With the DeLorean’s alternator shot we step into the WABAC Machine for another trip back to the territories! In the latest chapter of the stellar series, “Back to the Territories: Florida” follows host Jim Cornette and guest Kevin Sullivan back to the golden age of Championship Wrestling from Florida for an in-depth look at one of wrestling’s greatest territories.
If you’re new here, “Back to the Territories” is hosted by Kayfabe Commentaries‘ resident professor Jim Cornette with a featured guest who has extensive knowledge and experience in the featured territory. Together the two discuss its history, stars, bookers, schedule, hot angles, and the major milestones that shaped the territories’ fortunes. For “Back to the Territories: Florida” Cornette is joined by the one and only Kevin Sullivan who, between his close personal relationship with both Eddie and Mike Graham and his time wrestling in and booking for the territory, is the perfect travel companion on this trip back to glory days of Championship Wrestling from Florida.
Cornette and Sullivan begin their look at Florida with “Cowboy” Luttrell, who put Florida wrestling on the map. Cornette tells how Eddie Gossett became “Eddie Graham” and how success with Dr. Jerry Graham (Vince Jr.’s favorite wrestler) brought Eddie to Florida permanently. After buying into what became CWF in 1961, Eddie took over for good in 1970 when “Cowboy” retired.
Eddie Graham’s business saavy is a big part of the discussion as Sullivan explains how Eddie, with his impeccable reputation in Tampa, used his newspaper connections and those with local police and civic leaders to lend credibility to CWF and hype upcoming events. Eddie’s forward thinking lead to the creation of the “package show”, the forerunner to “supercards”. By the mid-’70s Graham owned one of the most successful territories in the country with stars like Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Kevin Sullivan, Jos LeDuc, Dusty Rhodes, Mike Graham, Harley Race, Bill Watts, and Billy Graham, to name but a few.
Sullivan explains how Graham, one of most powerful men in the NWA, would advise other promoters on talent, finishes (which Graham was famous for), and disputes. One such occasion was Ric Flair’s debut match in St. Louis. Needing a new finish for Flair’s match, Pat O’Connor, in St. Louis, called up Eddie Graham, in Tampa, Florida. Eddie’s close relationship with Vince McMahon, Sr., is detailed as well. A relationship that not only led to Bob Backlund becoming WWWF Champion (with a $100 bet at stake) and Dusty going to New York (as a favor to Eddie) but CWF shows airing on Spanish TV in New York and major WWWF/NWA unification matches in Florida.
Dusty Rhodes’ impact is also discussed, from Rhodes getting his start booking after Louie Tillet, the creator of the “Dusty finish”, was demoted when the gimmick got out of hand, to the babyface turn that had fans scalping tickets for $200 a piece to see “The Dream” work. Equally important was the emergence of Gordon Solie, who went from legitimate sports to calling CWF matches, revolutionizing commentating in wrestling along the way.
For all the fun, there are serious topics as well, such as Eddie and Lucille Graham not actually being married but divorced since the time of Mike Graham’s birth, a secret only Terry Funk and Jim Barnett knew for many years. The financial ruin that drove Eddie Graham to suicide on Super Bowl Sunday 1985 is also discussed. Sullivan recalls an “out of sorts” Graham letting himself go in the weeks leading up to January 21, 1985 and recalls Mike Graham being in attendance at Super Bowl XIX when he got the news.
Other topics include Eddie’s ability to keep the territory hot; the importance of the Dory Funk, Jr./Jack Brisco matches; the politics behind the infamous Funk/Brisco title fiasco; the evolution of Kevin Sullivan and debut of “The Purple Haze”; Eddie’s strict adherence to kayfabe; and tales from the Bahamas that must be heard to be believed, among others.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 26 minutes in length, “Back to the Territories: Florida” offers all the insight and perspective this series has become known for while presenting a side of Eddie Graham few modern fans are aware of. Jim Cornette and Kevin Sullivan are brilliant together and both do a masterful job in bringing Championship Wrestling from Florida back to life.
If you’re new to CWF or want to reacquaint yourself with the territory I can think of no better way than by picking up the “Destination: Florida” DVD. I can not recommend this one enough.
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