By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Welcome back Bruthas and Sistas. It’s been a couple weeks since our last installment of MACW, and, this week, we continue our coverage of the preeminent NWA in the Southern Territories. I want to take a step away from our continuing timeline to take a look at a group of workers that were instrumental in the success of MACW during it’s height in the Eighties.
Besides the team over at the announce table, there was another secondary cast of characters that I feel we need to talk about. In most cases they were the glue that held things together once they strode through the curtain, with a little help from the men in stripes. I’m of course talking about the Managers. These interfering advisors were almost always at the head of a tag team, or faction of men that they used to reach their underhanded goals.
The influx of these leaders of men began in the early Eighties with, as we’ve discussed previously, The Paul Jones Army. The small-statured Jones was a perfect lead for the mountain of muscle that he had at his disposal. Some of my favorite heels were in his charge. The Masked Superstar, Koloff, and Rick Rude to name just a few. The use of a Manager was much more prevalent in the heel locker room, and terrorizing the babyfaces, was their specialty. I can still hear my Dad going on about the tactics of a group of heels when he would exclaim, “I don’t know why they have to fight like that to win. Bunch of sissies!” Even as a young kid, I knew this was all work, and it made me so happy to see how riled up they could get my Dad and the rest of the crowd. Like most other fans during that time, he was a mark to the conductors of treachery, that played the music that we all danced to, both in and out of the ring.
Jones battled with Jimmy Valiant in throughout 1985, and eventually lost a hair -vs- hair match to The Boogie Woogie Man, that left Jones with a shiny bald head, and a cowboy hat to cover it until he regained his signature black ‘doo. We will touch on Jones later in this edition. As we also discussed last week, Valiant had his troubles with Gary Hart and his Great Kabuki during this time. Hart would leave the MACW area only to return in the late Eighties with a new horde of international villains.
1985 was a year that saw several of the major players in the management game arrive in Charlotte. Let’s begin with the spoiled rich boy that was the mouthpiece for the tandem of Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey, and in a later incarnation with Stan Lane, The Midnight Express.
Jim Cornette was put together with the Express by Bill Watts, as we learned back during our Mid-South Wrestling coverage. It was when they arrived in MACW that things really took off for the trio, even though they had been through several heated feuds in the years leading up to their arrival there. It was their famous match against Paul Ellering’s Chicago destruction crew known as the Road Warriors that took the name of the Midnight Express to another level of competition. The 1986 Starrcade featured their match on not only the event posters, but in the video tape release as well. It was the Night of the Skywalkers that saw the two teams climb up the scaffold, which the Midnight Express also did with their rivals The Rock and Roll Express in MSW, that cemented their legacies at MACW. This was one of the matches I remember seeking out as a teenager. I rented that video many times, and remember the “you again” look on the clerk’s face each and every time I took it to the counter.
Cornette said going into the match that he knew he would probably get hurt, but working a show of that magnitude was more important than his health. He was more on point in his prognostication that he may have realized, until he was hanging under the catwalk between the two scaffolds, with Big Bubba Rogers, aka The Big Bossman, there to break his fall. Bubba missed his mark, and Cornette fell the twelve feet to the mat with a sickening thud, that crumpled him to the mat. He tore the ACL, PLC, and MCL in one of his knees, as well as breaking his leg, and tearing cartilage around the other knee. The trio continued to feud through the World Tag Team Title ranks, garnering mass amounts of heat along the way. They had to have a police escort not only to and from the ring, and arena, but sometimes they had an escort to the city limits because of fear or being attacked by over exuberant fans. We will pick back up with them when we get to our WCW coverage.
The Rock and Roll Express were the hottest babyface tag team in MACW during ’85-’87. Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton were so over with the fans that they could barely get to the ring and back during their matches. They were mobbed by the ladies, and all their male fans stood out, with their merch and bandanas. They battled with Manny Fernandez and Rick Rude of the PJ Army, as well as the team from Mother Russia, the combination of Ivan and Nikita Koloff.
