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Archive for July, 2009

A belt mark’s dream

July 31st, 2009 1 comment

hohbelt

In addition to the Memphis Wrestling roundtable discussion I’ll be hosting with Jerry Jarrett, Lance Russell and Dave Brown on Saturday morning, Aug. 8, as part of the upcoming NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest weekend in Charlotte, I’m also looking forward to seeing the famed 10 pounds of gold—the classic NWA World title belt—which will be on hand for photo-ops following the Ric Flair and Harley Race Q-&-A session on Thursday night.hohbeltplate

One lucky person, though, will be the envy of  belt marks everywhere: The winner of the raffle for a championship belt featuring beautifully detailed portraits of all eight of the 2009 Hall of Heroes honorees (including longtime Memphis announcer Lance Russell), as well as this year’s official Fanfest image of Ric Flair battling Harley Race in the cage at Starrcade ’83. This 7-plate, dual-plated (gold and nickel plate) custom belt, which was designed exclusively for the Hall of Heroes by Rico Mann and crafted by the “Ace of Belts” Dave Millican, has a retail value of more than $4,000.

Raffle tickets are only $1 each, so buy as many as you like. The drawing for the belt will be held at noon on Sunday, August 9. You do not need to be present to win. 100% of the raffle ticket sales go toward the creation of a fund to establish a real brick-and-mortar Hall of Heroes facility, a place where we can year-round celebrate the rich tradition of wrestling in the Carolinas. Tickets will be available throughout Fanfest weekend. If you would like to purchase tickets in advance or are unable to attend our Fanfest Weekend but would like to purchase raffle tickets, please drop an e-mail NWALegends@aol.com with “Raffle Tickets” in your subject heading.

hohbeltheroes

 

Idol worship: Pt. 2 of 2

July 27th, 2009 4 comments

 

idolidol

 It was summer 1983, and Jerry Lawler was looking for a partner to battle Ken Patera and Man Mountain Link, with a rematch against Andy Kaufman at stake if the King managed to pin the Olympic weightlifter.  His selection surprised the hometown faithful: longtime hated rival Austin Idol, who had last been seen running from the Mid-South Coliseum “disfigured” from a Lawler fireball.

To confirm his babyface status, Idol sent in a taped promo claiming that he was a changed man—that this time, Lawlers fireball had made him “see the light” once and for all. For the first time, Idol would be a babyface in Memphis on a regular basis. (He had come in to face heel Lawler for the CWA belt on Dec. 2, 1979, and had received mostly cheers—except from me sitting ringside. I was always a Lawler mark, even when the King went to the dark side.)

True to his word, Idol weakened Patera with the Las Vegas Leglock, allowing Lawler to nail his trademark fistdrop to get the pin and earn another shot at the comedian. idollawlerresutl

Idol quickly got over huge as a hero, and together with Lawler, they won the CWA tag titles from the Assassins (Roger Smith and Don Bass) and feuded with the Bruise Brothers (Troy Graham and Porkchop Cash) as well. Idol also worked programs with the likes of Stan Hansen. Randy Savage and Rick Rude for the International title. Idol was the strong number-two babyface for nearly a year before leaving the area on a full-time basis in June 1984 after putting over Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart in a series of bouts.

Though the weekly appearances had ended, Idol remained strong in the eyes of Memphis fans, as Lawler always called in the Heartthrob for emergency duty in his wars with teams like the Freebirds, with whom they had great brawls in a brief program in the summer of 1985. Idol was also called in sporadically to fill the headlining babyface role on the occasions Lawler wasn’t able to work a Monday night show, a spot formerly reserved for “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant. Like Valiant, part of the reason Idol got over as a babyface superstar in Memphis was because he was the antithesis of Lawler.

