Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Memphis History!!

----Some interesting stuff from the NWA Legends convention that was in the 8.17.09 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

Scott Bowden hosted a discussion on Memphis wrestling with promoter Jerry Jarrett and announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown. Jarrett really put over Russell and Brown, which was interesting because Russell and Jarrett never spoke highly of each other probably the last 15 years they worked together. There were bitter feelings regarding Russell and Jerry Lawler making plans to break away from Jarrett and start their own promotion. To keep that from happening, Jarrett offered Lawler 50% of the company, because he recognized how valuable Lawler was. Plus, Jarrett learned himself when he went against long-time established promoter Nick Gulas, that whoever has Lawler and Russell has Memphis, the most lucrative city on the circuit. Jarrett clearly recognized Russell’s value and never replaced him, but they were not on good terms.

Still, Jarrett said that he tried to impress on Jeff that the most important people in your promotion are the announcers, and credited Russell and Brown for a lot of his success. You can really see the difference in the TNA announcing from when Jerry was in a power role. At that time, Mike Tenay was patterned more as a Lance Russell type, who Jerry felt needed to have credibility as the person selling the product. After Jerry had his falling out with Bob Carter, who he said was one of the worst people he ever met in his life, as well as his son (over him embarrassing Jeff by bringing Oleg Prudius, now Vladimir Kozlov, to WWE and having the WWE web site make a huge deal about Jerry being in Titan Towers, leaving people in TNA to think Jerry was brokering a deal for Jeff and the company was done), Tenay’s role changed.

Russell was praised for getting over legendary segments like the concession stand brawl and the Terry Funk-Jerry Lawler empty arena match (which Russell was the star of, but Funk always noted that as much as people talked up the angle, the match it was supposed to build to didn’t draw, although more than 20 years after the angle, Lawler and Funk did a rematch in Memphis off the angle and some great promos that was the biggest indie crowd in the U.S. in years).

Jarrett praised Randy Savage, saying that when WWF called, they wanted him immediately, even though he was in the middle of a main event program with Jerry Lawler, but he gave Jarrett two weeks notice. I don’t know if that’s accurate, unless they did a second Lawler-Savage program because the first one was long over and they had already gotten so far as to have Lawler & Savage as a team before he left. Jarrett mentioned the key to the success of the show was being family friendly and limiting the blood on television, although it was a staple at the arenas.

Jarrett told others about booking philosophy, saying Eddie Graham complained he was killing the Florida territory doing too many brawls, while Jarrett said Graham was killing the territory by overemphasizing pro wrestling as a real sport and it was boring.

Jeff Jarrett was scheduled to be a vendor guest, and he and Blackjack Mulligan were the only major names advertised who didn’t appear. Jeff canceled two days before, after tickets were purchased and photos were printed, likely due to the current TNA situation. Jerry was matter-of-factly negative on Jeff, saying that he had four children, two of them turned out good, so he was doing “50%”

Russell, for his part, praised Jerry Jarrett for his long-term booking. There is a lot both good and bad that can be said about Jerry Jarrett, but there is a certain innate sense of audience and ability to project long-term in his mind that Jarrett had that made him an all-time great booker. He also recognized burnout in the best of bookers. Even owning the company, he usually booked in six month cycles, with people like Jerry Lawler or Bill Dundee booking the interim until he’d come back.

Jarrett noted that he was unable to get the NWA title for Lawler. There was a Jarrett/Crockett agreement in 1985 and another with Jarrett and WCW in 1992 for Lawler to get the title for a short run, but both times it fell through. The first time was just the usual change of plans, which was kind of embarrassing because Lawler announced in 1985 that if he didn’t win the title by the end of the year, he would retire. Then, when it fell through and the year ended, Lawler had no real explanation other than he didn’t want to quit wrestling. In 1992, the title change was nixed because TBS thought the secret had gotten out.

Jarrett praised Jimmy Hart for saving the territory when Lawler was out for nearly a year with a broken leg that he got playing football with his friends. Jarrett brought up that Bobby Shane recommended Bill Dundee to him after Shane had toured Australia, saying Dundee, who was originally brought in as a heel, had the worst little man’s complex in the world. Dundee actually was more often a face than a heel, and was Lawler’s biggest long-time rival. Although Lawler and Dundee weren’t there, three of the biggest draws of that era in Memphis were, with Steve Keirn of the Fabulous Ones, Austin Idol, and Jimmy Valiant (who celebrated his 67th birthday over the weekend). Idol and Mark Lewin were major pieces of curiosity since neither had attended these things. Idol, who is talking about running for mayor of Tampa, still had his bleach blond hair and still clearly works out.

The Fabulous Fargos from the late 50s and the feud with Argentina Rocca & Miguel Perez, Jackie & Don, were brought back together for the first time in about 30 years, as the two, along with Jackie’s brother Sonny Fargo, were put in the Hall of Heroes. Don, real name Don Kalt, 82, lived a crazy life, and never learned how to read nor write, and was having trouble signing autographs. Some funny stuff with Jackie telling stories about how he got naked hin public more often than Flair, and also did the strut for Flair. He also ribbed Jarrett on the square as he noted Jarrett, who had the rep for being one of the lower paying promoters, saying he was the guy who stole money from him all those years. Steve Keirn gave a speech noting that the Fabs got over at first because Fargo taught them how to connect with the crowd and endorsed them when they started the gimmick.