365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
We’ve taken a look at the wonderfully wacky world of Memphis wrestling before in the project — watching a grudge tag match, and a chapter in the long-running feud between Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart — but now it’s time to explore the weekly TV element that drove this promotion for years. Even well into the 1990s, when nearly every other territory had closed its doors, Memphis wrestling remained alive, if not well. For nearly two decades, starting in 1977, Championship Wrestling aired live in a 90-minute block every Saturday morning from the WMC-TV studios in Memphis.
In this entry, we take a look at a match from one of those episodes — February 23, 1985, to be precise: Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo against Lou Winston and Jerry Bryant.
You can watch this match, and the peripheral shenanigans, on Youtube:
For more than four years, the Lawler-Hart feud was a focal point of the Memphis territory, but now things are in a state of flux. Hart left for the WWF a few weeks earlier, leaving Lawler in search of a new foil. Enter Eddie Gilbert. “Hot Stuff” is certainly no stranger to the Memphis audience by now. In fact, earlier in February, he lost a match to Lawler at the Mid-South Coliseum, which triggered a stipulation that banned Hart from the territory for a year (“a year” ended up being forever, and Hart wasn’t even in attendance, as he immediately started working with the WWF after giving notice to the Memphis office).
And so, on the February 16 episode of TV,. Gilbert comes out wearing military garb, with a Jimmy Hart doppelganger, and forms his Army:
Meanwhile, Savage and Poffo made their way to Memphis in 1984, after their father Angelo’s promotion, International Championship Wrestling, closed down. ICW was considered an “outlaw” promotion at the time, meaning it ran in direct competition with other shows in Kentucky — which was also part of the CWA’s geographical “territory” — and because the ICW was not aligned with the National Wrestling Alliance. Today, referring to a wrestling promotion as outlaw is more of a statement on quality, but the Poffo-led ICW featured his two sons, along with Ron Garvin, Pez Whatley, Ox Baker, Bob Orton, Jr., and several other significant names from the territorial era.
This isn’t the shortest match in the project (that mark is still held by Stan Hansen‘s All Japan debut), but it’s close. Savage and Poffo spent most of their time in Memphis as heels, but are on the fan favorite side of things here. Bryant, whose head apparently went unshaved after what happened in the video linked above from last week, is teaming with Winston, who is not an official member of the Army. Gilbert is in ringside in the same military outfit.
I think Savage is one of the best wrestlers, certainly of this era. He flies with apparent reckless abandon on his double axehandle here: once to the floor, and again from the neutral corner while his opponents are double-teaming Poffo.
Speaking of Poffo, he was ridiculously athletic for the time period. He shows off some of that athleticism in an early exchange, and later in the match busts out a moonsault — simply called a backflip by commentator Dave Brown. If anyone else did the moonsault before Poffo, I’m not aware of it. He seems like the type of wrestler who came along too late; can you imagine if Poffo had been active during the super-indy era of 2000s, when Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla were getting rolling?
But I digress. This match is curious but also a glorified squash. Savage and Poffo clearly have their foes outmatched. Whenever Bryant and Winston are trying to take control, we get punchy-kicky pro wrestling. Not long after Poffo hits the moonsault on Bryant, Savage slams Winston and follows with his patented flying elbow, and it’s over.
After Gilbert makes Bryant do pushups as punishment for the loss, Eddie has his Army bring out a huge box that clearly has a person inside, and is teased as a “present” for Lance and the studio audience. What’s in the box? The revelation isn’t part of the footage, which ends with a Lawler interview musing on how “Hot Stuff” is mirroring some of the past antics of “The King.”
Savage turned heel again a few weeks later, and would be out of Memphis within a matter of months, headed to the WWF and eventual megastardom.
As for Bryant and Winston, they would move on to form Memphis Vice within the year. Memphis Vice, you guys! Get it? Like Miami Vice except different because they lived in Memphis!
–One interesting note on the February 16 footage. Tommy Hart, the faux Hart who accompanies Gilbert, makes the analogy to shooting a racehorse when it breaks a leg, a callback to the same verbiage Jimmy Hart used when he turned on Lawler after “The King” broke his leg playing pick-up football in 1980. Hart immediately became the top heel in the territory:
–I’ve talked before about Lance Russell and how good he is on commentary, but he’s a true natural as the “host” of a wrestling show and you see why in all of these videos (well, except the Memphis Vice one). He moves from one segment to another with near-bulletproof aplomb, even as all hell breaks loose around him. It was very rare to see him get flustered, or have any physicality with any of the talent, although it did happen. Watch in the interview segments how he leads and guides whoever is talking, as needed. The Jimmy Hart impersonator is clearly nervous and flustered, but a steady Lance Russell provides direction and allows the doppelganger to hit his catch phrase and laugh, which is a dead ringer for the Mouth of the South.
Final Rating: 5.0
This is a decent snapshot of the flow of a Memphis TV show, but far afield from the best action or angles to come out of this territory. It’s also a chance to see Savage and Poffo (who never were acknowledged as brothers in the WWF) teaming together, but not a sterling example of their work as a team. I’d recommend checking out some of their stuff against the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, which also happened in Memphis, instead.
We go above and Beyond.