Memphis/CWA #13 Page #2
As Dundee knocked off competition, Landel insinuated himself into the Mantel-Casey feud. Landel would cost Mantel a victory and infuriate Dutch. As Dutch boiled, Dundee rushed to the ring to get between his partners. Trouble was brewing though as every time Mantel turned his back, Landel threatened to attack Mantel. Dundee though was able to play enough of a peacemaker to reach a truce between the two.
The following week on the TV show, Lance Russell replayed the incident involving the principals. Then in an interview with Russell, Landel pointed out to Dundee that Mantel was being carried by them and called Mantel a tobacco-chewing redneck and wondered if Mantel was absent because he was off on a drinking binge. Moments later, Dutch Mantel came to ringside and hinted he was late for the show because neither Dundee or Landel had called him that morning. With Mantel’s appearance, Landel suddenly changed his tune about Mantel and became Mantel’s long-lost friend. Russell though asked that the videotape be replayed which showed Landel threatening Mantel. Despite Landel and Dundee’s protest the replay was shown. Back in the studio, Dutch was upset and, again, Dundee tried to calm the troubled waters. By this time the fans were howling for Mantel to get his hands on Landel. Finally, Dutch walloped Landel. Dundee tried to break the melee up but Dutch shoved Dundee away. Dundee then went after Dutch and along with Landel tore into Dutch. Since Dutch had been a partner in Dundee’s dirty deeds for months, no one rushed out to help Mantel. After receiving a pounding Dutch was rescued by Eddie Marlin, who threatened disciplinary action against Dundee and Landel unless they stopped. After the events on TV, it became clear that Landel and Dundee now had to deal with Dutch Mantel.
Dundee had been on a roll for two months as he had eliminated area icon Jerry Lawler from the area. Then he had turned back challenges from others. Along the way he had created havoc first with Dutch Mantel and then after adding Buddy Landel to the mix. Now though Dundee had an old enemy to contend with as he and Mantel had battled each other off and on since the early 1980s. Initially, Mantel partnered with Billy Travis to challenge Dundee and Landel. While Travis was an adequate partner he wasn’t quite the answer Mantel needed to resolve his serious issues with Dundee and Landel.
The following week on TV, Dundee and Landel wrestled David Johnson and Jim Jamison. The next few minutes were a showcase for the brutal teamwork of Dundee and Landel. As the two pounded on their helpless foes, they also attacked the referee and left him battered. After only a few shots promoter Jerry Jarrett charged the ring and went after Dundee and Landel. Jerry had his reasons for protecting the referee. The young, lanky referee was Jerry’s son, Jeff.
Dundee and Landel then went bonkers on Jerry Jarrett. For months, Dundee had verbally battled the promotion. Sometimes he had physically battled the promotion when he accepted matches against Eddie Marlin. Now, Jerry Jarrett, the recognized owner of the company, was in the ring and he was fair game to Dundee and his partner. Some drama though was added to this situation as earlier, Jerry, who had wrestled a good deal of 1985, had announced his retirement due to an eye ailment. Dundee and Landel began digging at Jarrett’s affected eye.
Jeff, recovered some from his previous attack, looked up to see Dundee and Landel showing his dad no mercy. Jeff then jumped onto Dundee and began firing fists at the ring terror. Landel then came to Dundee’s rescue and the two began doubleteaming Jeff. In the process, Eddie Marlin and announcer Lance Russell got Jerry out of the ring and to safety. As Jeff continued to take a beating, Dutch Mantel ran to help Jeff. As the dust began to settle an irate Lance Russell took the microphone and declared something had to be done to stop Dundee and Landel.
After a break, Jerry Jarrett came to the announcer’s desk holding a towel to his injured eye. Jerry did not know what to say as he tried to speak between crying. Lance ushered Jerry off the set. Moments later, Eddie Marlin said he had never seen Jerry Jarrett, his son-in-law, in such a predicament. Marlin, in a trembling voice holding back anger from watching his son-in-law and grandson being beaten and humiliated, said he knew the answer to the problem of Dundee and Landel terrorizing the territory. The answer, Marlin said, was reinstating Jerry Lawler, even if it meant violating the loser-leaves-town agreement made that Lawler would not return to the area until the following year.
Arrangements were made and a phone-in hook-up was arranged. Jerry Lawler was on the other line. Lawler had been watching the show from his home and was eager to get his hands on Dundee and Landel for all their mischief. Lawler vowed to get revenge for the Jarretts and Marlin by teaming with Mantel against Dundee and Landel.
The result was a sell-out (11,000+) at Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum with several thousand turned away. With Lawler away the first two months of the year the attendance around the territory, especially Memphis, had hit new lows. Lawler’s return though popped the crowds again. For the next several weeks the feud played to large crowds around the area and is highlighted by a Texas Tornado Death match in Memphis that featured twenty-six falls and lasted nearly fifty minutes.
The feud had plenty of steam. Dundee would claim legal action would prevent Lawler from participating in the area again. Dundee and Landel would also slap announcer Lance Russell, payback for Russell’s splitting of the Dundee-Mantel-Landel alliance as well as for his often vehement tirades against the heels which they understood indirectly led to the return of Lawler. Russell would refuse to interview the pair for a time. Dundee would show photos of his battered face after one of their battles. Jeff Jarrett would eventually pair with Lawler to get revenge against Dundee and Landel.
Memorable in the feud is when Dundee and Landel, furious that Russell would not interview them because Dundee had slapped him, took over the show. Dressed in suits, the duo brought out their own announce desk, took the microphones from Russell and co-host Dave Brown and began calling the action renaming the show, The Bill and Buddy Show. The hijacked show lasted a few segments. During a Jerry Lawler & Dutch Mantel match versus Pat Rose & Bill Rose, Dundee and Landel continually made snide remarks about Lawler and Mantel. Lawler and Mantel grew fed up with the verbal abuse from their enemies so they left the ring losing the match by count out. Seconds later, Lawler and Mantel returned with chairs and destroyed the makeshift desk and ran off the two troublemakers.
The feud carried over for several weeks as Jeff Jarrett and Jos LeDuc would pair with Lawler and Mantel in various combinations to square off against Dundee, Landel and Tony Falk. Falk had become the area’s perennial loser (Jerry Lawler held a similar role in the area in the early 1970s) yet he had enough heat with fans to be involved in the feud since he could be blamed for Lawler’s loss forcing him out of the area at the end of 1985. Eventually though Landel and Dundee would have a falling out after a match against Jerry Lawler & Austin Idol and end up battling each other.
Landell would turn face to battle Dundee for a few weeks. Landell would also capture the Southern title briefly. Dundee would eventually continue his feud against Lawler. Landel, while still Southern champion, would leave in the early summer and return to the Crockett promotion. Lawler would down Dundee in another loser-leaves-town match in June. Dundee would then follow Landel to the Crockett promotion as well where initially the two were paired together again (despite their split from the CWA never being mended). Meantime, Mantel, one-fourth of this roundabout, would also wind up with the Crockett promotion a few months after Landel and Dundee’s departures as part of the team billed as The Kansas Jayhawks with Bobby Jaggers. For a time though, the Bill and Buddy Show was the hottest thing in the business.
