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The Way It Used To Be ... A Fan Remembers
by William E. Baldwin

INTRODUCTION

Rarely do I start writing something without the slightest idea what it'll look like when it's finished, but I'll confess that's what happened with this article.  I've had the opportunity to do some reminiscing about how I became a wrestling fan, and I came to the conclusion that I owed it to myself to write some things down.  This wound up being too long to read at once, but I hope it's interesting to read a little at the time, and I feel like it'll be informative.  Please bear two things in mind as you read it.

First, remember that my memory is my primary source.  I found some valuable data on dates and title reigns on Hisaharu Tanabe's "The Great Hisa's Purorseu Dojo" page.  (I'll refer to it as Source 1)  I'm also indebted to the people he lists in his credits section.  The fact that I'm not listing them here individually doesn't diminish that indebtedness.  Also, I've posted a couple of the stories contained here in slightly different form to Bill Milano's DDT Digest.  I used Scott Teal's Whatever Happened to ...? both for background and as a reminder that projects like this are worth undertaking.

I also found some valuable information in issue number five of his "Whatever Happened To...?" newsletter [2].  Though I've used those other folks as sources and dragged their names into this, I don't want to make it sound like they share responsibility for any mistakes I've made.  Those are mine and mine alone.  There's nothing here that I know to be untrue, but it's been a long time since most of it happened.

Second, remember that though my goal is to be as accurate as possible, this is a work in progress.  As I become aware of information that I need to add (especially when my ignorance is exposed), I'm updating it.  I'm sure I've left out lots of things that deserve to be included, and I'm equally sure that some of my memories differ vastly from what actually happened.  If you take issue with anything I've written, please drop me an E-MAIL.  If I'm convinced that I'm wrong, I'll fix it in the next update.

I got interested in wrestling when I was about twelve (I'm 39 now) because watching wrestling on TV was something I could do with my grandfather.  He was old and I was young, so there just wasn't a whole lot we had in common.  Anyway, Granddad watched wrestling on Channel 4 out of Dothan, Alabama every Saturday afternoon, and both he and I thought that Gulf Coast Wrestling was the only wrestling promotion in the world.  The events that took place on Saturday's show stayed on Granddad's mind for the rest of the week.  Two things happened to make me wonder a little more about what was on Saturday afternoon TV.

First, I bought a copy of Wrestling Revue magazine at a convenience store.  Classy Fred Blassie was on the cover biting a hole in John Tolos' head, but I was sure that the guys who wrestled in Dothan would take up most of the inside.  I was surprised to find that there wasn't anybody in it that I'd ever heard of!  The Alabama state champion wasn't even recognized as the top man in the world -- that honor fell to some guy named Dory Funk, Jr.  I knew that anybody named Verne or Bruno had to be from "up north" and wasn't worth considering. (grin)  I figured that the whole thing was a Yankee plot to ignore what was going on in south Alabama.  On the off chance that it wasn't, though, I wondered what the rest of the world had that was so great that our area got ignored.

Second, I started watching the Gulf Coast program that aired late Saturday night from Pensacola, Florida.  This was in the early days of cable TV, and I don't imagine many homes could get over-the-air broadcasts from both Dothan and Pensacola.  Therefore, the same guy could get away with being a face in Pensacola, and a heel in Dothan.  The first time or two that I saw something like that, it was confusing.  To say the least, it was hard to accept that a person could be both a villain and a hero in the same day!  This didn't go on long.  I guess the promotion realized after cable became commonplace that most of the area could see both shows and they needed to be consistent.

Funny thing, though -- I'd come to the dual realizations that "my" wrestling promotion didn't get a lot of national attention, and that what I saw on TV and at the local arena might be scripted, but it didn't bother me a bit.  What I saw was entertaining, and that was enough.  I had my reasons to keep watching it on TV (and going to the local matches) anyway.

