By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Well here we are, Bruthas and Sistas, back to look into MACW and focus on the names and faces that took the territory through the transitional period that led the company into the late Eighties, and positioned them to go head to head with Vince McMahon’s WWF juggernaut. The JCP company took on a chameleonesque nature during the Mid-Eighties in order to try and combat this “occupying force from the north”. It was this unifying clan mentality of all folks Southern that helped to keep the company alive as McMahon implemented his own manifest destiny on the wrestling map.
In this part of the MACW saga, we will look at not only the political ramifications that served as it’s stimulus, but the path that led to Jim Crockett Jr. taking the lead in the professional wrestling arena. Some timelines may overlap during this part of the story, but we won’t leave any major stones un-turned in our pursuit of the the real history that has been buried in the lore of the demise of the company. So let’s go back to 1980, just before we left Part II…..
As the decade started, JCP was already looking at expansions. Jr. started to gather all the satellite territories under the NWA brand in the South to operate under his one office, and in August of that year he was elected to his first term as the President of the National Wrestling Alliance. He also started a relationship with Maple Leaf Wrestling, which we will cover in our International portion of this series this Fall, and it’s owner Frank Tunney. The next year, the booking for MACW was taken over by Ole’ Anderson, who split his time for the rest of ’81 going between the two promotions, and running the book for both, with the Minnesota Wrecking Crew being seen in both promotions.
In early 1980, Roddy Piper made quite an impact on the territory, and won the Television Title in a tournament that saw him defeat Paul Jones in the final. He held that title for a year, and won the MACW Heavyweight title from Ricky Steamboat while still the TV Title holder. He vacated that belt once he was crowned the Heavyweight Champion. The masked wrestler, Sweet Ebony Diamond won the TV Title during a tournament in April of 1981. He only held the title for a week before Greg Valentine stepped up to challenge him for his belt. The two battled for the next two months before Valentine put the masked man down for the count. We will talk more about Piper, as well as Sweet Ebony Diamond, when we get to the WWF, where he worked under the more familiar name of Rocky Johnson.
As we mentioned above, with Ole’ booking both territories, there was alot of movement of the wrestlers between the two during this time. It was in these early days that the Southern audience began to get it’s first look at what would become WCW, before the end of the decade.
MACW wasn’t just drawing in amazing wrestling talents from across the country, they were also amassing an announce team to match the caliber of the wrestlers arriving. Younger brother David Crockett had taken on the task of building a new sound to MACW. Along with established mic man Bob Caudle, the pair took the announce position a step beyond where it was, and integrated it more into the storytelling. Being a member of the Crockett family left David more open to shots from disgruntled wrestlers in their storylines. With Caudle being the “straight man” of the team on play by play, he brought a knowledge of the business that Crocket lacked. In 1983, they added the man that rounded out the pair into a strong three man team, and would be come the face of the WCW announce team in later years.
Born in the Fall of 1957, in the heart of Virginia’s moonshine territory, Tony Schiavone made his way to MACW in 1983, where he and David Crockett began to work the World Championship Wrestling program tapings in Atlanta. A sportscaster by trade, he brought a different vibe to the team that rounded it out and gave them unique sound in the world of professional wrestling. He worked there through the decade and with only a short stint at the WWF during the interim years, when WCW was being formed. Once they were up and running, Schiavone quickly returned to his Southern Alma Mater. The team was seen at every major event as well as on the coveted Saturday slots of 9am and 6:05 on TBS. We will pick up his story again there, in Atlanta, when he returns in our WCW coverage.
It was in the Early Eighties that the Brisco Brothers made their debut in MACW, with the pair competing in singles as well as tag action. Ole’ Anderson and Stan Hansen held the World Tag Titles for most of 1982, until losing them to Don Kernodle and Sgt. Slaughter. It was in early 1983 when Steamboat and Youngblood won the belts. After that the Sarge left to go back to New York, and we will talk more about him when we get to that part of Territories. The pair from Florida had held the MACW Tag Titles since August of the previous year and relinquished those belts upon winning the World Tag Titles. The team of Youngblood and Steamboat held the Wold Tag belts until June of the following year, when their war with the Briscos really took off. They traded the belts back and forth throughout 1983, and finally built to the November 24th, match in Greensboro.
