Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

71-Year-Old Wrestler “Action” Mike Jackson Tells All

“Action” Mike Jackson is one of the best wrestlers in the world, yet he’s 71-years-old. I first saw him perform live at Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore show in November 2019, and he blew me away. He was the highlight of the entire show, and I told him so afterward. The entire crowd was captivated by his speed and ability. In April 2020 he debuted on IMPACT Wrestling in a match against Johnny Swinger, again, blowing away wrestling fans, but this time it was on a worldwide stage. Around this time COVID took over the world, so that run came to a halt. However, as you’ll see in my interview with this championship wrestler who has grappled with countless legends, the best is yet to come. I look forward to the day when “Action” Mike Jackson returns to the ring in IMPACT Wrestling, and I hope I’m there to see it live. If you’re looking to enjoy some of his prowess while at home, give him a call at 205-936-9050 to buy a variety of DVDs, t-shirts, and more from the living legend himself!

When and how did you get into wrestling?

Well, funny story. When I was a little kid, just eight years old, there was this town called Columbiana, Alabama. My father was a preacher, and we moved from town to town. There wasn’t cable back then. Every Saturday afternoon I’d watch wrestling. From the first time I saw it, I was just hooked. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world, and I always wanted to do it.

Then, we my Dad got a pretty big-sized Church in Birmingham, Alabama. They had wrestling in that town: NWA. It was run by Nick Gulas. He had it every Monday night in Birmingham. I went to a high school that was two blocks from that auditorium. So, every Monday afternoon I’d get out of school, go down and get my ticket, and then Monday night go down to the matches. If I had to walk, catch a bus, hitch a ride — whatever I needed to do, I went. I remember some names like Tojo Yamamoto, Len Rossi, the Blue Infernos. I had a second-row seat reserved for every show for about a year-and-a-half.

They did a TV show on Saturday night that they filmed in Birmingham to go to Nashville, Tupelo, or wherever they were sending it. I went to the TV station for those tapings because those were free. I met the guy who was the referee’s son and got to be friends with him. He decided to go to college, and they needed someone to fill his spot. He’d ring the bell and park the cars. Since we were good friends, he asked me if I wanted to do his job since he was going away to college, so I did it. It paid a little money. I’d sit by the announcer, tell him the times of the matches, how long the matches lasted. And I’d park the cars before the show. I’d also put the ring up during the day and take it down at night.

I got to know my friend’s Dad, and he was the only referee. They’d do about three matches per show. One match was for one fall, while the others were two out of three falls. He also had a regular job, and I’d go with him to different towns for spot shows that they did. One day he was too tired to do it, so I referred a match. I’d say that was toward the end of 1970 and into 1971 that I was referring. Then I decided that I wanted to be a wrestler.

What was it like trying to become a wrestler at that point?

I was a small guy and they just, kind of, pushed me off. Then, for 13 months, I started wrestling shows in outlaw towns. I got my first big break in 1973. My first match was in June of 1972. You do a lot of little towns and don’t make much money. But you don’t care. You’re doing what you want to do, and that’s the main thing. There was a commission back then, and we were lucky enough to get a show in and break everything down before the police showed up. These guys showed up who worked for a commissioned wrestling organization and they recommended that I join their group. So, me and my partner moved to Nashville, and my first big match was on Christmas night in 1973.

What was your experience with Jerry ‘The King” Lawler?

Well, Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett ran the Memphis side. Nick Gulas would run Birmingham, Nashville, Bowling Green, Huntsville, and Chattanooga. It was a split up territory. You’d go to one group for a little while, and then go to another group for a little while. They all worked together. It was an NWA type thing.

You worked for Bill Watts in Mid-South Wrestling too, right?

Yes, that was one of my best experiences. He had a really good promotion. It was great. Of all the people I’ve worked for in my life, the most fair, smartest, and hardest working guy was Bill Watts. He always treated us fairly. Whether you were full-time or part-time, you got paid the same.

Did you wrestle all over the country or stay in one place?

