General Skandor Akbar still has heat
MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
|Skandor Akbar, the wrestler.
General Skandor Akbar, the evil manager from the Middle East -- who wreaked havoc throughout the '80s with his heel stable of wrestlers known as Devastation Incorporated -- believes in the old adage: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
"I still have heat when I go to these personal appearances and it's really uncanny -- it's like it never leaves," said Akbar who will be one of the featured guests taking part in the upcoming NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend in Charlotte, NC. "That evil demeanour that I had in the ring, I worked hard for that, y'know, and I maintained that heat for a long, long time."
A long time, indeed, as the cigar-smoking General (born Jim Wehba in Wichita Falls, TX) was "stereotyped as a heel from the beginning," breaking into the business in 1962 with the assistance of his cousin, "The Great Mephisto" Frankie Cain, along with former NWA world champion, Lou Thesz. Just three years into his career, he took the Arabic name, Skandor Akbar (translation: Alexander the Great) at the advice of Fritz Von Erich, and never looked back.
"For the last 45 years, whatever happens in the Middle East, the fans blame me for it," Akbar told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Dallas county. From having his tires slashed, to being attacked by mobs of angry fans, to receiving death threats, Akbar was the consummate heel who harassed fans at ringside during his wrestler's matches. "But I never mouthed back at the fans when I went out to the car, as the people were waiting around when wrestlers were arriving or leaving the arena," said Akbar. "I would just ignore them, and it made them that much more mad. I had real heat."
That's why Akbar -- who retired as a full-time competitor in 1977 after winning numerous singles and tag team championships throughout the territories, along with holding the Australian heavyweight title for over a year -- assembled one of the most feared and hated stables in wrestling, Devastation Inc. Among the members were some of the most villainous names from Abdullah the Butcher, The Missing Link and Kimala to King Kong Bundy, the One Man Gang and the Great Kabuki.
"In World Class (Championship Wrestling), we were the true heels, along with the Freebirds -- who were good boys," said Akbar. "But sometimes we'd throw a curve on television, when Devastation Inc. would meet the Freebirds in a match. And when that happened, the Freebirds would suddenly become full-time babyfaces during that match -- and we remained the heels. Then they'd turn around on the same day and put the Freebirds up against the Von Erichs, and the Freebirds would be the heels again. In our case, we were always the heels."
Akbar agreed, Devastation Inc. was one of the most colourful, bizarre, and unpredictable of all wrestling factions. "The first time that I put Kimala and Link in a tag team match, Link tagged Kimala on the shoulder -- then Kimala, who was from Uganda, was confused and thought Link was hitting him. Then they'd get into a fight and I'd have to break that up," Akbar recalled with a laugh. "And it was so well done, it was so smooth, that anything you threw at the fans like that, they loved it."
The people still love it, said Akbar who enjoys meeting fans at wrestling conventions like the upcoming NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend. "I was down in Louisiana a couple weeks ago and it was like I never left," said Akbar, who trains aspiring young wrestlers and still manages on the independent circuit. "The fans remember everything and they're very nostalgic when it comes to that wrestling era. They'll share memories of things that I did that I don't even remember, and it goes to show you how powerful the tube was back then.
"Overseas, I had a gentleman tell me he was in Saigon, this was about two years ago around Christmas time, he was getting ready to board a plane and they had a monitor on showing World Class wrestling. He said it was a tape of Kimala and me taking one of the (Von Erich) boys down. It's still showing all over the world.
"We offered a real variety of wrestlers back then, and that's why everything was so good here in Texas," Akbar added. "That's why it's so sad for me to look around today because the business is kind of ruined, so to speak. Everything has changed, right down to something like the dress attire. Back in my day, we always dressed real well, like when we were in the Mid-South, when we did interviews (Bill) Watts always had wrestlers in sports coats with the exception of somebody like me in my robe, or Junkyard Dog in his gimmick. The rest of the guys would be in sports coats, and that's what set us apart.
"Now when I get invited to New York, I see the kids get off the plane and they're comin' in looking like they just came from Gold's Gym with their tank tops and shorts. My God, when you used to see Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski
or the world's champion Harley Race
, they'd always be dressed properly -- we were always dressed properly.
