Related Links:

Superstar Billy Graham Official Website


Chappell: You also often tagged up with Steve Strong during that short 1975 Mid-Atlantic run. You all were an imposing duo! Strong was a powerhouse, much like yourself in terms of having that extreme muscular bodybuilding look.


I think many Crockett fans will be surprised that you and Steve Strong are still very close…to this day.


Graham: Oh yes, yes! Steve Strong is one of my dearest friends…absolutely!


As you may or may not know, Steve is a very successful artist. He painted Jesse Ventura’s official portrait for the Capitol building in Minneapolis…


Chappell: That’s really something…


Graham: Yes, that oil painting of Jesse Ventura hangs there today.


[Steve Strong] taught me how to paint, and so I became an artist also because of him. So we’re very, very close friends.


Chappell: I feel sure that a lot of folks who admired your work in the ring wouldn’t have necessarily pegged you as an artist!


Graham: As a matter of fact Dave, when I get done with this book tour and get this all behind me, I’m going to start painting again!


Chappell: Really? What type of painting?


Graham: I’m going to really start putting a lot of time back into my artwork. I never reached my potential in art…I don’t think you ever do in your lifetime, really, as an artist. And so I really want to get back into turning out some more oil paintings, and I think I’ll do some wrestling themes.


Chappell: Outstanding!


Graham: You know, I think the fans would enjoy that.


Chappell: Without a doubt! Artistic talent is a true gift, that I think you really have to be born with. Of course, you can always enhance it…and I’m so glad you’re committed to sharing that gift with us at this stage of your life.


Graham: I think you do really have to have a natural gift to begin with. Of course, you can be taught how to paint. But it’s just like cutting a promo…the guys with all the charisma, these guys have natural gifts from day one.


Chappell: Who do you rank at the top of the class as far as promo ability?


Graham: Dusty…and of course, Ric Flair. I’ve always considered Ric to be the most BELIEVABLE promo guy in the business---ever.


Chappell: And Superstar Billy Graham has to be up at the top of any list when it comes to promo ability!


Graham: Well, Dusty and I, we did kind of funny promos…entertaining promos. But, of course, Ric Flair, he’d tear your guts out with his promos!


Chappell: (laughs) That’s for sure!


Graham: (laughs) No question about it!


But cutting promos…that’s a natural gene that some folks end up with. It’s just a natural ability. No matter how hard a guy will try that doesn’t have that natural ability…it never comes off NATURAL.


Chappell: Very true, and it can be pretty painful to watch someone just starting out, who thinks he has that natural ability on the mic…but doesn’t!


Graham: (laughs) Exactly!


Chappell: We talked earlier about your taking a number of Ric Flair’s shots in the Mid-Atlantic area after the plane crash in October of 1975. A large portion of your matches then were against another wrestling legend, who was just starting a program with Ric then, the ‘Big Chief’ Wahoo McDaniel.


Graham: Oh yes!


Chappell: You actually had quite a history with Wahoo, one that predated your matches against him in the Crockett territory in 1975.


Graham: Oh, absolutely, Dave. He was one of my very favorite opponents.


Chappell: Really, Wahoo was?


Graham: Yes. And my favorite three opponents---and I’ll go on the record in saying this…


Chappell: Good enough Superstar….a Mid-Atlantic Gateway exclusive here! And this is not in the book!


Graham: (laughs) That’s right!


My three favorite opponents were Wahoo, Bruno Sammartino and Dusty Rhodes.


Superstar Graham battles Dusty Rhodes


Chappell: That’s some trio!


Graham: Those are my top three guys. Our chemistry together just absolutely meshed.


Chappell: So your definition of a ‘favorite’ opponent, would be an opponent that you just clicked with in the ring? Because Wahoo, Dusty and Bruno all certainly had very different ring styles and personas!


Graham: Yes, all those matchups were perfect.


Like Wahoo McDaniel, when I first started with him up in Minnesota, being that humble Indian. The American Indian, the humble, humble Indian…with all the fire and the guts. And then you have Superstar Billy Graham…


Chappell: (laughs) Not real humble!


Graham: Yes! The flamboyant Superstar Billy Graham , with the tie-dye and the rap and all that.


