If you’re old enough to remember pro wrestling in the 1970’s, then you probably remember hating, and fearing, (and perhaps, lusting for) the “Big Cat” — Ernie Ladd. At 7 feet tall and 300 pounds, he was a natural Heel — especially given that he was a large, cocky, outspoken black male during a time in the south when race relations had become a bit strained. He would wear a huge gold crown into the ring and refer to himself as the “King of Professional Wrestling” — an arrogant Heel move that many other wrestlers would later copy.
Ladd played off the fears and hostility of his primarily white, redneck audience. He would boast about his size-18 shoes (a reference to the superior size of his cock), and threaten, mock, or insult his (white) opponents, often calling them “egg sucking dogs”. Nobody could silence this uppity black Alpha Male, which was kind of hot.
One of Ladd’s gimmicks was to tape his thumb before a match, claiming he had injured it years ago as a pro football player. When the ref wasn’t watching, he would press it into his opponent’s face, or jab him in the throat, or poke his eyes with that nasty taped thumb. As if his size wasn’t advantage enough, this big cheater uses his thumb as a weapon too?!
I wonder if Ladd understood the phallic symbolism of his taped thumb, always stiff and protruding, which he uses to “penetrate” his victims, jabbing it into them relentlessly as if he were raping them? I wonder if the outraged white men in the audience felt sexually threatened by that big stiff thumb?
As an impressionable young wrestling fan, I was outraged that the ref and other bosses blindly allowed Ladd to tape his thumb. Clearly, he only wanted to torture other men with it! My confusion and rage over this injustice somehow became a turn-on. How stupid and gullible are the promoters? This dirty bastard is taking advantage of The System! The more I pondered his cruel tactics, the more I felt a warm dizzy feeling.
Soon, I was thinking about Ladd and his big mean thumb long after the show was over — picturing him in the ring with young John Travolta, or cute little Davy Jones from The Monkees, or our local weatherman with his wavy blond hair, sadistically using that cruel thumb to carve up their handsome faces. Hurt ’em, Big Cat!
The next week, I’d be glued to the television again, swooning as the “Big Cat” strutted to the ring with his thumb taped like a cock in a condom. Soon he would have that stiff weapon buried in some hapless jobber’s throat and I’d be going out of my mind.
The commentators would fuel my excitement, discussing Ladd’s size and savagery, his thumb so dangerous. To hear grown men express such keen interest in Ladd, to hear their awe over his fearsome cruelty, their serious tone, made me a wrestling addict for life.
Yet the Big Cat’s probing thumb emasculates Atlas, dropping the muscle man to his knees. The audience cries out in anger, yet Ladd continues to drive that thumb in to further weaken Atlas.
Dusty Rhodes was the epitome of a Southern Good-Ole-Boy with his ponderous pale body and Texas drawl. He even wore tall white cowboy boots into the ring so his fans understood he was a redneck like them. If the promoters wanted to sell more tickets by stirring up audience heat, then the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was the perfect whipping boy for big, black Ernie Ladd to abuse and punish.
They were Tag Team partners for a short time, then Ladd (the dirty, cheating snake) betrayed Rhodes and they became bitter enemies. They battled many times to the fans’ delight, with Ladd often using his Big Thumb to bust open Dusty’s forehead, humiliating the chubby Good Ole Boy by forcing him to wear the Crimson Mask of shame.
I also could not comprehend, as a curious young wrestling fan, why Ernie Ladd (or any real man) would use the nickname “Big Cat.” In my boy brain, a cat was an inferior, less manly creature. Did it not feminize Ladd to call himself a “cat”?
Wouldn’t a big, violent wrestler rather be known as a dog — like “Bulldog” Don Kent?? (And then I would have fantasies of the Big Cat against the Bulldog and all the bloodshed and brutality that would ensue…)
Anyway, Ladd apparently earned the “Big Cat” nickname when he was a pro football player due to his uncanny speed for a man his size. But they never explained the origin of his name during the wrestling programs on television — they just called him the “Big Cat.” For me, this unusual nickname added to Ladd’s mystique — calling himself a “cat” and then using that sharp thumb to scratch and claw at his victims’ faces.
Here is Rhodes on his knee before Ladd, his face exposed as Ladd palms his head with an oversized mitt, preparing to “destroy” Rhodes with that big phallic thumb. Both men understand the ring psychology of their positions, Ladd standing in dominance with his thumb ready for action, Rhodes on his knees staring at the bigger man’s tool.
And you wonder why I’m obsessed with pro wrestling when I grew up with graphic, violent, and sexually suggestive scenes like this…