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Monday night Memphis wrestling memories featuring Jerry Lawler, Terry Funk, Eddie Gilbert, Austin Idol…and Elvis Presley?

March 12th, 2012 No comments

Eighteen years ago, I was a skinny college senior finishing my BA in journalism at the newly christened The University of Memphis. (It was years before I stopped saying, “Memphis State,” when asked about my alma mater. Even then, I felt silly saying the new, apparently more prestigious name.)

This photo appeared in the U of M yearbook. I love the caption: Scott Bowden, journalism senior, prepares to make a ruling. Then it quotes me mentioning how getting hit with chairs is an inherent risk of the job.

In addition to a full class load (desperately trying to cram in all those math courses I’d put off for 4-plus years) and my part-time jobs as a writer for the Memphis State University  The University of Memphis (Alumni) Magazine during the week as well as a tug driver/plane loader for FedEx on weekend afternoons, I was a working as a referee for Saturday morning rasslin’ and at the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights.

Of course, I had to pass an accelerated course in Referring 101 by Jerry Lawler backstage after the promotion had fired Jerry Calhoun in spring 1991.

While it may seem odd that journalism led to my brief but exhilarating run in the business, in a way it made perfect sense as I was a voracious reader of not only comics books, but also sci-fi novels and any books on larger-than-life subjects such as the Loch Ness Monster, Alcatraz and the Bermuda Triangle as well as the newsstand wrestling magazines (a.k.a., the Apter mags) since I was about 7 years old.


I considered myself lucky to be in the right place at the right time to live my dream of appearing alongside the same heroes and heels I’d cheered and jeered as a kid, not to mention the voices of Memphis wrestling, Lance Russell and Dave Brown, who helped guide me through my initial interviews when I eventually turned heel. (And trust me, it wasn’t always easy being a heel in your hometown, especially when you’re feuding with Jerry Lawler.) OK, so one promo with Brown turned ugly….

But my heel turn was still months away on Saturday morning, March 5, 1994. On this day, the live Memphis TV show was geared toward promoting a reunion show with not only the regular crew but also special appearances by legends Sputnik Monroe, Don & Al Greene, and Jackie Fargo as well as the return of classic in-ring performers from the territory’s heyday, such as Terry Funk and Austin Idol.

Handsome” Jimmy Valiant had come in early for the show, and just as Dave Brown described him years later, he was subdued before exploding through the curtain to hype the biggest card in Mempho in years. One of the fondest memories of my peek behind the curtain of the business: Lawler and Eddie Gilbert standing side by side at the backstage monitor (where most of the comedy happened), laughing hysterically as quiet “Handsome” Jimmy morphed into his boisterous, lovable Mempho persona on camera. It was a special moment–one that felt like the old days when I was a young fan watching at home yet somehow privy to this backstage experience.

At that point, the promotion was still hoping Jimmy Hart would make a cameo Monday night. Although it was not to be (scheduling conflicts, though Hart tried to the bitter end to make the show), the Mouth of the South quickly arranged a song saluting the Monday night mayhem that made him–and countless others–a damn good living in the age before cable TV. (Let’s face it: It’s not easy to come up with a lyric following “Tojo Yamamoto.”) I realize this likely comes off cheesy to those who never had the Memphis experience. To me, though, I nearly get teary-eyed every time I see it. Truly came off like a love letter from Hart to, ironically, the people who hated him for years. (I recall the spot in the following video when Tommy Rich punches Gypsy Joe and covers him: Lawler and Gilbert almost simultaneously bellowed, “Back then, that was a finish!”)

The nostalgia paid off-literally. Instead of the 2,500 regulars, more than 8,000 fans (paying more than $32,000) showed up, which was was reflected in my paycheck. (I made $75 instead of $50.)

Still, it wasn’t about the money. I’d practically begged to work the show, as I was anxious to meet Funk, one of my favorite performers. I confided in Eddie Gilbert (my first mistake, as Hot Stuff was a great ribber) that Funk and I had a mutual friend in actor Red West.

