"Moondog" Lonnie Mayne did things from the heart and proved crazy doesn’t mean crazy if there’s a method behind the madness! Here is his memorable story.
"I walk through the valley of death. I am the toughest in the valley of death. That’s why I’m not afraid!"
– excerpt from the last ever interview of "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne
The Life and Times of "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne
Born Ronald Doyle Mayne in Fairfax, California, on September 12th, 1944, he was one of three sons of Kenny Mayne from Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s where he grew up with his three brothers. At one point, all three wrestled professionally, but only "Lonnie" Mayne made it a career. Lonnie graduated from the College of Southern Utah, where he was an All American in Football. Although there was a possibility he could have gone pro, he opted to wrestle professionally instead. His father soon made a call to an old friend named Tony Borne in the Portland territory, and he’s the one who really gave Lonnie the push he needed in his career after he debuted in 1967.
At first, promoter Don Owens (Portland, Oregon) wasn’t impressed with Lonnie, but "Tough" Tony Borne saw it differently.
"He came up here, and the guy had more ring color than any wrestler that I’ve ever met," Borne recalled in the highly recommended book, ‘The Heels.’ "He just had a way about him, a charisma about him that the people adored. Everything he did was different, including his lifestyle."
Borne would have an incredible eleven Pacific Northwest Tag Team championship runs in the NWA with Lonnie.
Their first title win was against Pepper Martin and James "Shag" Thomas. Martin recalls, "When he came to the Northwest, the fans there had never seen anything like Lonnie Mayne. He would do crazy stuff and just get over. But I got a funny feeling Lonnie was a little odd in the first place; he was a little different, and he just got over like a million dollars. I made a lot of money with him in the Northwest."
By the end of his career, Lonnie, with various partners, had held the Pacific Northwest tag title an astounding seventeen times.
An infamous incident occurred in the Pacific Northwest in a match against "Apache" Bull Ramos. Wrestling as a babyface at the time, Lonnie suffered a gruesome arm break at the hands of the heel Ramos where it was reported that the bone was sticking out of the skin. In the book ‘Professional Wrestling in the Pacific Northwest’ by Steven Verrier, Ramos claims that Lonnie did indeed get his arm broken, and it made Ramos a solid heel in that territory.
But there is also a theory that it was a storyline to justify Lonnie’s absence while working the Northwest and Hawaii territories at the same time. Nonetheless, whether it was a real incident or not, Ramos would be indebted to Lonnie for "making him."
While in Hawaii in the late ’60s, Lonnie went the limit and scored draws against the likes of Sam Steamboat, Mil Mascaras, and even won the NWA Hawaiian Heavyweight title from Bearcat Wright, all-stars in their own right.
"Superstar" Billy Graham tells a funny Lonnie Mayne story in his book ‘Tangled Ropes’ with Keith Elliot Greenberg. "One night at the motel (in Hawaii), Lonnie wanted to see what would happen if he bodyslammed a friend off the first-floor balcony. He had no desire to really hurt the guy, so he slammed him on top of my car (a broken-down rusted-out Chevy), caving in the roof. The guy stood up, laughing, jumping on the vehicle, and denting it some more. It was fun, fun stuff."
Don Muraco, who worked with Mayne in Hawaii, admired Lonnie’s bump taking in the book ‘The Heels.’
"Lonnie Mayne was doing bumps like Mick Foley. He’d take bumps from the top turnbuckle to the floor and stuff like that. I could have seen him taking a bump off a cage if given the opportunity and the venue."
While Lonnie’s ring style was already aggressive and vicious, with a little of "the sauce" (alcohol), things would get even wilder. Ron Bass recalls, "He was one of the first high flyers, period. He’d be sauced to the gills, but you’d never know it in the ring."
Lonnie quickly established himself as both a top heel and a big draw. Big enough to challenge Gene Kiniski’s NWA World Heavyweight title on November 28th, 1967, in Portland, Oregon. On the night of the match, after being pinned by the champ in the first fall, Lonnie fought back and took the second, and proving that he was more than just a brawler. He pinned Kiniski after a spectacular leap off the top rope. Unfortunately, Lonnie’s wild ways cost him the win, as he continued to beat on the NWA champ as he was still prone on the mat and was eventually disqualified. The fans loved it though!
