Paul Stratoti checks in with an interview and photo profile of the legendary Tommy Rich!
Tommy Rich vs. Stan Hansen
Perhaps his biggest contribution to the business took place on April 27, 1981 when Thomas Richardson (aka Tommy Rich, aka Mr. R, aka â€˜Big Donâ€™) defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight title. Since that time he has been the center of controversy whether performing his duties as a babyface or heel.
A partial list of his Northeast Ohio accomplishments follows:
April 25, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center
- Tommy Rich defeats Buzz Sawyer who swore revenge!
May 31, 1983 at Akron Breakaway Theater
- Tommy Rich and Paul Orndorff defeat Larry Zbyszko and Killer Brooks
June 30, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center
- Tommy Rich defeated Larry Zbyszko when the time limit expired!
July 30, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center Tommy Rich defeats the Iron Sheik!
August 25, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center Tommy defeated Wild Bill Irwin!
- Later that night, A bloody Tommy defeated Buzz Sawyer in a cage when Sawyer missed a leap off the cage and was pinned!
On October 6, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center the Road Warriors defeated Tommy Rich and Brett Wayne Sawyer. During the match a nearly unrecognizable Tommy had to be carried back to the dressing room due to extensive injuries suffered during the match. Mr. Wrestling II subbed for Rich for the remainder of the match and ultimately was pinned.
November 18, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Tommy barely defeat Abdullah the Butcher via disqualification.
December 3, 1983 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Tommy defeat Ted DiBiase in a non-title match.
December 27, 1983 at Canton Civic Center saw Tommy defeat Ted DiBiase via disqualification!
January 27, 1984 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Tommy don a mask as Mr. R who defeated Ted DiBiase via DQ! DiBiase seemed to recognize Mr. R as Rich but the commission stood by Rich. .
February 19, 1984 at Cleveland Convention Center
- Mr. R defeated the Spoiler. Spoiler pulled off Râ€™s mask while the ref was unconscious. Tommy Rich rolled out of the ring while Johnny Rich ran out, who soon brought him another mask. Spoiler then attacked Johnny Rich, allowing Mr. R to defeat Spoiler with a â€œPackage Pressâ€. Tommy then took a short leave of absence.
December 7, 1984 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Ole Anderson team up with Jimmy Valiant and Tommy to ultimately face and defeat the New YorkAssassins and Jimmy Hart.
December 27, 1984 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Tommy team up with Abdullah the Butcher to defeat Long Riders Scott Hog and Wild Bill Irwin via DQ!
January 11, 1985 at Cleveland Convention Center
- Tommy Rich defeated Bob Roop
- Later that night Tommy and Ron Garvin win $50,000 Tag Team Battle Royal!
: February 8, 1985 at Cleveland Convention Center
- Tommy is put to the test during 6 bloody falls of a Texas Death Match:
- Later the same night Tommy defeats Rip Rogers during a Lights Out Match!
March 5, 1985 at Canton Civic Center saw Tommy return to defeat Rip Rodgers via disqualification!
March 7, 1985 at WEWS â€“TV 5 during a â€œLive on 5â€ segment Ole Anderson, Tommy Rich and Thunderbolt Patterson is interviewed by Steve Wolford as supervised by Wilma Smith. During this time, Ole is secretly planning a brutal heel turn on Rich and Bolt. Later that evening at Cleveland Hts., High School Tommy defeats Rip Rodgers via DQ when Rodgerâ€™s valet/manager Brenda Britton interferes!
March 28, 1985 at Cleveland Convention Center: Tommy Rich defeats Rip Rodgers under a No DQ stipulation!
April 1, 1985 at Canton Civic Center Tommy tries once again to win the NWA World Title by unsuccessfully challenging and facing Nature Boy Ric Flair for the title. Tommy reportedly seeks and soon is given another leave of absence.
