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By Mike Johnson on 2021-03-03 22:04:00

It’s somewhat fitting that on tonight’s episode of AEW Dynamite on TNT that Tully Blanchard, accompanied by JJ Dillon no less, strutted to the ring wearing the NWA United States Championship belt that he defended against Magnum TA at Starrcade ‘85 while FTR carried the NWA World Tag Team Titles that Blanchard and Arn Anderson won from Lex Luger and Barry Windham to the ring, each callbacks to classic moments that took place under the Jim Crockett Promotions banner. 

Whether it was meant to be or not, the moment not only invoked nostalgia and memories from old school fans who remember the days when Crockett Promotions and the NWA epitomized the best in pro wrestling authenticity but doubled as a tribute to Jim Crockett Jr., who has passed away at 76, days after going into hospice care with what was said to be kidney and liver issues.

Crockett's passing was first announced by former NWA star Robert Gibson.  To say that he was one of the most important figures in pro wrestling history is one of the most ridiculous understatements ever written.  It will be near-impossible in this short article to explain his importance, especially in the 1980s, but here is an overview.

Crockett was a second-generation promoter who inherited Crockett Promotions several years after the passing of his father, the legendary “Big” Jim Crockett, who promoted not just professional wrestling, but all kinds of sports and entertainment events in the Carolinas.  As all other promoters either faltered against the might of the WWF's national expansion or failed to realize until it was too late the countdown to their doom was upon them, Crockett stood out in that pack, fighting head to head with Vince McMahon through the 1980s before shutting down and selling what many fans felt was the last true national representation of the NWA at the time to Turner Broadcasting, which then created WCW in late 1988. 

The Crockett family legacy, especially in the Carolinas, was and remains second to none.  After taking control of JCP, Crockett brought it from a regional group to a nationally touring outlet thanks to the viewing power of WTBS, an incredible crew of performers and the booking might of Dusty Rhodes.  It was not uncommon for WWF and JCP to run the same market on the same night and each sell out their respective arenas at the same time.  Crockett was the first promoter beyond WWF to bring his shows to PPV with the 1987 Bunkhouse Stampede and then, far more successfully, The 1988 Great American Bash. 

During this period, Crockett served as NWA President for multiple terms, but also believed he would end up the final member of the promotion as other promoters fell by the wayside due to the McMahon expansion.  For that reason, the "Big Gold Belt", which Crockett commissioned, reads World Heavyweight Champion as opposed to NWA World Champion.  Crockett vs. WWF was a dogfight in every sense of the word, with the promotions running close to each other, live free cable specials scheduled the same day as major PPVs, etc.  It was the true, first, head to head war, well before the Monday Night Raw.

Crockett himself has said that he was the one who bankrolled the first Wrestlemania as he paid $1 million to buy Vince McMahon and the WWF out of their timeslot on TBS after McMahon had taken it over from Georgia Championship Wrestling during the WWF's national expansion, only to end up at odds with Ted Turner when the audience, expecting Gordon Solie and the stars they had come accustomed to, revolted against getting WWF stars on tape from various locales instead of their weekly studio show.

Despite the strength of the promotion, financial losses proved to be too much and Crockett opted to sell, something that ended generations of tradition, a move that obviously haunted him.  Some blamed Dusty Rhodes' booking and some blamed poor book-keeping.  However, Crockett himself explained in the great Michael Elliot documentary The Good Old Days that if anyone was to blame for the promotion going down, it was him as it was his responsibility and the failure rests on his shoulders.   Years later, Ric Flair would comment that the national expansion had been too much and had they just stayed to the East of the Mississippi River, “they wouldn’t have been able to blow us out with Dynamite.”

After Turner purchased JCP, Jim stayed on as a consultant for a short time but was no longer in control and quietly disappeared from the scene.  After his non-compete expired, Crockett did attempt a comeback, running some shows under the NWA banner in Texas for a short time.  He also partnered with Paul Heyman in 1994 in an attempt to launch a group under the World Wrestling Network banner (designed to be filmed in HD MANY years before that was the common technology) but it didn’t gel together.  After a taping in Texas and a taping in New York City, the project ended with Heyman continuing on in ECW while Crockett quietly moved on to real estate.

 In the years to come, Crockett would often turn down convention and signing offers, citing that he had let fans down as he couldn’t envision that those fans would actually want to see him given what he had decided to shut down.    It was only in recent years that he opted to appear at a Conrad Thompson produced Starrcast event.  For fans who grew up in the Carolinas, there will be and never can be something greater than what JCP produced and if you watching WTBS in the 1980s, you were blessed with a glorious era on your TV every weekend at 6:05 PM Saturdays.  That legacy can never be outmatched or forgotten.

Everyone at sends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of one of the most important promoters of all time, Jim Crockett Jr.

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