When ‘Big Time Wrestling’ came to Sacramento
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.