Bourne: Who else trained with you, or broke in with you about the same time?


Kernodle: There was a guy that Rip Hawk was training, and he really shouldn’t have made it. You may remember this guy’s name…it was “Big Mack.”


Bourne: No, don’t remember that name.


Kernodle: He was a wrestling coach over at Charlotte Catholic for Rip’s son. He didn’t run well…he didn’t do any of that stuff. He couldn’t do it. He was about six [feet] five [inches] and was real heavy. I don’t remember his name, but they called him Big Mack.


Ole and Gene had me running behind the Charlotte Coliseum…the old one. The parking lot, going up the hill. I’d have to do about seven laps. Like the first quarter of the first lap, Big Mack fell down face first up there and was layin’ up there the whole time. The whole time I ran, I just kept runnin’ by him and he kept layin’ there!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: Rip was like the assistant booker, or something. This Big Mack was Rip’s guy. And at that time, Ole and Gene and Rip weren’t real close.


Chappell: Interesting.


Kernodle: Obviously, Rip wanted to be at the top…and Ole and Gene were so good.


Bourne: Guess there was a lot of politics going on, particularly when Mr. Crockett, Sr. died?


Kernodle: Oh yeah! Which you don’t know all that when you first break in.


Chappell: Were you paid by Crockett Promotions during your training?


Kernodle: They thought I was doing really well in the training and everything, John Ringley came to me and said, “You’re doing really, really well; I’m gonna pay you to train.”


So he started giving me like $300 a week, just to train. And back then, that was a lot of money!


Chappell: I’ll say!


Kernodle: You know, a hotel then was only like $6.00 a night. You know, it was a lot of money.


He was payin’ me pretty good, and so everything was clicking good. Then I got into wrestling.


Chappell: When did you start wrestling in the arenas around the territory?


Kernodle: After about 2-3 months of this, Ole and Gene said that they wanted to take me to Norfolk and Richmond with them…a Thursday/Friday trip.


Now, Ole’s son Brian, and Gene’s son Brad, were just little kids then. They’d come with them. And I’m talking about 3-4 years old…little ol’ bitty kids, just to give you an idea.


Chappell: Tell us a little about your first road trip.


Kernodle: So, we went to Norfolk and Richmond. When we put the ring up in Norfolk, we worked out in the Scope…same deal as I’d been doing in Charlotte. And then I watched them wrestle that night.


Then we went over to Richmond, and spent the night at the Jefferson Hotel. And then we went to the Arena in Richmond…before they started using the Coliseum for wrestling.


Chappell: When you started, Don, most of the matches in Richmond were held at the State Fairgrounds.


Kernodle: That’s right. After we worked out, Ole and Gene came to me that night and said, “You’re wrestling tonight!”


Bourne: Richmond was your debut match?


Kernodle: Well, see, somebody didn’t show up. And they wanted me to wrestle.


Chappell: How did you react?


Kernodle: I was really nervous! Stage fright!


Chappell: Understandable!


Kernodle: I didn’t have any tights. I didn’t have any boots…nothing!


Bourne: Now, Don, by that point during your training with Ole and Gene, had you been learning to work some wrestling spots?


Kernodle: Yeah…Johnny Heidman was put in there about a month back, and he was showing me how to work.


Chappell: I remember Heidman, but he was mainly a referee and an underneath guy when I started watching wrestling closely.


Kernodle: Everybody thought Johnny Heidman was a little ol’ underneath wrestler that wasn’t tough. Man, he was tough as could be!! Man, Johnny Heidman was tough!!


Chappell: Wasn’t he from New York?


Kernodle: He was from the Bronx, New York. And he was about half street-wise and everything. I mean, he was a tough man. He never won any matches or anything, always did jobs, but man, he was tough!


He sorta teached me how to work, basically.


Chappell: So how did that first match in Richmond go?


Kernodle: So that night they came to me and told me they wanted me to wrestle in Richmond, and I said, ‘Man, I ain’t got no tights, I ain’t got no boots.’ I was trying to get out of it!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So Gene said, “Hee, hee, hee…don’t worry kid!”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So, they gave me Art Nelson’s boots…and Johnny Ringo had an extra pair of tights. And somebody gave me a jacket!


Chappell: Who was your opponent?


Kernodle: I wrestled Terry Sawyer…


Chappell: You were familiar with Terry. That must have been a heck of a scientific match!


Kernodle: We wrestled to a 20 minute draw.


Bourne: Don’s first pro match was in Richmond, Virginia…there you go David!


Chappell: Awesome! I had no idea Don started out in my fair city!


Kernodle: In the Arena, over there by the ballpark. They tore it down.


Chappell: Yep, and if anybody reading this has a photo of the outside of the Richmond Arena, please let Dick or I know. We’ve been trying to get an outside photo of the Arena for a long time!


Kernodle: And, David, I even wrestled in that old place over there at the Fairgrounds after that.


Bourne: Strawberry Hill?


Chappell: Yes. A lot of wild and crazy Friday nights at the Fairgrounds!  They stopped using the Fairgrounds completely less than a year after Don started.


Kernodle: It was a very nice building for wrestling…the Arena was.


Chappell: Do you remember exactly when that first match in Richmond was?


Kernodle: August 31, 1973.


Chappell: How was Sawyer as an opponent?


Kernodle: Like a buzz saw! And we went 20 minutes, boy, and I was wore out! But we had a great match. It wasn’t air conditioned there, brother!


Chappell: The Arena could be stifling hot.


Kernodle: It was pretty warm! But we had a really good match.


Bourne: Do you remember who wrestled on top that show?


Kernodle: Gene was on top, and Art Nelson was in there. Johnny Ringo was there. Terry Sawyer, of course!


