Tully Blanchard attacked an injured Magnum TA after a career-ending car accident left the right side of his body paralyzed for months. On paper, it sounds even more horrible: a disabled person getting assaulted for the pettiest of reasons. But the history of the act and the events that led up to it made it so much worse.
“I don’t care about equalizers!! You want back in…?”
“That’s far enough!”
“Oh my God…”
– Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Tony Schiavone
What Happened Between Tully Blanchard and Dusty Rhodes?
On March 26th, 1988, Magnum TA was being interviewed by David Crockett. Magnum had been in a horrible car accident a couple of years earlier, leaving him with great difficulty walking and a mostly paralyzed right arm. Magnum mentioned that he now needed an equalizer, in this case, a baseball bat, for him to be at ringside with his friends as the people they were fighting obviously had an advantage over him. He mentioned his fighting spirit, talking about his drive and his friends in an equal, proud measure. And then he mentioned his greatest victory, an insanely bloody and violent “I Quit” cage match, where the only way that the winner could win was when the loser muttered those very words.
The person who he defeated and humiliated in that match? Tully Blanchard.
Tully Blanchard came out with manager James J. Dillon during Magnum’s interview, interrupting the proceedings and immediately getting into Magnum’s face, talking about their past history but specifically about his bringing up that “I Quit” match, saying that the videotapes being sold of that infamous match was putting money into Magnum’s pocket even though he didn’t really win that match as he never in his life said, “I quit” (he did).
He then said that he was like everyone else when Magnum got hurt, mimicking him, saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Poor Magnum, he got hurt! Too bad!” But then the scene went from already awful to horrible as Tully then told him that until he’s 100% healthy, he had better stay clear of him and his associates, the Four Horsemen.
Barry Windham, a friend of Magnum’s, came out to try and calm the situation and was rewarded by being sucker-punched instantly by Tully. Tully kept the attack going by swatting Magnum right alongside the head with JJ dragging him down to the floor. Tully Blanchard turned his attention back to Barry, who was trying to get back up even though disoriented. Tully hit Barry with a knee to the chest, and JJ followed up with a kick to the ribs while Tully focused squarely on a fallen Magnum, turning him over and ready to attack again.
It was then that Dusty Rhodes showed up with a baseball bat and tried to kill Tully Blanchard.
A Blur of Rage: Dusty Rhodes Attacks Tully Blanchard With a Baseball Bat
Dusty Rhodes was a blur of rage, swinging that bat at any opening he could find on Tully. Several officials ran out to try and put an end to the carnage, but Dusty swung the bat at them also, like a mad dog chasing people away from a fresh kill. Tully tried to shoot for Dusty’s legs but proceeded to get beat on some more with Dusty showing no signs of slowing.
Backstage officials, with announcers Tony Schiavone, David Crockett, and Jim Ross, all came over to try and stop it with even promoter Jim Crockett came out and jumped on Dusty’s back. The camera cut out for a few seconds, with the audio still being played with the crowd screaming their heads off.
The returning camera-shot showed Dusty rearing back and clubbing Crockett in the mouth with the handle and then turning back to Tully, placing the bat across his throat to choke him and then falling backward, wrapping his legs around him/leg-lacing him so that he’d have no leverage or escape.
Tully sprawled around, his arms and legs waving but starting to slow when the locker room cleared out of all the other wrestlers to finally separate everyone, with them prying him off of Tully the way you’d have to pry off a snapping turtle.
The carnage was clear. Magnum was helped off by two wrestlers (Jimmy Garvin and I think Tommy Rich). Jim Crockett was looked over by several officials, and Dusty and Tully finally separated in the background. But the viewer watching at home only knew one thing- due to the heinous actions of Tully Blanchard, they had nearly seen a murder happen on live television.
Watch Dusty Rhodes attack Tully Blanchard in its entirety:
Tully Blanchard had established himself by this time as a member of the notorious Four Horsemen: a group of immensely talented, immensely vicious wrestlers whose main focus was the following four points:
- gathering as many championships as possible
- watching/protecting each other’s backs
- taking out anyone that they didn’t like
- apparently, partying a little bit
When the Four Horsemen first formed, it was, naturally, during an attack on Dusty Rhodes, with Ole and Arn Anderson already having a relationship with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
Tully Blanchard Enterprises, Tully’s own corporation named after himself and with Executive/Manager James J. Dillon in tow, was quickly invited into joining the Horsemen as he and his style fit in perfectly.
