When Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner cancelled WCW programming on TBS, it spelt the end for WCW as a whole. As he watched WCW Thunder on March 21st 2001, the last wrestling program to air on TBS, John Molinaro couldn’t help but reflect on the significance of such a loss. After all, wrestling had been a staple on TBS since 1972. In this final part of a three part series, John Molinaro recalls his own personal favourite TBS wrestling moments.
Wrestling was a major part of programming on TBS ever since Ted Turner launched Atlanta UHF television station WTCG in 1972. It was the popularity of wrestling on WTCG that helped Turner uplink his fledgling station to a satellite in 1976, making it the first cable station to go national.
Wrestling and reruns of the Andy Griffith Show … that’s what made TBS such a success. That’s what kept the station afloat during those leans years when Turner’s Atlanta Braves, baseball’s lovable losers, gave new meaning to the word ‘futility’. Turner never forgot how much wrestling helped out his station and as a result, it always had a soft spot in his heart.
It’s too bad those heartless suits over at AOL/Time Warner didn’t share his compassion. Twenty-nine years of wrestling on TBS came to an end on March 21st thanks to Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner, killing what to many was a sacred tradition.
From shows like “Georgia Championship Wrestling”, “World Championship Wrestling”, “Mid South Championship Wrestling”, “WCW Thunder”, “WCW Saturday Night” to the WWF, every major star in this industry, at one time or another, appeared on the SuperStation, providing a lifetime of memories or those of us who grew up watching wrestling on TBS.
Some of my fondest memories growing up are of watching wrestling on TBS. Every Saturday for two hours, I lost myself in the angles, interviews and matches that played out before me. It was such a big part of my life that I made damn sure, no matter where I was or what I was doing, that I was in front of a television at 6PM to watch my heroes.
So many memories. Some good, some bad. Always entertaining.
Like the time the Fabulous Freebirds ‘flattened’ all four tires on Austin Idol’s car on “Georgia Championship Wrestling”, thus making him late for a tag match with Kevin Sullivan. As the Freebirds were cutting an interview, Idol ran into the studio and apologized to Sullivan saying he had a flat tire. The Freebirds, the cocky jerks they were, laughed it off as Michael Hayes asked Idol “what are the odds of you having four flat tires?”
“Who said anything about four flat tires?” responded a suspicious Idol. “I said a flat tire!” Idol and Sullivan proceed to lay out the ‘Birds’ for their skulduggery in a classic angle that’s been rehashed by every promoter ever since.
Two days after winning the NWA World title for the very first time, Ric Flair cuts his very first interview as champion on “Georgia Championship Wrestling”. Put off by having to wait to the program’s second hour to be introduced as the new champ, Flair let Gordon Solie know about his displeasure: “I have to say I was a little bit upset sitting in the back, watching on the monitor as Georgia Championship Wrestling presents an award to Tommy Rich (wrestler of the year) that was voted on by the fans while I’m holding the most coveted trophy in all of professional sports, the world heavyweight championship.”
Then there was the Ole Anderson-Dusty Rhodes angle where Ole schemed and plotted for a year to con Rhodes into trusting him. Finally, Rhodes takes Ole as his tag partner for a cage match at The Omni against the Assassins with Gene Anderson and Ivan Koloff as the special referees. The first time Duty tags out, Ole turns on him and the Assassins, Koloff and Gene Anderson all join in. What an idiot Dusty was.
Then there was the angle where Roddy Piper, at the time a heel colour commentator, came to the rescue of Gordon Solie after Don Muraco was pushing poor ‘ol Gordon around. Or the time Killer Karl Kox put a ‘lit’ cigar in Tommy Rich’s face. Or the time Terry Gordy executed four consecutive piledrivers on Ted DiBiase on the cement floor. Or pitchman Freddy Miller hyping upcoming cards at the Omni, encouraging fans to “Be There”. Or Gordon Solie opening every show with his famous refrain: “When you see this symbol (pointing to an NWA emblem), you are assured of the optimum in professional wrestling.”
My fondest memory of “Georgia Championship Wrestling”? Black Saturday. Not because I was glad to see the WWF on the SuperStation but because I have no prouder moment as a wrestling fan when people from around the U.S. united and flooded TBS with phone calls and letters, demanding that they kick the WWF off the air. Nine months later McMahon, no longer able to work with Turner, sold his timeslots to Crockett and a new era on TBS began. I have no doubt that it was the actions of those fans, who boycotted the WWF show and were responsible for its low ratings, that helped changed the course of wrestling history. Had McMahon held onto the TBS timeslots, Crockett never would have went national and we would have had a McMahon monopoly of the business 16 years earlier. Kudos to the brave souls who made a difference.
