Tully Blanchard Origins: His Memorable Football Career Before Wrestling

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Whether it was football or wrestling, the spotlight has always shined brightly on Tully Blanchard.

Tully Blanchard Origins - His Memorable Football Career Before Wrestling. Photo design: JP Zarka of ProWrestlingStories.com
Photo design: JP Zarka of ProWrestlingStories.com

Tully Blanchard was destined to become a star. In fact, you can say he was bred for it. From the time he was a child, his father, famed wrestler and promoter Joe Blanchard, took a hands-on interest in Tully’s sports pursuits and with the intention of positioning him for stardom. For example, when Tully took an interest in football, Joe, a star collegiate and pro offensive lineman himself, taught him how to play quarterback because that was the most celebrated position.

“My dad didn’t want me to be an offensive lineman, so he taught me to play quarterback,” Tully said in a July 2016 speech accepting his dad’s posthumous induction into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. “He wanted me to be a star.”

Joe also exposed his son to many facets of the wrestling business at an early age, first by handing out fliers to promote shows and selling concessions to setting up the ring when he got older, and later training him to wrestle. From the days of Tully Blanchard being a star three-sport high school athlete to a standout career as a college quarterback followed by a pro wrestling career that led to his induction into multiple Halls of Fame, Blanchard was steered along a path with the intention of him becoming a star and that prophecy was fulfilled.

“I was taught to do all the things that would give Tully Blanchard the glory, that would give notoriety to my family,” Tully said in an April 1997 interview with Mike Mooneyham. “I can remember back when my dad was training me as a young child to be good at athletics, whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or whatever it was, he said the harder you work, the better you will be. If I wanted to be the best at something, I had to work harder at it. And that’s just exactly what I did.”

Tully Blanchard – A Star is Born

Southwest Championship Wrestling Promoter Joe Blanchard with a young Tully Blanchard (right) along with his mother and younger sibling.
Southwest Championship Wrestling Promoter Joe Blanchard with a young Tully Blanchard (right) along with his mother and younger sibling.

It’s commonly believed that Tully Blanchard was born in San Antonio, Texas but he was actually born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on January 22nd, 1954. His father, Joe, made his pro wrestling debut there just a few months earlier and was still wrestling in Canada at the time.

The Blanchard family lived in many areas around the United States while Joe wrestled for multiple territories before eventually settling down in San Antonio in the mid-1960s, where he eventually bought a local promotion to run his own shows. This is when Tully was first exposed to the wrestling industry at 10 years old by going to the mall and putting fliers on cars to promote his dad’s shows and selling concessions at the events.

“I’d sell peanuts and soft drinks because I wasn’t old enough to sell beer,” Blanchard said in a 2016 interview with Hannibal TV “The beer guys made all the money.

“When I got older, during the summer, the arena that my dad’s promotion owned, the government took that land so we ended up going to Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio,” Blanchard said. “We had to put the ring up and take it down every week and that was also one of my jobs; two stories up from the basement and you had to carry every piece. I also refereed during the summer for three years. There’s not much that I missed in the wrestling business.”

Tully Blanchard Catches Spotlight at Churchill High

While Blanchard worked behind the scenes learning about the wrestling business, he stood firmly in the spotlight at Churchill High where he starred in basketball, baseball and especially football where he played quarterback, safety, and punter.

As a sophomore, Blanchard took over as the starter when the first-string quarterback broke a wrist during pre-season drills and never looked back. Blanchard’s first start didn’t go well against two-time defending state champion Reagan, as he completed just eight of 30 pass attempts in a 35-0 loss as Reagan won its 30th consecutive game.

Later that season, however, Blanchard’s star potential revealed itself after a gutty performance against state powerhouse Lee High School, completing 31 of 60 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown. Churchill lost 54-14 but they were the first team that season to lead Lee after the first quarter and Blanchard showed he could lead the team. Churchill finished the 1970 season with a 7-3 record and 4-1 in the District 31-AAAA region, good for second place.

Newspapers described Blanchard as a sophomore sensation, tough and smooth, talented and deadly, whether it was with his passing arm, legs for running, or foot for kicking. Blanchard was named Honorable Mention for the 1970 All-City team, meaning he was the second-best high school QB in the region, which had a lot of talent at the position including Tommy Kramer, who later starred in the NFL for many years with the Minnesota Vikings.

