Thursday, June 28, 2012

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Mid Atlantic Wrestling Magazine Vol. 3 No. 5 & No. 6

It seems like a veritable "who's who" of wrestling passed through the Crockett-owned Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory at one point or another.  Those big names coupled with the beautiful Carolinas, great fans, historic venues, and hot in-ring action all combined to make Mid-Atlantic Wrestling as remembered and revered as it still is today.

I have lost hours combing through the great Mid-Atlantic Gateway website with all of the great features and pictures assembled there.  The stories and memories let you know exactly why Jim Crockett's business is remembered as a shining star of the territorial era in pro wrestling.  Another still-existing Mid-Atlantic morsel that can give you the same feeling are the remaining issues of Mid-Atlantic Magazine.

While every wrestling promotion of the era had programs, in the '70s and '80s Crockett put out a full-fledged magazine.  Produced in-house, the issues featured articles, amazing exclusive photography, and ultimately conveyed a very intimate feel for the promotions fans.  Encountering a Mid-Atlantic fan today, you can often get a sense that the wrestlers were viewed as local heroes who were larger-than-life yet also somewhat accessible.

The crown jewels of these magazines are the beautifully rendered covers highlighting the stars of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.  Done similarly to the WWWF's Wrestling Action in-house publication of the same era, I've often felt that the amazing covers, combined with relatively scarcity, has made these magazines so desired and collectible.  It should be noted that issues done in the 1980's have a photographic cover rather than art.

The Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine issues labeled Volume 3 and numbered 5 and 6 are circa 1978.  The covers feature the famous artistic renderings of some of the territories most beloved stars.  Number 5 features Texas legends Blackjack Mulligan and Dick Murdoch while Number 6 shows then-up-and-comer Tony Atlas.

When purchasing these magazines second-hand, it can often be an adventure just opening the cover.  While you're always guaranteed a trip back in time with the great photos, sometimes you get just a bit more than you had bargained for.  Issue Number 5 features a roll call of the then-current champions on the inside cover.  In this particular example, a Don Kernodle autograph is featured in the middle of the page.  Surprises like this are not only fun, but they convey the feeling of the territory.  One can imagine a lucky fan catching Mr. Kernodle on his way out of the venue for the evening and asking for a quick autograph.

In addition to the article-accompanying photography, many of the issues included photo galleries of the stars.  These were photos that were exclusive to the territory and not something that you were likely to see published in other magazines of the day.  From those like Ric Flair who became a legend to others like Bryan St. John who disappeared after only a few years, many stars were featured in these full-color photo pages.  One star featured here is none other than Richard Blood.  While we all know that Richard Blood is the real name of Ricky Steamboat, the Richard Blood featured here would go on to greater fame as Tito Santana.

Features like "Ringside" would include a full profile and photos of a particular wrestler.  The wily Dick Murdoch is featured here in a pose that many could imagine without the accompanying photo.  On a dirt-covered ranch with the sun beating down, Murdoch looks ready for the next barroom brawl whether it be in Spartanburg, SC or Waxahachie, TX.

Issue Number 6 has a "Ringside" feature on the tag team of Greg Valentine and Baron Von Raschke.  Valentine had many tag partners in his long career, but captured both the NWA World and Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Titles with the grimacing German.  The photo of both in leisure suits with the tag straps is perhaps one of the best I've seen in any wrestling publication regardless of promotion or era.  Similar photos of other stars are featured in this and other issues.

In addition to highlighting the promotions stars like Paul Jones and Rick Steamboat, these photos were a true testament to the beauty of the area.  The lush greenery set a dynamic scene much different than pictures of the wrestlers set against the backdrop of a dingy locker room or other common scenario.  These Mid-Atlantic publications are visually spectacular in every sense and just another reason as to why they should be set apart from the rest.

The articles weren't just focused on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling but also included information from around the NWA that would be significant for Mid-Atlantic fans.  The NWA World Heavyweight Championship was defended in the Carolinas and the man to beat at the time was Harley Race.  Fans knew that when the title was coming through the area it was going to be a can't-miss show.  Deserving champions such as Race proved that night in and night out while shedding the blood, sweat, and tears that defined their legacies.  It's no surprise that so many of the sports biggest champions came through the Mid-Atlantic area whether it was before or after their national reigns.

On the back cover of Issue Number 6 we're treated to a look at one of those men who, in a few short years, would become "The Man" for decades to come.  "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, decked out in one of his original Olivia Walker-crafted robes, is shown in a classic pose using the same lush Carolina greenery as in the aforementioned shots.

