As president of Crockett Promotions from 1973 until its sale to Ted Turner in 1988, Jim Crockett Jr. presided over one of the most successful and talent-laden territories in the history of professional wrestling.
As a three-time National Wrestling Alliance president during that period, the influential Crockett utilized the services of Ric Flair defending wrestling’s most prestigious titles throughout his Carolinas-based territory and beyond.
Jim Crockett Promotions would become the home base for some of pro wrestling’s greatest stars, from Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine, to Ricky Steamboat and Blackjack Mulligan, to The Road Warriors and The Four Horsemen.
And with the reach and viewing power of SuperStation WTBS, Crockett took his company from a respected regional outfit to a nationally touring promotion, expanding the base to territories throughout the country and becoming a cornerstone of the NWA.
Crockett, who had suffered from liver and kidney issues, passed away March 4 at the age of 76, marking the end of an era in professional wrestling.
“It’s very sad,” said his brother David Crockett, “but it’s also good because he’s not in pain anymore. And that’s a good thing.”
Crockett, who had undergone dialysis for years, had contracted COVID-19 but “was clear,” according to David Crockett. “But as far as I’m concerned, I think that he would probably (still) be with us now if it wasn’t for COVID.”
“It was probably two months since he contracted COVID, and he had gone through quarantine and all that,” said Crockett. “He had extenuating circumstances. It’s just going to make whatever you have worse.”
With his condition worsening, Jim Crockett Jr. decided to stop dialysis treatment a week ago.
“I was lucky to have him as my brother and to experience the world with him,” said David Crockett, who served in key positions with the family promotion and later with World Championship Wrestling. “At the same time, I’m at peace. We are all supposed to believe in a better place. If you believe that, we’re the ones that are holding them back. I’d like to believe that he is truly in a better place now.”
Taking the reins
Crockett was the eldest son of longtime promoter Jim Crockett Sr., who at the age of 35 founded his own pro wrestling company in Charlotte where he would sustain a flourishing organization for five decades. Known at one time as “the premier promoter in the Southeast,” Crockett Sr. passed away at the age of 64 in 1973.
“Big Jim” Crockett, a dominating but unpretentious personality who tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds, initially turned over control of the company to his then-son-in-law, John Ringley, but a family situation resulted in Crockett Jr. being called in to take the reins.
Crockett Jr., with political and other interests not necessarily tied to professional wrestling, rather reluctantly took over the day-to-day operations of Crockett Promotions. But young Crockett would grow into the job, overseeing a prosperous territory that ran in towns throughout the Carolinas and Virginia.
“Johnny (Ringley) came into the company before Jimmy,” said David Crockett. “He had a lot of the contacts. Johnny had salesmanship. Jimmy was not one who wanted to stand out front and beat his own drum. He didn’t particularly want to step into the limelight. But he told me that he knew he could do it. He had the knowledge.”
While Crockett Jr. was given the keys to the kingdom, his brother fully understood the company hierarchy.
“In our business, you can only have one boss. You couldn’t have two bosses.” And the company was in need of an announcer.
“I didn’t really want to announce,” said David Crockett. “I wanted to be in the (production) truck. I had a good time in the truck. When the main event would come, I’d go in and direct.”
With former wrestling star George Scott as booker, the storied Mid-Atlantic territory would be transformed into one of the hottest promotions in the country, with Crockett ushering in a new era of wrestling. “It just isn’t like a normal business,” Crockett Jr. told the Charlotte News in 1975 when he was 29. “I enjoy it. It’s a whole different lifestyle that I’m not sure I could give up at this point.”
His weekly Saturday wrestling programs would also deliver strong ratings with a loyal viewership.
“Our program delivered more adults than ABC Wide World of Sports, CBC Sports Spectacular or NBC Sports in the same market,” Crockett would boast.
Like his father, Crockett knew his fan base.
One of four children, including David, Jackie and Frances, Crockett also owned the Charlotte Orioles, a minor league baseball team based in Charlotte, from 1976-87, and a minor league hockey team, the Winston-Salem Polar Twins. “Dad owned part of the Charlotte Checkers way back when,” added David Crockett.
