By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 19, 2007
Size really does matter.
At least to a vocal group of little people who have a problem with midget wrestling. They frown on the term “midget” and call the wrestling part of the equation a spectacle that holds the participants up to ridicule.
Gary Arnold, a disability rights activist who happens to be a dwarf, has campaigned in the Chicago area to shut down shows featuring the pint-sized performers.
“When we use that term and link it with something like wrestling, that’s saying that the midget is part of the entertainment, so it kind of reinforces the legacy of people of short stature being used in entertainment,” Arnold recently told the Chicago Tribune.
To Arnold, and many members of the worldwide advocacy group Little People of America, “midget” is a hot-button word akin to a racial slur. It’s degrading, they say, and does nothing to elevate the stature of little people. Their take on the matter, not so surprisingly, isn’t shared by most members of the midget wrestling fraternity.
The controversy gets Chris Dube, a second-generation midget wrestler who works under the ring moniker Little Kato, more than a little hot under the collar.
“Who cares if they’re opposed to it? Not everybody is going to like what we do. If they don’t like what we do, they don’t have to come to the show. I don’t like what some of them do, but I don’t go out there protesting and trying to shut them down. We’re just trying to make a living. We all have families. I’m a midget, and I just don’t agree with LPA when they do that.”
Dube, 43, is 4-6 and 110 pounds and has been wrestling professionally for nearly 20 years. He contends he’s a sports entertainer just like his larger counterparts.
“We’re doing the same thing that big guys do. We’re actors and entertainers. We’re just smaller.”
Dube also says little people face much bigger issues than midget wrestling.
“Anyone protesting has got problems with life period anyway. Who are they to say we shouldn’t be wrestling? It’s OK for two tall men to wrestle. It’s OK for two women to wrestle in oil and with hardly any clothes on. Yet they want to complain about midgets wrestling. It’s a bunch of BS. I don’t have time for those kind of people.”
Brian Thoe, who wrestles professionally as Bad Boy Brian, echoes Dube’s sentiments.
“Why should people try to tell me what to do with my life? I don’t try to tell them what to do with their lives. Leave me alone, and I’ll leave them alone,” Thoe says of the small but vocal opposition to midget wrestling.
The 4-6, 150-pound Thoe says he has no problems whatsoever with the word “midget,” a non-medical term that has become synonymous with “dwarf,” the scientific term for people with their genetic condition. Little people is the accepted, politically correct term, and Thoe is anything but.
“Midget wrestling has been around forever. Usually the people who are entertainers – little people like me – don’t mind using the word midget because it’s an eye-catching, ear-catching thing that attracts people. They don’t find it offensive. People in the LPA might have a problem with it, but I don’t believe in the LPA. I’ll fight tooth and nail on that. It’s just an entertaining name.”
“I think it’s a bunch of bull,” says Dube. “They’ll find something else to complain about too. If anybody should complain about it, it should be me or the other midget wrestlers, not somebody that’s not part of the deal.”
Midget wrestling, cloaked in vaudeville, enjoyed its heyday during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when colorful characters with names like Little Beaver, Sky Low Low and Fuzzy Cupid were star attractions on wrestling shows throughout the country.
While the more traditional style of midget wrestling has waned over the past couple of decades, hard-core midget wrestling has gained in popularity in recent years. It’s bloodier and more brutal, and Dube says he understands it’s not for everyone.
The Half Pint Brawlers, an extreme, hardcore midget troupe which started performing in the late ’90s, features “The Psycho Midgets.” The midget mayhem includes industrial staple guns to the head, thumbtack matches and broken bottles. They’ve sold more than 6,000 copies of their first DVD, a combination of hardcore wrestling, stunts and Girls Gone Wild, and have opened for acts such as Kid Rock. A new DVD promises that “midgets bleed what little blood they have for your enjoyment.”
” I do this hard-core stuff and it pays my bills, but I like the old-school style better. The hardcore is a little crazy. Not just with midgets, but with the big guys, too. It’s borderline degrading,” admits Dube.
Steve Richardson, who owns the Half Pint Brawlers and wrestles as Puppet the Psycho Dwarf, takes it one step further.
It’s all about the show, the blood and the spectacle. It’s a stage on which the pint-sized grapplers enjoy rock-star status with their fans.
“We love our jobs,” Richardson said in a recent interview. “We get drunk, we go wrestle and we pick up chicks. What else is there in life? We have a lot of opportunities here.”
No one, he says, wants to see an event called “Little People Wrestling.” Call it “midget wrestling” or, better yet, “bloody midgets,” and fans will show up in droves, says Richardson, whose forehead is pockmarked with dozens of dents.
Thoe, who lives in Minnesota, also has done some hardcore wrestling, but prefers the traditional style. “It’s the new generation of midget wrestling. They get pretty busted up.” As for dwarf or midget tossing, Dube says he’s doesn’t condone it, but he adds he wouldn’t stand in the way of those who prefer that route.
“I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t protest. If another midget wants to go into a nightclub and get thrown on a big mat by someone, then that’s on him. But I’m not going to protest someone making a living. At least he’s not on the side of the street selling drugs or robbing or murdering somebody.”
