Posts Tagged ‘Austin Idol’

American Idol

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

I can’t help but think of what have been if recording artists “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant and Jerry Lawler had formed a band with Idol in the late ’70s. (The Handsome Heartthrob Kings?) This can only help Idol’s chances to become the next mayor of Tampa.

File under Austin Idol and Jerry Lawler.

One for the Road: Toasting the legacy of the Road Warriors

February 21st, 2010 2 comments

Like Jerry Lawler, most of my childhood interests were intertwined, with each indirectly leading to or affecting the other, and ultimately, guiding us both to professional wrestling. Comic books were my first love, The Amazing Spider-Man, in particular; I was mesmerized as Web-Head battled his colorful heels gallery, including the Green Goblin, the Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, Dr. Octopus and, yes, even the Hypno Hustler, who had the ability to hypnotize victims at discos with the the musical stylings of his guitar and backup band, The Mercy Killers. (This was the ’70s after all.) My fascination with larger-than-life superheroes led me to purchasing my first rock album: KISS’ “Destroyer.”

You wanted the best, you got the best: KISS was the greatest gimmick in rock history.

You wanted the best, you got the best: The face-paint gimmick helped make Kiss the hottest band in the world.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that album cover at the Kmart on Summer Avenue in Memphis: here were superheroes who could sing and play electric guitar. No wonder Gene Simmons was my favorite, as he could also spit blood and blow fire, which should have made him a legit candidate for the X-Men. I recall that my mother wasn’t enthusiastic when she found the album as she was certain that the art depicted the band dancing in hell, the devil’s playground. Being a quick-thinking lad who had listened to the first track repeatedly, I assured her that it wasn’t hell but in Rock City. (Granted, most people who have visited Detroit would argue the differences are negligible.)

Given my different interests, I couldn’t have picked a better place to be a pro wrestling fan, as Spider-Man, The Kisser (Danny Davis dressed up as Gene Simmons) and Darth Vader all took time out of their busy schedules in the ’70s to wrestle in Memphis. Looking back, whenever these characters made an appearance, it was almost assuredly a sign that Jerry Lawler had taken the reins of the booking duties away from Jerry Jarrett. (The two Tennessee stars traded booking duties every six months to keep things fresh.) Lawler today claims the boys always knew when Jarrett was back in control when they saw their payoffs shrink, something the longtime Memphis promoter denies.

In that same vein, I was awestruck the first time I saw The Road Warriors on WTBS. By that time, the Roadies’ gimmick had already evolved from two guys appearing fresh from a leather bar to post-apocalyptic madmen complete with face paint and Mohawks.

Y-M-C-A: With the Roadies wearing black leather chaps and hats in the early days, fans in Atlanta kept looking around for the Construction Worker, the Indian and the Cop.

Looking like KISS on Hulk Hogan vitamins (though not likely saying many prayers), Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) and Animal (Joe Laurinatis) pounded (some might say potatoed) their way into my imagination as wrestling’s most dominant tag team. Not surprisingly, Jerry Lawler (also a huge KISS fan) fell in love with the guys, building them up for months in the area wrestling programs, warning fans that the Road Warriors were indeed making their way to Memphis. (Lawler would eventually go as far as creating his own Memphis version of the gimmick in 1984, Road Warrior Humongous, who was Mike “the Mule” Stark under a hockey mask.)

I was so taken with the Warriors when I was 15 that I awarded Hawk the No. 1 slot in his “Top-10 Best Conditioned Wrestlers,” a list that was published in THE WRESTLER and PRO WRESTLING ILLUSTRATED. (The Apter mags had been encouraging fans to send in their unofficial rankings to publish along with their usual “Official Wrestler Ratings,” for which I believe they drew names out of a hat.) I also included my “Top-10 Worst Conditioned Wrestlers,” with Dusty Rhodes beating out Abdullah the Butcher, The One Man Gang and Kamala for top honors. (I have no idea how I arrived at those rankings, as Dusty at least wrestled dozens of one-hour Broadways.) Ironically enough, I believe that the Worst Conditioned list at this point has a better mortality rate than my Best Conditioned, with Uncle Elmer (Stan “Plowboy” Frazier) the only one expired on the Worst list. The late Rick Rude, a buddy of Hawk’s from Minnesota, was also on my Best list, along with the late Kerry Von Erich.

