Quantum Leap (Season 3, Ep 51): Heart of a Champion

Welcome back to my episode-by-episode recap of and reaction to Quantum Leap. The spoilers ahead are only through this episode. I provide a short summary at the top, a long and much more thorough recap below that, and a reaction section at the bottom.

My previous episode recaps can be found HERE.


Sam leaps into Terry, a professional wrestler in 1955. His mission is to prevent the death of Terry’s older brother Ronny, who has a heart condition of which Ronny is unaware. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Ronny to see a doctor, and then getting an insufficient medical examine of Ronny done by the owner of the wrestling circuit (Sam had warned the man that he believed Ronny is ill), Sam finally comes up with a plan to wrestle a tag-team title match without tagging Ronny in. Prior to the match he had made Ronnie promise to check into a hospital after the match, if they won.

After an hour long match, where Sam is pummeled, he tries a sleeper hold that his brother had suggested their duo incorporate into their matches – and it works. With the tag belts secured, Ronny reluctantly goes to the hospital where his condition is doscivered, and Sam leaps into World War 3.


via https://quantumleap.fandom.com/wiki/Heart_of_a_Champion

July 23, 1955: It’s 1955 and the middle of the cold war when Sam leaps into the body of Terry Sammis, a professional wrestler (a.k.a. “Nikolai Russkie” and played by Jeff Hochendoner) who, along with his brother Ronny (Jerry Bossard), form a tag team. They’re from Arkansas but their ring persona is that of Soviets and they taunt the crowd with their pro-Russian rants. Al tells Sam that Terry is new to the wrestling game having just replaced an older brother who died in a car crash. He also tells him Ronnie will die of a heart attack in the big title match they have scheduled for the next day, because of a heart ailment condition which had plagued him as a child, but hasn’t been properly monitored, for he hasn’t had a full examination since.

Sam, as Terry, or Nikolai, has to try to convince Ronnie to pass upon the big match, and get a full medical checkup, but, as wrestling is in their blood, Ronny has no intention of giving up their big chance to win the Southeast Regional tag team championship. There’s only one thing Sam can do: fight the entire match by himself and make sure Ronnie never enters the ring by not tagging out. One big problem being, that Sam doesn’t know how to wrestle, and isn’t trained to do so, and the other, being the opposing team is the one with big goon Carl Shilo (played by the real life WWF —now known as the WWE— wrestler Terry Funk), the insanely jealous husband of Sherry Shilo (played by Deborah Wakeham), who, after Terry resists her lecherously amorous adulterous advances, vows to have the hulking Carl rip he and brother Ronnie in two!

After Sam, or Terry, is able to get Ronnie to agree to get a full doctor’s checkup before the two go into the ring for the big match, Sam sticks to his plan not to tag out, and they indeed win the belts, much to the chagrin of the wrestling promoter, who wanted Carl and his partner, the Americans, to win, as they are more popular with the anti-Commie crowd. When “The Russians” win, Ronnie reluctantly makes good on his vow to get checked out, as, though he never wrestles again, his heart defect is caught before something more tragic happens. As for Sherry, Sam, or Terry, manages to take revenge on her for unkind disposition and words towards he and Ronny, as he readies to give her a swift kick in the caboose, as he leaps into his next mission!


This episode had a strong air of “filler episode” to it. Nothing really happened with respect to a larger plot arc. The tension was not really all that high. The comedy of the married woman pursuing Sam was okay but not great. As a person who has watched quite a bit of professional wrestling in his life (when your name is Dusty in the 1980s and 1990s, you become familiar with The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes by necessity,) a lot of the way it was portrayed in the episode felt… off. Probably the most noticeable oddity to me was that the losing wrestler did not have to be covered “held down” by the other wrester to have a three count administered by the in-ring official. Maybe that was just how things were really done in the 1950s but at least for the last forty years, or so, you cannot get the official to deliver a three-count unless one wrestler physically touches / holds down the other wrestler.

The actual wrestling was okay. Scott Bakula is a little bit out of his element in a wrestling ring but it was not too distracting. The issue I had with things, mainly, was that the title match was portrayed as *real.* Most fans know that wrestling is a somewhat choreographed fight. A lot of the actual hits and falls are plenty real, but the outcome is predetermined. The wrestlers and the official and even people outside of the ring communicate in covert ways, adjust and cater to the crowd, and deliver on a script. In the episode, though, that was not entirely the case. Sam actually fought the other tag team in the title match and actually choked out the other wrestler – winning the tag-team titles – despite the script calling for the other team to win. Earlier in the episode, Sam kicked and knocked another wrestler unconscious (which was more excusable at the time because Sam had just leaped and did not have his bearings yet.)

But… I don’t know. Maybe wrestling in Georgia in the 1950s operated more like the wild west. Terry Funk (an actual wrestling legend) guest stars in the episode and I assume he would have said something if the TV writers were doing it wrong. Either way, the episode just did not really deliver much pop for me as a viewer. It was not bad. It just wasn’t very good, either. The last thing you want in professional wrestling is ambivalence. The next episode looks interesting, though.

In the leap teaser, Sam finds himself in a WW3 situation, where he needs to put on a gas mask. However, since World War 3 has not occurred during the timeline of Quantum Leap (though it could start any day now,) I am assuming that the tease is a mislead in some way. We shall see.

2 thoughts on “Quantum Leap (Season 3, Ep 51): Heart of a Champion

  1. As a wrestling person I both loved and hated this episode as a child. I’ll avoid a deep dive and say just two things, in the 50s there still were rare shoot matches and based on what I know about Terry Funk I think he was smart enough to take his payday and not make waves about what was wrong or right.

    1. Yeah, I wondered about that, too. My assumption was that the writers would take the opportunity of Terry Funk being there to ask him questions. Maybe he answered what they asked, but didn’t offer any corrections.

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