By Scott Bowden
Scott Bowdens Kentucky Fried Rasslin
2009-08-25 - A Roundtable to Remember
A roundtable to remember: Scott Bowden talks Memphis wrestling with Jerry Jarrett, Lance Russell and Dave Brown
Part I It was a Memphis wrestling fan's dream come true. For 10 years of my childhood, I spent 90 minutes in front of my parents' TV in Germantown Bartlett nearly every Saturday watching announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown welcome me to another "BIG DAY of Championship Wrestling."
I started watching the show religiously in 1977, the same year the program moved to WMC-TV channel 5 from WHBQ channel 13 in 1977 following promoter Jerry Jarrett's split from "partner" Nick Gulas. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I'd wind up as a performer on the show (though that was my lifelong ambition when I was growing up), standing alongside Lance and Dave in 1994--1996 as I insulted the rednecks in the audience a la my hero Jerry Lawler in the late '70s.
Likewise, I couldn't have I imagined the opportunity I had on Aug. 8 as moderator of the Memphis Wrestling Roundtable discussion as part of the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest weekend. For 90 minutes on that Saturday morning, I was joined by Lance, Dave and Jerry to discuss their memories of arguably the most entertaining wrestling promotion in the country in the late '70s and early '80s.
Saturday morning memories: Russell, Jarrett, Bowden and Brown pose with the AWA Southern title belt following the Memphis Wrestling Roundtable discussion in Charlotte.
When discussing what made Memphis wrestling so special, the three veterans of the business agreed it was not only the talent but also the attitude of everyone involved.
"It sounds so corny, that's that we had made our show different--the passion," Lance says. "I'm not knocking the other shows, but there was a difference--and I think that's because of the way we all felt about the business. We loved it, and we enjoyed coming to work."
"It wasn't something we had to do--we worked for the station and came in on our day off because we were having fun doing it," says Dave, who was recruited by Jarrett along with program-director Russell to WMC from WHBQ, where he also did the newscast weather as well as the Saturday morning wrestling gig. "I had seen other wrestling shows, and I don't think I would have done it for very long in another area because it just didn't have the same indefinable spark that Memphis had. A lot of that had to do with three things. First, the history: Wrestling had always been a successful show in the Memphis market going back to the 1950s. It was one of the first live television broadcasts on my television station, which was the first station in Tennessee. Second, the demographics of the market were such that wrestling was a great fit. We didn't have a pro football team, we didn't have a pro basketball team--some argue we still don't. At the time, the University of Memphis Tigers weren't that popular. So wrestling was the professional sport in the Memphis market. Another thing that made it so great was when Jerry Jarrett took it over, the meticulous way in which the show was laid out was impressive. Jerry had stuff in his mind for weeks--he knew where it was going and how he wanted to get there."
Jarrett cites his announcers' credibility as a major factor in the show's success.
"I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by unbelievable talent," says Jarrett, who today owns a successful construction business. "When my son Jeff and I started TNA, I tried to explain to him that the most important talents you can have on a TV wrestling show are your announcers. The announcers are, literally, the show. My star, Jerry Lawler, would have six or seven minutes of airtime--eight minutes at the most each week. So I credit these two gentlemen with the passion they had and the broadcast ability they had for making me look like a pretty smart promoter."
After I mentioned the fact that Lawler being a Memphian made him the perfect "home team" for the city, we discussed how the young, brash upstart overthrew Jackie Fargo (who was honored the night before during the Hall of Heroes banquet) for the Memphis rasslin' throne.
Jarrett says the program basically wrote itself, as Fargo had helped Jerry break into the business--a classic case of the teacher/the aging superstar, fending off his pupil,/the young buck trying to knock him off.
"Jackie was also a disc jockey, and Jerry was one of his interns, or as Fargo jokingly called him, 'my lackey,'" recalls Jarrett. "Jerry gave Jackie some wonderful sketches he'd done of the matches, and Lance eventually started showing them on the air when giving the results of the previous week's matches at the [Ellis] Auditorium. So when Jerry became a big star and threatened his top spot, there really was some resentment there, though Jackie did everything he could to get Lawler over."
