One Year in Memphis – Wrapping up 1986

And that wraps up 1986.

After finishing off Big Bubba, Jerry Lawler had another feud waiting on the horizon – one with the returning Austin Idol and Tommy Rich. Lawler would remain on top for the rest of the CWA (later USWA)’s run, and by some accounts this would cause problems in the 1990’s as the USWA ran the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights while Lawler was away broadcasting Raw.

We also saw the beginning of Jeff Jarrett’s career. Jarrett’s strong push showed one of the trademarks of the territories. Top performers were traditionally promoters or the promoter’s family members. Look at the Von Erichs in WCCW, Mike Graham in Florida, or even Larry Zbyszko (Verne’s son-in-law) in the latter days of the AWA. The CWA had both bases covered. Lawler was one of the company’s owners, and Jeff was Jerry Jarrett’s son. Had the territory system endured longer, Jeff (as well as Brian Christopher) would have doubtless been the company’s top stars. But Vince McMahon came calling, and that changed everything.

1986 also gained notice from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter as Lance Russell earned his third consecutive Announcer of the Year award and Bam Bam Bigelow claimed Rookie of the Year. In addition to that, Bigelow was the first runner-up for the PWI Rookie of the Year award.

However, we did see some flaws in the company. The tag team division lacked the stability that the singles had. Although Sato and Goto and the MOD Squad took care of the heel side for most of the year, the company kept trying to recreate the Fabulous Ones on the face side and one by one the experiments fizzled – the Fantastics left the area, and the Beach Boys and Excitement, Inc. split while the Rock n Roll RPMs turned heel.

The company also suffered as its top heels (Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, and Buddy Landel) turned face (except for Dundee) and left the area in the middle of the year. The remainder of the year saw the tried-and-true formula of Lawler vs. a monster as the King battled Bam Bam Bigelow and Big Bubba.

Another misstep featured Bubba Monroe. To be honest, Monroe was still a little green to have a featured slot in Memphis. However, it is confusing to think that the bookers would take the son of a beloved legend like Sputnik Monroe and try to use him as a heel.

Before we leave, let’s take a look at what happened to some of the wrestlers that we’ve seen this year:

Akio Sato – After leaving the Memphis territory, Sato had a stop in the AWA before arriving in the WWF in 1990 where he was teamed with Pat Tanaka as the Orient Express. Sato’s final WWF run occurred as Shinja, the manager of Hakushi. Sato is now retired from the ring and lives in Kansas City.

The Animals – Mike McGuirk – Duke Myers had already had a run in Memphis as Jimmy Hart’s Colossus of Death before he returned as one of the Animals. Myers is best known for his run in Stampede Wrestling. Following the Stampede sale to Vince McMahon, Myers began slowing down and finally retired. Today Myers lives in Oregon.

Austin Idol – Austin Idol continued to float around the territories until retiring in the mid 1990’s in order to pursue a career in real estate. Idol recently returned to the wrestling scene with his website – Idol is currently working to publish a biography and has also announced his intentions to run for mayor of Tampa in 2011.

Bam Bam Bigelow – Bigelow signed with the WWF in 1987. He spent the years until 2000 floating between the WWF, WCW, and ECW. Bigelow passed away on January 19, 2007.

Beach Boys – As the 1980’s wound down John Stewart made his way to the AWA after a stop in Dick the Bruiser’s WWA, where he assumed the persona of spoiled California brat Jonnie Stewart. He battled Buck Zumhofe for the Light Heavyweight title until the company closed. He is currently affiliated with Dale Gagne’s Superstars of Wrestling promotion.

Big Bubba – After leaving Memphis, Bubba headed to Florida where he wrestled as US Steel, then (after legal action was threatened by the corporation US Steel) changed his name to Big Steelman. 1989 saw Bubba’s big shot as he signed with the WWF and debuted in 1990 as Tugboat. A year later he turned heel, changed his name to Typhoon, and joined forces with Earthquake as the Natural Disasters. In 1993 he jumped to WCW, where he debuted as the infamous Shockmaster. 1994 saw Typhoon return to the WWF for a short run. Bubba retired from the ring in 2001. He currently lives in Florida and works as a safety manager for a waterblasting company.

