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Luke had a taped thumb gimmick he used in the territory. His right thumb would be covered with tape and at the opportune time he would, away from the sight of the referee, jab his thumb into the throat of his opponent. His opponent would sell the move as if he had been leveled by a bulldozer. Fans, aware of the illegal tactic, would then reign catcalls and boos down on Graham.
Upon his return to the area, Graham paired up with Don Duffy. Duffy was another veteran who had seen action in the area in 1972 as manager to Lorenzo Parente and Bobby Hart. After the team of Jerry Lawler and Jim White split, Lawler teamed with a masked man billed as The Scorpion. Don Duffy was the man behind that mask. Duffy had also traveled the territories achieving success in the Gulf Coast area, California and Michigan.
Together, Graham and Duffy quickly began a feud with Jackie Fargo by attacking him on Chattanooga TV. Jackie called on brother Roughhouse to help out. Luke’s wild in-ring behavior was matched by the unorthodox Roughhouse and the two teams battled in several cities in the territory for a few weeks.
After a few weeks, Jackie wound up in matches against The Bounty Hunters while Graham and Duffy feuded with the team of Jimmy Golden and Johnny Gray. Then the unexpected happened.
Graham ran afoul of a new team in the area, Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler. Graham needed a partner. He determined there was only one man he knew who could hold his own against Monroe and Tyler. That man was Jackie Fargo. Fargo was hesitant about teaming with Graham, a man who had battered him and his brother a few weeks earlier. Graham gave his word and the promise of money that he would not turn on Fargo. Fargo thought about it for awhile but then agreed and the year’s most unlikely combo was formed: The Fabulous Jackie Fargo and Crazy Luke Graham.
Fargo and Graham teamed for a few weeks against Monroe and Tyler then split on good terms. Graham would remain in the area a little while longer and formed a team with area favorite Steve Kovacs (later to gain fame in Georgia and Mid-South as Stephen Little Bear) and together they battled the Sam Bass-managed combination of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Von Stieger and Von Heller were a German heel team that allowed Graham to become even more popular. Graham would leave the territory later but he and Fargo would see each other again in a few years.
Meantime, Fargo’s crazy year continued as he ran afoul of Chris Colt, Mike Boyette and Bill Colt. This trio also teamed some with Bill Dundee. The Colts and Boyette appeared as hippies with long hair and a grungy look. Their physical appearance stood in stark contrast to the conservative values held by many of the area fans. Fargo called on his brothers, Roughhouse and Don to help him out in this feud.
During the summer, Jackie Fargo and George Gulas laid claim to the US tag titles. This tag title was mainly defended in the eastern end of the territory. Also, Fargo and Mr. Wrestling would become Southern tag champions. This duo would eventually lose the titles to The Interns managed by Dr. Ken Ramey.
Speaking of the Interns, Fargo also found himself partnered with veteran Pepper Gomez for a few weeks in the fall against the masked combo and their manager. The two veterans would not stay together too long as Gomez left the area after staying just a few weeks.
At some point in the late summer or early fall, Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey won the US tag belts. Fargo and the returning Don Carson took those titles for a brief run.
Fargo spent the rest of the year mainly in tag matches. His partners included Jerry Jarrett, Roughhouse Fargo, Bob Armstrong, Andre the Giant and Lester Welch. Fargo mainly competed in these tag matches against The Interns, The Bounty Hunters managed by Jim Kent and Hickerson and Condrey.
1976 was around the corner for the long time area superstar, Jackie Fargo. It would be the year he would get to know the fast rising team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey up close and personal.
