Memphis/CWA #20 Page #2

Others making the rounds during this time frame included Nightmare Freddy, Doug Gilbert, Cat Garrett, Bill Dundee, The D.I., Dustin Rhodes, The Dirty White Boy, The Dirty White Girl, Bam Bam Bigelow, Ronnie Gossett, The Fabulous Jackie Fargo, Roughhouse Fargo, Lou Fabiano, Lou Winston, Al Perez, The Zombie, Stan Frazier, Cousin Junior, Gary Albright, Freezer Thompson, Jason, The Undertaker (not the WWF version), Ken Wayne, Mike Davis, Eddie Marlin, Buddy Landell, Vicki Lynn, Donna Shepherd, Jaime Dundee, Boss Winters, Don Harris, Bambi, Peggy Lee Leather, Spike Huber, more.

One of the more unique events of the year saw manager Ronnie Gossett become promoter for a week. Gossett was a riot from week to week as his mouth often matched that of Memphis managing legend Jimmy Hart. His actions as manager rivaled some of the stunts pulled by other managing greats such as Dr. Ken Ramey and Saul Weingeroff including one week where he faked a heart attack. Gossett had constantly complained about the officiating by Jerry Calhoun and Frank Morrell. Gossett had also complained how the promotion had their favorites, namely Jerry Lawler, Jeff Jarrett, Bill Dundee and Dutch Mantel. The brunt of Gossett’s wrath fell on figurehead promoter Eddie Marlin. The feud between Gossett and Marlin escalated to the point where Gossett won the right to sign whatever matches he chose for a week. Gossett’s matches were lopsided in the favor of his cronies placing the favorites of the fans in disadvantageous situations. Over time, the tables were turned on Gossett where Marlin regained his perceived power and forced Gossett’s cronies into unfair match situations. Eventually, Gossett ran afoul of Jeff Jarrett who walloped Gossett in a Memphis match. The stipulation of the match saw Gossett have to be powdered and diapered. 

The King Goes Bad

For close to fifteen years, Jerry Lawler had been the area’s top attraction. He began earning that honor after a successful run with Jim White in a tag team in 1972 and 1973. Lawler then mostly went the singles route with Sam Bass at his side as manager. Into 1974, Lawler began feuding with area legend Jackie Fargo. Fargo, the fan favorite who had once been the area’s lead heel, had his hands full with the brash Lawler. Other important battles in the early part of Lawler’s career saw him battling Robert Fuller, Ron Fuller, Jerry Jarrett, Bob Armstrong and Rocky Johnson.

As the 1970s rolled on, Lawler would eventually become a fan favorite. Lawler first found favor with the fans when he had a falling out with Sam Bass and the team of Al Greene & Phil Hickerson. Lawler though would revert back to his old ways over time to be the area’s top bad guy once again. In 1977, the appearance of Jimmy Valiant, on the heels of a hot Lawler feud against fan favorite Bill Dundee, helped turn Lawler into a fan favorite once again. In the late summer of 1979, Lawler and Dundee became entangled again in a feud over the Southern title and Lawler turned heel once more and added Jimmy Hart as his manager. Lawler’s heel run then was cut short by a broken leg suffered in a football game. When Lawler returned in 1981, the stage had been set for him to return as a fan favorite which he did. From that point until 1989, Lawler had been the area’s number one favorite. The Jerry Lawler many wrestling fans of the 1980s knew was the Jerry Lawler who defended the territory from rulebreakers and bad guys of all sorts. Lawler’s past though was filled with a time when he was the area’s baddest bad man. In 1989 that side of Jerry Lawler reemerged.

The old Jerry Lawler was one of the best heels the area had ever seen. Most heels use cheap heat to draw the ire of the fans by insulting them. Lawler was no stranger at this easy tactic. What separated Lawler from the rest though was Lawler’s smarmy attitude when he delivered the clever putdowns. Most fans understood Lawler was from Memphis so the idea that one of their own felt the way he said he felt toward them was hard to accept. Lawler’s ability to communicate plainly with the fans as a heel transferred to his fan favorite days and is one of the reasons he was so popular also.

