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YouTube Finds: Jerry Lawler is a snappy dresser

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Part of the reason “Wildfire” Tommy Rich didn’t get over as a heel when he attacked the crippled Jerry Lawler in August 1980 is that the King had it coming: wearing a suit like that, he deserved to get his ass kicked. Rich’s heel turn stunned the wrestling world, as he was fresh off a run in Atlanta that had made him the hottest babyface in the country at the time. Supposedly, Rich returned to Memphis to not only spark houses with Lawler on the shelf but also so he could perfect the heel working style, as he was under consideration to be a long-term touring NWA World champion, who would have to work with local babyfaces nightly in the role. Moments before, Rich had stolen a victory from “Superstar” Bill Dundee, headbutting him below the belt and quickly ensnaring his supposed friend in a small package before he had a chance to recover. Rich’s promo is actually pretty strong here, and Lance Russell is his usual great self, acting awfully disappointed in the young man’s behavior and overall attitude.

Given that the King was only a few months away from returning from his broken leg I suspect the initial plan may have been for a Lawler vs. Rich bout to headline in late December. However, crowds averaged less than 4,000 with Rich on top as a heel, so he was abruptly switched babyface and “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant was turned heel all within a 30-minute time span on the same TV episode on Nov. 29. Weeks before, Jimmy Hart and Jerry Jarrett had stumbled upon journeyman Troy Graham, who delivered golden promos that reminded them of Dusty Rhodes, so he was to be Lawler’s handpicked foe for his big return bout.

At the time, it almost seemed like the home-state fans didn’t want to boo Rich, who was in his prime physically (and mentally, no doubt). By the time I managed Rich in 1994, his star long since faded, the fans had no problem hating him. But in 1980, the fans loved ol’ Wildfire, no matter what he did–or maybe it was just because they hated Lawler’s taste in fashion, or lack thereof.

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