Monday, October 22, 2018

Gateway Interview: "Mr. Unpredicatable" Dick Slater (2010) Part One

In 2010, David Chappell had the opportunity to interview the legendary Dick Slater for the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. The lengthy interview covered a wide range of topics spanning Slater's entire career.

We thought it would be special to run that interview again on the Gateway in light of Dick's passing last week. It will be presented in three parts.

One of the all-time great characters and performers in the pro wrestling business, he will be sorely missed by friends and fans.

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Some have called him “Mr. Unpredictable.” Others have referred to him as “Mr. Excitement.” Still others just call him “Dirty.”

Dick Slater lives up to all those nicknames, and a whole lot more.

When Dick Slater entered Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in January of 1983, he had already established himself as a major star in the wrestling business. His battles in the ring as part of Jim Crockett Promotions only added to the lofty reputation he brought to Charlotte with him. Whether it was watching him go toe to toe with Greg Valentine, or conspire with Bob Orton, Jr. to injure Ric Flair and pave the way for the mega-card of Starrcade 1983, or seeing him bring out his own NWA World Heavyweight Title belt and declare himself the World Champ in early 1984, Dick Slater always gave the wrestling fans everything they were hoping to see…and usually a surprise or two on top of that!

Dick Slater has lived his life to the fullest, both in and out of the ring. Many of his highs have been very high, and some of his lows have been very low. In this enlightening interview, Dick not only talks about his battles inside the squared circle throughout his illustrious wrestling career, but candidly talks about his recent life’s battles. Slater has many fascinating things to say, and much more will be revealed soon in a book he’s working on, aptly entitled "A Thousand Lives." For now, the Mid-Atlantic Gateway is happy to provide you a small sample of the story Dick Slater has to tell us all.

The Gateway would like to express our thanks to Lisa Lostraglio for her efforts in linking us up with “Mr. Unpredictable” Dick Slater. Without Lisa, this interview would not have happened. The Gateway’s friend, Peggy Lathan, also played a large role in Dick Slater’s visit to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Dick Slater has not spoken out since his recent legal issues. The Gateway is proud that Dick chose the Mid-Atlantic Gateway to again talk about his career in wrestling, and the more recent unfortunate events that his name has been linked to.

Much like his wrestling days in the Mid-Atlantic area, when you read some of the things Dick has to say in this interview, you may like him or you may dislike him. There never was much of a middle ground with Dick Slater. One thing I’m surer of is, after reading this, you’ll likely agree that Dick Slater’s reputation for being a fighter and a tough guy is well deserved. And not only in the ring…but in the game of life. 

- David Chappell
October 2010

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David Chappell: Dick, I’m really delighted to have you talk with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. I appreciate your taking the time to chat a little bit tonight.

Dick Slater: I’ve been looking forward to it, David.

Chappell: Same here! Well, to start, please tell us about your beginnings in wrestling if you would.

Slater: I actually started wrestling, Mike Graham and myself, in 1968. I started with Eddie Graham at Robinson High School.

Chappell: We’re talking about the Tampa, Florida area, right?

Slater: That’s right. There had never been a high school wrestling program in the state of Florida. What happened, is that Eddie Graham, who was a promoter here for Florida Championship Wrestling and Don Curtis, who was the promoter in Jacksonville, bought a wrestling mat for Robinson High School and actually started the high school wrestling program.

Chappell: I know you played football and wrestled for the University of Tampa, so obviously we now know you got into wrestling before your college days!

Slater: This was all before I went to the University of Tampa. What happened, is I was wrestling for what was called AAU---which was a wrestling organization that trained people to go from, say, college to the Olympics…

Chappell: Yes…

Slater: [AAU] was a different league all together, but it was a league that almost anybody could get into…if you were a college or high school athlete.

