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And now, on with the show ...
And now, on with the show ...
Most wrestling career stories involve a turning point in which the main character undergoes a drastic change by which he or she finally comes of age and achieves some sort of credibility as a survivor. That is not quite the case in the Ole Anderson story -- he was always a survivor. Ole Anderson's nick name is "The Rock" not because of any resemblance to Rocky Maivia, but because he had always been the very embodiment of what a professional wrestling "tough guy" was supposed to be. From his huge neck down to his oversized boots, Ole Anderson always had an indescribable look about him. If there was giong to be a fight, even a casual observer would predict Ole as being the guy most likely to dish out the most punishment, as well as the guy most suited to absorb it from anyone else. Some things (and people) never change. If one were to apply that cliche various wrestlers, Ole would top the list.
His travels seem to have been limited for the most part to the eastern United States. He was quite successful in three of the NWA's most exciting playing grounds: Florida, Georgia, and the Mid-Atlantic. His early career can never be separated from his partnership with his "brother" Gene Anderson, as they formed the original Minnesota Wrecking Crew. It should be mentioned that Ole, born Al Rogowski, was not a "real" Anderson. His resemblance to Gene, though, both in physique and wrestling style, was more than enough to solidify the idea that these guys were partners for the long haul.
In April of 1970, Ole & Gene captured the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Title, the very first (to this researcher's knowledge) of a VERY long list of championships won by Ole with several partners. From the start, Ole & Gene took no prisoners and had no second thoughts about using vicious tactics without the fans' approval. A win was a win was a win, and there were many more to come.
In 1971, Ole traveled to the Sunshine State and won the Florida Tag Team Title with Ronnie Garvin and also beat future two-time NWA World Champion Jack Brisco for the Florida TV Title. 1973 was a banner year for him in the Carolinas, as Ole won the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title from Jerry Brisco, recaptured the Mid-Atlantic Tag Titles with Gene, and defeated his future manager James J. Dillon in a tournament final to be the first Mid-Atlantic TV Champion , a title that can be traced, titleholder to titleholder, all the way to the current WCW TV Title.
On May 31, 1974, Ole & Gene Anderson beat Robert Fuller & "Bullet" Bob Armstrong to begin their first of many incredible reigns as Georgia Tag Team Champions. Their second reign began when they defeated the makeshift duo of Tim Woods and the legendary Harley Race. (Despite Race's silly antics as "King" in the 1980's, beating Harley Race in 1974 was quite an accomplishment!) After their third Georgia reign ended, the duo went back to the Mid-Atlantic area and, in 1975, became the inaugural champions of the Mid-Atlantic version of the NWA World Tag Team Titles. The significance of this victory is the fact that this version of the NWA World Tag Title would be the only one to survive into the 1990's. Although other versions had come and gone throughout the years, one could make an arguable claim that Ole & Gene Anderson were the "first" NWA World Tag Team Champions. Also in 1975, Ole took part in the tournament for the United States Heavyweight Title. Unfortunately, he fell to the skills of Paul Jones in the first round.
Ole and Gene continued to bounce back and forth between Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic areas. Their steamrolling path came to a brief halt on Christmas night in 1976 when they lost their third World Tag Title in a steel cage match. The opponents were the equally-hated team of Greg Valentine and Ric Flair (who would have a later inpact on Ole's career in a big way.) The violence did not end when the match did. Flair & Valentine's running buddy, Blackjack Mulligan, helped the new champs pound away at the Wrecking Crew. The audience was absolutely stunned when the popular Wahoo McDaniel ran in to rescue the Andersons! It was rare for the Andersons to be cheered, but that's what happened when they allied themselves with McDaniel against Flair, Valentine, and Mulligan going into 1977.
No matter where they wrestled, they won gold. They returned to Georgia and went on to win four more Georgia Tag Team championships. In May, 1977, during one of those reigns, a brief trip to Charlotee, NC, and a win over Flair & Valentine earned them their fourth World Tag Team Title and they held both championships simultaneously! Flair & Valentine eventually reagined the belts, but their poor behavior resulted in a title vacancy in 1978. When Ole & Gene took part in the Tag Team Title tournament, they grabbed a huge win over The Brisco Brothers. However the team of Rick Steamboat and Paul Jones defeated Gene & Ole in the next round.
Despite their success, do not discount their competition. Besides Flair & Valentine, they also had to face the likes of (the original) Mr. Wrestling, Thunderbolt Patterson (with whom Ole feuded over the Georgia TV Title, winning it twice), and Dusty Rhodes. They faced each of these stars at arguably the heights of their respective careers. Although Ole was up to the challenge, the older Gene's health problems were hindering the team. With all due respect to Gene, Ole found similar success with other partners by winning the Georgia Tag Title with Jacques Goulet, Lars Anderson (another fictitious "relative"), and "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd. However, these reigns could not compare to the success he had with "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff, with whom he won five Georgia Tag Team Titles in 1978 and 1979.
By 1980, the fans' opinion of Ole Anderson had changed. He had garnered a great deal of respect for his tough-as-nails style. When Bobby The Brain Heenan, one of the most hated men in Georgia, sent Ernie Ladd and Tom Shaft after Ole, it only made Anderson an even bigger hero. On this note, he left the Peach Tree State. A short stay in the Alabama area brought him two reigns as the Southeast Heavyweight Champion. Meanwhile, Ivan Koloff and Alexis Smirnoff were running roughshod in Georgia. The Russians eventually found themselves challenged by the unknown team of "The Masked Avengers." With masks, these Avengers were mysteries; without them, they were Ole and Lars Anderson! The Georgia fans were ecstatic that the once-evil Ole was on their side for once.
