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Dundee reminisces on feud with Lawler

Jerry "The King" Lawler is enjoying a career renaissance with high-profile World Wrestling Federation feuds against Mike "The Miz" Mizanin and former broadcast partner Michael Cole.

Nobody, though, could ever replace "Superstar" Bill Dundee as Lawler's top opponent from their days on the now-defunct Memphis, Tenn., pro-wrestling circuit.

The in-ring rivalry between the two has entered its fourth decade. Allowed to appear for independent promoters when not booked for WWE, the 61-year-old Lawler has recently renewed his grudge with the 67-year-old Dundee in cities where weekly shows were once held.

Strong interest in those cards in Nashville, Tenn., where 1,700 fans attended a show, and Evansville, Ind., with 2,000 on hand, prove that fans still have fond memories of an era when Memphis wrestling was considered one of the industry's top regional territories.

"It's a personal thing with them," Dundee said in a recent telephone interview. "All these fans grew up watching Lawler and Dundee. They bought into the allure of what we were doing."

Following in the footsteps of the legendary Jackie Fargo and the late Sputnik Monroe, Lawler became a Memphis wrestling superstar in the 1970s. Dundee -- a fast-talking Scotsman whose mouth seemed bigger than his 5-foot-6 frame -- became the perfect foil.

Lawler "was so good that it was a pleasure every night working with him," Dundee said. "He could have a great match with just about anybody and he could adjust to his opponent. You have to make wrestling entertaining. That's what a good worker is. You've got to stay one step ahead of what the audience figures you're going to do."

That was an especially big challenge in Memphis. With meager payoffs for undercard performers -- $25 a match was the going rate in most cases during the 1980s -- the company's supporting talent was constantly changing. Because he worked in the front office, Dundee was one of the grapplers who company owner Jerry Jarrett could keep in a top spot. But that also required Dundee and Lawler to regularly brainstorm new ideas to keep their characters fresh. Dundee would sometimes join forces with Lawler only to inevitably betray him and begin another round of matches.

The formula worked. The weekly Saturday-morning telecasts of Memphis wrestling were the highest of their kind in the U.S. before sputtering to an end a few years ago.

"A lot of people came and went, but Lawler and I were the mainstays," Dundee said. "I knew what my job was. Lawler was bigger here before I got here. He was The King. He got over with the people. I would never dispute that even in real life. Why butt heads with a guy who owns part of the company? How are you going to win? You can't."

Although he enjoyed success elsewhere -- most notably, World Championship Wrestling and Bill Watts' Mid-South territory -- Dundee's spot in the Memphis hierarchy explains why he stayed there for most of the next two decades there after arriving from Australia in 1974.

"When you work in the office, you're in charge of your own destiny," said Dundee, a Jackson, Tenn., resident who is now marketing director for Cole Bros. Circus. "The pecking order went Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee. Why go and just be one of the boys?"

Dundee and Lawler are two of the performers featured in "Memphis Heat," a new documentary that chronicles the area's pro-wrestling history. The film makes its world premiere March 24 in Memphis.

"We were really the first to do a lot of things like music videos and entrance music," Dundee said. "We had guys with a lot of personality. We were known for wild brawling, but our guys also could wrestle. It was a little mix of everything."

For more information on "Memphis Heat," visit www.memphisheatthemovie.com. For more information on Dundee, visit www.superstardundee.com.

(Alex Marvez writes a syndicated pro-wrestling column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at alex1marv(at)aol.com or follow him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexmarvez.)

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