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Mid-South/UWF history

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I was looking through my saved word documents, looking for the match listing of an old-school comp JHawk made me (if you still have the match listing, please hook me up! ) and I came across this article from Will Parrish. I was tempted to pin it but I think we have enough things pinned.

 

Enjoy...

 

 

 

Chronicles: The National Promotion That Never Was - the Mid-South/UWF (1979-1987)

by Will Parrish

 

?(Bill Watts is) the brightest mind in wrestling.? -- Vince McMahon, introducing Watts for a three-month run as the WWF?s new head-booker, at a personnel meeting in October 1995.

 

?(Mid-South was) what pro wrestling should be when everything makes logical sense and it click on all cylinders, by Professor Watts.? -- Dave That Guy Who Writes That Newsletter, June 15, 1998 Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

 

 

It came so close.

 

In its mere seven and-a-half years of existence, spanning from 1979-1987, Mid-South was a veritable phenomenon within its own time. Tucked away in the relatively small pocket of its eponymous homebase, it drew more crowds in excess of 20,000 than any other wrestling organization in the world during the first half of the ?80s. Its TV shows were populated with fresh-faced, well-rounded performers, crackling with front-man ?Cowboy? Bill Watts' brilliant booking, and steadfastly serving up deep-grilled smoky Southern goodness -- washed down with some of the greatest interviews and matches in the country. At its height, the weekly ?Mid-South Wrestling? drew unprecedented 50-plus shares on bleary UHF stations in its hotbeds in the greater Louisiana and Mississippi regions, and it was the highest-rated syndicated programming of any kind in the country during one point in the mid-?80s, according to Arbitron syndication analysis. In late-1984-early-1985, during its sole stint on a nationwide TV station -- a 13-week run on Superstation WTBS, in a graveyard post on Saturday mornings -- Mid-South Wrestling matched the Hulk-Hogan-led WWF?s ratings in more fortuitous time-slots within a matter of weeks, was completely obliterating the Federation?s ratings within a month, and was easily the top-rated show on cable by the end of the ephemeral run.

 

In the ?80s, nobody reared and developed even a third as many nationally-known stars as Watts; a gaggle that includes the Junkyard Dog, Ted Dibiase, Jim Duggan, Jake Roberts, Mangum TA, Terry Taylor, Sting, the Ultimate Warrior, the Midnight Express and Jim Cornette, the Rock ?n? Roll Express, Steve ?Dr. Death? Williams, Paul Orndorff, the Fabulous Freebirds, Butch Reed, Nikolai Volkoff, ?Nature Boy? Buddy Landel, Jim ?The Anvil? Neidhart, Rick Steiner, Shane Douglas, Jim Ross, and numerous others owe the greater part of their early success to ?Cowboy? Bill?s vision and creativity, without which they likely never would have achieved a fraction of the even greater fame they would enjoy elsewhere. What?s more, a staggeringly-high percentage of the business? most fertile creative minds of the past decade studied under Mid-South?s resident owner, operator, and wrestling folk-hero, including current WWF bookers Bruce Pritchard, Michael Hayes, and Ross; former WCW-WWF creative guru Terry Taylor; Eddie Gilbert, who is roundly credited as the early mastermind behind the ECW approach and was the head booker under Watts in 1986-1987; and even Paul Heyman himself, who has emulated numerous aspects of Watts? approach.

 

Nobody ushered in as many new concepts in a shorter period of time as Watts, either. TV programs featuring nothing but competitive matches on a weekly basis, topped off by a main-event-caliber bout? ?Cowboy? Bill was doing that long before Eric Bischoff conceived the brilliant stroke for Nitro in 1995. Lucrative employee vs. promoter storylines? Mid-South had them in the early-?80s. The first black heavyweight champion? A Watts innovation. Watts formulated the blueprint for many of the most enduring tenets and storyline prototypes in the business, and he did it all while toiling hard within the albatross of relative obscurity.

 

By 1984 -- at the very height of the WWF?s promotion-killing juggernaut, spearheaded by Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, and WrestleMania -- the then-four-year-old Mid-South Wrestling was going so strong that, not only was it able to withstand McMahon?s bold-faced expansion into its territory, but it actually realized record levels of prosperity during the period, at which point its peer promotions were dying out at a record pace nationwide. Even after McMahon poached Mid-South?s main cash cow, invaded the area full tilt, and attempted to compete head-up with Watts? established syndicated programs throughout the region, it was ?Monopolist? Vince, rather than ?Cowboy? Bill, who was reeling early in their war.

 

At the time, although his failed booking run in WCW in 1992 would later tingle on his until-then-unalloyed creative repute, Watts? status as a wrestling visionary was unquestioned. Having built from the ground-up what at one point was the most successful territory on the planet, and having identified from early on that the advent of cable was about to alter the nature of the wrestling beast, he was one of the first promoters to examine the feasibility of expanding nationally. Nevertheless, in attempting to obtain adequate funding for the project, he was rebuffed at every turn, and the sustained cable exposure he needed proved elusive as well.

 

However, it gave Watts considerable satisfaction -- and imbued him with greater confidence -- to have beaten McMahon so decisively during Mid-South?s brief stint on cable. He realized that the dynamics of the industry having changed irrevocably, to where regional promoters were part of a dying breed, and -- as his track record will attest -- he had never been one to back down from a challenge. Thus, although he did remain somewhat disinclined toward the decision, ?Cowboy? Bill decided to take his promotion national, in early-1986. Accordingly, he changed the promotion?s sobriquet to the more widely-skewing ?Universal Wrestling Federation? (UWF) in March of that year; had his syndicated programming director, Jim Ross, shop UWF programming to stations nationwide; shored up his talent roster; and thereupon set out to conquer the world -- or, as it were, the ?universe.?

 

It was a decision he would live to regret.

 

In many ways, the timing could not have proved any worse for the erstwhile Mid-South?s expansion. The WWF was no longer vulnerable by that point, and whatever chinks the Federation had in its armor were now being powdered by Jim Crockett?s equally-ambitious Mid-Atlantic wing of the NWA. Many of Watts? top stars -- Dibiase, Duggan, Taylor, the Freebirds, and the then-47-year-old ?Cowboy? himself -- had been in the territory for too long and, therefore, were past their primes as drawing cards. The other core members of Mid-South?s stable -- the Rock ?n? Roll Express, the Midnight Express, Buddy Landel, and Jake Roberts being chief among them -- had departed for the big-money opportunities provided by McMahon and Crockett in late-1985, and ?Cowboy? Bill?s herd of replacements -- the One Man Gang, the Fantastics, and other, even less noteworthy, long-forgotten names -- proved incapable of filling those voids. In fact, the massive outflow of talent was one of Watts? main impetuses for expanding his reach and revenue streams in the first place; he could no longer compete with the major bankrolls of his two chief competitors, so he needed new means of padding his payroll.

 

Moreover, the economy was in shambles in the UWF?s native soil, and, as a result, the company?s attendance was down across the board, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arknasas. The promotion still drew strong ratings nationwide, but the brand at first failed to catch on in regions outside of its immediate homebase; as a result, house show tours in California, Illinois, Minneapolis, Georgia, and Florida in ?86-?87 were significant money losers. Worst of all, expanding its syndicated network -- 100 markets strong, by the end -- entailed paying exorbitant fees for weekly time slots in key markets; without any intake coming in at the other end, this sizable overhead was impossible for a house-show-based wrestling operation to maintain for long.

