When ‘Big Time Wrestling’ came to Sacramento

By MARTY RELLES, Valley Community Newspapers columnist

In 1962 a new phenomenon thundered across the air waves in Sacramento. They called it Big Time Wrestling. It featured wrestlers with names like Red Bastien, Pepper Gomez, Haystack Calhoun, Ray Stevens, Mitsu Awakawa and Kingi Shibuya. The show aired at 7 p.m., on Saturday evening, on KTXL Channel 40, and was hosted by announcer Hank Renner.
Marty Relles

Marty Relles

Because it was primarily an exhibition, not real wrestling as seen in international Olympic competition, Big Time Wrestling featured good guys and bad guys. When a good guy like Red Bastien won, he stepped gracefully out of the ring for an interview with gentlemen announcer Hank Renner. Renner, clad in a grey suit, white shirt and tie, then congratulated Red on his victory and asked questions about his upcoming match at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. The conversation was always polite and enthusiastic.

When bad guy Ray Stevens won, he paraded around the ring taunting the audience first, then leaped down to the floor and rushed over to Mr. Renner to spend some time berating his upcoming opponent. He would say things like: “I am going to whip that pencil-neck Red Bastien into submission this week; after I am through with him, he will never wrestle again.”

Of course, Red Bastien was hardly a pencil-neck. Since he was a body-builder like most of the wrestlers, he hardly had any neck at all. That didn’t matter; Ray was working up the TV audience for the Wednesday night match at Memorial Auditorium.

Naturally, we immediately fell in love with Big Time Wrestling. We rooted wildly for our heroes Red Bastien and Pepper Gomez and booed the bad guys Ray Stevens and Mitsu Awakawa.

We tried to emulate their techniques in our back yard gym. Using the big tree in the middle of the yard and the metal post on the side of the yard as ring posts, we staged tag-team wrestling matches. We circled the ring in classic Greco-Roman wrestling style. We tossed each other around, fell to the ground, and then crawled over to tag our fellow tag-team member who rushed into the ring to continue the fight.

Eventually, someone pinned an opponent and the fight ended. We were not quite as mobile, agile or hostile as the Big Time Wrestlers, but we made up for it with our enthusiasm.

On Wednesday night, we persuaded Dad to take us down to Memorial Auditorium on J Street to watch the great match between Red Bastien and Ray Stevens. We sat in the upper level in the cheap seats and watched as the two fighters tussled in the ring below. They had a great fight, but in the end Ray Stevens won, as I recall. No matter, we knew that a rematch was in the works and went home with a smile on our faces.

As children do, we soon lost interest in Big Time Wrestling. Sacramento Bee writer Charles Conlin penned an article saying that it was all a big fraud. I think we already knew that. We just loved the theatre of it all. For whatever reason, we went on to more important things like high school sports, girls and our education.

These days when I drive by the Memorial Auditorium, it seems quite different than it was in the 1960s when we went to the wrestling matches. I see none of the fight placards announcing upcoming events, only posters for future concerts. The World Wrestling Federation broadcasts professional wrestling events these days on television.

Sadly, Big Time Wrestling is now just another bone-crunching Janey Way Memory.

marty@valcomnews.com

No ponytails at Sac State? Improved, pro-active campus security plan needed Sacramento’s Rust Florist shop has interesting family history

4 comments so far

  1. Brad Beedle
    #1

    My father refereed these bouts.

  2. Johnny
    #2

    In the 70s , I would get to go see the taping on Mondays at the KTXL STUDIOS. VERY FOND MEMORIES.I was around 9yrs old.

  3. Ratamyus
    #3

    Well, when Roy Shire first started promoting in ‘61 and began his TV show out of Channel 2 in Oakland, Walt Harris was the announcer. Then around the late 60’s Shire lost channel 2 and started taping in Sacramento at channel 40, which is when Hank Renner started emceeing the show.

  4. Bill
    #4

    As a kid in the late 60s/early 70s, I was a huge wrestling fan. I can still vividly recall watching Big Time Wrestling at the Selland Arena in Fresno, featuring stars like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Kenji Shibuya, Pepper Gomez, Mr. Paul Demarco, Cyclone Negro, Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson, Billy Graham, The Great Pampero, and the Mighty Brutus. Now THAT was wrestling.

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