CLEVELAND - The World Wrestling Federation has been riding high as the top wrestling promotion for the past two decades. They are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, they sell out arenas all over the country, and are a billion dollar company.
Even with that said, just like any other company there are issues and challenges. Ratings over the last two months have been dropping, and with their rival company WCW (World Championship Wrestling) being brought by the WWF, there is now no real mainstream competition out there for the WWF.
One reason for the dropping ratings is due to the departure of one of the true veteran legends of the business, Jerry "The King" Lawler. The longtime Memphis grappler left the company back in late February when the WWF released Lawler's wife, Stacy "The Kat" Carter.
Now looking from the outside, Lawler sat down with Site Editor Matt Loede and thesportsking.com at a recent Indians game to discuss the business as well as his future with the chance of returning to the World Wrestling Federation.
Loede: WHAT ARE YOU DOING RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU STILL INVOLVED WITH YOUR PROMOTION IN MEMPHIS? Lawler: "We are continuing in Memphis. They have been the last live studio wrestling show that is done every week. We have been on channel 5, the NBC affiliate for the last 22 years. It's been a long running, live studio wrestling show. Right now they are renovating the studios, so what we have done is we have gone back and are pulled out tapes of the best stuff, what are calling "Classic Memphis wrestling." It's almost like a VH-1 "Behind the Music." We talk about what the viewers are going to see and we tell s story behind it, and then show clips. It's been received so well, it's almost doubled the ratings on the live shows. It's been so popular that on June 15th we are going into the old Memphis Mid-South Coliseum and are doing a legends show. We are bringing back the Fabulous one, Sheepherders, Road Warriors, Moondogs, Jackie Fargo, Kamala, Jimmy Hart and myself. I think it will sell out."
Loede: HOW MANY DOES THAT COLISEUM HOLD? Lawler: "It holds 11,500."
Loede: DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE STILL IN TUNE TO LIKING THE OLDER STUFF THAN SOME OF THE NEW STUFF THAT APPEARS TO BE SO 'OVER THE TOP?' Lawler: "It's so choreographed, there is no spontaneity to it. That's' what I hate about wrestling today. These guys will go out and sit down for two hours and go over each and every move that they are going to do. Then, when one guys forgets a move, they don't know what to do, they don't know how to ad-lib. We use to go out and do matches and it didn't even matter if you saw your opponent before the match, we use to ad-lib a whole match. You do what the fans respond to, that's what is wrong with today, it doesn't matter if the fans are sitting on their hands they do what's already laid out. The fans don't even feel that they are part of the match at all."
Loede: IS THE BACKSTAGE STUFF THAT IS SHOWN SO OFTEN ON T.V. TAKING AWAY FROM THE IN-RING PRODUCT? Lawler: "I think there was a time that the backstage product was unique. People didn't get privy to backstage stuff, but now though I think that they have overdone it. It's like the ECW, when they came around they were totally different, so it garnered a lot of attention. But then, you have to always be able to follow yourself, and then it got to be overkill. It got to where in one of the regular shows you'd see a guy from the balcony jump through four tables and get up and walk away. People are going to then say "What are going to do to top that?"
Loede: THURSDAY NIGHT THE WWF HAD A "TLC" (TABLES, LADDERS, CHAIRS) MATCH ON SMACKDOWN! IS THERE GOING TO BE A PEAK TO WHAT THEY CAN COME UP WITH AND PRESENT ON TV? Lawler: "What there are doing right now is they are in the panic stages, what's called "panic booking" like when you put a match that should only be on PPV on regular TV. They are seeing their ratings go down every single week, and in a desperation attempt they are thinking that this will get the ratings go up. The funny thing is the WWF doesn't advertise what matches are even going to be on the program. So you had to be watching to know there is going to be a "TLC" match."
