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Archive for March, 2011

A referee’s worst Nightmare: Jerry Calhoun takes a piledriver

March 24th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t seen this footage since I was 10 years old. I could have sworn referee Jerry Calhoun was a dead man after taking a stuffed piledriver from the Nightmare (Danny Davis) and Speed (Ken Wayne) after the official attacked manager Jimmy Hart during a taping of Memphis “Championship Wrestling” in 1981. (The studio crowd pops like crazy when Calhoun becomes unglued as they’d seen the manager abuse the poor official for more than a year–Hart had it coming.) This angle set up Calhoun’s return weeks later as Jerry Lawler’s manager for a few weeks as the King took on members of Hart’s First Family of Rasslin.’

You have to understand how over the piledriver was as a potentially lethal maneuver in Memphis. The only move that was “officially barred in the state of Tennessee,” the piledriver was nearly the equivalent of a shotgun blast to the fans, who were educated to believe in the dangerous-looking maneuver. After all, in the “wild and wooly” world of Memphis rasslin’, the piledriver was the only move that called for an automatic disqualification from the referee. I achieved a boyhood dream and took a piledriver from the King himself in 1994 ..and lived to tell about it.

Lawler, of course, would receive nationwide fame when he applied the piledriver not once but twice to comedian Andy Kaufman, who sold it beautifully. (Andy didn’t have a choice, really; he had been knocked legitimately goofy minutes earlier when his head smacked the mat during a back suplex.) The funniest part to me about this clip is after Lawler delivered the second piledriver, seemingly breaking Kaufman’s neck in the process. Ms. Lily, an elderly African-American lady who always sat ringside, can be heard screaming, “One more time!” What a bloodthirsty old bird.

Years later, as part of the “Memphis Heat” documentary, which premieres tonight, Calhoun discusses his role in the Kaufman bout.

Jimmy Hart has obviously mellowed over the years. This morning, Hart literally took a walk down memory lane at the Channel 5 TV studio at 1960 Union Avenue to promote the “Memphis Heat” doc. Nice to see Hart with his black cane, his trademark weapon of choice in the days before the WWF’s megaphone.

WWE still wrestling with their image

March 23rd, 2011 No comments

The XFL successfully avoided "football" fans in favor of the niche "spring outdoor entertainment" crowd.

Just another shining example of how Vince McMahon & Co. desperately want the world to believe they aren’t in the rasslin’ business. (Must be why most former longtime pro-wrestling fans no longer watch his product.)

TVWeek blogger Chuck Ross found out the hard way from WWE publicist/corporate drone Kellie Baldyga that McMahon’s organization  is a “global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.” His recent telephone conversation with Baldyga sounds like an Abbott & Costello routine.

From Ross’ March 18 post:

I hadn’t given the WWE much thought lately when we here at TVWeek received a press release the other day that we wrote up and published as follows: Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!

Comedic actor and game show host Drew Carey is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame. According to the WWE, “Carey established his place in WWE history as a surprise entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. However, Carey’s fortunes quickly turned, when the massive WWE Superstar Kane entered the ring, prompting Carey to eliminate himself from the match.”

The announcement adds, “The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony…will take place at the Philips Arena [in Atlanta] on Saturday, April 2, and the one-hour TV special will air Monday, April 4, at 8/7c on USA Network.”

Next thing I know, I’ve received an email from one Kellie Baldyga, a publicist for WWE, DEMANDING that we correct the story. She also copied our owner, Rance Crain, on the email.

What had drawn her ire was the headline. Baldyga wrote in her email, “We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.”

No doubt WWE is into more things than just wrestling, which is its bread and butter, I thought, but this can’t really be a big deal. I was busy and emailed her I’d call her the next day, which was yesterday, March 17.

First thing yesterday morning I received this email from her: “Chuck, did you mean call me today (Thursday)? I apologize but I really need the correction made sooner than later if possible…”

As regular readers to this blog may recall, for most of my career as a journalist I haven’t gotten along with most publicists. Most of them don’t like me, and I don’t have patience for many publicists.

Baldyga was beginning to bother me. First, our headline was perfectly fine and accurate. Second, what was this “demand” about changing OUR headline?

I called her and introduced myself. The conversation then basically went as follows:

Me: Your release says that Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

Kellie: No, we don’t do wrestling events. They’re entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re superstars and divas.

I’m thinking to myself, is she kidding me? Is this woman mad? The company’s official name is World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Its crown jewel is an event called WrestleMania. In the best tradition of wrestling on TV since its earliest days, they put on terrific shows (and events), with athletes who are performers and they’ve got storylines that are far more elaborate than any Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie would have ever imagined. Why would they want to run away from who they are, from what’s made them wildly successful beyond most people’s dreams?

Me: Kellie, I really don’t have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I’m not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you’d like, I’ll just remove it.

Kellie: Huh? What?

Me: Kellie, I don’t have time for this. What do you want me to do?

Kellie: Remove it.

So I did.

Kellie sent me a follow-up email saying “I hope nothing was contentious in our conversation…” She added, “I know the perception is that we are a wrestling company but we are actually much more than that–we are a global media company which is how our Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, positions us.”

Whatever. Take away wrestling from WWE and what do you basically have? I don’t think WWE is quite as diverse as global media companies such as News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom, but what do I know.

Yikes. That was a rather sad exchange. Like it or not, Vince, you’ve built that company on wrestling–not your failed forays into bodybuilding federations, pro football leagues, nutritional products and, now, movies.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this year’s Entertain-A-Mania.

UPDATE (3/24): Last night, CM Punk tweeted, “No stupid coats. No pyro. No dancers. No bells, no whistles. Never needed it. I am a wrestler.” Somebody alert Baldyga.

YouTube Finds: Sid Vicious isn’t so tough when you’ve got the King by your side

March 23rd, 2011 No comments

Most of you know the story of how Sid Vicious threatened to tear off my head after I jokingly made some rather cutting remarks about the “incident” (a euphemism if there ever was one) with Arn Anderson that cost him the NWA/WCW titles and his job with the Turner wrestling company.

I got my revenge after Lawler lost the Unified World title to Sid, a replacement for Jake Roberts, who fell off the wagon en route to Memphis at a bar in the Atlanta Airport and failed to show for his Friday night title match. After a rigorous two-day training program under my supervision at the Q Sports Club in Memphis, the King reclaimed his crown Monday night…and saved our hair in the process. (And you thought Tommy “Wildfire” Rich had a short reign as NWA World champion…Sid was master of the world for barely four days.)