Sometimes it’s best not to do that “last round” of site checking before going to bed.
“Pez Whatley, a Southern wrestling star who was a high profile performer in the 80s in both the Georgia and Carolinas territories, passed away earlier today in a hospital in his native Chattanooga.” (Observer)
At this point I’m sure some of the younger readers are asking themselves “who is Pez Whatley and why is he getting a front page obit on Lethal?” Some of the older ones are probably saying “I remember Pez, why is he getting a front page obit on Lethal?” And then there are still others saying “admit it dickhead, you’re NEVER reviewing the Wrestlecrap book are you?”
Pez had his run during the late 80s. Formally a member of enhancement talent team “The Jive Tones” with Tiger Conway Jr. (jobbers even though they were a black tag team in Bill Watts' company. I know, I’m shocked too), “Pistol” Pez Whatley was a loveable midcard babyface very much in the Junkyard Dog vein (in fact even though I live here, the first time I ever remember hearing the term “South Cakalaka” was from him as he waved to fans in a parking lot). He clapped his hands, he danced with the kids, and for want of a less derogatory way to say it “shucked and jived” his way through the Carolinas and Georgia to the delight of fans. And since wrestling promoters are so enlightened he also took perennial jobber Rocky King “under his wing,” although no one really knows what that entailed since Rocky continued to lose every match and go into convulsions at the end of them but they still mentioned it every time he entered the ring. They were both black so that was enough to suggest a partnership, I suppose.
If this doesn’t sound like the type of athlete your Barbed One would be especially sad to have shed his mortal coil, show a little patience. I’m getting there.
In addition to his solo career, Pez was also the tag partner and trusted friend of Jimmy “Boogie Woogie Man” Valiant. Together, along with “Ragin’ Bull” Manny Fernandez they took on the evil “Number One” Paul Jones and whoever he happened to have in his stable at the time. They weren’t exactly main eventers, but the feud did take up a fair amount of TV time and always had a spot on the upper-midcard at house shows.
As fate would have it, this all happened right as I was becoming a wrestling fan. Now I didn’t really have anything against Pez except for his standing, as I DETESTED Jimmy Valiant. I was new, so had no idea the Valiant name meant anything, all I knew was I would start seething every time “Boy From New York City” started blaring over the PA. And when he cut a promo, by comparison it made Dusty sound like his surname signified a scholarship he’d received. FUCK I hated that spectacle (and this was BEFORE the spider tattoos).
While Cornette may have beat him to the punch, the set-up described above led to Pez pulling one of my first textbook “mark out moments.”
For the younger readers, “NWA Worldwide” was a lesser version of “Heat.” It recapped the week’s events (actually the two week previous events) and mixed it with short matches of established names jobbing out enhancement talent. Occasionally you’d get Windham v. Flair but for the most part anything that happpend there was pretty inconsequential. If they did have something big planned, such as a wrestler turning or a group run-in, it was ALWAYS in the last 30 seconds of the show. So when I say “no one saw this coming” it wasn’t just because I was new to the product.
Maybe 15 minutes were left in the show when Pez and Boogie Man joined David Crockett to cut a promo. Valiant boogied, Pez woogied (if memory serves. I may have those backwards), and the pair made threats to Jones and participated in a broken English mutual admiration dialogue that culminated in Valiant calling Pez “the very best BLACK athlete in wrestling.”
Innocuous enough statement, right? Crockett’s expression never changed, and Valient didn’t give it a second thought, moving on to addressing Jones again. Pez, however, stopped woogying immediately and stood rigid, furious anger clearly about to boil over. And then quicker than you could blink Valiant was on the floor courtesy a surprise cheap shot from behind. As David stood there dumbstruck, Pez stood over the body of his wounded partner and screamed “HOW’S THAT FOR BLACK!” or something confusingly similar. As Boogie Woogie moaned in pain (both physical and emotional), Pez pulled out a pair of scissors and cut the long, braided beard off his ex-friend’s face. He then held it over Valiant’s head and mocked him, before saying some more stuff that didn’t make a lot of sense but that only added to the “reality” of the moment, as if he was so infuriated the rage had overtaken the ability to communicate. I was ready to shit myself I was so overjoyed.
The next week “Pistol Pez” was history, and from the ashes rose “SHASKA” Whatley. In that moment, the feud went from a time-filler to must-see TV. The hair vs. hair blow off match was a semi-main at a Great American Bash show, and before things could cool off Fernandez also turned on Valiant and Jimmy wound up getting his head shaved, leading to quite possibly my “favorite for the wrong reasons” promo of the 80s where Boogie is in an alley surrounded by empty beer cans (paraphrased):
“Your Boogie Man is in Hell. Paul Jones… you took my brother Pez, you took my beard, you took my hair. And you took my Willie Willie (Manny). You see… we waz in NAM together.” *at this point Big Mama, his skanky valet, takes pity on him and helps lead his slumping form out of the alley with a “come on, baby.” There’s no way for a transcript to do justice to this spot.*
God that feud had everything. I doubt anyone reading this who was watching then won’t at least crack a smile when I mention the computer-enhanced image of a bald Jones that caused him have a conniption fit every time they put it on screen, prompting the crowd to chant “bald headed geek” at him. And then of course they added Rick Rude to the stable, at which point they outgrew the Valiant feud.
But it was launched by Pez. As I read histories of the incident the prevailing opinion is that Pez “snapped” after being called black. I tend to assume that long before Nitro, this was one of those moments where the commentators telling the story weren’t on the same page as the wrestlers. I mean, if before the comment he had no inkling to turn on his friend, what the hell was he doing with a pair of scissors? Yes, it was still the 80s and yes it was the south, but I’ve never thought the rationale for the turn was as basic as it played out to be. Even us yokels needed a little more race-baiting than that to make sense.
In later years Pez became a trainer for the WCW Power Plant. I’ve read some things today to suggest that while Parker and co. were there to scare away the weak and ride the trainees hard, Pez was sort of the Al Snow who provided encouragement. Also, by all accounts he was one hell of a nice guy who cared about the business and the people in it (he was great with kids the few times I saw him interact with them). Apparently, he had been in a bad way for a long time, as there were reports as far back as two years ago suggesting he was right at death’s door. If that’s the case, I can only hope the end brought peace to him and comfort to those closest to him.
What’s saddest of all is that a huge number of wrestling fans will never know the valuable legacy he left behind. Rest assured, Mr. Whatley… at least one of us will never forget it.
God bless you Pez. Rest in peace.
I’ve destroyed too many brain cells to remember some of his lines. Damn shame, as they were hilarious
Many thanks to SSP’s Darksyde for finding the name of Valiant’s valet. Could’ve spent two weeks trying to remember and never would’ve come up with it.