Lawler also drew the ire of fans by his in-ring actions. Lawler would stoop to using illegal objects, usually a chain, to level the playing field. He wasn’t above using Sam Bass or later Jimmy Hart as a distraction to help him gain an unfair advantage over an opponent either.

With Jerry Jarrett running an office in Texas it made sense that a proven box office draw like Lawler be given a shot to see if he could draw there. Lawler worked a good bit in Texas in 1988 and 1989. Texas fans had their favorites too, especially Kerry and Kevin Von Erich. With Texas fans cheering longtime favorites Kerry and Kevin Von Erich and with Lawler usually pitted against Kerry, Lawler played the role of a heel in Texas rings. Back in Memphis though Lawler remained a fan favorite. That all began to change in the fall of 1989.

While Lawler had battled Kerry Von Erich and later, Eric Embry, who had become very popular, in Texas rings, his Tennessee outings saw him battle a series of new faces to the area including the Master of Pain. By the fall another newcomer, The Soultaker, had hit the area, and found himself in line to face Lawler. Lawler became embroiled in a feud over the Unified title with The Soultaker. While veteran Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe had brought the Soultaker to the area he could not always be on hand to serve as manager to the behemoth. In real life, Sharpe had turned into one of the most acclaimed trainers of young talent in the business operating The Monster Factory in New Jersey. Sharpe’s commitments there kept him from being more involved in the wrestling scene in Memphis at the time. Nate the Rat, also billed occasionally as Nathaniel Whitlock and, a lower-rung manager in the area the previous few years, then became the Soultaker’s ringside manager. The Soultaker though had problems polishing Lawler off even with Nate’s help. Ronnie Gossett, who had feuded with Lawler since his debut earlier in the area often insinuated himself into the fray as others also did.

The situation escalated until Lawler and the Soultaker squared off in a Memphis lumberjack match. During the match the various lumberjacks fought among themselves. Finally, referee Frank Morrell tried to restore order leaving Lawler vulnerable to an attack from Nate the Rat who popped Lawler with his cane. Despite the interference the match continued and saw Lawler escape certain defeat. As Morrell was once again diverted by the brawling lumberjacks, Dutch Mantel hit the ring, grabbed Nate’s cane and fired a swing at Soultaker. The Soultaker ducked though and Mantel connected with Lawler leading to a Soultaker victory. Lawler was not pleased with Mantel’s errant cane swing because it lead to the Unified title being placed in limbo although Mantel’s intentions were to benefit Lawler. The brouhaha surrounding the match lead to the Unified title being held up and a rematch scheduled.

Lawler and Mantel have a long history together most notably a 1982 feud when the two battled over the Southern title. In 1982, Lawler downed Mantel for the Southern title. In that Memphis match as the referee hit the mat for the three count, Mantel placed his foot on the bottom rope. The referee though didn’t see Mantel’s foot and declared Lawler as new champion. As Lawler took the belt Jimmy Hart, Sweet Brown Sugar & Bobby Eaton hit the ring and attacked Lawler. Mantel saw what was happening but was overcome with frustration from his loss to Lawler so he walked away and let Lawler take a beating. The relationship in 1982 between Lawler and Mantel turned interesting as fans continued to support them both despite several misunderstandings thrown into the mix along the way. Lawler would rescue Mantel from attacks but Mantel would have nothing to do with Lawler. Playing off the themes introduced in that 1982 feud Jerry Lawler began to change in 1989 and Dutch Mantel was the catalyst for that change.

A rematch between Lawler and The Soultaker saw referee Frank Morrell get knocked down. Nate the Rat and The Dirty White Boy, who was feuding with Mantel, then joined in with the Soultaker to triple-team Lawler. Mantel stood all he could and entered the fray to help Lawler. He grabbed Nate’s cane and cleared the ring just in time for referee Morrell to recover and see Mantel holding the cane. Morrell disqualified Lawler for Mantel’s intrusion. Mantel had insinuated himself into Lawler’s match with good intentions again but had cost Lawler the win. Lawler was not pleased.

