Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Paul Jones Will Always Be "Number One" To Me

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

When Dick Bourne called me recently to relay the sad news that "Number One" Paul Jones had passed away, I was stunned, feeling as though I had been hit squarely with one of Paul's famous football tackles. In the ring, Paul would normally follow up his football tackles with one of his equally famous finishing submission maneuvers. Much like one of Paul's many vanquished wrestling opponents, I was down for the count after learning of his death, and submitted to a period of profound sadness. But unlike most of Paul's ring conquests, I was back up quickly, as my wonderful Mid-Atlantic memories of "Number One" thoroughly defeated thoughts of his passing away faster than a Tommy Young three-count.

Paul Jones was a major force in Jim Crockett Promotions from his arrival in 1968 until the demise of the promotion at the end of 1988. While Paul ventured away from the Carolinas on occasion during those two decades, the Mid-Atlantic states were his primary wrestling home without a doubt.

In my evolution as a fan of Jim Crockett Promotions, Jones was front and center of my most enduring professional wrestling memories. Those earliest and foggiest memories for me as a child younger than ten years old go back to the late 1960's, where I saw a young "Number One" teaming with Nelson Royal to battle truly scary villains the likes of Gene and Lars Anderson, Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson and the masked Infernos.

When the calendar turned over to the year of 1974, my interest in professional wrestling was surging and Paul Jones was right there in the middle of it. My first solid recollection of a Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling card in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia was on August 23, 1974 and included a bout between Paul and the "Mad Russian" Ivan Koloff. At the time the two were battling over the Mid-Atlantic Television Title. A stipulation in that Richmond match stated that if Jones lost the match, he would give 1000 silver dollars to the fans! Even with $1000.00 on the line, I couldn't find it within myself to root against "Number One." Paul went on to conquer the "Russian Bear" that night.

As was the case with Dick Bourne, the "supreme sacrifice" TV angle on June 11, 1975 hooked me on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling for life. Paul and Wahoo McDaniel dropped the NWA World Tag Team Titles to Gene and Ole Anderson in that televised bout, where Ole slammed Wahoo's head into Gene's head knocking them both goofy but getting Wahoo pinned in the process. But Jones' role in this match was the most noteworthy for me, as Paul's storytelling while getting brutalized by the Andersons and trying to make a tag to Wahoo had me spellbound and even prompted announcer Bob Caudle to note during the bout that Wahoo was "almost in tears" as he desperately reached for Paul's tag.

Soon after the World Tag Team Title loss, "Number One" went on a run for the remainder of 1975 that saw him win the Mid-Atlantic TV Title and later the United States Heavyweight Championship, becoming the number one contender for the NWA World Heavyweight Title in the process. Throughout 1976 Paul battled Blackjack Mulligan over that coveted  U.S. belt, and Jones finished the year with arguably the best two year run as a "good guy" ever in the storied history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.

The following two years saw Paul still playing a major role on the babyface side of the Mid-Atlantic roster, but several notches below his torrid 1975-76 run. Jones teamed up with newcomer Ricky Steamboat, and the two captured both the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Titles and the World Tag Team Titles. But by the end of 1978 the unthinkable happened, as Jones and Steamboat split in Charlotte during a two-ring Battle Royal and Paul went over to the dark side!

1979 was the year of Paul Jones as a rulebreaker, and "Number One" clearly relished the role and embraced it in ultra entertaining ways. Jones teamed up with former rival Baron Von Raschke to form a dominating duo that captured the World Tag Team Titles. After the inevitable split between Paul and the Baron in early 1980, Jones took a hiatus from the Mid-Atlantic area and when he returned in the summer, he apologized to the Mid-Atlantic fans for his rulebreaking actions and began wrestling as a fan favorite again.

For roughly the next two years Paul wrestled as a good guy but never recaptured the spark that he generated during prior years as a fan favorite. Because Paul played the "bad guy" role so superbly in 1979, the fans could never fully reinvest in him again as a fan favorite. With that handwriting on the wall, Paul flipped one final time to the rulebreaking side of the talent ledger, and finished the second half of 1982 with a noteworthy feud with Jack Brisco, becoming the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion in the process.

Paul's in-ring career ended at the beginning of 1983, and many fans that began following wrestling in the 1980's remember Paul only as a manager. "Number One" was exceedingly entertaining as a manager, despite rarely being given a stable of top-of-the-card wrestlers to guide. But Jones found a way to make it work, and his feud with Jimmy "Boogie Man" Valiant continued to capture the imagination of fans for years well into the 1980's.

Fast forward to the year 2003, and the Mid-Atlantic Gateway had only been up and running for several years. In one of those rare moments where you know exactly where you were and what you were doing at a significant moment in time, I got a call from Dick Bourne that we had a chance to meet the one and only "Number One" Paul Jones! I was floored with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness, as I had never once met in-person one of my Mid-Atlantic heroes. Those emotions were heightened when the Gateway's friend George South made that meeting with Jones a reality in Charlotte.

On that hot day in Charlotte, Paul put the "Gateway Boys" though a bit of a hazing which ratcheted up my nervousness almost to the breaking point. Paul saw firsthand probably the two biggest Mid-Atlantic "marks" on the planet in Dick and I , and I don't think he quite knew what to make of us at first. As we traveled around Charlotte that day and saw any number of wrestling related sights, I believe "Number One" respected the way the "Gateway Boys" wore unabashedly our love of Mid-Atlantic wrestling on our sleeves for all to see, and that we weren't out to make a quick buck off of the boys with our website. At that point, Paul accepted us and established a friendship that lasted until he died.

In recent years, seeing Paul Jones was the highlight of any wrestling related get-together for me. When talking to Paul about wrestling, it was hard for him to avoid complaining about how Ricky Steamboat turned on him on that fateful night in Charlotte in December of 1978. It got so bad that I purposely avoided making any references to "the turn" in my Gateway pieces about Paul. It was not worth the fallout if Paul would read anything under my hand that dared implied he was the one that turned on Steamboat!

While he was always willing to talk wrestling, Paul was genuinely interested in me, my work and my family which meant a great deal to me. Paul was up to date on current national news and politics, and was not shy about voicing his opinions on the same! "Number One" also had a sharp and biting sense of humor, that he didn't mind unleashing on those closest to him. It took me a while to get used to Paul's "zingers," but I eventually realized that Paul never "zinged" anybody in a mean-spirited way and it was normally done with a wink and a smile. I received email from Paul nearly every day, and while much of it was non-consequential forwarded jokes and the like, it still was surreal to me that my Mid-Atlantic hero would take the time to send me anything.

Over the last year or so, Paul enjoyed receiving emails from me that contained photos of "Number One" references that I came across in everyday life. For instance, I recently sent him a photo from Fuddruckers when my order number was "No. 1" and one from my county dump where a sign said "Go To Number 1" for the numbered receptacle that was open to dump my trash into.

Just a couple of days before Paul's death I went to a college baseball game with my Dad, and when a batter late in the contest approached the plate the first thing I noticed was that he was wearing the number 1. Forgetting about the game itself, my first instinct was to get a good view of this player's number so I could send a photo of it to Paul! I in fact snapped a good photo, but I unfortunately didn't get to send that final "Number One" salute to Paul before he passed away. While I'll always regret that I didn't send that last remembrance out to Paul in a timely manner, I am sure Paul knew, and knows, that Paul Jones will always be "Number One" to me.

Rest in peace my Mid-Atlantic hero, and my friend.