January-March 1975 in Review
1974 had ended with a wild scene on Chattanooga TV. Big Bad John, Lorenzo Parente and Johnny Gray had attacked Jerry Barber and left him beaten and battered. John was a big man with long black hair and beard. He wore a motorcycle helmet. To batter Barber, Parente and Gray ran Barber repeatedly into John’s helmet. For revenge Barber enlisted the help of Bearcat Brown and George Gulas. The two teams met in a stretcher match on January 4th in Chattanooga’s Memorial Auditorium. Gray, though, was injured and could not compete. His spot on the team was taken by Ed Kowalski. Kowalski would be carted off that night as Barber, Gulas and Brown won. Kowalski would only appear in the territory for a few weeks. He is just one more name on a long list of wrestlers who early in their career passed through the territory only to become a big name star elsewhere later. Kowalski would achieve some fame as Ed Wiskowski and Derek Draper before gaining more fame in the 1980s as Colonel DeBeers. Also on the January 4th card, Jackie Fargo downed Bulldog Don Kent to win the Mid-America title. Kent would regain the title within the month.
The Southern tag titles went up for grabs in a tournament in Louisville on January 7 after champions Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Lawler split. The tournament was won by Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin.
Ron Fuller held the Southern title. Fuller also operated the Knoxville office. Appearing in Knoxville this month were stars such as Dutch Mantel, John Foley, Les Thatcher, Nelson Royal, Dennis Condrey and Professor Dale Lewis. Fuller topped off January (on the 24th) with a major show in Knoxville that saw NWA champion Jack Brisco, Nelson Royal, Women’s champion The Fabulous Moolah, Vicki Williams, Southern champion Ron Fuller, Cowboy Bill Watts, Mid-America champion Don Kent, Ron Wright, John Foley & Dutch Mantel, Eddie and Mike Graham, Danny Hodge, Les Thatcher, Professor Dale Lewis and Steve Keirn. Fuller also brought hot new star Ric Flair in from the Carolinas to battle Olympic strongman Ken Patera. Fuller, still using some Gulas-Welch talent, was beginning to create his own unique territory and in so doing needed Gulas-Welch talent less and less.
As Southern champion, Fuller made regular appearances all over the Gulas-Welch territory and usually every Friday night in Knoxville, as well. During January Fuller defended the title against Jerry Lawler in Memphis and Ron Wright in Knoxville. He also took time to team with Danny Hodge in Memphis to battle Dick the Bruiser and Jerry Lawler. In February Fuller battled Lawler, Steve Kovacs, Phil Hickerson, Lou Thesz and Ron Wright (one Knoxville newspaper clip even lists Wright as Southern champion). Challengers for Fuller’s title in March include Danny Hodge and Al Greene.
NWA champion Jack Brisco came to the area near the end of January to defend the title. He had a wide variety of opponents for his week in the territory. Among his defenses: in Memphis against Steve Kovacs, in Louisville against Ron Fuller, in Chattanooga against Don Kent and in Knoxville against Nelson Royal. Brisco would return to Memphis on February 3rd to get a win against Jerry Lawler.
Veteran Crazy Luke Graham returned and feuded with Jackie Fargo. He also feuded with Tommy Gilbert in some cities around the circuit. Graham and Duffy then feuded with Jimmy Golden and Dennis Condrey in some Alabama cities early in the year. Later, Graham and Duffy would attack Golden and heel Johnny Gray would rescue Golden leading to Golden and Gray teaming to battle Graham and Duffy. During his stay in the area, Graham also had a run as Mid-America champion when he defeated Jackie Fargo.
Sam Bass, who made a name for himself in the area by first managing Jim White and Jerry Lawler and later, Al Greene and Phil Hickerson, began managing a new team, Ron and Don Bass. The Bass trio soon found themselves battling Jackie Fargo, George Gulas and Dennis Hall, among others.
Another team made an impact on the territory after debuting. This team was the combo of George Barnes and Bill Dundee. A few weeks after debuting in the area they defeated Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin to win the Southern tag championship. Prior to their championship win Barnes and Dundee got a win over Tojo Yamamoto and Dick the Bruiser in Memphis.
The team of Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler also hit the area during the first three months of the year. They battled the team of Bearcat Brown and Joey Rossi in many cities around the horn.