Another rematch was set between Lawler and the Soultaker. For his rematch against the Soultaker, Lawler instructed he would not tolerate any outside interference on his behalf. He then specifically asked Dutch Mantel not to interfere in the match under any circumstances. This time to avoid all the interference the match was scheduled for a cage. Lawler came away victorious despite Nate the Rat’s attempts to distract referee Jerry Calhoun. After the match the Dirty White Boy entered the cage and another triple-team effort started. Again, Mantel came to the rescue. This time, Lawler escaped the fray, left the cage and in the process left Mantel inside the cage to take a beating at the hands of three of the area’s top heels.

The Jerry Lawler of old began reemerging as the year began to wind down. Lawler began running down Mantel on TV interviews. Not only did he run down Mantel and other fan favorites but Lawler began insulting the fans as well. He briefly re-ignited his longtime on-again off again feud with Bill Dundee. In a match against Dundee, Lawler used a chain and then used the piledriver on the arena floor to get a win over Dundee.

Dundee and Mantel and others began complaining that Lawler had changed and that he was in the wrong dressing room. He was no longer a fan favorite they claimed. Although he seemingly has always had his fans, even in his heel days of the 1970s, many fans were beginning to jeer their longtime favorite Jerry Lawler.

The next week, Lawler teamed with The Soultaker to battle Mantel and the returning Master of Pain. Despite his seemingly new attitude, Lawler, the Soultaker and Nate the Rat were not getting along with each other as they argued before and during the match. As the match progressed, Brian Lee stormed the ring and attacked Mantel. Lawler, apparently not wanting to get involved, left Mantel in the ring to take another pounding. As he began to retreat though Nate began taunting him which lead to Lawler returning to the ring to aid Mantel. Lawler would claim nothing had changed despite the rescue of Mantel. Lawler claimed he helped Mantel only because Nate was needling him not because of any compassion toward Mantel.

Lawler’s heel turn continued as he had run-ins with Dundee, Ricky Morton and Dustin Rhodes as well. As the end of the year neared, an unlikely foe appeared on the horizon for Lawler and one that would help cement Lawler’s turn away from the fans.

King Cobra had worked the area off and on for years. His greatest success came when he held the Mid-America title for about a month in 1982. One day late in 1989 on TV, Lawler, who had joined Dave Brown on commentary began to question Cobra about his use of the word “King”.

Lawler claimed he was the only person who could use that moniker in the area. He even mentioned his 1987 legal battle with the WWF over the use of “king” in the state of Tennessee. The outcome then meant that when Harley Race, then billed as King Harley Race in the WWF, wrestled in the state that he was infringing on a copyright owned by Lawler, who claimed he patented and copyrighted the word “king” in the state. Lawler wondered how Cobra could get away with what Lawler felt was another infringement. The debate lead to a match between Cobra and Lawler that saw Cobra upset Lawler to win the Unified championship.

On the final TV show of 1989 King Cobra, often referred to simply as Cobra, was Unified champion and Jerry Lawler was left vowing to get his title back. The championship rematch seemed imminent or so Lawler thought. As announcer Dave Brown reviewed the next Memphis Mid-South Coliseum show, two names were oddly absent—Cobra and Jerry Lawler. Lawler was confident that even though he had lost the title to Cobra that a rematch would be immediate and that the promotion had made an oversight in not listing the match. When Monday’s card revealed no such rematch Lawler was not pleased and demanded to see matchmaker Eddie Marlin. 

