Wrestling is absolutely chock-full of what-if scenarios.
What if Eddie Guerrero was still here? What if WCW and ECW never folded? What if the Montreal Screwjob never happened?
What if, what if, what if.
One of these possibilities within the multiverse of madness that is professional wrestling is: What if Magnum T.A. hadn’t been forced to retire?
Seasoned fans know the legend of Magnum T.A. Some lived through it, some heard of it by happenstance, but many are uninitiated about the missed opportunity that passed us by in this timeline, myself included.
I come from a family of wrestling fans. My mother speaks in high reverence of the territory days, whereas my brother grew up with the Attitude Era versus Monday Nitro and that which came before. Both spoke so much about T.A., and for a while I just ignored it. I wasn’t a hot-blooded wrestling fan yet, just some filthy casual with no knowledge other than what was shoved in my face.
At first glance, I saw that Magnum T.A. in so many respects reminded me of today’s Hangman Adam Page, something that was genuinely jarring for me. It was as though a variant of Page had slipped through a crack in the universe and wrestled in the 1980s USA, like Loki.
From his appearance to storytelling and character, Magnum T.A. was the template. The standard for wrestlers and sports entertainers, yet not for a great while.
Upon further viewing, man was Magnum ahead of his time. Imagine if 90s Goldberg could wrestle long matches with the style that many wrestlers use today. He was even pushed that way, before all of these men started making statements.
The Virginia native debuted in 1978, in some smaller territories, before departing for Jim Crockett Promotions in 1984. Following this, it was apparent that Magnum was something special.
Immediately he was thrust in the limelight, the most notable feud being against Wahoo McDaniel involving a cage match. The veteran McDaniel passed the torch and his United States Heavyweight Championship belt in a hard fought bout to the younger Magnum, instantly lighting him on fire. Eat your heart out, Mr. “Burn It Down” Seth Rollins.
A brief rivalry with Kamala followed, but after that – whoo boy! Magnum went on to have absolute classics against two members of the Four Horsemen: Tully Blanchard and Ric Flair. What you will see in this storyline of Magnum T.A.’s is that for all the cheering fans would do for him, all the love, his character was as flawed as the rest of us. He was stubborn and angry, like any man who felt the odds were against him. He wasn’t going to be altruistic – he wasn’t going to take your shit.
From the moment he made an impact, the Horsemen were after the newbie, immediately suggesting taking the woman Magnum was courting, which incensed Mangum because how dare anyone emasculate him? Most of the Horsemen feud was with Tully, but T.A. finally got to lay a hand on Ric Flair in a classic thirty-minute performance. Flair cheated to win and retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on a September Chicago night.
Magnum would soon also lose his U.S. belt against Tully Blanchard, but not for long. If you were to introduce yourself to Magnum T.A., you would do yourself a favor by watching Starrcade 1985: The Gathering.
Regarded by many as a classic, iconic battle, the “I Quit” cage match pitted the new U.S. champ against the former holder of the belt. It’s gritty and bloody and will have you on the edge of your seat, forgetting the world outside as you watch what would become a career-defining match, elevating Magnum T.A. in what would have been a title run propelling him to stardom, reclaiming his gold like a hero vanquishing his foe and regaining his treasure.
In what was his last feud, the Virginian wrestler found himself in the crosshairs of the Koloffs, Ivan and his nephew Nikita, set on taking the United States title from him. Due to a contract signing gone awry Magnum would be stripped of his title, after Nikita insulted Magnum’s mother thus instigating a brawl. Bob Geigel, the NWA president officiating the signing, did not take kindly to this and I don’t blame him. Man’s just trying to do his job and these guys are acting like outright hooligans. Hooligans, I tell you! What’s a Geigel to do?
It seems a Geigel was to do a reprimand, of course, to which Magnum would respond with a “Reprimand this!” before gifting the president with a knuckle sandwich. Displeased with this sandwich, Geigel proved his distaste and lack of hunger by outright vacating Magnum’s title from him, and starting a best of seven series.
Nikita Koloff started off strong, with three wins in a row, before Magnum T.A. proved himself to not be anyone’s punk and gained three of his own wins in his valiant efforts to once again reclaim his title. Unfortunately, Nikita broke the tie on August 17, 1986 due to the assistance of his uncle Ivan and Krusher Kruschev, thus demolishing the hopes and dreams of Magnum.
With all the sympathy of the fans behind him, it seemed as though Magnum T.A. was being groomed for an actual championship reign as NWA World Heavyweight Championship: to eventually challenge Ric Flair and shove the Nature Boy’s head in the mud as he would reign supreme. To defend against Ricky Steamboat and Sting in classic matches, becoming the ace of Jim Crockett Promotions. To become a star in WCW, keeping the eyes of fans away from WWE and stopping Hulkamania in its tracks as wrestling remained steadfast against sports entertainment…
Except it didn’t. That’s just a what-if scenario upon many of what might have happened. Who’s to say what Magnum T.A. would have accomplished? Much like the United States title that year, his own career would be snatched away from him. October 14th, 1986, a fateful drive in the rain would cause him to lose control of his Porsche and it would wrap around a telephone pole, causing his vertebrae to “explode”, leaving many at the time to wonder if the man would even walk again. All of that momentum halted for such a wonderful performer. Magnum had so much ready for him, plucked away in an instant.
Magnum T.A. was someone you could see in the many that came after him. Sting, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kenny Omega, The Rock; in so many ways, from charisma to work rate, Magnum T.A. set the standard for what was to come, and yet is an unsung hero that deserves to be celebrated. This fan certainly thinks so. Magnum T.A. was a character that would let his emotions get the best of him, and as such was a compelling babyface. He wasn’t altruistic like Hulk Hogan, he was a man of many faults. That’s what made him so easy to cheer for, because when you connect with an audience like that, and prove you can remain deserving of that love, all of your imperfections magnetize people to you. The power fantasy may be nice, but when you see yourself in someone, their successes become yours vicariously.
Instead, Magnum T.A.’s downfall served to cause Nikita Koloff’s face turn, and the future Sting has what it feels to me that Magnum was destined for. This is the universe among the many in the multiverse that we live in. But in the mid-1980s, the future was bright, and it is bright again.
When you watch Daniel Bryan struggle against the odds despite how human he was in the mid-2010s, Magnum T.A. was there. When you see Adam Page fight his inner demons and emotions in the early 2020s, Magnum T.A. is there.
Rain or shine, the legacy of Magnum T.A. is there.