by Ervin Griffin and Matt Benaka
Conducted by Jeremy Hartley
Transcribed by Earl Oliver
By Ervin Griffin, Jr. and Matt Benaka
Part 1: In The Beginning
Since 1972, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair (who would go on and take the nickname of his idol Buddy Rogers) has been a constant and dominant force in the sport. Born in Minneapolis, MN, he grew up in a loving, upper-class family (as far as I know). His father was a plastic surgeon for many top Hollywood stars of the time and his mother was a concert pianist.
Flair played football in high school and went onto the University Of Minnesota where he first started his wrestling background. I'm not sure but I have heard rumors that he was there studying medicine with the focus of being a surgeon someday. I do know it was while attending this school that his facination with pro wrestling began. Sometime during this period, he went to train to be a pro wrestler and began his wrestling career in the now defunct American Wrestling Association (AWA). His teacher was none other than then AWA World Heavyweight Champion Vern Gange (Gange also taught Ricky Steamboat, one of Flair's future friends and rivals). Also in Flair's "class" was Olympic wrestler Chris Taylor, Brad Rheghins, Ken Patera and The Iron Sheik!!!
After months of training, Flair made his pro debut on December 12, 1972. His opponent was George Gadaski. They wrestled to a time-limit draw. Flair looked much different in those days than he does now. He had short, brown hair. His physique was a bit pudgy and he wore a ring jacket. Over the next two years, he would "pay his dues" in the preliminary ranks of pro wrestling. I don't know when he left the AWA but by 1975, he was in the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling area of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). He won one of his first titles when he teamed with Rip Hawk to win the NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Titles on July 4, 1974. They defeated the team of "Number 1" Paul Jones & Bob Bruggers. They held the titles until sometime in 1975 when Paul Jones teamed with Tiger Conway, Jr. to win the titles. On June 3 of that year, Flair defeated Paul Jones for the NWA Mid-Atlantic TV Title (a predecesor to the NWA World TV Title and WCW World TV Title). The reign would only last eight days, however, as Flair lost the title back to Jones.
Then, tragedy struck on October 4, 1975 when Flair's flight crashed near Wilmington, North Carolina. He suffered a broken back as a result. Three other wrestlers was also on the plane as well. One of them died as a result while the other two were basically left crippled (one of them was Johnny Valentine, father of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine). Somehow, he returned the following year and won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title on May 24, 1976. He defeated Wahoo McDaniel for the championship. Flair would enjoy a 3 1/2 long reign before losing the title back to Wahoo on September 11, 1976. He would regain the title again on October 16, 1976 from Wahoo. He would lose it for the final time to Wahoo on November 30, 1976. Still, considering what he had been through, it was amazing that he could come back at all. This is when Flair's resilancy began to become legendary.
NEXT: BIGGER FISH
Special thanks goes out to Matt Benaka. Without you, this chapter wouldn't have been possible (or as detailed). Thanks Matt!!!
If you have a question, comments, criticism, or just want to talk pro wrestling, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Ervin Griffin Jr. is Solie's resident historian and also contributes to the Ringside Insider on a regular basis. Many of his previous articles are available in the
Conducted by Jeremy Hartley
This is the final installment of a three-part interview with 6-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Lou Thesz conducted by Jeremy Hartley as part of the Hartley Interviews which were originally broadcast in RealAudio on the TWC-Online web site and are reproduced here in print for the first time. In this part, Thesz talks about the Cauliflower Alley Club, of which he is the president this year, and some of his experiences with wrestlers of the modern era.
Jeremy: Which leads me to another question. When television came into being you'd already been World Champion for several years. Guys that came down the pike such as Gorgeous George, it seemed to me like he kind of brought wrestling back into the mainstream, so to speak...
Lou Thesz: Oh he absolutely did...
Jeremy: What you did was you kept the history going and kept it alive, would that be a safe assumption?
Lou Thesz: I didn't disagree with what he was doing at all as a matter of fact he was not a bad wrestler, a lot of people didn't know that, he was a pretty good heavyweight wrestler. So far as publicity and stuff, I thought the guy did a fantastic job of hyping himself and if anybody had challenged him at ringside they'd have made a big mistake because he was like a buzzsaw. I saw him deck a lot of people. People think that because they wear a fancy robe and do something like show business, and you know, milking the people as it were that they don't have ability, and some time they surprise you.
