Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Domed Globe: Harley Race Places a Bounty on Tommy Rich

Classic Video from Georgia Championship Wrestling, February 23, 1980
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

* * * * * *

Occasionally, we swerve over into something fun from Georgia Championship Wrestling. In this case it's one of my favorite segments ever from Georgia featuring NWA World champion Harley Race, Tommy "Wildfire" Rich, and "The Universal Heartthrob" Austin Idol in 1980. This post was originally featured over on the Domed Globe website in July of 2017.

 * * * * * *

I was happy to come across this classic old video on YouTube (embedded down below). It is one of my all-time favorite matches and angles in Georgia Championship Wrestling history.

The match was Tommy "Wildfire" Rich challenging "The Universal Heartthrob" Austin Idol for the  TV championship, with Harley Race at ringside. But the TV title wasn't the main focus.

NWA Champion Harley Race on "Georgia Championship Wrestling"
Idol was the #1 contender for the NWA World championship in Georgia and was slated to challenge reigning champion Harley Race for the laurels on Sunday February 24, 1980 at the Omni in Atlanta. Race had made no bones about the fact that he did not want to face Rich, and had placed a $5000 bounty on his head. Any wrestler who could take Rich out before the match at the Omni would collect the cash.

No one really considered that Idol would be in the hunt for the bounty, as he had his own issues to worry about defending his TV title. However, Idol somewhat unexpectedly agreed to defend against Rich on national television the day before the Race-Rich showdown.

On the Saturday 2/23/80 edition of "Georgia Championship Wrestling", Idol met Rich in the cozy confines of WTBS studios in Atlanta. Prior to the match, Idol did an interesting interview where he had his TV championship belt over his right shoulder and a simple dress belt over his left shoulder. He never mentioned the belt, and Gordon Solie never asked him about it; it was just there. We would find out why Idol had the belt a little later.

The actual match between Idol and Rich was a typically good match between the two, with Rich maintaining the upper hand through most of the early moments with classic chain wrestling, arm drags, and hip tosses.

A few minutes in, however, who should show up at ringside to watch the match but the NWA World Heavyweight Champion himself, Harley Race. Race was in street clothes, and was clearly cheering on Idol in the match, getting on the referee for what Race thought were slow counts, complaining that Rich's sleeper hold was actually a choke, etc. Race became a distraction at ringside, however, and Idol began to dominate  the match with a elbow drop from the middle turnbuckle and a flying knee drop to the forehead of Rich.

As Rich began to regain momentum, though, Idol threw him into referee Scrappy McGowan, and with the ref down, Idol attempted to apply a figure-four leglock to Rich. Race became excited at this,  climbed up on the ring apron, an exhorted Idol to go after the leg of Rich while the referee was down. However, as Idol was attempting to apply the hold, Rich kicked him off and Idol collided with Race on the ring apron, sending Idol crashing to the mat and Race crashing to the floor.

Rich covered a stunned Idol in an attempted pin, but the referee was still down from the earlier collision. Seeing the ref down himself, Race removed his sport coat, climbed to the top of the turnbuckles and dove off attempting to hit Rich with his famous, patented flying headbutt. But Rich saw it coming and moved to the side and Race hit Idol with the headbutt instead. Rich covered Idol again and a revived referee Scrappy McGowan crawled over and made the three-count.

Tommy Rich had just won the National TV Championship from Austin Idol, and much of that had been brought on by Harley Race.

Rich immediately went after Race in response to his interference, and the two brawled in the ring, Rich hammering away at the world champion as the WTBS studio crowd became unglued.

Idol momentarily left the ring but when he returned he had that dress belt with him, the same simple dress belt he had draped over one shoulder in the earlier interview with Gordon Solie. He attacked Rich from behind, laid him out, and applied the figure-four leglock. It was then that it became clear why Idol had been carrying around that dress belt. He looped it around both his and Rich's legs, basically strapping both of them together so that Rich could not escape the hold. Idol began clamping down hard on the figure-four leg lock and as he did so, Race began dropping his knee repeatedly down on Rich's left knee and leg.

It became clear what was going on: Austin Idol was attempting to collect the bounty that Harley Race had placed on the head of Tommy Rich. And Race was happy to help him do it.

Eventually, help came from the locker room, and Mr. Wrestling II delivered his famous knee lift that sent Race sailing out of the ring. Idol eventually bailed out of the ring as well, aided by Race, and the two hightailed it to their locker room.

Rich had won the TV title, but was badly injured at the hands of Idol and Race. He was unable to challenge Race the next night at the Omni. Idol had successfully claimed the bounty.

There is much more that developed from this angle. Mr. Wrestling II replaced Rich and got the shot at Race for the title. Wrestling II dedicated the match to Rich, but in the end, II wasn't able  to take the title from Race. Race's master plan had worked, and he was successful in getting out of Atlanta with his championship intact. Rich would get a measure of revenge, but we'll save that story for a future update.

I've included the video of all this here for two reasons: (1) as mentioned up front, this is one of my favorite Georgia angles ever, and (2) the video includes some wonderful interviews with Race spotlighting the NWA domed-globe belt, ten pounds of "PURE gold", as Race liked to say.

Enjoy the video and the memories.

Originally published on The Domed Globe website, July 14, 2017.