Published on October 21st, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
The Truth Behind STU HART‘S Stolen Airplane (and Other Stiff Ribs)
The airplane’s wings were icing over–at least that’s what the pilot said. Stampede Wrestling owner Stu Hart and future NWA world champion Gene Kiniski were on board Stu’s private plane, returning from Edmonton to Calgary. The pilot set a new course, aiming to set down in the nearest airfield until the wings could be de-iced.
While the pilot stayed with the plane in order to fly back to Calgary once the weather conditions were better, Hart and Kiniski hitch-hiked back to Calgary. A few days later, when Hart hadn’t heard from the pilot, he began to get suspicious. He called the pilot’s number. No answer. So he went over to the apartment. Everything was gone. Hart went to the hangar to check on his plane. It, too, had vanished.
The pilot was Sam Menacker, a former Army major in World War II and a veteran pro wrestler renowned for his feats of strength. Menacker had double-crossed Hart. Tired of the Canadian winter, Menacker quit without notice and flew the plane to his next territory: a return to El Paso, Texas, where Menacker had promoted and wrestled in the 1950s. In the crazy world of 1960s wrestling, it was one of the stiffest ribs ever pulled.
“He didn’t really steal the plane,” legendary wrestling manager Jim Cornette said while sharing a version of the story on his podcast. “If Stu had wanted the plane, he could have come down to El Paso and gotten it.”
Stu Hart told the story himself, relating the events to wrestling writer Mike Dupree of Kayfabe Memories. It wasn’t the last time that Menacker, who would go on to announce for Dick the Bruiser’s WWA promotion in Indianapolis, as well as the Poffo’s ICW and Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling in Texas, pulled this kind of stunt.
“In December of 1983, I went to one of Stu’s shows at the Agrodome in Vancouver to see a friend and he introduced me to Stu Hart, who is one of the friendliest characters I ever met,” Dupree wrote. “Stu asked me where I was from and when I told him Indianapolis, his first response was ‘Ah, Dick the Bruiser country! You know Sammy Menacker then?’ To which I responded in the affirmative. He then proceeded to tell me the story … then finished with this aside: ‘Sammy called me up from Texas and said he needed a job, and I didn’t have anyone for TV, so I told him to come up. So he flew up here … in a plane he stole from Joe Blanchard!'”
Leaving on a Jet Plane
Austin Idol was one of the last true outlaws of 1980s wrestling. Idol–then going by ‘Iron’ Mike McCord–was badly injured in the 1974 plane crash that killed Bobby Shane, crippled Southern legend Buddy Colt and nearly cost legendary manager Gary Hart his life. Perhaps as a result of this, Idol never lost sight of the fact that he was in the wrestling business for one reason, and one reason only: to make money.
While his me-first attitude didn’t sit well with a lot of people, it was (and is) still rife within the wrestling business. After trimming about 80 pounds from his power-lifter physique and bleaching his hair platinum blonde, Idol emerged as a major star in the late 1970s territory system. He headlined in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Southeastern/Continental and, of course, in Memphis. But Idol’s attitude was such that some promoters refused to book him.
“I always said I was easy to hire and easy to fire,” Idol said during an interview on The Jim Cornette Experience podcast.
Indeed. By the mid-80s, Idol had developed a pattern. He’d work Memphis for the six months of the year when Jerry Lawler was booking the territory. The other six months, when either Jerry Jarrett or Bill Dundee had the book, they refused to bring Idol in, so “The Women’s Pet and the Men’s Regret” would work for Ron Fuller’s Southeastern promotion.
Memphis legend (and current Impact Wrestling creative team member) Dirty Dutch Mantell told Scott Bowden about Idol’s attitude over at Kentucky Fried Wrestling.