As a quarterback and punter, Tully Blanchard leads his Churchill Chargers team to a win against the Brahmas. (Express and News, September 11, 1971 edition)
As a quarterback and punter, Tully Blanchard leads his Churchill Chargers team to a win against the Brahmas. (Express and News, September 11, 1971 edition)

In 1971, Blanchard continued his strong play as a junior and Churchill became the top-ranked team in the state. During his senior year, Blanchard’s star continued to shine, not only as the star quarterback but also for his punting. During that season, Blanchard averaged 46-yards per punt, which was unofficially the best in the nation.

“Wahoo McDaniel worked with me and he had punted in the NFL,” Tully Blanchard said. “He taught me some things about punting. I should have pursued that a little more. I didn’t realize you could make a career and just punt without playing. I had some skewed thought processes going on when I was a young guy.”

'Tully Blanchard was playing one of the finest games of a distinguished career.' (San Antonio Express, Friday, September 1st, 1972 edition)
“Tully Blanchard was playing one of the finest games of a distinguished career.” (San Antonio Express, Friday, September 1st, 1972 edition)

Tully’s College Football Career and His Close Brush with Death

Tully Blanchard was the big man on campus and his play on the gridiron attracted attention from many universities. While he had many options, the star quarterback accepted a major college football scholarship to Southern Methodist University. The decision was a measured one, as all were during his athletic career, with an eye on the spotlight and dreams of an NFL career on the radar.

“I wanted to be in Dallas where the media center was so people could hear about Tully Blanchard throwing touchdown passes and they could hear about Tully Blanchard scoring touchdowns,” he told Mooneyham.

“We work with weights about three days a week during the summer and run quite a bit,” Joe said in a 1971 interview with the San Antonio Light. “I’ve always thought that a college scholarship was worth more than whatever money Tully could earn during the summer. Fortunately, we haven’t needed for him to work so he’s been able to devote the summers to football.”

Blanchard made his way to Big D with even bigger dreams in mind but as the old wrestling adage goes, the card is subject to change. Future College Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry, who would later gain legendary status at Iowa University, was fired as SMU’s head coach in the middle of Blanchard’s freshman year. The man who brought him in as the heir apparent to line up under center, and his biggest advocate, was no longer there. Faced with a new head coach and an uncertain future, Blanchard dropped out and transferred to West Texas State at the suggestion of alum, and family friend, Terry Funk. Blanchard appeared to be back on track to fulfill his destiny of college football stardom but a serious car accident prior to the season not only changed his plans but nearly ended his life.

According to Funk in his bio More Than Just Hardcore, Tully was sitting in the car with the window part of the way down and his arm hanging out. When his car and the other one collided, the glass broke and severely lacerated his chest and sliced through the muscle in his throwing arm, requiring nearly 500 stitches to sew up.

“I was a right-handed quarterback, and I damaged my right arm,” Tully Blanchard told Mike Mooneyham. “I was cut from the middle of my chest down through my underarm to the middle of my back. I had been out on a country road with a friend of mine. We’d been out drinking and smoking pot and chasing around after people and just basically not being very responsible.

“At 19, I thought I was an expert at everything. There I was lying, bleeding to death on the side of the road. At one point I felt myself relax to die, felt myself drift away, and then come back because I didn’t want to miss the party on Friday. I didn’t want to miss the date with the girls, the cheerleaders, my chance at being a star when I went to West Texas State.”

Despite his close brush with death, Blanchard wouldn’t be deterred and enrolled at Cisco Junior College in the summer after the accident. Given a second chance, he was more determined than ever and worked hard on flexibility drills and running.

“I worked out during the summer with (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Roger Staubach,” Blanchard said. “I could throw accurately for about 35 yards instead of 65-70. The motion was alright but my strength was gone.”

Blanchard tried out for the football team as a walk-on at West Texas State in Canyon, Texas, a small town with a population of 13,000 located about 20 miles outside of Amarillo. Blanchard kept his injuries to himself, hoping to get by on sheer determination and will. The plan worked and Tully Blanchard not only made the team but beat out two seniors for the starting job. The accident occurred in May and he was the starting quarterback in September.