In Portland, he was known as Lonnie but acquired his famous nickname "Moondog" from Vince Sr. because he supposedly looked like a famed blind musician and poet named Louis Hardin who lived in New York until the early ’70s and was frequently seen on the corner of 53rd or 54th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, in a cloak while wearing a Viking helmet.
In 1973, Lonnie Mayne challenged the beloved Pedro Morales for the WWWF title in Madison Square Garden. This is considered the highest in terms of national recognition Lonnie’s career reached. During this short but memorable run in the Northeast, he was all over the wrestling magazines at the time. The Wrestling 1974 Annual called for his banning from the sport alongside despised heels such as Abdullah The Butcher, George Steele, and The Sheik. When speaking of dreaded heels, that’s pretty formidable company!
The magazine went on to describe his outrageous antics, "Maybe he will eat a drinking goblet and scratch himself with the jagged remains. He has swallowed a live goldfish with glee. Mayne’s self-inflicted tortures are much milder, however, than those to which he subjects his victims. Mayne tears at his victim’s face, his fingers as dangerous as any foreign weapon. He has broken opponents’ jaws by reaching in their mouths and yanking down. He is renowned for using anything which might cause profuse bleeding. There are few men in wrestling whose use of the ring post to inflict punishment is as grotesque a work of art. Mayne is the best of them."
It should be noted that here Lonnie competed as "Moondog" Mayne, an unpredictable heel often accompanied by Lou Albano who became the mouthpiece for the disturbed madman. Some of the wildest promos of that era are given by an out of control Albano going nuts, detailing Mayne’s odd diet, and training methods. He presented Mayne as one of the most dangerous men in professional wrestling, and a legitimate threat to the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship. The well-being of any babyface that crossed his path was at risk.
Pedro Morales was on an incredible win streak ever since becoming the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in early 1971. In January 1973, Mayne joined a long list of villains that fell to the mighty Morales (who didn’t?), but he got at least two rematches against him, and while in the Northeast, he battled Gorilla Monsoon, Tony Garea, and even Bruno Sammartino. Occasionally, Mayne paired up with "Classy" Freddie Blassie as well. In his last match before his tour ended, he did the job for Haystacks Calhoun and got pinned cleanly in the middle of the ring to put him over.
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Rare footage of "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne taking on Pedro Morales at Madison Square Garden:
Lonnie Mayne left New York and returned to the West Coast, where he won the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (San Francisco version) from Pat Patterson in December of ’73 in two out of three falls in front of 12,000 at the Cow Palace. Eventually, Patterson and Mayne ended their feud and teamed up to win the San Fransisco version of the NWA Tag Titles on August 8th, 1975, by defeating The Invaders.
From 1973-1978, Moondog Mayne found much success in California, winning various singles titles, battling Chavo and Hector Guerrero, and Black Gordman in Los Angeles. In the Roy Shire Northern California area, he had feuds with Pat Patterson, Don Muraco, and partnered with Ray Stevens to sellout crowds. In Texas, he had memorable matches with Mr. Wrestling II.
Lonnie continually proved that he was more than just a regional oddity. He was a success and a headliner in most promotions he worked for, even becoming U.S. Heavyweight Champion (San Francisco version from Roy Shire’s promotion) by defeating Pat Patterson. In 1974, he even nearly defeated NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco in one of his rare visits to the SF Bay Area. After both men were tied at one fall apiece, Lonnie knocked Brisco out with a pair of brass knuckles without referee Larry Williams noticing. The bout ended momentarily with a pinned Jack Brisco in front of a stunned crowd, until referee Frank Nocetti informed Williams what had happened. And so the Moondog’s chance at world title gold was not to be yet again. In a rematch between them 3 weeks later, once more, Jack Brisco retained his title.
Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest territory was mostly comprised of an unpretentious blue-collar fan base with a sense of community that loved to boo the villains and energetically cheered and embraced the heroes. Lonnie was one of the most popular wrestlers this area had ever seen. He was fearless in the ring and always had a disheveled, blond hair, long-bearded crazed look about him. Although his character seemed simple and many times crude, it enamored him to his fans, especially in Portland and San Francisco, who saw him as maybe one of them and the perfect guy to teach the heels their deserved lesson.
"I’m going to bob and weave in order to win the $25,000 battle royal so I can spend it with The Mexicans, The Samoans, and the colored people so that everyone in the state of California can have fun."
"He was one of the best babyfaces that ever hit this area of the country, and he did quite well in other places," says 7-time Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion Dutch Savage, who wrestled Mayne many times and went on to promote in Washington and Oregon until 1981. "They tried to (control his actions), but Lonnie was spontaneous." He also indicated that Lonnie could have the crowd eating out of his hand when he wanted.
Lonnie Mayne was always telling the people that he wasn’t crazy, and he’d try to demonstrate that there was a method to his madness, like when he ate raw hamburger meat to prove a point about his upcoming match with Alexis Smirnoff.
"Boy, was he a madman!" – Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper mentions in the book ‘In The Pit’ with Robert Picarello that he had fond memories of working with Lonnie. "He looked like Santa Clause and drove a [Pontiac] Trans Am, and boy was he a madman! He was always fooling around. He would do things like setting my shirt on fire when I was in front of the camera on live TV, but it was all in good fun. The next day he’d buy me a new shirt that was twice as expensive as the one he ruined the night before. That’s just the kind of guy he was. He liked to have fun and really was a great guy."
In 1978, towards the end of Mayne’s career and life, Piper teamed up with him in Los Angeles as a babyface, and in San Francisco, they’d be bitter rivals a couple of days later! Back then, two territories somewhat close geographically like Los Angeles and San Francisco, could get away with that.
WATCH: "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne eats glass
Dutch Savage recalls a story when he and Lonnie got Harry Fujiwara (Mr. Fuji) so drunk on Crown Royal whiskey that Lonnie wound up stripping him naked, laid a shotgun across his body, and put him on a raft out in a pond early morning for all the residents of a retirement home to see. Eventually, the police were called, and Mr. Fuji wound up not talking to them for three months. He also mentions that "Lonnie would drink Southern Comfort like it was chocolate milk."
The Death of "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne
Outside the ring, gambling, partying and Southern Comfort was the usual fare. Lonnie enjoyed life. He REALLY enjoyed life. But according to his brother Shawn, Lonnie was apparently very close to quitting wrestling to be with his family. He worked in the Los Angeles territory to be closer to his loved ones and was planning one more tour of Japan before retiring. "But the drinking did catch up to him, it did."
According to Mr. Fuji in an RF Video shoot interview, Lonnie drank a bottle of Southern Comfort daily but had told him that he would get his life back in order and go to rehab. Sadly, later that very night, on August 14th, 1978, Lonnie Mayne’s life was extinguished in a terrible car accident.
Chavo Guerrero Sr. was the last to see "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne alive. They had just wrestled with each other in the main event in San Bernardino, California. After showering, Guerrero went to the empty parking lot. As he was pulling away in his car, he noticed Mayne nearby in his vehicle. He turned the car around and saw that Mayne was vomiting. He asked him if he was alright, and Mayne said that he was "Just alright." He waited for Mayne to get on the highway and then passed him waving goodbye. Nobody is sure what happened next, but Mayne jumped the median and slammed into an oncoming car. Both the driver and Mayne were killed. Guerrero and Mayne’s family believe that he collapsed while at the wheel. "Moondog" had a reputation of a wild lifestyle, but Guerrero believes he was sober on that night. "He wasn’t drunk. I’ll tell you that because I saw it."
According to Lonnie’s younger brother Shawn Mayne, the autopsy revealed that there had been internal bleeding and low levels of alcohol because of what had remained in his system from so many years of alcohol abuse. There are also theories that the vomiting might have been symptoms of a concussion Mayne wasn’t letting on.