Territorial wrestling will never come back, but it's nice that we can relive it through items like these.  For those of us that weren't there, it's a whole new experience.  Another of the ways that Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and other classic promotions are celebrated will sadly not be taking place in 2012.  The event in question would be the NWA Fanfest promoted by Greg Price.  If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that around this time I often discuss what a great event Fanfest is.  This entry was originally slated to kick-off "Fanfest" season here on the blog.  A few weeks ago, Greg Price announced that due to a medical ailment and subsequent procedure, Fanfest would be postponed until 2013.  The Fanfest was to have a "Mid-Atlantic Memories" theme and return to Charlotte after a foray to Atlanta in 2011.  Just like everyone else who enjoys Fanfest year in and year out, I wish nothing but the best for Greg at this time and know that the big return in 2013 will be nothing but amazing.

After seeing these glimpses into Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, I know that you're making your 2013 plans already!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Saga of Scott Schwartz & The LJN Don Muraco

It's happened to most autograph collectors at least once.  Every so often you get an autograph that just doesn't come out quite right.  You don't get mad about it.  It becomes a "happy accident."  It's another story, another experience, another conversation piece.

At a recent signing I had the iconic Magnificent Don Muraco LJN WWF figure to be autographed.  The man who was known as "The Rock," long before Dwayne Johnson came along, is a very nice guy.  For whatever reason, Mr. Muraco decided to sign the figure on the plastic bubble in blue Sharpie over the figure's black shirt.  I didn't stop him and it didn't bother me.  I have a lot of signatures from the legend and if I can see the autograph, that's what matters in the long run.

Fast forward a few hours to later the same day when my friends and I caught up with actor Scott Schwartz.  Everyone knows Scott from roles like Jackie Gleason's son in "The Toy" and as Flick ("Stick my tongue to that stupid pole?  That's dumb!") from "A Christmas Story."  What many fans do not know is that Scott was actually a part of the WWF in the mid-1980s.  From being part of the ring crew to playing Roddy Piper's "son" in an in-ring skit, Scott is full of great stories about the Rock 'n Wrestling era.

Scott attends these shows both as a fan and as a vendor with a table full of great shots from his film career.  He even has photos of his time with the WWF.  The first time that I met him at one of these shows, Scott had in his possession one of the aforementioned Don Muraco LJN figures to be signed.  I, myself, did not own a carded version of the figure at the time, but it was something on the back of the card that particularly intrigued me.  In the photo on the back of the card which shows Muraco entering the ring, Scott Schwartz himself is shown talking to a fellow WWF employee named Pat.  The photo was taken at the Capital Centre in Washington D.C. which as many fans know was a WWF hotbed at the time.

At this more recent show, I told Scott how much I enjoyed knowing this cool little factoid and that I had indeed brought my own Muraco LJN this time around.  Scott asked me to see it so that he could once again tell the story and even offered to autograph the back of the card.  It turns out that this was the first one that he had ever autographed and even marked it as such. 

Knowing little stories and trivia like this can make collecting all the more fun.  This one certainly made the somewhat disappointing Muraco signature all the better.  You may just run into Scott at a wrestling convention, celebrity autograph show, or even at his memorabilia store in California.  If you do, be sure to ask him about his wrestling days (I recommend the WrestleMania 2 story) and he may even sign your LJN Muraco.  Remember though, yours will not be the first!

To see more figures, autographs, and fun items like these, don't forget to "Like" our Facebook Fanpage!  We recently passed the amazing milestone of 1,000 "Likes" and trust me when I say that the best is yet to come!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Goin' "South" In Book About Wrestling, Faith, & Life

For better or worse, Mick Foley can be thanked for a lot of trends in professional wrestling.  One of the better things would be the wrestling book boom.  Well, as long as we ignore books "written" by Chyna and The Rock we can thank him for it.  Of the dozens and dozens that have been written, very few are truly "bad."  Many have at least a few stories that make the reader glad that they invested the time.

The best books seem to be from those wrestlers that did some major traveling and/or relocating.  Not only do you get a wide variety of stories spanning the wrestling world, but you're often surprised at some of the other names that have crossed into the life of the author.  If you're looking for a book where names like "Number One" Paul Jones, Ted DiBiase, The Italian Stallion, and Jesus play a big part, then George South's "Dad You Don't Work, You Wrestle" is the book for you.

Any wrestling fan that grew up in the 1980's has seen George South's work.  From almost every Saturday on TBS to the various shows that were part of the WWF "Television Network," South definitely made his rounds in the hotbeds of wrestling.  From Flair and Rhodes to The Warrior and The Snake, South had a major part in making us, the wrestling-hungry fans, see the aforementioned superstars in a larger-than-life light.  Whether he was Gladiator #1, one half of the Cruel Connection, or just plain old George South, you enjoyed his work even if you didn't realize it.

