Former NWA President Bruce Tharpe sat down for a rare interview with his good friend Jim Phillips of Pro Wrestling Stories to discuss life after Billy Corgan purchased the NWA in October 2017, who scared him the most off-camera, a wrestling rib that went too far for a former wrestler, and more!
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Interview with Former NWA President Bruce Tharpe
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We’re here today to catch up with Bruce Tharpe, former owner of the NWA whose roots go all the way back to Championship Wrestling from Florida. How have you been, brother? What have you been up to?
I’ve been doing really well, Jim. Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. This is actually only the second interview that I’ve done in about three years since I’ve been away from the wrestling profession.
I’ve been devoting a lot of time to my family. As you know, Jim, I’ve got two children. I’ve got a daughter, Lauren, who’s 13, and my son, Bruce Allen, who just turned 17.
Jim, you know both of them very well yourself. My son, Bruce Allen, has learned quite a few new cuss words from his Uncle Jim! (laughs)
They’re at a very important age in their life. I’m very fortunate to have the time to be able to devote to them right now. I do miss the wrestling business very much. I miss hanging out with my friends, my buddies, my brothers on the road. I miss performing in the ring. I miss the fans. I miss the travel, but at this stage of my life, I’m thankful not to have to be on the road.
There was a time when I was going to Japan quite frequently. One time, I went to Japan twice in the same month.
With my children at this particular stage of their lives, I’m very thankful to have the time to devote to them right now.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my law practice. I’ve been very busy with that, getting that developed.
I’ve been spending time just trying to stay fit, eating healthy, and just living a good life.
So many people in the business would like to be able to have that opportunity to take the time out and spend those formative years with their children, and they don’t get that opportunity. So in some ways, maybe it’s a blessing, and it comes at a good time for you to take a little bit of a hiatus.
I appreciate that. I would have to agree.
They say that you can step away from the business, but the business really never steps away from you. What that means is it’s always in your blood, so never say never. I’m away from the business right now, but it’s always in my blood.
I’ve got a passion for wrestling, and I’m hoping to one day be back involved in the business in one aspect or another.
Let’s talk a little bit about the current happenings in the wrestling business right now, if you don’t mind.
As a former owner and promoter, what are your thoughts on the coming together of the four promotions New Japan, AEW, the NWA, and Impact Wrestling? Do you think them coming together to promote events has a possibility of success? Or do you see it becoming like the old super clash of the ’80s? What are your thoughts there?
Well, I am hopeful for the future. It’s a good opportunity for the fans. Number one, because they will see inner promotional matches. They’re going to see wrestlers from different federations against wrestlers from other groups and organizations. So it’s going to be very exciting for the fans.
Number two, it’s going to be good for the wrestlers, because it gives the boys more places to work, which is always good for wrestling.
I am hopeful that the different promotional groups are going to be able to work together. I mean, there’s a lot of personalities involved. There’s a lot of egos involved.
It did not work out in the ’80s, but I’m hopeful for the future. It’s all about television. It’s all about ratings. That’s how you’re going to generate revenue. From my perspective, if they’re smart, they’ll just let Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho control the book in and run with it, you know?
I’m hopeful that the combination will be successful for the future.
I feel the same way. I think it’s got very good possibilities if they can work it right and if it’s not ego-driven like it was in the ’80s.
Talking about the events and the fans, we saw recently that the Super Bowl has computer-generated noise, fan crowd reactions. We’re in an era where the live show may be a thing of the past. So, what do you miss most about going to the live show? And do you think things will stay the way they are for an extended period of time? I personally think that the live shows are integral to the business, and they need those, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
AEW has the outdoor venue that they broadcast from every week, but as far as a live house show, do you think there’s going to be a new normal?
Obviously, many things have changed from the restaurant business to the wrestling profession. You hear WWE is stepping away from the live events. Personally, it’s all gonna be television-driven, in my opinion.
Back in the day, it was all about how many tickets you could sell, and now it’s totally different. It’s a new world. It’s going to be more television-oriented, more worldwide-oriented, more pay-per-view oriented. It’s going to be interesting to see how things change in the future for wrestling.
Do you think that outdoor venues are going to be the answer?
In the short term? Yes. I mean, we don’t know what the future holds, whether the vaccinations will allow movement back into live shows and closed arenas, WrestleMania-type events, and things like that.
But for the short term, absolutely. Outdoor venues would be a short-term solution at the very least.
What does the future hold for you? When do you think you’re going to get back into business again?
