Memphis/CWA #5 Page #2
In 1977, Handsome Jimmy Valiant entered the area for Jarrett (after a handful of appearances for Nick Gulas) and was instantly pushed to the top of the area cards. Valiant was placed in the middle of the Southern title picture and even attacked the "retired" Jerry Lawler, which led to Lawler’s ring return.
Upon his arrival, Valiant quickly played an old card to generate some heat with the fans.
Valiant made sure everyone knew he was from New York City, a surefire heat generator for many Southern fans. Valiant would sometimes refuse to wrestle on TV because he said the fans should have to pay to see someone of his caliber, which got him over as a prima-donna to many fans. These things, simple as they were, made Valiant a major heel in the area.
During the spring of 1978, another major heel had hit the area so Valiant made the change to babyface. Suddenly, he was teaming with old rivals such as Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee to battle new lead heel, Jos LeDuc and his cronies Jean Louie and Sonny King. In the summer, Valiant and Dundee also squared off in some matches against the team of Blackjack Frankie Laine and Mike Bowyer with their manager Gorgeous George, Jr.
Valiant’s new found popularity lasted a few weeks before he turned on Bill Dundee. Jimmy then brought in "brother" Johnny Valiant to team against Dundee and Jerry Lawler for a few matches. Later in the fall, this feud continued even though Johnny wasn’t around. Wayne Farris, who had worked the territory for awhile with sporadic success began to emulate Valiant so the two formed a team, elevating Farris into a much more prominent role in the area. Together Valiant and Farris feuded with Lawler and Dundee.
In 1979, the WWWF called, so Jimmy returned there to pair with Johnny and a third "brother" Gentleman Jerry (better known to Memphis fans as Guy Mitchell, and, like Jimmy and Johnny, a WWA veteran). The Valiants would hold the WWWF tag titles but their time together as a team was pretty much over after their WWWF stint. Later in 1979, Jimmy would return to work for Jarrett and continue to carve a memorable spot for himself with area fans.
January, February and March 1978
The new year began with Jerry Lawler holding the Southern title. During this time period, he was mainly challenged by Handsome Jimmy Valiant, and some by Mr. Wrestling (Dick Steinborn) but neither could unseat Lawler during this time.
The combination of Norvell Austin and Bill Dundee held the Southern tag titles after winning them in December 1977. Their title reign ended when Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey with newly added manager Al Costello took the belts. Dundee and Austin’s partnership dissolved and the two then segued into a wild feud against each other. Hickerson and Condrey meantime wound up feuding with Dr. Ken Ramey and the Masked Interns, pitting two of the area’s top teams of the decade against each other. The brief heated feud ended when Hickerson and Condrey unmasked one of the Interns revealing Jungle Jim Starr. The unmasking effectively ended the long off and on run of Ramey and this version of the Interns in the area (Tom Andrews was the second Intern with Starr at this time).
Jarrett’s promotion also recognized a North American title early in the year. Doug Gilbert, who had wrestled elsewhere as The Masked Professional (and no relation to Tommy Gilbert) held the belt but dropped it to Mr. Wrestling before the title was forgotten.
Others working for Jarrett at this time included Big Red, Plowboy Stan Frazier, Frankie Laine, Bearcat Brown, David Shultz, Terry Sawyer, Jim White, Sonny King, Robert Gibson, Arman Hussein, The Samoans (Tio & Tapu), Len ‘Kojak’ Shelley, Roger Howell, Tommy Gilbert, Mr. Seki, Ron Slinker and others.
A few others working the area at this time deserve some mention. Former NWA champion Pat O’Connor made an appearance in Memphis during this time frame. Also working the area at this time was Steve Kyle, who did a Mighty Igor gimmick complete with bringing toys to the ring. Kyle had wrestled in Alabama in the early 1970s as Steve Lawler, billed as Jerry’ brother, although they are unrelated. Kyle’s run as Steve Lawler should not be confused with a wrestler who worked as Steve Lawler in the South in the 1980s and 1990s. The promotion also capitalized on the hit movie Star Wars by introducing a character named Lord Darth Vader, who appeared as if he had just landed from a galaxy far, far away. Despite the popularity of the movie the Darth Vader character did not last long and was never pushed as a major attraction. The most significant new face in the area though was the wild man from the backwoods of Canada, Lumberjack Jos LeDuc.
