It’s “Titanes En El Ring” Sunday on IchLugeBullets.com!
Here is a Youtube video clip of a 1970s Argentinian wrestling match between a man dressed as Genghis Khan and a harried executive who repeatedly stops the match to take phone calls and dictate memos to his secretary, who is standing at ringside:
The clip comes from Titanes En El Ring, an Argentinian wrestling promotion that operated from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. Being as my hobbies, outside of beefing with 95% of the UK music fraternity and drinking Hendrick’s Gin, do include the pro-wrestling, and I spent three whole months as a freelance correspondant for PowerSlam Magazine before being fired after an argument about TNA midcarder “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal, I could try to educate you on this topic. However, the best piece of writing I’ve seen so far this year on any topic would be Dave Meltzer’s “Hall of Fame” bio of Kardagian which ran a few months back. Catch it in full after the jump, as well as a few other TEER clips
MARTIN KARADAGIAN: As a wrestling promoter, Martin Karadagian threw pro wrestling’s unwritten rules and traditions out the window, thereby ––like Vince McMahon would years later- changing the face of pro wrestling forever.
As a wrestler, Martin Karadagian was every bit as popular in South America as Hulk Hogan was in North America. But unlike Vincent K. McMahon or Hulk Hogan, Martin Karadagian is surely the only wrestling personality in history that sold out a 22,000 seat arena by pitting himself in the main event against a mummy, and was considered one of the people Antonio Pena studied from the most when he changed wrestling in Mexico and created AAA.
Martin Karadayijan Fernandez was born on April 30, 1922, in the rough barrio of San Telmo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of an Argentinean mother (Paulina Fernandez de Karadayijan) and a Spanish father of Armenian descent (Hamparzun Karadayijan). He would rise from an impoverished childhood to become Martin Karadagian, the single most prolific wrestler and promoter in the country of Argentina, a Vincent K. McMahon and Hulk Hogan all wrapped up into one persona.
He created the most unorthodox pro wrestling product in history, a product which enjoyed so much success that it was duplicated by multiple promoters not just in his native Argentina, but also in Peru, Chile, and, with a local twist, in Bolivia. By throwing pro wrestling tradition out the window and creating a wrestling show catered to children that featured clowns, androids, and mummies as combatants, Martin Karadagian pissed off the pro wrestling purists. On the other hand, he became a darling of Argentina pop culture.
And like Jerry Lawler in Tennessee, Karadagian had an almost-Teflon quality with his fans, perhaps even moreso: his greatest period of success arrived almost immediately after a scandal that saw him do time in prison.
Another trait Karadagian shared with Vince McMahon was the reinvention of history. By the time of his death in 1991, Martin had left behind many tales of his childhood, not all of which jibe with each other. The aspect most commonly accepted by friends and family of the Karadagians is that his upbringing was filled with poverty, and with plenty of abuse at the hands of his father.
Karadagian’s family came to Argentina via Spain to escape the genocide in Turkey of Armenians in 1915. His father, claimed that he himself was a Baron in Armenia, from a royal family, and was a violin prodigy. But once people got to know Hamparzun Karadayijan, this story was not widely believed. In reality, Hamparzun managed a butcher shop in Buenos Aires, and put son Martin to work in the shop when Martin was still a very young child of no more than five or six, frequently abusing him when Martin’s work was not up to snuff. Although the family owned the house they lived in, nearly all money earned by the family went toward a huge mortgage. As an adult, all Karadagian would say was that his father was a beast, beating him and his sister a lot, not sparing the rod at all. But Karadagian adored his mother.
He grew up working odd jobs, such as selling caramel candy on street corners, even as a child (and admittedly doing some begging and stealing) to help her feed the family.
It was frequently proclaimed to whomever would listen (by Martin and the Karadagian family mostly) that just before his ninth birthday, Martin went to Detroit, Michigan and won his age group in a Greco-Roman amateur wrestling tournament sponsored by the YMCA (the title he claimed to have won was “Pan-American Champion”). He later claimed that at age 12 (1934-1935) he won a similar age-group “world title” in London and was “handed his medal by Queen Elizabeth.”(For the record, the King of England from 1910-1936 was King George VI and the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, was born in April 1926, and Elizabeth would have been 8-9 at that time.)
There are many such stories of Karadagian’s childhood – including his lifting his father’s claim that he himself was a violin prodigy.
As a further example of this, Karadagian would often claim that he had killed three men while wrestling –– in the United States in 1946, in Portugal in 1951, and in 1955 in Canada, all deaths occurring by accident due to the vicious nature of the very real holds and punishments Martin had administered.
One last example is that Karadagian would claim that in 1943, he wrestled in a Greco-Roman wrestling tournament on the island of Crete, and defeated an opponent named Angelo Roncalli. Roncalli, 15 years later, would take a new name – Pope John XXIII.
What we can verify is true is that in 1940, shortly after his 18th birthday, and already with a full black beard, Karadagian started attending the professional wrestling (lucha libre) training classes being held at the then- largest, and definitely most prestigious, boxing and wrestling arena in Argentina, El Gimnaio Luna Park in Buenos Aires.
Like Arena Mexico, the main wrestling arena of the entire country was situated in a building with several other floors, one of which was converted into a gym for training the wrestlers.
The Argentinean promotion in the mid-1930s was a bit like the WWWF in the 1960’s – emphasizing the big and strong (and slow) over speed, agility, and moves. The promoters as well as major stars were “Man Mountain” (Ivan Zelezniak) and “El Conde Polaco” (Karol Nowina, a peripatetic legit tough guy who also boxed and who was one of the big worldwide stars of the late 1920s and early 1930s, especially in the Toronto circuit).
Tipping the scales at over 100 kg (221 lbs), these two were considered giants in the ring in Buenos Aires at the time.
Karadagian, by his own admission, was not big, was not strong, and wasn’t particularly good at the wrestling style as the big guys wrestled it. So, as he described it later, he’d have to learn how to be entertaining, and create a persona for himself.
Luna Park held wrestling events sponsored by the “Federation Catch de Argentina” almost every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday during the 1940s and early 1950s. Karadagian would work occasionally low on the cards, but mostly he watched from the back and paid utmost attention to how – and to what things – the fans reacted.
By the early 1950’s, Martin had his character in place: a cheating rudo (rough guy), a heel, who lacked any sense of decency and reacted histrionically to everything. Fans actually started to like how, during a beat- down he was receiving, Martin would shuffle halfway across the ring either on his knees (in supposed penitence, this from the Latin America Catholic tradition of approaching The Virgin Mary by crawling on one’’s knees) or in bunny hops (in supposed pain) to beg forgiveness and mercy, and then, when his opponent wavered, attacking and busting open his rival’’s forehead.
Although a rudo, Karadagian was immediately embraced by the Armenian community. Even this early in his career, before he had much clout, he insisted on being billed as, “The Armenian, Martin Karadagian.”Armenian immigrants in that era in Argentina and throughout Latin America were widely referred to as Turks. Despite objections by the Armenian community, very little attention was paid to their protests. Martin was the first high profile celebrity who insisted that promoters go out of their way to emphasize his heritage.
Between 1940 and 1962, Karadagian found ways to get himself, the smallest wrestler on the circuit, over as the star heel. He made a small fortune. And, he spent every last penny of it. He made another small fortune. And, he spent every last penny of that. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, similar to the manner of a Ric Flair, almost everything for the moment and for a good time.
Karadagian traveled a lot during this time frame, and not so much for wrestling, but for “business” (import-export) as an “importer of jewels and gold,” as he put it, carefully omitting the other things he imported. His shady dealings with shady people had prepared Karadagian well for dealing with arena promoters, wrestlers, wannabes, managers, hangers-on, referees, and concessionaires –– everyone that the owner of a wrestling business would have to need to know. And in time, he would even learn to manage his finances – something the wrestlers who worked for him in later years will attest to – and learn the advantages of acquiring business partners.
During these years, Martin occasionally ventured into the United States, where he wrestled openers in many arenas for Capital Sports, the precursor to today’s WWE. Although he never surpassed journeyman status, he studied the way promoters in the States began promoting with television being the main vehicle to persuade fans to spend their money at the house shows.
By 1956, longtime Argentinean kingpin Man Mountain Zelezniak had tired of the wrestling industry, just as Martin Karadagian had begun to set his sights on running the show. Zelezniak passed the torch to Karadagian via a multi-show angle pitting the two rivals leading to one final ultimate showdown at Luna Park, and as was the case throughout Latin America, the showdown had a major stipulation.
Part of each man’s trademark was his bushy beard, so the match was created with the stipulation being beard vs. beard. As Martin Karadagian played barber to Zelezniak at the end of the match, a whole new era of pro wrestling was born.
Karadagian’s shift from traditional pro wrestling to sports entertainment was not immediate, but he did begin incorporating gimmick matches that were popular in the United States, like wrestling bears, and boxer-
versus-wrestler matches. A famous – albeit disastrous – example of these occurred in an August 10, 1957, match pitting Karadagian against Argentina’’s most beloved boxer, Jose “El Mono” Gatica. Gatica’s career was a tragic rise- and-fall story. He was on the downside of his career, completely broke, and agreed to do a worked match with Karadagian in which he would put the wrestler over.
For unknown reasons, Gatica began delivering legitimate punches. Karadagian responded by hooking Gatica’s ankle and breaking it. There has forever been a debate over who instigated the shoot, but the only certainty was that Gatica never fully recovered from the break, and died in obscurity at the age of 38 in 1963.
An even more memorable example of the shift to a sports- entertainment philosophy was the most famous gimmick match of Martin Karadagian’s career, the one that would give him the key to becoming the biggest wrestling personality in Argentina’s history.
This was a match versus a young comedian, Alberto Olmedo, who had just been launched in the cultural stratosphere in Argentina by playing the character of “El Capitan Piluso” in a children’s television series.
To set the scene, in the early 1950’s, wrestling in Argentina, as in nearly every country in the Western Hemisphere with the advent of nationwide television, became huge. And, by 1962, as in nearly every country in the Western Hemisphere, television wrestling had collapsed nationally and was successful only at the smallest local or regional level. Argentina was no different. Karadagian felt like he had a golden opportunity, a way to present wrestling as a new concept (entertainment and spectacle more than sport), but, as 1961 was about to become 1962, and in one of the down cycles of his earn- and-spend ways, he did not have the money he needed to run his own promotion at Luna Park. He began to look for a break.
The new opportunity was the launching of a wrestling show on an independent television station in Buenos Aires. The station, broadcasting on Channel 9, begin to solicit bids for a local wrestling show (wrestling, in Argentina as in the US, is amazingly cost-efficient in delivering ratings for the money outlaid.) Karadagian, as noted at the bottom on one of his personal financial cycles, could not come up with the money –– two gentlemen named Alberto Orlando Olmedo and Humberto“Coquito” Ortiz (Olmedo’s co-star in Capitan Piluso) won the contract. Olmedo and Karadagian, enemies just weeks earlier in competing for the contract, secretly began working together, with an eye towards a big blow-off money match. The match, held Saturday, November 12, 1961, is one of the most famous in Argentinean history, and was a complete disaster in the ring (mainstream media called it a “farce”).
But it drew the first sellout (18,000+) to Luna Park in years. Legend now has it that this was the only loss Karadagian ever suffered on television, although that also isn’t a true story as near the end of his career as a promoter- wrestler, when business was starting to get bad, Karadagian did allow himself to suffer occasional screw-job losses.
Even though Karadagian was the heel in the match, it was the outside interference of “Coquito” Ortiz that led Olmedo to the victory over Martin.
Channel 9 watched the buildup for this wrestler-versus-television-star gimmick match and how well it drew; very quickly, they determined that they wanted the cheap programming and high ratings.
What they had really wanted, of course, in awarding this contract to Olmedo, was to get the “Capitan Piluso” show, of which Olmedo was the producer, to switch from Channel 7 to Channel 9. They calculated incorrectly. When, by early 1962, Olmedo did not jump to Channel 9 – and the station could see that it was Karadagian that had great ideas and in depth knowledge of the wrestling product – Channel 9 asked Karadagian if he could now assume the contract.
Karadagian rounded up all the money he could but realized he would need a silent partner. He turned to Joe Galera, a confident (referred to publicly as Karadagian’s secretary, in reality mainly his very silent money man), and William Boo, who would gain everlasting fame in the country’s sports culture, in his role as heel referee.
To this day in sports in the country, when a referee blows a call, it is called a “William Boo call.” Karadagian had bet that creating a feud with a mainstream star, even if it meant doing a job to Capitan Piluso, would be his passport to superstardom. He calculated correctly. Channel 9 not only awarded a new contract to Karadagian; the station further financed three films that starred or co-starred Karadagian over the next five years: Reencuentro Con la Gloria (Another Encounter With Glory), Las Aventuras Del Capitan Piluso en el Castillo del Terror (Adventures of Captain Piluso In The Castle of Terror, with Martin billed right below Olmedo and Ortiz) and El Hombre Invisible Ataca (The Invisible Man Attacks).
On March 3, 1962, for the first time a show called “Titanes en el Ring,” hit the airwaves in Buenos Aires. The first two years of the show weren’t all that different from pro wrestling companies around the world during that era. Karadagian ran a troupe of 29 wrestlers with proven names in the country, like Benito Durante, Ararat, and Pedro Goitia. The most exotic name in the mix was Golden Superman. Still, as foreshadowed, and like so many wrestlers-turned- promoters before him, Karadagian began ever so slowly to populate his troupe with people mostly like himself –– entertainers full of gimmick and histrionics.
Then, in 1964, Karadagian threw tradition out the window, and created a TV show concept where a Golden Superman gimmick would look as down-to-earth (and out-of-place) as Bruno Sammartino would in today’s WWE. Martin took his new concept and went 100% to the wall with it. In no way would one look at the matches in the ring and call them sport. According to pro wrestling tradition of the day, this extreme break of Kayfabe should have instantly killed not just the promotion, but the entire pro wrestling scene in South America, where the matches ended up being shown.
Titanes en el Ring evolved into the catharsis of the battle of good versus evil, crossed with the theater of the absurd, all through the eyes of a child. While not exactly making a public pronouncement, no bones were made that these were not real fights, and as one might expect the old-timers in the business were none too pleased with this.
Karadagian’s brand new creations included Pepino The Clown, Secret Agent 009, Frankenstein, Doctor Karate, and The French Beatle. The characters and angles grew increasingly surreal with each passing episode, and while traditional wrestling purists were not amused, the mainstream media was eating it up.
And no character got more over with the fans throughout the following decades than La Momia (The Mummy). Argentine wrestler Capanga (a missionary gimmick) had worked some territories in the U.S. during 1963, and told Martin about a wrestler there dressed like a mummy (perhaps Benji Ramirez, who did the gimmick at the time).
Karadagian took the concept one step further. In addition to the head- to-toe bandages, his mummy would inch his way to the ring and no-sell most of his opponents’ moves, not all that different from the ridiculous 1980 character in California, The Monster, who wore a Frankenstein outfit and was actually a gimmick Karadagian used first.
The original Mummy, played by wrestler Ivan Kowalsky, an American citizen who had been wrestling for Karadagian as The White Russian, debuted in 1965 and was a hit with the fans. Most memorable to fans of that era was La Momia’s televised match in 1967 versus Frankenstein. The finish saw both wrestlers get their ankles tied up in the upper ropes, leaving them dangling upside down like bats in front of the TV cameras, grabbing and punching at each other for over five minutes.
Ivan Kowalsky died unexpectedly that year in an accident, and La Momia quietly retired for five years. When Karadagian revived the character, it would become every bit as famous as Martin Karadagian, and would usher in the most successful and memorable era of pro wrestling in the country of Argentina.
But before that glory period in 1972, scandal derailed Karadagian’s success. Karadagian, whose success often went to his head in real life, was arrested and charged with extortion and assault and battery .
In 1970, Karadagian went after the engineer of a building that he had recently bought which had collapsed quite suddenly. He sued for financial damages, but when the engineer came back with several sworn affidavits saying that the engineering was sound, Karadagian apparently beat up the engineer – and with a gun – to settle. The engineer still would not settle, and instead countersued. The justice system sentenced Karadagian to two years in prison. They say the facts of history depend on who’s writing the history, and in this case, the only surviving stories are Karadagian’s, who always claimed his innocence.
During his imprisonment, a friend of Karadagian wrote a book of propaganda entitled “Mercio una celda? (Does this Man Deserve a Cell?), which included a hilarious photo of a forlorn Karadagian behind iron bars on the cover. It was much a hagiography of Karadagian as it was an exploration of the facts, although it is telling that – according to a review of the book – the best defense Karadagian could come up with to the extortion and assault and battery charges is that he wanted to build an infirmary/asylum in honor of his sainted, long- suffering mother.
While he was incarcerated, he didn’t mope about as the cover photo of his book suggested. He spent most of his time coming up with new ideas for “Titanes en el Ring.” He sketched a new cast of characters, dreamed up fresh angles, and probably had no clue he was readying Argentina for its biggest wrestling boom in history.
Karadagian was released early for good behavior, serving only nine months of his sentence. To say he was welcomed back warmly by the public is a huge understatement.
In 1972, Karadagian and “Titanes en el Ring” were so hot that Channel 13, a national network station in Buenos Aires with a much larger base viewership than channel 9, took over broadcasting the weekly TV shows. It was the most popular television show in the country for a time, and dominated Friday nights in the culture for years. For every TV taping, they squeezed 2,000 fans into a tiny television studio.
The contract with Channel 13 was not the only reason behind the increased success. Karadagian’s revamp threw in characters, storylines and marketing concepts never seen before in Argentine wrestling, and perhaps in all of pro wrestling history.
While generic entrance music had been used before in pro wrestling (contrary to the claims of certain Freebirds, entrance music did not debut in the late 1970s; Gorgeous George, anyone?), for this first time anywhere, a specific entrance song was written for each key individual wrestler. Each song either sung the praises of the babyfaces, or warned about the treacherous nature of the heels, and sounded so upbeat and catchy that you could easily catch yourself unconsciously humming them like TV jingles.
One of Karadagian’s first marketing moves was to release the songs on an LP (still available today via Spanish-language EBay-like sites), which was an instant smash success. The theme songs left such a mark on the mainstream public that it was not unusual years later to hear Argentine musicians state in interviews that this was one of their early influences.
The popularity of the troupe got so huge that Martin hit upon an idea that would become one of the linchpins of Vincent K. McMahon’s success a dozen years later. He successfully marketed more than just the theme song LP; he went full bore, as t-shirts, postcards, puzzles, posters, coloring books, and 8×10 glossies were amongst the cavalcade of collectibles based on the wrestlers.
Along with the theme song LP, the most popular collectible was the series of miniature characters inside each package of Jack Chocolates. Jack Chocolates have been a staple of Argentina from 1962 to the present day, famous more for the miniature plastic figures of animals, cartoon characters and TV personalities in each box (who ever bought Topps Baseball cards for the gum?). The wrestlers became the most sought after. To this day, the most popular wrestling figures fetch around thirty-five dollars at collectible shows, over twice the amount commanded by other Jack miniatures of that era.
The television show was not only popular, but now a mainstream critical success too. Panorama Magazine reviewed the repackaged Channel 13 show, calling it, “The best program on television for its originality, vitality, and innovation, condensing surrealism – primitive yet genuine- into its wildest state.”
Even though Karadagian had enlisted the duty of clowns and Frankenstein before, the newest cast of characters delivered a much more exotic hallucination: Yolanka The Space Creature (who entered via a space capsule, and would wrestle clean unless the rudo was rude enough to force Yolanka into shooting the bad-boy with his pacifying gun, forcing the heel to behave politely and wrestle within the rules), Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (true to literary history, Quixote would be bounced around like a jobber until Sancho Panza would interfere, usually resulting in Quixote’’s riding to victory), El Vikingo (The Viking), Hippie Hair and Hippie Jimmie, Ulises The Greek, El Mercenario Joe, Tufit Memet (a wily Sheik from Arabia), Gitano Ivanoff (Ivanoff The Gypsy, real name Juan Enrique DosSantos, who would later be the second incarnation of La Momia, as we will see in just a moment), Pepino The Clown (who, like Don Quixote, had a young man dressed as a schoolboy named “Super Pibe” to run interference when evil was winning out), and El Cavernario (The Caveman). Added to the mix were traditional Argentine wrestlers without wild gimmicks (though most still got theme songs) like Ruben “El Ancho” Peucelle, El Caballero Rojo, Benito Durante, Ararat, Pedro Goitia, Sylvio, and Joséé Luíís.
Finally, Karadagian took the idea of the heel referee and ran with it balls to the wall. William Boo (real name Hector Oscar Brea) became such an integral part of the show that and a household name in the culture, that at the time of his death in 2007, Boo’s obituary was carried on the front page of the inside sections of all the major Buenos Aires newspapers.
Behind the fame, glamour, and spotlights, there were many people working very hard to ensure continued success week after week – and the big day was Monday, day of the booking meeting. Nobody was allowed to be absent for the decisive Monday meetings.
“(The meeting) is more important than the matches,” said Karadagian. Everyone in attendance spoke up and expressed his opinion as to what had worked well and what had not in the prior week. Each match and character was dissected each and every week; e.g. what happened in this match or that match, what must be improved, how to get each character more over. All the meetings were characterized by a great discipline. Each character thus evolved; each one had its role and its program. Even though a typical level of carny secrecy was observed at the time, later, many of these details came out, much of it in a book self-published by Karadagian’s daughter Paulina, as well as in fairly recent articles with referee William Boo and others.
But it was one specific character that launched the new incarnation of Titanes en el Ring from a popular trend into an enduring fixture of Argentine pop-culture. It is doubtful that anybody – even Martin Karadagian – could have seen just how huge the reinventing of La Momia would become. The new version of The Mummy was straight out of the old films starring the likes of Lon Chaney Jr. and Christopher Lee. La Momia would creep slowly toward the ring with an equally hypnotic theme song. He never spoke, and had no manager for his mouthpiece. Only his eerie theme song spoke for him, which played continuously throughout his match. His opponents would punch, drop-kick. and throw body-presses at La Momia, which he appropriately did not sell one bit. The end would always come when La Momia clamped onto his opponent’s trapezoids (the dreaded Vulcan nerve pinch), rendering them unconscious. A true tweener, La Momia plowed through tecnicos and rudos alike. But no matter his opponent, the children all loved La Momia.
Gente Magazine (similar to a magazine like People) named La Momia as The Phenomenon of The Year in 1973, and the mainstream media ran story after story about the “strange character,” including a photo spread in the magazine Siete Dias where La Momia wrestled the popular actress and sex symbol Katia Ioros, who defeated La Momia with a kiss. It was probably the only job Karadagian allowed La Momia to do.
The reason the media dubbed La Momia the “strange character” was not because he was a wrestling mummy, but because this mummy was a hero and “cared about the children with tenderness, (lyrics from the spooky entrance music)” thereby causing both fear and affection in the kiddies. The only characters who came even close to La Momia’s popularity would be Yolanka and Pepino The Clown.
If La Momia’s style was that of a tweener, Martin Karadagian’s style was that of both a babyface and a heel, depending on the week, which was bafflingly effective. He would face a tecnico on TV one week and work full-on heel, then would wrestle a rudo the following week as a babyface. When he fought fan favorite Hippie Hair into the stands, the kiddies in the audience helped Hippie Hair by hitting Karadagian with their tiny fists and jackets (with no security intervening!). When Karadagian toppled the towering rudo El Gigante in a beard vs. beard match, the kiddies were equally ecstatic.
While it was understandable how the kids gravitated toward La Momia, what nobody could have foreseen was how much adults and the mainstream media loved him. Specifically, their fascination was “Who is La Momia?”
While Karadagian made no bones that wrestling was theater, he was extremely defensive about hiding the identities of wrestlers who worked double- duty under a mask. Perhaps his paranoia over keeping the identity of La Momia under wraps further piqued the curiosity of the adults, and elevated the popularity of the character.
It was amazing enough to see popular mainstream magazines embracing La Momia and speculating on his identity. But his presence was felt in an even more unlikely arena. Shortly before former dictator Juan Peron was scheduled to return to the country after seventeen years in exile. Peron’s return was an extremely hot button issue; he had many loyalists, but just as many others wanted his head on a stake. On the political talk show “Controversy In The Bar,” the discussion was heated about Peron’’s impending return. When panelist Jorge Porcel (yes, that Jorge Porcel, of ““A la cama con Porcel”” fame, and, in showing life is just one big circle, Porcel got his start working comedy with Alberto Olmedo) referred to the arrival of Peron at Ezeiza International Airport, he exclaimed “Everybody asks me ‘‘Who is La Momia?’’ If they (Karadagian’s wrestling promotion) organized another event on that day at the same airport, and announced to the public that at last, they will reveal the identity of La Momia, I assure you the majority of the crowd would choose this show instead of Peron!”
This comment broke the tension so much that later in the show, all five panelists, in a rare show of humor, shouted in unison, “La Momia and Peron, one solitary heart!”
Gente and Siete Dias magazines were the two mainstream publications hell-bent on revealing the identity of La Momia. After discarding several theories, Gente felt confident that the wrestler they saw wrapped in white bandages was the same wrestler known as Gitano Ivanoff: Juan Enrique DosSantos. And why? Because with the exception of one match pitting La Momia against Gitano Ivanoff, nobody saw the two wrestlers together the entire year. Gente also found it odd that DosSantos, the promotion’s most talented and charismatic worker, always appeared in the opening bouts, and never in the main events. Gitano Ivanoff must obviously need a breather after his first match each evening, and then ample time for costume change before returning later as La Momia.
As Karadagian and La Momia vanquished foe after foe on TV each week, a feud between the two top dogs was building up, with La Momia out for Karadagian’s World Championship (which, in Mil Mascaras IWA form, Martin held for decades without ever losing). The war turned into both TV ratings gold and box office gold, and included an angle where La Momia stalked Karadagian and Joe Galera throughout the dark corridors of the TV studio. Karadagian and Galera tried to open every door they came across in hopes of escaping from La Momia, only to find each door locked.
They finally arrived at an unlocked door, scurried into the room and locked the door behind them, only to find they had unwittingly locked themselves into the party pad of Hippie Jimmie and Hippie Hair. With rock music blaring, a roomful of hippies descended upon Karadagian and Galera, beating them into oblivion as the ending TV credits rolled.
The most famous match ever in Argentina, the first Martin Karadagian vs. La Momia bout to culminate the original feud took place on October 22, 1972, to a sold out crowd of 22,000 at Luna Park. Early in the evening, a Gente journalist cornered Gitano Ivanoff for an interview, and while asking him questions, brushed a permanent marker against the tip of one of Gitano’s fingers. The fingers were the only body part of La Momia that was not covered in bandages. When the main event of the evening arrived, La Momia made his entrance, dragging his stiff leg, and writhing his fingers, which clearly revealed the felt-tip mark on his finger tip.
From the ring entrance to the finish, the entire match received multiple pops from the crowd, the biggest of these coming when Karadagian finally found La Momia’s Achilles heel, the lower lumbar region. Most of the match saw La Momia on offense, which made the pop all the louder when Karadagian delivered his patented forearm smash known as “El Cortito,” to La Momia’s lower back.
Karadagian then back dropped La Momia as commentator Rodolfo DiSarli exclaimed, “For the first them ever, La Momia has been taken off his feet!”
The match was full of wild and crazy spots that were so sublime that at one point Karadagian himself could barely keep from bursting out laughing. It ended in a no decision that saw all the other wrestlers storm the ring and pull the two wrestlers apart from each other. La Momia and Karadagian then embraced, and Martin carried La Momia on his shoulders while every wrestler on the show hugged and applauded the main eventers.
Yes, every wrestler on the show was there, except, of course, El Gitano Ivanoff. In the October 26 issue of Gente magazine, they revealed the secret: La Momia is El Gitano Ivanoff, complete with a two page photo spread of each character.
Karadagian reacted furiously when the magazine came out, and tried to convince the media they identified the wrong wrestler. Karadagian, ever the clever public relations scoundrel, could very well have reacted so angrily merely because he knew it would mean more mainstream coverage. That was the peak of the promotion. The matches on that show, along with a TV taping were filmed and used in the 1973 movie “Titanes en el Ring,” and may be the only surviving wrestling footage of that era’s wrestling in the country (there are some DVDs of TV tapings that survive to this day, but they are only of 1982 and 1983-era Titanes, long after its peak).
This huge success led to every subsequent opposition promotion to employ a mummy in their promotion. The most popular of these was Mister Moto’s “La Momia de Tutankamon,” in his successful “Colosos de Lucha” television show in 1983. There was even a dwarf Mummy in the satirical program “Tiiteres del Ring” (Puppets of The Ring) by famed comedian Jose Marrone.
Scandal and a tragedy brought the boom to a sudden end. In late 1973, virtually all of Karadagian’s key wrestlers, including Juan Enrique DosSantos, jumped to a rival promotion with a TV deal called “Los Fabulosos Titanes.” The wrestlers publicly decried Karadagian as a lousy payoff man, though years later, enough was revealed to indicate that some of this was public posturing. When they were on the road, the wrestlers were often put up in good hotels and had meals paid for. According to those who stood by Karadagian, he was devastated more on a personal level than on a business level, as he saw his wrestlers as his family.
Los Fabulosos Titanes was a ratings success, when out of the blue, most of the newly jumped wrestlers returned to Titanes En El Ring. There is no word whether they went to the bargaining table with Karadagian, or were unhappy with their new employers.
Tragedy followed in 1974 when Juan Enrique DosSantos was killed in a car accident. Although there was a third incarnation of La Momia, clearly the magic of the gimmick died with DosSantos. The traditional Mummy with tattered bandages was replaced with a new mummy costume that looked more like a bleached white body cast. Where DosSantos carried himself in a methodical, creepy manner, the new mummy moved in quicker, jerkier motions, and looked cute as opposed to intimidating. The Mummy was now played by several different wrestlers, but most often by Juan Figueroa (who was also becoming famous under the name El Olimpico). While he was still excellent box office fodder, and had semi-annual encounters versus Karadagian that always ended in a draw, he never achieved the fame or popularity as DosSantos.
Titanes En El Ring continued to do healthy business on and off until 1988. Part of the success was due to Karadagian’s ability to anticipate the marketability of ancillary products of the characters he had devised. As noted earlier, from dolls to toys to records and clothing, Karadagian was the first wrestling promoter anywhere to take a full character and market that character to the fan base in areas beyond ticket sales, well before it became popular in Japan, where Vince McMahon saw it on a trip and “invented” the concept.
The show aired at times in North America, most notably the peak year of 1972 in Los Angeles, and from 1976-78 in New York on Spanish language stations. Because there was so little wrestling on television in the 70s as compared with today, and so few television stations in general, a lot of fans were aware of the show, even if the style was so different than what was done that it didn’t even seem to have a cult following. The peak year shows aired in black and white and may have been bootleg tapes, as Ch. 22 in Los Angeles aired a lot of Argentinean programming. In 1976, the tapes from 1972 aired on a Spanish station in Northern California, and earlier, Los Colossos del Ring, an offshoot promotion from Peru also had its tapes in the U.S. Karadagian’s tapes were more popular in Puerto Rico during their heyday, before the WWC ran regularly, and the promotion made one tour to the island.
The Peru promotion was originally called Titanes En El Ring, but after legal threats, changed to Los Colossos del Catch and later Los Colossos del Ring. They mostly copied gimmicks Karadagian did during the heyday, including their own La Momia, El Vikingo and El Hippe, as well as their own copies of Gran Goliat (named after the well known U.S. tag team partner of Black Gordman who had made a name for himself years earlier in Mexico) and a copy of another Mexican gimmick, Zandokan. It was most popular in 1972- 73, and was out of business long before the tapes aired in North America.
In Chile, they also had a show called Los Titanes del Ring, patterned after Karadagian’s group, which ran from the early 70s into the 80s. Like Karadagian’s group, the wrestlers had their own special entrance music, but the songs were sung live on television by two pretty models who would dress similar to the wrestlers’ gimmick they were singing.
In Argentina, the most successful imitation group was Lucha Fuerte, booked by Ruben Peucella, airing 1987-89. Somewhat like Roller Derby in North America, because Los Titanes del Ring was so big culturally, there were numerous attempts, at least six that we know of, during the 80s and 90s, to revive the show on national television, but all only lasted one season.
After the boom period in the 1970s, the in-ring quality, never the strong suit of the promotion to begin with, gradually diminished with each passing year. Traditionally trained wrestlers grew older and left the business, and the younger wrestlers were clearly being rushed onto TV with only basic training. The results were repetitive matches with simple moves.
Still, the public continued to adore its Friday night wrestling. As the 1980s emerged, a large piece of the fan base was young parents who were now taking their children to see the wrestling they themselves enjoyed as kids.
