An Article by Mike Mooneyham
March 3, 2001
The King has left the building.
Jerry Lawler, who with longtime partner Jim Ross formed one of the top announcing teams in wrestling history, walked out on the World Wrestling Federation last week following the firing of wife Stacy Carter.
The WWF, which for the past several years has prided itself on its stability, is still reeling from Lawler’s sudden departure, which leaves the company with spots to fill at the broadcast table and in the XFL booth.
Lawler, 51, known as “The King” to millions of wrestling fans over the past three decades, bolted shortly before last Tuesday evening’s Smackdown tapings in Tucson, Ariz., after WWF boss Vince McMahon ordered Ross to fire Lawler’s wife, Stacy Carter, better known in wrestling circles as “Kat.”
Sources say the 29-year-old Carter, who was among the many WWF “divas,” had become increasingly hard to deal with, and the creative team voiced their collective displeasure to McMahon, who late Tuesday afternoon told right-hand man Ross to release her. Ross was put in the unenviable position of having to relay the news to his longtime associate, while Lawler was placed in the uncomfortable position of either accepting the decision or coming to his wife’s defense.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The popular color analyst, who has been with the WWF for eight years, recounted on his Web site that upon arriving back at the arena on Tuesday, he was summoned by Steve Lombardi to Ross’s “office,” which was actually the dressing room shared by Lawler and Ross at TV tapings.
“King, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say,” Ross told Lawler. “Vince has decided that he doesn’t want to go any fur ther with the Kat’s angle, and subsequently he wants me to give her her release today.”
Lawler said he was stunned when Ross relayed that the writers told McMahon she didn’t have the right attitude and feared an increasing problem “if she got any bigger.”
Ross, who explained that he was merely delivering the unpleasant message, gave Lawler the option of having himself or Lawler break the news to Carter, to which Lawler responded, “I’ll tell her, while we’re on our way to Memphis.”
“You know me well enough to know that I would react this way and so does Vince, so I can only figure you guys want me to leave as well,” Lawler told Ross as he walked out, adding that he could be “on an other channel next Monday night.”
Lawler said he then took his wife into McMahon’s office and asked him why he was firing her, but McMahon said that he was simply acting on the advice of his creative and television production personnel, calling it a “talent relations issue.”
According to Lawler, McMahon said, “Well, King, I want to thank you for all you’ve done for us here and all the hard work you’ve put in for the WWF. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty for us here and I thank you.”
“With that,” said Lawler, “he reached out and shook my hand and I turned, and Stacy and I left his office and the building. It was all over that quickly. On the way out of the building I almost expected someone to come up to me and say with a smile, `What a rib!’ And that this would all be some kind of sick joke or something. But that didn’t happen. It wasn’t a joke. It was the real thing.”
In recent weeks Lawler had strongly pushed for the right to censor vs. right to nudity angle both he and Carter were involved with. Both were excited over the storyline and Lawler had already mapped out possible scenarios for the next several weeks of television.
Lawler was surprised to learn that earlier that day while McMahon was going over a rough draft for that night’s Smackdown, he told his writers that the Kat and RTC angle would continue with Val Venis volunteering to personally teach Kat to respect the RTC.
“It would involve Val proposing his idea to Steven Richards. Then Val and Kat going into a room and closing the door, Steven Richards waiting impatiently outside the door, and then Val finally emerging from the room looking disheveled and flustered, and it would be obvious that Val had ‘fallen off the wagon’ at the hands of the Kat. This scenario was a part of the continuing angle that I had presented to Vince and would be followed by a similar situation on Raw the following Monday with a different member of RTC.”
Lawler said he told his wife what she was doing in the show and she was pleased with her role. But by the time Lawler and Carter returned to the building a couple hours later, plans had changed.
Many are still wondering what prompted the move, but sources say McMahon had grown increasingly tired of Lawler’s insistence that his wife have a more prominent role on television, along with numerous complaints about Carter’s attitude.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
“I don’t really know what is going on other than that I feel there is more to this than meets the eye,” said Lawler on his Web site. “I’m not knocking anyone in the WWF. They’ve been too good to me to do that. I just really don’t totally understand this whole scenario.”
Lawler and Carter wed last Sept. 29 on Carter’s 29th birthday in Las Vegas in a chapel ceremony that was attended by Ross. Carter, who had been used mostly as eye candy by the promotion, met Lawler at a charity softball game in Memphis in 1989. She later accompanied Lawler as his valet in a variety of independent promotions until he encouraged her to join him in the WWF where she debuted in August 1999 as Debra’s assistant while she was managing Jeff Jarrett.
