Our special thanks to George South for hooking us up with Abe Jacobs.


Many of us who primarily remember Abe Jacobs from his undercard work in the Mid-Atlantic area from the middle 1970s until the early 1980s, never got a full appreciation of the wrestling career of this professional wrestling great. As much as anything, this interview is designed to look at Abe’s career in its entirety, and not merely focus on his last few years when he was winding down his career in the Mid-Atlantic area. 


An amateur wrestling champion in New Zealand, Abe learned about professional wrestling from all places---the radio! After he turned pro, Jacobs wrestled the best of the best in the 1960s…from Antonio Inoki to Lou Thesz. Much traveled, Abe also spent a good portion of this time with Jim Crockett Promotions, then primarily a territory reliant on tag team wrestling, headlining cards in the Carolinas as late as 1974. During this time period, Abe formed memorable tag teams with the likes of Haystack Calhoun and Sailor Art Thomas. As booker George Scott was transforming the Crockett territory into a singles wrestling hotbed in 1974, Abe’s role changed to one where he worked preliminary matches and worked to get younger talent over. Perhaps the first, and finest, example of Abe’s new role was being Ric Flair’s first-ever opponent in the Mid-Atlantic area. But whether he was headlining or working underneath, Abe always put on a good wrestling match for the fans and was the consummate pro. 


Many thanks to the Gateway’s special friend, George South, for arranging this interview for us in Charlotte recently. And thanks most of all to Abe Jacobs for providing us a glimpse into his long and illustrious career in wrestling…Abe, you will always be held in high esteem by all of us privileged enough to see you wrestle. 

-   David Chappell






David Chappell: Abe, thanks for spending some time with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway this evening.


Abe Jacobs: Thank you. You know, David, I’ve checked [the Mid-Atlantic Gateway] out before I agreed to do this interview…I’m just kidding! (smiles)


But, there’s been so much negative stuff said about wrestling. I’ve done interviews and so forth over the years, and the first thing those people have wanted to do is to down wrestling. Wrestling was great to me, and I would never do anything to knock it.


Chappell: You were certainly great for wrestling, Abe.


Jacobs: I want to put you guys over. You [and Dick Bourne] do one heck of a job. When George (South) mentioned this (interview) to me, I told him I wasn’t going to do anything with people who were negative about wrestling. George said, ‘These guys aren’t that way.’ And, Paul Jones told me the same thing about [the Gateway]. They spoke very highly of you guys, as well.


Chappell: Thank you, Abe. Those thoughts mean a lot to Dick and I, they really do.


But, of course, folks out there would rather hear about Abe Jacobs than Dick and I! (laughs) Tell us about the early Abe Jacobs, if you would. You are originally from New Zealand , correct?



Jacobs: I’m originally from a small island off the coast…the group are called the Chatham Islands . It’s part of New Zealand , but a good distance off the coast. I was born and raised there.


Chappell: Tell us about growing up in New Zealand . I’m certainly not very familiar with that part of the world!


Jacobs: Well, I was born and raised on a ranch. My Dad managed a ranch there…he had about six thousand head of sheep and a couple of thousand head of cattle. On the small island, there were no roads…like for cars and trucks. It was all horse transport.


Chappell: When you went to school, you rode by horseback?


Jacobs: Yes. There was only elementary school back there, and after elementary school we did correspondence work for high school.


But, horses were the way we got around over there. Whenever you went into town, you had to ride your horse. Pretty much anywhere you went. I think…two days once I rode about 85 miles!


Chappell: Wow!


Jacobs: Two different horses! (laughs) I was riding horses as far back as I can remember.


Chappell: You mentioned that your Dad had a large number of sheep. While I don’t know much about New Zealand , I do associate sheep with New Zealand ! In fact, I remember the team from New Zealand that wrestled in the Mid-Atlantic area as the ‘Sheepherders’ about the time you were winding down your career with Jim Crockett Promotions in the early 1980s.