Also notable in the area during January, February and March include the legendary Lou Thesz, Andre the Giant, The Bounty Hunters managed by Sir Clements and others including Billy and Benny McGuire. The McGuires were six hundred pound twins who worked the area usually a couple of times each year.
A few other significant things occurred early in 1975 affecting the territory. On February 16th WRCB-TV (NBC affiliate) in Chattanooga began airing the syndicated version of Georgia Championship Wrestling every week. Gulas’ TV show had aired for nearly a decade on WDEF-TV (CBS affiliate) and Gulas had aired a TV show in the Chattanooga market dating back to the late 1950s. The GCW show did promote area wrestling, a weekly Thursday night GCW card in Rome, Georgia, about 75 miles south of Chattanooga. Rome was barely in the Chattanooga TV market but GCW never competed directly against Gulas in Chattanooga. Damage would be done though over the long haul. The TV show exposed area fans to a different brand of wrestling complete with better TV production. When GCW’s parent station, WTCG, went superstation status a few years later the Georgia product seemed more special to some fans since it could be watched by many more viewers than the local Gulas product. The GCW promotion also received liberal coverage in most of the national newsstand magazines. These same magazines rarely gave coverage to the Gulas territory. Gulas couldn’t have been too happy with the new TV show airing inside his territory. As members of the National Wrestling Alliance both sides, Gulas and GCW, had an understood agreement that prevented one member promotion promoting against the other promotion. This gentleman’s agreement kept the surging GCW promotion away from the southern flank of Gulas-Welch territory but barely.
On February 20, Bobby Shane was killed in a plane crash in Florida. The crash ended the in-ring career of Buddy Colt (who would return to Florida rings later as a manager, referee and announcer) and interrupted the careers of Playboy Gary Hart and Iron Mike McCord. Hart would recover and manage such stars as The Spoiler, The Great Kabuki, Maniac Mark Lewin and others and work big money territories such as Georgia, Mid-Atlantic and Texas. McCord would also recover and compete for awhile before disappearing and reappearing as Austin Idol. McCord, who had wrestled early in his career in the Gulas-Welch territory, would return to those stomping grounds in 1979 to stir things up and would return seemingly every year thereafter to wrestle for awhile in the territory. Shane had worked some in the territory in the 1960s but really became a star by working territories such as Georgia, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest and Australia. Shane, once a clean-cut fan favorite, had abandoned that gimmick to become the "King of Wrestling." During his stints in Atlanta Shane came across a young talent named Jerry Lawler. Shane and Lawler had even teamed a few times in Georgia. Lawler credits Shane with giving him a crown, part of the long-running King gimmick Lawler has used for years. Still it seems apparent that Shane had some influence, if only indirectly, on the Gulas-Welch territory by his brief association with the man who would become famous being billed as the "King of Wrestling" for years to come, Jerry Lawler.
"A Superstar is Born"
Who thought in February 1975 when the team of George Barnes and Bill Dundee debuted in the area how the fortunes of the company in years to come would be affected? The Gulas territory had long thrived on foreign heels, usually Japanese and German heels. Johnny Gray, an Australian, had debuted in 1974, as a heel, but had only achieved limited success. Barnes and Dundee would become the leading team in the area for a few months eclipsing any success Gray had achieved.
Both Dundee and Barnes were small in stature. Size, generally, was not a major factor in the Gulas territory. If it had been, Barnes and Dundee would have never succeeded here. One thing not small about the duo were their mouths. The pair was loud, arrogant and cocky. When they talked they spoke with a strange accent, a sure fire heat generator in the 1970s in the South.
Barnes and Dundee quickly won the Southern tag titles from Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin. They then moved into a feud with Robert Fuller who used an assortment of partners to combat the wily duo most notably his brother Ron, his father, Buddy and his cousin, Jimmy Golden. A few matches even saw the three Fullers battle Barnes, Dundee and fellow Australian Johnny Gray.
The territory, still mostly a tag team territory, allowed very few teams to remain champions for very long. As May ended, Tojo Yamamoto and Jimmy Golden ended the title reign of Barnes and Dundee and after a few weeks of rematches Barnes left the area. Dundee, however, remained.