Whereas the Horsemen were all heels/villains, they were still very much popular among fans. Ric Flair was the World Champion whose ability was only matched by his ego. Ole Anderson was a longtime legend in the business and was equal parts tough and mean. Arn Anderson was a hungry, ruthless, talented newcomer that had the poise and ability of a veteran. Ole and Arn Anderson, also known as The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, were two tough men that, even though known as bad guys, put on quality matches with anyone that stood with them in the ring, getting their own fans in the process. But Tully Blanchard?
Tully was hated.
It was the way that he carried himself with his interviews and his always-there sneer. Whereas the Horsemen had their fans, Tully rarely heard cheers. He even managed to alienate and drive Ole out later, telling him to concentrate more on business and less on Ole’s son, whom Tully lovingly referred to as “that snot-nosed kid.” This drew immediate retribution from Ole in typical Ole style (several punches) with the Horsemen later siding with Tully and replacing Ole with impressive newcomer Lex Luger.
Think about that for a minute. There are almost no conditions where Ole Anderson could become a face/good guy, and Tully did it in less than one interview. Later, after more than a year with the Horsemen, Luger turned on them and was beaten down in the process, getting saved by his former friend from the Florida region Barry Windham and forming a great tag team.
“Tully Blanchard was hated and rarely heard cheers.”
Titles were almost always around Tully’s waist as he was always a champion, but rather than winning or wearing them as a badge of honor and pride, he wore them specifically to belittle anyone else near him, and any belt that he had was on him at all times. And he held quite an extensive collection of them, from the National Heavyweight Championship to becoming a multiple-time NWA Television champion to the Central States Heavyweight Championship to eventually winning the United States Heavyweight Championship from Magnum TA, which is the nexus of the attack in question.
At this point, Magnum and Tully had a short but bloody history resembling less of a sports contest and more of a vendetta with each person raising the stakes with their actions. Tully had feuded with Dusty beforehand over the years, with both of them also gaining victories, titles, and losses from the other.
With Magnum being Dusty’s best friend, it was just a matter of time before he was a target of Dusty’s enemies. Arriving from Bill Watt’s Mid-South Wrestling into the Crockett territory, Magnum became embroiled in Dusty’s feuds while winning the US belt from Wahoo McDaniel in a steel cage match.
Losing the belt to Tully via amazingly nefarious means ignited the war between the two men, with Tully openly refusing to give Magnum a return title shot. An escalation of assaults from both sides led to the aforementioned “I Quit” match, held at Starrcade ’85 inside a steel cage.
Watch: Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA “I Quit” Steel Cage Match at Starrcade ’85
The battle inside the metal barrier was brutal, leaving both men bloodied and injured, was ended when Tully broke apart a wooden chair to find a piece sharp enough to gouge into Magnum’s eyes. Magnum recovered the sharpened piece and drove it into Tully’s forehead with Tully screaming loud enough that people could hear him outside in the stadium parking lot.
The referee called for the bell and ended the match since everyone had heard him quit. An amazingly cool moment happened after the match when Magnum grabbed Tully, who was shaking from shock and blood loss, by the hair and looked at the wooden spike in his other hand. He then simply let go of Tully and threw the weapon down, grabbing his belt and walking away with it; his point made.
Tully was furious after this match, saying to everyone that he didn’t lose, but no one was listening. This jackass had finally got what was coming to him. But did Tully let this slow him down in the least? No, he simply said that if he was going to get screwed over by Crockett Promotions, then he was going to have to shake stuff up on his end.
Tully had up to this point a valet/bodyguard named Baby Doll; a 6 ft statuesque blonde that had no troubles in getting involved in his matches that was as loyal as anyone, helping him steal victories and titles in equal measure, with her even helping Tully win the US belt from Magnum as told prior. Longtime manager James J. Dillon came along as an advisor for Tully and was instrumental in helping Tully form Tully Blanchard Enterprises, so when he came on board, Baby Doll was out. She was accused by Tully and JJ of stealing certain assets, although the angle and interviews showed that she was pretty much framed by JJ. When she tried to explain that she didn’t do it, Tully slapped her dead across the face, and when I say slap, I don’t mean the standard “smack! where the hand grazes the face. I mean a “SLAP!?!” where that palm definitely shot across the face. Dusty, who had his problems with Baby Doll to the point where even he slapped her before with the “smack!” standard after she repeatedly attacked him, knew that Tully was liable not to stop.
