Memphis/CWA Intro Page #2
Christine Jarrett moved up the ranks while working for Nick Gulas and Roy Welch. In the early 1970s she ran shows for the promotion in Louisville, KY, Lexington, KY and Evansville, IN. With the addition of these towns, the territory grew. Prior to the expansion into Kentucky and Indiana, Christine had been able to witness her son, Jerry, debut in ring as a professional wrestler in the late 1960s. Christine would remain involved in the business, on some level, for many years to arguably become the longest running female involved in a professional wrestling promotion.
Jerry Jarrett attended the pro wrestling matches in Nashville from a very early age since his mother sold tickets for Nick Gulas. Jerry sold programs and later tickets for Gulas in Nashville. Later he debuted as a wrestler for Gulas in 1969. He quickly became a major attraction in the area. He often excelled in tag matches with area stalwarts Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto. Jarrett, a light-heavyweight, was an ideal good guy, or to use the much more appropriate carny lingo the wrestlers spoke, an ideal babyface. He was polite and humble during interviews. He believed in winning fairly and following the rules. In ring, Jarrett often had the role of helping his opponents, the bad guys, or heels, gather heat while he garnered crowd sympathy. Because of his smallish size and youthful appearance, Jarrett would take a beating which would sell the often illegal tactics of the heels. Fans sensing one of their favorites, the nice, good-looking and undersized Jarrett, was in trouble would became more involved in the match imploring Jarrett to tag his partner. Despite his success as an in-ring performer Jarrett became a student of the business and began to become more involved behind the scenes including booking the weekly Memphis house show. Over time Roy Welch’s health began to worsen and Jerry became the chosen one to take over Welch’s part of the business with Gulas.
The Actual Territory
By 1975 what most folks refer to as the Memphis territory included much more area than the city known as home to Elvis Presley. At various times in the history of the territory, based in Nashville, not Memphis, included regular and occasional stopovers in not only Memphis and Nashville but also Chattanooga, TN, Jackson, TN, Louisville, KY, Lexington, KY, Bowling Green, KY, Evansville, IN, Birmingham, AL, Huntsville, AL, Tupelo, MS, Jonesboro, AR, Dayton, OH, Wheeling, WV and even small towns in southeastern Missouri, northern Georgia and eastern North Carolina. For awhile in the 1950s, it even stretched to the Mobile, AL area. In addition for many years until the mid 1970s the eastern end of Tennessee, featuring the city of Knoxville promoted by John Cazana, formed a loose affiliation with the territory promoted by Gulas. Many of Gulas’ stars made regular appearances for Cazana with Gulas’ approval.
Business became so good for Gulas that the territory was split into two halves, the western end which included Memphis, Louisville, Lexington and Evansville and the eastern end which included Nashville, Chattanooga, Huntsville and Birmingham.
If you are unfamiliar with the cities mentioned please find a map and notice how far apart many of these cities are from one another. Airplanes can get us places fast now but the mode of travel for the wrestlers working the Gulas territory then was via automobile. Take another look at the map after that sinks in. It wasn’t out of reason for some of the stars to work a show in Knoxville Friday night, stay over and work Knoxville TV Saturday morning, then drive to Chattanooga to do afternoon TV and stay to work the Chattanooga house show that evening then drive to Birmingham to do a live late night TV show there. Often, some of the wrestlers had to work Memphis TV on Saturday morning and then drive to work Saturday afternoon TV and the Saturday night house show in Chattanooga. That’s a nice five and a half hour drive today!
Television was an integral part of the success Gulas enjoyed throughout the region. From the 1950s forward the area had various forms of local televised wrestling. Many fans are well aware of the long-running TV show out of Memphis hosted for many years by arguably the greatest wrestling announcer ever, Lance Russell. Russell’s ability to sell angles to fans, to lead young stars through interviews and to communicate his disgust at the heinous acts of the nefarious bad guys, among his other talents, make him one of the area’s most valued performers over the years. He will long be remembered for his verbal jousting with Jerry Lawler. Russell eventually was paired with popular Memphis TV weatherman Dave Brown to form a long-running announcing duo. Russell, who worked in the Memphis TV industry for several years, eventually left that line of work and worked full time as an announcer and behind the scenes in wrestling promotion.
