Growing up in the mid-south during the 70’s and 80’s, every kid I knew was glued to Memphis Wrestling every Saturday morning at 11am on WMC-TV5. I can vividly remember sitting in the floor with my dad watching Jerry Lawler do battle with bad guys like The Dream Machine, Austin Idol, Handsome Jimmy Valiant or any other bad guy Jimmy Hart had brought in to dethrone the King. I can even remember my mom loading up a minivan full of my 5th grade buddies early one Saturday morning in December, a long long time ago, to go see studio wrestling in person for my 10th birthday. I also remember getting a typed letter in the mail from Lance Russell a few weeks later wishing me a happy birthday and thanking us for coming to the show, I think I took it to school to show off to my friends the next day because he really signed it…
In the pre-internet early 80’s growing up in the country on the farm w/out cable television we had one of the earliest satellite dishes known to man so I had the opportunity to watch wrestling from all over the country but few things captured my attention and drew me in like Championship Wrestling out of Memphis. I am sure that there were a lot of things going on in the world at the time that I didn’t know about but I can’t imagine anything being more important to me as a kid, even the adults talked about wrestling like it was a real deal, sort of a soap opera like ‘Dallas’ or ‘Falcon Crest’, only difference it was men dressed in leotards and tights beating the crap out of one another. Of course we all knew it was a work, kayfabe or fake, but it was presented in such a manner that it didn’t really matter, much different than “sports entertainment” is presented today. Much different.
Well, this evening I talked my friend Charlie, who was also addicted to Championship Wrestling during the 80’s, to tag along with me to a screening in Little Rock of a documentary called; ‘Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrestling‘. This is a documentary I had been waiting on for what seemed like an eternity. I was concerned that I had watched the trailer for this film on YouTube so many times that the film would be a disappointment by the time I got to see it on DVD, boy was I wrong. This documentary was off the hook entertaining and was worth the wait. I even got to hang out w/ Ron Hall, one of the producers of the film and the writer of ‘Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling‘.
The documentary was shown at Market Street Cinema in Little Rock, a theater I had never been and didn’t even know how to find, but the venue could not have been better. There was probably 40 or 50 people in the crowd, mostly all men (imagine that), and every time a wrestler would pop up on the screen that we hadn’t seen or heard about in 20 years we would erupt violently in laughter. Prime example, Tojo Yammamoto! I hadn’t seen or thought about that little guy in ages but when I saw him on that screen karate chopping people I was immediately reminded of a time in my hometown when wrestling came through to do a card at our national guard armory and I was so enamored by this guy that I was scared to go ask him for an autograph for fear that he would throw salt in my eyes or hit me with his kendo stick or wooden flip-flops.
This documentary had so many “high spots” as they put it in the wrestling industry that I could literally sit here all evening trying to list them all. It was so awesome to see guys like Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Referee Jerry Calhoun, Jackie Fargo, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, and the late Sputnik Monroe talk about their days in the hotbed that was Memphis Wrestling. One highlight that I will share involves Buddy Wayne, a former wrestler back in the 70’s who went on to become a booker for Memphis Wrestling talking about wrestlers actually wrestling a bear, the entire theater was hysterical. I can remember Buddy Wayne chasing a group of us unruly kids out of the wrestling ring one weekend they were in town doing two shows at our national guard armory. About the second time he had to run us off we thought he was going to have a heart attack.
I could literally go on forever talking about how awesome this documentary was forever but I will wrap this up by promising you this, if you grew up in the mid-south and remember Championship Wrestling, and were drawn in like most of us were at the time, you absolutely have to get to a showing of this film when it comes to your town or own the DVD which will be available in time for Christmas. You will not be disappointed. I promise.
The only critique I have for the film was that they didn’t have Dirty Dutch Mantell in the film. I feel like he could have added a lot to the storyline of the movie. His blog is one of the best blogs out there and his books are probably some of the best written, genuine accounts of old school professional wrestling in existence. Dutch did a lot of the booking in the Memphis Territory alongside Jerry Lawler, Jerry Jarrett, and Bill Dundee.
In case you haven’t already seen the trailer to this film, here you go…
If you would like to order the book, ‘Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets: The Early Days of Memphis Wrestling’ by Ron Hall, you can click here to order it through Amazon.com. If you would like to order the DVD, you can do that online at http://memphis-heat.com.