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Part III of the Dutch Mantell Interview: Memphis Wrestling Psychology 101

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Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e., real life), the final installment (which will now be Part IV) of the Dutch Mantell interview will be posted, appropriately enough, on Monday night. Until then, enjoy Part III, where we get further insight into Dutch’s thoughts on what made Memphis wrestling really click and his opinions on the strengths of Vince McMahon and WWE today. Again, this interview merely scratches the surface on the stories you’ll find at Dutch’s blog, The World According to Dutch, where you can order his entertaining book of the same. Trust a longtime Memphis wrestling fan when I say it’s one hell of a read. Dutch’s site also includes big news about his wrestling school, which is now open for enrollment. Don’t miss this opportunity to be trained by one of the all-time masters of wrestling psychology.

SCOTT BOWDEN: Regarding the passion of the fans, in my experiences, the fans in Nashville were intense—almost scary. In your book, you have some amazing stories about the fans in Puerto Rico. How did the fans in Memphis and Nashville back in your day compare to those in Puerto Rico?

DUTCH MANTELL: If you think those Nashville fans were bad, buddy, you’ve never been around those Puerto Rican fans when it was hot. They would literally try to hurt ya. In Nashville, if you filled up the building, you’re talking about maybe 2000–2500 people.  In Puerto Rico, we’d have 15,000.  I literally had to fight through the crowd. Now I had heard of throwing a body block to get through a crowd before—but this was my first experience of fighting to the ring, before the match even started!

Whippin 'em into a frenzy: Dutch makes the long walk to the ring in Puerto Rico with his trusty "shoo-baby."

BOWDEN: They’re riled up before you’ve even done anything. [laughs]

MANTELL: And drunk! So, just think of the worst redneck bar you’ve ever been in and multiply it by fifteen thousand—one mistake and you’re dead.  Our ‘security’ was scared to death, which didn’t exactly make me like my chances. I mean, I’m fighting to the ring…then we have a wild match. I looked up at the 14,000 or 15,000 people—it’s packed—and I’m admiring my handiwork. The security couldn’t even leave ringside ‘cause they had to stay there to keep those crazy bastards at bay. And I’m staring at all these people thinking, ‘My God, now, about fifteen minutes from now, I’m gonna to have to fight my way back through them son of a bitches again, ‘cause I doubt if they were going anywhere.’ So, the match is over, and we’d lost the match, but they didn’t care if we had won or lost.

BOWDEN: They’re still pissed off.

MANTELL: As I said in my book, it’s amazing the foreign languages you can learn in a crisis situation.”  At that moment, I learned a very valuable Spanish phrase from our security: ‘Nos vamos!’…which means, ‘Let’s go!’ [laughs]

BOWDEN: When you were working for Jarrett in 1980 and ’81, was there ever any tension over the on-air threats that the ICW guys like Savage, Bob Roop and Bob Orton Jr. were making toward you, Lawler, Dundee, Tojo and the Dream Machine? I believe they occasionally threatened to follow you guys on the freeway and show up at ringside—I think they even made their way toward the ring one night in Lexington. Hell, Savage even confronted poor ol’ Lance Russell and Dave Brown in the parking lot outside Rupp Arena.

MANTELL: We didn’t care, to tell you the truth. I mean, it wasn’t between us.  It was between Lawler and Jerry Jarrett and the Poffos. I just didn’t want those guys coming to storm the ring at me, like I had something to do with it. Then we would have had a hell of a fight. ‘Cause, I always had my bullwhip handy and I always had the handle of it, so I just had to reach down and reverse it…I’d have used the handle. I think all that bravado was just them trying to make their show.  That was fine with me.  I don’t think they ever made it into the building; security would stop them. But they’d be outside and then security would have to tell them to leave.  It would be a big mess. But they actually did get noticed by doing that, because that was completely brand new in those days—really, kind of unheard of.  Savage did wait outside of gym, here in Hendersonville or Goodlettsville, and actually got into a physical fight with Dundee.

BOWDEN: Savage broke his jaw, didn’t he?

MANTELL: Yeh, I think so. I don’t know how Randy got out of it.  I’m sure he got charged.  He punched him, and he did hurt him.

BOWDEN: One of the best wrestling stories I’ve ever heard is in your book, about Savage and the dog—the Macho Man didn’t come out OK in that one.

MANTELL: No, that dog got the best of him!

BOWDEN: OK, in the summer of ’81, you’re still a heel. Dundee and the Dream Machine are in a feud with Onita and Fuchi, managed by Tojo.  You came to their rescue on Monday night, and on Saturday morning Lance Russell called you out to explain yourself.  It was a riveting promo—you divulged that you are a Vietnam Vet. I’ll never forget these words—you saw a little boy drop his American flag in horror when he saw the Japanese triple teaming Dundee, so you stormed the ring.  The part about Vietnam was a shoot, right?

