One was an iconic Television personality with a massive cult following, The other was well regarded wrestler predominantly with the Memphis territory. But what followed was THE greatest feud in the history of Pro Wrestling and what is largely considered to be the first real sports entertainment storyline, The beauty of the angle was one simple merit.
Everybody thought it was real!
Andy Kaufman was born in New York city in 1949 and shot to fame on the nightclub scene introducing a character know only as “The foreign guy” where he would perform several impressions of famous figures using the same accent, laer in his shows he would then perform an extremely credible impression of Elvis Presley, one that the King himself would later claim was his favourite.
Andy was discovered by American television company ABC who wrote a part for Kaufman in their sitcom “Taxi” using his “Foreign guy character. Kaufman accepted the role and became “Latka” for 79 of the shows 114 episodes. He went on to perform and host episodes of Saturday night live amongst a few other large television programs, But he had a reputation as a prankster, There was one famous occasion whilst performing a sketch on “firdays” where he refused to say his lines during a sketch, fellow cast member Michael Richards responded by dumping the cue cards on the table in front of Andy and Andy then splashed Richards with water and a huge brawl ensued. It was a hoax, except only Kaufman, Richards and co-producer Jack Burns were in on the prank. This was typical of Kaufmans comedic and unorthodox style.
Jerry Lawler was also born in 1949 and started working as a radio DJ after finishing school and was offered a deal in which he would give free publicity to Andy Griffith , A local wrestling promoter, in exchange for free wrestling training, he made his debut in 1970 and won his first championship in 1971 by winning a battle royale. Over the course of the next ten years he would gain an important reputation in the world of wrestling as a hard working, genuine nice guy who respected and loved the art of pro wrestling.
Andy Kaufman became interested in pro wrestling, he was attracted to the “Kayfabe” aspect of wrestling, He first approached Vince Mcmahon snr about the prospect of an Angle in the WWF, but Mcmahon snr wasn’t interested in allowing show buisness into his wrestling society. Through a mutuel friend however, Kaufman was introduced to Jerry Lawler and the pair came up with absolute gold.
It all started with Kaufman wrestling women on his television shows, offering them a cash prize if they could beat him, obviously he used stooges on most occasions, he would claim to be the inter gender champion of the universe! After A while, Kaufman took this act to the Memphis territory where Lawler of course was a massive star. Kaufman would cut amazing promo’s about how women were inferior to men, about how they are better at certain things such as cooking and cleaning, he was a natural heel, his respect for the business, his respect for “Kayfabe” and his willingness to both learn and take bumps were extraordinary and set him apart from every single “celebrity” that has entered the squared circle since him.
You can’t take anything away from Memphis wrestling during this time, they would follow up Kaufmans tirade promos by interviewing ladies outside of the arena to se what they thought of this “celebrity” telling them how inferior they were to men, obviously they had a lot of heat towards Andy Kaufman, the pot was bubbling very nicely.
Eventually Kaufman came face to face with a lady called Foxy, he won but barely. The match was set so that Kaufman escaped by the skin of his teeth, a typically heel way to win a match. After the match during an interview with Lance Russell Kaufman said that he could see Foxy taking advice from the great Jerry Lawler. Lawler responded by saying that if Kaufman gave Foxy another match in a weeks time, he could teach Foxy some moves that would help her beat Kaufman and the rematch was set up. Kaufman pinned Foxy, but after the match he stayed on top of her and was rubbing her head and face into the mat until Jerry Lawler jumped in and made the save. After a stand off between the two, Kaufman taunted Lawler with a chicken dance and Lawler responded by pushing Kaufman down, Andy was livid and was screaming that he was to sue Lawler, playing up to his weasel, heel persona. The crowd went wild, A long build up of heat for Kaufman, A reaction from the hero and we were off on a rollercoaster ride that was simply amazing.
Kaufman went back to Hollywood, but sent in video tapes of himself making fun of Memphis, Tennessee, of the people of Memphis and the art of Wrestling. In the first of these promo tapes, he was sitting on a patio in Hollywood with a lawyer, A gentlemen by the name of Bob Zamuda, He said that assault is assault and Lawler was guilty and Kaufman had a “Perfect case”. Lawler responded by challenging Kaufman to a wrestling match instead of settling the issue in court. Kaufman in turn responded the following week by saying he has wrestled Women that were bigger and stronger than Lawler.
A back and forth between the two carried on, Kaufman was videotaping himself wrestling women that were taller and bigger than Lawler, Lawler was keeping his dignity by cutting promos saying he was going to teach Andy some respect and show Andy what it was like to be a real Pro wrestler. It was a thing of Beauty, Lawler the well respected hero, the man was defending his hometown and defending pro wrestling, Kaufman the Hollywood clown that thought wrestling was easy and the people were beneath him.
Finally thy got into the ring together, Kaufman entered the ring in his trademark dressing gown and black shorts over his all over white body suit to an arena full of boos and jeers, Lawler in his normal one strap attire, crown in hand. The match was a slow starter, Kaufman escaping the ring and running around outside, Lawler grabbed a mic and asked if he was here to wrestle or act like an ass? Eventually Lawler gave Kaufman a free headlock, which was quickly turned into a beautiful side suplex, He then picked up Kaufman and gave him a piledriver and was subsequently disqualified, he then delivered two more piledrivers, Kaufman was carried out of the arena on a stretcher wearing a neck brace, it was a perfect to be continued moment.
The two met next on the David Leterman show, in what is now an iconic television moment, which culminated in Lawler slapping Kaufman, Lettermen clearly wasn’t sure if what was happening was staged or real, The clash got national media attention, it was unprecedented, it was gripping and whats more, it felt real.
The feud would continue for years, even after Kaufmans death (where it became slightly tasteless) But it is remembered to this day, this was something special, it captured imaginations.
Andy Kaufman should be in the WWE hall of fame, there is no doubt about it, he was a celebrity that crossed the divide, he cared about the business, he cared about the people that were paying to see him get hurt, he achieved more than most professional heels in the business even today.
Younger readers that haven’t already, please check out this feud, what I have described is just the beginning, Kaufman was amazing, Lawler was brilliant, no other rivalry has even come close to this one.
In closing of tis article, allow this writer to add my voice to the hundreds and thousands already out there that are calling for Andy Kaufman to be added to the hall of fame class of 2015. In fact I will go further, Andy Kaufman should be head of the class.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.