The Gulas end of the territory saw newcomer Randy Savage win the Mid-America title early in the year. Savage feuded mainly with Pistol Pez Whatley upon his arrival. It would take another newcomer, who was really no newcomer at all, to upend Savage. Dutch Mantel took the title from Savage in late March. Mantel had worked the area in 1974 billed as Chris Gallegher.
The Mid-America tag titles were defended at year’s start by Gypsy Joe and Leroy Rochester. Lanny Poffo and Bobby Eaton then took the straps only to lose them to Gypsy Joe and Dutch Mantel. Dutch, who worked briefly as a heel, was then moved into a program against Savage and his half of the tag titles was then occupied by Buzz Tyler.
Gulas imported some of the Georgia Championship Wrestling stars for some shows at this time including one of the biggest box office attractions at the time, Dusty Rhodes. Others on the cards imported from Georgia included Stan Hansen, Mr. Wrestling II, Dick Slater, Tony Atlas, Ole Anderson, Lars Anderson, Sgt. Jacques Goulet. Also, Tommy Rich, who left both Gulas and Jarrett in 1977 to become an immediate hit in Georgia returned for some shows for Gulas at this time.
Others appearing for Gulas at this time were Mr. America Don Ross, Tom Renesto, Jr., Luis Martinez, Ox Baker, Mike Jackson, Len and Joey Rossi, Pago Pago, Eric Embry, Bob Hamby, Chief Thundercloud, Dale Mann, Ben Alexander, Butch Thornton, Kurt and Karl Von Stieger, Tojo Yamamoto, George Gulas, Andre the Giant, Haystack Calhoun, Jon and Rick Davidson and others. Long time manager Saul Weingeroff would reappear to manage newcomer Shawnie Beau Wynn. Wynn received a push from the announcers but never lived up to the hype.
He’s A Lumberjack and He’s Okay
After a successful run for Ron Fuller’s Knoxville territory, Jos LeDuc hit the Memphis area like an out of control freight train. During most of his stopovers in the various territories, LeDuc worked as a fan favorite. Although he worked some as a heel during his Knoxville run, he was moved over to the babyface side to feud with The Mongolian Stomper. With it a little to early to reprise the Lawler-Dundee feud and with Jimmy Valiant being turned face, the territory needed a heel that meant serious business. So, LeDuc, from the get-go, became a bad man to cross in Memphis.
LeDuc was a veteran who had worked many territories such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, Minneapolis (AWA) and Montreal. He was a big man who wore blue jeans and logging boots in the ring. Despite his size and methodical pace, LeDuc was very mobile in the ring, often throwing dropkicks. His nearly bald head was framed with years of scars on his forehead, a hard-earned crown for professional wrestlers. His eyes were wide and often rolled back and forth whenever he appeared. He twitched his neck and head about as he spoke in a broken French-Canadian bark. Overall, Jos LeDuc came across as tough and rugged but not quite all there. Fans saw him as someone who had a few broken teeth on his cross-cut saw.
A number of things were shown outside of actual ring action that got LeDuc over as one serious customer and as one of the strongest men in professional wrestling. A clip was shown where a harness was placed around LeDuc. He then pulled a bus attached to the other end of the harness. In Tupelo, Mississippi, a bunch of fans got in the ring on both sides of LeDuc and competed in a tug of war against LeDuc. Ropes were tied to both of LeDuc’s arms then both sides of fans pulled but neither side budged LeDuc very far. Most memorable though is the time LeDuc took a blood vow to defeat Jerry Lawler in front of announcer Lance Russell and the TV audience. LeDuc took an ax and cut open a gash on his arm as Russell, and doubtless thousands of viewers, squirmed. Then, with blood from the wound dripping down his arm, LeDuc bellowed that he was willing to scar his body in order to remember he had determined to eliminate Jerry Lawler.
During his 1978 Memphis stay, LeDuc often paired with Jean Louie (Neil Guay), a fellow Canadian, who worked some territories as The Hangman. Together they had a run as Southern tag champions. They also gave Lawler fits most of the spring and summer with momentum bouncing back and forth between the two sides. One time LeDuc would hold the dressing room door shut (to get over his strength) while Louie provided a beat down on Lawler in the ring and, in turn, preventing Lawler from being rescued by his friends. Another time Lawler would whip Louie in a hair match. Also memorable is when LeDuc hoisted Lawler above his head and tossed him from the ring to the timekeeper’s desk at the Mid-South Coliseum in a scary looking bump. During part of this feud LeDuc and Louie were joined by veteran Sonny King. Various combinations of LeDuc, Louie and King working against Lawler, Bill Dundee and Jimmy Valiant kept the feud fresh for several weeks. LeDuc would also have a run as Southern champion before the year wound down.
