Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wrestler Of The Week "Wildfire" Tommy Rich

Wrestler Of The Week "Wildfire" Tommy Rich

Tommy Rich will be teamed with his partner Doug Gilbert going against Brian Christopher and Jerry "The King" Lawler in the main event at Minglewood Hall on Thursday Night April 16th. This will be a wild brawl that nobody should miss. Tickets info: Ringside Level 1 $50.00, Level 2 30.00, and General Admission is $15.00.

Rich started wrestling in 1974 in the regional promotions in Tennessee. Throughout the 1980s, he alternated his time between Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama territories of the NWA. He won dozens of NWA regional titles during this time.

He is best known as one of the original stars of the TBS wrestling shows from the '70s and '80s. His bloody feuds with "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer, Ole Anderson, Ivan Koloff, the Fabulous Freebirds, and every other major heel to come through the Georgia territory made Rich one of the most popular wrestling stars of the period.
On April 27, 1981, in Augusta, Georgia, he became one of the youngest NWA World Heavyweight Champions in pro wrestling history. He dropped the belt back to former champion Harley Race four days later in Marietta[disambiguation needed]. Many who follow wrestling couldn't understand the logic in the short title reign, although it was believed to give Rich a rub as a title challenger while at the same time leading the fans to believe that a world title might change hands at any time. Race stated in a shoot interview with RF Video that the title switch was to ensure a power struggle in the Georgia territory ended with promoter Jim Barnett victorious (Barnett was a minority holder in Georgia and the booker of the NWA title, and the title switch, with the fan interest and boosted live gates, shored up his position). However, the "Territories" episode of WWE 24/7's Legends series, "Freebird" Michael Hayes stated that the title change was a screwjob. Under the promoter's orders the referee made a fast count to give Rich the title without the permission of Race or the NWA.

He had a memorable bloody feud in Georgia Championship Wrestling with "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer for the NWA Georgia National Title. The feud lasted close to two years, culminating in the "Last Battle of Atlanta," in 1983, which featured Sawyer and Rich in a fully enclosed, Last Man Standing cage match, which Rich won to blow off the feud. This match / cage is rumored to be the inspiration behind WWE's Hell in a Cell match. The only known footage of the match is owned by noted wrestling historian, Barry Ham. Sawyer and Rich tried forming a team for a short period of time afterwards to feud with a new team called the Road Warriors. Rich was later directed into a feud with Ted DiBiase.

Rich then returned to the Memphis area, where he formed a team with "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert known as "Fargo's Fabulous Ones". The previous Fabulous Ones, Steve Keirn and Stan Lane, walked out on the territory. They held the AWA Southern Tag Team titles in 1984, then dropped them to Phil Hickerson and the Spoiler (Frank Morrell). Afterwards, Gilbert turned heel and Rich and he had a brief, but intense feud, which began on television when the two were presented with a "Tag Team of the Year" award by announcer Lance Russell and two guests. Gilbert, unaware his former partner was at the taping, badmouthed Rich, then the International Heavyweight Champion, until Rich came out to confront him. Rich immediately got the upper hand, running Gilbert into the steel ringpost several times, bloodying him in the process before the cameras went to a commercial. After the commercial break, Gilbert told Russell he wanted Rich to come back out so he could apologize to him in person, stating he was wrong for still being bitter about the break-up of the team, and was fueled by jealousy of Rich's championship title reign and new found star status. When Rich accepted Gilbert's apology, Gilbert suddenly turned on him and rammed Rich's head into the ringpost, just as Rich had done to him moments earlier.

After competing in Southeast Championship Wrestling, Rich would again return to the Memphis area in 1987 and contribute to one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history. Austin Idol vs. Jerry Lawler went on for over a year and culminated in a hair vs. hair match at the Mid-South Coliseum. Rich hid under the ring for the entire event only to emerge during the cage match, causing Lawler to lose the match and his hair, which led to a heel turn for Rich.
After Bill Dundee later joined the feud on Lawler's side, it would climax with a tag team scaffold match that saw Lawler and Dundee emerge victorious and Paul E. Dangerously, Rich and Idol's manager, suffer a broken arm when he fell off the scaffold trying to escape from the fan favorites. From there, Rich went to the AWA and turned face again, engaging in feuds with Adrian Adonis and Kevin Kelly; in one memorable event that took place on ESPN's AWA Championship Wrestling, Rich and Kelly faced off in an arm-wrestling challenge when Sherri Martel, Kelly's manager, interfered on her protégé's behalf, leading Rich to retaliate by tearing off Martel's dress and leaving her in her underwear.

In 1989, Rich returned to the Georgia area. The National Wrestling Alliance, having been bought by Ted Turner in late 1988, was in the middle of a face lift and Rich was part of a host of veteran wrestlers to enter the promotion during this period. At first he was referred to as "former NWA World Champion", etc., but was soon relegated to midcard status. The push received by big names like Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk and young talent like Brian Pillman and Great Muta, essentially bumped older talent like Rich, the The Iron Sheik and Wild Bill Irwin to the fringe.

Rich would mount an unsuccessful challenge to NWA US Champion Lex Luger in a series of title matches during this time period. He even dropped a match to the much older and soon to be retired Harley Race at the Great American Bash in July 1990.
In 1991, in another attempt to revive his career, he joined Alexandra York's York Foundation and became "Thomas Rich". He teamed with the other members, Terrence Taylor and Richard Morton to win the WCW Six-Man Titles.

When the York Foundation disbanded in early 1992, he became a heel jobber until he left WCW for the independent circuit. From 1993 to 1996, he wrestled for the USWA, American Wrestling Federation and Smoky Mountain Wrestling mostly as a heel. Some of his notable tag team partners in the USWA were Doug Gilbert and Gorgeous George III. In 1995 he attempted to regain the NWA World title, now relegated to independent status, from Dan Severn, but was unsuccessful.
He next went to ECW in 1996 as the "Big Don" Tommy Rich and joined the Full Blooded Italians (FBI), a heel group that included Little Guido and Tracy Smothers. He left ECW sometime in 2000 and has been wrestling in the independents ever since.

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