Dave says that it was Jackie's willingness to create a new star that made the program so successful, drawing several sell-out crowds.
"The key to the transition was Jackie putting his hair up in a match. Hair vs. hair was the big match in those days. It was a humiliating thing for a superstar to lose his hair. Jackie lost and had his head shaved. We recorded a promo, and Jackie was so good at selling that haircut that he was over even more than he was before...and Jerry was now a star. Jackie had a willingness to make the program work; he could have said, 'I'm the star, and I don't want to do it.' But he was on board."
Last man standing...and standing room only: Lawler defeats Fargo before a reported crowd of 11,700 at the Mid-South Coliseum.
After the program with Fargo ran its course, Jarrett began booking a long program, the Quest for the Title, which was designed to get Lawler over in the fans' eyes as a serious contender for the NWA World championship, held by Jack Brisco. The roots of the program can be traced to Jarrett's teenage years, when he was worked a part-time job at wrestling matches at the Hippodrome Arena in Nashville.
"I was a 14 or 15 year old kid sitting in front of the arena tearing tickets as folks walked in. Lou Thesz was the World heavyweight champion. Most of the wrestlers would pull up behind the building and go in the side door and duck into the side dressing room. But Lou pulled up in a taxi in front of the building. I was tearing tickets at the matches. He would walk up those steps to the Hippodrome, and literally, goosebumps would jump on my arms and the hair on the back of neck would stand on end. You knew he was the champion--even if you'd never seen wrestling--just from the way he carried himself. Lou Thesz was an inspiration to me. I was so impressed with Lou that I had this reverence for the World title and still do. It signifies that you have achieved the very top in this profession. So Jerry Lawler was very talented, and I knew that he deserved to be the champion, so I developed the Quest for the Title for him."
Jarrett called some of his closest friends in the wrestling business, including the late Eddie Graham, who had a tremendous influence on the young promoter, to get dates on some of the biggest stars in the business. Jarrett billed them as the top 10 contenders that Lawler had to defeat to get a shot at the 10 pounds of gold.
One by one over a period of months, Lawler knocked them off...whether the stars agreed to lose or not. When the Sheik (Ed Farhat) and Dick the Bruiser refused to do a job for Lawler after arriving at the Coliseum, Jarrett simply filmed a false finish and then turned the cameras off when the bout later ended inconclusively via a disqualification or count-out. Lawler and his manager Sam Bass would then come out the following Saturday morning, airing only the footage of the false finish but claiming victory nonetheless.
"He [Bass] would say, 'Jerry Lawler beat the stew out of the Sheik and beat him 1, 2, 3.' Because their credibility was important, Lance and Dave would try to dispute it saying, 'Oh, c'mon, Jerry.' So Lawler would scream, 'Play the tape if you don't believe me!' And then we'd show the false finish with Lawler appearing to beat him for a three count. Lawler would then proceed to talk about next week's challenge, as Lance just shook his head. So, in that sense, Lawler effectively beat everyone in the nation as part of the Quest for the Title--if not by pinfall, then with a little creativity."
The program culminated on Sept. 16, 1974, with more than 10,125 fans at the Mid-South Coliseum on hand for the title showdown. Lawler appeared to defeat Brisco for the belt but the decision was overturned when the referee discovered that the King had used a chain to knock out the champion. Backstage, two men watched with tears in their eyes.
"Eddie Graham and I stood at the back of the Mid-South Coliseum...we were both very emotional," says Jarrett. "Brisco was Eddie's man, he loved him, he groomed him and he nurtured him to become the World champion. Lawler was my man. That night, it almost felt like our sons were out there really fighting for the World title. That was such a fun time of my life."
Of course, in a sense, the Quest for the Title was really just beginning, as the promotion continued to return to the storyline for the next several years as Lawler always fell heartbreakingly short of bringing the World championship home to Memphis. "I campaigned unsuccessfully for years to get the NWA title for Jerry," Jarrett says. "But some people on the NWA board felt that he wasn't tough enough. I was always saying, 'Tough?' What do you mean 'tough'? This is show business."
