MITCHELL'S TAKE 25 YEARS OF BRUCE MITCHELL - DAY 1: Original column from 25 years ago in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter on cronyism, charity pimping & an old-time ‘rasslin revival
Oct 1, 2015 - 3:58:43 PM
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This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Mitchell becoming a Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter columnist. No single person has influenced the editorial tone and direction of the Torch brand over the years than Bruce, who brought a hard-hitting, supremely well-informed, speak-truth-to-power approach to his writing.
He went after sacred cows out of the gate, such as the beloved among “smart fans” (today’s “Internet fans” or “IWC,” I suppose) Eddie Gilbert and Jim Cornette. He also went hard after people in positions of authority and power who were abusing or misusing that power, or just not delivering a worthy product. He has also applauded and paid tribute to the greatest moments and movements in pro wrestling over the last 25 years, with a style of writing that has yet to be matched anywhere, I contend (despite Bill Simmons’s arrogant and uninformed contention last year that no one wrote at a high level about pro wrestling until his “Masked Man” columnist came along).
To celebrate and highlight Bruce’s stellar 25 years of influential and eloquent truth-telling about this fascinating industry, we’ll be featuring a single column from each of the last 25 years each of the first 25 days this month. His long-form columns (titled "Front Row, Section D" based on where he and his friends sat in the Greensboro Colisuem during Ric Flair's prime years on top in the NWA Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory) were a pioneer approach to pro wrestling journalism, and over these 25 days you’ll experience a slice of what it is that has earned Bruce Mitchell widespread recognition within the industry over the years as being “Pro Wrestling’s Most Respected Columnist.” We begin with his very first column, from Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #89 (cover dated Oct. 4, 1990).
In this column, like in many we’ll run each day the next 25 days, you will notice some remarkably similar themes and parallel issues that many fans are griping about today. Here’s one quote to look for: “Another old hoary wrestling time-waster their guys use is to claim to do a lot of charity work. Being involved in the community is part of what makes a business a good citizen. The WWF and the NWA do some work with charities, most of which to their credit is unpublicized.” Sound familiar?
On a personal note, I want to thank Bruce Mitchell for 25 years of helping define and guide the editorial tone of Pro Wrestling Torch, for being a sounding board for ideas and theories on what is right and wrong about this industry and the way it presents its product on air and conducts itself off-air, and for his friendship that goes well beyond the professional relationship we have had over these 25 years. I'm not sure where PWTorch would be without him, but I know I wouldn't be as proud of what the Torch stands for what the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter and PWTorch VIP website contains, if not for his contributions, which go well beyond what you read and hear with his byline at the top of it.
NOTE: VIP members can access hundreds of Mitchell columns instantly in the BRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY here, part of the massive unmatched online archives of insider wrestling coverage from over the past 28 years. (Not VIP? Gain access to the BRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY from the last 25 years and the BRUCE MITCHELL AUDIO SHOWS from the last 11 years by signing up www.PWTorch.com/govip).
ALSO: Bruce can be heard tomorrow night discussing his 25 years with Pro Wrestling Torch on the PWTorch Livecast with Travis Bryant. Stream it live (or later on-demand) at www.PWTorchLivecast.com starting at 7 ET.
-Wade Keller, editor
HEADLINE: “Old Style Wrestling” Gets Old
“The North American Wrestling Associaion has a back-to-wrestling movement and that’s what it’s all about.” - Lou Thesz, six-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion
“My good friend, Dr. Bean in Charlotte, could be getting a lot of work with fixing some teeth.” -George Scott, North American Wrestling Association owner and booker
Vince McMahon has changed the rules of the wrestling business in the United States by replacing the time-honored system of cooperating regional promotions with his own, mostly successful, monopoly. Ever since then, there have been many who have hoped for a return to the good old days. According to theory, a good, old-fashioned promotion that emphasized wrestling and workmate without ridiculous gimmicks should succeed.
Memphis, Portland, Dallas, and the AWA have tried elements of this approach, but they have all taken a beating from the WWF and are now worn out. A new promotion, marketed to a specific territory, run by someone other than Billy Jack Haynes or Ivan Putski, right have a chance for real success.
The North American Wrestling Association out of Charlotte, N.C. is the latest to try to return to the good old days of regional wrestling. George Scott, owner and booker, and attempting to run the same Carolina/Virginia territory in which he has had his greatest booking success. Scott was in charge during one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most successful eras, both creatively and financially.
