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By Mike Johnson on 2024-05-06 10:02:00

WWE Hall of Famer and one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Jerry Lawler is no longer with World Wrestling Entertainment, has confirmed with multiple sources. is told that WWE quietly declined to renew Lawler’s broadcast contract, ending a relationship between the two that began back in December 1992 when he shockingly appeared on an episode of WWF Prime Time Wrestling.  Sources close to the matter have confirmed Lawler’s WWE contract expired at the onset of 2024.   

Note: Since publication, a WWE source has reached out to state Lawler would still be under a WWE Legends deal.

Due to the nature of Lawler being out of the public spotlight as he recovered from his February 2023 stroke, news of his departure from WWE only started to make the rounds in recent weeks.  Given the lengthy history Lawler had with the company and the fact Lawler literally died on camera on Raw before being resuscitated, word of his exit (as you might imagine) was met with surprise among those we spoke with over the weekend as worked to confirm his departure.  

One source commented that under the previous ownership, Lawler would have always been “taken care of” and connected with the company in some way contractually, but this is a “new era.”    

“The old company is dead,” they remarked.  “People can say they hate Vince [McMahon] and Kevin [Dunn] all they want, and they’d be right to do so, but certain people would have been taken care of.  Lawler would have been one, but this isn’t the old WWE.  Howard Finkel, God bless him, wouldn’t have had a job for life here anymore, either.”

Lawler, 74, first wrestled back in the early 1970s, is the living embodiment of Memphis Wrestling, a territory so popular that for decades, when there was no sports franchise in the city, the entire Memphis area would shut down in unison to watch Memphis Wrestling on their televisions live from WMC-TV studios on Saturday mornings.  

A young Lawler was among those fans in the generation before him, watching weekly and loving the Mid-South Coliseum live events so much that he, a talented artist his entire life, would send in drawn renditions of the events to Lance Russell, who, to Lawler’s surprise as he watched from home, showcased them on the show.  Russell invited Lawler to visit, basically opening the door to Oz from that point on for Lawler.

As Lawler got older, he convinced promoter Aubrey Griffith and the late Jackie Fargo, the creator of the strut we have all seen everyone from Ric Flair to Jeff Jarrett do for decades, to train him.  Fargo took him under his wing and eventually, Lawler debuted in 1971.  The rest, as they say, was history - and a history that generations of families lived vicariously through.

I could write dozens of paragraphs about what Lawler means to professional wrestling and they’d all be equally correct and important no matter what order I put them in - he was a wrestler, a talk show host, an announcer, a promoter, a booker, a Mayoral candidate, but the order of what he did and when doesn’t matter when someone has been involved in so much over so many decades.  The reality is that at this point, Jerry Lawler is probably best defined by when and where you first saw him.  He’s been that much of a definitive figure in professional wrestling.  

For some, he was the ultimate hero defending Mid-Southern Wrestling against villains great and small, from Dutch Mantel to Dr. Frank.   He was the yin to Bill Dundee’s yang, his sometimes-tag team partner and sometimes-hated enemy who lost not only his own hair, but his wife’s hair to Lawler during their heated 1977 feud in Memphis.  

Lawler was the one with the most biting wit, going out without a net on live TV every week, making people believe that they either wanted to see him kick ass - or, during the time periods he was an incredible heel - get his ass kicked.  Then, when you paid your ticket and sat down for that week’s ultimate event, Lawler’s right hand was as believable as Mike Tyson in terms of throwing punches.  The King was indeed, the man.

From Terry Funk to Hulk Hogan to Jeff Jarrett to Randy Savage to the Snowman, there wasn’t one wrestler of importance who came through Memphis and didn’t step into the ring to face the King and found themselves on the wrong end of a series of punches after the strap was pulled down, the signal that like Popeye eating the Spinach, the big babyface comeback was coming, followed by the fistdrop and possibly the dreaded illegal piledriver as the battle heated up. 

For all who live in Grind City, Lawler was one of them, the local boy who made good, rising to become their chosen champion every Monday night at the Mid-South Coliseum.  He was “The King”, the uncrowned World Champion who finally achieved that dream when he put his career up against Curt Hennig in 1989 and walked out the AWA World Heavyweight Champion.    Now, the local hero was headlining the first-ever non-WWF or Jim Crockett PPV against Kerry Von Erich - and unifying the AWA and World Class Championships.

