While the 1980s brought us a boom in pro wrestling with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) located mainly in the Northeast and the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in the midwest, the Mid-Atlantic centered National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) was not only forging its own identity, but in coordination with Mid-South Wrestling it was (I think) a source of quality action for the discerning wrestling fan. It is the Mid-South territory which serves as the focus of Legends of Mid-South Wrestling, the latest video release from the WWE.
The territory was located in the Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi venues, and spearheaded by former local wrestler "Cowboy" Bill Watts. Because the territory was so local yet so expansive, it was not uncommon for the wrestlers to travel from say, Oklahoma City to New Orleans in back to back nights, and to do it by car no less. The boys tended to carpool and thus continued a time-honored tradition of traveling to shows, learning tricks from one another and lifting the tides for each others' occupational boats. The territory was a breeding ground for young, athletic talent, many of whom would become stars regionally but eventually would be national personalities. Wrestlers like the Junkyard Dog, Ted DiBiase and Hacksaw Jim Duggan would become success stories, and younger personalities were just behind this process. A young, muscled tag team called "The Blade Runners" featured a blonde who would later become an NWA superstar in Sting, while the dark haired partner would achieve his own fame in the WWF as The Ultimate Warrior.
The voice of the Mid-South would eventually move to the NWA become coming to the WWF, but as a young man in his thirties, Jim Ross would prove to rapidly become one of the best commentators in the country. With his place in wrestling history adequately secured, he decided to take advantage of the WWE's exhaustive video library (large chunks of which being purchased as a result of regional promotions folding through the years) and pay tribute to his modest beginnings. And the result is special.
This will sound like a jab at Ross, but the great part about Legends of Mid-South Wrestling is while he seemed to spearhead much of it, just how little of it he actually appears in. Instead, many interviewees who were either attached to the WWE in some fashion were given time to talk, along with long-retired stars of the promotion. So while current WWE employees like Terry Taylor, Michael Hayes, DiBiase and Duggan were given time to share their memories, former stars such as Steve "Dr. Death" Williams and Buddy Roberts of The Fabulous Freebirds (who both have since passed away) get some time to spin a yarn.
Along with the interviews of course are the matches, and there is quite the variety of them here, and they are as follows:
Ted DiBiase vs. Paul Orndorff (December, 1981)
Andre The Giant, Dusty Rhodes & Junkyard Dog vs. Afa, Sika & Ernie Ladd( January, 1982)
Junkyard Dog & Mr. Olympia vs. Ted DiBiase & Matt Borne (Tag Team Championship Match - October 1982)
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan vs. Ted DiBiase (Loser Leaves Town Match)
Ted DiBiase & Matt Borne vs. Andre the Giant & Tony Atlas (Tag Team Championship Match - February 1983)
Magnum T.A. & Mr. Wrestling II vs. The Midnight Express
Mr. Wrestling II vs. Magnum T.A. (North American Championship Match - May 1984)
Junkyard Dog vs. "Hacksaw" Butch Reed (Ghetto Street Fight)
The Rock and Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express ( Tag Team Championship/No Disqualification Match - May 1984)
The Rock and Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express (Jim Cornette in a straightjacket)
Shawn Michaels vs. Ted DiBiase (December 1984)
Ric Flair vs. Terry Taylor (NWA Championship Match - June 1985)
The Snowman vs. Jake Roberts (Mid-South Television Championship Match - June 1985)
Ric Flair vs. Ted DiBiase (NWA Championship Match - November 1985)
Rob Ricksteiner vs. Nick Patrick
The Bladerunners vs. John O'Reilly & Ken Massey (March 1986)
Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy vs. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan (UWF Championship Match - August 1986)
Ted DiBiase & Steve "Dr. Death" Williams vs. Michael Hayes & Buddy Roberts (September 1986)
Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy vs. Steve "Dr. Death" Williams (UWF Championship Match - September 1986)
One Man Gang vs. Big Bubba Rogers (UWF Championship Match - June 1987)
Steve "Dr. Death" Williams vs. Big Bubba Rogers (UWF Championship Match - July 1987)
A lot of the interviews are fun to see, because not only does it cover the travel and recalls some of those no longer around to speak for themselves such as the Dog or Gordy, but covers some of the notable events in the promotion such as a heel/face turn or two, and even shows us the origins of a future star such as Steiner or Michaels, the latter of which participates and talks about working with DiBiase. In Taylor's case, he talks about working with a hungover Flair, furious that Flair did not come to the territory to work, only to find out he could do a 40-minute match basically in his sleep. Seeing stars from other territories come out to appear in a regional spot was not uncommon either, such was the case with Andre The Giant's appearances or even in the UWF's late days, Muhammad Ali.
Sadly, all things appear to get an end to them, and in the case of Mid-South Wrestling (later named the Universal Wrestling Federation), a series of questionable story and business decisions seemed to seal the fate of the promotion. Not that Watts was a thief or extortionist, more than anyone who could reasonably think guys like Rogers and Gordy were cornerstones of a promotion should rethink things. But still, these discs are a nice document and give ample justice to one of the better regional promotions before a final wave of nationalization swept the country. The folks may be gone, but their history remains.
The discs are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the matches in full frame viewing. The interviews look good and the colors and replicated accurately. I was not sure what to expect with the video quality and for the most part things are good considering their age. Occasionally, a match or two is joined in progress though I can't say that it was a surprise for the subject. All in all, it was what I expected.
The discs get Dolby Digital 5.1 surround treatment, but much of the action comes with two-channel audio. I did not expect miracles and was not given any, everything was straightforward in the front of the soundstage and was clear as a bell, with no directional effects, channel panning or subwoofer involvement. It was serviceable and without noticeable distraction.
Three discs and a bunch of matches. Stop your complainin'.
In Legends of Mid-South Wrestling, we get to experience the life of one of the last true regional promotions, one without a national television contract or stars who were using wrestling for a different or larger non-wrestling opportunity. And the time given to the faces and heels or the territory help show us how much fun those guys had (even if they did not realize it) and why people were drawn to the locals and still are to some degree. Definitely worth seeing for any wrestling fan.