An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published Jan. 26, 1997
Randy Anderson never realized just how fragile life was – until it was nearly taken away.
Anderson, one of the most respected and well-liked referees in the wrestling business, was diagnosed with cancer. But with early detection and a strong will to live, he’s winning the battle and eluding the fatal three count.
The 37-year-old Anderson learned of what seemed to be a death sentence a year ago this month. He had experienced problems for several months, feeling a soreness in his breast area that wouldn’t go away. But it wasn’t until reading a medical magazine during a plane flight that he began to figure out what the problem might be.
“There were definite signs in that journal that showed me something wasn’t right,” says Anderson. “But I know now that there was a purpose for me reading that article. There’s a purpose for everything. There’s a reason why I’m still here.”
Anderson went home and immediately began to pay close attention to the warning signs of testicular cancer.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“Every night for about three weeks I kept just feeling and feeling, and bam, one night I felt what they were looking for,” says Anderson. “I immediately ran to the doctor, went to the urologist and told them something didn’t feel right. I took an ultrasound, and before I got back home, the doctor had already called and wanted me to come back to talk to him. He hit me with the news. It was pretty devastating news when you hear that. But I didn’t know the severity of it or how far it had gotten.”
Three days later the WCW official was in an operating room having his left testicle removed. It was, as he feared, malignant. “I had to do CAT scans and blood work to see if it had gone anywhere else. I had to wait a week lying in bed and wondering if it had gone anywhere else and thinking about that every night. You wonder where you’re going in your life, especially with two small children (10 and 8). I had a lot of people praying for me, and I was doing the same.”
Anderson underwent 25 grueling radiation sessions, and most of the hair around his stomach area fell out. The treatments left him tired and sick, but he was back in the ring eight weeks after surgery.
“The radiation was pretty brutal, but I toughed it out. I’ve always been a strong-willed person, and it helped in this case.”
Fortunately for Anderson, the cancer was detected at an early stage and doctors now forecast a 98 percent cure rate. But, he says, there’s always the specter of the disease lurking in the back of his mind.
“So far it’s been a year and I’m still clean. But it’s the mental problems that are the toughest ones dealing with this every day. Getting over it is one thing, but then you have to worry about it coming back.”
Early detection is the key, Anderson says, and in his case it saved his life.
“I had the disease, but I came out of it. Some people don’t. A lot of people do. It’s just getting it and getting it quick. The kind of cancer I had is curable. People aren’t educated to things like cancer. I wasn’t. I just wish people would know it’s not too late. People wait until their lymph nodes are as big as oranges and pop out of their stomach.”
Anderson’s message today is one of hope.
“It’s scary, but you have to believe there is nothing to be afraid of. You always have hope. There are cures.”
Anderson says this life-changing experience has been a positive one in several ways. It also gave him a sense of compassion and respect for those suffering from the disease.
“I was in cancer row. That’s an elite group of people. It (the experience) really changed my life. It woke me up. It made me feel kinder to people. It makes me look at little words like hope and makes me enjoy my kids more. I see things in a different way. Instead of walking by people, I stop and give them a couple of minutes. Our schedules are so busy, a lot of times we don’t mean to do it, but we try to get in the car and get out of there and get to the hotel. Now I try to take my time, especially when I see somebody who looks like he has cancer. I was there with the big C. I know what other people feel, and it ain’t a good feeling.
“This experience has also made me closer to God. I talk to Him every day and thank Him. I just did another CAT scan a couple of weeks ago, and it’s like reliving it all over. It came back good. I’m very fortunate. The doctor said I had a second chance at life, and that I should enjoy it. I’ve got a couple more years on probation, but the first year was the vital one, and they think I’m going to be alright.”
Anderson’s lifelong attachment to wrestling began as a youngster growing up in Rome, Ga. A childhood friend by the name of Marty Lunde shared Anderson’s fondness for grappling, and the two attended the local pro wrestling shows together. They also competed on rival high school wrestling teams, with Lunde wrestling in the 167-pound weight division and Anderson competing in the 119-pound class. Anderson became so proficient in the sport that he went on to win a state championship in his weight division.
Too small to work as a pro but nonetheless bitten by the wrestling bug, Anderson set out with Lunde to pursue a career in the squared circle, with Anderson learning the ropes as a referee. Trained by Ted Allen, a journeyman grappler who wrestled on the Memphis circuit as one half of a team known as The Masked Nightmares, Anderson and Lunde got their first break when Allen got them booked in Cowboy Bill Watts’ popular Mid South promotion in the Oklahoma-Louisiana area. It was to be the beginning of a very rewarding professional life for both men.
