Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Greatest Finish Man Ever

A Conversation with Blackjack Mulligan about his friend Johnny Weaver
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

NOTE: This article was originally published March 11, 2008 following the death of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legend Johnny Weaver. February 15, 2018 was the 10th anniversary of Weaver's passing and we decided to re-publish this conversation with Blackjack Mulligan, one of Weaver's close friends. 

Blackjack Mulligan and Johnny Weaver had reunited with each other via the internet a year or so ago, and since then the two had enjoyed the exchange of memories and reminiscences, as well as the usual e-mail jokes that go around. Johnny had only recently learned to use the computer for e-mail correspondence, and was enjoying keeping up with some of the guys he had worked with over the years, including Blackjack, Rip Hawk, Ivan Koloff, Jim Nelson, and others.

Johnny Weaver with Blackjack Mulligan on the
set of "Best of NWA Wrestling"
During a recent phone conversation, Blackjack reminisced about Johnny Weaver, who passed away in February.

“I still can’t believe Johnny’s gone,” he told me. “We had just exchanged e-mails and we had spoken on the phone before Christmas.”

Jack had invited Johnny to come spend Christmas with him and his wife Julia and son Barry at Jack’s cabin on the San Saba River, south of San Angelo, Texas. “He told me he’d have to pass, he was going to see his daughter Wendi on Christmas day.”

Jack’s nickname for Johnny was “J-Dub”, short for “J.W.”. The name was actually given to Weaver by Dick Murdoch who liked the character by that name in the 1972 cowboy movie “J.W. Coop.”

“He called me Mully, I called him J-Dub,” Blackjack said. The two had not seen each other in over 15 years.

“We were close, we shared so much on the road.” Jack told me. “The best times were in 1978 traveling with him and Dickey Murdoch all around the Mid-Atlantic territory. We spent a lot of time and rode a lot of miles. Johnny was always chewing tobacco, listening to 8-track tapes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Ernest Tubb.”

Those 8-track tapes resulted in a slight clash of musical tastes while driving those Carolina back roads. “Over and over and over again, he played those tapes, I got so sick of Merle Haggard,” Jack laughed as he told me. “I was into the new Southern Rock, the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, and those guys, and Johnny liked that old traditional stuff. Of course, all those guys Johnny loved, those guys are all on my iPod now,” he laughed, “but wow, he used to wear those 8-track tapes out!”

Thinking about that now, it makes sense that Blackjack remembers those times with Johnny in 1978. Back in those days, the good guys and the bad guys didn’t travel together, and up until the spring of 1978, Blackjack was one of the top bad guys in the territory, and therefore wouldn't have been able to travel with Weaver. But the famous “Hat and Robe” angle changed all that. Blackjack became a fan favorite, and he and Murdoch formed the M&M Boys tag team, and Jack finally had a chance to travel with Weaver.

“Riding with Murdoch and J-Dub, you were always learning,” Jack said. “Weaver had one of the greatest wrestling minds ever, one of the most creative people I ever met in the business," Blackjack said, a measure of respect in his voice. "Back in the old day, I’m talking the 1960s here, matches were two-out-of-three falls, and were long drawn-out affairs. And the finish you came up with in that third fall was designed to sell tickets to next week’s show. It wasn’t so much the TV back then, TV was very different, you didn’t have all those wild and crazy interviews to sell the tickets back then. It was what you did in that third fall in that town that week, that was what sold tickets for the next show. Back in those days, they wanted a big advance from the fans as they walked out the door that night. They walked right by the ticket window on the way out, and bought their tickets to next week’s show. So the psychology of the match and the finish was key to the success of that town.”

Blackjack couldn’t say enough about how good Johnny was at making that all work.

“Johnny was a master. And you had to be creative, because you ran those towns every single week. Finishes had to be different from one show to the next; the people couldn’t see the same thing happen again. Now days, [the WWE] runs Greensboro once a year, so you don’t have to even think about things like that. But then, it was key to the success of a town.”

“Weaver was a master thinker,” Jack continued. “He and his partner George Becker both had good brains. Becker booked and Weaver helped him, and then later Weaver got the book. George Scott was probably the greatest booker of all time, but Johnny Weaver was the greatest finish man ever.”

Blackjack knew of Weaver’s reputation when he first came to the Mid-Atlantic territory in 1975.

