A glance at the Memphis territory in the early 1970's
The early 1970s saw business boom for Gulas. As mentioned earlier Christine Jarrett became more involved in the business end of the company by helping open up and run shows in Kentucky and Indiana. Jerry Jarrett became more involved in the behind the scenes end of things by basically becoming co-promoter Roy Welch’s assistant. Jerry ended up booking the shows in Memphis, which became the city that drew the largest attendance week in week out on the circuit.
Major stars for Gulas during the early 70s include Dr. Ken Ramey and The Interns, Buddy Wayne, Big Bad John, Pepe Lopez, Sir Steven Clements (known later in Georgia as Sir Dudley Clements), Eddie Marlin, Tommy Gilbert, The Alaskans: Frank Monte & Mike York, The Samoans (Tio & Tapu), Norvell Austin, Cowboy Frankie Laine, David & Jerry Novak (better known as The Bounty Hunters from Tombstone, Arizona), Bill Dromo, Ronnie Garvin, Terry Garvin & Duke Myers with manager Jim Garvin, Rufus R. Jones, Charlie Cook, The Fabulous Kangaroos: Al Costello & Don Kent with manager George "I Am Right" Cannon, Ben Justice, The Masked Infernos and manager J.C. Dykes, Phil Hickerson, Dennis Condrey, Johnny Grey, Tex McKenzie, Johnny Weaver, Ray Candy, Jerry Barber, Ernie Ladd, Billy and Benny McGuire and more.
A young Kevin Sullivan also worked the territory for Gulas in the early 70s. Around the same time another young man made his debut. He was known as Dennis McCord. He gained some further fame as Iron Mike McCord but even greater fame several years later as Austin Idol. Many fans saw Idol feud with Sullivan in the early days of Atlanta’s TV superstation, WTBS. Sullivan would have a long successful career both in-ring and behind the scenes. McCord would return to the area as Idol years later and become a major attraction for the promotion.
Nick Gulas’ son, George, debuted in ring in 1973 as a "special referee" on cards throughout the territory. By 1974, George, a tall, thin man, made his debut as a wrestler and immediately was placed in prominent places on cards teaming with such stars as Jerry Jarrett, Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo, the three biggest babyfaces of the time for Gulas.
Also making their presence known in the early 1970s were the younger members of the Welch family. Buddy Fuller’s two sons, Ron and Robert debuted. Buddy was the son of Gulas promoting partner, Roy Welch. Ron and Robert’s cousin, Jimmy Golden also worked the area as did Lester Welch’s two sons, Jackie and Roy Lee Welch. Also appearing from time to time were Johnny, Marshall and Ricky Fields, nephews to Roy Welch.
The Welch family plays a vital part of pro wrestling throughout the South for many decades. Not only was Roy Welch part of a successful promotion with Nick Gulas but other members of the Welch family became part of the business of wrestling promotion.
Lester Welch had bought into the Florida wrestling office based in Tampa and operated by Cowboy C.P. Luttrell and Eddie Graham. Meantime, Edward Welch, a/k/a Buddy Fuller, bought into the Georgia wrestling office based in Atlanta along with Paul Jones, Fred Ward and Ray Gunkel. Gunkel and Fuller became one of the area’s top tag teams of the 1960s. There was just one problem though, away from the fans Gunkel and Fuller often clashed on how business should be conducted. In 1972, Buddy Fuller, wanting out of the constant bickering with Gunkel, which no doubt included how his sons, Ron and Robert, would be used in the promotion, arranged a deal with his brother Lester Welch. Lester would trade his Florida shares with Buddy’s Georgia shares. Lester came to work in the Atlanta office while Buddy moved to work in the Florida office.
Later in the year, one of the remaining owners of the Atlanta office, Ray Gunkel, died. His part of the company fell to his wife, Ann. The Georgia office split when Ann Gunkel formed All-South Wrestling and acquired much of the Atlanta-based talent. The one thing she did not take was the sanction of the National Wrestling Alliance, who had long, well-established ties to the Welch family. The NWA sent in stars from around the country to assist Welch in Atlanta. By January 1973, the NWA put into place a new team to help run the Atlanta office complete with new booker Cowboy Bill Watts. Until late 1974, the NWA and All-South ran weekly wrestling cards against each other in many Georgia cities. Some of Gulas’ stars made appearances for the NWA in Georgia including Don Greene, Jackie Fargo, Tojo Yamamoto, Jerry Jarrett, Ron and Robert Fuller, Jimmy Golden, Roy Lee Welch, J.C. Dykes and The Infernos and even a young Jerry Lawler. The NWA eventually won the war and along the way Lester Welch sold his part of the Atlanta promotion to Jim Barnett.
Looking for a booker for Atlanta, Barnett approached Jerry Jarrett, who agreed to book Atlanta but only if he could continue working for Gulas. Not long after this development Jerry was approached by Gulas and Buddy Fuller about buying Roy Welch’s part of the promotion in Tennessee since Roy’s health was in decline. Jarrett bought into the Gulas promotion and for awhile, all was well as Gulas, Jarrett and Buddy Fuller, serving largely as a silent partner, continued to give the fans what they wanted to see.
