Sunday, January 20, 2019

Official NWA Ten Pounds of Gold Pin

Photo: Mid-Atlantic Gateway
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Check out this beautifully detailed pin of the main plate of the famous "Ten Pounds of Gold" NWA World Championship title belt.

The lapel pin is large with two fasteners on the back, measuring at 1 3/4" wide by 1 7/16" tall.

The detail is amazing. It was manufactured in partnership with the NWA by Lapel Yeah.

The pin was first sold at the NWA's "pop up" show recently in Clarksville, TN. My guess is they will be on sale online at some point (and may be already.) We'll provide details as we come across them on how you can order one for yourself.

In another exciting development, the NWA recently announced that they will be bringing back the Im Crockett Crockett Sr. Memorial tag team tournament (the Crockett Cup), in conjunction with the Crockett Foundation and Ring of Honor Wrestling. The event will be April 27, 2019, at Cabarrus Arena in Concord, NC, just outside Charlotte, NC. We'll be following that exciting news as well.

Follow the NWA on Twitter at @NWA.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Big Star Bound: Sam Houston Upsets Arn Anderson (1985)


by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

"...if you're big star bound, let me warn you, it's a long hard ride."  -David Allan Coe
 As the fall of 1985 began, I was convinced of one thing: Sam Houston was going to be a huge break-out star for Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett Promotions. It was probably a year or two away before he would be on top, but it was going to happen. He had that "it" factor.

But he never made it.

It's too bad because he was still so young and hadn't even filled out physically yet and already had so much potential and was so smooth in the ring. And he had that great Texas gimmick that Dusty would have pushed to the moon.

His personal demons took over, and it didn't help that Dusty put him in a position he just wasn't yet ready for as the top babyface in the Kansas City territory that Jim Crockett Promotions had recently taken over. That move helped finish off that territory and derailed Sam's career.

This match in the video embedded above was one of Sam's biggest moments as a "young lion" for the company. He upset Arn Anderson on "World Wide Wrestling" from September 7, 1985, at a time where Arn had only recently stepped onto the main event stage himself as one half of the modern day Minnesota Wrecking Crew. This was just as the Four Horsemen were starting to take form, even if we didn't know that at the time. You'll notice Sam with a cast on his arm; the Andersons and Tully Blanchard had jumped him weeks earlier and broken his arm as a warning to Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A. of what could happen to them.

Sam went on later to win the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship and the Central States Championship for JCP before leaving for the WWF for a short stint.

On a side note, David Crockett calls the match. It always amused me how David mispronounced Arn's name as 'Iron' Anderson. He could say the word 'arm', as in "Sam Houston's broken arm", but could never seem to say 'Arn' Anderson.

Also, as an avowed mark for the Andersons, I loved seeing Arn wearing the famous "Anderson boots" and executing two perfect "Anderson slams" (a modified hammerlock slam) on Houston's broken arm. Those slams even got Ole excited a little bit, as he was doing color commentary with David Crockett.

1985 was a great year. Sam Houston was a part of what made that fall of 1985 special, even if part of a smaller background story. As Dusty liked to say, quoting David Allan Coe, he certainly was "big star bound."
 

http://horsemen.midatlanticgateway.com

Friday, January 18, 2019

Classic Poster Friday: Harley Race Brings the U.S. Title to the Mid-Atlantic Area


Poster from the collection of Brack Beasley

JOHNNY VALENTINE DEFEATS HARLEY RACE TO WIN THE U.S. TITLE

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The title of this series is called "Classic Poster Friday", and this particular poster lives up to that name better than most. It is one of the most historic nights in Greensboro and Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history. Fitting that the poster has a different look to it as well.

Brack Beasley selected this poster from his vast collection as one of his favorites, not only because the historical nature of the card, but also stylistically, it stands out almost as an anomaly. The poster background is white and uses all red and blue inks. There is no black ink at all, and as a result the poster has a much different look to it than other from that era.  We guess that the red, white, and blue color scheme had something to do with the card being on the big Independence Day weekend.

Historically, the card is important because it was the night the United States heavyweight championship was introduced to the area. it became the top singles title for the company, and the U.S. title in WWE today traces its lineage directly back to the Crockett U.S. title.

To introduce the championship, booker George Scott created the story that former NWA World Champion Harley Race was the reigning U.S. champion, having defeated Johnny Weaver for it in a tournament in Florida. All of that was fictitious, of course, and was part of the story to build up interest in Race and the U.S. championship.

Race was a great choice to be the inaugural champion and to bring the belt into the area. He was a former NWA World champion, holding that prestigious title for a few months in the spring and early summer of 1973. He had defeated Dory Funk, Jr. for the honors and that victory that ended Funk’s 4-year run as champion had given Race a measure of national notoriety.  He had a reputation in the national wrestling magazines, which were an important part of the wrestling business at that time, and had been pushed by the NWA promoters to the wrestling press as a perennial top candidate for the NWA championship. Race gave the U.S. title tremendous credibility even before it had ever been defended.

In late May, announcers started including Harley Race as United States champion in their weekly rundown of the area champions on the TV shows. Soon after, they started talking about Race coming to the area to defend the title, and showed tapes of Race in matches from Florida.