Johnny Weaver (circa 1978)
“I had heard a lot about Johnny from Bronko Lubich,” he told me. Lubich and Aldo Bogni had been opponents for Becker and Weaver in the 1960s. “I was with Lubich down in Houston. Paul Boesch and I didn’t see eye to eye, and Lubich suggested that I call George Scott, who was booking Charlotte. Lubich told me that Scott had always liked me, liked my work. But when I finally got the call from George to come to the Carolinas, I had just taken a spot with Vince Sr. in New York, Lanza and I were bringing our team there. The way the WWF did things, you would go up there for several months and just do TV first, and they would expose you that way before you ever started going to their towns. I was just getting ready to start their TV, and so I told George I could come in for a few months and do a few programs and put guys over on the way out. All I would need is two days every month to go to New York and do their TV in advance of me going there.”

Scott agreed and Blackjack burst upon the scene in the Mid-Atlantic territory. He stayed for a few months and then, as planned, left for the WWWF where he and Lanza held the WWWF tag team championships. Following the Wilmington, NC plane crash in October of 1975 that ended the career of the territory’s top bad guy Johnny Valentine and sidelined Ric Flair for months, booker George Scott brought Mulligan back to the Mid-Atlantic area be his lead heel in the spot Johnny Valentine had held. He also brought back Weaver, who had left the territory early in the year after Scott had removed him from his “babyface” spot.

It was then that Blackjack Mulligan met Johnny Weaver for the first time.

“Johnny and I hit it off pretty well from the minute I got there. He had quite a reputation in the territory where he had been on top for nearly 12 years, which was very hard to do.”

In those days, wrestlers moved frequently from one territory to the next. This allowed promoters to keep talent fresh, and allowed talent more opportunities to work and stay on top by moving place to place. But once Weaver arrived in the Mid-Atlantic area after an early career in the Central States and Indianapolis, he basically never left except for a couple of short stints in Texas and Florida.

Blackjack enjoyed reminiscing
about Johnny Weaver. There was
great respect in his voice.
Following Jim Crockett Sr.’s death in 1973, the territory was in upheaval as son-in-law John Ringley took over the company, followed not long after by sons Jimmy Jr. and David. There had long been differing opinions over who should be booking the territory. George Becker was squeezed out in 1971, replaced by Weaver and Rip Hawk. Johnny mentioned in his 2007 interview with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway that Jimmy Jr. wanted him out as well, and had long pushed for the removal of the old guard. Weaver said that he felt Ringley was in his corner, but that Jimmy Jr. was adamant a change be made, and in 1973 George Scott was hired to book the territory.

“Johnny told me years later of how they fired him. Called him down late one night to meet them in the parking lot of the Coliseum on Independence. Very cold. That always hurt him, stuck with him.”

After Weaver and Mulligan independently returned to the territory following the Wilmington plane crash, they first got to know each other well during those long days of taping local promo spots to be inserted into the Mid-Atlantic and Wide World Wrestling TV shows. The wrestlers would tape these promos at WRAL TV in Raleigh, NC during marathon sessions that lasted all day, and then they would tape the two one-hour television shows there as well. “There was a lot of time to spend sitting around and talking, all the guys sitting around for hours. You got to know these guys pretty well doing that,” Blackjack said.

Blackjack wrestled Johnny a few times over the years as well, including a series of matches in 1976 where he defended the U.S. title against Weaver in several towns across the territory. Blackjack was another in what would be a long line of guys over the next few years (including Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, and Tully Blanchard) who had to get past the legendary territory stalwart to prove his metal to the fans. He put it very succinctly - - “Johnny Weaver was the man."

After a brief silence, Blackjack continued. "I had not seen him in a long time. But we had enjoyed keeping in touch with each other with e-mails and phone calls over the last year.”

A couple of days after Johnny died, Blackjack sent an e-mail to Johnny’s e-mail address telling his old friend he missed him and he wouldn’t be long behind him. “I thought no one would ever see it, but his daughter Wendi got it and sent me a nice note back. Probably thought I was nuts. I just wanted to tell Johnny goodbye.”

Edited for re-publication Feb 2018

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Action Figures Friday: 1978 Tag Team War!

To coincide with the ongoing series by David Chappell "Strange Goings On in Greensboro", we present collector Mike Simmerman's take on the two teams embroiled in that contentious feud in 1978. (Check out part 4 of David's series about this big feud on Monday!)

Thanks as always to Mike for the photos from his figures collection.

Greg Valentine and Baron Von Raschke

Paul Jones and Ricky Steamboat

Check out all four chapters in "Strange Goings on in Greensboro":

Part One: New NWA World Tag Team Champions
Part Two: The Baron appeals to NWA President Bob Geigel
Part Three: Film Review
Part Four: The President's Decision - Coming this Monday!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ten Years Burning Down the Road

"Ten years burning down the road..."