The summer saw Dundee hop in the middle of things as he teamed with Chris Colt and Mike Boyette to battle area legends Jackie, Roughhouse and Don Fargo in a series of wild matches. The Fargos would come out on top in the battles but Dundee was proving to be a talent to hang on to. Earlier in the year he had waged war with Tojo Yamamoto and then by summer he had battled with Jackie Fargo. This left only one area headliner he had yet to meet, Jerry Lawler. His chance would come before the year would end.
Dundee, before battling Lawler, would go through a transformation. Dundee would become a fan favorite.
On Memphis TV the Interns and manager Dr. Ken Ramey beat up Eddie Marlin. Dundee made the save and ended up beaten down for his trouble. The Interns and Ramey, heels in the area off and on for most of the decade at this point, drew no sympathy from the fans, so Dundee, the fan favorite, was born. After a few weeks of matches with Marlin against the Interns, Dundee was about to become one half of a legendary long-running feud when he faced off against Jerry Lawler.
The Southern title had been held up and a tournament was held in Memphis on December 1st. In round one, Lawler got past former champion Tommy Gilbert while Dundee downed another former champion, the rugged Don Greene. This set up Lawler vs. Dundee as the tournament final. The match ended in a no contest. Lawler ended up winning the belt in a few weeks in another tournament and the two squared off in a few matches around the area. It was only the beginning of a feud that would go on for years to come.
April-June 1975 in Review
Roy Welch’s son, Edward returned to the ring for some matches in April. Edward, better known as Buddy Fuller, returned to team with sons Ron and Robert Fuller against George Barnes, Bill Dundee and Johnny Gray. Robert, who had been active in Georgia in 1974, returned to a more active schedule in the territory in the spring often teaming with cousin, Jimmy Golden.
Ron remained Southern champion and fought off challenges from Professor Dale Lewis, George Barnes, Bill Dundee, Ricky Gibson, Ron Wright, and Crazy Luke Graham among others. Ron would also battle NWA champion Jack Brisco on some area cards in this time frame. Fuller’s reign would end on June 9th when he dropped the title to The Mongolian Stomper managed by Bearcat Wright.
The Mongolian Stomper and manager Bearcat Wright jumped into the Southern title fray by defending the title against ex-champion Ron Fuller, Robert Fuller, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler.
Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler began a feud with the interesting combination of Jerry Jarrett and George Gulas. The Jarrett and Gulas team would prove interesting within the next few years as these two would become the focal point of where this territory was headed. Monroe and Tyler would then segue into a feud with the most unlikely combination the area could imagine, Jackie Fargo and Crazy Luke Graham. Monroe and Tyler would begin defending the US tag titles in May but would lose them to the team of Jackie Fargo and George Gulas. The US tag titles were then passed to Sam Bass’s new combination of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. The US tag titles had been defended in the region in the 1960s with teams such as Les Thatcher and Bearcat Brown, The Spoilers, The Mighty Yankees and Big Bad John and Pepe Lopez holding the titles. The titles would remain active in the area for about another year.
George Barnes and Bill Dundee not only defended the Southern tag titles against various combinations of the Fullers, Buddy, Ron and Robert, but also against Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett. Barnes and Dundee would eventually lose the titles to Tojo Yamamoto and Jimmy Golden who in turn lost the titles to Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Yamamoto would then begin teaming with up and coming talent Tommy Rich, billed as Yamamoto’s protégé, much the same way Jerry Jarrett had been billed early in his ring career. The Southern tag titles wound up in the possession of Jackie Fargo and Mr. Wrestling by the end of June.
Changes were afoot in the territory as the summer began. George Barnes would leave the area but his partner Bill Dundee would stay. Norvell Austin returned and new talent came in such as The Outlaws: Cowboy Parker and Ken Dillenger, David Shultz, Mr. Suzuki, Chris Colt and Mike Boyette, among others. Georgia stars Abdullah the Butcher and Rocky Johnson made appearances in some cities in the territory.
