Editor's Note: This is the first segment of a multi-part, approximately 5 hour interview conducted by Jeremy earlier this year with this former wrestler, TV producer, and all around legendary figure in the wrestling business. This segment is divided into three parts and will be followed in the months to come by the remaining four segments as fast as I can get it transcribed.
In this part, Les talks about the Night of the Legends card and spins more fascinating tales about wrestling in the South in the '70's and 80's.
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) Uh, another gentleman - Ricky Gibson, I guess the story goes that you helped him out..? getting into the business..?
Les Thatcher: Well, yeah, Ricky was probably twelve - thirteen years old when I first laid eyes on him - and for those who don't know - that is Robert's older brother - of the Rock & Roll Express - I was working in the Louisiana territory for Lee Fields, and Ricky's dad hauled the ring for Lee. Took it to some of the towns, set the ring up and so forth. So Ricky would be in the dressing rooms and he was just a kid who we'd send out for cokes. You know, he'd come in and kibbitz with us, he'd want to talk about wrestling or whatever. So anyway, I don't remember what town it was in but I had an old pair of wrestling boots, I'd just gotten a brand new pair and this old pair, they weren't lined and because of the sweat and everything they folded at the ankles and started to rot through. At the time I was there with Roger Kirby and Dennis Hall, we were working six mans around the State - and I said to them, "I think I'm just going to pitch these things..." and Ricky heard me and said, "Hey if you're just going to throw them away, I wouldn't mind having them..." I said, "Are you sure you want them?" and he said, "Oh sure, I'll have 'em fixed and wear 'em." So I said, "Okay."
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Les Thatcher: So when I left down there, I went to numerous other territories, and never did get back into the Louisiana territory. Then, during the promotional wars in '73 in Atlanta, I was with the NWA at the time and they were looking to put all the big guns against the opposition, so there was a lot of top wrestling talent - and they brought me in, not only to wrestle but to help in the office - and this was when Gordon (Solie) and I first worked together, as color and play-by-play, in Atlanta in '73. But I'd flown down just for the day, to sit in on a show, Gordon and I had a certain chemistry and all, so anyway, I saw this young kid - nice looking athlete, he walks up to me and says' "Hi, Les." And I said, "Hi", and I guess he could see in my face that I hadn't any idea who he was, and he says, "You don't remember me..?" I said. "No, I don't think so..." "Well, you gave me my first pair of wrestling boots!"
Jeremy Hartley: Oh...
Les Thatcher: Of course he'd grown up from age twelve or thirteen - he was eighteen now and got a physique. But he got a real good push. Ricky was a tremendous young athlete, he got a real good push in Atlanta. A lot of great things could have come for Ricky - one thing though, he was kind of a free spirit, didn't adhere to instructions well... And the funny thing was, he had gone to Dallas - Fritz (Von Erich) was going to use him real good. Fritz called me in the office in Atlanta and we were talking and he said, "...how's he dress." And I said, "Well, you know just kind of plain, like a boy from Mobile, Alabama..." and he said, "Well, Dallas is a little more urban, how about taking him shopping? getting his whatever it is teenagers wear in 1973 or something." So he and I actually did spend the day going to department stores and kind of wardrobing him. So Fritz was planning this big push and he got out there and stayed two and a half, three weeks and got homesick. He just up and left!
Jeremy Hartley: I'll be darn...
Les Thatcher: But he worked with us in the Southeastern territory back in the 70's. Great worker! Robert's good but, no disrespect to Robert but I think Ricky is a notch or two above his brother - or would have been - but he had some injuries that slowed him down on occasion and then he was in a real nasty car wreck - and that was the end of it. Tremendous talent but his career was cut too short because of the car wresck and it was a real shame. He would have soared to tremendous heights because he was a great worker.
Jeremy Hartley: It's funny because I'd never really known that Robert Gibson had a brother and was only familiar with the Rock & Roll Express. I thought, "who is this guy?" He was coming out in a match with Chris Candido - and then he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and I was able to learn a little bit more about him. (Editor's note: Jeremy is referring to the "Night of Legends" video tape which he has seen)
Les Thatcher: As a matter of fact, I have a photo of him on the wall here in my office of me giving him a hip lock. We were wrestling one another in Savannah, Georgia - that was in '73 - you really can't see his face in the thing. When you get here...(pause) Of course you really can't see it anyway...
