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New UTA library exhibit offers ringside view of World Class Championship Wrestling

Friday, August 21, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

The wrestlers. Their extravagant costumes. Overly exuberant fans yelling for their favorites. The referee who wasn’t entirely necessary. The old-time arenas that smelled of sweat.

Courtesy Cirrus Bonneau

It’s the staple of World Class Championship Wrestling, and the focus of a new exhibit at The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Special Collections. Among other matches featured in the photographic display are those involving the famed Von Erich family, once considered wrestling royalty.

Ringside: Memories of World Class Championship Wrestling showcases more than 30 photos taken by Cirrus Bonneau, who spent Monday nights in 1982 and 1983 at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth documenting the interplay between the costumed stars and their captivated audiences. The exhibit debuts Monday.

“I went there with the idea that it was all fake,” said Bonneau, who attended his first match while working on a photo project documenting Fort Worth’s history.Though not a wrestling fan himself, he saw photogenic possibilities in the event. “After a few visits, I realized I had the wrong perspective. It is not fake at all, but theater.”

Matches featured clearly defined characters representing good and evil. On the good side were the Von Erichs: patriarch Fritz and his sons Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike and Chris. While Fritz had gained fame playing a villain in the ring, he groomed his sons to be Texas heroes draped in the Lone Star flag.

It was a shrewd business move as Texas patriotism was riding high after the hit movie “Urban Cowboy” and the success of the television show “Dallas.”

Courtesy Cirrus Bonneau

“I loved wrestling in the Metroplex and representing Texas,” said Kevin Von Erich, the only surviving member of the original wrestling superstar family. “As I traveled the world during my career, I discovered that some people in other countries hated America, but they all loved Texas.”

Oliver Bateman, a UT Arlington assistant professor of history and collegiate wrestler, is curator of Ringside. He hopes to introduce those unfamiliar with wrestling to the sport through the exhibit. For fans, he hopes to reignite their passion or help them relive memories of wrestling.

“Everyone today thinks of wrestling as one single entity: the WWE,” said Bateman, noting that WrestleMania 32 will be held April 3, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. “However, wrestling used to be much more than even that. Throughout the 1980s, the Von Erichs were far more popular in Dallas than WWE stars like Hulk Hogan.”

A crucial distinction between play wrestling and pro wrestling is the level of audience participation.

“There is an interaction between the two groups, the wrestlers and the crowd, and they play off of each other,” Bonneau said. “There have been instances where it came close to physical contact.”

Bonneau’s emphasis on the relationship between the wrestler and his audience caught Bateman’s attention.

Courtesy Cirrus Bonneau

“Most photos of professional wrestling were close-ups on the face and the blood of the wrestler,” Bateman said. “Cirrus used a wide-angle lens to capture what everyone else was doing.”

Bonneau’s photos also capture Dallas’ character during a time when pro wrestling was divided among regional territories across the country.

“The regional flavor is gone now, but it meant something to thousands of people. It wasn’t fake to them,” Bateman said.

Ringside: Memories of World Class Championship Wrestling is free to the public and runs Aug. 24 through Jan. 16 at the UT Arlington Central Library, 702 Planetarium Place. Call UTA Libraries Special Collections at 817-272-3393 or email spcoref@uta.edu for more information.

-- Evelyn Barker, contributing writer

About the UT Arlington Libraries

Supporting The University of Texas at Arlington and the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, UT Arlington Libraries create transformational learning experiences by connecting people to first-class resources, empowering knowledge creation, exploring ideas and pursuing innovations in learning. The UTA FabLab offers all students access to cutting-edge technology for research in digital fabrication and data visualization. UTA Libraries Special Collections focuses on the history of Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and includes one of the finest cartography collections on Texas and the Gulf of Mexico in the world. The Libraries recently completed an $800,000 cold storage preservation vault for its collection of approximately 5 million photographic negatives. To learn more about UTA Libraries, please visit http://library.uta.edu.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.