Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Gateway Interview: Jim Brunzell (Part 2)

Interview by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

(Read the introduction and catch up on what you missed in Part 1

David and Jim continue their discussion about booker George Scott.

Chappell: The Gateway got very close to Blackjack Mulligan, and while he liked George Scott personally, he called him “the taskmaster” because of the way he pushed the talent.

Brunzell: [Blackjack] was a wonderful guy! I gotta tell you a quick story…

Chappell: Please!

Brunzell: One night we were wrestling, I can’t remember the town but we were driving back to Charlotte, and we had three or four days off…

Chappell: (laughs) George Scott must have been out of town!

Brunzell: (laughs) I was gonna get home, and in the morning my wife and I were gonna fly back with our kids to Minneapolis. So, we’re driving down the road and Don Kernodle was in another car and he had three guys and I had three guys. I had Blackjack Mulligan and ‘Quickdraw’ [Rick] McGraw, and we got stopped at a roadblock.

Chappell: Uh oh!

Brunzell: So I pull off to the side of the road and a State Trooper comes up with his gun drawn at me! I pulled down the window and I said, ‘Officer, can I help you?’ He said, ‘Get outta the car!’ (laughs) They handcuffed me! And they said I was going 105 miles an hour down the road, and we think your car looked like the same car that was involved in a robbery…

Chappell: This thing is going south fast, Jim.

Brunzell: I said Jesus Christ, I just got done wrestling and I’m driving back to Charlotte. So the guy, he’s handcuffing me! (laughs) Meanwhile, Jack Mulligan, he gets out of the car and says, ‘Is this really necessary, Officer?’ Then the cop put his hand on the gun!

Chappell: Geez!

Brunzell: He told Jack, ‘Get back in the car!’ He put me in the cop car, and we went to this small town. But they take me in and they book me for speeding. He said I was going over 100 miles an hour, and I posted bond and then I left. It was funny, because we got in the car and I said ‘Holy Jesus!’ We’re in the car and we’re finally driving back to Charlotte and we get back, and we all take off. I wound up calling Jim Crockett, and Jim said, ‘Don’t worry, we have a good lawyer that takes care of our guys if there’s any trouble.’

Chappell: (laughs) I bet that lawyer was busy!

Brunzell: Yeah! So this guy calls me and said he needs 600 bucks, so I give him 600 bucks.

Chappell: (laughs) Typical lawyer, and I’m a lawyer!

Brunzell: So a month later, I have to go to Court in Stanley, North Carolina. I go to Court and there’s nobody there…

Chappell: The lawyer isn’t there?

Brunzell: No, they call my name, boom, and I get up there and the Judge says how do you plead and I said ‘not guilty.’ I said I wasn’t going 100 miles an hour, but I was going 70 I said, but here’s what the Judge said to me. He says, ‘I’m going to suspend your license for 60 days, I’m going to fine you 25 dollars and the court costs are 25 dollars. So, it cost me 50 bucks, and I did this all myself and when I got back I called Jim Crockett and said, ‘Why the hell did I give your lawyer 600 dollars? He didn’t do a damn thing for me!’ (laughs)

Chappell: (laughs) You might have lucked out with the lawyer not showing; you might have ended up in jail if he had riled up the Judge!

Brunzell: (laughs) But getting back to the Mid-Atlantic, God it was beautiful down there and we really enjoyed the people we met, even though we didn’t have much time to socialize.
Chappell: Before we hit Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling full throttle, I wanted to go way back to when you started in the wrestling business. Weren’t you in Verne Gagne’s brutal training camp in 1972 with Ric Flair, Ken Patera and the Iron Sheik, Hossein Khosrow? Three guys that would figure prominently in your Mid-Atlantic run.

Brunzell: Yes I was.

Chappell: I’ve heard all about that Class of 1972, but I’ve never heard your take on it. Was it as tough as others have said it was?

Brunzell: Unbelievable…it was horrible! Six days a week, six hours a day. And Billy Robinson, who has passed away and God rest his soul, he was a little bit of a sadistic guy…

Chappell: That seems to be the consensus on Billy!

Brunzell: He would inflict pain on us! You know, we were giving our body to him. But it was a great training period.

Chappell: I know Ric has said it was so tough that he tried to quit several times because it was so tough, but Verne wouldn’t let him quit!

Brunzell: Oh yeah, but what happened was we’d start off our session with these Hindu squats, which are free squats. And we’d do them in sets of a hundred. But by the time we were done, we’d be doing a thousand free squats a day!

Chappell: Holy cow…

Brunzell: (laughs) My legs got so damn big that I thought, ‘Jesus!’ I did a lot of squats and everything, but I thought, ‘Holy Christ!’ You know, Verne and them put us through a lot, but it really sort of taught us the respect that pro wrestling really needed, especially from the guys that were employed by them…you know, the guys that went out there every night. It was quite a deal and it was hard, but I wouldn’t have known any other way.

Chappell: It had to toughen you all up, the Verne Gagne way!
Brunzell: I think when I went around and went to Kansas City, and I went to Charlotte and I went to Atlanta then I finally went to New York…I realized that a lot of these promoters that I had dealt with along the way were so jealous of Verne. You know, Verne had a real horrible reputation with other promoters, because they were jealous of him. And also the fact that Verne was such a great amateur wrestler himself…

Chappell: That’s right.

Brunzell: He became a self-made millionaire. He did it all himself, and I think a lot of the guys along the way that were from his era were a little jealous of the fact that he succeeded as well as he did. You know, he was a ruthless guy. He had a good side, and he had a bad side.

Chappell: Stay on the good side, right?

Brunzell: That’s right! I’ll never forget, in 1985, things were really going south and Vince [McMahon] had taken almost all the talent from 26 different territories that were running then. And I went to Verne; I had opened up a gym called Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell’s Gym…

Chappell: Catchy name, Jim!

Jim Brunzell's Book "MatLands"
Brunzell: I did it then to have something to fall back on. Well, what happened was in ’82 I opened the gym and in ’85 it got so bad at the AWA that, holy smokes, I was using a lot of my wrestling earnings to defray the costs of the gym. So, it wasn’t working out and I went to Verne and I said, ‘Verne, you know I realize that things are bad, but Greg and I have had a hell of a run together. We’ve been together since 1975, and I need to have you give me a personal contract that I can insure that I can take care of my family and my gym financially.”

Chappell: Seems reasonable.

Brunzell: But then he says, ‘Well, what do you want?’ And I told him I wanted 95,000 dollars a year. It sounds like a lot, but you know, we were in that same area of making that amount of money before the roof caved in and Hulk Hogan left and everybody else.

Chappell: Sure…

Brunzell: But Verne looked at me and said, ‘You’re not worth it…go to New York.’

Chappell: Wow, that was pretty cold-blooded…

Brunzell: And it just crushed me. I thought, ‘Man!’ Then I told Greg, ‘Your Dad just said I wasn’t worth it.’ And Greg said, ‘He was joking.’

Chappell: Could’ve fooled you, huh?

Brunzell: (laughs) He didn’t fool me much!