Wrestling superstar and WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler visited L.P. Frans Stadium on Saturday at the Hickory Crawdads game against the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
During his time at the game, O-N-E Sports Editor Cody Dalton spoke to Lawler and interviewed him on a variety of topics.
Q: Growing up, did you play a lot of sports or were you involved in sports a lot?
JL: “Yea I did. You say a lot of sorts, but I was never a big basketball fan because I couldn’t play basketball. I played football and baseball throughout high school, but the main thing I got involved in was really not sports so much as it was art. All through school, I was drawing and painting. I knew I wasn’t going to win any kind of sports scholarship, but I did win a full-tuition commercial art scholarship to the University of Memphis. When I first started attending wrestling matches, I started drawing some pictures of wrestlers and that is how I got my foot in the door with wrestling. That’s how I first got to meet some professional wrestlers. Matter of fact, the guy that became my mentor and was the biggest wrestler in Memphis that time was a guy named “The Fabulous” Jackie Fargo. He is from North Carolina. He lives in China Grove.”
Why do you come to minor league games?
JL: “Basically, I’m a huge baseball fan. Through my junior high and high school years, my family had moved from Memphis, Tenn. to a little town called Amherst, Ohio, which was about 25 miles West of Cleveland. That’s where I really grew up and got involved in sports and everything. Moving from Memphis, we had no pro sports teams at all. Wrestling was the biggest thing in that city. To suddenly move that close to Cleveland and get to see my first Major League Baseball game and first NFL football game. This was at a time in the early 1960’s when Jim Brown was playing for the Browns. The Cleveland Indians had Rocky Colavito. Both teams were doing really well. I became a die-hard Cleveland fan. When we moved back to Memphis eight years later, they still had no pro sports teams. Everyone around Memphis area cheered for St. Louis, Atlanta or whomever was the closest team around. I just stayed a Cleveland sports fan. That’s mostly what I follow is the Indians. These appearances came out of basically I have an agent. One of the things he does is attend the Winter meetings. That’s where the GMs and promotion people go out and look at these different kinds of promotions they can have at their stadiums throughout the year. He signed me up. I probably do 15-20 of these every season. I’ve been doing it for about four years now. It’s a lot of fun. To me, there is no better place to be than a professional baseball stadium. There is just a certain kind of great feeling when you are in one of these ball parks. I always look forward to doing these.
You’ve wrestled and you’ve commentated. Is one more fun than the other?
JL: “Oh yes, by a landslide. Wrestling is a whole lot more fun than commentating. I didn’t even get in the business to be a commentator. That was just kind of thrust in my lap back during those Monday Night Wars between WWE and WCW. Vince McMahon and “Macho Man” Randy Savage were doing the commentary at the time. Suddenly, on a Monday night when I think we were in Bethlehem or Hershey, Penn., we were getting ready to do our Monday Night show. The WCW show came on an hour before our show did. They were on live and we were on live, but their show came on to give them an hour jump on ours. It was about time for their show to come on, we were still an hour away and I remember Vince saying ‘Somebody find Randy. We’ve got to go over what we are going to do on the show tonight.’ Everyone was looking around for Randy Savage. Someone came and yelled ‘Vince, turn on the TV!’ He turned it on and there was Randy Savage making his appearance on WCW. He just walked out, left with no notice, went down and showed up on their TV. Vince didn’t panic, came to me and said ‘King, would you mind filling in for Savage tonight and I will have someone else to do it on a regular basis next week.’ That was 19 years ago and I’m still doing it every week. Coming up July 23 is our 1,000th episode of ‘Monday Night Raw.’ I’ve been on over 900 of those. I’ve probably been on more episodes than anyone, including Vince McMahon. He is not on every episode.
“The wrestling itself, to go out now on ‘Monday Night Raw,’ if you watch, a long match is 10 minutes. That is long. Usually, they are less than that. It’s much more fun to go out there, perform and not have that much pressure on you to do a good, real, fast-paced, action-packed, 10-minute match than to sit out there and come up with something entertaining for a full two hours and 15 minutes every Monday night. You’re on the entire time trying to entertain everybody. Most people don’t think about it, but it is a high-pressure job because we are sitting there with our headphones on, I’m hearing Michael Cole next to me. I’m also hearing the director and the producer. They are both in my ear to countdown to a commercial break or countdown to whatever is coming up next in the segment. Vince McMahon is also in your ear just waiting to jump on you if you make any sort of mistake. We’re live and trying to listen to four people at once and try to think of what you’re going to say next. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I think it is great, but you asked me what was more fun and the wrestling is more fun.”
