Breaking barriers, opening doors highlight Class of 2008, by Jim Varsallone - Miami Herald - 4th April 2008
Jack and Jerry Brisco became the first Native Americans and brothers to win the NWA world heavyweight title, the world junior heavyweight title and the world tag team titles. Jack also was the first Native American to win an NCAA national championship.
They were part of a pioneer class of 2008 inductees into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Soulman Rocky Johnson helped open the door for African Americans in pro wrestling nationally, especially the South.
High Chief Peter Maivia did the same for Samoans. Gordon Solie set the standard for wrestling announcers; Mae Young for women's wrestling; Eddie Graham for promoters; and, of course, Ric Flair for wrestling and sports entertainment, period.
• When thinking of great brother tag teams, tandems like the Funks, the Wild Samoans, the Steiners, the Hardys and the Mulkeys come to mind. OK. Maybe not the Mulkeys, but most definitely, the Brisco Brothers.
Born and raised in Blackwell, Oklahoma, the Brisco Brothers made a big name for themselves, especially in the Sunshine State. They worked for Graham and with Solie.
''Eddie Graham was one of the greatest minds for this business and had an eye for talent,'' Jack Brisco said. ``Gordon was not only one of the greatest commentators, but he just knew so much about the business. The way he called a match helped the wrestler out so much because Gordon was so good at what he did.''
The Brisco Brothers were also very good at what they did.
For the most part, they were good guys, receiving cheers from fans. They did play bad guy roles when battling Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood for the NWA world tag team belts in the Mid-Atlantic territory. Jerry did much of the trash talking, and older brother, Jack, had a crazed look in his eyes.
WWE star John Bradshaw Layfield, a Texan, proudly inducted the Oklahomans into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday, March 29 before 8,000 people during WrestleMania Weekend at the Amway Arena in Orlando. JBL said that proved, at least for one night, cowboys and Indians can get along.
A much decorated force, the Brisco Brothers made history inside and outside the ring.
Jerry Brisco: 'At the beginning of our careers, we wanted to be singles' wrestlers. Jack took off to Florida. I took off to Australia. Jack made a name for himself in Florida and Texas. I spent a year in Australia, honing my skills and then went to North Carolina and wrestled in the Mid-Atlantic area. I won several of the major singles' titles in the Carolinas and also in Georgia and Florida.
'Later, Jack became world heavyweight champion, and I became world junior heavyweight champion. We had very successful singles' careers. Toward the end of our careers, we knew there was one title that eluded us and could make us one of the most intriguing tag teams ever in the history of the sport, the world tag team championships. No other brothers had ever been the world heavyweight champ, world junior heavyweight champ and world tag team champs.''
JBL: ``The greatest team of all-time, the Brisco Brothers. A momentous thing happened in 1983 when they sold Georgia Championship Wrestling to WWE. That is when Mr. McMahon, WWE fully took over the entire world of professional wrestling and also made the Brisco Brothers independently wealthy.
``Jerry still works with the company which shows his legacy of how much he loves the business which I admire very much. Jerry still helps out a lot. That's what he does when he comes to TV.
``The Brisco Brothers in Florida held every major title you could hold. They owned this business from 1973-1983 which I believe makes them the greatest team of all-time.''
Jerry Brisco: ``It's a compliment to say you're the best ever at anything. We competed against a lot of great tag teams. Each one of them was tremendous in their ability. Each tag team had its own style. We brought something a little bit different. We were collegiate wrestlers at Oklahoma State University. My brother was a national champion. I was on a national championship team.
``We brought a collegiate style into pro wrestling, mixed at the end with sports entertainment style of wrestling. It is something we had special. The bottom line is we are sitting here today [WWE HOF press conference]. So somebody must have thought we were pretty good.''
Jack Brisco: ``Back in the day, there was a lot more tag team wrestling. A lot of the fans dictate that. A lot of the territories were built solely around tag team wrestling -- North Carolina and a lot here in Florida.
``Some territories didn't go for tag team wrestling. At one time it was very big. There were a lot of great tag teams around the country, and a lot of them were successful. As time went on, there were a lot more individuals getting into it. People weren't going into it as a tag team, and they've been very successful.''
Jerry Brisco: ``Back in the day, when it was just starting the cable TV wars, my brother and I were partners with a couple of people in Georgia Championship Wrestling that controlled WTBS, the major national cable at the time. Our contract with Ted Turner was Sunday and Saturday night with a 2-hour TV show that we produced in his studio.
``Vince McMahon was making his move throughout the country. We saw what was going on. I really got to give my brother most of the credit on this. He had the vision of looking around and seeing Vince coming into a lot of these areas and taking over talent that he was able to purchase, just cherry picking the top talent throughout the world and having that talent come work for him and then going into that particular territory and drawing big houses.