Meanwhile, The Roadies were devouring teams on the SuperStation and not just jobbers like Mike Jackson (a school teacher from Alabama and one of my all-time fave job guys) and Randy Barber (a classic jabroni name). Hawk and Animal (for a time referred to as “Road Warrior No. 1” and “Road Warrior No. 2” by announcer Gordon Solie) were dominating established area stars like Mr. Wrestling I and II (legendary figures), Jack and Jerry Brisco, and Tommy Rich and Pez Whatley. They were also hitting their stride as personalities. In a promo leading up to the clash with Wrestling I and II, Hawk threatened, “We’ll rip your masks off Warrior-style–with your heads still in them!”

Gas Crunch: With Ole Anderson booking, Animal and Hawk would have squashed these Road Warriors in under five minutes.

In part, they were booked in short, one-sided matches out of desperation by Ole Anderson, who paired up the two muscle-bound students of Minnesota-based trainer Eddie Sharkey in hopes of creating two new stars to boost the promotion’s waning popularity. Anderson’s formula of instructing Hawk and Animal to pound their foes into submission without selling their opponents’ offense did indeed make them stars, and did so without exposing them for the sloppy greenhorns that they initially were.

Precious memories: A bit of a paradox that Animal and Hawk were paired with a manager nicknamed "Precious Paul."

The Warriors were also given a manager, “Precious” Paul Ellering, who was a nice contrast to the two, always carrying around a copy of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL at ringside. The Roadies fired him on cable TV before eventually realigning themselves with Ellering, also a Minnesota native, who legit took on a lot of their business and travel affairs, like a real manager would.

Ellering also managed King Kong Bundy, Jake Roberts and The Spoiler . The entire stable, which included the Warriors, was known as The Legion of Doom, a name taken from the crew of super villains on the ABC cartoon “CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS.”

Incidentally, for the record, no matter what a future Lawler DVD might claim, I only served an on-air role for the King. I never once made travel arrangements, scouted opponents, made runs to KFC, perused female personal ads or lined up tee times. More on that later.

The dastardly duo finally arrived in Memphis in December 1983 for a big card at the Mid-South Coliseum, which also included the first-ever bout between Jerry Lawler and longtime ICW-outlaw rival Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Aware of the Fabs’ amazing popularity in the area (and the potential for money-making rematches). the Roadies didn’t annihilate Stan and Steve, selling more than usual after initially dominating the bout with their usual repertoire of kicks, punches and overhead bench-press slams. The Fabs and the Roadies battled to a double countout and would later meet in a few more inconclusive matches at the Coliseum.

Hawk and Animal were less than understanding a year and a half later when Verne Gagne asked them to drop the AWA belts to the Fabs. Their response: “Hmmm, how about instead we just beat the hell out of them?” And that’s what they did, leading to a no-contest. It was probably the right call, as it’s my understanding the fans were booing the Fabs out of the building during their matches with the Roadies in Minnesota. Amazingly enough, Hawk and Animal did drop the belts to Jimmy Garvin and Steve Regal (no, not WWE’s Steven Regal) on their way out to Jim Crockett Promotions. Before that, they also dropped their National tag titles to Ron Garvin and Jerry Oates on their way to Verne, which is laughable. Can’t imagine the Georgia fans–or anyone for that matter–buying that. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Lawler had bigger plans for the Roadies in Memphis, namely a feud with the King and Austin Idol. Hawk later reportedly always thanked Lawler for the buildup they received in Memphis, especially the fact that Lawler set up the spot in which Hawk no-sold the piledriver in front of a stunned Coliseum crowd, which I detailed in my last post. Again, you have to understand how over the piledriver was in Memphis. It was the only hold “barred” in the state of Tennessee, so in the fans’ eyes it was nearly as lethal as a handgun. Thankfully, I didn’t break my buddy Robbie Jewell’s neck when I piledrove him in the 6th grade. Likewise, Animal and Hawk showed that same respect, selling Lawler’s punches like crazy after the King pulled down the strap in his comeback.

Minnesota Wrecking Crew: AWA Southern champion Rick Rude and his high-school buddies appeared often in Memphis

Lawler and Idol were even allowed a pinfall over the Roadies, albeit in bullshit fashion, with Lawler rolling up Animal on a restart and ref Jerry Calhoun counting a little fast, a Mid-South Coliseum match that later aired on the SuperStation to build up rematches in Atlanta and in parts of Ohio. Funny: In their bouts with Lawler and Idol, the Roadies would take turns pressing them over their heads, while the crowd chanted “De-Fense!” repeatedly, which was a popular chant at Memphis State University basketball games. The chant may have been started by MSU players, who were in attendance at one of the matches between the two teams in July 1984, along with future heel-manager great Scott Bowden.

