Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Betrayal of Chief Wahoo McDaniel (Part Three)

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Between 1981 and 1984, the NWA took the U.S. title from Wahoo McDaniel on three separate occasions, leading Wahoo (understandably) to believe that the NWA was out to get him in some way. In each of those three cases (storyline, of course), it looked to us like Wahoo was treated unfairly.

Check out the previous two parts of this series:
PART ONE (Betrayal #1 - - The Roddy Piper Conspiracy)
PART TWO (Betrayal #2 - - The Sgt. Slaughter Conspiracy) 

Now, two years removed from the largely forgotten 1981 and 1982 incidences, it was about to happen for the third time. And this time, Wahoo had had enough.


Through the 1970s and up through early 1984, Wahoo McDaniel had been one of the most popular and inspirational wrestlers ever in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. He had endured endless slugfests with Johnny Valentine, 90-minute time limit matches with the Andersons, 40 stitches over his eye from a broken table leg from Ric Flair, and a  broken leg from Greg Valentine. He had held the Mid-Atlantic title, the World tag team titles, and finally had captured the prestigious stepping stone to the NWA World title in the form of the United States Heavyweight Championship.

Wahoo McDaniel is introduced by Bob Caudle as
the new United States Heavyweight Champion
But in 1981 and 1982, the NWA had twice taken the U.S. title from Wahoo over technicalities in NWA rules that were clearly exploited by the very wrestlers who wanted to take the title from him. Wahoo wasn't losing the title in the ring; he was losing it as a result of legislation handed down from the NWA.

In 1984, it happened for a third time, and this time it was more than Wahoo could stand. This time Wahoo fought back. And because it involved a dispute he had with Ricky Steamboat, the area's most popular wrestler at that time, fans ultimately turned on Wahoo as a result.

So all these years later, here is our close look at the unthinkable: Wahoo McDaniel became one of the most hated wrestlers in Jim Crockett Promotions in 1984.

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"When you see a man down, cover him. That was the first thing I was taught when I started wrestling." - Wahoo McDaniel

In the spring of 1984, Wahoo McDaniel was itching to get back into the NWA World Title picture. To put things in context of the times, he had returned full time to the Mid-Atlantic area in the fall  of 1983 after spending the majority of the year in the AWA. He joined a small group of wrestlers who helped Ric Flair prepare for his World title match with Harley Race at Starrcade '83. After Flair was successful in regaining his championship, Wahoo assumed that perhaps Flair might give him a shot at that one title that had eluded him his entire career.

But Flair was tied up in other challengers when he came through the Mid-Atlantic area with the title in early 1984, primarily Dick Slater, who had defeated Greg Valentine for the United States title which made him the number one contender.

Then in April, Ricky Steamboat was coaxed out of retirement by promoter Jim Crockett to challenge Flair for the NWA title as part of a huge show in Greensboro called "Boogie Jam '84." Steamboat had retired after Starrcade '83 to open up a gym in Charlotte. But he had the itch to get in the ring again and a deal was made for him to return. He and Flair wrestled to a classic 60-minute draw that night. Flair, wrestling as a "babyface" in the Mid-Atlantic territory in those years (a "heel" everywhere else) had escaped the challenge of his best friend Steamboat. Wahoo, also a friend of Flair's, felt it was now his turn and was waiting in the wings after Steamboat had failed to take the ten pounds of gold.

However, Steamboat found a way to stay in the primary title picture. He defeated Dick Slater in April to become the United States Champion and number one contender. When Flair would defend in the Mid-Atlantic territory, he continued to face Steamboat while Wahoo continued to be looked over.

Wahoo thought he had missed his opportunity all together when Flair lost the title briefly to Kerry Von Erich in May. But Flair soon had the title back and Wahoo thought he might finally get his chance. But when Flair returned to the Mid-Atlantic area in early June he defended against everyone but Wahoo McDaniel.

Dick Slater got another title match. Tully Blanchard, the NWA TV champion, had a shot at the belt, too. Steamboat received more chances based on his holding the U.S. title and being classified as the top contender. Even former World champion Harley Race came into the Mid-Atlantic area to challenge Flair for the gold in Raleigh and Richmond.

But Wahoo continued to be overlooked.