LeDuc worked some summer dates in the Knoxville territory as a fan favorite during the midst of his Memphis heel run. In Memphis, LeDuc not only worked against the area’s top three stars, Lawler, Dundee and Valiant, but also against imported talent such as Bobo Brazil, Dick the Bruiser and Rocky Johnson.
As 1978 slowed down, Don Fargo returned to the area. He added Al Greene as his manager. Together these two formed an alliance with LeDuc. Fargo and Greene though ran into disagreements with LeDuc, who remained his usual strange self during interviews, yet turned fan favorite briefly in the area before leaving.
The southern states were productive for LeDuc. He worked Alabama’s Southeastern territory off and on for a number of years. He also would work again in Florida and Georgia and eventually for Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic office and elsewhere. After his 1978 Memphis run, the Canadian Freight Train would from time to time roar into Memphis and give fans another wild ride.
April, May and June 1978
Jerry Lawler continued to hang onto the Southern title he had captured in December. Despite challenges from Jos LeDuc and Jean Louie, Lawler held onto the title for one of his longest Southern titles reigns ever.
The Southern tag titles fell to Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee for a time as they defeated Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey, who would leave the area and spend most of the year working for Ron Fuller’s Southeastern promotion in Knoxville where they enjoyed a successful run with Knoxville legend Ron Wright serving as their manager. Lawler and Dundee, on-again, off-again bitter rivals and tag partners, would then drop the titles to Jos Leduc and Jean Louie. It also seems likely that Lawler and Jimmy Valiant briefly held the Southern tag titles in this time frame as well.
Making appearances for Jarrett at this time were such stars as Ron Slinker, Jerry Bryant, Danny Davis, Frank Dalton, Sonny King, Bearcat Brown, Jimmy Valiant, Tommy Gilbert, Wayne Farris, Jim White, Gorgeous George, Jr., Mike Bowyer (Mike Boyette), Blackjack Frankie Laine, Porkchop Cash, Steve Kyle, Norvell Austin, Rocky Johnson, Dick the Bruiser, Tommy Rich, Hans Schroder, King Cobra, Len ‘Kojak’ Shelley and others.
Also appearing very briefly for Jarrett was the combination of Don Fargo and Ron Garfield with manager Las Vegas Louie. They made a few appearances for Jarrett before jumping to work for Gulas as Ron and Don Garfield.
The Mid-America title was capably held by Dutch Mantel. He ran into Don Garfield and lost the title. Don apparently fell out of favor with Gulas since a week later "brother" Ron dropped the title back to Dutch Mantel and Don disappeared from Gulas cards to be replaced by Whipper Watson, Jr.
The Mid-America tag titles were captured by Tojo Yamamoto and George Gulas. George was not the lead face in his dad’s group but he was very involved in many of the storylines and more often than not seemed to always be holding or always be challenging for half of the area’s tag championship.
Appearing for Gulas at this time were such stars as Cowboy Frankie Laine (who bounced back and forth between Gulas and Jarrett for a few weeks), Lanny Poffo, Bobby Eaton, Ox Baker, Leroy Rochester, Randy Savage, Pago Pago, Arvil Hutto, Lou Thesz, Jon and Rick Davidson, Jerry Barber, The Viking, Butch Thornton, George Weingeroff, The Masked Carpetbagger (Angelo Poffo), Ormand Malumba, Joey Rossi, Gypsy Joe, The Fabulous Moolah, Jackie Fargo, The Beast, Mr. America Don Ross, Mark Roberts, Mike Porter, Debbie Combs, Lady Satan (Cora Combs), The French Angel, The Masked Grappler (unmasked as Francisco Flores who then adopted the Mexican Angel gimmick), Ken Lucas, Eric Embry and Ginger the Wrestling Bear.
Tom Renesto who had been brought in by Gulas as booker became very active in the area. Renesto was a wrestling veteran most well known as one half of The Masked Assassins with Jody Hamilton. Together the Assassins worked all over the world and held countless tag championships. Renesto retired from most of his in-ring action in the early 70s to help get Ann Gunkel’s All-South Wrestling off the ground. There, Renesto worked as booker.
