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She took her apron down and threw it down and told the boss she quit.  He was just flabbergasted.  I got tickled to death; I couldn’t get mad at something like that because it just showed I was doing my job, I was supposed to be hated so bad.  So I had her boss go down the street and bring her back and tell her to come on in, I wasn’t mad at her. So she did, she was embarrassed to death, after she got her composure she apologized to me.  I’ve run into a lot of problems like that.  At a lot of restaurants the waitresses wouldn’t even wait on me, they’d just walk around me and find something else to do.  I never did get poisoned to my knowledge.  It was quite a life.  Well, it was odd.  Some people would come to the wrestling matches - I guess the worse experiences I had were when older spectators would be shaking their fists at me and getting worked up, I guess I had four or five of them have heart attacks and die.  That really bothered me, especially one man up here at the National Guard Armory in Kingsport who went to church with my mama and daddy and was a real close friend.  When I found out who he was, he was sitting on the top row and there wasn’t anything behind him and he had a heart attack and fell off backwards onto the floor.  They pronounced him dead on arrival at the hospital and I found out he was one of mama and daddy’s close friends it really tore me all to pieces.  All the kids come to see me and told me they didn’t want me to worry about it… mama and them had told me it really bothered me… their dad was about seventy-eight years old.  They said they didn’t have a problem with it, he died doing what he loved doing the best, watching me wrestle.  But, still, it bothers you when you get people so mad and excited that they have a heart attack and die.   

SW:  Did you wrestle over at the Rebel’s Retreat in Bristol? 

RW:  Yeah, we were runnin’ Rebels Retreat when I first started.  We had some major riots over at Rebel’s Retreat.  The place was so small you had to walk right through the spectators to get to the ring.  We really had some major problems.   

SW:  I’ve got some old posters, probably from ’65 or 66, with you, Whitey, Gene and Lars Anderson, Tojo… 

RW:  Yeah, they all came through.  I remember when Hulk Hogan started; he had one of his first matches in Knoxville, TN. He went to New York and I think they had him working out a year, year and a half before they ever put him in the ring, makin’ a big giant out of him.  Randy Savage started here, Jerry Lawler started here, Wildfire Tommy Rich started here, a bunch of the wrestlers.  Tommy Gilbert… 

SW:  Tommy Gilbert was my favorite when I first started watching wrestling. 

RW:  It was something, he teamed with Sputnik Monroe back probably in the late 60’s; me and Donnie (Ron’s brother) wrestled them all over the country in tag matches.  One of the biggest riots they ever had in the history of Rupp Arena was in a match between me and Donnie and Tommy Gilbert and Sputnik Monroe.  We liked to never got that mess sorted out that night, but we had a lot of good matches. 

SW:  Who was promoting this area (Tri-City area in northeast Tennessee) during the sixties… Gulas?   

RW:  No, to begin with, in the fifties and early sixties it was Mickey Barnes.  Gulas and Welch owned the big booking office and they owned most of the cities, but Mickey Barnes owned Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, Harlan, KY, and some of the Virginia towns.  At that time John Cazana owned Knoxville and a fifty-mile radius, which included Morristown, Newport, Lenoir City. Gulas and Welch along with Harry Thorton owned Chattanooga, Nashville, and Gulas, Welch, and Buddy Fuller owned Memphis.  Harry Thorton helped promote Birmingham and Huntsville, but mostly Gulas and Welch had all the wrestlers under contract and they’d book them for the other promoters who owned the other cities.  Later, I imagine the Seventies I bought Johnson City, Bristol, and Kingsport and every thing, and I sold it to Crockett in…Ron, when was it that Crockett started promoting in Kingsport? 

RG:  I want to say that Crockett’s matches here were in February 1979. 

RW:  Well, I sold it to them and they promoted just in places like DB dome (Dobyns-Bennet High School, a decent sized venue), a few matches in Viking Hall in Bristol, and Freedom Hall in Johnson City  (most cards in Johnson City during the old-school era were held at the Recreation Center; this is where the Knoxville Southeastern held cards in JC).  

SW:  It seems like they started doing shows at Freedom Hall after Southeastern shut down. 

RW:  See, I was supposed to have been in business with Southeastern.  They decided to ease me out when we got their towns making major money.  I had the license for these towns so I just sold it out to Crockett, and Crockett ran it for two or three years, didn’t he Ron? 

RG:  Crockett promoted on up until it became NWA.  He was here probably three-four years promoting at Dobyns-Bennett.  The last I saw at DB was probably 1987, 1988. 

RW:  I sold it to him in 1979, and he didn’t run it for a while.  They run it for 4 or 5 years.   

RG:  Their first card here was a sellout, I remember Paul Jones, Flair and Steamboat, it was standing room only.  I think Fuller’s last card here was in ’78. 

RW:  That was when me and him had our split.   

SW:  Did you work any with Mulligan’s promotion in Knoxville? 

