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" The Gravel Pit "
Tony Atlas Shoot Interview
Posted by Brandon Truitt on Feb 24, 2003, 19:00
No Way Out last night was a better than was expected, but that's like saying that you thought you would get murdered but got mugged instead. Jericho vs. Jeff Hardy, Kidman vs. Matt Hardy, and Brock-Benoit vs. Team Angle were all good. Taker-Show was better than expected, even with A-Train getting involved, but I chalk that up to the fact that it probably couldn't be as bad as most people thought it would be. Austin-Bischoff, Triple H-Steiner, and Rock-Hogan were as pathetic as expected or worse.
The most annoying thing about the Rock-Hogan match was that they 1. did a screwjob 2. in Montreal 3. involving both The Rock and Vince McMahon. Considering that the first Montreal after Survivor Series 97 was one year later when Rock beat Foley for the title, there's only one way they could make it more tired and that's if they'd called for the bell during the Sharpshooter. At least they did get slightly creative by doing a lights-out switch, which was made famous in World Class with Iceman Parsons. I know that Montreal helped put the WWE back on the map due to fan interest after Bret got screwed, but it's been SIX YEARS and almost EVERY time they go to Montreal, Survivor Series, or someplace where Hart relatives are in attendance, they pull a similar screwjob out of their asses. If the Has Been Kid is wondering why Bret seems obsessed with Survivor Series 97 after all of this time, maybe he should watch some WWE programming.
Also, note to Undertaker: You are NOT a submission wrestler no matter how big of a UFC fan you may be. If you want to use a submission finisher, use it in a match BEFORE a PPV event and then start selling OTHER people's submissions like the Crippler Crossface and the anklelock, ESPECIALLY when you're in both at the same time.
On the home video front, I recommend picking up Stranglemania I. It's a bunch of Japanese garbage matches with Cactus Jack, the Headhunters, Leatherface, and others redubbed by the Insane Clown Posse. FUNNY FUNNY shit here. You may also want to look into the Norman Smiley Shoot Interview (2002) VHS, which is $7.50 at Highspots this week.
As always, you can feel free to Drop me an e-mail, read the archives, buy me stuff, or buy yourself stuff at Highspots.com.
“Mr. USA” Tony Atlas Shoot Interview (Wrestling Universe)
How did he get started bodybuilding? He had done it ever since he was a kid because it was a form of protection. People seeing you’re strong helps keep you out of a lot of trouble. By the time he was 18, he was the Virginia champion of power lifting, wrestling, bodybuilding, arm wrestling, and weight lifting.
How did he transition to wrestling? He was in the YMCA in Roanoke, Virginia, and the team of George Scott and Sandy Scott discovered him. They were working for Jim Crockett Promotions at the time. “I don’t mean to brag, but I was the first wrestler in the history of professional wrestling to be paid to become a wrestler.” (I find this one hard to swallow, but there are worse cases as we go along).
What was his first territory? Mid-Atlantic, which was the cornerstone of Jim Crockett Promotions. He wrestled guys like Wahoo McDaniel, Lars Anderson and Gene Anderson, and Ric Flair. He also takes credit for Arn Anderson’s big break in the business because he claims that he went to tell Ole Anderson that there was a guy in Mid-South who looked like he could be an Anderson. (According to Arn, it was the Junkyard Dog who made the suggestion to Bill Watts and got it passed on to Ole)
Who was the booker at the time? Jim Crockett was the promoter and George Scott was his booker. Some of the guys in the territory around that time were Blackjack Mulligan, Johnny Valentine, Bob Orton Sr., Dusty Rhodes, Gerald Brisco and Jack Brisco, etc.
Did he have any heat with them? No, it was like a family. He claims that the business used to be based on the concept of “If you can’t whip my ass outside the ring, you can’t beat me in the ring.”, which is dubious at best. He says that Hulk Hogan changed that by being the first non-shooter to hold the belt.
Who was his first opponent? He tagged with Bob Gregory against Art Nelson and the Blue Scorpion. Bob Gregory was in the famous Crockett airplane crash that ended Johnny Valentine’s career and broke Ric Flair’s back. Flair ended up getting Valentine’s spot as the top heel after he recovered from the crash.
