Monday, February 22, 2021

The Assassination of Pvt. Jim Nelson

The Brisco Brothers Send a Message to Steamboat and Youngblood
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

"Jack and Jerry, you told me it was an accident." 
- Pvt. Jim Nelson

One of my favorite angles from Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s took place on the May 21, 1983  episode of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling where Pvt. Jim Nelson confronted the Briscos over their dastardly turn on Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. Nelson's stand against the Briscos, their subsequent destruction of the young Marine Private, and the mayhem that followed is to this day one of my favorite moments to watch over and over again, even 38 years later. Happily, that show and this angle are included on the WWE Network.

First, a little background:

In the spring of 1983, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood were ready for new challengers to their NWA World Tag Team Championships, having just dispatched their arch enemies Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle in a blood feud that had boiled over since it began back in the fall of 1982. Sarge was headed to the WWF, and Kernodle would eventually regroup and align himself with Ivan Koloff to win the World Tag Team titles once again in 1984.

During Ricky and Jay's run up to winning the titles, they had some behind-the-scenes help in tormenting Slaughter and Kernodle in the form of Pvt. Jim Nelson, a member of Sarge's "platoon" and former tag partner of Pvt. Don Kernodle, who were once Mid-Atlantic Tag Team champions. Nelson had been somewhat discarded by Slaughter as the Sarge and Kernodle had moved on to win the NWA World Tag Team titles and left him behind. Nelson became somewhat of a "double agent," the secret ally of Steamboat and Youngblood, and was involved in several mysterious pranks that tormented and distracted Slaughter and Kernodle. Only recently had Pvt. Nelson revealed himself to be the co-conspirator of Steamboat and Youngblood, and this had made him a fan-favorite.

New challengers emerged for Ricky and Jay in the form of unlikely foes - their close friends Jack and Jerry Brisco. The Briscos had been making "quiet noise" about their desire to go after the tag titles for several months, acknowledging that they both had held many singles and tag championships over their storied careers, but had never held the world tag team titles. It was the one title they wanted the most. 

In a series of what were thought to be friendly (although quite competitive) contests between the two friendly teams, Jack Brisco had injured Ricky Steamboat's knee on two occasions, each time falling on Steamboat's leg and knee as Ricky was trapped in Jerry's figure-four leglock. The first appeared to be an accident, but the second clearly wasn't. 

As the video-tape of the controversial second injury to Steamboat was shown again on TV, Steamboat's new friend Jim Nelson came out to confront the Briscos over what they had done. 

Nelson felt betrayed as well, indicating that Jack and Jerry earlier had both promised him that the first injury was an accident. Angry, Nelson called Brisco a coward and challenged him to get in the ring with him. Brisco obliged and the two battled for a few moments until Jack got the upperhand with the figure-four and then it was Jerry this time who came off the top turnbuckle and landed on Nelson, badly injriing his knee. The injury (all storyline, of course) was so severe that Pvt. Jim nelson was put out of wrestling permanently. It would be the last time he would be seen in a wrestling ring.

In actuality it was Nelson's farewell to the Mid-Atlantic area only, as he was leaving to go work in the Mid-South area for promoter Bill Watts under a new persona, the mad Russian Boris Zhukov, a persona he would maintain for the rest of his career, culminating years later as the tag team partner of Nicolia Volkoff in the WWF.

The Brisco's elimination of Pvt. Nelson was masterfully executed, and served to fully cement them as "bad guys" to the fans, some of whom were still unsure what was happening with them. Their assassination of Nelson in the WPCQ TV studio that early Wednesday in May made it clear to everyone they were now dirty heels.

During a recent conversation catching up with our friend Jim Nelson, I told him I was writing a little article about the memorable angle, and asked him who came to him with the idea and how it was presented. Nelson was working a notice around the circuit before he would leave for Mid-South, and was no longer working TV. Knowing Jim would no longer be around anyway, the Briscos, Steamboat and Youngblood cooked up the angle to put Nelson out for good, and help drive home to the fans that the Briscos were now bad guys.

