Mid-South Wrestling Wrestlefest ‘85 (7.28.85) review
July 28, 1985
We’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma at Skelly Stadium. The home of the Oklahoma Outlaws (USFL) and Tulsa Roughnecks (NASL). Both of whom are defunct in 1985. The Skelly, named after oil man William Skelly, holds 40,000. Mid-South is a bit of a blind spot for me, but I loved Bill Watts run in WCW (even if the boys hated it). The way I understand it, is they were the first big American concern to muddy the lines between face/heel alignments and create areas of grey.
Here’s the set up for the show. It looks like a big crowd. I can’t find any attendance numbers but based on WCCW’s open air arena shows it has to be at least 20,000. No commentary here, which feels weird.
Al Perez vs. Mark Ragin
Regan, renamed “Ragin” here, was in a tag team with Brickhouse Brown called the Breakdancers in the NWA. Perez worked just about everywhere by the time he was done. They put on a match that looks like a shoot at times. Fighting over takedowns and holds. It’s nicely done. Regan does good work in grapevining Perez’s leg so he can’t get out of holds. Perez slips behind on a rare bit of a running the ropes and finishes with a German suplex. This was legitimately good. Mostly done as mat based shootstyle between two babyfaces. **¾
Suddenly commentary appears with Jim Ross recording comms in post. This unfortunately is the only audio, so you can’t hear the crowd or the wrestlers. A shame. Ross is only 33 years old here and vocally is very clear with no hint of an accent.
One Man Gang vs. Wendell Cooley
Gang has been splitting time between here and World Class. Cooley is just cannon fodder. He’s a local guy, so he’s probably getting good crowd support, but I can’t hear it. They botch the finish with Cooley going for a crossbody and Gang is supposed to catch him but he doesn’t. 747 Splash finishes. This was far too long for what it was.
Barbarian vs. Brickhouse Brown
This “Barbarian” is John Nord. He’s sporting a t-shirt that reads “weasel slapper”. Brown is fairly green but has a great look and the WWF would come in for him in 1986.
JR has now left us again so we can hear the crowd chant “Brown is going down”. Nord has only been wrestling for about six months, having broken in here after being trained by Eddie Sharkey in 1984. Nord is another wrestling tragedy but I think we’ll probably get to him in due course. At this point he’s young, dumb and creams Brown with a full nelson in short order. Nothing to see here.
We cut to this unfortunate shot of empty chairs. The idea being we get to see the dramatic entrance of the Fantastics, set to ZZ Top, whereas in reality it paints an embarrassing picture of ticket sales for the floor seats. Only marks sit on the floor seats in arenas anyway.
Eddie Gilbert & Jerry Grey vs. The Fantastics
The Fantastics are very over and go around ringside hugging and kissing the fans. Given how good they were (imagine the Rockers with a better spread of talent between the two) it’s surprising they never went to WWF. I can only assume Vince found out they were both well under six foot tall and passed. Eddie Gilbert is another wrestling tragedy. He was very young when he signed for the WWF in 1982 but his career was cut short by injuries suffered in a car crash in 1983. He’d get over in this territory as a heel and would end up as a booker and a creative force. He sadly died in the early 90s. He was only 33 years old.
The soundtrack for this match is the girlish glee of the ringside fans and a chant of “Eddie’s going down”. The Fantastics isolate Gilbert, which is not how formula is supposed to work, and hit a bunch of armdrags. Enough that if you were doing the “aaaarrrrmmmdrag” drinking contest you’d be in deep trouble. Jerry Grey wearing the exact same gear as Bobby Fulton, whilst also rocking the same blonde permed mullet, makes the match needlessly hard to follow. Fulton ends up taking formula heat, about ten minutes into the match. The crowd gets hotter during this and they really should have run the shit out of formula. Rogers getting the hot tag creates an incredible racket. He dropkicks Grey’s face clean off and hits a sunset flip on him for the pin and the win. ***. This was really good and the crowd were well into it. There was no escaping Grey being a level below everyone else but Gilbert did a fine job of creating heel reactions and the Fantastics were such a good babyface team.
Ted DiBiase vs. Jake Roberts
DiBiase was already a ten year veteran at this point. He spent a lot of that in Mid-South and the crowd hate him. Jake is technically a heel but in doing a heel-heel match they get him over as a babyface for this one. Jake Roberts and Mid-South was an interesting experience. He was clearly very over with the crowd but Watts didn’t like him much so Jake jumped to the WWF in early 1986 and predictably became a huge star. One of my biggest ‘unpopular opinions’ is that Jake wasn’t a good wrestler. He was a great promo and had a fantastic personality but in the ring? Not good.
DiBiase, on the other hand, was a fantastic worker. He alternates between throwing brilliant looking punches and bumping all over for Jake’s middling offence. Of course, the DDT is over with the fans, so DiBiase also sells how shit scared he is of that move. DiBiase’s various skills hold the match together. His mat work is slick, his cowardice gets the fans riled up and his loaded black glove is a major storyline component. The one good in-ring thing about Jake was that he could take a beating, but he never used that 6’5” frame effectively in his matches.
Jake can’t even wrestle his way out of the ropes. They amaze me here, by working in a ref bump, which actually looks good! I’m shocked as you gentle reader. It allows Ted to load up his evil black glove but Jake drills him with a DDT and gets the clean win. ***¼. I’ll give it a minor score bump for having a decent ref bump in it. A lost art form. This is arguably Jake Roberts’ best singles match. Unless he had a better one with Ricky Steamboat during their feud (and I don’t think the Big Event match is that good). Ted DiBiase looked superb here.
