Posts Tagged ‘Austin Idol’

Not quite the 10 pounds of gold, but…. Belt-maker Dave Millican recreates Memphis wrestling’s CWA World title strap

June 6th, 2012 No comments

This belt signifies you're the greatest wrestler walking the face of God's green pastures in Tennessee and Kentucky…and parts of Indiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.


After years of frustration in his attempts to convince the National Wrestling Alliance board to give his homegrown star Jerry Lawler a run with the NWA World title, Memphis wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett created his own championship-the Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) heavyweight title. The idea was that AWA Southern champ Lawler would win the strap from former WWWF champion Superstar Graham and then issue challenges to AWA kingpin Nick Bockwinkle and perennial NWA titlist Harley Race for a series of unification matches. Jarrett, who had begun working with Verne Gagne the previous year, was thinking that perhaps the AWA owner would eventually agree to have Lawler and Bockwinkel “unify” the titles in Memphis, with each man holding the undisputed championship for a period of time.

Of course, Lawler broke his leg just as the unification series with Nick was getting off the ground, forcing Jarrett to go in a different direction with Billy Robinson, who was a classic wrestler in the mold of the men whom the young promoter admired growing up.

With Lawler on the shelf, Robinson drew some strong houses in Memphis defending the belt against the likes of Bockwinkel (after Verne decided to have one last run with the AWA crown), Bill Dundee (who Robinson traded the belt with), former NWA champion Lou Thesz, and Paul Ellering; still, he wasn’t the consistent draw that Lawler was. In fact, it was “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant who picked up the babyface slack with Lawler sidelined. Disappointed with his champion’s drawing power, Jarrett gambled, going with the charismatic if not reliable Austin Idol, who defeated Robinson for the belt on Oct. 6, 1990, when Billy was “forced to quit” after twisting his knee in a rare show at Chicks Stadium-an outdoor show on a chilly fall night that only drew 2,642 fans, despite $3 and $4 tickets and advertised “50-cent beers.”

Idol, who could have played the role of the flamboyant World champion well a la Ric Flair, lasted all of two weeks-just long enough to have publicity photos taken with the title-before forfeiting the championship of the world to rising star Bobby Eaton. I believe Idol left in a pay dispute-certainly not the last with Jarrett-the money he was making in Georgia was probably too good to pass up. (Unless, of course, it was a Fred Ward town.) While he was already one of the best young workers in the business, Eaton lacked credibility, so Jarrett went back with Robinson as champion on October 27 in front of just over 3,500 fans at the Mid-South Coliseum. Lawler returned from his layoff to again set the territory on fire as 1980 came to a close, drawing a SRO sellout crowd at the Coliseum on Dec. 29.

Jarrett wanted the belt off Robinson, but the champ this time refused to relinquish the belt, no-showing a scheduled bout with Dutch Mantell on March 16, 1981. Robinson took off with the title, continuing to defend it in Japan. The last result I saw involving the championship was a title loss to Dory Funk Jr. in Tokyo; however, I have no idea if this title switch actually took place. Robinson has since claimed his ex-wife took the belt following their divorce, which sounds like a WWE storyline. Jarrett was anxious to confront Robinson at the 2009 NWA Legends Fanfest about the belt’s whereabouts…but Billy no-showed that event as well. (In a recent interview, Robinson changed his story, saying his dog ate the belt.)

Despite holding the belt for only 14 days (though that’s nearly triple the amount of time that Tommy Rich held the NWA World title), Idol recently commissioned renowned belt-maker Dave Millican to recreate the 1980 championship belt for photo-ops at upcoming personal appearances. Though Millican wasn’t the biggest fan of the original design-which has Lawler’s artistic style all over it-he agreed, making some slight enhancements, such as accurately depicting the Japanese flag. (The real strap had the red-and-white color scheme inverted.)

Belt-mark critics in the past have slammed the original’s license-plate design and frugal production, but for longtime Memphis fans, the CWA World title is fantastic sentimental piece. I think former esteemed CWA president Nick Gulas would agree. Besides, if you think the original CWA title belt was bad, you should have seen the World championship trophy it replaced-I believe it was one of promoter Eddie Marlin’s old bowling awards.

Though Jarrett’s unification concept eventually came to fruition in 1988, with Lawler wining both the AWA and World Class belts, it would have been interesting to see how the scenario would have played out had Lawler not broken his leg in ’80. But then we might have missed out on the Lawler-Hart feud, which is the program that really defined the territory in the ’80s.

Maybe it was a lucky break after all.

For more on Millican’s incredible work, check out his site and colorful gallery of belts by clicking here.

