Thursday, April 14, 2016

Happy Trails, Blackjack Mulligan

I love everything about '70s wrestling. I may not have come along until the '80s, but I think that may play a part in my fascination of the previous decade in the squared circle. Not quite the entertainment spectacle that it would become yet no longer carrying an illusion of pure sport, you might say that wrestling came of age in the 1970's. The territories, the car rides, the crazed fans, and yes, the famous smell of smoke at ringside. All that and more play part in what had to have been a Helluva time to be in wrestling or even just follow it. And when you think of the names that made such an important impact on the decade, you have to think of the man that we lost this past week, Blackjack Mulligan.

Less than a decade ago, Blackjack published his autobiography "True Lies & Alibis," but you don't have to have read the book to know some crazy stories about the towering cowboy. It seems that every wrestler from the '70s has a Blackjack story or two. If you put them altogether, it would seem that Blackjack must not have lived an ordinary day in his life. He was a true character. A legend in his own time.

Like many wrestlers from Texas, Blackjack started out playing football. It's said that Wahoo McDaniel is responsible for getting "Big Bob Windham" into professional wrestling. McDaniel obviously knew what he was doing, as Mulligan became one of his classic opponents just a few years later. In a way, it was like a meeting of the parallels of the same man: both Mulligan and McDaniel personified the hard living, hard fighting, and hard drinking image. The only difference, one was a cowboy and one was an Indian.

The legendary Wahoo wasn't Mulligan's only main nemesis. The cowboy from Eagle Pass, TX also had famous battles with Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, "Number One" Paul Jones, Masked Superstar, Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and Dick Murdoch just to name a select few. He also ended up teaming with many of those legends, but his most famous partner was his fellow "Blackjack," Jack Lanza. Paired with Bobby Heenan or Lou Albano, the team made the most waves in the Midwest and the WWWF.

Of course, it's no secret that Mulligan is the patriarch of a wrestling dynasty that includes sons Barry and Kendall Windham and grandsons Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. Barry, for a time, in fact wrestled under the name of Blackjack Mulligan Jr. He would go on to carve out his own legacy away from that of his storied father.

Blackjack was all over the wrestling magazines of the '70s, often complete with a classic "bloody" cover. Aside from the main newsstand titles of the era, he also appeared on a number of the fabled Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine covers during his days with Jim Crockett Promotions. Later in their WWE Classic Superstars line, Jakks unveiled a prototype of what would have been the first Blackjack Mulligan action figure. For whatever reason, the figure never saw production. Although too late for the man himself to see it, it would be nice if a figure of the rough and tumble cowboy was produced posthumously.

Although I wanted to do this small tribute of my own, I must recommend that you check out a site that I've referred you to before, The Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Blackjack was certainly one of the biggest stars of that great resource, and their tributes do not disappoint. You will also want to check out their past stories on Blackjack, including "The Legend of The Hat & The Robe." I guarantee that you will end that read thinking but one thing: "Now THAT is how a wrestling story should be told!"

Mr. Mulligan suffered for a long time. He is now out of pain and in a far better place. His life and the many stories surrounding it could probably fill ten books minimum. He was a one-of-a-kind person who starred in a unique industry in a time when outlaws truly lived up to that moniker. Through those stories, film footage, photos, and his cherished family, Blackjack Mulligan lives on forever.

Robert "Blackjack Mulligan" Windham


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