Known for most of his wrestling career as "the King," Jerry Lawler is one of the most accomplished grapplers in history. He's held more titles than any other professional wrestler, helped put the spotlight on wrestling with his comical feud with Andy Kaufman in the early '80s, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. Though he spends most of his time these days as a commentator, he recently challenged the Miz for the WWE title (one of the few titles he's never held). After his commentary partner Michael Cole cost him that match, Lawler challenged Cole to a match at WrestleMania, an event at which Lawler surprisingly has never competed. As he prepares for what is likely to be one of WrestleMania's more entertaining matches, Lawler takes a moment to talk about his career, how Cole compares to Kaufman (both non-wrestlers) and how it feels to be achieving yet another milestone so late in his career.
This will be your first time actually competing at WrestleMania. How does it feel to be accomplishing this milestone so close to the Memphis area where you started your career?
Of all the years I've been in this wacky business, this is one of the very few things I've never done before. I've commentated on 17 or 18 WrestleMania's, but I've never actually competed in one. So this is going to be the final jewel in my crown. I'm really looking forward to it. It's almost mind-boggling to think that at this point in my career I'm having my first ever match at WrestleMania and my referee is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. It doesn't get any better than that.
You've spent most of your WWE career behind the commentary table. How did you make the transition from wrestler to commentator?
I never intended to become a color commentator. That was never anything I ever thought about doing. As a matter of fact, it came about during the Monday Night Wars when Randy "Macho Man" Savage was doing color commentary with Vince McMahon and suddenly jumped ship and went down to Atlanta with WCW without any warning or notice. We were getting ready to go on the air with a live show and someone said, "Look, Vince. Randy Savage is on Atlanta TV." Vince came to me and said, "Do you mind doing commentary with me tonight?" I really thought it was going to be a one-week thing, but 17 years later I'm still doing it.
Your WrestleMania debut will be against your commentary partner — or should I say rival?
I have a lot of names for Michael Cole right now.
Like Andy Kaufman, Cole is not a wrestler. How would you say this situation compares to your feud with Kaufman?
Of all the things I've accomplished in this industry, my feud with Andy Kaufmann is right at the top of the list. I'd even put that above winning the AWA Championship. We literally had the whole world talking about me, Andy Kaufman and wrestling at a time when it was almost impossible for wrestling to get any kind of mainstream publicity. For guys to appear on the David Letterman show at that time was unheard of. And what we did on the Letterman show is still talked about to this day.
Just a few weeks ago was the 80th anniversary of the Hollywood Reporter magazine. To commemorate their 80th anniversary they put together the top 80 moments in the history of television, which went back to the '40s and '50s and included stuff like the World Trade Center, the Challenger, the Kennedy assassination and all these things that have happened in the history of television. My appearance with Andy Kaufman on the David Letterman show was included in the top 80 moments in the history of TV. It is something I am very, very proud of. Andy was a great performer, a very talented guy, and I'm really hoping that someday Andy Kaufman will be inducted into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. He's certainly deserving because that was one of the most famous wrestling matches in history that people who weren't even wrestling fans were talking about.
I don't want to lump Michael Cole into the same category as Andy Kaufman. I've never seen a change come over someone like I've seen with Michael Cole. His head is going to need its own ZIP code. It's just growing by leaps and bounds every single second. This guy has become such an egomaniac, it's almost impossible to stomach the guy.
Even though Michael Cole has enlisted Jack Swagger — a former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, two-time NCAA champion — he's got all the credentials of being a great wrestler and Cole has enlisted this guy to train him. That's like somebody going and getting a great artist like Norman Rockwell and saying, "Hey, I want you to teach me to paint like you do." It just can't be done. You have to have certain physical attributes, you have to have the right mind-set, you have to be, for one thing, athletic. I look at Michael Cole and the only thing athletic about him are his feet. I just don't feel any sort of threat from him. I would love to be able to use my signature move and pick Michael Cole up, turn him upside down and drop him on his head like I did Andy Kaufman and give him one of those patented piledrivers so maybe the next day he'd have to unzip his pants to brush his teeth.