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YouTube Finds: Vince McMahon spells it out for Jeff Jarrett

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I have it on good authority that Vince McMahon never viewed Jeff Jarrett, the son of longtime Memphis wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett, as a main-event superstar. The elder Double J had approached McMahon in 1992 about a roster spot for Jeff, who had not only developed into a solid worker in his Tennessee-based USWA territory but had also put on considerable size with a strict regimen of training, prayers and Hulk Hogan vitamins (later known as “ICO PRO”). Jeff  had gone as far he could in his father’s territory and was hitting his stride as a performer, so McMahon’s Midas touch was the most logical next step. Those discussions spawned a working agreement between the WWF and USWA, which became a farm system for McMahon, who in return would send his established superstars to help keep Jarrett’s struggling local promotion afloat.

Undoubtedly, McMahon was also very interested in the services of Jerry Lawler as part of the arrangement and quickly made him an integral part of WWE broadcasts, where the King still remains as host of RAW. McMahon also entrusted Jerry Jarrett to help run the WWF while the owner was headed to trial after the goverment concluded its investigation into allegations that McMahon had distributed steroids to several of his stars. In addition to pressure from the federal trial, Jarrett was reportedly persausive in convincing McMahon that he would be would better off continuing his focus on smaller workers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels (two performers Jerry was extremely high on) in the long run. The Tennessee promoter says today that the stressful stint in New York in the early ’90s nearly drove him to alcholism as he was drinking two bottles of wine a night–he appears to be only slightly joking.  Jarrett also laughs when admitting that it was he who unleashed on the world the Mr. McMahon heel character, which began in Memphis with his feud with Lawler. The King tried to remain a babyface in his home territory while appearing as a heel in the WWF, but it was confusing for a lot of area fans and probably hurt his credibility to an extent. To explain his nastiness to the hometown faithful, Lawler blamed his erratic behavior on his hatred of the WWF and its fans in New York City, Boston and throughout the Northeast, where they looked down on Southerners and our way of life.

 

 

While Jeff had a good look (except for that cheesy ’80s-era hair and the worst outfits of any athlete since Flo-Jo), he couldn’t cut a promo to save his life. Convinced he could make anyone a superstar, McMahon produced a series of videos attempting to get the promo-challenged former USWA star over as a country singer who actually knew how to spell his own name. (Show-off.) After months of production on the vignettes, an exasperated McMahon confided to Lawler (who in turn told me) that Jeff was the worst promo guy he’d ever worked closely with in the business, including former Federation champion Bob Backlund. (Clearly, McMahon had never worked with George Gulas.)

Despite his limitations on the mic, Jeff was capable of having a good match with almost anyone and great bouts with the likes of Razor Ramon, whom he defeated for the Intercontinental title when the belt still meant something, and Michaels, whom he dropped the belt to on PPV. It’s hard to pinpoint: Jeff was always gregarious and a pretty funny guy backstage but his personality was never effectively conveyed on camera. In that sense, Jeff was the reverse of “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, who was quiet and mild-mannered backstage but (as Memphis announcer Dave Brown recalls) “exploded through the curtain” for his promos.

After a stint in WCW, Jarrett returned to WWE without the hokey gimmick in 1997 in one of those worked shoots that were becoming increasingly prevalent (and annoying) at the time in a misguided attempt to appeal to “the Internet marks.” Although it was the strongest promo of his life, Jeff pissed off Steve Austin, who later refused to work a main-event program with him. (The two had also exchanged words years earlier in Memphis, a conversation I was privy to.)

By 1999, Jarrett was ready to make the jump back to WCW with head writer Vince Russo (a union that would not only help kill WCW but would also doom TNA). The day before Jarrett’s WWE swan song, dropping the IC title to Chyna on PPV, his contract expired. Reportedly, Jeff refused to work the show and do the honors (or perhaps dishonors in this case since the job was for Chyna) unless he received a large sum of money up front (supposedly between $250,000 and $300,000). Given the buildup for the bout and Chyna‘s big push as a wrestler (hard to fathom in hindsight), McMahon had no choice but to cave to Jeff’s demands–but he never forgot.

