Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Joe Babinsack Reviews the Memphis Yearbook!!

Yearbook 2008

By the Rasslinriotonline Staff


Reviewed by Joe Babinsack

March is the time when most real sports fan think of Memphis as the place where a formidable NCAA basketball team calls hom.

But for the, Memphis is also home, and of course, Memphis is home to one of wrestling’s great legacies. While Memphis based promotions, often built by, against, around or co-owned by the King, Jerry Lawler, have never dominated any aspect of the industry, the testament to the inherent strength of those promotions are twofold:

For one, the enduring and ongoing presence of a variety of promotions have kept professional wrestling alive in the city, and have carried the banner of Southern style wrestling when the big names and bigger promotions have fallen by the wayside.

For another, the territories that Memphis has seemingly always been centered upon, have been the starting point for almost anyone in the business that has been anything in the business.

Sure, Jerry Jarrett’s payout had been notoriously small, and a promotion headlined by Bill Dundee, despite the wealth of talent the man possesses, seems inherently flawed, but let’s face it: anyone who has seen the clips and snippets of Jerry Lawlery’s 1980’s run, pinning (or appearing to pin!) almost every named star of the era – and beyond – has seen history made in proverbial Memphis fashion.

The staff of consists of five guys, five lifelong industry fans, participants and figures, of that great tradition.

Brian Tramel, Brian Thompson, Sal Corrente, Gene Jackson and Mark James have something like 150 years of fandom between them, including stints as managers, talent agents, writers and talent.

These guys aren’t wannabes, they are simply highly motivated and interested purveyors of that great Memphis Tradition, and their efforts to put together yearbook after yearbook, scribing the exploits of the current Memphis scene, penning the opinions that are shaped by a grand legacy, and providing the depth of history of the promotions, talent and storylines steeped in those traditions are efforts to be lauded.

Yearbooks are a great recaps of a singular annual chapter in the grand scheme of thing, and no great innovation for the guys to produce, but like a lot of great ideas, it’s not just the passing nod to the concept, but the actual accomplishment of putting the thing together and putting it to press that makes it worthwhile.

A hundred guys in a hundred cities could do their own yearbook, but the library shelves are barren.

Tramel, Thompson, Corrente, Jackson and James haven’t just picked one of the best cities to perform their journalistic and literary accomplishments, but one of the best blends of history and current, future and tradition.

Those who don’t follow Memphis should be impressed by the details and the exploits of the promotions, from NEW – New Experience Wrestling – USWO, TIWF, JWS and others. Sure, it’s an alphabet soup of promotions and efforts, but they all share a portion of the Memphis legacy and all, in one way or another, continue to move that legacy into the future.

The Yearbook 2008 is all about events, detailing the week by week storylines, events and shows. It’s also about the awards, as well as some contributions from guest writers (hmm, like yours truly) to provide a well rounded view of the indy level of professional wrestling in the Memphis area – and outside of it.

A lot of the book has a raw feel.

Not in terms of the uncreative and overproduced WWE Monday Night staple, but in terms of opinions, observations and an overly packed compilation of words, pictures and lists that bring Memphis wrestling to life.

Promotional efforts in the area are intertwined and complex. What’s great is that the guys don’t play politics, and don’t suck up to the locals. This is an ongoing story of what really happened in the Memphis area, and a warts-and-all accounting of the big names (like Brian Christopher) and the interesting stories (like that of Stan Lane and the promotional deceits surrounding anyone who claims to have booked the man.)

Do you want title changes? Check.

Do you want attendance figures? Check.

Do you want card run-downs, match ratings and blow-by-blow details of main events? Check.

Do you want world class commentary by Sal Corrente and Gene Jackson? Check.

Do you want the historical perspective of Mark James? Check.

Do you want history, in the form of clippings, photographs and cards from Memphis past and present? Check.

Do you want introspective, commentary and flashbacks? Check.

Bu the intangibles are the wealth of the book. The area is just brimming with the efforts of many decades of promotional wars and tactics. The offshoot promotions continue to battle for attention, weaving in the history and the talents, honing future generations while honoring the past.

Better still are the national stories that emanated from Memphis, like Corey Maclin’s settled lawsuit against the WWE, and Sal Corrente’s infamous run-in with the promoter.

That’s the kind of insight that gets greatly enhanced by the guys on the street, and their ability to report on the industry despite, and because of, their own personal conflicts, interests and business dealings.

Maybe you don’t know Derrick King from AJ Bradley. Maybe you don’t know that BLS is the Tag Team of the Year in Memphis. But after reading this book, you will learn, and I don’t think you’ll regret it at all.

The cross-section of professional wrestling promoted in Memphis continues to be vibrant and influential to this day. Think otherwise? Consider that of all places, Hulk Hogan and Jerry Lawler decided to wrestle in Memphis, and despite the complications and convolutions, it was Hogan and the Big Show that did battle in the city.

Just don’t talk to me about how you watched it on YouTube and found it hard to watch.

And I’m not talking about the production values.

All told, the Yearbook 2008 is a valuable piece of professional wrestling history, with a wealth of insight, information and perspective for any professional wrestling fan.

Joe Babinsack can be reached at I’ll be looking at SHIMMER Volume 19, NEW, ROH, FIP, Hybrid Wrestling and hopefully a new batch of books coming out soon.