They couldn’t enter the arenas with their father. They had to act like they didn’t know him. These extreme measures were in place to protect them.
These wrestling heels caused mayhem throughout the wrestling territories in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and it created quite the unique family dynamic at home — especially for their daughters.
What It Was Like Being the Daughter of a Despised Wrestling Heel
We had a chance to speak with Paloma Serna (the eldest daughter of The Great Goliath) and Mary Fries (the youngest daughter of Pampero Firpo). Through each of their stories, they paint a picture of what it was like to grow up the daughter of a despised wrestling heel.
Along with Black Gordman, The Great Goliath formed the dreaded heel tandem called “The Red Devils.” They were one of the most successful Lucha Libre teams outside of Mexico.
“I remember when going to school,” Paloma recalls, “my friends knew who my dad was. They were scared of him because they knew he was a bad guy. To them, he was so big!”
“While history may not have been kind to them as there’s not a lot of footage of them, speak to old school fans. They’ll tell you just how great ‘The Red Devils’ Black Gordman and The Great Goliath indeed were.”
– Evan Ginzburg, Associate Producer of The Wrestler and 350 Days.
A Grim Start for The Great Goliath
Born on June 18th, 1934, in Torreón, Mexico, Pablo Ordaz Crispín lived in abject poverty and was the youngest of eleven children. Regrettably, only he and one sister survived past infancy. Pablo soon dropped out of school early and learned bricklaying to help his father in construction work.
Later, Pablo began driving a cab, searching for better opportunities, and his brother-in-law introduced him to former boxer turned wrestler Carlos “Gorilla” Ramos. At around 5’11” and just under 240 lbs, Pablo was uncommonly large compared to the average Mexican, so Ramos convinced him to give the grappling game a try.
Once in the United States, and now calling himself The Great Goliath, Pablo found the perfect partner in Black Gordman (Victor Manuel Barajas). From 1970 to 1978, they held the NWA Americas Tag Team Championships (Los Angeles) on 18 separate occasions. They first started as babyfaces but quickly found their real calling as heels.
Their first title run began after defeating Earl Maynard and Rocky Johnson (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father) for the belts. They also won various regional titles, including with other partners.
They’d get heat from the crowd claiming that they weren’t from the “dirty poor country of Mexico,” but instead New Mexico located in the wealthier and “superior” country to the north. By denying their Mexican heritage and turning their backs on its proud people, the team known as The Red Devils (“Diablos Rojos” in Spanish), who used matching red-and-black tights, guaranteed themselves the crowd’s ire.
Of course, top Mexican stars like Mil Mascaras, José Lothario, Ray Mendoza, Chavo Guerrero, and Raul Mata became their chief rivals. Even non-Mexicans such as John Tolos and Freddie Blassie had skirmishes with The Red Devils. The Original Hollywood Blondes, Jerry Brown and Buddy Roberts, also tangled with Gordman and Goliath.
Reaching out to Evan Ginzburg, fellow Pro Wrestling Stories author and Associate Producer of The Wrestler and 350 Days, he mentioned that “Gordman and Goliath were one of the greatest and longest-running tag teams in the history of the business, working in L.A. from ’70-’82, Amarillo and Houston in ’73, Georgia in ’76 and even making it into New Japan in ’77.”
He further added, “I watched them throughout my childhood on Spanish language channel 41 in New York City and easily ranked them among the 20 greatest tag teams based on skill, longevity, and success in different markets throughout the country and the world.
“While originally from Mexico, they had the advantage of being heavyweights and more marketable in the states; their smooth hybrid of Lucha Libre and American wrestling made them stars and often headliners. They were solo draws and, on occasion, would break up, feud with each other, and subsequently get back together. Both were showcased at Madison Square Garden, and I got to see Gordman vs. Pedro Morales there in ’74.”
Growing up the Daughter of Heel Wrestler – The Great Goliath and Daughter Paloma
Born in Amarillo, Texas, and in a family with five children, Paloma Serna, who now lives in Montana, is the oldest of three sisters. Even though she was quite young when her father wrestled as The Great Goliath, she vividly recalls how dangerous being the daughter of a heel could be.
As far back as her memory serves, Paloma knew that her dad was a wrestler. But when he’d tell his children, “Don’t call me dad in public,” they began to understand a little more of what it entailed to be the child of a heel wrestler.
They’d never enter the arenas with their father. They had to act like they didn’t know him. These extreme measures were in place to protect them from overzealous fans who may have targeted his family if they couldn’t take their anger out on their dad.
“He was afraid people would lash out on us, and it was pretty scary when my father had to go perform,” Paloma explains.
“Even when I was little, I remember that we had to be quiet when he was in the ring. Even when he was in there getting hurt, and we wanted to scream out, ‘Stop, that’s my dad, leave him alone!’ We couldn’t, out of fear from the people. They were rowdy!”
Indeed, the clean, sanitized wrestling product on television today is a far cry from what Paloma witnessed, and her father lived throughout his career. Pro wrestling had not yet made the transition into a more family-friendly product. Many of the spectators taking in the so-called exhibition believed that a real fight was unraveling before them. Many times, The Great Goliath, alongside Black Gordman, was the vile antagonist in this often brutal and athletic theater of the absurd.
“I remember fans throwing stuff at him, spitting, and throwing their beers. Once, he got burned atop his head with a cigarette, going through the tunnel leading to the ring. You just can’t relate to his style and time in wrestling compared to the WWE product you see today. He had tons of scars on top of his head.”
She continued, “Many of the arenas were filthy and filled with trash. For the most part, the crowd didn’t consist of good-looking people. As they say, these were normal, working-class fans that were hungry.” Paloma paused. “They wanted violence and blood!”
As an impressionable young girl, it’s hard to understand that to some degree, it is a wrestler’s job to get hurt. However, it seemed to Paloma that her father was getting attacked in and outside of the ring because people didn’t like him. He suffered in the ring because he was a pre-eminent heel who was convincing enough for people to go as far as wanting to inflict harm upon him.
“I lived a couple of years in Barstow, California, and a friend’s mother was born in Torreón, just like my father,” Paloma related. “When I mentioned him, she was terrified! I remember he came down from Las Vegas to visit us, and we went to her home. She wouldn’t come out to meet him. She refused to come out! So, my dad never stepped foot inside her home. My dad was happy to learn that people still remembered and feared him years after he’d retired.”
Heel in the Ring, But a Loving Father at Home
Say what you will about The Great Goliath as a heel; he was nothing like that at home with his family. Along with her brothers and sisters, Paloma remembers her father as a loving man who never failed to bring them gifts from his countrywide and world travels. When they knew he was back in town, they’d wait for him at the front door.
Their hard-working father could be rigorous and with a personality often clashing with his children once they reached adolescence. But later in life, Paloma understood and appreciated his disciplinary methods and is never at a loss for words when extolling her father’s virtues.
“You could never say, ‘I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!’ He’d say, ‘Oh you’re bored? I’ll find you something to do, I have a whole list!’ We weren’t allowed just to be sitting idle. We were either always playing outside of the house or working on something when not in school.”
“We loved him very much,” Paloma added. “My dad was an awesome father that loved us a lot, and as I grew up, he was my heart. I understood that all he did was for our own good.”
Other than his family taking precedence over anything else, The Great Goliath was passionate about food and made sure while cooking up a delicious meal for the family, that he’d take the time to impart important life lessons. They were “words of wisdom,” offered Paloma.
“He loved to cook and have all five of us stand there and watch him while he gave us advice. He wanted us to be self-sufficient, to take care of ourselves. He’d tell my brothers, ‘You need to learn how to cook in case you don’t get married or get a lazy wife!'”
“His favorite meal to prepare for all of us was meatloaf, and out here in Montana, if you want real Mexican food, you have to cook it yourself. My father would have us do it the old fashion way with mole and have us stir it for a long time. He’d make tamales every year, but us girls had to sit there and help with the masa. He really taught us how to cook.”
Wrestling and Love Runs in the Family
While nobody in the family became a pro wrestler (as yet), Paloma’s son and daughter both wrestled amateur style in school. Her son even competed in the state and national tournaments while in junior high school. This love for wrestling came from learning and knowing The Great Goliath, but they modestly called him “Grampa Pablo.”
They emulated and continuously spoke about their grandfather, who remains in their hearts and minds. After retirement, when The Great Goliath began training wrestlers and promoting shows in San Bernardino, California, the family took it upon themselves to help with various tasks.
“My kids like to put on the cape my father used and smell and feel his gear that is safely stowed away. It’s a reminder of their grandfather. Some day I’ll pass all this to them,” assures Paloma, whose spirit is uplifted when speaking about her father, The Great Goliath.
Sadly when her father passed away, she needed to identify the body. But amidst the sadness of her father’s passing, she couldn’t ignore the largeness of his hands that always impressed her. “Man, they were so massive he’d just grab your whole face!”
“I’m glad, and I appreciate that people are still interested in my father,” said Paloma after our interview. “He was a great wrestler but an even greater man.”
Paloma keeps in touch with former wrestler and San Bernardino, California wrestling promoter and trainer Jesse Hernandez, a family’s close friend for years.
Growing up the Daughter of Heel Wrestler – Pampero Firpo and Daughter Mary
During his 33-year career, Pampero Firpo wrestled in an estimated 8,882 matches spanning across 21 countries and 5 continents. “Ohhhhhh yeaaaah!” would bellow the bushy-haired madman in an unmistakable guttural growl announcing who he’d “murder” and “destroy” next. Calling himself “The Wild Bull of The Pampas,” he carried a shrunken head named “Chimu” given to him by a tribal leader in Ecuador. He was a box office attraction everywhere he went.
For the intense Pampero Firpo from Argentina, whose real name was Juan Kachmanian, wrestling and family were always kept separate. And although his daughter Mary Fries was too young to remember many stories about her father’s very traveled and storied career, she is now the principal preserver of his legacy.
“The only thing I remember is that various wrestlers would call the house and ask for ‘Firp’ when I answered the phone,” recalls Mary. “I was scared of their gravelly voices! I remember being about five years old when that would happen.”
Although he was a terror of the squared circle, outside of it, he was a devoted father, a voracious reader of books (especially the classics and philosophy), and a polyglot, who spoke seven languages. Most of all, he had a big heart and cared a great deal for people. That is why he couldn’t get into boxing like his father because after he knocked out his first opponent, Firpo quickly ran over to make sure he was alright!
“Since I was born, my family and I have always lived in San Jose, California, and San Francisco is only about 50 miles down the road. At the time, my dad was wrestling for Roy Shire at San Francisco, California’s Cow Palace. My brother and sister, who are older than me, remember kids at school saying, ‘I saw your dad beating up (insert wrestler name) on T.V.” The kids were not angry about it, though. They seemed kind of impressed!”
Mary continued, “Before I was born in 1975, my grandmother on my mother’s side visited my father in the late ’60s when he worked for promoter Joe Dusek in Omaha, Nebraska. He and my grandmother went to a restaurant, and my dad was curt with the waitstaff. My grandmother urged him to be polite. He had to explain to her privately that he had to act that way in public. I remember hearing that she was just utterly aghast by his bad manners!”
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