 

So, only one year after embarking on the period that would bring his promotion its greatest nationwide prominence, a burnt-out Watts came to the realization that his run, at long last, was up. The NWA bought out the UWF on May 1, 1987; unfortunately, though, in the hands of incomparable and incapable booker Dusty Rhodes, it quickly devolved into a pale imitation of its former self and had to be assimilated into the NWA, rather than continue functioning as a separate circuit, by late-?87. Sadly ironic was that the UWF had just emerged from its only extended run on cable at that point -- while owned by someone other than Watts.

 

Today, pro wrestling history -- such as it is -- is characterized mostly by a given entity?s participation in two agencies: cable TV and pay-per-view. Of today?s fan-base, only a minority even know the version of history propagated by Vince McMahon, fewer know anything but a smattering of facts regarding the origins of the now-defunct WCW, and still fewer know anything substantial about the dozens of promotions that never participated in the aforementioned two mediums.

 

The UWF never made it to pay-per-view -- that genre had only just established its viability at the time of the promotion?s closure -- and it never got the cable exposure it coveted. But if a combination of a blow-away product, an ardent fan base, innovation, relative influence, and unparalleled regional popularity were to be the measure of a promotion?s success -- as opposed to, say, an extended period of visibility -- the Mid-South/UWF would be perhaps the most successful wrestling company of all-time. To the scattered multitude who viewed it, Bill Watts? wrestling forged many lasting memories and remains a shining beacon of how pro wrestling ought to be done.

 

A little less than twenty-three years ago, Watts formed Mid-South; seven and-a-half years later, it was gone. In between, it came oh-so-close to its clarion-clear aim of national prominence numerous times. But, more importantly, it presented the best damned pro wrestling on the planet.

 

If you?re not yet familiar with Bill Watts? wrestling, you can count yourself among the decided majority of today?s fan-base; in fact, even during its prime, -- for all the gaudy ratings and attendance figures it enjoyed within its domain -- only a minority of the wrestling fan-base followed the promotion. However, with the WWF struggling as much as it is and no genuine alternative existing, any self-respecting hardcore fan deserves to discover Mid-South -- The National Promotion That Never Was -- now, in all its Southern-basked splendor.

 

After all, it?s not always the size that counts; as Watts learned between 1979 and 1987, notwithstanding his 300-lbs. frame -- it?s what you do with it...

 

 

I. WATTS? WRESTLING WEANINGS

 

Wrestling promoters -- as with entrepreneurs in any field -- are invariably wont to construct their promotions as a reflection of their own images, as outgrowths of their own personalities and propensities, and in manners informed by their own backgrounds in the industry. Hence, to understand the offing of ?Cowboy? Bill Watts? life is to understand the sum and substance of Mid-South Wrestling. Much like the promotion he would found later in life, Watts was one of the best in the business -- possibly the very best, at one point -- but at every turn, there was that one stumbling block preventing him from achieving the greatest of prominence.

 

Having possessed a hulking, powerful figure his entire life, Watts doubled as a star wrestler and stand-out football player at the University of Oklahoma -- where he was a friend of fellow grappling legend Wahoo McDaniel -- from 1957-1960. At the time, prior to the advent of steroids, he topped out at a 500-pound bench press, a fact which belied the considerable agility he displayed throughout the early part of his in-ring career. In 1961 he played a season at offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, the off-season after which he sought to supplement his income by embarking on a pro wrestling career, at the behest of McDaniel.

 

Fortunately for fans in the Mid-South region, Watts made too much money in wrestling ever to return to the grid-iron.

 

?Cowboy? Bill oozed natural charisma within the context of the histrionic pro wrestling realm, quickly mastering its aspects of showmanship, to augment his natural advantages vis-?-vis size, dexterity, and athletic background. He forthwith became one of the biggest stars in the industry, often earning a six-figure salary -- enormous by the standards of the time -- with his earliest and most enduring success coming in Leroy McGuirk?s Oklahoma-based Tri-States promotion. He ventured to Vincent J. McMahon?s Northeastern World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the mid-?60s, where he initially gained enormous popularity as the partner of local mega-drawing-card Bruno Sammartino, before turning heel on Bruno and participating in perhaps the most lucrative feud of either man?s career. In 1965, a Sammartino vs. Watts main event drew the biggest gate in the history of Madison Square Garden; however, in what would become part of a recurring theme of his career, ?Cowboy? Bill soon realized that he could never outstrip Bruno?s status in the Northeast.

 

On that account, Watts sought out another mountain to climb -- and one that he hoped would be less obstructed -- only to find similar impediments at every turn. Over the next five years, he alternated between stints in the AWA, Japan, California, and St. Louis; he was the foremost heel drawing card everywhere he traveled, but he never caught on as the top star overall in any major office. In 1969, he even wrote a strongly-worded letter to the NWA Board of Directors, importuning that he be rewarded the next World Title reign; he was unable to scare up the support necessary from the member promoters, though, and the belt instead went to the equally-qualified Dory Funk, Jr. Feeling frustrated and no doubt disillusioned, Watts actually quit the business briefly in the early-?70s, before returning to wrestle as the top babyface once more for McGuirk.

 

By then in his mid-?30s, in 1973, Watts affixed himself to facets of the business at which he proved even more adept than those inside the ring: booking and promoting. First, he studied for several months under vaunted NWA promoter Eddie Graham, whose Florida territory was the hottest in the business at the time. Because of his legitimate tough-guy reputation, Watts was known as a virtual backstage ?enforcer? for Graham. One man with whom he had frequent run-ins -- philosophically, if not physically -- was the promotion?s top star, Dusty Rhodes, who remained ?Cowboy? Bill?s friend many years later, regardless of the two?s early grievances. In fact, Watts is credited with orchestrating what was, up to that point, one of the most profitable ideas in the history of the business -- ?The American Dream?s? babyface turn in late-?73.

 

Having thusly garnered a reputation for his deft booking cognition, Watts assumed the role of head booker for Georgia Championship Wrestling in late-1973, at which time GCW was in the preliminary stages of emerging as the first bona fide nationally-recognized organization in the country, due to its Saturday timeslot on Ted Turner?s upstart WTBS cable station.

 

In 1975, fresh off a successful run both as head booker and the top heel in Georgia, the Oklahoma-born Watts returned to work for McGuirk, thereafter focusing exclusively on his efforts in his native Mid-Southern region. McGuirk abdicated considerable booking and front-office responsibilities to ?Cowboy? Bill after this point, but the two men?s approaches grew increasingly distant from one another as time wore on, and Watts factioned off from Tri-States in 1979. Within a matter of weeks, he had pooled his capital into launching Mid-South Wrestling.

 

Even then, Watts was bucking the odds with his newly-hatched project. Mid-South?s base of operations was the sparsely-populated Louisiana and Mississippi -- one of the most difficult regions in the country in which to draw money.

 

Laden with creativity, inculcated with six years of hands-on booking knowledge and experience, and now free for his ideas to flourish unfettered, it did not take ?Cowboy? Bill long to defy the odds against him.

 

 

II. ?DAT DOG

 

It is said that great art transcends cultural differences.

 

From its outset, Mid-South was a certifiable breeding grounds for the business? future stars. Watts had no other choice: He lacked the financial capital to import wrestlers of any other type. Thus, other than he and a few of his closest friends, all of the new-sprung promotion?s were, after a fashion, home-grown -- constituted by such notables as Ted Dibiase, Paul Orndorff, Jake Roberts, Jim Garvin, and the then-18-year-old Fabulous Freebirds of Terry Gordy and Michael Hayes. To a man, they were young, fresh-faced, awash with the type of untapped potential which mirrored the nature of the promotion itself, and would go on to achieve lasting stardom in the profession. By far ?Cowboy? Bill?s most notable coup during Mid-South?s infant stages, though, was that of a strapping, raw-boned, 27-year-old black man named Sylvester Ritter.

 

The wrestling industry being as mercurial as it was, it was more imperative than ever for territories to showcase a charismatic babyface superstar. A main attraction who possessed a dynamic personality were capable of bringing hordes of kayfabe-imbued locals flocking to regional auditoriums through their regional matches and interviews, oftentimes spelling the difference between groups that drew 1,500-2,000 and those which consistently attracted 7,000-12,000. Some promotions were more immune to this fickleness than others -- such as the WWWF, since its homebase was the metropolis of New York, the biggest city in the country -- but it was an undeniable, and often unpleasant, reality for the vast majority of them.

 

For instance, in the Midwestern AWA from 1982-1983, Hulk Hogan set the box office ablaze for his elusive Hvt. Title chase, to the tune of 10,000-18,000 fans; however, cards on which he didn?t appear failed to draw half as many. For its part, the Mid-Atlantic was lucky to boast three of the biggest drawing cards in the business -- Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and Ricky Steamboat and thereby set gate records throughout the early-?80s. Likewise, Florida had Dusty Rhodes, Memphis had Jerry Lawler, Dallas had the Von Erichs, and all of those groups thrived throughout this time period. But, for all of them, their attendance figures would have suffered precipitous drop-offs without the allure of these major names in their main events. Others who lacked any sort of a drawing card -- like the now-Watts-bereaved Tri-States, Bob Geigel?s Central States, the Roy-Shire-helmed San Francisco promotion, and Don Owens? Pacific Northwest, to name a few -- understood this precept only too well, as they were struggling mightily at the gate.

 

It stands to reason, then, that Watts desperately needed an alluring front-man if he was to make his promotion a go for any sustained length. He depended on himself to fill that role initially, of course, but his in-ring career was on the verge of ending by this point, and, again, he lacked the wherewithal to replace himself with an existing front-line drawing card. Thus, ever the non-conformist at this stage in his life, he went entirely against the grain of what was then -- and still is, now -- a dogmatic industry: He rolled the dice on a black man, Ritter, as his lead babyface.

 

Although large and with backgrounds in college football and amateur wrestling, Ritter?s pre-Mid-South track record hardly suggested that he was on the cusp of greatness. He had turned pro two years prior to arriving in the territory, wrestling -- and doing so extremely poorly -- for Jerry Jarrett in Memphis and Stu Hart in Calgary, respectively, in 1977-78 and 1978-79. When he arrived in Louisiana -- notably, in tandem with his friend Jake Roberts -- Ritter received a complete character makeover and charisma graft from Watts, who dubbed him the ?Junkyard Dog? (after the character of the same name in Jim Croce?s most famous ditty, ?Bad, Bad Leroy Brown?), with the premise being that he owned a junkyard.

 

Many of Watts? peers no doubt looked askance at the gimmick, but in this case, the ?Cowboy? would ultimately -- in keeping with his now-prevalent early-career catch-phrase -- laugh all the way to the bank.

 

Even before Watts propelled the Junkyard Dog into a headliner role, JYD had quickly became one of those rare organic phenomena that takes hold only every so often in wrestling. Upon arriving in Mid-South, he took to carting a wheelbarrow full of ?junkyard debris? to the ring, then would convey his felled opponents to the backstage area in the ?barrow following his matches. Somehow, through this act, he formed an instant, palpable connection with the preponderantly rural area crowds and was soon garnering the biggest pops in the territory. It was in accordance with this surprisingly tumultuous reaction that Watts made the intrepid decision to push the Dog as his top star -- instead of a mid-card ?character? black babyface, as per the established wrestling orthodoxy of the period -- and withdrew himself from regular in-ring duty. To coincide with his intensified push, the Dog -- as prescribed by Watts -- ditched the wheelbarrow, instead adopting what would become his character staples: a dog collar and Queen?s ?Another One Bites the Dust? as his entrance theme.

 

Suddenly-- despite all the flak he was catching from local politicians and his bourbon, lily-white peer promoters -- Watts? box office caught fire, not more than six-eight months after Mid-South had opened. Few onlookers comprehended this astonishing turn of events then, and even fewer remember or understand why it happened now.

 

JYD?s instantaneous box office appeal disproved many of the insular business? fundamental tenets. White fans simply weren?t supposed to support a promotion whose feature attraction was black, whereas it was considered impractical for black fans to comprise a significant part of any promotion?s patronage. JYD?s unusual appeal spanned all demographic barriers, though, and white children actually comprised one of his biggest support bases. This trend made his popularity particularly hard to swallow for the Strom-Thurmond-esque political delegates who ran amuck in Louisiana and Mississippi at the time, and they constantly came down with severe pressure on Watts to remove the Dog from his cards. The ?Cowboy,? of course, refused to yield.

 

JYD possessed several characteristics that made him particularly marketable, beyond the fact that he played well to the heretofore-untapped heavily-black Southern market. He was one of the earliest steroid abusers in the business, and from the first, he looked the part of the veritable black superman he portrayed. To facilitate the image, he disposed of his opponents on TV apace -- always in under three minutes, effectively concealing his notorious lack of in-ring aptitude. Perhaps his greatest attribute, though, was his exceptional verbal skills. Speaking in his patented gruff, stentorian voice; exuding self-conviction and confidence; and blessed with a wry sense of humor, he was one of the best promo men in wrestling, despite his relative lack of experience at the point that his rise to prominence commenced in earnest.

 

By March 1980, the Dog was already packing the Municipal Auditorium in downtown New Orleans every Monday night, with crowds that consistently ranged from 5,000 to 8,000. He was also attracting strong turn-outs in other regular Mid-South posts like Shreveport, Jackson and Biloxi. However, it was when he was involved in one of the most successful angles in wrestling history that he suddenly, shockingly, and enduringly established himself as the unlikely biggest territorial drawing card in the entire industry.

 

In mid-1980, the Fabulous Freebirds -- a trio that included 19-years-old Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy, in tandem with their new, Watts-assigned partner, rugged veteran Buddy Roberts -- were fast becoming the top heels in the territory. Hayes was one of the most charismatic speakers of the era, and even as a teen-ager, his chafing promos were a cut above anybody else?s in the territory. Gordy, on the other hand, mainlined the group with the essential ingredients of size and workrate, and he was among the best 280-pound-plus workers in the history of the industry -- despite his youngness. Roberts, for his part, was one of the most accomplished tag team wrestlers of his era, a seasoned pro, and -- above all else -- a complete goofball. Gordy and Roberts handled the bulk of the in-ring activities at this stage, whilst Hayes worked his magic on ?the stick.?

