by Stephen Von Slagle
During the incredibly competitive decade of the 1980’s there were many great tag teams, however, The Fabulous Freebirds — Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts — with their unique 3-man concept, must undoubtedly go down as one of the most innovative, influential, and successful of the era.
Beginning their careers while still teenagers in George Culkin’s small Mississippi promotion, Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy first burst onto the national wrestling scene after joining Bill Watts’ Mid South Wrestling Association. Soon after arriving in the M.S.W.A., Hayes and Gordy teamed to win the Mid South Tag Team title by defeating Bill Watts and Buck Robley on November 24, 1979. The brash young rulebreaking team dominated their competition for over six months before eventually being defeated by The Junkyard Dog & Robley on June 9, 1980. It was at this time that The Freebirds started their legendary war with JYD that famously resulted in The Dog being “blinded” by the Freebirds. For such young, inexperienced competitors, The Freebirds (in particular, Michael Hayes) provoked an enormous amount of hatred from the fans and their feud with The Junkyard Dog set the Mid South territory afire, catapulting the team to the heights of pro wrestling villainy. On August 2, 1980, over 28,000 spectators (the largest crowd in Mid-South history) descended upon the Louisiana Superdome to witness JYD extract his revenge on Michael Hayes, with The Dog defeating his Freebird foe in a legendary Dog Collar Match.
The controversial duo of Hayes and Gordy was further strengthened when Watts decided to add a third member to the team, veteran journeyman Buddy Roberts, and created the concept of the “Freebird Rule.” Essentially, this allowed for any two of the three members to wrestle and/or defend tag team championships, in any combination, ostensibly giving them an inherent advantage over their opponents, who never knew which Freebird pairing they’d be facing. From that point forward, Hayes, Gordy and Roberts, the Fabulous Freebirds, were main-event players at the top of the card in every one of the numerous promotions in which they performed. Whether it was against Tommy Rich and Ted Dibiase on TBS’s Georgia Championship Wrestling or in Memphis against Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee, certainly in their legendary Texas wars against the Von Erich family, The Freebirds were invariably the center of attention in terms of the top heel position, drawing intense fan reaction and impressive crowds wherever they appeared. The team further differentiated themselves from their contemporaries by incorporating entrance music, a very unique nuance at that time, and with Lynard Skynard’s “Freebird” leading them to the ring, The Fabulous Freebirds, clad in extravagant outfits that highlighted their “southern pride,” were a unit like none other.
Having established themselves as national superstars via TBS’s Georgia Championship Wrestling, the Freebirds became a worldwide phenomenon when they travelled to World Class Championship Wrestling. Although WCCW was based in Texas, the globally-syndicated promotion was seen in countries across the planet and their feud against the Von Erich family was the hottest thing in wrestling at the time. The two warring factions squared off in dozens, maybe hundreds, of exciting, violent matches during their legendary multi-year feud. The saga lasted through the many Von Erich tragedies, through World Class’s divorce from the NWA and other important milestones in the history of the promotion. While in World Class, The Freebirds won three NWA World 6-Man Tag Team championships, the American Tag Team title, and were WCCW’s biggest attraction other than the Von Erich’s during a time when Texas wrestling was experiencing a historic boom in popularity.
In 1986, the independent-minded Freebirds again switched their base of operation, this time relocating to Bill Watts’ Oklahoma-based Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) after a supposed “million dollar contract” brought them back to the Mid South region. They renewed their old Georgia feud with Ted Dibiase, as well as starting altercations with the hated army of Gen. Scandor Akbar, the beloved “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Gordy’s UWF archrival, University Of Oklahoma football and wrestling All-American Steve “Dr. Death” Williams. On May 30, 1986 Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy defeated Jim Duggan in the finals of a tournament that determined the inaugural UWF World Heavyweight champion. With his Freebird “brothers” at his side, the highly-talented Gordy went on to lead the exciting, upstart wrestling promotion for the first six months of its existence, defending the prestigious new World title against a wide variety of opponents, both babyface and heel.
As the Eighties came to a close, The Fabulous Freebirds returned to Dallas and World Class, but experienced several major changes within the team. Storyline developments saw Buddy Roberts leaving the trio, trying his hand at being a manager (most notably guiding the young team of Samu and Fatu, the Samoan Swat Team) and feuding with Hayes. Meanwhile, Terry Gordy spent more and more time overseas in Japan, where he had become a true superstar. Eventually, after a relatively successful run as a singles performer in Ted Turner’s NWA/WCW, Hayes formed a new Fabulous Freebird team with the controversial and talented longtime Freebird ally “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin. Now referred to as “JimmyJam,” Garvin teamed with Michael Hayes to capture the NWA World Tag Team title on June 14, 1989 by defeating the Midnight Express. The duo of Hayes & Garvin (accompanied, at times, by Terry Gordy, who competed sporadically in WCW when he wasn’t on tour in Japan) also became two-time WCW United States Tag Team champions. However, while the new Freedbirds were a big part of the WCW tag division in the early Nineties, the team fell far short of replicating the impact of the original Freebirds.
By the mid-Nineties, the Fabulous Freebirds were no more. Garvin retired and became an airline pilot, while Hayes left the ring to take a Creative position with the World Wrestling Federation. Terry Gordy passed away on July 16, 2001 as a result of a heart attack. Buddy Roberts died from pneumonia on November 26, 2012 at the age of 65.
The Fabulous Freebirds were recipients of numerous awards, including winning Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Tag Team of the Year in 1981 and being ranked #3 in the magazine’s 100 Best Tag Teams of the PWI Years issue in 2003. Meanwhile, readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter voted Roberts & Gordy the Tag Team of the Year (1980), while the Freebirds vs. Von Erich battles twice garnered the newsletter’s Feud of the Year distinction (1983 and 1984) and the Freebirds/Von Erich “Anything Goes” war from 1984 was voted Match of the Year. Additionally, the Fabulous Freebirds are members of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (2005), the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2015), and the WWE Hall of Fame (2016).