Jerry Lawler: The Best AND Worst Ever
Jerry Lawler: The Best AND Worst Ever
Let’s face it, everyone’s got an opinion of Jerry Lawler. For the most part, I think he’s a revered legend in the WWE realm, at least in average fan’s eyes. However–and I’m going to try to avoid sounding snarky here, although it may be an impossible feat–the average fan doesn’t have a clue.
Now I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with cheering for the goodies and booing the baddies, but the average fan doesn’t recognize crap when they see it. Perhaps I’m jealous. The average fan doesn’t care about faces doing villainous things, and they don’t care about chain wrestling. They don’t care about John Cena main eventing at the ‘expense’ of CM Punk (that’s debatable and another argument entirely) because they are stuck in a rut and LOVE John Cena.
The average fan hates Michael Cole ONLY when he’s ‘beeing a heel,’ loves Jerry Lawler, loves Jim Ross, hates Johnny Ace, and loves Triple H unconditionally. I don’t consider myself better than these people and in many ways I envy them. I envy them for enjoying wrestling through pure eyes just like I did 15 years ago. I cheered for the good guys and booed the bad guys. There comes a time where you may learn more and begin to respect the people you grew up hating. This time came for me, but will it come for everyone? Maybe, maybe not. If it does, that’s fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. But I do think that if you feel passionate about a topic you should learn and respect its history. And by history, I don’t mean whatever retrospective WWE DVD release came out that month. I mean tape/DVD trading, a staple of wrestling fandom for decades. If not that, there’s YouTube. There’s no excuse, with everything so accessible. Perhaps because everything is TOO accessible, the joy of getting that rare show in your hands is completely nonexistent.
Back on topic. Jerry Lawler as a performer and character is one of the most polarized examples in wrestling for me. I find myself dreading hearing his voice or mention, but put him in the ring and I’ve never been happier. Here’s why.
Jerry Lawler as an announcer
We’ll start with what everyone’s the most familiar with: Jerry Lawler’s days as an announcer. Currently, he’s 100% a babyface (good guy) persona, and Michael Cole is rather neutral. A heel play-by-play and face color commentator is a territory WWE has ventured into recently and I can’t say it worked at all. Before this, Jerry Lawler was paired with Jim Ross, with Jim Ross being a normal play-by-play guy and Jerry Lawler being a face color commentator. That really didn’t work either.
Many revere Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler for being the soundtrack of the beloved ‘Attitude Era.’ I do not. I think Jim Ross is one of the greatest announcers of all-time, but Jerry Lawler was always pretty terrible. There’s nothing entertaining about a grown man shouting “PUPPIES!” at adult women half his age. It’s clear they were trying to market to the male, young-adult crowd, but and I was that demographic, but I still felt my intelligence was insulted on every week. As a result, I stuck to WCW, and had my intelligence insulted in other ways. What WAS good about Jerry Lawler as a heel, though, is he added ‘color’ to the broadcast. You know, like a color commentator is supposed to. He was a heel you could hate, because he was legitimately a piece of trash. We live in bizzaro-world, though, and pieces of trash get all the respect in the world.
Jerry Lawler as a promo man
Jerry Lawler used to be one of the top promo men in the business. I think he got bored–that’s the only explanation I have. TV. The truth is, the majority of the roster could learn a lot from Jerry Lawler on the microphone. He doesn’t have to be a heel, he just has to care. Lately, it seems like he’s been phoning it in, which is a shame, because he’s one of the greatest. See for yourself:
Bret Hart & Jerry Lawler Feud: Lawler Loud-Mouths Stu & Helen (Part 5)
ECW Jerry Lawler – Anti ECW Promo
Jerry Lawler promo: USWA vs GWF 9
Jerry Lawler promo for USA Championship wrestling
Eddie Gilbert & Jerry Lawler Promise Fireball Duel Tonight (3-28-88) Memphis Wrestling
Jerry Lawler as a wrestler
Jerry Lawler is as old-school as it gets. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. Jerry Lawler’s style accentuated the basics and told a story. The truth is, the majority of the roster today could learn a LOT from working with Jerry Lawler on a regular basis. If he’s up to it, I’d say it’d be a very good thing for him to ‘compete’ more often. In a major storyline? Not necessarily. If you gave him a reason to care about what he’s cutting a promo about, though, it might be great. Jerry Lawler leading a stable and competing in tag matches–four man or six man–could quite possibly be the smartest option here. It would have made a hell of a lot more sense than having him wrestle a non-wrestler announcer at WrestleMania in a pretty dreadful match. Jerry Lawler’s most famous moments involved working with someone who wasn’t a wrestler, but that doesn’t mean it’s a plan that should be replicated. Michael Cole is no Andy Kaufman.
