The Spirit of ’96: Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling—9/12/81

**I was born in 1990 and became a wrestling fan in 1996. Shawn Michaels was my first favorite wrestler, and I watched every minute of the Attitude Era religiously. Needless to say, 90s WWF is my wrestling foundation. I have heard about the mythic era of the NWA and the territories, (and of course I’ve seen bits and pieces) but never truly steeped myself in all its glory. Follow my fresh/ignorant breakdown of classic wrestling!**

Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling—September 12, 1981

We open with a funky horn-fueled tune and an intro graphic that splits the screen into squares in the vein of the Brady Bunch opening. For the uninitiated like myself, the intro includes a very informative map that illustrates the exact geographic location of the Mid-Atlantic region. And it is located exactly where you think it would be.

Your hosts are the legendary Bob Caudle and David Crockettwho has me thinking there may be some nepotism happening in this territory. 

Bob and David discuss how dedicated fans have been writing in, stopping by the Mid-Atlantic offices, and even sending telegrams over what has been happening with Wahoo McDaniel and Roddy Piper. (I fact checked this and you could, technically, still send a telegram in 1981.) It really pushes the idea that people care so much and are so invested in the promotion that they are willing to put forth such effort to express themselves. It’s a great touch, and something that hasn’t changed. Wrestling shows always want to put over the passion of their loyal fanbase (Ex. WWE Universe.) Fans flooding the Mid-Atlantic headquarters with angry letters is the 1981 equivalent of #PipervsWahoo trending on Twitter.

Announcing Aside
David can’t really speak, which tends to interfere with his job as an announcer. He rattles together vague phrases and passes them off as sentences. Bob, who sometimes has the demeanor of the Queen’s Guard, often looks like he wants to backhand him.

For Example:
(Bob and David are discussing the red-hot Piper-Wahoo angle that has the Mid-Atlantic viewers in a frenzy.)

David: (In a shaky, stammering delivery) I think…this might start something.

And David is put in position to hype the upcoming matches and angles, yet his words have no gravity. It can be jarring when in most of the wrestling you have seen, even the bland commentators at least have that TV news anchor boom and inflection to their voices.  

Bob has a cool drawl, though, and does his best to carry David, so I am still sufficiently hyped for this “edited” footage of Abdullah the Butcher, Wahoo, and Piper.

Mid-Atlantic Television Champion “Outlaw” Ron Bass rotates on screen for a quick interview. He cuts a quick promo that sounds is if he might be running for a state senate seat in the South, saying he wants to be champion that we, the fans, can be proud of.

Jake Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, and Sgt. Slaughter are coming up later in program, and I’m looking forward to comparing these guys to their WWE/F selves. You sometimes hear: “Yeah (insert wrestler) was great in the NWA, but he turned into a plodding roided-up buffalo in the WWF.” I’ll avoid looking up much background on guys I’m unfamiliar with too, to keep myself honest.   

Announcing Aside
David has a pretty limited vocabulary—everything is “good”or “bad.” Bob gets someone’s weight wrong as he’s introducing the match and just corrects it on the spot like a pro. 

A magical screen in the studio then transports us to our first match, complete with yellow laser outlines from a negative filter (?) effect. I almost thought the master tape was just damaged. 

We spare no expense here in Charlotte, fans!

Jim Nelson and Mike Miller vs Jake Roberts and Ricky Steamboat
Nelson and Miller make some cutoffs and attempt to mount some offense, but get overwhelmed by the quick tags and smooth teamwork of Jake and Steamboat in a really energetic tag squash. There was enough offense from the squashees for Steamboat and Jake to do some quality selling, and the quick tags kept the pace crisp, so the match never dragged. 

Match Notes
Steamboat used his usual fiery offense (arm drag, dropkick) and looks like typical awesome Steamboat.  Jake is so much quicker and leaner than he would be in later years. He works on the mat. He hops around the ring. He wears a cowboy hat. I love late 80s sinister Jake, but I’m already liking this incarnation. They make for a seamless team.  

Winner: Jake Roberts and Ricky Steamboat via pinfall
Rating:  **

Presentation Aside
I’ve been drinking the Titan Sports™  Kool-Aid my entire life. It is my wrestling baseline, and part of what I want to explore with this is how much classic regional wrestling contrasts with it. Naturally, that includes the presentation.

Everything in WWE/F, at least since VKM took over, revolves around making the presentation feel like a grandiose spectacle. The shots are always meant to make the arenas look as huge as possible, with wide sweeping shots.

Instead, on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the crowd shown here is so tiny, you could probably count each individual person. The camera is closed in on the ring so that the apron is barely visible to emphasize what is happening on the mat. The announcers sound more like local radio sportscasters than colorful characters. Every part of the presentation is made to feel intimate–like you are watching your wrestling show.

NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Ivan Koloff vs Terry Lathan
Koloff, who looks like an a complete beast draped in the chain, comes in hot and easily overpowers, who tries to manage some strikes, but can never gain a shred of momentum due to Ivan’s relentless power.

He lasers in on and decimates Lathan’s back with knees, a backdrop, and a stomp before finally finishing with a top rope knee to neck, which is just gruesome, letting his knee fall right into Lathan’s neck. Complete domination via some savage power offense from Koloff. Everything centered around destroying Lathan’s back, and as a result, Koloff looks like a vicious heel champ.   

Match Notes
I have to get use to tracking these titles because though Koloff is Mid-Atlantic champ, that doesn’t make him the guy. That distinction belongs to the NWA World Heavyweight Champion–I think. I might need a flow chart.

Winner: Ivan Koloff via pin
Rating: * 1/2

Announcing Aside
Bob consistently gets over the psychology of the matches, mentioning each wrestler’s strategy to build the authentic tone of the show.  But…David. David is just horribly corny and lame. He repeats whatever Bob says with worse delivery. Even when Bob sets him up with perfect pitches, he just keeps hitting foul after foul.

David tries to introduce the hot Wahoo/Piper footage, but is mostly incomprehensible, so he gives up and goes to the tape.

David: Jacques Goulet gets a suplex, and well Roddy Piper sees…well in the corner, the Butcher, well….he’s there….and ya know Roddy’s just……

Piper/Wahoo/Abdullah Segment
We cut to Wahoo McDaniel mid-match against Jacques Goulet. He gets a nearfall before Piper comes down to distract him, so Abdullah the Butcher can jump Wahoo. In an awesome touch, you can see, for a split second, Abdullah in his cloak  running around the corner from behind, so you just know Wahoo is seconds away from getting mauled.

Abdullah starts wailing on Wahoo with a fork. He brutally stabs him in the head while Piper holds back the official. A group of random guys comes down as, in a funny moment, Bob tries to name them, can’t, and settles on just referring to them as “a slew of wrestlers.”

Bob: “And here comes….uhhhhh…a whole slew of wrestlers that are trying to get Wahoo out.”

David yelps in a panicked cracking voice, while Bob calmly explains what is happening, despite the fact that Abdullah is carving up Wahoo’s head. They even cut to the negative laser effect thing in an attempt to censor the gore. There’s an abrupt cut to commercial, and we go straight to the next match, which builds the grim realism of the scene, as if they couldn’t continue to show this kind of carnage on TV.

What a completely brutal segment that puts over the grittiness of the production. WWF/E has certainly had its share of violence, but it is often tempered somewhat by the theatrics of the presentation.  And for all of its violence, even ECW was sometimes softened by the wild absurdity of the crowd and general heir of chaos. Here, the simplicity makes it so much more brutal. It’s just a guy held in the corner getting carved up by a bloodthirsty maniac.

Super Destroyer and The Grappler vs Don Kernodle and Scott Mcghee  
Not much of a story to this one. Besides a little flurry from Kernodle, the masked men just beat the hell of the Mcghee-Kernodle connection before Super Destroyer finishes Mcghee with a superplex. A step down from the last couple of matches, as the spots just weren’t as engaging. Still, it was quick and served its purpose.

Match Notes
“Super Destroyer” is the ultimate regional masked wrestler name, while “Kernodle” is a fun name to hear repeated time after time. Kernodle was definitely the stronger of the losers. Already through a few matches, it’s evident “power” is not synonymous with “plodding and slow” in Mid-Atlantic. Destroyer flies around for a big guy. At one point, he even uses a quick rope-a-dope sidestep to avoid Mcghee’s dropkick.

Winner: Super Destroyer and The Grappler via pinfall
Rating: *

We are back at the studio for a quick interview with a puka shell clad Steamboat, and Jake, who’s looking slim and very Mcconaughey-ish with a thick stache and cowboy hat.

I can definitely feel the “authentic athletic competition” aura already. Many of the faces, like Steamboat here and Bass at the top of the program, give interviews that would be right home with the “Give 110%, I’m just gonna go out there and do my best, I just need to keep getting better, etc.” language you hear constantly in professional sports. It will be interesting to see if these generic face promos continue in future episodes, or if they delve deeper into some of the babyface characters as they are angered and pushed by the heels.

Jake is an exception, though. Though not as great as he would become later, you can tell he just has it on the mic. His cadence and delivery is so damn captivating. You get drawn in with every word and subtle movement. He feels much more real and emotional, genuinely upset over what has been going on. He already sprinkles in some great cryptic lines.

“If the opportunity knocks, somebody is gonna hit the dirt”

Jay Youngblood and Ron Bass slide in for a quick promo calling out any and all heels. Bass has a smidge more fire than in the opening promo.

Sgt. Slaughter vs Mike Davis
Davis and his bleached mane get absolutely no offense as Sarge pummels him with backbreakers. Sarge destroys Davis with the cobra clutch, ragdolling him around for the finish. Total maggot destruction.

