With the passing of so many in Las Vegas and the passing that has affected many in rocker Tom Petty, I wanted to make sure that Lance Russell’s passing was also mentioned.
Many of you who didn’t follow wrestling back in the day might wonder who he was if you didn’t follow that region of the country closely. I could understand that, because before the advent of cable TV took flight in the 80’s, wrestling was a regional enterprise. Before the expansion of pro sports to every little big city, if you lived in most parts of the country, you probably had wrestling cards near you every week or so.
Lance was to the Memphis area and it’s surrounding markets what Gordon Solie was if you lived in Florida and Georgia. Russell is heavily regarded as one of the best commentators of all time, and for good reason. A good wrestling commentator is a good straight man, somebody who tends to appreciate the heroes but can act a bit brusquely to the villains.
In other words, you let both “sides” play their roles and stay out of the way, keeping interjections rare but to the point when such a point needs to be made.
Lance was probably best known for his work during Jerry Lawler’s feud with TV star Andy Kaufman in the 1980’s. For many years, many fans didn’t realize that their feud was scripted, mainly because the story line had great chemistry to it. It wasn’t hard to believe that the wrestler and the actor could hate each other’s guts, and when you have that and it appears authentic, people want to pay to see it.
The best feuds sell themselves, and the best commentators make something bad good, and something good great.
In the 90s, the Memphis territory became a circuit of its own, the USWA. It was kind of a minor league to the WWF of the time, a good place to catch new stars on the way up, and bigger stars the chance to refine their skills before maybe catching another big break. The shows would air here in Tampa on Saturday afternoons on the relatively new Channel 38, a way for them to fill air time here.
RIP, Lance. You were one of the best in your field, adored by many.