By Jim Phillips, Columnist
Welcome back wrestling fans. This week we start our trek through the center of the nation as we make our way out to the West Coast. Let’s take a quick stop off in San Antonio for a look back on the small but mighty promotion ran by Joe Blanchard, called Southwest Championship Wrestling. The SCW was only in operation for a little under a decade, but brought a Texas style of rasslin’ that left the locals screaming for more.
Joe Blanchard got his start in wrestling north of the border in Stampede Wrestling at the end of his short lived Canadian Football League career. He started wrestling in 1953 just before he finished up his time with The Calgary Stampeders, and continued on after he left there less than a year later. He ventured to Hawaii, where he found success and became affiliated with the NWA, winning his first big title. Alongside his partner, 50th State Big Time Wrestling favorite, Lord James Blears, he was NWA Hawaii Tag Team Champion on two separate occasions. He followed the NWA to Big Time Wrestling in Texas which, as we learned early on in this series, was the forerunner to World Class Championship Wrestling. He won the Texas Heavyweight Championship twice, with the second title win and loss coming from and going to Fritz Von Erich. The two men were locked in a feud that lasted several months with Fritz coming out on top. Joe continued to work inside the NWA system until he finally made the decision to start up his own promotion in 1975, based in nearby San Antonio, Texas. He christened it Southwest Championship Wrestling and began to bring his vision, of what good wrestling should be to the rabid fans of the Lone Star state.
Tully Blanchard was born a Canadian, in 1954 while his family was still living in Calgary. The wrestling business was the world he lived in from a very early age. He did odd jobs for his father and other promoters in local arenas ranging from program hawker to beverage tender at age ten. As he grew up, so did his knowledge of the business. He began to referee in his early teens, around the same time as he started his in-ring training from his father and local wrestler Jose’ Lothario. While having a lackluster career as a performer, Lothario had went on to train some of the best hands in the ring, including one of the GOATs in Shawn Michaels. The man knew how to teach, that’s without reproach.
Tully hit the ground running once he debuted at SCW. He captured the SCW Television Title after winning a single elimination tournament where he was crowned the first champion to carry that belt. He had two major feuds over this title, one with Dale Valentine, better known as Buddy Jack Roberts, that lasted several months as they traded the belt back and forth four times before Tully finally ended the feud when regained the TV Title on the 4th of July, 1979. It had been renamed the Southwest Heavyweight Championship in the process and was soon contested again by Wahoo McDaniel when he arrived in the territory from his work in Mid-Atlantic and a short stint in Japan. He and Tully would also feud over the SCW title for nearly a year before Wahoo returned to his mainstay work in The Carolinas. Blanchard also fell out of the heavyweight title hunt in the first couple years of the Eighties as he formed a tag team with a fellow Lothario student, that made him realize how powerful a tag team can be. That man’s name was Gino Hernandez.
The original incarnation of The Dynamic Duo was formed when Gino came to work for Joe B. after some time spent out on the roads learning not only the ins and outs of the business, but how to use his good looks to his advantage. He originally broke in at SCW and was billed as “The Handsome Halfbreed”, a name that would never even be considered in the lexicon of today’s wrestling product. In those days, it was common place to use a worker’s nationality as part of their gimmick, much more-so than today. The Duo had natural chemistry and were some of the most hated heels in the territory. The dominated the tag team ranks. Gino spent most of his time in the Texas area working for neighboring WCCW and Mid-South Wrestling. He had strong runs during both tenures at WCCW and he worked at that promotion until his passing.
The light heavyweight division was also a hotbed of talent in SCW during the Eighties. Eric Embry hit the scene and won the SCW Junior Heavyweight Title after defeating Mando Guerrero in a tournament to crown a champion for the vacated title. It was previously held by Chavo Guerrero, but vacated when he left the territory. The men who vied for that title took it’s relevance to another level over the course of the next year. Bobby Fulton and “Exotic” Adrian Street entered the title picture and a series of five star matches would be enjoyed by all the fans at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio. Innovators in the ring, in the same vein as the trio of teams that brought the TLC matches, these three men took to the scaffolds and left their crowds speechless with the death defying mastery of the teetering structures.
As unpredictable as a ladder can be, multiply that by many times over when working with a scaffold. While they may look more stable than a ladder, every single connection of the piping in the structure is a place where a failure can happen. Ladder matches are definetly dangerous, but the scaffold can be a career ender in many different ways, with the main fear being collapse. These type of matches that were held across many different promotions in the mid to late Eighties were the most dangerous a live crowd would experience until the Japanese Death Matches of the Nineties and later the Hell in a Cell matches involving Taker, Foley, and HHH.
