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Richmond Reflections

by David Chappell


January 1, 1982 - 

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                                ...FROM THE EMPTY RICHMOND COLISEUM

Of all the memorable Friday nights I spent watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling at the Richmond Coliseum over the years, the card I attended on New Year's Day 1982 had to be memorable for the strangest reason. That reason being that nobody came to watch the matches! Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. I would guess that if 500 people total were in the 12,000 or so Coliseum seats that night it would be a stretch on the high end. No joke, my cousin Jamie and I were counting heads that night to see just how low the record turnout was! However, we never finished counting as the wrestling was actually good, and I have always remembered how hard the wrestlers worked and the effort they put out on a holiday with so few in attendance.

Perhaps the reason this card stands out for me so much is that the Richmond Coliseum always had spectacular cards in the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling days, and the building was almost always packed and the fans were ultra high energy! On this night, I remember wandering into all parts of the cavernous building, seeking out the lone fans who were sitting by themselves in large sections of the building. It was kind of neat talking with the other handful of fans who opted to come out to the matches on New Year's Day. When we yelled, we could hear our own voices echo! What was even better was that the wrestlers performing in the ring could hear us, even from the upper deck, and responded directly to us from the furthest reaches of the Coliseum.

So, why didn't anyone show up at the Coliseum on January 1, 1982? Well, I believe it was a combination of factors. Of course, it was a holiday and some folks undoubtedly had other plans. Richmond never had a tradition of its cards being held on a holiday, like some of the other towns around the circuit. This particular year, the calendar fell right (or maybe wrong!) to have a Friday and a big holiday hit together. And with New Year's Day falling on a Friday in 1982, I suspect many were still recovering from a long celebratory night before with a long weekend looming ahead. New Year's night 1982 also had a huge college football game being played at the same time the matches were going on, with Mid-Atlantic area ACC power Clemson playing Nebraska for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers won that game 22-15 to claim the national championship, and several people I talked to at the Coliseum were speculating on what the football score might have been as the matches were going on. I have no doubt that a lot of folks stayed home watching the Orange Bowl, to see if an ACC school could actually win the national championship in college football.

But in the end, I think "wrestling factors" also had a lot to do with the lack of attendance for this New Year's Day show. The calendar being the way it was, Christmas Day December 25, 1981 the week before also fell on a Friday night, and Jim Crockett Promotions put on a spectacular show at the Coliseum on Christmas featuring newly crowned NWA World Heavyweight Champion (and Richmond legend!!) Ric Flair defending his title against Ole Anderson. Why the promotion felt like they needed to put on TWO holiday shows that holiday season was perplexing, especially since weekly cards in Richmond were a thing of the past by 1982.

The card as promoted for the January 1, 1982 show was a strange one, and didn't really give many fans a reason to hit the Coliseum for a second holiday show. The top three matches on the card were not promoted sharply, and there was no significant buildup or angles coordinated to generate any interest. This card just sort of seemed to be thrown together in haste, which I suspect it was. But all in all, the wrestling this night was very entertaining-surprisingly so!

I actually do have some lasting memories of the wrestling on this card. Lord Alfred Hayes, the surly English TV commentator was actually in the ring wrestling--and wasn't half bad. Amazing!

The match between AWA star Billy Robinson and Johnny Weaver was an intriguing one. It was for Robinson's "European Title," whatever that was. Robinson was making a quick run through the Mid-Atlantic area, and I had read about him for years in the Apter magazines, so I looked forward to a rare chance to see him in person. As might be expected, this was a great scientific bout, one where Robinson played the "out of town scientific heel" role to perfection against "Mr. Mid-Atlantic Babyface" Johnny Weaver. I thought this was the best match of the night.

Twenty-one years later, I'm still scratching my head over the "Handicap Match" that paired newly turned babyface Ray Stevens with former archenemy Ricky Steamboat. I have to admit I was curious to see if these two would actually team up (they did), and if Stevens would turn on Steamboat (he didn't). But these two didn't mesh at all in the ring, and Stevens looked like he was moving in quicksand. Watching this match, it was clear at this point that as great as Ray had been in the past, it was time to hang the boots up. Within a couple of months, Stevens would move to the announcing table and then out of the area completely. Don't ask me why this thing was booked as a "Handicap Match," as this was the first one of these I had ever seen that didn't involve Andre The Giant! And please check out the picture on the promo ad for this card, as one of the great mysteries to me is whether the picture directly under Ricky Steamboat is Ray Stevens or Dusty Rhodes? If it's Rhodes, then every promo ad involving Ray Stevens appearing in Richmond from 1979-1982 is screwed up!

I had very low expectations going in regarding the United States Title match between Sergeant Slaughter and Blackjack Mulligan, Jr., and you might say I wasn't disappointed! This "feud" was a total mismatch, and in my opinion Mulligan, Jr. was pushed way too hard way too fast at this time. While I was (am!) a huge Blackjack Mulligan, Sr. fan and enjoyed Barry Windham's work later in his career, I did not care at all for the very green Mulligan, Jr. Their match as a semi-final bout on this card wasn't all that bad, but had one of those false finishes where it appeared for an instant that Mulligan, Jr. had won the U.S. belt……please say it ain't so! Thankfully it wasn't, and Slaughter walked back to the dressing room carrying the United States Title belt. WHEW!

The Main Event match on this New Year's Day 1982 Richmond card is one that I chuckle about occasionally to this day. Paul Jones versus Ole Anderson in a Loser Leaves Town Fence match. Five to six years before this 1982 match, a bout between these two with these stipulations would have sold out two Richmond Coliseums! And this night 500 people show up! Well, there are some reasons for this I think.

Primarily, there was NO buildup for a match like this with these stipulations…..NONE! At this time, Jones had virtually slipped to mid card status and was in the midst of his most unproductive run with Jim Crockett Promotions that I can remember. He had returned to the area in mid 1980 and begged for forgiveness after his heel run, teamed up with the Masked Superstar and won the NWA World Tag Team belts into mid 1981, but after losing them he was a babyface that nobody seemed to care about anymore. Later in 1982, Paul would turn back and remain a heel for the remainder of his time with JCP.

Ole Anderson, by this time for all practical purposes was done teaming with Gene, and as such was in sort of a "lull" himself. But more to the point, when this match with these major stipulations was thrown together, there was absolutely nothing going on between these two wrestlers. So essentially, this was to be the ultimate match to end a feud that didn't exist at the time! Okay…………………………………

The match itself was decent, but I couldn't help thinking (then and now) how HUGE this would have been in the mid 1970's, or even if it had been properly promoted in 1982. Ole won, and Paul Jones left town (yea, right!). Paul, not surprisingly, was back "in town" three weeks later after what I imagine was a nice vacation. While Clemson was winning the national title in the Orange Bowl, I was watching Ole versus Paul, Loser Leaves Town, with a couple of hundred other MACW faithful in the "Who Cares Bowl."

But for some reason, I've always remembered this New Year's Day 1982 card in the empty Richmond Coliseum fondly…….I guess all that really mattered was that the wrestlers and the few Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling fans that decided to show up DID care. And for this one holiday, we had each other.

Happy New Year!