by Stephen Von Slagle
Although he never carried the World Heavyweight title belt, nor was his level of mainstream fame on par with that of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history, there is little question that Dick Murdoch was one of the most successful and important wrestlers in the sport during his thirty-year career. Additionally, there is no doubt that, in the ring, he was one of the most talented. His mixture of traditional brawling, an impressive array of scientific maneuvers and flawless timing combined with a natural talent on the microphone put Murdoch several notches above most others and into an elite level of workers. Due to the nature of wrestling’s territorial structure during the time he spent in the business, Murdoch (like all wrestlers of his era) lived a nomadic life, constantly moving from region to region, never staying too long in one place and, as a result, by the time he had reached his fifth year in the sport, he’d already competed in a dozen separate promotions across the country and internationally. Whether he performed as a heel or babyface, in a tag team or as a singles wrestler, doing comedy bits or blood & guts brawling, the highly talented second-generation star was able to adapt and excel in any given situation.
Dick Murdoch was born Hart Richard Murdoch on August 16, 1946 in Waxahachie, Texas. The stepson of Frankie Hill Murdoch (and the nephew of Texas legend “Farmer” Jones) Dick Murdoch grew up in the wrestling business and followed his dad into the sport after being trained by Bob Geigel and Pat O’Connor. Making his debut at the age of nineteen, Murdoch was a natural inside of the squared circle and was voted the 1965 NWA Rookie of the Year. In 1968, when he partnered with Dusty Rhodes (who had made his own pro debut less than a year earlier) and formed their now legendary tag team, The Texas Outlaws, the young duo soon moved on to their first major booking, the Central States territory. While wrestling in the Kansas City-based promotion, the young and belligerent Texas Outlaws quickly established themselves as the top heel tag team in the region and together they captured the area’s most prestigious championship, the NWA North American Tag Team title. Big, brawny, and not at all above taking an illegal shortcut to score a victory, when The Outlaws defeated Tom & Terry Martin to win the North American belts on November 7, 1968, it simply marked the first in a long list of championships that Murdoch & Rhodes would win together.
Next on that title list was Detroit’s prestigious version of the NWA World Tag championship, which The Outlaws won by defeating the team of Ben Justice & The Stomper on March 21, 1970. The rule breaking Texans immediately became two of the most hated performers ever to compete in the small but profitable territory and they enjoyed a lengthy reign as heel champions in the Motor City. Eventually, though, the popular team of Bobo Brazil & Lord Athol Layton ended their reign by upending the Texas Outlaws before a capacity crowd at Detroit’s Cobo Hall on August 8, 1970. After dropping the NWA World Tag Team title, the team of Murdoch & Rhodes moved on to their next booking, which turned out to be the Alliance’s Florida circuit. Immediately upon their arrival in the Sunshine State, the rugged, wild Outlaws stormed through their competition until they’d established themselves as the number one contenders for the region’s top Tag Team gold, the Florida Tag Team championship. Less than a month after their Florida debut, the talented young duo defeated reigning champions Jose Lothario & Argentina Apollo on September 17, 1970 in Jacksonville, Florida to capture the belts Yet, true to form, the hated Texans were stripped of their Florida Tag Team belts in December of 1970 following a particularly controversial storyline incident that led to their departure from the territory.
After their successful run in Florida concluded, Murdoch and Rhodes entered Australia’s IWA, where they immediately captured the promotion’s World Tag Team title by defeating the popular team of Mark Lewin & Mario Milano on January 21, 1971 in Sydney. Over the course of the following three months, The Texas Outlaws ruled over the tag division in the Land Down Under and ran roughshod over every team placed before them. That is, of course, until they came up against Mark Lewin and his new partner, the legendary Killer Kowalski, who teamed together to defeat Murdoch & Rhodes in March of 1971. Back in the States, The Texas Outlaws enjoyed a very lengthy and prosperous run in the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. Despite the fact that they never wore the AWA World Tag Team title, the rugged team was incredibly successful, drawing large crowds who paid to see the cheating Texans finally receive their just rewards. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that during the early Seventies, the hated combo proved to be excellent, long-running opponents for the promotion’s top tandem, the beloved blue-collar duo of Dick the Bruiser & The Crusher. Still, in the months following their high-profile run in the AWA (and after a half-decade as a team) Murdoch and Rhodes, two highly talented and charismatic individuals, made the decision to break up their very successful partnership in order to explore opportunities in the singles division.