Chappell: QUITE a contrast between you and Wahoo.


Graham: I would constantly be putting [Wahoo] down. It was an absolute match for me against him…made for wrestling. It really was.


Chappell: You and Wahoo had some spectacular matches in the Mid-Atlantic area in the fall of 1975. A number with special stipulations. I remember you battled Wahoo in an Indian Strap Match and a Texas Death Match in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.


That contrast between the Superstar and the Indian made for some electric matches!


Superstar Billy Graham battles Chief Wahoo McDaniel

in an Indian Strap Match in Richmond VA. (Bill Janosik Photo)


Graham: Yes, it sure did! And also the contrast with Bruno Sammartino and myself.


Chappell: For sure.


Graham: Bruno Sammartino was the ethnic Italian…and all the ethnic folks and particularly those of Italian descent from up in the New York area just loved him. And in comes the loudmouthed, the tie-dyed, the flamboyant  Superstar…against the humble, ethnic Italian and defending champion Bruno Sammartino.


So, these types of things were like absolute perfect character contrasts.  


Chappell: And certainly, your biggest moments in wrestling came against Sammartino…where you eventually snared away the WWWF Championship from him in 1977.


Superstar Graham slams Bruno Sammartino in a battle for the

WWWF (WWE) championship.


For Mid-Atlantic fans, I think it’s noteworthy that you first debuted for the WWWF in Madison Square Garden against Dominic DeNucci in December of 1975, as you were at the same time winding your stint down in the Mid-Atlantic area.


Graham: That’s true.


Chappell: We really didn’t see you extensively again in the Mid-Atlantic area until nearly a decade later, in early 1985, when you came back in your martial arts persona, with Paul Jones as your manager.


Graham: Oh yes, exactly. I did the karate gimmick out of complete despondency…after I had to give the [WWWF] Title to Bob Backlund up there. It just took everything out of me. And so I just came back…not as the real Superstar Billy Graham.


Superstar Billy Graham with his manager Paul Jones during

Graham's return to the Crockett territory in 1984. (Eddie Cheslock Photo)


Chappell: I want to go back and ask you more about losing your WWWF Title to Backlund in a moment…because I think that’s a fascinating part of the book.


But your 1985 stint in the Mid-Atlantic area was very significant to you, because you ditched the karate gimmick later during that stint and teamed up with Jimmy Valiant, and became the ‘real’ Superstar Billy Graham again! Tell us about that transformation.


Graham: I came through the Crockett territory with that karate gimmick, and one day I went into Jim Crockett’s office…


Chappell: With a bombshell to drop?


Graham: Well, I had already told Dusty [Rhodes] about what I was thinking about doing.


Chappell: Dusty was booking the Crockett territory at this point.


Graham: Yes. So I went in and said, ‘Listen Mr. Crockett, I would like you to give me six weeks off, let me go back to California and bring that tie-dye gimmick back, instead of this karate crap I’m doing now.’  


Chappell: (laughing) What did Crockett say?


Graham: Jim Crockett told me, he said, ‘Well, you know what Superstar? That’s what I thought I was getting when you came back.’ (laughing)


Chappell: (laughing) Hearing that, you’ve got to wonder why Jimmy Crockett didn’t say something to you before that! It’s a wonder he even recognized you in the karate getup!


Graham: (laughs) Where was the real Superstar?!


And so, of course, that was the turning point…and Mr. Crockett agreed.  We took that six/seven week break there, and came back with all the tie-dye again…with the shaved hair and wore the two-tone goatee.


Chappell: You were back where you belonged, Superstar!


Graham: It was just like coming back…like a prodigal son, almost. I came back to who I really was, you know.


Chappell: And as I recall, you came back as a babyface…forming that tag team with Jimmy Valiant.


Graham: Yeah, I came back and turned out a babyface. And really, honestly, that was my real true calling in this business…


Chappell: Interesting statement!


Graham: It was because of my entertaining promos…like Dusty Rhodes. Entertainment…you know. The tie-dye, and that whole package put together. It’s extremely entertaining, and it’s hard for folks to dislike you. Because they want to like you…because of your look.




© 2006 Mid-Atlantic Gateway