Much of the eastern half of the territory was treated to the announcing of Harry Thornton. Thornton was a pioneer broadcaster in Chattanooga. He became involved with Gulas in the late 1950s and became a co-promoter in the Chattanooga area with Gulas. With Thornton’s popularity from Chattanooga radio he added credibility and a local feel to Gulas’ efforts to succeed in the area. Thornton could never be called a classic wrestling announcer along the likes of a Gordon Solie or a Jim Ross. However, Thornton understood his role in the business was to make the TV show exciting and to make the TV viewers care enough about what they saw to be willing to spend their money to see the live house show that week. Thornton did not like wrestling’s heels and made no bones about it in his commentary and often in interviews with them. He often verbally sparred with the likes of Tojo Yamamoto and Gentleman Saul Weingeroff. Thornton also often worked the TV show taped in Nashville over the years adding his colorful personality to the show there.
Gulas also, at various times, had local TV shows produced in Birmingham and Huntsville, as well as in Jackson, TN and Nashville, TN. Gulas’ Birmingham announcer was Sterling Brewer. After the Atlanta office underwent some turmoil in late 1972 (detailed to some degree later due to ties to the Tennessee office) Brewer was hired as an interim announcer for the NWA Georgia office. He worked there a few weeks before a permanent replacement was chosen. Brewer was replaced by Championship Wrestling from Florida’s Gordon Solie, who became the voice of Georgia Championship Wrestling for the next decade. That show and host became fixtures on the fledgling WTCG-TV 17 station which would later evolve into WTBS and later TBS.
A short list of people who worked in some capacity or another in this territory in some capacity other than in ring as a wrestler through the years would include Bert Bates, Tony Lawo, Ron West, J.C. Dykes (as a referee), Tommy Sloan, Paul Morton, Norman Veasey, Lee Williams, Mike Duncan, Scott Teal, Honey Wilds, Jim Kent (an announcer not the manager from the 1970s) and countless others.
From time to time a group would form and try to promote wrestling somewhere in the territory against the established Gulas. In the fall of 1972, Phil Golden opened up a promotion based out of Paducah, KY and ran several cities in opposition to Gulas using such stars as Mike Pappas, Joe Ball and Bill Helm, Mario Galento, Paul Christy, Angelo Poffo, Pez Whatley, Chico Cortez and others. The promotion was based around longtime Gulas villains Kurt and Karl Von Brauner and their manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, who left the Gulas promotion at the end of the summer of 1972. The promotion folded in the spring of 1973. It should be noted that Golden was the brother of Bill Golden, who opened up the Montgomery, AL territory in 1971. Bill Golden, the father of Jimmy Golden, had married into the famous Welch family that had strong ties to the Gulas promotion.
Also notable among those who tried to run opposition was Lee Fields. In 1974 Fields tried to promote opposite Gulas in Nashville. Lee had run the Gulf Coast promotion since 1958. Among the stars Fields used in his effort against Gulas was Jack Dalton, known to most Gulas fans as Don Fargo. What is interesting about this endeavor is that Fields had worked previously for Gulas, along with his brothers, Don and Bobby. Bobby, as Luke Fields, had teamed with Don to become one of Gulas’ most successful teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In reality, Lee, Don and Bobby Fields were Lee, Don and Bobby Hatfield, sons of Gulf Coast wrestling referee legend, Virgil "Speedy" Hatfield. Most interesting of all perhaps in regards to this attempt to run opposite Gulas is that Speedy Hatfield was married to Bonnie Welch, the sister of Gulas promoting partner, Roy Welch.
There were other attempts to run opposition against Gulas but Nick would survive them through the years. The future though would hold more opposition for Gulas from time to time.
The Gulas territory, as most every territory, had a fairly wide array of recognized titles. Gulas was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and over the years was able to secure dates with the various NWA World Heavyweight and World Junior Heavyweight champions. Gulas had a number of titles regularly defended throughout the circuit. Among these were the World tag titles, the Southern Junior Heavyweight title (which was eventually renamed the Southern Heavyweight title), the Southern tag titles, the Mid-America Heavyweight title, the Mid-America tag titles and the United States Junior Heavyweight title.
Before discussing the various titles Gulas recognized it is important to note that the territory became known over the years as a haven for great tag teams. For years, many Gulas cards were headlined with a tag team match, often for one of the area’s top tag titles. Over the years Gulas also used many masked tag teams including Mephisto and Dante, The Mighty Yankees, The Blue Infernos, The Spoilers, The Interns, The Medics and others. Some say because masked teams drew great crowd response in the area (and, in turn, money at the ticket gate) Gulas could book a masked team in two cities on the same night and have four different men wrestle under the masks. This would make it possible, for example, to have The Yankees appear in Memphis on Monday night while a few hundred miles away in Birmingham the Yankees were also headlining a card there. It goes without saying that Nick Gulas was a very shrewd promoter. Even with that in mind it is ironic though that Gulas really dropped the ball in the late 1960s and early 1970s by failing to fully utilize one of the greatest masked tag teams ever, the Infernos, with manager J.C. Dykes. Dykes had refereed for Gulas for a number of years before becoming a manager but had to leave the area to hit it big.