 

On an early-spring episode of Mid-South Wrestling, JYD and area mainstay Buck Robley were doing battle with Gordy and Roberts, and Hayes interfered by spraying his patented ?Freebird hair remover cream? (an instrument which, considering his recent trouble with hair-loss, is woefully ironic) in the Dog?s eyes. The assault ?blinded? JYD, and Watts and co-announcer Boyd Pierce ruefully speculated that his career might be over. In subsequent weeks, Hayes and his comrades gloated over the heinous deed as only they could, while the announcers struck every emotional chord imaginable -- even hyping that the Dog would be unable to witness the impending, real-life birth of his daughter -- in an effort to tug at the heartstrings of the locals.

 

It worked: Hayes and the ?Birds drew incredible heel heat, often to the point of starting miniature riots, and Hayes even decided to wear a bullet proof vest during many of his live appearances, as a necessary precaution. The Dog?s fans were so stirred in their empathy that they treated the situation as though it was a personal friend -- and, to them, perhaps it was -- who had endured the plight, collectively mailing him several hundred dollars a week throughout the duration of his ?recovery.? Indeed, to the rabid kayfabe-cleaving faithful in Louisiana and Mississippi, this was no storyline, and the rabidity of their emotions has rarely been duplicated at any other point in wrestling history.

 

Naturally, JYD shocked everyone -- the Freebirds in particular -- when he returned to TV several months after his visual impairment. Now only ?partially blind,? he challenged Hayes to a dog-collar match, at a Superdome spectacular in New Orleans on August 2, 1980.

 

The gathered throng of approximately 30,000 fans, paying an enormous $183,000, that congregated on the event sent shock waves reverberating throughout the industry. To that point, the number of legitimate 30,000-plus attendance figures in the history of North American wrestling could be counted on precisely two hands, and those which had had been headlined by such world-renowned mat monarchs as Lou Thesz, ?Stranger? Lewis, Buddy Rogers, and Bruno Sammartino. For a one-year-old promotion to attract a crowd of that magnitude, on the strength of a match involving two relative unknowns like JYD and Hayes, combined age 46, was completely unheard of. The entire wrestling establishment was utterly aghast when they got wind of Mid-South?s monumental success, and the legends of Watts? genius and JYD?s massive appeal spread rapidly.

 

Shortly after this formidable box office accomplishment, JYD took to wrestling with goggles while his eyesight ?recovered.? In addition, he soon ran the Freebirds out of the territory, after which they set up camp in Georgia and continued to wax their resume with the plaudits of sell-out crowd after sell-out crowd.

 

Although his first major rivals had departed, the Dog?s appeal did not falter one iota, and his remarkable recovery from his bout of blindness actually served to augment his fast-spreading repute. It was during this period, starting in late-1980, that Mid-South Wrestling often drew the aforementioned 50 shares on often-tiny stations in LA and MS. JYD was now entrenched as a local cultural icon, the most popular athlete in all of Louisiana, and the Superdome cards became quarterly occurrences, not failing to draw in excess of 20,000 until 1983.

 

In late-1980, Watts made another ground-breaking personnel decision, this time bringing Ernie Ladd in to be his co-booker and, for a time, top heel. As with today, at the time there was a woeful dearth of African American front office employees in the business, and Ladd was the first black man ever to book in a major office.

 

The Dog thumped several notable rivals over the course of his then-unparalleled romp. Many of them were part of an assembly line of his tag team partners who inevitably turned heel due to reasons of avarice and/or jealously. One such traitor was Paul Orndorff, a great performer who would remain a top star in Mid-South until 1982, turned on JYD in mid-1981, and consequently drew a 25,000 house on July 4, 1981. Other rivals during ?81-?82 included Bob Roop, Len ?The Masked Grappler? Denton, and Jerry ?Mr. Olympia? Stubbs.

 

Without question JYD?s most successful opponent -- except, perhaps, for the Freebirds -- over the course of his career was Ted Dibiase. Up until mid-1982, Dibiase had been the Dog?s tag team partner and, accordingly, one of the top babyfaces in the region. He was a redoubtable in-ring performer -- Ric Flair and the Dynamite Kid, and perhaps Ricky Steamboat were the only North American workers who were of his caliber at the time, -- but, for a long time, he lived entirely in the capacious shadow cast by the Dog. An angle in 1982 changed those circumstances entirely.

 

Because Watts realized that the greatest box office value he could derive from the Dog would be through a protracted North-American Title -- Mid-South?s foremost championship -- chase, rather than immediately winning it, it was not until June 21, 1982, in the Superdome that JYD won the elusive strap. He downed Roop, a legendary area heel, in the match.

 

The very next week on TV, the Dog granted his friend Dibiase a shot at the newly-won gold. It was supposed to be characterized by friendly competition; nevertheless, by the end of the match, the wily Dibiase was displaying subtle heel tendencies. In a shocking turn of events, with the referee?s back turned, the future ?Million Dollar Man? donned a coal miner?s glove, pickled the Dog across the face, notched the tainted, and won the championship. By virtue of the incident, the glove would be a Dibiase trademark for almost four years hence. The Dog?s long-awaited title run had ended after less than a week, the fans were outraged, and Dibiase was remain as hot of a heel as existed in wrestling for a long time to come.

 

The ensuing feud was even more lucrative than JYD vs. the Freebirds, partially because Watts had bought out McGuirk in early-?82 and was now running cards in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and East-Texas. After sell-outs around the loop, with Dibiase always narrowly escaping with his belt in toe, the rivalry built to a Loser Leaves Town (but only for 90 days) match on television Jim Duggan and Matt Borne. shortly thereafter, though, JYD carried out his sweet and definitive reprisal while under a mask as ?Stagger Lee,? regaining the title in April 16, 1983, before a raucous crowd of nearly 30,000 in the Superdome.

 

In all, JYD would enjoy four NA Title reigns and would attract nine different crowds of 22,000-plus in a three-year span. Up to that point, nobody -- not Hogan, not Flair, not Rhodes, not Sammartino, not Thesz, not Lewis, not Rogers -- could boast of anywhere near the same accomplishment.

 

Fittingly, given Mid-South?s lot until the day it checked out, exceedingly few fans at the time were the slightest bit aware of this parcel of information.

 

 

III. 1984

 

The product qualities of every major wrestling office invariably experience quite a few ebbs and flows as they gain in years. At times, bookers become mired in creative ruts, causing the box office to lose its sizzle; at others, their creative efforts will meet with great approval. In short, it has always been a cyclical business. Mid-South, however, was unique in that it largely eschewed the type of creative tailspin that was afflicting so many of its peer promotions in the early-?80s, and when it finally did ebb, the ebb was exceedingly brief and followed by the greatest of all its flows.

 

Golden ages of NWA member promotions have been numerous over the years. The early-?70s in Florida, the late-?70s in Georgia, the early-?80s in World Class, and the late-?70s-?early-?80s in Mid-Atlantic -- when Flair, Piper, and Steamboat ruled the roost -- are foremost among them. In fact, Mid-South?s 1980-1982 ?Camelot,? as Watts once described it, compared in every respect -- perhaps favorably -- to any in that foursome.

 

Quite dualistically, however, Mid-South reached a zenith of product quality perhaps more lofty than any in the history of the industry in 1984, of all years -- when more promotions died out than any other. Watts? superlative output that year represents the collective efforts that were possible only for a promotion which boasted a bevy of fresh, young, marketable who commingled with a few still-relevant veterans and were complimented by top-notch announcing and the best booking in the world. It is also where this Chronicle picks up in greater detail.