Big Red – Big Red (real name Jerry Reese) retired from professional wrestling in 1991 and became a preacher in the Atlanta area. Reese passed away on March 17, 2002.

Bill Dundee – Although Dundee left the area from time to time, he proved himself a Memphis mainstay who always returned. Today he is still involved in promoting wrestling shows.

Billy Spears – Billy Spears passed away in November of 2004.

Billy Travis – Billy Travis also became a Memphis mainstay, especially after he transformed himself into the obnoxious Billy Joe Travis, a wannabe country singer. Travis began touring in Puerto Rico in the early 1990’s, but always came back to Memphis. Travis passed away on November 23, 2002.

Blade Runners – The Blade Runners left Memphis and headed to Bill Watts’s Universal Wrestling Federation. Jim Hellwig soon left and headed to Texas, where he became known as the Dingo Warrior. From there, it didn’t take long for him to be signed by the WWF under the name he’s best known for today – the Ultimate Warrior. Borden remained in Watts’s territory until it was sold to Jim Crockett’s branch of the NWA, where he continued working under the name he is best known as today – Sting. Sting most recently competed in TNA while the Warrior has retired from pro wrestling.

Bruise Brothers – After leaving the Memphis territory, Porkchop Cash headed to the NWA Central States promotion. He joined forces with Ken Timbs and battled Rick McCord and Brad Batten for the tag team titles. While there, Cash also served as a manager. Today Cash is retired from the ring although he still competes on occasional indy shows.

Bubba Monroe – Today Bubba Monroe is the head trainer for the Too Bad School of Professional Wrestling in Pineville, LA.

Buddy Landel – After leaving the Memphis area, Landel headed to Alabama. Landel spent 1990 and part of 1991 in the NWA branch that became WCW. After a short stay in the Global Wrestling Federation, Landel headed to Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1994 and had a quick run in the WWF from 1995-1996. Landel’s retirement match took place on August 11, 2001 when he faced Tommy Rich. His website can be found at

Buddy Wayne – The father of Nightmare Ken Wayne was a Memphis mainstay. Although he is now retired from the ring, he is credited with training Figure Four Weekly’s Bryan Alvarez in professional wrestling.

Cousin Junior – Lanny Kean had left the WWF before returning to Memphis as Cousin Junior. His next gimmick was the one that may be the best remembered – Moondog Cujo. Kean also wrestled in the USWA during the 1990’s as Big Daddy Cyrus and Bloody Ox Brody. Kean passed away on January 13, 2009 of a heart attack.

Danny Fargo – After leaving Memphis, Fargo tagged with Ken Timbs as the Fabulous Fargos in the World Organization of Wrestling. Fargo purchased the Mountain Wrestling Association in 1995 but sold it three years later. He started the Universal Wrestling Alliance in 1999 and it closed in 2001. Fargo retired from wrestling in 2001 and passed away of cancer on December 26, 2003.

Dave Brown – Although Dave Brown no longer calls wrestling action, he remains with the USWA’s home in Memphis – channel 5 WMC-TV – as their chief meteorologist.

David Haskins – Haskins left Memphis by 1988 and joined Robert Fuller’s promotion in Knoxville, where he tagged with Johnny Rich as the Party Patrol. He and Rich also tagged in Smoky Mountain as the Rich Brothers (with Haskins named Davey Rich). Haskins currently lives in Nevada and still wrestles occasionally.

Debbie Combs – Combs remained in her home territory of Kansas City which withdrew from the NWA in 1987, which saw Combs stripped of her NWA Women’s World title. She also appeared for the WWF and AWA during the late 1980’s. Combs returned to Memphis several times in the 1990’s and also made brief appearances for both the WWF and WCW. Combs also served for a time as president and booker of Women’s Professional Wrestling (WPW).

