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Memphis Blues: Andy Kaufman costs Jerry Lawler the AWA World title 29 years ago today

January 10th, 2012 1 comment

Eat your heart out: A typical light breakfast in Memphis...a full rack of Corky's ribs, skinny latte and a cup of nonfat yogurt. (I only gained 10 pounds during my recent trip back to my hometown over the holidays.)

So, I’m back from my sabbatical–like a wrestler from the territory days returning to the area fresh and recharged after a brief run in another promotion. I realize it’s asking too much, but I’m betting you stinkin’ rednecks have learned to appreciate me in my absence. (Yeah, I missed you, too. Well, some of you.) Anyway, my wife and I spent the holidays apart, as Hayley visited her family in England for a monthlong trip, which I was unable to do because of work commitments and other difficulties. Instead, I returned to Memphis for a week, as I had not been home in nearly four years, and I was afraid that all my parents had to remember me by was my old rasslin’ clips on YouTube. (They weren’t exactly bursting with pride when I became a hated heel in my hometown years ago using my real name.)

I had a good time in Memphis  (highlighted by a bowling battle royal with my old college buddies), but frankly, I’m happy to put 2011 behind me. I’m making progress overcoming carpal tunnel syndrome, and I’m focused more than ever on my physical therapy and recovery. That means more KFR goodness coming your way in the New Year. (Rejoice, dear marks, rejoice!)

Andy Kaufman and Jimmy Hart get the last--and loudest--laugh.

Obviously, I didn’t get much writing done  while I was in my hometown; however, I did eat plenty of BBQ, which, where I come from, is far more important. I did wait patiently outside Jerry Lawler’s house, hoping to ambush him with a giant snowball while he checked his mailbox every hour on the hour for Christmas cards; however, weatherman/former Memphis wrestling announcer Dave Brown failed to deliver on his holiday promise of heavy snow. (You could never count on Dave’s forecasts and his commentary for accuracy, especially when I was involved in my heated feuds with the likes of Randy Hales and Ms. Texas.) When the King appeared in his driveway on Dec. 23, I attacked Lawler anyway with a molded-plastic baby Jesus from a neighbor’s nativity scene but he wrestled Him away from me and ended up piledriving me on the hard concrete. (I sold it by wearing a neckbrace until my return flight touched down in Los Angeles.)

Anyway, I’m back. With a vengeance. I’m catching up on WWE programming at the moment, and I’ll resume my look at the year 1983 in both Memphis and Mid-South soon.

On that note, it was 29 years ago today that Andy Kaufman cost Jerry Lawler the “held-up” (more on that later this week) AWA World title when the Intergender champion and “Taxi” star interfered on Nick Bockwinkel’s behalf to uncrown the King…and put a damper on Brian Christopher Lawler’s 11th birthday. (Incidentally, happy birthday, Grand Master Fortaay.) Here’s the clip, with a classic Memphis finish, from January 10, 1983.

On this date in rasslin’ history: Andy Kaufman defeats Jerry Lawler in Memphis on April 5, 1982

April 5th, 2011 1 comment

Classic battle immortalized: "You wanna rassle me, Memphis-style?" (Blood-stained Mid-South Coliseum ring sold separately).

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.”

A referee’s worst Nightmare: Jerry Calhoun takes a piledriver

March 24th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t seen this footage since I was 10 years old. I could have sworn referee Jerry Calhoun was a dead man after taking a stuffed piledriver from the Nightmare (Danny Davis) and Speed (Ken Wayne) after the official attacked manager Jimmy Hart during a taping of Memphis “Championship Wrestling” in 1981. (The studio crowd pops like crazy when Calhoun becomes unglued as they’d seen the manager abuse the poor official for more than a year–Hart had it coming.) This angle set up Calhoun’s return weeks later as Jerry Lawler’s manager for a few weeks as the King took on members of Hart’s First Family of Rasslin.’

You have to understand how over the piledriver was as a potentially lethal maneuver in Memphis. The only move that was “officially barred in the state of Tennessee,” the piledriver was nearly the equivalent of a shotgun blast to the fans, who were educated to believe in the dangerous-looking maneuver. After all, in the “wild and wooly” world of Memphis rasslin’, the piledriver was the only move that called for an automatic disqualification from the referee. I achieved a boyhood dream and took a piledriver from the King himself in 1994 ..and lived to tell about it.

Lawler, of course, would receive nationwide fame when he applied the piledriver not once but twice to comedian Andy Kaufman, who sold it beautifully. (Andy didn’t have a choice, really; he had been knocked legitimately goofy minutes earlier when his head smacked the mat during a back suplex.) The funniest part to me about this clip is after Lawler delivered the second piledriver, seemingly breaking Kaufman’s neck in the process. Ms. Lily, an elderly African-American lady who always sat ringside, can be heard screaming, “One more time!” What a bloodthirsty old bird.

Years later, as part of the “Memphis Heat” documentary, which premieres tonight, Calhoun discusses his role in the Kaufman bout.

Jimmy Hart has obviously mellowed over the years. This morning, Hart literally took a walk down memory lane at the Channel 5 TV studio at 1960 Union Avenue to promote the “Memphis Heat” doc. Nice to see Hart with his black cane, his trademark weapon of choice in the days before the WWF’s megaphone.