George Pantas – The Story of an Unsung Wrestling Hero

George Pantas is a name many wrestling fans have never heard of, but it is an important one. You may have even seen his contributions to the business without even realizing it!

George Pantas – One of professional wrestling’s unsung.
George Pantas – One of professional wrestling’s unsung.

George Pantas and His Importance to Professional Wrestling

In the world of professional wrestling, the term unsung hero is often thrown around. The unsung hero takes many forms, from the forgotten wrestler who never put on a bad match to the bookers and promoters who never seem to get the credit they deserve for the legendary cards they organized.

Wrestling has always been about the matches, but often, fans aren’t made aware of those who made viewing the matches possible.

While you may not be aware of who George Pantas is, you’ve likely heard of the name Jim Crockett.

George lives in an area of Virginia known collectively as Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is a metropolitan region comprising South East Virginia and Northeast North Carolina.

During the days of the territories, Jim Crockett Promotions owned and dominated the Hampton Roads market. Two of their biggest Virginia venues were the Hampton Coliseum and the Norfolk Scope.

It was ringside in these famous venues where George Pantas sat for years with his trusty video camera and recorded countless hours of some of the grandest moments and important matches in wrestling history.

But how, you ask, did a young teenager end up in a position any wrestling fan would be envious of? To understand that, one must go back to where it all started.

George Pantas embodies not only the ideal of the unsung hero but also the ideals of the American dream.

Coming to America

Born on the island of Lesbos in Greece, George Pantas grew up the son of a poor tinsmith. Perhaps poor is not the right word. As George himself put it, “We were very, very poor. Actually, I take that back. We were po’… We could not even afford the letter ‘r’!”

Despite living without electricity or running water, George often recalls not realizing they were poor because everyone in town lived like that.

While living in Greece, George and his family would get packages every Christmas from a relative in Newport News, Virginia. These packages included toys for the children, money for his parents, and most importantly, an invitation. Every package would have an invitation for his father to come to America.

The Pantas Family (young George on the left).
The Pantas Family (young George on the left).

As the 1960s rolled around and the nation of Greece suffered through an economic downturn, life for George and his family became even harder. Finally, in 1964, his father made the decision to leave Greece to pursue a better life for his family.

At the time, his father had two choices to come to either Australia or America.

Australia at the time was pushing for immigration and was open to practically anyone, but immigration to America required a relative to sign off. Thankfully for the Pantas family, they had a close family friend (who George endearingly calls "Uncle") in America willing to sign them on.

George’s father initially got on a plane and came to America alone as a tourist. Despite being in America as a tourist, George’s father was able to stay because of his skills as a tinsmith. At the time, immigration allowed one with a skill to stay if one lived in an area that needed your skills.

Thankfully for George’s father, there was a brass shop in need of his services. At this brass shop, George’s father set to build the foundation needed to bring his family to America.

George often gets emotional when remembering his father’s sacrifices to get the money needed to bring his family over. Even 55 years later, the story is still one of true inspiration and dedication.

George’s father rode his bike 10 miles to the shop where he worked from 8 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday. His father worked on Sunday as the Cantor in the local church building the family and community foundations. This would eventually lead George to the world of professional wrestling.

Following two years of his father working hard and saving up, George came to America with the rest of his family in 1966. It was here in America that George got to work, literally, to build the wrestling story he is so proud of.

In 1968, the brass factory his father worked at burned down. At just 12 years old, George helped clean up and worked on the rebuilding efforts, only to be offered a job to work alongside his father. George would earn 50 cents an hour working with brass.

George would continue to work for more than 50 years before retiring after a long and respected career in education, working as a History teacher and principal.

Falling in Love with Wrestling

Working at such a young age gave George Pantas an appreciation for his free time.

Not speaking much English, George found himself drawn to professional wrestling on television. Loving history as a child, George also felt a sense of pride watching the sport because he knew wrestling originated from Greece.

