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Driven to Succeed: Scott Bowden takes a piledriver from Jerry Lawler

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Who's laughing now?: Jerry Lawler piledrives comedian Andy Kaufman.

I’m upside down, looking up at my black Cole Haan loafers shifting helplessly in the air. And I’m desperately trying to remember how Bill Dundee, Nick Bockwinkel, Andy Kaufman and so many others before me had protected themselves from a Jerry Lawler piledriver. I had been a heel manager for only a few weeks on this night in 1994, and I was learning these rasslin’ moves on the superfly, with no training whatsoever.


I’m kicking my legs so frantically that one of my $125 shoes goes flying into the audience. If there is such a thing as rasslin’ karma, I’m hoping that it nails the self-proclaimed “Boot Guy,” a drunken mainstay on the front row who often threw his cowboy boot into the ring at least once a Monday night.


With my $75 Polo button-down already ripped to shreds, I start to realize just how smart fellow-manager Jim Cornette is for his inexpensive bad-fashion gimmick. I’m already making a note to self: If I don’t suffer crippling injuries, I need to visit Wal-Mart for the latest in low-budget sports coats and dress shirts.


Moments earlier, I had just taken my first backdrop from the King, and I really didn’t feel the need to press my luck. But when he positioned me for the piledriver, well, I have to admit: I was more excited than the bloodthirsty fans in attendance at the Mid-South Coliseum. After all, I had grown up watching Lawler piledrive his way out of any situation. (If only the real world were that simple.) And since it’s the lone rasslin’ maneuver supposedly barred in the state of Tennessee, the piledriver is the equivalent of capital punishment in the fans’ eyes. (Granted, there was a part of me that still hadn’t gotten over nearly killing my school buddy Robbie Jewell with a piledriver back in 6th grade at a birthday party.)

Lawler descends to the canvas to deliver the apparent neck-crushing hold. I position my hands around his knees, ready to brace the fall and perhaps even cheat a bit by “punching” the mat.


But in a split second, I remember that I had nearly gotten my ass kicked by the Dream Machine (the late Troy Graham) weeks earlier for not properly selling a Coke-bottle shot to the head. The Dream pulled me aside after I had shown up to the WMC-TV studio the following Saturday sans bandages, and said, “Hey, you’re a nice kid. A helluva interview. But you’re lucky I don’t beat the shit out of you right now. Ten years ago, I’d be knocking your head against the wall. Back then, if you didn’t wanna sell it, we’d make you sell it. You’re a smart kid—act like it. Protect the business.”


The King himself was also dismayed to see me show up post-bottle without selling the injury. In his royal opinion, the shot had looked like “the Kennedy Assassination,” with my head kicking back and glass shattering everywhere, with my girlfriend looking on in absolute Jackie-O-like horror.


I had learned my lesson: The following week when Lawler threw one of his infamous fireballs (flash paper, a magician’s trick) at me, I showed up at the studio Saturday wearing a bright-orange ski mask—standard equipment for a tug-driver at FedEx, my then day/night job. Trouble is, Lawler didn’t bring any makeup (as he had promised) to make me appear burned, so I had to conduct an interview wearing a double-breasted sports coat, the aforementioned soon-to-be destroyed button-down, a bad tie (a classy pattern…featuring overstuffed money bags), khakis … and the mask. It was a big hit with my co-workers at the FedEx hub, as the Saturday morning shift howled with delight when they saw me on the break-room TV while having lunch.


At that moment, with my head nearly touching the mat, I decide that selling the hold is much more important than the risk of paralysis, a common philosophy with the boys. Like I had done so many times before in backyard rasslin’ matches with my friends, I don’t protect myself too much on the way down. I collapse like a bunch of broccoli on impact, selling the move much like Hacksaw Duggan did for Terry Gordy in the bout to determine the first Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) champion. (I’ve seen hundreds, dare I say thousands, of piledrivers over the years, and nobody has sold that move quite like Duggan that night in Houston. Of course, that doesn’t make up for the years of anguish that Duggan would inflict on me with numerous bad matches during his eventual WWF run.)


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My head bounces off the canvas. And I’m still breathing. But Lawler’s not done with me yet. He drags me by my left foot, ripping off my abandoned Cole Haan in the process. (Note to self: Go to PayLess tomorrow morning.) Like a mob gathering for a lynching—always a definite possibility with this band of rednecks—the crowd circles around the ring, staining what’s left of my Polo with beer and soda.


With my silk socks dangling, leaving half of my feet exposed—a tremendous visual accident that looked great on the replay—Lawler prepares to give me a “nutcracker,” the same move that heels Austin Idol and Tommy Rich had applied to the King to start their infamous feud back in 1987. This time, he grabs both of my legs, nudging me closer to the nearest ringpost. Immediately, I know what’s next—he’s going to rack me against the post. But it’s not like I can communicate with him, appearing as if I’m pleading for mercy while really trying to explain that I don’t know how to properly protect myself—since I’m “knocked out,” selling that piledriver.


Always a fair man (ahem), Lawler asks the fans for their approval before he proceeds—a rhetorical question if there ever was one. He gives me a look that says, “Up to you, kid. Figure it out.” And like Adam West pulling himself out many a Bat-jam in the ‘60s, I shift my right leg at the last possible moment as he jerks me against the post, taking the brunt of the blow at the inside of my thigh. In true Pavlovian fashion, the crowd barks their approval. And my girlfriend wonders if we’ll ever have children.

The King probably had no idea what was going on in my head as it appeared to crash into the canvas. For him, it was just another day at the office. For me? It was a childhood dream realized…and I lived to tell about it.

 

  1. Frank
    April 9th, 2009 at 03:15 | #1

    Scott,

    always love your articles.. keep em coming.. I only read about tennessee wrestling growing up, sounds like it was a blast….

  2. LA Terp
    April 10th, 2009 at 00:05 | #2

    one of my favorites. good work.

  3. LA Terp
    April 10th, 2009 at 00:06 | #3

    what the devil is that picture at the top? (misty morning sunrise)

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