Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ricky Morton Revisits His Mid-Atlantic Roots

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Soon to be WWE Hall of Famer Ricky Morton is known best to fans of Jim Crockett Promotions for his tremendous run as part of the Rock and Roll Express from 1985-1988. When the Rock and Roll Express entered the Crockett territory in July of 1985 and immediately captured the NWA World Tag Team Titles, the territory was still “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” and Ricky was able to wrestle in the major Crockett towns in Virginia and the Carolinas as the promotion was morphing into a more national entity.

Morton will be returning to two of those venerable and historic Mid-Atlantic towns this weekend when he appears at the Big Time Wrestling mega events at the Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday February 10th and at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Saturday February 11th. Ricky will be wrestling “Broken” Matt Hardy in a “Final Deletion Match” in both venues, in loaded cards that include rare appearances by “The Icon” Sting.

When thinking about Ricky Morton revisiting his Mid-Atlantic roots this weekend, it reminded me of Ricky’s earliest appearances in the Mid-Atlantic area, well before there was a Rock and Roll Express. While likely not remembered by many fans, Ricky made a quick pass through Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in March of 1983. Morton said, thinking back, “I only went there for a week or so. I was working for the Jarrett’s and Dutch Mantell, and they were trading talent back and forth. Dutch Mantell was supposed to go there, but Dutch couldn’t go.”

Like many fortuitous circumstances that have occurred in wrestling, Morton was sent to the Mid-Atlantic area in lieu of Mantell. Ricky noted, “Jerry Jarrett sent me there for a week or two and, wow, I was young in the business then…and green!” Morton’s first contact in the Crockett territory was with former NWA World Champion Dory Funk, Jr., who was wrestling but also booking at the time. “When I got there Dory Funk was the booker and it was one of the first times I ever met Dory Funk,” Morton explained.

In addition to Funk, Morton was exposed to other great talent that occupied the Mid-Atlantic roster in early 1983. “I remember Dick Slater was there; it was the first time I ever met Dick Slater. Mike Rotunda was just a young kid there. You know, Jack and Jerry Brisco were there, too. Dizzy Hogan was there, which is Brutus Beefcake…he wrestled as Dizzy Hogan then,” Morton recollected. To Morton, it was an impressionable time in his young career and he soaked in all of the wrestling knowledge that was unexpectedly at his fingertips in Charlotte. In fact, Morton got to witness firsthand one of the great tag team programs in Mid-Atlantic history, between Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood and Sergeant Slaughter and Don Kernodle.

“What was cool was that I just went there to be on the cards, didn’t know anybody, and there was Ricky Steamboat…he was the top babyface. And a matter of fact, he and Jay Youngblood were the top babyface team. And they were against the heels Sergeant Slaughter and Don Kernodle. What a great experience I had there to see that,” Morton reflected.

During his short stint with Jim Crockett Promotions in March of 1983, Ricky wrestled on television and in the territory’s arenas so he got a flavor of how things operated in the Mid-Atlantic area. Morton said, “I had a great time there. I wasn’t really well known; I was just a young babyface in the business.” Particularly at his young age and with his lack of experience, Morton knew his place and came to Charlotte not looking to make any waves. “I worked hard there, and wasn’t a problem…a lot of bookers looked at that. I came in and did what they asked me to do,” Ricky recalled.

While Morton was still honing his craft, he nevertheless made an immediate favorable impression on Crockett’s booker, Dory Funk. And that paid dividends at a TV taping on March 16, 1983 in Charlotte. It was Ricky’s only television taping during this micro short Mid-Atlantic stay. Morton explained, “I didn’t do everything good, but they watched my matches. And Dory liked me; he liked the way I worked. And I’ll never forget this, when we were doing the TV, the matches went too short and he still had like 20 minutes on the TV and he just walked back there and said, ‘Come on kid, me and you we got to go.’ I was just a young babyface, but what a match we had there on TV…we went about 20 minutes!”

Morton had a busy evening during that night’s taping at the WPCQ studios. That evening in Charlotte, Ricky also wrestled two tag team matches with partners Ron Rossi and Frank Monte against the stellar team of Funk and Dick Slater. According to Morton, it was right after the match where Funk and Slater defeated Ricky and Frank Monte that he got his moment to wrestler Funk one-on-one, and the youngster made the most of it. “We had that tag match and I was leaving, but they had time left so Dory Funk came out and said, ‘Come on kid, we got 20 minutes we got to fill in on this TV thing.’ Boy, I’m out there and I’m head scissoring him and all kinds of stuff,” Morton exclaimed. “I was just a young fresh meat babyface,” Morton remembered with a chuckle.

Ricky was able to wrestle in many of the major Mid-Atlantic arenas during his short stay, including dropping a decision to the mysterious Ninja on February 18, 1983 at the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Virginia and two days later in the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina being upended by the double-tough Red Dog Lane.

“I hit all of the big towns; I wrestled every night,” Morton recalled. But one of Ricky’s most memorable moments occurred in South Carolina’s capital city. “You know, I did Township Auditorium in Columbia, South Carolina. I remember Ricky Steamboat when I was coming in the back, it was the first time I really ever talked to Ricky Steamboat. He was just sitting back there on the steps, and I come walking by and he said, ‘What’s up?’ And I sat down beside him…we didn’t talk about wrestling. We just talked about other stuff for a few minutes. That was the first time I really had a conversation with Ricky Steamboat. Ricky was the top babyface, but he was just a good guy. He knew I was young in the business, he was there and he was just messing with me,” Morton recalled.

When Ricky Morton returns to Dorton Arena and to the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium this weekend, it will be nearly 34 years since he started wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions during that week or two way back in March of 1983. His short “cup of coffee” stay in the Mid-Atlantic area in 1983 was even well back in the recesses of Ricky’s mind. “That was just an era of my time in the business that I had forgot about,” Morton candidly stated. All the more reason to come out to see Ricky Morton, version 2017, this weekend in Raleigh and Spartanburg, when he revisits his Mid-Atlantic roots. Baby, he’s come a long way!

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See also: "Big Time Wrestling" Returns to Raleigh and Spartanburg This Weekend