Jim Cornette has referred to it as the only time Jerry Jarrett came out on the short end of the stick in a deal. Mid-South Wrestling owner Bill Watts, looking to rejuvenate his promotion in fall 1983, travelled to Memphis to scout talent at the Mid-South Coliseum. Jarrett’s promotion was almost too loaded with talent at the time, with stars Jerry Lawler and The Fabulous Ones (Stan Lane and Steve Keirn) in the prime of their incredible early 1980s babyface runs in the territory. Jarrett was averaging close to 7,000 fans a week at the Coliseum, complemented by strong crowds for two different spots each Friday and Saturday night—usually one headlined by Lawler and the other by the Fabs. Business was also hot on Tuesday night at Louisville Gardens, which pretty much featured a similar lineup to the previous week’s loaded Monday night show. The Saturday morning wrestling show from the WMC-TV 5 Studio on Union Avenue, which aired live in Memphis, was edited down from its 90-minute version to a 60-minute format that aired the following week throughout the territory (hence the lag times between lineups at the Coliseum and cards the following week in Louisville and other cities).
Watts had for years built his territory on bigger stars, usually ex-jocks, and supposedly had to be convinced by his new booker, longtime Memphis star Bill Dundee, to at least keep an open mind on pushing smaller athletes. Based on Dundee’s suggestion, Watts decided to build up the tag-team ranks with the Rock ’n’ Roll Express (Rick Morton and Robert Gibson), who were always a strut behind the Fabs in the eyes of Memphis fans, as they debuted months after Stan and Steve set the area on fire. Cast in the role of their heel rivals in Mid-South were Bobby Eaton (already one of the best workers in the biz by that point) and veteran star Dennis Condrey, the second incarnation of the Midnight Express, managed by Jim Cornette. Watts also eventually brought in Memphis stars Terry Taylor and Buddy Landell.
Jarrett received guys like Masao Ito, Hoss Higgins, Jim Neidhart and Rick Rood as part of the deal. Although Neidhart also went on to superstardom, only Rood really established himself in the Memphis territory. Ito flopped in a feud with Austin Idol, mostly because the bouts were horrible. Higgins left almost immediately, after floundering in prelims, and the Anvil departed shortly after raiding Hart’s stable, with the angle quickly forgotten.
In 1984, Rood had a good look but was green as grass. A member of the same Eddie Sharkey training school in Minnesota that spawned the Road Warriors, he had been recruited by Ole Anderson in 1983 to work the Georgia territory, which was struggling with the departures of several established big-name stars, hence the mega-push of Hawk and Animal as National tag champions. Growing up in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, Rood was a childhood friend of the late Curt Hennig, Barry Darsow, Nikita Koloff (Scott Simpson) and Tom Zenk. Rood’s lone Georgia highlight was working as a special referee in a bout between Mr. Wrestling II and Larry Zbyszko. He drifted to Mid-South, doing jobs for the likes of Butch Reed, before being shipped to Memphis.
Upon arrival, he became “Ravishing” Ric Rude (yes, Ric...just like ol’ what’s-his-face), a cocky, spandex-wearing heel, complete with manager Hart and blonde valet Angel. (Eventually, the “k” would be added back to his first name, i.e., Rick Rude.) The role suited him, and Rude quickly moved up the cards. After feuding with Idol in a natural matchup, Rude won the AWA Southern title from Lawler, with an assist from Neidhart and Angel. After being pinned, Lawler punched Angel with a tremendous-looking shot while young boys in the front row popped like crazy. Rude commanded the spot of the lead heel in Jimmy Hart’s First Family, despite the fact that he was only decent in the ring and still unpolished on the mic. However, Rude had a natural arrogance, a heel charisma that you just can’t teach. It was obvious…Rick Rude had “it.” Really, his was a classic case of Jarrett and Lawler taking an unproven talent and helping to mold him into a star. In particular, Lawler made Rude look like a million bucks in the ring; most important, they drew big bucks together, peaking with consecutive crowds of 9,019 and a near sellout of over 11,000 the weeks of Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, 1984, respectively. Along the way, Rude lost his valet to a Lawler piledriver, futher cementing the rep of the King as possibly the dirtiest babyface in the game.
After the steel-cage blowoff with Lawler, Rude moved on to tag bouts with King Kong Bundy. Calling themselves “Thunder and Lightning,” Rude and Bundy feuded with Lawler and new babyface Randy Savage, before trading the Southern tag straps with the Fabulous Ones.
The promotion tried turning him babyface in a feud with Bundy following the loss to the Fabs, Rude didn’t get over in his new role. There was a smugness, even his babyface promos, that you couldn’t get past. The fans in Memphis hated him that much. Just over a month after Bundy and Hart attacked him, Rude was abruptly turned back heel in another feud with Lawler.
By the time he left the territory at year’s end, “Ravishing” Rick Rude was a polished heel destined for bigger things. He moved on to Florida, and then World Class, before getting the call from Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett promotions. Incredibly, instead of being pushed as a singles star and natural rival to Ric Flair on the SuperStation, Rude was stuck in a tag team with Manny Fernandez of all people. Despite making good money and having good matches with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, he left in April 1987 while still one half of the NWA World tag champs. Greener pastures lined with bigger money awaited: Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, where Rude became a national sensation in the late ’80s.
Richard Erwin Rood died of heart failure at the age of 40 on April 20, 1999. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of his death, what I’d like to have right now is for all you fat, out-of-shape, beer-swillin’ sweathogs to keep your mouths shut—a moment of silence, if you will—as we remember the man who used to take his robe off and show the ladies what a real sexy man was all about. Hit the music.