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Johnny Weaver on
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
It's hard to believe it has been ten years today since the passing of one of the all-time great legends in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Johnny Weaver. Johnny passed away on February 15, 2008, sitting at his computer desk in his kitchen that morning. Just 24 hours earlier, he had been sending out Valentine's Day e-cards, one of them to his longtime friend Peggy Lathan.

It was Peggy that had introduced me to Johnny about four years earlier, and along with Peggy and the rest of the "Mid-Atlantic mafia", David Chappell and I were blessed with the opportunity to develop a friendship with Johnny over the last several years of his life. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, and contributed both here as well at a little website I developed for him where we posted memorabilia and memories about his career in pro wrestling.

The Birthday Cake (November 2007)
My best memory with Johnny was the weekend we threw a surprise birthday party for him in November of 2007 in Rocky Mount, VA - - three months before his death as it turned out. Several friends from his wrestling days were there (Sandy Scott, Don and Wally Kernodle, Jim Nelson, Rick McCord, Mike Weddle) as well as all of the mafia and we had a wonderful time (along with one of the best looking Mid-Atlantic Wrestling birthday cakes you've ever seen.) The highlight for me? Getting to sing "Turn out the Lights, the Party's Over" with Johnny at the party. That was Johnny's tip of the hat to "Dandy" Don Meridith from Monday Night Football years earlier. Johnny used to sing that song once a week on "World Wide Wrestling" at the end of one of the matches. Little did we know as we sang together that night in Rocky Mount that the party would indeed be over soon.

Deputy Sheriff Johnny Weaver
Mecklenburg County, NC
Since Johnny's death, I've had the pleasure to get to know and become friends with Johnny's daughter Wendi (who gave me one of Johnny's ring jackets several years later - something I treasure to be sure), as well as Capt. Mike Smith of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department, where Johnny served as a deputy sheriff from the time he left wrestling right up until the time of his death. Capt. Smith was not only Johnny's boss, but one his closest friends, and gave a moving eulogy for him at his funeral. He writes us almost every year around the anniversary of Johnny's death. It was nice to hear from him again this year and when I opened his email last week, it hit me like a ton of bricks that it had been ten years. Time passes us by so quickly.

"Tonight I have been watching the videos of Johnny back in his days," Capt. Smith wrote me.  "One thing I think about and remember and see very clearly is the day we lost him and the time we spent honoring him in the end. It is all way too clear. The good part is we remember and cherish those times we did have together even more."

Johnny Weaver with William L. Cross
at the Weaver Cup Tournament in 2005
CWF Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, one of the country's top independent wrestling outfits based out of Burlington, NC, presents an annual "Johnny Weaver Cup" wrestling tournament, something that began several years before Johnny died. Johnny attended several of those early tournaments and presented the trophy to the winner. The tournament has continued as a memorial event and just completed its 14th year.

I am posting some links below to a few of the tributes from various people that we posted in the weeks after Johnny's death. This weekend I plan to re-post in its entirety one my favorites, an interview I did with Blackjack Mulligan that included his tribute and memories of the man he affectionately called "J-Dub."

So ten years burning down the road, we salute his memory on this, the tenth anniversary of his death. We miss you, Sleeperman.