Jeremy Hartley: (breaks out laughing)
Les Thatcher: Well, I'll tell you - he was cross-eyed, ugly and had freakles...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) You're forgiven... (laughs) (Editor's Note: Jeremy is blind)
Les Thatcher: (laughs)...but anyway, he was a very good talent and learned a lot at a young age. He was one of the guys, like Terry Gordy, like Michael Hayes, like Harley Race in the South - who started as young wrestlers and got there grooming early and by age eighteen, was not quite a full bloomed star, but well on his way.
Jeremy Hartley: Right. Another name, and this guy was another one who I don't know much about - Sam Bass - he was another one whose career was cut short.
Les Thatcher: Yeah, in a car wreck...
Jeremy Hartley: Yeah, I know that he was a manager of a lot of teams...what kind of manager was he? Why was he so special?
Les Thatcher: Personality, again, timing - Sam was the kind of manager who, as a fan, you looked at him and thought, "Well this skinny runt, I could whip his rear end..." and there he is, the dasterdly SOB grabbing my favorite wrestler and doing this or doing that - actually Sam put on a little size later and was able to work a little bit - I mean, I worked some six man's with him, He managed Jerry Lawler and Jim White when they were at their height (1973).
Jeremy Hartley: Now, I'm going to very quickly interlude - wasn't he someone who Jim Cornette really looked up to?
Les Thatcher: Bass?
Jeremy Hartley: Yeah...
Les Thatcher: Yeah, I think Jimmy is a big student of the 70's, of that whole thing. I know that for the years that we did Smoky, we'd get a chance to sit down without any pressure and we just start talking about the business one way or another and he'd say, "Oh yeah, yeah - tell me more about this bit..." and like I said - he probably made more for one PPV then I would make for three or four months but, "I wish I was around then..." you know, and a lot of the younger guys, you know, that are really fans, were students of that particular era. But yeah, Jimmy looked up to Sam. Sam was a very good manager - he, guy named Pepe Lopez and Frank Kester were killed in a car wreck on Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.
Jeremy Hartley: Wow! There's an interesting story, its on the Funk web site, and this was what brought up Sam Bass to me. I guess Sam had had a little too much to drink and they had a little mock funeral for him, then just several weeks later he had actually passed away - it makes you think.
Les Thatcher: (laughs) So, your saying that if I get offered a casket match with the Undertaker that maybe I shouldn't take it!
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) No! especially if someone decides to take a match too it! (laughs)
Les Thatcher: There you go! (laughs)
Jeremy Hartley: Ridiculous! (laughs) Where's the days of "mean' Mark Callous, eh?
Les Thatcher: Yeah, really...
Jeremy Hartley: Another gentleman, the Mongolian Stomper - you've brought him up a couple of times...
Les Thatcher: Archie Goldie - I first met him, okay, he was given that gimmick in 1963 in Kansas City. The territory was being run by Bob Geigle and Pat O'Conner along with a guy out of St. Joe, Missouri, Gus Karas, who actually started promoting there years before either Bob or Pat settled there. But Archie was a very impressive looking athlete. Now they had Sputnik (Monroe), and if you've read Dory's web site you've heard about Sputnik, and one of the things that that Dory's dad did was use Archie as Sputty's bodyguard. Not that Sputnik couldn't handle himself but he had this thing of getting into jackpots with more then one or two people - or letting his mouth overrun his capabilities or what have you.
Jeremy Hartley: Right...
Les Thatcher: So Archie was out of Calgary, that's Western Canada, I know he lived in Calgary - I'm not sure if he was a native of there - but anyway he was down in Amarillo and Archie was a tough sucker who was big and imposing looking - he was getting paid just to stick by Sputnik, who was the...I don't know, the Brass Knucks Champ or the Texas Champ or whatever the case may be at the time so that Sputty didn't get ganged (laughs) and left for dead someplace. (Editor's note: Sputnik Monroe was the NWA Texas Champion for a month or so in 1961 and also was a co-holder of the Tag Team Title that same year)
Jeremy Hartley: Right...
Les Thatcher: But he came into the Kansas, and it was the first time I had ever been in the territory, and they had just come up with this "Stomper" gimmick, and it went on to make him nothing but money. When we brought him into Southeastern Wrestling no one had ever seen anything quite like him. And he never spoke...
Jeremy Hartley: Right! I made a comment last week when we did this, I said, I never knew the guy could talk until he made his acceptance speech...
Les Thatcher: Yeah, believe it or not a lot of people didn't know that - the whole time that he was a heel with us in Southeastern he never spoke. He had managers all the time. Don Carson, who was an old time heel from, really from Cleveland, Tennessee, but got his real big push down around Mobile and the Gulf Coast - Don managed him in Southeastern for us for a while, and then Gorgeous George, Jr. managed him as well - but he always had a manager and never spoke, never talked, and he was the kind of guy - like the old Shiek (Edward Farhat)...
