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Rasslin’ in the New Year: Mid-South Wrestling delivers a slobber-knocker opening to 1983

December 11th, 2011 3 comments

No bull: With the same tenacity that made him a legend in the ring, Bill Watts' no-nonsense approach to commentary helped add an air of legitimacy to his Mid-South Wrestling TV show.

(I’ve started to regain feeling in my left hand as I slowly recover from carpal tunnel syndrome, so I’m resuming my ongoing look at the entire year of Memphis and Mid-South Wrestling in 1983.) 

Sitting in front of a modest studio backdrop featuring the colors of the good ol’ USA at the Irish McNeil’s Boys Club in Shreveport, La., announcer Boyd Pierce (who often sported more flamboyant garb than the wrestlers themselves) and color analyst (and the promotion’s owner) Bill Watts, welcome us to the January 6 show, the first episode of Mid-South Wrestling for 1983

Even just sitting there, long since retired, Watts looks like he could still kick the ass of any man walking the planet. Wearing headsets like announcers who call “real” sporting events is just one of those little details that added a sense of realism to the Mid-South product.

On today’s show: the Crying Wrestling fan’s favorite grappler, “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch; the late “Dr. Death” Steve Williams; two of the greatest gimmicks of all time, the Great Kabuki (presented by Gary Hart); Kimala the Ugandan Giant Warrior with Gen. Skandor Akbar; and the wrestling machines of second-generation stars Ted DiBiase (the future Million Dollar Man) and Matt Borne (the future Doink the Clown and Big Josh).

With a sly grin, Watts mentions that he’s received a phone call from the Junkyard Dog, whose loser-leaves-town suspension (after dropping a bout in controversial fashion to DiBiase) will soon be up. Ah, so me must be in the middle of the Dog’s run as the masked “Stagger Lee”–a gimmick Koko Ware and Memphis Wrestling would take for themselves months later, keeping with the Memphis territory’s tradition of ripping off established masked stars like Mr. Wrestling, the Masked Superstar, the Spoiler, the Super Destroyer and the Assassins. (For what it’s worth, that really was Aaron Rodríguez under the hood as Mil Mascaras–not Pepe Lopez, as Jim Cornette suggests–who did the stretcher job for Jerry Lawler and Jackie Fargo on the first live card I ever attended at the Mid-South Coliseum in January 1979.)

Watts suggests Lee and JYD  would make an excellent team, eliciting a chuckle from Pierce. (I get the sneaking suspicion they know something we don’t.)

Interestingly, Watts also brings up that on Christmas night in Dallas, NWA World champion Ric Flair retained the 10 pounds of gold with an assist from the Freebirds in Texas, most notably special ref Michael Hayes, despite the fact that Mid-South was not a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and had not booked the champion in years, concentrating on getting their own North American heavyweight title over as the belt to hold in the profession. (Like Jerry Jarrett, Watts wisely realized booking the NWA champion was often more of a headache–and an expense–than it was worth, especially when you drew so well on personal issues and feuds without paying a percentage of the house to the champ and the Alliance.)

In character, Watts says that he never liked the Freebirds, especially Hayes, whom he describes as the kind of guy he’d like to slap. (That’s probably a borderline shoot–Watts reportedly loved Hayes as a heel personality but hated his in-ring work and threatened to fire the ‘Birds if they didn’t add veteran Buddy Roberts to the mix to help carry the team, creating the controversial, brilliant gimmick that any two of three could defend the Mid-South tag titles, leaving the opponents at a schematic disadvantage.) Watts claims that Hayes grew his hair long because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to look like a man or a woman–that damn, dirty hippie—a joke that again pleases Pierce. Watts hopes to have a film clip of that action in Texas…uh, in two weeks. (Really? That’s an eternity today.)

Running mates: II's refusal to unmask cost him a chance at the vice presidency with Jimmy Carter.

Hayes is a sharp contrast to another wrestler whom Watts discusses next, a man of integrity who has nothing to hide…the masked Mr. Wrestling II. (Or as Pierce refers to him “Mr. Rasslin‘ II.”) Watts warns that anyone who tries to question II’s character will be met with “power and violence.” (I’m sure the same could be said for most men of integrity and character, like Gandhi, the Dali Lama and Buford Pusser.) Watts goes to an interview that Reesor Bowden (no relation to me, though he’s a dapper, handsome man) conducted with II, who’s wearing a suit along with his hood. (GQ later admitted it was a mistake recommending such a fashion ensemble, but Johnny Walker somehow pulls it off.)

