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Saying Goodbye to Johnny Weaver

This interview was conducted by Dick Bourne and David Chappell, with Gateway contributors Carroll Hall, Peggy Lathan, and Mike Cline participating as well.

Special thanks to Peggy Lathan for her assistance in setting up the interview with Johnny Weaver, and for transcription of the audio tapes.



We've been doing interviews with some of wrestling's top stars almost since we started the Mid-Atlantic Gateway back in 2000. We've been fortunate enough to talk with some of the greatest names in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history, and indeed in wrestling in general. But we always have been asked by visitors to our site: "When are you going to talk with Johnny Weaver?" They knew what we also knew; the website would not be complete without a chance to talk with "The Dean."

So we were delighted when Johnny agreed to chat with us one weekend, while making an appearance at an independent wrestling show in Rocky Mount VA.

It should be noted that this wasn't a traditional interview, more of a casual conversation with Johnny as we browsed through a scrapbook he brought us which included memorabilia from his entire career. Most of the afternoon we had with him was spent looking through that, which sent the topic of conversation in many different directions, and as a result, didn't always follow Johnny's career timeline, and perhaps left a few stones unturned.

Johnny Weaver's amazing career spanned 4 decades, and included wrestling, booking, broadcasting, and working in the office. He wrestled for many territories in the United States, as well as Canada and Japan. Weaver worked on top most of his entire career, headlining Indianapolis, Amarillo, Toronto, and of course his long run on top in the Mid-Atlantic territory, much of that with perennial tag team partner and mentor George Becker, where the two were household names in the Carolinas and Virginia during the 1960s and early 1970s. Their feuds with Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubich, and the Infernos with J.C. Dykes are legendary. But he had a spectacular singles career as well, holding many regional championships and challenging NWA world champions from Lou Thesz to Jack Brisco and all the champs in between.

When Johnny was in the latter years of his in-ring career, he helped launch several future stars to main event status in the Mid-Atlantic area, such as Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, and Tully Blanchard. And even before he left the ring he began an 11 year career as a wrestling broadcaster, first with Rich Landrum on World Wide Wrestling, and later with Bob Caudle, where he co-hosted Mid-Atlantic Wrestling/NWA Pro Wrestling for nearly six years.

Whether they knew him as Johnny Ace, Johnny 'The Rage", "Mr. Defense" or "the Dean of Professional Wrestling" Johnny Weaver, he was beloved by fans everywhere.

Our special thanks to Johnny for the time he gave us and for his support of what we are doing on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

- Dick Bourne

November 2007


Special Note:

Three and a half months after this interview took place, Johnny Weaver passed away at his home in Charlotte NC. He died of natural causes on February 15, 2008. He was 72 years old. Our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of one of the greatest ever, Johnny Weaver.


As we began our discussion with Johnny, he was already leafing through his scrapbook, and had come to a wrestling magazine article about Johnny and Sonny, the Weaver Brothers. I had never known about the Weaver Brothers, and as a big fan of other brother combinations (both legitimate and worked), I found myself immediately asking about Johnny’s wrestling brother, Sonny Weaver.


Bourne:         Who was Sonny Weaver?


Weaver:        Sonny Myers. He just passed away this year.


Bourne:         Were you billed as brothers?


Weaver:         There in Indianapolis we were, yeah.  I didn’t know it until he died that he was 12 years older than me.  At one time in the wrestling business everybody wanted to wrestle Sonny Myers. And then at one time here, everybody wanted to wrestle me. But he was my idol, and I copied everything from him from the atomic drop to the sleeper.



Bourne:         Oh really?


Weaver:         Yeah, well it wound up that way because I had been in Indianapolis when Barnett brought me in and was going to bring Sonny in, and at the time, we both had flat top crew cuts and everybody said I had a resemblance to Sonny and we were both really, like you saw there, skinny then and they used to call us “Bones”. (laughs)  And that’s how that all came about. He was one heck of a wrestler, boy. He was from St. Joe. That’s really the first place I ever went – I didn’t stay very long. I went to Kentucky and then I went back for a year. Missouri Mauler, Bolo #2, Ronnie Etchison and Sonny Myers had all come out of St. Joe.


Bourne:         Where were you born and raised?


Weaver:         East St. Louis, Illinois.


Bourne:         How did you get into the wrestling business and who broke you in?