So Wahoo developed a new strategy. He would issue a challenge to his friend Ricky Steamboat for the United States Championship. If Steamboat would accept and he could defeat Steamboat for that title, it would mean that Wahoo would now be the number one contender and Flair would have to face him for the belt.

Steamboat accepted Wahoo's challenge, and Wahoo started chirping on TV interviews how Steamboat was not scared to give him a title shot at the U.S. belt, but Flair seemed to be afraid to give him a World title shot. At least, this is the way it looked to the Chief.

This raised the eyebrows of many fans. Wahoo even praised the hated Tully Blanchard for giving him shots at Blanchard's TV title, a feud which had escalated in recent weeks, and would wind up playing a pivotal role in the upcoming Wahoo/Steamboat title match.

On June 24, 1984, Wahoo met Ricky Steamboat in Greensboro for the United States Championship. Fans were particularly interested in the match because it was a battle of two "fan favorites" and they wondered who might lose their cool first in such a contest. Wahoo's recent rhetoric led many to believe it would likely be him. He made it clear in several interviews: "I will do anything it takes to win that title."

The match was stiff but clean for the most part with neither man able to gain much of an advantage. In the closing moments, however, Ricky Steamboat inadvertently collided with referee Sonny Fargo after a tackle from McDaniel, knocking Fargo momentarily senseless. While the referee was down, Wahoo's adversary Tully Blanchard showed up at ringside, grabbed a steel chair, entered the ring and tried to blast Wahoo with it. But the Chief saw it coming, ducked, and Blanchard hit Steamboat instead, knocking him out cold.

Wahoo, however, didn't see Steamboat get hit with the chair. All he knew was that he had ducked the chair shot. He went after Blanchard with a big chop, chasing him from the ring. When Wahoo turned around, there was Steamboat still out cold on the mat. Wahoo assumed it was from the earlier tackle and immediately covered him and a revived referee Sonny Fargo counted three.

Wahoo McDaniel had just won the United States title for a fourth time, and now finally would be recognized as number one contender and get his shot at Flair's NWA World title.

Or so he thought.

What happened next would be the final straw in Wahoo's ongoing disagreements with the NWA that had started in 1981.

The NWA reviewed the film of the match in Greensboro and decided to hold up the championship due to the interference of Tully Blanchard. Yes, the NWA had taken the title from Wahoo yet again.

That announcement was made on TV on 7/14/84. It was Wahoo's own personal 'Black Saturday'. That same day was ironically the same date that the WWF took over Georgia's NWA TV time on Superstation WTBS. Georgia would survive that tragedy and eventually get the NWA back. But Wahoo's personal 'Black Saturday' would drive him over the cliff. And if you look at it with an open mind, you can understand why.

What was particularly unusual about the NWA's action was that no party had filed an appeal to the NWA. Steamboat had not, and while he voiced frustration and disbelief over Wahoo covering him after the chairshot form Blanchard, he accepted the NWA's decision because he ultimately felt it would give him the best chance to get the title back.

So why had the NWA gotten involved in the first place? Later in that same show, Wahoo got his answer.

David Crockett reported on the 7/14/84 show that his brother Jimmy Crockett had taken the film of the match to NWA President Bob Geigel in Kansas City for his further review. While fans probably saw no problem in that since they thought Steamboat got the raw end of the deal in the match, it probably appeared to Wahoo at this point that not only was the NWA out to get him, but now his own guy Jim Crockett had joined that effort, too! Wahoo's paranoia was running wild.
David Crockett would also report on TV that Geigel found the whole matter so controversial that he was calling a full board meeting to review the matter and determine who the rightful champion should be.

So if you're Wahoo McDaniel, you have to be thinking, "OK, they didn't call a full board meeting when Piper paid Abdullah to attack me in 1981 which cost me the title on a contractual matter, and they didn't call a full board meeting when Slaughter intentionally injured me in 1982 to force me to miss a title defense that cost me the title due to a temporary NWA rule. But now they hold up the title and call a full board meeting to review a film where I clearly didn't do anything wrong? All because, what - - their fair-haired boy Ricky Steamboat lost his belt?"

Host Bob Caudle is shocked when Jim Crockett tells him Wahoo McDaniel
might not be allowed to enter the U.S. title tournament.