Even though it was only on TBS for 15 weeks, Bill Watts’ “Mid South Championship Wrestling” managed to outdraw the WWF on the SuperStation. My lasting memory of that show is of King Kong Bundy doing his ‘five count’ gimmick on some poor scrub and then coming over to the interview podium and telling a young, terrified Jim Ross that “when you’ve been beaten by Bundy, you know you’ve been beaten by the best.” Good ‘ol J.R. had the look of fear and terror in his eyes.
One of the classiest moments was WCW’s Clash of the Champions 20 from Atlanta in the fall of ’92, celebrating twenty years of wrestling on TBS. Featuring a live card and historic clips throughout the show, TBS brought back many of the stars from the 70s that helped make wrestling on TBS such a tradition. It was at this show that Andre the Giant made his last public appearance before passing away on January 27th, 1993.
But I suppose my fondest memories of TBS are of Jim Crockett Promotions. My first exposure to wrestling was watching Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling with my brother Anthony. We appreciated the hard-hitting style, the innovative angles and, of course, Ric Flair.
From the very first time I saw the ‘Nature Boy’ I was hooked on wrestling for life. There was just something about him that spoke to me. Flair became a national star thanks to the exposure of Crockett’s “World Championship Wrestling” program on TBS, and I was given a lifetime of wonderful wrestling memories.
Like the time Flair faced Ronnie Garvin on TBS’ weekly “Championship Series” back in 1985. After a physical, 18-minute match that ended in a double DQ, Dusty Rhodes enters the ring and puts the figure four on Flair. The Andersons run in and attack Rhodes and it takes Magnum T.A. and five jobbers to come in and make the save for ‘The Dream’.
After the skirmish, Flair makes a beeline to the interview podium where Tony Schiavone and David Crockett await his comments. Flair goes off in a berserk rage: “Get excited! You just saw it. We beat up Ronnie Garvin. We darn near killed Dusty Rhodes, and you know why? (Grabbing Schiavone by the tie) Let me tell you why, red tie. Because we’re the best there is.”
The exchanges over the years at the podium between Flair and Crockett and Schiavone were priceless. One time, as he was wrapping up an interview, Flair slipped Tony a couple of hundred dollar bills and said “Tony, here’s a couple hundred bucks. Go get yourself some decent clothes. I can’t have you looking the way you do now when you’re standing out here with the World champion.” Then there was that time Flair came out to the podium singing as “The Wanderer” by Dion and the Belmonts blared over the p.a. system and Flair asks “Tony, is it just me or am I looking hot for days?” A week after beating Dusty Rhodes with a foreign object that referee Tommy Young did not see, David Crockett grills Flair in an interview. Flair responds: “Are you wearing a stripped shirt today, David Crockett? All of a sudden you represent the referees of the world? Stick to what you know… that’s talking into this (pointing to the microphone) and signing my paycheque every week.”
Other classic Flair moments on TBS: Flair calling Roadwarrior Hawk “Chicago-gutter trash” prior to a one-on-one match; making fun of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and calling all their fans ‘nothing-happening, training-bra wearing teenyboppers’; cutting a promo prior to the ’87 Bash tour where he was going to face 15 different opponents over 30 days and saying he was going to make more money that month than Boston Celtic forward Larry Bird would make all year (yeah, right!); Flair telling David Crockett (his real life boss) to make himself useful and hold his robe while he destroyed some jobber in a squash match; Eddie Gilbert bringing in Ricky Steamboat as his mystery partner for a match against Flair and Barry Windham, an angle that was the catalyst for the Flair-Steamboat feud of ’89.
But the all-time classic Flair skit on TBS had to be from 1987 when Flair defeated Jimmy Garvin at a house-show, thus winning a ‘dream date’ with his valet Precious. After disposing of Garvin, Flair and J.J. Dillon come out on TV the following week with a mannequin dressed in a flimsy nightgown. Flair calls her his own Precious and proceeds to pull out a pair of women’s panties from his pocket, pointing to the mannequin and saying “Precious, these are going to be yours! Whooo!” Treading the line of decency, Flair then describes what he’s going to do to Precious on the dream date, telling here she’s “going to ride Space Mountain all night long”. And then, in one of those classic moments forever etched in my memory, Flair brushes back her long hair and starts French-kissing the mannequin! An absolutely priceless moment with Flair at his lecherous best in a skit that was borderline obscene.
