JERRY LAWLER & BILL DUNDEE
AWA World Tag Team Champions
Written by Mike Rickard
Fans may recall the classic match between Shawn Michaels and Diesel at In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies where the former tag team champions battled each other in a No Holds Barred battle.
Likewise, Jerry “The King” Lawler and “Superstar” Bill Dundee were Memphis Wrestling’s biggest stars, with both men having some of the territory’s biggest feuds ever against each other. However, they also knew they could be very successful tag team partners and when cooler heads prevailed, their tag team partnership yielded incredible results. Join me now as Tag Team Appreciation Month looks at the ever-volatile team of Jerry “The King” Lawler and “Superstar” Bill Dundee.
WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler has been working as a color commentator for decades and while he continued wrestling until recently, his broadcasting career eclipsed one of the biggest careers during the territory days. Lawler rose to fame in Memphis Wrestling, working as the area’s most hated heels until a broken leg saw him return as a babyface. Lawler proved equally adept at playing a babyface and while his technical abilities were limited, his skill on the mic and ability to sell made him a top draw in Memphis.
Although Lawler eventually became Memphis Wrestling’s co-owner and promoter, his skills and drawing power were undeniable and Memphis remained in business during the national expansion era, long after its rivals had fallen to the WWF and WCW. While it’s been said so many times that it almost sounds cliched, Lawler was the type of wrestler who could talk fans into arenas thanks to his lively promos.
Scotland-born William Cruickshanks entered the world on 24 October 1943, but became better known as “Superstar” Bill Dundee, a pint-sized wrestler who packed a heavyweight punch, knew how to get heat, and could bump so well he looked like a pinball in the ring. Raised in Australia, Cruickshanks is believed to have worked in the circus as a trapeze artist, gaining an amazing sense of balance that can be seen in his matches.
After his 1967 debut, Dundee worked for promoter Jim Barnett’s Australian wrestling organization until 1974. Afterwards, Dundee settled in Memphis Wrestling, teaming with Jerry “The King” Lawler. In 1978, Lawler and Dundee defeated Frazier and Terry Sawyer for for the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship. This would be the first of several tag team championship wins for Lawler and Dundee.
However, as would repeatedly happen throughout their careers, jealousy got the better of one of the two hot-tempered grapplers. In 1978, Lawler grew green with envy when Dundee received a title shot for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. The world championship became a frequent bone of contention through the years as one man felt he deserved the opportunity more than the other, often leading to discord and a long feud. While this article is about the Lawler/Dundee team, their feuds reached such heights that no discussion of the team would be complete without mentioning them. At one point, Lawler and Dundee competed in hair-versus-hair matches with Dundee losing the match and his hair. Dundee subsequently put his wife’s hair up against Lawler’s hair, only for “The King” to win and Mrs. Dundee getting the cue ball treatment.
In a 2014 interview, “Superstar” Dundee explained his relationship with “The King”:
"He had a lot of respect for me, and I had it for him. Are we best of friends? No. Do we go over to one another's house and break bread every day? No. But we've never had an argument. I've never had a fight with Lawler outside the wrestling business. We've never been really mad at one another. We just clicked. It's what we did. Jerry Jarrett knew it ... We clicked in the ring and we clicked at what we did, and we were very good for one another.”
Of course, when they got along, they were a remarkable team, with Lawler and Dundee taking on many of the biggest names in wrestling. Memphis Wrestling featured wrestlers from around the world competing in the promotion and while they often didn’t stay long, it gave fans the chance to see some of the top stars from across the United States and Canada. For example, Lawler and Dundee defeated the team of Mr. Fuji and Professor Toru Tanaka in 1979 to win the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship again.
The team of Lawler and Dundee had some fondly-remembered matches, but nothing comes close to their legendary bout in Tupelo, Mississippi against “The Blonde Bombers” Jerry Latham (a/k/a Moondog Spot) and Wayne Ferris (the future Honky Tonk Man) on 17 June 1979. There, Lawler and Dundee defended their Southern Tag Team Championship, losing the belts in an upset brawl. Afterwards, an irate Lawler and Dundee attacked the new champions, fighting them all the way to the back. The melee included all four men brawling near a concession stand, destroying a number of items. Cameras “conveniently” happened to be there, recording the incident to be replayed many times on Memphis TV (at the time, the promotion was in need of a hot angle to raise sagging ticket sales). In 2010, Jim Cornette described the carnage:
Stiff punches and kicks, chairs, tables, cookie sheets, brooms, mops, everything you would expect to find in a concession stand was used along with some of the most realistic brawling you will ever see, as the two teams beat the bejesus out of each other with Lance calling the action. Jarrett, trying to break up the brawl, was beaten down and had his street clothes ripped off. Finally, the combatants were hustled out by security and wrestlers, and the stand was completely destroyed and what was left was covered in blood and mustard, courtesy of a 10 gallon mustard jug Lawler had chucked at Latham that broke against the wall in a million pieces.
The video was repeated for several weeks, sparking a big money between Lawler and Dundee against the Blonde Bombers.
The Lawler/Dundee team’s biggest title win was arguably their 1987 American Wrestling Association (AWA) World Tag Team Championship win when they defeated Doug Somers and Soldat Ustinov. However, by then, the AWA tag team championship (like the AWA itself) had lost much of its prestige. Nonetheless, it was just one of several tag team titles for this all-star team that soared to glorious heights when they weren’t trying to end the other’s career.
Bowden, Scott. “Anatomy of an angle: Robert Fuller’s last stand in Memphis leads to Tupelo concession-stand brawl.” Kentucky Fried Wrestling. 27 July 2010. Accessed 23 May 2018.
George, Chris. “Bill Dundee.” Online World of Wrestling. Professional Wrestler Profiles. 17 Aug. 2015. Accessed 23 May 2018.
“Memphis legend Bill Dundee on why he never worked for WWE, why he didn't care for working for WCW, his relationship with Jerry Lawler.” Who’s Slamming Who, VOC Nation Radio Network, 28 Mar. 2014. Accessed 23 May 2018.
Russell, Mike. “LEGENDS OF WRESTLING 3: BILL "SUPERSTAR" DUNDEE.” WTVA. 3 Dec. 2017. Accessed 23 May 2018.
LaBlanc, M.A. “Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee.” Online World of Wrestling. Professional Wrestler Profiles. 19 Jan. 2017. Accessed 23 May 2018.
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