Tri-State #2 Page #2
9. Doctor X (Jim Osborne)
Osborne had a run as a midcarder in Tri-States during the mid ‘60’s as “Red” Osborne , but after playing Double XX to Dick Beyer’s Dr. X in the AWA in 1969-70, he brought the gimmick back to Oklahoma in 1971 and came into his own as the best masked heel McGuirk-land had ever seen (with apologies to El Medico, the Assassins, and various flavors of Medics and Interns). McGuirk chose to introduce him just as Gagne had brought Beyer into the AWA, as a masked man sitting at ringside during a TV taping, who eventually interfered on behalf of the heel wrestlers.
X was programmed with Danny Hodge, and the 2 engaged in a stiff series of matches in all of the territory’s venues. I recall a particularly wicked match the pair had in Fort Smith, AR, that saw X’s match shredded by Hodge and the yellow remnants turned crimson by his blood. The finish spilled out onto Towson Avenue (a main drag of the town) and Hodge body-slammed X into a car that was left with a deep dent. Osborne was put over Ramon Torres for the NWA Jr. Heavyweight title, but Hodge got it back in March ’72 in Shreveport, LA after a long run of intense encounters. Osborne was blessed with nowhere near the mat skills of a Hodge, but had the body and temperament of a brawler, so their feud was an exciting one for fans.
Osborne resurfaced as X during the latter part of the decade, and warred as an edgy face character against Ken Ramey’s Interns, among others. His finisher, also lifted from Beyer’s version of Dr. X, was the loaded boot kick to the skull. Tri-State titles held: NWA World Jr. Heavyweight champ, 3-time US Tag champ (w/Cash, w/Negro, w/the Brute).
8. Skandor Akbar (Jim Wehba)
The “wildman from Lebanon”, as he was once billed, the American-born Wehba was a mainstay as a heel in McGuirk’s territory from 1966 until he retired as an active wrestler in the late 70’s. A powerfully built man who could bench press 500 lbs., he was rather short of stature for a heavyweight wrestler. Akbar always created plenty of crowd heat with his anti-American promos and disdainful attitude.
He was programmed against Danny Hodge many times during his decade plus run in the territory, but did spend several months as his partner after rescuing him from a double-team by the Assassins (Hamilton and Renesto). Of course, this brief flirtation with popularity ended when he once again turned on Danny, and their renewed feud played to sold-out arenas. After an absence of a few years in the early ‘70’s, Wehba returned with a vengeance as a flame-throwing Southern version of the Detroit Sheik by “blinding” mid-carder Johnnie Eagles on TV in ’75.
Akbar transitioned into managing at the tail end of the promotions existence. His finisher was the bearhug and the camel clutch. Titles held in Tri-State: North American champ, 2-time US Tag champ (w/Hodge, w/Choi Sun)
7. Buck Robley
While in no way one of the best wrestlers in Tri-State history, Buckley Christopher George Robley III generated more heat than any other heel during his multi-year stay in the territory, and his feud with Ken Mantell over the NWA Jr. Heavyweight belt main-evented during the mid-‘70’s. Robley was tagged with the nickname “Yellow Belly”, which fit his initial role as a sneaky, cowardly heel who made use of a “loaded” arm pad.
After his program with Mantell played out, Robley managed to reinvent himself as a manager (a role he first assumed in the Amarillo promotion as mouthpiece for Lorenzo Parente and Bobby Hart), leading charges such as the Angel (Frank Morrell), Killer Karl Kox and Dick Murdoch. His ability on the microphone, with a raspy, sneering tone of voice served him well in this.
Robley soon turned on Murdoch though, using Kox as his muscle in a televised bloodbath, and this started a feud that dominated Tri-States wrestling in ‘75-‘76. He also continued to wrestle, holding the US Tag Title in ’75 with Bob Slaughter (who was then using a hippie gimmick before he created the Marine Sgt. character). Robley was instrumental in putting Ted DiBiase over during this time, just as he had been in amplifying Murdoch’s face turn by receiving stiff beatings from the big Texan all over the circuit.