MANTELL: Yeah…I was there.

BOWDEN: Shortly after that promo, you were over huge as a babyface.

MANTELL: Well, here’s what I think my formula was: There was nothing to disbelieve in my interview at all.  I’m saying it in a calm, collected manner, and I’m talking to you like you speak to someone on the telephone through that camera lens, I’m bringing them in and getting them to understand. See, I was getting them to connect with me. I’m getting them to feel something for Dutch.  Because if they didn’t, they don’t give a damn. They don’t care. Vietnam was still kinda, not fresh, but it still had some deep wounds—a lot of people died there.  Everybody was kind of affected by that war.  But, it was something, especially during like my age group.  I was like 29, 30, I guess, about that time.  But, yet, you still had mothers and fathers whose sons had served there.  Or their fathers had served there, or their brothers.  So when I got to talking about Vietnam, they relate to that.  Then when I talk about the American flag, and the Japanese, and the whole premise of it—that I didn’t go to save Dundee for Dundee’s sake. I didn’t go to save Dream Machine just for his sake. I went to save them because those foreigners were beating up Americans. Basically trying to take over and do whatever they wanted to do in our country. I think it kinda worked.

BOWDEN: I’ll say, Dutch. You had a pained look on your face that really told a story and you never raised your voice. It looked like it was a struggle for you to bare your soul. But that’s the way people talk.

MANTELL: I didn’t scream.  I didn’t holler, saying, “I don’t know if I’m telling this right, man.” Y’know, about six months ago somebody said to me that this was one of my best interviews they’d ever seen.  I don’t think it’s the best interview anybody’s ever seen, but I think it came from the heart.  I think people felt what I wanted them to feel. I feel my book was written with that same tone.

BOWDEN: Oh, you’re a born storyteller, Dutch. The book is like having a conversation with Dutch Mantell, and that’s a big compliment.

MANTELL: Well, thank you.

BOWDEN: I think another reason the fans liked you and respected you was because you were always straight with them. You often said, ‘I’m not here to kiss babies; I’m here to win titles.’  And, even though you were both babyfaces, you got into this program with Steve Keirn for the Mid-America belt, and they were really heated matches, which I guess set the table for the babyface rivalry you had with Lawler. You were very unique for the time in Memphis: that ‘tweener, kind of anti-establishment, blue-collar straight-shooter.

MANTELL: Well, again, I think the people kinda connected with me because when I went out there, I laid it out. I said, ‘Hey, Steve. I’m gonna go out there, and we’re friends in the back, but I’m gonna try to beat your butt.’ Now, I didn’t say I was gonna beat your butt, I said I’m going to try. And Lance or somebody says, ‘Well, you threw the first punch.’ I said, ‘Yeh, I threw the first punch ‘cause he had the same opportunity. He could throw it too if he wanted to. It’s just that I got it in first.’  I mean, I’m just trying to win this thing. I think the people realized it was like when you played football—you knocked the hell out of somebody. Your opponent would be your buddy afterwards, but you try to take him out when you’re on that field or in the ring. Then, you come away and say, ‘Oh, man, love you, man, no hard feelings.’

BOWDEN: It’s rare to find that kind of storytelling in wrestling today, although there was that same kind of magic in the Shawn Michaels and Undertaker deal, which is not surprising because those guys from the territory system. And ‘Taker, of course, is a graduate of the University of Dutch. But yeah, it’s rare.

MANTELL: That’s because I think a lot of stuff is not explained in wrestling today. And it’s largely not explained ‘cause a lot of people can’t talk. You know, I’ve been in some promotions, and they say, ‘We’ll have this guy say….’  And I interrupt, ‘The guy can’t talk.’ They say, ‘Yeh, but we can get him to say this.’ I say, ‘I don’t care what you have him say. It’s not what he’s saying, it’s how he’s being received by the people listening.’ If the people, the fans, don’t believe you, you know, then I don’t give a damn—you could be the greatest talker in the world—but, if the people perceive it’s a lie or B.S., I don’t care what believable words you use, it’s not going to work

BOWDEN: Right. You, Lawler and Dundee all had a way of making all the wild and wooly Memphis action make sense. And, of course, Lance and Dave had credibility.

MANTELL: They did. And the deal with Keirn was good because I didn’t worry if I came off like a heel. You know what I mean? I could be a heel for that deal, and then if I got beat, I’d get up, but before I would leave, I would shake Keirn’s hand. That was for me, that was for Dutch. Because what I always knew was that you may be working for….hmmm…what did Jarrett call his promotion…Championship Wrestling? What was it?

BOWDEN: Championship Wrestling, yeah.

MANTELL: Yeh, I didn’t know what the heck it was. But that’s a brand, right?


