MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A.: Lives intertwined years after classic wrestling feud
There are pro wrestling feuds.
And then there’s Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A.
Their series of matches rank among the bloodiest and most intense programs of all time and set a new standard for brutality in the rough-and-tumble Mid-Atlantic territory in 1985.
The two will come together once again, smack dab in the heart of Crockett territory, during the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest on Aug. 1-4 in Charlotte.
This time, however, they will return as special guests for an opening night Q&A session that will help kick off the annual event. Magnum also will be inducted into the Hall of Heroes the following evening.
Longtime Mid-Atlantic fans still talk about the brutal feud those two waged nearly 30 years ago.
Blanchard had captured the coveted U.S. title from Magnum that summer in a cage match where Blanchard’s valet Baby Doll (Nickla Roberts) — disguised as a security guard — passed him a foreign object. Blanchard, as hated and despised a heel as there was in the business, knocked fan favorite Magnum out cold for the pinfall and the championship.
When I hit him with the quarters, you could hear a pin drop in that building,” recalls Blanchard. “It was eerie quiet. We went one-two-three boom, and shot out of that building.”
The blazing rivalry would continue throughout the year and would culminate with their famous “I Quit” match at Starrcade ‘85 in Greensboro, N.C.
“We wrestled practically every night for seven or eight months,” Blanchard says of the torrid buildup to the spectacle.
The battle was a classic matchup pitting two contrasting personalities — the arrogant, cocky, playboy role portrayed by Blanchard, and the handsome, fan-friendly, cowboy boot-wearing character played by Magnum.
Terry Allen, a native of Chesapeake, Va., had adopted the “Magnum T.A.” nickname as a way to play off of his passing resemblance to ‘80s TV star and “Magnum, P.I.” actor Tom Selleck.
Blanchard, the son of longtime Texas-based wrestler and promoter Joe Blanchard, was a talented but fast-living, devil-may-care performer who had convinced promoter Jim Crockett Jr. that he could make money for him if he’d bring him to North Carolina.
Blanchard was “as good as I thought I was,” and became a top draw in the Mid-Atlantic area, mowing down veteran stars such as Johnny Weaver, Wahoo McDaniel, Ricky Steamboat, Ronnie Garvin and Jimmy Valiant on his way to a bloody feud with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
Blanchard would add an extra element to the mix when he introduced “The Perfect 10,” Baby Doll (Nickla Roberts), as his valet in February 1985.
Blanchard was doing a Christmas swing in Florida when he noticed Roberts in the ring. He was awestruck.
“She’s beautiful and a monster.”
Blanchard told Roberts, the daughter of veteran Lubbock promoter Nick Roberts and women’s wrestling star Lorraine Johnson, that Crockett Promotions was holding a storyline contest for “The Perfect 10.” The character would serve as a valet for Blanchard.
Roberts was exactly what the promotion was looking for.
“She’s gotta be Baby Doll,” Blanchard told Mid-Atlantic booker Dusty Rhodes.
“She was a different dynamic. For me to go out there and talk about ‘The Perfect 10,’ it was monster heat. If I had walked in there with some bombshell, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. It was just the right place, the right time, the right everything.”
“Because my first name is Nickla, a lot of people just don’t get that right. A lot of the guys were calling me Baby Doll anyway, so it just kind of fit,” says Roberts.
Plus, she adds, it was the name of Blanchard’s favorite strip club in San Antonio.
Blanchard’s 353-day reign as NWA TV champion would come to an end on March 16, 1985, when Rhodes defeated him for the title.
Blanchard, though, would regain the belt before losing it back to Rhodes in July 1985 at the Great American Bash inside a steel cage.
While Blanchard was working his program with Rhodes, Magnum was gaining momentum in the territory, winning the U.S. heavyweight title from Wahoo McDaniel, less than a year after arriving in the area.
With his popularity soaring and his stock steadily rising, it appeared that Magnum had found a home with Crockett Promotions.
Blanchard, meanwhile, was cutting a heelish swath through the territory and gaining a reputation for an uncanny intensity in the ring.
The two were on a collision course that would soon rock the foundation of Mid-Atlantic wrestling.
In 1985, with the Carolinas as the focal point of some of pro wrestling’s greatest matches and rivalries, Tully Blanchard and Terry Allen would define each other’s career.
Blanchard, born into the business, was on a rocket to stardom. And he was the epitome of the best kind of heel — a natural one.