RW:  Yeah, fact the first time Blackjack came to Knoxville, him and his son, against me and my brother Don, I’d never met Blackjack.  I’d been on cards with him, but never in the same dressing room and I’d never talked to him.  I walked out to the middle of the ring, looked up at him, and said “I’ve heard a lot about you, they tell me you’re mean, but you’ve met the meanest SOB you’ve ever been in the ring with and I’m gonna whip your ass. I guess I took one of the worse hind-end kickings I ever took and me a-laughin’ because he took me serious and I’d pulled a rib on him.  He finally realized well, here he’s beatin’ me to death and I’m laughin’.  I couldn’t get mad because I pulled a rib on him and he took me serious.  He never forgot that.  I saw him several times after that and he said he’d never felt so ashamed of nothin’ than lettin’ somebody pull a rib on me and them lettin’ me beat them to death before I knew it was a rib.  But I haven’t seen Blackjack since he got out of the pen; somebody told me he was down in Louisiana or the Gulf Coast.  He’s one tough, tough character.  I felt bad for him, him and his son just got suckered in the counterfeit deal.  Blackjack was worth a lot of money.  Somehow down there in Florida he was dealin’ with a lot of real estate and some way met some gangsters who was foolin’ with counterfeit money and the FBI already had them under surveillance and here poor BJ went in a hotel and met them and bought some counterfeit money from them.  The FBI followed him up the road and arrested him.  It’s just one of them things he saw the opportunity to make a few million dollars and got caught before he moved the first bill.  But I think they gave him seven years in the pen.  It cost him, I think, 350,000 in good money that he paid for the counterfeit money.  He learned a hard lesson real quick.  But I haven’t seen him since he got out.  His son was with him and he got some time too. 

SW:  One other guy who worked with that promotion is someone I’ve heard is one of the toughest men in the business, and that’s Rick Conners. 

RW:  Rick was one tough amateur wrestler.  He was so tough he’d go to the University of Tennessee and work out with their wrestlers and he’d beat every one of them.  He was in such good physical shape he’d go in there and wear ‘em all out.  Now Rick’s in bad shape; his joints are worn out.  He’s like I am.  I haven’t seen Rick in 7, 8 years, but I’ve heard he’s having trouble getting around.  But Rick was one tough amateur wrestler.   

SW:  I’m surprised he didn’t make it bigger than he did. 

RW:  He didn’t have the gift of gab.  Anymore if you haven’t got the gift of gab or have a manager with the gift of gab you don’t go anywhere.  On WWE they’ll have 45 minutes of talking and 15 minutes of wrestling, cause that’s what it takes to draw people anymore. That really hurt Rick that he couldn’t talk on TV.  Whitey Caldwell was one who done good even though he couldn’t talk on TV.  But he was such a hotbed of a wrestler when he got in the ring that he could draw money.  I drew some major money with Whitey.  He was one of the smaller wrestlers who ever drew major money too.  Whitey only weighed 195-200 on his best days.  Man, he was more than a handful.   All the interviews I ever done pertaining to matches I had with Whitey, my job was to get on there and knock him, and he took it all to heart.  What I said about him I was doing to draw money, and it went to hear with him, and when he got in the ring you didn’t have to hit him to get him mad, he was already mad.  That was just Whitey Caldwell’s nature.  And if you got in matches when he wasn’t mad as soon as you hit him or made fun of him to the fans then you had a fight on your hands.  That’s why I drew so much money with him. There was very few matches I got in the ring with Whitey that there wasn’t blood, I’d say 95 percent of our matches I had with him or that anybody else had with him.  He was so self-conscious about being little that he’d just beat you to death.  That’s just the way Whitey was.  That’s why when you got in the ring with him it was a fight and you knew it, and that’s why you’d draw money with him.  If I was ever at the mall or something and saw Whitey I’d go into a store or something to avoid meeting him because he’d run over and knock your head off instead of ignore you and walk on by, that was the temper that Whitey had over the matches.  A lot of people said he was my brother in law; I don’t know where they got it, there was nothing to it.  I’d married a woman from Maryland and his wife was from Kingsport, and there wasn’t no relation.  My first wife was a  beautician and she worked for Whitey’s wife’s sister and she was a good hairdresser,  so Whitey’s wife asked if she’d do her hair.  So she started doing her hair, so they was close, but Whitey and me was always on the outs just pertaining to wrestling.  But when Whitey got killed it really hurt wrestling especially here in east Tennessee.  Whitey didn’t go anywhere except east Tennessee, maybe as far as Chattanooga or maybe Nashville.  He worked at the glass plant and wrestling was just a hobby, he didn’t go far.  I did, but I had a plane to make all those journeys I made.   

RG:  Do you feel like that if he would have lived he would have ventured out further eventually? 

RW:  Well, Whitey was a lot like me, we’d seen so many wrestlers get crippled up and couldn’t wrestle anymore.  I guess that was always a fear, because wrestlers didn’t have insurance.  About the only way they could have insurance would be if their wife had it and put them on theirs and the insurance company didn’t know they were wrestlers because 95 percent of them wrestled under fictitious names.  I know Lloyd’s of London would, but it was so expensive.  But he might have.  You know Vince, the old man, begged me to 40 years ago, before Vince Jr. bought it, he wanted me to come to NY.  But it was a rough life for a married man with kids, you were on the road, always gone.  They had major cities, now they fly all over the country and all over the world.  They can’t have a family life.  I never did want that.  I enjoyed, even when I was young, I’d see the kids on Sundays.  Generally when I got home they were asleep and I got up early for work or they got up early for school.  It’s hard, that kind of lifestyle.  

SW:  You know, there are discussions on the internet where someone asks “could Ron Wright have made it somewhere else?” and anybody who’s ever seen you says that there’s no question that you could have. 

RW:  I didn’t have any problem.  I wrestled them all.  I wrestled Lou Thesz when he was champion 10 or 15 times, Edouard Carpentier, Verne Gagne, Killer Kowalski, Abdullah the Butcher, I wrestled every big name they had in New York at one time or another.  I wrestled one of the worst riots they ever had in Pittsburgh, I flew in and wrestled Bruno Sammartino.  I thought I was gonna die, because you had to come out of the ring and go up a flat ramp to get back to the dressing room, I’m telling you the truth they were around me all of the way to the dressing room, it took the law and 5 or 10 wrestlers to get me back to the dressing room.  They were going to kill me, I’d roughed old Bruno up pretty bad in a match there, and them people loved him.  Bruno owned the promotion there, not many people knew it but he owned the town there.  Vince booked all his matches from the New York/Connecticut office.  But I went up there and wrestled Killer Kowalski when he was a big dog there and had another riot on television.  He got so torn up he threw me out of the ring and I landed on the TV monitor right there where the commentators was sitting.  I guess I’d always go overboard with everything I done.  I didn’t have enough sense to take it so far and stop, I had to go all the way to the furnace with it.  I guess that’s why I drew as much money as I did, I just didn’t care.  I had a full-time job, the commissioners could have suspended me, I was always needing a two or three week break.  The other wrestlers, it was their livelihood.  I guess I got by with a lot by just not caring.  I got barred from Rupp arena for lighting a cigar in the ring, they had no smoking there.  It was the worst riot they ever had in that arena, the wouldn’t even let them have wrestling in the arena for a long time.  But I had a riot up there and they tore up a bunch of equipment, it was a mess.  The police told me I was under arrest, to take a shower and then I was going to jail.  I opened a window over the shower and got down from the roof and caught a cab, me and Donnie with our suitcases.  Went to the airport and got my plane and flew home.  So I couldn’t wrestle in Kentucky three or four years because they had warrants for me there.  They couldn’t come to Tennessee and get me.  It was funny.  They’d give me orders not to light a cigar in that ring.  I guess because they dared me to do it I’d a done it come hell or high water.  I did it and ground it in Tommy Gilbert’s eyes, and the riot was on.  They had to call in the riot squad, they took me in the dressing room.  I said you can’t arrest me, you ain’t got no warrant.  The lieutenant went to get a warrant to make it legit, and when he got back we were long gone, flying over the mountains.  But, Lord, they talked about that for months and years up there. 

I know they called, when I was on the cover of Wrestling Revue for chain matches, from Japan.  They begged and pleaded for me to come to Japan.  I could have made major money in Japan, but I couldn’t get off work and wasn’t willing to quit my job.  If I had’ve, I’d probably be a wealthy man today, unless I’d gotten over there and got cut up or crippled.  They tell me they still talk about me in Japan, because of some video they’ve seen of my chain matches, and here I sit and don’t have hardly any videos of my matches; if I had them I’d probably be a wealthy man.  

SW:  Yeah, there’s a big market for wrestling videos from the sixties and seventies.   

RW:  First chain match I ever had, I went to Jacksonville, FL.  I wrestled Boris Malenko in it, the awfulest war I’ve ever been in, in my life.  Boris Malenko, he was another gritty, tough SOB.  You didn’t get in the ring with him without getting your brain rattled.   Then I went back in there probably 6 months later and wrestled Eddie Graham in Jacksonville and had another riot with him.  I’d wrestle all over Florida, Tampa had its own booking office.  Old Cowboy Luttrell owned it years ago, and he brought Eddie Graham in when he finished a tour in NY and sold Eddie an interest in it.  Eddie ran it for years after Cowboy died.  In the winter months work would generally get slow at the press, so I could get off 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks.  I’d go to Florida and wrestle about every winter.  I had a ball there, just lay out in the sun every day, and didn’t have to be up here worrying about the matches being snowed out and the roads being iced over.  I enjoyed that part of my life.  I’d go down there and be there car race week, motorcycle race week, it just all fit in good with me and I had a lot of fun in Florida.   

SW:  One man I’d like to hear you talk about is the Mongolian Stomper.  When I was a kid that was somebody who really scared me to death.

RW:  Archie was something.  When he got here he had this gimmick that he couldn’t talk and acted like he was half crazy.  He’s a very intelligent man, has a college degree.  And still more man than most men you’ll ever run into.  He’s been fighting throat cancer for about three years.  I haven’t got to see Archie in 4 years.  Me and Ron (Ron Gott) are going to go to Knoxville and look him up.  I wrestled him several times quite a bit, a powerful man.  I guess him and Ed Wolfe are two of the most powerful men, and Doug Furnas, that I ever gotten into the ring with.  They were so strong they were really dangerous.  I wrestled Paul Jones, but Paul wasn’t dangerous like Wolfe and the Stomper.  Paul was more just a super good guy.  Wolfe was too, but he was so powerful you had to fear for your life, really, if you got in the ring with him, because he could hurt you and not realize it.   

SW:  Was Ed Wolfe the guy who got thrown out of the ring and lost his leg. 

RW:  Sure was, in Johnson City, TN.  I was his partner the night that happened, it was really sad.  But he’s done good, he’s bought a lot of property and built, so Ed’s done good.  He got fleeced out of about $350,000 by a fraudulent money management group and didn’t get it back.  I think the man’s in the penitentiary.  He’ll probably never get his money back.   

SW:  You managed Hickerson and Schultz… 

RW:  Condrey and Hickerson and Schultz, a bunch of them. 

SW:  People say Schultz was really crazy. 

RW:  He was a nut.  We drew a lot of money with him.  I started managing them around the time I had that bad car wreck.  Condrey went and wrestled with the Midnight Express for quite a while.   

RG:  I think Condrey and Randy Rose were the original Midnight Express. 

RW:  That’s right.   

SW: And I think Norvell Austin was one of the first too.

RW:  Probably was, right.  He was wild.   Now Luther Lindsay, I don’t know if you remember him, he was the first black man that ever came south of Washington DC to wrestle.  I wrestled him right here in Kingsport.  They had the National Guard up there, thinking they were going to have riots, with white people trying to kill him.  Now we’re talking about the late 50’s, probably.  We had riots down there, but instead of killing Luther Lindsay they was trying to kill me.  But we never did have any racial problems when we started booking black wrestlers.  Never did have any trouble with them, we had Bearcat Wright, Bobcat Brown, and another guy whose name I can’t remember, he was one tough character.  But it went and never had any racial problems over it.  The only time I saw any racial problems, I went to Washington, DC, I was up there when I wrestled Bruno and Kowalski.  My last match was in Washington DC on TV, and I was wrestling a black wrestler, Thunderbolt Patterson.  There in DC they were so strict, and I generally didn’t abide by the rules.  I had Thunderbolt there in the ring and wore him out, had him tied up in the ropes and put powder in his eyes.  The referee counted to 10 and I didn’t let him go so he disqualified me.  It just blew everybody’s mind.  They had another 10 minutes of TV time left.  Now this was when Martin Luther King had been killed, and they had all the riots that week.  I got on TV and made some racial remarks, I told them it was a disgrace for a man of my caliber to come up here and have to wrestle a n----r like Thunderbolt Patterson who couldn’t even tie my shoes and all hell broke loose. Hell, I should have known better, but I just got excited and didn’t think.  They had to put me in a police cruiser and drive me out of town and make me lie down in the car because they were having riots up there.   

SW:  I live up there, and there are parts of DC that still haven’t recovered from those riots…One thing I know a lot of people would like to hear about deals with the break in Knoxville where All-Star was formed. 

RW:  Yeah, see I was the big card there for years and years, so when they bought John Cazana out, it was Roy Welch and Buddy Fuller.  Buddy Fuller Welch was his real name, he was Roy Welch’s son.  Well, Ron came in and he was just out of college, and they finally came up with enough money and he sold out to them.  They knew they had to have me, I owned everything up this way from Morristown, including Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. So I made a deal with them that I’d sell to them and we’d promote it out of Channel 10 in Knoxville , that was the station we were on at the time.  And I would give them 49 percent interest in all this to operate it over my TV.  And after they got their foot in the door and got some licenses in their name they figured they didn’t need me any more, so they wouldn’t pay me.  So that was when I took all the main event wrestlers they had, Ronnie Garvin, Boris Malenko, Bob Roop, Bob Orton Jr. and put them under contract to work for me.  We went off and left them.  Well, they had the TV and we had the Kingsport TV and it didn’t go out far, so we really suffered at trying to get stuff a-going.  There were a few other problems with the wrestlers, and that was when we shut down.  I lost $53000.  We promoted for, what was it, a year?   

RG:  A little over a year. And all four of them eventually went to Poffo in Kentucky.   

RW:  I shut down, and that’s when I sold my interest to Crockett, and they eventually sold it to some people in Alabama.  So the promoter from Alabama had two or three TV stations and promoted up here, but he didn’t have the talent to run so he lost some money and folded.  By then the Supreme Court ruled that you couldn’t own a city to run in, and that meant anybody could come in and promote matches anywhere.  When that happened the Crocketts didn’t pay me the money they owed me because they didn’t control it anymore.  So that’s one thing that’s really hurt the local promotions.  It’s like Vince McMahon, he’s got TV all over the world and he’s well known and when he bought Turner out he pretty much got it under of control.  There’s some more groups out west that still run and do good, but he’s pretty much got it under control.   

SW:  I know Jerry Jarrett’s trying to start up, doing a pay per view for 10 dollars every week. 