So, I was wrestling with them, and with Hiro Matsuda, who was the Japanese trainer…

Chappell: Right, I thought Hiro had trained you in the early days…

Slater: Yeah…I wanted to go try to get into the Olympics at that time. Then, I went to the University of Tampa and got on the wrestling team there. Plus, I was on the football team---so it was pretty hectic!

Chappell: I bet!

Slater: (laughs) Practices, twice a day. And sometimes it was two football practices, and then wrestling practice in one day…so that was three in a row!

Chappell: I’m interested…what position did you play in football?

Slater: I was a linebacker…

Chappell: (laughs) Honest…that would have been my guess! In the ring, you look like you had the make up of a linebacker!

Slater: I played middle linebacker in high school, and I also played some running fullback, not running with the ball, but running in front of somebody with the ball! (laughing)

Chappell: (laughs) You’re the one that cleared the way!

Slater: Yeah, the other guys did the running!

Chappell: How long did you stay at the University [of Tampa]?

Slater: Actually, they folded the football program there…

Chappell: Really?

Slater: Yeah, it was an academic school…and they decided to close football there. So, I decided not to play (football) anymore. Later, I had a chance to go down and play for the Miami Dolphins…but I decided I needed to take care of my family instead. I had to earn my way…I needed to go to work!

Chappell: What time frame are we talking about, Dick…when you had a chance to go with the Dolphins?

Slater: 1969 I graduated out of high school, so this would have been around ’71…

Chappell: The Dolphins were getting pretty good then!

Slater: Yeah…

Chappell: So, they were going to let you come in as a free agent…but you decided against it?

Slater: (pauses) The money wasn’t there, then. I wanted to go…could have gone.

Chappell: As you said before, you had to take care of your family.

Slater: That’s right.

Chappell: Now, when you were at the University of Tampa, didn’t you play with John Matuszak?

Slater: I did. John was the smart guy of the football team, you know? I was in most of his classes, and he would take most of my exams for me!

Chappell: (laughing) Come on!  He was a character, wasn’t he? I remember when he played for the Raiders.

Slater: Oh my God, he was pretty much of a character! Ol’ John really was!

Chappell: (laughs) And he had the brains on top of that!

Slater: Yeah! And Paul Orndorff was on the same team, you know?

Chappell: I was going to ask you about Orndorff…

Slater: Oh yeah…he played at Brandon High School, and I played at Robinson High School.

Chappell: They were big rivals in Tampa?

Slater: At one time they were…yeah.

Chappell: I’ve always heard that Orndorff was a tough customer…

Slater: He’s a tough man…and a good friend of mine. He’s having some back problems…like I’ve had. I talk to him frequently…he lives up in Atlanta, Georgia now.

Chappell: So you all still stay in touch…that’s good.

Slater: Yeah…we’re still close.

Chappell: We’ve talked about you participating in high school, college and AAU wrestling. How did you break into the professional wrestling ranks?

Slater: Well, I went to a National AAU meet and Don Curtis was the referee. I made it to the Finals, and wrestled this one guy and I lost, but it was so close.  What I learned collegiately…I was doing really well. You know, if I had a little bit more training and a little bit more experience…I could have won the National AAU’s.

Chappell: You really hadn’t been wrestling much at that point…

Slater: All I had been wrestling then was probably a year and a half of collegiate wrestling and AAU…so I was doing pretty good.

Chappell: Sounds like you were taking off fast…

Slater: I was close, you know, to being able to go to the Olympics at that point. I mean, I at least might have gone on a tryout basis.  But anyway, Mike Graham who was a good friend of mine…he asked me if I wanted to get into the business. I thought about it for a long time…and finally said. ‘Yeah!”

Chappell: Tell us about those early days.

Slater: I went back down to the Sportatorium here in Tampa, and started training to become a professional wrestler.

Chappell: Who was training you at the very beginning?

Slater: Jack Brisco, Bob Roop, Hiro Matsuda, Bill Watts…

Chappell: Wow! What a ‘Who’s Who!’

