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Christmas–Memphis Wrestling-style

December 17th, 2010 No comments

In the mid-’80s, a lot of traditional wrestling fans were outraged when Vince McMahon took the business into an unprecedented campy direction, with outrageous comedy skits, music videos with babyfaces and heels singing together, and his tongue-in-cheek commentary not only on his wrestling TV programs but also as the host of his “Tuesday Night Titans” (TNT) talk show, in which he attempted to be Johnny Carson to Lord Alfred Hayes’ Ed McMahon.

To Memphis wrestling fans, though this hokey stuff was nothing new. Case in point: Christmas morning 1976 fell on a Saturday, so the live weekly show from the WHBQ TV Channel 13 Studio (before Jerry Jarrett moved the program to WMC-TV 5 the following year) could not take place. Instead, the promotion decided to tape a Christmas-themed episode, providing a glimpse into the approach the McMahon machine would take eight years later.

Not only do we receive holiday greetings from Memphis legends Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto, but we also see that Christmas wishes do in fact come true, courtesy of Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee.  (During the Rocky Johnson segment, keep an eye out for a cameo by the little boy would become the Most Electrifying Superstar in Sports Entertainment History. If you smelllllllalala what I’m cookin’.)

A camp classic that only Memphis could pull off in the ’70s–funny stuff.

Christmas Chaos (Part One): Last-minute gifts for the rasslin’ fans on your shopping list

December 16th, 2010 1 comment

"Dirty" language: Dutch speaks the truth in his new book.

The real dirt on the wrestling business: Only fitting that we start off my annual (OK, it’s only the second year in a row, but…) down-to-the-wire recommendations for the rasslin’ fans on your Christmas Chaos shopping list by looking at the new book from “Dirty” Dutch Mantell. I first met Dutch in 1989, my freshman year in college. He was booking Memphis, and had built an angle involving longtime area mid-carder King Cobra and Jerry Lawler, who had recently turned heel for the first time in years. As the main event of Mid-South Coliseum card that Dutch billed as “Christmas Chaos,” Cobra shocked Lawler and the approximately 3,000 fans in attendance by pinning the World Unified champion to win the title. As the crowd popped for the upset, Dutch walked out from the dressing-room area to observe his handiwork. My friend and I, two marks who thought we were smarter to the business than we really were, motioned Mantell to come over, and he obliged. I told him, “You booked a good angle!” Dutch kayfabed me, acting like he had no idea what the hell I was talking about. (In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t grab “shoo-baby,” his bullwhip.) A few years ago, I was surprised when Dutch told me that he remembered our initial “conversation,” practically verbatim.

In his new book, Tales From a Dirt Road, Dutch shares his wit and wisdom on a variety of subjects, including the infamous legit street fight between Ernie Ladd and the Brisco Brothers (a great story that will have you convinced Ernie Ladd was the baddest man alive), navigating the treacherous, shark-invested political waters of the rasslin’ business, a showdown with men in white hoods in the South who were definitely not Tim Woods and Johnny Walker, a wild barroom brawl with the Undertaker, trials and tribulations of the wild and wooly JBL, traveling with lunatics like the Iron Sheik and Sid Vicious, and tales of the usual suspects like Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee,and Buddy Landell. In fact, the chapter titled “The Last Sellout” was inspired by an interview I conducted Dutch earlier this year. When I asked him about the last sellout at the Coliseum–a wild brawl with the Dutchman, the King, the Nature Boy and the Superstar–he told me, “‘The Last Sellout’–man that, would make a great title for a book.” Well, he decided to go with a different book title, but the Last Sellout chapter in Tales From a Dirt Road will give you the lowdown on the one of the last great Memphis angles of all time. (Lawler vs. Idol, Rich drew big money the following year, but they did not sell out.)

Dutch also provides a rare glimpse into the working (arguably, mind you) mind of Vince Russo. Once after a long TNA writing session, a frustrated Russo confessed to Mantell, his writing partner, “Y’know, I just don’t understand this whole babyface vs. heel thing.” An exasperated Dutch replied, “There’s a book you should read.” Russo perked up: “Really, which one?” Mantell deadpanned, “The Bible.” Click the link below to order Dutch’s new offerings of homespun rasslin’ goodness. You won’t be disappointed.

Rasslin’ with history: People frequently ask me what I believe to be the best bouts ever held in the Memphis territory. I can usually rattle off 10 bout, 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. (Or as fellow longtime Memphis wrestling fan Dave Millican and I always joke, ”Once a mark, always a mark.”) Certainly, some of my favorites growing up were Jerry Lawler’s bouts with the likes of Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Nick Bockwinkel. For that reason, it might be easier to point to the entire year of 1982–arguably the most wildly entertaining 12 months in the promotion’s history–and say, “Take your pick.”

Like, totally awesome: Revisit Memphis rasslin' in the early '80s.

