John "Johnny" Walker (September 10, 1934 - June 10, 2020) better known as Mr. Wrestling II, is considered by many to be the most accomplished masked babyface American professional wrestler. II was one of the most popular wrestlers in the Southeast, Mid Atlantic, Florida and Georgia territories in the mid 1970s to late 1980s. He was considered one of the greatest American wrestlers not to win a world title - mask or no mask.
Before the Mask
Johnny Walker's career began in 1956 working occasionally on cards in Hawaii where he grew up. Tony Morelli and Pat O'Connor were the wrestlers who trained Johnny. In 1958, Walker left the islands for his first time going to Toronto, which was a major culture shock. “When I got off the plane there for the first time, I almost turned around and got back on because it was so cold. I got off that airplane in a Hawaiian suit. I thought I was going to freeze to death. I was not a happy camper.” Johnny stayed in the area for a few months. Pat O’Connor was there, and so were Don Curtis, Lord Athol Layton, and Hard Boiled Haggerty (Don Stansauk).
In 1959 Walker had moved on to a warmer climate in Texas where Walker and the Amazing Zuma won the WCWA Texas Tag Team Championship for Paul Beosch's promotion. One day while Beosch is watching Walker train (see pic above) Beosch observes Walker's training set which featured Walkers incredible physical flexibility. Those traits led the Houston promoter Paul Boesch to dub Walker “Rubberman” . “One day he was watching me wrestle, and I was extremely flexible at the time. He liked the contortionist moves that I made with my nimble body.” The nickname remained with Walker until the early 1970s.
By the early 1960s, Johnny moved on to work as a heel in the new Northeast promotion WWWF for Vince McMahon Sr. who had broken away from the NWA along with Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Jonathan, and a young and cocky Bruno Sammartino. One day while they were training Walker taught Sammartino “a smaller guy can beat you if you’re not careful. Strength is not everything. You have to have good balance, coordination, timing, and leverage.”
Beginning in the mid-1960s Walker also spent time working for Nick Gulas, a supposed bad paying promoter. “I had a good deal with him. He gave me good guarantees and it worked out alright. I was on top and did well there. A lot of the guys I’ve spoken to say he wasn’t a man of his word, but he kept his word with me.”
Next in Tennessee, he had tagged teamed with Silento Rodriguez who was legally deaf – he and Walker had good chemistry anyways. “He just kind of followed suit to what I did. He watched me physically and just kept up with me.”
Walker also began working in Georgia during that time pairing often with Jim Wilson, a former football All-American wrestling during his off-seasons from the Atlanta Falcons. “I took him down to the gym and kind of stretched him a little bit and showed him he didn’t know as much about wrestling as he thought he did.” Walker worked all across the U.S. and Canada during that decade, including short stints in San Francisco, Los Angele's, Texas, Portland, and Calgary.
The mid-1960s to early-1970s were a great time for Walker, he topped several territories for most of those years, both as a single and with numerous tag partners. Although married he had no problem with the endless traveling and neither did his wife even though in those days wrestlers would literally wrestle 25 days a month. Olivia Walker had her own life as a master seamstress, she made custom jackets & robes for the country music stars of the 1960s such as Porter Wagner and George Jones, as well as Liberace and Broadway actors. These robes were all hand made and expensive. In the mid-1970s she started making Mr Wrestling l & 2's robes, plus Ric Flair's, Paul Orndroff's, Austin Idols and many others. (In his retirement speech Ric Flair thanks "Olivia Walker" for all her hard work)
Wearing A Mask
In March, 1971 Walker went to wrestle for Eddie Graham in South Florida starting out as a baby face. However at 40 years of age and balding, he looked old and haggard compared to others his age, hence putting him in the mask. "Eddie brought me in as the Grappler," Walker recalled. "Graham knew my background and thought I would fit in well there."
At first, Walker didn't like wearing a mask. "It was very difficult to work with," he remembered. "The first time I wore it, as soon as the match was over I ran back to the dressing room so I could rip it off. I was gasping for air. But I got used to it eventually, and I was very successful with it."
