|"Outlaw" Ron Bass.
With the frightening snap of a bullwhip, known as Miss Betsy, "Outlaw" Ron Bass has been intimidating wrestling fans while bashing opponents and busting heads since his debut in 1975. From his historic 1983 feud with Barry Windham -- who lost a Loser-Leaves-Town Match to Bass, but then returned as the masked Dirty Yellow Dog -- in Championship Wrestling from Florida, to his memorable battles with Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake in the WWF, Bass has traveled the world and seen it all.
From regional territories to small time promotions to "the grandest stage of them all," Wrestlemania, the rugged Texan helped revolutionize the industry, then left on his own terms, hanging up his bullwhip and retiring in 1989.
But the legendary "Outlaw" is back.
"Back in the saddle," Bass recently told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Tampa, FL, not far from the Crystal River National Guard Armory where he'll be climbing back into the ring -- one more time -- to compete at the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup on November 21. The match will be a Texas Bullrope Match, his specialty, against an opponent who has made a name for himself on the Southeastern independent scene in recent years -- the self-proclaimed "every woman's dream" -- "Superstar" Sean Davis.
"You call him 'Superstar'?" Bass said with a hearty laugh. "I'll tell ya what happened. Here I was retired from wrestling, minding my own business, when I saw a poster for a wrestling show comin' to Florida. I thought I'd go up there to Crystal River and see what it's all about and see what's goin' on with the young guys rasslin' these days. So I got to talkin' with some of the young guys, along with some of the fans who came up to me for autographs and pictures -- telling them how much I appreciate their support over the years -- when all of a sudden this young guy, Mr. Sean Davis comes up and gets in my face and (starts provoking me). And here I am thinkin', 'What is this goin' on?'
"Well, I still got a lil' bit o' pride," said Bass with his Texas drawl. "And this fat windbag is getting' in my face. And if you call out my number, we'll be goin' to fist city, if you know what I mean. And that's exactly what happened and this Mr. Sean learned real quick that there might be a little frost on the chimney, but there's a real fire still burnin' in the kitchen."
So it's only fitting the match be a Texas Bullrope Match, something Bass prides himself in, having competed in over one hundred of them throughout his career, he figures. "Oh Lordy -- those matches hurt really bad," said Bass. "Dusty Rhodes is the one who came up with the Texas Bullrope Match, and I must have had probably 50 of them with Dusty. Then there's the one I had against my ex-partner, Black Bart at Starrcade up in the Charlotte area there. And then of course there's the ones with Barry Windham in Championship Wrestling from Florida.
"That was quite a run we had there in Florida -- it's legendary around the whole country 'cause it got out that the Florida territory was the epitome of wrestling in the South. For years, they put on a good promotion, with Gordon Solie announcing, and they had so much good talent comin' in out of there. (Promoter) Eddie Graham was a mentor to me, and I did well there, and that is something I'm very proud of -- especially those bullrope matches that sold out so many arenas. And guess what -- I've never lost one yet."
Battle-tested and permanently scarred, Bass shed some light on what makes a Texas Rope Match so brutal: "Let's think about what you got in the ring. You got yourself a 12-foot rope, and the one that I'll be bringin' is kinda a special one that I made out of sea grass. I went and planted three, 3/4-inch sea ropes together and that's some real tough material we're talkin' about. And when you talk about rakin' that against someone's skin, it don't feel real good," Bass said with a sinister laugh. "So then you get strapped together with a six pound bell in the middle of it -- and when that (timekeeper's) bell rings, anything and whatever you do is perfectly legal.
"So that's when I start thinking about takin' that bell and whacking my opponent upside the head. And if you wanna talk about rope burn -- Oh Lordy -- I don't think Mr. Sean realizes how much that's gonna hurt, and I'm gonna make sure he feels the burn. He's gonna feel the pounding, and I guarantee, he's probably gonna need a blood transfusion by the time this match is over."
Indeed, the Texas Bullrope Match is one of the most violent ways to settle a feud, made famous by veterans like Bass who bled throughout the NWA territories in the '70s and '80s, from Florida to Memphis to Seattle, winning singles and tag team championships along the way. Bass shared some insight on how a Texas Bullrope Match, for him, usually unfolds: "A bullrope match is about gettin' the better half of him, and I kinda enjoy whoopin' that bell up upon someone's head," Bass said with a chuckle. "After I do that, I like to let him sit there for a bit, while I laugh as he bleeds. And then you pick him up and do it to him again -- and again. I like to think that I'm like an ol' cat playin' with a mouse just before he eats it. Then finally when I think (my opponent) has had enough, I pop him one more time and ring that bell upside his head before I pull him around that ring. And that's what's gonna happen to Mr. Sean, you see? I'll likely hogtie him and leave him bleeding and broken in the middle of that ring on the 21st (of November)."
It was in the middle of the ring where he left Brutus Beefcake after Bass sliced open Beefcake's forehead with cowboy spurs on WWF television. The violent and blood feud culminated in the 1989 classic 'Hair vs. Hair' match on Saturday Night's Main Event (clips can be seen on WWE Classics on Demand this month).
"That match happened right here in Tampa at the University of South Florida," said Bass. "I still remember like that was yesterday. It was just after that I decided it was time to retire. When I came in to the WWF at that time, I had a pretty severe shoulder injury -- a complete separation rotary cuff tear -- and I was lookin' at surgery. I was tired of hurtin' all the time, and I remember thinkin', 'Well, I've done well -- there's nothin' else I need to accomplish, so I'm gonna back out while I'm still on top.' You didn't see me goin' out there when I was past my prime. I went out on my own terms."
