Next week will be five years since wrestling legend Classy Freddie Blassie passed away at the age of 85. I was 17 at the time of our interview and it only feels like it happened yesterday. I had missed the opportunity to interview a few of the other greats that shaped the pro wrestling industry, but I wasn’t going to miss my shot at interviewing Freddie Blassie. So now I bring you our interview one month before he passed away. He was insightful, he laughed, and I was just grateful to be one of the last people he came across in his storied and celebrated life. It’s amazing how someone can be there one moment and then gone the next. There isn’t a June that goes by where I don’t think about him.
Listen to the Classy Freddie Blassie interview:
Interview Conducted May 6, 2003
Chris Yandek: Your book, Legends of Wrestling: “Classy” Freddie Blassie — Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks, is the story of your life from growing up in St. Louis, Missouri to your start in wrestling to your run with the WWE. Did you think it was time to do this book and what can fans expect from the book all together?
Classy Freddie Blassie: “I was approached to write the story of my life. After all I am 85 years old, and I guess they figured and I figured as well that it was high time to write something because I am getting a little bit old.”
CY: How did you come up with the catch phrase “listen, you pencil neck geeks”?
CFB: “Well, that was when I was a teenie youngster. I was wrestling in carnivals, and I got there a little early. The fellow who ran the wrestling carnival told me, ‘Why don’t you go next door and take a look at the freaks?’ I went in there and there was this guy biting heads off a chicken and snakes and things. When I left he then said to me, ‘How did you like it?’ I don’t know. This guy here makes me sick. He bites the heads off of snakes and everything. He said, ‘He is a real pencil neck. In fact he is a real pencil neck geek.’ That is how that came about.”
CY: You made your debut in wrestling at a carnival. What was that like, and maybe you can go back and tell me what the days of wrestling were like back then, and your mom thought wrestling was foolishness am I right?
CFB: “Well, it is altogether different then today in that era. Now there is more aerial tactics and everything, and the fellas are in much better condition then we ever thought of being because many times I would wrestle and then get in a car and drive 300 miles, and I didn’t have enough money for a room so I would sleep in my car, and if I needed a bite to eat I would get a hamburger or something. It is a lot harder today. I am glad I was in the early days of wrestling instead of today.”
CY: Why do you think you got over so well as a heel as a wrestler and a manager that by being such a bad guy during your wrestling programs that you have had death threats, been stabbed 21 times, and even been doused with acid. What are your thoughts on all that and did you ever consider being a good guy?
CFB: “No. That was the farthest thing from my mind because I looked out at the audience and I saw nothing but idiots. Anybody that goes and cuts somebody or throws acid on them I guarantee you and also losing the side of a right eye, that these are things you don’t look forward to when you become a wrestler because you’re thinking about getting in a ring and getting out. All I ever thought about was getting in a ring and getting out safely the way I got in, but it didn’t happen that way.”
CY: How many legitimate injuries did you have through your career?
CFB: “If I were to tell you, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth. I had every rib on the right side broken, five on the left, two inner planted knees, one kidney, and the cuts and different things that happened in the injuries in the ring and out of the ring. I suffered as much out of the ring as I did in the ring due to these idiotic fans.”
CY: When you left to serve your country in World War 2 in the Navy, did you ever think you would return to wrestling, and how did you end back in wrestling after the war?
CFB: “Well, I always wanted to be a wrestler. There was no two ways about it. My mother use to call it foolishness. She said, ‘Why don’t you cut out the foolishness and get a job?’ I said that I wanted to be a wrestler. She said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not making any money and no expenses or nothing.’ I said, ‘But I don’t care I want to be a wrestler.’ Many times I went hungry, and many times for lack of sleep I slept in my automobile. If I wanted to use the mens’ room I would have to go to a service station. Things weren’t all peaches and cream, but the fellows today with the traveling they do, it is a lot harder today then what I did.”
CY: What were the days of the wrestling territories like for you in New York, Los Angeles, and Georgia?
CFB: “You’re going through a territory like you say New York. The first time I came to New York I was a punk kid wrestling around East St Louis, Illinois and East St. Louis, Missouri where I am from, and I wasn’t doing anything. One of the fellas said, ‘Why don’t you go to New York? They are looking for wrestlers.’ Like a ding a ling I went to New York, and I had about four matches or five. The promoter called me on the side one time, and he said, ‘You are not qualified to wrestle these men up here. Go somewhere and learn the trade, and I am sure one of these days you are going to be a top notcher.’ I thought to myself that this old geezer just wants to get rid of me, and I know what he is after. I left New York and went down south for most of my wrestling training, and it was rough as those southerners played for keeps.”
