An article by Mike Mooneyham
He was the “king” of wrestling, and he had a crown to prove it.
Long before stars like Jerry Lawler and Bret Hart claimed that title, a South Carolina native by the name of Rufus R. Jones was the undisputed king. It wasn’t a self- proclaimed moniker – he was presented the crown by a legion of fans one night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones, who entertained thousands of wrestling fans for more than two decades, is dead at the age of 60. Jones, whose real name was Carey Lloyd, died of a heart attack Nov. 13 while on a hunting trip near his home in Kansas City, Mo.
The personable Jones, who used running shoulder blocks known as the “freight train” to soften up his opponents for his finishing head butt maneuver, was also known for his colorful, yet sometimes dis jointed, television interviews.
“My name is Rufus R. Jones, and the ‘R’ stands for guts,” became his rallying cry in several of his vintage spiels.
Jones, who began his mat career in the mid-1960s, retired from the sport in 1987 and worked for two years as a security guard at a dog-racing track before opening Rufus’ Ringside Restaurant and Bar in Kansas City in 1991. And, like most of the things he took on, it was a success.
Jones held an assortment of titles during his career – among them the Mid-Atlantic title, the Mid-Atlantic TV title and the Central States tag-team title with The Mongolian Stomper, Bulldog Bob Brown, Bob Geigel, Mike George and Dewey Robertson.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336x280]Jones, who maintained a fighting weight of 275 pounds, was a native of Dillon, S.C., and played college football at S.C. State in Orangeburg. He had a brief stint in boxing, and as a Golden Gloves boxer, he had a record of 32 wins and three losses. He wrestled early in his career under the name Big Buster Lloyd.
Jones gained great popularity wrestling for St. Louis promoter and former NWA president Sam Muchnick in the ’70s, and once drew a sellout crowd at the storied Kiel Auditorium in a 60-minute draw with then-world champion Dory Funk Jr. He was also a main-event attraction in the Carolinas-Virginia area during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and in the Kansas City area that was, over the years, run by such promoters as Gust Karras, Pat O’Connor, Dory Funk Sr. and Bob Geigel.
The Jones Boys
Moncks Corner native Burrhead Jones, who formed a successful team with Rufus in the ’60s and ’70s, broke into the sport with Jones. The two were billed as cousins.
“I met Rufus in New York City in the late ’50s,” recalls Burrhead. “He’d come over to my house and we’d run around New York City together. We became very, very close because we were looking for the same future in life. We weren’t wrestling at the time, but we both liked the sport. We met a few of the guys
Bobo Brazil, John and Chris Tolos, Mark Lewin and Don Curtis
and we decided that’s what we wanted to do.
“I went to the gym first, and I told Rufus and he went the next week. He turned pro before I did, since he was a much bigger fellow than I was. During that time, of course, steroids were a secret. They wanted me to get on to it so I could improve my weight a little bit, but I was scared of needles and that’s why I didn’t get on steroids. And now I’m glad that I didn’t.” [ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
Rufus didn’t need them, either, since he was already a big fellow. He weighed 250 pounds before he went into the gym. Bobo Brazil and a couple others told him he’d never make a pro wrestler because he was too big and clumsy, but he sure made Bobo out a liar. When we started, when there less than 10 black guys in the business
and that included Bobo, Ernie Ladd, Sailor Art Thomas, Luther Lindsay, Bearcat Wright, Sweet Daddy Siki and Dory Dixon.
“After Rufus turned pro, he went to Kansas City, and I went to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia,” says Burrhead. “I went to Kansas City to wrestle for Bob Geigel. Rufus came later and made some very good money for Dory Funk Sr. He eventually made Kansas City his home.”
Burrhead first teamed with Rufus in the New York City area and later rejoined him in the mid-’70s for the Charlotte-based Jim Crockett Promotions.
“We made a heck of a team and we drew some good money together,” said Burrhead. “He was one hell of a good wrestler and he really liked the fans here in Charleston. It’s a tragic loss to the profession. A lot of people I work with still ask about him. Many of the wrestlers from that period really looked up to him and re spected him. This is going to make guys like Ric Flair, Black Jack Mulligan, Paul Jones and Wahoo McDaniel sit back a little bit.”
King to the rescue
Burrhead Jones recounts an incident nearly 20 years ago in which he credits his “cousin” with saving his life.
“Rufus saved me from permanent damage,” recalls Burrhead, referring to a televised match in which the 6-8, 300-pound Black Jack Mulligan nearly destroyed his much smaller opponent until Rufus came to the rescue to stop the slaughter.
Mulligan, however, was later joined by cohorts Ric Flair and Gene and Ole Anderson, who held Rufus R. while Black Jack jumped off the top rope on top of Rufus, smashing his crown. To add insult to injury, the villainous rowdies slapped Rufus in the face while putting a chauffeur’s cap on his head. It was one of the promotion’s most memorable angles from that era.
“He saved my life that day,” jokes Burrhead. “I’ll always owe him for that.”
Burrhead, like many of his colleagues in the sport, remembers Rufus Jones as a man with a sincere genuineness and a big smile.