“I just came as a walk-on and figured I would either make it or not. If I told the coaches about my shoulder, they were going to tell me ‘don’t come.’” Blanchard said. “So, I would just always wear a shirt over the scar all the time.”

Because the coaches didn’t know about Blanchard’s shoulder injury, they thought he just couldn’t throw far downfield. Fortunately for Blanchard, he played so well during fall drills that he made the team anyway, aided by the fact that most of the pass plays in the offense consisted of short throws. Eventually, head coach Gene Mayfield learned about Blanchard’s injury.

“It was deep into his sophomore season,” Mayfield told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “I happened to walk into the training room and I saw the scar. I just couldn’t believe that he even tried to play again.”

As a sophomore, Blanchard started 10 of 11 games, threw for 858 yards and eight touchdowns while also rushing for 261 yards and the team finished 6-5. Prior to his junior season, there was speculation he may be replaced by one of two junior college transfers; however, Blanchard excelled during fall drills and kept his starting job.

“Tully came to opening drills ready to accept a challenge,” Mayfield said. “He proves every day in practice that he is our number one quarterback.”

“He’s developed his running skills and is throwing the ball better than ever,” Offensive Backfield Coach Jim Dawson, said in the Dept. 4, 1975 edition of The Canyon News. “Because of the accident last summer, his arm was weak most of last season, but it has been strengthened this year.”

Tully Blanchard, while quarterback of West Texas State, was featured in this Southern Illinoisan newspaper article. (Monday, September 20, 1976 edition)
Tully Blanchard, while quarterback of West Texas State, was featured in this Southern Illinoisan newspaper article. (Monday, September 20, 1976 edition)

During Blanchard’s junior season, the team turned toward a more ground-focused wishbone offense. Lacking talented receivers, his passing numbers dropped to 509 yards while he rushed for another 345 yards. The coaching staff was impressed with Blanchard’s improved passing after pacing the Buffaloes to an average of 344 yards of total offense for the final six games, so they decided to open up the offense for his senior season.

“I always thought I could throw with anybody before I got hurt,” Tully Blanchard said. “My shoulder is not quite as strong now but I can throw it 60 or 63 yards.”

Tully Blanchard Gets a Start in Professional Wrestling During His Senior Year at West Texas State

Prior to his senior season, the NCAA made a rule change that allowed students to compete professionally in one sport while maintaining amateur eligibility in another. This opened the door for Blanchard to begin his pursuit of a career in pro wrestling. West Texas State is known more for churning out pro wrestlers than being a pro football factory. Blanchard was the 14th player from the university to wrestle, including Terry and Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen along with West Texas State teammates Ted DiBiase and Merced Solis (Tito Santana) among others. Blanchard, however, was the first to do so while still attending school thanks to the NCAA rule change. That summer, he went to Georgia Championship Wrestling and worked for them for a month, wrestling four times a week and earning $250 during his final week.

“I had so many matches I lost count,” Blanchard said. “I don’t know what my record was, I guess I broke even but it doesn’t really matter because I used the month as a kind of apprenticeship. Back in the late ’70s, you had old-timers that were good performers that were kind of in the twilight part of their careers that had a lot of knowledge that you’d go out and wrestle for 20-30 minutes a night and you either learned or got smacked around a little bit. I got out-experienced a lot but it helped me. I was on the road and just another guy. And then I went back to play football for my senior year.”

“Yes, I wasn’t too sure about that kind of summer job,” head coach Gene Mayfield said. “I was always thinking about the possibility of Tully getting a dislocated shoulder or something. I’m really glad it didn’t happen.

“He’s got to be one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached. I remember one game last year when he had such a badly sprained ankle that I didn’t see how he could walk on it, much less play. But I also remember he had a fairly good game that week. Pain just doesn’t seem to bother Tully.”

One of the first newspaper articles to feature Tully Blanchard wrestling during his college years. (The El Paso Times, Friday, November 19, 1976 edition)
One of the first newspaper articles to feature Tully Blanchard wrestling during his college years. (The El Paso Times, Friday, November 19, 1976 edition)

On the gridiron, Blanchard experienced an up and down senior season. His play was inconsistent at times and his team endured a five-game losing streak before reversing its fortunes. His season was highlighted by winning the Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week award after rushing eight times for 122 yards including a 46-yard TD run in West Texas’ 58-41 win over Northeast Louisiana. He also threw a 76-yard touchdown pass.

