November 1, 2012
Brad Armstrong dead at 51
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Brad Armstrong has died at the age of 51. He was a southern star for many years, the son of the famed "Bullet" Bob Armstrong, and came to greater recognition through World Championship Wrestling in the late 1980s early 1990s.
While he was never a true main eventer on a national scale, with most of his success coming in territories like Georgia and Continental, he was beloved in the industry and respected as one of the greatest talents.
"Brad Armstrong could work with anybody. That guy was as smooth as silk," wrote Steve Austin in his autobiography, The Stone Cold Truth. "He was like Ricky Steamboat, in a way -- another guy you went out there with and never had to say a word to. He knew the finish and how to get there. I knew how good he could be. I'd call all the spots in the ring and we'd just wrestle."
Dusty Rhodes, on the Ring of Honor DVD, Secrets of the Ring, talked about putting Armstrong in high positions when Rhodes was the booker in WCW. "Did Brad ever get any big shots? I thought Brad was tremendous, and I still do to this time. I felt very comfortable putting him in a main event," said Rhodes. "Brad Armstrong didn't want to stay mediocre. He wanted to be on the top."
"Gutted to hear about Brad Armstrong passing," wrote Steve Corino on Twitter. "Amazing wrestler & even better guy."
A graduate of Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, Robert Bradley James, born June 15, 1961, followed his father into the pro wrestling ring, having grown up around the business.
"I took Brad under my wing at 18 when he started and was 210 pounds," Bob Armstrong told the Ringside Talk radio show in March 2011. "He was a pretty tough character, so I figured he'd do all right with my guidance. Sure enough when he was 19 we won the national [tag team]championships. They had 22 teams from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South America. They brought them all into the old Omni in Atlanta, and sure enough, we came out on top."
Four of Bob Armstrong's boys would enter pro wrestling -- Brad, Brian (Road Dogg Jesse James, BG James, etc.), Steve, and Scott, who wrestled but is now a WWE referee.
In a March 2011 interview with SLAM! Wrestling, Bob Armstrong talked about what a tight-knit family they were. "We've never really been apart. I've got three sons who live within 45 minutes of me, one within five minutes of me. Brad's the only one that stayed around the Atlanta area; he married a lady from HBO, and her headquarters are up there. But my other three sons are with me all the time. We wrestle together."
According to WWE.com, "Brad saw his physician last week for a medical issue and was found unresponsive this morning."
In an interview with Tom Zenk's website -- Zenk and Brad Armstrong were a tag team in WCW for a while -- Brad Armstrong recalled his first match, Montgomery, Alabama, where another wrestler didn't show up and, having brought his gear, Brad was asked to fill in.
"I was scared to death to wrestle Jerry Brown, of the Hollywood Blondes. This guy is gonna kill me ... in public, I thought. That was the longest walk to the car to get my gear," Brad Armstrong said. "As it turned out, Jerry was one of the best workers in the business. He led the match, and I was astounded by the way he was putting me into holds and getting me out of them to make it look like I was doing it all myself. But, I beat him in the end with a small package. I was terrified, I thought I had screwed up by defeating him. But Dad slid under the ropes and picked me up with a huge hug. It suddenly occurred to me at that moment that this was all a game. I knew I never wanted to do anything else with my life! My mom cried when I told her because she remembered the life Dad had, being gone so much and the temptations out there."
In Georgia Championship Wrestling, Brad and Bob Armstrong teamed up to win the big Thanksgiving tag team tournament at Atlanta's Omni in November 1981, and the territory would be his home base for the next few years. His successes would include tag title runs with his father, his brother, Scott, Terry Allen (later Magnum T.A.) and Tim Horner, as well as Georgia's National Heavyweight title.
Moving west to Mid-South Wrestling, he was a major part of Bill Watts' UWF, an attempt at a national promotion. Other wrestling homes would include Japan, Kansas City, and Continental.
In the UWF and Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), which was the NWA at that point, he had a fabulous tag team with Tim Horner, The Lightning Express, which battled the likes of the Midnight Express.
As JCP expanded and was eventually bought by Ted Turner and his television company, Brad Armstrong got a chance to shine in many different roles, even if you didn't always recognize him.
In WCW, he was Candyman (handing out candy to kids), Arachnaman (a Spider-Man knockoff that lawyers squashed), and even the mysterious Badstreet, an ally to the Fabulous Freebirds. And don't forget Dos Hombres (a tag team with Ricky Steamboat covered from head to toe in red gear), Fantasia, Freedom Fighter, and near the end of days in WCW, Buzzkill (an old hippie wearing tye-dye shirts).
In 2000, after a TV taping, he was accidentally hit in the parking lot by a couple of other wrestlers, and severely hurt his knee. While WCW did pay for the medical expenses, when his contract came due while he was off injured, it was not renewed.
His last national exposure came in 2006, where he worked for World Wrestling Entertainment's relaunched ECW product. Besides wrestling on TV, he acted as a trainer, producer and, on a couple of occasions, as a guest commentator.
Armstrong took to the stage at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony at the Philips Arena in Atlanta in April 2011 to induct his father, along with his brothers Scott and Brian.
He is survived by his wife Lori and daughter Jillian.
Greg Oliver has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985, and is the author of six books: The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons (with Steven Johnson and Mike Mooneyham); SLAM! Wrestling: Shocking Stories from the Squared Circle; Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.