Friday, September 8, 2023

A Close Encounter with the Ten Pounds of Gold

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

I suddenly realized the referee in the ring was walking towards my position. I thought, well this is it, someone is finally going to ask me to leave. But as I looked up, he reached out with the NWA world title belt - - the beautiful "ten pounds of gold" - -
- - and waited for me to take it.

The year was 1982. I was 21 years old. I had just moved from Tennessee to begin work for Russell Corporation in Alexander City, Alabama. For the first time ever, I was isolated from Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, unable to watch the weekly adventures of my favorite group of wrestlers in my favorite wrestling territory.

I had settled in to my shabby little apartment on Highway 280 and hooked up local cable. I could get "Georgia Championship Wrestling" on the Superstation out of Atlanta, and saw some of my guys there -  Roddy Piper, Ole Anderson, Ray Stevens, and Ric Flair. I was getting familiar with the NWA promotion based out of Pensacola, Florida that ran the panhandle of Florida and the lower two-thirds of the state of Alabama. This would be my new home territory. Their TV show aired twice every Saturday - once in the afternoon out of Montgomery, and again late Saturday night out of Birmingham. People in the business called this territory the Pensacola territory. But most fans called it the Southeastern territory, taken from the name of their television show for so many years, "Southeastern Championship Wrestling."

I liked their TV show well enough. Charlie Platt and Ric Stewart were excellent studio hosts. I was familiar with a lot of their wrestlers who used to be regulars in the Southeastern promotion based out of Knoxville, TN, in the 1970s - - guys like Ron and Robert Fuller, Bob Armstrong, and Jimmy Golden. But nothing was ever going to quite replace Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions for me. That was the wrestling I had grown up on. And I missed it terribly.

However, that fall, Southeastern Championship Wrestling was running a tour called "October Fest" and the NWA World champion Ric Flair was coming to the territory to put his title up against a different challenger in a different town in the territory each night of that week. Ric Flair was a "Mid-Atlantic guy," having cut his teeth in the Carolinas beginning in 1974 and eventually becoming the NWA World champion in 1981.  he was the first ever wrestler in the 46 year history of Jim Crockett Promotions to have ever developed through the territroy and been selected by the NWA to be their champion. As fans, we were proud of that! And even though he was now the world champion and just passing through to defend the title, having him come through my new home state of Alabama made me feel a little less homesick.

My first decision was where to go see him. The closest towns where Flair would be were Montgomery and Birmingham, AL. We received most of the TV stations on our local cable from both markets. Flair was scheduled to defend against "The Tennessee Stud" Ron Fuller on Monday 10/25 in Birmingham, and "the Universal Heart Throb" Austin Idol two nights later on Wednesday 10/27 in Montgomery.

Montgomery was a little bit closer, a little over an hour's drive away, and the Montgomery Civic Center was a little easier to get to than Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham. So I chose to go to Montgomery for that stop on the "Southeastern Wrestling October Fest" tour.

The Montgomery Civic Center in Montgomery, AL. Circa 1960s. "Wrestling Tonite" on the marquee!

Another factor in that decision was the opponent for Ric Flair. I had always been a big Austin Idol fan, and had always wanted to see what would happen if these two guys ever met each other in the ring. It was a dream-match of sorts - - a battle of Austin Idol's "Las Vegas leglock" against Ric Flair's "figure-four."

I hadn't made any wrestling friends in my new hometown yet, so I decided to go to the matches alone. I got off work early that Wednesday and drove down to the Montgomery Civic Center box office as soon as it opened to get the best tickets possible. I was able to secure seats in the ringside area, although I was about four rows back. I took my camera and hoped to get a few good photos up near the ring.

There was surprisingly little security at this show. When Flair and Idol had entered the ring, I was able to sort of stoop low, scoot up and kneel down next to the ring with my camera. Surprisingly, no one said a word to me. I couldn't believe how lucky I was.

The ring announcer introduced Idol first and then introduced Flair. Ric opened his robe, took the NWA belt from around his waist and handed it to the referee. He then handed his big heavy robe over the top rope down to the ring attendant on the floor who was already holding Idol's full-length heavy robe in his arms as well. He left the ringside area to take the robes back to the dressing rooms. I watched all this and again, nobody said a word to me as I knelt at ringside.