Watch: Tully Blanchard fires Baby Doll and slaps her in the face
After Tully Blanchard fired Baby Doll, she became the valet of Dusty Rhodes, watching his back the same way she did for Tully. Magnum was wary of her, but a feud with past rivals Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express put Magnum squarely in her corner. There were a lot of crossed feuds going on in the NWA at the same time. Dusty vs. Flair. The Midnight Express vs. the Rock n’ Roll Express. Flair vs. Ricky Morton. Arn Anderson vs. Robert Gibson. Cornette vs. Baby Doll. Nikita Koloff vs. Lex Luger. Magnum vs. Tully. Barry Windham vs. Tully. Wahoo McDaniel vs. Tully. Ronnie Garvin vs. Tully. Dusty vs. Tully.
Notice a pattern at the end there? Tully feuded with damn near every face in the federation because he A)- thought he was better than all of them and B)- knew that hurting Dusty’s friends hurt Dusty. And Tully loved hurting Dusty’s friends except in Magnum’s case, since not only did he lose the US Belt back to him, but he was humiliated in the process. So while Tully hated Dusty, he hated Magnum.
The Horrific Car Accident of Magnum TA
In October of 1986, Magnum TA (Terry Allen) was involved in a horrific car accident. Looking at the pictures of the wreck would amaze you that not only did he survive, but he was later able to walk and even work within the wrestling industry with interviews, commentary, and even at ringside as a cornerman for his friends but as for his in-ring career? It was completely over.
His mere return at the Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup 87’ was inspirational enough as anything as his mere presence brought the crowd to a lengthy standing ovation and also lifted his friends Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff (the SuperPowers) to victory over a tag-team representing the Four Horsemen. That tag-team? Lex Luger…
…and Tully Blanchard.
After that match, the Horsemen complained to Jim Crockett Promotions and threatened to sue with Dusty being accused of favoritism. Arn and Luger said that Nikita received preferential treatment due to a neck injury. Tully Blanchard had the gall to accuse Magnum of “swinging the crowd” in the eyes of the referees.
In the year that followed their loss at the JC Memorial Cup 87, the NWA wrestling landscape changed. For a while, after Luger left the group, there was a vacuum in the Horsemen with only three active members (Flair, Arn, and Tully).
Flair retained his lock on the NWA World title while Tully Blanchard began focusing on tag team wrestling over the singles competition as he and Anderson became a regular duo that was later recognized as one of the best teams ever formed. But while their targets and focus may have changed to other tag teams like the Road Warriors and the Rock n’ Roll Express, the Horsemen’s interviews always had something to say about Dusty, and every so often, someone would throw Magnum’s name in the mix. That person?
Over the next year or so, Magnum would, every once in a while, come alongside his friend’s matches, and just like he had always done, was never above cheating to gain a victory for them. “An eye for an eye” was how he wrestled, so he never had a problem using the bad guy’s tactics for his own but almost always after the heels did it first. It was a way of giving them a taste of their own medicine. Magnum and Dusty even laughed about it in an interview with David Crockett, with Dusty saying, “We got accused of cheatin’ by the Four Horsemen and Ric Flair! If that don’t take ALL the cake…!”
In an interview with all of the remaining Four Horsemen shortly after Luger was booted out, JJ said that they were going to get serious, that they’ve been taking it a little easy the last year or so. Arn said that everyone in the NWA had better take notice because they weren’t just coming for belts anymore; they were coming for them. Flair said that he was not only going to defend that belt, but maybe when he slips on that figure four (leglock) that maybe he’d leave it on a little longer than normal. Tully merely mentioned several names of people that had better watch their backs. Nikita Koloff. Dusty Rhodes. Lex Luger. The Road Warriors. And in the end, he mentioned Magnum again.
State of the Game – Wrestling in 1988
Wrestling in 1988 was a much simpler scene than even just a few years earlier. Where then there were booming territories and established federations like the AWA, World Class, and the UWF/Mid South, now those same areas were either out of business or a shell of their former selves with almost all of their talent gone or absorbed into either Vince McMahon’s WWF or Crocket Promotion’s NWA, with a scant few making it overseas to Japan (All Japan or New Japan).
The feud between the NWA and the WWF was a serious one that took place in the infancy of PPV. In the early days of the “big events” like Starrcade or WrestleMania, those events weren’t available to be watched at home.
If a show was going on at the Omni Civic Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and you wanted to watch it but not go all the way there, they had closed-circuit television locations that had giant viewscreens that could show the event. You’d pay for a ticket at an arena (cheaper than at the actual event but still pricey), go in, sit down, eat expensive arena food (ugh) and watch the card via a giant television screen.
It sounds like a hassle to go through to watch something like this, but the fans were loyal and rabid for what they liked then.
Later the PPV home market started taking off, and the trouble that most people had to go through for getting a PPV was legendary.