In 1978 for Gulas, Renesto participated in an angle early in the year when Randy Savage attacked Dutch Mantel during a TV match. In order to restore order to the show Renesto, who often served as announcer and was recognized as a member of the promoting team, entered the ring to calm Savage down. As Renesto approached Savage, the Macho Man turned around and punched Renesto. Renesto then came out of his retirement and worked himself into the feud, usually participating in tag matches against Savage. Such promoting ideas are now commonplace (the promoter or booker gets involved in-ring) but this was unusual for 1978, predating such ideas as Vince McMahon’s Corporation and Eric Bischoff’s in-ring tactics of the 1990s. (Of course, Bill Watts would take this angle to a high art form against Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express, Eddie Gilbert and the Russians and The Fabulous Freebirds in the 1980s).
Chattanooga area fans were treated to the weekly Memphis TV show beginning in April. The show aired Saturday mornings, and along with the syndicated Georgia Championship Wrestling TV show and Nick Gulas’ Live Studio Wrestling, provided area fans with a variety of TV wrestling each week. Of course, more was going on than just the addition of a TV show. Jerry Jarrett and Nick Gulas were headed for a showdown.
Of Course You Know This Means War
Chattanooga, Tennessee is significant in the history books of the United States because major events surrounding the War Between the States occurred in and around the city. Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe and Missionary Ridge are a short list of important battlegrounds from those moments in time in the Chattanooga area.
Professional wrestling claims no official history book. Many of it’s "wars" are lost to only those who choose to recall them or to those who work reviving them by filtering through what they are told by those who were there or by those who sift through dusty library archives and old magazines and newsletters trying to piece together an area’s wrestling history. In 1978 in Chattanooga, a professional wrestling promotional "war" took place. The local broadcast airwaves, newspaper advertising space and a building resting at 399 McCallie Avenue in the heart of the city were the battlegrounds for this conflict fought over who would control the professional wrestling scene in this generally quiet and peaceful city.
When Jerry Jarrett began airing his TV show in the Chattanooga TV market in April, the war had begun. With the TV show added to the Chattanooga market, Jarrett, like most promoters, believed TV exposure needed to occur in a city for several weeks before attempting to run live events in that city. After airing his TV show in April, May and June, Jarrett brought his crew of wrestlers to Chattanooga for a July 11 card. Jarrett’s crew would be led by Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Jimmy Valiant and Jos LeDuc. Could he make an in-road in the Chattanooga market?
Nick Gulas had faced opposition before and had always turned it away. He threw things into motion after Jarrett’s TV show began airing by reinstating the live TV show in Chattanooga nearly every week. Nick often aired the Nashville TV show in Chattanooga but with competition coming to town, a live TV show, complete with local broadcast personality Harry Thornton, added an edge to the Gulas promotion. Gulas also felt as if he had an ace up his sleeve with former six time NWA champion Lou Thesz on his roster. Plus, Gulas had a big angle waiting in the wings to get fans interested in his product.
The Gulas Chattanooga TV show had its moments during the summer of 1978. It is important to note that the show usually aired at 3 or 3:30 PM every Saturday, which was a great lead-in to a Saturday night house show at the Memorial Auditorium. Put that together: create a hot TV show with a few angles and promise the heels would get their comeuppance in just a few hours that night and it would be very hard for a die-hard wrestling fan not to attend the card that night. Gulas was also famous for running a hot angle on Saturday afternoon TV that would lead to a top babyface pleading with Gulas to change that night’s card so he could exact revenge against his opponent.
Some of the more memorable moments from the Chattanooga TV show during the summer of 1978 include Ripper Collins dressing as a woman and hiding in the audience. At an appropriate moment Collins took the purse he was carrying and went after Ken Lucas and Dutch Mantel. Gulas threw a Mid-America title match on TV between Dutch Mantel and The Blue Yankee. A wild finish saw the masked man take the title under suspicious circumstances. Gulas also dug into his video tape archive and aired footage of Jackie Fargo whipping up on Jerry Lawler, (intimating that Gulas’ top star could beat Jarrett’s top star) as well as footage of Jackie and Roughhouse Fargo working in a tag team match.
Gulas’ big angle during the summer rattled fans good. On the Nashville TV show, Gulas had Tojo Yamamoto, who had been a fan favorite most of the previous decade, turn on George Gulas and Bobby Eaton during an interview. The turn was aired several times over the summer in order to get the angle over with the fans. The move would turn Yamamoto into a major heel and pair him with Gypsy Joe. It also put Gulas and Eaton together as the top babyface team to face Yamamoto and Joe in a ready made feud. George Gulas, the one man Jarrett would not push as a major star, would then be in headline matches in his dad’s territory in a promotional war against Jarrett.