West was Elvis Presley’s former bodyguard and best friend, who’d forged a successful career as a character actor, including an appearance with Funk in the classic (ahem) Patrick Swayze vehicle ROAD HOUSE. West, a former member of Presley’s Memphis Mafia, had turned part of his home into a makeshift actors’ studio, located near my hometown of (ahem) Germantown, Tenn.

I had been a student at the Red West Actors Studio for a few months, adding to my busy schedule.

I later learned that Eddie had informed Terry that a nervous rookie ref would be approaching him, using the West connection as a way to break the ice. As I hesitantly approached Funk in the dressing room, his eyes widened before he said, “Who the hell are you?” I quietly introduced myself as the ref and quickly offered up Red West’s name. He looked at me incredulously, slowing saying, “I don’t know any Fred West.” I looked at the ground, shuffling my feet, before speaking up, “Um, no sir. I said, “Red West.” Funk’s reply: “I already told you: I’don’t know any Fred West!” Needless to say, I was scared shitless. I looked over at Eddie, who began shaking his head and waving me off. Undaunted, I pressed ahead, a little louder this time: “No, sir! RED West!” Funk stared me right in the eyes before he cracked. He began laughing, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Oh, Red West! I know that guy! He’s a helluva guy!” We then talked for a bit about Red, as I noticed Eddie with a broad smile on his mug. Clearly, I’d been set up.


Following the six-man tag introductions, I made my rounds to all the participants inspecting their boots and tights for foreign objects. Growing up in the kayfabe era, I’d seen refs perform the frisks to add to the realism, but given this was 1994—with six wrestlers in the ring, no less—I probably should have let it go. By the time I got to Idol, the boys had been standing in the ring for about two minutes. In that classic throaty delivery, Idol says to me, “Mr. Referreeee…have we rung the bell yet?” I mumble, “Um…no, not yet.” Idol glared down at me checking his boots, saying, “Well…why don’t we ring it then?”

Oh. Right. Yessir!

To give you an idea of just how highly Idol’s work is still regarded today, the Rock never saw much footage of the Universal Heartthrob until the late ’90s—Dwayne Johnson reportedly was blown away at just how brilliant Idol’s promos were.

Later that evening, Tommy Rich piledrove me in the ring, signaling the end of the six-man tag involving Funk.

Even though I was supposedly knocked out from the piledriver, selling it like the Kennedy assassination, Funk picked up my lifeless body by the hair, screaming, “C’mere, you sonuvabitch!” The former NWA World champ punched me before putting the boots to me. Then Rich scooped up my prone body and gave me my second piledriver. Brutalized by two ex-NWA champs in the same match–dream come true, really.

Monday night memories to last a lifetime.

Groovy grapplin’: Rare 1978 Memphis wrestling footage featuring Jerry Lawler now available

March 5th, 2012 1 comment

That '70s show: Memphis wrestling from the 1970s has never looked better.

Most longtime Memphis wrestling fans are familiar with the infamous 1979 Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl between Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee vs. The Blonde Bombers (Wayne Ferris, the future Honky Tonk Man, and Larry Latham, a.k.a, Moondog Spot), which caused a young Jim Cornette to buy a VCR to tape the incredible footage, and years later, inspired the hardcore style of action that would make ECW a cult phenomenon. Most important, the Tupelo brawl raised the houses in Memphis, Nashville and Louisville, crowds that had been dwindling under Robert Fuller’s booking.

The sequel in 1981 was more violent (though not as effective draw-wise) than the original, as the very young Southern team of Eddie Gilbert and Rick Morton defended the good ol’ U.S.A. by bringing the good fight to the evil Japanese contingent of Mr. Onita, Masa Fuchi and Tojo Yamamoto, with glass and condiments once again flying in the concession stand in Tupelo. (Onita would later bring this brand of hardcore to Japan as part of his FMW promotion.) More than anything, it got the fans to believe that Morton (son of referee Paul Morton) and Eddie (son of longtime wrestler Tommy Gilbert) were not just two young punks who broke into the biz because of their daddies; these boys could fight.