After a couple of months he started a program of matches against the "Original Grappler", Walker only wrestled as the "Masked Grappler" for 5 months before unmasking to compete against Bobby Duncum for his Brass Knuckles Title. "If Duncum wants my mask off, says the Grappler. I'll take it off...if he puts up his brass knuckles title on the line." He lost the match after unmasking as Johnny Walker.
His next series of matches were against Tim Woods who was wrestling with a knee brace as a heel. The matches involved $500 which Mr. Wrestling had lost to Johnny Walker. The two then had a series of matches with Mr Wrestling failing to win back his $500. Finally Mr. Wrestling put up his hair and the $500. Walker in fact lost this match, the $500 and his hair.
In January 1972 Walker and Mr. Wrestling tagged together for the first time in Florida with Walker again a heel. "we were like two peas from the same pod in the ring together" stated Walker.
In late 1972 Johnny Walker became semi-retired and though wrestling occasionally owned and operated his own gas station outside Atlanta. However the rebirth of Johnny "Rubberman" Walker's career was just around the corner.
Atlanta's Promotion War
After Ray Gunkel's sudden death following a match in August 1972, a promotional war in Atlanta started during that November. Almost everyone working for the Atlanta NWA's booking office, plus the local promoters left the N.W.A. and went to work for Ray Gunkel's widow, Ann, in her new All-South Wrestling Alliance except for Bob Armstrong.
- Gunkel's widow was a young beautiful ex-professional model who had her husband's controlling interest in the Atlanta office. Ann having learned the business from her husband, was determined to run the promotion. Her husbands partners Lester Welch plus his son Buddy Fuller were pro wrestlers as was promoter (ex-wrestler)Paul Jones and they were not pleased to have her trying to run the show. Days before the Thanksgiving day show these men closed the Altanta booking office she had shares in, these men then reopened the Atlanta office using a new corporate name the same day without her.
- The Atlanta N.W.A. office staff and workers however were loyal to Ray & Ann Gunkel and retaliated. The next day the NWA's Atlanta booking office woke up to an Atlanta Journal headline story, the story was about all how the new promotions office staff, wrestlers, plus the rest of the local NWA promoters except for Fred Ward had left the N.W.A. en masse and joined Ann Gunkel's outlaw All-South Wrestling Alliance. Gunkel then booked a competing show for Thanksgiving day in a Atlanta suburb. Only Bob Armstrong and Rock Hunter who had missed the walk out meeting showed up for Fred Ward's N.W.A. Nov 22 Wednesday night NWA wrestling show in Columbus Ga. Ann Gunkel's outlaw All South Wrestling Alliance lasted just 2 yrs before being bought out by Jim Barnett an Aussie promoter who also bought into Georgia Championship Wrestling.
The Birth of Mr. Wrestling II
Because of the promotions war, N.W.A. Atlanta promoter Paul Jones needed to rebuild his booking office. The Thanksgiving Day 1972 matches were the back bone of the company getting through the winter months and the company was in deep trouble, without these Thanksgiving Day matches the N.W.A Atlanta booking office of Paul Jones may have never recovered.
With assistance from promoters Eddie Graham, Fred Ward and Jerry Jarrett, among others, wrestlers were sent in from all over the South to save the Atlanta booking office and get the promotion back on its feet. (Fred Ward's money & help was so desperately needed he was given 20% of the new Atlanta booking office and a NWA vice presidency)(Jarrett's & Graham's help was needed bad enough they both also got a piece of the promotion)
Leo Garibaldi, a former Atlanta Booker, returned to Atlanta as a wrestler to help Jones but was injured during a tag match and sidelined. Promoter Jones then talked Garibladi into being the Atlanta Booker again. As Booker Garibaldi wanted to bring Tim Woods back into Atlanta as Mr. Wrestling who had in the late 60's & early 1970's had several great runs in Georgia and still was as popular as ever. However, with a heel Woods already topping cards in Graham's Florida territory, this made Mr Wrestling unavailable.
Graham however did agree to bring in Woods for the monthly Super Shows to help out the Atlanta territory, but not for the rebuilding process. Instead Graham/Garibaldi then came up with Plan B.
Graham, remembering how well Johnny Walker and Tim Woods had worked together as a heel team in Florida, decided they needed to create a second Mr. Wrestling. Enter a semi-retired Johnny Walker who lived and worked literally minutes away, "Leo asked me to come to Atlanta and take the mask to become Mr. Wrestling #2," reported Walker, later.
