Still the king of the ring: On his 61st birthday, Jerry Lawler nearly defeats Miz for WWE title on RAW
More than 35 years after Jerry Lawler’s first World heavyweight title match—a defeat at the hands of NWA titlist Jack Brisco on Sept. 16, 1974—the King and World Wrestling Entertainment turned back the hands of time with one of the most riveting WWE championship matches of 2010 on last night’s RAW. (For more on Lawler’s bouts with the late Jack Brisco and his quest to be World champion, click here.)
Like so many times before in his career with the likes of champions Brisco, Terry Funk and Nick Bockwinkel, Lawler came up heartbreakingly short despite a valiant effort against new WWE kingpin the Miz in a TLC (Tables, Ladders and Chairs) bout that was laid out exceptionally well.
Initially, the potentially dangerous TLC stipulation came off like a sadistic rib on Lawler, who was not only celebrating his 61st birthday Monday but was also still recovering from a staph infection in his leg. Instead, Lawler was portrayed postively as the aging Hall of Fame legend who still had at least one last great match left in him, much like his former hero, mentor and rival, Jackie Fargo, in Memphis.
While it was billed as Lawler’s first WWE title shot, the King had received at least three championship matches for the company’s top strap over the course of his 17-year run with Vince McMahon. Bret Hart defeated Lawler in a cage match for the WWF title on consecutive nights in 1996 at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville on Feb. 16 and at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis on Feb. 17 in front of 7,500 fans. I believe Lawler also had a shot at the belt when Shawn Michaels was champion on an episode of RAW in 1996.
Last night, as Lawler repeatedly punched Miz, who Mr. Perfectly sold the King’s offense, I couldn’t help but suspend disbelief like I had done so many times growing up, thinking just maybe the Memphis native would win the World title. In Memphis, a minor-league pro-sports graveyard, Lawler was our home team, so his quest to be champion of the world captured the imagination of many fans in the ’70s and ’80s, culminating with his AWA title win over Curt Hennig in 1988. (Nice touch last night showing a clip of the World title victory.)
Ironically, Monday’s bout was held in Philadelphia, a city Lawler routinely trashed in anti-ECW promos years ago, though this was a completely different audience. On this night, the Philly fans rallied behind the King—nowhere near the anticipation of a packed Mid-South Coliseum on a Monday night but definitely enthusiastic as Lawler sent both Miz and his crony, Alex Riley, crashing through tables at different points in the match. The only thing missing was Lance Russell or Jim Ross calling the action, but new RAW announcer CM Punk did an OK job of selling the possibility of Lawler rising to the occasion. (It was nice to hear the voice of ol’ Banana Nose in a pre-match video retrospective of Lawler’s career.)
By this time, Lawler was trending like crazy on Twitter, with several Memphis fans online tweeting for the King to “pull the strap down”—the sign of his Superman/Popeye comeback on many a Monday night. Several Memphis-based tweets were also calling for a fireball, a staple of Lawler’s offense over the years. (Personally, I was marking out over the possibility of a patented Lawler fistdrop off a ladder—a spot that never materialized.)
As Lawler slowly climbed the ladder, seemingly feeling every bump of his incredible 40-year career as he ascended each rung, the Philly fans pushed him on with their cheers. While there were several chants of “Miz is awesome” early in the bout, most were pulling for the King at the end. Just as it appeared Lawler finally had the WWE title literally in his grasp, his longtime RAW broadcast partner, Michael Cole, charged into the ring and grabbed his left leg. Turning his attention away from the WWE bling, Lawler confronted Cole, who begged off, claiming, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!” Never one to turn the other cheek, Lawler responded with a big right hand and followed up with a flurry of punches as the crowd popped.
Miz scurried up the ladder but Lawler cut him off. The two traded punches with the title dangling just over their heads. Miz conked Lawler between the eyes with his prized trophy, with the King taking the first and hopefully last bump off a ladder in his career. The young champ retained the title, while the legend maintained his dignity.
The angle’s objective appeared to be completing the gradual heel turn of Michael Cole, who will most likely be revealed to be the new RAW GM. I expect Punk will remain as announcer with Cole, who will “fire” Lawler as part of the storyline. Or perhaps Lawler stays on with Punk, as Cole constantly threatens the King’s job security. Cole, who has excelled at being wonderfully annoying with his heel comments praising Miz and criticizing Daniel Bryan, should flourish in his new role if in fact that’s the direction they’re heading.
Afterward, John Cena led the crowd in the singing of “Happy Birthday to You” as WWE Divas presented him a cake. On an evening when the company crowned its new King of the Ring tournament winner, Sheamus, to set up the return of Triple H (the so-called King of Kings), Jerry Lawler once again shined as wrestling’s true royalty on the big stage—fittingly, on a Monday night.