The Continental Wrestling Association had originally been a part of the NWA Mid-America promotion that began in the 1940s and operated primarily in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, but held occasional shows in the surrounding cities as well. In the mid-’70s the territory would split into two sections. Each section had its own promoter/booker: Jerry Jarrett was in charge of Memphis, Louisville, Lexington, and Evansville – whilst still part of NWA Mid-America – and Nick Gulas ran the other half of the promotion. After being tricked into buying less than a ten percent share of the promotion, Jerry Jarrett split from Gulas and NWA Mid-Atlantic to form what would become known as the Continental Wrestling Association.
Nick and Jerry would compete with one another for control of the Southern hotbed. Jarrett had a major lead however in the form of Jerry Lawler, who had toppled Jackie Fargo as the top draw for Memphis after a long, extraordinarily successful box office rivalry. With Lawler at his side, Gulas – who was heavily pushing his son, George at this time – didn’t stand a chance, and soon Gulas would eventually retire. This opened up Nashville for Jarrett to run as well.
Jerry Jarrett believed that deeply personal, believable feuds were the big-ticket draws and it’s hard to dispute that notion as Lawler/Fargo, Lawler/Bill Dundee, and Lawler/Tommy Rich were some of Memphis Wrestling’s most personal and financially successful rivalries in its rich history. Anyone who was anyone passed through the CWA at one time or other. Names such as Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Ric Flair all made stops in Memphis, and typically had a set of matches against Lawler which ended in draws for NWA championship matches or with the King toppling his adversary.
Memphis wrestling had a rebellious feel to it. There was something about the way the shows were produced that made it feel edgy, unpredictable, and wild. A lot of the same things would be said about Extreme Championship Wrestling nearly a decade later. Memphis had some of the most violent angles and matches of the late 70s and early 80s. Whether it was Lawler and Tommy Rich’s historic rivalry, Stan Hansen and Austin Idol’s blood feud, Randy Savage and Dutch Mantel, or a host of any other assortment of stars that came through Memphis; the Mid-South Coliseum was always a hotbed for professional wrestling.
While Jerry Jarrett booked realistic angles and matches, when Lawler gained more power within the promotion he went in a different direction. Lawler would use over the top characters to enhance his reputation in the Southern area. He utilised such memorable personas as, Kamala, Lord Humongous (Sid Vicious) Bam-Bam Bigelow and King Kong Bundy.
In the early to mid-’90s as they would rename it the USWA. Some not-so-memorable characters like the Christmas Creature (played by Glen Jacobs, who would become Kane in the World Wrestling Federation) among many, many other weird, wild and wacky personas.
When Lawler gained sole control of the Memphis territory he would often use his ties to the World Wrestling Federation to promote supercards or to bolster a show that was having poor sales. He would bring in guys like Bret Hart (continuing their long-standing feud from up North) only in Memphis, Lawler was the beloved good guy and Bret was the loathed bad guy.
Randy Savage, Papa Shango, Doink the Clown, and of course Jerry’s kid himself, Brian Christopher all made appearances for the now USWA. By the 90s however, Memphis was no longer the hotbed it once was. Whether it was the over-reliance on Lawler’s part to have constant “movie” like monsters come in to take his throne, the more mainstream appeal of the WWF and WCW, or if the days of the King being a top star were over, but by the late 90s Memphis was all but dead.
Whether you preferred the deeply personal rivalries of early Memphis like Lawler/Gilbert and Lawler/Fargo, or if you loved Memphis’ over the top violence and characters one thing is for sure: no list of influential bookers and promotions is complete without Memphis wrestling, Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler.