Georgia Championship Wrestling
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|Owner(s)||Vince McMahon (1984-present)|
|Sister||Championship Wrestling from Georgia|
Georgia Championship Wrestling was a professional wrestling promotion whose self-titled TV program aired in the 1970s and 1980s on Atlanta, U.S., superstation WTBS. Though based in Atlanta, the company also ran live wrestling shows throughout its geographic "territory" of Georgia (the U.S. pro wrestling industry was a patchwork of self-contained, regional and sub-regional companies—there was no single, nationwide promotion). The territory was affiliated with what had been the world's top sanctioning body of championship titles for decades before, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).
The TV show, hosted by Gordon Solie, was recorded in one of WTBS' studios on West Peachtree Street near 10th Street, in Midtown Atlanta. Shows were taped before a small (yet enthusiastic), live in-studio audience, as were most professional wrestling TV shows of that era. The show featured wrestling matches, plus melodramatic monologues and inter-character confrontations—similar to the programming offered by other territories, including the Northeast-based World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
GCW's show, which aired on Saturday evenings, was complemented with a Sunday evening edition.
In Savannah and Augusta, GA in the 1960s and early 1970s there was a 60 minute wrestling program titled "Big Time Wrestling" produced Saturday afternoons at the studio of WAII channel 11 in Atlanta. The NWA program was hosted by Ed Capral, ring announcer Charlie Harben and referee Leo Garibaldi. The show was broadcast at various times on WJBF 6 in Augusta and at 11pm Saturdays on WTOC 11 in Savannah. The program included interviews with wrestlers pertaining to their upcoming matches. On WJBF the interviews pertained to matches held on Monday nights at the Bell Auditorium promoted by Steve Manderson and on WTOC they pertained to upcoming matches held Tuesday nights at the Sports Arena, later at the Savannah Civic Center promoted by Aaron Newman. The program for Savannah was taped in Atlanta on Saturday afternoons then delivered by Greyhound Bus to Savannah to be broadcast that night.
Big stars who came in and out of Georgia Championship Wrestling included Bob and Brad Armstrong, Dusty Rhodes ("The American Dream"), the Road Warriors, Jerry Oates, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Killer Karl Kox, Larry Zbyszko, The Masked Superstar, Mr. Wrestling II, Ole Anderson, Ivan Koloff, Stan Hansen, Ricky Steamboat, Steve Keirn, Ronnie Garvin, Ted DiBiase (later known as "The Million Dollar Man" in the WWF), The Freebirds, Junkyard Dog, Tommy Rich, Rick Martel, Wahoo McDaniel and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Georgia Championship Wrestling was formed in Atlanta in 1944 by promoter Paul Jones as ABC Booking. ABC held its matches at Atlanta's Municipal Auditorium every Friday night. Jones operated ABC for thirty years until his retirement in 1974, though from about 1970 until 1972 he was assisted by his booker Ray Gunkel - in fact, Jones was so infirm by this time that Gunkel effectively ran the promotion. On Christmas Day of 1971, Georgia Championship Wrestling aired its first television show, which was considered a Christmas special, since the actual series didn't begin airing until late January 1972.
The promotion underwent some big changes in 1972. Firstly, it started promoting matches at the then-brand-new Omni Coliseum. Secondly, it switched its television outlet from its original home, WQXI-TV (now WXIA) to an upstart UHF station then called WTCG but later renamed WTBS (not yet a superstation, but still owned by Ted Turner; station in Atlanta is now WPCH-TV after being spun off from the national TBS cable channel).
The battle of Atlanta
The new television deal would be one of Gunkel's last decisions. Ray Gunkel died of a heart attack later that year after a match versus Ox Baker in Savannah, Georgia. The death set off some internal problems, with Ray's widow Ann Gunkel, who had worked closely with Ray and expected to get his share of the promotion being shut out in favor of Bill Watts, with the promotion being renamed "Mid-South Sports." Ann Gunkel decided to start her own promotion outside of the National Wrestling Alliance, which she named the All-South Wrestling Alliance.
It didn't look good for Mid-South at that point, most of their wrestlers had gone with Ann, and Ann's promotion had gotten Mid-South's television time slot, though both promotions aired on WTBS. (Ted Turner and Ann Gunkel had both attended Brown University and were rumored to be romantically involved.) After two years of strife, a trouble-shooter was called in: Jim Barnett, who had owned promotions in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Colorado and Australia. (The Australian promotion was called World Championship Wrestling.) At this point, Ann's promotion went downhill, being locked out of arena dates, with wrestlers defecting to Mid-South, and finally Ann Gunkel's All-South Wrestling Alliance cried uncle in 1974.
