There are many famous families in the world of pro wrestling. The Harts may be the most well known, The Anoa’i family may be the largest. But the focus of this volume of Classic Wrestling Memories is dedicated to The Armstrong Family: Bob, Scott, Brad, Steve, and Brian.
Bob Armstrong was born Joseph Melton James in Georgia in 1939. He first saw wrestling as a child and trained to wrestle as a teen. After serving as a United States Marine in the early 60s, Bob became a firefighter. Bob Armstrong retired from full-time wrestling in 1988. He would still wrestle on independents for another 30 years and acted as commissioner for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2010. He passed away from cancer in 2020.
Brad Armstrong was born Robert Bradley James on June 15th, 1962. He made his in-ring debut in 1980 and quickly found success teaming with his father Bob in Southeastern Championship Wrestling. In the following years, he also won tag team championships with Magnum TA and, of course, with Tim Horner as The Lightning Express.
Scott Armstrong, born Joseph Scott James in 1961, is the oldest of the Armstrong brothers. Like his father, he started wrestling in the Georgia territory. He wrestled in mainly preliminary matches and in lower card tag team matches with his brother Brad.
Like the rest of The Armstrong Family, Steve started out in Southwest Championship Wrestling. His first major program was teaming with Johnny Rich against Ron Fuller’s Stud Stable, which included a young Arn Anderson. Steve teamed with Tracy Smothers as The Southern Boys and won the tag team titles in Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship Wrestling. The two also won the tag titles in Fuller’s Continental Championship Wrestling.
Brian and Billy Gunn formed the very successful tag team that would become known as The New Age Outlaws. They spent the next four years at the top of the WWF card as part of Degeneration X where they held the WWF Tag Team Championship four times.
Seth and Train talk the two men that donned the mantle of Mr. Wrestling, Tim Woods, and Johnny Walker.
3:15 – Mr. Wrestling
Woods went to the Omaha territory where promotor Joe Dusek gave him the name Mr. Wrestling. Dusek wanted Mr. Wrestling to wear a mask, despite most masked wrestlers in America were villains. He gave Woods a white mask and white singlet to wrestle in because he wanted Mr. Wrestling to be a babyface. The gimmick worked, and Mr. Wrestling was born. Mr. Wrestling would see his greatest success in the south and southeast territories. Leo Garibaldi promoted for months ahead of time that this mysterious man who was such an accomplished wrestler, no major star would be willing to face him if they knew his identity.
44:42 – The Famous Plane Crash
In 1975, Woods boarded a private plane with Johnny Valentine, David Crockett, and a young Ric Flair. The plane crashed breaking the backs of the other three wrestlers and killing the pilot. Woods gave his real name of George Woodin to the authorities and claimed to be a promotor. This was to cover the fact that he was the only babyface on the plane because if word got out that a babyface was in the same plane as heels, it would hurt the image of pro wrestling being legitimate. Especially if people learned that Tim Woods and George Woodin were one and the same.
40:18 – Mr. Wrestling II
Johnny Walker began his career as “The Rubberman” due to his flexibility. Unfortunately, he physically looked older than he was. So much so that he retired at the age of 30 because he looked like he was in his mid-40s. But if you put a mask on him, his aged look went away. He and Woods formed a team for a while. When he started work in Mid-South, he turned heel against top babyface Junkyard Dog. This brought about the infamous botch where II was supposed to pin JYD with a kneelift. II unfortunately missed by a mile with the kneelift but JYD still sold it like it killed him. This infuriated the crowd and caused a massive dip in business. He also teamed with and feuded against Magnum TA for The Crocketts.
1:07:00 – Wrap Up
Mr. Wrestling II retired in the early 80s and simply went home and returned to the life of Johnny Walker. Legend has it he didn’t acknowledge his past in wrestling and simply went by his name. His wife also had a knack for making flashy robes and suits for wrestlers and entertainers.
Rocky Johnson may be known by modern fans as the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but he had a Hall Of Fame worthy career in his own right. His in-ring charisma and ability to connect with the crowd made him a top draw everywhere he wrestled. Rocky’s six-foot-two inch 260-pound bodybuilder frame had amazing athleticism. In fact, many consider his dropkick to be among the greatest of all time.
NWA Territories (1965-1980)
Johnson made his debut in Ontario, Canada for Frank Tunney. Before long, he was a major attraction in San Francisco for Roy Shire, and in NWA Hollywood for Mike Lebell. He feuded with the likes of “Classy” Freddie Blassie and Pat Patterson. Rocky Johnson gained additional fame in the Florida territory for Eddie Graham. Then, over in Georgia Championship Wrestling, he became the first African-American Georgia Heavyweight Champion. Not only that, he held the Georgia Tag Titles simultaneously with Gerald Brisco. During these years, Johnson had NWA Heavyweight Title matches with Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, and Ric Flair. He even toured New Japan where he had matches with Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu.
Rocky was part of The World Wrestling Federation’s national expansion in the mid-1980s. Johnson teamed with Tony Atlas to form the popular tag team The Soul Patrol. They were a hit with the fans. So much so that they won the WWF Tag Team Championship in late 1983 from The Wild Samoans. While the team was popular, the two had notorious differences. As a result, they lost the tag titles and disbanded shortly afterward. Rocky would go on to feud with the likes of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Magnificent Muraco. WWF Tag Team Champions The Soul Patrol Image: WWE
Retirement and Post-Wrestling Life
Rocky Johnson retired from full-time competition after leaving The WWF in 1985. He made sporadic appearances for the next few years. His final in-ring WWE appearance was at WrestleMania 13. When The Iron Sheik and The Sultan attacked a young Rock, Johnson ran into the ring to protect his son. Rocky Johnson won over 25 titles in his career. In 2008, Rocky was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame along with his stepfather Peter Maivia. The Rock himself made the induction speech.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This episode of Classic Wrestling Memories is devoted to a true legend. In fact, a legend that other legends look up to. Wahoo McDaniel was a trailblazer in the 1960s as a star in both Pro Wrestling and The NFL. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they discuss the in-ring and football career of the NWA Hall Of Famer. Wahoo was a star in the NFL, playing on four different teams from 1960-1968. During this time, he wrestled in the offseason due to NFL players not having nearly as large of a salary as they do today.
After 1968, McDaniel was making more money wrestling in the off-season than he was playing professional football the rest of the year. During his in-ring run, Wahoo was a star in every territory he wrestled in. He held the NWA United States Championship (now recognized as the WWE United States Championship) on five separate occasions. During those reigns, he feuded with up-and-coming stars like Ric Flair and Greg Valentine. This is a show with content you won’t hear in many other podcasts because Train opens up about knowing and working with McDaniel throughout the years and shares some personal stories from behind the curtain. All this and more in a must-hear edition of Classic Wrestling Memories!