I posted this picture of Gina “Bronco” Bouza once before.
It hangs on the wall between the foyer and bar of Albuquerque’s Bucca De Beppo restaurant.
Every time we eat there it catches my eye and I have to stop and look at it.
Legendary promoter Billy Wolfe discovered Gina Bouza after the Kansas City Star ran a story about a 19-year-old female stockyard worker who could slaughter a cow by straddling its neck and clenching her thighs. “It started on a dare,” she explained, “but then I discovered it made the line go faster.”
Standing 5’5″ and weighing 205 pounds, “Bronco” Bouza defended her title as often as three times a week, taking on all comers, including the fearsome Mildred Burke, Susan “Angel of Death” Themelis, and Los Lunas, New Mexico’s Betty “The Yeti” Zoska.
But while she traded titles with her sisters in the ring, Gina reigned supreme as professional wrestling’s greatest crowd pleaser. The queen of cage matches, the mistress of mud bouts, and the most feared hurler of midgets in the history of the sport, she out-earned most male wrestlers, encouraged girls everywhere to take to the mat, and raised hundreds of dollars for charity. Gina reached her peak of popularity, perhaps, when Sal Mineo asked her out after she wrestled Quebec’s Giselle “Frog Legs” Boudreau in a vat of herring, live on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.
Capitalizing on her increasing popularity, Gina embraced opportunities to raise money for charity, so when Buca di Beppo co-hosted a Knights of Columbus fund-raiser on Saturday, August 17, 1957, she graciously agreed to participate. The same week, the Rio Grande Zoo was planning to remove from public view its well-loved, now-toothless old baboon, Bungles, and wrestling promoter Joey DelCampo arranged a Battle Royal.
As a prelude, Gina posed for photographs and calf-roped Santa Fe Lincoln-Mercury’s mascot, “Squidgy, The Value Midget.” Then, with zookeeper in tow, Bungles rode his red tricycle up to the ring and took a seat in the corner where a banana had been left for him. gina entered next, the Martinez Town High School marching band struck up the National Anthem, and Bungles flung himself on his startled opponent.
Audiences heard her cry, “Foul!” the instant before the baboon snapped Gina’s neck, picked her up, and threw her out fo the ring. It was a tragic horrible miscalculation on the part of the promoter. “Who knew?” cried DelCampo as police took aim at Bungles, now furiously gumming the ropes, “Who knew?”
If we have anything to say about it, an entire nation will come to know – about Gina “Bronco” Bouza’s selfless devotion to charity. About her dedication to the sport of ladies’ professional wrestling. And about monkeys’ inherent advantages over people in speed, agility, reflexes, hammer locks and airplane spins.