Memphis/CWA #10 Page #2
The rematch came on January 10, 1983. Bockwinkel hinted that he would bring his regular AWA manager, Bobby Heenan, to Memphis to be on hand for the match. Lawler worked to keep Heenan out of Memphis. When match time came Bockwinkel had a manager at ringside and it wasn’t Heenan but Lawler’s longtime nemesis, Jimmy Hart. Near the end of 1982 Jerry Lawler had gotten his hands on Jimmy Hart inside a cage and battered his longtime rival. On TV and at the house shows Hart would then appear all bandaged up. While Hart would be at ringside for the big rematch, it seemed he would be somewhat muted due to his mummy-like appearance.
For the Memphis rematch Bockwinkel came to ringside accompanied by the bandaged up Hart. Lawler wasn’t pleased with Hart’s appearance so he countered by having Bill Dundee keep his eye on Hart. The match began and bounced back and forth. The bandaged-laden Hart then stepped up on the ring apron to interfere but referee Paul Morton and Dundee stopped him diverting their attention away from Lawler and Bockwinkel. Then out of nowhere on the other side of the ring appeared…Jimmy Hart. A shocked Lawler then fell prey to a Bockwinkel pin which allowed Bockwinkel to leave Memphis with the AWA title. After the match Hart unmasked the man who was impersonating him revealing Andy Kaufman. It was Kaufman’s turn for revenge for Lawler humiliating him in 1982 on national TV and in the territory. The scenario reset Lawler’s feuds against Hart and Kaufman.
The Lawler-Hart feud gained more speed early in the year when Hart’s team of Bobby Eaton and Sweet Brown Sugar fell apart after Eaton won the Mid-America title. Lawler, angry at Hart for his part in the Bockwinkel match, was gunning for Sabu the Wildman, Hart’s top charge at the time. When Sabu and Eaton attacked Lawler on TV, Sugar made the save setting up matches pitting Lawler and Sugar against Sabu and Eaton.
Before long Austin Idol returned, this time with the International title, and renewed his feud against Lawler. Lawler though was in no mood for games as he took the title and then tossed a fireball at Idol. Idol would return a few weeks later claiming the fire incident had caused him to rethink some things in his career. Idol determined he would change his ways saying he owed Lawler a favor. Lawler would call that favor in from time to time when he needed a tag partner. Despite his initial skepticism about Idol as a tag partner, Lawler and Idol would form a popular team.
Lawler defended the International title against several of Jimmy Hart’s men including Bobby Eaton. Southwest star Tully Blanchard also came in for a Memphis match against Lawler. Lawler had worked the Southwest territory some previously and by this point in time the Southwest promotion had a time slot on the USA Network allowing them a national platform for their product. Hart then formed a loose partnership with Jim Cornette for a few weeks. Nick Bockwinkel returned to defend the AWA title and much like before, diversion assisted Bockwinkel to remain champion. This time Jim Cornette came to the ring and diverted the referee allowing Jimmy Hart to interfere causing Lawler another shot at winning the world title.
The Lawler-Andy Kaufman incident was replayed on Late Night with David Letterman in April. A week later, Kaufman was back in Memphis. The promotion was serving up "dream matches" so Lawler wanted another shot at Kaufman, who still wanted revenge on Lawler. This time Kaufman claimed he had discovered someone he felt could extract that revenge. Kaufman then teamed with this man, The Colossus of Death, but the team fell to Lawler in a Memphis match.
A side road derailed the Lawler-Hart-Kaufman feud for a few weeks as Lawler renewed his feud against Superstar Bill Dundee. The Lawler-Dundee feud had helped the promotion off the floor in 1977, and for a few weeks in May and June of 1983, the magic was back. Dundee had turned heel earlier in the year by downing Terry Taylor for the Southern title. Dundee then went into a feud against Dutch Mantel that rattled the rafters for a couple of months. Lawler wanted the Southern title back so the feud with Dundee was reestablished. The blow-off to the feud came when Lawler downed Dundee in every major city in the circuit in a series of loser-leaves-town matches. Attendance for the matches saw packed houses all week and the match results saw Dundee leave the area. Behind the scenes changes were underfoot as plans were being made for a joint promotional effort in Georgia with the Atlanta-based promotion. Dundee had been tapped to book this new territory and his loss in the match to Lawler provided a reason for his departure so he could work with the new promotion.
Never quite getting even with Lawler found Andy Kaufman upping his bounty against Lawler from $5000 to $10000. Jimmy Hart actively sought after that reward and first brought in Ken Patera after Lawler. Later, Kaufman and Hart brought in the raw chicken-chewing Man Mountain Link who did defeat Lawler for the Southern title.
Lawler wanted Hart and Kaufman out of his way so the three agreed to a match with Hart and Kaufman forming a tag team against Lawler. The match did not go well for Hart and Kaufman although they actually won the match by disqualification after Lawler had used the piledriver on both of them.
The next week on TV, Andy Kaufman appeared, once again wearing a neck brace. He was still angry at Lawler but focused his verbal tirade toward Jimmy Hart, who he said had pushed him into Lawler’s waiting hands the previous week. Hart rushed out to claim Kaufman was the one who had acted cowardly in the match. The two then engaged in a slap fight with announcer Lance Russell attempting to keep them apart. Suddenly, the Lawler-Hart-Kaufman feud was off and the Hart-Kaufman feud was on.
Hart battled Kaufman in a Memphis match that saw Hart’s new man Sweet Daddy O run in the ring to batter Kaufman. The following week on TV, Kaufman reappeared with an unusual offer. Kaufman called out Jerry Lawler and offered him the $10,000 bounty money if Lawler, a man he had never been able to trip up, would team with him against Hart and Hart’s partner, one of the Masked Assassins. Lawler agreed but with a hitch. Lawler told Kaufman to keep the money but to also honor a promise that if the two teamed Kaufman would never wrestle again. Kaufman agreed and the two bitter rivals were set to team.
Lawler was swerved in the match as Kaufman turned on Lawler allowing himself, Hart and The Masked Assassins to pummel and piledrive Lawler. Finally after two piledrivers, Kaufman had his revenge against Lawler. On TV he gave the Assassins the bounty money for putting Lawler out of action since they used the piledriver to put away Lawler. As Kaufman and Hart celebrated during a TV match featuring the Assassins, Lawler snuck into the studio, tapped Kaufman on the shoulder and threw fire on the comedian. Lawler would then team with Austin Idol to down the Assassins for the CWA tag titles to get his revenge against the masked duo.
Ken Patera again took up the task of trying to put Lawler out of action although he would not succeed in his efforts. Lawler had a lot of irons in the fire in the summer as he and Idol were in a feud against The Assassins. When that wasn’t going on Lawler was battling Patera over the International title. This left a backdoor open for Jimmy Hart to get at Lawler and it was a door that Hart gladly walked in.
Hart contacted AWA president Stanley Blackburn about something Lawler had failed to do. Blackburn agreed and stripped Lawler of the Southern title he had failed to defend in thirty days, a standard rule in the business then. A tournament was set up featuring three former champions and one top contender. Dennis Condrey was named the top contender while Lawler and Dutch Mantel were named two of the three former champions. This left one other man to be named who had once been Southern champion. Hart shocked everyone when he brought out Bill Dundee. Dundee’s appearance back in the area three months after his loser-leaves-town match was allowed because of the "three champions" stipulation set forth. Lawler would win the belt back in the tournament and a falling out would then occur between Dundee and Hart.
