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Archive for September, 2010

On this date in rasslin’ history: Jerry Lawler vs. Ric Flair showdown draws record Memphis wrestling gate

September 30th, 2010 12 comments

Royal rumble: The King of Memphis meets the King of the world.

On September 30, 1985, Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair drew a record gate ($95,000-plus) at the Mid-South Coliseum, with nearly 9,500 fans paying the highest tickets prices in the history of Memphis wrestling ($8, $15 and $25) for a loaded Great American Bash card promoted by Jerry Jarrett and Jim Crockett. The stage had been set in fall 1984, with Lawler vowing on the air to win a World title the following the year or retire. At the time, Jarrett had reached a talent-trade agreement with Ole Anderson and Crockett to help combat Vince McMahon, who had taken majority stock control of World Championship Wrestling on WTBS after buying out Jack Brisco and Jerry Brisco.

After angry, confused NWA fans flooded Ted Turner‘s switchboard with complaints, Anderson secured a Saturday morning time slot for his Championship Wrestling From Georgia program, which would feature stars who remained from WCW as well as talent from Memphis and Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling program.

I’ve covered this ground before, but legend has it that as part of the agreement, Jarrett negotiated a NWA title run for his top draw, with the tentative plan that Lawler would win the 10 pounds of gold in September 1985 and drop the belt back to Flair at Starrcade.

A Flair for the Predictable: Lawler was disappointed with the bout because the champ called all his usual spots.

Alas, it was not to be. After buying the WCW time slot from McMahon for $1 million in spring 1985, Crockett didn’t really need Jarrett or Lawler anymore to go national. JCP booker Dusty Rhodes helped nix the title switch, according to Jimmy Valiant, and put himself in the main event challenging Flair at Starrcade ’85. (For the record, I asked Jerry Jarrett about the supposed Lawler title run; he claimed an NWA title run was a possibility but was not promised.) Still, there was money for Crockett to make with Jarrett, who was not relinquishing his Memphis territory to JCP or Vince without a fight.  In fact, Jarrett outlasted every other promotion from the kayfabe era–all of which were steamrolled by WWF and, to a lesser degree, WCW. Even with Hulk Hogan on the card, Vince couldn’t draw in Memphis in 1985. If Crockett wanted to make further in-roads in the South, he’d have to work with Jarrett.

Reportedly there had been heat between Jarrett and Rhodes stemming from the previous year, when the elder Double J cancelled his booking of Rhodes for his June 24, 1984, “Star Wars” card the week before the show, citing payroll concerns. Rhodes took it as a personal slight and let Jarrett have it over the phone. When Lawler appeared in the opening match at the Orange Bowl later that year for a show headlined by a Rhodes/Flair bout for a diamond ring, he returned the dressing room to find an autographed 8″ X 10″ of the Dream, signed, “To the King curtain-jerker!”  in his bag. Something tells me that perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Rhodes booked the famous ankle-injury angle at the hands of the Horsemen on Sept. 29, at the Omni the night before the Crockett/Jarrett Bash in Memphis, “forcing” him to no-show  his scheduled bout with Buddy Landel in order to sell it.

The buildup to the Sept. 30 title bout was memorable as the promotion had two weeks to promote the card as there was no Monday night card on Sept. 23 because of the Mid-South Fair. During those two shows, they had recaps of Lawler’s entire career, with the King practically guaranteeing that it would all culminate on the 30th against Flair when finally won the belt as he quoted the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” and closed his last promo before the bout saying, “I know the fans want this title for me just as bad as I want it–and Monday night, I’m going to give it to them.” Even announcer Lance Russell strongly suggested that fans should buy a ticket “…so you can say you were the night the King won the World title.”

