Vol. 30: Unpopular Opinions

This volume of CWM is a bit of a departure from the norm. Instead of talking about a specific territory, person, or event, we will talk about three common beliefs from wrestling fans throughout the years. Beliefs that can be disputed, despite them being so common. They may not be popular to disagree with, so that’s why this episode is called Unpopular Opinions.

Unpopular Opinion #1: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III is not the greatest WrestleMania match of all time

Many fans over the years have stated that the greatest WrestleMania match of all time is Savage vs. Steamboat from WrestleMania III. However, when the story of such a bitter rivalry is factored in, the tone of the match becomes illogical. Let us be clear. THIS IS A GREAT MATCH! Anybody that knows Seth knows that Randy Savage is his favorite wrestler of all time. Steamboat is arguably the greatest white meat babyface of all time. So this is no disrespect to either man, but both Steamboat and Savage have let it be known that even they didn’t believe it was their best match. Plus, it’s no secret that Steamboat and Savage had radically different approaches with how they wrestle.

Unpopular Opinion #2: Vince McMahon did not kill the territories

New-School fans and even many old-school fans blame WWE Chairman Vince Mcmahon for the death of the territory system. But when you look at the actual history of the territories in the 1980s, it becomes apparent that the territories were as much a danger to themselves as Vince was. From trying to sign away talent to overreaching their realistic bounds. As Seth states, even if Vince DID do it all himself, somebody else would have if he didn’t. The territories had their chance with Pro Wrestling USA, which held the inaugural Superclash event at Comiskey Park in 1985. But in the end, it folded before it even got off the ground.

Unpopular Opinion #3: Ronnie Garvin’s NWA World Title Win in 1987 was a good idea

Ronnie Garvin’s 1987 NWA Title reign is often mocked by fans and historians, many of whom did not experience the territory firsthand. Fans who saw him on Crockett Television know just how over Ronnie was at the time. And we don’t mean watching the TV that’s available on the WWE Network, we mean living in the territory at the time. One of the reasons Starrcade ’87 was moved to Chicago was to ensure that Garvin would NOT be favored by a heel-friendly crowd when Flair won the title back. As always, let us know what you think. Do you have any Unpopular Opinions about wrestling? Sound off in the comments below or on our Twitter and Facebook pages. Since we’re talking about a lot of wrestling that came from the 1980s, what better accompanying playlist than Crazy Train’s 80s One Hit Wonders!

Vol. 29: Harley Race, The Greatest Wrestler On God’s Green Earth

There are a lot of cliched names for all-time greats, and many of them apply to Harley Race. A Man’s Man. A Champion’s Champion. A Hall Of Famer’s Hall Of Famer. And so on. There’s a reason why on The Wrestling Brethren shows the term “WWHD” (What Would Harley Do?) comes up from time to time. Harley Race was one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling during the 1970s. He won the NWA World Championship A total of four times during that decade, and with the exception of a few short-term losses he held it for over four years.

The Beginning

Unlike a lot of other wrestlers, Harley Race was not a stage name. It was his genuine birth name. Many fans may not know that Harley had a bout with Polio as a child. Fortunately, he was able to make a recovery. The stories of how tough he was date back to his childhood. He may not have ever truly finished a high school education. In fact, Harley was expelled from High School for getting into a fight. When the principal tried to break up the fight, Harley attacked him too.

Early Career

Harley found training with the Zbyzsko brothers, Stanislaus and Wladek. If that last name sounds familiar, these were the men Larry Zbyzsko took the last name of as a tribute. Harley also worked as a chauffeur for Happy Humphrey, a well-known wrestler at the time who weighed approximately 600 pounds. His first matches were in Missouri under the name Jack Long for promoter Gust Karras where he worked tag matches with an onscreen brother John Long. Harley was involved in a serious and tragic auto accident that killed his newlywed wife and unborn child in 1960. Doctors believed Harley’s injuries were so severe they required amputation of his leg. Karras visited the hospital and convinced the doctors not to amputate the leg. Harley was told he would not walk again, let alone wrestle. After many long months of training and physical therapy, Harley returned to the ring under the name The Great Mortimer in 1963. Shortly after this, Harley went to Texas to work for Dory Funk, Sr. There he permanently started using his real name because “Harley Race” was a much better name than “Jack Long”. This was also where he met Larry Hennig and formed a friendship.

