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YouTube Finds: “Too Sexy” Brian Christopher Lawler hates everything about you–and poetry

March 16th, 2011 9 comments

Odd Couple: "Simply Irresistible" and "Too Sexy" briefly set aside their differences as USWA tag champions

In 1992, Brian Christopher Lawler started receiving his first big push as a singles star, with promoter Jerry Jarrett pushing the heir apparent to the Memphis rasslin’ throne much like he did a young King back in the ’70s. Brian had the same natural cocky charisma of his father, Jerry Lawler, which made Christopher a great heel after only a year in the business.

It was only natural that the promoter’s son Jeff Jarrett would feud with Brian–together, the two sons of Tennessee legends put together some ol’ Southern feud magic not seen in the territory in years.

Much like his father, young Jeff was soft-spoken, sometimes awkward in his promos, while Brian excelled early on with a version of his own extroverted personality with the volume (think Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”) turned up. Never were their contrasts more apparent than when Brian destroyed a framed poem that Jerry Jarrett had passed down to his sons Jeff and Jason.  (I love how the Moondogs are destroying Jeff in the clip as he recites the line “Life is queer with its twists and turns”–yeah, tell that to the thankless Memphis jobbers of old who suffered at the paws of the canines from hell.)

Ironically enough, Brian excelled in English classes at Craigmont High School in Memphis, and even won a poetry contest his senior year.

Of the two above-average athletes, Brian seemed destined for greater things in the early ’90s, as he had Jerry’s same gift of gab–and Jeff had that horrible haircut. Jeff, however, clearly had a much harder work ethic–a trademark of the elder Double J–and it’s paid off over the years, as he’s had a great career that’s included big-money runs in WWE and WCW, with multiple World title reigns. (I guess you could Jeff “stuck to to fight when he was hardest hit; it was when things seemed worst, that he didn’t quit.”) A relentless, tireless late bloomer, Jeff is finally hitting his stride as a heel performer in TNA in his role as Mr. Karen Angle-Jarrett–the hottest act in the promotion. (Granted, that’s not saying much given the current state of TNA.)

In the same vein of the great ’80s Memphis stars we all grew up with, Brian received the music video treatment in June 1992, not longer after winning the area’s Texas (after Jarrett had purchased the World Class promotion) and Southern titles. The mega-push to create a new homegrown Memphis star was on.

In the video, Brian is driving the white Corvette of Mrs. Paula Lawler when he picks up an actual homeless guy living on the streets in Memphis. (Supposedly, the guy received $100 for his remaining dignity.) When the video aired, the man’s mother called WMC-TV station irate and demanded an apology. Instead, Brian laughed it off on the air the following week, staying in character. (Later, he slipped the guy an extra dollar.)

Years later, there’s a cruel sense of irony to this footage of Brian.

Bringing Sexay back: Brian Christopher Lawler returns to WWE RAW to address ‘daddy’ issues

March 15th, 2011 4 comments

Bleached heir to the throne?: After last night's RAW, Jerry and Brian probably won't be invited to WWE's annual father/son picnic.

By most accounts, Vince McMahon is living vicariously through Michael Cole via the angle with the longtime WWE geeky announcer’s gradual slide to the dark side and feud with Jerry  Lawler, with the WrestleMania match sealed between the two former broadcaster partners.

With each passing week, it’s clear that an increasingly number of lines (more than usual) are being fed to Cole, whom McMahon must see as himself 15 years ago.

After all, much like Cole, McMahon for years played the role of the carnival-barking, somewhat awkward, white-bread announcer who happened to a decent voice and, more important, knew how to help tell the story the wrestlers were striving to convey in the ring.

While plenty of fans in the late ’70s and early ’80s knew “Vinnie” was the son of WWWF founding father Vince McMahon Sr., it wasn’t until the Attitude Era of 1997 when the worst-kept secret in wrestling (besides the fact that Brian Christopher was “Jerry’s kid”) was revealed, and the “real” (and I use that term loosely) Vince Jr. came to the forefront and acknowledged on the air that he did in fact own the promotion and was calling the shots with the immortal words, “Bret screwed Bret.”

