Posts Tagged ‘Anatomy of an Angle’

Anatomy of an angle: Mercy, daddy! Handsome Jimmy Valiant cuts record, turns heel

July 8th, 2010 2 comments

What's more manly than being macho? MANCHO: "Handsome" Jimmy with WAKY (790 AM) DJ Bob Moody.

On Sept. 19, 1977, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant came rollin’ into Mempho, TWA. Initially, he was introduced as the new heel superstar to take the place of Jerry Lawler, who had recently “retired” to pursue music and art opportunities. (Lawler’s supposed plans to pursue music should have tipped off fans that this was an angle to switch the King babyface.) Valiant won a tournament to win Lawler’s vacated Southern title and feuded with the King upon his return a few weeks later.

Lawler and Valiant traded the Southern crown several times before large crowds across the territory well into the New Year, in every gimmick match possible, culminating with a bout that could only end with a five-count (shades of King Kong Bundy’s future gimmick). That Lawler victory drew 8,125 fans to the Mid-South Coliseum. Valiant was the perfect opponent to turn Lawler babyface as he was the antithesis of the hometown King…and worst of all, he came New York City.

By that point, the feud had gone as far it could go-for the time being. Promoter Jerry Jarrett had noticed that the fans had often responded with cheers to Valiant’s promos, despite his arrogance and dirty deeds. Valiant was indeed ahead of his time. Although Jesse Ventura gets a lot of recognition for being among the first to spice up his promos with pop-culture references, Valiant was the first one I ever noticed to do so, often referring to his buddies Burt Reynolds and Sally Field (who were red hot coming off “The Smokey and the Bandit” film) and girlfriends Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs. In the same vein as Dusty Rhodes’ obvious babyface potential while working as a heel in Florida, Valiant was primed to be cheered because of his rap with the people.

Shortly after defeating Terry Sawyer with a sunset flip at the WMC-TV Studios on Saturday, April 1, 1978 (the same day that Jimmy Hart made his Memphis TV studio debut as buddy of the King), Lawler conducts a post-match interview with Lance Russell to announce his upcoming promotional appearances around the Mid-South area. Usually, such a spot would be reserved for later in the broadcast; however, the story goes that Lawler wants to say a few words really quickly because he has to leave the studio immediately to make one of those scheduled meet-and-greet gigs in Arkansas before the matches in Jonesboro that night. This, of course, left the dressing-room door open for heel “Handsome” Jimmy to turn babyface after Bill Dundee is attacked later that day by heels Sonny King and Joe LeDuc. (During the beatdown, Russell exclaims, “Lawler’s already gone! We need some help out here!”) As a last resort, heel Valiant struts out acting like he’s going to participate in the beating, pausing to flex and preen for the camera, before slugging King and LeDuc. Back in the kayfabe days (and before Vince Russo had killed such a swerve), most fans weren’t savvy enough to see this coming a mile away.

Valiant remainded a babyface for approximately the next six months (a lifetime in Memphis wrestling), eventually mentoring and teaming with Lawler’s cousin, rookie Wayne Ferris (the future Honky Tonk Man). I’m not sure how much he improved in the ring, but Ferris quickly picked up Valiant’s beauty secrets, with his dark hair becoming platinum blonde seemingly overnight. On the same show his infamous “Son of a Gypsy” video aired on Nov. 11, 1978, Valiant gradually turns heel over the 90 minutes, along with Ferris, setting up the bleached-blonde bastards for a program with Lawler and Dundee. Before things get ugly (with Valiant telling Dundee to play with the short people, referencing Randy Newman’s popular “Short People”), Handsome compares Lawler’s “hillbilly” music to that of the legendary Ernest Tubb.

Good friends…better enemies: I purchased this photo for $1 at the 1978 Mid-South Fair. (Guess Lawler didn't get the memo to look away from the camera.)

The storyline is that “Handsome” Jimmy’s ego is out of control, demanding to be cut in on the main event with the King and Superstar, who politely rebuff him before Lawler finally snaps and offers his opinion on Valiant’s sexual preferences. (That’s certainly the first time 7-year-old Scott Bowden had heard that word on TV.)

