Published on May 20th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
Meet the Man Who Trained the Undertaker: Don Jardine, the Spoiler
Before there was the Undertaker, before the Wrestlemania streak, before there was even a “Mean” Mark Callous, there was Mark Callaway, a Houston kid growing tall and lean, athletic enough to qualify for a basketball scholarship to a small college in his native Texas. But like many another future pro grappler in the lone star state, Callaway grew up watching wrestling. Houston promoter Paul Boesch brought in talent from everywhere. Houston itself was a large enough city that it was able to promote both the NWA and AWA, as well as bring in stars from New York in the pre-WWF expansion. And then there was World Class in Dallas, the Funks in Amarillo, and Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling down in San Antonio.
After considering a stint as a professional basketball player in Europe, Callaway instead set his mind to becoming a wrestler. But breaking into the business would prove more difficult than Callaway expected.
The Mad Dog
Buzz Sawyer was a lot of things: a supremely talented and double-tough in-ring performer, Sawyer spent time as a babyface in the Carolinas, Florida, and Georgia to learn the business in the late 1970s, until promoters began to let his sadistic streak run wild. Money soon followed. Sawyer found the main event spotlight during his run with Georgia Championship Wrestling, feuding with Tommy “Wildfire” Rich in one of the bloodiest wars seen in professional wrestling. Sawyer and Rich battled one another for nearly two years before the ‘Last Battle of Atlanta’–contested in a ring completely enclosed by a steel cage (a precursor to both WCW’s War Games and WWE’s Hell in a Cell)–blew off the feud.
Sawyer’s “Mad Dog” gimmick wasn’t much different than the man he was outside the ring. The real-life Bruce Woyan was uncontrollable outside the ring. His drug abuse was frequent and legendary, and he got in trouble on more than one occasion for fighting the cops who were called to break up his other fights in progress. As a high-school wrestler and football player at Dixie Hollins High School, Sawyer was already known for his wild behavior. While simultaneously being a ranked amateur wrestler, he would use his forehead to hammer nails into two-by-fours prior to (and sometimes during halftime) high school football games.
But Sawyer was also the most receptive of the wrestlers in Dallas’s World Class promotion when Callaway was seeking to break into the business. Sawyer was working in Texas after leaving the Florida territory, where he’d spent time as part of Kevin Sullivan’s Army of Darkness once his feud with Rich had ended. Callaway paid Sawyer an undisclosed sum of money (reportedly $2,500), and in their first lesson, Sawyer showed Callaway how to lock up in a collar-and-elbow, the traditional way wrestlers begin a match.
The next day, Sawyer skipped town–with Callaway’s money.
It was a hard lesson for the young man looking to break into the business. Luckily, there was something better on the horizon.
Don Jardine was already a legend on two continents by the time he met Callaway. He started early, wrestling his first match in his native Canada when he was just 15 years old. As the masked Spoiler, Jardine headlined for the most popular wrestling promotion in the world in the 1970s–Australia’s World Championship Wrestling. But before that, Jardine had found little success in wrestling, despite his size, physique, and talent in the ring.
“I had briefly met Don Jardine in Amarillo during the fall of 1966, because as I was leaving, he was coming in,” manager Gary Hart wrote in his autobiography, My Life in Wrestling. “Don was a journeyman wrestler from Canada who had been wrestling for 12 years, and I remember being really impressed with him, so I told Fritz (Von Erich) I would be happy to develop (Jardine’s) career, and even offered to contact Don and recruit him myself. I tracked him down in Portland, got in touch with him, and offered him the opportunity to join me in Dallas. Don was leery at first, because he had been taken advantage of by promoters who made big promises to him, telling him he’s a big, good-looking guy who just needs ‘a little more seasoning.’ Then, they would just use him as a job guy. I assured him that this wasn’t the case, namely because I wasn’t a promoter, but also because I had been messed around with, as well, and understood his frustration. I also told him that while I didn’t completely trust Fritz … or Paul Boesch, I did believe that together we could do very well in Dallas. Besides, the worst that could happen is that we didn’t like it there, and we could go to another territory. Fortunately Don agreed to come into Dallas with me and give it a try.”
