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Forum: VOW General
Thread: American Wrestling History 101
Post by: Bruiser Brody(121422)
2007-10-01 18:57:52

Published 02.15.06

The professional wrestlers are gone. The professional wrestlers do not live here anymore. Frankie Belk sold Southeastern Wrestling Alliance to Ted Turner for more money than you would think, and the professional wrestlers sold their big houses on Lake Norman and drove in BMWs down I-85 to bigger houses in Atlanta.

Gone are Dusty Rhodes, the son of a plumber from Austin, TX, and the Andersons, Gene and Ole, whose Anderson block would leave an exhausted opponent marooned in the ring to flounder and drop like an animal shot with a tranquilizer gun; gone are the tough guys, Chief Wahoo McDaniel, who sewed his own stitches -- more than 2,000 in his career -- and Johnny Valentine, who hit guys so hard that even the old-timers, who never griped about anything, would complain. Gone are the Rock & Roll Express, The Masked Superstar, Mr. Wrestling I and II, The Professor, The Butcher, and Ricky Steamboat, the only wrestler who never turned bad and couldn't, even if they gave him a chain saw.

Gone is the Iron Sheik, who brought a mat to pray to Allah before every match -- to the boos of red-blooded Americans; gone is the Russian Nightmare, Nikita Koloff, whose cold, angry stare could frighten a marine even after the Cold War; gone are the flying elbows, airplane spins, Superfly Splashes, brainbusters, Indian grapevines, Russian leg sweeps and cobra holds; the midgets and giants, cowboys and Indians, the Nazi sympathizers and Abe Jacobs the Jew.

If you didn't follow wrestling, you wouldn't understand. You'd see them throw punches intended to miss, you'd see choke holds that don't really choke. You might call it phony, but you'd be missing the point.

"Why would anyone want to know if it's fake? You're not going to be better off," says George. "I still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. To this day I don't want to know how a magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat."

In the old days in Charlotte we did not take ourselves so seriously. Our heroes had platinum blond hair and twenty-seven-inch biceps, but you knew who was good and who was evil, who was changing over to the other side, and who was changing back. You knew that sooner or later the referee would look away just long enough for Bob Noxious to hit Lord Poetry with a folding chair. You knew that Lord Poetry would stare up from the canvas in stricken wonder, as if he had never once in his life seen a folding chair. (In the bar, we screamed at the television, Turn around, ref, turn around! Look out, Lord Poetry, Look out!)

The old days started in 1934 when a soft-spoken man came down from the Virginia mountains to Trade and Tryon streets with a vision and $5,000 in his pocket. Big Jim Crockett, as he came to be known, wasn't nicknamed in the ironic sense. He was big. He kept a towel on the dashboard of his car and would put it between his gut and the steering wheel to keep the two from touching when he drove.

Crockett promoted everything in Charlotte. He brought in the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s and rock and country in the 1950s and 1960s. He was friends with Gene Autry and James Brown. Popular musicals such as My Fair Lady came through town because of him. Even though he struggled to make money with the musicals, it didn't matter. He thought Charlotteans should have a chance to see them. Paul Buck, a manager of the old Charlotte Coliseum during wrestling's early-1970s heyday, credited Crockett alone with keeping the place in business.

But Big Jim's passion was for the men whose fates he controlled as if he were a god. He obsessed over his wrestling league. He answered most calls that came into his Morehead Street office. If a fan called in to talk to a wrestler, Crockett knew which wrestler he should push harder.

On Jan. 11, 1958, his first televised match aired live from WBTV's 40-by-60-foot studio. Big Jim gave his show to the CBS affiliate for free. In return, the hour-long program served as an advertisement for bigger Monday night events at the Park Center, the cramped auditorium that hosted wrestling well into the 1980s. The Park Center's low ceiling stood only 10 feet above the top rope of the ring, and the rare times a wrestler climbed up to the turnbuckles to leap off, it looked as if he might fly right through the ceiling.

Before the TV broadcasts, Crockett, usually in a navy blue suit that could carpet a den, would approach production manager Virgil Torrance to tell him how many chairs he should set up for the segregated black audience. The wrestlers took pleasure in scaring the black children, and Torrance tried to get them to stop. Almost every week he had to clean a small pool of urine the terrified tykes would leave behind.

The show never went a second over the time cap. Crockett sat on a platform perched over his wrestlers and when he felt the match had gone on long enough, he would raise his hand slightly above his head, like a Roman emperor. Within seconds someone was down for a three count.

