Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wrestling MarketWatch: WCW

"I stopped watching wrestling when WCW ended."  I cannot count how many times I have heard that phrase in the past decade.  For all of its shortcomings, WCW had quite a following.  World Championship Wrestling wasn't that "off brand" wrestling that some who grew up on the WWF initially thought.  WCW had its roots in several classic wrestling promotions that are still revered today. Although little remained from those days when WCW came to an end, it's a true testament to the company that each of it's incarnations and "eras" are still fondly remembered.

The mat-based "We Wrestle" beginning in 1989.  The post-Flair Watts era.  The Vader-Sting title picture and battles.  The arrival of Hulk Hogan.  Monday Nitro and the nWo.  Even the final years.  You don't have to look far into a group of wrestling fans to find someone who still yearns for the days of any or all of these eras. Most of all, these times were when there was truly a choice as far as professional wrestling branding. It's been beaten to death over the years, but the notion that "competition is best" remains true.

Just as the footage and stars of WCW remain popular well over a decade later, so does the merchandise. Although there were some lean years, products emblazoned with the familiar WCW logo are plentiful.  No one in wrestling may have ever had a bigger marketing machine than WWE, but WCW more than held its own with items that hold collectors interest to this day.  In this edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, we'll take a look at some of those items and their recent auction prices.

*Until the second incarnation of WCW Magazine, the company lacked a steady and long-running periodical.  Several previous attempts were made, including Wrestling Wrap-Up.  This publication began in 1989, just as Ricky Steamboat became NWA World Heavyweight Champion.  The original format was almost a small newspaper style, and while cool today, actually seemed almost outdated then.  Wrestling Wrap-Up eventually changed to a magazine format with some very fun covers not long into its run.  An example of the premiere issue recently sold for $15.99.

*Right around the time that the Hasbro WWF figure line hit shelves, WCW followed suit.  Galoob produced a line of WCW figures that were compatible in size with the Hasbro figures, but featured no articulation. Most were sculpted in poses that allowed the figures to provide just as much fun as their WWF counterparts.  The line was sadly short lived, and a second series was only available in the United Kingdom. Many of the figures, mainly tag team partners, were also released in two-packs.  The carded Steiner Brothers tag team set recently sold for $117.50.

*Hulk Hogan's 1995 arrival made many collectors realize that a glut of new merchandise was coming.  WCW began to show up on items that had never appeared on the company's radar before as well as some that had.  The nicest WCW trading card series appeared at this time, and it was the WCW Main Event set produced in 1995 by Cardz.  Bright photos, a variety of wrestlers, managers, and broadcasters and even mascot Wild Cat Willie were featured in the set.  You can still pull an autograph today, and hopefully the bidder that recently paid $5.99 for a pack did just that!

*Publications weren't just limited to magazines, but programs as well.  When Hogan arrived, programs were changed to the format that remains with WWE today: an oversized publication with large photos and some brief biographical information.  A black and white lineup sheet was also often included.  One of these programs recently sold at auction for $20.50.  This particular program features a great cover shot of The Hulkster wearing "Big Gold," which at the time was the WCW Championship.  As much as some complain about the days when "Hulkamania" ran wild in WCW, he looked awfully right wearing the nicest championship belt in history.

*One of the many unique ideas that WCW presented was War Games.  A holdover from the Jim Crockett Promotions days, the Dusty Rhodes brainchild of two teams battling it out in a two-ring steel cage with a roof appealed to any wrestling fan.  Many different stars left their own mark on the match over the years, but one of the best remembered versions took place at the 1992 WrestleWar event.  Sting's Squadron battled The Dangerous Alliance in a great match that ended up being the last big moment for the latter group.  The event poster featuring for the pay-per-view recently sold for $61.00.

Although it was actually only a company for about twelve years, WCW lives on.  A new generation is being introduced to the company and its stars thanks to an ever-growing presence on WWE Network.  One of WCW's biggest stars, Sting, is a featured selling point of the upcoming WWE 2K15 video game.  Who is to say what else the future holds for the brand name, but an undying love for its past will never allow it to fade into the sunset.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Follow The Figures...

