Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cotton is King in 1976

Rufus R. Jones gets Blackjack Mulligan in his favorite match.
Includes Mid-Atlantic Gateway SOUND BYTES

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

When summer morphs into autumn around Southside Virginia, one of the impressive sights around the area’s farmlands are fields turning white with fluffy cotton bursting from its bolls. I can always turn any sight or sound into a Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling memory, but this one is particularly easy. In the early fall of 1976, Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones came up with his own specialty match…none other than the Cotton Field match!

During the summer of 1976, the battles between Rufus and United States Heavyweight Champion Blackjack Mulligan were becoming hotter and hotter. Mid-Atlantic fans were sensing that Rufus, also sometimes referred to as the “King of Wrestling,” had a legitimate shot at taking Mulligan’s coveted championship belt away from him. Blackjack told me several years before he passed away that he pushed the promotion to give Rufus a run as the U.S. Champion at that point in time. While Mulligan’s protestations fell on deaf ears, the promotion did set in motion a scenario where Blackjack would get his comeuppance. Rufus would take Mulligan to his own personal wood shed…the cotton field!

In several of the larger Mid-Atlantic cities, including my wrestling hometown of Richmond, Virginia, during late September and early October of 1976 Rufus battled Blackjack in Cotton Field matches. The special rule in the Cotton Field match was that after the regularly scheduled match was concluded, there was a 30 second rest period and then a two minute “anything goes” encounter with no referee!

In the lead up to the Cotton Field match in Richmond on October 2, 1976 Mulligan told announcer Les Thatcher, “Let me tell you something, I’ve never been in a cotton field in my life. Where I come from I hire people to do stuff like that. I don’t know what the rules are about; I have no idea. This is Rufus R. Jones’ type of match; I don’t even know what’s gonna happen in this thing!”

Blackjack then queried Thatcher, “You say it’s two minutes with no referee?” Les responded, “That’s right, anything goes.” Mulligan retorted, “Well, I’ll tell you what Rufus, I’ve never been in a cotton field but I’ll tell you one thing…if everything goes, you ask anybody in the world and they know I’m at my most dangerous when anything goes. You get me trapped in a corner, and I’m liable to come up with a hogleg or something, you never know. So, be VERY, VERY careful Rufus!”

When Rufus had his chance to address the Richmond faithful with Les Thatcher he exclaimed, “Listen Blackjack, I told you before I was gonna get you back. Now I’m comin’ for you again! You had your kind of match; you had your Texas Death match! You bust my head open! I tell you right now Blackjack…this is my kind of match! A Cotton Field match!!”

Rufus R. Jones batters Blackjack Mulligan
The Freight Train then added, “Because I’m from the country. I know what it’s like. And once it’s over there’s no referee…two minutes! I can do anything in my power that I wanna do.  I can reach down and choke you, kick you, stomp you, bite you; anything I want to do to you Blackjack! I got two minutes, with no referee…to do what I want to do to you! And this is my kind of match brother, I’m gonna tell you right now I’m comin’ for you Blackjack and this time I’m gonna show you just where it’s at…a Cotton Field match!!”

And show him, Rufus definitely did! In Richmond as in the other towns that hosted Cotton Field bouts, the “King” avenged an earlier defeat weeks earlier in that venue by Mulligan to win the regularly scheduled match, and then proceeded to whip Mulligan soundly in the referee-less two minute free-for-all. In Richmond, the crowd noise approached record levels as Jones ran roughshod over the massive Texan!

After Blackjack told me that he pushed for Rufus to become the United States Champion in the bicentennial year, I’ve always speculated that the Cotton Field match was the mechanism that Jim Crockett Promotions used to give the “King” a title run of sorts. No, Rufus never officially became the U.S. Champion but for the ecstatic fans that witnessed Rufus’ Cotton Field matches in 1976, Rufus R. Jones performed like a champion and certainly gave new meaning to that age-old saying, “Cotton is King.”