I traveled quite a bit to different territories, but I mostly stayed in the South.

What was it like working with Eddie Graham in Championship Wrestling from Florida?

They treated me very well. I didn’t wrestle there very much. But if I wanted to go on vacation for a few days in Florida, I’d call them up. The main office was out of Tampa, Florida. Sometimes Dusty was the booker or Dory Funk. I’d tell them that I’d be in town for a week and see if they could get me on some shows. Monday night was Miami. Tuesday night was TV in Tampa. Wednesday night would be in Jacksonville or somewhere else. Gordon Solie was there and he really helped me a lot. The Grahams were good people. They paid well and worked hard.

Tell me about your relationship with Gordon Solie.

He was, to me, the very best announcer of all time. I went over to Atlanta to do TV tapings, and that’s where I met Gordon. He took a liking to me. Gordon put me over really strong on the broadcast, and I did Atlanta TV tapings from about 1974 to 1988. I did TV elsewhere, but Atlanta was where I stayed the most.

So, you started off as a referee and then became a wrestler. How and when did those you worked with clue you in to how wrestling works?

I found out when I started refereeing. When I was setting up the ring, I was aware of how things worked. It’s much different now. Back in the 1960s and 1970s it was a real hush-hush operation. If you weren’t in the business, you weren’t a part of it. Now, everything is exposed on the internet and there are shoot interviews. I found out when I became a referee because I needed to know where I needed to be and what they needed me to do. So, that was in the early 1970s.

Were you surprised when you found out the secrets of professional wrestling or no?

No. If you’ve got any sense at all — I’ve got two master’s degrees. Growing up, after I watched it for about a year, I figured it couldn’t be as bad as I thought it was. I had an idea of what was going on, but I didn’t know all of the inside information.

What guys don’t realize and what I did early in my career is, it’s a business. It’s not guys trying to kill each other. It’s a business. You’re going out there to try to make a living to feed your family. The main thing is you don’t want to kill anybody but you also don’t want to get killed yourself. You’re going to get hurt. I train guys all the time and I tell them, “You’re going to get hurt. It’s not exactly if you’re going to get hurt, it’s when you’re going to get hurt.” You’re going to do it sooner or later, and I’ve had my share. That’s probably when I realized the business end of it, probably.

Since pro wrestling was more secretive back then, did becoming one of the boys make you feel like you were part of a special club?

Exactly! And that’s what I try to tell guys nowadays. In 2020, they don’t understand that. A lot of guys throw on boots and tights and think they’re wrestlers. That’s not what it’s about. Back in the day, it was hard for me to get in. When I tried to get in, I was shut down 100 times before anybody would ever give me a break. Nowadays, you can go into any of these little buildings, train for two weeks, and be in the main event the following week. That’s what’s hurt the business, I believe. That’s been its downfall.

You mentioned you have two master’s degrees. That’s pretty incredible. What are they in?

I have one in physical education and I have another in administration and leadership: educational leadership. Be a principal, a vice principal. I taught school for 14 years full-time, and I did a lot of part-time stuff while I was wrestling.

So, were you getting your degrees on the side while you were wrestling?

When I first started, I went ahead and got those degrees because I thought one of these days I might need it if wrestling didn’t work out. Of course, I didn’t know it was going to work out so well for me. But it worked out pretty good. I taught school for several years but then I got out of it because I was making more money, sometimes three days a week, than I would get working a whole week for the school. I got out of it and did long-term substitute teaching from that point on at different schools. I’ve also got a minor in English, so I taught some of that too.

You had the opportunity to wrestle some incredible guys, including Ric Flair. What was it like being in the ring with The Nature Boy?

It was incredible. I met Flair in the 1970s when he was the only world champion. Now, everywhere you go there’s a world champion. I try to tell people that there’s only one world. You can’t have 45 world champions when there’s only one world. Every time I go to one of these independent shows and they have a guy who weighs 110 pounds where the belt is bigger than he is and he tells me he’s the world champion, I don’t fall for it.

