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Sunday, April 14, 2002

The Lawman was tough on local nurses

By Bill Whitaker

Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker are big draws at tonight’s World Wrestling Federation extravaganza, but longtime area wrestling fans still pin their fondest memories on Don Slatton, alias The Lawman.

Recent years have seen The Lawman toil at his bail-bond business (get a load of his ad in the Southwestern Bell yellow pages) as well as doing occasional bits in such movies as the upcoming Three Sevens. Yet, the strapping, kinetic, 66-year-old Abilenian still relishes the sport that made him a West Texas celebrity — even if he now prefers recollections rather than actual wrestling.

“Everything in life is still new to me,” he said, in between bailing somebody out of the slammer and slamming down somebody who skipped bail. “But you know what I enjoy the most? Talking with fans about wrestling.”

Plenty has been written about The Lawman, a one-time Abilene cop who wrestled everybody from Andre the Giant to Hulk Hogan. But some of his most blood-curdling tales spill out of the wrestling ring and into local hospital rooms and doctors’ offices.

That’s only natural. Folks can debate whether today’s matches are more choreography than competition, but The Lawman says he and others for years took pains to keep wrestling real.

He has the scars, stiffness and soreness to prove it, too.

There was the time in the 1970s when he went into Hendrick Memorial Hospital to have double surgery on his elbow and nose. Ordered to bed the night before, he nevertheless slipped past nurses and headed for Taylor County Coliseum to keep a ring date with Swede Hanson.

Bloodied and battered by night’s end, The Lawman sneaked back to the hospital and into bed, only for nurses to scream in horror at his pulverized condition. Asked what had befallen him, he claimed he had roamed hospital halls for hours under mind-altering medication before falling down the stairs.

“I finally told them the truth, though,” he said.

Those nurses got off easier than the pair who assisted a physician in performing a delicate knee procedure on The Lawman. While under the gas, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound patient dreamed he was back in the ring, fighting for his life against Iron Mike DiBiase.

When he came to, the nurses looked disheveled and stressed. Their uniforms were rumpled, buttons were missing, and the pair glared at The Lawman as if he were mad.

“They didn’t say anything, but they gave me the dirtiest look,” he said. “I guess I’d fought them pretty good!”

Over 25 years, The Lawman’s wife came to accept the bone-busting, tendon-ripping, body-slamming beatings he received in victory and defeat.

“I used to come home with two black eyes and all beat up, and my wife would just cry,” he said. “But after 15 years, when I’d come in, beat up and practically on my deathbed, she wouldn’t say anything … except maybe to say I was crazy.”

The old wrestling fever survives. The Lawman insists he would wrestle Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker, and on the same night … but only for the big money wrestlers make today.

“I’d get beat up pretty good probably,” he told me, “but I’d still do it.”

Contact story editor Bill Whitaker at 676-6732 or whitakerb@abinews.com


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