Ask 411 Wrestling: When Did Jerry Lawler Become a King?

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Getting this question published is a crowning achievement for Chris:

Who started using The King gimmick first – Jerry Lawler or Roy Lee Welch? Did they ever have a match as “King vs. King”?

Let’s start by doing a bit to set up who Roy Lee Welch is, because he’s not exactly a guy who has a lot of recognition among modern professional wrestling fans.

In the 1930s through the 1960s there were four Welch brothers who became professional wrestlers in the American south, and their names were Roy, Herb, Jack, and Lester. Of the four, Roy is perhaps the best remembered from an historical standpoint, because he, along with Nick Gulas, became the main promoter of wrestling in Tennessee for many years. Several of the children of these four brothers also broke into the wrestling industry. This included Roy Lee Welch, who was the son of Lester Welch.

(As an aside, the original Roy Welch had a son named Edward who gained fame wrestling as Buddy Fuller. If you’re around my age and didn’t have a lot of familiarity with southern rasslin’ growing up, the most exposure that you’ve probably had to the Welch-Fuller family comes from Buddy Fuller’s kids, Ron and Robert Fuller, the latter of whom is also known as Col. Rob Parker/Tennessee Lee to WCW/WWF fans.)

Getting back to Roy Lee Welch, he began as a territorial wrestler in the early 1970s and had a relatively successful career. As Chris notes, he did dub himself the “King of Pro Wrestling” at one point while working in the Continental territory. Though records are a bit spotty, I believe this nickname – and the ridiculous crown that came along with it – originated in 1986 when Welch turned heel on Tim Horner after returning from an injury. At the same time, Welch and Horner feuded over the NWA United States Junior Heavyweight Title.

This is over a decade after Jerry Lawler became the “King of Memphis.” In Memphis, the “King” gimmick was originally used by wrestler Jackie Fargo. Fargo was originally Lawler’s mentor, but Jerry turned heel on him in the 1970s, and the two eventually had a student versus teacher match on July 27, 1974, in which Lawler defeated Fargo not only for the NWA Southern Junior Heavyweight Title (not to be confused with the NWA United States Junior Heavyweight Title mentioned above) but also the moniker of “King,” which he still uses almost fifty years later.

Thus, King Lawler predates King Welch by about 12 years.

Did the two ever face each other in a match for their respective crowns?

No, not that I was able to find record of. The men wrestled each other in tag matches in 1972, 1973, and 1974, and the only singles match between them that I’m aware of occurred at the Macon Coliseum in Georgia on January 22, 1974, with Lawler beating Welch. This was, of course, six months before Lawler became a king and twelve years before Welch did.

Donny from Tamaqua, PA is adhering to destrucity:

In 1996 when Ultimate Warrior was fired in the summer and Sid was brought in to fill the vacant spot, how far was that spot for the Ultimate Warrior booked? In other words when it was Sid vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title at Survivor Series 1996 was that originally slated months in advance the Ultimate Warrior vs Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title?

Donny, I can’t help but think that you’re cheating on me with another pro wrestling Q&A segment:

Well, at least that was an easy one to answer.

Stu in Liverpool is a blank slate:

Which title has “vacant” been the holder of the most? Both in reigns and time-wise? Who are they surprisingly more successful than?

First off, let’s set some ground rules here. There have been hundreds if not thousands of championships in wrestling over the years, and I couldn’t look at all of them. So, I chose to limit my review to what I consider to be major championships from the following companies: WWE, NWA, WCW, AWA, TNA, ECW, NJPW, AJPW, NOAH, Dragon Gate, AAA, and CMLL.

Also, at some points in wrestling history the precise dates on which championships were vacated were not recorded all that well. For example, there might not have been an indication that the title was stripped from its prior holder until such time that a new champ was being crowned. Usually title histories at least indicate a month and a year, so in cases where we have a month but no date, I am going to assume that the title was vacated on the first day of the month.

As a final rule, I am not counting the deactivation of a title as a vacancy, even if it was technically vacated for a time before it was formally abandoned. With the exception of ongoing vacancies (of which we have a couple), the title needs to have been brought back in order for the vacancy to count.

With those criteria in place, we turn to Stu’s first question. The championship that has been vacated more than any other is . . .

The All Japan Pro Wrestling World Tag Team Titles with 20 vacancies in total.

There’s actually a specific reason the AJPW Tag Championship tops the list. Early in its history, the title would be intentionally vacated on an annual basis so new champions could be determined in the company’s World Strongest Tag League tournament, with the idea being that the winners of the tournament were the best team in the promotion, so they should be the champions. This lead to the titles being vacated six times, in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994. The titles were actually vacated and decided in the World’s Strongest Tag League in 1990 as well, tough technically they were vacated because one of the champions left the company and not solely because of the tournament. The tradition of vacating the titles for the tournament was brought back in 2012 and 2014, though it’s not been done since.