CY: Tell me about your classic feud with John Tolos in Los Angeles territory, and what are your best memories of John Tolos all together?
CFB: “I had a lot of respect for John Tolos as a person, but as a wrestler not too much. I didn’t care for anyone else because as I was concerned there was only one wrestler and that was Classy Freddie Blassie. John gave me fit after fit after fit, and I put on those tights and got in the ring with him. I knew that I was going to be in for a heck of a beating and I knew he was going to get one too. That is the reason the fans turned out when Tolos and Blassie would meet in the ring.”
CY: Tell me about your very bloody feud with Rikidozan in Japan as you made a name for yourself as the “vampire” for that very violent feud, and what was it like working in Japan overall?
CFB: “Well, they wanted some wrestlers for Japan, and I had never been there, and I was champion over here which meant nothing to the Japanese. They only had one wrestler in mind and that was Rikidozan. I went over there and wrestled, and I had battle after battle not only with the wrestlers but the fans also. They would follow me as I would get up in the morning, and I would go out to the restaurant and get a bite to eat and there would be 50 to 100 people in the lobby waiting to see me. Every step I took they took right with me. They were great wrestling fans, but they sure didn’t care for Freddie Blassie. They called him the vampire.”
CY: What was it like to wrestle at the beginning of the WWE under the first of the McMahon’s Jess McMahon, then his son Vincent James McMahon, and his grandson, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, and how do they compare and how do you think each contributed to the success of the WWE?
CFB: “Well, Vince McMahon Jr. the promoter today, he’s got more on the ball then all the other promoters put together. From the years gone by, you could accumulate and get them altogether and shake them up side down, and their brains wouldn’t even rattle because they don’t have any, but I guarantee you that this man here has been condemned so many times, but that is something I will never be able to see because time after time after time he came to my rescue, and I always respect that from his wife, children, father Vince McMahon Sr, and Jess was the man who gave me the advice by saying ‘Son, you gotta get more experience before you’re qualified to keep wrestling with the fellas like this.’ It is is the best advice I could have gotten.”
CY: You managed Hulk Hogan in the WWF days during the early feud between Hogan and Andre the Giant when Hogan was a heel. What are your thoughts fully on Hogan and does it amaze you to see him still wrestling today on WWE and as popular as ever?
CFB: “That is something no one can understand. Here is a guy who has lost matches and everything, and hasn’t given really to many good interviews. He is impressed with his own importance which is good, but he is not as good as he thinks he is.”
CY: You also had the chance to manage Jessie Ventura during his days with the WWE. What are your full thoughts on Jesse Ventura as a wrestler, and did you ever think he would be the governor of Minnesota?
CFB: “He was a great talker even when I was managing. He wouldn’t even listen when I was telling him things to do. He had his own way of doing it and that was the way it was going to be. When he got elected Governor of Minnesota I was very surprised. People say I should have ran competition to him. I am not a politician. I am strictly a wrestler at all times at front, center, and end. That is how it will always be. Classy Freddie Blassie the wrestler not Classy Freddie Blassie the politician.”
CY: You got the chance to manage Muhammad Ali in the infamous “boxer vs. wrestler” match. What was it like to work with Muhammad Ali, and do you consider that one of the biggest highlights of your career?
CFB: “Muhammad Ali was one of the nicest gentleman I ever had the pleasure to meet. He never disputed anything I told him. When he went over to fight Antonio Inoki, Inoki kept staying on the mat and kept kicking, and they would come back in after the round, and Muhammad Ali would tell Angelo Dundee who was manager that, ‘I am going to go out and get on the mat with him.’ I said, ‘Don’t you dare to that because it will be the biggest mistake of your life.’ What he will do is break your leg and arm because a boxer has no chance whatsoever with a wrestler. When you have a mixed match with boxer versus wrestler or wrestler versus boxer you can always bet your bottom dollar that the boxer is going to lose.”
CY: How did Hollywood affect your career as far as working with Andy Kaufman in the film Breakfast with Blassie which was an underground classic in which you uttered: “What the hell ever happened to the human race?”
