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Billy Wicks Interview

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The Scientific Wrestling Times Interview with Hook Wrestler Billy Wicks

This is a conversation that I had with Billy Wicks about 2 years ago for The Authoritative Encyclopedia of Scientific Wrestling, Vol. 2. Wick (aka "Pops") is a Minnesota-born professional wrestler, a Hook Wrestler (with Dobson United Shows and United Carnival Shows between 1951 and 1956), and a retired law enforcement officer. Enjoy!

Scientific Wrestling: Pops, thanks for talking with me like this.

Billy Wicks: Good morning Jake. I appreciate you taking the time to inquire about this. Youve got to keep in mind, of course, that I am a dinosaur from another generation of wrestlers. I am not familiar with a lot of the MMA, mixed martial arts stuff and all the words you use. I'm used to using the word "wrestling" or "grappling".

SW: How did you get involved in wrestling?

BW: I guess I started when I was about fifteen years old with the Alder Boys Club in St. Paul, Minnesota down on Western Avenue. A fellow by the name of Mr. Davis showed me a takedown, a leg grab. I thought that quite pretty impressive, so that's really how I got started. Like I said I was about 15 years old.

When I was about 16 years old, I met a kid named Quentin Dale Clark, who wrestled at Numa Arizona College and he taught wrestling at the YMCA in downtown St. Paul. He invited me down. He was like 21 or 22 and I was like 16. He was quite a well-built kid. He quite impressed us guys when he came up to us when we were hanging around the corner one night.

What got me attracted to it was it that he could handle me or anybody else at the beach at Faylen Park in St. Paul, MN. He could handle us guys in front of all the girls. I guess that got to my ego. You know how us young men are.

SW: (Laughs) Yes.

BW: Then later on after I learned how to wrestle, when I was about 19 years old, I ran into a professional lady wrestler. She was working at a department store and she had a lot of bruises on her arm.

I said, "Boy your boyfriend sure mistreats you". She said, "No, I am a professional lady wrestler." I was quite impressed with that. I said, "I wrestle too! She said, You ever think of wrestling pro?" I thought, "Oh my god no".

Of course, at that time I was watching Red Bastien and Swede Oldberg. Red Bastien was my hero.

Anyway, she was telling me that the pro-wrestlers worked out up above a bar, the Dutchman's Bar. It was on Roberts Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. She invited me down there so I went down and they worked out on Wednesday and a Friday nights.

I met carny guys like "Crusher" Bob Massey,

Gene Shredder was a local promoter, Marv Watson, he was a wrestler, and my best friend who was just killed recently, Billy Carleson.

He won Mr. Minnesota for guys over 40, for guys over 50, and for guys over 60. He was Mr. Minnesota, he was a terrific guy.

Of course they told me when I was there, Billy Carlson was in the ring and this guy named Massey said "Get in the ring with him Wicks and wrestle him."

So I got in there and took Billy down and pinned him like nothing. You know, I had an amateur background and Billy was just a well-built kid. Anyway, that's how I got started.

SW: Very interesting. Someone on our internet forum wanted to know what five basic skills should every catch wrestling novice try to develop?

BW: I dont believe I have five basic skills that every wrestler should know.

Each wrestler has to develop skills on their own. There is wrestling and then there are wrestling holds. You have to learn to wrestle before you can apply the holds.

You know you have three basic styles of wrestling; let's go out there and pin the other man, let's throw the other man, which is basically Greco-Roman, or let's submit the other man. So amateur wrestling is the basic thing you need to know as far as I am concerned.

After you learn that, there are about a thousand holds out there. You only need to know about a dozen good holds. Know them really damn good. Zero in on your dozen good holds. You don't need to know a thousand holds. You're not a better wrestler because you know a lot of holds. It basically gets down to your mindset.

SW: What are your personal favorite wrestling holds and why?

BW: I zeroed in on neck cranks, wrist locks, and toe holds. Those are the only three areas I dealt with. Of course there are so many variations of these holds; front face lock, rear face lock.

SW: Who was Henry Kohlen?

BW: Henry was my first legitimate teacher. He trained with Farmer Burns. He was one tough old man.

SW: Who are your all-time favorite legitimate wrestlers?

BW: Well I guess I'd have to say Henry Kohlen number one, my old carny teacher. He was 63 years old and I was 19 and he was stretching my butt. He weighed about 150 pounds. Every once in a while he mentioned a guy named "Farmer". I had no idea what that implied. Farmer said this, the farmer said that. I came to realize later on that he worked out many times with Farmer Burns. Of course I know you are familiar with him.

Other guys would be Tony Morelli, Bob Cummings, Swede Oldberg, Doug Henderson, Charlie Carr, Joe Pazendak. I got on the mat with all these guys, except Bob Cummings.

Of course, Red Bastien. Red Bastien will fool you. A lot of guys don't know that Red was a hell of a wrestler. He worked the carnivals and he had a lot of training under Henry Kohlen.

SW: Red is a very nice man, I know him through the Cauliflower Alley Club. What was your single most rewarding experience as a law enforcement officer?