“He really had a good sense of humor,” recalls Burrhead. “And he really did like those pork chops and rice and beans that he’d always talk about. Although he was a professional wrestler, he still didn’t think he was better than anybody else. He was born and raised in the country, and he always loved his home cooking. To prove the point, after he got of the business, he got himself a great little rib shack.
“What can we say. The man enjoyed life while he lived it, and he brought a lot of happiness to a whole lot of people. He’s really, really going to be missed by a lot of sports fans around here. Especially me, Burrhead Jones. He was a special part of my life, and it seems like a part of my life has faded away with his passing. I know that there will never be a chance for me to call him on the phone. The last time I called him was last year when we watched the Super Bowl together. I was in South Carolina and he was in Kansas City, and I called him up.
“It’s a real tragedy. But, like anything else, all good things must come to an end. Somewhere along the line, we all need to say a prayer for him.”
`Watermelon in his pocket’
“Rufus was extremely popular,” recalls longtime promoter Jim Crockett. “During the late ’70s and early ’80s, he was really hot. He had one of the most unique styles of interviews. The first time I heard him do an interview, he was talking about a watermelon in his pocket, and I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. But I later found out it was just a slang term that I had never heard, and I’ll never forget, that meant having a lot of money.”
Nelson Royal, who frequently teamed with Jones in the Carolinas and Kansas City territories, called him one of the most likable men in the sport.
“I always enjoyed teaming with Rufus,” said Royal, who now runs a country-and- western supply store in Mooresville, N.C.
“He was a very nice man and a real crowd-pleaser in the ring. I’m just shocked and saddened that he’s gone. He was a very talented person. He knew more about the business than a lot of people. He and I did a lot of stuff together.” “He was a hard-working, great guy to be around,” recalled former NWA star Jerry Brisco.
“Rufus was just a great personality, an outstanding person. He was so funny all the time. I really enjoyed being around the guy. You knew you could trust him.
“He went out doing what he liked to do
because he loved to hunt.”
Dream will live on
Jones’ wife of 30 years, Brooksie (Lloyd) Jones, says she will continue to run the restaurant and plans to erect a statue in her husband’s honor.
“I’ve been asked to do a memorial, and I figure probably the best way to do that is to erect a statue,” she said. “I’m going to put it (the statue) in the building, on the building or around this building. But it will go up. Vine Street, where the restaurant is located, is a very historical street. We’re on 23rd and Vine, and we were like pioneers on this corner. It had been dead for so long, and everybody gives him (Rufus) credit for bringing it back. There’s a lot of history in this place.”
Jones leaves behind three grown daughters – Melaney, Crystal and Kendall. He also had an adopted son – the Rev. Kenneth Johnson – better known to wrestling fans as “The Reverend Slick.”
“Kenny actually adopted us as his parents years ago,” said Mrs. Jones. “He and Rufus were very close. He’d come down at least once every three months to visit us.”
Johnson, who has his own church in Fort Worth, Texas, delivered the service at Rufus’ funeral. A song composed by Rufus called “Lilacs Today” was performed at the service.
“The service was beautiful,” said Mrs. Jones. “It had everyone spellbound. It was like nothing you had ever experienced before.”
Mrs. Jones said many present and former wrestlers attended the service.
“He kept in touch with everybody. In fact, the local wrestling crowd comes down here about once a month on Mondays to have lunch.”
Among that crowd are names like Bob Geigel, Bob Brown, Mike George, Aaron Jones, Benny Ramirez and Sapphire.
“The restaurant was our home away from home,” Mrs. Jones said. “When he finally got wrestling out of his system, the restaurant got to be his life. He had something else he could do, and that made a difference.
“He was a great cook. In fact, he really taught me how to cook. I thought I could cook when we first got married, but after tasting his food, my food was nothing compared to his. He used to tell me, `Most people won’t tell you. But I’m going to let you know.’ And he did. He let me know I couldn’t cook. It hurt my feelings at first, but then again, it made me a better cook. There even got to be some things I could outdo him on. I know a friend of mine whose wife cooks so bad, he goes to a restaurant everyday and has dinner, goes homes, and says he’s not hungry. But why go through all of that? I mean we’re only human. If it’s bad, it’s bad.”
Mrs. Jones also laughs when recalling opening night at the restaurant, with stars like Harley Race in attendance and Bruce (Butch) Reed riding a horse into the eatery at midnight. She also fondly remembers the many wrestling trips with her husband.
“He used to bring the kids on summer vacation down there (the Carolinas). I remember the beach in Charleston with those funny-looking crabs. I have a lot of shells from there,” she laughs. Mrs. Jones says her husband lived to realize his final dream – seeing his first grandchild.
And, she adds, she plans to continue another dream
“He was very family-oriented. He did love his family. His last dream was to see his first grandchild. And he did. She was six weeks old when he died. His other dream was to stay in this restaurant for a while and then open up an old folks home. I’m going to keep the restaurant going, and if at all possible, open up that old folks home one day. You have to keep on going.”