October 24, 1966
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
51 Years Ago
The very first Monday night after I received my driver's license in September 1966, found my friend Jimmy and me planted in our ringside seats at Charlotte's Park Center.
Even though that was a school night, I was permitted to flex my independence somewhat and make my first trip to Charlotte as a licensed driver.
Once this venture was over, I was informed that wrestling (at least attending live matches) would have to be sacrificed for the time being. I had just started high school, and I was expected to hit the books, make good grades so I could get into a good college, so I could have a brilliant career in...whatever. You know the drill.
So back to the regular confinement of seeing wrestling only on WBTV and WGHP every Saturday.
With much begging and persuasion, the ban was lifted six or seven weeks later when I was permitted to return to the Queen City for a "wrestling extravaganza." I was permitted to attend ONLY because the show was at the Charlotte Coliseum, a building I had visited only a couple of times since it opened in the late 1950s. Once was for the Ringling Bros. Circus and the other for some ACC basketball game that I was dragged to by a friend.
KLONDIKE BILL was in the midst of his big push by JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS at this time. He had been "injured" by THE GREAT MALENKO during the summer, building to the Russian's annihilation by the Alaskan on the Charlotte Labor Day card.
KLONDIKE then set his sights on MALENKO's tag team partner, THE MISSOURI MAULER, who held the SOUTHERN HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP. BILL would take the belt from the MAULER, eventually losing it back to his nemesis.
The Texas team of TEX McKENZIE and NELSON ROYAL were working a program with BRONCHO LUBICH and ALDO BOGNI during the Fall of 1966. With nothing really settled, the JCP bookers decided to head this Coliseum show by putting TEX and NELLIE in a match with BOGNI and LUBICH and to toss their evil manager HOMER O'DELL into the mix as a wrestler. To even up the sides, the red-hot KLONDIKE BILL was added to the Texas side of the ledger.
NELLIE took fall number one over LUBICH with his atomic drop. A triple-team body slam by the villains (with the far-sighted referee missing it completely) put BILL's shoulders down for the count to square the match. Then KLONDIKE's big splash on O'DELL closed the show.
BOBBY SHANE (one of David Crockett's proverbial young lions) was getting a CROCKETT push at the time. In fact, SHANE would soon be teaming with KLONDIKE in tag team main events. On this night, he faced GEORGE "TWO TON" HARRIS, in his final days as a headliner. Young BOBBY grabbed a DQ victory over TWO TON.
Girls were featured on the show, and probably for the 500th time, the great PENNY BANNER pinned TAMMY JONES.
The rugged German duo of KURT and HENRY VON STROHEIM, a B-plus to A-minus team faced another young lion in PAUL DEMARCO and veteran JESSE JAMES. With JESSE involved, it was no more than a TV match. DEMARCO could hold his own, but JESSE's career was dissolving as fast as did Lance Armstrong's. The Berlin boys won.
The match of the card which interested me the most was the semi-final. The SOUTHERN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS and favorites of most all area wrestling fans, GEORGE BECKER and JOHNNY WEAVER were battling the rowdy duo of the MASKED RED DEMONS, with red-headed TWO TON HARRIS at ringside as their manager.
BECKER and WEAVER had been feuding with the DEMONS since the summer when the masked men first appeared in the CROCKETT territory. After a short while, the DEMONS added the tutorial skills of TWO TON, who quickly dyed his locks red and obtained a bright red suit, with a belt buckle the size of Rhode Island, which was comparable to HOMER O'DELL's cane, i.e., a weapon.
I had witnessed these two teams go to a double DQ back in a Statesville, N.C. summer card.
JIM CROCKETT, for this match, added a stipulation to the proceedings. One of these masked men had to wear a white mask so the referee and participants could tell the ruffians apart. "Too much switchin' goin' on," said the boss. "It's too confusin." TWO TON protested. Too bad.
Much to my disappointment, when the RED DEMONS entered the ring for war, one wore a white tobogon, pulled all the way down over his face, with eye, nose and mouth holes cut out.
The championship looked to be in jeopardy when one DEMON pinned WEAVER for the first fall. Between falls, with the referee distracted, TWO TON gave JOHNNY a "big splash" with that giant belt buckle strategically placed on WEAVER's sternum. JOHNNY barely made it to his feet for the second fall.
BECKER abdominal stretched one of the DEMONS, and the match was even.
The winner of the third fall would claim the titles. And for a time, it appeared the masked men would take the crown. But our heroes battled back. Soon the DEMONS were getting thrashed. BECKER tossed the white-clad DEMON out of the corner, and the tobagon came off. Of course, his regular red mask was underneath. Then the hooded duo tried their usual switcheroo, but to no avail. JOHNNY had one of them in the corner and was ripping at the mask. At this point, TWO TON gave the "clear out" signal. But before the DEMON got away from WEAVER, the front of his mask was torn to the point that it flapped open and I remember seeing his face as clear as a bell. Of course, at that time, I had no idea who he was, but I remember this as if it happened this morning. I saw his face.
The three sped up the aisle and BECKER and WEAVER were awarded the match on a count-out.
Three months before JOHNNY passed away, I asked him about this particular match. Was he supposed to tear the mask as he did, or was it an accident? He said he didn't remember what I described to him.
"You remember lots of these matches better than I do. George and I wrestled these guys so many times in a six-month period, I can't keep them straight."
That is completely understandable.
I saw George and Johnny work these guys, maybe four times, out of the probable one hundred matches they had with one another.
"What I do remember about these guys is that they were both small as wrestlers go, and you could throw them a mile. They took great bumps. Many times it scared me the way they took bumps. I just knew for sure that they weren't going to get back up, but they did. Oh...and they both loved their liquor."
Another story Johnny told me about the DEMONS...Some of the wrestlers had complained a little about smelling alcohol on the them during some matches. One night, in a small Virginia town, the promoter told IKE EAKINS to watch them like a hawk and make sure they didn't have any booze to drink before their main event. IKE assured the promoter he would take care of it. But when the DEMONS got to the ring, they smelled like a still.
After the show, the promoter got in IKE's face and chewed him out for not doing as he was asked. "I was with them the entire time in the dressing room before they went out. They did NOT take a drink," IKE replied. "Were you with them the ENTIRE time?" the promoter wanted to know. "ABSOLUTELY, except when they used the bathroom before their match."
Hearing that, the promoter and IKE went into the bathroom. The promoter found a bottle of booze hidden in the toilet tank.