MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Brisco continues legacy of wrestling greatness
Some of professional wrestling’s younger fans might not remember Jerry Brisco beyond his role as a talent scout for the company, or stretching back even further, as an on-camera “stooge” for outspoken boss and WWE chairman Vince McMahon.
But Brisco didn’t exactly become a WWE and Pro Wrestling Hall of Famer for that part of his career portfolio.
Floyd Gerald “Jerry” Brisco, younger brother of the late NWA world champion Jack Brisco, was a top-tier performer in his own right for many years before joining WWE and eventually settling into an office position.
April 9 will mark Brisco’s 30th anniversary with the organization.
“It’s hard to believe. Anybody that can handle me for 30 years, and I can handle them for 30 years, somebody’s obviously doing something right.”
It’s been a great ride with WWE, says Brisco, who nowadays scours the landscape in search of WWE’s “next big thing.”
But it was in the Mid-Atlantic area where Brisco made his first big splash in the wrestling business.
That’s one of the reasons he’s excited about his guest appearance at this summer’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest where he also will be observing and critiquing talent at a Future Legends Training Camp run by Tom Prichard.
This will be Brisco’s third Fanfest, and he is eagerly looking forward to the event.
“I absolutely love them. I’ve seen a lot of fan events across the country, but Fanfest is the best one that I’ve attended. Greg Price does a tremendous job organizing and putting on these events. He runs them in a very respectable manner.”
One of the best things about the weekend, says Brisco, is that it gives him the opportunity to catch up with a number of former colleagues, many of whom he hasn’t seen in years.
“I enjoy coming up there because I get to see all the old guys that I haven’t seen in a long time. I get to see the Paul Joneses, the Johnny Walkers, the guys that are still kicking. It’s just a fun, enjoyable time for me.”
Brisco, 66, also notes that the fans who attend the Charlotte event are among the most loyal he’s ever been around.
“I really enjoy the meeting the fans who come to Fanfest,” he says. “They come from all over the world, and the interaction is just phenomenal because they’re so knowledgeable on the Mid-Atlantic area. They come up to me with memorabilia and posters from matches that I’ve totally forgotten about. It’s like having flashbacks.”
Brisco, who won numerous titles during a full-time in-ring career that spanned from 1968-85, followed brother Jack into amateur wrestling at Oklahoma State before leaving college to join the pro ranks.
Working the first few years of his career in the Mid-South territory, along with trips to Japan and Australia, Brisco arrived in the Carolinas in the summer of 1971 and never looked back.
His first steady partner in the territory was veteran Sandy Scott.
“Sandy was a dear friend. He taught me so much about the business,” says Brisco. “He taught me how to be a pro, how to be political. I was a young punk and thought I knew it all.”
Some heart-to-heart conversations, though, on those long road trips through the Carolinas proved to be very valuable for Brisco.
“Sandy would talk to me the whole time about how to conduct myself and how to be a pro, and how to do it politically and how to get my points across. He taught me how to go to (promoter) Jim Crockett Sr. at the time and get things done.”
Brisco admits that wasn’t an easy thing to do in the beginning. The Mid-Atlantic office, like most during that era, was political in nature.
“George Becker was the booker at the time, and for some reason George hated me,” says Brisco. “I think George knew that I was coming in to replace him. I think he saw that I was some young buck with long hair and all that stuff ... some hippy kid from Oklahoma.”
Still, Brisco says he never could understand why there was friction, since he feels he never did anything to alienate the veteran.
“I really respected George because he was teaming up with Johnny Weaver, and I loved Johnny Weaver like a brother. Johnny felt the same way towards me, and we were good pals. But for some reason I could never get along with Becker.”
Brisco enjoyed an entirely different relationship, though, with the owner of the territory.
“Jim Crockett Sr. and I got along really well. And a lot of that was because of Sandy and Rip (Hawk) who helped me politically in the territory. It was really my first break in the business when you get right down to it. It was when I got my first opportunity to work on top and try to become a star.”