Dennis Coralluzzo – Coralluzzo was actually much more than just someone supporting Bill Dundee in his court case to keep Lawler from selling his video. Coralluzzo was a promoter in New Jersey who was affiliated with Larry Sharpe’s Monster Factory. From 1993-1995, Coralluzzo was one of the “co-presidents” of the National Wrestling Alliance (as well as being on hand for the infamous tournament where Shane Douglas won and threw down the NWA world title). He also appeared on the WWF’s Raw in 2998, when he and NWA President Howard Brody presented Jeff Jarrett with the NWA North American title. Coralluzzo passed away in 2001.

Dennis Hall – Today Dennis Hall is retired from wrestling and is married to Dolly Parker.

Despina Montagas – Montagas would also make brief appearances in the AWA as well as her NWA title challenges. During the 1980’s she married fellow wrestler Tarzan Goto.

Don Bass – Don Bass continues to wrestle on the independent scene (primarily in Tennessee) today.

Downtown Bruno – Bruno worked in southern promotions until 1991, when Sid helped bring him into the WWF. Now known as Harvey Wippleman, he managed such wrestlers as Sid, Kamala, Giant Gonzales, and girlfriend Bertha Faye. Bruno continued to work backstage but returned onscreen when he (under the moniker Hervina) defeated The Kat to win the WWF Women’s championship (which he promptly lost the next night to Jacqueline). Today Bruno continues to work for the WWE and also appears for Memphis Wrestling. Bruno’s homepage can be found at and he has also released a biography through Crowbar Press titled “Wrestling with the Truth.”

Dutch Mantell – Mantell headed to WCW in 1990, first as a commentator, and then as a wrestler. In 1991 Mantell left WCW and headed to Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, where he remained until 1994. He then headed to Puerto Rico, where he later joined the writing team for the IWA promotion. In 2002 Mantell won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Booker of the Year award. Mantell returned to the US in 2003 when he joined the booking committee of TNA Wrestling. After being released from TNA in July of 2009, Mantell recently became affiliated with Nashville’s Showtime All-Star Wrestling. Mantell’s website is located at and he has also recently released a book about his career titled “The World According to Dutch.”

Eddie Marlin – Although retired from the ring, Marlin still makes occasional appearances on special occasions such as 2001’s Clash of the Legends in Memphis. As of 2006, it is reported that he was living in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Fantastics – After leaving Memphis, the Fantastics headed first to Texas where they feuded with the Rock N Roll RPM’s and then to Atlanta, where they began feuding with Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express. The team split in 1989 as Rogers headed to Japan while Bobby Fulton enlisted his brother Tommy and they competed as the Fantastics in the AWA. When Rogers returned, Fulton would team with either man under the name of the Fantastics. After a run in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Rogers and Fulton competed against each other on Raw in 1997 as the light heavyweight division was started. Rogers headed to ECW in 1998 and even tagged with Jerry Lynn for a time while also working as a road agent. Fulton became a preacher in 2003. The Fantastics still make occasional tag team appearances.

Frank Morrell – Morrell continued working as a referee for the USWA into the mid-1990s.

Giant Hillbilly – Stan Frazier remained in Memphis for several years. He passed away of kidney failure on June 30, 1992. A tribute website to Frazier can be found at

The Great Kabuki – Kabuki continued to wrestle in the United States until 1990, when he returned to Japan and joined All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he won the Double Cup tag team titles with Jumbo Tsuruta. Only a couple of weeks after the win, however, Kabuki left the company to join Super World of Sports before later helping found IWA-Japan. Kabuki competed in the 1994 Royal Rumble – his only WWF match. Kabuki’s retirement match took place on September 7, 1998 as he, Terry Funk, and Doug Gilbert defeated Freddy Kruger, Leatherface, and Metalface.

