Interview With Tully Blanchard: Original Member Of The Four Horsemen And 2012 WWE Hall Of Fame Inductee
One of the more celebrated performers of his generation, Tully Blanchard will be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame class of 2012 along with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, and J.J. Dillon. As a member of the elite Four Horsemen, Tully played an integral role during the glory years of wrestling’s greatest stable, winning numerous titles as both a singles and tag team performer.
Throughout the 1980’s, Tully was involved in a series of high profile feuds and countless memorable matches with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, and Magnum T.A. To this day I still remember watching Tully participate in the first WarGames match on a VHS tape, and a few years later staying up at my Grandparents house to watch Tully and Arn win the tag titles from Demolition on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Given the chance to interview Tully last week, we talked about his early years in the business, his move to the Crockett promotion, some Horsemen memories, and what he has been up too since he retired as an active performer.
Q: With your dad Joe Blanchard being a wrestler and later the owner of Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW), did you know from a young age that you eventually wanted to get into pro wrestling?
A: I knew that I would be involved in the promotion side of the business, just because that was the family business. When I went to college I studied radio/television and those kinds of things because ultimately television was the only way to sustain business and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be. When I first got out of college I went to Florida to learn and North Carolina to learn, and then brought the things that I learned on those great promotions (working for Eddie Graham and the Crockett’s) back to San Antonio and made a lot of adjustments and changes to our promotion and hopefully improved our product.
Q: Did your dad train you during your early years in the business? Did you pattern your in-ring style after anyone in particular?
A: The basics my dad taught me. I think one of the things that is often overlooked by a lot of people and one of the things that improved my in-ring abilities was the three years that I refereed. I was in the ring five, six, seven times a night instead of one. I was involved with first matches, semi-final matches, main-event matches, and I was involved in angles. I probably got 15 years of experience doing that and plus being up close and seeing what looked good, what was bad, what was working, what people screamed about, what they didn’t scream about and those kind of things, because ultimately the things that make you a star or not is if you can entertain people and sell tickets.
Q: What prompted you to make the move to Jim Crockett promotions in 1984?
A: I went there to become a star. I wrestled there in 1977 for six or seven months, and I wasn’t there to be a star at that time, I was there to learn. I was not capable of being a star at that time; I was a young “babyface”, first or second match type of guy, and that was not where I needed to be. So I didn’t want to stay there for a long period of time because ultimately as “the young babyface” you got the crud beat out of you all the time and that’s not conducive to being a star. So I left to go and learn how to be a main-eventer. When I was ready to go back to the Carolinas, I had already become a heel, already did main-events. I had already wrestled two years with Wahoo McDaniel and a year with Johnny Valentine critiquing every move that I made in the ring, and I was a pretty polished main-event heel at that time.
When Jimmy (Crockett) and Dory Funk Jr., who was the booker at the time, saw me in St. Louis I asked them if they’d hire me, and that if they would then I would make them some money. Actually I said a lot of money. I didn’t want to oversell but I also didn’t want to under sell. They offered me a job on that Monday, so off I went to North Carolina.
Q: Fans of your later career might remember you more from your time partnering with Arn Anderson, but before that you had a long run as a singles star, winning numerous titles. Did you have a preference between wrestling in singles or working in a tag team?
A: It was great working with Arn. I knew what the concept was; I knew how to make a tag team match work. It was fun, a lot of excitement. I enjoyed singles wrestling because you didn’t have to think about anyone else but yourself and your opponent, and it made it very challenging and gratifying when you did go out and entertain the people in a singles match. There are a lot more tools in a tag team match that you get to pull from to get the crowd going, but overall for me I think they are equally as gratifying and equally as fun.
Q: Any particular opponent or feud a favorite of yours during your time as wrestling in singles?