 

As 1983 drew to a close, Mid-South was bogged down in a mini-rut. Both Ted Dibiase and ?Hacksaw? Jim Duggan were in the midst of several-month runs for other promotions -- Georgia and Florida, respectively -- and the Junkyard Dog was finally starting to lose steam at the box office. Attendance had taken a decisive plunge across the circuit, particularly in New Orleans. For the first time in his career as a promoter, Watts was operating in the red -- not to the point he was on the verge of going out of business, but enough to cause him to rethink his approach.

 

Meanwhile, Watts? northerly neighbor -- the Memphis promotion fronted by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry ?The King? Lawler -- was riding a crest of box office success. The Memphis Coliseum was selling out on a near-weekly basis, to the tune of 11,000 Lawler-loving fans, and major attractions like ?The King,? the Fabulous Ones, and Bill Dundee had captured the imagination of fans in Tennessee, Kentucky, and parts of Mississippi like never before or since. In response, Watts prudently put his ego on the back-burner -- which was certainly a novel concept for a wrestling promoter -- and asked the Memphis promoters to venture to a few Mid-South cards and cast a discerning eye over what they saw. He had already formed a pact with them so as to fortify their turf for when the WWF made its inevitable invasion, and this measure was only a natural extension of it.

 

Not surprisingly, Jarrett and Lawler advised that Watts should incorporate a few of the signature elements of Memphis wrestling into his product. This approach entailed hiring a young, belligerent heel manager (or a ?blowjob,? as the Memphis promoters called it); incorporating the fast-paced elements of rock ?n? roll and aerial wrestling; and introducing a measure of sex appeal to some of his male wrestlers, to attract young female fans. At the time, Memphis actually possessed a surplus of all of these trappings and was looking to broaden its horizons by adding some larger, more rugged wrestlers to its mix. As a result, the two promotions opted to make a trade -- perhaps the biggest out-and-out talent swap in the history of the industry. In exchange for King Kong Bundy, Jim Neidhart, and a greenhorn Rick Rude, Jarrett and Lawler sent Watts Jim Cornette, Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, the Rock ?n? Roll Express, and Terry Taylor. Incredibly, all nine of the principals involved would go on to enjoy national superstardom within the next few years. Most importantly, though, Memphis lent the creatively-burnt-out Watts Bill Dundee to assume the reigns of his booking. One of the most prolific booking minds in the industry, Dundee spelled Watts while he recharged his own creative batteries and would also double as one of Mid-South?s top heels.

 

 

 

IV. THE TALENT

 

The following is an overview of the main talents that constituted Mid-South?s ranks at the beginning of 1984. To say it reads like a ?who?s who? of wrestling in the decade would not just be a clich?; it would also be a gross understatement.

 

Junkyard Dog - The gilt was starting to flake from the golden goose as 1983 drew to a close. In addition to losing steam as a drawing card, the Dog was starting to feel the ill-effects of his famous substance abuse problems, stemming from a nasty divorce and the death of his infant child. His weight had ballooned out of control, and although Watts explained the excess tonnage by claiming the Dog was simply bulking up to face superheavyweights like King Kong Bundy and Kimala, it was clear that the Dog had lost his edge. His interviews ceased to be as inspired, a feud with Butch Reed in late-1983 failed to draw the expected returns, and Watts could only figure out ways to maintain the Superman-type appeal for so long.

 

Jim Duggan - Cut from the same cloth as Watts -- big, rugged, and a charismatic talker -- Duggan was fast emerging as Mid-South?s biggest draw as 1984 began. In fact, his popularity had by that point already surpassed the Junkyard Dog?s in some areas on the circuit. A young, Bruiser-Brody-influenced Duggan had joined Mid-South in 1982, at which point he was immediately plugged into a fearsome three-headed stable known as the ?Rat Pack,? with Ted Dibiase and Matt Borne. He frequently served as Dibiase?s tag team partner over the next year-and-a-half, comprising one of the most famous tandems in the history of the territory, before splitting with the Million-Dollar-Man-to-be in late-1983 out of ?disgust? that Dibiase had commiserated with United-States-antagonistic manager Skandar Akbar. Thereupon, Duggan adopted his now-familiar American patriot role, albeit in a form much less obstreperous than that which he would later assume in the WWF and WCW. ?Hacksaw? possessed enormous babyface charisma at the time, with perhaps only Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair being his superiors in that regard, and was on the brink of the greatest run of his career as 1984 dawned.

 

Ted Dibiase - One of the premiere performers in the business at the time -- if not ever -- Dibiase had been one of Mid-South?s top five stars for well nigh half a decade by the time ?84 rolled around. Exceptional in some aspects of the business and very good at all others, Dibiase was, like Watts, almost a reflection of Mid-South itself: A great worker who cut very good promos and had exceedingly few frills, but who never quite got his rightful due. Unfortunately for Dibiase, the one wrestler who was better-rounded than he at the time, ?Nature Boy? Ric Flair, invariably prevented him from winning the NWA World Title for which he had once been earmarked. He actually plied his wares alternately in Georgia and Japan, as well, in late-?83 and early-?84, but his presence remained felt in Watts? group, and it was not long until he returned on a full-time basis.

 

Mr. Wrestling II - Real name Johnny Walker, the masked Wrestling II was one of the business? true legends. As the tag team partner of Tim Woods -- aka Mr. Wrestling I -- in Georgia Championship in the 1970s, he achieved his greatest career success. The 5?9?, 215-pounder continued to wrestle primarily in Georgia until 1983, before going to work for Watts, and immediately getting over based on his still-top-flight interviews and name value -- which he was, at this time, lending to Magnum TA.

 

Mangum TA - Blessed with matinee-idol good looks and a wealth of physical charisma, TA was one-half of the Mid-South Tag Team champions as 1984 began, and he was starting to catch fire in the role of venerable partner Mr. Wrestling II?s protege. Real name Terry Allen, TA wrestled from 1979-1981 as a lower-mid-carder in various Southern circuits, before receiving his first career break in 1982 upon arriving in Florida, where Dusty Rhodes took him under his wing. But it was in mid-1983, when TA arrived in Mid-South, that he developed into the business? newest mega-star-to-be. His interaction with Wrestling II provided him the rub necessary to develop into one of the two top babyface in Mid-South, and the Atlanta-area legend even went so far as to say that TA was capable of becoming the greatest wrestler who ever lived. Wrestling II even put him on a stringent diet and training regimen -- which was ironic, given that II himself was hardly a model of physical conditioning at the time. But the proof in the pudding, as II would say, came in October of ?83, when the duo wrested the tag straps from Butch Reed and Jim Neidhart, thereby establishing them as one of the hottest acts in the company.

 

The Midnight Express and Jim Cornette: In late-1983, Watts packaged together a 23-year-old mama?s boy named Jim Cornette and two talented but under-appreciated veterans of the Southern wrestling belt named Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton. The dynamics of the union worked to perfection: Cornette was one of the three best orators in the business by that juncture, while Condrey and Eaton -- particularly Eaton -- wore the tag as the two best workers nobody had ever heard of. As 1983 came to a close, the Midnights had several weeks of squash match victories under their belts, and their innovative quick-tag, high-risk style broke new ground in the territory. Meanwhile, Cornette?s tawdry attire (replete with head-to-toe polyester and a tennis racket), sissified Body English, and liberal references to spending his mother?s money were starting to get under the skin of the mostly-rural-class Mid-South faithful. He was the first manager without a past as a wrestler in the history of the territory, and his heat-drawing skills were unparalleled. The stage was set for the Express to explode as the hottest tag team in the business, this side of the Road Warriors, in ?84.

