Published on April 23rd, 2018 | by Bobby Mathews0
Ask PWS: “Who Is The Greatest Monster Heel?”
[Editor’s note: We get a lot of questions on social media, so we’re going to distill those queries and their answers into a monthly column. If you’d like your question featured in a future Ask PWS, feel free to shoot us a message on TWITTER or FACEBOOK.]
Welcome back to another edition of Ask Pro Wrestling Stories, where we answer your questions about any and all arcane wrestling stories, personalities, trivia, and assorted nonsense. Mostly it’s the latter, but we always seem to have a good time, right? Today I get to talk about some of my favorite wrestlers from the territory days, so let’s jump in.
From Kelsey in Johnson City, Tennessee: WWE was setting up Braun Strowman as a truly frightening MONSTER heel, but now they’ve humanized him so I guess he’s a babyface now. It got me thinking: Who is the best monster heel of all time?
The original Sheik immediately comes to mind. Ed Farhat terrorized Detroit for a generation, and his long and bloody wars with Bobo Brazil (and others) are legendary. But I’ve been watching wrestling for a long time, and two other guys stand out to me … probably because I saw them both when I was very young.
The Mongolian Stomper was absolutely terrifying to me when I was a kid. Canadian tough guy Archie Gouldie wouldn’t talk on camera when he portrayed the Stomper in the Southern NWA territories, working on top in bloody brawls against babyfaces like Ron Fuller, Bob Armstrong, Austin Idol, etc. One of my favorite things is when an aging Stomper turned babyface and revealed he could talk. He became the trainer for Austin Idol until Ric Flair paid the Stomper to turn on Idol in a memorable angle in 1983. The setup: Idol had pinned Flair six weeks prior, and was training furiously for a rematch with the NWA world’s champion, and Flair sent in a promo claiming he had found the “cure for Idolmania.” Here’s the segment in its entirety.
But THE greatest monster heel I ever saw in person was Jos LeDuc. What made LeDuc truly terrifying is that he would often adopt a low-key, serious promo style, where he talked in a reasonable manner. But then when the lumberjack lost it, look out … when LeDuc showed up on TV, you had to watch him, because the moment that he snapped, something memorable was going to happen. It also helped that he was a legitimate strongman, doing feats of strength like pulling city buses. He was a big man, not so tall but around 300 pounds in the early 1980s. Working the Southern territories where the babyfaces were often under six feet and sometimes barely 200 pounds, LeDuc came off as especially vicious. Becoming the crazy, monster heel also extended his career. He’d spent several years in the 1970s as a babyface, especially in Florida for Eddie Graham. He was absolutely over as an ass-kicking babyface until he turned on Jimmy Garvin in 1979. For the next 10 years, LeDuc played crazy–and it worked. He drew money everywhere he went, but mainly stayed in the South. My favorite LeDuc moment was an unplanned spot where he heaves Jerry Lawler over the top rope and onto a table near ringside. I wanna say *at* ringside, but that wouldn’t do the spot justice. LeDuc hurls Lawler like he’s going for gold in the Olympic King-tossing event.
Jos LeDuc breaks Jerry Lawler's leg by throwing him over the top-rope into the announce desk. pic.twitter.com/8WeTjEr9Em
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) May 18, 2017
The bump broke Lawler’s leg. That was one of the things that made LeDuc frightening, though: He was so strong that if he wanted to do something, he generally did it. Oh, and when I tell you that LeDuc was scary–I mean for real scary–take a look at him swearing a blood oath to get Jerry Lawler in the Memphis Coliseum. It’s one of the most intense interviews I’ve ever seen in 40+ years of watching wrestling.
By the late 1980s, LeDuc was in the WWE, being managed by Frenchy Martin. But he was past his prime then and nowhere near the monster that had terrorized babyfaces across the country. After a tour with FMW in Japan in 1989, LeDuc retired from the ring except for a one-off tag team match with Phil Hickerson against Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Valiant in 1995. LeDuc suffered from diabetes later in life and died on May 1, 1999 after developing a lung infection. He was 54 years old.
