If Tampa, Florida is famous for anything else besides Busch Gardens, strip clubs, sunny weather, and the Buccaneers it is professional wrestling. Ever since the 1960s Tampa has been at the forefront in training and producing many of the top notch pro wrestlers, all thanks to Eddie Graham. Some of them are born or raised in Tampa, while other wrestling superstars come to live or retire here. There are those who even grew up in the same area of Tampa where I live, plus they graduated from the same high school I went to. Here now is a look at the Tampa connection in pro wrestling and its enormous contribution.
Hulk Hogan: During the '80s he ruled the ring, but it was his cameo role in "Rocky III" as Thunderlips that gained him fame outside wrestling. Terry Bollea grew up in South Tampa graduating from Robinson High School, my alma mater. No, I did not know him.
Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake: Ed Leslie came under the wing of his best friend Hulk Hogan in the mid to late 1970s. He wrestled under many different names including "The Disciple" due to his mentoring with Hogan. In 1984 he took on the name of Brutus Beefcake with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and later the World Championship Wrestling. Leslie attended the same high school as me and Hogan, and yes, I knew him only as an acquaintance. His sister was in some of my classes. You have no idea how different Ed looked in high school. I was shocked to learn he was a wrestler many years later.
Steve Keirn: Here's another Robinson High graduate who has since retired from pro wrestling. Keirn now owns and operates the Florida Championship Wrestling, the only development training center for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). This 10,000 square-foot warehouse facility holds wrestling matches every Thursday night. It is very close to where I live. My brother has attended one of their taped shows.
Chris Jericho: He is the quintessential pro wrestler who has done it all and won it all professionally. Jericho even appeared as one of the celebrity competitors on "Dancing with the Stars." Currently he resides with his family in Odessa (outside of North Tampa).
John Cena: WWE's champion and movie star has a home in Land O' Lakes. The Canadian born wrestler Edge is likely a neighbor of Cena's in Land O' Lakes.
Dave Bautista: Lives in Lutz when he isn't with the WWE and is an action movie star.
Ever since Maxine Nelson lived in Tampa during her childhood, wrestling was a huge part of life here. This was before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other sports franchises took over. She vividly remembers watching the local wrestling program on TV seeing Dusty Rhodes and the Brisco Brothers.