A Legend Reborn...
It can be argued that the term “legend” gets tossed around rather liberally in professional wrestling, oft attached to some whose impacts were short-term or in the moment, but whose presence is forgotten by the time another generation ascends to the top of the ladder.
Sometimes it is a term born out of respect for what a retiring wrestler has done during their career but quickly falls by the wayside, and sometimes it is pure marketing. Occasionally it is a self-applied label by those who feel the need to toot their own horn, serve as their own hype man, and give relevance to a career that did not necessarily go as envisioned.
The reality is that the title of “Legend” (capitalization intended) carries weight to those who see it as more than just a label, to those who see it as something earned through a career of hard work and dedication to their craft. Quite possibly the most important part of what comes with that title is a legacy that endures well beyond the in-ring career of the wrestler in question, when that individual becomes an inspiration, and decades later is still spoken of in reverent terms.
One such man is Tully Blanchard.
While his in-ring career may have started in 1975, Tully Blanchard's professional wrestling education essentially began at birth. As the son of Professional Wrestling Hall of Famer Joe Blanchard, a young Tully spent time doing everything from setting up the events, to distributing programs and selling refreshments, before eventually working as a referee while being trained by his father as a wrestler. And it was not just a wrestling education he was experiencing during this time frame, Tully was also on his way to becoming a star athlete in football as quarterback, punter, and safety.
From the very beginning, Blanchard was proving himself to be a top-shelf athlete and his professional wrestling ties also fed into his football life as wrestlers like Wahoo McDaniel, who had played in the NFL, helped him with his punting game, and others such as Ted DiBiase and Tito Santana shared the gridiron with him at West Texas State (the same school that claimed Terry and Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, and Stan Hansen as alumni).
But the wrestling ring beckoned and during his senior year, as the first of his grappling peers to do so, Blanchard pulled double duty as both college athlete and professional wrestler with Georgia Championship Wrestling. Ultimately, the football career would fall to the side post-university, as Tully endeavored into a professional wrestling journey that took him across the country and into competition with a myriad of competitors, including his West Texas peers in DiBiase and Santana, and many who themselves can be qualified as legends such as the aforementioned Wahoo, Dick Slater, Junkyard Dog, and Ricky Morton. His rivalry with the Guerrero family, Chavo and Mando as well as “The Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez, produced some intense bouts, including a 2/3 Falls No Disqualification contest in 1981 over the Southwest Tag Team Titles.
Speaking of championships, Tully netted himself multiple singles titles as both a TV Champion and Heavyweight Champion for Southwest Championship Wrestling, and his tag team chops were quite evident early on with he and Gino Hernandez, collectively known as The Dynamic Duo, reigning as multiple time tag team champions for SWCW. Tully was every bit as good a tag team player as he was flying solo, as adept at grappling as brawling, but the one thing that often is overlooked about his career is that Tully Blanchard can also be considered a forefather of what has evolved into the hardcore style of professional wrestling.
His history is littered with Texas Death Matches, Cage Matches, Strap Matches, I Quit bouts, and even Barbed Wire Cage situations. There are moments forever etched in the annals of wrestling history stemming from the 1985 I Quit Steel Cage Match with Magnum TA, and from his violent rivalry with Dusty Rhodes that involved cages, barbed wire, Bunkhouse fights, and straps. And that is not even taking into consideration some of the violence perpetrated by Tully, and upon him, after he started throwing up those infamous four fingers.
Under that NWA banner, with the strength represented by a simple gesture that has since become a legend unto itself, Tully would continue to add to his championship legacy, both in the singles ranks and as a tag team with AEW's own Nightmare Family Coach Arn Anderson. Their duo carried that success across promotions, capturing the tag team titles elsewhere, before fighting their final fight as a team in November of 1989.
Tully and Arn's paths would diverge from there, with Blanchard stepping away from professional wrestling for several years in 1990. Still, the squared circle called to him and in 1994 Tully would step back between the ropes to battle Terry Funk and began a several years run that included battling Shane Douglas for the ECW Title, traveling to Japan for a fight with the legendary Tatsumi Fujinami, and claiming the NWA US Title once more, as well as the NWA Tag Team Titles with a familiar face in Barry Windham.
Once more the man who had more than earned the Legend label by this point stepped away for several years, but in 2005 it was time to lace up the boots once again. Over the course of the next two years Tully reunited with some old friends and rivals like Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Morton, and The Midnight Express, but it all came to an end on August 10, 2007 when he was defeated by Dustin Rhodes and his active career was brought to an unexpected end.
Tully remained active in professional wrestling behind the scenes, but it wasn't until July 17th of 2019 that Blanchard stepped back into the spotlight at the side of Shawn Spears ahead of Spears' fight with Cody at ALL OUT 2019:
Tully Blanchard was back on the scene and in a major way, not as producer or coach or agent or any other behind the scenes role, but out there in front of the whole world as adviser to Shawn Spears and applying his forty-plus years of knowledge to help build another man's career. In August of 2020, Tully would also turn his eyes to tag team wrestling in the form of two men who, some say, represent the essence of tag team wrestling in Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood. Having never made their love for the “old school” a secret, the pairing of FTR and Blanchard could not be more perfect and helped lead Cash and Dax to the AEW World Tag Team Titles at ALL OUT 2020.
While that championship reign did not last as long as FTR and Tully had hoped, the trio has remained one of the most dangerous threats within All Elite Wrestling, and that is clearly evident with the increasingly heated rivalry with Jurassic Express. The darkness that lies within the hearts of all men has been at the forefront of Cash, Dax, and Blanchard and fans have even witnessed Tully become increasingly physically involved.
Whether it be with some powder, an assist on a spike piledriver, or just a helping hand, the Hall of Fame wrestler is also proving himself a Hall of Fame worthy manager at FTR's side. Even handcuffed to the monstrous Luchasaurus, Tully found a way to help his duo assault Jurassic Express and turn a loss into a winning situation for his men.
All of that has led to this coming Wednesday night where, for the first time since 2007 and on the biggest platform in thirty years, the Bonafede Legend will return to action when he joins FTR for a six-man fight with Jurassic Express!
March 3rd Tully brings his forty years of knowledge, cultivated from around the wrestling world since he was old enough to sell hot dogs and soda for his dad, and adds it to the modern tag team marvels that are FTR. The biggest mistake Luchasaurus, Jungle Boy, and Marko Stunt can make as they prepare for this fight is to look at Tully as “just” a 67-year-old man rather than a force to be reckoned with once that bell rings. He can be every bit as cruel, every bit as devious, and every bit as violent as the two men with whom he walks besides, and there is a reason why, within the confines of the AEW locker room, among many of the toughest individuals in the sport today, people have been known to whisper of how Tully still scares them to this day.