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Musical Masks Pt. 1

 - Gordon Grice

In 1975 Art Nelson found himself back in Amarillo. He had, not too long before, completed a lengthy stay in the Mid-Atlantic region. As an aging tag team wrestler, he had been rendered obsolete in that territory by the arrival of a mysterious masked man called the Super Destroyer. Destroyer, played by Don "Spoiler" Jardine, was a huge, agile man, and he had upstaged many of the older stars with his superior athleticism. Jardine was soon followed by a number of impressive young athletes.

Nelson brought with him a history of masks and discarded identities. He had worked as one of the Neilson Brothers, and also as the Golden Superman, the Phantom of the South, and a number of other characters. For his Amarillo reprise, he donned a red-and-black hood and took the name of the character who'd displaced him back East, Super Destroyer. Nelson also became head booker, and his angles often revolved around mysterious masked men (beginning with himself) who provoked cataclysmic changes as soon as they arrived. His run was a typical example of recycling successful angles from other territories, as all bookers do. Whether his angles had a more personal meaning is an interesting, if unanswerable, question.

Nelson, as Nelson, had worked here before. In 1969 he won the Western States tag title with Kurt Von Brauner. Back then his gimmick was "Strongest Man in the World," and he finished opponents off with a full nelson. For fans who had seen Nelson in his 1969 run, the Super Destroyer's identity wasn't hard to deduce. His barrel-like physique, powerful and obviously a product of much work in the gym, was distinctive. Even more telling was his habit of growling with each move. Nor did he change his methodical ring style. The reasons for the hood may have included his age. Nelson, a twenty-five year veteran, had already gone gray, and sometimes his movements in the ring were less than sprightly. But he was still an impressive wrestler with remarkable stamina. He bragged about his conditioning, and backed up his boasts by routinely working past the half-hour mark. "The longer he goes, the stronger he gets," announcer Steve Stack claimed on TV. That trait made him a natural rival for Dory Funk Jr., the territory's other acknowledged iron man.

Before Destroyer got into a program with Junior, however, he made a shocking debut against Terry Funk. The story actually started a couple of months before Super Destroyer arrived, with the debut of an awesome wild man named Frank Goodish. Goodish, a friend of Terry's from their days in West Texas State University football, went on to greater fame as Bruiser Brody. But when he burst on the scene in 1975, he was an unknown. On TV he quickly dispatched preliminary wrestlers like Dorio Romero with power moves, including the bear hug. He would seize his opponents around the chest and shake them like rag dolls. Rarely has a young wrestler exuded such raw animal intensity. Goodish was immediately programmed with Terry Funk. In their first match in Amarillo, Terry suffered broken ribs.  More...

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