Legendary promoter Eddie Graham committed suicide on January 21st by shooting himself in the head. Reports indicate that he flinched, probably due to nerves, and actually had to shoot himself twice because the first shot was inadequate.
“Superstar” Billy Graham has stated in shoot interviews that Graham may have shot himself because he was going to be indicted for real estate fraud. Ron Garvin stated in one of his shoot interviews that Graham had women issues that were coming to a head when he killed himself.
An article from the September 22nd, 1985 Orlando Sentinel regarding Graham’s death has actual interviews with his widow and son. His wife says she found him on his bed, still hanging on to life, after only leaving the house for 15 minutes to run an errand. Mike Graham found some notes his father wrote that seemed to suggest that Eddie thought he had a large money note coming due that would ruin him. The issue proved to only be in Eddie’s head as his family maintained their fancy cars and real estate for years after Graham killed himself. At the end of the day, it seems that alcohol was the biggest factor in perverting Graham’s mind to do something extreme.
In a happier alternative history, I like to think that Eddie Graham lives a few more years and is granted control of WCW once Ted Turner buys it out, taking the spot Jim Herd was rewarded. Graham was only 55 years old at the time of his death.
NWA champ Ric Flair came in to defend his gold against Pez Whatley, Sweet Brown Sugar and Dutch Mantel.
Brian Blair spent the month fending off Jesse Barr with the Florida title hanging in the balance.
Jim Neidhart was heading for the WWF and Krusher Khruschev was bound for JCP, so the tandem lost their Florida tag belts to the Youngbloods, then lost a loser leaves town bout to Dutch Mantel and Sweet Brown Sugar to write them off.
Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Dutch Mantel ran afoul of Mark Lewin, Neidhart and the Saint to set up some tag matches throughout the month.
Rick Rude and the Missing Link joined the heel roster to beef it up some after recent defections. Percy Pringle is handling the affairs of several of the top heels.
Miami was a battleground for the local Florida group and the WWF. January 2nd saw NWA champ Ric Flair lose to Sweet Brown Sugar via DQ, Hayes bested Khruschev and a battle royal capped off the evening.. This card drew 3,200. Then on the 9th, Brian Blair overcame Jesse Barr in a Florida title match, Hayes and Roberts beat Neidhart and Khruschev in a “Badstreet” match. Then on the 30th Blair and Barr tangled once again, The Fabulous Freebirds downed Khruschev, the Saint and Boris Zhukov, Pez Whatley locked horns with Rick Rude and Butch Reed made an appearance.
The WWF came in on the 16th with Tonga Kid battling Roddy Piper, Santana and Valentine tangled over the IC strap, plus Tony Atlas, Barry Windham, Bob Orton Jr. and Mr. Wrestling II were in action. The WWF returned on the 29th, drawing 2,900 fans to see JYD and Snuka butt heads with Orton and Piper. Plus Barry Windham clashed with the Iron Sheik and Mike Rotondo fell to Nikolai Volkoff. Jim Neidhart, fresh off his Florida run, also appeared.
Kerry Von Erich went off to Hollywood to screen test for the role of “Ivan Drago” in Rocky 4. Nikita Koloff was among his competition for the role. Von Erich leaving (even briefly) gave cause for the promotion to bring in Billy Jack Haynes to fill his shoes. Haynes quickly made an impact by beating Gino Hernandez for the TV title.
The January 7th show in Fort Worth saw an infamous encounter between NWA champion Ric Flair and Kerry Von Erich. Von Erich was obviously impaired during the match, to the degree that even the local papers were making mention of his condition while covering the bout. WCCW went into cover up mode and let out that Kerry had been upset by his dog being hit by a car and thus was working under duress. A few days later it was announced on TV that Kerry had a 104 degree fever and wasn’t himself in that match. The truth of the matter was that Von Erich got blasted on pills and booze and was found unconscious in his car shortly before his match was to go on. Flair had to carry him for 52 minutes (!) while Kerry was out of it. At one point Kerry even attempted a sunset flip and flopped two feet away from where Flair was standing. Kerry ended up working Flair in rematches in several other towns in the days that followed.
The Rock and Roll Express briefly found their way to World Class to continue their rivalry with the Midnight Express who had come to WCCW as part of a talent swap with Mid-South that saw General Akbar head to Bill Watts’ area. The Midnight Express had agreed to terms with Jim Crockett prior to this move, but went along with it out of respect for Watts having given them their star making push. Part of the deal was to include the Express getting the chance to work Watts’ big towns yet in order to continue to draw some nice money. Within two months or so the Express found themselves stuck working in Podunk Texas towns and missing Watts’ events. On top of that, a run with the Von Erichs would never prove to materialize, leading to Jim Cornette and the Express desiring to leave. Finally, JCP bought national airtime on WTBS in April, and started making their wrestlers big stars. Meanwhile, the Express were shorted on a payday from a WCCW stadium show and that finally forced their hand to leap to JCP.. I may have gotten ahead of myself there…
Kevin Von Erich and Chris Adams spent yet another month going after one another in a feud that has been ongoing for over half a year now..