Finally, the date was then set for Race’s title defense on July 3 at the Greensboro Coliseum, home to most of the major cards in the area. Mid-Atlantic champion Johnny Valentine was selected as the number one contender based on the fact that at the time of the first announcement he held the area’s top singles championship, the Mid-Atlantic heavyweight title.

Four days before Valentine was to meet Race in Greensboro, he lost the Mid-Atlantic title to arch-rival Wahoo McDaniel in Asheville, NC, on June 29 at the Asheville Civic Center. On the following week’s TV, taped 7/2 before the U.S. title match the following night in Greensboro, Wahoo celebrated his win over Valentine for the Mid-Atlantic title. But Valentine told fans he wouldn’t be down for long. And one night later he would be proven correct as he prepared to walk the aisle in Greensboro to meet Harley Race.

Johnny Valentine’s epic win over Harley Race for the United States championship was by all accounts a classic. Jim Crockett, Jr. gave the event first class treatment, with more TV coverage than was usual for a typical big show there. While most big title changes were recorded on 16mm film with no commentary, this match was video-taped and David Crockett and Sandy Scott were on hand to do live commentary for the match, which would be shown on Mid-Atlantic TV several weeks later.

The match had an interesting feel to it. Valentine was and had been the top heel in the territory since entering in October of 1973. He was the most despised, reviled, and hated man in the area. However, the fans had gained a measure of respect for him over time as he had proven to be one of the toughest wrestlers ever seen there. On this one evening, the fans put aside feelings of antipathy and got behind him as he represented their territory in the match with U.S. champion Harley Race. The general feeling at the time, I’m told, was that Valentine may have been a dirty old bastard, but he was our dirty old bastard. And during the long 51-minute battle fans slowly turned in support of Valentine. When he scored the pin on Race, the capacity crowd in the Coliseum exploded with cheers, and offered an extended standing ovation.  One of their own had just brought the United States championship into their home area.

The office made sure that warm feeling held by the fans for their new champion was short lived. Fellow “bad-guys” Mr. Fuji and Frank Monte were sent to ringside to congratulate Valentine and escort him from the ring back to the locker room. Fans were still happy Valentine had won, but there was no misunderstanding as to whose camp he was still in.

I've always hated that the Race/Valentine title match wasn't billed as the main event on this poster. In the newspaper ads, it did get top billing, but for some reason, it was listed second on the poster. The Andersons were NWA World Tag Team champs and defending against Andre the Giant and Paul Jones, but the match selling the show was Valentine challenging for the U.S. title.

Elsewhere in the territory on that same night, JCP held a big card in Norfolk, VA. Headiling that card was Wahoo McDaniel vs. Ric Flair, plus Sonny King vs. The Super Destroyer (Don Jardine), Swede Hanson, Bob Bruggers, Doug Gilbert, the Blue Scorpion and others. 

Worth noting also for historical purposes that Valentine was almost exactly 3 months away from his career ending plane crash in Wilmington, NC.

The entire story of the build to this U.S. title match, the tale of the Florida tournament and Johnny Weaver, and photos of Valentine leaving the ring that night ion Greensboro are part of the book "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship", which chronicles the entire history, both fact and myth, of the U.S. title.

http://bookstore.midatlanticgateway.com

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ric Flair's Crystal Ball Was Clear in 1975

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 
Originally published in January 2017

On June 18, 1975 Ric Flair was about a year into his tenure with Jim Crockett Promotions. While Flair was the Mid-Atlantic Television Champion at that time, the young “Nature Boy” was still clearly a work in progress. The Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show that was taped that night featured a bout between reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco and the 1974 NWA Rookie of the Year, Steve Keirn. The rare appearance of the NWA World Champion on Mid-Atlantic TV was not lost on the supremely confident Flair.

In a brief interview segment on that show with announcer Bob Caudle, Ric exclaimed,

“I just want to take one minute here to tell everybody that I had a dream! You know, I have a lot of girlfriends around the country and one of ‘em happens to be a fortune-teller. And one day she looked at one line of my palm and she said, ‘You’re the best lookin’ man in the world!’ And the next day she looked at another line in my hand and she said, ‘You got the greatest body in the world!’ And the next day she looked at a line in my hand and said, ‘You’re gonna beat Paul Jones, you’re gonna beat Wahoo McDaniel, you’re gonna beat Jack Brisco, WOOOO, and you’re gonna be the World’s Champion! Because there’s only one Nature Boy, and you are the greatest wrestler in the world today Nature Boy, know it for a fact!’

Flair concluded by saying, “I am the best, I am the good, I am the bad…I am everything daddy, and don’t you forget it!” Caudle deadpanned in response, “Well, there’s no doubt what Ric Flair thinks of himself.”

Self confidence has never been an issue for Ric Flair, even back in 1975. But when I watched this interview segment nearly 42 years ago, I didn’t see the young brash Nature Boy as a World Champion. Back then, that prospect seemed almost laughable to me. Was Flair entertaining back then? Yes, without a doubt. But, Ric Flair as a World Champion? Not even a remote possibility in my humble opinion!

