St. Louis Wrestling
Hall of Fame
Is On The Way
Why the ST. LOUIS WRESTLING HALL OF FAME Is Becoming A Reality
By Larry Matysik
Mitch Hartsey, a young man from Southwestern Illinois who is a student of wrestling history and a St. Louis fan thanks to his family, approached me a few years ago about starting a St. Louis Hall of Fame. I was negative on it, although I liked the idea, because the reality of rental, expenses, upkeep, insurance, etc. meant a serious loss of money in the long run. I didn’t feel it could stand alone with no current television, etc. to support it.
When Herb Simmons and I began producing the Classic St. Louis Wrestling videos in 2003, we were shocked at the strong response from people in the metropolitan St. Louis area. He and I talked about a Hall of Fame for St. Louis wrestling as Mitch had envisioned.
When I wrote Wrestling at the Chase in 2005, the book had tremendous success and is still on shelves and available. Again, Herb and I talked about the idea and also spoke with Mitch, who helped start our website -- stlouiswrestling.com.
Late in 2005, Herb and I met Nick Ridenour, a native of south St. Louis and friend of the late referee Joe Schoenberger, who did so much for amateur baseball at Heine Meine (Lemay) Field. Nick was operating a small wrestling memorabilia store on Lemay Ferry Road. I remembered Nick as a youngster hanging around the matches at Kiel Auditorium.
This year, Nick’s store took off and is doing quite well. He now has The World Famous Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop in a prominent spot outside Dillard’s at South County Mall. He sells all sorts of t-shirts, gimmicks, and modern merchandise plus Wrestling at the Chase and the Classic St. Louis videos. He also displays some historic St. Louis items just for viewing.
Nick also had the idea of a St. Louis Hall of Fame.
Well, duh…so I put a Nick, Herb and Mitch together with me and that’s where the idea springs from and why we also wanted to include Keith Schildroth from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the planning knowing about his loyalty to the local sports scene and wrestling as well.
Why does St. Louis need a specific Hall of Fame?
In fact, the only widely known Hall of Fame is that operated by World Wrestling Entertainment, but that membership depends on if people work for the company and the internal politics of WWE itself. The Wrestling Observer newsletter has a very serious Hall of Fame, as do a couple of other organizations, but it is the WWE version that appears on television of course. And none are devoted to our town.
In the WWE version, Verne Gagne was put into that Hall of Fame when he sold his last videos to WWE. That type of decision is common. Many lesser names are in that hall simply because they are employees. In addition, the limo driver for Vince McMahon, Sr. (the late father of current owner Vince Jr.) was put into the wrestling Hall of Fame of WWE. It’s politics and personalities.
Who’s not in? The two greatest champions in the history of the company, which was a regional promotion in the 60s and 70s, are Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino. Hogan still has a business relation with McMahon and, thus, is in their Hall. But Bruno once sued the McMahons and is still at odds with them – he is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Bruno Sammartino not inducted? Incredible.
Bob Backlund had a successful several year run as champion for the company, but he is also on the outs with the powers that be. Thus, no Bob Backlund. Amazing! But then, neither is Sam Muchnick nor Lou Thesz, who were both dominating national figures for years in this industry.
Since WWE would apparently like to erase what legends like Sam Muchnick did with the National Wrestling Alliance (the operating body of pro wrestling for four decades and to which Vince Sr. and the old WWWF actually belonged), the most influential promoter in history along with Vince Jr. is NOT in the so-called Hall of Fame.
Likewise, the role of St. Louis and the early success of “Wrestling at the Chase” in wrestling becoming a hugely popular endeavor from the late 50s is ignored by a company that wants to rewrite history. Had St. Louis not accepted wrestling on television as it did, the sport might never have developed as it has over the decades. Any legitimate Hall of Fame needs to recognize that fact.
Bottom line – who needs ‘em?
St. Louis and the people here know what wrestling was, the respect it had in the community, and the role it played in today’s success of the business even though wrestling has changed radically. Everything needs a foundation.
So our attempt is to have a St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame, concentrating on the era of “Wrestling at the Chase” from 1959 to 1983 but also recognizing the legends of years before who helped lay the groundwork for the golden age of St. Louis wrestling. And this means a bit more than just wrestlers, but also the select few who were part of the community and helped earn wrestling a place still remembered and revered by folks (including their kids and grandchildren who heard stories about it) throughout the St. Louis area.
Now Nick Ridenour is dedicating space in the Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop at South County Mall to the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame. Obviously, there will be no charge to visit the Hall’s display. Plaques for those inducted, old pictures and photos, plus various memorabilia will be there. Maybe special t-shirts, or a Hall booklet, or replica plaques will be on sale. Cozy, intimate, and comfortable is the goal to recall a bit of the excitement these unique stars provided in wrestling’s capital – St. Louis.
Thanks to the success of Nick’s store and the ideas of Mitch and Herb, there will be a special place for folks of all ages to look at some of the memories that made and make St. Louis wrestling famous.
Who is going into the St. Louis Hall of Fame? Five names will be announced as in by acclamation. A ballot will be available to all of you – the fans – to choose seven inductees from among twenty superstars who headlined in the St. Louis glory days.
Just narrowing the field to only twenty was a momentous task. Think of the decisions you will have to make picking just seven! That ballot should be available both on this website and in the Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop in the next couple weeks.
You vote. And then the Hall of Fame for St. Louis will be a reality, just as the legend of St. Louis wrestling became a reality because of you – the fans. Thanks to each and every one of you in advance.