AWA

Race and Hennig started working for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) where they were known as Handsome Harley Race and Pretty Boy Larry Hennig. Of course, neither man was thought of as particularly good looking so it was a perfect gimmick for a heel tag team. They won the AWA Tag Team Titles on three occasions and had a memorable feud with fan favorites Bruiser and Crusher. In fact, they frequently wrestled Verne Gagne himself, who would team with various partners.

The NWA Territories

Harley Race is regarded as one of the greatest NWA Champions of all time. What is ironic us his first run with the title was not planned in advance. It came about due to friction between then Champion Dory Funk Jr. and top contender Jack Brisco. In the early 1970s, Dory Funk Jr. was the NWA World Champion and had been for many years. Jack Brisco, who was then an up-and-coming babyface challenger, faced Junior for the title in multiple territories. Paul Bosch in Houston, Eddie Graham in Florida, and Sam Muchnick in Missouri all drew major crowds with a Dory Jr. vs. Jack Brisco main event. And they all knew that sooner or later there had to be the payoff of Jack finally winning the title. The plan was for Dory to lose the title to Jack Brisco on March 2nd, 1973 in Houston. However, one week prior to the event, Funk contacted the office and claimed to have been in a farming accident and would be unable to wrestle for six weeks. This upset a lot of people, including the promoters and Jack himself, because it came across as Dory simply didn’t want to lose the title.

Rise To The Championship

Since the highly-anticipated Junior vs. Brisco match wasn’t going to happen, The NWA board picked Harley as the man to win the title since Race had the reputation as a legitimate tough guy. The match happened on May 24, 1973 and Harley defeated Funk to win his first NWA Title. He would hold the title for approximately two months before dropping it to Jack Brisco on July 20th.

Race would not see another NWA World Championship reign until four years later. He spent those years traveling from territory to territory and winning several regional titles. Among those titles was the inaugural NWA Mid-Atlantic United States Championship, now known as the WWE US Championship.

Finally, on February 6th, 1977, Harley would finally regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Terry Funk in Toronto Canada. This began the reign that he is probably best remembered for because outside of a handful of title losses that lasted less than a week each, Harley effectively had the title until the early 1980s. All but one of those losses were business. The one exception was the loss to Tommy Rich in Augusta Georgia on April 27th, 1981. Depending on who you listen to, it was either an accident or a power play by promotors.

Starrcade and return to AWA

Perhaps the most famous match of Harley’s career happened on November 26th, 1983 when Ric Flair defeated him in the main event of the original Starrcade. Harley cut the iconic “Take the damn money!” promo during the buildup to that match.

Vince McMahon, who had recently purchased The World Wrestling Federation from his father, actually approached Harley with an offer to no-show the event and jump to WWF. Race refused the offer because he gave his word that he would pass the torch to Flair at Starrcade.

Race actually regained the title briefly in New Zealand and lost it back to Flair a few days later. That short reign went unrecognized for several years due to the change happening without the approval of the NWA.

Harley returned to the AWA after his final NWA Title run. There he faced the likes of Curt Hennig but never achieved the success he had in the 1970s. Within a few years, he would begin his final run as a full-time in-ring competitor.

The WWF

Vince McMahon was finally able to sign Harley to work for him in 1986. For the first several months Race worked as Handsome Harley. He won the second-ever King Of The Ring tournament and began wearing a crown and scepter to the ring. Some fans found it very odd that a wrestler who took himself so seriously would start using an over-the-top gimmick like a “King”. This run was also notable for the familiar entrance music (“The Great Gates Of Kyiv”) that Jerry “The King” Lawler would use years later.

Race had his first of two WrestleMania matches at WrestleMania III where he defeated The Junkyard Dog. After that, he began a feud with Hulk Hogan over The WWF Championship. He suffered an injury during Saturday Night’s Main Event when he tried to hit Hogan with a diving headbutt on a table. Hogan moved and Harley crashed into the table. This was long before ECW made table bumps a common occurrence.

Retirement and WCW Manager run

Harley showed up in WCW around 1990 and began a new run as a manager. His first major program as a manager was working with Lex Luger during Luger’s first reign as WCW World Champion. He also had a successful run managing Big Van Vader to several WCW title reigns. He was inducted into the WCW Hall Of Fame in w994 and the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2004.

Vol. 28: “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer

There are wrestlers, and there are champions. Then there are champions, and then there are Legends. Finally, there are Legends, and then there are people like “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer.

