“C’mon, here, sit on Santa’s lap and tell me what you want for Christmas. Wooooo!” Merry Christmas, everyone.
I was saddened to learn of the passing over the weekend of longtime Memphis wrestling referee Paul Morton. Along with fellow official Jerry Calhoun, Morton was a staple of the territory for years during its heyday, officiating countless matches involving the biggest stars of the era, including Jackie Fargo, Don & Al Greene, Jerry Lawler, Tojo Yamamoto, Bill Dundee, the Fabulous Ones and even his son, Ricky.
With his short stature, bald head, crudely handsome face, and tattoos, Morton looked the part of a Southern rasslin’ referee. Morton was often viewed as the babyface ref, as he was more apt to deliver a quick count for the babyfaces, especially after a heel’s attempt to cheat had backfired. Likewise, he would often count slowly if a babyface had been wronged behind his back, perhaps because Memphis fans could be very unforgiving. Like all the good refs, he never upstaged the boys and blended in with the action.
His son, Ricky, became enamored of his father’s profession and accompanied him on many road trips, eventually setting up the ring before breaking into the business by the time he was 17 or 18.
On more than one occasion, dastardly Memphis heels attacked Paul as revenge against Ricky, most notably the Bruise Brothers and Jimmy Hart, who brutalized the aging official to the point it appeared they’d killed him as the old man sold it perfectly. Afterward, Ricky and partner Robert Gibson–the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express–cut a memorable promo by Paul’s hospital bed vowing revenge to set up a rematch between the two teams.
Rest easy, old timer. You were one hell of a referee.
For more on my memories of Memphis rasslin’ refs–including my own stint–click here.
Note:Talk about Christmas chaos: I was informed over the weekend that my flight to London to join my wife and her family was canceled because of icy weather shutting down Heathrow Airport–with no flights likely to be rebooked until after Christmas. There were no words for my disappointment. (Actually, several words came to mind–all the worst obscenities you can imagine.) Needless to say, I didn’t feel like writing much–I’ve been as ornery as the Christmas Creature. However, I’m happy to say that my wife called me at 4 a.m. to inform me that my Virgin Atlantic is back on. Now back in the Christmas spirit, on with the list. Merry Christmas, everybody.
WWE gets the ‘F’ In: Gotta hand it to the WWE Marketing machine–they don’t miss a trick. The same week the company aired its “old-school” edition of Monday Night RAW, the company released a series of T-shirts at WWE Shop Zone with classic WWF logos, including WrestleMania, King of the Ring and Summer Slam. (Geez–check out dude on the left in Mania shirt–even the company’s models are on the gas.)
Produced on thin, soft cotton, these shirts are a throwback to the days of ordering from the pages of the WWF Magazine. (Don’t act like I was the only mark who used to buy into the Former Fed’s hype–I’m sure a few you bought what Vinnie Mac was selling in the mid-’80s)
The WWF logo has been absent from the company’s clothing line for years since the World Wildlife Fund lawsuit; however, the only logo they are prohibited from using, I believe, it the Attitude-era “Scratch” logo.
Pretty cool gift idea for the old-school fan. The entire vintage-looking line is available by clicking here.
Dragon Masterpiece: Timing is everything in all forms of entertainment, and the wrestling business is no exception. Not long after his actual in-ring return from his plane crash in 1976, Ric Flair reportedly asked booker George Scott to be paired up with an athletic rookie named Rick Steamboat, real name Richard Blood, a chiseled young man who had adopted the well-known surname of ring-veteran Sammy Steamboat. Scott trusted Flair’s instincts, which resulted in a new style of working, first in the Carolinas, and, later, the rest of the country. While the Valentine era was known for stiff, methodical contests, especially his bouts with guys like Wahoo McDaniel, Steamboat and Flair set a new standard of pure athleticism. The two young lions immediately clicked, with their athletic, state-of-the-art (especially for the time) bouts captivating MACW fans.
Steamboat was in phenomenal shape for the era, and the girls loved him. But he was so athletic in the ring that the male fans didn’t consider him a pretty boy. Work-wise, I’d say Steamboat was in an elite class inside the ring, along the lines of Jack Brisco and Shawn Michaels. As Harley Race says: “Steamboat was very, very good. He was easy to work with–if you could keep up with him, that is.” Clips I saw of a one-hour Broadway between Steamboat and Race back up the former NWA World champ’s remarks. He was super smooth very early in his career and, with the possible exception of Ricky Morton, nobody sold an opponent’s offense quite like Steamboat. His realistic style of taking abuse always seemed reminiscent of a heavyweight boxer on the ropes after 10 rounds. He was the total package—he really could do it all.
Flair and Steamboat’s battles for the NWA title were legendary, including a one-hour draw on March 17, 1984, in Greensboro, and the main event of a card in enemy territory when the NWA “invaded” East Rutherford, N.J., on May 29, 1984. The Greensboro Broadway (draw) and plenty of other classic Steamboat matches are included on Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon, the WWE DVD released earlier this year. In a classic case of WWE marketing gone wrong, Steamboat appeared on RAW to coincide with the release and was seriously injured when he was brutalized by the Nexus, which had to leave him thinking, “There’s gotta be a easier way to plug a DVD.” (By the way, check out the cool Steamboat Mattel figure as well; link below.
The 3-disc set includes a documentary chronically Steamboat’s career and is available by clicking the Amazon link below. The doc portion is OK, but the match selection is pretty strong. Although I can think of about a dozen other bouts that should be included, the WWE DVD includes some of the best matches you’ll ever see, including:
NWA World Tag Team Championship Match
Jack & Gerry Brisco vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat & Jay Youngblood
Starrcade November 24, 1983
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Boogie Jam March 17, 1984
Intercontinental Championship Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage
WrestleMania III March 29, 1987
2 out of 3 Falls Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Clash of the Champions VI April 2, 1989
Iron Man Challenge Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Rick Rude
Beach Blast June 20, 1992
No Disqualification Match for the WCW World Television Championship
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Steve Austin
Legendary Likenesses: The new Legends line from Mattel has exceeded collectors’ expectations, with several past Memphis wrestlers–including Kamala (I say Kimala), the Rock, Terry Funk, Rick Rude and Curt Henning–already immortalized in these fantastic action figures. Available in stores or by clicking some of the links below. Great gift ideas, as many people who were fans long ago are not aware of this line–I’ve seen some amazing reactions to my small collection. The Roddy Piper figure (see link below) is one of the best figures I’ve ever seen–even plays his famous entrance music on the posing stand. The new Randy Savage figure from the Defining Moments line–the first of the Macho Man in about a decade–is also excellent.
That Memphis Magic: If you’re looking for rare Memphis wrestling footage–but want to avoid adding to the grudge-match controversy of the Lawler/Maclin lawsuit–visit my buddy Rick Baker’s site at www.70s-tv.com, where you’ll find tons of classic Memphis wrestling (in good quality, too), including a nearly complete season of rare 1979 shows.
God bless us…everyone…including you stinkin’ rednecks in Jonesboro, Arkansas: Merry Christmas, everyone. As always thanks for reading. I’ve tried to update more this year–much to the chagrin of some of you–but I think most have appreciated my efforts. I’m restarting the newsletter in the New Year (no, really) and I’m looking to add a KFR podcast as well. More details when I return from England, where I will no doubt will forced to endure several questions about British wrestler Big Daddy and his feud with Giant Haystacks over the next 10 days. (Most Brits think Big Daddy (Shirley Crabtree) was the greatest wrestler who ever lived–the horror.) Until next year–cheers! Random gift ideas posted below as well.