Turns out the “original” Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl might have occurred a year earlier in January 1978.

Rick Crane over at 70s-tv.com has once again outdone himself, locating rare Memphis wrestling footage from 1978 and 1983 pulled straight from the master tapes. The 1978 set features rare Lawler footage in excellent quality, including the final minutes of the NWA World title Broadway between the challenger and Harley Race in December 1977, and a grudge match with the King vs. his “creation” Dr. Frank. The gem of the ’78 set (Volume 2 of the “Umatic Master Series”) might just be a fantastic 2-out-3-falls bout between Lawler and Robert Gibson vs. the highly underrated team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey, managed by “Kangaroo” Al Costello, armed with his trusty boomerang. (Gibson and Condrey, of course, would later go on to feud as members of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Midnight Express, respectively.)

As Rick explains, “Over the Christmas holidays, I purchased a large collection of these priceless original Masters from Jeff Osborne. Jeff had purchased these in 1992. Even though Jarrett has reported they recorded over these umatics to save money, a few of them did survive. Each tape had varying dates and at the end of each one, you see the last minute of another show that was underneath. When I picked up my DVD transfers, I was so excited at the quality that was still there. Not being too over the top but, I simply have NOT seen the old shows look this good. Keep in mind that even though these ARE the BROADCAST MASTERS, it is still 30-year-old tape. Some have survived better than others. Even the least good is still better than the best VHS tape. This first volume covers the 3-5-83 show in 60 minute format. The 2nd show is the Legendary 6-5-83 Sunday version on Lawler vs. Dundee: Loser Leave Town Discussion. I do prefer this one to the Saturday show. This turned out to be one of the best-preserved shows. So much fun to watch. I will be releasing more volumes of this series in the coming weeks. I have more shows from 1983, 1981 and a few even from 1978!”

Volume 1 of the “Umatic Masters Series” is available now by clicking here. Volumes 2 and 3 featuring 1978 and 1983 footage, respectively, will be available to order on Monday, March 19 only at 70s-TV.com.

Below is the third fall of the action with Lawler/Gibson vs. Hickerson/Condrey from the Tupelo Sports Arena–which turns into a great Memphis-style bloody brawl. The Pier-6er spills out into the crowd and down below into the concession stand, setting the groundwork for the tremendous brawl a year later. (Any tracking issues you see is strictly from the YouTube upload, as Rick’s DVDs are virtually flawless, especially given the age of the footage.)

Lance Russell explains in the aftermath that the cameraman was unable to make it down to the concession stand to document the mayhem. (This would also prove problematic a year later when an exasperated Lance exults to cameraman Randy West, “C’mon, get the camera down here, we gotta a helluva fight going on! Arrgh–the cord’s caught in the damn door!”) From Lance’s description, the Lawler/Gibson vs. Hickerson/Condrey ’78 version sounds nearly identical to the 1979 brawl that would achieve such notoriety. (Gibson and his brother, the late Rick Gibson, would engage in another Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl with the Blonde Bombers in April 1980–a desperate attempt to spark houses with Lawler on the shelf nursing a broken leg.)

Also included on the ’78 Memphis Wrestling Disc from the “Umatic Master Series” are matches from the June 26, 1978, card at the Mid-South Coliseum, including Jimmy Valiant and Bill Dundee vs. Frankie Lane and Mike Boyer (the future Apocalypse) in a New York City Street Brawl (pretty funny seeing the boys fight in their ’70s-era duds); Special Added Bout: Valiant vs. Joe LeDuc in a Strap Match (an injured Lawler makes an fiery appearance); LeDuc vs. Tommy Gilbert; and Steve Kyle vs. John Louie. Again, this is some of the highest-quality footage I’ve seen from the era–a rare treat. Both ’78 shows–on one disc–run nearly 50 minutes each.

