The Legends Who Made Wrestling Fun
Sunday afternoon after returning home from church my first stop was the TV. Sitting there in my miniature three-piece suit complete with cheesey clip on tie, I adjusted the rabbit ears sitting atop our Flintstone-sized boob tube.
By the time everyone else had changed clothes and made their way to the living room, I had picked the signal from neighboring Asheville, NC.
Chief Wahoo McDaniel leaned his body into the microphone as he and the commentator squeezed themselves into frame. I don't remember the exact phrases or trick lines, but by the end of his rant, we hated whomever he was going to step into the ring with. Before he made his exit, he slammed a karate chop style blow into his open palm to better demonstrate his trademark tomahawk chop.
There weren't any fireworks or divas back then; it was a microphone, fans and the ring. That was it....oh and sometimes they found an opportunity to use the P.A. system depending on venue to play whatever theme music was on their eight-track tapes.
Here are "my" childhood favorites.
I'm sure you all have your own. Let me hear your favorites 1970-80.
"Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant
"Dooo waaa dup dup ditty talkin bout' thaa boy frooom New York city"
When available that was the opening line of his theme music. Ironically AKA James Harold Fanning was born in Tennessee and got nowhere near the Big Apple until Crockett promotions eventually crossed the state line. He feuded regularly in the early years with Jerry Lawler and later moved onto battling many of the traditional legends like Baron Von Raschke and The Assassins. Traveling the circuits for the most part under Jim Crockett promotions, he eventually left Crockett and returned to Memhpis when the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) morphed into WCW.
In my opinion, he was the first to energize the crowd in such a way that Hulk Hogan must have modeled his fist pumping antics after him.
Ric Flair rumored him to be the best bleeder in business.
The Von Erich Family
Probably one of the top five tragic stories in the wrestling world. The details of their tragedy is known by most, suffice to say it was indeed catastrophic. Like a whirlwind they set the wrestling world on fire, much like a phoenix. We all witnessed the deaths. I won't slander their names by detailing their story or trivialize what they did by assigning it with criticism. It is enough that their family devoted and sacrificed so much of the family and their name to the sport.
We will wait patiently for the next generation, which is unfolding as I write.
Blackjack Mulligan (My Dad's Twin)
U.S Champion, BlackJack Mulligan was one of my personal favorites. For a blind man he might be confused with Dusty Rhodes, throwing about vernacular and banter that would make Charles Webster turn cartwheels in his grave; his ring persona was colorful to say the least. Maybe it was his time in the NFL or just being a Texan, who knows really.
During the early seventies Blackjack (aka Robert Windham) ruled the southern circuits as a villian, teaming often with Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes and Blackjack Lanza. His personality got a push in the north Atlantic region where he got incredibly popular in a few short months. The push enveloped him, and by the time he returned to the southern circuits, he was a household name.
One moment that sticks out in particular was seeing him knock out one of Ric Flair's front teeth with a rear elbow off the bottom turn-buckle. The show was brought to a swift end by his trademark claw; Flair scooped up his tooth and almost ran from the ring.
On a more personal note I liked him because he and my father were seperated at birth, they were each others dopple-gangers. On more than one occasion, my father was approached for autographs. It was a joke among the family, until a rather confused lady mistook my father at an airport and proceeded to kiss him before my mother could update her on the mistake.
Look for his lineage; current up-comer Husky Harris is his grandson, and you should remember his son as a former Four-Horseman and U.S. Champion Barry Windham. His other son Kendall also wrestled but never got a push.
Mr. Wrestling No. 2
Mr. Wrestling number 2, aka Jimmy Walker became known to me in 1976, as he went toe-to-toe with Arn Anderson. Ric Flair paced outside the ring and sauntered over to the media stage where he informed the announcer Gordon Solie that Arn Anderson was going to viciously defeat Mr. Wrestling No. 2. Moments later Mr. 2 jumped off the top turn-buckle and planted a well placed knee square on Anderson's shoulder to finish the match.
He and Flair scuffled a bit until Mr. Wrestling No. 1 made a rare appearance and turned heel on his partner. There after Mr. 2 was by himself.
Hailing from Hawaii, he traveled to Canada to get his feet wet with the like of Gene Kiniski and bruno San Martino. Vince McMahon Sr. gave him his early breaks as a heel working the northern states under the early WWWF as "Rubberman," known for his incredible flexibility.
