George Scott, the booker who built Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling into being a national powerhouse in the 1970s, and later booked the national expansion of the WWF in the 80s, passed away due to lung cancer at 11:30 p.m. on 1/20 at the age of 84.
Scott’s health had been failing over the past month. He had been in hospice care since October. His weight had dropped from a very fit for his age 220 pounds down to just 140 pounds, and every day, he’d tell his wife of 27 years, Jean, “Am I going to die today?” Scott, whose lung cancer was likely due to his long-time smoking habit, was diagnosed with cancer more than two years ago. He had been living in Indian Rocks Beach, FL, since retiring from wrestling, with his second wife, who had been very active in local politics, including serving as City Commissioner.
Scott had two major careers in pro wrestling. The first was as part of the tag team of The Flying Scott Brothers, with younger brother Sandy (real name Angus Scott). Born in Scotland, George grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. He participated in a number of sports growing up, starting wrestling at the age of 12 and then weightlifting. At the time, Hamilton was a hotbed for producing top wrestlers, with Mike & Ben Sharpe predating the Scott Brothers, and many others, including John & Chris Tolos. He debuted at the age of 17, in 1948, and brought his brother into the business in 1953.
The Scott Brothers were one of the top babyface tag teams in the world over the next 15 years. They spent their early years mostly working for Stu Hart in Western Canada. The brothers were famous for being magic in the ring, but not getting along at all outside the ring. George, as the older brother, always wanted Sandy to do things his way. Then, when Sandy who passed away in 2010, didn’t come to their mother’s funeral, George never spoke to him again, even though they did have one last run as a tag team in the Carolinas in the 70s. The Scott Brothers held world tag team titles for Jim Barnett’s massive promotion in the late 50s and early 60s, as well as the Southern tag team titles for Jim Crockett Sr., and had five runs as International tag team champions and three as Canadian tag team champions in Western Canada. They were also three-time world tag team champions for World Championship Wrestling, Barnett’s national promotion in Australia, during the 60s.
George Scott, wrestling as The Great Scott, also had a run as U.S. tag team champions for Vince McMahon Sr.’s Capital Wrestling in 1963. On March 7, 1963, at the TV tapings in Washington, DC, Buddy Rogers & Johnny Barend were defending the tag titles against Scott, who was debuting with the promotion, and Pete Sanchez, a regular prelim wrestler. Rogers won the first fall over Sanchez with the figure four leglock, injuring him and he was unable to continue. “Killer” Buddy Austin, a regular pushed heel, came out and asked to replace Sanchez as Scott’s partner, telling announcer Ray Morgan that they could beat Rogers & Barend, even with the handicap of being down a fall. This turned Austin face immediately, since Rogers & Barend were the two top heels. The commissioner in attendance at the show approved the substitution and it was announced the titles were at stake.
In the second fall, Rogers was disqualified for an illegal kneedrop coming off the top rope. Even though fans had been told forever that the titles don’t change hands if there is a DQ win in any of the falls, this ruling was ignored. In the third fall, Barend held Austin in a full nelson for Rogers to dropkick him. Austin moved, Rogers dropkicked Barend and Austin pinned Barend to win the titles. Barend and Rogers then went at it after the match, with Barend also turning face to feud with Rogers over the WWWF title.
Scott & Austin lost the belts on May 16, 1963, also at the TV tapings in Washington, DC, to Brute Bernard & Skull Murphy. The tapings were the day before the May 17, 1963, Madison Square Garden show where Bruno Sammartino beat Rogers to win the WWWF title. In a title rematch, Scott & Austin split up with Austin going back heel, and Scott left the territory soon after.
George suffered a serious neck injury in 1972, and retired the next year. But his biggest claim to fame was from 1973 to 1981 as the booker of Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling. He was hired by John Ringley, who took over the promotion after the death of Jim Crockett Sr. Ringley, the husband of Frances Crockett, was put in charge of the company, but after a nasty divorce, was kicked out of the company, and Jim Crockett Jr. took over. Crockett Jr. kept Scott as booker.
