Friday, June 17, 2016

Ernie Ladd's Infamous Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Debut

Exclusive audio recording of Ernie Ladd's 1979 Mid-Atlantic
Wrestling debut at the end of this article!

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by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

A newcomer to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling burst onto the scene on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show that was taped on January 31, 1979. And what an electric debut it was for the “Cat,” Ernie Ladd! Scheduled to wrestle Herb Gallant in his first Mid-Atlantic TV bout, instead Ladd approached announcer Bob Caudle in his street clothes, with apparently no intention of wrestling.

Caudle admonished Ladd, “You’re supposed to be up in the ring.” Ernie answered, “Look, I’ve asked over and over [for] Andre the dumb Giant! I wanna beat Andre the dumb Giant. I asked the promotion for Andre the dumb Giant, and they never give it to me! I wanna beat Harley Race on TV, and I’m TIRED of gettin’ in the ring with people that are inferior to my ability. And I’m sick and tired of it! So right now you can’t force me in the ring; you can’t make me do anything! I do what I want to do! I’M MY OWN MAN!

Graphic courtesy Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats
Caudle leaned over to the “Big Cat,” and lightly touched him on the arm and appeared ready to make a point. Instead, Ladd yelled, “Don’t put your hands on me…don’t touch me!!” Caudle instinctively drew back. Ernie continued, “Because I don’t have to get in the ring and wrestle! He’s an inferior caliber wrestler to me, so I will NOT get in there and disgrace myself with him. Regardless of what you say or anybody else says...I can be fined, suspended, because I have enough money to do anything I want with it! Now what can I tell you, Mr. TV announcer?"

Color commentator David Crockett chimed in, “How would you disgrace yourself wrestling Herb Gallant?” Ladd quickly retorted, “Listen, I asked for the [World] Champion, number one…” As Ernie was talking, someone in the studio audience shouted for the “Cat” to get in the ring! Ladd bellowed, “Shut up out there!” Referee Sonny Fargo was also calling over to the set for Ernie to step in the ring, but Ladd was having none of it. “Don’t ask me about getting in the ring and wrestle, Mr. Referee. You can’t tell me what to do Mr. Referee…you’re just a referee,” Ladd explained.  The fans in the TV studio were getting more rowdy in response to Ladd’s antics, which prompted Ernie to lash out, “And why don’t you people be quiet!!”

Ladd composed himself briefly and said, “I asked for one man…Andre the dumb Giant. He’s not here. I have not gotten him, and I’m upset and I’m disturbed! I asked for Harley Race…” But then David Crockett got Ladd stirred up again, interrupting him and saying, “You have to prove yourself.” A once again fired up “Big Cat” fired back, “What do you mean I have to prove myself? My record all around the world speaks for itself! World’s greatest football player, international wrestler. I don’t care what they’ve seen, clean their ears out get up close to that television, you see me wrestling out of Madison Square Garden, you see me wrestling out of Atlanta, you see me wrestling all over the world, and I come in here and make a special request to make a proper debut, to beat the World’s Champion on TV…”

Crockett persisted, “You have to prove yourself…” An exasperated Ladd yelled back, “What do you mean I have to prove myself? Look at the referee interfering!” Referee Sonny Fargo yelled towards Ernie, “I’m gonna give you a 10-count to get in here!” Ladd indignantly replied, “He ain’t gonna give me a 10 count…nobody gives me nothing! I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll be the first man to get in the ring and shake his hand, and congratulate him! I’ve had so many awards…”

And then Ladd actually made his way into the ring!

An incredulous Bob Caudle jumped back in saying, “David, he’s dressed…he’s in the ring in his street clothes. He’s just gonna shake his hand, he said.” But unfortunately for Gallant, he received more contact from “Ol’ #99” than a handshake! Caudle described the scene exclaiming, “Whoa, he kicked him right in the stomach! Ladd now with Gallant, he went in to shake Gallant’s hand. He’s got his street shoes on David, those big heavy leather shoes with a hard heavy heel, stomping and kicking Gallant with those! Now he’s hanging him right in the air!” Crockett interjected, “Throws him down right on his back!” Caudle continued, “Look at how big and how strong Ernie Ladd is.”

The “Big Cat,” street clothes and all, pinned Gallant immediately afterward. Crockett said after the three-count, “He finally wrestled, though!” Caudle concurred, “He wrestled, that’s right. He’s not gonna be fined. There’s no doubt he got in the ring and he wrestled, but the way he went about it, the sneak attack on Gallant, I’m not so sure in the minds of all the fans that proved anything...”

As an irate Ladd approached the interview area, Caudle bravely said to him, “With a sneak attack like that on Gallant!” Ladd furiously came back at Bob, “That’s not a sneak attack!! They don’t give big fat Haystacks Calhoun any static about what he puts on, what he has to do or what he has to wear! I’m my own man, I do EXACTLY what I want to do when I want to do it! I’m the best wrestler! And don’t EVER make the mistake and think that Ernie Ladd is gonna give you something!”

Listen to the entire thing play out in this rare, archival audio!

Before he entered the Mid-Atlantic area, Ernie Ladd’s reputation certainly preceded him. And in his first television appearance in the territory, he only reinforced that reputation for trickery, deceit and aggression. The “Big Cat” had arrived, and his claws were clearly out…ready to strike anyone unfortunate enough to be in his path!

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Republished in April 2020.