Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dr. Joseph Estwanik: A Doctor Remembers

Noted Charlotte orthopedist recalls his experiences treating the wrestlers of Jim Crockett Promotions, marvels at their toughness and athleticism
by Kyra Quinn
Special for the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Editor's Note: For a review of what first led to this article and interview by Kyra Quinn, read "Yes Virginia, there is a Dr. Estwanik."

“Let people know how great these athletes were,” said Dr. Joseph Estwanik, referring to the wrestlers of Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s.  Dr. Estwanik said this at the close of our recent telephone interview, which he had graciously agreed to after I reached out to him with questions about his involvement with professional wrestling decades ago. 

Dr. Joseph Estwanik
Not Just a Doctor on TV 
After recently discovering that Dr. Estwanik was still practicing medicine in Charlotte some 30 years after his initial appearance on Crockett television, I became curious about how he had become associated with the Crocketts, and about the extent of his involvement with the wrestlers. Estwanik had appeared on television as part of two highly memorable and now-classic angles: the ankle injury to Dusty Rhodes at the hands of Ric Flair and the Andersons in the buildup to Starrcade ’85, and the neck injury suffered by Ric Flair as the result of being piledriven on a ringside table by Terry Funk in 1989. But I wondered: were those two TV appearances all there was, or was there perhaps more to his story?

As I found out, there was much more. Joe Estwanik treated many of Crockett’s wrestlers throughout the 1980s. They were his patients and his friends, and his respect for them, even after all these years, remains profound and undiminished.

The Wrestling Connection
Dr. Estwanik’s association with professional wrestling developed as a result of the geographic location of his practice as well as his own background in and involvement with athletics, including Greco-Roman wrestling. Estwanik moved to Charlotte in 1978 after graduating from medical school at Wake Forest University and completing his residency. At that time he was one of the few doctors in the Charlotte area with an interest in sports medicine, which resulted in, as Dr. Estwanik put it, “sort of a natural hook-up with the Crocketts. Plus,” he added, “I was an avid weightlifter and bodybuilder, so I actually was in the gym with many of the athletes anyway… so I think I gained the, if I can say, respect for my knowledge base of wrestling [and] of weight training.”

“Tough as Nails”
Though he treated numerous Crockett wrestlers over the years, Dr. Estwanik actually had no professional relationship with Jim Crockett Promotions. “I think I felt better that way,” he explained, “that I was able to maintain a doctor-patient relationship. But because we had so many athletes in common I couldn’t help but at times meet the Crocketts or serve a need for them if I could.”

Dr. Estwanik maintains an incredibly high regard for the wrestlers he treated, telling me, with amazement in his voice, “their athletic ability was superb, and… their toughness was insanely crazy!” Few people would know more about that toughness than Joe Estwanik. As the doctor to so many of the wrestlers, Dr. Estwanik was privy to injury knowledge that remained well-hidden from fans at the time. “I had their x-rays,” he explained, “and I knew the battering that they were taking, and I had performed some of their surgeries.” Estwanik continued, “It was even amazing what they sacrificed in the normal post-operative expected recovery, to get back on the road and perform in some capacity, somewhat shielding or protecting an injury or an operated area.” Dr. Estwanik even gave an example of seeing a wrestler in the ring on television still wearing the post-operative dressing Estwanik had applied at the completion of his surgery.

During those days, as part of his research for an academic paper that he later presented, Dr. Estwanik also surveyed over 100 professional wrestlers regarding injuries they had sustained throughout their careers; that paper, he says, documented the serious reality of the injuries the wrestlers were living and competing with. His succinct summary of the results of his research and observation: “They were always, always injured. They were tough as nails. And finally, they never got a day off.”