“Tully had a super game,” Mayfield told the Lubbock Avalanche Journal after the game. “It was his best game ever.”

Blanchard completed his career at West Texas State with more than 3,000 yards combined passing and rushing. While he put up impressive numbers in a wishbone offense, there wasn’t much demand in pro football at the time for a 5-11, 200-pound QB with average speed. The perception of a quarterback below six-feet tall was much different back then, as opposed to now when a 5-9 quarterback was selected first overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. As a result, Blanchard’s dreams of playing pro football ended when his college career was over.

“[Playing pro football] has always been my ambition,” Blanchard told the Lubbock Avalanche Express, Sept. 13, 1976 edition. “I always used to think about the lights and the name on the back of the jerseys but the pros only like guys who are 6-3 and 6-4. I’m only 5-11.

“It was a fun time of my life, the three years I lived in Canyon. Terry Funk was the champion at the time and I got to house sit for him. My roommate was John Ayers, who had a tremendous pro career playing for the 49ers and won two Super Bowls. We would go to Terry’s house and camp out. It was only six miles back to campus. It was a good finish to my football career before my wrestling career started.”

With Football and College Behind Him, Tully Blanchard Shifts Focus to Pro Wrestling

Fortunately for Tully Blanchard, he continued plying his trade in wrestling while he played college football. In addition to the one summer where he wrestled in Georgia, he also donned the black and white stripes to referee a number of matches during the summers for three years prior to attending West Texas State. Being up close to the top wrestling talent in the world served as a private Masters-level course on what it took to succeed in the squared circle.

“I consider the most important thing to feed my knowledge and ultimate success in this business to be the three years that I refereed in the summers. I refereed six matches a night from the opening match to the last match,” Blanchard said during his speech to accept the Cauliflower Alley Club Iron Mike Award in 2017. “The matches underneath were guys just finishing their career or starting their career, but you were right there and you watched it. You listened to the crowd respond. Then, you got to go to the ring with Jose Lothario and Mil Mascaras and see how things happened, and how they sold, and how the angles were, and you were in the middle of everything. And you learned the timing that was successful. And to do that in World Championship matches, and hour Broadways, and [watching] Dory Funk for an hour. It was unbelievable how that vaulted my career.”

Blanchard finished his academic requirements early so he could graduate mid-term and kickoff his wrestling career full-time. It was late 1975, and his first destination was the Florida territory where he would sink or swim on his own while learning from one of the all-time great wrestling minds.

“I wasn’t working for my dad. I wasn’t the promoter’s kid being given anything,” Tully Blanchard said. “I was fortunate Eddie Graham took an interest in me. He was one of the great ring psychologists in the wrestling business. He worked out with me for five months.”

Recommended reading: Eddie and Mike Graham – Years after Their Deaths, We Still Ask: Why?

Payoffs in the Florida territory weren’t great and it was hard for Blanchard to make ends meet just coming out of college, so he switched territories.

“Wahoo talked to George Scott and got me booked as an underneath babyface in Charlotte, North Carolina. I did well the rest of 1977 but didn’t want to get killed to the point where I could never go back and try for a main event run,” Blanchard said. “So, I took that knowledge from those two territories and brought that back to San Antonio to help my dad’s company. We worked to get our company better and that was in 1978 through 1984, where I worked for Southwest Championship Wrestling.”

Tully Blanchard with his father, wrestling promotor Joe Blanchard.
Tully Blanchard with his father, wrestling promotor Joe Blanchard.

Blanchard had been wrestling for less than two years when he got an emergency phone call from home prior to a wrestling engagement in Greensboro, N.C. The news was devastating. His 16-year-old brother had been killed in a car wreck.

“I flew home. It was traumatic – the torment that happened to my mother and my father,” Blanchard told Mooneyham. “I watched my father try to drink himself to death. I watched him try to eat himself to death. I watched him do everything but stick a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. I saw the despair in my mother.”