I. ABOUT GULF COAST WRESTLING (and its successors)

The Gulf Coast promotion pretty much covered the area from Mobile, Alabama across the Florida panhandle.  Television sold Rocky McGuire as the promoter in Dothan, Alabama and Lee Fields as the promoter in Mobile.  Lee Fields was the promoter since 1958 and ran the entire territory from Mobile.  Fields ran towns in Mississippi and Louisiana as well.

From the early '70s to the mid-80s, I was a semi-regular Gulf Coast TV viewer.  In the late '70s, Gulf Coast Wrestling was replaced on TV by Southeastern Championship Wrestling.  That show was replaced by Continental Championship Wrestling in the mid-80's, owned by Ron Fuller (whose father Buddy had been the promoter in Mobile in the 1950's).  Bob Armstrong and Ron West helped with the booking.  Apparently, though, Ron promoted both the Southeastern Championship and Continental Championship organizations. I left home for college in 1977, so this information from that point on is pretty sketchy.

The Gulf Coast promotion had tons of titles -- Gulf Coast Heavyweight and Tag Team, Alabama Heavyweight, and city titles in Mobile, Pensacola, and Panama City.  I think the Southeastern and Continental promotions kept the Alabama Title and did away with the city titles.  A U.S. Junior Heavyweight title was added to the mix about the time the Southeastern promotion came along.  Also, each promotion replaced the previous promotion's titles with those of their own -- the Gulf Coast heavyweight and tag team titles were eliminated and the Southeastern heavyweight and tag team titles were pushed.  Later, the Southeastern titles were replaced with Continental titles and the promotion expanded to cover the western part of the Florida Panhandle and all of Alabama (the sites of title changes make me think there were occasional forays into Tennessee as well).  I'll try to distinguish between the three promotions where possible, but I'm sure that in some cases the distinction will be blurred in my memory.  I'll have more extensive memories of some guys than I have of others, and that'll be reflected by how much I have to say about them.  It's no measure of their ability or importance to the promotion, but of how much I remember.  At any rate, I've gone on long enough.

II. WRESTLERS WHO AREN'T AROUND ANYMORE

Remember that most of these guys who wrestled in the early 70's were quite small by today's standards.  Most of them weighed less than 240.  Weighing 275 put a guy in the "big" category.  If I remember a guy's approximate weight, I'll mention it, but any weights I mention will be guesses rather than anything accurate.  I'll give the information I have regarding titles, but the data I have is pretty incomplete up until 1980 or so.  Unless I credit a source for data, it's from my memory.

DICK DUNN (Richard E. Demonbreun)
Died on July 6,1995 [2]
From Lowery, Alabama.  Dick was probably the most over face in south Alabama in the early `70's.  As I recollect, he held the Alabama Heavyweight Title off and on for years (though I can only substantiate one reign).  Dick often lost it to a hotshot newcomer and won it back a few weeks later.  He feuded with the Wrestling Pro when the promotion wasn't pushing somebody new.  My guess is he weighed around 230 and his finishing hold was a piledriver.  After he retired, he was a policeman and an insurance salesman.  The time or two I met Dunn, he seemed like a nice guy.  One summer, he allowed the regional library to put his name on a kids' summer reading program.  The kickoff event was a rally at the library with Dunn there.  We took two school buses from about 15 miles away and the organizers had to pack us in like sardines (SRO, 3 or 4 to a seat) to get us all over there.  We all got autographed pictures, then Dunn got us all in a group and showed us some basic wrestling holds, which he didn't have to do.

Note: I previously posted slightly different versions of this story to "DDT Digest" and "DDT's Wrestling Headquarters".

THE WRESTLING PRO
From Parts Unknown.  The Pro was a masked man who was the promotion's major heel among the guys who were there all the time.  Quite often, he'd temporarily relinquish the "most hated" role to a newcomer, but he was usually back in the spotlight after a short time.  He traded the Alabama title with Dunn more than once, but I have no idea which of them held it more times or the longest.  He also held the Gulf Coast tag team belts with Mike Boyette in 1971 [1].  The Pro weighed around 235 and his finishing hold was a suplex.  I heard he was working for the Houston County (Alabama -- that's the county Dothan is in) Sheriff's Department in some capacity after he retired, but I don't know that for a fact.

