Ernest "Ernie" Ladd (November 28, 1938 – March 10, 2007), nicknamed "The Big Cat", was an American collegiate and professional football player and a professional wrestler. A standout athlete in high school, Ladd attended Grambling State University on a basketball scholarship before being drafted to the American Football League's San Diego Chargers in 1961. Ladd found success in the AFL as one of the largest players in professional football history at 6' 9" and 315 pounds.
He helped the Chargers to four AFL championship games in five years, winning the championship with the team in 1963. He also had stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers. Ladd also took up professional wrestling during the AFL offseason and after a knee injury ended his football career, he turned to wrestling full-time in 1969.
As a wrestler, Ladd became one of the top heels in the business. For much of his career he played a villainous character who would arrogantly taunt both opponents and crowds. Ladd feuded with many popular wrestlers of the time, including Wahoo McDaniel, André the Giant and Mr. Wrestling. He retired from wrestling in 1986.
Ladd was recognized for his careers in both football and wrestling. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1981, the Grambling State University Hall of Fame in 1989 and the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.
Ladd was diagnosed with colon cancer in the winter of 2003–2004. He died several years later on March 10, 2007 at the age of 68.
Ladd was born in Rayville, Louisiana and raised in Orange, Texas. He was a football and basketball star in high school. In high school, he was coached by William Ray Smith, Sr., father of Bubba Smith. Ladd subsequently attended Grambling State University on a basketball scholarship. He was the nephew of Grambling and Houston Oilers teammate Garland Boyette.
Pro football career
Though he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1961 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, the American Football League's San Diego Chargers selected the Grambling State University standout with their 15th pick (119th overall) in the 1961 draft.
At 6'9" and 315 pounds, Ladd was said to be the biggest and strongest man in professional football during his era: 52-inch chest, 39-inch waist, 20-inch biceps, 19-inch neck and size 18D shoes.
Ladd played in four AFL championship games, helping the Chargers win the American Football League title in 1963 with teammate Earl Faison, both members of the original Fearsome Foursome. Ladd, an American Football League All-Star from 1962 through 1965, was one of the AFL players that organized a walkout on the 1965 AFL All-Star Game due to the racism they experienced in New Orleans.
Although Ladd found success with the Chargers, he had a contentious relationship with the Chargers front office. He started the 1965 season being indefinitely suspended from the team by Coach/General Manager Sid Gillman.
Ladd stated that he and teammate Earl Faison would play out their contract options, opting to take a 10 percent cut in salary in exchange for becoming free agents at the end of the season. A planned trade with the Oilers in early 1966 would have sent Faison and Ladd to Houston. However, both were declared free agents after a ruling by AFL commissioner Joe Foss, who declared that Oilers owner Bud Adams had tampered in trade dealings with the Chargers. Ladd refused to re-sign with the Chargers and suggested he might instead turn to professional wrestling full-time.
Eventually, Ladd signed with the Oilers and spent the 1966 season playing for them before moving in 1967 to the Kansas City Chiefs. There, with former Grambling teammate Buck Buchanan, he filled out what was probably the biggest defensive tackle tandem in history. Both Ladd and Buchanan are members of the Grambling State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Boston Patriots center Jon Morris said Ladd was so big, he blocked out the sun: "It was dark. I couldn’t see the linebackers. I couldn’t see the goalposts. It was like being locked in a closet." In 1981, he was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
Professional wrestling career
Ladd started wrestling in 1961. As a publicity stunt, some wrestlers in the San Diego area challenged Ladd to a private wrestling workout. Before long, Ladd was a part-time competitor in Los Angeles, during football's off-season. Ladd became a huge draw in short order. When knee problems cut his football career short, Ladd turned to the more financially lucrative business of wrestling full-time in 1969. After a run as a fan favorite, Ladd became one of wrestling's most hated heels during the 1970s, as well as one of the first black wrestlers to portray a heel character. He riled crowds with his arrogant and colorful demeanor during interviews, especially with his less than politically correct nicknames for opponents such as Wahoo McDaniel (whom he referred to as "the Drunken Indian"), and Mr. Wrestling (whom he called "the Masked Varmint" and insisted that he was an escaped criminal). Ladd also gained infamy through use of his controversial taped thumb, which Ladd claimed was from an old football injury. Often, when Ladd appeared to be in serious trouble during a match, he'd walk out of the arena and accept a countout loss. This practice has since become known as "pulling an Ernie Ladd" in some circles.