The World tag titles were held by such teams as Corsica Joe and Corsica Jean, Jackie and Don Fargo, Don and Al Greene, Tex Riley and Len Rossi, Kurt and Karl Von Brauner with manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, Don and Luke Fields, Lester and Herb Welch, Eddie Graham and Sam Steamboat, Tojo Yamamoto and Alex Perez, The Blue Infernos, Billy and Jimmy Hines, Ken Lucas and Dennis Hall, Len Rossi and Bearcat Brown, Big Bad John and Pepe Lopez, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett, The Fabulous Kangaroos: Al Costello and Don Kent managed first by George Cannon and later by Sir Steven Clements and other teams. Research indicates Gulas stopped using the World tag titles around 1974 although throughout the 70s a few teams would pass through the area from time to time claiming to be World tag champions.
The Southern tag titles date back to the late 1940s. Champions over the years include Herb Welch and Tex Riley, Roy Welch and Eddie Gossett, Herb Welch and Roy Welch, Don and Luke Fields, Mephisto and Dante, Tex Riley and Len Rossi, Jackie Fargo and Lester Welch, The Medics, Jackie Fargo and Tex Riley, Jackie Fargo and Len Rossi, The Blue Infernos, The Mighty Yankees, Joe and Bill Sky, Don Carson and The Red Shadow (a masked Dick Dunn), Tojo Yamamoto and Johnny Long, Don and Al Greene, The Interns with manager Dr. Ken Ramey, Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett, Kurt and Karl Von Brauner, Sputnik Monroe and Norvell Austin, Jackie and Roughhouse Fargo, Len Rossi and Kevin Sullivan, The Bounty Hunters with manager Jim Kent, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett, Terry and Ronnie Garvin with manager Jim Garvin, Jerry Lawler and Jim White with manager Sam Bass, Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert and others. This title would continue to be defended consistently in the area through 1987.
The Mid-America tag titles began to be defended in early 1972 by Len Rossi and Tony Charles. Other champions include Kurt and Karl Von Brauner with manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, Don and Al Greene with maanger Sir Steven Clements, Len Rossi and Bearcat Brown, The Interns managed by Dr. Ken Ramey, Tojo Yamamoto and Big Bill Dromo, Lorenzo Parente and Bobby Hart managed by Don Duffy, Ken Lucas and Cowboy Frankie Laine, Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert, Tojo Yamamoto and Tommy Gilbert, Terry Garvin and Duke Myers managed by Jim Garvin, Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto, The Bounty Hunters managed by Jim Kent, Terry Garvin and Ronnie Garvin managed by Jim Garvin and others. This tag title was defended in the area through 1980.
The Mid-America title was originally defended in the territory by the legendary Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in 1957. The title was defended some in the late 1950s but apparently fell inactive until around 1971 when Len Rossi was billed as champion. The title would become more prominent in the region in the mid and late 70s and would continue to be defended until 1987.
The United States Junior Heavyweight title was defended some in the Gulas area over the years, most notably in the early 1970s. It is listed here primarily because the list of men who held the title is short but prestigious and includes Johnny Walker (later known as Mr. Wrestling II), Don Greene (a long-time Gulas attraction), Lorenzo Parente (a very underrated talent who had defeated the legendary Danny Hodge in the mid 1960s to hold the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title) and Lou Thesz (former seven time NWA World champion).
The singles title that came to become the area’s major title was the Southern Junior Heavyweight title. A list of champions includes Ray Piret, Herb Welch, Tex Riley, Rowdy Red Roberts, Mario Galento, Ray Stevens, Freddie Blassie, Jackie Fargo, Jesse James, Len Rossi, Don Greene, Tojo Yamamoto, Sputnik Monroe, Tommy Gilbert, Ronnie Garvin and Lou Thesz, among others. Due to the area usually headlining shows with tag teams this title wasn’t as prominent during the 1950s and 1960s as it would become in the 1970s and 1980s. The Southern Junior Heavyweight title would be renamed the Southern Heavyweight title in the summer of 1974.
There were other titles defended in the Gulas area throughout the years but the ones listed here were the ones used in prominent positions on shows for a great amount of time.