Rick Miller emailed to say: “You forgot Arnold Skaaland in your top and additional managers list. A real oversight within days of Bruno’s death.”
That’s not a question, really, but I want to take up the subject since Arnold Skaaland as a manager is such an oddity in the wrestling business. A respected wrestler who once faced Pat O’Connor and Buddy Rogers in singles matches for the NWA world title, Skaaland was also a partner in the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the precursor to today’s WWE. On-air, he was the babyface manager of Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund when each man was WWWF champion. Wait, a babyface manager??? Yep. He famously threw in the towel on Backlund when the then-champ refused to submit to the Iron Sheik’s camel clutch. The video is shaky, but take a look below. The important part starts at about 14 minutes in:
But Skaaland’s chief duties were behind the scenes, which is one of the main reasons he wasn’t included on the list. He acted as the agent for Andre the Giant, and he often acted as the go-between for Vince Sr. and Sammartino, since the two had lingering heat from when McMahon essentially blackballed Bruno from wrestling in the northeast. Skaaland is a WWE Hall-of-Famer, but he was far more important behind the scenes than he was as an on-air manager. Of course, my favorite Arnold Skaaland moment is when Bob Backlund finally got revenge on him for throwing in the towel against Sheiky-baby:
Skaaland passed away in 2007 at the age of 82.
Brian Solomon on Facebook had some comments about the Top 10 Managers piece, too: “Wild Red Berry was the original template of the wrestling manager, and is nowhere on this list. And Albano on the worst list? Please …”
A Wild Red Berry sighting! I had to respond to this, because Brian’s complaint here has some merit to it … and because anyone who can bring up Wild Red Berry is my kind of fan. We can either look at it one of two ways: I looked at Berry’s 30-year career as an active wrestler, including his nine (NINE!) runs as NWA world lightweight champion and decided that overshadowed his also terrific run as a manager. (He’s the guy who worked with the original Fabulous Kangaroos, Killer Kowalski, and Gorilla Monsoon. In fact, if my memory serves, it was Berry who introduced Gorilla to the public, announcing that he’d found Monsoon bathing naked in a stream in Manchuria.) Or, here’s option No. 2: You could think I just completely forgot to include him.
It’s probably safer to bet on the second one, Brian.
I’ll add this, though: I think Bobby Davis is more the prototypical manager as the position came to be considered. I don’t want to diminish Berry’s memory in any way, but I do believe he was more the archetype of the vicious “little” heel–Berry was billed generously at 5’8″–working against larger babyfaces. Berry and Davis were contemporaries as managers, I believe, though Davis was years younger than Berry, having been forced from active competition due to an injury.
My favorite Wild Red Berry piece of trivia: He has a type of flowering cactus named after him. How cool is that?
As for Albano … Boy, have I heard about placing him on the “Worst” list! But I stand by my ranking. I would argue that Albano was an important manager rather than a good one. Maybe that’s too fine a distinction to make online, but it’s one I’m gonna make anyway. And hey, he was enough of a personality that I felt like I couldn’t leave him off the list entirely.
Ray from Los Angeles asks about African-Americans and world titles: “You guys said Ron Simmons was the first Black man to hold a significant world heavyweight title. What about Bearcat Wright?”
What about him? Bearcat Wright held the WWA “world” title for Mike LeBell in Los Angeles. Of course, LA is a major media market, so you could absolutely make the argument for him. There’s also the fact that Freddie Blassie defended the WWA title in Japan, so it’s certainly more of a “world title” than, say, Dick the Bruiser’s Indianapolis-based WWA title. But–BUT–LeBell’s WWA title was created when he pulled out of the NWA. Up until then, the top title in LA was the Americas championship. Maybe it’s old-school, but for me, the touring champions were the “real” world title holders back in the day. To shoehorn the WWA into “world” title status would be like trying to recognize Tom Prichard’s 1988 CWF championship reign as a world title run. As much as I like Tom, that title wasn’t a world championship.
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