|'Lord' Michael Hayes|
There were five of us “wanna bees” dreaming about becoming pro wrestling stars during the mid-70’s. My hometown of Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL (60-miles apart) were both controlled by the same territory, namely Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling. The two Mobile future Superstars were my cousin, Marcel Pringle and myself. However across Mobile Bay in Pensacola lurked the threesome of Michael Hayes, John Tatum, and Robert Gibson.
Although Robert was younger than all of us, we would all kiss his butt because his brother Ricky was already a wrestler. So, we were Ricky Gibson’s little brother’s buddies, which really made us special. It always seemed to be a contest to see which one of us would make it into the business first. Hayes used to hang out in the arena parking lot, and carry Mike Boyette’s bags in for him.
Then that fateful night came that I’ll never forget, Cousin Marcel and myself were at The Pensacola Bayfront Auditorium, standing at the door that lead to the outside. The door opened, and who walked in? Michael Hayes! This time without Hippie Boyette’s bags, he came from home already dressed in a zebra referee’s outfit. Damn it, he got the first call. Needless to say, we were fit to be tied.
Before the decade came to an end, we all eventually made it, in some fashion or another. Michael and myself ended up starting at the same time in Mississippi, working for George Culkin (Curtis) and his son Gil, in their company called International Championship Wrestling. Frankie “The Great Mephisto” Cain was the booker. We had TV all over the state and ran shows 6 days a week. There was no better place to learn our trade.
Michael and myself continued to live at home. He stayed in P’cola, and I remained in Mobile. We could drive all the shots and come home almost every night. We only had to stay over once or twice a week, usually when we ran the northern cities, such as Greenwood or Cleveland. So every day Michael would drive over to Mobile and meet me at the old Howard Johnson’s at I-65 and Highway 90, and we took turns behind the wheel.
Two (of many) problems with Michael, was that he was ALWAYS (and still is) late, and he would drive an old $200 car. When the car played out, he would just leave it alongside the highway, and go find another one. I had a new car, and usually ended up driving, but I was smart to his gimmick. At least I thought I was.
After a while, I got tired of sitting in the hot car waiting on my prima donna travel companion, so I would go into the nice, cold lounge in the HoJo’s and wait on him. Of course, our affection with Jack Daniel’s and coke was born about that same time, so sometimes I would have one or two, sometimes three or four, depending on how late he was that day.
One afternoon, he was particularly late and the bartender hollered at me, “Percy, I think it’s Hayes on the phone for ‘ya”. I answered the call, and sure enough it was Michael. “Hey brother.” He started out, “…man I had a flat tire and I don’t have a tire iron. Will you come meet me, so we can change it and get on the road? We’re late.” Late my a*#, I thought to myself. I cussed all the way over the bay bridge, to the intersection he told me he was at. Sure as hell there is was, flat tire and all. Smiling like a mule eating briars, SITTING IN THE PARKING LOT OF A TRUCK STOP! It’s not like they didn’t have any tire changing equipment. He got me again!
I think you all can imagine the rest of the story. But that was Michael, and he possesses those same qualities to this very day. I loved country, he loved rock. I liked to go to Krystal’s, he loved the Waffle House. It was a perfect combination, right? And it was always the same ol’ chitchat driving down those old, two lane Mississippi roads.
Terry Gordy had just started with the company; I think he had just turned 17. “Hey Percy…” Hayes would say every trip, while he brushed that damn long hair of his. “What do you think about a tag-team called The Freebirds? We would dress in confederate flags, come out to Lynard Skynard music, and make nothing but money.”
Mephisto named him “Lord” Michael Hayes, but I never tried to tell him he wasn’t a god. Yes Michael…yes Michael, I would say over and over, just to appease him. If I only had the same crystal ball he was looking into. Eventually we had to go our separate ways, meeting again in Florida in 1984, after he talked Eddie Graham into hiring me as Rick Rude’s manager. Then, it was in Texas a couple years later. Poor Michael, was given the booker’s job by Ken Mantell, after Ken bought Fritz out. Both Hayes and Mantell had nervous breakdowns, trying to come up with angles for the Von Erich brothers, who were all running wild at that time.
There are so many stories, and so little space. But, I think you get the picture. We were just kids trying to live our dream of being in the rasslin’ business. We have always stayed close, and share a very special bond that few in this industry are lucky enough to brag about. In fact, my first son, Michael, was named after him. Who would have ever called it, that 25 years later we would still be doing what we love.
Join me next time right here in STORY TIME, and I'll share some more of my memories of "Freebird" Michael Hayes with you.