Chappell: And I remember during that time ya’ll were trying to regain the titles, ya’ll physically took the belts from Steamboat and Youngblood!


Kernodle: Yeah…we stole the belts! We stole ‘em from ‘em…we took ‘em away from ‘em! Jumped ‘em, took ‘em away from ‘em!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: And one time we lost one of those “Losers Can Never Wrestle As A Team In That Town Again,” but we came back and wrestled there again! All you had to do was get Steamboat and Youngblood to say, “Look, we want to wrestle them again! PLEASE, lift the sanctions! PLEASE Mr. Crockett, we’ll do ANYTHING! We’ll give up a year’s salary…we WANT to wrestle them again!”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So Crockett said, “Okay, we’ll lift the sanctions.” You can do anything in professional wrestling!


That was all our idea, too. The guys that were wrestling us back then had it made…all they had to do was show up. We came up with all the finishes.


Chappell: And at the time of these returns, wasn’t Sarge leaving for the WWF?


Kernodle: Yeah…we both left. I tell you when we left. When that program was winding down we went into the office and asked Crockett who we would wrestle if we stayed, and we just never got an answer that satisfied us. So Sarge and I said, “Looks like we’re going to New York!”


Chappell: How was it with the WWF?


Kernodle: I went to New York, and did really, really well money-wise. I was in the mid-card. I was wrestling Tito Santana again, and stuff like that. I was making really good money.


Chappell: How was Vince McMahon to deal with?


Kernodle: Vince told us in 1983 that he was going national. He told Sarge and I, because we’d go out and eat dinner with him after TV.


He said, “Here’s what I’m gonna do…I’m gonna put everybody else out of business.”


Chappell: Did you think he could pull it off?


Kernodle: I thought it probably wasn’t gonna happen. But he was serious. He said, “I’m gonna put everybody out of business, and I’m going WORLD-WIDE with wrestling.”


Well, Vince has done even more and is even bigger than anyone ever imagined.


Chappell: I think that’s a fair statement.


Kernodle: (laughing) Even though he sold RAW to Donald Trump the other night!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: But that’s when I came up with the idea of Nikita Koloff…


Chappell: When you were still in New York?


Kernodle: Yeah, as I was finishing up.


Chappell: I remember you coming back to the Mid-Atlantic area at the tail end of 1983. And soon after that, you were back on top here as one half of the World Tag Team Champions with Bob Orton, Jr. But that pairing didn’t last very long at all.


Kernodle: Yeah…that didn’t work out that well, and it didn’t last long. Orton was hurt, as I recall. And I like Orton. It just didn’t work out, so we went a different avenue. It was sort of preparation for Ivan and I.


Chappell: That’s right…then you and Ivan Koloff got together, and that DID work out!


Kernodle: We came back with Ivan and I…


Chappell: And the rest is history!


You all had some good opponents. I remember Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood…


Kernodle: Yeah…and then Jay and Mark Youngblood.


Chappell: And towards the end of that, I remember Jay painting his face, and calling himself the “Renegade.” By that time, Nikita Koloff was on the scene.


Kernodle: Oh yeah…Nikita! See, that was all my idea. And you were talking awhile ago about having heat being with Sarge. But when I teamed up with the Russians and did that…now that was SOME heat! That’s when the heat REALLY got hot!


Chappell: I can only imagine!


Kernodle: An American turning on his damn country. Well, you know guys, I never really turned on the country. I just said, ‘What do you get when you get the greatest American wrestler and the greatest Russian wrestler and you team them up? You get the World Tag Team Champions!’


Chappell: I remember you using that line a lot!


Kernodle: I did accept the flag, and Ivan accepted mine…but I didn’t turn on the country.


And Nikita was my idea, as I said before.


Chappell: How did Nikita come into being? I remember when he first came in during the summer of 1984, he looked like the biggest monster in the history of wrestling!


Kernodle: I knew that Russia was probably not going to participate in the 1984 summer Olympics, because of the way things were looking. So, I came up the idea that Nikita was an Olympic lifter and a wrestler!


Chappell: Where was Nikita found?


Kernodle: I found him! I went to Joe Laurinaitis of the Road Warriors and told him I was looking for a guy that looks like ya’ll, big as hell, that wouldn’t mind shaving his head to portray a Russian.