Also on Monday, March 19, you can order the Saturday morning TV shows (Louisville feed) from 1/8/83 and 1/15/83 as part of Volume 3. I’ve seen these episodes before but never in this kind of quality–practically bursting with color. Volume 3 of the “Umatic Master Series” includes:

AIRDATE: 1-8-1983 Sheepherders vs. Bobby Fulton/Ira Reese; Jerry Lawler vs. The Invader; Lawler vs. Nick Bockwinkle (AWA World Heavyweight Title Match); Bill Dundee vs. Apocalypse;, Terry Taylor/Jacques Rougeau vs. Bobby Eaton/Koko Ware.

AIRDATE: 1-15-1983 Sheepherders vs. Ira Reese/Ken Raper;, Fabs Promo; Hart Promo, Lawler vs. Bockwinkle (Andy Kaufman returns); Bill Dundee/Terry Taylor vs. Bobby Eaton/Brown Sugar; Lawler vs. Sabu; Adrian Street/Jesse Barr vs. King Cobra/Bobby Fulton.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy all this wild and wooly action as much as I did. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning–or maybe just any Saturday morning of my childhood as I sat transfixed in front of my parents’ TV at 11 a.m. as the unique style of Memphis rasslin’ unfolded before me as part of “another BIG day of Championship Wrestling action.” (As Lance would, and often did, say.)

Like, totally awesome: An in-depth look at Memphis and Mid-South Wrestling TV in 1983

November 18th, 2011 8 comments

The year 1983 dropkicked off with a bang in Jerry Jarrett’s territory. A continued smorgasbord of memorable Memphis mayhem was sure to follow in the New Year after the table had been set in 1982 with the emergence of the Fabulous Ones; debuts of fresh young talent like Terry Taylor and Jacques Rougeau; the continued hilarious, motor-mouth promos of manager Jimmy Hart, the leader of The First Family;  the introduction of Kimala, the Ugandan Giant; Andy Kaufman’s reign as Intergender champion; the tag-team excellence of Koko Ware and Bobby Eaton; and Jerry Lawler’s classic clashes with natural-born nemesis Nick Bockwinkel, the AWA World champion, whom the King had seemingly dethroned in front of 10,000-plus fans at the Mid-South Coliseum on Dec. 27, 1982.

A fabulous year: Stan and Steve were a red-hot box-office draw heading into 1983.

In many ways, Memphis started off 1983 so hot, packed with a variety of talent, that it seemed almost too good to last. In fact, with the pending invasion of the Vince McMahon marketing machine, two of the most innovative promotions in the country–Jarrett’s Memphis territory and Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling were struggling to maintain consistent success at the box office by October 1983. After assessing each other’s product, including Watts visiting the Coliseum, and Lawler and Jarrett traveling to Shreveport for a TV taping (marking the first time the King and Jim Ross teamed on commentary), the two promotions traded talent. (Jim Cornette, who was shipped to Mid-South to begin his solo managerial career along with Eaton and veteran Dennis Condrey has since referred to it as the only time Jarrett came out on the short end of the stick in a deal.) But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Last week, I received the latest DVD set from Rick Crane over at 70s-TV.com: the near-complete season of  MEMPHIS WRESTLING: 1983, which consists of shows various sources, including some the 90-minute Memphis broadcasts, with most content from the 60-minute versions looped around other towns in the territory. The set comes on 25 discs, with a bonus disc to set up 1983: the 1982 Christmas episode.

With this wonderful collection in hand, I contacted Micah Watts, Bill’s son, who’s one of the last remaining holdouts in his refusal to sell his father’s storied tape library to Vince McMahon. (Micah’s site, Universal Wrestling Archives , is one of the most thorough ’80s wrestling collections around, as apparently Bill was one of the few promoters at that time who didn’t tape over his shows and kept them in pristine condition.) Rick and Micah agreed that a week-by-week review, culminating with the trade that would greatly transform how Mid-South Wrestling was presented (in part thanks to new booker Bill Dundee, who learned the craft under Jarrett) would be fascinating reading. (Special thanks to Micah for passing along the Mid-South footage, which I received yesterday.)

