Make America Grunt Again

Buddy Rogers vs Pat O'Connor, 30 June 1961 (NWA Chicago)

On June 30, 1961, Rogers took the title from Pat O'Connor in front of 38,622 fans at Comiskey Park, a North American professional wrestling attendance record that lasted until the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions in 1984. The ticket sales of $148,000 were a professional wrestling record for almost twenty years. The match, a two out of three falls match, was billed as the "Match of the Century". During the match, both men had gained a pinfall, when O'Connor missed a dropkick, hit his head, and Rogers pinned him to win the match.
The roar of the crowd is something missing in underground wrestling. There's really no substitute for it. To have one's pain and power not only as a private moment but also thunderously echoed in the throats of thousands must be a rush for both the villain and his punisher. As O'Connor works a 100-second spinning armbar on the detested blond heel Rogers, the fans' screams are shaking the rafters, leading the commentator to state the obvious: "And the crowd loves every second of it!" Just seconds after Rogers gains his release, O'Connor repeats the agonizing assault as an encore.

The rage and sadism of masses are best released in spectacles of this sort--and not in arenas where their intolerance takes more dangerous turns, such as lynch mobs and Nazi rallies. This is the beneficial catharsis Aristotle proclaims (in reference to the performances of tragedy) as the necessary release valve for voting citizens' undemocratic prejudices and fears. And fear was a palpable thing in the fever pitch of the Cold War: While this very match was taking place in '61, Berlin was being halved between East and West, with the Cuban Missile Crisis a little more than a year away, and with the JFK assassination a little more than two years away.

The full match is astounding. I found it difficult choosing which GIFs to exclude, sacrificing some of my favorites for the sake of reasonable upload times and still ending up with ten. This 28-minute, three-fall championship event is hot, sweaty, carnal vindictiveness on a plane all its own. I didn't think much of Buddy Rogers when I was young, but I have retroactively become a fan. He and O'Connor here, at this point in time, are the Euripides of American professional wrestling.


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