The territories he’s worked at- It’s easier to list the territories he never worked at and the only one is ECW. The reason why he never worked there is that Paul Heyman is a liar. He claims that he stopped a couple of guys from tossing Heyman out a window and, as a result, Heyman pitched him the idea of being in Public Enemy, which he described as being “an Italian guy, a white guy, and a black guy.” Sounds more like the Full Blooded Italians to me. Anyway, Paul E. never called him and he ended up seeing the gimmick as it was described to him on TV, so he got pissed. He says that Paul E’s in trouble now, so “he’s probably lied to a few more people than Tony Atlas.” That’s the safe bet of the year, Tony…
How did he get into the WWF- Ernie “The Cat” Ladd got him into the then-WWWF because he told Vince McMahon Sr. about him. His first opponent there was Johnny Rodz, who he claims was Vince’s shooter and that the first match would determine your placement in the company. If you could hold your own against Rodz or beat him, you’d be champion. If you got your ass whipped, you were going to be jobbing a lot.
How would he compare Vince Sr. and Vince Jr.? He starts by telling a Captain Lou Albano story where Lou got drunk at Madison Square Garden, walked in front of Mrs. McMahon, mooned her, and waved his dick at her, all while she was sitting there talking with her friends. Vince Sr. got pissed and fired Lou, but “at that time, the Italians stuck together and Bruno Sammartino was their champion, so Bruno wasn’t going to wrestle unless the Captain was there”, so Vince Sr. had to go find Lou and apologize to HIM. He says that, another time, the Italians, “Dominic Denucci and all them guys”, hung Vince Sr. from the office window. (These stories are probably all complete bullshit. Dave Meltzer shot down the one about hanging Vince Sr. out of a window because he said that he would have heard a story like that from a wrestler instead of second-hand from someone who’d seen this shoot. The others are probably as phony.)
He then segues into a story about how him and superjobber SD Jones were scheduled to win the WWWF tag titles but some marital problems came up and he had to leave town quickly. Another time, he was supposed to win the tag titles again and he got stoned and missed three of the four scheduled TV tapings he was supposed to do because he ended up in jail. The third time, he was paired with Rocky Johnson, the father of The Rock, by Vince Sr. He starts going off on Rocky for various things like never picking him up when they were supposed to ride together, etc. It came to a head when Tony did his finisher on their opponent that night and let Rocky take the pin, but Rocky pulled the guy up before the three and continued wrestling him. He claims that he punched Rocky out after that because it he felt Rocky was intentionally trying to kill his finisher. “Vince was afraid to use me on top” because he was afraid that he’d go nuts but “he couldn’t put me on bottom because people wouldn’t believe the people he’d put over me could do the job.”
Sidenote- Tony is SO full of shit on that last point. I’ve NEVER seen a McMahon who thought that there would be a problem turning anyone into a jobber.
They won the belts on the last day of TV before Vince Sr. died and claims that Vince Sr. made a big deal about wanting to put a belt on Tony before he died. Road agent Chief Jay Strongbow pushed for SD Jones to be Tony’s partner but Rocky got the spot instead because High Chief Peter Maivia, Rocky’s father-in-law, had just died. He claims they only teamed up twice, to win the belts and to lose the belts. He says that happened because he couldn’t stand Rocky and would punch him in the face whenever they ran into each other.
Rocky Johnson- “Rocky was anything but black.” If you were black, he’d screw you over because he wanted to keep his spot as the top black guy in the territory. He goes into a story about how they were supposed to be riding together to go to the TV tapings at a time when Vince Sr. was fining people $500 for being late to the tapings, but he couldn’t get Rocky to come out of his hotel room. He knew Rocky was in there because The Rock, then known as Dewey, was peeking out the window. Once they finally leave, he notices that a car is following them. He claims that it was Rocky’s girlfriend and that he was trying to keep his wife from finding out about her. He says Rocky tried to lay the blame on him by saying “I had to wait for Tony to get out of the gym”, so Tony whipped Rocky’s ass. They ended up taking the titles off of them because one of them was going to die if they were at each other’s throats long enough.
Hulk Hogan- He doesn’t have any problems with Hogan. He talks about how Hogan had a hard time breaking into the business because people didn’t want a guitar player as a wrestler. He said people were trying to break Hogan’s legs, which was true because on of the trainers in the Florida territory, probably Hiro Matsuda, had broken Hogan’s leg intentionally during his tryout for the wrestling school. He says that he and Tommy Rich begged the promoters in Georgia to do something with Hogan, which he said worked because Hogan was a heel and the only guy in the territory bigger than him. He claims that Hogan won the belt in his first night in the WWF in 1983-1984 and that the Iron Sheik was only holding the belt because Iran was holding Americans hostage at the time. That is VERY wrong because Hogan appeared on TV to save Bob Backlund from the Wild Samoans before the Sheik match, the Sheik was only the champion because Backlund refused to go heel and drop the belt to Hogan, and the Iranian hostage crisis was in 1980, not 1983.
