A world-famous pro wrestler returns to Union for the first time in more than 20 years to take on the local champion.
Wrestling fans everywhere remember a beast of a man known as The Barbarian — a six-foot-three, 315-pound wrestler from Tonga who took the wrestling world by storm after migrating to the United States by way of Japan.
The Barbarian — whose real name is Sione Vailahi — broke into pro wrestling while powerlifting outside San Francisco, Ca. During a session of dead lifts, squats and bench presses, Vailahi was approached by promoter Red Bastien.
“He said, ‘Son, you are very strong, and I can help you make some money. I’m a professional wrestling promoter,’” Vailahi said.
That was long before Vailahi became The Barbarian, and he was apprehensive about such a suggestion.
“I’m a big guy, but I was scared to death,” he said. “All I knew was what I saw on TV. Guys like Bruiser Brody and Andre the Giant, and there was blood everywhere. I told him no.”
Bastien assured Vailahi that he could teach him and help him make money, and after more conversation and going to lunch, Vailahi agreed. He went on to be one of only four wrestlers from Bastien’s school to become successful. The other three were Sting, The Ultimate Warrior and The Angel of Death.
The Barbarian debuted with the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) in 1980, beginning a long career of success. Wrestling fans in Union County remember when The Barbarian was managed by Paul Jones from 1985-1987 and was part of “Paul Jones’ Army.” During that time, he wrestled at the Union County Stadium, which was one of many stops in the Mid-Atlantic area for Jim Crockett Promotions.
In early 1988, The Barbarian was paired with another massive wrestler called The Warlord (Terry Szopinski) to form a team called Powers of Pain. The two big men began a rivalry with one of the most popular tag teams of all time — The Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal. The Barbarian said The Road Warriors were his all-time favorite rivals, pointing out that fans still ask him about the infamous bench press competition in Greensboro, NC, during which Powers of Pain ally Ivan Koloff threw chalk in the eyes of Road Warrior Hawk. A match between The Road Warriors and The Powers of Pain followed, ending with The Barbarian brutally attacking Hawk with a chair and delivering a body splash off the top rope.
“They were known for hurting people,” Barbarian said. “They never went down. That was the first time the fans saw them go down. People were shocked, and that’s what helped push our careers to the limit. If not for The Road Warriors, people would have never heard of us. We went all over the country. There was nobody like them.”
In 1988, The Powers of Pain left the NWA to work for Vince McMahon’s WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) where they were initially managed by Mr. Fuji and feuded with a team known as Demolition.
“Vince made sure you earned your money,” The Barbarian chuckled. “He worked you like a horse, seven days a week. We would be on the road five, six, sometimes seven weeks before we came home. It was really good money, but he made sure you earned it.”
The Barbarian and The Warlord eventually split to pursue singles competition, and The Barbarian was then managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. During that time, he wrestled in memorable matches such as his bout with Tito Santana at Wrestlemania VI and the Big Bossman at the 1991 Royal Rumble.
The Barbarian went to WCW (World Championship Wrestling) in 1992 and remained there until McMahon bought the company 2002. The Barbarian was the last WCW hardcore champion.
This Saturday will be The Barbarian’s first time in Union since he wrestled at the Union County Stadium as part of Paul Jones’ Army. Trans-South Wrestling manager Perry James will bring The Barbarian in an attempt to take the TSW heavyweight title from Union native Deon Johnson.
Johnson said he knows he will have his hands full with the legendary big man.
“I used to hate The Barbarian, growing up watching him on TV,” Johnson said. “I can remember when he and the rest of Paul Jones’ Army attacked my favorite wrestler, Jimmy Valiant. I was upset!”
Although Johnson has crossed paths with The Barbarian while traveling the pro wrestling circuit, the two have never squared off in the ring, but Johnson is confident.
“The Barbarian. Deon Johnson. History will be made on Saturday at the Union County Fairgrounds. I’m ready to fight to keep what’s mine — the TSW heavyweight title.”
The Barbarian is familiar with Johnson, and he said James is paying him well to come in and take the belt.
“It’s going to be a heck of a match,” The Barbarian said.
Others on Saturday night’s card will include Eric Bradford — who can still be seen weekly on CMT’s reality show Redneck Island — Dirty, Danny Dollar, George South and many others.
Advance tickets are available at Buffalo Pawn & Gun. Concession sales from the event will benefit Lockhart School PTO, and Buffalo Pawn & Gun will provide free bottled water for those in attendance.