March 24th is recognized in the wrestling business as National Sputnik Monroe Day. With March 24th passing us earlier this week, what better way to celebrate this national holiday (for us wrestling fans) than to take a look back at one of the most influential wrestling superstars in Memphis Wrestling history?
“The Diamond Ring & Cadillac Man” is what Sputnik liked to call himself. Sputnik was a professional wrestler from the mid-1940s through the early 1970s. Monroe was best known in Memphis, where he and Billy Wicks set an attendance record that lasted until the Monday Night Wars. Even headlining events in many territories, along with Memphis, Sputnik became an American hero and icon for what he did outside of the squared circle.
This week’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to the November 4th, 2006 edition of Memphis Wrestling – The Home of Rhythm & Bruise. Jimmy Hart, Corey Maclin, Jerry Lawler & Lance Russell pay tribute to the man who paved the way for segregation in the Mid-South wrestling scene.
During a period where segregation was the norm at public events, African Americans were limited to sit in what was then called the “colored” section. Sputnik refused to perform unless black patrons were allowed to sit in any seat at the Ellis Auditorium. At one time, Sputnik even threatened to walk out if they turned away his black friends at the door. Monroe was known to go down to Beale Street and give away coupons for discounted wrestling tickets. It didn’t take long before new sections of the arena had to be opened to accommodate the increasing crowds.
Sputnik Monroe didn’t mind taking credit for integrating wrestling in the South. He embraced it.
Sputnik Monroe passed away in his sleep at the age of 77 on November 3, 2006. I had the honor and privilege to meet Sputnik Monroe during his very last appearance at the Mid-South Coliseum. On the night of his final appearance, Sputnik Monroe lived up to his nickname by giving away a Cadillac.
Fun Facts: In addition to honoring Sputnik Monroe and proclamations to be given to Monroe’s surviving family, the debut of National Sputnik Monroe Day also included the world premiere of Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin.
Sources: Classic Memphis Wrestling
“Throwback Thursday” is a weekly Memphis Wrestling post at MemphiSport.com.
Dustin Starr is an active sports entertainer and regular contributor to MemphiSport and MSL. Follow him @DustinStarr.