But with Jarrett’s business down in 1986, the promotion badly needed a spark. So, like Lawler had turned on Dundee years earlier, Idol and the returning Tommy Rich began calming voicing their displeasure in late 1986 that they were being passed over for an impending shot at AWA kingpin Bockwinkel. On January 4, 1987, Idol stunned fans at the Coliseum by challenging Lawler to a match before the King’s scheduled title tussle with the four-time AWA World champion, with the winner to receive the title opportunity later that night. When he was rebuffed, the Las Vegas native sucker-punched Lawler, who juiced (bled) and then went on to work a 60-minute draw with the champ. Great drama, as the champ worked over his bloody challenger but could not put him away.

The following week, Lawler agreed to face Idol and Rich in separate matches on the same night. He tossed a fireball at Rich in the first bout and had Idol on the ropes when Rich hit the ring for revenge. The two battered Lawler around the ring, culminating in a nutcracker, i.e., they each grabbed a leg and racked the Kings crown jewels against a ringpost. (This really all tied into together quite nicely, as Lawler was taking a little time off for a vasectomy anyway.)

Idol, always a tremendous interview, really turned it up a notch in this program, perhaps sensing this was his last real shot at making money in the business, which I believe he was tiring of at this point.

The feud peaked in April 1987 when Lawler beat Idol in a chain match…Memphis style. As referee Jerry Calhoun prepared to hook Idol to a connecting chain during the introductions, Lawler slipped free of his end and duct-taped it around a turnbuckle. (Bet thats one use of duct tape you never thought of, eh?) Idol was trapped with nowhere to run, enabling Lawler to pull a chain and knock him out with one punch, despite the protests of young heel manager Paul Heyman.

The following week, Idol challenged Lawler to a cage match with the following stips: hair vs. hair, with Lawlers AWA Southern title on the line. In a role reversal of the match from 1982, Idol offered to refund the ticket price for every fan in attendance, which pretty much guaranteed the result for so-called “smart” fans like me.

In perhaps the last great Memphis angle, Rich crawled out from under the ring and the two heels gave Lawler a tremendous beating, again racking him against the ringpost. Idol followed it up with one of the most classic heel moments of all time: With Lawler lying against the post, still selling the nutcracker, Idol smugly looked down at him, cradled the Kings head in his hands and promptly bitch-slapped the hell out him. The approximate 9,000 fans in attendance were in an uproar. Too good.

I was there in the fifth row, and it was probably the most heated scene I’ve ever witnessed at the Coliseum, with fans literally climbing the cage to rescue Lawler and get their hands on Idol, Rich and Heyman. Police waited 20 minutes before they even attempted to escort the heels to the dressing room. Encircled by Memphis’s finest, the three heels lowered the heads and pushed through the mass of humanity attempting to block their way, with several fans screaming, “Get ‘em!”

Somehow, Idol made it out the building alive, but not before delivering yet another strong promo in front of disgusted Lance Russell: I grew up in Las Vegas rolling the dice and spinning the roulette wheel, jack. Ive been a gambler since the day I was born, and Ill be a gambler to the day I die!

With fans climbing the walls--literally--the heels shave the head of the King.

The heat was off the charts, with fans literally climbing the walls.

 

Unfortunately for the angle, Lawler had his own personal hair stylist peform the clipping, so he wound up with a Bruce Willis-style cut (which was popular at the time because of the TV hit “Moonlighting”) as opposed to the cue-ball look stars like Bill Dundee and Jean Louis had to endure after a hair-match loss to Lawler in Memphis.  In the end, Lawler had every right to be angry over the haircut, as the style looked silly on his big, round head.  

Despite the buzz cut, the heels had so much heat that the following week’s show again drew nearly 9,000 fans without Lawler on the card, as the returning Bill Dundee teamed with Rocky Johnson (advertised as Bam Bam Bigelow) to face Idol and Rich.

