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Blanchard to headline wrestling festival
By STEVEN JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling


For the second time this year, fans of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling are expected to pack a North Carolina hotel to meet and greet their favorite stars, gobble up wrestling merchandise, and relive the glory days of the legendary Jim Crockett Promotions.

The NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Fayetteville, NC as promoter Greg Price's follow-up to his hugely successful Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest in January.

Price has been hampered in recent days by no-shows, including Sting, who had been touted as one of the featured guests at the Fayetteville show. But the impressive lineup, centered on late 1980s NWA performers, still includes former world singles and tag team champions Mick Foley, Dory Funk Jr., Ivan Koloff, Larry Zbyszko, and Tully Blanchard, among two dozen wrestlers.

A pair of freewheeling question-and-answer sessions headline the card on Saturday night. One will feature the Rock 'n' Roll Express pairing of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. Price said he has been planning a give-and-take with Morton and Gibson since hearing them captivate a small audience while watching the 2004 Super Bowl.

The other session will put legendary performer Tully Blanchard in front of the crowd. One of the most competitive wrestlers to don a pair of tights, Blanchard was renowned for his singles matches with the likes of Magnum T.A. and Steamboat, and his tag partnership with Arn Anderson as part of the fabled Four Horsemen.

Blanchard, 49, is a fascinating choice for the "Q&A" event because few of his peers can match his background or his passion for his craft. A second-generation wrestler, Blanchard grew up in Texas as son of wrestler and promoter Joe Blanchard. He rose to hold the NWA U.S. and Television championships, among a bevy of honors. With Anderson, the "Brainbusters" were WWF tag titleholders in 1989.

Later that year, the hard-living Blanchard failed a drug test that cost him a lucrative spot in the reformed NWA-World Championship Wrestling promotion. Since then, he has turned his life to Christianity, and is a regular and powerful speaker at churches and prisons.

Last month, Blanchard offered a stirring, heartfelt defense of wrestling and his career during a convention in Dallas. Many members of the audience, which included 20 current and former wrestlers described Blanchard's off-the-cuff remarks as among the most moving and articulate depictions ever offered by a former champion. As a preview of the Fayetteville fanfest, here are Blanchard's remarks:

"You know, I sit out here and listen to people talk about a profession that I have been part of since birth. My dad wrestled; I'm one of the second-generation guys and a promoter's kid and all that stuff.

"And I can remember my dad wanting me to learn the wrestling business when I was 10 years old and I was selling peanuts in the arena in San Antonio, Texas. The Big Cat [Ernie Ladd] came out the first time through San Antonio, six-foot-nine, and I just wanted to walk by because I'd seen him play football and I hit him about waist high. And man, that was just something.

"Then, the next year, I was carrying soda pop cans, or bottles, back in those days, and selling them up. Then, I was learning how to sweep, and I was learning how to put flyers on cars at the Northstar Mall whenever we had a big show. And I got old enough and strong enough to set the ring up.

"Then, I got old enough to referee. And then, I got old enough to get beat up by all the old-timers that wanted to take it out on the promoter's kid.

"Somewhere along the line, I thought I was something. I don't think [Texas star] Tim Brooks can take near the credit he wanted to about killing San Antonio because I killed it, and I moved to North Carolina to get away from everything.

"And in 1984, something happened. The wrestling business, for whatever reason, exploded, and I was on top of a tidal wave that changed our profession. And the reason it was changed is because of people in this room who had a passion for what they did. Because you've got to have a passion to wrestle nine times a week, week in and week out, and drive 3,000 miles. You've got to have a passion to go out every night and carve your face up with a razor blade.

"People don't do stuff like that. They might work long hours in offices, but they don't have a passion to give someone sitting on the front row eight dollars of enjoyment. And that's what we did. We weren't on contracts. We didn't get paid if we were hurt. You had to hobble to the ring so you'd get paid. If the crowd was down, you worked for 50 bucks. And the business didn't ever change. I told my dad, I said, 'I'm making the same money you made in 1955. There's something wrong about that.'

"But the wrestling business has provided many of us in this room a tremendous living. And I am very, very thankful to be part of it.

"Many of you don't know what it's like to go to school in the second grade and have other kids in the class talk to you about being a phony TV rassler's kid. And what your dad does is fake, and have to defend it, and then you be in the same profession, and have to defend it again.

"It's a little bit peculiar because I've been interviewed on some television shows and stuff and I've had people tell me 'Say, now that you're a Christian and you can't lie ... was it fake?' And I will look at people and I will say, 'You know, I don't really know how to answer that question because I came running off the ropes a 270-pound man named Wahoo McDaniel, who had white tape on his fingers so your chest would bleed, would hit me as hard as he could. And I don't understand that.' I said, 'Maybe the peculiar thing is that I did it for 30 minutes and stayed in the ring so that you could get that much enjoyment.' And they just kind of looked at me.

"This business is far harder than any other sport because it's not really a sport. You have to be athletic. If it was a tough man contest, the crowds would be smaller and the matches would be three minutes long - maybe. But when the promoter comes in and says, 'Go 45 minutes and make it look real,' or one time in Tampa, Fla. [NBC executive] Dick Ebersol walked into the WWF dressing room and said, 'Perfect!' [points with finger] 'You and the other guy, that was horrible, go out there and do it again.' And they had to do 25 more minutes a little bit later in the card.

"People have not a clue how difficult this business is - to be a performer, to be on top, to get 18,000 people come into a building to watch you beat somebody up or get beat up. But that's what this business is about.

"I stood there on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, NC [at the legends reunion] sitting next to Dusty Rhodes, and watched 900 people file through to get our autographs. I was speechless. I couldn't talk. The Panthers are in the Super Bowl, they're going to play in two hours, and these people are up here getting autographs from wrestlers.

"And I said, 'You know what? We provided entertainment. We gave them their money's worth or they wouldn't have been here this day.' And like never before, I appreciated the wrestling fans. I appreciate the people like [Texas promoter] Britt Britton that put things on like this for the wrestling fan. It's great to see Karl Kox and Tim Brooks and [Skandor] Akbar and Teddy [DiBiase] and some of you guys that I've never met before who are just starting in the wrestling business, and some of the ones that I've seen through the course of my career.

"But the thing that we did was we went to the ring and we wanted to provide entertainment for the wrestling fan. And that's what's wrong with the wrestling business today. They have forgotten that. They want to be stars instead of entertaining the wrestling fans who are buying the tickets. They don't have the passion to entertain.

"And that's what my dad taught me, that the wrestling business was the entertainment business. Never mistake it - it is the entertainment business and that's the only reason that I was even remotely successful because I'm only 5-11 if I stand up real tall. I was 222 pounds, the biggest I ever was, and the wrestling business is for big guys, they told me. But I was able to go to the ring with guys like Teddy who would hit you in the jaw and knock your jaw out of the place and go, 'Oh God, I'm sorry,' and then have to do five more minutes.

"I've never had more fun, more joy, more friendship, and sometimes more disappointment than in the wrestling business. But I'll tell you what -- I wouldn't trade one minute of it for anything."

RELATED LINKS

  • Tully Blanchard story archive