My confusing and emotionally tumultuous adolescence back in the early Seventies had few bright spots. One of these was the escapism of pro wrestling and following the exploits of my favorite performer, Jack Brisco.
This morning I read of his passing at age 68 after undergoing triple bypass heart surgery.
Jack was NWA Champion from 1973 to 1975 at a time when wrestling was very different from the steroid- and spandex- driven circus sideshow soap opera it is today.
Let’s turn the clock back or a bit. Jack was my guy because first of all, he was cool back in 1972. He had the Joe Namath shag hairstyle and wore these great colorful shirts on TV. He never yelled and screamed in his interviews, but he never came off bland either. He had this understated smoldering intensity that went over perfectly with his style in the ring.
That style was his greatest asset. He was a former NCAA champion at Oklahoma State and his skills and sheer athleticism were never lacking in the pro ring. As Paul Jones, his foe in the ring and friend behind the scenes recalled, Brisco never wrestled the same match twice.
But he also was susceptible to what the immortal Gordon Solie termed a “volatile temper” whenever he’d had enough from his heel opponent. One time on TV he vented his anger on a heel jobber by administering a piledriver after he pinned him.
Those were the days when kayfabe was the rule, and everything centered around keeping the fakery secret.
These last few years I’ve grown more appreciative of Jack Brisco, as the realities of how the business worked back then have been uncovered.
His genuine wrestling and fighting skills meant that he could defend himself for real if an unscrupulous opponent tried to go off script.
He was also adept at making the opponent’s moves look real by simulating pain or injury (“selling”). Because of this Brisco made convincing matches against much less talented opponents. It also was important in his world championship reign, where he was called upon to travel all over the world and narrowly avoid losing the belt to the top draws of the different territories.
The father of so-called “hardcore” wrestling, Ed “The Sheik” Farhat, said “protect the business and then protect your opponent.” Brisco understood that the money comes from generating heat from the fans, and was never averse to dropping a belt or putting the new heel in town over. This classiness is why he is remembered so fondly today by his peers, his fans, and wrestlers that followed in his footsteps.