Yet, over the ensuing decade, the two would reform their famed team on several occasions, most notably in the Florida, Georgia and Mid-South promotions. Although their infrequent reunions were always hugely successful, there was also big money in fans seeing the two best friends squaring off against each other. With a storyline scenario that depicted a bitter Murdoch as being jealous of the incredible success and fan support enjoyed by “The American Dream” after they originally parted ways, the two longtime friends & partners engaged in a very dramatic, intense and bloody feud. Still, in the end, The Texas Outlaws, one of the greatest teams of their era, would eventually mend their damaged friendship and reunite, much to the delight of their fans. Despite the fact that Rhodes is, by far, the partner that Murdoch was most associated with during this time period, the highly skilled 6’4″ scientific brawler also occasionally teamed with other wrestlers during the early portion of his career. For instance, twice in 1969 he paired up with K.O. Kox (better known to Seventies-era fans as “Bruiser” Bob Sweetan) to capture the NWA North American Tag Team title. Murdoch also teamed with another large yet very skilled Texan, “Big, Bad” Bobby Duncum, to win the Florida Tag Team championship in September of 1971 as well as the NWA Western States Tag Team title in 1972. Additionally, Murdoch captured the NWA U.S. Tag title (Tri State version) with Killer Karl Kox in the Fall of 1975.
Despite his many accomplishments in the tag team ranks, Dick Murdoch also proved himself to be a very successful champion in the singles division, even during the early portion of his career when he was still relatively inexperienced. One of his first singles championships came in the form of the Central States Heavyweight title, which he won on February 28, 1969 in St. Joseph, Missouri. The young and talented big man went on to enjoy a surprisingly long reign atop the Central States territory before finally losing his title to former NWA World champion (and one of the men who trained him several years earlier) Pat O’Connor on June 20, 1969. Then, in 1970 (and once again in 1972) Murdoch became the Texas Brass Knucks champion, followed by two lengthy reigns in Florida as the NWA Southern Heavyweight champion during 1971.
By 1974, Murdoch had returned to West Texas, specifically the Funk’s Amarillo-based promotion, where the young star continued his winning ways. While competing in the region, he captured the NWA Western States title as well as twice winning the International Heavyweight title. Some six years later, in 1980, Murdoch would partner with Bob Windham (Blackjack Mulligan) in an attempt to enter the lucrative world of promotional ownership by purchasing the Amarillo territory from the Funk brothers. However, while they did have some initial success in reviving the dying promotion, in the end, the monetary losses were simply too great to continue on.
Bill Watts’ neighboring Mid-South Wrestling promotion was a territory filled with some of the biggest, meanest and, most importantly to Watts, the toughest wrestlers of the day. So, naturally, the six-four, two hundred and seventy pound Murdoch fit into Watts’ style of wrestling & promoting quite well and he achieved great levels of success while competing in the rugged multi-state territory. Between 1977-1978, the talented big man captured the region’s most prestigious championship, the NWA North American title, on three different occasions by defeating the likes of top Mid-South competitors such as Waldo Von Erich, Bill Watts and Jerry Oates. Always at the center of controversy, Murdoch, who was as adept at delivering entertaining interviews as he was at performing inside the ring, established himself as one of the Mid-South promotion’s top wrestlers during the late Seventies and he would go on to enjoy that status in the territory for many years to come.