Second place is the WCW United States Championship which traces its lineage directly back to the version of the title defended in Jim Crockett Promotions. Between WCW and JCP, the belt was vacated on 17 different instances, though there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for that as there was with the AJPW Tag Titles.

Interestingly, if you add the lineage of the current WWE United States Title to the JCP/WCW version, you get four more vacancies for a total of 21, actually exceeding the AJPW tag belts. However, I’m still giving the nod to All Japan on this one, because WWE seemingly can’t make up its mind as to whether its US Title is or is not the same one that was promoted back in the territorial area. (And, last I checked, I think their current position is that the two titles are NOT linked.)

That takes care of number of vacancies, but what about Stu’s second question. What about LENGTH of vacancies?

Far and away, the winner here is the NWA World Heavyweight Title, which has been vacant for a grand total of 1,035 days. The bulk of this results from two vacancies that lasted almost a year each, the first coming between between September 8, 1991 and August 12, 1992, beginning with Ric Flair leaving WCW for the WWF and ending with Masahiro Chono winning the belt in the finals of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament. The second ran between September 15, 1993 and August 27, 1994, which began with WCW withdrawing from the NWA and ended with Shane Douglas winning the title in a tournament and immediately throwing it down to begin the “Extreme” era of ECW. Also helping contribute was a 100+ day vacancy between May 13, 2007 and September 1, 2007, which starts with TNA’s relationship with the NWA coming to an end and ends with Adam Pearce defeating Brent Albright in a tournament.

In second place is the All Japan Pro Wrestling Junior Heavyweight Title, which has been vacant for 958 days. The majority of that time comes from one vacancy that ran from June 16, 2000 through April 13, 2002, beginning with Yoshinari Ogawa leaving the company and ending Kendo Kashin winning a decision match against Masanobu Fuchi.

In neither case does “vacant” do better than the most prolific actual people to hold the championships, though. Adam Pearce, Nick Aldis, Gene Kiniski, Dan Severn, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race, Ric Flair, and Lou Thesz all held the NWA Title for more than 1,035 days, while Kaz Hayashi, Yoshinari Ogawa, and Masanobu Fuchi have all held the AJPW Jr. Title for longer than 958 days.

Taylor from Wichita (not to be confused with Tyler from Winnipeg) probably should’ve send this question in about a week earlier:

With today being the rumble, that got me wondering – if someone were to step outside the ring through the ropes and onto the apron, and then climb up to the top rope, and then get knocked off the top rope and fall to the floor, are they eliminated? Or, since they stepped through the ropes first, does it not technically count as going over the top rope from the inside to the outside of the ring?

They’re eliminated. There’s actually precedent for this in the 1997 Royal Rumble, when lucha libre legend Mil Mascaras stepped out between the ropes to the apron, climbed to the top rope, and jumped off with a plancha to Pierroth, who was already on the floor. Granted, that was Mascaras intentionally jumping off the top and not getting knocked off by an opponent, but I cannot imagine why the two scenarios would be treated differently.

I would also like to point out that the reason Mascaras was eliminated in this manner is that he was well known for refusing to do jobs for most of his career, so much so that he didn’t even want to get dumped out over the top rope in a battle royale.

Ron is the bomb diggity:

I’ve been watching old episodes of Prime Time Wrestling and I have a couple of questions in regards to the Jumping Bomb Angels from 1988/89. I am not nearly as educated on Japanese wrestling as I should be, but was Vince signing them a big deal as it was in recent times with the signings of Asuka, Kairi, Shinsuke, and Io?

First, a slight correction. The Jumping Bomb Angels were in the WWF in 1987 and 1988, not 1988 and 1989.

As far as their time in the WWF is concerned, no, joining the promotion did not generate any significant level of buzz. In the late 1980s, very few American fans would have any idea who Japanese wrestlers were until they debuted in the United States, so there wasn’t the same level of anticipation for them that there would have been for Shinsuke Nakamura or any of the joshi gals that you’ve mentioned.

They were years ahead of their time and organically got over with American crowds but the only other Japanese wrestler Vince would sign in this timeframe that wasn’t a one off was Hakushi. Why do you think Vince was averse to signing Japanese wrestlers despite the Angels getting over?

Are the Jumping Bomb Angels and Hakushi really part of the same “timeframe”? Their respective WWF debuts were seven years apart, and, in terms of the eras that the company often gets divided into, the Angels came around during the Hulkamania/Rock n’ Wrestling period whereas Hakushi was firmly planted in the New Generation, first showing up in 1995.

