Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. News

Santa with muscles: Christmas stories with a wrestling twist

TAMPA — The Christmas season is upon us and throughout the world children are lining up for their turn to sit on the lap of Santa Claus to tell ol' Kris Kringle what they want to find under the tree.

But parents beware. If hidden behind that white beard and red cap is a professional wrestler, there is no guarantee Santa Claus will be nice.

That particular Santa could be on the naughty list.

The Tampa Bay area — a longtime hub of both wrestling events and wrestler residents — has its share of grappler-related Christmas tales.

Here are some favorites:

It was Christmas Day 1982 and St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center hosted a main-event match between fan favorite Dusty Rhodes and evil-doer Kevin Sullivan, with the stipulation that the loser had to leave Florida for 60 days.

"Everyone thought I would get my comeuppance," Sullivan said.

Throughout the event, there were two Santas handing out candy to the kids in the audience.

But a third appeared during the Rhodes-Sullivan match and he slipped the bad guy a "foreign object" so he could cheat to win.

It was Sullivan's nefarious pal Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who had been banned from the building so he "snuck" in disguised as Father Christmas.

"A fan in the balcony jumped to the ground and broke both of his legs," Sullivan, who now resides in the San Juan Islands, said with a long and hard laugh. "So his Christmas wasn't too good."

The following morning, Sullivan noted, newspapers reported several Santas were beaten up in the streets by fans looking for Roberts.

One of the more beloved local Christmas traditions mixed with wrestling was "Macho Man" Randy Savage taking the stage for 15 years to recite Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Children's Holiday Concert presented by the Steinbrenner Family Foundation and the New York Yankees.

The annual event for underprivileged children, which continues today, included a performance by the Florida Orchestra. But it was the wrestler Savage reading the iconic poem in his equally iconic gruff and gravelly voice complete with his trademark "Oh yeah" that usually stole the show.

"Even when he wasn't on TV anymore and as famous, the children still loved him," Savage's brother and Largo resident Lanny Poffo said. "That voice."

Poffo, however, was never invited, joking, "I'm not an underprivileged kid."

Savage died in 2011, and Poffo, a retired wrestler, started his own tradition.

He read How the Grinch Stole Christmas to his now-adult daughter so often when she was growing up that he not only memorized it but perfected voices for the story's lead antagonist plus cute little Cindy Lou Who.

Poffo now spends the holiday season telling the story to kids at churches, libraries, recreation centers and whoever else requests his presence.

"The only thing you get out of helping others is tired," Poffo said. "But it is worth it."

If you were to ask professional wrestler and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair for his Grinch, he'd point to his friends the Briscos.

"I came from humble beginnings," he said. "But what little I did get on Christmas, I appreciated.''

That was the case when he was 19 years old and had recently broken into the professional wrestling industry.

For Christmas that year his family pitched in and purchased him a new sweat suit, tennis shoes, a watch and a gold chain.

"I was so proud of it all," Blair said. So proud that the day after Christmas he wore the outfit to a party at the Odessa home of Jack Brisco.

Blair was there for only minutes before a prank on him was planned.

Brisco had two neighborhood children take Blair out on a canoe to see a large mother alligator and her babies living in the lake behind the home.

It was meant to scare Blair. And it worked.

"When we saw the gators, the kids were being silly and laughing but I was very serious," Blair said. "I told them turn around right now."

But as the canoe approached shore, a laughing Brisco and his brother Gerald Brisco pelted Blair with oranges until he was knocked from the canoe.

"All I could think was I was going to be eaten by the gator," Blair said with a chuckle. "I swam to shore as fast as I have ever swum."

His chain was lost in the lake, his watch filled with water, and the legs of his sweatpants sagged like flippers.

Blair picked up oranges that had fallen from Jack Brisco's trees and fought back. The battle spilled across the street to Gerald Brisco's home, where thrown fruit ended up destroying a Santa Claus yard display.

Angry, Brisco's wife yelled, "Why would grown men do this?"

Years later, Blair said the answer remains, "Because we are wrestlers."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.