COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The final Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW) event has been hiding, preserved and now re-discovered on YouTube.
On Sunday, November 26, 1995, SMW’s Thanksgiving Thunder tour rolled into the Cookeville Community Center. The house show would serve as SMW’s last hurrah.
Thanks to this reporter’s determination to learn more about this event I missed while living less than 30 minutes away as a young Tennessee boy, I have combed through the web off and on for years looking for any photos and first-hand accounts. To my pleasant surprise, I recently found fan camcorder footage of the entire card.
LAST SHOW VIDEO #1:
The ring announcer, Greg Gregory, is met with a chorus of boos after informing the crowd Terry Gordy will not be in action after suffering a concussion the previous Thursday night. Buddy Landel enters the ring and announces his tag team partner, Jos LeDuc, will also be absent due to a death in the family and offers to wrestle Tommy Rich and The Punisher in a handicap match. “Bullet” Bob Armstrong comes out and convinces Landel he’ll help him find a tag team partner.
Match #1 – The Wolfman vs. Sgt. Rock with Jim Cornette (2 minutes 50 seconds)
Jim Cornette grabs the mic to cut a brief heel promo lauding Sgt. Rock from The Militia stable. Cornette distracts The Wolfman for Sgt. Rock to get the jump on the lively lycanthrope. Sgt. Rock gets the better of her opponent with multiple forearms and snapmares. The Wolfman mounts a brief offense until Cornette causes a distraction for referee Mark Curtis allowing Sgt. Rock to throw powder in The Wolfman’s eyes.
Surprisingly, the powder to the eyes spot did not lead to the end of the match as the two continued to wrestle. Sgt. Rock hits a low blow, then a DDT and wins by pinfall.
Going with an intergender match as the opener was a unique choice. To be fair, The Wolfman’s relative was a sponsor that paid SMW a few grand per month to feature him on the card.
Fun fact: Sgt. Rock would become better known as 2016 WWE Hall of Famer Jacqueline Moore, and ring announcer Greg Gregory would become StyckMan from the 2023 County Music Association Personality of the Year award winning radio show duo Mo & StyckMan.
LAST SHOW VIDEO #2:
Match #2 – Butch Cassidy vs. Jim Cornette with Sgt. Rock (17 minutes 45 seconds)
There are some pre-match shenanigans: Cornette enters the ring to “Short People” by Randy Newman, which is an obvious slight at his vertically challenged opponent. Cornette also cuts a Memphis style promo on the audience to draw heat and focuses on berating his opponent. The bell rings, and there is some stalling with some silly, yet effective old school spots that pull in the live audience with building anticipation. When done right, the crowd will react loudly once contact happens, which occurs in this match. Sadly, a heel purposely knowing how to do very little to nothing at all and still causing the fans to come unglued is becoming a lost art.
Someone approaches the fan filming the match and asks him why he is recording. The fan responds the recording is for personal use. The unknown person asks if this video will be reproduced and the fan responds “no sir.” Thankfully, the fan was allowed to keep recording.
Mama Cornette’s golden child is no Lou Thesz, but James E. works with what he has in this match. Cornette shoves referee Mark Curtis, who retaliates by hitting a beautiful dropkick on Cornette, knocking him to the outside. Cornette beats the ref’s count and hits some decent forearm shots on Cassidy. There are several comedy spots and Jackie hits Cassidy with the tennis racquet, which is unseen by Curtis. The match continues before Jackie enters and kicks Cassidy who had Cornette pinned, which leads to a DQ win for Cassidy. Jackie goes to work on Cassidy with multiple kicks and elbow drops before The Wolfman reappears and clears out the ring.
The match went on a bit too long, but my educated guess is Cornette had to re-arrange the card with some of the no shows, especially since an intermission immediately followed this match. According to the December 4, 1995 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Cornette informed the wrestlers SMW would be folding barring a miracle during this intermission.