Gulas also had Lou Thesz on his side. Thesz, a six time former NWA champion, added credibility to any card where he appeared. Gulas billed Thesz as Southern champion and claimed Thesz would take on any and all comers. Jarrett, of course, continued to recognize the area’s long-running Southern championship at this time.
Both Gulas and Jarrett placed ads in the Chattanooga newspapers. Both also had small articles about their weekly cards appear in the newspapers as well. A few times their ads appeared side by side with each other. Things warmed up in the war when Jarrett placed an ad in the July 30 Chattanooga newspaper promoting his August 1 card. At the bottom of the ad Jarrett featured a copy of a telegram supposedly sent to announcer/co-promoter Harry Thornton (who lived in the Chattanooga area). The ad also said that after the delivery of the telegram to Gulas and Thornton the grandstand challenges made in Thesz’s behalf had stopped but Jarrett said his promotion would nonetheless be ready August 1 for such a challenge. According to the ad, the August 1 card for Jarrett would be headlined with a three man round robin tournament for the new Southeastern title between Bob Roop, Tony Charles-----and Lou Thesz, who had worked much of the year for Gulas.
What was up with Thesz? According to his book, Hooker, Thesz felt that Gulas had shorted his pay (a common complaint by some who worked for Gulas over the years) and, in turn, turned to Gulas’ opposition to work but not before allowing Gulas to believe that Jarrett and company were using his name to confuse fans who had noticed the wrestling war. Thesz then showed up and worked the August 1 card, as well as several other Chattanooga Jarrett cards afterward. Thesz jumped ships in the midst of a promotional war and in so doing left Gulas without one of his strong drawing cards.
Despite luring Thesz away from Gulas, Jarrett was still the underdog in the battle. How would he fare? He brought his current feuds to Chattanooga and loaded cards with most of his stars including Lawler, Dundee, Valiant and LeDuc. Since he was running the company with Edward (Buddy Fuller) and Lester Welch, Jarrett imported stars from Ron Welch’s Knoxville territory such as Bob Roop, Ronnie Garvin, Bob Armstrong, Professor Boris Malenko and The Mongolian Stomper.
No doubt the departure of Thesz from Gulas to Jarrett was important but did not seal the fate of this war. Gulas had too much else going for him in Chattanooga. The Saturday night cards (Gulas had run Chattanooga on Thursdays for years but in the 1970s had mainly run on Saturdays), fresh on the heels of a live, hot TV show that afternoon, coupled with the heel turn of Tojo Yamamoto packed in more fans than Jarrett week after week. Jarrett was regulated to using the Memorial Auditorium, the city’s main venue for wrestling, first on Tuesdays and then later on Sundays, as he searched for a day that would draw in the city. Jarrett’s stars were good and exciting but many of them had not appeared in the city for awhile and at the time they could not compete with the hot angles Gulas and booker Tom Renesto had cooked up.
Jarrett continued to run cards in Chattanooga until September but never drew large enough crowds to keep the house shows coming back. In October, his TV show disappeared from the Chattanooga airwaves. Similarly, Gulas tried to run opposition against Jarrett around the same time in the summer in Louisville. Jarrett, who had won that area the year before, held onto his Kentucky turf but could only concede Chattanooga to Gulas. Some would suggest Jarrett picked the wrong time of the year to try to run opposition since traditionally the summer is a down time of the year for consistent wrestling attendance since most families take vacations then and also because more options to be entertained are available then. Those reasons hold some validity but Jarrett’s failure to win over Chattanooga likely also had something to do with Renesto’s hotshot booking that paid off almost immediately.
As the fall moved on, things became quiet again between the two groups. They both reverted back to their own territories they had carved up between themselves the year before. Was this the calm before the storm? 1979 would hold some interesting answers to that question and the rocky relationship between Nick Gulas and Jerry Jarrett.
July, August and September 1978
Jerry Lawler’s Southern title reign came to a halt at the hands of Lumberjack Jos LeDuc during the summer. The two battled in many outstanding matches during this time frame and their feud remains one of Lawler’s most memorable. Lawler would regain the title later in the year.
Jos LeDuc and Jean Louie held the Southern tag titles but their title reign ended when they were upended by Jerry Lawler and The Mongolian Stomper. Lawler and Stomper’s tenure as champions lasted a very brief time. During a TV match against Jos LeDuc and Sonny King ,the Stomper turned on Lawler (as he had in early 1977). The tag titles were held up and a tournament was held to determine new champions. The Bounty Hunters (David and Jerry Novak), a tag team billed from Tombstone, Arizona, with manager Chuck Malone, were the tournament winners.
