By Jim Phillips, Columnist
Good afternoon, and welcome back Bruthas and Sistas to our look at the different avenues stars have taken on the road to success in the wrestling business. As we start to get our feet underneath us in this new series, I wanna take a look at how a strapping young man from Rainsville, Alabama made his way from tearing down the ring, to hoisting the banner of a promotion, and opening the door for future stars of the business to make their own ascensions and shine.
The hot summers of Alabama can broil ya down to the ground, and leave you crying for a shade tree and a cold glass of iced tea. Anyone that has lived in the South can attest to this fact. Any wrestling fan in the South can also tell you that on Saturday night, none of that mattered when it came belltime. I have sat in some ovens to watch a show, and this story begins just like that.
The Summer of 1975 was no exception to the annual scorch. A sixteen year old Jack Lord had been bitten by the wrestling bug early on in life, and he was getting to the age where he could entertain the idea of working in the business. In those days, as we’ve talked about before, there were no training camps that would show you the ropes and then get you an invitation to meet with a promotion. Chance was as much a factor as anything in individual success.
By showing up before the show in his hometown, Jack’s risk was rewarded when he allowed to help set up the ring. Jack looked back fondly at this time as we spoke:
“A little outlaw show came to my hometown, and I got there early and wound up getting to help to set up the ring and they put me on as timekeeper that night. The kayfabed me up good, and from that time on, I knew I wanted to be involved in that business somehow. I did that anytime a show came around. I didn’t wanna make any money, I just wanted to be a part of it, you know.”
That introduction to the business was what set the youngster on his was into wrestling. Relatively scrawny for his size, under six feet and barely a hundred and sixty pounds, the idea of being a wrestler still seemed a far reach away, but that did nothing to sideline his desire. All that would soon change, however.
Jack joined the Army in 1978, and with Uncle Sam’s work regime and three squares a day, it wasn’t long before he began grow. He worked his way up to Staff Sergeant in his field artillery division, but also continued to help with shows when he was able to keep himself involved with the business. By the time he left the military in 1985, he was a very different looking man.
“They actually managed to put some weight on me when I was in the Army. When I got out I was six feet four inches tall, and weighed three hundred and twenty pounds, I believe. Hahaha, Yeah they got twice the man they originally signed. Man, you know, I lived in the gym wherever we were at.”
While stationed in Germany, Jack was doing some routine equipment relocation in the field, and took a wrong step into a hole and ripped the interior ACL on his knee. The injury was made worse than it potentially needed to be by the lack of any orthopedic surgeons being stationed there during that time. He continued to live with the injury for almost two more years before he was able to get back stateside and have one take a look at him. By this time it had deteriorated to the point that it couldn’t be repaired. The Army doctor that gave him his discharge examination said that he would never compete athletically again, but Jack was not one to let a challenge stand in his way.
“I loved the Army. I probably woulda never gotten out, but they retired me after my knee blew out. Despite what the Army doctor told me, I started to train to become a wrestler two weeks after I got back home. I have gone through ten knee surgeries in my life. My left knee has been replaced twice, and my right one once. I’ve wrestled for twenty four years, and I wouldn’t change anything. You know, you can do what you set your mind to.”
I joked with Jack that he needed Oscar Goldman to be his manager. He quickly got the pop culture reference and replied that he had probably already passed that six million dollar mark. Children of the Seventies will appreciate that, and we had a good laugh over it.
Early on, it was obvious to the other wrestlers at the little promotion he was working for that Jack needed to be taught how to work in a more protective way with his opponents. With his size, he was really putting the potatoes and backaches onto the rest of the boys. Some of the veteran workers who had served time under Nick Gulas began to show him how to work a little softer, but still sell strong. A few short months later, a well known booker from the heyday of wrestling in the Fifties named Louie Tilet came in and worked out a deal with that promoter to use his facilities to start his own training school. The old man took a liking to Lord, and started using him as a bump dummy for his trainees. In return, he showed Jack the ways of the business, and taught him more about how to work the right way in the hours before and after the classes took place. This was one way that Jack could learn how to wrestle around his injury and still be able to sell effectively.
“Louie is the one that taught me all the old shoot stuff, and the mat work. I don’t remember ever taking a clothesline or backdrop with him, I already knew that stuff. It was the mat wrestling that he taught me. Really, that’s what made my career last so long. I was not the greatest wrestler in the world, but I could work. There were a lot of guys that helped me, but probably none more than Louie did.”
From there he went to Continental and started working with Ronny West, Danny Davis, and “Bullet” Bob Armstrong. Not being one to be stand-offish, or intimidated by their stature in the business, Jack would ask questions and actively try to learn all he could from the boys in the locker room. Having the foresight to see that his knees wouldn’t hold up forever, he wanted to learn all about the office end of the business that he could. He started sitting in on the television tapings with Armstrong, who advised him on the “hide and watch” learning strategy that my own Grandfather imparted to me as a young child as well.
“I knew with my knees, that I needed to learn more about the business. I lasted longer than I thought I would, but still I knew that if I was going to be involved, it couldn’t just be, in the ring. I still remember going up to Bob Armstrong during a commercial break when we were taping while he was kicked back in his chair smoking as cigarette, telling the cameras what to do, and telling him ‘If you don’t mind, I’d really like to wanna learn to do what you‘re doing’. He said ‘Really? Ok, pull up a chair, sit your ass down, and shut up.’ So that’s what I did.”