It was just a few weeks ago when we last visited with the Wyatt Family.  A little over a year since their WWE debut, the wild clan of wrestlers are finally together in figure form.  As shown in the blog entry highlighting the Bray Wyatt figure, these characters aren't the easiest to produce.  With their unique looks, attire, and accessories, bringing the Wyatt's into the figure world is much harder than producing yet another Randy Orton or John Cena.  Unique molds and accessories had to be produced for just about every piece of the three figures.  Shortcuts are often taken in the toy business, but was that the case here?  Mattel had the whole Wyatt Family in their hands.

With Bray already examined, this time we're looking at his flunkies, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan.  As was the case with Bray, these are the second releases of Harper and Rowan.  The two were initially released in "Basic" form in a two-pack.  Although Bray's rocking chair was first packaged in that set, to get the full Wyatt accessory experience you had to wait for the Elite releases of all three men.

I've mentioned the "King Kong Bundy LJN Effect" before, but it bears a repeat explanation.  The WWF King Kong Bundy figure produced by LJN was an immense hunk of rubber.  I'm sure that more than one child got quite the headache by being hit with it at the hands of another kid over the years.  The fact of the matter is, it was heavy and you truly felt like you got your money's worth.  The Elite Harper and Rowan resemble this phenomenon.  Not only are the figures themselves huge compared to many of the Mattel WWE figures, but they are packaged with some great accessories.

You couldn't have asked for better likenesses of the two.  From the faces to the attire to the smallest detail, it's all here.  I did have a bit of over-glue on Harper's head where the hair was attached to the head, but it was easily removable.  My only real issue on the figures is a problem that I often address, but is only evident here with Rowan, that being the torso joint.  This time the joint is nicely hidden under Harper's shirt, but overly prominent on Rowan.  It wouldn't be so bad if it served a purpose, but the joint barely moves due to the otherwise great sculpt of Rowan's outfit.

The Wyatt Family has become known for their various iconic props.  Bray's rocking chair and lantern are here, as is Rowan's sheep mask.  The chair comes disassembled with an easy to follow instruction sheet. Once assembled, the chair is surprisingly sturdy and detailed.  For the child who wants to play "the wrestlers go to Cracker Barrel," all that is needed is a figure-sized fabric game of checkers.  Bray's lantern has a glow-in-the-dark piece of plastic in the center.  I have had no luck whatsoever with glow-in-the-dark action figure accessories since the 1980's, so reporting that I was unable to get it to work doesn't hold much ground.

I think that Rowan's sheep mask is my favorite piece here.  Whatever the meaning behind it, the mask has already been a merchandising success ever since WWE began offering the life-size versions for sale at live events.  Mattel obviously put a lot of thought into how a figure version of the mask would work.  Inside the mask is a mold of Rowan's face.  Those indentations coupled with the mask being made of a hard plastic ensures that it snaps on and stays on.  It's another example, like the sweat on Harper's shirt as well as his back pocket hanky, that make the details on these figures incredible.

If you want the Wyatt figures, these Elite versions are the ones to get.  As we've previously covered, there are versions in the "Basic" line already, but they do not include any of the accessories aside from the rocking chair.  There are more versions coming in the next year, but it's not confirmed which, if any, of the accessories will be included.  I would play it safe and get these initial Elite releases.  Why wait around for future releases when the best ones are already available?

