Friday, July 24, 2015

Prom Night (April 30, 1976)

by David Chappell
from the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives

I remember the day well, April 30, 1976, the night of my High School Prom. At that time I was a junior at Patrick Henry High School, about ready to finish up the 11th grade. Back in those days, the Prom was held on campus at our gymnasium. I remember helping with the decorations and the preparations for the gala event. Yep, I was VERY excited about that Friday night spectacular! However, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the Prom, and it was called Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling!

Jim Crockett Promotions obviously did not know that my Prom was on April 30, 1976 as Mid-Atlantic Wrestling visited the Richmond Coliseum on that same Friday night. What was a young guy to do? Then I heard Les Thatcher announce the main event for that Richmond card would be Rufus R. Jones, Wahoo McDaniel and "The Eighth Wonder Of The World" Andre The Giant against Ric Flair, and his cousin’s Gene and Ole Anderson. With that announcement, my decision was made—I was going to the Coliseum!

You see, that six man tag team match had one of the greatest buildups in Mid-Atlantic history. Throughout the month of April in 1976, a feud was built between Rufus R. Jones and Ric Flair and the Andersons. I will never forget the sight of Rufus having a chauffeur’s cap put on him by Flair and then Ric and the Andersons slapping Rufus while they pushed him down on his knees.

The two weeks leading up to that Coliseum match had some of the best promos that Jim Crockett Promotions ever put out. Rufus was swearing out revenge for what was done to him, and he went out and got Wahoo and Andre as his partners. Andre did not appear in the area often, and it was a real event when he came to your town. The Andre the Giant of April 1976 was Andre in his physical prime. Andre was huge of course, but he also had amazing agility and dexterity for a man his size.

Ric Flair and the Andersons did a great job of hyping this six man tag as well. Ole in particular did some of his best interviews ever. Listening to Ric and Ole, you almost wanted to believe they had a chance against Andre’s team. But despite the best efforts of the "bad guys," I believe the huge crowd that showed up at the Coliseum that night was there for one reason and one reason only. To see Andre The Giant destroy the team from Minnesota!

I remember talking to some other Coliseum regulars that night that the undercard looked kind of weak. There were only five matches, and usually Coliseum cards had seven matches. Sure enough, the first two matches were below average. The third match saw the first Richmond appearance of Italian star, Dino Bravo. Bravo beat one of my favorite all-time underneath guys, Bill White. Dino was impressive, but of course it was difficult to gauge just how good he was against an opponent like White. Watching that match, I was thinking that it ought to have been a TV match rather than one I paid to see. Sure enough, when I turned on Channel 6 the next afternoon, one of the TV matches was……..Dino Bravo versus Bill White!

The semi-final event was a tag team match between The Mongols and Roberto and Manuel Soto. The Mongols had Professor Boris Malenko in their corner. Interestingly enough, this same match was also on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV the next day! The Coliseum match was a solid one between these two mid card tag teams. The Soto’s got the victory when Malenko interfered on behalf of his Mongols.

The Main Event more than made up for an average undercard! I still remember how huge Andre looked when he entered the ring, and how he dwarfed the other five wrestlers. This was not your classic back and forth match. Flair and the Andersons had virtually no offense the entire match. It was clear early on that this was going to be a major butt-kicking by Rufus, Wahoo and Andre. And after all, that was what everybody came to see!

The crowd was one of the loudest I ever experienced at the Coliseum, a building with a reputation of being wild. The loudest single pop I have ever heard at a wrestling match was during this match, when Rufus, Wahoo and Andre put a chauffeur’s cap on Ric Flair and slapped him upside the face! I thought for sure the roof was coming off the building! Needless to say, the "good guys" emerged victorious, and I remember leaving the Coliseum that night feeling justice had been done.

I’ll always remember heading back to school the Monday morning after the Prom of 1976. There was no conversation about the Prom. Rather, all the questions were directed to me about the matches at the Coliseum! What did Andre look like, did Rufus get his revenge, etc., etc. Boy, did I ever have some stories to tell. Somehow, I’ve never regretted missing my Junior Prom. But to this day, I know a bunch of people who regretted not going to the Richmond Coliseum on April 30, 1976!