THE FABULOUS FREEBIRDS
Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy,
Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Garvin
NWA World Tag Team Champions
WCCW Six-Man Tag Team Champions
WWE Hall of Fame
Written by Mike Rickard
While the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling is sometimes seen as being started by The Fabulous Ones or The Road Warriors, you can be certain that The Fabulous Freebirds stand out as one of the greatest teams from this era, finding success nearly everywhere they went (with their short-lived WWF run being due to their excessive partying). Michael “P.S.” Hayes, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, and Buddy Roberts redefined tag team wrestling as they became the bad boys of wrestling in and out of the ring.
The Early Years - Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy
Terry Gordy was considered a wrestling prodigy, working his first match at age 13. The big burly teen was green but he learned quickly. Michael Hayes was no ring technician but he had big plans and recalls considering using the song “Freebird” when he was a teenager. When Hayes saw Gordy, he saw something in him and told him, “You’ll make it for sure, and somehow, I’m gonna make it. But if we get together, we’ll make it that much quicker."
Hayes and Gordy began working as a team but their Freebird concept was initially met with skepticism. Wrestling lore has it that when Hayes approached promoter Nick Gulas about entering to the song “Freebird” the promoter said, “Are you boys taking them marijuana pills again?”
Memphis Wrestling was also where the ‘Birds began entering the ring to the song, “Freebird.” In a 2016 Rolling Stone article, Hayes recalled what led to the team concocting the idea:
“Terry and I were just brash, smart-ass, let’s-go-do-it teenagers, riding up and down the road listening to [Lynyrd] Skynyrd,” Hayes says. “I’d notice when I went to wrestling matches or rock concerts, I would see the same people at both. There was a crossover there, but the people that were in charge of wrestling at the time, they didn’t see it. They weren’t chasing the young customer – they weren’t chasing me… I always wanted to be an entertainer, and Terry always wanted to be a wrestler, so the Freebirds were a way of doing both. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to come out to music?' It took a lot of convincing, but finally, Jerry Jarrett bought in, and so we debuted it in 1979 at the Mid-South Coliseum. The custodian was in charge of dropping the needle on the last song on the Skynyrd album. I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to come out to ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or something.’ But it worked out, ‘Freebird‘ hit, and the whole audience was in awe.”
Fortunately for the duo, Mid-South Wrestling promoter Bill Watts was ahead of his time and saw something in the Freebird act. Watts paired veteran grappler Buddy Roberts with the two, hoping he could be a stabilizing influence on the two wild boys. Instead, Roberts proved more than capable of keeping up with Hayes and Gordy’s hard living, quickly becoming friends and the third Freebird. The man who Hayes and Gordy initially saw as a corporate stooge became as close as a brother to them.
It was in Mid-South where the Birds worked their first white-hot angle, the legendary Freebird Hair Cream incident involving Mid-South’s beloved Junkyard Dog. During a tag team Hair vs. Hair Match between the JYD and Buck Robley vs. the Freebirds, the Freebirds lost the match, but scored the ultimate victory, blinding the Dog with hair removal cream (forever known thereafter as Freebird Hair Removal Cream), leading to an angle where the Dog was put out of wrestling—or so it seemed. The JYD returned for a Dog Collar Match with Michael Hayes that made a small fortune for Watts at a New Orleans super-show in the Super Dome.
The Freebird Rule
Although Bill Watts was ahead of his time, he could still be a traditionalist and didn’t go for an idea that Georgia Championship Wrestling booker Ole Anderson later agreed to—the Freebird Rule. The Freebird Rule stated that any two of the three Freebirds could defend a tag team championship.
This came into effect when the Freebirds won the area’s tag team titles including the Georgia Tag Team Championship and its replacement, the NWA National Tag Team Championship. It was in Georgia where the Freebirds split up with Hayes working as a babyface and Gordy working as a heel. However, as hot as an act as they were, things were only beginning for Freebird fantasia.
White Hot Heat
No one knew how to drive fans into a frenzy like the Fabulous Freebirds and while they generated some intense feuds elsewhere, it’s difficult to think of a territory where they were as hated as Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling.
The Freebirds entered as babyfaces, playing off Hayes’ friendship with David Von Erich in their time together in Georgia Championship Wrestling when Von Erich had partnered with Hayes against Jimmy Snuka and Terry Gordy (this at a time when territories sometimes acknowledged other territories). That changed Christmas night when Michael Hayes served as special referee in the cage match between NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and challenger Kerry Von Erich. The fans expected Kerry to finally win as Hayes would ensure order while fellow Freebird Terry Gordy guarded the cage door. Unfortunately for the World Class fans, Hayes proved to be the Grinch that stole Christmas from the World Class fans.
During the match, Flair angered Hayes, resulting in Hayes cold-cocking him. Hayes told Von Erich to cover him but the noble wrestler refused to take the easy win, angering Hayes. Hayes went to leave the ring but an ever-opportunistic Ric Flair knocked Von Erich into Hayes, making Gordy think Von Erich had attacked him. Von Erich went out after Hayes only for Gordy to slam the door on Von Erich’s head (along with his dreams of an NWA World Championship win). One of wrestling’s greatest feuds was born that night, with the Freebirds incurring the wrath of the World Class fans and finding themselves battling the entire Von Erich family.
