Big Cat Ernie Ladd’s Wrestling Legacy

Ernie Ladd, known as “The Big Cat,” was a towering figure in the world of professional wrestling. Born on November 28, 1938, in Rayville, Louisiana, Ladd’s athletic prowess was evident from an early age. He initially made his mark in football, playing as a defensive tackle. Standing at 6 feet 9 inches and weighing 320 pounds, Ladd was an intimidating presence on the field. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1961 and quickly became one of the American Football League’s elite players, participating in four consecutive AFL All-Star Games and winning an AFL Championship.

However, Ladd’s athletic ambitions were not confined to the gridiron. He transitioned to professional wrestling while still in his prime as a football player. Trained by Bobo Brazil, Ladd debuted in the wrestling ring in 1961 and embarked on a career that would span over two decades. His size and charisma made him a natural in the ring, and he quickly became one of wrestling’s most memorable “villains.”

Ladd’s wrestling career was marked by his innovative approach to the heel persona. He was one of the first African-American wrestlers to play a heel, breaking the mold at a time when most black wrestlers were cast as babyfaces. His feuds with fan favorites like Wahoo McDaniel and Mr. Wrestling were legendary, and his promos were controversial and cutting-edge for the era. Ladd was known for his infamous taped thumb, which he claimed was due to an old football injury, and for walking out of matches to accept a count-out loss, a tactic that would come to be known as “pulling an Ernie Ladd.”

Throughout his wrestling career, Ladd competed in various territories, including the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), where he was a frequent contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. He also had memorable stints in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), Mid-South Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Council (WWC) in Puerto Rico. His rivalry with Andre the Giant was particularly notable, showcasing the spectacle of two giants clashing in the ring.

Ladd’s accomplishments in wrestling were recognized with multiple Hall of Fame inductions. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994, and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018. His influence on the sport extended beyond the ring, as he also served as a commentator and mentor to younger wrestlers.

After retiring from wrestling, Ladd remained a prominent figure in the community. He was a friend of the Bush family and supported George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Ladd also owned a BBQ restaurant in New Orleans, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, he ministered to evacuees at the Astrodome, showcasing his commitment to helping others.

Ernie Ladd passed away on March 10, 2007, after a battle with colon cancer. His legacy lives on as a trailblazer in professional wrestling, remembered for his immense talent, charisma, and the barriers he broke down for African-American athletes in the sport.

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Professional Wrestling

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