For thousands of fans, Crockett Promotions helped shape their childhoods, with memories that remain vivid and intact to this day.
For many of them, the Crockett family promoted the wrestling they loved the most.
Mid-Atlantic expert Bruce Mitchell described what it meant to be a fan of Jim Crockett Promotions during one of its greatest periods.
“When I think of Jim Crockett Jr., I remember the huge billboards for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling featuring the faces of Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood, Blackjack Mulligan, The Masked Superstar and the like right across the street from the Greensboro Coliseum. Before there were pro sports teams in the Carolinas (and bigger than the ABA Carolina Cougars), there was his company, Jim Crockett Promotions, running three shows a night virtually every day of the year throughout the region.
“He built his company to the point it drew more money than any other wrestling promotion in the entire world, because he had built the deepest, best roster of wrestling talent anywhere. Any number of all-time greats did their best work for his company. Going to his family’s shows was to be in on the coolest, baddest outlaw secret: that Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was the exact opposite of what all those squares thought it was.”
Lowcountry native and longtime fan Jack Hunter expressed his reverence for JCP shortly after Crockett’s passing.
“Thank you, sir, for an incredible childhood. It’s no secret I’m a pro wrestling nut, and when I was a kid there was nothing better than Jim Crockett Promotions (NWA) that dominated the Carolinas and the entire Mid-Atlantic. I loved Hulk Hogan and WWF, but considered that more cartoon wrestling, and Jim Crockett Promotions ‘real’ wrestling.”
Crockett also had a profound influence on pastor Andy McDaniel, who helped organize a Mid-Atlantic Wrestling reunion in Charleston 23 years ago.
“Each of us has an era that defines our youth. It is a particular decade for many, while for others it may be a specific athlete or movie star. While I certainly can relate to any of those options, it would be the work of one man in particular that helped to shape my childhood. That man was Jim Crockett Jr.
“Hearing of his passing truly felt like the official end of my era to some degree. Yes, we still have Ric Flair, Les Thatcher and a few others left from that time, but Jim Crockett Promotions brought it all to life. I will forever cherish the memories of all the shows I was able to attend. Wrestling was the first bond I shared with my dad. Thank you, Mr. Crockett, for the memories. You indeed left your mark on this world and my youth. Your legacy will forever be remembered.”
“The promoter that brought some of my absolute favorite moments ever in wrestling,” tweeted Matt Farmer. “He’s a large part of the reason for me being a lifelong fan.”
“It was as though my childhood died,” lamented Randal Wallace of Myrtle Beach.
“The first wrestling show I ever attended live was a JCP show,” wrote Dylan Hales. “JCP made me a wrestling fan.”
“Your father may have been the patriarch of the promotion, but for so many of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you were the patriarch of so many great memories,” the Mid-Atlantic Championship Podcast posted.
“Jim Crockett Jr. made my Saturday afternoons magical. Thank you for the wonderful memories,” wrote Cezar McKnight of Kingstree.
Some, like Major League Wrestling founder Court Bauer, hailed Crockett as a force who went toe-to-toe with Vince McMahon and his wrestling juggernaut.
“Jim Crockett Jr. was ambitious, courageous and a force in our sport. I wish we all could’ve enjoyed more of his presence as we all would’ve been better for it. I’m forever inspired by JCP, his tenacity and rebel approach against an adversary with deep pockets.”
Operating as the largest member of the NWA, Crockett posed a legitimate threat to Vince McMahon and the national expansion of his World Wrestling Federation during the mid-’80s.
Both Crockett and McMahon had grown up in their fathers’ wrestling companies with dreams their daddies dared not have. With Dusty Rhodes as his booker and the “ideas man” and architect of Starrcade, the precursor to McMahon’s Wrestlemania, Crockett would become the only promoter in the country with the wherewithal to mount a challenge to the WWF’s hegemony.
Lavish overspending and creative miscalculations, however would eventually cripple the company financially.