I suddenly realized the referee in the ring was walking towards my position. I thought, well this is it, someone is finally going to ask me to leave. But as I looked up, he reached out with the NWA world title belt - - the beautiful "ten pounds of gold" - - and waited for me to take it.

I couldn't figure out what was happening. Like in a movie, everything sort of started to go in slow motion and I couldn't hear a thing.

I've always thought that the referee had turned to give the title belt to the ring attendant, but the ring attendant had failed to wait for the belt, having two large heavy robes to carry to the back. Looking back on it, I have no idea why he wouldn't have just handed the belt to the ring announcer who I think had already exited on the other side of the ring at this point after his introductions. But he didn't. Instead, incredibly - - perhaps thinking I must be at ringside for a reason - - he was trying to hand the belt to me.

So I took it.

And I want to tell you that for one brief moment - - one fleeting, crazy, impulsive, irresponsible, disrespectful, do-I-dare, moment - - I thought about walking right back down the aisle with that belt, right out the back door, never to be seen or heard from again!

I wouldn't really have done that. Even at age 21, I had so much respect for the belt, for the championship, for Ric Flair and all the others that had held it. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit I thought about it! For one brief second....

Ring attendant with the NWA title in Dothan, AL.
This wasn't me, this wasn't Montgomery, it just
reminds me of that moment in my life.

Instead, I just looked at it. I couldn't believe what I had in my hands. This was the famous domed-globe belt; the Lombardi trophy and the Stanley Cup and every championship trophy in every major sport all wrapped up into one. Ric Flair's world title. The same world title that had been held by Brisco, Funk, Race, and Rhodes. And now I was kneeling at ringside in Montgomery, Alabama with that belt in my hands.

If I had really wanted to run away with the belt (which I did not), my window of opportunity quickly closed as the ring attendant had returned and I suddenly realized he was right behind me. He snatched the belt from my hands.

"You need to get back to your seat, bud," he said with a cold stare. And so without a word, I complied.

Can you imagine how badly this might have ended otherwise? I'm guessing the boys in the back would have had a field day with the young punk who tried to steal the champ's belt. More likely, I would have been arrested and spent the night in the Montgomery county jail.

My pulse was still racing as I thought about what had just happened. It was my one brief moment to touch history, to touch this belt I would have never thought I would have a chance to get anywhere near.

Many years later, however , on October 28, 2008, Dave Millican and I had the opportunity to photograph this very same belt. These photographs would later wind up in our book "Ten Pounds of Gold."

I would have never dreamed I could have gotten that close to it again.


Edited from a story originally published in October of 2015 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair

One of the great frustrations for wrestling fans interested in wrestling history, especially fans a little older like me, is the lack of focus and context on the early aspects of Ric Flair's wrestling career, especially during the era when the territories were still going strong in the 1970s. 

A less familiar observer who spent time reading or watching popular culture presentations on the life and career of the "Nature Boy" might think things took off for him professionally about the time he defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the landmark Starrcade event in 1983.

Not so in "The Last Real World Champion" by respected wrestling historian and author Tim Hornbaker. He is nearly 130 pages into his biography before he ever gets to Starrcade.

Spanning over 400 pages, "The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of Nature Boy Ric Flair" covers every aspect of Flair's remarkable in-ring career that spans nearly half a century. But in a pleasant development, to my experience, there has never been a more thorough review of the ten years before that famous win over Race in Greensboro. So much of Flair's career before his historic run as world champion often gets glossed over by others, hitting only a few high spots. Hornbaker goes deep into Flair's early career, especially concerning his development as a major star and box-office draw in the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory promoted by the Crockett family. He covers Flair's arrival in the Carolinas in great detail, his development under booker George Scott, life on the road, and his early tutoring by Johnny Valentine, Wahoo McDaniel, and others. Long-time Mid-Atlantic fans will revel in the details of the significant angles and achievements early on, while fans less familiar with that era will find lots to learn, love, and celebrate.

