Three for the road: Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell pay tribute to Nashville Fairgrounds
I believe it was Nov. 8, 1976, when Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee and Dutch Mantell appeared on the same card together for a night of action at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis.
On that night in ’76, King Lawler was risking his crown against the NWA Southern title of Rocky Johnson, the father of young Dwayne Johnson, who would one day become the most electrifying superstar in sports entertainment. Also that evening, not too far removed from a hot run as a heel tandem with partner George Barnes, rising babyface star Dundee clashed with Gorgeous George Jr. in a lumberjack match (Joe LeDuc was unavailable apparently). Although newcomer Dutch Mantell was stuck in the opener against Mike Pappas, he would climb the cards quickly, teaming with partners like Lawler and David Schultz in Southern tag-title bouts in the months that followed before leaving the territory.
Mantell certainly has some fond memories of working in Memphis in winter ’76: “I didn’t like it all. Not one bit. I got there in the middle of a bad winter—seemed like it snowed every Wednesday. In those days, Tennessee was looked down upon in the wrestling business. You go to Florida and they say, ‘Oh, don’t go to Tennessee…they don’t really do wrestling there.’ I was thinking, ‘Well, it looks like the same stuff to me.’ They’d say that Tennessee had all these gimmick matches and such. But heck, to me, the Florida stuff and Tennessee stuff looked the same.”
Less than five years later, on June 1, 1981, Lawler, Dundee and Mantell were all in the ring together for perhaps the first time, teaming with the Dream Machine (the late Troy Graham) headlining a Coliseum card as they battled Jimmy Hart‘s evil First Family of the Nightmares, Kevin Sullivan and Wayne Ferris (cousin of the King and the future Honky Tonk Man). Babyfaces Lawler, Dundee and Mantell helped draw huge crowds all summer long on top against Hart’s henchmen.
About thirty years after that memorable summer, the King, the Superstar and the Dutchman will be in the ring together again for the last time (no, really….OK…maybe) for what’s being billed as a tribute show at the Nashville Fairgrounds on Saturday, January 29.
OK, OK, never mind that report I made in November about TNA promoting the last wrestling card at the Fairgrounds. Supposedly, some local celebrities are making a last-ditch effort to save the historic Fairgrounds from being torn down later this year, so I have no idea about its current status.
What I do know is that it’s rare to see Memphis legends Lawler, Dundee and Mantell together in the ring for what promises to be a hell of an entertaining bout. Mantell is the designated special ref–Dennis Stamp is not booked–but something tells me the Dirty Dutchman might have something diabolical planned for his two former rivals. Check out the mayhem in Music City on the 29th to find out.
Love this picture on the flyer below: With the exception of Adam West, nobody over the age of 60 can get away with wearing a cape quite like Jerry Lawler. And is it me, or is Dundee starting to resemble Kenny Rogers with plastic surgery? Amazingly enough, Dutch doesn’t appear to have aged a bit.