Ladd wrestled for a number of different wrestling associations, including the World Wide Wrestling Federation where he was managed by The Grand Wizard of Wrestling.
Known for his immense size and power, it was a natural for Ladd to engage in feuds with other giants, including a famous feud with André the Giant (whom Ladd referred to as "Andre the Dummy" or "The Big Fat French Fry" during interviews).
In certain areas, Ladd's wrestling nickname was "The King", and he would wear an ornate crown to emphasize it.
In other wrestling associations, he was "The Big Cat", and walked in with a big cowboy hat.
Ladd challenged Bruno Sammartino one time at Madison Square Garden for the WWWF title when Bruno reigned, handily pinning Earl "Mr. Universe" Maynard the month prior. He also challenged Pedro Morales for the same title during the latter's reign. In 1978 he wrestled WWWF champion Bob Backlund. When the International Wrestling Association had its brief run in the New York area, Ladd lost a 2 out of 3 fall match to champion Mil Mascaras, 2 falls to 1 (he pinned Mascaras the first fall, was disqualified in the second, and was pinned by Mascaras in the third). This match took place at Roosevelt Stadium, in Jersey City, New Jersey.
After leaving the WWWF, Ladd ventured to the Mid-South territory promoted by Bill Watts.
While in the Mid-South area, Ladd feuded with Paul Orndorff, Ray Candy, and Junkyard Dog. He also served as a manager to Afa & Sika, The Wild Samoans. Ladd also had a decent run as part of a tag team with "Bad" Leroy Brown in the early 1980s. Ladd would also assist Watts as a booker behind the scenes, and had a large part in the development of Sylvester Ritter as the area's top draw.
Ladd retired from wrestling in 1986 due to recurring knee problems.
In 1986, Ladd returned to the WWF as a Color Commentator, He called the 20 Man Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 2 (which featured NFL players), He also teamed with Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Valiant at the broadcast booth during The Big Event at C.N.E. Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then afterwards, Ladd quietly left the WWF.
He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.
Life after wrestling
Ladd was a longtime friend of the Bush family and supported the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush.
Ladd also owned and operated Big Cat Ernie Ladd's "Throwdown" BBQ Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana until August 29, 2005, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In the hurricane's aftermath, he ministered to Katrina evacuees at the Astrodome. He was a friend of WWE Hall of Fame commentator Jim Ross.
Ernie Ladd also appeared in an episode of That '70s Show entitled "That Wrestling Show." He was in the locker room with The Rock, who was playing his father "Soul Man" Rocky Johnson, from whom Eric & Red were seeking an autograph.
He was also a basketball coach for young kids in Franklin, Louisiana.
Ladd was diagnosed with colon cancer in the winter of 2003–2004; his doctor told him that he had three to six months to live. Ladd died several years later on March 10, 2007 at the age of 68. He was survived by his wife of 45 years and their four children.
- Finishing move
- Big boot
- Signature moves
- Abdominal stretch
- Guillotine legdrop (combined with a backbreaker from Leroy Brown)
- Thumb to the throat
- "The Big Cat"
- "The Cat"
- "Cat Man"
Championships and accomplishments
- Cauliflower Alley Club
- Other honoree (2005)
- Central States Wrestling
- NWA Central States Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Bruiser Brody
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Florida version) (1 time)
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Ole Anderson
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA Hall of Fame (Class of 2013)
- NWA Big Time Wrestling
- NWA American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA Brass Knuckles Championship (Texas version) (1 time)
- NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Worldwide Wrestling Associates/Hollywood Wrestling
- NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- WWA International Television Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Edouard Carpentier (1)
- WWA World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Edouard Carpentier
- NWA Tri-State / Mid-South Wrestling Association
- Mid-South Louisiana Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- Mid-South North American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Mid-South Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Leroy Brown
- NWA Arkansas Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA North American Heavyweight Championship (Tri-State version) (5 times)
- NWA United States Tag Team Championship (Tri-State version) (1 time) – with The Assassin
- National Wrestling Federation
- NWF Brass Knuckles Championship (1 time)
- NWF Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWF North American Heavyweight Championship (6 times)
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him # 205 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003.
- World Championship Wrestling
- WCW Hall of Fame (Class of 1994)
- World Wrestling Association
- WWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- WWA World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Baron von Raschke
- World Wrestling Council
- WWC North American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- World Wrestling Federation
- WWF Hall of Fame (Class of 1995)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)