Jarrett went on to have four largely forgettable runs as the holder of the WCW World title, which Russo booked to change hands nearly every other week to pop WCW’s falling ratings, including a victory over actor/savvy ring veteran David Arquette.

After acquiring the dying WCW and winning the Monday Night War in 2001, McMahon evaluated Jarrett’s chances for being retained by the new ownership during the stunning Nitro/RAW simulcast…and as the title of the video implies, indirectly helped to create TNA in the process and ensure the continuation of Russo’s unlikely employment in the industry. Classic McMahon.

  1. Jeff
    August 3rd, 2010 at 21:55 | #1

    Funny McMahon promo, seeing him butcher the word “svelt” (what was that, his “sevit waste”? and almost blowing the name of the belt, with the Unified title becoming the United title.

  2. admin
    August 4th, 2010 at 01:48 | #2

    Sounds like he said “Slevit”–an interesting take on the pronunciation. I think Vince and WWF guys like Howard Finkel had fun taping their heel promos for Memphis TV. And Vince is supposedly a belt mark so he probably enjoyed wearing the style of belt that used to represent Verne Gagne’s World champion.

  3. Eric Plunk
    August 4th, 2010 at 02:53 | #3

    I had no idea Vince appeared in Mempho! Thanks for the history lesson

  4. David
    August 4th, 2010 at 06:55 | #4

    I actually thought Jeff stepped his promo game up when he first went to WWF… clearly better than he had done in Memphis… he probably was never this good again…

  5. Tape Fan
    August 4th, 2010 at 13:15 | #5

    Ahhh McMemphis, the last fizzle of a once great wrestling town. David, I thought he improved in WWF too. I remember one day seeing him with those goofy Double J LED glasses and wondering where the hell he got his personality from. In Memphis he was just a gee-jolly hick, kinda like Woody Harrelson on Cheers. The comment about Jeff being the worst promo man in the business makes me wonder just what Vince really thinks of his current product. Jeff could cut a better promo in the shower with a bar of soap stuffed in his mouth than most of the guys on Vince’s TV today (looking at you, John Morrison). Hell, Jeff’s “Founder” speech a few months ago, even though we’ve heard it all before, was one of the best promos I’ve seen in years. I *hate* Jeff Jarrett as a performer but I actually felt for the guy after the Founder speech.

  6. admin
    August 5th, 2010 at 02:08 | #6

    Jeff did fine in the WWF’s scripted vignettes (God knows how many takes they shot), but he still was an awfully shaky live interview. The gimmick, though, made it hard to take him seriously, in my opinion…it overshadowed his ability. Today, he’s miles better on promos, but other than his personal speeches about his late wife or the company and its founding, most of his interviews still come off forced, too scripted for my taste. It doesn’t come naturally to him, but I think Jeff works hard at it. In the ring, Jeff’s been a good performer for two decades, and he’s worked his ass to forge quite a career. I’ll admit that he’s accomplished more than we Memphis marks back in 1987 would have ever dreamed.

  7. Cal
    August 7th, 2010 at 06:31 | #7

    One thing that helped him with the Double J gimmick is that he was supposed to be disingenuous. So when his promos were forced, and he did that laugh every couple of lines, it worked.

    When he wasn’t in that gimmick it didn’t work as well, but at least he became passable later on.

    Also, I remember the WW/USWA feud, and I remember how much it always confused me. They didn’t even send heels down there to feud with Lawler, it was guys like Tatanka. They also portrayed the Harts as heels. Though if I remember correctly, Papa Shango showed up too, so that was one actual heel, at least.

    Though that was when I was starting to understand that wrestling wasn’t real… It’s also when I started liking some of the heels, including your group. I don’t think that would have happened if I had still believed it fully.

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