After leaving the area for a few years, Robely came back as a face, wearing yellow t-shirts that proclaimed, paradoxically, “Don’t Call Me Yellow” – t-shirts that he sold during intermission, a merchandising precursor to the WWF revenue machine. Robley’s finishers were the elbow drop and a lariat with the “loaded” arm pad. His major feuds were with Mantell, Murdoch, and Danny Hodge. Tri-State titles held: 2-time US Tag Team champ (w/Slaughter, w/Watts).
6. Ted DiBiase
Before his memorable stint as the “Million Dollar Man” in the WWF, DiBiase learned his craft under the tutelage of veterans in the McGuirk area.
Beginning as a prelim jobber in 1973, DiBiase moved his way through the ranks to ultimately become the “Big Cheese” of Watts’ Mid-South promotion. As a second-generation wrestler, just as his friend and mentor Dick Murdoch, DiBiase surpassed the accomplishments of his father who had been at one time the NWA Jr. Heavyweight champ.
After his initiation run in the early seventies as a tough heel, DiBiase was paired with Murdoch and they were given the tag belts as faces. After dropping the straps to Killer Kox and Bob Sweetan, DiBiase left the region for a few years to wrestle in the Kansas and Amarillo territories. When he returned, he was put over the Brute (Bugsy McGraw) for the North American belt, but this was a transition as he quickly did the job for the Great Zimm (Waldo Von Erich) in a TV match. This involved him in a series of matches involving those two plus the Spoiler, Watts and Dusty Rhodes that put him on the map as an emerging star in the sport.
DiBiase’s finishers were the brainbuster, powerslam/figure four combination, and loaded glove (in his Mid-South heel stint). Tri-State titles held: North American champion (he would hold this four more times while in Mid-South), US Tag champ (w/Murdoch)
5. The Spoiler (Don Jardine)
Brought into the territory in 1969 with manager “Playboy” Gary Hart, Jardine provided a legitimate heel opponent for Bill Watts in terms of his size (6:8 290 lbs.) and his ring skills. Watts and Spoiler feuded during 1970 with the cowboy eventually winning the North American title from the masked man. Jardine was innovative for his era, with his top-rope walking move (the “old-school” move most associate with the Undertaker, who was trained for wrestling by Jardine) and icily-menacing promos.
One memorable televised match from 1971 saw Spoiler cross paths with a young Chuck O’Connor (Big John Studd) who was fresh from being broken into wrestling by Killer Kowalski. This match was a total squash and ended with O’Connor blading a bit too deep for the claw and juicing a gusher that may have been edited if shown today. Spoiler left the area in ’72 to wrestle in McMahon Sr.s WWWF, but returned for another run later in the decade. Though always a heel , except for a brief face turn that led to him betraying partner Dusty Rhodes, he was more respected than other villains in Tri-State, as the fans could sense the legit toughness of this man.
His finishers included the face claw (learned from Fritz Von Erich, who started him under the mask), and the top rope stomp to the chest. Major feuds for Spoiler while in the region included Watts, Rhodes, Sputnik Monroe, the Brute and Ted DiBiase. Tri-State titles held: 2-time NA Champion, 2-time U.S. Tag Champion (w/Spoiler 2 (Buddy Wolfe); w/Rhodes)
4. Dick Murdoch
So much has been written about this unique character on this and other web sites, and as an observer who saw him in his youthful prime, I have to chime in my opinion also: the late Dickie Murdoch may have been the most natural, entertaining “rassler” of his time. Whether working as a heel or a face, Murdoch had an almost uncanny ability to tap into the mood of the audience while in the ring. I saw Murdoch perform live over 30 times, and never once did he lose control over his scene as I have witnessed other so-called greats do.