They say never meet your idols because you’ll end up being disappointed. Whoever said that never met Dick Beyer.” – Mike Tenay

Early Life

Dick Beyer was born July 11th, 1930 in Buffalo New York. He attended college at Syracuse University, where he was a varsity football player, as well as a wrestler. He co-captained the Syracuse Orange football team in 1952 and played in the Orange Bowl that year. Also in that same year, Beyer made the Eastern Regional Second Team. Those accomplishments helped with Syracuse University’s Athlete Of The Year. Beyer graduated with a degree in education and spent years as a teacher. Beyer coached several sports, including swimming and football. Fellow Syracuse Orangeman Jim Brown was on a team that Beyer coached during this time. Some call Jim Brown the greatest running back in history.

Breaking Into Wrestling

Beyer began what would become a 40 year pro wrestling career in 1954. He wrestled as an athletic babyface, who often would wear a Syracuse jacket to the ring. Rookie Of The Year in The readers of Wrestling Life magazine voted him Rookie Of The Year In 1955.

One of the first territories he worked was Hawaii, where he met and helped train Harry Fujiwara. There he got noticed by WWE Hall Of Famer Freddie Blassie, who was a top heel in the Worldwide Wrestling Associates in California. Blassie contacted the WWA office and told them he saw greatest babyface in the country. Blassie returned to Hawaii for a match against Neff Maivia, and Beyer was in his corner for that match. After the match, Blassie contacted California again, and told them he just saw the best heel in the country.

As if that wasn’t enough, Don Owen was at the match as well. Owen was the promoter for Pacific Northwest Wrestling in Portland Oregon. Owen offered Beyer a job when his time in Hawaii was done. A little while later, WWA promoter Jules Strongbow contacted Dick and also offered him a job in California. This put him in an awkward spot, as he had previously agreed to work for Owen and didn’t want to back down from his word. In the end, Beyer agreed to work in California, and promised Owen he would come to Portland when his time in WWA was done.

Donning The Mask

Beyer came to Los Angeles to work for WWA. Strongbow told him that he would be a masked heel under the name “Destroyer”. Beyer hated the idea and refused to do it, believing that his status as a sports star got him over and he didn’t want to use a different gimmick. Whether it was Strongbow, Blassie, or some mixture of them and other promoters that convinced him, Beyer eventually agreed to be The Destroyer.

On his first night (4/27/62) as The Destroyer, Beyer wrestled Seymour Koenig in San Bernadino California. According to Meltzer, there were 773 fans in attendance. Beyer found the mask to be uncomfortable, and difficult to work with as it restricted his vision and head movement. After the match, Beyer said he would never wear a mask again.

Ox Anderson, another wrestler Beyer knew from Texas, gave him a more proper wrestling mask. This one was much more comfortable and did no restrict his movement. Beyer and Strongbow agreed that he would continue wrestling as The Destroyer for four weeks. After that, he would be free to do what he wanted.

Rise Of The Destroyer

Over the next few weeks, The Destroyer wrestled several matches, with one of his notable opponents being a young Johnny Walker. By the end of May, the attendance had skyrocketed, and Beyer was making more money than he ever had before in wrestling. He then told Strongbow that we would continue wearing the mask.

As The Destroyer, Beyer would sometimes refuse to wrestle until he was introduced as The Sensational Intelligent Destroyer. He.claimed that nobody could escape the Figure Four, and that nobody could unmask him. If somebody managed to get out of the hold, Destroyer would claim that he hadn’t fully applied it yet/ If somebody unmasked him, he would be wearing a second mask underneath.  In just under eight weeks, attendance had risen from under 700 to over 10,000, The Destroyer had become so popular that masks and T-Shirts were sold to fans. It was around this time that Mike Tenay, as a young boy, saw Dick Beyer for the first time. To this day, Tenay calls The Destroyer his favorite wrestler.

Japan and Superstardom

Blassie defeated top babyface Rikidozan on July 25th, 1962 to win his second WWA Title. In real life, this was done because Rikidozan was traveling back to Japan and needed to drop the belt. A mere two days later, Destroyer submitted Blassie with a Figure Four to win the title. He would continue to hold the title for ten months and wrestle the likes of Dick Hutton, Lou Thesz, and Giant Baba. Even the returning Rikidozan was unable to defeat The Destroyer. Blassie finally won the title back in May of 1963.