Marlin though stepped away and couldn’t be located. Through Dave Brown, Marlin sent word that no rematch was scheduled between Cobra and Lawler for the next Memphis arena show. Lawler, growing more angry as he saw his chance to regain the title slipping away, then took the show hostage. He refused any matches to take place on the TV show until he could confront Marlin about what he felt was a glaring omission from Monday’s card. Lawler turned over the announcer’s desk and ripped down the CWA banner behind the desk. With a live show to do, Dave Brown kicked the show to breaks or pre-taped segments to keep the show moving despite objections from Lawler. Meantime, Eddie Marlin still was no where to be found.  

As Brown readied another pre-taped segment, Lawler threatened the show producer, Ken Parnell. Lawler then left the set, took a cameraperson with him and went after Parnell. The control booth, located a floor above and overlooking the studio, was then invaded by Lawler who confronted and pushed Parnell as he continued to look for Marlin.  

Finally, Cobra came out for an interview and told the audience he had other plans for his championship reign than giving Lawler an immediate rematch. Citing a thirty day rematch clause, Cobra wanted to spend a month enjoying being champion before hooking up against Lawler again. Lawler then came out to confront Cobra, who refused to give in to Lawler. Eddie Marlin also made his way out and backed up the fact that if Cobra chose to enact the thirty day clause before wrestling Lawler again then that was his privilege as champion. Lawler bargained with Cobra for a title shot. Lawler was willing to put up his crown to get a title shot. He was also willing to put up his rights to the name “King” for a title shot. Cobra would not bite on any offer Lawler made. Finally, Lawler began poor-mouthing Cobra and eventually lured him into an attack setting up a Cobra-Lawler match added to the next Mid-South Coliseum show. The whole TV show scenario reinforced the fact that Jerry Lawler, the most popular star in Memphis wrestling history, was back as a heel.

While many fans were disappointed that Lawler chose to become a villain again, some fans were delighted. While Lawler gave many of the best babyface interviews of all time, his heel persona and interviews were a nice change of pace from the veteran in 1989 and may have very well been an audition of sorts for the WWF and WCW to take notice to what a strong heel he could be when needed. No one gave announcers grief more than Lawler. No one chose someone out of the audience to needle unmercifully than Lawler. No one fired off the sometimes corny but usually fiery zingers like Lawler.

Lawler’s heel turn would also help provide a more continual feel to how he was perceived in Texas as well. With Lawler as a heel there and now in Tennessee, it would be easier to cross over any hot feud Lawler might be involved in Texas to Tennessee. As the promotion shifted away from a promotion vs. promotion feel and into what seemed would likely be a more continuous unit, a strong heel champion would play well in the territory, especially as Jerry Jarrett began melding the two separate promotions and their storylines and angles into one.

As the year wrapped up, Lawler remained the driving force in the area as he had for years. Now though he was the bad boy on the block again. He broke the rules, taunted the fans and made life miserable for the good guys. As he had spent a decade becoming the King of Memphis fans could love he had suddenly turned into the King the fans disliked. The events of the fall of 1989 though made many realize that while Jerry Lawler was good at being the good king he was just as good at being a bad one.

October, November and December 1989

Jerry Lawler continued to hold the Unified World title. In October, Lawler dropped the title to The Soultaker in Memphis. The title switch was not acknowledged on the Texas end of the promotion where Lawler remained billed as champion. Lawler would recapture the title on the Tennessee side and hold it to nearly the end of the year. In late December, King Cobra, referred to as Cobra at Lawler’s request since he owned the rights to the word “King” in Tennessee wrestling, downed Lawler to win the title.

With the name change to USWA the CWA title also went under a name change. The title became known as the USWA Southern title. In an early October tournament in Memphis, The Dirty White Boy got past Dustin Rhodes to win the title. About a month later, Bill Dundee would win the title.

Robert Gibson left the promotion in November voiding his half of the CWA tag titles. In December Gibson’s longtime partner Ricky Morton would team with Todd Morton (billed as cousins, although not related) to win a four team tournament to claim the championships. At year’s end, the Mortons would lose a non-title match to the reigning USWA tag champions, Robert Fuller & Brian Lee. After the match, the CWA tag titles were not mentioned by the promotion again.