The local channel was Wavy 10, and it played the Jim Crockett Promotions show out of North Carolina. George was drawn to heels and notes that his favorites were the team of Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, who were managed at the time by “Playboy” Gary Hart.

Jim Crockett Promotions was founded in 1931 and was already considered an old territory when the late 1960s came around. During this time, Jim Crockett really started expanding into Hampton Roads, so young George saw advertisements for local shows and just knew he had to be there.

On March 27, 1971, Jim Crockett Promotions ran their first show at the Hampton Coliseum, and George was there live. There was no turning back now.

In the days before modern broadcast, local promoters and territory producers used to do what is called "bicycling." This is when they would record a local show and take the tape, usually by car but often literally by bicycle, to various television studios.

Through his church, George knew Tony Anthony. Anthony worked as the sports editor for Wavy 10 and had contacts with the local promoter. It was here where George was introduced to Joe Murnick, the local promoter for Jim Crockett Promotions.

Murnick is probably most known to wrestling fans as a ring announcer on the WRAL shows in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s.

Joe Murnick. [Capitol Broadcasting Company Staff Photo]
Joe Murnick. [Capitol Broadcasting Company Staff Photo]
To say that Joe Murnick took to George would be an understatement. George often described himself as an adopted son to Murnick, and he quickly found himself ringside at all the events. George asked if he could bring a camera to record the shows for himself, and Murnick obliged.

 

George was not an official employee, however. He still had to buy his ticket and made sure to arrive extra early to get the seat right next to the ring announcer.

At the time, Crockett was running shows at the Norfolk Scope every second Thursday and was at the Hampton Coliseum one Saturday a month. During these shows, and from his ringside seat, George would record some of the most important matches and moments in wrestling history.

George Pantas – The Tale of the Tapes

George Pantas sat ringside for years recording and documenting countless hours of wrestling history. Always showing up early and always getting the best ringside seat, George and his camera were as much a part of the show’s history as the matches themselves.

Many of the matches George recorded are incomplete due to time and money. Film, and its development, were both costly back then, and it was not practical for George to record entire matches in most cases. However, his knowledge as a wrestling fan, and the classic in-ring psychology of the territory days, came in handy.

George knew the matches had a definitive beginning, middle, and end, and as such, he could time his recordings to catch most of the action.

In many of the matches, George recorded a little fancy editing to shorten a rest hold here or a quick cut there, and it is nearly impossible to tell the match is incomplete.

Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling Poster for a show at the Norfolk Scope, January 11, 1979.
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling Poster for a show at the Norfolk Scope, January 11, 1979.

Through his recordings, George captured matches and moments featuring a plethora of Hall of Fame talent.

His tapes include names such as Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Orndorff, Ken Patera, Jimmy Snuka, and countless other legends.

Through the years, George amassed one of the largest personal video collections of National Wrestling Alliance shows anywhere on earth.

The most famous match George ever recorded took place at the Norfolk Scope on November 22, 1979. This show was booked as the “Battle of the Nature Boys” as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair took on the legendary and original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.

George owns the only known footage of that classic bout that saw Rogers win by count-out.

George recorded and documented the rise of Ric Flair, the NWA U.S. Title Reign of Ricky Steamboat, and saw the first and last matches of several legendary talents. Most importantly, George recorded a series of matches between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat during a rivalry often regarded as one of the greatest ever.

These tapes, which George kept preserved for years, finally caught the eye of the WWE after the launch of the WWE Network.

Dedicating an entire section of the WWE library to classic matches, including Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the WWE focused on rivalries.

Knowing full well that Flair vs. Steamboat was essential viewing, the WWE came knocking, and after negotiations, George obliged, and the WWE began to share George’s never-before-seen footage with the world.

George’s tapes have now been seen through the WWE Network, WWE on Peacock, and various specials and television shows.

