Pro wrestler who helped integrate sports in Alabama dies
Longtime professional wrestler Len Rossi, who worked with a black wrestler named Bearcat Brown, integrated wrestling matches in Birmingham, has died.
Rossi died on Friday, the Tennessean reported. He was 91 years old.
In a 2016 interview with The Birmingham News, Rossi recalled wrestling at Boutwell Auditorium on Monday nights from 1958 to 1972.
“We used to wrap up the Boutwell Auditorium,” said Rossi, who quit wrestling after a serious car accident in 1972 and opened the Len Rossi Health Food Store in Brentwood, Tenn.
“It was so popular when my wife and I went out to dinner that people bullied us for autographs,” said Rossi.
Rossi recalled that he and his partner on the Black Wrestling tag team, the late Bearcat Brown, had incorporated professional wrestling into Boutwell in 1962, with Ring TV broadcaster Sterling Brewer making the announcement. Brewer died in 2016.
“He was really happy that Bearcat became my partner,” said Rossi. “We integrated wrestling in Birmingham. We made wrestling history around 1962. We were afraid. They had bomb threats. But it was full. We turned away hundreds and hundreds of people. “
The retired wrestler Sam Tenenbaum from Birmingham, 76, who wrestled under the name “The Great Kaiser”, reminded Rossi of one of the top wrestlers in the southeast in the 1960s. He said Rossi wrestled with a racetrack that included Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile.
“Len Rossi was one of the nicest, cleverest and most worthy gentlemen,” said Tenenbaum. “There was no one I met in the wrestling business who wasn’t in high esteem.”
Part of the popularity of wrestling in Birmingham came from studio wrestling which was broadcast live on television on Saturday night to promote the bouts on Monday night in Boutwell. Starting in the 1950s on Channel 13, back in the 1960s on Channel 42 and later on Channel 6, professional wrestling was broadcast live weekly on local Birmingham television to small audiences around the ring for many years for many years.
“They had a huge impact on the audience,” said Tenenbaum. “It was a mainstay of the television programming. You haven’t had all of the TV sports that you do now. “
Rossi was one of the stars of those TV fights.
“He was the best,” said retired wrestler Joe Honeycutt, 97, from Birmingham. “He was one of the very best. He was a gentleman. “