Although SummerSlam has become the biggest party of the summer, summertime supercards were common long before the WWE debuted its summer pay-per-view in 1988.
In a time when territories dotted the national landscape, Mid-South Wrestling held summertime supercards which became known as the Superdome Extravaganzas. Held in the Louisiana Superdome, Mid-South Wrestling promoted some of its biggest matches there, with its August 1980 event arguably the best-remembered one. The August show drew an amazing gate, thanks to the heart-wrenching angle of The Fabulous Freebirds blinding the Junkyard Dog. JYD’s quest for revenge led to a Steel Cage Dog Collar Match that has entered wrestling legend.
Promoter Leroy McGuirk found himself in an unusual situation in his Tri-State Wrestling territory (later renamed Mid-South Wrestling) because the city did not have a large arena to run regular wrestling shows in. Built in 1930, the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium held just under 8,000 fans, a fraction of New Orleans’ population of half a million residents during the 1970’s. As Max Levy writes, “The Municipal Auditorium could seat no more than about 7,500 people.
While it provided a quaint, intimate atmosphere there simply were not enough seats to satisfy demand, especially for major cards. With a population of 500,000 within the city itself and 1,500,000 in the entire metropolitan area, 7,500 seats just wouldn’t do” (“Super Times at the Superdome”). What would a promoter do if they wanted to sell more tickets? Closed-circuit wrestling events were in their infancy and pay-per-view was a decade away. However, a new venue was completed in 1975, changing the New Orleans’ wrestling landscape.
The Louisiana SuperDome was finished in 1975, and housed the NFL team the New Orleans Saints and the NBA team, the New Orleans Jazz. With a seating capacity over 70,000 (depending on the event), promoters now had the chance to sell many more tickets if they could book an attractive enough card. Larger shows presented special challenges however. As noted in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments, “Running shows in large venues was not without risk. The bigger the building; the bigger the potential profit-and the bigger the potential loss. Renting a stadium could be disastrous if a promoter couldn’t fill the building.” As we shall see, the promotion best remembered as Mid-South Wrestling did so quite effectively for nearly a decade.
The first SuperDome Extravaganza was held on July 17, 1976. The card drew 17,000 fans who watched “Cowboy” Bill Watts battle NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk in an unsuccessful bid for Funk’s title. The Extravaganza became a regular occasion beginning in 1978, held twice or thrice a year, depending on business. 1978 featured three extravaganzas, including a summer card on July 22, 1978 headlined by a Steel Cage Match between Ray Candy and Ernie “The Cat” Ladd. Candy, who would work later as Kareem Muhamad in The Zambuie Express, would get the duke in the cage.
In 1979, Bill Watts purchased the Tri-State Wrestling circuit from Leroy McGuirk, renaming the promotion Mid-South Wrestling, and taking it to new heights. In 1980, Watts promoted the biggest Superdome Extravaganza of all time, headlined by a main event between his number one babyface, the Junkyard Dog, and Freebird Michael Hayes. While the Superdome Extravaganzas would continue to be successful for several more years, the summer 1980 show brought in the most fans and the biggest gate.
In June 1980, Watts ran his famous angle where Freebird Michael Hayes blinded the JYD with “Freebird Hair Removal Cream.” The Dog had teamed up with Buck Robley against the Fabulous Freebirds in a hair-versus-hair tag team match. Hayes threw the caustic liquid in the Dog’s eyes, which the JYD sold to perfection. Fans were devastated when announcer Bill Watts informed the fans via television that the Junkyard Dog was now blind. The angle was played to maximum effectiveness, with video shot of the JYD at home, struggling to learn how to cope with blindness.
The angle tugged at fans’ heartstrings by showing the Dog at home with his newborn daughter, and how he lamented not being able to see her birth. The Dog took the angle seriously, wearing bandages around his eyes when he went out in public, convincing fans he had been legitimately blinded.
In an era when kayfabe was still king, the angle proved remarkably effective. In some respect, it proved too effective as The Fabulous Freebirds received unprecedented heel heat from fans who wanted to exact revenge on them for what happened to their beloved JYD. When the Dog entered the ring to announce his retirement and Michael Hayes confronted the JYD in the ring, an angry fan pulled a gun on Michael Hayes as the JYD stood there, bandages covering his eyes. The Dog was ready to break kayfabe to save Hayes, but a police officer intervened, arguably saving Hayes’ life. Things got so bad the Freebirds required police protection.
With the fans driven to a frenzy, Watts had the Dog challenge Hayes to a match. Hayes readily agreed, but the match wouldn’t be as easy as Hayes thought. He and the JYD were going to be locked inside a steel cage and put in a Dog Collar Match. While the Dog couldn’t see, his blindness wouldn’t be as much of an obstacle as a traditional match. The fans bought up the tickets, which also featured a loaded undercard including Hulk Hogan battling Andre the Giant, Ted DiBiase battling Mr. Wrestling II, and Dusty Rhodes & Buck Robley versus Buddy Roberts & Terry Gordy (5:00) in a "double bullrope" match. The August 2, 1980 event drew 28,000 fans with a gate of $183,000.
The main event saw (no pun intended) the JYD defeat Michael Hayes, getting his revenge. In typical wrestling manner, the Dog eventually regained his eyesight, continuing a prosperous run in Mid-South Wrestling (The JYD reportedly was making $12,000 a week at one point in Mid-South, an astonishing amount of money for any worker, particularly someone who didn’t hold a world championship). The Dog jumped ship to the WWF in 1984, becoming one of its top babyfaces, even though his best years were behind him.
The summertime SuperDome Extravaganza shows continued through 1987, the year Jim Crockett Promotions bought the Universal Wrestling Federation (Mid-South’s new name). By 1987, the extravaganzas couldn’t draw enough to fill the Municipal Auditorium, let alone the Louisiana SuperDome. Still, memories of their heyday continue in the minds of Mid-South fans, and have entered wrestling lore as an example of how successful a promotion could be.
Levy, Max. “Super Times at the Superdome.” Kayfabe Memories. Regional Territories: Mid-South. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
Rickard, Michael. Wrestling’s Greatest Moments. ECW Press, 2008.
“Superdome Extravaganza.” Pro Wrestling History. Supercards and Tournaments . Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
Beaston, Erik. “Full Career Retrospective and Greatest Moments for Junkyard Dog.” Bleacher Report. 11 Feb. 2015. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
“Ray Candy.” Online World of Wrestling. 28 Apr. 2014. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
Rogers, Paul Arrand. “The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling’s First Black Superhero.” Heavy Feather Review. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.