Quite often something seemingly unrelated triggers a memory that I decide to share on this site. Here’s a story from about 15 years ago…
Back in 1995, before I started in professional wrestling, I was just a fan going to some of the local shows (big surprise). The independent scene had recently been heating up after several years of absolutely nothing, so I had been attending shows more frequently.
On one particular weekend, I went to three different shows in three days (Fri, Sat, Sun). I remember that it was also the first time I met Dale Spear, who attended many of the matches and later did color commentary, alongside play-by-play man “Slick” Mick Karch, for St. Paul Championship Wrestling (SPCW) and Steel Domain Wrestling (SDW). Dale came up to me during the second show of the weekend and asked me if I was Pro Wrestling Illustrated writer Steve Anderson. He didn’t know why anybody besides him and a guy that worked as a wrestling journalist would be at multiple shows in the same weekend. I told him I wasn’t Steve, and I didn’t know why someone would do it either.
I don’t remember the name of the tiny bar in Minneapolis we were at, but I remember some of the locals weren’t exactly at the forefront of society. In fact, I would have thought I was down south if it weren’t for the noticeable Minnesota accents.
The promotion had the shorter ring set up (the mat was about two feet off the ground instead of about four), which was good because above the ring were a couple of ceiling fans. All of them still spinning. I remember thinking: I guess I’m not going to see anyone go off the top rope tonight.
The crowd was unusually vocal. Every time a wrestler walked to the ring, one of the regulars would say something like, “Wait ‘til Jumbo gets here. You won’t be such a big shot then!”. I kept looking around to see where this “Jumbo” guy was. Nobody in sight fit the bill.
There were about five matches on the card, so around ten to twelve wrestlers walking to the ring (12 if there was a tag match). Each time a new guy came out someone would say, “Wait ‘til Jumbo gets here…something, mumble, something…”. I felt like I was in some kind of David Lynch movie. Or maybe the Coen brothers.
Near the end of the night, in what was probably the main event, out walks a guy that had to be close to seven feet tall. Probably around 450 or 500 pounds. Of solid fat. As he climbed up on the ring apron, his head was just a few feet below the ceiling fan.
This must be Jumbo. Ok, I can see why everyone would be worked up about him. I’m guessing not a great wrestler, no five-star matches, but at least an oddity that the locals could get behind. At least they had their hero for the night.
The ring announcer introduced him as Sampson. A few seconds later, one of the locals said, “Yeah, you just wait til Jumbo gets here. Then you’ll be sorry!”
Oh…crap. He’s not Jumbo. Then who is Jumbo? I’m not sure I want to be present when Jumbo actually gets here. I don’t think he’s with the show. Maybe he’s a bouncer that works here, or some guy that wants to prove how tough he is (several years later, at the one show in Waverly that I missed, there was a big brawl between a few bar patrons and the wrestlers).
Against my better judgment I stayed for the whole show. But Jumbo never did get there. Whether he was a real person or not, I’m not sure. To me he was kind of like the boogieman. Or Freddy Kruger. Something you could threaten your kids with when you want them to behave.
What if somewhere there’s a tribe of people whose whole culture and religion revolves around waiting for “Jumbo” to return. Maybe, just maybe, over several thousands of years they walked across a land bridge to North America, and their descendents settled in Minneapolis.
Yeah, seems a little far-fetched to me too.
Probably just an overweight bouncer with an attitude.