Carter created a stir when she exposed her breasts at the Armageddon PPV, later changing her name from “Miss Kitty” to “Kat.”
Lawler’s son, Brian Christopher (Lawler), who works under the name Grandmaster Sexay, remains employed by the WWF.
Lawler joined the WWF in 1993 after years of running down the company while headlining for the Memphis-based USWA (United States Wrestling Association). Lawler was once voted the second most recognizable person in his native Memphis – behind Elvis Presley. A Memphis State University grad with a degree in art, Lawler began his career in 1970 after drawing cartoons for the Memphis wrestling program and soon became the most popular performer in that area.
Lawler won the AWA world heavyweight title by defeating Curt Hennig in May 1988, and several months later, beat Kerry Von Erich to unify the AWA and World Class titles.
Lawler, who finished third in a 15-candidate race for mayor of Memphis in 1999, also has been working as a color commentator for the fledgling XFL in its debut season this year and was broadcasting one of the two Saturday night games on NBC. Lawler said last week he doesn’t envision returning to the WWF or XFL, though he was quick to point out that “anything is possible.” After a strong debut, XFL television ratings have plummeted the past three weeks.
Because Tazz, the Sunday Night Heat co-host, was in New York on Tuesday, Ross stepped in on Smackdown. For Saturday’s XFL game, Pro Football Hall of Famer and XFL Director of Competition Dick Butkus will take Lawler’s place.
Lawler’s sudden exit comes at a bad time for the WWF, whose ratings have slightly dropped over the past several months since leaving the USA network for TNN. It also leaves the company with an unfinished storyline, since both Lawler and Kat were heavily involved in the Right To Censor angle.
More importantly, however, it leaves the company with a king-sized hole at the broadcast table that will be hard to fill. Ross, who is widely regarded as the best announcer in the business, has never had a better partner than Lawler, and that includes a long list of many of the top announcers in the industry over the past decade. Their chemistry was unmatched, with the combination of Lawler’s comedy and timing along with Ross’ knowledge and intensity providing a strong one-two punch on WWF broadcasts. The two were considered the best announcing team in the business and were rightfully credited with much of Raw’s tremendous success the past few years.
The WWF’s loss could be WCW’s gain. Lawler was working on his old WWF con tract and had not yet signed an extension, although it is likely that McMahon will grant him a full release. Lawler would be an especially hot commodity for a “new” WCW, a major “surprise” acquisition WCW could introduce on an upcoming Nitro, and a valuable addition to its broadcasting team.
With WCW’s emphasis on a new look and new face for the company – pending the completion of its sale to Fusient Media Ventures – Lawler would be a key figure who could come in and make an immediate impact, giving the announce team the personality it so desperately needs.
Temporary replacements to fill Lawler’s announcing role most likely will include current Smackdown co-host Michael Cole and Tazz. Tazz, who has received positive reviews for his spot on Sunday Night Heat, currently is serving as one of the main trainers for the WWF’s “Tough Enough” program, and it is unlikely that he would be willing to give up his full-time wrestling schedule to sit behind the desk. A bigger- name player most certainly would have to be considered for the future.
One personality who could slip into that spot is Bobby Heenan. Heenan was a main stay on WWF programming for many years until being hired by WCW in the early ’90s, but was basically wasted during his last few years with the company before being released last December.
“Bobby Heenan was the best color guy we ever had,” said one WCW performer. “He dressed nice, he looked good. He was 10 times better than Lawler. When 10 years after you’ve worked, you walk into an arena and they’re hollering `Weasel,’ that means you’re over. They did that 10 years after the fact. That means the guy is over. But our company is too stupid to realize that.”
Heenan’s role had been downplayed after Vince Russo wanted the announcing team to have more of an “MTV look,” although Heenan jokes they then hired Mark Madden.
Heenan had a year left on his contract when WCW informed him several months ago that he was being released due to the $80 million debt the company incurred last year. Heenan was told that he was making too much money for not doing enough. He asked to do more but was told all the spots had been filled. Heenan was eventually taken off of Thunder with his role given to Stevie Ray.
Heenan recently claimed that he was never comfortable in WCW and only stayed for the paycheck he got every two weeks. Heenan said he didn’t have any problems with Bischoff, whom he said gave him two raises while he was there, but that he had come in contact with Russo only once.
Heenan said he was never happy during his six years with the company and would entertain an offer from the WWF.
Among the host of other names being bandied about as a possible replacement for Lawler include Jim Cornette, Michael Hayes, Mick Foley, Shane McMahon, Mark Madden, Larry Zbyszko, Paul Heyman, Shawn Michaels, Joey Styles and Don Callis.