The next few years were exceptionally big for Destroyer. His success in California and Hawaii spread around the world. The Destroyer traveled to Japan to wrestle. Despite losing the title to Blassie, he was still billed as WWA Champion. He faced names like Giant Baba and Rikidozan, who undoubtedly were the most popular wrestlers in Japan at the time. The Rikidozan match was watched by 70 million people. To this day it is one of the most-watched broadcasts of all time, let alone wrestling matches. He became a true megastar. So much so that the word “Destroyer” got incorporated into the Japanese language.

Pacific Northwest

By Summer 1963, Strongbow believed the time had come for The Destroyer to be unmasked. Beyer, on the other hand, was now against unmasking since the gimmick was still drawing well. Still, Strongbow booked Destroyer against Herculez Cortez in a Lumberjack Match in August of 1963. Rather than follow through with the finish, Beyer faked an injury when he was thrown to the outside, and when the other wrestlers stopped to see if he was OK, he sprinted to the back and rode off in a getaway car.

Through a previous phone call, Beyer arranged to finally fulfill his promise to work for Don Owen in Portland. He held several Pacific Northwest titles and faced the likes of Mad Dog Vachon and Danny Hodge. A few months later, Strongbow contacted Beyer and asked him to return to work in Los Angeles, and that he was wrong to suggest losing the mask.

Tragedy Strikes

However, November of 1963 brought very bad fortune. Destroyer faced Rikidozan in a pair of high profiles matches while on another tour of Japan, . Riki had asked Beyer to stay for a day and join him for some parties. Beyer refused and boarded a plane for home.

By the time Beyer made it back to his home, he was notified that Rikidozan had been stabbed in a nightclub the previous evening. Beyer took this very hard, because he knew Riki wanted him to stay. One week later, Riki passed away from his injuries.

Some time later, Strongbow called Beyer to reconcile, and apologized for wanting to unmask him. The Destroyer returned to California and had another run with the WWA Title.

Dr. X

After the superstar treatment in California and Japan, the next stage in Dick Beyer’s career was an unexpected one. Beyer was approached by Verne Gagne, owner and promoter of The AWA (American Wrestling Association). Gagne offered Beyer a top heel run in the territory, but with a catch: He wouldn’t be The Destroyer. Gagne believed everybody knew The Destroyer was Dick Beyer, even though virtually no fan did. Still, Gagne billed Beyer as “Dr. X” instead of The Destroyer, with the belief that he’d be seen as a different person. To his credit, Beyer furthered that gimmick by switching to a brawling based stye as Dr. X, instead of the scientific based style of The Destroyer.

In The AWA, Dr. X feuded with top babyfaces Might Igor, Bruiser, Crusher, and others. He even beat Gagne for the AWA Title in 1968. Wrestling magazines had ads for Dr. X masks and T-shirts. Perhaps you saw one of the infamous pictures of Deborah Harry of Blondie sporting a Dr. X shirt in the 70s.

Debbie Harry of Blondie fame wearing a Dr. X t-shirt

Unmasking and Semi-Retirement

By the time the 1970s Dick Beyer/The Destroyer/Dr. X had achieved all the success that could be expected. He had won three of the top five world titles (AWA, WWA, and IWA), and the remaining two (NWA and WWWF) couldn’t be won by masked men. Though Blue Demon Jr. would break that NWA rule in the early 2000s.

Dr. X got unmasked after losing a match to Blackjack Lanza in the 1970s. “Dr. X” revealed his name to be Bruce Marshall. Of course that was a pseudonym since Dr. X was supposed to be a different person than The Destroyer anyway.

Beyer dedicated the next year touring the world with his family. He used his name as a wrestler to craft a custom championship belt that he would defend in other countries. He took his family to Mexico, Japan, Australia, Europe, etc…

Return To Teaching and Retirement

Beyer would spend the rest of his life mainly as a teacher and sports coach. He still wrestled on occasions going to the 1990s. He also became a regular at the Cauliflower Alley Club. It became an annual tradition where Mike Tenay would address the gathering, and state how much of a privilege it was to have the greatest masked wrestler in the world. Destroyer would start to stand and act proud, only to scowl when Tenay would say “…and Mil Mascaras will be joining us shortly”

Vol. 27: WWE Hall Of Fame 2019

What’s this? A Classic Wrestling Memories episode about a 2019 event? What gives?