Slater: A whole bunch of people, who were really good teachers and professional wrestlers at that time.

Chappell: But Mike Graham was the person who really turned you toward professional wrestling?

Slater: Well, I was going to Ft. Lauderdale every Friday night with him, when he was running the town for his Dad…who was the promoter there.

Chappell: Right, Eddie…

Slater: I got to be around all the guys in the wrestling business. I started hangin’ around with Dick Murdock…

Chappell: (laughs) I bet there are some stories there!

Slater: (laughs) Yeah…Murdock was quite a guy! He was one of my best friends. I used to hang around Dick when I was in high school matter of fact.

Chappell: After you broke in, did you stay in Tampa for long?

Slater: Well, I stayed here in the state of Florida for a long time after I first broke into wrestling…in the professional area.  I stayed here for probably, I’d say, two or three years. That’s a long time to be in one place, in the territories, you know?

Chappell: Definitely.

Slater: Those first years in Florida were great years. From there I went out to California, and worked in Roy Shire’s territory…

Chappell: Some great guys out there.

Slater: Oh yeah. The Von Brauners were out there…and Moondog Mayne. Pat Patterson and Ray Stevens were there…

Chappell: Right…

Slater: Those guys were working out there when I went out there. And I stayed out there, I’d say for a good year.  Traveled up and down the mountains up there and over to Las Vegas, and up to Reno, Nevada…

Chappell: (laughs) Not a bad territory at all!

Slater: (laughing) Me and my buddy Moondog Mayne! You ever heard the stories about Moondog Mayne?

Chappell: Oh yes, yes! But share one for our readers!

Slater: I wrote a lot of stories about Moondog in my book that’s coming out.

Chappell: And we will definitely talk about your upcoming book during the interview. In fact, tease the book with a good Moondog story!

Slater: (laughs) Oh God…Moondog! I tell you a funny one David, that really got me…you know, he was a compulsive gambler…

Chappell: Really?

Slater: Yeah…and we’d flown down to Vegas one time, and he stayed in my room with me. One night he goes down and blows about $500, and he comes up and borrows $50 from me. So, he goes back down to the casino and I don’t see him for about three or four hours. Then he comes back to the room, and he’s drunk out of his mind…

Chappell: (laughing)

Slater: But he’s like $42,000 ahead!

Chappell: (laughing hard)

Slater: I told him not to play any more, and he says, ‘I’m goin’ back down!’

Chappell: Stop while you’re ahead!

Slater: Yeah…stop while you’re ahead! But he went back down, and when I saw him in the morning he had $70,000 he’d won, right?!

Chappell: (laughs) Unbelievable…only in Vegas!

Slater: So, he goes to Reno, Nevada the next day…and he buys himself a brand new Cadillac! He loved yellow, so it was a yellow Cadillac. He always wore yellow, you remember that?

Chappell: He sure did!

Slater: And he had yellow hair…and he would go out and play Santa Clause---what a guy!

Chappell: (laughs)

Slater: But anyway, besides the yellow Cadillac, he went out and bought a boat, golf clubs, a yellow Mustang for his wife…

Chappell: Geez!

Slater: And David…he went and lost ALL of it! The rest of the money…he lost it all!

Chappell: Dick, you’re kidding?!

Slater: Nope. And you know one thing…he never gave me the $50 back! (laughs)

Chappell: (laughing) I was just thinking, you know, it was your $50 that ended up making Moondog $70,000! At least for a little while! How long did it take him to lose it all?

Slater: He won it on a Friday, on Friday night in Las Vegas, and he lost it on a Monday night in Reno!

Chappell: (laughing) Oh man!

Slater: (laughing) Easy come, easy go!

Chappell: (laughing) But those three days were great!!

Slater: I’ve got a bunch of [stories] on him!

Chappell: I can only imagine…that was a great one!  It was great hearing about your time on the west coast. I guess the first time I really remember reading about you a lot, well before you came into Jim Crockett Promotions, was when you were in the Georgia territory.