 

Rock ?n? Roll Express - By 1984, 23-year-old Ricky Morton and 26-year-old Robert Gibson had already forged solid names for themselves on the Southern wrestling circuit, but it was not until Memphis booker Jerry Lawler had put them together as the Rock ?n? Roll Express -- in hopes of attracting young female fans to his cards -- that they demonstrated signs of becoming drawing cards. Watts previously had shied away from the developing trend of featuring his wrestlers in rock ?n? roll music videos, but with the Express, he made a notable exception. Morton and Gibson were first introduced to Mid-South followers through cheesy montages set to such popular hits as ?I Love Rock ?n? Roll? by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, ?Rock ?n? Roll is King? by the Electric Light Orchestra (which was their entrance theme for the better part of the next three years), and, later, ?Jump? by Van Halen. Before, they had just been great workers without the benefit of a gimmick; now, they had found a persona that complimented their real-life personalities perfectly, and they immediately became one of the biggest-drawing acts in the entire industry.

 

?Hacksaw? Butch Reed - Long before he become known nationally as the blanched-haired ?Natural? in the WWF from 1986-1988, Reed was one of the ten best workers -- and possessed one of the five best bodies -- in the industry. He had owned a premiere physique and been tremendously agile for his size ever since breaking into the business in the late-?70s, but major promotions were reticent to push him, largely due his skin pigmentation. That said, he did gain a modicum of nationwide celebrity early on, partially stemming from a photo that became widespread in the Apter magazines in 1980 that depicted Reed press-slamming the even-more-massive Hulk Hogan. Reed got the first big push of his career when he went to Florida in 1982, and he got an even bigger break in 1983 upon arriving in the more broad-minded Mid-South, where the color of his skin actually worked to his advantage. He was introduced on-camera as the Junkyard Dog?s storyline protege, but it was only a matter of weeks before he turned heel out of coveting the Dog?s North American championship belt. Reed had a good run as the promotion?s top heel at that point, but it was one marred by the fact that his big Superdome showdown against JYD drew a sparse 8,000 fans.

 

?Nature Boy? Buddy Landel - Always a very talented worker, the not-yet-bleached-blonde Landel lacked the charisma to warrant a push early in his career. But he donned the ?Nature Boy? guise while on tour in Puerto Rico in the early-?80s, and before long he was a break-out heel-superstar-to-be. As with so many young wrestlers at the time, Landel got his biggest career break from Watts, who gave him a big push in late-?83 and made gave him an agreeable slot as Butch Reed?s tag team partner. Thereupon, he was even involved in one of the most heated angles in Mid-South?s history when, in 1983, Reed and Ernie Ladd had held JYD down on the mat during a Superdome show, allowing the lily pretty-boy ?Nature Boy? to paint a yellow stripe across his back.

 

Terry Taylor - Taylor -- he of the simple blue trunks, olive skin, and sun-bleached hair -- had floated around between several territories since 1979, but none of the major offices ever saw in him the potential to be a major name. Watts did, however, and gave him a major push upon his arrival in Mid-South in 1984. It would be wrong to label Taylor a major gate attraction at any point, but he settled comfortably into a consistent niche as one of the top six or seven stars in the territory for most of the rest of its existence. His workrate was one of the 20 best in the industry, and his understated promos were straightforward but effective. What?s more, he was a favorite among the promotion?s suddenly-blossoming female demographic.

 

Nikolai Volkoff and Krusher Kruschev - An arrant xenophobe, Watts legitimately despised Russia, and he frequently preyed on area fans? nationalistic zeal with his heel creations. Kruschev -- formerly known as Barry Darsow, later known as Demolition Smash, the Repo Man, and the Blacktop Bully, amongst other aliases -- was little more than a large but nondescript, albeit talented-for-his-size, worker when he arrived in Mid-South in 1983. Watts repackaged him as Krusher Kruschev, an American turncoat, and his progress was immediate. Volkoff, on the other hand, had employed the Russian gimmick dating back to the ?70s, but it was ?Cowboy? Bill who invented the gimmick of singing the Russian National Anthem before his matches, which ?The Russian Menace? parlayed into the greatest stardom of his career.

 

Steve Williams - A four-time All-American wrestler and football standout at Watts? old stomping grounds of the University of Oklahoma, Williams was one wrestler for whom ?Cowboy? Bill had a natural affinity. The Mid-South owner-operator liked his babyfaces large, sturdy, and athletic, and the mighty Williams fit the prototype better than anybody else in the industry at one point. He had broken into Mid-South in the summer prior to his senior season at OU, and Watts had always taken great pains to protect his credibility, including having him adopt ?Cowboy? Bill?s old Oklahoma Stampede powerslam finisher. By late-1983, several months after he had graduated and taken up wrestling full-time at the age of 23, Williams would soon develop into a worker commensurate with his push.

 

Kimala - One of the great character heel creations of the decade and the brainchild of Jerry Lawler, Kimala arrived among the influx of new talent to Mid-South in 1983. He was managed by long-time Watts in-ring-rival-turned-manager ?General? Skandar Akbar, a heel of fictitious Middle-Eastern descent.

 

Tommy Pritchard - The vastly underrated Pritchard -- now commonly known as the co-host of ?Byte This? and a WWF trainer -- was no more than a jobber when he arrived in Mid-South in 1983, but he benefited greatly from being in the presence of Watts and his bevy of great workers. Among other famous area ?enhancement wrestlers? included Lanny Poffo, who was Randy Savage?s brother and would be known six years later as ?The Genius? in the WWF, and, later in 1984, an 18-year-old Shawn Michaels.

 

Rick Rude, King Kong Bundy, and Jim Neidhart - Although all three had greater things in store for them, Watts made a shrewd move when he ?traded? them to the Memphis circuit. Bundy and Neidhart had emerged as future stars due to Watts? nimble involvement of them in his product, but they had both run their course in Mid-South and desperately needed a change of scenery. The late Rude, for his part, was on the verge of superstardom, but he had yet to get over in the LA-MS-OK-TX-AK area, and he, too, stood to benefit from changing residences.

 

 

V. OTHER TRAPPINGS

 

Mid-South Announcing

 

One of Mid-South?s greatest strengths was its first-rate team of broadcasters -- Jim Ross, Boyd Pierce, and Bill Watts -- and, later, Bill?s step-son, Joel Watts.

 

Ross had become acquainted with Watts while doing odd jobs for Leroy McGuirk in the ?70s. His first tour of duty as an announcer was for McGuirk, which was an especially valuable experience because the blind McGuirk also served as the color commentator; thus, Ross learned to paint explicit verbal portraits of the action he saw before him in the ring. He joined Mid-South after Watts bought out McGuirk in 1982, at which point he worked predominately as a referee and a ring announcer. His first full-time break into Mid-South?s announcing booth came in 1984, when Watts went with an alternating three-man announcing team of himself, Pierce, and Watts. Even then, JR had a knack for making wrestling seem like a sporting event, thereby greatly enhancing its believability. What?s more, he had a unique command for when to let the action speak for itself and when to project his announcing onto the action.