In any event, it’s not entirely true that Hakushi and the JBA were the only Japanese wrestlers who had extended stints in the WWF during that period. Killer Khan had a run with Hulk Hogan as WWF Champion in 1987. (He was billed from Mongolia but actually Japanese.) Akio Sato was part of the Orient Express in 1990 and 1991. Bull Nakano had her run with Alundra Blayze in 1994 and 1995. That’s still not a ton of people, but it’s more than just Yamazaki, Tateno, and Hakushi.

However, I think that the general principle that Vince McMahon hasn’t brought in a lot of Japanese wrestlers over the years does ring true. Why? Some of it has to do with the language barrier and McMahon’s general preference for showmanship and promos over in-ring performance. Some of it has to do with cost, as it’s always going to be cheaper to have an American wrestling in an American wrestling promotion than an international star from any company. Some of it has to do with the culture of Japanese wrestling itself. Even though this has loosened up in more recent years, historically in Japan the rule was that wrestlers were loyal to the promotions that broke them in to business and there was very little jumping back and forth between companies even in Japan, let alone jumps from Japan to American promotions.

There isn’t any one really good answer. It’s a combination of factors.

Finally, did they actually wrestle anyone else other than the Glamour Girls?

Not often – at least not in the WWF – but it did happen a couple of times.

First, I’ll go with the match that you’ve probably heard of, namely the women’s elimination match at the 1987 Survivor Series, when the JBA teamed up with Rockin’ Robin, The Fabulous Moolah, and Velvet McIntyre to take on the Glamour Girls, Sensational Sherri, Donna Christianello, and Dawn Marie (not the ECW version). Of course, that is still the Angels versus the Girls in some respect, but there were also other wrestlers involved for Yamazaki and Tateno to mix it up with.

The only other JBA match in the WWF that wasn’t a two-on-two battle with the Glamour Girls occurred on January 2, 1988, when the Angels defeated Sensational Sherri and Rockin’ Robin on a house show at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. It’s not entirely clear where Kai and Martin were, because they wrestled the Angels on December 29 in Hamilton, Ontario and again on January 4 in Montreal, Quebec.

Bryan is staring at the man in the mirror:

Was Sid’s demeanor and look and pro wrestling at all inspired by the actor in the 80s horror movie “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?” The curly hair and southern accent sort of reminds me. Do you see it or is it just me?

For those who may not be familiar with it, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 film starring Michael Rooker as, you guessed it, a serial killer named Henry. Admittedly, there is a resemblance between Sid and Rooker (at least facially – they have totally different bodies), and Sid’s accent is similar to Rooker’s, given that the former hails from West Memphis, Arkansas and the latter hails from Jasper, Alabama.

However, I’ve never read about one inspiring the other, and I strongly suspect that what we’re dealing with here is a series of coincidences. I say that mainly because, even though Henry predates Sid’s in-ring debut in 1987, it was not a particularly popular film upon its release, though it was known in independent circles. It wasn’t until a 1990 re-release that it started to gain more mainstream popularity. By that point, Sid would have been well-established in its own right.

That’s not to say that somebody couldn’t have seen it and talked to Sid about his look, but I’m guessing that the crossover between indy film viewers and pro wrestling viewers in the late 1980s was pretty limited.

Tyler from Winnipeg (not to be confused with Taylor from Wichita) takes us from one kind of bomb to another:

Why did Adam Bomb have such a short run in the WWF?

First, I don’t know that I would call it all that short of a run, as he made his debut in March 1993 and continued through August 1995, so that’s a solid two-and-a-half years. Ultimately, when he left, it sounds like it was of his own volition. According to the August 25, 1995 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Bomb quit the company on August 17 due to the fact that he was not happy with his push, being put over the edge by having to do a 30 second job to Henry Godwinn of all people on a Madison Square Garden show earlier that month.

There were actually some legal wranglings between Bomb and the WWF after he stopped wrestling for them, as he “quit” despite having several more months on his contract and the Fed refused to let him out of it. The fall 1995 Observers periodically mention Bomb and the WWF having a will they/won’t they sort of relationship, with there being occasional conversations about whether Bomb could be coaxed into returning.

Those discussions did not bear any fruit, as Adam Bomb never saw action in a WWF ring again. (At least not under that name – he was back briefly during the Invasion as Bryan Clark of Kronik.) In fact, between August 1995 when he left and May 1997 when he debuted with WCW, Bomb only wrestled five times according to CageMatch, with some of those being tag matches in the UK also involving Doug Williams. Yes, Adam Bomb and Doug Williams once shared the ring.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

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