By Mike Mooneyham
Dec. 31, 2006
It’s an appropriate time to reflect upon the many influential wrestling personalities who passed away in 2006. They all touched the lives of fans and the profession in general.
The end of the year saw the passing of one of the greatest masked men in the history of the business.
Don Jardine was so exceptional he was able to garner phenomenal success as both The Spoiler and The Super Destroyer during a career that spanned from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.
Jardine passed away Dec. 16 at the age of 66 from complications of leukemia and Type II diabetes that he had fought the past four years. He had battled pneumonia over the summer and had his colon removed two months ago. He suffered a heart attack earlier this month and went into a coma from which he never emerged.
Jardine’s heyday was in the late ’60s and ’70s, but his influence can still be seen in the ring today. He walked the ropes years before The Undertaker (Mark Calaway), billed as Jardine’s protege when he broke into the business, copied it and made it famous in the World Wrestling Federation.
Jardine, who demonstrated tremendous agility and balance for a big man, could perform more moves than most other 6-4, 270-pound wrestlers, including the “Old School” rope walk where he would gingerly walk the top rope, high-wire style, while applying the claw hold on his opponent.
The New Brunswick native trained at the age of 15 under Emile Dupre (Emile Goguen), father of current WWE performer Rene Dupre, at a local YMCA before being taken under the wing of Canadian great and former NWA champion Whipper Billy Watson (William Potts). He officially began his mat career under the name Babyface Jardine and worked as a preliminary wrestler for several years in the Toronto area. Other early monikers included Butcher Jardine, Sonny Cooper and The Enforcer (with partner Clyde Steeves).
But it wasn’t until the mask that Jardine took his game to the next level.
He first began wearing the hood in 1967 in Texas while wrestling for promoter Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson). Appearing as The Spoiler, a name given to him by veteran Joe Scarpa (Chief Jay Strongbow), and under the management of the controversial Playboy Gary Hart (Gary Williams), Jardine saw his career take off under his new masked persona. Using the claw hold as his finisher, which he originally called the Hart Crusher, Jardine became an instant hit.
Jardine’s top opponent in Texas was Von Erich, also the No. 1 babyface in the territory, with whom he sold out a number of houses in a series of “claw vs. claw” matches pitting the favorite hold of both stars.
From “parts unknown,” The Spoiler cast an imposing figure in gold mask and red tights, sporting a menacing black glove over his right hand, a foreboding sign that his vaunted claw wasn’t far behind. A smooth, methodical heel who let the savvy, street-smart Hart do the talking on interviews, The Spoiler soon became a main-event performer throughout the country and even across the globe, working in more than a dozen countries and making nine trips to Japan.
Pro wrestling great Cowboy Bill Watts, who wrestled and promoted in the Mid-South territory at the time, recalled Jardine as an “awesome talent.”
“He was a person that the mask transformed. Without it, he was deadpanned and actually had a little smirk that just did not capture the crowd, so he was just another guy on the card. But with it, and the way he could move and his athletic ability, it worked great.”
Watts says the catalyst that completed the transformation was Hart as his manager.
“We got The Spoiler over with his claw hold and Gary Hart’s managing and talking on TV. Plus Hart wore really classy business suits – he even had alligator shoes – and really dressed the image of the Chicago playboy. He furnished the pizazz to make their gimmick awesome. Don was a relentless worker. He was in shape, big and could move. He had tremendous agility for a big guy.”
Watts’ first meeting with Jardine was a memorable one.
“I first met Don, a Canadian, in 1962, the year I broke into pro wrestling in the Indianapolis area. He potatoed me right on the chin so hard it would have killed an ordinary man,” says Watts. “I couldn’t shut my jaw right for weeks. But of course, I never told him how hard his punch was, but it did not even knock me off my feet. It was as hard as Stan ‘The Lariat’ Hansen hit me in New Orleans – an accident – but those were the two hardest times I got hit, and that’s another story. Down deep, I always thought Don had potatoed me on purpose because I was just breaking in. But it was never an issue between us.”
Jardine, who was billed as 6-7 and 290 pounds although legitimately was three inches shorter and nearly 20 pounds lighter, arrived in the Carolinas in 1973 after Wahoo McDaniel recommended him to booker George Scott, who had begun building the once-rich tag-team area into a strong singles territory. Jardine, guaranteed a top spot on the roster, changed his name to The Super Destroyer and became an instant main-eventer.
