Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A Brief History of Wrestling in the Mid-Atlantic Area

A Look Back at the Promoters and Television History of Jim Crockett Promotions
by Dick Bourne

Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Professional wrestling has been one of the most popular live events in the Carolinas and Virginia since the early/mid-1900s. Several key players were responsible for making pro wrestling an institution here, some familiar to fans, others perhaps not so familiar.

The company known for promoting wrestling across Virginia and the Carolinas for decades was Jim Crockett Promotions. Jim Crockett, Sr. started promoting wrestling in our area when he bought an old warehouse in Greensboro, NC, in December of 1933, named it the “Sportrena”, and held his first matches there. With that first card, the company that later grew to be known as Jim Crockett Promotions was born.

Crockett established his base of operations in Charlotte a year later in 1934, moving in on a chaotic promotional scene at that time. In 1939 he and successful Richmond promoter Bill Lewis bought out the interests of promoter Pete Moore who had been in partnership with Crockett for nearly 10 years going back to their days headquartered out of Bristol, VA. Moore’s promotional interests spanned the width and breadth of the area that we think of now as the Mid-Atlantic territory.  After buying Moore out, Lewis based his operations out of Richmond, and Crockett based his out of Charlotte. Together they brought top pro-wrestlers from around the country to the halls, armories, and small arenas throughout the Carolinas and Virginia.

As the companies evolved, Crockett had become the main promoter, with Lerwis booking all of his talent through the Crockett's Charlotte office. Lewis died in 1961, and Crockett sent Joe Murnick, his top lieutenant in Charlotte, to replace him. Murnick would headquarter out of Raleigh, but assumed all of Lewis's territoy to the east, including Fayetteville, Richmond, Hampton, and Norfolk and all points in between.

Over the years, Crockett had many local promoters like Murnick working for him within the various regions of the main territory including such men as Henry Marcus (central and lower South Carolina), Paul Winkhaus (Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina) and Pete Apostolou (Central and Southwest Virginia.). These promoters coordinated the local promotion of Crockett’s wrestling events. However, it was Murnick who became Crockett’s largest and most trusted partner.

In April of 1973, Jim Crockett, Sr. passed away and his son in law, John Ringley, took over the operations of the company. He was soon followed by Crockett's oldest son, Jim Crockett, Jr., who during his tenure expanded the reach of the company outside of the traditional territorial boundaries that had existed for years within the pro wrestling industry, and wound up being one of the two top players nationally. 

Crockett Jr.'s lieutenants included Joe Murnick and his sons Elliot and Carl, along with longtime wrestlers Sandy Scott, Johnny Weaver, and Gene Anderson, who transitioned to regional promoters at the ground level, working with and later slowly replacing those listed earlier.

The territory was always known within the business as the “Charlotte territory” because that is where the Crocketts were based. Until the mid-1970s, fans simply knew it as “All-Star Wrestling” or “Championship Wrestling.” Around the time of Jim Sr.’s passing, the promotion began to brand its wrestling business as “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling”, which also became the name of their television program. Prior to this time, television wrestling had been taped out of multiple locations each week including Charlotte, High Point, Roanoke, and Raleigh. In 1974, the company consolidated its weekly television production to one location - - the studios of WRAL in Raleigh, NC. There had been many hosts of the local programs over the years including Nick Pond, Charlie Harville, Hal Grant, Bill Ward, and Bob Caudle. After the 1974 consolidation, Caudle became the main voice of the company, and would serve in that capacity until the company was sold to Ted Turner in 1988.

But it was from the WRAL studio that the magic we saw unfold each week on our TV screens originally took place. In 1975, Crockett Promotions added a second studio program eventually known as “World Wide Wrestling” which was hosted at different times by Ed Capral, Rich Landrum, David Crockett, and Tony Schiavone.

Eventually finding itself on the losing side of a wrestling war in the late-1980s, the 53-year old family business was sold to Ted Turner in late 1988. Turner had been a partner in Crockett's national expansion, enthusiastically providing four hours of weekly television on his nationally cable-cast Superstation WTBS out of Atlanta. This eventually included quarterly prime-time TV specials as well.

The syndicated "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" (later renamed "NWA Pro Wrestling") and "World Wide Wrestling", along with the national WTBS "World Championship Wrestling" battleship, drove hundreds of thousands of fans to the arenas each month. For a short time anyway, the once small Mid-Atlantic territory one of the largest and most successful wrestling promotions in the country.

This article was based on a shorter limited piece originally posted June 28, 2017 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.