Obviously, Jerry Lawler made a name for himself in the Tennessee territory in the 1970s. Lawler is truly a versatile performer. He ranks very high on the lists of many who think he is the business’s best talker. As he grew older he became somewhat more cautious in ring of what he would do but early in his career Lawler was one of the best bump takers in the business. (Bump taking is important for the heel since he must really sell the offense of the babyface as something that the heel cannot overcome, thus he must be able and willing to take more dangerous and exaggerated falls.) Discovered by Jackie Fargo at a Memphis radio station, Lawler worked for Gulas as an undercard performer. Lawler was advised to gain some more experience by working a territory that had just opened. The territory was based in Montgomery, Alabama and was operated by Bill Golden, father of Jimmy Golden. Jimmy was the grandson of Gulas’ partner, Roy Welch. While in Alabama, Lawler teamed with Steve Lawler (No relation, Steve was known later as Steve Kyle). While there Jerry came in contact with veterans Jim White and Sam Bass in this territory. White and Roy Klein were working the area as The Green Shadows. When they were unmasked they were billed as Woodrow and Roy Bass. Sam Bass was then brought in as their manager. Roy soon left and was replaced by Jimmy Hydes working as Percy Bass. White eventually went to work for Gulas and Lawler soon followed. Eventually White and Lawler teamed and added Jim Kent as their manager for awhile before Bass took over the honors. This threesome would become trouble for Nick Gulas’ babyfaces beginning in 1972. Lawler’s talents reached beyond the wrestling ring as he drew a cartoon strip called "The Patriot" for theWrestling Monthly magazine in the early 1970s. As the history of this territory unfolds, Lawler will play an increasingly bigger role but by 1974, just three years after his debut, he was already poised to become the territory’s top star.
Gulas wrestling was wild stuff for the times. Some of the more memorable angles of the early 1970s include a long-running feud between Al Greene and Jackie Fargo. The feud featured hair vs. hair matches and shockingly, Fargo, the top star, actually lost one of these matches, and had to have his head shaved, despite an near mob-like Memphis crowd begging him not to go through with the stipulations.
Len Rossi, one of Gulas’ top stars, was injured in an automobile accident in late 1972. His injuries were severe enough to force him to retire from active competition. In the summer of 1973, a recovering Len came to watch his son, Joey, wrestle Sam Bass on Memphis TV. Joey defeats Bass with a sleeper hold. Bass’ partners in crime, Jerry Lawler and Jim White, then argue that Joey had illegally choked Bass. Tempers flare leading to Bass, Lawler and White attacking the injured Len and leaving him a beaten man. This lead to a series of matches pitting Lawler and White against Joey Rossi and Len’s longtime tag partner, Bearcat Brown. (A similar scenario played out on the eastern half of the territory around the same time featuring Terry Garvin and Duke Myers and manager Jim Garvin attacking Len on television leading to matches pitting Garvin & Myers against Joey and Brown.)
In late 1973, during the live Chattanooga TV show, announcer Harry Thornton tried to conduct an interview with the daughter of wrestler Don Greene. This would be a nice change of pace since fans rarely had the chance to hear the relative of a wrestler talk about what life is like for them. Needless to say the interview never was completed. The masked Interns and manager Dr. Ken Ramey were wreaking havoc over much of the territory at the time. The Interns and Ramey charge the announce position while Donna Greene is with Thornton. Incensed that Thornton refuses to give them interview time then, one of the Interns slaps Donna Greene. As Thornton and a horrified audience watched, Don Greene, who had just wrestled and retired to the showers, rushed out covered in soap to rescue his daughter.
Wrestlers were tarred and feathered (Bearcat Brown by Don and Al Greene). Scaffold matches were held in the early 1970s (Jerry Jarrett vs. Don Greene in Louisville). A manager was barred from appearing at ringside so he disguises himself as a woman and ran into the ring and attacked the opposition. (Sir Clements did this). Wrestlers were "run off the road while driving to the TV show" and beat up on the side of the road (There were several angles like this over the years most notably with The Bounty Hunters running Jackie Fargo off the road which lead to Jackie showing up late on the TV show but only after he called his brother, Roughhouse and requested he return to help him battle The Bounty Hunters). There was even a cake presented that ended up in the face of the honoree (The Bounty Hunters smashed Jackie Fargo into a cake). These angles may not mean much today but much of this was occurring in a day and time much tamer and conservative than now.
All these things lead us to our target start date of 1975. Almost. Before looking at 1975 it is important that we examine 1974. This appears to be the year the promotion began focusing less on tag teams and more on singles matches and titles. In particular, much of the promotion began to be focused on the past and future of the region. The past was represented ably by longtime fan favorite Jackie Fargo, the King of Memphis. The future was being represented by the upstart cocky heel, Jerry Lawler and his manager Sam Bass.
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