I definitely felt that Bray would take "Figure of the Year" for 2014 in a sweep, but now I'm not so sure.  Mattel delivered above and beyond with all three of these up-and-coming stars.  As a kid, I would have been amazed that the complete Wyatt Family "act" was brought to my toy wrestling ring through such great efforts.  As an adult, I'm even more amazed.  Last year, "Figure of the Year" ended up in a three-way tie among members of a group.  I'm starting to think that 2014 may see a repeat performance thanks to the great efforts of Mattel.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Farewell To Fanfest Part II--"Memorabilia, Memories, Folks, & Flavors"

Mid-Atlantic Fanfest.  NWA Fanfest.  Charlotte Fanfest.  No matter what name you knew it by, if you ever had the opportunity to attend, you likely had the time of your life.  Last week's blog entry was a "goodbye" of sorts to the event which is said to have had its final installment just a few weeks ago.  This week we're taking a look at that last blowout in the Queen City.  Four days of wrestling legends, friends, and even food is a lot to capture, but if even a small portion of the fun is conveyed in the next few paragraphs, then my mission is accomplished.

For many fans who are also collectors, autographs and photo opportunities are a major part of the event.  Dozens of wrestling legends, current names, and up-and-comers are on-hand to create a true "rasslin' melting pot."  One could argue that Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Arn Anderson were positioned as this years headliners, but everyone has their own favorites.  Rare appearances by territorial stars like "Number One" Paul Jones and Exotic Adrian Street and wife/valet Miss Linda were among the most exciting names for me, as was the convention debut of "Gigolo" Jimmy Del Rey.  The former member of "The Heavenly Bodies" was able to get away from his post-wrestling career to reunite with Dr. Tom Prichard and Jim Cornette much to the delight of fans.

After being unable to appear at 2013's Fanfest due to family reasons, Ole Anderson made his return to Charlotte.  Ever since my first time at the event in 2004, Ole has come across as the exact opposite of how he is portrayed by many who are allegedly "in the know."  Sure he's salty tongued and opinionated, but very few are as willing to tirelessly sign autographs, pose for photos, and tell stories as Ole is.  Despite a continued battle with multiple sclerosis and not having an official signing time, Ole's friends and family positioned the former champion's wheelchair in the hallway several times so that "The Rock" could spend as much time with fans as he could.  You can tell that, like many of the other stars, the adulation of the fans transports Ole back to his days of ruling the ring.

Another rare appearance was made on Sunday morning, when Bill Mercer was brought in to Fanfest as a vendor guest.  The 88-year-old Mercer still seems as sharp as a tack and even looks very similar to how he did during his days as the voice of World Class Championship Wrestling.  Mr. Mercer also has a place in history as part of one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century--the JFK assassination.  Shortly before he, himself, was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald was held at Dallas police headquarters being charged with the slaying of JFK. Reporters were positioned throughout the building and were able to ask Oswald a question or two as he was shuttled between rooms.  One of those questions, caught on camera, was asked by Bill Mercer.  There is something about the legendary voices of wrestling's past such as Bob Caudle, Lance Russell, and Mercer.  The class that they each portrayed on television was far from an act.

Many of the vendors are actually stars themselves.  Jimmy Valiant, The Rock N Roll Express, "Fantastic" Bobby Fulton, and Jim Cornette were among those who set up shop.  Cornette again combined his space with Memphis historian and author Mark James.  If you did not come away with a book or relic from either gentleman, you missed a great opportunity.  Of course, Cornette would sign autographs or pose for photos even if you did not spend a dime.  He's another one of those opinionated yet often misunderstood stars of the glory days that often gets a bad rep.

It's always interesting to see just what fans are going after at Fanfest as far as the vendor room is concerned. The latest book or DVD?  A rare treasure from the past?  Maybe an action figure or two to take home for the kids.  As is usually the case at Fanfest, a variety of all was available.  Some of the most treasured items in my own collection were found over the years at Fanfest.  The thrill and wonder of just what would be uncovered each year is yet another important aspect of the show that I will miss.

One regret of the Charlotte-held Fanfests that I have attended was that I was unable to truly experience the city itself.  Due to the enormity of Fanfest, there just isn't enough time to explore the city at any length.  I do know that what little I have seen has made me realize that Charlotte is a place that deserves a separate visit. One of those experiences actually took place on the Friday and Saturday of this last Fanfest.  My crew, usually confined to quick meals each evening, decided to venture out for some true Carolina barbecue.  We found ourselves wandering into an establishment known as Old Hickory House.  The restaurant is like a step back in time, looking exactly as it must have at the beginning of its fifty-seven year history.  The food? Well, going two nights in a row should answer that.  My recommendation?  The large platter with ribs, chicken, pork, and beef, hush puppies, slaw, a bowl of Brunswick stew, and sweet tea.  You won't leave hungry.  You may not be able to stand for awhile, either.