RW:  I don’t know how he’s doing, I never talk to him.  I knew him well, but I haven’t talked to him in years.  I know Jerry’s got some wrestlers down there.  That’s what happens, when you get a good local crew going then the big dogs come in and sign them to those big contracts and pull them out from under you.  That’s what Vince has done, he’s always drew enough money to do that.  But I’ve heard that he hasn’t recovered from buying Turner out, that’s what I’ve heard from wrestlers, and taking over all his TV obligations.  They’ve pulled wrestling from a lot of the channels and he’s still got to pay, and a lot of the wrestlers he had to buy their contracts out and he’s paying them and they’re not even wrestling for WWE.  Then in turn they can’t wrestle for anybody else.  Now as their contracts run out Vince will either have to sign them or they’ll go to local promotions.  That’s what we’re hoping will happen in Knoxville now.  We’re getting a few of them there now and we’re hoping here sometime soon, in the spring and summer a bunch of their contracts will be up and after we’ve got a bigger TV in Knoxville that we’ll be able to get a bunch of the top boys to wrestle there.  So if they do I think that Knoxville area will boom again.   

SW:  It seems like there’s always been somebody promoting there, Bill Needham and Terry Landell have promoted in the nineties. 

RW:  Bill’s deceased now, he was a major diabetic, a good guy.  Landell’s trying to pull it together, but what worries me is that he hasn’t really got any money backing him.  I’ve lost so much money promoting I’m just letting him use my name and help him what I can, but when them big dogs contracts are up it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody with some money just started taking over and started signing them, but it’s gonna take somebody with enough money to pay them 6 months and get them a big TV program.  They may hurt Landell, time will tell.  I’m looking for Jim Crockett to start Carolina back up.  His contract with Turner was that he couldn’t promote for five years, and that time’s up.  He may be waiting until the contract’s up on some of the people who were main event for him and I’ve always looked for him to start back up when he could.  He hasn’t yet, and he may not, but the talk goes around that he’s going to because before he got so big and tried to compete with Vince any wrestler in the country would go to work for him before they would Vince because the towns were so close together, except for Norfolk and that area.  They’d run two towns on Friday and Saturday and spend the night up there.  That’s the only time they stayed over, they was home in Charlotte every night.  It was one of the cream territories, it and Tampa, to wrestle out of.  In NY and CT with Vince it was so spread out you’d have to stay over, it was rough up there. 

I’ll tell you another wrestler I’ve got a lot of respect for, old Terry Funk, one wild and crazy SOB.  Johnny Valentine, you remember him? 

SW:  Yeah. 

RW:  Him, Terry Funk, Wahoo McDaniel, when you finished a match with them you’d be black and blue all over.  That’s just the way they were.  Terry had a lot of respect for me, when I first met him he’d heard tales, he’d come to Knoxville, him and his brother when Dory was world champion, they were both in single matches.  I was in a tag match, me and Don.  He had John Cazana take him over to the dressing room because he wanted to meet me.  John introduced him to me, and he stopped and backed up and said, “Gee whiz, the stuff they’ve said about you I was looking for a 7 foot, 5 foot wide SOB said you can’t be Ron Wright.  We had one of the worst riots we ever had in Knoxville that night, at the Jacob’s Building.  We had old Sam Bass manage us, Whitey Caldwell wrestled Dory Funk in the main event.  I can’t even remember who Donnie and me wrestled that night, but we had a riot there.  You had to come through ringside and go up two flights of steps to get to the dressing room.  Hell… they mobbed us when we hit the floor.  We always put Sam in the middle and I’d bring up the rear cause that’s where they tried to get you and Donnie would lead the way.  And we fought from ringside up two flights of steps and the other wrestlers were on the other end and here poor Terry come to help us.  We had people layin’ all over the steps and the floor and we got up to the top and Donnie had done got in the dressing room and some man tried to hit Sam.  I pushed Sam into the dressing room and hit that man and knocked him cold.  Terry Funk about fell over trying to get there to help us and we were already in the dressing room.  He came up to me after his match and said “I’ll tell you one damn thing, the reputation I’ve heard about you is justifiable after the way you fought your way up them steps.”   

SW:  I reckon Terry Funk is going to be wrestling as long as he can stand.

RW:  I’ll tell you, Terry Funk can probably take two or three of them big wrestlers and whip them, he’s that mean.  You’ve got to know him and see some of the stuff he’s done to realize how tough that old SOB still is.  He’s like Lou Thesz, age hasn’t had any effect on him.  Hell, Lou Thesz was still wrestling in his early seventies.  And I heard that on his seventieth birthday, they’ve got a gym in New York City where a lot of the Olympic wrestlers work out and a lot of the college wrestlers after they finish college just to keep wrestling.  And they say that on his seventieth birthday he wrestled four of the best of them and beat every one of them.  When he was seventy years old. Lou wasn’t mean, as far as fighting, but he was the finesse professional wrestler.  I’ll never forget the first time I wrestled I wanted to rough him up and he let me know quick that I was out of my class.  I’m the master, and let’s get on with the match.  That was in Johnson City, Tennessee.  Just like Danny Hodge.  He came here to Kingsport and wrestled Micky Sharpe.  And the place was about two thirds sold out over at the Civic Auditorium.  Well, the next time he came through here he had to wrestle me.  They turned them away.  I got Danny tied up in the ropes, and I’d gotten hold of some ether from a veterinarian, and I didn’t know you were supposed to put a drop of ether on a cloth and if he wasn’t out you wait 1 second and use another drop.  I just wet that gauze down and got behind him and held on for dear life, and come within a hair of killing him.  They had to take him to the hospital and they didn’t revive him for 4 or 5 hours.  He sucked that ether down into and burned his lungs and his bronchial tubes.  He laid over there in Holston Valley (Hospital) for two or three days, scared me to death.  They brought him back after six weeks cause I beat him and took his world title.   