BW: I can't say that I had any one experience Jake. It's just that enjoyed being in a position where I could help people.

SW: What do you call your style of wrestling? Is there a principle, philosophy, or characteristic that sets it apart from any other?

BW: Well I can just say that my style, if you have to use that word, my style is actually amateur wrestling and carny wrestling, mixed. Causing your opponent to feel discomfort and a lot of pain while your wrestling, that's the carny style. In the process you're looking for your submission holds.

Henry used to say, "Always look for the better wrestler than you. You can't really learn a lot if you keep beating the same guy all the time. Try to find the toughest guy there is out there." That was my philosophy; I want to look for the toughest guy I could find.

It's your mindset. If you want to beat somebody, it's like a football game; you have to have a plan. In wrestling, you have to keep moving and controlling in a relaxed state, then look for your submission hold. Then you apply that hold, and I am just talking tournament stuff here, with the attitude that this guy just raped my mother and I want to hurt him.

SW: How has wrestling helped you in his law enforcement career?

BW: When I went into the Sheriff's department back in 1960 and I was assigned to the Memphis Police Academy I was told to teach "Defensive Tactics". I told them that I didn't teach "Defensive Tactics". I taught "Mechanics and Techniques and Controls of Arrest".

I figured as a police officer you could be defensive for only so long before you have to get offensive. You couldn't be politically correct and teach offensive tactics. So I always told them "Mechanics and Techniques and Controls of Arrest".

In my class I told them, if you have to hit anybody with your nightstick, your flashlight, your gun, or your fist, you're a frustrated cop and you don't need to be a cop. Of course, that was back in the sixties, forty some years ago.

SW: For those wrestlers interested in learning more about your style of wrestling are there and wrestlers or coaches that you would recommend?

BW: I think Johnny Huskey is the best. No doubt about it, I've seen a lot of wrestlers. Now you see I was dormant for about 25 years until Johnny Huskey picked me up about 5 years ago on the internet. He contacted me and got me back into wrestling. Of course he knew pretty good wrestling but I showed him quite a few things that he didn't know, that he was impressed with, that is how we got our relationship going. Johnny is superior in any phase of submission wrestling I've ever seen.

SW: What do you think about physical conditioning's role in wrestling?

BW: You don't have to do a whole lot of conditioning in wrestling. You'll find out what your condition is when you wrestle. Learning how to relax is the big secret in wrestling.

SW: Can you speak of wrestling in the carnivals?

BW: Most of the carnival stuff was worked. We had to have what you called a "stick" out in the crowd. We had to have someone in case no one came forward to wrestle. If you didn't have anybody to start the show off with you couldn't make money.

A lot of people misunderstand the terms "amateur" and "professional". "Amateur" just means you don't get paid for your wrestling. But most carny matches were works. Most of the guys blew up after a few minutes anyway.

It was a great experience. Back then, in those days in the fifties, you didn't have mixed martial arts.

SW: How important are wrist locks to your wrestling?

BW: The side-double wristlock is the bread and butter hold that I was taught by the old-timers in the carnivals because it is two on one, two of your arms against one of your opponents. That's my favorite hold.

SW: Of all the ways to grab your opponent for a side double wrist lock, what is the best?

BW: There are 3 ways. You can grab the wrist, grab the palm of the hand (like shaking his hand), or grab the four fingers and on the thumb. I'll tell you, don't grab on the wrist. If the man can make a fist he can use his forearm muscles. If I grab in such a way that he can't make a fist, then I take away about 30% of their strength.

SW: And always work on the left arm&

BW: Unless you know the guy is a left hander. But I was taught that most guys are right handed so go for the left side.

SW: I never use the top wrist lock, it seems like maybe a good set up for a shoulder lock but the top wrist lock seems like a move that only works on a complete novice. You can just reach over and counter it. Did you ever use it?

BW: No, no, I am not a fan of the top figure-four wrist lock.

SW: What about neck locks? All the old timers didn't go into hundreds and hundreds different holds that some people say catch wrestling has.

BW: No no no, that's right. There are three holds you need to know to be a hook wrestler; neck cranks or headlocks, side double wrist locks, and toe holds. If you know those three holds and know them well you should be able to take out anyone.

SW: How did you get into professional wrestling?

BW: Tony Stecher, Joe Stecher's brother in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also, Red Bastien, the president of the Cauliflower Alley Club. He was the man that was my mentor. He helped me get into my first territory and my second territory. He got me into Portland, Oregon in 1957 and into Houston, Texas. I have to give a lot of credit to Red Bastien. Of course, he's a lot older that me, ha ha.

SW: (laughs) Yeah, right. What was it like for you going from the amateur style and the carny style into the pro style?

BW: I was a little disappointed. Like you I wanted to compete, I was a competitor. Then I found out you didn't have to compete. You just do your thing. I was a little disappointed. But you got to travel a lot.

SW: Thank you so much for all this great information Billy.

BW: Thank you Jake. Keep your head up and your elbows in. You just keep studying the stuff I gave you. I'll talk to you real soon!