The rest of Flair's unique story is told throughout this amazing book, including the NWA title era, WCW and Nitro periods, and the latter years in WWE and Impact Wrestling. 

When it comes to the more challenging aspects of Flair's personal life and entanglements outside of wrestling, Hornbaker doesn't flinch there, either. But with regards to the personal drama, he reports on all of it succinctly and cleanly, unlike some other accounts, which look more like wide-eyed gawkers slowing up to pass an accident on the side of the highway. If you want that dirt, help yourself; it's been done to death in many documentaries and articles over the past years and even by Flair himself. Hornbaker doesn't gloss over any of it, to be sure, but he doesn't dwell on it either. There are no judgments here. The title, after all, purports to examine the legacy of the "last real world champion," and the more interesting aspects of the book focus on Flair's remarkable and unparalleled legacy in the ring, not out of it. 

"The Last Real World Champion" is the perfect title for the book. Not only does it call back to a fun moment in time when Flair took the Big Gold Belt to the WWF, but it is also factually accurate. Flair was the last in a long line of touring world champions before guys with belts were nothing more than company champions. It's also a positive reflection on Flair's in-ring career as a whole.

With great affection for the subject matter, Tim Hornbaker brings Flair's amazing career into focus unlike any other. It is a tour de force with respect to thorough research and is impeccably documented with nearly 55 pages of end notes. This type of exhausting research is a hallmark of Hornbaker's work generally. 

A walk along this rich historical journey is great fun. Available for pre-order now, it is highly recommended reading for fans of Ric Flair and of pro-wrestling history and sports entertainment in general.

- Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Available September 12, 2023

ISBN-13: 9781770416260
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 09/12/2023
Pages: 420
Size: 6 x 9”

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Rich and Race

Great magazine cover from 1982, former NWA World Champion "Wildfire" Tommy Rich battling reigning champion Harley Race. This was Tommy Rich in his prime. The two traded the NWA title a year earlier in Georgia. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

The Funks and the Briscos Take Over Greensboro on Thanksgiving (1973)

Jim Crockett (Sr.) Scholarship Fund Night in Greensboro
by Dick Bourne

Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The Crockett Territory's Biggest Night of the Year

When Jim Crockett passed away in 1973, the family decided to establish a scholarship in his name. According to a report in the Greensboro News & Record, the traditional Thanksgiving night event in the Greensboro Coliseum was the first in a series of scholarship events to be held in the coming weeks to honor the legacy and memory of James Allen Crockett, Sr. Proceeds from the event would go to that fund.

Ticket stub from Thanksgiving Night in Greensboro 1973
Nov. 22, 1973  -  48 years ago!

The Thanksgiving event in Greensboro, which was always a big affair and one of the biggest shows of the year in the entire territory, was particularly loaded that evening. The NWA World champion Jack Brisco was booked to defend the ten pounds of gold against former champion Dory Funk, Jr. in what was another in a series of classic battles between the two wrestlers who defined pro-wrestling in the 1970s. Jack had defeated Harley Race in July of that same year for the title, and the angle now was that Brisco had never defeated his arch-rival Funk, Jr. in a title match.  This was a huge deal at the time and billed as a special event selected for Greensboro. To add even more star power to that main event, former legendary champion Lou Thesz was brought in as special referee for the title contest.

A number of other big names were brought in from outside the area for the show, which wasn't that unusual for big shows in Greensboro. Terry Funk was in to challenge Eastern (by then renamed Mid-Atlantic) Heavyweight champion Jerry Brisco in a battle of the younger brothers who were in the main event that night. Indeed, Thanksgiving night in Greensboro was a Funk vs. Brisco showcase.

Also in for this huge show were the father and son combination of Eddie and Mike Graham. Eddie and Mike were top stars for Championship Wrestling from Florida, and Eddie was also the promoter of that territory. They squared off against one of the Mid-Atlantic territory's top legendary heel tag teams Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson. What a classic brawl that must have been.