DON CARSON
From Pensacola, Florida.  I really don't know much about this guy except that he weighed 233 (found it in an old scrapbook), was blond, and it seemed like they brought him in a lot to take care of the heel newcomers after they'd beaten everybody else.  It seemed like he came and went a lot.  I don't know exactly where else he wrestled, but I'd occasionally see his name in the California results in the wrestling magazines.  He and Dunn were a legendary tag team in the area, but I can't remember ever seeing them wrestle as a team.  Carson held the Gulf Coast heavyweight title twice in the 60's and once in the `70's.  He and Dick Murdoch (wrestling under the name Ron Carson) were Gulf Coast tag team champs in 1967 [1].  After he stopped wrestling, he was a heel manager in the Southwest Championship Wrestling (San Antonio, Texas) promotion.  He managed The Mongolian Stomper and Killer Khan.

KEN LUCAS
From Mesa, Arizona.  He was a big fan favorite.  I remember him as a Dean Malenko-type in that he was too good a worker to ignore, but he had a short-and-to-the-point interview style that wasn't real charismatic.  His finishing holds were the sleeper and the abdominal stretch.  I heard mention of a tag team consisting of Lucas and his brother Chris, but I never saw Chris and don't know anything about him.  Ken held most of (if not all of) the promotion's titles at one time or another -- Gulf Coast Heavyweight (1975), Gulf Coast Tag ('72 w/Bob Kelly), U.S. Junior Heavyweight (3x), Southeastern Heavyweight (3x), Southeastern Tag (w/Kevin Sullivan, w/Bob Armstrong, 2x w/Dizzy Ed Hogan) [1].  Wrestled in the Southwest Championship Wrestling promotion in the early 80's.

DON FARGO
Most of the time he was a sure enough heel, though it seems like I remember a brief "heel face" turn or two.  Don was in and out of the territory for a number of years.  In the early 1970's he came in as a flamboyant bodybuilder type who won the area's singles title in pretty short order.  Later on, he put on a mask for a short while and was part of a tag team with Greg Valentine (who was in the early part of his career), but I can't remember what they were called.  Even later, he was a cigar smoking tough guy with tattoos and all.  I don't remember much about his wrestling style -- I don't think he really had one except that he brawled all the time.  He held the Gulf Coast heavyweight title in `71; he (using the name Jack Dalton) and Frank Dalton were Gulf Coast tag champs in `68 [1].  He was a good interview and was indirectly responsible for a rare black headliner being in the promotion when they brought Calvin "Prince" Pullins  in to feud with him.

RIP TYLER (William Dean Vaughn)
From Pensacola, Florida.  Rip died of liver cancer at age 57 on December 3, 1997 [2].  He was a big (about 260) blond heel that held most or all of the area's titles at one time or another.  He was Gulf Coast heavyweight champion three times in the `70s [1].  Other singles titles he held were the North American title and Brass Knuckles title in Louisiana and Oklahoma (1974) [2].  I personally don't remember a whole lot about him other than he was around a long time and formed a successful tag team with Eddie Sullivan (they held the Gulf Coast Tag Team Title (2x) [1], the Mississippi Tag Title (1971), a Japanese version of the World Tag Title (1971), the SCW Western States Tag title in Washington (1973), the U.S. Tag title in Louisiana and Oklahoma (1973), and the International Tag titles in Japan (1985). [2]  He also held titles with Marvin `Tim Tyler' Hickman as the Tyler Brothers (they held the Southern Tag title in Tennessee (1964) [2], the Gulf Coast tag titles (1968) [1], and the Gulf Coast Tag Team Title with Eduardo Perez (1971). [2]  Rip owned an appliance store and spent time in the insurance business after he retired from wrestling in 1985 [2].