``The local guys [promoters] who lost their stars were suffering. We had the choice of trying to compete with Vince on a national basis or make the decision to sell.
``Being the competitors my brother and I are, we wanted to compete, but our partners didn't want to compete. They wanted to stay as focused as they were on the smaller venues and not really expand. As a lot of businesses do have major disagreements with stockholders, fortunately my brother and I convinced some of the other stockholders to join us, and we ended up with controlling interest in Georgia Championship Wrestling, and we contacted Vince, and the rest is history. We decided to sell, and it changed the course of sports entertainment.''
Jack Brisco: ``I think the wrestlers are much better off today. They have a much wider base to work with. They have bigger markets to work in. They're making a lot more money. I think everybody is much better off. The only drawback to not having the territories is you have to start your talent from within. In the old days when you needed talent, you would just go to another territory and bring the talent in.''
JBL: ``Jerry [Brisco] hired me in December 1995. He was a full-time agent with WWE. He and Blackjack Lanza were the agents, and Jerry really took me under his wing and did a lot with me.
'The Briscos were probably the greatest `wrestling' tag team. They were two of the greatest amateur wrestlers. Jack [a three-time, high school state champ] never got a point against him his college wrestling season [at 191 pounds] in 1965 for Oklahoma State. [Jerry lost just once his freshman season at 177 pounds for Oklahoma State].
``They were two of a few who were able to transition being real amateur wrestlers, the mat style, into our world of professional wrestling which is really phenomenal.''
Jack Brisco's resume of top moves: figure four leglock, superplex, belly-to-back suplex, sunset flip, sleeper hold, backslide.
Jerry Brisco's version: figure four leglock, double arm suplex, sleeper hold, belly-to-back suplex, vertical suplex.
In the late 1970s, the Brisco Briscos discovered Terry Bollea, who became top draw Hulk Hogan. They introduced Bollea to Hiro Matsuda for training in Tampa.
The Brisco Brothers own Brisco Brothers Body Shop, 4315 N. Hubert Ave. in Tampa. Jack is 66, and Jerry 58. Both could have had an extensive amateur wrestling career, but the lure of money in the pro ranks sent them on a very successful journey.
They have a very close relationship and also live in the Tampa area. Jack and wife, Jan, have been married 32 years. Jerry and his wife, Barbara, 30 years.
Jerry also helps train amateur wrestlers at Sickles High School where his wife teaches in Tampa. Their son, Wes, is training to become a pro wrestler.
• About the WWE Hall of Fame
John Cena: ``I love the Hall of Fame. It's the one night of the year for all the people who made this business as great as it is to get together. ... For those who enjoy sports entertainment, I hold the Hall of Fame near and dear to my heart.
``I have the utmost respect for anyone who has been honored and who are honored. ... It shows that they made their mark in this business. They made a ton of personal sacrifice to make this business what it is.''
Rocky Johnson: ``I never dreamed I would be here, but this has to be the pendant of it all. Not only that, but how many wrestlers or athletes could ever say they have their son induct them in the Hall of Fame? This I will never forget.
``I've won many championship belts and many firsts for African Americans in the South and the first Black WWE tag team champs with Tony Atlas. That was fantastic, but the most important [accolade] of my life is my son is flying in to induct me into the Hall of Fame, and he has to fly out right after.''
Elijah Burke: ``Rocky Johnson being inducted into the Hall of Fame means a lot. Rocky Johnson was to the African community and a lot of people in general a trendsetter.
``He was one of the guys, far and few between at that time, that we had to look onto and gave us hope that, hey, I too, one day, can be a WWE superstar. There wasn't many that we had. We had Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas and then we had the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, daddy.''
Randy Orton: ``The Hall of Fame means getting to sit in a room with people that I love in this business, people I've grown up with and look up to. If it wasn't for half the guys in this arena, I wouldn't be able to be where I am right now.
``So the Hall of Fame to me is getting to show the respect these guys deserve. I got to induct my father in 2005. That was an awesome thing for me to do because I love my father. If it wasn't for my father, I wouldn't be where I am, and that's what it's all about, respecting the people who paved the way for us.''
Sgt. Slaughter: ``I was influenced by my father who was a huge wrestling fan when I was a young boy. To stand up there and be inducted into the 2004 Hall of Fame for WWE was out of character, out of space type of happening for me. It's great to be here again. It's a time when you want to give them a Sgt. Slaughter salute and thank them for paving the road for all those who are behind us. It's just a great honor to be in their presence.''
Maria: ``There have been so many incredible woman. [Mae Young] paved the way. It gives us a lot to look up to.''
• High Chief Peter Maivia's daughter, Ata, who is The Rock's mom, gave an excellent speech, accepting the WWE Hall of Fame honor for her late, great father.
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