The year was 1968. Handsome Bill Jessup, who had been out of the game for two years, decided to make a “comeback.”
Back in the time of the dinosaurs (ha!) Jessup had fought his first match against another newcomer, me—and the promotion thought it would be cute if Jessup, tan, fit, and ready to fight, faced me in his big return showdown. At the time he was 45. I was a few years older.
They called me Count Fritz Gruner of Munich, Germany—you may as well call me that, too, though I was born in Oklahoma, three-quarters Welsh and one-quarter Comanche. I was five-ten and weighed in the mid-200s—bald, square-faced, with just enough body hair to turn off the female fans and a good four-fifths of the men.
Jessup was four inches taller and five pounds heavier, smooth-bodied, with the dark wavy hair, straight nose, and v-shaped jaw that passed as heroic in this business—going slightly to seed, but then who stays young and fresh-faced forever?
Not me, that’s for god-damned sure.
AAWP had been trumpeting Handsome Bill’s triumphant return for two weeks before the match. Last Saturday, during my match against the Maui Kid, Jessup stood next to the ring in his street clothes, arms folded over his chest, a grim determined look on his face, upstaging the whole match and garnering a good half of the ringside commentators’ color.
In the green room before the match, Jessup and I didn’t speak two words to each other. Not even eye contact. Steeling ourselves for the fight. Our routine having been honed long ago over two decades’ worth of shows from St. Louis to Fort Worth.
During the intros, I charged at Handsome Bill, but the ref (Smiley Melton) held me back, shoving me back to my corner. Jessup coolly kept his distance, pumping and limbering his sinewy arms.
The bell rang, and we swooped in to each other and locked arms. I shoved Jessup into the ropes and dealt a cheap punch to his chin, but he bounced back with a firm slug that put me flat on my back. I bounced up as he steadily advanced, and I ducked through the ring ropes to escape.
I clung to the turnbuckle, while Smiley held up his hand like a cross guard to push Jessup back and went through the motions of counting me out, until I slipped back into the ring.
Jessup and I locked up a second time. The Old Spice clean of him clung to his skin. Then he got hold of my left arm and twisted it behind me, forcing me to my knees. His right hand pressed down on my shoulder, while he twisted my wrist up, fingers splayed towards his belly.
Grimacing, I pulled myself up to my feet and turned in to him, but he started wrenching my arm back and forth while stomping his boots to the mat. Then he slowly worked the wrist as if he were priming a pump.
I turned in and grabbed his hand, trying to pry myself loose. I made a show of grabbing for his hair, then thought better of it. Smiley was watching. Jessup hauled my arm over his shoulder and gave it a solid whack against his smooth muscle.
Then he twisted the arm over his head, adding pressure, and I retaliated with a kick to his gut. Jessup stomped the mat with both feet and bore down even harder on my wrist. He kept twisting the wrist, and I balled up my fist, raised threateningly over my chest. Smiley no-no’d the fisticuffs.
Jessup jerked the arm up high, and I fell to my knees. He tried to get my arm behind me, but I kept twisting my body with him.
While Smiley’s attention was elsewhere, I jammed my fist to the small of Jessup’s back, breaking his hold and driving him down to one knee. Fans cried foul, and the ref looked at me distrustfully, but I motioned with my hands that I had merely shoved him with the flat of my hand.
I reached around Handsome Bill’s head to pull him into a lock under my left armpit, but he grabbed my hand in both of his to stop me and spun it over his head with a mean twist, driving me to my knees again. I got back on my feet and slapped my upper shoulder three or four times, to let the crowd know where I felt the most pain.
Jessup yanked my arm back and forth, one, two, three slow ones, then five in rapid succession as he stomped the mat for emphasis.
Again I dropped to my knees, and he pulled up close so that my armpit was up against his crotch, and my arm climbed up his belly and chest like a vine, and he twisted my wrist right under his chin, breathing heavy on my fingertips.
I kept clenching my right fist, but Smiley was keeping a close lookout. Instead, I slapped the flat of my hand against Jessup’s insipient spare tire and barked in German-accented grunts. Then Bill started stretching my fingers apart, and I punched his kidneys with my fist, breaking the hold.
Jessup circled over to his corner of the ring, nursing the small of his back and limping slightly, while Smiley issued me another warning.
I pursued Jessup, and we moved as if to lock up again, but he grabbled my neck first in his left arm, then in his right, then grabbed my left arm and pulled it up high and tight behind me. He stomped the mat and delivered a right roundhouse between my shoulder blades.
Jessup pressed the hammerlock between my back and his belly. I twisted to escape, but he rode me. He huffed and little specks of his spit pinged on the back of my neck.
Then he pulled up and heaved my body clear off the canvas, and I splatted down on my knees.
