Legends Roundtable Review: The Soul of Wrestling

My contribution to Black History Month as I, unlike Kurt Angle, am a
very big fan of “the black people” and I even decided to marry one of

Anyway this panel is in the vault and has been for
a long time. Not sure if they moved it to the Black History Month section but
you can find it on the Network rather easily.

Aired in February of 2009

JR is your moderator and your esteemed panelists are:

Teddy Long (Definitely black)
Dusty Rhodes (Considered to be close to black by some black wrestlers although
he teamed up with an alleged Klansman in Dick Murdoch)
Tony Atlas (Definitely black and half of the first black tag champions with
Rocky Johnson)
Bill Watts (Often considered a friend of blacks)

— JR asks Teddy to tell his story. Teddy got into the business around 1984 or
so as a hanger on and someone that could help the new guys coming into the
Georgia territory. He met Abdullah the Butcher first and was a gopher for him.
He would come with Abdullah and help the guys take their ring gear back from
the ring to the dressing room. Ran errands for the guys. Didn’t make any money
of course. Eventually he met Dusty and Dusty liked him and gave him his first
paying job as part of the ring setup crew, which paid about $75/show. Dusty
gave him a job as a referee when the ref didn’t show for an event at Marietta,
Georgia. He tells a funny story about reffing a Black Bart-Ron Bass Texas death
match and they were bleeding everywhere and he tossed the “foreign object” that
Bart was using into the crowd. Bart was pissed but the timekeeper made a
mistake and they got mad at him about that and forgot about Teddy.

JR talks about Teddy being a manager of Doom. Teddy said he rode with Kevin
Sullivan and Eddie Gilbert and he would entertain them using his radio DJ’ing
skills while they rode and Sullivan convinced Flair to let him manage. He thanks
JR as well for his help in convincing Flair, who was against it. First guy he
managed? Norman the Lunatic. Then it was the Skyscrapers and then Doom. That’s
a pretty nice upgrade of talent actually.

— On to Atlas, who was a state champion as an amateur wrestler, power lifter
and bodybuilder. Atlas said he’s one of the luckiest people in the profession.
Sandy Scott saw an article on Atlas in a newspaper and met him during a show at
the YMCA. At the time he was trying to get to the Olympics in weight lifting or
wrestling. He describes his career as too much too soon. He was in main events
with Tommy Rich and Dusty within six months. He says he was his biggest problem
in wrestling. He made $1,500 his first week and $75,000 his first year. He said
most of his problems were with black wrestlers because when he came into the
territory the other black star had to leave. Pistol Pez Whatley hated him as
did Skip Young but they made amends. Tommy Rich told Atlas he wasn’t black or
white, he was green — as in he made money.

(They show a promo he cut with Gordon Solie and they are talking about Ric
Flair and…holy shit Atlas is MASSIVE. I could see why everyone wanted him in
their territory. He looks like big money and his babyface promo skills were
solid. He didn’t come across as a badass but more of a loveable babyface that
looked like a dude you did not want to mess with.)

(They show clips of a Flair-Atlas match, probably from the Georgia territory.
Flair is bumping like a madman for Atlas and even takes a nasty piledriver.)

– Atlas tells a funny story of a promoter riding him around the black
neighborhoods in Virginia with him covered in baby oil and posing while the
promoter billed him as the strongest black man in wrestling. He hated it but
went to the arena and saw the big crowd and starting buying his own baby oil for future promotions.

— Dusty talks about growing up in neighborhood of mostly blacks and Hispanics.
He said Sailor Art Thomas was one of the first black wrestlers that influenced
him. He also mentioned Thunderbolt Patterson and how he crafted his promos.
Dusty also got his style from listening to the black preachers that came
through town each month for revivals.

(Clips of a Thunderbolt Patterson sit down promo with Missouri Mauler and Dale
Lewis. You can easily see the similarities with him and Dusty and exactly where
Dusty took some of his style)

— JR asks Watts about his run with Bobo Brazil. He said he did some things to
create a racial atmosphere mostly because he was dumb and ignorant. He talked
about being drenched in urine going to the ring to face Bobo and causing a riot
after he pinned him.

(Clips of a Bobo Brazil interview when he entered Florida. I kind of like his

— Watts said Bobo was a classy guy, as was Ernie Ladd. He talked about an
incident in Baltimore when his tag partner called Ladd the n-word after Lyndon
Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Watts expected Ladd to get up from
playing cards and knock the guy out but he didn’t knowing that he would
probably get fired. Watts said Thunderbolt Patterson’s problem was that he
fought the culture because he dealt with so much and was filled with so much
animosity. Watts said that when he was in charge of Mid-South he looked at the
territory’s demographics and saw the black fans and saw how blacks were
dominating other athletics but just token blacks in pro wrestling so he wanted
to change that. He talks about Ernie Ladd and Ray Candy as the main event the
first Superdome card. JR said he remembered when white bookers would call Watts
and ask him if he lost his mind for promoting so many black wrestlers.

(Clips of a hilarious interview between JYD and Gene Okerlund with both of them
gawking over Wendi Richter and JYD talking about making enough money to pay the
IRS…shoot comments that aren’t meant to be shoot comments?)

— Watts talks about JYD entering the territory. He said he learned of him from
Jake Roberts (“only good thing he’s ever done”). Watts talks about Ladd booking
JYD with Super Destroyer and ran him tired for 20 minutes. Watts told Ladd that
he sent JYD to him to figure out what he could do, not what he couldn’t do…and
fired Ladd and Super Destroyer. But hired them back the next day.

