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Jerry Lawler discusses his greatest Memphis matches–or lack thereof

August 24th, 2010 1 comment

Check out Mark James' new book, available at www.memphiswrestlinghistory.com

People frequently ask me what I believe to be the best bouts ever held in the Memphis territory. I can usually rattle off 10 bouts, but sometimes it’s difficult because Memphis ran every Monday night at the Mid-South Coliseum during my childhood. So that’s a lot of bouts over my years a fan, which began in the summer of 1977 and lasted through through the period when I became a referee in 1991. Even then, I remained a fan and always will be at heart. Certainly, some of my favorites growing up were Jerry Lawler’s bouts with the likes of Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Terry Funk and Nick Bockwinkel. (Or as fellow longtime Memphis wrestling fan Dave Millican and I always joke, “Once a mark, always a mark.”)

With the exceptions of a couple of cards co-promoted with Jim Crockett in 1985, Memphis didn’t build to a few larger shows a year like the World Class Star Wars events, the Bill Watts shows at the Superdome or Crockett’s Starrcade cards; instead  Lawler and Jerry Jarrett focused on promoting each Monday night as if it were the biggest card of the year. Doing so, made every card seem special–you had to be there that week.

I was recently catching up with Lawler on the phone, discussing his pulling out of his would-be deli partnership with Joe Cooper and his legal situation with Corey Maclin, when I asked him what he considers to be the best matches of his career. His answers may surprise you.

Lawler: “Oh, gosh, Scott, I don’t know. I’ve always considered this business as just something fun to do that I could make a living at. I’ve never, ever thought, ‘Oh, this has been my greatest series of matches.’ People sometimes lose sight of the fact that this business is a work–they take their own performances way too seriously. Really, one match may stink a little less than the other because you’re in there with a great worker but I’ve never really cared about what my greatest matches were. I was a big star because I was in the right place at the right time, and Jerry Jarrett liked my work. Later, when Jerry approached me and I got into a position of ownership, I kept myself on top because I was protecting my investment. We could build the business around me, and I’d never leave the territory. It wasn’t that I was necessarily better or greater than anyone else, but because it was the smartest thing for us to do from a business standpoint. Plus, I’ve always been able to come up with, on the spur of the moment, good ideas for this business. The difference is, I could always see the stuff involving me unfold in my mind and the ideas would usually turn out exactly like that in the end. But when I would tell someone else what I wanted them to do, it never really quite translated as well as I could see it in my mind. To be perfectly honest, I remember more about what happened outside the ring than what I did in it.”

Bowden: “So you recall more so the people you worked with and less about the matches or angles per se?”

Lawler: “The only stuff I remember are the people—the real characters in the business I got to work with. Terry Funk and all his crazy interviews and the fun we had working together. Nick Bockwinkel is another guy I was a big fan of. Now I don’t remember anything that Nick and I did in matches; I just remember him being one of the best guys on interviews and a perfect fit to play the role of the World champion. Certainly, Nick was one of the smoothest guys I’ve ever been in the ring with, but I don’t really remember the matches. I’ve done so much of it—I’ve done thousands of promos and matches—so I can’t remember most of them. Likewise, I’m constantly amazed when people approach me with a line they heard me say years ago on RAW. I’m flattered, but I have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time.”

Bowden: “Y’know, I can think of plenty of great matches you had, and I can tell you exactly when they took place, but that’s probably because I was 10 or 11 at the time, so those moments stayed with me over the years because they were part of my childhood memories. I’m sure you have memories as a wrestling fan yourself growing up.”

Two of Jerry Lawler's childhood idols, the Blue Infernos, are forever burned into his memory. The King's own bouts? Not so much.

Lawler: “That’s exactly right. I can remember stuff that I was a fan of growing up, but I can’t remember the things I’ve done in my own career because that was just the way I made my living. Man, I can recall things from 1967 when my dad and I would go to the matches. Right now, I can remember being at the matches with my dad at the Auditorium when a Mexican kid named Young Anaya flew through the ropes onto his opponent without touching the middle or bottom ropes–I can see it like it was yesterday. It blew me away. Two of my favorite wrestlers, The Blue Infernos–who were Frank Martinez and Gypsy Joe–I can recall the stuff  they did clear as day. But at the time, during my career, we were always on the road and constantly trying to think of new ideas for the very next week; we didn’t spend a lot time thinking about what we’d just done or dwelling on it. I mean, that was our job–that’s all it was to us.”

Bowden: “Speaking of your ideas, no matter whether your feud was Jimmy Hart or Bill Dundee or Dutch Mantell, the issue was always very personal and that’s what appeared to draw money in Memphis.”

Lawler: “Yeah, that’s something that’s really lost on the business today. Too much is centered on the championship or a certain kind of gimmick match. Sure, you can make those things into a personal issue, but it’s a lot easier to do when you’ve got an issue that the people can really relate to rather than a belt. Jerry Jarrett and I used to have a sign that hung in our office: Personal Issues Draw Money.”