Like his future pupil, Jardine was going to have to undergo a major gimmick change in order to find the success he wanted–and deserved. Hart put Jardine under a mask and named him The Spoiler. When Jardine debuted in Dallas with the same finishing maneuver as Fritz Von Erich–the claw–he was immediately booked into a main-event program. From there, Jardine was off and running.
“In the ring, he was magnificent. At 6’4″ and 290 pounds, he could walk the ropes from turnbuckle to turnbuckle like no one I had ever seen,” Hart wrote. “He was a big, agile guy who could do leapfrogs, flying head scissors, dropkicks, and wrestle his butt off to boot. He was a legit guy, and would never wrestle less than forty minutes because he had that ‘Lou Thesz mentality.'”
When the Undertaker goes ‘Old School’ and walks the ropes to deliver a falling chop across the arm of his opponent, it’s an homage to the man who taught him. Jardine, lithe as a big cat, combined size and agility in a way that many people had never seen. And like the Undertaker, Jardine was incredibly professional, but if he felt that you crossed a line, he would take matters into his own hands.
Jim Cornette tells the story of Undertaker observing the Shawn Michaels-Steve Austin match at Wrestlemania 14. In the weeks leading up to the event, many in the company feared that Michaels wouldn’t do business for Austin, meaning they feared he wouldn’t put the burgeoning star of the Attitude over cleanly. To be fair, this was a legitimate worry, as Michaels had a habit of weaseling out of doing jobs and rarely actually losing the titles he held. The Undertaker, in street clothes after his match, taped his fists up and went to Gorilla position to watch the Wrestlemania main event. Taker never said a word, just watched the monitor to ensure Michaels did the job. Once Austin hit the stunner and made the pin, Taker unwrapped his hands and walked away. He just wanted to make sure Michaels didn’t cross (yet another) professional line.
For Jardine, his temper could flare when someone crossed a professional or personal line. And with his size and strength, things could have turned deadly.
Jardine always had a temper. For the most part, friends and associates say he was a pleasant, thoughtful, and even kind person. Despite only high school education, he spent his years after wrestling working with children to improve their literacy. But there were things that could set him off. Former WWWF champion Stan Stasiak once pulled a rib on Jardine that the big man failed to find amusing.
When wrestlers pull a “Mabel” on another worker, this is the set-up: “Hey, this girl, Mabel, really likes you. She’s in room 215, waiting for you.” The wrestler would go find “Mabel” and follow nature’s course. But in the middle of the action, the woman’s “husband” — usually a local friend/stooge of the prankster — opens the door of the hotel room and catches them together. Most of the time, the wrestler is frightened, scrambling around for his clothes, and maybe even diving out a window.
Jardine, however, was not amused. He didn’t run. Instead, he chased the “husband” down and found out that Stasiak had pulled the rib. More than a year later, when Jardine was driving in a car with Hart, Peter Maivia (The Rock’s grandfather) and Stasiak, Stasiak brought the rib up, expecting to get a laugh. Instead, Jardine pulled the car over and dragged Stasiak out of the back seat. He beat Stasiak senseless, and only the interference of Maivia and Hart kept Jardine from killing the veteran wrestler.
On another occasion, after accusing promoter Joe Blanchard of shorting him on a main-event payoff, Jardine threw Blanchard out of his own office at the arena. When Blanchard’s assistant came in, Jardine threw him out, too.
But the simultaneously violent and caring sides of Jardine are best illustrated by the following story from Hart, when the pair were working in Australia for promoter Jim Barnett. Late one night, a motel desk clerk inadvertently insulted the foursome of Jardine, his girlfriend, Hart, and Hart’s wife. The Spoiler wasn’t about to let that go.
Jim (Barnett) also brought female wrestling to Australia, and one of the girls he brought was Evelyn Stevens, who coincidentally had been dating Don Jardine for about eight months. Evelyn arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and checked into the Koala Motel, which is where a lot of the working girls did their tricks with the men in town. That night, Don and Evelyn double dated with me and my wife. We went out to eat, and then saw a Tom Jones concert at the Silver Spade. After that, we stopped by the Texas Tavern to have a few drinks, and then went to the Koala Motel, because my wife had asked Evelyn to bring over certain things that she couldn’t get in Australia, like brownie and cake mixes. The girls were both dressed up because we had gone out to a nice restaurant and a … concert, and as we walked into the motel and started towards the elevator, the guy behind the desk yelled, “Hey! You can’t take those whores upstairs!”