Some of the talent, lured by big promises from McMahon, headed north and left Crockett. But some, like Roddy Piper, never forgot the friendship forged in that promotion, and wouldn’t allow his new employer to book him in Crockett’s territory.
“I wouldn’t come and work against Crockett,” said Piper. “I wouldn’t work against Jimmy Crockett and I wouldn’t work against (Pacific Northwest promoter) Don Owen until the time came. I got a tremendous amount of heat, but there’s got to be some kind of honor there.”
“He told us that before he left,” recalled David Crockett. “And I respected that.”
Swallowed up by expansion and cash problems, by November 1988, on the brink of bankruptcy, Crockett sold the promotion — which had operated under his family name since 1931— to media mogul Ted Turner for $9 million, resulting in the eventual rebranding and creation of World Championship Wrestling.
The package included guaranteed jobs for the brothers and some cash. Jim Crockett Jr. would remain as NWA president until 1991.
What ifs …
Although there were a number of reasons for the downfall of the company, Jim Crockett Jr. would assume full responsibility.
“It was just a perfect storm,” explains David Crockett.
But in reality, there was plenty of blame to go around if one might be looking for problem areas, said Crockett. “We could all can share. Blame me. I could have assisted more, or maybe I should have done more.”
As for Dusty Rhodes, the target of ample blame on the creative side, Crockett said, “I’m not going to blame Dusty. He was there to create things. Period.”
There will always be the “what ifs.” Could Jim Crockett Jr. have done something to salvage his company?
“You never know,” answered David Crockett. “Hindsight’s 20/20. I always thought it could, but you don’t know until you try.”
Or could a deal have been made with Vince McMahon at that time in a last-ditch effort to keep the company afloat?
“You know Vince. That’s wishful thinking,” said Crockett. “It wouldn’t have happened with Vince. He’d have to put his name on the thing.”
Taking the possibilities one step further, considering the close working relationship between the fathers of Jim Crockett Jr. and Vince McMahon, might there have been a chance for a détente between Jim Jr. and Vince?
“Dad and Vince Sr. were very close,” said David. “I was just looking at some pictures of Dad and Vince at the NWA meetings. They brought back a lot of memories. But we would have had to go back to our roots, which would have been fine. We still would have had TBS. There were groups out there that wanted to invest, but that happened after the deal to sell it had been signed.”
“I didn’t want to sell it,” added Crockett, indicating that he would have liked to have held out a little longer even though the company was losing money at the time. “I think if Jimmy had seen any way of saving it, he wouldn’t have made the agreement with Turner. Some of it (details) I probably didn’t know. A lot of the wrestlers were already beating the door to Vince. That was a drain. We also inherited Mid-South Wrestling’s debt. To me that was it. We just didn’t do our due diligence correctly. There again, hindsight’s 20/20, and I would have liked it to have been different. But it wasn’t.”
Had things worked out differently, the wrestling landscape might have looked very different today, said Crockett.
“AEW might not have been here today if it hadn’t been for us having to sell to Turner, and on and on and on. Eric (Bischoff) wouldn’t have been at WCW. You start thinking about all the possible scenarios.”
WCW would go on to become one of the biggest wrestling companies ever, and from 1996-98 it conquered WWE’s Monday Night Raw in the ratings with WCW Monday Nitro for 83 consecutive weeks.
WWE eventually regained its stronghold and purchased WCW in 2001, but no company has come close to giving WWE the type of run WCW did since that time.
Jim Crockett Jr. considered getting back into the wrestling business several years after selling his company. The closest he came to running a new promotion was the short-lived World Wrestling Network in 1994. A venture with Paul Heyman (the former Paul E. Dangerously) also failed to take off when the two butted heads over basic philosophy, with Heyman favoring a harder edge to Crockett’s more traditional approach.
“It pretty much soured Jimmy on wrestling,” said his brother.
Shortly afterward Heyman would rise as a major force in the business, creating the Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling.
After stepping away from the wrestling business in the mid-’90s, Crockett worked as a realtor and mortgage loan originator in Dallas.
