Giving Thanks in Spartanburg

by Dick Bourne


 

 


 

Return to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

 

Return to Smoke Filled Rooms

 

Classic Venue: The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium

 


 

 

The year 1976 is my favorite year ever in wrestling. I had watched wrestling off and on since 1974, and it was the 1975 Anderson Brothers vs. Wahoo McDaniel/Paul Jones "supreme sacrifice" match that got me hooked on wrestling. But 1976 just seemed to blow all other years away, at least in my wrestling recollections.

Ric Flair returned to action after recuperating from injuries in the infamous Wilmington plane crash. He plunged head long into a feud with Wahoo McDaniel over the Mid-Atlantic championship, what many consider to this day the greatest feud in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history. Blackjack Mulligan established himself as the number one "bad guy" with his U.S. Title victory over Paul Jones, a title he would hold most of that year as well as the next. The Anderson Brothers, Rufus R. Jones, Angelo Mosca, Greg Valentine, Professor Boris Malenko and the Masked Superstar; they all made for a terrific line up of great talent, and produced some of the greatest interviews of all time, too.

1976 was also the year I attended my first live wrestling event. My parents were from Spartanburg, SC, and most years we would make the trip from our home in Kingsport, TN to Spartanburg to visit family at Thanksgiving. It was Thanksgiving weekend of that year that my uncle dropped off my cousin Miller and I at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium to witness our first live wrestling matches. Reflect on your own experience seeing wrestling live for the first time and you will understand how we felt. Saturday night in Spartanburg, and we were in heaven.

Wahoo McDaniel wrestled the Masked Superstar in the main event that night, and the image I most remember is of manager Boris Malenko standing on the ring apron lighting his victory cigar as the Superstar had his finishing cobra hold on Wahoo. It was a sure sign that victory was at hand for the Superstar; his manager only lit the cigar when victory was guaranteed. Except this time, Malenko turned his back on the ring while lighting the cigar, and Wahoo grabbed him by his coat and pulled him hard into the Superstar, their two heads colliding. Malenko fell hard to the auditorium floor. The force of the blow broke the Superstar's cobra hold and sent him falling to the mat. We had never seen the cobra hold broken before! The auditorium crowd went nuts.

Photos by Bill Janosik

 

And you upstate South Carolina wrestling fans that attended cards at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium know what a crowd going nuts in that building can do to your hearing. That low ceiling in the basement of that old building, the sound reverberating off the block walls and cutting itís way through the thick smoke. My ears rang for hours after that show. My heart pumped fast as well; I was hooked on wrestling for life.

I can still hear the packed auditorium crowd chanting Wahooís name. Veteran newsman Charles Kuralt would later say on the CBS news magazine Who's Who:

"Only a hardened cynic indeed would not suspend his disbelief and scream for Wahoo McDaniel."

 

Spartanburgís wrestling faithful were all screaming that Saturday after Thanksgiving in the Memorial Auditorium.

- Dick Bourne

 

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During an interview with Les Thatcher (Mid-Atlantic Wrestling alumnus serving in many functions, including wrestling in the ring, announcing matches on television, and writing and publishing Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine), we briefly chatted about that great old smoke filled room, and other old arenas that always seemed to have those great, loud crowds.

An excerpt from that conversation follows:

Les Thatcher: I read the story on Tommy Young for your site, and I noticed you had the cover of (Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine) Vol. 2 Number 4 from 1976 with P.J. on the cover.

Dick Bourne: Thatís right. Thatís a sentimental favorite issue of mine because it was the issue I bought when I was 15 years old at my first wrestling match that I went to in Spartanburg, SC.

LT: Is that right? Was that at the old . . . .what was the name of the building we used to wrestle at in Spartanburg?

DB: The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium . . .

LT: Right!

DB: Itís still there, as a matter of fact, all my family are from Spartanburg, and it was one Thanksgiving when I went. But that building is still there and I think they have remodeled or refurbished it and they still host some independent shows there.

LT: Is that right? I remember watching some of the Crockett stuff from the mid-eighties that was taped there and they made the place look like it was ten times bigger than it really was. (Laughs)

DB: (Laughs) The great thing about that building, and a lot of those old buildings and the thing I loved most about Spartanburg was that low ceiling . . .

LT: Right . . .

DB: . . . and the noise was unbelievable! And especially during the time you mentioned in the eighties when the Ricky and Robert thing was so big, the 16 year old girls screaming . . . you couldnít stand it, it would blow your ears out!

LT: (Laughs) Iíll tell you another crowd that was vocal, one of the most vocal crowds Iíve ever seen was in the old Columbia Township Auditorium.

DB: I never had the privilege of going there but thatís another one of those old "smoke filled rooms" that was so great. I think Crockett did a lot of tapings there in the mid-eighties, too.

LT: I think so, too. You know, Iíve told this story to the kids that I train, but Nelson Royal and I were working with Mike DuBois and Freddie Sweetan and when we came to the ring, they attacked us before we ever even got our jackets off. We sold our butts off, and then when we finally started our comeback in the middle of that ring, the crowd popped so loud, Nelson and I were within only a foot and a half of each other back to back, but yet weíre screaming spots out to each other because we couldnít hear ourselves over the roar of the people. And of course when you hear something like that, you realize youíre doing your job, and it elevates you and the adrenaline starts pumping, and man it doesnít get much better.

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