February and March 1986
With Jerry Lawler out of the picture, Bill Dundee remained Southern champion during the entire beginning of the year. Dundee turned back challenges from Austin Idol, Big Red, Steve Keirn (Dundee whipped Keirn in a loser leaves town match, repaying Keirn, who downed Dundee in such a match in late 1983), The Midnight Rider (Idol under a mask), Koko Ware and others.
With Lawler’s absence, the Southern tag titles he held with Austin Idol were held up. A January tournament saw The Fantastics: Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton win the belts. They left the area in March and the titles wound up in the possession of The M.O.D. (Masters of Disaster) Squad: Basher and Spike with their manager J.D. Costello.
The International title began the year as property of Dutch Mantel. Mantel feuded with Rick Casey who captured the title for about a month. Casey worked other territories billed as Wendell Cooley. Casey would drop the title to Abdul Khadafy, who would in turn lose it to Billy Travis.
The Mid-America title began the year in the possession of Koko Ware. Ware’s reign ended at the hands of Buddy Landel. Landel then dropped the strap to Dirty Rhodes although Landel quickly regained the championship.
In the area at this time were such stars as Tracy Smothers, Pat Rose, Tojo Yamamoto, Tom Branch, Tony Falk, The Blade Runners (eventually to become The Ultimate Warrior and Sting) with manager Buddy Wayne, The Sheepherders: Jonathan Boyd & Rip Morgan, Phil Hickerson, The Masked Assassin (Don Bass), Keith Eric, Paul Diamond, Larry ‘Thunderbolt’ Hamilton, The Spoiler who was unmasked and then worked as Frank Morrell, Jos LeDuc and more.
One-time area promoter Nick Gulas still dabbled in the business. Late 1985 and early 1986 saw Gulas try to run a territory in Alabama for a brief time. The effort folded in a matter of weeks. Nick’s son, George, wrestled on independent cards in Tennessee and Kentucky during this time also.
from the East
With several promotions running a national or near-national schedule it suddenly became important that new talent developed. With the territorial system, raw talent could be brought along slowly but in a steady manner where valuable experience was gained in front of a paying audience. With the rush to turn the business into a national venture the territories fell by the wayside, as did the valuable opportunities young talent had to nurture their talent. Still though new talent was needed to keep the business moving forward.
Now and then though, someone would come along with loads of possibilities. It was even more rare when that performer was talented enough to step into a major slot with a promotion. In the summer of 1986, such a performer set foot in the Jarrett promotion.
Standing six feet three and weighing close to four hundred pounds the area was taken by storm by a man billed as Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow was billed from Asbury Park, New Jersey. Bigelow was a mountain of a man who moved with incredible speed and agility, throwing dropkicks, flying off the top rope and getting around the ring via cartwheels with ease. Not only was Bigelow impressive with his size and speed he was rather ominous looking in an unusual way. Bigelow sported a bald head with a fireball tattoo. In an era that saw larger than life personalities such as Hulk Hogan and The Road Warriors succeed in the business, Bigelow, with his odd appearance and graceful agility, was certain to reach stardom in the business.
Bigelow had trained in New Jersey under the tutelage of veteran Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe. Sharpe had had a successful ring career working a number of territories although he mostly worked for the WWWF. Although he never achieved the level of success he likely should have, Sharpe was well-regarded in the business as someone who knew what to do in the ring. It was logical then that he should find his way into the business of training others how to become a professional wrestler.
With less than a year of experience under his belt, mostly working independent cards in the northeast, Bigelow rolled into the Memphis territory and quickly turned heads. The imposing Bigelow began rolling through competition.
Fans had no choice but to pay attention to the mammoth monster. With Jerry Lawler’s feud with Bill Dundee closing due to Dundee’s departure, Bigelow was next in line to battle Lawler, which meant he was stepping into the lead heel role for the company.
With the business of wrestling becoming very competitive in many cities, Memphis had been able to turn away Vince McMahon’s WWF and in 1985 had worked some with Jim Crockett’s NWA promotion. By 1986 the Crockett promotion started running shows against Jarrett’s promotion and then the field became more crowded when Bill Watts’ UWF promotion began airing one of their TV shows in Memphis. A UWF house show schedule would follow. With the UWF, a very hot promotion, coming to town, Jarrett’s company, combated the move with a slick move of their own. In late July with the UWF in town drawing a couple of thousand, the Jarrett promotion hosted a charity softball game featuring several wrestling stars. The event drew around seven thousand. As Jerry Lawler led the game off, he hit the ball and charged to first base where he ran into Bam Bam Bigelow, sending the giant to the ground. Bigelow popped back up and went after Lawler while the two teams, featuring a number of wrestlers, then scrambled to keep the two apart. This set up a feud between the perennial hero Lawler and the upstart monster heel Bigelow.
The next several weeks then saw Lawler and Bigelow, often accompanied by Sharpe who served as his ringside manager, battle over the Southern title. The Southern title became vacant when Buddy Landel, then champion, left the promotion. Bigelow then captured the title by winning a battle royal where the winner would claim the championship. The feud would eventually include Bigelow teaming with Sharpe to face Lawler and The Killer (Eddie Crawford, who would work the area later as The Snowman). Eventually, Bigelow would part ways with Sharpe and team briefly with Lawler to battle Sharpe and Man Mountain Link.
By mid-September, Bigelow moved on out of the area. He accepted an offer to work for the World Class promotion in Texas. There he was billed as the Russian heel Crusher Yurkov. Bigelow would work other dates around the country and would also pop back up in the Memphis territory a few times in 1987. Later that year though he was snatched up by the WWF where he would debut and work for awhile. Eventually, he would be counted as a major attraction in the business. The trail that led him to that success though traveled through the Jarrett promotion where for a few months in the summer of 1986 he terrorized opponents earning his nickname of ‘The Beast from the East’.
and June 1986
Bill Dundee's long reign as Southern champion ended after the return of Jerry Lawler. Dundee regained the belt but ran into Buddy Landell. After a Memphis match between the two the title was held up. Landell then downed The Masked Flame in a tournament final to win the title. Landell then left the area leaving the title vacant again.
The M.O.D. Squad: Basher and Spike with manager J.D. Costello held the Southern tag titles until losing them in the summer to Jerry Lawler and Giant Hillbilly, better known to area fans as Stan ‘Plowboy’ Frazier. Frazier had spent most of the previous year working as Uncle Elmer in the WWF.
Billy Travis held the International title in this time frame before losing it to Bill Dundee. Dundee would hold the title into the summer.
Dutch Mantel knocked off Buddy Landel to claim the Mid-America title. Mantel was then derailed by Rip Rogers. Rogers would then drop the title back to Mantel.
