This week marks the 18th anniversary of the passing of Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and best remembered as part of the Fabulous Freebirds. An imposing big man at 6’5″ and 300 lbs., he revolutionized what big men could do in the sport and alongside Michael PS Hayes and Buddy Roberts, redefined what a trio could do in the sport. It was on July 16, 2001, that Terry Gordy passed away from a blood clot induced heart attack at the young age of only 40 years old.
A standout high school football and baseball player at Rossville High School, at the age of 13 years old Terry Gordy turned his back on potentially going pro in either sport to change his direction and turned to professional wrestling, under the guidance of his one-armed uncle, “Captain Hook” J.D. Kile. He not only quit playing sports, but he also dropped out of high school following his freshman year to pursue the squared circle.
He made his pro wrestling debut at aged 14, under the name Terry Mecca, with Cleveland, Ohio’s short lived International Wrestling Association (IWA), before finding work in various National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territories. He soon started working for Jerry Jarrett and Jerry “The King” Lawler in their Memphis territory, Continental Wrestling Association (CWA), and he completed his training with “Mongolian Stomper” Archie Gouldie and Don Carson.
In 1978, while working for Nick Gulas‘ NWA Mid America promotion in his home territory of Tennessee, Gordy was introduced to another teenager who was making towns named Michael Hayes. Drawing on their Southern roots and inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Freebird”, the Fabulous Freebirds began as a duo, working Mid America as well as soon plying their trade in Mid South, where they became 3x Mid South Tag Team Champions.
In 1980, the duo became a trio, when the two youngsters were paired with veteran Buddy Roberts. Roberts had been wrestling for nearly 20 years by this point, having initially wrestled as Dale Valentine. In the early 70s, he was renamed Buddy Roberts and paired with Jerry Brown in the original Hollywood Blondes. When the Blondes split up, he became the mentor to the wild youth of Gordy and Hayes, and the Fabulous Freebirds as history would remember was established. The new trio would expand on their circuit, working for Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW), where Gordy would capture the NWA National Tag Team titles on two occasions (once with Hayes and once with Roberts), as well as Championship Wrestling From Florida. The trio would implement a new rule (still used today and called “The Freebird Rule”) in which any two men of the group could defend their tag team championships they accumulated.
In 1981, the trio would head to Texas, joining Fritz Von Erich‘s World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), where they would enter one of the most brutal and famous feuds in tag team (and wrestling) history, against the Von Erich sons, David, Kevin & Kerry. It was a bloody feud that would span nearly a decade, redefining what tag team wrestling – and in particular 6-man tag team wrestling – could truly be. The Freebirds became 6x WCCW World 6-Man Tag Team Champions in Dallas.
In 1984, the trio would briefly jump to WWF, but due their youth and bravado, were sent home by locker room leader Andre the Giant and soon released by the company. But they were still hotly in demand and continued working with WCCW and Mid South, as well as American Wrestling Association (AWA).
While he was firmly entrenched in the world of the Fabulous Freebirds in North America, in 1983 he headed to Japan as a singles competitor with All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). He was soon paired with veteran Stan Hansen in tag team action, becoming a superstar in Japan with his blend of athleticism and power. He would continue to work with AJPW for over a decade in-between his North American work, capturing All Japan’s prestigious Triple Crown twice in 1990.
In 1986, Terry Gordy continued to work for Bill Watts’ Mid South – since rebranded to the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) – and worked mostly singles. That May, he defeated “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan to become the UWF Heavyweight Champion, a title he would hold for 163 days.
In 1988, Buddy Roberts retired from wrestling and was replaced by Jimmy Garvin as the new third man, but over in Japan, Gordy swapped out Stan Hansen – with whom he won the AJPW World Tag Team titles twice – for a new partner in “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. Known as The Miracle Violence Connection. The two had previously paired together with Jim Crockett‘s NWA Mid Atlantic in 1987, but together in Japan they became unstoppable. They captured the AJPW World Tag Team titles four times between 1990 and 1992.
The Miracle Violence Connection returned to North America together (the Freebirds had dissolved by the end of the 1980s) and immediately made an impact in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), winning both the NWA World Tag Team and WCW World Tag Team Championships in less than a year. But by the end of 1992, Gordy finished up with WCW and left. The two would reunite in 1996 for one night in ECW at ECW High Incident, in a losing effort against The Eliminators (John Kronus & Perry Saturn).
Soon after leaving WCW in 1992, Gordy suffered a health setback, after an overdose of pain killers left him in a coma. It resulted in permanent brain damage, but it wasn’t enough to derail his career (although it began to suffer as a result of it). In 1994, he reunited with Hayes and Garvin in the final days of a shortlived Dallas promotion, Global Wrestling Federation (GWF), winning their final tag team titles for the Freebirds. Following the demise of GWF, he headed to Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW), where he won the SMW Heavyweight Championship in 1995.
In 1996, Terry Gordy finally returned to WWF, but in a surprising move, re-debuted under a mask as The Executioner. He was paired alongside another former WCW alumni in Mick Foley (Cactus Jack), who was similarly repackaged under a mask as Mankind. The duo were put under the guidance of Paul Bearer and briefly feuded against Owen Hart & The British Bulldog over the WWF World Tag Team titles. Gordy was given a second chance through the help of his former tag partner Hayes (who now worked as a WWF announcer named Dok Hendrix). Bruce Prichard stated on an episode of his podcast, Something to Wrestle With, that the “hooding” of Gordy was never meant to be permanent – Vince McMahon was worried that Gordy had lost a step and didn’t want to tarnish Gordy’s legacy if he couldn’t still compete at a top level. In a pre-internet world, most were unaware that the legendary Freebird was under the match. Sadly, his run didn’t work out and he left WWF in 1997.
He would flirt with the US indies for the next two years, including upstart IWA Mid South, as well as make a brief return to Japan – this time with his old AJPW rival Genichiro Tenryu‘s Wrestle Association-R (WAR) – in 1998. But by 1999, it was clear Terry Gordy’s best days were behind him, and he chose to retire from the sport he’d loved since his childhood days.
Terry Gordy’s legacy would live on, as he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016 as part of the Fabulous Freebirds, alongside Hayes, Roberts and Garvin. His son, Ray Gordy, would follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional wrestler, debuting the same year his father retired. Ray Gordy found success later in the WWF in the mid-2000s as Jesse (paired with Luke Gallows’ Festus) and later Slam Master J.
Terry Gordy revolutionized the industry by breaking the limits of what a big man could do and as part of the Fabulous Freebirds, redefined what 6-man tag team wrestling could do for the sport.
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