Thumps, Bumps, and Dumps Down Under

Basketballers Andrew Bogut and Lauren Jackson and Philadelphia Eagles gridiron punt kicker Sav Rocca are among the latest wave of invaders to join their Aussie peers in golf, tennis, boxing and other sports by making a name for themselves in the US.  Now professional wrestling has a contender about to join in the mix.  Wrestling expert Digger Armstrong, aka Graham Burke, an evergreen Melbourne-based sportswriter, is on the comeback trail and has joined the 1wrestlinglegends.com team to share some of his fantastic memories.

Digger’s personal experience with world class grunters and groaners date back to the very early 1950s when his number one hero, Jumping Jack Claybourne, came to grips with the likes of Chief Little Wolf, Dirty Dick Raines, Francoise Valois and Joginder Singh in the land Down Under.  Digger pulls no punches as he tells of the thumps, bumps and dumps like they happened only yesterday.  His writings have never been targeted at American readers before and he hopes that those who give his column a go possess sufficient fibre to stand the pace.

Still Friends ... With Bruises to Prove It

THIRTY-SIX years is a long time to be away from wrestling’s mainstream, which is why I thought I was safe from friends like Steve "Crusher" Rackman and other bullies who simply don’t know their own strength.  A playful punch or two now and then might be kid’s stuff to them, but for someone like me, a bruise-easily veteran of 70-plus winters, the experience is very painful.

Last week for example.  While innocently trooping along a laneway in downtown Melbourne, I heard someone bellow loudly in a deep voice: "Digger Armstrong … I’ve been looking for you."

I froze, a split second or two before I felt a sledgehammer whack to the back of my neck.  I buckled at the knees and almost went down for the count.  Somehow, I managed to duck under the follow-up barrage which came my way in the form of a forearm smash, but there was no escape from the headlock which made me fear that my scone was about to burst like a pumpkin being run over by a garbage truck.

Before I even had chance to see his face I knew my antagonist was — "Crusher" Rackman, the "World Championship Wrestling" villain I hadn’t seen for a long long time.  We had been buddies back in the early 1970s when I would slip out of my office to have coffee with him and engage him in conversation as a means of catching up with the latest wrestling gossip about the goings-on inside and outside the ring.  The rabbit-killer punch, forearm smash, and headlock combination had always been "Crusher’s" "friendly," but bone-rattling, calling card with people he liked.  I shuddered to think of his reaction to the one not on his Christmas card list.

The early ‘70s was the time I was earning a crust subbing on the sports desk for Melbourne’s daily afternoon newspaper, "The Herald," and moonlighting as Digger Armstrong in providing copy and photographs for a full page of wrestling for Allsport, a weekly rag owned by millionaire printer Claude Langwell.

Claude was one of the most colourful rags-to-riches characters I have ever met.  He was a crafty old devil who tells the tale of how he became $4.5 million richer by designing and building one of the first offset printing plants in Australia and using it to produce advertising handbills for supermarket chains.

At first, Claude and I got on like a house on fire, particularly once the fan mail began pouring in from wrestling fans.  Feeling over the moon at being fussed over by the boss, I was on top of the world ... until the night I zigged instead of zagged.  I made the grave mistake of accepting Claude’s invitation to join him for drinks at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel which he owned lock, stock and barrel.

Claude had a couple of hours head start by the time I joined him in the hotel’s upstairs bar and we got stuck into old friend Johnny Walker like there was no tomorrow.  Fair dinkum, the barman, probably thought we had been tipped off that our Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, had the numbers in Federal Parliament to give your "Noble Experiment" a whirl.  Forgive me if I am whistling up a gum tree, sons and daughters of Uncle Sam, but isn’t it so that some folks in the land of the Stars and Stripes use the term "Noble Experiment" to water down (no pun intended) the reference to the dark days of Prohibition (1920-33)?

But getting back to Claude Langwell … it wasn’t long after I began drinking with him that I discovered he was a nasty drunk.  His attitude became more melancholy with each gulp until who should step into the bar but ... Johnny Famechon.  The world featherweight boxing champion and a small group of friends had booked a table in the adjoining eating area.

Suddenly, after catching sight of the champ, Claude rose from his bar stool and shouted: "Fammo, you weak-livered, overrated so-and-so.  You wouldn’t last five rounds with a revolving door if today’s fighters were half as good as the ones in my day."  Claude staggered towards Famechon and shaped up, throwing fake powderpuff lefts and rights.  Famechon’s face went a bright red in embarrassment, but he said nothing.  He and his friends did an abrupt about turn and departed, no doubt to seek a quieter refuge in which they could have their evening meal.  I, too, hastily made tracks.

Going to the Duke of Cornwall that night was a mistake.  Mistake number one.  Mistake number two was accepting Claude Langwell’s invitation to return there the following week.  After washing his tonsils with a succession of Johnny Walkers, Claude turn nasty again, only this time, it was his blonde lady friend, Barbie, who copped it.

Barbie and Claude became locked in an argument on the silliest of subjects — whether Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, had been crowned in1939 before giving up the throne to marry twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

The blue (a word many Aussies use meaning argument, fight, punch-up, etc.) between Claude and Barbie was one on those ongoing things and I found the points they were raising sillier than a Three Stooges movie ... until it suddenly turned ugly.  Barbie, three parts under the weather like Claude and yours truly, let fly with a right rip into the millionaire’s bulging belly.

The punch wouldn’t have hurt a fly, but it annoyed Claude so much that he flew into a rage.  You so-and-so bitch," he shouted.  "I have told you time and again not to do that."  Then he punched Barbie squarely on the jaw, knocking her backwards and bump-bump-bump-bump-bump down the staircase to the reception area below.

I had never seen a woman punched like that before and, instinctively, did the manly thing and stood up for Barbie, who was not only a sexy-looking piece of work, but Allsport’s editor.

Fortunately, Claude and I did not come to blows, although he was the one who came out on top of our little altercation simply by uttering three little words: "You are sacked."

Having run with the foxes and hunted with the hounds in my 20 years in newspapers, many of them on police rounds, I was well accustomed to the good and bad experiences that goes with the territory of being a journalist, but being given the chop like that disturbed me.  I thought my days of covering wrestling were over.

I was mistaken.  A couple of days later Barbie phoned to say that she and Claude had made up and were friends again.  Also, that one of the conditions of their reconciliation was that I be reinstated on the payroll with a rise in salary.

Hopefully, I will be permitted to tell you more in the next issue of 1wrestlinglegends.com, unless, of course, the boss invites me for a sip and he turns out to be another Claude Langwell.

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