Saturday, March 06, 2021

Jim Crockett, Jr. - The Guiding Force Behind Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

“Jim Crockett, Jr., the President of Jim Crockett Promotions” was a phrase that was not uttered often on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television programing. But when it was, everyone had that feeling that something momentous had happened, was happening or was about to happen. Much like the feeling I felt when learning of Jim Crockett’s recent passing.

The Captain of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling ship has left us, leaving us fans with yet another void in an ever-decreasing supply of our childhood wrestling heroes. But this passing is different from all the rest. Of all the iconic Mid-Atlantic Wrestling heroes that have predeceased Jim, as much as we loved each one of them, I think it is fair to say even if they had never appeared in the Mid-Atlantic area, we would have still had a memorable wrestling childhood. But without a Jim Crockett, Jr. the same could not be said.

In the title to this tribute, I chose the word “behind” for an important purpose. As a fan growing up, I knew of Jim Crockett’s importance due to his title of “President,” but even more so by the way his role was defined to the wrestling public on television. His real work was “behind” the scenes, but when he emerged from behind the curtain to address the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling television audience, that is where my special memories of Mr. Crockett endure. Not coincidentally, those are also my favorite memories of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling as a whole. 

The first time I saw and heard Jim Crockett on Mid-Atlantic television was in 1974 when he would occasionally introduce the in-ring combatants for their TV bouts in the WRAL TV studios in Raleigh, North Carolina. That went on for a couple of years and while Mr. Crockett had a long list of talents, let us say that in-ring announcing was not at the top of that list. It was probably not an accident that around the same time Jim stopped doing TV ring introductions, he began appearing on-air in his role as “President.”

Jim Crockett would lend his on-air gravitas as the President of Jim Crockett Promotions to add legitimacy to issues and angles that the fans may have otherwise questioned but for his television appearances. In the fall of 1976, the Masked Superstar appeared on the scene and his manager Boris Malenko offered to put up $5,000 if anyone could defeat his charge by pinfall or submission. When Malenko raised questions on TV about the security of the money, Crockett assured Malenko, Superstar and the fans that the money would be placed in a savings and loan immediately where it could draw interest, and the bad guys would be given his personal receipt for the transfer of the funds. Those words from Crockett immediately put that issue to rest.

In the spring of 1977 when the Superstar came back from an alleged injury, the masked man was required to sign a contract on TV to face the Mighty Igor with Jim Crockett presiding over the contract signing. Prior to the signing, Crockett brought out newcomer Ricky Steamboat to tell the fans that the youngster was “leading by a landslide” in the early voting for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Rookie of the Year award, giving further credence to Ricky’s ascension to main event status as he was beginning his Mid-Atlantic career. 

When the contract signing began, Malenko questioned Crockett that the contract did not specify when and where the match would be held. Crockett fired back, “I will decide when and where the Superstar will meet the Mighty Igor, not you.” Malenko responded, “You’re trying to railroad us; that’s exactly what you’re doing.” Crockett bluntly retorted, “Sign it or don’t wrestle, it’s that simple.” Not surprisingly, Superstar relented and signed the contract which continued that monster feud for most of the remainder of 1977.

Soon after that contract signing, Jim Crockett again appeared on camera in the WRAL TV studios when Ricky Steamboat knocked out Ric Flair after a series of prior incidents where Ric interrupted Steamboat’s television interviews. In the mayhem that followed this in the studio Crockett made it clear to the fans that Ric had it coming saying “[Flair] had been baiting and taunting Mr. Steamboat.” When a startled Blackjack Mulligan and announcer David Crockett hollered out that Steamboat had knocked Ric Flair out with one punch Jim Crockett emphatically backed that up with, “I have never seen that before!” This led to the TV bout between Steamboat and Flair the following week where Ricky won the Mid-Atlantic Television Title from Ric, and well, the rest is wresting history.

In early 1978 when Wahoo McDaniel was chasing Greg Valentine after the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title after Valentine had earlier broken Wahoo’s leg, Jim Crockett briefly appeared on TV and told the fans that in a recent bout it appeared that Wahoo had won the Mid-Atlantic Title but due to the actions of a special referee the belt had been returned to Valentine. Greg then appeared on the set and publicly thanked Crockett for his actions, something that was almost unheard of for a “bad guy” to do, but anything Jim Crockett touched was instantly legitimized.