The final three months of the year area fans were also treated to appearances by such stars as Wildside: Chris Champion & Mark Starr, Nightmare Freddie, Kevin Dillenger (Alan Martin), Mike Davis, Stan Frazier, Dutch Mantel, Buddy Landell, Jeff Jarrett, The Blackbirds: King Parsons & Brickhouse Brown (eventually managed by Reggie B. Fine), Ken Raper, Tommy Lane, Ken Wayne, The Violater, Kerry Von Erich, Sean Regal, New York Brawler (Lou Fabiano), Frankie Lancaster, The New Fantastics: Bobby & Jackie Fulton, Tracy Smothers, The Masked Blackjack (Tommy Gilbert), Hoss Deaton, Billy Travis, Steve Austin, Rooster Cogburn, The Masked Grappler (Alan Martin), Brian Lee, The Million Dollar Babies: GQ Stratus & Mike Sampson, Boss Winter, Nate the Rat and more.

On September 18, the promotion hosted a Jerry Bryant benefit card in Memphis to help defray costs the area wrestler had accumulated from his three year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bryant had worked area cards dating back into the 1970s and achieved limited success in the area in the Memphis Vice team with Lou Winston. On December 23, Jerry Bryant passed away. Bryant left behind a wife, a son and three daughters. Jerry Bryant was 35 years old.

On the final TV show of the year, Eddie Marlin made a special announcement. Marlin announced that the CWA had merged with the Dallas-based United States Wrestling Association (USWA). Marlin said the merger would see new talent come into the area. Of course unknown to many fans, Jerry Jarrett owned both territories and several of the stars crossed over into the two territories on a fairly regular basis. While the merger was a move toward a more uniform way of operating the two territories as one, to many fans it was an end of an era as the Memphis end would no longer be referred to as CWA but would become part of the USWA.

Ending of Eras

The business of professional wrestling changed greatly again in 1989. In late 1988, Ted Turner purchased the struggling Jim Crockett promotion. By 1989 the plans for that group, World Championship Wrestling, began to formulate. It would lead to the next faze in the business which was a more level national playing field as WCW could, at least on paper, be a creative and financial alternative to the WWF. 

Change was afoot in the Jarrett territory in 1989 as well. In February, veteran announcer Lance Russell left to work for WCW. Russell, who had worked Memphis TV wrestling shows since the late 1950s, is along with Jerry Lawler, Jackie Fargo and Sputnik Monroe the faces and voices most associated with Memphis wrestling. As WCW began expanding, some longtime Crockett employees left for other pastures. Tony Schiavone, who had been a prominent announcer with Crockett, left to work for the WWF. The void created by Schiavone’s departure then was filled when WCW lured Russell away from Memphis.   

Russell’s departure from the Memphis wrestling scene was mentioned prominently in the Memphis press. A Memphis institution was leaving for the big time was how the local press played up the story which no doubt didn’t set well with promotion owners Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. Often when someone left one promotion for another the jilted promotion would cast the departing person in a bad light (called “to bury” in the business). On the TV show though, Dave Brown gave a brief, classy tribute to his longtime partner wishing him well in his new endeavors. Brown then stepped into the lead announcer’s role for the company. While Brown had been with the show since the 1960s, and was very capable at guiding the show, an era ended when Lance Russell left to test his wares in Atlanta for WCW. As Brown ably filled Russell’s shoes, a number of co-hosts sat in the chair beside Dave during the year, most notably Ronnie Gossett and Jerry Lawler.  

Another era ended during the year as the promotion turned lead attraction Jerry Lawler from top babyface to top heel. This era-ending event has been discussed earlier in this article. Lawler’s heel run in 1989 was his first long-term Memphis-area heel run since the one he started in the late summer of 1979 and ended in January 1980 when he broke his leg in a football game. 

