Kernodle: Les Thatcher was there and the Murnicks were there. They told me I had to get all these release papers signed, where Jim Crockett Promotions wouldn’t be responsible, the Murnicks wouldn’t be responsible, Roop wouldn’t be responsible, WRAL TV wouldn’t be responsible…and on and on it went. You know, if you got hurt or killed you were on your own little red wagon.


Bourne: Were they working that angle, and you were the first person they let come in to try him? Or had they been getting other people for real to come in and try him?


Kernodle: No, he had beat everybody else in less than 20 seconds. He’d put them out with that sugar hold…


Bourne: But they weren’t pro wrestlers, right? They were taking people from outside the business?


Kernodle: Right…this was for anybody. Anybody could come in and try to wrestle Bob Roop.


Roop was a great amateur wrestler from Michigan. And he also, I’ve heard, was a bronze medalist in the 1968 Olympics. I think it was in Greco-Roman wrestling.


Chappell: Since you mentioned Roop’s background as an amateur wrestler, please tell us a little about your background in that area.


Kernodle: I had a decent background in amateur wrestling…high school and college. But nothing like what Roop had, or people like the Briscos and other really great amateur wrestlers.


North Carolina had a decent amateur wrestling program back then, but it was so far behind states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Where basketball around here might be a great push for amateur athletes, in those states wrestling is at the top.


Chappell: Wrestling is king in some of those areas, for sure.


Kernodle: When you have high school wrestling matches in those states, they’ll sell it out. They have banners everywhere! I’ve seen them since I’ve been in professional wrestling. When I was wrestling with [the WWF], we’d go to those schools and they’d have banners hanging down with wrestling championships---year after year after year.


Chappell: Kind of like we have for basketball around here.


Kernodle: Right, like we’d have at the [University of North Carolina] Dean Dome for basketball.


So, we had a pretty good wrestling program, but way behind places like those I mentioned that turned out the great amateur wrestlers.


Chappell: So despite having a good amateur background, it sounds like Crockett Promotions was going to have you sign your life away, in order for you to get a shot at Roop!


Kernodle: Yeah, I had to sign all those papers! And they knew what they were doing…they were holding all the trump cards. I was sittin’ on the old maid card, maybe!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Chappell: So you were signing all the waivers for the one match with Roop? You weren’t promised any other matches?


Kernodle: That’s right, David. One match…I wasn’t guaranteed anything.


Chappell: What happened after you signed all those legal releases?


Kernodle: They took me up the steps to the little ol’ dressing room. And as I walked in, Bob Roop was in there. Only Bob Roop was in there, and he was bent over lacing his boots up. He had those blue Olympic boots with the rings on them.


Chappell: I remember them. They looked real nice.


Kernodle: Yeah, they were really nice ones. I walked in there and sat down. You know, they were trying to psyche me out…


Chappell: You mean having the dressing room empty, except for Roop?


Kernodle: Yeah, and they did a pretty good job of psyching me out!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: Anyway, I’m nervous; I’m scared. I didn’t know what to expect.


So, when I sit down, I’m only about ten feet away from Roop as he’s lacing up his boots. He’s bent over, and he hasn’t even raised his head yet.


Chappell: He didn’t even acknowledge you?


Kernodle: Finally he raised up his head and looked at me and said, “You must be the guy that I’m wrestling tonight.”


I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Roop, I am.’ I walked over to him and shook his hand and said, ‘My name is Don Kernodle. This is nothing personal with you…this is the only chance I’ve got to get into professional wrestling, so I want to try it.’


Chappell: What did you do then?


Kernodle: I went back over there and sat down. That’s the reason it was only me and him in the dressing room…they were trying to intimidate me. Yeah, they were really trying to psyche me out…which they did!


So then I got dressed and everything…went down and talked to some of the wrestlers.


Chappell: Who was there that night?


Kernodle: Homer O’Dell was there. Jerry Brisco was there; Jerry saw all of this. Johnny Weaver was there. Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson were there.


Chappell: That’s an all-star line up!