"One of the lasting memories I will have of that day was topping each hill on the way to graveside and seeing stretched out before me a line of seemingly endless patrol cars with blue lights flashing, slowing winding through Mecklenburg County on their way to see Johnny laid to rest. It was a jolting reminder that a brotherhood of officers had lost one of their own. And they were there in force to say goodbye." - Dick Bourne, "Saying Goodbye"
"So as I am proceeding to Johnny’s house under the sound of the siren and for some odd reason I heard a Rolling Stones song on my car radio. I leaned over turned up the volume and thought to myself as the adrenaline increased,"wow I wonder if this is what they listened to as they all road together in Johnny’s Cadillac from show to I pulled up to Johnny’s house I saw the expressions on their face and it confirmed what I already knew and it was not good. The second thing I saw was that old Cadillac still sitting in the driveway holding all the good times to itself and then I said to myself, “well Johnny, what do you think about that ride we just took? That was some pretty good driving on my part." - Capt. Michael Smith, "Thanks, Kid."
"I don’t remember a lot of those Saturdays in front of my black and white TV in the 60s, or even how I wandered onto Channel 6 in Richmond at 5:00 for All-Star Wrestling. I do remember that my Dad used to watch the World Series of Golf from the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio with me at 4:00 on those Saturday afternoons way back when. And I remember when that show ended, All-Star Wrestling came on. While I don’t remember much about that time, I do remember one wrestler, and his name was Johnny Weaver." - David Chappell, "Mr. Mid-Atlantic"
"The highlight of 1967 for me was Johnny Weaver winning the Southern Heavyweight belt from the Missouri Mauler. This match was broadcast on WBTV 3 Charlotte on Saturday Oct. 28. Several months earlier, my two brothers and I had talked it over and agreed to save our money from working in tobacco to a buy color TV so we could see Johnny’s matches in color. We managed to buy a 19 inch General Electric for $369 which was seemed like a fortune to three kids in 1967." - Carroll Hall, "Remembering a Legend"
"From Charleston to Norfolk and all points in between, it was a territory that thrived on unique characters who could make people believe and have them coming back each week for more. Many of those names from that bygone era are gone now, leaving behind memories that will last a lifetime for those who were lucky enough to be around that special time. No name was bigger, and no wrestler was more beloved, than Johnny Weaver." - Mike Mooneyham,
“We were close, we shared so much on the road.” Jack told me. “The best times were in 1978 traveling with J-Dub and Dickey Murdoch all around the Mid-Atlantic territory. We spent a lot of time and rode a lot of miles, Johnny always chewing tobacco, listening to 8-track tapes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Ernest Tubb...Over and over and over again, those tapes would play, I got so sick of Merle Haggard,” Jack laughed as he told me. “I was into the new Southern Rock...and Johnny liked that old traditional stuff. Of course, all those guys Johnny loved, those guys are all on my iPod now,” he laughed, “but wow, he used to wear those 8-track tapes out!” - Blackjack Mulligan, as told to Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway "The Greatest Finish Man Ever"
"Normally, funerals don’t have a lasting impact on me, as I rarely show my emotions. However, Johnny’s funeral has impacted me to this day and at times when I read stories about him or watch videos of him, I still get teary eyed. When my wife finds old pictures of Johnny and I on the World Wide Wrestling TV set, I just stare at them and fondly remember the time we had together." - Rich Landrum, "Goodbye to the Dean"
"When I first came to Charlotte in 1980, Johnny just went out his way to help teach me in that wrestling ring....Johnny had been a hero to me, he always put the match first. He once told me,"Kid, You are only as good as the guy you are workin' with." I never did forget that. He was so right, too." Jim Nelson (aka Boris Zhukov), "So Long, Johnny"

"Johnny was one of the first wrestlers I ever talked to and soon became not only my hero, but also my friend. I saw him every week, sometimes several times a week, and he'd always give me a hug and ask how things were going for me, and would ask about my Mom and Grandmother, who also attended the matches with me. He was just a sweet, kind person who was so easy to talk to and was always so available to the fans. ... That's why so many loved him, and why so many are mourning his passing. When you can make a connection with your hero, you never forget it." - Peggy Lathan, "Hard to Handle"

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Birthday, Big Gold!

Happy Birthday, Big Gold! 

The iconic belt made its national (and worldwide) debut at Championship Wrestling from Florida's "Battle of the Belts II" satellite broadcast from Orlando on Valentine's Day night, February 14, 1986. The gorgeous new belt (complete with the champ's name infamously mis-spelled "Rick" Flair) replaced the iconic "Ten Pounds of Gold" belt that had been worn and defended by NWA champs since 1973.

The main event that night in Orlando was Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham. Windham had just returned to Florida and the NWA from a stint in the WWF.

The photo above features the actual Crumrine belt (not a replica) nestled into a vintage "Battle of the Belts II" satin jacket that originally belonged to Barry's father Blackjack Mulligan, and was worn that night.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Johnny Weaver vs. Harley Race (1981)

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Two of my favorites from the 1970s meet in the ring in Brantford, ONT, Canada in the early 1980s. Former 6-time NWA World Champion Harley Race battles Johnny Weaver as Race makes his move to establish himself as the number one contender for the Canadian Heavyweight championship at that time.

Norm Kimber was a great ring announcer in general, but I love his call at the end which is very reminiscent of his call of the match when Race defeated Terry Funk in 1977 in Toronto for the NWA world title. I think Kimber just loved saying Race's name.

The video isn't the best quality but the memories are top notch.

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Late Edit (2/14):

Andrew at sent us the following information:

Always cool to see some Toronto flavor on the site. That [Race vs. Weaver] bout is from Nov. 16, 1981, the day after the big 50th Anniversary show here.