Murdoch entered the area as a heel in 1975, took the North American belt in short order from Danny Miller, and then quickly was turned face (see Robley above) as the promotion became aware of his ability to connect with the audience. His feud with close friend Karl Kox dominated the circuit in the latter half of ’75, as these 2 men told a story to every audience they entertained in a way that no current day wrestlers seem capable of. Murdoch would remain in the area for parts of the next three years, dropping and winning the NA title a total of four times. He turned heel again in ’77 to feud with Watts and Jerry Oates, but most fans never lost sight of the grin behind the sneer, as a heel Dickie was more fun than any serious babyface.
I was at one of Murdoch’s last matches in ’96 at the famed Dallas Sportatorium (in an odd note, he was matched against Bobby Duncum, Jr., who would also soon have his life cut short) and though 20 years had passed since I had last seen him, I still marveled at his effortless flow and command of the crowd: Dick Murdoch made me laugh once more. His finisher was primarily the brainbuster. Titles held: 4-time North American champ, 2-time US Tag Champ (w/Kox, w/DiBiase).
3. Jack Brisco
A legend even before his retirement in the mid ‘80’s, this former NCAA heavyweight champion from Oklahoma St. University cut his professional teeth in the Tri-States area before going on to fame as the NWA champion in the mid ‘70’s. His pleasing demeanor and handsome looks put him over with the fans almost instantly, and for the three years he worked the region he sold out countless arenas working the top of the card. Since his skills as a shooter were so complete, and he was just learning to work the pro style, for his first year McGuirk wisely booked him with other faces with great mat ability such as Danny Hodge, Joe McCarthy, and Jerry Kozak. As he adapted to the brawling style, he was moved into feuds with heels Lorenzo Parente, Gorgeous George Jr. and The Assassins.
During his final year in the territory, he was used almost exclusively in tag matches with his brother Gerald, who had just turned pro, and with GG Jr., who had turned face to join Brisco against the Assassins. It was this latter booking that caught fire in the territory, and at times fans were turned away from arenas that were already packed to the fire code limit to see these four battle often to the 60 minute time-limit and beyond. When this program ran out, Brisco moved on to Florida where pro wrestling immortality awaited him.
In 1974, he made a return to the area to defend the NWA title against Hodge among others, but the fans who came to see the old Jack Brisco were shocked – he was now booked as a heel using roughhouse tactics against the area’s faces. That was his last appearance in his home territory, as he would spend the rest of his career in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and (briefly) WWF Northeastern regions. Brisco joins Hodge in the International Wrestling Hall of Fame as a 2001 inductee. His finishers were the Oklahoma Roll (rolling cradle) and figure-four leglock. Major feuds were with GG Jr. and the Assassins. Tri-State titles held: 2-time US Tag champ (w/Gerald, w/GG Jr.)
2. Bill Watts
His name along with Danny Hodge will always come to the mind of most Tri-State fans when they wax nostalgic about the glory days of southern rasslin. His accomplishments are well known to all who follow wrestling, both as a star of the 60’s and ‘70’s, and as a promoter who first dared to put main-event match-ups on free TV to generate interest for local shows.
Watts was always more aloof than the beloved , approachable Hodge though, so though fans respected the big cowboy, he never received the adulation that would have been his due had he been the singular big draw of the territory.
Watts began his career for McGuirk while still playing pro football, but McMahon Sr. snapped him up to match against Bruno Sammartino during the mid-‘60’s, so it wasn’t until 1970 that Watts began his Tri-State career in earnest. He would spend much of the next 15 years splitting his time between the Tri-States, Georgia and Florida circuits. Whenever he returned, it wasn’t long before the North American belt was put on him, and he battled heels such as the Spoiler, Dick Murdoch, Killer Kox, Waldo Von Erich and the Hollywood Blonds (Jerry Brown and Buddy Roberts). He also spent time tagging with old friend Hodge and Greg Valentine.
