Like he did almost every Monday night for decades in Memphis, when things seemed their absolute worst, Jerry Lawler pulled the strap down.
But this time it wasn’t make-believe. After suffering a nearly fatal massive heart attack on 9/10 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Lawler has made a remarkable recovery and returned home seven days later.
Tests done on Lawler indicated no brain damage, which was the big fear since his heart had stopped beating for a period that is generally estimated to have been ten to 15 minutes. During the week Lawler sent a short video message on Tout, as well as some thank you messages to the fans for all their concern. He will be interviewed via satellite on the 10/1 Raw show.
As far as his future, it is way too early to know much of anything. His doctors told him that they didn’t see any reason why, after recovering, that he shouldn’t be able to wrestle again. The one thing in this case is that the WWE is going to be very cautious, given Lawler’s age. They really don’t like using older people in the ring to begin with except for special nostalgia-based comedy roles.
A number of wrestlers have come back from heart attacks to wrestle, although they were also in most cases quite a bit younger. Perhaps the most notable was Johnny Valentine, who suffered a heart attack in March, 1973, when he was 44 and one of the biggest stars in wrestling. In those days, things were covered up and the term heart attack wasn’t used publicly. Instead they said he had suffered a heart blockage. But a few months later, Valentine returned, and continued to headline all over the world. After that point, Valentine was a key part of turning around the Carolinas territory with his stiff, brutal matches with Wahoo McDaniel, until being crippled in a plane crash (the same one where Ric Flair suffered his broken back) ended his in-ring career in 1975.
Whether Buddy Rogers really had a heart attack or not in 1963 is something that has been debated for decades, although he did not wrestle much after 1963, and at that time he was in his early 40s, and was one of the biggest stars in the history of the business. Rogers made a few short in-ring comebacks over the next two decades.
Lawler has two types of matches. The kind of match he does on independent shows is not really all that arduous, more personality based than anything. When he did appear in a WWE ring, the standards are higher and he performed accordingly. But there is no way WWE is going to allow him in the ring unless he gets checked out thoroughly. While I wouldn’t say this about most companies, or even the WWE not that many years ago, in a situation like this, they are going to err heavily on the side of caution.
A number of wrestlers over the years have died of heart attacks in the ring. With his heart blockage, Lawler was likely a time bomb waiting to happen, and like much of his life, was very fortunate. Pro wrestling over the past two decades has become more and more deregulated, meaning that minor physicals before getting into the ring (usually a doctor taking the blood pressure of everyone) and a doctor mandated at ringside is a thing of the past.
WWE does tour with both a medical doctor and a trainer at every event. But most of Lawler’s wrestling was done on independent shows, and most of those shows would have likely had no medical supervision, and certainly nobody checking anyone out before the show started.
It was noted by his doctors that he was probably in the second best place possible (the best place would have been in a cardiac center visiting a friend) if one was going to have a massive heart attack. Dr. Michael Sampson, who tours with the WWE Raw brand most of the time, was only a few feet away and was on the scene in less than a minute, and there were a number of EMT’s present. The hospital he went to, which was kept confidential, was only a few minutes from the arena and specialized in cardiac care.
The news was almost all good, although it is not the complete miracle that it is being purported to be. There are still issues that are not being talked about that hopefully will dissipate in time. But his recovery has been remarkable all things considered.
Lawler, who grew up in Memphis and started his wrestling career in 1970, first became a star as part of a tag team with Jim White. White was the steady veteran and Lawler was his cocky tag team partner. He became a singles star when booker Jerry Jarrett chose him to be the top heel to feud with veteran headliner Jackie Fargo. In reality, Lawler and Fargo were best friends and remained so even though Lawler eventually took Fargo’s spot as the area’s biggest star.
Lawler picked up “The King” gimmick when wrestling early in his career. He was wrestling in Georgia when Jarrett took over booking that promotion for Jim Barnett. Bobby Shane was a top heel there, and considered a brilliant performer, known at the time as “The King of Wrestling.” Shane was leaving for Australia. So Lawler took the moniker in Georgia with Shane’s blessing. Shane returned to the U.S. but died a few years later in a plane crash.
Few outside of Memphis are aware, since he had been the top babyface there forever, that Lawler’s most successful period as a drawing card was when he was is his mid-20s, as a heel, during the mid-70s. His most successful drawing year was when he was 24. His rise to stardom started when he began drawing some big crowds as the Southern junior heavyweight champion in matches with Ricky Gibson (the older brother of Robert Gibson of Rock & Roll Express fame) and Tommy Gilbert (the father of Eddie Gilbert).