The United States Title was held by Piper as we entered 1981, but it wasn’t long before the big war chief, Wahoo McDaniel came calling and took the belt off of him. For the next year, Wahoo would battle Sgt. Slaughter, who had made his way to the hotbed territory when he left the WWF the first time. As I stated before, during these years, JCP was besting McMahon in talent, and match quality. After Slaughter left to go back North, Greg Valentine stepped into the hunt for the belt and took it from Wahoo on November 4th, 1982. Valentine rode high the following year, until he and his new rival for the title, Roddy Piper, come into the scene, and the two tore the house down and stole the show in November of ‘83, while linked by ten feet of chain.
From the Fall of ’81 to the Summer of the next year, Jack Brisco and Roddy Piper feuded over the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title. Jack came on the winning end of the run, and as soon as he was finished with Piper, Paul Jones was waiting in the wings to lay the boots to him. This was the last time that Paul Jones was active in the MACW ring as a wrestler. He made the move to manager in 1982, and he was one of a litany of great heel managers to grace the promotion. We will cover them at length in the next installment of our MACW coverage. It was the Paul Jones Army that led the way though, before any real factions were present in the territory. The menagerie included, from one time or another, The Masked Superstar, Rick Rude & Manny Fernandez, “Superstar” Billy Graham, The Russian Bear, and the bloodthirsty Abdullah the Butcher. They drew the ire of the fans, and took their heat to a boiling point at times. As if their underhanded tactics weren’t enough, Jones went so far as to adopt a Hitler type of persona with a military style uniform, and a short, cropped mustache for the full effect. Their favorite target in the early days was the bearded Boy From New York City, and they showed him no mercy.
While originally born in Tennessee, James Fanning, got his start in the wrestling business in the Sixties working for Vince Sr. in the WWWF as one half of the tag team, The Valiant Brothers. He went on to Memphis after that and feuded with Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee before making his first appearance in JCP as the heel, King James Valiant, flanked by his manager Lord Alfred Hayes. Well talk more about Lord Alfred in our WWF coverage.
When Valiant returned to MACW after a brief hiatus, he unveiled the character that he would become synonymous with, The Boogie Woogie Man. Laid out in tie-dye, with the ever present headband, the foot stomping, hand clapping, Valiant was an instant sell to the fans, who he called his “street people”. He came to the ring with the ring theme that defined the character the rest of the way, and let the fans know he was from out of town, but with a little soul for the Southern crowd. On a side note, I have debated with more than one friend that it was this character, that Mick Foley drew from to get his inspiration for Dude Love. The similarities between the two are uncanny, and with Foley growing up in the NYC market, it seems obvious to my eye, that this is where he got the idea.
Valiant won the Television Title just after New Year in 1982, and held it til the Fall of that year. It drifted though many hands until it came to the Great Kabuki in May of ’83. With Gary Hart leading the way, Kabuki held the belt for the rest of that year until they two had a run in with Valiant and put him out of the scene with the green mist, and a DQ that left the Boogie Woogie Man, licking his wounds, and devising a way to get back at Kabuki while under his suspension. Valiant began to don the mask and work as Charlie Brown, billed from “outta town” and the two fought for the Television Title on November 24th of 1983.
As the Fall of 1983 approached, Jim Crockett Jr. was realizing that he was edging ahead of VKM, and he, along with booker Dusty Rhodes, and many who are in the “know” in the business say Dory Funk, all came up with an idea for a traditional wrestling event centered around JCP’s annual Thanksgiving show at the Greensboro Coliseum. Nearly two years before Wrestlemania, Jim Jr. sunk a million dollars into a mobile television production truck and the company debuted it’s flagship, end of the year event, Starrcade. With their new production truck in action they were able to broadcast the event on closed circuit format to theaters all around the South, long before the idea of pay-per-view was envisioned. The title for that years event was “A Flare for the Gold”, pitting Ric Flair in a steel cage match against NWA Champion Harley Race. The card was stacked with seven other major matches being offered.
The first match saw The Assassins w/Paul Jones beat the team of Rufus R. Jones and Bugsy McGraw, and that led into the battle between the team of Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee against the team of Kevin Sullivan & Mark Lewin. This was the match that saw the trademark prevalent in the Southern wrestling scene that we all loved…..the blood. The two attacked McGhee, after rendering Weaver useless with a hurt arm, and gashed his head until guest referee for another match, Angelo Mosca tried to help but was also beaten by the pair, and their manager Gary Hart. Things just got more violent form there as Abbie faced Carlos Colon, and they battled until the Butcher got the better of him and picked up the win.
