EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a series on women’s wrestling Hall of Famer Toni Rose.
Toni Rose was a spirited, vibrant-eyed teenager when she left her native Indiana in 1963 to pursue a profession in the rough and raucous globe of women’s qualified wrestling.
It wasn’t extended just after she created her mat debut, even though, that Rose had established herself as 1 of the extra talented and athletic females in the sport.
Educated by The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison) at her popular facility in Columbia, exactly where she broke in most of the aspiring lady grapplers of that era, Rose was a fast learner who embraced the business enterprise and set out to make her mark.
The dark-haired beauty was a prime-ranked competitor in a women’s division that integrated such stalwarts as Moolah, Penny Banner, Bette Boucher, Judy Grable and Susan “Tex” Green. As a singles wrestler, Rose would capture the Georgia version of the NWA Southern women’s championship in 1970.
Even though Moolah had been her trainer and a frequent tag-group companion, Rose was also an occasional contender for Moolah’s NWA women’s globe championship. Like a lot of other folks, even though, Rose was under no circumstances capable to wrest the title from her mentor.
Rose may well have been even much better identified as a tag-group specialist, sharing the NWA women’s tag title on 5 distinct occasions with two distinct partners.
“She didn’t like tag teams due to the fact she didn’t want to share the glory with everyone, and these had been her words,” Rose says of Moolah. Nonetheless, the two joined forces to win the NWA globe tag-group belts twice. Operating as heels, their designs had been equivalent, says Rose.
“She educated me, so our designs had been a great deal alike. I tagged with Moolah pretty a bit in the starting. She was constantly a heel. I got along with her fine. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be a babyface,” she stated “It was a great deal extra exciting getting a heel … yes it was!”
Rose was 1 of the handful of girl wrestlers throughout that time who didn’t reside on Moolah’s home.
“I seriously didn’t have any dilemma. I didn’t reside more than there. But we got along nicely on the road,” she stated.
Rose also defends Moolah against criticism in current years from some of her former charges, for taking what they claimed had been inordinate booking charges, along with taking the greatest bookings for herself as the perennial globe champion.
“She didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head. No one had to keep there,” contends Rose. “They could stroll out any second they wanted to. But she’s dead now. She can not defend herself. I just believe it is incorrect that they knock her down so badly.”
Moolah, née Mary Lillian Ellison, passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.
Scare in Australia
Toni Rose, who is now 77 and a longtime resident of Columbia, says she was fortunate to have escaped significant injury throughout her 17 years in the business enterprise. The most really serious, she says, occurred throughout a match in Australia in 1969.
“Jessica Rogers stuck her finger in my eye, and I went entirely blind in each eyes,” recalls Rose, who suffered a torn cornea. “I left the arena and went to an eye physician. They place medicine and all that in it. It was a week or extra prior to I could see. The physician stated the other eye went out in sympathy, what ever that is.”
Rose, having said that, somehow nevertheless had to wrestle and fulfill her dates. Promoter Jim Barnett came up with an notion to assist her go via the motions and operate the series of matches on her schedule.
“They’d send somebody to the ring in front of me dressed in strong white,” says Rose, “and I would be capable to see the shadows. I worked a number of matches like that. That surely wouldn’t have occurred in today’s globe.”
Rogers, of course, hadn’t meant to inflict such an injury to her opponent.
“Jessica didn’t imply to do it. It was just one thing that occurred,” says Rose.
With a penchant for tag-group competitors, Rose says she also enjoyed operating mixed tag matches with the midget ladies who had been utilised as specific attractions in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Typically these bouts would pit heels Rose and Diamond Lil against babyfaces Bette Boucher and Darling Dagmar, Fran Gravette and Dagmar, or Brenda Scott and Dagmar.
“We utilised to operate a lot of mixed tags with the midgets. That was exciting. Diamond Lil was constantly my companion. She’s a funny tiny girl,” she says of Lil (Katie Glass), who also nevertheless lives in Columbia and whom Rose talks to frequently. “You under no circumstances knew what they had been going to do subsequent. We all enjoyed that.”
Rose would appreciate 1 of her most significant runs with a talented lady grappler from Pittsburgh who also served as Moolah’s proper-hand individual at her instruction compound in Columbia.
Winning the NWA women’s globe tag title on 3 distinct occasions, Rose and Donna Christantello teamed for a number of years, touring Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and South America.
Immediately after a 3-year reign as champions, they had been defeated for the title by the group of Joyce Grable and Vicki Williams in October 1973 at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t till October 1975 that Rose and Christantello regained the title from Grable and Williams, holding it for roughly 4 years.
“We had been superior good friends,” says Rose. “Donna constantly had your back and would constantly appear out for you. She was a superior worker and was proper there with you no matter what.”
“She was also a superior cook. Sloppy, but superior,” laughs Rose. “She loved to make these Italian dishes. She’d make a sauce that could take me ten minutes to make, but it took her all day. Of course mine wouldn’t be almost as superior as hers.”
Donna Christantello (Mary Donna Alfonsi) passed away in 2011 at the age of 69.
Life on the road
When life on the road could be grueling for a lot of wrestlers throughout that era, it was just a way of life, and Toni Rose knew that from the start off. It offered an chance to see the globe, she says.
