There was no world title on the line the first time professional wrestling legend Gerald Brisco stepped onto a wrestling mat, nor was there even a participation ribbon.
Brisco was motivated nonetheless.
Seven at the time, he received a warning from his older brother Jack moments before the amateur match in Oklahoma.
“'If you want to come home tonight, you better pin this guy in 20 seconds,'” Brisco, 74, said his brother told him. “I won in 19 seconds, so was able to go home and eat dinner that night.”
Brisco would go on to wrestle for Oklahoma State University before joining the scripted professional industry, first as a performer who became one of Tampa’s biggest celebrities and then backstage helping to build future stars for the WWE.
That career, which includes an induction in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, might be over. The WWE released Brisco from his job as a talent scout in September. He’d been with the company for 36 of his 51 years in the professional wrestling industry.
When his time as an amateur is included, wrestling was an everyday part of Brisco’s life for 67 years.
Peers were upset by the news.
“I LOVE YOU SIR,” tweeted WWE’s Otis, real name Nikola Bogojevic, who is among those scouted by Brisco.
“I’m very sorry to learn that Gerald Brisco is no longer with @WWE,” retired WWE performer Mick Foley tweeted. “He is a great man who has been a tremendous asset to the company for 36 years. I loved working with him.”
Brisco, who has made the Tampa area home since 1976, admits he was initially upset. That feeling has passed.
“I’m okay with it,” he said.
Furloughed since April as part of WWE cutbacks during the pandemic, Brisco expected to be released if the spread of COVID-19 kept paying crowds out of arenas.
“The way I see it, I earned a break,” Brisco said.
As a performer who won dozens of championships, Brisco was on the road year-round.
His travel schedule lightened as a talent scout, but he was still away from his wife, Barbara, for at least 26 weeks a year.
He has already checked off one item on his retirement to-do list.
“I have facial hair now,” Brisco said, stroking his mutton chops. “I’d always wanted to grow it, but I never knew if I’d be needed on TV.”
What’s next? “I don’t want to drive my wife crazy,” Brisco laughed. “I don’t know. Maybe watch more sports?”
Or, perhaps, write a book. “I do have a lot of stories to tell,” he said.
There was the time wrestler Andre the Giant, real name Andre Roussimoff, drank two cases of tall boys during their drive from Sarasota to Tampa. Or when wrestler Dusty Rhodes, real name Virgil Runnels Jr., starred in a self-promoted rock concert at Tampa’s Fort Homer W. Hesterly.
Only around 125 people showed up. Fellow wrestlers, including Brisco, crashed the stage after they had too much to drink, and Rhodes lost $5,000 on the venture.
Brian Blair, another retired Tampa wrestler, recalled one of the “countless” jokes Brisco played on him.
“I was at his brother Jack’s house and Jerry tells me to take out the canoe to go check out a gator’s new babies,” Blair said. “I didn’t want him to think I was scared, so I went.”
Once Blair was near the alligator, Brisco, from shore, pelted him with oranges until the canoe overturned. “I’ve never swam to shore so fast in my life,” Blair said.
As an in-ring professional wrestler from 1969 to 1985, Brisco was among the best of his era.
“Jerry was a huge celebrity in Tampa,” said Barry Rose, an archivist of Florida professional wrestling history. “But you can’t talk about Jerry without talking about his brother Jack, and you can’t talk about Jack without Jerry.”
The brothers — Jack Brisco died in 2010 — made the Tampa-based Championship Wrestling from Florida their home throughout the 1970s and held the promotion’s tag team titles eight times. In 1983, the Brisco brothers won the National Wrestling Alliance world tag team titles in an era when that promotion was on par with the WWE.
Their top feud was with the Funk brothers, Dory Jr. and Terry. It was the Briscos' Native American ancestry versus the Funks' cowboy roots. Except, in their “Cowboys and Indians” rivalry that spanned a decade, Brisco said, the Native Americans were the good guys — as opposed to how the story played out on television serials in the mid-20th century.
“Jerry was one of those guys you could see wrestle every week in your city and never get tired of,” Rose said. “He was that good.”
The Brisco brothers, added Pete Lederberg, who photographed Florida matches and managed photographers at the events, are “to blame for my love of pro wrestling. When I moved down to Florida from New York, the wrestling was so much more realistic and faster, and Jack and Jerry were a huge part of that.”
A young bass player named Terry Bollea was among those who regularly attended Brisco’s matches.
Brisco had also seen Bollea performing on Tampa music stages and thought he had the size and charisma to make it in professional wrestling.
“I introduced him to the right people to get him started, and I was right,” Brisco said. “He was a star.”
Today, of course, Bollea is known as Hulk Hogan.
A businessman too, Brisco bought stock in Championship Wrestling from Florida and Georgia Championship Wrestling, and then, in the early 1980s, brokered the deal to sell the promotions to the WWE during its rise from a northeastern-based entity to a global company.
“Yeah, I’m responsible for the rise of the evil empire,” Brisco laughed.
Brisco wrestled for the WWE for a year before taking the job as a backstage agent in 1985.
“That’s like the coach,” he said. “We help put the matches together.”
One of the WWE’s most famous matches is credited to Brisco, as is one of its most infamous.
In 1997, Brisco helped plan the bloody WrestleMania 13 submission contest between Brett Hart and Steve Austin that, even in a loss, helped turn Austin into one of the biggest draws in the history of professional wrestling.
But he was also the agent for what was billed as the “Kennel from Hell” steel cage match between Big Boss Man and Al Snow in 1999.
Vicious dogs were to keep the wrestlers inside the ring. But the canines were too calm to be threatening and instead surrounded the ring with feces.
“That one was a mess,” Brisco said. “But I knew it would be and that is why I took it. I always took the most difficult matches because I felt like my job was safe if it went wrong. I didn’t want someone else to get in trouble.”
Brisco enjoyed an in-ring resurgence in the early 2000s as a cowardly and bumbling stooge to WWE owner Vince McMahon’s evil television persona. He would typically take a beating at the hands of whichever wrestler was McMahon’s nemesis.
“That was one of the best times of my life,” Brisco said. “I was allowed to be goofy and have fun.”
Three strokes in 2009 ended his full-time WWE schedule. “Doctors said I shouldn’t travel so much,” Brisco said.
The WWE then charged him with finding future stars. Brisco did so by searching the college wrestling ranks for the most athletic and outgoing.
Eight-time world champion Brock Lesnar is among Brico’s recruits, as is Angelo Dawkins, one-half of the current tag team champions the Street Profits.
He won’t yet commit to retirement, but if nothing new materializes, Brisco is content with what he has accomplished.
“I’ve been around the world,” Brisco said. “And I’ve gotten to help build the WWE into an empire from the ground floor. I’m good.”