Few pro wrestling nicknames are as apt as Jerry Lawler's. He was truly the King of Memphis.
Before WWE became the dominant force that it is now, when wrestling's territories meant something, Memphis' wrestling was abuzz with energy for years.
Lawler was at times the area's most hated villain and, at others, it's most beloved hero.
For decades, Lawler and his many rivals generated heat that shames the kind of tepid reactions that some wrestlers churn up today. It was the kind of heat that had fans in a near-riot state.
Feuds with former friends and with outsiders went on for years, never truly ending in some cases.
The following rivalries were Lawler's best. It was these battles, verbal and physical, that Lawler built his unparalleled legend upon.
Lawler helped introduce Memphis and eventually the world to a young rising star named Curt Hennig.
A product of the Continental Wrestling Association's partnership with AWA, the feud brought AWA champ Hennig to town. Hennig was one of the first wrestlers to attempt to collect Eddie Gilbert’s $25,000 Bounty on Lawler.
A vengeful Gilbert had offered that large sum of money for anyone who could break Lawler's leg and put him out of wrestling.
Hennig's attempt on Lawler kicked off a comparatively short-lived rivalry that helped catapult Hennig's budding career.
The defining moment of their feud was a Title vs. Retirement match in 1988.
Hennig had already set his journey to WWE in motion. It was a rematch of their match where Lawler defeated Hennig to win the AWA World Heavyweight title.
The rematch brought their story to a bloody, intense climax.
Hennig was forced to leave while Lawler remained, still champ, still the king.
In a precursor to the Mr. McMahon onscreen character, Vince McMahon appeared in an interpromotional rivalry with Jerry Lawler and the USWA in general.
This invasion angle was likely spawned out of WWE’s respect for that rival company and perhaps a little bit of fear of them.
Most of their encounters were done via a set of taped promos. In these, McMahon channeled his inner Jake Roberts, playing a far more calm character that the one that eventually battled Steve Austin.
McMahon would send different wrestlers down to Memphis to show how dominant his company was and to defeat and humiliate that city's hometown hero.
Bret Hart was one of the men he sent after Lawler. Seeing Hart as McMahon's lackey now is a bizarre sight knowing what eventually transpired between those two men.
WWE fans will remember the Hart vs. Lawler feud from the WWE end, where the despicable Lawler sneak attacked the newest King of the Ring tournament winner.
The Memphis version didn't feature any Burger King crowns and had the two men reverse roles.
In Lawler's city, Hart was the heel, the outsider, another on a long list of enemies that Lawler had to dispatch.
For four years, as one of International Championship Wrestling’s biggest stars, Randy Savage sent out challenges to Jerry Lawler. Lawler didn't wrestle for ICW though.
These challenges were meant to drum up interest in ICW. Savage only served to put the spotlight on ICW's competition, CWA.
Check out Savage puffing out his chest at Lawler here.
At the end of 1983, Jerry Jarrett (who ran CWA at the time) offered Savage work with his company. ICW was going nowhere.
Savage accepted, putting in motion one of the most anticipated matchups of all time.
The dream match had a four-year buildup. Talk about a slow burn.
Spoiler alert: Lawler was not the loser who left town.
When both men were extremely popular faces, Dutch Mantell collided with Jerry Lawler in a series of intense and engrossing matches.
Mantell was a rough and tumble, scruffy tough guy whose celebrity in Memphis rivaled Lawler's.
Like Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Mantell and Lawler were at times best of friends and at others after each other's blood.
The feud saw Mantell do the seemingly impossible, gain a clean victory over Lawler.
Several draws and even matches made both men look evenly matched. They kept fans hungry for more as they pushed their feud on.
Thirty years later, they would revisit that rivalry at a charity event in Nashville.
Pioneers in brutality, Terry Funk and Jerry Lawler's feud produced a number of blood-drenched matches.
Their rivalry also included Jimmy Hart (more on him later) who stood in Terry's corner and Terry's brother, Dory Jr. Terry refused to let Jerry challenge for his NWA world title unless he made it through Dory Jr.
The hatred between Terry and Lawler reverberated throughout Memphis arenas.
Their first bout together was a classic, a 60-minute draw on August 22, 1976.
Of the rest of their clashes, perhaps the most famous was the odd Empty Arena match in 1981. Funk believed that the referees had been favoring Lawler.
This fight ended when Lawler stabbed Funk in the eye.
Their feud continued and spanned several decades even stretching into 2011 with a match in Poughkeepsie, New York.
For Memphis fans, Nick Bockwinkel was easy to hate.
Bockwinkel exuded arrogance and talked down to the Memphis crowd. He was a fabulous heel, drawing ire from the fans seemingly effortlessly on the strength of his high vocabulary promos and dismissive attitude.
Jerry Lawler, meanwhile, was the kind of wrestler a working-class fan could get behind.
Lawler had been on a quest for a world title for years. Fans had felt his pain as he got extremely close time and time again, only to fail.
In comes Nick Bockwinkel, AWA World Heavyweight champ.
He represented not only the polar opposite of Lawler, but a champion for him to dethrone. Watching Lawler chase Bockwinkel through close calls and controversy was absolutely gripping.
At one point, Bockwinkel challenged Lawler to a special match where The King had to pay $500 for every punch he threw.