In the early days there were less gimmicks and less muscles. There were good guys and bad guys, and maybe an Indian. To set off a crowd, all it took was an illegal yank of the hair or a tug of the trunks.

In the old days in Charlotte we did not have to decide whether the Hornets should trade Rex Chapmen (they should not) or if J.R. Reid was big enough to play center in the NBA (he is, but only sometimes). In the old days our heroes were as superficial as we were -- but we knew that -- and their struggles were exaggerated versions of our own.

Wrestling wasn't born in Charlotte, but it flourished here. Before Vince McMahon won the race to syndicate his promotion nationally, before there even was a race, promoters protected their territories like the Bloods and Crips. Professional sports teams were few and far between south of the Mason-Dixon, and wrestling's squared circle filled the void. In the 1970s, the general consensus was that up north, wrestling was fake, but down here, rasslin' was for real.

Among Southern territories, Crockett's Mid-Atlantic became the center of activity. Other territories had their moments. In the earlier 1970s, the Brisco brothers, Paul Jones and announcer Gordon Solie (the Walter Cronkite of wrestling) propelled Championship Wrestling from Florida to the center of the wrestling world. Memphis had Jerry Lawler. Fritz Von Erich, a Texan wrestling as a Nazi, started a Reich out of wrestling's most famous venue, the Sportatorium, in Dallas. Fritz' World Championship Wrestling used six cameras, three more than any other promotion at the time. He sold his show to Japan and Israel, becoming the first promoter to syndicate internationally. Fans of Georgia Championship Wrestling stood up to McMahon on Black Saturday, when without warning one evening in 1984, McMahon's northeastern-based World Wrestling Federation replaced the good ol' Georgia boys on TBS. The fans' letter-writing campaign and boycott convinced network owner Ted Turner to change his mind and keep the local product.

But Charlotte was the capital of Southern rasslin'. Other territories were too small for many wrestlers to make it big; only a few at the top could rake in the money. In Crockett's Mid-Atlantic territory there were plenty of shows, all within a reasonable driving distance from each other. Big-name wrestlers were on a waiting list to get into the Charlotte-based territory. The Mid-Atlantic stretched from Charleston in the south to Richmond up north, from Toccoa, GA, to the west and east to the ocean. In the Mid-Atlantic, according to Boogie Woogie Man Jimmy Valiant, Crockett had his boys working nine times a week (twice on Saturday and Sunday). On a good night, three shows employing up to 50 wrestlers ran across his vast region.

Big Jim's girth caught up to him. He died of a heart attack in 1973 and his oldest son, Jim Crockett Jr., took over. Little Jim shared his father's taciturn manner, but not his passion for the sport. When he inherited the company, Little Jim made two major changes that fueled the wrestling boom here. Charlotte had been known as a tag-team territory, but Jim realized the marketability of the individual wrestling star. He hired George Scott, a former wrestler and mastermind at creating story lines and angles, as a booker. Scott brought in guys with charisma, such as Chief Wahoo from Minnesota, who a year later would convince an unproven brash youngster, Rick Fliehr, to join him down south. Fliehr became Nature Boy Ric Flair.

On Saturdays in 1978, 106,000 homes in the Charlotte area tuned in to watch Mid-Atlantic wrestling. It outrated The Wide World of Sports, NCAA football and NCAA basketball. In Greensboro, wrestling did better with adult males than Starsky and Hutch or Kojak. Mello Yellow printed images of Ric Flair, Paul Jones and other warriors on the backs of cans; gas stations carried cups with the wrestlers on them. John Cougar Mellencamp, facing empty seats one night in Charlotte, opened his concert by saying it was a shame the Rock & Roll Express, a tag-team of fake rock stars, drew a bigger crowd than his.

The average wrestling fan was lower to middle class in the beginning. But as with NASCAR, wrestling eventually became the "in" thing to follow, says longtime fan Michael Bochicchio, who runs a wrestling Internet store off Eastway Drive. During its heyday, people in Charlotte talked about wrestling like they talk about the Panthers today.

Story lines in wrestling are called angles. In the old days, angles were drawn out over years. A big match could be the culmination of years of backstory. Ric Flair's rivalry with Ricky Steamboat spanned ten years. Some angles included drastic consequences. In one scenario, if Dusty Rhodes defeated Tully Blanchard, Rhodes would win the services of Tully's blonde, buxom manager, Baby Doll, for 30 days. (The services implied went beyond managerial expertise.) Longtime partners Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat fought one match under the condition that if they lost, they could never tag together again. Prior to pay-per-view TV, the only way to see big events such as this one was in person. Traffic on US 85 going into Greensboro backed up to a standstill.

