Wrestling Hall of Fame Museum president Johnny Mantell was on hand today, Monday, March 28, at the Big Blue Building in Wichita Falls and gave Examiner a tour of the museum which is moving from New York to this city of 100,000 a stone’s throw from the Red River. Mantell was the center of media attention today when NBC affiliate Channel 3 News and CBS affiliate Channel 6 News were on hand to film Mantel during what he referred to as the “soft opening” of the historic hall of fame here. The official opening will be tomorrow, Tuesday, March 29, as Mayor Glen Barham will be on hand to cut the ribbon. Mantel also said the Chamber dignitaries are expected along with the Gold Coat Ambassadors for the festivities.
During an interview today with Examiner during the tour, Mantell pointed out a legendary 100-year old ring which originally hosted wrestling and boxing matches in first the Polo Grounds in New York City and later Madision Square Garden. Kay Mantell, wife of Johnny, said the Mario Svaldi family of New York were kind enough to donate the historic ring to the Hall of Fame.
Mantell and his wife Kay were both wrestlers in a different life before they became active in bringing the Hall of Fame to Wichita Falls. Mantell said he was a graduate of Whittier College, California, the same college from which former President Richard Nixon graduated. He joked, “Yeah, I took several wiretap courses in school there.” He said other famous people got their coaching careers started there as George Allen and Don Coryell.
When Mantell was a wrestler, he was given the sobriquet “Pride of Montague County” by famous broadcaster Bill Mercer. He said he fought all over the country with that title. His dad “ran racehorses in California” before the family moved to Texas. Mantell’s brother Kenny was a world junior champion twice. When Mantell was throwing opponents across the ring he encountered some famous people. He even tangled with former San Diego Charger All Pro Ernie Ladd. A picture of Ladd is present in the Hall of Fame.
A picture of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura also hangs on the wall. Ventura was a well-known wrestler before he entered the world of politics. Mantell started his career in 1976 and had his first fight in 1977. But possibly his greatest achievement after retiring from the ring has been bringing the Hall of Fame from Amsterdam, New York to Wichita Falls.
Where is Amsterdam? Mantell revealed it’s a town not far from Canada, north of Albany, the capital of New York, and not far from Saratoga, home to a famous racetrack. He announced there will be a Hall of Fame Induction Dinner and Ceremony May 22-23. Those in Wichita Falls interested in seeing and meeting some of the legends of wrestling, might want to circle those dates on their calendars.
One of the visitors today was Wichita Falls attorney Gary Southard, who was happy to see a picture of Chief Wahoo in the Hall. Southard said, “Chief Wahoo is a native of my hometown of Midland, Texas. I used to watch him on television when I was growing up. We were both graduates of Midland High School.”
Chris Showalter, a current account executive for KFDX-TV 3 was present, and said he was impressed with the Hall of Fame. Showalter was formerly a radio personality.
Several pictures of Danny Hodge, who was a world champion, also adorn the wall. Hodge appeared frequently at the historic 4-H Arean which was on Midwestern Parkway near the Wichita Falls Country Club at the time. Hodge was a favorite of Wichitans. Mantell said he fought a couple of times in the 4-H Arena.
The Hall of Fame provides an interesting walk through the pages of history even to those who may not be wrestling fans. People of North Texas will enjoy the Hall of Fame and the colorful stories of Mantell who specifically referred to a picture of legend Gorgeous George which is present. There is easy access to the Museum which is on the ground floor of the Big Blue Building at the corner of Scott Avenue and Eighth Street.