The match had been three years in the making, when Lawler had defeated Flair by countout in an overtime period of an impromptu title bout in the WMC-TV studio in 1982. (Shortly after the angle, Jarrett made the decision to stick with booking AWA World champ Nick Bockwinkel, so Flair had not returned to the area to settle the issue with Lawler.) About 9,500 fans showed up on the 30th for the long-awaited showdown, resulting in a $95,000-plus gate, the largest ever for Jarrett. Unfortunately, despite a great entrance by Lawler, who was carried to the ring on a throne, the bout itself was forgettable, with Lawler disqualified for tossing Flair over the top rope in a modified Dusty finish. (Lawler and Flair had done the same finish two weeks earlier in a bout in Lexington, KY, which drew over 7,000 fans and $70,000.) The King wasn’t pleased that the champ called his typical routine spots, and he didn’t like taking Flair’s chops. (When telling me about his disdain for the bout years later, Lawler asked me rhetorically, “Why chop a guy when you can punch him?”) I was there on the 30th and I can say–as a huge fan of both men at that time–they did not work well together. I recall wincing when Flair (of course) called to be slammed from the top rope and Lawler couldn’t quite reach him but the Nature Boy launched himself across the ring anyway. After years of seeing excellent Lawler vs. Bockwinkel bouts for the AWA championship, this performance left a lot to be desired. Lawler hated the bout so much that he refused to work with Flair in a rematch when Jarrett and Crockett held another combined show two months later. (Koko Ware headlined instead, challenging Flair in a really good bout.) Within two years, Crockett started promoting his own shows in Memphis, including a cardheadlined by Dusty Rhodes vs. Bill Dundee to declare a “New King of Memphis”–without Lawler, they drew less than 3,000 fans.

The King and the Nature Boy wouldn’t lock up again until the 1993 WWF Royal Rumble.

(Got something to say, ya stinkin’ rednecks? E-mail the author at bowden@kentuckyfriedwrestling.com)

It’s still real to us, damn it!

September 29th, 2010 4 comments

These guys really love wrestling.

I was going through my photos of the 2009 NWA Legends Fanfest, when I came across a picture of David Willis and me. A longtime fan (and loyal KFR reader), Willis is best known for his outburst during a Q&A session with Terry Funk and other legends during another convention, when he broke down when discussing the injuries and deaths that have plagued the business for the last several years.

David no doubt took a lot of ribbing for this episode, but I empathize with his sentiments. Pro wrestling–this childhood fascination of mine–has a death toll that is unreal and has ruined countless lives of the men who have survived long enough to “retire” (and I use that term loosely).  It’s tough seeing performers we admired so much over the years–in my case, David Von Erich, Eddie Gilbert, Curt Hennig, Road Warrior Hawk, Rick Rude, Eddy Guerrero–die so young.

It’s easy to laugh off David’s emotions if you don’t understand the context (much like Jimmy Kimmel did), but for those of us who were around when rasslin’ seemed real, we at least understand. I’ve sometimes wished over the years that I’d fallen in love with a sport like pro football or picked up another hobby I was crazy about as a young man instead of this crazy business. But when it’s in your blood–you’re hooked. I still love it. I’m just not sure the price paid by these men have been worth the memories.

This post is proudly brought to you by one of the greatest learning institutions in the country and spokesperson Dick Murdoch:

Silence is Gouldie: What made the Mongolian Stomper so menacing

September 28th, 2010 5 comments

Most longtime wrestling fans can vividly recall with fervor the first monster heel who scared the bejesus out them in their youth. It’s akin to recalling the first horror movie that really scared you—it makes an indelible impression on your psyche. Although heels such as Joe LeDuc, Darth Vader (yes, he removed the black helmet before locking up with his foe) and Kimala (you say, “Kamala”) would follow in Memphis, none had quite the same impact on me as “The Mongolian Stomper” (Archie Gouldie) one Saturday morning in 1975.

Ignoring the protests of my sister and me, my dad often changed the channel from our cartoons to WHBQ’s Championship Wrestling program. (I wanted Foghorn Leghorn but I had to settle for Lance Russell—some would argue the difference was negligible.) The Stomper was in his first run in the territory and was built up as an indestructible heel force. My first memory of Memphis TV wrestling was a clip of a post-match brawl at the Mid-South Coliseum in which four wrestlers tried to subdue the Stomper, who tossed them away like sacks of garbage. I was only 4 years old, and I was in total awe of this monster who appeared to be the Incredible Hulk come to life.  I never forgot that moment. The Stomper had a mystique that captivated Memphis fans–something that is strongly missing from the business today. (For you younger fans, it’s similar to the aura Goldberg had early in his WCW career before he opened his big mouth.)

Gouldie’s orgins can be traced not to Mongolia but to Carbon, Alberta, Canada. A football player for Saskatchewan in the Canadian Football League, he was trained by Stu Hart, after initially being humbled (i.e., stretched) by the dungeon master himself. The story goes Archie brazenly showed up on Stu’s doorstep and vowed that he could kick the ass of any wrestler; the Hart patriarch showed him otherwise.

Gouldie returned weeks later and politely asked Hart to train him. After months of punishment in the infamous dungeon (the makeshift training gym in Stu’s basement), Gouldie became a capable worker and, ultimately, one the most menacing heels in the history of the Stampede territory.

