1954

MARCH:

The main star in the area at the beginning of the year was Lester Welch. The popular Oklahoma Cowboy was embroiled in a series of battles with the main bad man in the area, King Karl Kowalski. Kowalski was a big, bald and bearded ruffian from Buffalo, NY. Kowalski had defeated Les’ older brother Jack Welch and had administered quite a beating on him.

King Karl Kowalski batters Jack Welch

King Karl Kowalski batters Jack Welch

Les was out to avenge his brother’s defeat. The first match between them saw Welch defeat the big Pole two out of three falls. Les won the first and third falls to take the match. Kowalski was lying unconscious in the ring at the end. When he was revived, he demanded a return battle. Again Welch won the first fall with a flying dropkick, but Kowalski evened up the score after hitting Lester with a knee lift. The third fall turned into a wild brawl with fists flying and Welch ended up bleeding above his eye. The loss of blood weakened the cowboy and he was easily pinned by Kowalski to lose the match.

Southern Jr. Heavyweight Champion Rowdy Red Roberts made an appearance in the area and successfully defended his title against popular Don Wayne. Wayne had earned his title shot by defeating Eddie (Pat) Malone. Wayne didn’t fare as well against the champion, however, and lost in two straight falls.

Others appearing in the area in March were Chief Lone Eagle, Chick Garibaldi, Charley Keene, Walt Sirois and Mike Chacoma.

 

APRIL:

The war between Lester Welch and King Karl Kowalski continued. Each had scored a win over the other and was anxious to prove who the better man was. Promoter Lou Pericola added a stipulation that the winner of the third match would get both paychecks and the loser would come home with no pay. Another rough and tumble battle ensued, but Les Welch managed to win the last two falls to take the match and the money.

Dr. Jerry Graham came into the area in April. Billed as a “wrestling hypnotist”, Graham would hypnotize members of the audience prior to his matches. Graham defeated Lucky Gilpin in his initial appearance. The good Doctor then teamed with Mike Chacoma to defeat the team of Lester Welch and Henry Harrell. Harrell had been the very first Southern Jr. Heavyweight champion and a veteran campaigner, but he and Welch were no match for the rough Graham-Chacoma duo. Welch wanted another crack at Graham, so another tag team match was set up. This time Welch teamed with Chuck Molnar, while Graham enlisted the services of Welch’s mortal enemy King Karl Kowalski. Welch and Molnar won the first fall, but lost the second when Molnar severely injured his neck and was unable to continue. Welch had to go out alone for the third and final fall. Welch held his own and managed to pin the hated Kowalski to take the match.

It was announced that Rowdy Red Roberts had lost the Southern Jr. Heavyweight title on March 17th in Nashville to Ray Piret. A match was set up between Roberts and Les Welch to determine who would face the new champion. In the match, each man had won a fall when Roberts was disqualified for unnecessary roughness. The referee was Chuck Molner, who was refereeing while recovering from his injured neck. With the win, Lester Welch won the right to face Ray Piret for the Southern Jr. Heavyweight title.

Popular Lee Fields returned to the area after a lengthy absence. He faced equally popular Buddy Fuller in his first match back. It was a rousing scientific battle that had the fans on there feet. What did the fans not know was that these two men were actually cousins. Lee’s father, Virgil “Speedy” Hatfield, was married to Buddy’s aunt, Bonnie Welch. Fuller managed to edge Lee to take the third fall and the win. Both men were given a standing ovation at the end of the match.

Fields next faced Sailor Moran in a match that saw questionable refereeing by George “Baby Blimp” Harris. Harris claimed that Fields was slapping him every time he tried to count Fields when he was down for a pin. He then took out his frustration by stomping Lee in the face and then awarding the bout to Moran. Lee took out his own frustration on Harris by busting him open and tossing him from the ring. This led to a grudge match between Harris and Fields. Despite his 320-pound frame, Harris was no match for the fast moving Fields. Lee defeated the Baby Blimp in a decisive manner to exact his revenge.