The heels continued to rack of the win tally when the team of Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr. left Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood when Orton hit the super-plex on Youngblood and then, he and Slater proceeded to beat Wahoo senseless. I remember being at a fever pitch by this point in the show, and when Gary Hart led the Great Kabuki to the ring, I totally marked out. I still think that Gary Hart is in the top five heel managers of all time, and his eclectic stables of heels always made me smile, as they handed out the Hart orchestrated violence on the babyfaces. He was facing the masked Charlie Brown, who we all know now was Jimmy Valiant. The Boogie Woogie Man pulled one out for the babyfaces and defeated the Kabuki to win the Television Title, which was the first belt up for grabs that night.
This was followed by the match that, in my opinion, stole the show with it’s unabashed violence, and the grit of it’s two combatants who left it all on the canvas. Greg Valentine and Roddy Piper engaged in what can only be called a war of attrition with the two armies connected by a dog collar. These two men battered, and whipped each other with the chain, until they were both knotted and potatoed up so bad, that Piper came out of the match losing nearly seventy percent of the hearing in his left ear due to Valentine beating him in the head with the chain. He burst Piper’s eardrum, and even with the amount of blood running out of his injured ear, Piper battled on. It was his eventual undoing though, as Valentine won the match, and that war, before both ended up leaving MACW and heading to NYC.
After the Briscos lost to Steamboat & Youngblood, due to an altercation between Jerry and guest referee Angelo Mosca, that match ended in a brawl. But it was the main event that followed that brought the house down. Harley Race defended his title in a no disqualification cage match against the hotly popular Ric Flair. Flair had steadily been working his way toward the biggest title in the business, and the legit toughman, Race was all that stood in his way.
The two men battled for nearly twenty minutes, with Flair wearing the “Crimson Mask” as special commentator Gordon Solie, so aptly coined it. They told the story of a young, hungry Flair, seeking redemption and a second run with the belt, while a grizzled veteran like Race did everything he could not to let that happen. It was artwork in motion. Flair picked up the title in what most in the business recognized as the passing of the torch. This changing of the champions also allowed Race to nurse some wounds, and in-ring ailments that had been plaguing him the previous few months. This victory for Flair put JCP, and Jr. firmly in the driver’s seat on the national front with them now having the NWA Heavyweight Title in their camp. The Era of Flair was about to begin, but he still needed the muscle to go with the Title. That would fall into place for him after a few more of the key players were in place. Until then, he would establish himself as “The Man” in the wrestling world, with little regard for Bruno, Backlund, Hogan, or their Title as the decade went on.
The first Starrcade sold out the Greensboro Coliseum, with nearly fifteen thousand, five hundred people in attendance. Even with a strong winter storm sitting over the Southeast region, they still sold another thirty thousand seats at closed circuit venues as well. In total the event netted JCP close to half a million dollars and cemented the event as their huge end of the year offering. For me, I always preferred the MACW events, for the simple reason, that in world that was still kayfabe, they just seemed more legitimate as a sport, than the stuff that the WWF was doing at this time. In the early to mid-Eighties, when you went to the news stands, and magazine racks in the store it was the bloodied faces of the NWA wrestlers that caught your attention. While the WWF had some good rivalries, and giants of men, it was MACW, and the NWA territorial system that always had my attention. Maybe that was because I grew up around the St. Louis NWA, and Fritz’s WCCW, but that was what I was always drawn to, until the appearance of the Macho Man in NYC.
I was going to try and squeeze this series on Mid-Atlantic down to three parts, but as I continue to dig into it’s history, there is just too much to gloss over and now giving it the historical look that it deserves, would just further rob the generations of youth that have only heard the WWE rendition of this tale. It may take us five parts to reach the emergence of WCW, but if that’s what it takes to do this right, then that’s the road were going to travel. Because this history is the purest of wrestling gold, and we will get you to….DIG IT!!!
Wrestling Territories will resume when I get back from my Summer vacation, and a trip to the hallowed ground of my wrestling beginnings; St. Louis.
Look for Breaking In, as well as my second feature story on the production of 350 Days, as well as the upcoming 10th Anniversary of the cult classic, and one of the best looks at the business ever put on film, with my interview with one of the producers of both 350 Days and The Wrestler; Evan Ginzburg. Until next time Bruthas and Sistas….Peace!