Brisco, with his good looks and mat-based, scientific wrestling style, quickly became a fan favorite in the Mid-Atlantic area, and was soon adding titles to his collection.
He held the Eastern States heavyweight title (the forerunner of the Mid-Atlantic title) on four occasions, swapping the belt back and forth with the veteran Hawk, and in 1973 teamed with Thunderbolt Patterson to win the Atlantic Coast tag-team belts from Gene and Ole Anderson.
“ I don’ know if we were the first, but T-Bolt and I were one of the first mixed tag teams with an African American and a white guy,” says Brisco. “And that was in the Carolinas back in the early ‘70s when there was still a lot of racial stuff going on. It was challenging to say the least.”
“Of course T-Bolt didn’t back down from anything,” adds Brisco. “He had that black El Dorado Cadillac, and we’d be going through some of those old Carolina towns and come up to these posters. T-Bolt would say, ‘Hey, Brisco, look at that.’ And the poster would say, ‘Welcome to so and so, home of the KKK.’ We kind of chuckled about it at the time.”
In the ring, says Brisco, color didn’t matter. It was all about wrestling. Good guys and bad guys.
“As soon as T-Bolt would get in the ring and start wrestling, he was such a great babyface, and all the racial stuff was forgotten. Of course, there were great (heel) teams like Hawk and Hanson and the Andersons that we were competing against. But T-Bolt just became a wrestler during the match, and race wouldn’t be involved. Going into town and leaving town was always very interesting.”
As management and direction gradually changed in the Mid-Atlantic office, with George Scott taking over as booker, Brisco’s fortunes only grew.
Wrestling historian Bill Murdock, who authored a book on Jack Brisco, says Jerry Brisco came into the territory at a pivotal time.
“For George Scott to build the Mid-Atlantic area around Jerry was significant,” says Murdock. “The territory was in a freefall. George could have picked anybody in the world to come here and build around, but he picked Jerry. He saw early on what all the wrestlers would see throughout the years.”
Brisco would work in the Carolinas-Virginia territory until 1974, and would spend the rest of the decade wrestling in Florida — where his brother was based as NWA world champ — and Georgia.
During that period Brisco enjoyed numerous runs as Florida, Georgia, Southern and North American tag-team champs with brother Jack, along with an array of singles belts that included Florida heavyweight, junior heavyweight and TV championships, NWA Southern heavyweight championship and NWA Southeastern heavyweight championship.
In 1981, he reached perhaps the pinnacle of his solo success by winning the NWA world junior heavyweight championship, a title previously held by such greats as Danny Hodge and Hiro Matsuda.
In the early ‘80s, with both brothers contemplating retirement, Brisco had one more goal in mind.
It remains his fondest memory from his Mid-Atlantic days.
“Holding the world tag-team championship belts with my brother was very special,” says Brisco.
It was something the brothers had actually planned early in their career. The Carolinas had always been a strong tag-team territory, and the Briscos wanted to end up their careers as a tag team.
“We weren’t really a solid, established tag team until later in our careers. Both of us were getting ready to retire. We said let’s go to Carolina. We had never won a world tag-team title.”
The Brisco Brothers — All-American fan favorites and matinee idols —then did something few expected.
They turned bad guys.
“It took a lot of conversations with Jimmy Crockett for him to approve,” recalls Brisco. “Jack and I had been strong babyface draws for so many years. Jimmy didn’t think it would work. But we assured him we weren’t really going to change our wrestling styles. We were just going to be more aggressive.”
“Of course we had the perfect foes in (Jay) Youngblood and (Ricky) Steamboat,” he adds. “They had just come off that big run with Don Kerndodle and Sarge (Slaughter). We stepped right into it because they were still real hot from that.”
Brisco says it took a little prodding to get their future opponents to agree with the plan.
“It took probably a half dozen or more meetings, but finally we got Ricky and Jay to go in with us. They weren’t sure it was going to work either.”
They also were able to convince Crockett that the plan would work and do great business.