Jeremy: You've been able to stay active in the world of wrestling, in and out, a lot of behind the scenes training certain individuals. The question I have, the wrestling world has kind of split into two factions again where you have the World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation. I recently watched an event where the World Wrestling Federation "honored you" along with the other St. Louis guys, Sam Muchnik, the Briscos, the Funk Brothers and others. But have you done anything, or tried to negotiate either training, or working with some of the young stars in the big two...or is it just kind of a lost art?
Lou Thesz: Well the reason I don't do it or even attempt to do it is that isn't what they are showing the public. Because if I can't contribute something, and have an effect on what they're doing then there's no point in wasting my time. But what I am doing, I'm on the Board of Directors of the Museum there in Newton, Iowa. I'm going to be spending at least one week a month up there and we're going to have a little theater there, we'll have video there and we'll have some instructive stuff on the videos. I'll be doing some coaching, and other people will as well. That's right on Interstate 80 incidentally, and there's 20,000 automobiles go by there each day. So it's going to come to pass and it's going to be very very successful and we're getting very hyped about it. I'm really pleased to be a part of it, a very small part of it. But just to be there, and there will be a mat there, of course, and there will be some workouts. And right there in Iowa, with Dan gable, he can arrange a tournament in a heartbeat...
Jeremy: Right. Another thing that you are involved in, and I know you're quite proud of is the Cauliflower Alley Club. You're now the President of that organization, and they now have their own website thanks to Scott Teal and his workings...explain a little of what this Cauliflower Alley Club does and your involvement.
Lou Thesz: Well, Mike Mazurki and another couple of fighters got together out on the West Coast about thirty years ago. The movie industry has a lot of stunt people some of whom are former wrestlers and other athletes and it was the movie people, the movie stunt people, boxers, wrestlers and their friends that were interested in sports. And they started that and they generated up to 1000 members when I took it over. Now we have 2000. It's come together pretty well. They're going to do a roast on me this coming March. I told them I'll have to be like the politicians and take the 5th on some stuff. But anyway, its a wonderful benevolent club, its nonprofit and we use the money which we generate for some scholarships. So that's what we do. Go out there and meet, and wine and dine, and tell each other about ourselves in the past...lie about each other...
Jeremy: Sure...so is this open to any serious fan who wants to be part of it?
Lou Thesz: Sure, that's why I said, "wrestlers, boxers and their friends". I have at least a dozen of my friends who are going to be there that have never been at a wrestling or fighting event or in the fight business. But they come out and we have some really good guest speakers on occasion and we have a lot of fun doing it. People in the movie industry, we have a lot of big names, I think Kirk Douglas is going to be at my table this year.
Jeremy: And what impresses me about the whole thing is that, you know, here these guys are and they're showing the same amount of camaraderie that they did back in the days, if you will...
Lou Thesz: Absolutely because it's mutual respect because when you get down to fine sand, which is an old expression they used to use, but it's the way we play the game. We've all had problems with each other, physical and sometimes business problems, but we bury all that and forget it and I had Dick Hutton and Verne Gagne, who were really arch enemies at one time, they were both at my table, we got together and hell, I could have booked them for dinner the next night...
Lou Thesz: ...but we do that, we get together and the camaraderie is just unbelievable. And Elliot Gould is a hell of a wrestling fan, and whenever he comes there we always have a drink and he's not only a "rasslin" fan but he's a wrestling fan, he really knows about wrestling, and his business manager also. So I expect him to be there again. And at one time Elliot and myself were talking and my wife was there and Elliot kept saying what great feats I had done and she said, "Why don't you just cool it because I have to live with this guy!"
Lou Thesz: But anyway that's how we get along. Some of the top names, the top comedians - and I can't even think of some of them now - they all come there to here are these plug uglies, and rather than have fisticuffs and things like that they go through the mental calisthenics and needle each other and have a ball and have dinner and everybody's happy.
Jeremy: That sounds really like a good time and for anyone whose really interested in pursuing and learning more about the Cauliflower Alley Club as well as potentially joining I'm going to have a link to that website off of the show website here, and people will have to do is click on it, and you have the Cauliflower Alley Club history up there as well as the addresses and the telephone numbers to call and get people to really get involved in this...