During the summer of 1974, Lawler drew two straight sellouts against Gibson, the first in a match where he lost his title with Fargo as referee. They came back the next week with Lawler putting up his hair against the title, which Lawler won.
The hair match over the next 15 years was the Lawler specialty. As a heel it was pushed that nothing would be more humiliating than Lawler getting his head shaved bald. But every time he was backed in the corner, he would win, often with use of his hidden chain. When he turned babyface, it was the idea it was his specialty match and that if Lawler was in a hair vs. hair match, you knew the heel was getting humiliated.
In 1974, Jarrett did a big summer program where he brought in many of the biggest names in wrestling, both faces and heels, to build toward Lawler vs. Jack Brisco for the NWA world heavyweight championship. Among those brought in were The Sheik, Bobo Brazil, Mr. Wrestling II, Dick the Bruiser, Robert Fuller, Rufus Jones and Jerry Brisco. The idea was Lawler would beat all of them, but the reality was it didn’t happen that way. Some of the big stars of the era wouldn’t do jobs, even out of their territory, so Jarrett had to settle for DQ finishes. But they kept tape footage and they were among the first, if not the first promotion, to do music videos. In the 70s and 80s, there would be music videos of popular songs with clips of Lawler having the advantage of every big name that came in, with the idea over time they he beat every one of them.
The build led to the September 16, 1974, title match.
While that match drew a big crowd, what was interesting is many of his summer matches that were there largely to get him over drew bigger than his world title fight it was all scheduled to peak for. Even though Brisco was a natural babyface and Lawler was among the best heels in the business, a large percentage of the crowd was for Lawler, thinking he was taking the title when he nailed the fist drop off the top rope. In those days, when Brisco was champion, he had a very subtle trick which was late in the match when the opponent, usually a face, would hit their finisher, he’d drape his foot on the rope. It seems like nothing, but it spoke to the aura Brisco had at the time when he was thought above that kind of a thing. Brisco had already done the same thing in Florida against a heel Dusty Rhodes. The idea was for Rhodes to eventually turn face, and the match that set it off was Rhodes hanging with Brisco in a wrestling match for the title, dropping the elbow, and Brisco getting his foot on the rope. It was enough to get the Florida fans to cheer Rhodes, who had been the top heel for a few years. If it worked with Rhodes, it was going to work even more for Lawler, since Brisco had emotional ties with the Florida fans, but no such ties in Memphis.
For years, Lawler remained the cocky heel, but he drew some of his best crowds in heel vs. heel matches, most notably with The Mongolian Stomper (Archie Gouldie). Another of his big early promotions was a supposed boxer vs. wrestler match with Rocky Johnson in 1976, many clips of which are on the “Memphis Heat” DVD which talks about that period.
The match took place the Monday before the Antonio Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali match which was major sports news at the time. Jarrett, who was still the booker for promoters Nick Gulas and Roy Welch, was looking for a pro wrestler who could play a boxer. Johnson, the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was a major star at the time, but he had never worked the Tennessee territory. Jarrett noted that such a promotion would be impossible today because fans would know that Johnson was not really a top-ten ranked heavyweight boxer and a knockout artist, as he was billed in Memphis, with a made-up record. They’d also know he was a pro wrestler.
Johnson had heard all the reputations about the horrible payoffs in Tennessee, and wouldn’t come without a $500 a week guarantee. Jarrett needed him for the angle because there was nobody else who looked the part, was as experienced as Johnson, but that nobody in Tennessee had ever seen as a pro wrestler, which was necessary for it to work. Johnson was brought in with the idea he was a boxer who knew nothing about wrestling. Their first match sold out the Coliseum, selling more tickets in that city than the Ali vs. Inoki closed circuit did in just about every city it played in outside of the Northeast. Johnson actually had a pro boxing background in Canada before he became a pro wrestling star, and had sparred with both Muhammad Ali and later, when he was based in California, was a regular sparring partner for George Foreman.
That was funny because when Jarrett cast him in the role, he had no idea Johnson even knew how to box. Eventually, because Johnson got over so strong they “taught him wrestling” and he became one of the area’s biggest stars during that era.
Lawler’s most memorable rivalry in the territory was undoubtedly that with Bill Dundee. From 1977 and for most of the next 20 years in the territory, and at least another decade on independent shows, the two were either one of the area’s top tag teams, or biggest rivals. They both learned booking from Jarrett and Dundee, in particular, had great success as a booker for the Mid South territory in 1984, the strongest year in that area’s history.