January 26 1973 was the first appearance of Mr. Wrestling 1 and 2 in Promoters Paul Jones Atlanta promotion. Mr Wrestling announced in the ring that he had commitments in Florida that would not allow him to return to Atlanta full-time to battle the legion of heels in the area. Since Mr Wrestling could not return to Atlanta full-time he had therefore found a wrestler who would fulfill the ideals of Mr Wrestling and continue fighting the war against the heels as Mr. Wrestling would.
Mr Wrestling then introduced Wrestling II to the packed house. Walker was an immediate hit with the Georgia fans as Mr. Wrestling II. Somehow Walker's wearing of this mask as Wrestling 2 seemed to free an inner side of Walker that had never shown before in all the years Walker was an upper tier heel.
Walker as Wrestling II became a fiery wrestler who the fans cheered even louder for when he broke out his rough as needed heel traits to use against the heels when they riled II up. Wrestling II gave every intense interviews which along with Walker's incorporating of his heel wrestling traits into the babyface II persona created a wrestling character that was exactly the opposite of Mr. Wrestling's soft-spoken humble speech & as humble wrestling style.
Walker made sure he wrestled several times that year on Paul Jones Atlanta cards as both Johnny(Rubberman)Walker and Mr. Wrestling II. During these cards II exposed his trademark "Rubberman" back shiver (a snake like undulation of his spine) so that fans in the know knew who II really was.
Beginning A Feud
Mr Wrestling (Tim Woods) was brought back from Florida into Atlanta regularly to wrestle against World Champion Jack Brisco or Harley Race, as No. 1 contender to the N.W.A. Heavyweight Title. Traditionally the No.1 contender at the Atlanta shows was the Georgia Heavyweight Champion.
More times then not this was Mr Wrestling II as he became a 10 time Georgia Heavyweight Champion starting in Mar 73, with his runs as champion going into the late 70's. II was getting antsy at not getting his share of NWA title matches at the monthly Omni super shows.
The lack of Wrestling II getting World Title matches on the monthly Atlanta super show slowly started to cause friction between I and II. Wrestling II began to make his resentment known that he as Georgia Heavyweight Champion should be receiving the Georgia Champions share of NWA Title shots and not the still very popular Mr Wrestling who was wrestling mostly in Florida.
During one TV interview in Columbus Ga. II actually said the 1 had had enough title shots without a win plus 2 felt he was more than capable to beat both Race and Wrestling 1
Mr Wrestling vs Wrestling II Feud
The feud between I & II erupted because Mr Wrestling had agreed to unmask to get a 1 last shot for the NWA Title against Champion Harley Race after a series of losses to the Champion. Race had refused to give 1 any more title shots unless 1 unmasked. On June 1, 1973 (Friday) at the Atlanta Omni Mr. Wrestling had unmasked before his NWA Title match against Race as promised, revealing himself as Tim Woods. (Remember these were the days that local promotions weren't seen outside their local TV areas so most Georgia fans had no idea the Woods was wrestling in Florida as a heel or that he'd unmasked twice already, once each in the Tri-State & Florida territories)
The I and II feud was a booking maneuver by the new booker Jerry Jarret as Masked Wrestlers had wrestled the NWA Champion with their masks on many times. Masked wrestlers would have unmasked only if they won the title under then NWA bylaws that masked champions were not allowed. (The rumored real reason was because a National Wrestling Mag was going to publish pics and a story about Mr Wrestling being Tim Woods)
Wrestling II became furious (kayfabe) that Tim Woods was willing to give up his mask just to get another chance at the World title held by Harley Race. Mr Wrestling's unmasking himself led to a several matches between Tim Woods & II over the next 8 months. Semi-friendly at first these matches between the two became increasingly contentious to the point that 1 match became the unmasked Tim Woods Hair vs. Mr. Wrestling II mask. (By the way this 1973-74 feud climax was a reversal of the 1972 Florida feud where Johnny Walker lost a Hair vs Mask match with Tim Woods.)
