Remembering Blackjack Mulligan - By Hank McAllen

This past week we lost another great member of the wrestling world when Black Jack Mulligan passed away on April 7 at the age of 73. Mulligan, aka Bob Windham, along with his partner Jack Lanza, formed the legendary tag team known as the Blackjacks who terrorized rings all across the country. The two were inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2006 by their longtime manager, Bobby Heenan.

 I remember the first time I saw the Blackjacks I was about 10 years old and they looked like the meanest, toughest pair of dudes I had ever seen. They had a very ominous look as they donned matching black trunks, big thick black mustaches, black hats and black fingerless gloves. Even if I didn’t know what ominous meant at 10, I knew one thing, those were two guys you’d have to be nuts to mess with. They were taking on the tandem of Irish Pat Barrett and Dominic DeNucci. I felt bad for DeNucci and Barrett that Saturday afternoon. It was on an old grainy UHF station that was in Spanish, but that was ok I didn’t need the announcer to tell me how bad the combo of Barrett and DeNucci were getting beaten up. The Blackjacks hands were raised and I was an immediate fan. I knew they were “bad”, but man they looked cool.

Mulligan, like many wrestlers from the 60’s and 70’s found his way into the wrestling business after trying his hand at professional football, after a successful career at Texas Western College (currently known as University of Texas El Paso) and a stint in the Marine Corps. After Windham’s brief stints with the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos, he was recruited into the wrestling business by another fellow football player, Wahoo McDaniel and then Jets owner Sonny Werblin. Mulligan went on to be trained by Joe Blanchard (Tully’s dad) in the Corpus Christi territory as well as by the legendary Verne Gagne. Soon after his training was complete, Windham signed on with the World Wide Wrestling Federation. His gimmick would be that of a cowboy, who was tough both in and out of the ring, whose finishing move was a devastating iron claw hold.

Mulligan (still referred to as Big Bob Windham) started out as a singles competitor, under the tutelage of The Grand Wizard. Windham quickly became one of the top heels in the territory as he feuded with legendary WWWF champions Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino.  Mulligan’s time with WWWF was cut short due to an incident at the Boston Garden in which he was stabbed in the leg by a fan, causing him to receive over 100 stitches.

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After his initial WWWF tenure, Windham was reunited with one of his initial trainers Verne Gagne when he joined Gagne’s AWA promotion.  At the time, the AWA was one of the top promotions in the world. Windham was paired with Blackjack Lanza, changed his name to Blackjack Mulligan, and the legendary team of The Blackjacks was born. The team was managed by Pretty Boy Bobby Heenan and wreaked havoc across the territory. The Blackjacks took on all comers in the AWA with their biggest feud being against the team of Dick The Bruiser and The Crusher. Mulligan is prominently featured in the WWE DVD titled, Spectacular Legacy of the AWA, in which he discusses at length the superior talent the AWA had at the time as opposed to all of the other existing territories.

After leaving the AWA, the team went on to have additional success in various NWA promotions as well as a successful return to the WWWF, where they captured the World Tag Team Championship in August 1975. Decades later Mulligan’s son, Barry Windham, would revitalize the Blackjack’s name as he and Bradshaw (JBL) formed the new Blackjacks. Windham later left the WWWF and he turned his focus back to his singles career, when he showed up at Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling, under the NWA umbrella. Blackjack Mulligan would feud with some of the biggest stars in the territory including Ric Flair, The Masked Superstar, Greg Valentine and Paul Jones who Mulligan defeated for the United States Heavyweight Championship. Blackjack also won one half of the Mid-Atlantic’s version of the NWA World Tag Team Championship with his new partner Ric Flair. Another long standing feud that Windham had was with Andre The Giant. Due to his 6’9” and close to 350 pound frame, Mulligan was one of the only legit big man threats to Andre back in the day. Blackjack would also be seen in the Florida NWA region fighting the likes of Kevin Sullivan.

Eventually Blackjack Mulligan would return to the WWF in the mid 1980’s. He hosted an interview segment titled Blackjack’s Barbecue, which was the good guy version of Piper’s Pit. He would also later be part of the famous masked trio known as the Machines, who were billed to be from the Orient. Mulligan was “Big Machine”, Andre The Giant was “The Giant Machine”, and Bill Eadie was known as the “Super Machine.” This was the second time the Machines gimmick was used after it proved to have a very successful run in Japan with the same trio involved. The Machines biggest feud would be against the Heenan Family, consisting of Big John Studd and King King Bundy.  In the late 1980’s Mulligan returned home to Texas where he wrestled under the World Class Championship Wrestling banner in Dallas. Mulligan went back to his heel persona and went up against the likes of Bruiser Brody, Gentleman Chris Adams and Kevin Von Erich.

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As his in ring wrestling career came to an end, Blackjack Mulligan would focus his efforts behind the scenes as a booker and promoter. He would eventually co-own the Amarillo, Texas promotion with Dick Murdoch after purchasing it from Dory & Terry Funk. Unfortunately though the WWF’s global domination was in full force and the promotion didn’t last long under Mulligan and Murdoch’s management.  Mulligan would also do as many of his contemporaries did and eventually wrote a book in 2007 titled, True Lies and Alibis. The book was quite popular amongst wrestling fans due to Mulligan’s honest take on the business in which he discussed the inner workings of the old territory days.

Blackjack Mulligan’s legacy has lived on long beyond his own personal exploits. Blackjack’s son Kendall Windham went on to have a formidable career while his other son Barry Windham was one of the top stars in the business during the 80’s. Barry was also one half of the former WWE Tag Team Champions, the US Express with brother in law, Mike Rotunda. Barry would also join his dad with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the Four Horsemen. We also see today Blackjack Mulligan’s imprint on the business as his grandson’s Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are current WWE roster members, with Bray being one of the biggest potential stars in the company.

When we think back on the career of Blackjack Mulligan, we remember his toughness, his distinct look and his successful runs in all three major companies (WWWF, AWA and NWA). We also remember his success as both a singles and tag team wrestler. Blackjack’s influence lives on today as his grandson’s continue keeping his legacy alive.  It was truly one of the most amazing careers in the wrestling business and his impact on the business will continue to be felt for years to come.

What are your memories of the Blackjacks and Blackjack Mulligan? Please share your comments below. Also, you check me out tonight on the Main Event Madness show hosed by Jon Curry and Marc Madison. www.facebook.com/MainEventMadness/