Another top promotion in which the brawny Texan excelled was the NWA’s legendary St. Louis group, which was owned by longtime NWA President Sam Muchnick. Rich in history and tradition, wrestling skill and the ability to perform in the ring was what determined success or failure in Muchnick’s company, not outlandish gimmicks or controversial, envelope-pushing angles. Although his colorful interviews were as entertaining as nearly any one else’s, Dick Murdoch was also very much a no-frills type of competitor who didn’t waste time acclimating himself to the St. Louis promotion. On February 26, 1978, Murdoch met and defeated his former Tri-State tag team partner Ted Dibiase to win his first of three Missouri Heavyweight championships. Following his title victory, Murdoch went on to rule over the region for nearly six months before finally dropping the Missouri title to the legendary brawler Dick the Bruiser. Murdoch and The Bruiser, who had feuded throughout the AWA earlier in the decade when Murdoch was a Texas Outlaw, continued their violent series with great success at the box-office. Then, eight months after losing the championship to The Bruiser, Murdoch regained the Missouri title from his tough-as-nails rival in a match held at The Kiel Auditorium. However, their intense feud was far from over, and Dick the Bruiser eventually rebounded, winning the prestigious title back from Murdoch two months later on March 18, 1979. Despite once again losing the title to The Bruiser, Murdoch remained a top performer in the promotion and the champion’s number one contender. After trading title victories back and forth, Murdoch got the last laugh when he once again took the Missouri title from Dick the Bruiser, this time on July 13, 1979.
After his long-running program with The Bruiser finally concluded, Murdoch continued to defend his Missouri title against the region’s top competitors before finally losing the important championship to Kevin Von Erich on November 23, 1979. A few months later, Murdoch re-entered the neighboring Central States promotion, this time as a fan favorite, and promptly teamed with “Bulldog” Bob Brown to win the Central States Tag Team title by defeating the formidable duo of Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd & Bruiser Brody on March 20, 1980 in Kansas City, Kansas.
1980 was also the year that Murdoch began competing in the NWA’s Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion. Since the territory’s television programs were broadcast nationally via TBS, the NWA’s Georgia promotion was the most widely seen wrestling group in the world at that time and the only territory fortunate enough to have a national outlet. As a result, the top stars in the Georgia territory were, by extension, the top stars in the entire country. Having traveled throughout the territorial structure for years, Murdoch had already built up a very solid reputation across the country when he entered the Georgia promotion, and once there, he cemented his position as one of the biggest stars in the entire sport. Calling himself “Captain Redneck,” Dick Murdoch enjoyed a hugely successful run as one of the talent-rich Georgia territory’s most beloved fan favorites. Indeed, the charismatic tobacco-chewing, beer-swilling, working-class patriot genuinely ascended to impressive new heights of popularity during this period, especially when he entered into a bitter and violent main-event feud with the hated Iranian rulebreaker known as The Iron Sheik.
Following his highly successful stint in Georgia, he returned to Bill Watts’ Mid South promotion, where he was greeted by the region’s fans with a hero’s welcome. Almost immediately, “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch became involved in the Mid-South title picture and after forming a “dream team” with the mega-popular Junkyard Dog, he and JYD twice captured the Mid-South Tag Team championship in 1981. However, when he entered the World Wrestling Federation in the early Eighties, it was not as the popular “Captain Redneck” but rather as the rule-breaking Dick Murdoch of old. Although he never captured the Federation’s top prize, the wily veteran proved to be a major threat to Bob Backlund’s reign as the WWF titleholder, and the villainous Murdoch proved that he could truly work ‘both sides of the fence’ on a main-event level, with equally profitable results. Following a successful run in the WWF’s singles ranks, Murdoch, who had been one-half of some legitimately great tag teams, formed another championship-caliber duo early in 1984, this time with the talented New York street thug known as “The Golden Boy” Adrian Adonis.
Adrian Adonis had gained fame in both the AWA and WWF as part of the “East-West Connection” with former partner Jesse Ventura. Now teamed with the brawny Texan, he and Murdoch formed the “North-South Connection” and the two scientific brawlers immediately gelled into one of the most impressive rule-breaking tag teams in years. On April 17, 1984, the North-South Connection defeated the popular team of Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson (known as The Soul Patrol) to capture the coveted World Wrestling Federation Tag Team championship in Hamburg, PA. Individually, Murdoch and Adonis were already incredibly gifted both as brawlers and as ring workers, however, when they combined their talents, the result was a finely-tuned wrestling machine that was unquestionably the all-around best tag team in the Federation at that time. Over the course of the following nine months, the North-South Connection of Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis ruled over the WWF’s tag team ranks at a time when the popularity of the promotion was literally exploding. However, in the months just prior to the tidal wave of momentum leading to the first-ever WrestleMania card, the North-South Connection dropped their WWF Tag Team championship belts to the up-and-coming young babyface team of Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda, who were known as the U.S. Express. Not long after the title loss, the nomadic Murdoch once again moved on to the next booking, which turned out to be his old stomping grounds in the Mid-South territory.
