In this corner…
On February 10th, 2023 we lost one of the mainstays of professional wrestling. Eric Froelich, the barefooted German wrestler, who called the Lower Mainland his home for decades, passed away at the age of 85. If you used to watch BCTV’s All-Star Wrestling show, you were well aware of the athleticism of Eric Froelich. He shared the professional wrestling ring with all the greats and provided years of entertainment to wrestling fans.
Eric Froelich’s passing brought back many early memories of the old days of Pro-Wrestling in the mid to late 1950s. I would sit with my grandfather and watch Texas Rasslin’ on a black-and-white TV. The big star back then was Gorgeous George! An outrageously flamboyant character with bleach-blonde hair, and a flowing robe, his assistant would scatter his pathway to the ring with rose petals, and sanitize the air with an air freshener. Gorgeous George wasn’t a big intimidating figure, but he would cheat whenever he could, which would infuriate the crowd!
Not in a million years would I have thought that one day I’d step into the ring as a ring announcer and end up being part of “the show” ... but it happened.
The year was 1971 and I was working as a disc jockey at Radio NL in Kamloops. One of the salespeople at the time, Claude Richmond, decided to book the local ice rink and bring in wrestling matches from Vancouver. Wrestlers included Big John Quinn, Don Leo Jonathon, Dutch Savage, Chief Steven Little Bear, and Gene Kiniski. Claude asked me if I wanted to be the ring announcer. He only had to ask once. And, to help promote ticket sales he asked if I would do a phone interview on the radio with one of the wrestlers, Gene Kiniski, who was always billed as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete.” In case you aren’t aware of Gene Kiniski, he was a mountain of a man, stood 6’4”, weighed 272 pounds, and had a loud raspy menacing voice. That was his wrestling persona, the real Gene, was a kind, caring, wonderful man.
The interview was fun. I had read a newspaper story about Gene almost cutting off his thumb while chopping wood, so I kidded him about that, and suggested that he was getting old and maybe should consider retiring! I knew this would get him fired up, and it did! He started ranting and yelling into the phone telling me I was pretty brave when I was 300 miles away, and that he’d deal with me when he got to Kamloops, and of course, I played along and said I’d be there! Well, the radio station phone lines lit up with people telling me I had better be careful, that Gene was a big tough guy, and I was in big trouble. I knew he was a big tough guy, but I knew I wasn’t in big trouble, or so I thought.
The night finally came, the hockey rink was packed with wrestling fans, and there was big anticipation over the main event with Gene, and some people wondering what would happen to me!
All the matches went well, and when it came time for the intermission before the main event, I went to the dressing room to introduce myself to Gene and ask him what he had planned. And without looking up from tying up his wrestling boots, he said “Oh, no, we can’t do anything, there could be insurance problems”. I explained about the calls from listeners after our interview, and how they were expecting me to get pummelled. His response was “Oh, ok.” I said “Ok what?” and he said, “Ok, we’ll do something.” And that was it!
Intermission was over, and Gene’s opponent for the main event, Chief Little Bear, was in his corner, but no Kiniski? I figured he was on his way, so I started the introductions. “In the red corner weighing 265 pounds from St. Louis Missouri, Chief Steven Little Bear!” The crowd cheered! Little Bear was clearly the good guy. And then, there was murmuring in the crowd and it swelled as Gene came lumbering down the aisle. The crowd was booing as he jumped up on the apron of the ring. He put one leg over the rope, stopped and pointed at me, and with the nastiest, angriest face I’d ever seen, yelled out at me from across the ring “There you are! I’ve been looking for you! I’m going to snap you in half!”
Gulp, I didn’t know what to do. Chief Little Bear wondered what was going on, and the referee, Roy McClarty had a confused look on his face as Gene came stomping across the ring. He reached out and grabbed me by the tie and lifted me up off the ground! I weighed about 155 pounds back then, and up I went with my legs kicking in the air, I started hitting his forearm with the microphone. Thump, Thump, Thump, it echoed through the ice rink. The crowd was on its feet, with some people heading toward the ring to help me! The referee stepped in and tried to separate us asking Gene if he had gone crazy! Gene obviously hadn’t told anyone about this! He finally let go of my tie, and down I went, hit the mat, and rolled out of the ring. That was more than enough for me for one night! Ding! Ding! Ding! the bell sounded and the match was on. I looked down to see the knot on my tie was the size of a peanut.
And that little episode was the start of a relationship that would last for 39 years. He was always there with support and a massive shoulder to lean on. For me and many others, he became a father figure who would offer advice and opinion when you needed it. He was also an incredibly supportive father to his two boys, Kelly and Nick. Gene passed away in 2010. He is missed. He truly was “Canada’s Greatest Athlete,” in more ways than one.
Till next time…
🎵 Alfie Zappacosta and the infamous Jell-O Wrestling music video.
He has regretted ever agreeing to doing this video, but his record company insisted.
1 // In case you missed it, Rihanna’s Halftime Show at the Superbowl: CLICK TO WATCH
Is she singing live or lip-sync?
2 // Another Vancouver music venue drops live music as the new owners of the Railway Club have canceled Rob Montgomerys’ popular Sunday Blues Brunch. Let’s hope another venue will see the wisdom of having a full house on Sunday afternoons.
3 // Just to make you feel a little older today, Murray Mclauchlan’s “Farmer Song” turns 50 this year. Yikes! CLICK TO WATCH
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White Rock, BC • Canada V4B 3Z2