Meanwhile, Blanchard continued his career alongside his father for Southwest Championship Wrestling. The promotion would eventually secure a television deal with the USA Network and gain national exposure. However, financial troubles sparked by deceitful practices by his business partner, led to Joe Blanchard selling the time slot which was eventually picked up by Vince McMahon and his expanding World Wrestling Federation, kicking off a relationship that still exists to this day.

“We didn’t have the knowledge to have the TV show pay for itself,” Blanchard said about losing the USA deal. “We had success and made good money but we had too much going out in payroll and had to pay $7,000 a week to be on USA Network and that wasn’t generating any money.”

Late in 1983, Tully Blanchard left Southwest Championship Wrestling and went to the Kansas City territory. However, Blanchard would experience first-hand why the territory had its reputation for low pay, bad business, and bad weather. At the same time, Blanchard was dealing with personal issues including a divorce where he lost his house and money and drug issues. After a match with Buzz Tyler in St. Louis, Blanchard went to the Marriott for drinks and met with Dory Funk Jr. and Jim Crockett about working for him. Crockett said he’d get back to Blanchard. They spoke again by phone a few days later and he offered the rising star a job. His father Joe encouraged his son to go where the money is and supported Tully’s decision to join Crockett Promotions in North Carolina and the NWA.

“He should get syndicated and go that route,” Joe told the Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1985 edition. “Big tours, big arenas, big promotions. He’s looking at a shot at making $1,000 a night. Why, I can’t afford to hire my own kid. Maybe if I could guarantee him $4,000 a week for three years.”

In Feb. 1984, Blanchard went to Carolina, where he would enjoy his greatest success. He wrestled in some notable feuds but would become a main event player a short time later when the Four Horsemen were formed and the rest was history.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN: You Can Imitate, But You Can’t Duplicate!

The Legacy of Tully Blanchard

While Blanchard envisioned one day wearing an NFL jersey with his name on the back, it was as a wrestler that the second-generation star would shine brightest and lead him to multiple wrestling Halls of Fame. Whether it was his performances on the gridiron or in the squared circle, Blanchard has been a star who entertained crowds for decades.

Tully Blanchard has joined AEW as an “exclusive advisor” to Shawn Spears.
Tully Blanchard has joined AEW as an “exclusive advisor” to Shawn Spears.

After many years out of the business, Tully Blanchard returned to the spotlight in 2019 with All Elite Wrestling, accompanying Shawn Spears. Even before his return, the legacy of the Blanchard name was in great hands as Tully’s daughter, Tessa, is one of the fastest rising stars in wrestling and appears to be on a path to carry the baton of the family name to even greater heights.

Tully Blanchard with his daughter, Impact Wrestling star Tessa Blanchard
Tully Blanchard with his daughter, Impact Wrestling star Tessa Blanchard

A Closer Look at the Patriarch of the Blanchard Family, Joe Blanchard

Joe Blanchard is the patriarch of the Blanchard wrestling family as father to Hall of Famer and Four Horsemen member Tully Blanchard as well as the grandfather to rising star Tessa Blanchard. Joe enjoyed a 25-year career in the squared circle and was among the most popular wrestling stars in the 1950s and ’60s. At one point, he was reportedly considered as an heir apparent to Pat O’Connor as World Champion.

Joe Blanchard, father of Tully and grandfather of Tessa. (Photo by Terry Dart)
Joe Blanchard, father of Tully and grandfather of Tessa. (Photo by Terry Dart)

Blanchard was born in Oklahoma in 1928 but his family would move to Kansas when he was young. He grew into a 6-2, 225-pound stud who was a star football player in high school at Parsons, Kansas. Blanchard starred in football and wrestling at Kansas State University where he was all-conference in football as well as team captain in his senior year.

Blanchard was an accomplished amateur wrestler, highlighted by his winning the 1950 Big 7 Championship in the heavyweight division over Nebraska’s Mike DiBiase (father of Ted DiBiase). The victory served as revenge for Blanchard who lost 8-2 to DiBiase in a regular season match in 1947 when both were freshmen. Injuries kept Blanchard from competing for the next two years but he got his payback as a senior after defeating DiBiase, who was the defending NCAA Champion, by a referee’s decision following their 1-1 bout. At the time, the Big 7 Conference Championship was widely considered the best conference for college wrestling in the country. The victory topped a tremendous season for Blanchard who was high point man on his team as well as being team captain.

