March 17, 2004
USA Today AP Wire


Wrestling with change in culture

Published in the Home News Tribune 03/15/04

Past pro champ ignores last night's show

By JERRY BARCA
STAFF WRITER

Eighteen years ago, Pedro Morales stood in the wrestling ring with 19 other men grappling in Wrestlemania II's battle royal at the Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago.

Onetime champion
Home News Tribune
Onetime wrestling champ Pedro Morales has strong feelings about the state of the sport today.
The barrel-chested Puerto Rican was the seventh man tossed out of the ring in a match that pitted wrestlers and professional football players against each other.

It was an inconspicuous showing in his only match at wrestling's premiere event. An unnoticeable exit for the 5-foot-11-inch, 240-pound Woodbridge resident who earned a place in World Wrestling Entertainment's hall of fame.

Like it or not, in March of 1985, pro wrestling took its place in pop-culture's mainstream. Hulkamania ran wild with the first installment of Wrestlemania. Today, wrestlers star in movies and bark catch phrases (like "Do you smell what the Rock is cookin?") into the everyday vernacular. WWE is a publicly traded company and, according to USA Today, sports entertainment is a $500 million industry.

Yesterday, WWE produced Wrestlemania's 20th edition, but Morales, who helped build the dynasty, had no plans to watch the event.

Instead, the 59-year-old hobbled into The Club at Woodbridge for his daily routine, peddling 40 minutes on a stationary bike. He aggravated his left knee a few days ago on the bike. It is a reminder of a 23-year-old match. He remembers leaping into the turnbuckle and injuring the knee before losing the bout. But the main event for Wrestlemania XX is a different story.

"I don't know the names of these guys. Goldberg . . . Goldberg and . . ." he said, not knowing the opponent, Brock Lesnar.

Morales reigned in days when ethnicity ruled the sport's promotion. When he defeated "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff for the Worldwide Wrestling Federation championship, the crowd flooded the ring with Puerto Rican flags.

Morales held the title for nearly three years. It was an era absent of today's mega-muscle men. Morales said he never used steroids, but they started to come into the sport in the 1980s.

In 1972, before a Shea Stadium crowd of 20,000, Morales battled with legend Bruno Sammartino in a 76-minutes draw. The endurance match was a bit different than last night's evening gown match among four women dubbed wrestling divas.

"It's gimmicks. Today you're selling ratings," Morales said. "A lot of what I see I don't agree with, but how are you going to knock it? They're making millions of dollars."

Morales wouldn't say how much he made in a 29-year ring career, but he did say he earned $500,000 in his first three years with the WWF in the early-1970s.

While he knows today's version of wrestling is sport's entertainment, Morales won't say the matches in his day were fake. "We oldtimers, we don't talk about that," he said.

Jerry Barca: (732) 565-7306; gbarca@thnt.com

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