RON & DON WRIGHT
1956 - 1968
Tennessee Tag Team Champions
Written by Adam Zimmerman
The brother duo of "The Number One Hillbilly" Ron Wright and his brother Don had some of the craziest and bloodiest matches in the "backwoods" of Tennessee that very few people have ever seen. The brothers and their future rival Whitey Caldwell started competing in amateur wrestling at the Kingsport Boys Club in Kingsport, Tennessee.
As we'll find out, there are a few starnge things about "wrasslin" in east Tennesse; the first of which is that there was some sort of Pro-Am Wrestling circut around at the time and the three boys would compete on these shows in amateur matches that preceeded the "main event" pro wrestling matches. Eventually, they all moved up into the pro matches and that's when they really took over.
Now, I'm not sure who was in the "pro circuit" in Tennessee before the boys moved up but once they did advance; THEY were the "pro circuit". John Cazanna was the promoter and the entire roster revolved around Ron and Don Wright and Whitey Caldwell. Most of their cards would only have one or two long matches and only feature six to eight wrestlers. Sometimes wrestlers from Memphis would compete, like Sam Bass or Tommy Gilbert, or sometimes talent would be brought in from farther away like a young Kevin Sullivan; which leads to an interesting story.
Wrestling in east Tennessee was a little different back then. A lot of the crowd was made up of rough, tough "hillbillies" who had seen real fights or who had been in a few scuffles themselves. For this reason, when the Wright brothers and Caldwell were calling the shots, they felt the need to make the matches not only as realistic as possible but also as absurdly gory and violent as possible in order to keep the fans interested. All of this was unknown to a young Kevin Sullivan who was called down to work in east Tennessee as his first territory.
Sullivan was brought in to be the young, "babyface" partner of Whitey Caldwell in his ongoing feud with the Wrights. His first match was to be a "Tennessee chain match" (which should have perhaps given him a clue as to the violence that would soon unfold). According to the stories I've heard, Don Wright or someone told Sullivan that he was going to have to "get some color". Sullivan said, "Okay, but I've never done it before.", and Wright said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of it". What they were going to take care of it with was their infamous weapon; sometimes called "the chisel" and sometimes called "the wedge". In east Tennessee, blading was considered as looking too fake. They did things the hard way. "The hard way" was the chisel. It was basically a pair of brass knuckles with a triangular shaped blade welded onto the middle knuckles. The Wrights would pull it out, pop someone on the forehead with it, blood would fly and no blading was needed.
Well, Don used it on Sullivan during the match and Sullivan thought Don was shooting on him so, with bood streaming down his face, Sullivan wraps the chain around his fist and hits Don Wright as hard as he can, splitting his eyebrow open and knocking him down on his back. Legend has it that Wright looked up at him and said, "Yeah, kid! Lay it in! That's how we like it down here!". Ron Fuller tells one more quick story about the infamous chisel and the time Ron Wright brought it down to Florida.
The history of the Wrights is a little vague and undocumented but as far as I can tell, they continued to feud with Whitey Caldwell until the late 60s and then Don Wright seemed to disappear. Ron continued to feud with Whitey until Caldwell's untimely death from an automobile accident in 1973. After that, Ron Wright continued to hang around the scene.
Fuller said Wright would sharpen it in the locker room every night until Fuller was curious enough to ask him, "What the hell is that thing?". Wright said, "That's my chisel". "What do you do with it?", Fuller asked. "I hit guys with it." "Are you shittin' me?" Fuller replied. "It makes 'em bleed real good." "Well, I imagine it does". Apparently during that tour of Florida, Ron Wright did get to use the chisel on some hapless victim before he left the territory.
I've heard Bob Armstrong and Les Thatcher say the he was responsible for a few of the scars on their heads but his heyday as a wrestler had come and gone. In his time though, he was probably one of the most hated heels in the country having been shot at and slashed with a knife. His small private plane was also once set on fire and burned to the ground.
Around 1980, Ron disappeared for awhile while recovering from an injury. He came back in the mid to late 80s to manage a few people on television shows in various promotions in the southeastern United States with somewhat limited noteriety. In the early 90s, though, he was able to shine yet again as a manger in the Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion. He was (kayfabe) in a wheelchair and attempted to "find a wrassler that I can sponsor to get me muh hip operation and muh heart medication and whatnot". That wrestler ended up being the "Dirty White Boy" Tony Anthony.
Ron Wright also humorously claimed to have been a "scientific, Christian wrassler that never hurt nobody". He had, in fact, seriously hurt Whitey Caldwell early in both men's careers and put Caldwell out of action for over a year.
As I said before, Don Wright sort of disappeared early on and the only other time I ever saw them together was at the Smoky Mountain Wrestling: Night Of Legends show that was held in 1993, I believe. They came out to accept an award and Ron Wright hung around to present other awards to some other "wrasslers". Don however, quickly exited to the back, not to be seen again that night. I'm not sure if they didn't get along for some reason but it was a brief appearance for Don.
Regardless, for fans of old school "southern wrasslin" that still exist to this day, Ron and Don Wright were a legendary tag team that deserve their time in the spotlight.