Jerry Lawler has amazed fans with his legendary career that has spanned over 40 years. With his new DVD, “It’s Good to be the King: The Jerry Lawler story,” released for all to see, we get to relive the glory days of a career that is second to none.
Luckily for us at Crave, the King chatted with us about Memphis wrestling, life in the WWE, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, his favorite person to work with, and more.
The Crazy Good Ol’ Days of Memphis Wrestling
CraveOnline: What do you miss most about the territory days?
Jerry Lawler: Probably the fun of the camaraderie you had with the other wrestlers. You spent a lot more time with those guys than superstars get to these days. The spontaneity of territory wrestling [was] to me a little more fun than it is now. The travel now is brutal even though you’re flying. But back in the territory days, you drove to the town you were wrestling in and then drove home after the matches. There was a lot of fun on the road, a lot of ribs, and a lot of practical jokes.
CraveOnline: You guys did so many crazy and innovative storylines back in Memphis, like the Austin Idol and Tommy Rich head-shaving match. In your opinion, what was the craziest angle you went through with or remember being pitched?
Jerry Lawler: That was one of the reasons, why in the early 90s when ECW came along and sort of invaded the WWE, and I made the comment that ECW stood for Extremely Crappy Wrestling.
To me, it was like these guys just came along and watched all of our old Memphis tapes and went out and did what we did and then called it extreme. We were doing extreme wrestling matches in the Memphis territory before most of these guys were even born — things like the Terry Funk empty arena match or the concession stand battle in Tupelo, Mississippi.
I got ran over in the parking lot by Eddie Gilbert, but back in that day, you were under the pressure of having to put on a live event and not only a live television show every Saturday morning but had to follow it up with a live event every single Monday night in Memphis so there was a lot of pressure to try and come up with something bigger and better every single week.
What we’ve experienced in the WWE, you put on a live television show every Monday night and then doing SmackDown every Thursday night and believe me, a ton of pressure but then you’re looking at a blow-off of a once a month PPV. Down there (Memphis) we had to try and come up with something bigger and better than we did last week and so that’s how all of these wild and crazy matches and stipulations and things happened.
As far as one of the craziest, I think back in those days the ultimate humiliation you could do to your opponent was shave his head and have the stipulation of hair vs. hair. Bill Dundee and I wrestled each other probably 500 times over the years but we had this big rivalry that started out over the championship. I won the championship and then the next week he would win it back from me and the next week I’d do something to win it back from him. So it went beyond the championship to where it got real personal.
He had won the championship, so in order to get another shot I had to put my car at stake — my Cadillac. If I didn’t win it back he was going to get my car. I remember one week after he had won that match, he shows up at the TV studio and drives my Cadillac right into the TV studio so I come out with a baseball bat and bust the windshield of my own car so I said “If I can’t drive it, I’m going to make sure this punk can’t drive it either.”
The following week I won my car back and had to go get my windshield fixed. So finally, we had built this rivalry up to where the blow-off was hair vs. hair.
So we have the big match, I somehow by hook or by crook win, Bill Dundee sits down in the middle of the ring and shaves his head, we have a sellout crowd, turn away people, 12,500 in the Mid-South Coliseum and after that we’re thinking “Man, that’s it. We’ve done it all. What can we do to follow this?” So what do you think we came up with? Bill Dundee’s wife comes out on TV and says “I’m so confident my husband can beat Jerry Lawler, if Jerry Lawler will put his hair at stake, I’ll put my hair at stake in this match.” It was my hair against Bill Dundee’s wife’s hair and we shaved her head [laughs].
We’ve done some crazy things down in Memphis. Of course after that, they’re no longer married anymore and Bill cites that as one of the primary reasons.
CraveOnline: You touched on the Eddie Gilbert thing where he ran you over. Were you terrified? Was there anything you guys wouldn’t have tried back then?
Jerry Lawler: [Laughs] Any time it rains, I still have pain that comes up in my hip.
