By Mike Mooneyham
Oct. 16, 2005
Third in a series
Stuck in Maine with change in his pocket and nowhere to go, Tony Atlas spent six months sleeping in parks and on street corners, sometimes in temperatures that hovered below zero. It was 1989, and only a few years earlier he was pulling in main-event cash for matches with the likes of Hulk Hogan.
No-showing a series of bouts, however, had put him in Vince McMahon’s doghouse and got him fired from the World Wrestling Federation.
Proud but without work, Atlas prayed for a miracle. His prayer was answered.
Just as George Scott had discovered him 15 years earlier, a German-born woman named Monica came to his rescue, took him off the streets and eventually married the down-on-his-luck wrestler.Ole Anderson, his longtime mentor and then a booker for the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling based in Atlanta, called Atlas to come work for him in 1991. McMahon found out, offered Atlas a job and turned him into a forgettable character named Saba Simba. The gimmick, in which Atlas portrayed an African warrior complete with spear and costume, was a major flop.
“I realized later that he was doing this because I was ‘the example.’ Look what he did to Tony Atlas. He kept me around, and he kept pulling me back because I was the example of what would happen if you messed around with McMahon.”
Chief Jay Strongbow once told Atlas that he had two choices: he could be one of “the boys” or he could make money. Atlas didn’t quite understand what the veteran was saying at the time.
“My problem is that I was one of the boys. And by the time my career came to an end, I figured out what Chief was telling me.”
Atlas made good money, though, in the wrestling business, and probably should have made much more. But there were taxes, sending money home and traveling, and he admits he was never one to rock the boat. Like many of his colleagues, he was happy just to be doing something he enjoyed.
“An old-time promoter once told me that the best way to keep a wrestler around was to keep him broke … They gave me the glory but not the dollar.”
“At the same time I was making 100 grand a year, Ric Flair was making 300 grand. Some of the guys who were doing jobs were making a hundred grand a year. I didn’t know any better. They knew my educational background. I guess they took advantage … but who wouldn’t? I’m not complaining. I made good money, but I could have been a lot smarter than I was.”
Atlas was in and out of relationships as often as he was in and out of the different territories that dotted the wrestling landscape. There were three marriages and two other significant relationships. “Three legally, two common-law,” he says. His first wife, Joyce, an Alabama native, is the mother of his only child, a daughter who is now 28. He met his second wife, Lisa, in Puerto Rico and married her in 1985. His last marriage was to his current wife, Monica, in 1990.
Going through multiple marriages and living with different women, however, began to bother Atlas and weigh heavily on his sense of morality.
“In the Bible, Jesus told the prostitute, ‘Who is without sin cast the first stone.’ He told the lady to go and sin no more. A prostitute can be a man or woman who has sex unmarried. It’s still a sin. I always felt I was living in sin if I lived with a woman unmarried.”
DO UNTO OTHERS
Atlas went through piles of money, but not the way one might think. He actually gave much of it away. “I couldn’t enjoy a meal if someone else wasn’t eating,” he says.
Atlas had $3,000 in his pocket after his first big wrestling payday. Home for the Christmas weekend, he went around his neighborhood in Roanoke, giving it all away to people he knew. “When I left Roanoke, I had to call George Scott to borrow a hundred dollars to go back to Charlotte. He thought I was out of my mind. But people always said Tony never forgot where he came from.”
Atlas has helped other wrestlers as well. “I just can’t enjoy something knowing that there are other people in the world suffering. That kept me broke. You show me a real Christian, I’ll show you a broke person.”
Backing up another statement with another phrase out of the Bible, Atlas says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see the kingdom of Heaven. In order to save that much money, you can’t be thinking about anybody else. If you look down the street and see all these homeless people, you’re broke.”
“George Scott told me self-preservation comes first. I skipped that part,” says Atlas. “Help those but also help yourself. I kind of skipped over that part. I know that part now. God meant for us to share at least 10 percent with the poor.”
Atlas always knew when people, especially town folk, were doing badly. He’d load up his car with turkeys and distribute them throughout the neighborhood on Thanksgiving, and he’d give away gifts and hundred dollar bills on Christmas.
“I ended up broke doing that,” he admits.
– New Beginnings Community Church, 849 Fort Johnson Road, James Island, will hold its Harvest 2005 program 3-6:30 p.m. Saturday. Several pro wrestling matches will highlight the event that includes a free kidsfest, Southern gospel concert, food, games and prizes. George South will defend his Exodus Wrestling Association title against The Masked Superstar in the main event. Also featured will be “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant against Mike Lee, and Ricky Morton against EWA cruiserweight champ Jason Jones. Other names scheduled to appear include Disco Inferno, Glacier and Doink The Clown. A free drawing for an authentic championship belt that will be signed by all of the wrestlers will be held at the conclusion of the event.