Slater: Georgia…I stayed there like seven or eight years, something like that. Working for Jim Barnett.

Chappell: Anything from that territory jump out at you?

Slater: I mean…I turned into a figure in the wrestling business when I was there.

Chappell: Georgia put you on the wrestling map big time, so to speak?

Slater: Working for Jim Barnett, he was the kind of promoter that anybody that he brought into his place had to draw money. He was the kind of promoter, if you weren’t drawing any money, he would really be on the warpath.

Chappell: I know Georgia was where I started to follow your career…

Slater: I tell you what, I never got a chance to get to North Carolina until much later…

Chappell: You never worked for Crockett until you came into the Mid-Atlantic area in January of 1983, right?

Slater: (pauses) Yeah…you’re right.

Chappell: I mean, I don’t remember you doing any shots for Crockett at all before that…at least in my area of Richmond, Virginia.

Slater: That was getting to the time in the 80s that was interesting between Jim Barnett and Crockett…with the Turner cable hook up thing.  At one point I was in Knoxville, Tennessee booking for Ron Fuller…and Jim Barnett came and asked me if I wanted to come back in and book the Atlanta end of Turner’s television show. And then what happened, was Jimmy Crockett was in the middle of buying out Jim (Barnett), and I didn’t even know about it! So, when Jimmy Crockett bought it from Barnett, I was a booker for Crockett. And Dusty (Rhodes) became a booker for Crockett at some point there…so it was a pretty interesting time!

Chappell: Yeah, of course as fans we didn’t know about all this…but looking back now you can definitely see Dusty’s influence on the Mid-Atlantic area not too long after Starrcade 1983.

Slater: I was on the first Starrcade…that was a GREAT show!

Chappell: Without a doubt! You and Bob Orton, Jr. against Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood. No titles were at stake in that match, but you held a ton of titles over the course of your career.

Slater: It’s a funny thing you mention that…there’s a guy down in Texas that called me recently that has a wrestling newsletter. I don’t know how he did it…but he has information on every single title I ever won, and every single guy that I wrestled and if I won or lost!  (laughs) I couldn’t remember a half or a quarter of the titles that I won!

Chappell: Wow…that must be some list! Is this guy helping you with your book?

Slater: No, but I’m trying to get hold of him and that information!  My book is just a little bit different. I mean, it’s not ALL about wrestling. It’s about a lot of places I’ve been all over the world.

Chappell: I’m sure wrestling opened up all kinds of adventures for you.

Slater: A lot of the book is about wrestling, but a lot of it is about things people just wouldn’t believe, things I’ve seen and things I’ve been involved with…both good and bad.

Chappell: One of the things that has struck me most about interviewing wrestling legends like yourself for the Gateway, is that you all have truly led some AMAZING lives!

Slater: Terry Funk called me the other night…he’s my best friend!

Chappell: For real?

Slater: Yeah…he came and lived with me in Florida for many years. And we still talk all the time. The other night, he was telling me that the wrestling business is a great business, but the only thing wrong with the wrestling business is sometimes the people that run it! He said it’s not the business, but the people that run the business!

Chappell: That’s certainly a complaint that comes up from time to time!  Speaking of Terry, I always thought there were a lot of similarities between you two. You were definitely both wild and crazy!

Slater: We both went over to Japan for years, and I guess we have similar styles. Guys that you can never guess what’s gonna happen next…

Chappell: ‘Mr. Unpredictable,’ Dick Slater! I think that phrase was used by the commentators for every match you ever wrestled on Crockett TV. The only thing ‘predictable,’ was that they called you ‘Mr. Unpredictable!’

Slater: (laughs) Yeah…and they also called me ‘Mr. Excitement’…

Chappell: That’s right, they sure did. And “Dirty” Dick Slater. You didn’t lack for nicknames!

