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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Tommy "Wildfire" Rich vs "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer
December 7, 2005 by Joseph Kirincic


Does anyone remember the Tommy "Wildfire" Rich and "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer Feud" It was quite possible the best feud in wrestling history but yet very few people remember it. Heck, very few people know Wildfire is a former NWA champion, when the NWA champion was THE champion. This was a violent, bloody, hate filled feud, and it was great.

The feud started just as I first started watching wrestling over 20 years ago. My first memory of watching wrestling was flipping through the channels in the very early 1980's and seeing this guy with pin straight white hair. He was very young so I couldn't figure out why his hair was white. He was yelling and screaming about how he was going to kick some guys butt. In the middle of he tirade, some guy wearing a bandana on his head came out of no where and started fighting with the white haired guy. The white haired guy was wearing a suit and it was being ripped off of him as he fought with what appeared to be a crazy man. Remember I was only a small child and didn't know what professional wrestling was. Needless to say I was hooked after that.

Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer had a feud that lasted several years. It ended in a bloody cage match in the Omni in Atlanta Georgia. They guys fought each other all over the TV studio each week, had matches 4-5 times a week all over the country, fought in the dressing room and the parking lot and in the crowd. In today's wrestling world that might not be a big deal but in the early 1980's it was a rarity. Each guy would run in the other guys matches just to beat each other up as much as possible. It was personal and it was great.

The feud was a head of its time but yet it is hardly remembered as one of the great feuds. Today people talk about the feuds between Flair/Steamboat, Hogan/Savage, Flair/Sting, Hart/Michaels, etc but fail to recall one of the first TV feuds. At one point, Buzz and his pals power slammed Tommy's cousin, Johnny, on the concrete floor "breaking" his back. While that is not a big deal now, back then it was shocking for a powerslam to take place on the floor. There were not mats and you can hear the thud as he was driven into the concrete. Buzz also cut Johnny's hair at a "House Show" (when house shows were the equivalent of a PPV). To get back at Buzz, Tommy, Johnny and Tony Atlas shaved Buzz's head after a cage match. Buzz wore a bandana and a wrestling headgear for months so no one could see his bald head.

This was innovative stuff back then. It was years ahead of its time. Its a shame that it is not remembered as the classic feud that it was. It wasn't the first feud and it wasn't the last, but it was one of the greatest of all time. It's a shame it does not get the recognition it deserves.

by Joseph Kirincic..


Samantha Liston wrote:
I totally agree!!!!! I was a beginning teen and Tommy Rich hooked me with his action and attitude. I have to admit that I had a rush watching both of those guys work. At that time, Ric Flair couldn't hold a candle to what they were doing. I was amazed that with all the confrontations, neither of them were seriously injured. If they were, it was not visible on Saturday night. Before it was over, it was a family feud between the two families. Tommy and his cousin, Buzz and his brother and even at one point, his mother. Absolutely out of control. The business today needs to step back and look at some of the footage from them and learn some lessons about true heart and selling out arenas. It definitely would boost ratings for all shows. Thanks for the memories.
E. Darnell Anderson wrote:
Only the youngsters do not know that feud. The rest of us remember it as the feud that "ruined the careers of both men". For years they said that neither Rich or Sawyer were the same after that feud. Especially the blow-off match, "The last Battle of Atlanta". But it also was an incredible money maker and lesson in booking. Here children, is how you build a match.

In, I believe 1983 (or 82), Rich and Sawyer had truly gooten out of hand. All of Georgia was involved in their feud at one point, including the infamous Roddy Piper v. Buzz Sawyer Dog-collar match. Finally, the Georgia Promotion and NWA President Bob geigel had had enough. It was ordered that Rich and Sawyer would have one last match to end their feud once and for all. Because of the increasing violence, the NWA and Georgia Championship Wrestling, refused to sanction another match between the two so there only legal way to fight would be in the LAST BATTLE OF ATLANTA.

It was further ordered, that since Rich and Sawyer kept attacking each other during their matches, that only one could be in any building at one time. Therefore, when Rich wrestled at the Omni or on Peachtree Drive, there coudl be no Buzz Sawyer and vice versa. For at least 3 months, each week on TV, one man would destroy his opponent, then go next to Gordon Solie at the podium and explain how he would destroy his arch foe. The tension was thick and it went across the nation on WTBS, the number one wrestling program on the planet.

