Trying To Rebuild Wrestling On A Local Basis

Columbus, Ga., Ledger-Enquirer – July 13, 2001
By Steve Beverly

Dennis Morrison has an unenviable job ahead of him – trying to rebuild a tradition that which died when pro wrestling hurdled a big-time national arena in the mid-1980s. Yet, he’s giving a concerted effort when others have long since waved a white flag.

Tuesday night, Morrison promotes the fourth card of the new Columbus Championship Wrestling. Harkening back to the days of the early ’70s when Ann Gunkel’s All-South Wrestling gave a valiant effort against the better-funded National Wrestling Alliance, the venue is Bibb City’s Comer Auditorium.

Running counter to what Vince McMahon has done to the industry the last five years, Morrison presents cards that which have no profanity, no sex and just pure wrestling the way Columbus fans of the golden years of Fred Ward remember.

The former tire company owner and Aflac promotions executive is putting up all the money himself with no benefit of a local television show. “With the help of (local gym owner and former North American champion) Jerry Oates, we have brought back the good family-oriented Fred Ward-style wrestling,” Morrison said. “I’ve done three cards so far and have not had a negative comment.”

Many independent promoters have failed by attempting to hot-shot shows with excessive violence or expensive talent, which tend to burn out fan interest. Morrison is instead going with Oates, the popular local veteran, and Georgia favorites, The Superstar (Bill Eadie, WWF Demolition Ax) and Scott Armstrong (Scott James).

“Everyone is so excited about the good clean wrestling and no half-naked women walking around the ring acting like fools,” Morrison said. “Parents are bringing their children because they won’t let them watch the WWF on television anymore. All say it is just too vulgar for a young child to watch.” In fact, Ben Masters — who for a decade promoted independent shows in Cordele and other portions of middle Georgia — left the business because of increasing fan behavior resembling that of WWF shows.

“When I saw kids using language like I’d never allow in my house and the parents not correcting them,” Masters said two years ago, “that’s when I knew it was time to get out.”

At the last CCW card June 3, Morrison drew around 650 and he has been pleased with the repeat customers. “People are coming back for every show and are bringing their friends,” said Morrison. “It is really very interesting that about 50 per cent of those in attendance are among the upper class of this town.”

In a sense, the gobbling up of World Championship Wrestling by McMahon’s WWF may have opened up new opportunities for alternative promotions, such as Morrison’s. Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels Jr.) has developed Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling in north Georgia and the Dothan area. Jerry Lawler’s Memphis Championship Wrestling is serving the mid-South region. Even 14-time world champion Ric Flair has made noises of reviving a regional promotion in the Carolinas, where he ballooned to stardom in the ’70s.

Most of the independents, such as Morrison, are having to make a go without one old tradition — a weekly television show. TV time has become expensive and quality time slots are at a premium. Plus, viewing habits have long changed from the custom of Ward’s old late Saturday afternoon show, which once drew as high as an 80 per cent share of audience on WRBL. “I’m starting small,” says Morrison. “I’m just letting the audience guide me one match and one week at a time. But I’d one day like to be able to grow to the point that we’d have to move to the Columbus Civic Center.”

Tuesday night, he’ll topline Oates against Chris (Blond Bomber) Stevens in a Canadian lumberjack match. Armstrong and Greg Brown go against The Superstar (Eadie) and The Wrestler.

In an NWF junior heavyweight title bout, Auburn senior Todd Fernandez (who usually brings an Auburn cheerleader or two with him) defends his title against Jerry (Lightning Kid) Resier. Darren (The Guard) Kelly faces Danny Roland in a return battle of two young performers. In the opener, two long-time familiar Georgia faces, Mike Jackson and Chic Donovan, square off. Jackson worked many TBS shows through the years and Donovan’s roots go back to his parents, Jack and Verne Bottoms Donovan, touring pros in the ’50s and ’60s.

The card begins at 8 p.m.

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