Jeremy Hartley: Oh yeah...
Les Thatcher: ...he was the type of guy that as much as you screamed at him in the ring you really didn't want him to come out on the floor because you really were afraid of him! That was the way he came across, right? I've seen people stand and shake their fist and the old Shiek would hit the deck, you know, jump off the apron and start into the crowd and they would just open like the Red Sea - and the Stomper was the same way. But with Stomp, he also was in tremendous condition - I mean to this day - I think he's my age, give or take a year, and he still does cardio like 45 minutes a day on his treadmill and I've talked to some of my friends that do these "Legends" matches where they bring some old guy back, and its funny, they say they'll put some kid in there with Archie and he'll blow them up! Right? I mean he's got these 22 - 23 year old kids just dragging butt and he's still moving around like he's a young man...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Les Thatcher: But a real nice guy, talking about the guys now who are given seven personnas within the course of seven months, the Stomper was the Stomper from 1963 until today!
Jeremy Hartley: Wow! (Editor's note: I have video of the Stomper circa 1986 from World Class Championship Wrestling and he was then performing at an extraordinary level well into the third decade of his career!)
Les Thatcher: One gimmick - one gimmick only, but it was enough to make him a good living for a long time.
Jeremy Hartley: Yeah. Um...another guy - Ronny Garvin - I bring him up in the same breath as the Stomper because, from what I've heard, they too had some classic battles. I remember him coming into the WWF and doing the referee thing and losing matches on occasion and really not the same...
Les Thatcher: You know, here was a guy who was a great talent, there were a lot of great talents. I mean, I think the business was more "talent deep" through those years, in other words, because you weren't a main eventer constantly or consistently didn't necessarily mean that you didn't have any talent - just that there was a lot of talent. When Ronny was brought into Southeastern Wrestling he was basically being used mid-card in the Carolinas. Ron Fuller and I talked about it and Ron had decided to give him the push of...again, you might have called him the "Hard Core" guy of his day. In fact, when you saw Stone Cold throw the belt in the river..?
Jeremy Hartley: Oh yeah...I was thinking, "That was what he did..."
Les Thatcher: Yes, exactly. That was one of the things that got Ronny over in Southeastern Wrestling. He went down to the bridge across the Tennessee River in downtown Knoxville and pitched the belt into the river. Also, I'll give you another example of how we got him over. We had a Cadillac tournament which the giveaway was a big Fleetwood four door - brand new whatever - and it came down to Ronny and Bob Armstrong - Roadie's dad - as the two finalist. And in some neat little deal, where it looks like Garvin's gonna put him away, Bob's able to slip up and end the thing. So, that particular night we had brought the car into the Knoxville Coliseum, into the main part of the Coliseum, and they had like the little chrome stanchions set up around it and everything so everybody could see it, right? So their in the ring presenting Bob with the keys - making a big presentation out of it. Garvin - no one's paying any attention to Ronny - he goes out and picks up one of the stanchions and puts it through the windshield of the Cadillac! (laughs) So these were the kind of off the wall - and I say, "off the wall" but today they would be mild...
Jeremy Hartley: I was going to say, you see it happening all the time now...
Les Thatcher: Yeah, by current standards they're commonplace...
Jeremy Hartley: " ...right...
Les Thatcher: But those are the things that he did,and those were the things that got him over like crazy, man - but he worked solid was a stud boy to work with, I mean, they "whooo..." for Ric's chops today, but I've woken up in the morning with Ronny Garvin's hand prints emblazoned black and blue on my chest, right? But he was fun to work with. I remember back when I had virtually stopped wrestling at he time. And they said, "Hey, somebody got hurt, we're short handed, can you please work tonight in some little spot show outside of Knoxville?" I says, "Sure." and as it happened it was with Ronny. He was being featured, but I had been featured in the area and was doing the TV so I wasn't just going up there to do a squash job either. So Ronny was the kind of worker who would say, "Well. I'll put Les over." and I said, "No I'll put you over..." So we got out there and got rolling, and you couldn't work with Ronny and have a bad...well, I gues you could if you just laid down and didn't so anything...
