They were regarded by some as the most dangerous faction in Mid-Atlantic wrestling.
They were a staple during grappling’s heyday in Greensboro, N.C., and routinely appeared in front of thousands of jeering fans at arenas throughout the Jim Crockett-run territory.
Unlike their “Four Horsemen” contemporaries, though, this roguish group was comprised of vocal ringside fans who occupied a prominent spot at the Greensboro Coliseum during the 1980s and early ‘90s.
Long before the days of “smart fans” and “cool heels,” there was “Front Row Section D.”
The dozen or so members of this rowdy band of wrestling diehards had a collective eye for talent and gained a measure of notoriety by cheering on the charismatic heels of the time, most notably the infamous Horsemen featuring Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, and unmercifully jeering some of the more inept babyfaces.
John Hitchcock, the group’s ringleader, came up with the idea of chronicling the mat gang’s adventures (and misadventures), and the result is a rollickingly funny book.
The volume is a welcome reprieve from the scores of tell-all, dirt-slinging autobiographies that have become all too common in the wrestling marketplace.
Don’t worry about the typos, misspelled names and editing gaffes in this edition. Hitchcock (“Hitch” to his wrestling buddies) is in this for the laughs. And there are plenty of them.
Most of the fun takes place at the Greensboro Coliseum, which, as Hitchcock points out, was once the largest building between the Omni in Atlanta and the Cap Centre in Washington, D.C., routinely accommodating crowds of 9,000, a figure that would eventually expand to more than 23,000.
“They built that enormous barn for wrestling, not the ACC tourney,” joked Hitchcock.
Smack dab in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic territory, Greensboro was the Mecca for area fans. A Sunday night tradition for years, the Greensboro Coliseum wrestling shows featured some of the top names in the business. And most would come to know — for better or worse — Hitchcock and his gang.
“We had the signs at ringside, and people would be furious,” recalled Front Row Section D member and longtime Greensboro resident Bruce Mitchell. “We’d yell at the fans, and the fans would yell at us. We had great fun interacting back and forth.”
Much of the group’s good-natured wrath was directed at an ample target — “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
Hitchcock, in fact, devoted the book’s cover to one of his more popular signs taking a jab at Rhodes: “You can tell the wrestler by looking at his blubber!”
During the period that photo was taken, Hitchcock explained, Rhodes was wrestling under a mask as The Midnight Rider. His intro music contained the lyrics “You can’t tell the book by looking at the cover.”
Hitchcock makes no bones about his dislike for those he considered prima donna babyfaces.
“I hated the faces during this period,” he wrote. “Nothing has changed that much in my way of thinking. The heels did all the work and got none of the glory.” “And one more observation,” he added. “The faces would get (ticked) off at any disrespect from the audience, especially anyone cheering against them.”
Hitchcock and some of his enlightened friends had a remedy, though, in the form of signs and posters that, in many cases, visibly infuriated the fan favorites.
Equally annoying, arrogant and obnoxious, Front Row Section D could dish it out as well as any of the performers in the ring, much to the chagrin of matchmaker David Crockett, who constantly threatened to ban the group from various Mid-Atlantic buildings.
And when the old NWA morphed into WCW, a period that saw various stars such as Flair, Anderson, Tully Blanchard, The Midnight Express and Jim Cornette bail to other organizations, Hitchcock and his cohorts expressed their displeasure in graphic terms.
With crowds waning and the Coliseum’s wrestling days numbered, Front Row Section D was more than ready to stir up the mix.
At one particular show, the group put bags on their heads with the names of those who had departed the company. Hitchcock sported a large sign that read: “Ghosts from Wrestling Past!”
Their protests drew various responses from the talent on hand.
“Tom Zenk walked over and shook my hand saying, ‘Come on guys. Get serious. This is wrestling,’ ” recalled Hitchcock.
“I think that was the most entertaining Zenk ever did in his career,” he added. “The match was a laughfest. The wrestlers couldn’t keep a straight face the entire time.”
In addition to being an old-school wrestling enthusiast, Hitchcock is an artist, storyteller and owner of Greensboro’s Parts Unknown Comic Book Store for the last 25 years.
Hitchcock relishes all the memories of attending live matches and television broadcasts during the 1960s on through the ‘90s, and there are plenty of photos and clippings to go along with the stories.
Long-forgotten stars live on the pages of this book, and there are laughs galore on every one of them as readers relive some of the Mid-Atlantic glory days through Hitchcock and his eclectic cast of characters.
Like those long-revered shows of the past, this book is well worth the price of admission.