The Crockett era had begun decades earlier when Jim Crockett Sr. began promoting in his hometown of Bristol, Va., in 1930. Four years later he would come to Charlotte and launch what would become the Crockett Promotions dynasty.
Honest and tough with a heart of gold, “Big Jim” Crockett was a successful entrepreneur and owned a series of restaurants which fed his 300-plus-pound frame. Known mainly as a wrestling promoter, Crockett Sr. also promoted concerts, dances and musical events (he was one of the few White promoters in the segregated South that would promote Black artists and shows aimed exclusively at Black patrons). He also was one of the first White promoters to start booking the Harlem Globetrotters back in the early years. At one time in the late ‘60s, Globetrotters owners Abe and Maury Saperstein offered Crockett the promotional rights to every date east of the Mississippi River. Crockett Sr. turned the offer down because it would take too much time away from what paid the bills. And that was pro wrestling.
From humble beginnings to respected businessman who knew what his clientele wanted, Crockett Sr. promoted weekly Monday night shows at the old Park Center in Charlotte and was a driving force in the National Wrestling Alliance, serving as a top lieutenant to longtime president Sam Muchnick.
Everyone respected the man known as “Big Jim.” He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, people listened. Although he had to drive in cars that would accommodate a man his size, he bristled at the thought of driving up to the old Park Center in a Cadillac, realizing that fans who worked all week to afford to come to his wrestling show wouldn’t understand the sight of what he would call a “fat cat promoter” driving such a luxury automobile. He ran a major territory with authority from an old house on East Morehead Street in Charlotte.
What some folks didn’t realize was that Big Jim’s heart was as big as the man. He routinely, many times secretly and without fanfare, wrote big checks to charities and those less fortunate. He was kind and generous and a man of his word. A handshake was his bond.
When Big Jim passed away in 1973 at the age of 64, not only did the town of Charlotte lose one of its most treasured citizens, but professional wrestling lost one of its greatest promoters.
Jim Crockett Jr., known as “Jimmy” to family and friends, would take over the promotion after his father’s death and served as NWA president while running Crockett Promotions out of a small building on Charlotte’s Brianbend Drive that housed an office, a small kitchen, a wrestling ring, a TV studio and a whole lot of memories.
‘An amazing boss’
Forty-eight years after the passing of family patriarch “Big Jim” Crockett, who laid the foundation for JCP more than 85 years ago, the pro wrestling fraternity is now paying tribute to his eldest son, who took the revered company to new levels on a national stage.
Former pro wrestling star Les Thatcher, who worked for both Crocketts, remembered his friend as a boss with a sense of humor who could roll up his sleeves and work in the trenches to promote his product.
“Any of us that worked with Jim are better for it, just as the wrestling industry is a better place because of Jim’s involvement. That golden ring in the sky is in for some great wrestling cards with the list of greats to pick from, and now they will be booked and promoted by both Jim Crockett Sr. and Jr.”
“Jimmy was such an amazing boss, but even more a friend,” echoed Terry Allen (aka Magnum TA). “He opened the doors and gave me the golden ticket to launch my career on a worldwide platform. But that’s just the beginning of our friendship. When my career came to an untimely end, Jimmy treated me like family long after I had the ability to boost ratings and help sell out arenas.
“There would not have been an I Quit match or The Best of Seven Series without the platform JCP provided. He will be missed. I hope you can give Dusty, Wahoo and Blackjack a big hug from me. Rest in Peace my friend.”
“Jim Crockett Jr. signed me to my first wrestling contract,” wrote Lex Luger. “I’m so thankful he believed in me and put me on the path to success just as he did with so many others in the wrestling industry. He will be greatly missed.”
“If not for my love of Jim Crockett Promotions I doubt I ever would have considered a pro wrestling career,” tweeted Lance Storm. “Thank you Jim Crockett Jr.”
Lifetime of memories
While Crockett Promotions no longer exists, the legendary family-run company remains a sentimental favorite among wrestling fans, giving them amazing moments that will never be forgotten.
Stars were born there and countless legends were introduced to the world. No greater array of talent has ever been assembled under one banner than a JCP roster that read like a wrestling hall of fame. They all were colorful characters, many of whom lived their gimmick, often spilling blood and breaking bones just to entertain their audience.
But it really was more than just a wrestling company. It provided a magical place for families and friends to bond, to root for the good guys and jeer the bad guys, and take home memories that would last a lifetime.
Jimmy Crockett took his dad’s promotion into an era that will stand the test of time. Along with his brothers and sister, there’s little doubt that they would get Big Jim’s stamp of approval.
It was one heck of a run.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His latest book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com
Did you know …
Not all gridiron stars who try are able to make a successful transition to pro wrestling. Former college football player Dewey “Bearcrusher” Forte trained alongside Ron Simmons in the mid-1980s in Florida under Hiro Matsuda. When they made their respective debuts in the state, Simmons thrived while Forte experienced difficulties with some of the business’s nuances. Possibly to gain greater perspective and a fresh start, Forte moved on to the Wild West Wrestling promotion in the Dallas area for a brief run in 1987. He left the industry not long after, taking a job back home in Florida. Forte, a gentle giant and former standout on the defensive line at Bethune-Cookman, passed away at age 55 in February 2016 in the Lakeland area.
– Kenneth Mihalik
Blast from the Past
“Prime Time” Brian Lee (Harris) often appeared to be on the verge of a major breakthrough. Standing 6-6, he had the look and tools for stardom. Beginning in Memphis in the late 1980s, he worked programs against Sid Vicious and Frankie “The Thumper” Lancaster before moving on to the USWA’s Dallas territory with tag teammate Robert Fuller. Lee’s first major run, however, came in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling where he main-evented for three years, usually as the promotion’s champion or TV titleholder. Initially the company’s main fan favorite, Lee squared off against veteran talents like Paul Orndorff, The Dirty White Boy and Kevin Sullivan. An angle was conducted in 1993 with Tammy Sytch, flipping Lee to the heel side. And his new primary rival in SMW was Tracy Smothers. Lee also teamed with Chris Candido until a falling out, resulting in Lee’s subsequent return to the crowd’s good graces.
A unique opportunity was presented to Lee in mid-1994 when he joined the WWF as Ted DiBiase’s “impostor Undertaker.” This stint required that Lee mimic the ring style of the actual Undertaker (Mark Calaway), who was absent from the scene for storyline reasons. Given the physical resemblance over several months in this fairly convincing guise, Lee defeated the likes of Sparky Plugg (Robert Howard AKA Bob Holly) and Tatanka. The culmination of this facade took place at Summer Slam when the genuine Taker defeated the impersonator. With the ruse over, Lee moved on to the independent circuit, followed by an eventful year with the Philadelphia-based ECW. Back as Brian Lee, he allied with the rule-breaking Raven, and feuded against Tommy Dreamer, The Dudleys, Louie Spicolli and even Terry Funk. He even reunited with Candido during this period. But, in 1997, the WWF beckoned again, proposing a fresh beginning and new identity.
Factions were all the rage in the industry during this era, and Lee was handed the part of Chainz, a member of the biker group Disciples of Apocalypse (DOA). Lee’s cousins, the Harris twins, comprised part of the gang. And Chainz became the regular tag partner of incumbent WWF star Crush (Brian Adams). Naturally, DOA clashed with other contingents – The Nation of Domination, Los Boricuas and The South African Truth Commission. In singles bouts, Lee faced opponents like The Rock, Ron Simmons, and Goldust, and he fared well. But his chief adversary became Kane, who was then in the midst of a monster push. Not long after that lopsided series of matches, the DOA concept was dropped, and Lee was back on independent shows for several years.
But Lee’s days on the national stage weren’t quite over. In 2002, he surfaced in Total Nonstop Action (TNA), working frequently in tag matches until the summer of 2003. From there, he became a regular for lesser-known regional promotions until his retirement from ring action in 2014 after a 26-year career. Brian Lee, now 54, reportedly resides in Florida.
– Kenneth Mihalik
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