Grudge match: Jerry Lawler challenges Corey Maclin to legal showdown over Memphis wrestling footage
When I was managing Jerry Lawler in 1996, I was surprised when the King called me very early one Saturday before we were going on the air to see if I had the classic footage of his impromptu NWA World title match with Ric Flair from the WMC-TV 5 studio on Aug. 14, 1982. When I told him I’d have to look through my 150-plus VHS tapes to find it, he asked about several other angles that I’d grown up watching over the years. I replied, “Yeah, I’ve got all that stuff…don’t you?” He explained that he and Jerry Jarrett didn’t foresee the value in the footage, so they didn’t have much of anything, especially before 1984, which was why they frequently replayed the same classic clips over and over. Even the WMC-TV station archives didn’t include wrestling footage. Longtime Memphis announcer Lance Russell recently told Dave Meltzer they didn’t keep the shows, in part, because they simply “didn’t realize we were doing anything special.”
Much like Georgia Championship Wrestling (according to Ole Anderson) and other territories from the kayfabe era, the Memphis promotion simply taped over the shows as a cost-cutting measure. While that’s somewhat understandable before the introduction of the home VCR, it’s amazing that no one–other than zealous fans–wanted to preserve these shows, even after the VHS format had outlasted Beta, which resulted in the popularity of the machines exploding in the early ’80s as the price gradually dropped and movie rentals became a staple of home entertainment. I believe other promoters, like Bill Watts and Fritz Von Erich, wised up and started archiving complete shows around 1981.
Longtime Memphis wrestling fan Jim Cornette bought a VCR in 1979, shortly after the first Tupelo, Miss., concession stand brawl and reportedly maintained master tapes of Jarrett and Lawler’s weekly televised mayhem ever since (from the Louisville feed). Over the years, Cornette made copies from those Memphis masters for close friends, who in turn made copies and circulated them throughout the tape trading community, with varying degrees of quality.
At one point, Jarrett also gave copies of the Memphis arena footage he did maintain to Angelo Poffo to replace the show for the now-defunct ICW promotion for numerous stations around the Mid-South after sons Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo started working for Memphis. Despite not owning the rights, Poffo then sold those tapes to Kit Parker Films, which marketed the Memphis footage (mostly from 1984) as part of the “Wrestling Gold” video series.
Now, Jerry Lawler is suing former USWA employee and business partner Corey Maclin, who somehow managed to arrange a deal with Highspots.com to market a series of “Classic Memphis Wrestling” DVDs, with most of that footage likely 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-generation copies of tapes originating from Cornette and other tape traders. (Again, nearly all of the footage has been available for trade for years and has not been professionally remastered, but they do come with OK-looking slipcovers produced by Highspots.)
Appropriately enough, WMC-TV reports:
“Somehow, Corey sold for apparently $20,000, the rights to all my copyrighted video library, and these guys he’s sold it to have produced a 20 volume DVD set and are selling in on the Internet around the world,” Lawler said Friday.
In response, Lawler filed a civil warrant against Maclin this week. But Maclin’s attorney questions Lawler’s motives.
“What proof does he have that he owns these rights that he’s asserting?” attorney Ed Bearman asked.
Bearman said Maclin, who is running for Shelby County Clerk, claims Lawler’s actions are political.
“Mr. Maclin is running for office, and he wants to make sure that he’s associating with the right kind of people,” Bearman said.
Bearman thinks Lawler’s legal filing is a return punch for a cease and desist letter Maclin sent to Lawler last month.
“He (Maclin) didn’t want him to use his likeness or recordings that exist, that are being a part of Mr. Lawler’s new wrestling show,” Bearman said.
Lawler says he helped Maclin get his start in wrestling, and now he feels like he’s being stabbed in the back by a friend. Meanwhile, Maclin says he wants to distance himself from Lawler because he’s doing business with people he’d rather not be associated with.
Who owns the rights to the footage is the real question here. Jarrett gave up his rights when he sold out to Lawler, who later became embroiled in his own legal battle when he sold the USWA in the late ’90s under questionable circumstances. Because of the subsequent legal controversy over the sale of the USWA and how it was conducted, the rights to the footage appear to be a tangled mess, although Lawler for years has sold his own DVDs of Memphis action on his Web site.
Lawler was reportedly at a fan convention earlier this year when he noticed a Highspots booth selling a series of videos titled “Corey Maclin Presents Classic Memphis Wrestling.” When he questioned a booth employee regarding their right to sell footage of his former promotion, including several where he was the featured name on the slipcovers (e.g., “Jerry Lawler vs. the Champions”), they produced a contract signed by Maclin. Jimmy Hart, who also amassed a large collection of Memphis wrestling over the years, allegedly may have benefitted financially from the deal as well, but he was smart enough not to have his name appear on the document or on the DVD cases. (It is thought that Hart may have introduced Maclin to the Highspots rep.) Knowing how Hart hates to rock the boat, I can imagine that he didn’t want to upset Jarrett or Lawler, who gave him his big break, if he’s even involved at all.
Then again, maybe Maclin feels justified with the King dropping out of Maclin’s ill-fated show with Hart and Hulk Hogan at the FedEx Forum in Memphis a few years ago when Vince McMahon refused to allow Lawler to appear out of spite over a grudge with the Hulkster. Lawler had initially promised Maclin and Hogan that he’d appear “even if Vince tries to fire me” but quickly reneged when McMahon put his foot down. Maclin reportedly lost thousands of dollars on the show but later reached a settlement with WWE after filing a lawsuit.
Though, really, that’s small change compared to the money that Jarrett and Lawler would have made if only they had archived all TV shows following their split from Nick Gulas in 1977 and the move from WHBQ to WMC.
(Without further ado….SCOTT BOWDEN PRESENTS…CLASSIC MEMPHIS WRESTLING products!)