Thursday, October 21, 2021

Hailing From the Great State of Texas!

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

Part 1

Growing up in East Tennessee, I didn't know a whole lot about the geography of the state of Texas as a youngster. I knew it was big, but that's about it. But when I started regularly watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling on a regular basis in the early 1970s, that all changed for me.

I had an Atlas that my parents had given me and I loved looking up far away places and day-dreaming about what it would be like to go there. It seemed to me that more wrestlers came from the state of Texas than from any other state in the union. And from some very cool sounding places.

My first memory of being interested in learning about Texas was in 1976 during the year-long war between Paul Jones and Blackjack Mulligan over the United States Heavyweight Championship. Paul was from Port Arthur and Blackjack famously hailed from Eagle Pass, Texas. Both of these places sounded very exciting to me. Part of it was the way they were announced by WRAL TV ring announcer (and promoter) extraordinaire Joe Murnick:

These were the first Texas towns I heard about on wrestling that I remember looking up in my Atlas. I learned that Port Arthur was a relatively small town on the Gulf of Mexico, just east of Houston.

I looked up Eagle Pass, too, and saw that it was a small Mexican-border town about two and a half hours west of San Antonio on the Rio Grande river. But this confused me a bit, because Eagle Pass was nowhere near all the colorful places Blackjack talked about in his local promos. Blackjack always mentioned west Texas towns like Odessa, Abilene, Sweetwater, Midland, or Duvall County in the tales he would weave into the local promos for upcoming Mid-Atlantic area events. But that string of west Texas towns was along the I-20 corridor well over 300 miles north of Eagle Pass. This wasn't adding up.

I asked Blackjack about this once, asking how he came to be billed from Eagle Pass. He confessed that it just had an outlaw sound to it that he liked. And some of Mama Mulligan's kinfolk were from there, too, he said with a smile. Blackjack was always working.

So here is a short list of wrestlers that I watched in the 1970s and 1980s that hailed from the great state of Texas. It isn't a complete list by any means, just the ones I think of the most. I remember looking up all these hometowns in my trusty Atlas during those years. All of them seemed like magical places to me.

Blackjack Mulligan - Eagle Pass
Blackjack loved telling tall tales about the characters he encountered in Texas, many of them archived in our section of this website called Blackjack's Bar-b-que. Of all the wrestlers who hailed from Texas, none of them was more Texan in my eyes than the great Blackjack Mulligan. He set an early  record for the most U.S. title reigns, and was both a hated heel and beloved babyface during his seven years headlining our territory.

Paul Jones - Port Arthur 
Port Arthur always had this very cool, classy sound to it to me as a kid. And Paul Jones was that kind of babyface in his peak years for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1970s. The quintessential good-guy fighting the uphill battle against the dangerous Texas villain Blackjack Mulligan. Their rivalry in the area is still remembered to this day. Paul held just about every title you could hold in our area, and was a main eventer here for over a decade.

Dick Murdoch - Waxahachie
When Dick Murdoch came for a multi-month stay in our area in 1978, he was billed from Waxahachie, Texas. It took me a while to learn how to spell it to be able to look it up on my Atlas! Waxahachie is just south of Dallas. Murdoch was later billed from Canyon, Texas, which is just south of Amarillo in the west Texas panhandle, and a much more appropriate place to be from given his ties to other west Texas wrestlers like Blackjack Mulligan, Dusty Rhodes, and the Funk brothers. But how cool is the name of a town like Waxahachie? Unforgettable.

Dusty Rhodes - Austin
I knew of Austin of course, being the state capitol of Texas. But it didn't have that same exotic feel to it that some of these lesser known Texas towns I was learning about. But for years I knew that Dusty was the "son of a plumber" from Austin, Texas. Rhodes made regular appearances in our area in the 1970s as a special attraction, similar to Andre the Giant. He was a semi-regular on the big cards held in Crockett's main town of Greensboro. In 1984, he came in full time as booker and led the company to heights it hadn't seen since the George Scott Mulligan/Flair/Steamboat era of the 1970s.

Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk - Amarillo
Amarillo was always a fascinating place to me as a kid because it was where the famous Funk family originated from, and the Funks were wrestling royalty that you read about in all the wrestling magazines. They were the only two brothers to have ever held the NWA World Heavyweight championship and both had many title defense in our area. Real men came from places like Amarillo, Texas. I knew this for a fact.  Late addition: David Chappell reminds me that Dory Funk also worked under a mask as the Texas Outlaw and held the Mid-Atlantic title managed by Paul Jones.

Tiger Conway, Jr. - Houston
Conway was a breakout star here in 1975, teaming with rookie Steve Keirn to upset the world tag team champions, the Anderson Brothers, in a non-title match on television. He and his father had success in Houston, and were billed from that city while wrestling here.

Nelson Royal - Amarillo
Nelson's heyday was before my time as a fan, but he was always around, especially in the 1980s where he made a brief return as the mentor and tag partner of fellow Texan Sam Houston. I loved that Royal always looked like the quintessential Texas cowboy. He was actually originally from Kentucky and lived most of his life in North Carolina and was actually once billed as being from London, England! Our friend Carroll Hall seems to remember that when Nelson turned babyface in the mid-1960s and began teaming with Tex McKenzie, he was billed from Amarillo. Who can ever forget those cool vignettes beginning in December of 1985 when Nelson would invite us for a cup of coffee around the campfire to smarten us up on the Bunkhouse Stampede? During the 1980s he was billed from Mooresville, NC (his legit home), although he was seemingly always considered a Texan.

Wahoo McDaniel* - Midland
Wahoo is listed here with an asterisk because in our area he was primarily billed as being from Oklahoma, where he had great success playing college football at the University of Oklahoma. But occasionally he was billed as being from Midland, Texas, where he actually did grow up and graduated from high school. His father worked the oil fields there. Wahoo's little league coach in Midland was future U.S. president George H.W. Bush, part of another famous Texas family. Wahoo was occasionally billed from Houston, too. I'm guessing it was because his biggest early career success in pro-wrestling was working that city for promoter Paul Boesch. I remember how surprised I was learning later that Wahoo and Johnny Valentine had battled for years in Texas long before both were brought to the Mid-Atlantic area by booker George Scott. I just assumed as a kid that their first battles were in our area. Boy was I wrong about that.

Stan Hansen - Borger
My exposure to Stan "The Lariat" Hansen in the 1970s was from watching "Georgia Championship Wrestling" when Superstation WTCG-17 (which later became WTBS) first appeared on our local cable system in 1976 or 1977.  Gordon Solie always called him "the bad man from Borger, Texas." Borger is about 30 miles northeast of Amarillo in the Texas panhandle. Hansen only wrestled in the Mid-Atlantic area occasionally, most notably in a late-70s tag team tournament with partner Blackjack Mulligan, and as a NWA world tag team champion with partner Ole Anderson in 1982.

Bobby Duncum - Austin
Duncum had a big battle with Blackjack Mulligan in the early 1980s which always seem centered around their real and/or fabled history with each other in Texas. Whether it was in Texas bullrope matches or Texas death matches, they shed some blood in our rings, and it always seemed to be a fight over the love of some former Texas sweetheart like Sarah Joe Puckett. Or at least that's how I remember it. Mulligan and Duncum's promos were filled with west Texas references, and I always wondered if it was was part of the lore or was part of a shoot!

Jake Roberts
Jake "The Snake" Roberts came here in 1981, when he was a tall, lean and lanky Texas cowboy through and through, and had a great look in that regard. This was before he carried around a snake or had created the DDT or was possessed by the devil and all the rest.  I always liked the Texas cowboy version of Jake Roberts the best. He was later billed from Stone Mountain, Georgia, but in our area in the early 1980s he was billed from Texas, although I can't recall them ever saying where in Texas. (If you remember, let us know!)

Outlaw Ron Bass - Pampa 
I confess I never looked up Pampa on my Atlas, and never knew where it was until I saw it included on an exit sign driving on I-40 from Amarillo to Oklahoma City in 2011. Pampa is a tiny little town between the two. Booker Ole Anderson brought "Outlaw" Ron Bass in to our area in 1981 to fill the Texan role left vacant by the departure of Blackjack Mulligan, but because the two had such a similar persona, the fans never rallied around Bass here the way they always had ol' Mully. 