Hart was also a bur in the sides of Lance Russell and Eddie Marlin during the year but especially in the summer and fall. Hart constantly complained how The Fabulous Ones and The Rock n Roll Express were given special treatment due to the use of music videos. Hart then took it upon himself to "produce" a video about the Bruise Brothers meant to rival previous Fabs and Express videos. He topped it off though by tapping into his own creative well to perform and produce a song and video called "Lance Russell’s Nose", a jab at the popular announcer. Hart also created enough hubbub to have the recognized promoter Eddie Marlin (Jerry Jarrett was the actual promoter, Marlin, Jarrett’s real-life father-in-law and a former wrestler, was used in a figurehead position) banned from appearing as referee in matches that involved Hart and First Family members. The impetus to this idea was when Marlin refereed matches in the territory between Buddy Landell and Koko Ware, Ware would win the Mid-America title. Marlin would get some revenge when he would suspend the Moondogs for a month when one of them leveled Marlin with a bone during a Memphis match.
Hart contacted Jesse the Body Ventura to come in to give Lawler grief during the fall. The two battled it out for a few months before Ventura left the promotion. Lawler received some success against Ventura, and by association against Hart, when he won a match that placed Hart in a chicken suit whenever he appeared in cities around the territory. Kaufman returned in November as Lawler battled the Masked Russian Invader in some matches. Notable in this brief feud is when the Invader smashed a "100 pound sack of wheat" on Lawler’s head during the TV show. The appearances at this time would be the last in the area for Andy Kaufman.
The Lawler-Hart feud fell quiet for a few weeks in December as Lawler found a surprising new foe in the area, one who did not need Hart’s help, Randy Savage. As the final card of the year was announced for Memphis, fans were shocked to discover the promotion had signed a match pitting Southern champion Jerry Lawler against his frequent tag partner International champion Austin Idol. The situation was cleared up some when it was discovered the winner of the match would receive a shot at AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel and since Lawler and Idol held the two top titles in the area they were the two top contenders. The issue muddied though when Jimmy Hart interrupted a Lawler TV interview to plead with Lawler to join the First Family and allow him to manage Lawler in his match against Idol since Hart wanted the prestige of managing a world champion. Lawler flatly turned him down. Hart then placed a phone call to Austin Idol and Hart made a monetary offer to Idol to become his manager. Idol would eventually agree to the arrangement. Fans were left in a tizzy as two of their favorites who had been former enemies but who had turned into a top tag team would be facing each other with a shot at the AWA title at stake and somehow Jimmy Hart had weaseled his way into the scenario. When it came to the match Hart turned on Idol allowing Lawler to win the shot at Bockwinkel. The whole idea of what went on was enough for area fans to wonder what was going on between Jimmy Hart and Jerry Lawler. Lawler would claim he didn’t know why Hart did what he did to Idol although it all looked suspicious. Lawler said he was only concerned with his January 1, 1984 shot at Bockwinkel. Fans couldn’t help but wonder though if Lawler and Hart were in cahoots again.
January, February and March 1983
The Southern title bounced back and forth between Terry Taylor and Jacques Rougeau a few times early in the year with Taylor eventually coming out on top. Taylor and Rougeau had been tag partners previously but Rougeau turned heel in his matches against Taylor. Taylor would then lose the title to Bill Dundee, another former tag partner.
In a similar vein the Southern tag titles bounced back and forth between The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane and The Sheepherders: Jonathan Boyd and Luke Williams during the early part of 1983. The team of The Exotic Adrian Street and Jesse Barr with managers Miss Linda and Jim Cornette had a brief claim on the titles after they downed the Fabs. The Fabs would regain the belts in short order.
The promotion added a title to the area at this time when Austin Idol returned billed as CWA (CWA = Championship Wrestling Association) International champion. Idol would drop the title to Jerry Lawler in March.
Sabu the Wildman entered the year as Mid-America champion. He dropped the belt though to Jacques Rougeau. Rougeau would then lose the belt to the Jimmy Hart-managed Bobby Eaton. Eaton’s title victory pretty well ended his successful tag team with Sweet Brown Sugar as the two had a falling out (detailed in the Pick a Wrestler section on this web site in the Bobby Eaton profile) that would lead to Sugar teaming with Jerry Lawler against Sabu the Wildman. One week the feud brought Terry Funk back into the area to team with Lawler and Sugar against Eaton, Sabu and Carl Fergie. Funk’s return is memorable mainly due to his chasing Jim Cornette all over the TV studio and ripping his pants. A furious Cornette would return later for an interview with his pants taped together. Eaton would be stripped of the title for failing to defend the title within thirty days but would enter the subsequent tournament and down Sugar in the finals. Eaton and Sugar would then feud over the Mid-America belt. Sugar would win the title but would then lose it back to Eaton in a match where the loser of the match would have to leave town. Sugar then left only to be replaced by a masked man called Stagger Lee who bore a striking resemblance to Sugar. Lee would then win the belt from Eaton. Jimmy Hart was convinced Lee and Ware were one and the same. Promoter Eddie Marlin told Jimmy Hart if he could prove Lee and Ware were the same person then Lee would be suspended. Hart would vow to unmask Lee to prove he was Ware.
Working the area at this time were AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel, Abdullah the Great (not the Butcher), The New York Dolls: The Dream Machine & Rick McGraw, Phillip Rougeau (brother of Jacques), Apocalypse, King Cobra, Bobby Fulton, Ira Reese, Jim Dalton, The Angel, The Moondogs, Duke Myers, Steve O, Kenya Condorie, Alpha and Beta: The Masked Galaxians (Ken Wayne and Danny Davis under masks), Ricky Morton, Sonny King, Cowboy Frankie Laine, The Bruise Brothers: Porkchop Cash & Mad Dog and others.
One of the business’s greatest attractions ever, Andre the Giant, made a rare appearance in the territory for a week in March. It would be Andre’s last stop in the territory under the Jarrett banner.
Meantime, Jerry Lawler and announcer Lance Russell had made plans to begin their own promotion feeling as if they weren’t valued enough by the promotion. Jerry Jarrett did not know about the plans until Lawler discussed them with Jarrett. Jarrett and Lawler then met and hammered out an agreement that saw Lawler become a partner in the promotion. Lawler and Russell’s plans to go on their own never materialized. This was a good thing for Jarrett because wrestling’s popularity, and more specifically, Lawler’s popularity in Memphis, was as high as it had ever been. Testament to that fact was that Lawler was given a weekly thirty minute Sunday morning show on WMC-TV which often featured discussion and guests from outside wrestling but actually served as a compliment to the live weekly ninety minute Saturday show, which was one of the highest rated shows in Memphis.