Slater: (laughs)

Chappell: As we’ve been talking so far, you were a huge star before you ever entered the Mid-Atlantic area. You won the Missouri Heavyweight Title in the late 1970s, and that title was often a springboard to the NWA World Heavyweight Title. At that point, were you really in the mix to get the World’s Title?

Slater: (pauses) Ah…yes, I was.

Chappell: Can you tell us about that? You were certainly right up there with anybody at that time.

Slater: Well, David, it’s kinda hard for me to explain the politics of all that…

Chappell: I know, I know…

Slater: I know the reason why I didn’t get the Title, but I’m gonna be a good guy, you know what I mean? I’m gonna be a good guy, and not tell you the truth! (laughs)

Chappell: (laughing) Well, your initial answer of ‘politics’ probably sums it up pretty good!

Slater: I’m not saying anything bad about anybody, because I really enjoy my life David. I don’t have any complaints about, you know, what I could have been and what I am…what I made of myself.

Chappell: What I’m sort of hearing you say Dick, is that you had the right stuff to be NWA World Champion, but that it was something that was in the hands of others…and they opted to go a different direction.

Slater: (laughing) I came and went my own way, you know?

Chappell: But that Missouri Title was often a tip-off that you were headed in the direction of the World’s Title…

Slater: I was headed in that direction. All that was back in the middle of the National Wrestling Alliance, and the Board of Directors…it was politics and you had to go along with that, you know?

Chappell: Yeah…yeah, I understand.

Slater: (laughs) I had a lot of belts…but that one eluded me. But it eluded a lot of other people, too! It would have been nice to get it, but you know, I’m not worried about it. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough to have it…I was good enough for a lot of people. It’s like voting for your Congressman, you know…you may not get the right votes. I didn’t get the right votes!

Chappell: (laughs) And as they say, timing is everything!

Slater: Well, you know, I don’t have any regrets. I mean, I can’t say I have any regrets. I really don’t…I really don’t. I enjoyed myself in the wrestling business, and I wish I could do it again. But being that I had major injuries that keep me from getting back in the ring…it’s not possible.

Chappell: Do you ever in your head, think about the number of matches you wrestled?

Slater: There was a Physical Fitness seminar in Orlando recently, and Cal Ripken was the guest speaker there. And it was funny, because he said he played in 2,000 or so consecutive baseball games without missing a game…right?

Chappell: Yep…the ‘Ironman’ of baseball.

Slater: I’m thinkin’ you know, I wrestled 2,000 matches in a row…in one year!

Chappell: (laughing) Yeah, you have to put some of these milestones in perspective! But seriously, you professional wrestlers were truly ‘Ironmen’ in your own right.

Slater: I mean, you know, that was a phenomenal thing for [Ripken] to do…and I say, good for him. But, that’s in his whole career. (laughs)

Chappell: I know as a fan at the time, I never had any concept of how you all wrestled every day and sometimes double shots…year after year after year. And every town you went to you had to bring your ‘A’ game…every night. It had to be grueling beyond belief.

Slater: And Crockett…it was very hard to work for him. I mean, we had to do a lot of traveling there…in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. We were on the road a lot.

Chappell: With the guys I’ve talked with, it seems that Crockett’s territory was the toughest in that regard…with the possible exception of Watts’ territory.

Slater: I booked for Bill (Watts) there for a while, and…

Chappell: So it was YOU that was running everybody into the ground there! (laughs)

Slater: Naw! I booked Bill Watts’ territory, I booked Joe Blanchard’s territory…and Paul Boesch…I was bookin’ all three of them at one time!

Chappell: Unreal…

Slater: That was a record-breaker right there!

Chappell: Again as fans, all we saw was Dick Slater the wrestler. We had no concept that you were just as busy with your work behind the scenes.

Slater: Right, I was doing all that---and working! We were doing very good business…we set [Watts’ territory] on fire. We had Jake ‘The Snake’ (Roberts) and ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan…