| Wrestling has made it in Pittsburgh! This statement was
graphically borne out this past month when nearly 8,000 fans
braved a 12-inch Pittsburgh snowfall to view the Buddy Rogers
- Crusher Lisowski free-for-all at the city's new Civic Arena.
A recent indoor card, staged in the mammoth, domed Arena
drew a capacity throng of 12,500 wildly enthusiastic fans while
the last outdoor event staged in the city pulled in 14,000 to
Forbes Field, the sprawling home of baseball's National League
These figures are not the exception, either. Rather they seem
to be the common thing these days. For further proof, four
Forbes Field shows held last summer drew an average crowd of
over 10,000 while the past six Civic Arena cards have attracted
an average of over 8,000 paying customers.
Pittsburgh's phenominal upsurge in wrestling interest has
carried over into many neighboring communities as well. Now,
regular wrestling shows are staged in local high school
gymnasiums and auditoriums, in fact anywhere big enough to
hold an over-flowing crowd. Nearby Steubenville, Ohio, has
climbed on the mat bandwagon and now holds monthly shows
which pull in an average of just under 2,000 fans to the Diocesan
Community Arena there.
Pittsburgh has always been a great sports town but had
never before allowed wrestling to grab the spotlight from the
up-and-down Pirates or the area's numerous big-time college
athletic programs. But now, the names of Crusher Lisowski,
Buddy Rogers, Johnny Valentine or "Big Moose" Cholak are
synonymous with such well-known Pittsburgh athletes as Dick
Groat, Vernon Law, and Don Hoak of the Buccos or Buddy Dial,
Ernie Stautner and Bobby Layne of the pro football Steelers.
What has ignited this wrestling skyrocket in an area where
always before a mat show couldn't draw the wrestler's relatives?
What has transposed wrestling promotions into sure-things at
the box office and turned many unknown athletes into full-
Well, it's been a four-year metamorphosis but it all began
very dramatically one Saturday night in 1958 when a Pittsburgh
television station gambled on the success of the sport. Thus was
born WIIC-TV's live "Studio Wrestling" show, a savior to the
sport in the Greater Pittsburgh area.
The past four years have seen the sport's most rapid growth
and nearly all of the credit can be attributed directly to this 90-
minute, thrill-packed television production which each week
books the top pro grapplers in the nation.
The TV series has received nothing but praise from those in
the know in professional mat circles. From dyed-in-the-wool fans
to officials, promoters and wrestlers, all credit the WIIC-TV
series with completely rejuvenating the mat sport.
Paul Sullivan, the slight, greying athletic commissioner for
Western Pennsylvania, is most enthusiastic about the WIIC-TV
"Studio Wrestling" productions. He commented emphatically,
"There's not the slightest doubt in my mind that the key to the
revival of wrestling in Pittsburgh has been the WIIC show.
There's no question of the program's impact. this show has
added a new dimension to entertainment in Western
Sullivan, the man who keeps a stern vigil for the sport in
Pittsburgh and who once fined Lisowski, Rogers and Bobby
Davis for a rough-and-tumble brawl staged before the television
cameras, also feels that the ladies have had their interest in
the sport whetted by the WIIC-TV series. "Women who have
never seen a wrestling match before are now rabid fans. And,
the ladies are the real backbone of the sport, you know!"
"Studio Wrestling," televised each Saturday night at 6 p.m.
and hosted by Bill Cardille, has become so popular that the
300 studio fans sometimes arrive six hours before the first match
gets underway. The show's longtime sponser, American
Heating Company, has a major problem each week supplying
tickets to the thousands who clamer for them. One tiny old
lady who somehow manages to scrape up a ticket is Mrs.
Ann Bopp Buckalew, better known to thousands of television
viewers as "Ringside Rosie."
Rosie, who has attended every TV wrestling show staged
at WIIC-TV except two and missed those only because of
death in the family, was never a fan at all until the Channel 11
show hit the air. Now, she says, "I never miss a one. Why, I'm
a real celebrity in my own right now. Everyone on the street
stops me and talks about wrestling. It's tremendous, just
The wrestlers, too, have come to depend on WIIC-TV's
mat programs. Perhaps the hulking Hungarian champion
Ace Freeman sums it all up best. He says: WIIC-TV are the
eyes of wrestling.
|by Robert D. Willis
|Note: This article originally appeared in the April 1962
issue of "Wrestling Life".
|Here are the photographs that appeared with the article: