March 29, 2023 11:05 pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a series on women’s wrestling Hall of Famer Toni Rose.

Toni Rose was a spirited, vibrant-eyed teenager when she left her native Indiana in 1963 to pursue a profession in the rough and raucous globe of women’s qualified wrestling.

It wasn’t extended immediately after she produced her mat debut, even though, that Rose had established herself as one particular of the a lot more talented and athletic females in the sport.

Educated by The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison) at her popular facility in Columbia, exactly where she broke in most of the aspiring lady grapplers of that era, Rose was a rapid learner who embraced the small business and set out to make her mark.

The dark-haired beauty was a best-ranked competitor in a women’s division that integrated such stalwarts as Moolah, Penny Banner, Bette Boucher, Judy Grable and Susan “Tex” Green. As a singles wrestler, Rose would capture the Georgia version of the NWA Southern women’s championship in 1970.

Though Moolah had been her trainer and a frequent tag-group companion, Rose was also an occasional contender for Moolah’s NWA women’s globe championship. Like quite a few other folks, even though, Rose was under no circumstances capable to wrest the title from her mentor.

Rose may well have been even superior identified as a tag-group specialist, sharing the NWA women’s tag title on 5 distinctive occasions with two distinctive partners.

“She didn’t like tag teams mainly because she didn’t want to share the glory with anybody, and these have been her words,” Rose says of Moolah. Nevertheless, the two joined forces to win the NWA globe tag-group belts twice. Operating as heels, their types have been comparable, says Rose.

“She educated me, so our types have been a lot alike. I tagged with Moolah fairly a bit in the starting. She was normally a heel. I got along with her fine. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be a babyface,” she mentioned “It was a lot a lot more enjoyable becoming a heel … yes it was!”

Rose was one particular of the couple of girl wrestlers through that time who didn’t reside on Moolah’s house.

“I truly didn’t have any trouble. I didn’t reside more than there. But we got along nicely on the road,” she mentioned. 

Rose also defends Moolah against criticism in current years from some of her former charges, for taking what they claimed have been inordinate booking charges, along with taking the most effective bookings for herself as the perennial globe champion.

“She didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head. No one had to remain there,” contends Rose. “They could stroll out any second they wanted to. But she’s dead now. She can not defend herself. I just feel it is incorrect that they knock her down so badly.”

Moolah, née Mary Lillian Ellison, passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.

Scare in Australia

Toni Rose, who is now 77 and a longtime resident of Columbia, says she was fortunate to have escaped main injury through her 17 years in the small business. The most really serious, she says, occurred through a match in Australia in 1969.

“Jessica Rogers stuck her finger in my eye, and I went entirely blind in each eyes,” recalls Rose, who suffered a torn cornea. “I left the arena and went to an eye medical doctor. They place medicine and all that in it. It was a week or a lot more prior to I could see. The medical doctor mentioned the other eye went out in sympathy, what ever that is.”

Rose, nonetheless, somehow nevertheless had to wrestle and fulfill her dates. Promoter Jim Barnett came up with an thought to assist her go by means of the motions and function the series of matches on her schedule.

Women’s wrestling great Toni Rose enjoyed rewarding career

“They’d send somebody to the ring in front of me dressed in strong white,” says Rose, “and I would be capable to see the shadows. I worked a number of matches like that. That absolutely wouldn’t have occurred in today’s globe.”

Rogers, of course, hadn’t meant to inflict such an injury to her opponent.

“Jessica didn’t imply to do it. It was just a thing that occurred,” says Rose.

Tag-group chemistry

With a penchant for tag-group competitors, Rose says she also enjoyed functioning mixed tag matches with the midget ladies who have been utilized as specific attractions in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ordinarily these bouts would pit heels Rose and Diamond Lil against babyfaces Bette Boucher and Darling Dagmar, Fran Gravette and Dagmar, or Brenda Scott and Dagmar.

“We utilized to function a lot of mixed tags with the midgets. That was enjoyable. Diamond Lil was normally my companion. She’s a funny small girl,” she says of Lil (Katie Glass), who also nevertheless lives in Columbia and whom Rose talks to frequently. “You under no circumstances knew what they have been going to do subsequent. We all enjoyed that.”

Rose would delight in one particular of her largest runs with a talented lady grappler from Pittsburgh who also served as Moolah’s proper-hand individual at her instruction compound in Columbia.

Winning the NWA women’s globe tag title on 3 distinctive occasions, Rose and Donna Christantello teamed for a number of years, touring Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and South America.

Immediately after a 3-year reign as champions, they have been defeated for the title by the group of Joyce Grable and Vicki Williams in October 1973 at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t till October 1975 that Rose and Christantello regained the title from Grable and Williams, holding it for around 4 years.

“We have been excellent pals,” says Rose. “Donna normally had your back and would normally appear out for you. She was a excellent worker and was proper there with you no matter what.”

“She was also a excellent cook. Sloppy, but excellent,” laughs Rose. “She loved to make these Italian dishes. She’d make a sauce that may possibly take me ten minutes to make, but it took her all day. Of course mine wouldn’t be practically as excellent as hers.”

Donna Christantello (Mary Donna Alfonsi) passed away in 2011 at the age of 69.

Life on the road

Whilst life on the road could be grueling for quite a few wrestlers through that era, it was just a way of life, and Toni Rose knew that from the commence. It supplied an chance to see the globe, she says.

“I got to go to areas I would have under no circumstances gone to or had the chance to go to. I wouldn’t want to do it now, but back then it was enjoyable,” she mentioned. 

For Rose, it was an education of a lifetime, traveling all through the United States, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and quite a few other locales.

One particular of the strangest areas she had to wrestle, she says, was in India.

“It was just weird. We wrestled outdoors most of the time, and men and women sat on the ground about the ring,” she mentioned. “We wrestled some Indian girls, but we didn’t truly know them at all. We didn’t see them prior to the match or something. We stayed there for more than a month. We went more than there for a promoter in Canada (Tiger Jeet Singh) who was operating some shows there.

“I truly loved Singapore,” she says. “It was such a stunning city with flowers and orchids everywhere.”

She also had the chance to function for a wide variety of wrestling promoters and the main wrestling organizations, which includes the NWA, WWWF and AWA in this nation.

“I truly liked North Carolina and San Francisco,” says Rose, providing props to Jim Crockett Sr. and Roy Shires respectively.

“Jim Crockett was a excellent man. He was normally good to us. He’d come in and speak to us and sit down in the dressing area a couple of minutes each time we have been on the card. Roy Shires was challenging, but he was excellent.”

Rose says she also liked functioning for WWWF boss Vince McMahon Sr., Ray Gunkel in Atlanta and Ed Francis in Hawaii.

“We normally loved becoming there in Honolulu,” she mentioned. 

Rose also mentions the late terrific Charleston promoter Henry Marcus.

“Was he ever a character! He utilized to get in touch with a yacht a ‘yatchet.’ I do not know why I don’t forget that, but I do,” she mentioned. 

‘Tough broads’

Rose had her share of rugged battles more than the years, but a couple of “tough broads” stood out amongst the pack.

One particular grappler she feared obtaining into the ring with was the legendary Mae Young.

“That was one particular challenging lady,” says Rose. “I worked with her a couple of occasions, and she was challenging all proper.”

That opinion would be shared by no much less than the terrific Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who when told Young, “I do not like women’s wrestling, but if ever there was one particular born to be a wrestler, you are it.”

Truth be identified, in her prime, Young was tougher than quite a few of her grizzled male counterparts on the circuit. The late Fred Blassie, one particular of the greatest heels ever, when opined that Mae was tougher than possibly 60 % of the guys in the small business. And that, by most accounts, was a conservative estimate.

“She was a rough, challenging broad,” mentioned one particular of her old opponents. And Rose was nicely conscious of her reputation by means of Moolah, who came up by means of the small business in the identical generation.

“Bette Boucher and I have been coming by means of Arizona on our way back to South Carolina when Moolah named us. She mentioned that Johnnie Mae was operating some matches that evening in some town in Arizona. We weren’t far from there, so we stopped,” she mentioned. “She and the girl she was with have been good, but we told Johnny Mae that we had to go back to the hotel and get a small rest prior to the show.

“Big error,” laughs Rose. “Mae had been drinking, fairly heavily, and she didn’t have the ring up. She just couldn’t get it up. So we left and drove on back to South Carolina.”

Rose got a further likelihood to function with the Incredible Mae Young through a Florida tour.

“I was down there by myself, and she came out, crazy and not figuring out what she was performing. I told Moolah that I didn’t care how you do it, but you superior send an individual down right here to take my spot, mainly because I’m not creating sufficient dollars to function with this crazy lady,” she mentioned. “I’m not obtaining hurt this way. I do not know what she ultimately did, but I left.”

Whilst Rose usually worked as a heel, functioning with Young was an exception.

“You couldn’t be a heel with Johnnie Mae,” she laughs. “With Johnnie Mae you had to be a babyface.”

Rose also mentions Ann LaVerne, who broke into the sport in the 1940s and was identified as the only female wrestler of that era to have a cauliflower ear, as amongst the toughest ladies in the small business.

With an intimidating presence and feared by quite a few of her opponents, LaVerne would take on all challengers, ladies or guys.

“She was a toughie,” Rose mentioned of LaVerne, who died in 1999 at age 77. “I worked with her a number of occasions about the Mobile location. She was good to me, but she’d scare you to death. All she had to do was appear at you. She was one particular challenging lady. I didn’t know her personally, but I’m pals with her daughter Marie LaVerne Nelson. I speak to her a couple occasions a week.”

Marie, coincidentally, had one particular of her initial pro matches with Young, who was a buddy of her mother.

“She was wonderful,” Nelson when mentioned of Young in an interview. “She had the reputation that she would throw a punch at anyone, which includes guys. If men and women attempted her, they would obtain out how genuine she was. The one particular conversation I don’t forget most is one particular time she told me on the telephone, ’If an individual attempted to make a film about my life, they’d have to censor virtually each scene.’ She was a character.”

Young passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

Subsequent: Life immediately after wrestling for Toni Rose.

Attain Mike Mooneyham at, or adhere to him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at His most up-to-date book — “Final Bell” — is now readily available at and on

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