The hair versus mask match was the Main Event at the monthly Atlanta Onmi super card. After a long hard fought match that seesawed both ways the unbelievable happened. The unmasked Woods did the "honors" (putting over) in the feud as Wrestling II loaded his mask and knocked out Mr Wrestling to win the match. The furious Omni crowd watched on as the lost then required Tim Wood's head to be shaved in the middle of the ring with a gloating Wrestling II watching on.
Woods & II (II now insisted on being called Mr. Wrestling) continued to feud for a short time with Woods donning his mask again to hide his bald head. The feud seesawed back and forth between the two wrestlers with Tim Woods winning some but losing most of the rematches throughout the territory to the now heel Wrestling II.
The Masked Assassins vs Wrestling I & II
During the split between Wrestling 1 & 2 the Masked Assassin began attacking Mr Wrestling and was getting the better of him. Things then got worse for Mr Wrestling when the Masked Assassin added a second Assassin (John Studd) in a bid to become a dominant Tag Team in Georgia.
During one of the beat downs of Mr Wrestling by the Masked Assassins an amazing incident occurred, Mr Wrestling II suddenly attacked the Masked Assassins running them both out of the ring. A stunned Mr Wrestling laid dazed on the mat as Mr Wrestling II left the ring and this scenario repeated itself several more times in Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Atlanta Ga arenas.
Finally Wrestling II had a famous TV studio segment where II literally laid a hatchet down on the announcer Ed Carpal's podium in Columbus Ga. and declared the feud as over and inviting Mr Wrestling to rejoin II as a team.
This laying down of the hatchet reunited the pair to war against the hated Assassins. Wrestling I & II repeated this making peace scene at the next CWG taping with Gordon Solie as host at the Saturday morning Atlanta TV studio tapings.
Mr Wrestling & Wrestling II became such a hot draw against the Assassins that the 2 teams headlined many a sell out throughout the Mid Atlantic, Georgia, Florida & Southeastern territories battling each other in the mid 70's.
For the next 15 years Wrestling II and the Masked Assassin (who also used the "Flame" persona in Southeastern Championship Wrestling territory) continued their bloody battles against each other.
Their feud is considered the longest continuous feud in wrestling bar none.
Wrestling 2 as a Heel
The first time Wrestling II wrestled as a heel against Mr Wrestling he was new to the character and the fans weren't as vested with him as the baby face so the turn did not have a long term effect on 2's career.
The second time was in the mid 80's when Wrestling II turned on Magnum T.A. in Watt's Mid-South territory. This turn affected many of 2's fans all throughout the Southern States.
In November 83 II was hired by Terry Allen to mentor T.A. into becoming a championship caliber wrestler. While mentoring Magnum the two became a championship caliber tag team and the two would become Mid-South Tag champs on Christmas night of 83 as they defeated Jim Neidhart & Butch Reed in a Steel Cage match.
In Jan 84 Watt's new booker Bill Dundee brought in the Midnight Express with Jim Cornette and immediately set them against II & Magnum. Dundee was determined to get the young new talent over in the Mid South so Dundee decided to use II as The Midnights stepping stone to get this new talent over.
Dissention between II & T.A. started appearing mid Jan 84 when while mentoring T.A. Terry refused to heed II's advice that Lanny Poffo who T.A. was tagging with when II wasn't available was not to be trusted as he came from a "evil family"
By Mid Feb Wrestling II and Terry Allen had lost a non title tag match where 2 and T.A. received 5 lashes each from a belt from Cornette and the Midnights. II was furious that Magnum was the cause of the lose although Cornette was the real reason. Cornette then goaded T.A. into facing the Midnights again on 2/28/84 in a Tag Title match with the losing team members including Cornette being whipped 5 lashes each. II became even more upset with T.A. when Magnum accepted the Title match and stipulation without consulting him.
As the match progressed 2 suddenly walked away from the match so they lost the Mid-South Tag team Titles to the Midnight Express and T.A. received the whipping along with Terry Taylor who refused to let Magnum take all 10 lashes.
The North American Champion Junkyard Dog was vocally upset by II's turning against T.A. and II took offense to Dog talking against him. 2 challenged Dog to give him a shot at the North American title. Dog accepted so on 3/12/84 during the Championship match Dog took 3 of II's famous knee lifts and was able to continue. This had never happened to II before so II pulled out a steel plate with straps and strapped the plate on his striking knee and knocked out Dog thus winning the North American Title and cementing himself as a heel.