George "The Baby Blimp" Harris applies a side headlock on Lee Fields

George “The Baby Blimp” Harris applies a side headlock on Lee Fields

Others in the area this month were Danny Dusek and Walter Sirois.

 

MAY:

Lester Welch had defeated Rowdy Red Roberts to earn a shot at Southern Jr. Heavyweight champ Ray Piret, but had been so badly roughed up in his victory that he had to take time off to recover. Therefore, the title match was awarded to Roberts. Roberts had lost the title to Piret in Nashville and was anxious to get it back. A little too anxious it seemed. After each man had won a fall, Roberts got carried away and tossed both Piret and the referee out of the ring. Roberts was disqualified for his actions and Piret held onto his title.

Welch recovered from his injuries and was anxious to get back at Roberts. Roberts refused to face him in a singles match, however. Welch recruited Buddy Fuller (his real life nephew) to be his partner against Roberts and another sworn Welch enemy, King Karl Kowalski. The two teams had split the falls when the third fall became a wild melee. All four men spent time punching each other around, when Welch managed to pin Roberts after applying a back-breaker to him. Fuller held Kowalski at bay during the pin and the fan favorites won the match.

Lester also teamed with another real life nephew Lee Fields to defeat the tough team of Walter Sirois & Al Getz.

Another former Southern Jr. Heavyweight champion, Tex Riley, made an appearance in he area. Riley had hoped to get back into the championship picture by defeating King Karl Kowalski. His plan failed however when Kowalski defeated him in a rough battle.

Midget wrestlers Tuffy McRae and Otto Baumann made an appearance in the area. McRae won over Baumann after a rousing tussle.

Others in the area in May were Eddie Malone, Carlos Rodriguez and Chick Garibaldi.

 

JUNE:

A special match was set up when the famed Ginger the Wrestling Bear came into the area. Ginger would wrestle the winning team of a tag team match between the teams of Lester Welch & Buddy Fuller and Walter Sirois & King Karl Kowalski. Kowalski & Sirois purposely got themselves disqualified in order to keep from facing the bear. Fuller & Welch did their best but Ginger flattened Lester to get the win.

Herb Welch faced King Karl Kowalski in his initial match of 1954 in the area. Kowalski had soundly defeated Jack Welch earlier in the year and had carried on a running feud with Lester Welch. Now it was Herb’s turn to try the rough Pole from Buffalo. A hard fought battle ensued, but Welch came out on top.

Lester Welch got his long awaited shot at the Southern Jr. Heavyweight crown held by Ray Piret. The two were well matched in a fast paced scientific bout. Each had won a fall apiece when Welch missed a flying tackle and was injured while falling from the ring. He was unable to continue and Piret was awarded the fall and the match to retain his title.

Lady wrestlers made the scene in June. Bonnie Watson met Suzanne Smith in a match with the winner promised a shot at Women’s World Champion Mildred Burke. Watson pinned Smith and was declared the number one contender. The bout between Watson and Burke was a barnburner, but Mildred proved why she was the champion by defeating her opponent and retaining the title.

Rowdy Red Roberts imported a new tag team partner, a masked grappler known as The Masked Flash. In their initial teaming, however, they lost to the popular team of Lester Welch & Buddy Fuller. Roberts was more successful on the singles front when he scored wins over Billy McDaniel and Lee Fields. Roberts continued to batter Fields after their match, which brought Herb Welch out to the ring to chase Roberts away.

Wrestling returned to Panama City, FL after a lengthy absence. The initial card for the year there saw Lester Welch defeat Rowdy Red Roberts in the main event. In another match Buddy Fuller defeated and unmasked The Masked Marvel, who turned out to be Mario Galento.

Others in the area this month were Chris Averoff, “Cobra” Nash Karahan and Red Byrd.

