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How a billion-dollar business left town

Some things you remember seeing as a kid are hard to shake. They stay with you way into middle and what I hope is a ripe old age. Years back, a small business located here in Portland, with occasional stops in Bangor and Boston, slowly climbed the ladder of success.
Then, they left town.
The business continued to grow under its new leadership, slowly adding city after city to its retinue. By the mid 1980s, it was an international phenomenon 15 years after leaving Portland.
I'm referring to what was then called the "World Wide Wrestling Federation," more commonly referred to by its new incarnation, the "WWE" for World Wrestling entertainment.
Bouts were held, recorded for later airplay, and shown on Saturdays or Sundays. As a kid, it was one of those things that you got together with your Dad to do, sit around, watch the wrestling, talk about dude stuff.
There was this skinny announcer, constantly made the butt of practical jokes and verbal slapdowns. Looking at what he looked like back in the early 1970s you probably would suspect to see him walking down the streets of Portland today wearing hipster skinny jeans.
But that was then, this is now. Vince McMahon is huge now. Little known at the time was the fact that he was the BOSS, signed the checks, set up the bouts, wrote the scripts ... everything.
Since those early days of the 1970s when Vince took over an announcer gig on his Dad's "All Star Wrestling" show, to a few years later when he took over the territory, you could see that he had a long term plan. Grow, little by little and bit by bit, swallowing up not only the competition, but their territory as well. Snag their stars of the ring, sign them to contracts, and keep growing.
Real names and real lives hid behind the ring personas of the day. If I told you I'd shook the hand of Robert James Morella and William Calhoun, you'd be likely to look at me funny thing "who?" But mention their ring names "Gorilla Monsoon" and Haystacks Calhoun" and the memories come floating back.
There was Joseph Luke Scarpa, more commonly known as "Chief Jay Strongbow." He passed away last April. Józef Bednarski, better known as "Ivan Putzki." Bruno Sammartino, who never changed his name, but walked away from the game, never to look back. The aforementioned Robert "Gorilla Monsoon" Morella, who had a big chunk of ownership in the company that got bought out by Vince McMahon, and eventually became WWE.
One small item stands out from that sale. When leveraging the buyout that brought WWE under McMahon's control, Vince's Dad made him promise something; he needed to take care of the folks that were loyal to what they were building for all those years.
And he did. The ones still alive are still active behind the scenes in the company, some as local scouts, some as coaches, some as talent managers. Its one of those old throwback thing of business, that if someone helped you build something, they have a job for life.
Why does this all matter? WWE is "Coming BACK TO PORTLAND!" as the ring announcer would say, doing a non-televised event with all the stars of the current day. Some of them come and go quickly, others stay on for years. One thing though, is certain.
A bit of history started here all those years ago, and the company turned into an international billion dollar business not BECAUSE they left Portland, but because of some of the lessons learned here.
(Bob Higgins is a regular contributor to The Portland Daily Sun. See his regularly scheduled column on Saturdays.)

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