Tonight’s episode, titled “CWF: Bloodstains in the Everglades”, invites some new faces to the roundtable to look back on the highs and lows of Championship Wrestling from Florida. Steve Keirn, Kevin Sullivan, Bob Roop, Gerald Brisco, and Brian Blair are your guides.
Keirn fondly looks back on the fatherly role that CWF boss and wrestler Eddie Graham played in his life after making friends with Mike Graham in high school. He acknowledged that Eddie’s dedication to kayfabe, and making sure that anybody who thought they could just jump in the ring and hang with the wrestlers was proven wrong, was very intimidating to him as a young man.
The way Keirn tells a story of a would-be wrestler being put into a Sugar Hold submission until he started to bleed from his eyes and nose (Keirn says to Roop that he’s pretty sure it was him that night), trying to escape the room only to find the doors chained up, and finally turning to see Eddie right there starting to beat him down — it sounds like a horror story.
The upbeat music played behind the re-enactments — those famous, hazy shots perfected in Dark Side of the Ring — is a strange juxtaposition. Keirn says that seeing it happen in front of him made him sick to his stomach. It’s an honest look back to the brutality of the territory days.
Brisco tells the tale of seeing a young Terry Bollea, long before he was Hulk Hogan, attending the shows and asking for a spot in the business. Bollea is paired up Hiro Matsuda for a training session in which Bollea’s ankle’s is hurt — not broken — and it was his insistence on coming back for more that impressed the crew and started Hogan on his way to stardom.
Back to Keirn, whose father is captured in Vietnam when Steve was 13 years old, leading to that feeling of Eddie Graham in some ways filling in for his absent dad. After Keirn finds out that college is not for him, he joins up with CWF just as his father returns home. He tells a really touching story of greeting his dad at the airport when his father had last seen Steve as a boy.
Normally, a touching story ends there. This is wrestling, though, and that part of Keirn’s life became fodder for a heated angle between himself and Roop. With Eddie Graham seeking business opportunities in Australia, Keirn himself thought of introducing his father into the storyline with Roop calling him a coward.
Kevin Sullivan suggests that this angle couldn’t be done today, which is not exactly true. What he might have meant, though, was that an angle like that wouldn’t get the same reaction from the fans today. Most notably, Roop tells the type of story that seems to run often in these territory days — an enraged fan confronted him at gunpoint in a parking lot, though Roop managed to walk away without incident.
Next up is The Army of Darkness as Sullivan develops his cult-like wrestling stable, surprised that Eddie Graham let it happen at all. Special focus is given to “The One Week Match” between Sullivan and Blackjack Mulligan as they start a match fighting in the ring and brawl to the outside. The next week, Sullivan and Mulligan fight their way back into the arena and interrupt another match — playing up that they’d fought all week. And that’s it for the notable, controversial Army of Darkness.
A lighter tone is struck next as Brian Blair tells of being ribbed when he thought he was pulling a prank on Pat Patterson by hiding in the trunk of a car and readying to moon Pat when he would open it. Instead, Brisco backed the car up to a diner and popped the trunk open, letting Blair expose himself to the patrons. Honestly, the coolest part of the recreation, at least for people of my age, was seeing the old yellow button in the glove box to pop the trunk open.
The final parts of the episode have the roundtable, mostly Keirn, looking back on the troubled last parts of Eddie Graham’s life as he ended thirteen years of sobriety and led reckless stunts like a drunken plane ride that had Keirn convinced he was going to die. They all recall how Eddie lost all of them, turning to the alcohol and turning away from his friends before taking his own life.
With Championship Wrestling from Florida morphing, at least spiritually, into WWE’s developmental Florida Championship Wrestling and eventually NXT (presented, notably, with the brand-new logo without the paint splatter), Keirn, who really took over the episode by the end, acknowledges how much the CWF truly meant to the business. The episode offers a straightforward look back with some revealing personal interpretations, and is probably the best middle-ground episode of the series so far for both new and knowledgeable fans of the territory.
Episodes of Tales from the Territories are available for streaming through Vice TV (and Crave TV in Canada).
Slam Wrestling’s Tales from the Territories story archive
Nov. 16, 2021: Looking back on my CWF Legends Fanfest trip