Recently, George has been credited with contributing footage on WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures on A&E, and the multipart interview Conrad Thompson conducted with Jim Crockett Jr. also featured his footage.

When George was approached about the Jim Crockett interview series, he had conveniently just uncovered some footage from the promotion. The popular interview concluded with nearly 40 minutes of his footage, including highlights from matches between Abdullah the Butcher vs. Wahoo McDaniel, Roddy Piper vs. Jack Brisco, and a previously unseen title match between Ric Flair and Jack Brisco.

Screenshot from the WWE Network featuring footage from George Pantas as the thumbnail.
Screenshot from the WWE Network featuring footage from George Pantas as the thumbnail.

Life in Wrestling

While most wrestling fans today have probably seen the recordings of George Pantas, his life in wrestling goes much further than that of a cameraman. As George got older, he began to work behind the scenes and started getting more involved in the business.

In 1988, Jim Crockett Promotions was sold to Ted Turner and rebranded as WCW. At the time of the sale, it was the oldest active promotion in American history. George worked his way through the business during these changing times and eventually became the Virginia promoter of South Atlantic Pro Wrestling.

Founded in the ashes of the old NWA territories, South Atlantic Pro Wrestling only lasted a few years, but it helped cement his love for the business.

George Pantas presents the South Atlantic Heavyweight Championship title to Chris Chavis (aka Tatanka in the WWF/E).
George Pantas presents the South Atlantic Heavyweight Championship title to Chris Chavis (aka Tatanka in the WWF/E).

A few years after South Atlantic Pro Wrestling ceased operations, Virginia Championship Wrestling was founded, holding shows throughout Hampton Roads.

George was invited to be a part of VCW but declined because, at the time, he was working as an assistant principal. George decided that a man who spent his days teaching should not be seen promoting something where fighting is the entire point.

George enjoyed being a fan of wrestling over the next decade until the hand of fate came knocking once again.

In 2005, George received an invitation from Jerry Stephanitsis, the current Director of Operations for VCW and a man George introduced to the company, to substitute in as VCW needed a ring announcer.

In a better place to be seen involved with pro wrestling again, George gladly accepted and fell in love with the company.

George would invest in VCW and go on to become the on-screen commissioner.

Known for his tough but fair style, George would lose and regain his title of commissioner, even stepping between the ropes himself for a high-profile tag team match.

The video of George walking through the curtain being led by his own Hampton High School marching band is still one of the most-watched VCW highlights.

As Virginia and the world recovers from lockdowns and closures, George was front and center as VCW resumed operations in front of a live crowd on July 31, 2021.

JJ Dillon turns on George Pantas on September 9, 2017.
JJ Dillon turns on George Pantas on September 9, 2017. [Official VCW Photograph/McCarthy Photo]

George Pantas – Today and Beyond

If there were one word to describe George Pantas, it would be humble. He is a man of faith who always speaks fondly about everything life has given him. He was born a poor boy in a small town in Greece and he worked his way from a brass shop at 12 years old to retire as a high school educator nearly 50 years later.

George gets to spend his days living wrestling, talking about wrestling, and sharing that love of wrestling with the world. From footage filmed at ringside to enough stories to fill a library, George has brought wrestling into the lives of so many people.

George Pantas may not be the first name you think of in Jim Crockett Promotions or NWA in the Mid-Atlantic, but it’s an important one. As a history major and former history teacher, it seems only right he played such an important role in the history of something he loves so much. George Pantas is one of wrestling’s true unsung heroes.

Hit play below to hear George Pantas tell some great stories:

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About Our Site / Meet Our Writers / Write For Us

Dan Sebastiano is a historian and host of the podcast Dan and Benny in the Ring. He is a US Navy Veteran and journeyman contributor appearing at wrestling shows and conventions across the Mid-Atlantic region. Dan has been a fan of pro wrestling for nearly forty years. He can be reached by e-mail at danandbenny@outlook.com.