25 Years as Wrestling’s Evil Villain
Milwaukeean Chris Curtis battled all the big stars of wrestling and suffered numerous injuries. Excerpt from his new book.
Milwaukee native Chris Curtis was a “job man,’”a specially trained worker hired to battle a star wrestler like Jake “The Snake” Roberts or Jerry “The King” Lawler. Curtis’s played the “heel,” the bad guy who bent the rules, cheated and did everything he could to defeat his “baby face” (the good guy) opponent. Before he turned pro, Curtis wrestled Victor, a 600-lb black bear, in front of 6,000 people at the Milwaukee Sentinel Sports Show in 1978. He learned how to be a job man at the old Federation Hall on Milwaukee’s South Side, and began taping matches for the “All-Star Wrestling” television show less than a year later.
Curtis’s new book, Job Man: My 25 Years in Pro Wrestling, offers a rare, inside look into the popular sport by someone who was there. Curtis began wrestling for Minneapolis-based promoter Verne Gagne in 1979. He also worked for “Cowboy” Bill Watts in the Mississippi and Louisiana territories, and for Vince McMahon Jr.’s World Wrestling Entertainment out of New York City. In a career that spanned 25 years and more than 700 matches, Curtis wrestled Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Andre the Giant, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell, Chief Wahoo McDaniel and many other stars of the ring, along the way suffering broken hands, cracked ribs, bruised kidneys, dislocated knees and several concussions. This is an excerpt from his new book.
On December 5, 1978 I had my first wrestling match at Federation Hall. I wore a mask and wrestled as the Skull. My opponent was a guy named Bad Brains Lucas. He was pretty good but he insisted on doing a blade job before he really knew how to do it correctly. He ended up cutting his forehead badly and was bleeding uncontrollably all over the ring. In those days we didn’t really worry about blood-borne diseases and it’s a good thing because that blood was everywhere.
Not long after that, Hall took me and four other guys up to Minneapolis to appear on Verne Gagne’s “All-Star Wrestling.” Some guys do this for years and never get that far. One by one, the main eventers began coming in to the TV station, and to me it was like being in Hollywood. Here I am, a 22-year-old wrestling fan suddenly hanging out with all the guys I’ve been watching since 1966! As I got to know them, it seemed like the heels turned out to be the nicest guys in person while the baby faces were the biggest assholes.
My first TV outing was a tag team match against Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell, the High Flyers. I got paid $85 and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It wasn’t long before I was going to the Twin Cities to shoot television matches two times a month, a gig that lasted for the next ten years. Verne liked me right from the start, and I was lucky because no one ever got a second chance with him. When Verne lost his temper, you never knew what was gonna happen.
One time Dick Reynolds brought me, Herman “The German” Schaffer, Dallas Young and David Starr to Minneapolis. Reynolds was actually Dick Raniewicz, a Milwaukee-area high school math teacher who wrestled on the side. In the dressing room, Verne took one look at the flabby build on Dallas and went ballistic. Gagne got in his face and yelled, “You fat bitch! Who brought you up here?” He went on a rant about Dallas having no muscles, and then he turned to David Starr and said, “How much can you bench?” Starr answered, “About 75 pounds.” Verne said, “Goddamn it, my daughter can lift more than that.” With Young and Starr trying to diffuse the situation, Verne screamed even louder, “Get the fuck out here and don’t come back.” Then he glared at Reynolds and said, “Don’t ever bring guys like that up here again.”
In July, 1979, I got matched against the British wrestler Billy Robinson after arriving at the station. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t wrestled Billy before but he had a reputation of being tough on the newer guys. I was on a friendly footing with Nick Bockwinkel, and I went over and asked him how to handle this. Nick said, “Yeah, Billy can be rough, but the best thing to do is just listen to him, do what he says and you’ll be fine.”
That sounded pretty good, so I went up to Robinson, introduced myself, and asked him to outline the angle. Billy went over the moves and told me how we would finish. When we got in the ring, I followed his lead and we locked up. Then I got him in the corner and made like I was gonna throw a punch at his face. He glared at me and growled, “You motherfucker!” I was stunned, and didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t part of what we had gone over in the dressing room. I held the punch and he maneuvered me into a double suplex. It hurt like hell, so I knew he was stretching me, intentionally trying to hurt me using a painful submission hold. He bent me backwards in the move known as the Boston Crab. This can easily result in a broken back if you’re not careful so I just submitted right away to end the match.
I still didn’t know what just happened in the ring with Robinson, but I was positive I didn’t want any more crap from him back in the dressing room. I thought to myself, “I’m done. I don’t need to be treated like this.” Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens came over, and Ray said, “Don’t quit over this. It was nothing. It’s just how Billy gets.” Nick added, “We all know you’re good at this and you’re doing a great job.” I’m grateful to Nick and Ray for their support, and believe me when I say it came at a time when I really needed it. Stevens remarked that Billy liked to be tough on the new guys primarily to see if they had what it takes. “And you got through it,” Bockwinkel said, “so congratulations.”
Job Man: My 25 Years in Pro Wrestling by Chris Multerer (Chris Curtis) and Larry Widen, is available online at Lulu Marketplace (http://www.lulu.com/shop/chris-multerer/job-man/paperback/product-21421770.html). The book will also be on sale at Boswell Books on Downer beginning February 13th. The book features 38 pages of photographs and a Foreword by Baron von Raschke. Published by Alamo Press, $19.95.