Iron Sheik- All the credit for Hogan should go to the Iron Sheik for being willing to lose the belt to him. Backlund refused to lose to Hogan. Tony starts talking about how, if he was supposed to lose to a guy he didn’t think could whip him for real, he’d beat the crap out of the guy for “99 minutes of the match” and then pull him on top for the three count. O….K. He says that, in particular, he did that with Paul Orndorff, a guy who he’s had a notorious feud with outside of the ring.
What was the difference in the locker room atmosphere between Vince Sr. running things and Vince Jr. taking over? The locker room was more laid-back in Vince Sr.’s days, as guys like Andre the Giant would sit around playing cards and smoking cigars. When Vince Jr. took over, everyone became backstabbing snakes, such as Adrian Adonis, “who sold crack cocaine to Gene Okerlund and then ratted him out to Vince.” These days, anything said in the locker room will get back to Vince immediately and it will affect your push.
Wrestlemania 13- He was there as a part of the program they were running with The Rock. He says that, when he and Rocky got to the locker room, Rocky went up to the Brooklyn Brawler (Steve Lombardi), Pat Patterson’s top snitch, and told him “the only reason you’re here is because you’re giving head to the boss.” As a result, the program involving Rocky and The Rock was squashed, leaving him shit out of luck with the WWF.
After the WWF, he went to World Class, which had problems because the Von Erichs had to be on top and they weren’t drawing any money. He moved up to Maine to work for an independent promotion that didn’t end up running all the dates it had promised. They eventually quit running Maine altogether and Tony ended up penniless and homeless, living in the park. He ended up coming out from his hiding place in the park one morning and a woman saw him and told him that he could stay at her place if he wanted to. He ended up marrying her.
Other independants- He just did a show with Ricky Steamboat and King Kong Bundy. He’s also done a lot of tours across Europe to US armed forces bases.
Puerto Rico- He was there from about 1985 to 1989, leaving shortly after Bruiser Brody was stabbed to death. He saw Brody get stabbed and took Brody to the hospital. He claims that Dutch Mantel and the Youngbloods were more concerned with getting ready to wrestle that night than taking care of Brody. He says that it was, indeed, Invader III (Jose Gonzales) who stabbed Brody to death.
Guys he’s worked for recently- Les Thatcher of Heartland Wrestling Association is one of them. Les ended up on an MTV special on wrestling and Tony happened to get on there by accident. King Kong Bundy was supposed to be the focus of it but he hung up on them when he heard that he wasn’t getting paid to do it. The plan was to do a three-part series showing kids in training to wrestle, guys on the indy circuit now trying for the Big Two, and older guys just hanging on to the business. The promoter and TV crew didn’t communicate well, so they only got enough footage for one show and a lot of it ended up being on Tony because most of their footage was of him. It’s helped keep him alive on the indy circuit because it got him noticed and, therefore, booked more often as a result.
Does he get stiffed much on the indy circuit? Only once, and it was Mr. Haiti when he ran a show in Harlem recently.
Can he makre comparisons between Backlund and Hogan as champ- Hogan had much more charisma and helped shape wrestling into what it is today, while Backlund was incredible shooter.
How would you compare the 1980s wrestling boom to the current one? “Steve Austin is much more talented than Hulk Hogan” and he talks about how a lot of the WWF stars are guys that WCW had and didn’t know what to do with them, like Austin, Undertaker, and Mick Foley. “If The Rock had gone to WCW, he’d never be as big as he is.”
Montreal- Bret Hart was completely in the wrong because he had a $3 million contract lined up with WCW and all he had to do was to lose the belt on his way out, which he refused to do. He says that Vince McMahon made Bret’s career and that Bret was an ingrate for refusing to job. “Everything he ever asked for, Vince did.” He claims that Bret won the Intercontinental title and WWF title because he’d asked Vince for them.
That doesn’t match up with any story I’ve ever heard. The main stories I hear are that the late Curt Hennig asked to lose the IC title to Bret in 1991 when he was about to retire due to a back injury. As for the first WWF title win, over Ric Flair in 1992, it was sprung on Bret and Flair both early that day with no notice because Vince decided he needed a change as champion and chose Bret out of the four people considered for that opportunity.
Vince’s philosophy on wrestling- The people tell Vince what they want and he does it, which is why Vince made Hogan a bigger star in two years than Ric Flair is after being a main eventer for nearly 25 years. (Ahem… BULLSHIT. Vince may listen to the fans for a while but, as Ted Dibiase has pointed out, Vince has a nasty habit of ignoring EVERYBODY whenever he’s been doing good for a while because he feels ten feet tall and bulletproof.) He talks about how there used to be a lot of ethnic wrestlers like Nikolai Volkoff and Mr. Fuji, but that doesn’t happen often anymore because we don’t have a lot of enemies. Thank God for that too because the LAST thing I want to see is Tiger Ali Singh returning to RAW as a member of Al Queda.
