Posted on 10/14/120 by Mike Informer
Pro wrestler who helped integrate sports in Alabama
Updated Oct 12, 11:40 AM; Posted Oct 12, 11:31 AM
Longtime professional wrestler Len Rossi, who integrated
wrestling matches in Birmingham by teaming with a black
wrestler called Bearcat Brown, has died.
Rossi died on Friday, the Tennessean reported. He was 91.
In a 2016 interview with The Birmingham News, Rossi recalled
wrestling at Boutwell Auditorium on Monday nights from 1958-
“We used to pack Boutwell Auditorium,” said Rossi, who quit
wrestling in 1972 after a serious car crash and opened Len
Rossi Health Food Store in Brentwood, Tenn.
“It was so popular, when my wife and I would go out to eat
at restaurants, people would mob us for autographs,” Rossi
Rossi recalled that he and his black wrestling tag-team
partner the late Bearcat Brown integrated professional
wrestling at Boutwell in 1962, with ringside TV broadcaster
Sterling Brewer doing the announcing. Brewer died in 2016.
“He was really happy that Bearcat became my partner,” Rossi
said. “We integrated wrestling in Birmingham. We made
wrestling history, about 1962. We were scared. They had bomb
threats. But it was packed. We turned away hundreds and
hundreds of people.”
Birmingham retired wrestler Sam Tenenbaum, 76, who wrestled
under the name “The Great Kaiser,” recalled Rossi as one of
the top wrestlers in the Southeast throughout the 1960s. He
said Rossi wrestled a circuit that included Nashville,
Memphis, Knoxville, Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile.
“Len Rossi was one of the nicest, most refined, most
dignified gentlemen,” Tenenbaum said. “There was no one I
met in the wrestling business who didn’t hold him in high
Part of the popularity of wrestling in Birmingham came from
studio wrestling broadcast live on Saturday nights from TV
stations to promote the Monday night bouts at Boutwell.
Starting in the 1950s on Channel 13, returning in the 1960s
on Channel 42 and later airing on Channel 6, professional
wrestling aired live weekly for many years on Birmingham
local TV with a small audience around the ring.
“They had a tremendous impact on audiences,” Tenenbaum said.
“It was a mainstay of TV programming. You didn’t have all
the TV sports you do now.”
Rossi was one of the stars of those TV bouts.
“He was tops,” said retired wrestler Joe Honeycutt, 97, of
Birmingham. “He was one of the very, very best. He was a