"Outer Mongolia’s Favorite Son"
Billed from Outer Mongolia, the Mongolian Stomper debuted in the area in the summer of 1975. In most cities on his initial appearances in the territory he wrestled and defeated two opponents. Within a few weeks, the Stomper had garnered the area’s richest prize, the Southern title from Ron Fuller.
The Mongolian Stomper had worked a number of territories through the years. Long time fans in Calgary Canada recall his long run there. He also made plenty of noise in the Central States area for a number of years. Prior to coming to Tennessee the Stomper had had a big run in Florida.
The Stomper did not talk on interviews. This meant he needed a manager to be his mouthpiece. For much of his stay in the area, longtime mat star Bearcat Wright was given that chore. The Stomper apparently didn’t like others to talk either as he covered his ears when the crowd become noisy. Wright explained that noise hurt the Stomper’s sensitive ears. Naturally, this made the audiences cheer louder and louder against the giant bald-headed monster.
The Stomper’s stay in the area was significant. His Southern title reign came on the heels of the reign of Ron Fuller. Fuller, six feet nine inches tall and weighing 270 pounds, was really the first man to hold that title that wasn’t a junior heavyweight. Fuller, although he had appeared and headlined cards in Georgia, Florida and even appeared on the prestigious NWA showcase cards in St. Louis for promoter Sam Muchnick, was considered "local" by many fans around the country. Fuller had cut his teeth on the business in this area. The Stomper had also wrestled in other places but he had no connections to the area. So when Gulas was able to bring him in and then to have him win the Southern title it helped make the title more valuable and gave the territory a proven headliner who wasn’t local or homegrown. This shouldn’t diminish Fuller’s lengthy title reign either though. The long title reign gave value to the title and Fuller used himself as champion to not only support the Gulas-Welch cities but to help set up his own Knoxville territory to reach a level it hadn’t seen in a few years.
The Stomper turned away challenges from Ron and Robert Fuller, Jackie Fargo, The Magnificent Zulu, Jerry Lawler, Luke Graham and his eventual successor to the title, Bob Armstrong. Stomper feuded with Armstrong for a good deal of the summer and into the fall. Stomper used former WWWF champion Ivan Koloff as partner in this battle against Armstrong and Robert Fuller.
In the fall, Bearcat Wright left the area and Al Greene, longtime area star, replaced Wright as Stomper’s manager. Not much later, the Stomper lost several loser-leaves-town matches to Bob Armstrong and one or two to Jerry Lawler that sealed his departure from the area.
The Stomper would venture in and out of the territory over the next few years. His next stop would be a long, successful run for Ron Fuller’s Knoxville group where he became an area legend. The Stomper’s success was something all the folks back in Outer Mongolia could find pride in knowing. But of course this is professional wrestling where all you see and hear isn’t always the way it really is. The Mongolian Stomper, you see, was in reality a Canadian named Archie Gouldie.
July-September 1975 in Review
The summer kicked off with a reuniting of the Fabulous Fargos. Jackie enlisted the aid of brothers Don and Roughhouse against various combinations of Bill Dundee, Chris Colt, Mike Boyette and Bill Colt. While together, the Fargos also battled Al Greene and The Outlaws: Cowboy Parker and Ken Dillenger. Greene began managing this tag team.
Jackie held the Southern tag titles with Mr. Wrestling for a few weeks before they went back to former champions Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller with manager Sam Bass.
The Mr. Wrestling gimmick had been around for a number of years and had been made famous especially in Florida and Georgia by Tim Woods. After the promotional war broke out in Georgia in late 1972 and early 1973 a new masked man named Mr. Wrestling II debuted and would become a state legend. II was longtime star Johnny Walker, who left the Gulas-Welch territory in early 1973 to begin his work as II in Georgia. The Mr. Wrestling in the territory in 1975 though was neither Woods or Walker but long time area star and one-time Fargo rival Don Greene. Fargo and Greene would regain the titles after Greene was unmasked but would then lose the titles in September to Dr. Ken Ramey’s Interns.
