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69-year-old pro wrestler still living his dream
There is an old Jerry Seinfeld bit in which he asserts that when elderly people retire, it's inherent for them to relocate to Florida. But if that is a rule, than Robbie Ellis is the exception. While many of his peers have retired to the Sunshine State to bask in the sun until their maker comes calling, Ellis is jumping off turnbuckles and getting slammed around wrestling rings. "The Sports Illustrated Legend" is a well known fixture on the independent wrestling circuit. And at the age of 69, he is old enough to be a great grandfather.
On the outside, Ellis looks like a normal man looming near his 70s. But when Ellis steps into his sequined wrestling tights, one can tell that the elder expends a gainful amount of energy in the gym. In fact, Ellis looks to be in better physical conditioning than his youthful wrestling counterparts. "I work out five or six times a week. I run or do something aerobic four or five days a week and lift [weights] five or six."
Ellis started wrestling in his early 20s, a couple of years after participating in amateur wrestling matches during his college years. At first, Ellis maintained his professional wrestling gig as a secret. He worried that the low-brow form of entertainment might harm his full-time occupation as an art dealer. "We didn't think it would be a good thing for our business of selling pretty high end art," Ellis said.
But after Robbie's matches made headline news in the local Portland Press Herald, he received an unexpected call from a notable national magazine. "There was a short article about me, with two pictures, in Sports Illustrated in 1985." In addition to being featured in Sports Illustrated, Robbie Ellis has since been featured on ABC national news, The Osgood File on CBS and received a comprehensive spread in the National Enquirer. "It was maybe the only positive story in the whole magazine" stated Ellis.
During his lengthy career in professional wrestling, Ellis experienced many celebratory landmarks. He has wrestled acclaimed superstars like "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and "Cowboy" Bob Orton, he's done a tour of Italy and wrestled in front of his colleagues at the Cauliflower Alley Club. It was at the annual Cauliflower Alley Club where Ellis had his "best match ever" opposite WWE Tough Enough's Luke Robinson. ". He is a natural with incredible instincts and athletic ability."
But for Ellis, his crowning achievement has been working for Mike Quackenbush and the popular niche wrestling organization Chikara Pro. "Mike, more than anyone ever, knew exactly how to use me, my age, and my level of ability." As an element of the Chikara Pro roster, Robbie Ellis competed in the King of Trios tournament. The heralded tournament took place at the famed ECW arena. During his time with Chikara, the elder statesman met a young man named Larry Sweeney. "Larry and I also became close friends, until a few years later when he was experiencing a deeper depression that had plagued him for a long time." Robbie saw Sweeney as one of the top three manager personalities in the nation. "His depression ruled. As thing got worse, I tried to stay in touch and supportive from afar. And I feel guilty I didn't or couldn't do more. He ultimately chose to end his life. I will miss him always." Sweeney reportedly committed suicide in early April 2011.
Of course, being featured in Sports Illustrated and on numerous news channels are a distinguished achievement for a man who intended to keep his wrestling act confidential. But Ellis received even more attention when he became the subject of "Canvas Man," a documentary based on Ellis's intriguing journey into pro wrestling.
"The movie had its premiere with an invited audience at the Portland Museum of Art and at the Maine Jewish Film Festival the following night. Both full houses. The film has been a selection at 15 film festivals thus far."
In a business where the more you stand out the more money you stand to make, a 69-year-old grandfather seems bizarrely acceptable. Maybe it's because all the other wrestlers look up to him and admire Robbie's youthful embodiment and zest for the business. Or, maybe it's because the promoters recognize they can market his "worlds oldest wrestler" gimmick to a larger audience. Regardless of why he is accepted, the fact remains Robbie Ellis is leading the charge on the independent wrestling scene. And his prospects know no end. "I have no immediate plans to quit. I figure I'll know when the time comes."
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