For some, it was a shocking departure from the seemingly corporate geek who often didn’t bother to learn the ever-ever-evolving skill set of his performers; instead, a perplexed Vinnie often bellowed, “What a maneuver!”

For others, it was must-see TV, something we’d always waited for since we learned years ago that Vinnie had pestered his father about being a wrestler after hanging out with the infamous Dr. Jerry Graham–a hell-raising legend, even for the business.


Sons of Anarchy gear at the Fox Shop

McMahon the announcer patterned himself after NFL broadcaster Howard Cossell, right down to the garish yellow blazer and methodical mannerisms–Vinnie wasn’t nearly as bad as some fans claim, more so because he knew how to effectively tell a story (granted, one he’d often conceived himself in the early to mid-’80s). Count me among those who thought Vinnie was a damn good old-school announcer.

For better (short term, ’98–2000) or for worse (Vince’s continued heelish condescending attitude toward his fan base ever since), Mr. McMahon developed into one of the hottest heels of all time, especially with the emerging contrast of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as his blue-collar antithesis. The Chairman of the Board and Stone Cold went on to produce some of the best TV of the ’90s and merchandise sales of anything Rattlesnake- or 3:16-related in the late ’90s and into 2000.

Beer's to ya!: The Rattlesnake gives Cole a Bud bath.

So it only made sense that Austin slithered his way back onto WWE TV on the March 7 RAW, inserting himself into the special referee role and dispatching the returning JBL (who cut a great promo) with two Stunners and dousing Cole with a couple of “Steveweisers.” While McMahon backstage no doubt enjoyed this beer bash down memory lane, it sort of felt like the blow-off with Cole getting humiliated so strongly by Austin nearly a month before the actual match with Lawler. (I had to laugh when a very visible “King 3:16″ sign popped up on TV last night not far from ringside.)

Cole had to get his heat back last night, so he did the unthinkable: he brought sexy back; rather, WWE Creative booked “Grand Master Sexay” Brian Christopher Lawler to return to cut a shorter, less-blistering version of the promo he cut in TNA years ago. (I believe Jerry Jarrett had a hand in scripting that TNA promo, which reportedly upset the King legitimately–even worse than Jimmy Hart’s “shoot racehorses” comments in 1980. )

Basically, in his return promo last night, Christopher told the truth about his dad’s absenteeism growing up, failing to mention Lawler’s other son, poor Kevin, who must really feel neglected at this point. (I say that jokingly as Kevin talks to his dad at least weekly.) Still, Lawler’s been forthright about that he while he’s never been a traditional, ideal father, he has tried his best to at least be a good friend to his boys. Let’s face it: When you’re a traveling star in the rasslin’ business, life is never going to be Ward, Wally and the Beaver.

At the height of his career, Brian briefly ascended to the WWE mid-cards as part of the World tag champions (at a time when those straps still meant something) with Scotty Too Hotty as part of Too Cool with Rikishi. The threesome was one of the most entertaining acts in the promotion for months during the red-hot Attitude era of the late ’90s. As I documented here, Brian couldn’t handle the success, fell into the wrong dressing-room crowd and spiraled out of control, landing on the indie circuit–seemingly for good. After all, WWE  nowadays is only in the market for rookies in their early 20s who are at least 6’3″. Damn shame, too, as I’ve always said Brian was a natural for the business.

