Like 9 to 5s, nepotism rules in the squared circle, and many young men have been introduced to professional wrestling by their fathers. Perhaps Dad owned the promotion, or maybe he was one of their big stars.
In many instances, this produced splendid results, and legends were created whose radiance and brilliance far surpassed that of their procreators. Eddie Guerrero, Randy Savage, Owen and Bret Hart, Curt Hennig, and The Rock, are a few names that come to mind. But alas, this is a story of a different color!
Like Father, Unlike Son!
What follows are several examples of young men who may have been better served getting a college degree, attending the American Bartenders Institute, or perhaps learning to fix a Chevrolet than following their fathers’ footsteps into a wrestling ring.
There is no better place to start than with Nick Gulas. Gulas became involved in professional wrestling in the 1940s, initially working as a manager and later behind the scenes as a promoter in Florida.
In the late 1940’s he partnered with Roy Welch to form Gulas-Welch Wrestling Enterprises, Inc., based in Memphis.
In 1949, the group joined the fledgling National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) as NWA Mid-America.
Several years later, the promotion joined forces with John Cazana and expanded into several states. Then, as Welch’s health began to fail, Jerry Jarrett was brought in as a booker and to help with some of the day-to-day activities of the promotion.
NWA Mid-America has a vaunted place in wrestling history, producing epic cards, and featuring stars such as Jackie Fargo, Len Rossi, and Jerry Lawler, to name a few. The NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship was among the most prestigious in the Alliance, held by such greats as Buddy Rogers, Harley Race, and Dutch Mantel.
In 1977, the territory split, with Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler taking the Memphis part of the operation (now re-named the Continental Wrestling Association) and Gulas retaining the Knoxville-based NWA Mid-America.
While the Jarrett/Lawler duo continued to flourish, pushing Memphis to iconic heights, NWA Mid-America quickly faded into obscurity and was gone by 1980. At that point, Nick Gulas went into semi-retirement.
One might ask, what was the reason for the Gulas-Jarrett split? Gulas’ insistence that his son George be pushed as a main eventer was near the top of the list.
George Gulas certainly had the size at 6’6″, but his positive attributes started and ended there.
George suffered from Fe-aversion, a medical term denoting avoiding iron (the gym) at all costs. In laymen’s terms, George never met a gym that he liked. Tall and lanky, he had zero muscle mass or definition.
One of the great aspects of our beloved sport of wrestling is that, although a good physique is essential, it can be compensated for with either great wrestling or phenomenal mic skills.
An example of the former would be Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell. Tipping the scales at 450 pounds, the Crusher could wrestle and keep up with men half his weight, and he threw a textbook dropkick that was second to none.
In the case of the latter, let’s look at Dusty Rhodes. Of course, Dusty’s picture would never grace the pages of Muscle and Fitness or Flex magazine (except possibly as the before picture for the latest Joe Weider supplement). Still, only a handful of men could match his eloquence and conviction on the stick.
So how about George?
Although he did an hour Broadway with then NWA Champion Harley Race, all that proved was that Harley could make a broomstick look competitive (in this case, a 6’6″ broomstick).
The reviews from wrestling insiders and his peers are scathing.
Tim Dills described him as “a mess” and “less than graceful” in the ring. Jerry Lawler summed up Gulas as “a very bad wrestler” and “a tall, skinny, gangly guy.” Harley Race’s take on George was that he was “a human milk bottle” and “very, very limited” as a wrestler.
George was also known for his poorly executed chops. Regarding promo skills, they were also minimal.
In short, without daddy, he never would have made it in the dog-eat-dog world of professional wrestling.
Let’s travel Southwest and make our next stop in Oklahoma- Bill Watts country.
Watts is almost universally regarded as one of the finest minds in the history of professional wrestling. Watts’ promotion, the Tulsa-based Mid-South Wrestling (later renamed the Universal Wrestling Federation or UWF), is included in any discussion regarding the greatest promotions of all time.
Watts had a legendary career, wrestling at the main event level in many top territories. Watts’ heel turn and subsequent series of matches with Bruno Sammartino in 1965 rocked the wrestling world. He’s truly a legend in every sense of the word.
Watts ruled Mid-South Wrestling with an iron fist, with meticulous attention to detail. He insisted on strict adherence to kayfabe, and anyone who resisted was quickly handed a one-way ticket out of Tulsa. Eventually, Bill Watts made his way to World Championship Wrestling, serving as Executive Vice President.
During this time, Watts made many unpopular decisions. The one that stands out most of all was bringing his son Erik into the promotion and giving him a push not commensurate with his obvious inexperience.
Unlike George Gulas, Erik Watts was a legitimate athlete, having played college football as a quarterback for the Louisville Cardinals.
Watts was trained by his father and entered WCW just a few months later. Erik’s biggest problem? He was called up to the major leagues after only a handful of games in Class A. As a result, he wasn’t given the time to acquire some seasoning and hone his craft.
His gas station brawl with Arn Anderson may be one of the worst, if not the worst, arena-extraneous brouhahas in the history of professional wrestling.
Watts’ general ineptitude in the ring aside, the lowlights of this fiasco included a hideous attempt by Watts at executing an STF on Anderson in the gas station parking lot. Have you ever witnessed a gas station fight? Did you ever see one of the participants lock in the STF?
Arn Anderson’s Zubaz didn’t exactly add credibility to the alleged brawl either.
Eric Bischoff succinctly summed up the lackluster career of Erik Watts in his 83 Weeks podcast.
