Editor’s Note: The following is the second story of a series of articles profiling the life and career of Avery County resident and former champion professional wrestler Curtis Thompson. The first installment can be found in the June 19 edition of The AJT.
ELK PARK — In early adulthood, Curtis Thompson’s career trajectory had its share of zigs and zags. From standout high school and college football player to amateur wrestler to teacher to bodybuilder and, eventually, professional wrestler, Thompson had tried a range of activities and occupations before settling into the highly active and high-profile life as one of the wrestling stars of Jim Crockett’s pro wrestling promotion based in Charlotte and operating out of the Carolinas.
Following a six-month training camp and classes at the hands of seasoned performers Gene Anderson and Nelson Royal, Gene Anderson began booking Thompson on the road to wrestle televised matches to help him gain experience with more veteran grapplers.
“At first, they put you on TV for you to be beaten, to serve as enhancement talent,” Thompson explained in a sit-down interview over lunch. “I did that a couple of times, but the first time I went in the locker room, there were the guys and I said ‘Hey Tully (wrestler Blanchard). Hey Ric (wrestler Flair). Hey Arn (wrestler Anderson).’ They asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I told them that I was wrestling now.
“They got up and immediately took me out of that dressing room down to Dusty’s (pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes) dressing room, as he was the booker. Tully puts his arm around me and tells Dusty, ‘Listen Dusty, we like this kid. We want to take care of him. Besides that, he’s a big, good-looking kid. He looks the part.’ Dusty says, ‘I like what I sees in ya. Baby, I’ll see what I can do for ya.’”
Curtis continued to learn the intricacies of the industry, as well as a number of key practices of the business. As one example, Thompson explained that if he wrestled an opponent inside the wrestling ring, but was friends with the same individual outside the arena and in everyday life, he was taught by veteran wrestlers not to travel to the arena with that individual, as it ruined the fans’ perception that the two individuals were adversaries rather than friends and affect what was known as a storyline, or an angle being portrayed.
“They told me ‘You can be friends all day long, but you can’t pull up to the same building together to work.’ I then had to start driving to matches by myself.”
Thompson was featured in a number of matches both at arena shows that were not televised (known as “house shows” or “spot shows”), as well as in matches on television, including both regional television stations and major national network “Superstation” WTBS, based in Atlanta, against some of the most well-known wrestlers of the territory.
A quick search on the internet will produce video of matches where Thompson competed and shared the ring with a veritable “who’s who” of top talents at that time, including his colleagues Flair and Anderson, Barry Windham, Sting, the Midnight Express and the Road Warriors.
Following some seasoning with Crockett Promotions, Rhodes met with and informed Thompson that he wanted him to work in another territory out of his current region, and that Rhodes would bring him back in a few months and make him a star. So in 1986, Thompson gave notice to his regular non-wrestling job, hopped a plane and touched down in Puerto Rico to wrestle professionally for Carlos Colon’s World Wrestling Council.
In Puerto Rico, Thompson wrestled for a little more than a year as a masked wrestler known as White Angel. He also wrestled a portion of that time without a mask, and eventually continued to ply his craft in Canada, wrestling for Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. After working there for a year or so, he moved on, where his travels took him to Portland, Oreg., where he wrestled for approximately 18 months before returning closer to home to work in Charlotte with a small promotion called South Atlantic Wrestling at the turn of the decades of the 1990s.
While working for South Atlantic, a call came to the home of Curtis’ mother from Terry Allen, known by wrestling fans as “Magnum T.A.” who was working with World Championship Wrestling and inquiring if Thompson would want to come to Atlanta and work for the promotion. “He called my mom and dad and asked to speak to me, and they told him that I lived across the road,” Thompson explained. “I was at the gym at that time, so my mom called me there to tell me to contact Magnum. I left the gym right then and gave him a call. He told me that they were pitching ideas, and that he thought they had one that I would fit in well for, so they wanted me to come down and let them pitch the idea.”
According to Thompson, himself and a number of other prospective wrestlers were brought in, and WCW was seeking characters to promote, such as astronauts and firemen.
“I saw the astronaut outfit and didn’t think I could work in those boots. Then I saw the fireman outfit and figured I could possibly make that work. I asked if I could be the fireman and have the whole fireman outfit with pants, suspenders and hat,” Thompson said. “I had the whole uniform, and they give you about five minutes to think of something, then I had to go into a room with a group of people and a great big table where I had to impress them and ‘sell’ myself as that fireman. Everybody knows the “stop, drop and roll” procedure, so I kick open the door and broke the whole door down. I come in running and start repeatedly asking everyone ‘Where’s the fire escape?’ I pointed and told each one that if they didn’t know where the fire escape was, they were dead. I picked one of them at the table and told them that they were still alive and that I would carry them out. I finished by saying ‘I’m Chip the Firebreaker. Stop, drop and roll.’ and walked out.
With the one chance at a big break, Thompson wasn’t sure what impression he made on the decision makers in the room. After a few tense minutes, Magnum met him in an adjoining room and said, “What the bleep did you do?” ”I told him that I got a little excited with my pitch, and he responded that I couldn’t have done it any better, and that they loved it,” Thompson said. “I was offered a contract then and there, and after I had a lawyer look it over, I signed it and sent it back to him.”
During Firebreaker Chip’s first year in WCW, much of that time was dedicated to character and promotion, paying visits to children’s hospitals and lifting the spirits of those less fortunate, while wrestling only occasionally on television.
Only after an injury to a fellow wrestler did “The Firebreaker” receive what proved to be one of the most fortuitous breaks of his grappling career.
Read next week’s edition of The AJT for the part three of this profile series.