Ole and The Idea
Despite what some may believe about the business of professional wrestling, it was alive and quite well in a number of territories in 1983. The revisionist history espoused by some about how the business of wrestling was breathing its final breath before the McMahon empire gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in 1984 should be taken with a grain of salt. Although changes were underfoot and some territories had fallen by the wayside, wrestling was doing well in the northeast, mid-west and south. The Georgia promotion, with its use of cable television, was perceived by some to be the most successful of all the promotions at the time. In reality, by 1983, the promotion was in the midst of bitter in-fighting among its officers and its better days, storyline and talent-wise, were behind them.
Ole Anderson, one of the most effective heels in the business in the 1970s and a major attraction during that time in Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic area, had gained control of the promotion from Jim Barnett, who is credited with helping turn the promotion into one of the hottest territories in the 1970s. The promotion had operated a regular circuit for many years around the state of Georgia and had branched out beyond that in the early 80s by running regularly in Chattanooga and Knoxville plus in a number of cities in Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan. The northern cities, most of which hadn’t hosted regular wrestling cards in a few years, usually featured strong attendance and lead the promotion to believe they were on to a potential gold mine.
Due to the geographical differences between the established Georgia circuit and the burgeoning northern circuit it was next to impossible to run weekly cards in cities in both circuits during the same week. One week the group would run the northern cities and the following week the group would run the Georgia cities. This way of doing business though seemed to be a problem for Ole Anderson so he came up with a plan. He determined if he could run two regular circuits at the same time, one in the northern cities and another in the long-established Georgia circuit, then his promotion and his profits would be greatly increased.
The problem with the idea was Anderson did not have enough in-ring talent to run two circuits on a regular basis. To resolve this issue, he approached Jerry Jarrett with another idea. Anderson wanted Jarrett to help provide talent to the new territory as well as to help book it. Jarrett, coming off one of his best years ever, had plenty of talent to share, so the deal was struck.
Jarrett would send Bill Dundee, as lead heel and booker, to the new territory. Dundee was written out of the Memphis area when he lost a loser-leaves-town match against Jerry Lawler. Most of the weeks preceding the Lawler-Dundee match though had seen Dundee in a hot feud against Dutch Mantel, which was revived in the new territory. Following on the heels of the success of the Fabulous Ones, a babyface team was introduced billed as The Fantastic Ones comprised of Terry Taylor and Bobby Fulton. The team was a copy of the Fabulous Ones since the team was introduced via a music video set to Billy Squier’s "Everybody Wants You", complete with Taylor and Fulton in tuxedo jackets.
Every territory during the time needed a manager, so Jim Cornette was sent to work the promotion, his first such exposure as lead manager in a territory (Cornette would also have a role in the booking). Cornette had proved to have great potential as a manager with his quick wit on interviews and had done well for himself during the early part of the year. He though remained in Jimmy Hart’s shadow as Hart was involved in most every Memphis feud. For this group though Cornette, fueled by Mama Cornette’s money, would front a group of wrestlers he would refer to as "The Dynasty" which would consist of Norman Frederick Charles, III, the long time tag partner to Jonathan Boyd in the Royal Kangaroos tag team, King Carl Fergie, The Angel and Jerry Novak, one of the Bounty Hunters. The Angel and Novak would eventually be placed into a tag team feud against The Fantastic Ones.
Others Jarrett sent to work the experimental territory included The Stray Cat (Ken Wayne under a mask), The Jaguar (Danny Davis under a mask) and Stagger Lee (Koko Ware under a mask). The Exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda, who had made a splash in Memphis at the end of 1982 and into 1983, came in right before the promotion ended.
Anderson did send some of the Atlanta-based talent to work some of the cities on the Georgia circuit. Veterans Ron Garvin, the Iron Sheik, Joe Lightfoot, Steve O, Ray Candy, Tommy Rich, Brett Wayne, Paul Ellering, Killer Brooks and relative rookies Arn Anderson, Rick Rood and Man Mountain Darsow (later Krusher Kruschev, Demolition Smash and Repo Man) worked the territory some.
The promotion, called Georgia Championship Wrestling Superstars, taped a TV show every Saturday at the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga. The show began airing in cities around the established Georgia circuit in June. The show was hosted by one-time Nick Gulas announcer Michael St. John with Steve O working as co-host on some shows. Likely the most memorable moment from the short-lived TV show was when Jim Cornette’s Dynasty held a birthday party for Fifi the poodle. Naturally, the party was interrupted, this time by the Fantastic Ones, and Cornette’s face went flying into the cake. The promotion recognized Stagger Lee as Georgia champion for a few weeks and then near the end of their run recognized Bill Dundee as Southern champion.
Anderson did give some of the GCW Superstars talent exposure on the nationally televised WTBS show. Jim Cornette, The Angel, Jerry Novak and The Fantastic Ones all received some exposure on the WCW show in July. The Fantastic Ones even appeared on an Omni card in Atlanta against The Road Warriors, who had debuted on TV in June to become immediate smashes. The Angel, Novak, Carl Fergie and Norman Frederick Charles, III all appeared on the undercard of that Atlanta show.
In August Anderson pulled the plug on the experiment. Those who followed the promotion seemed split on how to measure its worth. Some seemed to enjoy the GCW Superstars promotion because it was booked by Dundee, who had helped book the Memphis territory for a number of years with Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler, so the promotion had a certain Memphis-flavor to it. Some say it as a nice change of pace from the slipshod booking Anderson had provided to area fans previously. Attendance, some would argue, wasn’t great but would have improved with a little more time and patience since it takes a promotion time to establish their direction and their stars. Others did not like the promotion because it seemed to be a weak imitation of two different promotions. They would argue fans stayed away because they were unfamiliar with the talent base. Some longtime fans seemed turned off by the change Anderson was trying to pull on them leaving them feeling burned that they had supported the promotion and it’s stars for a long time and now the stars they had supported rarely appeared in their towns. Others felt that Anderson was wary that the new promotion would end up with a better and more logical product that would eventually outdraw his own circuit.
Either way, the promotion was short-lived and the Atlanta-based talent would return to most of the old Georgia circuit by the fall. Most of the talent that had come from Memphis would return to work for Jarrett including Dundee, Wayne, Davis, Ware, Mantel, Taylor, Fergie, Cornette and Jerry Novak (under a mask as The Russian Invader).
Ole Anderson, on the other hand, still had a dilemma. He had a popular product but did not have enough hands to satisfy the demand. Instead of settling on smoothly running a growing territory, Anderson would continue to expand, even into what was considered WWF territory. Another problem emerged as Anderson’s talent base grew thinner and his booking had more holes in it than Swiss cheese at a rodent convention. Despite this, Anderson would continue to expand. His efforts would be a shot heard all the way to northeast office of the McMahon family, and would eventually lead Anderson to call on Jerry Jarrett for help again.
April, May and June 1983
The spring months saw Bill Dundee feud with Dutch Mantel over the Southern title. The reprise of the Dundee-Mantel feud featured Dundee winding up with Dutch’s bullwhip for a time. It would also feature the return of the scaffold match between the two and Mantel would even put up his hair to get a shot at Dundee during the feud. Dundee wound up with the title but then ran into an old nemesis who relieved him of the title when Jerry Lawler downed him and eventually won a loser-leaves-town match over Dundee which played to full houses all across the territory. Jerry Lawler would lose the title to Man Mountain Link, a bounty hunter sent in by Andy Kaufman.