Earlier in the season, Blanchard wrestled All-American football player Leo Nomellini from the University of Minnesota. Nomellini held a 60-pound weight advantage and beat the agile 200-pound Blanchard by decision. Nomellini would later have an unrecognized reign as the NWA World Champion and enjoyed a very successful 14-year NFL career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in both sports.

Newspaper article promoting a college wrestling match between Joe Blanchard and All-American football player Leo Nomellini. (The Manhattan Mercury, Thursday, January 26, 1950 edition)
Newspaper article promoting a college wrestling match between Joe Blanchard and All-American football player Leo Nomellini. (The Manhattan Mercury, Thursday, January 26, 1950 edition)

Blanchard wrestled two other future professional world champions as an amateur. He twice wrestled Dick Hutton, an Olympian in 1948 representing Oklahoma A&M, with Hutton narrowly winning by decision each time. Blanchard was an alternate for the same Olympic team. Hutton won the NWA World Championship in Nov. 1947.

He also wrestled Verne Gagne, a two-time NCAA Champion out of the University of Minnesota and an alternate for the 1948 Olympic Games, who handed Blanchard a rare lopsided loss. As a professional, Gagne was a 16-time World Champion and famed owner and promoter of the AWA during his legendary Hall of Fame career.

Joe Blanchard also wrestled another future professional in Bob Geigel, who won 3-2 and went on to place third in the NCAAs. Geigel had an accomplished wrestling career but is known by many for owning the Kansas City territory.

After graduating from college, and a brief fling as freshman football coach at Kansas State, Blanchard played professional football as an offensive lineman for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canadian League from 1950-53 where he was a teammate of future wrestling hall of famers Gene Kiniski and Wilbur Snyder. During his three seasons in Edmonton, Blanchard was chosen all-league twice and was a member of the 1952 Eskimo team that went to the 40th Grey Cup, losing to the Toronto Argonauts.

Edmonton Eskimos coach Darrell Royal with Gene Kiniski (50), Wilbur Snyder (63), and Joe Blanchard (60)
Edmonton Eskimos coach Darrell Royal with Gene Kiniski (50), Wilbur Snyder (63), and Joe Blanchard (60)

Blanchard then went to play for the Calgary Stampeders for a season, which led to the beginning of his career in professional wrestling. During the off-season, Blanchard taught school and wrestled for Stu Hart and his Big Time Wrestling promotion, a precursor to Stampede Wrestling. His earliest listed match is a victory over Lou Pitoscia on November 26, 1953, in Regina, Saskatchewan.

“My dad has the dungeon stories,” Tully Blanchard said during a speech when his father was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016. “There was one shooter in our family and it was my dad.”

“He was always a reserved, quiet, humble fellow, never put on any airs, just a pleasure to be around,” Edmonton promoter Al Oeming told CANOE – SLAM! Sports in a 2012 interview following Blanchard’s passing. “They (Snyder & Blanchard) were both well built, good looking, Snyder particularly tall, blond. Snyder had a bit of show savvy. Joe was a little laid-back and quiet, didn’t have quite the same charisma to rev up the wrestling audiences.”

Joe Blanchard with his family, including a young Tully Blanchard. (Photo credit: @ostpies on Twitter)
Joe Blanchard with his family, including a young Tully Blanchard. (Photo: @ostpies on Twitter)

While Joe Blanchard starred as a wrestler for Hart, his biggest successes were in Hawaii for 50th State Big Time Wrestling where he held the tag team titles twice with Lord James Blears and Texas for NWA Big Time Wrestling, where he held the Texas Heavyweight Championship twice. Those were the only championships Blanchard won during his career despite being wildly popular and working in the main event or top of the card for many years.

“Once in a while you come across a youngster who sticks out head and shoulders above the rest,” Warren Bockwinkel said of Blanchard in a November 1954 article in Wrestling U.S.A. “He has the build and the speed and you figure to yourself you would like to take him in hand and teach him the skill that would make him really good. That’s how I felt the first time I saw Blanchard. There was one big difference, however. I found there wasn’t much need for me or anyone else to take him in hand … he already had plenty of real skill.”

