If you were a kid growing up in North Mississippi in the 70s and 80s, there’s a good chance you grew up watching Memphis wrestling on Saturdays. I remember watching it with my grandfather.
Our favorite wrestler was “The King,” and I don’t mean Elvis. No, I’m talking about Jerry “The King” Lawler, the pride of Memphis wrestling.
Memphis, much like its Egyptian namesake, is that rare city that gave the world two kings in Presley and Lawler.
I got to see Lawler at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum on Tuesday night, but he wasn’t there to fight Andy Kaufman or Dutch Mantel. He was there as a commentator for “WWE Smackdown,” which will be shown Thursday night on USA.
Wrestling has changed greatly since I was a child and that’s a good thing. Gone are the days of Bob “The Bullet” Armstrong, who used to walk into the ring as George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” played loudly and Tommy “Wildfire” Rich and Sting and even Rick “The Nature Boy” Flair.
This isn’t even the wrestling of The Rock, Goldberg or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, though his presence is still felt through commercials for his WWE podcast.
This is the wrestling where the rock star Chris Jericho is now a bad guy and the elder statesman of the WWE. This is not the wrestling where former WWF superstar Jake “The Snake” Roberts would book appearances where he would get paid in crack cocaine.
The WWE is a well-oiled machine on the level of NASCAR or the NFL. Tuesday’s show was full of all of the theatrics of major rock show, complete with fireworks and pyrotechnics. It’s a huge production that travels the world with planes and buses and 18-wheelers. It’s a big business.
I’m glad my english teacher and mentor Mrs. Virginia King isn’t around to read this, but the WWE “ain't wrasslin.” It’s the most popular sports entertainment business in the world.
The WWE is now an industry where the Divas Championship has been replaced with the far less misogynistic Women’s Championship thanks to the likes of feminist such as Sasha Banks.
But as much as wrestling has changed, much remains the same. There are heroes and villains and the fans are quick to draw lines in the sand when it comes to their favorite wrestlers
My favorite is and always be Lawler. He protected the South from that degrading comedian Andy Kaufman. Actually, Kaufman is one of my favorite entertainers. The fact that he and Lawler were making magical performance art together was priceless.
Long live The King.
Jeff Clark is a staff writer for the Sun Herald. His favorite wrestler is Jerry "The King" Lawler. Follow him on Twitter @thejeffclark.