Some may say Jerry Lawler is overrated and only won what he won because he was a promoter. While there’s some weight to that argument, there’s a counter argument that everyone conveniently forgets: you can’t book a crowd to pop. You can’t book an arena to sell-out night after night. You can’t ‘decide’ to do good business just because you’re your own company’s champion. It happens. It happens based on the quality of content. If you’re the champion, and the seats are full, does it not say that you’re earning the right to book yourself that way?
I’m not an expert on Memphis wrestling. Honestly, I’ve barely seen any of it. Every second of it I’ve seen, though, has been some of the best wrestling footage I’ve ever seen. Why do I keep watching Raw instead of watching something I know is good? I don’t know. Like many, I’m a glutton for punishment. I can’t speak in great detail of Jerry Lawler’s ring work as I’m not an authority. If you want to learn more, I suggest checking out Scott Bowden’s “Kentucky Fried Rasslin’. He’ll tell you what I’m telling you, but with a lot more experience to back it up!
What are your thoughts on Jerry Lawler?
I appreciate this post, and can only suggest you look up more Lawler stuff from the Memphis / CWA era. For fans from that era (I am 44 and from Louisville, a prime stop on that circuit), Lawler in the WWF/WWE is more or less Dusty Rhodes in the polka dots -- just not the same. For those who have not seen it, the birth of the modern "hardcore" movement, but with personality:
My opinions on Lawler are somewhat similar to your own, in that through the 90's I believed he was over rated as a commentator. I've never really rated Ross either though. Don't get me wrong, when on his game Ross can be amazing and really sell any match and it's story. But if he's not invested in the people in it, which is basically everyone who's not in a big angle or a former collegiate wrestler, then he gives no fucks. He may throw in a random college fact about them playing football, which is the most half assed research ever, but he rarely promoted the lower card as well as people claim he did. Lawler is the worst for getting unfit praise though. As a heel, he never really believes in what he says unless it's about the women he fancies and then as you said it comes across as an insult to your intelligence. As a face, he gives even less reason to care. The whole idea behind Lawler seems to be that he is a legend, so you respect his opinion. Truth be told, anyone could do commentary the same way he does as it's pretty monotonous. But because he is a legend, you're meant to care... except half the target audience for WWE will have never see Lawler do anything but commentate, so when he is insulted by someone like Punk, but a lot of fans it's hard to care but there's no connection to him outside of being the commentator. They never saw him battle Harley Race. Most of them have never even heard that name. Outside of his commentary though, Lawler is pretty faultless. His promos, as half arsed as most of them are, still deliver at a level that half the roster couldn't dream to achieve. If he really delivers one, he can certainly rival the top 3 in the company. Wrestling wise, he's pure 'All Star', which is a UK term really. All Star wrestling is a promotion that still goes strong now, lots of guys work it when they tour the UK and it's very simple. It draws small children, and really old people who still think it's really. There's the obvious face heel divide, and all the cheating is made very obvious so the crowd can boo at the right times. To me, Lawler epitomises this. He does nothing over the top, he does everything at it's absolute most basic level, but all of it is done with enough about it that the crowd gets into every punch, every knuckle drop, and every pile driver. It's a little out of place in todays WWE, it seems slow, but the best wrestlers in the company (like Punk, D Bryan, Regal, Cesaro.... etc) have all had that experience, and it helps them connect with a crowd when they mix it in with their more modern approach. It's a huge part of the business that guys who go straight to WWE and don't tour miss out on massively, and Lawler is a fine link for WWE if they want to help their young roster connect with that style.
A comment like that makes the effort of blogging all worth it. Thank you for your thoughts. I am thankful for the new-wave of old-school we have here. The guys who appreciate the Memphis style of making every move mean something, rather than the car-crash-all-flash burnout style (how’s it going, Kurt Angle?) of wooing the crowd. There really aren’t a lot of guys who ‘get’ this, but the ones who do will be the driving force behind the company for years to come.