Monday, July 10, 2017

A Favorite Son Returns Home

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

In July of 1975 a newcomer appeared on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling landscape, and his presence was impossible to ignore for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the young Tony Atlas White was 250 pounds of bulging muscles that gave him the look of a bodybuilder who was doubling as a professional wrestler. Secondly, Atlas hailed from Roanoke, Virginia, a town with a rich wrestling history in Jim Crockett Promotions.

Mid-Atlantic Champion Tony Atlas
with Johnny Weaver
Atlas was given a bit of a push when he first began in the Mid-Atlantic area, even wrestling the fast-rising star Ric Flair early on in his tenure. Tony showed promise in the ring and was clearly an outstanding athlete, but he needed experience in the squared circle and was rarely given an opportunity to do interviews when he first started. While Atlas was plenty popular, he was never able to initially make a deep connection with the Mid-Atlantic fans, who more so just stared and marveled at his chiseled physique.

Tony spent 16 months in Jim Crockett Promotions, until November of 1976, honing his craft and performing solidly in mid card bouts throughout the Mid-Atlantic area. Building on his initial training with George and Sandy Scott, Atlas teamed often with veterans like Johnny Weaver, Ronnie Garvin and Swede Hanson and became a more seasoned and polished performer. When Tony left the Mid-Atlantic area at the end of 1976, he was not heard of for some time by his hometown supporters. Then about a year and a half later, Roanoke’s favorite son announced he was set to make his triumphant return home!

On the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show that was taped on March 15, 1978 color commentator David Crockett proclaimed, “A young man that we’ve been talking about, a man from Roanoke, Virginia, I’m talking about Tony Atlas…he will be here in the very near future. He’s really up there on the top now and he’s coming to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling because he wants to get all the way to the top. And we have an interview from Tony and I’d like you the people to see what Tony has to say.”

From the set of Georgia Championship Wrestling, announcer Freddie Miller reintroduced the Mid-Atlantic fans to Atlas saying, “One of the most popular wrestlers in the country, and one of the strongest, is Tony Atlas. Tony Atlas is from Roanoke, Virginia but he is very well known in the Carolinas and elsewhere. Having worked with you in Georgia of recent days and having the response not only from our folks, but the people all over this country, may I say it’s an honor to interview you and to have you…I know the folks in Carolina want to see you back!”

Tony addressed the Mid-Atlantic fans stating, “You know, a lot of people down in the Carolina area have been sending me letters and they’ve been telling me different things about what’s been goin’ on. You know, due to the time I’ve been down here in Georgia goin’ through a lot of training and stuff. I’ve been training with Thunderbolt Patterson and people of that nature, and I’ve learned a lot from these people.”

Atlas went on to size up the competition in his old stomping grounds noting, “But during the time I’ve been down here, I’ve been hearing a whole lot of funky stuff’s goin’ on in the Carolinas…like I’ve heard about this new guy that’s supposed to be comin’ in there…Cyclone Negro. Ric Flair’s been bowlin’ over top of people; Blackjack Mulligan’s got his nose up in the air…well, they got a lotta people down there that need straightening out.”

And the strongman from Roanoke let it be known that it would be a new and improved Tony Atlas arriving back in Jim Crockett Promotions. “Y’all let me tell you somethin’…I’m ready for you this time,” Atlas emphasized. Tony continued, “When I was there once before I didn’t have my thing together, and it’s hard to boogie in the ring daddy when you ain’t got your thing together. But I trained hard, I worked hard and I put in a lot of hours in the gym, and I went through a lot of sacrificing and stuff in order to condition myself in order to do battle with such people as Cyclone Negro, Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan and Greg Valentine.”

Atlas concluded the interview by calling out the baddest of the bad in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling confidently exclaiming, “So all of y’all get yourself in good shape because I’m comin’ down to the area and I’m looking forward to boogalooin’ on some of y’all guy’s heads. Y’all best to have your thing together and talk about me now, I know y’all gonna talk bad about me which I don’t care because the only thing that means anything is what we do in that squared circle brother.”

Miller finished up saying admiringly, “Tony, I want to say this. It’s always a treat to have you on and I know this…the folks in the Carolina area will be looking forward to your return there as soon as possible. Thank you so much for the time.”

Exactly a month later the “new” Tony Atlas returned to a Mid-Atlantic ring, defeating Greg Valentine in a top flight bout in Spartanburg, South Carolina on April 15, 1978. The new and improved Atlas was not only smoother in the ring, but his outgoing personality poured out and he was more popular than ever with the Mid-Atlantic fans. Tony wrestled as a main eventer in Jim Crockett Promotions straight through into July of 1979, when he departed his home area for good. During his second Mid-Atlantic stint, Atlas became the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion defeating Ken Patera on September 17, 1978 and lost it exactly four weeks later to Patera, with both title changes occurring in his hometown of Roanoke.

Whether it was becoming the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion, matching Ken Patera’s feats of strength on television, battling NWA Heavyweight Champion Harley Race on even terms or standing up to big Ernie Ladd after the “Cat” slapped him on TV, those and a lot of other big name wrestlers did indeed get straightened out by a Tony Atlas who had gotten himself together during his second stint in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling during 1978 and 1979. Roanoke’s favorite son surely shined brightly when he returned home.