This week I’m telling you my all-time favorite “crazy but true” story. It’s about the time “The Tennessee Stud,” Ron Fuller, wrestled in the Bahamas.* I first heard Ron tell it a couple of years ago and this unbelievable yarn still tickles me to this day. My problem is any written version of this won’t nearly do it as much justice as if you heard it from the man himself. Check the link at the bottom of the post to remedy that.
“Dynasty” is an excellent term to describe the Fuller/Welch family’s impact on the wrestling world. Their influence spans 90 years across four generations. Countless grapplers learned the business from the family.** Ron’s grandfather, Roy Welch,*** was a master promoter with a knack for turning a dying town into a cash cow for the wrestling business.****
The family owned several territories. One was the Bahamas, run by Ron’s cousin, Lester Welch. Bahamian crowds were completely convinced pro wrestling was 100% legit and despised bad guy wrestlers (heels) so much that many worked the territory with one eye planted on the closest exit wherever they went.
If the crowd hated something, they’d start pelting the ring with rocks. The worst were a certain kind of igneous stone that could easily cut or concuss a person, depending where someone was hit.***** Conversely, if the crowd was into something, they’d cheer it with a “Boom-tiss-ahh” sound.
Shows ran in an area behind a pool hall, enclosed with a large concrete wall. The enclosure held a wrestling ring, bleachers, and folding chairs. Attendees preferred the folding chairs over the bleachers for seating because the chair could double as a shield from volleys of rocks. Theoretically, one entered the pool hall to buy a ticket, exited through the back doors to the enclosure, and took a seat.
Ron peeked from behind the curtain prior to the opening bell his first night in the territory and was immediately worried. Very few people were in attendance. While Ron worried about his payday, someone flew over the top of the concrete wall.
Apparently, freeloaders figured out that if they gave each other a boost, it wasn’t hard to clear the concrete wall and essentially sneak in. Once one or two people volleyed over the wall, the pool hall owner attempted to chase them away with a pool cue dipped in cement. Eventually, so many got in the enclosure the owner simply gave up in defeat.
“You gotta fix this problem, Lester,” Ron tells his cousin before leaving the Bahamas.
“The Tennessee Stud” was pleased to see Lester made an attempt to rectify the problem on his return to the territory. The top of the concrete wall was now lined with rings of barbed wire. Surely this is going to mean more paying customers, he thought.
Apparently everyone underestimated the ingenuity and determination of chronic freeloaders. By the time Ron Fuller walked out for his match, a standing crowd of moochers lined the top of the concrete wall, arms locked. The wrestlers got the last laugh that night when one cheapskate lost his balance and everyone fell from the top of the wall like a line of dominoes.
Ron’s third trip to the territory saw a new method of curbing freeloaders. Lester and the owner of the pool hall now lined the top of the wall with broken glass embedded in the cement. Once again, the Stud was confident he’d finally see a good payday until his match that night.
Ten to fifteen feet from the concrete enclosure was a huge tree. Instead of vaulting the wall, the freeloaders simply took in the matches from the tree branches. Once Ron mentioned this to Lester, his cousin sawed halfway through the tree. The next time the freeloaders attempted to view the matches from the tree, they were met with a loud crack and a quick trip to the ground.
Ron’s final trip to the Bahamas was on a plane the family owned. While Lester piloted the plane, his cousin nervously attempted to explain the rather unique nature of the Bahamian crowds to two wrestling legends: Dutch Mantell and “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
Mantell listened for a bit, turned to Rhodes, and said “We’re killing this town.”******
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Ron nervously blurts. “My family’s got a reputation for building up towns, not killing them.”
“Don’t worry about it, baby, we’ll take care of you.” Dusty Rhodes remarked with a wink and a grin.
The main event that night was a tag team match pitting Dusty Rhodes and Dutch Mantell against Ron and his brother Rob. When Ron found himself across the ring from Dusty Rhodes, he was shocked. “The American Dream” didn’t attempt a punch or even a hold.
Instead, a shocked Ron Fuller witnessed his opponent stretch out his hands, mime straddling an invisible motorcycle, then take off at full speed around the ring making “BRRRRRRRR” noises.
Dusty collapsed flat on his back in front of a dumbfounded Ron Fuller after about two minutes of this behavior. In his entire career Fuller never saw anything like this and had no idea what to do. That’s probably why Mantell yelled from his corner, “HE’S OUT OF GAS, STUPID! COVER HIM!”
Fuller did as he was told. The referee made the three count. An avalanche of rocks pelted the ring. The next thing Fuller knew, a hand grabbed his leg and dragged him under the ring. It was Dutch Mantell attempting to save Fuller from a potential concussion.
Nary a ticket was sold in the Bahamas for a wrestling event after that stunt. The blatant phony act put on by a legend was completely disrespectful to a crowd that more than likely got what they “paid” for.
The moral to this story is when you see pro wrestling fans get grumpy over obviously staged, phony bullshit, it’s because there was a time when wrestlers did this stuff to deliberately drive business away from towns they knew were detrimental to their business. It’s insulting to see certain people in wrestling take the idea everything is supposed to be silly and funny and run with it.
Apparently modern wrestlers just don’t know their history.
Happy Friday everyone! May you all have a pleasant weekend, and remember: no matter how badly you might have fucked up this week, you didn’t do something stupid that drove business out of your region for good.
And since you made it this far, go check out the Tennessee Studcast if you want more great stories like this.
*I hear a few of you shrieking already about this being another pro wrestling story. I said it was MY favorite. You should have seen it coming.
**One of Roy Welch’s star pupils was “Doctor D” David Schultz, known for slapping the piss out of John Stossel on television.
***According to Ron Fuller, his father Buddy changed his working name from Welch to Fuller because of a family disagreement. Apparently Roy didn’t want Buddy or any of his children working in the business under the Welch family name.
****Roy Welch is a guy worthy of a documentary. In addition to helping break the color barrier in Memphis wrestling, Roy had a reputation of “hostile takeovers” of territories where he’d enter a locker room, ask who was in charge, then strangle that person until they agreed Roy should take the territory over.
*****A brief anecdote on this. One night a heel was booked to lose to a masked babyface who lost consciousness after getting pelted with a rock during ring introductions. Fearing for his life, the wrestler dove under his opponent’s prone, lifeless body once the bell rang, then beat it out of the building after the three count to avoid getting assaulted by fans.
******Wrestler slang for doing something so stupid, phony, and offensive to a crowd that no one would pay for a ticket to a wrestling show after the deed.