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7 Unsung Events That Deserve Your Attention

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Football season is cranking up, and playoff baseball is on the horizon. With all this major-sports excitement, it's easy to miss some of the more obscure competitions taking place in the coming weeks. Don't make that mistake, though, as you might miss out on one of these unheralded events.

1. Red Bull Flugtag

Since 1991, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has brought his unique vision for an aviation competition to the world each year. Flugtag isn't like any normal air show, though. Competitors launch themselves off a pier or dock in an attempt to fly their homemade human-powered conveyances as far as they can. (As you might have guessed, homemade flying machines tend to crash rather quickly, which is half the fun.) Once the teams take off, their flight is judged on the basis of distance, creativity, and showmanship. Some devices do actually manage to fly, though; one team made it 195 feet at an event in Austria. More often, though, the homemade machines splash down into the water, so each one must be unsinkable as an environmentally friendly precaution.

The final Red Bull Flugtag USA of the summer takes place at Chicago's North Avenue Beach on Saturday, so there's still time to see this spectacle if you hurry. Here are some highlights from a previous Flugtag:

2. California State Yo-Yo Championships

A yo-yo doesn't just have to be a semi-fun toy you found in your stocking every year at Christmas; it can also be a serious competitive tool. Freestyle competitors in this event get two minutes to do a yo-yo routine choreographed to music, and the tricks go far beyond the old sleeper and walk-the-dog tricks you did as a kid. Judges award points based on stage presence, choreography, amplitude, elegance of control and line, maturity of yo-yo maneuvers, and originality. If you're near San Francisco and not particularly busy, the competition takes place today at The Exploratorium, and admission is free. If you're not convinced that yo-yo tricks can be pretty impressive, check out this video of Augie Fash winning last year's competition:

3. World Series of Mahjong

The World Series of Poker may get all the publicity, but the Wynn is hosting the World Series of Mahjong from September 19-21 at the Wynn Macau in China. Top competitors will square off in matches according to simplified standardized rules in order to stake their claims to the title of world's top Mahjong player. You may not associate the classic Chinese tile game with high stakes, but this tournament isn't for skittish amateurs. It costs $5,000 to enter, and the winner takes home $500,000. The event will be broadcast around the world, so tune in for some hot tiled action.

4. Midland Game Fair

On the off chance you find yourself in Shropshire, England on September 20-21, you really owe it to yourself to check out the Midland Game Fair. It looks just like an American fair, except if you replaced the carnies with falconers. The fair seeks to celebrate the unique aspects of English country life and educate patrons on its many splendors. Events include shooting, falconry, gundog exhibitions, and, of course, ferreting.

5. European Rubik's Cube Championship

If you're in Bilbao, Spain, on the weekend of September 19th, you've got more to do than just see the Guggenheim; you also need to check in on this speedcubing championship. Solving a plain old Rubik's Cube in any amount of time may be tough enough for most of us, but an elite cadre of cubers do them so quickly that even Fresh Prince-era Will Smith would be impressed. Competitors are handed a jumbled cube and given fifteen seconds to inspect its sides before solving it in a smooth, lightning-quick motion. This tournament has 17 divisions, including one-handed Rubik's Cube solving, blindfolded Rubik's Cube solving, and competitions for cubes that are as large as 5x5x5 blocks rather than a traditional Rubik's Cube's 3x3x3 dimensions. Here's a video example of speedcubing to whet your interest:

6. National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook-Off

Are you sick of going to cooking competitions that just end up being snooty and barely even involve rustic wagons? Then this is the event for you. Chuck wagon teams from around the country meet up in Lubbock, Texas, as part of the National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration to revive "the skills that were used to keep the cowboys fed and fit." The four-man teams each use a wood fire to make a meal that consists of chicken-fried steak, pinto beans, potatoes, a cobbler, and either biscuits or rolls. Better yet, this isn't just some ivory tower competition where only the judges get to taste the food; the same chow is served to attendees as dinner. The rules seek to make each chuck wagon's equipment as authentic as possible, including regulations on the metals used in cookware and the suggestion that each wagon carry a two-man crosscut saw. This event looks both interesting and delicious, so it's worth checking out if you're in the Lubbock area this weekend.

7. Dunrobin Castle Piping Championships

piping2.jpgIf you're going to have a championship for pipe playing, there's no better place to hold it than a Scottish castle. This seems to be the underlying logic of the Dunrobin Castle Piping Championships, which will take place on September 13th in Sutherland, Scotland. The annual affair seeks to give young pipers a chance to win a competition if they haven't yet won one of Scotland's major piping showcases, and spectators can be treated to an afternoon of sweet pipe music. Photos of last year's competition show the pipers clad in traditional Scottish plaids and kilts, so the fashion alone might warrant a visit.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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retro-wrestling, eBay

For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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