Saba Simba- The WWF came up with that idea because of everything going on with Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It didn’t last long, though. (Roddy Piper violating Vince’s “If it happened in the past and he’s not a main eventer, there IS no continuity” rule by yelling “HEY, IT’S TONY ATLAS!” the first time he saw Simba didn’t help matters.)
WCW- They wanted him to wrestle against WCW champion Ron Simmons but “because Ron was a black athlete and they wanted Sting to be the #1 guy”, you’d get jobbed out to everyone, their dog, and their arthritic granny before Ron finally was put into a match with you and won. He said that WCW had a serious problem of throwing names together and not giving them a storyline to work with. A lot of the problems dealt with the bookers because Dusty Rhodes would book for the benefit of himself and his son Dustin while Bill Watts would book for Eric Watts.
Bill Watts- He worked for him in Mid-South back when Junkyard Dog was still there. He talks about how Vince succeeded by signing the top wrestlers from each territory. “Bill Watts bought him a brand new Mercedes, bought him a house, bought his wife a beauty salon, and paid him $100,000 a year for never having to go further than 200 miles away yet Vince McMahon made one phone call and he’s gone.” Tony must not remember the Mid-South travel schedule too well… you were NEVER home for more than a day, and that was if you happened to live in Alexandria, Louisiana, where the weekly TV tapings were.
Vince’s plan- “Vince originally wanted to work with the promoters”, such as Phil Zacko in Philadelphia and Arnold Skoaland in upstate New York, but they screwed him over on the gate receipts so he bought them all out and did it himself.
Shane McMahon- One time, Hogan was at the office while Shane was about 12 and asked him if he wanted to have a set of 24-inch pythons like him some day and Shane said “I’d rather be like my dad and tell guys with 24-inch arms what to do.” He calls him the toughest wrestler in the WWF and says that few people in the WWF could take Shane on in a shoot fight and win. (He’s REALLY kissing up for a WWF job. Shane’s capable of taking bumps but can’t hit worth anything. That “leaping pussy chairshot” of his is enough to make most fans sick,)
Abdullah the Butcher- He first wrestled him in Atlanta. Thunderbolt Patterson was the big black wrestler at the time and he quit, so Jim Barnett and the other promoters needed someone to take his place. Tony was wrestling under a mask at the time as Black Atlas since he was learning, so they had Abdullah beat the shit out of Tommy Rich and Ole sent him to run Abdullah off before the fans rioted. On Abdullah’s way out, he accidentally ripped off Tony’s mask and he claims that all the black women in the audience loved him because he was cute then and “didn’t look like a bunch of gorillas like the other black wrestlers.” His words, NOT mine. He just took off from there, fighting Abdullah for about eight years across the US and Puerto Rico.
Lex Luger- Doesn’t know him well, hears that he’s very vain and always dresses in front of a mirror. One night, as a rib, people kept moving Lex’s mirror every time he got up and he’d sit down right in front of it, which was the basis for his Narcissist gimmick in 1993.
Ravishing Rick Rude- One of the toughest guys out of Minnesota. If you were ever in a bar fight, you’d want him on your side. Also a gentleman.
Sting- He sees him occasionally but doesn’t know him well. He always treated him right, though.
Ricky Steamboat- One of the greatest in the business. Worked hard. He and Ric Flair helped building WCW into what it is. One night, in order to get heat for a Flair-Steamboat show, Flair drug Steamboat’s face across the floor and roughed him up. Underrated.
Vader- Big sissy. “Paul Orndorff beat him up with one arm.”
Stan Hansen- “Couldn’t see his hand in front of his face and dangerous in the ring.” Nice guy, but VERY nearsighted.
Any plans for the Big Two? Not really, it’s merchandising and a lot of other stuff in addition to wrestling these days. They have people in the back who sit down and write out the plans for the next two or three years and you have to be fit into that program. (This shows how old this is… they have been booking on cocktail napkins for the last two years with the exception of The Rock’s programs against Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar.) The company is also based on ratings, as the TV stations will tell Vince to take people off of TV if they keep making the ratings go down.
Will a new promotion be able to compete with Vince? Maybe, but they’ll have the same problems Vince had. Vince didn’t start the WWF, a bunch of promoters including Arnold Skoaland and Angelo Savoli did. ECW was going along the right track but they tried to compete with Vince rather than concentrate on what they were good at. Vince also spreads around the pushes for his talent so that he won’t be in trouble if one wrestler gets hurt or tries to hold him up. (This is another booking philosophy not in use right now… RAW is Triple H no matter how you cut it so if he gets injured and loses the belt, it will derail most of the storylines on that show.) I think that the mindset behind this is well-intentioned, but it leads to tit-for-tat feuds where everyone ends up less over as a result.
