Tonight's match vs Maximo (credit: luchablog)
Hosts: Boyd Pierce and Bill Watts
Ring Announcer: Jim Ross
Boyd is wearing a purple suit. Cowboy runs down the card, including welcoming back Buddy Landell and saying Masao Ito is a new “Japanese Manchurian star.” Bill throws it to a pre-taped interview he did with Jim Cornette.
Pre-Tape: Watts runs down a list of more “manly” managers from the Mid-South past, including Skandar Akbar (a former North American champion), Gary Hart (who is a street guy from Chicago) and Rock Hunter (who managed the Assassins). Watts calls Cornette a “non-athlete” who is arrogant, audacious, flamboyant, rude and a Mama’s boy. Cornette has great smirking facial expressions during this list of insults. Cornette informs us that “people with money don’t have to sweat.” We see a clip of Cornette interrupting an interview Reiser Bowden did with the new tag team champions, Mr. Wrestling II and Magnum II. Cornette is upset the MX was not listed as a top contender. Cornette accuses II of turning Magnum from “a frustrated sex symbol” to a coward. He then calls II and Magnum “chicken.” Magnum says Cornette “would be at home in a hen house and not as a rooster.” Back in the studio, Watts says they didn’t realize that being called chicken would be taken literally and describes the tar and feathering as something once done when the Ku Klux Klan ran roughshod over scared folks. Cornette says he’s heard rumors of that group. Is it coincidence that Cornette just happens to be wearing a white jacket? We then see the clip from last when when Cornette and the MX tar and feather Magnum and hit II with a slapstick. Watts sees the attack as very dishonorable, and real mean settle things face to face. Cornette says seeing Magnum tar and feathered is “the funniest thing I’ve seen in a week or two.” He also says he can match Watts multisyllabic term for multisyllabic term and “that is a masterpiece.” Watts says that is “a man in agony and turmoil.” Watts with a great metaphor: “On a hot night, it only takes a small spark to ignite a whole forest fire and you may have lit something that you can’t put out.” We then see the post-incident interview from last week with II and Magnum. Cornette says the MX are going to play Smokey Bear with II and Magnum. Watts informs Cornette he has been fined $5000 for his actions, but Cornette says it’s just a phone call to Mother. After he leaves, Watts says Cornette is the kind of guy that makes your hands sweaty and that you just want to back hand.
This was an 11-minute (with 3 clips) to start the show, exhibiting just how important Cornette and the MX will be in the near future for Mid-South.
Match 1: Nikolai Volkoff vs Terry Taylor. There is no sign of Volkoff, but Khrusher Darsow is in the ring to let us know that Volkoff hurt his shoulder training and that he will take the match vs. Taylor and “send that tan back to Florida.” Taylor gets jumped by Darsow before he can remove his jacket and the heel has heat to start the match. Watts again tells us that Darsow is more dangerous than Volkoff because he is a traitor to his country. Taylor takes control after a dropkick and then puts him in an abdominal stretch. As some fans walk through the crowd with a giant flag, Volkoff his the ring for the DQ. Volkoff has his hangman’s noose, and tries to hang Taylor. Taylor gets the advantage but then Darsow comes back in the ring for a two-on-one. They put the noose back on Taylor and then hang him over the top rope. After a few minutes of peril, the save is made by Ric Rude and Brian Adias.
Match 2: MX vs Roger Bond and Mike Jackson – II (sports coat) and Magnum (leather jacket and gloves) are out with Boyd to do color commentary. Magnum is very fidgety. Boyd explains that they can say whatever they like, but if they leave the commentary booth to interfere, they will be fined $2500. Magnum says they are going to try and be professional. Cornette has a bag of feathers he is blowing toward II and Magnum. Cornette is taunting II and Magnum, saying the fine would be nothing for him. Bobby comes to the ring flapping like a chicken. Jackson (who might be the best job guy of the 1980s) starts out in control, but a knee to the guy by Dennis puts the MX on top. We see a wonderfully 80s inset of II and Magnum doing commentary as the MX whip up on Roger Bond. Bobby continues to make chicken gestures. Dennis hits a running powerslam on Bond, which probably did not make Watts too happy. II tells Magnum to watch their moves. Bobby gets the pinfall on Bond after a flying clothesline. After the match, the MX gives Jackson a spike piledriver and attempt to repeat the tar and feather on Bond. Magnum can’t take it and hits the ring, while II screams for him to stay back. The four men are brawling in the ring as we go to commercial.