A memorable match from Blanchard’s career was on October 15, 1960, when a near-riot broke out after he faced off against The Sheik in a best-of-three falls match. After splitting the first two falls, The Sheik was disqualified for the third and final fall but continued his assault on a fallen Joe Blanchard. One young fan saw enough and jumped into the ring to fight The Sheik, who booted the fan out of the ring. However, by this time, many other angry fans surrounded the ring and were throwing things, including their fists, at The Sheik. The Civil Defense police stepped in to clear the mob and escorted The Sheik, along with his wife, face covered with a veil, out to their car.

Joltin' Joe Blanchard
Joltin’ Joe Blanchard

During his career, Blanchard worked in Hawaii twice, California, Buffalo, New York, Kansas City, Houston, Indianapolis and Dallas before finally settling in San Antonio in the mid-1960s. He gained his first experience in promoting while working in the Indianapolis territory office learning from legends such as Jim Barnett, Dick the Bruiser, Wilbur Snyder, Cowboy Bob Ellis, and The Sheik.

“I was just working wrestling and later started doing the television show. But I worked there in the office and helped book and helped run the thing,” Blanchard said in a 1971 article in the San Antonio Light. “We were doing live television shows at that time. It was before videotape and we had five live television shows a week, which were studio shows.”

One of Blanchard’s greatest in-ring rivals was Fritz von Erich, where they did good business inside the ring. That partnership also proved financially fruitful outside the ring when they worked together to launch the Dallas territory. Blanchard would later also partner with Paul Boesch in Houston. Realizing there was more money to be made in wrestling as a promoter, Blanchard transitioned full-time into that side of the business after a 25-year in-ring career.

WATCH: Fritz Von Erich vs. Joe Blanchard

Joe Blanchard’s first San Antonio promotion was Texas All-Star Wrestling, which at one point was syndicated on 15 TV stations in the area. While working as a promoter in the mid-1960s, Blanchard also was the first sportscaster on KSAT 12, including serving as the first host of the station’s High School Football Highlights show.

Blanchard also showed an eye for spotting talent. His roster of discoveries includes Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, and Curtis Iaukea. When Aussie Al Costello conjured up the idea of a nationalist Australian gimmick in 1957 to bolster his lackluster career, Blanchard suggested he pair up with Roy Heffernan. The pair did join forces as The Fabulous Kangaroos and became one of the most influential and top drawing tag teams of all time. Blanchard also helped train Dusty Rhodes and was the first to give the charismatic rookie a prominent position in a territory. He also gave initial exposure to a young Shawn Michaels.

In 1978, Blanchard broke away from his two Texas partners and founded Southwest Championship Wrestling, which was the first wrestling show aired on the USA Network. Blanchard served as promoter, ring announcer, and television host while building the promotion into a popular region for wrestling that was known for its violence and bloodbaths. As a promoter, Blanchard was well respected for his honesty and soft-spoken, humble demeanor who treated people well in a business that had more than its share of loud, blustery untrustworthy personalities.

Joe Blanchard as AWA president.
Joe Blanchard as AWA president.

In 1985, Southwest Championship Wrestling fell apart after a nasty power struggle with business associate Fred Behrends as part of a territory war with his former partner Fritz Von Erich. This led to Blanchard selling the time slot, which was eventually taken over by Vince McMahon and the national expansion of the WWF was underway. Blanchard went to the AWA replacing Stanley Blackburn as the figurehead president until it closed in 1991. In 2016, Blanchard was posthumously inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 83.

“My dad is one of the very, very few people that I know of that nobody ever had anything bad to say about,” Tully Blanchard told the San Antonio Express News in the March 22, 2012 edition. “My dad was always the nice guy. He had some people take advantage of him, but at the end of the day, he could always put his head down and know that he had done things just about as right as he could do them.”

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Ron Matejko
Ron Matejko is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as an award-winning writer and filmmaker for Turnbuckle Magazine (@TurnbuckleMag on Twitter / @turnbucklemagazine on Facebook), curator of Old Wrestling Pics (@OldWrestlingPic), and has covered MLB and NHL for ESPN.com.

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