“I got to go to areas I would have under no circumstances gone to or had the chance to check out. I wouldn’t want to do it now, but back then it was exciting,” she stated.
For Rose, it was an education of a lifetime, traveling all through the United States, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and a lot of other locales.
One particular of the strangest areas she had to wrestle, she says, was in India.
“It was just weird. We wrestled outdoors most of the time, and people today sat on the ground about the ring,” she stated. “We wrestled some Indian girls, but we didn’t seriously know them at all. We didn’t see them prior to the match or something. We stayed there for more than a month. We went more than there for a promoter in Canada (Tiger Jeet Singh) who was operating some shows there.
“I seriously loved Singapore,” she says. “It was such a lovely city with flowers and orchids everywhere.”
She also had the chance to operate for a range of wrestling promoters and the significant wrestling organizations, such as the NWA, WWWF and AWA in this nation.
“I seriously liked North Carolina and San Francisco,” says Rose, providing props to Jim Crockett Sr. and Roy Shires respectively.
“Jim Crockett was a superior man. He was constantly good to us. He’d come in and speak to us and sit down in the dressing space a handful of minutes each time we had been on the card. Roy Shires was hard, but he was superior.”
Rose says she also liked operating for WWWF boss Vince McMahon Sr., Ray Gunkel in Atlanta and Ed Francis in Hawaii.
“We constantly loved getting there in Honolulu,” she stated.
Rose also mentions the late good Charleston promoter Henry Marcus.
“Was he ever a character! He utilised to get in touch with a yacht a ‘yatchet.’ I do not know why I don’t forget that, but I do,” she stated.
Rose had her share of rugged battles more than the years, but a couple of “tough broads” stood out amongst the pack.
One particular grappler she feared receiving into the ring with was the legendary Mae Young.
“That was 1 hard lady,” says Rose. “I worked with her a handful of instances, and she was hard all proper.”
That opinion would be shared by no significantly less than the good Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who after told Young, “I do not like women’s wrestling, but if ever there was 1 born to be a wrestler, you are it.”
Truth be identified, in her prime, Young was tougher than a lot of of her grizzled male counterparts on the circuit. The late Fred Blassie, 1 of the greatest heels ever, after opined that Mae was tougher than in all probability 60 % of the males in the business enterprise. And that, by most accounts, was a conservative estimate.
“She was a rough, hard broad,” stated 1 of her old opponents. And Rose was nicely conscious of her reputation via Moolah, who came up via the business enterprise in the very same generation.
“Bette Boucher and I had been coming via Arizona on our way back to South Carolina when Moolah known as us. She stated that Johnnie Mae was operating some matches that evening in some town in Arizona. We weren’t far from there, so we stopped,” she stated. “She and the girl she was with had been good, but we told Johnny Mae that we had to go back to the hotel and get a tiny rest prior to the show.
“Big error,” laughs Rose. “Mae had been drinking, pretty heavily, and she didn’t have the ring up. She just couldn’t get it up. So we left and drove on back to South Carolina.”
Rose got a different likelihood to operate with the Remarkable Mae Young throughout a Florida tour.
“I was down there by myself, and she came out, crazy and not realizing what she was performing. I told Moolah that I didn’t care how you do it, but you much better send an individual down right here to take my spot, due to the fact I’m not generating adequate revenue to operate with this crazy lady,” she stated. “I’m not receiving hurt this way. I do not know what she ultimately did, but I left.”
When Rose commonly worked as a heel, operating with Young was an exception.
“You couldn’t be a heel with Johnnie Mae,” she laughs. “With Johnnie Mae you had to be a babyface.”
Rose also mentions Ann LaVerne, who broke into the sport in the 1940s and was identified as the only female wrestler of that era to have a cauliflower ear, as amongst the toughest ladies in the business enterprise.
With an intimidating presence and feared by a lot of of her opponents, LaVerne would take on all challengers, ladies or males.
“She was a toughie,” Rose stated of LaVerne, who died in 1999 at age 77. “I worked with her a number of instances about the Mobile location. She was good to me, but she’d scare you to death. All she had to do was appear at you. She was 1 hard lady. I didn’t know her personally, but I’m good friends with her daughter Marie LaVerne Nelson. I speak to her a couple instances a week.”
Marie, coincidentally, had 1 of her very first pro matches with Young, who was a pal of her mother.
“She was great,” Nelson after stated of Young in an interview. “She had the reputation that she would throw a punch at anyone, such as males. If people today attempted her, they would come across out how genuine she was. The 1 conversation I don’t forget most is 1 time she told me on the telephone, ’If an individual attempted to make a film about my life, they’d have to censor practically each scene.’ She was a character.”
Young passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.
Subsequent: Life just after wrestling for Toni Rose.
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On this date …
Twenty-eight years ago these days on this date (March 19, 1995): Hulk Hogan defeated Vader in a leather strap match to highlight WCW’s Uncensored spend-per-view from the Tupelo Coliseum in Tupelo, Miss.
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A masked man later revealed as Randy Savage appeared just after to match to congratulate Hogan and firm.
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