Finding work in the area at this time were such stars as Jos LeDuc, Jeff Jarrett, Tony Falk, Frank Morrell, Davey Haskins, Abdul Gadafy, Paul Diamond, Phil Hickerson, Tojo Yamamoto, Tony Burton, Pat Tanaka, Pat Rose, Memphis Vice: Jerry Bryant and Lou Winston, Buddy Wayne, The Hunters, Tracy Smothers, Austin Idol, Dan Fargo (Dan Greer), Baron Von Brauner, Carl Stiles, The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane, The Nightmares: Danny Davis & Ken Wayne, Fire, Akio Sato and Tarzan Goto, Bam Bam Bigelow, Debbie Combs, Despina Montagas, others.
In 1985, the Jim Crockett promotion, which had a national cable slot on WTBS, co-promoted some cards in the area. Numerous Crockett stars worked those cards and helped draw some of the largest crowds of the year in the area. While the two groups didn’t cooperate in such a way in 1986, the Jarrett promotion did send Bill Dundee and Buddy Landel to work an April card in New Orleans that Crockett promoted. The card, which revolved around a tag tournament called The Crockett Cup, would actually spell trouble in the long run for Jarrett as both Dundee and Landel, the area’s two top heels the first half of the year, would eventually jump to the Crockett promotion in the summer.
The Crockett promotion would try to run several Jarrett cities on their own during the summer. Booker Dusty Rhodes had lined up numerous cities for a Great American Bash tour during the summer. Memphis was among those stops. The effort to outdraw the Jarrett promotion, which had been weakened by the expansion efforts of various groups, was a miserable failure.
Bill Watts’ UWF promotion would also try their hand at running cards in the area. Their attendance was better than that of Crockett’s group but the weekly Jarrett cards still held too much sway on area fans to lure them away for long.
Right or wrong, professional wrestling has relied upon stereotypes for years to sell tickets. In the territory days heels were often from other countries and spouted anti-American rhetoric. Their opposition often played the super patriotic good guy. By the same token, promoters for decades had used another tried and true stereotype, the hillbilly.
In the 1950s Farmer Jones, who often brought a pig to the ring, was a favorite in the area. In the 1960s, combinations of Rip, Chuck and Vick, the Scufflin’ Hillbillies, managed at various times by Cousin Alfred and Cousin Harless, were a major attraction in the area as well. Haystack Calhoun, Man Mountain Mike and The Kentuckians (Grizzly Smith and Luke Brown) were other box office attractions in the business who played off of a role as a hillbilly. Calhoun and the Kentuckians would have stopovers in the territory here dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.
Debuting in the early 1960s was a man who would work under many different names over the years. Most often billed as Giant Frazier, Tiny Frazier and Plowboy Frazier, Stan Frazier’s career quietly spanned several decades in the business. Frazier worked many of the territories over the course of his career and had a major run as the Convict on the west coast in the late 1960s. While he worked a large number of the territories over the years, Stan Frazier spent a great part of his career working in the South for Nick Gulas, and later, Jerry Jarrett.
While Frazier often worked mid-card and lower in the area there were plenty of times he worked in major programs. Billed as hailing from Philadelphia, Mississippi and standing seven feet tall and weighing 450 pounds, Frazier’s size alone would guarantee he would see main event action from time to time. In reality, Frazier was from Pascagoula, Mississippi and stood around 6’10”.
Few in the business during the 1960s and 1970s could match his size. The aforementioned Haystack Calhoun and Man Mountain Mike along with Happy Humphrey and later, Billy and Benny McGuire matched or surpassed him in weight. Ernie Ladd, Shohei Baba, Don Leo Jonathan and later, Ron Fuller and Andre the Giant, matched him or surpassed him in height. With men of that size being an unusual commodity at the time, promoters often used them in special attraction roles.
In the Gulas-Welch territory though Frazier would often work a regular schedule. This meant he could not be used as a special attraction every week. He had to be absorbed into the mix of wrestlers working the territory. While his size made him stand out from the rest of the workers, Frazier also came across as likable to fans (although he did have several heel runs in his career). With the combination of his size and personality, Frazier often found himself in key slots with the promotion.
On several occasions Frazier worked programs with and against Jerry Lawler which placed him in headline matches. Lawler would bring Frazier in as a tag partner and due to Frazier’s size, fans would feel as if the then-heel Lawler, the brash, trash-talking upstart, was using the big man to hide behind. Many of the area fans lived in rural areas or had a rural background and seeing Frazier, decked out in overalls and work boots, reminded them of someone they knew or of their own background. Fans in the area could then connect with Frazier even though he was running with the braggadocios Lawler.
Fans though would wonder what tied Frazier, who they related to, to Lawler, the antitheses of who they were. Frazier’s loyalty to Lawler then was revealed as revolving around the fact that Frazier, portrayed as big yet dimwitted, liked shiny objects. With this in mind, Lawler and then-manager Sam Bass would load down Frazier with lots of shiny rings. Problems would pop up though when Frazier would realize the rings Lawler were giving him to do his dirty work were without value. The fans, by this point sympathetic to the fact they knew Lawler was using Frazier, would then fall into rooting for Frazier. Not only did the move allow Frazier to become a wrestler fans wanted to cheer for, it made Lawler a wrestler fans wanted to root against. A feud would follow which would help get Lawler over even more but in the process would also set Frazier up as a force in the area whenever he appeared.
Frazier had a good run in the area in 1976 headlining many shows against Lawler. The two battled in hair matches and slam challenge matches, where Lawler had to bodyslam Frazier during the match or face match stipulations that often varied from town to town.
Frazier worked the area most of the next few years. In late 1977 and into 1978, he feuded against the team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Frazier used a variety of tag partners including Bill Dundee and Big Red.
Outside of the Memphis territory, Frazier’s likeliest high profile run by this point in time was a late 1980-early 1981 run for the Atlanta promotion. There he teamed with Robert Fuller to battle The Fabulous Freebird trio of Buddy Roberts, Terry Gordy & Michael Hayes. When the Freebirds “injured” Frazier, it paved the way for Ted DiBiase to step into a major slot for the promotion as Fuller’s tag partner.
No matter where he roamed, Frazier seemed to always gravitate back to the Jarrett promotion. Following in the footsteps of others such as such as Don and Al Greene, Frank Morrell, Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo and others, Frazier worked the area fairly exclusively.
Since he worked the area often the promotion constantly tinkered with his image. While most fans in the area understood him to be Stan ‘Plowboy’ Frazier, from time to time he was given other names and a fairly wide variety of gimmicks.
In 1982, the promotion debuted a character named Kimala, a supposed untamed large wildman from the jungles of Uganda. Sporting painted symbols on his stomach, carrying a spear and wearing native gear, Kimala made a big splash in the area. At the behest of Jimmy Hart, Frazier, similar in size to the big man, donned similar ringwear as Kimala then hit the ring billed as Kimala II. The two teamed for a time in Jimmy Hart’s ongoing feud with Jerry Lawler. The run as Kimala II for Frazier lasted a brief time. (The Kimala II name was used later in the 1980s in Japan by Ben Peacock who most often wrestled in the U.S. as The Botswana Beast.)