Valiant was pretty damn popular, so the heel turn really came out of nowhere and was somewhat inexplicable as the revolutionary music video only got him that much more over with the fans. (I can tell you that all my friends and I were singing “Son of a Gypsy” in the weeks that followed-we all loved that video-and local station FM 100 was bombarded with calls to play it.) Some have speculated that perhaps Valiant was getting a little too popular in the eyes of Lawler and Dundee (who were tight with Jarrett and helped him book the territory), so he was turned heel. (Michael Hayes claims that Lawler put the kibosh on the Freebirds’ babyface turn when he saw the fans go crazy and rise to their feet when they came out to their Skynard anthem.) But in all likelihood, Valiant was turned heel to spark attendance, which had begun to drop to between 3,500 and 4,500 at the Coliseum in the weeks prior. But despite being well-executed by everyone involved, Valiant’s switch back to the dark side didn’t work (attendance at the Coliseum continued to fall), and the program between the two teams was quickly dropped. Perhaps it was because the fans didn’t want to hate “Handsome” Jimmy, that charismatic son of a gypsy.

Longtime TV announcer Dave Brown recalls the other side of the “Boy From New York City,” who sometimes claimed in promos that he was returning to the South in part to see “Grandma Valiant” and her enjoy her fried chicken, biscuits and gravy.

“I have a thousand memories of ‘Handsome’ Jimmy, and they’re all good,” he says. “I was always amazed to watch him in the back because Jimmy was so quiet and mild-mannered. But when he came through that dressing-room door, he just exploded: ‘Wooo, baby, Handsome Jimbo from Mempho!’ He used to call Lance ‘Lancer’ and, at the time, Jackson Browne was hot, so he called me ‘Jack-son.’”

In fact, Jarrett could always rely on Valiant to spark the houses when the King was unable to appear. For example, nearly the entire year of 1980, when Lawler was on the shelf with a broken leg, a heel “Handsome” Jimmy was quickly called into emergency babyface duty.

“Jimmy wasn’t here on a consistent basis,” Brown continues, “so when he came to town, it was an event, much like when they brought in Roughhouse Fargo and Jackie Fargo. Music videos pretty much started on our show-even before they hit MTV. And we did with a video with ‘Handsome’ Jimmy that saw him coming out of a white limo-that was one of the greatest TV moments of the era.”

At the height of his popularity in the early ’80s, my mother approached Valiant at the Memphis airport, asking for an autograph for her son. Never removing his shades, he replied, “Your son, eh? Sure it is, momma. Sure it is.”

Anatomy of an Angle: The Freebirds flat out frame Austin Idol on Georgia Championship Wrestling

April 1st, 2010 2 comments

By John Keating, KFR guest columnist 

Don't trust this man

If you say the words “Fabulous Freebirds” to any fan of pro wrestling, most will immediately recall memories of wild brawls with the Von Erichs and a war that set Texas on fire and captured the imagination of the wrestling world. A lot of fans will point to World Class Championship Wrestling as the team’s greatest run. While there is no doubt that the Freebirds had their most famous and lucrative run in World Class, I feel that, creatively, their best was in Georgia Championship Wrestling.

The ‘Birds, fresh off a red-hot stint in Mid South, in which they blinded Junkyard Dog with the infamous Freebird Hair Removal Cream, made a surprise appearance at the Omni on October 10, 1980. During a Georgia Tag Team Title match between The Assassins and Wrestling 1 & 2, the familiar strains of Lynard Skynard’s anthem played and out came Terry, Buddy and Michael. Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy won the titles in an early incarnation of the Three Way Dance.

One of their earliest challenges came from the newly formed team of Austin Idol and Kevin Sullivan. I always found Sullivan to be an odd babyface in Georgia, what with his strong Boston accent. Idol and Sullivan had been feuding for awhile, with the peak of the storyline occurring when Idol broke the leg of Kevin’s brother (no, not Evad). As we know, in pro wrestling, hatred soon breeds respect and Idol was making the save for Sullivan in a beatdown from The Assassins in an effort to score some karmic payback for breaking the younger Sullivan’s leg. Sullivan repays the favor later on as Idol is getting the boots put to him by Abdullah the Butcher and Mark Lewin. On an unrelated note, I love that Abby owns a restaurant. In my head, I imagine you walk in and he’s sitting in the back with a white suit and little fez atop his scarred head, looking a lot like Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca. Of course, he’d probably have a poker chip sticking out of one of the scars, but I digress….