"Now, don't get me wrong, 'cause (WWE) treats me real well, and I've got a lot of friends there. A lot of the kids there I helped train, like (The Undertaker) Mark Calaway got his start down here, along with Mick Foley who got his start at the Sportatorium. John Bradshaw Layfield was one of my boys. The only thing is that (WWE's) talent is not produced the right way. But that's what they do, that's their house. I don't want to live in it, because I prefer the business the way it used to be."
Looking back on his days working the Mid-South territory, Akbar credits promoter Bill Watts with having the ability to "run a good tight ship," when it came to disciplining wrestlers. "When the '80s approached, you had this demon hanging over the business -- drugs," said Akbar, who managed the likes of Greg Valentine, Dick Murdoch, Butch Reed, and Steve "Dr. Death" Williams. "When I worked for Bill Watts, he executed fines and you had two chances if you were late. The third time he'd fine you, and if it happened again you were fired no matter who you were.
"A lot of people thought he was a tyrant, but he wasn't. See, he knew the threat of 'no shows,' drugs, and everything else. Looking back, a lot of people couldn't understand why he'd do that, but now you can see why. In later years, I promoted a few shows and it's the worst thing when you're trying to promote a show and the wrestler is either late or doesn't show up at all. Brickhouse Brown was notorious for that.
"All the promoters that I knew, all they asked was that you be there 45 minutes to an hour before match time. You had the whole day to get things done, and relax. So I ask, what's the problem getting to the arena on time? What's an hour to you when you're making a living at wrestling?
"Bear in mind this, that wresting is the only profession that I know where you could start with just an old pair of wrestling boots, a pair of trunks and maybe invest in a robe, and you can start making money. Show me where else you can do that."
Devastation Inc.: The Missing Link, Skandor Akbar and Kimala.
Like the many fans Akbar meets, he is especially nostalgic for World Class Championship Wrestling and his years managing Devastation Inc. "We were the dragons, and the Von Erichs were the dragon slayers -- that's how I define that incredible time in wrestling," said Akbar, who was known to throw the odd fireball in the faces of unsuspecting Von Erichs, and other babyfaces of World Class. "Those kids were so over, that all you had to do was bring in somebody to Devastation Incorporated, and it was just that cycle over and over -- good versus evil.
"Because we were on television that covered a great deal of the mid-west, my goodness, you booked the Von Erichs and we sold out everywhere, and even turning people away. For four years, World Class had no parallel, and all the shows we did were great."
Those shows, thanks to WWE Classics on Demand can still be seen today. "People always tell me that they see me on WWE 24/7, interfering in some match with The Mongol (Gene Lewis) or somebody" said Akbar with a laugh. "As a matter of fact, somebody told me the other day they saw me on that 24/7 channel and I was in a match with Ivan Putski in 1976 at Madison Square Garden. I worked for New York in '76, and I had a pretty good run when Vince Sr. was there.
"They still treat me well, and they came down here to interview both me and Gary Hart for that DVD they did (The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling). We both played an intricate part in what was going on here at that time.
"You could more or less feel this dark cloud coming across this way," said Akbar, speaking of the numerous deaths in World Class Championship Wrestling. "That domino effect with the (Von Erich) brothers dying, I think Kevin would tell you today that his wife and his mother still surviving were an intricate part of he not doing what his brothers did (committing suicide). Because they say it's like a domino effect when something like that happens in a family.
"There was another film crew who made a DVD too and they interviewed me and Gary Hart also," said Akbar, referring to the independently produced DVD, Heroes of World Class: The Story of the Von Erichs and WCCW. "I liked both documentaries, and I was happy to do that because I was a big part of that era, and I think people deserve to know what was happening."
Akbar said in his experience, fans always enjoy insight and behind-the-scenes stories of World Class Championship Wrestling, especially when it comes to some of the characters he managed in Devastation Inc. "One of my favourite wrestlers to work with was Kabuki, whose real name is Akihisa Mera," said Akbar. "Kabuki was good, and he's gone back to Japan and opened a restaurant there. So did Killer Khan. They were two of my favourites, and when we would go into town they'd always find a place to cook, and they'd always cook that good (Asian) food. I always knew that someday they'd be banged up workin' in some kind of restaurant.