“Some people were meant to be babyfaces, and some people weren’t. I was a weren’t,” he says bluntly.
“They hated us and then they really liked to hate us, but the one guy who was always the true heel in the group was Tully,” says Four Horsemen manager J.J. Dillon. “He was a natural heel. Whether it was the cockiness that came through — even when they liked to hate us — it was a different type of hatred for Tully because he was a true, natural heel.”
Blanchard was 31 years old and at the top of his game. Very few heels of that era were even in the same category.
“The guys that I learned from were main-event guys everywhere. I wanted to learn and I asked questions. I was fortunate enough to wrestle guys that could teach me,” he says.
Blanchard, who picked up the sport as a youngster and was athletic enough to play starting quarterback at West Texas State, absorbed the business like a sponge.
“I wrestled Wahoo McDaniel every day for two years. He and I had discussions about how to get heat, how to sell and how to keep a comeback going. Then I had Johnny Valentine critiquing me every night for the next two years. That was a four-year period of my life at Southwest (Championship Wrestling).”
It was an education of a lifetime, and Mid-Atlantic promoter Jim Crockett would reap the benefits from those early learning sessions.
Mangum T.A., five years younger than Blanchard, had steadily worked his way up through the ranks.
Beginning his pro career at the age of 19, dropping out of college after two years at Old Dominion University, Terry Wayne Allen had worked several territories before a chance meeting with Andre The Giant resulted in the career break of a lifetime.
Andre, noticing Allen’s curly mullet and mustache, suggested that he change his ring name to Magnum T.A. due to his resemblance to the actor playing the TV role.
The two had first met when Allen was breaking into the business in the Portland territory.
“I had an Olds 98 Regency, one of the great big cars back then, and whoever had the biggest car got to chauffeur Andre around when he came in. So I got to spend a couple weeks with him there.”
The two were having breakfast a couple years later in Tampa when Andre came up with the idea.
“My hair was shorter then and I was wearing these Hawaiian shirts and jeans,” recalls Allen.
“Man, you look a lot like that Tom Selleck guy,” bellowed Andre. “You should be Magnum T.A. (standing for Terry Allen).”
Andre, who was working for Vince McMahon Sr. and the WWWF at the time, had plans to bring Allen to New York as Magnum T.A.
“Before he could get it all put together, Ernie Ladd scooped me up and took me to Mid-South,” says Allen. “That’s where I started the name and the deal.”
The name sounded flashy enough, says Allen, but it lacked direction and meaning.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I didn’t know what that character meant. It was just a handle ... just a name.”
Neither did booker Ladd or Mid-South owner Cowboy Bill Watts.
“Bill and Ernie didn’t have a clue. What was this guy supposed to be? Brooks Brothers suits or punk rock? They just didn’t know.”
The answer, says Allen, would develop organically.
“When they finally gave up trying their own ideas, I reverted to what came naturally. I had ridden motorcycles since I was 16 years old. I had just bought a Harley, and I came in one day with my leather motorcycle jacket. They were like ... ‘Bingo ... that’s it!’”
“It was an amazing evolution how it all took place,” he says.
Make them believe
By the time Allen arrived in the Carolinas in 1984, the Magnum T.A. character was on his way to stardom.
A natural in the ring, Magnum T.A. was charismatic, a young, shining star who captivated audiences.
While Blanchard and Rhodes were spilling buckets of blood in Mid-Atlantic rings, Allen was working his way to the top babyface spot in the territory, challenging NWA world heavyweight champion Ric Flair.
“I had met Tully while I was working for his dad Joe when I had been in the business for six months or so. I worked in the territory with him and Gino Hernandez and Tiger Conway Jr. When I first met Tully, he told me that his goal was to be the best heel in the business. He had a tremendous work ethic.”
Allen had that same burning desire.
“I wanted to be the best wrestling tactician-class brawler who was in shape that anybody had ever seen. That was my goal. I had a personal goal to every night make believers out of everybody in that building.”
Both would harken back to the philosophy espoused by Johnny “The Champ” Valentine: “I can’t make them believe wrestling is real, but I sure can make them believe I am real.”
Or, as Tully’s own dad had told him many years earlier, “Ninety-five percent of the people that come to a wrestling match believe it’s not real. But, when Dick The Bruiser and Cowboy Bob Ellis go at it, that’s real.”
“And because of the intensity,” says Blanchard, “Terry and I got into that five percent. And that’s the reason that we got over ... because they really couldn’t tell. And if they really knew how bad he beat the crap out of me every night ... I should have gotten paid more.”
“I grew up watching Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel beat the pulp out of one another. Those were the kinds of things that I cut my teeth on,” adds Allen.
“Whether they thought everything else there was questionable, we wanted them to go out talking about the two of us.”
In 1985, the “two of us” would be Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.
There was chemistry, and the two jelled in the ring. Both were masters of their craft.
“We took it to a different level. It wasn’t just us trying to steal the show. It was a credibility thing,” says Allen.
With every match leading up to the ultimate showdown, the intensity reached new — and dangerous — levels.
“We were pushing the boundaries so hard of just portraying the most brutal and competitive contest that we could,” says Allen. “We both pushed each other to a level of excellence that was an all-time high for me. And I had just come off a program with Flair. Tully and I took it to a whole other stratosphere.”
While working for Watts in Mid-South, Allen had watched a tape of the famous Roddy Piper-Greg Valentine dog collar match. He now wanted it to be a template for what was to come in his showdown with Blanchard.
“It was really brutal. But those were the types of things that we were following,” he says.
Both knew going in that the “I Quit” match had the potential to be a great match.
Neither, though, knew that it would become one for the ages.
“I was 26 at the time and in the best shape of my life. We just let it all hang out,” says Allen. “We were determined that they could put us on the opener, they could put us in the main event, we didn’t care. We were going to tear the house down.”
Battle for the Ages
The climax of their feud, on Nov. 26, 1985, was all that and more.
It would be considered one of the bloodiest, most brutal matches ever.
The rules of the match, unique at the time, were simple. There were no rules, no pinfalls, no countouts, no disqualifications. The first man to take the microphone and declare surrender would lose.
A cage surrounded the ring to keep the combatants inside, and Baby Doll outside.
“It was back before pay-per-view, and I had never come to the ring with music and glitzy glamor,” recalls Allen. “That night they brought me out and told me to stand on this ‘X.’ There’s smoke everywhere from the smoke machines. Nobody said who was going when. Nothing. All of a sudden the music comes up, and I’m jacked, I’m ready to go.”
The crossed signals had Allen “coming out of nowhere” while Baby Doll was accompanying Blanchard down the aisle.
“It was like I came out of a puff of smoke,” says Allen. “All of a sudden I’m standing in the ring with lightning bolts coming out of my eyes. I’m ready to fight. I didn’t need an introduction, didn’t need a tap on the head, I was ready to go. It was on right there.”
That early intensity just built throughout the match.
“I don’t know the brutality that was portrayed over the years, but we took it to a level that people hadn’t really expected,” says Allen.
The blood flowed like wine as the two used a piece of a broken chair as a weapon.
“The way that chair broke just made the nastiest weapon,” Allen recalls. “That was just total happenstance. They threw this wooden chair in there, and we just figured that it would break and there’d be this little piece of wood. But it made the ghastliest-looking spike of all time.”
Both were bloody, battered and beaten, but neither would say “I Quit.”
The finish came out of a John Wayne movie, with Magnum finally wresting the broken shard from Blanchard.
“At that point and time the fans really thought we were going to kill each other. But I said I would let him live. It was like I was ready to run this right through his skull, but I finally threw it down and walked away. That was the conclusion of the match, but the visual effect was tremendous.”
The gore and psychology combined to tell the story.
“How far had I been pushed? Was I going to lose it?” Allen asked.
The end came when a battered Blanchard screamed “Yes, Yes!” into the mic, and Magnum T.A. was crowned the new U.S. champion.
But, as Blanchard later pointed out, “I never said I quit. Never would I say I quit.”
“They stole the title from me,” he jokes.
Like all epic bouts, the “I Quit” match not only featured intensity, but it told a gripping, compelling story in the ring.
“The culmination of the match was the story. We got the desired result. It all came together,” says Blanchard.
And fans still talk about it to this day. It was an instant classic.
The careers of both Tully Blanchard and Terry Allen would continue to pick up steam in the wrestling business.
In the Carolinas, especially, they enjoyed rock-star status.
As part of the original Four Horsemen with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Ole and Arn Anderson, and manager J.J. Dillon (and later Barry Windham), Blanchard took his place at the top of a pro wrestling wave that was sweeping the nation.
