A glance at the Memphis territory in the 1960's
The 1960s saw such stars as Rocky Smith, Kurt & Karl Von Brauner, Oni Wiki Wiki, Frankie Cain (later to achieve fame as Mephisto of the Mephisto & Dante team and also as one of the Masked Infernos as well as The Great Mephisto), Rocket Monroe, Lorenzo Parente, Steve Kovacs, Mario Galento, Billy Boy Hines and Bad Boy Hines, The Scufflin’ Hillbillies, Treacherous Phillips, Sam Steamboat, Don Carson, Mario Milano, Carzy Luke Graham, Alex Perez, The Kentuckians (Grizzly Smith and Luke Brown), Ronnie Etchison, Roger Kirby, Sailor Art Thomas, Gory Guerrero, Kanji Inoki (later to become known as Japanese legend Antonio Inoki), Hiro Matsuda, Jack Brisco, Al Costello, Tarzan Baxter, The Mysterious Medics, The Blue Infernos, The Mighty Yankees, Bill and Joe Sky, Bob Armstrong, Rip Tyler, Bobby Shane, Dennis Hall, Ken Lucas, Les Thatcher, Giant Frazier (also known as Plowboy Frazier and Uncle Elmer, among other names), Mike Pappas all appear throughout the territory.
Major attractions such as Danny Hodge, Pat O’Connor, Eddie Graham, Buddy Fuller, Gene Kiniski, Haystack Calhoun, Johnny Valentine, Harley Race and Dory Funk, Jr. also worked shows for Gulas during the decade. Gulas even used boxing legend Joe Louis on cards as a special referee in various cities. Late in the 60s, Gulas used Dr. Sam Shepherd on cards teamed with longtime Gulas regular, George Strickland. Shepherd had been imprisoned after a murder trial heavily covered by the media. Errors were discovered in Shepherd’s first trial so a retrial was ordered. In the second trial Shepherd was acquitted and released. The events of his life influenced the TV show "The Fugitive" and later a movie of the same name.
Notable among those who made great impacts on the business later on who worked for Gulas in the 1960s include a man known in the territory as Ron Carson. Early in his career, this man left Texas and came to Tennessee to work for Nick Gulas. Not long after his arrival he teamed with Tennessee native Don Carson as Don’s brother and this team won the World tag titles. In reality Ron Carson was future international superstar Dick Murdoch. Murdoch was the son of wrestler Frankie Murdoch, famous in the Amarillo, TX territory.
Sam Bass also debuted in the 1960s. Initially, he didn’t make much of a splash for Gulas appearing mainly as an undercard performer. He would though become a major star for Gulas in the 1970s as the manager of the team of Jim White and Jerry Lawler.
Also appearing some for Gulas were the true-life brother team of Ron and Don Wright, natives of Kingsport, TN. Low-key Don and motor-mouth Ron riled fans like few teams could. Ron, who often referred to himself as "the number one hillbilly", had a run in the eastern half of the territory in 1969 that even featured him receiving a shot at NWA World champion Dory Funk, Jr. in Chattanooga when he and Don were billed as Ron and Don Hayes. Ron’s ability to incite the fans during interviews was matched only by his ability to do the same through illegal tactics in the ring. Although the Wrights and fellow east Tennessee wrestling legend Whitey Caldwell mostly appeared in the Knoxville territory, Gulas would use them from time to time for several years mainly on the eastern end of the territory.
The 1960s were turbulent times for race relations in most Southern cities. Several of the cities Gulas ran cards in were no exception, especially Memphis and Birmingham. Gulas had used African-American stars for many years, including a young man named Matt Jewell. In 1969 a young African-American named Bearcat Brown debuted for Gulas and was given a major push. In reality Bearcat Brown was Matt Jewell. While Gulas had used an African-American in main events before he used Jewell (such as Art Thomas in 1964), he had never had an African-American become a regular headliner throughout the territory. Jewell, as Brown, headlined cards in Gulas cities for years and was often paired with such popular headliners as Don Carson, Johnny Walker and Len Rossi.
Conversely in 1971, Gulas turned to the legendary Sputnik Monroe to introduce the territory’s first regular African-American heel. Monroe, controversial and cocky, teamed with Norvell Austin to form the area’s first successful integrated heel team. Monroe, known for his black hair with a blonde streak down the middle, saw to it that his new partner followed suit. Soon Monroe and Austin were one of the area’s hottest heel teams. They were so successful they toured other territories as a team.
Debuting in the early 1960s in the territory was a Japanese heel named Tojo Yamamoto. Yamamoto quickly became known as sly and evil, a stereotype from the World War II time period. In real life, Yamamoto was Harold Watanabe, a native Hawaiian. A short man, Yamamoto was a great ring psychologist and quickly became one of Gulas’ lead heels and would remain so for a long time, even after a stint in the Carolinas for Jim Crockett where he appeared as P.Y. Chung and in Texas as T.Y. Chung. Yamamoto was likely the most disliked man in the Gulas territory for a good part of the sixties (with only Saul Weingeroff and the Von Brauner Brothers able to rival such fan heat) Those who follow the logic of wrestling realize when a wrestler is utterly despised by the fans it likely means he would someday make a great babyface. All that matters is timing. In late 1969 the time was right. Nick Gulas promoted a specific match area fans loved. The match was a "Battle of the Brutes" tag match. The fans loved this match because it pitted two teams they disliked against each other. The two teams were The Masked Spoilers and Tojo Yamamoto and Johnny Long. The match lead to the fans siding with Yamamoto and Long, so the crafty Yamamoto became a fan favorite. Yamamoto would then solidify his status as a true fan favorite when it was revealed in an angle that he was training with the popular babyface Jerry Jarrett. Jarrett was then destroyed by a group of heels which led to Yamamoto rescuing Jarrett. Yamamoto even carried Jarrett out of the ring in his own arms to safety. This led to Jarrett and Yamamoto teaming to face the heels who had tried to eliminate Jarrett. The fans, longtime vocal opponents of Yamamoto, then proudly cheered their new hero and his protégé. The Yamamoto-Jarrett tie was never forgotten by the promotion and was used in various ways through most of the 1980s.
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