Friday, October 12, 2007

A Long Journey

Johnny Weaver: 43 year old just keeps on wrestling and winning
by David Hunter, Mount Airy News, Mount Airy NC
March 26, 1979

Pilot Mountain - Swede Hanson staggers to his feet at the taunts of children surrounding the ring. “Come on Swede,’ ya big dummy,” they say. “Get out of the ring, you’ve been licked.” Gleeful shouts of “ha, ha, ha, ha! ” from children and adults alike.

Taking a moment to gain his equilibrium, the Big Swede gradually makes his way back to a locker room to recover from his ordeal.

Recover from what? Alas, the trials of a professional wrestler. The “Swede” is the latest in a long line of victims of the “sleeper” hold, compliments of Johnny Weaver. Weaver had long since left the ring in victory when Hanson was just gaining consciousness.

Yes. Johnny Weaver. The George Blanda and John Havlicek of professional wrestling.

Johnny Weaver appeared in Pilot Mountain Saturday night with some of his cohorts for a night of wrestling in Surry County.

By enduring everything from injury to just plain old age, Weaver has lasted through more than 20 grueling years of professional wrestling and is still going strong, more popular than ever with his many fans.

“I never wanted to do anything but wrestle and race stock cars” Weaver says, “ if I hadn’t wrestled, I don’t know what I would have done”

Weaver, a 6-1, 230- pound out of the basketball mad state of Indiana, raced stock cars for a living before he took up wrestling. Citing security, good benefits and an abiding love for the sport, Weaver got involved before moving to the Mid-Atlantic area in 1962 for greater opportunity.

Weaver said his wrestling travel averages nearly 100,000 miles a year in and around the Carolina’s and Virginia’s. As for his earnings? They’re somewhere near the same in numbers. Weaver did say he was a six figure man, but wouldn’t pinpoint how much exactly. “There are 14 or 15 of us who make six figures, said the 43 year old Weaver. “Of course a lot of it is inflation or I wouldn’t make that much and I wish I could save some. Then there’s income tax and that gobbles it up”.

Of course Weaver probably wouldn’t have to look far for someone willing to share his burden or trade places with him. He makes no money outside the wrestling ring. His earnings strictly come from a set fee in addition to a percentage of the gate attendance.” As long as the body stays in shape and holds up, I’ll keep wrestling”, he says determinedly. Asked if his peers view him as an old wrestler who won’t let go, Weaver said “ No, because I’m still winning. If I ever stop winning, they may start saying that. As long as I have the speed and technique, I’ll keep wrestling. I’ve got nothing but experience. My speed hasn’t really slowed down. It’s remained pretty much the same. I play an hour and a half of handball a couple of times a week and it helps keep me in shape. Strength isn’t all important, although it helps,” he says with a laugh.

Speed and technique have always been Weaver’s strong suit in a game dominated by size. Weaver began the profession as one of the bigger men around. Modern training methods, drugs and the “new breed” of younger wrestlers have made him one of the smallest. However, if he is not looked up to in size, he is in respect. “He’s a great wrestler”, says one of the younger “ kids”, Terry Sawyer. “We love him and really look up to him. If we have a problem, we talk it over with him”.

Weaver said, “I’m still learning. New holds and methods of wrestling are coming up all the time”.
Weaver’s most famous hold is probably the “sleeper,” which put out the lights of the massive Swede Saturday night. “I learned it from Mr. Moto, a Japanese wrestler years ago,” says Weaver in his simple way of speaking.

“You cut off the arteries carrying blood to and from the brain and your opponent loses consciousness,” he explains.

Weaver has never left the Mid-Atlantic area since arriving in 1962, except for a one-year excursion to Japan and injuries that kept him from wrestling for most of 1976. “Feel that,” he says, pointing to his scalp. Lumps seemingly jump out of his hair when my hands run across them. Look closely at his forehead and what appear to be wrinkles are actually well sewn up scars.

“I’ve been hit by canes, chairs, fists and posts and have to keep wrestling four or five times a week, especially all weekend long. The people who say wrestling is fake haven’t been in the ring.”

"But there is entertainment involved, isn’t there John?"

“You’ve got your colorful wrestlers, just like Joe Namath in football. There’s people with more personality who make it more interesting,” he says in defense of the widely held notion that most if not all of professional wrestling is nothing but a big show. “Yeah, it’s been going on for a long time,” he admits of the accusation.

“But it’s been fun,” he says with a big grin. “I’ve had the chance to do a lot of things I never would have been able to do. It’s really opened doors for me. I’ve got a lot of satisfaction out of it, met a lot of people and have traveled all over. It’s a living… not a game,” he states.

And so the show (if it can rightfully be called that) must go on. Weaver was to have been in Roanoke, Virginia Sunday night, followed by an appearance in Harrisonburg, Virginia Tuesday, Richmond, Virginia Friday and all the way down to Kingsport, Tennessee this Saturday.

That’s a lot of miles for a guy who already has plenty of mileage.

Research and Transcription of Article by Carroll Hall,