On this date in rasslin’ history: Andy Kaufman defeats Jerry Lawler in Memphis on April 5, 1982
Jerry Lawler’s controversial disqualification loss to Michael Cole at 2011′s WrestleMania wasn’t the first time the King came up short against a lesser foe. On April 5, 1982, in front of a rabid crowd of nearly 9,000 fans at the Mid-South Coliseum, the late Andy Kaufman defeated Jerry Lawler by DQ when the King used two illegal piledrivers to drive home his point that rasslin’ was no place for comedians. (Of course, some would also argue that Lawler’s one-liners directed at Kaufman on “Late Night With David Letterman” proved that wrestlers have no place in stand-up comedy.) No wonder official AWA referee Jerry Calhoun immediately called for the DQ–he knew the effects of the potentially lethal hold all too well.
Andy had a real passion for the business, honoring the kayfabe code to his death that the incident with the Memphis Monarch of the Mat wasn’t staged. (Lawler was said to be shocked years later when Andy’s parents gave him the cold shoulder–even they thought the King had really hurt their son.) The buildup and the match itself were so convincing that legendary Houston promoter Paul Boesch supposedly sent Lawler a telegram thanking him for “protecting the business” from outsiders.
The “feud” started when Bill Apter, managing editor of several newsstand magazines, was speaking with Kaufman, who had been rejected by Vince McMahon Sr. when the entertainer approached the legendary promoter about taking his inter-gender wrestling act to Madison Square Garden. (Vince Jr., on the other hand, would have booked him in a heartbeep.) Apter knew one man who would appreciate such a spectacle: his friend, Lawler in Tennessee. It turned out best for everyone involved, as Kaufman wouldn’t have gotten the same scorching Southern heat he received in Memphis if he had played New York instead. And make no mistake: Kaufman had intense heat with Memphis fans, whom he taunted with basic hygiene tips and boasts of “I’m from Hollywood.” And in the end, Apter got some nice pics (from young photographer/future manager Jim Cornette) and copy for the April 1982 issue of The Wrestler.
Now, let’s switch over to Lance Russell and Dave Brown, right along ringside, for this recap of the entire Lawler/Kaufman incident, including clips of promos, the match and the Letterman appearance. I love the exchange between channel 5 sportscaster “Big” Jack Eaton and Lawler prior to the bout:
Big Jack: “Would you like to hurt him?”
Lawler: “I think I have to hurt him.”