EDDIE SULLIVAN (Ruben Huizar)
From Phoenix, Arizona.  I really can't guess as to his size.  He was so stocky that he looked short on TV.  The only times I would have seen him were at house shows when I was in my early teens -- all the wrestlers looked huge to me!  He wrestled for a while as Eddie "The Masked Man" Sullivan, coming to the ring bareheaded and putting on a black mask when the bell rang (he got credit for hiding foreign objects in the mask).  Other than the tag team championships with Rip Tyler, he held the World and Southern tag titles (1968) in Tennessee while wrestling as one of The Mighty Yankees with Frank Morrell, and the SCW Western States Tag Title (1970) in Washington with Tyler for promoter Dean Silverstone.  As a single, he got a shot at Terry Funk's NWA World Title in Mobile on February 17, 1976 and held the U.S. Title in the Pensacola-based World Organization Wrestling promotion in 1985.  After retiring from the ring, he owned a trucking company in Arizona and bought and sold Spanish style roof tile [2].

BOBBY SHANE (Robert Schoenberger)
Bobby wasn't around all that long.  He died in a plane crash on February 20, 1975 [2].  Shane was a major heel in Dothan while wrestling as a mid-card face in Atlanta, so he was in and out a lot.  Although he wasn't a real mainstay of the promotion, he generated an unbelievable amount of heat.  He had a "pretty boy/snob" gimmick and a valet named Sherrie.  The first time I ever saw him wrestle, he busted up Bob Boyer in a TV match.  Boyer was bleeding like a stuck pig, then Shane put him to sleep and wouldn't wake him up.  That match and the heel interview that followed immediately made Shane the most hated man in the promotion among the fans, and the story line was that the folks in the Gulf Coast office hated him, too.
Some of the results were priceless!  One Saturday afternoon on TV Shane slapped Dothan promoter Rocky McGuire and broke his glasses.  Shane was in Friday night's main event in Dothan, and the next day he was on TV moaning that the only thing in his pay envelope was a bill from McGuire's optometrist!  Another time it was mentioned on TV for several weeks that there were ongoing negotiations to bring Shane in for a holiday show, but that the talks weren't going well.  Finally, it was announced that the promotion had acceded to Shane's demand for a percentage of the gate.  McGuire then announced that all seats were reduced to a dollar "as a Christmas present to Mr. Bobby Shane."  Shane held the Gulf Coast heavyweight title in `73 [1].

COWBOY BOB KELLY (Robert Kelley)
From Louisville, Kentucky; real name was Robert Kelley [2].  Kelly was the main face at one time in Mobile and Pensacola, the same way Dunn was in Dothan.  He held the Gulf Coast heavyweight belt at least three times in the early 70's [1].  As a matter of fact, when the original Gulf Coast belt was retired in the early `70s, it was presented to him [2].  (I think Rip Tyler held the title at the time)  Kelly still held the Gulf Coast title when he retired in 1976 [2].  He was one-half of the Gulf Coast tag team champions twice (w/Bobby Fields in 1968 and with Ken Lucas in 1972) [1] and also held the U.S. Tag titles with Lucas in 1973.  Other titles he held as a single were the Alabama heavyweight and Brass Knuckles titles, and the Mississippi and Louisiana state titles [2].  His finishing hold was the bulldog.  He also achieved some local notoriety as a stock car driver (Mobile promoter Lee Fields owned the Irvington International Speedway).  The length of this profile (or lack of it) bothers me, because Kelly was a major player in the promotion and deserves more than I'm giving him.  I just can't remember much about him, although I'd guess it has to do with the fact that the Pensacola TV show came on late at night.

GREG PETERSON
From Bonifay, Florida.  Greg weighed 218 pounds.  In all honesty, I don't know why I lumped Peterson and Bob Boyer together in the first edition of this article, except my perception of both was that they were older guys and were on the downside of what had been good careers.  I don't remember seeing Peterson win much, but he was the Gulf Coast heavyweight champion in 1968 and the Alabama heavyweight champion in 1976 [1].