South's book chronicles that long, and still active, career in the ring as well as a life that revolves around three things: George's faith, George's family, and George's wrestling.  "Number One" Paul Jones would be somewhere in there as well.  I first learned of South's love for Paul Jones during a question and answer session starring the latter at the NWA Fanfest held during Thanksgiving weekend 2004.  South unofficially co-hosted the session, peppering Jones' own stories with tales of how South grew up idolizing the southern wrestling legend.  Those stories and many others are present here in the book and obviously made South's journey from childhood to adulthood all the better.

South admits in the book that it took quite awhile to finish.  Considering that one portion of the book is written just after Road Warrior Hawk's death in 2003 and another following the death of Joe Blanchard earlier this year, it's easy to see that the book was a long labor of love.

My experience at NWA Fanfest mentioned above makes it easy for me to declare that the book reads just like hearing South tell the stories himself.  While there is a general direction to the book, South's stories are recollected from countless memories written down here and there on any kind of writing surface that you could imagine.  You may get a story from the NWA at the top of the page and a WWF story at the bottom, but often such unsystematic storytelling is what makes the reader unable to put the book down.

If you're looking for "juicy" stories from the wrestling world you really won't find it here.  To me, that's a bit refreshing.  I don't necessarily want to feel that I have to take a shower after reading a chapter of a wrestling book.  Instead, George's words and the obvious passion that he has for the business will leave you wanting to take in a bit of old school wrestling.

The kind of stories that you will hear is how those "preliminary" or "journeymen" wrestlers got the spots that they did.  How did the "bigger" stars treat them?  How were the promoters like Jim Crockett Jr. and Vince McMahon?  George has those answers as well as countless stories of promoting wrestling cards both on his own and with PWF co-owner The Italian Stallion.

As I mentioned before, George has a passion for the wrestling business that even the current state of the industry can't kill.  In addition to tales from his own career, George also includes many tidbits of trivia and minutiae that will be fresh and new for the reader.  While I have no desire to give those facts away, one trifle about George is of special interest to the readers of this blog: George South is the unfortunate victim of The Ultimate Warrior in the picture emblazoned on the box of the Hasbro WWF figure ring.

Dozens of photos illustrated the many people that have crossed into George's life over the years.  It really is amazing to think that George has been in the ring with everyone from the original Sheik to Lou Thesz to Wahoo McDaniel.  Is it any wonder that the man has not lost his love for the industry with a personal history like that?  Of course, his relationship with Jesus and his family take an even higher importance in his life.

From being the "Number One" fan of Paul Jones to visiting Texas Stadium and the Dallas Sportatorium to delivering the word of God to thousands of people, George delivers it all in a verbal scrapbook of memories.  Where other books are filled with authors bashing this and that, George instead looks for the good in almost everything.  Some would view that take on things as being untruthful.  With George, you can't do anything but believe him.  Instead of dwelling on the bad, George takes the good in situations and people and maximizes it.  This was obviously instilled in the man from his faith, something that George provides a high dose of in the book.  It's very interesting to learn just how that has worked out in the often hedonistic world of professional wrestling and how he has used it to help others.

From glancing at his website, George seems to be planning on bringing copies of the book with him to all of his upcoming appearances, but you can also check out georgesouth.com for more information.

Fans with an appreciation for wrestling of any era will want to give "Dad You Don't Work, You Wrestle" a read through.  A great summer read, you may just be inspired to take a road trip and catch some great southern wrestling, hopefully with George South on the card.  In the meantime, sit back with a glass of Mountain Dew or sweet tea, crank up some Journey, and get ready to "Go South" with this newest solid addition to the wrestling bookshelf.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Favorite Events--WWF WrestleMania VI

Late last year while I was doing a series of entries listing my favorite wrestlers, my friend Mike came up with some other good "list" ideas.  One of the topics was doing an entry about my favorite wrestling events of all-time.  Since for so many of us fans it's hard to pick just a few, I decided to make it into a series and start with the event that I usually deem my all-time favorite, 1990's WrestleMania VI.

WrestleMania fandom is usually divided into two groups.  One group has the best memories and nostalgia from the first ten or so WrestleMania's.  While I disagree with the myth of "workrate" going against these shows, they may have possibly one or two too many matches.   Regardless, the aura and rewatchability cannot be beat.  The sensory overload of screens, lights, and scaffolding that WWE uses for Manias (and many other events) of today are meant to provide a feeling of grandeur but ultimately fall short to their predecessors.

The other group of WrestleMania fans tend to choose events from XVII onward as their favorites.  Although many memorable moments have come from these shows, it is once again the thought of fans like myself who feel that the environment and feeling of the shows does not come close to those from the past.  A big part of this is likely due to the fact that the look of the events does not deviate enough from that of the weekly programming.  Stages, ramps, and screens can only be taken so far.

The first event in "My Favorite Events" actually used the Skydome's own jumbotron as a screen in an era when the WWF's entrances consisted of a logo and curtain.  The company also used the mini-ring carts to carry the superstars to and from the ring.  These carts were used three years prior at WrestleMania III and have not been seen since.  With so many members of the current roster being fans of this era, not to mention constant demand from fans, it's surprising that these carts or something similar have not seen the light of day in over twenty years.

14 matches comprised the card which was not unheard of in that era.  A dark match that saw Paul Roma defeat The Brooklyn Brawler actually kicked off the event for the live crowd.  Aside from a photo in PWI, this match has never been seen by anyone but those who were present.  Seeing as that it was the first WrestleMania not to take place in the 1980's, many occurrences throughout the evening were symbolic ends while others marked new beginnings.

The pay-per-view's opening contest of Rick Martel defeating Koko B. Ware was perfectly placed.  While the two were not embroiled in a feud, putting two seasoned veterans in the ring together is never a bad idea.  Their respective entrance music was perfect for the opening match "heat" as well.  Cheers and boos are loud and distinct while the comforting and familiar banter of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura picks right up during the entrances.  It should be noted that this is the final time that the two were ever in the booth together.  Many fans feel that as great as Monsoon and Bobby Heenan were, the believable repartee of Monsoon and Ventura may have been just a tad better.

The second match of the evening marks two ends.  Demolition capturing their third WWF Tag Team Championship in a victory over Andre the Giant and Haku is the beginning of the end for Ax and Smash.  In the following months Demolition would turn heel, add Crush, and slowly degenerate into a forgotten act.

In addition, this match could be considered the last shining moment for Andre the Giant in a run that lasted over two decades.  Divorcing the Heenan family and once again embracing the fans, Andre rides off into the sunset on one of the aforementioned ring carts.  Although The Giant would go on to make some 1991 WWF appearances and wrestle in Mexico and Japan until a month before his passing, most fans remember WrestleMania VI as his symbolic farewell.

The star power at the event is largely unparalleled even by WrestleMania standards.  Dusty Rhodes makes his only WrestleMania wrestling appearance in a fun mixed tag team match teaming with Sapphire against Randy Savage and Sherri Martel.  Ted DiBiase and Jake "The Snake" Roberts continue their long-running feud in a battle for the Million Dollar Belt.  Big Boss Man makes short work of former Twin Tower partner Akeem.  Even Mr. Perfect hits a turning point when his televised singles winning streak is ended by Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake.

Like WrestleMania III just three years before, there was one match that the world was waiting for.  Hulk Hogan against The Ultimate Warrior with both the WWF and Intercontinental Championships on the line.  Would Hogan be able to overcome "The Ultimate Challenge" or would The Warrior take the title and the torch?  Even those who are not fans of either men had to admit that the match easily lived up to the hype.  Two positively huge and larger-than-life gladiators battling for the most celebrated prize in wrestling?  Add that to the fact that the match largely deviated from the WWF's formula of good vs evil.  This match divided the fans like never before.

After over twenty minutes of a match which ranks amongst the best of both men's careers, The Ultimate Warrior emerged victorious.  For various reasons which has always kept fans speculating, The Warrior's reign as WWF Champion was not as long as many would've imagined.  Despite that, an embrace between Hogan and The Warrior following the match is still engrained into the minds of Hulkamaniacs and Little Warriors to this day.

Helping the memories of so many is the plethora of merchandising that came out of the event.  Classic's WrestleMania series of 1990 predominantly included shots from WrestleMania VI.  An entire string of cards showcasing highlights from the main event are prominently featured.  Press kits, photos, buttons, and other promotional items survive in collections to this day and show that the WWF hype machine was just as manic then as it is today.

Almost twenty years after the match, the fond memories live on.  Jakks released a two-pack featuring Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior in their Classic Superstars line to commemorate the match.  Not only were the appropriate championship belts included, but the figures were "war torn" versions of the superstars to represent them in mid-match.

Although I watch most of the early WrestleMania events every so often, I tend to view VI more than the others.  From the opening hype of Vince McMahon declaring "The Ultimate Challenge" to the various "WrestleMania Moments" that have stood the test of time, this event always takes me to a happy place as it does for so many other fans.  It's a representation of several generations of wrestling stars wrapped up into a shiny package.  From Hogan and Warrior to Andre and Savage, Dusty and Piper to Bret and Shawn, they're all here and looking as great as ever while riding, above the fans, into battle.  It's the type of event that makes me realize why I fell in love with wrestling.  After watching, I fall in love all over again.