Marty Lunde, who initially went under the name Levi Lunde, several years later became Arn Anderson, and the rest is history.
“When we left here, Arn and I had $80 in our pocket when we went to Louisiana,” Anderson recalls. “We stayed in these dumpy motels, and there were a lot of nights we went hungry. We had to wait two weeks to get our first check. I was shooting pool at night trying to get Waffle House money. I look back, and that’s the fun of it. Now I’m fixing to build a $300,000 home. Things change if you just stick with your dreams.”
Anderson became friends with Sylvester Ritter, who as The Junkyard Dog was one of the promotion’s top performers.
“I met up with Junkyard Jog and he took a liking to me. At that time I was driving him around to all the towns. He got me a break refereeing on TV. I stayed in Mid South for five years. Bill (Watts) was a good guy to work for. He was hard and strict like an old football coach. He just wanted people to learn and be successful. Most people who came out of there knew the business. He was very disciplined.”
Anderson got his next big break with the Charlotte-based Crockett Promotions.
“After Mid South, the WWF thing started booming and Jim Crockett Promotions was coming around trying to buy talent,” says Anderson.
“I was in the (New Orleans) Superdome one night, and Jim Crockett and Ric Flair walked in. He offered The Rock ‘N Roll Express a job, and I knew Arn had been good friends with Ric Flair, so I had to jump on the bandwagon and ask them to take me with them. About six months later I went over to Atlanta TV. Dusty Rhodes had hired Magnum (T.A.) and Rock ‘N Roll, and they all knew me from Mid-South. They told him (Crockett) I was a good guy, a good referee, on time and all the things that you’re supposed to be. They gave me a shot, and we’ve been going here ever since.”
The 5-7, 180-pound Anderson, citing a “few rib injuries, bruises and bumps” during his 16 years as a referee, says he’s been relatively lucky. His most painful experience came when Leon White (Vader) fell on his knee a few years ago in Germany and tore Anderson’s medial collateral ligament.
“That was a long 14-hour ride home with my knee blown out,” Anderson recalls. More recently, Anderson was called into action when a fan stormed the ring at WCW’s Starrcade event in Nashville last month. Anderson helped Hulk Hogan detain the spectator until security was able to take over.
“I suffered a broken hand when that fan came in the ring,” says Anderson. “I kind of fractured my hand on his head.”
Anderson seems to be enjoying the business more than ever with the recent success of WCW.
“Watching the Eddie Guerreros, the Chris Benoits, the Dean Malenkos and the Rey Misterios has put a new glow in my eye. This is what guys can do if they really want to. They’re the backbone of our company. I know we have our stars and we always will and we’ll always need them, but these guys have given a new meaning to wrestling.”
Anderson, who lives in Atlanta, was shown an outpouring of support from his friends and colleagues at WCW during the past year. He received more than 300 calls during his recovery and has plenty of praise for his co-workers.
“(WCW booker) Kevin Sullivan is one of the smartest men I ever met. He’s my boss, and I’m his assistant. He just uses a little bit of everything. You need that kind of chemistry. You have to have the high fliers like Rey Misterio and the icons like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair and Sting.
“Lex Luger has really stepped up to the plate and hit some home runs. He’s more over than he ever was. He sees the business in a whole different light now. He sees that it takes everybody – including me.
“Ric Flair is going to be around for a long time. He has been one of my idols for all these years. He taught me more than anybody. I did all of his hour matches back in the ’80s. He taught me ring ethics, where to be and where not to be, and always know where you’re at. He really was a good influence on my career. Sting is one of my closest and dearest friends. I’d let him raise my children. That’s what kind of man he is. Sting and Ric and those guys – we’ve been together for years. I have a lot of respect for their discipline. Sting goes to a lot of hospitals and burn centers and does a lot of public appearances. He’s really the cornerstone of our company.”
Anderson is undeterred and forging ahead with a positive outlook on his future. In addition to building a new home, he is opening a top-of-the-line restaurant with wrestler Joe Gomez called “Sushi on Seventh” in Ibor City, Fla., in the heart of Tampa’s old cigar factory section.
“Sushi is a growing thing down in Orlando and Tampa. The restaurant will have a 40-foot video wall, and it’s really going to be nice. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”