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Bloody Independents and Johnny Hunter
As I have stated in the past, I would go to any wrestling card no matter if it were large or small and trust me, the smaller cards were very strange, very entertaining, and very bloody. The violence at these small shows was really amazing considering that most of the wrestlers got paid very little and had absolutely no chance of making it to the big time. Zero. Zip. But these guys always had the dream that one day they could make it.
And a dream was enough for them.
One day there was this card at Plato's Crash Landing out by the Greensboro airport. Plato's was a country western bar that started to have wrestling nights. The first card was to have the Mighty Igor verses the Man Eating Beast in the main event. Yeah, right, the Man Eating Beast. I hoped he wasn't gay but I had to go. So I got a crew up to see this show of shows and it was a real hoot. Believe it or not, Igor was there in all his glory and the Beast was the independent legend Rick Link doing a strange gimmick with his face painted and on a leash eating raw chicken.
The promoter of this show was the independent legend Johnny Hunter. Hunter was about six feet one and about two hundred and seventy pounds and was built like a beer keg on two pipe cleaners. But he loved wrestling and really did try to bring in the best talent possible for his small audience.
Most of these shows drew about a hundred and twenty people tops. But that didn't stop Hunter from having them even if he lost money doing so. In the seventies Hunter worked as bread man and he sometimes had to pay the wrestlers in day old bread and stale donuts. A lot of very famous people worked these shows. One night, I got to see Austin Idol verses Stan Hansen. This was just after Hansen had left the AWA. I got to talk with Stan and I asked him why he left as champion?
Hansen said, "I couldn't keep my nose far enough from Verne's ass to keep him happy!"
Now that line was worth the seven bucks I paid for front row!
A lot of past and present stars showed up at these shows. Valiant, Morton and Gibson, Bugsy McGraw, Uncle Elmer, and it was a blast.
Johnny Hunter always insisted that he climb into the ring every show and sadly, he really felt that he was letting the fans down if he didn't wrestle. And trust me, he was not in very good health and should have never been anywhere near a ring at this late stage of his life. Hunter also ran a small wrestling school and a few people did make it to television. He was most proud of Rick Link and George South who both went through his school and did pretty well.
One other thing about these shows that I must add. Every time somebody would blade and hit a major artery and blood would splash all over the place. It was a very grizzly atmosphere and not for everyone's taste. Of course, I loved this stuff, but who ever said I have great taste? One night they had to use a mop to clean up all the blood. It was everywhere.
Another highlight of every Johnny Hunter show was purchasing your ticket from Johnny Hunter. If you had correct change, Johnny would be really relieved. But if you paid with a twenty, it would take the guy fifteen minutes to make change. I am not making this up. The guy really couldn't count very well and he wanted to make sure that the money was right with both parties every single ticket sold. And Johnny had this sweet way off giving back your change and then asking you if it was correct .He would look at you right in the face with those light blue eyes and say, "Is that right?"
Many times I really wanted to fuck with him and bring a fifty but after awhile I told everybody to always bring the correct change. The pressure was getting to Johnny and he had a bad heart so he really needed the fans to help him a little.
At these shows you would see a lot of people who really had no hope of becoming stars. Many of the guys only weighed about 180 pounds and you would look at your friends and shake your head. Of course I would always hammer them from the front row. That was my job. The main event usually would be scary and bloody. Some fans would not return after a horrific blade job but I always came back.
Sadly, one night it was a final bittersweet moment for Johnny Hunter. I think it was in Denton NC and Johnny had a near sell out crowd! I think there was about 400 plus fans to hit this joint and Johnny never looked happier. He had his biggest turn out ever and was going to really make a huge score. Suddenly, Johnny turned blue and fell out of his chair. He was having a heart attack and every one in attendance thought he was going to be fine. He had this happen many times in the past and after a few minutes he would recover.
Not this time.
Johnny never got up and passed away right on the spot.
He was scheduled to have bypass heart surgery later in the week
But he never made it.
His son Tony, who was a referee that night, stayed and continued on the job.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house that night.
A Note from Johnny Hunter's Son
I thought the story on my father was very good. There are just a few things that I would like to add that I know about my father first hand.
As far as him doing the money the way he did, he just wanted to make sure he got it right for himself and the other party. I always remember my father, he would snap the money when he counted it he wanted to make sure it wasn't stuck together, LOL. But he knew how to count.
As far as him driving a bread truck, it never happened. He did work part time for Krispy Kreme, I even have a wall mounted certificate from the President of Krispy Kreme. A funny story about my father and Brute Bernard; Brute always wanted the creme filled ones, just ask George South, it was really funny.
As far as my father getting in the ring and wrestling; he loved it. I do know that for probably a year before he passed away, he shouldn't have been in the ring. I remember him taking nitro-glycerin pills in the ring. He just loved it so much.
My father always told me, "Tony, if I ever pass away on a wrestling event and it's my show, I want you to run it just like I would have." He would say this when we were putting up rings or postering the towns, etc. He told me this hundreds of times. And on the night of Feb 4th of 1989, it happened. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way. To this day I'm proud of myself for doing what my father asked me to do. His word was his bond.
- Tony Hunter
September 16, 2004
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