Another top star in for the big card that didn't wrestle regularly in the territory was Cowboy Bill Watts. A regular in Georgia and Florida, Watts had made several special appearances in Greensboro that year, but was not a regular member of the Crockett roster.


Championships At Stake In Thanksgiving Wrestling  
Thanksgiving night in the Greensboro Coliseum will be wrestling championship night, the finest card ever presented to Piedmont sports fans. 
Jack Brisco, the new world heavyweight title-holder, will risk his crown against Dory Funk Jr. of Texas, the former champion. Funk lost his title some time ago to Harley Race, who in turn was beaten by Brisco ... and Jack Brisco has never beaten Funk in a title match. Lou Thesz, a former world champ, will be the special referee. 
Younger brothers of both champions clash In the Eastern Heavyweight title match. Jerry Brisco, who holds the crown, will take on Terry Funk. Both title features will be one hour time limit.  
This Thanksgiving special, which usually draws the season's largest wrestling crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum, will be the first in a series of Jim Crockett Scholarship Fund events throughout the area. Wrestlers and promoters alike are working to set up a series of college scholarships to honor the late Jim Crockett, regarded as the South's outstanding promoter at the time of his death last spring.  
Other matches include Cowboy Bill Watts versus Beauregard, Bob Bruggers versus El Gaucho and The Destroyer versus Rufus R. Jones. A special tag team match will have Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson against Eddie and Mike Graham. 

Wrestling Set Tonight  
The late Jim Crockett will be honored tonight during professional wrestling in the Greensboro Coliseum tonight involving world champions. 
Lou Thesz, who held the world crown for many years, will referee a match between current champ Jack Brisco and Dory Funk Jr.  Funk lost his title to Harley Race who was beaten by Brisco.
The Eastern Heavyweight title is also at stake with present titlist Jerry Brisco being challenged by Terry Funk. Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson will have a tag team battle against Eddie and Mike Graham and there will be several singles events. 

A Rare Thanksgiving Night Card in Charlotte

With so many big outside names taking the top spots on the Greensboro card, one could easily wonder where the rest of the Mid-Atlantic roster was that night. Typically, Norfolk, VA, also hosted a big card of wrestling on Thanksgiving night. But in 1973, Charlotte instead played host to a rare Thanksgiving night show that, like Greensboro, also featured some special guest stars.

The headline event for the Charlotte Coliseum featured the top two singles stars in the territory at the time, Johnny Valentine vs. Johnny Weaver. In the semi-main event, the Mid-Atlantic tag team titles were on the line as new champions Jay York and Brute Bernard defended against the area's most popular tag-team combination, former champs Sandy Scott and Nelson Royal. As an added bonus, former world boxing champion Joe Louis was in town and had been assigned as special referee for the title contest.
Two big outside names were brought in for the show as well. Area favorite Paul Jones had been campaigning in the state of Florida for the last couple of years and had won the Florida Heavyweight championship. He was in the midst of a red-hot feud with Buddy Colt. The two had traded the Florida title several times during the year of 1973 and now they brought their heated rivalry to Charlotte for Thanksgiving night. The Florida title was not on the line in Charlotte, but it was a bit of a homecoming for Jones who had wrestled on cards throughout the Mid-Atlantic territory for years before moving down to the sunshine state. Charlotte fans were well familiar with the feud because "Championship Wrestling from Florida" was seen on Charlotte area television in those years.
Charlotte's traditional night for wrestling was Monday night, and as a testament to the city's ability to support pro-wreslting, Jim Crockett Promotions returned to the city the very next Monday night 11/26, only four days following the big Thanksgiving night show. The main event back at the cozy confines of the Charlotte Park Center was Johnny Valentine vs. Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones.
The death of Jim Crockett had saddened the entire Mid-Atlantic area earlier that year, but on this big night Jim Jr., David, Jackie, and Frances did their father proud with one huge night of wrestling in their showcase cities. It was the territory's biggest night of the year and was 1973's shining moment.