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)
Les Thatcher: ...but working with Ronny was like a day off in terms of going out there and having a good match, and so we just got the people rockin' and it got rolling you know, but my ring wind wasn't what it had been when I had been wrestling steady and I said, "Well, I'm ready to go home..I'm tired..." and he had this sense of humer that wasn't necessarily a funny one - and he said, "Lets go through..." meaning, "lets got to the time limit." I said, "...not tonight, baby!" I would virtually pull him down on top of me and he'd pull me up! (laughs)
Jeremy Hartley: (bursts out laughing)
Les Thatcher: So, I mean, that's just the kind of guy he was...and I came out of the ring and I'm going (heavy panting, gasping for air) and Bob Orton, Jr. was standing there and said, "Man! You guys had a hell of a match!" I said, "Just imagine what it could have been if I hadn't run out of gas about ten minutes before the end..." But you know, I wouldn't even let me pin myself for crying out loud! He was having fun so we were gonna keep going!
Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) Bob Orton, Jr is another name that comes to mind for me. I've seen him portayed as a very technical wrestler, he seen him portrayed as a brawler, I've seen him portrayed as a great interview, I've seen him portrayed as not a great interview. In his prime, what kind of worker was he?
Les Thatcher: All of the above. Well, you know the guy was a great amateur...
Jeremy Hartley: His father was involved in wrestling..?
Les Thatcher: Yeah, well in fact, Junior was involved with Mike Graham, Eddie's son, in tournaments back when they were like nine years old. When I was in Atlanta - we were talking about Ricky Gibson - Junior was just getting his big start then. I saw him about a year and a half ago and we were talking, and his 14 year old he tells me is a hell of an amateur and they had entered a tournament where Bobby had gotten into the Masters division. But he said that his 14 year old gives him quite a tussle on the mat. But Bob was a very good technical wrestler, he was a heel, but he was a wrestling heel, same as Nick Bockwinkle - more of a brawling heel then Nick but still, he would go out there and wrestle you and when it looked like he couldn't get too you that way would be when he's open up. He was a good brawler, and not always in the ring. Bobby had a string of wins and draws in several bars around the country (laughs). But Bobby was a very good talent, and of course, fans your age would have seen the tale end of when he was the bodyguard for Roddy Piper back when the WWF first started their big, worldwide push.
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 interviews with Bob Blackburn, Lou Thesz, Bob Ryder and Buddy Landel are currently to be found in the "Interviews" section.
Thunder is live from Casper, Wyoming. The discussion (and video review) centers around the Tag Team Title match from Monday in which Sting appeared as his "Crow" character then turns to DDP's mauling and Kimberly's humiliation at the hands of nWo Hollywood.
The Giant vs. Lizmark, Jr. - poor Lizmark is getting matched up against all the big guys these days. He gets chokeslammed into oblivion in under a half-minute. The Giant then takes the mic and rants about his travails with Goldberg. The crowd takes up the chant, of course. He reminds the Champ that the last time they met ended in a chokeslam (the crowd chants "Giant Sucks!") - he fails to mention that he had to sneak up behind the guy to do it. Cut to Goldberg tribute video then to commercial.
nWo Wolfpack comes to the ring as we return in the person of Lex Luger. He has a statement to make. Luger says the Wolfpack is "forever" and that they grow stronger in adversity. He says that one of his attackers on Monday was Scott Hall and he wants a match with Hall and "some of" his friends. Sting (back in red facepaint) and Konnan come to the ring to join him. Apparently we are looking at a 6-man tag match for the main event tonight.
Dean Malenko heads to the ring to referee the next match but is intercepted by Chris Jericho who importunes him to "prove" himself by calling the match fairly (well, duh...)
Psychosis vs. Juventud Guerrera - both of these guys are suicidal high flyers but in this match, Psychosis wisely chooses to use his superior size to ground his opponent. He's not quite up to the task because of Juvey's speed and breakneck style. Psychosis takes a nasty spill onto the floor but when Juvey tries to follow up he backs up and gets bashed by Jericho who is lurking about ringside. Guerrera is out of it and Psychosis throws his patented guillotine legdrop to end the match. Malenko didn't see Jericho's interference but suspects it as he reluctantly counts Juventud out. Cut to commercial.
nWo Nitecrap - I have hopes that this will be last time we have to sit through this dreck. The only thing about this segment is that it gives me a chance to go get a snack (yawnnnnnn....) Suddenly it gets interesting when DDP hits the set (literally) and wipes the floor with Bischoff. Casper's finest have to pull him off the WCW promoter and haul him away. Cut to WCW Motorsports then to commercial.
Hogan is said to be on his way to the arena after seeing what happened in the last segment.
Meng vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan - we could see this one coming for a week or so as Duggan has faced members of the Jimmy Hart camp only to have Meng interfere in each match. These guys seem to be pretty evenly matched and the contest has a definite see-saw quality to it until Barbarian, Morrus and Jimmy Hart hit the ring. Duggan is ejected then Meng is held while Jimmy Hart climbs to the top with the 2X4 then breaks it over the big guy's head. Meng just shrugs it off. Now Duggan is back and he uses the board to drive off the Hart troups. He and Meng face off then Meng splits to chase the attackers out of the arena. Cut to commercial.
