Editor’s Note: The following is the third and final installment of a series of articles profiling the life and career of Avery County resident and former champion professional wrestler Curtis Thompson.
ELK PARK — Sometimes one person’s misfortune opens the door for another to succeed. Names like Wally Pipp (NY Yankees first baseman immediately before Lou Gehrig) and Drew Bledsoe (whose injury opened the door for New England Patriots QB Tom Brady to enjoy a hall-of-fame career) are synonymous with affording someone else the opportunity to showcase their skills.
In the case of Flat Springs resident and former longtime professional wrestler Curtis Thompson, an injury sustained to a fellow wrestler gave him an opening to be showcased as Chip the Firebreaker, who, along with tag team partner Todd Champion, was paired to form a wrestling team with World Championship Wrestling known as The Patriots, competing in venues across the country and eventually earning championship gold within the promotion as one of the top teams in the industry.
“When one of the Steiner Brothers tore his bicep, the promotion needed a tag team who would be ‘babyface’ [crowd favorite, as opposed to “heel,” representing a wrestler generally booed or disliked by the audience],” Thompson explained. “[They wanted] a team that they could push against a team called the Freebirds, so they come up with the Patriots and put Todd and I together.”
The team gelled together and worked well as a tandem for a period, validating the confidence placed in them by the company to run with the proverbial baton. After a period of time as a top team, Thompson noted that the team’s push slowly waned from the main event picture.
“It worked for a while, but once you get that push and you make it to the top, it’s hard to stay at that peak of the mountain for long,” Thompson said. “It could be a cutthroat business between wrestlers. There was a lot of money made to go around, but wrestlers at the time were pretty clique-ish, and I wasn’t a good politician.”
Once Curtis’s two-year contract expired with the WCW promotion was not renewed, he continued to adapt and ply his craft for a period as a singles competitor with the United States Wrestling Association. After a time wrestling with the USWA, Thompson decided that the effort and compensation of working inside the squared circle was no longer worth the time spent away from home and family, so Thompson migrated back to his native Charlotte.
Upon coming home, Thompson was presented with a unique opportunity that involved two things that were among his top passions: wrestling and travel. Thompson, along with 26 other wrestlers, were part of a promotion that was contracted by the Pentagon to jet around the globe to put on wrestling events for troops worldwide. In the time between wrestling tours, Thompson worked for the owner of the wrestling promotion as a bouncer at his bar in Charlotte.
“We spent about six years traveling to different military installations around the world, entertaining the troops,” Thompson recalled. “That was absolutely the best and most rewarding gig that I ever had. I wrestled as a heel under the name of “Tough T,” and I wrestled with a tag-team partner and valet, and we were called ‘Triple X.’ We were World and US Tag Team Champions, and that was such a great time. We worked a couple of months at a time, and then we’d be back home for a couple months. Our last tour we did was to South Korea, Kuwait, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, California, Texas and back to North Carolina — a full circle of the globe.”
The years of physical wear and tear had taken its toll on Thompson, however. Lingering injuries were followed by a serious knee injury, and his 40-year-old body told him it was time to hang up his wrestling boots for good around the year 2000.
Although one door of vocation closed, Thompson quickly found another door which opened, serving with a fledgling airline known as JetBlue. With only a single plane in its fleet, Thompson, who was recuperating from a torn meniscus, received a job opportunity through one of his wrestling contacts, a friend named “Mo,” who told him of the airline and the possibility of a position there.
“He said, ‘I think I can get you on with us,’ and I said, ‘Doing what?’ and he told me, ‘As a flight attendant,’” Thompson recalled. After taking some time to convince Thompson of the merits of the possible position, Curtis studied more about the business on the internet and decided to submit an application. He was contacted by the individual in charge of hiring and was asked to meet her in New York City.
Thompson flew to New York and brought along several photos, signing a number of autographs in the corporate offices prior to his interview. Following a brief and informal conversation, Thompson was hired as the company’s 147th employee to take to the skies to serve as a flight attendant with JetBlue.
For 11 years, Thompson crisscrossed America, with flights to and from New York, Los Angeles, and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Eventually, the rigors of a varied and well-traveled career continue to take its toll. Thompson endured three knee replacements, and the constant pain convinced Thompson to finally accept a buyout and gracefully enter retirement.
“A lot of people thought I was an air marshall,” Thompson said about reactions of some passengers upon sight of him during his time working working at the airline. “When I first started, I had some people recognize me. One guy had this book open that had a photo of me in it. I walked by and said, ‘Nice picture,’ and he said, ‘I thought that was you.’ So I stopped and signed the picture for him. He asked why I wasn’t wrestling any longer, and I told him I was getting hurt in wrestling, but I also still had to make a living. He asked if I enjoyed the job and I said, ‘I love it. I’m not getting beat up or getting hurt.’”
Once Thompson’s feet landed firmly on the ground for good, he continued to live in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before he and his wife Christine eventually migrated to the Avery County area, partially because a number of his family members are located in the area, and also because of a particular visit for a family reunion that shifted Curtis’s home address to a higher elevation.
“We came up for a family reunion, and Christine and I were driving around. She said, ‘I’d like for us to move up here.’ I said, ‘What?’ and she said to me, ‘We’re gonna move up here.’” Thompson said. “I told her if she was serious about it, that we would sell our house where we had just moved back to Charlotte to be closer to my parents. We found a little house up here, put an offer on it, and they took the offer immediately. To make a long story short, we’ve been living here for around nine years. This area is just heaven sent.”
Today, Thompson can be found during his spare time visiting his mother who still resides in Charlotte, working out in the gym, riding his motorcycle on a nice day, or still competing, only now against fish who may not want to be caught by his rod and reel in any of his favorite fishing holes.
Also of note, he enjoys spreading Christmas cheer, working alongside Christine, general manager with the Mast General Store Annex in Valle Crucis. During the holidays, Thompson serves as Santa Claus in Boone and for multiple Mast General Store locations.
“When I moved up here, it was like I moved home. I’ve lived all over the world: South Africa, Portland, Oregon, Fort Lauderdale, you name it,” Thompson reflected. “But when I moved here, when I moved to the mountains, I was like, ‘Wow. I’m home.’”