Mike Von Erich was awarded the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year award with Nikita Koloff, Krusher Khruschev and Kevin Kelly (Nailz) coming up as the top three runners up in the fan’s voting. The bookers turned this into an angle as they had Jake the Snake steal the plaque and break it. This led to Mike running in and giving Roberts a beating. The original angle was going to see Roberts crack it over Von Erich’s head, but it was changed because the bookers were afraid that it would hurt Mike’s heat if he looked weak.
Dallas remained a focal battleground city for the WWF and WCCW. World Class had several events in the city, with Kerry Von Erich fighting Chris Adams in the co-main event on January 11th, with a main event bout of Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy facing NWA World champion Ric Flair. Billy Jack Haynes came out before the title bout and challenged the winner to a future match. Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey snagged the American tag team titles from the Fantastics in the other bout of note.
They returned a week later, this time with Kerry teaming with his brother Mike against the devious Jake Roberts and Gino Hernandez in the main attraction. The Fantastics took on Eaton and Condrey in a rematch of the previous week’s bout as well.
The WWF came to Dallas on January 17th, drawing 2,500 fans to see the Hulkster best the Iron Sheik, Tito Santana overcame Intercontinental champion Greg Valentine via count-out, World tag team champions Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis stunned the Brisco Brothers, plus Tony Atlas, Ivan Putski and the Spoiler were in action.
World Class held a big show in Fort Worth at the end of the month, drawing 7,400 fans to see the Von Erich family face off with Hernandez, Roberts and Adams. Kerry also collided with Kamala, Kevin tangled with Rip Oliver and the Midnight Express grappled with the Fantastics.
Eddie Gilbert kept the heat up with his nemesis Jerry “the King” Lawler by presenting a “This is your life” segment on Memphis TV. The entire segment was done to mock Lawler and included talking about Sam Bass’ car crash leading to his death, how Lawler’s piledrivers caused Andy Kaufman’s cancer and how the King had to cheat to beat Eddie’s dad Tommy. This led to Lawler and Gilbert squaring off in a series of brutal stipulation matches including a “barbed wire” match and a “Texas Death” match.
Memphis had been hurting a bit in attendance around this time due in part to the city doubling the parking fee from one dollar to two dollars. Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler personally appealed to the council to repeal this tax and they came away successful. Lawler used the fact that the Ringling Brother’s Circus was skipping Memphis for the first time in 108 years due to the parking fee as evidence that the tax was hurting kids.
With a lot of talent having left for greener pastures over the last few months, Jarrett and company are attempting to give Johnny Wilhoit a push. Wilhoit was park of the infamous “New Generation” tag team that came to Memphis a few months earlier in an attempt to replicate the success of the Fabulous Ones.
The Southern tag team champions the Interns fought the Dirty White Boys to a no contest, which led to the titles being held up. A tournament was held to determine the new champions, and the line up of teams shows the weakness in the roster: Jerry Lawler and Jerry Wilhout, Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo, the Rock and Roll Express, the Interns, the Dirty White Boys, Eddie Gilbert and Mike Sharpe, Playboy Frazier and Adrian Street, Steve Constance and Tim Ashley, The Batten Twins, the Nightmares and Joe Lightfoot and Larry Haggar. The Interns ending up beating the Rock and Roll Express in the finals. The Fabulous Ones came in to challenge them soon after.
Louisville was treated to back-to-back shows with the WWF and Jarrett’s group competing. On January 22nd, Jarrett presented Lawler teaming with the Boogie Woogie Man against Eddie Gilbert and Mike Sharpe. Plus the Macho Man collided with “Exotic” Adrian Street and the Interns butted heads with the Dirty White Boys. January 23rd saw the WWF bring in Hulk Hogan to battle Mr. Wonderful, along with Santana and Valentine dueling yet again. The rest of the card was putrid, with Johnny V facing Steve Lombardi, Ivan Putski and Tony Garea tangling with Moondog Rex and Swede Hanson and JYD downing Terry Gibbs. They drew 2,500.
NWA champion Ric Flair was seen cutting promos in support of Ron Fuller and the Studd Stable’s attempts to take out Bob Armstrong, who was a strong local contender to Flair’s gold.
Austin Idol was also on the Studd Stable’s hit list, with Mr. Olympia backing him up. Idol was granted a shot at Flair on January 20th..
North American champ Brad Armstrong saw his brief reign come to an end when Ted Dibiase bested him for the title.
Watts brought in Private Terry Daniels with the intention to prep him for a team with Sgt. Slaughter. Slaughter ended those plans though, telling Watts that he did not feel there is a spot for him in Mid-South because Jim Duggan is already doing the uber-patriot gimmick.
Duggan was paired with several different men including Terry Gordy, Terry Taylor and Terry Daniels in his ongoing battles with Dibiase and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams.