Tony shows us one of their give-away motorcycles (an American Ironhorse) and then nWo Hollywood (minus Hollywood) show up and invade the ring. Rick Rude is the spokesman and rants at Goldberg. Scott Hall then takes the mic, claims that he attacked Luger on his own and insults each of the three challengers individually. He says they accept the challenge but it is unclear who the three nWo Black and White members will be for the match.
Stevie Ray (w/the belt) vs. Steve McMichael - Mongo runs to the ring and gets caught coming in. Stevie maintains his advantage throughout the early going then gets caught in a suplex. Mongo hits him twice with his three-point tackle but then rushes into the corner and meets Mongo's elbow. Chavo Guerrero shows up at this point with his own "notarized" document declaring himself to be the TV Champ. He grabs the belt and starts to walk away. Stevie Ray catches up to him and gets bashed upside the head with the belt. As Stevie rises to his feet, Mongo hits him from behind. They brawl briefly then Stevie gets loose and chases Chavo up the ramp. Mongo is awarded the match by count-out. Cut to commercial.
Video review of the Scott Steiner scam from last Monday culminating in the attack by his brother. Tony brings Rick out for a palaver. Rick is quite q bit more articulate then he was in the past, though he still manages to lapse into his Dogfaced Gremlin character toward the end of the interview. Interestingly, I've heard that Rick's degree from the University of Michigan is in Education... Cut to commercial.
Tribute video to Arn Anderson.
Saturn vs. Sick Boy/Riggs (w/Lodi) - Kanyon is scheduled to wrestle but fails to show again. Raven makes it into a handicap match (through what authority I can't imagine). Saturn starts pretty strong but the odds are against him here (even though one of his opponents is glorified jobber). Saturn eventually ejects Riggs then defeats Sick Boy with a DDD. Raven runs in and they erupt into fisticuffs until the rest of the Flock at ringside gets involved and Saturn goes down to the Evenflo DDT. Cut to commercial.
Disco Inferno (w/Tokyo Magnum) vs. Eddie Guerrero - Disco has made a bad bargain with this switch. Tokyo Magnum is a chump - he dishonors the name in my opinion. As talented as Disco is, he doesn't have the chops to hang with Guerrero. Oh, he has his moments and dominates the action immediately following the start of the match, but he can't sustain it against a competitor of this caliber. Tokyo Magnum tries to distract him but it rebounds against Disco, then he tries to get physically involved but only makes it worse again. Eddie wins with a Frog Splash.
Buff Bagwell is on the phone and wants to talk with Rick Steiner. He puts his own spin on what happened Monday night then declares that Scott was injured in the attack and won't be able to compete on Sunday. Cut to commercial.
Hogan heads for the ring with a battered and limping "Easy E" and the Disciple in tow. Bischoff holds the mic for Hogan as he rants against Diamond Dallas Page. He brags about the motorcyclists he's added to his entourage since leaving Denver on Monday and implies that Kimberly has been accompanying him as well. He threatens Page with bodily harm for his outrage against the nWo earlier tonight. He adds Leno to his enemies list toward the end of the speech.
nWo Wolfpack (Lex Luger/Sting/Konnan) vs. nWo Hollywood (Scott Hall/Curt Hennig/Brian Adams) - 6 man tag match - black and white make their entrance and then we cut to commercial.
Wolfpack enters as we return. The fight erupts at ringside as a 6-man melee. Sting on Hennig, Luger on Hall, Konnan on Adams. In the ring finally it is Luger vs. Hall. Hall gets creamed until he manages to tag Hennig in. Hennig too is overpowered and then triple teamed. He tags Adams in to face Konnan and finally nWo Hollywood turns it around. Konnan is being isolated in no time. But then Hall lets his guard down and Sting gets the tag and starts to show us some of his old time form. The bad guys try to gang up on him but he fends them off then his cohoorts come in. The fight falls out to the floor leaving Konnan to put the Tequilla Sunrise on Adams. Adams toughs it out until Hennig comes in to save him. The melee transfers into the ring and in the confusion, Konnan rolls up Adams and pins him. The fight continues but nWo Hollywood is out of steam as we fade to black.
Typical Thunder fare...
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
Hosted by Jeremy Hartley
(Editor's Note: If you have found anything thats been said here to be particularly offensive please read this disclaimer).
This page is a personal tribute and is in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie. Copyright 1998 - Jump City Productions