Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #27 – Jerry “The King” Lawler

It’s good to be the king.

27. JERRY LAWLER

Real NameJerry Lawler
AliasesThe King
HometownMemphis, Tennessee
Debuted1970
Titles HeldAWA World Heavyweight ; WCWA World Heavyweight (2x); NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight (4x) ; NWA Southern Heavyweight (12x); AWA Southern Heavyweight (30x); USWA Heavyweight (2x); NWA Southern Tag Team (8x – 4 with Jim White, 2 with Tojo Yamamoto, 1 with Plowboy Frazier, 1 with the Scorpion) ; AWA Southern Tag Team (12x – 2 with Georgeous George Jr, 1 with the Mongolian Stomper, 4 with Bill Dundee, 1 with Jos LeDuc, 1 with Austin Idol, 1 with Giant Hillbilly Elmer, 1 with Big Bubba; AWA World Tag Team (2x with Bill Dundee); CWA Heavyweight; CWA International (3x); CWA World Tag Team (with Austin Idol); NWA Mid-America (2x); NWA Tennessee Tag Team (with Jim White); JAPW Heavyweight; MCW Heavyweight; MCW Tag Team (with the Bruiser); MCW Southern Heavyweight(2x); NWA Polynesian Pacific Heavyweight; NWA All-Star Heavyweight; PPW Tag Team (with Bill Dundee); SMW Heavyweight (2x); USWA Heavyweight (2x); USWA Tag Team (5x – 2 with Bill Dundee and 3 with Jeff Jarrett); USWA Texas Heavyweight; USWA Unified World (28x); WCWA Texas Heavyweight; Tri-State Heavyweight
Other AccomplishmentsFirst CWA Heavyweight champion; 1988 CWA Lord of the Ring; First NWA Southern Heavyweight champion; First MCW Southern Heavyweight champion; First USWA Unified World champion; Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year for 1988; Ranked #12 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 Wrestlers of the Year in 1991; Winner of Pro Wrestling Illustrated Feud of the Year for 1992 (with Jeff Jarrett against the Moondogs); Winner of Pro Wrestling Illustrated Feud of the Year for 1993 (against Bret Hart); Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Most Hated Wrestler of the Year for 1993 and 1995; Ranked #23 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 Wrestlers of the PWI Years list; Ranked as #56 of the Top 100 Tag Teams of the PWI Years (with Bill Dundee); Ranked as #78 of the Top 100 Tag Teams of the PWI Years (with Jeff Jarrett); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Feud of the Year for 1987 (against Austin Idol and Tommy Rich); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Feud of the Year for 1992 (with Jeff Jarrett against the Moondogs); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Feud of the Year for 1993 (against Bret Hart); 1996 inductee to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame; 2007 inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame; Appeared in motion picture “Man on the Moon”, which included his feud with comedian Andy Kaufman; Got into a famous confrontation with Kaufman on the David Letterman Show in 1982; Ran for mayor of Memphis in 1999 and came in third

There is one name who personifies Memphis wrestling, and that name is Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Lawler got his start in wrestling at a young age. Lawler, already a talented artist, had drawn pictures of several of the wrestlers on the program and had mailed them in to the station. Lawler was brought onto the show and presented his drawings on the air. The wrestling bug had truly sunk its teeth into him.

In the late 1960’s, Lawler was working as a disk jockey. He came to the attention of local promoter Aubrey Griffith who brokered a deal – he’d give Lawler free training if Lawler would help promote his shows on the air. Lawler agreed.

Lawler made his debut in 1970 as a heel and soon held championship gold as he won a battle royal in September of 1971 to claim the Tri-State Heavyweight title.

In 1974, Lawler attacked his mentor and trainer, Jackie Fargo. On July 27, 1974 Lawler defeated Fargo to capture the NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight title. The belt was soon renamed the NWA Southern Heavyweight title, and Lawler proclaimed himself the King of Memphis after defeating Fargo. Lawler turned face later that year.

By the end of the 1970’s, Lawler had proved himself to be the biggest star in Memphis. This fact was proven when problems arose backstage at the NWA Mid-America company. Jerry Jarrett had grown concerned about Nick Gulas’s excessive push for son George and was considering leaving the company to found his own promotion. When Lawler and other wrestlers agreed to come with him, Jarrett left and the CWA was born.

Despite being sidelined for all of 1980 with a broken leg, the fans’ love for Lawler hadn’t diminished when he returned to the ring in 1981.

Lawler exploded onto the national scene in 1982. At that time, comedian Andy Kaufman would wrestle women as part of his comedy shows. In addition, Kaufman had proclaimed himself the Intergender Champion of the World.

Lawler took offense to this, and in April the two met at in a match at Memphis’s Mid-South Coliseum. Kaufman was reluctant (to say the least) to lock up with Lawler, so Lawler simply bent over and held his hands behind his back to give Kaufman a free headlock. Kaufman tentatively accepted it, then began playing to the fans, who went wild when Lawler hit Kaufman with a suplex that dropped Kaufman on his head. Lawler then picked up Kaufman and hit him with a piledriver. Since the piledriver had been banned, Lawler lost by DQ, however, the crowd didn’t care. Before leaving, Lawler hit Kaufman with a second piledriver. Kaufman was stretchered out and wore a neck brace for several months later.

The feud drew national attention (since Kaufman was well known for his role as Latka on TV’s Taxi), and the two wound up on the David Letterman Show on July 29, 1982. The interview grew heated as Kaufman continued to insult Lawler. Finally Lawler had had enough and calmly stood and slapped Kaufman out of his chair. Kaufman picked himself up, threw his coffee at Lawler, and stormed off the set, cursing the entire way. Letterman simply sat at his desk shuffling his note cards with an uncomfortable look on his face. The Kaufman feud continued for several months as Kaufman allied himself with Lawler foe Jimmy Hart.

