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Musical Masks Pt. 2

 - Gordon Grice

In early 1976, the Super Destroyer looked unbeatable. He had crushed Terry Funk for the International Title in his first match in the territory, and had survived Funk's subsequent challenges. With Terry Funk now defending his NWA Title elsewhere, the main threat to Destroyer's title was Dory Funk Jr.

Both Junior and Destroyer were known for their stamina, and their matches tended to be long affairs with lots of mat wrestling and sporadic bursts of brawling. Junior relieved Destroyer of his title in February 1976. A rematch headlined a card in my hometown of Guymon, Oklahoma. Matches in Guymon were held in a livestock arena, so the wrestlers had to walk across the arena's sandy floor to get to the ring. Destroyer spent a long time on the ring apron wiping his boots on the canvas, as most of the other wrestlers on the undercard that evening had done. They were apparently concerned not to get sand in the ring, since it would prove uncomfortable as they worked on the mat. A dozen or so kids clamored for Junior to let them hold his ring jacket. No one offered to hold Destroyer's gold jacket. He looked at the boys around ringside, tossed the jacket to my friend Sonny, and growled, "You—hold this." Not a good move. As soon as the wrestlers began to work, Sonny took the jacket and ground it into the dirt. That was the first time I remember feeling sympathy for a heel. I thought how lonely it must be to have everyone in the audience hate you. The match went forty-five minutes before Junior scored the pin with a rolling cradle.

Destroyer won the International Title back in March, and Junior immediately challenged for it again. At this point, Art Nelson (the Super Destroyer himself) brought in the third masked mystery man of his booking tenure. Using the same gimmick three times within five months may seem excessive, but it actually played out very well, especially since this third mystery man turned out to be a both a genuine surprise and a major star.

The mystery man this time around went by the ungainly name of the Mighty Canadian. Although he behaved as a heel, the Canadian made it clear that he wanted the International title and was challenging fellow heel Super Destroyer for the belt. The two met on April 8, with the Canadian winning cleanly. Soon afterward, the Canadian unmasked. He was Gene Kiniski, the man Junior had defeated for the NWA title in 1969.

A three-way feud developed, with Kiniski renewing his old grudge against Junior and also trying to fend off Destroyer. Destroyer was an unusual heel. He offered no excuses for his loss, but promised that his superior conditioning would bring him the title again. On May 7, he defeated Kiniski for the belt.

With victories over three world champions—Kiniski and both Funk brothers—Destroyer challenged once again for the NWA title. Terry Funk returned for a double-title match. On TV interviews, Funk behaved as if he were facing a firing squad. But Funk prevailed in the match.  More...

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