He’d admittedly still partake in the wild life that he had become accustomed to, but no longer did he allow the drugs and alcohol to control his business life. “I was too smart for that,” he would say.
Magnum T.A. would go on to enjoy a critically acclaimed best-of-seven series with “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff in the summer of 1986.
His programs with Blanchard and Koloff had established Allen as a major star in the business, and he was being positioned for a possible run with the NWA world title.
He was on top of the wrestling world, and he thought nothing could go wrong.
In a cruel twist of fate, however, that glory would be short-lived.
At approximately 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, 1986, less than a year after his “I Quit” epic with Blanchard, the 27-year-old’s fast-rising career would come to a tragic, abrupt halt when his $53,000 Porsche 911 Turbo hydroplaned on a wet, winding Charlotte road and smashed into a utility pole, five minutes from his home.
Ambulances and rescue teams came to the scene immediately, but it took nearly two hours to pry him out of the vehicle. Because of his size, he had been trapped inside.
Allen’s head hit the roof of his sports car, and the impact broke his neck. He was paralyzed from the neck down.
He underwent three hours of surgery in which doctors took out bone fragments near his spinal cord and replaced the fifth vertebrae with bones from the hip. He was clinging to life.
“Doug Dillinger snuck us in real late one night,” relates J.J. Dillon. “It was Flair, myself, Tully and Arn. Just going in there and seeing him ... none of us could say anything. He was face down on this machine. I don’t even know that he was aware we were there.”
Just hours earlier, Allen had defeated Jimmy Garvin at the Greenville Auditorium. It would turn out to be his final match.
“Just thinking about that moment and how devastating that injury was ... you start thinking that as much time as we spend on the road and the lifestyle and how hard we push ourselves, that just as well could have been any one of us. It was really a sobering moment,” reflects Dillon.
Allen would survive the accident but, partially paralyzed, would never wrestle again
Doctors initially told him he would spend his life in a wheelchair.
Five months in the hospital and a year and a half in outpatient therapy enabled Allen to walk again.
It was bigger victory than any he had ever claimed inside the squared circle.
In a highly emotional moment, at the 1987 Crockett Cup, Allen made a surprise appearance and walked to the ring.
Thousands cheered him. As months went by, however, those cheers would eventually diminish as the reality of Allen’s career-ending injuries began to sink in.
Those injuries would leave him with a severe limp and no motor skill function in his right hand.
A man who was known for his amazing ability in the ring now struggled to move his arms.
Terry Allen , who is now 53, still remembers how things “once were.”
But when he does, he just as quickly cautions how things “might have” turned out.
For that, he says, he is thankful.
“Parts of it were a bitter pill, as you can imagine,” says Allen. “But coming back and walking after having had a team of experts standing over top of you telling you that you were going to be a quadriplegic the rest of your life ... even though that appears on the surface — compared to what I used to do — not that big of a deal, I found out that was the biggest deal I’ve ever done in my life.”
Beating the odds was no small feat for Allen.
“They gave me a million-to-one shot of walking again, and I did that five months later.”
Allen still thinks about “what could have been.” But there are no victories in that way of thinking. He knows that he has accomplished more than anyone could have ever expected or hoped for.
“I had huge aspirations of how good I wanted things to be, but I also knew what a Herculean effort with every fiber of my soul that I had to pour into it — five months in a hospital and a year and a half of outpatient therapy after I got out — for the return that I got.”
He also witnessed many others who were less fortunate.
“I saw countless people that weren’t even as remotely as fortunate as I was that ended up in that wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Young men, young women. It was just heartbreaking. I couldn’t sit on the pity pot about any of it. I had to tell myself that I was a lucky son of a gun and that I’m blessed. There was a lot more out there in life than playing the coulda, woulda, shoulda game, and what could have been.”
The toughest part, he says, was finding his way. An in-ring wrestling career was no longer an option. But he loved the business. Could he return to the profession in another capacity and still find a reasonable level of satisfaction?
“ I was still too young to have been an older guy who was retired. I was a real student of the game from Eddie Graham to Bill Watts to Bill Dundee to Dusty Rhodes ... people that I had sat with and talked about psychology for hours and hours and hours. I had this old man’s knowledge of the game in my head, but I was still too young to be satisfied with just sitting on the sidelines talking about it.”