Skip ahead to the fall of 1980 when Blackjack Mulligan and “Bad Boy” Bobby Duncum were having a Texas feud for the ages that progressed to a “Taped Fist” match on television. The bout was off-the-charts wild, but only when Jim Crockett appeared on the set and ordered that the match be taken off TV because it was too brutal did this feud get elevated to another and higher level.

When we get to the middle of 1981, Greg Valentine and Sweet Ebony Diamond (Rocky Johnson) were battling over the NWA Television Title at the end of a tournament and were set to settle the issue in a televised championship bout on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show. But the fans were told later during the program that Diamond was having transportation issues and could not appear for the bout. On the face of it, the explanation seemed a bit flimsy and Valentine demanded he be awarded the Title by forfeit. Jim Crockett appeared and vouched for Diamond’s issue trying to come into Raleigh from Canada and promised the fans the championship match would take place without fail the following week on TV. While Valentine was not overjoyed with Crockett’s ruling, he nevertheless accepted it and the match did take place as Crockett promised the next week.

When Jim Crockett began appearing in front of the camera sporadically, I also fondly remember those appearances that I would loosely categorize as “Jim Crockett, the authority figure.” In the fall of 1977 Paul Jones was on TV distraught as he recounted having his hair cut by the Masked Superstar in the Greensboro Coliseum. Jones desperately wanted revenge against the masked man for that heinous act. 

Jim Crockett appeared unexpectedly on the set and told Paul that he would take the necessary action to have the Superstar suspended for his acts. Jones pleaded with Crockett not to suspend Superstar, as doing that would not allow “Number One” to exact his revenge inside the squared circle. Crockett reconsidered on the spot, agreed with Paul, and vowed to get Jones a match with Superstar.

In the early spring of 1978 during the brief feud between Johnny Weaver and Baron von Raschke, the big German had gone after Johnny with a steel chair nearly striking the “Dean of Wrestling” and denting the chair on the ring post in the process. This prompted a visit from Jim Crockett on the set of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show, with the President promising to recommend to the NWA Board of Directors the largest fine in their history. A spastic Raschke could only holler at the top of his lungs about being justified in his actions because he was being choked, but he and every wrestling fan knew who the man in charge was to deal with the aftermath of this regrettable incident.

During the very same time frame, Jim Crockett flexed his authority by telling the Mid-Atlantic fans that he, through the NWA Board, had stripped Ric Flair and Greg Valentine of the NWA World Tag Team Titles because of their no-showing for a match and leaving the ring on other occasions before a decision had been reached. Despite Flair and Valentine contending they only no showed because they missed their flight, Crockett maintained Ric and Greg were disrespecting the belts by ducking competition. This remedial action by Mr. Crockett would be brought up again and again in years to come, particularly when Flair and Valentine would subsequently team up.

1979 brought with it two of my favorite memories of Jim Crockett on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television. In early March of that year as part of World Wide Wrestling’s “Dream Match” series, Paul Jones had appeared to defeat former partner Ricky Steamboat for the United States Heavyweight Title. However, through the sharp eyes of guest commentator Johnny Weaver and the magic of instant replay, it was evident that Jones had pulled Steamboat’s tights to secure the pin. Referee Stu Schwartz tried to cajole Jones to physically pass the belt back to Steamboat, which “Number One” refused to do. That prompted an appearance from Mr. Crockett and with only a blunt “GIVE THE BELT BACK,” Paul reluctantly parted with his ill-gotten gains. 

In August of 1979, Jim Crockett had to enforce his authority in a way most of the fans probably did not care for. United States Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair had teamed with Blackjack Mulligan to capture the NWA World Tag Team Titles in the Greensboro Coliseum. Flair, flying high, then holding two major NWA titles was told by Crockett that he would have to relinquish one of those titles due to an NWA rule that prohibited any one wrestler from holding two major NWA titles simultaneously. Agonizing to make a decision on the spot, Flair handed the U.S. Title belt to Crockett and opted to keep the tag belts with his friend Blackjack. As difficult as that decision was for Ric, he took pains to tell the TV audience that he respected Mr. Crockett’s authority in enforcing the NWA’s rules.