Even today’s version of pro wrestling puts a more violent framework around its use of little folks. Four-hundred pound King Kong Bundy performed a body splash on legendary midget performer Little Beaver (Lionel Giroux) at Wrestlemania III in 1987 as ringside commentator and future governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura yelled, “Smash him, Bundy! Smash him, Bundy!”
The move broke the back of Little Beaver and forced his retirement after four decades in the ring.
Dube laments the fact that there is a scarcity of skilled midget wrestlers around today.
Last year WWE launched a juniors division for competitors at or under 5 feet tall that was short-lived. All the wrestlers wore masks and most were acrobatic Mexican minis who performed spectacular moves but lacked expression. WWE owner Vince McMahon dissolved the division in March.
“They wanted it to be the minis,” says Dube. “Why can’t we each have our own personality? When my dad wrestled, it was Lord Littlebrook. There were Little Tokyo, Cowboy Lang, Sky Low Low. They all had their own identity. They weren’t mini-this and mini-that. That’s what I don’t like about the business anymore. They’re great and everything, but there’s no personality. People want to see your face. Wrestling is a lot about facial expressions. You’re selling to a crowd. They can’t see your face under a hood. I don’t care how good you are.”
Thoe says it’s not that often when a midget show is shut down because of protesters.
“Most people don’t make a really big deal out of it. After people see the show, they know we’re like everyone else. It’s just for the advertising part.”
He says those who consider the name of the fights degrading should “get a life.” He doesn’t understand why they should find his career choice offensive. Many little people get into the business because it affords them the opportunity to make a living.
“They don’t think we’re equal,” Thoe says of the detractors. “They think it’s more of a negative term. We are small. It’s in the dictionary. It’s not offensive. Little people are being overly sensitive. They think it’s like a racist term. It’s all entertainment. It’s all a work. Of the money is there and everyone’s happy, who cares? We’re actually just making the economy stronger.”
“They think we’re making fun of them, but we’re not,” he adds. “It’s just a money thing. We’ve got to make a living. That’s the way it is.”
Dube has worked shows at The Joe the past three years as part of a Charleston RiverDogs promotion featuring midget wrestling. The shows have attracted a rabid following each year. It wasn’t the case, he notes, a couple of years ago in Columbia when the city blocked a stadium show just before the event.
The LPA, an advocacy group for short-statured folks founded in 1957 by entertainer Billy Barty, also has been vocal in its opposition to midget wrestling.
“Some in the LPA are against midget wrestling because they think we’re making fun of the little people. I told them I’m not,” says Thoe. “There’s a difference in people laughing at us and people laughing with us. My goal is to have people laughing with us. They laugh at what we do.”
“Everybody has a choice of how to make a living in this country, and last I checked, midget wrestling was legal,” says Dube. “So I don’t understand where they come from. It’s probably from someone who’s had a hard life and feels sorry for themselves.”
“I’m an entertainer, I’m an athlete, I’m an actor. That’s what I am. That’s what midget wrestling is. We’re entertainers. Not everyone can be a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer or whatever. Some of us are entertainers. I entertain people everyday wherever I’m at.”
Thoe, who technically is a dwarf, has wrestled for 13 years. He is the only small person in his family.
Infatuated by stories about longtime champion Lord Littlebrook and the lore of midget wrestling in its heyday, Thoe broke into the wrestling business after a promoter spotted him at a Minnesota strip club. He gave his two weeks notice, moved to Missouri and went to Littlebrook’s wrestling school in Missouri.
“My goal is to make the people happy and give them their money’s worth when they leave. Not just the people who watch the shows, but the promoters, the bosses, the bookers. We all try to have fun.”
Thoe, who also works as a convenience store clerk and at a pizza restaurant, loves the business with a passion and wants to make it a full-time career.
“To me, it’s more than a job, it’s my dream. I love doing it. I want to get a contract where I’m constantly on the road 24/7.”
Dube, who marks his second full decade in the business in August, wanted to wrestle professionally ever since he realized he wouldn’t be able to participate in other sports at a higher level.
“I’ve played sports all my life. The reason I got into midget wrestling was because I couldn’t play pro baseball, I couldn’t play pro basketball, I couldn’t play pro football. But I saw midgets wrestling on TV a lot when I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, and I wanted to do that. I got tired of working regular jobs. I could compete with other guys on the same playing field. There’s no unfairness or no advantage.”
Dube has five biological children and one on the way. Only two are small, and his wife is 5-10. “I like tall women,” he jokes.
“I have two daughters who are little. I stress education to them. I’d rather them go to school and use their brains and be a lawyer or a doctor. But not all of us have done that.”
Dube, who works between 10 and 12 shows a month and supplements his income as a dancer at birthday and bachelorette parties and other special events, has degenerative arthritis in his lower spine. He’s undergone surgery on his neck and has a metal plate in his back.
“It takes a toll on the body,” says Dube.
He can deal with the injuries. Just don’t give his chosen profession the, ahem, short shrift.
“When somebody tries to take money off my table to feed my kids, I get upset about it.”