Lone Star: Ricky Dale Johnson
Ryan Jalda, GrappleFanatics.net

Name Ricky Dale Johnson
Real Name Rick Dale Johnson
Height 6'5
Weight 285lbs
Birthday 11th January 1970
Hometown Originally Victoria, Texas, now residing in Tennessee
Trademark Moves Southern Justice, Texas Hold 'Em, Leaping Lariat
Major Titles TCW International (3)
Major Promotions TCW (1996-present)

Lone Star: Ricky Dale Johnson
As TCW heads full steam ahead towards its first pay-per-view of 2006, Malice In Wonderland, it is clear that they are looking to start the new year with a bang. With a card loaded with big matches, none are bigger than the main event in which the three-time world heavyweight champion Tommy Cornell puts his title on the line against the number one contender, Ricky Dale Johnson. Amazingly, at the age of 36, this is not only RDJ's first ever pay-per-view singles main event, but it also marks his first shot at a major world championship. It has been a long journey for the man from Victoria, Texas; let's look back at how he reached this point.

A high-school drop out, Ricky's first taste of employment came as a bouncer, working the clubs in and around his hometown of Victoria. Naturally big and strong, he enhanced his muscle-mass by spending large amounts of time in the local gym with his fellow bouncers. One of those men was Sean Martyn, the man better known today as SWF's Skull DeBones, and he had become interested in the local wrestling scene, realising that a guy his size could make some money in that business. With the lure of relatively easy money, Johnson joined Martyn in completing some basic training with their local promotion, the Texas Wrestling League. The TWL had been a hotbed of wrestling talent before the expansion of the SWF had made it all but impossible for local promotions to stay in business, but were now barely getting by, cutting as many corners as possible to stay profitable. With a depleted roster, the two youngsters were able to get jobs quite easily, more because they would work cheap than because of any natural talent.

The two debuted in 1989, as a tag team called the Modern Day Cowboys. Ricky wrestled under the name Sidewinder, while Sean was called Winchester. With only a couple of months training they were both very poor to begin with, and were used a little more than enhancement talent for the more senior teams. However, over the next six months they developed their skills simply by learning from the teams they were facing, and by 1990 they had risen to the midcard ranks. At this point neither was a particularly good wrestler - in fact, most of the time they were pretty awful - but both had the size and looks that made them stand out, and both were willing to work hard. In August of that year they won their first titles, a six week run with the promotion's tag team championship, before temporarily leaving the promotion for the latter half of the year (with the owner's permission) to work for a variety of promotions on the West Coast, a move designed to give them more experience as a combo.

When they returned to the TWL in April 1991, both had improved dramatically. The slow, clumsy rookies that had left had returned as competent performers, well versed in working a crowd. While neither was a great wrestler by any stretch of the imagination, they were useful members of the roster, and the Modern Day Cowboys had a further three world tag team title reigns over the course of 1991 and 1992. The partnership ended one year later, when JD Morgan came into the TWL for a one-month set of dates. Morgan was working for DAVE at the time, and was impressed with the Cowboys. At his recommendation DAVE owner Phil Vibert was in attendance for one of the shows, and this led to Sean "Winchester" Martyn being offered the chance to go to the east coast to work for the fast-rising promotion. Sean left, and took on the role of the psychotic Vengeance character, a prototype of the Skull DeBones character that would lead him to superstardom.

Without a partner, Sidewinder was repackaged as "Sheriff" Rick Johnson and moved into the singles ranks of the TWL. It was here that he developed a lot of the moves that he uses today; the Southern Justice (uranage), the Texas Hold 'Em (over-the-shoulder backbreaker into the turnbuckles), and the Leaping Lariat. With the TWL's talent roster being small, it was inevitable that Johnson would soon find himself in the main event, and by the end of 1994 he had racked up three separate TWL title reigns and was the promotion's main singles star. However, in February 1995 the TWL finally went into bankruptcy, and "The Sheriff" was out of a job.

