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March 06, 2014 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-03-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

metro >> on the cover

Wrestling's Heyday

Sol Light recalls the rough-and-tumble world
of Detroit's Big Time Wrestling.

Harry Kirsbaum I Contributing Writer

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

Canada. His story is the history of The
Sheik, Dick the Bruiser, Leaping Larry
Chene, Bobo Brazil and many other
famous names synonymous with Big
Time Wrestling in Detroit.
"My father was a professional boxer
with 36 fights in Canada:' Light said.
"He came here to work and got a
job with Adam Weismuller (Johnny
Weismuller's uncle) during the
Depression, and he was running the
Arena Gardens. Adam died soon after
and his wife tried to promote but didn't
go very far, and my father stepped in
and started promoting wrestling:'
Back in the day, ethnic wrestlers
were a big draw, and in Detroit in the
1940s, Jewish fans bought most of the
ringside seats at the Arena Gardens.
If
Harry learned of a Jewish wrestler in
Sol Light referees a match between Tony Marino and "The Sheik," circa 1968.
Canada, Bert Ruby, and convinced him
to come to Detroit, he said.
Light said, "Bert, you're out of your mind,
"I traveled all over the Midwest, and
He found several other Jewish wrestlers,
but OK"
always worked the main events:' he said.
including "Tuffy" Silverstein and Morris
The first match was in Battle Creek in
"The crowd accused me of being The
"The Mighty Atlas" Shapiro, and put
front of 3,500 people, and the gimmick
Sheik's personal referee. The night I got
together an ethnic group that did very well,
was The Professor was going into the ring
engaged, The Sheik found my wife, Amy, in
Light said. When Ruby had a heart attack
to sneak brass knuckles to Dr. X, who was
the audience to congratulate her, and she
in the ring in Chatham, Ontario, he eventu-
going to knock out Gentleman Jim Haley
got hit with about 20 beers. She told him,
ally became Harry's partner. "Bert was the
that night.
`Don't you ever do that to me again:"
matchmaker, my dad was the promoter
"There was a riot; the cops were called;
Light taught and coached wrestling and
and the hard-ass guy, and there was a third
Light said. "Bert said, 'Kidd°, that was won- soccer at Kimball from 1964 to 1993, with
partner, Jack Britton, who developed midget
derful. We're going to come in here next
a few years off to wrestle. Then he became
wrestling:'
week and sell out:"
the school district's director of human
They ran shows at the Arena Gardens,
Bert handed Light $300. Next week, the
resources in the Royal Oak central office
the Olympia Theater and the Fairview
arena was sold out.
until his retirement in 2002.
Gardens, and the setup was always the
Light played The Professor for the next
He has two grown children who live out
same.
18 months, and became friends with Jim
of state, and his wife of 50 years died in
"You have the good guys, and the heels
Hadey, George "Cry Baby" Cannon, Boot
October 2013.
or the bad guys will meet at the arena, and
Bernard, Bobo Brazil, The Sheik and
the heels will do something bad to attract
Leaping Larry Chene.
Truth About Wrestling
a bigger crowd the next time. Eventually,
His last match was with Bobo Brazil and
Light also met many famous boxers along
the story will cycle out and you'll have to
lasted about three minutes.
the way, including, Jack Dempsey, Jersey Joe
replace one of them:' Light explained.
"He was going to demolish me, which
Wolcott and Joe Louis.
he did," Light said. "He picked me up, head
As a boy, Light met Louis the night the
Into The Ring
butted me and slammed me to the ground.
IRS raided the box office at the Olympia and
Light's entry into the business was as a last-
I felt it for a week:'
wanted the heavyweight champ's money.
minute replacement.
A few years later, Light got a call from the
"They came in and said, 'The IRS wants
Growing up, he was an AAU wrestler.
athletic commission in Detroit, which ran
your money, and they're at the box office:"
When a wrestler named "The Professor"
boxing and wrestling, and they said the pro-
Twenty years later, he would meet him
burst his appendix in the early 1960s, Ruby
moters were screaming because they didn't
again.
approached Light and said, "You know
have adequate referees. He was offered a
"I felt so bad for him because he was
what? You're the same size as The Professor.
referee's job, and used it as a way to supple-
here to referee Light said. "He was so
We need you to put on this mask, read the
ment his income as a teacher and coach at
hard up for money. Joe took a lot of criti-
poetry on television and you can become
Kimball High School in Royal Oak.
cism for it, but his comment was 'It's better
The Professor:'

14 March 6 • 2014

than robbing banks:
"He eventually cleared himself;
Light said. "His wife was an attorney,
and they made a deal."
They brought Louis in to referee a
match between The Sheik and Bobo
Brazil, Light said. "They sold the
place out on Joe Louis' name. He was
very fragile, and they put me in to
help him:'
Light began promoting "Super Stars
Wrestling" in Canada with George
"Cry Baby" Cannon in the 1980s,
doing matches in hockey arenas dur-
ing the off season.
"We did very well with that; he
said. When Cannon died in 1994, he
partnered with Cannon's wife, Gilda,
until 2006, when he sold out.
Light is 5-foot-11 inches and 200
pounds, but his fighting weight was
40 pounds heavier.
"I took the weight off in the last two
years because of Type 2 diabetes, and
I don't take pills anymore he said.
He works out at the Jewish Community
Center in West Bloomfield four times a
week, lifting light weights, riding a bike
for 40 minutes and walking at a brisk pace
for 30 minutes on his off days. Not many
people in the gym know his background,
but his natural grappler's stance: slight
crouch, tucked chin and arms out slightly
should give people a clue.
The two questions he's asked most and is
quickest to answer are how real or phony is
wrestling, and who was the best wrestler.
Wrestling today has gone beyond enter-
tainment; it's become a soap opera, he said.
"It's a farce, but people love it, and it is
big business:' he said. "They've gone to pay-
per-view, and the hardcore wrestling fan
pays, and they don't have to run all these
matches all the time.
"The best wrestler ever was Lou Thesz,"
he said. "He was the National Wrestling
Alliance champion. They got this young
kid, they trained him and sent him around
the world to challenge people. This was
legitimate wrestling.
"He came to Olympia to wrestle Antonio
Argentina Rocca, a fabulous wrestler, who
could slap you with his feet; he said. "Thesz
walked up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Lou
Thesz. I understand you slap people with
your feet. If you slap me, I'll break both your
legs.' He walked away and put his bags down.
Rocco never left his feet that night."



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