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YouTube Finds: Jim Cornette does the WrestleRock Rumble–Get on!

September 24th, 2010 2 comments

Listening to this record once would leave any man wailin', "Mercy!"

Not to be outdone by Vince McMahon and his Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, Verne Gagne presented his WrestleRock supercard at the Metrodome in Minneapolis in 1986, a loaded lineup that also included a performance by rocker country-and-western singer Waylon Jennings.

What better way to promote Jennings and a card called WrestleRock than with a rap song: “The WrestleRock Rumble,” an ingenious take-off on the Chicago Bears’ “Super Bowl.” (And people say Verne Gagne was out of touch in the mid-’80s? I don’t think so–clearly, he had his finger on the pulse of America’s youth. Eat your heart out, Cyndi Lauper.)

For those who are gluttons for punishment, I rewrote the “WrestleRock Rumble” using WWE’s stars of today back in 2007. Click here if you dare: “The WWE Hustle.” (Can’t believe my version didn’t make WrestleCrap.)

Below, Jim Cornette relieves the greatest promotional video for a wrestling card ever produced. I love the expression on Jimmy’s face when Greg Gagne threatens to grind up Bruiser Brody in a cage and closes with Ric Flair’s “Woooo!” (Special thanks to my buddy GShea from Nashville for posting this.)

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Memphis Wrestling YouTube Finds: Jim Cornette is a smooth negotiator

September 1st, 2010 2 comments

Jim Cornette and I are still trying to pin down a date for our Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ interview–JC’s as busy as ever nowadays. Hope to have it within the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, take a look at this Memphis TV clip from September 1982, shortly after Cornette’s debut. Rebuffed by Jerry Lawler a week earlier, Jimmy attempts to negotiate a contract–his first official public offer, mind you–with Bill Dundee. Although not the polished promo master he’d become in just a few short years, Cornette already displays his natural ability in getting over with the spoiled mama’s boy act, which was actually inspired by Gary Hart’s gimmick early in his career. (It didn’t hurt that Cornette was in fact close with his mother, and the two were ringside regulars at Louisville Gardens for years.)

JC and Sherri reunited at a wrestling convention before her untimely death.

Following this public humilation, the former photographer/would-be manager offered an “incentive” funded by his mother to any wrestler who could injure the King and the Superstar. (The Cornettes were too sophisticated to offer a bounty, hence the term “incentive.”) One wrestler finally had faith in Cornette: the late Sherri Martel, who earned the distinction as the first performer managed by the Louisville Slugger at a September show at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis.

Shortly after, Cornette had a brief stint managing Dutch Mantell, who fired him after his interference resulted in the native of Oil Trough, Texas, being disqualified in a Southern title match with Lawler on October 4, 1982.

Dutch was playing the role of a tough-talkin’ babyface/borderline heel who only cared about titles and money, always looking for an advantage over his opponent–ethical or not. Following a pop-quiz on Memphis TV, the Dutchman was convinced that Cornette could provide an edge in his rematch with Lawler. He was wrong. During the bout, Mantell had Lawler pinned, but referee Jerry Calhoun was (shockingly) knocked senseless. Cornette entered the ring to help the ref regain his senses and guided him over to make three count; instead, Calhoun called for the bell, disqualifying Mantell for outside interference. A good finish that made sense, playing off Cornette’s inexperience.
Mantell knew immediately that JC was destined for great things in the business, dating back to conversations he had during photo shoots with Cornette.
 “I thought Jimmy was a natural from day one,” Dutch told me. “I really think he was a natural because he was a serious student of wrestling. And he studied wrestling like most people study map books. If you want to be a mathematician, you know, you studied the craft. And he, you know, even talking to him today, he’s got thousands and thousands and thousands of hours on of footage on DVD that’s transferred from VHS. But, I always thought Jimmy would do well.”

 From Cornette’s point of view, his first main-event experience was harrowing, as he recalls in the Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook, “My second time at ringside, I was in the main event with Jerry Lawler before 5,000 fans. I was scared shitless and almost had a stroke.” 