The big draws early were a number of hair matches, which Lawler the heel, always won. Dundee put up his car against Lawler’s hair, and Lawler was then driving around with Dundee’s car. Lawler beat Dundee and shaved his head. Then, in one of the most memorable storylines, Dundee put up the hair of his wife Beverly, and Lawler beat him again. It was always the idea that pro wrestling may or may not be real, but the two of them had great chemistry in the ring, and Dundee, who was almost Lawler’s equal as a talker, was able to get over his obsession with finally winning the big one from Lawler. But at every turn, Lawler would not just beat him, but humiliate him in ways babyfaces had never been humiliated. The idea that Dundee had to come home to a bald woman for months was meant as the ultimate in humiliation.
In fact, one of the best storylines the company ever did came in late 1977, after the Lawler vs. Dundee program had run its course and it was going to be hard to follow shaving the head of the top babyface’s wife. They did a storyline where Lawler was going to retire from wrestling to become a singer, but his last goal in wrestling was to finally win the world title. So it was set up for Lawler to wrestle Harley Race. Lawler was doing a concert as part of the wrestling show and Jimmy Valiant hit Lawler over the head of a beer bottle, so Lawler was unable to wrestle Race. This led to Lawler not retiring from wrestling, and becoming a babyface for a time to feud with Valiant. Valiant, off the angle, became one of the area’s biggest drawing cards as well.
To show the power of Lawler, in 1977, when Jarrett had a falling out with promoter Nick Gulas, he got Lawler, Lance Russell and Dave Brown with him and they went to Ch. 5 in Memphis to get television. Gulas had been promoting the territory for as long as anyone could remember, and had the established TV on Ch. 13. The very first week, on March 20, 1977, Jarrett’s first show headlined by Lawler vs. Bob Armstrong drew 8,256 fans. Gulas’ show the next night headlined by Bobo Brazil vs. The Sheik, who were both big draws as opponents for Lawler and had one of the biggest feuds in wrestling history, drew 2,002. The gap widened over the next few weeks and Gulas didn’t last the year in Memphis.
Lawler’s big babyface turn came after he suffered a broken leg in a football game. Lawler had brought Jimmy Hart into wrestling years earlier. Hart was a fan from childhood. In fact, he grew up selling cokes and programs at the matches in the 50s and early 60s at the old Ellis Auditorium. Hart was later a high school football star at Treadwell High School, but more prominent as a member of the rock group, “The Gentrys,” which had a few bonafide hits and toured with Dick Clark and some of the biggest rock acts of the era. Lawler was a few years younger than Hart, and went to the same high school. Lawler knew some of the area’s music community since Lawler cut some records during the 70s using established area musicians to back him up. Lawler brought Hart into wrestling and made him his manager. Lawler had already had a number of managers over the years. The most notable was Sam Bass, who died in an auto accident. The manager was more someone to create diversions to allow Lawler to do his heel stuff, and not the usual mouthpiece role managers played, since he hardly needed anyone to talk for him. Hart was the latest, learning the business on the spot. Hard as it would be to believe, but Hart did little talking during that period.
But when Lawler broke his leg, Hart became the key heel in the promotion. For the next few years, whatever main heels came into the area were part of a revolving group called The First Family. The first shot was fired when Lance Russell brought up Lawler’s injury and brought in Hart to talk about his mentor being out, and Hart showed no compassion, saying “What do you do when a champion race horse breaks his leg? You shoot him.”
Babyface Jerry Lawler was known for selling much of the match, and then, taking punch after punch and somehow getting stronger. Then, the strap would come down, and he’d throw punches and the heel would fly and they would work to the finish. Lawler didn’t always win. But he won most of the time, and in almost every feud, he’d get his hand raised at the end . The Lawler superman comeback, not all that different from the babyface comebacks that a many territories’ top stars did in the day was fashioned after the “Popeye” cartoons from the 50s. Pulling down the strap was the signal that Popeye just got his spinach, and the heels were about to go flying. When Hulk Hogan started his career as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder in 1978, the first person he drew big crowds with as a headliner was Lawler in Memphis. Hogan’s Hulking up, which he started as a babyface in the AWA, was taken from Lawler’s psychology as the top face in Memphis.
Lawler was out for months, but when he came back, that line about you shoot the horse was repeated often. It was the catalyst for the new babyface who for about five years, feuded with Hart and his men on top. Hart may have been the best manager in wrestling during that period. The program ended when Hart signed with WWF.