Butch Reed is not getting over as a big time babyface as was hoped. The search for JYD’s replacement continues…
The WWF brought the JYD back to Oklahoma City on January 4th to headline against the Iron Sheik. The Tonga Kid butted heads with Bob Orton Jr. in the other match of note.
Houston saw the WWF and Mid-South battle. Mid-South’s January 6th event saw Duggan and Gordy brawl with Dibiase and Hercules, plus Kamala and Butch Reed went head-to-head, Taylor tangled with Dr.Death, Brad Armstrong pinned Buddy Landell, the Rock and Roll Express bested Chavo and Hector Guerrero, plus Billy Jack Haynes and Gino Hernandez pounded lesser competition.
They returned on the 18th, drawing 7,000 fans to witness Duggan clash with Dibiase in a “street fight”, Chris Adams upended Kevin Von Erich, Kamala pinned Butch Reed, Dr. Death was disqualified against Brad Armstrong, Taylor and Hercules struggled to a draw, Jose Lothario partnered with the Rock and Roll Express to overcome the Guerreros & Landell plus Shawn Michaels and Iceman Parsons picked up prelim victories.
The WWF was in the Astro Arena on the same night, drawing only 1,500 fans for a main event of Hogan and the Iron Sheik colliding. Santana and Valentine battled once again, plus the Briscos fell to the World tag champs Adonis and Murdoch.
Jim Crockett’s struggle to retain talent over the past several months was blamed at least partly on the payoffs not being very good compared to the WWF’s. The WWF ran a number of large cities each month, which allowed the top guys better access to big paydays.
NWA champion Ric Flair continued to face the challenge of Wahoo McDaniel and Tully Blanchard around the Mid-Atlantic area.
Blanchard revealed the woman he found to be his “perfect 10” when Baby Doll debuted by climbing out of a jet and leaving with Blanchard in a limo.
Don Kernodle’s war with the Russians saw him battle Ivan and Nikita Koloff in both tag team and singles bouts. A new wrinkle was added near the end of the month as Krusher Krushchev debuted in JCP and joined his commie brethren.
JJ Dillon brought in Terry Funk as his “bounty hunter” in an attempt to rid JCP of Dick Slater. Dillon and Funk made it clear that they did not like each other, but money talked. Funk’s debut promo saw him call out Dusty Rhodes and accuse Ricky Steamboat of using steroids. Slater and Funk would clash in Greensboro at the end of the month in a “lights out bunkhouse” match.
Dory Funk Jr. also returned to JCP.
Harley Race came in to face Dusty Rhodes in a match that was to determine the number one contender to Flair’s title. The match ended with both men being counted out. Magnum TA and Manny Fernandez also got matches with Race in other cities.
“Superstar” Billy Graham challenged all comers to try and escape his full nelson. Dan Spivey was one of his first challengers, and Graham couldn’t lock his own hands together due to Spivey’s size.
JCP invaded Pittsburgh in an attempt to give Vince McMahon a taste of his own game. The card did not go well. A crowd of 1,700 came to the show, but they rebelled against the foreign product. The main event between Tommy Rich and NWA champ Flair saw the crowd chant for “Hogan” while the men tried to work a match that ended up going 45-minutes. Rich was booed, despite playing the babyface. Former WWWF champ Bob Backlund was brought to the event, but the fans booed him also as Backlund tried to thank them for their support. Other action on the card saw Kernodle and Fernandez score a DQ win over Ivan and Nikita Koloff, Ron Garvin was awarded a DQ win over Tully Blanchard, Magnum TA pinned Kareem Muhammed, plus Dick Slater, Billy Graham and Dusty Rhodes all beat jabronis.
AWA World tag team champions the Road Warriors came to JCP TV to squash some jobbers, and then challenged NWA tag champions Dusty Rhodes and Manny Fernandez to a double title match.
As part of a yearlong celebration of the history of JCP, the promotion put on an event dubbed “Kickoff ‘85” from Greensboro on January 6th. The event was headlined by Ric Flair defending his title against Harley Race, with Flair scoring the win after over 30 minutes of action. Dusty Rhodes and Manny Fernandez put their NWA World tag titles on the line against AWA World tag team champions the Road Warriors, Magnum TA pinned US champ Wahoo McDaniel in non-title match, Dick Slater fell to Tully Blanchard in a “Texas Death” match after only 8-minutes, Don Kernodle fought Ivan Koloff in a “lights out steel cage” match, Magnum TA won a 20-man battle royal plus 3 other bouts went down. That whole thing sounds loaded with big matches, yet overbooked all at once. The attendance was only 5,879.
I’d love to know more about why this card “bombed”, as Starrcade drew 10,000 more fans to the same arena only 5 weeks earlier, and this was as stacked of a card as the fans could ask for.
I’ll be back with the February 1985 news, notes and pertinent card reviews in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!