Thursday, June 18, 2020

Blackjack Mulligan's Honky-Tonkin' Did Him In! (1977)

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Over the course of the rich history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, there were any number of surprising results in televised bouts. One that certainly stands out was when Dino Bravo defeated the United States Heavyweight Champion Blackjack Mulligan not once, but TWICE, on television in early 1977. As expected, the big man from Eagle Pass, Texas did not react well to the defeat(s), but Mully’s explanation for the loss(es) was one for the ages!

Dino Bravo & Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods
NWA World Tag Team Champions (1976)
But first, a little background on how this TV match came about is in order, and how Bravo justifiably had a chip on his shoulder when he stepped into the ring on TV against Mulligan.

When Dino entered the Mid-Atlantic area in April of 1976, he almost immediately became one-half of the World Tag Team Champions with “Mr. Wrestling” Tim Woods and later in 1976 Dino and Woods also aced the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team belts. But by the time 1977 rolled around, Bravo was looking to establish himself as a singles force in Jim Crockett Promotions.

In early 1977 the promotion started a new feature called “Dream Match ‘77” where the fans would write in requesting matches they would like to see take place on Mid-Atlantic television. Announcer David Crockett came out on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling show dated February 23, 1977 and told the fans that they had voted for a number of different wrestlers to be paired up against Mulligan, so the promotion decided that Blackjack would be called upon to narrow the fan’s favorites down to one grappler to face Mulligan in a “Dream Match” the following week on TV.

The list of wrestlers Mulligan had to choose from was Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Rufus R. Jones, Tiger Conway and Dino Bravo. Paul Jones, Conway and Bravo were brought out on the set with Mulligan for Blackjack’s decision. Mulligan immediately eliminated Rufus from contention saying Rufus was scared to death of him, and also Wahoo was taken out of the mix as Mully stated the Indian had a yellow streak down his back and was wrestling in Texas at that time.

Things got more interesting when Mulligan had to confront face-to-face the three remaining wrestlers who the fans wanted him to square off against. Mulligan summarily dismissed Paul Jones from the group referring to him as “crybaby,” and told Jones he was doing the choosing and, “you’ve had too many chances at my belt, you get out of here…you’re eliminated right now!” It then came down to Bravo and Conway, with Tiger saying, “pick me Texan, let’s see what you’re made of,” while Dino remained silent.

Blackjack Mulligan
U.S. Heavyweight Champion
Mulligan inquired to Crockett, “I gotta wrestle one of these two guys?” When Crockett answered in the affirmative, Mulligan blurted out, “I’ll pick Bravo!” An indignant Bravo replied, “I never thought I’d have to thank you for anything Blackjack, but I have to thank you tonight, giving me the biggest opportunity of my career to wrestle the U.S. champ right here on TV. It might be a dream match for the fans, but it’s gonna be your nightmare because I’m gonna defeat you right here, Blackjack.” Mulligan dismissively answered, “I’ll give him the wrasslin’ lesson of his life…he doesn’t stand a chance!”

After Bravo pulled the upset the following week against Blackjack in their televised “Dream Match,” and followed that with another pinfall in a post-match fracas, the question then became how would Mulligan react to the embarrassment on TV, one which elevated Bravo to the number one contender status for the United States Heavyweight Title. The short two-word answer to that question would be an emphatic…‘not well.’

Mulligan spent much of the next month of March ducking and dodging Bravo before he appeared on the April 6, 1977 edition of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show and told announcer Bob Caudle that he was leaving and was not going to wrestle on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television any more as a result of the debacle with Bravo. Blackjack declared, “[Bravo’s] calling me a coward and saying things behind my back, it’s easy to say things behind a man’s back but let me tell you something…he told everybody he beat me twice on national TV, is that right?” Crockett shot back, “It’s a fact!”

Mulligan then explained, “Oh let me tell you something, me and [Ric] Flair, the night before that match had been out all night honky-tonkin’ with two of the best lookin’ women from Las Vegas, drank two bottles of wild turkey and I wasn’t feelin’ good and my eyeballs were standing out on their stems!” Crockett wisecracked, “That’s your fault!” Blackjack continued, “But I want to tell you something, if you think beating a man in that condition is a big deal…”

At that moment Dino Bravo appeared in the interview area and Mulligan addressed him directly, “I’ll tell you something little boy, I’ll tell you something little Italian boy…” Bravo cut Blackjack off and shouted, “Realize the facts as they are, I can beat you anytime I want to and I’ve proven it to you! It’s only a matter of time…this [U.S.] belt is gonna belong to me, buddy! You wanna wrestle me anytime, I’ll take that belt from you! If you’re man enough, get up in that ring and wrestle me right now!”

Caudle asked, “What about that Blackjack?” Mulligan stuttered and stammered, “I’ve gotta catch my plane, and besides I don’t want to hurt him anyway…I’ve gotta catch my plane” and then exited the interview area. Crockett commented, “[Mulligan] has to wrestle him, the NWA says he has to…[Bravo] is the number one contender.” Caudle followed, “And what a match that’s gonna be! Dino Bravo is as ready as anybody I’ve ever seen!” Crockett then concluded, “That’s right, [Bravo] is full of fire…he’s ready for that match!”

Despite Blackjack’s protestations, he and Bravo then embarked on a three month program battling over Mulligan’s United States Heavyweight Championship. During the month of April 1977, Dino came the closest to winning the Title, beating Blackjack a number of times by disqualification and count-outs in championship bouts. Bravo was so hot during April that he even captured one-half of the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Titles with partner Tiger Conway while simultaneously going toe-to-toe with Mulligan.

During May and going into June of 1977, the tide of this feud slowly turned in Blackjack’s favor, though Bravo still scored sporadic wins but never was able to capture the trophy he so prized, the United States Heavyweight Championship belt. Coming up empty despite such a valiant struggle, Dino would leave the Mid-Atlantic area altogether in July of 1977.

When Dino Bravo left the Mid-Atlantic territory in July of 1977, Blackjack Mulligan must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. A three-month titanic struggle over the U.S Championship belt with Bravo he was left recovering from that could well have been avoided, in Mulligan’s own words, if Blackjack had just kept his honky-tonkin’ with Ric Flair in check that one fateful night!