By Mike Mooneyham
Dec. 15, 2002
As a wrestler, he rarely moved beyond preliminary and mid-card status. But as a manager, he was a main-event act.
George “Two Ton” Harris, who died Nov. 29 at the age of 75, leaves behind a wealth of enduring memories in the Carolinas, where he achieved his greatest fame as manager of such teams as The Red Demons, Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubich, The Alaskans (Mike York and Frank Monte), and The Missouri Mauler and Hiro Matsuda.
Harris, who got his start in the business in 1944 as a referee before going on the road full-time as a wrestler four years later, spent the major part of his career with the Charlotte-based Crockett Promotions, for whom he worked his first match in 1959.
Harris was especially close to the longtime owner of the company, the late Jim Crockett Sr., and after the promoter died in 1973, he continued to work for John Ringley, Crockett’s son-in-law at the time, and later for Jim Crockett Jr. when he took control of the promotion. Even after his in-ring days had ended, Harris remained employed by the Crockett family, working as a groundskeeper at Crockett Park as well as the family’s convenience store, wrestling warehouse and ring crew.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Before he died, the elder Crockett had promised Harris that he would keep him employed in the family business if he learned to read and write. Crockett hired a tutor to teach him.
“I really loved the old man,” Harris said in an interview earlier this year with Whatever Happened To…? newsletter. “He was the father that I never had. Me and my father were so much alike that we didn’t get along. Of course, I was wilder than a buck, too, so that didn’t help.”
Harris retired as a full-time wrestler in 1979, but continued to work for the Charlotte office until 1989. He worked for WCW after Ted Turner took over until June 1990.
Harris, who was born in 1927 in Dyersburg, Tenn., on the banks of the Mississippi River, weighed more than 300 pounds for most of his career. The colorful villain, who was well-liked by his peers, was noted for his trademark “I got him now!” yell that he would direct at the audience while clamping a headlock on an opponent, only to find himself on the receiving end seconds later. As a manager, he would arrogantly smile, strut across the ring and stroke his fiery red locks when his name was announced. The crowd, though, would always greet him with a chorus of boos, to which he would routinely reply, “Shut up!”
Harris was in the main event for one of this town’s biggest wrestling shows nearly 35 years ago. A sold-out crowd at the old County Hall turned out to watch the red-suited Harris manage The Red Demons as they put up their masks against the hair and belts of tag-team champions George Becker and Johnny Weaver, who were seconded for the match by Klondike Bill. The Demons, one of the territory’s top teams at the time, were unmasked that night as Billy and Jimmy Hines.
Harris also managed Pat Patterson during his classic feud with former partner Ray Stevens in California during the late 60s.
Harris, called “Bunk” by his friends, used a number of monikers during his career, including The Baby Blimp, Nature Boy Harris and George Harris III. He worked behind a hood as El Gordo in 1974 in Texas.
Harris was so effective as a heel manager that he was often the target of crazed fans who delighted in taking shots at him. The portly performer was stabbed several times, hit by Coke bottles and even struck by fire extinguishers.
“In Roanoke, I was knocked in the head with a fire extinguisher and I wasn’t even on fire,” Harris told Whatever Happened To …? “Aldo Bogni had to drive my car back to Charlotte with me in the back seat. I also got hit with a fire extinguisher in Orlando. A guy threw it and put 26 stitches in my head. Louisiana was probably the worst in terms of rough crowds … We had a fight in Lafayette one night and it took them until one o’clock in the morning to get us out of the dressing room.”
Moncks Corner native Burrhead Jones recalled an encounter he had with Harris during the 70s that left a scar on his forehead that he still carries today. It occurred during a tag-team match in which Jones and former NFL football star Charlie Cook were defending their Southeastern tag-team belts against Sam Bass and Jerry Lawler, who were being managed by Harris.
“I was just starting out in the business, and I couldn’t do it (blade) myself,” recalled Jones. “They stuck my head through the ropes, and George did the job on me. My forehead was literally sliced. George said I must have moved, so I guess I must have. Johnny Walker (Mr. Wrestling No. 2) rode with me in the ambulance to the hospital. I had to take 10 stitches on the outside and 10 on the inside. Today it just looks like a long wrinkle across the forehead.”