A: I’ve always told people that I enjoyed wrestling the people you made the most money with. I had great matches with Magnum TA, Ricky Steamboat, Wahoo, Dusty (Rhodes). I had some great matches with Ronnie Garvin; we had a match on television that was the whole TV show, setting up our “taped fist” matches in like 1986 or 1987. A whole TV show with one match and people don’t turn the channel, that was very difficult, but it was a great match. Then you got to fill in somewhere in there some of the single matches we had with Robert (Gibson) and Ricky (Morton). Lot of memories.
Q: How was it decided to put J.J. Dillon as your manager as a replacement for Baby Doll?
A: I don’t remember exactly whose idea it was, but it worked. Switching out Baby Doll was a good move, it helped us make a lot of money, it added some adrenaline to Dusty and I and it worked really well.
Q: When the IV Horsemen were formed, did you guys know you had something special right away?
A: Well you know you have something special when you have the whole second row at the Greensboro Coliseum with a fraternity dressed up in coats, ties and sunglasses, and holding up flashcards that say “Four Horsemen”. Because flashcards and wrestling didn’t necessarily ever really go together at that time.
We were in a different town every night, flying all over the country. In 1984 we quit driving, 1985 we started flying and buying airplanes, and in ’86, ’87, ’88 we would be in LA one night, San Francisco the next night, Las Vegas the next night, Denver the next night and so on. It was just monstrous the towns we would go to, and that was during the big surge in cable television in the mid to late 1980’s that just overwhelmed everybody. We were in 128 markets I believe at our height in 1986 or 1987, and that’s syndicated markets. Then you had the superstation with two hours on Saturday night and one hour on Sunday night. That’s a lot of coverage.
Q: Where there any Horsemen matches or angles you guys were involved in that were your personal favorites?
A: The stuff with Magnum was great in 1985, and that was just a little bit pre-Four Horsemen. The thing that a lot people talk about is when we attacked Dusty in the parking lot. That was a great angle, and once we were over and we had all the championships, you could actually schedule guys against us without an angle and it made money. Especially if it was with someone that the people liked, like Robert and Ricky or The Road Warriors. We never did a big angle with The Road Warriors, we just scheduled them for the belts. And when the belts mean something, the matches mean something, and those things are very profitable.
Q: What are your fondest memories of the Horsemen years or are there too many to list?
A: It’s just the whole era, the whole thing was wonderful. Some of the more memorable things were some of the bigger houses, like the time we did the WarGames at the Orange Bowl, that was great. The time we did a simulcast for Starrcade in 1985 at The Omni and in the Greensboro Coliseum alternating matches. That was before we had done a pay-per-view, and we still had 33,000 people buy tickets on Thanksgiving night to go see that. The technology to make it happen was pretty dynamic.
Q: How was it decided to have you and Arn start teaming up?
A: When Barry Windham became the fourth Horsemen and took (Lex) Luger’s place, the dynamics of the performers changed. In the first two (Horsemen) groups, Ric was the World Champion, I was the World Television Champion or the U.S. Champion wrestling in singles, and Arn and Ole (Anderson) were the tag team of the group. Then Luger came in, and at the time he wasn’t strong enough to be the other single but he also wasn’t strong enough to be in the tag team, so we ended up having kind of a fragmented group. When I say Luger wasn’t strong enough, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, just the chemistry was just not there. Then when Barry came in and we switched him “heel”, Barry was a very strong singles wrestler so it was easy for me to slide over and do the tag team thing because I could do that. And I’ve said this on a million interviews that was the strongest group of us.
But the nucleus of the Four Horsemen was always Ric, Arn, and myself, and the other person we could’ve floated. We were successful with Luger, we were successful with Ole, and we were very successful with Barry, and all three of those guys were great and go from one end of the spectrum to the other on talent, on interviews, on performance, on abilities to perform and adapt to the opponents. So the fourth person was very flexible in my opinion.
Q: You and Arn leaving to go to the WWE signaled the end of the Horsemen at that time. Did you enjoy your time there (WWE) working as “The Brain Busters”?
