Larry Matysik, whose contributions to the pro wrestling industry spanned more than 50 years, passed away today at the age of 72.
Obviously Larry Matysik was a very important person in my life. I probably learned more about pro wrestling from him than perhaps any other individual and without a doubt my life would be in a very different place had I not known him and become close friends with him.
I would have first known of him from the early 70s when he would sometimes go on the road for NWA business and while I never met him then and he never came to this area, he was far more approachable to fans than almost any wrestling personality of that era, and was very open about the business. While others came from the carny world of wrestling, he was taught by Sam Muchnick, whose background was as a sportswriter in St. Louis and was one of the most respected people in the St. Louis sports community. So they promoted wrestling very differently, but per capita, St. Louis was on a consistent basis one of the most successful cities for wrestling going back as far as anyone could remember.
We met in 1983. He had quit the St. Louis Wrestling Club, where he was General Manager, because he couldn't handle the differences between an operation run by Muchnick to one run by Bob Geigel, and saw it going down. He attempted to start his own promotion and build around Bruiser Brody and Dick Murdoch, who both went with him even after the NWA made implied threats that it would hamper their careers.
But the business was rapidly changing and he had issues with his original backers. He ended up working for Vince McMahon as his local market rep in St. Louis, although it was uneasy at times as local attendance plummeted after a hot start. Things got so bad that at one point they asked him how to help with the city, and he arranged a Sam Muchnick tournament, and the very next show sold out. But they were running a national business and ultimately you couldn't have a local guy booking market specific, even though they did that to a degree for Montreal.
He had remained around wrestling for decades. He was one of the most popular guests we had when we started our audio shows with Eyada, always ranked in the top five by listeners. He loved booking and announcing wrestling for Herb Simmons and his Southern Illinois Championship Wrestling, and telling stories to the young talent. He was the key person in organizing the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame, which is really the most legitimate single market wrestling Hall of Fame in the world, and rightly, the others behind it surprised him with an induction very early on.
He could talk endlessly about Lou Thesz vs. Pat O'Connor, meeting Martin Thesz, Lou's father, who was so excited to be there for Thesz vs. Karl Gotch, saying that was real wrestling, as well as the Jack Brisco vs Dory Funk Jr. program, which was the 70s version of Okada-Tanahashi as a multi-year feud that produced the best in-ring wrestling as well as consistently strong box office.
The first Brisco-Funk match in St. Louis, which sold out Kiel Auditorium and led to a near riot from people turned away and not being able to get in, solidified Brisco as the heir apparent to the World title.
Larry's father was actually in attendance at the Strangler Lewis vs. Joe Stecher match in St. Louis in 1928 that was the biggest match in some ways of that era, as it matched up the two warring World Champions.
As a fan, Larry dated back to the 50s, and compiled records of St. Louis wrestling from 1959 on which he compiled into a record book. His knowledge of St. Louis wrestling was amazing, which made him such a strong wrestling announcer, and later helped book perhaps the most successful period in the history of the city from 1979 until 1982 through protecting legends and mixing in young stars.
While Ric Flair would have been World Champion at some point either way, both because he was that great of a talent and also because Jim Crockett Jr. had the most successful NWA promotion, but it was Matysik pushing to bring him in and to have him beat Dory Funk Jr. immediately that led to him becoming an instant star in the city, and from that point on, worldwide, it was known he was a potential World Champion. Matysik also put together the famous "Fire and Ice" music video of Flair that aired in virtually every NWA promotion building up his appearances as champion.
In those days, you couldn't be World Champion unless you established yourself with credibility in the St. Louis market, and even more than New York or anywhere else, if you were a main eventer in St. Louis, you were a main eventer everywhere because of the competition and money that went with the top positions in that city.
His close friend Herb Simmons noted that no matter what health issues he had in recent years, stemming from his spine collapsing after battling spinal stenosis, his memory and intellect were always there. From his learning under Muchnick, he had an innate ability to understand wrestling politics and few people were as spot-on in predicting what angles would draw, and what talent would draw and what angles or characters that may have gotten a lot of attention would mean little at the box office.
As many know, my parents fondest memory of me with this industry, the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame induction, came specifically due to Matysik, who, due to health problems, was unable to attend his induction, but pushed to everyone that I should be inducted.
Thankfully a lot of his knowledge and understanding of the business was passed on to others, as well as in his many books, and his appearance on the Highspots documentary on Bruiser Brody.