4 March 2008
Ever see a face for the first time and wonder what story waits to be discovered behind it?
The man behind the hotel bar in Kirkaldy, north of Edinburgh, looked to have been a bouncer in his younger days. Back when wrestling was more of a real sport, not just a big show as he put it, he was once the champ. Showmanship still had its place. One night the opponent, who had been celebrating in excess the evening prior, was not in peak form. It would have been easy to make short work of things, yet the situation was carried for a few rounds so as not to deprive the fans of the spectacle they had bought tickets to see. Often on the road, fighters in the ring would later meet at the bar. Winners moved up in rank and prestige.
Some skills had come from working at his father's kennels, raising a breed of wolf hound that had a reputation for turning on their masters. He said that when being attacked by a large dog, getting the hands between the shoulders and pulling outwards will make it have a heart attack, unless you already had one first. There was a chimpanzee at a zoo in France who would spit on people. You could tell by the look in her eye right before she did, like any man or beast on the verge of madness. Ever had to deal with that look, deciding in a blink to bluff or back off?
When he won the European championship, he let himself be thrown around like a rag doll the first few rounds, resting while the other guy spent energy lifting the dead weight thus becoming easier to finish off later. He agreed to defend his title against a drinking buddy, who at a crucial point in the match tore off his ear. All the purse money from the title defense went to specialists to get his ear stitched back on. After a time, in a promoters office discussing a future exhibition match, he noticed the same guy's name among a list of potential opponents, which he chose on condition the pairing remain confidential up to the moment they stepped into the ring, so as not to leave any chance of backing out. The former friend reacted as if he had seen a ghost. This turned out to be his last gig, as both legs were broken in retribution for making a bloody mess in his title bid. Years later, his widow confided that she was not as inclined to hold a grudge in light of what her husband had done.
Once I had moved up to Scotland, I visited again and tried to stay in touch, hoping to write a screenplay based on a time when housewives in ringside seats would go nuts to be anointed by a drop of sweat, before the promoters made it into a choreographed event, making it all too clear who our heroes would be. Safer and more sane, but somehow watered down from one generation to the next. A recent review said the show was too predictable. Such reviews have become predictable. Who knows what I may have to offer or how it may all work out, do you ever wonder?