“We finally convinced Jimmy, and he kind of put it in our hands. He said, ‘You guys figure it out ... whatever you want to do we’ll do.’ So Jack and I kind of figured the whole program out, and what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. It turned out like gangbusters. It was very successful.”
The switch from fan favorite to hated heel came subtly when Jack “accidentally” injured Steamboat’s leg by falling on him while Steamboat was trapped in Jerry’s figure four leglock.
The fans blamed the Briscos for purposely injuring Steamboat despite the brothers’ denials.
“That turn was so great,” recalls Murdock. “It worked to perfection.”
The Briscos continued to bend the rules. An all-out war between the two teams broke out when the brothers swiped Youngblood’s Indian headdress and claimed it for their own.
The Briscos achieved their goal when they won the world tag-team belts from Steamboat and Youngblood on two occasions during 1983 before losing them to the popular duo for the final time on a Thanksgiving Day show at the inaugural Starrcade in Greensboro, N.C., with “Big Nasty” Angelo Mosca as special ref. The bout was billed just below the NWA world title match between Ric Flair and Harley Race at the high-profile event.
The brothers weren’t quite through, though, as they regained the belts the following year, this time taking the straps from Jay’s younger brother, Mark Youngblood, and Wahoo McDaniel.
“I had so many great times in the Mid-Atlantic area,” says Brisco. “I will never forget them.”
Nor will he forget his first one-hour world heavyweight title match.
“I wrestled Dory Funk Jr. at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thanksgiving 1970. We went to an hour draw. I was scared to death. I didn’t think I could do it. But Dory led me through it, and we did it.”
But the pinnacle, says Brisco, will always be sharing the world tag-team belts with his brother.
“Jack told me that was the most fun he ever had,” says Murdock. “He said he loved being (NWA world) champ, he loved those years, but he had more fun with Jerry.”
Calling it quits
The Briscos wound up their full-time, in-ring career less than a year after winning their final tag-team title, with Jack calling it quits for good.
There really wasn’t much more for either to accomplish on the wrestling end.
From three-time state high school champion to NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, to two-time NWA world champ in the pro ranks, Jack was regarded as one of the most talented pure wrestlers in the history of the sport,.
Nine years the junior of his brother, Jerry had more than proved himself in the ring, with a collection of titles to his credit.
Together the brothers had racked up nearly two dozen reigns as tag-team champs.
Unlike many who had come before and many who came after, Jack Brisco was able to leave the business on his own terms, and never looked back.
He was only 43 years old when he realized, in the midst of a late 1984 blizzard in Newark, N.J., and unable to feel his face or his hands, that he was physically — and mentally — ready to leave pro wrestling’s long and grueling road behind. He decided then and there to cancel his future engagements, catch the next plane south and call it a career.
He never wrestled again.
“I went home and thawed out,” he would later joke.
The brothers had sold their interest in Georgia Championship Wrestling to WWE owner Vince McMahon earlier that year, allowing him to become the majority shareholder and capture GCW’s national cable television time slot on TBS.
With Jack out of the business for good, Jerry took a position behind the scenes as a road agent, and even made his way back to television in the late ‘90s when he and fellow associate Pat Patterson stood faithfully at McMahon’s side as he battled the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Brisco also stepped into the ring from time to time for comedy spots, even winning the WWE hardcore title twice in 2000.
Jack Brisco’s passing in 2010 at the age of 68 left a major void in his brother’s life.
“I think about him all the time because I get asked about him all the time. I go to a lot of wrestling tournaments and run into some of these old coaches. They ask me about him. There’s always a memory.”
Brisco, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame along with his brother in 2008, says it really hits home when fans come up to him and talk about Jack. Especially when they show him a poster or a photograph that his brother has personally signed.
“I know his signature by sight, and when I see his picture, it just gets real emotional knowing that it was really him that signed that thing. I get emotional when I get to feel and touch something that he personally signed. That’s when it hurts the most.”
Jerry’s son, TNA performer Wes Brisco, also was very close to his uncle.