For the most detailed examination of the year 1982–with a roster than included the Fabulous Ones, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Terry Taylor, Koko Ware, Bobby Eaton, the Moondogs, Austin Idol, Jacques Rougeau, Jimmy Hart–and what it meant to Memphis wrestling, be sure to pick 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 the link below to order. Mark put a lot of work into this book (gathering the programs alone was no small feat), and any Memphis wrestling fans will be delighted with the result. Available by clicking the link below.

Let me tell ya somethin, paly: While Mark James’ book is packed with excellent insider info and anlaysis, Ron Hall’s Sputnik, Masked Men & Midgets is a gorgeous scrapbook of the bygone days of Memphis wrestling, through the ’50s to the ’70s, with pictures you won’t find anywhere, including rare shots of Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Don & Al Greene, Tojo Yamamoto, Tommy Rich, Dundee and Lawler.

Memphis magic

Hall, a longtime authority on Memphis music and local pop culture in general, also includes a special bonus treat: a bonus CD of songs long out of print by wrestlers like Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Len Rossi, and even “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant’s 1978 classic “Son of a Gypsy.” Mercy, daddy! Click the link below to order, brotherjackdaddy.

OK, Define “Top”: Easily the most controversial WWE DVD release in recent memory, the company’s Top 50 Superstars of All Time supposedly attempts to take an NFL-Films-style approach to preserving its history with a countdown of the greatest performers in history. To illustrate just how petty WWE is, Hulk Hogan is number 23 on the list, while Rey Mysterio is number 9.

I'll say this: The DVD cover represents what would be one hell of a battle royal.

If Ric Flair had not signed with TNA, he’d likely be number one, especially after his huge retirement send-off; instead, he’s somehow “tied” with Dusty Rhodes at number 17. (Poor Ric–after years of futility in JCP, he still can’t beat Rhodes convincingly.) Shawn Michaels, practically a WWE lifer, is number one–at least that somewhat makes sense. Twenty years ago, I’d never dream that Jerry Lawler would receive such respect on a WWE presentation at number 20. (But even Lawler would be embarrassed to see that he’s one spot ahead of the legendary Lou Thesz.)

Longtime company employees Pat Patterson and Fabulous Moolah are ranked ahead of Buddy Rogers, Jack Brisco and Nick Bockwinkel, which is a joke. And don’t even get me started on the low rankings for Bruno and Backlund. When I initially saw the list, I was more amused than anything–this is pure marketing and political bullshit (Triple Hi is #12)–but you wouldn’t believe how many fans were irate over this.

Even though I completely disagree with the list, I’m intrigued to watch it–much like a trainwreck. Maybe I’ll do a more in-depth look at the list after I’ve seen it, but debating the rankings is about as futile and worthless as discussing WWE Hall of Fame credentials. The release is loaded with clips and matches from the past over three discs, so it’s worth checking out.

I’ll have more gift ideas tomorrow, so check back then, ya stinkin’ rednecks.

YouTube Finds: One for the Road Dogg

December 14th, 2010 2 comments

Brian “Jesse” James, son of the legendary Bob Armstrong, was easily one of the funniest guys in the Memphis wrestling dressing rooms in the mid-’90s. (He was also one hell of a dancer. Or not.) Very quick-witted, he and Jamie Dundee would often have the boys in stitches with their verbal jousting with each other as well as their cracks about their fellow wrestlers. (And given the type of talent we were stuck working with in the USWA at that time, believe me, James and Dundee had plenty of material.)

In early ’96, James and Tracy Smothers were the prized tag team of B & B Enterprises (Bowden and Baxter), on top of the world (OK, maybe just the  greater Memphis area and the Missouri Boothill) as USWA tag champions. B & B stockholders were happy, we barely missed the Fortune 500 (#502) the previous year, and employee morale was higher than Jake Roberts.

Then I go off to New Orleans for one week to celebrate Mardi Gras, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. While I’m drinking beers and knocking back Jell-O shots (grape!) on Bourbon Street, Brandon Baxter’s interference backfires (this guy clearly didn’t grow up watching the great ones like Hart and Cornette like I did) and James is pinned to lose the belts…on live TV.

I return to the studio the following week, hungover worse than Don Draper and still wearing my Mardi Gras beads, to set things straight and attempt to get the company back on track. (Incidentally, I think I’m the only manager in history to choke someone with Mardi Gras beads on a wrestling show.) Don’t feel too sorry for James. He left B & B for much, much greener pastures as the Road Dogg as part of Degeneration X during the WWF’s red-hot Attitude Era. Of course, he eventually wound up in TNA, which was quite possibly an even more inept organization than B & B ever dreamed. B & B. of course, went down in flames in Enron-like fashion after years of excess, deceit and cooked books–all I can say is that I received some really bad tax advice from Irwin R. Shyster.