Growing Up Remembrances – Episode 1 – Professional Wrestling

This post is respectfully dedicated to my good friend David W. Howell. He passed away in 2005, but I have never known anyone who loved professional wrestling more. Even though he is gone from this world, I will never forget him.

Saturday morning was and is a great time to be a kid. No longer fettered by the ritual of getting up early for school, we would get up for a better reason. Saturday morning cartoons. This was back in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of cable TV and cartoons being on several channels 24 hours a day and seven days a week. That made Saturday morning special for reasons that it no longer is.

But cartoons weren’t the only thing shown on Saturday’s that I looked forward to. Once cartoons went off at noon and after lunch, wrestling came on. Now understand this was in a more innocent time. No one had ever heard tell of Vince McMahon or the WWE. Wrestling still existed under the guise and pretense (kayfabe) of being real. Of course everyone knew that it wasn’t but it was easy enough to suspend your disbelief for an hour or so while the heroes (or faces) and heels did weekly battle.

Before you think we were just a bunch of uncultured hillbillies, keep in mind that I grew up in the rural South. Back in those days nearly everyone watched wrestling. It was a clean program that was by and large kid friendly and meant to be a distraction. There wasn’t the stigma back then of being a wrestling fan that there is now.

Back in those days wrestling was organized under what was referred to as the territorial system, under the authority of the National Wrestling Alliance. Various promoters around the country put on matches exclusively in given areas of the country. They cooperated with one another by universally recognizing a World Heavyweight Champion who would travel around to the various promotions, wrestling in a series of close matches designed to make the local talent look good and thus generate interest.

The area we were in was the territory of Jim Crockett Promotions later known as the Mid-Atlantic area. Each Saturday we could see two different wrestling programs on TV. One of them came on at 1:00 on Channel 4 out of Greenville, SC and was hosted by Bob Caudle. This program was actually taped in Raleigh. The other was shown on Channel 3 out of Charlotte and featured Big Bill Ward as the host. The same wrestlers appeared week in and week out on both shows but in different matches.

When I first began to see TV wrestling there were a lot of tag team matches. Some of the face teams I remember back from that day were Johnny Weaver and George Becker, the Flying Scott Brothers,  and Paul Jones and Nelson Royal. A few heel teams I recall were the Masked Bolos, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew (Ole and Gene Anderson), Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubich, and Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard.

One notable feud was between Weaver/Becker and the Masked Bolos. It seemed like nearly every Saturday Johnny Weaver would get one of the Bolos in a sleeper hold and then try to get the mask off. Several times he almost had it off, but fate would intervene at the worst possible moment and spare the masked wrestler the indignity of having his face exposed  for all to see. Then I was sure that the following week, Johnny Weaver was sure to unmask not just one but both Bolos. It was never to happen.

Around 1970 or so Jim Crockett Promotions decided to deemphasize tag team wrestling and emphasize the singles match. George Becker retired from wrestling (or moved on) and Johnny Weaver easily made the transition to the singles format. He had several submissions holds in his arsenal including the sleeper hold, the figure four leglock, and the Johnny Weaver roll.

Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson parted ways and got involved in a horrible blood feud with one another.

Johnny Valentine, a notable heel, wrestled on most Saturdays for a bounty of 2000 silver dollars. If you could beat Johnny the money was yours. Once mid card face wrestler Danny Miller had him in the chicken wing and I was sure the money was forfeit. But time expired before Johnny would give up.

A new masked wrestler came to town, the Super Destroyer. He was the first wrestler I ever saw use the Claw Hold. Once he applied it, that was it. Lights out!! And he was the first heel wrestler I ever openly rooted for. By this time I had realized how much a farce wrestling was and made it more fun by rooting for some of the bad guys. A few years later Baron von Raschke showed up and used the same finishing move. Blackjack Mulligan also had a devastating claw.

When I was in 8th grade something happened that would change the landscape of professional wrestling forever. One of the “young lions of professional wrestling” made his debut. Nature Boy Ric Flair hit town, originally described as a cousin to the Anderson Brothers. He was loud, flamboyant, and a horrible braggart. He was the greatest heel to ever wrestle for Jim Crockett Promotions. He had epic feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Wahoo McDaniel, and Johnny Weaver.

Not long after Ric Flair came to the area, he was a victim of a plane crash. Johnny Valentine was also in the plane and never wrestled again. Flair was told his career was over but he was back within a year and was his usual mouthy self. Of course he went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship on numerous occasions and eventually wound up in Vince McMahon’s stable before finally retiring just a few years ago.

Some of the greatest heels from that era were The Masked Superstar, Blackjack Mulligan, and especially Ivan Koloff. These days the “Russian Bear” as he was called is a Christian evangelist. He is one of my Facebook friends and posts scripture daily.

The Royal Kangaroos were always worth watching. They were Lord Jonathan Boyd and his distinguished cousin Norman Frederick Charles III. They’d come into the ring wearing capes and bushwhacker hats and proclaim loudly in their distinctive Australian accents. “We’re fightin’ for the Queen against you dirty Yanks.” Of course when the referee wasn’t looking (which was most of the time) one would hand the other a boomerang. They’d make good use of it as the foreign object and of course neatly dispose of it before the referee ever saw it. Classic heels and always fun.

A few faces worth mentioning from that period were Mr. Wrestling, Tiger Conway, Jr., Bearcat Wright, Rufus R. Jones, Wahoo McDaniel, and the Mighty Igor.

Greatest among face wrestlers was Jack Brisco. I first became acquainted with him from Championship Wrestling from Florida. Brisco was an amateur champion who had a lot of actual wrestling skill. He could slug it out when needed, but he may well have been the best pure technical wrestler that has ever graced the square circle. Brisco had a series of epic matches against champion and legend in his own right, Dory Funk, Jr. Eventually Jack Brisco won the Belt, although he won it from Harley Race whom Funk had dropped it to earlier. Jack just died this past year.

As the 1980s rolled around, I began to lose interest in wrestling. It began to get a little more outrageous. Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation ascended with Hulkamania. Eventually Jim Crockett Promotions became World Championship Wrestling owned by Ted Turner, then after a run of about a decade fell to Vince McMahon.

Nowadays wrestling bears little resemblance to what I enjoyed in the past. Many of the old school wrestlers were just physically big men who got by on natural athleticism and toughness. You never saw any of the muscled up physiques like you see now. Valets did not exist and there certainly weren’t women parading around with next to nothing on. Profanity and vulgarity were not a part of the “sport.” Good guys were good because they followed the rules and bad guys were bad because they cheated. There wasn’t any moral ambiguity back then. When someone switched sides they usually played according to type.

I do miss the simple more innocent times. I can’t allow my own children to watch Vince McMahon’s WWE. But I have let them watch some matches from long ago that are shown on ESPN classics. Now if I can just convince my son that putting his sister in the Cobra Clutch is not a good thing….


2 Responses to “Growing Up Remembrances – Episode 1 – Professional Wrestling”

  1. Jeanette Clarke Says:

    Really would like to know what happen to Jack Howell in Midsouth referee that was down in Shreveport, La?

  2. Jeannette Clarke Says:

    Miss jack very much , was the refree for Mid south wrestling in louisiana

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