"Kabuki, he learned English a little bit faster than Khan, I remember -- Khan was a little bit slower, but they both learned to speak English which was good. I had so many good guys in my arsenal when I started managing. I could go on and on: the Medics, the Motor City Madman, I took to Puerto Rico with me a lot.
"It was a pleasure to have Scott and Bill Irwin with me, and when Scott died it really hurt me bad. I was very, very close to Scott. I remember during his last days, I took Kimala up to the Humphrey Dome in Minneapolis for Verne (Gagne), we had a match up there. I remember Scott saying he had this terrifying headache, and that he'd had it for a long time. He said to me, 'So I'm going to get my eyes checked and everything.' Then on that following Tuesday, Bill had gone up with him and he says to me, 'I got bad news for ya, Ak, Scott's got an inoperable brain tumour.' Both of those guys were good boys.
The Missing Link and Skandor Akbar on the way to the ring in 2004. Photo by Meredith Renwick.
"I could go on and on. The Missing Link passed away, y'know, but I'll be seeing Kimala in Charlotte at this legends show -- he'll be up there for a day that I'll be there, and I've stayed in touch with him. When I was in Louisiana, like I said, I saw the One Man Gang and he's still doing good. I still keep in touch with a lot of the guys, that thank God, we're still going strong."
After a long pause, Akbar reflected on a life well spent in the wrestling business." I had such a good career and being in the business at that point and time was something I'm very, very grateful for," said Akbar, his voice full of emotion. "Cause I was living through some of the great times. You know, time goes on, and it's hard to believe that 1980 -- such a big time in the history of World Class -- was 30 years ago.
"Then go further back to the NWA when I broke in, y'know you wrestled every day and at the time, I never thought about tabulating how many times I actually wrestled. I tell people that I broke in, in 1962, so I had to have about 8,000 matches -- and that's being conservative. You wrestled every night of the week, including Sunday and sometimes twice on Saturday.
"My record is 63 straight days in 1974 when I was North American champion. You know that's the way it was, and in those days you didn't have the fear of 'no shows' and drugs. After the match, everybody just had a nice cold beer."
With names like Dory Funk Jr., Jerry Brisco, Ted DiBiase Sr., Harley Race, Buddy Roberts, Greg Valentine, Sir Oliver Humperdink, Sonny King, Mr. Wrestling II, and Terry Funk all appearing at the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend, along with Skandor Akbar, "The General" said he always enjoys waxing nostalgic with old friends. "I like to talk to them before the fans come into the building, because then it's hard to chat once the fans are there," Akbar said with a laugh. "There was one time a while ago where I got to talk with my friend Barry Darsow (Demolition Smash, Repo Man, Krusher Kruschev), and Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax, The Masked Superstar), and I remember these fans all came in with (championship) belts draped over their shoulders. Then Eadie says, 'God, Ak, everybody's a champion now.' And I said, 'Well, I think you can order them these days.'"
But it's the fans, Akbar said, who remind him of the indelible impact he made on World Class Championship Wrestling. "Believe me, we had a mystique and camaraderie about us," said Akbar. "You can take a lot of organizations, sports or whatever, who never experienced anything quite like that. It was a magical era.
"The fans at these events recognize that era as a really great period in wrestling, and I'm proud to have been in the business which I still love very much. But the fans always say, 'When is it going to go back the way it used to be? We want it to be like it was.'
"I tell them that I prefer that time too, but the world has changed. Yes, those were incredible times."
Thanks to legends like Skandor Akbar, fans can revisit those times, in a sense, at such events like the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend. Remembering back to a time when wrestling was about 'good versus evil,' with names like the Freebirds, the Von Erichs, and Devastation Inc."
Akbar concurred, "It was dragons and dragon slayers."
The NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend is Thursday to Sunday, August 5-8, at the Hilton University Place Hotel in Charlotte, NC. Three huge days and four nights featuring dozens of legendary heroes and villains, along with many superstars of today. For more information visit www.nwalegends.com.
Skandor Akbar Photo Gallery
February 9, 2004: Devastation Inc. re-incorporates at Wrestlecon
Devastation Inc.: The World of Skandor Akbar
Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!
World Class Reunion Q&A DVD-R
Heroes of World Class DVD
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling Double DVD
Marshall Ward is a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle, who hung posters of Devastation Inc. on his bedroom wall as a child (despite his mother's disapproval). Email is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.