Sunday, January 19, 2020

Wahoo McDaniel's Black Saturday

The Story of the Heel Turn of Chief Wahoo McDaniel (Part 1)
Part One in a Four-Part Series
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

"I'm the one that trained you! I'm the one that did all the sacrificing. Now you're the big deal, and I'm just a little ol' poor Indian. You put the title up, big boy!!"  
- Wahoo McDaniel to Ric Flair (June 1984)

One of the great storylines of the year 1984 (and honestly of any year during the Mid-Atlantic era in Jim Crockett Promotions) was the slow-burn heel turn of one of the most beloved wrestlers ever in the territory, Chief Wahoo McDaniel.

Wahoo had been one of the most, if not the most, popular wrestlers for Jim Crockett Promotions since he first entered the area full time in August of 1974. His following was loyal and fanatical. People believed in Wahoo. Those unsure about what was real and what wasn't about pro wrestling usually thought something along the lines of "that other stuff might be fake, but Wahoo is real." And even if you knew better, you got caught up in him. As Charles Kuralt once opined, "only a hardened cynic could not suspend his disbelief and scream for Wahoo McDaniel."

Wahoo was after championship gold. He had spent a large part of the late spring and early summer of  1984 chasing Tully Blanchard's NWA Television championship. But Wahoo would pivot in late June and would also lay down a challenge to his friend, the very popular Ricky Steamboat, for a shot at Steamboat's United States Championship. Wahoo had expressed frustration over his lack of recent title shots at Ric Flair's NWA World title, and knew that holding the U.S. title would automatically make him the number one contender for Flair's World belt. Wahoo realized he had to defeat his friend Steamboat to get that title. Steamboat, up to any challenge, happily put the title up against his friend and mentor.

But before their match would take place, a confrontation would take place, the ramifications of which would echo through the rest of 1984 and well into 1985.

During this period leading up to the summer of 1984, Ric Flair and Wahoo McDaniel were in one of those long stretches where they were also good friends. Flair was still a very popular champion in his home Mid-Atlantic territory, despite being a hated heel everywhere else. Wahoo had helped Flair train for his historic Starrcade '83 match with Harley Race where Flair regained the gold belt Wahoo now so badly wanted. So Flair seemed caught off guard when Wahoo began loudly complaining on TV that Flair was ducking him for shots at the NWA World title. During a TV interview, Flair confronted Wahoo on the subject. "If you've got a chip on your shoulder Chief," Flair told Wahoo, "you don't gotta tell Bob Caudle about it, tell me about it."

Wahoo accused Flair of taking advantage of their friendship to avoid giving him title shots. But before the two could hash it out, they were interrupted by another wrestler also wanting a shot at Flair's "ten pounds of gold", the aforementioned Tully Blanchard. Blanchard and Flair had been trading barbs in recent weeks. Tully told Bob Caudle he had no time for Wahoo but wanted to address Flair. When Flair blew him off, Blanchard sucker-punched him and briefly left him laying, tearing Flair's shirt and jacket off in the process.

Wahoo surprisingly stepped back and let the beating Blanchard was handing Flair continue. It would be the first major indication that something inside Wahoo had changed.

After Blanchard had split the scene, Flair angrily confronted Wahoo, asking why he hadn't come to his aid. Wahoo let all his recent frustration boil over.

 It makes me sick sometimes when I think that [Flair and Steamboat] always say "bring the Indian along, let him drive the car. Give him a couple beers, keep him happy. That way we'll never have to wrestle him, right?"...  I can't jump on [Blanchard]. At least he puts his [TV] title up, and tries to defend it, and gives me a chance. Harley Race put the title up against me! ... 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? ... I'm the one that trained you! I'm the one that did all the sacrificing! Now you're the big deal, and I'm just a little ol' poor Indian. You put the title up, big boy!!" - Wahoo McDaniel

Flair, still flabbergasted at all that had just happened around him, angrily told Wahoo "You want a title, shot, you got it!"

Given the long, involved history between Wahoo McDaniel and Ric Flair (their long and bloody feud in the 1970s, their evolving friendship in the early 1980s, and Wahoo's support for Flair when he was training to take on Race), it appeared that deep held adversarial instincts between the two quickly resurfaced. Maybe even a little jealousy on Wahoo's part?

That confrontation on the set of "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" is one of the most remembered TV angles from 1984, set against the backdrop of the evening sky outside those tall signature windows in Raleigh's famed Dorton Arena. 

Although Flair had agreed to the title shot, there was other business immediately at hand for Wahoo. He defeated Steamboat on June 24, 1984 in Greensboro for the U.S. title in the title match mentioned earlier, but under very controversial circumstances, although Wahoo saw nothing controversial about it. The tape showed that when mutual foe Tully Blanchard entered the ring and attempted to hit Wahoo with a steel chair, Wahoo ducked and the chair caught Steamboat instead, knocking him out cold. Wahoo, however, saw none of that and after dispensing with Blanchard, turned to see Steamboat prone with his shoulders flat on the mat.

"One of the first things they taught me when I got into wrestling," Wahoo told Bob Caudle after the match, "was when you see a man's shoulders on the mat, you pin him." And that's exactly what Wahoo did.

Fans weren't real happy about it. They figured once Wahoo saw the film of the match and saw Blanchard hit Steamboat with the chair, he would see that his win was improper and return the title to his friend Steamboat.

But Wahoo stood his ground, calmly explaining he had nothing to do with Blanchard hitting Steamboat with the chair, didn't see it when it happened, and he felt he won the title fairly and planned to keep it. After all, it was his ticket to get a shot at Flair and the NWA World championship. 

Steamboat, staying out of the rift between Wahoo and Flair, asked the NWA to review the film of the match where he was hit in the head with a chair by Blanchard, and Wahoo had pinned him. A week later, the NWA did indeed take action, only they didn't give the title back to Steamboat, they simply stripped Wahoo of the title and held the belt up pending a decision by NWA president Bob Geigel and the NWA Board of Directors on how the matter would be resolved.

It was Wahoo's own July 1984 "Black Saturday." Geigel and Jim Crockett had stripped Wahoo of his title during the same period of time Vince McMahon and the WWF were ripping Georgia Championship Wrestling away from the NWA.

Needless to say Wahoo didn't react well to this news. And Wahoo's own "Black Saturday" soon led to more dark days for him and Mid-Atlantic fans in the summer of 1984.

Wahoo reacts to being stripped of the U.S. title, sure of a multi-part conspiracy against him. He makes the case, and we lay out the entire devious plot in Part Two, "The Conspiracy Against Wahoo McDaniel."

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You can watch the TV shows featuring these events on the WWE Network. They are in the "In Ring/Territories/Mid-Atlantic" section. But beware: the dates they list for these particular shows are incorrect, usually shown as one week later than when the show actually aired. But here are the links to the shows:
Wahoo/Flair/Blanchard angle  |  Wahoo Wins U.S. Title  |  Wahoo Stripped of U.S. Title.

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For all these details and more regarding all the stories of the United States Heavyweight champions and title changes from 1975-1988, check out our book on "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship", on sale via the Mid-Atlantic Gateway bookstore and on