The trio simply know as The Russian Team was comprised of Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff, and Krusher Khruschev. Scott Simpson(Nikita), and Barry Darsow(Khruschev) were both born in Minnepolis, Minnesota in 1959, only six months apart with Nikita being the older of the two. They also, coincidently, both attended Robbinsdale High School with wrestling legends Rick Rude, Curt Henning, and “Berserker” John Nord, among others. Nikita showed up in early 1984 at the urging of close friend, Joe Laurinaitis, aka Road Warrior Animal. He quickly became known as the Russian Nightmare, and held his character close, learning to speak Russian and keeping kayfabe even after the match was over, not breaking his gimmick. His size and look sold it even more, and this led to him becoming one of the most popular heels in MACW. Darsow also found success in the territory, not only as part of the NWA Six Man Tag Team Champions, but also in the MACW Heavyweight Title hunt as well by defeating Sam Houston for the title at the 1985 Starrcade. Khruschev tore his knee during a later match with Houston and he dropped the belt back to him while he took time off to heal his injury. The Russians held both the Six Man Tag Titles and the World Tag Titles for most of 1985. We will pick back up on the singles careers of these men in upcoming editions of our MACW coverage. Some of their most epic battles came from men who were their friends outside the business, but bitter rivals within it.
The painted men that looked like they had ridden off the screen of the movie that coined their name, the duo known as The Road Warriors were an enigma in the world of professional for many years. They captured in a bottle the essence of the ideal that Stone Cold Steve Austin also rode to the top of the ladder in the business. The Road Warriors were hard hitting, dirty fighting, fan favorites that took the label of babyface and stretched it to it’s limits of traditional classification. The beat the living Hell out of their opponents, and the ring crew, but somehow still remained the top selling “good guys” in the rankings, much akin to the run that SCSA had during the Attitude Era. Even the beer swilling bald man from Edna couldn’t hold a candle to the roars of the crowd that would eventually lead their peers to coin the phrase, “getting a Road Warrior pop”. Anyone that has seen them live, especially in their heyday, can attest to the ear ringing, roar that met them whenever they broke the curtain.
They arrived in MACW in 1986, and won the inaugural Jim Crockett Memorial Cup tag team tournament, and went straight into their rivalry with the Russian Team as they built to the Great American Bash later that year. After their match at The Skywalkers, they were the hottest team in professional wrestling. They rode this wave of popularity to their teaming up with dusty Rhodes to face the strongest four man unit in all of professional wrestling during that era, The Four Horsemen in what many consider to be the greatest match concept to ever come out of the promotion with WarGames. The pair also battled with Paul Jones’s pairing of Warlord and Barbarian; The Powers of Pain. With a similar look and fighting style the four men would compete in several brawls over their time in MACW, as well as a weight lifting contest with 50K on the line, that ended in an eye injury to Animal via Ivan Koloff, who was there to support the Powers. As the years drew on and the ownership landscape began to change Hawk and Animal also ran into several other feuds with up and coming heel teams that wanted to cash in on a victory over them.
The Warlord was initially brought into the company by another manager that made quite an impact during that time. Nickla Roberts came into the territory as the manager to Tully Blanchard, and was billed as “The Perfect 10“, Baby Doll. She stood by him through his feuds with Dusty Rhodes, and his famous run with Magnum TA. She stepped aside when Blanchard took on J.J. Dillon as his manager when he joined The Four Horsemen. Baby Doll then worked the angle where she brought in Warlord to protest her from Big Bubba and the MidnightExpress. She also managed both dusty Rhodes and then Ric Flair after she betrayed Dusty in his match with Flair in St. Louis. She eventually was re-booked to the Missouri territory, when JCP found out about her marriage to Sam Houston, of which they disapproved.
I could do a whole column on The Horsemen, but with all the coverage they’ve received over these many years, I feel it prudent to only mention them as they come up in feuds with other teams and factions. They were, hands down, the most game changing group to ever be brought together. This is by no means a slight against that unit or any of those men, but we will cover them more at length later, as they were influential in every major pay par view and live televised event that shaped MACW during these years.