But Vince & Co. love a good personal angle, so Brian was brought in fresh off the death of Jerry’s mom, dancing as if his own life depended on it down the TitanTron ramp to address his dad. (Hard to believe that the sons of wrestling legends Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler both believe the best to enter the ringside area is with the most ridiculous white-boy dancing imaginable.) Only problem was, after years of working small arenas, Brian appeared to have overestimated his dancing endurance down the aisle as he was blown up by the time he fist-bumped with Cole mid-ring and turned his attention to “daddy.” (Jerry had that hurt look of, “Boy, I’m gonna give you the piledriver I should have given you a long time ago.”) Still, Brian is enough of a naturally charismatic heel that he was OK here, despite his heavy breathing. (Brian was reportedly seen dancing the length of the Memphis International Airport in preparation–he may have peaked too soon.) If anything, Brian came off better than his last national TV appearance, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

However, Jerry’s facial expressions again were key, as he solemnly addressed his own disappointment with his son and the fact that he doesn’t shame the Lawler name by using his surname as part of his ring moniker. (Reportedly, Charlie Sheen was irate that the King compared his son to the troubled actor, and he is considering launching “missiles of truth” in the form of a lawsuit.)

The crowd then popped for the arrival of Jim Ross, who actually looked better than Sexay, thanks to his new personal-training program and slightly modified diet. (Cutting out BBQ ribs at breakfast was a start.) Ross was putting Cole in his place, while the “new voice of the WWE” responded with lines that were no doubt directly scripted for him by McMahon. (I must say, though, Cole is excelling in the role–I’m not selling him short in the least. It’s just that I can almost hear Vince’s voice at times when Cole gets on a roll.)

Ross responded with what will most likely become Cole’s new “Weasel”-like nickname (much like Bobby Heenan before him): “Rat Bastard.” As it appeared the two announcers would resort to fisticuffs, with both men removing their suit jackets, Cole’s own personal trainer, Jack Swagger, attacked Jerry from behind and then entered the ring for a stare-down with his fellow Oklahoman. (I half expected Danny Hodge to hit the ring at this point to make the save.) Swagger put Ross in the ankle lock, with Cole taunting him. The King made a comeback but Cole jumped on his back, which seemed oddly familiar to me.

As Swagger turned his attention to Jerry, applying the ankle lock, Cole applied his own version of the maneuver (apparently, he’s a quick study) on Ross. While legendary promoter Sam Muchnick probably wouldn’t have approved, the St. Louis crowd responded with old-school chorus of boos. Very effective, riveting TV.

At this rate, with Austin and Ross in the mix, the Lawler vs. Cole showdown could potentially be one of the highlights of WrestleMania. The execution of the program has been far, far better than say, last year’s much anticipated McMahon vs. Bret Hart ‘Mania match buildup.

Business, as Ross says, is about to pick up.

Marked Men: Behind the curtain of Memphis wrestling was the real show

September 8th, 2010 5 comments

Even Foley found it hard to have a nice day in Memphis.

While professional wrestling is usually regarded as a man’s soap opera (or, ahem, sports entertainment), the best stories unfold backstage. And, no, I’m not talking about those poorly scripted “spontaneous” moments that the Raw and Smackdown! cameramen just happen to catch each week.

During my run in Memphis, old-timer Buddy Wayne, an ex-wrestler turned promoter, would often pull me aside and say, “You’ve got your degree . Why do you stick with this shit? You don’t make any money. And if you’re in this business for any other reason than to make money, then you’re a fool.”

Years later, I read Mick Foley’s documentation of his talk with Memphis referee Frank Morrell, which took place years before he joined the WWF for the good of Mankind. From Foley’s best-selling autobiography Have a Nice Day : “Frank was a veteran wrestler turned referee, who seemingly made it his goal to torment every college graduate about his decision to wrestle. ‘You’ve got a college education. Why don’t you use it instead of being in this godforsaken business.’ My time in Memphis was as miserable as it was valuable.” (I must admit I also marked out when Foley told Randy Hales to fuck off in his book. Seems Cactus didn’t appreciate Hales’s insistence that he not stray from the traditional heel formula in Memphis.)

