"Mustard Everywhere!" --- Lance Russell and Tupleo Concession Brawl

Earlier this week, Lance Russell -- arguably the greatest announcer in wrestling history -- passed away. As David Bixenspan noted in his wonderful piece for Deadspin, Russell was unique among his peers:

Lance Russell was not like other wrestling announcers. With just a few exceptions, they were usually slick pitchmen, but they had to have credibility with the local fans in selling the week’s lineup. In the ’80s, as the business went national and the bond with the local fans in a given territorial promotion was lost, some, like Gorilla Monsoon or Vince McMahon, ended up too far on the salesman side of the continuum, and sounded like they’d be better off selling used cars. But Lance, whether in Memphis or on national television in WCW at the end of his full-time career, was the polar opposite. He was, depending on your age and when you watched him, either your folksy uncle or, if you were older, the laid back guy who wanted to be friends with. 

In the last few months, I've started to watch more and more videos of Memphis wrestling from the late 1970s and early 80s, and it's hard to disagree with Bixenspan's assessment of Russell. You find yourself not only wanting to hang out with Russell, but also admiring his skill at reacting to wrestling "whether [it's] exasperation at  [Jimmy] Hart’s antics, disappointment at one of his favorites turning heel, relishing the comeuppance of a heel who had been tormenting him, or even exasperation over a show’s format being disrupted." And like Jon Stewart during The Daily Show's peak years, Russell continually was attempting to contain the craziness that surrounds him. Unlike Stewart, Russell isn't trying to reign in Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, or Samanta Bee, but Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, and Andy Kaufman in a promotion that gained notoriety for being perhaps the wildest territory in the United States.  

There are so many examples of Russell's skills as an announcer and interviewer, but for my money, there is perhaps no better example than the Tupleo Concession Brawl.

First, some background courtesy of Wayne Ferris -- aka, the Honky Tonk Man and the first cousin of Jerry Lawler.

If the clip doesn't work for you, I'll summarize. In 1979, Jerry Jarrett had taken over booking Memphis wrestling, and times were not good. Attendance was suffering at the weekly Monday shows in Memphis, and a lot of Jarrett's big stars had moved on to greener pastures in Knoxville. So in an effort to get eyes on his promotion, Jarrett booked Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee to defend their Southern Tag Team titles against the Blond Bombers -- Larry Latham and Wayne Ferris -- and Jarrett wanted them to go "big."

And "big" they went one night in Tupelo, Mississippi.

So, if you've never seen the Concession Brawl, here's your assignment Wrestling Shame readers: watch the clip below twice. First, pay attention to the general craziness of it: everyone is bleeding, the crowd is aghast and shocked, and the wrestlers are going nuts. As Jim Cornette argues, it's a hardcore match, but everyone -- especially the fans -- realizes that this is unique.

But on your second viewing, listen closely to Russell's brilliant commentary. For contemporary wrestling fans used to the scripted banter of WWE programming, it's always a touch jarring to listen to someone call a match off the action in the ring. But Russell reacts to the action with a perfect blend of shock and detachment -- he's a professional after all -- and I love how he condemns not only the Blond Bombers for attacking the referee, but also Lawler and Dundee as if he's the most impartial observer.

Russell also has a touch of Kent Brockman in his delivery: he feigns annoyance at being reminded by his director that they are running out of time for the program -- his line of "I hope we'll have enough time for this bout" is so superior to anything a WWE announcer might sell in order to keep fans watching -- he complains about the getting the camera in position, and he also (brilliantly) voices concern that the camera and people haven't been sprayed with mustard. 

And then, there's his line of "there's mustard everywhere." If you hear that line and aren't enamored with this man, then we can't be friends. In that reading, he perfectly blends together the tone of an annoyed, but tired parent seeing their kid make a mess in the kitchen, the objective reporting of a tv weatherman commenting on a weird float in a Thanksgiving Day parade, and the ironic detachment of a incredibly cool wrestling fan --- pre-internet mind you --- who is "in" on the joke. 

Lance Russell was the best.

The aftermath of this brawl is pretty important: because of the buzz around this brawl, Memphis wrestling got the shot-in-the-arm it desperately needed, and Lawler et al would soon become even bigger stars in the South. There's an argument that some commentators make that this was the genesis of hard-core wrestling, but that's another story for another day. 

There are a lot of other Lance Russell moments I could point to -- heck, I may have to do a list of his best interviews -- but I hope that you spend a few minutes this weekend searching the Memphis wrestling archives on YouTube and becoming enamored with the man's work. Rest in peace good sir.

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