Of course, what's wrestling without surprises?  Everyone was stunned to see David Crockett make an unannounced and rare appearance at Fanfest.  One of the voices of his father's wrestling product, Crockett was happy and maybe even a bit stunned that so many fans wanted photos and autographs.  Mr. Crockett's appearance was just another example of an experience that you just won't find anywhere else.

As is standard at Fanfest there were question and answer sessions, two separate nights of wrestling action, and other activities, but this year I believe the true attraction was making that connection.  With the word out long in advance that this would be the final event of this kind, I think that many fans tried their best to make it last as long as possible.  Whether it was meeting a long time idol or rekindling an old friendship, no one was taking the connections for granted.  Longtime wrestling fans have learned the hard way that the words "See you again" are often just that--words.  No one is guaranteed a tomorrow.  At Fanfest 2014, I believe that the special moments and opportunities presented were appreciated just a bit more.

This week and last, as well as any of my other writings regarding Fanfest over the years, are just a small glimpse into what the event was all about.  Not "is" about.  As difficult as it is for all of us to accept, Fanfest is now in the past tense.  There is no more "see you next year" or wondering which wrestling legends will appear next August.  The event itself now perfectly reflects the time period which it celebrates.  Both are nothing but memories.  My memories?  Ghosting through my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, back in 2004, as my first Fanfest was held later that weekend.  Tossing, turning, and being unable to sleep for over a month in advance due to my anticipation of returning to Charlotte in 2009.  Meeting stars from all aspects of the wrestling business and seeing them enjoy themselves as much as all of the fans that I met from all over the world.  That was Fanfest.  Often imitated.  Never, ever, duplicated.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Farewell To Fanfest Part I--"Soul"

 Ten years is a long time for any venture to last.  Greg Price's Fanfest has done just that.  What is it that kept twelve shows alive in the span of a decade?  The talent.  The promoters.  The fans.  All are suitable answers.  Jim Cornette has often been quoted as saying that the Mid-Atlantic territory was the greatest wrestling territory of all-time.  He cites the amazing array of talent and a rabid fanbase as to what made it great.  Those same fans, and many of us who wish that we could have been part of it, kept the spirit of the promotion alive and transferred that love into what made Fanfest equally great.  But Fanfest had something that other similar events didn't.  That one ingredient?  Soul.

This past weekend, hundreds of fans enjoyed what was said to be the final Fanfest.  It delivered what Fanfest has become famous for being: a wrestling fan's dream weekend.  It never mattered whether you were a fan of the Mid-Atlantic territory or not.  Any wrestling devotee could enjoy what was brought to the table over the several day extravaganza.  Legends, current stars, and up-and-comers in the wrestling business all came together to deliver something that, despite their best efforts, WWE will never be able to recreate, nor would they probably care to.

Walking down a hall at the Charlotte University Place Hilton last weekend would have displayed any and all of these scenarios: wrestlers reuniting with wrestlers, fans catching up with other fans, fans rushing off to catch that next photo op or autograph session.  Off to the side of one hallway, the often-misunderstood Ole Anderson sits in a wheelchair, obviously enjoying signing autographs and posing for pictures for fans.  In fact, he would rather tell the fans stories than pause for lunch.  Sounds a bit different than what you have read elsewhere on the Internet, doesn't it?  Just a few feet away in a large ballroom, Jimmy Valiant is catching up with Exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda.  On the other side of the ballroom, Matt Hardy and Reby Sky are meeting fans of all ages.