Jessup was in front of me then, holding my left wrist with both hands. He was bent down on me, my left shoulder rubbing his smooth right pec. Smiley asked if I wanted to give. I did not.
Jessup then wedged my arm into his right armpit and ground his left elbow into the back of my shoulder. It was basically a deep tissue massage, but it looked vicious to the fans, and Bill sold it with a jab or two or three for good measure.
I kept barking at Smiley to keep an eye on Jessup, not me. Fans were clamoring that I was getting only what I deserved.
Jessup pulled me up to my feet, and I delivered a right hook to that chiseled jawline of his. He pressed his left hand on my shoulder for added pressure. I bent down and punched him in the gut—a loud smack the crowd could hear from the back rows and savor.
He retaliated with more pressure, and I socked his gut again, the two of us hopping around in a circle for maximum boot-on-canvas drumming.
Then I dropped to one knee, my face up close to the hard bulge in his black tights. I rested my right hand on his right thigh before I balled it up and rammed it up to his diaphragm. That spun Handsome Bill loose and away. He slipped through the ropes for a timeout on the ring apron, clinging to the rope with his left hand. I drove my boot through the ropes to his neck, and he fell to the concrete floor.
Smiley pushed me away from the ropes, and Jessup tried to climb back into the ring. But I charged into him and punched him in the nose. Jessup hit the canvas outside the ropes and tumbled back down to the floor. The fans shouted their encouragement to him. I leaned over the top rope and hurled the strongest words of insult the AAWP would permit in those days, stirred up a lot of heat.
Smiley pushed me away again, and again Jessup pulled himself up by the top rope, only to be met with a nasty slam to the mouth. Jessup went down on his back on the ring apron. I drove my boot to his shoulder, and he rolled back to the floor.
Smiley pushed me all the way over to the other side of the ring. Jessup walked around the outside of the ring round the turnbuckle, fans slapping his shoulders just for the feel of his sweat against their palms, then hoisted himself back up to the ring in a single move, thrust his shoulders back, puffed out his glistening chest, clenched his fists, and came after me, the crowd screaming their lungs out.
A cold right hook to my chin backed me into the opposite turnbuckle. Jessup charged and slapped his chest against mine, grabbed my left arm, and hurled me across the ring. I flipped over the top rope to the concrete floor. The crowd went apeshit over the smell of imminent payback.
I climbed back up, but Jessup grabbed my arm and hauled me over the top rope back to the center of the ring. Then he whipped me out of the ring on the other side. Again I pulled myself up, and again he pulled me forcibly back into the ring.
I got up on my knees and began to petition with my hands for mercy, as cowardly heels so often do. Jessup advanced, and I rose to my feet, backing away. He jabbed his right fist to my mouth, knocking me back into the turnbuckle, then his left fist, to my belly, and then snap-mared me to my back on the canvas.
His chin up on my cock and his cock jabbing into my face. I grabbed a lock of his curly hair in my right fist and gave it a wicked yank. Then I propped my right leg on the bottom rope. Smiley pushed my boot off the rope a couple of times before finally forcing Jessup up and off me. Jessup stood and stepped away, but not before stomping my left ear with his boot.
I rolled over on my feet, and Jessup and I faced off, waving our fists and pointing our fingers and growling hormonally deep-voiced threats. We locked up again, and I wedged his head between my left bicep and my ribcage. Bill shoved me into the ring ropes, and I whipped from one side of the ring to the other, until he caught me in his arm and slammed me to the mat. Again he worked my left arm under his armpit, pushing his right arm to my chest for added pressure.
I stomped my boots helplessly to the mat, my hairy belly exposed to the jeers of the fans.
The crowd couldn’t get enough of Handsome Bill yanking and twisting away at my left arm as if ready to pull it clean out of the socket. Drops of Jessup’s sweat plashed down to my face, the salt stinging my eyes. I could feel the heat quivering off both our bodies under the glaring lights.
“Pull him apart, Handsome!” some shrill-throated harridan in the front row shrieked. “Teach him a lesson, Jessup!” somebody barked from further back. “Show the sombitch who’s boss!”
I started twisting to free myself. Jessup hung tight, finally nailing my bald head to the mat with his right knee to my cheekbone.
He rolled the knee around my face sadistically. I pointed to my face, but Smiley just quipped, “All legal, Fritz,” almost as if to say, “Deal with it, badman.”
I dug in my heels and tried to inch my way to the ropes again. Jessup stood and dragged me by my twisted arm to the center of the ring to the crowd’s wild applause.
My bicep stretched over the smooth plain of Jessup’s muscular thigh. My forearm wedged between his bicep and his right pec. His left hand pressed into my armpit, while his right knee rested almost gently cross my forehead.