On the August 19th airing of "Big Time Wrestling" in Northern California, Lonnie’s tragic death was announced.
"It shocked the heck out of us," recalls Nito Gomez, who was at the Cow Palace that night. "It was dead quiet in the Cow Palace, and it had never been like that before. To this day, it is hard for me to believe, as it was the first death that I had to deal with as a wrestling fan." Commentator Joe Sousa added, "The silence was so loud if that makes any sense."
Ken Faria, who grew up as a fan of the Roy Shire promotion, remembers, "I was shocked. I guess I was 14 or 15 at the time, and in a way, it was a lot like when Brody died. The two of them both being as tough as nails, but in the end, just as frail as the rest of us. Hell, Lonnie ate nails (also glass, raw hamburger, dog food, and goldfish), how could he die?!"
Chavo Guerrero Sr. recalls the final rib that Mayne played on them after he had passed. "We used to go to Bakersfield. As the announcer would get up to ring the bell to start the first match, Lonnie turned off the lights; he would turn off the breaker and turn it right back on. When he passed, Piper did the same thing. At first, when he did it, we were like, ‘Whoaaa! Wait a minute now!’"
Despite his sometimes unsound lifestyle outside the ring, "Moondog" Lonnie Mayne loved his fans, and showed a commitment to please them. He did whatever was needed to get people to buy their ticket to go see him perform.
The Legacy of Lonnie Mayne
"My father was a larger-than-than-life character playing a role in a larger-than-life and very unusual industry," his son, also named Lonnie, remembers. "While some people probably find the crazy atmosphere I was raised in less than ideal for a child, the diversity of humanity, the passion, and commitment to never disappoint fans — their customers — has impacted every professional decision I’ve made throughout my career. My dad would always take the time to talk to everybody. It was very impressionable."
Lonnie Jr. continues, "His ability to know and personalize the experience to his audience — whether he was in the ring entertaining, or on his way to the dressing room making a quiet, personal connection with a young fan — showed that he sincerely felt a deep responsibility to each person, in every interaction."
In his rather short 11 years in the wrestling game, Lonnie Mayne should not be seen as merely a flash in the pan. Lonnie’s impact lived on through others. 2 years after his death, the very popular team of Tony Garea and Rick Martel in the WWF dropped the belts to Rex and King (The Moondogs) comprised of Randy Culley and Sailor Ed White, managed by Captain Lou Albano — a team that took Lonnie’s wild and untamed "Moondog" character and tried to expand on it. In the rematch where Garea and Martel regained the title, King was replaced by Moondog Spot (Larry Booker), who used the gimmick on and off for years until tragically dying of a heart attack inside the ring in 2003. His partner was Rex (Randy Colley) in the WWF until 1987.
The Moondogs, in various incarnations, would be seen in territories across the United States but are mostly remembered in the WWF and Memphis (CWF and USWA) in the ’80s. In Memphis, The Moondogs dialed up the violence to a maximum and were involved in a series of memorable hardcore style matches in a vicious feud with "The Fabulous Ones" (Steve Keirn and Stan Lane). Mike Tyson, when inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012, remembers watching "Moondog" Mayne on TV. And still, to this day, the Moondog gimmick is going strong in various territories, all unrelated to Lonnie in name but perhaps kindred spirits who feel that crazy doesn’t mean crazy if there’s a method behind the madness. If you do things from the heart, the people will stand with you no matter what.
"I can still remember the image of him soundly thrashing Buddy Rose and tenaciously chasing him around the ring, only to soon after have a girl around the age of 5 run up and give him a hug," Rock Rims fondly remembers. "He would then lift the child in his arms and walk with her up the aisle to the applause and smiles of those in attendance. It was a testament not only to his appeal with the fans but to his tremendous versatility as a performer."
These stories may also interest you:
- Roddy Piper: From The Streets to the Big Time
- The Crippler Ray Stevens – The Story of One of Wrestling’s Greatest Heels
- Ric Flair and Jack Veneno | The Title Change The NWA Won’t Accept
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