Weaver:         I went to school with a kid named Billy Sharbert in high school – 10th, 11th and 12th grade. His father Billy Sahrbert Sr. ran wrestling, promoted wrestling, and was an ex-wrestler in East St. Louis at the St. Paul Social Center on Wednesday nights. And Billy and I used to be what we called “seconds” then. You would take your wrestler to the ring, sit on the second rope, hold the top one open, he’d get through, and then when they’d get the instructions, then he’d give you the robes and you’d carry the robes back to the dressing room.  Plus, we were wrestling with his dad learning the trade.  That’s how I got started. Now, his dad knew several promoters and the one that took me was Gust Karras in St. Joe and I think Billy went to somebody in Spokane, Washington, to start out with.  I didn’t stay in St. Joe too long and then I went back, we came back, and then we both went to Bowling Green, Kentucky for Joe Marshall, some of that stuff is in here.


Bourne:         And what year was that? 


Weaver:         Mid to late 50’s, because I had went back to St. Joe and I went from St. Joe to Omaha. Omaha was real big then for Joe Dusek and I had went up there to a TV show in Sioux City, IA and I wrestled Verne Gagne, who was a big star then. It aired on TV and it so happened Jim Barnett, the promoter who was at that time opening up Indianapolis, which was brand new and had never seen wrestling on TV, he saw me wrestle Verne. So he contacted St. Joe and he wanted to bring me in to Indianapolis as a home town boy, and that’s where he gave me the name Johnny Weaver. Weaver was my real last name, but actually there was a Buck Weaver there. That was 1961, 1960, maybe 1959. 


Bourne:         They were billing you as a home town boy, but you kept Indianapolis as your home town the rest of your career?


Weaver:         Well, I stayed there for three years. When Jim Crockett contacted me and I said I’d come down here, he didn’t know any better, so he just associated me with Indianapolis. When I got here they started announcing me from Indianapolis, so I just let it go. 


A true story here: When I was first there (in Indianapolis) and everything was just getting started and, my God, they had never seen wrestling on TV before, and when you walked down the street after 6-8 weeks on TV, they recognized you and it was like – movie star idol! So, I went to a bar one night across from the hotel and there was a kid in there about my age, a little hefty, and so I befriended him and we would go around. So remember, on TV, I’m billed as the hometown boy from Indianapolis. Finally, one time someone recognized me from TV and  said, “You’re from Indianapolis, what high school did you go to?”  And usually I would just put them off. But people kept asking. So I got that kid one night and I asked him to name some high schools there. Now, I’m talking 1959. Well, he named off a few schools, but one that stuck in my mind was Indianapolis Tech.  So, every time people started asking me what school I went to, I had an answer for them, and I said Indianapolis Tech, and they’d just look at me like….Come to find out, it was an all black school!  (laughs)


Bourne:         (laughing) Back in the days of segregation, that’s right.


Weaver:         That’s true!  That’s a true story.


Bourne:         So you had to find a new high school because the locals knew better, huh? 


Weaver:         Then when I came down here to Crockett, they heard about me and it was Johnny Weaver from Indianapolis, the home town boy, so he just put that out, you know.  So Indianapolis stuck.


Bourne:         So you spent three years with Barnett in Indianapolis…


Weaver:         Yep – three years with Barnett.


Chappell:      What prompted Crockett to call you, Johnny? 


Weaver:         Rip Hawk. 


Chappell:      Can you tell us about that?


Weaver:         At that time, Rip Hawk had been wrestling in St. Louis. Big card. And they also had Evansville, Indiana TV. Well, they moved Rip down there. Rip got a hold of Barnett and said he’d like to use me in Evansville, on Wednesday nights for a show, and on Saturday for TV. So, I started making Evansville, and then when Rip left there and came down here, and it was deader than doornails down here for Crockett. The Von Brauners and Bolos had killed it, man, and Rip with that mouth and the profile, you know, all that, he started getting heat on him and so when I came in, all I had to do is kick his butt and it was made. Everywhere just busted open And only one problem there was Richmond on account of Richmond  was on Friday and Rip was always flying back to St. Louis for a Friday night show.  Till that wore off and then Richmond busted.


Hall:                I have lots of clippings from your matches in Indianapolis, from Logansport and Anderson Indiana in 1959, matches wrestling Angelo Poffo and Bronco..


