Sunday, September 06, 2020

Labor Day Weekend Memories 1981: Superstars Headline Charlotte

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway


The summer of 1981 was a crazy one for the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. He had become distracted from regaining the United States championship that he had lost in January to Roddy Piper. The primary distraction took the form of yet another round in the ongoing family-drama with his cousins Gene and Ole Anderson. The Andersons, along with the help of Ivan Koloff, had attacked Flair inside a steel cage and left their cousin badly beaten. Flair was all about getting revenge and had even started bringing a baseball bat with him to the TV studio and the arena. He was banned from some buildings as a result of this bad behavior, and resorted to buying a ticket himself to gain entry, only to hit the ring and attack the Andersons again.

Ric's main beef appeared to be with Ole. They trash talked each other throughout most of the summer, and things were heated to say the least. Finally, the Crocketts decided that the issue between the two needed to be settled once and for all. They booked a series of matches across the territory where Ole and Ric were bound together in some way. In some towns it was an Indian strap match, with Wahoo McDaniel coaching up Ric on the tricks of the trade. In other cases it was a Russian chain match, with Ivan Koloff coaching up Ole.

On Sunday, September 6 on a big Labor Day holiday card at the Charlotte Coliseum it would be a Texas bullrope match with the unlikeliest person of all coming in to coach up Ric. The American Dream (the reigning NWA World heavyweight champion) Dusty Rhodes was there to school Ric in the strategies of the famed Texas bullrope match!

Tensions were already running high between the two. Rhodes had won the NWA title from Harley Race earlier that June, but everyone knew (especially Rhodes) that Ric Flair was gunning for his shot at that world title. They had been at odds with each other on the national cable broadcast of "Georgia Championship Wrestling." And even though they wrestled out of the same locker room in the Mid-Atlantic territory, it was a surprise - - even a bit surreal - - to see Ric Flair standing side by side with the American Dream in a promo leading up to to the match.

A day earlier, on Saturday 9/5, I had just returned to Davidson College for my junior year, and learned of this big match from a print ad in the Charlotte Observer. Not only was Ric Flair fighting Ole Anderson in a Texas bullrope match, but Dusty Rhodes was defending the NWA World championship that night against Greg Valentine! This was a huge card I didn't want to miss.

The problem was, I didn't have a car. My only other college friend who both had a car and liked wrestling wasn't back to school yet from New Jersey. I decided to beg and plead my roommate Flint to go with me and drive us to Charlotte for the big Sunday night show. He had no interest in wrestling. But rooming with me, he knew I did.  And being the great guy he was, he agreed. I had to buy the tickets, refreshments, and fill that tank up with gas of course, but it was a small price to pay.

The Charlotte Coliseum was nearly old out for the show. We got there just before bell-time and were sitting way up about six rows from the top of the Coliseum.

That night, there was no doubting what the main event was. Dusty may have been there defending the NWA World tile, but the match that drew the near-sellout house was the Texas bullrope contest between Flair and Anderson. In fact, Dusty and Valentine went on before the bullrope match.

Another big match that night was part of the ongoing feud between Wahoo McDaniel and Roddy Piper where they each took a partner. Piper's hired gun was the "Madman from the Sudan" Abdullah The Butcher.

Dusty successfully defended the "ten pounds of gold," pinning Greg Valentine. Flair and Ole Anderson had a long, bloody, bullrope battle that finally resulted in Flair dragging Ole completely around the ring and touching all four corners. There was a huge pop at the Charlotte Coliseum for that.

A few weeks ago, our friend Charles Robinson sent me a photo he had taken at that show. He certainly had better seats than Flint and I did.

Charles grew up a Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fan in the 1970s and went to many shows at the Coliseum. He later followed in the footsteps of the great referees of that era like Tommy Young, Stu Schwartz, and Sonny Fargo and became a referee himself for WCW. He made the transition to WWE after they bought the Turner company, and he remains arguably the best referee in the business today.

Charles Robinson's photo taken from ringside, 1981. (Click to enlarge.)

So when I first saw the photo of Flair and Ole tied together with a bullrope, and he told me it was taken in Charlotte, I immediately knew it was from the same show I had attended, too.

That was 34 years ago today as I post this. Sunday, September 6, 1981.

It got me to thinking about this big card and big match. I mentioned earlier Ric being distracted that summer from his quest to regain the U.S. title from Piper. One of those distractions might have been his greater quest to win a bigger prize. Exactly 11 days later at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Ric defeated Dusty Rhodes for the NWA title to win his first world championship.

That didn't put an end to Ric and Ole's feud, though. Ole Anderson became Flair's top challenger for the NWA title in the Mid-Atlantic area, as well as other towns Crockett was booking like Toronto, ON and Buffalo, NY.

We've rounded up a little bit of video promoting the big bull rope match, Ric and Dusty side by side with "World Wide Wrestling" host Rich Landrum. The quality isn't the best, but it's still fun to see. You'll notice that Dusty sends a message to Ole in the promo that no matter whether he liked Ric or not, things had to be settled between Ole Anderson and Ric Flair.

Great memories of a great time in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling!

Originally published September 6, 2015 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.