MANTELL: OK, so it’s a brand. But at the same time, Dirty Dutch was a brand, too. So no matter what I did, I still had to kind of protect my brand—didn’t matter whether I win or lose. I didn’t have a problem with that. But I did want to protect the brand.

BOWDEN: The following year in ’82, you were able to stay babyface despite the fact that you jumped Bill Dundee on TV because you wanted a match for the Mid-America belt. You carefully explained that because Ric Flair was in the studio that day saying he was going to wrestle the Southern champion at a later date, you wanted to hold some kind of belt just in case the Southern champion ‘gets in a car wreck,’ with the notion that the Mid-America champ would probably take his place. You compared it to a card game and playing your cards right. I think the fans understood—you’re looking for a match for the World champion, nothing personal.

MANTELL: It’s a matter of presentation and how it’s presented. I came out there for a reason. I forgot how I explained it now, but whatever I said it made sense. I was positioning.

BOWDEN: That made sense.

MANTELL: I think I’d held off Jimmy Hart so Dundee could win the thing to begin with, so I said, ‘Well, the way I look at it, I helped you win the belt, so I’m, like, really the co-holder of the thing, you know.’

BOWDEN: Right. ‘You didn’t win the belt. We won the belt!’ I remember that.

MANTELL: ‘Yeah, Dundee, it’s really only half yours, really.’ And nobody told me to say that. I just went out there, and I put it terms that you could understand. A good heel often has a point but he’s just so overbearing about it.

BOWDEN: Yeh. But he believes what he’s saying is right—and maybe he is-but these stupid people can’t see it!

MANTELL: If you’re in an argument with somebody and you do have a point, but you just stay on it and stay on it and stay on it. Well, that makes you a heel. ‘Oh, just shut the hell up already!’ But, you stay on it; you really do have a point, but the way you’re going about it sort of invalidates you, and I think that’s what came across in the interview with Dundee.

BOWDEN: Now, in 1982 a young manager tried to sign you to a contract to become the first wrestler to take under his wing. Well, I guess you would have been his second, because, I believe, he managed Sherri Martel first. I’m talking about Jim Cornette. What did you think when Jerry Jarrett made his young photographer a heel manager, and did you envision that Jimmy would go far?

MANTELL: Oh, I did. I thought Jimmy was a natural from day one. I really think he was a natural because he was a serious student of wrestling. And he studied wrestling like most people study map books. If you want to be a mathematician, you know, you studied the craft. And he, you know, even talking to him today, he’s got thousands and thousands and thousands of hours on of footage on DVD that’s transferred from VHS. But, I always thought Jimmy would do well. I always liked Jimmy.You’re talking about the interview we did when I tore our picture up and gave it back to him?

BOWDEN: Yeh, the deal was that you gave him a shot to manage you in match against Lawler for the Southern title. You guys had the picture made to commemorate the pairing. And yet you still managed to remain a babyface. You were just looking for an edge.

MANTELL: I gave him a shot, and the people didn’t like it. So I was gonna give him a little test on TV, because I said the people would accept him better if they knew more about him. So, I gave him a little pop quiz and, of course, he answered the way he should have answered it, as a heel. And I think that Jimmy just managed me, like, two or three weeks. I remember I told him never to get into the ring and he ended up getting in the ring against my wishes.

BOWDEN: That’s right. You were working with Lawler at the Coliseum and referee Jerry Calhoun was bumped. You crawled over and covered Lawler and, in a moment where Cornette’s inexperience showed, he got into the ring and picked up the referee so he could make the count. But Calhoun looks up and sees Cornette in the ring calls for the DQ. And you fired him on the spot. That was a heck of a finish.

MANTELL: That kind of made sense too.

BOWDEN: Oh, yeah, ‘cause, obviously, Jimmy got a little excited and overzealous, which a young guy would do in that position. How often do you see something in the ring today, be it a moment in a match or an amazing promo, that reminds you of those Memphis days?

MANTELL: I watched Shawn Michael’s retirement speech, and I don’t even hardly watch wrestling. But, to me, that’s what wrestling is. It’s what wrestling could still be, because you felt that. They gave him time, the announcers shut the hell up. They let him have the whole moment, and that’s what WWE is famous for. And that camera was right in his face. You know, you saw the people crying in the crowd. And he didn’t go through it in three minutes either. He went out there, and he took his time. They went to eleven minutes past the hour. I’ll bet they did a monster rating.  I mean, how many retirement speeches you gonna get from Shawn Michael?

BOWDEN: Well, I think that was his third, but I see your point. It was incredible. I had goosebumps.

MANTELL: That’s because you felt it. To me, when I was there, the WWF was like Memphis but on a bigger scale. I still think WWE—you just can’t beat ‘em. Just can’t beat ‘em. Now, you can have an alternative product, but, you can’t beat that guy. You can’t beat McMahon.