Joey said he knew the perfect guy…Scott Simpson. Three days later we had him here. When Nikita walked into the office, he already had his head shaved and everything. See, I wouldn’t have shaved my head…if I had three hairs up there, you weren’t shaving my head!


Chappell: (laughing) That’s right…you were the only one on the Russian team that had any hair!


Kernodle: I didn’t think anybody would want to shave their head!


Bourne: (laughing) You probably hated doing the “Private” thing right, because you had to get your hair cut for that!


Kernodle: (laughing) Yeah…and my beard! I had to cut my beard, too! But then Crockett came in and told me that he wanted me to start being Don Kernodle again. So I could have my beard and do what I wanted to…after the World Championship program.


But, yeah, Nikita walked in and he looked like he could kick the crap out of anybody…


Chappell: Oh yeah…he was ominous looking.


Kernodle: He really fit the part. We were in Dorton Arena. I don’t know if ya’ll remember when they first started doing those big TVs from Dorton Arena…


Chappell: Oh yeah…definitely. Dorton looked really cool on TV, with those windows in the background.


Kernodle: We had Nikita up there for the first time. Nikita had never been on a wrestling mat before…even an amateur wrestling mat. He’d NEVER been in the ring!


We got up there and we did our interview, and we just had him stand up there holding the chain! We did all the talking. I remember that night so well because I was sick with a high fever…


Chappell: Did Ivan Koloff factor in on any of the planning for Nikita? Because of course, Nikita was billed as Ivan’s nephew.


Kernodle: Ivan didn’t have anything to do with that. That was all my idea. I just asked Ivan if he’d go along with it.


Chappell: So, did Nikita wrestle that night?


Kernodle: We get done with the interview, and go back to the dressing room. I was always messing around in the dressing room…looking at Playboy magazines and stuff like that, while the other guys were working out! I was talking and having a good time!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: So, Nikita comes over to me in the dressing room and says, “You know I got a match in a few minutes, don’t you? I’ve never been on an amateur wrestling mat or in a wrestling ring…nothing! Ever!” I said, ‘Unbelievable!!’


So I said, ‘Come here!’ You know, we wanted to build him into a powerhouse. We wanted him to be a powerhouse, because the plan was that they were gonna turn on me, and Sarge was gonna come back from the WWF!


Chappell: Man, that would have been off the charts!


Kernodle: I was gonna do a shoot interview on the telephone and say, ‘Sarge, I should have listened to you and not trusted those Russians…they’ve done turned on me and beat the hell out of me. And here I am in the hospital! I need you…I need you to come back. We’ve got to get that American flag back!’


Bourne: You did something like that, didn’t you? Wasn’t Sarge brought back, and it was you and Magnum [T.A.]?


Chappell: That was in March of 1985 in Greensboro. A one match deal if I remember. Don, Sarge and Magnum again Ivan, Nikita and Krusher Kruschev, who had just come in.


Kernodle: That wasn’t gonna be a one time deal, that was gonna be the whole damn cake. But everything got changed….what can you do?


But anyway, Nikita came up to me when we were in the dressing room at Dorton for that TV taping. See, we wanted Nikita to be a powerhouse. A super-power…just like Russia. We wanted a big guy like him to match up with Sarge, and me and Ivan matched up pretty well size wise.


Chappell: That first night, did you give young Nikita some wrestling pointers?


Kernodle: Yeah…I locked up with him and told him to just bend the guy down, and hit him on the back with some forearms about three or four times. Then grab him by the left arm, shoot him in the ropes and when he comes off put the bear hug on him.


Chappell: (laughs) Yeah…that pretty much sums up a Nikita Koloff match!


Kernodle: He had never been in the ring…and he got an 11 second win! We wanted it to be fast…


Bourne: The monster going over quick.


Kernodle: See, Jimmy Crockett gave me and Sarge the book before Dusty came in…


Chappell: Really? I had no idea…


Kernodle: Yeah…we already had the price and everything. We were gonna be the bookers. If we could have stayed the bookers like we thought, we could have controlled the thing with the Russians…it would have done phenomenal. Who knows, Jim Crockett Promotions might still be in business. Or maybe not. Vince [McMahon] may have put them out of business anyway.