Kernodle: Yes! So, it was time for me to wrestle and you know, David, nobody really gave me any encouragement. And you know, I had aways per se hated Homer O’Dell…


Chappell/Bourne: (laughs)


Kernodle: You know I’d seen him wrestle, and I’d seen him with that cane hitting Johnny Weaver…


Chappell: That’s definitely worthy of putting him on your bad side!


Kernodle: Yeah! But the one thing that really hit me good was that I went through the doors and out to the ring, Homer stopped me and says, “Kid, there’s gonna be a lot of people watching you tonight. You just go out there and do the best that you can do.”


Bourne: Really?


Kernodle: Yeah, Homer was really the only one that stopped me and tried to give me some encouragement, and for me not to worry about the match as much as I was.


Chappell: You had watched these wrestlers on Mid-Atlantic TV for years. What was it like at that moment walking into the WRAL ring as one of those wrestlers?


Kernodle: It was unbelievable! I don’t know if you guys ever met Homer O’Dell, but he was a big man. He was tall, and he was way over 300 pounds.


So I go out into the ring, and the lights…the heat from the lights was tremendous in this little ol’ studio. I didn’t know what to do, so I was thinking about what I saw the wrestlers do on TV when they came into the ring. So I just backed up in the corner, and put my arms up on the top turnbuckle…like everyone else did!


Chappell: What were the stipulations for the match?


Kernodle: The deal was I had to beat him in ten minutes or less, to win $2,000. I didn’t know it, but all he had to do was wrestle defensively. He didn’t have to beat me; all he had to do was keep me from beating him.


Chappell: Roop certainly had all of the built-in advantages.


Kernodle: And I didn’t know if Bob Roop might jump on me, and try to kill me! I signed all those papers. You know, when the bell rang, I was his!


Well, the bell rang, and lo and behold I went out there…and I took him down!


Chappell: I bet that got his attention!


Kernodle: Then I was thinking, ‘What the heck do I do with him now!’


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: I was sort of lost! I’d never wrestled anybody that good. I told Mr. Ringley that I’d wrestled in high school and college, and I wrestled some decent wrestlers, but I’d never wrestled anybody as good as Bob Roop.


Bourne: Did they have a ref in the ring, like Angelo Martinelli?


Kernodle: That’s who it was. Angelo Martinelli was the referee.


Chappell: So you hung in there with Roop…which I don’t think anybody expected going in.


Kernodle: I wrestled him really, really good, and I guess we went close to the ten minute mark. The heat in the studio really got to me as the match went on. He put a front face lock on me…and I didn’t even know what a front face lock was!


I was power lifting back then, and my forehead hit the mat…but I was still on my feet. I stood back up with him on three different occasions.


Chappell: Was there a big size difference between you two?


Kernodle: He weighed 285, and I weighed like 220 or 225.


Chappell: A big difference…


Kernodle: But he was a lot better wrestler than me…by far. And eventually, he put some kind of hold on me. It wasn’t the sugar hold, but I had to give up, or I felt like he was gonna break my neck. I held out as long as I could.


Chappell: Sounds like a heck of a match on your part.


Kernodle: I was exhausted. I either had to give up, or he was gonna hurt me. Hurt me pretty bad, I thought. I couldn’t do anything; I was exhausted. So I gave up, and the match was over.


Chappell: What happened when you left the ring?


Kernodle: I left through the doors back to the dressing room, and Ole and Gene Anderson were standing there. They knew [Roop] was wrestling a mark that night, but they didn’t know it was me. But like I said, I had met them before.


Chappell: Did they say anything to you?


Kernodle: They said, “Kid, man, you almost beat him; you almost beat him. That was great.” Then Ole looked at me and said, “I tell you what I’m gonna do…I’m gonna break you into the business.” He told me to be at the YMCA in Charlotte at 9:00 Monday morning.


Chappell: Unbelievable!


Kernodle: He said, “This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.” He told me he wasn’t gonna punch me and he wasn’t gonna break my bones, but that it would be the hardest thing I’d ever done.


He said that if I said “I quit” or “I give up,” that there would be no questions asked and I’d get my ass in that car and go back to Burlington.