Frustrated with the NWA board, Jarrett began working with Verne Gagne, who owned the successful American Wrestling Association territory, and booking AWA World champion Nick Bockwinkel instead of NWA kingpin Harley Race. With his regal demeanor and arrogance, Beverly Hills' Bockwinkel played the role of the rich playboy champion to perfection, some would argue much more effectively than NWA World champion Ric Flair. You practically needed a dictionary on hand when watching a Bockwinkel promo. And, man, could he work.
The man who would be King: Jarrett never got the NWA title for Lawler, except for this photo shoot with MEMPHIS MAGAZINE.
"Well, not only was he a great wrestler, but Nick was also an articulate, decent man," Jarrett says. "I really cared for Nick, and I counted myself lucky that I knew Nick Bockwinkel. And the politics of it...let's just say that the NWA was beginning to slide a bit. Also, I was not successful at getting Lawler a run with the NWA title, and I figured I'd have much better luck talking to Verne Gagne--one man--as opposed to an entire board, so that played a big part in it. Verne also had some really stellar talent besides Nick that would help us draw money."
Russell describes the nights of World title matches at the Mid-South Coliseum as "magic."
"The atmosphere was charged by the fans," Lance says. "You couldn't help but feed off the fans. The fans were so excited, 'Tonight's the night. This is the one we've been waiting for. Jerry's had the champion on the ropes before and this could be the night he takes it!' The enthusiasm was just unbelievable."
One wrestler who Jarrett broke into the business did go on to win the NWA World title --Hendersonville, Tennessee's Tommy "Wildfire" Rich. Jarrett's wife, the former Deborah Marlin (Eddie Marlin's daughter), used to play with Tommy Richardson (later shorted to "Rich") as kids.
Jarrett says, "When Tommy got out of high school, he wanted to be a wrestler, so Deborah asked, 'Please, can you help him?' So I had him come to the farm early one morning, and I when came out in my pajamas, I told him, 'Tommy, this is gonna get you in shape before I can train you.' I had a water pipe that I had running from the house to the horse barn. I told him to cut the water pipe here and take it up all the way to the barn. I gave him a pick and a shovel. I look out there three hours later, and he's still out there yanking on that water pipe. Tommy went through every possible thing I could do to discourage him--but he wouldn't give up. So we started training him, and he was a good-looking kid who turned out to be a decent wrestler. Tommy had his little run in Memphis, and then promoter Jim Barnett in Atlanta wanted him. He went there right when the SuperStation took off, and he became a national star."
Between runs at the World championship, Lawler feuded with some of most colorful, craziest characters in the business, such as "Canadian Lumberjack" Joe LeDuc and "Handsome" Jimmy Valiant.
LeDuc was one of the great big-man workers of the era who cut wonderfully insane promos--none crazier than a 1977 promo when he made a blood oath (actually misspeaking, saying, "blood oak") to get revenge on Lawler.
An axe to grind: Canadian Lumberjack Joe LeDuc cut his arm out of hatred for Lawler, but had a softer side outside the ring.
Recalls Lance: "At the time, we trying to make the show a little less violent and a little more family-oriented and not feature a lot of blood. Well, LeDuc comes out one Saturday morning with a double-edged ax. Well, he takes that axe and cuts across his arm, and here comes the red stuff pouring down his arm. He cut his arm open right there on live TV! Fans wondered for years wondered, 'Was it real?' Hey, let me tell you, it was real, all right. I nearly had a heart attack--and I think Jerry Jarrett did have one later when he saw it. I tried to tell him after, 'Joe, you can't do that on television.'"
Both Brown and Jarrett remember a different side of LeDuc outside of the ring.
"Joe LeDuc was such a nice man, and for years after he stopped wrestling in Memphis, I'd get a little note from wherever he was traveling or wishing me Merry Christmas," Dave says. "I always thought that was special for a man who was traveling like to remember the folks he worked with."
A star is born: Jimmy Valiant becomes a headliner, prompting Lawler to end his retirement early
"Joe was a very good wrestler who was a real tough guy," says the Memphis promoter. "But what I remember most of all about him was that he was a prince of a fellow. When you go through the hundreds of people who you cross paths with professionally, only a few are really special, and Joe LeDuc was one of them."