The late-‘70s and early-‘80s in this area saw the debut and development of two superstars, Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair, and featured some of the best talent found anywhere in the world. The prime of Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Masked Superstar, Jimmy Suka, Jay Youngblood, Blackjack Mulligan, and Paul Jones were all during this time. I first became a fan then and it is a period I look back on with nothing but fondness.
The NAWA, or South-Atlantic Wrestling as it is also called, is based in many ways on the old Mid-Atlantic circuit. The announcers, Ted Webb from Tampa and Gene “Thunderfoot #2” Ligon, constantly refer to long-forgotten angles and wrestlers from the Mid-Atlantic days. The talent crew has a certain old flavor to it. Ricky Steamboat, Paul Jones, Matt Borne, Bob Orton, and Colt Steele have all had long runs in this area. Professor Boris Malenko from way back even sent his son Dean up here.
Other featured wrestlers include perennial Southern learn heel Robert Fller, Mark Flemming, Royal Fmily minus Lord lIttlebrook, Curtis Thompson, American Bulldogs, and Ranger Ross.
The younger talent includes Vince Torelli [2015 Editor’s Note: Later UFC fighter Ken Shamrock], a young Mike Rotunda type; “Bo” Ragin; American Eagle; Chris Chauis (picture “The Ultimate Indian”); and Diamond Dan Grundy (who looks like “Dr. Death’s” younger brother).
The television production crew fresh from the glory days of David Crockett is the ever-familiar guys at NEMO. The Carolina’s have a long wrestling tradition and this seemed like a solid crew that had a lot of potential for success.
It has not worked out that way. The good old days featured more than real wrestling. George Scott has also brought back the cronyism and self-indulgence that did as much to kill off the regionals as Vince McMahon. The worst example of this has been the South Atlantic’s biggest angle so far. Picture, after a couple of months of nothing but squashes, the following:
Champion Robert Fuller is in the ring beating up Ricky Steamboat’s “protege” when the Boat has seen enough. He hits the ring and a great brawl ensues. Of course, the latest edition of the Stud Stable, Matt Borne and The Nasty Boys, them jumps Rick. Who makes the save? If you guessed Bonnie Steamboat or Ricky Jr., shame on you. Of course, it’s “Number One” Paul Jones. Thew Stud Stable sell their collective butts off for this guy, leaping into the air and cutting flips. Jones single-handedly runs them all off.
There are a few good reasons, admittedly, for having Jones, of all people, do this. He can physically perform the angle. People have heard of him. He will show up for cards. Certainly the WWF or NWA does not want him… right, Ole? Not one of those reasons, however, will sell a ticket. You think you are sick of this guy? You think you are sick of this guy? He has been in this area for over 20 years.
Never mind that this angle might have put a young guy like Vince Terrelli over. After all, Paul Jones is George Scott’s buddy. Every TV show has featured an embarrassing assortment of plugs and appearances for and by a menagerie of Scott’s pals. Tim Woods int he mask, who is large enough to be Mr. Wrestling I and Mr. Wrestling II was on one show and it was obviously that no one in the audience had a clue as to who he was.
Action in the ring was ignored while Ted Webb and a host of color commentators socialize and reminisce. The funniest example of this so far was during one match when Ted asked Lou Thesz whether he had ever been to Bangkok. Lou said yes and Webb proceeded to ask him if he wanted to go there after the show. They went on to talk about all the fun he had there when he was in the military. Nothing like a five dollar hooker to make a guy feel nostalgic, huh Ted?
George Scott plugged his dentist on one show. While some of this may be inadvertently funny, mostly it serves to confuse and bore the viewer, given the viewer is not George Scott’s dentist. Sometimes the looseness is sort of appealing, though, as Matt Borne claimed he was going to get Paul Jones because Jones had everything in life while he “has never been able to hold down a job.”
Another old hoary wrestling time-waster their guys use is to claim to do a lot of charity work. Being involved in the community is part of what makes a business a good citizen. The WWF and the NWA do some work with charities, most of which to their credit is unpublicized.The NAWA takes a different track and goes beyond the old “your club or civic group” promotion. Virtually ever week they bring out a civilian associated with some charity and praise them, pledging undying support. Most of these people seem legitimate, although one week Mr. Richard Beyland from “People Against Drugs and AIDS Infection” made a memorable appearance. Standing between Steamboat and Chris Chavis, who is, un, really big, he looked right at the camera and said, “You can look at the size of these gentlemen and tell that they are drug free.” This remark reportedly set off gales of laughter in the dressing room.