Amazing that [Race] put in 4 bouts after a wild bout with Flair the night before, both covered in blood and fighting up and down the ramp with suplexes and headbutts.  Regards, Andrew

81/11/16 Brantford, Ontario (TV TAPING)

Johnny Weaver beat Doug Vines
Harley Race beat Tim Horner
Johnny Weaver & Ron Bass beat Charlie Fulton & Doug Vines
Harley Race beat Mike Miller
Ron Bass beat Charlie Fulton
Harley Race beat Mike Davis
Tony Parisi beat Mike Miller
Harley Race beat Johnny Weaver
Mike Miller & Charlie Fulton beat Mike Davis & Tim Horner

Monday, February 12, 2018

Studio Wrestling Website Updates

Studio Wrestling Update
Be sure not to miss our posts on the Studio Wrestling website. Here are links to some recent posts:

Studio Wrestling at WNOK-19 in Columbia SC
 Rarely discussed site for TV tapings in 1962

Studio Wrestling in Nashville
A look at WNGE in Nashville in 1977

Apostolou Acquires Starland Arena
The famous Roanoke promoter finds a home fo his cards in 1965

"All Star Wrestling" Memories at WDBJ
A blogger offers memories of WDBJ Roanoke wrestling

All-Star Wrestling with Bill Kersten
A peek inside the TV studio for Kansas City wrestling

Rich Landrum and Ric Flair
A video clip of the "World Wide Wrestling" host with the Nature Boy!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

WrestleArt: Greensboro (1978)

  curated by Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway

I've always enjoyed the various wrestler artwork that appeared in various ads for wrestling around the country. I've decided to display some examples of those from time to time here on the Gateway.

No. 2: Greensboro, North Carolina - September 1978

The art will be familiar to Greensboro area fans from the late 1970s when this art appeared at the top of almost every Greensboro newspaper wrestling ad for many years.

The art features one wrestler single leg-diving another. 

Special thanks to Mark Eastridge for access to his unmatched collection of wrestling clippings from all over the country going back decades. I look forward to sharing more Wrestle Art in future posts.
See also: Wrestle Art for Orlando (1970)

Friday, February 09, 2018

Action Figures Friday: U.S. Champion Barry Windham

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Photograph and customized figure from the collection of Mike Simmerman

A depiction of United States heavyweight Champion Barry Windham
wearing a tiny replica of the 5th version of the Crockett United States title belt.

Barry Windham became United States champion on May 13, 1988 when he won a one-night single elimination tournament to name a new champion after Dusty Rhodes was stripped of the title a month earlier. Windham had recently become a member of the Four Horsemen.

The tournament took place in Houston, TX for promoter Paul Boesch, who was affiliated with the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions during this time. Boesch was also a member of the mythical "NWA board of directors" who had stripped Rhodes of the championship, although he said he was a dissenting vote. This followed an incident on WTBS television where Rhodes had inadvertently hit Jim Crockett with a baseball bat during a brawl with Tully Blanchard.

Pages 164-165 of the book "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship" in the section
on the 1988 U.S. title tournament in Houston, TX.

Windham defeated Nikita Koloff in the finals of the tournament and became the last man to hold the U.S. championship for Jim Crockett Promotions.

During his time as a member of the Four Horsemen, he wore a black glove on his right hand and used the claw hold as a finisher. This was a tip-of-the-hat to his father, Blackjack Mulligan, who was also a U.S. Champion and also wore the black glove and used the claw.

The belt Windham wore as champion (replica seen in the Action Figures Friday photo above) was the 5th version of the United States championship belt worn during the Crockett years. Other wrestlers who wore that version of the belt were Magnum T.A., Nikita Koloff, Lex Luger, and Dusty Rhodes. Michael Hayes and Stan Hansen also wore the belt during the early WCW years after Jim Crockett Promotions was sold to Ted Turner.

For more information on the history of the Crockett U.S. title and all five of the belts that represented it from 1975-1988, check out our book "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship" in the Gateway Bookstore. Also available on

Check out all posts in our ACTION FIGURES FRIDAY series!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Gerald Brisco Reflects on Pro Wrestling and Helping Out Young People Today

"Winning the title with [Jack] was the most exciting night of my entire career." - Gerald Brisco
Man, I love this. A moving and inspirational feature on Jerry Brisco featured on the video network website. The direct link to the web page is here

A hall-of-famer in every way.
"There's nothing more rewarding than watching a kid that doesn't know a wrist lock from a wrist watch, and you teach him, and he works hard at it, and to see him go out and see him win a match for the first time. And the referee comes across and raises this kid's't get any better." - Gerald Brisco