Match Notes
Just like Jake earlier in the show,  Slaughter just seems to be working so much quicker than in the WWF.  Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, and I’m just seeing my preconceived notion of what I think NWA style wrestling is supposed to be, but he is just so quick and unrelenting here. If all the WWF guys were on steroids, in Mid-Atlantic they were all on speed.  Ole Anderson strolls down during the match, too, for what appears to be for no other reason than to cheer on poor Mike Davis’s assault. 

Winner: Sgt. Slaughter via submission
Rating: * 1/2

Abdullah the Butcher vs Ron Ritchie
Abby immediately flings Ritchie outside the ring, slams him into a ringside desk, and hits him with the ring bell. Abby rolls him back in and hits a sick elbow drop with some impressive elevation to finish. Really fun and chaotic.

Match Notes
Abdullah is a crazed maniac and agent of chaos. Every time he comes on screen, especially with Piper goading him at ringside, all hell breaks loose. He brings a sense of unpredictability with his wild brutality and fat flabs jiggling about. He’s like a maniacal version of the Genie from Aladdin with with an array of deep forehead scars and a penchant for stabbing people in the head with cutlery.

You ain’t never had a friend like Abby.

Also, the referee sounds like Mick from Rocky trying to get Abby off of Ritchie. He appears to be wearing a blue mechanic’s uniform with bell bottoms. He even high steps away from Abdullah during the elbow drop.   

Winner: Abdullah the Butcher via pin
Rating: * 1/2

That last match was “taped” and Bob and David emphasize that Piper, Wahoo, and all involved in their conflict are not allowed in the building tonight.

Ron Bass and Jay Youngblood vs Ricky Harris and Ali Bey
The faces get most of the offense until Youngblood gets worked over as face in peril. The enhancements mount some considerable offense against Youngblood due to their size. He fights out, does an Indian War Dance, and tags in Bass who hits a powerslam to finish.  

Match Notes
Probably the least interesting match of the show. A decent story for a squash, with the faces trying to overcome the size and power of the heels, but there were a lot of stagnant rest holds that made for the only match of the night where I was just waiting for it to end. Also, Ali Bey appears to have no semblance of a neck. He has to have trouble breathing. The audio is not clear, but it sounds like David calls Youngblood “Steamboat” by accident. Close enough, Davy.

Winner: Ron Bass and Jay Youngblood via pin
Rating: *

Back at Mid-Atlantic HQ, the champ Ivan Koloff, who has a big bandage on his head, cuts a rambling promo, growling about various guys on the roster. He is open to tagging with Abdullah or Slaughter and welcomes the opportunity to fight “all these people.”

Apparently these guys are all just waiting in a layup line for their opportunity to speak. Austin Idol, who sounds like he is constantly holding his breath in when he speaks, spits out some catch phrases, and, out of nowhere, calls out pregnant women and how they should feel lucky if their babies look like Austin Idol. Male or female, I guess.

The promo line continues as Sarge shouts that he hasn’t signed any contracts but he’ll take on anyone he chooses. In a funny moment, he has this exchange with Bob, who, mind you, is clearly at least 45 years old:

Slaughter: What’s your name boy?!

Bob: My name is Bob.

He demands that everyone salute him and show him R-E-S-E-P-E-C-T . His horrible spelling jars Bob’s usual laser focus.

The promo merry-go-round is really great. It doesn’t last long, but it effectively reminds you of all these characters. Nobody has to speak too long and overstay his welcome.

Bob takes us a home. A still image of Ron Bass clubbing Ricky Harris sits under the credits. I was sort of expecting a montage of stills, but it just stays on that one image throughout the entire credits. An odd choice to say the least.

End of Show Notes

MVP: Abdullah the Butcher
It might be revealing that on my very first episode of a promotion known for realism and in ring action, I still found the giant, droopy-boobed monster that stabs people with a fork the most compelling wrestler.  He just brought so much urgency and chaos when he was on screen. I was completely enthralled every moment he was on screen. It looks like he will be a key player in the Piper-Wahoo conflict.

If You Only Watch One Match: Jim Nelson and Mike Miller vs Jake Roberts and Ricky Steamboat

Overall Impression:
Really fun show that just flies by. I would have thought that it might drag a little because you can’t expect many competitive matches, but the squashes are quick, focused, and entertaining. I’m excited to see how guys continue to interact. Most are just calling out everyone on the roster, keeping any possible feuds wide open.

Interesting that while we think of today as the time of constant stimulation and low attention spans, this show moves lightning quick with no time for viewers to lose any interest. It reminds me of SNME in the way not a single second goes to waste. The characters are simple and memorable, with quick promos to keep them present. The production quality may be a little goofy at times, but whoever is putting this together is a master of crafting wrestling television. If this is the bar, then this should be awesome.

Overall Rating: 7/10

So long for now!

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