Interview with Billy Wicks

CARNY WRESTLING WITH BILLY WICKS About  Memphis Wrestling Articles Interview Contact / Links Page Real American Catch Wrestling Holds: Photo 2 Photo 2 A CARNIVAL STORY BY ARMY MAGUIRE DREW PRICE'S POEM Photo 4 Old Carnival Wrestling Photos Class Pictures Old Pictures CARNY SHOOTERS Blog

Jeff: Tell us how you were first introduced to Wrestling. How old were you?

Billy: I was fifteen years old when I'd go to the Ober Boys Club in the ghetto on Rondo Street. (which is now I94 - they tore it up and built a highway.) I was hanging out on the street corner, when a twenty year old kid named Quinton Dale Clark, rode up on his bicycle. He asked if I was interested in wrestling. He was a wrestler at Yuma Arizona College and his summer job was recreation instructor at the YMCA. He coached wrestling there, on Saturdays. It really bugged me how he could just toy with us so easily. I just had to learn how he did this! He really challenged me. He taught me an important lesson that I've tried to emulate. The principle is: "It is important to pass on lessons, to those who are hungry, themselves, to learn."

Then when I was nineteen, I worked out with the guys at McAlister College. Fred Anderson was the Coach and was nice enough to let me train with the team. He liked me because I wasn't scared of anything and he thought I was good. I just walked up and asked, "Where does the wrestling team work out? I'd like to workout with the team doing amateur wrestling techniques."

Jeff: How did you get into Pro Wrestling?

Billy: At the same time, I was working fulltime at a Studebaker garage. I was laid off. Then I worked at Ford and got laid off there. All the while, I was wrestling on the weekends, Friday and Saturday nights. It was good money and I enjoyed it. I decided to wrestle full-time. Red Bastien got me my first territory in Portland. He was a year older than I was, but was exposed in the pro ranks more than I was a hell of a nice guy. He is the president of the "Cauliflower Alley Club."

I usually wrestled a 400 mile radius from Winnipeg, Canada to Iowa. I wrestled all over: Houston, Tulsa, Nashville, Mobile, Memphis and Minneapolis. When I was in Memphis, I got tired & burned out. The guy who saved my life, so to speak was Ray Mathis. He was a very nice guy, always looking out for me. Tony Lawo, Police Inspector, also Wrestling Commissioner, asked if I was saving any money. I didn't have insurance on my car and I was wrestling in Memphis, Pensacola, Mobile, Panama City and Gulf Port, seven days a week. I also wrestled on Memphis TV Saturday morning and Jonesboro, AR Saturday night. Then Sunday, I would be in Birmingham. Monday I'd start all over again.

Ray said he could get me a job with the Sheriff's Department or at DuPont Chemicals. So when I took him up on his offer, he set up an interview. I went to work Monday and then went to school for two weeks. Then I became a Deputy Sheriff. I worked there twenty-seven years and retired as a captain, not bad for only having a GED education. I left school at the age of fifteen. Later at age twenty-five, I had a wife & three kids. Going on the road with the excitement of wrestling, we left home with everything we owned, fitting into a 4x6 trailer. Fifty years later, now I'm living in the mountains, with the woman of my dreams. What a lucky sucker I am. I've had a great life.

Jeff: How did you find out about Submission Wrestling?

Billy: I was at the record store and noticed the lady working had bruises on her arm. When I talked with her about it, she told me that she was a Pro Wrestler. She is the one that first introduced me to Carney wrestling. I told her that I was a wrestler. She asked me if I would consider wrestling Pro. I said sure, so I went up to the Bar, on Roberts street in downtown Minnesota, called Dutchmen's Bar. She introduced me to Bob Massey and Billy Carlson (who wrestled as Mr. America. He was a body builder.) They had a ring setup and did bar room wrestling. They'd roll out a twelve foot mat on the dance floor and have three to ten minute matches. It was another form of entertainment, watching these two wrestle as a show. No punches or kicks. There was a referee and we'd split , three ways. I did that for five or six months.

Jeff: What does it take to be a Submission Wrestler?

Billy: You don't have to be an All American or a National Collegiate Amateur Wrestling Champion to be a good Submission Wrestler. Basic wrestling techniques do provide a great advantage. Some techniques are: take downs, set-ups, whizzers, sit-outs, switches, side rolls, etc.

Jeff: What do you like most about Submission Wrestling?