— Watts continues on how it was tough to book black wrestlers against white
wrestlers and how many of the houses in Louisiana still had segregated seating
(this is in the late 70s, early 80s BTW). Watts partner, Leroy McGuirk, wasn’t
happy about all the color in the crowds and the card but Grizzly Smith reminded
him that it’s all about the green. And they made a lot of money.

— Long talks about Ole Anderson being a big racist jackass (you’re shocked I
know) and how Thunderbolt Patterson would side with Ole because he wanted to be
the only black on the card. Dusty said Patterson’s biggest problem was himself
and he blamed everyone else. The panel agrees. No love for Thunderbolt here
(Long really hated him).

— Watts talks about how far we’ve come but how far we need to go and mentions
the lack of black college football head coaches compared to the black players
in college football. He tells another funny story about Ladd.

(After a break we return with a clip of Dusty cutting a promo about having
soul. He was born with soul and so was Tony Atlas daddy!)

— JR talks about Butch Reed and Koko B. Ware wrestling at Wrestlemania III
with Slick as Reed’s manager and having two black wrestlers against each other
on the card was more history.

(Clips of the Reed-Ware match, Reed won with a rollover and a handful of

— JR asks Tony about winning the tag championship with Rocky Johnson. Atlas
said S.D. Jones said they were the only two guys that held the belt and made no
money with it. They hated each other and mostly because they didn’t want to
share the spotlight. Atlas said he beat up Rocky after Rocky promised to give
him a ride to a show and didn’t do it so he would get heat. They lost the belts
the next day and Atlas was fired. Atlas puts over Tommy Rich as his best tag
partner and his brother. Atlas tells a funny story about trying to do a 500-lb
bench press in the ring with Dusty supposed to spot him but Dusty starts jumping
around to get the crowd going and the ring is shaking while he’s trying to lift
this large amount of weight.

— Dusty talks about how proud he is of Teddy Long because he wasn’t necessary
going to draw money but he was a good guy and he loved the business and never
became part of the problem despite all the shit he took. Long said he had many
opportunities to sue based on racial discrimination but he just wanted to do
his job and not deal with it.

— Atlas talked about being protected by the promoter George Scott, who was a
father figure to him. He told him to always be on time, do what you are asked
and stay away from white girls. Of course Tony married a white lady.

— Watts said he loved Ron Simmons and he had the pedigree of an All-American
athlete. He decided to pull the trigger on Simmons winning the title in
Baltimore and the people are crying. Dusty said when you go to the FSU football
locker room and see Simmons’ locker enclosed in glass you know he’s the real deal.

(Clips of Simmons beating Vader and it’s a beautiful moment seeing that kid
rush to the front of the crowd and almost jump over the railing. Looking around
the crowd closely there were lots of pockets of people going apeshit. Very cool)

— Atlas said he’s rode with guys that have showed him their Klan card (they
have cards??) but those same guys would stand by him and fight with him if he
needed it. He said if you are looking for racism you are looking in the wrong
business. Watts slows him down a bit and tells him he was a different guy and
everyone loved him because he was just so dog gone friendly. So he was lucky
and well protected (probably because he made everyone a lot of money).

— Watts said he didn’t care about any backlash to Simmons winning the title.
JR said he broke from tradition with the NWA lineage and all the white
champions. Teddy Long said that seeing Simmons as the champion during their
celebration in Atlanta was great because they were friends and he used to
manage him. Watts said that at the end of the day it was too big of a burden
for him and he tried too hard to please everyone. Long and JR agree that
Simmons struggled with the pressure (I wish Simmons could have been part of the
panel to talk about this. Hell the WWE should track him down now to talk about it).

— Atlas said Harley Race tried to convince the promoters to give him the NWA
belt several times, naturally Ole Anderson was against it because god knows if it will make money, Ole is against it.
Harley fought Atlas in Florida and when the fans thought Atlas won they rushed
the ring and Harley left the ring unnoticed, which told him that this guy was a larger-than-life figure. Harley’s favorite color was money green.

— JR brings up the Nation of Domination, at least later version with Farooq,
D-Lo Brown, The Godfather and The Rock. Teddy said it was good for the black fans of
wrestling and Ross says it might have been the first black-based faction on
wrestling TV. Teddy said there were a lot of black fans of wrestling but they
didn’t come to the events because there weren’t many black stars to support. He
talks about Doom having the support of the few black fans that were at live WCW

— Dusty said The Rock was going to be a megastar, maybe he was bigger than
Austin, maybe not. Dusty goes back to the Nation of Domination and how they
took it to the edge.

(Clips of Farooq cutting an in-ring promo with Vince in 1997. I’m a mark for
Ron Simmons’ heel promos.)

— Atlas compared the Rock to Elvis with his unique look and said a guy with
that look come along once in a generation. Watts said the Rock had a humbleness
about him and always took time to talk to the older guys. He was never too busy
to have a conversation with someone like Watts, even though he was no longer a
factor in the business.

(Clips of the Rock doing Rock things and making fun of everyone he can find.)

— They talk about the current black stars (as of 2009) like Shelton Benjamin,
MVP, Mark Henry, etc. He said that Pat Patterson introduced JR to the Rock as “Rocky
Johnson’s kid”. Ross said he thought he was seeing a mirage, he couldn’t
believe this guy was real and the rest is history. Watts says the Rock doesn’t
see color and that’s where we all need to evolve.

— Teddy closes by saying that he’s had a chance to work for everyone on the
panel. He wasn’t “the color green” but to sit here with the guys that gave him
the opportunity it’s history for him and it’s not just black history, it’s
history. Teddy comes across so well in this panel, a super likeable guy.

Bottom Line: Lot of good stuff there. Lot of great stories and definitely worth
the hour and 15 minutes of your time if you are interested in such a thing.