Appearing for Jarrett during the summer were such stars as Blackjack Frankie Laine and Mike Bowyer with manager Gorgeous George, Jr., Jackie Welch, Jimmy Valiant, Bill Dundee, Don Carson, Tommy Rich, Roy Lee Welch, Bob Roop (billed as WWA US champion), Steve Kyle, Tommy Gilbert, Nelson Royal (NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion), Eddie Sullivan, Don Bass, Abdul Zaatar, Hans Schroder, Bobo Brazil, Lou Thesz, Wayne Farris, George Weingeroff, Ann Casey, Sherri Lee, Natasha and Beverly Shade (billed as Ladies tag champions), Terry Sawyer, former pro football player Verlin Biggs and more.
During the summer months the Memphis office began airing video clips of AWA stars such as Nick Bockwinkel and Verne Gagne. Bockwinkel then came to the area and battled both Lawler and Valiant in separate matches at this time. Bockwinkel, AWA champion and one of the business’s top talents ever, would also make appearances in other areas during the year including in Georgia, Texas and the Carolinas. The Memphis office, a longtime NWA member, though seemed to embrace the AWA association more than other groups. Over time Jarrett’s Southern titles were eventually billed as AWA sanctioned titles. Jarrett also brought in WWA stars such as Dick the Bruiser, Spike Huber and Guy Mitchell at this time.
On the Gulas end, the Mid-America title was very active during the summer. Dutch Mantel dropped the title to Whipper Watson, Jr. Watson, in turn lost it back to Mantel, who then dropped it to The Masked Blue Yankee. Mantel and Yankee then had a controversial Chattanooga TV match that wound up with the Yankee winning the title before it was eventually held up. In a Nashville tournament in September, the Mexican Angel captured the title.
Tojo Yamamoto’s heel turn against partner George Gulas led to the Mid-America tag titles being vacated. The combination of Ken Lucas and Dutch Mantel won a Chattanooga tournament to lay claim to the championship. Their reign was stopped in September as Yamamoto took the belts back with new partner Gypsy Joe.
Making the rounds for Gulas at this time were such stars as Bobby Eaton, Butch Thornton, Ron Garfield, Ken Lucas, Lou Thesz, Joltin’ Joe Palardy, Tamaya Soto, The Fabulous Moolah, Wenona Little Heart, Lelani Kai, Pepper LaBianco, Rick Sanchez, Ripper Collins, Jackie Fargo, Burrhead Jones, Mickey Poole (once Jerry Lawler’s manager for Jarrett), Arvil Hutto, Pago Pago, Joe Ball, Chief Thundercloud and Chuy Little Fox, Ben Alexander, Rocky Johnson, The Beast, Ric McCord, George Weingeroff, The Viking, Disco Kid (a young Rip Rogers), The Sheik (Detroit’s US champion), Mike Jackson and others. Major attraction Mark Lewin made a few appearances for Gulas in this time frame.
Pesky manager Las Vegas Louie was a thorn in the side of most of the Gulas fan favorites during the summer. Meantime, he has his own thorn in the side in the form of female grappler Heather Feather. Louie never seemed to get the best of Feather, even participating in matches against the female star. Feather’s run in the area was highlighted by an in-ring wedding ceremony to Charles Merika in Chattanooga on a September 30 house show.
The promotional war between Gulas and Jarrett in a few cities quietly died down. For both groups, it was back to business as usual.
A Fargo By Any Other Name
It was in New York in the mid-fifties where Don Kalt, wrestling as Don Stevens (sometimes billed as ring legend Ray Stevens’ brother) met a fellow wrestler billed as Honeyboy Fargo, who would later be more well known as Jackie Fargo. Over time, Don, who used a variety of names in his career, became a Fargo and the Fabulous Fargos were born. In 1957, the pair swaggered into the Gulas territory and made an impact like no other combination ever had previously as they often held the area’s World tag titles. As time moved on, other Fargos would pop up such as Sonny (later known as the crazy brother Roughhouse) and Joey (Louie Tillet, who briefly worked as a Fargo). In their various combinations the Fargos first angered area fans with their wild antics then later, after a change, the Fargos were cheered like long lost heroes. Of all the Fargos, Jackie remained in the area to become a major star while Don and Sonny would return for runs with Jackie from time to time.