I remember the day Dusty Rhodes came into the office…we were doing interviews. I thought he was just coming through to do a shot, like he’d do once in awhile. Then Jim Crockett said, “[Dusty] is my new booker.”


Chappell: Ouch!


Kernodle: I’m thinking, what did he just say?


How that happened, I’ll never know. So, that deal with Nikita and Ivan was changed…


Chappell: That’s for sure…Sarge didn’t come in!


Kernodle: What can you do…we had a new boss. Crockett used to listen to me, and to Sarge. We made him a lot of money, and we had his confidence, so we could do a lot of things


But then Dusty came in and got his confidence. I’d go to Crockett later with ideas, and it was completely different. It didn’t work. But I don’t have any ill feeling about it.


Chappell: Around that time, as a fan, you started seeing Dusty on TV a lot, and all those guys from Florida that were down there with him.


Kernodle: I’m the one that got changed, but [the Russians] kept on going. And Nikita was one of the best powerhouse babyfaces in the business.


He got over good. Nikita made a lot of money, quick.


Kernodle: And also, I was going to bring my brother [Rocky Kernodle] along…and get him on top in wrestling. Which he did wrestle in Starrcade [84] with Ole, remember?


Chappell: That’s right. But Rocky probably didn’t get near the push that he would have gotten if you and Slaughter were doing the booking.


Kernodle: If me and Sarge were booking, we were gonna let Flair and Steamboat wrestle most of the time, with Flair being the World Champion. And us wrestle as a tag team…and with the Russians, we were gonna have a hell of a deal. It would have made millions of dollars.


Chappell: Gotta wonder “what if.” But then, of course, Dusty brought in a lot of his guys from Florida and the focus changed.


Kernodle: And then later he brought Magnum in, and the Rock and Roll Express in.


I guess the way it ended up, we basically got the Russians over for them.

That’s basically what it was.


Chappell: That’s what happened, no doubt.


Kernodle: My biggest mistake, was when I wanted to turn babyface, I should have stayed with the Russians.


That thing with the Russians could have been the hottest thing…EVER! You notice any heat on any Russian wrestlers lately? That got changed, and Russian wrestlers haven’t been the same since.


Chappell: Yes, that’s true, and I guess hindsight is 20/20. But certainly your momentum was cut when Dusty came in and changed things.


And when the Russians turned on you in October of 1984 and you became the “Pride Of The USA” babyface, you had Dusty and later Magnum that were more of the focus on the good guy side.


Kernodle: You know when Dory Funk, Jr. was still the booker, I talked to him about the things Sarge and I was planning. Dory thought it was gonna be great, because I could wrestle.


Jim Crockett told me one time that I was one of the greatest wrestling heels in the business. You know, because I could do a lot of wrestling…not a bunch of cheap heat, you know?


Chappell: You were pretty good on the mic as a heel too, Don!


Kernodle: I could talk, you’re right! Back when we were doing interviews, like I told you, you might have a minute or a minute and a half. And Flair as the World Champion would take a lot of that time.


That’s why I would hardly ever say anything, because Sergeant Slaughter was the boss of the team. The Sergeant is the boss when you go into the battle, so I’d let him talk the most because he was the boss. It made the most sense.


Bourne: One of the favorite things you did with Sarge, when ya’ll were doing promos with the belts, you’d hold that tag belt and you’d look at it…polish it, kiss it, point at it. You really put that belt over!


Kernodle: Yeah, Dick, you had to make people believe that that belt meant a lot to you. In our business that’s it…that’s the pot of gold.


I always tried to make people believe that I’d do anything for that belt. If I had to kill somebody to keep that belt…I’d do it!


Chappell: Now, when you turned babyface after the Russians attacked you in October of 1984, you of course didn’t have Sarge with you like you hoped, but the “Pride Of The USA” angle as a single still did well, didn’t it?


Kernodle: Some people said it didn’t get over, but it did. We did $45,000 in Asheville, North Carolina on a Sunday at 2:00 in the afternoon. That had never been done. Weaver used to laugh and say, “$45,000 in Asheville at 2:00 and it didn’t get over???”


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: But that had never been done! That was over TWICE what had been done in Asheville before. We sold out Fayetteville, North Carolina…we sold out a lot of places. It got over, believe me.