As The Super D, he enjoyed lucrative programs with the likes of McDaniel, Sonny King, Paul Jones and Swede Hanson and was credited, along with Wahoo and Johnny Valentine, for helping turn the Mid-Atlantic promotion around and establishing it as one of the top singles territories in the country.
Jardine, however, never stayed in any one territory too long, and left the Mid-Atlantic circuit in 1975. His last match in the area was with Crusher Jerry Blackwell at the former County Hall in Charleston. Jardine, as The Spoiler, made a major splash in Georgia during a 1975-76 run that was highlighted by a feud with another masked star, Mr. Wrestling No. 2 (Johnny Walker). It was in Georgia several years later where The Spoiler, along with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the 400-pound King Kong Bundy, joined forces with an up-and-coming tag team, The Road Warriors, to form the original Legion of Doom, with manager Paul Ellering at the helm.
Jardine hung up his wrestling boots for good shortly after Vince McMahon bought out Georgia Championship Wrestling in July 1984. Known for being a hard-nosed businessman who protected his gimmick at all costs, Jardine had a strong distrust of promoters, and McMahon was no exception. Rather than have his image tarnished and finish his career out as a fading superstar, Jardine decided to call it quits while still on top.
“Promoters should be hung up by their testicles in the main square and drawn and quartered,” Jardine once said. “Bookers next to them because they lie and cheat for the promoters.”
Dutch Savage, a top wrestler and promoter during the ’60s and ’70s, shared the Canadian and world tag-team titles with Jardine in 1966 and recalled his partner’s dislike for promoters. He said Dory Funk Sr., who ran the Amarillo territory at the time, didn’t particularly care for Jardine’s tactics.
“For some reason the Funks liked me, and kept Don and me as a tag team and gave us the belts there. But Don did a couple of things that Dory didn’t like. One night in the dressing room, right in front of me, Dory smacked Don across the face. Big mistake. Don beat the crap out of him. So we knew that he was either going to call the sheriff on us as we left the arena, or something was going to happen.”
Savage said he immediately called his wife and alerted her that the two were leaving the state. After arriving on the New Mexico side, he called her again and asked her if she had heard any news.
“She did some checking through Ricky Romero and a few people, and they told her that Dory had left. He had gone down to south Texas, so we came back in and moved all of our stuff out.” Jardine ended up working in Portland for longtime promoter Don Owen, while Savage spent a year and a half in Hawaii. Savage says Jardine later invited him to go to Texas and form a team as The Masked Spoilers.
“Before I got back, he left,” said Savage. “He double-crossed me and went in there as The Spoiler. I never wanted it anyway. The Lord had better plans for me.”
Jardine’s desire to protect his mask also led him to walk out on Verne Gagne after the AWA promoter forced him to drop his mask to The Crusher (Reggie Lisowski) in 1978 in Denver. Gagne had planned on a series of sellout houses around the horn with Jardine, as Super Destroyer, dropping the hood in each town. But Jardine, heeding the advice of longtime friend Gary Hart, walked out of the territory rather than suffer further damage to his gimmick. Gagne ended up bringing in Bob Remus (later known as Sgt. Slaughter) to replace Jardine as Super Destroyer Mark II.
“When we would go to a new place, I told the promoters he was not going to unmask,” Hart told the Wrestling Observer newsletter. “If you want to build to shaving my head, if you want to juice me, if you want to have me stay a few extra weeks after he’s gone and do anything to me, that’s fine. The mask is not negotiable. We both already knew what would happen when it came off.”
Jardine’s distrust sometimes led to out-of-ring altercations with other wrestlers. One of his more noted scrapes was a bloody backstage skirmish with McDaniel, who was regarded as one of the toughest men in the business, during their run in the Carolinas.
“Wahoo was always difficult to work with,” Jardine told the Mid-Atlantic Gateway site. “He always wanted to dominate the match and wanted to take off my mask even though it was never part of a program. I had to fight him off and watch him all the time.”
One of Jardine’s biggest matches, ironically enough, was without the hood. Jardine, as The Spoiler, headlined against World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Pedro Morales at Madison Square Garden in 1972. He wrestled without the mask since the New York state athletic commission had a rule barring masked pro wrestlers. The rule, however, was amended several months later for Mexican star Mil Mascaras, who defeated an unmasked Spoiler in his debut at the Garden.