Lawler and Dundee did a few loser leaves town matches, which Lawler would win, usually because Dundee had gotten a booking job elsewhere. In 1982, there was a television show where the two of them, both faces, sat in a studio with Lance Russell. The entire 90 minute live show was the two of them talking about how even when they were a tag team, they didn’t really like each other. Dundee would talk about wanting to listen to the radio, while Lawler would want to listen to tapes of himself singing, which Dundee couldn’t stand. They each went on about what bothered them about the other, and kept pointing out that while fans thought they were friends as tag team partners, they never really liked each other, which was true. The loser leaves town matches in 1982, one in each major city, off that television show, was the biggest business week in the history of wrestling in that part of the country.
It wasn’t until the end of 1985 that Dundee finally won the big one. By this point, Dundee had turned back heel and shocked everyone beating Lawler in a loser leaves town match. It was a strategic move. Lawler and Jarrett felt that Lawler needed to be a away and freshen up, as the territory had gotten complacent. Numbers were down and they were searching for ideas. In reality, the days of territorial wrestling doing big business were running out, because the big companies with national television and bigger stars made the regionals look secondary. Most fell by the wayside. Memphis, with its ahead-of-the-times booking and huge television ratings, not to mention its reputation for not paying well so costs were kept down, survived the longest. But the days of it thriving were quickly running out.
Lawler at the time told me the idea was that he would stay out as long as he could. The idea was a loser leaves town for six months deal. Lawler, who by this point owned 50% of the territory, felt the longer he was gone, the better. He did some wrestling in Hawaii, but that was more a way to get flights to Hawaii for vacation because there was no money to be made there. The idea was that once the territory started losing money, he’d return to feud with Dundee.
It only lasted two months because crowds fell so badly. They did a stop-gap angle, one of the most memorable ever. Dundee & Buddy Landel beat up teenage referee Jeff Jarrett. When Jerry Jarrett, by then retired as a wrestler, tried to make the save, they beat him down as well. Jerry Jarrett was almost in tears about how he felt he was no longer a man when he couldn’t protect his son. He said he didn’t care about contracts, or lawsuits, talked about how they’d be tied up in court for years, but he was bringing Lawler back. On March 3, 1986, Lawler & Dutch Mantel drew the last pro wrestling sellout of the Mid South Coliseum against Dundee & Landel. The days of the territories being able to sell out major arenas were just about over.
Those who grew up in Memphis, when asked about Lawler’s most memorable opponent would probably throw out names like Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Terry Funk, Austin Idol, Jimmy Valiant or Jos LeDuc. But outside of Memphis, the name almost everyone would say would be Andy Kaufman.
Lawler vs. Kaufman was one of those unique wrestling feuds that never really happened before, and could never happen again. For one, you’d need a celebrity like Kaufman. There’s never been someone like him, and there never could be today.
Kaufman was a huge wrestling fan. He idolized Buddy Rogers. He attended matches in Madison Square Garden. He wanted to be a wrestler, but he was too thin. So he came up with a shtick where he would wrestle women on television, including once on a memorable appearance on “Saturday Night Live” with Rogers as his manager. He also did it in live performances while playing heel wrestler to the audience. He’d talk in the most chauvinist of terms, that women should be in the kitchen and how no woman could beat him. He billed himself as the world’s Intergender wrestling champion. And he desperately wanted to be a part of the pro wrestling business.
He approached Vincent James McMahon, the father of the Vincent K. McMahon, whose vision of wrestling was different. He wouldn’t even consider something that in his mind would make wrestling a joke.
Kaufman ended up in contact with Bill Apter, who steered him to Lawler, a good friend. Lawler and Jarrett had very different ideas of what pro wrestling was, and had a lot more latitude in their product than almost any product of the time. They reached a deal where Kaufman would come to Memphis.
Kaufman came and did a few shoot matches with women, and then one worked match on a Jarrett card. The fans hated him. When he work kicked a woman after beating her in the one worked match he did, Lawler came out to put an end to it, leading to a challenge for the match.
Lawler vs. Kaufman on April 5, 1982, did 8,091 fans. While that match was certainly promoted the hardest, for credibility’s sake, they had Lawler defending the Southern title against The Monk pushed as the serious top match. Lawler and Kaufman was more an interlude that was going to happen, although it did go on last. As a comparison, Lawler & Fargo vs. The Monk & Dream Machine the next week without Kaufman did 9,121 fans but Fargo always drew when he’d come back. Most shows were doing around 6,000. Lawler gave Kaufman a back suplex and a piledriver, and was disqualified. Kaufman laid on the mat forever, was taken out on a stretcher to the hospital.
