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Let me tell you something, you
gutless little wonder. I stood behind you so many times,
we've been in so many places. And the bad were there, and
they said 'Let's get Flair'. And somebody said, 'No. He's
backed by the Jack. Let it be.'
- Blackjack Mulligan to Ric
Flair, April 1978
Special Video Greeting from Blackjack to all his fans.
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I had been hoping for an
opportunity to go to Florida and visit Blackjack Mulligan
for well over a year. We had become friends following David
Chappell’s interview two years ago with Blackjack on the
Gateway, and that had progressed after I launched
Blackjack’s Bar-B-Que, the web home of
Blackjack Mulligan. What a thrill it was to become friends
with one of my childhood heroes. It was a dream come true.
We had numerous phone calls over the last year, almost daily
e-mails, but I never had the opportunity to meet him in
George South and I came close to making the trip last
summer, but it fell through at the last minute. Then out of
nowhere, during a series of e-mails two weeks ago, Blackjack
said come on.
He didn’t have to ask us twice.
We cleared about a 30 hour block of time where we could make
the 22 hour round trip and have time for a good visit.
Leaving around 9 PM on Tuesday evening, we drove through the
night, down I-77 to Columbia, I-26 to Charleston and then
I-95 to Orlando and then west to Blackjack’s hometown, a
small town between Orlando and Tampa. We talked about
Blackjack the whole way, listening to old audio tapes from
David Chappell’s vast audio archives. These included the Hat
and Robe angle, and the long drawn out classic segments
where NWA President Eddie Graham took the US belt back from
Paul Jones and gave it to Blackjack, but then later declined
to do so when Bobo Brazil had won the title. Great moments
in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history.
We got there about 6:30 AM, grabbed a bite of breakfast and
then snoozed in our rented Ford F-150 pick-up until time to
go to Blackjack’s car lot. We walked in and there sat Mike
Rotundo, who manages the day to day operations at Main
Street Auto Sales. This guy doesn’t look a day older than he
did when he was in the Varsity Club! He looked terrific. We
were a little nervous, because we didn’t have a firm time to
see Blackjack and had even avoided confirming with him
because we were afraid we’d wake up and it wouldn’t be true.
But then in walked Blackjack’s lovely wife Julia, who smiled
and hugged George and said “he’s expecting you, jump in your
truck and follow me!”
My heart skipped a beat when I realized we were getting
ready to go to the Headlock Ranch (or at least the central
We followed Julia about three miles out into beautiful rural
Florida, past the gators in the small ponds and lakes, and
then pulled down a dirt and sand driveway to the home of
Blackjack Mulligan. We couldn’t believe it.
Julia got the dogs up so we wouldn’t get eaten alive, and
then welcomed us in. We waited only a few moments in the
living room, and then suddenly there he was. This giant of a
man, like a big grizzly bear, straight out of Mid-Atlantic
Wrestling mythology, came over and hugged us, welcomed us to
He looked great and seemed to be feeling great following a
year of not feeling so well. He was in high spirits this day
and we considered ourselves so fortunate.
We sat and talked. He laughed and shook his head; he
couldn’t believe we had driven all night. I think Blackjack
thought we were a little nuts, and he’d be right about that.
I had some gifts for him, some Gateway stuff, and a big
wind-breaker jacket with the Mid-Atlantic logo and
“Mid-Atlantic Gateway” embroidered on the chest. He seemed
very appreciative of all of it, but the thing he loved the
most was a replica poster I had made of a Mid-Atlantic
Wrestling Magazine cover that featured an artist’s rendition
of he and his best friend Dick Murdoch from 1978. He looked
at it for a long time, and we heard a few stories about the
legendary Murdoch. Les Thatcher had designed those covers
back in the day, and Blackjack thought a lot of Les, and we
heard a few Thatcher stories, too.
Blackjack holds the replica
poster of the cover of Mid-Atlantic Magazine from 1978
But then it was Blackjack’s turn to hand out gifts.
Months ago, Blackjack learned George had added the claw hold
into his in-ring routine, and had told him he was going to
dig out one of his original old claw gloves to give George
to use in the ring. George was never really sure Blackjack
was serious about that, but about 20 minutes into our visit,
he said “okay boys, let’s find that glove.”
He took us into his bed room and ushered George into a big
walk-in closet. “Start bringing those boxes out here, kid”
he said, in that gregarious voice of his. “There’s stuff in
there I haven’t looked through in 20 years.”
