By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Welcome back, Bruthas and Sistas, as we get to the end of the line in our coverage of MACW. We left the promotion last week as it was reaching the pinnacle of it’s success. The Clash of the Champions was putting the hurts on Saturday Night’s Main Event when we left off, and Dusty Rhodes was firmly in the driver’s seat in the booking end of the promotion. The shots had been levied, however, and the war was eminent with the WWF. As stars began to filter away from MACW, Jim Crockett Jr. attempted to use his newly found financial means to try to overcome his rival from the North by any means necessary. These factors set the stage for the final months of MACW, as we head into 1987.
The success of Clash of the Champions I proved that Jim Jr’s gamble had paid off and this emboldened him to continue the series and four months later the second Clash was aired on June 8 from sunny Florida. Miami Mayhem held a strong rating, and was the first time, we as fans, begin to notice the shifting of focus to the new faces that the company was looking establish as future drawing power to offset the loss of top tier talents to NYC. Piper, Steamboat, Krusher Khruschev, The Masked Superstar, John Studd, Sam Houston, and Greg Valentine were just a few of the names that had made MACW a success, but were now firmly in the McMahon camp. Dusty Rhodes would not be snuffed out so easily and he started to grow a handful of stars to try and offset the shifting of talents.
Crockett’s expansion was a helpful hand in this, with his purchase of the UWF in 1987 from Bill Watts. Rhodes took Jim Ross, Sting, and a few other wrestlers into the fold and gave them a decent push. Two of these men ended up going to the WWF with very different career paths in the success that they achieved there. The first, started out as a simple bodyguard, but ended up being one of the biggest heel draws in the business, in both singles and tag team competition.
Though he was only in MACW for a short time, Ray Traylor was a southern boy, through and through. Born in Marietta, Georgia in 1963, Traylor played football in high school, but didn’t follow it to the university level. He instead decided to take the path of the working man, and became a corrections officer for Cobb County Georgia, but made up his mind that he was going to try his hand at the wrestling business that was so popular in the Southern states. He started working in spot matches for JCP, where Dusty took notice of his size and ability to move for a big man. Rhodes keen eye for talent didn’t mislead him when he decided to invest time in Traylor. Rhodes began to build the bodyguard character of Big Bubba Rogers around him, and gave him the spot as muscle to the loudmouthed Jim Cornette. He started a feud with Dusty that was spun out of the matches Rhodes and Magnum TA had with the Midnight Express. After this run in MACW, Big Bubba was sent to the UWF during the talent trades just prior it’s purchase by JCP. When he arrived there he took the title belt off the One Man Gang, who was leaving the promotion for his first run in the WWF. It was one of those coincidental moments in the wrestling business that the two men who would run roughshod over the tag team division years later in their careers would fight for the singles championship in their first meeting. Big Bubba held the title for a short time, before he returned to MACW to compete in the Wargames match as the masked War Machine, as well as reprising hi role as Cornette’s enforcer. Before he left the UWF, he lost the title to another man that was headed to the Carolinas not long after Traylor. We will pick back up with Ray in just a few short years when he arrives in NYC as the character that he would forever be know by, The Big Bossman.
Traylor lost his UWF title to the man from Lakewood, Colorado that was known for his explosiveness in the ring. Steve Williams was born at the beginning of Summer, in 1960 in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Williams was a rough and tumble youth that took to sports at an early age. He played football, participated in track and field, and wrestled in his youth in school. It was during an incident when he was on the Junior High wrestling squad. After getting a broken nose, and continuing to practice and wrestle in a hockey mask, one of his coaches dubbed him “Dr. Death” as a joke, but the nickname stuck with him the rest of his life and more often than not, he lived up to the reputation. It was his football prowess that garnered him All American status and landed him a spot at the University of Oklahoma. As a Sooner, he played guard and competed in the 1980 Sun Bowl, the 1981 Orange Bowl, and the 1983 Fiesta Bowl. He was picked up by the New Jersey Generals of the USFL in the Spring of 1983, and changed directions by moving to the defensive tackle position. A knee injury left him side-lined for most of the 1983 season however. It was just before this injury that he started his wrestling training under the watchful eyes of Bill Watts and Buddy Landel. He worked with ring veteran Ted DiBiase, and Eddie Gilbert to polish his skills even more and he was chosen to take the UWF Title from Big Bubba Rogers in 1986. When he arrived in MACW he was taken into the fold of The Varsity Club, who were establishing themselves as the new faction to be aware of in the territory in the late Eighties.