“He was a great man and an outstanding person to go along with it. He was such a mentor to Wes, and Wes has a Jack Brisco trading card in the dash of his car that he keeps there all the time. Every time he gets in the truck, his uncle is there with him. That’s kind of an emotional deal with him too. It’s tough. Even after three years. We were together all of our lives.”
He is especially proud of son Wes.
“I’m really proud of him. He’s working his butt off. He’s a real student of the game. He’ll make big time one of these days. We’re just waiting for that day, but we know it’ll come.”
Brisco says Wes, who joined the TNA roster late last year, has been studying copious amounts of film in recent weeks in preparation for tonight’s cage match with Kurt Angle at the company’s Lockdown pay-per-view in San Antonio, Texas.
“He’s driving me crazy,” laughs Brisco. “I’ve probably seen more cage matches in the last month watching film with him than I have in my entire career. He studied the heck out of the films.”
Brisco signed a developmental contract with 2009, but a torn ACL derailed his stint.
“He’s really made some leaps and bounds since tearing two torn ACL’s in a year that kind of cost him a spot with WWE. He got hurt two years in a row. I can’t blame them. It’s a profession. But he hooked up with the other organization, and he’s doing fantastic with them. It is what it is. He’ll get there.”
These days Brisco stays busy on the road scouting potential talent for WWE.
“That’s really all I do now. I’m enjoying the heck out of it because I get to see a bunch of my old buddies in the sport that I grew up on and love. It’s a pretty cool deal.”
This is Brisco’s third year as a full-time scout and recruiter.
“I’m starting to get a good rapport with all the coaches because they know me and trust that I won’t mess with their guys until they tell me to. A lot of them don’t want you to talk to the guys early in the season. They want their focus on the mat and not what they’re going to do later.”
Brisco says he fully understands — and respects — their position.
“When I first start looking at a guy, I’ll go the coach and tell him I’m interested in that guy. I’ll ask the coach when it’s all right to talk to him. When I started recruiting Brock Lesnar as a junior, I went to his coach, J Robinson, who was one of my teammates at OSU. He told me not to say anything until he was through because he’d get easily distracted, and he wanted his focus one hundred percent for him.”
True to his word, says Brisco, Robinson delivered Lesnar at the appropriate time.
“He had him in his office and said, ‘I’ve got Brock right here just like I told you.’ The coaches are starting to trust me.”
Brisco has been looking at talent for a number of years. Some of the performers he has helped recruit include Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas.
And, going back much further, Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash.
In the 1970s, Jerry and brother Jack discovered a twenty-something blonde-haired muscleman who was playing bass guitar in a rock band at a local Tampa bar. Brisco arranged for the musician, who just happened to be a wrestling fan and frequented the Tampa armory on Tuesday nights to watch the Briscos wrestle, to meet with promoter Eddie Graham and trainer Hiro Matsuda the next morning.
Bollea later changed his name to Hulk Hogan, and the rest is history.
“I’ve got a bunch of guys in Florida in developmental right now,” says Brisco. “I’ve got another two in to report next month, and in June I’ve got seven guys coming in for tryouts. I’ve got a pretty good track record.”
Brisco also has been a successful entrepreneur. He and brothers Jack and Bill established the Brisco Brothers Body Shop in Tampa 40 years ago, and their business has become one of the best-known body shops in the Southeast.
“That’s something we can’t believe. I don’t know how many wrestlers have been in an outside business for that many years and been successful at it. It’s still doing good. We’re loaded up with business, so it’s worth the ride.”
Brisco says he has fully recovered from a series of strokes he suffered several years ago.
“I’m 100 percent. I’ve had an army of doctors, and all of them are telling me to keep doing what I’m doing. My weight’s down around 200, my blood pressure and cholesterol are all normal. I feel great. I’m working out five days a week, and I’ve got the energy to work out five days a week.”
“Jerry is one of the great gentlemen of this profession,” says Murdock. “If you look up wrestling in the dictionary, you see Jerry’s picture. He’s the heart and soul of the sport.”
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.