Jacobs: Of course, we had to have sheep dogs to work the sheep and cattle. My Dad always had nine or ten sheep and cattle dogs. They had to be breeding all the time because a working dog doesn’t live as long.


Those dogs are at their best about two years old. After about four or five years old, he’s been working hard and he’s getting old…so you have to have young ones coming up.


Chappell: With horse travel being so prevalent, I imagine you broke a horse or two in your time!


Jacobs: (laughing) I learned to break horses early. I think I broke my first horse at about thirteen years old. Then I had my own dogs. I watched my Dad train these dogs, and asked him if I could have a puppy. Eventually, I had about six dogs.


Chappell: So, you worked in ranch activities as a young boy…well before you started wrestling?


Jacobs: All of our produce on the island we shipped. A ship came over, and it took about a week to do the round trip. We’d send the sheep, cattle and wool over to the mainland (of New Zealand ).  I remember, when I was about thirteen years old, I took a herd of sheep…twelve hundred head…over land. Three days it took me, to get this herd over land. They were strung out close to a mile. I was riding a horse, and you had to go uphill at times…you had dogs ahead and bringing up the rear. Those sheep dogs really do some work!


Can I tell you a funny story about growing up where I did? Some people might find it interesting…


Chappell: Sure thing…please do.


Abe Jacobs talks with David Chappell, January 2004


Jacobs: As I said, in Chatham Isles where I was raised, we had no cars…it was all horse transport. And then, I had never been in a car…and there was no power. We had bales of wool…a bale of wool would go around between four and five hundred pounds. We couldn’t put them on a wagon, because the roads weren’t good enough for wagons. It was just horses leading the packhorses.


So, once a year when the ship came over…there was about a half a dozen ranches and another small island off the coast where the ranchers couldn’t get their wool in because there were no roads. The ship would go around and anchor out…and they’d have smaller boats and those boats would come ashore.


Then, we would order whatever we wanted and needed…like posts, or whatever we needed for the ranch. And then, we would also get, now get this…a YEAR supply of groceries! That’s floor, sugar, salt and canned items…the basics. My mother cooked from scratch with the flour and the sugar. Of course, we had our meat and we grew our own vegetables.


So, once a year the ship came around, and we got a YEAR supply of groceries! (laughs)


Chappell: That’s unbelievable…and I complain about making a grocery list for the week! (laughs)


Jacobs: (laughing)


Chappell: That’s a pretty amazing picture you paint…especially doing these things as an early teenager! But that’s the life you grew up with.


Jacobs: Yeah, that’s right. And, of course, at that age I would also listen to the radio. And wrestling was broadcast on the radios then.


Chappell: So, your first exposure to wrestling was through radio? Interesting!


Jacobs: Yeah…on the radio.


Chappell: What time frame are we talking about here?


Jacobs: Oh…I guess the late 1940s. This was after [World War II]. I used to listen to the radio to the guys wrestling…but at that point I was only a skinny kid! (laughs)


Chappell: At that time, could you follow anything about wrestling through the newspapers as well?


Jacobs: We’d get a weekly paper. Sometimes there would be pictures of wrestlers in there. I’d look at those pictures and say to myself, ‘Boy, I wish I was a big guy like they are.’ Anyhow, I started to work out and eventually met up with some amateur wrestlers.


Chappell: Did any one of those early radio broadcasts you heard make a particularly big impact on you as an aspiring wrestler?


Jacobs: One time I heard Gorgeous George wrestling (George) Temple …in San Diego . This was just around twilight, just an ordinary broadcast…not on short wave. For about 20 minutes, you could receive it…all the way around the world. You know, that had to be 10,000 miles away from me then. For 15-20 minutes it came in to where I could hear it.


Chappell: That’s something!


Jacobs: Yeah, I listened to this U.S. station in San Diego…Gorgeous George was wrestling George Temple, Shirley Temple’s brother. It was something.


Chappell: At that point in time, you were obviously developing an interest in wrestling. How did you pursue that budding interest?