Perhaps my favorite remembrances of Jim Crockett on television were when he came out to back up a ruling that had already been made by the President of the NWA. Even if there was a hint of a doubt about what the President of the NWA had done, it would pass muster with the Mid-Atlantic fans if Jim Crockett, Jr, put his seal of approval on it!

When the Masked Superstar was making his first appearance on Mid-Atlantic TV in September of 1976, with his cane-carrying manager Boris Malenko singing his praised to the hilt, that twosome was met with a surprise appearance from none other than Jim Crockett, Jr. Raining on the Superstar’s grand introduction to the Mid-Atlantic area, Mr. Crockett informed Malenko that NWA President Eddie Graham had ruled that he was prohibited from carrying a cane into a TV studio where wrestling matches were being held. The Superstar was livid at what he viewed as blatant disrespect for his manager and said that slight would drive him to herculean feats in the territory going forward.

But by far Jim Crockett’s most memorable TV moments for me while backing up the NWA President’s edicts involved Blackjack Mulligan and controversies over the United States Heavyweight Championship. In December of 1976 it appeared that Paul Jones and cleanly defeated Blackjack to regain the U.S. belt. However, Mulligan filed a protest over Jones’ win claiming that Paul’s feet were under the ropes when he pinned Blackjack, thereby invalidating Paul’s win and the title change.

A video tape was played for the Mid-Atlantic television viewing audience where NWA President Eddie Graham reluctantly agreed with Mulligan and invalidated Jones’ win on that highly technical ground. An incensed Jones was refusing to hand the belt back to Mulligan, and only did so when Jim Crockett reiterated that Graham’s decision was final, and that he had to physically hand over the belt to Mulligan.

Fast forward to July of 1977, and there was still controversy over the United States Heavyweight belt, and again Jim Crockett was brought into the middle of it. This time Blackjack Mulligan had been upset by Bobo Brazil for the U.S. Title, but Mully believed special referee George Scott had improperly grabbed his arm in the no disqualification match, allowing Brazil to get the advantage and head-butt him for the title-changing victory. Again, NWA President Eddie Graham sent a video tape announcing his decision, but this time the ruling went against Blackjack who went berserk at the adverse decision. The ever cool and collected Jim Crockett reaffirmed Eddie Graham’s decision for the fans at home telling them with a twinkle in his eye but in his typically understated fashion, “[Mulligan] expected a ruling in his favor, but it didn’t work out quite that way.”

When Jim Crockett himself became President of the NWA in 1980, to me it was a natural progression of taking his guidance and measured control over wresting in the Carolina’s and Virginia to a larger audience. The TV appearance that I remember most during his first tenure as NWA President was his last act in that capacity in the summer of 1982. Crockett announced his resignation as NWA President on Mid-Atlantic TV because then World Champion Ric Flair injured Wahoo McDaniel, and afterward Ric refused to wrestle Wahoo ever again. When the NWA Board would not back Crockett to fine or suspended Ric, and not require Ric to wrestle Wahoo again, Mr. Crockett stepped aside from that prestigious position. As always, Jim Crockett put the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fans first above all else.

After Crockett’s resignation in 1982, the wrestling landscape began to rapidly change. In 1983 came Starrcade, and soon thereafter an expansion to where Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling became swallowed up into the larger NWA. Jim Crockett’s TV presence then came to be expected and was certainly noteworthy but was never as special to me as it was in those earlier days. 

My most enduring memories of Jim Crockett, Jr. will always be when the President of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling came out from behind that curtain for a special TV appearance that always portended something momentous and often historic, giving us fans a glimpse of his guiding force over the wrestling promotion that we all loved so dearly. Just as his legacy for the fans of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was, and still is, momentous and historic. While you have now left us Jim Crockett, Jr., the wrestling memories you created and shared with us will never, ever die. Rest in peace, Mr. President.