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By Mike Johnson on 2023-02-14 15:21:00 is sad to report the passing of one of the all time greatest professional wrestling promoters of all time, Jerry Jarrett, who headed the legendary Memphis Wrestling territory for decades before selling it to exit the business in the mid-1990s.  Jarrett later returned to the business to found and launch TNA (now Impact Wrestling) in 2002 alongside his son, WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett.  Jarrett was 80 years old. 

Jarrett's passing was announced this afternoon by Memphis Wrestling historian Mark James.   The Jarrett family has not yet made a statement on is passing.

To say Jerry Jarrett’s reach and influence on professional wrestling was infinite would be an insanely massive understatement.  Every major star in professional wrestling, for decades, came through Memphis - from stalwarts like Jerry Lawler to WWE Hall of Famers like Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan to tag teams like The Fabulous Ones, The Midnight Express, The Rock N’ Roll Express and countless others.  

The son of the late Christine Jarrett, who worked for promoters Nick Gulas and Roy Welch's company, Gulas-Welch Promotions, in Nashville in their ticket office, Jerry grew up around the business, assisting his mother as she graduated into promoting events in Kentucky and Indiana.  Jarrett started out selling programs for the territory at 7 years old and by the time he was a teenager, he was working on every logistical aspect of running a professional wrestling event - setting up the ring, selling tickets, promoting the shows, you name it, Jarrett had his hands in it.

Jarrett began working as an assistant to Gulas and Welch, eventually becoming a referee when one was needed at an event.  From there he began to transition over into becoming a professional wrestler, trained by Sailor Moran and Tojo Yamamoto, with the latter becoming a constant presence across Memphis Wrestling for decades under Jarrett.    He held numerous tag team titles in NWA Mid-America in the 70s.

Jarrett bought a piece of the territory as well, or so he thought.  When he made what he believed was a purchase into the group, he was later told he had only purchased “the right” to buy in.    Burned, he bolted and formed the Continental Wrestling Association in the late 1970s.  Empowered by having Jerry Lawler and the team of Lance Russell & Dave Brown as his announcers, WMC-TV soon went with Jarrett and the legendary Memphis TV series that ran for decades live on Saturday mornings  began its tremendous run.  

The 90-minute live series was so popular in its heyday that when it went on the air, Memphis would literally shut down to watch the broadcast, setting the stage for Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum almost becoming a weekly religious pilgrimage and the center of those fans’ social lives.  It was in many ways, the original infomercial with everything built around sending fans to the live events with the show airing live on Saturdays and then an edited 60 minute version being sent to the other markets in the territory, which was a week “behind” Memphis in terms of storylines.

Jarrett’s CWA was so groundbreaking and successful that by the early 1980s, Gulas-Welch promotions (it was just Gulas at this point as Welch had passed) tapped, going out and selling what was left of their towns to Jarrett.  Had Gulas just done business the right way to begin with, as opposed to trying to carny a mark, the entire history of professional wrestling would have written a different tale.

It would be harder to list things Memphis Wrestling, whether it was called Mid-Southern, the CWA or the USWA, didn’t do than to list their groundbreaking achievements.  They perfected the babyface tag teams that women swooned over in Stan Lane and Steve Keirn, the Fabulous Ones.  That team ended up so in demand that Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were put together as The Rock N’ Roll Express and ended up just as popular an act, one that still exists today.  Music videos and theme songs became a calling card for the promotion.  They perfected the empty arena match with Terry Funk and Jerry Lawler.  

You name the stipulation or the storyline today and chances are we can trace it back to WMC TV or the Mid-South Coliseum, and then to Jarrett’s creativity or his long-time partnership with Lawler, which saw then pass the baton of booking back and forth over the run of the company, preventing the other from getting burnt out.