Idol has been out of sight but certainly not out of mind in recent years. One of the questions I am most often asked is, “Why wasn’t Austin Idol a bigger star?” No doubt in my mind Idol would have had a great run in the WWF in the mid- to late ’80s if had he wanted it—a natural opponent for Hogan and maybe Savage on the big stage. But that would have had involved  a grueling schedule flying all over the country, which he understandably wasn’t crazy about after the crash. In the mid-’80s, Idol seemed like he was content to be a big fish in a small pond, working a limited schedule with short road trips in both Memphis and the Continental territory. In attempt to relive the glory days of WTBS, new WCW booker Ole Anderson in 1990 reportedly tried to lure Idol back to Atlanta for one last big run, but the Heartthrob was happy in Florida and apparently didn’t need the money that badly. Idol seems like an intelligent guy who was aware that wresting fame—and money—was fleeting, and from what I understand, he took care of his finances and went out on his terms.

I was fortunate to work with Idol in spring 1994, when he returned to Memphis as part of the “Monday Night Memories” reunion card at the Coliseum. I was months away from my dastardly heel turn, so I was officiating a six-man tag with Lawler, Idol, Brian Christopher (Lawler) vs. Eddie and Doug Gilbert and Terry Funk. I was star-struck being in the ring with Idol and Funk for the first time, and still was a bit shaken from a dressing-room rib moments before: I was nervous about introducing myself to Funk as he was one of all-time favorites growing up. But I had a way in, as I was taking acting classes at that time from Red West, Elvis Presley’s former bodyguard who was part of the infamous “Memphis Mafia.” Red had starred (as “Red”) in “Road House” with Funk and Patrick Swayze, so  I asked Eddie if he thought I should mention that when I introduced myself. Big mistake. Apparently, Eddie stooged me off to Funk, who acted downright ornery when I asked him about Red. “I don’t know anybody named FRED WEST,” growled Funk. I corrected him three times saying, “No, not Fred…Red.” Finally, Funk snapped, “Look, I don’t know any Fred West, damn it!” As I shit my pants, the dressing room erupted into laughter…and Funk patted me on the back, saying, “Sure, kid, I know Red West! He’s a hell of a guy!’

The next mayor of Tampa?: The Idol/Lawler rivalry has entered the political ring.

The next mayor of Tampa?: The Idol/Lawler rivalry has entered the political ring.

 

Anyway, following the six-man tag introductions, I made my rounds to all the participants inspecting their boots and tights for foreign objects. Growing up in the kayfabe era, I’d seen refs perform the inspections to add to the realism, but given this was 1994—with six wrestlers in the ring, no less—I probably should have let it go. By the time I got to Idol, the boys had just been standing in the ring for about two minutes. In that classic throaty delivery, Idol says to me, “Mr. Referreeee…have we rung the bell yet?” I mumble, “Um…no, not yet.” Idol glared down at me checking his boots, saying, “Well…why don’t we ring it then?” Oh. Right. Good idea.

To give you an idea of just how highly Idol’s work is still regarded today, the Rock never saw much footage of the Universal Heartthrob until the late ’90s—Dwayne Johnson reportedly was blown away at just how brilliant Idol’s promos were.

Idol’s kept a low profile the last several years, with the lone major sighting being reported by Lance Russell on his Web site: “I was shopping with my wife at our local mall [in Florida] and, as many men have to do from time to time, I was holding her purse while she was in the changing room. I looked over my shoulder and there was another man doing the same thing. I asked, ‘Is that the Universal Heartthrob?’ And, sure enough, there was Austin Idol.”

Idol has resurfaced in a big way. Not only is his new Web site up and running—which promises future details of his soon-to-be-released autobiography—but he’s also making his first wrestling-related appearance in years at the upcoming NWA Wrestling Legends Weekend, appearing at the Highspots.com booth on Friday, August 7. Idol will also be taping a shoot interview with the Highspots crew, which has the potential to be quite fascinating…provided the interviewer knows his stuff.