The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane held the Southern tag titles most of this time. Their reign was interrupted on two occasions, once by The Moondogs: Spot & Rex and also by Bobby Eaton and Duke Myers, a "dream team" put together by managers Jimmy Hart and Jim Cornette.
Jerry Lawler’s International title reign was halted by Ken Patera in May. Meantime, Stagger Lee kept a firm grip on the Mid-America title. In an effort to determine that Koko Ware was behind the Stagger Lee mask, Hart buttered up Stan Frazier with jewelry to unmask Lee. Frazier would fail miserably in his efforts as he first lost his hair (Lee had put up his mask) and then returned in a subsequent match billed as The Lone Ranger in which he lost a loser-leaves-town match. A few weeks later, Frazier would reappear as The Giant Rebel.
Working the area during this time period were such stars as AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel, Bobby Fulton, The Bruise Brothers: Porkchop Cash & The Dream Machine (who replaced Mad Dog), The Masked Ace of Spades (unmasked as Tommy Gilbert), The Colossus of Death (Duke Myers), Steve O, Sonny King, Alpha & Beta: The Masked Galaxians, The Rock n Roll Express: Robert Gibson & Ricky Morton, Carl Fergie, The Angel, Jackie Fargo, Jimmy Valiant, Tully Blanchard (in for a shot at Lawler’s International title in April), Steve Regal, Spike Huber, Joyce Grable, Penny Mitchell, Ken Timbs, Little Tokyo, Chilly Bo Diddley, Tom Prichard, Don Anderson, Jimmy Kent, Ted Allen, The Masked Grapplers, King Cobra, and more.
The ICW, which had run opposition against Jarrett in Kentucky for several years, was beginning to slow down. One of their major stars, Ronnie Garvin, left to work the Georgia promotion. Their main star, Randy Savage, began appearing on cards outside the normal ICW cities, most notably for an independent promotion that was running opposition to the long-established NWA promotion in St. Louis. They though still provided some opposition to Jarrett in the bluegrass state.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta-based promotion debuted a tag team in June which would help turn the focus of the business toward a larger is better attitude as The Road Warriors made an immediate impression on fans. The size and physique of the team would usher in more big men into the business. It helped foster the idea that size and looks were more important than in-ring ability.
With Jerry Lawler the promotion’s undeniable top attraction and mainstay the promotion used up a number of stars each year in feuds for Lawler. The promotion ran weekly in at least four cities, which meant the feuds supporting the house shows had to be really good or had to be changed often. The upside to this is that the fans got to see a large number of stars and this allowed many young stars to catch a break by working this territory. Lawler wasn’t against putting a young star in a match against him but it didn’t happen too often. Usually Lawler’s opponents were tried and true proven stars or larger-than-life gimmick characters built up to be nearly indestructible. All this meant few ever ascended to the top slot for long against Lawler.
A wrestling card usually is also a mix of interesting styles. While purists enjoy pure wrestling technicians, a complete card of such would turn away some fans. This is why a good card would also include brawlers and high-flyers, tag team matches and a number of other styles. Variety adds spice.
With all this in mind, the Memphis promotion in 1983 featured some of the best talent to grace the middle of arena shows at any time in modern wrestling history. Often, it is this talent, the middle-of-the-card-crew that is actually the most enjoyable to watch since they are often trying to break through to the top level of a promotion. Most of this talent would go onto greater things than they achieved during 1983 in Memphis.
Terry Taylor had entered the business in 1979 in his home state of Florida. His first major break came in 1980 when he worked the Knoxville promotion prior to its demise holding the Southeastern title, Southeastern tag titles (with Don Diamond) and Southeastern TV title. From there he worked the Georgia territory where he had a run as TV champion. Taylor also stopped over in the Mid-Atlantic region. In 1982 though he entered the Memphis territory.
Taylor’s good looks and modest personality made him an instant fan favorite. It didn’t hurt that Taylor was technically pretty good in the ring. After initially teaming with Stan Lane, Taylor would then form a team with Jacques Rougeau, a French-Canadian star who came from a renowned wrestling family. Together the team was popular with the fans as they battled Bobby Eaton & Sweet Brown Sugar and The Sheepherders. By year’s end though the team had split as Rougeau garnered the Mid-America title while Taylor had captured the coveted Southern title. In January things between the two partners had fallen apart as they battled over the Southern title with Rougeau turning heel.
Rougeau had worked his native Canada before working for the Atlanta and Knoxville promotions under the name Jerry Roberts. Rougeau would eventually wind up working the Southeastern promotion in Alabama where he would work with such stars as Jos LeDuc, Jimmy Golden, Robert Fuller, Bob Armstrong, The Mongolian Stomper, Jerry Stubbs and others. His team with Taylor which highlighted Taylor’s strong mat work and Rougeau’s incredible dropkick coupled with his cocky, yet goofy, heel persona though lasted a few months before their split. Taylor would get the best of Rougeau in the feud and then segue into a feud over the Southern title against Bill Dundee.
After losing the belt to Dundee, Taylor slipped down the ranks some in the area before getting what appeared to be a big break. With the GCW Superstars effort getting off the ground, Taylor was paired with Bobby Fulton as The Fantastic Ones to become the lead babyface tag team for the promotion. After the promotion fell by the wayside, Taylor returned to the Memphis territory and mostly worked tag matches with Bill Dundee and Bobby Eaton usually against The Moondogs. Taylor captured the Mid-America title but lost it as the year drew to a close. Even though he had seen some success in the area, many felt as if Taylor was close to becoming a major player in the business. Since he had been in the area for a year and a half it became apparent that it was time for Taylor to move on to another territory. He would do so by moving to the Mid-South promotion where he began to live up to some of the potential many saw in him.
Jim Cornette’s team of Alpha and Beta: The Galaxians popped up in the area in February 1983. Although the team was new to the area, the men behind the masks knew the territory quite well. Danny Davis and Ken Wayne had teamed for a number of years and had a pretty good run in the territory together as Nightmare and Speed in 1981. Davis had worked the territory dating back to around 1978 after being trained in the fabled Dyersburg, Tennessee training center of area legend Buddy Fuller. Since he was small and young Davis found himself rarely working past the first or second match on the cards he appeared on. This changed though in 1979 when he was given the role of manager of the team of The Blonde Bombers: Larry Latham and Wayne Farris. Davis, as Sgt. Danny Davis, was good in the role of manager and the Bombers team had a run that lasted almost a year and a half. After the team ended Davis would briefly feud with Jimmy Hart in 1980. While Davis was good at ringside, he was better in-ring, so, in 1981, Davis was placed under a mask and paired with David Oswald to work as the Nightmares. Oswald would leave the team and be replaced with Ted Allen. Allen would work for awhile but would leave the territory when he was unmasked. Davis was then paired with a new partner, Ken Wayne, who was brought in and called Speed.