While the AWA title win was celebrated by Memphis itself in 1989, the reality is Lawler may be, just by virtue of Memphis’ never-ending churning weekly storylines, one of the winningest wrestlers in professional wrestling history with endless CWA, NWA Mid-Southern and USWA Championships of every distinction, as well as title wins in just about every promotion he ever worked, with the exception of WWE.  It would probably be harder to count the titles he didn’t win vs. the championships he captured and defended.

When Memphis’ relationship with Verne Gage went to hell, Lawler refused to return the Unified title, continuing to defend it in Memphis, where he remained the stalwart to the point that event when WWF decided to promote Harley Race as the “King of Wrestling”, Lawler sued and won, given that he had been using that distinction in wrestling for decades.

Of course, eventually, Lawler did what some would have defined unthinkable - he joined the competition.  The same Lawler who defined Memphis and took turns booking the promotion with Jerry Jarrett appeared out of nowhere as a personality on Prime Time Wrestling, stunning long-time fans.  

From there, he became one of the most intense, disrespectful rivals ever for Bret Hart, attacking him during a King of the Ring coronation (Lawler, of course was the true King in his eyes), then mocking Hart’s parents and family on WWF programming to the point that at WWF house shows, there would be fans legitimately wanting to attack after Lawler during a time period where heels never got that sort of white-hot heat for a promotion that was mostly aimed at families.   It was that intensely heated and would have likely remained that way had legal issues not led to Lawler being pulled from storylines towards the 1993 Survivor Series.  

Lawler returned in March 1994 at Wrestlemania XX but by then, he was cast more as the cackling heel announcer next to Vince McMahon and Jim Ross.  While he would become embroiled with Hart again, the moment of true heat had been lost, never to be found again.

 Instead, an entire generation of fans now remember Lawler best as the horny, older announcer screaming for Puppies alongside Ross, the team that to so many remains the ultimate Monday Night Raw announcing team that all others are measured by.     If what you love about professional wrestling is rooted in adolescent nostalgia, Lawler was one of the faces and orators who carved the landscape for the company during its most popular era.  For a generation of fans, Lawler and Jim Ross were the definitive broadcasting team for the WWF.  

With the exception of a period where Lawler quit the company after they fired his then-wife Stacy Carter (and who could criticize a man standing up in support for his wife?) and the hiatus in late 1993 due to legal issues, Lawler was with the company over three decades.

For many years, somehow, Lawler never even wrestled at a Wrestlemania until he finally had a big showdown with his good friend Michael Cole, who was easily his best broadcast partner beyond Jim Ross.  WWE inducted Lawler into their Hall of Fame in 2007, where William Shatner handled the honors in Detroit, of all places.    Of course, If there's a Hall of Fame with any credibility, chances are Lawler has already been inducted.  

Of course, Lawler’s true gift to pop culture would be the “is it real?” storyline with the late Andy Kaufman, a devoted wrestling fan who was far more excited to be in the WMC Studios than he was filming the series Taxi.  A regular attendee at the WWF events at Madison Square Garden, Kaufman befriended legendary Pro Wrestling Illustrated editor and photographer Bill Apter and told him of his interest in getting involved.  When Vince McMahon Sr. rebuffed the idea, Apter and Kaufman ended up one night in Apter’s Queens, NY apartment, where he placed a phone call to Lawler and put Kaufman on the line.

Again, the rest was history.  In a genre-blending storyline that gained attention far beyond the Memphis borders because of Kaufman’s celebrity, Kaufman appeared as the big shot Hollywood star that looked down upon women, wrestling fans and Southerners on Memphis TV until finally Lawler had enough.  They ended up in the ring at the Mid-South Coliseum, where Lawler offered Kaufman a free headlock.  Andy took him up on the offer, only to be hit with a back suplex.  Lawler nailed the piledriver, the dreaded, illegal piledriver and Kaufman was stretchered out and rushed to the hospital, where he feigned being hurt for days and came out of it with a neck brace, promising revenge.