It’s at this point I realise there’s a better VQ version of this show on the Network and I’ve been watching it on YouTube like a jabronie.
Dutch Mantell vs. Butch Reed
It’s a bit odd seeing babyface Butch Reed. I’m used to heel Butch from WCCW. Look at the high quality video I’ve got now. An HD picture of Dutch Mantell’s hairy arse.
JR, on the ring announcing duties, tells us five minutes have gone by and nothing at all has happened. Dutch complains of hair pulls and then proceeds to pull the hair. Next he’s pulling the trunks for leverage. They’re doing so much nothing in this match that this constitutes the high spots. This continues until Butch finishes with a press slam, which Dutch tried to kick out of. A chore to sit through. This is the pre-intermission match so the crowd can recover from all this action!
Here’s where the budget for this show went! Bill Watts, Dick Murdoch and Jim Duggan entering the ringside area on the monster truck with Old Glory flying on the sides. USA! USA! USA!
Bill Watts, Dick Murdoch & Jim Duggan vs. Kamala, Kareem Muhammad & Skandor Akbar
Watts, long retired from regular competition, is here as a special attraction. He’d continue to book himself in this manner until the UWF collapsed. Akbar claims he’s got a broken arm but the crowd senses it’s not true and chant “bullshit”. This match has unsettling racial overtones with three white Southerners beating up three POCs. The heels get almost nothing too, which makes it worse and the crowd chant “USA”. Good lord. Dicky Murdoch seems to be the only guy who cares about whether this is any good. This crowd is collectively the “they took our jaaaaaawwwwbbbs” guy from South Park. The evil frgnrs work heat on Murdoch, because he’s the only guy who will sell for them. Watts gets in there, without tagging (rules were very lax in this one) and powerslams Kamala for the pin. This was chaotic but they didn’t keep a good energy level, due to them adhering to tag rules for 90% of the match. Then they threw them out of the window at the finish. Watts putting himself over sure is something to behold.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Dusty Rhodes
It’s a bit disappointing that Flair comes into Mid-South to defend the NWA belt but they ship in Dusty to challenge him, which everyone has seen before in the NWA and wasn’t good then. Flair could get a great match out of just about anyone, apart from Dusty Rhodes. While some wrestlers have gone up in my estimation during this project, Dusty is just the same guy I didn’t like the first time around.
The trouble with Flair-Rhodes is that both guys work better from underneath. Both guys need a big or skilful opponent to get the best out of them. Here it’s just Dusty working a hammerlock. Flair has nothing to do. All of his strengths as a wrestler being grinded away in rest holds. Other than Mantell-Reed, this might be the worst match on the entire show. All of that is on Dusty Rhodes. Flair is arguably the best wrestler in the world at this point.
Everything in this is half-assed but at least Flair looks realistic in his half-assed work compared to Dusty. It makes me sad that I can’t get into Dusty’s work because he was a favourite of Larry Csonka and it’s one of the few things we were never on the same page about. To be fair to Dusty, he was a sensational promo but his in-ring never ceases to disappoint. The match picks up, eventually, as the crowd get very into a Figure Four reversal and Flair starts taking some actual bumps. Sadly, they work in a terrible ref bump. Dusty throws Flair over the top and then gets the visual pin. The ref, out on the floor, saw the OTT move though and it’s a DQ. Flair could have gotten 3 stars out of an inanimate object in 1985. This was around *½.
North American Heavyweight Championship
The Champion (c) vs. Wahoo McDaniel
The Champion, who is conveniently the actual champion, is Randy Colley aka Moondog Rex, in a mask. Wahoo is announced from Oklahoma because he went to university there. Yeah, I don’t tell people I’m from Wolverhampton but go on, get that hometown pop*. This is a nothing match. Wahoo blades and the crowd makes a lot of “injun” noises. Wahoo gets in plenty of chops before Eddie Gilbert runs in for the DQ. That’s it, show’s over folks. The Champion, when he lost the belt, changed his name to The Nightmare. Presumably because he was having a fucking ‘Mare here.
*This lead me down a rabbit hole of trying to find out, for certain, where Wahoo was actually born as Wikipedia has him born in Louisiana. It was mentioned in the NY Times that he was born in Louisiana. Cagematch and History of Wrestling have him as being born in Oklahoma. The issue stems from the name of the town he was born in; “Bernice”. There’s a Bernice in both states. Given Wahoo’s move to Texas at a young age either is possible.
Mid-South is an interesting promotion. It’s a bit like WCCW in terms of feel and atmosphere but without that die-hard commitment to the Von Erich family. The booking isn’t too dissimilar to JCP and I appreciate the Al Perez technical showcase, the Fantastics tearing it up in tag work and the heel-heel Jake vs. DiBiase match up. It’s probably worth dipping deeper into Mid-South and I’ll probably watch some UWF as part of this.
This is the tail end of Mid-South and Bill Watts would attempt to battle Vince McMahon, Jim Crockett and Verne Gagne and go national in 1986. Turning the promotion into the Universal Wrestling Federation. Watts had a good product and figured it was good enough to take on McMahon. After going horribly into debt, he sold up to Crockett and that was the end of that. With the AWA also fading away and WCCW collapsing, it was soon McMahon vs. Crockett one on one for American domination.