Acrylic, spray, ink and paint marker on 24″ x 24″ wood
‘The Big Cat’ Ernie Ladd is equally one of the most highly regarded players in football and one of the most hated villains in wrestling. Born 1938 in Louisiana and raised in Texas, he excelled at both football and basketball in high school, and attended Grambling State University on a basketball scholarship. Though he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 1961 draft, he opted to go with the American Football League’s San Diego Chargers. Standing at 6’9″ and weighing in at 315 he was said to be the biggest and strongest player in professional football at the time. During the off season, he also began professionally wrestling in the Los Angeles area. In football, he played in four AFL championship games, helping the Chargers to win the title in 1963. He participated in the AFL’s All-Star Game from 1962 to 1965, and historically was one of the players who organized a walkout on the 1965 All-Star Game due to the racism they were experiencing in New Orleans. My hairs are standing on my arms just typing that. That took real-world bravery to do at that time and in that place. He played for the Houston Oilers in 1966, and then played for my home town team The Kansas City Chiefs in 1967, where with Buck Buchanan they formed one of the biggest defensive tackle tandems in the history of the sport.
Ladd switched to professional wrestling full-time in 1969, as knee issues had cut his football career short and wrestling was a far more lucrative business at the time. He went on to become one of the most hated heels in 1970’s professional wrestling, a rare thing for a black man to do at that time, with notable feuds with legendary greats like Wahoo McDaniels and Mr Wrestling. Memorable aspects of his character included the taped thumb to ‘protect’ his constantly-injured thumb which was used as a weapon, and walking out of the arena and taking a countout loss rather than being pinned by a superior opponent, coming to be known as ‘pulling an Ernie Ladd’. He had a run competing in the World Wide Wrestling Federation and had matches against his fellow big man Andre the Giant and championship challenges against Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund.
Following his tenure in the WWWF, he competed in the Mid-South territory, feuding with Paul Orndorf, Ray Candy and the Junkyard Dog. During this time he also won his only World Championship when he defeated Dick the Bruiser for the World Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship. He was also a WWA World Tag Team Champion with Baron Von Raschke. Here in Kansas City he was also a National Wrestling Alliance Central States Tag Team Champion with Bruiser Brody. Ladd also transitioned to helping with the booking and development of talents, being instrumental in the success of Sylvester ‘Junkyard Dog’ Ritter. He retired from wrestling competition in 1986, but would occasionally do color commentary for WWF events. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1981, the Grambling State University Hall of Fame in 1989 and the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame in 1995. Following his wrestling career, he focused on his New Orleans restaurant Big Cat Ernie Ladd’s Throwdown BBQ until 2005 when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In another act of real world heroism, he helped minister care to those displaced by the storm in the Astrodome. Ernie Ladd passed away at the age of 68 in 2007.
About the piece: I started this off similarly to how I did the Mad Dog Vachon piece, but wanted to take it further. I painted in the blacks first, then lightly spritzed a few colors of spray paint in and a little watered-down ink using a spray bottle. With that dry, I added the white acrylic paint, then brought in the lines with a red paint marker. I finished off with a few swipes of black paint to make the features pop, and there you go!