Friday, January 24, 2020

The Conspiracy Against Wahoo McDaniel

The Story of the Heel Turn of Chief Wahoo McDaniel (Part 2)
Part Two in a Four-Part Series
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Catch up on PART ONE of this series, "Wahoo McDaniel's Black Saturday," which details the beginning of the 1984 heel turn of Wahoo McDaniel.

After being stripped of the United States Championship by NWA President Bob Geigel and the NWA Board of Directors, Wahoo was, as expected, very angry. In his mind at least, this was a major league miscarriage of justice. Some of it might be written off as paranoia. But when you listened to him make his case, you had to concede - - Wahoo had a point!

An angry Wahoo McDaniel makes his case, while David Crockett holds
the held-up U.S. title belt on Wide World Wrestling.

(Photo by Scooter Lesley/Mid-Atlantic Gateway graphic.)

First of all, Wahoo couldn't understand why there was even a controversy to begin with. The NWA cited in their decision the interference of Tully Blanchard in the Wahoo/Steamboat match that cost Steamboat the title. Wahoo correctly asserted that he had nothing to with Blanchard hitting Steamboat with a steel chair. In fact, it was Wahoo himself who was the original target of Blanchard's wrath, but had ducked out of the way. Wahoo simply pinned Steamboat, who he found moments later prone on the mat, not knowing that Blanchard had knocked Steamboat out with the chair. (See Part One for the complete story of that match.)

Secondly, Wahoo was outraged that the title had been taken from him based on a review of the film, and done so weeks after the match. He used the example of a football game, suggesting that if a referee made a bad call in the Super Bowl, the NFL wouldn't come back weeks later and take away the winning team's championship rings. (The Pandora's box of instant replay review in the NFL was still a couple of years away in 1984.)

Adding to Wahoo's frustration, this was the third time in the last three years Wahoo had lost a championship by an adverse ruling. This win over Ricky Steamboat was Wahoo's fourth time winning the United States Championship. However, in two of his three previous title reigns, the title had been taken from him by legislation rather than having lost it in the ring:

  • He defeated Roddy Piper for the title in 1981 only to sustain an injury at the hands of Piper's henchman Abdullah the Butcher, resulting in Wahoo being unable to give Piper his contracted rematch. The NWA stripped him of the title even though it was Piper who set the whole thing up to begin with. 
  • After defeating Sgt. Slaughter for the title in 1982 (the first of two times), the NWA experimented with a temporary rule that included a provision where a champion would forfeit the title if he wasn't able to defend it for any reason.  Wahoo had been intentionally injured by Sarge in a rematch, and was unable to defend against him in a second rematch. By virtue of the temporary rule, the NWA forced him to forfeit the title to Slaughter, even though it was Slaughter who had devised the plan to incapacitate Wahoo to begin with. To add insult to injury, the NWA chose to not renew the rule at the end of its trial period. 

Now, for the third time in as many years, the NWA was stepping in again to remove the championship. You could easily forgive a guy for thinking the governing body of his sport was out to get him.

Then, add to that this final outrage (and Wahoo didn't bring this up, but he could have): The only person to beat Wahoo in the ring for the U.S. title in the four times he had held it at that point was Greg Valentine in late 1982. In that case, a film of the match clearly showed Valentine's manager Sir Oliver Humperdink hand him a foreign object out of the view of the referee, which Valentine used to knock Wahoo out. The NWA did not return the title to Wahoo as a result of that film, and the title was not held up. Yet they had done just that in this match with Steamboat and the interference by Tully Blanchard.

Was it any wonder Wahoo was so angry?

Wahoo absolutely believed that there was a conspiracy to get the title off of him involving Ric Flair, along with co-conspirators Bob Geigel (NWA President), and promoter Jim Crockett. He believed Flair was part of the plot because, without the U.S. title, Wahoo was no longer automatically the number one contender for Flair's world title, and in Wahoo's mind, Flair could continue to duck him. In fact, he suggested Flair constructed the whole plot to begin with.

When the decision was announced, Ric Flair told Bob Caudle in an interview that he thought the NWA had made a "wise move" with their decision. Wahoo angrily replied later that if it had been Flair's title belt taken away, Flair wouldn't have felt that decision was so "wise."

