by David Chappell
From the late 1960s through the late 1970s, Paul Jones was one of the most beloved wrestlers in Jim Crockett Promotions. Then, shockingly, Jones became a rulebreaker at the end of 1978, infamously turning on his friend Ricky Steamboat during a two ring Battle Royal in Charlotte, North Carolina. Through the entirety of 1979, “Number One” seemed to relish his newfound heel persona, teaming with former foe Baron von Raschke to win the NWA World Tag Team Championship and treat his ex-friends with disdain. Early in 1980, Paul and the Baron had a falling out after dropping the World Tag Team Titles to Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. By March of 1980, Jones had disappeared from the Mid-Atlantic area, seemingly without a trace.
A contrite and rather subdued Paul Jones responded, “Well, Bob, actually I don’t know where to start. I want to say this, I just flew in from Florida. A lot of people ask why I left here in such a hurry. Well, I guess you might say that I woke up one morning, looked myself in the mirror, and didn’t like what I seen. You know, whenever you follow the devil, you’re taken away by not only being possessed by money, jealousy and a number of other things. I’ve hurt a lot of fans that have stood behind me for years. I’ve hurt a lot of wrestlers that were good friends of mine, like Steamboat over money, greed, jealousy. Listen, I could have stayed away from here, Bob, and never came back. But I think one of the hardest things to do, is to go back and admit you’re wrong, and take the punishment, and try to ask forgiveness. The good Lord forgives all if they want forgiveness. I’m here, I’m shaking in my shoes, nervous...”
Caudle then interjected and asked, “Are you saying Paul that you want to turn over a new leaf, that you want to be friends again with those old friends that you were friends with?” Jones responded, “Listen, Bob, I’m not apologizing to the people, to the wrestlers, for being a coward. I am a man, a man that’s seeing a new light. I’m no longer following the devil. I ask for forgiveness. I’m not very good with words…all I want, is the opportunity to make it up. I feel like I can pay the people back, pay the wrestlers back, with the opportunity to do it in a square ring like I’m looking at right now. Listen, I’m ashamed of what I did. I left somewhere to get my head together, I even put a mask over my head I was so ashamed. But I’ll never put another mask over my head again. And I’ll never have to go to the people or the wrestlers and say I’m sorry.”
Jones continued, “I’ve been down a wrong road, and I realized it Bob, David. And all I want is the opportunity. I paid for this trip myself, I’m here tonight, if you want to charge me for the TV time, I’ll pay for it! I just wanted to come here tonight; I feel like a new man right now. I got it off my chest. It’s up to the people, it’s up to the wrestlers…I’m gonna talk to as many of them as I can. I just want to say this, I want to repeat myself, I don’t have any matches lined up in this area right now. I just got on the airplane and come straight here, said what I have to say, and thank God I’m on the right track. Thank you.”
Paul immediately walked off the set and Caudle commented, “Thank you…Paul just walked away. But I think it can be worked out to get Paul some matches, David.” David Crockett responded, “If you remember the way Paul was, good and bad, he was a heck of a wrestler. And I just hope it’s true.” Caudle answered, “Well, at one time, he was the idol of many, many people David, and had a great number of fans.” Crockett concluded, “There are a lot of fans out there that still love Paul Jones, there really are. And, we’ll just wait and see.”
Later that same summer night in the WRAL TV studios, Paul Jones paid a visit to the World Wide Wrestling television show taping, hosted by Rich Landrum and “The Dean of Wrestling” Johnny Weaver. Johnny exclaimed, “Hey, we have a surprise guest!” Landrum responded, “We do that! Paul Jones, as I live and breathe; I never would have expected to see you. Paul, good to see you again!” Jones answered, “Listen, while I’m in the area here, I’ve been visiting with Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, and I didn’t want to leave you all out, as I’m talking to a lot of the same fans that feel the way they do about me.”
As the fans in the studio audience listened intently, Jones continued, “I wouldn’t get up here; I didn’t have to come back. But I come back to take my medicine. Things I’ve done to wrestlers like Steamboat, God, this man, he would do anything for me, and I turned on him for a measly $10,000.00…and I want to make it up to the people, and I want to do it in the ring. And believe me one thing, you’re gonna see a new Paul Jones. And I guarantee you another thing…I’ll never, EVER, take the wrong road again. You people have been so good to me and I just hope someday, that you will come up to me and say, ‘Paul, I want you to be my friend again.’ Listen, let me tell you something right now, if you never speak to me again it’s my loss, not yours. But I hope you do, because I’m here, if they want me, if they’ll have me, to make up for the wrong I’ve done. Thank you very much.”
At this juncture, Johnny Weaver commented, “Paul, I certainly hope you’re sincere. I’ve said on many interviews in radio stations, that I know when you went the other way you had to give up a lot as a man that had to stand alone, and I’m sure that you reached the point that you could evaluate what the fans did mean to you.” Jones concurred by offering, “Well, that’s right John. Also, another thing, well I feel much better now. I feel like I’ve seen the light, I just feel like something’s been lifted off my head that’s been on my mind for months, I couldn’t sleep at night. And John, one of the hardest things was too, was you and I were friends for many years, and when I would walk down the street or around this building, I would look at you and you wouldn’t even look me in the eye, you were ashamed of me. But I guarantee you John, I wanna make it up to you too…just give me a chance.”
Paul Jones was given that chance, and returned to the Mid-Atlantic area to once again battle the forces of evil. Many of Jones’ former friends on the “bad guy” side ridiculed his turn back to a fan favorite, such as Ray Stevens who referred to Paul as the “preacher man.” While Jones wrestled in main events and had an extended run as one half of the NWA World Tag Team Champions with the Masked Superstar from the fall of 1980 into the spring of 1981, he never fully recaptured the magic that he had during his many earlier years as a “good guy.” By the summer of 1982, Jones once again turned into a rulebreaker, this time for good. Paul remained in Jim Crockett Promotions until 1988, primarily working in the role as a heel manager for most of that time.
Thinking back on all the dastardly things that Paul Jones and his “Army” did to Jimmy Valiant during Paul’s last run with Jim Crockett Promotions, it puts Jones’ words on that night at TV on July 23, 1980 under the microscope. While the commentators wanted to give Jones the benefit of the doubt, they also clearly took a wait and see attitude as to whether Paul was truly sincere in his plea for forgiveness. Their hint of skepticism, seen through the prism of time, turned out to be warranted. On July 23, 1980 the “new” Paul Jones returned and talked a very good game, but in the end, he couldn’t continue to walk that “good guy” walk again but for so long. Regrettably for the longtime fans of Paul Jones, the spots on that leopard had never really changed.