Home > Uncategorized > On this date in rasslin’ history: Jerry Lawler vs. Ric Flair showdown draws record Memphis wrestling gate

On this date in rasslin’ history: Jerry Lawler vs. Ric Flair showdown draws record Memphis wrestling gate

September 30th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
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Royal rumble: The King of Memphis meets the King of the world.

On September 30, 1985, Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair drew a record gate ($95,000-plus) at the Mid-South Coliseum, with nearly 9,500 fans paying the highest tickets prices in the history of Memphis wrestling ($8, $15 and $25) for a loaded Great American Bash card promoted by Jerry Jarrett and Jim Crockett. The stage had been set in fall 1984, with Lawler vowing on the air to win a World title the following the year or retire. At the time, Jarrett had reached a talent-trade agreement with Ole Anderson and Crockett to help combat Vince McMahon, who had taken majority stock control of World Championship Wrestling on WTBS after buying out Jack Brisco and Jerry Brisco.

After angry, confused NWA fans flooded Ted Turner‘s switchboard with complaints, Anderson secured a Saturday morning time slot for his Championship Wrestling From Georgia program, which would feature stars who remained from WCW as well as talent from Memphis and Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling program.

I’ve covered this ground before, but legend has it that as part of the agreement, Jarrett negotiated a NWA title run for his top draw, with the tentative plan that Lawler would win the 10 pounds of gold in September 1985 and drop the belt back to Flair at Starrcade.

A Flair for the Predictable: Lawler was disappointed with the bout because the champ called all his usual spots.

Alas, it was not to be. After buying the WCW time slot from McMahon for $1 million in spring 1985, Crockett didn’t really need Jarrett or Lawler anymore to go national. JCP booker Dusty Rhodes helped nix the title switch, according to Jimmy Valiant, and put himself in the main event challenging Flair at Starrcade ’85. (For the record, I asked Jerry Jarrett about the supposed Lawler title run; he claimed an NWA title run was a possibility but was not promised.) Still, there was money for Crockett to make with Jarrett, who was not relinquishing his Memphis territory to JCP or Vince without a fight.  In fact, Jarrett outlasted every other promotion from the kayfabe era–all of which were steamrolled by WWF and, to a lesser degree, WCW. Even with Hulk Hogan on the card, Vince couldn’t draw in Memphis in 1985. If Crockett wanted to make further in-roads in the South, he’d have to work with Jarrett.

Reportedly there had been heat between Jarrett and Rhodes stemming from the previous year, when the elder Double J cancelled his booking of Rhodes for his June 24, 1984, “Star Wars” card the week before the show, citing payroll concerns. Rhodes took it as a personal slight and let Jarrett have it over the phone. When Lawler appeared in the opening match at the Orange Bowl later that year for a show headlined by a Rhodes/Flair bout for a diamond ring, he returned the dressing room to find an autographed 8″ X 10″ of the Dream, signed, “To the King curtain-jerker!”  in his bag. Something tells me that perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Rhodes booked the famous ankle-injury angle at the hands of the Horsemen on Sept. 29, at the Omni the night before the Crockett/Jarrett Bash in Memphis, “forcing” him to no-show  his scheduled bout with Buddy Landel in order to sell it.

The buildup to the Sept. 30 title bout was memorable as the promotion had two weeks to promote the card as there was no Monday night card on Sept. 23 because of the Mid-South Fair. During those two shows, they had recaps of Lawler’s entire career, with the King practically guaranteeing that it would all culminate on the 30th against Flair when finally won the belt as he quoted the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” and closed his last promo before the bout saying, “I know the fans want this title for me just as bad as I want it–and Monday night, I’m going to give it to them.” Even announcer Lance Russell strongly suggested that fans should buy a ticket “…so you can say you were the night the King won the World title.”

The match had been three years in the making, when Lawler had defeated Flair by countout in an overtime period of an impromptu title bout in the WMC-TV studio in 1982. (Shortly after the angle, Jarrett made the decision to stick with booking AWA World champ Nick Bockwinkel, so Flair had not returned to the area to settle the issue with Lawler.) About 9,500 fans showed up on the 30th for the long-awaited showdown, resulting in a $95,000-plus gate, the largest ever for Jarrett. Unfortunately, despite a great entrance by Lawler, who was carried to the ring on a throne, the bout itself was forgettable, with Lawler disqualified for tossing Flair over the top rope in a modified Dusty finish. (Lawler and Flair had done the same finish two weeks earlier in a bout in Lexington, KY, which drew over 7,000 fans and $70,000.) The King wasn’t pleased that the champ called his typical routine spots, and he didn’t like taking Flair’s chops. (When telling me about his disdain for the bout years later, Lawler asked me rhetorically, “Why chop a guy when you can punch him?”) I was there on the 30th and I can say–as a huge fan of both men at that time–they did not work well together. I recall wincing when Flair (of course) called to be slammed from the top rope and Lawler couldn’t quite reach him but the Nature Boy launched himself across the ring anyway. After years of seeing excellent Lawler vs. Bockwinkel bouts for the AWA championship, this performance left a lot to be desired. Lawler hated the bout so much that he refused to work with Flair in a rematch when Jarrett and Crockett held another combined show two months later. (Koko Ware headlined instead, challenging Flair in a really good bout.) Within two years, Crockett started promoting his own shows in Memphis, including a cardheadlined by Dusty Rhodes vs. Bill Dundee to declare a “New King of Memphis”–without Lawler, they drew less than 3,000 fans.