All of this led to the continued hardening of Wahoo's heart. He said he didn't care what the fans thought about this, he knew he was right. He had already suggested that the fans had preferential feelings for Flair and Steamboat over him anyway. ("Every time we rode together and the people would come up and say, "Hey Ric Flair! You're the world's champion!! Oh, hi Wahoo." You know how that stuck in my craw!?") All of a sudden, Wahoo had no friends in either locker room. He seemed an island all unto himself.

Tully Blanchard took delight in the fact that now neither Steamboat nor Wahoo were U.S. champion, and his TV championship would make him the new number one contender for Flair's world belt. Steamboat gave an interview saying how disappointed he was in Wahoo for accepting the U.S. title to begin with under those circumstances. Wahoo responded by calling his former friend a "whining crybaby." It was getting ugly fast.

Even the normally reserved and non-confrontational Bob Caudle was on his case. "This is not the Wahoo I know," Caudle kept telling him. Man, they are ALL lined up against you when even Bob Caudle jumps aboard.

Of all the moving parts in this drama, there was oddly one person that Wahoo seemed to have a growing respect for - - Tully Blanchard. Even though Wahoo knew Blanchard was a rat, he recognized that at least Blanchard had put his TV title up against him. In fact, the bitter feud the two had over the TV belt was what resulted in Tully trying to attack Wahoo with the chair that ultimately led to Steamboat's demise. But now, Blanchard was saying that even he recognized Wahoo was getting screwed over by the NWA. And Wahoo was taking notice that the lone voice defending him was Tully Blanchard. 

By the way, Wahoo did get his promised title shot against Flair, the one that had resulted from the end of the Dorton Arena confrontation (outlined last week), where Flair angrily told Wahoo, "You want a title shot? You got it." And it was at the end of that very match that the seeds were planted for a new alliance. An unthinkable alliance. An awesome alliance.

The "Awesome Twosome" was about to be born. Details coming up in PART THREE!

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For all the positives of this well thought-out and multi-layered story, there were a couple of odd things woven into it that almost took you out of the moment, especially since they just weren't true in the stories of years past, nor were they really necessary to tell this one:
  • When the promotion announced that the title had been held up, the assertion was made over and over how it was the first time in wrestling history that a major title had been held up. I'm not sure where this assertion came from or why it was even necessary. There had been a number of times over the years that titles had been held up, most recently as outlined earlier with Wahoo McDaniel and this very championship! In 1981, Wahoo was stripped of the title and the title was held up and eventually decided in a tournament (which would be won by Sgt. Slaughter). It was very similar to the situation that was playing out here less than three years later.
  • Wahoo asserted on a couple of occasions that Flair "had never put the title up" against him. Now this could just be carelessness in his promo, but that just clanged like a bell. Flair had given Wahoo dozens of shots at the NWA title less than two years earlier in 1982, when Flair was wrestling in the Mid-Atlantic as a heel NWA champion.

Those little oddities aside, this whole story playing out with Wahoo's heel turn was one of the most well thought-out and expertly portrayed turns ever. It was a hallmark of Dusty Rhodes' genius as a booker, the ability to plan angles and stories that were multi-layered and allowed him to present main events off that story in a number of different combinations. In this case, Steamboat could get rematches with Wahoo, or Steamboat could chase Tully to seek revenge for costing him the title. Wahoo would get his title matches with Flair, and even Tully Blanchard would get a few shots at Flair's belt as well.

Wahoo gets a lot of credit here, too. I've always read that Dusty was more of a "macro" booker with big, broad ideas, and it often was someone else who filled in the details. J.J. Dillon was famous for that during his time as Dusty's assistant. There is no doubt that Wahoo came up with much of the argument to support his case in this story line. Brilliant stuff it is, too. 

When people write about Dusty's great talent at coming up with muti-layered angles and storylines, they usually point to 1986 and the Great American Bash tour, when it was Dusty and Magnum, the Four Horsemen, the Road Warriors, the Midnight Express, all against each other in many different combinations, stipulations, and permutations. But for its sheer beauty and simplicity, I'd put this 1984 angle up against any, and there is still more of it to cover here.

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Series Breakdown:
Part One: Wahoo McDaniel's Black Saturday
Part Two: The Conspiracy Against Wahoo McDaniel (This Article)
Part Three: The Awesome Twosome (Coming Next!)
Part Four: The Tournament (Coming Soon)
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