In September Fargo found himself paired with veteran Pepper Gomez. Gomez, billed as having an iron-like stomach, came into the area and challenged folks to hit him in the stomach. He even challenged folks to jump off a ladder onto his stomach while he laid in the ring. Dr. Ken Ramey’s Interns accepted the offer. Their attempts did not faze Gomez in the least. Angered at being shown up by the newcomer Gomez, the Interns asked for one last chance at Gomez’s stomach. One of the Interns climbed the ladder and jumped off onto the prone Gomez, but instead of landing on his stomach the Intern landed on Gomez’s throat. The trio then proceeded to destroy Gomez. This angle, new to Gulas fans, was hardly original. Gomez had used his iron-stomach gimmick, complete with ladder, in other territories over the years, most notably in the San Francisco area in 1962 where the angle set up that area’s hottest feud ever with Ray Stevens.
Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey formed a team in the summer of 1975. Hickerson had been part of a successful team with Al Greene. Condrey had had limited success as a babyface teaming with Jimmy Golden. Together, this combination would become one of Gulas’ best tag teams ever.
The Magnificent Zulu would capture the Mid-America title during the summer. He would only hold it briefly before losing it to former NWA champion Harley Race on September 9th in Memphis.
Nick Gulas’ son, George, who had debuted in 1974 continued to get a healthy push. George, who had mainly appeared in tag matches the previous year, found himself working his first major solo program against Mr. Suzuki. Memorable in this feud were a few matches where the loser of the match had to throw money to the crowd. Suzuki won that round but lost the next round which found the loser of the match losing his hair. The feud even got some play in some national magazines, a rarity for the area, apparently an attempt to get George over as an emerging mat star.
The Knoxville office still used some Gulas-Welch talent but increasingly other stars appeared in Knoxville that didn’t appear elsewhere in the region such as The Masked Assassin II, Tommy Seigler and others. Ron and Don Wright, longtime Knoxville mainstays, made some appearances throughout the territory for Gulas.
The summer also saw appearances by such stars as Sputnik Monroe, NWA Junior Heavyweight champion Hiro Matsuda, Rip Hawk and a youngster who had debuted in 1974 as Wayne Petty.
September also saw the NWA presidency change hands to Texas promoter Jack Adkisson, a/k/a Fritz Von Erich.
"The Rich Get Richer"
1974 had seen the debut of Hendersonville, Tennessee’s Tommy Rich on TV and on some house shows. While Rich had wrestled some in 1974 he made very little impact then. 1975 would be a much different year for the young blond.
Rich had several things going for him working for Gulas. He had the look of a babyface or good guy. Clean cut with white blonde hair he instantly became a favorite of the female fans. He was also a local boy so fans took a liking to one of their own. Combine these things with some charisma and some potential and Tommy Rich began coming into his own.
As Gulas often did when he saw a potential star in the making, he was quick to pair him with an established veteran in a tag team. This was done so the young star could gain experience and knowledge at the feet of a veteran. Any shortcomings the young star had could be covered up more easily in a tag match than in a singles match. Another advantage was the star rub the young star received by appearing with the older star. Gulas had done this with two stars in particular over the years, Jerry Jarrett and his own son, George Gulas. He paired Jarrett with Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo and George with Dennis Hall and Fargo and later, Yamamoto.
Gulas had another advantage in developing young talent such as Rich. His territory was so big he could always use another piece of talent. A wrestler could work one end of the territory for awhile and then work the other end without losing too much steam with the fans. If someone was willing to learn the ropes as a professional wrestler then Gulas probably had a place for him.
Gulas paired Rich with Yamamoto and the two teamed much of 1975.
The duo won the US tag titles in the summer from the team of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Information is unclear but it seems likely that Yamamoto and Rich lost the US titles to Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey during the fall of 1975.