II wasn’t a smooth promo, but damn, he was very believable in his delivery–no wonder the fans had faith in him. The words seemed from the heart and not scripted in the least, unlike today’s rigid, stiff promos. Interesting that in the background the fans sit so quietly as the legend speaks–that’s old-school respect. Apparently, as the promo unfolds, it’s clear that somone’s been messing with II’s masks and defacing other personal property in the dressing room. Hmmm…could it be another masked man in the territory jealous of II’s success? (Say, has anyone seen Jerry Stubbs lately?) The promo was so unpolished that Watts noted that II wasn’t eloquent–he’s a plain speaker, i.e., he means business. (You tell ’em, Cowboy). Odd that such a promotion known for such exciting action on its TV show kicks off with so much talking. Still, effective segments.

Business doesn’t exactly pick up with the next segment–a bench-press session with Tony Atlas. Watts loved pushing real athletes and impressive physical specimens (the latter of which he would later knock McMahon for  when Hulk Hogan won the WWF title) as he felt it gave the business legitimacy, and Atlas was in his peak here. Spotting Atlas was the then-chiseled JYD…with Stagger Lee watching nearby (wait, what?!), along with a bunch of fans. Watts marvels at Atlas and his ability to benchpress 500 pounds…”you folks sitting at home can’t even imagine the preparation and concentration” such a feat takes. I love how Watts speaks like a legit sportscaster.  (That said, it’s a wonder that Atlas can focus at all, with Watts standing above him dissecting every second of the lift.) Now Atlas will attempt 550 pounds. As Atlas reloads, Watts interrogates JYD about his masked friend; the Dogs explains that Stagger used to beat him up as a kid and still his milk money before they became pals. Sounds reasonable. Finally, Atlas, with Watts screaming “Lock it out,” presses the additional weight as the segment ends. (I just knew Borne and DiBiase were going to interrupt the session like so many heels in these types of feats of strength demonstrations and attack the babyfaces with barbell plates, but no, nothing of the sort.)

The good (green) Doctor is up next, taking on Tom Renesto Jr. (son of the aforementioned original masked Assassin tag team, who would later work Memphis as “Tom Branch”). Williams is wearing a red robe with OU on the left chest–Boomer Sooner! This must be shortly after Doc’s debut as Watts says he’s “fresh off the Fiesta Bowl, where he played the whole second half with a cracked wrist.” Williams is wearing a singlet, showing off his lily white, bulky 285-pound body–nowhere near as physically cut as his Japan and WCW days. Watts, who along with Buddy Landell helped train Williams, says that while Doc is looking ahead to the NFL draft that he might stick with wrestling as well–years before Bo Jackson became a household name for being a two-sport professional athlete. During the bout, Watts discusses various big men from other major universities in the area, including LSU wrestler John Tenta, who would go on to fame as a sumo wrestler in Japan before making the transition to sports entertainment in the WWF in the late ’80s and early ’90s as The Earthquake and later as the Masked Golga during the Attitude Era. Doc is really green here, but finishes off Renesto with a powerful-looking Oklahoma Stampede powerslam. Again, Watts’ commentary is so convincing, the average fan has to believe Williams is a future star; in fact, Doc turned out to be just that.

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Next up is Marty Lunde…that’s right, Double A himself, the future Arn Anderson, who paces the ring as the entrance music–the theme from the USMC–blares for his opponent. Nope, it’s not Sgt. Slaughter, but the captain–Capt. Redneck, to be exact. Wearing a camo ballcap, Murdoch pushes a metal chair to the ring to awkwardly step into the squared circle but Lunde Pearl Harbors him. Lunde is young and agile here…and already losing his hair, which would be an asset to him later in his role as Ole Anderson’s nephew/cousin/brother (depending on the year in WCW). Lunde’s apparently borrowed Ernie Ladd’s kneepads as they both appear to be three sizes too big and quickly slide down to his ankles. Solid, solid bout between two guys who both had the ability to be NWA champion. I really appreciate how Mid-South squash matches weren’t one-sided jokes like like they were in Memphis and other territories in the kayfabe era.

Watts has a penchant for name dropping figures from other sporting backgrounds–earlier he mentioned bumping into Louisiana Tech’s Roger Carr in an airport–now he’s congratulating Arkansas coach Lou Holtz, whom he shared a flight with recently, on a victory in something called the Blue Bonnet Bowl. I always really liked Watts’ delivery and presentation of pro wrestling as sport–he even had a way of making midget wrestlers (whom he described as “mighty mini-men”) sound bad ass. After shaking off Lunde’s offensive flurry, Murdoch wins with his combination suplex/brain buster a la the late Killer Karl Kox in a competitive bout. At this point, Lunde was a glorified jobber, but when compared to the clowns who did jobs in Memphis during the same period, he comes off like Nick Bockwinkel. God bless the USA–and Capt. Redneck. Murdoch is one of those guys whom I wish would have had a crazed heel run vs. Lawler in ’81 or ’82.

