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. Bring back indoor football and bring back hockey. 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 new face of professional wrestling focuses more on wild, profane, and lewd behavior and the days of the no time limit, falls count anywhere matches are long gone.

Edge(Adam Copeland) and Lita(Amy Dumas) would have been locked up and put in jail back in the hay day of the old coliseum wrestling programs. The stuff that they do these days on television, at the live shows, and pay-per-views have pushed the limits of viewer toleration but Vince McMahon and his family are still backing the truck up to the bank and cashing in on a very steady basis.

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 over flowing 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), 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. It is hard to go back but that is our intention on Throwback Thursdays. A look to the west, a look to the past.

We’ll leave you this week 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, Jim Hoggard, Dave Racoone, and Rick Chong left their mark on the grappling landscape. These men are gone 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 week and hopefully that has happened again.