They brought him back and it was sold out, people stood everywhere, the fire marshal raised hell, and he beat me to death.  It was the worst whipping I ever took.  And I never saw him for about twenty years, I think he pretty much stayed in Japan.  And then he came back, they had him booked in Knoxville.  And he came in there, I was main event against Don Carson.  Danny came into my dressing room, and he was wrestling dirty then, he’d gotten older and he was wrestling as a heel.  Well, he came in, quick as he came in I looked up and saw him.  He dropped that suitcase, and it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  He pointed at me and said, “you SOB, I still owe you one.”  But after that he wrestled heel and I’ve never wrestled him again.  I got pretty close to Danny.   

SW:  I heard he could take a pair of pliers and break it with his hand. 

RW:  He was ungodly.  Danny went about 215.  He was the only one who was the AAU boxing and wrestling champion in the same year.  He was another one like Terry Funk, he was just bad.  He won the wrestling championship his junior year at Oklahoma State and it was at Madison Square Garden and they had a big boxer who was a junior who won the boxing championship.   After it was over they were all on stage, the winners after the finals, and that big dude badmouthed Danny, said he ought to try boxing, a real man’s game.  Made Danny so mad, he went out for the boxing team his senior year and made it to the finals and knocked that guy out.  They found out he had double ligaments and tendons.  Where we’ve got one ligament, he’s got two.  He was a freak, that gave him double the strength.  It was ungodly the strength he had.  I’ve heard tales about him taking his hands and squeezing guys so hard in college that they’d just quit.  It was ungodly what he could do.  I know we had him on Bristol TV, and he’d take apples and make applesauce, squeeze pliers.  Next time somebody brought in green apples, thinking he couldn’t squeeze them.  Why hell, he squeezed them apples and there wasn’t anything left but pulp.  Probably was the strongest for his size.  I never heard he lifted weights or anything, but the strength in his hands was ungodly.  Now I don’t know if he had them (double tendons) in his legs or not, but probably did.  He could take those big heavy duty wire cutters, he had to put a bolt in them, and he was so strong he could break those things in two.  And the metal in them was as big around as your finger. 

SW:  Who do you think was the strongest man you ever got in the ring with? 

RW:  Well, Doug Furnas, when I got him started, he held the world record in squats.  Paul Jones was powerful, he could beat Doug in the press.  Doug held the world record in squats for several years.  He was the starting fullback at UT and blew out his knee and didn’t get drafted.  But, Lord, I remember when he played football it was nothing for him to go 10 yards with 3 or 4 tacklers hanging on.  But Doug’s gotten wealthy in Japan, he’s got gyms in Knoxville.  He became a hell of a wrestler, but I broke him in down in Knoxville.  I hadn’t seen him for 10 or 12 years when WWF came to Knoxville, they’d advertised that I’d be there and I went in to see him.  He said I can’t thank you enough.  I had a hard time getting Doug to listen.  I said your strength’s not going to make you a main eventer, you’ve got to learn to work.  Got to learn to talk.  And he thanked me for teaching him what to do to make it in professional wrestling.  But he’s made it all in Japan, they had him on a 10,000 guarantee with all expenses paid.  He told me that he’d become a millionaire after 5 years in Japan because of the way people invested his money for him.  

(Here the conversation goes to memorabilia).  I had a bunch of stuff.  After my first divorce my ex-wife kept it, said she wanted to keep it for the girls.  She stored it in a friend’s house.  Of all things, they had a 500 gallon oil tank.  Bottom of that thing rusted out, and everything was ruined.  I had some albums, some clippings, a few tapes, and everything was ruined.  And when we wrestled on Knoxville with Fuller and Cazana they used that same three inch tape over and over, so I never thought, you know I had that car wreck right in my prime, and never saved anything.  Just like that Ricky Morton told me in Knoxville the other week that he had tapes of all his matches. 

RG:  Yeah, he told me he had basically everything he’d ever done. 

RW:  If I had some of them chain matches that I had, they’d sell world wide.  They were total classics, and I’ve never found anybody who videoed them because we didn’t have them on TV, they were so brutal, I don’t even think they let us even show clips of those chain matches on TV.  That chain, I hit people with it and jerked a chunk of meat out of their back.  I mean it was brutal, it was rough.  I’d give anything if we had any of those videos of chain matches with me and Malenko.  Back then though, many people wouldn’t even think about getting in the ring with Malenko in them chain matches.  Hell, I didn’t care.  That’s why they brought me to Florida to wrestle.  That stuff didn’t bother me, didn’t slow me down.   