As the years progressed, my opinion of Ric Flair and his World Title possibilities certainly changed. But while myself and others had to come around to the idea of Flair as a World Heavyweight Champion, the Nature Boy’s crystal ball on this subject was clear all the way back to June of 1975. And when Ric ascended to the NWA mountaintop for the first time on September 17, 1981, I vividly remember hearkening back to this interview, and realizing that he had one heck of a fortune-telling girlfriend in his past!


http://midatlanticwrestling.net/yearbooks.htm

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fanfest Memories

Two of our favorite NWA/Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest memories!
http://www.midatlanticgateway.com/p/big-gold.html

Friday, January 11, 2019

Classic Poster Friday: One of Greg Valentine's Earliest Appearances as a Regular in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling




by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Today's "Classic Poster Friday" features a historical look at Greg Valentine's first main event match in the Mid-Atlantic territory back in September of 1976. It would be a run in that territory that lasted some 7+ years. 

Valentine made his very first appearance in the Mid-Atlantic area as a "guest' appearance on a Greensboro NC card in August of 1976. Greensboro was somewhat famous for having regular appearances by "guest" stars coming in from other territories. In this case, coming in from Florida, it was a big deal that the "brother" of Johnny Valentine (Greg was actually Johnny's son) was coming into the area that Johnny had dominated up until his tragic airplane accident less than a year earlier.

What fans didn't know then was that Greg would enter the area on a full time basis a month later.

The "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" and "Wide World Wrestling" shows taped 9/15/76 in Raleigh featured a special video tape segment hosted by Gordon Solie sent in from Florida. In the tape, Greg Valentine was demonstrating the power of his "bionic elbow" by breaking boards with it, etc. He told Solie he would be entering the Mid-Atlantic area soon. A week later at the tapings on 9/22/76, Valentine made his full time debut defeating Steve Bolus. Two nights later, he would wrestle in his first main event, teaming with Ric Flair (who would soon become his permanent tag team partner) against Wahoo McDaniel and Tiger Conway, Jr. on 9/24/76 in Lynchburg, VA, the headline event on the poster above.

The next night in Hampton, VA, Greg would challenge Wahoo McDaniel for the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight championship. The match played off the history of Wahoo's epic battles with Johnny Valentine and also foreshadowed Greg and Wahoo's legendary feud that would begin in 1977.

It was somewhat unusual in those days for a newcomer to hit the main events as soon as he was in the territory, but Valentine indeed did just that. It didn't take him long to capture gold, either. In less than two months he defeated Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods for the TV championship and then a month later with partner Ric Flair defeated the Anderson brothers to take the NWA World Tag Team championship. 

In the semi-main tag match on this Lynchburg show, the brother due of Lanny and Randy Poffo challenged Red Bastien and Vic Rosettani. Randy Poffo would become "Macho Man" Randy Savage in ICW in the late 1970s, and go on to headline the WWF in the 1980s.

Of note about this card in Lynchburg, it was only a four-match show, which was still occasionally the case in smaller towns or spot show towns. Jim Crockett Promotions often ran three towns a night, and on this night they were also in the regular Friday night towns of Richmond VA (headlined by Blackjack Mulligan vs. Rufus R. Jones in a Texas Death Match) and Charleston, SC, (headlined by Angelo Mosca defending the TV title against Tony Atlas.)

Thanks to Jody Shifflett for the poster image and David Chappell for additional research.

http://bookstore.midatlanticgateway.com

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods' Last Stand (Part 10)

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Catch up on this entire story in:
PART ONE  |  PART TWO  |  PART THREE  |  PART FOUR
PART FIVE  |  PART SIX  |  PART SEVEN  |  PART EIGHT
PART NINE

* * * * *

PART TEN
Nov. 11, 1979    Columbia SC
Immediately after Tim Woods returned to the ring on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television programming on October 31, 2019, he finally met Jimmy Snuka and Buddy Rogers in the squared circle! In fact, the first such bout occurred the very next night at the Scope Coliseum in Norfolk, Virginia. But like nearly all of Woods' bouts in November of 1979, this was a tag team bout where Tim would have to wait a little while longer to confront Snuka and Rogers one-on-one.


The wild bout in Norfolk was one of the final 8-man tag team matches that were showcased throughout the area in October of 1979. The Scope match saw Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan, Jay Youngblood and Woods defeat Ken Patera, John Studd, Rogers and Snuka. The next night, November 2nd, at County Hall in Charleston, South Carolina saw Tim in a 6-man tag match with Rogers and Snuka included in the opposing corner. The following night in Charlotte, the last of the 8-man tag team matches pitted Flair, Mulligan, Jim Brunzell and Woods against the same foursome from Norfolk. Again in the “Queen City,” the "good guys" prevailed and just like at the Scope, Snuka and Rogers went to great lengths to avoid being in the ring at the same time as Woods, but there were short stints where these arch-rivals squared off to boisterous reactions from the fans in both towns!