Gypsy Joe – Gypsy Joe gained infamy for a brutal 2003 match between himself and New Jack. Today at the age of 76 he continues to wrestle regularly for Tullahoma, Tennessee’s Southern Wrestling Federation.

JD Costello – Costello is currently affiliated with NWA Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. NWA Charlotte shows can be viewed online at

Jeff Jarrett – Jarrett signed with the WWF in 1993 as Double J, a country singer. He spent the rest of the decade jumping back and forth from WCW to the WWF, finally landing in WCW in 1999 where he received a world title push. After the WCW buyout, Jarrett worked for Australia’s World Wrestling All-Stars and, in 2002, opened TNA Wrestling. Jarrett went on to become a six-time NWA World Heavyweight champion. Today he is still affiliated with TNA.

Jerry Jarrett – Jerry Jarrett began stepping back from wrestling in the 1990’s. He sold his share of the USWA to Jerry Lawler in the mid-1990’s and his focus turned primarily to his construction business, although he also worked in an advisor capacity to WCW. In 2002 Jerry and his son Jeff founded TNA Wrestling. Jerry has since parted ways with TNA and left the wrestling scene. He currently resides in Tennessee, where he recently began working with Nashville’s Showtime All-Star Wrestling.

Jerry Lawler – Jerry Lawler signed with the WWF in 1992. He soon found himself making his way more and more to the commentator’s table while wrestling less and less. Lawler left the WWF in 2001 to support his then-wife known as the Kat, who was being released. Following their divorce, Lawler returned to the WWF in November of 2001. Today Lawler remains at commentary on WWE Raw and also works on the independent scene – primarily in his beloved hometown of Memphis. Lawler was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.

Jet Star – Star began walking away from wrestling in 1988 following his friend Dave McKigney’s death in an automobile accident that also took the lives of Pat Kelly and Adrian Adonis. Today Star operates a body shop in his native Canada. He still wrestles occasionally on the independent scene.

John Paul – John Paul remained in the Memphis area for some time as a tag team specialist. His partners included Tracy Smothers and Ricky Rice.

Jonathan Boyd – Jonathan Boyd left Memphis in 1987 and moved to Portland. He defeated Rex King in his retirement match on Christmas night, 1989. Boyd passed away of a heart attack on August 7, 1999.

Jos LeDuc – LeDuc signed a WWF deal in 1988, where he competed under the name of the Headbanger. By the middle of the year he left and headed to Japan in 1989. LeDuc appeared in No Holds Barred and retired from the ring after his Japan tour. His final match was on June 10, 1995 when he and Phil Hickerson lost a tag team match to Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Valiant. LeDuc passed away on May 1, 1999 of a lung infection.

JT Southern – Southern got his big break when he signed with WCW in 1992. That summer he was released and headed to Japan, where he began competing for UWFI. After a four match losing streak, Southern left Japan and wrestling behind. Today Southern is well-known in the bike racing world. He is a contributor to VMX magazine and runs a garage in Nashville.

Koko Ware – 1986 saw Koko sign with the WWF, where he became known as the Birdman, Koko B. Ware. Koko retired from the ring in 1995, although he still makes occasional appearances for Memphis Wrestling. On April 4, 2009 Koko was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Lance Russell – In 1989 Lance Russell signed a contract with WCW, where he soon began covering shows with Bob Caudle as his broadcast partner. After leaving WCW, Russell returned to Memphis, where he still occasionally appears on Memphis Wrestling broadcasts. Russell’s website can be found at .

Larry “Thunderbolt” Hamilton – Larry Hamilton was promoting shows under the Pan-American Championship Wrestling and World Wide Wrestling banners in Jacksonville in the late 1990’s.

Larry Sharpe – Larry Sharpe retired from the ring in 1991, although he continues to operate his training facility, the Monster Factory in New Jersey which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The school’s website is .