After leaving CCW, Jack took to the roads and learned everything he could, from independent promotions, and NWA affiliates all across the country. He even got a chance at working with WCW. He did well, and Ole’ liked what he saw, but once they found out that his knees were on the down hill side, they regrettably passed. It was around that time that Jack decided to start working in the office on a more full time basis. He started to book shows in 1995 for various promotions in Alabama and Georgia. He has a special connection with his audience and is extremely intuitive about what the fans want to see.
“The biggest thing for me on the booking end is every idea I try to come up with, I try to put myself in the fan’s position. To say that if I were a fan out there watching; would it affect me, or would it move me as a fan. I know if it won’t grab me, then it’s most likely not going to grab them either. We were all fans, or marks if you wanna call it that, at one time, and if you lose that, you lose touch with those fans. Those fans are our life blood, you should never make light of them.”
It’s not just his fanbase that he is in tune with. He also has a special ability to read talent. One great example of this is ROH referee, Mike Posey. He has worked for Impact, TNA, and was in WWE for several years. He originally came to the area that Jack was working at, and told him he wanted to become a wrestler. Much like the great Dusty Rhodes, and having that eye for talent placement, Jack agreed to train him but strongly suggested that learn how to work the referee position. He followed the advice, and went on to find success in the business.
I made the comparison to him and he offered this reply: “Mike’s is a story that I use all the time to demonstrate getting into the business for the young guys. He never let his ego get in his way. Yeah I’m pretty good at seeing the possibilities in folks. The thing is you’ve got to separate your ego in this business. That’s one of the hardest things to do. I’ve seen some really talented guys that the ego is just so blown out, you can’t hardly do anything with ‘em. You have to be able to listen to people and let them help you get to where you wanna be, or at least in that direction. You have to be able to be pinned, or lose a match. Some guys’ egos just won’t allow them to be beat, and it keeps them from succeeding. Heel, baby, it doesn’t matter. If you can’t be beat, then I really can’t use you.”
Jack hadn’t totally stepped away from the ring, and continued to wrestle off and on until 2009. He had his first knee replacement then, and suffered a staph infection in the wound, and had to go back and have a second knee replacement surgery to fix what the infection had damaged. The infection nearly took his life, but the worst was yet to come at him as he also survived a bout with colon cancer not long after his consecutive knee surgeries. After that, he had his other knee replaced. During this period of time, Jack was away from the business, in convalescence, and incapacitated for nearly five years. The fire for wrestling hadn’t left him, and before long he was back at it again.
For most of 2015, and 2016 Jack trained a couple of young guys when he could, but it wasn’t until a simple conversation with two friends in January of 2017 that his latest project was envisioned. The three of them all came up with the conclusion that they all still had something to offer the business. We shared a chuckle over the story when he told me how it all came to pass.
“Really I wasn’t intending on getting involved in it again at all. I missed it, but I was content to be at home. Those other two guys are a lot younger than me, in their thirties, and they still have a lot of gas left in the tank. My challenge to them was, why are ya’ll not being involved, and they turned around and said to me, ‘Just cause you can’t get into the ring, doesn’t mean you can’t do something too.’ We all just sat there and looked at each other, and decided if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. Out of that, Southern Legacy was born.”
What started out small with attendances of barely forty, they grew their Southern Legacy Wrestling promotion by presenting quality product, with a great story to go alongside the action. They have secured a new partnership with new promoter that has helped them overcome the huge obstacle of having a regular venue to call their own, by bringing all that to the table. He supplies the ring and everything, and all the SLW crew has to do is how up and tear the house down on Saturday nights. For ANY promotion, this is a Godsend, and allows Jack and his partners the opportunity to focus on creating a superior product, without the financial headaches of staying ahead of finding places to put their show on, or having issues with a building lease. He talked about that relationship with me and it really blew me away.
“It’s our reputation, that’s why he came to us. He had promoted shows in the past and decided he wanted to get back into it. He asked around and people told him that he needed to talk to us, because we were running more shows than any other promotion in the state. Now, he has two huge buildings. One that seats close to seven hundred and the other seats near a thousand. He has two complete set-ups at each location. There is never the problem of breaking down the ring and transporting it to another location. If he has a concert or something, his guys just move the ring off to the side and they set it back up again so that it’s all ready to go when we arrive.”
Southern Legacy Wrestling is very luck to have a partner with these type of facilities. There are many promoters in the business that would love to have a set -up like that, which rivals the big boys in most every sense of it’s conception. Shying away from the tiresome politics that can cause some promotions to crack under the stresses that accompany that, Jack chooses to keep his eye on the product. They’re up to nearly seven shows a month, and once school resumes in the Fall, Jack is expecting to be doing close to twelve a month. This is a huge number for any independent promotion to pull off in a month’s time. They have a dedicated YouTube channel, and can also be seen on the Fite Internet Newtork each week. Things are headed onward and upward for the SLW, and as we closed our conversation Jack touched on that journey.
“It’s been a lot of hills and valleys, but looking back over the last fifteen months, it’s really surprising how much we’ve grown.”
With old school minds like his at the wheel, the future looks bright down in Alabama for SLW. In the time that I’ve gotten to know Jack, he’s been nothing but helpful and always has time to spare, even when is pulled in several different directions. The business is better off with old school cats like him out there, reminding the young newbies what it really means to be a worker, and not just a pre-packaged attraction. His never give up attitude that pushes him to strive for success is a characteristic that I hope all his students leave his promotion with as they move on into their careers. Thank you Brutha, for takin the time to do this interview, and for all you give back to the business.
Well that does it for another week, until next time; Bruthas, Sistas, Marks, and Maniacs…..no matter what you do to get your foot in the door, when you’re given the opportunity, break it down!! Peace.
Catch Southern Legacy Wrestling LIVE tonight!