411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2008: Jerry “The King” Lawler
Not many people can say that they broke into the wrestling business by drawing sketches. In fact, there’s only one man I can think of that can say that, and his name is Jerry Lawler. Lawler was born November 29, 1949 in the city that he would later make famous (at least as far as wrestling goes), Memphis, Tennessee. Other than a brief sojourn to the Cleveland, Ohio area when his father’s job was relocated, Lawler has spent most of his life in the Birthplace of the Blues. His time in Cleveland needs to be noted, however, for it was when he actually became a wrestling fan. He also adopted the Cleveland Browns & Cleveland Indians as his favorite sports teams, but we won’t hold that against him.
Once the Lawler family returned to Memphis, Jerry became a huge fan of the wrestling in that area. He was a very talented artist, and began drawing cartoons of the wrestlers at the matches. Somebody suggested that he should send his pictures to Memphis’ legendary wrestling announcer Lance Russell, and Jerry did just that. Much to Jerry’s surprise, his pictures appeared on Memphis TV the week afterwards, with Russell using them to describe the events of that Monday night at the Mid-South Coliseum. Russell contacted Lawler via phone afterwards, and soon after that Lawler was providing sketches for use on Memphis TV every week. Through this he ended up meeting Memphis’ top wrestler at the time, Jackie Fargo, who gave Lawler several jobs to do for him, including a disc jockey gig on KWAM.
Jerry wanted to be a wrestler, but was too afraid to ask Jackie Fargo how to get in the wrestling business. One day he met a wrestler by the name of Jerry Vickers who wanted to talk to Fargo about working the Memphis territory. Lawler asked Vickers how to get into the business, and Vickers said he’d try and help him get work with an outlaw wrestling promotion in West Memphis, Arkansas. Lawler met with promoter Aubrey Griffith and convinced him to let him wrestle on their shows by promising that he would promote the shows on KWAM. Fargo was not pleased, but he got Lawler a spot as a Memphis TV jobber. After some time jobbing, Lawler was sent down to the Alabama portion of the territory, where he hooked up with Jim White and manager Sam Bass. Lawler & White got over pretty good on the smaller shows and soon made their way back to Memphis and the bigger towns in the territory.
Lawler soon became involved in a memorable feud with Fargo. He declared that once he defeated Fargo for the Southern title, he would become the “King” of wrestling. Lawler ended up beating Fargo, and when he came out for an interview on the next TV show, the fans started chanting “King” at him. From that point forward, Lawler was a main event star in Memphis and known as “The King”.
Lawler & Jerry Jarrett broke away from established promoters Roy Welch & Nick Gulas to form their own promotion in 1977. With the popularity of Lawler with the fans and the defection of most of the top talent to Jarrett & Lawler’s promotion (known as the Continental Wrestling Association), they soon became the official wrestling promotion of the Memphis area. Lawler spent the rest of the 70s main eventing against men like Bob Armstrong, Jimmy Valiant, Bill Dundee, Joe LeDuc, Nick Bockwinkel, the Mongolian Stomper, Austin Idol, and a guy by the name of Terry Boulder. Lawler formed successful tag teams with Dundee & Idol that were on-again off-again in nature. One match during this period of Lawler’s career that has attained a certain amount of fame was his empty arena match with Terry Funk. “My eyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” is still quoted by wrestlers and wrestling fans everywhere, even though the match itself might not have been all that good in the eyes of both performers.
In 1982, Andy Kaufman entered the Mid-South Coliseum as the World Inter-Gender Champion. He wrestled women for several weeks until Lawler challenged him to a match. On April 5, 1982, the wrestling & entertainment worlds looked on as the King injured the television star with two illegal piledrivers. Lawler & Kaufman’s feud reached it’s apex when both men appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. Lawler slapped Kaufman across the face and Kaufman retaliated by throwing coffee in Lawler’s face after a profanity-laced tirade. Kaufman continued to be a thorn in Lawler’s side up until his death from lung cancer in May 1984. Also giving Lawler a lot of headaches was Jimmy Hart & his First Family, who always seemed to be going after Lawler and his friends.
Lawler’s next major feud was with Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who had been issuing grandstand challenges to Lawler for years in his father’s rival ICW promotion, which was based out of Lexington, KY. Once ICW closed up shop, Savage, his father Angelo Poffo & his brother Lanny Poffo showed up in Memphis to settle some scores. Lawler & Savage had a well-received series of matches and even teamed up on a few occasions on Savage’s way out of the territory. Lawler remained on top of Memphis throughout the decade of the 80s, and finally achieved his career-long goal of winning a World title when he defeated Curt Hennig for the AWA World title on May 9, 1988. Lawler would unify the AWA, CWA & WCCW championships at SuperClash III in Chicago, Illinois on December 13, 1988 by defeating Kerry Von Erich. Lawler’s reign as Unified world champion would end not long after the show, as he refused to defend the title in AWA markets due to his not being paid for appearing at SuperClash III.
