He was not blessed with outstanding physical gifts, nor did he possess an intimidating demeanor. He was, however, arguably the biggest territorial draw in all of professional wrestling during the 1980’s as he prompted sellout crowds every week, not only in his home state of Tennessee, but every where he traveled.
Real Name: Jerry Lawler
Stats: 6′ 0″ 234 lbs.
Born: November 12, 1949
Jerry “the King” Lawler has had a remarkable impact on professional wrestling, not only by completely dominating and supporting the Memphis wrestling region but also going into other areas of the country to dominate the greats of his time. Always controversial, in some ways he is often best remembered for his highly visible, highly public feud with television personality Andy Kaufmann. Lawler’s impact, however, is much more significant and has spanned over 20 years.
Lawler began his career inauspiciously in the summer of 1970 as he visited a Memphis area promoter named Aubrey Griffith. Lawler, a freshman at Memphis State University, was not physically impressive at that time but offered one attribute that appealed to the promoter – free advertising on a radio show Lawler hosted on a local station. In exchange for the publicity, Griffith decided to take a chance on Lawler and put him in the ring for a match the next day. At the end of the bout, Lawler lay on the arena floor unconscious, having leaped headfirst through the ropes to the arena’s concrete floor. This and a $6.00 payment was Lawler’s introduction to the sport – Lawler, however, was undeterred.
Lawler’s on-air promotion soon caught the ear of Jackie Fargo, the biggest star in the region. Lawler had actually worked for a time for one of Fargo’s companies and when Fargo realized this self-promoter was under his payroll, Fargo arranged for him to work with the Tennessee-Kentucky-Arkansas circuit run by Nick Gulas. After a slow start where he paid his dues, Fargo helped Lawler and after some seasoning in some smaller organizations, Lawler was moved up to the main event status wrestling against Fargo and Jerry Jarrett. Teaming with Jim White, the pair claimed the Southern tag team titles and later the U.S. tag team titles in 1973. At this point Lawler was clearly on his way to great things.
In 1974, Lawler captured the Southern Heavyweight title for the first time. He would go on to capture that title almost 40 times over the next 15 years battling such legends as Fargo, Jack Brisco, Bob Armstrong, Jimmy Valiant, Nick Bockwinkel, Jesse Ventura, King Kong Bundy, Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk, Tommy Rich and Randy Savage. After again capturing the Southern tag team belts, this time teaming with Plowboy Frazier, in 1976, Lawler was severely injured when his thigh was cut when he was thrown from the ring into the announcers table. Three years later, however, he returned to defeat Superstar Billy Graham for the CWA World title. In nine years, Lawler had attained considerable success – but his popularity and notoriety was just about to take off.
In 1983, the late Andy Kaufmann strangely began making challenges to Lawler and other wrestlers (males and females) in his region. After finally accepting Kaufmann’s challenge, Lawler executed a piledriver on the comedian, causing Kaufmann to suffer a severe neck injury. The publicity from the events prompted Lawler and Kaufmann to appear on the Late Night with David Letterman show. After relentless baiting by Kaufmann, Lawler arose and slapped Kaufmann in the face. Kaufmann responded by throwing hot coffee in Lawler’s face. This incident has become one of the most famous in late night television history (and would eventually become a focal point of the 1999 Kaufmann-biographical movie “Man on the Moon.”) The incident really served to bring prominent attention to the now hotbed of southern wrestling in Memphis, as Lawler and Kaufmann engaged in numerous return bouts.
Lawler’s enormous popularity would soon have him visiting other territories and capturing their championship belts. These included the AWA World title (where he defeated Curt Hennig), the World Class Championship Wrestling title (defeating Kerry Von Erich) as well as the United States Wrestling Association title. It seemed the only territory that Lawler did not enter was the Northwest, which belonged to the World Wrestling Federation. After a long running feud between the two organizations, the WWF and USWA entered into a talent exchange agreement. Lawler then feuded with a number of the top WWF stars, while continuing to serve as the hometown hero. Eventually he would make himself a very popular and respected color commentator for the WWF, teaming with Jim Ross. His witty insight added a comedic sidebar to the action that took place in the ring.
Jerry Lawler’s persona is so legendary that little has been made over the fact that he is the cousin of the Honkytonk Man, Wayne Ferris, is father of wrestler Brian Christopher and is the boyfriend of Stacy Carter, who often performs as the Kat. His impact on the Tennessee region has been so great that he was nicknamed “the King,” but to many this served not as a nickname, but instead a well-deserved title.