We all realize that death is inevitable but when we lose a close friend in our life and a trusted mentor in our chosen profession it still doesn't make that fact any easier. Today has become another one of those melancholy days for me after hearing of the sudden death of General Scandor Akbar Friday morning.
'General' Scandor Akbar passed away Thursday night or early Friday morning in his home in Garland, Texas in the same house that he had lived in for over 40 years. He had battled prostate cancer for quite some time. He was 75 years of age.
Ak was born Jimmy Wehba in Vernon, Texas almost 76 years ago and was a powerhouse athlete as a young man for the Vernon Lions football team as a 5'9" 200+ pound fullback in his hometown where his parents owned and operated a small grocery store.
The man of Lebanese decent broke into the wrestling biz in the early 60's which was his lifelong dream. Ak was always a wrestling fan and was also one of the legit, strongest men in the wrestling business. His free weight workouts were legendary when he would matter of factly bench press over 400 pounds for several reps and did so without a spotter. Ak would sit on the bench, pick the weight up off the floor. manhandle it to his chest, lean back on the bench and begin his eye popping workouts.
When I broke into the McGuirk/Watts territory in 1974, Scandor Akbar and Danny Hodge were tag team partners in the ring and outside the ring were the best of friends.
Ak and Danny became my regular 'road partners' and we traveled thousands of miles together when I was in my early 20's which were extremely important, formative years in my career. They taught me respect for the business and those involved within it and not to mention valuable lessons on the intricacies of pro wrestling.
I learned from listening, and occasionally contributing, to conversations during long car trips about what worked in the biz and what did not work.
Ak could squeeze blood out of a quarter and always told me that no one made too little money on the road to not save some of it. Ak knew the value of a dollar and always saved his money no matter if he had a great week thanks to working main events in front of many people or if he was lower on the card working in front of only a few hundred people.
From early on in my career, I had many career aspirations and knew full well that no one's wrestling career would last forever and to always, always prepare for the future. These life lessons were learned at the feet of many men including Bill Watts, Lee Roy McGuirk, and Dan Hodge but no one was more prominent to me personally than Scandor Akbar.
Ak was a HUGE Texas Longhorn football fan and with me being a major fan of the 'Horns arch rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, we spent hours upon hours talking college football. These were the days before cell phones, satellite radio, IPods, etc. These were the days of long car trips where individuals actually conversed and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, and ideas. Hell, much of the time we had to converse to simply stay awake.
Our weekly Tuesday ritual was traveling from our base of Tulsa, Oklahoma to Little Rock, Arkansas and back to Tulsa which was a 500 mile round trip. We always timed our drive down Interstate 40 to hit the Ramada Inn buffet in Conway, Arkansas before it closed at 3 p.m. We would rarely spend the extra money to eat on the drive from Little Rock's Barton Coliseum back to Tulsa. We had that one, big meal for one, low price and called it a day.
When we would travel in Louisiana and Mississippi often times Hodge and Akbar would share a motel room with two beds. That left me to sleep on the floor. They paid $4 each for the $8 room and I stayed for free. Of course, it was my job to hunt down the hotel housekeepers for extra towels, soap, etc, to change the TV channels when called upon (these were the days before remote controls in hotel rooms) and to run any other errands that were required of me for the right to sleep 'free' albeit on the floor and while using the bed spread for my blankets.
These travel arrangements may sound challenging but I wouldn't trade the experiences for any thing in the world. I learned the wrestling business from the inside out and back again from men who traveled the road and endured tremendous challenges but never wavered on their love and dedication to their craft.
I recently saw Ak in Charlotte at the Fanfest and we had a wonderful visit. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see him one last time. That get together had to have been a gift from the Man upstairs. Scandor wasn't getting around to well but he never complained to me once. Jim Wehba was truly a man's man and was one of the legit toughest guys I ever met in the wrestling business. Ak knew he had been dealt a challenging hand with prostate cancer but he never complained to me about it.
However, Ak did bring up the fact that Texas has beaten OU 4 of the past 5 years in football. The "squatty, fullback of the Vernon Lions" also made the point that a specific Saturday in October was the only Saturday that God would allow fellow, lifelong Longhorn fan Dick Murdoch to watch TV perhaps referring to Dickie's notorious, mischievous demeanor.
I delivered a letter to Ak that Steve Austin hand wrote and got to me before I left Oklahoma for Charlotte and Fanfest. I have no idea what the letter said but after taking his reading glasses out of his pocket, glasses that I kidded Ak must have come out of the George Burns, largest frames in the world collection, the strongman read the letter twice. After the first time he read it, I noticed Ak wiping a tear from his eye. I acted as if I didn't see it.
Ak read the letter a second time and simply said to me, "Thanks, Jimmy for bringing this to me and tell Steve how much I appreciate it. Steve was like you, one of my boys who I was proud to have been able to help. You guys have made me proud by what you've done in the business."
Akbar and Bronco Lubich both mentored young Steve Austin in Steve's earliest days in the business in World Class Wrestling in Dallas. Ak was known to be a patient, honest mentor/teacher and, more importantly, a friend to so many wrestlers and countless others.
Bill Watts told me Friday that he refereed Ak's tryout match that Promoter McGuirk had arranged for Scandor which was in Wichita Falls in the early 60's. Ak wrestled under his real name, Jim Wehba, against masked The Great Bolo, Al Lovelock. Bolo sucker punched Ak and broke Scandor's nose and the blood flowed. Watts said it was the worst broken nose that he had ever seen and there was so much blood on the mat that referee Watts had trouble keeping his balance. Ak could have physically destroyed Bolo/Lovelock but out of respect for the old time, masked man and the business in general Ak endured, proved his toughness and his overwhelming desire to get in the biz and was soon thereafter hired.
General Scandor Akbar will forever hold a special place in my heart. He knows how special he was to me in my life and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to tell him so and not by email or by text or some other social networking technique but in person and face to face while we were in Charlotte at Fanfest.
Rest in Peace old friend and take your seat next to Murdoch when OU plays your Texas Longhorns on October 2 in the Cotton Bowl. I will be there, God willing, and will be thinking of you.