BOWDEN: They’re so far ahead of the game, Dutch.

MANTELL: Oh, my God. When they’re clicking, their stuff’s kinda like the old Memphis stuff used to make sense, even when you dissected it. See, that’s what I always tried to do when I was booking. I’d do something, and then I’d go back and take the holes out. I would do that because a man sittin’ there who works a 9-to-5 job or whatever, is gonna see this angle and he’s gonna go back and think about it…dissect it. And the same with a movie. Ever watch a movie and you go back and think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t make sense ‘cause this happened.’? That’s because the writer or director didn’t take the holes out. So, if you take the holes out, now you’ve gotta a viable scenario that should make you money. And that’s the key word: should.

BOWDEN: Dutch, I don’t think it’s just me, but that’s what TNA cannot do. There are so many holes. I’m often watching iMPACT, thinking, ‘Huh? What?’

MANTELL: Well…I’m not going to say anything bad about TNA.

BOWDEN: I know, Dutch. I know.

MANTELL: Jeff Jarrett’s my friend. I like Dixie, and I know how hard creative is.

BOWDEN: I understand.

MANTELL: Like I said, it’s a thankless job, and I’m just praying, really, not only for them, but I’m praying for the health of the wrestling business…that they can kick this in gear and give Vince a run. I think Vince wants a run. Vince has done this for nearly forty years. And he was at his height when the NWO was trying to kick his ass. He says, ‘I’ll kill you bastards. You want it? Here I’m comin’.’ And, boy, he cranked it into gear, and he went after them.

BOWDEN: And he created new stars.

MANTELL: Even though he may not take the competition seriously, if TNA becomes more successful, I think he’d take it as a personal affront. A personal challenge. And I think that’s how he wants it too. He wants to get excited.

BOWDEN: He wants a fight.

MANTELL: Hell, yeh, he wants to fight, ‘cause he’s a hell of a fighter. Think what you want to about Vince, but to me, he was always a gentleman. Now, I didn’t really have that much interconnection with him, and I’ve heard he can be a real son of a bitch. But then I guess people said that about me too. But whereas you always get their side of the story, you never hear Vince’s side, ‘cause he keeps it quite. I had no problem with him at all. I’m just glad he gave me a job.

BOWDEN: Besides the money and enjoying the creative end, was it fun for you in Memphis…like, say, on Saturday mornings on live TV?

Another one bites the Dutch: the King makes his point with a piledriver.

MANTELL: Seriously, it’s according to how drunk I got the night before. [laughs] Because, hey, I may have gone to bed at…well…I’m not gonna tell you what time I got in bed, ‘cause my wife may read this interview. But say I got in bed late, late…late. And you had to be at TV at nine o’clock. So I’d get there at 9 in the morning, maybe I hadn’t even gone to bed yet, really. And it could be hectic right before 11, and I remember, I told Lawler once I was worried about this or that working out right on TV. He says to me, ‘Dutch, let me say something. We’re gonna go live at 11 and we’re gonna go off the air at 12:30. I don’t care what happens to tell you the truth.’ And he’s right. You’re gonna get to the same spot regardless. It may not be the spot you want to be in, but you get there. It’s like doing an angle—there are a lot of different ways to get there to tell the same story. So, yeah, it was a lot fun on Saturday mornings but it was hectic—sometimes I’d get the interview 5 minutes before I was supposed to go out there on live TV: ‘You’re working with so and so Monday night.’

BOWDEN: That was my experience in 1994 as a manager as well. Very nerve-wracking. So Jarrett or Lawler would lay out the TV…

MANTELL: Jerry Jarrett, he’d lay it out sometimes, Lawler would lay it out sometimes, Dundee would lay it out sometimes. Sometimes I’d lay it out for somebody else. So, we actually had a crew…we all did the job at one time. Especially me, Lawler and Dundee. We had all done the job. So, when I’d give something, an idea, to Dundee, well, he had it. I’d give it to Lawler, he had it, or, he gave it to me, and I had it. I think Jerry Jarrett was very smart. He surrounded himself with experienced guys. From early on in that run in the ‘80s, I realized that Jarrett really knew what he was doing. Memphis TV was wild, and I did like it.

BOWDEN: Yeah, and the influence of that show was far-reaching.

MANTELL: Oh, it was. It was.

  1. William Burnett – Little Rock
    April 9th, 2010 at 19:46 | #1

    Thank you, Scott & Dutch, for bringing back so many GOOD memories !!

  2. April 12th, 2010 at 03:25 | #2

    Fantastic series with Dutch, Scott!

  3. Chris Myers
    April 12th, 2010 at 13:49 | #3

    Awesome interview Scott. The clip of Dutch pouring out his sould over Vietnam reminds me of why wrestling today can never compare with wrestling of that time. Interviews were from the heart. And so were the matches. Love the website!

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