Bout Lacks Bear Necessity: A Willing Participant

Some guys would do anything to impress a girl. This was, believe it or not, the excuse for what was billed as “the ultimate professional wrestling showdown,” an interspecies battle between 300-pound power lifter Dominic Menaldi and Dakota, an 801-pound grizzly bear. But the real fight at the Hollywood Park Casino on Sunday night was just getting the bear into the ring.

Despite being trained since birth to wrestle, the 7-foot-tall, 4-year-old Kodiak grizzly was not going gently onto that stage. It took three men a dozen attempts and more than an hour to coax the creature into the limelight.

“The bear is nervous,” animal trainer Randy Miller of Big Bear told the audience. Miller, 35, who specializes in staged attacks by lions and tigers and bears for the TV and film industries, raised Dakota from a cub and is quite attached to him (they kissed before the fight). He tried to lure the reluctant bear with cookies, but Dakota wouldn’t bite. He even put the animal back in his cage and had it carried into the ring, but it wasn’t until the soundman played Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli’s duet, “Time to Say Goodbye,” that Dakota was ready to rumble. Even then, Miller had to sic him on Menaldi.


By then, the show had become something else: a sad behind-the-scenes look at a man-made spectacle. Anyone who was rooting for the 35-year-old Menaldi from Huntington Beach couldn’t help but switch loyalties to Dakota, who was revealed to be less a vicious, man-eating beast than a cuddly Chewbacca-like creature.

The 20-minute fight began with the bear giving Menaldi a love bite on the stomach before using his human opponent’s sweat jacket as a chew toy. He took a halfhearted swipe at the comedic muscleman, who feigned injury and retreated to his corner, where a medic swabbed fake blood from under his shirt.

“Give the bear a hug!” a fan yelled. “Southpaw, Dom!” anothersaid.

Menaldi grimaced and sweat. He grabbed Dakota’s right ear and tried to throw him over his shoulder. Menaldi looked tired, but it was Dakota who wanted out. Wandering toward his cage, he nudged it with his wet nose, a move interpreted as weakness by the ref (Menaldi’s brother), who declared the fight over. But Dakota’s trainer wouldn’t let Menaldi off that easy.

“You’ve got to pin the bear to win,” he said. Within five minutes, Menaldi got the bear into a headlock and pulled him to the ground.

The victory was bittersweet.

Good thing he did it for love not money (which wouldn’t have been much because about half of the 950 spectators who paid $15 to $35 a ticket demanded refunds; they got free tickets to an amateur boxing match). Menaldi claims he arranged the wrestling match to “impress a girl. She likes tough guys.”

Francesca Leigh, a stunt roller skater who won Menaldi’s affection when they worked on a movie set, planted two wet kisses on Menaldi’s cheek after the fight. “Now please don’t fight any more bears.”