Although other promoters (including Ole) would try to copy that formula by taking two oversized nobodies and pushing them to the moon despite their inexperience (Kevin Nash as part of the Master Blasters immediately comes to mind), the gimmicks rarely got over with fans. Hawk and Animal were innovators, the originals, and the fans believed in them because they worked the gimmick to perfection. The two evolved into capable workers, able to have great matches when booked with the right opponents. And their promos were always intense, with Animal barking vows of punishment, while Hawk added his own twisted brand of comedy, with the catchphrase “Ooooohhh, whattttaaa ruuushh!” becoming a staple of their gimmick, right along with their “Iron Man” theme by Black Sabbath. (Later, a knock-off theme had to be used to avoid a copyright grudge bout with Ozzy and the boys.)

Some even say Hawk hard-lived the gimmick, resigning himself to the fact that he was going to die young anyway from the years of substance abuse on his body–a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one. Sadly, a couple of years after cleaning up his life, Hawk died in his sleep October 19, 2003, following a day of moving heavy furniture into his new house in Florida. He was 46.

The two longtime friends had one of the most (if not the most) celebrated tag-team careers in history, winning the World championships of the AWA, the NWA and WWE–the only duo to accomplish this feat. Their influence on the business cannot be disputed, though opinions differ on whether or not it was a positive one, what with the glut of untalented, over-pushed imitators who followed Hawk and Animal.

Legendary likenesses by Mattel: I can't wait to rub the spikes into the eyes of Mattel's new Dusty figure.

Their legacy lives on in today. The WWE’s DVD release in 2005, ROAD WARRIORS, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE MOST DOMINANT TAG TEAM IN WRESTLING HISTORY, chronicled the rise and fall of the two childhood friends. Hawk and Animal have been immortalized in the form of Jakks’ action figures as part of the Classic Superstars line, and they will be included in the first set of Legends figures from Mattel available this fall. (Interesting that despite being “WWE Legends,” the Mattel figures depict the team from their NWA days and their packaging reads “Road Warrior Animal” and “Road Warrior Hawk.” Only in death, Hawk receives billing as a Road Warrior by Vince McMahon’s machine, as for years the two were billed as the Legion of Doom in Titanland to avoid confusion with The Ultimate Warrior, one of McMahon’s knockoffs of their gimmick, along with Axe and Smash, a.k.a. Demolition.

Better late than never, I suppose, as Hawk and Animal are the only true Warriors in the business in the eyes of old marks like me.

File under Road Warrriors, Jerry Lawler.

Anatomy of an angle: Austin Idol, Tommy Rich and Paul Heyman shave the head of Jerry Lawler

February 18th, 2010 3 comments

It was the last great Memphis angle.

Nearly three years after Vince McMahon had begun streamrolling every wrestling territory in the United States, Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett’s Memphis promotion seemed to have their battle-scarred heads held a little higher above water than the other remaining promotions. Although the early ’80s norm of 7,000-plus crowds and the occasional sellout at the Mid-South Coliseum appeared to be gone, the promotion was surviving just fine in 1986. Lawler, the promotion’s co-owner and top drawing card, was one of the few top regional stars who didn’t jump to McMahon’s ever-expanding circus tent, maintaining the promotion’s credibility with the local fans.

Memphis had a strong year in 1986 with the Bill Dundee/Buddy Landell feud vs. Jerry Lawler and Dutch Mantell, including a rabid sellout crowd at the Coliseum on March 3, 1986, and the legendary Texas Death Match between the teams that went 26 falls and 75 minutes. The catalyst for the angle was Dundee and Landell attacking young ref Jeff Jarrett and father Jerry Jarrett, who immediately “reinstated” the loser-left-town Lawler. The footage of Jerry attempting to save his son from a beating at the hands of Bill and Buddy was powerful television.

The previous week, the elder Double J had announced that he had a bad eye that had left him partially blind, so he was forced to retire for good. Dundee and Landell really laid into Jeff (who was officiating their squash match), which brought his dad into the ring. They beat down Jerry, and Bill then went for his “good” eye before Dutch made the save. Jerry Jarrett then came out and broke down crying, saying there’s only man who can restore order in Memphis wrestling.