The trouble people had to go through for ordering a pay-per-view in the late 1980s was legendary:
- Go to cable company location
- Buy the PPV in question
- Sign out and take temporary ownership of a special converter box (they didn’t have the technology to just send this signal to your home and didn’t have enough converter boxes for everyone)
- Take the converter box home. Connect to your television/VCR.
- Watch the PPV.
- Return the converter box the next day. If you didn’t return it by two days later, you could be charged a late fee.
The Battles Between the WWF and the NWA
The behind the scenes battles between the WWF and the NWA were just as bothersome. Vince McMahon struck at Jim Crockett Promotions (JCM) by scheduling a brand new PPV called The Survivor Series 87 on Thanksgiving Night.
Now Thanksgiving had been traditionally the night that the NWA’s Starrcade was held, and the NWA had even reserved the night in question, but Vince sent out a statement to all adjoining cable companies saying that if they chose Starrcade over the Survivor Series that they would be cut off from all further WWF PPVs, which were the dominant PPVs at the time (along with boxing, of course).
The cable companies overwhelmingly chose the WWF, so the Survivor Series premiered on Thanksgiving night 1987, and the NWA was struck a major blow. The cable companies came together and told both McMahon and Crockett that if they tried something like that again (making a power play for the same night) that the aggressor would be barred from PPV.
For a small while, there was an uneasy truce up until the NWA planned their Bunkhouse Stampede 88 PPV in Uniondale, New York. McMahon had heard about JCM having troubles with advertising in the area, so he compounded their troubles by countering their card with the inaugural Royal Rumble 88, able to be viewed nationwide on the USA network.
A scant crowd of NWA diehards showed up to watch the Bunkhouse Stampede, which was won for the fourth year in a row by Dusty Rhodes (more on this later), but the majority of the wrestling audience stayed home and watched a PPV quality show on free television.
Crockett, at this point, had suffered two costly setbacks due to McMahon’s interference, and now he wanted to pay him back where it cost him dearly: financially. To Crockett and others, it made no sense, as, in his opinion and a large percentage of the audience, they argued that the talent in the NWA dwarfed the WWF’s roster. Crockett and Dusty came up with an idea to counter the WWF’s programming for once, and it worked perfectly.
That year, WrestleMania IV featured a tournament to crown a WWF Heavyweight champion since the belt was vacant as Andre the Giant had been stripped of it for trying to forfeit it to the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. A 14-man tourney along with a battle royal and a few other matches looked like a decent, full card, but the NWA countered that by presenting the first Clash of the Champions live on WTBS. This show was stacked from top to bottom with matches such as these:
- The Midnight Express vs. the Fantastics in a wild match for the US belts
- The Road Warriors and Dusty Rhodes vs. the Powers of Pain and Ivan Koloff in a brutal barbed-wire match
- Barry Windham and Lex Luger defeating Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard for the NWA World Tag Team titles
- Ric Flair vs. Sting in a 45 min time limit draw in a 5**** match that made Sting a star overnight
They had to have a huge audience for this event, so Dusty (as the producer for Crockett Productions) wanted to get viewers eager to watch this, and it worked. And not only were the ratings for the first Clash huge, but Crockett Promotions even hurt the WWF’s bottom line with this show. You have to remember something here; WrestleMania was the WWF’s cash cow for the year, and if something from a competitor hurt that profit in any way? Well, the war definitely was on.
By the way, the date of the first Clash of the Champions? March 27th, 1988. So what was the day the Tully attacked Magnum?
The day before.
I’ve watched wrestling since 1980 and learned early on that wrestling has always had a wide range of heels/villains.
There was the foreign invader who came to the US to show their country’s superiority over our athletes.
There was the pompous snob whose family was better than yours just because they were rich.
There was the egoist who knew that he was the greatest in the world but would always get shown up when it came down to it.
There was the loudmouth bully who liked picking on the little guy and backed down when challenged.
There were the madmen and monsters, both impervious to pain and relishing a fight more so than titles or honor.
But then came Tully Blanchard, who was some of all these things but not really any of them. Yeah, he was a snob, BUT he didn’t come from a rich family. Yes, he was a bully, but he wasn’t too much a coward. Egoist? Yes, but he wouldn’t get shown up. In a lot of cases, he won where he really shouldn’t have had a chance. No, Tully was something else entirely, and there really is no other way to describe him other than this:
Tully Blanchard was a son of a bitch.
