By Mike Mooneyham

June 18, 2006

Nearly 40 years have passed, but I can still remember the man peering over his shoulder, looking into the crowd.

To a youngster not even into his teens, he looked like a giant, weighing well over 300 pounds, with cold, piercing eyes and a long, shaggy mane.

And he was plenty mad. Moments earlier, a ringside fan at County Hall had directed a gob of spit in his general vicinity, and with remarkably accurate aim. The steaming mountain of a man, aptly named Bull Ramos, naturally wasn’t pleased.

John Johnston, a middle school chum of mine, had been the culprit and rightfully felt fortunate that he escaped Ramos’ wrath that night. I knew I was.

If the truth be told, though, Ramos was only doing his job and doing it very well. It was just another night in the career of a man whose livelihood depended on making fans spit, cuss and get in a general tizzy over his nefarious tactics inside the ring.

“Apache” Bull Ramos was a star during the ’60s and ’70s who had noteworthy feuds with the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Mil Mascaras, Terry Funk, Dutch Savage and Jimmy Snuka. His calling card was his ability to draw enormous heat during his matches.

Bull Ramos

Bull Ramos

Unlike most Native American wrestlers of that era, Ramos played the role of a bonafide heel, rejecting promoters’ requests to saddle him with phony Italian and lumberjack gimmicks. He wrestled on top at Madison Square Garden against the legendary Sammartino – including the first main event at the current building in 1968 – and at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles against Mil Mascaras in a famous “hair vs. mask” match.

Ramos was coming off a major upset of Mascaras in a chain match when he put his long hair up against the fabled mask of Mascaras in a highly publicized bout at the Olympic on Oct. 10, 1969. The match sold out, and Ramos ended up getting his head shaved.

“That match was huge,” recalled Mascaras. “Bull Ramos was a very good heel. He knew how to make the fans hate him.”

Outside the ring, though, it was an entirely different story. Longtime ring foe and friend Dutch Savage probably knew him best.

“Bull Ramos was one of the most kind-hearted and gentlest men out of the ring that I’ve ever met,” Savage said recently from his home in Washington. “He was a very loving individual. He would do anything for you if he liked you. Bull and I were ‘manos’ – we were complete, unadulterated friends.

The two would talk at least a couple of times of week, Savage says, with the conversation always beginning the same way. “Hey, Mano, how you doing, you white trash?” Ramos would ask.

“I’d call him a drunken Indian, and he called me white trash,” laughs Savage.

Savage, who owned a third of the Pacific Northwest wrestling territory during the ’70s, enjoyed a lucrative program with Ramos, who was the area’s top heel at the time.

“The reason I kept him up here so long is because I could see the chutzpah he had. He was a true heel. There’s a lot of heels in the business, but this guy was a perfect, perfect heel.”

He was, Savage says, the best working heel he had ever seen in the business.

“He did a lot of work in this country and made a lot of people happy. He was a very good worker and super convincing. And the thing about him – if he popped you and you didn’t sell in the ring, the next time you’d sell. I can still feel the wax shooting out of my ears.”

Ramos, who retired from wrestling for the most part in the early ’80s, headlined in a number of territories throughout the country. In some, however, he worked as a mid-carder with little push.

“He was a natural, and good promoters could see that,” says Savage. “The ones that didn’t know what the heck they were doing and listened to the boys couldn’t see it, because the boys were jealous of Bull. Here’s this round fellow, 340 pounds, but he was quick as lightning.”

Ramos had grown up poor in Houston, but had learned to use his fists and athletic skills at an early age. He wasn’t, says Savage, someone to be taken lightly in a real fight. Savage, who was no slouch himself at 6-4 and 260 pounds, recalls one of their memorable Indian Strap and Coal Miner’s Glove matches.

“The place was jammed to the hilt. Bull tied the strap around my neck and to the turnbuckle. He was really whaling on me. Then some big, tall guy from the audience jumped up on the ring apron, got on Bull’s blind side and popped him right behind the ear.”

Savage, who was bleeding profusely at the time but watching Ramos out the corner of his eye, was surprised when his opponent just shrugged it off. Suddenly, however, Ramos ripped the leather strap off Savage and took off running.

“He ripped it right off my body and gave me a blister on my neck,” says Savage. “Before the guy got down the aisle to the side door, Bull was on him. He nearly beat that guy to death while a cop stood there and watched. And after Bull got through with him, he spit on him and walked back to the ring, and they had to get the ambulance. The guy later tried to sue him, but the guy hit Bull first and there were 14,000 witnesses.”

It’s also interesting to note that Ramos took an up-and-coming bodybuilder named Jesse Ventura under his wing and teamed with him in the Oregon territory. Even more noteworthy is that Ramos did all the talking for the team.

“Jesse Ventura didn’t even know how to get into the ring when he got here from Minnesota,” recalls Savage. “He couldn’t even talk on television. We had to teach him how to talk, and Bull took him under his wing.”

The act was even more comical since it was built around the savvy, more experienced Ramos taking advantage of and conning his naive young partner.

Savage says he and Ramos both tried to get in touch with Ventura in 1998 after he was elected governor of Minnesota. They never got a return call.

“The boys are only as good as their next payoff, and they will cut your throat the instant you turn your back,” Savage laments. Ramos worked briefly as a babyface (good guy) when he joined forces with Savage in a feud with Ventura and Playboy Buddy Rose. Like a true heel, however, it didn’t last.

“He beat me up three weeks later,” says Savage.

Ramos would go on to work a number of territories around the country and would enjoy 15 tours of Japan, five of Korea and a two-year stint in Australia. He moved back to Houston to run a wrecking service when his wrestling career was done.

“Bull’s wife, Brenda, was just a teenage kid when he first met her and she swept the big Indian off his, as he thought, steady feet,” says Savage. “He had been in another common law marriage that didn’t go as it should, but when Brenda came along, that was all she wrote for Bull. He talked about her constantly and was a good husband to her. She did a fine job with the children, and they came first except for Bull.”

Bull Ramos passed away last month at the age of 69. His last few years had been hard. Diabetes had rendered him blind and taken a leg. He was on kidney dialysis three times a week and battling countless other health issues. A massive shoulder infection eventually poisoned his system.

“We were both pretty heavy into booze during our years in the business, and he had to stop because he lost both kidneys,” says Savage.

Ramos, adds his friend, fought to the very end.

Somehow that didn’t surprise me.