(At this point Ron is looking at some old magazines his wife Teresa brought out).  Billy Robinson- I never did get to wrestle him…Jack Brisco- I wrestled him several times…there’s old Bruno, I wrestled him a couple of times…I’ve heard he’s still looking good…Sam Steamboat, I wrestled him.  They tell me Steamboat married a doctor when she got out of Memphis (University of Tennessee Medical School) and they moved to Hawaii.  This doctor’s uncle was the governor of Hawaii.  (The conversation goes to Nick Gulas). 

SW:  I’ve heard Nick Gulas was awful tight with his money. 

RW:  He was a crook.   

SW:  Also they say he killed the territory putting his son in main events. 

RW:  He did it; he did it putting him and Jerry Jarrett in main events.   

(Shows a picture from a chain match with Whitey Caldwell)  Look at all that blood; every bit of that blood came from the chain.  Later people got to using razor blades.  I never had my head cut with a razor blade but one time, I didn’t believe in it.  I had a match with them Hell’s Angels here in the auditorium, here’s the Samoans.   

In Kentucky they burned my airplane to the ground one night.  Cost me a fortune.  I’d just bought an airplane, had two new motors put in it.  I paid $13,000 for it, but when you buy a plane but you can only get from the insurance what you paid for it.  The engines cost me $21,000, I put about $4500 of new radio gear in it, it cost me $3800 to get new paint and glass.  I flew the airplane from Orlando to Knoxville, and took it to Harlan Saturday night, and they burnt that SOB to the ground before I got back out there.  And here I’m a-sittin’ with $42,000 in an airplane and have $13,000 insurance on it.  I lost about 29, 30 thousand on the SOB.  There wasn’t nothing left.  Wrestling fans took the credit for doing that, and seven years later highway patrol came to Harlan at the matches and talked to me.  They’d had a roadblock near Lexington looking for pot and stopped a suspicious van, and found my motors and the radio gear.  So then, it was in a van that was registered to a multimillionaire mine owner from Harlan.  So they figure he had that airplane stripped and had it burnt instead of wrestling fans doing it.  He was never tried, he was so damn wealthy.  There in Harlan you take your life in your hands if you go up there and do anything.  I never got the motors or radios back.   

RG:  Looking back is there anything you’d do different?  Would you do it all again? 

RW:  I’d probably do it again.  I loved it, enjoyed every minute of it.  You have to love it to want to do it.  It’s show business, and even now they’ve gone so far to the burlesque side of it, they have so many wrestlers that are crippled now it’s pitiful.  They try to keep it quiet, but one will be there and bam, there not there no more.  It’s just pitiful that’s happened to so many wrestlers who worked for Vince, where they make them do that crazy stuff. 

SW:  It seems they spend all their time jumping off the top rope instead of it maybe happening one time in a match.  It meant something then. 

RW:  It don’t now; it’s just highlights, it’s pitiful.  It’s changed, man it’s changed.  But it’s funny, we had an old wrestler about 40 years ago named Hickey, Frank Hickey.  He’d come to the ring and carried some kind of stuffed animal.  And he sat there in Knoxville and told us what wrestling would be like in twenty and thirty years, and we all laughed at him.  Hell, he turned out to be like he said it was going to be.  Frank was an old, old timer. 

SW:  I know he wrestled up into the seventies. 

RW:  Yeah, that’s when I saw him last.  He was talking about what wrestling was like when he started and how it had changed, and what it would be.   

RG:  Where do you see wrestling in the next twenty years? Do you see McMahon still promoting, or do you see a lot of small promotions coming back again? 

RW:  I think there will be a lot of…Vince has done all he set out to do, and now he’s losing money, and his PPVs aren’t drawing.  It’s down bad.  I look for the small promotions to start back up and have the little small territories because Vince isn’t really interested in them.  And when the contracts out on these TV’s that he had and wouldn’t let anybody else on them, I look for them TV’s to go to some of the small promotions.  What Vince has done was that he gave the TV stations 3, 4 thousand dollars to show his tape and they’ve got towns where they show those tapes that he’s never put a match in.  He’s just done it to get the small promotions out.  So I don’t look for him to renew the contracts.  They tell me he’s lost millions since he bought Turner out from assuming all those TV stations and those wrestlers’ contracts.  And they say since he bought Turner his matches have really fell off, his pay per view. 

SW: I always just watched whatever the local promotion was, here and in Nashville.  When I moved to New York I went to Madison Square Garden once just to say I’d done it. 

RW:  I wrestled in Madison Square Garden twice, it’s a big damn place.  The first time I was in the first match, I think the second time I was in the third match.  But I made $1500 for a one fall, 10 minute match.  I never saw so many people in my life.  I had some major crowds in Atlanta.  I wrestled in Fulton County Stadium, probably the biggest crowd I ever wrestled in front of.  We drew some major crowds in Memphis.  And it was a big place. 

SW:  And they’d still run some smaller places not far away from these major arenas; in New York they’d do Madison Square Garden but they’d still run smaller places nearby like Sunnyside Gardens.  Does Vince even run around here any more? 

RW:  He runs Thompson-Bolling arena in Knoxville once in a while.  He hasn’t run in Johnson City in I don’t know how long.  He’s got so many high-paid people he’d lose money if he ran there.  He’s not even interested in the Knoxville Coliseum.  The first time they was in Thompson-Bolling they sold out in four hours, but the last two times I heard they didn’t come close to selling it out.   