There were news reports nationally the next day about how comedian and television star Andy Kaufman was injured in a wrestling match. It was treated largely as he was really hurt, and he wore the neck brace everywhere he went. There were plenty of people skeptical as well. One well-known promoter sent Lawler a telegram thanking him for protecting the business against outsiders wanting to make it seem like a joke.
They continued the feud in Memphis when Kaufman would return every so often. They did more matches. In another city, Kaufman wanted to do the same thing and laid there at the end of the match, refusing to move and wanting to be taken to the hospital and go back to the neck brace since it worked so well the first time. Jimmy Hart had to explain, in the ring, that he had to get up. Hart had to explain nobody would buy it a second time and it would kill the angle.
The peak of the feud was on the David Letterman show, where Letterman’s people were told that Lawler would apologize. Instead, it was what was considered one of the greatest and most memorable moments in U.S. television history. Lawler was the heel in New York for being the big tough guy who beat up the skinny television star. Lawler, long before Bret Hart brought the dual reality to the WWF, had to play babyface for his home promotion, while being a heel nationally. He calmly explained his rationale, and when asked if he hurt Kaufman on purpose, said, sheepishly, “I thought I had to.” To those who had seen Kaufman insult Lawler on television, they understood. To everyone else, that made it worse. Kaufman badgered Lawler until he lost his cool and Lawler slapped him. Kaufman threw a drink at Lawler and gave an expletive laden promo about suing him. And the feud went on. Even though Letterman the next night said that what happened was not real, for decades, a lot more people saw and heard what happened that night and somehow few heard Letterman’s explanation.
The feud after Letterman went through a number of stages, where Kaufman would bring someone in to get Lawler. At one point Lawler threw fire at the television star.
After the first show in Memphis and Letterman, the crowning moment was January 10, 1983. It really started on December 13, 1982, when Lawler got a one-on-one cage match with Hart, and gave him the beating of his life. The idea was Lawler hurt Hart who would be out of his hair. Hart was gone from the territory from that point on and talked about as if he was history. On December 27, 1982, Lawler beat Nick Bockwinkel to apparently win the AWA title. However, AWA President Stanley Blackburn, at ringside, ruled that he saw Lawler throw Bockwinkel over the top rope before he scored the pin. Instead of the usual reversed decision Dusty finish, it was announced that the title was held up. Of course, that was only in Memphis, as Bockwinkel continued to defend it in the AWA.
The rematch for the held up title saw them mention that the injured Jimmy Hart (who managed Bockwinkel in Memphis as they didn’t bring in Bobby Heenan since they had their own guy and thus could save money) would be at ringside.
The match started and a guy wrapped up in bandages from head-to-toe was in Bockwinkel’s corner, who everyone figured was Hart. He did nothing but stand there the entire match. Lawler seemed en route to winning when, out of nowhere, Jimmy Hart ran to the ring. Lawler was distracted, and everyone in the arena was confused. Bockwinkel used the distraction to get the pin. The mummy then removed his mask and it was Kaufman, and he, Bockwinkel and Hart celebrated together.
Kaufman came many more times over the next year. After a while, it ran its course and crowds were down to 3,000. Kaufman was a unique character who was as obnoxious as they came. He was so obnoxious that when they did a Kaufman vs. Hart feud, and keep in mind Hart was the lead heel in the territory for years, everyone cheered Hart and nobody cheered Kaufman. But as far as box office, he was like fruits or vegetables. He was good for your health when fresh, but ghastly when spoiled. He was past his expiration date by late 1983. When he’d come, crowds would actually be well below normal as he now had “go-away” heat. Lawler and Jarrett thanked him for all the help he gave but that it had run its course.
Andy Kaufman died from cancer on May 16, 1984, at the age of 35. Over the years, various heels would cut promos on Lawler, claiming that they were friends with Kaufman and he got the cancer from his piledriver. The first time it was done, by Tux Newman (Jeff Walton), it was good heat. But so many heels said it later that it became a worn out line that you got sick of hearing. When Kaufman died, Lawler was suddenly getting national attention from media looking for comments. In those days of kayfabe, he was as nice as he could be, without saying anything nice, not breaking storyline at all. Privately, he was broken up. It wasn’t until more than a decade later before Lawler would admit publicly that it was all an angle.
