Chappell: Who were some of the guys you first worked with when you began wrestling in the arenas and coliseums?


Kernodle: Not too long after I started, [Jim Crockett Promotions] wanted Ole and Gene to get out of here for awhile---that was when George Scott came in. [Ole and Gene] went down to Georgia, and were booking down there. They got me to go down there with them.


Chappell: So you followed Ole and Gene down to Georgia…I think that would have been during part of 1974?


Who did you wrestle down in Georgia?


Kernodle: Randy Poffo was down there---before he became Randy Savage. And Richard Blood was down there, right after he got in the business. Do ya’ll remember Richard Blood?


Chappell: Tito Santana! And he wrestled underneath for Crockett also.


Kernodle: Me and Randy had a lot of great matches. A lot of 30 minute draws on Friday nights at the Atlanta Auditorium.


Chappell: The City Auditorium?


Kernodle: Yeah…and me and Randy would steal the crowd!  We’d be about the fourth or fifth match, and we’d steal the show!


Going down to Georgia was a learning experience. There were different styles. And it was good in another way, because it was a short trip territory. It was fun to go down there. Me and Tito had some great matches, too.


Chappell: It sounds like your most notable early opponent was the future Randy Savage!


Kernodle: Randy, boy, he became a great worker. We’d have a 30 minute draw, and then we’d get into it again, and I might backdrop him over the top rope…just great stuff that people had never seen.


And he would call it…set it up. He honed his craft down there really good.


Chappell: Learning down there like you did.


Kernodle: And like I said, Tito and I had some great matches too.


One time I went in the office and Gene had a picture of Richard Blood on his desk. And I said, ‘Who is this guy?’ And Gene said, “Hee, hee, hee…don’t you worry, you’ll be knowing him pretty good right quick! You’re gonna be wrestling him 30 minutes every night!”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: But that’s how you really learn. When we went to the wrestling matches as a fan, we might have seen these two young guys get in there and have a clean match for 20 minutes…and thought it was boring. But, see, that’s how you learn.


Chappell: Certainly a lot of the opening matches did go the 20 minute time limit.


Kernodle: They could have had them work for five minutes, but if you work in there for 20 minutes…that’s four times the ring time. So, they had the draws, basically, to get time in the ring in front of people.


Bourne: Plus, you’re working six/seven nights a week.


Kernodle: That’s where you learn. If you’re in there six times for 20 minutes, that’s 120 minutes---that’s four half hours in a week. That’s why you see that…it gives the guy time in the ring. Plus, it takes time in the show…and lets the main eventers go a little shorter.


Bourne: And looking back on it, you don’t want all that faster or higher style until the end…it makes it more special at the end.


Kernodle: You can sit here and talk about wrestling all you want to, and you can think you know a lot about it, but it’s nothing better than getting in the ring in front of a crowd…not just out there in the gym. But to get in front of a crowd…and see the crowd’s reactions.


Chappell: That has to be real important.


Kernodle: Then Ole and Gene started bringing me along about how to do the promos, and stuff like that. They would make me get in front of a mirror and do them, where you could see yourself.


And Ole would tell me to use your whole body when you talked. And you watched yourself in the mirror. And that really helps you. They were masters of that stuff.


Chappell: And later on, when the Anderson Brothers left the Mid-Atlantic area, I believe Johnny Weaver was a big influence on you.


Kernodle: Weaver and I became really good friends. I probably have ridden with Weaver more than anybody in the business. I became best friends with Weaver.


Chappell: Johnny Weaver was amazing in so many ways.


Kernodle: Johnny Weaver, man, he taught me more about professional wrestling than anybody.



As Ole and Gene went on, I was here and Johnny and I rode together…as good guys. We rode together about every day…he’d drive and then I’d drive. We’d talk about the business. We smoked cigars back then. I mean, it was amazing.


Chappell: With all Johnny’s knowledge, I’m sure you were soaking it up like a sponge!


Kernodle: Johnny Weaver, man, he was a master. He was a master. He knew more about wrestling than anybody!


Chappell: Since you were a good guy back then, you really couldn’t ride around with Gene and Ole the way you did with Johnny.