 

JULY:

One of wrestling’s legendary feuds was brought to the forefront in the territory. That of Rowdy Red Roberts vs. Herb Welch. These two had met several times across the Southern United States. It was re-ignited when Herb came out to the ring to chase Red away to prevent him from continuing a beating he was administering to Lee Fields. Welch challenged his hated rival to a match and Roberts readily agreed. The result was a wild and bloody battle that saw the rowdy redhead from Little Rock disqualified for his rough tactics. Welch wasn’t satisfied and challenged Roberts again, this time to a best three out of five fall match. All seemed to be going Herb’s way when he won the first two falls, but Roberts roared back and battered Welch to win three straight falls. Both men were bloody but Roberts was the winner. A third match was arranged, this time as a “Texas Death Match”. Falls would not count and the match went on until one man was unable to continue. In addition, two referees were assigned to the match. After 29 minutes and 10 falls of action, Welch emerged the winner. Roberts was battered so bad he had to be carried from the ring on a stretcher.

Herb Welch punishes Rowdy Red Roberts in the corner

Herb Welch punishes Rowdy Red Roberts in the corner

Former World’s Heavyweight Boxing champion Primo Carnera made an appearance in July. The 6’6″ 260-pound Italian held the title from June 24, 1933 until June 14, 1934. He retired from boxing and became a pro wrestler in 1947. The former champion made short work of Nick Carter.

Women’s World Champion Mildred Burke returned to the area and handily defeated Terry Majors in straight falls to hang unto her title.

Former University of Alabama football legend Tarzan White also made appearances. The veteran grappler took two out of three falls to defeat Walter Sirois one week and wrestled popular Buddy Fuller to a draw the next.

In Panama City, Herb Welch beat Walt Sirois in a bruising battle while Rowdy Red Roberts defeated Lee Fields. The following week saw Welch & Fields team up only to lose to the team of Roberts & Charley Keene.

The crowds in Panama City were growing too large for the Civic Center, so the matches were moved outdoors to Lions Park. The initial card there saw a five man Battle Royal staged. Buddy Fuller emerged as the winner. The following week saw Fuller & Don Wayne meet Rowdy Red Roberts & Al Getz in a tag team match. Fuller pinned Roberts to take the first fall for his team. Getz took the second fall over Wayne after he and Roberts double teamed him in their corner.  In the third and final fall, Wayne pinned Getz after a series of body slams.

The final card of the month in Panama City was held in the Civic Center. Rowdy Red Roberts caused a near riot by using pepper to blind opponent Jack Welch. Welch managed to come back and win the match but Roberts needed a police escort back to the dressing room. On the same card, Primo Carnera defeated Hardy Kruskamp.

Others who appeared in the area in July were Chick Garibaldi, The Golden Hawk and Al Massey.

 

AUGUST:

Southern Jr. Heavyweight champion Ray Piret returned and put his title on the line against the tough challenge of King Karl Kowalski. Kowalski gave the champion all he could handle, but Piret won two falls out of three to retain his title.

Southern Jr. Heavyweight Champion Ray Piret holds King Karl Kowalski on the mat with a headlock

Southern Jr. Heavyweight Champion Ray Piret holds King Karl Kowalski on the mat with a headlock

Piret also made a successful defense of the title against Chico Cortez in Panama City.

Also in Panama City, Cortez formed a rough tag team with partner Mario Galento. In their initial outing as a team they lost by disqualification to the odd combination of Chick Garibaldi & King Karl Kowalski.  The following week they lost to the popular team of Lester Welch & Buddy Fuller.

Despite being unmasked in Panama City, the Masked Flash returned to the area, but avoided the challenge of Lester Welch to a singles match. The two had met a couple of months earlier in a tag team match and the Flash had been extra rough on Lester. The Flash then left the area before Les could exact any sort of revenge. They both did take part in a six-man tag team match with Lester teamed with Chick Garibaldi & Buddy Fuller facing the Flash and his partners King Karl Kowalski & Chico Cortez. That match ended in a no contest after each team had won a fall apiece. In the third fall, Lester Welch captured Chico Cortez in a pinning predicament but referee Norman McGuire had been tossed out of the ring just prior to this action and was unable to make the call. Since McGuire couldn’t decide which team was responsible for his unscheduled exit, he called the whole thing off.