When I read Foley’s account of his Memphis tour of duty, I couldn’t empathize more. Granted, even mid-card guys like Morrell used to make a damn good living working places like Memphis and Georgia. But the real reason the boys put up with the travel and injuries is because it’s a highly addictive, fascinating business. Must be why Morrell continued to ref for peanuts in 1996 and why Wayne kept promoting shows that would draw only about 250 people in Rooster Poot, Ark.

Not to be outdone by a visionary like McMahon, promoter Wayne had his own unique way of making money with his shows. He would take two agonizingly long 30-minute intermissions for a five-match card. “If the people are sitting there with nothing to do, then they’ll go get something to eat at the concession stand,” he reasoned.

After years in the ring, promoter Buddy Wayne knew the real money was in popcorn sales.

Although I probably lost money on some shots I made around the territory (e.g., the 15-hour round trip to Louisville), I stayed on because I loved it. Like Foley, it was my dream to be in the business. Not only for the thrill of performing, but also for the antics backstage. Believe me, if it weren’t for the fun behind the scenes, most of the boys wouldn’t be in the business. In that sense, that made us the biggest marks of all.

The absolute best was hanging out backstage at the WMC-TV studio during the live Memphis wrestling show, especially if Lawler was in town. It was an odd scene: wrestlers changing into spandex and rubbing copious amounts of baby oil over their bodies in the station’s break-room area as WMC employees–indifferent after so many years of TV tapings–scurried around these unusual characters without blinking an eye. Once we were on the air, the running critiques and putdowns by Lawler were better than anything he does on RAW nowadays. It was also interesting to watch how Lawler and other veterans “helped” the rookies.

Sure, most of the boys in Memphis at that time were doing the first promos of their lives—and on live TV—but occasionally a young guy would cut a decent interview, more of a testament to Lance Russell, who could pull one or two comments out of the most tightlipped newcomer. Lawler would be watching the promo on the monitor in the back, saying “Good. Good. OK. End it now before you screw up. Good.” And then the guy would emerge behind the curtain wearing a satisfied grin, and Lawler would greet him with something like this: “What the fuck was that? Geez.” Like a paddled schoolboy, the rookie would sulk to the back, all confidence shattered. After the poor chump was out of earshot, the boys would erupt with laughter. And why not? Lawler was the Big King on Campus.

I was no exception to this bullying early in my career. That is, until I noticed the pattern. The first time I called their bluff, they left me alone. And, looking back, maybe that was the point of the heckling: Figure out for yourself when you know the business and get to the point that you don’t give a shit what others think. The key to making money in the business is individuality, and you can’t have that if you’re second-guessing yourself.

Yes, in many ways, Lawler was not only the class clown/bullying jock, but also the teacher. When the live show was pre-empted in the months leading up to the first Gulf War, most of the boys were dumbfounded; they had no idea that a potential conflict was likely. What followed amused me: A number of the boys backstage circled around Lawler, who explained where the troops were headed and the background of this new heel, Saddam Hussein. Midway through the impromptu lesson, Reggie B. Fine raised his hand to ask a geography-related question. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Reggie to death, but that was damn funny.

For me, it got to the point that Lawler would override Randy Hales’s decision to cut my interview time, enabling me to do whatever I wanted. On live TV. I’m sure at times, however, Lawler would regret that decision.

Even after I had established my confidence, Lawler still ribbed me; however, it was never a knock on my work. And there’s a big difference. One Saturday morning, he planned an angle where I was to fire Tex Slazenger, who had lost the USWA title to Lawler the previous week. Upon hearing the news of his dismissal, Tex was to pull my pants down. Well, Tex not only yanked my Polo khakis down to my ankles but also my boxer shorts. As Russell quickly went to a commercial break, I crawled toward the back, struggling to pull up my pants. I met Lawler’s boots and voice as I opened the curtain. “Do you realize that the entire city just saw your ass and your dick on TV? Oh, fuck, Bowden!” (Ironically enough, Tex would move on to the Naked Mideon gimmick during WWE’s Attitude Era.) I immediately thought of my poor parents watching at home. After the show, I headed straight to their house for any damage control that might be necessary. Instead, they laughed it off as no big deal, which I couldn’t figure out. I nervously watched the replay on their VCR. Somehow, the camera hadn’t caught any of my privates. Lawler got me pretty good on that one.