Kernodle: Yeah, yeah. So that’s how that started. Johnny and I became really good friends…and he just knew so much about wrestling.


Bourne: To have two people really break you in like Ole Anderson and Johnny Weaver…it’s hard to get much better than that!


Kernodle: Couldn’t ask for any better!


Chappell: When you were still new in the business, only a couple of years in, there was the terrible plane crash in October of 1975. What do you remember about that tragedy in Wilmington, North Carolina?


Kernodle: I was on the card that night. That afternoon, I drove straight from here in Burlington to Wilmington. But a number of them flew.


The matches were being held in a football stadium---American Legion Stadium in Wilmington. It was sold out…people everywhere.


Chappell: When did you find out about the crash?


Kernodle: When I got to the stadium I was asked about the plane crash. I said, ‘What plane crash?’ So then I was told about it.


I was told David Crockett was on the plane, and that Ric Flair was on the plane. They pretty much told me who was on board.


Chappell: I imagine people were in a state of shock.


Kernodle: Pretty much. But we still put together a show…we wrestled. We had a show…we filled in as best we could with the guys missing.


Chappell: The show must go on…


Kernodle: I went to the hospital later and saw Flair…he had a broken back. The pilot…he ended up dying. Johnny Valentine and Bob Bruggers never wrestled again.


Chappell: What did you hear about how the crash happened?


Kernodle: What it was…the pilot tried to overcompensate for the weight of the wrestlers and their bags by not putting as much fuel in the plane. They were in sight of the airport when they went down.


Chappell: I remember they were very close.


Kernodle: The pilot was trying to coast it in. And they got almost there, and hit a railroad embankment. They were lucky anybody survived.


Flair broke his back, and he was never able to gain any weight after that. Flair weighed about 285 when he first came in here. After he broke his back, he was never really able to get back big again. He didn’t really want to be that big again---but he lost a lot of weight with the crash.


Chappell: Since we’re talking about Flair, are there any thoughts on the young Ric Flair that you’d like to share with us?


Kernodle: Flair came in here weighing about 285. Sergeant Slaughter and Flair knew each other in Minnesota…going way back. They used to play softball against each other.


Chappell: I bet Ric was a sight on the softball field!


Kernodle: Way back then, Flair weighed over 300 pounds. He weighed 325-330. He was a power lifter. He met Ken Patera, and got real big from power lifting. The power lifters were real big back then…not great bodies, just real big and strong.


Chappell: Hard to imagine Flair that big.


Kernodle: Talking about Flair playing softball, Sarge told me that one time Flair hit a ball out into left field, and the left fielder would throw him out before he got to first base!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: He definitely couldn’t run fast!


Chappell: Not at that size!


Kernodle: Flair came in and got over really good. They teamed him up with Rip Hawk at first.


Flair was Crockett’s boy. He groomed him. The reason that Flair is the greatest professional wrestler of all time, the reason he held all those championships, is because he was Crockett’s baby.


He got all the promo time. They groomed him to be what he was…in my opinion, he was the greatest professional wrestler ever.


Chappell: And Flair certainly took full advantage of the push Crockett gave him.


Kernodle: When you have all that behind you, and you win all those belts, and you have all that promo time…you’re in a great situation.


Chappell: In Flair’s early years, the mid 70s, Ric was billed as being the cousin of Gene and Ole Anderson. Did the Andersons help Ric like they helped you?


Kernodle: Ole helped Ric a lot. So did Weaver. They helped him become what he was.


I guess you guys know that back then all the NWA promoters voted on who would be the World Champion. You had to put up a big bond, and all that stuff to be champion. Way back in wrestling, most of the champions were involved in the promotions…Strangler Lewis, Gene Kiniski, Pat O’Connor and the Funks. They were promoters. So, naturally they got the power…so they’re gonna be the champions.


Chappell: I guess it’s fair to say that everyone had to get help somewhere along the way.


Kernodle: Everybody worked real hard to help me, and I had a lot of great teachers. Made a lot of great friends over the years.


Bourne: During the 70s you were in Jim Crockett Promotions for the most part, but you did work some other territories on occasion. Tell us about those. I know you were in Memphis for a short period of time.Your first title was in Memphis, is that right? The Mid-American Tag Team Champions. 