Patients and Friends
Joe Estwanik did not require any prompting when asked if he had any specific recollections of the wrestlers he worked with during the 80s. Immediately the memories started to flow. “Chief Wahoo McDaniel,” Estwanik recalled, “what a character and an extraordinary guy. I got to know him very well and operate on him.” Estwanik marveled at Wahoo’s toughness in continuing to wrestle into his 50s even though, as Estwanik put it, “anybody who was not a physician could see the significant arthritic changes” by simply looking at Wahoo’s x-rays.

Other wrestlers who Joe Estwanik counted as both patients and friends include Magnum T.A., Jimmy Garvin, and Ivan and Nikita Koloff. “So many of [the wrestlers] were so pleasant to work with,” Estwanik shared, “and just genuine guys from the gym, compared to a persona they got paid to play.”

Estwanik also recalled being there with his friends during some difficult times; he was one of the few visitors Magnum requested to see in the hospital after his career-ending auto accident in 1986, and he was there as a friend to Nikita Koloff as Nikita’s first wife, Mandy, died of cancer in 1989.

Agony at the Omni and Dusty’s “Hard Times”
When Dr. Estwanik finally did appear on-screen for Jim Crockett Promotions, he did so in the middle of one of the hottest angles and well-crafted stories in wrestling history: the ankle injury to Dusty Rhodes which set the stage for the Flair-Rhodes main event at Starrcade ’85 – one of the key moments in the legendary feud between the “Nature Boy” and the “American Dream”. As most fans of that era will recall, the injury occurred at the Omni in Atlanta on September 29, 1985, when Ric Flair turned full heel in grand and nefarious fashion, gleefully joining the Andersons in a brutal three-on-one attack in a cage against Dusty Rhodes. It was the ultimate betrayal, with Dusty having just single-handedly rescued Flair from a beating by the Russian trio of Ivan and Nikita Koloff and Krusher Khruschev.

Dr. Estwanik talks about Dusty's injury.
The attack resulted in a serious injury to Dusty which Flair had inflicted by landing a knee drop off the top rope onto Rhodes’ ankle. In the aftermath, Rhodes lay in clear agony on the mat, tended to by the Rock and Roll Express, announcer David Crockett and several others. As the house lights were brought up, the stunned Omni crowd watched with grave concern as one side of the cage was removed, the ring ropes were loosened, and the “American Dream” was carried to the dressing room with a huge bag of ice tied around his ankle.

On the following week’s “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” the angle was recapped, with Tony Schiavone informing fans that Dusty was put on a private plane and flown to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was examined by Dr. Joseph Estwanik. Subsequently, David Crockett conducted an interview with Estwanik in which the doctor explained the diagnosis of a third degree ankle sprain and addressed Dusty’s time frame for recovery. (Estwanik also appeared in a later interview with Dusty to discuss his rehab progress). Rhodes was put in a cast and was out of action for over a month, during which time the feud only became hotter as Dusty gave inspired interviews, including “Hard Times,” one of the most well-known and beloved promos ever. To go back and re-watch the events leading to Starrcade ‘85 is to be reminded of why people believed: incredible athletes, charismatic personalities, and storytelling that was compelling and realistic.

Dusty Rhodes in the cast.
When I asked Dr. Estwanik about his interview with David Crockett all those years ago, he chuckled and had to confess that he didn’t remember it among all the other interviews he has given. But he did reveal something that is likely to surprise and possibly intrigue many fans: Dusty did have an actual injury. We can’t know for certain when the injury occurred; we can speculate that it may have been something that had been bothering Dusty and was then worked into the story at the perfect time. But regardless of timing, Estwanik stated: “There was an injury. TV exaggerates everything… but it was an injury requiring some immobilization and he elected to go with a cast… it’s the same cast on him that I would put on anybody.”

Dr. Estwanik took it in stride when I suggested to him that, during that era, there may have been a number of skeptical wrestling fans who did not believe he was a real doctor. “The fact is,” he laughed, “my enduring signature is suture lines, healed scars from surgeries.” He continued, assuring us, “I was really performing ACL surgeries and all the other things.”