Valiant debuted on Sept. 19, 1977, to win a tournament for the Southern title vacated by Lawler following the King's "retirement" match against Bill Dundee the previous week. Of course, the retirement was an angle designed to turn Lawler babyface and create a new heel star--"Handsome" Jimmy--in his absence. Lawler supposedly was moving on from the sport to concentrate on artwork and his (cough) music career. The King's return was cemented when Valiant and the Samoans attacked him before a pre-match concert at the Coliseum, with the new Southern king busting a guitar over Lawler's head (and perhaps inspiring a young Jeff Jarrett in the process).
"I have a thousand memories of "Handsome" Jimmy, and they're all good," Brown says. "I was always amazed to watch him in the back because Jimmy was so quiet and mild-mannered. But when he came through that dressing-room door, he just exploded, 'Wooo, baby, Handsome Jimbo from Mempho!' He used to call Lance 'Lancer' and, at the time, Jackson Browne was hot, so he called me 'Jack-son.'"
Valiant was one of the first in the biz to reference pop culture in his promos. If you believe his promos, "Handsome" Jimmy was the only wrestler in history to date both Sally Field and Linda Ronstadt.
Valiant was too entertaining to keep as a heel for long, with his popularity often rivaling Lawler's in the area. In fact, Jarrett could always rely on Valiant to spark the houses when the King was unable to appear; for example, nearly the entire year of 1980, when Lawler was on the shelf with a broken leg.
"Jimmy wasn't here on a consistent basis," Brown continues, "so when he came to town, it was an event, much like when they brought in Roughhouse Fargo and Jackie Fargo. Music videos pretty much started on our show--even before they hit MTV. And we did with a video with "Handsome" Jimmy that saw him coming out of a white limo--that was one of the greatest record moments of the era."
The video for Valiant's song, "Son of A Gypsy," was produced by Jimmy Hart, who also went on to become a star in 1980, with Lawler sidelined.
Part II With less than a year of camera time as Lawler's manager under his belt, Hart rarely had interview time to shine in his role, as the King was in his prime as one of the greatest heel promos in the business at that point. Most of their promos saw Lawler boast and brag for a few minutes, with Hart relegated to nodding, smiling, carrying the CWA World belt and occasionally chiming in, "That's right, baby!" But with Lawler not around in early 1980, Jarrett removed Hart's muzzle, and the young manager was off to the races while his champion stud was put out to pasture for the rest of the year.
Because everything had been built around Lawler heading into 1980, Jarrett decided to rebuild the promotion around the manager and a stable of heels in 1980.
"We were in a hotel in Louisville discussing TV for the following Saturday," Jarrett recalls. "Hart asked, 'What do I say about Lawler?' I was thinking about being in the home state of the Kentucky Derby, so off the top of my head, I gave Hart this line, 'What if you have a horse--a thoroughbred, a champion--and he breaks his leg? You shoot him!' Lawler was watching and took great personal offense to the disrespect shown by Hart, who he broke into the business. Lawler was so mad that Jimmy thinks he purposely broke his jaw in Evansville after he came back from the injury. Jimmy Hart went from being a side man to the center of attention who we built everything around. And while Paul Ellering did a great job as Hart's new King, Jimmy was the one who kept the Memphis box office going until Lawler could return. It was a natural. I believe the term they use today is a 'work-shoot.' We tried to work with what was in front of us--and the reality was that Jerry had felt like Jimmy had let him down by making the racehorse analogy. Lawler really took offense to that and Hart knew it, so he was gun shy around Lawler, and it came across as real to the fans. So almost everything we did had tension and a touch of realism to it."
Russell, who somehow managed to keep a straight face during the diabolical manager's often hilarious diatribes, marveled at Hart's enthusiasm for the business.
"Jimbo was really something," he says. "Hart had this 24-hour energy that was unreal. And he had a really good mind, which sometimes was hard to tell, given some of the crazy outfits he wore. He knew the business very, very well. Jimmy was a fun guy who never lost his passion. He was good to have around in the dressing room because he would keep everybody else pumped up with his excitement."