He wasn’t evil like a Jake Roberts or any of Kevin Sullivan’s gang, but he was the closest thing to it without getting arrested for it. He was the kind of guy that would park in handicap spaces and not think anything about it. If he took a woman out on a date and she wasn’t in a “reciprocating” mood, you could tell that she’d be kicked out on the street to make her way home. He made real-estate deals through his own corporation (Tully Blanchard Enterprises) that made a profit each time that everyone knew was probably shady as hell, but he was still out there, enjoying his ill-gotten gains, drinking champagne while laughing at everyone else.
Tully Blanchard – The Man Behind the Image
That was Tully Blanchard in a nutshell, but the man behind the image? Well, he wasn’t anywhere nearly as bad as he was shown on television, but he did share some traits with that character.
He was very similar to what you saw with his suits and possessions, always sporting a new Rolex™ or a brand new car. He wasn’t the friendliest person in the locker room by most accounts and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion to anyone. But he was shrewd as anything, learning his craft from his father, former wrestler Joe Blanchard and he cut his teeth early on in the ring in Southwest Championship Wrestling; a San Antonio, TX-based promotion owned by Joe.
The crowds there were used to rough and tough angles, and they weren’t impressed with common rulebreakers. No, the ones who got over as heels in Southwest definitely knew their business with legendary names like Adrian Adonis, Ted Dibiase, the Funks, Buzz Sawyer, the Sheepherders, Nick Bockwinkle, Dick Murdoch, Kevin Sullivan, Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, and the Sheik all making their way through. So for a wrestler just starting out to match the heelwork of these veterans, that was something special indeed.
Tully found another wrestler that matched him so well they became the most hated tag team in that territory. That man was Gino Hernandez, and he and Tully (known as the Dynamic Duo) infuriated everyone who watched them. After leaving SCW, he traveled to Jim Crockett Promotions as Crockett had a tape of his work, which really impressed him. His attitude, professionalism, and poise in the ring made him highly valued as a worker, and those heel tactics that he learned went over huge with the louder and more passionate fans in the mid-Atlantic region. Tully Blanchard was a smart, shrewd man, but his biggest flaw may have been that he knew he was smart and shrewd.
“Magnum TA was going to be big. I mean, like Hulk Hogan 1980s-big.”
Magnum TA just had it. The look, the ability, the attitude, and he was believable. He was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin 12 years early, handsome enough that girls loved him and tough enough that guys liked him. He got his start in the Florida area in 78, learning his craft from Dusty Rhodes, Ernie Ladd, and Blackjack Mulligan and was recognized as a hard worker by the audience and the bookers.
A slight resemblance to Tom Selleck had him rename himself Magnum, with the TA being the actual initials of his real name (Terry Allen). The person who suggested that? Andre the Giant.
He moved to Bill Watt’s Mid-South Wrestling, where Watts knew that he’d go far, pushing him with another over talent Mr. Wrestling II as a solid tag team. After proving himself with some tough matches and feuds, Magnum won the federation’s prize belt, the North American Heavyweight Championship.
The crowds and the box office receipts got the notice of Jim Crockett Promotions, and his next stop was in the NWA, getting a push from the get-go with Dusty Rhodes. His feuds with the Horsemen and others were slowly grooming him for the top spot, as he was being eyed to be the man to bring the NWA into the 90s. He had so much potential from being the top face in the federation to possibly joining the Horsemen to being the wild-card he’d always played from the beginning, wrestling heels and faces, challenging or defending against anyone worthy.
And then in one night, it was over.
On October 14th, 1986, Magnum TA was driving home from a bar through the rain in his Porsche when it started to hydroplane. His car wrapped around a telephone pole, completely destroying it and trapping him inside for over two hours until a passerby called for help.
Investigators showed later that he was not under the influence, nor was he excessively speeding (he was going 55 in a 45 mph). It was just incredibly awful luck with what had happened. The rescue units took more than an hour to get Magnum unwrapped out of the wreckage, and while they were doing that, Magnum stayed calm the entire time and never lost consciousness.
He was in critical condition with some thinking that he wouldn’t make it as the damage had been too extreme, especially to his back and neck, with the main damage being his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae, which were said to have “exploded.” After being upgraded to serious condition, he learned that the right side of his body was paralyzed with doctors unsure if this was a permanent condition or not.
The news of his accident was the leading story in the papers in the Virginia/Carolinas areas, also headlining tv and radio newscasts. The hospital where he was at received on average 700-800 calls an hour, and there were 300-400 girls and women there, opening crying over their fallen hero, with flowers that kept coming in by the vanload.
Word would get out that Magnum was doing better and in good spirits over the months, and then he made an appearance at the Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament 87, walking down the aisle for his friends Dusty Rhodes and the former enemy turned friend Nikita Koloff as they battled the Horsemen in the finals.
