Special thanks to Eddie Cheslock who provided many of the photos for this interview.


Photos of the Marine Privates with Sgt. Slaughter from the collection of Jim Nelson.


Thanks also to Peggy Lathan, Dave Millican, and Brad Anderson who provided photos for this interview.


Thanks to Peggy Lathan for editing assistance.


In the era of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, there was no stronger fixture than Don Kernodle. He wrestled almost exclusively for Jim Crockett Promotions from his celebrated “try out” match on Mid-Atlantic TV with Bob Roop in 1973 through and until the Mid-Atlantic area was losing its identity as a regional territory in 1986.

There are several things that set Don apart as being “Mr. Mid-Atlantic,” beyond the sheer length of his wrestling tenure in one place. One, Don is a native of the heart of the Mid-Atlantic territory, hailing from Burlington, North Carolina. While beloved Mid-Atlantic icons Johnny Weaver and Ric Flair came to call North Carolina home, they were not natives of the area. Don is a lifelong North Carolinian. And being so situated, this gives him a unique perspective of wrestling in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Another unique role that Don played in the history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, is that he was a respected underneath worker for over eight years as a good guy before getting his push to the top of the cards. And when Don broke through in 1982 as a bad guy, being one of Sergeant Slaughter’s “Privates,” he broke through in a big way. He and Private Jim Nelson shortly afterward became the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champions, and later Don and Sgt. Slaughter teamed up for a memorable run as NWA World Tag Team Champions. Their mega feud in early 1983 with Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood was one for the ages.

1984 was an incredible year for Don, which saw him amazingly align himself with Ivan and Nikita Koloff, and later in the same year endure a crushing double-cross from the Russians. Don rediscovered his American pride, became the consummate good guy, and wrestled for the fans as the “Pride Of The USA” during 1985 as part of his last big run in the business.

During his years in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Don Kernodle did it all. He wrestled on top and he wrestled underneath, he was a good guy and he was a bad guy, and he was intimately involved in several of the biggest programs in the territory’s history. And with his deep North Carolina roots, Don brings to us a broader perspective on professional wrestling with Jim Crockett Promotions than anybody that ever wrestled in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Don Kernodle has been a friend of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway for a number of years, and it was a pleasure for Dick Bourne and me to sit down with the “Pride Of The USA” to chat recently in his hometown of Burlington, North Carolina. There is precious little Mid-Atlantic that Don didn’t see, hear or actively participate in! Don, thank you for your time and a really engaging interview---I only wish we had done it sooner!

And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, hailing from Burlington, North Carolina, the Pride Of The USA, Don Kernodle…

David Chappell

July 2009


David Chappell: Don, it’s great to have you visiting with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway today.


Don Kernodle: It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m very happy to be here.


Chappell: I guess your early career would be a good place to start. I’m not sure a lot of fans know exactly how you got started.


Kernodle: I gotcha.


Dick Bourne: One of the things I think people remember, because [TV announcers] Bob Caudle and David Crockett talked about it for several years after it happened, was how you actually broke in the business on television.


Chappell: The TV match in 1973 with Bob Roop…


Bourne: Of course, you had a great amateur wresting background too. We’d like to hear about that also.


Chappell: Yes, if you could talk about that, and lead into the deal with Roop and how you actually became a professional wrestler for Jim Crockett Promotions.


Kernodle: Okay, well, when I was seven years old I first saw professional wrestling on TV. And I right away told my Dad that’s what I wanted to do for a living.


Chappell: And you’re from right here in Burlington, North Carolina, so you were watching the stars of Jim Crockett Promotions on TV.


Kernodle: That’s right. I wrestled four years in high school, and then four years in college. When I graduated from college in 1973…


Chappell: And that would be Elon College here in Burlington?


Kernodle: Yes.


Chappell: As soon as you graduated from college, what things did you do to try to get into professional wrestling?


Kernodle: I was doing anything to get a name. I was power lifting and arm wrestling at the time. In fact, I was the United States arm wrestling champion for two years.


Chappell: That’s right, I remember you being billed later by Jim Crockett Promotions as being an arm wrestling champion.


Kernodle: That’s right. Around that time I was weightlifting, and I saw they were going to have a judo demonstration at the YMCA here in Burlington. I told my buddies that if they asked anybody to try ‘em after it was over with, I was gonna raise my hand!


Chappell: Did they ask for volunteers?


Kernodle: Just like it was in a script, they did!


Chappell: Had you had any judo training before this?


Kernodle: None whatsoever. So, there were about ten brown and black belts there…they couldn’t even budge me! So, I asked the instructor if I could try to throw those guys. And I went through all ten of those guys in less than a minute! Seriously! I know it sounds like a lie but it’s the truth!


Chappell: With that success, did you follow up with formal judo training?


Kernodle: I started taking judo on Monday nights at the YMCA. I had always heard that in wrestling you need to know how to fall. I thought judo would help in breaking my falls.


Anyway, a little later I entered the All-South judo tournament held in Burlington. Just like they wrote the script for me, I won the tournament by making this 460 pound guy tap out in about six seconds! So I won that tournament as a white belt…a beginner!


Chappell: Quite a feat!


Kernodle: But like I said, my preparation to get into professional wrestling was anything I could do to get noticed. Anything I could do to get my name out there.


