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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, March 2, 2001

Lawler's departure leaves a void

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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This past Tuesday, the WWF announced via their popular website that long-time WWF icon and prolific announcer Jerry 'The King' Lawler had quit the federation in protest over the dismissal of his wife Stacy 'The Kat' Carter. Since then, news has trickled out periodically over the course of the week, with speculation by Internet pundits rampant and even Lawler himself interjecting a few facts.

Most fans are in agreement that this is not a good move for anybody. Lawler, like him or not, is one of the best colour men in a sport that doesn't always seem to have a whole lot of great commentators. To boot, his long working relationship in the booth with WWF play-by-play man Jim Ross has produced one of the better chemistries in wrestling commentary, and while Lawler may be hard to replace, that chemistry may be absolutely irreplaceable.

Meanwhile, the World Wrestling Federation is clearly the place to be right now for anyone and everyone. They're arguably the hottest federation on the globe, decline in storylines or otherwise, and they're certainly the only healthy big league fed in North America. The WWF and Lawler seem a perfect fit.

All this explains why fans aren't too terribly thrilled with this development, and I'm not either. Truth be told, Jim Ross is a heck of an announcer, but for my money Jerry Lawler was and is the best in the business. I've always maintained that and now is no exception. Sure, Lawler wouldn't be nearly as good without Ross, but I think the same is even more true for Ross. Suffice it to say that I can more easily digest Lawler and Michael Cole on Smackdown! than I can the new and possibly permanent duo of Ross and Cole.

Lawler has publicly stated that he'll be taking it easy for awhile, not really taking up or even considering and serious offers until later. That's all fine and good, but I'm not so sure he's going to have an offer waiting for him when he's done relaxing. He just left the WWF, after all, and though he's implied that anything is possible as far as that avenue goes, the reality is that there are other underlying issues that would plausibly prevent his return, which I'll get into later. Meanwhile, Lawler is apparently working without a contract and has been for sometime. It's even been suggested that Lawler once in the recent past sent feelers to WCW, either to seek alternate employment or to leverage against the WWF. Also apparently, there was no serious offer from WCW, and there may not be one for some time, if ever. After all, WCW is in a transition period, and as I understand it, not really hiring anyone until the possible sale to Fusient is done, one way or another.

Not to mention, announcers are not exactly like wrestlers. Federations don't keep stables of them, using them as much or as little as they please. Many folks out there -- certainly not everyone, though -- feel varying degrees of antagonism toward WCW's announcers, which is more the result of years of promising main events and not delivering, exaggerating the quality of matches, and so on. Yet World Championship Wrestling has made few moves to fix this perceived problem, and until the recent hiring and later dismissal of Mark Madden, there had been almost no new faces in WCW's booth for five years.

So now, after all that time, with Lawler apparently having been available for a good chunk of that time, and with Lawler certainly having less leverage now than he did then, WCW is supposed to hire him when for all we know they may go the way of ECW in two months? This seems unlikely. If a return to the WWF is equally unlikely, then we may not see much of Lawler in the near to distant future.

Of course, The King could just as easily end up back on television as early as this week, given how topsy turvy the wrestling industry can sometimes be. After all, even if you don't agree that he's a grade A talent, he's certainly a grade A brand name.

As complicated Lawler's future may seem, it pales in comparison to his immediate past. His un-contracted status aside, the whole debacle which resulted in the WWF being short a colour commentator for Raw, Smackdown!, pay-per-views, and the XFL has been strange to say the least. Based on Lawler's own statement, this seems to be what happened: Sometime after Raw but before the Smackdown! tapings, everything was laid out for the show, including a part for The Kat's continuing saga with the RTC. Shortly after, Jim Ross revealed to Lawler that Kat would be dismissed, apparently for attitude reasons, and asked who Lawler wanted to break the news to his wife. No reason was allegedly given, and to make a long story short, Lawler stated he wouldn't stand for it, and he quit too. They went to see Vince McMahon and that solved nothing. Then they left the building, and that was that.

Lawler himself admits that the story certainly sounds like it's lacking something -- I couldn't agree more -- and implies that he has no idea what that something is. It seems strange to me that The Kat would be such a prima donna that the WWF would have visions of Sable and let her go, but then McMahon's organization has gained a reputation for not tolerating disruptions and disturbances to their locker room.

Either way, it's hard to evaluate Kat's or Lawler's departure without knowing all the facts.

I know it caught me by surprise. At least when Chris Benoit and company quit WCW, dramatic as that too was, there was a ton of precedent in the weeks prior. When Raven demanded his release, we knew he was unsatisfied. I had no idea that relations between Lawler, his wife, and the WWF were so strained that it would come to this.

Many Internet pundits have drawn this conclusion before I, but it's worth restating: The WWF person or people who decided to fire Kat must have known that there would at least be the chance that Lawler would walk out. I'm not suggesting that this means Kat's antics should be put up with incessantly, but if The King is to be believed then there were never any warnings of any kind. It makes sense to bend over backwards for your top, most marketable talents, especially those not under contract.

Then again, this whole situation is strange, going all the way back to Lawler working without a contract. If that tidbit I brought up about Lawler sending feelers to WCW is true, maybe there is lingering tension from that. Clearly, we don't know so we can't tell. All I know is that Lawler is the top announcer in wrestling today in my book, and I will miss him. I hope he ends up somewhere productive real soon, and I don't mean the next Women Of Wrestling pay-per-leer.

Here's the mailbag.

Brooks Davis, from, writes:
"You gave some prophetic advice in your entertaining November 24 column, 'How to win at wrestling.' It was, 'Don't team up with Lex Luger. He'll turn on you.' Would you like to predict the date before which he will have turned on Buff Bagwell?

It's a little embarrassing, but trivia like this can stick in the mind.

Cheers, Brooks Davis, Victoria, BC"

Well, I know with relative certainty that one of the following three outcomes will happen:

(1) Lex Luger will turn on Buff Bagwell.
(2) WCW will finally be sold to Fusient and someone at the new company will realize they're actually paying this guy to wrestle, and then they'll fire him.
(3) WCW will fold and Lex Luger will never wrestle again.

If the Wrestling Fates have anything to say about this, I'm sure the result would be some twisted combination of all three, but my money's on #1. Luger turns on Bagwell by March 15.

That's all for this week! Tune in next week for more of the same. Thanks for writing in, and have a safe and fun weekend.

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