One of the most telling stories of Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler is that after every time he came to town, Jarrett would write him a check for what a main eventer would be getting. He did this for the better part of two years. Kaufman never cashed one of those checks.
There were still big moments, although no more sellouts. Lawler finally lost a hair match to Austin Idol. It was a hair vs. hair cage match where Idol had said that if he didn’t beat Lawler and shave his head, that he would refund everyone’s ticket money. In typical Memphis fashion, they made this as logical as possible, explaining that Idol in the 70s was in a plane crash and got a big cash settlement, so he definitely had the money to cover the gate. Of course, giving back the gate on a big show may have been something Vince McMahon did once to get over the Donald Trump angle, but it was not something Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler would ever do.
The actual story is that Lawler was having an operation to reverse a vasectomy and was going to need to take time off to heal. Lawler was notorious for fooling around on the road and didn’t want one of the women to claim he was the father of a child, so had the operation to protect himself. Lawler was married at this point and evidently was interested in starting a family, although he and then-wife Paula (the sister of referee and softball team member Jerry Calhoun) never had any children. Paula ended up being best known in Memphis circles for predicting football games every Sunday morning on “The Jerry Lawler Show,” a weekly talk show in Memphis. She also did an angle or two to build up some of his matches, including a match where Paula Lawler’s hair was put at stake in a Lawler’s wife’s hair vs. Dundee’ title match. And no, Lawler didn’t lose that one either.
Tommy Rich hid under the ring and came out and Rich & Idol grabbed Lawler’s legs and crotched him on the ringpost time after time. The bad part, and this basically ended the big money hair match gimmick, is when Lawler lost, he cut his hair in a fashionable crewcut, as opposed to being shaved bald. He was out of action recovering from surgery, and returned for revenge matches. A few years earlier, there would be a string of sellouts with Lawler coming back. Instead, the big shows grudge return did about 10,000 fans, the last time such a mark was reached.
The last true major show of that level for the promotion was on May 9, 1988, when Lawler beat Curt Hennig to win the AWA world heavyweight title. After all those years, the one thing Lawler never did was win a major world title. He came close against Brisco, Terry Funk, Race and Nick Bockwinkel. In the late 70s, in something long forgotten, after Jarrett pulled out of the NWA, he brought in Superstar Billy Graham as the world champion (Graham had already lost the WWWF title to Bob Backlund by this time) and had Lawler beat him to become the CWA world champion. But eventually that title was dropped and it was one of those things that everyone was supposed to forget about when Lawler started back on his storyline of chasing Bockwinkel for that elusive win.
They did just about everything they could to tell you this would be it. Lawler may have vowed to retire if he didn’t win, but he’d retired a half dozen times in Memphis over the years. When he was young, he vowed he would retire at 30. Then it became 35. It was like Terry Funk, who when he was young always vowed to retire by 40. They did a gimmick where they had fans call in a 900 line for more revenue. The story was that two men were up for being referee. Lawler had asked for Fargo, his childhood hero. Curt had asked for his own childhood hero, his father, Larry Hennig. On television, they talked about how Hennig had gone on TV in Minnesota and got the whole state out to vote for his father, and that would make it impossible for Lawler to win the title. Lawler said he needed Tennessee to come in and vote for Fargo. The show on May 9, 1988, drew 8,000 fans and $52,000, with Lawler finally winning the title.
Jarrett Promotions went on for another eight or so years before finally selling, which was a story in and of itself. The short version is that Lawler sold it to a Cleveland-based group for more than $1 million at the time that Jarrett was ready to fold the territory because it could no longer make money. Jarrett’s comment to me at the time is that he’s not in business to lose money and he couldn’t believe at the time someone was offering him money for it.
A major lawsuit was filed after the territory went down in 1996. Lawler was a co-defendant with the idea they had bilked the investors out of money and made it appear the company was very different from what it was. One of the reasons that when they reopened in 1998, the new Power Pro Wrestling promotion had Randy Hales as the owner and not Lawler was because of the lawsuit, as it would look bad if Lawler sold, there may have been fraud, the new owners went out of business, and suddenly Lawler was back owning a new company on the same station doing the same thing. During the court case, the judge and even Lawler’s own lawyer told him that things weren’t looking good and he should settle. There were two main defendants, Lawler and Larry Burton (who had bought Jarrett’s 50% first, before selling 100% to the Cleveland group). The judge noted that Burton had no money, while Lawler did, and much of the money he had made as an owner and in 27 years of wrestling could be on the hook with the verdict. Lawler didn’t settle. The jury ruled there was fraud, but also ruled Lawler was not liable for any damages.