The tension was further added by the special stipulation. For those of you who think the WWF/E invented the so-called, "Hell in the Cell', you are quite incorrect. Considering that Crocket Promotions had a top on a two ring cage in 1987's WAR GAMES, there was already history for such a thing. But the first time it was done, the first time that shook the wrestling world, was when it was announced that Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer would do battle in a steel cage with a top on the cage....no one gets in, no one gets out, until there is a winner. And to make it even more interesting, Saywer's manager, Precious Paul ellering would be held above the ring in cage. That, my friends, is drama

I have no doubt that were PPV available in the manner it later would be, that the LAST BATTLE OF ATLANTA would have been a major blockbuster. In case you are wondering why it did not make the WWE DVD of Best Cage Matches, there are two reasons. 1) To show it would mean the WWE would have to admit that all it did to make Hell in the Cell was to make a bigger cage and discover ways to get out of the cage while having the match continue. 2) No full footage exists of that match.

But those who saw the whole feud develop, will never forget it.
WOLFSPIDER wrote:
Ooo ... what a relief!! Thank you for this article. This is when wrestling was "really" wrestling! I could talk about things like this forever! All I see in the wrestling world these days is "CENA RULES!! Oh that hurts! Tommy Rich, the Mad-Dog, the Andersons, the list goes on and on! These are the "real men" and "real feuds" of the genre.

Thanks Joseph! You made an already happy man even happier today. I can not picture WWE, TNA, or anyone producing wrestling today that could do it as in "days gone by."
Doug wrote:
I too was hooked early on watching "wildfire" feud with Buzz.Buzz impressed me by his mat skills and how he tied people up with his legs,and Tommy was as his name implied "wildfire" I loved when he irish-whipped someone off the ropes and dropped to his knee to deliver a gut punch on the rebounding opponent.I too wish matches of their feud were available on dvd.Tommy Rich was my favorite wrestler growing up until I saw Ric Flair in the ring the first time,that is when I realized that was why Tommy Rich was not the champ(until later winning the title from harley race) as good as Tommy was he couldn't stand out from behind Flair's shadow.I miss the old stars like Rich,Kevin Sullivan,Ivan Koloff,Hacksaw Butch Reed,even the minor stars of georgia championship wrestling like the Spoiler,Chic Donavon,Mr.Wrestling II,Super Destroyer,and Brett Sawyer.Those are good memories.
Dana wrote:
Joseph Kirincic remembers wrestling the way most of us in our late 30s or early 40s remember it, catching TBS' 6:05PM show on Saturday nights and the Best of WCW on Sunday nights at 7. I started watching WCW as a 12 or 13 year old in the summer of 1982 or 1983 when we got hooked up to cable. I still can't forgive the interruptions at 7:05 for Atlanta Braves baseball. The whole week revolved around Gordon Solie announcing matches in the TBS studio on Techwood Drive. You didn't need a crowd with signs to hype up the superstars. They had carisma all their own and a podium next to the ring to promote themselves. Legion of Doom? - I still hear Hawk and Animal referred with this title - but many of "us" knew them in their prime as the Road Warriors, the best tag team ever - bar none!!!!

The two feuds I recall when I started watching WCW were Rich/Sawyer and Koloff/Orndorff. Remember when Larry Zbysko bought the National title from "Killer" Tim Brooks for $10,000? How about Dick Murdoch tossing the Iranian clubs more times than the Iron Shiek and being compensated with $$$ that he used to buy a pickup truck.. My dad could never understand how I got hooked on wrestling and he'll still ask me every 5 years or so if I still watch it. I can finally say - "Once in a while" because it just doesn't have the allure it did when $$$$ wasn't the bottom line for the promotions, or at least not as obvious.

Regarding WCW - 25 years later, I remember that you better have been tuned in to TBS at 6:05 when the show came on the air because once a month the top WCW matches were held in the Omni in Atlanta and while the video wasn't spectacular, the action was and the promotions began for next month's show. WCW was definitely on top of the game and Vince learned a thing or 20 from WCW, though he'd never admit it. I would love to see some old WCW/GCW matches (1983 and prior) in some syndicated fashion. Too bad - I think Vince owns them.
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