Wayne was familiar to area fans since his father, Buddy Wayne, had worked the territory for years. Buddy also ran a number of towns for Jarrett on the western side of the territory most notably Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the promotion ran regular cards for a number of years. Ken debuted in 1979 and almost immediately teamed with his dad to feud against the father-son combo of Tommy and Eddie Gilbert. Wayne worked the area for awhile before taking off and working a number of other territories including Tri-State (Oklahoma-Arkansas), Calgary and a couple of west coast territories. Eventually though he would return to Memphis as Speed where he and Davis would find some success in the area. In 1983 Wayne returned to the area to team again with Davis, this time as The Galaxians managed by Jim Cornette. The team had a short run as Davis suffered an injury. Wayne would work the GCW Superstars promotion as The Masked Stray Cat. Davis would return to action in the summer and worked some as The Masked Jaguar. Despite their misfortune during the year, Davis and Wayne, due to their speed and natural ability, provided consistent action to area fans.
Another wrestler who achieved some success during the year but only about mid-level was Buddy Landel. Landel had started in the business a few years earlier and had worked some for Jarrett’s promotional rival the ICW. He wound up working in Blackjack Mulligan’s Knoxville promotion in 1981, which lead him to being able to work the Mid-Atlantic territory where he received a minor push often teaming with veteran Johnny Weaver. Landel would travel to a number of territories in the south mainly working as a jobber. Finally, a break came when he worked Puerto Rico. There, booker Tom Renesto suggested Landel dye his hair blonde and soon after, Nature Boy Buddy Landel was born.
Landel rolled into the Memphis territory in the late summer and captured the Mid-America title. The Nature Boy persona was still new to Landel at the time and the title was a minor title at this point in time so Landel wasn’t pushed to the top of the singles ranks and wound up often in tag matches with Dennis Condrey and later with Norvell Austin, usually against The Rock n Roll Express: Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton, who brought in Ricky Gibson to team with them. Landel eventually dropped the title to Terry Taylor and left the area by year’s end. A few years later though Landel would return to the area in a series of some of the most memorable events ever in the area which elevated him to the top tier of performers in the territory during the 1980s.
Others who more than adequately filled the middle of many cards during the year in the territory include Jesse Barr, Tom Prichard, Bobby Fulton, Tommy Rogers, Dennis Condrey and others. Most of the wrestlers mentioned here would achieve some level of success in the years to come. Some would never receive the success they deserved. Their time here, in the middle of the cards, was not wasted as they were able to gain experience by regular work allowing them to hone their chosen craft and provided area fans with exciting memories.
July, August and September 1983
Jerry Lawler regained the Southern title from Man Mountain Link. He then failed to defend the title within thirty days, as stipulated by the AWA, so the title was held up. Lawler won the subsequent tournament by ousting Bill Dundee in the finals. By the end of September though Lawler ran afoul of Jesse the Body Ventura who copped the title.
The grip of the Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane remained tight on the Southern tag titles. The Masked Grapplers did upend the popular team but they in turn were downed by Dutch Mantel and Koko Ware.
Ken Patera dropped the International title to Jerry Lawler in the summer although he would regain it. Austin Idol would down Patera for the title but Stan Hansen would relieve Idol of the belt by September.
The Mid-America title passed from Stagger Lee to Cowboy Frankie Laine in July. Laine’s reign was only a few weeks long before Dutch Mantel regained the title. Mantel then lost the title to Buddy Landel. Landel’s title run lasted only a week as Stagger Lee regained the title. Lee unmasked on the TV show prior to his victory revealing Koko Ware, a.k.a. Sweet Brown Sugar. Jimmy Hart was furious since he had tried to prove for months that Lee was Koko Ware and demanded Ware be suspended for violating the loser-leaves-town stipulation. Promoter Eddie Marlin though calmly reminded Hart that Ware’s agreement to the loser-leaves-town stipulation was for six months and that stipulation had ended thirty days earlier. A few weeks later, Landel would regain the title.
The TV title last held by Kevin Sullivan in 1981 was revived. Citing two victories Tom Prichard had "recently scored in Florida" over Sullivan he was billed as champion upon his arrival. Prichard’s reign was short-lived when Stan Hansen, on his initial Memphis TV appearance, walloped Prichard to become champion. Hansen rarely made live TV appearances between his busy U.S. schedule and even busier Japan schedule so the title was abandoned after Hansen’s win.
The promotion also introduced a CWA tag title to the scene. The Jimmy Hart-managed combo of the Masked Assassins were billed as champions on their return appearance. They promptly dropped the titles to the team of Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol. Lawler and Idol would drop the belts back to the Assassins who would in turn lose them to The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane.
Working the circuit at this time were such stars as The Rock n Roll Express: Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, Andy Kaufman, Ken Timbs, Sweet Daddy O, The Masked Jaguar, Mad Dog, Bobby Eaton, Don Bass, Don Anderson, Lone Eagle, Little Tokyo, Ted Allen, Crusher Jerry Blackwell, Jimmy Kent, Bobby Fulton, Spike Huber, The Moondogs, Big Red, Tommy Gilbert, Eddie Gilbert, The Fabulous Moolah, Susan Starr, Judy Martin, Tommy Rogers (U.S. Junior Heavyweight champion), Dennis Condrey, Jeff Van Kamp, Lucifer (Frank Morrell), The Prince of Darkness (Duke Myers), and more. Jim Cornette returned from the GCW Superstars promotion to become Jimmy Hart’s assistant in the First Family.
Andy Kaufman, who had only worked the weekly TV show and at the Memphis house shows, made some in-ring appearances in some of the other cities around the Independence Day holiday. Meantime, Kaufman, when he was unable to appear in the Memphis TV studio, would send in videotapes designed to infuriate viewers. Kaufman, who constantly reminded everyone that he was from Hollywood, sent in videotapes offering hygiene tips to area residents since Kaufman claimed someone had to educate them about such things since no one had previously. Jerry Lawler eventually had enough of Kaufman’s attempts to belittle the fans so he confiscated one of Kaufman’s videotape segments and destroyed it on-air one week.
Old familiar faces Nick and George Gulas continued to promote wrestling in middle and east Tennessee under the Universal Championship Wrestling banner. Appearing on cards for the Gulas’ included such stars as Tojo Yamamoto, Randy Savage, Angelo Poffo, Big Red, Tony Falk, Jimmy Powell, Thunderbolt Patterson, Johnny Wilhoit, Eddie Mansfield, Gypsy Joe, Tommy Heggie, Ken Hawk, Gary Lawler (a Jerry Lawler lookalike) and others.
Triple Threat of Terror
For years the promotion had been centered around Jerry Lawler. Feeding Lawler competition so he could drop the strap to his singlet and clean house with his fists and continue to be a believable hero was a constant concern for the promotion. While Jimmy Hart served as a lightning rod in any feud involving Lawler he was not a perceived physical threat to Lawler. The promotion used the idea that Hart would bring in wrestlers to topple Lawler for him. Behind Lawler was number two babyface Bill Dundee but the year would find Dundee as a heel much of the time and also out of the area some working the Georgia Championship Wrestling Superstars territory. In his place Austin Idol would turn face and take Dundee’s number two slot. In 1983 the promotion struck the jackpot with three top-level heels who would provide Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol with feuds most of the year.