The dressing-room dynamic would change a bit when the WWF(E) stars would come down. About two weeks after I had headlined the main event at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis in front of the usual 1,200 or so regular hardcores, the crowd just about doubled for a decidedly more attractive main event: Lawler and the returning Jeff Jarrett (that’s J-E-Doubah-F…oh, never mind) vs.then-WWF champion Bret Hart and The Undertaker.

McMahon’s two biggest draws (although in ’96, that was nothing to brag about) were in town as part of his working relationship with Jerry Jarrett, the longtime owner of the Memphis-based promotion. Around 1992 Vince had finally realized he had no other promotion left to raid after he had run nearly everyone else out of business. And given Jarrett’s track record for producing future stars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage (whose bodies and gimmicks were now getting old fast), it wasn’t a surprise when McMahon struck an agreement with the elder Double J.

McMahon would sign greenhorns, like Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, and send them to Memphis under developmental deals, which would complement those $60 payoffs from Lawler and Jarrett quite nicely, i.e., they could survive. Kurt Angle was another future WWF champ who had a nice run in Memphis before his New York debut.

In exchange for grooming these would-be superstars of tomorrow, Jarrett and Lawler would occasionally receive the services of WWF stars who happened to have the night off from Vince’s schedule. The rationale was that the presence of the WWF would enable the struggling USWA to survive as a farm league of sorts, a feeder system.

I’m sure the WWF boys were thrilled when they were directed to Memphis on their free nights, especially when some guys spent years earlier struggling to get out of the territory for greener pastures in the first place. In the early days of the Mankind gimmick, Foley was sent back down to the Memphis minors during my time there to as part of a trial run working in the leather mask. As Mankind charged the ring during a TV bout in which I was managing Reggie vs. Lawler, I nervously screamed to Dave Brown over the microphone, “This guy’s crazy, Dave. He makes Hannibal Lecter look like Mr. Rogers!” After the TV taping, I drove Foley to Nashville for that night’s matches. When I picked him up, Foley was staying at a $35-a-night motel across from the Summer Ave. Twin Drive-In—his infamous frugality in action. Talking shop with Foley during that three-hour drive was a career highlight.

Given the nature of our demographic at the time, it was almost fortunate that Hart and ‘Taker were available for that particular Monday night—Feb. 14, 1996. Dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the event played host to several couples, some wearing matching Jerry Lawler T-shirts, all ready for an evening of rasslin’ and romance. And really, don’t the two go fist in fist?

The regular crew of washed-up Memphis boys who didn’t see the bright lights of New York at the end of the tunnel looked for ways of their own to benefit from the WWF relationship. On this night, Billy Travis and Reggie B. Fine had the local photographer take several pictures of them posing with The Undertaker, which wound up for sale for $3 at the Mrs. Guy Coffee’s gimmick (merchandise) table as early as the following week.

Once, when comedian Pauly Shore made an appearance on the show, an enterprising Travis jumped at the chance for a photo-op with the then-hot star, so he could make a few extra bucks. Somehow, Shore’s agent got wind of it, and sent Travis a letter threatening legal action if the actor’s photos remained a part of Mrs. Coffee’s wrestling wares. Travis, a talented performer and a nice guy, passed away in 2002 at the age of 4o—one of many untimely heart-related wrestling deaths.

Black hearts: Brian Christopher Lawler and Eddie Gilbert sport the Hart Foundation's colors in Memphis.