After his heel turn and North American Title win at the Superdome show II had renamed himself as Mr Wrestling and became the mentor of a new Mr Wrestling 2. This new II was a raw well muscled wrestler who as the new Wrestling II took on Magnum in many matches to soften T.A. up to keep Magnum from winning the North American Title from Mr Wrestling.
During these matches Mr Wrestling was at ringside "advising" the new Wrestling II, Mr Wrestling started sneaking his steel knee cover into the ring for the new Wrestling II to use since the new II did not have the ability to perform a credible "bionic knee lift". The new Wrestling 2 lost a match to Magnum on 3/9/84 giving T.A. the right to contend for Mr Wrestling's North American Championship Title.
Magnum & Mr Wrestling had their first singles match on 3/23/84 in Houston and a blood feud was born with them selling out arenas around the circuit.
Magnum would finally take the North American title from his mentor on 5/13/84 in Tulsa after the interference from the new Wrestling II backfired. (See 24min 35sec of the video to the right for the Title match, this 31min video contains a recap of the whole feud)
Now after losing the North American title to Magnum T.A.when it came time for the Title rematch Mr wrestling had out smarted himself as the former title holder of record was Wrestling 2 (remember 2 renamed himself Mr Wrestling AFTER beating JYD for the title) thus the new Mr Wrestling 2 was the legal contender of record for the rematch.
A furious Mr Wrestling tried to make the new Wrestling II give up the North American Heavyweight Title shot to him during an interview at the TV tapings announcers podium. Bill Watts as Mid-South owner informed the protesting Mr Wrestling that the match was the new Wrestling II against Magnum T.A. for the Title.
When it was time for the Title match Mr Wrestling followed Wrestling II to the ring and then into the ring arguing furiously with Wrestling II that the rematch was rightfully his. The ring announcer again told Mr Wrestling the match was the new II vs Magnum.
Mr Wrestling protested that he would appeal this decision to matchmaker Grizzly Smith. Mr Wrestling was then attacked by Wrestling II who knee lifted Mr Wrestling out of the ring and then posted Mr Wrestling's head to the steel ring post. Mr Wrestling was carried away while the new Wrestling II started the match against Magnum.
After a seesaw battle that saw the ref stunned, Magnum was thrown over the top rope to the floor, Mr Wrestling returned to the ring wearing the steel knee cover to attack the new II. Mr Wrestling drove Wrestling II from the ring and then attacked Magnum T.A., Magnum responded by drop kicking Mr Wrestling from the ring where upon Wrestling II re-entered the ring. Wrestling II was immediately met with Magnum's belly to belly suplex and the 3 count for the pin, Magnum wins again.
After a series of matches against Mr Wrestling, Wrestling II unmasked as an unknown journeyman named Ray Hernandez, who didn't make much of an impression with the Mid South fans as Hercules Hernandez.
Shortly after this Wrestling II rescued Magnum during another beat down by the Midnight Express and revealed that his splitting with T.A. was II's way of toughening up a man who had the makings of a great champion but lacked the killer instinct needed to be one.
Wrestling 2 was once again a fan favorite but left the area in July 84 because II was upset with Dundee's booking of him as Dundee no longer saw II as a main eventer.
Wrestling 2 Career Winds Down
From Oct 84 to Jan 86 II wrestled for WWF, the less said the better as II was used as enhancement talent.
In Feb 86 Wrestling 2 return to South-Eastern Championship wrestling and joined the Stud Stable as a heel to feud with The Bullet for the South-Eastern/Continental Heavyweight title. Bullet and 2 feuded for the next few months over the title.
While a member of the Stud Stable II also started wrestling with a Wrestling 3. In this instance Pat Rose was Wrestling 3. Wrestling 2 and 3 were heels battling the R.A.T. Patrol (johnny Rich, scott Armstrong, Tonga kidd) over the Southeastern Championship Tag Titles.
During Wrestling 2's battles for the Bullets Title Wrestling 3 started teaming with Randy Rose to feud with the R.A.T. Patrol over the tag titles. During one match the R.A.T. Patrol unmasked Wrestling 3 to reveal Randy's "cousin" Pat Rose.