When I was in it, the NWA was out of South Missouri. Those were the head honchos and Ric Flair was the world champion. He might go to Birmingham for a week or Japan for a week or Portland, Oregon for a week, wherever the territories were. I got to meet him and we became fairly good friends over the years. I lived in Birmingham so I took him to all of the hotels, the airport, or wherever he needed to go. We got to be pretty good friends, and working with him was incredible. Ric and I did the TV match of the week in Atlanta in 1988 and we went for almost 10 minutes, when normally those matches would be much shorter. I put him in the figure-four. I suplexed him over the top rope. I was scared. I thought I killed him a couple times. And he was the NWA world champion at that time.

When you’re working with someone like Ric Flair, did you guys discuss the match ahead of time or call things on the fly in the ring?

Sometimes both. When you work with someone like Ric Flair, you shut up and do what he says. I had only been in the business 15 years, and he had been in it a lot longer. I tell these young guys that you shut your mouth, listen to the veterans, and do what you’re told to do. He led it, and I just followed.

I read that you also wrestled Lou Thesz. Is that right?

I did. Gosh, it was in 1973, I would imagine. Me and my tag team partner got invited to the Memphis side of the territory for their first-ever two-ring battle royal. Lou Thesz and Jerry Lawler were there, as well as Bobo Brazil and a lot of other big-name guys. Me and Tommy Gilbert were the last two left in ring two and Lou Thesz and Jerry Lawler were the last two left in ring one. So, we came back the next Monday night as the main event in a tag team match. Me and Gilbert against Lou Thesz and Jerry Lawler. And then I wrestled Lou Thesz on individual shows in Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama. Lou was good, but he definitely wasn’t a modern day wrestler. None of the highflying stuff. None of the jumping through ropes. None of that kind of stuff. He was a wrestler, and he could tie you up in knots if he wanted to. He was really good, but he was a whole different style than Ric Flair, Harley Race, or somebody like that. Totally different. He was good.

Did you ever have the opportunity to work with Adrian Street?

I did. I worked with Adrian Street, and the first time I ever saw him was in Mid-South in Shreveport, Louisiana at a house show. He was there and Bill Watts put me in a match with him on TV. I worked with him several other times after that when he came to Continental Championship Wrestling.

What did you think the first time you saw him?

(Laughs) Well, the first time I saw him I thought, “This is going to be easy. He can’t do anything.” Once the bell rung, he was on me like a cheap suit. He was good. He was a guy who could tie you in knots if he wanted to. You might think he’s kind of funny with all the hair and the makeup, but he was a good wrestler. He was a real wrestler.

You also have a history with “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, who passed away earlier this year. Tell me about that.

He was one of my all-time favorites. The Armstrong family and I have been close for many years. I don’t like to think I owe a whole lot of people for the career I’ve had because I’ve worked hard for myself. But I do owe a few people. Those include Len Rossi, J.J. Dillon, and Dusty Rhodes. But nobody helped me more than Bob Armstrong. Bob was the booker and a worker here in the Continental Southeastern area, which is out of Pensacola, Florida. He helped me anytime I needed help. In the latter years, he and I tag teamed. During the last few years of his life, we must’ve tag teamed 10 or 12 times. I would come in and do what needs to be done and let Bob be the hero. He deserved it. He’s a legend in the South, I promise you. No one draws bigger than Bob Armstrong.

What are your thoughts on Jim Cornette?

I like Jim Cornette. I’ve never had any bad dealings with Jim. I know some people don’t like him. He’s very outspoken. But when I did the IMPACT Wrestling thing, Jim was asked about it. And he was very complimentary when he was talking about me. He talked about me looking like I did years ago and how I always deliver a good match. He could have buried me if he wanted to. I’ve known him for years. I wrestled The Midnight Express, probably, 100 times, and he was their manager. He’s strictly a businessman. Even though he ruffles a few feathers, if you listen to what he says, it makes sense. He could talk, brother! I know why they hired him, because he was a brain. He had a lot of great ideas. He put stuff together that made sense. He’s always been great with me.