Another twist to these early matches with Woods returning to the ring: he wasn't billed on those first few shows! Woods' return on TV was taped on Wednesday 10/31/79, but didn't air on TV until Saturday 11/3/79. In both the Norfolk (Thursday 11/1) and Charleston (Friday 11/2) matches, the teams facing Rogers' crew had a "mystery partner" which wound up being Tim Woods and his baseball bat to the delight of fans in those towns. In Charlotte (Saturday 11/3), the day Woods' TV appearance aired, Woods actually replaced an "injured" Ricky Steamboat in the billed main event. While fans surely were disappointed that Steamboat didn't appear, they were surprised and thrilled to see Woods finally get a chance to get in the ring with Buddy Rogers and his crew.

On November 8, 1979 in Petersburg, Virginia, Woods would tag with Blackjack Mulligan to battle Snuka and John Studd with Rogers in their corner in a chaotic encounter. In the pre-match promos, Rogers told announcer Rich Landrum, "Really, I don't want to talk too much about this for the mere reason big John wants to say it all!" Studd then chimed in, "Right there we're gonna put an end to this...Woods and Mulligan you've both had it!" Tim later commented to Landrum about the Petersburg bout, "Well, I couldn't have a better partner than Blackjack Mulligan, a man fully equal to John Studd in every way, and a little bit more as far as I'm concerned...and you know how I feel about the other man involved."

Tim Woods (with his "Ding Bat") and
partner Ric Flair battled Rogers and Snuka
The first conventional tag team match involving Woods against Snuka and Rogers occurred in Columbia, South Carolina on November 11th when Tim teamed with old foe Ric Flair to battle Woods' antagonists. The normally even-tempered Woods could not control himself at all, letting his anger get the best of him and was disqualified costing his team the match. A similar script followed the next night in Greenville, South Carolina where Woods' temper cost himself and partner Blackjack Mulligan, another old foe, allowing Snuka and Rogers to again leave the ring with their hands raised.

The Greenville outburst appeared to resonate with Tim, and Woods seemed to hold his temper in check a bit better going forward...and the results soon thereafter reflected the change. The next night, November 13th in Raleigh, Woods and Blackjack Mulligan got their hands raised in victory over Snuka and Rogers and this time it was the "bad guys" who couldn't keep their cool and were disqualified.

 The weekend of Thanksgiving 1979 saw Woods exact some revenge against Snuka and Rogers in a tag team setting in Richmond and Hampton, Virginia. On the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling program that was taped on November 21st and shown the Saturday after Thanksgiving, announcers Bob Caudle and David Crockett queried Buddy Rogers about Tim Woods' return to the ring. Rogers confidently replied, "He might have come back, but I'll tell ya I'm gonna settle him once and for all. I'm here to let everybody know we're not running away from Tim Woods, we want Tim Woods!"

November 20, 1979   Raleigh NC
Rogers continued his diatribe ranting, "And when that time comes when I step in the ring with him he's gonna know the ol' Nature Boy was right back! When it comes to Mulligan, Flair and Tim Woods, we want 'em every night in the week, in fact just due to the fact that it's around 'Turkey Day' we want all three of them turkeys anytime we can get 'em! Any time at all!"

Crockett then cut Rogers off snidely, "You're gonna get more than you want to eat!" Rogers retorted, "Listen, let me tell you what...I've never seen the day that I took a bite out of anything that I couldn't devour it. And that goes for Mulligan, Flair or Tim Woods so you can tell 'em for me once and for all."

Later in that same November 21st TV program Woods told the fans, "Rogers is yellow, Snuka isn't much better...whether he's hypnotized or not it will take more than hypnotism to save their necks, and I mean necks, because I've got a score to settle around the neck." Bob Caudle commented, “Well, I tell you, you know they injured you in the neck and you came back 100%...how about that, are you gonna repay him Tim?" Woods answered, “I'm back [and] I've great partners and I AM gonna repay one way or another Snuka, one way or another Rogers. You are gonna pay, neck for neck, eye for eye."

The bout in Richmond on the day after Thanksgiving pitted Woods and Flair against Rogers and Snuka. A confident and hyped-up Buddy Rogers told the fans in Richmond in a pre-match promo, “This will be the day after ‘Turkey Day’ but we’re still gonna have plenty of white meat left! I guarantee you that when Flair and Woods get in the ring with Jimmy Snuka and myself we’re gonna do a job on them that they’ll never forget Thanksgiving of 1979! Once and for all, we’re gonna be the victors!”

Tim and Ric had other ideas as they discussed the Richmond tag team bout with promo announcer Rich Landrum. Ric began, “Well, what a night it’s gonna be! I’m not only honored, I’m privileged that Tim Woods would ask me to be his partner. Rogers, I don’t think you’ve got it, and I’m not the only one. A lot of people around here have waited to see you pull those tights over those skinny little legs of yours. We’re ready for you my friend. Look at Tim Woods…payback brother, remember!”

Woods then took the mic, “You’re right, Rogers hasn’t got it, but Rogers is gonna get it! And so is Jimmy Snuka, when you and I team against them. I’m gonna settle that score Ric.” Flair then shouted, “Richmond’s the place baby! WOOO!”

