Earlier this week, while composing a list of the Top 50 Jerry The King Lawler Rivalries, and noticed just how impressive his 40+ year career has really been.
WWE's "It's Good To Be King" DVD (oddly enough, his 2003 autobiography was titled "It's Good To Be The King.... Sometimes" so perhaps he's done an about face since then?) attempts to capture Lawler's remarkable history with a documentary that gets deeper into the Memphis wrestling scene than the company has ever gone before.
Part of that may be because WWE doesn't appear to own footage from at least some of Lawler's careers (the tape libraries for the Continental Wrestling Association and United States Wrestling Alliance are apparently spread out over several owners). So while WWE certainly includes plenty of archival footage in this documentary, it's clear that they don't quite own everything.
Against a backdrop of Lawler drawing various portraits, we're given the history of his unusual path to stardom. As a child, his illustrations were shown on Memphis television, paving the way for Lawler to meet Lance Russell, Jackie Fargo and other icons of the territory.
Russell, an important part of Lawler's history, is interviewed for the documentary, as are his business partner Jerry Jarrett, his son Brian Lawler, his ex-wife Stacy The Kat Carter and former commentary colleagues Jim Ross and Michael Cole.
Without any formal wrestling training but a ton of natural charisma, Lawler quickly became a top star in the territory throughout the 1970s and 1980s, taking on some of wrestling's biggest names, including Hulk Hogan, Nick Bockwinkel, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Kerry Von Erich and numerous others. Lawler made a great point that, while the 20,000 seat Madison Square Garden often sold out on a monthly basis, the 10,000 seat Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis was sold out practically every Monday night, in large part thanks to Lawler's drawing power.
A healthy portion of the documentary is dedicated to Lawler's feud with Andy Kaufman, which we recognized as the biggest in his career in our Top 50 list. Kaufman allies Bob Zmuda, Lynn Margulies and Bill Apter comment on the unusual rivalry (WWE did procure rights to the first Lawler-Kaufman match, although they only provided still shots of the famous David Letterman spot). Vince McMahon himself laments that he wishes his father Vince McMahon Sr. hadn't turned down Kaufman's request to wrestle in the WWWF, given how much publicity the angle generated.
From there, Lawler's WWF/E run is highlighted, with him painted as both a great heel in the ring and a fantastic color commentator. Road Dogg mentions how he was the one who came up with the "Puppies" remark, but he was more than happy to let Lawler run with it. The King's one year departure from the WWF (Lawler quit after his then-wife Carter was fired from the company) is briefly brought up, minus the fact that The King's marriage fell apart shortly after that incident. Those who read Lawler's autobiography know that this was a low point in his wife, thus the ".... Sometimes" disclaimer.
Truly, the only disappointing part of the documentary focused on Lawler's on-air heart attack in 2012. While it was unquestionably a turning point in his life, I'm not sure we needed close ups of EMT's attempting to resuscitate Lawler as his skin grew pale and he was sent off in an ambulance. Recollections of the event would have been perfectly sufficient to describe the horrific event.
The match portion of the DVD set (two discs) is a little underwhelming, mostly because of the aforementioned content ownership issues. They managed to secure the infamous "Empty Arena Match" against Terry Funk (which absolutely needs to be seen), as well as some Memphis matches against the likes Bill Dundee and Eddie Gilbert, and of course his AWA title win against Curt Hennig.
But the remainder of the footage is WWF/E focused, including matches with Bret Hart, Jake The Snake Roberts, Tommy Dreamer (from ECW's Hardcore Heaven), Tazz and his match against Michael Cole from WrestleMania XXVII. It's definitely not a bad collection of matches... but it could have been far more extensive.
One aspect I would have loved for them to describe (either with actual footage or talking heads) is the McMemphis angle from 1993. For the uninitiated, Vince McMahon played a heel in Memphis years before he became "Mr. McMahon" on WWF programming, sending a variety of opponents after Lawler in the USWA, an interpromotional war of sorts that hasn't been seen before or after.
Tons of work went into the details of this, including cameos by Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Tatanka, Randy Savage, Pat Patterson, Giant Gonzales and others, and even segments filled at WWF television tapings to further a rivalry that would only be seen locally by the people of Memphis.
If you haven't seen the footage before... I would strongly encourage you to check out some of the highlights that are currently available on YouTube.
Overall, I would say "It's Good To Be King" is a worthwhile DVD to own and an important story in wrestling history.