I’m starting with Memphis the ’82 Christmas show. Then on Saturday, I’ll have a rundown of the 1-1-83 Memphis shows, along a report of the first Mid-South show of 1983: the 1/6/1983 episode. Should be a fun look back at two of the most pivotal points in the histories of both promotions as they reshuffled their troops as Vince Jr. geared up for his nationwide takeover of the wrestling business.

 

The 1982 Memphis Wrestling Christmas Special 

Airing on December 25, 1982, the signature opening to Memphis Championship Wrestling begins with Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (Theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) playing as the statue of Greeks grappling (aka the “Hellenistic Greek Wrestlers Bonded Marble Statue“) spins, giving way to Lance Russell, without his faithful sidekick Dave Brown. In a slight departure from his usual greeting, Lance notes he’s “NOT right alongside ringside;” Christmas 1982 fell on Saturday morning, making a live show at the WMC-TV Studio impractical. Lance reassures the violence-starved audience, however, that this won’t be your typical Bing Crosby special, with the boys sitting around singing carols, though he admits “that’s not a bad idea” (um, have you heard Jerry Lawler sing?!); rather, despite, the delightful setting, complete with a huge frosted tree in the background, the holiday episode will be packed with “some great action tape,” along with live appearances by Lawler, Bill Dundee, Terry Taylor, the Fabulous Ones and Dutch Mantell–the nucleus of the strong babyface side of the crew. Like any good Southern business, the on-camera face of the company, promoter Eddie Marlin (Jerry Jarrett’s right-hand man and father-in-law) kicks things off by wishing his ticket-buying fans all the best and a Merry Christmas, earning praise from Russell: “By golly, Eddie, that’s an awfully nice greeting!” (Lance seems genuinely touched by Marlin’s poigiant words.) Lance reflects on the past year, praising Marlin for assembling the greatest bunch of talent he’s ever seen in the territory. (Jarrett preferred to concentrate company’s creative direction and business affairs, rarely appearing on camera at that time, so Marlin was seen as the talent negotiator in the eyes of the fans.) Russell, who usually kept the hype in check unless he was genuinely excited about a match or card to maintain his credibility, most likely meant that with all his heart, as 1982 was indeed one of most entertaining, lucrative years in the territory’s history. As they go to a break, the camera reveals a spectacular living room with an amazing wooded view, which means that they might have been taping from Jarrett’s house.

The King is the first guest, introduced by a video of clips of some his greatest bouts, mostly his triumphs since his return from a broken leg nearly two years to the day, set to Elvis Presley’s version of “My Way.” As Lawler might say, this touching tribute “could bring a tear to a glass eye.” A classic rogues gallery–Joe LeDuc, Austin Idol, Paul Ellering, Jimmy Valiant and Crusher Blackwell, etc.–goes down one by one at the right hand of Memphis’ number-one son as Elvis sings, “I’ve loved. I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve had my fill; my share of losing. And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing. To think, I did all that. And may I say, oh no, oh no, not me. in a shy way…I did it my way.” Apparently, Lawler’s way was a series of kicks and punches, followed by his surefire finisher of a fistdrop from the middle rope.

Lawler then appears on set, wearing a ski-lodge sweater, joining Lance and Marlin on the couch, humbly thanking for the fans for a strong year as Lance commends the King on his accomplishments. Lawler mentions his apparent defeat of NWA World champion Ric Flair on Memphis TV and how he was unable to get a rematch for the 10 pounds of gold after dropping the Southern title to Nick Bockwinkel, who went on to regain his AWA World title from Otto Wanz the following week. However, Lawler defeated Bockwinkel in the middle of the ring to regain the Southern crown on Nov. 8, setting up an AWA World title bout scheduled two nights after the Christmas show on Dec. 27. Lawler also discusses how he’s not only had to deal with Jimmy Hart throughout the year but also rookie manager Jim Cornette, a former photographer. Lance cracks, “When I first heard that Cornette wanted to be a manager, I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ A picture taker in wrestling!’”