Another man that would help shape not only MACW, but professional wrestling as a whole broke onto the scene in 1984. Theodore R. Long started in the business as a gopher for superstars like Abdullah the Butcher, and Tommy Rich, as well as being a chauffer on the roads. From there he worked the ring crew and got a promotion to referee in 1985. He soon began to work the angle of a heel referee with quick counts that allowed the “bad guys” the chance of a cheating victory. This was worked into a match where Varsity Club beat the Road Warriors for the NWA Tag Titles at Clash of the Champions VI. Teddy Long would leave his ref stripes behind and take on the role of manager in 1990 as the company transitioned into WCW, with the teams of The Skyscrapers, which was comprised of “Mean” Mark Callous, “Big” Sid Vicious, and “Dangerous” Dan Spivey. The trio left many teams beaten and battered, until Mark Callous moved onto his monumental career in WWF as The Undertaker. Long also managed the team of Ron Simmons and Butch Reed, as Doom took no prisoners either, while living up to their apocalyptic name. The duo had originally been managed by a female known only as Woman, who’s career we will discuss in depth later in this series.
Doom battled the Steiner Brothers, but that duo was spun out of another faction that began with the twisted mind of “Gamesmaster” Kevin Sullivan, who began to assemble the Varsity Club shortly aster his arrival in MACW in 1987. He brought together Rick Steiner from Michigan, and Mike Rotunda from Syracuse to form the original team. They wore college singlets, and made the combination of superb mat skills and underhanded cheating form Sullivan their calling card. They feuded with Jimmy Garvin, and Sullivan made his valet Precious the object of his maniacal obsessions. They ratcheted up the feud until Jimmy called in his brother Ronnie, and Steve “Dr. Death” Williams, who would also eventually hold a spot in the Club alongside Rotunda and Steiner, and eventually Dan Spivey was also brought into the fold under his University of Georgia Alma Mater. The Varsity Club was a fixture throughout the late Eighties until it was fractured and Rick Steiner was joined by his brother Scott, and they feuded with the remaining members of the Club until they ran into Woman and her masked henchmen of Doom. We will see more from Kevin Sullivan and a new batch of henchmen as we get further into WCW.
We also saw the first appearances of the “kid from NY” in 1987, as Paul E. Dangerously made his way onto the scene from the AWA. The loud mouthed, cell phone toting heel quickly made for a foil to Jim Cornette, and the two clashed on several occasions while Paul E. was managing The Original Midnight Express against Cornett’s revamped New MidnightExpress with Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane. He also was able to bring Mark Callous into the fold and he began construction of the Dangerous Alliance. Before it was all said and done, the Alliance would grow to include, Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson, The Samoan Swat Team, and Larry Zbyszko, with Michael Hayes as a secondary manager and Madusa as their valet. We will hear more from Heyman as we continue on in this series.
The SST was one of the best teams to watch in those days. They were so fast, and hit hard with every recoil of the ropes or leap from the turnbuckle. The took the legacy of the heel Samoans and brought it up to their generation, just like the Usos have for modern professional wrestling. That lineage has always turned out champions, and leaders in this business.
Another faction that I’d like to mention, even though they didn’t make their presence known until later in the WCW days, was Gary Hart International, or The J-Tex Corporation as it was loosely called because of it’s two leading members, The Great Muta, and Terry Funk. Now just those three men together would strike fear in the hearts of most wrestlers, because of their lack of respect for the welfare of their opponents, and rampant disregard for the rules. Add to that mixture, Dick Salter, Buzz Sawyer, and the Dragonmaster, better known as Mr. Sakurado for the fans of the Japanese product, and you have a vile assortment of heels that even the most hardened Eighties wrestling fans would have to stop and take notice of. The only thing that made their path of destruction and broken bodies in their wake, was the diatribe sent down from on high by their demented, Jonestown-esque, bard in Gary Hart. He would provide the narration, as only he could, while he watched his henchmen delivering his own brand of heel justice. I loved to watch him work, no matter who he had for his disciples. This group was high on the list for his most sinister ever, in my opinion.
While some career paths may overlap a bit and intersect throughout this series on Mid-Atlantic, I hope you can see the need now for splitting it up in this manner. I thought it was a good sidestep from our timeline driven trip to take a closer look at some of the men that made the territory great. We still have to cover the many diamonds that can be found in the varied levels of singles competition that the promotion held as well, not to mention the ground breaking number of pay per view and conceptual ideas for events that came out of that juggernaut of a booking team. We still have alot to cover as we morph into the WCW years, but before we ever get there, we have to look back at the best series of free-form promos to ever be spoken into a microphone. Join me back here next week for Part V, and we hear about Hard Times, and witness a Gathering.
Until then, Bruthas and Sistas, as we continue to mine the greatness, never forget…..Our wrestling history is gold….DIG IT!! Peace.