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Interview: Wrestling Historian Dick Bourne Discusses the Legacy of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and the Drawing Power of Tag Team Wrestling

Originally Presented at Canadian Bulldog's World

        Jim Crockett Promotions (later sold to Ted Turner and renamed World Championship Wrestling) was one of the most prestigious promotions during the territory era featuring a who's who of wrestling's elite (and future elite). The promotion grew from a territory to a national promotion, competing with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the 1980's and providing fans of traditional wrestling with an exciting alternative to the cartoonish WWF.
        The Mid-Atlantic Gateway has been the go-to site for all things related to Jim Crockett Promotions. The site features interviews with JCP stars, photos of memorabilia, and well-written articles about the promotion and its fans. Dick Bourne & David Chappell's Mid-Atlantic Gateway has been around since 2000 and anyone visiting the site can see it is a true labor of love. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Mr. Bourne about Jim Crockett Promotions and tag team wrestling in particular.

1.        Anyone familiar with Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (aka Jim Crockett Promotions) knows it featured some of the biggest names in the business as well emerging stars who would become legends later on. What do you think it was that attracted so many people to the area?

Jim Crockett Promotions was one of the largest regional territories in the country, and ran two to three shows seven nights a week during the late 60s on into the early 1980s. The towns were strong and there was a great opportunity to make good money there. The trips were long, but the money was good.

2.        While many fans are used to traditional babyface vs. heel match-ups, Mid-Atlantic ran programs called "The Battle of the Bullies." What can you tell us about them and your memories?

Those match-ups were actually billed that way in the 1960s and early 1970s - "Battle of the Bullies". One of the more famous ones was Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson vs. the Gene and Ole Anderson, which did big business. The lines between "good guys" and "bad guys" have been blurred over the years, and it's "cool" to pull for the heels today. But back in the territory days, it was pretty black and white. But fans loved to see the bad guys go against each other, and of course the fans usually picked one team over the other. I remember in 1977 when the Andersons had the long running feud with their "cousin" Ric Flair and his partner Greg Valentine, the vast majority of the fans were behind the Andersons.

3.        The area also featured some of the best tag teams in the business as well. One of them was the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. The Minnesota Wrecking Crew emerged at a time when Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) was changing its focus from tag teams to single stars. What, if anything struck you as different about the Minnesota Wrecking Crew than other tag teams, heel or face?

DB: Well, to me, it was always the family angle. They were brothers. Whether it was Gene and Lars or Gene and Ole. And they were willing to do whatever it took to keep their titles. The famous angle known as the "supreme sacrifice" played out because one was willing to sacrifice his brother to keep their titles. And the brother was perfectly willing to take the bullet for the team. In later years, Ole in particular would play off the idea of family, with their cousins Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. Another thing was that while various teams would split up and feud with each other over the years, that never happened with Gene and Ole Anderson. 

4.        While JCP was transitioning into more singles competition, it still featured a vibrant tag team division. One thing I remember from the promotion was that tag teams weren't just two random guys thrown together; they often featured top stars. Do you think this helped elevate people's perception of tag team wrestling?
Well, I think back in those days, teams wrestling on top of cards were always made of top guys. If I get where you're coming from here, you're making the comparison to today where mid-level guys are thrown together and they become the top team, but would never be top stars individually. I think that is very true. Plus, there was always a camaraderie that was formed between guys that formed a tag team, they were friends and shared the same goals, and fans knew this. True with both babyfaces and heels. Today, teams are sometimes put together with the idea of how incompatible they are to begin with.

5.        Do you think the JCP booked tag teams was better than the way today's teams are booked? If yes, how so?

DB: It wasn't just JCP, it was just a different way of doing it then. Tag teams were important because they were booked to be important. And they always were made up of main event guys. Tag team matches main evented cards all the time. The tag team titles in the territory were just as important as the singles titles. It certainly isn't that way anymore. And yes, I think the way it was done then was much better.

6.        I grew up watching JCP when Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat were chasing Ray Stevens and Greg Valentine for the NWA World Tag Team Championship. For me, the tag team titles seemed as important as any other title. Would you agree? If yes, what contributed to the titles' prestige?

DB: The tag team titles seemed just as important to you as the singles titles because they were booked that way. The wrestlers treated them that way. As mentioned, brother would sacrifice brother to keep them, those titles meant so much. In 1980, the Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) vowed to unmask if he and Paul Jones WON the tag team titles - - not lost them. He wanted to beat Anderson's Army so bad that he promised to celebrate that victory if they did it. The fans knew how much those belts meant.

7.        One tag team that was always in the title picture was the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. What do you think made them strong champions and contenders?

DB: They were believable. And people saw them in that way for many years. It's like the old line attributed to Johnny Valentine, "I can't make you believe wrestling is real, but I sure can make you believe I am real." Ole Anderson was known to have said that, too. The Andersons weren't fancy, they just were so methodical and vicious, and had that killer instinct. And Ole was such a good talker; he'd get that over in interviews, too. Wrestler's characters back then were often an amplified extension of their real personalities. Ole is a bully in real life, and that aspect of his personality came through in his wrestling persona. Gene on the other hand was the silent killer type. He had that twitch, which was a shoot. I just remember thinking as a kid that if Ole shot his mouth off and things got too hot, Gene would always have things in hand. He never had to say a word. They were a phenomenal team.

8.        Do you think they worked better as champions or contenders?

Champions, definitely. Ole could make you so angry with that mouth, you always wanted to see the babyfaces kick their butts. Plus, wrestling always worked better when the babyfaces were on the chase. Certainly that was the case back then.