What happened was when he hit me, I saw the car coming, I knew that if that car hit me going at the speed he was going and I had my feet planted on the ground, it would just knock me down and run over me and I’d probably be dead. I tried to jump up and when I did, one of my feet was off the ground, well, the front of the car hit me. It spun me up and over and then smashed me into the windshield and broke the windshield of the car and then I flipped over top of the car and down on to the pavement. But my right hip hit the windshield and it knocked my hip out of joint, basically, and I had to go to the hospital.
While I’m in the emergency room, all of a sudden here comes the Memphis police. Amazingly one of the Memphis’ precincts was directly across the street from the Channel 5 TV station parking lot he just ran me over in, so all of the fans call the police and see me in the emergency room and say “We just got a call that some guy intentionally ran over you in a parking lot, Eddie Gilbert, should we go arrest him?”
I had to say, “I don’t think he was intentionally trying to do it. I should have gotten out of the way.” It was a pretty serious situation there. They told me later that his brother Doug Gilbert was in the car on the passenger side with Eddie and Doug told me that after they hit me and I bashed in the windshield that they kept driving and Eddie looked over at Doug and said, “Do you think I hurt him?” Doug said, “I think you killed him!” [Laughs]
Working With “Macho Man” Randy Savage
CraveOnline: What were your memories of the Poffo outlaw promotion and do you have any favorite memories from when you worked with Randy Savage?
Jerry Lawler: That was another situation, as you know if you’re from Lexington (KY). Lexington was kind of the headquarters for the Poffos, which of course Randy Savage and his brother, “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, their real last name was Poffo, and their dad Angelo Poffo. They started up their own company. That was just one of the things that happened back in the day.
The established company would call it outlaw wrestling … They would have matches in Lexington and then the following week my company would come and have matches in Lexington. You were kind of in a promotional war and it was kind of like the Monday Night Wars except on a smaller scale. The Poffos, they were kind of underfunded so they were hanging on by a thread there towards the end before they finally just called it quits because they were losing money on a weekly basis and they came to us and said “hey, let’s try to work together a little bit.”
… One of my favorite memories of that is when Randy Savage knew that we were wrestling in Memphis and I would leave my home in Nashville like at noon and drive down to Memphis for the matches that night. One Monday, Randy Savage brought a camera crew down to my house in Nashville and he gets out of his car and they’re filming him and he says, “This is Jerry Lawler’s house. Lawler come out here” and he’s banging on my door and he says, “Look at this. This coward Lawler is afraid to come out and face me.” He’s cutting this big promo knowing that I’m not home, of course. Then they went back and showed it on their television show and made it look like he came down to my house and I was afraid to come out. Then he and Bill Dundee actually crossed paths at a truck stop and they came to blows and got in a fight.
They had to be pulled apart or something there so it was a pretty heated rivalry but finally, because of financial reasons, Randy’s dad came to us and said “Look we can’t continue on so is there a possibility of us working together and having some matches together in co-promotions?” and that wound to me and Randy Savage having a match at Rupp Arena. We sold out Rupp Arena, 23,000 people which, at the time was unheard of, in a Loser Leaves Town match. Right after that was when Randy started in the WWE.
Favorite Person To Work With
CraveOnline: You have been in the business for over 40 years. Was there one guy you liked working with more than the others?
Jerry Lawler: That’s really tough to say. The cool thing about my career is that I started in 1971 and that was at a time when I was just getting started. A lot of the huge names that went back as far as the 40s, 50s, and 60s were just kind of winding up their careers. Guys like Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor, Dick the Bruiser, the original Sheik, BoBo Brazil…all of these guys I got to wrestle.
I had a tag team match against Lou Thesz and Pat O’Connor with the world heavyweight champion ex-boxer as the special referee. I got to wrestle everybody from those names all the way up through Terry Funk, Dory Funk, Harley Race, and all of the NWA champions, Ric Flair, and then moving on up to guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and then John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk, and all these guys until I had a match the night before he started in NXT, I wrestled Kevin Owens in a piledriver match up in New York in a 20 minute long match and the next day he started in NXT.