Rookie mistake: Cornette's first main event appearance cost Dutch Mantell the Southern title.

Anatomy of an angle: Robert Fuller’s last stand in Memphis leads to Tupelo concession-stand brawl

July 27th, 2010 2 comments

Even wrestling fans couldn't believe it when Memphis crowds dropped to less than 4,000 fans at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1979.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be interviewing Jim Cornette for Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ as soon as the controversial manager comes up for a breath following the upcoming NWA Legends Fan Fest in Charlotte. Jim and I finally met again at the 2009 Fan Fest, years after we briefly worked together in the the Memphis-based USWA in 1991, and we had a nice time discussing what made Jerry Jarrett’s territory so special in its heyday.

Similar to my four-part interview series with Dutch Mantell, Jim and I will be discussing all the great Memphis angles from the ’70s and ’80s, getting his perspective as a fan, photographer and, eventually, as a performer before Jerry Jarrett traded him, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey (among others) to Bill Watts and Mid-South Wrestling, where the dastardly trio found their niche as the Midnight Express.

As most of you may know, Jim has his own Web site (confirming that, indeed, hell has frozen over), where he often recall’s wrestling’s history while lamenting the changes that have made our beloved onetime caricature of true sport into a sports-entertainment caricature of itself. Case in point, Cornette’s excellent column from May 20, 2009, where he details booker Robert Fuller’s final days as booker in Memphis in 1979 and the angle Jarrett conceived in the days after his departure to spark the territory…unwittingly creating the now-beaten-to-death concept of “hardcore” wrestling.

Cornette writes: “The real birth of…what has come to be known as “Hardcore” wrestling, came June 17, 1979, in, of all places, Tupelo, Mississippi. Promoter Jerry Jarrett, who had started his own promotion two years earlier and taken over Gulas’ area, had a problem. Over the previous four months or so, his booker had been Robert Fuller. Fuller had installed his own crew of talent over that time, and only a few Memphis mainstays were currently working the area. The problem was, for whatever reason, the success Fuller and his crew had in Knoxville for brother Ron’s Southeastern Wrestling had not translated to the Memphis end. On June 11, the crowd at the weekly Monday night matches in Memphis had dropped below 4,000 fans, an alarming level at the time, and previous weeks’ houses showed it wasn’t a fluke. Jarrett replaced Fuller (and I would love to someday hear the first-person account from Jerry of that conversation), and took the book back himself. Now he was in another quandary–almost all the top names featured on TV and in angles over the previous several months were gone–Fuller, the Mongolian Stomper, Gorgeous George Jr., Mr. Fuji & Prof. Tanaka, Ronnie Garvin, Jimmy Golden, Dick Slater, Boris Malenko, Tony Charles, all were gone from the territory instantly after the June 11 Memphis card. Jarrett, in my opinion a booking genius, realized he had to take the talent left available to him on short notice and do something that would get such attention, cause such talk, and most importantly, sell enough tickets, that the territory could weather this storm until he had time to build new programs and import new stars.

In Tupelo, Jarrett booked his two top names, Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee, to defend the Southern Tag Team Title against two prelim wrestlers who had been teaming the previous two weeks–Wayne Farris (later Honky Tonk Man) and Larry Latham (later Moondog Spot). In a wild match where everyone bled and the crowd of 300 or so was on their feet, Farris and Latham scored an upset by screwing Lawler and Dundee and winning the belts. Lawler and Dundee, pissed off, attacked the heels after the match and they spilled out of the ring and fought down the aisle. Lance Russell, in the “crow’s nest” of the arena with a TV camera allegedly shooting for the “B” show that featured arena matches from around the area, signed off and the camera faded to black. The audio, however, was still up. Within 10 seconds you heard Lance yell to the cameraman Randy West, “Hey Randy, there’s a hell of a fight going on down here!” Video coming back up, you saw the camera moved down the back stairs, where Lance, carrying a light pole, shone the spotlight on all 4 men in the concession stand of the Tupelo Sports Arena, a dump of a place with plywood walls, and they were literally destroying the place. Stiff punches and kicks, chairs, tables, cookie sheets, brooms, mops, everything you would expect to find in a concession stand was used along with some of the most realistic brawling you will ever see, as the two teams beat the bejesus out of each other with Lance calling the action. Jarrett, trying to break up the brawl, was beaten down and had his street clothes ripped off. Finally, the combatants were hustled out by security and wrestlers, and the stand was completely destroyed and what was left was covered in blood and mustard, courtesy of a 10 gallon mustard jug Lawler had chucked at Latham that broke against the wall in a million pieces.
(Bowden’s note: To see footage of the infamous Tupelo concession stand brawl, click here: Jerry Lawler Concession Stand Brawl.)
 