Match 3: Nature Boy Buddy Landell vs Mike Starbuck - This is Buddy’s return to Mid-South, now with bleach-blond hair and Flair/Rogers gimmick. Watts mentions his change in attitude, from reports he has gotten from around the country. Watts continues to discuss how much he wants to slap Cornette. Watts says he’d rather be punched than slapped and matchmaker Grizzly Smith will not give the MX a title shot, as a reward for their action. Buddy does some amateur wrestling on Starbuck, as well as rubbing Starbuck’s face into the mat. Starbuck tries a flying bodypress, but Buddy catches him and gives him an over-the-knee backbreaker. And then the corkscrew elbow for the win.
Match 4: Brian Adias vs Mickey Henry – This is also a return to Mid-South for Adias, who we learned has toured the country since last here and is currently the Texas TV champion. Watts also announces in two weeks, we will see the details on the new Mid-South TV title tournament. Watts says that we will see Adias team with Hacksaw Duggan next week versus the Russians. The big burly Henry has been in control most of the match so far. Adias changes the momentum with a dropkick. And then a very sloppy leapfrog and a botched victory roll. He then does a small package for the win.
Match 5: Masao Ito vs Ric Rude – Ito is billed this week as “from Japan” and Rude is, of course, from Robbinsdale, MN. Watts says this is like Beauty and the Beast. Ito gets the quick win with his jumping throat kick.
Video: Rock and Roll Express – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – “I love Rock and Roll” – The first music video introducing Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. Notice this is a music video from Memphis, with the R-n-R facing off against people like the Moondogs and the Galaxians (Danny Davis and Ken Wayne).
This episode (volume 54) can be ordered on DVD from Universal Wrestling Archives
Junkyard Dog, Jim Duggan, Jim Neidhart, Steve Williams, Mr. Wrestling II, Magnum TA. Add in a Lanny Poffo and George Weingeroff as featured enhancement talent, and that's your roster of Mid-South Babyfaces coming in to 1984. With the very arguable exception of Magnum, there's not much baby about those faces. For the most part, they fit the Wattsian mold, that same mold that Watts' "associate" (as Boyd Pierce would call him) Jim Ross would laud for the rest of his career: ex-football players, big, strong and bulky.
So then, who is the most featured babyface on Mid-South TV for the first few months of 1984?
I know, it surprised me too. On paper, it simply shouldn't work. Oh, don't get me wrong. As 1984 begins, Ricky and Robert are about to come in and help further pop the territory but that's a tag team special attraction. Screaming girls and little kids. Taylor had to survive as a singles babyface in the midst of all of those "hosses," and both the fans, and our stalwart Mr. Watts were going to have to take him seriously, despite the fact he didn't fit the mold. That they were able to manage that with some real success is a unique combination of Watts' announcing, Bill Dundee's booking, and Taylor's ability to take advantage of the very contrast that put him at a disadvantage to begin with.
Pushing Terry Taylor was not necessarily Bill Watts' brainchild or initial preference. It's important to establish that from the get go. Taylor came along in part of the talent exchange with Memphis, and along with him came Superstar Bill Dundee's booking skills. Jerry Lawler and Dundee have differing opinions about how much influence the diminutive Superstar had upon the book in Memphis over the years. Lawler indicates that they let him try it now and again but it was a minor thing and didn't really work out. Dundee claims that he and Lawler rotated systemically over the years in an almost equal distribution. Going to Mid-South gave him a chance to stretch his creative wings somewhat in an area where he didn't have to live in Lawler's shadow. Watts' shadow might have been just as giant, but the two men offered different and oddly complementary points of view. Watts was wrestling comfort food, traditional, paternal, hearty substance. Dundee was style and flash, and in this specific case he made a point to let the Cowboy know that all of his babyfaces were simply too damn ugly.
So Taylor would get the nod, but it had to be in a way that Watts could buy into, that he could accept. Taylor, though a competent talent by this point of his career, having been schooled in the ring by quality heels in Memphis, Georgia, Knoxville, and Florida, did not have the flash or charisma of the Rock 'n Roll Express. Many of the usual Mid-South faces were mainly absent on Mid-South TV early in the year. Williams was off working in the USFL (much to Dave Meltzer's delight as he didn't think much of him as a talent in 1984). JYD and Duggan, for one reason or another, did not get much TV time early in 84. There was both the opportunity and the need to present a new babyface, but it had to be done correctly.