We were like kids in a candy
shop, like it was Christmas morning. Blackjack was Santa
Claus and we had hopped in his lap. Except it was better
than that! We were in a place we couldn’t imagine anyone had
been before, digging through Blackjack Mulligan's old
wrestling gear. George and I kept looking at each other, not
really believing what was happening.
Boots, belt buckles, gloves, spurs, cowboy hats, blood
stained Texas t-shirts. And yes, that claw glove he had worn
in the 70s and 80s; it had been on his hand when he had
applied the hold to Flair, Jones, McDaniel, Duncum, Studd,
Ladd, and countless others. One after another we opened box
after box with wild eyed wonderment.
“You want those boots for your museum, George?” Blackjack
said. “Are you serious?” George replied. “They’re yours.” He
replied. I had to pick George up off the floor.
And then one item after another, he gave us. And the stuff
he didn’t give us, he would say “When I die, come back down
here, and Julia will give it to you.” There was a belt
buckle Ric Flair had made for him back in in 1977 that was
special to him that he especially didn't want to part with.
Blackjack treasured this belt
buckle made especially for him and given to him by Ric Flair
in 1977. It is inscribed "Blackjack Mulligan: United States
Heavyweight Champion 76-77."
All this time he had a big smile on his
face, as he told us stories about each item. We also went
through files full of old photos and newspapers clippings.
Front page newspaper stories when he defeated Jan Wilkens
for the World Super Heavyweight Championship in South
Africa. Personal journals. Old wrestling licenses. Reports
he had written while working for WCW in an advisory
capacity. It seemed it would never end. And we didn’t want
And then there were the family photos. A very young Kendall
Windham sitting on a fence with his Dad during one of the
photo shoots at Nelson Royal’s ranch for Mid-Atlantic
Magazine. He and Barry working together as Blackjack
Mulligan Sr. and Jr. in the Mid-Atlantic and Knoxville
territories. Wedding photos and family photos. Photos of a
young Robert Windham playing high school and college
football. Photos playing basketball while in the Marines.
Photos from his military post in Guam. Just amazing stuff,
moments from one of the most amazing life stories you’ll
Later, Julia brought us all lunch. What a sweet lady. She
seemed to realize that Blackjack was having a ball, too. And
he was. I think he had a great time going back down memory
lane, reliving stories about days on the road with Virgil
Runnels and Hoyt "Dicky" Murdoch, brutal matches with Bill Eadie
and Wahoo McDaniel, drawing huge gates with Ric Flair and
Rufus R. Jones. Traveling with Andre the Giant in Japan.
Wrestling literally all over the world, from Kuwait, to
South Africa, to Japan, Mexico and criss-crossing North
He allowed us to take a few photos; he even cut a video
promo for us for the website. He had been wearing a NY
Yankees ball cap, and when he took that off and put on the
black cowboy hat he had earlier given George, we were thrown
back in time. It was 1976 again! He was wonderful.
Blackjack Mulligan and Dick
Before we realized it, the day had passed. It was time for
us to get out of Blackjack’s way. He chuckled as George
quickly loaded the truck, afraid Blackjack would declare it
one of his best ribs ever and tell us to put that stuff back
in that closet.
The back seat of the rented
F-150 was full of memorabilia from one of the greatest
careers in wrestling.
But it was real. It had happened. This kind, generous man,
who had developed a trust with us that began with David
Chappell’s interview on the Gateway and continued growing
over the years, had given us one of the greatest days in our
As we fought Orlando rush hour
traffic, winding our way over to I-95 to head back north, we
giggled like little school boys who had stumbled on a king’s
ransom. But it wasn’t just the gifts Blackjack had given us.
In fact, as special as all of that was to us, it didn’t
compare to the genuine warmth he shared with us that day,
the fellowship, the laughs, the stories. And we were moved
by the character of a man who had had it all, lost it all,
and had found redemption, now more comfortable than ever in
his own skin surrounded by his family and sustained by his
We got back to George’s home near Charlotte around 1 AM
Thursday morning, and then another two hours for me back to
Mount Airy. I was exhausted, but exhilarated, and floating
on cloud nine. I still am.
What in the world could we have possibly have done to
deserve such a wonderful moment in our lives? It was a day
we would never forget.
- Dick Bourne
July 2005, Mid-Atlantic
George South, wearing the
cowboy hat Blackjack gave him, on the way home from Florida.
Mulligan Wing of
George South's Online Museum