How I spent my Thanksgiving Night Vacation:It used to be watching professional wrestling, but not any more

Posted by Andy Durham on November 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm under Professional | 7 Comments to Read

There was a time when Thanksgiving Night meant watching professional wrestling live at the Greensboro Coliseum; with Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Jay Youngblood, Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, Roddy Piper and others on hand and back in the days of the NWA’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the Greensboro Coliseum was a pretty tough/strong ticket….

After the Coliseum action died out, I even made a few trips over to the Thomasville Armory to watch names like Willow the Wisp and Surge/Jeff and Matt Hardy, Rick “The Beastmaster” Link, Joey Abs, Champain, and others from the Chris Plano stable, that worked under the New Dimension Wrestling banner….

Those old wrestling days, like so many other holiday traditions, are now long gone, but the memories do live on and let’s share a post we did on the local wrestling scene from back in 2006… post by ‘The Postmaster’, you’ve got to have a name and I will use this one on this Thanksgiving Night and here’s a look back at our past and your’s as well, on this special day when Turkeys show up on the table and in the ring too, at least they did back in the days…

From 2006:
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Wrestling Ruled the Big Barn on West Lee Street

The talk these days is that we need new shows and teams to come into the Greensboro Coliseum and give the Coliseum leaders a way to generate more income for the building that sits empty most of the year. New ventures will in turn give the locals increased entertainment offerings and more opportunities to throw some money the Coliseum’s direction therefore making the Big Barn on Lee Street profitable. It’s going to be tough to make that big building profitable but I guess every little bit helps and Matt Brown and his staff do need some help.

The new lifeline for the Coliseum seems to be the old lifeline. Looking back over the years I would like to examine a form of sports entertainment that made the Greensboro Coliseum big bucks back in the day.

Wrestling was a very big money maker for the Big Barn back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s even into the late 90’s. Professional wrestling would fill the seats and the fans would have to load up at the concession stands because most of the fans had some pretty big spaces to fill up, down in their stomachs. Wrestling drew some of the all-time big names to the building. You would always hear the wrestlers talking about loving to come to the Greensboro Coliseum. On Thanksgiving night the traffic would line up out on High Point Road and on Lee Street, trying to get into the Coliseum parking lot.

What happened to the good old days of professional wrestling at the Greensboro Coliseum? The fan base has been changing for the past several years and many of the old favorite wrestlers and even some of the old time fans have checked out; they have died and moved on.

The WWE doesn’t bring their shows to Greensboro very often these days with there being only maybe one or two appearances per year and the Coliseum is not overflowing with fans for these matches. Part of the wrestling scheme is on downward spiral at the current moment; the overall interest in wrestling runs in cycles and house shows are in a downward cycle.

There was a time though when the coliseum never faced a downward cycle. The men who drew in the fans never seemed to slow down. My final four of all-time best performers includes Ric Flair(Richard Fleir), Ricky Steamboat(Richard Blood), Ed ‘Wahoo’ McDaniel, and Blackjack Mulligan(Bob Wyndam). The other characters that the fans flocked to see back in the day included Johnny Weaver(with the sleeper hold and the Weaver-Lock) Greg “the Hammer” Valentine, Roddy Piper(Roderick Tombs), Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson(Marty Lunde), Ole Anderson( Al Rogowski), Terry and Dory Funk Jr., Johnny Valentine, Ivan and Nikita Koloff(Nikita was really Steve Simpson), Magnum TA(Terry Allen), and the list goes on and on. The guys who refereed the matches were household names too. Men like Tommy Young, Stu Schwartz, and Sonny Fargo.

My favorite all-time line spoken by the wrestlers, and talking is one of the biggest parts of their game, was when Blackjack Mulligan told #1 Paul Jones repeatedly “Gimme that belt Jones”, Gimme that belt Jones”. Mulligan had lost the belt and he was bound and determined to get it back from Jones. The announcing team of Bob Caudle and David Crockett made sure to make a big deal about the feud between Mulligan and Jones on TV because that would sell seats at the next Coliseum event.

Wrestling changed but one thing that killed wrestling is that wrestling kills itself. The list of wrestlers that have died from drug related issues is so long we may need to buy the entire B section of the local Sunday News and Record to get all the names in. Drugs and or Alcohol have taken down many a wrestling soldier.

In recent years we have lost Rick Rude, Terry Gordy, Art Barr, Brian Pillman, Buzz Sawyer, Bobby Duncam Jr., Curt Hennig, Davey Boy Smith, Louie Spicolli, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, Jim Runde, Mikey Lockwod(Crash Holly), Miss Elizabeth(Liz Hullet), Jerry “the Wall” Tuite, Chris Candido, Michael Hegstrand(former Road Warrior), Rick “Quickdraw’” McGraw, Wahoo McDaniel(heavy Alcohol), all the Von Erich brothers(drugs and other issues led to suicides and trauma-related deaths) David Von Erich, Kerry Von Erich, Mike Von Erich, and Chirs Von Erich. The most recent casualty was Latino Heat/Eddy Guerrero. Drugs, steroids, and alcohol are not your friends when they take away precious lives.

The bell has tolled for many of the men and women that entertained us over the years and lord knows when the Coliseum will see the Glory Days of Wrestling again.

