1wrestlinglegends.com

Columns

Random Shots by Redneck Taz

"Redneck TaZ" is a former manager of Triple XXX, the team made up of Drake Dawson and Curtis Thompson, in the NWA Mid-Atlantic promotion.  He has followed wrestling for over thirty years and grew up watching and attending the shows presented by the original Jim Crockett Sr. Mid-Atlantic promotion.


Title Belts: Props or Trophies?

Professional wrestling as a business has many aspects that are immediately identified by the general public.  Flamboyant gimmicks and entrances customized tights and costumes, valets, managers, etc.  But perhaps the most recognizable and noticeable things about the business are the title belts, sometimes known affectionately as "straps."

The use of title belts in several sports goes back many years.  An early English Heavyweight Boxing champion was awarded a belt made of leather and lined with silver "lions teeth."  Perhaps one of the most famous trophy belts in sports history was the ornate Heavyweight Championship belt given to boxer John J. Sullivan (a copy of which can now be purchased from Valen Originals for those of you that follow the pugilistic world as well…).

Martial arts have long used belts (obi) to designate rank and awards and several cultures have used sashes and ornamented belts to designate rank and high honor.  Today, martial arts organizations in styles such as Muy Thai Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, "Shootfighting" (UFC, PRIDE, Pancrase), and others use title belts as well.

But nowhere has the trophy belt become such a part of the business as in professional wrestling.  In fact, an entire business has arisen from the purchase of title belts and belt "replicas" by fans (or "marks").  I haven't seen any actual reports on the amount of money taken in by Figures, Inc., the company that is producing the WCW and ECW replicas, but based upon the number of sales offered on auctions such as wrestleauction.com and ebay, and the number that show up in fan's hands during wrestling shows, it would appear to be substantial.

Yet, how much are the belts regarded within the business itself?  Are they merely gaudy and ornate props, the quality of which is simply based on the promoter or wrestlers' ability to have them made?  Or are at least some of the titles that they represent actually regarded as "trophies" worthy of effort and competition by wrestlers?

I was involved in a series of posts discussing titles, title histories and ideas of bringing back some of the "traditional" titles in the NWA when a poster simply identifying himself as "a worker" commented that "90% of the people in the locker room didn't give a damn" about titles and that belts were just props.  This was similar to the statement that Vince Russo made in an interview concerning the frequency in which the WCW title had been "exchanged" during a period of time.  Since the titles were part of "sports entertainment", it didn't matter how they were handled as long as they drew interest.  This included putting the WCW Cruiserweight title on such "talent" as "Oklahoma," or on a female wrestler like Madusa, or the WCW title on an actor, or Russo himself.  Russo and others inferred that it had "always been that way" behind the wall of kayfabe.

Perhaps in some cases this was true.  But I've been surprised to find that many of the legends of the business (and some of the newer talent as well) actually have a lot of regard for the history of various titles and for the title belts themselves.  For some it's due to the memories of good times that the titles bring them and the enjoyment they had defending them.  Don Curtis noted that the tag team title he held with Mark Lewin was one that he held in high regard for those reasons.

For some, the titles are a source of pride in that they showed the worker to be the top draw or top heel in the company, especially in promotions where the champion was one of the owners or the booker that would "do the job" to put the new champion over.  In the case of the NWA title (prior to the nationalization of the WWF and WCW), it meant that the champion was literally the "top dog" that had earned the right to be recognized as the best in the business.

I believe that that is the reason the NWA "Globe" belt is now one of the most sought after replicas by collectors, even though critics of the group continue to claim that it had "died."  For many wrestlers that I have talked to, the belts have come to represent the titles and the titles are just as "legitimate" to them as in any other sport.  Sure, politics played a lot in the game but it was hard to argue that men like Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Buddy Rogers, Terry and Dory Funk, Ric Flair, Brett Hart and (yes, I'll even give credit to the guy here) Hulk Hogan weren't at the top of the game during their title reigns.  While not pure "contests" at times, wrestling is and continues to be a competition among performers and titles should continue to be the goal and reward for the top man, team or woman in the business.

Some wrestlers still use the belts that they have bought or won over the years in independent promotions but still appreciate them for what they are; unique works of art.  But for a group that "doesn't give a damn" about belts, there are sure a lot of wrestlers out there that have a collection of their own.

My pal Rick Michaels in NWA Wildside in Georgia has a "wrestling room" in his home that houses his collection.  Dusty Rhodes has several straps in his collection and my former team-mate in Triple X, Curtis Thompson, still has his CWA Tag Team Title strap as a prized possession.  Reggie Parks (a wrestling legend and premier belt-maker) and his partner Dave Millican, as well as Joe Marshall at J-Mar belts, spend quite a bit of time making belts that are replicas of titles wrestlers have won for their personal collections.  In fact, even the design of belts has now become a concern of wrestling promotions and the current WWF singles belts (World, IC and Women's as well as the customized "Stone Cold Smoking Skull" belt) are trademarked and cannot be duplicated, even by Marshall without WWFE permission.

I freely admit to being one of the biggest belt marks in the world, although I'm not financially able to have the type of collection that some of my friends in the Yahoo! Wrestling Belt Collectors Club do.  Some of these folks have paid anywhere from $400 to $2000 to have belts made that replicate some of the famous title belts in the business and for customized belts of the fan's own design.  The most popular replicas (other than the Figures, Inc. belts) appear to be the WWF World Title belt used from 1988 to 1998, the NWA "Globe Dome" World Title, the "old style" WWF Intercontinental Title belt, and the old NWA Television Title belt.

The market has gotten such that belts made by Parks, Millican (or by Reggie and Dave together), Joe Marshall or Kevin Rhodes at Legacy Belts can be auctioned on Ebay for large sums.  Actual "ring used" belts are even more in demand as "collectibles."  How popular have they become?  Wrestling title belts have even been featured on several popular syndicated "collectibles" shows along with other sports memorabilia.

A totally unscientific poll that I did showed the "worker's" estimates to be a bit off.  While titles are certainly not treated as "legit" as they were in the past, they are still very important to most of the workers in the business today.  And title belts, instead of being simply "props" have come to represent the memories of many fans and their love for the business as well as a very active business in and of itself.

Note: For more information on the Belt Collectors Club, check out the groups' main page in Yahoo! Clubs.  Reggie Parks Belts and Dave Millican have a home page located at the NWA MidWest website, www.midwestwrestling.com.


The Lightweights

Americans have, as a general rule, always preferred things that are big.  While the Japanese car dealers were manufacturing Toyotas and Datsuns, Detroit was turning out Lincolns, Caddilacs and Chevys.  Perhaps that's why the "lighter weight" classes in wrestling don't draw the attention in the US today as they once did.  This despite the lighterweight divisions being the highlight of many companies in Japan and Mexico.

I've always thought it a bit unfair that wrestlers who were so muscle-bound as to be virtually immobile or who were simply large men were bigger draws than the "light heavyweights" or "junior heavyweights", many of who had infinitely more talent and mat skills.  It also seemed that junior heavyweight titles were never involved in angles and storylines like the heavyweight and tag titles in most promotions were.

Truth be told, most promotions had no junior heavyweight title but would put their top "small" worker up against the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion when he traveled through the area.  Some notable exceptions were the Southern Junior Heavyweight Title (which later became the Southern Heavyweight Title defended in the Memphis and Nashville territories for many years) and the US Junior Heavyweight Title from the Southeastern territories.  In fact, The Great Hisa's Pro Wrestling Titles website lists long time "heavyweights" like Lou Thesz and Ray Stevens as former holders of the Southern Junior Heavyweight belt!

Over the years, there has been World Junior Heavyweight, World Light Heavyweight, World Junior Light Heavyweight, World Middleweight and World Welterweight titles in the NWA.  There has also been Light Heavyweight titles in the AWA and WWWF/WWF.  The WCW Cruiserweight title featured some of the best wrestlers in the world at one time (anyone remember the old WCW Light Heavyweight title that Brian Pillman held?).

Most of these titles were absorbed into promotions in Mexico and Japan and only resurfaced briefly during Ultimo Dragon's appearances in WCW while he held the "J-Crown" Lightweight titles.  Ironically, one of the belts that Dragon carried to the ring was the old WWF Light Heavyweight title.  With the reclamation of the WWF Light Heavyweight title by WWFE, the J-Crown title has now been broken up.  The WWWF also had a Junior Heavyweight Title that remains inactive.

