Orlando Sentinel – June 9, 2000
By Ric Russo
Tim Woods’ approach to professional wrestling was simple – just stick to the basics. So he put on a pair of white boots, white tights and a white mask and became “Mr. Wrestling.” It was a concept that worked well in the ring, won over fans and made Woods a legend.
“Wrestling was what I did best, so it was a natural progression,” said Woods, now 66, of his 22-year career as a pro. “I grew up in Ithaca, New York, and the high school wrestling team was very successful. When I got to the school there, they had never lost a match in their history.”
As Mr. Wrestling, Woods didn’t lose many matches. He made his pro debut in 1962 and retired with a tag-team match in front of a capacity crowd at the Omni in Atlanta in 1984. In between, Woods won numerous professional wrestling championships by sticking to the basics.
Twice he was half of the National Wrestling Alliance World Tag-Team Champions with his favorite partner, Mr. Wrestling II (real name Johnny Walker). The pair were a bit smaller – both around 6-1, 230 pounds – than some of the behemoths wrestling in the ’70s. But it didn’t matter – they used their superior skills to take their opponents to the mat.
The masked men rank among the top tag-teams of all time. It was Mr. Wrestling II who teamed with Woods for his last match against the Road Warriors at the Omni.
Today Woods runs a computer consulting business in Charlotte, N.C. His company keeps him pretty busy, so he doesn’t have much time to watch today’s version of professional wrestling. But what he has seen is much different from his heyday.
“The moves are certainly orchestrated, and there is more of a show factor involved,” Woods said. “And from what I hear the paychecks are bigger, that’s for sure.”
Woods made a name for himself during the ’70s when pro wrestling in the United States was divided into territories. Around 1974 he made his way to Florida and quickly became a favorite of Gordon Solie on Championship Wrest- ling from Florida broadcasts.
“He is poetry in motion,” Solie once said of Mr. Wrest- ling. “What he is doing out there is displaying what the Romans had in mind when they invented the sport.”
With his masked garb and his consistent display of good sportsmanship, Woods quickly became a fan favorite. He won his first major championship – the Southern Heavyweight title – in a match against Johnny Valentine in Tampa.
“I enjoyed working in Florida. They had a lot of good wrestlers that worked exclusively in the area for a lot of years,” Woods recalled. “Guys like the Grahams, Mike and his dad Eddie; the Brisco brothers, Jack and Jerry; Billy Robinson – all guys with solid knowledge of the basics.”
When pro wrestling started to go the way of the brawler in the ’70s, it was men like Woods who kept the scientific style alive. He was one of many stars from that era who came from similar backgrounds.
Woods wrestled in college at the University of Wyoming, Oklahoma State and Michigan State, winning several conference championships with the Spartans. Jack and Jerry Brisco won amateur titles at Oklahoma State. Jim Raschke – aka Baron Von Raschke – had a prestigious career at the University of Nebraska. And one of Woods’ teammates at MSU was Jim Myers, who would later become George “The Animal” Steele.
Today’s sports entertainment industry doesn’t have much room for the holds that made Mr. Wrestling famous. Woods used a variety of moves to finish off an opponent: the standing grapevine, the figure-four leglock or the sleeper.
It was one of those finishing holds that led to Woods being injured for a time. His defeat of Valentine for the Southern Heavyweight title sparked a feud between the two. Woods fought him off during most of their battles, but during one match, Valentine got Woods in the figure-four leglock and broke his leg.
After the leg healed, the feud resumed. Woods and Valentine wrestled nearly every night, battling for the U.S. Heavyweight Championship in sold-out Mid-Atlantic arenas.
“One night I would win, the next night he would win,” Woods recalled. “We just kept going back and forth winning the title, losing the title. It was a good run.”
It was also during his tenure in the Mid-Atlantic that Woods became a world champion. He teamed with the late Dino Bravo to win the NWA World Tag-Team belts from Ole and Gene Anderson. Woods would later team with Mr. Wrestling II to win the belts again from the Andersons.
In 1975, Woods and Valentine were two of the wrestlers on a plane that crashed in North Carolina. The accident left Valentine’s legs paralyzed and also seriously injured wrestler Bob Bruggers. Neither ever wrestled again. Woods suffered a compression fracture in his back. Also hurt was an up-and-coming wrestler named Ric Flair, who cracked some vertebrae.
Woods and Flair met in the ring several times after the accident. During one match Flair won his first major belt by beating Woods for the U.S. championship. Woods says he is amazed the “Nature Boy” is still competing into his 50s.
“I see him on the television from time to time, still going,” he said. “It’s hard to believe. There were doubts shortly after the crash that he’d ever be right again, but he came through it.”
As for Woods, when he walked away from the Omni after that match in ’84, he never looked back.
“When I started wrestling I never intended for it to last as long as it did,” he said.