Man Mountain Link – By the end of the 1990’s, Man Mountain was competing as “The Beastmaster” Rick Link and touring promotions along the Atlantic coast. Link lives in North Carolina today and still appears on the occasional indy show.

Memphis Vice – Jerry Bryant was forced to retire from the ring in 1987 after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Bryant passed away in December of 1989. Today Big Lou Winston owns a security company in Memphis.

Mike Jackson – Mike Jackson still promotes shows in the Alabama area. On May 9, 2009 Southeastern Wrestling held a retirement ceremony for him that apparently degenerated into a riot when Jackson was attacked. Jackson also still wrestles today for the Peachstate Wrestling Alliance.

MOD Squad – After leaving Memphis, Spike and Basher headed to Florida Championship Wrestling, where they were managed by Bill Dundee. They retired in 1992.

Nightmares – Ken Wayne still occasionally competes on the indy scene and currently runs a wrestling school in West Memphis, Arkansas. His personal website is . Danny Davis retired from the ring in 1997 and opened Ohio Valley Wrestling, which served as a WWF development territory from 2000-2008. Davis still owns OVW today.

Pat Rose – Pat Rose retired from wrestling in April of 1994 after suffering a neck injury. Rose had begun entering fishing tournaments in 1993 and went professional in 2003. Today Pat Rose is on the Bassmaster tour and his personal website is .

Pat Tanaka – In 1987 Tanaka and Paul Diamond started tagging together as Badd Company. The team would move on to the AWA during the same time period. In 1990 Tanaka signed with the WWF, where he was paired with Akio Sato as the Orient Express. Following Sato’s departure, he was replaced by a masked Diamond. Tanaka left the WWF in 1992 and Badd Company reunited in ECW after Diamond left the WWF as well. Late in 1994 Tanaka and Diamond signed with WCW, where they were working as a modified version of the Orient Express. By 1996 Tanaka was working as the masked El Gato. Tanaka still makes the occasional indy appearance, and also teaches judo in Minster, Ohio.

Paul Diamond – Diamond’s big break in the WWF came after Akio Sato left the company. Diamond (masked and now going by Kato) was paired with Tanaka as the Orient Express. After Tanaka left the company, Diamond was given the gimmick of Max Moon after Konnan quit. Diamond left in February of 1993 and Badd Company reformed in ECW. The team headed to WCW in 1994 and tried to reform the Orient Express without using any WWF trademarks but the team split by the end of the year. Diamond left WCW soon thereafter and returned to the USWA before heading to Texas to work as a trainer at Shawn Michaels’s Texas Wrestling Academy. Using the name of Venom, Diamond faced Michaels in what was billed as Michaels’s retirement match. After the TWA closed, Diamond moved to Winnipeg and opened a wrestling school of his own.

Phil Hickerson – When the USWA merged with World Class Championship Wrestling, Hickerson was repackaged as PY Chu-Hi, Skandor Akbar’s powerhouse. Hickerson retired from wrestling during the 1990’s.

Randy Hales – Hales’s role grew in the USWA until he was working both as a manager and behind the scenes. After the USWA shut down in 1997, Hales opened Memphis Power Pro Wrestling, which ran from 1998 until 2001. Today Hales works in the restaurant business in Missouri.

Ric McCord – McCord soon left Memphis again and headed to NWA Central States, where he tagged with Bart Batten to win the tag team titles from the MOD Squad. They soon became embroiled in a feud with Porkchop Cash and Ken Timbs.

Rick Casey – After leaving Memphis, Casey began competing as Wildcat Wendell Cooley for NWA Southeastern and NWA Alabama. By 1991, Cooley was touring Puerto Rico. Today, although retired, Casey still makes occasional indy appearances. He currently works at a Navy base in Florida.

Rip Morgan (Bigfoot) – After leaving Memphis, Morgan spent several years tagging on and off with Jack Victory. In 2006 Morgan returned home to New Zealand, where he started Kiwi Pro Wrestling. Morgan still works with KPW today.