Two other men also made their way into MACW at the end of the Eighties who stood out from the rest by either the impact that they made, at the time of their arrival or in the companies near future. The first was a journeyman wrestler that had worked for most major territories in the US. Roger Barnes, as we learned about during our other coverage of the territories, was born in Canada, and made his bones under the ring names “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin, and “The One Man Gang” in Poffo’s ICW. He worked in the Tennessee area against Jake “The Snake” Roberts in a battle over the NWA Television Title just before he made it to the Carolinas in the Mid-Eighties. He adopted the moniker of “Hands of Stone” when he arrived at MACW, and began a feud with Tully Blanchard , as well as Black Bart.
Garvin formed a tag team with the other man we spoke of, when the second generation star arrived in MACW from Florida. Barry Windham was born on Independence Day, in 1960 Sweetwater, Texas. Coming from a wrestling family, he was trained by his father Blackjack Mulligan, and ring legend Harley Race. He was also shepherded into the ring by J.J. Dillon in his first match at age nineteen. He left Texas and made his way to Florida where he first worked with The Dream, who turned the youngster into a babyface that developed a strong fan following. He soon teamed up with his future brother-in-law, Mike Rotunda and the two clicked instantly. Their chemistry as a tag team led them to gold in CWF three times in the Spring of 1984 during their feud with Kevin Sullivan’s Army of Darkness. This working relationship that was developed between the men during this time would lead to Rotunda aligning with Sullivan and his Varsity Club after he and Windham split up. They had a run in the WWF as the tag team U.S. Express, but we will talk more about that when we reach the WWF portion of this series. The pair left New York and headed up to the AWA and competing in the WrestleRock ‘86 event against The Fabulous Ones. After that event they went their separate ways, and Windham arrived in MACW in the Fall of 1986. He had a few matches of note before he teamed with “The Hands of Stone” and the two captured his first taste of gold in the territory, when they defeated the Russians for the NWA US Tag Team Titles. They feuded with the Midnight Express, who was never able to unseat them from their championships, but the pair did lose their titles to the team of Ivan Koloff and “Dirty” Dick Murdoch just prior to the ‘87 Crockett Cup. Rhodes took this opportunity to split the team, seeing better opportunities for both men in the singles division.
Windham was slated for a run at Ric Flair and his NWA Title, lost the match, but turned the heads of all the major players in the NWA scene. Garvin was teamed up with his kayfabe brother, and real life step-son, Jimmy Garvin, and the pair faced off against The Midnight Express in a bitter rivalry. The two teams fought on numerous occasions, with The Garvins always coming out on the losing end of the decision when the gold was on the line. The two split and Ron undertook a singles careers over the next year or two, and managed to find the opportunity for the Ten Pounds of Gold at the end of 1987, when he was set to face Ric Flair for the NWA Title, but we’re not quite there yet.
Things took a change in the career of Barry Windham after he went on his singles career, as new opportunities started to open up for him. In June of 1987, he won the NWA Western States Heritage Title, when he beat Black Bart in a tournament to crown it’s first champion. He held the title for the next several months and when Starrcade rolled around that Fall, he was in a match against Dr. Death for the UWF Title. He lost the match but still remained the Western States Heritage Champ as he rolled into 1988.
The 1987 Starrcade was a milestone in the company for a few reasons. It was held in Chicago, away from it’s Southern base of operations, and it’s core audience. This was on of the first big mis-steps made by Crockett Jr. in his expansive moves in order to keep up with Vince. Sales of the event were low and even it’s revenues from the PPV sales, also a first for JCP, which usually used closed circuit TV, the event was only a moderate success financially. Rampant mismanagement of funds by his satellite offices, in the now growing enterprise was also a factor in the demise of JCP. Lear jets to and from events, limousines used to ferry talent back and forth from hotels to the venues, and out of pocket expenditures while touring on the road also took their tolls. Jim Crockett Jr. was living the life of the styling and profiling champion right alongside Flair and the Horsemen, and whether people want to admit it or not, that was one of the biggest drains on his finances. We all loved to see the lavish living that Flair embodied, but that money was coming form somewhere, and when you start to spend more than you have the ability to bring in, it isn’t long before the end comes into view. Thus was the story for JCP, as 1988 drew closer.
