Jerry Lawler's Memphis foes
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jerry "The King" Lawler became a beloved hero in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., by taking on all comers. On Raw, "King" took exception to CM Punk's remark that he had defeated "a bunch of nobodies in Memphis" and got "into a slap fight with a Hollywood comedian." The WWE Hall of Famer named the Legends he'd beaten in "The River City's" Mid-South Coliseum, but who were those guys? ( WATCH)
If you were the AWA or NWA World Heavyweight Champion, travelling the globe defending your title to prove that you were at that time "Best in the World," it was required that you put the 10,000-seat sold-out Mid-South Coliseum on your itinerary, face Jerry Lawler and hope you escaped with your title. ( MORE "KING")
"Superstar" Billy Graham
WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham reimagined what it meant to be a sports-entertainer. His bleached blond hair, feather boas, tie-dye and chiseled physique made a tremendous impact on greats like Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Hulk Hogan and countless others. Graham claimed to be “the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour.”
In 1972, "Superstar" battled beloved AWA hero Verne Gagne in a series of matchups that took Gagne to the limit and established Graham as a bona fide threat. In 1977, "Superstar" ended ring icon Bruno Sammartino’s WWE Championship reign, and subsequently held the title as a villain for an astonishing 10 months — a record that stands to this day. ( WATCH)
After losing the WWE Championship, all that was left for him to accomplish was to face Jerry "The King" Lawler. Graham traveled from Madison Square Garden to the Mid-South Coliseum, where he won the CWA World Heavyweight Title on Oct. 8, 1979. "King" took exception to Graham's claim over his territory, and the two clashed for the championship in several monumental matchups. Lawler finally defeated "Superstar" for the title on Nov. 12, 1979, and the former WWE Champion was sent packing. – ZACH LINDER
Old hands trade war stories about veteran grappler “Dirty” Dutch Mantell with the reverence and zeal normally reserved for folk heroes, pioneers and Bill Brasky.
Just how tough was the rugged bullwhip-carrying Yosemite Sam lookalike? In 1985, Mantell took then–NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair to the limit in a Steel Cage Match, and a year later, he teamed with Jerry Lawler in a Tag Team Texas Death Match in Memphis, Tenn., that went an astounding 28 falls before the winning fall was counted. Mantell was a regular in "River City," though he also gained notoriety in territories such as Florida, Puerto Rico and WCW. ( WATCH)
Mantell’s lone stint on WWE TV came in the mid-1990s when he managed a rookie Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, who would eventually go on to greater fame as JBL. JBL chose his company wisely: The sagacious Dutchman was instrumental in putting Superstars such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ultimate Warrior and Sting on the map. – JOHN CLAPP
Jack Brisco was a world-class athlete before he donned a pair of wool wrestling tights. Brisco turned down a football scholarship at Oklahoma University to go to rival Oklahoma State University. Brisco was the first Native American to win the NCAA Wrestling Heavyweight Championship, in 1965. Even more amazing was that during his junior year as an OSU Cowboy, the future two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion didn't get taken down once during the entire season. ( WATCH)
The future WWE Hall of Famer proudly defended his title in Memphis, Tenn., against Jerry “The King” Lawler on Sept. 16, 1974. Approximately 15 minutes into the match in which he was being outclassed by the mat mastery of Brisco, it appeared "The King’s" vaunted right hand had knocked out the champion and Lawler scored the pinfall that would finally crown him as NWA World Heavyweight Champion. However, the referee quickly discovered that Lawler had used a chain (nobody ever claimed Lawler the legend was also a saint). The decision was overturned and Lawler was disqualified. – JOEY STYLES
In 1982, Andy Kaufman was one of the most controversial actors in show business, starring as the lovable Latka Gravas on the sitcom “Taxi,” and having appeared on polarizing “Saturday Night Live” segments. But Andy always had been fascinated by the world of professional wrestling, and through an odd turn of events, he ended up entangled in one the industry’s most bitter rivalries with Jerry Lawler. ( READ: KAUFMAN AND "THE KING")
It was much more than just "a slap fight," as CM Punk put it on Raw. After challenging women to wrestle him in his nightclub performances for years, Kaufman took his act to Lawler's hometown. After riling up Memphians by mocking their Southern way of life, Kaufman clashed with Lawler in a notorious match. The despised Hollywood outsider was sent to the hospital after two devastating piledrivers, and Kaufman continued to wear a neckbrace for months.
Their conflict escalated from local Memphis, Tenn., television to a legendary encounter on the July 28 edition of “Late Night with David Letterman,” solidifying its place in not only the annals of wrestling history, but also that of all pop culture. Sports-entertainment had never before featured an actor at Kaufman’s degree of fame so prominently, and his involvement paved the way for celebrities in rings for decades to come. – Z.L.
World-class tough man, seven-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and WWE Hall of Famer, Harley Race was fortunate to survive Memphis, Tenn., after a 60-minute time limit draw with "The King" on Dec. 11, 1977. With the title still around Race's waist and because the champion fulfilled his NWA-mandated obligation to defend the title against Lawler, The King of Memphis wasn’t entitled to a rematch. The man who ironically would go on to become WWE’s “King” Harley Race at the end of his career, steered clear of Jerry “The King” Lawler for the rest of his NWA career. ( WATCH) – J.S.
Though not immediately recognizable to younger members of the WWE Universe, Bill Dundee was a cornerstone of the exciting, unpredictable Memphis, Tenn., wrestling territory throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s. ( WATCH)
The Scottish transplant, who passed through Australia before settling in Tennessee, may best be remembered by national audiences for a brief spell as William Regal’s top hat–wearing, bespectacled manager, “Sir William,” in early '90s WCW. However, his legacy in Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum is that of a short but feisty slugger who was supremely difficult to put away. (Dundee held variations of the Southern Heavyweight Title more than a dozen times.)
Dundee fought against — and teamed with — Jerry “The King” Lawler countless times over three decades, though few of those encounters hold a candle to their Loser-Leaves-Town Match for the AWA Southern Title in 1983. The classic bout saw haymaker after haymaker, and Dundee even plied Lawler’s trademark piledriver against "The King" — a major affront in Memphis. – J.C.
Jesse "The Body" Ventura
A former U.S. Navy underwater demolition specialist and Minnesota governor and WWE Hall of Famer, Jesse “The Body” Ventura can also add main-eventing the Mid-South Coliseum against Jerry Lawler to his list of accolades. ( WATCH)
“The Body” and “The King” had a series of brutal battles that saw Lawler lose the AWA recognized Southern Heavyweight Title to Ventura after being knocked out cold by a chain given to him by manager Jimmy Hart. Lawler would win back the title in his mandated rematch with help from the San Diego Chicken (a story for another time) and Ventura headed back to Minnesota to try and capture the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. – J.S.