“Yeah, he was pretty bad at times. But I don’t disagree with him feeling that way. I do disagree with how he handled it. I think he should have been more diplomatic; if he had been, I think he may have gone further to tell you the truth. But, he may not have wanted to go further. I didn’t know his agenda, know what I mean? But, yeh, he didn’t want to do this, and he didn’t want to do that, and blah, blah, blah. But I always got along with him pretty good. I liked Austin, you know. But, he was Lawler’s buddy. Jerry Jarrett very seldom booked him … or didn’t like booking him too much. Because Idol, sometimes you might book him, and he might show up and then again, he might not.”
In a shoot comment on Memphis’s live wrestling show, Lawler once called Idol “The Women’s Pet and the Promoter’s Regret” after Idol, who was unhappy with a payoff and travel accommodations, simply left town. Idol had arranged to fly back to Tampa, Florida, following the Memphis TV tapings, but Lawler wanted him to work the full loop in the territory. Idol seemingly acquiesced, telling the King that he needed to go to the airport to change his flight. Lawler drove Idol to the airport. After waiting for more than an hour, Lawler went into the airport to see what was taking so long. Instead of changing his flight, Idol had hopped on board the flight he was originally supposed to take, leaving the territory without its top heel.
That wasn’t the last time Idol would hold up the Memphis territory. During his 1987 angle with Lawler and Tommy Rich–the last great Memphis angle–Idol demanded more money from promoter Jerry Jarrett, even as nearly 9,000 people entered the Mid-South Coliseum. Idol had gone on TV with the boast that if he didn’t win a hair-vs-hair match for the AWA Southern title against Lawler in a steel cage, he would “refund the money of every man, woman and child” who bought a ticket to see the match. With fans streaming in, the promotion couldn’t afford for the match to take place. Idol had Jarrett–and Lawler–over a barrel.
But Idol’s most famous act of revenge on a promoter came when he cashed a $5,000 check from Columbus, Georgia, promoter Fred Ward. Idol was a headliner in the state. He’d won the Georgia heavyweight title before (the precursor to the NWA national championship) and was featured prominently on the weekly WTBS show. One night at a Columbus house show, Idol went over in a battle royal (think WWE’s Royal Rumble), with the winner being paid a kayfabe five grand. Idol kept the check, which was made out “to the winner of the battle royal.” After some time had passed, Idol saw the opportunity to stick it to Ward, who was–like many Southern promoters–a notoriously bad payoff guy who Idol went so far as to call “a thief” during a shoot interview for Highspots. Idol took the check to his bank. With his bodybuilder physique, unique voice, and bleached-blonde hair, Idol was a local celebrity. There was no question that the bank would accept the check. Idol walked out with $5,000 of Ward’s money, and the promoter’s hands were tied–at the time, he couldn’t break kayfabe.
A Real ‘Stiff’ Rib
Tojo Yamamoto was notoriously homophobic, so when Dennis Condrey came up with an idea to rib the legendary Asian wrestler, he approached his tag team partner, Phil Hickerson. Condrey and Hickerson were a top tag team in Memphis as the Bicentennial Kings. Condrey’s plan was simple: Do more and more outrageously “gay” things like rubbing each other’s bodies before and after matches, hugging just a little too long, and touching each other on the buttocks.
But unknown to Hickerson, Condrey wasn’t just ribbing Yamamoto.
The future member of the Midnight Express talked Hickerson into getting down on his knees backstage, near the door of the heel dressing room. His plan, Condrey explained, was that it would look like Hickerson was getting ready to fellate Condrey. Here’s where the real genius of the rib comes into play. Hickerson then chimed in, saying it would look more real if Condrey pulled his trunks down. Condrey told him that he should open his mouth, too, to really sell it. So when Yamamoto finally came backstage from his match, Condrey did the natural thing, grabbed the back of Hickerson’s head and rammed his penis into his tag team partner’s mouth.
Condrey thus completed the rare “double-reverse rib” on Hickerson AND Yamamoto, Cornette explained on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast.
Hickerson chased after Condrey, intent at least on putting a beating on him, if not worse. Eventually the two reconciled. But telling the story to Cornette years later, Condrey still laughed about it.
“His tongue felt like sandpaper!” Condrey said.
As Austin said on his podcast, that’s kind of pushing the limits.