By the Fall of 1983, things were beginning to change at SCW. It had broadcast television content on local stations for several years before, and had began airing it’s content on the USA cable television network in 1982. Adrian Adonis had just came onto the scene there from his first run in the WWF with Jesse Ventura as the East-West Connection. He was only in SCW a short time, as he transitioned from working with Ventura, who had to cut back his in-ring schedule due to injury, to once more being a singles competitor. He took the title from Canadian wrestler Bob Sweetan in April, 1983, only to drop it back to him a month later. Sweetan worked as heel and was know for inciting riots at events with his treacherous tactics. He fought Tully Blanchard for the title two weeks later in a match that was set to be televised in their USA time-slot the following week. This match, was the start of a series of events that led to the selling of SCW, and the promotion fading away into wrestling history.
The USA network refused to air the content of the match because it was so violent and bloody, which, was a Texas signature in wrestling matches, but the nationwide cable channel had Censor Standards and Practices to answer to and opted not to air it. It was during this same time that Vince McMahon had come calling to USA, with fat pockets and family friendly product. SCW, and Joe Blanchard had been having trouble meeting their agreed upon weekly running costs of seven thousand dollars to air the SCW product. Between the two things that Joe had going against him, and the ability for USA to get on board the WWF freight train, the choice was easily made by the corporate boys. The All American Wrestling program replaced it, and a major means of getting his product out there for fans to see had slipped through Joe’s grasp.
The SCW title changed hands between longtime SCW wrestlers Scott Casey, and “Killer” Tim Brooks over the next few months and eventually landed in the hands of it’s last champion, Kevin Sullivan. Most of the big draw workers had left for other promotions and better paying deals. The company had had working talent exchanges with WCCW, the WWC in Puerto Rico, and the AWA. The majority of it’s workers went to these promotions following the sale of Southwest Championship Wrestling to Fred Behrends and his Texas All-Star Wrestling promotion. The SCW was dissolved into the new entity and never existed again in it’s original incarnation.
Gino Hernandez’s death is one of the great tragedies of not just professional wrestling, but the hard partying Eighties. During his second run with WCCW he embraced the glitzy lifestyle that comes with the popularity of being famous. His drug use was well known by many of the employees and talent at WCCW, but in those days, it was just part of the era. The Cocaine Eighties had claimed many celebrities, in all fields of show business. Living right on the border of Mexico and having, what some of his wrestling peers referred to as “dealings with a shady element that move in those drug circles”, probably didn’t help to curb his addictions. He was found dead in his Dallas apartment by members of the WCCW staff and police when he wasn’t heard from after multiple attempts to contact him over several days. His cause of death was declared as heart attack as a result of cocaine toxicity in his blood. Some wrestlers that worked with him during that time still refuse to believe the overdose story as he was found with cocaine in his stomach, as well as his blood. The truth of that mystery may neve be known, but the fact that it was a talented life taken too soon, is certain.
Tully Blanchard went on to have a record-breaking career as a member of the Four Horsemen in Mid-Atlantic, and throughout the Southern territories which led to his induction with that group into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. He also had a headlining run with fellow Horseman Arn Anderson as the Brain Busters while he was in the WWF in the late Eighties before leaving for a career on the independent circuit. He became part of the International Network of Prison Ministries in the Nineties and serves on it’s Board of Advisors today. His daughter Tessa has followed in the family tradition and entered into professional wrestling as well. She has worked all over the world for several promotions, as well as competing in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. She recently made her debut for Impact Wrestling at their Redemption ppv, where she established herself as a heel from her first moments on the scene.
Joe Blanchard stayed active in the wrestling scene after selling his promotion to Behrends. In 1989, he went back to the AWA and took over as President there from the revered Stanley Blackburn. He held that position until the AWA folded in 1991. Joe had a great life in wrestling and left a legacy behind that his family has carried on in his stead. Though rarely known, Joe also became locally famous as one of the first television sportscasters with his High School Football Highlights Show on KSAT -Tv in San Antonio in the Sixties. He was a man of many accomplishments in his life, and very few people will have a bad word to say about him. Joe passed away in 2012 from cancer in his beloved state of Texas, under a San Antonio sky. He was 83 years old.
Like many of his peers from that generation of wrestling, Joe was hard working, loyal to his friends, and dedicated to carrying on the traditions of the old ways of professional wrestling. He could be counted on to keep a handshake deal, and be true to his word if he told you he was going to make something happen. In a business full of sharks, during a time when the seas were rising, Joe was a straight shooter. The SCW, like Fuller’s CCW, is one of the few territorial libraries that the WWE has yet to assimilate into it’s own. While it would be nice to see this old footage, it’s equally nice to see that not every territory was willing to yield to the mega-company’s monetary siren song, and sell off it’s archives. While many fall prey to the pulverizing crush the quest for the acquisition of wealth, and material things can have, it’s always best to remember that there are more important things in life to center your realities around. Legacy, tradition, and history are the most important things in professional wrestling. They are the gold…..DIG IT!!