  Edited from a post originally published June 30, 2015 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Could Terry Funk Take The Champ? (Aug. 1979 in Florida)

Could Terry Take The Champ?
from "The Grapevine" Volume II, Number 34
August 1979 (Championship Wrestling from Florida)

Sports fans of the future will look at the decade which is the Seventies and see three names at the top of the roster in the area of professional wrestling. These are, Funk, Brisco and Race. Perhaps another will be added before 1980 is upon us, but time is drawing short.

And if the title does change hands before the end of the year, it seems quite possible that the new champion will not be entirely new at all.

"Handsome" Harley Race

Former title-holder Terry Funk who, along with his older broth-er, Dory Funk Jr., held the NWA crown for half of the current decade, has emerged as one of the biggest threats to confront reigning champion Harley Race thus far. It was Harley Race who brought the reign of Terry Funk to an abrupt end early in
1977. Unlike his brother, Terry was an impulsive, hot-tempered scrapper who seemed to feel that he had to prove himself every time he got in the ring, even after he had won the world heavyweight championship. It was this impulsive nature that Harley Race took advantage of the night he won the belt from Terry Funk.

Another factor in Funk's loss to Race cannot be overlooked, however, and that is the fact that Terry emerged badly-battered from a match with Dusty Rhodes the night before Harley Race beat him for the NWA title. It's hard to ignore this factor in Race's victory. Funk won't claim it--he's too proud to make excuses. Race won't admit it because doing so might damage his image as world champion. Rhodes doesn't even want to talk about it.

Nevertheless, it's there, and the question remains, could Harley Race have beaten Terry Funk if Dusty Rhodes hadn't "softened up" his fellow-Texan first?

The "experts" may still be arguing about this a hundred years from now, but for the moment we are left with two uncommonly tough Texans lined up in a determined effort to take the world heavyweight championship from Harley Race. It seems almost impossible to say which is first in line right at this moment, each having presented a strong case for himself as the "logical challenger."

Not to diminish Dusty in any respect, or any of the other challengers, for that mattter, it is only fair that we give Terry Funk some special consideration at this point. Terry is a former world champion, and because he has been active in other areas for the most part since Race took the title from him, we really haven't given Terry the coverage his status as a top contender merits. Terry Funk, it is said, didn't have to be slapped on the behind by the doctor who delivered him. He came into this world raising hell in a loud voice, and in all probability will go out the same way.

He grew up in the shadow of a father who did as much as Sam Houston and Billy The Kid to remind the rest of the world that Texans are tough. Terry also had an older brother who combined great athletic ability with a degree of intellectualism not always found among professional athletes. In other words, Terry Funk grew up with a lot of image to live up to. A lesser man wouldn't even have tried, but Terry Funk not only tried, he succeeded. He matched Dory Funk Jr.'s outstanding record as an amateur athlete at West Texas State University, and nobody anywhere made light of Terry's somewhat limited talents as a vocalist when he sang, 'Waltz Across Texas."

If Harley Race has to face Terry Funk -- and at this stage of the game it seems almost inevitable that he will -- the current world champion won't be going up against a man who has just finished battle with Dusty Rhodes. He'll be facing a more seasoned challenger who'll have a lot more reason to be confident than he had in 1977.

And just as much reason to be confident, it seems, as Harley Race had in that year. Time has a way of changing things.



Saturday, June 24, 2023

Wrestle Art: The NWA World Title Belt

The "Brisco Belt", the second version of the NWA World Title
"domed globe" belt used in 1974-1976.

Graphic art created by David Williams © 2019

By Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Art by David Williams

Back in late February of 2019, a computer artist named David Williams contacted me wanting to source some photos for a graphic art project he was envisioning. "I’ve been obsessed for several years with the thought of accurately rendering the classic NWA belt," he wrote me. "The problem is I want to make it as perfect to original as possible, or not bother."

Given my love and appreciation for that old belt, this certainly seemed like a worthwhile endeavor and I wanted to enthusiastically support Williams' project. The only thing David needed was some close-up hi-res photos of the belt, which I was happy to send him. Some of these photos I had taken myself, including the cover photo for the book "Ten Pounds of Gold" which showed close detail of the main plate, and others that showed the leather strap and details of the side plates.