Don would venture to most every territory during his illustrious career that began in the early 1950s. Don, while eventually holding his share of singles titles, would make his mark mainly as a tag team wrestler during his career. In the early 1970s Don teamed with a new Fargo, Johnny, to work several territories. Johnny worked as a Fargo to gain some experience before branching out under another familiar name, Greg Valentine, the real life son of the legendary Johnny Valentine. A few years later, Don formed a team with Jacques Goulet called The Legionnaires and they created havoc in the WWA territory. Not only did Don work as a Fargo over the years but he also worked as a Dalton (Don was Jack while Jimmy Baggett and, later, Chris Colt worked as Jim) in the 1960s. In 1978, he returned to work for Gulas as Don Garfield.
Don originally planned to return to the area to team with Ron Garfield as Don and Ron Fargo and work as heels. Jackie, who had worked the area as a fan favorite since the early 1960s, wasn’t too keen on the idea since he had hung around the area and built the name Fargo into a crowd pleasing name. So, Don Fargo became Don Garfield for his run with Gulas in 1978. Although his connection with "brother" Jackie was acknowledged, the two never participated in a feud against each other.
Don and Ron Garfield (in 1974, when Ron and Don Bass debuted for Gulas they also briefly used the Garfield name) entered the area in the early spring with manager Las Vegas Louie. Surely, promoter Gulas felt as if the veteran Don could help in his territorial promotional war against Jarrett. Soon upon arriving, Don got a win over Mid-America champion Dutch Mantel and briefly held the title before leaving the area after only a couple of months. Ron would then team with Whipper Watson, Jr. the next few weeks.
On the other end of the area, the name Fargo also meant something but since Jackie chose to work for Gulas, Don was free to once again become a heel Fargo. Don then went to work for Jerry Jarrett in the fall. There, he would pair with manager Al Greene. Their association led to Don winning the Southern title. They befriended Lumberjack Jos LeDuc and Fargo and LeDuc teamed some. The two rugged partners though could not get along. As Fargo pounded on a helpless Wayne Farris during a TV match, LeDuc came out and urged Fargo to stop the assault. Little things continued to build between the two before LeDuc turned face to battle Fargo.
Fargo swapped the Southern title with Tommy Gilbert before losing it to Jerry Lawler. Fargo would remain in the area until the early part of 1979. Don’s career would continue elsewhere although he would pop up on occasion in the area. Twenty plus years removed from his debut in the area as a Fargo, Don was still effective and still meant something to fans in both ends of the area.
October, November and December 1978
The Southern title would be captured by Jerry Lawler during the fall. He would in turn lose it to Don Fargo. Fargo would then battle Tommy Gilbert for the belt with Gilbert winning it briefly before Don regained it. Lawler would stop Fargo’s run with the belt. Lawler’s victory was short-lived as newcomer Austin Idol would close out 1978 with a Christmas night title victory over Lawler in Memphis.
Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee would end up with the Southern tag titles in this time frame. Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey would return after their Knoxville run to end the year with the belts.
Lawler and Dundee would move into a feud in the late fall against old rival Jimmy Valiant, who was turned heel again. Valiant teamed with Wayne Farris, who had previously received minor pushes. This is a great example of how this promotion used established talent to bring along developing talent. With Farris teaming with the well known Valiant the fans sensed that Farris was a star on the rise. Of course, doing this only works when the new star has the ability and desire to make it succeed and if the established star is willing to go along with the plan. Farris, who had paid his dues for a number of years, had become a seasoned hand at this point in time so he was more than able to make this work.
Making the circuit for Jarrett during the last three months of the year were such stars as Nelson Royal (NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion), Verlin Biggs, Terry Sawyer, Robert Gibson, The Bounty Hunters, Chuck Malone, Pat and Mike Kelly, Bill Dromo, Lou Thesz, Bearcat Brown, Koko Ware, Jackie Welch and others. Area legend Al Greene reappeared late in the year to manage Don Fargo.
The Mexican Angel held the Mid-America title until he was upended by Dutch Mantel. Mantel’s reign was ended by the returning Randy Savage.
The Mid-America tag titles were in the grasp of Tojo Yamamoto and Gypsy Joe. Their most persistent challengers were the team billed as The Jet Set: George Gulas and Bobby Eaton, who finally won the belts in December.
