Tue. Mar 21st, 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 experienced wrestling.

It wasn’t extended following she created her mat debut, although, that Rose had established herself as a single of the much 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 speedy learner who embraced the organization and set out to make her mark.

The dark-haired beauty was a major-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.

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 quite a few other folks, although, Rose was never ever in a position to wrest the title from her mentor.

Rose might have been even greater recognized as a tag-group specialist, sharing the NWA women’s tag title on 5 various occasions with two various partners.

“She didn’t like tag teams simply because 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. Operating as heels, their designs had been equivalent, says Rose.

“She educated me, so our designs had been substantially alike. I tagged with Moolah fairly a bit in the starting. She was generally a heel. I got along with her fine. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be a babyface,” she mentioned “It was substantially much more exciting becoming a heel … yes it was!”

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

“I truly didn’t have any difficulty. 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 had been inordinate booking costs, along with taking the ideal 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 not defend herself. I just feel 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 key injury through her 17 years in the organization. The most critical, 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 physician. They place medicine and all that in it. It was a week or much more just before I could see. The physician mentioned the other eye went out in sympathy, what ever that is.”

Rose, even so, somehow nonetheless had to wrestle and fulfill her dates. Promoter Jim Barnett came up with an concept to enable 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 various 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 one thing that occurred,” says Rose.

Tag-group chemistry

With a penchant for tag-group competitors, Rose says she also enjoyed functioning mixed tag matches with the midget ladies who had been made use of as specific 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 exciting. Diamond Lil was generally my companion. She’s a funny tiny girl,” she says of Lil (Katie Glass), who also nonetheless lives in Columbia and whom Rose talks to frequently. “You never ever knew what they had been going to do subsequent. We all enjoyed that.”

Rose would get pleasure from a single of her most significant runs with a talented lady grappler from Pittsburgh who also served as Moolah’s suitable-hand particular person at her education compound in Columbia.

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

Soon after 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 great good friends,” says Rose. “Donna generally had your back and would generally 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 take me ten minutes to make, but it took her all day. Of course mine wouldn’t be practically as great as hers.”

Donna Christantello (Mary Donna Alfonsi) passed away in 2011 at the age of 69.

Life on the road

Although life on the road could be grueling for quite a few 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 never ever gone to or had the chance to pay a visit to. 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 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 mentioned. “We wrestled some Indian girls, but we didn’t truly 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 truly loved Singapore,” she says. “It was such a stunning city with flowers and orchids everywhere.”

She also had the chance to perform for a range of wrestling promoters and the key wrestling organizations, such as the NWA, WWWF and AWA in this nation.

“I truly 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 generally good to us. He’d come in and speak to us and sit down in the dressing space a couple of minutes each time we had 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 generally loved becoming there in Honolulu,” she mentioned. 

Rose also mentions the late wonderful 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 don’t forget that, but I do,” she mentioned. 

‘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 receiving into the ring with was the legendary Mae Young.

“That was a single 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 wonderful Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who as soon as told Young, “I do not like women’s wrestling, but if ever there was a single 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, a single of the greatest heels ever, as soon as opined that Mae was tougher than likely 60 % of the guys in the organization. And that, by most accounts, was a conservative estimate.

“She was a rough, hard broad,” mentioned a single of her old opponents. And Rose was nicely conscious of her reputation by means of Moolah, who came up by means of the organization in the very same generation.

“Bette Boucher and I had been coming by means of Arizona on our way back to South Carolina when Moolah known as 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 had been good, but we told Johnny Mae that we had to go back to the hotel and get a tiny rest just before the show.

“Big error,” laughs Rose. “Mae had been drinking, fairly 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 opportunity to perform with the Remarkable Mae Young through a Florida tour.

“I was down there by myself, and she came out, crazy and not being aware of what she was carrying out. I told Moolah that I didn’t care how you do it, but you greater send somebody down right here to take my location, simply because I’m not producing sufficient income to perform with this crazy lady,” she mentioned. “I’m not receiving hurt this way. I do not know what she lastly did, but I left.”

Although 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 ladies in the organization.

With an intimidating presence and feared by quite a few of her opponents, LaVerne would take on all challengers, ladies or guys.

“She was a toughie,” Rose mentioned of LaVerne, who died in 1999 at age 77. “I worked with her various occasions about the Mobile region. She was good to me, but she’d scare you to death. All she had to do was appear at you. She was a single hard lady. I didn’t know her personally, but I’m good friends with her daughter Marie LaVerne Nelson. I speak to her a couple occasions a week.”

Marie, coincidentally, had a single of her very first pro matches with Young, who was a buddy of her mother.

“She was wonderful,” Nelson as soon as mentioned of Young in an interview. “She had the reputation that she would throw a punch at anyone, such as guys. If individuals attempted her, they would uncover out how true she was. The a single conversation I don’t forget most is a single time she told me on the telephone, ’If somebody attempted to make a film about my life, they’d have to censor virtually each 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 obtainable at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com

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