Tracy Smothers, a much-beloved veteran of North American wrestling, has passed away aged 58 years old. He was a man whose career stretched from the tail end of the territory days, through to the Attitude Era were he would play for all three sides, WWE, WCW and ECW, and on to the Indies were he would play a vital role in supporting in encouraging, protecting and developing the next generation of talent.
Smothers was born in Springfield, TN and was a natural athlete, playing football and golf for his school, Springfield High, and representing them at State Championship level in wrestling, the first of his class to do so. This gave him a legitimate shoot background and would see him take the Policeman role in a lot of parking lot showdowns with irate wrestlers and fans in the years to come.
He would be trained by The Fabulous Ones, Stan Lane and Steve Keirn after graduating High School and start work in the red hot Memphis territory, unsurprisingly given his trainers he began an off again, on again tag team with Steve Armstrong that would dominate his early career success. The Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, as they would become known, would be stalwarts of Memphis, Florida and the South East Championship Wrestling. Smothers would also famously wrestle a bear, on Television no less. In a career-long arc of “They’d never let you do that nowadays.”, Smothers had a series of gimmicks that while not outright questionable, did veer on the side of unacceptable by modern standards.
The Wild-Eyed Southern Boys were a case in point, by the early nineties as they landed firmly in WCW’s red hot tag team division wearing rebel grey uniform jackets, hats and confederate flag tights. The Southern Boys matched up to the Piedmont archetype, the “Helluva Fella”; loud, young and fun. Which played well to the southern regional crowds of the eighties, however to the national audience of the nineties it looked at best dated and at worst outright racist. The famously PC brand officers of Turner Broadcasting must have noticed too as soon they would be repackaged as the Young Pistols. Which would have been fine if they were 22. Neither Armstrong nor Smothers was 22. The fans turned accordingly and so did the team. There were big-time matches at Super Brawl for the US tag titles against the Fabulous Freebirds and finally against the unloved team of The Patriots, Firebreaker Chip and Todd Champion they would take their first and only US Tag Team Title once they had turned heel, dropping the belts to the oh-so high-class team of Ron Simmons and Big Josh (a pre-Doink The Clown Matt Borne).
Tracy would re-emerge in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling where he truly found his niche as the big fish in the small pond. Burning a heartfelt promo about the disintegration of the Southern Boys, and his need to get back to his roots. He established himself as a babyface and would become a strong drawing card for the promotion. Feuding with “Prime Time” Brian Lee, Chris Candido, and Dirty White Boy Tony Anthony, he would take three TV titles and the Heavyweight Championship twice. He would also tag with Anthony to form T.H.U.G.’S who would take the tag team title and feud with The Gangstas and The Heavenly Bodies.
His next move was back to a national though perhaps the least creative of positions in the WWE. Because the obvious thing to do with a nationally recognised star who’s just come off a hot feud and has momentum is to recast them as a lovable loser just so you can rib your employees. Freddy Joe Floyd was from Bow Legs, Oklahoma, just like the Brisco Brothers, more specifically Gerlad Brisco who was then one of McMahon’s right-hand guys. His name was even a blend of the Brisco’s birth names. He would be a jobber to the stars with occasional wins over big names to further other people’s storylines. He was miscast but as always a professional who carried the load.
He hit closer to a home run and perhaps had his most nationally memorable outing in ECW. Back as Tracy Smothers, but this time he was The Main Man, in Tommy Rich’s FBI. A Full Blooded Italian he wasn’t and that’s the joke, along with JT Smith and actual Italians Little and Big Guido, the comedy heels were a big hit with ECW’s bloodthirsty audience. Smother’s dancing ability, or lack thereof, was put on full display, as well as his aggressive heel attitude honed in the southern territories. As ECW was essentially an overgrown Southern territory with a smarter fan base, he knew exactly how to press the right buttons and his run was a rewarding low risk, high return effort in terms of zeitgeist and longevity.
After the end of his ECW run, he worked the indies for the next twenty years, working in different roles, but always a serious worker and hardly ever as a nostalgia act. He was of course invited to the Hardcore Homecoming, WWE’s ECW One Night Stand and Impact’ Hardcore Justice ECW Reunion shows. He would become a mainstay of Juggalo Championship Wrestling and IWA Mid-South.
What is remarkable is that no one has a bad word to say about Tracy Smothers. He received plaudits and loss from his colleagues of his youth, and of his later career. A man who was full of stories and humour, who would back his friends and fellow workers to the hilt, a guy who could bump and grind with Session Moth Martina one night, and go broadway on an indie show with Ricky Morton the next night. He was a complete player in a player’s game. He may not have been the biggest star, but he loved wrestling, and wrestlers and fans, loved him back.