With the Bockwinkel bout coming up–the King’s first real crack at a World title since his return from relinquishing the CWA title, Lance mentions how Lawler has beaten Terry Funk, Dory Funk and Jack Brisco. In a funny exchange, Lance reiterates Lawler’s distinguished record against former World champs, saying, “Jerry, I hope I’m not boring you with all this.” Lawler, in his best Jack Benny impression, deadpans, “Not, not yet. Go on!” (The comedic timing between those two, with Lance as the straight man, is priceless.) Lawler also mentions that young star Terry Taylor, the Southern champion, might be a nice guy but he’s carrying the King’s belt. (Too bad that bout never took place, with Taylor perhaps turning heel, displaying the arrogance that eventually made a strong heel briefly in the UWF before JCP bought out Bill Watts and buried Terry and most of the former Mid-South crew.) When the cocky-yet-likable Lawler feigns insult over learning he’s not the only special guest on today’s show, the segment closes with the King literally twisting Lance’s arm to show some classic ’70s footage of his career set to “Nobody Does It Better.” The show goes to a break as Willie Nelson sings “Jingle Bells.”

After a break, the show returns to a Bill Dundee video montage with the whimsical tune “The Way We Were” playing. That’s back-to-back videos with the two biggest single wrestlers in the territory featuring the musical stylings of Carly Simon and Barbara Streisand. Somehow, though, it actually works, since the Superstar spent much of the year injured so he wasn’t his old self. And there is something a little sad, especially in hindsight, with the closing clip of the video–a January 1981 shot of Dundee and an in-shape Tommy Rich (months away from his his first NWA World title win) celebrating a Louisville victory over Mantell and Idol–when you consider how Wildfire’s career as a major player burnt out just a few years later. (“If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me could we?”) The video highlight has to be the cool finish to a bout with Tony Charles, with a series of nice reversals that ends with the Englishman pinned by the crafty little Aussie.

Lance asks Bill about his “high spots” (dang it–kayfabe, Banana Nose!), with Dundee referring to the CWA World tag-title win with Rich to open the year. (Perhaps Bill was still punchy from his rough year, as that victory was in 1981.) Bill also discusses his low moments, including a legit separated shoulder that required them shooting an injury angle at the hands of Hart’s First Family. (That angle was well done, as Dundee is ganged up on, with Sweet Brown Sugar (heel Koko Ware) repeatedly diving onto the shoulder with a vengeance.) “Like any professional athlete suffering an injury” Dundee explains, he hit the gym for a comeback, when he was manhandled by some goons in the parking lot after a workout and was sidelined again. (In reality, it was just one goon, Randy Savage.) Hell, with all this misfortune, no wonder Dundee turned heel months later.

Lance marvels at Dundee’s resilisciency: “A lot of guys would have said, ‘Holy mackerel, the heck with this, but you kept coming back!” Another video plays, shot while Dundee was on the shelf earlier that year, on horseback with his arm in a sling (as the animal gallops briskly down a hill, the one-armed Superstar’s expression at one point appears to say, “Hold shit!), and later apparently daydreaming about a return while walking in the woods–yet another piece of footage most likely on Jarrett’s property, as Willie Nelson’s “All of Me” plays. Dundee humbly thanks the fans for their support and promises a better 1983–which would include turning his back on them and sticking a dagger into their broken hearts as he cheats his way to a win over Taylor for the Southern title on March 23, 1983.

Willie Nelson’s residual payday continues as “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” plays over Dutch Mantell footage. Appearing on set wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a huge cowboy hat, the Dirty Dutchman looks like he just stumbled out of a local honky tonk just hours earlier–and knowing Dutch, that might have been the case.

Lance and Dutch are great here discussing Mantell’s “rollercoaster year,” as Russell mentions each big title win, with Dutch raising his arms every time. And then each title loss is mentioned, with Oil Trough, Texan hanging his head in mock shame as if each defeat still carried a “Shoo-Baby” (his bullwhip)-like sting. When asked about the highlight of his year, Mantell points at Lawler, and says it was winning the Southern title from the King. In fact, Dutch and Jerry did have an incredible series in spring 1982, with Dutch receiving plenty of cheers as he pinned Lawler clean twice…a rarity. (Dutch discussed that unique feud with me in-depth in our interview last year.)