I twisted and rolled myself up to my knees. Jessup stood over me to add to the hurt he was already dishing out. An armlock and bar. I spat out, “No no no no no,” as Smiley encouraged me to submit.
Jessup bent into my shoulder joint and then straightened up, thrusting his hips into me. From six inches away, I could make out the clear outline of his cock and balls under the black tights.
I punched him in the gut and then stood up and punched him in the face. He broke the hold and stumbled backwards. His shoulders crashed to the mat. I sucked in my belly, flexed my chest muscles, and advanced.
I bent over his prostrate body and dug my elbow to his throat. Smiley pulled me off him, and Jessup rolled over on his hands and knees. I hunched over him, pressed my hairy chest to the back of his head, and choked him, out of Smiley’s view. Jessup grabbed my left wrist, stood straight, and again twisted down on my sore arm—“Aaargh ….” Jessup needed no help from Smiley to reverse.
I grabbed a fistful of Handsome Bob’s beautiful brilliantined hair and drove his face to the turnbuckle. Jessup whipped me by the left hand into the opposite turnbuckle. I was spread-eagle against the buckle, my elbows hooked on the top ropes. My hairy white belly heaving and gleaming under the lights.
Jessup shoved my face back with his left hand and drove his right fist into my mouth. I kicked him solidly in the balls—let the ring announcers color that however they could for the TV viewers. Jessup bent in two and stumbled for the adjacent ropes. I tailed him, but he bounced back and slugged me in the nose. I felt a big splash of fresh hurt on my face.
My feet spread out as far as they could go, I swayed in the air like a redwood about to timber down. Jessup moved in front and slugged me cross the jaw. I fell straight back to the mat, and he dropped his belly cross my face, and Smiley started pounding the canvas one … two ….
I thrust Jessup off me and grabbed hold of the middle rope to pull myself up. He charged me leading with his chest and gut, and I punched him right over the navel.
Then I grabbed him by the hair and dragged his throat across the middle rope. His body rolled through the ropes, and he collapsed on his back on the apron. I reached through the ropes and continued choking him, my thumbs pressed to his adam’s apple.
Smiley tore at my left arm, so I released the choke and started a series of vicious jabs to Jessup’s mouth. The crowd booed, and the combination of aggressive posturing and the audience’s panicked cries made me hard as a railway spike.
Smiley pushed himself between us and shoved me away from the ropes. But I ran right back and rammed my elbow to Jessup’s throat and punched him in the jaw. Again Smiley pulled me free, and, his hand to my chest, pushed me all the way to the opposite ropes.
Jessup rolled back into the ring, and as I charged towards him, he slugged me in the belly. Then he kicked my chest with the flat of his boot, and I crashed to the canvas. I rose to my feet, but Jessup cornered me, back against the turnbuckle, and locked my head fast to the side of his chest. He pulled, but I held tight to the ropes, and we bounced back to the buckle.
He squeezed my head tighter and then broke the headlock to deliver a wide roundhouse to my face that knocked me clear over the top rope to the concrete floor. The crowd hooted and pelted my head with cardboard popcorn boxes. Smiley stood at the ropes and began counting me out, Jessup pacing like a tiger behind him.
I climbed up to the turnbuckle, and Jessup advanced and rammed my forehead to the unpadded outside of the post. I swung around, my arms wrapped in the top rope, my legs useless underneath, facing the heat of the crowd.
Jessup tried to pull me into the ring, but Smiley intervened. I freed myself of the rope, and when Jessup charged again, I paid him back by grabbing his head and pulling his face into the buckle. I reentered the ring, held Jessup’s hair against the buckle, and clobbered him twice across the nose.
Then I ran to the opposite corner, bowed down like a bull and charged, but, as babyfaces have done millions of time before and since, Jessup leapt from the buckle just in time for me to crash ignominiously into the post.
Jessup’s body thrust mine against the buckle. Then he punched me three times in the face, followed by an arm drag and a toss that propelled me clear across the ring, face first into the opposite turnbuckle.
He gripped my head in his hands and twisted. My hands trembled outstretched. Then he pulled me down to the canvas and crushed me under the weight of his chest. His face against my belly, my right hand grabbing his hair. Sweat pouring off us.
Smiley started to count me out, but I pointed down to my left ankle stretched across the top of the bottom rope. Smiley pulled Jessup off me, but Jessup wiped the bottom of his boot across my lips and nostrils first.
Jessup moved back in and grabbed me by the ears and pulled me up to my feet. Then he swung me into a headlock. We stumbled back and forth several steps, a punch-drunk cha-cha.
I shoved him off me and into the ropes, but he whipped right back, and we butted heads in the center of the ring. Both of our backs slammed the canvas in unison. We lay there dazed, stomachs heaving, gasping for air, fighting to pull ourselves back up again.