Jardine competed in world title matches with such champions as Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race and Jack Brisco, and also enjoyed programs with future world champs such as Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. He held titles in almost every territory, including the NWA American title, the NWA National title, the NWA Florida title, the NWA Georgia title, the NWA Texas title, the NWA Southern title, the Texas brass knuckles title and the Texas TV title. He also shared a number of major tag titles.
Jardine, who had saved and invested much of his wrestling earnings, was a victim of the ’80s Texas oil crunch. He tried his hand as a wrestling trainer and promoter after his in-ring career ended, before getting out of the business entirely.
In recent years he had managed a car wash and served as a volunteer for a local literacy program that taught young children to read. He dabbled in clay sculpting and wood carving, and wrote poetry in his spare time.
“He saved his money,” Hart told the Observer. “He got tired of the travel, but more, it was very important to him that he wanted people to remember him as he was, and didn’t want them to see him as a headliner falling to the middle and the bottom.”
Hart told the Observer that Jardine had spent his final days in a convalescent home in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, and had been hopeful of going home for Christmas.
“He couldn’t speak,” said Hart, who called him following his surgery. “He coughed and gurgled. When I talked to him, I just asked him to cough so I knew he understood what I was saying … It was four months of constant struggle. It was really hard the last few months.”
Karl Lauer, executive vice president of the Cauliflower Alley Club, said he received a membership application from Jardine on Dec. 16 – the day Jardine died. Lauer had met Jardine only once – at a fan convention the two were working several years ago in Nashville.
“I was extremely impressed with his skill and ability and knowledge about such a wide variety topics,” said Lauer. “We talked about everything other than wrestling – business law and corporate structure. He was really interested in my life outside the wrestling world. I asked to join the CAC and he said he would think about it, was not really a joiner but would really think about it.
“Last Saturday, I received his membership application, his reservations to attend the banquet in April for him and his wife Becky. I was excited and sent out e-mails announcing his coming and finally joining the CAC to a lot of members. This was mailed on the 8th from his home in Canada. When I looked at our Web site on Sunday afternoon to see he had passed away, the day I received his application, it was a shock to say the least. The wrestling world lost another great talent, the CAC lost something we never had but wanted so much.”
Survivors include his Becky, his third wife whom he had met in 1992, and Jeffrey, a 4-year-old son who was born shortly before Jardine was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002.
– Among the others we said goodbye to in 2006:
Tiger Conway Sr. (Dennis Conway Sr.), Nov. 13, age 74; Sputnik Monroe (Rock Brumbaugh), Nov. 3, age 78; Huracan Ramirez (Daniel Garcia), Oct. 31, age 80; Kintaro Oki (Kim Ill), Oct. 26, age 77; Antonio Pena, Oct. 5, age 53; Joey Maggs (Joseph Magliano), Oct. 15, age 37; Crybaby Edwards (George Hill), October, age 58; Ricky Gibson (Rick Cain), Sept. 15, age 53; Karl “Skull” Von Stroheim (Walter Nurnberg), Aug. 13, age 78; The Masked Medic (Donald Lortie), Aug. 5, age 75; Bob Orton Sr., July 16, age 76; Tiger Khan (Marlon Kalkai), June 26, age 33; Crazy Luke Graham (James Grady Johnson), June 23, age 66; Earthquake (John Tenta), June 10, age 42; Prince Pullins (Cal Pullins), June 1, age 72; Bull Ramos (Sperdito Negro), May 27, age 69; Cowboy Bob Yuma (Frankie Vaughn), May 23, age 54; Kay Noble (Kay Noble-Bell), April 27, age 65; Sam Steamboat (Sam Mokuahi Jr.), May 2, age 72; Victor Quinones, April 2, age 46; Maria Bernardi, March 21, age 80; Ron Dobratz, Feb. 11, age 64; Johnny Grunge (Michael Durham), Feb. 16, age 39; Jackie “Mr. TV” Pallo (Jackie Gutteridge), Feb. 11, age 80; Lord Humongous (Emory Hale), Jan. 29, age 35; Ricky Romero, Jan. 15, age 74; and El Texano (Juan Aguilar), Jan. 15, age 47.