LAST SHOW VIDEO #3:
Match #3 – Buddy Landel & “Bullet” Bob Armstrong with Brad Armstrong vs. Tommy “Wildfire” Rich & The Punisher with Jim Cornette (12 minutes 18 seconds)
I wonder why Rich did not wear the SMW Heavyweight Championship to the ring considering he won the title the night before in Johnson City, Tenn. Landel announces “Bullet” Bob Armstrong is a man of his word and found him a tag team partner: himself. Brad Armstrong accompanies his father to the ring. It is quickly announced Brad Armstrong will serve as a lumberjack. There is some typical heel stalling before The Punisher challenges Armstrong Sr. to a test of strength. For the keen eye, The Punisher would later become Bull Buchanan and father of current NXT wrestler Brooks Jensen.
What immediately stands out from watching this match is just how over Bob Armstrong was with the Tennessee crowd. Portions of this match are blurry due to the video quality, but this is your standard southern style tag match.
Landel and Bullet Bob Armstrong do the double pin on The Punisher to pick up the win.
LAST SHOW VIDEO #4:
Match #4 – The Thugs (Tracy Smothers and Dirty White Boy) & their mystery partner vs. Robert Gibson & the Heavenly Bodies with Jim Cornette (11 minutes 45 seconds)
Like Rich, the Heavenly Bodies are not wearing their SMW Tag Team Championship titles.
“Even though they are not wearing the belts at present, they are the Smoky Mountain Wrestling tag team champions,” Cornette proclaims when introducing the Heavenly Bodies at the top of the match. Perhaps the titles were up for grabs at the merchandise table or left in East Tennessee the night before?
CORNETTE PODCAST ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO SMW HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Tracy Smothers and Dirty White Boy are accompanied by their mystery partner draped in a dark sheet. Dirty White Boy pulls off the sheet to reveal Ricky Morton. The faces charge and clear the ring. Morton grabs the mic and cuts a promo on Gibson for aligning with the likes of Cornette. Morton is definitely over with the Cookeville crowd.
After some stalling, the in-ring action eventually quickens. All six competitors know how to work a six-man tag match. There are some behind the ref’s back interference spots by the heels. I would have liked to have seen more one-on-one between Ricky and Robert considering the unique matchup where they were on opposite sides; however, the crowd was into the match from start to finish.
A miscommunication leads Cornette to accidently hit Gibson with the tennis racket, and Morton scores the pinfall.
The heels fight among one another before concentrating on beating down Cornette. The Thugs and Morton re-enter the ring and beat on Cornette before others join – turning the Louisville Slugger into the Putnam County Piñata. Mark Curtis knocks Cornette down with a punch and covers him while the faces count 1-2-3. The Heavenly Bodies remain in the ring with a downed Cornette threatening to inflict more punishment while Morton leads a “kill him” chant from the timekeeper’s table. After multiple teases, the Heavenly Bodies opt to reconcile with Cornette and hug it out.
A bruised and beaten Cornette stumbles out of the ring and to the back, which is the last moment of SMW.
Several wrestling publications covered the demise of the Tennessee territory.
“Sunday night, Nov. 26 in Cookville, Tenn., Jim Cornette threw in the towel on a venture that began with high hopes but along the way cost him sleep, money, friends, his temper, and even a solid part of his reputation,” wrote Wade Keller in the December 1, 1995 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch.
Veteran wrestling reporter Mike Mooneyham penned the following in his December 17, 1995 column for The Post and Courier. “Smoky Mountain Wrestling, a grand experiment started by Jim Cornette in 1991, ended several weeks ago in Cookeville, Tenn., when Jim Cornette announced to his crew that the promotion would be closing shop effective immediately.
“Cornette, booker and creative genius behind SMW, kept the promotion afloat on a shoestring budget. But, like other regional promotions that existed a decade before Smoky Mountain Wrestling, it eventually fell victim to the changing times and the much deeper pockets of the major national wrestling companies.”