Well, yes. Classic Wrestling Memories exists for fans of the previous generations of wrestling. But so do Halls Of Fame. We consider anything before the end of the Monday Night War in 2001 to be fair game. And everybody listed in a WWE Hall Of Fame so far had some semblance of a career before that. Basically, it is our look at the careers of the people who are entering the highest-profile wrestling hall of fame.

LEGACY INDUCTEES

  • Bruiser Brody – Brody was legitimately one of the toughest men in and out of the ring in his day. His career could easily fill up multiple volumes.
  • Jim Barnett – “Mah boy…” Barnett was a successful promoter in three different territories, including Australia. In fact, he promoted the original World Championship Wrestling before The Crocketts used the name for the TBS broadcasts.
  • Hisashi Shinma – Shinma was a former booker for New Japan. He was also the on-screen president of WWF from the late 70s until the National Expansion when Jack Tunney took over the role. He is probably most famous for arranging the legendary match between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, Shinma was President during the 1979 World Wrestling Federation tour of Japan, where Antonio Inoki beat then WWF Champion Bob Backlund for the title. That reign is of course not officially recognized in WWE history.
  • Luna Vachon – One of the staples in the early Attitude Era programming, and arguably should have been inducted years ago. Train knew Luna and gives look at who the woman was behind the character.
  • Buddy Rose – A one-time superstar of Portland, Buddy Rose was an underrated performer in mainstream wrestling. WWE fans may recognize the “Blow Away” diet, or the role he played in the original WrestleMania as The Executioner.
  • Primo Carnera – Primo was a professional boxer with an 89-14 record, who had a high-profile match with Joe Loui. He also wrestled and had matches with then NWA World Champion Lou Thesz.
  • “Professor” Toru Tanaka – Tanaka and Mr. Fuji were a hated and feared tag team in the mid-1970s. However, Tanaka’s list of championships more than makes the argument for a Hall Of Fame career.
  • Special Delivery Jones – Jones was a charismatic performer who had good success in territories before having the infamous Squash Match with King Kong Bundy. If you have the WWE Network, check out his speech inducting Tony Atlas into the Hall Of Fame in 2006.
  • Wahoo McDaniel – We devoted Vol. 20 of Classic Wrestling Memories to Wahoo. You can find out a lot about his career in that show, as he was a man Crazy Train knew very well.
  • Joseph Cohen – One of the men responsible for creating The MSG Network and The USA Network.

2019 Inductees

  • Sue Aitcheson – Warrior Award winner for organizing a lot of charity work for WWE including Make A Wish Foundation appearances
  • Torrie Wilson – Part of the WCW Invasion
  • Honky Tonk Man – The greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.
  • The Hart Foundation – Two-time WWF Tag Team Champions. Bret Hart and Nattie Neidhart gave speeches. Hart’s was interrupted by an assault that was blocked out on any broadcast.
  • Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake – Former WWF Tag Team Champion and at one time the #2 Babyface under Hogan
  • Harlem Heat – 10x WCW Tag Team Champions
  • Degeneration X – Top Heel and Babyface Stable for the WWF Attitude Era.

Vol. 26: Pedro Morales (1942-2019)

Classic Wrestling Memories Vol. 26: Pedro Morales

If Bruno Sammartino was the greatest WWE Champion in company history, there is a strong argument that Pedro Morales wouldn’t be very far behind. Pedro, who passed away earlier this month, held the WWWF (now WWE) championship for 1,079 days from February of 1971 to December of 1973. Only Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, and Bruno himself can claim longer reigns. Join Seth “Zandrax” Zillmann and “Crazy Train” Jonathan Bolick as they pay tribute to one of the biggest Puerto Rican stars in wrestling history.

Pedro Morales was born on Culebra, an island off the main coast of Puerto Rico. He moved to New York at a young age and was competing in amateur wrestling by the age of 13. Baseball was also one of Pedro’s sports, but somewhere around this time was when he found pro wrestling. Morales trained for the ring under Barba Rojas and made his in-ring debut at the age of 17. While it has not been confirmed as of this writing, he may have been part of the initial roster when Capitol Wrestling broke from the NWA and rebranded into The World Wide Wrestling Federation. He would also work in the Carolinas, as well as the Los Angeles-based World Wrestling Associates, not to be confused with the Indiana WWA.