Drawing cards: Jerry Lawler sketches two of his greatest--if not the best-looking--foes.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only young man spooked by Gouldie. As Bret Hart recalls as a youngster watching Gouldie pummel his father in matches: “Archie scared me pale many times as a boy.” Later in life, Hart referred to Gouldie as “the ultimate package,” an impressive evaluation coming from one of the all-time best workers in the business.

After capturing the Stampede heavyweight title numerous times, Gouldie began finding work in the United States, winning the Florida version of the Southern title from Robert Fuller in 1974.

Arriving on the Memphis scene in 1975, Gouldie was billed as the Mongolian Stomper, with his hometown announced as “Outer Mongolia.” (Which I believe is somewhere near “Parts Unknown,” I believe.) Manager Bearcat Wright, who could cut a decent promo, was paired with the Stomper…who merely stood there and looked mean.

Following weeks of squashing opponents, often two at a time, Gouldie continued his mastery over the Fuller brothers, winning the Memphis version of the Southern title from 6-foot-9-inch Ron Fuller and solidifying his position as a main-eventer. They pushed the Stomper like crazy, and he got over as quite possibly the most awesome force the Memphis territory had seen since the Infernos. All this without Gouldie saying a single word.

Bloody good show: Lawler and the Stomper in a blood bath in 1975.

The Mongolian Stomper was a hell of a drawing card in 1975. Rising-star Jerry Lawler had been banished from the territory by promoter Jerry Jarrett after he refused to make a long drive for a spot show the King had deemed unworthy of his royal presence. After months of “purgatory” (as Lawler described it) in territories like Florida and Alabama, the King returned to his castle as a babyface to challenge the Stomper for the Southern title he’d been forced to vacate months earlier. The July 7, 1975, showdown drew an overflow crowd of 11,500 fans, which saw the Stomper retain. (This bout is available in great quality from my friend Rick Crane over at 70s-TV.com on the disc Memphis Wrestling In the ’70s, Vol. 3. Click here for ordering details. There’s a very cool opening shot of the jam-packed Coliseum crowd before the combatants make their way to the ring, introduced by Russell. Watching the video, you can feel the electricity in the air decades later.)

After trading the title the next two weeks, a rematch between Lawler and the Mongolian on July 28 (an hour-long Broadway) drew 10,991 fans. The Stomper drew two more overflow crowds on consecutive weeks, defending the title against the Magnificent Zulu on Aug. 12 (11,700 fans) and Aug. 19 (11,600 fans). Zulu was a muscle-bound stiff who couldn’t work a lick–a testament to Gouldie’s drawing power.

Apparently, though, after spending so much time in the area, Gouldie was apparently picking up a bit of a Southern twang outside the ring. In Jerry Lawler’s bio, IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING…SOMETIMES, he recalls how Gouldie nearly killed his gimmick after Bearcat left the area abruptly, leaving Gouldie with veteran Al Greene as his manager. But at some point in the interim, Gouldie was allowed to speak on camera. The results were disastrous, as the dreaded foreign heel sounded more like a Memphian than a Mongolian in his first interview on live television. (Following that on-air debacle, I guess “Outside Mongolia” would have been a more accurate description of the Stomper’s native land.) After headlining against Jack Brisco for the NWA World title on Sept. 19, Lawler defeated the Stomper in a loser-leaves-town blow-off on Oct. 27, 1975, in front of nearly 7,000 fans. (As always, thanks to Mark James and his recently redesigned Memphis Wrestling History site for confirming those dates as well as the clipping.)

A real kick: Visit www.70s-TV.com for a copy of this bout, which sold out the Coliseum in 1975.

The Stomper returned to the area in 1978 (forming an odd-couple-type babyface team with Lawler, which ended in a feud) and again in 1979, managed by Gorgeous George Jr. The Stomper returned as chiseled as ever in fall 1985 for his last Memphis run for a brief feud with Lawler after turned on the King during a tag bout vs. the Freebirds. He never spoke in front of the cameras on Memphis TV again.

Judging from how the Stomper disturbed me, it’s not surprising that my favorite horror film is John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, featuring Michael “The Shape” Myers. Even though it was the broadcast-edited version of the film I saw for the first time in the 4th grade in 1980, I had nightmares about that pasty-white-William-Shatner-mask-wearing boogie man for months after seeing that film. What frightened me the most was how the Shape would methodically stalk his victims without uttering a sound.

With the Stomper and the Shape, silence was deadly.