Soon after that, I went up and talked to the wrestling promoter for Jim Crockett Promotions in Charlotte, North Carolina. I met a man named Mr. John Ringley…couldn’t understand what he was doing there!


Chappell: (laughs)


Kernodle: Come to find out, he was Frances Crockett’s husband, and he was actually running the company since Mr. Jim Crockett, Sr. had passed away. I think he was the President of Jim Crockett Promotions at that time.


Bourne: He had just passed away right around that time?


Kernodle: Just a few months before that, yeah. I went down to Charlotte on a Monday. I was fixing to go in the building, and I saw Brute Bernard come out of the building. I went back to my car, and sat down for a few minutes and said, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do here!’ So, I left completely when I saw Brute Bernard!


Chappell: (laughs) The Brute could make anyone a little nervous!


Kernodle: Brute was a big ol’ mean lookin’ man! I’d seen him do some crazy stuff on TV!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)



Kernodle: Finally, I came back the next day, and I mustered up enough courage to go in there and sit down and talk to Ringley.


Chappell: What did you say to him?


Kernodle: I told him that I had wrestled heavyweight at Elon University, Elon College then. And that I was interested in getting into the professional wrestling business. He said that was great, and asked me some questions about my background.   


Chappell: Did you go down to Charlotte on your own…to talk to Ringley?


Kernodle: Yes…I just went to Charlotte and looked in the phone book. Didn’t know anything about the area. Just looked in the phone book and found the address. It was Morehead Street, just down from the YMCA maybe a mile. It was an old white, two story house.


Bourne: Looking back, wasn’t that an unusual way to do that? I mean, wasn’t it hard to break in…getting to know somebody?


Kernodle: Well, I didn’t know anybody! And I lived in the country outside of Burlington…a little ol’ community. And like I said, I wrestled in high school and college. But I didn’t know ANYBODY when it came to professional wrestling.


But I knew that I had the will and desire to be a professional wrestler. And I was gonna try my best to do it.


Chappell: Wow, so no professional contacts at all before you traveled down to Charlotte?


Kernodle:  I had met Ole and Gene Anderson in the Greensboro Coliseum about a year prior to that. I talked to them a little bit, and told them that I had wrestled at Elon as a heavyweight. I was always a heavyweight wrestler…in high school and college.


I weighed 235 pounds in the ninth grade. I’ve always been a little large! 


Chappell/Bourne: (laughs)


Kernodle: But anyway, when I talked to John Ringley he said, “Well, I’ll put you on TV tomorrow night.” He was talking about Raleigh TV on Wednesday night…I talked to Ringley on a Tuesday. They had matches in Raleigh on Tuesday night at Dorton Arena, and they had the TV show on Wednesday night.


Chappell: Pretty quick turnaround! What did you say?


Kernodle: I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I was thinking about wrestling some of the underneath wrestlers, you know.


Then I asked him who my opponent would be, and he said, “Bob Roop.”


Chappell: Whoa…I bet that got your attention pretty quick!


Kernodle: (laughs) I said, ‘Lord, don’t do me any favors!’


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: I had just seen Bob Roop the day before in the Charlotte Coliseum beat Johnny Weaver! We all know Johnny Weaver was one of the greatest wrestlers ever…


Chappell: Absolutely.


Kernodle: Bob Roop had just gotten here, and they were trying to get him over, you know. But I didn’t know anything about all that stuff then! He beat Johnny Weaver, and then he wants to put me in the ring with him two days later!


Bourne: That’s a good point. At the time you were talking to Ringley, did you have any idea of the inside workings of the business? Had anybody smartened you up at all at that point?


Kernodle: I had no knowledge at that point. You know, as an amateur wrestler and as a fan, you think about things…but you don’t know.


You see these big guys about 300 pounds, big muscles and tough looking…and you don’t know what you know. You think stuff, and then you’d hear stuff…but hey, you can always hear anything! You could hear that you could cross the road in front of an eighteen wheeler and it wouldn’t hurt you, but you know…


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So, I didn’t know anything, really.


When I hesitated a little bit, Ringley said, “See there, you don’t want to be a professional wrestler!” I said, ‘Oh yes I do.’ Then I asked him if this would be the only chance at getting into the professional wrestling business, and he told me that it was. So I said, ‘I’ll do it; I’ll be there!’


Chappell: Now right at this time, Roop was having a challenge on Mid-Atlantic TV, right?


Kernodle: Bob Roop was having a challenge that if anybody could beat him in less than 10 minutes, they would win $2,000.


He’d beaten everybody with a sugar hold, which is a type of sleeper…in less than 20 seconds. He’d beaten everybody that had challenged him. I didn’t really know about a sleeper hold, I mean, I knew what Johnny Weaver’s sleeper hold looked like, but didn’t know how to do it or anything…


Chappell: Had you been watching these challenge matches on TV?


Kernodle: Yes, I had seen them on TV. But when I went in there to talk to Mr. Ringley, that hadn’t really crossed my mind until he mentioned Roop.


Chappell: So you mustered up, and I guess headed over to the WRAL TV studios in Raleigh?


Kernodle: I got up all of my Elon College wrestling stuff, and my amateur wrestling boots…and headed to Raleigh on Wednesday night!


Got there, and it was an odd situation, actually.


Chappell: In what way?



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