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Let’s get it on: Former heavyweight champ opening wrestling school in Myrtle Beach

Thomas Richardson, a former NWA heavyweight champion under the moniker “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, is opening a wrestling school at X Gym Sports Mall on Aug. 5.
Thomas Richardson, a former NWA heavyweight champion under the moniker “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, is opening a wrestling school at X Gym Sports Mall on Aug. 5. jbell@thesunnews.com

For Thomas Richardson, today’s wrestling just isn’t the same as it was in the days when he performed as “Wildfire” Tommy Rich.

Now residing on the Grand Strand, he’s trying to do something about it.

“It’s changed a lot and I just want to bring some of that old school back,” said Richardson, a former National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight champion who wrestled in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. “You know, and what better place to come train than Myrtle Beach?”

His joke is everybody comes to Myrtle Beach to retire, but he moved to Myrtle Beach to work.

Chris Marsh, on Thomas Richardson

Richardson is now the namesake and face of a new wrestling training facility, the Tommy “Wildfire” Rich Wrestling School, set to open Aug. 5 at the X Gym Sports Mall in Myrtle Beach.

“I just think old-school wrestling is becoming a lost art. … I just want to bring that back,” said Richardson, who is from Tennessee and did most of his wrestling there and in Georgia. “I still love the game, man.”

We’re looking real forward to the endeavor.

Thomas Richardson

Richardson will be the teacher and trainer, while Chris Marsh – project manager for Wrestler Weekly, which is backing the endeavor, and project manager for Rich Promotions – will be the director.

Marsh said the school is for those over 18 years of age who want to learn to wrestle. He said an individual, five-hour class will cost $50, a week’s worth of classes will be $150 and there will be larger packages available at discounted prices.

“To get to live your dream for 40 years and then get to do something else pertaining to wrestling [is great],” Richardson said.

While the process is just getting started, there are already plans to hold shows at the X Gym in October, November and December, with each benefiting the community. A toys for tots service has already been planned to accompany the event in December. The shows likely will feature some wrestlers trained here and others coming in from outside the area, Marsh said.

“That’s probably the main thing about the school that separates it from the others,” Marsh said. “Because of Tommy, we’ve got the connections to bring in big names that people will pay to see.”

1981The year “Wildfire” Tommy Rich won the NWA world heavyweight championship

Richardson said the training at his school will include everything needed to put on a full show, from announcers to managers.

“It’s going to be the whole ball of wax,” he said.

Richardson, now 61 years old, has been involved in wrestling – not sports entertainment, he says – for 40-some years, but this experience will be different as he will be the mentor instead of the star.

“That’s a blessing, to be able to go and make somebody’s day, but it makes my day now too,” he said.

Richardson plans to use his vast experience and knowledge to help promote what he believes is a better wrestling product than what’s out there now.

When asked what is different about wrestling today versus what it was in his heyday, he took a short pause before saying succinctly, “It wasn’t sports entertainment.”

“I mean, it’s like a magic show. Once you go see it, you’ll go a dozen times or more until you see how the magician does it. Once you know about the trick, it isn’t no big deal,” said Richardson, who later in his career wrestled in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). “Whether our business was classified as [fake or] whatever, people still believed it because the mystique was there. You didn’t see the guy miss a [move] by a mile and other guy fall down like he got hit.

“If you didn’t knock the dog stink out of somebody, you’d get the dog stink beat out of you. You know, you didn’t miss a punch back then.”

Richardson and Marsh admitted the venture will take time, but they hope to build a large following, something others struggled to do here before, Marsh said. Marsh said they’ve already received about 10 calls and have had several folks participating in other activities at the X Gym inquire.

“I’m excited to see this build up where people know this place to not only come to school to learn to wrestle, but to come and see some good events,” he added. “Myrtle Beach is lacking that right now. We need it.”

That’s what you’re looking for. If someone started cheering on a character, that guys starts selling seats and when he sells seats he keeps getting bigger and bigger up the ladder.

Chris Marsh, on local wrestlers building a following down the road

Anthony White – better known as Tony Atlas and Mr. USA as a bodybuilder and wrestler – and Michael McCord – known for the gimmick “Universal Heartthrob” Austin Idol – will be on hand for the grand opening, which will be noon-4 p.m. Aug. 5 and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 6.

“It’s a great business to be in. I got to live my dream longer than most. It’s really been a blessing to me and a dream come true,” Richardson said. “This is the next step and I’m still dreaming.”

David Wetzel: 843-626-0295, @MYBSports

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