In 1983, the masked man known as Stagger Lee was giving Jimmy Hart problems. Convinced that Koko Ware was under the mask, Hart sent Plowboy Frazier after Lee, certain that Frazier’s size would be the factor in stopping then unmasking Lee. When Frazier failed to unmask Lee, he returned under a mask billed as The Lone Ranger. Later in the year, Frazier worked under the gimmick The Giant Rebel entering the ring wearing a Confederate army coat.
Frazier worked a few dates in 1984 as an A Team member in the area. The A Team was originally composed of Don Bass and Roger Smith but when Smith became Dirty Rhodes for the promotion others in the area including Frazier and Frank Morrell worked dates with Bass as The A Team. In late 1984, Frazier slightly changed his name. He then became Playboy Frazier. Frazier claimed the women could not get enough of him. In early 1985, Eddie Gilbert began forming his own army, a direct lift of Jerry Lawler’s army from nearly a decade back. One of Gilbert’s first recruits was Frazier, one of Lawler’s old Army recruits. Frazier then began being billed as Lt. Frazier. To prove his loyalty to Gilbert’s Army, Frazier was willing to allow Gilbert to shave his head on the TV show.
While Frazier had been a constant presence in the area for parts of three decades he was often used mid-card and lower by 1985, likely because his size and age limited what he could do. The promotion had used a number of different identities with Frazier as well so keeping him fresh in the eyes of the fans who had already seen him in a number of roles over the years would be a difficult task to accomplish. With the less prominent position it seemed as if Frazier would continue to slip into an even less conspicuous role with the promotion. Later in 1985 though, Frazier’s career changed dramatically. With the WWF expansion still in motion, the WWF signed Frazier to work for them. Frazier’s last Memphis program before leaving for the WWF was a low card feud against The Batten Twins.
In 1984, the WWF had introduced a character named Hillbilly Jim with the idea that he was one of Hulk Hogan’s biggest fans. Hillbilly Jim was no stranger to Memphis fans as he had worked the area in 1983 under his real name of Jim Morris and later in 1984 as Harley Davidson. As the Hillbilly Jim character caught on, it was determined that he needed some family. Lanny Kean, who had worked Memphis as Harley Hogg, would be brought in as Cousin Junior. When Kean missed some dates, veteran Gene Pettit, who had worked as Gene Lewis, Molokai (in Florida, briefly billed as Kharma, the promotion changed the gimmick name after his debut) and The Mongol (Texas) was brought in as Cousin Luke. Hillbilly Jim’s first and most prominent family member though that WWF fans saw was Frazier, brought in as Uncle Elmer.
While Frazier had worked under a slew of different names over the years he was easily recognizable in those roles. The Jarrett promotion never hid the fact that Frazier was The Lone Ranger or Kimala II or any of the other gimmicks he used. It would be unfair to the fans to deny these characters were Frazier because his size made his identity obvious. The WWF did not see things the same way. While Frazier had never worked for the WWF in the past, the WWF was now a national promotion so some fans were very aware of Frazier’s ring career. The WWF though had no use for Frazier’s past and would not acknowledge him as a veteran wrestler. He was introduced as Hillbilly Jim’s uncle who was out to help Jim and would do so just because he was big-hearted enough and big enough to do whatever he wanted.
Ignoring a wrestler’s past was something the WWF would do with virtually every major star who would work for them for the next decade. The idea seemed to be if the WWF actually acknowledged a veteran wrestler’s past it meant there were other wrestling organizations still operating and if they were still running this meant they were competition to the WWF. Of course, the WWF never mentioned competition to it’s fans. By ignoring the past of wrestlers who had been around for years though the WWF again snubbed longtime fans who knew better. In the process the elimination of a wrestler’s history for a profit, and in the name of creative license, cheapened wrestling history for future generations since the WWF fans of the time (and most since then) came to understand that wrestling’s past is useless. If the business’s number one wrestling company didn’t care enough to honor the business’s past then why should fans appreciate it? Of course, the WWF was not producing wrestling for fans who had followed the business for years. The WWF wanted to reach out to new fans who would be brought in from all the hype to see the bright shiny lights and who, in turn, had little regard for anything other than that moment. After all, new fans were being educated that Vince McMahon and the WWF had saved the business from extinction and had now remade it into something respectable, even though the WWF used most all the same angles and techniques other promotions before them had used, including the use of stereotyping. Of course, the WWF had better video production techniques which blinded those who thought what the WWF was doing was creative and original. With the WWF expansion hitting high gear in 1984, the WWF began conveniently remembering what was useful to them and rewriting or ignoring whatever history they wished, leaving many who knew better bitter at how wrestling’s history was being discounted just so the WWF could appeal to many fans who would then turn away when pop culture’s next fad that came along.
It would also be difficult to blame the wrestlers for allowing this to occur. Some had worked for years to establish themselves as a proven name commodity but the lure of the big guaranteed money the WWF was willing to pay would be hard to turn down, even if it meant becoming somebody “new”. With the WWF opening up other streams of revenue through their own home video, music, merchandise and magazine endeavors the WWF was becoming a major money-making machine. The guaranteed money they could offer wrestlers was usually a much better financial deal than what most wrestlers knew in the territories.
While the Memphis promotion often featured doses of humor (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally), the WWF specialized in broad often tasteless humor. It should then come as no surprise that on a national stage with the WWF, Hillbilly Jim’s “family” were certain comic relief. They were after all, stereotypical hillbillies, which meant that while they were presented as good-natured, they were also presented as mostly uneducated, unkempt and uncouth. (The WWF would use a similar, yet more sinister, stereotype with Henry O. and Phinneas I. Godwinn in the late 1990s.)
The highlight of Frazier’s run in the WWF was his wedding in a wrestling ring to Joyce Staszko on the nationally televised Saturday Night’s Main Event TV show. The event turned into an angle as Roddy Piper came to ringside to heckle the ceremony and those involved. This was a set-up for WWF champion Hulk Hogan to come to the rescue of his biggest fan, Jim, and Jim’s family. It is interesting though that Jim’s family was portrayed as being dimwitted, yet were also portrayed as major Hogan fans, a comparison the WWF surely hoped no one would draw and surely didn’t intend.
Frazier battled health problems much of his life due to his size. The WWF in most of the 1980s had a very rigorous travel schedule. Frazier, despite his size, worked a pretty busy schedule during his WWF tenure. The health problems were bad enough on Frazier but coupled with the WWF’s rugged travel schedule the wear on Frazier began to take a toll. In 1986, Frazier and the WWF parted ways.