With the help of some measurements Dave Millican made when he and I photographed the belt for the book back in 2008, Williams was able interpolate specific measurements for every element of the belt, all in perfect scale, in all of the title's iterations.

David Williams is a wrestling fan like the rest of us, growing up watching "Championship Wrestling from Florida," counting Jack Brisco and Buddy Colt among his favorites. Today he is a professional computer artist and career art director, as well as designer and publisher of the Ferrari Club of America’s Prancing Horse magazine. 

And let me tell you, this cat has mad skills.

Version 2A, end to end, every meticulous detail.
(David Williams)

After reviewing all the photos I sent him, he decided to attempt not only the original version, but a recreation of all four versions of the "domed globe" belt that were worn and defended by the great NWA champions of 1973-1986. The two images you see on this page are of the second version of the belt. It is always identifiable by several unique characteristics, primarily the white lettering on black background above the flags, the tight leather cut, and "NWA" letters that go straight across the globe (as opposed to the curved letters on later versions.)  You will also notice the "BRISCO" nameplate, which was on this version of the belt.

We collaborated on what should be included with regard to some of the details and in the end, David wound up with ten (10) different amazing images showing the progression of the belt from when it debuted in Houston, Texas on July 20, 1973 until it was retired in February of 1986. Each version features some change in the physical characteristics of the plates or the leather, even including the dents in the globes and the busted lacing around the edges of the leather strap.

I present here each of these 10 images, taking the opportunity to use David's amazing work to illustrate the evolution of the belt over the years, paired with information taken directly from the "Ten Pounds of Gold" book. You will see for yourself in some enlarged images the incredible detail of every single aspect of the belts, right down to the exact number of "beads" around the edge of the belt, the specific maps on the different globes, the lacing on the leather straps, the wrestlers on the plate, the fonts on the nameplates, and every other detail you can imagine. Just amazing work.

See all of David Williams incredibly detailed art after the jump!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Prelude to the NWA Title: Terry Funk Wins the United States Championship in 1975

The 1975 U.S. Title Tournament Belt - Mystery Solved!
by Dick Bourne,
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Originally Published February 2020

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett, and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

One of the longest unsolved mysteries in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history, especially for belt enthusiasts, involved trying to figure out what belt Terry Funk held high over his head the night he won the famous United States title tournament in November of 1975. Because it wasn't the United States title belt.

It was part of the a great story and angle that eventually led to Terry Funk defeating Jack Brisco to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

This tournament was held as a result of the October 1975 plane crash in Wilmington, NC that ended the career of then reigning U.S. Champion Johnny Valentine. This tournament that George Scott booked is the most famous and, arguably, the greatest tournament ever held in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling history, from an era when tournaments meant something.

Not only were the area's top wrestlers involved, but Scott booked some of the top wrestlers from other territories around the country including Red Bastien, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ray Stevens, Terry Funk and Blackjack Mulligan. Mulligan wound up staying in the territory taking Valentine's spot as the area's top heel. But it was another Texan that wound up capturing the U.S. championship that night - Terry Funk.

Terry Funk holds up the "mystery" belt after
winning the U.S. tournament in in 1975
(from pg. 59 in the book)

Funk wrestled four matches in that tournament, defeating Red Bastien, Rufus R. Jones, and Dusty Rhodes before topping Paul Jones in the tournament final.

But when the referee raised Funk's hand that night, the belt he handed him was not the United States Championship belt.

Oddly, there have never been many photos published from that night, but there was one key photo documenting Funk's win that was published in an early 1976 issue of "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine," JCP's in-house publication sold at the matches. There, bloodied and exhausted and leaning against the ring ropes in the Greensboro Coliseum, Funk holds the belt high above his head after defeating Paul Jones in the tournament's final match. But it was nearly impossible to tell in the low-resolution photograph just what belt this was standing in for the United States championship.
As fate would have it, the real U.S. belt was not in the building for a reason we will likely never precisely know. Johnny Valentine was the reigning champion at the time of the plane crash and had the belt in his possession at the time of the accident. The most reasonable and likely explanation is that, in the chaos that ensued following that tragedy, the office simply failed to get the belt back from him in the few weeks between the crash and the tournament. But regardless of the reason, the famous red-leather gold cast belt familiar to all Mid-Atlantic fans wasn't there.

