The Week That Was: Remembering Pedro Morales

     Baby boomer pro wrestling fans were saddened to learn last week of the passing of Pedro Morales who held the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (the precursor to today’s WWE) championship belt in the early 1970s. He was 76 and had been battling Parkinson’s Disease.

      Morales was also a part of Shea Stadium history as 22,000 spectators watched him battle the previous WWF champ, Bruno Sammartino, to a draw after 75 minutes of solid ring action because of curfew rules.

     That was the largest attendance at the time to watch a pro wrestling match in New York. Keep in mind that there was neither cable television nor the Internet back then. Pro wrestling could only be seen on UHF stations in the Northeast such as Channel 48 in Philadelphia and Channel 47 here in New York.

     Pedro Morales was born in Culebra, Puerto Rico and grew up in East New York. He was a terrific athlete and an important figure in Hispanic figure in sports history who clearly has not gotten his due because the outcomes of wrestling matches have always been predetermined. Nonetheless wrestlers have to be both top stuntmen and actors who can get thousands to spend money on buying tickets for matches.

     The late WWF chief, Vincent McMahon, Sr., understood the growing economic importance of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic communities in the Northeast and that’s why he was eager to have Morales be the face of his wrestling promotion in the early 1970s. Wrestling cards at Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philadelphia invariably sold out. It was around that time that corporate America finally started noting the importance of the growing Hispanic market. Pedro Morales deserves some credit for that.

     The easygoing Morales made for a great foil for “heel” wrestling manager The Grand Wizard whose job was to create s much heat that angry viewers would by tickets just to scream at him and his villainous wrestlers. “Pedro Morales is full of TNT…tacos n tamales!” he said during a televised interview.

      That politically incorrect humor was all in good fun as both Morales and the Wizard were friends. The late  Ernie Roth, who portrayed the Grand Wizard, was Jewish and adopted the moniker as a slap at the Ku Klux Klan. Clearly he knew that tacos and tamales were Mexican dishes that had nothing to do with Puerto Rico and that was precisely the joke. Roth wanted to show how stupid ethnic prejudices were and how bigots were absolute morons.      

     It’s safe to say that among the constituencies who were angry about Amazon’s decision not to locate a major corporate campus in Long Island City were our area’s professional sports teams. They were counting on the retail giant to purchase season tickets and suites to entertain customers.

     Oklahoma City Thunder guard, onetime John Bowne High School student, and Lefrak City native Hamidou Diallo quickly raised his profile by winning the annual NBA All-Star Game dunk contest last Saturday night. He leaped mightily over Shaquille O’Neal on the way to stuffing the basketball through the hoop.

     Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris, who is one of the most down-to-earth athletes you’ll ever  meet, also had a big weekend in Charlotte as he beat Steph Curry, arguably the best pure shooter in NBA history, at the All-Star Game three-point shot contest.

     Former NY Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, is living in Israel where he still plays professional basketball. He’s also a vintner there. Stoudemire Wines’ Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was being tasted by various spirits industry types at last week’s Kosher Wine & Food Expo.

    Stoudemire’s old team, the Knicks, snapped their 18-game losing streak with a victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta right before the All-Star Game break.

     Not to sound Pollyannaish about the Knicks season but there are reasons to watch them besides wondering if they’ll be able to draft basketball prodigy Zion Williamson who is spending the year at Duke University.

     A good case in point is rookie center Mitchell Robinson who gave his All-Star counterpart, Joel Embiid, fits last week by constantly blocking his shots while making a number of his against him when the Knicks took on the Philadelphia 76ers last week.

    Other stories worth paying attention to are the developments of guards Damyean Dotson and Kadeem Allen who got their starts with the Westchester Knicks of the NBA G-League. Both have shown good outside shooting ability.

    The National Lacrosse League team which will play their home games at the Nassau Coliseum this coming December announced their club name, The Riptide, at a press conference this past Sunday. It’s a cool name. Let’s hope that they don’t go underwater.

    Last week cable’s Discovery and MLB Networks arranged a cross-promotion as several MLB Network air personalities including former Mets ace Al Leiter appeared on Discovery’s “American Chopper.” The premise was that MLB Network was commissioning to have a baseball-themed motorcycle built by the Teutul family, the stars of “American Chopper.”

    Toy Fair 2019 which was held over Presidents Weekend at the Javits Center had a lot of sports exhibitors.

     Franklin Sports, which makes nearly every kind of game equipment imaginable, launched Sidelines which makes folding chairs to watch games on the sidelines, cooling towels, and first aid kits.  

     Mattel displayed its latest line of WWE-themed action figures including that of former UFC fighter, film star, and now female wrestler, Ronda Rousey.

     Panini America has quietly become a major competitor to Topps in the sports and entertainment trading card industry. They have licensing deals with all of the major sports leagues except for Major League Baseball although they do have one with the Major League Baseball Players Association so that they can produce cards with players’ pictures on them but not their team uniforms.

    Spikeball is a privately-owned company that is trying to create a volleyball-like sport where players slap a ball on a trampoline and have to keep it airborne.

    Likewise Little Kids has come up with Wicked Big Sports Shuffle Toss in which players toss bean bags instead of using a disc and rod to score points,

    Breyer Horses has long made artistic miniature models of famous thoroughbreds. This year 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify has joined its line of equine collectibles.

     Wedding Salon organizes quarterly trade shows for all things nuptial in various cities across the United States. Not surprisingly honeymoon destinations were well-represented as Aruba, Antigua, and the Bahamas had representatives there. What was most gratifying were the number of Puerto Rico golf resorts that are fully operational and seeking business again after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

     There were a number of non-travel exhibitors as well including Ben & Jerry’s promoting wedding-themed ice cream flavors, Harmless Coconut Water, and even an Astoria-based dermatologist, Dr. Lilly-Rose Paraskevas. Good healthy skin is important for the big day!

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