Did you ever work with the WWF?

I worked with the WWF from 1988 to 1992. Every time they came South, they’d call me and invite me to TV. They’d say, “Mike, we need 15 guys.” I’d rent a van and go with the guys. I had about 35 guys working with me. In 1974 I started doing my own bookings, and guys came and worked for me. If you watch old Atlanta TV most of those guys, job guys, if you will, were working for me. So, I would do a lot of WWF in the South when they came by, especially during the winter months. That was before the contracts came. After the contracts came, everybody started signing with them and my guys started to fall by the wayside and we were out.

Who was your point of contact in the WWF that you worked with?

Terry Garvin. He’d call me and set everything up, tell me how many guys he needed, where to be and at what time. We’d rent a van and go. They’d really take care of us. We made great money. They really paid well. I worked with a lot of guys in the WWF. Danny Davis, The Godfather, several guys.

You mentioned job guys, also known as enhancement talent. You were in that role for most of your career, right?

Yes, and I accepted that. Some guys can’t. If you watch those matches I had on TV, those guys I wrestled respected guys that could work. Nobody goes out on TV and wants to have a bad match, know what I’m sayin’? I was lucky. The Rock always talked about knowing your role. He said that a million times, and I knew my role. I had guys who’d say, “I’m not going to do a job. People will make fun of me at home.” I said, “OK. Take your stuff and go.” I knew my role, and I always had good matches on TV. I never got squashed. I did all my stuff. I’m drop kicking and headscissoring, doing all my stuff, which puts me over. Then, bam boom, 1-2-3. If I wanted people to see how tough I am, I’d get into MMA, which I’m not going to. I knew my role, and I was making unreal money. WWF was calling, Mid-South was calling, Georgia Championship was calling, Florida Championship was calling. I went to Puerto Rico for Carlos Colón’s group because of that. I knew what I was going to do. If I said I needed to be a star, it wouldn’t have worked out. I didn’t always like it. Sometimes I’d put over guys that I knew I was 10 times better than, but that’s part of the job.

I remember when the Road Warriors came in and Ole Anderson pulled me aside and said, “I’m going to put you with these guys for a while. Someone needs to show them how to work.” They appreciated it so much that years later when I saw Animal he said, “I hope you don’t mind but we put you on our DVD.” They told me how much they appreciated my help.

Did you ever work with Randy Savage?

Oh, yeah! Randy Savage and I worked our first full-time job together in 1974, when I went with Nick Gulas in NWA. When I started my first job there in 1973 or 1974, that’s when Randy Savage started. There are some guys who are ahead of their time, and Randy was one of them. He had natural ability. Randy could go out there and have a heck of a match with a broomstick. He was that good, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

You won the Alabama Junior Heavyweight Title. What was that like for you?

That was great! I was getting a little push, making more money, getting booked in better spots. It makes a whole lot of difference. I was very excited.

You most recently worked with IMPACT Wrestling. How did that come about?

Johnny Swinger lives in Georgia and I’ve gotten to know him over the years. I was in Charlotte at the last fan fest, in 2019. They have wrestling on Saturday night and Tommy Dreamer ran the show. I introduced myself to him and he already knew who I was. I knew he ran House of Hardcore, so I asked him to watch my match. When I came back he said, “Would you like to do this House of Hardcore show for me?” So, they flew me to Philadelphia, paid me really well, hotel. They treated me like I was somebody. Next thing I know, they asked me if I wanted to do IMPACT Wrestling. I said, “Absolutely!” Getting on TV always helps. It gets you more money and more bookings. I thought it might be a comedy thing. You know, Swinger is young and looks good and I’m this old guy. But it went really well, and the video of it went viral. People were commenting like crazy on it. As soon as it was over, they asked me to do three more TV bookings over the next three months, so they were impressed. But then the COVID hit. And when that happened, they started doing shows with no audience. They called me the other day and said that once the COVID is over, they want to bring me back and do something with me. I was flattered. It came through Tommy Dreamer.

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