Recalls Brown: "I had been a rock 'n' roll DJ back in the '60s, so I knew Jimmy as a part of the Gentry. When he came into wrestling, he didn't really build his personality until Lawler broke his leg. We knew Lawler was going to be out for weeks and weeks and weeks...and Lawler is the money, he's the draw. So this genius sitting next to me today [Jarrett] has the idea that 'Lawler's not my friend; he can't make me any money now.' It was this great bridge to build on to until Lawler got back and there was a ready-made program right there for when he returned."
Similar to the Quest for the Title program, to re-establish Lawler's status as the area's biggest star, Jarrett booked some of the biggest names in the business to appear with Hart, with the feud between the two kicking off in front of an overflow sellout crowd of 11,500-plus fans crammed into the seats and aisles at the Mid-South Coliseum on Dec. 29, 1980. The Dream Machine, Ellering, Austin Idol, Joe LeDuc, Ron Bass, Hulk Hogan and Jack Brisco all bowed before the King, with Lawler usually getting a piece of Hart in the process. Then came probably Lawler's best match of the year with former NWA World champion Terry Funk on March 23, 1981. The two had a rivalry dating back to 1976 during Funk's reign as NWA titlist, and this time, Funk was perfect as the crazed, bloodthirsty opponent looking to re-break Lawler's leg with his infamous spinning toe-hold. Following a Texas Death Match on April 6, with Lawler and Plowboy Frazier beating Terry and his brother, Dory, before 8,147 fans, Terry challenged Jerry to an empty arena match at the Coliseum, which was some of the most bizarre footage ever recorded.
"That was all Terry's idea," Jarrett says. "To give you an idea of how Terry's mind works, he called me once saying, 'Jarrett, I've got an idea that's going to make us both a lot of money. You and I both know that wrestling promoters are stupid sons of bitches. Well, not you, Jarrett. But, anyway, the biggest night to run wrestling is Thanksgiving night. Let's put a deposit down on every major arena in the United States--I pay half, you pay half--and we'll sell the date back to the local promoters when it finally dawns on them that we've already got their building locked up on that date.' I calmly explained to Terry, 'There are probably 300 arenas that we'd have to cover. I think the promoters will simply switch to a different arena rather than pay us. And then we're gonna be stuck with hundreds of empty arenas and flat broke.' Terry says, 'Trust me--they'll pay us.' I said, 'We'll, do you think they'll pay us before or after they shoot us?' The wrestling business was a lot different back then. But that's how Terry's mind works, so I wasn't surprised when he called to say, 'Let's have a match in an empty Mid-South Coliseum.'"
After a year into Lawler's return, business was down again, and Jarrett was brainstorming for ideas to pop the territory. Jarrett had been thinking of the glory days of Jackie Fargo and his brother Donnie, who were hot draws as the Fabulous Fargos for years, when he mentioned to Dutch Mantel, "I wish I could clone Jackie Fargo." Dutch replied, "Well, why don't you?" That clicked with Jarrett. He introduced a heel tag team, Hart's New York Dolls (Troy Graham and Rick McGraw), dressing them in top hats and tuxedo jackets a la the Fabulous Fargos so many years ago. He phoned Jackie and asked him to tape some promos voicing his displeasure over Hart's blatant gimmick infringement, while endorsing a new set of Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane.
Fabulous endorsement: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane were made men when Jackie Fargo gave his blessing to the Fabulous Ones gimmick.
"I was sitting in my office in 1982 wishing that Jackie Fargo was 20 years younger. Then Dutch made that comment. It's funny how a little simple thing like that planted the seed for the Fabulous Ones. Jackie loved the business and did everything he could to help draw money even after he stopped wrestling. We put sequined jackets on the Fabs and made the music video to introduce them. "
The debut video, set to Billy Squire's "Everybody Wants You," helped the wrestling program find a new audience: teen-aged girls. That video and the Fabs gimmick inspired other territories nationwide to copy the formula, including Joel Watts in Mid-South Wrestling, who made a shot-for-shot copy of another Jarrett video on the Fabulous Ones set to ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" for the Fantastics, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton, who were the most obvious Fabs' rip-offs.