I’ve ran the gamut in those 40 years in wrestling against about every big name in the business, so it’s real difficult to pick out any one. But I got to say up at the top of the list would have to be Terry Funk. He and I had some wild battles and I was such a fan of Terry Funk. I was a fan of his work in the ring and especially his promos. My gosh, I could sit and listen to Terry Funk talk bad about me all day long. He was great. For Terry Funk to call you an “egg-sucking dog” is just something you never forget.
CraveOnline: In your DVD, you were speaking about your influences. In regards to Jackie Fargo you said “Without Jackie Fargo, there would be no Jerry Lawler.” How big of an influence was he and guys like Bill Dundee and Nick Bockwinkel to you?
Jerry Lawler: It’s hard to explain because one of the great things that I’ve never lost throughout my career is I was a big wrestling fan and I’ve remained a fan. I think that’s why I’ve been so successful doing the commentary all these years is because I’m a fan. I get the best seat in the house every week for the shows.
I sit there and watch these matches and enjoy them as a fan. I try to talk to the fans at home just as if I was sitting in my den at home, watching the show and talking to my buddy that might be sitting on the sofa beside me. That’s my approach. But I’ve been such a fan for so many of these guys. Nick Bockwinkel, oh my gosh, you could not be around Nick Bockwinkel and have matches with him without him influencing you not only just with his tremendous style of work or his tremendous style of wrestling or all of his stuff that over the years and all of these guys I’ve stolen from, basically. Anything I saw them do or was impressed with, I would try to implement that into what I did. Nick Bockwinkel was certainly one of the greatest of all time. Nick Bockwinkel may have been one of the most underrated talents in this business ever. He was just so good at everything he did.
As far as being a fan has caused me to be influenced by some of the best in the business over the years. It’s hard to say just what part rubbed off, but I was never above stealing anything that I thought might work for me.
CraveOnline: You have always been a master on the microphone, whether it be cutting promos or commentating. Were you always a natural? Where did you develop your comedic ability? I was reminded of how hilarious some of your material was while watching your DVD. There was one where you insulted a kid and asked him “If that was his face or did his neck throw up?”
Jerry Lawler: [Laughs] You know what’s great is the WWE network now has all that stuff, all of those old things that are on the network and available on-demand 24 hours a day. It’s so cool. Every single day I’ll have people sending me tweets or messages where they just watched something and they’ll remind me of some funny line or something I said back during the Attitude Era and I’ll either say “Oh my gosh! That’s hilarious” or “How did I get away with saying that stuff during live television back then?”
I actually started my very first venture into broadcasting before I even got into wrestling. I was on the radio. That’s what I thought I really wanted to do other than artwork.
I thought man, I wanted to be on the radio because I met this guy who was a radio superstar back in the day when I was just in high school. His name was Scott Shannon. He came through Memphis and was working for a local radio station here. He went on to become one the top DJs in New York for years and years. While he was here in Memphis, I befriended him by drawing some artwork and winning an art contest he put on about drawing some character on a show. But I got to hang around with Scott and watch him do a show and fell in love with that. I got a job on the radio and that’s really how I got my first wrestling match by telling the promoter “If you’ll let me wrestle for ya, I’ll talk about your wrestling show on my radio show.” So that’s where I think I developed a lot of the communication skills and just the advent stuff of doing live radio back in the day before I even got in the ring.
CraveOnline: Jerry, with you being a legend, what is the best advice you could give to the new guys in the business?
Jerry Lawler: That’s one of the things I’ve had over the years. A lot of people come to me and ask for advice and I always tell them man, it’s so hard for me to try and tell you what will work for you or what you should do because everybody is not only different. Everybody got into the business in a different way and all of their circumstances are so different so it’s hard to give that umbrella type advice.
I always just say, and this is the main thing and I think it’s really worked for me, I don’t know if it works for everyone else but I always just say “Don’t take yourself too serious.” Don’t take anything you do in this business too serious. It’s not life or death. It’s entertainment. Have fun with it. If you do like I’ve done to do something for a living that you have fun at, you’ll feel like in the end you never had to work a day in your life.
Photos courtesy of WWE
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline Sports, a surfing enthusiast, an unhealthy sports fanatic, and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.