These Days
In addition to his very successful Charlotte orthopedic practice, Dr. Estwanik continues his three-plus decades of work as a ringside physician for the sport of boxing and has also served in that same capacity for numerous years in Mixed Martial Arts. His extensive list of professional experience includes serving as the team physician for USA Boxing at multiple international events, and having served as the President of the Association of Ringside Physicians. In addition, Dr. Estwanik, along with Ken Shamrock and others, was instrumental in developing the original Boxergenics Grappling Glove used by MMA fighters; he developed the glove in the early days of MMA when the sport was in danger of being banned. That basic glove, says Estwanik, in still in use today, and he now jokingly refers to himself as the “idiot that didn’t patent it.”

Joe Estwanik’s favorite sports are the combat arts (which include wrestling, boxing, martial arts and MMA), in which he has decades of experience as both a treating physician and a fan. But he does seem to hold a special place in his heart for the professional wrestlers he knew and treated in the 1980s. When asked if he had become a fan of wrestling during that era, Estwanik responded, “You can’t help but watch your buddies.” Estwanik missed those buddies when Jim Crockett sold the business and the wrestlers left town. He still keeps up with some of them, though, and very fondly recalls that special era, telling us: “It was a great time of my life. I loved it.”

November 28, 2015 is the 30th Anniversary of Starrcade '85. The event took place on Thanksgiving night in the cities of Atlanta, GA and Greensboro, NC.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Paul Jones Reflects Back on Thanksgiving 1975 in Greensboro

U.S. Champion Paul Jones
Paul Jones still gets hot when he looks at the poster promoting the annual Thanksgiving wrestling card in Greensboro for 1975. (We celebrated the 40th Anniversary of this card today!)

"Terry Funk and I worked so hard the night of the [11/9/75] U.S. tournament in Greensboro," Jones told me in a phone conversation in November 2005. "We both wrestled four times that night, none of them quick matches. The tournament drew a record house and a record gate, and we had this memorable match that had the whole territory talking."

Indeed they did. One only needs to listen to the audio tapes of the tournament matches that were broadcast on Mid-Atlantic television in the weeks following the tournament to know just how into that show Greensboro fans were. And make no mistake about it, fans were shocked that an outsider such as Terry Funk had won the tournament and the U.S. title. Fans had gotten comfortable with the U.S. title now being their title after Johnny Valentine had won it from Harley Race earlier that summer. The U.S. title had been a Mid-Atlantic-based title ever since. Now this brash young Terry Funk was promising to take the title back to Texas, telling the Greensboro Record that future contenders would have to come to the panhandle of Texas to vie for the title.

But as the story played out, promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. and booker George Scott along with Paul Jones himself, lobbied NWA President Jack Adkisson for a rematch at the upcoming annual Thanksgiving wrestling extravaganza. Minutes before Funk cradled Jones for the tournament victory, Jones had covered Funk for an apparent three-count, only referee Greg Peterson was unable to make the count due to be knocked off his feet moments earlier. Adkisson himself, at ringside for the big event, was on his feet as Jones covered Funk. It was based on this fact that Adkisson forced Funk to return to Greensboro on Thanksgiving night for the rematch with Paul Jones.

The stage was set. Paul Jones and Terry Funk were set to draw another record gate in Greensboro. The advance was huge based on this match as the main draw alone.

It's here where Paul Jones still holds a small grudge against booker George Scott.

"George had (NWA Champion) Brisco booked in the territory the week of Thanksgiving and decided to have him defend the NWA title against Wahoo on the Thanksgiving night show. But this show didn't need that match. Terry and I were the draw and deserved to be on top of that card."

Paul is likely pointing to the fact that having Brisco on the show meant 10% of the house gate would automatically go to him,  as well as a fee back to the St. Louis office that booked him. This was was the norm for the NWA champion at that time. Having that match with Wahoo on top of the card also meant Wahoo would receive a high percentage of the gate, watering down what would have gone to Funk and Jones had they been on top of the card. Paul firmly stands by his assertion that the show would have sold out without the addition of the NWA title match on the card.  One would find it hard to credibly argue against that claim based on the interest in the U.S. title and his re-match with Funk, both set up by the memorable tournament three weeks earlier.

