Memphis Wrestling History
A visual history of wrestling in Memphis, TN. This book has all the available newspaper clippings for the weekly Memphis wrestling cards as well as the results (for 1970 through 1985). There are over 700 cards & results in this book. As an added bonus, there are also 10 pages of programs (that were sold at the weekly matches.) The book's Foreword was written by former Memphis wrestling manager, Scott Bowden. Hopefully this book will help bring back memories of wrestling from the good old days. If you're new to Memphis wrestling, this book will help you know who beat who, etc. It's a great reference tool for anyone who enjoys old school wrestling.
Head back in time with Memphis clipping book
By JOHN CLAPP - SLAM! Wrestling
In a business in which win-loss records, championship title heritages and attendance figures are often overlooked despite the historical implications and business revelations they provide, Mark James' Memphis Wrestling History: Cards, Matches, Results & Newspaper Clippings Vol. 1 can be considered a valuable resource for any ringside historian or longtime fan.
Spanning thousands of Mid-South Coliseum matches between 1970 and 1985, James' self-published book -- the first in an anticipated three-part series -- is void of any narrative commentary. Rather, as was James' goal, it is a straightforward, week-by-week account of what happened in one of wrestling's most storied territories, as told by the now-defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper.
The idea to publish a book like this came about in 2004, when James realized the history of his home territory was underrepresented in wrestling circles. While there were Web sites dedicated to the St. Louis and Mid-Atlantic territories, James found very little that touched upon Bluff City's rich in-ring background. And, as someone who was raised with an appreciation for wrestling's history, James felt compelled to aid the cause.
"I remember hearing from my grandparents about Danny Hodge crushing apples with his bare hands," James told SLAM! Wrestling. "I wanted to be able to keep that kind of thing going. I wanted to create a book that a person could take and spend hours looking through, reliving memories."
The research and production processes took "months," according to James. He began with Press-Scimitar microfilm found at the University of Memphis library. Although James mentioned the poor quality of some clippings was unavoidable (the microfilm used at the university's library is the same that's used throughout the country, i.e., it's as good as it gets), one of the most time-consuming phases of the book's production was the Photoshop leg. While it took James approximately four to six hours to scan a year's worth of results, it took him between 10 and 12 hours to filter and refilter a year of clippings. Producing the complementary Web site (www.marksfiles.com) was the third and final phase of production.
There are few, if any, territories more deserving of the treatment this book delivers than Memphis. Of course, one of the most persistent and widespread WWE myths is that, prior to Hulk Hogan and Rock 'n' Wrestling, wrestling was confined to small, lifeless, smoke-filled arenas. The Mid-South Coliseum's large, vocal crowds -- including an old woman who James remembers because she would regularly hand off her walking cane for Austin Idol to use -- were proof that regional wrestling wasn't exactly a failed concept. A Coliseum crowd was considered a sellout if attendance broke 11,500, James said.
Whatever degree of credibility is given to the attendance figures must commensurate with the degree given to the Press-Scimitar. In a few instances, attendance numbers are attributed to Jerry Jarrett, and far be it for any fan to put padding crowd figures past a wrestling promoter. Still, even if the numbers may not be exact, they reveal Memphis wrestling's crests and troughs throughout the 16-year period.
A March 1983 card involving Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, the Fantastics, the Rock 'n' Roll Express and Adrian Street drew a lackluster 3,834. But in August 1977, a show featuring two Lawler matches (one against Paul Orndorff, one against Dundee) brought in 11,103 fans.
James pointed out some interesting patterns he found while collecting and scanning the match results. For example, Rocky Johnson and Jimmy Valiant could almost always be counted on to pop the crowds for two or three weeks. On the other hand, masked challengers to Lawler usually drew poorly, James said.
The book will also remind fans of the many familiar faces that found a home, however brief, in Memphis' ever-changing roster (Lawler and Jarrett traded booking duties on a regular basis, which only exacerbated the revolving door talent policy that was already the norm in most territories). Tully Blanchard appeared for one week in the early '80s. Terry Taylor and Jacques Rougeau Jr. each had a cup of coffee in Memphis. Ron Slinker, brought in to be Lawler's karate-skilled foe, enjoyed only a short run on top before being demoted to the lower half of the card.
"Fans didn't buy it," James said of the Lawler - Slinker feud. "We thought, this isn't wrestling." The numbers confirm his assessment. Slinker's karate demonstration is advertised in the promotional clipping for the March 13, 1978 show (no attendance given). He then went on to beat Tommy Gilbert on March 27 (8,125 fans), knock out Lawler in the seventh round of a "special match" on April 3 (7,112 fans) and lose to Lawler in a Southern heavyweight championship match on April 10 (5,096 fans). Slinker and Al Costello lost to Steve Kyle and Gilbert the following week.
