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James J. Dillon

 - Gordon Grice

"I know it's fair time here in Amarillo," James J. Dillon said. "I myself got into the fun by entering the state fair back home in New Jersey. I entered an exhibit I call 'Chips off the Old Block.' And to my surprise, I won a blue ribbon! And I thought the fans would enjoy seeing my exhibit. I give you 'Chips off the Old Block.'"

Dillon gently removed the sheet concealing his masterpiece. There stood four pairs of cowboy boots. Atop each pair was balanced a cowchip. Dillon carefully explained what we were seeing. He spoke slowly, realizing that many of us weren't too bright. But his boyish enthusiasm was apparent.

"As you can see from the label, this is Iron Mike DiBiase's chip, Ted DiBiase. Here in the center we have Dory Funk Senior's two chips, Dory Jr. and Terry. Dory Sr. must have been doubly proud! And last but not least, we have my personal favorite: Frankie Hill Murdoch's chip, Richard the Rube Murdoch!"

The four "chips" he had named were, of course, fan favorites. When I mentioned this incident on a message board recently, one poster claimed Dillon had later sold his work of art for $3000.

Jim Dillon came to the area in 1973. At first his act was an awkward mix of wrestling stereotypes. He announced himself from Trenton, New Jersey, playing the Yankee card. The bleached hair suggested a Gorgeous George type. He referred to his family's money, working a rich mama's boy gimmick much like the one Jim Cornette perfected a decade later. He did the usual heel cheating. His ring work was pretty good, though only his bumps seemed like anything special. Though not especially tall, he was lanky and could flop in eight directions on every arm drag.

But it was his mouth that really made fans hate him. He would state his disdain for the people of West Texas plainly. But that was standard heel shtick. What Dillon did different was maintain the façade of a reasonable man inexplicably transported to Mars. He was the normal one; the fans were the weirdos. He adorned his promos with odd little touches of modesty-"I can beat So-and-so in a regular match-at least, I think I can. It's these Texas Death Match rules I object to." Somehow this tactic was infuriating. It was as if your worst enemy had winked at you and called you by your nickname.

Dillon annoyed the fans in feuds with Ricky Romero and Nick Kozak. When Kozak beat him for the TV title trophy, Dillon lost his cool. "I came to love this trophy, and if I can't have it, nobody can!" he ranted. The trophy got broken in the ensuing tantrum, and so did Kozak's head.

But one man was clearly meant to be Dillon's enemy, and that was Dick Murdoch. Murdoch was nicknamed "the Big Texan." His gimmick fell roughly where John Wayne's did: fearless cowboy, plain spoken, willing to walk alone. His Outlaw past gave him credibility; when it was time to settle something in a bull rope match, Murdoch seemed a natural, because he'd always been a rough-houser. Dillon's snooty gimmick instantly cast him as Murdoch's foil. Even his name seemed designed to insult the Big Texan-Marshall Matt Dillon's name plastered on a city slicker. They were natural enemies, like a mongoose and a cobra.

Murdoch had only recently turned babyface after a falling out with Buck Robley. He quickly became the most popular man in the territory not named Funk. His early rivals included Robley and the Patriots. These feuds gave us some fine moments. For example, when the Patriots' manager, Percival A. Friend, tried to hit Murdoch with a bucket, Murdoch stuck Friend's head in the bucket and stomped on it until it fit like a ski mask. An interview soon afterward revealed Murdoch's off-beat interview style: "Everybody's talking about my brainbuster. well, I'm not going to brainbuster Patriot #1. I'm not going to brainbuster Patriot #2. I'm going to brainbuster YOU, Percival A. Friend."  More...

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