Don’t call it a comeback… Okay, you can call it a comeback, as it’s been roughly three months since my last “Common Denominator” column. Life sometimes gets in the way of some of the things you enjoy doing, so I had to bow out for a while, so apologies to my Common DenomiNation!
But, as Professor Hubert Farnsworth would say, “Good news, everyone!” Like herpes, I have returned. Due to an overwhelming (or perhaps in spite of a complete lack of) public demand, I am once again bringing the Old School and the New Age of professional wrestling together with the type of expert analysis that nearly 40 years of viewing experience can offer, or something…
So, since it’s likely no one remembers that I promised a WWE vs. TNA type of thing in my last column, we’ll just pretend that never happened (although I do plan on revisiting that sometime in the future), and go on to a new topic.
First off, my real job and this wrestling column gig have collided once again. I mentioned a while back that an indy fed TWC (Traditional Championship Wrestling) had recently become available in the Memphis viewing area. Since then, I have been watching the show fairly regularly, albeit with a lot of it in fast-forward, but hey, it’s wrestling and the show reminds me of the awesome Saturday morning wrestling marathons I used to enjoy as a kid, with the local USWA, NWA, WWF, UWF and others giving me 6-8 hours of action every weekend.
Well, it so happens that one of the TCW wrestlers “Killer” Ken Nikels, and a retired Memphis wrestler Robert Walker aka The Master Blaster, run a local youth group here in town in West Memphis called Nikels Daycare. They take a bunch of teens out about town performing public services for the elderly and such and film goofy videos and put them on YouTube and other things to keep them busy. They have a Facebook and YouTube channel if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Well, I went out to do a story on these guys, and while there I found out that Nikels is headed to “the Show” as it were. He had been signed to a developmental deal by Triple H himself, and was leaving to pursue his dream. He’s got a fairly unique look, with a Mohawk, tattoos, some piercings and a long tongue (whatever that’s worth), so he might get a shot. He’s about 6’5” but he’s not incredibly built, so we’ll see how that goes.
I had a chance to hold the TCW International Heavyweight Title belt and talk to heel manager Boyd Bradford about TCW. I also got a pair of free tickets to a TCW TV taping over in Memphis this past Saturday night. A prior commitment prevented me from going, but I got a poster for the card, promising a nice mix of their current talent plus some older guys, including Ricky Morton and Bobby Eaton wrestling, and “Fabulous” Jackie Fargo making an appearance.
The highlight of the card, however, was supposed to be a “coronation” of one of their top heels Shane Williams as the “New King of Wrestling.” Now this was, of course, just a few days after Jerry Lawler’s unfortunate heart attack live on Raw, something Bradford was quite aware of. He said that they had already had this planned and although the timing was unfortunate (in fact, they were hoping to have Lawler involved in some capacity), they would be going through with the angle. I’m curious as to how Lawler would feel about all of this even without the heart attack and all. I remember he sued the WWF back in the 80s to keep Harley Race from billing himself as “King” Harley Race, at least in Tennessee. Like I say, though, I couldn’t make the taping, so I guess I’ll just have to see how it unfolds on TV.
But anyway, I said all of that to get to the subject of Jerry Lawler, the Real King of Professional Wrestling. I’ve already read a number of other columns and articles about Lawler following his health crisis, and I’m glad to see Jerry getting the support he has. I’ve actually met the man a number of times, and although I doubt very seriously he would remember me at all, I have always been a fan. One of the perks of living right across the Mississippi River from Memphis is that I see the old guys who stuck around quite often. In fact, I see Sid Vicious at Wal-Mart, like, all the time. There was a huge amount of local support when his boy Frank Eudy was on Big Brother recently. He’s got another son Gunnar who is currently doing the Lord Humongous gimmick for some local indy feds. I personally would have gone with Kid Vicious.
But when the news first broke about Lawler’s condition and it entered my mind that we might lose The King, I started thinking about Lawler’s career and impact on the sport. He’s long been considered the most decorated wrestling champion of all time, winning local, regional, and nationally recognized titles around the world. Sure, most of them were title reigns he booked himself to win and loose at will, but in the 40 years he has been performing, he was always willing to help put up-and-coming talent over, give them tutelage and help them hone their skills and sent them off to bigger and better things. He has worked with literally everyone who was anyone since the late 70s. I would challenge anyone to find a better in-ring storyteller than Lawler in his prime. Had he been just a little bigger in stature, Lawler could easily have enjoyed a Ric Flair or Harley Race level of stardom.
Of course, sadly (at least for me), Lawler is best known as the “puppies”-obsessed heel commentator foil for Jim Ross at the height of the Attitude Era, a role that doesn’t appear to be too far from Lawler’s real-life approach to life. I imagine Jerry fully enjoyed the risqué nature of WWF programming in the late 90s, if Lawler’s out-of-the-ring exploits are any indication anyway.
Of course, I was quite happy to see Lawler “make it” when he arrived in the WWF in 1993. Getting to see him on the grand stage that is Vince’s playground after sending so many others off to fame and fortune before him was great. Yes, the King did get some national exposure with his feud with comedian Andy Kaufman, but most folks treated that like a joke, and he did get somewhat of a bump in recognition with his AWA title run and all that, but that was in 1988 into 1989, and anyone who remembers that time remembers that that the AWA was well on its way out by then.
So, granted this was largely after Lawler’s prime, but he still got to feud with the likes of Bret Hart, and if not for an unfortunate bogus charge of having had sex with an underage girl that derailed his high profile Survivor Series match with the Hart Family, Lawler might have gotten a longer run higher up in the card. Remember, this was during a decidedly down period in the WWF as the company was transitioning between the cartoonish early 90s to the more serious-themed era of DX and Stone Cold, so I have no trouble thinking that Lawler could have gotten a WWE title feud or maybe a run with the Intercontinental title, similar to how his protégée Jeff Jarrett’s WWF career went.
Even as he settled into his new role as color commentator for Raw (albeit with a brief break after he quit when then-squeeze Stacy “The Kat” Carter was fired for being useless unless she was getting naked), Lawler continued to perform semi-regularly on the independent scene, especially on various incarnations of “Memphis Wrestling,” which has struggled greatly to remain alive following the death of territorial promotions in the early 90s. A quick trip to YouTube will net a hose of matches from the past 15 years or so featuring Lawler on a number of small house shows against veterans and up-and-comers alike.
Ironically, Lawler’s WWE in-ring career was probably never more high profile than has been for the past couple of years, even after the King hit 60. He feuded with the Miz, WWE Champion at the time, and even got a WWE title match that some thought in the moment he might actually win. This, of course, led to the feud with Michael Cole that landed Lawler his first Wrestlemania match. And just a couple of weeks before the heart attack, Lawler had a steel cage match on Raw against the WWE Champ CM Punk.
Last year, I took my son to a Raw House Show in Memphis. One of the matches was supposed to be Zack Ryder vs. Jack Swagger, but Swagger jumped Ryder before the match, taking him out. Of course Swagger issued an “open challenge” to anyone in attendance, and who should answer the call, but the King himself. And, of course the place went nuts, and of course, Lawler got beat down until he pulled down the strap and unleashed a can of Royal Whoop-Ass on Swagger and dropped the fist to score the win.
I don’t know if Lawler is finally done in the ring. He certainly has the right to call it quits if he can afford it. And as much as I have enjoyed JR and JBL as fill-ins, I hope to see the King behind the announcers’ desk as soon as he feels up to it.
Here’s just a few matches from Lawler’s library…
Lawler vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Lawler vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Lawler and Austin Idol vs. The Road Warriors
Long live the King!