RG:  In your opinion, would Crockett still be promoting if he hadn’t tried to expand nationally? 

RW:  He’d still be going.  Every wrestler in the world wanted to go to the Carolinas, the Carolinas and Florida.  They’d move between the Carolinas, Florida, and Japan.  I think he would still be doing great.  All the wrestlers that worked for Vince, they didn’t want him to come to the Carolinas because that was bread and butter to them.  When Vince was through with them they’d come down to the Carolinas or Florida.  They worked good together, and they never had problems.   

RG:  One wrestler who always flip-flopped between WWF and the Carolinas was Greg Valentine.   

RW:  Yeah, that’s Johnny’s son.

(At this point we have a conversation about how McMahon got around paying sporting taxes by testifying in court that it was entertainment.  I’m sure we’re all familiar with this). 

RG:  Do you see a lot of people leaving Vince when their contracts run out? 

RW:  Well, he can’t pay them all.  He got too big, and he tried to control the world market.  He could never do anything with Japan, but he’s made it big in Australia.   

RG:  In Japan they take their wrestling seriously. 

RW:  That’s a tight-run organization.  They run those outdoor stadiums and sell out.  Doug Furnas said it’s like NASCAR the way they fill them places up over there. 

RG:  I remember Ole Anderson talking on the Atlanta TV show about how much higher attendance was there. 

RW:  They sell tickets at ringside for $120.  When American wrestlers go over there they’re treated like royalty, they say.  You’re an idol before you’ve ever been there. 

RG:  That’s one place that if you had it to do over you’d try to go? 

RW:  Well, you know if I’d went I could have probably made major money just going every six weeks.  That’s what Doug Furnas did. Karl Gotch has got to be in his eighties, he books wrestlers into Japan.  He lives in Tampa, as far as I know he’s still living.  Karl was like Lou Thesz, he was the baddest of the bad.  He never made it big in wrestling because he was too mean, the promoters couldn’t control him.  He’d tell them what he thought and that he’d beat who he wanted to.  They’d put some flunky in the ring and want him to put them over and he wouldn’t do it.  He’d say “how can you ask me to put someone over who can’t even tie my shoes?  I’ll make him look good, but beat me?  No he won’t.”  He’s bad news.  He’s the one who taught Malenko’s younguns to wrestle.  I never got in the ring with him to shoot.  Old Malenko tried to sucker me into getting into the ring with Karl back in the early seventies.  Malenko said “I want you to go meet Karl.”  I’d been sending Karl Hawken chewing tobacco when I owned the Gateway Market, they couldn’t get it down there.  And he thought the world of me and I’d never met him.  But Malenko wanted me to work out with Karl.  I went down there and we were out in his back yard talking, he’s a hell of a man, nice as he can be.  Malenko says, “Ron, get your bags, work out with him a little.”  I looked at Karl and said, “I’ve heard enough shit about you for twenty years that I know better.  I have too much respect for you to even try you.   I can’t do nothing with you, and I ain’t gonna try.”  And he says, “I respect you for that.  I still get college kids who want to try me.”  Ain’t none of them could do anything with him.  Twenty years ago he was in his sixties he had logs with handles that he worked out with.  He had a rope that must have went a hundred foot in the air, and he’d climb that rope to keep up his arm strength.  Malenko said “climb that thing” and he climbed that thing like a monkey, didn’t even have to use his feet.  Just pulled himself.  Then Malenko told him to do it the hard way, and he flipped himself upside down and pulled himself up. 

Tanaka, he was one tough SOB.  They had some wolves in California that they’d captured and had them fenced up.  They had to throw the food in to them.  And someway Tanaka knew somebody at the zoo, and there was a picture of him in the pen with them wolves, and the pups was just laying around.  He had a picture of one of them with its leg cocked peeing on his leg.  And they never attacked him. 

SW:  Animals know if somebody’s afraid of them.  

RW:  You can’t show fear.  I blew Teresa’s mind, I’d owned some attack dogs and if you put out an odor they get you.  They had a dog in a junkyard that was so mean they couldn’t do nothing with him and they kept him chained to an old iron pole.  Anybody’d  get close to him he’d take your damn leg off.  I had to go down there to get a car part, he said we’ll have to get that while that dog’s eating or he’ll tear you apart.  I said, “I ain’t worried about that dog.”  The owner said “that dog will kill you.”  I said “that dog ain’t gonna bother me”, and Teresa was in the car crying.  I went up to him and he showed his teeth and started pawing, and they got pictures of me somewhere rubbing his back.  He never did try to bite me.  But Tanaka taught me that.  And it works.   

RG:  Well, it’s after lunch and we’ve been here a couple of hours. 

SW:  I think we’ve got a lot of good stuff here.   

RG:  Yeah, I think we’ve got enough for a good story here.   

I would like to publicly thank Ron Wright for taking the time to talk with us.  It was a thrill for a fan of the Tennessee territories to meet and talk with one of the true legends.  As well, I'd like to thank David Williamson for the clippings and articles he shared that helped us prepare for the interview. 

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