Considering Bockwinkel's considerable in-ring talents, especially his selling ability, it's no surprise that hits feud produced some of Lawler's best work between the ropes.
Eddie Gilbert was an excellent wrestler, but his real strength was as a booker. Given some creative control, Gilbert concocted an angle that set up one of wrestling's greatest feuds.
In a disturbing promo, Gilbert promised to have the last laugh.
He offered a $25,000 bounty for anyone who could break Lawler's leg. This angle spawned several other feuds and matches and provided a multi-layered story.
Their feud was one that stopped and started, which lasted years.
In 1985, Gilbert beat Lawler for his AWA Southern Heavyweight championship. Seven years later, Lawler defeated Gilbert for his Global Wrestling Federation World title.
The most defining moment of their mutual hatred happened outside of the ring.
In September of 1990, Gilbert ran over Lawler with a car on live TV.
Promoter Eddie Marlin had just kayfabe fired Gilbert and escorted him out of the building. Gilbert assaulted Marlin and Lawler came out to play hero.
Cue the car crash.
They either mistimed the spot or were both so dedicated to the craft that they were willing to risk everything to make it look good. The scene was so horrifically realistic that fans at home called the cops.
Few feuds have ever been as captivating or creative as Gilbert and Lawler.
Tommy Rich turned heel in response to frustrations about not getting a shot at Nick Bockwinkel's AWA title. His transformation included this brilliant promo.
A bloody no-contest between him and Lawler kicked off a feud that eventually included Austin Idol and Paul Heyman.
Lawler's title shot against Bockwinkel was at the center of a storm of jealousy and hate.
Idol and Rich double-teamed Lawler, slapping him and slamming his testes against a ring post.
The centerpiece of the feud was an Idol vs. Lawler Hair vs. Hair match in 1987.
The Mid-South Coliseum watched in shock as the seemingly unbeatable Lawler lost, as his enemies shaved his head inside a steel cage.
Fans were so angered by this that as Scott Bowden (part of the audience himself) wrote on KentuckyFriedWrestling.com they "scaled the cage to save Lawler, but Memphis cops pulled them down."
Some wrestlers were just born to fight each other.
Bill Dundee and Jerry Lawler had phenomenal chemistry in and out of the ring.
Dundee had brief runs in WCW and various NWA territories, but it was in Memphis against Lawler where he reached his apex as a performer.
Their feud featured stipulations aplenty.
They had Loser Leaves Town matches and matches the wrestlers' Cadillac, title or hair were on the line.
Much like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan did for WrestleMania, Dundee and Lawler drew more eyes to Memphis wrestling.
Who knows what Jerry Lawler's career arc would look like had Jackie Fargo not given him a monumental kickstart.
Fargo built a devoted fanbase in Memphis in the '50s and '60s. He was the established star who faced a new challenge in the form of a cocky upstart.
In an interview on KayfabeMemories.com, booker Jerry Jarrett says that Lawler and Fargo had legit heat between them in addition to the bad blood written for them. That real-life tension helped elevate the fierceness of their matches and promos.
Lawler overtaking the aging local hero draws parallels to the laws of the jungle, the young devouring the old.
The former King of Memphis passed off his crown, unwillingly or not, to the man who would run that territory for a long time to come.
Fans who only saw him later as "The Mouth of the South" in WWE have only seen a diluted version of one of wrestling's great managers.
In Memphis, Jimmy Hart was more than an annoying voice. He was a mastermind.
Had it not been for one eccentric comedian, Hart would lay claim to Lawler's greatest feud.
Hart was initially Lawler's manager, but when a leg injury put The King out for a significant period of time, Hart turned on him.
Hart referred to Lawler as a lame horse. It was those words that planted the seeds for a long-burning hatred and a quest for revenge once Lawler returned.
Lawler wrote a song called "Wimpbusters" in Hart's honor.
Many times Hart played the puppet master, getting other wrestlers from his Hart Family gang to take Lawler on, but on rare, fan-delighting occasions, Hart stepped into the ring himself.
In June of 1981, Lawler finally got his hands on him in a match where the Hart Family was barred from ringside. Lawler broke Hart's leg in a bit of poetic revenge.
One of wrestling's most famous feuds featured a stand-up comedian and a local legend.
Saturday Night Live alumnus, Andy Kaufman participated in an angle where he wrestled women out of the audience. Should they win, they would earn $1,000 and the right to marry him.
He called himself the Intergender Champion.
He was a bully in long johns, a grating goof that annoyed audiences to no end.
The heat between him and Jerry Lawler began when The King got in between Kaufman and one of these women. Lawler barely pushed Kaufman in the ruckus.
Kaufman threatened to sue because of this, but instead the two men met in the ring in 1982. An illegal piledriver gave Kaufman the disqualification win, but sent him to the hospital.
The beauty of the feud was that much of it was so real that it was hard to tell what was real and what was scripted. It was a play where the audience was never sure where the stage ended.
It was a wrestling story that not only reached far beyond Memphis' borders, but beyond the borders of the wrestling world.
How many other wrestling feuds are featured in a mainstream movie or spilled out to an episode of Late Night with David Letterman? The altercation they had on Letterman's show made their rivalry a national story.