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Jerry "The King" Lawler & Andy Kaufman

Classic Superstars
by yo go re

Most of the WWE Classic Superstars two-packs feature a tag team or two wrestlers who are otherwise related. It's much rarer for a set to feature a pair based on a single specific match.

Jerry Lawler was working as a DJ in Memphis when he agreed to trade on-air promotion for free wrestling lessons. He debuted in 1970, and within a year had won his first championship. In 1974 he won the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship belt and the title "the King of Wrestling," a nickname he's used ever since. He began touring the world in the mid-80s, and joined the WWF in 1992. He spent most of his time as a heel of one level or another, and is now known more for being a commentator than an in-ring personality. But that wasn't always the case.

This Lawler is from the early '80s, so he's much more svelte than a modern version would be. He's wearing red and black trunks, of the style with one strap running over the shoulder. Red and black seem to have been his trademark colors back then, since he even wore them when he was in civilian clothes. Heck, even his wristbands are red with black stripes. He has two black elbow pads, though I suppose technically, he should wear only one red pad, on his right arm. And does he really wrestle wearing cowboy boots? That seems dangerous.

The likeness is really good, with a smarmy grin leaning off to one side. Lawler's still around today, so finding current images of him is easy - but this face is clearly not the way he looks now. This is the face of 30 years ago, still young and elastic. He's got a small goatee, which seems to have been painted slightly off-center. Did he really wear it that way, or is this just an issue with the paint apps? They certainly got the chest hair painted on correctly.

Befitting his royal status, The King comes with his crown. It's a surprisingly ornate accessory, made from several pieces rather than being a single solid lump. It looks like a combination of metal, cloth and fur, though of course it's all just plastic. It's shaped to fit his head perfectly, held on tightly by nothing more than friction. The only other thing that might have made sense for him would be a big cape, but I'm not sure he wore it back then.

Jerry's opponent in this set is Andy Kaufman. Yes, the comedian. The guy from SNL, the guy from Taxi, the guy in the REM song. Kaufman's particular brand of humor was all about creating a complex, deceptive version of reality that the audience never saw through. For instance, he once created a character, a washed up lounge singer named Tony Clifton. The guy was a huge, hateful jerk, and was played by Kaufman beneath a ton of prosthetic makeup, with no indication that this was just a character - people were meant to believe Clifton was a real person. When audiences began to get wise to the joke, Kaufman began having friends portray Clifton, in part to sow confusion, and in part because he just took joy in a theatre full of people thinking they were watching Andy Kaufman play a character, never realizing they were wrong. It should come as no surprise, then, that Kaufman was fascinated by wrestling's commitment to maintaining kayfabe at all costs.

In the late '70s, Kaufman began challenging women to come on stage and wrestle him during his sets. He offered a $1,000 prize to any woman who could defeat him, and proclaimed himself the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World. After a series of wins, he was challenged by Jerry Lawler. On April 5, 1982, the two men met in Memphis' Mid-South Coliseum, giving Kaufman his first "real" wrestling match, and inspiring this set.

Since he's so scrawny, Kaufman doesn't use any of the normal Jakks bodies. His limbs are thin and his hands look comically tiny. He's wearing a white unitard under black trunks, and has large wrestling boots with brown soles. The likeness is terrific, really capturing the sort of wide-eyed bemusement Kaufman seemed to perpetually display. His hair has just the right coif, and he's painted with just a hint of a unibrow.

Andy's only accessory is a cloth neck brace with a velcro closure at the back. That's a great choice, because Kaufman really did break his neck during the match against Lawler, and had to be carried out on a stretcher - one of those is included with this set, as well. That's just a reused accessory Jakks has released before, and it's not getting any better with age. The important thing is the neck brace, and it's cool.

After their match (which Kaufman won, incidentally), the two men appeared on Late Night with David Letterman on July 28. At one point during the show, Lawler slapped Kaufman so hard he fell out of his chair, sending the comedian into a profanity-laced tirade that culminated with him throwing a cup of hot coffee at the wrestler. The two continued to feud for another year or so, but Kaufman died in 1984. It wasn't until 1995, however, that it was finally revealed the entire thing - Kaufman humiliating a woman Lawler had trained, their fight, the broken neck, the Letterman appearance, all of it - had been what pro wrestlers call a "work": in other words, it was all a staged storyline, and both guys were in on it. They worked out the whole angle together, and kept it secret for years. In real life they were good friends, so perhaps it's appropriate they're in this pack together after all.

-- 02/10/10

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