Unfortunately II's career was now winding down and although II vowed to take off the Bullet's mask he would fail and eventually lost a Loser Leaves Town match on 5/5/86 in Birmingham Al.
II spent the rest of 1986 wrestling in the Georgia Independent Circuit plus returning to Continental in February 1987 but this time as a baby face. II would feud with the likes of Rip Rogers & Jerry Stubbs before taking the Alabama title from Mike Golden on 4/27/87 in Birmingham before losing the title back to Golden on 6/14/87 in Marietta, Georgia at the Cobb County Civic Center.
II would continue to bounce around Continental for the rest of 1987 plus the Georgia independents throughout 1988. II had a match with Nick Bockwinkel in Chattanooga on 6/14/88 plus some great matches against Tommy Rich in his heel run in late 1988 for Southern Championship Wrestling.
1989 saw II become a mentor yet again this time for Ranger Ross as they formed a solid team for SCW helping Ross get ready to join the NWA in the Spring of 1990. Sadly by the end of the 1989 II was done as an active competitor in Professional Wrestling and retired to Hawaii with his wife Olivia after a 32-year career as pro wrestler.
Walker dominated Georgia Championship Wrestling, as Mr. Wrestling II during his tenure, he won the first of 10 Georgia Heavyweight Titles on March 2, 1973 but his legacy is surprisingly overlooked and underrated during today's WWE dominion over the sport. Walker far surpassed the popularity of Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woods) throughout the Carolina s', Georgia, Florida and the Deep South regions in his 16 years as Mr. Wrestling II.
Former President Jimmy Carter (a fellow Georgian) called 2 his favorite wrestler (as well as his mother's favorite). There is an urban legend that is undocumented, that claims that 2 was invited to President Carter's Inauguration party, but (naturally) the Secret Service would not let a man wearing a mask in to any affair with the President. It is said 2 had the Secret Service relay his regards to the President, but refused to unmask.
Another legend which was actually a fact was that Wrestling 2 never traveled with out his wrestling mask on, he also had a special Mask just for eating. He was also 1 of the few wrestlers allowed to show up during the taping of TV wrestling shows and because of tight driving schedules allowed to schedule his TV matches as he saw fit.
If there wasn't time for a match II would do a promo, a run in or whatever he had time for and then continue on his way. He would literally drive from the Altanta N.W.A. GCW TV taping on Sat morning, continue on to Macon for Ward's Macon Sat morning TV taping. After Macon he would then drive to Ward's Columbus Championship Wrestling TV taping all on Sat morning/early afternoon and then continue on to wherever he was wrestling live that day.
Johnny Walkers wrestling career lasted an astounding 32 years, remember these were the days of wrestling 25 days a month and sometimes 2 to 4 times a day. Astoundingly all the traveling was by car and in 50's thru the late 80's this was almost always done on secondary roads involving thousands of miles of dangerous driving a week. Dozens of his compatriots were killed or crippled in cars accidents during those 32 years.
Walker wrestled in almost every major territory in the U.S., Canada, plus many times in Japan. He retired to Hawaii and when healthy he returns regularly to Columbus Ga. for reunions with his loyal fans, Columbus/Macon fans were always the most rapid supporters of both Wrestling 1 and 2.
Birth of Wrestling III
In 2006 - 2007 Wrestling II supposedly came out of retirement & helped train a group of wrestlers for the defunct Don Muraco's AWA connected Hawaiian Championship Wrestling. Wrestling II also announced a passing of the Mask with the creation of an officially approved Mr. Wrestling 3 who is Steve Corino, "King Of Old School".
Mr Wrestling II & III then won the groups Tag Titles defeating the team of Manu Samoa to win the HCW Kekaulike World Tag Team Titles October 13, 2007 with II using his running knee lift as his only move in the ring. Wrestling II was jumped before the rematch and was replaced & retired again.
- Wrestled 16 years as Johnny "Rubberman" Walker
- Wrestled 17 years as Mr Wrestling II
- Worked in almost every promotion in the U.S.
- Won over 100 City, Regional, State Wrestling Titles
- Was President Carter's favorite wrestler
- Finishing move
- Running knee lift
- Trained or mentored wrestlers
- Notable Feuds