On a much greater scale, an era ended at the end of the year when figurehead promoter Eddie Marlin announced the CWA was merging with the  USWA. Of course, Jerry Jarrett was the primary owner of the USWA and along with Lawler owned the CWA so while technically it wasn’t as if the promotion was being turned over into new hands (although syndicator Max Andrews was mentioned as USWA representative) it was played up as a major event worthy of the ending of an era. 

In 1979, the Jarrett promotion began recognizing the CWA title while at the same time also recognizing the other world champions (AWA, NWA, WWF). CWA was then mentioned as standing for Continental Wrestling Association. Thunderbolt Patterson came into the area in the spring billed as CWA champion. Patterson left the area and the promotion did not use the title for a time. Later in the year though the title was revived and would pass through a number of hands, including those of former WWWF champion Superstar Billy Graham, before settling with Jerry Lawler. The promotion also announced that Jarrett’s one time boss and one time rival, Nick Gulas was CWA President. 

The promotion continued to recognize the title for a few more years. Most notably, British superstar Billy Robinson held the title most frequently. By 1981 though the CWA title was dropped. The CWA returned in 1983. This time, and until the merger with the USWA in 1989, CWA stood for Championship Wrestling Association. 

In 1988 as Jerry Jarrett purchased the World Class promotion from Ken Mantell and the Von Erich family, he had to determine what to do with what he had. What he had with World Class was a promotion that had struggled through the national WWF expansion and also through the self-destructive tendencies of the Von Erich sons. The promotion still had a fairly solid base of syndicated TV stations and had a weekly Friday night home in one of pro wrestling’s most famed arenas, the Dallas Sportatorium. While merging the two groups then into a larger territory was an option, Jarrett decided to keep his two groups separate for the most part. 

By the beginning of 1989, after the SuperBrawl III pay-per-view, Jarrett was able to place more focus on the World Class promotion. During the course of the year, Jarrett’s concept of what he wanted to do with the Dallas promotion began to form. 

At the start of 1989 the base of wrestlers Jarrett used on the Texas end included such stars as one time Fabulous Freebird and Hollywood Blonde Buddy Roberts, Fatu & Samu: The Samoan Swat Team, Jimmy Jack Funk, Super Black Ninja, Iceman Parsons, Brickhouse Brown, Al Perez, Scott Braddock, Bam Bam Bigelow, Gary Young, Cactus Jack Manson, Eric Embry, Chris Adams, Steve & Shaun Simpson and Kevin & Kerry Von Erich. Much of this talent was supplemented by appearances from top attractions Jerry Lawler (as a loudmouth heel), Robert Fuller & Jimmy Golden and Jeff Jarrett from the Memphis end. Jarrett would work Texas a great deal during the year often teaming with veteran Matt Borne. Texas legends Mil Mascaras and Chavo Guerrero made limited appearances from time to time as well. 

Ted Turner’s purchase of the Jim Crockett promotion in 1988 allowed that promotion to sign up some of the talent Jarrett had at his disposal. The Samoan Swat Team and Keiji Mutoh, who wrestled as Super Black Ninja, were signed away with Mutoh becoming an instant success as The Great Muta. By the end of the year, Cactus Jack Manson, a brawler who was gaining a cult following among hardcore fans, would leave to briefly work the dying Continental promotion in Alabama before getting a shot with WCW as well. 

Despite the losses of these potential valuable talents, Jarrett still had some strong talent to work with, namely the still popular Von Erichs. Unfortunately, Kevin often no-showed scheduled appearances and Kerry was good one week and horrible the next. So while the Von Erich name still held some magic in the area it was hardly enough to live down the reality of the unreliability and unpredictability of what had become of one of wrestling’s potential dynasties. 

Eric Embry, a journeyman wrestler, who never signed on with the WWF or Jim Crockett during the national expansion, would become the most popular star on the Texas end by mid-year. Embry worked early in his career for Nick Gulas after training under Norvell Austin. Embry would bounce around the territories gaining some fame in the northwest and Florida. In Texas though, under the banner of Southwest Championship Wrestling, Embry turned a lot of heads in the early 1980s. The Southwest promotion became known for wild, bloody action featuring such stars as Bobby Jaggers and The Sheepherders. Embry would also gain notoriety there. Embry’s rise to the top spot in Texas in 1988 and into 1989 coincided with his ascension to booker of the territory for Jarrett. 