 

The late, then-58-year-old Pierce was a veteran announcer of several Southern circuits, but the promoter whom he held in the greatest esteem was Watts. Known for his loud outfits, smooth and homely announcing style, and great respect for the business, Pierce was a tremendous asset to Mid-South telecasts until his departure in the middle of ?84.

 

Bill Watts himself was also an excellent commentator, which is no surprise given the great verbal skills he demonstrated throughout his in-ring career. He did a bang-up job of describing the intricacies of every storyline and the personality quirks of his performers, largely because he, as the mastermind behind them, understood said nuances so well. He was especially fond of discussing the performers? athletic backgrounds, a trait he passed down to Ross.

 

The gangly, then-20-year-old Joel Watts was not nearly the level of announcer as his step father, and he was barely even passable when he first entered the booth, but he developed into quite a solid commentator in his own right within a few years. His first on-camera position for Mid-South was as a referee in 1983 (he was known as ?Joel Armstrong? at that point, because Watts was initially reluctant to divulge his true identity), but his greatest impact on the operation was as its lead producer. He produced every music video the promotion featured starting in ?83, and he remained the man in the truck until its dissolution four years hence.

 

Oftentimes, Ross and Watts -- particularly in 1985-1987 -- would speak out on the air against the abscess of the ?macabre cartoon wrestling,? as they were wont to put it, of rival promotions. In the April 1986 edition of Inside Wrestling, Watts did credit Vince McMahon with being ?very smart, very brilliant in his gameplan,? but he neither liked nor respected the type of product McMahon promoted, and he sought to rouse the passions of those loyal to the Mid-South brand of wrestling by directing pejorative statements at the competition.

 

The Superdome

 

Prior to the accession of pay-per-view as wrestling companies? preferred means of netting a huge pay-day, most promoters based their operations around a single large facility at the hub of their territory. The WWF had Madison Square Garden, Mid-Atlantic had the Greensboro Coliseum, GCW had the Omni, etc. Mid-South?s unrivaled local popularity, though, afforded it the opportunity to book a much bigger facility for blow off matches of major feuds -- the 60,000-seat Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

 

Leroy McGuirk was the first area promoter to capitalize on the proximity of the Dome, which opened in 1975. New Orleans was one of the largest cities in the region, but the local Municipal Auditorium only seated around 8,000, which was not enough to meet the ticket demand of a hot promotion. When NWA World champ Terry Funk came to town to defend his belt against local hero Watts on July 17, 1976, McGuirk stood to gain from booking the new, larger facility. The result was a crowd of upwards of 20,000 and one of the biggest gates in the history of Southern wrestling up to that point.

 

McGuirk would book three more Superdome spectaculars -- invariably with Watts as the headliner -- before ?Cowboy? Bill siphoned off from him in 1979. At that point, Watts assumed the mantle as the Superdome?s wrestling superintendent, and the facility would house all but a handful of Mid-South?s biggest cards and matches over the next seven years.

 

Drugs and Travel

 

That drugs have always constituted a prevalent, if unsavory, element of wrestling is an irrefutable truth, but they reared their ugly head in Mid-South more than in most promotions. The travel schedule on the circuit was absolutely brutal, including regular seven-day weeks with two cards on both Saturdays and Sundays, and Watts was an extremely demanding boss. In particular, there was Junkyard Dog?s aforementioned cocaine addiction, and several other mainstays suffered the ill effects of chemical dependency during the period.

 

?Matchmaker? Grizzly Smith

 

It was customary for promotions at the time to employ figurehead ?matchmakers,? many of whom, in actuality, had little to do with the booking process in their given promotion. A one-time superstar of the Southern scene, Smith filled that role for Mid-South and appeared frequently on-camera to make official proclamations regarding the group?s administrative activities. He also had two sons in wrestling -- Sam Houston and, of course, Jake Roberts.

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continued...

 

VI. STARTING WITH A BANG -- FROM A TENNIS RACKET

 

Mid-South?s second TV show of 1984 could not have been more apt. It was marked by the first of many salvos Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express would fire at Mid-South Tag Team titlists Magnum TA & Mr. Wrestling II, as well as a confrontation between Cornette and the still-retired Bill Watts. Speaking in his trademark machine-gun style, firing off debasing one-liners at will, and interrupting the legendary and respected Watts at every turn, Cornette was incredibly effective at getting under the skin of those he antagonized in the following segment, which opened that telecast:

 

 

(Jim Cornette, decked out in red-and-white polyester, stands in contrast beside Bill Watts, dressed in a simple gray suit and a cowboy hat to match. They are stationed in the blue Mid-South interview area.)

 

Bill Watts: I?m standing here with Jim Cornette, the manager of the Midnight Express. And, Mr. Cornette, I?ve watched Skandar Akbar manage his troops, and Skandar Akbar was a former North American champion himself, a tough athlete in his own right. I?ve been against Gary Hart and his armies, and Gary Hart was a pretty good-sized street guy from Chicago. Rock Hunter, who was formerly a great athlete, managed the Assassins. You?re the first athlete I?ve ever seen -- or, first non-athlete -- who is arrogant, audacious, flamboyant, rude, and a mama?s boy that brags about how you use your mother?s capital to accomplish what you want.

Jim Cornette: Well, Bill Watts, first of all, let me just say one thing: People with money do not have to sweat. Why should I work for something when all I have to do is call my mother and she buys it for me. Do you understand? Do you comprehend?

Watts: Well, short sleeves and two generations, you know, or whatever, I still respect the people who earned on their own right. Now, last week Reeser Bowden was interviewing Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II, congratulating them on winning Christmas night the Mid-South Tag Titles, and you came out and interrupted that interview. Let?s go to the footage of that?

 

(Footage airs from the previous week?s program.)

 

(Mr. Wrestling II): Well, like I told you before, it was just a matter of time. When you stuck with me, you obeyed the things I tried to pound into your head, and it all came true. Right here is the proof in the pudding, man? (II pats his half of the Tag Titles; TA pats his belt, as well, and grins.) Let me just explain one thing to ya??

(Cornette walks onto the interview set.)

(Cornette): Hold up just a second; could I interrupt here for just a minute? I heard a lot of names being bandied about out here a minute ago about top competition, but one name that was conspicuous in its absence was the Midnight Express. Now, can you explain just what the problem is? We?ve been trying to get a title match with you two for a long time, I?ve offered any amount of my mother?s money that you want, and we can?t get the contract signed. What?s the problem? Could either one of you happen to tell me?

(Wrestling II): Hey, pal, there is no problem. Anytime you feel you?re qualified, we?ll be ready for you. The Mid-South is the one who determines that.

(Cornette): Well, I feel like I?m qualified, and I feel like my men are qualified; I don?t feel like you two are qualified. What you done: This guy (points to TA), he was a frustrated sex symbol, (motions to II) and you were just frustrated. You?ve taken him from a frustrated sex symbol and turned him into a coward (TA and II take a menacing step toward Cornette). And I think I?m just gonna? back up here just a step? I think what the problem is in getting you two in the ring is that you are chicken. Both of you are chickens, both of you are cowards, and if you don?t give us a title match, what we?re gonna? have to do is prove to all these people who love you so much, is prove to them in a way that they?ll never forget exactly how chicken you are (leaves).