Outside of professional wrestling circles, some wondered if Kaufman had lost his mind or whether the incident was real.  Of course, it was all staged and Kaufman’s well known avant garde showmanship that twisted reality just made this play up into a greater dimension.  The story continued, sometimes successful at the gate, sometimes not, culminating in Lawler slapping the hell out of Kaufman on The David Letterman Show.  Kaufman began screaming and cursing bloody murder, promising to sue.  For decades, Letterman never admitted he was in on the angle.  Had Kaufman not gotten ill and died from lung cancer, he’d likely have remained an occasional Joker to Lawler’s Batman forever and ever.

Lawler’s true legacy, in my opinion, is that he was one of the most versatile performers of all time.  He could be the classic babyface hero.  He could be the most evil villain.  He could be the comedic supporting personality.  He could announce.  He could interview.  He could go from silly to intense over the course of a segment.  Like a Bobby Heenan or a Terry Funk, Lawler could run the gamut of emotions as a performer to elicit and control whatever reaction he needed from the crowd.  He could go from babyface to heel over the same weekend, depending on what promotion he was working and what the promoters needed.In his prime, he was one of the best of all time for that and even now, Lawler knew exactly when and how to prime live crowds to react and pop for his signature comeback and moves or a great quip on the live mic.

Lawler last wrestled for WWE in September 2012 where he worked a tag team match and then returned to his commentary position, only to suffer a massive heart attack.  In one of the luckiest twists of fate ever given the seriousness of the situation, Dr Michael Sampson, at the time with the company, was right next to Lawler and began to immediately provide medical attention.  Lawler was then rushed to a Montreal hospital with an amazing top of the line cardiac unit that was literally across the street from the Arena.  Lawler eventually made a full recovery, but was never cleared to perform for WWE again in a physical sense.  

Amazingly, Lawler was cleared by his own personal doctor and would return to the ring on the independent scene, working a smart style based around his mic work, some selling and then the big comeback.  He worked just weeks before his most recent stroke ended his in-ring career.  Lawler has dealt with several major health issues in recent years, including the aforementioned stroke that required surgery.  Lawler recently underwent knee replacement surgery as well.

In recent years, Lawler was a regular on not just the independent wrestling scene but the pop culture convention circuit.  An unabashed Batman fan, Lawler owns his own replica of the Adam West-era Batmobile, which sometimes joined him at appearances.  He equally loves Superman and Coca-Cola and regularly took part in creating artwork for Michael Kingston’s Headlocked, which Lawler often compared to giving back to Kingston the way Lance Russell gave back to Lawler at the start of his career by showing off his artwork on Memphis TV.

Lawler owns and operates King Jerry Lawler's Hall of Fame Bar & Grille in Memphis, which regularly honored and inducted members into the Memphis Wrestling Hall of Fame.  Over the years, he had attempted to cobble together the Memphis video library from all the far-flung collectors and potential claimants in the hopes of getting it purchased by WWE, although it never happened and in the Endeavor era, likely never will.

Lawler is technically free to sign elsewhere, but given his health issues, there’s no word if that’s something he would even be interested in pursuing.  Lawler has begun making some signing appearances in recent months at pop culture conventions.  

There will be a celebration for Lawler in Evansville, Indiana this Friday and Saturday 5/10 and 5/11 featuring a number of Memphis Wrestling legends and more appearing, including Austin Idol, Dutch Mantel, Bill Dundee, Mick Foley, The Steiners, The Hardys, Ron Simmons, Lex Luger and Jimmy Valiant.  The 2-day event will feature a  VIP show on Friday May 10 and convention Saturday May 11 with "Museum style exhibits with legendary, ring-worn items, wrestling artifacts, championship belts, recreated television settings, awards presentation, Wrestling Costume World Championships, photo-ops, autographs, collectibles, LIVE podcasts, Q&A sessions, historic video show and much more."  It is also advertising that the artwork of Jerry “The King” Lawler will be showcased and feature some forgotten treasures and never before seen art pieces in this once-in-a-lifetime event.  There will be a VIP Roast on Friday as part of the event.  

It’s certainly not out of the question that WWE will bring Lawler in to make cameos in the future, especially when they are in Memphis (as they did when WWE was there in March), but for the first time in decades, Lawler is no longer truly contractually bound to the company, which even a year ago, would have been absolutely unthinkable.

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