Betty Jo Niccoli was born in 1946 in Kansas City, Missouri and grew up in a typical Midwestern family. The term "professional wrestling" was not even a part of her vocabulary until she made a trip to the wrestling matches in St. Joseph in 1958. Although she was only twelve years old, Gust Karras saw her potential and told her she would make a good wrestler when she came of age. Suddenly, Betty's interest was sparked and in 1963, Karras honored his word and arranged for Betty to train with several women stars of the era.
Betty was told to attend the matches in Sedalia, Missouri and arrived at the arena to be told that she would be participating in an all-girl battle royal that night. In Betty's words, "They glommed me!" Despite this rather inauspicious wrestling debut, Betty persisted and enjoyed every minute of her wrestling career.
Betty wrestled professionally for thirteen years and, in this time, wrestled regularly throughout the United States, Canada and even spent a three month period in Japan. Betty held the United States Women's Championship, the North American Women's Title, and also held local titles in California, Kansas and Texas.
From the 1920's through the 1980's, the holy grail of professional wrestling was New York's Madison Square Garden and everyone in the sport desired to perform at that venue. Unfortunately for women grapplers, New York State's Athletic Commission Rule 205.15 stated, "No woman may compete in any wrestling or boxing contest or exhibition and no woman may be licensed as a boxer, wrestler, manager or second."
Betty waged a publicity war with the NYSAC and had articles regarding this unfairness published in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. Residents of New York, Iowa, Georgia, Missouri and all points in-between read of Betty's struggle and supported her in this battle for equal rights. Betty testified in front of a three-judge panel where she was asked such insulting questions as, "Do you think you're a man?" Through the combined efforts of Betty and other lady wrestlers of the day, the ban was eventually lifted. Betty never competed in New York State as she did not have nor did she apply for a license.
Betty remembers wrestling in Amarillo, Texas in the mid-1970's and watching as a young Japanese wrestler put on an awesome exhibition in the ring. Betty wouldn't cross paths with this rising Japanese star again until 1975 when she was on the opposite side of the ring from him in a mixed tag team match for Bob Geigel in the Central States territory. This one match set in motion a turn of events that would forever alter Betty's life because, less than one year later, Betty Niccoli married Akio Sato and retired from the mat wars.
Betty and Sato have two daughters of whom they are very proud. Betty stayed at home to raise her daughters and both girls have graduated from college. The older daughter works in hospitality management and the younger daughter is a surgeon. After her girls were grown and out of the house, Betty returned to work at the Argosy Casino.
Today, the Satos reside in Kansas City, Missouri. Betty is retired and Akio drives a semi truck. Betty had been absent from the wrestling world and her wrestling friends for many years before returning to meet old friends at 2007's Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas. Betty has enjoyed the attention she has received since her reemergence and has enjoyed becoming reacquainted with her old friends.
When asked about being inducted to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, Betty exclaimed, "Isn't it incredible? Who would have ever thought this would happen?" Clearly, she is thrilled to receive this honor but recognizes that, in part, being inducted means she must face how long ago her mat accomplishment occurred. "I don't want to face reality; I want to live in a bubble! As long as I don't look in the mirror or run into any of my old friends, I can still think of myself as young!"
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is proud to induct Betty Niccoli to its class of 2008
- Wes Daniel