Kayfabe Commentaries Back to the Territories: Florida with Kevin Sullivan

This was released in November 2015

The interview was conducted by Jim Cornette

It runs at two hours and twenty-six minutes long

 

We get an introduction to start that is narrated by Cornette, who tells us how the Florida Territory was one of the smallest geographically but very successful and the stars were all household names and it had a decent public image in the state as he also puts over Eddie Graham’s skills as a promoter and visionary of the wrestling business.

 

They first discuss Eddie Graham and how he was the face of the Territory and even decided champions and settled disputes for other promotions. Sullivan said that Graham dropped out of school in the 5th grade and became a pilot and a captain of a boat. He also adds Graham had significant OCD and stressed details. Sullivan talks about how Graham gave him the finish of his first match in the Territory where he would go over Bobby Shane and he gave a our minute sequence and when it finished, Graham asked Sullivan where his third dropkick went as part of this long sequence included three dropkicks as Sullivan talked about how he got you to pay attention to every detail.

 

Sullivan tells another story of when he was in St. Louis when Flair made his debut there. At the time, they were considering giving Flair the NWA Title and wasn’t sure of how to finish his match and they ended up calling Graham, asking for advice and were given a finish.

 

Cornette talks about how when watching Florida on TV it seemed like every week someone was presenting Graham a civic award and it gave the promotion a good public image as a result which in turned helped out the wrestlers. Sullivan said that Graham had a lot of newspaper reporters in his pocket and they’d write about his giving to charity then adding in the main event of the next big show and would call it an “exhibition.”

 

They talk about Mike Graham now and how he benched press 425lbs while weighing 195lbs and had the State Record at that weight class for a long time. Sullivan puts over his strength and how he was tough and never wanted to let down his father.

 

Sullivan talks about the “Dusty Finish” and how it was really created by Louie Tillet. There was a show where every finish was what’s known today as the Dusty Finish and Graham asked Sullivan what he thought. Sullivan said it sucked and Graham made someone get him the tape and watched the matches and after that, Tillet was put in charge of the secondary cards while Dusty Rhodes became in charge of the primary shows.

 

They go back to Graham as when he bought the Territory, they were only running in the Winter time and expanded things by using a lot of Hispanic and African-American talents while other promotions would not. Graham also wrestled some in Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Cuba.

 

Sullivan talks about the small, local promoters that worked for Graham. He said that Graham always picked the best people who would hustle to try and fill the buildings as much as possible. Cornette adds how you cannot run weekly shows without the proper advertising and preparation and successful territories would have people in weekly towns to make sure things were well run.

 

Cornette brings up how while Florida did not pay the most out of the Territories, the travel was easy and working for a genius like Graham would greatly help out your career. Cornette lists off the talent Florida had in the 70’s. Sullivan compares Jack Brisco and Dory Funk to “Ali and Frazier.”

 

Sullivan talks about back in 1974 and how over Dusty Rhodes was and recalls people scalping tickets for the shows, sometimes as much as $200 per ticket.

 

For the top guys in the early 80’s, you’d make about $100,000 if you worked a program with Dusty. Sullivan thinks Dusty probably made about $150,000 in 1974 Florida.

 

They talk about Dick Slater as Sullivan said he was never the same after his car accident. Sullivan said he instantly knew how to work and could manipulate the crowds saying he could have been a major star.

 

Eddie Graham’s death is next. Cornette said the Territory was still making money as Sullivan said Eddie bought some land with a partner but ended up getting scammed and could have been facing jail time. Sullivan then said he saw him drink for the first time in seventeen years and let himself go and stopped using his boat and that probably brought up other demons. Sullivan said he heard about his suicide while in San Antonio on Super Bowl Sunday in 1985. He received a call saying Graham died from a gunshot. His son Mike was attending the Super Bowl and was called over the PA system and found out that way. Sullivan said Mike initially thought it was a rib but learned it was legit and flew home.

 

Cornette asks Sullivan to talk about Tyree Pride. When Florida ran in the Bahamas, they used him as he lived there. The fans went mental and would throw rocks and all sorts of stuff at the heels who faced Pride. One show, Jake Roberts wrestled Pride and the fans busted through the locker room, as the rest of the heels already left for the night, and beat Roberts with sticks as he hid under a mat. After that, they built a tunnel for them to get to the ring but the fans would stick umbrellas through the chain link fence and jab them. Sullivan tells another story of how the promoter their put him in a cage match against Pride and wanted Mark Lewin to run in after a ref bump so they could both hang Pride as Sullivan said he would only do so if there was protection from the fans as hanging a black guy in front of a predominantly black town was going to get him killed. The guy had a midget son according to Sullivan who said he would protect them. The match happened and the promoter came down with a chair as a wave of fans came down. Sullivan said he grabbed the guy and put him on his head as the fans beat the crap out of the promoter. Afterwards, the midget son came and saw his dad get beat up and fainted as Sullivan said he put the boots to him for not helping his dad.

 

Back to after Eddie’s death, Sullivan said people thought Dusty was coming back at that point. Sullivan said without Eddie there to handle things it wasnt the same and the connections with the local media disappeared and they ended up selling to Jim Crockett less than two years later. Cornette said Crockett was trying to keep it separate at first to sell as a syndicated show but it failed.

 

Sullivan is asked about the best wrestler he ever saw and said its Ray Stevens. He puts him over for being a great guy and how he got to team with him in San Francisco. Sullivan said he told Stevens about the finish where he would take the fall then Stevens said it was all wrong and that he would take the fall himself as he said it was Sullivan’s town now.

 

Cornette closes by asking Sullivan how long Florida could have lasted had Eddie not died. Sullivan thinks he might have worked out something with Vince to be a Developmental Territory as Cornette wonders what could have been with Graham helping out the WWF with finishes for Steve Austin’s matches.

 

Final Thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed this interview. It painted a great picture of what it was like working in Florida during its heyday. They also went in depth about Eddie Graham and how he was a visionary and an excellent promoter.

Cornette did a fantastic job as an interviewer. He enjoyed himself and let the subject speak and did not cut them off. He let Sullivan tell his stories and give his insight. It came off like two friends just talking about wrestling and there was chemistry between them.

Overall, I’d check this interview out. You can learn what made Florida so popular and why Eddie Graham was regarded the way he was among the elite in the wrestling business. I look forward to the other installments of this series.

You can view this interview on DVD for $20 or via Digital Download for $15.99 by clicking here