There have been countless, fantastic feuds over the course of professional wrestling history, so naturally there are some that don't always get their due credit. One such rivalry is the one between Jerry "The King" Lawler and actor Andy Kaufman, which was unequivocally one of the greatest wrestling angles ever.
In the wake of Lawler's heart attack on RAW last week, many fans have been discussing his contributions to the business. It appears that Lawler will luckily make a full recovery from the frightening incident, but it's still worth noting what he has done for professional wrestling.
He'll probably always be known as a commentator to most fans, but Lawler began wrestling in 1970 and still competes in matches to this day. He feuded with many of the roughest, toughest guys the business has ever seen in the Memphis territory, but his greatest accomplishment was his angle with Kaufman.
Kaufman was no wrestler as he was more of a comedic entertainer, but he took great interest in the business and got involved in it by calling himself the Inter-Gender Champion. Kaufman would wrestle women as part of his act and that was eventually used during his feud with Lawler.
From a kayfabe perspective, Lawler took issue with Kaufman wrestling women and that ultimately led to their feud. Lawler had matches with the puny Kaufman and Kaufman even suffered a neck injury thanks to King's patented piledriver. Kaufman would wear a neck brace, but he was selling the injury as being worse than it actually was.
The incident that truly made the Lawler vs. Kaufman feud great, though, was an appearance on the David Letterman Show in 1982. The vast majority of those watching thought that Lawler and Kaufman were embroiled in a real-life rivalry, so when Kaufman went off on a diatribe and Lawler knocked Kaufman from his chair, most believed it was legitimate.
That was truly revolutionary. In 1982, professional wrestling was still about wrestling and little else. Now, we know wrestling as sports entertainment encapsulates so much more than just in-ring work, but such elaborate storylines were the exception rather than the rule 30 years ago.
The WWE, which is now a global empire, was still a New York territory in 1982, so wrestling really had yet to go mainstream. You could argue that wrestling still isn't mainstream, although top stars like John Cena and The Rock are known by most non-wrestling fans. The Lawler vs. Kaufman feud was really the first time that wrestling expanded beyond its small territories and entered the public consciousness.
The lengths that Lawler and Kaufman went to in order to preserve kayfabe was impressive as well. Most thought that the Lawler vs. Kaufman feud was legitimate for many years and it wasn't revealed until 10 years after Kaufman's untimely death from lung cancer that Lawler and Kaufman were actually friends who were simply putting on a show.
You might see wrestling in mainstream outlets a lot more often now, but it's so rare for the superstars to remain in character. When a heel like The Miz is on a talk show he is using his real personality rather than the one he uses in the ring. It's all about promotion now, so kayfabe isn't of great importance.
Everything about the Lawler vs. Kaufman feud was great and you could argue that it helped pave the way for what professional wrestling has become. The emphasis wasn't on the matches since Kaufman was obviously limited in that regard, but the story that they told was believable and that got a lot of people interested who normally wouldn't have been.
Whether you like the notion of sports entertainment or not, it certainly has done a lot for the wrestling business, and both Lawler and the late Kaufman are partially to thank for that.