"It was a brilliant piece of marketing--the video sold it perfectly right from the get-go," Brown says. "They [Lane and Keirn] had been a couple of talented guys anyway in their own right as singles. But giving them that spark and that personality put them over the edge, and they pulled it off. It did broaden the appeal of the show--and the TV show was key as to whether you sold out Monday night or not. The viewership of young women was probably much higher the second and third weeks they appeared. And if you can broaden your appeal to reach not only dad but also all of the kids, it's easy to justify taking them to the Coliseum on Monday nights."
After Lane and Keirn decided to take the act on the road to Verne Gagne's AWA, Jarrett recruited Tommy Rich and Eddie Gilbert as the New Fabulous Ones. Realizing there was a chance that the fans would reject Rich and Gilbert as imitations, Jarrett's backup plan was for the duo to split, with Eddie turning heel--his lifelong ambition to be like his hero, Lawler.
"Eddie was a second-generation wrestler, so I'd known him since he was literally a baby. And he grew up a fan, and eventually he would write out cards when he was 12 years old when riding to Louisville or Nashville with his dad [Tommy Gilbert] and hand me his cards and say, "I don't mean that you should do this, but I want you to tell me if it's crazy." And so this kid has this passion for the business, not only in the ring but outside it. He also said to me, "I'm not very big. But do you think I could be a wrestler?" I told him, "I think you could...I'm not very big, either." But I warned him that 'You're going to have to be better than the average.' And of course, he turned out to be far better than the average. Somebody asked me If Eddie hadn't died, where would he be? And there's a very good chance that he'd booking for somebody and be very successful. He was really smart...he really studied the business. He knew this program, that program...who wrestled who and when."
In 1985, McMahon continued to cherry-pick the nation's top talent from the territories, including Jarrett's number-one heel personality, Jimmy Hart. On short notice, Jarrett booked a loser-leaves-town match between Gilbert and Lawler, which would culminate the three-year feud. Prior to what would be his last in-studio performance, Hart was left in charge after much of the talent was stranded because of a rare ice storm. To help plug a bout Monday night in which a flour would be placed on top of a pole for the participants (Dirty White Boys vs. the Terminators) to potentially use, Hart asked Russell backstage if he could dump some of the white stuff over his head while on the air. Russell reluctantly agreed.
"Jerry Jarrett had always said when the wrestlers in the past had suggested putting their hands on me or hitting me, 'We gotta take care of the talent. We can't have you touch the guy with the mic in his hand.' Well, this was Hart's opportunity because he was in charge because nobody else could make it to the studio. He dumped the entire bag of flour over me. If you've never had it done to you, you probably won't understand what I'm telling you when I say how difficult it was to get that stuff off. I immediately called for a break so I could get some water and wash this stuff off. No way--it wasn't that easy."
Recalls Brown: "I'm thinking that I'm gonna have to do the rest of the show on my own--now that Lance has turned into a giant biscuit. "
With Hart gone, Jarrett brought in Tex Newman (Jeff Walton) from California and turned Randy Savage heel to reignite a feud with Lawler for the Southern title. Savage had been a babyface for months after a memorable debut as a heel. Less than two years earlier, the first Lawler vs. Savage match drew more than 8,000 fans on Dec. 5, 1983, a match that was years in the making. Leading up to that first encounter, Savage and his family had been running opposition, the ICW, with a weekly show airing Saturday mornings since 1980 on local independent station WPTY an hour prior to Jarrett's show. Savage and NWA outcasts like Ronnie Garvin, Bob Roop and Bob Orton Jr. devoted their interview time to running down Jarrett's crew instead of promoting their own lineups at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis.