While men like Dusty Rhodes, Arn Anderson, and Ricky Steamboat were "main event" level attractions, every legend appearing at Fanfest is treated as a superstar by both the fans and other wrestlers.  Egos and grudges are pushed aside to give the fan an untarnished experience.  In this day and age, fans know that it was the undercard wrestlers who had quite an instrumental hand in making the big names as memorable as they are today.  Occasionally, such as in the case of The Mulkey Brothers, those journeymen stars are equally as ingrained in fans memories.

As I rubbed elbows with so many of wrestling's greats last weekend, I thought back to Fanfests of the past. Without this amazing event, I never would have had the opportunity to meet such greats as Jackie Fargo, Gary Hart, Ernie Ladd, and Billy Robinson.  I would not have gotten a hug from Sherri Martel or had dinner with Sir Oliver Humperdink.  I would not have seen the Four Horsemen reunite before my very eyes or the final appearance of the Fabulous Fargos.  It's things like these that other events of its kind, or WWE, will never deliver.  It just isn't in the business model anywhere else.  The "it" being, of course, soul.

In the days following Fanfest, social media became a hub of photos and memories.  It was interesting to note that cries of "This can't be the final Fanfest" came equally as often from fans and wrestlers alike.  Although there are other reunions for wrestlers themselves, many absolutely love Fanfest for its ability to combine reuniting with other wrestlers and finally getting to meet so many longtime fans.  As is often forgotten in other entertainment industries, wrestlers do not necessarily stay in touch after their time in the business is over.  Just like when a television program or movie wraps, everyone goes their separate ways.  Seeing the wrestlers relive those long days and nights on the road together is often a treasure in itself.

Next week, we'll take a closer look at the 2014 edition of Fanfest.  Memories, memorabilia, sights, and even tastes!  As for now, however, I'd like to offer my personal thanks to Mr. Greg Price.  Almost all has been said over the past few days following the great event, but it's worth repeating.  Thank you for the seven amazing Fanfests that I was able to attend.  I truly had the full experience, attending the November 2004 Tribute to Starrcade, the 2006 Capitol Legends Fanfest, the 2011 Last Battle of Atlanta, and four other Charlotte Fanfests.  Each had their own feel, flavor, and countless memories that I'll never let go of.  Most of all, despite not being born until after so much of this great wrestling that we celebrate had already taken place, I was made to feel as if I was part of it.  I was able to experience that soul.  If this is indeed the end, I'm glad that I will be able to pass that soul on and keep those grand territorial wrestling memories going as long as I can.

Join us again next week for more Mid-Atlantic Memories!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Territory Photo Albums--Pittsburgh 1967

 Fans nowadays have it easy!  If they want to know who's officially on the WWE roster, they can simply pull up the WWE App and a fully interactive listing is available at their disposal, complete with photos, facts, and even videos.  Back in the territorial days of wrestling, this would've been looked at as something out of science fiction.  The more advantageous fan might contact or even visit the offices of their local wrestling promoter in order to gain more info and facts, but that was about as far as it went.  If the fan wanted a "Who's Who" of wrestling stars and info they could usually purchase a program at an event, but one item was just a tad better: the photo album.

Most territories eventually released a publication billed as either a photo album or something similar.  These books were program/magazine sized and printed on a variety of materials.  Some had color, some did not.  Some had thicker, sturdier covers while others were all on standard paper.  A few were produced by the promotion itself, while others had some help from other publishers.  No matter the differences, they all served to advertise and promote the talent to the masses.

Since so many different albums were produced, it'd be an injustice to lump them all into one entry.  As a continuing series, we'll take a look at photo albums from territories around the country featuring many of the all-time greats and even some forgotten names.  For a few reasons, we'll start right here in the home city of this very blog, Pittsburgh, PA.

The photo albums put out by the Pittsburgh wrestling office, known as Spectator Sports, were titled "Tri-State Wrestling."  To many, they're known as the "Studio Wrestling photo albums," as "Studio Wrestling" was the name of the much-missed Pittsburgh wrestling television program, most famously hosted by Bill Cardille.  Growing up, I would constantly hear the WWF and other then-current wrestling promotions referred to as "Studio Wrestling" by adults.  I later figured out that the name is simply what these folks grew up on, so it became a generic title for which to refer to any form of pro wrestling.