We’ll leave you with some other names that will stir up thoughts of wrestling days gone by. Who can forget Stan Lane(a graduate of Page HS), Don Kernodle(from Western Alamance HS and Elon U), Rocky Kernodle( also known as Keith Larsen), the local Libyan Asassin/Robbie McBride, Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson, Diamond Dan Grondy(Smith HS and the champ of Plato’s Crash Landing), Mark Vance, Harold Hadnott, Barry Cohen, Sgt. Slaughter(Bob Remus), Private Jim Nelson, Ranger Ross, Corporal Kircshner, Major Gunns, General Adnon, New Jack(Jerome Young from Grimsley HS), and let’s not leave out Steve Musulin. Musulin was known as Stonewall Jackson and ‘Handsome’ Steve Travis, as well as just plain old Steve Musulin. Musulin was a former Guilford College football player that was nearly killed in car crash in the early 80’s. He was left paralyzed from the waist down and the driver of the other car was killed in the accident. It just so happens that Musulin was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident.

The local wrestling fans have always been a big part of the action at area events and John Hitchcock, Bruce Mitchell, Bud Grondy, Steve Stamper, Jim Amash, Bob Lucas, Dennis Bass, George Hobgood, Dave Wright, and Rick Chong left their mark on the grappling landscape. These men are gone(most deceased), but not forgotten.

We need to fill up that Big Barn on Lee Street, so let’s make a real effort to bring back all the old wrestlers and fans, dead or alive, and have a fan fest once a year at the Coliseum. You could show films of the old events and make a mint. We have meant to stir up the old juices this year and hopefully that has happened again.

  • Wrestling Fan said,

    Wrestling is going down because Vince McMahon has nobody forcing him to step up his game. He’s the only show in town and the talent pool is very shallow. They also only push John Cena. Back in the day there were so many territories that they constantly has to be on their A Game.

    Then came the Monday Night Wars between Ted Turner and McMahon. That was when wrestling was at the top of everything. Even people to this day who were 13-40 yrs old during that time who never watched wrestling knew who Stone Cold or the Rock was. Now the WWE is just trying to cater to kids and with that the story lines are lame and people just don’t care as much about it.

  • street said,

    Andy, you forgot Rufus R “Freightrain” Jones, Masked Superstar, Pac Sung, Abe Jacobs (kiwi roll), Terry Funk, Tiger Conway, Mr Wrestling(Tim Woods), Klondike Bill, Tony Atlas, Dino Bravo, Ken Patera. Man you bought back some serious memories. For some reason, Thanksgiving was always the night a championship would change hands. I think Ric Flair beat Harley Race on Thanksgiving to win the belt. I may need to do some research on that.

  • MIM said,

    Wrestling, like all businesses, needs competition to flourish. When competition doesn’t exist the quality of product goes down while the price goes up. The provider gives just enough to keep the loyal customer base happy but they conduct business with a focus on what’s more efficient for the company and not getting new customers. That’s why the WWE doesn’t make many stops here… it’s most cost-efficient to hit bigger cities.

    It’s also why their talent pool is very shallow: They can play politics and keep down a wrestler they don’t like for personal reasons.

    A wrestler could be talented and fan favorite but since the WWE doesn’t have to worry about another company eating the profits, there’s no demand to excited. They worry about just keeping them happy. Now the WWE is trying to compete for your entertainment dollars. They’ve lost site of wrestling fan dollars. Time will catch up to the WWE. They won’t go bankrupt but they will never be like they were in the late 90s. I doubt you’ll see another wrestling company come up to provide competition, at least not while Vinny Mac is alive.

    It’s like that with cable providers, local newspapers, and government employers. Too lumbering and slow because they manage activities by policies and not customer demand.

    Imagine if Time Warner had another serious cable provide to compete with. It would be like the cell phone companies and all their recent price dropping and more generous data plans.

    Imagine if the News & Record had another daily newspaper to compete with locally. You’d see articles from various points of view instead of the dominating liberal spin on their content. You’d see them try to attract high school sports readers from all attendance zones instead of just Page, which gets full-color above-the-fold picture when their football team produces one win in 10 tries.

    And have you ever dealt with government employees in a customer service role? Many are pleasant but have you ever seen one buck office policies just to try and keep you happy? No because you don’t have another place to go to get what you need. They don’t have to earn your business.

    The WWE tried creating an artificial image of competition with their two so-called brands, Raw and Smackdown. But quality from competition is not a customer perception. It’s the result of trying to best your opponent. It’s human nature to want to win, to want to be the best. WWE is biggest right now and they don’t have to try that hard to stay that way. And that shows in their product.

  • Andy Durham said,

    Starcade 1983, “A Flair for the Gold”, on Thanksgiving Night at the Greensboro Coliseum…

    Harley Race (Champion) vs. Ric Flair in a Steel Cage match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship

  • Marvin Barry Cohen said,

    Hi Andy, and thank you for these memories. This is Barry Cohen or you may remember me as “Handsome Barry Blue”. It was nice that you remembered me. Some of the other names you listed were also trained and introduced to the “square Circle” by me. These were indeed a great time of fun and showing off. Do you remember that after my grappling career, I went on and hosted a local TV show called: “Piedmont Crime Control”. Again, thank you for your memories and have a very Happy and Merry Holiday.

  • Ten Pounds of Gold said,

    I remember the Flair for the Gold! That event completely shut down Greensboro!

  • TimHolleman said,

    Flair for the Gold…Starcade 83. I was there but I don’t think the Flair – Race match was a cage match. do remember the ref was Gene Kininsky. also the first time I saw Adula the Butcher or Mark Lewin live. my holiday tradition was to spend all day watching football at grandmothers house, which was about 3 miles from the coliseum, then go watch the card that night. I think Starcade 83 was also the year Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine had the dog collar match. might be wrong on that one, but I am pretty sure that one was on a Thanksgiving night as well. I still follow pro wrestling, but there will never be another time like the early 80’s!