Austin Idol blazed his own trail in the world of wrestling, undergoing many striking transformations along the way. But what could have been if he’d chosen to follow Vince McMahon Sr.’s advice?
Austin Idol: From McCord to “Universal Heartthrob”
Professional wrestling is replete with men who have taken a lackluster career and pushed it into the stratosphere by reinventing themselves.
Herman Rohde, a former policeman from Camden, New Jersey, turned a serviceable wrestling career iconic after he became “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.
Pudgy, fledgling newcomer Richard Fleihr evolved into Ric Flair.
Mark Callaway struggled as Texas Red and Mean Mark before hitting his mark as The Undertaker.
And one Michael McCord struck gold after he redubbed himself “The Universal Heartthrob” Austin Idol after an ill-fated plane crash in 1975.
Contrary to his kayfabe Las Vegas origins, Michael McCord grew up in Tampa, Florida, right in the heart of Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) promotion.
He was a muscular kid out of Robinson High School in Tampa, which produced some notable professional wrestlers, including Hulk Hogan.
After graduating from high school, followed by a brief career in construction, McCord developed an interest in professional wrestling and contacted Eddie’s son Mike Graham to break in.
Under the tutelage of the Graham family, Michael McCord was trained by the likes of Bob Roop, Hiro Matsuda, and Jack Brisco. Training under these legendary men is the wrestling equivalent of studying simultaneously at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
After a brief stint as a referee, McCord began his wrestling career in Tampa as Dennis McCord.
McCord’s early career was nomadic; after wrestling in Florida for several months, he briefly worked for Nick Gulas’ NWA Mid-America promotion before venturing to the Carolina-based Jim Crockett Promotions.
Within a year of his professional wrestling debut, McCord appeared in Australia for the original World Championship Wrestling promotion, earning his first of many titles, as he and Jimmy Golden won a tournament to become the inaugural NWA Austra-Asian Tag Team Champions.
Before Austin Idol: A Stint In the WWWF as Iron Mike McCord
In March of 1973, a little more than a year after his professional wrestling debut, McCord made his debut in the World Wide Wrestling Federation as Iron Mike McCord.
Per WrestlingData.com, his initial match was on March 29th, 1973, at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium against El Olympico. Two days later, McCord’s first acknowledged victory was against Arnold Skaaland at the Boston Garden.
McCord initially worked with and defeated enhancement talents such as Juan Caruso, Miguel Feliciano, and the Continental Nobleman, Joe Turco.
Although McCord spent nearly ten months in the WWWF and received several world title shots, he primarily languished in the prelim and mid-card ranks.
McCord’s modest push stalled on October 15th when Victor Rivera defeated him at Madison Square Garden in less than two minutes. After this, McCord suffered numerous defeats from Rivera, Tony Garea, and Dean Ho.
McCord’s final match in the WWWF was on January 19th, 1974, in Whitman, Massachusetts, where Chief Jay Strongbow bested him.
Although McCord spent nearly ten months in the WWWF and received several world title shots against then-WWWF Champion Pedro Morales, none were at Madison Square Garden. Our only guess is that the territory was overstocked with more experienced heels and more drawing power to pack the massive MSG. Gentlemen like Blassie, George Steele, Blackjack Lanza, and Don Leo Jonathan were established main event draws at the time.
Listening to Idol’s shoot interview with the Highspots Wrestling Network, it is relatively easy to detect a bit of regret regarding his stint with the WWWF.
Per Idol, Vince McMahon Sr. told him, “Stick with me, and I’ll make you a superstar!”
However, despite this ringing endorsement from the premier promoter in professional wrestling, the man then known as Iron Mike McCord said farewell to McMahon Sr. after a particularly rough 1973 winter in the Northeast.
As McCord aptly noted, “Nobody gave Vince McMahon notice!” However, this would be a pattern that would remain throughout his wrestling career.
After leaving the WWWF, McCord appeared as the masked Super Texan three days later at the Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Florida.
McCord, along with Stan Vachon and Bob Orton Jr., was on the losing end of a six-man tag team match against Jos LeDuc, Paul LeDuc, and Louis Tillet.
The Super Texan’s foray into Championship Wrestling from Florida was more brief than super, as he exited at the end of March after losing several matches to an up-and-coming Don Muraco.
