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For many years Russ Barker served as a referee in Arizona, migrating from office to office as promoters came and went, as did most of the regional wrestlers who used Phoenix as a homebase. Russ Barker with “Flying” Billy Anderson in 1989.
Though extremely short in stature and dwarfed by the men in the ring, he was able to carry himself with an uncompromising character, with oozed authority. He was also one of Arizona’s most beloved wrestling personalities, respected by fans and grapplers alike.
In the Phoenix area, Barker maintained order in numerous wild feuds, including The Lumberjacks vs David Rose & Cowboy Bob Yuma, Eddie Sullivan vs Jody Arnold, Jody Arnold vs Tito Montez, Maniac Mike Gordon vs Super Argo, Tony Hernandez vs. Nano Ortega, The Spoiler vs Tito Montez, Billy Anderson vs. John Ringer, John Ringer vs Benny Mendeblis, Hollywood Brown vs Danny Snyder and others.
Outside the ring, Barker was an avid pool player and sports fan, prone to watching tv.
His health, however, left a lot to be desired and unchecked diabetic ailments drove him from the ring. He became an amputee due to this disorder, then eventually a double amputee. He died in late 1993 as a result of this diabetic condition.
Barker, in his day, had one of the best comebacks ever when fans asked him why he did not disqualify wrestlers for minor infractions such as punching, kicking or even fighting outside the ring, when it was done in front of him rather than behind his back, like the best of rulebreakers would do.
“This is a two-edged sword. The fans want to see wrestling and if I threw somebody out for every minor infraction such as a punch or a choke, the bouts would all be over too fast and you would have fans livid then, too. So what I do is let some of the minor rulebreaking slide, but if they do something blatant and I catch it, like a low blow or a foreign object in the hand, the bell rings, even if it’s one minute into the match. As a referee you have to make a lot of judgment calls and have to use your power wisely. This is something a lot of fans don’t think about, Always, they say to me, “why wasn’t he disqualified, when he did that?” I know if I did disqualify them, the very same people saying this would be asking me, “why did you stop the bout, as they had a really great brawl going!” This is what you contend with as a referee.”
Barker’s last run with wrestling was as an adviser to the Skip de Jourdy wrestling promotion in the late 1980s, from his wheelchair.
If there ever was a man who had the love and respect of the entire Arizona wrestling community – fans and wrestlers alike – it was Russ Barker.