On this day in history: Jim Neidhart raids my Memphis wrestling birthday with Jerry Lawler in 1984
The year was 1984. My favorite band, Van Halen,was in the middle of their biggest tour yet and appeared destined to rule the rest of the decade. (Following their show at the Mid-South Coliseum on January 25, I had split a pair of my prized parachute pants trying to emulate one of Diamond Dave’s kicks in the mirror.)
As I was closing my 7th-grade year at Shadowlawn Middle, I was sure that classmate Amy Babb, with her buck-toothed, metal-wrapped grin, was the future Mrs. Bowden. (When Amy and I wound up in the same 8th grade class together in the fall, I was sure it was our density. Or something like that.)
Earlier that year, I had just received my first published byline as a “journalist” in an issue of Inside Wrestling with a rundown of the January 1, 1984, Memphis card, which saw my local sports hero (my “home team”), Jerry Lawler, once again come up heartbreakingly short in yet another bid to dethrone AWA World champion Nick Bockwinkel, in what I consider to be one of the King’s best matches ever.
Unlike most of my classmates, I had also started shaving in early 1984, though in hindsight, I realize growing a mustache might’ve been more impressive with the chicks who’d already rounded second and were headed for third base in the back seat of area Camaros and Mustangs.
All in all, it was good time to be a babyfaced, just-turned 13-year-old in Memphis on April 30, 1984–my birthday–especially with the date falling on a Monday night. My uncle, Robert Campbell, displaying the patience of a saint, took to the matches at the Coliseum on this date 28 years ago, a rare treat.
Months after the wrestling world was still reeling from Hulk Hogan overthrowing the evil Iranian Iron Sheik for WWF supremacy and, more important, Vince McMahon Jr.’s declaration of war on the traditional territories of the NWA and AWA, the Memphis promotion was experiencing lower-than-usual crowds, with the exception of the aforementioned New Year’s card, which drew nearly 8,000 fans on a Sunday afternoon, usually reserved for college football bowl games. (In Memphis, the World championship was far important than the pigskin national title, and the Rose Bowl had nothing on the Mid-South Coliseum.)
The Fabulous Ones, Steve Keirn and Stan Lane, the most popular act to hit Memphis since Lawler, had left the territory following a Feb. 6, 1984, bout with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. Instead of waiting for the Fabs to flop in the AWA, where Verne Gagne would have no idea how to book the trendsetting heartthrobs in a territory known more for legit no-frills, legit ex-athletes, Jerry Jarrett created a new set of Fabulous Ones, Tennessee’s own Tommy Rich (about 25 pounds heavier than his 1981 prime and now with scars rivaling that of Abdullah the Butcher) and perennial Memphis mid-carder/WWF jobber Eddie Gilbert.
Even worse, Jarrett instructed poor Fargo to bury Stan and Steve as city-slicker deserters who had the gall to venture out to Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles over Union City and Jackson, Tenn., and Jonesboro, Ark. The replacement “Fab Scabs,” Tommy and Eddie, wore the same lighting-bolt emblazoned ring attire and tuxedo jackets as the originals, coming off like cheap copies. In an effort to take the heat off Rich and Gilbert, Hart introduced his own set of New Fabs first, the former Bruise Brothers–Troy Graham and Porkchop Cash–shortly after Keirn and Lane left. (Classic footage.) But by the time Stan and Steve returned in June 1984, the Fabs gimmick had been diluted and things were never quite the same. (I still say that after the failed experiment, Jarrett should have turned Rich and Gilbert both heel to feud with the returning Stan and Steve–huge box office.)
But, on this night in April 1984, the New Fabs were still a work in progress, and the Memphis promotion, attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the Road Warriors on the ever-expanding WTBS stage via “cable TV,” introduced the apparent third member of the team, “Road Warrior Humongous,” based on the Lord Humongous character in ‘The Road Warrior” movie, the sequel to “Mad Max.” Lawler, a pop-culture geek who loved sci-fi and horror films, conceived the gimmick, which would go on to spawn several imitations, most notably with Jeff Van Kamp in Mid-South and Southeastern/Continental–where he was so popular he even received an NWA title bout vs. Ric Flair in Alabama.
For the role in Memphis, Lawler coaxed ex-wrestler and former Memphis State University football player (and my future high-school coach) Mike Stark out of retirement with the hockey-masked gimmick of the ruthless post-apocalyptic gasoline raider. As he occasionally did to get over a new monster heel, Lawler did a rare clean job to Humongous in the middle of the ring on April 23, 1984, without getting in a shred of offense–desperate times call for desperate measure, i.e., if we can’t afford to bring in a big-name star, we’ll create our own.
World-premiere MTV video: Animal and Hawk’s Humongous brother debuts in Memphis:
Following the loss of his Southern crown, Lawler vowed the following Saturday morning as he revealed a hockey mask of his own from his bag of tricks to wear into the rematch on the 30th. I was so excited that I phoned in a birthday present to my uncle, the only member of my family willing to brave the increasingly dangerous environment at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Featured bouts on the April 30, 1984, lineup:
- Lawler vs. Road Warrior Humongous in a rematch for the AWA Southern title
- Austin Idol vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage for the International title
- The New Fabs vs. Jimmy Hart’s Fabs for the Southern tag titles
- Harley Davidson (the future Hillbilly Jim) and Dirty Rhodes (Roger Smith) vs. PYTs Koko Ware and Norvell Austin
- Former Oakland Raider Jim Neidhart vs. Ric McCord
Unfortunately, on this night, Jarrett decided to plant the seeds for Neidhart to raid the stable of Hart’s First Family, resulting in the future Hart Foundation member interfering in all the bouts on behalf of the heels for automatic disqualifications. (I believe this was to lead to a brief Jimmy Hart babyface turn, but the angle was forgotten weeks later.) Still, the night was memorable as a classic Memphis melee broke out after the Fabs vs. Fabs showdown, with all the stars brawling to the back. During the main event, Lawler’s hockey hood prevented Humongous’s right hands from making an impact before the King was eventually unmasked and brutalized with the Road Warrior’s clubbing right hands.
Still, Lawler, like Popeye with his spinach, made a strap-pulled-down-fueled comeback, removing the fiber-glass facial guard from his adversary and pounding away on his “deformed” exposed skull (a latex movie-monster mask was underneath). As the behemoth was reeling, Neidhart entered the ring, but was cut off by Idol, brandishing a baseball bat. As the Heartthrob chased the Anvil to the back, Ox Baker stormed (well, waddled to) the ring and ganged up on Lawler with Hart. After Baker applied his deadly heart punch to Lawler (who sold it beautifully), promoter Eddie Marlin grabbed the heel’s arm as went for a second heart punch and was decked for his efforts. As Humongous held Marlin, Baker again prepared the punch that had apparently killed Ted DiBiase’s father years ago. This prompted an irate Lance Russell to abandon his announcer duties to make the help make the save as Idol returned to the ring with the bat. What they lacked in clean finishes on my birthday, they more than made up for with wild-and-wooly brawling.
This would be my greatest birthday ever, until April 30, 1988, my junior/senior prom. As my date and I fumbled around in the cramped back seat of my cramped Honda Accord hatchback (and you thought Hell in a Cell was the unforgiving devil’s playground), I excitedly got her strapped unhooked and pulled…but the anticipation lead to a take-it-home early, botched ending. Still, I popped for the finish. And that bastard Neidhart was nowhere to be found to crash the party. I fared much better in subsequent rematches.