Date: 1982 (exact date unknown)
Location: Mid-south area (exact location unknown)
Source: WrestlingClassics.com, Steve Austin’s Unleashed podcast, Camelclutchblog.com, Armpit reader The Masked Man
Paul Orndorff’s reputation as one of the toughest men in the business may have first started from this infamous brawl. Tony Atlas also had a reputation. Both men had among the best physiques ever in the history of the industry. Atlas in particular had huge arms, huge lats and shoulders, and a tiny waist from his days as a professional bodybuilder.
In 1982, Orndorff and Atlas were both working for Georgia Championship Wrestling. They were in the car together with Brian Blair and “Wildfire” Tommy Rich. Rich was in the back with Orndorff, Atlas was in the front passenger seat, and Blair was driving.
When Blair and Orndorff worked for Mid-South, they often traveled with Dick Murdoch. Murdoch was known for always reclining the front seat back as much as possible, cramping whoever was behind him. “Move the seat, Murdoch!” became a famous inside line on the frequent road trips they all took together.
On this night, Atlas was doing the same. If you imagine four large men in a small car, Atlas reclining the seat would’ve definitely cramped Orndorff. He said something about it, joking with him to “Move the seat, Murdoch!” For some reason this set Atlas off, and he was shouting things like, “You don’t want none of this!” Orndorff exchanged more words with him, with the two arguing about who could kick the other’s ass. One version has Orndorff telling Blair to pull over, while another version says Atlas asked to be pulled over.
Whatever the case, Blair pulled over at a truck stop between two semis and the two went at it. According to Blair, Orndorff ducked a punch by Atlas, and then bear hugged him and tackled him to the ground. Orndorff then bit off his ear lobe. Blood was everywhere, causing Atlas to panic and the fight was immediately over. With cops coming, they scrambled to pick up the ear, and with Rich carrying the ear, they rushed to the hospital to have it sewn back on.
Orndorff said there was no prior heat between the two and wasn’t sure what happened for them to snap like that. Steve Austin discussed the incident on his podcast and said Atlas ended up missing a couple shows for Bill Watts, who then fined him (Watts always punished his wrestlers if they ever lost a fight in real life). However, Atlas was working for Georgia at the time, not Mid-South, so it’s possible that might not have happened. Perhaps Atlas was working for both territories, since they were within driving distance, and this incident did occur in the mid-south area.
Another story is that Orndorff took off and left Atlas there, but that also doesn’t make sense because they did bring the ear to the hospital, and there was only one car among the four of them.
Despite only two witnesses being there, this became a famous story in wrestling folklore for decades. Orndorff solidified his tough guy reputation, but in fairness, Atlas probably thought things like biting would be off limits in this type of street fight. That’s not to say Orndorff wouldn’t have beaten him anyway, but from how it all went down, it appeared to be a very quick skirmish that ended as soon as the biting took place. Years later, Mike Tyson would become famous for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear, not to mention Mick Foley losing his ear in Germany during a match with Vader.