"When I see that poster, I get hot because it was Terry and I that drew that house, not Jack and Wahoo. That would be lost on someone today looking at that old poster and not knowing the history."

For the casual fan, that's likely so. For the die-hard Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fans that grew up in that era, the month of November 1975 and the two Greensboro cards held that month will always be remembered for the outstanding matches fans witnessed between Terry Funk and Paul Jones.

"I guess it's a small thing, really," Paul Jones told me as he laughed. "But I wanted to set the record straight!"

For more on the U.S. championship tournament that Paul mentioned, take a moment to check out the 5-part series we did commemorating the 40th anniversary of that big event in Greensboro. Lots of memorabilia and sound clips there from 40 years ago this month!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Feast!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from everyone here at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway!

Along with your turkey and pumpkin pie, I hope you'll feast on these great memories of Thanksgiving events 30 and 40 years ago:

The Forgotten Prelude to Starrcade '85
When most folks think of events leading to the Flair/Rhodes main event at Starrcade '85, they think of Flair and the Andersons turning on Dusty in the cage at the Omni. However, it got it's start much earlier than that. Read about an angle and an important part of that story largely forgotten in the saga of Starrcade '85.

Thanksgiving Retro: Greensboro and Norfolk 1975
A look back at a huge night of action in the Mid-Atlantic territory featuring NWA champion Jack Brisco, U.S. champion Terry Funk, Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Andre the Giant, Superstar Billy Graham, Gene and Ole Anderson and so many more!

Thanksgiving Memories: Starrcade '85 Turns 30
Hard to believe it's been 30 years since Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair met in the main event of Starrcade '85. That card was loaded and was spilt between Atlanta and Greensboro and was seen so may other places on closed-circuit television.

And we keep rolling through the weekend! Stay tuned for more! Scroll down for all of these Thanksgiving week updates.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

- Dick Bourne and David Chappell

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Memories: Starrcade '85 Turns 30

This Thanksgiving marks the 30th anniversary of Starrcade '85, one of the most successful events in Jim Crockett promotions history.

Starrcade '85 took place on Thursday, November 28, 1985 in two big venues - - the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC and the Omni in Atlanta, GA. It was also broadcast on closed-circut television to dozens of venues across the southeast, including the Louisiana Superdome where it was part of a big Mid-South Wrestling card held there promoted by Bill Watts.

In celebration of that great event on this Thanksgiving Day, and in memory of what was once a special part of many folk's Thanksgiving tradition for a several years, we take a look back at some of the memorabilia surrounding Starrcade '85. Happy Thanksgiving!

Program Cover

Ticket Stub

Photograph of Ric Flair moments before ring introductions for Starrcade '85

Line-Up Sheet

Newspaper result from the event in Greensboro, NC


  • Don Kernodle defeated Tommy Lane by pinfall
  • Denny Brown defeated Rocky King by pinfall to retain the NWA Junior Heavyweight Title
  • Krusher Khruschev defeated Sam Houston by pinfall to win the vacant Mid-Atlantic Title
  • Ron Bass defeated Black Bart by pinfall in a bullrope match
  • James J. Dillon defeated Ron Bass by pinfall in a bullrope match
  • "The Nature Boy" Buddy Landel defeated Terry Taylor to win the National Title
  • Magnum T.A. defeated Tully Blanchard in an "I Quit" steel cage match by digging a broken chair leg into Tully's forehead to win the NWA U.S. Title
  • The Rock-N-Roll Express defeated Ivan & Nikita Koloff by pinfall to win the NWA World Tag Titles
  • Thunderfoot defeated The Italian Stallion by pinfall
  • "Pistol" Pez Whatley defeated Mike Graham by pinfall
  • "The Ragin' Bull" Manny Fernandez defeated Abdullah the Butcher in a pole match
  • "The Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant & Miss Atlanta Lively defeated The Midnight Express (Eaton & Condrey) by pinfall in a street fight match
  • Billy Graham defeated The Barbarian by DQ in an arm wrestling match
  • Arn & Ole Anderson defeated Wahoo McDaniel & Billy Jack Haynes by pinfall
  • "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes defeated "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair by DQ in an NWA World Title match


