(Photo: special to the news-press)
It was one of the biggest upsets in professional wrestling history: so-called “jobber” Big Ron Shawtook down wrestling star David Sammartino in a flurry of punches, body slams and — finally —a bear hug.
The audience was stunned. And Shaw, who now lives in North Fort Myers, had earned his place in wrestling history.
Not that he realized it at the time.
“I never even thought about it that much after I wrestled,” he says. “And I just went, ‘That went well.’”
Shaw’s shocking win eventually came to be known as “The Big Upset” and also “The Phantom Submission” — a nod to the fact that Sammartino doesn’t seem to put up much of a fight in the 1985 match. At least one blogger has ranked it as the No. 1 biggest upset in WWE history.
Wrestling fans, however, could be forgiven for forgetting that milestone. Shaw hasn’t made wrestling news in years.
In fact, the Philadelphia native has been living a quieter life in North Fort Myers since quitting the business in 2000. He spends his days golfing, playing guitar and lifting weights — he’s still imposing at 6-foot-3 inches and 215 pounds, down from his fighting weight of 250-270 pounds.
“I went cold turkey,” Shaw says. “I quit the business for good.”
Germain Arena will be filled with thousands of wrestling fans Friday to see superstars such as Dean Ambrose and John Cena battle it out during “WWE Live!” But many of those fans — if they remember him at all — probably assume that Shaw is already dead from a heart attack or suicide, he says, just like many other wrestlers he knew in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including his trainer Walter “Killer” Kowalski.
Ron Shaw poses with his wrestling memorabilia in his North Fort Myers house. (Photo: charles runnells/the news-press)
But the former wrestler is very much alive, it turns out. And now he’s trying to reconnect with his fans through a new website, bigronshawwwf.com.
Shaw, 57, got the idea last summer while recuperating from rotator cuff surgery — from a golf injury, not wrestling. He thought he was done with wrestling for good. Then his wife told him to go online and check out all the comments people had posted about him.
“I said, ‘Maybe I should get a website, let these people know I’m still alive!’” he says.
The website is still in its infancy, and Shaw plans to continue updating it in the coming months. He’s posted writings about his career, photos, fan comments, news articles and even video of the famous “Big Upset.”
Shaw has lots of stories to tell. Take, for example, the very first live wrestling match he ever saw. He was 8 years old, and his life changed forever after that.
“My eyes lit up!” he says. “It was just cool.”
Big Ron Shaw, top, wrestles S.D. Jones in this 1981 newspaper clipping from Shaw's scrapbook. (Photo: special to the news-press)
He knew right then that he wanted to be a professional wrestler. And that’s exactly what he did.
He had his first professional match on April 21, 1980. About two months later, he got hired for his first fight with the World Wrestling Federation (now called World Wrestling Entertainment).
By 1981, Shaw was getting booked for shows at Madison Square Garden and other major U.S. venues. He wrestled as Big Ron Shaw and the masked Executioner. Both characters were bad guys, otherwise known as “heels.”
Shaw never got the fame and name recognition as superstars Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes and The Valiant Brothers. But he fought them all and many more.
He still remembers taking on Hulk Hogan for the first time in the early ‘80s. The future superstar radiated star power, even then.
“He was big. He was tan,” Shaw says. “He had this long hair.
“I don’t remember much about the match, but I remember he finished with what we in the business called a leg drop.”
As a “jobber,” Shaw was expected to fight the bigger stars in the beginning of his career, lose and make the top-name acts look good. Shaw prefers the term “preliminary wrestler,” by the way, and says only fans use the word “jobber.”
That’s why it was such an upset when Shaw beat Sammartino in that infamous November 1985 match in Philadelphia. No one expected a mere jobber to win that fight.
Fans assumed that Sammartino was told to take a dive, and Sammartino later confirmed that in an interview. But Shaw plays coy and won’t clear things up.
“The only thing I’m going to say is this: It’s up to the wrestling fans to decide what that match was,” he says with an enigmatic smile. “It’s whatever the wrestling fans think it was. That’s the great mystery about this thing.”
That was a long time ago, though. And three decades later, Shaw has given up the wrestling business for good.
Shaw quit the WWE in 2000, got married and moved to North Fort Myers with his new bride. He spent years driving a tractor trailer for the U.S. Postal Service before retiring.
Shaw says he didn’t like the direction that the WWE was heading: Too much talking, too many high-flying maneuvers, all flash and no substance.
“It’s not like it was,” he says. “I guess you could call me old school.”
Still, he has fond memories of those glory years. And he hopes his fans do, too.
“I’ve got a lot of stories and a lot of memories,” he says. ‘I’m happy with what I did. Because I lived out my childhood dream. Who does that?”