Monday, April 6, 2015

Wrestling in Lake Charles - Part 3

(The following series is adapted from a Facebook discussion that took place last week. The information presented here is definitely incomplete, and I am certain there are mistakes. However, I wanted to put this out there for the public to inspire further research by people who are more interested in the mat game than yours truly and more resourceful in digging up its history. To see the entire series, follow the tag "lake charles wrestling.")

I went into tracing the history of wrestling in Lake Charles with the notion that it was linked to wrestling in Lafayette. Maybe it was prior to 1960 and no records reflecting that have turned up yet. But by the middle of 1965, the two towns were clearly part of the same circuit. It should be pretty linear from there.

Or so you'd think. Because then comes January 1966, and Lake Charles is booking out of the Houston office again. Some ads make this even more explicit by trumpeting "Texas Wrestling" rather than just "Professional Wrestling" - perhaps a slight and subtle burial of the Gulf Coast office (also bolstering my theory about KPLC having aired the program of the same name.) Lineups from available cards for 1966 and 1967 are all clearly from the Texas circuit.

What happened? Well, some of the Gulf Coast workers were driving from as far as Tallahassee for shows, and considering Lake Charles is pretty close to the Texas state line, that just became too much of a burden. But was there more to it than that? Did the Gulf Coast cards not draw because they ran on Saturdays rather than Wednesdays or Thursdays? Did the workers and angles not get over in Lake Charles? Was there a falling out between the Lafayette office and/or Lee Fields and Cecil McDonald? Did Fields buy out McDonald and then sell it back or to some unknown third party? Was there some other reason?

I don't know. All I know for certain is that Gulf Coast dropped Lake Charles from their circuit, apparently at the end of September 1965. At least, there do not appear to be any wrestling ads at all in the papers for the next two weeks. Further research is needed to determine exactly when Gulf Coast departed and Houston returned to town, but October-December 1965 is the key moment in the switch back.

Though the building is referred to as "McDonald Sportatorium" again, Cecil McDoanld's name is still missing from available ads in 1966 and 1967. So I cannot even say if he's the promoter anymore or not by then. Gulf Coast was still running cities like Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria until Lee Fields abandoned the state in February 1968 due to political shenanigans and transferred the Lafayette booking office to Hattiesburg, MS. I don't have enough information on hand to sort out the resultant fallout, but how it relates to Lake Charles is debatable since they were long gone from the Gulf Coast circuit by then.

What happens next in Lake Charles wrestling? Well, here things get murky. I have seen very little from 1967-1974. I did run across results for Leroy McGuirk's Championship Wrestling running the Lake Charles Civic Center in 1974. McGuirk was all over the state (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, even Loranger) by that year, and I've seen lineups for Lafayette dating to 1978 so they were running it, too.

Only when did this start? The Civic Center opened in 1972, but when did the McDonald Sportatorium close? When did Lake Charles start getting McGuirk TV? Was it only on KLFY, or did KPLC run it too at that stage? Those are blanks I can't fill in just yet.

One anomaly cropped up as I was looking around - a pair of September 1974 cards that seem to be an outlaw group. They are especially strange because women's wrestling is pushed as the top attraction, while the men's bouts are treated as undercard fodder. In the first, for September 7 at 8 PM at McNeese Arena, Mildred Burke (billed as World Women's Champion) takes on Millie Stafford. Meanwhile, the same group ran on September 28 at Legion Field at 8 PM with Nell Stewart taking on Barbara Baker (Ripper Collins' wife).

Burke's presence raised an eyebrow for me, considering her estrangement from the NWA over the whole Billy Wolfe debacle. Even more bizarre is Stewart, who was *another* ex-wife of Wolfe. I don't know what to make of these cards (if they took place as scheduled), especially as the contemporary write-ups present them as part of an ongoing thing. Was Mildred Burke really running opposition in Louisiana against the NWA office in 1974? If so, why is this the first time I'm hearing about it?

Nevertheless, Lake Charles was a McGuirk town until Bill Watts took it and the rest of the Louisiana/Mississippi end of the circuit when he formed Mid-South Wrestling in 1979. And finally, I come to the point of the story where I was actually around to see what was going on.

I have read many...COLORFUL stories about the city of Lake Charles from the men who worked the Mid-South territory. Jim Ross tells of being in a riot there and a policeman who carried a hollowed-out pool cue filled with lead to discourage rowdies. I wonder if those kind of antics dated back to the days of Cecil McDonald and his Sportatorium? Wouldn't surprise me one bit.

As I've said, I grew up with Mid-South Wrestling, which changed its name to the UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation) in 1986. It aired on KPLC, KLFY, and KALB (Alexandria) during those years. Lake Charles was a regular stop in those days. But change was coming to the wrestling business, and that arrived when the WWF made its debut at the Civic Center.

I want to say it was 1986 and "Macho Man" Randy Savage was in the main event, but the card isn't online as far as I've seen and I think I lost the clipping I had from back then. I do know WWF was airing on KVHP Channel 29, then a relatively new independent station in Lake Charles that became the Fox affiliate when that network was formed. Perhaps an even more dire portent of things to come is my memory that KLFY replaced UWF with WWF around the same time. Considering the long tradition of wrestling on that station, losing it would have been a bad sign for Watts - even if KATC scooped up the UWF for themselves like I recall.

It became moot when Jim Crockett Promotions bought the UWF from Bill Watts in early 1987, and gradually phased it out as a brand separate from the NWA. By the beginning of 1988, the UWF was gone. But it didn't matter as much because it was also gone from KPLC. Somewhere along the way (and I don't remember when), they just dropped it. Since KVHP was still carrying WWF, you could say Vince McMahon had already won the war for Lake Charles.

(KPLC aired the upstart Five Star Wrestling's TV when it launched in the early 90s, but this did not last long and I don't think Five Star made it into the city. Years later, KVHP was airing WCW Worldwide at the height of the Monday Night Wars. Funny how that works out.)

WWF and the current WWE have run shows in Lake Charles since then, but it's not a regular stop. I'm not sure if Crockett tried to run the Civic Center under the NWA banner after folding the tent on the UWF, but WCW showed up now and then until they went away in 2001. Like a lot of places, Lake Charles isn't the scene that it used to be when it ran every week. Probably, that was inevitable.

I do want to close with a very obscure recollection of mine. It seems someone made a stab at running indy shows in the area in the mid-80s. I distinctly recall a newspaper ad that touted a group calling itself "Super Pro Wrestling." It pictured someone who called himself the Human Ox, but none of the names jumped out as familiar to me - though one of them was Dusty Wolfe and I *would* see him in the future. This group was running a show at the Moss Bluff skating rink. I later saw a flier in a Kinder gas station for another show with a different name but many of the same workers, plus Sonny King just a couple of years removed from a Mid-South run. I wonder if he was behind this promoting endeavor, or at least a partner in it.

I didn't get to either of those shows. I actually never went to see pro wrestling in Lake Charles. Based on what I know now, I'm not sure how I would have reacted as a young kid in that environment. But I miss those days and wish I could buy a ticket to any one of these cards I've been seeing in the archives. Even Super Pro Wrestling and the Human Ox in a skating rink.

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