A legitimate weightlifting champion named Ken Patera made his way into the area for a number of appearances throughout the year. Patera had competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Minnesota promoter Verne Gagne liked what he saw in Patera and recruited him into the world of professional wrestling. A rather heavy-set Patera made an immediate impact on the business due to his legitimate athletic background. His Olympic experience allowed him to become an instant fan favorite. All that was fine and good as Patera did okay in the business. He though did not become a major star until he trimmed down his frame and bleached his hair blonde to become a bad guy. His heel turn featured a long run in the WWWF in 1977 and 1978 where he often battled the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
Patera had found his niche in the business and made heel runs in a number of other territories including the Georgia and Mid-Atlantic territories and his original stomping grounds, the AWA. He had even appeared on the nationally televised World’s Strongest Man competition. By 1983 Patera had formed a tag team with one of the business’s best big men ever, Crusher Jerry Blackwell, that was managed by Sheik Adnan El-Kaissey. The tag team would capture the AWA tag titles during the summer of 1983.
Patera would spend some time working the Memphis territory in 1983, especially during the summer. He had two different runs as International champion during the year. Patera not only feuded with Jerry Lawler but also with Austin Idol. Patera’s AWA commitments kept him outside of the territory on a regular basis pretty much after September although he would appear again. Since the Jarrett promotion and the AWA had an agreement, the tag titles Patera and Blackwell held would be defended by the duo from time to time.
Another major league heel who turned heads in the area during 1983 was the man billed as The Bad Man from Borger, Texas Stan Hansen. Hansen, a mountain of a man at the three hundred pound mark, had been a headliner in a number of territories including the old Leroy McGuirk Mid-South promotion (Mississippi-Lousiana-Oklahoma), Georgia and the WWWF. Hansen had a 1976 match in New York City’s Madison Square Garden where he supposedly broke WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino’s neck with his dreaded finishing maneuver, the lariat, a catchy name for Hansen’s clothesline move. In reality, Sammartino did suffer a broken neck in the match but from a botched move. The promotion would claim Hansen’s lariat had broken Sammartino’s neck. Since the legendary Sammartino had toppled opponent after opponent for years Hansen’s injury to Samartino set up a highly anticipated return match and cemented Hansen’s lariat as a feared move. That return match, held as part of a world wide closed circuit event highlighted by the infamous Muhammad Ali versus Antonio Inoki boxer versus wrestler match from Tokyo, would sell over 32,000 tickets to New York City’s Shea Stadium and draw nearly half a million dollars. Hansen and Sammartino would continue their feud the rest of the year in the WWWF.
Hansen would eventually venture to Japan where he would, over time, become a legend. Hansen’s size and wild demeanor fascinated Japanese fans and the tag team he formed with Bruiser Brody was revered by Japanese fans. His trips to Japan would often hinder his appearing regularly in the U.S. territories. Since he was so in-demand overseas, the All-Japan group was willing to make him a very highly paid performer.
In 1983, Hansen blew into Memphis one summer Saturday. He stormed onto the TV set wearing his trademark cowboy hat and leather vest and chaps bellowing for competition as he beat on the announce desk with his cow bell attached to a bull rope. Hansen then proceeded to level TV champion Tom Prichard to win the belt.
The TV title would be abandoned by the promotion but Hansen was hardly through in the area. Hansen’s main run in the Memphis area was in a feud against Austin Idol over the International title. Hansen’s wild behavior was shown to area fans when he decked promoter Eddie Marlin with a tire tool in a Memphis match. For his actions, Hansen would be suspended. Hansen’s stay was short because of the suspension, which in reality was an out for Hansen to be away from the area as he was booked to appear in Japan.
The third major heel in the area during 1983 was brought in by Jimmy Hart after Jerry Lawler and the Southern title. The flamboyant Jesse the Body Ventura hit area rings in the fall and stepped into a mainline feud against Lawler.
Ventura returned to his Minnesota home from the Vietnam war and began pumping iron. This preparation would lead him to a career in the pro wrestling business. Ventura was fascinated with wrestling star Superstar Billy Graham, one of the business’s first wrestlers whose physique helped get him over with the fans. While Graham’s physique was impressive and a departure from the appearance of other major wrestling stars of the early to mid 1970s, Graham was also blessed with loads of personality, something Ventura initially had to work on as a wrestler but would eventually come close to perfecting. Ventura turned professional and worked the Central States and Pacific Northwest territories. With experience under his belt, Ventura returned to his home base of Minnesota and debuted for the AWA. There, he was paired with Adrian Adonis in a team called the East-West Connection (Adonis was billed from New York City while Ventura was billed from San Diego). The tag team was wildly successful as Adonis was great in-ring and while Ventura was average in the ring he more than made up for it by delivering top notch interviews, which played well off AWA announcer Mean Gene Okerlund. The team held the AWA tag titles for nearly a year. Adonis and Ventura then worked the WWF circuit although not as a regular tag team. Both stars were given Madison Square Garden title matches against then WWF champion Bob Backlund. After the WWF run, Ventura returned to the AWA.
With the AWA-Memphis connection alive in 1983, Ventura hit the area for a few months in the fall and was immediately placed into a feud against Jerry Lawler even though he also wrestled some against Idol. The two battled over the Southern title and Ventura held it on two different occasions. Ventura would leave the area without dropping the title back to Lawler so the promotion announced Lawler had whipped Ventura for the title in a match in Chicago. The match never took place. Interestingly enough before he left the area, Ventura, managed by Jimmy Hart, battled Jerry Lawler who was accompanied by the San Diego Chicken, the mascot for baseball’s San Diego Padres. With Lawler’s win, Hart would have to wear a chicken suit around the territory the following week. The next week would feature a rematch between Lawler and Ventura, accompanied by the chicken suit-wearing Hart or so everyone assumed. Someone else was in the suit and Hart reappeared to distract Lawler leading to a Ventura win. Maybe this strange set of situations was a sign of things to come for Ventura as he would eventually sink into politics where such odd partnerships are normal.
The promotion used three major stars with national reputations as attractions against the territory’s two top stars, Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol. The promotion which was doing very well at the box office was able to attract these top level stars to help keep momentum going their way and to keep Lawler and Idol hot in the area, so hot that by year’s end the two were paired off to face each other with an AWA world title shot in the balance.
October, November and December 1983
Jesse Ventura and Jerry Lawler battled over the Southern title into the fall. Ventura left the promotion and the promotion returned the title to Lawler with a claim that Lawler defeated Ventura in a phantom switch in Chicago.
Dutch Mantel and Koko Ware dropped the Southern tag titles to The Bruise Brothers: Porkchop Cash and Troy Graham. The Bruise Brothers then swapped the belts with the Rock n Roll Express: Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson before regaining the belts and losing them to The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane.
Stan Hansen’s run with the International title ended when Austin Idol regained the title. Idol held onto the title the remainder of the year. Buddy Landel held the Mid-America title until December when Terry Taylor upended him for the strap. A few weeks later Taylor fell to promotion newcomer Randy Savage, who had held the title several times previous when it was recognized by the Nick Gulas promotion. Savage and his family (father Angelo Poffo and brother Lanny Poffo) had operated the ICW, an opposition group to this promotion for the last few years in Kentucky. Feelings between the two groups were bitter due to the opposition. This is why it is surprising that Savage began working for Jarrett. To the fans in Kentucky who were aware, in some way, of the promotional war it was bound to incite interest that the rebel Savage was now working against many of the wrestlers he had often made snide comments about on the ICW TV show for years. By December, Savage had locked up a few times against Jerry Lawler in a feud that would do quite well in Kentucky where the two had been the two top stars of two rival promotions for years.
