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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

The Wildman lives on in book

By JAMES REANEY -- London Free Press

LONDON, Ont. -- The suggestion that pro wrestling may be an early attraction at the new London Entertainment & Sports Centre is a welcome body slam to the memory cells.

London has always been home to serious pro wrestling fans. I would say there have been three ages of grappling here -- the age of innocence, the age of the hero and the age of ooze. In the innocent 1940s, (Whipper) Billy Watson sought to unmask the Red Shadow. At the time, management of the old London Arena on Bathurst Street grew tired of complaints from fans who clearly had no sense it was all orchestrated.

"(The) Arena is rented to independent wrestling promoters . . . (who) have complete control over the manner in which wrestling is conducted," the arena's management proclaimed in a paid advertisement. In other words, "Don't bug us about the way the villains are sneaking up behind your heroes. We just rent the space."

Sixty years later, a much slicker pro grappling product, the WWE, dominates pay-per-view and weekly TV. Come October, it will presumably ooze its stuff when the centre is open and fans bay for action. Millions love it. Not me.

Give me the age of the hero, the era of the late Dave (the Wildman) McKigney. He wasn't a London guy and the glamourous new centre wouldn't have been his kind of place. But he has an undeniable tie to London's pro wrestling saga via, of all things, a UWO anthropologist.

In the 1960s, the Aurora-based Wildman was known for wrestling a bear. McKigney also kept bears and other animals at his home. One of those bears later mauled his girlfriend to death. McKigney fought the bear in despair and had to give up his beloved animals. He was forced out of Ontario wrestling promotions by rivals viler than any ring villains and died in a 1988 traffic crash on the way to a Newfoundland bout.

Drawing Heat, a great book about McKigney's heroic life, was written by UWO's Jim Freedman, now a professor emeritus in UWO's anthropology department. ("Drawing heat" is wrestling talk for rousing the crowd).

Freedman says the Wildman's shows were as wild and hairy and unlikely and mythical as his own shaggy, force-of-nature self. The book was published in the 1980s before the Wildman's death. Still, the sense of impending doom is strong. So is McKigney's cheerful, almost elemental, refusal to surrender.

Much of the action in the book takes place in and around London. City wrestling fan and ace photographer Terry Dart is a key source. Ma Pickles, a fan for "34 years," is among the Londoners who helps "(the) professor," as Freedman becomes known to the grapplers. The book shows posters promoting McKigney's bills and gruesome photos following bloody bouts here.

McKigney is gone now. But unlike today's grapplers, he was an immortal when it comes to drawing heat -- and performing with heart. He lives on, thanks to a great London book.

More on Dave 'The Wildman' McKigney




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