Embry built a story around himself and manager Skandor Akbar. Embry and Akbar began feuding in 1988 in the area. By 1989, Akbar had also run afoul of Percy Pringle (William Moody, later to gain fame as Paul Bearer) so Pringle would wind up siding with Embry. Embry would eventually lose a loser-leaves-town match against Akbar’s man, Gary Young. Embry would return to ask figurehead promoter Frank Dusek for a job as a referee. Dusek agreed to add Embry as a referee after another referee, Harold Harris, went down to an injury (Harris would resurface later as a manager to Iceman Parsons & Brickhouse Brown, a team billed as The Blackbirds). The referee’s gig allowed Embry to continue his feud against Akbar from a different angle and also allowed Akbar to turn his fury toward Dusek for his part in bringing Embry back into the promotion. As this began to unfold, Pringle began a petition drive with the fans to bring Embry back as a wrestler. 

The petition drive worked and Embry returned to down Young in another loser-leaves-town match. Young would return as The Super Zodiac as the feud raced on toward the summer. The stories twisted and turned from week to week just like a soap opera. Dusek would suspend Akbar for life but Dusek would be fired and his decision firing Akbar would be overturned since his “firing” occurred before his decision to suspend Akbar leaving the troublemaking Akbar active as a manager. Embry remained in the crosshairs of Akbar though.  Akbar then associated himself with Tojo Yamamoto and Yamamoto’s new charge, P.Y. Chu Hi, Phil Hickerson doing an Oriental hitman gimmick. (P.Y. Chu Hi was also a name Yamamoto had used earlier in his wrestling career.) Yamamoto would be portrayed as a stockholder of World Class wrestling, which when he cozied up with Akbar naturally made him a heel.  

Eventually, it came down to Embry battling Chu Hi in a match on August 4, 1989 at the famed Dallas Sportatorium. The match, more than a decade before the McMahons fought over control of the WWF and WCW in a similarly styled feud, would see either Chu Hi win and Yamamoto and Akbar gain control of the company or Embry win and see Dusek and representative Max Andrews (Andrews was actually the syndicator of the TV show) gain the company. Embry, coming back to action after several weeks layoff due to injuries, part of the drama that only added more suspense to the story, won the match and thwarted Akbar’s takeover attempt. In a symbolic move, after the match Embry made his way around the Sportatorium and tore down the World Class banners off the walls. What had been World Class for years would now be known as The United States Wrestling Association or USWA for short. One era had ended and another had begun. 

The USWA would see interesting events in the area after the name change. Kerry Von Erich would wind up feuding with Tarras Bulba in his first major extended feud in the area outside of his continual feud against Jerry Lawler. Billy Travis, who had worked the Tennessee end of the territory for a few years mostly as an apple-pie-eating, card-carrying good guy, turned heel, changed his name to Billy Joe Travis, began crooning some, and then started plunking opponents over the head with a guitar. Gentleman Chris Adams, one of Texas’ favorite stars from the mid 1980s on, began being accompanied to the ring by his real life wife, Toni. Chris and Toni would feud with P.Y. Chu Hi and Tojo Yamamoto. Adams, who not only wrestled but also trained prospective grapplers, introduced Steve Williams, toward the end of the year. Williams, of course, would later change his name to Steve Austin and over time would become one of the biggest box office attractions in wrestling history. Memphis veterans such as Bill Dundee, Uncle Elmer & Cousin Junior and Buddy Landell worked the Texas end from time to time. The promotion also for a brief time retained the services of Texas legend Terry Gordy, who had become a superstar for his ring performances in Japan. Journeymen wrestlers Ron Starr and Tony Falk worked for the group while fresh talent such as Dustin Rhodes and Mark Calloway, billed here as The Punisher, often worked shows in Texas. 