Rip Rogers – By 1989, Rip Rogers was touring Puerto Rico. Over the next few years, Rogers would appear for WCW and the Global Wrestling Federation. By the end of the 1990’s, Rogers was working steadily for Ohio Valley Wrestling. In 2000 Rogers was involved in a car accident that spelled the end of his in-ring career. Rogers remains with OVW today, where he works as a trainer.

Rock n Roll RPMs – Tommy Lane and Mike Davis made their way to World Class and then to WCW. After they went their separate ways, Davis headed to the Global Wrestling Federation, where he became known as Maniac Mike Davis. Davis passed away on Christmas day, 2001 from a heart attack. Lane recently retired from the ring.

Rough and Ready – Brothers Cleo and Larry Reeves competed in several southern territories, both as Rough and Ready and as the Dirty Black Boys.

Sputnik Monroe – Monroe had been a Memphis wrestling institution since the 1940’s. Monroe’s importance went beyond wrestling, however, as he had been a driving force in integration. Monroe refused to wrestle unless black patrons were allowed to sit anywhere they wished in the auditorium, and since Monroe was such a draw promoters were obligated to do so. Monroe officially retired from wrestling in 1998 and died in his sleep on November 3, 2006. A new book that discusses Monroe’s career and the early days of Memphis wrestling, “Sputnik, Masked Men, and Midgets” is now available at .

Steve Keirn – Keirn signed with the WWF in 1991 where he was given the gimmick of the alligator wrestling Skinner. Keirn jumped to WCW in 1994, where he teamed with Brad Armstrong as Bad Attitude. Not long after Keirn retired and founded his own wrestling academy. Today the school is a WWE development territory and is known as Florida Championship Wrestling.

Tarzan Goto – After a tour of Puerto Rico, Goto returned to his native Japan and started working for FMW. Goto soon became known as a deathmatch specialist. Goto faded from the scene after leaving FMW and, as of 2006, was running a small promotion of his own called Goto Ippa.

Tojo Yamamoto – Tojo continued to work as a manager, also working in World Class during the USWA merger. Health problems forced Tojo to retire in 1991. He passed away on February 19, 1992.

Tommy Rich – Rich remained in Memphis for a while as he and Austin Idol battled Jerry Lawler in a legendary feud. After leaving the area Rich had a quick stay in the AWA before returning to the NWA, which was transitioning into WCW. He left the company in 1993 and floated around the independent scene until 1996, when he joined ECW as the Big Don of the Full Blooded Italians. Rich left ECW in 2000 and has been competing on the independent scene ever since.

Tony Falk – Tony Falk began working as a referee during the USWA/WCCW merger of the late 1980’s, although he later returned to action as a wrestler. Today Falk is affiliated with Tennessee’s United States Wrestling Organization (USWO) and his son LT Falk has also become a professional wrestler.

Tracy Smothers – After leaving Memphis, Smothers moved to Florida where he began teaming with Scott Armstrong as the Southern Boys. The Southern Boys also competed in Continental Championship Wrestling (the renamed Southeast Championship Wrestling) and had a run in WCW from 1990-1992 as the Southern Boys and also the Young Pistols. After leaving WCW, Smothers began competing for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, where he remained until the company’s shutdown in 1995. Smothers then split his time between the USWA and the WWF, where he competed as Freddy Joe Floyd. In 1998 Smothers joined ECW, where he became part of the Full Blooded Italians. After leaving ECW in 2000, Smothers returned to the independent circuit, where he still competes today. Smothers can be found wrestling for companies such as IWA Mid-South, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, and IWA East Coast.

And now it’s time to say goodbye to Memphis. We’ll be gone for a few weeks while we head to our next destination. If anybody wants to guess where and when we’re heading to, go ahead and post below. I’ll see you back here on January 27 for an introduction to the new territory, and we’ll have the show recaps starting on February 3.

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