The King and the Nature Boy wouldn’t lock up again until the 1993 WWF Royal Rumble.

(Got something to say, ya stinkin’ rednecks? E-mail the author at bowden@kentuckyfriedwrestling.com)

  1. David
    September 30th, 2010 at 16:01 | #1

    Did any footage of this match ever see the light of day? I don’t remember seeing it on the show… It also boggles my mind that Lawler would leave this out of his book… you should have ghost-written for him, Scott…

  2. September 30th, 2010 at 16:15 | #2

    I really love the Koko-Flair match that took place but it’s a shame Lawler-Flair was such a letdown. I was actually watching the 1982 Flair segment the other day and I always thought it so weird that, after beating him by countout, Lawler starts marching around saying that he should be the new champion. Since when does the title change hands on a countout? I wonder if he was supposed to pin him and then they changed it at the last minute because his ranting didn’t make any sense.

    Man, that Bash show looks like a helluva card, though.

  3. admin
    September 30th, 2010 at 16:17 | #3

    There was no cameraman filming the Flair vs. Lawler bout in Memphis–I recognized this immediately as a sure sign that there would be no title switch on this night. I’m not sure if Lexington match was taped, but I’ve never seen it–by the way, these photos are from the bout at Rupp Arena. Yeah, the guy helping Lawler write his book had ZERO knowledge of his career and it showed. I guess because they were working together in WWF at the time, Lawler actually put Flair over in his book.

  4. admin
    September 30th, 2010 at 16:19 | #4

    John, in Memphis, titles did change hands on a countout. I sort of liked that “rule”; it made sense to me. It was an effective way for the champ to lose a title without being pinned and set up a return bout.

  5. Jeff
    September 30th, 2010 at 20:27 | #5

    Wonder why they called the Sept. 30 card a ‘Great American Bash’? Seems a month or two late for Bash season.

  6. charles w
    October 1st, 2010 at 09:23 | #6

    Scott, the rest of the card was taped as highlights and matches were definitely shown on the main show as well as the one hour arena show they used to have. Did they just not tape the Lawler-Flair bout?

  7. October 1st, 2010 at 09:25 | #7

    Oh wow, I never knew that. I just assumed they followed the same “DQ/CO rule” that the rest of wrestling did. Thanks for the info!

  8. admin
    October 1st, 2010 at 09:32 | #8

    Charles, I’ve seen video of the Express vs. Koloffs bout from that night. That’s what was so perplexing to me: several of the bouts were taped, but the cameraman at ringside was noticeably absent during the Lawler/Flair bout. I was a freshman in high school but even at that age I realized that the King was not going to be crowned without video documentation. Maybe Flair did not want it taped (knowing how Jarrett/Lawler have creatively edited video highlights of the King in the past) or perhaps Lawler knew it would be another stinker after the Lexington bout held earlier that month.

  9. admin
    October 1st, 2010 at 09:34 | #9

    Jeff, the JCP’s World Wide Wrestling had been airing on a local affiliate for years, so the Bash name had some value to sell this card as a big-time event for Memphis fans.

  10. charles w
    October 6th, 2010 at 09:58 | #10

    Interesting. Could have been Crockett too as while AWA SuperClash was taped, he never allowed the NWA portion to be shown years ago. At least we know for sure now.

    I’ve always been perplexed with how Lawler and Flair work so poorly together.

  11. Sean D.
    September 30th, 2011 at 08:37 | #11

    Jeff/Scott – Back in 1985 wasn’t the “Great American Bash” the name of the Crockett/NWA tour bookended by supershows in Atlanta and Charlotte? I seem to recall the Bash becoming a one night only event around ’87 or ’88 once PPV was more common.

  12. admin
    October 3rd, 2011 at 07:52 | #12

    Yeah, Sean, I think Crockett followed up the success of the ’85 show in Charlotte with an ambitious Bash stadium tour in 1986, which did well in some areas and disastrous in others (e.g., less than 1,000 fans in the 60,000-seat Liberty Bowl in Memphis without Lawler on the card). A scaled back Bash tour probably made the company more money as smaller venues were booked and nontraditional JCP cities like Memphis were eliminated. By ’88 and ’89, it had become a strictly PPV concept, I believe.

  1. September 30th, 2011 at 07:48 | #1