Art Crews is the next sacrificial lamb for Kimala, who’s “handled” by the masked Friday and managed by the legendary Skandor Akbar. Total squash, with Kimala eating Crews alive with an offensive flurry of chops and slams before finishing him off with not one but two belly flops. Next up after a commercial break: the Great Kabuki. (Cue David Letterman: “Kimala…Kabuki. Kabuki…Kimala.”) Wisely, Watts is already building up to a bout with Kimala vs. Andre the Giant, a surefire draw.

Akbar calls an impromptu meeting with Gary Hart, inquiring about the services of Kabuki, who’s wearing an eerie looking mask of his namesake stage art and working the nunchucks like there’s no tomorrow. I’m paraphrasing here, but Hart tells the General to show him the money. (Although Kabuki did eventually appear in Memphis in 1986 when the gimmick was past its prime, I can’t help but think he would have drawn great money for Lawler and Jarrett in 1982 a la Kimala and Kendo Nagasaki.But there’s no way Hart would have worked for Jarrett after their incident in Georgia.) Great to see two of the most iconic managers of the era in negotiations for the services of this savage beast. (If only they knew that the Ugandan could be bought with watermelons and women, according to Jimmy Hart.)

Kabuki finishes off a young Tim Horner, who’s sporting a blonde porno mustache a la Little Bill in “Boogie Nights.” (Horner, a capable worker, would go on to have a decent run in Atlanta, including an upset of Road Warrior Hawk with a clean pinfall on a Saturday afternoon show of World Championship Wrestling.) Watts seems gravely concerned about this alliance with Hart and Akbar. Once the kimono and mask are off, Kabuki doesn’t look like much physically, but the combination of Watts’ commentary and Horner’s selling make the mystical figure appear to be unstoppable–again, classic old-school psychology. (Kudos for Hart for presenting the gimmick with such creativity and precision.) I’ll be damned if Kabuki doesn’t nearly take Horner’s head off with a super kick that Watts refers to as “karate” to finish off his opponent.

The Mid-South tag kingpins are up next, with DiBiase and Borne (two of the infamous Rat Pack heel faction) facing a yet-to-be-bleached-blonde Buddy Landel and Bruno (David) Sammartino Jr. Pierce immediately brings up Watts’ battles with Bruno Sr. at in front of the largest crowds ever at the old Madison Square Garden, which Watts humbly dismisses. DiBiase is sporting his mysterious black glove, which he was known to load with a piece of metal–a great old-school heel gimmick. David, who’s never impressed me much, looks like a million dollar man against DiBiase and Borne, who sell like crazy for Bruno Jr. in the early going. Watts mentions the demise of the Mississippi State tag titles in favor of the Mid-South tag titles, saying too many belts dilute the prestige of the championships–amen! The heels get the heat on Landell, who eventually makes the hot tag to David. Man, Borne and DiBiase were so smooth in that ring–in the same mold as Arn and Tully Blanchard as NWA tag champions in JCP years later. All four men brawl before DiBiase unabashedly loads the glove for the entire crowd (but not the ref) to see and knocks out Landell with one punch, much to the crowd’s chagrin, for the win.

Always known for their competitive TV matches, this episode of Mid-South closes with II vs. Gino Hernandez, one of the most naturally charismatic heels ever in the business. A lot of good mat wrestling in the early going, though Watts is bemoaning Oklahoma’s loss to Arizona State, stressing how important conditioning is in both football and wrestling. Hernandez slaps II while the two grapplers are tangled against the ropes. Even though II’s facial expressions are largely hidden behind the hood, the look he gives Gino could kill, which fires up Watts and the crowd. II reverses an armbar and slaps Gino for good measure and then breaks out his best Dusty Rhodes shuck and jive dance, which the crowd pops for. (My goodness–take away II’s mask and ropes and he’s a bald old man who no one cares about; Walker owes Jerry Jarrett and Jim Barnett for their creativity in creating a second Mr. Wrestling after Tim Woods left Georgia.) II whips Gino into the turnbuckle, with the Handsome Half-Breed taking Ric Flair’s trademark upside-down bump. II finishes off the cocky punk with his knee-lift finisher for a clean finish–a refreshing change from other promotions of the day, which usually ended a TV main event with a draw or disqualification.

Overall, a strong start to the year for one of the greatest territories and TV shows in the business at the time; however, it’s noticeable that the promotion doesn’t have many heartthrobs in the ring–nor many teenage girls in the audience. That would change by year’s end, opening up Mid-South Wrestling to a whole new demographic with the result of an influx of Memphis talent and booking. Stay tuned.

To order this episode and nearly the entire library of Mid-South Wrestling in pristine condition, visit my friend Micah Watts’ site at Universal Wrestling Archives.

 

Today, North America, tomorrow the universe.

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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.)