The Spring of 1988 saw some major developments in the career of Barry Windham. After he had solidified himself as a major player in the singles division of MACW, he turned his attention back to the tag team titles. He formed the Twin Towers with partner Lex Luger, and at the first Clash they defeated the Horsemen team of Arn and Tully to win the NWA World Tag Team Titles. A few weeks later at a live event in Florida, Windham turned on his partner, causing them to lose the belts back to Anderson and Blanchard, and then the three men attacked Luger to the shock of the crowd. This turned Windham a heel, and propelled Luger to the height of the babyfaces in the months to follow.
The Great American Bash that year was the last major PPV put on by JCP. It contained yet another of Rhodes’s brainchildren in the Tower of Doom main event, where three steel cages were stacked on top of one another, decreasing in size with each successive cage atop the other. The object of the match was to start in the the top cage and for teams to make their way to the bottom cage through pinfalls and submissions, with the team with the most members remaining, winning the match. It was as unique as it was confusing, but such was the way with some of Dusty’s ideas. While they were great in their inception, sometimes the delivery wasn’t as picture perfect as the vision. They were novelties, that were something special to see.
The event was filled with title matches, and saw Arn and Tully go to war with Nikita Koloff and Sting for a time limit draw after twenty minutes which kept the World Tag Titles around the waist of the Horsemen. The US Tag Team Championships were contested by the Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane version of The Midnight Express, who beat the champion Fantastics to take the titles, and further their feud as the next Clash of the Champions was set for the following September. Barry Windham and Ric Flair were also successful in bringing the gold home for the Horsemen when Windham defeated Dusty Rhodes for the US Title, and Flair put Luger under for the NWA World Championship. The main event, Tower of Doom match went on for nearly twenty minutes, and the team of The Road Warriors, The Garvins, and Dr. Death beat the amalgamation of the Varsity Club and the trio of Al Perez, Ivan Koloff and the Russian Assassin, representing Gary Hart’s stable and The Paul Jones Army.
The Clash of the Champions entitled the Fall Brawl first aired on September 7, 1988. Things were still on the downhill slide for JCP financially, and the lackluster turnout from the Bash, two months earlier had left JCP with few options as the holiday season approached. He was not going to have the capital to pull in the necessary talents to make that years Starrcade even close to a financial boon, but he struggled on and went forward with the Fall Brawl Clash. The only titles up for contention at the event were the World Television Title that Mike Rotunda retained after fighting Brad Armstrong to a draw and getting some outside interference from Kevin Sullivan and Al Perez. The NWA US Title was kept in the camp of the Horsemen when Barry Windham also won by outside interference from J.J. Dillon, and a steel chair shot that took out Sting while the referee was distracted. Ivan Koloff lost his signature Russian Chain Match to R’n’R Express’s Ricky Morton, and the Sheepherders were served up the loss from the pairing of Nikita Koloff and Steve Williams.
By November of 1988, Jim Crockett Jr. had borrowed, leveraged, and sold everything he could to keep his promotion afloat but it was to no avail. Using fellow friend, and promoter Jim Barnett, he made an offer to Ted Turner who purchased the company just before Thanksgiving of that year. Crockett worked out the deal so that he was able to continue on until 1991 as the President of Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, and help to aid in the transition of the commodities of the company, both materially and physically. This sale was also a moment to strike for Vince McMahon, who continued to try and draw workers from the company.
The legacy left by the MACW promotion is one that re-routed the course of professional wrestling as we came to know it in the transitional years of the Seventies and Eighties. With what started as one branch of a promotional and restaurant empire started by Big Jim Crockett at the beginning of the century, it grew into a force in the business, that ushered not only ground breaking change, but invented some of the seminal moments in professional wrestling history. They stood strong for nearly sixty years under the JCP/NWA banner, and their creation marshaled on for another decade before it was finally put to bed by his longtime rival in the WWF(E). Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was truly the last great territory to exist that drew in the best workers, and in-ring talents from across the country. They did this by the level of competition they offered, and their ability to turn stars into superstars, and men into legends.
Come back and join me next week Bruthas and Sistas as we head Northeast, and learn about Capitol Wrestling, and the old school promoter, whose family would take over the business, and firmly plant the McMahon stake into the heart of so many fans of Southern Rasslin’, and more than a few promoters. I hope you enjoyed this extensive look into MACW, as I have bringing it to you. See you next time, as we continue to mine our wrestling gold….DIG IT!!!!