Don turned around and glared at him, asking, “What did you just say?”
The guy behind the desk glared right back and answered, “I said you can’t take them whores upstairs!”
Don then told me to take the girls up in the elevator and wait in the room. I, in turn, told the girls to go up on their own, because I was concerned about what might transpire. I knew how Don could get. When the girls got on the elevator, Don leaped over the desk, hit the guy, knocked him against the wall, picked him up, threw him over the desk into the foyer, threw him through a plate glass window out onto a patio that had a big wishing well pond, and proceeded to stomp him in the chest and stomach. Then, he lodged (the desk clerk’s) head up against a brick wall, and I quickly grabbed the guy by his legs and pulled him back, because I knew that Don was going to boot him right in the head. I pulled him back to save him, but now his crotch was spread open. Don looked at me and grinned, “Good idea.”
Jardine, who was wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots at the time, kicked the desk jockey square in the balls as hard as he could. Hart told Jardine to get out of there, and the big man did. In the ensuing police investigation, Australian authorities held Hart’s passport for four days, but they never found out who assaulted the clerk. The Spoiler got away clean.
Jardine followed Barnett to Georgia, where the Spoiler joined Jake “the Snake” Roberts and the Road Warriors as part of the Legion of Doom. While Roberts worked a feud with Ron Garvin over the Georgia TV title and the Road Warriors ran roughshod over the tag team scene as the national tag team champions, the Spoiler worked on top. He defeated Brad Armstrong for the national championship, only to trade the title back and forth with the young up-and-comer. Eventually, when the Briscos sold their share of the Georgia territory to Vince McMahon, the Spoiler went to the WWF, where he continued to be billed as the national champion for a time.
Eventually, the Spoiler returned to Texas, to take back up with his good friend Hart. And that’s where Callaway and Jardine finally connected in 1984. After some training, Callaway debuted in World Class–one of the promotions he’d watched as a kid–as the masked Texas Red. In his first match, Callaway would lose to the legendary Bruiser Brody. It was an inauspicious beginning to what would eventually become a hall-of-fame career.
As for Jardine, he retired from the ring for good in 1994. After debuting in the mid-1950s, he’d been wrestling for nearly 40 years. He died in 2006 from complications from a heart attack and leukemia. At the time of his death, Jardine was writing a novel set in the wrestling world.
“Many insiders will debate whether or not the late Don Jardine, aka The Spoiler, is the greatest masked ‘bad guy’ ever in the biz,” WWE announcer Jim Ross wrote upon hearing of Jardine’s death. “I knew Don well and he was a brilliant man who was a total student of the game. When I was a young referee in the 70s I used to ride with Don from city to city back in the Mid South territory days and it was a valued education. Don thoroughly understood the business and what drew money. The Spoiler was the first wrestler of his size to walk the top rope a la the Undertaker of today. The Spoiler was a positive influence on The Undertaker’s in-ring stylings.”
Jardine outlived Callaway’s original “trainer” by several years. After Buzz Sawyer’s last national appearance for WCW (in which he visibly broke his wrist while landing a flying splash from the top turnbuckle), the Mad Dog died of a drug overdose in 1992. Upon hearing that Sawyer had died, Callaway is alleged to have said, “Tell me where he’s buried, so I can piss on his grave.”
Somehow, it sounds like Jardine would have approved of that sentiment. And despite what might be called Jardine’s tendency toward resolving conflict violently, Hart recalled his friend as a man of uncommon kindness and generosity, documenting instances where Jardine gave young, impoverished wrestlers a pair of boots because they couldn’t afford their own, as well as giving future superstars like Dusty Rhodes ring gear when they couldn’t afford it. The Spoiler’s violence may have been legendary, but Don Jardine’s kindness and hospitality were equally understood. Those two warring sides of Don Jardine make him one of the most compelling figures in wrestling history.
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