Jimmy Espy Column: Jackson Still Bringing The Action PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 08 February 2018 16:29
It was a June evening in Pell City, Ala. in 1972 when Mike Jackson first put on trunks and climbed into a wrestling ring. His opponent that night was the masked Blue Inferno.
“Today, I couldn’t even tell you who he was,” said Jackson, laughing. “It’s been a long time.”
Almost 45 years later it’s almost certain that the Blue Inferno – real name lost to the ages – isn’t wrestling anymore. But Mike Jackson is.
The 68-year-old grappler will defend his Alabama Junior Heavyweight Championship in Summerville on a six-match card on Friday, Feb. 2 at the Chattooga County Civic Center.  
“I’ve wrestled in Summerville before and I’m looking forward to coming over there,” said Jackson, who lives in Birmingham.
I saw a lot of Mike “Action” Jackson on Ted Turner’s old Superstation back in the 1970s and early 1980s when Georgia Championship Wrestling captivated the professional wrestling world (and me) starting at 6 p.m. (later 6:05 p.m.) every Saturday night on WTBS.
Mike was a scrappy, talented wrestler who came across as a solid professional. But in the age of pumped up “superstars” the undersized Jackson almost always came out on the losing end of his nationally-televised matches. Think of him as wrestling’s version of the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters.
“When I started wrestling I was 5-8 and about 145 pounds,” he said. “Back then it was more about your ability, not your look.” 
Jackson worked helping put up wrestling rings and worked as a referee for awhile before wrestling his first match. 
“I did all that stuff, but I always wanted to be a wrestler,” he said.
After his first match with the Blue Inferno – for which he thinks he may have been paid $5 – Jackson took every match he could get, working for small payoffs in small towns for independent promoters.
“I did that for about 18 months,” he said. “At first the money didn’t matter. I just wanted to wrestle. But about a year and a half the money started to matter.”
That’s when he got a lucky break.
Jackson was hired by legendary wrestling promoter Nick Gulas, who ran shows in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Gulas, who was a fixture on the old Chattanooga wrestling show on WDEF Channel 12, had a reputation as a stingy and sometimes abrasive boss. But Jackson remembers him differently.
“Nick Gulas gave me my chance and for that I will always be grateful,” said Jackson. “Because of him, I went from wrestling in front of 30 or 40 people to wrestling in front of thousands in big arenas.”
In his early days with Gulas, Jackson teamed with Tony Ladu to form the Birmingham Duo. In tag team and singles action, Jackson worked with and against some of the most famous names in southern wrestling – Jackie Fargo, the Von Brauners, Tojo Yamamoto and Len Rossi.
“Those were the territory days,” said Jackson. “You’d do local TV and then wrestle just about every night in some town in the area. Most weeks I’d wrestle seven or eight times in six days. We’d have Sunday off. Those days really were the best time to be a wrestler.”
Jackson began to branch from the old Gulas territory. He stayed busy with appearances in the Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mid-South (Mississippi, Louisiana) promotions. 
But the territory system died out in the 1980s, as two large national organizations, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the WWF), dominated the business.
Jackson worked for both.
He became a familiar face to wrestling fans on the WCW Saturday night show (formerly Georgia Championship Wrestling.)
During that time, he worked against some of the most talented wrestlers in the business, including former world champions Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, Ivan Koloff, Bob Backlund and Ray Stevens.
“To me, Ric Flair is the real-world champion,” said Jackson. “He held that title 16 times at a time when ‘world’ really meant something. He traveled all over the country and the world defending it against the very best in the world.”
Jackson has warm and not so warm memories of many of the stars he worked with.
* “When Ole Anderson brought the Road Warriors in, he asked me to work with them. He told me to ‘teach them before they killed somebody.’ Wrestling them was like riding a bull.”
* Buzz Sawyer was “scary, a wild man.”
* Jackie Fargo was “the John Cena of the 1970s. One of the hottest stars ever.”
* “Roughhouse” Fargo was hard to work with because he did a lot of crazy stuff. I’d be in the ring wrestling and he’d be sitting in the crowd watching.”
* Jackson recalls a match with Englishman Les Thornton in which Thornton, a highly-trained amateur wrestler, “tied me up so badly all I could move was an eyebrow.”
Jackson spent four years working for Vince McMahon’s WWE. He wrestled mostly non-televised matches.
“That was the best money I ever made in the wrestling business,” he said. 
Jackson shined in matches with some of the most famous wrestlers of the last 40 years but when asked to name his favorite performance, he cited one with little known “Rock and Roll” Allan Martin before 600-700 fans in Asheville, Ala.
Jackson doesn’t need to wrestle today. He does it because he still loves the business. Yet he’s troubled by some of the things he sees.
“Wrestling used to be about good versus evil but today there are no good guys or bad guys,” he said. “People don’t go to the WWE to see the good guys whip the bad guys. They go to see the pyro and all the other stuff. It’s not about the wrestling.”
While he continues to work independent shows “wherever I’m booked” Jackson sees wrestlers in the business who don’t have training or skill for the job.
“We’ve got too many wrestlers and not enough fans,” he said. “Some of the people who used to sit at ringside and watch are now in the ring.”
He doesn’t know anything about Devin Diamond – his opponent here next week – but he’s hoping for good competition. 
“I’m looking forward to defending the title in Summerville,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a match the people can enjoy.”
Jimmy Espy is a staff writer for The Summerville News. He spent many an afternoon pulling for Mike Jackson. 

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