In 1965, Pedro defeated The Destroyer Dick Beyer for the WWA title in what was surely at that point his biggest win to date. He also unsuccessfully challenged Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. By this time, Morales had established himself as a reliable draw at the top of the card. When you look at the people he worked with (NWA World Champions, Pat Patterson, Dick Beyer, etc…) it was clear that Pedro was drawing money as an ethnic hero babyface. Just the type of babyface Vincent J. McMahon would like in the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF).

WWWF World Title Run

In 1970, Pedro Morales debuted full-time for WWWF full time. He won the WWWF United States Title (not to be confused with the current WWE US Title) in January of 1971. Approximately one month later, he famously challenged Ivan Koloff, the man who defeated Bruno Sammartino, for the WWWF Title. When Morales defeated Koloff for the title, he became only the fourth man in history to hold that championship. It may be said, even though Pedro was the champion, that Bruno was still the #1 babyface. While that may be true, that still made Pedro the #2 babyface. And the #2 babyface under Bruno Sammartino was not a bad place to be. He feuded with the likes of Blackjack Mulligan, Freddie Blassie, and Stan Stasiak. He teamed with Bruno for superstar tag team main events. And he would sell out Madison Square Garden over 20 times. A feat second only to Bruno. We do talk more about Bruno in Vol. 18.

One of the biggest matches in the history of WWE happened in 1972 at the first-ever Showdown At Shea. Bruno Sammartino challenged Pedro for the title in a near unheard-of babyface vs. babyface main event. That match made headlines and lasted 75 minutes. But in the end, the match ended in a draw due to the City Of New York’s curfew of 11 PM at the time. While the two heroes would shake hands and embrace to bring an end to their feud, the crowd did not seem happy that there was no declared winner. But the most telling part of all was the disappointing attendance at the gate. The WWWF would not run another babyface vs. babyface main event under Vincent J McMahon again.

The following year, Morales lost the WWWF Title to Stan Stasiak, who almost immediately lost it back to Bruno. Pedro would continue to wrestle for the WWWF for the next 15 months, leaving in the Spring of 1975.

Big Time Wrestling and Florida Run

Over the next few years, Pedro worked in San Francisco for Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling. He also worked for Eddie Graham in Florida where he faced Harley Race for the NWA World Title and teamed with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.

Return to WWF

Pedro returned to work for Vince Sr. in 1980. By this time, the promotion’s name had been shortened from The World Wide Federation to simply The World Wrestling Federation. In the second Showdown At Shea, Morales teamed with WWWF Champion Bob Backlund to defeat The Wild Samoans for The WWF Tag Team Titles. Their title reign was nullified due to Backlund already being a singles champion. A short time later, he defeated Ken Patera to become the third Intercontinental Champion. That made him WWE’s first-ever Triple Crown Champion (World, IC, and Tag Team Champion).

Final in-ring years

After a few years in Puerto Rico, Morales returned again to WWF to compete during Vince McMahon’s national expansion. While he did not achieve the success of the years prior, he did have the place on the card of a respected veteran. He also spent years as a color commentator for Spanish broadcasts after retiring from the ring.

Vol. 25: “Mean” Gene Okerlund (1942-2019)

2019 has begun on a sad note. The Wrestling World lost another legendary talent with the passing of longtime interviewer and personality “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Seth “Zandrax” Zillmann and “Crazy Train” Jonathan Bolick return to pay tribute to the man some call the greatest interviewer of all time.

While millions of fans know of his work in The Wrestling World, many are unaware of his pre-wrestling days. Eugene Arthur Okerlund was born in South Dakota in 1942. He worked in radio as a disc jockey, and in TV production in Minnesota. Then in the early ’70s, he became part of the AWA and began the career he would be associated with for the rest of his life. Over the next 30 years, he would appear regularly on TV for The AWA, WWE, and WCW. Often, he would have multiple segments where he interviewed wrestlers for upcoming matches or shows. He would also host the infamous PPV pitches on syndicated shows. Occasionally on WWE programming, Gene would wind up singing on camera. Perhaps most prominently performing The Star-Spangled Banner at the first WrestleMania. What a lot of fans may not know is Okerlund did have a musical background. Sometime during the 1960s he was part of a band “Gene Caroll And The Shades” and recorded a few songs. You can tell it’s him singing here in “Is It Ever Gonna Happen”.

Do you have any favorite memories of “Mean” Gene Okerlund? Let us know in the comments below.

Vol. 24: Charting The Territories with Al Getz

This volume of Classic Wrestling Memories is formatted a little differently. In the first part of the show, Seth and Train discuss the passing of three prominent people in pro wrestling, and the territories they worked in.

