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Anatomy of an Angle: The Fabulous Ones meet their dark-side destiny

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It was the angle nearly nine years in the making–practically a lifetime in the wild and wooly world of Memphis Wrestling.

With business down in fall 1982, Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett mentioned to Dutch Mantell that he wished could clone Jackie Fargo, the area’s longtime babyface headliner who had retired the previous year and was reserved only for annual appearances as the legendary figure returning to kick some ass. Dutch replied, “Well…why don’t you?” And so began the thought process behind a gimmick that would help set the territory on fire for the next year.

Weeks later, Jimmy Hart announced to the Memphis Wrestling TV audience that he had paired together two guys going nowhere in the business, Troy Graham (the former Dream Machine) and Rick McDraw. He  bleached their hair, put them in tuxedos and high hats, and dubbed them his “New York Dolls”–a name the former Gentry came up with in tribute to the infamous band of the same name.  Shortly after their transformation, the Dolls won the WWA World tag titles from Spike Huber and Steve Regal. None of this pleased Fargo, who filed a grievance claiming  infringement on the dapper-duo gimmick made famous by he and brother Donnie as the Fabulous Fargos. (The Dolls’ cheap tuxedo jackets and sequins were enough of an insult, but apparently it was the high hats that really irked the Fabulous One.)

A week later, Fargo announced that he had found his Fabulous Ones, whom he revealed with this video, featuring incredible strobe-light technology far ahead of its time.

You might have noticed that as he closed his promo above, Fargo said that if Stan and Steve ever neglected to take his advice, he’d back away from them; however, he was confident he’d found the right guys for the job. That was by design, as Jarrett’s original plan was to have Keirn and Lane turn heel on Fargo after about six months, take rookie manager Jim Cornette as their new manager, and then feud with Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee, with Fargo in their corner. But the Fabs got over so huge that the plan was aborted—and Cornette was instead stuck with Jesse Barr and Apocalypse (journeyman Mike Boyette saddled with a lame gimmick). That footage of Fargo was, of course, dusted off and used to bury Stan and Steve when they eventually left Jarrett’s territory for Verne Gagne and the AWA, which led to the ill-fated introduction of the New Fabulous Ones, Tommy Rich and Eddie Gilbert.

Nine years after the initial plan was laid out, that same footage of Fargo disowning his proteges was again resurrected in 1991, when Cornette became finally became the manager of the Fabs after all those years and turned heel on Lawler in a desperate bid to spark dwindling attendance. The storyline was that Lawler had brought in the Fabs and Cornette to watch his back because of the $50,000 bounty on his head placed by Unified World champion Terry Funk. (Instead, Lawler was the victim of Cornette’s spot-on impression of Boris Becker.) Around this same time in ’91, I made my debut as a referee; I was only 19.

A Wrestling Observer subscriber since I was 15, I was aware of Jarrett’s orginal plan for the Fabs, so it was cool to see the Keirn/Lane vs. Lawler/Dundee feud finally come to fruition, with the legendary former babyfaces cutting heel promos alongside quite possibly the greatest manager of all time.

The first bump I took in the business was at the hands of the heel Fabs. Before the televised bout at the WMC-TV Studio, I listened attentively with Brian Lawler and Tony Williams, the New Kids (and you thought the New Fabs gimmick was lame) as Cornette went over the finish: I’d catch Keirn piledriving Tony and call for the DQ. Keirn would then lay me out and they’d attempt to give Tony another dose of the near-lethal hold before Lawler made the save. Tony later told me that after I left the room, Keirn joked, “I’m gonna knock that yuppie on his ass.” (The boys always ribbed me for wearing a starched Polo button-down, my fraternity pledge pin and Timberland shoes when I refereed—but it paid off later when I shifted to the evil rich frat-boy from Germantown gimmick.) In addition to taking my first shot in the biz–and from a Fabulous One no less–one of my proudest moments ever in the business was when Cornette insulted me the following week : “Who’s this referee … Beaver Cleaver?” I was so young and skinny back then I could have passed for 16. When Keirn hit me with a stiff forearm, I sold it huge—I could almost hear my Pike fraternity brothers at the nearby University of Memphis campus exploding with laughter. There was also a group of bikers in the front row who erupted when I was struck. Even after Tony had made it his feet after the piledriver, I remained on the canvas until Lawler picked me up—I’d already seen a few greenhorns been abused for not selling properly.

As much as I enjoyed the angle, the heel turn failed to spike the houses–the fans just didn’t want to boo the Fabulous Ones. (Much like they don’t want to boo Ric Flair nowadays, despite his passion for the role. ) I was backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum the night of the first Lawler/Dundee vs. Fabs bout when Stan Lane arrived shortly before the 8 p.m. belltime, walked up to the curtain next to me, and took a peek at the sparse crowd of less than 1,500 fans in the same building that he and Steve used to help nearly fill on a weekly basis in the ’80s. Disappointed, Stan shook his head and walked to the dressing room. Three weeks after the most shocking heel turn in Memphis in years, the program was aborted, with the promotion shooting an angle in which Steve Keirn refused to hurt Fargo, much to Cornette’s chagrin. Two months later, babyface Keirn was teaming with Lawler, who obviously learned to forgive and forget after years of being backstabbed in his own backyard in Memphis Wrestling.

File under the Fabulous Ones, Jerry Lawler and Memphis Wrestling.

  1. cis
    April 29th, 2010 at 08:56 | #1

    I loved all the drama going on in Memphis Wrestling and when Scott came on the scene it was fun to see him refereeing the matches in his polo shirts with khakis and his pledge pin. I wonder if Scott was trying to parlay a rich boy image from the beginning to make the crowd hate him. lol Because later, they sure nuff did!! I remember the women in the crowd going crazy for the fabulous ones. They were the eye candy for the female crowd for sure!

  2. cis
    April 29th, 2010 at 08:58 | #2

    oh and I loved to hate Jim Cornette but him calling Scott “beaver cleaver” was priceless! Jim Cornette was such a talent!!

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