Weaver:         Yeah, I did that. I wrestled Bronco a lot.  I used to wrestle him and then I would get a match with Poffo. Cowboy Bob Ellis was there, the Bruiser, Wilbur Snyder, Bobby Manigoff, the Shires came in about six months later, and then the parade happened after that. Everybody that was anybody came through there. Indianapolis was so good.


Hall:                When was your first match for Crockett in Charlotte?


Weaver:         My first match for Crockett was in February, 1962. First opponent was Swede Hansen and I didn’t know him from Adam.  We got in the ring – I think it was a one fall, 20 minute match. We got in the ring, locked up and I pulled him back to the corner and I’m going to be the, you know, the nice guy and I said OK man, and I laid one in.  (laughs)  He popped me back, and I mean he popped me, and then he said, “huh-huh-huh” (laughs). I had a cold but he knocked it out the other side. (laughter).  No one hit harder than Swede, and he was letting me know... that was February of 1962..


Bourne:         And things took off for you pretty quickly in Charlotte, right?


Weaver:         Oh, yeah. Because once I got Rip Hawk on TV and cleaned his clock, it really took off. He made me right away. There again, it was the finishes, it was learning. I just wiped his butt all over WRAL TV one night, and WRAL TV used to have a double set of announcers and one tape stayed there and the other tape went to Norfolk…..


Chappell:      The northern part of the territory


Weaver:         It went to Norfolk, Richmond – I think what they did was took it to Norfolk, ran a copy off of it and it would go from Richmond to, ah, Greenville, I guess, Columbia, Charleston, and then the thing about it was, as I told Mike coming up here, that nobody’s got any of them because they came in a big thick case and it was expensive and when they made this loop and got done in Charleston, they come back and they taped over it for expenses, because it was too much, it was too expensive.


Bourne:         Which breaks our hearts as fans.  You know, all that’s gone forever.


Weaver:         Yeah. Nobody’s got nothing.


Bourne:         So, take us through 1962 –


Weaver:         Yeah, well after Rip, of course they made Becker take me as a partner because of the tag team thing, it was a tag team territory. Becker added to it (to my getting over) and then it was the Bolos, and man, right after Becker and I had been there for like a year together, then Haystack Calhoun came in. And when Calhoun came in back then, he would come in for 2-3 weeks, and then he’d go somewhere else.  But hell, they put him with me and the Bolos, I threw them Bolos all over the ring for like 57 minutes of an hour, and then the other 3 minutes was when I tagged Calhoun and Calhoun would do his little stuff.  We didn’t beat the Bolos, but I was beating up on them all the time. We never beat them – we went hour draws, but that made me look that much better. And so Calhoun stayed awhile.


Then, also, I did the draws with Dory when he won the championship in the 60’s. I did it with Kiniski and Thesz, too. But see, those guys could make you look so good, that fans would say, “my God, he looks so good against the world champion that he could beat Hawk and Hansen!”  So people came and we kept them in that mood because when I first started with Rip and did all that off the TV, then we’d go to the house matches and Rip won the match and there would be like a screw or something, and the houses fell right back in half. So, me and Rip switched it around and I would be carried out of the ring or bloody like that, but I had my hand in the air and the people got back and that’s why we did so good. When Calhoun came in here, he had Jack Terry with him. I don’t know if you know that – he would let him wrestle him. He was Calhoun’s manager – did all, everything.  He told Calhoun, he said “these guys have got the right formula.” And that was the formula. And we did it that way for years -  Mauler and Malenko, the Andersons,  Lubich and Bogni, of course Hawk and Hansen, Bernard and Murphy.  Them guys stayed here for years and they were still hot. And they never won. One time we lost the belts to Hawk and Hansen, and hell, it might have been two months time to get it back. We finally got it back in Greenville, in a cage match and Sam Muchnick was there, he come down to present the winner, and Hawk and Hansen were going to Australia. That’s the only time we gave it up – that one time(laughs).  It was a cage match, there was a little hole there, and you should have seen Sam Muchnick coming through that little hole into that ring to give us the belt, and when he did get into the ring, Martinelli wanted to give us the belt – he was the referee (laughter) to take the heat off of him, and they’re over there fighting for the belt. (laughter).


Photo by Gene Gordon © Copyright Ditchcat Photography


Bourne:         Well, a good buddy of ours, Don Holbrook, who lives in Greenville and grew up there and his mother worked at the auditorium in the ticket office, he said that his vivid memory was when you all finally went back over for those titles, the fans lifted you up on their shoulders and carried you out of there…


Weaver:         Yep.