Yet despite the fact that the "lighter" wrestlers are some of the most dominant workers today, and the long history of the lower weight divisions, the perceptions of many promoters remains that these titles are simply for "filler matches."  In a shoot interview, Vince Russo commented that "I'd rather watch (Norman) Smiley and Ralphus than …a cruiserweight match."  In an article on WCW.com, Power Plant "coach" Paul Orndorff indicated that the "big boys" were the meat of the business that "people pay to see."  While there is some truth to that, I tend to believe that the prominent placement of heavyweight matches has a lot to do with the way weight divisions have been divided in most sports.  On a boxing card, the lighter weight competitors usually go at it first.  The same goes for amateur wrestling, shootfighting, martial arts, etc.  The "Heavyweight Champ" has always been the feature in contact sports, not just in wrestling.

Another good reason that lightweight matches are usually lower on the card was pointed out to me by a long-time booker…time.  "Unless you've got a Flair/Steamboat, Brisco/Funk, or Hart/Michaels type match in the main event, there ain't no way two big guys are going to do a 30 minute-plus match.  There'd be more rest holds than a person could possibly stand.  It would take a pretty good heavyweight (today) with a lot of stamina and psychology to keep the crowd in a long match."

"However, if you just had a slam-bang, all out match between two junior heavyweights, that should be picked up on and run right into the main event.  You end up with better work and not just two big bulls ramming into each other for 15 minutes."

I did an informal survey (I excel at anything informal) of names mentioned frequently on the 1wrestlinglegends.com egroup.  Not surprisingly, many of the wrestlers that are frequently discussed were those that were primarily junior heavyweights.  Danny McShane, Danny Hodge, and Sputnik Monroe are just a few of those frequently discussed. Other than the heavyweight champs of the "old" Big 3 (NWA, AWA, WWWF), it seems that the talents of the lighter weight workers seem to stand out in fans' minds.

The list of men who held the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title is pretty impressive.  Here are just a few: Dory Funk, Sr. (making the Funks the only family I know of to have a father and two sons to hold NWA World titles), Verne Gagne, Danny McShane, Baron Michele Leon, "Iron" Mike DiBiase, Angelo Savoldi, Danny Hodge, Hiro Matsuda, Sputnik Monroe, "Cowboy" Nelson Royal, and Les Thornton.  Also on that list is a man that I'm proud to say allowed me to sit under his "learning tree" several times and welcomed me into the locker room from the very beginning, "Gorgeous" Gary Royal.

Former holders of the NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight title included Jesse James, Great Malenko, Tor Yamata, Fred Blassie, Ray Stevens, Jackie Fargo, Al Costello, Tojo Yamamoto, Johnny Walker, Tommy Gilbert, Ron Garvin, Thez and Monroe, and of course, Jerry Lawler.  According to Hisa's records, the title was renamed the Southern Heavyweight Title in 1974.  By the looks of that list, it's probably a good thing they did change it!

The NWA also recognized a World Light Heavyweight title (which is still defended in EMLL in Mexico today).  Some of the notables that held that belt include Leroy McGirk, "Count" Billy Varga, "Wild" Red Berry, Danny McShane (10 times), Raul Mata and (believe it or not) a young "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

It seems that the "little guys" made a big impression on the business after all.


Hail to the Chief, Part 1

Despite the name, this article is not a comment on the mess that is currently going on in the Sunshine State as teams of lawyers head south for the recount.  Actually, I'd love to see somebody down there promote a best two-out-of-three falls match between Bush and Gore with the winner getting the presidency.  Of course I'd book Gore as the heel and have him try to take the win by hitting the Texas Governor with a large bag of ballot chad.  Put in Reform Party Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura as the impartial referee and you have the makings of a great angle.

Seriously, the Chief I'm talking about here carries a lot more respect and reverence here in the Carolinas than anyone short of Richard Petty.  That man is "Chief" Wahoo McDaniel.  Wahoo McDaniel is more to me than just a great wrestler (which he was) or a very nice man (which he is).  In many ways, Wahoo McDaniel became a symbol to me of many things that made growing up in my part of the country so much fun and the source of many fond memories.  In the words of Scott Teal, I am a "Wahoo mark" and damn proud of it.

When I was a kid growing up on "Tobacco Road" here in North Carolina, Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was one of the primary sources of entertainment for those of us in "rural" areas.  Crockett's weekly television show came on at an hour that most kids would be in bed (11:30 p.m. on Friday nights for many years), but somehow, many of us managed to talk our parents into letting us stay up to watch.  For me it was even more special because Friday night was spent with my grandfather.  "Daddy Frank," as he was called by both his children and grandchildren, was a tobacco farmer who also worked third shift at a local textile mill.  However, he was off on Friday nights and would drive to my parent's house to eat dinner, pick me up and take me to the farm with him.  Since my grandmother worked second shift at the textile mill (and still works a second-shift production job at age 76) that meant Daddy Frank and I had the house to ourselves.  After a quick nap, I'd get some popcorn and a couple of ice cold Pepsi's and we'd watch Bob Caudle and the Mid-Atlantic show.  Of course, Wahoo was a prominent part of that show.

Crockett had a very successful formula for his promotion during the 70's.  The promotion was built around a core of popular faces and a series of heels that would come through the region in a series of very well booked matches that followed the angles of the TV show.  Matches were taped at the WRAL television studios in Raleigh, despite the fact that the Crockett's offices were located in Charlotte.  This gave the territory a very wide area to promote shows in with regular shows in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, Rocky Mount, Charleston SC and other cities.  The promotion also had a very strong group of veterans who worked "enhancement" matches on TV and mid-card matches at the house shows, which gave the headliners a lot of credibility to the TV audience.  Abe Jacobs, Jacques Goulet, Haystacks Calhoun, Mike "The Hippie" Boyette, Bill White and others were regulars on the show and their talent did not go unnoticed by the fans.

For quite some time, the main faces in the promotion were Wahoo McDaniel and Paul Jones, with the Anderson Brothers as strong heel mainstays.  I had always admired McDaniel because he was a real Native American (as opposed to several "fake" Indians like Jay Strongbow and Billy White Wolf.  I also noticed a strong resemblance between McDaniel and my grandfather.  I asked my grandfather about it and he never made much comment for many years.  It wasn't until much later that I would find out that my great-grandparents were Native Americans.

As I got older and had access to the "kayfabe" magazines, I found out more about Wahoo's career.  It seemed that everywhere I looked, he had been in that area at least for a short span.  Texas, Florida, the AWA, Japan, Mid-South and WWWF had all seen the Chief in their rings over the years, and in each promotion, McDaniel usually held that promotions regional title.  While he wore his familiar head-dress and used two moves called  "Tomahawk Chop" and "Indian Deathlock" during his matches, he lacked a lot of the typical "Indian" stereotypes in his matches.  He was a legitimate athlete with a well-known background as a high school, college and professional football player.  Dory Funk, Jr. did a story on his website about McDaniel's football days and his time working for Dory Sr. in the old Amarillo territory.  It always seemed that McDaniel's "Indian" image was secondary to his talent in the ring.  Wahoo was always the hero of the "common man" and as the "60 Minutes" feature on him said, "The people here ... will spend the milk and egg money for a ticket to see the Chief ..."

After becoming a regular at the old "Funking Message Board," I got into a discussion with Dory Funk, Jr. about Wahoo.  Funk told me of driving up to the arena in Houston, Texas as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion and seeing his name on the marquee with Wahoo as his challenger.  What was different about this match was that it had a 90-minute time limit.  As I read this, my jaw dropped.  90 MINUTES!  In a time where some "star" wrestlers gripe and fuss about doing a 15-minute match, a 90-minute match seemed almost inhuman.  I had seen several hour matches over the years that were classics, but an hour and a half?  In the back of a show for Slim Baucom's current Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promotion, I got a chance to talk to Wahoo.  I was talking to McDaniel and Ricky Morton (and trying hard not to "mark out" over it!)  Of course, I asked him about Dory's comments.  His face lit up as he talked about that particular match.  "Man, yes!  I remember that Houston match!"  McDaniel said.  "Dory was the champ and we were working hard.  We were on the mat when the ref leaned over and said, ‘Okay, boys.  Sixty minutes gone.  You've got thirty minutes left.'  I was wondering if I was going to make it!"  We then spent a minute talking about Dory and the Chief's golf game while I felt like the luckiest person on the face of the earth.