Dick Slater – A regular in several territories during the 70s and 80s, Dick Slater had success as both a singles and tag team star. He first broke in wrestling via Eddie Graham’s CWF before having runs in such territories as Mid-Atlantic for The Crocketts, Mid-South for Bill Watts, and Amarillo for Joe Blanchard. Perhaps his best-remembered run would be with Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. (father of Randy Orton) and their appearance in the original Starrcade. While he did have runs as a babyface, Slater spent the majority of his career as a heel.

Jose Lothario – Modern fans likely remember Lothario as the man who trained Shawn Michaels. That is of course true, but Jose had a very successful career in the 1960s Texas territories. Unlike Slater, Lothario spent almost his entire career as a babyface. His popularity was so great that the conventional wisdom of a veteran turning heel was not used with him. Instead, the young up-and-coming stars like Gino Hernandez would be the ones turning heel, and Lothario would be the grizzled veteran trying to teach the disrespectful rookies a lesson.

Larry Matysik – Larry was not an in-ring wrestler, but he was certainly successful in the business. He perhaps most notably promoted in the St. Louis area where he hosted Wrestling From The Chase for over 20 years.

In the latter half of the show, Al Getz joins Seth and Train to talk about his project Charting The Territories. As the name implies, Al gives historical looks at specific territories in certain eras. If you’re a fan of the territory days, Al has a show for you!

As mentioned in the end of the show, Train has a new Crooner’s Playlist on Spotify

Vol. 23: Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (1955-2018)

The wrestling world mourns the lost of another great. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart passed away earlier this week at the age of 63. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they cover Neidhart’s career from its beginnings in Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling up through his multiple stints in the then World Wrestling Federation in the Monday Night Wars. Neidhart was born in Florida, but went to high school and college in California. He held a shot put state record for over a decade. When you think of the size and population of California, that is quite an accomplishment. Jim initially sought to play in the NFL. While he participated in several pre-season activities with The Oakland Raiders and The Dallas Cowboys, he never formally made any NFL roster. However, his athleticism caught the eye of the legendary Stu Hart. Neidhart began training at the Hart Dungeon for a wrestling career in the late 1970s. He also met and married Elizabeth Hart around this time. After completing training, Neidhart wrestled for Stu’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. He then worked in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Bill Watts‘ Mid-South, Jerry Jarrett‘s CWA, and Eddie Graham‘s Florida territory before getting work in Vince McMahon‘s World Wrestling Federation. At first, Neidhart was paired with Mr. Fuji as a singles wrestler, and worked matches against his now brother-in-law Bret Hart. Shortly afterward, the plan changed and the two were paired together with Jimmy Hart as The Hart Foundation, where they were staples in the WWF tag division for the rest of the 1980s. The Anvil would have several memorable, and maybe not so memorable, runs with the WWF for the next decade, and would make indie appearances into the 2000’s. We here at Classic Wrestling Memories extend are deepest condolences to the Hart and Neidhart family 

Vol. 22: Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase for the WWF Championship

This episode of Classic Wrestling Memories focuses on the rise of “Macho Man” Randy Savage to Main Event Status, and his feud with “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase over the WWF Championship. The story of Savage turning babyface and allying with top hero Hulk Hogan can be considered the apex of the company’s national popularity during the “Rock and Wrestling” Era.

Prologue: Macho Madness

After the legendary Intercontinental Championship match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III, Savage finished his year long feud with George “The Animal” Steele. In June, The Honky Tonk Man defeated Steamboat for the IC strap. Honky then began referring to himself as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. Since Savage was at that time the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion, he took offense at this claim.

October 3rd, 1987 – Savage challenged Honky for the IC Title. Rumors over the years claim that Honky refused to drop the title to Savage. Whether this was true or not, it was one of the biggest angles at the time. During the match, Savage landed the Elbow, but Bret Hart ran in and broke the count. The Hart Foundation and Honky triple-teamed Savage until Elizabeth ran backstage and brought Hogan in to save the day.

The Set Up: Everybody Has A Price

December 1987 – Ted Dibiase boldly proclaimed that he will buy the WWF Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan. Hogan considered this offer but then gives a resounding “Hell No”. If Dibiase wants the championship, he can win it in the ring like everybody else.

January 1988 – Dibiase, frustrated at not being able to purchase the championship, reveals to the world that the WWF Championship will still be delivered to him. He then introduced the man that will do it, Andre The Giant.