I got to my feet first, wobbling. I hopped up to sit on him, but he twisted out of the way again, and I landed hard on my tailbone. It was pain I could taste in my mouth. Jessup hoisted me up to the air by my neck and crotch and slammed me to the mat. He pushed down on me for the pin. But I thrust free on the count of one.
I got up on my knees and punched him in the gut. I grabbed him by the head and tried to flip him over my head, but he dropped me on my back for another cross and cover.
Again I thrust free. We both got up on our knees, and knee to knee we began to trade blows. We rose to our feet still slugging it out.
Jessup got in a cool cruel jab to my heart, and I started backing up to the turnbuckle, my hands out again, beseeching mercy, but the fans would have none of it and screamed for Jessup to take my head off.
He very nearly did with a right jab, followed by a solid left to my gut. I bounced against the turnbuckle. He twisted back to deliver a blow to finish me off, but I pushed back, and we slugged our way back to the center of the ring. Our bodies oozed sweat, and each punch was a wet explosion that flashed like fireworks under the white-hot lights.
The fans were crazy, delirious.
I bounced off the ropes to deliver a sound smack cross Jessup’s face. He returned the favor and all but made me swallow my teeth. Loosened a couple of them, undeniably. I fell on my back, and again he tried to cross and cover for the pin fall, and again I powered free.
Both of us lumbered back to our feet. I punched his gut, grabbed his head, and thumped his back to the mat. I pulled him up to his feet by his hair and his throat. I tried to repeat the body slam, but Jessup slipped me into an abdominal stretch, his left leg hooked on my right, his left arm locking my right. I was on my feet still, but he had me pulled out like a giant letter “X.”
With my free right hand I reached back and pulled his tights down. I gave the fans a good long peek at those shimmering white cheeks that nine out of ten of them had said prayers to get a good look at one day. A good firm tug brought him to the canvas, but he bounced right back up.
I swung wildly and hit only the air over his head. He swung more deliberately and crunched my face shut, tighter than a preacher’s daughter’s diary. We exchanged more blows, but each time it was clear to everybody that his landed harder and surer than mine did.
He grabbed my left arm one last time and swung me against the ropes. I flew forward into his arms, and he twisted me around and applied the Korean deathlock, his finisher from days long gone by. His left forearm jammed to my adam’s apple, the palm of his right hand pressed the back of my head forward. His sweaty torso heaved against my back. His knees punched the back of my knees.
Kayfabe or no, I began to feel numb. My skin tingled. The noise of the crowd faded and my hearing focused on the hot huffs of Jessup’s breathing against the back of my cold, wet, bald head. My body sort of folded into his, and Smiley called for the bell.
I was out like a light, supposedly, but I could hear the crowd chanting Handsome Bill’s name, but they sounded far away. Flat on my back I felt the mat tremble as Jessup circled my body, his arms outstretched in victory. A few ungentle slaps to the side of my face roused me, and I stumbled through the crowd and through the exit in disgrace.
Later Jessup and I hugged in the room he and I were sharing as a dressing room. “Good show, Fritz,” he said. “Good show,” I said back.
When Jessup pulled his tights down, his cock snapped to attention and thumped soundly on his lower belly. “Every time,” he said. “Every time,” I said back, giving my wood a breath of fresh air too.
We strutted naked into the tiled shower room, our cocks wagging shamelessly. Under the showers, we soaped up each other’s bruised skin. We smelled like mint, and the foam drifted down our round bodies like clouds photographed in fast motion. We teased each other by repeating some of the wrestling holds we had just performed for the fans. The water steamed up around us, and our bodies looked like they were made of glazed porcelain.
“Hate to break it to you Count Krauter, but you lost and lost bad.” I got down on my knees and elbows on the ribbed tile floor. The water beat on my shoulders and fell in streams on either side of my neck. About two feet from my left elbow, it swirled noisily down a silver drain.
Jessup kneeled between my thighs. He massaged the tight muscle around my anus with his wet fingers. I felt the head of his pole push into me. Truth be told, Handsome Bob was the longest wrestler in the biz. If the AAWP had ever sanctioned nude fights, Jessup would have been the hottest ticket in town.
His hands free now, he reached around my waist and began to pull gently on my cock, squeezing my balls between his thumbs. I shot almost immediately, and the splooge swam under my nose towards the drain like a soft modern sculpture in miniature.
Jessup pushed deeper and deeper into me. He grunted, his chin planted between my shoulder blades. The slapping of flesh on flesh was louder than the showers now. Each thrust came faster and harder than the last. He rode up higher and higher on my back. Again he applied the Korean deathlock. Not much muscle behind it this time; it was more like an embrace. Still I could feel myself going numb. My skin tingled. His torso heaved on my back. My body sort of folded into his.