So while I’m sure the following bouts were just another day at the office for the King, the Memphis wrestling moments I’ve posted below–some of my favorites from 1982–recently surfaced on YouTube. The Lawler/Mantell series from spring 1982 featured some of the best bouts at the Coliseum that year (in my opinion), and the feud was unique for the time because neither man turned heel, with fans in the territory split over whom to cheer for until the two men settled their personal differences in the squared circle.

Speaking of which, for a far more detailed examination of the year 1982 and what it meant to Memphis wrestling, be sure to check out the new book from Mark James, Memphis Wrestling History Presents: 1982, A Legendary Year From the Golden Era, which includes reprints of every Monday night souvenir program from 1982 along with comments from the men who made Memphis the most entertaining territory in the country in 1982, everyone from Mantell to Jarrett to Dundee to Austin Idol. Click here for ordering information: Memphis Wrestling History.

Dig it! Comedian Daniel Tosh marks out for the Macho Man…and Ole Anderson?

August 18th, 2010 3 comments

I was watching Comedy Central about a month ago as Jon Stewart wrapped up “The Daily Show,” and a program called “Tosh.0” began. My first impression of the tall, skinny geek host, Daniel Tosh, was something like, “Hey, who’s this tall, skinny geek?” (I think most people had the same thought when I cut my first heel promo on live Memphis TV.)

 

Similar to the format of “The Soup,” (i.e., a blatant rip-off), “Tosh.0” airs clips circulating online via sites like YouTube, often of people in humilating situations. Tosh’s job is to pour salt on the wounds with his wisecracks, with the exception of the lucky soul whom he grants a “Web redemption” each week–a chance to recreate the scene, but this time with a positive outcome for the victim. Tosh, if you’re reading this, how about a Web redemption for me? I desperately need to erase the memory of Jerry “the King” Lawler tossing a fireball at my prized Florida State Starter jacket (given to me by Uncle Bobby) in 1994, which currently has nearly 18,000 hits on YouTube–oh, the humilation. (I love the comment posted below the video: “Why did he have to be decked out in FSU gear while humiliating himself? Asstard.”)

Meanspirited? OK, maybe. Racist? Definitely! But Tosh is pretty damn funny. Tosh got over in a big way with me when he suddently broke into a wrestling promo during the middle of a show the following week, threatening Ole Anderson and the Four Horsemen and flashing the upside-down four fingers–the unofficial babyface gang sign of Sting, The Road Warriors and Lex Luger, circa WCW 1987. (You don’t hear too many comedians reference Ole Anderson nowadays, and that’s a crying shame.)

Tosh also frequently quotes Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, including this clip, which, admittedly, is not his best work. Tosh is (usually) way funnier than “Soup” host Joel McHale–and he could totally kick his ass in a Texas Death match. And Tosh would make a great heel–I know there’s a point during each show where even I want to hit him with a steel chair and piledrive him on the hard concrete, before tossing him back into the ring and applying a Boston Crab and then finishing him with a small package.

Tosh.0 Tuesdays 10pm / 9c
“Macho Man” Randy Savage
tosh.comedycentral.com
Tosh.0 Videos Daniel Tosh Web Redemption

Snap into it! Click this ad to my right before I break your face--oh, yeeeeeah!!

Spartan effort: WWE debuts new tag-team title belts

August 17th, 2010 4 comments

Last night on RAW, WWE revealed their new tag straps, which will now be known simply as the WWE tag-team championship instead of the Unified titles. Pretty nice touch with former WWF World tag-titlist Bret Hart presenting the new belts to the Hart Dynasty as well, though I hope they don’t continue to overexpose the Hitman; his appearances will mean more if they’re sporadic.

A self-admitted belt mark, I’m digging the unique, distinct design of the belts, which feature Spartan warriors on the main bronze buckle and on two additional smaller plates, along with two sunburst-style WWE bronze medallions. If anything, they’re certainly original and a departure from the eagles and globes of the Former Federation’s belts. (I can only assume a Michigan State art student designed these.) Sort of a modern twist on the old-school IWGP tag titles from nearly 20 years ago. Now if they can only book tag teams properly to make the belts mean something again.

The only problem is that on TV, the plates looked like oversized copper pennies under the bright lights. Besides, isn’t bronze the color of runners-up everywhere? Hey, it could be worse–it could be matching spinner belts. (Man, I wish someone would pull a Superstar Graham and destroy the current WWE heavyweight title belt–wonder if John Cena would burst into tears?)

I wonder if this means they’re eventually heading toward a bout to unify the WWE heavyweight and World titles, with a single champion defending on both RAW and SMACKDOWN to help restore a bit of prestige in the fans’ eyes.