August 15, 1989 at Cleveland Convention Center saw Ron Simmons and the Cuban Assassin defeat Eddie Gilbert and Tommy. Later the same night as a condition of acceptance by the promoter, Tommy is matched against Lex Luger who ultimately defeated him.
August 10, 1990 at Cleveland Convention Center – Stan Hansen defeated Tommy Rich.
November 30, 1990 at Cleveland Convention Center Tommy and Ricky Morton defeated the State Patrol.
July 18, 1991 at Cleveland Convention Center â€“ Stunning Steve Austin defeated Tommy.
On November 2, 1991 at Cleveland Convention Center during a US Tag Team Title match Todd Champion and Firebreaker Chip defeated Terry Taylor and Tommy.
July 11, 1992 at Willowick, Ohioâ€™s Shoregate Shopping Center Tommy Rich defeated Sam Houston in a bloody slugfest!
February 12, 1993 at the Cleveland Agora Theater Tommy meets JT Lightning for the first time during which Lightning discusses plans to run indie fed Cleveland All Pro Wrestling and to use the former NWA champ during one of his cards. Shortly thereafter on that night, Tommy wrestles and defeats TC Reynolds.
August 3, 1997 at Westpark Party Center CAPW promoter JT Lightning defeated Tommy. The match went well with each wrestler exchanging many holds and maneuvers. JT was convinced that Tommy was a good find and agreed to place him on future cards.
November 22, 1998 at Westpark Party Center Tommy teams up with Tracy Smothers to defeated J.T. Lightning and 8 Pac.
May 27, 2000 at Lakewood Masonic Auditorium Tommy defeats Widowmaker to win CAPW North American Title!
September 24, 2000 at Westpark Party Center J.T. Lightning and Tommy defeat Widowmaker and Rhino!
November 19, 2000 at Westpark Party Center North American Champion Tommy defeats challenger Honkey Tonk Man!
February 9th, in Lorain, Ohio for an outdoor card and 10th, 2001 at Westpark Party Center Tommy wrestles 2 CAPW matches successfully.
February 11, 2001 at Lakewood Masonic Temple promoter JT Lightning tries to revive the original Full Blooded Italians by bringing Rich, Little Guido, Doug Gilbert, and Smothers together for a behind-the-scenes meeting. During a classic CAPW match Sabu, Ricky Morton and Bobby Blaze defeated Tracy Smothers, Doug Gilbert, and Tommy who suffered a lot of blood loss at the hands of Sabu and became so delirious that at times he and Smothers appeared to be headed for a clash of unprecedented proportions. In the end, Rich didnâ€™t seem to trust Smothers and even pointed his finger at him for losing the match.
Shortly thereafter, Tommy reported to this reporter that his Augusta, Georgia apartment caught fire and contact information was destroyed and he asked me to speak to the fans on his behalf. Shortly thereafter that, Tommy No Showed a CAPW North American Title defense after which CAPW Commission stripped him of the title.
Shortly thereafter, Tommy reportedly No Showed an NWA Wildside match against New Jack in Georgia. Subsequently, the wrestling world was unable to keep track of â€œWildfireâ€ for quite some time amid allegations that substance abuse had destroyed his wrestling career and kept him out of action.
Tommy resurfaced during the summer of â€™07. Tommy was given a second chance after intense negotiations with the CAPW Commission and the paying of his dues which to this day is a well kept secret.
Then. Finally on August 5, 2006 at Plain Dealer Pavilion during what was billed as a Legends Match â€œSuperflyâ€ Jimmy Snuka wrestled and defeated Tommy.
Prior to his Legends match, Tommy was summoned to the ring by special guest Michael Cash to speak to the fans. The following is what was said for Cleveland All Pro Wrestling Home Video:
MC: Tommy, I have to ask you a question.
TR: â€œRather let me ask you a question first. This is my time. Your name is Mike, right?â€
MC: Thatâ€™s right. My name is Michael Cash.â€
TR: â€œOK, Well, you just play the part of a mic holder and stand there and hold this mic. Thatâ€™s your job, being my mic holder.