By the end of the ‘70’s, his influence as booker was complete, and the type of storylines that would usher in the Mid-South Wrestling Alliance (and later, the UWF) began to take shape. In mid-1979, Watts completed a business deal that gave him the lucrative southern part of the territory (Louisiana and Mississippi) while McGuirk maintained the promotions in Oklahoma, Arkansas and southern Missouri, which were officially named Tri-States Wrestling. Except for storylines that periodically brought him into the ring (revenge for the “blinded” JYD vs. The Freebirds, his program with Dusty and Ole in GCW, Eddie Gilbert in the UWF) Watts retired as a regular wrestler with the culmination of this deal. His finisher was the Oklahoma Stampede (running bodyslam). Titles held in Tri-States were: 5-time North American champ, 3-time US Tag Champ (w/Red Lyons, w/Valentine, w/Robinson).
1. Danny Hodge
Simply the best of his era. An overused cliche, but what else is one left with when you are speaking of a singular human being who tallied the following accomplishments:
Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling
3-time NCAA freestyle champion who never lost a point in amateur competition
AAU Golden Gloves amateur boxing champion
8-time official NWA Junior Heavyweight champion as a pro wrestler
Add to this list the respect of many of his pro wrestling peers as the most accomplished mat wrestler and stiffest worker they ever encountered in the ring and you begin to have an idea of the importance that Danny Hodge had in the history of the McGuirk promotion. As a fan who witnessed Hodge perform live over 100 times, and felt the electric connection established between him and the audience – without posturing, without elaborate promos, without catchphrases – I can state that he was the essence of what we all try to recapture through Kayfabe Memories. Hodge allowed you to suspend disbelief for the thirty minutes to one hour he was on stage, fighting the mythic battle as a white knight against the dark forces of evil that sought to overcome him.
I have seen tough men, tattoed gang members’ cry openly when Hodge was on the receiving end of a savage beating. I have also seen the walls of an arena shake when he mounted a comeback to eventually conquer a rampaging heel. Hodge was a hidden gem for most of his career, and sadly misused whenever he ventured outside of Tri-States. It seemed that only McGuirk knew how to book him properly, in a manner that would tap into the pride that Oklahomans and Arkansans had in Hodge. This is what made him the anchor of the territory, and for over a decade made all of the wrestlers on the card wealthier men.
Hodge had many intense feuds during his two decades in the territory. He first captured the junior heavyweight title from Angelo “The Vampire” Savoldi, and this program created one of the most ironic examples of kayfabe ever. After an Oklahoma City match in 1959 that saw Savoldi cheat his way to victory, a fan stabbed “The Vampire” on his way back to the dressing room, putting the heel in the hospital. A terrible event to be sure, yet not unheard of, except that the attacker was none other than Danny Hodge’s father! Seems the elder Hodge hadn’t been smartened properly.
Most of the blood in his other feuds was spilled in the ring though, as Hodge dropped and regained the Jr. Belt many times during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. He was also programmed as a tag wrestler with Akbar, Brisco and even his arch-nemesis Chuck Karbo. Other major feuds for him were with Hiro Matsuda, Sputnik Monroe, Akbar, Karbo, Karl Von Steiger, Mr. Ito (Ueda), Lorenzo Parente, El Medico, Roger Kirby and Dr. X. Hodge was also matched often with other faces such as Jack and Gerry Brisco, Joe McCarthy and Ramon Torres, giving the fans an opportunity to see a style of wrestling that can’t be witnessed anymore. And as a complete entertainer, Hodge could also work comedy matches with midcarders and jobbers such as Nikita Mulkovich, Gypsy Joe Rosario, George Grant and Treach Phillips.
Hodge attempted to retire in the mid ‘70’s, only to find that an unscrupulous investment advisor had usurped his retirement monies. This put Hodge back on the road again in 1976, taking the belt once again from Matsuda, but in March he suffered a broken neck in an auto accident, and though he miraculously survived, his career was essentially closed. His legacy was cemented with his induction into the International Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000. His finishers were the Oklahoma Roll, abdominal stretch and right hand KO punch. Titles held in Tri-States: 8-time NWA Junior Heavyweight champ, 4-time US Tag Champ (w/Akbar, w/Karbo, w/Brown, w/Clayton)
The great tag teams of Tri-State.
Thanks to www.puroresu.com for title information to augment my personal records. Thanks for reading!
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