Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Mike Graham Shoot Interview

Presented by Sean Oliver and the Kayfabe Commentaries Crew
Sean opens by recalling how Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) was once a great promotion that was sunk under the weight of the expanding JCP and WWF territories. JCP eventually bought Florida up, and Mike Graham is here to offer up his side of history and what might have been.

Graham starts off by telling of his dad’s wrestling days from the 40’s to the 70’s. Eddie attacked an athletic commissioner in Texas who complained that Graham caused a near riot. Eddie was banned from the Texas rings and started his own promotion in Florida in the aftermath.

Vince McMahon Sr. showed Eddie a more civilized society in New York, compared to the southern lifestyle that Graham had been used to.

Eddie was such a good heel in New York that Mike and his mother were threatened constantly when people realized who they were.

The senior Graham took McMahon’s class and combined it with southern wrasslin’ to create a perfect mix of public relations and in ring action in Florida.

Mike Graham was a shooter by the age of eleven, and his dad had marks fight Mike to prove that wrestling was far more real and difficult than they could ever imagine.

Eddie had Mike promoting towns by the age of 19 and by 21 Mike was an in-ring worker.

Mike joined the booking circle by the late 70’s. He later booked WCW in the early 90’s.

Graham covers the Jim Herd and Kip Frey era of WCW and how they were way out of their league as WCW’s head execs.

Bill Watts came in next and butted heads with the Turner way as he shunned suits and ties in the CNN center, instead coming to work in sweatpants and Harley shirts. Graham claims to have been in a meeting when Watts walked over to a balcony high up in the CNN towers and urinated off the ledge.

Jason Hervey of the Wonder Years fame helped Eric Bischoff bluff a resume and got him hired as WCW Executive Vice president.

Graham claims Herd only hired Bischoff years earlier in order to help steal the AWA’s TV time slots, since Bischoff was in charge of that in the AWA. (I don’t think the timeline quite fits for that as the AWA was pretty much dead by the time Bischoff joined, so their wasn’t much TV time to prune.)

Graham was smartened up early in life as he was a five-time amateur wrestling state champ and wondered why the guys weren’t wrestling with more of a freestyle strategy.

Jack Brisco finally smartened Mike up when he was 20. He told Graham that the guys didn’t hurt each other because they wanted to make money and if you hurt somebody, somebody will hurt you.

Eddie taught Mike how to build up a card full of variety in order to draw fans in time and time again.

The best booker is one who doesn’t see himself as the number one talent so others can grow and develop.

Buddy Rogers had a huge ego and wanted to win even as he was in his 60’s. Graham tells a story about Rogers being a ref in Florida but convincing the top names to wrestle him and put him over instead at a spot show. I don’t believe Mike’s story to be accurate.

Graham defends Dusty Rhodes’ booking by saying other than Hogan, nobody drew more money in America than Rhodes.

Using writers instead of bookers is killing the business.

Graham warned JCP and Vince that they were going to kill the business if they put all the territories out of business. With no where to learn, the guys will be exposed quickly on WWF or JCP TV.

In 1974 Dusty Rhodes became a babyface in Florida and the promotion drew huge money with him on top for a decade.

Florida had a lot of blood and guts wrestling, and Eddie Graham expected his wrestlers to beat up marks if they tried to mess with them. Graham expected black eyes or broken bones on the fan in order to protect the aura of the business.

If good guys and heels were caught together, they would be fired. Johnny Valentine went to a cook out at Red Bastien’s place while they were in the middle of a headline feud, and in spite of drawing money, Graham fired them both for breaking kayfabe.

Eddie Graham had an innate ability to come up with perfect finishes for wrestling matches that helped tell a story that would draw a house again and again.

Graham compares modern wrestling to tumbling gymnasts, and asks “How many times would you pay to go to the circus in a year to see them?”

Mike bashes the WWE for doing stupid skits, and having guys like Snoop Dog on RAW glorifying smoking dope on a show that kids watch.

Florida and the WWF had a working agreement that saw Bob Backlund and Superstar Graham groomed in Florida for their WWF title runs.

Dusty Rhodes, Steve Keirn and Kevin Sullivan are the only three bookers who took Eddie Graham’s booking smarts and were able to utilize them to the fullest.

If somebody back then tried to use ‘creative control” like some guys in the modern era, they would have had their asses beat and been blackballed.

Eddie liked owning a promotion in Florida because he had only one border to protect.

Ole Anderson hit Mike with such a stiff elbow drop that Ole separated his own shoulder.

CWF was protected from Vince’s early territorial attacks because of Vince Sr. and Eddie’s relationship. Once Eddie committed suicide in 1985, all bets were off.