"Jack and Jerry worked it all out with me," Jim told me. "Gene Anderson and Johnny Weaver [who produced the TV shows] pushed and encouraged me to be direct and aggressive with Jack to get across I was mad and upset with what happened. I remember vividly Jack told me to come at him hard. 'Your upset and ticked off, so show it.'" 

Nelson did go at him hard, shoving Brisco so suddenly it almost knocked him off his feet. 

What really made the angle work though, in my opinion, was when Nelson said to them, "Jack and Jerry, you told me it was a accident." He came across so sincerely at that moment, with such sad disappointment in his voice.  It got over that not only had the Brisocs betrayed Steamboat and Youngblood, but they had betrayed him, too. Beautifully done.

Jim told me he thought he had given them what they were looking for. "It's my favorite all time angle I was ever involved in."

That's a pretty big statement. Jim Nelson as Boris Zhukov worked many angles in Southeastern Wrestling, the AWA, and the WWF, including headlining with Sgt. Slaughter over the AWA Americas title and teaming with Nikolai Volkoff as part of the famous tag team the Bolsheviks at a Wrestlemania. It indicates how much it meant to him personally to do an angle with the Brisco brothers, for whom he had such immense respect, and especially to have had this opportunity so early in his career.   

Interestingly, the angle almost never happened. Nelson was days away from leaving for the Mid-South territory, packing up his belongings at his home in Roanoke, VA. The whole thing came as quite a surprise to him when he got the phone call to come back to Charlotte for one last shot.

"Jim Crockett flew me into Charlotte from Roanoke. I did the angle, and then flew directly home from Charlotte after the taping. Mike Rotunda took me to the airport. The show was still going on and being taped. I headed out to Louisiana a few days later, before it even aired." 

Nelson never saw it until many years later.  

"I enjoyed it immensely," Jim told me. "All the years I grew up watching Mid-Atlantic Wrestling as a kid, and then to get in the business, looking forward to a moment like that, the opportunity to work with guys like that. It was key for me that day. I wanted to make it real. You do something like that, you give it your best, your all."


If you have the WWE Network, you can go the 5/21/83 episode in the Territories section and watch this angle in it's entity in wonderful quality. It takes place at 18:48 into the WWE version of the show. It's also probably available somewhere on YouTube in less than wonderful quality. Either way, it's worth the trouble to see it. 

If you can't see it on video, we've included the transcript below, which starts just after Bob Caudle and the Briscos finish reviewing video tape of the controversial match with Steamboat and Youngblood.

BOB CAUDLE: All right fans, and there it was, and Jack, Jerry, that's the controversial part of the match. 

JACK BRISCO: You can see right there when Rick Steamboat deliberately tried to hurt me, threw me out here on the cement floor, intentionally trying to injure me. I looked up there in the ring and there's Youngblood and Steamboat both on my brother, so I go in there and save my brother. 

CAUDLE: Alright, and Jerry what are your comments about that? 

JERRY BRISCO: Well that's exactly right, I looked up and I saw Jay Youngblood trying to give me another shot right in the throat, and I guarantee you, if it hadn't been for my brother, I might not be able to stand out here and talk to you today.

(Jim Nelson approaches the Briscos...)

BOB CAUDLE: And Jim Nelson right here...

JIM NELSON: I can't believe you two guys. You were great friends with Steamboat and Youngblood, you wanted a chance at the belts. You said you'd wrestle them for them. I thought the first time it was a mistake. Jack and Jerry, you told me it was an accident. And after that right there - - (points at Jack Brisco) - - You tried to hurt him, you tried to put [Steamboat] out of wrestling, those belts mean more to you than anything, just like Slaughter and Kernodle. You stoop that low, a former world's champion - - You're a coward, Jack Brisco!

JACK BRISCO: I'm a coward?? (flares up, pushes Nelson)

JIM NELSON: Yeah, you're a coward! Why don't you get in the ring with me right now!!

JACK BRISCO: You don't call me no coward!! 

JIM NELSON: (shoves Brisco hard) Get in the ring with me right now! (jumps into ring)

BRISCO: I'll get in the ring with you right now....(Angrily removes jacket and shirt) 

The crowd pops!