During this period Ricky took a number of wrestling jobs in order to pay the bills. As well as working for various small time independent promotions, he also worked several dates for promotions in Germany and Australia, and took part in one short-lived tour with Golden Canvas Grappling in Japan. Unfortunately his Japanese career lasted only five matches, as a broken forearm meant he returned to the USA much earlier than anticipated.

In December 1996 the American scene got a big jolt thanks to the opening of the Hollyweird Grappling Company, later to become Total Championship Wrestling. The promotion was keen to bring in the cream of the independent scene, wrestlers who had never been seen by mainstream American audiences before. Johnson was called up, repackaged as "Cowboy" Ricky Dale, and was in the first televised match for the new promotion, falling in defeat to Rip Chord. Ricky was also on the HGC's first ever pay-per-view in January 1997, as one of the twenty men involved in a battle royal to crowd the new world champion. "The Cowboy" put on a fine showing, being amongst the final five, before being eliminated by eventual winner Sam Strong.

The next two years were frustrating for him, as "The Cowboy" character was an out-dated one that didn't really connect with audiences, particularly outside of the South. As a result he was rarely pushed, and achieved little in terms of meaningful victories (although he did get a count out victory against the world champion Liberty in a non-title match in June 1997, this was due to a ringside attack by BLZ Bubb, and was more of a storyline-advancement for that feud than a big win for Dale). In November 1999, just under two years after initially signing, Dale suffered a broken leg. Initially feared to be career-threatening, the leg injury put the big Texan out of action for over a year. However, thanks to impressive dedication to his rehab, he was able to return to wrestling in January 2001. What's more he was even given a complete makeover, with the cowboy character thrown out in favour of a more realistic approach. He was now using his real name Ricky Dale Johnson, and was portrayed as a big tough Texan who would never back down from a challenge. This new persona suited RDJ perfectly, and he was soon making waves in the singles division for the first time, winning the HGC International title from Joel Bryant in the summer.

A credible eight month reign with the belt took him into 2002 with a lot of momentum, which was continued with a great feud with BLZ Bubb that culminated in a memorable Last Man Standing match in October of that year. That feud did a great deal for RDJ's image, as by competing (and sometimes beating) the monsterous former world champion BLZ Bubb it cemented him in the fans' mind as a credible main event threat. However, at this point RDJ seemed to stall; while he had the popularity to be considered a major force in HGC, he never seemed able to take that final step and break into the established main event scene. As a result his momentum gradually fell away, and 2003 was a disappointingly uneventful year, mainly seeing him fight other upper midcarders.

In February 2004 RDJ's career got a boost as he finally regained the HGC International title, defeating Peter Valentine with his Southern Justice finisher. While this was seen by many as proof that the promotion had given up on breaking Ricky into the main event world title scene, this title win started an impressive run of form that saw him hold the belt for almost eighteen months in total, with the only break being a three week period in September when he traded the belt with Bryan Vessey. This title run meant that he carried the title through the promotional change from HGC to TCW. After dropping the title in July 2005 to Rick Law, it became clear that RDJ was being positioned for a run at the world title, as over the next five months he went on an undefeated streak that saw him score victories over a grand total of five former world champions. First he defeated his old enemy BLZ Bubb, then got an upset win over Liberty. In September he scored the biggest victory of his career when he pinned the legendary Sam Strong, and he followed that up in October by not only defeating the equally legendary Rip Chord, but doing so in a retirement match that ended the career of the former two-time TCW world champion. Finally, just before Christmas, RDJ scored a clean pinfall over the reigning world champion Tommy Cornell in a non-title match, live on TCW's television show.

That victory, as well as being one of only two defeats that Cornell had suffered all year (the other being a loss to Japanese legend Hooded Kudo in a special two-match series that had been arranged in May), made Ricky Dale Johnson the number one contender, and set him up for the biggest night of his career at Malice In Wonderland. Seven months into his reign, Tommy Cornell has looked incredibly impressive so far, but as that magical night in December proved, he is not unbeatable, and the former bouncer from Victoria Texas certainly has the tools to start 2006 with a bang.