A chapter of Memphis Wrestling History that should not get overlooked is the last one, featuring images from Mid-South Coliseum programs. These show-specific programs certainly reflect the times in which they were produced. A fifteen-cent program from 1972 shows a picture of the Masked Interns (scheduled to meet Jarrett and Jackie Fargo), lists "King of Sports" under the "Wrestling" banner, and shows its sponsors to be American Legion Post No. 1 and the Beale Street Elks. A few pages away, however, is the cover of a fifty-cent program from 1977 called "Action Ringside!" that features Lawler's handwriting and artwork (James hopes to include rare caricatures drawn by a heel Lawler that poke fun at ref Jerry Calhoun, and others, in a future volume).
Throughout the territory's long history, though, one thing remained constant: The Memphis fans cared about their wrestling. If the Press-Scimitar did not publish wrestling results one week, James said, there were guaranteed to be letters addressing the oversight in the next issue. James theorizes that the newspaper's editors felt "that wrestling stuff" was beneath them and their high-brow publication. Still, the results appeared way more times than not. "The fans demanded it," James said.
And, should demand for James' book be satisfactory, he would like to publish a second volume covering 1958 or 1960 to 1970 (so as to include Sputnik Monroe's legendary Memphis matches) and a third volume for the years 1986 through 1995.
Memphis Wrestling History: Cards, Matches, Results & Newspaper Clippings Vol. 1 is $21.99 and available at www.lulu.com/memphiswrestling.
Memphis' Sport of Kings
Barbecue? Elvis? Nope.
Memphis is WRESTLING!
By David Perry
When people think of Memphis, they frequently reference the usual cultural touchstones: Elvis Presley, rock ‘n’ roll, the blues, and barbecue. Out of town visitors and tourists all seem to want to eat some ribs, go to Graceland, and then knock back some beers on Beale Street.
There you go, Memphis in a convenient, bite-size package.
However, there is another tradition that is unique to this city, and it has its own storied legacy. Of course, it is the king of sports, pro wrestling.
For years, Memphians have spent money on the local pro wrestling promotion. Jerry Lawler, the resident hero/entrepreneur, has been earning a living in the wrestling game for over thirty years. While its heyday may be long gone, it soldiers on, continuing to stage live shows and a weekly television program. Memphis wrestling has legs.
Mark James is a long-time fan of the Memphis pro wrestling scene, and he decided to do something about it. While the title “Professional Wrestling Historian” is not one that is bandied about very much, it certainly applies to Mr. James and his undertakings. He produces a website, Memphis Wrestling History (www.marksfiles.com) and has published a book of the same title. In these two ventures, Mr. James provides a vivid and thorough history of the legendary grappling scene in Memphis.
He started watching local wrestling on TV back in the 1970’s. With the ‘80s came cable TV, and exposure to other promotions from around the country.
Mr. James states that while St. Louis and Atlanta, for instance, were big wrestling towns, the connection to the local audience was different. In Memphis, live wrestling was staged once a week, every week; while other cities staged live events once or twice a month. In Memphis, the wrestlers actually lived in Memphis, they were seen around town and they were part of the community.
Also, Memphis had no big time professional sports teams like Atlanta and St. Louis. People in those towns could follow pro football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Fans there could follow the exploits of any number of local sports heroes. In Memphis, pro wrestling was the only game in town, and kids like Mr. James followed the local wrestling stars.
So Memphis wrestling built a large and profitable audience. Mr. James estimates that in the glory days, roughly from 1975 - 1982, more than 8,000 people attended live wrestling at the Mid-south Coliseum on Monday nights. That’s 8,000 paying fans a week, fans buying popcorn, beer, hot dogs, soda, programs ... in short, a going concern.
About three years ago, Mr. James began research for his book. He envisioned it as a compendium of photos, cards, matches, results and newspaper clippings detailing years - decades - of Memphis wrestling. While pouring through archives at the University of Memphis, he realized he could also create an interesting website. Now, Volume One of the book is on sale through the site, and Mr. James finds himself the custodian of the real physical history of a significant part of this city’s cultural heritage.
Mr. James has compiled, with a historian’s eye for detail and comprehensiveness, a week by week, year by year record of Memphis wrestling, covering 1962 through 1989. It is possible to get lost for hours in the site, digging through photos, articles, and a robust links page to like-minded websites.
When asked who the five most significant figures in Memphis wrestling history are, Mr. James listed promoter Jerry Jarrett, announcer Lance Russell, wrestler “superstar” Bill Dundee, tag team The Fabulous Ones (Stan Lane and Steve Keirn) and, of course, the ubiquitous Jerry Lawler. Mr. James stated that Jarrett was the inventor of “Ladder” matches; Russell often purposely did not know all of what was going to happen at a TV taping so his delivery could be more authentic, and that the great Memphis wrestlers were showmen who knew how to “sell” a match.
He says that the current brand of wrestling in Memphis holds little appeal for him, although he does still tune in from time to time just to see what’s going on.
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