TUPELO – (AP) Wrestling may be popular now, but in the 1970s, it was electric among its fans.
And nobody was more popular than Jerry “The King” Lawler.
“I used to go see him when I was a kid in Tupelo. You never knew what he was going to do,” longtime friend Jimmy Blaylock said. “He was always pulling something, throwing fire or breaking someone’s leg.”
Blaylock should know. After all, he’s seen “The King” from both sides, as a fan and as a friend for three decades. And he says modern wrestling doesn’t hold a candle to “wrasslin”’ in the South.
“Back then, it was more real. You know, they fought,” Blaylock said. “They beat the heck out of each other. You’d see Lawler on TV the next day with bruises all over him. You know, they just didn’t care.”
Among wrestlers and fans alike, Tupelo became something of a household name in the late 1970s and 1980s, mostly for the matches held in what was then the Tupelo Sports Arena. Spectators could see matches from Bill Dundee, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant and, of course, Lawler.
Some might wonder why “The King” is such a fixture in north Mississippi.
More than likely, it’s because of his most famous Tupelo match, dubbed the “Concession Stand Brawl.”
Former Tupelo Police Officer Dale Holloway worked security for those matches more than thirty years ago. He remembers that one vividly.
“My wife and the people working behind the counter had the Pepsi drinks poured, ready to serve, and they were throwing them and throwing bottles, throwing chairs,” Holloway said. “They just tore the whole thing up back there.”
And as Lawler’s fame grew by leaps and bounds, his fan base did, too.
Many of his Tupelo fans, Blaylock said, never forgot him.
“People still love Jerry Lawler, and people from all over in Tupelo. I got a lot of calls from people right here in Tupelo, from Tennessee, from Virginia, to see how he’s doing,” Blaylock said. “Wrestling will never be the same without Jerry Lawler.”
Lawler, who had a heart attack Monday during a live broadcast of WWE’s “Monday Night Raw,” is in the Cardiac Care Unit at a Montreal hospital after undergoing a coronary angioplasty procedure. He is in stable condition.
Lawler, 62, had the heart attack while he and announcing partner Michael Cole were providing commentary during a tag-team match.
Lawler, who still wrestles occasionally, had competed in a match earlier in the show, about 45 minutes before his heart attack.
The wrestler shot to fame in the early 1980s when he feuded with comedian Andy Kaufman. The two wrestled in Memphis, and Lawler famously slapped Kaufman during an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.” Lawler later appeared as himself in the Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon,” starring Jim Carrey.