Saturday, November 2, 2013

GWH Announces Georgia Wrestling Hall of Fame 2013 Class

The Georgia Wrestling Hall of Fame first came into existence in 2003 as a feature at Ten classes have been selected to date, and we recently concluded the process for the eleventh class of inductees.

Each year, ballots are sent to all living members of the Hall of Fame, respected key figures from the business that have made significant contributions to the business, and revered historians and writers knowledgeable of the rich history that professional wrestling has had in the state of Georgia, inviting them to assist in selecting those who they feel are worthy of such an honor.

We are honored to be able to work with them in preserving the history of wrestling in our great state, and we are proud to announce the results of the newest class on this, our eleventh anniversary.

Buddy Fuller

Buddy Fuller became a major player in Georgia when he bought Don McIntyre’s shares in the Atlanta office in 1964, much to the dismay of Ray Gunkel. Although they would go on to form what the fans saw as a top babyface tag team throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1970s, the two men were not the best of friends behind the scenes, with both said to have been in a constant power struggle.

Fuller had classic feuds with Mario Galento, Louie Tillet, and referee Leo Garibaldi, and was a frequent holder of the Southern and Georgia Heavyweight Titles. He also had a share of the World Tag Team Title, as recognized by the promotion, with Ray Gunkel, as well as the Georgia Tag Team Title, as they feuded with top heel teams that passed through the territory, including the Assassins and the Vachons.

Fuller renovated a barn on his property in Griffin that would become a staple wrestling venue, opening in 1970 and being used into the 1980s known as the Griffin-Barnesville Sports Palace. Fuller sold his shares in the office in 1972 to his brother, Lester Welch, only a few months prior to Gunkel’s unexpected death.

One of Fuller’s final appearances was on the NWA card the night Ann Gunkel promoted her first card under the ASWA banner in November 1972, a situation borne from the power plays that were being attempted behind the scenes, mostly by those affiliated with Fuller’s family.

Joe Scarpa

Georgia fans had their first opportunity to see Joe Scarpa when he and Don Curtis began making appearances in 1962 being billed as World Tag Team Champions, feuding with Pedro Godoy and the Russian Crusher.

Upon returning in 1963, he teamed with top babyfaces like Ray Gunkel, Choo-Choo Lynn, Eddie Graham, and Chief Little Eagle in feuds with teams such as the Von Brauners, Lenny Montana & Tarzan Tyler, and the Assassins. Scarpa also briefly wore a mask in Georgia, wrestling as the Proud Rebel, before voluntarily removing it prior to a match with the Von Brauners.

Over the years, Scarpa became a mainstay in singles action, feuding with Stan Stasiak, the Mighty Hercules, George Harris, and Mario Galento. He returned in 1969 and won the Georgia Heavyweight Title, becoming a frequent challenger for the NWA World Heavyweight Title, feuding with Paul DeMarco and Nick Bockwinkel.

As popular as Scarpa was, it was his transformation in becoming an Indian chief named Jay Strongbow that endeared him to a new generation of fans in the 1970s, feuding with Brute Bernard and Ernie Ladd, including a memorable angle where Ladd destroyed his headdress, which was promptly replaced by a new one presented by a group of children in 1980.

Roberto Soto

It was 1969 when a young tag team consisting of Roberto Soto and Cyclone Soto burst onto the wrestling scene in Georgia and became regular opponents of heel teams such as Chati Yokuchi & Mr. Ito, Los Toros, the Assassins, and the Super Assassins. A fan base that had fallen in love with the Torres brothers now had a new popular Hispanic duo to rally behind, and the Sotos didn’t disappoint.

After a run of about a year, the two left the state, but Roberto returned in 1971 and proved to be a solid mid-card talent in singles competition, as well as tag teams, often sharing a corner with men like Jerry Oates, Bob Armstrong, Bill Dromo, and Dick Steinborn.

The following year he became embroiled in a feud with Billy Spears and also won the Georgia Heavyweight Championship, a title he held for several months and took to the ASWA, where he maintained recognition.

After dropping that title, a few months later he was back with the NWA group in Atlanta, often teaming with Robert Fuller, Mr. Wrestling #2, Tom Jones, and Bob Orton, Jr., and continuing his feud with Spears, and getting into a new one with Jerry Lawler and the Garvins. Following a successful run in the mid-1970s, he returned briefly in the early 1980s, but only found minimal opportunities.

Les Thatcher

Les Thatcher wrestled briefly in Georgia during the 1960s, often teaming with Roger Kirby, but he would prove to be more important in Georgia through other avenues.

He joined the Georgia Championship Wrestling TV program produced out of Atlanta as a color analyst, working alongside Gordon Solie, who was still relatively new to the audience in the summer of 1973. While many may argue that Solie needed no assistance, anyone who was lucky enough to hear them together knows how lucky they were. Thatcher’s vast knowledge of in-ring experience lent a perspective to that which Solie could only offer a limited view. The pairing only lasted through January 1974, but it left a lasting impression on the viewing audience.

Thatcher was also handling the task of putting together the programs for the Atlanta office, which had been minimal at best before he took it over, and they became must-read material, which increased that revenue stream for the company. Although he left the company, he continued to handle the production of the programs for several months after leaving.

He would later return to the promotion in the 1980s, handling business on the promotional end as a road agent for the northern tours as the company expanded beyond the Georgia borders, and also announced for the short-lived GCW Superstars TV program out of Chattanooga in 1983. In more recent years, Thatcher has returned to the state numerous times to assist smaller promotions in a consultative nature, training wrestlers and production teams, and has also participated in the GWH Radio Network podcasts.

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