by Steve Phillips, Salisbury Post
June 11, 1986
One hundred degrees and rising. The overhead television lights beam down from the rafters and render the air circulation system at Goodman Gymnasium virtually worthless.
At ringside, things are getting hotter. Referee Tommy Young has turned his back to admonish Robert Gibson of the Rock and Roll Express for attempting to enter the rang without mating a legal tag.
Ric Flair and Arn Anderson know this is their chance. They've got an illegal doable-team going on Ricky Morton and they're having a field day.
The crowd responds with an angry collective roar.
Why doesn't Young turn around? How can any referee worth his salt allow two thugs like Flair and
Anderson to flout wrestling's code of ethics?
By the time Young finally gets back to the business at hand, Flair and Anderson have brought Morton to his knees. But Flair has re turned to his corner, a picture of wide-eyed innocence. He answers Young's glare of suspicion with an exaggerated shrug.
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|NWA World Champion Ric Flair|
I had seats at ringside in Section B, courtesy of a friend who went after advance tickets the day they went on sale. He wasn't the only one. The Salisbury Jaycees reported that all 400 ringside seats ($10 apiece ) were gobbled up three weeks ago.
General admission seats ($8.00) went on sale at 5 o'clock Tuesday afternoon, 2 1/2 hours hours before the start of the first match. A line already stretched from the ticket window down the steps and onto an adjoining sidewalk.
"I must have gotten 100 calls at work and 30 more at home about this thing," said WSTP radio announcer and Jaycee Doug Rice. The Catawba Sports Information office also fielded a number of calls even though the college had no official connection with the event.
Pro wrestling keeps packing 'em in, and will continue to do so as long as the forces of good and evil tug at one another. The names eventually change (although many of the assorted heroes and villains hang around for eternity) but the show remains the same.
And as long as pro wrestling endures, so will the Great Debate. But the lines are clearly drawn on each side and one is better off arguing ACC basketball, politics, or the relative merits of liquor by the drink.
Detractors scoff at the showmanship of the whole affair. Sports purists resent the attention the spectacle receives. Sports Illustrated did a full-color spread on pro wrestling last year and received a slew of nasty letters, mostly from high school and collegiate coaches bemoaning the comparative lack of coverage for their "legitimate" sport.
But supporters point to the numbers. Roughly 3,000 people turned out Tuesday night. That's about as many as you'll get for anything in Salisbury, be it American Legion baseball, Catawba football or a meeting on a high school merger.
In my high school days, I followed wrestling with a passion. Flair, then a cocky 24-year old fresh out of the University of Minnesota, became my personal favorite. His weekly TV exchanges with the likes of Paul Jones, Chief Wahoo McDaniel, and tiger Conway were classics. Flair always seemed one step ahead, just a little smarter.
The verbal sparring inevitably set up a big match at Raleigh's Dorton Arena the following Tuesday. My friends and I would fork over the $6 for ringside seats.
Pro wrestling and I went our separate ways during my college years. I did pick up on enough to know that Flair finally won the world heavyweight title. But the antics of Hulk Hogan, Cindy Lauper and Rowdy Roddy Piper that sparked such widespread interest a few years back aroused no more from me than passing attention.
Some of the old spark returned Tuesday night. But I also felt old beyond my 28 years.
Flair remains a big drawing card, but he has become an elder statesman. Johnny Weaver, the big name of the '60s and early '70s, is out to pasture as a television commentator. And what of Paul Jones, the All-American hero of my wrestling days, the man loved by all except those of us who cheered for rogues like Flair, Greg Valentine and Blackjack Mulligan?
Well, it seems old Paul has become a rogue himself. He was always short, 5-foot-8 or so. Now he sports a military uniform and a bushy black mustache that makes him a suitable candidate for the lead role in a documentary on the rise of the Third Reich.
Jones has gained 20 pounds and he doesn't wrestle anymore. He manages an "army" that includes a bald-headed German "baron," a slick talking black guy in a top hat and some evil looking character who wears a mohawk haircut and war paint.
Only on a soap opera, I told myself, could people and events change so in 10 years time. But therein, I think, lies the answer to what makes the whole thing tick.
If I can scurry home at lunch-time to watch "All My Children" and you can plan your Wednesday nights around "Dynasty," can professional wrestling enthusiasts live in that much of a different world?
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The match is over. The Rock and Roll Express have done it. The crowd roars its approval. Flair charges Young, claiming Morton's pin on Anderson was illegal. It's a wasted argument.
The overhead TV lights flick off. The boos begin as Flair pleads his cased to a ringside cameraman.
"You saw it!" Flair yells. "Tell him (Young) what they did!"
The cameraman backs away. His expression tells Flair to "leave me out of it."
Flair shakes his head. "You know that's not right" he says. Wadded-up Coke cups fly as the boos intensify.
Finally, Flair gives in. But the strut is still there and the blond hair still bounces as he marches towards the dressing room under police escort. Flair reaches the exit and throws a few choice comments over his shoulder.
But in this business, no one ever gets the last word. Somewhere tonight, the show goes on.