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Groovy grapplin’: Rare 1978 Memphis wrestling footage featuring Jerry Lawler now available

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That '70s show: Memphis wrestling from the 1970s has never looked better.

Most longtime Memphis wrestling fans are familiar with the infamous 1979 Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl between Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee vs. The Blonde Bombers (Wayne Ferris, the future Honky Tonk Man, and Larry Latham, a.k.a, Moondog Spot), which caused a young Jim Cornette to buy a VCR to tape the incredible footage, and years later, inspired the hardcore style of action that would make ECW a cult phenomenon. Most important, the Tupelo brawl raised the houses in Memphis, Nashville and Louisville, crowds that had been dwindling under Robert Fuller’s booking.

The sequel in 1981 was more violent (though not as effective draw-wise) than the original, as the very young Southern team of Eddie Gilbert and Rick Morton defended the good ol’ U.S.A. by bringing the good fight to the evil Japanese contingent of Mr. Onita, Masa Fuchi and Tojo Yamamoto, with glass and condiments once again flying in the concession stand in Tupelo. (Onita would later bring this brand of hardcore to Japan as part of his FMW promotion.) More than anything, it got the fans to believe that Morton (son of referee Paul Morton) and Eddie (son of longtime wrestler Tommy Gilbert) were not just two young punks who broke into the biz because of their daddies; these boys could fight.

Turns out the “original” Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl might have occurred a year earlier in January 1978.

Rick Crane over at 70s-tv.com has once again outdone himself, locating rare Memphis wrestling footage from 1978 and 1983 pulled straight from the master tapes. The 1978 set features rare Lawler footage in excellent quality, including the final minutes of the NWA World title Broadway between the challenger and Harley Race in December 1977, and a grudge match with the King vs. his “creation” Dr. Frank. The gem of the ’78 set (Volume 2 of the “Umatic Master Series”) might just be a fantastic 2-out-3-falls bout between Lawler and Robert Gibson vs. the highly underrated team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey, managed by “Kangaroo” Al Costello, armed with his trusty boomerang. (Gibson and Condrey, of course, would later go on to feud as members of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Midnight Express, respectively.)

As Rick explains, “Over the Christmas holidays, I purchased a large collection of these priceless original Masters from Jeff Osborne. Jeff had purchased these in 1992. Even though Jarrett has reported they recorded over these umatics to save money, a few of them did survive. Each tape had varying dates and at the end of each one, you see the last minute of another show that was underneath. When I picked up my DVD transfers, I was so excited at the quality that was still there. Not being too over the top but, I simply have NOT seen the old shows look this good. Keep in mind that even though these ARE the BROADCAST MASTERS, it is still 30-year-old tape. Some have survived better than others. Even the least good is still better than the best VHS tape. This first volume covers the 3-5-83 show in 60 minute format. The 2nd show is the Legendary 6-5-83 Sunday version on Lawler vs. Dundee: Loser Leave Town Discussion. I do prefer this one to the Saturday show. This turned out to be one of the best-preserved shows. So much fun to watch. I will be releasing more volumes of this series in the coming weeks. I have more shows from 1983, 1981 and a few even from 1978!”

Volume 1 of the “Umatic Masters Series” is available now by clicking here. Volumes 2 and 3 featuring 1978 and 1983 footage, respectively, will be available to order on Monday, March 19 only at 70s-TV.com.

Below is the third fall of the action with Lawler/Gibson vs. Hickerson/Condrey from the Tupelo Sports Arena–which turns into a great Memphis-style bloody brawl. The Pier-6er spills out into the crowd and down below into the concession stand, setting the groundwork for the tremendous brawl a year later. (Any tracking issues you see is strictly from the YouTube upload, as Rick’s DVDs are virtually flawless, especially given the age of the footage.)

Lance Russell explains in the aftermath that the cameraman was unable to make it down to the concession stand to document the mayhem. (This would also prove problematic a year later when an exasperated Lance exults to cameraman Randy West, “C’mon, get the camera down here, we gotta a helluva fight going on! Arrgh–the cord’s caught in the damn door!”) From Lance’s description, the Lawler/Gibson vs. Hickerson/Condrey ’78 version sounds nearly identical to the 1979 brawl that would achieve such notoriety. (Gibson and his brother, the late Rick Gibson, would engage in another Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl with the Blonde Bombers in April 1980–a desperate attempt to spark houses with Lawler on the shelf nursing a broken leg.)

Also included on the ’78 Memphis Wrestling Disc from the “Umatic Master Series” are matches from the June 26, 1978, card at the Mid-South Coliseum, including Jimmy Valiant and Bill Dundee vs. Frankie Lane and Mike Boyer (the future Apocalypse) in a New York City Street Brawl (pretty funny seeing the boys fight in their ’70s-era duds); Special Added Bout: Valiant vs. Joe LeDuc in a Strap Match (an injured Lawler makes an fiery appearance); LeDuc vs. Tommy Gilbert; and Steve Kyle vs. John Louie. Again, this is some of the highest-quality footage I’ve seen from the era–a rare treat. Both ’78 shows–on one disc–run nearly 50 minutes each.

Also on Monday, March 19, you can order the Saturday morning TV shows (Louisville feed) from 1/8/83 and 1/15/83 as part of Volume 3. I’ve seen these episodes before but never in this kind of quality–practically bursting with color. Volume 3 of the “Umatic Master Series” includes:

AIRDATE: 1-8-1983 Sheepherders vs. Bobby Fulton/Ira Reese; Jerry Lawler vs. The Invader; Lawler vs. Nick Bockwinkle (AWA World Heavyweight Title Match); Bill Dundee vs. Apocalypse;, Terry Taylor/Jacques Rougeau vs. Bobby Eaton/Koko Ware.

AIRDATE: 1-15-1983 Sheepherders vs. Ira Reese/Ken Raper;, Fabs Promo; Hart Promo, Lawler vs. Bockwinkle (Andy Kaufman returns); Bill Dundee/Terry Taylor vs. Bobby Eaton/Brown Sugar; Lawler vs. Sabu; Adrian Street/Jesse Barr vs. King Cobra/Bobby Fulton.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy all this wild and wooly action as much as I did. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning–or maybe just any Saturday morning of my childhood as I sat transfixed in front of my parents’ TV at 11 a.m. as the unique style of Memphis rasslin’ unfolded before me as part of “another BIG day of Championship Wrestling action.” (As Lance would, and often did, say.)

  1. Daniel
    March 5th, 2012 at 23:20 | #1

    It is good to see you writing again Scott. I hope and pray your hand is feeling better. I am excited to see what your prediction will be for the Rock and Cena match at Wrestlemania this year.
    I remember as a kid how athletic Ricky Gibson was. He was one of my favorites. You do a great job keep up the good work.

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