Jerry Jarrett ended up buying the WCCW territory and forming the United States Wrestling Association out of the remains of WCCW & the CWA. The promotion in Texas didn’t last very long, but the Memphis group continued running under the USWA until it went out of business in 1997. In 1989, Lawler had his most famous feud with long-time rival Eddie Gilbert, which included a memorable scene on the weekly USWA television show where Gilbert hit Lawler with his car. Lawler was OK, but it generated huge ratings and interest in the USWA at the time.
The WWF formed a talent-exchange agreement with the USWA in 1992, which resulted in Lawler splitting his time between the promotions. In the WWF, Lawler was a despicable heel announcer that belittled babyface wrestlers and wrestling fans. In the USWA, Lawler was a favorite son that could do no wrong. It was a strange dichotomy, but Lawler managed to remain over in both areas in both roles.
His early WWF tenure was highlighted by a bitter feud with Bret “Hitman” Hart. Lawler was enraged by the concept of the King of the Ring tournament, which crowned a king that wasn’t him. He attacked Hart during the coronation ceremony and spent most of his time the next few months verbally belittling the Hart family on commentary. He won a controversial match with Hart at SummerSlam 1993, but the feud was put on hold when Lawler had to leave the WWF in November 1993 due to legal troubles. After his problems were dealt with, Lawler returned to the WWF in time to color commentate WrestleMania X. With the exception of WrestleMania X-Seven, Lawler has commentated on every WrestleMania since. His feud with Hart continued off and on until 1995, and he also found time to have feuds with other wrestlers he denigrated on commentary like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & Doink the Clown. A feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts in 1996 focused on Roberts’ recovery from alcoholism and Lawler mocking Roberts’ past (and future) problems. Lawler’s son Brian Christopher began appearing in the WWF in 1997 after he spent years honing his craft in the USWA…their relationship wasn’t recognized by either man until after Christopher left the WWF in 2001. The King wanted Brian to make a name for himself on his own, not as the son of a wrestling legend. Brian still competes in the Memphis territory and other independent promotions.
Lawler became vocal in his dislike of Extreme Championship Wrestling when ECW wrestlers started appearing on WWF programming in early 1997. He appeared in the ECW Arena and attacked Tommy Dreamer. This led up to a match between them at ECW Hardcore Heaven 1997, which was won by Dreamer. After his feud with ECW ended and the USWA folded, Lawler spent most of his time in the WWF focused on announcing. Lawler and Jim Ross have become one of the most popular announce teams of all time, and many would say they are among the best. His most important contribution to announcing may be his popularizing the term “puppies” for female breasts. Yes, the King likes the Divas.
In 1999 Lawler ran for Mayor of Memphis, finishing third in a fifteen-person race. He also appeared in the movie Man on the Moon, which was based on the life and times of Andy Kaufman. Rumors were rampant that Lawler did not get along with Jim Carrey and that they had an altercation on the set that resulted in Carrey getting injured. This was most likely a work to drum up some publicity, much like how Lawler’s feud with Kaufman was a work to drum up some publicity.
His WWF career came to an abrupt halt in February 2001. Lawler’s wife Stacy “The Kat” Carter was released by the WWF after some disagreement over her value to the company and future plans for her. Lawler quit the WWF in protest, and popped up in independent promotions all over the place. His most notable appearances were probably as an announcer with the short-lived XWF & WWA promotions. After an emotional breakup with Carter, Lawler was ready to come back home.
Lawler was welcomed back to the WWF with open arms in November 2001, and since then has continued to serve as the top color commentator for the renamed WWE, lending his voice to WWE Raw and most PPV events since that time. Lawler still steps in the WWE ring on a semi-regular basis, over the past few years he’s feuded with men such as Tazz, Booker T, Muhammad Hassan, Gregory Helms, Randy Orton, Chris Masters & Jonathon Coachman. He still wrestles regularly for the Memphis Wrestling promotion and makes occasional appearances in other independent promotions. Retirement is not in the King’s vocabulary, and unlike others of his era he can still compete at a level that isn’t embarrassing.
Why Jerry “The King” Lawler was selected…
Jerry Lawler is a true renaissance man in the world of pro wrestling. He has to be considered among the greatest wrestlers of all time, along with being one of the greatest wrestling announcers of all time. His punches rank among the best I’ve ever seen, and his weekly tradition of pulling his strap down after getting the crap beaten out of him for most of the match and going to town on a heel never got old. He was on top of one of wrestling’s most successful territories for three decades, during which he wrestled almost all the top stars of the era. He is considered a master of ring psychology and was as good as it got when it came to doing an interview. His feud with Andy Kaufman was one of the most talked and read about angles in wrestling history. He has held more wrestling titles than any other man to step into the ring. You can’t talk about wrestling history from the 1970s to now without mentioning The King. Jerry Lawler is the undeniable King of professional wrestling, and no wrestling Hall of Fame would be complete without him.