The crowd went insane as Dusty and Nikita hugged him as everybody there in the arena was glad he was back. Except for the Horsemen (JJ Dillon, Lex Luger, and Tully Blanchard). They just glared.
His in-ring career was over, as no matter how much he wanted it and how much the fans wanted it, his body wouldn’t allow it. He did commentary for his friend’s matches and showed up at ringside for several matches with Lex Luger and Barry Windham fighting against then NWA World Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard.
There was one match in particular in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Magnum was ringside with the bat, where Tully tried to grab it while the ref was distracted. Magnum struggled, trying to pull it away when he suddenly reversed it, hitting Tully dead in the face. After a melee where Luger and Windham were eventually disqualified, the Horsemen were incensed, saying that Magnum interfered, and he should be barred from ringside, a hollow argument due to how often JJ Dillon interfered for them. But the one remaining image of that was the Horsemen in the ring seething while Windham, Luger, and Magnum laughed at them.
The interview that Tully interrupted that caused Dusty’s attack happened on the very next telecast on WTBS.
“Dusty Rhodes was charismatic, charming but most importantly, believable.”
In a venture like pro wrestling, fans can tell if you’re “real,” especially in the Southern areas.
In the WWF, over-the-top personalities were the norm, but in the NWA, it wasn’t appreciated at all. A good example? You could have a beer at a bar with Arn Anderson, Ric Flair, or Magnum TA. You’re not drinking a beer at a bar with Hulk Hogan or Hillbilly Jim. The WWF’s guys just didn’t seem as tough as the NWA’s (even when those some wrestlers traveled to the WWF), and while Dusty wasn’t the fittest, the quickest, the strongest, or the best, he was a man that the audience could identify with. He had faults, he had a wicked sense of humor, and he had a temper that got him into trouble more times than not, both in front of the scenes and behind them as he concocted amazingly stirring angles that the crowd couldn’t get enough of.
Until they did.
When someone is a booker AND a wrestler at the same time, they have a tendency to put themselves in any angles of prominence. Not always as a victor, mind you, but always near anything hot going on. This makes sure that their vision of what is to happen can come off more accurately, but in a lot of cases, it’s to put themselves over in front of the audience even off of angles that they may not have had many hands in helping.
It happened in Florida with Mike Graham suddenly cast in main events against the Freebirds. Same with Jerry “the King” Lawler on several occasions in Memphis. And so goes the same with Dusty, as if there was a huge angle making big money like the Midnight Express/Rock n’ Roll Express selling out arenas right and left, you could be sure that on the next card that there’d be a Midnight Express w/ Big Bubba Rogers vs. the Rock n’ Roll Express w/ Dusty Rhodes match. And for a few years, it worked, as Rhodes was always a top draw from the 70s to the mid-80s, and he then got a second lease on his career when wrestling went national between so many feds (AWA, NWA, WWF, World Class, UWF) in 84-86.
But by the end of 1988, the viewing audience was growing tired of Dusty being in the spotlight all of the time, especially since newer, younger stars like Luger, Sting, Rogers, and Muta were paving the way for the next generation. Oh, he wasn’t openly disliked ala Hulk Hogan near the end of his WWF run before going to WCW, but the crowds just weren’t enthralled the way they used to be.
Being a booker is a tough position because you have to tell wrestlers what they don’t want to hear, tell them what they need to know, and know that your apology for something you did to upset someone isn’t going to be believed. You don’t have a lot of friends in the business. You go by how successful you are today. Dusty was very successful before, but now?
The Tully/Magnum/Dusty angle was another attempt to bring Dusty back into the main events as a draw. It didn’t exactly do that in the end.
How the Tully Blanchard, Magnum TA, and Dusty Rhodes Angle Came Off
In a sport where over-the-top acting and theatrics are the norms, this was amazingly realistic. The sucker-punch that Tully Blanchard landed on Windham looked and sounded legit, made the better since David Crockett’s microphone was so close. His attack on Magnum (an overhead swipe) looked like it cupped Magnum’s ears; and give James J. Dillon credit here as he looked as if he grabbed him and drug him to the ground when in fact, he’s supporting Magnum and lowering his safely and securely.
Dusty’s attack looked real as anything, with the bat not looking fake in the least, more than likely a corked bat. All of the officials looked desperate as hell trying to stop the carnage, and Dusty looked like he was trying to actually kill Tully.