Mid-South Wrestling presented the closed circuit broadcast of Starrcade 85 at the Superdome in New Orleans along with some of their big main events at the time.

Mid-South main events live in the Superdome as part of Starrcade '85:
  • Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. Humongous with Sir Oliver Humperdink
  • The Hacksaws: Butch Reed & Jim Duggan vs. Dick Slater and Buzz Sawyer

Thanksgiving Retro: Greensboro & Norfolk 1975

For decades, wrestling on Thanksgiving night was a cherished tradition in the Mid-Atlantic area, particularly in the cities of Greensboro, NC and Norfolk, VA.

The line-up of talent on the two Jim Crockett promotions cards was simply amazing. And this was without their two top heels following the plane crash 7 weeks earlier. Johnny Valentine's career was ended and Ric Flair would not return from his broken back until late January of 1976. 

Brisco, Wahoo, Funk, Jones, Andre, Graham, the Andersons, Mulligan, Woods, Weaver, Miller, Patera, Mosca and so many more. Just an incredible line-up of great talent.

Today we look back at the 40th anniversary of a big night of wrestling in these two big Crockett towns. The actual date was Thanksgiving night 11/27/75, but we take a look back a few days early. 

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Greensboro Coliseum

Greensboro Event Poster

Greensboro Newspaper Ad

Newspaper Result

A Page from Booker George Scott's Day Planner

Scope Coliseum

Norfolk Newspaper Ad

Norfolk Newspaper Result

Superstar Billy Graham and Andre the Giant at the Scope, Thanksgiving 1975
Photograph by Bill Janosik

International Wrestling Association (IWA)
Winston-Salem Coliseum
The rival IWA also ran a big Thanksgiving show in the Mid-Atlantic area
on Thanksgiving night of 1975.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ricky Morton Joins The Naitch on WOOOOO! Nation

Ric Flair and Conrad Thompson on WOOOOO! Nation
Ricky Morton of the Rock & Roll Express is Ric's guest this week on the 30th episode of WOOOO! Nation!

From the WOOOO! Nation website:
Ric welcomes his friend of over 30 years, the Rock 'n' Roll Express' Ricky Morton! Ric and Ricky share great stories from both inside and outside of the ring! Hear about the nine one hour draws they wrestled two weeks in a row, the drinking, the women and the infamous boat story! Ricky talks about the hard lessons learned on the business end of wrestling while riding high in the 80s. Another great episode from Ric and Conrad on WOOOOO! Nation! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Add a little Flair to your life by joining the Nature Boy every week as he talks pro wrestling, sports, tells stories like only he can, and interviews his celebrity friends. No topic is off limits for Flair during his weekly CBS podcast. Come join WOOOOO! Nation!

Ric Flair and Conrad Thompson are on "WOOOOO! Nation" right now! Check it out via iTunes or directly download from the WOOOOO! Nation page at the PLAY.IT website.

Also Don't Miss: Behind the Scenes at WOOOOO! Nation (Part 1)
An interview with co-host Conrad Thompson and a look at how the WOOOO! Nation podcast first came together.

And don't miss some of our most recent updates on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway:

The Forgotten Prelude to Starrcade '85
Most folks remember the big cage angle in the Omni when Ric Flair turned on Dusty Rhodes. But do you remember the largely forgotten angle that led up to it? We celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Starrcade '85!