It's true, Bass left the world of wrestling with his head held high, retiring to his home in Tampa, where he found religion, golf, and a place to put his bachelor's science degree from Arkansas State University to work, according to the 2007 WWE.com story, 'Catching Up with the Outlaw.' "Generally, when a wrestler retires, they open a bar or a gym, but I didn't want to do that," Bass said in the article. "I jumped into Florida's booming construction market, where I work as a sales rep for a major supply company. Business has been real good, and things have worked out well. There is life after wrestling."
Ron Bass backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens. Courtesy Terry Dart.
"But you know, I do miss the notoriety," Bass told SLAM! Wrestling. "I miss the places, the people and the fans. But you know, there's a time when you realize that you need to walk away, and a time when new doors will open. And that's what I was tryin' to do -- talkin' to and helpin' out these young guys up in Crystal River -- before that big mouth Mr. Sean and his boys got in my face. By the way, if any of those boys that Mr. Sean was with get a little froggy and want to jump in there during my match, I've got that six-pound bell that's going to be tied between me and Mr. Sean and you know, I won't hesitate to ring someone else's bell, if you know what I mean."
In addition to the Texas Bullrope Match between Bass and Davis on the 21st, the two-day event will feature a tournament -- with 16 participants from Florida's Full Impact Pro Wrestling, Philadelphia's Combat Zone Wrestling, Chicago's AAW, and Ohio's Hybrid Pro Wrestling -- in honour of Florida independent wrestler, "The All American" Jeff Peterson who died of cancer in 2002. Bass said he feels honoured to be a part of the 7th annual Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup. "I think he was something like, 22 when he died -- such a shame," said Bass who has lost family members to cancer in recent years. "My mother died of lung cancer and never smoked a day in her life. I also lost my younger brother to lung cancer, and he too never smoked a day in his life -- go figure that situation.
"Cancer has definitely hit my family, and from what I can tell, there's not a family in this country that cancer hasn't hit. I had an opportunity to take my young brother to some of his treatments, and while I was sittin' there in the waiting room, I could see everyone else sittin' there in these little lounge chairs, and I saw every kind of race and people of all ages. Cancer does not discriminate, I learned, and it can hit anybody at anytime."
Bass said he was especially pleased when he heard the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup event was also a Benefit for All Children's Hospital. "Any time you can help out somebody who has been affected by cancer, you should chip in," said Bass, who is "looking forward to kickin' Sean Davis' butt," in the spirit of the fundraiser. "That's what you call killin' two birds with one stone!" Bass said with a laugh.
And though Bass doesn't have a lot of respect for the cocky and arrogant attitude of "Superstar" Sean Davis, he does recognize "the phenomenal talent" found in the current Southeastern independent wrestling scene, and on the WWE roster: "It's exciting to watch these young guys in action, always pushing the envelope -- I tip my hat to them," said Bass. "Like I say, I got out of the business some time ago, but I got a 16-year-old son and he's been watching it since he was four or five years old. I've had the opportunity to take him to some of these WWE shows, and meet the guys and talk with them backstage.
Ron Bass gets ready in the ring. Photo by Terry Dart.
"I tell ya, the talent that's out there right now is just astounding. Some of these guys are third generation -- guys like Randy Orton
-- and you can see it in his genes. I knew his dad and his grandfather, and I'm tellin' ya he's definitely one of the greatest technicians they've got. They've got these amazing kids up there -- guys like John Morrison
-- and it's just pure adrenaline and excitement, those matches. What can you say about Cena
? And how about Shawn Michaels
-- he was there when I was there. He's still the 'Boy Toy' and he's still out there kickin' butt and takin' names. Hey, if you got, you got it -- and keep goin' for it, is what I say."
Fortunately for fans of 'old-school' wrestling, Bass is going for it one more time this coming weekend, confident he's going to put "Superstar" Sean Davis in his place, who recently told the JCP Memorial Cup officials: "Old man Bass doesn't stand a chance against me," said Davis. "What is he now -- like 80? Well, this isn't 1983, and I'm no Dirty Yellow Dog. Come November 21, I'm gonna do to you what they did to Old Yeller. I'm gonna take you out back and put you out of your misery."
Bass, while speaking with SLAM! Wrestling, had this message for Davis: "Mr. Sean, when we get in that ring and you have nowhere to run with that 12-foot bullrope and six-pound bell between us, you're goin' to be askin' yourself, 'Now, why in the world did I go slappin' that rattlesnake?' Cause I guarantee ya, he's gonna get popped, and he's gonna get his bell rung. He thought by jumping in my face that he was gonna make a name for himself? Well, he's gonna make a type of name that ain't gonna be very much fun, if you know what I mean.
"Oh Lordy, on November 21, I'm gonna do somethin' that I don't think has ever been done -- and that's shut that fat windbag's mouth up for good."
The Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup Benefiting All Children's Hospital is a two-day event. On Friday, November 20, features the first round matches of the tournament at the Brooksville National Guard Armory, 16386 Brookville, FL. Doors open at 7:00pm.
On Saturday, November 21, the quarter-final, semi-final, and final matches of the tournament, along with the Texas Bullrope Match between wrestling legend "Outlaw" Ron Bass and "Superstar" Sean Davis, will take place at the Crystal River National Guard Armory, 8551 W. Venable St., Crystal River, FL. Doors open at 7:00pm. For more information on tickets, two-night admissions, and VIP packages, visit their website: www.jpc2009.com or call 813.960.8412.
Marshall Ward is a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle. Email is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.