Chappell: Since we’re on the subject of “firsts,” do you remember your first TV match after the Roop match?


Kernodle: My first professional TV match was in Raleigh…against Jay York.


Chappell: One of the Alaskans.


Bourne: Was Frank Monte his partner?


Kernodle: Mike York was, and Frank Monte was.


But yeah…Jay York was a pretty nice guy. Big ol’ guy.


Chappell: Do you remember anything in particular about this match with York?


Kernodle: Yeah…we had a really good match on TV. Naturally he beat me. But it went really, really well. Probably went about five minutes.


Bourne: How long was the York TV match after your match in Richmond?


Kernodle: They saw that I did good in Richmond, so they put me on TV pretty quick. I’d say about six weeks.


Then Gene took me to Augusta, Georgia. Gene and I and somebody else went…Gene drove. It was on a Saturday night, and I wrestled Jerry Oates to a 20 minute draw. We had a really good match.


Bourne: The Oates boys were really good wrestlers.


Kernodle: Jerry Oates was a really good worker…real good worker.


Chappell: By this point, you were wrestling underneath as a babyface for the Crockett territory.


Kernodle: Yeah, they started booking me. Johnny Weaver…was the boss basically. They booked me in the smaller towns, like Spartanburg, SC and Lynchburg, VA. At first, they were booking me like four days a week in the smaller towns, where you weren’t making a whole lot of money.


Chappell: And Johnny Weaver was the booker?


Kernodle: Johnny was the booker, which I didn’t know then.


Chappell: And you continued as a very respected underneath worker for Crockett for a number of years. Were you comfortable working underneath, or were you frustrated about not being elevated to semi finals and main events?


Kernodle: (pauses) You know, David, I never pushed or shoved. One thing I made a mistake of…I might have been able to get on top in wrestling a little bit quicker, but I didn’t want to piss anybody off, per se. Because if you tried to make trouble, they might have said just go on and get the hell out of here.


Chappell: Well, I would think you had a pretty good situation. Working in an area that surrounded your home town, and for a promotion that had top notch talent and paid well.


Kernodle: You’re right. But I probably should have pushed and shoved a little bit more. I found out how to do that, a little bit later. How to try and do it, anyway.


So, in other words, I could have got on top a little bit quicker. But I tell you guys, back then you had some TOP wrestlers here in this area!


Chappell: For sure!


Kernodle: The Mid-Atlantic area, and NWA wrestling back then, I’d say was bigger than the WWWF at that time. In other words, the greatest wrestlers in the world were right here.


That’s the reason Ole and Gene never left the South. Because they were making the most money, and they were the greatest tag team. Why leave here, if you’re making more money than pretty much anywhere?


Chappell: Exactly.


Kernodle: And like you said, I was at home. I was within 100 miles of home, and they were taking care of me. So why did I want to go to Omaha or Portland, you know? I was making good money.


And it was the greatest wrestling in the world!


Chappell: As fans, we knew that and felt really lucky!


Kernodle: If you ever watched our wrestling here, and compared it to Verne Gagne’s wrestling or Tennessee-Knoxville…it was no comparison.


Chappell: Not even close…


Kernodle: That’s the reason the greatest wrestlers would come in here all the time.


Chappell: You came in about the time there was a big change in Jim Crockett Promotions. John Ringley gave way to Jim Crockett, Jr., and George Scott assumed the book. New big-time singles talent like the Destroyer and Johnny Valentine were about to come in.


Kernodle: Ringley went out to Oklahoma, and was working out there. He called me from out in Oklahoma, maybe a year later, and wanted me to come out there and be the Junior Heavyweight Champion. He offered me the belt!


Bourne: Interesting…I didn’t know Ringley stayed in the wrestling business after he left Jim Crockett Promotions.


Kernodle: Oh yeah…


Chappell: Why didn’t you head out west?


Kernodle: I was happy here…


Bourne: Who was running that territory then, do you remember? It was before Bill Watts…


Kernodle: Who was the blind guy…McGuirk? Leroy McGuirk? I’m not real sure, but I think it was him.


So, I got offered that deal. But at the time I was making good money here. I’d rather make $1000 a week and be an underneath wrestler, than make $200 a week as a top wrestler in some other territory.


Chappell: Under your circumstances, I understand.


Kernodle: Make as much money as quick as you can in professional wrestling. That’s the name of the game.


Like Ole and Gene…probably the greatest tag team---or top five in the WORLD. And people try to put them down for not going to these other territories, like we talked about a while ago.


Chappell: They pretty much stayed around here because it benefited them.


Kernodle: Why leave? When you’re in the greatest territory in the world, and Crockett wants you to stay here and is paying you good and is putting you in the big shows…


Chappell: Not a lot of incentive to leave.


Kernodle: That’s right.


Chappell: Clearly Gene and Ole had a huge influence on you. Please tell us a little more about the mouthpiece of that great team, Ole Anderson.


Kernodle: Gene taught Ole a lot, but Ole became one of the greatest bookers and promoters that there was. Ole’s a genius on this stuff…really.


Bourne: Absolutely.


Kernodle: Ole’s a genius. If he’d been in, say, Portland, wrestling with some of those people out there, he wouldn’t have learned all that like he did.


Chappell: Do you know much about Ole’s early career?


Kernodle: When Ole got in the business, he was just out of the service…and he was really clumsy. You know, he was green. He’d get on the top turnbuckle to jump off, and he fell over backwards on the cement!


Chappell: Ouch!


Kernodle: They taught Ole to be a great heel. He can talk and he’s big. You know, Ole’s a rough guy. They honed him to be one of the greatest heels ever.


Ole could work as part of a tag team and he was one of the greatest talkers ever. And he was a believable heel…very believable.


Chappell: No question about that!


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