Never one to be outdone by that “maggot” (one of the many ways the Heartthrob disdainfully referred to his foe over the years) Jerry Lawler, Idol has announced his candidacy for the upcoming mayoral election of Tampa, promising in babyface fashion “to take the average person with me if I’m elected to the mayor’s office and to make decisions that affect them and not any special-interest groups. Can I walk on water? No, of course not. Can I be fair and honest? Absolutely. I can’t be intimidated, and no one is going to play me. My new slogan is ‘Tampa’s Pet, Politician’s Regret.’ They better bring their A game when debate time rolls around.”

Indeed, dah-ling.

Idol worship: The Universal Heartthrob returns to his adoring public (Pt. 1 of 2)

July 24th, 2009 6 comments

After working at the Miami Convention Center on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 1975, wrestler Buddy Colt was piloting his single-engine Cessna to Tampa International Airport. Accompanying Colt to Tampa for the next evenings card of Championship Wrestling from Florida were wrestlers Iron Mike (Dennis) McCord, who sat to the pilots right in the front, and Gary Hart and King Bobby Shane, who were in the back.

Colts plane, sometimes jokingly referred to as the bad guys plane, encountered thick fog and increasingly overcast skies along the way and was redirected to Peter O. Knight Airport, located on Davis Island near Hillsboro Bay. However, the fog and clouds proved too daunting a tag-team, making it nearly impossible for Colt to see as he attempted to land the plane. At around 1:30 a.m., Colt overshot the airport runway. McCord reportedly shouted, My God, were going to hit the water!

The bad guys were in trouble.

The Cessna crashed into the dark waters of Hillsboro Bay at about 100 mph. Colt and Hart were thrown from the plane. McCord, 27 at the time, was trapped momentarily when his seat belt jammed; he escaped by shedding his pants and sliding out of the restraint. Shane, 29, considered by many to be a rising star and a brilliant booking mind, was killed, reportedly on impact.

All told, Colts extensive injuries relegated him to managing and announcing after the plane crash. Hart, who broke his back and clavicle and suffered several gashes to his face, was mainly a manager from that point forward. Comparatively, McCord fared better than the other survivors, only breaking some ribs and both ankles, along with suffering deep cuts to his feet because he didn’t have his shoes on at the time of the crash.

 

Iron Man: McCord promotes a gun show.

Iron Man: McCord promotes a gun show. (Photo by Pete Lederberg.)

A piece of McCord might have died on that plane as well. And it wasnt long before Iron Mike McCord was gone forever. Rising from the ashes stood Austin Idol, “The Universal Heartthrob.”  

About three years before Shane died, he worked Georgia, teaming a few times with young heel Jerry Lawler from Memphis. Shane was so impressed with his partners potential that he did not mind that Lawler wanted to use the King of Wrestling gimmick in Memphis to play off Elvis Presley’s celebrity status as the King of Rock n’ Roll. In an impromptu coronation, Shane gave Lawler his first crown. Its probably no coincidence that Lawler soon added a Tarzan-like strap to his ring attire shortly after working with Shane, who wore something similar. The King was dead in 1975. Long live the King.

McCord eventually resurfaced in Texas with the Idol gimmick in March 1978, although a newspaper ad promoting one of his first appearances had him listed as “Often Idle,” which might have been an office rib. During his sabbatical, he apparently had been training, saying his prayers and eating his vitamins. He was more cut, more ripped than before, and probably about 20 pounds lighter. No doubt inspired by Superstar Graham, the hottest heel of the time, McCord bleached his hair, shaved his chest clean, and often wore tie-dyed trunks and tights.

His newfound gimmick landed him mostly in the middle of the cards, working with the likes of the Von Erichs and Jose Lothario. His stay lasted about three months before dropping a match to Kevin Von Erich on May 29, 1978, in which the stipulation called for Idol to leave town if he lost.