Yes, there were those moments of shame on TBS I’d just as soon forget.
Like the time Schiavone interviewed Rhodes on his ‘good friend’ country singer Willie Nelson’s farm. What the hell was that all about? The chants of ‘We Want Flair’ after WCW fired Flair in 1991, a low point in the company’s history. Rhubarb Jones, the ring announcer at Centre Stage (man, that guy was annoying). Jim Ross giving romantic advice to Rick Steiner prior to his ‘big date’ with Robin (AKA Nancy Sullivan). Or how about the Sid Vicious-Nightstalker debacle of a match at Clash of the Champions 13. Or Cactus Jack getting amnesia and looking for Dustin Rhodes. Or Tommy Rich ending the career of referee Tommy Young with a mistimed spot in the ring. Or Terry Funk’s attempted murder try on Ric Flair at Clash of the Champions 8 when Funk suffocated Flair by wrapping a plastic bag around his head. Or the debut of the Ding Dongs at Clash of the Champions 7, one of many gems from then-Senior Vice President Jim Herd. Picture this: two guys in orange bodysuits and masks ringing a big bell in the corner, wrestling in front of a crowd of drunken soldiers in a gymnasium on some military base. Poor Jim Ross and Bob Caudle, seriously damaging their credibility, had to put the thing over on TV. Oh, the humanity!
Most disgusting moment goes to Dusty Rhodes and his impersonation of a stuck pig in November of ’88. Ah yes, no sooner than the TBS execs give Rhodes a directive to ban the blade on their show does Big Dust decide to have Hawk and Animal poke out his eye with a metal spike. The aftermath: the ring looked like a floor of a slaughterhouse and Rhodes, ignoring the words of the good folks at TBS, was forced out of the promotion a month later. Let it not be said that Big Dust was the brightest guy around. At least ‘The Dream’ went out his way: in a final blaze of stupidity and incompetence. Nobody could have done it better than him.
But the all-time ridiculous wrestling moment on TBS: the debut of the Shockmaster at Clash of the Champions 24. Oh my. This was the brainchild of Rhodes (who else would you expect?) as the artist formerly known as Typhoon comes crashing through a paper partition on the stage, falling on his face and sending that lame-ass, spray-painted stormtrooper mask he was wearing half way across the stage. Poor Sid Vicious was doing everything in his power to not bust a gut laughing and look scared as Shockmaster scurried to pick up his mask, put it back on and then try to look menacing.
What about the matches?
I can’t even begin to imagine how many I’ve watched on TBS. They surely number in the thousands. So many great encounters with guys like Flair, Tully Blanchard, the Andersons, Ted DiBiase, Wahoo McDaniel, Brad Armstrong, the Midnight Express, the Koloffs, Magnum TA.
It’s hard to choose just one, so I’ll pick three.
The Flair-Sting 45-minute draw from the first Clash of the Champions. Talk about making a star out of green mid-carder. Flair did the impossible that night: he made Sting look like a credible contender in a match that easily ranks as the best of Sting’s career. How fitting was it then that fair and Sting wrestled in the last match ever to air on TBS. Then there’s the “I Quit” match between Flair and Funk at Clash of the Champions 10. The drama, the blood, the brawl, the storyline, the huge viewing audience and of course, Gordon Solie’s now legendary line: “Two words. Five letters. I quit”.
But the one that outdistances them all was the Steamboat-Flair, best two out of three falls match from Clash of the Champions 6. Clocking in at 55-minutes, this encounter stands as the greatest wrestling match to ever air on TBS in its 29 years of broadcasting wrestling. Imagine Steamboat-Savage at WrestleMania III, only ten times better. That’s what we’re talking about here folks. Flair and Steamboat weren’t wrestlers that evening; they were gladiators, with talents on loan from God that set the standard for in-ring excellence in North America. A standard that has yet to be matched to this day.
Twenty-nine years. Twenty-nine years of angles, interviews, matches and memories.
Twenty-nine years of men like Flair, Rhodes, Piper, Solie, Crockett, Tully Blanchard, The Funks, Bill Watts, the Andersons, the Koloffs, DiBiase and countless others.
Thanks for the memories TBS.
- Apr. 3, 2001: End of an era on TBS: Solie, Georgia and ‘Black Saturday’
- Apr. 4, 2001: End of an era on TBS: Crockett, Flair and ‘The Clashes’
- Apr. 12, 2001: End of an era on TBS: The letters