The teaming of Sullivan and Idol leads to one of my favorite angles ever…Four Flat Tires. The babyfaces claim the ‘Birds are ducking them, and Idol goes as far as to call them the “Jailbirds.” Not since The Universal Heartthrob dubbed Baron Von Raschke, “Baron Von Onionhead” has such a vicious insult crossed the ears of Georgia Championship Wrestling and its fans. Sullivan just calls them the “Dolly Sisters.” Finally, Kevin has an idea, producing a contract that says he and a partner of The Freebirds’ choosing will face them in a tag title match. Hayes (he was pretty much acting as a manager for Buddy and Terry as he recovered from a neck injury) likes this idea and after “dwelling it over” picks Georgia jobber Mike Davis and makes the match for the following week. Sullivan watches Hayes sign the contract and then laughs as he reveals the fine print. Yes, he will have to have Mike Davis as his partner…but the special referee will be of his choosing. Cue Austin Idol in a striped referee’s shirt and whistle as the show goes off the air.

The following week, a concerned Kevin Sullivan lets Gordon Solie know that Idol hasn’t shown. He asks for some time because “the man gave me his word that he’d be here.” You know that the man gave him his word because Sullivan says that same exact sentence about 27 times over the course of the show. No scriptwriting in those days. I recommend using this footage for a drinking game. Every time Sullivan says “the man gave his word,” take a drink. Once you wake up and get over the hangover the next day, you can go back and watch the entire thing again.

Hayes comes out to the podium and mocks Sullivan, saying that Idol had always wanted to be a Freebird but was denied. He produces a telegram that he claims is from the Heartthrob, in which Idol apologizes for going against them and states that he won’t interfere in their affairs any longer. Even Solie, calling back to Sullivan and Idol’s past, thinks that Kevin may have been the victim of a double-cross. Sullivan is undeterred, though. After all, the man gave him his word (drink).

The show progresses until finally Solie can’t buy Kevin any more time. Sullivan acquiesces and goes to the ring with Davis. In a short yet solid match, Gordy and Roberts retain the titles after Gordy hits Davis with his finisher, which is a combination of a piledriver and power bomb. It looks vicious. Davis is out and Hayes goes on a rant, blaming Sullivan for getting the kid hurt (“Sullivan, that kid is hurt because of you! He came out here and tried his hardest and because you didn’t have the guts to get in there and take the whoopin’, that’s why he’s hurt!”). Sullivan comes back out and starts a pull-apart brawl with Hayes. Solie plays his part perfectly here, trying to console Sullivan and looking like a father who has to let his son learn a hard life lesson about trusting the wrong people.

Freddie Miller runs in to inform Gordon that, finally, Austin Idol is in the building! Idol comes in with ref shirt in hand and demands that they get the tag title match underway. Solie scolds him and says the match already took place and demands to know how he can show his face here. Confused, Idol replies: “Sure, I’m showing my face. All the pretty women want to see this beautiful, gorgeous, sexy face.” Idol then goes on to explain to Gordon that he was late because he had to fix a flat tire. Michael Hayes tries to cool the situation down and tells Idol that he told everyone about his telegram. Idol scoffs at the notion of him wanting to be a Freebird (“That’s like Ronald Regan saying he wants to be John Anderson”).

This irks Hayes some and it’s here that he makes his fatal mistake. He tries to tell Idol that the match is already over and done with and blurts out “I guess it would take some time to fix four flat tires…” Idol interrupts: “Wait a minute, what did you just say? I said I had *a* flat tire; I didn’t say nothing about four flat tires!” The jig is up and Hayes discovered as the tire-flattening culprit. Idol throws some bombs at Hayes and here come Terry, Buddy and Sullivan for a Pier 6 brawl.

The reason I love this angle so much is because it shows pro wrestling at its best. WWE and TNA often state how their shows are about the characters and stories but they rarely accomplish what they set out to do. Here you have two weeks of TV shows (and really, ¾ of the angle takes place on one week’s show) that are completely about the characters of the wrestlers involved. The Freebirds playing chicken heels, Sullivan standing up for a man who he believes is going to live up to his word, Idol as the cavalry without ever losing his clueless, self-absorbed persona and finally Solie, as the patriarch of the whole situation. He comments on past dealings with the men and makes logical comments that really forward the story. It’s true characterization.The angle ends with a bloodied Idol and Sullivan flanking Solie. Gordon apologizes to Idol and says that, at this point in time, Sullivan’s faith in Idol has been vindicated. After all, the man gave him his word.

John Keating is a professional stand-up comic/actor/cartoonist and all-around snappy dresser. You can learn more about him and check out his comic strip, “Breaking the Ice,” at

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

March 18th, 2010 2 comments

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.