It was hardly the first time, or the last time that Lawler’s mouth got him out of what appeared to be very serious potential problems.
This past week, his golden throat couldn’t help him. But his legendary luck was still there. And like after every savage beating in Memphis, the strap came down and he’s already starting to make the comeback.
JERRY LAWLER IN MEMPHIS
Few wrestlers in history were ever the kind of drawing card in a mid-sized market city for as long as Jerry Lawler was in Memphis. People may point to Bruno Sammartino in the Northeast, or Ray Stevens in San Francisco or Fred Blassie in Los Angeles, but those were major market cities. A look at Lawler’s biggest main events in Memphis during the heyday of Monday Night Wrestling in Memphis, shows promoted off the highest rated local television wrestling show of its era on Saturday mornings. Due to records not being complete, this is just a partial list.
3/12/73: Lawler & Jim White NC Jackie Fargo & Jerry Jarrett for Southern tag team titles (9,882)
3/19/73: Jackie Fargo & Jerry Jarrett b Lawler & Jim White to win Southern tag team titles (10,023)
4/2/73: Jerry Lawler & Jim White & Sam Bass NC Jackie & Roughouse Fargo & Tojo Yamamoto (11,118 sellout - set building attendance record for any event)
4/9/73: Tojo Yamamoto & Roughhouse Fargo b Lawler & White in a cage match to win Southern tag team titles (11,128 sellout - building record)
4/16/73: Lawler & Jim White b Tojo Yamamoto & Roughhouse Fargo with White’s hair vs. Fargo’s hair (11,118 sellout)
6/18/73: Lawler & Jim White b Tojo Yamamoto & Jerry Jarrett in tournament finals to win vacated Southern tag team titles (9,948)
3/18/74: Lawler NC Jackie Fargo in a cage match (10,894 sellout)
4/15/74: Lawler b Tommy Gilbert to retain Southern jr. title (9,626)
4/22/74: Lawler b Tommy Gilbert to retain Southern jr. title (9,654)
6/3/74: Ricky Gibson b Lawler to win Southern jr. title with Jackie Fargo as ref (11,332 sellout - building attendance record, thousands turned away)
6/10/74: Lawler b Ricky Gibson hair vs. Southern jr. title (11,629 sellout - new building attendance record)
6/17/74: Lawler NC Jackie Fargo + Battle Royal (11,542 sellout)
6/24/74: Jackie Fargo b Lawler no DQ to retain Southern jr. title (11,738 sellout - new building attendance record)
7/1/74: Jackie Fargo b Jerry Lawler cage match to retain Southern jr. title (11,407 sellout)
7/8/74: Lawler b Jackie Fargo in no DQ match to win Southern jr. title (10,535)
7/15/74: Lawler NC The Sheik (11,700 sellout)
7/22/74: Lawler b Bobo Brazil (10,600)
7/29/74: Mr. Wrestling II b Jerry Lawler via DQ (10,230)
8/5/74: Lawler b Bobo Brazil via DQ (10,750 sellout)
8/12/74: Lawler b Dick the Bruiser via DQ (11,599 sellout)
8/27/74: Lawler b Rufus Jones (10,776 sellout)
9/2/74: Robert Fuller b Jerry Lawler via DQ for Southern jr. title (10,300)
9/9/74: Lawler b Jerry Brisco (10,000)
9/16/74: World champion Jack Brisco b Lawler via DQ (10,125)
9/30/74: Jerry Lawler b Jerry Brisco (10,300)
10/7/74: Jerry Lawler b Robert Fuller via DQ to retain Southern jr. title (10,000)
12/2/74: Jerry Lawler b The Mummy hair vs. mask (revealed as Ron Wright) (10,230)
1/20/75: Ron Fuller & Danny Hodge b Lawler & Dick the Bruiser via DQ (10,260)
2/3/75: Jack Brisco b Jerry Lawler to retain world title (10,395)
6/30/75: Mongolian Stomper NC Jerry Lawler for Southern title (10,100)
7/7/75: Mongolian Stomper b Jerry Lawler in a no DQ match for Southern title (11,500 sellout)
7/14/75: Jerry Lawler b Mongolian Stomper with Lance Russell as referee for Southern title (11,500 sellout)