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett, and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

The promoters had a big problem on their hands. They had a high profile tournament taking place in front of a sold-out Greensboro Coliseum and on the night of the tournament had no belt to present to the winner.

So what explains the photo of Terry Funk holding a belt high over his head? What belt was it? 

While working on his book about the Canadian Heavyweight title in 2019, my friend Andrew Calvert (who publishes the respected Maple Leaf Wrestling website) wrote me that he thought perhaps he and some of his friends had solved the mystery.

Andrew had just finished reading my book "United States Championship." He closely inspected the photo of Funk and thought the belt looked familiar. He consulted two of his friends who were knowledgeable about Mulkovich belts, Chris Kovachis and Griff Henderson. They both concluded independently from each other that they thought the belt was one of the current WWWF Tag Team championship belts.

But what could possibly explain why a WWWF tag team belt would be in the Greensboro Coliseum that night?

When Andrew presented their theory, it immediately made sense to me. One of the "outside" wrestlers booker George Scott had brought to Greensboro that night was Blackjack Mulligan, who just happened to currently be one half of the WWWF Tag Team champions with partner Blackjack Lanza. Mulligan had worked for Jim Crockett Promotions for a three-month span in the spring of that year, but left to go to the WWWF to reunite the famous team of the Blackjacks.

Blackjack Mulligan on WWWF television wearing his WWWF Tag Team title belt.

For context, George Scott had already arranged to bring Blackjack Mulligan back to the Mid-Atlantic territory to take Johnny Valentine's spot as the top "heel" in the territory following Valentine's career ending injuries in the plane crash. But Mulligan was presently still working out his notice with Vince McMahon, Sr. at the time of the U.S. title tournament in Greensboro. During the months of November and December, he was back and forth between both promotions. And the night of the tournament, he was in for a single-night shot, his WWWF tag belt in his bag.

One can only speculate at what point that day everyone figured out that this was the belt they could use, but it seems clear that Blackjack Mulligan had reached into his bag and pulled out a WWWF belt that could be recognized as the United States championship - - at least for that one night.

Judge for yourself. Take a look at the belt Funk is holding in the photo above and compare it to the collage of photos of various WWWF Tag Team champions of that era below.

Three different teams wearing the WWWF Tag Team championship belts.
Mr. Fuji and Toru Tanaka, the Valiant Brothers, Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow

The photos seem to provide visual confirmation at the very least, and the argument is further buttressed by the fact Mulligan was on the Greensboro show and was the only possible connection to those belts at that point in time.

Thanksfully, by the time Terry Funk returned to Greensboro three weeks later to defend the U.S. title against Paul Jones on the annual Thanksgiving night card in Greensboro, the company had regained possession of the original familiar U.S. belt from Johnny Valentine.

For the better part of the last 45 years, I've wondered what belt Funk held over his head in Greensboro. No one had ever been able to provide a viable answer until now. PWInsider's Mike Johnson once wrote after reviewing my book Big Gold that I was the "Indiana Jones of title belt archaeology." That was a very nice compliment. I wish I had uncovered this information on the U.S. belt on my own, but all credit goes to the Canadian raiders of the lost ark, Andrew, Chris, and Griff. I will always be grateful to them. (Visit Andrew Calvert's website at

I regret not having this information before finishing my book on the United States title history. But I hope to include it in an updated volume at some point. 

For all the details on the rich history of JCP's United States Heavyweight Championship, the champions, and the five belts that represented the title, check out our book "United States Championship" available via the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store and on 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Connecting the Dots: Brisco, Funk, Race, & Rhodes (1977)

by Dick Bourne
Originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

During the first years of my hardcore fandom of pro wrestling, 1975-1976, there were four main singles stars in the Mid-Atlantic area. Those wrestlers were Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Ric Flair, and Blackjack Mulligan. This was my "A-list."