The bookers often used racially charged characters and story lines. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the Iron Sheik became world champion. In one famous angle, Flair and the Andersons jumped Rufus Jones outside the ring and forced him to wear a chauffeur's cap. No one apologized. These angles put fans in the seats. People wanted to see bad guys like Flair get what was coming to them.

On nights when the crowd gave up extra heat, the wrestlers would continue to fight all the way back to the locker rooms. Without barricades, it wasn't safe for the bad guy to be among angry fans. Mobs slashed Ric Flair's tires in the parking lot so often that he started driving junk cars to the arenas. On occasion, the crowd heat turned violent. In Greenville. SC, one night, a 79-year-old man stabbed Ole Anderson, slicing open his stomach like a fish's. Anderson, lucky to have lived, spent the day recovering in Charlotte's Memorial Hospital. But 24 hours later, he was in Raleigh for a studio taping.

heroes didn't hide in Ballantyne mansions. Paul Jones had a garage on Central Avenue. Boogie Woogie bought a flower shop on South Boulevard for his frizzy haired wife and ringside manager, Big Mama. Anyone could go into Big Mama's Flowers, find Boogie there and get an autograph. Gene Anderson, who was so mean he didn't talk during interviews, loved children and owned a putt-putt and arcade on Independence Boulevard by the old coliseum. Nelson Royal ran a ranch and Western store in Mooresville. Ricky Steamboat hand-built the weights for his gym on Harris Boulevard. Jay Youngblood, Steamboat's tag-team partner and best friend, ran a juice bar inside the gym. When they wanted to relax or get something to eat, the boys hung out at Bennigans, a fake Irish restaurant.

I manage a fern bar on Independence Boulevard near downtown, called P.J. O'Mulligan's Goodtimes Emporium. The regulars call the place P.J.'s. When you have just moved to Charlotte from McAdenville or Cherryville or Lawndale, it makes you feel good to call somebody up and say, Hey let's meet after work at P.J.'s. It sounds like real life when you say it, and that is a sad thing. P.J.'s has fake Tiffany lampshades above the tables, with purple and teal hornets belligerent in the glass. It has fake antique Coca-Cola and Miller High Life and Piece-Arrow automobile and Winchester Repeating Rifle signs screwed into the walls, and imitation brass tiles glued to the ceiling. (The glue occasionally lets go and the tiles swoop down towards the tables, like bats.) The ferns are plastic because smoke and people dumping their drinks on the planters kill the real ones. The beer and mixed drinks are expensive, but the chairs and stools are cloth-upholstered and plush, and the ceiling lights in their smooth, round globes are low and pleasant enough, and the television set is huge and close to the bar and perpetually tuned to ESPN.

"""What killed wrestling in Charlotte? Pick something. Little Jim Crockett couldn't compete with the shrewder Vince McMahon. Instead of staying in the mid-Atlantic region, Jim played Vince's game, invested all his profits in expansion and got burned. Jim also entrusted too much power to his booker, Dusty Rhodes, who cared more about promoting himself than the business. Dusty ran expenses through the roof.""" **Dusty Rhodes has never changed. A few years ago, he went across the country fleecing the local wrestling shows that HE started up, in small communities. He step out from the show before it was finished, siting that he needed his calculator. At that point he would go to his truck, with all the money, and drive away, leaving the workers without pay and the concessions with a huge hole in their wallets.**

Wrestlers took limos and airplanes everywhere. When Crockett bought a second plane during his expansion, the wrestlers would sometimes fly it just to go from Charlotte to Greensboro. When contracts were introduced in the 1980s, wrestlers for the first time got hefty yearly salaries instead of having to bust their tails every night. The sport lost its shock value. To compete with a blossoming entertainment industry, bookers pulled more and more outlandish angles. Who would believe a piledriver hurt when guys were being set afire?

A sane man would have ridden off into the sunset when the wrestlers left town. They've gone from packed arenas in Greensboro and Charlotte to half-empty armories and recreation centers in Albemarle and Elkin. Shows are cancelled with little warning when promoters realize ticket sales won't cover expenses. Between February and April, wrestling activity flurries as poor promoters become optimistic with tax refunds.