9.        What do you think promoters could learn from the way the Andersons were booked?

DB: Fans will gravitate toward a team that has camaraderie, and a team that respects each other. I really believe that. They will emotionally invest in those teams. Look at all the renowned teams of the past that had any tenure together. They all had that. Babyface or heel.

10.        People talk about tag team specialists in the 80's with teams like the Fabulous Ones and Rock-n-Roll Express (to name a few) but it's arguable the Andersons were long before them. Would you agree? If so, what do you think made them work so well together? How would you compare their teamwork to other tag teams, either from the 70's or 80's?

Nah, people think that way of the 1980s because in the 1980s, tag teams started having to have names like football teams or something. You couldn't just be Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, you had to be called "the Rock and Roll Express." So all teams started having catchy names like, "Midnight Express", "Fabulous Ones", "Killer B's", "The Brain Busters" and on and on. And when you think about it, back to your earlier point, this sort of marked the time when you started taking guys that typically wouldn't be headliners at the very top of cards as singles (not 100% the case, but generally so) like Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton and put them together, give them the catchy team name like the Midnight Express, and the result was greater than the sum of its parts. That approach was very successful in that regard, obviously. And once that changed, it could never go back really. But before the mid-80s, teams were just who they were, and usually it was because their names meant something individually anyway. Wahoo McDaniel and Paul Jones, Jimmy Snuka and Paul Orndorf, Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood, and so forth.  And by the way, the Andersons were never really billed primarily as the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. They were always "Gene and Ole Anderson" or "The Anderson brothers" first. They would occasionally refer to themselves as the wrecking crew in interviews and announcers always did it to, but on the posters and in the newspaper ads it was always "Gene and Ole Anderson." Minnesota Wrecking Crew was their nickname, but not their team name.

11.        The Minnesota Wrecking Crew had several incarnations- Lars Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Gene Anderson. Of course, later, there was kayfabe cousin Ric Flair and even later, Arn Anderson. Do you have any favorite combinations?

DB: Well, first of all, the whole family was kayfabe. Gene Anderson was the only one whose real last name was Anderson. But, it's funny, your favorite wrestlers generally are the ones you grew up with or first saw when you first fell in love with wrestling. So for me Gene and Ole Anderson will always be the best version of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. But my good friend Carroll Hall, who publishes the All-Star Championship Wrestling blog that focuses on JCP in the 1960s, and who grew up watching wrestling in the 1960s, well, to him Gene and Lars were the best, hands down. For someone who grew up first watching in the Horsemen years in the mid-1980s, they might think it was Ole And Arn. All three were excellent combinations, no doubt about it.

12.        Do you think Ole and Arn lived up to the reputation of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew from the 70's?

DB: Oh absolutely, and that reputation goes back to the 1960s. They didn't have the longevity as a team that Gene and Lars or Gene and Ole did, but they were incredible in the ring. And both could talk so well, so great in their interviews. One of my favorite teams of all time.

13.        I recently had the pleasure of reading your 2011 book, Minnesota
Wrecking Crew: A Brief History of the Anderson Family in Wrestling, a somewhat different book in that it presents a timeline of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew's wrestling career. It's captivating because it shows you all of their major programs with all of the different incarnations of the Wrecking Crew, including the Horsemen. What made you choose the timeline format?

DB: Well, thanks for the kind words. I didn't really plan it as a book, the timeline was originally a feature for the Mid-Atlantic Gateway website. But after putting so much work into it, and it just grew and grew, and being very gratified by the interest in my first book "Ten Pounds of Gold", I decided to make a little book out of it. I consider it more of a reference book than anything else. 

14.        Your site, the Mid-Atlantic Gateway is a treasure trove for JCP fans and any fan interested in wrestling's rich history. What do you consider the site's greatest accomplishment?

DB: Thank you. I think, first of all, it will always be a work in progress, because David Chappell and I always want to keep building and adding on to it. It's like re-telling a story that hopefully is so good it will never end. Our goal in starting it was simply to document the history of what you saw on TV and in the arenas. It is not a "behind the scenes" look. It's just an effort to keep the memories and history alive for old folks like us to go back and enjoy again, but also for a younger generations to learn about it, too.

15.        What type of wrestling books do you like to read?

DB: Not surprisingly, I enjoy books that are sort of timeline in nature, too, books that focus on one particular niche topic that I am interested in. Some of my favorites are "The Strap" by Roger Deem about the Missouri State Championship in the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Cronette's "Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook", and Scott Teal's new book "Wrestling at the Garden" with J. Michael Kenyon, which is the most complete volume ever written and compiled about a single wrestling venue. I cannot get my arms around the amount of research and work that went into that book. Another favorite is Tim Hornbaker's "National Wrestling Alliance." I love anything by Mike Mooneyham, what a wonderful writer. I also have enjoyed many wrestling biographies on my favorite wrestlers over the years.

16.        In a perfect world, what would be your dream wrestling book to write?

I've already written it, I guess. "Big Gold" was so much fun because of having access to the belt itself, and discovering so many little details about it that had previously been unknown. It was also special to me personally to have Ric Flair's small involvement in that project. But if I had the writing ability and the necessary skills for research, I'd love to write about Jim Crockett, Sr. But that biography deserves a professional's touch.

17.        In a perfect world, what would be your dream wrestling book to read?
Same answer. The life and times of Jim Crockett, Sr.

Click here for part two of my interview with Dick Bourne.



Unless Noted Otherwise, Written and Edited by Dr. Mike Rickard
Dick Bourne (left) and David Chappell, the award-winning curators of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.