McCord then took a several-month hiatus before resurfacing in mid-July with Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW), once again under the hood as Super A.
These leaves of absence were another trademark of Mike McCord’s wrestling career.
Super A experienced a modicum of mid-card success, scoring wins over The Professional and Big Bill Dromo. However, on August 16th, 1974, Super A was on the losing end of a mask versus mask match against the legendary Mr. Wrestling II at the Atlanta City Auditorium. Super A went away, and Mike McCord was back, at least for a few months.
Mike’s stint in GCW ended on November 8th, 1974, when he dropped a loser leaves town match to Harley Race.
Three days later, McCord was back in the familiar climes of his native Tampa, wrestling Tony Parisi (Antonio Pugliese) at the Homer Hesterly.
Interestingly, McCord was alternately billed as Dennis McCord. Super Texan even returned for a couple of shots. Unfortunately, Mike/Dennis/Super A/Texan had a bit of an identity crisis.
Mike McCord was about to take another hiatus, albeit an involuntary one this time.
The Tragic Plane Crash of 1975
After wrestling ‘Bullet’ Bob Armstrong in Miami Beach on February 19th, 1975, McCord boarded a Cessna 182 Skyplane, piloted by fellow wrestler Buddy Colt.
The destination for the evening was Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Island; however, due to foggy weather conditions, Colt inadvertently crashed into Tampa Bay.
Also on the plane were wrestlers Bobby Shane and Gary Hart.
Shane was killed instantly, while McCord, Colt, and Hart were severely injured. McCord suffered two fractured ankles as well as several broken ribs.
According to McCord in the Highspots interview, Colt was not an instrument-rated pilot.
Breaking the Curse: The Birth of Austin Idol
Following several months of rehabilitation, Mike McCord was back at one of his old haunts, Georgia Championship Wrestling, defeating Moose Morowski at the Atlanta City Auditorium on June 26th, 1975, finally breaking the ACA curse.
His last recorded GCW bout was on September 21st, 1975, against Brute Bernard at the Municipal Auditorium in Columbus, Georgia.
At this point, the professional wrestling world bid adieu, Vaya con Dios, and hasta la vista to one Iron Mike McCord. Or did they?
Our wrestling time machine fast-forwards two and a half years to Fort Worth, Texas.
Wrestling for Fritz Von Erich‘s Big Time Wrestling (later renamed World Class Championship Wrestling), where a gentleman named Austin Idol got the duke over Eddie Sullivan on March 27th, 1978.
Although the new grappler bore a striking facial resemblance to Mike McCord, this was a chiseled, bleached blond physical specimen, in stark contrast to the stocky, brown-haired McCord.
Leavin’ On A Jet Plane (Again and Again)
Within two months after his debut in Texas, Austin Idol did his best Peter, Paul, and Mary impersonation and was Leavin’ On A Jet Plane after a payoff dispute with Von Erich. His destination was the fabled Don Owens’ Pacific Northwest (more familiarly known as Portland) territory.
Unfortunately, Idol’s stay in Portland was relatively short as the payoffs were not to his liking.
Idol spoke about Sheik in his Highspots interview, claiming, “Sheik was a check bouncer. The money was always made good, but you had to fight for the money.”
While working out at Hector’s Gym in Tampa in December of 1978, Idol was spotted by Rocky Johnson, who observed that Idol’s unique look would go over well in the Memphis territory. So Idol called promoter Jerry Jarrett, who flew him in for a TV taping.
Jarrett liked what he saw, as Austin Idol received a considerable push, culminating with a Christmas Day victory over perennial Memphis kingpin Jerry Lawler.
One would think this was the beginning of a long and prosperous gig for Idol in Memphis. However, Idol’s mantra was “Show me the money!”
Once again, Idol was doing his best Willie Nelson imitation and was On The Road Again, this time to Southeastern Championship Wrestling. However, Idol would be back, arguably experiencing the best success of his career in the Home of the Blues.
Austin Idol Delivers Justice to a Thieving Wrestling Promoter
Austin Idol also made some shots for GCW during this period. He worked a battle royal for promoter Fred Ward, which inadvertently became one of the better payoffs of his career.
