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World of controversy: Nick Bockwinkel defeats Rick Martel for the AWA title…but only in Memphis

March 25th, 2011 3 comments

In late fall 1984, Jerry Jarrett began trading talent with Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas and Ole Anderson’s Championship Wrestling From Georgia as part of a supposed merger to combat Vince McMahon, who had taken over the Saturday and Sunday afternoon “World Championship Wrestling” broadcasts. Some have speculated that as part of the deal, Jarrett’s top star, Jerry Lawler, was promised a brief NWA World title run, which led the King to vow on the air in November that he would win a World championship in 1985 or retire.

It appeared that the promotion was gearing up for a year of Lawler chasing the AWA and NWA World champions, who were both appearing on “Pro Wrestling: USA” telecasts to take the fight to McMahon’s backyard in the Northeast. Lawler also started appearing regularly in the WTBS studio, feuding with Memphis mainstay Jimmy Hart, to try to recreate some of their chemistry in Atlanta and establish the King on a national stage. Gordon Solie also started appearing alongside Lance Russell in Memphis for certain matches that were taped for the Georgia showt.

Jarrett had a close relationship with Verne Gagne dating back to 1978, when he began booking AWA World titlist Nick Bockwinkel. Not only was Nick’s schedule far more wide open than the NWA champion, making him easier and cheaper to book, but Jarrett also felt that Bockwinkel was a more versatile worker and more effective in the role of World champion than perennial NWA kingpin Harley Race. Bockwinkel and Lawler had instant chemistry from the start, resulting in huge crowds nearly every time they headlined in Memphis and Louisville. The only problem was, in 1985, the AWA was attempting to go in another direction, with babyface heartthrob Rick Martel as champion. Martel was a tremendous worker but not strong on interviews and had not worked as a heel–not exactly “the model” (lame pun intended) main-event opponent for Lawler in Memphis.

Still, in mid-February, Memphis TV began building to a match between Lawler and Martel. The King topped Eddie Gilbert to win the right to face the AWA champion the following Monday night. On Saturday, they announced that Martel had injured his elbow and was temporarily out of action, slightly implying that the champion was ducking Lawler.

Power struggle: Lawler could never wrest the turkey-platter-sized belt from Bockwinkel's grasp.

On Saturday, March 4, Lance Russell announced that Bockwinkel had defeated Rick Martel Thursday night in a controversial match in Canada and would be defending his newly won laurels against Lawler in his first defense as champion. Talk bout perfect timing–now that’s a main event sure to draw in Memphis. Except for one thing: Martel was still champion. Leery of Martel’s drawing potential as champion, Jarrett negotiated a deal with Gagne to allow Bockwinkel to carry the belt to Memphis not once but twice to “defend” the AWA World title in place of the squeaky clean Canadian. Lawler and Bockwinkel both cut strong promos to set up the “title match” for a bizarre situation that only could only take place in Memphis–(or any place Ole Anderson was booking). Funny to hear Lawler’s near-breach of kayfabe when he admits that he wondered, “How am I gonna have a chance to pull the strap?” in a scientific match (in Apter vernacular) against fellow babyface Martel.

In the end, neither Lawler or Bockwinkel walked out of the ring as champion.

Later that summer, Jarrett co-promoted a Great American Bash show with Jim Crockett at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. With Ric Flair unavailable, Jarrett booked Martel in a World title match against Lawler as the main event, powered by a strong undercard. Just to be safe, the promotion attempted to get Martel over as an arrogant playboy–a hybrid of Bockwinkel and “Ravishing” Rick Rude–with a series of video clips of the champ in action set to Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” As the video progressed, Martel did a voice-over heeling on Lawler, calling him “a King with a crown made of papier-mâché.” (Why, the nerve of that French-Canadian bastard!)

Martel went on to have work as a pretty damn good heel in Nashville, blowing his cool early in the bout and resorting to illegal means to retain the belt. Listen for the redneck fan at 1:55 of the video–he really wants to see that championship belt. (I can’t believe they used what appears to be the studio ring–which had ropes that resembled water hoses–for such a huge card.

If they had aired this match on Memphis TV, the promotion could have drawn a nice house at the Mid-South Coliseum for a rematch, in my opinion. Great bout…and shades of things to come for Rick “the Model” Martel in the WWF.