Eddie was deeply hurt when Dusty Rhodes left Florida to book JCP. Ron Bass, Barry Windham, Mike Rotonda among others all left with him and killed Florida dead in the water.

Every time a new talent was developed after that, either the WWF or JCP would swipe him up.

JCP tried to work with Florida after taking all their talent, but things came apart fast in that deal.

Mike tried to sue JCP for vulture capitalism, but that also went nowhere.

Graham fell into a deep depression after his dad committed suicide and it took years for Mike to recover.

Magnum TA was discovered by Mike and groomed in Florida. He took big money to jump to JCP and Mike was so pissed that he considered attacking Magnum when TA showed up at Eddie’s funeral. Graham then states that the car wreck that crippled Magnum was karma for leaving CWF. (Classy comment!)

Dusty leaving Florida is a small part to blame for Eddie killing himself.

We fast forward to 2000 and discuss the end of WCW. Graham discusses Chris Benoit sleeping with booker Kevin Sullivan’s wife.

Benoit was warned by Woman that Sullivan was going to get revenge, but Sullivan liked the money he got from being a booker and avoided burying Benoit.

Mike Graham got wind that Sullivan wanted to put the world title on Benoit and told Sullivan he was crazy since Benoit wasn’t world champion material. Benoit won it anyway. The next day Konnon, Eddy, Malenko, Shane Douglas, Saturn and Benoit all declared they wanted to leave if Mike Graham, Kevin Sullivan and JJ Dillon weren’t removed from power.

Graham then went and found Benoit and threatened him, called him out on his adultery, and promised to cut his head off if he got Graham fired.

The Radicals got released thanks in part to that comment and Graham said he saved WCW hundreds of thousands of dollars since the Radicals had nice contracts and weren’t drawing a dime.

WCW signing guaranteed contracts helped sink the company because of so many guys made millions while sitting at home.

Bischoff bought into a music company, then had WCW pay them to create new music for many talents, with Eric getting a nice kickback from it on the other end. Graham covers several other questionable deals Bischoff orchestrated in a similar vein.

Graham takes credit for convincing Bischoff to sign Hulk Hogan, cancel the Clash specials to put on more PPVs, and move TV tapings to Universal Studios. Bischoff then made sure to downplay Graham’s role since he didn’t want Graham to snag his spot.

Rosters
CWF:
Ed “The Bull” Ganter – great look but proved not to have the “it” factor to make it big.
Kevin Sullivan – genius behind the scenes and a great character.
Bad News Allen – hard as nails and a guy who can draw.
Dory Funk Jr,- among the best of all time.
Steve Keirn – got himself over in every territory he ever went to.
Ron Simmons – great athlete.
Scott Hall – super talented when drugs weren’t a factor.
Mike Rotondo – good utility player
Kendall Windham – looked good physically but very green in 1987.
Tracy Smothers and Steve Armstrong – great workers.
The Mulkeys – jobbers
Kareem Muhammed – big man and capable of making money for you
Teijo Khan – not good for much
Bugsy McGraw- great promo and brawler.
Adrian Street – Graham didn’t like his style.
Tombstone – just a big lug.
Barry Horowitz – good underneath talent.
Vic Steamboat – his wife controlled him, not worth the hassle.
Colt Steele – Graham barely remembers him
Brady Boone – good jobber.

JCP:
Jim Garvin – really nice guy, Mike’s childhood friend.
Ric Flair – one of the best ever.
Dusty Rhodes – the man.
Nikita Koloff- drew money.
Arn Anderson- great worker
Lex Luger – could be carried to good matches.
Barry Windham, Ron Garvin, Wahoo – great workers
Jimmy Valiant – a little old.
Baron Von Rascke – had injuries that made him a shell of what he was.
Dick Murdoch – one of the   best ever.
Ivan Koloff – great worker.
Barbarian – good monster heel.
Warlord – was roided up but usable.
Brad Armstrong – excellent worker
Sam Houston – not worth it.
Dutch Mantel – maybe used behind the scenes.
Tim Horner – solid worker.
Bill Dundee – could work with anyone.
Rick Rude – great worker.
Manny Fernandez – was great when he was straight.
Midnight Express and Rock and Roll Express – fab teams.
Road Warriors – main event special attractions. Needed to be protected.

Final thoughts: Graham had a personal view inside of one of the most famous and successful wrestling offices ever, and he held little back here in sharing his world view with us. While a lot of info has been told and retold many times, there certainly was a few gems held within this interview. Overall an entertaining 90 minutes of old school wrasslin’ talk.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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