When WTBS went on satellite in 1976, making the station available to cable systems all across the USA, the renamed Georgia Championship Wrestling became the first NWA promotion to be broadcast nationally. Many of the NWA's regional promoters were unhappy, but Barnett claimed since he was only using Georgia-based wrestlers, that there was no harm. Whether or not Barnett was in fact taking the promotion national is a matter of dispute. Some wrestlers, such as Roddy Piper, say that he was in fact doing so, but was prevented by fears of crossing organized crime figures involved with the sport. Throughout the 1970s, Georgia Championship Wrestling was one of the main shows that kept the Superstation alive.
In 1982, Georgia Championship Wrestling changed its main programming name to World Championship Wrestling. GCW ran shows in Ohio & Michigan; wrestling returned to Dayton, Ohio in January 1983 after a lay-off of no wrestling in Dayton for five years. The ring announcer there was Les Pomerville Sr., a Dayton native, and Father of "Flying" Les Edwards.
Barnett was forced out in a power struggle in late 1983. This set the stage for an important move in wrestling history, involving a then-little known regional promoter: Vince McMahon.
The move that changed wrestling history
Georgia Championship Wrestling was primarily owned in 1983 by a conglomerate of: Jack Brisco and Jerry Brisco (brothers who were also superstar amateur and professional wrestlers); Jim Barnett; and Paul Jones. The remaining ten-percent stake belonged to Al Rogowski, a match booker, who also wrestled as "Ole Anderson."
In 1984, the Briscos sold their stock in GCW to Vince McMahon for $900,000 and guaranteed jobs with the WWF. Gerald (Jerry) Brisco, in fact, was still a road agent in today's WWE before suffering three strokes in 2009. After working out a few prior commitments, Georgia Championship Wrestling ceased to exist.
According to Ric Flair in his autobiography To Be the Man, the Road Warriors were offered $5,000 to injure the Briscos during a tag team match by an unnamed, disgruntled source. Instead of injuring them, they promptly informed the Briscos and told them not to worry because, "We're not those kinds of business people."
The purchase of Georgia Championship Wrestling by the WWF is still considered the tipping point in U.S. professional wrestling's evolution from local or regional sideshow to national phenomenon.
On July 14, 1984 (a.k.a. Black Saturday within the U.S. professional wrestling industry), Georgia Championship Wrestling ceased to exist when Vince McMahon unexpectedly bought the promotion and its TV time slot for his then-nationally expanding WWF. Freddie Miller, an announcer, was the only member of the original Georgia Championship Wrestling on-air cast who did not quit in protest or just get replaced by the new owner. McMahon had underestimated two major factors, however. The first was the differences in tastes between fanbases of different geographical regions. The WWF's style of wrestling sharply differed from that of GCW, with the WWF featuring cartoonish characters and storylines and squash matches and GCW featuring more athletic competition. Secondly, Southerners resented the symbolism of a "Yankee" company coming down from The North and "taking over" their wrestling.
In addition, WWF World Championship Wrestling was mainly used as a re-cap show, featuring matches which had previously aired on the WWF's main programming venues such as WWF Championship Wrestling and WWF All-Star Wrestling. This angered WTBS owner Ted Turner, who was hoping that the WWF would have original matches originating from the WTBS Studios at 1050 Techwood Drive. Eventually, the WWF would have in-studio squash matches on the show on an infrequent basis. During this time, the show was co-hosted by Miller and Gorilla Monsoon, with Monsoon serving as the play-by-play announcer and Miller serving as the ring announcer.
The WWF version of the show received much lower ratings than its NWA-associated forerunner. As a result, in March 1985, McMahon sold the Saturday night time slot (but not the Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion) to Jim Crockett, Jr., a Charlotte, North Carolina-based promoter who ran NWA-branded shows in the Mid-Atlantic states; Jim Crockett Promotions took over production of the TV show. In time, the show was renamed WCW Saturday Night, reflecting an overhauled look and a new home studio-arena at the CNN Center. In 2001, McMahon would gain the rights to Crockett's library of Georgia Championship Wrestling/World Championship Wrestling/NWA matches and shows—augmenting his own WWE Tape Library—through his purchase of assets and trademarks belonging to the now-defunct WCW.
- NWA Columbus Heavyweight Championship
- NWA Columbus Tag Team Championship
- NWA International Tag Team Championship (Georgia version)
- NWA Macon Heavyweight Championship
- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.226)
- Georgia Wrestling History
- Georgia Championship Wrestling Title History