But there was another "A-list" I was fascinated by, too, and that was a group of four wrestlers that were atop the NWA's world championship picture during those years. That group included Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, and Dusty Rhodes.

During the mid-to-late 1970s, these were the guys that dominated the NWA coverage in the newsstand magazines. And even though Rhodes didn't win the NWA title until 1979 (and really only seriously in 1981), he was always in the title picture, and the darling of the magazines. He was also a special attraction in our area, especially in the 1970s, as much or more than the NWA champions.

I was always fascinated by how these four always were interconnected from a storyline and title-lineage perspective. I remember this first really dawned on me when our TV programs showed the tape of Harley Race beating Terry Funk for the NWA title in Toronto in 1977, and Whipper Billy Watson (a former NWA champion and Toronto legend doing commentary for the match) made the observation that not only was Race now a 2-time champion, but he had defeated both of the Funk brothers in doing so.

From that point forward, the Funk/Brisco/Race triangle (with Rhodes thrown in there causing trouble) was one of my favorite subjects to dwell on.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently came across this wonderful little article from the Tampa Tribune published two days after Race defeated Funk in that very match in Toronto, and promoting the matches later that night at the Hesterly Armory in Tampa. The article is un-credited, but whoever wrote it knew their stuff, and it was a delight reading how he sorted through all of the these connections I used to think about as a young teenage wrestling fan, and related them beautifully to the current events in Florida.

From the article in the Tampa Tribune, February 8, 1977, via

Race Regains NWA Title, Defends Against Brisco

Harley Race won the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship against Terry Funk in Toronto Sunday night and will defend the title against Jack Brisco tonight at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

As far as Brisco is concerned, their championship fight is three nights too late. Brisco beat Race Saturday night at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.

The turn of events involving Funk, Race, Brisco and Dusty Rhodes make soap operas seem awfully dull.

Rhodes beat Funk in the featured title match Saturday night at the Bayfront, but Funk was disqualified for kayoing the referee and the title didn't change hands.

Funk, however, injured a knee in that match and against better judgment went ahead with his scheduled match with Race in Toronto Sunday night.

Race beat Funk in a quick 14 minutes, 10 seconds with an Indian death lock, which places pressure on the knee and ankle.

NWA rules require a new champion to fulfill the former champion's match commitments. Interestingly, this brings Race right back against Brisco on tonight's Gasparilla Championships starting at 8:30 at Hesterly.

Terry Funk defeated Brisco for the championship in Miami in December of 1975.

Race previously held the title by defeating Dory Funk Jr. - - Terry's brother - - in March of 1973 and Race lost it to Brisco the following July.

An interesting triangle.

And who does Rhodes, the popular "American Dream wrestle tonight at Hesterly? Dory Funk Jr.

So, tonight's intriguing lineup pits Race vs. Brisco and Rhodes vs. Funk -- one champion and two ex-champs in the top two bouts.

It was in the same Gasparilla week of 1969 that Dory Funk Jr., lifted the heavyweight championship from Gene Kiniski at Hesterly.

Race has been wrestling professionally for 17 years. He turned pro with the NWA at 16, the youngest wrestler ever to do so.

Race makes his home in Kansas City.

I learned another little NWA title history storyline nugget in this article, too. I never knew the bit about Terry Funk injuring his knee in St. Petersburg the night before the title change in Toronto. Maybe I'd read that before and just forgotten it, but it was a nice little twist to NWA title lore.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Back in the Saddle


Ric Flair stands proudly in the ring in Japan in May of 1984 after regaining the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Kerry Von Erich.

They call Kerry Von Erich the 'Pride of Texas', huh? Well, I've never worn a pair of blue jeans, never wore a cowboy hat, never wore a pair of cowboy boots in my life. But there isn't a woman in the state of Texas that doesn't call Ric Flair 'the all around cowboy.'"     - Ric Flair

The Pride of Texas in 1984, No Doubt


Wednesday, May 31, 2023

PWF Champion Harley Race (Japan)

Monday, May 22, 2023

Texas Stadium: Harley Race vs. Kerry Von Erich

It's All in the Details

Red Velvet: NWA Gold