But if the Pride Of The USA thing had gone like me and Sarge planned it, I could have been a mega superstar, and made a lot more money…


Bourne: Right, because TV had started going so nationwide…ya’ll were on the Superstation [TBS] at that point.


Kernodle: It was a big thing, but it could have been a much bigger thing.


Chappell: Were you doing single matches against Nikita then?


Kernodle: I was wrestling against Ivan and Nikita…both of them.


By Christmas day in 1984, I was wrestling Nikita in Greenville, South Carolina in the afternoon…and that night I wrestled Ivan in Charlotte!


Chappell: You had some great “Flag Matches” during that time.


And around that time, weren’t you teaming up with some big names?


Kernodle: Oh yeah…teamed up a lot with Steamboat. And later with Dick Slater, Magnum and the Rock and Roll Express.


Chappell: After those great battles with Ricky Steamboat in 1983, I remember how unusual it was to see ya’ll tagged up at the end of 1984!


Kernodle: And see, I was gonna bring my brother along and get him up, and have a legitimate brother and brother World Tag Team Championship team…


Chappell: I remember you and Rocky teaming around this time. And of course, some people might remember your brother Rocky Kernodle as “Keith Larson,” who had wrestled underneath in the Mid-Atlantic area for a couple of years prior to this.


And your brother’s real name is Wally Kernodle.


Kernodle: That got going a little bit, and then it all got switched…it got changed.


Chappell: But Rocky did get put on Starrcade ‘84 like we mentioned a while ago…and he had a good match.


Kernodle: That was my idea. Dusty said I shouldn’t wrestle that soon after the Russians attacked me…it wouldn’t look like I was really hurt if I came back and wrestled so fast.


He asked me who I’d like to wrestle with my brother, and I said, ‘Ole…he’d be perfect!’ Because he broke me in the business…


Chappell: I was gonna say, that kind of completes the circle!


Kernodle: I got Ole to wrestle…and it was a hell of a match. I don’t know if ya’ll remember that or not?


Chappell: Absolutely…I thought your brother did great. And that was definitely the first time he was on a big stage like that.


Kernodle: (laughs) You remember I broke the crutches over the Russians? That was great, man!


Chappell: Around that time, wasn’t there an angle with your Mom? Wasn’t she involved?


Kernodle: When I got hurt that time, when the Russians turned on me and per se hurt me, I got my Daddy to come out of the top of the Coliseum to come down to the ring. Yeah, I got them to come down to the ring.


I told them ahead of time that I wouldn’t really be hurt, but I told them to come down to the ring.


Chappell: I thought that got over well.


Kernodle: I went to the hospital that night. I wasn’t hurt…I didn’t even have a hangnail!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: You know, some woman jumped up in the ring. She was a nurse, like from Atlanta…


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: She wasn’t supposed to do it! She got up in there, and she told the ambulance guys that I was unconscious.


I wasn’t unconscious…I was just acting!


Chappell: That just goes to show how believable ya’ll were back then.


Kernodle: Well, hell, when they think you’re unconscious they keep you overnight at the hospital. So they made me stay over!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: (laughs) I’m laying on one of those metal tables, sweating and cold as hell! I’m listening to all this stuff going on…they’re pumping somebody’s stomach over there…


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: Then the doctor comes over to me and says, “We’ve got to keep you overnight because the nurse says you were unconscious.” Well…I wasn’t unconscious!


Chappell: (laughs) You can never be too careful about these things, Don!


Kernodle: I was starving to death…couldn’t get anything to eat! When Mom and Daddy came and got me the next day, hell, I went over to this cafeteria and ate like a SOB!


Chappell/Bourne: (laughing)


Kernodle: But they were the good old days, brother.


Chappell: And after that, you were the good guy “Pride Of The USA” for quite awhile, and you had the red, white and blue headband.


Kernodle: That was my idea to do that, all along. But it ended up getting changed quite a bit. But as I said earlier, it was still successful.


You remember when Manny [Fernandez] started wearing the headband, and all that stuff?


Chappell: That’s right. And things were really starting to change around that time. The Mid-Atlantic area was starting to merge with the NWA, and was less and less a distinct territory.






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