Monday, January 04, 2016

U.S. Title Memories: Harley Race challenges Magnum T.A.

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Usually when we post something about a 30th or 40th anniversary, it's something significant like a title change or a historic card or something like that. But today, January 4, 2016 is simply the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite episodes of Jim Crockett's Saturday night "World Championship Wrestling" show on Superstation WTBS. So I thought I'd post about one little part of that show that was really special to me.

You can still check this show out in the Vault section on the WWE Network. There were many things to like this show for:

  1. Major developments in storylines including the pairing of James J. Dillon with Tully Blanchard to form Tully Blanchard Enterprises and the major injury to Ole Anderson by Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors at the OMNI on New Year's night.
  2. The announcement of a title change that featured Dusty Rhodes' fictional win over Buddy Landel for the National heavyweight championship (Landel had just been fired by the company.)
  3. Amazing promos ranging from the intense (Magnum T.A.) to the hilarious (Dusty Rhodes) to the intense AND hilarious (Ric Flair and Arn Anderson.)
  4. Footage from the OMNI (always loved it when they showed film footage from an arena)
  5. Visiting NWA superstar Harley Race
It was that last item that led to something small, but memorable, as it related to the top singles title for Jim Crockett Promotions.

I've always liked it when a wrestler refers to something that took place in wrestling history that has a bearing on something happening modern day. In this case, it was former multi-time NWA world champion Harley Race hearkening back to a historic match he was involved in for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling ten and a half years earlier in 1975.

It was just cool to have Race on the show to begin with. He was the reigning Missouri heavyweight champion at the time, even though he didn't have that famous belt with him at WTBS. He had just wrestled Ric Flair for the NWA world title days earlier, first at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis on New Year's night, and then at Memorial Hall in Kansas City the next night.

Now Race was making an appearance for Jim Crockett Promotions, wrestling on the WTBS TV taping that Saturday morning in Atlanta, and then challenging Magnum T.A. for the United States heavyweight title later that same evening in Greensboro, NC.

Race came out on TV as an unscheduled color commentator for a match between U.S. champ Magnum T.A. and The Barbarian, managed by Paul Jones. As he told David Crockett, he was there ostensibly on a scouting mission, knowing he was facing Magnum later that night in Greensboro:

"I thought I'd come out here David and watch this and see what Magnum's got to offer. He's in there against a guy that's a formidable opponent and should present a very good match. I just want to stand here and kind of go through this with you, and get  look at what I've got to look at very shortly."  - Harley Race, WTBS

Harley Race offers commentary on the Magnum T.A. vs. Barbarian match on WTBS

Race challenging Magnum for the U.S. title all these years later was special because Race was actually the first wrestler to hold that very same United States championship. He came to Greensboro as U.S. champion on July 3, 1975 and lost the title to Johnny Valentine, which established the U.S. title in the Mid-Atlantic area. That history would have been lost on most fans, except that Race himself brought it up on WTBS that day.

As the match was getting underway, Race said the following:

"That belt, as you know, John Valentine a number of years ago beat me for in the city of Greensboro, North Carolina. And it's been a long time since I've had it, and I'd love to have it again." 
- Harley Race, WTBS

Race's mention of that match added a bit of context and texture to his upcoming title match with Magnum T.A. He reminded fans he had once held that title, and he invoked the name of the legendary Johnny Valentine which hadn't been heard on television in many, many years. In typical Race fashion, and in a manner more typical to those from his era, he put importance on the championship itself. After all, if he was coming to Greensboro to wrestle for the U.S. championship, that championship held importance to him, and he wanted fans to know it.

Attention to detail, to the little things; that's part of what made wrestling so special "back in the day."

. . . 

Postscript: During the match between Magnum and the Barbarian, the referee got knocked down and Race went in to make the three-count on Magnum. A brawl erupted that ended with both Race and Barb leaping from the turnbuckles with their flying headbutts and leaving Magnum laying.

The Greensboro match later that same night between Race and Magnum was never shown on TV, although cameras were there in Greensboro that night (footage from the NWA TV tournament that took place the same night aired on television.) Fan footage exists on YouTube of a few minutes of the match, but not the finish. Results posted on the internet list Race as the winner, presumably by DQ or by count-out.

As best we can tell, Harley Race and Magnum T.A. only wrestled three times, this 1/4/86 match being the 3rd and final encounter. They apparently met twice in early 1985 when Race made a one-week tour through the Mid-Atlantic area, wrestling Magnum (who had only been in the Mid-Atlantic territory around a month at that time) in Greenville SC and Charlotte, NC.

The entire story of Harley Race bringing the United States title to Greensboro in 1975 and establishing it as the top singles title in the Mid-Atlantic area can be found in the detailed title history of Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship.

200+ full color pages with amazing photographs, its on sale now on and via PayPal from the Gateway.

"Bourne strikes gold with new book on U.S. wrestling title." - Mike Mooneyham, Charleston Post and Courier

"...the Indiana Jones of title belt archaeology." - Mike Johnson,