When you mix passionate fans, an ethnic hero, a green but hated villain, and a pair of brass knuckles, you get May 15, 1971 at the Boston Garden, when Blackjack Mulligan was stabbed in the ring after his match with WWWF World champion Pedro Morales.
It just took a couple of minutes for the chaos to happen, but to get to that point, though, it took a little bit of time.
Mulligan, who died yesterday at age 73, had only broken into the business in the late 1960s, after a football career under his real name of Bob Windham. He was a natural heel, a towering presence who could spin magic when he was on the microphone.
He was brought into WWWF from the AWA in 1971.
As was the case, he was slowly built up to become a challenger to the WWWF World champion.
Morales had been working since 1959, and slowly made his way to the top of the industry, replacing Bruno Sammartino on top of the WWWF. Like Sammartino, a big part of Morales’ appeal was with a specific audience. In his case, it was the Latino market, especially in the northeast.
The WWWF was just starting its “Three Wise Men” era with managers, with each handling villains in turn to challenge the champ.
Mulligan was paired with Ernie Roth, and was known as The Grand Wizard in the WWWF. In Detroit, he’d been Abdullah Farouk, manager of Eddie Farhat — The Original Sheik.
“Ernie Roth was the hottest little thing. I was the first guy that he ever was with other than The Sheik,” said Mulligan. “He came with me. Here was this big goofy cowboy and this big, funny, faggy-looking guy. They believed, they bought this so much that it was unbelievable. I came right out of the Gagne school, fresh into this thing. Red-hot heat. I was so ready to go, that I really knew how to turn this thing on, but didn’t know how to turn it off. Here I was with little Ernie Roth. They’d never seen a pair of people like this pair together.”
Then came the May 15th show at the Boston Garden, a smaller venue indicative of the times, a hot, smoky environment in an aged building at the best of times. “Boston was wild in that time,” said Morales. “It was very bad in that time. You had to be careful.”
“People really lived or died with Morales,” said Sheldon Goldberg, of Roslindale, owner of New England Championship Wrestling and wrestling historian, who was in attendance that night. “The people were so demonstrative in their affection for him. They would go crazy, and they hated Blackjack Mulligan.”
Here’s what Goldberg remembers: A male spectator wielding a knife hopped the guardrail as Mulligan climbed into the ring. The fan stabbed Mulligan in the thigh, opening gushing wounds. The crowd, many of whom initially froze, realized the episode wasn’t part of the show when Gorilla Monsoon, a wrestler then known as a “good guy,” raced to attend to Mulligan, who, according to wrestling logic, he should have hated. Towels on Mulligan’s wounds quickly reddened as he was carried from the ring to receive 100 stitches at the hospital.
“That was an accident, it was supposed to not happen. … We went too far,” recalled Morales. “He hit me with a gimmick, the brass knuckles, and I went down. That’s when the fan jumped.”
It was the Grand Wizard that handed Mulligan the weapon.
“I nail the Hispanic, and there’s 75% Hispanic in the building — they’re going to go nutso. And they come unglued. They totally came unglued,” said Mulligan. “We weren’t ready for it. The business wasn’t ready for it. Nothing was ready for the heat that Ernie and I produced. There were a few of the guys producing heat like that also in the business around the area.”
How true is the next part of Mulligan’s statement? Wrestling fans will never know.
“Morales was supposed to drop the belt to me that night, and I didn’t find that out until later or he would have done it,” he said. “But Ernie hands me the blackjack, boom, I nail him, and hand the blackjack back. One, two, I pick him up by the hair. They couldn’t stand that. Unbelievable heat. They couldn’t believe it. Here’s a Hispanic being tortured by a big white guy and a funny-looking guy in a headwrap. I pick him up for the second time and don’t cover him, one, two — that’s when they start coming unglued. I picked him up by the hair the second time and that’s when they slashed me across my leg, and they slashed me across my arm.”
Monsoon (Gino Marella) helping out had its own issues, said Mulligan. “God bless him, Gino can’t see 30 feet. He can hardly see the guy. But he did grab the guy to get rid of him. Here we are in a situation and we’re talking about heat.”
The story doesn’t end with the stabbing.
Bulldog Brower, a notorious heel in the WWWF, helped Mulligan after he’d been stabbed. Brower and Mulligan made it to the hotel adjoining the Boston Garden, and Bulldog scared off irate fans who were climbing the fire escape to get at Mulligan again with his pistol. Brower then carried Mulligan to his car and drove him to New Jersey. Mulligan was attended to by a doctor the next day — it was almost too late. The wound had gone septic and the doctor found the right antibiotics to attack the infection.
Of course, both Morales and Mulligan continued to wrestle on the top of the cards for more than a decade.
The assault led to pat-downs at Boston Garden wrestling events and the installation of plexiglass barriers around the ring, Goldberg said. In another incident, the hated Stan Stasiak was hit in the leg with a dart, and a massive green net was installed to block objects thrown toward the ring.
— with files from Steven Johnson
PEDRO MORALES STORIES
- Jan. 2, 2021: A loving, championship chat with Pedro Morales’ widow
- Feb. 12, 2019: Pedro Morales dead at 76
- June 20, 2005: Morales emerges as highlight of reunion