The next morning on Memphis TV, the entire tape was shown unedited, and became the talk of the town’s wrestling fans. In an area noted for wild matches, no one had ever seen anything like this. The following week, it had become such a sensation it was shown again in it’s entirety, as well as airing on the one week tape delay in the other markets, Louisville, Nashville, Evansville and Lexington. Kenny Bolin and I went everywhere repeating Lance’s call of the action–”Mustard everywhere!”–and this incident actually convinced me to buy one of those newfangled inventions called a VCR.
 
Adding Sgt. Danny Davis as the manager of Latham & Farris, the Blonde Bombers, Jarrett booked the return matches on top in every town in the territory, filling out the cards with local talent and running Tommy & Eddie Gilbert vs. Buddy & Ken Wayne as the only other real “program” on the cards. In Memphis, he brought Fargo back to offset Davis. The crowds in all the cities started to rise. By July 18, the Memphis crowd was near 7,000, and two weeks later, a triple main event of Bill Dundee vs. Nick Bockwinkle for the AWA Title, Jackie & Roughouse Fargo vs. the Bombers in a cage, and Ron Bass vs. newcomer Terry “The Hulk” Boulder for the Southern Title drew 8,000. A crisis had been averted.”
 
 Another  reason why Fuller’s cards didn’t draw toward the end of his booking tenure (following a decent series of cards with Lawler vs. Austin Idol): For over a month, the territory centered around qualifying matches for a Memorial Day tournament in which the winner would receive the keys to…a brand-new…van. While this was 1979, it still seems a little silly to think all those wrestlers would have to win a half-dozen qualifying matches just to earn the right to enter the tournament for the possibility of winning a van. After all that buildup, the holiday spectactular on May 28 drew just 4,701 fans for the tourney…which, of course, was won by Fuller. The writing was on the wall at that point–Jarrett had to make a switch. Still, Fuller seemed awfully proud of his accomplishment on the June 2 Saturday morning show.

 

As Cornette pointed out, the June 11 card proved to be Fuller’s last. The following week, nearly all the wrestlers Fuller brought with him from the Southeastern promotion were packed up and gone–presumably in Robert’s van. Again, on paper it doesn’t seem like a bad card, but the chemistry just wasn’t there. Following Idol’s departure, there were no personal feuds that captured the imagination of the fans, which would drastically change in the months ahead.

Jarrett followed the July 18 card up with a hot crowd for the July 23 Memphis card, which drew about 7,000 fans for a main event of the Freebirds vs. Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee. In the audience that night were fans from the WFIA Convention (including the late Brian Hildebrand), Cornette…and 8-year-old mark Scott Bowden, which I wrote about here. The Bombers/Lawler and Dundee drew several strong houses along the way–as Cornette pointed out, Jarrett even called on area legends Jackie Fargo and Roughhouse Fargo to join the fray to spike attendance, which always worked for a few weeks out of the year when business was a little slow. After that feud ran its course, the King turned against the Superstar, once again giving the area one of the hottest heels in the business. After cheating his way past Dundee the week before to win the opportunity, Lawler challenged Bockwinkel for the AWA World title on Aug. 27 , drawing over 10,000 fans–and the Robert Fuller era was a distant memory.

For more information on how you can relive virtually the entire 1979 season of Memphis wrestling, click here.

Look for the Jim Cornette interview on Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ in mid-August.