Lou Thesz: You can meet some great people, there'll be some movie people there and some of the old wrestlers and the fighters. Some of them are really the cream of the crop, really great people. I always look forward to it because we always have fun - it's one of the highlights of the year...
Jeremy: The next one is in March right?
Lou Thesz: March 14th...
Jeremy: March 14th, where's that going to be held?
Lou Thesz: Studio City, at the Sportsman's Lodge. And this is kind of a coincidence, when I used to wrestle out there 35-40 years ago I used to go to the Sportsman's Lodge for dinner - it was the favorite place for the movie stars, but I didn't go there for that, I went there because they had the best food in town. They had, like a moat and it was filled with rainbow trout, so you would catch your own trout, give it to your waiter, he would give it to the chef and fifteen minutes later you'd have it on the table.
Lou Thesz: But you can order anything you want for dinner and if you romance the chef he'll get you anything you want.
Jeremy: Now I kind of want to touch upon the people you were inducted with, a couple of guys who I would like to get your opinion on, one being Harley race, the other one being the Funk brothers. Any memories..?
Lou Thesz: Oh well sure, I wrestled them all. I wrestled Funk and also Race in Japan. And Terry, Terry Funk I wrestled him somewhere in Texas.
Jeremy: Would you say that they were the last of a breed...because they seemed to employ more of the wrestling, rather than the "rasslin" as you said...or did they? I'm educating myself here...
Lou Thesz: I'd say about a halfway shot. The ones that you mentioned are not really died-in-the-wool wrestlers, and they may be advertised as such, but if you're talking about hookers, well no...
Jeremy:...because I know about Race there is a common myth, or maybe it is factual, that he started in the carnivals?
Lou Thesz: Oh yeah, sure, up around Minnesota. Sure, if you didn't have any money and nowhere else to go you'd go to work for the carnivals. You could feed the elephants or wrestle...
Jeremy: Well, at least you didn't have to wrestle the elephants...or maybe you did...(laughs)
Lou Thesz: It could be a tough call...
Jeremy: You know it's always interested me, there was a situation that took place back in 1989. As far as I know it the only experience with what used to be called the National Wrestling Alliance, now known as World Championship Wrestling when you were a judge at ringside for a match between Ric Flair, who copies just about every wrestler who ever lived, Buddy Rogers one of them, and Rick Steamboat. They both have been noted as highly conditioned and people who could really go for sixty minutes, have you worked with either one of these two..?
Lou Thesz: No, no, they came along just about ten years after I came off the road, I was still wrestling some matches but I didn't go on the road. Both of them are great athletes, both of them are damn good wrestlers and great all around athletes and I'm very good friends with both of them and I admire both of them a lot. And they and Guerrero and, I'm trying to think of some others...
Jeremy: Well a lot of today's wrestlers are second generation and that's got to help the business to a certain extent.
Lou Thesz: Oh yes, certainly.
Jeremy Hartley is a longtime friend of Solie's and a regular contributer to the newsletter. His "EYE on Wrestling" columns can be found in the "Articles" section of the web site. His previous interview with Bob Blackburn is currently to be found in the "Interviews" section.
Editor's Note: RAW was pre-empted tonight by the broadcast of Part 2 of Moby Dick on USA.
This is the Spring Break Out program from Club La Vela in Panama City Beach, Florida. As it was last year, the ring is suspended over a swimming pool.
The program starts with stills from the cage match last night and the puzzling ending to that contest.
Voodoo Child plays as Hogan leads most of the nWo to the ring. The music changes to the nWo theme before they actually reach the ring. The only ones I don't see are Steiner and Savage. Hogan says that Nash beat the Giant last night then he addresses the Macho Man saying that he's glad to have him back in the fold (funny - I didn't see that as the outcome to either match last night...) Oh - there's Scott Steiner - I guess he was hiding. Hogan announces a Savage/Hogan vs. Sting/Luger match for tonight - that should be interesting. Cut to commercial.
Nitro Grrrls a wearin' the green for St. Patty's day...
Lodi (w/the Flock) vs. Goldberg - the crowd chants "Lodi Sucks" as they make their way down. I don't expect to see any interferance from the Flock in this one...not if they know what's good for them. Lodi is holding up a sign that says "Goldberg is a Meathead". Goldberg rips it out of his hand then press slams the hapless idiot. The monster spears his opponent then Jack Hammers him to get the pin. Riggs, Kidman and Sick Boy are foolish enough to enter the ring and are all dispatched with...well...dispatch. Cut to commercial.