Bischoff stated, “I hate to say this, but in preparation for this show, when I looked at SuperBrawl 3, and I looked at his match, he was f***ing horrible. Now, was he horrible because they pushed him too soon? Was he horrible because he didn’t have the natural talent and instincts, was he horrible because he just wasn’t booked properly, and there was no chemistry with the people he was working with?”
Bischoff attempted to answer his own questions. “I don’t know the answer to that. But I think anytime you get a second or third-generation wrestler, you’re starting out in a hole. Erik Watts started out in a deeper hole than almost anybody.”
Regardless of the sport or profession, it’s never easy being the son of “the greatest.”
David Richard Fleihr is the son of Richard Morgan Fleihr, who many regard as one of the greatests of all the time. But, if not number one, for most, the visage of Ric Flair is surely etched into the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling.
During David’s youth, he had little desire to follow the footsteps of his fabled father; actually, the Flair youth fancied himself a state trooper.
He probably should have followed his instincts.
Somewhere along the way, his aspirations changed. On January 17th, 1999, approximately two months before his 20th birthday, David made his professional wrestling debut with World Championship Wrestling, teaming up with Naitch and coming out on top against all-time legends Curt Hennig and Barry Windham.
Watching young Flair, it was painfully evident that he was greener than envy or a Granny Smith apple. To jump-start something failing to connect with the crowd, WCW turned David heel at the SuperBrawl IX pay-per-view, using a taser on his father to help Hulk Hogan win their WCW World Title match.
David subsequently reconciled with his father and was awarded the WCW United States Championship by the elder Flair, who was the on-screen WCW President.
In his first title defense on pay-per-view on July 11th, 1999, David defeated Dean Malenko with the help of Ric and Arn Anderson.
Unfortunately, Flair’s reign was short-lived, as he and Crowbar were defeated by The Mamalukes (Big Vito and Johnny The Bull) on January 19th.
Once again, let us turn the reigns over to EZ-E, Eric Bischoff, as he commented on the career of David Flair on his 83 Weeks podcast.
“Like any son of a wrestler, especially a famous one like Ric Flair, horrible position to be in, number one. He had a lot to live up to.
“Number two, you’re getting an opportunity that many people think you’re probably not ready for; a lot of those people would be right, but you’re getting it anyway because of who you are. There’s a lot of resentment that comes with that.”
Bischoff extrapolated, “People, they wouldn’t be rude to his face, they wouldn’t have a chip on their shoulder in front of him. But you know when they leave the room, there are people shaking their heads saying, ‘Oh my God, he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his old man.’ That’s a tough thing to live with.”
David stayed with WCW until their demise in early 2001.
World Wrestling Entertainment picked up his contract and sent him to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW).
Flair only made two main roster TV appearances, both involving The Undertaker. Taker defeated him on March 14th, 2002, to augment the storyline between Undertaker and his father for their WrestleMania X8 match.
In short, David Flair’s stay with WWE was brief and uneventful.
This was followed by an equally unimpressive run with Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling, where he was a part of Vince Russo’s Sports Entertainment Xtreme (S.E.X.) faction.
David wrestled on the Independent circuit for several years before hanging up the tights in 2009 at the very young wrestling age of 30.
It was probably for the best.
David Sammartino seemingly had it all.
His impressive physique was very reminiscent of his legendary father’s, the wrestling skills were there, and he even looked like his beloved dad.
Yes, the pieces were all there. But, except for a tiny detail, he wasn’t the larger-than-life Bruno Sammartino.
“The Living Legend” was so beloved and cast an enormous shadow that anyone, including his oldest son, was doomed by any attempt to step outside of it.
It wasn’t that the fans didn’t like David. They did. But they loved, idolized, and adored his Dad.
Vince McMahon Jr. would appeal to Bruno to put on the tights, ostensibly to further David’s career, but in reality to increase attendance, guaranteed with an appearance by “The Living Legend.”
Although still in incredible shape and possessing the unreal charisma that endeared him to millions of fans, Bruno was 50 years old and had retired several years earlier.
His many years of working in concrete-like boxing rings had more than taken their toll on his near-superhuman body, resulting in over a dozen surgeries.
Bruno reached a point where he told David that he was retiring yet again and that he needed to carve out a career on his own. Unfortunately, this created a massive rift between them that was never repaired.
The WWF would terminate David after his horrendous performance against Ron Shaw on November 22nd, 1985, a 2-minute loss in which he was supposed to go over.
Although he did return to the WWF for brief stints from 1986 through early 1988, the shine was clearly off the apple, as young Sammartino was relegated to preliminary matches.
He was on the losing end of a match on November 26th, 1987, in Huntsville, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee. His opponents? Steve Lombardi and Barry Horowitz. If one cannot see the writing on the wall after a day like that, a trip to Vision Works is clearly in their future.
Fortunately, David was not sight-impaired, and save for a couple of tours of Japan in 1988 and 1990, his wrestling career was effectively over.
In Wrestling, Nepotism Reigns
So once again, there you have it, sports fans. Interestingly enough, two of the four examples are sons of men in every GOAT discussion.
And while some would argue that Verne Gagne’s son, Greg Gagne, should round out a top 5, in all honesty, Greg’s performance in the ring and his commitment to his craft exclude him from this less than desirable fraternity.
However, to Verne’s credit, he featured his son predominantly in tag team action, and wrestling historians have favorably regarded Gagne and Jumping Jim Brunzell’s High Flyers team.
Although these are merely four unfortunate father-son combinations, the wrestling world is replete with them.
Who knows, a sequel may be in the offing. Stay tuned!
These stories may also interest you:
- Gory Guerrero: Patriarch of the Guerrero Wrestling Dynasty
- Vince McMahon Opens Up About His Father, Vince Sr.
- Growing Up The Daughter of a Wrestling Heel
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