They previewed his arrival in December 1983 with an interview with Watts and a music video set to the Eagles' "New Kid in Town," this sort of thing being one of the traditional Memphis promotional techniques Dundee brought with him, and then they thrust him right into the mix. Nikolai Volkoff had been Mid-South North American Heavyweight Champion in the middle of 1983 and since then had been joined up by Krusher Darsow, American traitor and Russian sympathizer. The two of them were no longer involved with the title, but they were still the top heel act in the company, with Watts unleashing jingoistic vitriol upon them and the Soviet Union as a whole, each and every week.
Taylor debuted, making a bang immediately, interfering in the Russians business in his first week as a featured wrestler in-studio. The next week he went toe-to-toe with the much larger Volkoff in a challenge match, holding his own until Darsow came out and the two heels doubled-teamed Taylor. With that start, he would be booked directly against them as a defender of American values. What is interesting here is that he simply did not fit the traditional mold. He wasn't the heroic soldier like Sgt. Slaughter (who would very soon turn face in New York), or the flag-wielding superhero in Hulk Hogan. He wasn't a working class everyman like Dusty Rhodes. He wasn't an All-American golden boy like Kerry Von Erich and he certainly wasn't the tough, no nonsense cowboy Bill Watts. He wasn't a muscled up symbol of American power, but instead a symbol of the American spirit, one lone, good man doing the right thing despite overwhelming odds.
Of course, the right thing was heavily skewed by the Wattsian ideal. Hearing it from the Cowboy, young Terrance was fighting a true evil. Taylor's reward for challenging Volkoff so blatantly was to get hung over the top rope. For revenge, he enlists those other dynamic babyfaces, Ricky and Robert and they triple-team Darsow and paint a pink stripe on his back. It's presented as the ultimate strike for democracy and American goodness, when it seems, on paper, almost as heelish as the Midnight Express tarring and feathering Magnum TA. Presentation is key in Mid-South. Where the Cowboy leads, the fanbase follows.
Taylor presented as an underdog, yes, but one that would jump right into the fire whenever necessary in order to protect his country and defend his fellow man. It's a difficult thing, to get a fanbase so focused on a certain type to buy into a character so thoroughly. As with mostly everything else in Mid-South, it was Bill Watts that led the charge. As vehemently as he spoke out against the Russians every chance that he had, he praised the heroic attributes of Terry Taylor. Bill Watts was a paternal figure to his audience. He spoke as a stern, caring father might, a man who knew the world and knew what was right and just in it. He spoke of Terry Taylor in the same way he spoke of Erik and Joel Watts. He spoke of Terry Taylor as if he would be proud to call him "son."
The ultimate representation of this ideal, the one that takes it all over the top is well into the year, right before the end of the TV Title tournament. Mr. Wrestling II had, through jealousy and the self-doubt that comes with aging, had abandoned his partner and protege, Magnum TA in the midst of a loser-gets-whipped match with the Midnight Express. After succumbing to superior numbers, Magnum stood ready to take the full brunt, all ten lashes. Unable to stand to see so valiant a man suffer for the craven tendencies of his fallen mentor, Taylor runs out and stands in Wrestling II's place, offering, nay, demanding to take five of the lashes himself in the name of fairness and brotherhood. For a moment, in the midst of all of this, you would almost believe that a Cowboy could cry... almost but not quite. In the span of five minutes, overlapping flawlessly with a completely independent angle in the mighty Mid-south Manner, Taylor was pushed over the top, his natural "baby"face qualities overcome by his toughness, by his call to do what right no matter the cost to himself and with no promise of gain or fortune.
They stressed not just Taylor’s moral qualities but his toughness and tenacity. He recovered from the hanging to fight on and claim revenge. He bounced back from a cruel and underhanded assault with a foreign object by Butch Reed in the semi-finals of the TV Title Tournament. Then, in the finals against Krusher, two weeks later, Reed interfered before the match, pile-driving Taylor upon the concrete outside the ring. Terry recovered, returning with a neck brace a few minutes later and even dominating the first part of the match before succumbing to a second pile-driver by Darsow. He may have lost in the finals, but he was protected by the booking the whole way through.
I wasn’t part of the Mid-South target crowd, of course, but if I was, even if I was the grumpiest and orneriest portion of that crowd, I'd have a hard time not rooting for Taylor after all of this. He didn't get the molten reactions that the Rock 'n' Roll Express did, but I think what reaction he did get was more evenly dispersed and without nearly the backlash that one might expect. Through persistent booking, a hard-working, if traditional, style of technical babyface wrestling, and the Cowboy-fueled myth of the One Good Man, Watts, Dundee and Taylor won over a crowd that was conditioned to root for almost exactly the opposite, a testament for the power of good, smart pro wrestling if there ever was one.