Mean Gene hawks his Hotline
Fit Finley vs. Ultimo Dragon - Finley has shorn his locks apparently - he shows up with a buzz cut. The rough and tumble Irishman uses his superior weight to bull his opponent into the corner then whips him to the opposite corner and smashes him bodily. The moment the the Dragon gets loose he does his headstand move then turns into a kicking machine. Finley is a game competitor and comes right back. Dragon doesn't seem to know exactly how to deal with Finley's brawling style. Whenever the Dragon seems to be about to mount a come back, Finley pokes him in the eye. On several occasions he seems to anticipate Dragon's flying maneuvers and deftly sidesteps. The Dragon gets a Dragon Sleeper but Finley knees him in the forehead and escapes. They struggle some more and then Dragon grabs his finisher again and manages to keep his head out of the way this time. Finley taps out but the Dragon really had to earn this victory. Cut to commercial.
Nitro Grrls frolick in the ring as Tony runs down coming live cards.
Scott Norton (w/Buff Bagwell) vs. Chris Adams - Norton seems to enjoy Bagwells antics before the match. Adams tries a frontal attack to start with predictable results. Adams superkick right to the jaw of Norton has almost no effect. He gets knocked to the outside and into the not-so tender mercies of Bagwell. Back inside, Adams continues to take it. Adams gets a brief flurry and actually downs his opponent twice but Norton's Flashback shoulder breaker makes short work of the English star. Cut to the Miss Nitro contest and other shenanigans then to commercial.
Wayne Bloom/Mike Enos vs. The British Bulldog/Jim Neidhart - Enos pauses to jaw at Raven's Flock as they approach the ring...he may regret that later. This should be good - these are both veteran teams. Enos and Bloom were known as the Destruction Crew in the old AWA then as the Beverly Brothers in the WWF. In fact they seem to hold the edge in tag team coordination during the bulk of this match. They isolate the Anvil and go to work on him. The Bulldog finally tags in and ends it with his running powerslam. Cut to commercial.
More Nitro Grrrls...
nWo music plays and here comes Bichoff with Savage and Liz! Bischoff says he feels nothing but love here tonight. He rants about Savage's return to the nWo then Savage has his say. The macho Man says he never left and what he did last night was for himself. He makes it clear that the power struggle within the nWo isn't over. He predicts that he will beat Sting for the WCW Title and then Hogan will feel what it's like to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Bischoff looks shocked as Savage and Liz depart. Cut to commercial.
Raven vs. Chris Benoit - how many times are we going to see this match..? Raven makes a speech before the match predicting that this will end his feud with Benoit...don't count on it... Benoit does his buzzsaw impression to start the contest. Tony tells us that the winner of this match will face DDP for the US Title at the next PPV. They brawl out of the ring and across the pool then back again. Raven continues to take punishment waiting for Benoit to make a mistake leading up to a commercial.
Benoit has Raven in a Crippler Crossface on the deck as we return. They continue to fight outside the ring until Benoit drags Raven back in. Benoit continues his unrelenting assault. He stands his opponent up in the corner and chops him mercilessly. Then he drops him in the center of the ring and starts slapping him. Benoit seems to be losing his temper - not a good sign. He puts on a series of three snap suplexes then he goes to the top for a flying headbutt and misses. Raven goes out for a chair then bulldogs Benoit face first onto it. They struggle for position and Benoit attempts to drop Raven's arm onto the chair - but smashes his own forehead instead. Raven DDT his opponent on the now-collapsed chair and gets the pin. Cut to commercial.
Nitro Grrrls dance with Silly String...
Yuji Nagata (w/Sonny Onoo) vs. Ernest Miller - the Cat is very fast on (and with) his feet. Nagata has a hard time keeping up with his opponent in the early going. Eventually he overwhelms Miller with his superior size and wrestling experience. Once grounded, Miller is much less effective. Still he manages to get lose long enough to get his signature spinning round kick in and takes the pin. Cut to the Nitro Grrrls while Tony hawks some more house shows. Cut to commercial.
Scott Steiner vs. Ray Traylor - poor Scotty...everybody wants to get him since his heel-turn. He dominates this contest from the get go and smashes his opponent's head into the steel ring steps as we cut to commercial.
Traylor has mounted a comeback during the break. The match goes out to the deck and Traylor clotheslines Steiner into the pool. Back on semi-dry land, Steiner gets posted. Back in the ring, Traylor is continuing to whale on him (pun intended...) Scotty appears to be going down until Buff Bagwell runs in and interferes. Steiner Frankensteiners him off the top turnbuckle then applies the Steiner Recliner. After the match ends, Bagwell comes in and whips Traylor with his belt.
Stills from the Giant vs. Nash from last night prove the falsehood of Hogan's words earlier this evening.
More Nitro Grrrls...cut to commercial.
Chavo Guerrero, Jr. (w/Eddie) vs. Booker T - TV Title match - Eddie gives Chavo a T-shirt with his (Eddie's) name on it and forces him to wear it. Chavo has a chip on his shoulder but Booker quickly knocks it off. Chavo comes back and takes advantage of Booker's grandstanding to get in some licks. Unfortunately he seems preoccupied with having to wear the T-shirt but he still manages maintain the advantage for most of the match. Booker shows his resilliance by taking everything Chavo can dish out then coming back for a quick win.
More spring break festivities before we go to commercial.
Nitro Grrrls yet again...
Reese (Big Ronn Studd) vs. Diamond Dallas Page - US Title match - please tell me who this guy defeated to get his Title shot...DDP's already beat this guy in a music video for gosh sakes! Reese is a really big guy with no discernable talent. He puts Page down and then pauses to stomp around the ring for a while. Moments later DDP swings around Reese's body using the dolt's arms for leverage then applies a Diamond Cutter on the fly. 'nuff said.
Chris Jericho vs Juventud Guerrera - Cruiserweight Title match - Jericho makes one of his silly speeches before the match. Juvey is on fire tonight and goes right after the Champion until Jericho catches him in mid-air and applies a spiked brainbuster suplex. Now it's all Jericho who drops his jolly pose and is all business. As the match goes on you can see Jericho's frustration level build as he fails to put his opponent away. He makes an error and Juvey is right there to capitalize. Now it's all Juvey until his opponent uses the belt and gets disqualified. He then puts on a rather sloppy Texas Cloverleaf (he calls it a Canadian Maple Leaf) and holds it for a moment before leaving the ring. Cut to commercial.
Still more Nitro Grrrls...
I finally got a good look at a sign that says "RAW Sucks Moby's D**K" as Hall and Nash come to the ring. Hall takes his survey for the first time in a couple of weeks. He is roundly booed when he askes the first question and gets a rousing "nWo" chant. Nash takes the mic and tells the guys to be sure and nice to the "fat girls". He then rants about his supposed win over the Giant last night. The Giant comes down after being called to the ring. He enters the ring and they leave. Nash bails into the pool to escape. Nash tries to run but trips and is caught. The Giant gives him a wedgie then press slams him into the pool. Cut to commercial.
Hogan/Savage vs. Sting/Luger - at least that's the way it is billed. Hard to say how this one will go down. Michael Buffer does the intros. Hogan and Savage enter separately. Hogan throws his shirt at Savage before the intros are over - certainly not an auspicious beginning. They seem ready to square off before their opponents even arrive. Bischoff grabs the mic from Buffer to declare that Sting isn't coming...then a helicopter appears and Sting rappels to the ring from on high. Actually this is a very dangerous stunt - for Sting and the entire audience in attendance. Bischoff is blown out of the ring by the backwash of the helicopter. Savage decks Hogan and tries to leave but runs into Ed Leslie. He is forced back to the ring where Sting starts to beat on him. Hogan keeps his distance from the action as Luger and Sting take turns on the Macho Man. Luger seems as bent out of shape as Sting. Savage is getting his clock cleaned. Savage finally escapes and forces a tag on Hogan - but Hollywood refuses to come in so Savage knocks him down and rolls him into the ring. Hogan takes it for a moment then turns the tables on Luger. Sting gets in and regains the advantage. Leslie rolls Savage in then runs in as Hogan is racked. nWo guys start arriving but can't stand up to Sting and Luger - meanwhile Hogan and Savage brawl on the outside as we fade to black.
I guess it's time to go watch Captain Picard chase that whale...
At least that's the way I see it...
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