Rich’s first full year in the business had been good. His visibility in the area had been heightened with his tag team with area superstar Tojo Yamamoto which included a tag title run. He had stepped in the ring with some of the area’s top talent and had progressed nicely. His good looks and charisma had helped make him a favorite of the fans. Was Rich ready to step into a top slot in the territory? 1976 would provide him such an opportunity. Rich’s young career was about to be burning like a wildfire out of control.
October-December 1975 in Review
Bob Armstrong held onto the Southern title for most of the last few months of the year. He got past challenges from former champion The Mongolian Stomper and then Mid-America champion Harley Race in a title vs. title match. Armstrong even won a few loser-leaves-town matches around the circuit against The Mongolian Stomper. The man who would cause some trouble for Armstrong toward the end of the year, Jerry Lawler, would also win some loser-leaves-town matches against the Stomper.
Things started off better for Armstrong and Lawler as the two teamed to battle Dr. Ken Ramey and The Interns. Then things fell apart as Lawler turned on Armstrong. Lawler, who had broken away from manager Sam Bass a year earlier joined forces again with Bass. The Southern title wound up being held up.
A tournament was ordered for the Southern title on December 1st in Memphis that saw an inconclusive ending. Two weeks later, Lawler would get a DQ win against Dick the Bruiser to advance to another tournament final against ex-champion Ron Fuller, who had a DQ tournament win over Bob Roop. Lawler would then defeat Fuller to become Southern champion again.
Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey began running roughshod over area tag teams. A heel referee didn’t hurt their cause. Paul Maxwell was a referee for Gulas who apparently wasn’t on the up and up since he helped Hickerson and Condrey win a few matches. Finally, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett had enough and teamed with Jerry Lawler to square off with Hickerson, Condrey and Maxwell. Hickerson and Condrey mainly feuded with Jackie Fargo who teamed with Jarrett, Andre the Giant and Roughhouse Fargo. Jackie Fargo and Don Carson also downed Hickerson and Condrey for a short run as US tag champions. There’s also some evidence that suggests Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert held the US tag titles briefly late in the year as well.
The Interns ran into trouble in Memphis on December 21st as they lost the Southern tag belts to Bearcat Brown and Tommy Gilbert. Brown and Gilbert had held the titles before but with other partners. Brown had teamed to hold the titles with Len Rossi and Johnny Walker while Gilbert had held the title with Eddie Marlin and Ricky Gibson.
New or returning to the area at this time were: Don and Al Greene (as a team), Bill Ash, The Sheik, Professor Toru Tanaka, Buddy Diamond, Don Anderson, Gentle Ben the Wrestling Bear and two outstanding amateur wrestlers from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Pez Whatley and George Weingeroff, son of long time area star Saul Weingeroff. Also debuting as a referee for some events in the territory was Butch Thornton, son of Chattanooga TV announcer and co-promoter, Harry Thornton.
One last significant event occurred outside the territory before the year ended. On December 10 NWA champion Jack Brisco lost the title to Terry Funk in Miami, FL.
"Behind the Mask"
Jerry Lawler came into his own as a singles star in 1974. A number of folks began to notice Lawler’s quick wit on interviews and ability in the ring. Lawler began accepting appearances outside the Tennessee home base, most notably in Georgia.
The Georgia territory had been a busy one in the early 1970s due to the fallout of the partnership revolving around Ray Gunkel and Edward Welch. This situation is detailed in the overview article. It lead to a promotional war in Georgia. It was during the years of the promotional war in Georgia that some stars from the Gulas-Welch territory made their way to Georgia. Lawler was one of those stars.
By 1975, the NWA Georgia office had won the promotional war over All-South. Lawler, who first appeared in Atlanta in 1974, had worked his way to mid-card on the Georgia shows and sometimes onto the semi-final main event as a heel. Lawler, despite his appearances in Georgia, maintained a schedule for Gulas-Welch. Lawler though found no success in loosening Ron Fuller’s stranglehold on the Southern title. This found Lawler working a good number of dates in 1975 in Georgia. He battled such opponents as Don Muraco, Jerry Brisco, Rocky Johnson, Bob Armstrong, Robert Fuller, Larry Zbyszko, Bob Backlund and others while teaming with Don Greene, The Assassin II, Bob Orton, Jr. and others.