Lawler continued to dominate Memphis for the next few years, and returned to the national spotlight in 1988. Lawler’s native CWA and Dallas’s World Class Wrestling Association agreed to join forces with the AWA. This led to a match in Memphis on May 9 when Lawler defeated Curt Hennig for the AWA World Heavyweight title, ending Hennig’s year-long run with the belt. This led to the December 13 Superclash III PPV which was headlined by a title unification match where Lawler put the AWA belt on the line and Kerry Von Erich put up the WCWA world title. Lawler won the match when the referee stopped it due to severe blood loss from Von Erich, thereby unifying the WCWA and AWA world titles.

The alliance didn’t last long. A dispute arose between the AWA and CWA soon arose over the receipts from the show. The CWA pulled out of the alliance (and had already purchased the WCWA). The AWA responded by stripping Lawler of the title on January 20, 1989. The CWA (now known as the USWA) simply ignored the AWA stipulation and continued promoting their title (the physical AWA belt) as the Unified World championship.

1993 was a year of highs and lows for Lawler. Lawler had begun working for the WWF as a wrestler and also hosted his own interview segment called “The King’s Court.” Lawler also began feuding with 1993 King of the Ring winner Bret Hart over who was the true King. However, this Lawler was different from the King that Memphis citizens were used to. Now Lawler was a cowardly heel who would cheat any way he could to ensure a victory.

Later in the year, a feud erupted between the USWA and WWF on USWA television. In Memphis, Lawler was the same heroic babyface the fans loved. However, commentator McMahon had turned into a totally different character. McMahon was now an arrogant character who looked down on the “lower-class” competitors in Memphis. McMahon dispatched WWF competitors such as Tatanka, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, and Randy Savage to the USWA to defeat them in the name of the WWF.

While this was going on, the rest of the nation saw the cowardly Lawler’s feud with Bret Hart continuing. The feud culminated at the 1993 Summerslam, in a match to crown the Undisputed King of Wrestling. Hart won the match but refused to release his sharpshooter which caused the referee to reverse the decision and award the win to Lawler.

Everything came crashing to a halt in November. Lawler found himself indicted on charges of raping a 15 year old girl. McMahon immediately removed Lawler from WWF broadcasts (pulling Lawler from the scheduled Survivor Series match of Bret, Owen, Keith, and Bruce Hart against Lawler and his three knights – Lawler was replaced by Shawn Michaels). In addition, McMahon severed all ties with the USWA.

Soon, however, the girl recanted her testimony and admitted she had made the entire episode up. Lawler returned to the WWF and while the invasion angle was never restarted, the WWF and USWA began exchanging talent again.

While Lawler found himself being phased out of the ring and into the commentary booth in the WWF, he also competed for Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1995. Lawler actually won the SMW Heavyweight title during this timeframe. (He would win the belt again in December of 1995 at a USWA event after Smoky Mountain had closed.)

Lawler also remained active in the USWA until that promotion folded in 1997. By that timeframe, the USWA had morphed from a true territorial promotion to a virtual development territory for the WWF, so many WWF angles and wrestlers began appearing (as seen in Lawler’s battles against the Nation of Domination in the USWA in 1997).

Lawler still remained committed to wrestling in his hometown. Even after the USWA closed, Lawler was a grounding force as a variety of promotions opened and closed. In 1998 Randy Hales opened Power Pro, and Lawler was there. After Power Pro closed, Terry Golden opened Memphis Championship Wrestling and Lawler was there. After MCW closed, Lawler was there for Championship Wrestling. And after Championship Wrestling closed and Corey Macklin opened Memphis Wrestling, Lawler is still there.

In the WWF, however, things were about to change. Lawler’s wife, who competed under the moniker of the Kat, was fired suddenly in February of 2001, months after she and Lawler were married. Lawler took a stand for his wife and walked out with her.

Lawler returned to the indies although a return was teased in July, when a deal was almost reached for both Lawler and his wife to return to the WWF. Lawler would take a position as an announcer for the invading WCW faction. Days before the scheduled return, Lawler was contacted and told that they had changed their minds and the Kat would not be returning to the company. Lawler again stood by his wife and refused to come back.

During this time, Lawler found work competing for the World Wrestling All-Stars promotion as well as announcing Jimmy Hart’s XWF with Tony Schiavone.

Finally, in November, after his marriage to the Kat had ended, Lawler returned to the WWF the day after the Survivor Series. He returned to the commentary table to replace Paul Heyman, who’d been fired after the WCW/ECW Alliance failed to defeat the WWF’s representatives in a Survivor Series match.

Lawler remains with the WWE to this day, still alongside Jim Ross at the Raw commentary table. He also remains active on the independent scene.

As mentioned above, Jerry Lawler rose through the wrestling ranks to become the main star in Memphis, and has kept that position for over two decades. He has well over one hundred title reigns to his credit, possibly making him the top wrestler of all time in regards to the number of title reigns.

Lawler has also defeated almost all of the top names in wrestling, be it Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kerry Von Erich, the Undertaker, Curt Hennig, or the Rock.

Even after the territories began dying, Lawler managed to change his persona to fit into the more cartoonish mid-90’s WWF and did so again to continue to fit in (as a commentator) on the WWE product of today.

Lawler has also moved outside the wrestling business. He has been an actor (in Man on the Moon), a singer (who began releasing singles in the late 1970’s), and an artist. He has also attempted to enter the field of politics and even owned his own furniture store for a time in the late 1980’s in Evansville, Indiana.

For all of his achievements, Lawler has easily proven himself to be one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. The King has definitely earned his spot on this list of the 100 greatest wrestlers of the modern era.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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