Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Sure Bet to be Champion?

The story has been told so many times over the last 26 years that it's accepted as fact. "Magnum T.A. was going to win the NWA title at Starrcade '86" or "Magnum T.A. was going to win the NWA title in 1987."

I think a lot of that, especially the Starrcade part, is wishful thinking by many fans over the years for a guy they love whose career was cut short by a tragic automobile accident.

Hey, not that he wasn't getting ready to get in line. But it wasn't happening then.

A sure bet to be champion? Magnum T.A. leaves the ring with the Ten Pounds of Gold
after a confrontation with champion Ric Flair on the nationally televised
"World Championship Wrestling" program in June of 1985.

There is no doubt Magnum T.A. would have been a top choice for the NWA title once it basically had become a Jim Crockett company-title by 1986, and especially with Dusty Rhodes in charge. Magnum was his guy. But it would surely have been a short term deal, similar to the Rhodes, Von Erich, Baba, and Rich reigns that came at the end of the NWA territorial years. Magnum T.A. wasn't the guy for a long term run. At least not in the NWA as existed then.

In the WWF, maybe it would have worked. The WWF booked for a babyface champion to be fed monster heels, one after the other. From Bruno to Backlund to Hogan, this had been the pattern in Magnum's era. He might have clicked as a WWF champion in that time.

But in the NWA, including the dying days of the territories and the single company Crockett era, things were booked so that charismatic babyface challengers chased the cocky heel champion, who would always barely escape with the championship in the end.

Magnum T.A. was perfect in this challenger role. He was brilliant in it, in fact, and had already proven to be so three times over in his relatively short main event career.

  1. After arriving in Jim Crockett Promotions in late 1984, he chased Wahoo McDaniel for the U.S. title, and beat him cleanly in front of a crazy Charlotte crowd in March of 1985. The message was clear - Magnum had defeated a bona-fide wrestling legend in McDaniel, and it immediately propelled him into the upper tier of babyfaces in the promotion, second only to Rhodes.
  2. Then in the summer and fall 1985, he chased Tully Blanchard for the same title. These two guys who were opposite sides of the same coin. It didn't come easy for him in this feud. It was a long hard five month chase that culminated in one of the most memorable Starrcade matches of them all - the 1985 "I Quit" match in Greensboro.
  3. Finally, after having the U.S. title stripped from him by an overly-legislative NWA president Bob Geigle, Magnum would chase the title again in a legendary best of seven series with the "Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff in 1986. This was made to order during the era of the cold war: the American hero vs. the commie Russian. Magnum found himself down 0-3 in the series before heroically battling back to tie the series 3-3 in what was the best match of the series in Asheville, NC. But then the unthinkable happened. Koloff won the title in match #7 in Charlotte, once again setting up Magnum as the classic babyface challenger chasing the title. Except this time it wasn't a regional battle against venerable aging legend in Wahoo McDaniel. It wasn't a national battle seen cross-country on the Superstation against the man on the other side of the mirror in Tully Blanchard. No, this battle now seemed world wide in scope - - the U.S.A. vs. Russia. And there can be little doubt that this program, which started way back at the beginning of 1986 would culminate in Magnum's greatest triumph in at Starrcade '86. It was one of the greatest wrestling stories ever told, except sadly we never got to see the finish.

That last summary pretty much shatters the Magnum-wins-the-NWA-title at Starrcade theories, because Magnum was going to win the U.S. title back at Starrcade. And it doesn't even matter if Dusty Rhodes or Jim Crockett tried to say today that it was going to happen at Starrcade '86, I'll never be convinced that it was going to happen. Nothing about that would make any sense at all, and up until Magnum's accident in October 1986, everything about the booking in Jim Crockett Promotions made sense. 1985-1986 was a magic period where everything clicked.

My guess would be that Magnum would have likely won the title from Flair within a year or so after that, perhaps a chase that culminated with a victory at the Great American Bash or more likely Starrcade 87. Or perhaps it would have been put on Magnum for a few months to build for Flair getting it back, much like they eventually did with Ron Garvin  in 1987.

Nothing can be really known for sure. Keep in mind that during the Flair/Crockett era of the 1980s, guys that were "certain" to win the title like Barry Windham (going back to Florida in the early 80s) and Lex Luger in the late 80s, never got the strap in that era. And both were Dusty's boys just like Magnum was. Windham certainly more than Luger, the latter being an attempt to develop their own Hogan, but still both were the apple of Dusty's eye.

A sure bet to be champion? One can envision Magnum carrying the Ten Pounds of Gold, if only for a short time. The photo above lets us actually see what it might have looked like. I love photos like that.

Still, though, the best story would be Magnum chasing the belt, as was always the case.

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Additional edit on 10/12: In response to various posts to a Facebook thread -  Not sure how Flair was going to "drop the title to Magnum at Starrcade 86" since there was no way I can see Flair wrestling Magnum at Starrcade 86. Magnum's accident was on 10/12 (if memory serves), which was only six weeks before Starrcade. There was NOTHING at that moment in time that even had Flair and Magnum in the same time zone, much less in the main event at Starrcade. In fact all of Magnum's final interviews that were taped the weekend of the accident were focused on Jimmy Garvin, which was to run a few weeks to keep him out of the ring with Nikita. He was most surely going to face Nikita at Starrcade to get the U.S. belt back, a match Dusty had meticulously booked toward since February of that year. Six weeks out, he wasn't going to put Magnum with Flair completely out of nowhere and abandon the Magnum/Nikita program, which was solid gold at that time. Like was stated in the article above, perhaps sometime in 1987, but not at Starrcade '86.