As the summer wound down it appeared Lawler’s run in Georgia was over. He would not automatically return to Tennessee though.
Lawler’s one-time tag partner, Don Greene had gone to work the Florida territory with Curtis Smith. Together the pair donned masks and were called The Superstars. (Please note: this is altogether a different team that would appear for Gulas in 1976.) Smith was a ring veteran who wore a mask virtually all his career, most notably as one of J.C. Dykes’ Infernos. Greene also had donned a mask from time to time. After a few weeks, Smith left the team leaving Greene without a partner. The team did not end there though. Greene replaced Smith with another masked Superstar. Under the mask then was Jerry Lawler.
The Superstars would last only a few months in Florida. Sam Bass would even manage them during their Florida stay. The team though rarely made it past mid-card status there. Some nights, Lawler would appear under the mask and then later on the card as himself without the mask.
1975 also saw Lawler without a mask and without much of anything. Lawler posed nude for one of the newsstand wrestling magazines (one of the Victory Sports publications or Apter mags, as more commonly known by longtime fans), with his trusty crown strategically placed to make the photo suitable for distribution. The Apter magazines had given some coverage to Lawler’s Memphis antics prior to his infamous photo shoot but coverage by most newsstand magazines was uncommon for the area. (Wrestling Revue and Wrestling News did give some good coverage, without the sensationalism of the Apter mags, to the area over the years.)
As busy as all this left Lawler, Tennessee was calling. He returned to the Gulas-Welch territory full-time in the late fall. He quickly got back into the middle of things by winning a loser leaves town match against The Mongolian Stomper in Memphis. He then teamed with Bob Armstrong against Dr. Ken Ramey’s Interns. Just as quick, Lawler turned on Armstrong reverting back to his evil ways and even added Sam Bass as his manager again.
1975 came to a close with Jerry Lawler holding the Southern title with manager Sam Bass as his manager. Lawler was back in his stomping grounds with a smirk on his face, a wisecrack on his lips and trouble on his mind. Would 1976 be the year Lawler would come to rule Tennessee wrestling?
1975 was a big year for the territory. Jerry Lawler had spent a good deal of time away from the territory but by year’s end he had returned full time to the area, turned heel, reunited with manager Sam Bass and was terrorizing the region as the area’s lead heel. Jackie Fargo remained viable and in the thick of things. The territory, long known as a tag team territory, saw the debut of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey, who had within a few months become a major force. An unlikely hero for the territory, Australia’s Bill Dundee, had debuted as part of a heel team with George Barnes but by year’s end had turned into a fan favorite. Longtime area star Tojo Yamamoto had spent a good part of the year teaming with youngster Tommy Rich, who showed signs of great potential. The promoter’s son, George Gulas, continued to get a sizable push over the year including his first major singles feud against Mr. Suzuki and even teamed some with Jerry Jarrett. Things had changed some though. The Knoxville office, owned by Ronald Welch, grandson of Gulas partner, Roy Welch, had long shared talent with the Gulas-Welch office. This continued but as the year wore on, it occurred less frequently as the Knoxville office began to become more and more successful and needed the talent swap less and less.
1976, America’s 200th birthday year, was about to begin. In "lieu" of actual fireworks in the bicentennial year Gulas would face other fireworks, competition from a former employee. "The Bicentennial Kings" would reign over the tag team scene all year long. A "Nature Boy" would have a big run in the area in 1976. By "George", two "Juniors" would mix it up in the upcoming year and in so doing may have cemented the fate of the Gulas-Welch-Jarrett partnership. And a ride from Memphis to Nashville would turn deadly for three stars on a July night and the "dominos" from that night would tumble and change several careers and lives forever.
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