WWE Raw: Jerry Lawler's Greatest and Most Memorable Memphis Wrestling Feuds
CM Punk has never strayed from being a wrestling historian during his many promos on Monday Night Raw. From the WWE ice cream bars to King Kong Bundy, Punk has made many references to wrestling past that are fantastic nods to the older fans and seeds of knowledge for the younger ones.
This past Monday while in the midst of giving Jerry "The King" Lawler a verbal dressing down, Punk referenced Lawler's past exploits in the Memphis territory of wrestling, where Lawler's career blossomed and exploded.
Well, to be fair, he referred to Lawler's opponents as "nobodies" and went as far as to facetiously refer to himself as the real King of Memphis wrestling during his steel-cage thrashing of the WWE Hall of Famer.
Although a footnote in Punk's progressive heel run filled with numerous bitter monologues, the city of Memphis did, in fact, provide quite the fertile ground for Lawler's career, as it was filled with plenty of high-profile feuds and memorable wrestling moments.
Not to be a closed, definitive list by any means, let's go back to where it all started for The King.
Jerry Lawler and the Funk brothers (Terry and Dory Jr.) were no strangers throughout the 1970s with the NWA World Title hanging in the balance.
Lawler and Terry Funk would ramp up their feud in the latter part of the decade with a Texas Death Match to decide the NWA World Championship. A very bloody affair in Memphis that initially saw Lawler win the coveted title, but a referee's decision revered the victory to Funk via disqualification.
Still, that didn't sit well with Funk, but their feud would be put on hold when Lawler broke his leg in 1980 and was out of action until 1981. Upon his return, though, Funk was waiting, and waiting he was with a challenge for an Empty Arena Match.
I'm a huge fan of Lance Russell lighting a cigarette before Funk shows up. Truthfully, with this match and so many he proved to be one of the best commentators in the business. Also hilariously noteworthy is Lawler appearing in his crown and wrestling gear, which Funk pokes fun at, and Funk's over dramatic reaction to the finish.
Lawler and Funk would have subsequent battles throughout the 80s, but this was truly a highlight of their feud.
Bill Dundee arrived on the American wrestling scene in 1974 after making the journey from Australia. It was Memphis where Dundee's career in the States would really blossom, and in fact, he tagged up with Jerry Lawler on many championship occasions.
But as time would go on, Lawler would emerge as the mega heel in Memphis while Dundee became one of the top babyfaces, which inevitably set up a collision between the former tag team partners.
The summer of 1977 was critical for Jerry Jarrett's new promotion in Memphis after his schism from the Gulas stranglehold on the region. Utilizing Lawler and Dundee in the main event role sold out arenas and kept the fledgling promotion on even footing.
The two were a natural pair. Dundee was "The Superstar. Lawler was "The King." For much of their feud, Dundee was the one coming out on top most of the time, until the stakes were raised to a "hair vs. hair" match which saw Lawler preserve his locks at the expense of Dundee's.
But that wasn't the end.
Dundee propositioned one more "hair vs. hair" match, but with his own hair being gone, he instead put his wife's hair the line against Lawler's. Needless the say, Mr. and Mrs. Dundee were both clean shaven by the end of the match with Lawler.
Throughout the 1960s Jackie Fargo was the face of Memphis wrestling. Undoubtedly the most popular wrestler in the territory.
But he was also a huge mentor to younger talent and actually opened the door for Jerry Lawler into professional wrestling.
Originally, it was the artistic skills of Lawler that caught the eye of Fargo, and he quickly enlisted him into his local sign making company in Memphis.
But Lawler was eager to come under Fargo's wing as a wrestler, and soon enough "The Fabulous One" was teaching the ropes to the future King and getting him on many of the Nick Gulas cards in the south.
Of course from there, Lawler began to catch major momentum and by the '70s was becoming the next big force in Memphis wrestling, which inevitably set up the age-old confrontation between the aging mentor and the young pupil. Lawler would challenge Fargo for the status of being "the guy" in Memphis.
