During the summer of 1980 in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the stars appeared to be aligned for the first major extended mask versus mask confrontation in Jim Crockett Promotion since 1975. Back in late 1974 and early 1975, the masked Super Destroyer and the masked Avenger carried on a spirited program which saw the Avenger eventually defeated and losing his hood. These bouts were entertaining and well attended, so it was a bit surprising that it took the promotion five years to think about doing a repeat.
At the same time, Ric Flair had been telling the fans of the Mid-Atlantic area that he had convinced a good friend of his to come to the Carolinas to wrestle. Flair told the fans that this man was a premiere athlete, and that he was full of charisma and soul. Eventually, Ric said this newcomer would be going by the name of Sweet Ebony Diamond. When the hooded “Diamond” arrived, he certainly seemed to exude all of the dynamic characteristics that his buddy Flair had promised. Muscular, but very light on his feet, and possessing a lightning fast drop kick, “Sweet Ebony” moved up the ranks of the “good guy” side of the roster in short order.
By the summer of 1980, these two masked men had taken note of each other and were making comments about the other during their interview segments. Then on the World Wide Wrestling television program taped on July 16th, it was announced that the Superstar would be defending his NWA TV Title again Sweet Ebony Diamond on the show! Color commentator Johnny Weaver said, “Get you a good seat in front of your TV set because we’ve got Sweet Ebony Diamond who is gonna go up against the Superstar for the TV Title! Now Sweet Ebony Diamond’s made a big hit with the fans; he’s a Ric Flair man and he’s shown us a lot of promise and today, the next hour, he’s gonna get his chance.”
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Announcer Rich Landrum got the fans of World Wide Wrestling set for the battle of the masked men saying, “We’re set for our title match, with the Superstar putting his title on the line against Sweet Ebony Diamond, and what an exciting match this will be…15 minute time limit match for the TV Title! Two masked men in the ring…this ought to be exciting!” Weaver agreed, “Exactly, that’s an oddity…one mask against the other!”
The match began with a clean break between the two combatants, with Weaver offering that it was a show of respect between the two masked men. Weaver continued, “Sweet Ebony Diamond, a find of Ric Flair and he’s finally got his big chance here in the World Wide area. He’s been goin’ through everybody here so far.” Landrum added, “On national television to have a shot at the NWA TV Title…whoa! That moves you up about 10 steps on the ladder very quickly.” Weaver countered, “And he’s in there with a smart cagey individual, very cautious…it’s hard to make this man commit an error.”
As the match continued, with both men feeling each other out, Landrum elaborated on the Superstar’s cerebral style in the squared circle commenting, “I was just trying to think back, and I could probably, in the whole time that I’ve had the opportunity to watch Superstar wrestle…the whole time I could count on one hand all of the matches he ever made a mistake in, and those are very few.” Weaver concurred, “Very few, it’s hard to force him into a mistake. He doesn’t rush, and he’s a methodical type wrestler.”
The Superstar’s methodical style was allowing valuable time to slip away from Diamond, and the pace of the bout wasn’t lost on the commentators. Weaver astutely noted, “Of course, time is not on Ebony Diamond’s side.” Landrum concurred, “No, not in this case. It is a 15 minute time limit match, and he must do it all in that short span of time.” The way these two were matching up in the early stages of what appeared to be a very evenly matched bout, it appeared as if 15 minutes might not be enough time to really determine who the better masked man was.
As the contest progressed, the announcers provided some interesting insight as to why the two wrestlers wore hoods. Landrum said, “You know Diamond, in speaking of the two masked men, in talking to him about it, he wears it he says for personal reasons…he has nothing to hide. He’s very proud of himself, and it’s just for his own personal reasons. And in counter to that, the Superstar says he wears his for personal reasons, for privacy and that he feels he has an advantage in doing so…in wearing the mask over other wrestlers because they can’t see his face, to know whether or not they’ve inflicted pain.” Weaver agreed, “That would be very true because I know many times you’d get a man going and check his face and see if his eyes are glassy and you can know whether it’s time to try for your finishing hold because these wrestlers are smart and intelligent people and you just don’t go out there, even though as good a hold as you’ve got, they’re gonna have a defense when they go in there against you.”
The Superstar opened up the attack on the “sweet man,” and it didn’t take long for Diamond to fire back in kind, in the process showing flashes of what appeared to be a boxing background. Weaver noted, “We’ve seen Diamond in his three or four appearances here demonstrate some fancy footwork.” Landrum added, “Yes, he has some boxing moves we’ve seen.” Weaver then said about Diamond, “Fancy footwork, some good jabs and good right hands! The drop kick and the Boston crab has been the thing that’s cashed in for Sweet Ebony Diamond so far.”
