Ringside Remembrances — General Skandor Akbar
Jay Shannon draws upon his 38 years as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of Professional Wrestling.
“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome” — Isaac Asimov
I love being a writer. It has been a dream since I was a child. That being said, I wish I didn’t have to write this column. How do you say good-bye to someone you idolized? General Skandor Akbar was one of the greatest managers that I ever saw. He was also a wonderful person. His in-ring persona was an evil mastermind that led his troops to all sorts of wicked deeds over the various faces, especially in World Class Championship Wrestling and MId-South. The man behind the character was a polite, soft-spoken gentleman who enjoyed talking to the fans, most of the time. He appreciated those that booed him as much as those who cheered. When I was a kid, there were only two “real” managers to me, Akbar and Gary Hart. Now both of them are gone and the void left behind will never be filled. This column is a heart-felt tribute to a man that I cheered for, even when others hated him. I was honored to meet him, on occasion. In my mind, he was the greatest manager of all times. Good-bye, General, you will be missed byt never forgotten. May your journey to the next reality be a gentle and peaceful one.
His wrestling career:
LIke so many good managers, Skandor Akbar started out as a pro wrestler. He started out under his given name, Jim Wehba. He later changed his name to Wildman Wehba. In 1966, Wehba began working for Fritz Von Erich in Dallas. It was Fritz who suggested that Wehba draw upon his Lebanese and Syrian ancestries to find a more “Arabic” sounding name. After doing some research, Wehba and Fritz came up with Skandor Akbar, which translates to “Alexander the Great”. Akbar would take a break from Fritz’s territory to make a brief run in the WWWF. He first teamed with and later feuded with Danny Hodge. Akbar learned a lot about managing from the man who led him, “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Also during his career, Akbar held the Tri-State’s North American title. Akbar joined numerous partners, including Danny Hodge, Ox Baker, Buddy Colt and others to hold several tag team titles. His in-ring wrestling career came to an end in 1977 but an all-new trade was waiting for him….manager.
In 1977, Akbar returned to what would later be known as World Class CHampionship Wrestling. Fritz Von Erich felt Akbar’s good mic skills and anti-American look would draw great heat from the local crowds. He was absolutely right. Fans hated him from the word “go”. Akbar began building a stable of men that would go by the group name, Devastation, Inc. For the next three decades, Akbar would change members under his guidance but never change the group’s name. Akbar managed some of the biggest names in the business, many before they reached super-stardom. The alumni of Akbar’s Army include: Steve Austin, Cactus Jack (Mick Foley), Ted DiBiase, Sr., The Punisher (Undertaker), Moabid (Ahmed Johnson), Super Black Ninja (Great Muta/Keiji Mutoh), Abdullah the Butcher, Great Kabuki, Kamala, King Kong Bundy, The Missing Link, Dan Spivey, Dustin Rhodes, Greg Valentine, Hercules Hernandez, Manny “The Bull” Fernandez, Nord the Barbarian (Berserker), John Hawk (JBL) and dozens more.
Akbar drew tremendous heat as a heel manager. Listening to the Heroes of World Class DVD, Akbar talks about some of the threats that came his way. Someone actually called in a bomb threat to New Orleans’ Superdome when they found out Akbar was going to be there. Another time, his car was peppered with bullets from a bunch of rowdy drunks who didn’t appreciate Akbar talking trash about a local hero. Akbar even talked about being doused in urine and having people follow him to threaten his family. That kind of crap was completely ridiculous but that’s the kind of heat “The General” drew. From personal experience, I remember him being pelted with paper cups and popcorn boxes when he would “dare” to attack one of the Von Erich brothers.
Possibly the most shocking thing that Akbar ever did as a manager came out of Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory. During his war with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Akbar had his men take down Duggan and restrain him. Akbar puffed away on his cigar and then proceeded to (apparently) jam the lit cigar into Duggan’s eye. Akbar had to be ushered out with major security after that incident. He also changed cars, several tmes, on his way home to protect his life and the lives of his family. I still have that incident on video around here. I watched that segment within the past couple weeks, as I’ve been transferring a lot of my VHS stuff over onto DVD before the tapes degrade too far. Roughly 30 years after that incident, I’m still amazed at how real that looked. Akbar was that good at presenting himself.
I really didn’t have all that much direct interaction with “The General”. I met him, maybe, a dozen times over the years. He knew my grandfather, who often delivered to the Sportatorium as a local truck driver. Dad introduced me to him for the first time on or around 1979. I was completely enamored with the entire wrestling thing at 14 and was in awe of Akbar. Akbar spent a few minutes chatting with “Mr. Cots” (my grandfather). Akbar turned to me and said “Well, kid, if you work hard and get a good education and get in good shape, maybe you could be in wrestling, someday”. This was before my vision went , about a year later. Until the accident that cost me a lot of my vision, I had the dream to be a member of Devastation, Inc. I even had my ring name dreamed up “Black Jack Dorrell” (Dorrell being my pre-adoption last name). I was going to be a 6’3″ Cowboy that was the greatest heel of all time. Well, at 45, I”m 5’7″ and not in great shape. The closest I got to being a Cowboy was my horse, Lacey.
A couple years later, I remember meeting Akbar again. He had heard, from my grandfather, about my vision loss. He smiled at me and said “You have a lot to deal with but you can still do just about anything you put your mind to”. That was Akbar. He was incredibly supportive of his men and his fans. Over the next few years, I would meet Akbar from time to time. He was always incredibly nice to me. One of the most memorable meetings with him, later on, was the first time I went to the Sportatorium, after my grandfather had died. Akbar looked around and asked where “Mr. Cots” was. I explained that he had passed away. Akbar asked me to please express to my grandmother how sorry he was to hear that my grandfather was gone and let her know how much all “the boys” liked my grandpa. That memory, above all the others, went deepest into my heart. I was already a big fan of Akbar, before the comment, but that kindness cemented him as one of my all-time favorites.
There have been dozens of great managers: Bobby Heenan, Freddie Blassie, Jimmy Hart, Gary Hart, Sir Oliver Humperdink, James J. Dillon, etc… They were all fantastic in their own way. General Skandor Akbar was “our” manager, along with Gary Hart. He was the man we all loved to hate (or cheer). He was a great trainer, a fantastic manager and a good wrestler. My memories of General Skandor Akbar were as a manager. I didn’t see too much of him as a wrestler.
Thank you, Jimmy, for being supportive to me as a impressionable young kid. Thank you for your kind words about my grandfather. Most importantly, thank you from the bottom of my heart for years of enjoyment watching you show what a fantastic heel manager could be. You were one of the best and will never be forgotten by your fans, especially me. I hope to meet you again, on the other side, just to say thank you and to know that you received the reward that you so deserved. Sleep well, dear General. You have earned your place in the Heavens. Farewell.