SlamWrestling.net caught up with Jack Johnson, who uploaded the final SMW show to his YouTube page, to discuss the origin of the historic tape.
“I was at the show. and then I received a tape from someone either bought or traded,” recalled Johnson. “VHS tape trading was common back in the day, and I did a lot of that. I have watched countless, most likely third to tenth generation VHS tapes, that were so blurry from being taped over you really had to be a super fan to watch them. I went to college with one of the regular SMW cameramen, who was later a TNA cameraman, so it could have come from him.”
SlamWrestling.net also chatted with former ring announcer Greg Gregory, better known today as Greg “StyckMan” Owens, to discuss his memories working for the promotion.
“My mullet was glorious,” joked Owens. “That was very pre ‘StyckMan.’
“SMW used to come to the Cookeville Community Center once a month or so,” continued Owens. “I have no idea how I got the sound and announcing gig. I ran the sound and announced for as long as they came. It was several times.”
Owens continued his announcing and sound duties for SMW during this time and recalls specific memories easier rather than exact show dates.
“I remember a SMW show there where the ring didn’t show up,” added Owens. “Cornette left and left me with the duties of telling the wrestlers that the show had been cancelled. Unabomb [Kane and mayor of Knox County] was one of the guys that hadn’t shown up yet. I told him and he said, ‘Well … darn.’
“I also remember going to get Cornette a hot dog because the heel couldn’t,” continued Owens. “And I remember falling out of the ring because I was being chased by Cornette’s Militia.”
Jack Johnson also recalled his extensive memories of attending SMW shows in Cookeville:
I know one of the TV tapings hit the six-hour mark. If you hung around through it all, you were sitting ringside by the time it was mercifully over. That was great for the hardcore wrestling fan/mutual admiration society that populated the Cookeville Community Center at the time but hard for a normal family or regular person to stick around for. As the years pass, things get pathetically romanticized. They are remembered and reminisced into something totally different than what they actually were. SMW was good, and at times, it was great southern wrestling.
I really laugh when I hear things like “kayfabe was king in SMW.” Tommy Rich stopping midway through a promo because the camera broke down and then just starting over like nothing happened in front of a live crowd is as kayfabe as a kid’s Christmas magic kit. Jim Cornette did a wonderful job with SMW and when WrestleMania was in Atlanta in 2011, I ran into Corny at Center Stage before the Ring of Honor show. I said, “Jim, I’m from Cookeville, Tennessee.” He immediately replied, “Cookeville! I haven’t been to Cookeville in six years!” I do know all the marks and smart mark fans in Cookeville loved to hate Cornette. He didn’t remember, when I brought it up to him, a promo where he came out and poured an actual bottle of liquor (the smell was unmistakable) all over Buddy Landel while making fun of Buddy’s alcoholism. It was an incredible scene, but SMW was having so many promo reshoots from camera problems that night I assume it just never got on tape. That was one of the wildest wrestling incidents I have ever seen live, and I was in Nashville for Katie Vick.
The dirt sheet readers and VHS tape traders greatly appreciated Cornette for even considering bringing SMW to Cookeville. Most of that 1991 to 1995 time period was a down time for professional wrestling. SMW and the USWA gave the Cookeville Community Center a connection to the WWF by serving as minor league pipelines and a literal phone call away from McMahon-Land. One thing you can never take away from the community center is its place in the history of professional wrestling. It was the venue for the final SMW show.
Being able to finally watch the last Smoky Mountain Wrestling event that took place in Cookeville, Tenn. while also writing this story from the same town is the fitting end of a personal journey. I am unsure if this show will convert any new fans, but the fan footage is a historical document that adds to the legacy of SMW.
WWE has long since owned the SMW TV broadcast tapes, but very little of the official library is available on the WWE Network. Like me, fans have to seek out old SMW shows to learn more about professional wrestling the way it used to be, and the way you like it.
TOP PHOTO: Cookeville Community Center. Photo courtesy Putnam County Parks and Recreation