The Von Erich Brothers* - Denton
No wrestlers were more associated with the state of Texas in the 1980s than the Von Erich brothers. David and Kevin only wrestled once in the Mid-Atlantic area, in a tournament here, and so they have an asterisk beside their name, too. But they have to be on my list. Their syndicated TV show aired in many markets in our area, and even if you didn't see them on TV here, you were well aware of them through their endless coverage in the wrestling magazines. David Von Erich's nickname was "the Yellow Rose of Texas" which became younger brother Kerry Von Erich's symbol, too, after David's untimely passing. It was part of a memorable tribute to David when Kerry defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship. The Von Erich exploits in the ring were primarily carried out in Dallas, Fort Worth, and surrounding areas, but the town always associated with them is Denton, some 20 miles north of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Tully Blanchard - San Antonio
Tully was always billed from San Antonio, and his father Joe Blanchard promoted wrestling there in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Joe Blanchard actually had some of the Crockett champions down to his territory to defend their titles occasionally (which we cover in part two of this series.) Tully first made a name in the Mid-Atlantic area in the late 1970s on the mid-card, but returned in 1984 and headlined here until leaving in 1988 for the WWF.  He also brought another notable Texan into the area in the mid-80s, Nickla "Baby Doll" Roberts, to accompany him as his "perfect 10."

Sam Houston - Houston
In the tradition of the "tall drink of water" cowboys like Jake Roberts a few years before him, Sam Houston personified the Texas cowboy image for Jim Crockett Promotions during the Dusty-era of JCP. (Dusty had assumed more of a "David Allen Coe truck-drivin' hat" persona in the mid-1980s.) I always thought Dusty had really big plans for Sam, but they never panned out for various reasons. Houston teamed with veteran Nelson Royal during those years, too, and that gave him even more Texas street cred.

Late Addition!
Black Bart - Pecos
"Dadgum!" I can't believe I left out Black Bart! Brian Rogers reminded me, and dadgum it, how can I not include a guy who yells "TEXAS!!" as he leaps from the second turnbuckle with a big legdrop! Bart was billed from Pecos, Texas, which is further west on out that I-20 corridor past Odessa. The former Ricky Harris in the Mid-Atlantic area in the early 1980s, Black Bart was one half of the Mid-Atlantic tag team champions with the aforementioned Ron Bass managed by James J. Dillon. He was National Champion as well. But my lasting memory of Bart was that Stan Hansen-esque primal yell of 'Texas!!" as he lept from the turnbuckle with that big leg drop. Sorry I forgot you to begin with, Bart!

Those are the wrestlers that I think of when I think of Texas wrestlers working for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1970s and 1980s. I fully realize my list isn't complete. David Chappell, who has an incredible memory for details for things like this, sent me his list of wrestlers in our area who were billed as coming from Texas during his years watching JCP wrestling. He also admits he's probably left someone out, so if you can recall any others, please let us know.

Scott Casey, Sonny King, Paul Jones, Tiger Conway, Jr., Wahoo, Blackjack, Brian Adias, Baby Doll, Tully Blanchard, Bobby Duncum, Dory Funk, Jr., Terry Funk, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Stan Hansen, Sam Houston, Killer Karl Kox, Dick Murdoch, Barry Orton, Dusty Rhodes, Jake Roberts, Richard Blood, Barry Windham, Mark Youngblood, Skandor Akbar, Bruiser Brody, Skip Young, Gary Young, Len Denton.

In 2011, I took a long road trip through the Southwestern and Midwestern United States. I met a good friend in Dallas and we went to the State Fair and rode the Texas Star. Afterwards I headed west through the oil and cotton country of west Texas, driving through towns like Abilene, Sweetwater, Midland and Odessa. Then I headed north into the panhandle through Lubbuck, Canyon, and Amarillo. This was Funk country, Rhodes and Murdoch country, Mulligan country. Throughout that beautiful drive, I heard the echos of bodyslams in the ring and the voices of Bob Caudle, Gordon Solie, and Joe Murnick naming those towns whenever they spoke of these great Texas legends. I treasure the memories of that adventure west.

In PART TWO of this "Texas Connections" feature, we'll take a look at some of the many times Jim Crockett's area championships were defended for other promoters in some of the Texas territories of the NWA including the NWA World Tag team titles, the U.S. title, and the NWA TV title.

Originally published October 31, 2017 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.