Saturday, August 1, 2015

It's Good to be the King: The Jerry "The King" Lawler Story

I am writing this the day after the death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and add on the shocking leaked videos of Hulk Hogan and Dusty Rhodes’ death on top of it and well, it has all culminated in a cruddy summer for wrestling. While Piper and Dusty have passed and Hogan essentially committed career suicide, one wrestler who had an extremely close encounter with death a few years ago but thankfully was resuscitated is Jerry “The King” Lawler. Earlier this year, WWE finally released a long overdue home video commemorating his career with a documentary and a plethora of extra interviews and matches. The video is titled, It’s Good to be the King: The Jerry “The King” Lawler Story (trailer).

I remember plowing through his surprisingly detailed and enteraining autobiography WWE put out at the end of 2002, and so much has happened to him since that I eagerly anticipated the documentary feature and all the extras that feature a lot of Lawler’s matches from his old Memphis territory days where he reigned supreme. The downside to the documentary is it is only 80 minutes long, but it does cover a lot of the same ground that his autobiography did, just not as in-depth (seriously, track down that book!). If you are a newer wrestling fan and only recognize Lawler as a RAW and Smackdown announcer who is occasionally referenced as a past wrestling great, then you will no doubt be surprised to learn about Jerry’s intriguing past as you watch this feature.

I remember growing up subscribing to WWE’s old magazine in the mid to late 90s which is filled with a lot of Jerry’s artwork and a good chunk of the early parts of the feature focuses on Jerry’s love for drawing and taking up art school as an early career endeavor. The documentary proceeds to mention that him mailing artwork of wrestlers to the local Memphis wrestling promotion lead to his big break getting into the business. The first half of the feature is all about Jerry growing up and becoming the “King” of the Memphis wrestling territory. A good amount of time of his pre-WWE career is centered on the feud he had with SNL and Taxi star, Andy Kaufman that lead to nationwide coverage, Jerry dominating the Memphis promotion and him winning his first national world title in the AWA in 1988.

They could have went on even longer about his days on top in Memphis, and I really wished they would have, but given the length of the feature I am surprised they dedicated nearly half of it to his Memphis career. The second half is all about his time in the WWE when he arrived at the end of 1992. Given that he has had a near 23 year career (and counting!) in the WWE the feature only highlights his key pivotal on screen and behind-the-scenes moments in WWE during that time. His early years in WWE mostly focus on him transitioning from the weekend B-show announcer to announcing on RAW by the end of 1994 with the only big in ring feud on the feature getting time was his infamous ‘kiss my foot’ match with Bret Hart in 1995. They do cover his sabbatical when he left the WWE for most of 2001 after they fired his then-wife Stacy, better known in those days as “The Kat.” Surprisingly they tracked down Stacy for her thoughts on the matter, and I was surprised they went into more detail on this controversial time for Jerry than I thought they would.

From there it jumps around to Jerry getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Wrestlemania 23 weekend, and to some long overdue firsts with him getting very his first WWE Title match in a TLC match of all things against The Miz in 2010, and him getting his first Wrestlemania match against Michael Cole of all people at Wrestlemania 27. Remember the evil Michael Cole character and how he was a little too effective at being the evil announcer who was flatout awful to listen to and how he ruined RAW for nearly two years? I wish I can forget it too, and the Cole character stayed evil well past his match where he got his just desserts with Lawler until a year and a half later where Lawler suffered a heart attack while announcing on RAW shortly after he had a match. I am surprised they show a little more behind-the-scenes footage of EMTs working on Jerry than I presumed, and there are a couple parts that are a little edgy to watch. The only good thing to come out of Lawler’s near death experiencing was Cole breaking away from his evil announcer persona immediately and he has been calling it straight and has been much better on commentary ever since.

The documentary wraps up shortly after covering the heart attack, and not much was paid attention to his move to the Smackdown announce team at the beginning of 2015, but I will always remember Jerry as one of the primary announcers on RAW for a stunning 20 year run from the end of 1994 until early 2015. I loved Jerry best on announcing when he embraced the evil announcer role, and if you ask me the only people to effectively pull off the evil announcer gimmick and actually added and not took away from the show were Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura and Jerry Lawler. Around 2005 Jerry transitioned from an announcer rooting for the villains to essentially just calling it straight and embracing his revered wrestling legend status. I always appreciated seeing Jerry on commentary, even in recent years where he seems to have drifted away from the product and does not seem as involved as both RAW and Smackdown have both transitioned to three-man announce teams.

There are a hearty amount of extra matches and moments in the extra features. Several old classic matches from his Memphis days are on here, including his infamous empty arena match with Terry Funk, the legendary first match he had with Andy Kaufman and a bout with a then up-and-coming “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert. Jerry’s AWA and WCCW world title wins have both been on a few previously released video collections, so we have rematches with both Curt Hennig and Kerry Von Erich that were not released on video before to spice things up a bit. The extra matches and moments from his WWE career cover a lot of ground and fill in some voids the documentary did not cover. There are a few full length segments of his old King’s Court interview show on here that feature some classic moments he has with Tiny Tim of Howard Stern fame and getting schooled by the one and only William Shatner.

I remember loving the classic “Great Debate” during the 1997 ECW/WWE angle where Lawler and Heyman had an intense verbal showdown and surprised it did not make it on the Paul Heyman BluRay I covered several months ago. I guess WWE was saving it for an extra on the Jerry Lawler set as it here in all its glory, along with his match against Tommy Dreamer on the 1997 ECW Hardcore Heaven show. I was surprised that not much time on the feature was given to Jerry’s son, Brian, and how he got into wrestling and had a decent little run in the WWE and he is only seen once or twice throughout the main feature, but in the extras there is a random match where he teams with his dad against the Headbangers in 1997, and a BluRay exclusive story that goes in detail on how he got his break in wrestling. Being timely with Roddy Piper’s death, there is a King’s Court with the Hot Rod and Jerry’s match with Piper that went headlined as the final match for the 1994 King of the Ring.

I remember loving Lawler’s feud with Tazz in 2000 in the midst of the Attitude era and was bummed with it not being touched on in the feature, but their match from Summerslam is on here which features some amusing involvement from Jim Ross. That feud is memorable as it was really the first time the WWE fans started to embrace Lawler as a longtime RAW institution and it marked his gradual transition into a fan favorite. Rounding off the extras are Jerry’s Hall of Fame induction, his TLC WWE Title match against the Miz, and his Wrestlemania “classic” against Michael Cole where Cole gets his justice for mind-numbingly grating heel commentary. If you do not mind shelling out a few extra dollars for the BluRay edition, there are some cool exclusives here with several bonus stories that did not make the cut on the documentary. There are also a few BluRay exclusive matches including a rematch against Andy Kaufman, an old school Memphis match he had against Ric Flair in 1983, and teaming up with Nova against John Cena and Sean ‘O Haire in OVW back when WWE used OVW as their old developmental promotion way back in 2002.

While I wish it could have went more in depth and covered a few more aspects of Lawler’s career, It’s Good to be the King: The Jerry “The King” Lawler Story is a great abridged look at the major moments from Lawler’s storied career. What the feature does not go into detail about or neglect, the great assortment of extra matches and moments does a fine job at mostly filling in those gaps. Newer fans who do not know that much about Jerry’s pre-WWE years should especially should track this down, and even if you are familiar and know about most of his Memphis and WWE days, this is still a great refresher on his legacy is a must for all fans.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Primetime Specials

No comments:

Post a Comment