Portland Wrestling: The Way
Before Vince McMahon's WWF/WWE and
nationally televised wrestling, there existed the indie promotions. Back in
the 80s and early 90s, I enjoyed Portland Wrestling shows at the Portland
Sports Arena on N. Chautauqua. The Sports Arena was a renovated bowling
alley with a charm all it's own. It was not fancy and shiny, but was as
rough and rugged looking as the men who fought there, night after night.
You could call for reservations or buy your tickets at the door. If I
remember correctly, tickets were about $5.00 a piece, unless you wanted
ringside. Then the cost was a meager $8.00. The room was filled with folding
chairs and gymnasium-type seating for the many people that showed up every
Saturday evening. It was smoky, noisy and nearly always sold-out. The
wrestling ring (well-known as the "squared circle") seemed much smaller in
person than it was on television. It was regulation-sized, I guess. It just
seemed smaller. Nonetheless, once there, you could feel the electricity in
the air. You knew you were in for something exciting.
As you walked through the front doors, passing by the large painting of
wrestling great, Andre, The Giant, you stepped forward and parted with your
money in exchange for a ticket. Off to the left was the concession stand,
where you could grab the usual fare: popcorn, peanuts, candy and soda. I
believe, in the early days, you could grab a beer, if it suited you. A ways
down was a large folding table, where a couple employees sat and sold black
& white and glossy color photos of the wrestlers for a couple bucks a piece.
I still have one of Kangaroo Lord Jonathan Boyd and another of a cage match
in which Roddy Piper is pulling Buddy Rose down from the top of the
turnbuckle by his trunks, exposing his butt. It's pretty amusing.
Directly across to the right was the famous Crow's Nest, where Frank Bonema
(and later, Don Coss, after Bonema passed away) would sit at the wooden desk
and call the matches. Two of KPTV's rolling cameras looked on. Back then,
they didn't have people with hand-held cameras, running around the ring and
getting close-action shots. They simply had two large cameras in the Crow's
Nest. One pointed at Frank or Don and the other pointed at the ring. Chicken
wire surrounded the small area. This is where the wrestler's would come for
Moving on, toward the very back of the Sports Arena were two doors. One led
to the dressing room for the "Faces," and the other was for the "Heels."
From what Buddy Rose told me, both dressing rooms interconnected! Hehe.
The indie scene was so different from shows you would see in the WWE. Early
on, there were no barriers separating the ring from the crowd and no mats on
the floors. If you had a front row seat, you could very easily have had a
wrestler fall right in your lap! And when they threw one another out of the
ring, they would be landing on cold, hard concrete. These guys were rough,
predetermined or not. There was no firework and no music (at least not until
the last couple years of the promtion) as these huge athletes made their way
to the ring. They were able to generate excitement among the fans on their
I was witness to some of the unusual gimmick matches they had there: chain
matches (the wrestlers were either chained to one another by the wrist or by
the neck), bull rope matches, Indian strap matches, hair matches, loser
leave town matches and, the most famous of them all, the coal miner's glove
match, made famous by Dutch Savage. Those were brutal!
Dutch and Apache Bull
Ramos had some of their best matches against one another, centering around
the Coal Miner's Glove Match. A bar of steel was wrapped in Duct Tape and
then taped across the knuckles of a heavy glove. The rules were simple: the
glove was placed on a pole and whoever got to it first, got to beat the
out of their opponent. I had seen many a wrestler opened up the "hard way"
in that type of match.
IMO, I've seen some of the best matches put on by some of the greatest
performers in professional wrestling history. Portland Wrestling was one of
the most solid indie promotions to date.
*NEXT* What's wrong with professional wrestling today....