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 experienced wrestling.
It wasn’t extended right after she created her mat debut, even though, that Rose had established herself as one particular of the extra 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 leading-ranked competitor in a women’s division that incorporated 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.
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 quite a few other folks, even though, Rose was by no means capable to wrest the title from her mentor.
Rose may well have been even superior recognized as a tag-group specialist, sharing the NWA women’s tag title on 5 unique occasions with two unique partners.
“She didn’t like tag teams mainly because she didn’t want to share the glory with everyone, and these have 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 designs have been equivalent, says Rose.
“She educated me, so our designs have been a great deal alike. I tagged with Moolah really a bit in the starting. She was often a heel. I got along with her fine. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be a babyface,” she mentioned “It was a great deal extra exciting becoming a heel … yes it was!”
Rose was one particular of the couple of girl wrestlers throughout that time who didn’t reside on Moolah’s home.
“I seriously didn’t have any issue. I didn’t reside more than there. But we got along nicely on the road,” she mentioned.
Rose also defends Moolah against criticism in current years from some of her former charges, for taking what they claimed have been inordinate booking costs, along with taking the finest 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 believe 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 big injury throughout her 17 years in the company. The most critical, she says, occurred throughout a match in Australia in 1969.
“Jessica Rogers stuck her finger in my eye, and I went entirely blind in each eyes,” recalls Rose, who suffered a torn cornea. “I left the arena and went to an eye physician. They place medicine and all that in it. It was a week or extra just before I could see. The physician mentioned the other eye went out in sympathy, what ever that is.”
Rose, nevertheless, somehow nevertheless had to wrestle and fulfill her dates. Promoter Jim Barnett came up with an concept to assistance her go via the motions and operate the series of matches on her schedule.
“They’d send somebody to the ring in front of me dressed in strong white,” says Rose, “and I would be capable to see the shadows. I worked a number of matches like that. That definitely 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 anything that occurred,” says Rose.
With a penchant for tag-group competitors, Rose says she also enjoyed functioning mixed tag matches with the midget ladies who have been employed as specific attractions in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Generally 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 employed to operate a lot of mixed tags with the midgets. That was exciting. Diamond Lil was often 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 frequently. “You by no means knew what they have been going to do subsequent. We all enjoyed that.”
Rose would love one particular of her most significant runs with a talented lady grappler from Pittsburgh who also served as Moolah’s suitable-hand individual at her education compound in Columbia.
Winning the NWA women’s planet tag title on 3 unique occasions, Rose and Donna Christantello teamed for a number of years, touring Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and South America.
Immediately after a 3-year reign as champions, they have 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 around 4 years.
“We have been great mates,” says Rose. “Donna often had your back and would often appear out for you. She was a great worker and was suitable there with you no matter what.”
“She was also a great cook. Sloppy, but great,” laughs Rose. “She loved to make these Italian dishes. She’d make a sauce that may well take me ten minutes to make, but it took her all day. Of course mine wouldn’t be almost as great as hers.”
Donna Christantello (Mary Donna Alfonsi) passed away in 2011 at the age of 69.
Life on the road
Whilst life on the road could be grueling for quite a few wrestlers throughout that era, it was just a way of life, and Toni Rose knew that from the commence. It supplied an chance to see the planet, she says.
“I got to go to areas 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 exciting,” she mentioned.
For Rose, it was an education of a lifetime, traveling all through the United States, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and quite a few other locales.
A single of the strangest areas she had to wrestle, she says, was in India.
“It was just weird. We wrestled outdoors most of the time, and people today sat on the ground about the ring,” she mentioned. “We wrestled some Indian girls, but we didn’t seriously 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 seriously loved Singapore,” she says. “It was such a wonderful city with flowers and orchids everywhere.”
She also had the chance to operate for a wide variety of wrestling promoters and the big wrestling organizations, such as the NWA, WWWF and AWA in this nation.
“I seriously liked North Carolina and San Francisco,” says Rose, providing props to Jim Crockett Sr. and Roy Shires respectively.
“Jim Crockett was a great man. He was often good to us. He’d come in and speak to us and sit down in the dressing area a couple of minutes each and every time we have been on the card. Roy Shires was hard, but he was great.”
Rose says she also liked functioning for WWWF boss Vince McMahon Sr., Ray Gunkel in Atlanta and Ed Francis in Hawaii.
“We often loved becoming there in Honolulu,” she mentioned.
Rose also mentions the late excellent Charleston promoter Henry Marcus.
“Was he ever a character! He employed to contact a yacht a ‘yatchet.’ I do not know why I don’t forget that, but I do,” she mentioned.
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 receiving 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 much less than the excellent Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who after 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 quite a few of her grizzled male counterparts on the circuit. The late Fred Blassie, one particular of the greatest heels ever, after opined that Mae was tougher than most likely 60 % of the males in the company. And that, by most accounts, was a conservative estimate.
“She was a rough, hard broad,” mentioned one particular of her old opponents. And Rose was nicely conscious of her reputation via Moolah, who came up via the company in the very same generation.
“Bette Boucher and I have been coming via Arizona on our way back to South Carolina when Moolah named us. She mentioned that Johnnie Mae was operating some matches that evening in some town in Arizona. We weren’t far from there, so we stopped,” she mentioned. “She and the girl she was with have 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, really 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 a further likelihood to operate with the Remarkable Mae Young throughout a Florida tour.
“I was down there by myself, and she came out, crazy and not realizing what she was undertaking. I told Moolah that I didn’t care how you do it, but you superior send somebody down right here to take my location, mainly because I’m not creating sufficient income to operate with this crazy lady,” she mentioned. “I’m not receiving hurt this way. I do not know what she lastly did, but I left.”
Whilst Rose ordinarily worked as a heel, functioning 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 quite a few of her opponents, LaVerne would take on all challengers, females or males.
“She was a toughie,” Rose mentioned 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 1st pro matches with Young, who was a pal of her mother.
“She was great,” Nelson after mentioned of Young in an interview. “She had the reputation that she would throw a punch at anyone, such as males. If people today attempted her, they would uncover out how true she was. The one particular conversation I don’t forget 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 nearly each and every scene.’ She was a character.”
Young passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.
Subsequent: Life right after wrestling for Toni Rose.
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