While Allen was pondering his future, he also was watching the business change from a territorial system to a national one with WWF owner Vince McMahon leading the charge. Big-money contracts were now being offered to the sport’s biggest stars.
Allen knew he could have been one of them.
“I watched almost simultaneously the business turn and the pay-per-views come into play. A position that at that time was a $250,000- or $300,000-a-year spot turned into a two-million-dollar-plus spot almost overnight because of the broader spectrum of people they were able to reach through entertainment.”
While wrestling-related jobs were out there, they didn’t hold the allure that performing in front of thousands of fans did.
“And that made it tough to be enthusiastic about being a color commentator or helping Dusty with the booking or trying to talk to guys about psychology and things like Eddie had done with me. These guys were now making $450,000, $500,000 a year. They’d look at me like I had three heads. They were like, ‘They wouldn’t be paying me all this money if I didn’t know what I was doing, so leave me alone.’”
Allen holds no hard feelings toward those who benefited from the changing tide of the business.
“It was that era of guys that all of a sudden were getting mailbox money every two weeks and had a different perception of the business than I did. It wasn’t their fault. They took advantage of what they had.”
But, he adds, it “took that carrot away.”
“No longer did you hear, ‘Oh, boy, I want to sell out tonight, do a hundred thousand dollars, and I can make a two- or three-thousand-dollar payoff in the main event, I helped draw this many people.’ When you know what you’re going to make every two weeks, it changes the game.”
Allen figures he could have made “far north” of $50 million over the course of a career.
“I shake my head and I laugh, but I enjoyed the fact that I paved the way for some guys.”
He got a particular kick out of watching Steve Austin pummel Vince McMahon during WWE’s Attitude Era. It brought back some distinct memories.
“When I popped Bob Geigel in the head up in Kansas City when he was president of the NWA, I was way ahead of my time. I could see Vince McMahon being taken down by a belly-to-belly suplex right now in a nanosecond. I could have handled all that except flipping the bird at everybody. That really wasn’t my deal. But the anti-establishment rules and the babyface heel thing ... I liked that part of it.”
“Terry had everything. He had such a future ahead of him,” says Dillon. “I look at it that at least he’s alive. I’m sure he’s had his bumps in the road, but at least the quality of his life of being independent and having children and being able to get around on his own ... You can’t change what happened, what might have been, and what could have been in terms of his future. But a lesser man might not have survived.”
A new chapter
Early on Allen capitalized on the burgeoning cell phone tower business.
“I had a friend present an opportunity and made me aware of a need, and I got involved in telecom — first as a tower owner with my parents and later in the construction end of it. It took care of my family, and my mom and dad too, with what little we did for quite a while.”
After working behind the scenes for NWA/WCW, Allen started his own construction business in 1995. It closed in 2007 when his twins were born seven weeks early.
Allen is still in the telecom business, but no longer is self-employed.
“I work for a national company based in Coral Gables, Fla., called MasTec. They do cellular landline work, underground power, Direct TV, all kind of stuff. I’m part of a huge company now of about 12 or 13 thousand people.”
Allen currently serves as a senior safety and quality manager for the Atlantic region.
“I quit being self-employed at the end of 2007, and I’ve been with this company for five years. I’m just thankful that I found a niche and something that I had another aptitude for.”
Allen still remembers the adrenaline rush he’d get from performing in front of thousands of adoring fans. That’s been a hard thing to replace in the working world.
“It’s certainly not the glamorous, exciting thing that I once did. It doesn’t give me the opportunity to entertain people, but I do get to use my communication skills on a pretty regular basis.”
Allen is now the father of seven — three by blood and four by marriage.
In another odd twist, something that might only be scripted as part of a pro wrestling storyline, Allen would end up marrying the former Courtney Blanchard.
“I helped raise four of Tully’s children,” he points out.
In an unusual sort of way, the relationship has been extended.
“We still share the same work ethic, we still share the same faith in God, and we both still have a sense of humor,” says Allen. “He’s in San Antone, I’m here in Charlotte. Two of the kids are now living with him, and two with us. Courtney and I had the twins together.”
The two are still working a program, but it’s no longer about wrestling.
“We always have plenty of things to tie us together and give us combined concerns. We sit and talk about the future of the clan and the kids and problem-solve together, and we show them how adults can overcome all kinds of adversity if they put their heads together.”