After winning the Richmond bout in dramatic fashion, Woods made the short trip to Hampton, Virginia the next night to team with Mulligan against the duo of Rogers and Studd. Woods while holding up one of his “Wanted” posters in a pre-match TV promo told the fans in Hampton prior to the contest, “Well, this ‘Wanted’ poster is no news to anybody. I’ve told everybody about it and they’ve seen a lot of ‘em. I’m very happy to be teamed up with you Mulligan, the biggest man in wrestling, and I know there’s gonna be a score settled. You know, Buddy Rogers came out here with a little patch on his head…he’s gonna look like checkerboard square after this match!”

The Woods and Mulligan win by disqualification in Hampton on November 24th was a demarcation line of sorts in Tim Wood’s ‘Last Stand’ in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. Tim’s ‘revenge tour’ would henceforth become almost exclusively singles matches against Jimmy Snuka for the United States Heavyweight Title during the last month of the decade of the 1970s. And shockingly, because of events on November 28th, those matches with Tim and the ‘Superfly’ would thereafter be without Snuka’s legendary co-conspirator during this epic feud.

Buddy Rogers is unceremoniously excised from Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and the Tim Woods/Jimmy Snuka feud…to be continued in Part 11!

Thanks to Brack Beasley for the photos and Mark Eastridge for the newspaper clippings.


http://www.midatlanticgateway.com/p/yearbooks.html

Monday, January 07, 2019

Bruce Mitchell: One Night at the WRAL Wrestling Tapings

by Bruce Mitchell, Senior Columnist for PWTorch.com
Special for the Mid-Atlantic Gateway


 

The line stretched all the way down the sidewalk.

We were in front of the WRAL TV studios in Raleigh, North Carolina early one Wednesday evening in 1980, waiting to get into a Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling show taping. I was the devout fan who would leave the UNC-Greensboro Strong dorm keg parties at 11:30 sharp every Saturday night, bend the rabbit ears around, and settle in to watch a slightly snowy MACW show out of Raleigh on my portable black and white TV. The rest of the group was pretty eclectic – Johnny, one of my old high school friends, his brother Henry, a student at Duke Divinity School, their mother Rose (I still don't know how that happened) and some of the brother's buddies. This group was there for the spectacle, (Henry had worked part-time at Dorton Arena and seen some shows from the back) and included some skeptics. I was the only one who knew who all the wrestlers were and who was feuding with whom.

Henry, the Duke Divinity School student, came in handy, at least his sense of ethics did, because he created a phony church name for us to use when requesting free tickets from WRAL. They gave us more tickets that way.

Not surprisingly, Henry subsequently left the ministry to become a successful lawyer.

As we waited in line it was pretty clear some of the folks waiting with us were regulars who came to the tapings every week. I was a closet wrestling fan at this point who didn't know many other fans, so it was pretty cool to be able to eavesdrop on people in line as they speculated on what was coming next in the promotion. It would take me some years before I would become a member of a community of fans like that.

The wait was broken up a little when Rich Brenner, then the sports anchor at WRAL, came out and greeted some fans on the way to his car. Brenner was drawing huge ratings in the area at the time, and was soon lured to a big market job in Chicago. I mention this because the weekend anchor, Tom Suiter, took his place and remains at WRAL to this day. Suiter is the best local sports anchor I've ever seen, and Brenner isn't far behind. Brenner soon returned to North Carolina and recently retired from WGHP in Greensboro, another station where Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling was taped for years, so I've been watching both guys off and on for three decades. In those days of three television station choices, local news was more intertwined in the lives of the community, so you can see how these two sports guys, their station, and Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling are, to me, all part of the same tapestry.


WRAL today. (Photos by Dick Bourne at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway)

After a wait almost as long as it took me to connect Tom Suiter to pro wrestling, we were let into the TV studio where the wrestling action was filmed. The first thing that stood out, obviously, was the wrestling ring. Since we were all sitting on one set of bleachers every seat in the house was close. I figured it was about as close to the front row at one of these shows as I was ever going to get.

Not only were the fans close to the ring, we were close to each other. The real job of security that night was to encourage us, as we settled into the bleachers, to "move over", "scootch down", "scrunch up", and "C'mon, let's get one more, folks," as they tried to fit everyone in before the taping started.
I, for one, was prepared for my big chance to be on TV. I worked part-time at the late, lamented South Square Mall Belk's Department Store in the Men's Budget department, so I was sporting a green three-piece polyester suit that was sure to stand out even on a black and white TV screen. The poor lady crammed up against me on that bleacher for two plus hours probably didn't notice how much I sweated that night.

It wouldn't be the first time I had been on a TV show that had been taped at that studio, either. When I was a kid my parents brought me to a taping there of The Uncle Paul Show ("And now it's time for Uncle Paul and all his friends…"). Many major TV stations had their own local kiddie show host, and Uncle Paul was WRAL's version. I dutifully marched in the Happy Birthday March that day, but my favorite part of the show was when the fleas in Uncle Paul's hat would sing their little high-pitched songs.

Interestingly enough, Uncle Paul (Paul Montgomery) was legally blind, and if you looked closely you could see him at the podium reading his Braille show notes with his fingers.