I’m not sure if the camera cutting out/signal feed failing was done on purpose or accidental, but it did nothing but add to the chaos as the viewer could still hear the on-site crowd just losing it. And the multiple camera cuts made it seem like you were there watching it, especially the lingering shots showing the aftermath.
Presentation-wise, there was very little anyone could have done to improve on it. It definitely was superior to, say, an Elvis impersonator hitting people with a prop guitar. Ahem.
The Immediate Aftermath
The immediate consequences were great. People saw the attack and turned in for the Clash of Champions by droves. The Horsemen suffered a loss the next day at that event, and the Dusty attack was named as a possible reason. Dusty Rhodes was the reigning US Champion at the time, but he had the belt stripped from him by Jim Crockett and the NWA Board of Directors. He was also banned for 120 days, which would have been a blessing if that had actually happened.
Dusty being away could have made the crowd miss him with the villains doing whatever they wanted, and then Dusty could return like a sheriff cleaning out the ol’ West, but Dusty didn’t do that. He tried rerunning an old angle of a banned-wrestler-returning-wearing-a-mask gimmick that drew huge money in the early ’80s, wearing an all-black mask and shirt with a cowboy hat, bull rope, and duster jacket and calling himself the Midnight Rider.
The angle did great in the early ’80s, but now the audience was tired of it, especially with the ongoing feud he had with the Horsemen. The Horsemen gained a huge victory for their ranks when they convinced NWA World Tag Team Champion Barry Windham to turn on his partner Lex Luger during a match with Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson, giving the Horsemen the tag belts again and a new partner to rely on.
The Midnight Rider burst into the rulebreaker’s locker room to call out Barry for what had happened, and every heel in the place tried to unmask him. He was saved by the wrestlers from the other locker room, but again, Dusty was the focus when it should have been on someone else.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter picked the Midnight Rider/Tully Blanchard feud as Worst Feud of the Year for 1988, something unthinkable just a few months before. On what could have been a reignition of Dusty’s career for a final run, it just fizzled out after a couple of months with no fanfare or people even really caring.
A few months later, the Road Warriors turned heel, attacking Sting and Lex Luger. When the angle started getting hot, guess what happened? Dusty challenged the Road Warriors by himself (!), which led to an infamous attack where Road Warrior Animal unscrewed one of the spikes from his shoulder pads and jammed it into Dusty’s eye, bloodying him something terrible. It did get an immediate response but not the one he was intending.
After the Road Warriors turned heel, Dusty Rhodes challenged them by himself, which led to this infamous attack where Dusty’s eye was injured.
Where Their Careers Went From There
The Dusty Rhodes bloodied eye incident infuriated the management at TBS, so he was let go as the booker and then fired altogether after Starrcade 88.
Dusty made some appearances back in his old stomping grounds of Florida and the AWA but soon ended up in the WWF…but…not as the tough-as-nails, never-say-die ass-kicker that the public was used to. McMahon and his staff gave Dusty a gimmick of being a high-energy, goofy, always cheerful, polka-dot(?) wearing guy who wrestled but was more interested in having a good time.
The whole gimmick was a rib/joke to embarrass him and belittle him in front of the Northernmost crowds (WWF territory). But they didn’t count on one thing; Dusty’s charm and charisma were still as strong as they ever were, with him now winning over a brand new audience.
I remember being irritated by what they had turned him into but looking back on it, he didn’t have to wrestle with the intensity of violence that he was used to doing his entire life, and the audience loved him; plus, the pay was great. Having a good time, working less hard, no responsibilities except just wrestling and getting paid great? There were worse ways to wind down a career.
The Four Horsemen — during the time Dusty left — claimed all of the important gold/titles in the NWA, Flair had the World Belt, Windham had the US title, and Blanchard and Anderson wore the Tag Team titles. A few months later, behind the scenes, Tully Blanchard saw how much money was being pulled in on a few house shows and thought that his and Anderson’s take should have been much higher. Their contracts were up at the same time, and they negotiated with Turner at the same time, and guess what? They were both told that there would be no negotiations at the same time. Take their offer or leave it. So they left it.
At the same time.
Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson arrived in the WWF in October 1988 under the management of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan after dropping the NWA Tag belts to longtime respected friends the Midnight Express on their way out of the NWA.
Give the men credit; they could have just as easily show up in the WWF with the belts saying that they never lost them in the first place, although who would ever do that (…coughFlaircough…)?
Renamed “the Brain Busters,” they cut a swath through the tag team scene delivering quality match after quality match with Hall-of-Fame-worthy competitors such as the Hart Foundation, Demolition, the Rockers, and Strike Force. They were the first tag team to win both the NWA and WWF World Tag belts in their careers, winning the WWF belts from and also losing them back to Demolition.