Kernodle: Yeah, me and Randy Fargo…Sonny’s and Jackie’s nephew.


Bourne: Was he their legit nephew?


Kernodle: Yeah…Faggart is their last name. Randy died not too many years after that.


Anyway, I wrestled here and in 1973, Tom Renesto, who was one of the Bolos, was the booker in Atlanta, had me down there some. So, I was really here, but sometimes they’d send me to do Atlanta TV. And I’d also do the Columbus, Georgia TV and Carrollton also. Did both.


Bourne: Did Fred Ward do his own TV show? Was it Columbus or was it Macon?


Kernodle: Columbus, but he did one in Macon, too. Columbus was on Saturday afternoon, and then we’d go to Carrollton. But Macon…that seemed like it was on a Tuesday night.


Bourne: So you did Atlanta TV that Saturday morning, the Columbus TV that afternoon, and then Carrollton or somewhere that night!


Kernodle: Yeah!


Chappell: A triple shot!


Kernodle: I did that, and Watts was the booker down there just a little bit later…and I worked for him down there. Khosrow Ali Vaziri [the Iron Sheik] came in here…he weighed about 190 pounds! He was in great shape. They were booking me and him down in Georgia some. I remember I’d have to drive, and take him down there with me.


So, I wrestled here and in Atlanta.


Chappell: When we get to 1976, did you take another stint outside the Mid-Atlantic area?


Kernodle: In 1976 I separated from my wife, and left Burlington and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. So I wrestled in Nashville…


Bourne: Gulas?


Kernodle: Gulas…and Jerry Jarrett. And Christine Jarrett. I wrestled in Nashville and Memphis. And when I left there, I went over to Knoxville for Ron Fuller in 1977.


Bourne: I remember that - I grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and I saw some of that Knoxville stuff.


Kernodle: Did you go to Dobyns-Bennett High School? We wrestled there. Nice gym…real nice gym. That big dome!


Art Nelson was booking in Amarillo and my friend Irvin Smith…Rich Smith, great amateur, he was out there---he called and wanted me to come out there.


Bourne: And that’s when the movie deal happened, right?


Kernodle: Went out there mainly because it was a chance to work on top, basically. And if you went to work with the Funks, you’d get a trip to Japan!


Chappell: Nice!


Kernodle: So I did that…and Terry did the movie. But the trips were so long out there, and the money wasn’t too good. Didn’t really like it out there.


Bourne: You did go to Japan, though?


Kernodle: Oh yeah. Went to Japan.


Soon after that, I came back here…and pretty much stayed here. Then I got hooked up with Sergeant Slaughter when he came in here in 1981.


Chappell: Before we get into your first push in the Mid-Atlantic area with Sergeant Slaughter, I’d like you to run us through that great boom period of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling under the booking of George Scott.


You worked underneath during that period in the mid and late 70s when the Mid-Atlantic area was the greatest territory in the country. I’d like to throw some names out there, and get your responses to them.


Kernodle: Sure thing…fire away.


Chappell: I think it’s fair to say that the Mid-Atlantic territory really caught fire in the mid 70s when George Scott came in as the booker. And this was pretty close in time to when you broke in. Tell us your recollections of George Scott.


Kernodle: I watched George Scott when I was a kid, and I thought he and his brother Sandy were a great tag team.


Chappell: The Flying Scotts!


Kernodle: When George became booker here, he took pretty good care of me. I mean, I wasn’t on top, but I made a lot of money. I like George Scott…I have a lot of respect for him.


Chappell: Tell us a little more about your good friend, Johnny Weaver.


Johnny was still on top when you broke in the business in 1973, but soon after that started transitioning to mid-card and being a TV announcer with Rich Landrum as the “Dean of Professional Wrestling.”


Kernodle: Johnny Weaver was one of the greatest friends you could ever have. He wanted to help everybody. He was a hero. He not only was a hero wrestler, but he served the state of North Carolina as a deputy sheriff for 20 years, which is not an easy job.


Chappell: That’s for sure.


And how about that journal of wrestling finishes that Johnny kept?!


Kernodle: Johnny Weaver knew more damn finishes than anybody in the business…he didn’t forget anything!


