PLANT CITY Nearly 60 years ago, Grover Lee Knight took on a gorilla named Bobo at a promotion at a drive-in theater.
The Dover native and Army veteran won – and a legend was born.
Knight died Aug. 10 after declining health but no doubt the story of his bout with a gorilla will live on in local lore for years to come.
“People still talk about it,” said Sally Knight Raburn, his youngest sister. “We all got a laugh about him climbing in the ring with some gorilla.”
Knight was a strapping and muscled young man and didn’t think twice when Bobo’s owner offered cash to anyone brave enough to get in the ring with the great ape.
The gorilla wore a muzzle and Knight wore gloves with the understanding that the longer he stayed in the cage, the more he’d be paid.
“He’d been in the Army and he wasn’t afraid of anything,” said his brother, Dave Knight of Tavares. “He thought it was a great way to make some easy money.”
The gorilla was brought into the area in 1957 for a promotion at Plant City Drive-In. Between features, Knight climbed into Bobo’s cage for a match that drew spectators far and wide who’d heard about the promotion on the radio and by word of mouth.
“There were people lined up and down the highway trying to get into see the fight,” Dave Knight said. “There must have been 3,000 people there.”
Bobo was trained to wrestle with humans and never lost a match. But it was clear from the beginning who was in charge, Knight said.
“Grover was a boxer in the Army and man, did he know how to fight. They didn’t know what they were putting that monkey up against,” he said.
“He had him down in less than a minute. Finally, the owner begged him to get off Bobo.”
The owner told the crowd that he didn’t know how Bobo had lost the match but a local resident grabbed the microphone and said, “he lost because he got his ass whipped,” Dave Knight said.
The owner was reluctant to pay Knight the $600 he was promised. But he handed over the cash when local residents insisted that he honor the agreement.
“He didn’t think he’d ever have to pay up because he didn’t think anybody would last more than a second or two,” Raburn said. “Grover proved him wrong. Back then, $600 was a lot of money.”
Knight left the Army after serving 9.5 years as a military policeman and lived in a number of places working for an engineering firm and other companies before he settled in Clinton, Ark., the hometown of his wife Patricia Ann.
Besides Sally Raburn and Dave Knight, other survivors include sons Jason Knight of Shirley, Ark., Steve Knight of Boca Raton, and Eric Williams of Nashville, Tenn.; daughter, Susan Wood of Conway, Ark.; six grandchildren; sisters, Gail Law of Lakeland, Sally Raburn of Plant City, Mary Ann Alford of Plant City and Jane Knowell of Plant City; brother Grant Knight of Atlanta.
Local services for Knight, 82, were held at Hopewell Funeral Home. He was buried at Hopewell Cemetery with military honors.