Unquestionably their battles became staples of the Memphis brand of wrestling. Stiff brawls. Wild and crazy matches, and in many ways the seeds to the later brand of hardcore wrestling.
The climax of their feud came in July of 1974, when 11,000 fans packed the Mid-South Coliseum to see Lawler win the NWA Southern Heavyweight Title.
The defining feud of Lawler's career.
When Jerry Lawler broke his leg in 1980, it cast a lot of doubt into the stability of the Memphis promotion with its number one guy on the shelf for an extended period of time.
Jerry Jarrett, though, was clever in managing to keep a heavy amount of anticipation for "The King's" return and much of that had to do with "The Mouth of the South."
Jimmy Hart got his start in wrestling much in thanks to Lawler after his career in the Gentrys was coming to an end in the late '60s. Hart's natural charisma at ringside became a staple of Memphis wrestling as he could draw as much ire from the fans as the top wrestling heels could in the promotion. Thus, it became a natural pairing when Hart became Lawler's manager throughout much of the next decade.
But with Lawler's injury, Hart really put himself into a new brand of super heel when he publicly turned on Lawler in comparing him to a horse with a broken leg that needed to be put down. It began a major face push for Lawler upon his return, and when he did in 1981 he set his sights on Hart.
For the next year, Memphis would be the battle ground for the wrestler vs. the manger, with Hart bringing in as many of his hired guns as he could to bring down Lawler.
In reality, it became a very savvy business strategy for the promotion. With Hart seemingly bringing in big names from other territories to challenge Lawler, the anticipation of how "The King" would triumph against the odds became another driving force in ticket sales.
(It was a nice callback to their time together in Memphis when Hart managed Lawler at WrestleMania XXVII against Michael Cole. Although it would have been an even better callback to see Hart screw Lawler in that match.)
In the lexicon of all-time great feuds, Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman is easily one of the most recognizable and notorious.
For all of the people that criticized (and still criticize) wrestling for being "fake," this 1982 feud made even the the greatest of skeptics question whether what was going on was a shoot or a work.
As a fan of wrestling growing up, Kaufman began to integrate matches with women into his comedy act and went as far as to proclaim himself the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World creating enormous amount of heat for his chauvinism.
But Kaufman wanted to take the act to a higher level and integrate with actual professional wrestling promotions. Initially being turned down by WWE, he was introduced to Lawler, and it set into motion a feud that might have centered in Memphis but ultimately captivated a nation.
Kaufman was incredibly dynamic in his chastising of Lawler and the people of Memphis, which only boosted Lawler's stock as a face and made Kaufman more hated. (These video recorded promos are the work of genius in generating heat.)
When they finally met in the ring, Lawler delivered his signature pile driver which Kaufman sold so well (by honestly just laying there completely still) that it appeared for a moment that wrestling was in fact "real." Of course, Kaufman would continue to sell it over the next few weeks with a brace claiming Lawler had broken his neck.
A subsequent appearance on Late Night With David Letterman with both men as guests ended with Lawler slapping Kaufman out of his chair; another notorious on-air moment between the two.
In the end, the reveal that the entire angle was a work did not come out for years until the 90s when Kaufman's biopic Man on the Moon was released.
It's a massive credit to Lawler and Kaufman (and a lot goes to Kaufman) for going to the lengths they did make their feud appear legitimate. There is so much more to say about this feud, it's under-serving to try and crop it to a small blurb, but it certainly helped define Lawler on a national stage beyond just the ranks of professional wrestling.
Chime in with your favorite Jerry Lawler Memphis wrestling memories.
For further reading on Memphis and Southern wrestling history, I highly recommend visiting Scott Bowden's very informative website Kentucky Fried Rasslin.
For DVD viewing, I recommend Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin', which examines not only the cultural impacts of wrestling in Memphis but also the business impacts of the regional promotion.
As a totally shameless and cheap plug, I wanted to post that I published my first short story on Amazon, available electronically. It is titled Harmony In Complete And Utter Discord. Hope you get a chance to read it. Hope you enjoy it.
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