Arguably the greatest cowboy pro-wrestler of all-time, Cowboy Bob Ellis was a huge star in this business during the 50's and 60's. Ellis, who wrestled some of the greatest names in the history of this sport, has been absent from the wrestling spotlight for many years now. On December 13th and 14th, Cowboy Bob Ellis granted me a rare interview, as we reflected upon his legendary career which saw him sell out arenas all over the world from New York to Australia.
Perhaps just as wild as his matches against opponents like The Bruiser or The Destroyer, were the rumors regarding the whereabouts of Ellis since his retirement from pro-wrestling. To get an idea of the rumors that surrounded the last few decades of Ellis's life, check out my article "The search for wrestling legend Cowboy Bob Ellis". I detailed the journey and intrigue of wading through the rumors and fables to find and interview Cowboy Bob Ellis.
In his early 80's, Cowboy Bob still had the vibrancy of a superstar as he reflected upon his wrestling career. Perhaps, no greater example of his energy during this interview, was when I shared with him all of the rumors that surrounded the last several years of his life. Rumors like his premature death, being a fugitive on the run, or being locked up in prison sparked an outburst of laughter from Ellis that not only surprised me but also prompted me to laugh as well. After we shared a good laugh, Ellis made the following comments about the rumors and where he's been for the last few decades:
"Oh no, I'm not a fugitive on the run. I'm definitely not dead and I didn't spend any time in prison." said an amused Ellis "I retired in the early 80's after promoting some wrestling shows around my home in San Angelo, Texas. I got out of wrestling and just figured I'd ride off into the sunset. I don't like all of the rah-rah now in pro-wrestling."
Born Robert Ellis, down in Texas, Cowboy Bob was around pro-wrestling since he was a young boy as his father was on the wrestling commission in the San Angelo, TX area. Ellis' father used to bring Bob around the matches all the time. However, before he entered into pro-wrestling, Cowboy Bob was a successful football player. Ellis had an accomplished football career in high school, college and even had a chance at playing professional ball with the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps, no accomplishment was greater than Bob's service for this country as he was an Army paratrooper for 3 years during the Korean War.
"I was in the Army for 3 years during the Korean War. I was an Army paratrooper and was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. During the Army, I played football on a team that had six pros and 2-3 all-Americans. They were a great team. That was real football".
Ellis' success in football could be directly attributed to his overall athleticism and his great physique. Ellis stood about 6'3" and weighed roughly 240 pounds. He was into bodybuilding before it was popular in America. Ellis even owned a few gyms in San Angelo.
" I had 2 or 3 gyms, I started them in Texas. Texas was way behind in bodybuilding. I was really into bodybuilding for athletics."
His commitment to bodybuilding and staying in great shape has stuck with him throughout all of these years. It should be no surprise to anyone that the Cowboy is still active in his local gym down in Oklahoma.
"Oh, I still workout. I go to the gym 2 or 3 days a week. I also have some weights here at home"
While running his gyms, and after the Army, the Philadelphia Eagles gave Ellis an opportunity to play professional football. However, the Cowboy wasn't as excited to play for the Eagles as he was for the Army team:
"All they wanted was a blocking dummy. I got to play in a few games but it was little money. The most a linemen could make at that time was about $5,000 a season. I was making alright money with my gyms and would quickly find out that I could make a lot more money in wrestling. In fact, I would make more money some nights wrestling than I would have playing football for the entire season."
With football off the list of options and 2-3 gyms not quite satisfying his desires, Ellis decided to try his hand at pro-wrestling. But his journey into pro-wrestling wasn't as easy as one would think, especially when your father is a wrestling commissioner. Ellis commented on how hard it was getting into pro-wrestling at that time:
"It was practically impossible to get into wrestling. Back then, they protected the business and didn't really share with anyone how to become a pro-wrestler. You had to really know someone in wrestling like a family member or have a great background in athletics."