Friday, August 28, 2020

Masked Superstar: The First Twist of the Turn

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

August of 1980 would see a gradual change developing in one of the Mid-Atlantic area’s most feared “bad guys,” the Masked Superstar. From the Superstar’s first stint in Jim Crockett Promotions that began in September of 1976 through about six months of his second stint in the territory that began in the winter months of 1980, there was no hint that the masked marvel would be gravitating towards becoming a “fan favorite.” 

The Mid-Atlantic wrestling television tapings that took place at the WRAL TV studios in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 13, 1980 would in hindsight, provide the first clues that the Superstar would be turning into a “good guy.” The first TV show taped that evening, the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television program, didn’t seem to offer much out of the ordinary. On that show, Superstar teamed with fellow rulebreakers Greg Valentine and the Iron Sheik for an easy win. But it would be the second show taped later that night, World Wide Wrestling, that would provide the first twist in the turn to come.

The Superstar had a match earlier in the World Wide Wrestling show against young Brett Wayne, and came out in the show’s final segment for an interview with announcer Rich Landrum. Joining the masked man on the set were the NWA World Tag Team Champions Ray Stevens and Jimmy Snuka, along with their manager Gene Anderson. From the get-go, something seemed amiss during this interview segment.

Anderson immediately took control of the interview, extolling the virtues of his team, then claiming, “The Superfly and the Crippler, the greatest and the best World’s Champions that have ever held the belts!” At that time, Landrum turned toward the Superstar, but Stevens immediately cut in and asked Landum why his announcing partner, Johnny Weaver, wasn’t asking him questions. Stevens bellowed, “You know, I’d like to ask you a question. How come you come out here and interview us? Why doesn’t Johnny Weaver come out here and interview us sometime? I’d like to slap him right across the mouth! What’s the matter with him, doesn’t he have any guts?”

Rich responded, “I don’t think that plays a part in it in an interview…you want to come out and tell us how great you are.” Stevens then proceeded to tell the viewing audience that he and Snuka along with manager Gene Anderson were an unbeatable combination. Landrum answered, “It’s difficult to compete with a three-man team like that.” 

At that juncture Landrum attempted to bring the Superstar into the interview saying, “Superstar…” But Gene Anderson cut in immediately saying, “Hold it, hold it…” before Superstar could even get in a word. Anderson continued, “Jimmy, show ‘em that body! Flex that body, show ‘em that belt!” Gene continued extolling the virtues of Snuka’s physique and Stevens’ knowledge and experience, which Ray readily agreed with. 

Stevens then asked, “What do you think Superstar?” The masked man only got out, “I was just going to say…” before Stevens interrupted him and explained, “Well, I’ll tell you what, they [Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood] don’t have a chance! There’s nobody that can compare to us, the athlete that Jimmy Snuka is, the wrestling that I know, and like I said with our main man [Gene Anderson] behind us right here, nobody’s gonna come close to beatin’ us.” 

A clearly frustrated Landrum then stated, “You know ya’ll are fine champions [but] I’d like to talk to the TV champion the Superstar about…” Surprisingly Landrum was then cut off by Snuka, who rarely spoke but on this occasion blurted out, “We wanna talk about these belts!” Anderson immediately picked up where Jimmy had left off reeling off the names of the area’s good guys and shouted, “You don’t have a chance, you get that through your head, you don’t have a chance and if any of you people want to sign a contract with the World’s champions, you just put your names on the dotted line and I’ll sign ‘em and I’ll have ‘em in the ring.”

Landrum again engaged the Superstar saying, “Superstar, you…” before Stevens butted in and bellowed, “If they wanna pay the price to try and win this [belt], they have to pay dearly with PAIN, and I mean a lotta pain because my partner and I enjoy hurting people and that’s exactly what we do.” Ray continued on about that subject and when he finished, Rich took a final stab at bringing the Superstar into the segment saying, “Super, I’d like to hear from you.” The Masked man replied, “It’s about time, I’d like to…”

At that instant there was a commotion on the set with the floor manager coming over to Landrum, whispered something in his ear which Landrum followed up on by explaining, “I’m sorry, they took all the time. Well fans, as always, too short on time [so] that’s it for this week, look forward to seeing you next week right here on World Wide Wrestling.”

Over the next couple of weeks, several more circumstances continued to push the Superstar towards a “good guy” turn, including showing compassion for Brett Wayne during another television match with him after a clothesline maneuver clearly hurt the youngster, and holding back Greg Valentine to keep the sides even when Blackjack Mulligan and Valentine’s friend Bobby Duncum had a dust-up on TV.

Superstar’s good guy turn was completed at the beginning of September 1980 when Anderson came out to the TV interview area and again interrupted the Superstar’s interview, leading to Anderson hitting the Superstar with his cane and soon thereafter the Superstar turning the tables and breaking the cane on Anderson and throwing Stevens through the air onto Snuka. In his interview after that incident, Superstar pointed to the interview interruption on August 13th as a big component of his turn to the good side.

The Masked Superstar had a solid run as a good guy, winning the NWA World Tag Team Titles with Paul Jones on Thanksgiving night of 1980 and then again in early 1981 before leaving the Mid-Atlantic area for good in the late spring of 1981. And looking back on it, the good guy persona of the Masked Superstar was born because of the disrespect shown to him during an otherwise normal interview segment at the end of the August 13th World Wide Wrestling taping…the first twist of the turn.