Saturday, January 12, 2013

In the Squared Circle - Memphis Style

Back in the days of the old territory system, before the WWE monopolized and homogenized the product of pro wrestling, each territory had its own style. Usually, this style reflected the personality of the primary promoter of the territory. For example, the old AWA territory (the upper midwest), usually featured lots of wrestlers with legitimate amateur backgrounds, since the head of that territory, Verne Gagne, was a great college wrestling at the Univ. of Minnesota. Similarly, Eddie Graham liked guys with good amateur backgrounds in his Florida territory, and throughout his career he was a big supporter of amateur wrestling in the Tampa area.

The wrestling I grew up on, however, was much different. The Memphis territory was known for a wild, bloody, brawling style of wrestling.
I don't know if any of the mainstays of the region had a significant amateur background. But that wasn't required! You could count up the number of amateur style moves in any given match on one hand. What Memphis wrestling was all about was passion - bitter feuds over personal issues created by the amazing storylines crafted by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. You didn't need technical expertise for such wrestling - just tough guys who knew how to elicit a response.

Lots of people today enjoy a style of wrestling called "hardcore," with the use of ridiculous foreign objects, truly dangerous high-risk moves, and gratuitous use of blood. I don't find much about this style very entertaining. It sacrifices the story-telling and performance art true of wrestling at its best for mere exploitation.

Besides, long before the ECW and other independent, hardcore promotions, Memphis wrestling was doing hardcore wrestling. Not the insane, pointless form so popular among certain fans today (who brings a trash can into a wrestling ring?). But a style of story-telling that allowed you to suspend imagination long enough to imagine things like the action spilling out of the ring and into the arena - even into the concession stand.

Here is a clip of the most famous "hardcore" moment in Memphis history, the famous Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl. The hero team of Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee were cheated out of their Southern Tag Team Titles by the evil Blond Bombers (one of whom, Wayne Ferris, became better known several years later as "The Honkey Tong Man"). Upset at the injustice, Lawler and Dundee attacked the Bombers after the bell, and the fight migrated to the concession stand. (I apologize for a couple of curse words announcer Lance Russell uses as he and the camera crew try to get the equipment into position to film). Anyway, enjoy this clip of Memphis action at its finest!

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