THE SOUL PATROL
Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas
1983 - 1984
WWF World Tag Team Champions
WWE Hall of Fame
Written by Mike Rickard
Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson, a/k/a The Soul Patrol, became the first African-American team to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship. Their reign came prior to the Rock & Wrestling Era but still stands out as one of the WWF’s most exciting ones. Both Atlas and Johnson were upper-card stars in a variety of territories, including the WWF. Both men won various singles and tag team titles in the territories, but it would be in the WWF that they made history as the first African-American team to win the WWF Tag Team Championship. Join me now as I look at the story of “The Soul Patrol”—Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas.
While Rocky Johnson is best known by contemporary fans as the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his in-ring accomplishments were impressive. Before he sired The Rock, Rocky had a celebrated career in the squared circle, working in a variety of territories, and winning many regional titles. Born in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1944, Wayde Bowles trained as a boxer, working as a sparring partner for boxing greats Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In 1966, Bowles would enter the squared circle working under the name “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson. Johnson had a fantastic physique, impressive speed, and incorporated his boxing skills into his matches. In 2008, the WWE recognized his contributions to the industry by inducting him into its Hall of Fame.
Given Johnson’s history as a tag team specialist, he teamed up with other WWF faces both in tag team and six-man tag team matches. One of Johnson’s most frequent tag team partners was Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. The pairing proved to be successful but the team failed to win championship gold.
A former Mr. USA bodybuilding champion, Tony Atlas’ extraordinary physique found him work across North America. Born Anthony White on April 23, 1954, he trained under Larry Sharpe at Sharpe’s New Jersey-based “Monster Factory” (where wrestlers King Kong Bundy and Bam Bam Bigelow learned their craft as well). Atlas worked in a number of territories such as Jim Crockett Promotions, Georgia Championship Wrestling, the American Wrestling Association, and World Class Championship Wrestling. Atlas won a number of singles and tag team championship belts during these campaigns.
“Mr. USA” also enjoyed successful runs in the World Wrestling Federation, often pitting his power-based offense against heels who felt their own power made them invincible. Atlas battled Hulk Hogan during Hogan’s heel run in the WWF and later grappled against Jesse “The Body” Ventura after the future Minnesota governor boasted he had a better physique than Atlas. Warmly received by the fans, Atlas was reportedly considered for a reign as Intercontinental Champion, which would have made him the first African-American Intercontinental Champion.
While singles gold was not to be for Atlas, big things still awaited him. While Atlas had teamed with other WWF stars (including a notable team with “Special Delivery” Jones), Atlas was looking for someone who could take him to the top of the WWF’s tag team ranks. He’d find that partner in Rocky Johnson, a man who also was looking for the right person to take him to the WWF’s tag team gold.
In 1983, Rocky Johnson teamed up with “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas in the World Wrestling Federation and the duo became known as “The Soul Patrol”. The two quickly rose to the top of the tag team ranks and earned a WWF Tag Team title match against the reigning champions the Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika). The Samoans were a vicious team who had proven their skills at tag team wrestling by an unprecedented three WWF Tag Team title reigns. The Samoans also had the added advantage of manager “Captain” Lou Albano, who was never afraid to interfere on behalf of his men.
While Johnson and Atlas were formidable opponents, they repeatedly found the Samoans getting themselves disqualified thus losing the match but retaining the tag team titles. This happened several times at house shows and would happen again, this time on November edition of WWF TV. On this occasion, Johnson and Atlas faced the Wild Samoans in a non-title match. Johnson had Samoan Sika in the abdominal stretch when Samoan Afa interfered. After the match, Johnson and Atlas asked for a title shot with the stipulation that the bout be no-disqualification.
Surprisingly, the Samoans agreed to the match and Johnson and Atlas received their title shot in Allentown, Pennsylvania on November 15, 1983 (the match would air on Championship Wrestling on December 9, 1983). Announcers Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson thought the Samoans had accepted the match stipulation way too easily and both announcers felt that the Samoans’ manager “Captain” Lou Albano had something sinister planned.
The Samoans attacked the challengers before the bell rang. Atlas and Johnson recovered and began laying in to the champions. Rocky Johnson started the match but he made the mistake of getting caught in Afa and Sika’s corner. Vince McMahon remarked that this is where the Samoans could really dish out damage and they did. The Samoans were never known for much technical wrestling but they didn’t need it because they possessed tremendous natural strength.
Before long, the Samoans had Johnson in serious trouble. Pat Patterson noted that given the match’s no-disqualification stipulation, Tony Atlas could have come in at any time but he didn’t. Despite the beating he’d received, Johnson repeatedly kicked out of pinning attempts. He bided his time and when he saw an opening, he made the tag.
Atlas came in and unleashed blow after blow on his opponent. When Sika came in to help Afa, Johnson entered the ring and all four men began brawling. Sika and Johnson soon found themselves brawling outside the ring. During the melee, the referee was knocked down. “Captain” Lou Albano seized the moment and entered the ring with a wooden chair. Afa held Atlas’ arms from behind and Albano lowered the boom on Atlas.
Unfortunately for Afa, Atlas slipped out of his grip at the least second and the wooden chair smashed against Afa’s head. Afa dropped to the mat and Atlas covered him. A groggy referee counted Afa’s shoulders to the mat and the WWF had new tag team champions! Not only that, but Atlas and Johnson became the first black wrestlers to win the WWF Tag Team titles.
The Soul Patrol defended their belts for the next few months, typically in rematches against the Samoans. However, a new team proved to be their downfall - The North/South Connection comprised of Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch. On April 17, 1984, The North/South Connection got the duke after Adonis pinned Johnson. The match would air on May 26, 1984 on Championship Wrestling.
The Soul Patrol didn’t last long but they made their mark in the WWF as well as history for their tag team championship win. Both men’s achievements were recognized by the WWE with inductions into the promotion’s Hall of Fame, with Atlas entering in 2006 and Johnson in 2008.
Cawthon, Graham. The History of the WWE. “1983.” Accessed 30 April 2018.
LaBlanc, M.A. “Tony Atlas.” Online World of Wrestling. Professional Wrestler Profiles. 23 Jan. 2018. Accessed 30 Apr. 2018.
“Tony Atlas.” WWE.com. Bio. Accessed 30 Apr. 2018.