CFB: “Andy was another guy. This was a fella when I came out of the ring and I am going down to the dressing room and he is standing there. I said, ‘Hey boy you’re not allowed back here. Get out of here.’ I chased him out. The next week I came back and he is there again. I said, ‘I ran you out last week. Get the hell out of here. I don’t care what you want. Get out of here.’ I walked down to the locker room and the fella that takes care of the locker room and showers said, ‘Mr. Blassie, do you know who that is?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘ That is Andy Kaufman.’ I said, ‘Who is Andy Kaufman?’ He said, ‘He is a comedian.’ I said, ‘He is not to funny to me.’ The following week he wasn’t there and I said, ‘Well, I got rid of him once and for all.’ I had to park a half a block away from the Olympic Auditorium because there was no parking facilities, but anyhow as I start walking to my car he yells, ‘Mr Blassie.’ I thought oh no not again. I said, ‘What do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’ He said, ‘Please I want to talk to you.’ I invited him over and I took him out and we had a bite to eat, and from then on we became friends. He was one of the nicest kids I had ever had the pleasure to meet. He wanted to become Freddie Blassie of the entertainment world.”
CY: When you finished your career in the ring with the WWE, what were your thoughts retiring from in ring action as a wrestler, and was it hard for you?
CFB: “Well, yes. It was quite a blow to my ego. I didn’t think I was ever going to get old. They decided to make me a manager, and I couldn’t wrestle no more. Some of the promoters would use me, but they wanted to give preliminary money. I wasn’t fit to be tied with preliminary money. I gave my value at an arena to the gate at 85 percent to the drawing capacity.”
CY: Tell me about how The Grand Wizard, Captain Lou Albano, and yourself started Paul Heyman’s career in wrestling in many ways.
CFB: “Well, Paul Heyman, this guy here is a little weird. He wanted to get involved, and he got acquainted with The Grand Wizard. I went down to Manhattan, New York before the Madison Square Garden shows, and The Grand Wizard said, ‘Hey. I have a kid over here who wants to sell some of your pictures.’ I thought to myself ‘ready cash.’ I was visualizing maybe 50 bucks to 100 bucks, and I give the kid I forget how many pictures off hand as it could be 50 to 100 pictures. Two weeks later they said, ‘Hey, Paul Heyman is looking for you.’ I said, ‘Who is Paul Heyman?’ He said, ‘That is the guy who sells those pictures.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah.’ I was visualizing money like 50 or 100 dollars, and he came in and gave me three dollars. I said, ‘Three dollars? What the hell are you doing with three dollars? I will beat your brains in.’ He said, ‘That is all I sold.’ I said, ‘All you sold? I thought you were going to sell pictures.’ That was my first acquaintance with Paul Heyman.”
CY: You are known today as a very motivational speaker for all the guys in WWE today. What kind of reaction do you get from the current WWE Superstars of today when you go to a show or a WWE event, and do you still follow the current WWE product today
CFB: “Yeah. Today the wrestler has a much harder time with the aerial tactics they use and everything with the body slams, in the ring and out of the ring, head into the ring post, and once in a while my wife will say, ‘Where is so and so?.’ I say, ‘He got hurt. He is in the hospital or at home recuperating.’ The promoter won’t use you unless you can draw money, and if you can’t draw money then you’re not worth a hill of beans.”
CY: When you watch the wrestling today and you see these guys take these incredible bumps and you look back on your time, do you think today’s WWE product is more entertainment then it is about the wrestling?
CFB: “Well, people say prearranged this and prearranged that. You never had a prearranged anything for me as I did my own prearranging. I would go out and bust your head open and chew on your forehead, your ear, and I used to file my teeth and that was legit because they would put the camera right on my mouth and watch me file the teeth. There is no way you can get around saying that it doesn’t hurt.”
CY: Finally, maybe you could give a message to your fans, and you supposedly tell the best Polish jokes so maybe we can get one of those as well?
CFB: “Polish joke? I have never heard of a good Polish joke. You ever hear of Ivan Putski? He is not worth a hill of beans. He was ridiculing me while I was doing an interview. I stopped the interview, and I walked over to Ivan Putski where he was sitting with a couple of his cohorts. I said, ‘Get up you oh I can’t say it here, but anyway the guy sat there like he was glued to his chair. I said, ‘Get up. When I am finished with you I will stomp you to death.’ To this day he hasn’t fully recuperated from what I said, and believe me I was in the mood to do it too because here is a guy that is named Putski with his dance and all that, and you take that away from him and he has nothing. Well, remember there is only one Classy Freddie Blassie. You know if you’re in good health, age doesn’t really matter unless you are a cheese.”