Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hearing Art Nelson for the Final Time...Sort Of

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

When I started to follow wrestling in Jim Crockett Promotions semi-regularly in the early 1970s, Art Nelson was one of my favorite grapplers. Barrel-chested and rock solid at 250 pounds and in terrific shape, Nelson was truly a rugged competitor. His “ground and pound” style in the ring was very Anderson Brothers-like. And the Atlanta, Georgia native was demonstrably noisy in the squared circle, with his growling and grunting being unmistakable! On interviews, Art was very believable in a straight forward style, with a rough and gravelly voice that was very distinctive.

Art was a stalwart for Jim Crockett Promotions in the early 70s, whether he was a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” I recall the infamous Gary Hart, the one-time manager of Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, always refer to Art as Art Neilson, which was Nelson’s real name. I particularly remember a vicious feud in the middle of 1973, when Johnny Weaver and Art battled the notorious Royal Kangaroos over the Brass Knuckles Tag Team Title. Nelson remained a main event performer for Jim Crockett Promotions through January of 1974, when he took about a six month hiatus from the Mid-Atlantic area. When he returned to the Mid-Atlantic territory in mid July of 1974, Nelson was still a good guy, but soon turned on his partner Johnny Weaver in a television match.

At this juncture, much like a number of other older Jim Crockett Promotions’ veterans, Nelson’s role was deemphasized by booker George Scott. Art and Johnny Weaver had a short upper-mid card program after Nelson double-crossed Weaver on TV, and then Nelson settled into a mid card slot that continued into the spring of 1975.

By April of 1975, I started getting addicted to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling to the point that I began recording the audio from the TV shows on my cassette recorder. The first complete Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show I recorded was taped at the WRAL TV studios in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 23, 1975. Coincidentally, this show happened to be the last Mid-Atlantic TV show that Art Nelson was interviewed on, as by this time Nelson had slipped far enough down the pecking order that he was deemed not to require any mic time.

Nelson’s final Mid-Atlantic TV interview was conducted by announcer Bob Caudle, and included Nelson’s semi-regular tag team partner at the time, the devious Mr. Fuji. Also included in the interview segment was mid-carder Doug Gilbert.

Caudle began the interview, “Fans at ringside right now, and I can’t think of any more dangerous place for a person to be than I am right now, between three really notorious wrestlers, like Art Nelson here on my left, Doug Gilbert, and then Mr. Fuji.” Nelson responded, “Let me say, not notorious, well conditioned athletes. Let me say this, when you get in that ring, then you would have to be worried. As long as we’re on the floor here, we don’t bother anybody. When you get in that ring, if you’re not in condition, you can’t take it, then you’d have to be worried about it.”

Nelson continued, “This is a man’s business, we’re men, and we go in that ring and we don’t fool with babies. You know, Fuji and I were here a few weeks ago and we were talking about wrestling top talent. Where are they? Where’s the Indian? Where’s little boy blue, the guy with the belt…where’s he at? Where’s the strong man? I don’t see them around.  I hear ‘em, but I sure can’t see ‘em. But as long as they’re scared to get in the ring with us, nothing we can do about it. Because we said we’d meet all comers; we would wrestle anybody.”

After Bob Caudle talked with Mr. Fuji, he questioned Doug Gilbert on his lack of sportsmanship in his win earlier in the program over young Kevin Sullivan. Gilbert responded that sportsmanship wasn’t important, what was important was that he won his match, and that Nelson and Fuji won their match. Nelson chimed in to end the interview, “Green power is what’s important; green power. That’s the dollar bill; ten dollars, a hundred dollars…”

Nelson continued to wrestle in the Mid-Atlantic area into the fall of 1975, slowly dropping into the lower card ranks. Towards the end of his tenure with Jim Crockett Promotions, he was wrestling preliminary matches in the territory’s arenas, and putting over the main eventers on television. Art’s last match in the Mid-Atlantic area was participating in a Battle Royal in Spartanburg, South Carolina on November 1, 1975.

Art Nelson’s last Mid-Atlantic TV interview in April of 1975 wasn’t significant to me at that moment, but it grew to be so with the passing of time. Initially so, as the months passed and it became clear he wasn’t going to be a featured performer for Jim Crockett Promotions any longer, and I knew there wouldn’t be any more interviews from him.

Art would pass away less than eight years after his last Mid-Atlantic match. It then dawned on me that my first audio recording of a full Mid-Atlantic TV show, by sheer happenstance, was the same show that featured Art’s last Mid-Atlantic interview. How fortunate I was to have an audio clip of a grappler that began his professional wrestling career in another era, back in the late 1940s, and was a legendary bad-ass in the squared circle. And, selfishly by having that fortuitously captured audio clip of Art Nelson, I can still hear that rough and gravelly voice I grew up hearing for as long as the tape will play.