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Scott Ostler

Only in This Group Could Lord Blears Be a Guest of Honor

August 22, 1985|SCOTT OSTLER

The Indian chief arrived, wearing shades. The distinguished Japanese professor, looking like a refrigerator with a shaved head for a freezer compartment, stalked the banquet room.

English royalty, in the form of a baron and a lord, made an entrance well in advance of the ringing of the supper bell, which sounded suspiciously like one of those big ringside clangers used at boxing and wrestling matches.

The setting Wednesday was an old spaghetti joint on the Sunset Strip. The occasion was a class reunion of the pioneers of professional wrestling, the men and women who made the world a lucrative place for such present-day thugs as Hulk Hogan and Sergeant Slaughter.

It was a meeting of the Cauliflower Alley Club, former wrestlers and boxers, but this was a special get-together--old wrestlers only, with Lord James Blears the guest of honor. Chicken blood capsules, monocles, Indian war bonnets and secret foreign objects were checked at the front door. This was a friendly meeting.

It was an all-star cast of the game's golden oldies, the originals.

Iron Mike Mazurki . . . Mildred Burke . . . Vic Christie . . . Baron Michele Leone . . . Professor Toru Tanaka . . . Chief Sunni Warcloud . . .

Tanaka, one of the earliest in a long line of wrestling Japanese professors, talked about his new school, Professor Toru Tanaka's Wrestling Academy. It will be, presumably, a very liberal arts institution. Entrance requirements will be stiff. "They better be able to take some body punishment," glowered the professor.

Warcloud inspired memories of great Indian wrestlers. Somebody brought an old program featuring a story on the history of Indian matmen. Such as: " . . . the midget Canadian orphan boy, Little Beaver, whose family met disaster in a canoeing accident." And: "Tiny Roebuck, a Choctaw, who was the first Indian wrestler. He introduced the crotch hold and developed it into one of the most feared grips in the sport."

One of the most feared?

Lord Blears was the star among the luncheon's stars. Lord, as his pals call him, was a supremely skilled grappler who never wrestled outside the rules. However, Lord's aristocratic carriage and condescending snobbiness stuck in the craws of thousands of American wrestling fans in the two decades after World War II.

Lord would climb into the ring wearing his monocle and family crest, after his manager had already incited the crowd to violent contempt. The manager, a decent enough chap named Capt. (Leslie) Holmes, would enter the ring first, carrying a silver-tipped cane and wearing a tuxedo and a stiff upper lip.

"I instructed the crowd on how to behave in the presence of an English lord," said the captain, who now lives in the Valley. "We started that one very hot night in Buffalo. I stood in the ring to make an announcement, and I noticed that many of the men had their jackets off. I ordered them all, as a sign of respect, to put their jackets back on. They threw their jackets on the floor and were stomping on them."

Captain and Lord, who were schoolboy chums in Manchester and who still recite Shakespeare to one another at length, were innovators. Captain, the first wrestling manager, pioneered the use of organ music and searchlights to fire up the fans during prematch introductions. Blears invented the Oxford leg strangle, a submission hold that became popular among Rhodes scholars everywhere.

Lord recalled his classic battle against Gorgeous George at the Olympic Auditorium in 1951. Gorgeous hurled the 18-stone (240-pound) Blears into a ring post, splitting his head open. The wound required 130 stitches. All in fun.

Blears was no sissy. He had joined the Dutch navy at age 16, and his submarine was torpedoed by a Japanese sub in the Indian Ocean. The 100 prisoners were tied up, two by two, and systematically executed on the deck of the Japanese sub. But Blears and his would-be death-mate leaped overboard. The other man was shot in the head, but Blears worked himself free and swam six miles to safety.

An American ship picked him up. One of the seamen noticed Blears' cauliflower ear and urged him to come to America to wrestle. A star, albeit a royal and snobby one, was born.

Lord lives in Hawaii now, surfs every day, plays tennis and has raised four champion surfer kids. He makes good money sending American wrestlers to Japan, where presumably, they are all billed as professors.

Wednesday afternoon Blears was busy trading memories with his old pals and enemies. The theme seemed to be that everyone misses the good old days. Or, as former wrestling promoter Roy Warner casually mentioned to Blears, "For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings that then I scorn to change my state with kings."

To which Lord Blears shot back, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Ah, jock talk. It never changes.

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