McDaniel was also popular in my home area due to the fact that most of his feuds resulted in matches with more than their share of blood.  In a classic match that's still talked about in Raleigh, NC to this day, McDaniel lost the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title to a young Ric Flair.  Both men were wearing the "crimson mask" by the end of that match, which saw Flair taking the win after hitting McDaniel in the head with a board from a broken platform.  Problem was, the board still had a nail in it and it opened up an impressive gash over McDaniel's eye.  Needless to say, when the young Flair, who drew heat hard and fast when he came to Mid-Atlantic, damn near started a riot when he won the strap.  McDaniel also had a memorable series of matches as a heel against Manny Fernandez several years later in which a great deal of red stuff hit the mat.  McDaniel and Fernandez took their series of matches to the AWA and an Indian Strap Match between the two was one of the featured matches in the AWA/WCCW/CWA/CWF Superbrawl III card.  The fact that both men bled all over the place in that match was used as part of the angle when Kerry Von Erich lost the WCCW title to AWA champ Jerry Lawler.  Supposedly, the ref stopped the fight because AWA President Stanley Blackburn didn't want "another bloody mess" like the McDaniel/Fernandez match.

In the second part of this article, we'll take a look at the many regional titles (and one little known World title) that McDaniel held as well as the interesting angle that turned him heel in the Mid-Atlantic area.  That angle had a lot to do with the later creation of the greatest heel "stable" in all of professional wrestling …The Four Horsemen.

But regardless of that, Wahoo McDaniel will forever be to me a link to some of the happiest days of my childhood.  He will forever symbolize that special love for the professional wrestling that my grandfather and I shared.  Because of this, my grandfather became my closest friend.  When he died in 1989, I sat by his bed and talked with him about all those evenings spent watching wrestling and all the fun we had together.  It is a bond that I will always cherish, and for that reason, I continue to respect and love this crazy business.

After meeting Wahoo that night, I got the opportunity to climb into a wrestling ring during a show and participate in doing a promo for an upcoming match.  I looked up as I climbed through the rope and hoped that somewhere, Daddy Frank was able to see.  If he did, I know that he loved it ...


Hail to the Chief, Part 2

How does the Von Erich kid get a title shot and I don't?  I've been wrestling longer than he's been alive and you've never given me one!"

With those words, a heel turn that caught just about every Mid-Atlantic fan off-guard began.  I'd rank it second only to Hogan's heel turn to form the N.W.O. in its level of effect and response.  It was just so damn believable that it not only sold, it sold hard, fast and cold!

After Paul Jones had done a couple of heel/face turns, then finished up as a heel manager in the Mid-Atlantic, Wahoo McDaniel was left as the last of the veteran dominate faces in the territory.  Ric Flair had become NWA World Heavyweight Champion and had recently lost the NWA title to Kerry Von Erich at the famous Texas Stadium David Von Erich Memorial Card, then regained it in Japan shortly thereafter.  While Flair was a heel in the areas that he defended the title outside of MACW, he was a face in MACW.  Flair had few heels that could match up with him in MACW at that time, until Tully Blanchard moved into the area.  Blanchard quickly became the NWA (Mid-Atlantic) TV Champion and his style naturally drew heat in the region.

Blanchard and McDaniel were familiar with each other, both being "Texas Boys" but nobody, especially me, was expecting what happened.

During an interview with Flair and McDaniel on Ric's return from Japan with the belt, Wahoo began talking about a title shot.  While Ric and Wahoo were starting to face off, Blanchard blindsided Flair and began to stomp him.  McDaniel, instead of jumping into the fray as everyone expected, stood back and watched.  The expression on his face was priceless as it showed a man torn between helping a friend and getting an edge on a title shot.  Flair got up and ran Blanchard off and then proceeded to scream at McDaniel.  Wahoo told him that it "wasn't his business" and Flair should be able to take care of himself.  The old feud between McDaniel and Flair was re-kindled with Flair telling him, "You want a title shot?  YOU GOT IT!"

Meanwhile, Blanchard had started a series of matches with Ricky Steamboat, the U.S. champ.  McDaniel ended up in a title match with Steamboat that had both men wrestling hard, but still as faces.  At the end of the match, with the ref down (probably Tommy Young), Blanchard ran in and appeared to take a chair shot at Wahoo.  Wahoo ducked and Steamboat caught the chair.  Blanchard then hauled butt to the back.

Of course, the Chief would never take such a tainted win over his friend Steamboat like that!

Wrong!

McDaniel made the cover, the three count, and took the U.S. title while debris started flying to the ring.  Chief Wahoo McDaniel had officially made a heel turn and subsequently began tagging with Blanchard in a series of matches against Steamboat and Flair.  McDaniel continued as a heel against a face Manny Fernandez in a bloody feud over the U.S. title before losing the strap and leaving the Mid-Atlantic for awhile.  He wrestled a lot in Florida and returned for a PPV match with his U.S. (Florida version) Tag Team Title partner Billy Jack Haynes against the National Tag Team Champs Ole and Arn Anderson in a title vs. title match.  When he returned, it seemed all was forgiven by the fans and McDaniel never missed a beat returning to a face role.

For some excellent photos of McDaniel during his career in the Mid-Atlantic, I highly recommend the Mid-Atlantic Tribute site at www.Mid-Atlanticwrestling.net.  They have some fantastic stills of The Chief from the beginning of his career there to the end.

Courtesy of Gary Will and Royal Duncan's Wrestling Title Histories, the following are the titles that I have located for Wahoo during his career.  I'm sure there are more because I've seen photos of him with various belts that I can't identify.  There may be some overseas titles not included in this list, but it gives a very good indication of how popular McDaniel was in the Southeast, Texas and Japan

NWA World Tag Team champion (Crockett promotion version, 1x w/ Rufus R. Jones, 2x w/ Mark Youngblood)
NWA World Tag Team champion (Florida version, 2x w/ Jose Lothario)
Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight champion (4x)
NWA U.S. Heavyweight champion (Crockett promotion version) (5x)
US Tag Team champion (Florida version w/ Billy Jack Haynes)
Florida Television champion
Georgia Heavyweight champion (2x)
Georgia Tag Team champion (w/ Tommy Rich)
NWA National Heavyweight champion
NWA American Heavyweight champion (2x)
NWA American Tag Team champion (2x w/ Thunderbolt Patterson, 2 w/ Johnny Valentine)
Texas Heavyweight champion (Southwest Sports/World Class version, 2x)
Texas Tag Team champion (w/ Tony Parisi)
IWA World Heavyweight champion (Japanese based promotion closely related to the AWA)
Southwest championship Wrestling World Tag Team Champion (w/ Ivan Putski)
SCW Southwest Heavyweight champion (2x)
SCW Southwest Tag Team champion (w/ Terry Funk)

One question that I've often been asked in discussing McDaniel's career was about his time in the American Wrestling Association.  McDaniel wrestled frequently in the AWA and it was there that he met a young man named Richard Fliehr, who traveled with him to Charlotte and fame as Ric Flair.  Yet despite his teaming with Crusher against teams like Billy Graham and Ivan Koloff, McDaniel was never a champ in the AWA, although he did hold the very closely related IWA title in Japan.  He did have several runs as a contender for the title there while Bockwinkle was champ, but Gagne never saw fit to put a title on him.  I've never really understood why, considering McDaniel's popularity in other areas of the country.  He never seemed as over in the Midwest as in the Southeast and Southwest.

I'll never forget the first time I ever got to meet and speak to Wahoo.  I was at a match run by former Charlotte promoter Greg Price.  McDaniel was facing Greg Valentine in a match that made me feel as if I were a kid again, sitting in the stands in Raleigh's Dorton Arena watching those two men battle over the Mid-Atlantic title.  They worked as hard as a young man that was also on the card that night against Bobby Fulton, a newcomer called Rob Van Dam.  When the match was over, McDaniel walked past me to the "face" dressing room, patted me on the shoulder, grinned and said, "I'm getting too old for this!"  I laughed and said, "No way, Chief!"