After a little more than a year in the WWF, Tully failed a drug test on the night of the Survivor Series 89 and was fired, with Arn leaving with him so as to reform the Horsemen in the NWA, which was now known as World Championship Wrestling or WCW. However, WCW and specifically Executive Vice President Jim Herd learned about his failed drug test and discontinued their offer to hire him, which also left Arn Anderson by himself and lowballed contract-wise since before they had more leverage as a combined unit, but now?
Tully signed with the AWA for a short while, but since no one could match his pay and the WWF and WCW had no interest in him at that moment, Tully took stock of himself and even with all the potential left for a veteran of his caliber, he quietly left the sport.
An amazing angle happened between Tully Blanchard, Magnum TA, and Dusty Rhodes that could have been the start of a new run between all three men.
Magnum would have a reason and a fire to go after the Horsemen, if only from outside of the ring.
Dusty could have been suspended, and the Horsemen could have run roughshod over the federation.
Tully could have elevated that position possibly to the World Title, if only for a short run.
One could easily imagine Ric losing the belt to someone with Tully, then winning the belt and not doing the “right thing” (per Horseman standards).
Tully could have turned Flair into a face as easy as anything, and they would have made some good money to boot.
Besides all of the other great wrestling going on, this looked like a marked return to the blood n’ guts vengeance that the NWA was known for (see the James Boys or the Road Warriors and Dusty breaking Ole’s leg for reference). But all the Magnum/Tully/Dusty angle did was purely short-term as they kept going with the Midnight Rider angle even though there was no interest from the crowd. Magnum had some closure with his character at the last Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup 88 when he cornered for Sting and Luger against (guess who?) Blanchard and Anderson in the finals.
Near the end of the match, Magnum reached in and tried to trip Arn, who immediately went after him, leaving him vulnerable to a schoolboy roll-up/pin from Luger for the victory; a nice close of that chapter for Magnum against the Horsemen.
There was no last hurrah for the Dusty/Tully feud with Blanchard and Anderson going to the WWF since the NWA didn’t consider Arn and Tully in the league of Ric Flair, Sting, Luger, or the Road Warriors, even though they were carrying most of these guys in matches across the country with pay nowhere near equal their opponent’s checks.
As wrestlers in the character-heavy ’80s WWF, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson didn’t have to do any skits, wear any stupid costumes or do anything that some other poor bastards had to back then. The silliest thing they did was appear on the Brother Love show, which was an odd look, to be honest, but they made it work. As things go, they got off pretty easy.
Dusty returned to WCW in 1990 in a behind-the-scenes capacity, but someone with his wit and color couldn’t be hidden for long. He popped up again doing some interesting commentary for the WCW syndicated and Saturday night shows while still helping advise the booking committee. His works for ECW, TNA, and his own federation Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling are extensive, but he will be known to the newer generation as a guiding voice and presence in NXT for the WWE, helping newly arrived or younger wrestlers find their footing and their voice in the business. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 by his two sons Dustin Rhodes and Cody Runnels. He passed away in 2015.
Tully Blanchard left the business full-time for good in late 1990 but still wrestled off and on whenever the offer or mood was right. He became a born-again Christian in 1989 and actually has a prison ministry where he tries to help people find their way to God.
Someone mentioned that he needed to become a minister for all the wicked things that he did before when he was younger. He just smiled at that. In a sport where villains eventually become good guys or faces became heels, it was refreshing to know that, no matter what, if there was something terrible happening or a horrific deed occurring or just someone cheating for no good reason, it was probably Tully Blanchard doing it.
Few could have pulled a character like this off as well as he did, and he made it look easy to boot. Tully was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. His daughter Tessa Blanchard is getting into the business, but she hasn’t shown the gift that he had of being truly terrible. Perhaps it’s just waiting for the right moment.
Magnum left wrestling altogether eventually, opening a construction business for a while and then becoming a manager for a cell-phone business. He still has a lot of difficulty walking and moving around from the accident, but he doesn’t mind it, saying, “Pain lets you know you’re alive and still in the game.”
Ironically enough, Magnum married one of Tully’s ex-wives and has a large family (seven kids, three by blood, and four by marriage). He says it was an honor to entertain the fans when he could wrestle back in the day, and he still does appearances and conventions now and then. I met him a few years back at the sadly discontinued NWA Legends Fanfest in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was about to have a panel with Tully Blanchard talking about that famous “I Quit” match.
I said to him, “I heard Tully said that he never gave up.”
“Sure, he did.” He said. “That’s all he’s ever said.”
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