That’s not to say the promotion was always on fire.  There were times where things got harder and certainly, there are many, many stories, from Steve Austin on down, of talents trying to find the cheapest hotels and the cheapest buffets to eat at on the road, because pay, especially starting pay, was so low that it was literally a deal with the devil - starve to learn and hopefully, become a star there - or gain enough experience to go make money elsewhere.  But, it was a territory that created an education system that helped breed the stars of the future - Sting, The Ultimate Warrior, Rocky Johnson, Jim Cornette and countless others.

Jarrett was so successful that he looked at buying the AWA from Verne Gagne and then agreed to take over the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling promotion from Kevin Von Erich, installing Eric Embry as booker for an incredible storyline that saw Embry battle the late Skandar Akbar’s Devastation, Inc. for the power of the promotion, which transformed into the USWA.  When the Von Erich family reneged on the original deal, Jarrett pulled up stakes in Dallas and the USWA name remained in Memphis until that promotion died in the 1990s.

In 1995, Jarrett sold his piece of the USWA to Jerry Lawler and Larry Burton.  They flipped it to another company, which quickly lost control of the promotion and shut it down, facing heavy losses.  Jarrett went into the construction business and for a time, was the answer to a trivia question as to the only person who worked for both the WWF and WCW at the same time, as he consulted for each promotion.  When WCW was going out of business, Jarrett attempted to purchase the promotion and never exactly got an answer as to why Turner wasn’t interested in his bid or vision.  Of course, WWF later ended up with the promotion.

With WCW and ECW gone in 2001, Jarrett, his son Jeff and the late Bob Ryder went on a fateful fishing trip on Ryder’s boat.  By the end of the trip, The Jarretts were sold on the idea of a weekly PPV on Wednesdays, sort of a modern day version of what they used to have on WMC-TV Studios.  The first promotion of the post-WCW era, TNA was launched in 2002, setting the stage for AJ Styles to become a massive star in professional wrestling.  

It was not, however, an easy process.  Jarrett wasn’t always thrilled with the creative direction of the company.  They had heavy financial losses, some of which they didn’t know how dire they truly were due to being given incorrect data.  Their initial backer, Healthsouth, pulled out with zero notice.  Had it not been for Dixie Carter and her family getting involved, TNA would have died a quick, painful death.  

Instead, Panda Energy bought 72% of the company with Jerry selling the remainder of his interest after he went to WWE for a meeting, in part to introduce them to Vladimir Kozlov.  That meeting, likely spurred on by Jarrett’s frustration with TNA at the time, led to him exiting the company and being bought out.  That situation led to Jarrett and his son Jeff being estranged for some time, but thankfully relations eventually repaired themselves.  The Jarretts were together for what was likely Jerry’s final signing appearance in August 2022 in Charlotte, NC at TMart Promotions’ The Gathering III.

Jarrett maintained a close relationship with the McMahon family over the years, first with Vincent J. McMahon, who asked Jerry to keep an eye out for and assist his son, Vince McMahon when Vince took over the WWF and the elder McMahon began to take ill before passing away from cancer.  Jarrett and Vince maintained a weekly phone conversation and when it appeared there was a chance McMahon could go to prison after being indicted by the United States government in the 1990s, Jerry was tapped to come and run WWF in McMahon’s absence if he was found guilty, for a time staying with the McMahon family and preparing to run the company - although it never came to that after McMahon was found not guilty.

Jarrett wrote two excellent books about his time in the business, an autobiography co-written by Memphis Wrestling historian Mark James, and a book about the planned launch and execution of the TNA brand, each of which gave excellent insight into booking, marketing and promoting professional wrestling and are required reading for anyone who wants a true understanding, good and bad, about the business.

The Memphis Wrestling territory will live on forever in part due to books, documentaries like Memphis Heat and an insane fandom that continues to pour over the footage and stories and will continue to do in the days, months and years ahead, but it all started with one man, Jerry Jarrett, and for that, professional wrestling should always be thankful. sends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of Jerry Jarrett, who’s accomplishments in the business will likely never, ever be matched ever again, by anyone.

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