McDaniel began developing some health problems not long after and he wrestled his "farewell" match here in the Carolinas.  It was fitting for a man whose name became synonymous with professional wrestling in this area and became the hero of a little farm boy from Vance County.

A recent post from my friend, long-time indy referee Dave Routh (who the legendary Bulldog Brower nicknamed "Blind and Stupid") about Bill Eadie's physical presence in the ring and shooting ability during his years as The Masked Superstar, made me think of something that happened many years ago here in the Mid-Atlantic area.

I'll never forget the first time I saw Eadie up close.  I was a young kid at a Mid-Atlantic house show in Oxford, NC.  My grandfather (who I've written about here in Random Shots before) took me to the show.  It was my first show with ringside seats ever!  I sat there with my cousin, but my grandfather sat in the bleachers!  When I asked him why, he said "Son, I'd love to get in there so much, I'm afraid that I might get in trouble!"  Since he could have been Ivan Koloff's long-lost twin brother, I suspect he could have done pretty well had he decided to do so.

The main event that night was a World Tag Team Title match between the champs, Ric Flair and Greg Valentine, and the team of Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones.

After the match, I got to meet Wahoo for the first time and get his and Rufus' autographs.  This was during one of Wahoo's reigns as Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion.  I asked him as he was leaving and why he didn't wear the belt that night.  To my horror, Wahoo told me that the strap (which had been the Eastern States Heavyweight Title belt) had been stolen earlier.  It was not long after this that the more recognizable version of the Mid-Atlantic title was used.  Even though they were in a hurry to hit the road for the next town on the "loop" for that week, both Wahoo and Rufus stopped to sign programs for us kids that gathered at the rear door.

However, the mid-card match was one that sticks out in my mind after all these years.  At the time, the hottest feud in the area was Bill Eadie, as the Masked Superstar, with Prof. Boris Malenko managing, against The Mighty Igor.  Igor had already been a huge face in this area in the IWA and he continued to be a crowd favorite in the Crockett promotion.  This match was after Superstar had supposedly burned Igor's eye with Boris' lit cigar.

During the match, I was marking out when the Superstar was laying on a major league outside-of-the-ring butt whooping on Igor.  I stood up and yelled something that (at the time and considering my age) would have been considered "cool."  I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember that it was pretty good.  Nonetheless!  Eadie stopped putting shoe leather to Igor, turned around, got right up on me and bellowed "SIT DOWN, TUBBY!"  Oh, folks, that HURT!  For a kid who got picked on all the time about his weight, that was a heel moment supreme.

It was right then that I tried to do something INCREDIBLY stupid.  I tried to go after him!  All 5-foot and about 200 pounds, an elementary school-age farmboy wanted to take on a masked guy that looked about 7-foot tall.  (Hey, I told you the "Redneck TaZ" nickname fit.)  Fortunately, Igor started his comeback right then and a very polite police officer invited me to sit back down and enjoy the show.  But I still wanted to kick The Superstar's butt.

I've yet to be able to meet Bill Eadie and talk to him face to face, but I'd love to tell him that story.  And if he asked me today if I still wanted a shot at him, I would most politely say, "No, sir. I think I'll pass."  I can still see that big son-of-a-gun standing there with those eyes glaring from under that mask.  And even after all that time, I'll rip apart anything in my way because it will STILL get under my skin, even after 15 years as a cop and hearing a LOT worse insults from people.  Now THAT, my friends, is drawing heel heat.  I rarely see that happen today.

The other thing I remembered from that match, and several others so long ago, was that masked wrestlers kept their hoods on coming and going to the matches.  Eadie arrived at the gym that night with his hood on and left after the show with it on as well.  In Eadie's case, it was probably a good idea as many long-time fans in that area may have recognized him coming into the arena as a former member of the Mongols tag team that had been both in the IWA area and the Mid-Atlantic region.

It's also funny that, although I pulled hard for the face in that match, Igor was rarely heard from anymore after leaving the Mid-Atlantic area, while Eadie had a very successful run as The Superstar in the Mid-Atlantic, Georgia and Florida areas.  He then took off the mask and donned the white, red and silver facepaint as Demolition, the WWF's answer to the Road Warriors.  But that night in a small North Carolina town, Eadie became the "perfect heel" for at least one young mark.


Marking Out!

A recent post from my friend, long-time indy referee Dave Routh (who the legendary Bulldog Brower nicknamed "Blind and Stupid") about Bill Eadie's physical presence in the ring and shooting ability during his years as The Masked Superstar, made me think of something that happened many years ago here in the Mid-Atlantic area.

I'll never forget the first time I saw Eadie up close.  I was a young kid at a Mid-Atlantic house show in Oxford, NC.  My grandfather (who I've written about here in Random Shots before) took me to the show.  It was my first show with ringside seats ever!  I sat there with my cousin, but my grandfather sat in the bleachers!  When I asked him why, he said "Son, I'd love to get in there so much, I'm afraid that I might get in trouble!"  Since he could have been Ivan Koloff's long-lost twin brother, I suspect he could have done pretty well had he decided to do so.

The main event that night was a World Tag Team Title match between the champs, Ric Flair and Greg Valentine, and the team of Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones.

After the match, I got to meet Wahoo for the first time and get his and Rufus' autographs.  This was during one of Wahoo's reigns as Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion.  I asked him as he was leaving and why he didn't wear the belt that night.  To my horror, Wahoo told me that the strap (which had been the Eastern States Heavyweight Title belt) had been stolen earlier.  It was not long after this that the more recognizable version of the Mid-Atlantic title was used.  Even though they were in a hurry to hit the road for the next town on the "loop" for that week, both Wahoo and Rufus stopped to sign programs for us kids that gathered at the rear door.

However, the mid-card match was one that sticks out in my mind after all these years.  At the time, the hottest feud in the area was Bill Eadie, as the Masked Superstar, with Prof. Boris Malenko managing, against The Mighty Igor.  Igor had already been a huge face in this area in the IWA and he continued to be a crowd favorite in the Crockett promotion.  This match was after Superstar had supposedly burned Igor's eye with Boris' lit cigar.

During the match, I was marking out when the Superstar was laying on a major league outside-of-the-ring butt whooping on Igor.  I stood up and yelled something that (at the time and considering my age) would have been considered "cool."  I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember that it was pretty good.  Nonetheless!  Eadie stopped putting shoe leather to Igor, turned around, got right up on me and bellowed "SIT DOWN, TUBBY!"  Oh, folks, that HURT!  For a kid who got picked on all the time about his weight, that was a heel moment supreme.

It was right then that I tried to do something INCREDIBLY stupid.  I tried to go after him!  All 5-foot and about 200 pounds, an elementary school-age farmboy wanted to take on a masked guy that looked about 7-foot tall.  (Hey, I told you the "Redneck TaZ" nickname fit.)  Fortunately, Igor started his comeback right then and a very polite police officer invited me to sit back down and enjoy the show.  But I still wanted to kick The Superstar's butt.

I've yet to be able to meet Bill Eadie and talk to him face to face, but I'd love to tell him that story.  And if he asked me today if I still wanted a shot at him, I would most politely say, "No, sir. I think I'll pass."  I can still see that big son-of-a-gun standing there with those eyes glaring from under that mask.  And even after all that time, I'll rip apart anything in my way because it will STILL get under my skin, even after 15 years as a cop and hearing a LOT worse insults from people.  Now THAT, my friends, is drawing heel heat.  I rarely see that happen today.

The other thing I remembered from that match, and several others so long ago, was that masked wrestlers kept their hoods on coming and going to the matches.  Eadie arrived at the gym that night with his hood on and left after the show with it on as well.  In Eadie's case, it was probably a good idea as many long-time fans in that area may have recognized him coming into the arena as a former member of the Mongols tag team that had been both in the IWA area and the Mid-Atlantic region.

It's also funny that, although I pulled hard for the face in that match, Igor was rarely heard from anymore after leaving the Mid-Atlantic area, while Eadie had a very successful run as The Superstar in the Mid-Atlantic, Georgia and Florida areas.  He then took off the mask and donned the white, red and silver facepaint as Demolition, the WWF's answer to the Road Warriors.  But that night in a small North Carolina town, Eadie became the "perfect heel" for at least one young mark.


