SGT. SLAUGHTER & DON KERNODLE
NWA Tag Team Champions
Written by Mike Rickard
One of the beautiful things about tag team wrestling is it can be used to elevate a lower card act by pairing him (or her) with an upper card or even main event star. Jim Crockett Promotions treated tag teams as important as single matches and so were the members of tag teams. In the case of Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle, JCP took a main event star (Sgt. Slaughter) and paired him with a mid-card act, elevating Kernodle into an upper-card star.
Sgt. Slaughter had worked in JCP in singles competition, brutalizing opponents with the Slaughter Cannon (clothesline) and Cobra Clutch submission hold. Slaughter held the United States Championship, feuding with Wahoo McDaniel over the belt. Along the way, he took two preliminary wrestlers under his wing, transforming them into his underlings. Jim Nelson and Don Kernodle shaved their heads and were rechristened Private Nelson and Private Kernodle.
Their new heelish tactics saw them become Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champions and elevated them from enhancement talent to the mid-card. Slaughter then took Kernodle as his tag team partner, building up Kernodle even further. While Slaughter was the team’s anchor, Kernodle was no easy pickings. He proved to be tough and capable of inflicting punishment with the underlying storyline that Slaughter’s training had toughened him and expanded his wrestling arsenal. On September 12, 1982, Slaughter and Kernodle were given the NWA World Tag Team Championship in a fictitious tournament where they reportedly defeated Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba.
The tag team champions entered a lengthy feud with JCP’s top babyface team, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. The feud saw Slaughter and Kernodle try to end both men’s careers and escalated over the months. Slaughter and Kernodle proved to be formidable opponents, particularly with their use of the Cobra Clutch. However, Steamboat and Youngblood surprised their foes when they revealed Jim Nelson had turned face, teaching them the counter to the Cobra Clutch. Eventually, Slaughter and Kernodle’s feud with Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat ended in a cage match in Greensboro, North Carolina. Billed as “The Final Conflict,” the match stipulated that Steamboat and Youngblood would be forced to disband forever should they lose.
As detailed in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments, the match was so popular it caused a traffic jam as thousands of fans tried to make the sold-out show. The traffic jam almost kept Slaughter and Kernodle from arriving on time. In true wrestling fashion, Steamboat andYoungblood prevailed, winning the belts and remaining a team. A subsequent rematch with Slaughter and Kernodle saw the heel team forced to disband after losing a match with the same stipulation.
Slaughter left JCP for the WWF while Kernodle remained in tag team competition. He would hold the NWA World Tag Team Championship with “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr. and later, with “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff. JCP slowly built up tension between Kernodle and Ivan’s nephew Nikita. When Ivan and Don Kernodle lost the tag team belts to Dusty Rhodes and Manny Fernandez, The Russians destroyed Kernodle, leading to a storyline injury. However, Kernodle was merely regrouping because at the time, Sgt. Slaughter had left the WWF, with rumors flying he would return to JCP and reunite with Kernodle.
Kernodle’s status as a star was seen in 1985 during his battles against Ivan and Nikita Koloff. Kernodle scored several victories over both Nikita and Ivan Koloff in flag matches as well as tag team victories alongside babyfaces such as Ricky Steamboat against Ivan and Nikita.
Kernodle surprised the world when he wrestled a six-man tag match with former partner Sgt. Slaughter and new ally, Magnum T.A., defeating the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff) and Krusher Kruschev at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 16. When the Russians protested that Kernodle and Slaughter were barred from ever teaming again, Kernodle and Slaughter bent the law, arguing that only applied to regular tag matches. However, that seems to be the only match the former champions wrestled together and Slaughter was now a star in the American Wrestling Association.
Kernodle retired from wrestling, but his work in JCP is an example of how tag team wrestling can be used to elevate lower card talent. It is a lesson and a technique that still applies today.