Mid-South Wrestling - The Greatest Angle Ever
After trying to decide what my second column of Mid-South memories would be about, knowing I had already done a quick overview of the promotion, I thought about taking a look at some of the great stars that called the Mid-South area their home over the years. But, after much consideration, I decided to really hit the ground running and talk about the angle that an awful lot of wrestling experts have called the greatest angle ever. I know as the Mid-South expert I'm prejudiced, but I have to admit that it was one of the best angles I've ever seen. I'm referring to Ted DiBiase's incredible 1985 face turn. I think it shows Mid-South at its finest, and it only took 60 minutes to do! First, though, I want to give everyone a little background on what led up to this angle. So, if I can have a little mood music, please...
DiBiase had been Mid-South's biggest heel for almost three years. He had turned on the Junkyard Dog back in 1982 during a North American title match and had never looked back. That heel turn was totally unexpected and worked extremely well. DiBiase was not only the top heel in the Mid-South area, but also had a long run in Georgia as the lead heel there. He had been out of the Mid-South area for close to a year working in Georgia and Japan. When he returned to Mid-South, he picked up right where he left off by beating Brad Armstrong for the North American Title and getting into the tag-team wars with Steve "Dr. Death" Williams as his partner. DiBiase was so despised, he was instrumental in both Jake Roberts and Bob Sweetan's face turns. The fans hated DiBiase, and pretty much anyone who went up against him was okay with the fans.
Dick Murdoch, on the other hand, was one of the more popular guys in the Mid-South area at the time. Murdoch had come back to Mid-South after a good run with the WWF where he and Adrian Adonis had held the tag-team titles. Murdoch had long been an extremely popular wrestler in the Mid-South area, going back to his feud with Killer Karl Kox in the mid-Seventies. Murdoch had perfected his "Captain Redneck" persona in the Mid-South area in 1981, and had been a hit in Georgia, Florida, and a short run in Southwest Championship Wrestling area. He was a two-fisted tough guy, who probably looked more like his fans than most wrestlers. However, that was both a blessing and a curse, because while his appearance helped his fans to relate to him, it also didn't fit in with the "super sleek muscle man" look that was becoming predominate thanks to Hulk Hogan. It is fortunate that his return to Mid-South was well timed since Watts had begun to push his patriotic angles hard. And who better to combat the foreign invaders unleashed by Skandor Akbar than Captain Redneck? Murdoch came in like a house afire and beat the Nightmare for the North American Title, which made Murdoch the Mid-South area's top champion.
It was then that the third major player in this angle entered the picture. Ric Flair is a legend and I won't even try to run down any of his accomplishments. But, Flair was the NWA World's Champion in 1985. The NWA title had not been defended in the Mid-South area since Bill Watts had taken over in 1979. But in 1984 and 1985, Flair started to make periodic defenses against the top guys in the Mid-South area. This was done in part to combat Vince McMahon's WWF expansion. As well, there was a sort of talent exchange between the Mid-South area and Jim Crockett Promotions once Crockett bought out the World Championship Wrestling timeslot on TBS. Watts sent Terry Taylor, Magnum TA, Buddy Landel, and the Rock 'n Roll Express to work for Crockett, and in return, Dick Slater, Buzz Sawyer, Ric Flair, later the Koloff's and even the Rock 'n Roll Express popped up in the Mid-South and the early UWF areas.
Flair had been in for title matches with Butch Reed, Hacksaw Duggan, and Dick Murdoch, and after a series of close calls in those matches, Flair announced that he would only defend the title against the number one contender in the area, which was the North American Champion. Flair had tried something like this earlier in the year to get Terry Taylor out of the title hunt. He had paid Eddie Gilbert to get the Nightmare to win the North American Title from Taylor, and then have the Nightmare refuse to take a shot at Flair. Unfortunately for the Nature Boy, that meant that Terry Taylor was declared the number one contender and would get several shots at Flair. Now, however, Flair was trying to avoid having to wrestle three tough challengers and by making his decree, he would only have to face one of the three men. Since he was the North American Champ at the time, it looked like it would be Murdoch.
As Flair's plan started in motion, Butch Reed began voicing his opinion that he deserved a World's title shot. To do this, he needed to take on Murdoch, so that by beating him,he could become the number one contender. As Reed continued making this noise about feeling he should be the number one man, the fans seemed to support him. Murdoch slowly started to develop a more selfish attitude. During an interview with Murdoch, Reed, and Duggan about Ric Flair's announcement, Murdoch stepped on Reed's interview time. He was the champ and since that made him the number one contender, he felt he should be the focus of attention. It was shortly after this that Reed was given a shot at Murdoch, and won the North American Title. At this point, things started to move at a pretty fast pace.
Flair was scheduled to face Reed in a World's Title defense. Flair had gone to Dick Slater and offered Slater $50,000.00 to injure Reed. This was caught on camera in a great "accidental" moment that you see so often these days. Anyway, when Reed saw this, he offered Slater a chance to try and get him right there on the Mid-South television show. He stood in the center of the ring and turned his back on Slater. But, Slater said he wasn't going to do it and had given the money back to Flair. Flair was later interviewed by Bill Watts and said that he was disappointed in Slater, but that he didn't have his money back yet. Flair was scheduled to wrestle on the show that evening, and he ended up in an impromptu non-title match with none other than Hacksaw Butch Reed. Reed actually pinned Flair, but then, was jumped by both Flair and Dick Slater. The two delivered a stuff piledriver, and injured Reed's neck. However, while it appeared that Flair was in the clear, it was actually only setting the table for sixty of the most exciting minutes in Mid-South history.