Away from the national spotlight, Frazier returned to Memphis. Since he had had a high profile run in the WWF, Frazier was destined to be an attraction Jarrett could use to lure those who had seen him on national TV in the WWF. The WWF though refused to allow Frazier to use the Uncle Elmer ring name, a point Frazier made sure local fans understood upon his return as he explained why he was going by yet another new ring name, The Giant Hillbilly. Some would find this funny as the hillbilly gimmick could be taken as a means to subtlety make fun of people who lived in rural areas as individuals who were not smart and now the WWF was holding the gimmick claiming creative rights to the gimmick, which implied the dumb hillbilly gimmick was the intellectual property of the WWF. Of course, the WWF’s use of the hillbilly gimmick was hardly original as many promotions had used it for years so any claim to exclusivity was hardly the WWF’s to claim. (A claim to the character Elmer is another issue.) The WWF was likely keeping the gimmick out of Frazier’s hands because they were leery promoter Jerry Jarrett would be savvy enough to use the WWF persona to boost attendance on his own shows. Frazier would eventually use part of his WWF name and was billed as Hillbilly Elmer. Announcers also often referred to him as Elmer.
Frazier returned to the promotion in May and stepped right into the thick of things by pairing with Jerry Lawler in a brief run against The M.O.D. Squad and manager J.D. Costello. Frazier and Lawler downed Basher and Spike to win the Southern tag titles in this feud. The two had held the tag belts in 1976. Fire and Flame would then whip Frazier and Lawler for the titles. Lawler then veered off into a feud against Bam Bam Bigelow. Frazier would use a number of partners to battle Fire and Flame including veterans Jos LeDuc and Phil Hickerson. Since Fire and Flame were large men as were Frazier, LeDuc and Hickerson, fans were certain to see a ring full of heavy hitters when the teams met.
Later in the summer, Lanny Kean returned to the area, this time as Cousin Junior, and teamed with Frazier. Frazier and Junior would cop the Southern tag titles from Fire and Flame for a time before dropping the belts back. Kean’s stay in Memphis lasted only a few weeks. The WWF didn’t seem to mind that Kean continued to use the name and gimmick “Cousin Junior” as they had with Frazier and “Uncle Elmer”. It seems possible with the Jarrett promotion remaining viable in their own area despite the attempts of others, including the WWF, to run shows against them, that the WWF may have had some initial concern that Frazier appearing as Uncle Elmer could have drawn fans in for Jarrett. Kean, since he wasn’t nearly as established in Memphis or as recognizable anywhere else as Frazier and never was as popular as Frazier in the WWF, would not be a threat to bring fans in even with his WWF character.
The rest of the year saw Frazier work in the area in low and mid-card slots. Late in the year, Frazier spent a few weeks wrestling newcomer Goliath (not the Great Goliath of 1970s California wrestling fame) for the newly created CWA Super Heavyweight title. Frazier would end the year holding that title.
Stan Frazier was one of the area’s longtime stars. He had performed for years in a variety of roles. While he had a taste of the big leagues with a near yearlong stint in the WWF, he returned to the Jarrett promotion when that run ended. On his return Frazier stepped into his highest profile slot for the promotion in years securing his position as one of the territory’s often unsung legends.
(One of the best wrestler tribute sites is the one dedicated to Stan Frazier called Uncle Elmer’s Cabin, a link to that site can be found in the Links section of this site.)
and September 1986
After Buddy Landel left the area, the Southern title was vacant. Newcomer Bam Bam Bigelow won a battle royal to claim the championship. Jerry Lawler would regain the title in September.
Fire and Flame would down Jerry Lawler and The Giant Hillbilly for the Southern tag titles. The Giant Hillbilly would then hook up with Cousin Junior to get the titles back. In September, Don Bass and Dirty Rhodes, the unmasked team of Fire and Flame, won the titles.
Bill Dundee’s International title run ended in July at the hands of Jerry Lawler. Lawler recaptured the Southern title in September leaving the International title vacant for a few weeks.
The Mid-America title became vacated when Dutch Mantel left the promotion in July. Tracy Smothers would win an August tournament to become the new champion.
The promotion reintroduced the International tag titles into the mix in July. The team of Akio Sato and Tarzan Goto were billed as champions on their initial appearance in the area. Jeff Jarrett and Pat Tanaka would upend the Tojo Yamamoto-managed combination for the titles once before the Sato-Goto team would regain them.
In the area during the summer were such stars as J.D. Costello and the M.O.D. Squad: Basher and Spike, Gypsy Joe, Austin Idol, Danny Davis, Ken Wayne, The Bruise Brothers: Porkchop Cash & Mad Dog Boyd, AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel, Rough & Ready, Phil Hickerson, Paul Diamond, Mike Sharpe, Ronnie Sexton, J.T. Southern, Jimmy Snuka, The Rock Steady Crew: Ira Reese and King Cobra, Mr. Universe, Memphis Vice: Jerry Bryant & Lou Winston, The Killer, Larry Sharpe, Kenny Dees, Gentle Ben the Wrestling Bear with trainer Nick Adams, Excitement, Inc.: Jon Paul & Ric McCord, The Great Kabuki, Debbie Combs, Despina Montagas, Miami New Breed, Mike Jackson, Torch (unmasked as Larry Wright), Man Mountain Link, Ninja, more.
Longtime homegrown star Koko Ware signed to work for the WWF in the summer. Ware had worked the territory early in the year before leaving to work for Bill Watts’ promotion. In the WWF, Ware would work low on cards and never see the notoriety there he had seen for Jarrett.
The Crockett promotion made news in this time period when they purchased the Central States promotion. The company then tried to run the promotion separately from their other promotion, although they would provide top level talent to the promotion for major cards. Some of the young talent needing some seasoning were farmed out to the promotion. Buddy Landel and Bill Dundee would wind up in the promotion although Landel would leave before many realized he had stopped over in the area.
For many years, Jerry Jarrett could rely, for the most part, on a number of wrestlers who remained loyal to him. All he would do is shift them around now and then with a new identity and the fans would take it all in never really noticing or never taking the time to let it bother them. For instance, Frank Morrell was used in a number of ways over the years for Jarrett. He was The Spoiler, The Angel, an A Team member and even worked under the name of Frank Morrell. When Morrell’s ring career slowed during 1986, Jarrett began using him as a referee.
Two men though personify this idea of the promotion’s idea of talent economy better than any other. Those two men: Don Bass and Roger Smith. Over the previous few decades the area had been terrorized by a number of masked tag teams. It was common at various times for the area to be populated by such teams as The Yankees, The Interns, The Medics and other teams. Often these masked teams worked at the top of the cards in the area. With Bass and Smith the idea of masked tag team specialists would be totally redefined.
Don Bass first worked the area in 1974 with his real life brother Ron. They teamed as Ron and Don Bass (real last name is Herd) and actually worked a few shows billed as Ron and Don Garfield, a name used later by Don Fargo and another partner. Don would bounce around the South some over the next few years but would often pop back up in the Tennessee area.