Working the area for Gulas at this time were The Sheik (US champion), Andre the Giant, Ken Lucas, Butch Thornton, Chief Thundercloud, Angelo Poffo, Disco Kid, Jimmy Rougeau (a young Jacques Rougeau), The Beast, Jackie Fargo, Don Bass, Rick Sanchez, former Cleveland Browns football star Walter Johnson, Arvil Hutto and others including the team of Terry Gordy and Pretty Boy Michael Hayes, a team that would have a big impact on 1979 in the area.
The Madness Begins
Major league baseball has had it’s share of memorable characters over it’s long storied history. Names and nicknames such as Dizzy Dean, Yogi Berra, The Bird, The Mad Hungarian and countless others fill out such a list. No doubt if a few things had occurred differently here and there, baseball may have added one other character to that list. Instead, he ended up on professional wrestling’s list of memorable characters.
Randy Poffo may have flirted with a baseball career but professional wrestling was in his genes. Randy’s father, Angelo Poffo had traveled many of the territories dating back to the late 1940s. Randy’s younger brother, Lanny, also worked as a wrestler. After a few seasons of minor league ball, Randy struck out on his own and made wrestling his career.
Randy worked several territories before his first stay with Gulas in 1978 including the Detroit office, the Mid-Atlantic office, the Gulf Coast office and the Atlanta office. It was during his early years in the business when veteran Ole Anderson took a look at Poffo, who was working preliminary matches at the time, and described him as "savage". Soon, Randy Poffo became known as Randy Savage.
Angelo and Lanny Poffo entered the Gulas territory in 1977 and made a quick impact. Little did area fans know what was in store for them when 1978 rolled around. In short, the madness began.
Randy Savage debuted in January and won the Mid-America title. Wearing long sparkling robes and big sunglasses Savage cut an uncommon visual image to Gulas fans since few heels in the area had been so flashy and showy. On interviews his growl of a voice and physical intensity set him apart from others in the area. In ring, Savage’s natural athletic ability shown through as he was constant motion and a bit of a daredevil for the era, using the top rope as if it were his best friend. When the entire package was put together Randy Savage was a swirling, whirling menace who came across as someone who walked a fine line between stability and madness.
Proclaiming himself "Macho Man", Savage feuded early in his Gulas stay with Pistol Pez Whatley, who had become a headliner in the area the previous summer. From here Savage next worked a feud against Dutch Mantel, which eventually involved promoter/matchmaker Tom Renesto, Sr. teaming with Mantel. Savage’s most frequent partner in this feud was The Masked Carpetbagger, Angelo Poffo under a mask.
In the spring Savage dropped the Mid-America title to Mantel and left the area. He worked the New Brunswick promotion for Emile Dupree during the summer and into the fall. As winter approached, Savage returned for another run for Gulas.
Savage downed Dutch Mantel to regain the Mid-America title in November. Savage would hold the belt for several months taking on challenges from Mantel, The Mexican Angel, Bobby Eaton and Walter Johnson, among others.
The Poffos all left the Gulas promotion by the early half of 1979. Lanny began working the Nova Scotia territory in 1978 after leaving Tennessee and Savage would follow in 1979. There, Lanny became ICW champion. Savage would defeat him and claim the title. Later in 1979 the Poffos and Savage would move to Kentucky and run cards there under the ICW banner. There they would compete for the attention of fans in the Knoxville area by challenging Ron Fuller’s Southeastern promotion. Later, they would challenge Jerry Jarrett’s promotional efforts in Kentucky.
1978 though was a pivotal year in the career of Randy Savage as he was one of Nick Gulas’s major attractions. He was able to step away from his father and brother’s shadows and prove his ability as a singles star. In time, Randy Savage would become a major force in the wrestling business but in order to get to the road where success lived he, his father and brother would travel down some detours along the way. Part of that road went through the Gulas territory where Savage could look at his accomplishments there and say, "Oh, yeah!"
The Jarrett end of the area had had another good year with fans following the antics of Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Jimmy Valiant and Jos LeDuc during the year. Jarrett even began an association with Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis-based AWA. Nick Gulas had introduced a major talent to the area in the form of Randy Savage and by year’s end had introduced a tag team that would make history in a few years in the form of Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy. A wide variety of stars made their way through the area and some stars worked for both groups during the year. The question lingered though after the previous two years of battles over various cities in the territory: would 1979 bring another promotional war? The answer would prove to be very surprising.
"Idol" hands lead to lots of trouble… Future "Freebirds" nest down for a little while…Memphis gets "Fuller" than before on Southeastern talent…"Hulk" comes to town…"Blonde Bombers" have lots of fun…and more…
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