Still a couple of years away from launching its own national expansion as the Universal Wrestling Federation, Murdoch returned to a very exciting and talent-rich Mid South Wrestling Association. He did so, incidentally, as a babyface and the return of “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch was extremely well-received by M.S.W.A. fans. Not surprisingly, Murdoch soon captured the promotion’s premier championship, the North American Heavyweight title, on August 10, 1985 by defeating The Nightmare in New Orleans. Soon after becoming the North American champion, Murdoch disposed of the challenge posed by the former champion and then became involved in a highly intense feud with the hated “Hacksaw” Butch Reed. The powerful Reed had once been among the most popular wrestlers in the promotion, however, by the time he squared off against Captain Redneck, the former NFL star was about as hated as a wrestler can get. Finally, after close to two months of bloody, violent battles, Reed eventually toppled his popular rival to capture Murdoch’s North American title on October 14, 1985.
By the end of 1986, Murdoch had moved on to Jim Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance, where he once again began competing as a “bad guy,” a role at which he truly excelled. Along with his new partner, the hated “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff, Murdoch captured the NWA United States Tag Team title by defeating Ron Garvin & Barry Windham on March 14, 1987 in at Atlanta, Georgia. The rugged veteran duo held the belts for nearly a month before being stripped of the championship following a storyline incident which led to Murdoch being briefly suspended from the promotion.
In the months following the sale of the NWA from the Crockett family to Ted Turner, Dick Murdoch once again revived his popular Captain Redneck gimmick and returned to the NWA, engaging in a semi-main event feud with the talented Bob Orton, Jr. as the decade closed. Another Dick Murdoch tag team of note was the “Hardline Collection Agency,” which he formed with Dick Slater in 1991. The Hardliners feuded in WCW with Rick and Scott Steiner, more than holding their own against the powerful & talented young duo.
Murdoch had also begun working full-time in Puerto Rico by the early Nineties, competing for the San Juan-based World Wrestling Council. While wrestling in the WWC (once again as a heel) Murdoch held several championships and enjoyed a very successful run as one of the promotion’s top villains. On November 23, 1991 he defeated TNT (a.k.a. Savio Vega) to win the WWC World TV title in Arroyo, PR. Just over a month later he lost the championship to Invader #1, however, the brawny Texan rebounded and soon regained the WWC World TV title early in 1992. From there, Murdoch went on to hold the prestigious championship for a full year. Even more importantly, the talented brawler captured the region’s top prize, the WWC Universal Heavyweight title, by defeating his masked nemesis, the Invader.
Following his run in the World Wrestling Council, Murdoch returned to the site of some of his greatest matches and fame, the island nation of Japan. This time, however, it was not with All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he traded the prestigious United National championship back and forth with the legendary Jumbo Tsuruta in 1980. Nor did Murdoch return to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he was one of the premier gaijins for nearly a decade during the Eighties. To the surprise of many Japanese observers, Murdoch began competing for independent young Japanese leagues, particularly, the W*ING promotion.
The upstart hardcore league shared a talent exchange agreement with the WWC and was able to recruit the services of Murdoch, who was one of the most famous and respected American wrestlers in the country. Meanwhile, back in the States, he made several high-profile appearances on shows promoted by the newly revived National Wrestling Alliance as he slowly made the transition to a state of semi-retirement. After greatly reducing his wrestling schedule, Murdoch began taking on appearances in rodeos, doing celebrity bull roping. Around the same time period, he was offered, and accepted, a position with the Coors Brewing Company as a type of product ambassador & consultant.
Dick Murdoch was ranked #96 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 Wrestlers of the P.W.I. Years (2003) and is also a member of the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame (2010) and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2013).
On June 15, 1996, Hart Richard “Dick” Murdoch suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 49.