One of the coolest things about this night came before the taping. Wrestling news could be hard to come by in those days, so David Crockett, the MACW color man, walked over to casually chat with fans in the bleachers. He let us know that the Iron Sheik had recently beaten the fresh-faced favorite Jumpin' Jim Brunzell for the Mid Atlantic title, the second biggest title in the territory. Most fans were distressed at the news.

Not me. I got a huge kick out of the Iron Sheik, his unique interview style, his Iranian Club Challenge and his  pointy toed boots, so I was glad he beat that goody-two shoes Brunzell. (I also noticed how the Iranian Sheik or anyone else in the promotion never mentioned the American hostages the Iranian government held at the time. I'm pretty sure the fans got the point anyway.)

Crockett let us know that Brunzell would get his re-match tonight for the title, so we had picked a good night to be there. (Many, if not most, MACW television shows of the time didn't feature main event matches, preferring to whet the appetite of fans for those matches, not quench it.)

As the show started, I looked for another high school friend, Aaron Thompson, who worked as a cameraman at the station. I wanted to see the look on his face when he saw us there, and sure enough, he recognized me and mouthed, "What the hell are you doing here?"

I just laughed.

They were taping two shows (as they usually did) that night – the syndicated hours of Worldwide Wrestling and Mid Atlantic Wrestling. Worldwide Wrestling was taped to begin the night, so that meant host Rich Landrum and the Dean of Wrestling Johnny Weaver were out first.

Rich Landrum had a real sense of style. Some of the leisure suits he wore on the show could hold their own even against David Crockett's assortment of multi-colored sport coats, and he had one of the great perms of the era.

Landrum was also a smooth, enjoyable play-by-play man who had a real respect for the wrestlers and what they did. He had a pleasant chemistry with Johnny Weaver, and it wasn't surprising to hear that they resumed their friendship in recent years. Weaver used to tell Landrum whenever some wrestler was trapped in, the corner of, say, The Masked Superstars I & II, with no hope of making a tag, that the poor guy was caught in "Rich Landrum's No Man's Land."

What, you thought "Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!" was the first announcer catch phrase?

Weaver's trademark on Worldwide Wrestling, of course, was singing Willie Nelson's "Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over" as some hapless wrestler was clearly beaten once a show, just like Don Meredith did back then on Monday Night Football when the game was clearly over. I say, of course, but former WCW announcer Chris Cruise didn't believe me when I insisted he include that in his introduction of Johnny Weaver for his induction into the NWA Legends Hall of Heroes.

Cruise, who grew up in Maine watching Chief Jay Strongbow, thought I was ribbing him (even after a lot of yelling), so he asked the audience at the Hall of Heroes ceremony, "What was it that Johnny sang?" and was surprised when the fans sang one last time for the Dean.

Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling had a great talent roster back then. Ric Flair was the top star, the heroic U.S. champion and number one contender to Harley Race's NWA Heavyweight championship (at least in the Mid Atlantic and sometimes St. Louis territories), and watching him up close laser-in on the camera with that supreme confidence was something to see. I was disappointed that Blackjack Mulligan wasn't there that night, as I would have loved to hear him go on about Reba Joe and just how they settled things out back at two in the morning. Greg Valentine was strong and mean, and even then I knew he was an exceptional wrestler. I was also a big fan of Ray "The Crippler" Stevens talking out of the side of his mouth. You knew he could whip any and everybody's asses in the bar, no problem.

Jimmy Snuka was, to that point in my life, the single biggest and scariest bastard I'd ever seen. I had just watched Flair beat him for the U.S. title in the Greensboro Coliseum. Five years later, though, that same size would put Snuka in the middle of the pack for pro wrestlers.

Number 1 Paul Jones had just turned back good after an entertaining NWA World Tag Team Championship run with Baron von Raschke and a brief stint in Florida Championship Wrestling as Mr. Florida. I enjoyed the stories in the wrestling magazines about the mystery behind Mr. Florida's identity, when one look at Mr. Florida's picture solved the riddle for me. (I didn't enjoy the looks on the convenience store clerk's faces when I bought the magazines, with their blood-soaked cover shots, to the counter.)

Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood were there, and they are still the single best, most effective tag team I've ever seen. Their synchronized style paved the way for all the great tag teams that followed that decade, and man, did their devoted fans love them. They would erupt in ecstasy and relief when, say, Youngblood finally, finally, escaped the double-teaming of Jones & Von Raschke and tagged in Steamboat for some much deserved retribution.

It was cool to see the guys cut their promos for the syndicated shows, how they calmly waited for the cue and then either revved themselves up for revenge, or matter of factly explained why it only looked they were cheating.

I was disappointed I didn't get to see the wrestlers do my favorite part of the show – the localized promos that came at the second and last breaks on the hour. (I didn't know that taping those promos took hours every week, what with all the markets the company had to cover.) First the bad guys would hype the matches and explain the stipulations for the next local show, then the good guys would get the last word, since (hopefully) they spoke for the fans.