Although I usually ducked out if I wasn’t part of the main event, giving me enough time to escape to my car and exit the parking lot unscathed, I hung around to see Hart work. I must admit that I, too, wanted my pic taken with Hart, but there was no way I was going to add to his angst—more out of respect than anything else. Especially with all the Memphis undercard guys hanging around like marks, hoping for the chance to speak with the WWF stars.

I kept to myself, as I often did in the dressing room, munching on the remnants of the huge box of chocolates allegedly sent to me on the air the previous Saturday by Mrs. Downtown Bruno. (You put out free food in the dressing room in Memphis, and the boys are on it like the Four Horsemen on Dusty in a parking lot.) I remember I was bummed because the angle with Bruno and his wife, Karen, was going nowhere faster than the Dusty/Larry Zbyszko/Baby Doll “blackmail photos” fiasco. Or Dusty’s Midnight Rider return in ’88. Or Dusty’s “Funky Like a Monkey Tour.” Ah, the Dusty/Crockett years…risky bidness, indeed. You can’t judge a booker by looking at the cover; however, you can judge one by how he ruined the company—in public, if you will.

Lawler used to hate it when I’d mention even remotely obscure names during my promos. And I often took veiled shots at those in the biz who I didn’t like. During a promo about Slazenger, I proclaimed my former charge to be “the stupidest wrestler to ever come out of the state of Texas…and that includes Dusty Rhodes and the Von Erichs.” (Out of the corner of my eye, I saw announcer Lance Russell grinning at that remark.) Lawler used to compare me to Brian Pillman, calling me “our loose cannon.” I took it as a compliment

As Hart left his dressing room for his tag match, he saw Brian Lawler, who had made the unfortunate choice of wearing pink tights and black trunks, the Hitman’s trademark colors. Brian had also been using Hart’s sharpshooter maneuver in recent weeks, which I believe Jerry stooged off to the WWF champ as a rib.

Hart says to Brian: “What tha?! You steal my move and now my colors?” Brian, who usually wasn’t nearly as quick-witted as his father, came back with a good one: “Yeah, but Bret, when you do it [the sharpshooter], you roll to the right. I go to the left.” Hart, hardly the excellence of insults, laughed and dropped it.

Brian didn’t fare as well in a battle of backstage wits with me. During a road trip two weeks prior, Jerry asked Brian’s girlfriend to name all the planets in the solar system. When she couldn’t name a single one, Jerry gave her a hint: “Well, for starters, what’s the name of the planet we live on?” Her reply: “The world.” Jerry, laughing uncontrollably, said, “No! No! Earth! We live on Earth!” Dumbfounded, Brian’s girl explained that she thought the term “Earth” represented the entire solar system. Brian was livid. Throwing salt into the eyes, Lawler pressed on: “Let me give you another hint. Mickey Mouse’s dog is….” Her response: “Pluto! See, y’all, I know my Disney.” Lawler nearly ran off the road on that one. I hadn’t seen him laugh that hard since Downtown Bruno had informed the King that he’d sent Vince McMahon a canned ham for Christmas.

The following Saturday, Lawler was looking to stir things up. He told me that Brian had been knocking my girlfriend to the boys–I suspect because Kristi didn’t wear makeup like a hooker or have a fake tan and big hair. (Kristi was more of Midtown hippie chick–very intelligent and sardonic, with great curves and sublime, natural  tits like a late ’60s-era Playmate.) I replied to the King that at least my girl had a brain. Lawler’s eyes lit up, and he motioned me to the back where all the boys were getting dressed. He asked Brian: “Hey, what about Scott Bowden’s girlfriend?” Brian: “Geez. I wouldn’t give her the time of day.” I came back with: “Oh, yeah? At least my girlfriend knows the name of the fuckin’ planet we’re living on.” A collective “Ooooooohhh” from the boys followed as Lawler again nearly doubled over laughing. Score one for Germantown’s favorite son.

In Memphis dressing rooms, a quick wit was the ideal foreign object.