BOB CAUDLE: All right, Jim Nelson calling Jack Brisco a coward, says get in the ring, and Jack's taken off his coat...

Jack angrily takes off his shirt and prepares to enter the ring, as the crowd cheers

JERRY BRISCO: Nelson has turned into nothing but a stooge for Youngblood and Steamboat! He's completely loosing his mind, he's the one that caused an awful lot of trouble (for Slaughter and Kernodle)

Jack Brisco charges into the ring.

CAUDLE: Jack's got his street clothes on! His (cowboy) boots and his jeans...

Referee Ron West seems to indicate he'll allow a match. Brisco quickly gains the upper hand with punches that back Nelson into the corner. Brisco snap-mares him out of the corner...

CAUDLE: And here goes Jack with a knee drop right down across Jim Nelson! With a boot to the forehead now, a couple of kicks to Nelson...

Nelson gets to his feet, blocks Brisco's punch, and throws two haymaker tomahawk-type punches that have Brisco reeling. Nelson whips Brisco int the ropes and catches him with a big boot coming back off the ropes sending Brisco prone to the canvas. Nelson mounts Jack and begins to pound away with a series of right hand punches to Brisco's head. The crowd is loving it. Jerry Brisco, meanwhile, has climbed to the ring apron. Nelson picks up Jack and delivers a big body slam, bounces off the ropes and goes to deliver his own knee-drop...

CAUDLE: These two have really went at each other, Jim Nelson calling Jack Brisco a coward - - and Jack rolls right out from under that knee! 

Nelson crashes to the mat on his knee, and cries out in pain...

CAUDLE: And it looks like now he is going to the figure-four!! 

As Jack applies his patented figure-four leg-lock to a helpless Nelson, Jerry Brisco climbs to the top turnbuckle...

CAUDLE: And now here's Jerry Brisco on that top rope!...

Jerry Brisco dives from the top turnbuckle...

CAUDLE: ...right down across Jim Nelson's leg and knee! As Jack had him in the figure four - -

 Jim Nelson screams in agony on the mat, holding his injured knee.

CAUDLE: And now there is Jerry Brisco taking his coat off. The Brisco brothers simply going wild. Jim Nelson, who really baited Jack into a match - - and Jack is going to put the figure-four on him again!! Again he's going to put it on that leg, and he continues to apply the pressure...

Jerry taunts Nelson as Jack clamps down tighter on the figure four. Within moments, Johnny Weaver, Mike Rotundo, Rufus Jones, and Jimmy Valiant all hit the ring to save Nelson. The Briscos retreat to the set with Bob Caudle.

JERRY BRISCO: (back at the desk with Caudle) He comes out here and preaches to us, Nelson comes out here and preaches - - you know, that's the thing about it, all they can do is complain, come out preaching, trying to convert us. The only way, Bob, to win those world tag team championships is to prove we are the number one contenders.

JACK BRISCO: Jim Nelson's finished! I felt the knee go!

Johnny Weaver approaches the Briscos

JOHNNY WEAVER: I thought this was all an accident, I can't believe you guys would stoop this low..

JACK BRISCO: Another preacher, huh? Get back in that ring and check on your stooge!

WEAVER: You're darn right I'll get back in there and check on him, he's my partner!

JACK BRISCO: I felt that knee go, Bob, I had that figure-four on him, and Jerry came across there, I felt the knee go. Believe me, Jim Nelson's finished. You'll never see him wrestle around here again.

Jimmy Valiant now leaves the ring and approaches the Briscos

JIMMY VALIANT: (Pleading) C'mon baby, c'mon brother! Why?

Jack sucker-punches Valiant in the gut, and the Briscos both pick Valiant up...

BOB CAUDLE: And Jack Brisco now hits Valiant and they both pick him up and slam him to the floor! The Briscos slamming Valiant to the concrete floor, grab their jacks and out they go!

The Briscos leave the studio, with Valiant hurt on the floor and Jim Nelson still in agony in the ring.

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