Lester Welch issued another challenge to the Masked Flash, but again was refused. The Flash instead accepted a match with older brother Jack Welch. Jack was doing quite well against the masked man until the Flash started in with some questionable tactics. This got the hooded grappler in trouble with referee Vic Kalfus, who disqualified him. The following week the Flash again refused a match with Les Welch and faced popular Lee Fields in a match that saw former World Welterweight Boxing Champion Fritzie Zivic serve as special referee. That match ended in some confusion when both men were down with their shoulders pinned to the mat. However the Flash raised his just in time and referee Zivic tolled the three count on Fields. Again Les Welch came to ringside and challenged the Flash and again was rebuffed by the masked man. However this time Welch had allies in the Alabama Boxing and Wrestling Commission who ordered the Flash to face Welch or face suspension. The long-awaited bout between the two was finally set. Welch spent much of the match trying to remove the mask from his archenemy’s head. Each man had won a fall when in the third, Welch again went after the Flash’s mask. Referee George “Baby Blimp” Harris tried several times to stop this action, only to be tossed from the ring each time by Welch. Finally Harris stopped the proceedings and awarded the fall and the match to the Masked Flash.

Zivic also served as the referee for a special six man tag team match in Panama City. That bout saw the team of Lee Fields, Buddy Fuller & Vic Kalfus defeat Mario Galento, Rube Wright & Tarzan Hewitt, both returning after lengthy absences.

Others in the area this month were Al Getz, Red Byrd and “Fearless” Al Criswell.

 

SEPTEMBER:

The feud between Lester Welch and the Masked Flash continued to rage. A rematch between the two was set, this time with the Flash’s secret identity at stake. It was agreed that should he lose the match, the Flash would be forced to remove his mask. Welch was like a man possessed as he tore into his hated rival. But the Flash fought back and held his own until he had Welch cut and bleeding. Welch lost so much blood that the referee stopped the match and awarded it to the Flash. The Alabama Commission felt differently however and ruled that the Flash would have to reveal his identity prior to any future matches in which he may participate. The following week the Flash was scheduled to face Herb Welch and came out to the ring wearing his mask. He was ordered at ringside to unmask, which he did revealing Mario Galento. Galento was determined to take his frustration out on Welch and handed him a severe beating. So severe that referee Dynamite Joe Dillman disqualified him and handed him a 30-day suspension.

Gorgeous George, the most famous wrestler of the 1950s, made an appearance in September. The fans were asked to vote as to which his opponent would be. The overwhelming choice was Rowdy Red Roberts, but the “Toast of the Coast” refused to face the roughneck from Little Rock. He did accept the fans second choice, Oklahoma Cowboy Lester Welch. The match had the fans on the edge of their seats with George’s antics raising their ire. Those antics also got under Welch’s skin as well, because he found himself getting disqualified in his frustration.

Another colorful grappler appeared in the area, former World’s Light Heavyweight champion Wild Red Berry. He defeated the capable Al Massey two out of three falls in a thrilling battle.

Herb Welch faced Rowdy Red Roberts for the first time since battering him in a “Texas Death Match” in July. The winner of the bout was promised a shot at Ray Piret for the Southern Jr. Heavyweight title. The battle was a rough one and the advantage swung back and forth several times before Roberts tripped up Welch for the win.

The very first mixed tag team match including midget wrestlers ever held in this area occurred in September. The team comprised of Lee Fields and midget wrestler Cowboy Bradley defeated Charlie Carr and midget wrestler Fuzzy Cupid.

Fuzzy Cupid dives onto Cowboy Bradley

Fuzzy Cupid dives onto Cowboy Bradley

Popular Buddy Fuller faced newcomer Clyde Steeves in a rugged battle. The match was so rough that Fuller knocked out several of Steeves’ teeth on his way to victory in straight falls. Steeves was so upset by this turn of events that he challenged Fuller to a rematch only to lose once again.

