Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Gateway Interview: Jim Brunzell (Part 1)

Interview by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell was a major star in professional wrestling during the 1970s and 1980s, with most of his fame and notoriety coming from his “High Flying” tag team with Greg Gagne in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and later with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as part of the “Killer Bees” tag team with partner B. Brian Blair. What is often overlooked in Jim’s career is a successful stint he had with Jim Crockett Promotions in 1979-1980, where in his own words he wanted to see if he could “cut the mustard” as a singles competitor. 

“Gentleman” Jim certainly flourished in the Mid-Atlantic area as a singles wrestler, defeating the seemingly unbeatable Ken Patera for the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Tile, and later battled the legendary Ray Stevens for that same belt, ultimately triumphing in his feud with the “Crippler.” Even when Jim eventually dropped the Mid-Atlantic strap to the dastardly Iron Sheik in May of 1980, the two had a spirited program over the title until Jim’s departure from the area in August of 1980. So while other significant parts of Jim’s wrestling career are touched on, this interview was done for the primary purpose of shinning the spotlight on Jumpin’ Jim’s 16 month run in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. 

Jim, a huge fan of the legendary Bruce Springsteen, also has an outstanding book out entitled “MatLands” available through where he shares a series of wonderful wrestling stories, including a number of which feature Mid-Atlantic favorites! (See the Gateway's plug for "Matlands" here.)

So without further ado, let’s turn it over to White Bear Lake, Minnesota’s own…High Flying Jim Brunzell!

 * * * * * *


David Chappell:  Jim, thank you so much for making time for the Mid-Atlantic Gateway today. I’d like this interview to be a little bit different from the ones you’ve done before, in that I’d like it to focus primarily on your run in Jim Crockett Promotions in 1979 and 1980. I don’t think your work in the Mid-Atlantic area has ever gotten the attention it deserves.

Jim Brunzell:  You know, I enjoyed my time down there. The weather was great, and we had some great talent down there…Steamboat, the Nature Boy [Ric Flair] and Jack Mulligan…

Chappell: It was a ‘who’s who’ talent-wise, wasn’t it?

Brunzell: It was; it was great! You know, when I came from the AWA down there, I didn’t know what to expect. And George Scott, who was the booker in the Mid-Atlantic, had worked briefly in the AWA in the early 70s when I was starting, and I knew George and Sandy. They had been a tag team in Canada, and had bounced around a little bit.

Chappell: And when you came to the Mid-Atlantic territory, you were primarily known for your tag team work in the AWA with Greg Gagne.

Brunzell: I was sort of tired of being the ‘High Flyer’ with Greg for four and a half years and I thought geez, am I ever going to get a singles break? I didn’t see that in the future, and it was a good opportunity for me to just go some place new. I wound up getting booked down there, and it was fast and furious. I think I was down there for about 16 months, counting the time that George Scott had fired me, and I had worked six to eight more weeks in Atlanta for Jim Barnett.

Chappell: You were fired by George? Didn’t expect that piece of news!

Brunzell: But you know it was a great time. I bought a house down in Charlotte, and my wife loved it and our kids were like three, two and a half, and almost a year old. You know, it was a great opportunity. The only problem, David, was that George Scott was notorious for no time off.

Chappell: I’ve definitely heard that before!

Booker George Scott with Andre the Giant on the set of "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling"

Brunzell: I remember the first time I walked in the office before I started working down there. I just got to Charlotte, and I was staying in a hotel for a little bit before I got my wife and family down there. I went in and talked to George and he said, ‘Jimmy, I wanna tell you right now…there’s no time off. So don’t ask for time off.’

Chappell: (laughs) Wow, what a welcoming to the NWA!

Brunzell: Yeah! He says, ‘But you’ll be home every night, though, by at least 12:30 or 1:00.’ (laughs)

Chappell: (laughs) What a guy!

Brunzell: Yeah! You know, it was a new adventure for me. And also, it was a little different because you know I had been in Kansas City in ’73 when I first started, and I saw a little bit of how the NWA worked. How it was working every night…

Chappell: Kansas City was your first territory, wasn’t it?Brunzell: It was.

Chappell: I was going to ask you about Kansas City for that reason, and also because Ric Flair has often called the Kansas City territory the ‘Siberia’ of wrestling territories. Was it really that bad?

Brunzell: Well, here’s the problem. God rest their souls, but Pat O’Connor and Bob Geigel were part owners, along with Sam Muchnick in St. Louis, and they ran the Kansas City territory. That was Kansas, Missouri and a little bit of Iowa. Gus Karras, who at that time was the oldest promoter, he ran St. Joe, Missouri. The problem was, those guys didn’t want to spend any money.

Chappell: That’s a problem!

Brunzell: Yeah, they operated a lean thing. You know, there was just nothing there. Their TV show was…

Chappell: Bare bones?

Brunzell: Yeah, really bare bones. They’d have three matches, and it would be an hour to an hour and a half! (laughs) You’d make 20 dollars, and you might work 45 minutes or an hour. That was at St. Joe. You know, all the guys would make their money when they went to St. Louis. I remember when I was there it was great for me because I worked twice a night…

Chappell: And I’m sure that was important, just starting out…

Brunzell: Yeah, because the more you worked the more you learned your trade. And plus, it enabled me, David, to see the different talents. Jack Brisco came in, and Dory Funk and Terry Funk and Harley Race, and it was really eye-opening.

Chappell: I’m sure.

Brunzell: Those guys never came up in the AWA. It was Nick Bockwinkel, Verne [Gagne] and different guys. Although the talent level in the AWA was incredible too. But when I went to Kansas City it opened my eyes.

But when I went to Charlotte, in the Mid-Atlantic, it was REALLY eye-opening because Crockett had a great promotion, and he had unbelievable business that they did. All of us made a good living down there, but the only problem was that you didn’t have time to enjoy it! (laughs)

Chappell: Never a moment to catch your breath!

Brunzell: Thanks right!