Jacobs: Well, after listening to these guys wrestle…I went over to the mainland (of New Zealand ) and I started wrestling amateur over there.


I tell you, going over to the mainland was scary as hell! Being in the city, and in a car for the first time, was something. The cars may have only been going 20-30 miles an hours…but that’s a lot compared to a horse! (laughs)


It was hard to find your way around, because I had never been in a city. I had to learn to ride a bike, and then I had to learn the rules of the road. And when you were used to being on a horse, there were no rules of the road there! (laughs)


Chappell: Tell us about your early amateur wrestling days.


Jacobs: When I went over to the mainland, I could actually see the wrestling in person. I started wresting around (age) 15 or so. I was doing my correspondence school work at that same time.


Chappell: What awards did you win as an amateur wrestler?


Jacobs: For my amateur career, I won three Canterbury Provincial Titles. When I went to Wellington , ( New Zealand ) I won four Provincial titles…Wellington Titles.


I had a runner-up silver medal in the ( New Zealand ) Nationals. And I also won the Nationals.


Chappell: Quite an impressive amateur wrestling resume. So, I guess it’s fair to say you could wrestle a little bit! (laughs)


Jacobs: (laughs) I always prided myself that I could…I think I did pretty fair in my amateur wrestling career. I also wrestled in the Olympic trials…and got beat by a point. The guy that beat me went on to the 1956 Olympics.


Chappell: I’m sure coming so close to going to the Olympic games must have been a tremendous disappointment to you?


Jacobs: I really wanted to go to the Olympics…that was the ultimate. Of course, I didn’t have enough…whatever it took…to win to go.


Chappell: Do you believe a strong amateur wrestling background like yours is important as a predicate to do well in professional wrestling?


Jacobs: I always tell young guys who want to wrestle professionally…that they should always go through the amateurs first. Because that makes you a complete wrestler.


Chappell: Having that true wresting background that you can always fall back on…


Jacobs: Oh yeah, sure…and it makes you a tougher guy too.


Chappell: With all of the success you had as an amateur wrestler, were you always looking for a career in professional wrestling? Obviously, the two are quite different.


Jacobs: Yeah, David, I always wanted to be a professional wrestler. After I missed out on the Olympics, I thought, ‘Well, I’ve spent a lot of years wrestling amateur…I may as well try to make some money.’


And it’s kind of ironic, because those guys that were wrestling when I was listening to them on the radio and seeing their pictures when I was a kid on the island…when I came to the (United) States I actually wrestled some of those same guys! (smiles)


Chappell: That’s fascinating…and you were able to develop your interest in professional wrestling without seeing it on television!  (laughs)


Jacobs: No…there was no television then at all. Heck, New Zealand didn’t get television …probably until the 60s. The first time I saw television was when I came into Hawaii in the late 50s.


Chappell: Were any particular individuals responsible for helping you break into professional wrestling?


Jacobs: Really two different people. Al Costello…do you remember Al Costello?


Chappell: Yes, from the Kangaroo’s, right?


Jacobs: Yeah, yeah. I trained with Al while I was still an amateur. We went running, and when we finished running we would come back to the gym and wrestle.


Chappell: You said that there was also a second guy that helped break you in?


Jacobs: The other guy I worked out a lot with was Don Curtis. Don was quite a good wrestler. His real name was ‘Beaitleman.’ He changed it to ‘Curtis’ for wrestling…Don was from Buffalo , New York .


Chappell: Were there other wrestlers from New Zealand that made their way to the U.S. at this time?


Jacobs: We had a lot of wrestlers in New Zealand that came to the States. There was a guy named Jim Larock…he was a great amateur wrestler. I believe he was an Alternate for the 1952 Olympics—he was actually an Alternate for the U.S. team. He was a great wrestler and I knew this…and when he came out I was still over [in New Zealand ] as an amateur, and I worked out with him and the other guys I’ve mentioned.