• Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

Women’s wrestling star Toni Rose created her mark in the company | Wrestling


Mar 18, 2023

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 planet of women’s specialist wrestling.

It wasn’t extended following she created her mat debut, even though, that Rose had established herself as one particular of the far more talented and athletic females in the sport.

Educated by The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison) at her well-known facility in Columbia, exactly where she broke in most of the aspiring lady grapplers of that era, Rose was a rapid learner who embraced the company and set out to make her mark.

The dark-haired beauty was a best-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 planet championship. Like several other individuals, even though, Rose was by no means in a position to wrest the title from her mentor.

Rose may perhaps have been even far better recognized 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 since she didn’t want to share the glory with any person, and these had been her words,” Rose says of Moolah. Nevertheless, the two joined forces to win the NWA planet tag-group belts twice. Functioning as heels, their types had been related, says Rose.

“She educated me, so our types had been significantly alike. I tagged with Moolah very a bit in the starting. She was usually a heel. I got along with her fine. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be a babyface,” she stated “It was significantly far more entertaining becoming a heel … yes it was!”

Rose was one particular of the couple of girl wrestlers through that time who didn’t reside on Moolah’s house.

“I actually didn’t have any difficulty. 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 costs, along with taking the very best bookings for herself as the perennial planet champion.

“She didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head. No one had to remain there,” contends Rose. “They could stroll out any second they wanted to. But she’s dead now. She can’t defend herself. I just assume 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 main injury through her 17 years in the company. The most severe, she says, occurred through a match in Australia in 1969.

“Jessica Rogers stuck her finger in my eye, and I went completely blind in each eyes,” recalls Rose, who suffered a torn cornea. “I left the arena and went to an eye medical professional. They place medicine and all that in it. It was a week or far more just before I could see. The medical professional 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 concept to support her go by means of the motions and perform the series of matches on her schedule.

Women’s wrestling great Toni Rose enjoyed rewarding career

“They’d send somebody to the ring in front of me dressed in strong white,” says Rose, “and I would be in a position to see the shadows. I worked a number of matches like that. That absolutely wouldn’t have occurred in today’s planet.”

Rogers, of course, hadn’t meant to inflict such an injury to her opponent.

“Jessica didn’t imply to do it. It was just some thing that occurred,” says Rose.

Tag-group chemistry

With a penchant for tag-group competitors, Rose says she also enjoyed operating mixed tag matches with the midget ladies who had been made use of as particular attractions in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Commonly 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 made use of to perform a lot of mixed tags with the midgets. That was entertaining. Diamond Lil was usually my companion. She’s a funny small girl,” she says of Lil (Katie Glass), who also nevertheless lives in Columbia and whom Rose talks to routinely. “You by no means knew what they had been going to do subsequent. We all enjoyed that.”

Rose would love one particular of her largest runs with a talented lady grappler from Pittsburgh who also served as Moolah’s suitable-hand individual at her instruction compound in Columbia.

Winning the NWA women’s planet tag title on 3 distinct occasions, Rose and Donna Christantello teamed for a number of years, touring Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and South America.

Following 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 mates,” says Rose. “Donna usually had your back and would usually appear out for you. She was a superior worker and was suitable 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 may possibly 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

Though life on the road could be grueling for several wrestlers through that era, it was just a way of life, and Toni Rose knew that from the begin. It offered an chance to see the planet, she says.

“I got to go to locations I would have by no means gone to or had the chance to stop by. I wouldn’t want to do it now, but back then it was entertaining,” she stated. 

For Rose, it was an education of a lifetime, traveling all through the United States, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and several other locales.

A single of the strangest locations she had to wrestle, she says, was in India.

“It was just weird. We wrestled outdoors most of the time, and individuals sat on the ground about the ring,” she stated. “We wrestled some Indian girls, but we didn’t actually know them at all. We didn’t see them just before 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 actually loved Singapore,” she says. “It was such a wonderful city with flowers and orchids everywhere.”

She also had the chance to perform for a assortment of wrestling promoters and the main wrestling organizations, which includes the NWA, WWWF and AWA in this nation.

“I actually 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 usually good to us. He’d come in and speak to us and sit down in the dressing area a couple of minutes just about every 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 usually loved becoming there in Honolulu,” she stated. 

Rose also mentions the late excellent Charleston promoter Henry Marcus.

“Was he ever a character! He made use of to get in touch with a yacht a ‘yatchet.’ I do not know why I keep in mind that, but I do,” she stated. 

‘Tough broads’

Rose had her share of rugged battles more than the years, but a couple of “tough broads” stood out amongst the pack.

A single grappler she feared acquiring into the ring with was the legendary Mae Young.

“That was one particular hard lady,” says Rose. “I worked with her a couple of occasions, and she was hard all suitable.”

That opinion would be shared by no significantly less than the excellent Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who when told Young, “I do not like women’s wrestling, but if ever there was one particular born to be a wrestler, you are it.”

Truth be recognized, in her prime, Young was tougher than several of her grizzled male counterparts on the circuit. The late Fred Blassie, one particular of the greatest heels ever, when opined that Mae was tougher than in all probability 60 % of the guys in the company. And that, by most accounts, was a conservative estimate.

“She was a rough, hard broad,” stated one particular of her old opponents. And Rose was nicely conscious of her reputation by means of Moolah, who came up by means of the company in the similar generation.

“Bette Boucher and I had been coming by means of Arizona on our way back to South Carolina when Moolah referred to 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 small rest just before the show.

“Big error,” laughs Rose. “Mae had been drinking, very 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 yet another possibility to perform with the Incredible Mae Young through a Florida tour.

“I was down there by myself, and she came out, crazy and not figuring out what she was carrying out. I told Moolah that I didn’t care how you do it, but you far better send somebody down right here to take my spot, since I’m not producing sufficient dollars to perform with this crazy lady,” she stated. “I’m not acquiring hurt this way. I do not know what she ultimately did, but I left.”

Though 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 recognized as the only female wrestler of that era to have a cauliflower ear, as amongst the toughest females in the company.

With an intimidating presence and feared by several of her opponents, LaVerne would take on all challengers, females or guys.

“She was a toughie,” Rose stated of LaVerne, who died in 1999 at age 77. “I worked with her a number of occasions 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 one particular hard lady. I didn’t know her personally, but I’m mates with her daughter Marie LaVerne Nelson. I speak to her a couple occasions a week.”

Marie, coincidentally, had one particular of her initial pro matches with Young, who was a buddy of her mother.

“She was excellent,” Nelson when stated of Young in an interview. “She had the reputation that she would throw a punch at anyone, which includes guys. If individuals attempted her, they would come across out how true she was. The one particular conversation I keep in mind most is one particular time she told me on the telephone, ’If somebody attempted to make a film about my life, they’d have to censor pretty much just about every scene.’ She was a character.”

Young passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

Subsequent: Life following wrestling for Toni Rose.

Attain Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or stick to him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His newest book — “Final Bell” — is now accessible at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com

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