After arranging for a telephone to be brought into the studio, they called Lawler who agreed to come back and team with Dutch vs. Dundee and Landell. Attendance, which was averaging about 2,000 to 3,000 with Lawler gone (after dropping the loser-leaves town bout), spiked to a SOR crowd of 11,365 on Monday. I believe they drew over 10,000 fans the following Monday as well. The program culminated with Lawler triumphing over Dundee in another classic loser-leaves-town bout in Memphis before about 8,000 fans over the summer. Toward year’s end, the promotion had dipped back down to the 4,500 range at the Coliseum, despite Lawler vs. Kabuki (a gimmick tailor-made for the territory) headlining most cards. The Bill and Buddy Show was clearly a tough act to follow.

However, heading into the New Year, business was picking up. Former NWA-champ/TBS-babyface idol Tommy Rich slowly turned heel after being overlooked for an AWA World title shot against Nick Bockwinkel, who had once again been awarded the title without pinning anyone, this time when Stan Hansen refused to drop the strap to the aging star. (Nick had previously been awarded the title as the “number-one contender” after Verne Gagne retired with the belt in an incredibly egotistical move in 1981.) Rich had returned ostensibly to help Lawler in his feud with pudgy-eternal, masked wrestlers Fire & Flame (Don Bass and Roger Smith). However, in a subtle interview, Rich questioned why Lawler always receives the World title shots in the area–after all, Wildfire was a former NWA World champ, so why not him? Rich didn’t get hot or badmouth Lawler–he simply sounded a little ticked off.

Lawler calmly agreed to wrestle Rich for the title shot to settle the issue. Slowly, the match turned into a bloody no-contest. The two longtime Tennessee rivals followed it up the next week with another fight, with Lawler triumphing, spiking attendance as 1986 came to an end. But they were just getting warmed up.

On January 4, 1987, Lawler was set to wrestle Bockwinkel for the AWA strap. Prior to the bout, though, Idol entered the ring and asked Lawler to step aside or their friendship was over. The Las Vegas native had worked the card earlier as a babyface and had been the King’s longtime partner, so this came out of left field. When the challenger refused and turned his back, Idol spun Lawler around and decked him, splitting the King’s forehead wide open, as 15-year-old Scott Bowden charged the ringside area and began snapping away on his father’s Pentax camera. (What is it about future Memphis managers and cameras?) A bloody challenger in a World title bout–and the bell hadn’t even rung yet…gotta love Memphis.

Lawler went on to work a 60-minute Broadway with Bock, in a bout filled with high drama and quite possibly a record number of ref bumps (until the Russo era in TNA). Not quite on the level of the incredible Bockwinkel/Henning hour-long draw nearly two months earlier, but psychology-wise, it was another classic between the perennial AWA kingpin and the King of Memphis, who showed great heart in gutting out a stalemate.

Match of the Century...for the first half of 1987 anyway.

The next week, Idol’s shift to the dark side was complete, as he and Rich double-teamed Lawler, each grabbing a leg and ramming the King’s crown jewels against a ringpost. Idol followed it up with one of the most classic heel moments of all time: With Lawler lying against the post, still selling the nutcracker, the Heartthrob smugly looked down at him, cradled the King’s head in his hands and promptly bitch-slapped the hell out him. Unbeliveable. Lawler sold the injury for about a month, returning to the Coliseum on February 16, 1987, drawing a hot crowd of 9,000. (Lawler couldn’t have timed his legit vasectomy any better.)

The promotion followed that up with a string of several great houses upon Lawler’s return, with the King taking on partners like Bockwinkel and Bam Bam Bigelow as partners to batter the blonde bastards in a variety of blood-soaked gimmick matches. When Rich was “injured” (so Wildfire could take his scientific skills to Japan), greenhorn Sid Eudy (Vicious) filled in one week under the guise of Lord Humongous in his first-ever bout in Memphis. Sid’s ability–or lack thereof–added another dimension of brutality to the feud.

The Idol, Rich vs. Lawler feud peaked on April 27, 1987, with the now-infamous hair match, which drew more than 8,500 fans. Along with his manager Paul Heyman (then known as “Paul E. Dangerly”…and later “Paul E. Dangerously” in WCW..and eventual ECW genius), Idol and Rich cheated Lawler of his hair and the AWA Southern title in a steel-cage match. (The cage most likely prevented a lynching of the terrible trio.)

