During their hard-charging heyday, the Fabulous Freebirds never waited for anything. From their legendary rivalries inside the ring to their equally legendary reputations out of it, Michael “P.S.” Hayes, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy and Buddy “Jack” Roberts (so named because of his affinity for Jack Daniel’s) did what they wanted, when they wanted, shaking up the pro wrestling world and forever changing the concept of what a tag team could be.
So you can probably guess how they felt watching other teams earn enshrinement in the WWE Hall of Fame before they did. But on Monday, the Freebirds’ wait finally ended, as they were announced as inductees in the 2016 HOF class. And as lone surviving original member Hayes jokes, it’s about time.
“Well, I don’t know what the rush was,” he laughs. “Every year around this time, I’d be on pins and needles, hoping we’d get in, because our career speaks for itself. We put asses in seats…and I think you could take a poll of anybody who ever paid their hard-earned money to come see us, and they’d say they got more than their money’s worth. And that was huge to us, because we were wrestling fans too.”
The Freebirds began in earnest when the flashy Hayes teamed with tough-guy Gordy in the late Seventies, and though they were both young, they had big ideas on how to change the business – mainly by importing the high-voltage energy of rock & roll into still-staid world of professional wrestling.
“Terry and I were just brash, smart-ass, let’s-go-do-it teenagers, riding up and down the road listening to [Lynyrd] Skynyrd,” Hayes says. “I’d notice when I went to wrestling matches or rock concerts, I would see the same people at both. There was a crossover there, but the people that were in charge of wrestling at the time, they didn’t see it. They weren’t chasing the young customer – they weren’t chasing me.
“I always wanted to be an entertainer, and Terry always wanted to be a wrestler, so the Freebirds were a way of doing both. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to come out to music?'” he continues. “It took a lot of convincing, but finally, Jerry Jarrett bought in, and so we debuted it in 1979 at the Mid-South Coliseum. The custodian was in charge of dropping the needle on the last song on the Skynyrd album. I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to come out to ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or something.’ But it worked out, ‘Free Bird‘ hit, and the whole audience was in awe.”
With their theme song set, and the veteran Roberts added to the roster soon after, the Fabulous Freebirds began a legendary run through wrestling’s Southern territories, feuding with the biggest tag teams of the day and winning several titles – victories that necessitated the creation of the so-called “Freebird Rule,” which allowed any two of the three members to defend the belts on any given night (a stipulation still being used by current WWE Tag Team Champions the New Day). They quickly became the wrestling equivalent of a rock & roll band, and they developed the appetites to match.
“Back then, the one thing you would hear over and over again was ‘Live your gimmick.’ Well, we were kind of living that gimmick anyway – we were a rock & roll band in and out of the ring,” Hayes says. “I remember one time, my niece took me and Buddy out to some bar in a college town in Pennsylvania, and as soon as we walked in, the whole place went nuts. I felt there could be some trouble, so I said ‘Buddy, I’m going to hit you with this chair.’ So I hit him right upside the head, he didn’t sell it, and we sat down, ordered drinks and no one messed with us. Because, like, if that’s how we started the night, who knew how we were going to end it?”
They’d take the rock & roll image even further when Hayes recorded an original entrance theme – “Badstreet USA” – and shot an accompanying music video. They’d also make their way to the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling, where they’d engage in a legendary feud with the promotion’s very own rock stars, the homegrown Von Erich family, which set attendance records, spawned wild six-man tag matches and put the Freebirds firmly on the map.
“We were in literal riots. And if you got your ass kicked, but you made it back to the dressing room, that was a win. That’s how heavy it was. I think God was entertaining himself, because it was made in heaven,” Hayes says. “I’ve been blessed to have worked with many big stars and over babyfaces – Tommy Rich, Ted DiBiase, Junkyard Dog – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone more over than the Von Erichs were in Texas. They needed a rival, and they got us. And people just ate it up.”
So in a sense, it’s fitting that the Freebirds – Hayes, Gordy, Roberts and Jimmy Garvin, who joined the group in the Eighties – will join a class that includes Sting and the Godfather at the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, set for April 2 (the night before WrestleMania 32) in Dallas. Sure, it may have taken a while, but Hayes can’t think of a better place to celebrate all he and his mates accomplished inside the ring, and reflect on a legacy that not only revolutionized tag-team wrestling, but helped usher in the sports entertainment era, too.
And don’t worry, Hayes promises the Freebirds’ induction will be worth the wait.
“I’ve never been a person who is at a loss for words, so I’m pretty sure I’ll have some things to say,” he laughs. “They may not let me curse, but I want to pay homage to Terry and Buddy and the group, so I’m going to tell as many stories as they’ll let me get away with. Believe me, I’ve got plenty of them.”