7/21/75: Jerry Lawler b Mongolian Stomper in a no DQ match for Southern title (11,500 sellout)
7/28/75: Jerry Lawler NC Mongolian Stomper with Jackie Fargo as ref (10,991 sellout)
6/21/76: Jerry Lawler b Rocky Johnson wrestler vs. boxer (11,188 sellout)
6/28/76: Jerry Lawler b Bob Armstrong (9,626)
7/12/76: Rocky Johnson b Jerry Lawler boxer vs. wrestler (10,138)
8/9/76: Jack Brisco b Jerry Lawler to win Southern title (10,098)
8/16/76: Jerry Lawler b Jack Brisco to win Southern title (10,962 sellout)
8/22/76: Terry Funk d Jerry Lawler 60:00 to retain world title (10,430)
9/20/76: Jerry Lawler NC Jackie Fargo (10,938 sellout)
1/3/77: Mongolian Stomper b Jerry Lawler via DQ (11,200 sellout)
2/20/77: Jerry Lawler b Bob Armstrong via DQ in cage match (10,526)
8/1/77: Jerry Lawler b Bill Dundee hair vs. car (11,300 sellout)
8/8/77: Bill Dundee b Jerry Lawler (11,103 sellout)
9/5/77: Jerry Lawler b Bill Dundee hair vs. hair (10,129)
12/11/77: Harley Race d Jerry Lawler 60:00 to retain world title (10,800 sellout)
12/18/77: Harley Race b Jerry Lawler to retain world title (9,664)
1/02/78: Jimmy Valiant b Jerry Lawler (10,151)
2/28/78: Jerry Lawler b Jimmy Valiant to retain Southern title(11,000 sellout)
6/12/78: Jerry Lawler b Jos LeDuc (10,270)
7/10/78: Jerry Lawler b Sonny King to retain Southern title (9,867)
8/21/78: Jerry Lawler b Nick Bockwinkel via DQ in an AWA title match (11,000 sellout)
8/27/79: AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel d Jerry Lawler 60:00 (10,000)
12/29/80: Jerry Lawler b Dream Machine (11,069 sellout)
2/9/81: Jerry Lawler b Hulk Hogan via DQ (9,007)
2/24/81: Jerry Lawler & Jackie Fargo b Austin Idol & Dutch Mantell via DQ (10,180)
6/29/81: Jerry Lawler b Jimmy Hart lumberjack match (10,129)
7/27/81: Jerry Lawler b Dream Machine via DQ (9,629)
8/3/81: Jerry Lawler & Jimmy Valiant NC Dream Machine & Bugsy McGraw (11,600 sellout)
8/31/81: Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee b Dream Machine & Jimmy Hart loser leaves town (9,110)
8/2/82: Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee b Kimala & J.J. Dillon via DQ (11,300 sellout)
8/9/82: Jerry Lawler b Kimala hair vs. Southern title to win title (11,300 sellout)
8/16/82: Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee b Kimala & Kendo Nagasaki (10,411)
12/27/82: Jerry Lawler b Nick Bockwinkel AWA title held up (10,086)
5/2/83: Jerry Lawler b Colossus of Death & Andy Kaufman piledriver match (9,194)
6/6/83: Jerry Lawler b Bill Dundee in a loser leaves town match (11,300 sellout)
6/25/84: Jerry Lawler & Austin Idol b Road Warriors (10,032)
8/6/84: Jerry Lawler & Jimmy Valiant b King Kong Bundy & Rick Rude to win one night tag team tournament (9,677)
8/27/84: Jerry Lawler b Rick Rude cage match (9,950)
12/31/84: Jerry Lawler NC Eddie Gilbert (9,000)
3/18/85: Randy Savage b Jerry Lawler to win Southern title (10,000)
4/22/85: Randy Savage NC Jerry Lawler to retain Southern title (9,000)
6/3/85: Jerry Lawler b Randy Savage loser leaves town for Southern title (9,000)
9/30/85: World champion Ric Flair b Jerry Lawler via DQ (9,496 - set city all-time gate record with first $100,000 house)
12/30/85: Bill Dundee b Jerry Lawler hair vs. loser leaves town (11,300 sellout)
3/3/86: Jerry Lawler & Dutch Mantel b Bill Dundee & Buddy Landel (11,300 sellout)
3/10/86: Jerry Lawler & Dutch Mantel b Bill Dundee & Buddy Landel (10,020)
2/16/87: Nick Bockwinkel & Jerry Lawler b Austin Idol & Tommy Rich via DQ (9,000)