The fun part was how the wrestlers would drop in local color, including the clubs they might party in after the matches, and try to out-do and entertain the other wrestlers who were waiting their turn to talk. Like any sport, pro wrestling had its own code. For example, if, on a local promo, Ric Flair said the magic words, "bleed, sweat, and pay the price of a wrestling lifetime," someone was going to catch a beating at the local arena.

On the other hand, if Paul Jones said, "Let me tell you something right now", that meant Paul Jones was going to tell you something right then.

Even the localized promos had a WRAL flavor, wherever you were watching them, because the man who intoned the deathless words "Let's take time for this commercial message about the Mid Atlantic wrestling events coming up in your area" (code for "Head's up – here comes the good stuff") was the station's then Biggest Name in Weather, Bob Debardelaben.

The matches on Worldwide Wrestling were pretty straightforward that night. The main event wrestlers took on the likes of Nick DeCarlo, Young Lion Vinny Valentino, Don Kernodle (who would main event his hometown of Burlington, North Carolina years before he main evented the entire territory) and veterans like Abe "Kiwi Roll" Jacobs and Swede Hanson, who at that point may have sported the greatest perm in the sport's history, better than Landrum's or Canadian Champion Dewey Robertson's.

My favorites on this side of the roster were Tony Russo and Ric Ferrara, who looked like beer kegs with short, stumpy legs. They teamed together this night, I couldn't tell you against who, and the crowd enjoyed their work, well, actually they enjoyed the slightly risqué sight of their boxer shorts peeking over the tops of the trunks, the first hint of what Russo and Ferrera would bring to the business in the years to come.

One of the coolest moments of the night for me came just after the Worldwide Wrestling taping ended. Rich Landrum caught the attention of referee Sonny "Roughhouse" Fargo, who was still in the ring, and pantomimed with a nod and a wrist twist asking Fargo whether he wanted to have some refreshment later. Why they didn't invite me to go with them I'll never understand. Maybe it was the green polyester suit.

The Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling show was taped next, and the long-time voice of MACW, Bob Caudle, came out. Caudle was a former weatherman at WRAL. He worked during the day for the Constituent Services department of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, the former news director and editorialist at WRAL.

(No wrestler or politician ever cut more effective promos than the ones Helms delivered during his famous "Viewpoint" editorials on the station – " I don't know why taxpayers would be asked to build a zoo in Asheboro when you could just put a fence around Chapel Hill.")

David Crockett joined Caudle. Crockett told wrestling fans directly who to root for and why, so enthusiastically that many fans secretly enjoyed it when bully Greg Valentine knocked him on his butt for sticking his nose in his and Ray Steven's business one too many times.

It was time for the promised main event – Jim Brunzell's chance to regain the coveted Mid Atlantic title from the Iron Sheik. Up to then, the fans in the studio had enjoyed the matches, but they had a strong idea who was going to win each match, and the skeptics, at least in my little group, remained unconvinced.

Jim Brunzell was the well-mannered All American boy who any dad would be proud to have take his daughter to the church social, and stood in stark contrast to the foreign born Iron Sheik. He may have had the biggest teeth in wrestling.

Now, though, it was time for Jumping Jim to get his chance for revenge. You see, Brunzell had had the Iron Sheik all but beaten in their last championship match, when the referee unfortunately went down, young idealistic Brunzell went to help him up, and The Sheik took his opportunity to tap his right boot toe-first three times on the mat.

Why did The Iron Sheik do such a strange thing at such a critical time in this championship match? His manager, Gene Anderson of the famed "A table with three legs cannot stand" Anderson Brothers championship tag team, explained that the Sheik had problems with circulation in his legs, and was just banging on the mat to get the feeling back in his foot.

Brunzell claimed that The Iron Sheik did that to load the curved end of his boot with lead.

Whatever the reason, The Iron Sheik did what he did, then kicked Brunzell in the ribs, Brunzell went down like a shot, the revived referee counted three, and the entire Mid-Atlantic area was ruled by a champion from Iran, the country that refused to return our American hostages.

So, as you can see, there was a lot at stake in this re-match. What made it even better was that both Jim Brunzell and The Iron Sheik were, at the time, damn good wrestlers and a top level performance in a match like this across the MACW syndicated TV network might lead to big money main events for both.

Brunzell had a tremendous standing dropkick and The Iron Sheik at that point in his career had an array of suplexes second to no one in the sport. (Sadly, a few years later, during his famous WWF run, he had lost much of both his in-ring energy and suplex array.) The two tore the studio down (if only symbolically, since the action stayed in the ring) from the very beginning of the match.

That action picked up even further, though, when it became clear Brunzell had lost his manners and was up to something more than just beating The Iron Sheik for the title - something that the Sheik and his manager Anderson were desperate to stop.

Pandemonium.

Brunzell was trying to rip the Iron Sheik's allegedly loaded boot right off his leg, and the fans in the studio, who clearly thought he was justified in this action, were going crazy.

Brunzell got the boot, too, but, alas, he was disqualified and lost this chance to regain the Mid Atlantic title for the people of the area. What Brunzell did get, thanks to a ruling from the athletic commission, the National Wrestling Alliance, the promotion, somebody important, that fair was fair, and he deserved the right to wear that boot, the same boot The Iron Sheik kicked him with to win the Mid Atlantic title, in any subsequent rematches for the belt.