Scott changed the face of the promotion, which was known as a tag team territory. The Carolinas were a steady promotion, running multiple shows per night with dozens of towns weekly. The main events were revolving feuds in different markets with the top teams such as Rip Hawk & Swede Hansen, The Anderson Brothers, Johnny Weaver & George Becker (and later Weaver & Art Neilson), The Scott Brothers, Paul Jones & Nelson Royal, Brute Bernard & Skull Murphy, and others, year-after-year, mixing and matching for years on end. Unlike most promotions which had a few local homesteaders, but most of the roster would be talent coming in for six months to a year, and then leave, Crockett Sr.’s wrestlers made a nice living and could raise their families in an area although the travel and schedule were difficult.
Scott changed that and turned the style more physical, bringing in Johnny Valentine to be the top star. At first, the fans didn’t like the slower paced harder hitting matches and crowds went down, but eventually Valentine’s matches with Wahoo McDaniel started clicking. Valentine’s run in the territory was short, but influential, as the main event singles matches became long and hard hitting. Valentine’s career ended in the famous 1975 plane crash, where Ric Flair broke his back. But when Flair returned months later, taking over the top spot in the promotion, Jim Crockett Promotions was arguably the best wrestling territory in North America, even though its key cities like Greensboro, Charlotte, Norfolk, Raleigh and Richmond were tiny in population compared to most wrestling hotbeds.
In particular, Scott gave the first major push to a number of young wrestlers. Flair was a prelim wrestler in the AWA, recommended to Scott by McDaniel in 1974. Scott had him bleach his hair, introduced him as the nephew of established star Hawk, and told him to study tapes and pattern himself after Buddy Rogers. Instead, Flair wanted to be a copy of his two heroes, Dusty Rhodes on the mic, and Ray Stevens in the ring, but he eventually became the biggest star ever in that part of the country.
When Ricky Steamboat came to the territory from Georgia (Sammy Steamboat had been a major star in the 60s in the area), he had been a prelim babyface who hadn’t gotten a break. Flair immediately wanted to work with him and did a series of angles with him, and he became one of the most popular wrestlers in the area’s history. Greg Valentine, Johnny’s son, became Flair’s tag team partner, and at other times, Flair’s biggest rival. Bill Eadie, who came over when the rival IWA went down as Bolo Mongol, had a mask put on him and became a big star as The Masked Superstar. Blackjack Mulligan, John Studd, the Iron Sheik, Roddy Piper, Jay Youngblood, Jimmy Snuka, Paul Orndorff and many others became headliners under Scott. The promotion expanded into cities like Buffalo, Cincinnati and Toronto. He and Crockett purchased 33% of Maple Leaf Wrestling from the late Frank Tunney, and the company, which had been struggling after The Sheik’s predictability had killed business, revived behind the younger Carolinas stars like Flair and Steamboat.
“He was a good man to me,” said Steamboat. “He played an important part in starting my career in the Carolinas against Ric Flair.”
His reputation as a booker grew to where, when Eddie Einhorn put together the IWA, and was paying big money to start an attempt at a national promotion, his choice was Scott to be his booker. Scott claimed he was offered $250,000 a year, gigantic money in 1975, along with points in the promotion, but turned down the offer to stay with Crockett.
His run ended in 1981, when he quit after a series of disputes with Crockett and moved to Oklahoma to try and revive Leroy McGuirk’s dying promotion. That failed, but in 1983, Vince McMahon hired Scott as his booker when he went national. The early booking was very strong, but Scott had philosophical differences with the changes in direction. He believed in a more serious wrestling presentation. He was also concerned with the rampant drug use that was taking over the business at the time, a byproduct of wrestlers being able to earn more money, and a far more grueling national travel schedule. While a lot of people claim credit for coming up with the name WrestleMania (WWE history gives the credit to Howard Finkel, but I’ve had people dispute that) but Scott claimed that he was the one talked Vince McMahon into naming the show WrestleMania instead of the Colossal Tussle. Scott had issues with Dick Ebersol over the content of the original Saturday Night’s Main Event shows, hating the skits and wanting to make it a more serious wrestling product, and was against anything that he thought exposed the business, of which much of what WWF was doing at that time would fit into the category. Scott had been a stickler as a detail man in the Carolinas, to the point that if there were two shows being taped on the same day, if a wrestler was doing an interview on the first show, and wrestling on the second, he had to wear his street clothes for his interview on the first show because why would he be in his trunks when he’s not wrestling. In particular, he was strict on guarding anything that would “expose the business,” and felt the comedy skits being brought into wrestling fit into that category. He also had personal differences with Hulk Hogan, who had become a huge star by that time and wanted to do things his way. Scott was gone before the end of 1985, which led to Pat Patterson getting the position.