The CWA tag titles held by The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn & Stan Lane fell back to the Assassins in October. In a major upset the team of TV wrestlers Robert Reed and Ken Raper downed the Assassins on TV when the Fabs interfered. Jimmy Hart, the manager of the Assassins, was so livid at the events that he vowed to shave his head if his team didn’t whip Reed and Raper in a rematch, which they did. The Assassins though could not get past the Fabs who regained the titles a few weeks later.
Tommy Rogers lost the U.S. Junior Heavyweight title to Koko Ware in October before regaining the title. Jimmy Hart tried his best to drive a wedge between the two fan favorites but had no success. Eventually, Bill Dundee, who turned heel once more, downed Rogers to win the crown.
Making appearances in the circuit this go-round were such stars as AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel, Ken Patera, Jimmy Valiant, Lumberjack Jos LeDuc, Dennis Condrey, Norvell Austin, Roughhouse Fargo, Bobby Eaton, Ricky Gibson, The Masked Grapplers, The Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal, Crusher Jerry Blackwell, Jim Cornette (who worked some matches teaming with Jimmy Hart against Bobby Eaton), The A Team, Les Thornton (NWA Junior Heavyweight champion), Jim Morris (who would work the area in 1984 as Harley Davidson but would gain greater fame as Hillbilly Jim in the WWF), Art Crews, Charles Atlas (billed as brother to Tony Atlas), Mad Dog, The Masked Jaguar, Andy Kaufman, The Masked Russian Invader, The San Diego Chicken and more.
In November, Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic promotion put together a card, which aired on closed-circuit throughout a good part of the Southeast. The venture, dubbed Starrcade ’83, was a success and would lead to the business using the closed-circuit idea in the form of pay-per-view via cable TV to great effect by decade’s end to expand revenue streams. Meanwhile, Ole Anderson continued to expand the Atlanta-based promotion even into some areas that were considered WWF territory. The northeast-based WWF had also expanded and was threatening to challenge existing promotions in a number of places. The WWF’s Vince McMahon had replaced his father as leader of the promotion and began aggressively expanding the scope of his promotion. A major shot in what would be a tumultuous year ahead was fired by the WWF when they ran a TV taping in the longtime NWA stronghold of St. Louis in late December. St. Louis was considered the homebase of the NWA due to longtime promoter and NWA president Sam Muchnick basing his operations there. Even more shocking than the taping there was a number of wrestlers who debuted, unannounced, for the promotion that night including Hulk Hogan, David Shultz and announcer Mean Gene Okerlund, all three prime players plucked away from Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion. McMahon had put together an impressive group of wrestlers that he would add to in the new year. McMahon was gearing up for war and the year ahead would be a bloody one in the business of wrestling promotion and even Jerry Jarrett’s promotion would gear up for the fight.
Tag! They’re It!
In the 1960s and 1970s the old Gulas territory which now included much of Jerry Jarrett’s territory was tag team country. Kurt and Karl Von Brauner, Don and Al Greene, Jackie and Don Fargo, Don and Luke Fields, Corsica Joe and Corsica Jean, Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett, Tex Riley and Len Rossi, Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey and a number of masked tag teams such as The Medics, Mephisto and Dante, The Yankees, The Spoilers and The Interns drew in steady crowds to area arenas. With the emergence of Jerry Lawler as a singles star, ironically after first gaining fame as part of a tag team with Jim White, the tag team scene played second fiddle in the area.
Then in 1982, the promotion with the blessing of the legendary Jackie Fargo introduced Steve Keirn and Stan Lane as The Fabulous Ones. The Fabs wrapped in the fancy package of music videos, rock n roll introduction music and flashy ring jackets helped make the Fabs a major smash. The success of the Fabs meant at least two things. Number one since the Fabs were a success they needed constant foes to battle and number two, if the idea of the Fabs worked once, it, or a similar idea, was bound to work again.
In 1982, Jonathan Boyd and Luke Williams, as the New Zealand Sheepherders, hit the area. The duo, supported by Boyd’s strong interviews, was vicious and not to be messed with on any level. The team had attacked promoter Eddie Marlin and Bill Dundee on TV. One of the area’s top heel teams at the time, Bobby Eaton and Sweet Brown Sugar, even backed down from the crazed pair during a TV interview, setting forth the idea that the Sheepherders were a team not to be dealt with lightly and not to be crossed against, even by fellow bad guys. Since the Fabs were painted in glowing terms with flashy outfits and dynamic videos they stood in stark contrast to the not-so-pretty New Zealand flag-waving Sheepherders who had an outright ugly attitude. The Sheepherders were an ideal foe for the Fabs though as their matches were nothing more than brawls which allowed the fans to believe the influence the brawling Fargo had on his team since they held their own against the wild pair, in turn showing how tough the two handsome stars really were. The Sheepherders would leave the area in the spring after losing an unusual eight man tag match where they teamed with Jesse Barr and The Exotic Adrian Street to The Fabs and their partners Dutch Mantel and Steve O.
Following the Sheepherders as opposition to the Fabs was the combination of "the international roughnecks" the Moondogs. Dressed in ragged blue jeans and brandishing giant bones the Moondogs hit the area with a fury and soon found themselves in a headline feud against the Fabs. Patterned after wrestling star Lonnie "Moondog" Mayne the team of the Moondogs were painted as another violent team with little remorse for their actions. Early in their feud against the Fabs they snatched the glittery ring jackets of the Fabs, given to them by their mentor, Jackie Fargo, and handed the popular team a number of beatings. One beating put Steve Keirn out of action for a week when they hung him neck-first in the ropes. Since his team was reeling from the unorthodox team Jackie Fargo returned to team with Stan Lane in Keirn’s absence. The match utilized garbage cans, chairs and nothing more than crazy brawling, a prelude to what the business would mostly become fifteen years later. The Moondogs would later be a factor in Bobby Eaton turning face and Eaton then turning to Koko Ware, as the masked Stagger Lee, to reform their excellent team. The Moondogs, at this time, veterans Randy Colley and Larry Latham, would prove to be one of the top attractions in the territory of all time as several incarnations of the team would pop up in the area well into the 1990s.
After two brawling teams as foes the Fabs next lined up against The Masked Grapplers. The Grapplers painted themselves as wrestlers who didn’t need illegal tactics to win matches although they thrived on an old illegal gimmick to often win their matches, the loaded boot. The Grapplers had been in the area for a few months when they were worked into a program against the Fabs. The Wrestling Fans International Association (WFIA) held a convention in Memphis and named the Fabs as tag team of the year. WFIA representatives appeared on the Memphis TV show to present the trophies to Steve and Stan. The Fabs though were not at TV that week so the Grapplers ended up "accepting" the trophies. The Fabs were not amused with the tactic and the feud was on between the two teams. Naturally, since this is professional wrestling the trophies were eventually destroyed by the Grapplers. The Fabs would get the better of the Grapplers in the feud but the masked duo would hang around the area for awhile. By the end of the year the Grapplers were on their way to becoming fan favorites when they were placed into a feud against fellow First Family members The Bruise Brothers. Behind the masks were Len Denton and Tony Anthony, who would also work the territory in 1984 as The Dirty White Boys.
