One of the most influential and powerful promoters of the territorial era has passed away with the news that Jim Crockett Jr. has died at 76.
Crockett’s health had taken a turn for the worse over the past week and was reportedly taken off dialysis and entered into hospice care. The news of his passing was first reported by Robert Gibson of the Rock ‘N Roll Express on Wednesday evening.
It harkens back to an era of professional wrestling that rapidly expanded and also contracted throughout the ‘80s with Crockett and Vince McMahon serving as rivals in each other’s pursuit for national dominance through cable television and pay-per-view.
Crockett was the son of long-time promoter Jim Crockett Sr., whose family was tied into the fabric of what would become the Mid-Atlantic territory of North and South Carolina, and Virginia. The family promoted a variety of sports, music concerts, and professional wrestling.
Crockett Sr. was at the helm as the area’s promoter until his passing in April 1971 after he was hospitalized due to a heart condition. The remaining family members consisted of his sons Jim, David, Jackie, and daughter Frances with the latter’s husband – John Ringley – being given the control to take the promotional lead.
Under Ringley, the territory assumed its identity as Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and brought in George Scott to book the territory. After the dissolution of his marriage to Frances, Ringley was on the outs and Crockett Jr. took over running the territory and would lead until its sale in 1988.
Under booker Scott, the territory went from a tag team-based one into showcasing a mix of the top singles stars and rising talent built around Johnny Valentine, Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, and young stars Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. The territory’s fortunes improved and became one of the hottest in the country.
A major incident occurred in October 1975 when a plane carrying Ric Flair, Tim Woods, Johnny Valentine, David Crockett, and Bob Bruggers crashed resulting in the end of Valentine’s career, a broken back for Flair, and the pilot’s death. In one of his rare interviews for The Good Old Days documentary, Crockett Jr. stated he was supposed to be on that flight as well but didn’t make it.
After a falling out, Scott left as the booker and was succeeded by Ole Anderson, who attempted to hold down booking responsibilities for Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling, which he regretted and said the workload was too much for anyone. That opened the door for Dory Funk Jr. to enter as the booker to assemble a committee for the various states they ran.
During this period, the inaugural Starrcade was born and hosted at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thanksgiving night 1983 promoted around Ric Flair’s attempt to regain the NWA Championship from Harley Race inside of a steel cage.
Shortly after Starrcade, Dusty Rhodes left Florida and came in as both booker and top babyface for Jim Crockett Promotions and led to the several-year run that is most well-remembered.
One of the major business deals of that decade saw Vince McMahon acquire Georgia Championship Wrestling, and by extension, the prestigious timeslot on WTBS on Saturday nights at 6:05 pm ET.
McMahon was approached by Jack & Jerry Brisco, who each controlled 19.5 percent of the GCW stock while also convincing minority holders Jerry Oates and Paul Jones to sell their collective stock that gave McMahon the majority and shut out Ole Anderson, who contested the deal but, ultimately lost. On July 14, 1984, long-time fans tuned in to see Freddie Miller introduce Vince McMahon in a scene that can best be compared to McMahon appearing on Monday Nitro seventeen years later.
The marriage between McMahon and WTBS did not go well and would last less than one year. After making the purchase for the stock at $750,000, McMahon was bought out by Crockett for $1 million in 1985 with the deal brokered by Jim Barnett.
The ripple effect was gigantic with McMahon receiving a healthy cash flow from the sale, Crockett getting a national window on Saturday and Sunday on WTBS, while Mid-South was left out in the cold by WTBS. It set the battle lines in place for the ensuing years where it would be WWF vs. JCP for national control.
The WWF had many advantages from a more mature business based out of Connecticut and the relationship to a major media market in New York along with a megastar in Hulk Hogan who was on fire. For JCP, its business structure was still of the Mom-and-Pop variety it had been accustomed to since the days of Jim Sr. and was rapidly expanding at an unattainable pace.
From 1985-87, the war was on and business was hot, built on the backs of Rhodes and his booking, the Four Horsemen, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, and a rabid fanbase in their home markets. The company ventured outside its comfort zone with success and failures around the country. It was where the industry was heading through cable television blanketing the country and the reliance on pay-per-view revenue becoming as necessary as live events.
As we are experiencing today with the advent of AEW, when there is a war between promotions it can greatly enhance the talent’s leverage and so was the case with JCP requiring large contracts to secure its core performers from jumping, and vice versa in the WWF.
JCP spent a lot to make a lot. This included the purchase of a plane and a jet to accommodate travel and buying out several territories including Kansas City, Florida, and the UWF (formerly Mid-South) from Bill Watts in 1987. The UWF was in tough times by 1987 and with Jim Ross serving as the one brokering the deal with Crockett, negotiated a sale price of $4 million for the territory that came with a Dallas office space, and 120 television contracts from the vast network the UWF had assembled.
In 1987, it would prove a pivotal year in the balance of power slipping as JCP was hurt by poor booking decisions, a reliance on the same talent, heavy spending, and a disaster in November with its Starrcade event.
To continue its national footprint, the company took its premiere event out of Greensboro, North Carolina, and went to Chicago, a decision that Carolinians saw as the home team playing elsewhere. Worse than the public sentiment was the vice-like ultimatum that cable providers were placed in by Vince McMahon. The WWF introduced its second pay-per-view, Survivor Series, to run on Thanksgiving night that year and alerted cable providers that anyone carrying Starrcade would not have the option to air WrestleMania the following March. After initial hopes of presenting a wrestling doubleheader on the afternoon and evening of Thanksgiving, the majority tapped out to McMahon’s wishes and only five carriers took Starrcade leading to a financial windfall for the promotion as several major balloon payments on talent contract came due at the end of the year.
As outlined in The Good Old Days and other sources, the accountant for JCP crunched the numbers and revealed they were deep in debt and it sped up the demise of the promotion. In November 1988, it was sold to Turner for a reported figure of $9 million with Crockett assuming a consulting role before his exit.
Over the years, blame has been thrown around to several figures, including the realization of its debt coming too late to right the ship. To his credit, Crockett has assumed the ultimate blame as the be-all and end-all that ran the ship.
In later years, Crockett flirted with a return to the industry in the ‘90s but nothing took off and it was a different world than the one he held such a firm grip upon a decade prior. He transitioned to the real estate business and remained in Texas, where he was based after the move to the Dallas office in 1987.
In recent years, he appeared at a Starrcast convention and was interviewed earlier this year by Conrad Thompson as he appeared to be more open to the embrace of his past ties to the industry.
Dave Meltzer reports that Crockett had past health issues with his kidneys and then contracted COVID-19, which led to a turn for the worst, and was removed from dialysis.
– The Good Old Days available on the Highspots Wrestling Network
– Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling by Jim Ross with Paul O’Brien
– Death of the Territories by Tim Hornbaker
– Promoter Jim Crockett Dead at 76 by Greg Oliver at SLAM Wrestling
– Wrestling Observer Newsletter, History of WWF vs. JCP series (2003) by Dave Meltzer