George saved a lot of his records, including the pay sheet for the first WrestleMania (no matter what he may claim publicly today, which is multiples of this figure, Hulk Hogan got $150,000 for the match and Mr. T ran up $22,000 in expenses the week of the show, which in those days must have thrilled WWE to no end). He even saved a letter written before WrestleMania from Vince and Linda McMahon, which talked about the procedures they were planning on going through to sign over the WWF when there appeared to be a good chance of the first WrestleMania failing and they would have to declare bankruptcy and lose the company.
He booked Dallas for Fritz Von Erich, but that promotion was past its peak and this was where it was clear time was starting to pass him by. Most notably, he turned Bam Bam Bigelow into a Russian, Crusher Yurkov.
He was later hired by Turner Broadcasting to replace Dusty Rhodes as booker of World Championship Wrestling in 1989. That run only lasted a few months. Scott’s big move was to bring Steamboat out of retirement to challenge and finally win the world title from Flair, in Chicago. But wrestling had changed.
Scott was still in the mindset of rebuilding the house show business. At the February 20, 1989, Chi-town Rumble PPV, where Steamboat beat Flair in a classic match, he followed the title change by putting prelim wrestlers Kendall Windham and Steve Casey out for a long match, with the PPV ending with the wrestlers still in the ring. He did so with the idea of teaching fans that you had to come to the live event to see the entire show.
The company’s next major show was the Steamboat vs. Flair rematch in New Orleans, on April 2, 1989, a free TV special going head-to-head with WrestleMania V. Scott’s idea was to have a classic 60 minute draw on television with Steamboat retaining the title. But, because all the house shows were also being headlined by Steamboat vs. Flair, Scott, when he laid out television, did almost no promotion of the card for fear that if people knew Flair and Steamboat were wrestling for free on television, it would hurt the house shows.
“I worked with he and Sandy in the ring, but we also worked together in the Crockett office,” said Les Thatcher. “He was the reason I was offered an office job in WWF in 1985 to handle the promos. Talented tag team, as good as they came, and as a booker, he was solid. I hate hearing it said that he lost touch, not so much as the people outside of wrestling tried to change it when they got involved and George was fighting them.”
WWF had Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage that night after a one-year build in one of the hottest matches in their history, which set a domestic PPV record (767,000 buys) which even today has probably only been topped a few times in history even with the expanding universe. Flair vs. Steamboat did a 4.3 rating for one of the greatest television matches of the last 30 years. Scott was fired by Turner Broadcasting shortly before the show after management was in shock that their special was barely mentioned on television while WWF was hyping its head-to-head big show to death. With a booking committee, led by Flair, put into place, the first thing Flair did was change the finish of the match, scheduled as a two out of three fall 60 minute match that would be tied with one fall each after going the distance. Flair changed it to having Steamboat win a controversial pin at the 55 minute mark where Flair would have his legs under the ropes. The prior year, a Flair vs. Sting 45 minute title match head-to-head with WrestleMania had done a 5.8 overall rating and the main event peaked at a 7.8.
Scott’s final booking job was with South Atlantic Pro Wrestling, an attempt to revive Carolinas territorial wrestling. Steamboat worked the shows for far less than he could have earned elsewhere, showing loyalty to the booker who gave him his first chance. South Atlantic was also where people like Dean Malenko and Ken Shamrock got their first breaks. Scott named Shamrock “Vince Torelli,” as an Italian pretty boy type, and often had him team with Shamrock groomed to be the Steamboat of 15 years earlier. But the days of territories were over and the promotion shut down in 1994.
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