"Randy, his dad, Angelo, and brother, Lanny, made the mistake of making promos for our talent. We were sitting in the dressing room, and I believe it was Bill Dundee who said, 'Can you explain to me why Randy, and particularly, Angelo, who knows the business well, would spend all their interview time knocking us and challenging us. Why are they plugging us instead of their own matches?' I said, 'Well, Billy, I don't know that. I can't answer that because I don't know how stupid people think.' Sputnik Monroe was sitting near us, and he jumped up and said, 'Well, by God, I can tell you how stupid people think!' We all had a nice laugh. But after their organization folded, I called Randy Savage and said, 'You have plugged a match against Lawler for years. I don't know if you were really angry or what it was--but why don't we make some money off it?' And Randy was sort of emotional saying, 'After all that I've done to try to put you out of business, you're calling to give me a job?' I said, "Yes. And I'll take your whole family. We'll do a deal where you show up on Memphis TV and carry right on with your challenge to Lawler, and we can pretend it's a shoot until we have the match."
Savage had made such an impression on announcers Russell and Brown during the promotional war, they were leery of the Macho Man when he finally debuted for Jarrett. In addition to their misguided attempt to bury Jarrett's talent instead of building up their own, the ICW folded in part when Russell negotiated to get Memphis wrestling TV on in place of the Poffos' show in Lexington.
"I didn't quite know what to expect from Randy," Brown admits. "The first night I met him, I had taken a night off [from the evening newscast] to ride to Rupp Arena in Lexington with Lance and his wife, Audrey, and my wife, Margaret. But as soon as we get there, there's this guy in the parking lot yelling at us. Lance says to me, 'That's Randy Poffo.'
Russell recalls: "Hey, who could miss him?" I hear this 'Russssellllll!' in that raspy voice of Savage's, and I'm thinking, 'Uh-oh, he finally caught up with me!' We had secured their time slot in Lexington, and Randy was really unhappy with all of us."
Brown: "I remember thinking, 'We haven't even gotten to see wrestling or a Kentucky basketball game, and we're gonna die right here in the parking lot at Rupp Arena!"
Russell: "We actually got back into the van and drove it down into the underground parking facility at Rupp Arena. I was legitimately a scared of him because we had in effect help put his family's promotion out of business. Then at the end of the night, the cops had already arrested some of the other ICW wrestlers who'd showed up with Savage, so the police warned him not to even cough near us. So Savage said he was gonna wait for us on the Bluegrass Parkway. We walked back in the dressing room, and every wrestler who had made the trip from Memphis was carrying a piece. Dave and I appeared to be the only ones without a gun! I was thinking, 'Are you kidding me?!' So I'm thinking that Savage is going to try to jump us on the Bluegrass Parkway. But big ol' Sonny King said, 'Let me lead the way.' Sonny was as tough outside the ring as he was inside it. Needless to say, we had no problems."
Savage never forgot Jarrett's willingness to put aside personal differences for the good of the business. When McMahon came calling for the Macho Man's services in 1985, Savage asked Jarrett's opinion.
"I told him he had to take it--WWF was the big time," he says. "Vince later told me that Randy told him, 'I'd like to have a chance to make the big money, but my honor is more important. I'd have to give Jerry at least a two- or three-week notice.' And he did, which gave us enough time to promote a loser-leaves-town match with Lawler on his way out. Randy is a quality, class human being."
Jarrett didn't speak so fondly of Austin Idol, who held up the Memphis promoter for more money prior to the infamous hair vs. hair match, which took place inside a cage, on April 27, 1987, drawing close to 9,000 fans.
"I don't want to say much about him, but his word is no good to me," Jarrett told me the day before the Roundtable.
Lance has better memories of that night, which might have been the last great Memphis angle to draw good money. The finish saw Tommy Rich, who had been hiding under the ring since 3 p.m. emerge and attack Lawler, enabling Idol to get the win. Rich, Idol and manager Paul Dangerly (Heyman) then battered Lawler as a local hair stylist cut the King's royal locks--much to the dismay of the Memphis monarch's loyal subjects, some of whom were literally climbing the cage to reach the heels and stop the haircut. I was in the fifth row taking photos, and it appeared that a riot was imminent.
"It was a spectacular night--what a great idea, Jerry. We had a lot trouble getting those guys out of the cage."
In closing the Roundtable discussion, I thanked Lance, Dave and Jerry for not only all the wonderful memories they gave me throughout my childhood but also for the honor working alongside them in the '90s. Lance, who was often the victim of my verbal assaults back in the day, smiled and said, "You turned out not too bad for a smart-aleck young punk!"