The following week, Flair was scheduled to defend the NWA title on Mid-South TV. They led off the show with the announcement that Reed wouldn't be able to compete because of his injury, then ran a promo with Reed in a neck brace swearing revenge against Flair and Slater. Next, Watts announced that the Mid-South bookers had cleared it with NWA president Bob Geigel, and it would be Ted DiBiase challenging Ric Flair for the title. Watts pointed out that while some men never receive World's Title shots, some men seem to wait forever to get their, and since DiBiase had waited a year, he was ready to go. He then gave it over to Boyd Pierce for the introductions in the ring.
Boyd introduced Flair and then while he was introducing DiBiase, Dick Murdoch made his way down to the ring. Murdoch climbed in the ring and went straight to DiBiase. He asked DiBiase to step aside. He said he had gotten DiBiase his start and that DiBiase knew he deserved the shot. DiBiase said that he had waited a long time for that shot. He told Murdoch that he had been North American for more times and longer than anyone in the history of the belt, even Murdoch himself. Murdoch suddenly popped DiBiase with a haymaker and knocked DiBiase out of the ring. Murdoch then proceeded to slam DiBiase's head into the steel ringpost. DiBiase started to bleed immediately. Dr. Death came down to ringside and he helped DiBiase to the back. Flair then announced that it looked like he was going home without breaking a sweat.
Throughout the rest of the hour, announcers Jim Ross and Joel Watts continued to give updates on DiBiase's condition. It appeared DiBiase had suffered "arterial damage" and it looked like he was done for the evening. Well, next thing you know, they cut to the back where Cowboy Bill Watts was standing by with another update. Watts admitted that DiBiase was in fact seriously injured and that the doctors had applied a pressure bandage to his laceration, but that despite this, DiBiase was still determined to wrestle. DiBiase said he had waited a year for his shot and didn't want to give Flair the chance to weasel out of having to face him because of his injury. He didn't want to wait another year for his shot. So, Watts warned that even though DiBiase had been bandaged, his laceration was so severe that parents may not want their children to watch the match. He also warned people with weak constitutions that they may not want to watch, but that the match was on, and DiBiase was going to face Flair.
When the show resumed, Boyd Pierce once again introduced Ric Flair. Then, the crowd erupted as Ted DiBiase made his way to the ring. DiBiase was wearing a bandage on his head and was already starting to bleed again. Flair attacked DiBiase as he was making his way into the ring and the match was on. Within seconds, DiBiase's face was once again covered in crimson. He and Flair went back and forth for several minutes. For the first time I could remember, Flair was covered in blood that wasn't his own. DiBiase began to have trouble kicking out of pin attempts, and Jim Ross attributed this to blood loss. But, just when it appeared that DiBiase was running out of gas, he started to mount a comeback. He managed to toss Flair from the top rope before Flair could come off on him. He then caught Flair with a Powerslam off the ropes, and suddenly, he was going for the Figure-Four Leg Lock. But, before he could lock the hold on, Flair kicked him off and he fell over the top rope to the concrete floor. The referee counted ten, and that was that. Flair won on a count out. It was over…or so it seemed. At this point, Dick Murdoch showed up at ringside again. He pounded the incredibly bloody DiBiase, then led him around the ring, and in full view, proceeded to deliver a devastating Brainbuster to DiBiase on the concrete floor. DiBiase didn't move, and Jim Ross and Joel Watts sold it like he had been killed. The show then went to break.
They came back with updates on DiBiase, but the truly amazing thing was that DiBiase, who had been absolutely despised at the beginning of the broadcast, was now a hero to the fans. Throughout the remainder of the show, you could hear the fans chanting "Teddy" even through the other interviews and matches. To me, it was without a doubt one of the most remarkable and unexpected moments in all the years I've watched wrestling. Really, the only things I can think of to compare it with, are DiBiase's heel turn back in '82 and Hulk Hogan's heel turn when he joined the NWO. It was totally out of left field, and had the kind of drama you really don't see anymore. I feel that part of the reason for that is that the angle had actually been built-up for quite awhile. DiBiase's involvement seemed last minute, and may well have been, but the promoters had been laying the groundwork for something to happen for weeks. The actual turn only took an hour, but the events leading up to it (Murdoch's attitude change, Flair putting a bounty on Reed, etc.) had been going on for a long time. This is the kind of careful planning that's really missing from today's wrestling, and it hurts the continuity of the programs, as well as lowering the fans' interest in things. But, that's just one man's opinion.
How did the angle end up? Well, the injury was supposedly career ending, but it only lasted until Teddy finished his tour of Japan. He then came roaring back to gain revenge on Murdoch, and to be one of the lead faces when Bill Watts launched the UWF early in 1986. You know looking back on this, I really see the complexity of what these guys pulled off, and it makes me wish that this kind of craftsmanship was still in existence with today's promotions. You still see some interesting things from ECW and the WWF every once in awhile, but I really miss the days when this was the rule, not the exception.
Copyright © 2001 Buddy Huggins Productions & Extreme Midsouth Wrestling All rights reserved.