Allen says he marvels at how Blanchard still retains that tremendous work ethic to this day.
“ He and I have traveled an amazing path to say the very least. I’m proud of the things that he’s been able to accomplish in his ministry work and the things that he’s gone on to do. Again, he’s just a hard, hard, hard-working man. You’re not going to find anyone more dedicated no matter what. If I had a Fortune 500 company and I needed a right-hand man to be doing anything with me, he’s the kind of guy I’d want standing right there.”
Allen and wife Courtney have a pair of 5-year-old twins — Tucker and Lucy.
“That’s what happens when you marry a girl 12 years your junior,” he laughs. “It’s different at this age and this time in life. Obviously you’ve got a lot different maturity, but you don’t quite have the same energy. And two of them going in two different directions ... you need a lot of energy.”
“It’s keeping me motivated. I’m definitely motivated,” he jokes.
Hid dad duties now take priority over any spare time he might have for a hobby or two.
“I’m still an automotive enthusiast. I love the cars and motorcycles and all that stuff. I just don’t get time to pursue a whole of things. My passion right now is these two little whippersnappers of mine.”
Allen also has a 17-year-old son named Christian from a previous marriage.
“He’ll be a senior in high school at Charlotte Christian next year. He’s a big boy. He could well end up being my legacy. He’s a 175-pound athlete. Not trying to follow in my footsteps or do anything like that, making any noise about being a wrestler, but he’s got the physical aptitude to far outshine anything that I ever thought about doing if he sets his mind to it. I don’t encourage him. If it ever came to him and his desire naturally, of course I’d support him.”
Allen also is proud of his godson, Cody Rhodes (Runnels), the youngest son of Dusty Rhodes.
“This business is something that takes such a maturity to handle ... especially at a young age. I’m real proud of Cody. He’s really handled his career well and is successful and has kept a good, level head on his shoulders. But it’s a very tough world out there. I just don’t take that for granted.
“If my son wants to be a pharmacist and raise a family, then I’m all for that, too. But the wrestling business is not a place to raise a family. It’s a young man’s game, and if you’re not going to get out soon, don’t start a family because it’s not fair to anybody. We’ve seen the devastation of too many families caused by the things that have been dysfunctional caused by absentee parents.”
Learning from The Dream
Cody’s dad, Dusty, remains one of Allen’s best friends.
“We struck up a friendship early on when I first wrestled down in Florida. We just developed a natural friendship. Dusty is a very unique personality, and he and I hit it off from the very beginning. We shared all kinds of passions for different things ... different kinds of music and stuff that you would never think Dusty would be interested in. I had a real diverse background growing up, so I had a lot of different things offered up to me culturally. We just shared a lot of similar likes and, of course, a love for the business.”
That love for wrestling was enhanced by the many hours the two spent driving up and down the road.
“Dusty would talk about his stories and angles and dreams and what we wanted to do with our future. I might not see Dusty for years, but I know I could sit down with him, and two minutes later be right back to where we left off. He’s that kind of friend. I don’t see him as much as I would love too, but the friendship is a special, lifelong thing.”
Although Allen’s in-ring career lasted only six years, in those six years he lived a lifetime.
“It was a lightning-bolt ride.”
His early time in Florida, especially while working closely with Rhodes, would give him the experience he would need down the road.
“I literally worked the curtain-jerkers for the first year, and ended up in Florida where I got a lot of the middle-card experience. Dusty was so smart he put me in there with seasoned tag partners like Brad Armstrong and Scotty McGhee, and he put us out there with guys that we got 45 minutes with every night.”
One of the most valuable things he learned, says Allen, was the ability to convincingly “sell.”
“Dusty made sure I got that ring time and learned how to sell, sell, sell. If a babyface could sell and not die, and have people crawling up on the edge of their seats just waiting for you to make that comeback, that’s the money in the bank.
“So many guys were afraid to sell. They thought that would make them look weak. But that made me tougher than anything in the world. If someone could beat on you for 20 or 30 minutes and you could come back, you have just placed your name in their memory forever. That’s what I learned from those guys. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
Like Allen, Blanchard’s life also took a sharp detour, but most of it was of his own doing.
He still remembers the year, the day and the time his life changed forever.
Nov. 13, 1989, at 4:03 in the morning.