In 1976, he worked some for Nick Gulas as The Masked Scorpion. In 1977, he worked some shows for Gulas as The Boston Strangler. In 1979 he popped up as one of the Masked Assassins to work for Jarrett. His partner then was Roger Smith. Bass and Smith’s run as the Assassins should not be confused with the most famous set of Masked Assassins who were the combination of Tom Renesto and Jody Hamilton. Renesto and Hamilton teamed for years all over the world using that gimmick.
Smith first impacted the area in 1979 as one of the Assassins with Bass. In 1980, he worked for Nick Gulas, and briefly for the Georgia promotion, as Roger Mason. Mason had a run for Gulas as Mid-America champion.
After the Assassins disappeared from the area in 1979 they would not return until 1983. With Jimmy Hart as their manager the team made an immediate impression on the area as they were introduced as CWA tag champions. They were quickly placed in top-level matches against most of the area’s top stars including Jerry Lawler, Austin Idol and The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn & Stan Lane. The Fabs would unmask the Assassins near the end of 1983 exposing Bass and Smith.
Undaunted by the unmasking, manager Jimmy Hart then introduced the fans to the team that would replace his masked monsters. He called the team The A Team and oddly enough they appeared to be Bass and Smith, a fact announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown quickly recognized.
Not long after the A Team debuted, Smith disappeared and Frank Morrell, among others, replaced him in the tag team. Suddenly, a new face arrived on the scene. His name was Dirty Rhodes. Dirty was a curly headed cowboy who could lay down the rap with the best in the business. An obvious take-off on Dusty Rhodes in more than one way, Dirty was placed in a tag team with Harley Davidson, a giant wrestler with little experience who had teamed some with Bill Dundee in 1983 under the name Jim Morris. The combination was given a push and the fans seemed to adapt fairly well to Dirty. Around mid-year though Dirty Rhodes disappeared from the scene. (Morris would land in the WWF and create the Hillbilly Jim character.)
The end of 1984 though saw a new tag team on the scene. They were the Interns. A masked team of the Interns date back to 1970 in the area as Dr. Ken Ramey then managed Jim Starr and Billy Garrett. Tom Andrews would replace Garrett over time. The Interns and Ramey would work the area off and on until 1978 when they were eventually upended by the team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Hickerson and Condrey unmasked Jim Starr as one of the Interns then which ended the on-again, off again run of the Interns in the territory. In 1984, the Interns were back but two different men were behind the masks.
The 1984-85 version of this team was once again the combination of Bass and Smith. Troy Graham, who had made a name for himself as The Dream Machine and later as part of tag teams with Rick McGraw (New York Dolls) and Porkchop Cash (Bruise Brothers), served as manager to this version of the Interns. Graham, who had suffered some injuries in the prior year, was led to the ring in a wheelchair.
Bass and Smith as the Interns would feud with The Dirty White Boys: Len Denton & Tony Anthony and The Fabulous Ones (again). The Fabs would once again have the honor of unmasking the combo.
In 1986, Dirty Rhodes returned for a time early in the year. Bass also returned and worked some dates as The Masked Assassin. By mid-year though a new masked team was creating havoc in the area, the team was called Fire and Flame. At various times during their stay the masked team was managed by J.D. Costello, who played a Gary Hart-Jim Cornette-type rich boy turned manager. Fire and Flame were also managed briefly by Billy Spears, a longtime mat veteran who had also worked as Sardo the Magnificent. Spears had spent most of his time in the business in the 1980s working in Alabama as a manager. In the late 1970s in Alabama Spears became the first manager of the man many link 1980s wrestling to, Hulk Hogan. Hogan at that time wrestled as Terry Boulder. Spears’ stay in the area to manage Fire and Flame was only a couple of weeks long before Spears disappeared.
Fire and Flame lived up to their names as they often tossed fire at their opponents. Buddy Landel, Jos LeDuc, Giant Hillbilly and Cousin Junior were among their victims early in their stay.
After debuting, they feuded with Buddy Landel, who used Austin Idol as his tag partner. When Landel left the promotion, the masked combo began working against The Giant Hillbilly who used a number of partners as well, most notably his one-time WWF partner Cousin Junior. The duo would also run afoul of Phil Hickerson and Jos LeDuc during the summer also.
One of the more interesting angles of the year for the promotion involved Fire and Flame. One week on television the masked duo wrestled the team of the unmasked Nightmares, Ken Wayne and Danny Davis. Suddenly the masked team attacked a man and woman sitting in the front row of the audience. The angle would lead to figurehead promoter Eddie Marlin wanting to discipline the team but instead deciding to feed them quality competition each week on TV trying to get the Southern tag titles away from the duo.
After a few months in the tag team ranks the masked team was elevated on up into headline status. With Jerry Lawler’s feud wrapping up with Bam Bam Bigelow and Tommy Rich returning to the area on a more regular basis, the masked tag team was ready to headline area cards. Lawler and Rich would be the combination to fill out the other half of the feud. The masked team would become a trio around this time as well when they added a masked partner called The Torch.
Jerry Lawler had challenged the three members of the combination on TV one week, all to consecutive singles matches. Lawler got past Torch and Fire but in his match against Flame, the other two masked men attacked Lawler leading to a disqualification.
Fire and Flame had run afoul of Tommy Rich in their earlier battles with The Giant Hillbilly and Cousin Junior. The team, along with their new addition The Torch, would attack Rich on TV one week. While the trio gloated about their pounding of Rich, they also dangled a set of car keys in front of Lance Russell and wondered where Jerry Lawler was since he hadn’t appeared yet. Later as the gloating continued, Lawler and Rich ran out to run the masked men off the set. Lawler, with a ripped shirt and a bloody face, then said the trio had run him off the road and attacked him (an oft-used Nick Gulas angle). Then Lawler and Rich, longtime enemies dating back to the mid-1970s and who had teased a showdown during Lawler’s leg injury of 1980, vowed to go after the trio.
Lawler and Rich would down Fire and Flame in a Memphis match and force the masked team to lose their masks. Unhooded, the duo was then billed as Don Bass (Fire) and Dirty Rhodes (Flame). The Torch was unmasked as Larry Wright. The feud would last for several weeks and includes one week where Bass, Rhodes and Wright took Lawler’s crown and stomped it on TV. The feud would intersect with the feud featuring Jerry and Jeff Jarrett and Tojo Yamamoto’s team of Akio Sato and Tarzan Gotoh. Austin Idol would return to help out the Jarretts, Rich and Lawler foreshadowing dangerous times ahead for Lawler in 1987. Meantime, Bass, Rhodes and Wright would fade out of the main event status after a few weeks.
The Memphis promotion had seen some great days and much of it can be credited to the hard work of Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantel, Austin Idol, Jimmy Valiant, Jackie Fargo, The Fabulous Ones and others. Sometimes though it is others who deserve some of that spotlight. Sometimes it isn’t the flash and sizzle that leads the way, sometimes it is the steady and dependable that makes things happen. For years, Don Bass and Roger Smith had been steady and dependable for the promotion providing many of the top level stars with quality, credible competition. Bass and Smith had been used effectively and believably in numerous roles for years while the winds of change in the business had blown the territory system to bits.