Oh, that’s a good question. The million-dollar question. As I mentioned, wrestling will never get out of my blood. I’ve got a passion for it. We’ll see. You never say never. I’d love to get back into it at some point, but right now, I’m pretty well focused on my family and my law business.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
So everybody loves a good road story. Do you have any road stories that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve told the story of Bill Alfonso with the alligator in the trunk of the car. I was there when that happened.
But here’s another alligator story that you may not have heard of involving Bill Alfonso. I’m sure he’ll remember. There was an awesome midget wrestler by the name of Little Tokyo. His real name was Shigeru Akabane. He’s no longer with us. What a great wrestler he was. Funny guy, hilarious. I loved to travel with him.
Halfway to Miami is a place called Yeehaw Junction. Dusty Rhodes talked about it in his book, and Rocky Johnson’s been there. And it’s just about halfway before you get to Miami.
Well, you’ve got this little gas station and a little restaurant where they have these great pies. They also had an alligator farm there.
You’d pull off the side of the road, and it was basically just a little trailer. You’d pay a little admission, and you’d walk through the trailer, and behind the trailer was this big lake.
The lake was divided by a rickety old bridge and underneath the bridge was a chain-link fence that divided the lake into two sides. On one side, you had alligators, and on the other side, you had crocodiles. You didn’t mix them up. There were full, and they were big. I mean, they were huge.
Bill Alfonso and I would get a loaf of bread before we’d get to Yeehaw Junction, and we’d feed the alligators. It was our little stop-off point on the way to Miami.
We had Little Tokyo with us and we said, ‘Hey, let’s feed the alligators.’ So we walk out, and we get out there across this rickety bridge. We get out to the middle, and here come the alligators. We were tossing bread to the alligators.
Well, we ended up getting Little Tokyo in between us. (laughs)
We then started to pick up Little Tokyo and pretend like we were going to toss him over the side, and Little Tokyo was not happy about that rib. He was like, ‘No joke! It no funny! G’dammit, no joke!’
We were picking him up, and it was funny to us, but I’m sure it wasn’t funny to Little Tokyo! (laughs)
That was a nice little road story involving alligators. I’m sure Bill Alfonso will remember. Bill, if you’re reading or listening to this, hello! I hope to see you real soon.
Who were some of your favorite people to travel with?
Terry Funk was one of the greatest. In fact, I spoke with Terry just yesterday on the phone. He’s doing really well. I talked to him; he’s in Amarillo. I hope to visit him real soon.
Kevin Sullivan was somebody else that I really enjoy traveling with.
You know, I traveled with Lord Alfred Hayes, who’s no longer with us. So many have passed and are no longer with us.
Bad Leroy Brown, I traveled with him.
I remember traveling with JJ Dillon. JJ always had his popcorn. He’d always buy these big bags of popcorn from Sam’s. Of course, he always loved his rum and coke, so we had many fun trips. (laughs)
Bobby Duncum Sr. was a great guy.
Joe LeDuc. I traveled with him.
I can remember traveling with “The Original Sheik” Eddie Farhat, which was a trip because this guy was scary in real life. I mean, you look at this guy, he had all these gig marks on his forehead, and he had these crazy looking eyes, man.
Bill Alfonso, when I picked him up from the airport and would take him to different towns with us and stuff, I’d be driving the car and look over at The Sheik. He’d look over at me with that look and scare the hell out of me!
I traveled with Abdullah the Butcher.
I traveled with many Japanese boys because I was learning Japanese back at that time, so I would gravitate to a lot of the Japanese boys. Yoshiaki Yatsu and Keiji Mutoh, who was just a kid. I remember he would ride a bicycle in Tampa.
I remember Hiro Matsuda. He was a real tough wrestler. Broke Hulk Hogan’s ankle. That’s a true story.
But you know, many of the legends of the business are being forgotten as we’re going towards the future. Many legends are being forgotten, so I credit you, Jim Phillips, for a lot that you do. You write a lot about the legends of the past. Your writing is phenomenal. For any of you out there, please take the opportunity to read any of Jim Phillips’s articles as they’re awesome.
I appreciate the time, Jim. I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to say hello to all the fans out there. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you all again, real soon in some capacity.
We thank you for your time, brother. And we do hope to see you back very soon doing something in the wrestling business. You’re sorely missed out there.
Thank you, Jim, and thank you, fans.
These stories may also interest you:
- Bruce Tharpe – Former NWA President on His Unexpected Journey
- Wrestling Ribs and Road Stories – 7 Unforgettable Tales
- Hiro Matsuda: The Man Who Broke Hulk Hogan’s Leg!
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