â€œSecond of all, did somebody say surprise, surprise, surprise!? A lot of folks are saying â€˜Wildfireâ€™ should be dead. He has lived beyond his time. Hey, I have lived for this day because Jimmy â€œSuperflyâ€ Snuka has fled from me for a long time. We were always on the same side of the fence and you though that you were a little bit better than me I think. Well, itâ€™s you and me one on one tonight. I heard that Jimmy is goinâ€™ to be taking Polaroids with his fans in a little while. Snuka, not only are we going to find out who just is THE best a little later on but if I see anybody getting their picture taken with you Iâ€™m going to beat their dirty white socks off too!
MC: You knowâ€¦â€
TR: â€œYou know what!?â€
[The fans rise up and voice their displeasure with Tommy after which he turns to some of them]
TR: â€œHey, shut up! Donâ€™t make me come out of the ring and whup every last one of ya! … The bottom line is this: Jimmy Superflyâ€ Snuka, Iâ€™ve got a great big fly swatter and Iâ€™m going to swat you just like the big fly that you are and Iâ€™m going to show the fans just what Snuka is all about! Naturally, it has been your pleasure!â€™
[At that point, Rich threw the mic to the canvas and quickly left the ring.]
A few minutes later I had the opportunity to pull Tommy aside at the souvenir table. I reminded him of the time that he spoke up for me when in 1985 I complained to him that a local Cleveland promoter was refusing to allow me ringside access to photographing his NWA match. He in turn told this to the acting Promoter Ole Anderson who in turn gave me permission to take pictures ringside as long as I would stay away from back stage during this card. I asked Tommy if he would agree to an interview for Cleveland All Pro Wrestling. He agreed and within a short time we were sitting among M Dogg 20 and Luna Vachon. The following interview then commenced:
Welcome once again to Cleveland All Pro Wrestling, this time for the 14th Anniversary at Plain Dealer Pavilion.
Tommy: â€œItâ€™s just great to be back here in Cleveland for the 14th Anniversary Legends card that JT has worked hard to produce. This is a great wrestling package with the old school mixed with the new school. Heâ€™s got a good mix here what with the superstars and the venue.â€
Strat: You missed one of your earlier appearances a few short years ago and as a result you were stripped on the North American title. How do you explain?
Tommy: â€œThey didnâ€™t have anybody that could beat me so they said that they booked me when they really didnâ€™t so they could strip me of that title.â€
Strat: You reportedly missed an NWA Wildside booking shortly thereafter in your own home town.
Tommy: â€œI wasnâ€™t booked. I donâ€™t remember. Weâ€™re not talking about George Jones. I didnâ€™t pull that no-show!â€
I remember a 1995 IWA Columbus, Ohio match where you applied the Figure Four Leg lock to win your match. How did you learn to put it on your opponent so well?
Tommy: â€œBy my 30 years of wrestling which has seen the hold put on me enough times. I started wrestling when I was a kid. Back then there were 202 holds that I learned. Today, they donâ€™t even know what a hold is.â€
Strat: Where does the â€œWildfireâ€ go from here?
Tommy: â€œWell, I go back home to Columbia, South Carolina on Thursday, Summerville, Georgia on Friday, Mississippi on Saturday, and back to Georgia on Sunday so Iâ€™m doing pretty decent.â€
Strat: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Tommy: â€œAlive I hope.â€
Strat: Is there anyone that tops the list as to who you would like to wrestle against?
Tommy: â€œCome one, come all. I never duck anyone or any promotion. As long as the folks still enjoy coming out to see me wrestle Iâ€™m going to keep on doing this as long as I can.â€
Strat: Luna Vachon made her debut today. Do you have any comments on this or anything that youâ€™d like to say to her?
Tommy: â€œOh yes, sheâ€™s a looney tune alright!â€
Strat: Thank you Wildfire.
Tommy: â€œThank you!â€
– Paul Stratoti