The Earliest Origins of the Four Horsemen
Yes, I know that's redundant. You'll see what I mean when you get there. The real inside story on when the name came about. And this month we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Four Horsemen!

Yes Virginia, There is a Dr. Estwanik
He was one of the supporting players in the story that was the Road to Starrcade '85. And he really does exist! We tease an upcoming piece on noted sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Estwanik.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Forgotten Prelude to Starrcade '85

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

As the years pass, it's natural for the smaller details to fade from memory on any good story. When folks talk about the build-up to Starrcade '85 all these 30 years later, the story usually begins with Ric Flair and the Andersons turning on Dusty Rhodes in the cage in the Omni on 9/29. That's the angle they think of when they remember all the things that led up to the big world title match at Starrcade.

But the story began much earlier. You see, Dusty Rhodes needed to be the number one babyface and he had to have more than just the number one heel do bad things to him to set up his biggest match of the year. He needed someone the fans were beginning to love as much or more than him to turn on him. He needed more than evil deeds; he needed selfish betrayal.

Ric Flair had somewhat of a dual personality in the spring and summer of 1985 on Atlanta TV. For a majority of the time that Flair had been NWA world champion since September of 1981, he remained the most popular wrestler imaginable in his home territory of the Mid-Atlantic area, while wrestling straight heel as defending NWA world champion in every other territory in the NWA. When Jim Crockett Promotions acquired the wrestling TV time on Superstation WTBS, Flair maintained his heel persona on the national broadcast, while staying the babyface in the Mid-Atlantic area (even though many Mid-Atlantic fans were seeing the Superstation cable broadcasts, too.)

In the early months of Jim Crockett Promotion on the Superstation, Flair feuded with Magnum T.A. But in the home area of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, the company prepared for the first Great American Bash at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte with mega-babyface Flair defending the honor of America and his world title against the rising "Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff.

At this same time, the company was in the early stages of making plans for the biggest show of the year that was more than a half year away - - Starrcade. Booker Dusty Rhodes knew he wanted to end up challenging Flair for the world title, but he didn't want a repeat of the situation he had the previous Thanksgiving at Starrcade '84 where he and Flair met both as babyfaces in the main event of that show.

Dusty needed more than a simple angle where the heel carried out some dastardly deed to set up the match. With Flair still hugely popular in the Mid-Atlantic area, and riding the successful program there with Nikita Koloff, Dusty devised the ingenious plan to add betrayal into the mix heading towards Starrcade '85.

He allowed the Mid-Atlantic Flair/Nikita feud to also play out on Atlanta TV, and planned a series of three main events between the two in Atlanta.

On 8/11/85, Flair defended the NWA title against Nikita at the Omni, with the match ending in a double count-out. A return match was set for 9/1 with the title on the line again but this time in a lumberjack match, with wrestlers surrounding the ring to make sure the combatants stayed in the ring.

The day before that rematch, on the 8/31/85 World Championship Wrestling show, Dusty shot an angle that was every bit as important as the big turn in the cage to come later, because it laid the foundation for the turn in the cage to have maximum impact. yet sadly, that small angle is largely forgotten in this story.

On that Saturday's show, Ivan and Nikita continued to run down Flair and the U.S.A. until Flair had had enough. During Nikita's TV match, with Ivan at the podium doing commentary with Tony Schiavone, Flair interrupted and challenged Ivan Koloff. Nikita saw what was happening, left the ring and jumped Flair from behind and through him in the ring. Nikita had the upper hand until Flair ducked a clothesline and nailed Nikita with a flying forearm. As he applied the figure four, Ivan hit the ring and the two Koloffs started to do a major number on Flair as the TV studio crowd was in an uproar.

Then the nearly unthinkable happened. Dusty Rhodes hit the ring to make the save. Dusty cleared the ring and then helped Ric to his feet. If you watch the angle carefully, you will notice that Flair gently pulled way from Rhodes as he was trying to help him up, and didn't really acknowledge his assistance. As Flair lit into a crazy promo on Nikita, Rhodes left the studio unnoticed.