Reggie Parks, King of Belts

Okay, so the title doesn't really flow, but that's what happens when you have two major things to discuss at the same time.

First off, let me say (once again) how disappointed I am that I could not make the trip out to Lost Wages, Nevada to the Riviera Casino for the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion.  However, a strange turn of events would give me some idea of what happened out there in the middle of the desert.  It all started with an email from NWA Midwest promoter and business partner of wrestling legend/master belt maker Reggie Parks, Ed Chuman.

For those of you who don't know Ed Chuman, Ed is a long-time event promoter and one hell of a character.  To this old country boy, his accent sounds like a Hollywood movie agent's after smoking way too many cigarettes.  He's from Chicago and, I think if he had been born 70 years earlier, he would have been riding around with the likes of both Dailey and Capone, and making both of them laugh.

I had engaged in a great on-line angle with Ed and Jim Miller of NWA East leading up to the NWA's 50th Anniversary Show in Charlotte (NC) in 1999 and had the pleasure of meeting Ed there in person, along with his partners Reggie Parks and Dave Millican.  Ed struck me as both a true fan of wrestling and a shrewd promoter as well.  However, Ed had contracted Legionnaire's Disease just over a year before and had come close to death.  During his illness and convalescence, several of his backers in NWA Midwest (which was attempting to combine the old Central States, St. Louis and Detroit territories into a regional promotion) left.  However, Ed has managed to stay in the business and his promotion is about to return to producing shows in Illinois next month.

Meeting Ed and his group also gave me the chance to see something that very few folks my age have ever seen.  I had been talking to my friend Masanori Horie (yes, that's the same Masa that Mick Foley mentioned in his "King of the Death Match" story in his book.), who had flown in from Japan for the event.  Masa had just presented me with a present that I have treasured since, a Japanese wrestling magazine from the 1970's that had several classic photos of Fritz Von Erich, Antonio Inoki, Bruiser, Ernie Ladd and others, when I saw Reggie approaching a man in a suit sitting at a table.  Despite the glasses, I recognized the man as the one and only Lou Thesz, who was at the Cauliflower Alley Club table.  He greeted Reggie warmly and then looked down at the belt case that Reggie had in his hand.  Masa and I watched as Reggie opened it to reveal an exact replica of the old NWA championship belt from the 1960's.  I had seen this belt in photos of Dory Funk, Jr. and Harley Race and Lou recognized it immediately.  It was a gorgeous piece of work.

Reggie then strapped the belt on Lou and the two legends stood together for a photograph.  My mind went back to all the photos I had seen of Thesz with championship belts, including the NWA title. There I was, standing there with one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, a wrestling legend and master beltmaker, and one of the greatest wrestling fans in the world.  I felt lucky beyond belief.

Ed and I stayed in touch since then.  My status as a "belt mark" has been well documented in this column, and Ed kept me up with what was happening with Reggie and Dave and the belts that they were creating.  I also was a frequent visitor to Ed and Reggie's website at NWA Midwest/Reggie Parks Championship Belts, where I would frequently drool over webmaster Mitch Hartsey's photos of vintage belts and Reggie's newer creations.  It was at NWA Midwest that I first saw Harry White's writing about the wrestling in the St. Louis/Central States area and the WAWLI Papers.  I also found a link to a website called "What Ever Happened To…?" and first stumbled into Scott Teal's corner of the world.  Little did I know that "Random Shots" would end up on Scott's site one day.

Even after all that, I was surprised to see an e-mail from Ed asking me to give him a call just before he and his group loaded more belts than Lou Thesz has ever held onto a plane and headed out to Vegas.  "Hey, Babe!" that raspy Chi-Town voice said.  "I gotta offer for ya."  It seemed that Ed's long-time webmaster Mitch Hartesy (a really great guy that I had also met in Charlotte and kept in touch with) was moving on to some other projects and was leaving the NWA Midwest/Reggie Parks Belts website.  "I understand you did the webmaster thing for Triple X.  How'd ya like to work with us?"

Me?  A webmaster?  On Reggie Parks' website?  Actually work in an "official" capacity for an NWA member?  To be part of a team with Reggie Parks and Dave Millican?  While I wasn't sure I'd be that good at it, I was determined to try.  So, I told Ed I'd take a shot at it and would start doing some things while he, Dave and their good friend and frequent customer Bruce Owens and engraver Theo Miller headed off to Vegas to display their wares and give Reggie a "surprise."

A couple of days later, Ed sent me the photos of Reggie's "surprise."  While Reggie was accepting a plaque from the members of the CAC and Fritz Von Goering, Ed Chuman presented Reggie with a special gift.  It was a beautiful custom championship belt.  The belt had an engraving of Reggie holding up one of his most famous belts, the WWF Championship Belt worn by Hulk Hogan, Brett Hart, Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin until replaced with the current belt.  The belt read "Reggie Parks, King Of Belts."  The belt had been made by Dave Millican, Ed, Bruce Owens, Randy Kavrik (the jeweler for Reggie's belts) and Theo Miller, and even had a special side plate with the CAC logo on it.

Ed sent me several photos of Reggie with his belt.  Ironically, Dave Millican said that it was the only belt that Reggie actually owned!  Of all the belts he had created, he had never done one for himself.  The photos showed Reggie being congratulated by some of his biggest fans, by his peers and holding that beautiful work of art overhead.  "The Quiet Superman" as he was called by some of the wrestling magazines in his youth had now been recognized as the undisputed King of Beltmakers.  

So, while I didn't get to hang out with Pampero Firpo, Penny Banner, Dick Beyer, Bobby Heenan, or my good "e-friend" Percival A. Friend in Vegas, I did get to see the pictures of this wonderful moment.  Okay, so Ed told me Heenan's "wedding cake joke" and I rolled in the floor over that one.  Hopefully next year will find me in Vegas with the Reggie Parks' team and stars in my eyes, "marking out" with all the rest and, if not, I'll definitely be in Atlanta in the fall of 2002 for the meeting there!


Remembering Starrcade '83

According to the sages, as Spring approaches, a young man's fancy turns to love.  However, with the Spring, most wrestling fans' thoughts turn to Wrestlemania.

I had been thinking about how much pay-per-views had changed the business over the years when I ran across an old issue of Sports Review Wrestling that had been packed away in a box at my parent's house years ago.  I had bought the magazine while I was in college, and only recently had the box of stuff that I had returned home with over seventeen years ago resurfaced from that nightmare that is my old room in my parent's basement (now their storeroom.)

I sat down with the magazine and looked at the cover.  There was Ric Flair, in his prime, blood all over his white-blonde hair, holding up that famous NWA World Heavyweight belt (known to belt fans as the "dome globe" belt).  Also on the cover was a bittersweet photo of Ricky Steamboat and the late Jay Youngblood, as well as the infamous Roddy Piper-Greg Valentine Dog Collar Match, in which Piper tried to "take revenge" on Valentine in an angle that developed when Piper almost beat out Mick Foley in the ear-loss department during a match several months earlier in which Valentine won the NWA U.S. title.

The show had been in Greensboro, North Carolina.  It represented the height of the Jim Crockett Promotion' territory, before it completely merged with the World Championship Wrestling promotion in Georgia to become the WCW known today.  Since the match had been just down I-85 from my home town, it was in easy access, and just about everybody that was a wrestling fan back then (and there were a hell of a lot of us in the Tarheel State back then even before it was "cool") knew that something special was going to happen that night.  We had no idea that it would actually change the business forever.

When I opened up the kayfabe mag, one of the first things I saw was an article on a young, healthy Terry "Magnum T.A." Allen, done while he was still in Bill Watt's old Mid-South promotion.  It saddened me to think that "Maggie Mae" (as Dusty Rhodes called him) would have his career cut short all too soon in a tragic car accident that almost paralyzed him for life.  At the time, Magnum was teaming with Mr. Wrestling II, just before Watts would have Wrestling II turn heel on Magnum and give him the push to the top of the area.

According to the article, 15,447 people saw Starrcade 83 live in the Greensboro Coliseum, while over 30,000 watched the match on "closed circuit" locations in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  The match was also carried in other outlets around the globe.  The late Gordon Solie, Dean of Wrestling Announcers, called the action on the closed circuit broadcast of what was truly the NWA's "Super Card."