(Wrestling II): (pauses) Can you imagine that pip-squeak calling men chicken?

(Magnum TA): I think that man would be very at home in a hen house -- and not as a chicken, either.

(Wrestling II): No, he?d probably be sitting on a nest, warming the eggs.

 

(Return to the interview set with Watts and Cornette.)

 

Cornette: I like to watch myself? (giggles)

Watts: Well, I think at that point that they thought you were just another smart-aleck with a lot of rhetoric. I think they didn?t realize that when you were talking about them being chicken that you were going to take such drastic action to make a visual reminder about something that I think went out when the Ku Klux Klan was riding roughshod over a lot of scared folks, and --

Cornette: I?ve heard rumors of that group, but I am a man of integrity; I warned them, Bill Watts. I warned them of what I was going to do, and nobody can say no different.

 

(More footage of the previous week, when TA and II were wrestling a squash match. Cornette enters the ring, carrying a burlap sack.)

 

(Cornette): You know, I believe I told everybody that Mangum Ta and Mr. Wrestling II are a couple of chickens, because they won?t defend the Mid-South Tag Team belts against the Midnight Express (the crowd heat swells)!. Well, my mother and I have gotten together, and we?ve gotten a little surprise for you; we?ve got something to make an example out of you, and to show you that we don?t tolerate cowards around here at all?

(The Midnight Express ambush TA and Wrestling II from behind with a foreign object. With II unconscious, the heel team holds down TA face-first on the mat. Cornette reaches into his bag and pours a dark, adhesive substance across TA?s back. Cornette pours a bag of chicken feathers across TA?s back, until he is completely covered in them. The crowd appears on the verge of a riot. Steve Williams and Rick Rude run in for the save as the Express and Cornette flee the ring. Cornette derisively flaps his arms like a chicken as he walks back to the dressing room.)

 

(Back to Watts and Cornette at the interview set.)

 

Cornette: Hahahaha. Bach, bach, bach. Hahahaha.

Watts: Well, you know, I can say I?ve been in wrestling some twenty years, and I?ve been proud to be called a professional wrestler, and I?ve had a lot of beefs with a lot of people. But I always thought that there was something about the king of sports that you always should have a certain amount of honor, that you took on your opponents head--

Cornette: --The only honor that I have, Bill Watts, is that when I want something, I get it one way or the other! That?s the only honor I have: What affects a Cornette and what affects my men, the Midnight Express. That?s all I care about, that?s all I think about, that?s all I wanna? hear about (slams his racket down on the podium.)

Watts: Well, we kept the camera?s running, and we wanna? see back as the wrestlers were helping Magnum--

(Footage roles of Rick Rude and Lanny Poffo helping a fuming TA, still saturated with feathers, to his feet and to the backstage area. Cornette and Watts provide running commentary this time.)

Cornette: --Hahaha! That has got to be the single funniest thing I have seen in a week or two. Look at TA there, he looks like the big chicken that he is, wallowing around in a puddle of feathers. Look at this Rick Rude, that guy trying to help him up. There?s ?Limpin?? Lanny right there. This is the greatest thing that I think I have ever done. You know, Bill Watts, I can match you, by the way, multi-syllabic term for multi-syllabic term -- and that, right there, is a ?masterpiece.? What do you think?

Watts: There?s a man in agony, in turmoil right th--

Cornette: -- There?s humiliation, right there! And I told him, I warned him; like I said, I am a man of integrity. I warned him what I was gonna? do; he didn?t pay attention to it, he wouldn?t pay heed to it, so he paid the price for it. And where?s Wrestling II? I believe he might be back in the back someplace with an ice pack on his head by this time, because he (laughs)? he took a blow.

Watts: You know, that?s right, on a hot night, it only takes a small spark to ignite a whole forest fire, and you may have just lit something that you can?t put out. Later on, we had Wrestling II and Magnum TA, and we got ?em out to say a few words. And you were right, they were humiliated; TA thought he?d been made a total fool of. Let?s listen to their words.

Cornette: (laughs) Okay?

 

(More footage of last week?s program, with Watts interviewing Wrestling II and TA at ringside.)

 

(Wrestling II): Let me tell you something right now, Bill Watts? They pulled a trick -- this time! But let me tell each and every one of you out there: There?s gonna be some plucking go on around here! You talk about chicken; when we through with ya?, we?re gonna? pluck everything out of ya?! We?re gonna pick, until you can?t be picked anymore!

TA (In a low, earnest tone) I?m here to tell each and every one of you right now: You might find something remotely humorous about this. But to me, this is the most degrading, humiliating thing anybody could have possibly done to me. (Becoming more impassioned, his voice quivering) And this will not be the end of this. Midnight Express, Cornette, this? If you wanted me attention, you got Magnum TA?s attention! And now that you got my attention, let?s see what you?re gonna do about it! Where are you now?! I?ll be up anywhere you wanna? be! I can?t put up the Tag Team Titles; Mid-South?s gotta? do that! But I?ll wrestle you anywhere, any time, under any conditions! Don?t walk the streets and turn your back! Because this is some old medicine that should have been forgotten a long time ago (motions to the feathers covering his body). Tactics like this should never, never, ever be used on any human being on this earth! And I?ll make you regret the day you ever thought about feathering Magnum TA -- mark my words!

(Returns to Watts and Cornette in the interview studio.)

 

Cornette: Wrestling II want s to talk about plucking somebody? Why don?t you pluck your partner; he?s the one wearing feathers -- I don?t have any. You know, you drew an interesting analogy about a forest fire. Well, Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton, the Midnight Express, are about the best candidates I can think of to play Smoky the Bear on Mr.Wrestling II and Magnum TA. Now I can tell you one thing right now: Up until now, we?ve been having a little fun. We?ve been playing around, just trying to get a title match. But if they want to get serious, let me tell you something: We can get serious. And if you don?t give us a title match before long, we?re gonna? do something that we won?t regret? but you probably will.

Watts: Well, Mr. Cornette, I?ll say one thing about Grizzly Smith and Mid-South Wrestling: You can?t come in here with your back-alley tactics and force title matches -- that?s up to Grizzly Smith and Mid-South. So, you?re gonna? have to prove that you have the right in another manner. But, I will tell you something that you have earned: Grizzly Smith has placed probably the largest fine ever in Mid-South. You have been fined five-thousand dollars for that action last week!

Cornette: Oh, is that right? You?ve probably bankrupted a lot of these ordinary, run-of-the-mill people in Mid-South with fines, but you know what $5,000 is for me, Bill Watts?? A phone-call home to mother (laughs and walks off the set).

Watts: (pauses for several seconds and casts a brooding stare in the direction of where Cornette once stood) I am at a lost for words. You know, that?s the kind of guy? that your hands just get kind of sweaty and clammy and itchy? to backhand him! We?ll be back after these messages from Mid-South.

 

 

The angle drew remarkable heat -- particularly Cornette?s performances. Later in the broadcast, TA and II were performing color commentary during a match involving the Midnight Express. A fine for leaving the broadcast booth to attack an in-ring performer was $2,500 in Mid-South, but Cornette was so belligerent that they he still provoked them into charging the ring -- and receiving a welt-inducing beating from James E.?s ?loaded? tennis racket for their troubles.

 

It was one of many angles -- many of which were even better -- that would set Mid-South?s box office ablaze like never before.

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