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Old-school Tough Guy Ole Anderson Returns To Charlotte!
Watching the "Minnesota Wrecking Crew" work in a ring was like staring at the face of professional wrestling. From their rugged looks and their machine-like precision to their ability to stir crowds into a frenzy, Gene and Ole Anderson were the proverbial "well-oiled team" by which future mat combinations would be judged.
Few will argue the fact that the Anderson Brothers helped define the art of tag-team wrestling during the '60s and '70s. Working over one part of the body, tagging in and out, and the blocking technique were all Anderson trademarks. Their timing and ring psychology were impeccable. And their "working" ability, according to many of their respected peers, was beyond reproach.
Without a doubt, the most outspoken of the group, which included "brother" Lars in the mid-'60s, was Ole Anderson. One of the last true, old-school tough guys, Ole will tell you that he was never out to win any popularity contests. He was opinionated, abrasive and contentious. And those, he might suggest, were his good qualities.
But he was a survivor - as a wrestler, booker and promoter. In what was often a cutthroat business, one had to have a very strong constitution to survive in the industry. Not only did Anderson survive, he was a major power broker who successfully wore many hats during a 30-year career in the business. And most of those years were spent in the Mid-Atlantic territory where the Anderson Brothers became a household name.
In recent years Anderson has battled multiple sclerosis. But his presence at the annual Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest has become a highlight for many fans who travel from all corners of the globe to listen to the inimitable Ole wax nostalgic. Ole will make another appearance at next month's fanfest weekend August 1-4 in Charlotte.
It's an event where he enjoys holding court and swapping old war stories. "It's a good reason for a lot of people who like something to do with wrestling to come and see all the guys," he says. That statement qualifies as high praise coming from Ole Anderson. "The only problem I can see is that there's a whole lot less guys now because they're dropping dead," he bluntly adds.
That's what most fans like about Ole. He speaks his mind and, agree or disagree with him, you won't find him wavering in his opinions.
Anderson is now 70, and continues to wage a battle with his debilitating disease. Not unlike how he waged battle in the wrestling ring for decades and the booking office years later, Anderson has refused to give in to the disease. He now needs assistance moving from one spot to the next, and his energy level and strength have been compromised.
"All the problems I had wrestling, and now this damn thing," he says. "I can walk for about half a step, and then I have to grab hold of something or I'm going to go down."
His wife, Marsha, remains by his side to assist him. "She's taking care of me," he says. "If it weren't for her, I'd be sitting in the garbage somewhere."
Anderson was diagnosed eight years ago, but doctors have since told him he most likely has had the disease since he was in his 30s. "I've had it for a long time, I just didn't know anything about it, because every time I had a problem, I just thought it was related to wrestling. Most of them (injuries) were, but they were just made worse because I had MS. I didn't find out I had MS until I was nearly 62 years old. Now I know and I can't do a thing about it."
Anderson had a simple formula in the wrestling business. "Every day we did the best we could do, and we tried to draw the people. We worked our (behinds) off no matter where we were or who we were working with."
There aren't many who would dispute the fact that the burly Minnesotan was one of the toughest grapplers to ever come down the pike. With Gene, he helped rewrite the book on tag-team wrestling.
Just as importantly, he helped shape the business as booker during key periods in wrestling history, overseeing the offices in Charlotte (Jim Crockett Promotions), Atlanta (Georgia Championship Wrestling) and later for the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling.
By the early '90s, however, it was clear to Anderson that the business - or at least the business as he had known it - had passed him by. Like Verne Gagne, Bill Watts and other "old-school" traditionalists, Anderson could not accept the fact that professional wrestling had gone the way of modern-day sports entertainment.
Years after his retirement, Anderson remains an intriguing, almost mythical, figure in the wrestling business. Some have seen him as a stubborn, embittered old-timer with a myopic, outdated view of the profession. Never one to mince words, his argumentative, confrontational personality has left a sour taste in the mouths of some who have taken a different approach to the business. Others have viewed him as a throwback and symbol of what tough guys were like "back in the day."
Ole Anderson was, however, an unorthodox but savvy booker and businessman who stood up to the establishment and waged his biggest battles not inside the ring, but rather in the halls and offices of corporate giants such as TBS, and with the likes of Vince McMahon, Jim Barnett, Eric Bischoff and Jim Herd. "The wrestling matches may have been staged and scripted, but there was nothing fake about the corporate and legal battles," says Anderson.
Anderson admittedly was one of the last defenders of the legitimacy of the business. During his ring career, he approached every match as if it were a shoot (a real contest), worked tight with his opponents and went to great lengths to make everything look believable.
"I told the Turner people back in '90 or '91 that I was of the opinion that the suspension of disbelief was so important that it was necessary to maintain that. I would be more than willing to bet you that I could get in the ring with somebody and convince you after 10 minutes that what you had just seen was a shoot."
Anderson, who began his career in 1967 under his real name, Al "Rock" Rogowski, makes no apologies for his obstinate disposition. In fact, there's little difference between the Ole Anderson fans despised in the ring for so many years, and the Ole Anderson outside the business. Like so many others from his era, he lived his gimmick. And, love him or hate him, he still has that intangible quality that separates the men from the boys in the wrestling business: He can evoke emotion at the drop of a hat.
He'll also be the first to tell you that he wasn't in the business to make friends or cultivate legions of fans. He was in the business to draw money, pure and simple, and everything else took a back seat.
-Mike Mooneyham, a writer and editor with Charleston's The Post and Courier since 1979, is one of the nation's foremost authorities on professional wrestling, and his weekly wrestling column has been in continuous publication longer than any other in the country.
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