Five of the Pittsburgh Tri-State Wrestling photo albums were produced in all, ranging from roughly 1963 to 1969.  The albums were sold through advertisements on arena programs and on the Studio Wrestling show itself.  For a nominal fee, you could own an album showing you full page shots of your local wrestling favorites, and even some national stars that were thrown in for good measure.  In the days before the over-saturation of televised wrestling, not to mention the Internet, these albums were the kind of thing that fans stared at for hours.

Exact release dates on these albums are fuzzy at best, but most agree that the edition shown here today is from around 1967 and would've been the third of the five released.  As with all but one of the Tri-State albums, the WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino is featured in a classic pose on the cover.  These Tri-State covers were usually very colorful, and this one is a mix of color and glorious black and white.  Interestingly, Sammartino is referred to as the "Holder Of World-Wide Wrestling Federation Championship."  It is often recalled that the title was usually just referred to as the "World Championship" on Studio Wrestling broadcasts.

In addition to being fun to look at, these albums also often provided a great place to obtain autographs in those very early days of wrestling merchandising.  Subsequently, it is not unusual to purchase any territorial photo album that contain signatures.  Long time readers of this blog may remember this Tri-State album, as I once uncovered a photo of the late Chief White Owl autographing the cover of one.  Whether or not this is the exact one or not will never be known, but the one in my collection does indeed have White Owl's signature right on the cover.  I've since been able to add Sammartino's signature as well as other living Pittsburgh wrestling legends, but it's always interesting to see just who the original fan was able to meet up with all of those years ago.

The Tri-State albums are a mix of promotional style photos and action shots.  In addition to men who competed in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area like Sammartino, George Steele, Gorilla Monsoon, Bill Miller, Johnny DeFazio, and The Battman are wrestlers who had either passed through the area at one time or may never have really spent any time here at all such as Bobo Brazil, Arman Hussain, Toru Tanaka, and Luke Graham.  It was a smart idea by the Pittsburgh promoters to make the promotion seem even larger and more important.

Another fun gimmick that the promoters used to make the promotion seem larger can be seen in several of the photos, most notably in the in-ring photo of Steele.  Though crowds at the WIIC (now WPXI) studios were boisterous, fake fans made of cardboard helped to fill out certain sides of the ring in an attempt to make the studio seem even larger.  In the days before high-definition television cameras, this most likely worked to a degree, despite being blatantly obvious here in print.

Speaking of the studio, it seems that the original owner of this album most likely attended a live television broadcast of Studio Wrestling.  The thought behind this is the inclusion of the two gem autographs of the album, the first of which is promoter Rudy Miller.  Miller is often credited with discovering Bruno Sammartino himself, and is in fact listed as such right here in the album.  Although he was probably accessible for an autograph, it likely didn't occur to many fans to ask him for one.  After all, he wasn't a wrestler.  Also shown on the page are various officials, the ring announcer, and Dr. Louis R. Civitarese.  Civitarese, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 92, was the doctor who attended to Sammartino when the legend broke his neck in the 1970's.

The other star autograph in the album is also of a man who was not a wrestler, but rather a baseball Hall of Famer.  Pie Traynor, legendary Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman, is best remembered in the city today for being the pitchman for American Heating Company.  Traynor would do live commercials during the Studio Wrestling program where he would proclaim "Who Can? AmeriCAN!" to a generation of steel town wrestling fans.  Today, mentioning either Traynor or Studio Wrestling to a Pittsburgher above the age of 55 will likely produce an imitation of the famous pitch.

I have a soft spot for Pittsburgh for many reasons that I've covered over the years, but looking through the photo album of any wrestling territory is a thrill.  They're yet another great relic of the wrestling business gone-by, but in some ways they're continuing today.  In upcoming editions of "The Territory Photo Albums," we'll take a look at all aspects of such publications, and I hope that the stars pop out of these entries the way that they do in these albums of ten, twenty, and even fifty years ago.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Cocktail Napkin

Sometimes the best collectible items were never meant to be saved at all.  They didn't necessarily begin their lives as anything significant.  Somewhere along the way, something happened to the item to make it special.  That event saved an ordinary, everyday item from being used, discarded, and ultimately disintegrating into nothing.  We're going to take a look at something just like that.  A small item that would've been destroyed over forty years ago had three specific men not come into contact with it.  That item, now a unique wrestling artifact, is...a cocktail napkin.

I like to refer to the 1970's as the "wild west days" of professional wrestling.  The "boom" caused by wrestling being a hit on the then-new medium of television in the '50s had long passed.  The "Rock N Wrestling" era of the '80s was still far off.  The '70s, from all accounts, still saw major popularity for the sport of kings, but stories of the era create a very exciting and somewhat chaotic image of the decade.  The NWA was still in full force, yet many of the individual promoters were battling outlaw organizations around the country.  The WWWF ruled the northeast, most importantly the gritty and often dangerous New York City of the era.  The AWA, however, is the territory that we may have the best glimpse into all of these years later.

Although a work of fiction, the AWA-backed 1974 film titled "The Wrestler," provides a fun look into the stars of Verne Gagne's promotion and the business in general.  In one of the most famous scenes, Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch participate in a barroom brawl, a concept that creeps into many real-life stories from that time.  I'm sure that not all of the nights in bars ended up that way, but there's no doubt that many memorable moments involving wrestlers took place in various hole-in-the-wall establishments around the world.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a cocktail napkin that proudly advertises, "River Queen Bar - Lounge - Grand Forks, North Dakota."  On the back of the well-kept piece of ephemera are the autographs of Rhodes, Ivan Koloff, and Dennis Stamp.  The original owner of the napkin claimed that his dad obtained the autographs after a night of drinking around 1971.

Research suggests that the night was more likely in early 1972, as all three men were wrestling in the AWA at that time.  There doesn't seem to be much info regarding the establishment, but one can only imagine the atmosphere, especially when this troupe of grapplers entered the scene.  Adding to the story is the interesting quote of "When You're Out Of Work--Look Me Up...For Sparring!"  It's hard to tell just which one of the three wrestlers added the quote, but perhaps a barroom brawl did in fact break out that night!

Items like these are what truly keep the history of the business alive.  The autographs aren't rare and all three men still sign today, but it's the manner and context that make them much more interesting than one obtained in a normal setting.  Surely none of the three wrestlers or the recipient of the autographs ever would've imagined that small, square, early '70s napkin being discussed nearly a half century later, but here we are.  Dusty, Ivan, and Dennis, here's to you and those glory days, and nights, on the road!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Georgia Championship Wrestling...34 Years Ago To The Day

Often we look back on the events in wrestling's past that will never be forgotten.  The WrestleMania's, the Starrcade's, and Monday Night Raw's that will linger in the back of our minds as long as we're fans.  But what about the forgotten shows?  The shows that, for decades and decades, could be found somewhere in the world on any given night of the week.  No record of these shows may exist aside from a card rundown, results, or sometimes even less, but these are the events that kept the business going.  Before the advent of supercards and pay-per-view, these shows were where the money was made, as were the memories.

One of those very shows took place thirty-four years from the date of the publication of this article.  It was a Georgia Championship Wrestling card in Athens, GA on Thursday night, July 17, 1980.  The cover of the program at the time, the weekly Ringsider (Vol. 80 No. 14, to be exact) featured Ole Anderson in a familiar pose.  The gruff grappler is shown on the set of the Georgia Championship Wrestling television program, making a heated point as he is interviewed by Gordon Solie. 

Inside on the first page we are treated to photos and a listing of the then-current champions.  Harley Race was the (NWA) World Heavyweight Champion, while Ivan Koloff and Alexis Smirnoff held the Georgia Tag Team Championship, Tommy Rich was the National TV Champion, and Austin Idol was the Georgia Heavyweight Champion.  Promoter Paul Jones, a man often confused '60s-'80s star wrestler and manager of the same name, is pictured as is Freddie Miller.  Known for his "Beeeeee There!" catchphrase when promoting local cards on television, Miller was also the editor of The Ringsider.

A separate piece of paper is included with the rundown of the night's card.  Fans in Athens were scheduled to be treated to The Assassins versus Ole & Lars Anderson, Bob Sweetan versus Mike George, Tony Atlas versus Dennis Condrey, and Jay Strongbow versus Eddie Mansfield.  In addition to the classic NWA Wrestling logo, a special greeting is included at the bottom.  It seems that the W.F.I.A. (Wrestling Fans International Association) was in Atlanta with their annual convention at the same time that this show was held.  There is no doubt that many W.F.I.A. members attended this card.  Anyone who wanted to be as "inside" to the wrestling business as you could be at the time was a member of that organization.  Even Juanita "Sapphire" Wright belonged to the club!

Next in the program is a full-page ad where Dusty Rhodes declares that he, indeed, "can tell you about pain."  It seems that "The American Dream" was a spokesperson for Stanback Powders at the time.  Grab a boxtop, $4.95, and this filled-out coupon and you would receive a shirt just like the one that Big Dust is shown wearing.  While the shirts are assuredly long gone, a quick Google search shows that this brand of headache powders does in fact still exist.  If only Dusty's magical fro still existed, too.  Nevertheless, this is a great example of the connection with the fans that "The American Dream" had throughout his career.

The next two pages are full shots of Tommy Rich and Austin Idol, the TV and Georgia Champions, respectively.  Rich was less than a year away from the brief peak of his career when he took the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Harley Race.  Idol would go on to make his mark in several wrestling territories, including Memphis, but never seemed to attain the level of fame and success that his talent deserved.  Looking at both men today, they certainly seem to have lived different lifestyles.  Idol looks almost identical as he did in his wrestling days, while Rich is almost unrecognizable.

Our next page is a recap of some recent tv action.  In this case, it seems that a tag team known as "The Avengers" recently appeared on the Georgia Championship Wrestling scene.  I wonder how many fans knew that these two masked bulks were actually Ole and Lars Anderson.  Apparently they unmasked in a scuffle with Koloff, Smirnoff, and manager Rock Hunter.  I guarantee that Ole's often commanding promos convinced many a fan into buying a ticket to see this feud play out.

On the last inside page, we have a half-page action shot of two men who would go on to much greater fame.  "The Boston Battler" Kevin Sullivan has Tenru in a chinlock.  The young Asian star is better known as "Tenryu" and became a legend in Japan in addition to being a well-known name here in the United States.  The second half of the page is an ad for rentals at Grove Park Apartments.  For just $125 per month, fans of GCW could rent an apartment right on 1401 Bankhead Highway, named for U.S. Senator John H. Bankhead, grandfather of the outrageous actress Tallulah Bankhead.  Apartments are still located at the address, but they no longer bear the same name nor the same low monthly rate.

We end the program with a great shot of "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd.  Ladd would begin to wrap up his career in the 1980's, and by the middle of the decade was working behind the scenes with the WWF.  So what happened at the matches that night?  Strongbow defeated Mansfield, Atlas defeated Condrey, Sweetan defeated Mike Sharpe, and The Assassins defeated The Anderson's.  Whether or not it was actually Mike Sharpe as listed in the results or Mike George as listed on the card may forever be up in the air.  Both men were active in the territory at the time.  The results were obtained from, an invaluable tool for any fan of territorial wrestling.

I would imagine that like with many of these shows, a good time was had by all that night.  It was a time when wrestling truly was wrestling.  The stereotype of smoke-filled armories come to life.  Pro wrestling will never be like that again.  It's a different business in a different time.  But shows like these will always be the roots of the modern-day product.  In the end, it's about entering a different world for a couple of hours and letting the in-ring action take over.  That's something that, no matter the era, the industry will always provide.