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Monday Night Mayhem DVD Review: "Memphis Heat: The True Story Of Memphis Wresslin'"
Produced By: Off The Top Rope Productions
DVD Review Written By: Shawn "The Angry Hero" Marek
As a young wrestling fan growing in the late '80's, you either knew all about the WWF or the NWA. Since I hailed from the Northeast, it was pretty much WWF by default, as their Saturday morning program was required viewing, with the occasional NWA on TBS thrown in on Saturday night if I remembered. The world of wrestling outside of these two promotions was limited to the PWI magazines and their reports from Puerto Rico, Dallas, & the Mid-South. My first recollection of the Memphis territory came from the PWI 1987 "Year in Review" issue that showed a crew cut Jerry Lawler after losing most of his hair in a match with Austin Idol & Tommy Rich.
In the years that followed, the Memphis territory came to fascinate me, as I learned of Eric Embry & Tom Prichard's reign of terror and the thirty thousand times that Jerry lost & regained the USWA Title. Sadly, all of this occurred in the waning days of the territory, well after Vince McMahon had swallowed up all of the big stars for the WWF. Thanks to the fine folks at Off The Top Rope Productions, the history of the Memphis territory from its remarkable beginnings has come to life with Memphis Heat: The True Story Of Memphis Wresslin'.
One of early focal points in this documentary is the legend of Sputnik Monroe, the infamous heel who helped break through the color barrier in the era of segregation. The story goes that Sputnik, who saw fit to do what he wanted when he wanted, decided to have a drink at a colored bar. He was fined $25 dollars…and did it again! Monroe used his drawing power at the time to force the promoters into letting blacks & whites share the same seating arrangements in the old Ellis Auditorium. Rocky Johnson sums it up best, calling Sputnik Monroe "a black man in a white man's body."
We also got to learn more about characters like Jackie Fargo & Tojo Yamamoto, who helped define what Memphis wrestling was to the rest of the country. Fargo, in particular, was remembered as being tough & flashy, in addition to being a hell of a ribber. He was progressive enough in his ways to pave the way for Jerry Lawler to blaze his own path in the region. This leads to talk about the insane amounts of travel that the Memphis circuit demanded, as there were shows seven days a week, sometimes two a day. Jerry Jarrett estimated mileage clocked in at 100,000 miles per year!
Speaking for Jarrett, we learn of his rise to prominence, from wrestler to booker. Back in those days, Nick Gulas & Roy Welch ran the territory, notorious for their meager payoffs & rampant contempt towards the talent. Jerry was given the opportunity to book towns around Nashville & Memphis and got pretty good at doing so. When Gulas insisted on having his son George on top in Jarrett's towns Jerry balked, since George was not that great, despite his father's influence. This eventually led to Jarrett realizing that he did not have as much at stake financially in the promotion than he thought and had to start from scratch. Thankfully, stars such as Lawler & Fargo were on his side and were able to help Jarrett establish a new Memphis wrestling program on Channel 5. This coup was also responsible for bringing over announcer (and rival station program director) Lance Russell.
Memphis Heat: The True Story Of Memphis Wresslin' also does a fantastic job encapsulating the aura of Jerry "The King" Lawler and what he meant to Memphis Wrestling. Throughout the DVD, we follow Lawler's rise from dedicated fan & artist to wrestling icon. Jerry Jarrett gives probably the best assessment of Lawler that I've heard, describing Lawler as having a "great sense of self-omnipotence." Personally, one of the best parts of the documentary is hearing how Lawler accidentally breaking his leg led to big business with "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart and his slew of would-be ring assassins looking to take down Lawler. It goes a long way to show how common sense & patience could pay off in the long run in the wrestling industry, something that cannot be said so much today.
What's so great about this DVD is that it flies by and yet still manages to give a ton of insight into an era of wrestling that many do not know about. There is still a great deal that I did not get to here (the Andy Kaufman angle, Rocky Johnson, & Jimmy Valiant) that is covered on the DVD, not to mention the four+ hours of extras. I would have preferred coverage into the late-'80's/early-'90's portions of the Memphis territory in its waning days. However, the DVD has such a positive & inspiring tone throughout, there's no reason to sully it with negative talk. It is 90 minutes of good times and great memories!
Memphis Heat: The True Story Of Memphis Wresslin' is a must-see for all wrestling fans, young & old. It ranks with Heroes of World Class as a documentary that was done out of a genuine love for the sport and not simply a profit. The filmmakers went out of their way to get the best interviews possible and cut together a tremendous story about one of the most influential cities & eras in wrestling history. Please support Memphis Heat by logging on to www.Memphis-Heat.com, where you can purchase the documentary. You can also receive more information on the film via its official Twitter account (at www.Twitter.com/MemphisHeatFilm). Until next time, feel free to check me out on Twitter (at www.Twitter.com/AngryHeroShawn), my official "Future Endeavored" blog (located at www.FutureEndeavored/tumblr.com), along with my short film Smark (located at www.SmarkMovie.tumblr.com). Enjoy the rest of the "MNM Fall Tour '11," and remember: Above all things — be a man!