Wrestlers vs. other athletes- Other athletes get a lot of help with training, transportation, etc. while wrestlers are “self-employed” and have to take care of their own bodies, taxes, insurance, travel, etc. Wrestlers have to be their own accountant, lawyer, doctor, etc. He also says that wrestlers are usually able to hold their own, such as a retired Bruno Sammartino taking on three huge Pittsburg Steelers and winning. Tony claims that he picked up “Refrigerator” Perry to slam him at Wrestlemania 2 and that Perry begged him to be put down.
Andre the Giant- He liked you if you weighed more than 300 pounds because he felt comfortable around you. He didn’t like small people because they’d ask about his size, and all he’d ever wanted to do was to fit in. The only big guy he didn’t like was Big John Studd and “that was because Studd called himself the giant and Andre said he was the only giant.” They never put the belt on Andre because it would kill the territory, as no one thought anyone would be able to beat him. He said that if Andre didn’t want you to do something, you weren’t going to do it.
Bruiser Brody- Brody promised Tony and Dingo Warrior (Ultimate Warrior) that he’d get them booked in a territory he was running but he never did, causing Tony to leave for Puerto Rico and Warrior to leave for the WWF. Brody was also a marked man because he was notorious for screwing over promoters whenever he came to town. He figured that he was big enough that he would be able to get away with anything he wanted to. The problem came when he tried to screw over Jose Gonzales (Invader III) soon after his daughter had drowned in a pool and he’d accidentally run over his other daughter while backing out of the driveway. They ended up having words and then Jose started stabbing him. At first everyone thought it was a fight because those weren’t unusual in the locker room, but they saw the knife come up and separated the two guys. Atlas claims he pulled Brody out of the way while Carlos Colon grabbed Jose. Brody’s guts were hanging out while he was laying on the locker room floor and, while he was bleeding to death, he told Colon to take care of his son for him. The police investigated the murder and were told by most people that a fan had run into the locker room and stabbed Brody, while a cop that Tony knew asked him what happened and, not knowing of the cover story, told him that Jose stabbed Brody. They wanted him to testify at the trial but he refused to do so because he figured someone would kill him.
Where does he see wrestling in five or ten years? The worst thing to happen to wrestling is wrestling schools. You used to have to be a special person to be a wrestler but now anyone can be a wrestler. It used to be a close-knit profession but now anyone can be one. He feels that the best thing for the business would be Vince taking over the whole business because independent promotions are showing anything but wrestling. On top of that, most guys are only weekend wrestlers now and work 52 days a year instead of working 300+ day a year and getting better at it. He says that WCW is doomed because they have a southern mentality about wrestling which isn’t accepted by most fans but they refuse to change. He thinks that the actual business will be no more in ten years because wrestlers used to be physically exceptional and now they look like everyone else. He also talks about how not all wrestlers are tough anymore but that Jacqueline and Chyna are both rather tough and that Shane McMahon is the toughest guy in the WWF, but that Shane wouldn’t draw money because he’s too small and doesn’t have the look.
He starts talking about the old days and how the Iron Sheik was offered $100,000 by Verne Gagne to break Hogan’s leg and take the WWF title to the AWA, but that Sheik told Vince and Vince paid him not to job the belt to Hogan clean. He also says that the Sheik-Backlund match was a shoot because Backlund didn’t want to lose the belt and wouldn’t have given up if Skoaland hadn’t thrown in the towel.
Pacific Islanders- Samoans like Afa and Sika, as well as Jimmy Snuka, who's from Fiji, all loved to fight. He says it’s like the Samoan national past time. One day, they all jumped out on the side of the road and started fighting, then all got back in the car like nothing had happened. “You never see a small Samoan, not even the women.”
Characters in wrestling- People become their characters or, in other cases, their characters become them. Vince McMahon wasn’t too well liked even before he became Mr. McMahon, etc.
Thoughts- Tony’s stories tend to be full of holes, so I can’t recommend this unless you want one possible version of the Brusier Brody murder. Once I watch the Dutch Mantel and Buddy Landell shoots and possibly a few others, such as Savio Vega if he ever does one, I need to do the whole Rashomon thing and see how many different ways the same story can be told.
Getting back to the shoot, I’m giving this a Strong Recommendation to Avoid unless you want to listen to what Tony says and laugh your ass off.