Mr. Beyland then proceeded to tell the kids at home about “Professor E,” a rapper who was drug-free but still had fancy clothes and a big limo. Nice family values, guys. The promotion spends a lot of time preaching about drugs, claiming that guys like Bo Ragin’ lecture at high schools all across the nation. “Tennessee Stud” Robert Fuller claimed if he caught any kids doing drugs, he would whup’ed. I wonder if the child abuse charity is on next week? As smarmy as this charity stuff is, it does not sell tickets. It is just another way for the boys in this office to pat themselves on the back.
The NAWA has been a total flop at the box office. Crowds have averaged only a couple of hundred a show. In many ways, it is a shame. The one show we have been to, a heavily-advertised tournament for the NAWA Championship, drew 150 people to the brand new 14,000 seat Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. From a wrestling standpoint, it was a very good card with the better workers put over in virtually every instance. The card was highlighted by four matches featuring Ricky Steamboat plus Ricky leading the chant of “Dusty sucks!” at Nasty Boy Knobs. The entire crowd got into chanting “Santa” and “Ho Ho Ho!” at a totally befuddled Moondog Rex.
If the promotion had pushed good wrestling and young names the fans were interested in, they might have had a good chance for survival given the proper financial backing. If the people in the front office want someone to blame for their bad fortune, do not put it off on Vince McMahon or today’s wrestling fans, just look in the mirror. A regional promotion just might be very successful if it is highly competent and competitive both in business and on the mat, and serves the fans in the area. Who knows? Nobody has followed that path yet.
…and now, a personal note, if you please. After three weeks of watching NAWA promos, Hitch and I recently made a trip to Burlington to see a card. We took a promo poster out of a 7-Eleven for directions and found the stadium. No card. No sign. Nobody to be seen… Thanks, guys.
NOTES FROM SECTION D: If this really is finally the end of the line for the Major League of Professional Wrestling, the AWA, I hope they do the right thing and run one last show so Verne can beat Larry Zbyszko for the AWAW World Title… Somebody please break that damn chroma-key at TBS. Why is it that every news show at every bohunk station in America knows how to use this thing, but experts at a national cable network do not have a clue? I am sick of seeing Jim Cornette’s ears and glasses disappear every time he turns his head. How about Ric Flair’s psychedelic sport coats? Throwing a cloth over a backdrop (or Bob Roop) does not cost anything. C’mob guys, have some pride… Can you believe it? Pro wrestling was closed out of the Emmy Awards again!… Hey, Bowdren, anybody can book the NWA, but witout hiring anyone, let us see you turn around the IWC…
Definition of a “big time promotion” is one that can afford to hire Buddy Roberts full time… The most underrated wrestler in America must be Scott “Flash” Norton. Anybody can execute one great move after another a la Bobby Eaton, but the Flash’s subtle style is under appreciated by the smart fans. When he does a move, it means something… “Uncle Ivan” Hitchcock wants to know why Jim Cornette blows out “spitting” Sid for attacking the Express one week, praises him like he actually takes bumps the next, and gives him hell again the following week. Jim wants to know, too… Very funny, Kunkel. Your column has made many of us re-examiine our commitment to the First Amendment. Senator Helms and I are praying for you. How is Wayne Newton doing?… Boy, isn’t that Alan Iron Eagle a ball of fire?
Here are my ideas for Jim Herd’s consideration in looking for a new gimmick for Ric Flair: (1) Ric Flair comes out in a crewcut, forestry hat, and a uniform and says that he has joined Sting’s Earth Patrol. Every week he has a little segment with fire prevention and camping tops for all he kids. He is a real “Nature Boy” now. He’s “Ranger Ric”; (2) After taking a chairshot from Bob Armstrong, Flair starts to go into a m,animal rage at the sight of old people and beats up all the geezers at ringside, white-aired NWA officials cause him to froth at the mouth and attack in an animalistic fury. He is “Geriatric-Ric.”…
From the home office in Oxford, N.C., here are the top ten worst candidates for The Black Scorpion: (10) El Gigante; (9) Jo Pedicino; (8) Johnny Walker; (7) Sting; (6) Raja the Pakastani Lion; (5) Percy Pringle; (4) Ox Baker; (3) Chris Von Erich; (2) Junkyard Dog… Anton, drumroll please… (1) Dusty “The Midnight Rider” Rhodes.
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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