Do you have a favorite match you’ve wrestled in and a favorite match you’ve commentated?
JL: “Probably my favorite match of all time just had the 30-year anniversary of it was against Andy Kaufman. They just contacted me from the David Letterman Show. Coming up in July is the 30th anniversary of when I slapped Andy on the David Letterman Show. They may be doing something about that. I’m not real sure. We were talking last week. That was the biggest match that happened to me in my career. That spring-boarded me with a lot of regional exposure at the time to suddenly being worldwide.
“As far as commentating, I’ve done so many. It’s hard to pick out any one favorite. If I picked one out of the hat, it’d be slighting a few others. There have been a ton of goods one, though.”
You mentioned “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who of course played minor league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Did you ever talk with him or anyone else about baseball?
JL: “Randy loved to talk about baseball. Randy was a cool guy. Once he got married to Miss Elizabeth, I swear he just became a different kind of person. His personality changed. He became so protective of her and their own privacy that he became a different type of person. Before that, he and I wrestled a ton of times in my Memphis territory. Him, his dad and his brother even opened up their own promotion in Lexington, Kentucky. We finally went in, merged with them and brought them into our company. We did some big promotions and sold out Rupp Arena with Randy and I in Lexington. Randy loved to talk baseball. He was the first on to admit and say that “I was ok, but I never was going to make it to the major leagues, but I really enjoyed playing in the minors.’ I guess it’s funny. Some guys get to the minors and are almost content with having a career in the minor leagues without ever making it to the big leagues. I think that is what he realized was going to happen to him. He opted to wrestle. I think he made the right decision.
Would you compare the minors today more toward to the old regional situation in wrestling?
JL: “It is a lot like that. At one time, the regional situation and the whole country was like that. Just some of them were a little bit bigger territories than the others. Now, all of that is so similar to what is similar to what you have in baseball. All of the independent circuits and those places are like the minor leagues to the WWE being the major leagues. Everyone one of those guys that go out on the independent circuit would give their right arm or right leg if they could ever be in the main event of a WWE ring in one of those shows. By the same token, the WWE looks to all of these places as feeding their talent. That’s where all their new talent has to come from. They are always constantly on the look in all of these places. Then they have their own developmental company in Florida. They are looking all around the country and if they see someone that catches their eye, then they will send them down to the WWE developmental area in Tampa, Fla., hone their skills there and make it to the big leagues.
You’re a WWE Hall of Famer. Are there two or three names you’d like to see in the Hall of Fame with you?
JL: They’ve not yet inducted Randy Savage yet, have they? I think probably Randy Savage. I think he will eventually get in there. That is one those things. To me, if you are going to honor somebody, you should do it while they are still alive. I wish that Randy and Vince McMahon could have settled what differences there were before he passed away to get him in because I think Randy was deserving a long time ago.
“I’ll tell you who else I think should be in there — Andy Kaufman. He should be in the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. (Mike) Tyson got in this year. You’ve got Mike Tyson and Drew Carey. If Drew Carey is in there, Andy Kaufman should be. He was one of the first guys that put wrestling on a national stage. Just this past week, we had Cindy Lauper come on, who was the first celebrity that WWE involved and started the ‘Rock and Wrestling Connection.’ It’s true because it did, but she would have never been involved had Andy and I never gotten that national publicity that we got with our wrestling match down in Memphis. That snowballed. In reality, Andy had approached Vince McMahon Sr. with that idea and he turned him down because he said the fans were skeptical and he didn’t want to involved actors in the business in any way. When we did it down in Memphis and it got all that attention, I think he said ‘Wow. It’s going to get the right kind of publicity.’ Then they brought in Cindy Lauper and Mr. T. It just snowballed. We’ve had all these guest hosts. We’ve had Snooki. Bob Barker might have been my all-time favorite. We had the Wolverine guy, Hugh Jackman. If you really stop and look now at all the Hollywood stars and celebrities that we’ve had involved in WWE, honestly, it all started with Andy Kaufman. He should definitely be in the celebrity wing.