Bourne:         Now, during those mid-60’s, who was booking the Crockett territory?


Weaver:         Becker. I think before I came, before he got Rip, I think Leo Voss had it. They had it dead, man.  Between Bolos and the Von Brauners, they had it dead.


Cline:             Leo Voss did the ring announcing on Channel 3 before George Harben – I never knew he booked.


Weaver:         He was booker. But they had it dead. I mean, Jesus.


(Johnny is looking through his scrapbook...)

Weaver:         Hey – there’s a young picture. I was Johnny Ace. Fort Smith, Arkansas.  1957. 


Bourne:          Tell us about that – your earlier career names.    


Weaver:         That was it. I started out to wrestle on the road as Johnny Ace. I had a jacket that had aces all over it (laughs), but then Barnett finding out that my real name was Weaver and Buck Weaver was there, I became Johnny Weaver.


Chappell:      0n this Johnny Ace program it says that you used the cobra twist to subdue most of your opponents?


Weaver:         Yeah, that’s the stretch. Cyclone Anoya came up to this country and he called it the cobra twist, but it was the stretch.


Chappell:      And the spinning toehold, too?  That was early on, you used that?


Weaver:         No.  I did that in Indianapolis when I first worked there. But it’s like I said before, you’ve got to know your opponent and what he is capable of doing and try to have him do something. And some of those moves, it was hard.  Just like the atomic drop – if you know who Ray Stevens is who was great, or Ray Shire, you could go for an atomic drop and pick Stevens up and man, you almost had to catch him he’d go up for you so high, but then you try to put the atomic drop on Two Ton Harris! (laughter) And then I started using the sleeper and nobody could mess that up (laughter).


Chappell:      When did the sleeper become your finisher?


Weaver:         Sonny Myers. He got it from Mr. Moto.  But I got it from Sonny Myers.




Bourne:         We've read that at the beginning of your career you were also interested in stock car racing, that you drove stock cars. Was that something you seriously considered?


Weaver:        I did that before. But that was in St. Louis and it was on one of those little short tracks. Dirt tracks. And we’d take off and on the dash they had a hook come out there and you just put it in second gear in that hook. The only thing was, racing was April to October, there. Wrestling was all year long.




Weaver:         (Looking through scrap book) Pam Daniels….


Bourne:         Yeah – she did your fan club, right? For you and Becker…


Weaver:         She put that out, right.


Bourne:         We were hoping you might have one of these. The Weaver/Becker Fan Club, and you know she also did one for the Andersons. She did a fan club for Ole and Gene, too.


Weaver:         Yeah, she was a very creative lady. She helped us.



Chappell:      How do you reconcile those two, your club and the Anderson club? (laughs)


Weaver:         Yeah (laughter).  She was also a very conflicted person. (Laughs) I think she did that (Anderson fan club) after Becker left.


Bourne:         I don’t know if you noticed or not, on the Weaver Blog where Don had sent us the photo that he got and the membership card his brother had from that fan club.


Weaver:         Yeah, yeah, I did. 


Bourne:         And he’s always wanted to try to find Pam because he figures she’s got a lot of memorabilia still stuck around somewhere, but we never have done that. I actually sent a letter there, to that address in Norfolk, but never heard anything.


Hall:                Johnny, one of the questions that comes up very often from fans is did Johnny Weaver ever wrestle the original Sheik, Ed Farhat.


Weaver:         Yeah, in Indianapolis.  Oh yeah.


Hall:                Can you tell us a little bit about that?


Weaver:         Well, it was different. (laughter).  It’s an experience to wrestle him, man. He used to take his wife to the corner with him and occasionally he’d jump out of the ring when you beat him up and he’d slap her. But he worked in and out of Indianapolis somewhere between ’61 and ’63. The era that I was there, but he was really Detroit. And if you wrestled up in Lansing or somewhere like that, you’d wrestle him. He wasn’t much down in Indianapolis.


Bourne:         I think some folks on a message board thread said you two never wrestled…


Hall:                …. but I have a little clipping here where Johnny wrestled him in ’61 in Indiana.


Weaver:         Pocomo!


Hall:                Yeah!


Weaver:         Yeah, sure did. In ’61.