Anatomy of Angle: The Jerry Lawler vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper Feud That Never Was in 1982
It could have been one of the most memorable feuds in wrestling history, with two of the best interviews in the business in 1982. But it was not to be.
Jerry Lawler, still riding high from the national publicity of his feud with Andy Kaufman earlier that year, made a few appearances on WTBS’s World Championship Wrestling in fall 1982, shortly after the show’s color commentator, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, turned babyface when he saved co-host Gordon Solie from an irate Magnificent Muraco.
Only weeks earlier, Lawler had come off well on the “Late Night with David Letterman Show” but received more jeers than cheers when he claimed that “Andy’s father wanted a boy and his mother wanted a girl–and they were both satisfied.” (What a great line to use on that skirt-wearing Piper.) Perhaps it was the appearance on Letterman that inspired booker Ole Anderson to bring in Lawler, who hadn’t appeared in the Peach State since Jerry Jarrett booked the territory during the Atlanta wrestling war of 1974, when he was briefly managed by the late Gary Hart. (In Hart’s excellent book, he wrote that he and booker Jim Barnett were impressed with Lawler, with the manager calling him an excellent bump-taker and “the best of that briar patch of hillbillies in Tennessee.”)
Although in the prime of his babyface run in Memphis in 1982, Lawler had returned to Atlanta as a heel, explaining that fans in his hometown had tired of hearing Piper run his mouth on the SuperStation and had asked the King to go to Atlanta to silence the Rowdy One. (Storyline-wise, this was a bit lame but at least plausible, as cable access was greatly expanding in Memphis in fall 1982.) In one of his Atlanta promos, it’s amusing to hear Lawler reference his “good friend David Letterman,” showing a brief clip of the two shaking hands as part of his memorable appearance on NBC, which ended with the King slapping the taste out of Kaufman’s mouth. (At one point, Lawler also refers to his would-be foe as “Roddy the Piper,” 26 years before Santino Marella uttered the same line.)
If Piper’s incredible heated reaction (at the close of Pt. II below) to Lawler’s comments is any indication, nationwide audiences would have been treated to months of wildly entertaining back-and-forth promos between the two masters. I think it could have been the hottest feud in wrestling, perhaps with Piper making appearances as a heel in Memphis. (Just imagine how amazing it would have been to have Hot Rod teaming with Kaufman in his ongoing feud with Lawler–the heat would have been off the charts in Memphis.)
Alas, the feud between the King and Hot Rod ended before it really got started. The first Piper vs. Lawler match was scheduled second from the top for Atlanta’s Omni on Nov. 7; however, Roddy was fired by Anderson that afternoon. The story goes that he and Tommy Rich had partying like rock stars for months and showing up late to towns around the territory. (Rich briefly reflected on those times with Piper when we reunited at the 2009 Charlotte Fanfest.) In fact, a week earlier on Oct. 30, Rich and Piper were three hours late to an afternoon show in Chattanooga, leaving the boys to stall under they arrived. Piper’s last match in the area was on Nov. 6 against Buzz Sawyer in Augusta; afterward, he made a phone call to Flair, who eventually got his old friend booked again in the Carolinas with Jim Crockett Promotions.
With Piper gone, Lawler wrestled Rich on the 7th and abruptly turned babyface in the aftermath, rescuing his fellow Tennessean from an attack at the hands of Sawyer and Ivan Koloff. In that way, Lawler could save (baby)face in his hometown and close the brief chapter on his World Championship Wrestling stint.
Lawler and Piper would finally feud in the WWF in 1994–unfortunately, it was about 10 years too late, with both men past their primes. Oh, what could have been.
(Special Kentucky Fried thanks to my buddy John Keating for digging up these rare clips. Pizza from Tomato Pie is on me next time.)