Loede: IS NOT ANNOUNCING MATCHES TILL THE EVENT AIRS DIFFERENT THAN THE WAY IT USE TO BE? Lawler: "I think that is one of the biggest differences in the nine years that I have been with Vince's (McMahon) company. Vince use to book the events almost a year in advance. He'd start with WrestleMania and book backwards. He'd know what he was going to do at WrestleMania and then go back. Now, with the advent of writers, they are literally writing the shows the day of the event. That doesn't work. I guarantee you what happened was the Thursday before the ratings were low and they said 'what can we do?' so they threw in the biggest match, a "TLC" match."
Loede: IS WRESTLING GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE A STEP BACK IN ORDER TO REGAIN ITSELF AND THE HIGH RATINGS AGAIN? Lawler: "I think they are going to need to step back a little bit. Honest to God I'm not saying this to blow my own horn because I have talked to enough and gotten enough e-mails to be able to say that I think they made just a huge mistake in letting me leave there. J.R. (Jim Ross) and Michael Cole and I had chemistry. We were the right combination. Now they have on guys on both shows doing the same thing. It's almost an insult to the fans. You have J.R. shouting about how life and death everything is, but you always had me there to be like 'wink, wink, let's talk about puppies.' That worked. You need somebody to be a hard sell guy and you also need somebody there that's saying 'we're not trying to insult your intelligence, we're trying to have some fun.' Now you got two guys screaming their lungs out like it's all real, and you have half the people out there saying: 'what are they doing, are they insulting us?"
Loede: DO YOU STILL WATCH THE WWF PRODUCT? Lawler: "I really don't. I really do not watch at all. I check the Internet and check the recap of the show, which takes like five minutes to read instead of two hours to watch. They put the recap in the best light they can."
Loede: DID THE WWF BUY WCW TO CREATE COMPETITION? Lawler: "Absolutely. Having no competition is terrible. It's not good for Vince, it's not good for anybody in any field. You can't be number one unless there's a number two."
Loede: DO YOU FEEL THERE IS STILL AN OPPORTUNITY WITH THE WWF FOR YOU TO RETURN THERE? HAVE THEY DISCUSSED THAT WITH YOU? Lawler: "The only communication is the letter I wrote to Vince that said that we (Lawler and wife Stacy "The Kat" Carter) would be willing to come back. If they just said 'hey come back and we'll make things like they were' everything would be fine. They've contacted me several times, and what I told the guy in our last conversation is that one of the first things you learn in this business is that you don't put your personal feelings ahead of the business. What I told the guy is that if I was Vince McMahon right now, I would go to whoever told me to fire Stacy and fire them today. It's cost them millions of dollars. The ratings are down 25 percent from the day we left, and that's through the May sweeps, which is what you sell your advertising on the rest of the year. For RAW to be doing a 4.2 and SmackDown to do a 3.9 on the last week on May sweeps, that translates into millions of dollars."
Loede: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE WWF HAVING A PAY-PER-VIEW A MONTH? IS IT TOO MUCH? SHOULD THEY CUT BACK ON PAY-PER-VIEWS? Lawler: "They can't do that. The WWF is a Pay-Per-View driven business. That is where they make there money. They can't afford to cut back. What I hate about the PPV's is that sometimes they don't make them anymore special than the RAW's or SmackDowns. It's just like watching one of those on TV."
Loede: DO YOU THINK THAT IF YOU WENT BACK YOU WOULD BE MORE ACTIVE IN THE RING? Lawler: "I think I can really help them. The last meeting Vince and I had last November where we really sat down and talked to each other for over an hour, he said something in that meeting that "youth must be served, and it will be served here in the WWF." The largest segment in society is the baby boomer, 45-55 years old, and they couldn't care less about some of the younger guys. So, what you have is an opportunity in a two hour show is to give them something that they like to. Throw the other people a bone too. I could help them, especially right now, they could make a great program about this whole situation (Kat getting fired and Lawler leaving)."
Send Comments/Emails To Matt Loede at: firstname.lastname@example.org