Kevin Sullivan and Mark Lewin vs. Johnny Weaver and Scott McGee
This was the first match of the night.  While Sullivan and Lewin left the "Satanism" angle that had raised the ire of fans in Florida behind for this match, Lewin did resort to the infamous "spike" which bloodied McGee.  Angelo Mosca, now a face in the Mid-Atlantic area, ran in for the save, having been "injured" previously by Lewin's spike.  

Carlos Colon vs. Abdullah the Butcher
Until I finally met the infamous Butcher in 1999, I would have never believed that someone able to work the matches that he did could be such a polite, articulate man who shared my appreciation for good food and find cigars.  Colon, the WWC (Puerto Rico) champ and Abby actually worked most of this match, which was notable for not being the same high degree of bloodletting that their feud had inspired in the WWC area. The match ended when Hugo Savinovitch, Abby's heel manager in Puerto Rico, interfered.

The Assassins vs. Rufus R. Jones and Bugsy McGraw
The Assassins (Troy Hamilton and Hercules Hernandez) were managed by "#1" Paul Jones, who had become a hated heel manager in the Mid-Atlantic area.  The masked men defeated the face duo of Jones and McGraw.  While Jones remained popular in the Mid-Atlantic area throughout his career, McGraw never quite seemed to get over here as he did in Florida.

Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood vs. Cowboy Bob Orton and Dick Slater
Although Orton and Slater went over in this match, it was a good learning experience for a young Mark Youngblood, Jay's brother and son of Texas legend Ricky Romero.  While the fans were strongly behind the veteran McDaniel and the younger of the Youngbloods, the team never reached the level that Steamboat and Jay did during their time together.  They did make a very good transitional team during their time as NWA Tag Team champions.

"Downtown" Charlie Brown (Jimmy Valiant) vs. The Great Kabuki
This was the culmination of Jimmy's angle under the hood in the Mid-Atlantic during his feud with Gary Hart.  Folks in this area would remember Valiant's attics as the "man from outta town" for some time.

Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine (Dog Collar Match)
Piper was "out for revenge" following his U.S. Title loss (and almost loss of his ear) in a match that was almost unmatched for brutality until the creation of ECW.  This match was "hardcore" before that term was widely used in the wrestling business, and the reputation from this match would follow Piper and Valentine all the way to the WWF.

Ric Flair vs. Harley Race
This is on my list as one of the greatest matches of all time.  It had everything.  It had history between the opponents, who happened to be two of the greatest that ever climbed in the ring.  It had the mystique of being an NWA World Title Match in a cage, which was unheard of at the time.  It had great psychology as both men had the crowd on their feet through the entire match.  It had the emotion of the home-town crowd as the decidedly pro-Flair audience got to see the NWA Title come back to the Nature Boy from the hated Harley Race, who had hired Bob Orton and Dick Slater to "take Flair out" in the angle before the match.  It was Ric Flair at his best.

Rick Steamboat and Jay Youngblood vs. Jack and Jerry Brisco
Angelo Mosca was the special referee for this match in which the Briscos, long-time faces that had become hated heels in the Mid-Atlantic because of their feud with Youngblood and Steamboat, dropped the NWA Tag Team belts to the team that would hold those titles so many times.  I remember even as a "smart" mark being saddened by this match, as the Briscos had been long-time favorites of mine in the Florida area for years.  Jack had been a popular NWA World Heavyweight champion, and Jerry had held the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title, so becoming NWA Tag Team champs was pretty impressive to the fans.  Unfortunately, they had turned heel in the process, a fact that Gordon Solie would bemoan during his commentary.  The future "stooge" of Vince McMahon and his brother were heels because of their attitude, but still wrestled like faces, which made the match-ups with Steamboat/Youngblood interesting to me.  Sadly, Jay Youngblood would become one of many talented young wrestlers that would die tragically young in the 1980's and 1990's, including David, Mike, Chris and Kerry Von Erich, Gino Hernandez, Buzz Sawyer, and Brian Pillman.

Unfortunately, for those of us who still long for the days of regional promotions, Starrcade '83 was the predecessor of the Pay Per View shows that dominate the business now.  It was also the beginning of the consolidation of many of the old NWA regions that were represented on the card.  Soon the Mid-Atlantic, Georgia and Florida territories would merge to become WCW.  World Class would withdraw from the NWA, as would the Calgary Stampede area.  The Central States territory, AWA, and others would close as well, leaving only a few independent promoters to keep the NWA going, and Turner Broadcasting and Titan Sports would become the kings fighting over the hill.  However, we fans didn't know all that at the time.  We merely enjoyed the fact that North Carolina's favorite "adopted son" Ric Flair had regained "the ten pounds of gold" and the NWA title was back home in the Mid-Atlantic area again.


How Old Is Too Old?

"And I'm much too young to be this damn old." -- Garth Brooks

Not too long ago a post showed up on the Wrestling Legends e-group that gave the opinion that Jerry Lawler was "way past his prime" and should "know when to give it up."  That post and the responses that followed made both Scott Teal and myself think, "That would make a pretty good topic for ‘Random Shots'."  Scott wrote to me in an e-mail a few weeks ago.

Just how old is "too old" to be in the ring?

I'm certainly not going to make the argument that no wrestler far past his or her prime and ring skills has ever stepped into the ring in pro wrestling.  In fact, I've been a vocal critic in several incidences in which long-time veterans or legends have had absolutely no business being in the ring.  Yet I've also cheered for the men and women who've seemingly defied time (and gravity) to continue to be credible competitors in pro wrestling well past the age of 50.  Note that I said credible competitors and not merely a sideshow.  To be totally honest in the matter, there was a time that I myself scoffed that guys that were "over 40" had no business in the ring.  Now that I approach that age myself, my opinion on that has drastically altered.

One of the things that seem to allow wrestlers to continue to be credible in the ring long after other professional athletes have retired seems to be the attitude of the wrestler themselves.  Do they act "old?"  Do they visibly dodge spots or even routine bumps?  Do they refuse to sell to guys that are obviously younger, faster and stronger than them?  In cases like this, it doesn't take the average fan long to see that the person has no business in the ring.  In his book "Mankind: Have A Nice Day," Mick Foley pointed out that Tiger Jeet Singh operated in this manner in Japan.  Just the opposite was Foley's hero and mentor, Terry Funk.  Funk didn't think "old" and the fans didn't perceive him as "old", even when he was facing guys that were literally half his age.

Lawler is a great example of staying young by not thinking old.  Lawler's son Brian (Christopher) Lawler aka "Grandmaster Sexay" has been in the business for awhile now and few fans could believe that Jerry was old enough to have a son Brian's age.  Of course, having a girlfriend like Stacy "Kat" Carter would be a great incentive to "think young."  I had the chance to see Lawler in Raleigh, NC, this year against Tazz at SummerSlam and Jerry worked the match hard and took some very stiff bumps.  Sure, he was nowhere near the level of guys like the Hardys and Dudleyz, but he didn't have to be.  He's Jerry "The King" Lawler and he's already proved himself in the ring for years.

But can he still work?  Definitely!

I noticed this week that Jerry would be in one of the feature matches in the WWF PPV this weekend against Steven Richards of the RTC.  Add to that the fact that he still wrestles regularly on the weekly Memphis Championship Wrestling cards in his developmental promotion along with the future stars of the WWF, and it's a pretty impressive work rate.

I got to see another good example of this a couple of weeks ago.  I went to Washington, NC, to an NWA Mid-Atlantic Wrestling card to visit two of my best friends, Curtis "Firebreaker Chip" Thompson and NWA Hall of Famer Leilani Kai.  Now that's two folks that already fit into this "don't think old" category right there!  Both of them have passed the 4-0 mark and still work just as hard as the youngsters that they help train.  Just as I walked in the door near the dressing room, Leilani ran up and grabbed me by the arm saying, "Come on! The man is waiting to see you!"

"Who?" I asked, wondering why the former WWF Women's Champion was giggling like a schoolgirl with a secret.  "Dusty!" she said.  I knew that Dusty Rhodes was scheduled to be there that night but I didn't expect to have someone like Leilani Kai introduce me to Dusty Rhodes.  "Let the mark-out begin!" I said.