Crowds in the World Class homebase of Dallas had slipped during the 1980s as they had in Memphis. The national expansion and overexposure of wrestling in general no doubt hurt. The fact that many of the cards featured many of the same old faces over and over also hurt crowds, as many fans have to have someone new or something new often to keep their interest in the product alive. 1989 though, with Lawler working as the most effective heel in the area in years and with Embry’s war against Akbar, saw the crowds pick up overall. Some life had been breathed back into the wrestling business in Texas. 

Crowds on the Tennessee end picked up in the summer due to a brief feud pitting Lawler against Bam Bam Bigelow. Paired with the appearance of Freddy, the young team Wildside: Mark Starr & Chris Champion, the face turn of Dutch Mantel and the antics of Ronnie Gossett, things looked brighter than they had in awhile in the area. The late summer into fall saw Mantel lose a loser-leaves-town match and return as Texas Dirt, Gossett’s antics became more outlandish while young, yet untested, talent like the Soultaker, stepped into prominent roles with the company. Veterans Robert Gibson & Ricky Morton proved their worth by working steadily as the Rock n Roll Express while the promotion, long a tag team capital, continued to push Wildside and brought The Blackbirds: Iceman Parsons & Brickhouse Brown into the mix. Jeff Jarrett split his time between Texas and Tennessee while Bill Dundee still proved magical to area fans. Near the end of the year, Chris Champion fell into a feud with The Dirty White Boy which included The Dirty White Girl.  

The area was still producing compelling action week to week. While Lawler and Dundee and others had been able to draw well over the years dating back to the mid-1970s, the national exposure wrestling was receiving actually hurt smaller promotions such as the ones Jarrett operated. While they often provided the most entertaining action in the U.S., they were perceived as much less than what they were by some fans. Other wrestling fans were faddish in that they only saw the WWF as worthy of their attention further hurting those without the same amount of exposure. Of course, the overall effect would be felt at the box office. While the promotion would still see good days business-wise, they would more often than not see much harder times than they had in a long time. 

The fans that remained loyal to the CWA were told the merger would enable more stars to compete in the area. It was the dawning of a bright new day. Upon closer examination though one couldn’t help but wonder what the move really meant. The merger did seem to break down the wall more between the two promotions. Feuds could be exchanged back and forth. Wrestlers could flow more freely between the two areas without serious continuity issues arising. If Jarrett though was serious about merging would he need all he had? Would he continue to run weekly cards in the cities he had for years? If his syndicated TV network remained strong would he branch out into new markets for house shows at the expense of leaving behind some of his tried and tested, although struggling, cities? What about the TV show? He was producing a show out of the Dallas Sportatorium weekly as well as one weekly out of the WMC studios in Memphis. Did he need both? Wouldn’t cutting one of the shows be cost effective in the short term? If he didn’t need both, which one would get cut considering the history and success both shows experienced? 

The next few months would be telling on what would happen in one of pro wrestling most successful territories. Jerry Lawler had turned bad, Lance Russell had left and Jerry Jarrett seemed on the verge of melding the Texas promotion with the Tennessee promotion. Wrestling in the territory had changed and was still changing. An era had ended and a new one was beginning.  


Wrestling in the Memphis territory continued in 1989 but saw plenty of changes. Legendary announcer Lance Russell left to work for WCW. Jerry Lawler turned into a bad guy after being the area’s favorite for a decade. At year’s end, the CWA merged with the USWA, in reality the Texas end of Jerry Jarrett’s company. The merger closed the book on the company that Jerry Jarrett formed in 1977 after a promotional split with Nick Gulas. Wrestling would continue in the area but the aftermath of all the changes, some propelled by the national exposure lead by the WWF in 1984, would be felt for years. 



Special Thanks

Edsel Harrison, Mike Rodgers, Scott Teal, Charles Warburton and David Williamson.

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