Chappell: Ole being his usual tactful self!


Bourne: (laughs)


Kernodle: I told Ole and Gene I’d do it. They didn’t charge me anything. So, I was up at the YMCA at 9:00 on Monday morning.


Chappell: After the match with Roop, did anybody else at WRAL talk to you about your performance?


Kernodle: I remember Jerry Brisco saying something.


Chappell: Did Roop say anything to you after the match?


Kernodle: I didn’t see Roop after the match. They did a deal where he turned on Thunderbolt Patterson…it happened in Dorton Arena. It got so much heat that the people almost broke down the dressing room doors. And [Roop] got the heck out of here.


Chappell: Roop didn’t hang around the territory very long.


Kernodle: That’s what I’m saying. He got scared…he got the hell out of here! So, he left. Thunderbolt was over…couldn’t wrestle a lick!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: But he was over with the people…


Chappell: He could talk!


Kernodle: Yes, he could talk. It was a hot angle, and it really got out of hand. We would talk about it for months after that.


I never saw Bob Roop again until 1979. I was wrestling for Dory and Terry Funk in Amarillo. And Terry got me in that movie with Sylvester Stallone…Paradise Alley.


Bourne: Right!


Kernodle: I had done my part, and I was sittin’ on the bleachers there in that bar on the set, and somebody came and tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up and it was Roop!


Chappell: Bet you were a little surprised!


Kernodle: Roop says, “You look like that guy I wrestled in Raleigh that night.”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: I said, ‘That’s me.’ Roop said, “I want to tell you something. If you had lasted 10 more seconds, you would have beat me.”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Chappell: Well, it was probably true!


Kernodle: I was gone, brother! I was out. I mean, I was exhausted. I couldn’t do anything. It was either give up, or go to the hospital!


Chappell: Well, it was still good of Roop to compliment you…even though it was six years later!


Kernodle: And I haven’t seen Roop since, really.


Bourne: He’s gonna be in Charlotte this summer, at Fanfest!


Kernodle: I heard that.


Chappell: I hope you all will get together…that would be a great photo opt!


Well, it’s great to have you tell us about the match with Roop, because I’ve heard several versions of what happened over the years.


Kernodle: Yeah…some stories say that I beat him. I heard that…but I didn’t beat him. He beat me. But we went a long time, close to the time limit. And he’d beaten everybody else in less than 20 seconds. But he beat me.


Chappell: Was it strictly a scientific match?


Kernodle: It was all amateur wrestling. It was shoot wrestling. He shot with me in an amateur way. But if I hadn’t given up, I believe he would have hurt me.


Bourne: He wasn’t working with you at all?


Kernodle: (laughs) Oh, no! You see, guys, think about it. He had everything to lose. His reputation was high, and I was just a little ol’ kid. I was twenty-three, trying to get into wrestling.


I wouldn’t do anything like that, myself, personally…


Chappell: It’s amazing to me that Jim Crockett Promotions, and Roop, would do something like that. It just blows my mind! What’s the upside for them?


Kernodle: Well, David, you remember Tim Woods did something like that down in Georgia…


Chappell: Yeah, and he got his finger bitten off for his trouble!


Kernodle: And Tim Woods was also a great amateur wrestler, but yeah, he got his finger bit off by a biker. But after that, he beat the crap out of the guy!


Woods was just trying to play with him a little bit…you know, roll around with him a little bit. And then the guy bit his finger off!


Chappell: Makes no sense in my opinion…for Roop to do that.


Kernodle: In a situation like that, the [professional wrestler] has a lot to lose…and nothing to gain.


Chappell: Now, when Ole and Gene approached you after the match…were they doing that on their own or were they doing it on behalf of Jim Crockett Promotions?


Kernodle: That was Ole and Gene. Like I said, I had talked to them before, and they knew I had wrestled at Elon.


Bourne: Ole always had a healthy respect for anybody with a legitimate amateur background.