Dutch says that it was tough beating Lawler because he had everything going against him, including the fans. Lawler playfully tugs at Lance’s jacket, interrupting, saying, “That’s not true–you had plenty of fans…I heard them.” (Years later, Dutch recalled how much fan support he did in fact have, especially in Nashville, where fans threw rocks at Lawler’s car and broke his antennae–and this was at the height of the King’s popularity!) Fun to see the banter between these two, as Lawler also mentions that Dutch beat him on afternoon show–the same day of his wedding later that night, so clearly his mind was elsewhere. (And if you remember Mrs. Paula Lawler, can you blame the guy? Sounds feasible.) Dutch jokingly accuses Lawler of ruining the festive atmosphere, calling him Ebenezer Scrooge. (Speaking of which, Jimmy Hart is nowhere to be found, as Lawler had given fans an early present by burning the manager’s face repeatedly and breaking his arm in a cage match a week earlier. But, as 1983 opened, it would Hart who had the last–and loudest–laugh.) As Lawler puts his hands over his eyes, Lance airs footage of the afternoon win–set to the riveting music of…ABBA?! (“The Winner Takes It All.) Again, while an unusual choice, the slow music was by design, as Jarrett instructed cameraman Randy West to shoot extreme close-ups of the action a la World Class–which Memphis never did–to illustrate both the agony and defeat of a classic struggle. As they return to the set, Lawler offers Dutch his congratulations, giving him the boys’ soft worked handshake on TV (oops), with Dutch claiming that he really does like the King…just as much as he likes going to the dentist. Funny stuff and playful ribbing here.

Willie Nelson’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” takes us to the next break; coming back, we see video of Taylor’s highlights, with John Denver’s “Some Days A Diamond” playing–this could almost pass for a “Hee-Haw” Christmas special at times. The montage include footage of some amazing tag matches between Eaton and Sugar vs. Taylor and Jacques Rougeau–a feud that was all-too brief. Taylor comes in slacks, a sports coat and glasses, looking more like a substitute math teacher or a graduate assistant than the Southern champion. But when asked how it feels to be champ, Taylor suddenly transforms into an Muhammad Ali, jokingly claiming to be “the greatest of all time”–not too shabby. Mantell breaks out his own impression of John Wayne, warning that “the ride gets tougher, pilgrim.” Dundee plants the seeds for his heel turn with a great line directed at Taylor, who’s still mugging for the camera: “I hope that you when you wrestle me for that belt in 1983, your best impression is as a wrestler because my bad luck is behind me.” Taylor responds with a Roddy Piper impression, “Me, me, you wanna fight me?!” Taylor shows more personality here than he did all year.

The Fabs are next, with their introductory video that changed that set the tone for the MTV-style presentation that would become a staple of the promotion–and broaden its demographic greatly to teenage girls.

Steve Keirn and Stan Lane are clearly dressed for the occasion as they make their way to the couch wearing their sequined tuxedo jackets, high hats, white gloves–looking sharp, looking for love (cue ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”). Keirn credits mentor Jackie Fargo for their success, saying the original Fabulous One had the most charisma of anyone ever in the business–and he might be right about that, paly. Keirn really puts over Fargo as their inspiration for providing their magical spark, saying they feel the spirit of the Fabulous Fargos every time they strut to the ring. Lane, ever the ladies’ man, with a sly grin and a slight wink, encourages their female fans to “hang their stockings up tight because the Fabulous Ones might be coming down their chimney tonight,” as Lance guffaws. Awesome.

Lance wraps up the show, as the boys mix and mingle, decorating the tree, acting as if there all having the time of their lives, despite the lack of booze and women. Russell warmly thanks for the fans again:  ”We are looking forward to 1983 with zest–because of you.”

An entertaining show that reminds of the campy fun WWF would begin to emulate in 1984. The chemistry among the boys at the time was really special, and it’s evident in this production–classic Memphis TV.

(For more on the year 1982 in Memphis Wrestling history, check out Mark James’ book on the subject, which can be ordered below.)