Wednesday, January 25, 2017

LES THATCHER'S BURNING ISSUES - Part One


PART ONE - WHAT THE PUBLIC SAW

"It was one of the highlights of my entire career."
---
GEORGE BECKER and JOHNNY WEAVER were the top 'babyface' team in JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS for most of the 1960s.

J.C. DYKES and THE INFERNOS, on the flipside, were one of the top 'heel' teams during the late1960s.

And, somehow, not by sheer happenings or fate, a twenty-seven year-old wrestler, who had recently been named the ROOKIE OF THE YEAR while working in the NWA Florida territory, found himself in the middle of a top JCP wrestling program that stretched over a nearly four month time frame.

This young man was LES THATCHER.

The year was 1967. It was the annual LABOR DAY WRESTLING card in CHARLOTTE, N.C., one of but a handful of shows held each year at the original CHARLOTTE COLISEUM on Independence Boulevard.

GEORGE BECKER and JOHNNY WEAVER

THE INFERNOS with J.C. DYKES
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The main event that night featured BECKER and WEAVER going against THE INFERNOS, managed by J.C. DYKES. These two teams had a violent history, so the fans expected this match to be something special.

Folks who remember this bitter rivalry will recall that a central issue with THE INFERNOS was the 'loaded boot' that one of them wore. Time after time, the boot would come into play in their matches with the end result often being their opponents being kicked into oblivion, giving the masked men many victories.

BECKER and WEAVER had vowed to remedy this problem, themselves being previous victims of the boot. And, indeed, they did take action. On the night of July 1, 1967, in WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (and maybe in other towns as well), GEORGE and JOHNNY were successful in removing the boot from the foot of THE INFERNO who wore it. Each subsequent time the heroes had faced DYKES and his men, BECKER had worn the boot himself as an equalizer.

The CHARLOTTE match started out as the fans had expected, which each team taking it to the other. Near the end of the first fall, referee ANGELO MARTINELLI was knocked down and shaken up, but able to make the count on the 'good guys', giving THE INFERNOS a one fall advantage.

ANGELO called for assistance. He couldn't continue. JCP employee GEORGE HARBEN went to the ring and rendered assistance to the injured MARTINELLI. After calling to the back for a replacement official, HARBEN learned that the other referees who had worked the card had already left the building.

LES THATCHER had already wrestled his match earlier and had already showered and changed to his street clothes. Seeing LES standing near the back of the arena, HARBEN signaled for THATCHER to come to the ring. After a brief discussion, LES removed his suit jacket and took over as the official for the remainder of the match.

Naturally, DYKES and THE INFERNOS protested, "He's a friend of BECKER and WEAVER. There's no way we will get a fair shake." The rantings and ravings fell on unsympathetic ears. THATCHER signaled for the bell, and the second fall began.

GEORGE and JOHNNY took fall number two, squaring the match.

The deciding fall immediately became hot and heavy. The end came quickly when one of the hooded heavies gave LES a shove. THATCHER got in the masked man's face, reminding him he was an official and was not to be touched. At this point, WEAVER 'schoolboyed' THE INFERNOLES counted to three, and the match was over.

LES raised BECKER and WEAVER's hands in victory. GEORGE and JOHNNY left the ring, with LES closely behind them. But THATCHER was stopped by the sore losers who were claiming LES stole the match from them. A bit of a rhubard started, then suddenly THE INFERNOS grabbed the substitute referee, and J.C. DYKES incinerated THATCHER's face with a fireball.


LES hit the mat, rolling around, screaming in anguish. GEORGE and JOHNNY ran back into the ring, DYKES and THE INFERNOS ran out of the ring (their damage had been done). WEAVER wrapped a towel around THATCHER's face, and he and BECKER got LES back to the dressing room.

Only time would tell how badly LES was injured and how long he would be out of action.

NEXT...PART TWO - WHAT THE PUBLIC DIDN'T SEE

(Some of the photos featuring LES THATCHER are from his personal collection and used with his permission.)

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