Published on March 11th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews2
A Ghost Story: How a Long-forgotten Territory Still Haunts WWE
Many of the stars of Southeastern and Continental found ways to pass on what they know to future generations of wrestlers. Some, like Bob Armstrong, handed down lessons to their sons. Of Bob’s four sons, all of them have (or still) make their living in the wrestling business. Scott is a producer for WWE, while Brian is one of the chief producers for WWE’s SmackDown! Live show. Brad, prior to his death, had worked as one of the agents for WWE’s version of ECW, and Steve still pops up occasionally at independent shows.
Brad is still considered by many—including Stone Cold Steve Austin and legendary announcer Jim Ross—as one of the most underrated talents ever to lace up a pair of boots. Each has made his appreciation of Brad’s work clear through comments on multiple podcasts, blogs, and Twitter posts.
“If you couldn’t have a good match with Brad Armstrong, you didn’t belong in the wrestling business,” Prichard said. “It’s that simple.”
Rogers echoed those sentiments while also noting the entire family was extremely talented.
“Of course he was good,” he said. “He was an Armstrong, wasn’t he?”
As a producer for WWE, Scott works with the talent to help promote the WWE’s worldwide image. He remembers being a young man and learning the ropes of the business by literally standing on the ring apron while tag-teaming with Brad. But his real education came through working a program with an established wrestler.
“Tommy Gilbert (Eddie and Doug’s Dad) came in for a very short six months, and I learned more about ring work than I’d learned from anyone, ever,” Armstrong said. “When he passed away I truly hurt as that man really taught me how to work. I had started in the biz as a tag team with my late brother, Brad, and I learned from standing on the apron and watching him—he was the best in-ring performer in our family. We all readily admit it. When my tag run was over is when Tommy came in, and he was in his early 40s. I was in my early 20s and wanted to hit the ropes and bounce around like a rubber ball. I vividly remember my Dad telling me to shut my mouth and open my ears when it came to working with Tommy. I shut my mouth and literally went to wrestling school—and all in front of an audience. Tommy Gilbert was a great wrestler and an even better man.”
Prichard is famous for, among other things, helping to train The Rock, as well as helping to transition Kurt Angle from amateur wrestling to the pro ranks. He currently works occasional independent shows, but also gives seminars and classes to up-and-coming professional wrestlers on how to improve their craft.
“You could tell right away that the Rock had something,” Prichard said. “Of course, no one knew he was going to become the kind of star he became. He was big and athletic, but he was also confident—not cocky, but confident—he had that performer’s ego, which is something you have to have if you’re going to make it in this business.”
And, of course, Prichard treated Angle with the respect an Olympic gold medal-winner and 2017 WWE Hall-of-Fame inductee deserved.
“Before we locked up, I told him ‘I do not have anything to prove to you, and you don’t have anything at all to prove to me,’” Prichard said. “I had been working with Mark Henry and Achim (Albrecht, also known as Brakkus in WWE), and I didn’t really want or need to be thrown on my head any more than I already had been. But Kurt was great right from the start. He got it. We locked up, and he was a natural.”
Rogers teamed with “Nightmare” Danny Davis after Davis opened Ohio Valley Wrestling, acting as the top trainer for OVW’s wrestling school. The laundry list of talent to come out of OVW is astonishing: Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, and Batista all spent time under the learning tree with Davis and Rogers.
Still, others were immersed in the wrestling business from an early age. WWE’s top agent, Michael ‘PS’ Hayes, broke in as a referee and later as a wrestler in Gulf Coast, and then Southeastern. The Freebirds’ first major breakup—a months-long program between Hayes and Terry Gordy—raged on Southeastern and Georgia television, with black-and-white footage of the blow-off cage match in Dothan being broadcast nationwide on WTBS. And when Ron Fuller was preparing to change the promotion’s name from Southeastern to Continental, it was Hayes he trusted to come in as the “reigning” champion to drop the newly-invented Continental Championship to Fuller. (Although in a rare misstep, Ron Fuller gave the finish of that matchup away when he showed off the Continental title belt a week prior to the arrival of Hayes to the territory.)
And Arn Anderson began his career under his real name, Marty Lunde, by losing a squash match to Bob Armstrong. Anderson would work for the Fullers as the masked Super Olympia, starting a years-long association with “Mr. Olympia” Jerry Stubbs that saw the two team with one another, break up and feud, unmask one another, and team again, only to feud once more when Arn was leaving to join Jim Crockett Promotions and go on to a hall-of-fame career. These days, Anderson works behind the scenes in WWE as an agent, passing along advice and wisdom from a nearly 20-year career in the ring.
When WWE wanted to remake Exotic Adrian Street’s gimmick for Rico Constantino in the mid-2000s, they went right to the source. Street was a standout British wrestler who could not only go in the ring, but used gaudy costumes and effeminate mannerisms to headline shows across the world, including high-profile feuds with Dusty Rhodes, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, Austin Idol, and others. Street now owns and operates a wrestling school in Gulf Breeze, Florida. He spent weeks teaching Rico how to work the gimmick.
“The WWE sent Rico to me, wanting him to learn that kind of gimmick from the best that’s ever done that kind of thing, and Rico, he’s a bright guy, he got it, he understood the gimmick,” Street said. But the first time he saw Rico do the act on Monday Night Raw, Street knew that something had gone wrong. “I thought ‘Oh no. They’ve fucked it. It’s never going to take off.’ I guess it shows you there’s only one original, and I can’t be duplicated.”
Speaking of originals, Dennis Condrey, one-third of the original Midnight Express, was signed to WWE as a developmental trainer in 2010, working with the rookies. Condrey spent most of his career in the southern territories, and along with partners Randy Rose and Norvell Austin, gave the world the Midnight Express in 1980.
And former Heartland Wrestling Association owner Les Thatcher had been a veteran wrestler and then made the transition to play-by-play announcer for the Knoxville end of Southeastern in 1974, came with the Fullers to transition Gulf Coast TV into Southeastern, teaming at the desk with Charlie Platt and eventually turning the program over to him in 1981. Thatcher still trains wrestlers, including WWE superstars like Dean Ambrose and standout talents like Nigel McGuinness.