Jones added that there were no hard feelings, and that he always enjoyed working with “Two Ton.”
“He was a great guy. We did some good business around Memphis. He’ll really be missed.” Harris said in the WHT interview that he would change some things if he had the chance to do it over again.
“I’d get a better education. I wouldn’t be an alcoholic. I quit and haven’t had a drink in 46 years, but before that I was a drunk. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Lord helped me through all that.”
Harris, who lived with wife Edna in Stuarts Draft, Va., in recent years had worked as a bus driver for a rehabilitation center, driving 15-seat passenger vans and wheelchair vans for the state of Virginia.
He passed away the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville after suffering a heart attack. Among his pallbearers was longtime ring rival and friend Sandy Scott.
“It was such a shock, because he had been in good health,” said Edna Harris. “What keeps me going is that this is the way he would have wanted to go without the suffering and lingering. But I surely will miss him.”
As will the thousands of others who never got tired of hearing the big man tell them to shut up.
– George’s Sports Bar on Savannah Highway will air tonight’s Armageddon pay-per-view beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.
– Vince McMahon confirmed last week in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that both Steve Austin and The Rock will return to the WWE next year. The current plan is to bring The Rock back as a heel.
– A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group last week criticized as “tasteless and insensitive” a WWE television commercial promoting tonight’s Armageddon pay-per-view that shows a figure resembling Jesus gambling with the devil in a sports bar.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the ad, currently airing on the TV Guide Channel, shows a blond man dressed in white and illuminated by a shaft of light discussing the upcoming pay-per-view event with a devil-like figure. The “devil” says, “We’ve been hyping this (Armageddon) for two millennia.” At the end of the commercial, he asks the Jesus figure, “Do you want to go double or nothing on the Saints?”
“This kind of tasteless and insensitive portrayal of Jesus, peace be upon him, is an insult to the deeply felt beliefs of Muslim and Christian Americans. We ask that TV Guide Channel and the WWE withdraw the commercial and apologize to viewers,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. Awad added that Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet of God and called on Christian leaders to join in his defense.
– Hulk Hogan said last week that his WWE contract was expiring on Dec. 14 and that he is considering going to Japan because his “good friend” Bill Goldberg and he have a big opportunity over there.
Hogan, who was in Atlanta for his book tour, stopped at the Smackdown tapings and was scheduled to meet with Vince McMahon concerning a possible return to the WWE in January. According to Jim Ross, Hogan did not have a meeting with WWE officials “but did visit and say hello with many folks for the short time he was at the Philips Arena.”
Hogan, 49, told an Atlanta radio station that he’s not worried about doing “back flips and dropkicks off the top of the cage” at his age.
“People really get confused and think that you have to be a tremendous wrestler to be on top in this sport,” Hogan said. “This sport isn’t about who’s the best wrestler. It’s about who’s the best entertainer, who sells more tickets, and who puts more (butts) in the seats on a consistent basis.”
Hogan boasted that he signed more than 7,000 autographs at a recent appearance in New York for a video release, while Tiger Woods signed only 2,1000 autographs at the same location a week earlier.
– Mike Awesome, who was released by the WWE earlier this year, said last week that he didn’t enjoy working for that company and was restricted in what he could do. “I hated it there,” he told the Between the Ropes radio show. “I was very miserable. When I got the call that told me I was let go, I was happy.”
Awesome, who now works for All Japan Pro Wrestling, admitted that he had legitimate heat with Paul Heyman as a result of leaving ECW with little notice and joining WCW. While not directly blaming Heyman for holding him back in the WWE, Awesome said, “I can’t say 100 percent that he did do that, but I wouldn’t put it past him.”
– The Anna Nicole Smith Christmas Special featuring Sean Waltman and Joanie Laurer will air at 8 p.m. today on the E! Network.
– Last week’s Raw drew a 3.3 rating, the same as the week before, showing little momentum for that declining show. Smackdown fell to a 3.2, down from the previous week’s 3.4. Among the male teen demographic, the segment involving Dawn Marie, Torrie Wilson and Al Wilson drew the highest rating of the show.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown. For more wrestling news, check out www.mikemooneyham.com.