Thursday, November 11, 2021

Mulligan & The Freight Train: Former Rivals Team Up in 1979

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling's Topsy-Turvy Autumn of 1979 - Part 1
by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Being in the middle of the fall season right now, it made me think about an autumn of yesteryear in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling where everything seemed to me to be turned upside down. The fall in question was in 1979, and back then I was amazed at how the Mid-Atlantic alliances of grapplers had been turned on their collective heads from when I first became fully immersed in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in the years of 1975-76.

I will be highlighting in the coming weeks a number of highly unlikely combinations of Mid-Atlantic wrestlers that very unexpectedly came together briefly in the fall of 1979, being viewed through the lens of these same wrestlers being arch enemies in 1975-76!

The duo first up is the big Texan from Eagle Pass, Blackjack Mulligan and the perennial fan favorite from Dillon, South Carolina, Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones! 

* * * * * * * * * * 


Blackjack Mulligan became the top “bad guy” in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling when he toppled Paul Jones for the United States Heavyweight Title in March of 1976. As much as the brutal and arrogant Mulligan was despised by the Mid-Atlantic fans, the love those same fans felt for the “King of Wrestling” Rufus R. Jones was on an equal footing at the other end of the love-hate spectrum. 

It was inevitable that this showdown between good and evil for the U.S. belt would play out in Mid-Atlantic rings for the rest of 1976 into early 1977. And boy did it ever! Blackjack injuring Rufus’ cousin Burrhead Jones only added more fuel to the fire. During much of 1976, Blackjack and Rufus battled in many specialty matches over the United States Heavyweight Championship, including Fence matches, Texas Death matches, No Disqualification matches and Cotton Field matches. 

While Rufus was never successful in capturing the U.S. Title, the bouts were so intense and the fans were so into the program between these two, that Blackjack told the Gateway years later that he lobbied Jim Crockett, Jr. to put the Title on Rufus during that time period. One thing was clear to me, Rufus and Blackjack were such bitter enemies and so different in every way that there was ZERO chance they would ever be tag team partners. Well, let’s fast forward to the fall of 1979 when the unthinkable happened!

Rufus R. Jones was always the consummate “good guy” in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, but when he departed the territory in the spring of 1977 his future stints in Jim Crockett Promotions were more sporadic and of shorter duration and didn’t always line up with when Blackjack Mulligan was in the area. For instance, when Rufus returned to the territory early in 1979 Mulligan had just departed the area after being injured by John Studd. 

The biggest change involving Mulligan in the intervening years was that he had amazingly become a “good guy” himself in April of 1978, when he and Ric Flair started feuding. When Blackjack returned to the Mid-Atlantic area from his six-month hiatus in 1979, he and his former bitter adversary Rufus Jones were both on the fan favorite side of Jim Crockett’s talent ledger at the same time. And the unthinkable would soon happen!

On the World Wide Wrestling television show that aired on WRAL TV 5 in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday October 6, 1979, an amazing visual occurred when announcer Rich Landrum began a local promo for the card in  Dorton Arena in Raleigh on Tuesday night, October 9, 1979. Blackjack Mulligan and Rufus R. Jones came out on the interview set TOGETHER to speak to the fans about their match as tag team partners, against Buddy Rogers and Jimmy Snuka!

A smiling Mulligan told Landrum and the Raleigh fans, “It looks like it’s gonna take a pretty good combination to slow these two down, and I’ve got beside me right here, gonna be with me, Rufus R. Jones! I’d rather not have anybody else in the world with me! Rupert, you just hold that Snuka and let me get these big hands around that Rogers’ throat and choke those eyeballs out brother.”

Rufus added, “Let me tell you something Jack, I’m with you all the way Jack, right here in Raleigh Tuesday night. The people gonna watch Blackjack Mulligan and Rufus Jones together for the first time! And it’s for a reason too…it’s for Buddy Rogers and Jimmy Snuka. We gonna do it to you brother, we gonna do it to you Tuesday night! You gonna holler and squeal, but it’ll do you no good at all! The Freight Train and Blackjack Mulligan gonna do it to you baby!

While Blackjack and Rufus actually teamed up a few weeks earlier than the October 9th bout in Raleigh, defeating John Studd and Snuka in Fayetteville, NC on September 3, 1979, and beating Paul Jones and Baron von Raschke on September 14, 1979, in Charleston, SC, it was still surreal to hear them extolling each other’s virtues in advance of the Raleigh show! 

A week and a half later Mully and Rufus again teamed up and battled Jones and Raschke in Aiken, SC. Within the succeeding two weeks, the “Freight Train” and Mulligan were again partners as part of six-man teams against Buddy Rogers and his charges. And then, without warning, this unlikely teaming of Rufus and Blackjack ended nearly as quickly as it began. But after their vicious battles against each other in 1976, the autumn of 1979 brought us an ever so brief pairing of Blackjack Mulligan and Rufus R. Jones that to this day is still difficult to comprehend!

Arch rivals Ric Flair and Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods briefly team up in the fall of 1979!