ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA – On Sunday April 5, 2020, Wrestlemania 36 will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Long before Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment developed the idea for professional wrestling’s annual signature event, Florida was a hotbed for those looking to make a living in the squared circle.
Over the next 12 months, ABC Action News will profile grapplers with ties to Tampa Bay who left quite an impact on the sports entertainment industry.
TAMPA, Fla. – February 20, 1975
It’s a day Ron Read will never forget.
A day that altered his life forever and claimed the life of a colleague on the cusp of stardom. At the time, Read was 39 years of age – and was known in the ring as the villainous Buddy Colt.
He’d been a member of the professional wrestling fraternity for a little over a decade and in his spare time, managed to earn his pilot’s license. Read was at the controls of a Cessna 173 following a show at the Miami Beach Convention Center. On board with him - fellow "heels," Playboy Gary Hart, Bobby Shane and Austin Idol – who at the time wrestled under his real name, Mike McCord.
They were on their way to the Tampa International Airport when inclement weather forced Read to attempt an emergency landing at Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Island. They didn’t make it – the aircraft instead wound up in the dark, murky waters of Tampa Bay.
Read and Hart were ejected on impact. McCord managed to free himself, but Shane was trapped in the wreckage and drowned. All three survivors suffered serious injuries.
“I had to wear a steel brace, completely shattered my right ankle,” Read recalled. “I wrestled three matches after [the crash] all tag-team matches, and I did very little. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t perform [in the ring] any longer.”
Undeterred, he continued his chosen career in a variety of different roles. Read first worked as a manager/mouthpiece for wrestlers who didn’t possess his gift for gab.
Among the wrestlers he worked with were names familiar to most professional wrestling enthusiasts – Abdullah the Butcher, King Curtis and Larry "The Axe" Henning.
His knowledge of the business also allowed him to assist in booking the matches.
When he got tired of that, Read slid over to the announcer table next to the legendary Gordon Solie on Championship from Florida broadcasts.
Before the injury "Buddy Colt," had earned a reputation as a wrestler fans loved to hate. He thrived on crowds jeering and booing him as he pummeled one of their favorites on a nightly basis.
"Colt" captured a handful of regional championships and appeared in main event matches from coast-to-coast. Despite the hardships, he says he would gladly do it all over again.
“It’s [professional wrestling] in my blood. There’s nothing like wrestling in front of a capacity crowd with fans screaming your name,” Read says. “Professional wrestling turned my life around – I absolutely love it.”
Read earned a comfortable living during his days in the squared circle. He set up his home base in the Tampa Bay area early on and retired here when he retired for good.
In his heyday, a six-figure salary was a big deal for a professional wrestler and as Colt, he achieved that several times. When "sports entertainment," made its jump to cable television in the mid to late 1970s, it really took off.
So, how exactly did Read get his start in the ring?
During a stint in the Marines, while stationed in Japan – he took up judo. When his military service concluded Read ventured into bodybuilding and powerlifting.
In the early 1960s, he found himself in Houston where he met professional wrestling promoter Joe Mercer, who offered to train Read. He calls the $400 he gave Mercer the best money he ever spent.
He made his debut as a babyface – wrestler-speak for "good guy" - Cowboy Ron Read. He did okay in that role, but things really started to click for him when he dyed his hair blonde, developed an arrogant attitude who didn’t care what the fans thought of him.
“It was always more fun playing the villain," Read said. "Most of the boys will tell you that.”
He doesn’t keep up with the current "sports entertainment," form of professional wrestling, but he enjoys spending time with his contemporaries telling stories about the old days.