Trying for a Headlock on Success : Slammers Pins Hopes on Wrestling School, Gym
Want to wrestle with a weighty problem? Want to learn how to wrestle with a weighty problem?
“If you’re a wrestling buff you love to wrestle, and you run out of lawns and living rooms; you get thrown out of the house, and you have to find a place,” said Verne Langdon, 47. So, Langdon created Slammers Wrestling Gym in Sun Valley. He says it will be the first of its kind in Los Angeles.
He has invited about 50 luminaries of the wrestling field to a grand opening Friday, and the gym is scheduled to open to the public the first week of October.
“There are tennis clubs, volleyball courts, football fields, baseball diamonds and even roller rinks,” said Langdon, a tall, muscular, blond-maned man with pearly white teeth and giant hands that could most assuredly make zucchini squash out of any pencil-necked geek who got in his way.
Slammers, housed in a unit of an industrial warehouse complex on Branford Street, materialized after Langdon saw the need for a place where pros and amateurs could work out and train between matches, as well as a need for a professional wrestling school in the city.
“Now we wrestlers don’t have to take a back seat anymore. No more wrestling in the grass or knocking over somebody’s heirloom gimcrack,” he said.
‘Dean of Education’
Langdon, a producer and writer in the motion picture and record businesses, said his partner Wesley Eure will operate the gym, but that it will be professional wrestler Lillian Ellison who will be the principal trainer and “dean of education.”
Better known as “the Fabulous Moolah” and giving her age only as “14 years older than my daughter,” Ellison started training when she was 12 and turned pro three years later. She says she never looked back. Today she owns “Camp Moolah,” a wrestling school in South Carolina, and laughs easily about her 33-year-old career and her plans for Slammers.
Sitting inside the taped area of what will become the wrestling ring, she said, “I’m going to be teaching everybody how to wrestle.” The clamor of workmen putting finishing touches on the walls and ceiling made her pause a moment. “It’ll be the real style of wrestling. Professional holds,” she said.
“When I first started, I weighed 100 pounds, and everybody told me I wasn’t going to make it,” she said.
The fire in her eye confirms that her passion for wrestling hasn’t diminished over the years, despite having suffered a broken neck, broken collarbones (including a compound fracture), fingers, toes, a dislocated knee, a dislocated shoulder and numerous broken ribs during her career. “They said I wasn’t going to make it,” she repeated, “but I did.”
The Moolah’s knowledge will be imparted in a course designed for men, women and children in sessions five days a week for three months or three days a week for six months. The cost is expected to be about $3,500.
“I do it because I enjoy it, and I know what a hard time I had getting started,” she said. “There’s so many girls and men who want to get started and don’t know how, and there’s not many promoters who will help newcomers get started.” A mention of mud wrestling in Hollywood doesn’t sit well. “Mud wrestling,” she replied curtly, “is not wrestling.”
For Langdon, the school represents a dream come true. “I’ve wanted to do something like this since I was a kid,” he said, remembering when his father took him to the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. “The cigar smoke, beer and popcorn smells, the American Legion band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner. I love the wrestling and the stars of today, but wrestling at the Civic and being there with my dad those nights, it just beat everything.” The experience, he said, instilled in him the thrill of the sport forever.
Langdon said he spent three months looking for a building. “I thought the difficult thing would be to get the ring. But that was easy.”
Finding Right Spot
The building needed ceilings at least 10 1/2 feet high. And many places turned him down after hearing of his plans. A standard response was, “We’re really not interested in having something like you in our building,” Langdon said. It came together for him, however, in Sun Valley, with a combination of the right building, roof height and price. And, he said, “It’s not too far from my home.”
Langdon and the Fabulous Moolah insist that there is a big difference between a wrestling gym and one used for boxing.
In wrestling, the ring is a bit smaller and there are three ropes instead of the four used in boxing rings. Rope work, Ellison said, is very important in wrestling. Wrestlers need to bounce off the ropes and if they’re not careful they’ll go through them.
At Slammers, mats for Greco-Roman style wrestling will also be provided. A hall of fame will display tapes, photos, films and books on some of wrestling’s greats: for example, Gorgeous George, the Torres Brothers and Mr. Moto, and current heavyweights Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
‘It’s All Work’
Langdon and the Fabulous Moolah scoff at the suggestion that wrestling is pure put-on.
“People get confused about the shows,” Ellison said. “My robe and attire, that’s my show. And I show it off when I get into the ring. But when I disrobe, there’s no show; it’s all work. Like any other
professional sport, wrestling has to be entertainment, too, otherwise everybody is going to fall asleep.”
Langdon agreed. “It’s not easy to learn, and it’s not easy to know the holds. It’s not easy to get out of something that someone else has got you in that hurts a lot. It’s tough, and it’s tough to learn,” he said, pulling up his left pants leg to show an 8-inch scar where someone fell on him the wrong way, shattering his leg so badly it took 16 permanent screws to put it back together.
Langdon said he welcomes anyone who likes to wrestle: amateurs, professionals, novices or fans. Even wimps. “Everyone except Pee-wee Herman,” he said with a laugh, then quickly changed his mind. “Nah, Pee-wee can come, too.”
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