Vince McMahon's national promotion, WWE, dominates the professional wrestling scene. It's nearly impossible for a wrestler to get noticed, and even then, the WWE tends to take only guys in the mold of the Incredible Hulk. "My main regret for these new guys is they don't really have anywhere to go. It's sad," says Mike Cline, a fan who has followed wrestling in Charlotte since the 1960s.

See DMD, I'm not the only one who believes that Vince McMahon is a major part if not the sole reason for American Wrestling's decline into mediocrity.

I hope everyone enjoys the article. ***Some of the original article talked about local things and thus I omitted them where possible.
Collectors Note : I have stored away, ALL of the soda collectors cans with wrestlers. My favorite : The Road Warriors :).

Post by: Dyna Mike Duncan(127082)
2007-10-01 19:20:25
I actually agree that Vince has killed wrestling off - it was a throw-away comment, meant to lighten the mood :)
Post by: Dyna Mike Duncan(127082)
2007-10-02 06:39:28
Although I should add - I'm not as passionate about Professional Wrestling and the state it is in as you are, so I don't really care that much that Vince has commercialised it to the point of it being a complete joke.

Fair play to Vince - he's a superb businessman and has made himself and lots of other people a ton of cash from what he's done.

The cost to the 'sport' and to individuals involved in it far outweighs the financial gain to the McMahon dynasty and their cronies though
Post by: Me(316143)
2007-10-02 19:43:11
What prompts the outburst? Years of foolishness or a recent incident?
Post by: Bruiser Brody(121422)
2007-10-03 06:46:51
"What prompts the outburst? Years of foolishness or a recent incident?"

Ummm, lol, what do you mean? I can't follow your line of questions :)
Post by: Me(316143)
2007-10-03 15:35:15
True, I can be to general.

I meant, I've noticed you are promoting old school wrestling more aggressively lately and I was wondering what has made you do this.

Have the years finally broke you down and made you say: enough is enough?

Or did Vince recently do something that really bothered you?

lol I value your opinion.
Post by: Bruiser Brody(121422)
2007-10-08 00:19:24
Both actually.

I as so many in this great country have been force fed by McMahon to endure shall we say, mediocre talent surrounded by alot of flash and flesh. In the classic days of professional wrestling, someone at the top of their careers, like The Rock, didn't pack-up and walk away. They enjoyed their careers to the end. Although Rock has seen much success in the theaters, I don't think he was actually ready to leave wrestling. ***What is published and what isn't helped me make that decision.

There are so many "points of darkness" introduced by the McMahon regime into professional wrestling, that even if WWE shuts down today, the effects will last for generations. It's hard to explain what I'm talking about to anyone that hasn't been apart of the industry directly. But one example would be this : In the old days, wrestling promotions flourished because people "trusted" it. Whether it be a local school, auditorium, bar, or even churchs, they knew that the violence was left to a group of individuals beating each other up. You didn't have workers jumping from the top of a Cage, guys flying over the rope and landing onto a burning table, or women in bra and panties competition during intermission, or fire and smoke at every entrance to matches. NO...you had wrestling in its purest and finest form. Hollywood had the sexiest women and bare naked movies; Hollywood had the bloodiest and most deadly stunts in the world....til McMahon Jr. entered the scene. People have become "trained" to believe that if those elements aren't present in "every" wrestling show (indy or professional) then it's a lame and weak one.

ARW has spent the last 3 years educating fans of wrestling that old school wrestling is still exciting, that its the "grass roots" of the industry and shouldn't be thrown aside because it doesn't include pyrotechnics or playboy playmates in a bikini. American wrestling was doing just fine before these things were added to it. Thats just part of the story.

Rick Flair won his first title back in the Mid Atlantic Championship. It was for the Tag Team Championship, and his partner was an aging legend of wrestling from that time period. Pryor to that pairing, the Legend was in the same tag team for 16 years. Most workers of today are good to see 5 years at the top before a major injury sidelines them (effect from yet another problem escalated by McMahon Jr.).

For many reasons, I will promote old school wrestling. But the greatest reason is the kids that watch it. Yesterday I watched kids interact with real wrestlers with real talent in and out of the ring. I saw parents having fun right beside them. And guess what...no roids, no juicing, no accidental boob shots, and no bad language was present.

Amazing !!!
Post by: tbragu(97303)
2007-10-08 07:53:38
There are a scant few bastions of good old school wrestling. And it warms my heart that you are one of them. In recent years, I have turned to Puroresu and Lucha Libre more than American garbage to watch wrestling without all of the problems you present.
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