Blanchard had quit Crockett Promotions and the National Wrestling Alliance and headed north for what seemed like the greener pastures of the World Wrestling Federation. It was his dream to walk down the aisle at Madison Square Garden, with 21,000 fans screaming.
That dream was realized in August 1989 when Blanchard and Arn Anderson, known as “The Brainbusters,” went up against Demolition for the WWF tag-team belts in one of the main events at the Garden.
But Blanchard had struck a deal with the NWA to return for a three-year, $750,000 contract.
In the interim he failed a WWF drug test.
He went home and worked out and played golf for three weeks. “I thought life was coming out roses,” he says.
This rose, however, was to wilt on the vine.
On Nov. 13, 1989, at 1 o’clock in the morning, Blanchard got a telephone call from Ric Flair. The message was numbing.
“Ric said, `They’re not going to honor their agreement with you because of what happened with the WWF … They’re not going to hire you.’ At 1 o’clock in the morning, I was unemployed. I was suspended from the WWF, didn’t want to go back and the NWA wouldn’t hire me. That $5,000 a week was gone. I laid in that bed and tossed and turned and tossed and turned until 4 o’clock in the morning.”
Then, at 4:03 a.m., another call came.
“The words `Jesus Christ take over my life’ came out. You might think that was understandable and great. But this was a man who hadn’t been to church since he was 5 years old. He didn’t have the knowledge to ask Jesus Christ to take over his life. God, and the power of the Holy Spirit, came down and put the words in my mouth and in my brain, and put me to sleep right after I said that.”
Blanchard says when he awakened at 7:30, he didn’t question what he had asked for just hours earlier.
“I got this Bible out that my parents had mailed me and had been sitting in a closet, and I started reading it. I pulled out the tapes that they had been mailing me, and started playing them. I said the sinner’s prayer three times a day to make sure I was saved. No man can describe the feeling that is in you when Jesus Christ comes into your heart and you know you’re going to heaven.”
Today Blanchard is the director of the Bill Glass Weekend of Champions Prison Ministry.
He heads up the largest evangelical prison ministry designed to teach Christians to go inside prisons and jails to share their faith.
“Over the last 40 years that Bill Glass has led this, over a million people have come to know the Lord. And more importantly than that, about 200,000 have learned how to share their faith effectively and successfully,” says Blanchard.
Blanchard, who turned 59 in January, has traveled the country for the past 19 years speaking to prisoners. His current line of work probably isn’t what most wrestling fans envisioned for Blanchard 30 years ago.
“Probably not,” he laughs.
Blanchard has four children. His oldest daughter is 21 and will graduate from UNC this summer. Two other daughters will turn 18 and 16 in July. His son turns 20 this summer. His son and youngest daughter live with him in San Antonio, Texas.
“My son likes it here, and he likes his life here. My youngest daughter just moved here at Christmastime and she’s making friends and doing very well in school.”
Blanchard returned to San Antonio last year to take care of his dad, Joe, who died of cancer at the age of 83 in March 2012.
“My dad and I were best friends growing up. But I think the biggest impact on me was watching somebody go through the physical pain and anguish that terminal cancer can do to you, and not see him gripe about it when he was in dire pain. They were changing bandages and cleaning the wounds, and you knew how much pain he was in, but he’d be squeezing my hand while praising God. There was no moaning, groaning and griping. You know what’s in a person’s heart when a crisis is at hand. To see him respond in that fashion just amazed me.”
Joe Blanchard, says Tully, is the kind of man he wants to be.
“To have that much of God in my heart to where even my most involuntary response becomes godly.”
The “reuniting” of Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A. at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest this summer could be a one-time experience for wrestling fans.
“This will be the first time that this has happened in nearly 17 years,” says Blanchard of his appearance with Allen. “And it might not happen again.”
Fans at the event will be able to ask questions to the former rivals on the same stage. No doubt the epic “I Quit” match will be a popular topic of conversation.
“The match is a classic,” says Allen. “It really has withstood the test of time.”
The opening night Q&A promises to be both educational and entertaining for longtime fans, and should be a highlight of the four-day event.
“I’d encourage everyone to come to the question-and-answer session because anything you ever wanted to know or ask can be openly talked about ... as long as it’s clean and moral,” says Blanchard.
“Arguably the best, most brutal cage matches ever in professional wrestling was the culmination of that year-long angle with Terry and myself. There are so many people who have watched that match, and continue to watch it. I’m humbled and flattered by that. But if you ever wanted to ask the two of us, both sitting on the stage together, this is the golden opportunity.”