Click her for a glance at the Memphis territory in the 1950s
Click her for a glance at the Memphis territory in the 1960s
Click her for a glance at the Memphis territory in the early 1970s
January-The year began with Tommy Gilbert winning the Southern Junior Heavyweight title from Ronnie Garvin in Birmingham. Others active for Gulas at this time included Don Greene, Bearcat Brown, Eddie Marlin, Dennis Hall who feuded with Buddy Wayne, Sir Steven Clements and The Fabulous Kangaroos: Al Costello and Don Kent, The Bounty Hunters with manager Jim Kent and The Masked Mighty Yankees with manager George Harris. Harris had worked for Gulas as a referee and wrestler dating back to the 1950s and knew the Welch family from early on in life. The Yankees would later be unmasked as Frank Morrell and Charles Morrell, supposed half-brothers. Frank had worked with Eddie Sullivan as The Yankees for Gulas in the late 1960s. Charles would later modify his name to Charles Morrell-Fulton and eventually to Charles Fulton. He would remain in the area for much of the year and later team with newcomer Bobby Mayne. This month also saw Johnny Marlin wrestle in the area. Johnny was billed as cousin to area wrestler Eddie Marlin and referee Tommy Marlin. Johnny wasn’t related to the Marlins at all. Gulas noticing the resemblance of Johnny to Eddie and Tommy decided to bill Johnny as their cousin. Hopefully, Johnny, who wrestled everywhere else as Johnny Eagles, rarely spoke in the territory because he was British. Nick’s son, George also debuted in the ring in many of the area cities mainly appearing in six man tag matches. Meantime, Jerry Lawler split his time between appearing for Gulas and for the promotion in Georgia.
February-The most significant occurrence this month was Tojo Yamamoto turning on tag partner Jerry Jarrett. Jackie Fargo ended up battling Yamamoto much of this month attempting to avenge Jarrett’s honor. J.C. Dykes’ Infernos were Southern tag champions. The legendary Lou Thesz made regular appearances in the area. New to the region was Ali Viziri, known years later as Hossein the Arab and The Iron Sheik. George Gulas formed a regular tag team with Gulas favorite Dennis Hall.
March-On the 11th Jackie Fargo battled Jerry Lawler in Memphis in one of their early battles for the unofficial "King of Memphis" title. Fargo feuded in part of the territory with The Bounty Hunters which lead to Fargo teaming with his brother Roughhouse. Jerry Jarrett returned to ring action to even the score with Tojo Yamamoto. Yamamoto often teamed with his latest protégé a Japanese star billed as Mr. Kamikaze.
April-Jerry Lawler injured Jackie Fargo this month. Lawler continued to appear on some Georgia cards often with one-time Gulas star Art Nelson as his tag partner. Lawler did appear on a major show at Atlanta’s new arena, the Omni. The Omni card featured the first Atlanta appearance of Andre the Giant as he faced Gulas regulars The Bounty Hunters. Back in Tennessee, Lou Thesz was the Southern Junior Heavyweight champion. Phil Hickerson began to make some noise around the territory as did the Alabama-based tag team of Mike Jackson and Tony LeDoux. The legendary Bobo Brazil made some appearances in the area.
May-Jerry Lawler defeats U.S. Junior Heavyweight champion Steve Kovacs for that title in Chattanooga. Lawler then runs into a feud with newcomer Ricky Gibson. Charles Fulton teamed with Bobby Mayne and they were managed by Sir Steven Clements. Mayne achieved greater success years later as Hangman Bobby Jaggers. Fulton and Mayne attacked Jerry Jarrett and Jarrett’s mentor, Tojo Yamamoto, who had held the briefly recognized Southeastern tag titles (not affiliated with the Knoxville territory) with Mr. Kamikaze, rescued his protégé and once again fell in favor with the fans.
June-Jackie Fargo returns to be special referee for matches pitting Southern champion Jerry Lawler against Ricky Gibson. By month’s end Fargo and Lawler would battle each other in matches around the territory again. The veteran Al Greene forms a team with upcoming star Phil Hickerson. This team managed by Sam Bass was often referred to by announcers as The Sherman Tanks because both men were heavyset and plowed through much of their opposition.
July-The Lawler-Fargo feud continued this month. Lawler also battled Bobo Brazil and Mr. Wrestling II. The Southern tag title scene grew very clouded as Charles Fulton and Bobby Mayne, Tommy Gilbert and Ricky Gibson and Rufus R. Jones and George Gulas all laid claim to the titles during the month. (It is quite possible that sometimes Gulas, with a large territory available and with TV shows spread apart in those territories, carried two different sets of champions in various cities without fearing the fans would discover what he was doing.). Chris Gallegher debuts in the area. Gallegher later became more well known as Dutch Mantel.