“Fred Ward was the consummate thief,” Idol admitted in his Highspots interview. “Everybody knew when you went to Columbus on a Wednesday night, you were gonna get screwed.”
Austin Idol continued, “I had been in Tampa on a hiatus, and I got a call out of nowhere. ‘Come to Columbus, Georgia, to wrestle.’
“I had a guarantee, and they flew me in for the night. They had a battle royal. And I won the battle royal, which made no sense to me as I wasn’t one of the guys in the territory. Stupid.
“When the match was over, Fred lumbered into the ring and presented me with a check. So, I looked at the check; I didn’t really look at it hard, raised my hand, the place was sold out, put it in my tights, and walked back to the dressing room.
“Now, normally in a battle royal, regardless of what is on that check, when you go back in the dressing room, if you make it back that far, they’re going to take it back.
“Before I got into the shower, I opened the check up, and thought, ‘Wait a minute. It’s made out to me.’ It was for five thousand bucks and signed by Fred Ward! So, I just kept it.”
“I always used to do my banking in Atlanta whenever I was there,” Idol explained. “I thought about how much money [Ward] had stolen from so many wrestlers for so long. It’s justice. I’m going see if I can cash the check.
“I had no bank account there, nothing whatsoever. I walked up to the teller and said, ‘I’d like to cash this.’
“She said, ‘Sure, how would you like it?’
“I said, ‘hundred dollar bills.’
“So, she gave me five grand in hundreds.
“I felt really good about it. I’m not a thief, but I really felt good about that. It was almost like Robin Hood!”
Austin Idol will forever be known for his numerous stints in the legendary Memphis territory. At one point, Idol was a member of Jimmy Hart’s infamous First Family. Another time saw him as a Luchador who feuded with Lawler. Yet another saw him come back as the International Champion.
However, all of the above runs a distant second to the events of April 27th, 1987, when Austin Idol defeated Jerry Lawler and retained the Southern Heavyweight Championship in front of a sold-out Mid-South Coliseum in a Hair versus Hair Steel Cage match.
Gimmick matches were a staple in the Memphis territory for years. But this had an added twist: Idol made an outrageous guarantee and promised the fans a refund of their money if he lost the match.
Memphis wrestling fans eagerly snapped up the available ducats, confident that their hard-earned money would be refunded to them after the match.
Later Years, Retirement, and Present Day
Austin Idol toured Japan in early 1988 and had one last very brief run in Memphis in 1990.
At this point, Idol put professional wrestling in his rearview mirror and turned his attention to real estate, which became his passion for the next two decades. Idol’s self-assessment as a ‘risk taker’ and ‘cliff jumper’ has served him well in his business endeavors.
Mr. Idol is currently running a wrestling school out of his new home in Greenville, South Carolina. His web page is Universal Wrestling College, which includes the catchphrase “Why Not You?? Why Not Now!!”
He is also one of the key figures in the success of the NWA relaunch that first started in 2017, appearing alongside Nick Aldis during his NWA World Heavyweight Championship run as well as with Tyrus.
“Austin Idol is the fountain of experience,” Tyrus professed on gaining knowledge from the wrestling legend in an interview with the Miami Herald in November 2022.
“The thing about him is that he’s always teaching. He has a great school, and his teachings never stop. If he wasn’t a wrestler or in real estate, he would have been a good high school teacher. He always has a good way of explaining things and breaking them down and slowing them down for a lot of the young guys. I’m always learning something new.”
When describing his favorite traits of Idol, Tyrus added, “One of the things that I like about him a lot is that he’ll ask you a question, not because he wants the answer, but he wants to see where your mind is at.
“His experience is vast, he’s been there, he’s done it all. He’s been through bad times and good times in the business. He’s just a fountain of information if there ever was one. I don’t think I’ve had one TV taping where I haven’t gone to him and asked him something. It’s nice when you have that experience from a different time.”
Austin Idol had a great run in the sport of professional wrestling. He was in demand and, for the most part, called his own shots. But what if Mike McCord had taken Vince McMahon Sr.’s’ stick with me, and I’ll make you a superstar’ advice? Could another muscular, charismatic, bleached blonde from Tampa have run wild in the WWF in the ’80s?
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