, and never will be, but something about wrestling intrigued me witch characters and larger-than-life humanoids and hominids. There was World Champion Gene Kiniski from Edmonton Alberta, Canada, The Crusher, the cousin of Dick the Bruiser..."

Of all the wrestlers to pass through St. Louis, the one name everybody mentions is Frank Goodish, better known as King Kong Brody .

A 6 foot, 8 inch, 280-pound former all-state football player who barked like a dog, Brody was perhaps the first true wrestling super-star, bridging the gap between the old school styles and the bigger, flashier guys who would hit the scene in the 1980's.

"There will never be anybody to replace King Kong Brody," says long-time wrestling fan Jerry Boullion.

"He was crazy, he was unpredictable, you never knew what he would do next".

Other say Brody was a gentle giant', the kind of person fans could connect with.

St. Louis was also the first place to broadcast wrestling matches on TV.

A program called "Wrestling at the Chase" was the brainchild of a St. Louis promoter named Sam Muchnick and Harold Koplar, owner of the Chase Park Plaza hotel and KPLR, channel 11.

Their experiment brought the sport into the living rooms of hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Guys like Jeff McGraw who watched wrestling with his grandfather in Crystal City, Missouri.

"To me it was just second nature growing up that we had all these big stars, you know back then it was a circuit, but you never realized that was taking place back then, you just thought that all these great wrestlers wanted to be at the Chase and that's what made it so exciting," says McGraw.

Tony Costa is a former wrestler and promoter from back in the day.

Costa says professional wrestling has always been about spectacle, but these days its more of a joke than entertainment.

"When I was wrestling, wrestling was wrestling years ago here in St. Louis, they had wrestling at the St. Louis House, wrestling at the Chase, that was wrestling. Today it's more like a circus in a lot of places."

Costa says the downward slide started when a young promoter from the northeast, Vince McMahon Jr., formed the World Wrestling Federation, and broadcast his matches on cable TV, effectively destroying the market for regional wrestling.

But wrestling hasn't completely died out in St. Louis.

A small club on the bank of the Mississippi River called the South Broadway Athletic Club has kept the tradition alive for a core group of fans.

We'll take you into the ring with that story on Thursday.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.