Idol worked the Portland area a little and then Detroit before heading to Memphis in December 1978. If he had come in with the no-frills McCord image years earlier, he probably would have made the middle of Memphis-area cards as well. But as the flamboyant Idol, he was treated as a superstar from the beginning, yet another example of Jerry Jarrett elevating a young star to the another level. In the fictionalized autobiography of Hulk Hogans life, Bollea claims that his arms were bigger than Superstar Grahams by the late 70s. And if that Bollea boast (really, though, couldnt it just be called a Hogan at this point?) is true, Idols guns would be right up there with Graham and Hogan. Ironically enough, Idol and Hogan met several times for the Southeastern heavyweight during Sterling Goldens (Bollea) run in the territory.

Bah, humbug: Idol defeats Lawler on Christmas night.

Bah, humbug: Idol defeats Lawler on Christmas night.

 

Although most agree he wasn’t regarded as a worker the caliber of say, Ric Flair, Idol had amazing ring psychology, oozed charisma and cut promos on par with the elite. And in Memphis, that was far important. (Besides, Ill take Idols Las Vegas leglock over Flair’s figure-four every day of the week and twice on Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum.) In the days before catchphrases became an annoying crutch for many stars, Idol frequently declared himself to be “the Women’s Pet, the Men’s Regret, dah-ling.” Idol made his Coliseum debut on Dec. 11, 1978, defeating Robert Gibson, who was about four years away from his Rock n Roll Express gimmick. Two weeks later, on Christmas night, Idol ruined the holidays for young Memphis marks by dethroning the King and taking the AWA Southern title. The two had a hot feud in early 1979, drawing steady, if not spectacular, houses, with crowds usually around 5,000 to 6,000. (Not bad, but nowhere near the magic of the Lawler vs. Dundee or even Lawler vs. “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant programs in 1977-78.)

The feud heated up following a match in Memphis on January 8, 1979, in which Lawler reportedly received a stiff kick in the gut accidentally from Idol. Suffering from internal bleeding by Wednesday in Evansville, Lawler was passing blood before his main-event tag match with Pez Whatley vs. Dennis Condrey and Phil Hickerson for the Southern tag titles.  He worked that night anyway, drove home, and the following morning, passed out at the Nashville airport prior to his flight to Memphis. Lawler spent a few days in the hospital, which the local newspapers picked up on—tremendous free publicity to sell a feud. (Lawler told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that “he felt like was dying.”

Of course, the promotion turned this into an angle, coming back with a stretcher match on January 29—which happened to be 7-year-old Scott Bowden’s first time in attendance at the Mid-South Coliseum. The main event of Lawler and Jackie Fargo vs. Idol and Mil Mascaras drew nearly 7,000 fans. (Leave it to Memphis to use Mascaras, one of the biggest Apter-mag cover-boy babyfaces of the time, as a heel.) After dropping a match in which Lawler agreed to leave town vs. Idol’s hair as the feud’s blow-off, the Heartthrob went to Georgia to feud with Tommy Rich. Some would say Idol took the gimmick to the next level in this Atlanta run, working a major program that involved NWA World champion Harley Race, Mr. Wrestling II and Rich. Idol’s comments about II wrestling under a hood because he was an ugly ex-con were hilarious.

Around this time, singer Daryl Rhoades and his band—known then as Chip Taylor and the Idolators (sic) recorded “Heart Throb.” Set to the tune of “Wild Thing,” the lyrics went something like this: “Heart Throb…with the body of Apollo and the mind of Einstein/Harley Race…soon the mat will meet your face…and you’ll go down in disgrace…Harley Race/Well is that really Wrestling Number II…How can I really know for sure? Well, let me take a look under that mask…Ewww…An impostor!”

Gordon Solie was the perfect straight man to Idol’s braggadocios ways, especially following an angle when Idol seemingly steamrolled Wrestling II on Georgia TV, making the masked legend submit to his leglock. His opponent was revealed to be an impostor (which is where the line in the song might have come from) when the real II showed up in a jacket and slacks to attack Idol following his “victory.” The following week, Solie chastised Idol for the ruse, saying that someone disguising his voice had called II at the studio prior to their match to inform him that there was a family emergency—while Idol looked on anxiously puzzled at the accusation…great stuff.

"Come on, come on, come on...Heart..THROB!"