Dusty Rhodes takes Ric Flair's hand after Flair had been attacked by the Koloffs

On its face, the angle was to add heat for the Flair/Nikita rematch at the Omni the following night. It certainly did that, but it also served the larger purpose as a subtle beginning to what would be the Flair turn on Dusty a month later in the cage.

The following night 9/1 in the Omni, Ivan and Khrusher Khrushchev, who were part of the contingent of lumberjacks at ringside, repeatedly attacked Flair during the match. The match ended again in a no contest, resulting in a third match between the two being set for 9/29, this final confrontation to take place inside a steel cage.

The following Saturday on World Championship Wrestling, Flair warned Dusty in unmistakable terms to stay out of his business, referring to the previous week's events on TV where Rhodes had saved him from the Koloffs' attack - -

"Dusty Rhodes, don't ever make the mistake of sticking your nose in my business. If I'm down and out, I'll get up and take care of myself. ... don't think you can walk into that ring and give me a hand or try to help me out and ease the tension in our relationship."

It didn't seem odd or out of place at all. Flair and Rhodes had feuded for years, and although Flair had become increasingly popular on the Superstation as of late, he still maintained that heel edge, cutting masterful promos where he would crack on both babyfaces and heels all at the same time in the same interview. It was beautiful to behold. Dusty had been warned. It was subtle, and yet direct at the same time.

Apparently, though, not direct enough for Dusty to get the message.

Fast forward to the infamous cage match of 9/29/85. Flair, with a sold out Omni behind him, finally turned back the challenge of the "Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff. But when the cage door was unlocked, Ivan Koloff and Khrusher Khrushchev hit the ring and three began to pummel Flair. The crowd didn't like it, but suddenly their boos turned into a loud roar as the "American Dream" hit the ring, throwing those famous elbows and sending the Russians running. The Omni came unglued.

With the Russians dispatched, Dusty turned to help Ric to his feet just as he did four weeks earlier on the Superstation. Except this time Ric pointed at Rhodes from the mat and shouted angrily, "I told you not to interfere in my business!" As Dusty stood confused at Ric's reaction, he failed to notice Ole and Arn Anderson entering the cage door behind him. The Andersons attacked Rhodes. Ric got to his feet, paused for a moment, and then went over to the cage door, pulled the chain back through, and padlocked it shut.

If you watch this carefully, you will notice fans at ringside within the camera shot screaming at Flair and pointing to the Andersons pounding Rhodes as if to implore the champ to return the favor and help Rhodes out. But instead, Ric went and joined his cousins and the three put an epic beatdown on the Dream.

You know the rest. As the Andersons held Rhodes, Flair leapt from the top turnbuckle onto Dusty's leg, badly injuring the ankle.

Booker Rhodes used the betrayal to turn Flair heel in the Mid-Altlantic area as well, as the Crockett syndicated shows the entire Omni cage angle. Ric was now a full fledged heel everywhere. Dusty was out of action for a little over a month. TV followed his rehab along with his doctor Joseph Estwanik. When he made his return on 11/3 in the Omni in an undercard match against Mike Davis, he proved the ankle was well, and Jim Crockett signed the NWA world title match between Rhodes and Flair for Starrcade '85.

The angle in the cage in Atlanta was hot and resulted in a near riot at the Omni, as fans at one point rushed ringside and braced the cage door to prevent the Andersons and Flair from being able to exit the ring.

But what made that angle work so well and what made that crowd riot was the betrayal - - not the attack. The weeks leading up to that betrayal are what are often overlooked today as we look back on that famous build to Starrcade '85.

Whatever you think of Dusty Rhodes as a storyteller and how this particular story played out in the end, you have to admit he hit this part of the story out of the ballpark.

Added: YouTube video - - WTBS 8/31/85
Thanks to Scott Anderson for sending us the link.