Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Graham & Keirn Win the Bayfront Spectacular

The 1982 NWA World Tag Team Championship Tournament
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

If you missed earlier posts in this series, check them out in the links below, especially the INTRODUCTION, which puts the whole tournament in a perspective that serves as a launching point for the following discussions. 

PART ONE: Introduction
PART TWO: Greensboro
PART THREE: Charlotte
PART FOUR: Richmond
PART FIVE: Atlanta
PART SIX: Fayetteville

Date: March 27, 1982
Venue: The Bayfront Center

St. Petersburg, FL, would prove to be the sixth and final event in the series of tournaments for the vacant NWA World Tag Team championship conducted during the late winter and spring of 1982. Whether or not that was the original plan we may never know. (We will speculate on that in Part Eight of this series coming soon.)

The Florida territory played a role in the tournament from the very beginning. Eddie Graham, the former president of the National Wrestling Alliance and promoter in the state of Florida, was serving as Tournament Committee Chairman and had been seen on a special tape sent from Florida to the Mid-Atlantic area back in late January when the tournament was first announced.

This wound up being Florida's only tournament, although it is thought that when the idea of the tournament was conceived that there would at least be one other tournament held in Florida. But it never happened.

This tournament was unique in that it was just one part of a much larger special show in St. Petersburg called "The Bayfront Spectacular" that also featured an NWA World title defense by Ric Flair. There was a large display board shown on Florida television (seen in the graphic above) which included the main event matches and bracketing for the tournament. Ole Anderson and Stan Hansen, winners of two previous tournaments in Greensboro and Atlanta, sent in a tape from Georgia promoting their appearance in St. Petersburg. I particularly like Stan's reaction when Ole quizzed him about their possible tournament opponents:

Ole: "Can the Briscos beat you?"        Stan: "No!" 
Ole: "Can the Funks beat you?"        Stan: "Who?"
Ole: "How about the Von Erich brothers from Texas?"    Stan:  "Never heard of 'em!"

Special tournament update segments were hosted by Barbara Clary in the weeks leading up to the event. One of those is seen in the video above. The tournament only featured five teams, with one team getting an early bye. But the limited line-up was still one of the most colorful of all the tournaments and featured three different brother combinations.

The five teams in St. Petersburg were:
  • Jack and Jerry Brisco
  • Steve Keirn and Mike Graham
  • David and Kerry Von Erich
  • Dory and Terry Funk
  • Ole Anderson and Stan
A closer look at each team:

The Briscos had been regulars in Florida for many years, and had been an active team up until early March of that year (1982) when Jack entered the Mid-Atlantic territory on a full time basis as a singles competitor. The Brisco brothers had most recently been North American Tag Team champions in Florida, losing the titles three weeks before this tournament to Dory Funk, Jr. and David Von Erich. The team came into St. Pete with a tournament win already under their belt, having won in Charlotte back on February 14. They had competed in Richmond, Atlanta, and Fayetteville as well.

Considered the "hometown team" in this tournament, Steve Keirn and Mike Graham had a storied championship history as a tag team in Florida. They held various tag team championships from 1977-1981 including the Florida, United States, and North American Tag Team titles. Keirn was a regular in the Memphis territory at this time, and would soon be forming one of the most famous and successful tag teams of the 1980s, the Fabulous Ones (with Stan Lane.) So it was a bit of a homecoming for him to return and team with Mike Graham in Florida, the territory where Keirn had had so much success in the 1970s both as a singles and tag team competitor.

Behind the scenes, Fritz Von Erich had sent his son David to Florida to gain experience working as a "bad guy" in hopes of helping to prepare him for a possible run as NWA World champion down the road. David was considered a top candidate for that role by the various promoters in the NWA, including the kingmaker Sam Muchnick. He was being mentored by former NWA World champion Dory Funk, Jr., and the two had recently defeated the Briscos for the North American Title. But for this tournament, David brought in his brother Kerry from their home territory of World Class Wrestling in Dallas. It was a rare opportunity for Kerry to work "heel" as well.

The Funk brothers were familiar faces in Florida, both having spent a great deal of time there, and Terry actually having won the NWA World title in Miami Beach from Jack Brisco in 1975. The rivalry between the Funks and the Briscos went way back to the 1960s, and the two brother teams had feuded over the North American titles as recently as two months before this tournament in St. Pete. As mentioned above, Dory was tag champs with David Von Erich at the time of the tournament, but chose his younger brother as his partner for this chance at advancing in the World Tag Team tournament. They had also competed together in the tournament in Atlanta on 2/28.

No team seemingly wanted those World Tag Team title belts more than Anderson and Hansen, having ponied up the $1000 entry fee for all five of the previous tournaments and having walked away with victories in two of them  - - Greensboro and Atlanta. That night in St. Pete they were considered the "outside team," coming in from Georgia Championship Wrestling.


You will notice in the video embedded above that Barbara Clary mentions it is possible that the Funk Brothers could face the Von Erich Brothers in the tournament, which presented a possible interesting plot twist, since Dory Funk and David Von Erich were reigning North American Tag Team champions at the time. But it didn't happen. graham and Keirn eliminated the Von Erichs in the opening round. The Funk brothers received a bye to the second round.

The tournament wound up only having three matches. In the first of two opening round matches, the Briscos and Anderson/Hansen were both eliminated with a double disqualification. The winner of that match was to get a bye to the finals, but with the double DQ, both were eliminated from the tournament.

In the second opening round match, Graham and Keirn defeated David and Kerry Von Erich, avoiding the potential Funk/Von Erich clash.

With the earlier double disqualification of the Briscos and Hansen/Anderson, the match between Graham/Keirn and the Funks became the de facto championship match.

In what may have appeared to be an upset to an outsider looking in, but wasn't a surprise at all to fans in Florida, Steve Keirn and Mike Graham won the tournament with victories over two brother combinations: the Von Erichs and the Funks.

In a little side story told by Eddie Graham in a taped update segment from Florida shown on Mid-Atlantic television the week after the St. Petersburg tournament, Graham thanked promoter Fred Ward (promoter in Columbus, GA) for taking over as active Mat Chairman for the night of the tournament his son Mike was involved in. Graham, who was the Committee Chairman for the tournament at large, said he wanted to avoid any conflict of interest, and was pleased that Mike and Steve Keirn had won in St. Pete and had the highest hopes for their success moving forward.

Tournament Notes and Trivia:
  • There were three brother combinations in the tournament: the Briscos, Funks, and Von Erichs.
  • At the time of this tournament, Dory Funk Jr. and David Von Erich were North American Tag Team champions in Florida, but each teamed with their brother in the tournament.
  • Ole Anderson and Stan Hansen finished out their streak as being the only team to compete in all six city tournaments. 
  • Florida was the fourth state to host a tournament, along with Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. 
  • This was the final actual tournament ultimately held before the Eastern Division Finals, although there were some fictitious  tournaments that played into the finals which will be discussed later.
Mike Graham and Steve Keirn, winners of the St. Petersburg tournament.
Coming Up in PART EIGHT:
With the city tournaments that actually took place concluded, Ole Anderson helps us take a look at the tournaments that were reportedly planned but did not take place.  Ole was booking both the Georgia and Mid-Atlantic territories during this time, and was the person who initially conceived of the tournament.

After that, stay tuned for details on the Eastern Division finals, Western Division winners, and the final story on how it all fell apart at the end.