Most wrestling fans associate Jerry "The King" Lawler with the WWE but he had an entire career's worth of matches and memories before joining the promotion in 1992. He wrestled primarily in his hometown of Memphis as well as several other southern territories throughout the 70s and 80s.
From his work in the territories, Lawler got to know several of the wrestlers he would later work with in WWE. Those relationships he formed weren't always great and he talked about a locker room incident he had in WWE on Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions.
"Well, you know this Steve. Every wrestler in the business that steps foot in the ring thinks he's the best worker around so, what had happened was there were a lot of guys that had worked for Jerry Jarrett and me in the past down in Memphis. And you know how things go with them, your shelf life was only so long in the territory so guys would come in and eventually, you'd have to give them their notice or fire them and let them move on to another territory," said Lawler. "So, when I came into the WWE, there were several guys that had worked for Jerry Jarrett and I that didn't have fond memories. They either felt like they didn't make any money down there, or they felt like they got fired for no reason or that sort of thing.
"So, there was some animosity towards some guys. There was a little incident that happened one night I came back. We were going back to the dressing room and Jimmy Hart – Jimmy Hart was a great friend of mine and still is today – comes running in and says, 'King, don't go in there, don't go in and look at your crown.' And I said, 'What are you talking about?' and he said, 'Somebody took a crap on your crown' and so I said, 'Okay.' So, I went right in and talked to Vince. I said, 'Hey, I can understand why there are some people that are not going to take a shine to me right away and if that's the case, I don't have to be here. I'll go back to Memphis' and he said, 'No, I promise you nothing like that will happen again.' And sure enough, from that time on, there was no problem."
Lawler was a big name in wrestling when he joined the then-WWF in 1992 but didn't have experience as a commentator. He started off as an announcer before getting his own interview segment before finally becoming a commentator. He discussed why WWE felt like he would be a good fit in the booth.
"I never thought about being a commentator; I didn't get into this business. That was [Memphis broadcasters] Lance Russell and David Brown. They were the greatest commentators to me and I never wanted to be that," admitted Lawler. "I wanted to be Jackie Fargo. I didn't want to be Lance Russell so, somehow, because I was mainly known for my talking back in the days, that's why they brought me up. The first thing they did, they gave me that King's Court Segment where I go out and talk and then Vince put me on along with him and Randy Savage to do some commentary work.
"But then, almost immediately after that I'll never forget – we were getting ready to do a Monday Night Raw and at that time, it was the Monday Night Wars and WCW would come on an hour before our show. So, we were getting ready to talk about what was going to happen on the show and I'll never forget what Vince was saying. They had just Randy and Vince doing commentary then and Vince was saying, 'Somebody find Randy. I need to go over something with him about the show' and all of a sudden, somebody said, 'Vince, turn on the TV.' Vince turns on the TV on WCW and hears Randy, 'Oooooh Yeah!!' Randy Savage had jumped ship without telling anybody and I'll never forget.
"All of the wrestlers were going, 'Oh my God.' Vince was great; he didn't even put it over at all. He just turned around and looked at me and said, 'King, would you do commentary with me tonight and next week I'll have somebody do it on a regular basis? Will you do it with me tonight?' And that's how it started."
Lawler was the one who ended up doing commentary on a regular basis for Raw and McMahon replaced himself with Jim Ross with Michael Cole also partnering with The King. Lawler was asked about working with them and if their preparation and his spontaneity was the key to their success.
"Yes, exactly and I would – that was so lucky for me and the fact that looking back, JR was always [prepared] and Michael Cole was as well. I mean, Michael Cole is the same way. That they were always so prepared and I didn't want to know what was going on. I felt like my commentary was more sincere and more believable if I'm reacting to what I'm seeing for the first time," revealed Lawler. "If I know what's going to happen, I just knew I wouldn't react to it the same way as if I was surprised by things. So, that's where JR, and Michael Cole is the same way, their preparation made it so easy for me."
Lawler's voice was known to rise in pitch when he got really excited at something and he talked about where that high-pitch commentary came from.
"Part of it came from the fact when JR was that enthused, I had to be that enthused as well and that's the part of the camaraderie and chemistry between the two of us. You had to be that way to keep up with him, but I looked back on it with myself, and one of the major influences in where I got a part of that voice was from Curly of The Three Stooges," stated Lawler whose voice would especially rise another octave when divas were around.
"The actual word 'puppies' came about – the first time we heard it used on RAW or in the WWE was by Road Dogg. Somehow, Road Dogg was out there I think with DX or somebody and he said, 'Show us your puppies' and if you remember back in during the Attitude Era that was a huge thing. I mean, we had such a huge amount of college kids that were coming to the matches and you would hear them talking about it and they'd say, 'Oh my gosh, you go to a WWE show, you might see some women's breasts!' I mean, out in the crowd, they were flashing the puppies and that sort of thing, but yeah Road Dogg was the first one to actually say it. I picked it up from there and it just had a life on its own."
In WWE Vince McMahon is known to be in his commentators' ears, literally, and is often feeding them lines and telling them what to say. But that wasn't really the case with Lawler and he was asked if that was because Vince liked his commentary style.
"Yeah, I do feel like that; I would never go around and say that. You talk about Vince and I know that's been his MO pretty much. He likes to produce the announcers and JR will tell you, Michael Cole will tell you, and I think it's because Vince had the respect and I know for a fact that Vince personally liked my commentary style. He never would, and I mean almost never, would say anything to me in the show," said Lawler.
"I mean, sitting there halfway in the show and I am drawing pictures on my notes and JR said, 'Is Vince talking to you tonight?' And I said, 'I hadn't heard a word' and he said, 'Oh my God, he's wearing me out.' So, anyway yeah, that was one of the situations where I was real fortunate. And it's funny that JR and I think that's what missing today is we were allowed to be stars. We were already before we started doing commentary, we were stars as well.
"And somewhere along the line, it became where I don't think they didn't want the commentators to be stars. They didn't want anybody to outshine, which would never happen, but to me, I think that's missing. I'm starting back at Payback Pay-Per-View and hopefully, I'm going to be able to go back and be the old King that had a personality because I think that is what helps make the stars that you're talking about."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.