Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls…

Sunday Star-News – June 16, 1985
By Ben Steelman

A gleeful Cowboy Ron Bass puts pressure on Avalanche Buzz Tyler...

A gleeful Cowboy Ron Bass puts pressure on Avalanche Buzz Tyler…

...Tyler, thrown from the ring, works himself into a frenzy...

…Tyler, thrown from the ring, works himself into a frenzy…

...and exacts his revenge on Bass with a mighty elbow launched from the top of the ring ropes.

…and exacts his revenge on Bass with a mighty elbow launched from the top of the ring ropes.

It was a Friday night, and I went to Legion Stadium to see the wrestling and write about courage and about fights cleanly done, the way Papa Hemingway wrote about bull-fighting.

Perhaps it was not the best night to go.  Already Ivan Koloff, the growling Russian, had been scratched from the card.

And in the middle of the bouts, it turned out that “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Magnum T.A. – whose manly poster was hawked through the stands – were both grounded at the Charlotte airport.

Yet the promoters and fighters showed grace under pressure and rematched a satisfactory night.

As with most wrestling, the matches opened with the young bulls: Mark Fleming, the good guy, in aqua-green trunks and Greg Vines in black.  (Wrestlers are color-coded, and, as a rule, bad guys wear black or maybe red.)

It was a slow opening.

In general, the quality of wrestling can be judged by how often the fighters jump out, fall out or are thrown out of the ring.  Fleming went through the ropes only once.

In fact, the high point of the first bout came when the crowd spotted Baby Doll – the very blonde, very attractive, very large protégé of Tully Blanchard – sitting outside the stadium fieldhouse.

“Hey Baby Doll!”  “Baby Doll, whooo!” several of the men remarked.

“Baby Doll’s a pig!” a woman commented.

Fleming won on a pin.

Next came Ricky Reeves and Cowboy Ron Bass.  Their performance was snappier: two throws out of the ring, more head drops with louder slams.  Reeves eventually won on a fake after being slammed mercilessly by Bass.

But something seemed lacking.  “Where’s the blood?” someone asked.

The Legion Stadium crowd cheers for favorites and heckles the bad guys.

The Legion Stadium crowd cheers for favorites and heckles the bad guys.

Only when Krusher Khrushchev stormed across the field did the real action begin.

Khrushchev is clearly an apprentice Russian; his goatee has barely grown in.  But he’s got what it takes, snarling at the crowd, pointing at his hammer-and-sickle.

“Introducing, from Russia…” the announcer called.

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!”

“weighing 285 pounds…”

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!”

“…and 131 kilos…”

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!”

Soda cups, balled up and stuffed with ice, flew from the stands.  One bounced off Krusher’s forehead.  He growled without missing a beat, leaped from the ring and rubbed his face against the chain link fence.

Fleming, who had fought in the first match, was appointed victim.

The match moved fast, in a repeating cycle: Khrushchev caught Fleming in a bear hug and then threw him, prostrate, to the canvas.  He climbed on the ropes to leap for the coup de grace, muttered something nasty about America and made his move.  But then Fleming would turn at the last minute, grab Krusher and punch him repeatedly, the Russian crying “No!  No!  No!”

Krusher Khrushchev screams in Russian agony as Mark Fleming applies an arm lock.

Krusher Khrushchev screams in Russian agony as Mark Fleming applies an arm lock.

But in the end, the Russian won on what appeared to everyone (except the referee) a dubious pin.  Good Guys 2, Bad Guys 1.  And Krusher stalked off to the crowd’s roars.

Then, after a brief intermission of 45 minutes, officials announced that Flair and Magnum had scratched.  About half the crowd rose and headed for the box office for refunds.

It was a crucial moment, and in the grand tradition of sportsmanship, the wrestlers came through.  As if by magic, the pace quickened.  Avalanche Buzz Tyler and Cowboy Ron Bass went at each other like buzzsaws.

For this match, Cowboy was being “managed” by J.J. Dillon.  The primary function of a wrestling manager is to slip brass knuckles or iron bars or something to his fighter in such a fashion that everyone in the stadium can see him – everyone but the ref.

“He’s got something in his glove!  He’s got something in his glove!” a woman screamed.

Thus armed, Cowboy knocked Avalanche from the ring.  Red fluid poured down Tyler’s forehead – the first blood of the evening.  Avalanche came to his knees, his whole body quivering the way Popeye the Sailor does right after swallowing the spinach.

“Hit ‘im, Buzz!  Hit ‘im!” they cried.

Avalanche climbed back in the ring and (several out-of-the-ring tosses later) pinned his man.  But that didn’t stop Dillon from climbing into the ring and proceeding, with Cowboy’s help, to stomp poor Tyler mercilessly.

At this point Tully Blanchard, Baby Doll in tow, strode toward the ring, his “TV Championship” belt in hand.  Oh good, he’s going to break up the fight and let sportsmanship prevail.

But no!  Tully climbed in the ring as Dillon and Bass exited, waited as Avalanche slowly pulled himself to his feet – and then, when Avalanche wasn’t looking, coldcocked him across the kidneys with his belt.

The game was on.

Words cannot capture the next few minutes of action.

Five throws out of the ring, an evening’s record.

The referee knocked senseless and rolled out of the ring himself.

Kicks.  Drops.  Eye-gougings.

Both fighters dripping blood.

Baby Doll, crying and screaming at the edge of the ring, urged Tully on.  At one point, she said something to Avalanche, no one knows what.  Avalanche, apparently inflamed, leaped out of the ring and started to stalk her – leaving Blanchard free to ambush him from behind.

But Right prevailed.  Eventually Avalanche pinned Blanchard – a long pin, allowing the referee time to regain consciousness – and walked off with Blanchard’s TV championship belt.

He wasn’t allowed to keep it.  Jim Crockett Promotions Inc. said Blanchard was thrown over the ropes without the referee seeing it, meaning Tyler was disqualified.

But that didn’t matter.  Despite his double matches, despite his loss of blood, Avalanche skipped in a victory dance as he headed to the showers.

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4 responses to “Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls…

  1. I became friends with a lady who was a wrestling promoter in Texas back in the 70s and she regaled me with many stories of her heyday. $200 was the extra prize for any wrestler who “went color” during a match. She laughed that she prayed that no wrestlers bled during her cards cause it cut into her take.

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