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 - Greg Mosorjak

Every territory was marked by certain events that the fans remember over the years.  Sometimes it was a title change, a wrestler getting unmasked, a wild feud with a big blow off match, are some events we all remember.  But one thing that seems to always stick in the minds of wrestling fans was when a wrestler turned on another wrestler.  These events back in the territory days happened so infrequently that they were special events we all recall either fondly or still shaking our heads in disgust.  Today on TV a wrestler changes from heel to baby so often we don’t know who is what or even care any more.  The National Wrestling Federation and the Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling territory had very few changes while I was a fan, but enough to make them memorable.

Of course the event that sticks in most wrestling fans minds in Cleveland, Ohio, occurred in mid December 1973, the 2 most popular wrestlers in Cleveland were teaming up, Johnny Powers and Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd.  For weeks there seemed to be growing animosity between the 2.  On this fateful night Johnny Powers and Ladd were facing the hated duo of The Sheik and Pampero Firpo.  During the match, Powers blamed Ladd for not helping him and turned on him to ignite one of the hottest feuds in the NWF.  One,  that in a few months later would result in the infamous Cleveland riot involving Ox Baker and 100’s of thrown chairs.   This turn was not only memorable because the two top fan favorites in the NWF were turned on each other but also because when Powers turned on Ladd, their one opponent Pampero Firpo turned as well.  He saw Powers and the Sheik on Ladd and he came to Ladd’s aid and while Powers went from top Baby Face to heel, Firpo became an instant baby face.  Recently I had a chance to chat with Powers and he said that 80% of his crowd in Cleveland was black, Ernie Ladd was black and over huge with the crowd.  It made sense that Ladd should have the spotlight as the top Baby in the NWF. This feud would go on to draw big money in the dying territory.

Back up almost years earlier, and Ernie Ladd is a hated heel in the NWF.  He is teaming with fellow heel Waldo Von Erich in a televised TV tag match.  A falling out during this match lead them to start going after each other.  The fans quickly sided with Ernie Ladd against the evil German, Von Erich, and Ernie Ladd had gone from hated heel to super baby face.

In April of 1972 Waldo Von Erich was involved in another big turn.  Allied with aging German heel, Hans Schmidt , again Waldo Von Erich’s ruthless demeanor is too much for his Partner in crime Hans Schmidt.  Schmidt a lifelong heel gets a good run in against Waldo von Erich.  After a few months the feud between the two German’s is played out and Schmidt reverts back to being his mean old nasty self.  But for a few months in 1972, Schmidt heard the cheers from the fans in Ohio and upstate New York.  Announcer Ron Martinez, who helped plot this storyline calls it one of the better turns that the fans never saw coming. 

Pittsburgh was marked by more turns back in the 1960’s.  Johnny Valentine turned on tag partner Jumping Johnny DeFazio and became a heel, a image he was more suited for, and a nice series of matches against Bruno Sammartino.  Cowboy Bill Watts turned on Bruno as well to gain title shots. Some wrestlers had milder baby face turns like Dr. Bill Miller.  The Tag team of Johnny Fargo & The Executioner ended 1973 and began 1974 as the top team in the Pittsburgh territory.  The young brash Johnny Fargo only months away from becoming Greg Valentine, had constant heat with his tag partner and the two finally came to blows.  The fans chose the mysterious Executioner as their fan favorite. 

In August 1971 Bruno Sammartino defeated Geeto Mongol in a chain match at the Civic Arena.  The next day on TV Geeto felt he was cheated and demands a rematch.  Geeto managed by Lou Albano gets his rematch on TV and Bruno easily beats Geeto in another Chain match, Geeto is a humbled man and shakes Bruno’s hand in defeat.  Lou Albano is furious and fires his protégé and tries to inflict a beating on Geeto.  Geeto gets the upper hand and instantly becomes a top fan favorite in Pittsburgh.  A few months later also on TV, Geeto teams with Johnny Defazio to defeat Crazy Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler for the International tag titles.  Tyler is pinned by DeFazio and he and Graham have words that escalates when manager Lou Albano dumps Tyler for losing the tag titles. 

These are just a few of the big turns that fans in Cleveland-Buffalo and Pittsburgh will long remember.  Of course none were as big or reaching as the Powers turn on Ernie Ladd. 


I will look at a 1970 card I attended in Johnstown, PA.

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