Walker wrestled all over the world but got his biggest breaks in the southeast. Teaming with Tim Woods, an accomplished wrestler himself, they teamed up for hundreds of matches. Oddly enough, most of the robes worn by Paul Orndorff and Ric Flair were made by Walker himself.
Sadly Walker never rose to the ranks of world champion, but he did hold several titles for state and division. Back in Hawaii, Walker continues his craft teaching up-and-comers the necessary skills to make it to the next level.
Not only did he have the cool name, but because of mustached persona he was also able to cash in on the Magnum PI craze.
Born Terry Wayne Allen, he started wrestling at 19 and worked the farm circuits for many years until Crockett promotions picked him up.
He exploded onto the NWA scene quickly making a name and reputation for himself as Magnum TA. He was a great crowd draw as he and Nikita Koloff battled intensely match after match. It was that team up that made NWA popular during the early 80's.
He was at that time, next to Flair, the highest paid wrestler pulling in about $500,000 a year. He was friends with just about anybody that knew him, and his charisma in and out of the ring made fans love him.
Had it not been for his career-ending car crash, he would have been a world champion. Today, he leads a quiet existence and rarely make appearances. To this day, he remains the single most thought of wrestler when I reflect on the 80's.
I hated Tully Blanchard the most of any wrestler past or present. Alongside Arn and Ole Anderson, he became one of NWA's biggest heels. He reigned supreme as the world television title champion, losing the belt after an astounding 353-day reign. Dirty or not it merits recognition.
He was also famous for the bloodiest match I have seen ever. He and Magnum TA duked out in the ring non-stop, at Starcade 85 for more than 40 minutes, inside a steelcage during the infamous "I Quit" match. Ultimately Magnum won the match, but who really wins after each person loses over a pint of blood?
His feuds were endless as he made enemies of almost anyone who laced up, but most notably is the Magnum TA fued, battles with Dusty Rhodes over the blonde bombshell manager Babydoll, Wahoo McDaniels and Ricky Steamboat.
Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy
"Bam Bam" Gordy made me nervous when I watched him. He was so big and strong that when he threw wrestlers around the ring, it looked as though it was going to fly apart at the turn-buckles.
He was one-third of the Fabulous Freebirds, teaming up with frontman Michael Hayes and Buddy Roberts, and later "Fists of Stone" Ron Garvin. His real fame came under Crockett Promotions, but he saw wrestling also briefly under the WWF banner as the masked Executioner.
As a Freebird, he feuded often with the Steiner brothers and Doctor Death Steve Williams.
I will always remember him for the film footage I saw of him while he wrestled in Japan. While trading blows with the Japanese champion, Gordy threw him over the top rope (something that had never been done before in the Japanese circuits) and proceeded to chase him.
Then the most amazing thing happened: Thousands, and I really mean thousands, of scared Japanese wrestling fans jumped out of their seats and raced for the exits. Standing among the Japanese fans, he looked bigger than Andre the Giant.
Sadly, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy died at the young age of 40 from a cardiac episode in 2001. He will be greatly missed.
During the mid 70s, Tommy Rich was the go-to hero that wrestled every heel that got in the ring. Naturally, the girls loved him and was often feuding with other wrestlers over their girlfriends wanting some Wildfire.
In the day, he feuded off and on with Four Horsemen (mainly Ole Anderson) and built a reputation as a real scrapper when he cracked three of Ivan Koloffs ribs after he head butted Rich and made him "bleed the hard way."
He enjoyed great success in the ring against Harley Race and held several titles including the NWA world heavyweight strap.
Tommy began to faze out as new talent emerged; the time had come for fresh faces like Sting and Lex Luger.
Abdullah the Butcher
Abdullah the Butcher aka Lawrence Shreeve, my favorite heel, hails from the cold lands of Canada and still wrestles, when his two restaurants allow him the time.
Known for his bloody antics, hence his billing, he became famous for biting wrestlers foreheads until they bled; they would then, in turn, bloody him with great effect.
He is also known for the Kevin Bacon-like third degree as opposed to the seventh as you can somehow connect yourself with Abdullah through three individuals. (I've tried, it took me four))
For that same reason, he has probably wrestled the same if not more wrestlers than Ric Flair.
As I said, drop by his restaurant in south Atlanta, the ribs are actually quite tasty.
Well that's it, I know I left a bunch out.
Let me know your favorites.