November and December 1986
Jerry Lawler remained Southern champion the rest of 1986. Lawler’s main challenges came from Dirty Rhodes and Big Bubba. Lawler’s success would see him earn a shot at AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel in early 1987. By the end of the year though longtime rival turned tag partner Tommy Rich was interested in wrestling Lawler for that shot. Rich and Austin Idol, another onetime rival turned longtime partner, seemed intent on charging after Lawler’s title.
Don Bass and Dirty Rhodes lost the Southern tag titles to Jerry Lawler and Big Bubba in November. Bubba though turned on Lawler and the titles were then held up. The New Sheepherders: Jonathan Boyd and Bigfoot won the subsequent tournament but then lost them to the team of Jeff Jarrett and Billy Travis. Jarrett and Travis were then defeated by The Rock n Roll RPMs: Mike Davis and Tommy Lane.
The International title, vacant after champion Jerry Lawler regained the Southern title, went up for grabs in an October tournament. Big Bubba (a/k/a Fred Ottman a/k/a Tugboat, Shockmaster, Seigfried, Big Steel Man) won the tournament and held onto the belt the rest of the year.
Tracy Smothers held the Mid-America title for a time before dropping it to Boy Tony, the new gimmick for Tony Falk and a takeoff on the singer Boy George. Boy Tony also borrowed a page from Andy Kaufman’s playbook and presented pre-taped segments that aired on the TV show where he presented hygiene tips to area fans. In time, Smothers would regain the belt but would lose it to Big Bubba. Bubba, already the International champion, was forced to vacate the Mid-America belt. The Great Kabuki, managed by Tojo Yamamoto, would then capture the belt in a tournament.
Akio Sato and Tarzan Goto dropped the International titles to Jeff Jarrett and Paul Diamond. Jarrett and Diamond would drop them back to Sato and Gotoh, who would be relieved of the belts by Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond.
Briefly, the promotion also recognized a Super Heavyweight title toward the end of the year. Goliath was billed as the initial champion. He did lose the title to The Giant Hillbilly. The title was then forgotten for a few months.
Working in the area at this time were Davey Haskins, Ric McCord, Ninja (unmasked as Tony Burton), The Animals: Duke Myers & Mike McGuirk (not the WWF female ring announcer), Jerry Jarrett, Freezer Thompson, Speedy Tall Tree, Downtown Bruno Jon Paul, Bubba Monroe, Jackie Fargo, Austin Idol, Tommy Rich, longtime area star Dennis Hall with valet Dolly Parker (a Dolly Parton wannabe), The Killer, The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn & Stan Lane (back for a handful of appearances), Memphis Vice: Jerry Bryant and Lou Winston, Emily Arthur (“picked” out of the audience to wrestle Downtown Bruno), Buddy Wayne and more.
Wrestling had changed drastically in the previous few years. The WWF had been at the forefront of most of those changes. With their push to provide wrestling on a national level, the WWF had been the recipient of some very profitable years. The WWF had produced and released a music album and had enough pull to land a cartoon on the Saturday morning CBS schedule. Also along the way, the WWF had banned photographers from various wrestling publications to shooting pictures at their shows. This opened the door for them to begin publishing their own magazine. Promotions had long provided their own programs but the WWF took the effort even further by publishing their magazine in color on slick glossy paper and not only selling it at arena shows but on newsstands as well, providing competition to long-standing newsstand magazines.
While the WWF continued to promote on a national level, the Crockett promotion expanded as well. During the year, Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion, renamed the UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation) also began making noises about promoting outside their base and did. All these moves were knocking off the remaining territories. The ones that survived were weakened greatly including the Jarrett promotion. The wrestlers left in the Jarrett promotion often pointed out how the national promotions were full of wrestlers who at one time or another had passed through the Jarrett promotion. Sometimes music videos or vignettes clearly showed area stalwarts pounding on wrestlers who were headlining cards for one of the other promotions. Comments were made how the other promotions clearly did not provide the action the Jarrett promotion did. Usually, such a comment was directed toward the WWF, who through their success had changed the fortunes of many in the business, some for good and some for the bad. While longtime wrestling fans were being left behind as the WWF steamrollered whatever got in their way, newer fans continued to flock to WWF events. No doubt it had become much tougher for those who ran the Jarrett promotion to remain profitable.
For over twenty years Tojo Yamamoto had been a force in area rings. During the 1960s his heel runs solidified his status as one of the great villains the area would ever see. The 1970s saw Yamamoto turn into a fan favorite which at the time was a rarity, a Japanese fan favorite (Yamamoto, whose real name was Harold Watanbe, was actually Hawaiian). Later though, Yamamoto would turn heel and bring back his vile heel character.
By the 1980s though Yamamoto had slowed some. He worked frequently but he also began working more and more as a manager. Often when the promotion had not used Yamamoto he had worked numerous independent promotions in the area. By 1986 though Yamamoto was set to step into a memorable time for long time area fans.
Many of those longtime fans were aware of Yamamoto’s popular tag team with Jerry Jarrett from the 1970s. Newer fans were introduced to the tag team in 1985 as they returned and mostly worked the middle of cards. All of this set into the minds of both longtime and new fans that Yamamoto and Jarrett had a history together. Fans understood Yamamoto had served to help train Jarrett early in his career and together as a team they had held area titles.
With Jerry Jarrett calling a halt to his career after an eye ailment, Yamamoto was on his own in the first part of 1986. Jerry’s son, Jeff, had entered the business as a referee with hopes of one day becoming a wrestler. After Bill Dundee and Buddy Landell’s attack on the Jarretts, Jeff’s entry into the business as a wrestler seemed imminent. A month after the attack, Jeff Jarrett made his ring debut. It seemed only fitting then that it was later learned that Jerry’s one-time teacher and longtime tag partner, Tojo Yamamoto, was working to bring Jeff up to snuff.
The concept was a tried and true one. When a young piece of talent came along he would often be paired with a veteran of the ring. To the fans this meant that the experience and knowledge of the veteran could be absorbed by the youngster. In reality, this was also done most likely so the veteran could hide the weaknesses the youngster had until he was more seasoned for a push. Outside of the neat historical connection though the move to place Jarrett with Yamamoto still seemed baffling as Yamamoto’s best days in-ring were well behind him. It didn’t seem as if Yamamoto could help Jarrett along in his career much at all.
The promotion though understood it’s fan base and it’s own history. More importantly, they knew how to link the two together through a compelling story. Not long after Yamamoto and Jeff Jarrett were paired together other plans began to fall into motion. Yamamoto turned on Jeff (Yamamoto had turned on Jerry in 1974 for a brief feud) and began managing the newly arrived combination of Akio Sato and Tarzan Goto, who entered the area as International tag champions.