Lei took me to the back where "The American Dream" was in the locker area talking to several young wrestlers, including Lodi, Andrue "Bubba" Bane, and Q-Sic.  He stood up and I was amazed at how tall Rhodes was.  He stuck out a big hand and, with that distinctive West Texas lisp, said "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."  I talked to him and Leilani for a few minutes before Ricky Morton, who is the current booker for the promotion, walked in and greeted us.  As a long-time fan, I had never dreamed that one day I'd be in the locker-room talking to Dusty Rhodes, Leilani Kai and Ricky Morton.

When Bobby Eaton came in the door, I almost lost it.  Bobby walked up to me and introduced himself (like someone wouldn't know him, right?) and we talked for a minute.  When I mentioned that I wrote a column for Scott Teal's website, his face lit up.  "Scott Teal?  He's an old buddy of mine from Gulas' promotion!"  From that minute on, Bobby treated me like he had known me all his life and immediately started putting pieces of candy in my hand everytime I turned around!  "Here TaZ, have some more…"  I swear the guy is a sugar freak.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact that he's one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

I found Dusty to be a very soft-spoken person with a great, dry, sense of humor.  Between Ricky Morton's stories and jokes, and Dusty's off the cuff comments, I spent the whole evening laughing and enjoying this reunion of sorts.  I also found him to be a very knowledgeable producer and businessman who readily shared advice and information with the youngsters in the room.  Even guys with "Big 2" experience like Lodi sat under "The Learning Tree" in that room, with Rhodes, Morton, Eaton, Kai and Thompson being open and honest with all of them.  Ricky and Dusty even worked in an extra angle just before the intermission to allow a couple of the young guys who came in to have a chance to get in the ring.

But, back to the topic at hand.  The main event of the night was Dusty and Ricky Morton against Bobby Eaton and Rikki Nelson (himself a veteran of the old Crockett Promotion).  All four guys went at it with some fantastic work and some hilarious spots that I haven't seen in awhile.  The heels fed Rhodes for the "Bionic Elbow" and the "Flip, Flop and Fly" while Bobby hit several top rope moves. It was like a trip back in time.  Dusty had said that night that he would be heading to WCW again the following week and, sure enough, the Dream and the Nature Boy would once again clash in the ring.  The reaction to Flair and Rhodes going at it again during that angle was enough to bring up the rumor of the two meeting at a WCW PPV in the future.

Lou Thesz, Dick The Bruiser, Fritz Von Erich, the original Sheik, Verne Gagne, Nick Bockwinkle, Ray Stevens, Dory Funk Jr., Wahoo McDaniel, and others continued to wrestle successfully past what many younger people would consider "their prime."  Some, like Gagne, Bruiser and Sheik (who were the bosses of their territories) failed to use younger talent effectively and ultimately their promotions fell by the wayside.  However, Von Erich built a successful promotion around his sons and some of the best young talent available at that time, including The Freebirds, Gino Hernandez, Jimmy Garvin, Chris Adams and others.

How old is "too old?"  I don't think there's any way that you can put an age limit on pro wrestling because guys like these are going to prove you wrong if you do.  I don't think there should be a "senior's" promotion either (although that's been WCW's nickname for awhile now) because it's interaction with veterans like these that can make the younger wrestlers so much better.  As long as a wrestler can truly "sell" to the fans and themselves the fact that they belong in the ring, don't call them "old."


What Makes It Professional Wrestling ...?

I received an email the other day from a young fan that attended the WWF's Axccess event prior to Wrestlemania 17.  This young man had traveled all the way from England and then paid a pretty "All-American" penny for the WWF's Wrestlemania Program book.  At Axccess, just about all of the workers from the company are out at tables to meet and greet the fans, do photos, etc.  Of course, these fans paid to be there for this event, so anyone would expect that this would be the time for the wrestlers, managers and others to put their best foot forward.  Fans are there, the press is there, and it's the biggest wrestling event of the year.

And, to their credit, many of the people that this fan met were very personable according to his story.  He asked several to sign the souvenir book with their "old" character names and they were more than happy to comply.  However, one particular wrestler (who I'm going to have the decency not to name) didn't share his co-worker's enthusiasm for meeting and greeting the fans.  What was surprising to me was that this person wasn't one of the names or main eventers, but rather a solid mid-card worker.  When the fan asked him to autograph his book, the wrestler took it, flipped through it with a frown and said, "Oh.  One of those nice souvenirs books ..." He then put the book down and said "And I'm not in it!"  This took the fan aback a bit and he said, "Well, I'm sure you'll be in it next year."  The wrestler then snatched the book back up, scribbled something in it, and handed it back to the fan with a sarcastic "Yeah, whatever ..."

I bring this story up here in the 1wrestling legends column because it reminded me of how very different things are in the business today.  I think that many of the workers I see that have made it to "the big time" at one point or another have forgotten the things that made professional wrestling "Professional" in the first place.  During this fan interaction period at this event, there was little or no kayfabe, and even the "heels" were out of character to sign autographs and pose for photos.  As I noted, the people that were there had paid handsomely to be there and the wrestlers and managers were getting paid to be there.  Therefore, in my mind, they were "on the clock" and should have also been on their best behavior.

I can remember being a young fan and getting my first opportunity to get an autograph at a wrestling match.  It was an IWA match and there were no "gimmick" tables during intermission as there are in so many independent matches now.  In fact, I've seen wrestlers almost fight over who would have the match just prior to intermission so that their "gimmick sales" would pick up.  In order to get an autograph, you either had to patiently wait at the dressing room door during intermission or wait at the parking lot exit.  Of course, only the bravest of the brave would approach guys like the Anderson Brothers and Brute Bernard in the early days, or The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) or Greg Valentine in later years for fear that they would snatch you up and stomp a mud-puddle in you.  Even then, many of the "heels" would do a signature every now and then, although they wouldn't break kayfabe while doing it, making some remark or action that would keep them heels in the mind of the fan that walked away.

Back then, an autograph of a wrestler was a memento, not a commodity or a "collectible."  It was a way to have the program or match card from the event personalized, or perhaps just an interesting hobby for a fan, young or old.  In all the events that I went to as a kid, the wrestlers were as amicable as they could be in signing autographs.  Sometimes they were able to stop and talk to the fans as they signed, and other times they would sign on the move to their car or van as they made the next trip in the "loop" that ran through the Carolinas and Virginia.  To have a fan ask for an autograph was a sign of recognition to a wrestler, and recognition by fans meant continued work.  Greg Valentine was one wrestler who always looked as if he would rather be anywhere else in the world other than signing autographs, but he still did them.

The first time I had ever heard of a wrestler "selling" an autograph was Jimmy Valiant during his time in the Mid-Atlantic area.  Valiant was wildly popular as a face during that time, but during one show in my area, he would only autograph for a $2 fee or an item that had been purchased from his table.  At the time, I thought that it was the most outrageous thing I'd ever seen!  Charging for an autograph?  Nobody would ever put up with that!  How little did I know ...

Rick and Scott Steiner, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, Bulldog Brower, The Mighty Igor, Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk ... all were "big names" when I walked up to them and asked for autographs.  All were very polite to me in giving them, some more talkative than others were, but that's to be expected.  They were professionals and they acted the part.  They understood that their reputation affected the number of tickets that they would sell in that town the next time they came through.  They understood that an autograph was a small inconvenience to make a satisfied customer a happy customer.  I saw many wrestlers tell fans that they were busy at that point, but to meet them at such and such place after the match.  It was a small price to pay for a loyal following.

The attitude shown by this un-named wrestler at Wrestlemania simply amazes an "old mark" like me.  There is simply no excuse for it, even a "bad day."  Perhaps this gentleman has forgotten all the young men and women who bust their behinds in the indy promotions every weekend to try to simply make a spot in the "big show."  Perhaps he's forgotten how far he has come to be a part of the most dominant company in the history of the business.  Perhaps he didn't think that the opinion of one fan that traveled from another country to attend that event mattered.  Perhaps ... but the fact remains that it DID matter.  There are many "old timers" out there that could give some of the wrestlers today a few lessons.  You cannot simply call yourself a "professional."  You must act like one.


Television Titles

"What the heck are ‘Television Titles' all about?"