While Lawler getting his hair cut was certainly enough to create a melee, to make matters worse, in the pre-match hype, an irate Idol had promised to refund every audience member’s price of admission should he lose as well as have his own precious bleached-blonde locks snipped. Idol had made the bet after being outfoxed in a chain match the previous week, resulting in a “record” 39-second loss of the Southern title. For years, peaking in the ’70s, the promotion’s biggest draw was a hair vs. hair match, and was considered Lawler’s specialty as he was undefeated in such showdowns.

Since the very idea of Lawler losing a hair match at that time was about as unfathomable as Rich regaining the NWA World title, Memphis fans eagerly plucked down their blue-collar cash thinking the Women’s Pet had made a wager he’d soon regret.

Now that's heat

That confidence was shattered seconds after Heyman kneeled on the floor of the Mid-South Coliseum to yell the prearranged signal to Rich, who had been secreted under the ring around 3 p.m. that day. Wearing an undersized Coca-Cola Clothes (more like a Jack and Coke, knowing Tommy) sweatshirt, Rich moved like wildfire from the floor and into the ring, just in time to save the Idol from a King-sized, match-ending piledriver. (Rich had only a bucket of chicken and a case of beer with him while waiting to ambush Lawler. Exactly six years earlier, on Monday, April 27, 1981, Rich had reached the pinnacle of the profession, defeating Harley Race for the NWA championship in Augusta, Ga. You fall fast in this business.)

The heels again posted Lawler against a ringpost. After the momentarily stunned ref Jerry Calhoun came to his senses just in time to count out the King, Heyman wrapped a thick chain around Lawler’s neck as his personal hairstylist Ted Cortese cut the hair of the city’s number-one son. One of the reasons Lawler agreed to the haircut was because the Bruce Willis thinning, spiky hairstyle was the rage. So he had Ted trim it very short instead of a complete head-shaving, which hurt the program a bit. Although it might have looked OK on the “Moonlighting” star, the style didn’t exactly suit Lawler with his rather bulbous head. (I wonder if Heyman, in hindsight, wishes he had snatched the clippers away and left Lawler looking like a cueball. Skipping around the ring and grinning like a Cheshire cat while holding locks of Lawler’s hair, Heyman had more heat in one night than I did my entire Memphis managerial run.)

Irate fans scaled the cage to save Lawler, but Memphis cops pulled them down–it was amazing to experience such scorching heat in person…a sharp contrast to the cartoon horseshit Vince McMahon was feeding WWF fans. Twenty minutes later, with fans still surrounding the ringside area, more cops were called in to surround the heels from hell as they exited the ring–but the crowd still rushed them to no avail.

Somehow, Idol made it out the building alive, but not before delivering one of the best promos of his career (which is saying a hell of a lot, as he was one of the best promo guys of the ’80s): “I grew up in Las Vegas rolling the dice and spinning the roulette wheel, jack. I’ve been a gambler since the day I was born, and I’ll be a gambler to the day I die!” I can only imagine how angry the fans would have been if the match didn’t take place. Before the bout, Idol held up the promotion for more money, vowing he wouldn’t wrestle if his demands weren’t met. Jarrett caved but he never forgave Idol for it and to this day doesn’t enjoy speaking of the Heartthrob.

The next week, even with Lawler out selling the injury, 9,000 fans showed up at the Coliseum for Bill Dundee’s return against Idol and Rich–that’s how much heat the heels had. The feud culminated on June 15, 1987, with a scaffold match, with Lawler and Bill Dundee beating the heels and “breaking” Rich’s wrist and Dangerly’s leg post-match. Dangerly was finishing up soon and refused to climb the scaffold out of a fear of heights. (Wise man; he probably saw how Jim Cornette suffered a severe knee injury after taking a wicked bump from a 20-ft scaffold during Starrcade ’86.) A pissed off Lawler broke Paul E.’s jaw on his last night in the territory with an “errant” right hand  in Louisville as a lovely parting gift. Lawler has since admitted he potatoed Paul E. on purpose, much like he broke the jaw of Jimmy Hart in Evansville, Indiana, years earlier for the infamous racehorse analogy.

Idol, Rich and Paul E. found out the hard way that you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit in the wind. And you don’t cut the hair of Jerry Lawler on his home court.