Published on April 29th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
Stealing the Territory
How RON GARVIN & BOB ROOP Led a Wrestlers’ Rebellion
June 2, 1979
Ronnie Garvin hadn’t shown up to TV. The man with the hands of stone had defeated Alexis Smirnoff the night before to win the top title in Knoxville–the NWA Southeastern heavyweight title. But he was nowhere to be found. Calls to his house went unanswered. He was simply gone.
Even more troubling: Three other headliners were missing. While Garvin was the promotion’s top babyface, Bob Roop wasn’t there, either. Roop, a legitimate tough guy and a former Greco-Roman wrestler for the U.S. Olympic team in 1968, had just been relieved of his booking duties, but he was still one of the top draws in the territory. Bob Orton, Jr., and The Great Malenko were gone, too. The promotion’s owner, Ron Fuller, didn’t panic. Instead, the Knoxville TV taping went ahead as scheduled. The match results from the previous night were ignored, and Smirnoff–Canadian wrestler Michel Lemarche wrestling as ‘the mad Russian’–was still announced as champion of the territory.
The only problem: Garvin still had the Southeastern title belt.
Roop and Garvin hadn’t been happy in Knoxville for a while, and they weren’t the only ones. Roop says houses were selling out, but the crew’s payoffs weren’t where they should have been. By 1979, Roop had been in the business a little more than 10 years and worked all over the country for various promoters. As a ‘real’ wrestler, he had credibility in the ring and could back his law in the dressing room with his fists if need be. Garvin, a five-foot, nine-inch fireplug with arms, sported a crew cut and threw overhand chops that drew blood and left opponents battered and bruised for real. Orton was a second-generation wrestler who understood how the business worked from nearly the moment he stepped into the ring, and Malenko was a master heel who could shoot as well.
The four wrestlers were top stars in the Knoxville promotion, which ran events in east Tennessee, including in Chattanooga, Johnson City, Kingsport, and southeastern Kentucky. On their days off, they’d hang out in Roop’s apartment, watching TV, drinking beer, and talking about the business.
While none of them were happy, they also weren’t quite sure what to do about it. But the four men–especially Roop–suspected they were being cheated. The money, Roop says, just didn’t add up. Wrestlers paid on a percentage of the house weren’t getting what Roop claims was their agreed-upon share. The former Olympian set out to discover what was really going on. What he found out set the four on a course that would damage Knoxville as a wrestling town for years to come.
One night at a Knoxville card, Roop sneaked out of the dressing room and watched the ticket-takers, who he claims were a mother-daughter team. While the two would take tickets, they would count only about two-thirds of the actual tickets sold. Roop was furious, and says he confronted Fuller about it.
Fuller assured Roop that nothing like that was happening, but Roop didn’t buy it. To this day, he believes Fuller’s reaction was wrong, and wonders why Fuller didn’t at least look into his concerns.
“I went to see (Ron Fuller). I told him what was happening, suspecting he was not only aware of it, but likely the one ordering it done,” Roop wrote in a message on Kayfabe Memories. “My suspicions were justified by his response to my charge of the double ticket selling. He told me he couldn’t believe his ticket people would or could do that, just registered total shock and disbelief, in effect denying it was happening. Well, let me ask you: if the general manager as well as one of the top talents of your company comes to you with these kind of accusations, do you think you are going to deny them out of hand? … NO! You’re going to tell him that you are going to be looking into that accusation, thank him for letting you know about it, that you will get to the bottom of it, etc.
“That he denied that it could be happening and clearly planned on continuing to do the same thing, made him my enemy. He was stealing from me every night, taking money I had given blood, sweat and tears to earn, he wasn’t satisfied that we were doing great business and earning him a fortune, he had to steal off the top of it. That he would lie to my face and deny what I presented to him as known factual evidence to me was to me a personal insult and lost whatever small affection or respect I might have felt for him. That he thought I would take it and be happy because I was making quite a bit of money even being shafted was a reflection as to his opinion of my character and another deeply-felt personal insult. That he would let us run the entire show, give us carte blanche to do what we wished with his territory, then give us the old shaftola? He clearly thought we were all stooges who would just put up with that kind of insult! He was wrong!”
The seed was planted. Unable to trust the man who hired him, Roop’s discontent grew. Eventually, he asked the other wrestlers with whom he was close a fateful question:
“Why don’t we take the territory from him?”