One more little straw to throw on the camel's back: a week later, Jim Crockett speculated to Bob Caudle that the NWA might not decide on a rightful champion at all. They might decide to put the title up in a tournament and - - incredibly - - Wahoo might not be allowed to enter it! The subtle implication was that Crockett and the NWA thought Wahoo might have been in cahoots with Blanchard to hit Steamboat with a chair to begin with. 

Needless to say, Wahoo wasn't happy. I don't know about you, but I'm sort of feeling Wahoo's frustration and paranoia right along with him.

For their part, most fans were taking Steamboat's side in things and thought Wahoo had taken advantage of the situation where Blanchard had hit Steamboat with the chair. But Wahoo disagreed. He asserted that he had no idea that Blanchard had hit Steamboat with the chair. And if you watch the film closely, you can clearly see he is telling the truth. Wahoo didn't see it, he just turned and saw Steamboat flat on his back.

"He was going to hit me. I dodged out of the way, and then he came to hit me again, I knocked him out of the ring. And the first thing they ever teach you, Caudle, is that if somebody's down, you cover them. I thought Steamboat was down from the tackle, I covered him. I don't have any reason to be ashamed. I thought the man was down from the tackle, and I still believed it until I saw the film. But like I told Steamboat up front, I was gonna beat him any way I could, and I did. The NWA and Jimmy Crockett is behind this, Steamboat's behind it, to hold that U.S. belt up on me."  - Wahoo McDaniel, after being informed that the NWA had held up the United States title.

Wahoo had already tested fan's patience with his attitude towards their favorite Ric Flair, despite the fact that Wahoo had a valid point on not getting an NWA title match from Flair. They were unhappy now with the way Wahoo had taken advantage of a bad situation for their other favorite Ricky Steamboat, despite the fact Wahoo had valid point there, too. With the latest actions of the NWA Wahoo was very bitter, and letting everyone know it.

What was worse  - - the NWA's betrayal or the fan's betrayal? Regardless, it drove Wahoo to the dark side. He found a sympathetic ear in Tully Blanchard, and the two formed a tag team, calling themselves "the Awesome Twosome." That development led to tag team main events against such unlikely allies as Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. Flair even recruited longtime friend Blackjack Mulligan to come back from Florida and help him battle the "Awesome Twosome." Wahoo would  speculate further that the tag matches were a way for Flair to continue to duck him in NWA title matches.
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Those next months saw what would have been unthinkable only a few short months ago: Wahoo McDaniel had become one of the most hated wrestlers in Jim Crockett Promotions.

In the end, though, Wahoo had the last laugh and found his personal redemption. The NWA did indeed decided to put the U.S. title up in a 16-man tournament that October, and though he had to fight his way through every level of it, he came out the winner and was U.S. champion once again.

Wahoo was on a rampage with the belt, determined to pay back the NWA and fans for what he saw as them turning their backs on him. He brutalized his opponents, and had no trouble fending off title challenges from Manny Fernandez and Superstar Billy Graham, among others.

In March of 1985, however, he ran into a challenge he couldn't overcome and lost the title to Magnum T.A. in the match that got Magnum over as a superstar in the Mid-Atlantic area. Wahoo left the territory for Florida and became a fan favorite once again. He was able to patch things up with Flair, Magnum, and others and came back to the area in the fall of 1985 to team with Dusty Rhodes in Rhodes' battles with Andersons. The fans were on Wahoo's side once again.

However, Wahoo always had an edge to him after that. I don't think he ever got over what he saw as a betrayal by the NWA in 1984. And if you are completely honest with yourself and look at that whole situation objectively, you would have to admit - - Wahoo always had a point. It was hard to argue with his logic in explaining his actions as a result of the final great betrayal.

Looking back on it, it was one of the great stories told in the year 1984, and one of the memorable chapters in the long and storied career of the great Chief Wahoo McDaniel.

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 "1984 is a heavily maligned year for JCP/Mid-Atlantic, which occasionally suffered due to the bumps of a regime change and roster upheaval. But one thing that never wavered (rather it was further galvanized) was the believability and pure awesomeness that was Chief Wahoo McDaniel."  - Mike Sempervive, Wrestling Observer Live (@sempervive)