That question was posed to me at another website's message board where a discussion of the old WCW TV Title belt had come up.  I thought that the question seemed to answer itself, but then remembered that today's wrestling fan is accustomed to just about every title a promotion has being defended on every TV program each week.  With the reduction of non-televised house shows of the WWF and the demise of WCW and ECW, just about all titles are "television titles" today.

There was a time not too long ago when this wasn't the case.  For all you folks out there reading this that don't remember weekly shows done by regional promotions, we're going to take a look back at some of the Television Titles.  For those of you that do, I hope you'll join me on a brief return to the way the business was in a much simpler and (for me, at least,) enjoyable time.

In the days of regionally broadcast television shows, the main objective of the show was to build audiences for "house" shows.  Certainly an enterprising promoter could turn a dollar from advertisements and sponsorships of successful TV wrestling.  However, most TV shows featured enhancement matches in which a star babyface or heel would face off with a high-quality enhancement worker (which is my favorite term for "jobber"), while the announcers put over the star's latest rivalry or upcoming matches.  The entire focus of TV was to "put a$$es in the seats" as one long-time star told me.  That being the case, a promoter wouldn't want to put their top star or champion in the ring on TV for title defenses.  Those were saved for the house shows where they could draw the most money.  However, something was needed to keep TV audiences interested and tuning back in every week, so Television Titles were the perfect answer.

I'm not sure what the earliest television title was, but many sources point to a "Beat the Champ International Television Title" that was defended on the old Los Angeles (CA) promotion's show with Joe Pazandak becoming the first champion in March of 1951. (see footnote) Over the next few years, such legends as Sandor Szabo, George Bollas, Wilber Snyder, and a young man wrestling under the name of Rocky Valentine (the late Johnny Valentine), Nick Bockwinkle, and Bobo Brazil.  With an interruption in the 1960's, where the non-NWA WWA promotion was based in Los Angeles, the Beat the Champ TV title continued to be defended until the promotion closed in December of 1982.  There was even a Women's U.S. Television Title in at least one promotion during the 50's, possibly in the Tennessee area.

From 1956 through the early 60's, this same LA promotion also had an "International Television Tag Team Title" that reads like a "Who's Who" of the Golden Age of Professional Wrestling: Wilbur Snyder and Sandor Szabo; Lord James Blears and Lord Athol Layton; Great Bolo and Tom Rice; Wilbur Snyder and Bobo Brazil; Gene Kiniski and John Tolos; Bobo Brazil and Sandor Szabo; Don Leo Jonathan and Lord Carlton;  Lee Henning and Tom Rice; Bobo Brazil and Priomo Carnera; Enrique Romero and Luis Martinez, and many more. (see footnote) The last team was Don Leo Johnathan and Freddie Blassie (what a combination that was!)

This was the heyday of TV wrestling in LA and these matches served to draw interest to the TV shows while titles such as the NWA World Heavyweight Title and the Americas Championships were defended at house shows.

In my area, the Southeast, there were several promotions that had television titles, including the Mid-Atlantic (Crockett Promotions), Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Championship Wrestling from Florida.  The Florida TV title gave that promotion several opportunities for great angles, including Jack Brisco losing the TV title to Tarzan Tyler in the first fall of a best two out of three falls match, only to have Brisco win the second and third fall to take Tyler's Florida State Heavyweight title!  Paul Jones also "retired" the TV title (which was a trophy and not a belt at the time) after winning it by defeating a mask-less Johnny Walker (Mr. Wrestling II) in a tournament, then engraved his name on it and presented it to Jack Brisco, who destroyed it. (see footnote) The person I remember best as the Florida Television Champion was The Missouri Mauler, who's "Mule Kicks" made for great TV at that time.

The Georgia area's TV Title (which would later become the National TV title, be briefly called the "World TV Title" and then be dropped to make way Jim Crockett's NWA TV title when Crockett bought out the Georgia promotion) also featured some major names in the business.  The first champion was Joe Scarpa (aka Chief Jay Strongbow). The belt was also held by Nick Bockwinkle, Ray Gunkel, Luke Graham, Klondike Bill, as well as being a singles title that both Ole and Gene Anderson held.  The TV title was used to put a young Tommy Rich in contention for an NWA World Title shot and, after becoming the National TV title, set up a couple of memorable feuds between Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Ronnie Garvin and Roberts and Mr. Wrestling II.

However, no other title fired the imagination of a young farm boy from North Carolina like the Mid-Atlantic Television Title.  While not the earliest of TV titles by any means (Ole Anderson won the first title in 1973), the Mid-Atlantic TV title would evolve over the years into a line of championships, becoming the NWA TV title in 1977, then the NWA World Television Title in 1985.  When World Championship Wrestling broke away from the National Wrestling Alliance in 1991, the title became known as the WCW World Television Title and continued to be held by some of the best talent in that promotion up until the title was abandoned in late 1999.  (A short-lived attempt was made to resurrect the title in early 2000, but was soon abandoned.)

The original Mid-Atlantic TV belt was a resource that was shrewdly used by the promoters and bookers over the years.  The belt at times took young talent in the area and elevated them to upper-card status through TV exposure.  It was great for featuring established stars that were new to the area and also could give an extra boost to some of the long-time talent in the promotion by involving them in a TV title angle.

The TV title was the first singles title held in the area by Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, and Greg Valentine and it was used to bring both Tim "Mr. Wrestling" Woods and Johnny Weaver back into the mix later in their careers as well.  It was the title that Tully Blanchard won after moving to the area from Texas and set up the legendary feud with fellow Texan Dusty Rhodes.  In that feud was the memorable televised cage match in which Dusty won not only the title that would become the NWA World Television Title, but the services of Blanchard's valet, Babydoll (Nichola Roberts).

The TV title in this region was also one of several titles that were "united" during the Crockett family's acquisition of several regional promotions (which would in time give rise to World Championship Wrestling).  The NWA/WCW World Television Title was united with the Television Title from the UWF in a match between NWA Champion Nikita Koloff and the UWF's Terry Taylor.  The UWF TV title had developed from another regional TV championship that had earned a reputation for innovative TV angles, the Mid-South TV title.  However, the Mid-South TV Championship was unusual in that it was not a belt or trophy that signified the title, but a medal!

I've heard a lot of people refer to television titles as "lower titles" or "secondary titles."  In my humble opinion, this is far from being the case.  Not everyone could pull off becoming a successful television champion.  Some of the best talent that ever worked a house show in front of a live crowd could fail to make an impact in a TV studio or small venue where events were taped.  In addition, the TV champ had to keep the television audience interested in his matches so that they would continue to tune in week after week.  Heels made better long-running champions, as more people would tune in to the weekly show in hopes that the hated champion would finally fall to the latest babyface challenger.  Arn Anderson was one of the greatest TV champions of all times for just this reason, and Tully Blanchard played the whining bratty heel that would only defend his title when forced to do so to the hilt.  

Several times the Mid-Atlantic TV title would have the "stipulation" that the belt was on the line for the first 15 minutes of any match that the champion had on TV.  Of course, the matches almost always went to 15 minutes with a popular heel getting the win after the 15 minute mark or the heel just barely squeaking out a victory with time running out.  With the later NWA World TV title and WCW TV title, men like Steve Austin and Steven (William) Regal had great success as the long-term heel champs.  Austin used many of the lessons learned as the WCW TV champion to help build the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that would capture the ratings of cable TV and PPV broadcast several years later.  Since they were primarily defended on the TV broadcasts, TV title angles could be a bit more involved than those of titles won and lost at house shows since taping could provide "flashbacks" to bring viewers up to date on earlier matches or interviews.

The last "major" TV title was the ECW World TV title, which was ironically united with the ECW World Title by Rhino just before that promotion finally succumbed to a long financial drought.  While several other house-show driven promotions continue to have TV titles, such as NWA Wildside, the "golden age" of the TV title appears to have passed with an age in which TV was a tool to draw business instead of what it has become…the wrestling business itself.  I have to say that I feel we are much the poorer with its passing.

This column is dedicated to my brother, Lex, who never laughed at his big brother's dreams to become "TV champion"


 
Thanks for visiting 1wrestlinglegends.com.
Come back often!

Website design by Scott Teal
Copyright © 2010 by Scott Teal.  All rights reserved.

No part of this material may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written consent of the publisher.