In future, this column will be designed to look at series of matches between wrestlers, though due to the helpful way this feud, with angles and the main hair vs hair match, were put together into a collection, it seemed crass not to begin with it. Check out the video below, it was is well worth watching.
Sometimes, all you really want is your shot at the AWA World Title; is that really too much to ask? You’ve beaten The Great Kabuki (albeit by DQ, but hey, you can’t help what that painted freak gets up to in a number one contender match), and now you just need to sit back and wait for your next opportunity to face Nick Bockwinkel. Simple, surely?
Not if you are Jerry Lawler at the end of 1986, it isn’t. But for a few casual words on at the studio in Memphis, Jerry Lawler’s next few months were going to quickly spiral out of control at the hands of Tommy Rich and Austin Idol.
Before a match on CWA’s flagship TV programme, Rich mentioned to Lance Russell that he had been promised a title shot by Eddie Marlin against Nick Bockwinkel. In giving Lawler the opportunity, Rich was going to be pushed to the side – and Lawler had already had several shots against Bockwinkel and lost! At this time, Rich just sounded confused, a little hurt and betrayed. Little did the Memphis audience know the jealousy raging behind theses soft spoken words. They were soon to learn that Rich was willing to do anything to show his disgust for the booking committee’s decision, including taking out the Memphis fan favourite, Jerry Lawler.
Arguably, Jerry Lawler’s interference in an AWA International Title match between Big Bubba and Tommy Rich stoked Rich’s ire even further. Following a ref bump and interference by Downtown Bruno, Lawler tried to rectify this wrong and save Rich, only for the revived referee to award the match to Big Bubba via disqualification. For Rich, turnabout was fairplay, and in a melee towards the end of the Lawler vs Kubuki match later on that night, Rich ‘inadvertently’ hit Lawler with an elbow to the back of the head, leaving him prey for a Kabuki chop and three count. Fans and commentators would pore over the footage; did Rich mean to hit Lawler? Was it just an honest mistake?
One person who didn’t agree with the idea of it being a mistake was The King himself. Turning up next week on Memphis TV, he made clear his desire to get even with Rich. In promising this, it was amazing how quickly things spiralled out of control. From best friends to bitter enemies within weeks, the two men brawled violently through the crowd at the Mid-South Coliseum in a double countout, with fans sent sprawling away from the bloodied bruisers as they battered each other back into the bleachers.
Around this time, another name reared its head in the desire to battle Bockwinkel; Austin Idol. Before Lawler and Bockwinkel fought to a 60-minute draw, Idol openly challenged Lawler, thinking that he too deserved a shot at the AWA World Title. Lawler, unsurprisingly, refused this initial challenge, but would go on to run the gauntlet of Tommy Rich and Austin Idol at a later date. Lawler was always unlikely to enter into one of these matches lightly, and his loss to Rich in the first match was short and sweet – ended by fireball! With Rich down and out, Lawler went to the task of taking on Idol, only for Rich to recover and cause a second DQ by jumping Lawler from behind. With the two blonde bombshells grabbing one leg each, they rammed Lawler violently into the post groin first, putting the King on the shelf.
During his convalescence, Lawler had no choice but to drop his AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship. As if to add insult to injury, Austin Idol one the tournament that followed. Considering this angle begun as Rich vs Lawler, it had quickly degenerated into Lawler vs Idol; Idol the brasher of the two heels, the more outspoken, questioning Lawler’s manhood at every turn. Lawler promised that he would take them down upon his return, and chose to bring back-up to the tune of the four hundred pound Bam Bam Bigelow! A violent No-DQ contest eventually saw retribution gained, as Bigelow and Lawler wrapped Idol in the ropes and posted Rich groin first, leaving Idol’s back-up injured; the ‘Heartthrob’ vulnerable. One issue for Lawler had been resolved. Shutting Idol up for good was next on his list.
Memphis has a reputation of burning through the gimmick matches, and we saw this happen somewhat with the pairing of Idol and Lawler. The men face off first in a ‘reverse lumberjack match’, the idea being that the men are there to stop people interfering as much as to keep the wrestlers in the ring. With his tag team partner injured, we see the involvement of Idol’s manager, Paul E. Dangerly, come to the fore. Following a powder attack on one of the lumberjacks, Dangerly was able to slip a bat to Idol during an altercation with Lawler. One bat shot later, and Idol remained the champion.
With scores still to be settled, they were then booked in a chain match. Admittedly, this had a stroke of ingenuity by Lawler that made a gimmick match this close to the previous one well worth the price of admission. As Idol refused to be chained to Lawler, the ref threatened to strip him of the title. With Idol reluctantly agreeing at the eight count, Lawler was in a position to tie his end of the chain to the ropes, with Idol and the referee none the wiser. The bell rang, Idol realised his mistake too later and ate a chain shot (Lawler had a spare – just in case) to the face for the quick pinfall. Whether a fan who had paid to see blood and violence would have been satisfied with this as an ending, I’m not quite sure, but you do get the feeling that, in Memphis, Lawler could get away with most things.
Up to this point, both men had called each other out on their refusal to sign for a cage match. Finally, Idol went to Marlin and Russell to tell them that he would fight Lawler inside the cage, but only if Lawler’s hair was on the line. If Idol lost, he’d promise to refund the money of all the fans in attendance to the tune of over $50,000 dollars. As a stipulation goes, I did feel that the ‘money if Idol lost’ aspect of the gimmick went a little bit too far into showing the hand of the result, but Idol did enough to play up Lawler’s own success in hair vs hair matches, as well as Lawler’s interview the following week where he spoke about the deep humiliation losing a match like this could cause. Both men certainly did talk their fans into ringside that night.
Memphis has also been accused of being more about the sizzle than the steak, and the fact that I’ve gone this far into this review/recap without really talking about the wrestling says a lot. It did feel like it was the angles that mattered perhaps above match quality, although Lawler could do a lot to an audience with just a clenched fist and by removing his singlet straps. The cage match that followed was indicative of what we’d seen in snippets throughout the feud; a violent, intense, bloody brawl, with limited ‘wrestling’ as a purist might suggest, but a culmination of a feud that needed its exclamation point following the other gimmicks that had been thrown its way.
Unsurprisingly, Lawler had the majority of the early going, with Idol content to stall. Idol gets busted open early after eating some shots to the cage, and it is only when he gets a boot up into Lawler’s midriff that he is able to take control. Both men miss big top rope moves, further highlighting the focus on spectacle and making every ‘spot’ count. As Lawler seemed to have Idol under control, the ref was bumped and the ‘horse and pony show’ that would be required for a Lawler loss was quick to follow. We had two ‘phantom victories’, with Idol down on the mat for longer than a three count at both points. If the referee had been up, Lawler would have won.
Considering the way this feud had panned out, it would be churlish not to expect Tommy Rich to have a say in this defining match, and it is Rich from under the ring who is finally able to help Idol put Lawler away. Lawler is hit with a piledriver from Rich, followed by a (admittedly weak looking) stuffed piledriver, leaving him with little chance of kicking out, even during a slow three count from the groggy referee. To the shock of the crowd in attendance, Jerry Lawler had lost. Further beatdowns in the cage followed; he was eventually forced down into a chair and his hair was shaved off by Rich, Idol and Dangerly. The three men in the middle of cage had humiliated the King of Memphis.
Naturally, this was never going to be the end, and Lawler returned following an absence (the match was Loser Leaves Town, though he returned – masked – the next show, and wrestled in a match at the end of the month) to take on Idol and Rich in a variety of different matches, usually with Bill Dundee in tow. By the end of the year, following a scaffold match victory for Lawler and Dundee, it was Brickhouse Brown who was taking up most of Lawler’s time; Idol and Rich both conspicuous by their absence for the rest of the year.
This was my first introduction to Austin Idol, and I was impressed enough about what I saw. He wasn’t a technical wrestling machine, but he didn’t need to be within this feud. With Rich by his side, you got a legitimate feeling of being cast aside so that Lawler could get the shot at the title that either man had worked hard to deserve. There was righteous indignation, which quickly gave way to callous violence throughout. Idol had to be a man who could get it done of the microphone, and he showed himself to be more than capable.
The world of wrestling according to Memphis is built upon the need for the good guy to be beaten down, abused and humiliated, yet to overcome adversity and rise again. As was the way, Lawler was always going to be the man left standing tall – but, for just one small section of time during 1987, Austin Idol and Tommy Rich had the King under their control. Not many men could truly say that.