BOB BOYER
I don't feel right about classifying this guy as a jobber, but I don't think I ever saw him win.  As I said in the previous paragraph, my perception of him was that he was an older guy on the downside of a good career.  Although I don't remember seeing him win, he worked pretty well and was competitive in his matches.

MIKE "THE CALIFORNIA HIPPIE" BOYETTE
From San Diego, California.  People whose only memory of Boyette is of a jobber in Bill Watts' UWF might have a hard time with the fact that he was a main eventer in Gulf Coast in the early `70's.  Mike was the Gulf Coast heavyweight champion in 1973 [1].  Looking back, I'm surprised that the "California Hippie" gimmick got over in a conservative area at that time, but it did ("hippies" in general weren't very well thought of in south Alabama and northwest Florida back then).  His curly brown hair, short Afro-style haircut, and unintelligible interviews fit well with the "California Hippie" persona.  He'd been in the territory before I got interested and came back after I started watching.  He was a heel in Dothan and a face in Mobile when he first returned, but shortly turned in Dothan and remained a face throughout his stay.  Mike's finishing hold was The Hippie Hangup (sort of like a Camel clutch).  Mickey Doyle (who retired not long ago) came in one time to be Boyette's tag team partner and they were Gulf Coast tag team champs as the California Hippies in `72.  Boyette also held the Gulf Coast tag titles with The Wrestling Pro (1971) and with Prince Pullins (again in 1971) [1].

III. WRESTLERS WHO ARE STILL AROUND (or have been recently)

There are more of these guys than one might think.  Every time I turn on a WWF or WCW program, I see somebody I remember from watching Gulf Coast or one of its successors.  If I remember that somebody wrestled under a different name than he's now using, I'll list him by his current name and put his old name in parentheses.  I do want to include the disclaimer that I was away from the area from 1977-80 and might have missed a lot.

KEVIN SULLIVAN (Johnny West)
This guy must be getting old -- he was wrestling house shows in Andalusia, Alabama 25+ years ago!  He was young and good-looking at the time and was a serious face.  He formed a tag team with Ken Lucas in the early `70's, then later wrestled in the Southeastern and Continental areas under his real name.  He and Lucas were Southeastern tag champs in 1978.  He also held the U.S. Jr. Heavyweight belt twice in 1979 and the Continental heavyweight belt twice in 1986 [1].

HOLLYWOOD HOGAN (Terry "The Hulk" Bollea)
Hogan came in as a heel and later turned face.  He held the Southeastern heavyweight title in 1979 [1].  Hogan had chest hair back then and it was shaved in the shape of a mushroom cloud.

ED LESLIE (Eddie Boulder/Dizzy Ed Hogan)
Ed came in shortly after Hogan did and was billed as Hogan's brother.  He later held the Southeastern tag team titles with Ken Lucas in 1983 [1].

LANNY and RANDY (Savage) POFFO
I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't remember much about these guys.  In fact, when I saw Lanny in the WWF, I wondered what happened to his brother.  Even though I'd seen Randy Savage countless times, I didn't make the connection!  They were Gulf Coast tag team champs in 1976 [1].

ARN ANDERSON
Arn wrestled under a mask as Super Olympia.  He held the Southeastern Tag Team titles three (3) times with Jerry "Mr. Olympia" Stubbs and once with Pat Rose [Source: "DDT Digest"].  Anderson and Stubbs wrestled as a masked team for awhile, then Stubbs lost a mask against mask match to Anderson [1], but later they wrestled together under their real names (not sure of the details or sequence of events).  Super Olympia started out as a face, but turned on Jacques Rougeau (his partner at first) and became a heel.  The story went like this: One Friday night at the Houston County Farm Center in Dothan, Super Olympia gave Rougeau a spinebuster during a match when they were partners.  The next afternoon on TV, Anderson apologized profusely and begged Rougeau to give him another chance to be his partner that afternoon against the team they'd been wrestling the night before.  Of course, Rougeau forgave him.  After several minutes of the ensuing match, Rougeau was thrown out of the ring and Anderson/Super Olympia went out to him, gave him another spinebuster, and yelled "Sucker!"  [I previously posted slightly different versions of this story to "DDT Digest" (www.ddtdigest.com).]

