FEATURE: Wrestling returns to my hometown

If you’re reading this it’s pretty safe to assume you are a wrestling fan and you’ve probably been to your share of live events, and so have I.

Growing up, WCW, WWF and even ECW did shows around my area, primarily in Dothan, Ala. and Ozark, Ala., and later even TNA would do shows in those same towns. Now, the closest WWE comes is Montgomery, but we’ve always had local independent wrestling shows here.

I’ve been to dozens upon dozens of shows in surrounding cities – even as far as Georgia and in Florida – but never in my hometown. Elba, Alabama is a tiny city in Southeast Alabama nestled against the Pea River with a population of under 4,000. That’s not exactly an area that you would expect to see professional wrestling, let alone a show with major stars.

When I was growing up my dad and uncle would tell me stories about going to see the old Alabama territory – Continental Championship Wrestling – put on classics at the Houston County Farm Center in Dothan. Huge stars like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes and many others would sweat and bleed buckets in that old building. Stars like Hulk Hogan, Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious would also cut their teeth in the old Continental territory.

During the territory years, those big territories weren’t the only promotions that would run shows in certain areas – especially in the 1950s and 1960s – as various promoters would use talent from some of the larger territories to run shows at smaller venues and towns. There were also the “outlaw” territories that ran outside the purview of the National Wrestling Alliance.

While doing research – for something completely different than this – I found advertisements and match cards for wrestling all around our area from Dothan to Enterprise to Troy to even the much smaller New Brockton. Then, I found a number of cards for my hometown. No online database I’ve been able to look through has any of these shows recorded, even though there are a few very recognizable names on the cards.

It seems a local promoter was running events in Elba as far as back as the 1950s at the town’s old National Guard Armory. One match card from the 1950s promoted a Best of Three Falls “midget girl match” pitting “Baby Cheryl” against “Dolly Dagmire.” A quick search of those names reveals that the pair wrestled all over the country, working for Nick Gulas and Roy Welch’s NWA Mid-America in Alabama.

Another card promotes a match between Herb Welch – the brother of Roy Welch – and another tag team match pitting Memphis legend Mario Galento and Dick Dunn against Doug Kinslow and “The Red Devil.” Dunn would end up settling down near Elba in a town called Kinston, where he served a police officer in his later years.

Yet another match card, from the 50s, sees Lee and Bobby Fields – the brothers that ran the Gulf Coast territory – face the legendary Sputnik Monroe and his partner Rube Wright, who was a star in the Gulf Coast territory in the 60s. Monroe was a gigantic star in the Memphis territory in the 50s and 60s and is most well-known for helping desegregate all sports and entertainment events in Memphis.

Monroe garnered a big following with black fans during the time and was well known to frequent predominantly black restaurants and bars. There’s even stories of Memphis police arresting Monroe with made up charges to teach him a lesson about socializing with black people.  Monroe reportedly would hire a black lawyer and then immediately go back to doing the same things.

Despite his popularity black fans were forced to stay in their own designated balcony seats but Monroe became such a star that he refused to wrestle in Memphis unless the black fans were allowed to sit wherever they chose. Promoters relented and the desegregated shows began to sell out regularly and as a result other sports and entertainment promoters saw this and decided it would be more financially beneficial to follow suit.

You can imagine my surprise to see names like this passed through our small town but even more surprised was my father. He was born in 1958 but doesn’t remember a single one of these cards taking place.

Now, imagine my shock further when I find out this weekend wrestling is returning to Elba for the first time in at least 50 years. A local promoter is bringing professional wrestling to Elba High School, my old high school, and while there aren’t names quite the size as those shows from the old days, there are some fairly known wrestlers coming to town.

“The Rumble on the River” will take place March 18 and will feature Impact Wrestling star Johnny Swinger – who’s probably most well known for his time in WCW and ECW – who will be facing “The Wrestling Superstar.” The show is also being billed as a “TNA Impact Wrestling” event, which it very clearly isn’t, however.

Additionally, the legendary “Action” Mike Jackson will face Christian Pierce. Jackson is probably most well known with modern fans for his appearances in Impact Wrestling and recently with Game Changer Wrestling. The 71-year old Jackson is the true definition of a “freak of nature.” Despite his age, he’s able to fly around the ring, walk along the top rope, do dives and keep up with wrestlers a quarter of his age. Jackson debuted in the 70s and was known as one of the better “jobbers” of the Georgia and Crockett territories, while being a top star in the Alabama territories.

Another match featured on the card is Antonio Garza – a wrestler billed from Mexico that works all across the Southeast – going up against “The Soul Sensation” Amari Harper. The Main Event is also scheduled to be a $1,000 Battle Royal.

Even more throwback to some of those old match cards from the 1950s is the listing of random championships. The Swinger/Masked Superstar match is billed as being for a generic “U.S. Heavyweight Championship” and Jackson’s match is billed as being for an “Intercontinental Championship.” Garza is also listed as a “Luchador Champion.” On almost all of the old match cards with championship bouts, those matches would be listed as being for a generic title with no home promotion, or anything else describing it, listed.

There will also be an “autograph party” at the local Chevrolet dealership in Elba. With an area like ours that has been all but starved out of professional wrestling for years this is a breath of fresh air. The WWE hasn’t even bothered to appear in Dothan in years and there hasn’t been an independent wrestling event within 30 miles in at least three years. So, if you’re anywhere near the area, on March 18, come by Elba High School and check it out. Tickets can be found at https://tinyurl.com/377wnbpr.