August-Jerry Lawler’s role as lead wrestler in the company was tested this month as he fought off challenges from Jackie Fargo, Bobo Brazil, Tojo Yamamoto, the legendary Dick the Bruiser and the returning Robert Fuller, who had just finished a successful run in Georgia. Al Greene and Phil Hickerson feuded with Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo. Fargo also found time to wrestle some matches against the sport’s wildest attraction The Sheik, who debuted for Gulas.
September-Lawler, who with manager Sam Bass had faced the area’s top attractions and had also faced some of the biggest name stars in the business during the year, finally received a shot at the big prize, the NWA title. Lawler battled champion Jack Brisco on the 16th in Memphis. Andre the Giant debuted for Gulas in many of the territory’s cities this month usually by taking on and defeating two opponents. The Sheik defended the Detroit version of the U.S. title in selected cities, while Lou Thesz, Bobo Brazil and Harley Race also were featured on cards this month. Al Greene and Phil Hickerson held onto the Southern tag titles.
October-The alliance between Jerry Lawler and Sam Bass and Bass’s other charges, Al Greene and Phil Hickerson, fell apart this month, at least in part of the territory. (Lawler’s turn into fan favorite would play out later in some cities.) Lawler accused Bass of not being totally honest with him and suggested that Bass no longer had Lawler’s best interests in mind but had instead placed a bounty on him. Greene and Hickerson objected and along with Bass turned on Lawler. Meantime, Greene and Hickerson lost the Southern tag titles to Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett. Don Kent, who briefly held the Mid-America tag titles with Chris Gallegher in the late summer, added Sir Clements as his manager and also added the Mid-America title to his waist.
November-Gulas added another title to the mix this month by holding a tournament in Chattanooga to crown the first World Six Man Tag champions. Jackie Fargo, Dennis Hall and George Gulas down Juan Sebastian, Don Kent and Jerry Lawler in the finals to become champions. Lawler’s babyface turn occurred in other cities in the territory. Sam Bass began sending in stars to put Lawler out of action such as The Mummy, Duke Myers and Count Drummer. Lawler and Tojo Yamamoto won the Southern tag titles from Al Greene and Phil Hickerson. Sam Bass began managing a masked team called The Pittsburgh Stealers, apparently to capitalize on the success of the football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackie Fargo and George Gulas won the Mid-America tag titles. New to the area: Dennis Condrey, Jerry Barber, Tex McKenzie and Johnny Gray. Ronald Welch, also known as Ron Fuller and as the grandson of Gulas promoting partner Roy Welch, purchased the Knoxville territory from longtime promoter John Cazana.
December-Jerry Lawler battled ex-manager Sam Bass in some matches this month and also defended the Southern title in Knoxville against former champion Tommy Gilbert. Also in Knoxville, Lawler served as a second to Ron Fuller who feuded with Jackie Fargo who was seconded by Ron Wright. New to Knoxville were Nelson Royal, Dutch Mantel and John Foley, Johnny Weaver and Professor Dale Lewis. Lawler also continued to feud with Al Greene and Phil Hickerson and chose Ray Candy to be his partner. Big Bad John returned to the area and along with Lorenzo Parente and Johnny Gray brutalized Jerry Barber on TV by repeatedly smashing Barber into John’s metal motorcycle helmet. Mr. Pro was unmasked as Dennis Condrey. Mid-America champion Don Kent fended off challenges from Jackie Fargo.
1974 ends with Jerry Lawler as the territory’s top singles star while the territory’s longtime singles star Jackie Fargo remained a valuable attraction. Longtime star Al Greene had formed a formidable team with the promising Phil Hickerson while longtime favorites Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett remained in the mix. Gulas also had some raw talent rapidly developing such as Dennis Condrey, Jimmy Golden and Johnny Gray. He also had steady veterans such as Dennis Hall, Don Greene and Lorenzo Parente ready in the wings. Gulas also enjoyed the luxury of exchanging talent fairly regularly with the Knoxville office. This allowed both offices access to each others talent. Gulas’ own son, George, had a year of ring experience under his belt and had been featured in a fairly major way in some cities, but was still mostly unproven on his own since he had been featured in mainly tag matches.
1975 held some questions for area wrestling fans. Could anyone stop Jerry Lawler? Would Jackie Fargo continue to be the area’s favorite star? The answers would unfold over the next twelve months.
1975 sees Lawler spend some of his time having to "mask" some of his talents while Fargo would have a "crazy" year. In an area "rich" with talent 1975 would find Gulas discovering a new "superstar" or two while even fans from "Outer Mongolia" would find reason to cheer for the year that was about to dawn.
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