"Come on, come on, come on...Heart..THROB!"

 

Idol continued to work Georgia and Knoxville, before returning to Memphis when Lawler broke his leg months later. The Women’s Pet was recruited back into the territory for some dates as a heel as part of the CWA World tag titlists with Dutch Mantel, eventually winning the CWA “World” title from Billy Robinson on  Oct. 6, 1980.

Lawler and Idol wouldnt meet again until the King returned from his injury toward year’s end. After Lawler disposed of the Dream Machine in his first bout back in December, Hart called in the biggest names in the business to face Lawler, usually with stipulations. Lawler beat Idol to win Harts gold record for the Gentrys’ hit Keep on Dancin” on Jan. 12, 1981. The two met later in a rematch, and as Idol had Lawler trapped in the Las Vegas leglock, the King elected to take a less-than-conventional approach to reverse the hold: He tossed a fireball at the Heartthrobs neck.

With Idol gone to sell the injury, Lawler continued to feud with Hart. Months later, Lance Russell announced on the air that he had received a wire from Mexican promoter Salvadore Lutteroth saying Lawler had been elected the most popular wrestler in Mexico City. Russell explained that the Memphis show was airing on cable in that area and that somehow Lawlers popularity and pull-down-the strap comebacks had transcended the language barrier. (To his credit, Russell said all this with a straight face and made you believe it.)

For the presentation, last years winner, the Black Diamond, reportedly affectionately known as El Casa Grande,” (The Big House) would be on hand to present Lawler a plaque. (In a nice subtle moment, the masked Mexican wrestler giggled a bit when Lance said his nickname in Spanish.) The Mexican star showed up in a dark trench coat and failed to communicate with Russell until Lawler came out and put on the sombrero that the Diamond had brought. As Lawler smiled for the cameras, the Diamond declared him Numero uno! Numero uno! Lance soaked up the moment, calling the local boy done good Senor de King.The Diamond then held up the cheap-looking plaque, which consisted of an 8 x 10 color glossy of Lawler pasted on a small piece of wood with the word MEXICO across the top, with a blue ribbon attached.

War of words: Two of the best promo guys in the business made for a natural feud.

War of words: Two of the best promo guys in the business made for a natural feud.

 

The touching ceremony didnt last long, as the Diamond promptly smashed the plaque over Lawlers head. The stunned studio audience sat in silence, with a half-dozen babyfaces making the save, including Mexican babyface Hector Guerrero, prompting Lance to utter probably the most unintentionally funny line of his career: “Yeah, Hector, tell him in Mexican to get the heck outta here!” With a teenaged Eddie Gilbert restraining him from behind, the Diamond removed his mask to reveal Idol, who apparently hadn’t forgotten about the fireball incident. I told you, Jerry Lawler, I told you Id be back. Get that piece of garbage out of here!” The segment was inspired by similar a angle with Jody “the Assassin” Hamilton, who pulled the same dirty trick on Dusty Rhodes, claiming to be Mexican legend El Santo. Funny how Florida fans feel their version was superior, poking holes in the Memphis angle, while I had to laugh when Hamilton presented the Dream with “el béisbol béisbol. Both angles were quite camp and entertaining but not nearly as believable as I remembered when I was a kid. (Imagine that.)

Lawler eventually sent Idol packing again, but the Heartthrob returned about a year later and brought the International title with him to the area. (It was announced that Idol had won the belt “from Terry Funk in front of 20,000 screaming fans in Tokyo, Japan,” a match that almost certainly never took place.)

Explaining that he didnt want to get caught up in a long feud with Idol again, Lawler promised to defeat his foe in less than five minutes, or he would return the price of admission to every fan in attendance at the Coliseum. (Similar stips would come into play for hair match in 1987, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) Not only did Lawler pin Idol in about four minutes, but he also tossed another fireball at the prone Idol, who scurried from the ring and the arena.

But the Heartthrob would be back—this time, loved by the fans.