Kernodle: And I actually favored Ole back then! I don’t know if ya’ll ever noticed it, or not. But at one time I was thinking about becoming “Donnie Anderson.”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: Donnie Anderson was a football player…


Chappell: I think he may have played for the [Green Bay] Packers.


Kernodle: But Ole and Gene said that everybody knew me from amateur wrestling, so it would probably be better for me to keep my real name. Now, I’m glad I did.


Bourne: Well, that let them put you over as the local guy…which they did. I remember hearing that all the time.


Chappell: On TV you were always talked about as hailing from Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina.


Could you describe your training under Gene and Ole.


Kernodle: I’d go up [to Charlotte] on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and work out with them…


Chappell: Tell us about that first Monday! Was it as bad as advertised?


Kernodle: Oh man! It was! It was hot, too! They ran me about five miles. Run up and down all the steps over there at Charlotte…at the Shriners Football Stadium. You know, where they had North Carolina/South Carolina play. Pretty big stadium…


Bourne: Right behind the Park Center…


Kernodle: Exactly. Pretty big stadium. I’d run up and down all the steps. 500 jumping jacks. At that point I’d already helped put up the ring. Vomited five or six times…I was just unbelievably worn out!


Chappell: Was anybody else training you?


Kernodle: Terry Sawyer was there. Terry Sawyer was a GREAT amateur wrestler.


Chappell: From down in Tidewater Virginia.


Kernodle: Granby High School. He was only 190-200 pounds, but he wrestled for Granby High School, and that school has the greatest record of any high school in the United States. Billy Martin, Sr. was the wrestling coach there.


But Terry Sawyer was great…he never got tired!


Chappell: What did the three of them do with you in the ring?


Kernodle: What they would do, if I got down or had to switch or get away from them, they’d make me get right back down. They just wore me out!


They’d make me run the ropes, and then I didn’t know how to run the ropes. I was just hittin’ them hard, and brother that lat back there…man, that thing was like a boil!


Chappell: Brutal!


Kernodle: Runnin’ the ropes…I’d collapse! Just collapsed right there in the middle of the ring. Just exhausted.


So Ole was right…he said it’d be the toughest thing I’d ever done.


Bourne: I guess they’re wanting to see if you can take it. Did they stretch you?


Kernodle: Stretch?? They stretched me all the way back to Burlington!!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: I mean…they were trying to get you to quit. They were trying to see if you had enough fortitude not to quit, not to give up.


Chappell: So there was a method to their madness.


Kernodle: If everybody had to get in the professional wrestling business like me, I hate to say this in a bad way, but some of the riffraff that’s in there…wouldn’t be in there. Believe me!


Bourne: Yeah, like all these backyard guys…who think they’re wrestlers!


Kernodle: Then later on somebody who weighs 200 pounds and could buy some tights and a pair of boots, thought they were a professional wrestler.


But, that’s the reason why amateur wrestlers like me don’t like to see riffraff in the business. They think you have to pay your way into the business…which is good.


Chappell: Don, you certainly paid your dues!


Kernodle: When Ole said it would be the toughest thing you’ve ever done…he was right. It was unbelievable.


College wrestling training is hard…but nothing compared to what Ole and Gene put me through.


Chappell: How long did you train with Ole and Gene?


Kernodle: I did that for probably about eight weeks.


Chappell: How did you make it that long?!


Kernodle: (laughs) What I would do is when I would run, and I’d be tired as could be, but when I got around there next to Ole and Gene, when I’d run by them, I’d act like I wasn’t tired!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: Then finally Gene would say, “Kid, no use us runnin’ you no more.”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So, they didn’t run me any more.


Chappell: I guess they worked you early in the week because Charlotte was the Monday stop?


Kernodle: Yeah, they worked Charlotte on Monday. Then on Tuesday, I think they were in Columbia, but they were also in Raleigh and they had a little time. And on Wednesday, they had TV in Raleigh. If it didn’t work in their schedule, they’d do it another day.


Chappell: Did anybody else train with you?


Kernodle:  I had a buddy that went with me, but when he saw what they did to me…he wouldn’t even get in the ring! He was a tough guy, and we did judo together.




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