Anderson and the Sheik protested, but to get what was now Brunzell's boot banned they had to admit the boot was loaded in the first place, and risk both having the title win rescinded and getting suspended from the territory. This was the best wrestling territory in the country, so they couldn't have that.

So, you see, Brunzell was a shoo-in to get his revenge and regain the Mid Atlantic championship from the hated Iranian. After all, he had the Sheik's loaded boot, and the right to use it.

I mean, you had to buy a ticket for that match when it came to your local area, right? A Brunzell title win was virtually guaranteed!

I knew I was in the hands of master craftsmen when, after that match, one of the skeptics turned to another and said, "I don't know about the rest, but that last match was real!"



Bruce Mitchell is Senior Columnist  for the Pro-Wrestling Torch at PWTorch.com.

More from Bruce Mitchell on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway:
A Thanksgiving Surprise: Starrcade Magic Returns to Greensboro
The Lightning and Thunder of the Nature Boys

 
For more information on the history of wrestling at WRAL television studios from the 1950s to the 1980s, visit the WRAL page at the Studio Wrestling website (part of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway family of websites.) 

This article was first published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway in support of the Studio Wrestling history section of the Gateway in 2008, and again in 2011 for the Studio Wrestling website. It was published again when we relaunched the Mid-Atlantic Gateway in 2015, and is republished now as part of the "Best of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway" series.


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Sunday, January 06, 2019

Stomping at the Greensboro Coliseum (1968)

The following article appeared in the November 1968 issue of Esquire Magazine. It contains the usual snarky references to wrestling, and the author tries to show off his vocabulary here and there. The attitude of authors of many articles like this is the assumption that the reader would know nothing about pro wrestling. He would probably be surprised.

Still, some very entertaining quotes from the likes of J. C. Dykes, Rip Hawk, promoter Joe Murnick, Sandy Scott, Johnny Heidmann, Nikita Mulkovitch, and others. Thanks to Gateway contributor Brack Beasley for sharing this article with us.

* * * * * * *

STOMPING AT THE GREENSBORO COLISEUM
Where good in white trunks conquers evil in black trunks and nobody gives a Schlitz for Gene McCarthy

by Larry Bonko, Esquire Magazine, November 1968

It is maybe thirty minutes before the main event. Make that Main Event! Subtlety is for the Lowenbrau ads. This is professional wrestling. The posters look undressed without here and there: Main Event! The Masked Infernos versus The Scott Brothers! Four Big Bouts! Smoking in the Lobby!

Thirty minutes or so before the Main Event! Masked Inferno Number One is sitting around in what he calls his ordinary, every-day street mask. It is a cloth number in cobalt blue trimmed in black. Very nice.

This is the mask with an extra large hole around the mouth to accommodate a slice of toast or a serving of grits. "They wear the masks to breakfast," confides J. C. Dykes.

Dykes is dressed in tights and a shirt the precise shade of his hair. Type O positive red. Dykes is working with his boys on this night. Usually they go on without him.

Dykes says his guys will wear those damn masks to bed, too, if he hears about somebody prowling the motel and asking questions. The Infernos come from Europe. That is all you get from Dykes.

Dykes said it is easier to get Howard Hughes's phone number than to find out more about his guys.

Consider Dykes, and perhaps Dumas pere was not so demanding of his man in the mask. Yet with Count Mattioli, or whoever it was in the iron mask, the consequence was the wrath of Louis XIV. With the Infernos the mask is making a living, baby, a living.

When the semi-windup is on, The Infernos start to strap on ghastly leather masks. Work clothes. The masks have thick laces in the back. Dykes pulls the laces tight. Maximum security is a fishermen's-bend knot.

If some punk in the ring pulls off a mask, it is all over for J. C. Dykes and The Infernos. Bye-bye to the big money. Bye-bye to $70,000 per.

The masks are their bag, the schtick. If the mask comes off, it is finish to twenty-nine months of building the act in places like Norfolk, Virginia, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Charleston, West Virginia.

Suppose somebody high up in government spills it about Failsafe. We'll recover. Suppose somebody finds out when Zsa Zsa Gabor was born. She'll live through it.

If the masks go, it is End of Act. It is back to the preliminaries. Or worse. Back to wrestling Victor, the 540-pound bear, or Terrible Teddy, who is also a wrestling bear.

Dykes looks after his boys and their masks because he is the manager. He is what the other wrestlers call a "piece" man because he gets a piece of the action.

Once in a while, if the price is right, Dykes will wrestle at the elbow of his guys in the six-man tag matches. This is bad business for the people who clean up arenas. When Dykes is in the ring the customers throw things at him, including large chairs. Dykes is not bad when it comes to the double wristlock or the chicken wing or the inside toehold. But what Dykes does best is talk.

"We are the best and the most talked about and the most publicized tag team in the whole world," he says. All the tag teams are modest like that. Go ahead and ask The Amazing Zuma and Haystack Calhoun what they think. Go ahead and ask The Fabulous Kangaroos.