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YouTube Finds: Loose Cannon fires up Memphis wrestling as Brian Pillman’s makes his lone USWA appearance

April 19th, 2012 1 comment

Cover-boy cautionary tale: Not the first...and damn sure not the last.

The beauty of appearing on a live TV wrestling show like Memphis was that it was largely unscripted, except for a format sheet distributed to the boys backstage minutes before we went on the air at the WMC-TV studio on Union Avenue.

In the ’80s, with polished territory guys like Bill Dundee, Austin Idol and Dutch Mantell, this lent itself to wonderful, off-the-cuff moments that only added to the realism of the illusion that is (or was) professional wrestling.

Shortly after planting my size 12 Doc Marten low-cut shoe on Jerry Lawler’s skull in May 1994, I began devising in my head the diabolical heel promo I’d cut on the King the following Saturday. However, when I arrived at the WMC-TV studios the following Saturday, Lawler and Eddie Gilbert instructed me to play an apologetic babyface until Lance gave me the mandate from promoter Eddie Marlin that I was suspended.

I was then supposed to protest, and Gilbert would come out and argue with Lance as I was pushed to the background. I was told that the plan was for me to be a heel for a week or two before Gilbert and the heels double-crossed me, and I’d return later as a babyface ref.

Bummer, man.


Realizing that this might be my only chance to cut the heel promo of my dreams, one that I had practiced in front of a mirror several times as a kid growing up in Memphis, I decided to play a heel from the start of my interview with Lance. Figuring it’s live TV, what can they do? Instead of apologizing, I began a diatribe about how Lawler had shoved me around for too long, and that during the match, I merely stomped him “like the cockroach” that he is. (I was told later that Lawler was watching on the monitor backstage during my promo and said, “What in the hell is he doing?!”)

After the show went to a break, I nervously walked behind the curtain to find Lawler, who waved me over, shaking his head. Instead of pulling down the proverbial strap, he actually complimented me but not without issuing a stern warning: “That was good. But next time, say what we tell you to do.”

Over the next several months, I had the freedom to sound off with any insult that happened to pop into my thick head, often with obscure old-school references and personal insults like “Brian Christopher is the only guy I know who has to go to a VD clinic to meet women” and “The only reason they had to make a new Southern title belt was because the old one wouldn’t fit around Lawler’s waist anymore.”

Around the same time, Brian Pillman was reinventing himself with a bizarre character that made many in wrestling wonder if he was truly losing touch with reality, eventually leading to the moniker “The Loose Cannon.”

Personally, I’d been a huge Pillman fan since 1991, after his memorable WTBS bout with Ric Flair (with the late Nancy Benoit at his side), who liked the kid so much he did his best to make him a star. Unfortunately, Pillman was later sidetracked by politics and contract disputes with Bill Watts, which delayed his top-tier stardom, despite incredible bouts with Jushin Liger.

He and Steve Austin (a Memphis wrestling alum), both afterthoughts in the Hulk Hogan era of WCW, were thrown together as a team yet still managed to catch fire against the odds with the classic “Hollywood Blondes” gimmick that dated back to the ’70s. The duo had stunning matches with the likes of Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas–not to mention the memorable “Flair for the Old” segment–before they were eventually broken up, with Austin getting a heel singles push and Pillman relegated back to mid-card babyface status.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps inspired by the crazed Terry Funk promos he’d studied incessantly, Pillman slowly began showing signs he was “losing it” during live Monday Nitro segments. From the moment Pillman uttered to Kevin Sullivan the words “I respect you, booker man,” it was fascinating to watch his slow descent into apparent madness.

Today, it would be easy to see through such a gimmick, but that was before the boys themselves had been kayfabed several times by management, which eventually led to such strife and distrust within WCW’s dressing room that it helped kill the company.


Although I’d never put myself remotely in Pillman’s category, Lawler used to often joke backstage that I was “The Loose Cannon of the USWA.” He meant it as an insult; I took it as a compliment.

Unfortunately, just as Pillman had parlayed the gimmick into making himself the most sought-after free agent in the business (thanks to Eric Bischoff foolishly releasing him from his contract to sell the controversy), and putting himself in the position to make “Lex Luger money,” as he termed it , he was involved in a horrible Hummer accident that nearly killed him. Still, he managed to con Vince McMahon into believing he’d be back at full strength after surgery, but his shattered ankle told a different story. Desperate to make a strike in the Monday Night War, McMahon signed Pillman anyway, if anything, to stick it to Bischoff and steal one of the few major stars he’d managed to help develop on his own.

Pillman, however, was never the same in the ring but remained brilliant in an avant-garde sort of way on the mic as part of the ’97-era Hart Foundation. Like other former WCW stars signed to the WWF, including Mankind, Pillman was sent to Memphis, which was serving as a farm league of sorts at the time for the Former Fed, including a memorable run by Flex Kavana, the future Rock. I regret that by the time Pillman showed up in Memphis, I had finally left the promotion after one too many $40 payoffs while struggling to maintain a career as a writer.

The Memphis segment isn’t as memorable as you might think. Instead of storming the set unannounced, which would have fit “The Loose Cannon” perfectly on the last remaining live territory wrestling show in the country, he gets permission from Lance Russell first–a sure sign Randy Hales was still running things behind the scenes–which made zero sense. Given the fact that it’s early Saturday morning, Brian also probably wasn’t at his sharpest. Nevertheless, it’s priceless to see Pillman interact with Lance, the perfect straight man for his antics. Watching this, though, I can’t help but wish Pillman had been around during the glory years of the Memphis promotion in the early ’80s, when the Loose Cannon could have really unleashed his fury.

Less than six months after his appearance in Memphis, Pillman was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in a Minnesota motel room on Oct. 5, 1997, after he failed to show for a scheduled bout with Mankind. The similarities of his death to Gilbert’s really shook me up, leaving me to wonder how many more would follow.

Sadly, it’s a trend that’s continued.

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.)

The Jerry Lawler School of Rasslin’

March 4th, 2012 No comments
Jerry Lawler School of Memphis Wrestling

School of Hard Knocks

With the exception of the infamous “They shoot horses, don’t they?” comment, the Jimmy Hart one-liner that legitimately irked the King in the early ’80s was when the nefarious leader of the First Family constantly referred to various Memphis jobbers (Freezer Thompson, Pat Hutchinson, Ric McCord, etc.) as “graduates of the Jerry Lawler of Rasslin’.”

As Lawler explained to me years ago, “Man, I had people constantly stopping me on the street asking me how to enroll in my wrestling school [which, of course, didn't exist]. It didn’t help that Jimmy came out each week and said it over and over during Saturday morning TV.”

Two such supposed graduates, hapless jobbers Robert Reed and Ken Raper, had the last (but maybe not the loudest) laugh on Hart when the two upstarts received an impromptu CWA World tag trophy match on live Memphis TV. (Yes, the champions of the world had to lug a trophy–believed to be one of promoter Eddie Marlin’s old bowling awards–”all over the globe” for title defenses.)

I cannot confirm if Lawler went on to train such fine upstanding Christian athletes as The Twilight Zone (Brian Lawler and Tony Williams) and The Yellowjacket (Kevin Lawler), but I do know the King spent countless hours exchanging a variety of holds–some possibly illegal in a few states–with protege/future wife Stacy Carter, who went on to win the WWF(E) Ladies Championship. (Likewise, I have to think that my battles with Ms. Texas prepared Jacqueline for her opportunity to win Ladies gold in the Former Fed as well.)