Hair-raising reunion: Jerry Lawler, Austin Idol and Tommy Rich meet again

September 28th, 2011 2 comments

Good friends, better enemies: Tommy "Wildfire" Rich, Jerry "the King" Lawler and "The Universal Heartthrob" Austin Idol bury the haircut.

During Jerry Lawler’s  appearance at this year’s NWA Legends Fan Fest in Atlanta, he took time for an impromptu photo-op with two of his most bitter rivals in Memphis wrestling, Tommy Rich and Austin Idol.

The battles pitting the King vs. the Universal Heartthrob and Wildfire was the territory’s best-drawing program of 1987 and is widely considered the last great Memphis feud. (For my first-hand memories of being in the audience that night, click here.)

The Lawler vs. Idol hair match on April 27, 1987, had to be one of the most heated bouts of the era, culminating with the King’s royal locks being shaved in the middle of the ring as irate fans literally were climbing the (cage) walls to get to the dastardly duo and evil manager Paul E. Dangerly (aka “Dangerously” aka Heyman). Only a fully encircled police escort out of the ring and back to the safety of the dressing room 30 minutes after the finish saved the three heels from being lynched that hot Monday night.

Ironically, in this photo, Lawler’s close-cropped cut practically much matches the “head shaving” he received that night at the manicured hands of his own personal hairstylist, Ted Cortese. That was the only downside to the evening-Lawler didn’t come out looking like a cue ball a la Bill and Bev Dundee, Jean Louie, etc. (In fact, one argue Lawler’s perms in 1978 and 1985 were much worse.)

Incidentally, it’s amazing that then-21-year-old Paul E. was even in that spot as the manager of Idol, who was one of the best promo guys in the business. As Paul E. remembers it, he had a rocky start in Memphis, according to this video below. (It didn’t end so well either when Lawler deliberately broke Paul E.’s jaw in Evansville, Indiana, after the manager refused to scale the scaffold during the feud’s blowoff match the night before in Louisville.)

YouTube Finds: Austin Idol is a little hot under the collar

August 2nd, 2011 No comments

Face-off: Idol was always a little touchy about any potential damage to his mug.

The infamous 1987 feud between Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol, highlighted by the King’s head being shaved in front of a riotous crowd at the Mid-South Coliseum, has been well-documented on this site here as well as here. But the animosity between the two grapplers kicked off on Christmas night 1978, when the Idol ruined the holidays for many a Memphis mark by upsetting the King for the AWA Southern title.

The feud carried over into 1979, including the first-ever card I attended at the Coliseum, with Lawler calling on the legendary Jackie Fargo to defeat the Universal Heartthrob and Mil Mascaras in a stretcher match. (Jim Cornette joked with me years later that it must have been journeyman Pepe Lopez under the hood, but it was indeed Aaron Rodriguez, the so-called “Man of a Thousand Masks and uncle of future WWE superstar Alberto Del Rio, who did the stretcher job that night.)

When Lawler returned from a broken leg in 1981, Idol was a hired gun, one of Jimmy Hart’s bounty hunters paid to put the King back on the shelf. As he had Lawler trapped in his Las Vegas Leglock attempting to rebreak the leg, Idol was met with a fireball to the neck-an excellent counter for just about any move in Memphis.(Ask anyone, at the height of his popularity, Lawler could always be a real pain in the neck.) I always laughed when announcer Lance Russell at ringside would occasionally casually refer to Lawler torching someone as if it were an inside cradle or a sunset flip: “Lawler’s backed into the corner. Ah, and here he comes with a ball of fire. That should do it.”

Obviously, when your whole gimmick is built around being “the Women’s Pet and the Men’s Regret,” your face is an invaluable part of your livelihood. Luckily, Idol escaped permanent disfiguration but he failed to see the bright side. Here, the Idol cuts a hell of a promo, vowing revenge. Love this old-school intensity. Thanks to my buddy Guerin Shea for posting this recently on YouTube.

Never a patient man, Idol would mount his counterattack weeks later during a ceremony honoring the King for being the most popular wrestler in Mexico-a story that’s about as ridiculous as it sounds. The Idol/Lawler “Mexico” angle was inspired by Florida angle weeks earlier featuring Dusty Rhodes and the Assassin, who ambushed the Dream under the guise of the legendary El Santo. While not perfectly executed, it’s still priceless when Lance Russell urges Hector Guerrero to “tell him in Mexican just to get outta here!”

Two years later, another Lawler fireball, this time directly to the face, did in fact cause Idol “to see the light” (as he claimed in a promo) and turn babyface. I guess two fireballs would be enough to rehabilitate just about anyone short-term.