JACQUES ROUGEAU
Jacques held the Alabama state championship for awhile in 1981 [1].  He was a big-deal face.  There's not a lot to say about him except see the Arn Anderson paragraph.

COL. ROBERT PARKER (Robert Fuller)
THE TENNESSEE STUD (Ron Fuller)
BUNKHOUSE BUCK (Jimmy Golden)
These three guys (two brothers and a cousin) in some combination were in the thick of the goings-on in the promotion through the Southeastern and Continental years.  Usually all three of them weren't faces or heels, but as I remember they turned a lot and it was hard to keep up with which was which.  It's almost self-defeating to try to list the titles they held, but here's what I found [1]:
RON FULLER -- Alabama Heavyweight (2x), Southeastern Heavyweight (2x), Southeastern Tag Team (w/Robert Fuller), Continental Heavyweight (2x)
ROBERT FULLER -- Southeastern Tag Team (2x w/Ron, 1x w/Eddie Boulder, 1x w/Bob Armstrong, 3x w/Jos LeDuc, 5x w/Jimmy Golden), Continental Heavyweight, Continental Tag Team (2x w/Jimmy Golden)
JIMMY GOLDEN -- Alabama Heavyweight, Southeastern Heavyweight (8X). Southeastern Tag Team (w/The Mongolian Stomper, w/Randy Rose, 5x w/Robert Fuller, Continental Tag Team (2x w/Robert Fuller)

"BULLET" BOB ARMSTRONG
BRAD, SCOTT AND STEVE ARMSTRONG
The Armstrongs are another family that was around in some combination or another during the Southeastern and Continental years.  Usually they were faces, but there were exceptions.  Bob feuded with heel Ron Fuller over the Southeastern title, then both of them turned and heel Armstrong was feuding with face Fuller!  All of them were in and out of the territory fairly often, but there was usually at least one of them there.  Bob also wrestled under a mask as "The Bullet".
They also held lots of titles [1]:
BOB ARMSTRONG -- Alabama Heavyweight, Southeastern Heavyweight (7x), Southeastern Tag Team (w/Ken Lucas, 2x w/Brad Armstrong, w/Robert Fuller, w/Steve Armstrong), Continental Heavyweight (3x)
BRAD ARMSTRONG -- U.S. Junior Heavyweight ('82), Southeastern Tag (2x w/Bob Armstrong, w/The Shadow aka Norvel Austin, w/Scott Armstrong).
SCOTT ARMSTRONG -- U.S. Junior Heavyweight (4x), Southeastern Tag Team (w/Brad in '83).
STEVE ARMSTRONG -- Southeastern Tag Team (w/Tommy Rich, w/Bob Armstrong), Continental Tag Team (w/Tracy Smothers in '88)

THE HONKY TONK MAN (Wayne Farris)
I don't really remember much about Farris' stay in the area, but it wasn't too long afterward that I began seeing him on WWF TV.  He held the Southeastern Tag Team Title with Ron Starr ('83) and the Southeastern Heavyweight title in 1984 [1].  It seems like I remember an angle where he also won the U.S. Junior Heavyweight Title at the same time he was Southeastern Heavyweight champ (he didn't lose weight -- there was a story involved), but I haven't found any record of it.

CONCLUSION
I hope this was interesting reading, but even if it wasn't, it was fun to write.  I can't stress enough that it's constructed from my memories of things that happened a long time ago.  There's nothing in it that I believe to be untrue, but my recollection of things that happened twenty-five years ago isn't exactly an impeccable source.  Again, if you have comments and/or information to add to this, please E-MAIL ME.

 
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