Could it be that Ole was a nice guy after all? Dusty Rhodes thought so, even though they had been bitter enemies in the past. Rhodes was having trouble fending off the team of The Assassins without a partner. Ole accepted Dusty's request, and they challenged The Assassins to a cage match in Atlanta. Each team wanted to select a referee, and it was decided that there would be two referees for this bout. The Assassins chose the nefarious Ivan Koloff while the opposing official would be none other than Gene Anderson. When Dusty Rhodes entered the cage that night, things would never be the same again. Not only did Ole Anderson betray him, but so did Gene! Without much of a real match, Rhodes suffered a beating from all five other men that night.
Gene and Ole went back to the Carolinas and, on May 1, 1981, won one more World Tag Team Championship together. This was the last hurrah for this Anderson team, as they vacated the title later that year without a loss when Gene's injuries put him into retirement. Their decade-plus long partnership had earned them five Mid-Atlantic Tag Titles, six NWA World Championships, and an impressive seven reigns as the tag champs of Georgia. Ole took part in another US Title Tournament in 1981, but a double-DQ against his old partner Jacques Goulet in the second round halted his progress for the night. Ole won another World Tag Team Title with the dangerous cowboy, Stan Hansen in a 1982 tournament. They shut down both The Briscos and the Japanese duo of Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenyru. There was a tentative plan for them to face the winners of a California tournament in order to determine who would be the undisputed Tag Team Champions of the world. Unfortunately, organization was lacking, the unification match never took place, and Ole and Hansen eventually separated. Sill, in Georgia, Ole remained the infamous chairman of rulebreaking. On many occasions, he conspired with the likes of Buzz Sawyer and a very high-strung Roddy Piper. They went out their way to make life miserable for Rhodes, Tommy Rich and Tony Atlas. Sometimes they got away with their schemes; sometimes they didn't!
Ole Anderson suffered sort of a championship drought for a while, but his matches and the surrounding dramas were more than enough to capture the fans' imagination. His "nephew" (son-in-law) Arn Anderson made his first of several appearances in Georgia in 1983. The diabolical Paul Ellering talked him into turning against Ole, and even changing his name to "Arn Ellering!" Precious Paul then sent Arn to team up with "Maniac" Matt Borne under his guidance. This relationship did not last as long as Arn had hoped. When The Road Warriors won the National Tag Team Title tournament, Ellering immediately abandoned Arn & Matt for the new champions. Ellering's new "Legion Of Doom" group, including Jake Roberts, The Spoiler, and Buzz Sawyer, declared war on Georgia's heros. Arn went to Uncle Ole for help and, with the likes of Tommy Rich and Ronnie Garvin on their side, Ellering's army had their hands full. Ole was a popular competitor again, if only because of the fans' hatred for the Legion Of Doom. In an odd bit of matchmaking, Ole Anderson had the pleasure of taking on Paul Ellering in the National Title Tournament. Thanks to the bitterness from Ellering's dealings with Arn, Ole could not help ut batter Paul to a double-disqualification, but that was only one battle in quite a war. Along with Ole, Ellering's men came out in full force at the 1983 Cadillac Cup Tournament. Unfortunately, Ole was eliminated by the eventual winner, Mr Wrestling II. But like two generals of opposing armies, Ole and Ellering duked it out one final time at the Last Battle Of Atlanta, and Ole came out on top. On the other hand, Ellering's prized team, Animal and Hawk, were indestructable in Georgia. When the National Tag belts were up for grabs in a tournament, even the team of Ole Anderson and Stan Hansen fell to the mighty Road Warriors.
If you recall, Ivan Koloff had gotten out of hand in Georgia until Ole dished out some discipline. Well, up in the Mid-Atlantic area, his Russian ex-partner was at it again. The patriotic duo of Dusty Rhodes and "Ragin' Bull" Manny Fernandez won the NWA World Tag Titles from Ivan Koloff and Don Kernodle, who was not really a Russian at all. Ivan blamed his partner and helped Nikita Koloff do a number on him. Don's unacknowledged brother and undercard grappler, Keith Larson ran to the rescue. Don rejected the Russian doctrine and re-embraced the red, white, and blue. However, he was in no shape to team with Larson to meet the Koloffs. Larson decided to go find a partner - the one man who knew exactly how to put Ivan Koloff in his place - Ole Anderson. The teams met at Starrcade '84. Although Larson was pinned, Ole reasserted his claim that the Mid-Atlantic area was still his stomping ground too.
Ole Anderson was one of Georgia's top heros in 1984, as he had to deal with Jimmy Hart's New York Assassins. Helping him at this point was Ole's old foe, Thunderbolt Patterson. Despite the nostalgia of the circumstances, Ole must have known that the end was near. Georgia Championship Wrestling was, in effect, owned by Ole Anderson, and things on the business end of the TV cameras were not pretty. Their TV slot on WTBS was taken by the WWF, and money for production was getting scarce. Mid-Atlantic promoter Jim Crockett Jr. was pressuring Ole to hand the company over to him. How could Ole balance his noble in-ring role as the local hero but retain his past viciousness in order to keep his company running? He could no longer split his personality in half. Something or someone had to sway him all the way to one extreme or the other. There was only one man in Georgia who could do that. One man who, despite his youth, could have an impact on Ole's philosophical crisis. One man whose untested ruthlessness was a biological match to Ole's. That one man, Arn Anderson, had returned to Georgia.
"... where credit is due ..."