You know, David, everybody liked Johnny…he was a friend to everybody. He was probably one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. I really loved Johnny, in every way.


Chappell: A man that came on the scene late in 1973 soon after you debuted, and who had some classic matches with Weaver, was Johnny Valentine. What stands out to you about “The Champ?”


Kernodle: I hadn’t been in the business long when Johnny came here. I became good friends with him.


I’m the only guy, he told me, that ever countered his suplex!


Chappell: And back then, the suplex was THE hold!


Kernodle: He suplexed me on TV, and somehow when I hit, my knee came up and hit him in his face…and knocked him cold as a cucumber!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: The finish was, he was supposed to suplex me, give me the elbow…and pin me. He gave it to me and I’m laying there…but he’s laying there too!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: (laughing) We’re on Raleigh TV, and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell?’ So finally, he gets up…it took awhile because he was knocked out. Somehow, when he dropped me back, the recoil of my knee hit him right in the face and knocked him out!


He said that had never been done to him before…he liked it! He shook my hand!


Chappell: (laughing) I’m sure he did! Valentine on his promos used to say that he liked pain…and he could take it!


Kernodle: (laughing) Yeah, when he got up he was staggering all around, back and forth, and he finally dropped down and fell on me and beat me one, two, three.


I didn’t know what to do there for a minute. He was the United States Champion…I didn’t know if I could beat him or what. I said to myself, ‘PLEASE GET UP, PLEASE GET UP!’


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Chappell: Another veteran that was winding down when you broke in was Rip “The Profile” Hawk. You talked about Rip a little earlier, but give us a few thoughts on Hawk, who exited the territory at the end of 1974.


Kernodle: I liked Rip a lot, and he liked me. Like you said, Rip didn’t stay in the area much longer after George Scott came in as the booker. He got gone pretty quick after that.


When I went down to Amarillo, Rip was out there. He was promoting in Albuquerque, and I saw him out there. But I liked Rip Hawk. He’s a smart guy, and at that time he was a really good wrestler, and he had a lot of heat.


Chappell: Oh yes…Rip was pretty much a heat magnet!


Kernodle: He used that profile thing, you know, to get heat. He was a smart-ass like me! Swede [Hanson] was the big tough guy…


Chappell: That brings me to the big Swede! Swede was on top when you broke in, but he stayed around through the 70s working underneath. So you had a lot of opportunities to deal with big Swede!


Kernodle: Swede could hit harder than any damn body I’d ever seen in my life!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: He’d knock the hell out of you! Like in a battle royal he’d hit you in the back, and it was like lightning striking you! You knew it was Swede, and you’d turn around and he’d laugh at you! He knew he’d set your ass on fire!


Chappell: One of the guys that Swede feuded with in 1974, and he hung around until the summer of 1975, was the Super Destroyer, Don Jardine.


Kernodle: I didn’t know him really, really, really well. I liked him, and he was a great worker and everything.


I did see one thing with him at Raleigh TV one time. He came in one night and Wahoo [McDaniel] and I were talking, and he dropped his bag and punched Wahoo. Man, Wahoo turned around and beat the dog crap out of him!


Chappell: I remember hearing stories about how those two got into it, and Wahoo got the best of it!


Kernodle: Got them separated…Swede was involved in that. After we had them separated, Wahoo jumped on his ass again!


Bourne: Do you know what it was over?


Kernodle: Something that happened the night before.


And they had to work that night on TV!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: They went out that night and worked on TV, and nothing happened in the ring. Everything went like it was supposed to.


Then they came back to the back, and Wahoo went off on his ass again. Wahoo beat the hell out of him!


But I liked Don Jardine okay. I just didn’t know him very well.


Chappell: We’ve been talking about Wahoo. He came into the territory in 1974, and was a mega star in the 70s and beyond. Tell us about the big Indian Chief.


Kernodle: (laughs) Wahoo was a TOUGH guy…


Chappell: Just ask Don Jardine!


Kernodle: He was a great athlete. Great in football, golf and wrestling. Wahoo got over because he was mean and tough. And buddy, his work was tight. Like those big chops…you could hear them all over the arena!


He was a great guy, and a great competitor…tough guy.






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