A: It was very enlightening and very good for our careers. I mean it was the last stage of my career but we didn’t know that, but when I look at it 22 years later I would’ve never been in a main event in Madison Square Garden if I wouldn’t have went to the WWE. I would’ve never been in a WrestleMania and those things are just awesome memories. Being able to go to Maple Leaf Garden and wrestle Bret Hart, what a thrill that was. Him and Jim the Anvil. I got to wrestle in Calgary where I was born, and I had relatives come to the matches in Edmonton. So we got to do a lot of things and go to a lot of places.
Q: Any thoughts/memories on your legendary matches with “The Rockers” while you were in WWE. (Note: fans should definitely check those matches out on YouTube if you haven’t seen them, amazing)
A: Those guys were very, very talented, and certainly Shawn Michael’s career proves that. There was nothing him and Marty Jannetty couldn’t do. They both sold, they both made comebacks, both had outstanding stuff. We wrestled them the first time we wrestled in the Garden, and it was very exciting that the wrestling fans in Madison Square Garden could get behind that kind of entertainment because they weren’t used to seeing tag matches like we did. It was exciting for the people and they grabbed onto everything that we did. That first three months that we wrestled those guys was wonderful up there.
Q: You made a few brief appearances back in the ring after you left WWE in 1990 (Terry Funk at Slamboree 1994, Shane Douglas in ECW in 1995), were there ever any discussions in the mid 90’s to have you come back and rejoin the Horsemen?
A: I flew to Atlanta one time and met with Ole Anderson, when they did the pay-per view thing and Paul Roma came out as the fourth Horsemen. You know I felt bad for Paul, I felt bad for the whole deal, but they knew six weeks out that i wasn’t coming. They didn’t offer me any money, they didn’t offer anything. Ole was trying to steal something because he thought I was unemployed and starving. $500 a day versus what Turner was paying people? That wasn’t even scratching the surface. So that was the only real serious discussion. And I did that one legends match with Terry Funk at Slamboree 1994, and I really got in shape hoping they would offer me a job, and they just got mad at me because I wouldn’t put Terry over. But nobody asked me to. Things like that you ask at the start of the contract, you don’t ask that as you go to the ring. I hated doing that but it was just kind of a principle thing, and at the time Terry was mad.
Q: You retired from wrestling at a relatively young age, can you explain what you have been up to in your post-wrestling career?
A: Well the reason I got out of wrestling is because when I failed the drug test with the WWE, WCW reneged on the deal me and Arn had with them. So in the midst of all that emotional chaos and turmoil, I asked Jesus to take over my life at 4:03 in the morning on November 13, 1989, and this guy named Jesus did. It was my favorite cuss word, I had never been to a church before. And my life was changed dramatically, and this November will be 23 years since that happened. I have been in every coliseum that you can name to just about every prison that you can name, and I’ve traveled all across the country speaking in prisons and counseling for the majority of the last 17 years.
Q: Thoughts on your WWE Hall of Fame Induction. Are you ok with the group being inducted?
A: You can’t really say “were going to induct everybody that called themselves a Horsemen”. WCW spent two or three years putting every person they could think of into that group trying to resurrect the Horsemen. You know,”Ric Flair and the IV Horsemen”. In the beginning it was never just “Ric Flair and the IV Horsemen”. He was part of the IV Horsemen but we were all champions, so it was never really the Ric Flair show. Certainty the World Heavyweight Champion for the first time being part of a group gave you great credibility. But there is only a handful of guys that dominated wrestling, and I think that’s what we are being inducted into the Hall of Fame for, because we dominated ticket sales during the period. And it started with Ole, and yes that was an original thing, but he was only a Horsemen for a short amount of time. With Lex we were still moving in an upward vein, and when it got into the middle innings and the end of the thing is when Barry, Arn and I, and Ric were carrying the load, ‘87/’88. Up until the time that is was time for me and Arn to go.
Thanks again to Tully for being generous with his time and taking a few minutes to discuss his legendary career. We look forward to seeing him and the rest of the Four Horsemen on stage in Miami for the WWE’s Hall of Fame induction on March 31st.
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