Out of nowhere, a vicious clothesline by Superstar followed by his devastating cobra hold finisher appeared to spell doom for Diamond. Weaver exclaimed, “The cobra hold, he’s got him and he’s got it hooked and he’s got him in the middle of the ring!” The fans in the WRAL TV studio got loud, and were trying to will Sweet Ebony out of the dreaded cobra. Weaver was with them saying, “The fans are coming alive behind him, let’s see…so many times you can’t evaluate how much the fans support means to a wrestler out there, especially in the case of Sweet Ebony Diamond here, when he’s in a little trouble. He’s in a LOT of trouble, with that cobra hold on him!”
Diamond was in the cobra hold for an extended time, and was tantalizingly close to the ring ropes and a break by referee Sonny Fargo several times. Landrum explained, “Diamond knows how much this title match means. That TV belt could be around his waist if he could just hold out and make it to the ropes, or get up and get out of the cobra hold.” As the crowd chanted loudly, “Let’s go sweet,” Diamond finally made it to the ropes and got a much needed breather.
The “sweet man” immediately turned the tide with a head-butt and a flurry of right hands that had the Superstar staggering. Landrum excitedly uttered, “John, we might see a belt change hands here!” But at that very moment both contestants tumbled over the top rope, and began a wild melee on the floor! With referee Sonny Fargo counting, Diamond slipped back in the ring before the 10 count, but the count out win did not yield him the TV Title. Weaver exclaimed, “I think Diamond beat the count in, but it will not change hands on a count out.” Landrum additionally stated, “That is one of the rules of the National Wrestling Alliance, that a belt cannot change hands on a count out, meaning a count out outside of the ring.”
Interestingly, when the announcers looked at the instant replay, it was revealed that the Superstar grabbed Diamond’s tights and used that added leverage to get the “sweet man” over the top rope! Weaver gasped, “Superstar got a hand full of tights! Right there…see there?!” Landrum observed, “Wise…I hate to say it, but a wise move on the Superstar’s part.” Weaver concluded, “But they both tumbled out, and referee Sonny Fargo was blocked from that and they were counted out. And the belt stays on the Superstar.” Landrum’s summation was aptly, “What a match!”
In a post-match interview, the Superstar seemed highly impressed with Sweet Ebony. Landrum stated, “The NWA TV Champion, you retained your belt over Sweet Ebony Diamond, but that was one heck of a match.” Superstar countered, “Listen, every time I come out here I’m very, very confident. I’m still very, very confident. But this is the first time, I hope the only time, that I come out here and tell you and tell the people viewing that I feel very, very fortunate to have this belt at the present time. Now, Sweet Ebony Diamond I have to give you a lot of credit. Wherever you’re at right now, I wanna tell you one thing that I haven’t told anybody, and I mean anybody…you’re a very, very good tough competitor.”
The Superstar continued, “You’re a very competent wrestler. Now don’t get overconfident because I’m blowing some smoke…don’t get overconfident. I’ve gotta give you credit where credit’s due. But I’m holding onto this belt, I’m defending this belt, and I don’t care who gets in the ring with me…if you want this belt you’re gonna have to fight me for it and I’m not gonna give up. I’m gonna keep comin’and when you think I’m down and tired and worn out, that’s when the intelligence factor comes in…I’m gonna beat you fellas, anybody at any time.”
This dynamic television match between the masked men certainly seemed to sow the seeds of a major program between the Superstar and Sweet Ebony Diamond. But inexplicably, it didn’t happen. Within six weeks or so the Masked Superstar developed issues with manager Gene Anderson and his “army” of rulebreaking wrestlers leading to a shocking “good guy” turn by the Superstar. Almost as shockingly, the Superstar would team up with another “bad guy” turned good, Paul Jones, and this unlikely twosome would become the NWA World Tag Team Champions before the end of 1980.
Sweet Ebony Diamond would soon enter a heated program with old adversary Ivan Koloff, and after that would eventually obtain the NWA Television Championship in a memorable battle with Greg Valentine later in 1981. Worth noting is that when both masked men won the titles mentioned above, they voluntarily took off their masks in the afterglow of those championship wins, the same masks they battled so hard to maintain in the July 16, 1980 battle in the WRAL TV studios. Fans are left to wonder who would have come out on top in a mask versus mask program between the Masked Superstar and Sweet Ebony Diamond, and why that program never happened. But one thing is free from speculation…the brief collision of the masked men on that July evening on World Wide Wrestling was definitely a major highlight of 1980 in Jim Crockett Promotions!