Where Wrestling's Regional History Lives!
-Steve Webber & Ron Gott
November 11, 2002 it was my privilege to interview a true old-school
legend. In the sixties
and seventies no one drew more heat year in and year out than the
Number One Hillbilly, The King of Kingsport, Ron Wright.
Ron Gott and I conducted this interview at Ron Wright’s home
in Kingsport, Tennessee. I
don’t mind telling you people that I was in awe sitting at the
kitchen table with a man I’d seen on television countless times.
Without further ado, here’s what Ron Wright had to say.
I guess I got started wrestling amateur at the Kingsport
Boys’ Club in 1952, 1953. Got
to work out with some of the old time wrestlers.
They’d wrestle in Johnson City on Monday, Bristol Tuesday,
and Kingsport on Wed. they’d
come down there and work out. Rex Riley, Len Rossi, Killer Kowalski,
Charlie Carr, Wild Bill Caney, some of the old timers. I kept
challenging them, and they kept pinnin’ my ears back, got to where
they took a likin’ to me and Whitey Caldwell both.
There was about eight of us on the wrestling team, me and
Whitey were the only ones that kept wantin’ to get in the ring with
them. They’d come down
and lift weights, stay in shape.
After doin’ that a couple of years some of them got into a
car wreck and couldn’t make Johnson City one night.
They called me and wanted to know if me and Whitey would
wrestle, so we both went down there.
We wrestled Johnson City on a Monday night; I wrestled Charlie
Carr. And that was about
a week before I turned 16 years of age.
So that was your first match in Johnson City?
Yeah, I was playin’ football and during summer practice the
TSSAA (governing body for high school sports in TN) suspended me from
all amateur sports because I’d been a paid professional athlete in
the wrestling matches. By
the time football season got started that year I’d wrestled 10 or 15
times, so that stopped my football career.
Then I moved to Maryland in 1956 and wrestled for a year and a
half. I came back down
here in 1958 and refereed for 2 or 3 months people hated me so bad
from refereeing that I started wrestling professionally and stayed at
it pretty much full time until I had that bad car wreck in 1979 and
demolished my right shoulder. Between
those times, I guess probably starting in 1959 I probably hadn’t
been in Knoxville 6 or 8 weeks before I was main event there.
Went main event in Chattanooga, Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville,
went to Atlanta a lot, even went to Florida a lot.
But mostly I stayed close to home because wrestling was a hobby
to me. I held a full-time job as a pressman at Kingsport Press.
Later on, probably up in the early Seventies, I got to going so
far that I had to charter an airplane.
So probably in the early Seventies I bought my first airplane
and started taking flying lessons and didn’t quit taking lessons
until I had my license, I had my commercial license, my multi-engine
license and my instrument rating.
I had to have all that to make all my trips because you’d get
caught in bad weather so much. So
some of the most memorable times in my wrestling career… I’ve been
shot at three times in the ring; got shot at in Hazard, Kentucky, they
emptied a 9-shot automatic at me.
They didn’t hit me; they got some of the bullets out of the
rafters. They missed some
of the spectators in the top by probably less than two foot.
They gave the man 20 years for it; I don’t know how much he
pulled for it. I got shot
at in Monticello, KY, and in Harlan, Kentucky… I was putting my
suitcase in the trunk of my car at the National Guard Armory and they
shot out both headlights out of my car and both widows out and I got
out and laid under my car until the law got there and got that
stopped. I reckon they just got so mad at me at the matches I had a
riot that night and banged up two or three spectators pretty good.
I reckon they went home and got guns or had them there so they
waylaid me when I got out.
Would people get as mad at you up here where they knew you?
Yeah, it was bad. People hated me to the point that one night in Corbin,
Kentucky I went to a restaurant up there before the matches and they
had wrestling on TV. I’d
just finished wrestling in Knoxville over at channel 10 and they was
standing there looking at it, so I just ordered a piece of pie, I was
killing time before the matches, that girl turned around and took my
order, and recognized who I was, and she just took a whole chocolate
pie and hit me square in the face with it.