Billy: It gives confidence to pursue anything you want, in life. I wouldn't trade the experience for a million dollars or a degree at Harvard. It was an intensive study of mankind so to speak, figuring out how people think and how the body works. You can't get that at any University. It gave me confidence and a practical understanding of physical anatomy: nerves, veins, blood flow and learning the tolerance of different degrees of pain, body mechanics and what it takes to make people submit. I had a tendency to say, "Go ahead and hurt me!" It was a spiritual awakening of where we are in our lifetime.

Jeff: Was ground work important?

Billy: The submissions usually start when you are on the ground. This is where you really start to move into your position of advantage, getting behind your opponent to control him. This is where your body parts are used as weapons to punish.

Jeff: Punish is a good word, some of the variations of holds that you teach are extremely painful.

Billy: The reason you do this is to get a reaction from your opponent, so that he will give you an opening for your submission holds. You can use the bones in your fists, knuckles, elbows, chin and knees on the sensitive areas of his body, as a way to setup a move.

Jeff: Many people are tempted to think they need to know a lot of holds, to become successful.

Billy: Three of my favorite holds are the side wrist lock, neck crank, and toe hold. It is not necessary to know 1000 wrestling holds! You should study and practice about ten or twelve holds and know how to get each one from a different angle or position.

Learning the hold, is only half of the game. Unless you practice executing the hold from various positions and setups, you won't be able to get the hold when you're actually wrestling live. Conditioning is a different game. It is very important in wrestling. You will find that on your own. But the very most important thing to learn is how to relax when you are wrestling. If this was easy, everybody would be doing submission wrestling. It takes a very committed, special person to study and learn submission wrestling.

Jeff: What was Carnival Wrestling like? Describe a day in the life of a Carney Wrestler.

Billy: My Carnival schedule was: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from April to September. This was the Carnival time of the Year. We wrestled a 300-400 mile radius of St. Paul, Minnesota for Dubson United Shows. Their carnival tour had the "whole ball of wax," that a traditional carnival offered. Our wrestling tent was 40x40 with a platform outside where the barker would talk to the people in the midway. Dirty Dick Evans was the Barker getting people in. He would challenge them, "Ladies and Gentlemen! Come see Free Pro Wrestling! Where we will show you holds." He would also call out, "Where are all you tough guys that slap your wife or your cow around? Come see if you can take on my champion!" I wore a mask a lot of time to give it a mysterious feel. We had a "stick" (one of our guys) out in the crowd to create a show. My stick was Greg Peterson he was a little guy, he would give them confidence to get up the nerve to give it a try. The sticks were the toughest guys, many times.

Jeff: What was the incentive to compete?

Billy: They would get $1 per minute for up to five minutes. They'd say "If you can stay five minutes with my champion, you get . Everyone would pay .25 to go into the tent to watch. Rules were: No eye-gouging, kicking or punching. If one submits, it is over with. To give up, they tapped out. So it was my job to make them give up, while putting on enough of a show, so that the crowd was entertained.

Jeff: How many matches would you have to be prepared for?

Billy: three to four matches at a time. I might have to take on the same guy three or four times in a row if they wanted, then on to the next guy. The Molly Brothers would follow the circus around to take me on. I would make for about eight matches, of wrestling two nights. That was a lot of money back then.

Jeff: When I met you, you were training law enforcement personnel, after starting the Tactical Unit.

Billy: Back in the 70's I was in charge of Metro physical training at the Armory police academy. I never taught defensive tactics. I taught mechanics, techniques and controls of arrest. Jim Bullard was the instructor for the Police Department and I was the instructor for the Sheriff's Department. He had 20.5 inch arms and weighed 205 pounds, a humble, prince of a man. I was able to utilize my experience in Carney & Submission Wrestling to train Sheriff Department personnel.

Jeff: You have had to overcome a lot and you still maintained a good positive attitude. You even had Polio.

Billy: I had polio when I was twelve years old and spent two weeks in the hospital, I just had a real stiff neck. I had to have hot packs put on my legs twice a day. I even missed the 6th grade.

Jeff: What are you up to these days?

Billy: I just turned 74 and my body is really slowing down. I'm working at a recreational center and just enjoying life in the mountains. Over the past five years, I have thoroughly enjoyed passing on what I've learned, over to Johnny Huskey. The principle that the Arizona College Wrestler, passed on to me, all those years ago, I am passing on to Johnny. "It is important to pass on lessons, to those who are hungry, themselves, to learn." Johnny is hungry to learn! I get to help him train his crew on Monday and Thursday nights 7:30 - 9 at the Ashville Fitness Center.

Interview by Jeff Presley