Black Saturday: The unbelievable story of the original invasion
Tradition: An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior.
As cable television became more and more entrenched in American households during the early 1980s, one tradition for devout wrestling fans nationwide was to faithfully tune in every Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. ET to Superstation WTBS from Atlanta to see Georgia Championship Wrestling stars like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes on the hugely successful World Championship Wrestling program.
But on the evening of Saturday, July 14, 1984, those that turned on WTBS were in for a shock to their system of tradition. As World Championship Wrestling began, there was announcer Freddie Miller on the screen introducing WWE’s Vince McMahon. WWE was in the beginning stages of its national expansion and was able to acquire the prestigious Saturday at 6:05 p.m. time slot on WTBS, shrewdly taking away Georgia Championship Wrestling’s television product from millions of viewers. It was a move that had signs of brilliance, but the public outcry from the change was so intense that the fateful evening was dubbed “Black Saturday.”
How did this all come about? WWE Hall of Famers Gerald and Jack Brisco were two of the major shareholders in Georgia Championship Wrestling, and were the keys to getting the deal done. WWEClassics.com recently spoke with Jerry about what happened on “Black Saturday” and how it changed his life forever.
WWECLASSICS.COM: How did you come into contact with Mr. McMahon to make the deal to sell your stake in Georgia Championship Wrestling?
GERALD BRISCO: My brother and I were in Mid-Atlantic working for Jim Crockett, Jr. at the time. We were at the office and heard that Roddy Piper had severed the nerves in his fingers and was going to lose the use of his hand. We asked Jimmy Crockett if he had heard anything about it. He hadn’t, so my brother Jack suggested that Jimmy call Vince McMahon. Jimmy said, “I won’t call Vince McMahon!” So Jack says, “Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll call him.” Jack called Vince and asked how Hot Rod’s fingers were and Vince assured Jack that Roddy’s fingers were going to be okay.
WWECLASSICS.COM: And then Mr. McMahon asked you about selling your shares in Georgia Championship Wrestling?
BRISCO: At the time, Vince was cherry-picking the top [wrestlers] around the U.S., and asked Jack if he was able to talk. Jimmy was right there and Jack said, “No, I’m not.” Vince said, “Well, give me a call back when you guys are at a place where you can talk.” Later, we went to Jack’s apartment, called Vince again and originally were just talking about coming to work for him. During the conversation, Jack made the suggestion that we were looking to sell Georgia Championship Wrestling. Vince flew us up to LaGuardia on a day off later that week and we met in a conference room. Nobody ever knew about it. We sat down and talked about working for him and also about selling Georgia Championship Wrestling. I told him that we could get the controlling interest to vote in our favor because some of the stockholders were really disgruntled about the direction of the company. No one was really making any money even though we were doing great business.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Why was that the case?
BRISCO: We had a very dysfunctional company. Two members of the organization were making all the money. The company was making real good money at events we’d started running in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania, but we weren’t getting any good dividend checks. As a matter of fact, about six months before all of this happened, my brother and I tried to do a takeover of Georgia Championship Wrestling and change officers. We called a stockholders meeting, but through our corporate bylaws, we had to state the purpose of the meeting. We didn’t want to state the purpose of the meeting was a takeover. When we convened, it came up that we didn’t state a purpose, so we failed. But Jack and I later met with Ole Anderson, who was basically running the company at the time.
WWECLASSICS.COM: What was your relationship with Ole?
BRISCO: Very volatile. We did not get along or agree on a lot of philosophies. But we agreed to a deal where Ole would pay us a little bit of money on the side. He continued the payments for about three or four months, then dropped them because he said business was so bad. But it wasn’t. We were aware that business was really good in those new markets we were running. Ole was not going to change his income, but he wanted to take money away from us.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Who were the other shareholders of Georgia Championship Wrestling at the time?
BRISCO: Jim Barnett, Bill Watts, Fred Ward and his two son-in-laws, Jack and I had a great deal of it, but the majority was owned by an elderly guy who’d started Georgia Championship Wrestling called Paul Jones. Paul was an old amateur wrestler that really liked Jack and I because we came from the same background. He wasn’t making any money either and he wanted to do something about it. We told Paul that we were looking to sell our shares of stock to Vince McMahon and he said to include him in it. Jack asked for his voting proxy, so an attorney drew up an agreement where we had Paul Jones’ voting proxy for his shares of stock. That put us over the 50% range that we needed to get the deal done.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Did you ever try to sell to anybody other than Mr. McMahon and WWE?
BRISCO: We made a couple of overtures to Crockett and to a couple of his partners — the Murnick brothers, whose father had run Virginia and parts of Carolina for Crockett. They told Ole about it and Ole told [the Murnicks] that we were charging too much money. After that, there was only one other guy out there and that was Vince.
WWECLASSICS.COM: So after you met with him in New York, the deal was basically done?
BRISCO: After flying into LaGuardia and having that meeting in the conference room, Vince said that if we could put together the deal, he’d be glad to consider the buyout. It probably took about six months to get the deal done after that.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Were you concerned about the type of programming that Mr. McMahon was going to present in that timeslot and how it would be received by fans?