Sato and Goto were a pair of fast-moving and talented wrestlers. Jarrett, still green in the ring, though could learn from them as they understood the basics of the ring world. Yamamoto, a fantastic ring psychologist, would manage them and interfere in their behalf at any opportunity he could. Jarrett, in need of a partner, was then paired with the speedy Pat Tanaka. Tanaka had worked a few territories but had been used as TV enhancement talent or low on arena cards wherever he appeared. Tanaka though was impressive and seemingly only needed a break to shine. This would be that chance. In reality, Tanaka was the son of veteran great Duke Keomuka.
The feud then set in for awhile. With the two teams working against each other, almost nightly, they began putting together some good matches. It became evident that the four worked well together and were learning from each other. As the feud continued, other things began creeping into the mix.
With tensions running high, Jarrett and Tanaka had called Yamamoto and his team “yellow”. On TV an angry Yamamoto and his team came out for a Lance Russell interview with a bucket of paint. Yamamoto vowed when he and his charges had their chance they would paint Jeff Jarrett yellow for his comments.
Sato and Goto then wrestled a match. As Yamamoto sat quietly at ringside, Jeff and Tanaka snuck up on him and dumped the bucket of paint on him. Suddenly, the longtime mat veteran looked ridiculous with yellow paint all over him. As Lance Russell and Dave Brown snickered at what had happened and at the visual sight Yamamoto had become, Yamamoto fumed. He and his men would then get their hands on Jeff and Tanaka. Tojo would use a strap and a kendo stick to pulverize Jeff. No one came to stop the attack until authority figure Eddie Marlin rushed out. Marlin though fell victim to a triple-team attack. Finally, Yamamoto, in a breathless voice, called for Jerry Jarrett to come out and show his face as he angrily made threatening moves toward Russell.
Later in the show, a furious Marlin returned and ordered Yamamoto to wrestle him then and there or be fired despite Lance Russell’s pleas to let the matter be solved in other ways. Yamamoto would not show. Later, Yamamoto would return to the set and call out Marlin. Acting out of emotion, Marlin rushed the ring and was met by a handful of salt and was then beat down by Yamamoto, Sato and Goto. Jeff Jarrett and Pat Tanaka would then rescue Marlin.
Yamamoto then came out for an interview with Lance Russell. Russell armed himself with a hammer, leery that Yamamoto might go after him. As Yamamoto would move toward Russell, Lance would tell Yamamoto that he would sue him if he was attacked. Russell then told Yamamoto that during a break from all the mayhem Jerry Jarrett had been contacted and had agreed to a match against the wily Japanese veteran.
The showdown match between Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett would bring a big crowd to Memphis, many because of the hot angle leading to the match and others due to the history involved. Jarrett would injure Yamamoto’s arm in the match. Jerry Jarrett would then team with his son to battle Sato and Goto. Jerry Lawler would also get involved as his feud with Don Bass, Dirty Rhodes and Larry Wright crossed over to include Yamamoto, Sato and Goto.
As the year continued, Jackie Fargo returned to get his shot at Yamamoto as well. Fargo and Yamamoto had feuded off and on during the 1960s until Yamamoto’s face turn. Fargo and Yamamoto then were Jarrett’s most frequent tag partners and often teamed together themselves. In 1974 when Yamamoto turned on Jarrett and put him out of action for a time, Fargo was the one who picked up the gauntlet to go after Yamamoto. As an interesting side note when Jarrett formed his own company in 1977 by splitting from Nick Gulas, Fargo and Yamamoto, two of the area’s biggest stars, chose to stick with Gulas leaving Jarrett to build his new company around Jerry Lawler. The use of Fargo, whose reputation had helped Jerry Jarrett in the 1970s as well as others over the years including The Fabulous Ones, was now a part in getting a young Jeff Jarrett over with the fans in his feud with the legendary Tojo Yamamoto.
The Yamamoto-Jarretts feud would shift away from the principals around November. Jerry Jarrett would retreat again to the sidelines. Jeff Jarrett would then segue into a feud with The Sheepherders, specifically Jonathan Boyd. Yamamoto would continue to manage Sato and Goto who would work brief programs against The Rock n Roll RPMs: Mike Davis & Tommy Lane and Jeff Jarrett & Billy Travis before sliding out of prominent roles in the area. Yamamoto would also serve as manager to The Ninja (who would be revealed to be Tony Burton) as well as The Great Kabuki, who had made a splash on the U.S. scene in the early 1980s. However, with the introduction of Downtown Bruno into the area as manager and with Sato & Goto’s departure, Yamamoto’s role decreased for a time.
For longtime fans a few weeks in the fall of 1986 recalled a lot of memories as Tojo Yamamoto feuded against Jerry Jarrett and Jackie Fargo. As the three veterans were used though they helped get younger talent such as Jeff Jarrett, Pat Tanaka, Paul Diamond, Akio Sato, Tarzan Goto and others over with both longtime and newer fans. It was Yamamoto that was used to propel the other two into the mix. He was also used in great part as the instigator in all sorts of mischief to fan favorites in the area. The payoff, of course, would see Yamamoto get his comeuppance at the hands of his rivals at the end of a run.
It would seem unlikely though that the short, pudgy Yamamoto could be such a terror. Week after week as he stood beside Lance Russell and threatened him in his broken English accent with a kendo stick, Yamamoto, wearing a cheap looking sports jacket and short tie and topped off with a hat resting above his round face, was just the terror the area needed to keep area action interesting as the promotion worked hard to keep their own fan base happy in the midst of a business that had changed enough to threaten the survival and success of the longtime territory.
Bill Dundee and Buddy Landel wreaked havoc early in the year as area fan favorite Jerry Lawler had been sent packing out of the area. Dundee and Landel then went on a rampage terrorizing Dutch Mantel, Austin Idol, Eddie Marlin and Lance Russell. Jerry Jarrett’s son, Jeff, broke into the business as a referee. Dundee and Landel’s attack on Jeff lead to Lawler’s return to team with Mantel and eventually to Jeff’s ring debut. A masked team named Fire and Flame had a healthy run in the summer although they were eventually unmasked as area veterans Don Bass and Roger Smith. The promotion gave a major break to a young talent named Bam Bam Bigelow while area legends Tojo Yamamoto and Stan Frazier were used in effective ways to keep the business running in the area. At year’s end Jerry Lawler was feuding with Tommy Rich. Meanwhile, Austin Idol lurked nearby. 1987 would begin with trouble for the King of Memphis.
“Down Under & Upside Down”…Jerry Lawler has his hands full with Austin Idol and Tommy Rich…Memphis makes some AWA noise…“Coming of Age”…Plus: a look at an interesting mix of characters that made 1987 in the CWA interesting…
Edsel Harrison, Kurt Neilson, Mike Rodgers, Scott Teal, Charles Warburton and David Williamson
Back to Memphis/CWA Main