The two also will take part in a “Mid-Atlantic Memories” documentary in which the former Mid-Atlantic stars will share some of their fondest memories of working in the territory.
Blanchard shares one of his earliest, and favorite, memories.
“I first came here in ‘77, but I was just a tiny, little babyface. But when I came back in 1984, the first time I walked into the Greensboro Coliseum, there was about 1,500 people in there. It looked like a bomb scare. It was nothing like I had seen before I left.”
That was in February. Six months later, in August, it was an entirely different scenario.
“Wahoo and I wrestled Flair and Mulligan in an Indian Strap, Bullrope Match. The Greensboro Coliseum was sold out. Just to be part of the restoration of business in the Carolinas was huge.”
The sellouts throughout the territory would continue. “You couldn’t contain it,” he says.
Ironically enough, says Blanchard, while he never uttered the words “I Quit” in that famous 1985 match with Magnum T.A., he would say those exact same words when “the Lord had me crumpled up on floor.
That, says Blanchard, was his “I Quit moment.”
Allen is also looking forward to the 2013 edition of Fanfest.
“This will be my third or fourth one,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of these types of events in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and New York, but overall Greg (Price) brings the best group of talent together. It flows, and the fans get the best experience from it. It’s a great way for all of us to reunite because our paths don’t cross like we would like.”
“I’m amazed by the amount of people coming from other countries and from all corners of the United States. I’m really in awe of it,” adds Blanchard. “When we were doing it — even though we had sold out arenas every night around the country for many years — we never quite realized the impact that we had on people. Some were teenagers, some were in their 20s, and just to see the hours of entertainment people continue to have from the product that we produced. To visibly and tangibly touch and listen to these fans takes your breath away.”
No one realizes, says Blanchard, that when they were going through the paces of their everyday lives and just “doing their jobs,” some of those moments would be remembered years later.
“You stand in the shower and talk about something, and then you go out and do it, and bam, 30 years later, you’ve impacted and touched lives all across the world. To have people actually remember you 25, 30 years later is really special.”
Allen also is looking forward to sharing some of his Mid-Atlantic experiences.
“Wahoo and I for the U.S. title and selling out in Charlotte was huge because of Wahoo passing the torch to me with that title. It was absolutely huge.
“And talking about a childhood high — getting to wrestle Ric Flair to a one-hour draw in your hometown with both sets of your granddaddies sitting up in the seats watching. An hour inside the cage and two guys up there who are diehard fans like you’ve never seen before in your life. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Proud of legacy
Twenty-eight years later, the two look back on their classic feud with fond memories.
“Hands down it was my favorite program,” says Allen. “It was some of my best main-event work because of the caliber of athlete and performer Tully was. And we knew each other so well. We instinctively could do it with our eyes closed and know what the other one was going to do.”
Blanchard, says Allen, only made his game that much better.
“He was in such incredible shape and his cardio was so good. I was in the best cardio shape of my entire life, but I had to slow down to work with everybody after Tully because he was just so in your face. If you weren’t there, he’d run over top of you. You had to be on top of your game or he’d hand you your lunch. I was just about a 15- or 20-pound bigger version of him. And away we went.”
Both Allen and Blanchard are proud of the legacy they left behind.
“Vince (McMahon) has had to acknowledge it in things that he’s done over the years. I’m glad that I left that kind of mark,” says Allen. “And I’m glad that that’s the kind of things people will remember me for ... not working past my prime and fans wondering why that guy is still out there and does he still need the money. That would be heartbreaking.”
His goal all along, he says, was to be out of the business by the time he was 30.
“I wanted a year-and-a-half-run with the world title. At that time, even before pay-per-view, that would have made me a million dollars.”
Allen says he also wanted to do other things and didn’t want to be remembered as someone who went past his prime.
“To me your prime was 32 years old max, and after that it’s a young man’s sport. That was always my thought process. I wanted to be as good as I could possibly be, or one of the best, and going out be remembered as one of the best ... not as someone who didn’t know when to hang it up.”
Blanchard, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012 as part of the Four Horsemen, also says he’d do it all over again.
He always knew what the fans knew back then.
“I would have negotiated a lot harder and realized my worth a lot more. I knew I was good. I knew I could sell tickets. I didn’t necessarily know just exactly how good I was.”
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.