BRISCO: We thought he would bring his talent to Georgia Championship Wrestling at live events. But when I saw what Vince was doing — showing [taped] matches — I got real concerned. I had my doubts whether it would work or if Ted Turner would be satisfied with the product. Southern fans were used to studio wrestling. But at that point, it was Vince’s timeslot and there wasn’t anything for us to say or do about it.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Why did you have those concerns about Ted Turner?
BRISCO: Ted had always said that he liked studio wrestling. That’s what he wanted. We had two shows — a Saturday and a Sunday show. We had mentioned that we wanted to make Sunday a best-of show with interview segments, but Turner expressed his concerns that he wanted studio wrestling. He wanted action. He didn’t want clips.
WWECLASSICS.COM: What sort of reactions did you and your brother receive after the sale was made public?
BRISCO: We got a real negative reaction. Jack and I had always prided ourselves on getting along with everybody. People said that we were traitors, that we sold the wrestling business out, sold our friends out. A lot of people were making accusations. We had death threats. Three days after the sale we were told somebody had put a hit out on us. We got anonymous calls to our home, threatening women and children. My business partner at Brisco Bros. Body Shop started receiving calls to watch his back. It was a pretty volatile time. I think Vince even got few death threats from people looking to knock him off.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Were you ever scared for your safety in the ring during the aftermath of the deal?
BRISCO: One of our friends that we were working with came up to us in the old auditorium in Cleveland. He took us behind the curtain and said he was offered $5,000 to break our legs. He said, “You guys have always helped us, been real good friends to us and have been honest with us so we told them to go screw themselves.” But we were told to be careful with whoever we were working with, because somebody might have taken them up on the bounty against us. Fortunately, we were working with Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood, and we knew they were real honest with us and we had nothing to worry about from those two guys. But anybody else in the meantime, we didn’t know what to expect. We finished our bookings and came home.
WWECLASSICS.COM: What did the deal do for the wrestling business?
BRISCO: They call it “Black Saturday” for a reason. It changed the face of professional wrestling.
WWECLASSICS.COM: How would wrestling be different if the deal hadn’t gone down?
BRISCO: Honestly, we made the sale to begin with because we felt that Vince had the right blueprint and had the power and the backing behind him to do whatever he wanted to do. We knew that our company was structured with a bunch of old school guys who didn’t want to change the way of doing business. And just like any business, you’ve got to change with the times. Vince had that vision of the direction he wanted to go in. That was the right direction. I think the deal just hastened the change in going from old school wrestling to sports-entertainment.
WWECLASSICS.COM: At any point did you regret making the transaction?
BRISCO: I never did. Sometimes I’d look at the success Vince was having and would think that with the proper leadership and proper partners, we might’ve been able to do the same thing. But Vince had the vision that was totally out there. He took it, ran with it and scored.
WWECLASSICS.COM: How did the era of Mr. McMahon and WWE on TBS come to an end?
BRISCO: I was kind of shocked, but Vince sold it to Crockett and Ole was involved. I figured that Vince and Ted would see eye to eye, but they were bitter enemies right from the very beginning. They had a bad relationship. It even got to a point where Turner said, “Give me what I want or you’re leaving the timeslot.” So Vince put on studio wrestling with WWE wrestlers. Just because Vince bought us out, it didn’t mean the timeslot was guaranteed.
WWECLASSICS.COM: It’s ironic that in 2001, Mr. McMahon bought Ted Turner’s company.
BRISCO: Yes, it was the same company in a different form. I’m fortunate enough to be the only one to be at the first transaction and for Nitro in Panama City, Fla., with Shane McMahon when we took over WCW.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Do you see any parallels to Freddie Miller introducing Vince McMahon in 1984 and Shane McMahon showing up Nitro in 2001?
BRISCO: The situation with WCW [in 2001] was kind of expected. WCW had totally run its course and was hitting rock bottom. Shane coming out was a surprise, but the rumor mill out there was saying something was going to happen. But there wasn’t the same shock. When we did it [in 1984], nobody in the industry except for Vince, his family, myself, Jack, our wives and a few partners knew what was going down. It shocked the world, because Georgia Championship Wrestling was in good shape. We were totally dysfunctional behind the scenes, but we still had good talent, good programming and TBS was so hot. We were doing great ratings in most of the major markets. That’s the big difference.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Does anyone still hold a grudge against you over “Black Saturday?”
BRISCO: Well, The Funks were a mainstay in the NWA. Both Dory, [Jr.] and Terry were World Champions and their father was one of the influential members of the NWA. I was sitting across the aisle from Terry on the bus going to WrestleMania this year. Terry looked at me out of the blue and said, “I just gotta tell you something. What you and your brother did years ago was the right business move to do for you and your families. I’m glad that you did it and I would’ve done the same thing. I just wanted to say that to you.” That just totally floored me. After all these years, somebody as powerful as Terry Funk said that. He’s the only guy that’s ever said that to me.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Do you still talk about the deal with Mr. McMahon?
BRISCO: Yeah, Vince jokes with me all the time about it.