Throughout the years, Titanes En El Ring amassed a following of mainstream celebrities. Folk-rock icon Charly Garcia was a huge fan of the product, and even had the Titanes En El Ring banner as the backdrop of some of his concerts. Ataque 77, easily the country’’s most famous punk rock band, has recorded covers of the promotion’’s tunes “La Viudita Misteriosa”(The Mysterious Widow) and the “Titanes En El Ring” theme song. Pipo Cipolatti, the artist and front man for seventies rock group Los Twist, was not only a Titanes devotee, but became so close to the Karadagian Family that Karadagian’s daughter Paulina was the godmother of his children.
The 1980s saw an even more drastic change in Karadagian. By the early eighties diabetes had seriously hindered his physique. The once small but stocky wrestler looked thin and old. He now wore tights that covered as much of his body as possible. As was in the case in Giant Baba’s twilight years, the fans still loved to see him as the promotion’s iconic superstar.
The difference was Giant Baba, aware that he could no longer get away with pushing himself in main events, would place himself on the undercard in comedy matches. But Martin, although barely mobile, still put himself on top. Although it is comical to see young wrestlers fly out of the ring selling Karadagian’s“El Cortito,” the fans still chanted for him to perform his killer move. Unlike the 1970s switch-hitting champ, the Karadagian of the 1980s was the top babyface, obviously aware he no longer could sell himself as a heel.
His character by this point was more an old trickster who would play pranks on both the rudos and Joe Galera.
Diabetes continued to take its toll. In 1984, doctors amputated one of Karadagian’s legs, which finally ended his active career. For the first time ever, he was now strictly a promoter, although he did occasionally joke to the press that he might return as a pirate with a wooden leg.
1988 was the last hurrah for Titanes En El Ring as the TV show was canceled. On the final episode, a one-legged Karadagian labored to walk to the ring for the final time, walking with a cane. He managed to get in the ring, threw away the cane, and told the audience “Thanks, I am well because I am with you. I am alive! I don’t need the cane because the ring and the fans keep me standing.”
According to a quote in an interview with longtime ring announcer Jorge Bocacci, talk like this was no work: “One day Martin told me, ‘Jorge, when I am in the ring, I feel bigger than life. When I leave, I feel like a nobody. The ring transports me.’’”
If Karadagian’s public image was one of adoration, his relationship with his wrestling workforce was curiously complex. Probably the best example of this complexity is in the opposite viewpoints two of his longtime key workers had of working for Karadagian: Rubéén Peucelle, who held the promotion’s National Championship, recalled Martin as a good person to work with, but tepid as a payoff man. William Boo remembered Martin as someone who paid well, but Boo disliked the hard-nosed way Martin treated the wrestlers. Some wrestlers remained lifelong friends with The Karadagians. Some parted on terms so bad they sprouted lawsuits.
Karadagian not only curbed the personal spending of his youth, but according to a longtime employee, he became extremely clever when managing his money, insinuating that going after Karadagian at the bargaining table ––or civil court- was usually a losing situation. In the end, he banked enough that he left his widow, Aida, and daughter Paulina a tidy sum. Several disgruntled employees led by former office man Oscar Demelli (and who was one of the very last men to wrestle in the mummy bandages for the troupe) attempted to sue the surviving members of The Karadagian Family after Martin’s death, feeling a portion of that sum was owed the wrestlers. The suit wasn’t resolved until three months ago.
Karadagian spent his final days – under his real name – back at the infirmary of the convent of San Telmo in Buenos Aires, the very same convent infirmary in which he had been born. He passed away on August 27, 1991. Survived by Aida and Paulina, Martin is buried in Buenos Aires’’s most well- known resting place, El Cemetario de la Recoleta, where Evita Peron is also buried.
Thanks to Kurt “Vandal Drummond” Brown and Steve “Dr. Lucha” Sims for the history behind Martin Karadagian. I only ask that if you liked the story, to please drop a line to Brown at 21335 Cottonwood Lane, Walnut, CA 91789, as he and Sims put a lot of effort into this story at a time when Brown is facing some very serious health issues.
Martin Kardagian vs La Momia
Gitano Ivanoff vs Hippy Jimmy (worth it just for the facial expressions of Jimmy’s tambourine-wielding manager)
El Caballero Rojo & Pepino vs Benito Durante & Martin Kardagian (warning: contains pratfalling clown)
I think this may be the craze to get on now, honestly. Mexican lucha has been sullied by its UK/US appropriation by dumb fuck sub-Suicide Girl bullshit like Lucha VaVoom and Lucha Britannia and many other events populated by women who don’t realise that the reason Bettie Page had a fringe like that was because her forehead was so fucking huge even Rihanna would have been zinging her. If you try the same haircut on your tiny little round head, you don’t remind me of 1950s sexual glamour, but rather Mark Lawson in drag.