Others in the area this month were Chief Lone Eagle, Lucky Gilpin and Rube Wright.

 

OCTOBER:

Ray Piret, Southern Jr. Heavyweight champion, faced the man he defeated for the title, Rowdy Red Roberts, in a title match. The match was even with each man having won a fall when Roberts pinned Piret near the ropes. The referee, Red Byrd, tolled the three-count on Piret and declared Roberts the winner. However a commission official at ringside informed him that Piret had his legs draped across the bottom ropes and that the pin should have been nullified. The referee then decided to hold up the title until a rematch could be set to decide a winner. In the rematch a special referee, Speedy Larance was brought in from Nashville to officiate the match. Each man had won a fall when Roberts was disqualified in the third and deciding fall for illegal tactics. Ray Piret regained the Southern Jr. Heavyweight title.

Roberts bounced back from this loss by defeating Jesse James the following week. James came into the area with a well-known reputation from being seen on nationwide television. His reputation didn’t help him much in his match with Roberts and he lost two out of three falls to the rowdy one.

Mario Galento returned at the end of his suspension and defeated the 300-pound Don “Rocky” Lee. Galento then set his sights on the man he blamed for costing him his “Masked Flash” identity, Lester Welch. A match was set between them and it turned out to be a bloody battle with Galento coming out on the losing end.

The lady wrestlers returned with Judy Glover defeating Mary Jane Mull one week and Ethel Johnson beating Babs Wingo three weeks later.

Others in the area in October were Harry “Golden Hercules” Smith, Al Getz, Don Wayne, Charlie Carr, Lee Fields and Lucky Gilpin.

 

NOVEMBER:

Mario Galento and Lester Welch faced off in another wild battle. Each man had won a fall when Galento was disqualified in the third and final fall. Galento requested and received another shot at Welch and this time won two out of three falls to finally get a win over his most hated rival.

A popular new tag team was formed with the pairing of Buddy Fuller & Lee Fields. They scored victories over the teams of Charlie Carr & “Fearless” Al Criswell, Walt Sirois & Mario Galento and Rowdy Red Roberts & George “Baby Blimp” Harris. In the bout with Roberts & Harris, Fields slammed the Baby Blimp and caused the collapse of the ring. The match was held up for twenty minutes while repairs were made.

Lee Fields struggles to keep Al Criswell from pinning him

Lee Fields struggles to keep Al Criswell from pinning him

Lester & Herb Welch teamed to defeat the rugged team of Rowdy Red Roberts & King Karl Kowalski two out of three falls.

Herb Welch and Rowdy Red Roberts renewed their feud when they faced off in a singles match. Roberts had dared Welch to face him in a boxing match but Welch refused. Roberts got the upper hand in the match and won two out of three falls.

Others in the area this month were Billy “The Kid” Brown and lady wrestlers Nell Stewart and Barbara Baker.

 

DECEMBER:

Southern Jr. Heavyweight champion Ray Piret returned and put his title on the line against rugged Mario Galento. Galento gave it all he had but could not defeat the popular champion. Piret won the first and third falls to retain his title.

A tournament was initiated to crown Southern Tag Team Champions. In the opening round, the team of Herb Welch & Lee Fields defeated Charro Aztec & Johnny Venus to advance. In the second round Welch & Fields defeated Rube Wright & Don Martin. The team of Mario Galento & Rowdy Red Roberts also made it to the semi-finals by defeating the team of Buddy Fuller & Don McGee.

Newcomer Bobby Starr made his debut. He didn’t start too well however because he went down to defeat at the hands of Hercules McIntire. Although McIntire won the match he was upset by the officiating of referee Charley Keene and challenged Keene to a match. Hercules proved to be a bit too much for the veteran Keene and defeated him two out of three falls to win the match. McIntire didn’t fare as well in his match with Lee Fields and lost to the popular Oklahoman.

Others appearing in the area at year’s end were Jim Blood and Charlie Carr.