Another masked tag team, the Masked Assassins would next be on the list of the Fabs. The Assassins had been in and out of the area since 1979 when Gorgeous George, Jr. brought them in. There have been a number of teams over the course of time in the business to bill themselves as The Assassins, most notably Tom Renesto and Jody Hamilton. The team here called the Assassins were Don Bass and Roger Smith, two men who had worked the area over the years under a number of names and usually under a mask. The idea of using gimmicks which were successful elsewhere (i.e. The Assassins, The Super Destroyer, Sweet Brown Sugar, The Spoiler, etc.) was not new to anyone in the business of professional wrestling and surely not unique to just this territory. It didn’t seem to matter to fans here though whether or not these masked men were "originals" since the promotion did a good job of getting over each act so well.
The Assassins were brought back billed as CWA tag champions. After swapping the titles with Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol and working some in the Lawler-Andy Kaufman feud, the Assassins next lined up against the Fabs. An unusual highlight of this feud occurred when The Fabs, who had downed the Assassins for the CWA tag titles, wrestled a TV match against The Bruise Brothers. Suddenly, two large guys hit the ring and began attacking the Fabs. The two then stopped and pulled out gold masks with black trim and put them on, revealing, in a backward fashion, the Assassins.
The Assassins would regain the tag titles and vow they were through with the Fabs. Manager Jimmy Hart was so ecstatic that he determined the Assassins would place the tag titles on the line in a TV match against perennial TV losers Robert Reed and Ken Raper. The Fabs interfered in the match and the biggest upset of the decade in Memphis occurred. The Assassins would regain the belts and continue their feud with the Fabs. It would come to an end when the Fabs unmasked the team for good, although Bass and Smith were brought out a week later billed as the A Team, a fact Lance Russell and Dave Brown pointed out to the TV audience.
The last few weeks of the year saw the Fabs feud with Superstar Bill Dundee. Dundee had fallen out of the good graces of fellow fan favorites. Jerry Lawler was the first to mention this when he refused to participate in a six-man tag match with Dundee citing the fact that he and Dundee just could not get along. Dundee turned heel and ran afoul of the Fabs. The short feud saw Dundee team with huge newcomer Jim Morris to battle the Fabs. Morris came out of the TV audience to assist Dundee. The culmination of the feud though saw Dundee battle Steve Keirn (logical since Dundee and Keirn had been a tag team early in Keirn’s run in the area) in a singles match with the loser being forced to leave the area for at least a year. The implication was clear for Fabs fans, if the Fabs lost, Keirn would have to leave and their favorite team would either split with Lane remaining behind or the team would be gone for at least a year. To the delight of the fans, Keirn came out victorious and sent Dundee packing. Dundee would be part of a group including Jim Cornette, Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, Terry Taylor and later, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, who would travel to Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion to work there. Dundee’s Memphis-style booking revitalized the area which had been in the doldrums and greatly helped the careers of all those who made the move.
While the Fabs found success the promotion introduced another tag team geared toward the young female fans. Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton soon appeared billed as the Rock n Roll Express. The team, complete with a rock music introduction and supporting videos, began to get over with the fans as well.
Gibson had worked the territory off and on for years dating back to 1978, often splitting time between Memphis and Pensacola, which was his home territory. Normally during this time Robert had been part of a team with his brother, Ricky Gibson, who for a time in the mid-1970s was one of the hottest stars in the south. Together, the Gibsons were always a crowd-pleasing combo and feuded with a number of good heel teams such as Larry Latham and Wayne Farris, Atsushi Onita and Masa Fuchi and various combinations of teams managed by Jimmy Hart. By 1983 though, Ricky’s career had been slowed by injuries so Robert was on his own.
Morton had debuted in 1979 and had deep ties in the territory as his father, Paul Morton, had worked as a referee in the area for years. Morton, had seen success in the area in tag teams with Ken Lucas and Eddie Gilbert. He had also branched out and worked outside the territory in such areas as the Southwest and Tri-State territories. Morton was a babyface in the mold of promoter Jerry Jarrett, who was usually undersized but who never gave up, a trait Morton would use to great effect during his career.
Gibson was paired with Morton to form the new team. In a contrast with the Fabs, the Express was usually dressed in bright colors with bandannas and lots of fringe. They first worked a feud against The Masked Grapplers. In the fall, the Express battled Norvell Austin and Dennis Condrey. When Buddy Landell helped Austin and Condrey, the Express brought in Ricky Gibson as their partner for some matches. Toward the end of the year the Express feuded against The Bruise Brothers. The feud saw the Bruise Brothers attack and level referee Paul Morton, who was acknowledged as Ricky’s father. The Express proved to be a success in the area so the promotion was able to make another hit with the idea similar to the one that spawned the Fabs.
There were a number of other notable tag teams in the area during the year including The Bruise Brothers (initially consisting of Porkchop Cash & Mad Dog although later Dream Machine Troy Graham would replace Mad Dog), The Masked Galaxians, the reunited team of Bobby Eaton & Sweet Brown Sugar and Jerry Lawler & Austin Idol. Late in the year, one of the business’s top new attractions, a tag team known as The Road Warriors, worked some shows in the area against the Fabs. One thing remained clear: the tag team scene was alive and well in the territory and it all revolved around the Fabulous Ones. 1984 was rushing toward the area fast and the promotion had a number of things going for it including the success of the tag team known as the Fabulous Ones. The Fabs though would not spend all of 1984 in the area as they tested how successful they could be outside the Memphis territory. Their departure would send the promotion scrambling to duplicate the success of the Fabs by bringing back area legend Jackie Fargo to see if lightning could strike twice as the Fabulous Ones were reintroduced to the area. Thing was, when the Fabs were reintroduced, Steve Keirn and Stan Lane were nowhere to be found.
The Jerry Lawler-Jimmy Hart feud continued during 1983 although the year ended with fans wondering why Hart had helped Lawler defeat Austin Idol to get a shot at AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel. The long-running promotional war in Kentucky with the ICW took an interesting turn when Randy Savage began working some shows for Jarrett in December. On a much larger scale, war was on the verge of breaking out all over the wrestling world as the WWF and Ole Anderson’s GCW were jockeying for position to run shows in cities outside their normal territories. The tag team scene in the area had a banner year with The Fabulous Ones leading the way all year long.
The promotion discovers that imitation may be flattering but it’s hardly fabulous…A true national wrestling war officially begins and even the Memphis territory would never be the same…One time promotional rivals find a new home…Mid-South’s loss becomes CWA’s gain…Plus, another chapter in the Jimmy Hart-Jerry Lawler feud…
Edsel Harrison, Mike Rodgers, Scott Teal, Charles Warburton and David Williamson
Back to Memphis/CWA Main