Omar Atlas: Just doing his job
By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
Some fans remember him as the man who carried Governor Jesse Ventura
through his first match. Others recall him as the harmless, yet
loveable jobber who got paid to make the other guy look good. Cast in
his role as a 'prelim bum' by the fans, he was always thought of as
nothing more than average.
Yet the reality was that Omar Atlas was anything but your average,
run-of-the-mill, wrestler. Having spent over 30 years in wrestling,
Atlas traveled the world, wrestled every major star and worked for every big name promoter. He was the archetypal journeyman, bouncing
between promotions, staying in one place only a few months before he
headed off to the next territory.
It was a hard life but it's one that Omar Atlas doesn't regret at all.
"I had a really good time in wrestling," Atlas told SLAM! Wrestling
recently from his home in San Antonio, Texas. "I traveled a lot. We
didn't make much money but we had a lot of fun."
Atlas started in wrestling as an amateur back in high school in his
native Venezuela. He competed at the 1958 Central
America/Caribbean Games and went to Spain later that year. While in
Barcelona, Atlas began to train for his pro debut.
"The gym I wrestled in had guys from Argentina and Mexico," remembered
Atlas. "I was learning from them a little bit at a time."
Atlas turned pro in Spain spending eight months there before moving on
to Colombia. For the next four years, Atlas bounced around between
South America, Mexico and Spain. It was in 1962 while in Spain that
Atlas received the opportunity to come to the U.S.
"Cyclone Negro was in Houston and we were very good friends," recalled
Atlas. "He called me in Spain and told me to come over, that the
promoter needed some South American guys."
That promoter was Morris Sigel. Atlas gained his first taste of
American wrestling while wrestling for Sigel. In 1963 Atlas left
Houston and began a whirlwind tour of all the major wrestling offices.
Atlas moved from territory to territory, staying only long enough to build up his reputation before another promoter called him up wanting to procure his
The promoters that Atlas worked for over the following years read like a
who's who of the wrestling business: Paul Boesch, Sam Muchnick, Nick
Gulas, Eddie Graham, Bob Geigel, Jim Crockett Sr, Vince McMahon, Joe
Blanchard and Carlos Colon.
Of all the territories he worked for, Atlas counts his days in Roy
Shire's San Francisco territory as his favorite.
"I really liked working for Roy Shire," admitted Atlas. "He had good
houses at the time and all the cities (in the territory) were close, all
within 150 miles."
Like everybody else who has worked for him, Atlas says that Portland
promoter Don Owen was the most honest and nicest promoter he worked for.
"Don was a very good man and a very good promoter. I was in a eight-man
battle royal one time up there and somebody threw me over the top rope
and I almost touched the lights. Everybody thought I was dead!"
"I went to the back and everybody asked me if I was okay," continued
Atlas. "Don came over, asked me if I was okay and gave me some extra
money. He told me that was for the fall."
In 1970, Atlas made his way up north to Stu Hart's Stampede promotion
where he fought the likes of Abdullah the Butcher and Harley Race. His
stint in the Calgary based promotion included a run as North American
"I really liked Calgary," said Atlas. "It was a beautiful city and I
enjoyed working for Stu Hart. I have a lot of respect for him and I had
a good time there."
During his time in Calgary, Atlas was a regular at the Hart household,
having dinner with Stu and his family and the other wrestlers. But of
all the time spent at Stu's house, it's a cold night in Saskatoon that
Atlas remembers most about his time in Stampede.
"It was 50 below zero and the mat was like ice," laughed Atlas. "I was
in the first match and it was in front of 37 people, all Eskimos.
Nobody said a word and I was working my ass off."
After Calgary, Atlas split the next 12 years between Puerto Rico, working
for Carlos Colon, and Bob Geigel's Kansas City promotion. In between he
made his way to Australia, Korea and Japan where he worked for both
legendary Japanese promoters Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba.
It was in the Kansas City territory that Atlas wrestled Jesse Ventura in
his first pro match.
The two were scheduled on a card in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when the promoter
pulled Atlas aside. Unsure of Ventura's ability, he told the veteran
Atlas that if he thought Ventura had promise to let Ventura throw him
over the top rope and get DQd. Otherwise, Atlas was instructed to shoot
on Ventura and beat him up.
"Omar thought he was doing well and told him to throw him," said
Charlotte, Omar's wife of 15 years. "In (Venutra's autobiography),
Jesse writes that Omar, not being one of those egotistical guys in
wrestling, told him 'Amigo, throw me over the top.' He also credited
Omar with helping him start his career."
From Kansas City, Atlas moved onto the WWF just as Vince McMahon Jr. was
taking the organization national. Atlas, in between his dates with other
organizations, worked as a prelim wrestler for McMahon starting in 1984.
Atlas has fond memories of his WWF tenure.
"(While in the WWF) I wrestled Randy Savage, British Bulldog, Honky Tonk
Man, Jake Roberts and Ted DiBiase. I really liked Vince. He was very
good to me."
Atlas retired in 1993, after a long, and storied career.
"I was working part-time and I wanted some security and benefits and
insurance and in wrestling you don't have any of that," explained
Atlas. "I was afraid of getting hurt and being let go by the promoter.
Plus, I was really tired of the traveling."
Today, the 61-year old Atlas is a security monitor for the Bexar County
Adult Probation Department. When he's not escorting convicted criminals
to their work details, he keeps in shape by playing handball three or
four days a week.
"He's quick and agile for his age," said his wife Charlotte. "He runs
circles around all the younger guys."
Omar Atlas embodies the true spirit that defines this sport. His was a
life where promoters were always looking to stiff the wrestlers on their
pay. A life where men were estranged from their families, living out of
suitcases while traveling down the long, lonely roads to the next town.
A life of spilling blood on canvases and breaking bones in smoke
filled arenas before small crowds.
And there's nothing average about that.