The Freebirds’ heel heat was as hot as a Texas summer. Hayes recalls:
“We were in literal riots. And if you got your ass kicked, but you made it back to the dressing room, that was a win. That’s how heavy it was. I think God was entertaining himself, because it was made in heaven. I’ve been blessed to have worked with many big stars and over babyfaces – Tommy Rich, Ted DiBiase, Junkyard Dog – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone more over than the Von Erichs were in Texas. They needed a rival, and they got us. And people just ate it up.”
A Cup of Coffee... er, Jack Daniels in the WWF
Even the hottest feuds eventually cool off and the ‘Birds saw a chance to make a good move when Vince McMahon came calling. The Freebirds were brought into the WWF during Vince McMahon’s national expansion of the mid-80’s, with fans thinking they might be a good fit with the WWF’s move towards the Rock-n-Wrestling Era. McMahon paired the Freebirds with pop star Cyndi Lauper’s manager (and then-boyfriend) Dave Wolff, hoping to cement their rock star connection.
However, the ‘Birds didn’t last long in the WWF, leading fans to wondering what had happened. Bret Hart was in the WWF at the time and according to a 2014 article:
In 1984, the Freebirds—Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy—were recruited by the company, largely because they fit into the rock ’n’ roll image owner Vince McMahon was trying to cultivate. “One time, the Freebirds were so drunk, they couldn’t get out of the plane,” Hart claims. “They got to the building at 9 or 9:30, in the middle of a show, and Andre was pissed off by their lack of professionalism. While they were getting dressed, he told them, ‘You guys are fired.’”
When the Freebirds protested that Andre was ineligible to make personnel decisions, he allegedly countered, “We’ll see tomorrow if you’re gone or I’m gone.”
“The next day,” Hart continues, “the Freebirds were gone. So I guess Andre could fire you.”
This minor bump in the road didn’t slow The Freebirds down and they continued working in a variety of territories for the next few years, finding success wherever they went.
American Wrestling Association promoter Verne Gagne was in a bad situation after Vince McMahon raided his promotion of many of its top stars. However, Gagne wasn’t throwing in the towel and he landed two of the biggest acts at the time, The Road Warriors and the Fabulous Freebirds.
Whether or not Gagne used The Freebirds as effective adversaries to The Road Warriors is still discussed today. Gagne had the opportunity for a violent feud between the Roadies and the Birds, but Gagne mistakenly thought the Warriors were heels and didn’t do much with the two teams. The Freebirds left the AWA, returning to World Class Championship Wrestling.
One More Glorious Flight
As Vince McMahon intensified his bid to become the number one wrestling promotion in the world, rivals Jim Crockett and Bill Watts sought to counter him by forming national promotions of their own. Watts rechristened his Mid-South Wrestling promotion, with it becoming the Universal Wrestling Federation. Watts wanted top talent and he knew the Freebirds offered what he wanted, a top heel act with the ability to draw crowds. He also saw something special in Terry Gordy, making the talented worker his UWF World Champion while Hayes became Television Champion. However, Japan proved irresistible to Gordy and changes in the wrestling landscape forced the Birds to relocate.
The Birds Fly Their Separate Ways
As the 80’s began to wind down, the Freebirds were beginning to go their separate ways. Terry Gordy had become a popular star in Japan while Bill Watts’ UWF was bought out by Jim Crockett Promotions (which was soon bought out by Ted Turner and renamed World Championship Wrestling). With Gordy gone, Hayes called in Jimmy Garvin. The two worked as the Freebirds in WCW with the Hayes/Garvin incarnation winning both the United States Tag Team Championship and the World Tag Team Championship on two different occasions. The two also teamed with unofficial Freebird member Badstreet (aka Brad Armstrong) to win the WCW World Six-Man Tag Team Championship. Although some have questioned which wrestlers are official Freebirds, all three original members considered Jimmy Garvin to be the fourth Freebird so they presumably accepted him as Hayes’ Freebird partner in WCW.
The Freebirds would reunite in the Global Wrestling Federation briefly with Gordy, Hayes, and Garvin wrestling in the beleaguered Texas promotion for several months before going their separate ways for good.
Pioneers in Entrance Music and More
While it’s long been established that the Freebirds weren’t the first wrestling act to enter to music (“Gorgeous George” Wagner is often credited with this milestone as he entered the ring to the song “Pomp and Circumstance.”), they did help popularize the practice.
Hayes’ “Badstreet USA” became a minor hit and Hayes recorded a music video along with it (which includes Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, and Jimmy Garvin). Fans who grew up reading the Apter mags may recall seeing an ad for Hayes’ music album on the back of magazines such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
The Freebirds many accomplishments to wrestling were honored with an induction into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2005 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016. Terry Gordy died at age 40 on July 16, 2001 from a blood clot and Buddy Roberts died at age 67 from pneumonia on November 1, 2012. However, Freebird fantasia will live forever as the Freebirds took tag team wrestling to a new level at one of the hottest times in wrestling history.
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