Act One: The Pin Heard Round The World

February 5th, 1988 – One of the most famous angles of all time, and also the most-watched wrestling match of all time in the US, saw Hulk Hogan lose the WWF Championship to Andre The Giant after a crooked referee made a bad count. The match scored a 15.2 rating and 33 million viewers. To put that into perspective, that’s like “America Idol in its prime” type numbers. In real life, WWE had quietly hired Earl Hebner, the twin brother of referee Dave Hebner. Earl had actually been working in the Carolina territories. Since this was 1988, long before the internet was commonplace, almost nobody knew who he was. In fact, Earl had been working for the Crocketts as late as the previous week. So Earl counted a pinfall for Andre, even though Hogan’s left shoulder was clearly up. Andre then immediately relinquished the belt to Dibiase. The plan had worked!

Fans were bewildered! A world without Hulk Hogan as the champion? Dave Meltzer wrote in the Wrestling Observer newsletter dated February 15th, “All I can say is that I hope whoever came up with that finish got a nice bonus in this week’s paycheck”.

What some fans may not know, Dibiase was billed as the WWF Champion for a few weeks.

Act Two: WrestleMania IV

Jack Tunney made the decision a few weeks later to vacate the WWF Championship since none of the three major players had a valid claim to the title. He then declared a new champion would be crowned at WrestleMania IV in a 14-man tournament. Hogan and Andre drew automatic byes into the second round due to them both being former champions.

Andre’s mission this time around wasn’t to win the tournament, but to ensure Hogan did not advance. Andre accomplished this by causing the match to end in a double-disqualification. This also caused Dibiase to draw a bye into the finals. Savage was not so lucky. He had to defeat three opponents to secure his spot in the finals. In the end, Hogan stood in Savage’s corner to keep Andre at bay so Savage could finally pin Dibiase to win the title.

Act Three: The Mega Powers vs. The Megabucks

The next several months saw Savage defend the title on the house show circuit against Dibiase. Hogan took time off after four years on the road to be with his family for the birth of his daughter Brooke. He also filmed No Holds Barred during this time. Then in August of 1988, Savage and Hogan headlined the inaugural SummerSlam event against Dibiase and Andre. Heel commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as guest referee. Despite the obvious payoff of Ventura to be a biased referee, the babyfaces secured the win to end the feud.

Vol. 21: Big Van Vader (1955-2018)

The wrestling world has lost another legend with the passing of multi-time World Champion Big Van Vader, aka Leon White. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they pay tribute to arguably the greatest “Big Man” to step foot into the squared Circle. White was born on May 14, 1955, in Lynwood California. He was a two-time All-American football player for the University Of Colorado. After college, he was drafted into the NFL by the Los Angeles Rams where he played Center for two years. He was part of the NFC Championship team that played in Super Bowl XIV. Shortly after that, he was forced to retire from the NFL due to injury White began his professional wrestling career in 1985 for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. There he was given the name “Baby Bull” Leon White, a babyface who eventually challenged Stan Hansen for the AWA World Championship.

It was his time in Japan where White truly gained his stardom. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, he was christened “Big Van Vader”, and given the now-famous mask and headgear that would become a definitive look for the rest of his career.  On April 24th, 1989, Vader became the first “gaijin” (foreigner) to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship by winning a tournament, defeating Shinya Hashimoto in the finals.  Vader would win the title on two more occasions, in 1989 and 1991. During this time, he also wrestled for Otto Wanz’s Catch Wrestling Association in Austria, and Universal Wrestling Association in Mexico. With World Title wins in all three promotions, Vader became a world champion on three continents simultaneously. He and fellow gaijin Bam Bam Bigelow won the IWGP Tag Team Championship under the name Big, Bad, And Dangerous.

Upon losing the tag titles to The Steiner Brothers in 1992, Vader began wrestling full time for World Championship Wrestling. There he defeated Sting for the WCW Title at The Great American Bash and feuded with top stars such as Ric Flair, Ron Simmons, and Mick Foley. Vader would hold the WCW Title on three occasions, with reigns totaling 377 days. After a successful run in WCW, Vader was hired by Vince McMahon to work for the then World Wrestling Federation, where he was given a much-hyped debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble.  While he did not win any championships in the WWF, he did have high-profile feuds against The Undertaker and World Champion Shawn Michaels.