After an hour of pestering the promoter of Memphis’s United States Wrestling Association (USWA) at a 1992 show, the promoter brought out one of the promotion’s top good guys (or “faces”), Jeff Jarrett, to talk to me. Sporting a mane of shiny blond hair and a friendly demeanor, Jarrett patiently described his wrestling career before being beaten with trash cans and boards in a wild match against the Moondogs later that night.
Jarrett: I’m originally from Hendersonville, Tennessee, which is right outside of Nashville. It’s a funny thing, you know, when most guys say, “How did you get into wrestling?”
They say, “Well, I went to a match, saw it on TV, and thought I wanted to be in it.” But I grew up in it. My grandmother promoted wrestling for forty years. There was a promoter in the Nashville area by the name of Nick Gulas. He had a partner named Roy Welch, and my grandmother started selling tickets for them about forty-five years ago. Ever since then she’s promoted, and over the last few years, she’s got out of the active promotion.
My grandfather, Eddie Marlin, was a wrestler. My father wrestled for twenty years. I’ve grown up in it and seen it from day one, and that’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. I played basketball all through high school, and I went off to play in college. But I knew I wasn’t going to be a Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. I knew that if I wanted to make a living, wrestling’s what I’d have to do. My first match was April 6, 1986, and I was eighteen. It’s what I’d always wanted to do. I did it right here in this building, the Mid-South Coliseum. Most guys, they get their first match at some local high school gym, or they get it at some honky-tonk bar or whatever. My first match was right here in the Mid-South Coliseum, and I was pretty nervous. But I really looked forward to it, and that’s one match I’ll never forget.
The high point of my career probably would be…. I’d have to sit and think on that for a while. I’ve wrestled all across the world. I’ve wrestled in Puerto Rico and Japan. There’s a wrestling group in Japan called SWS [now out of business], and I was on their very first wrestling show. They started up over there, and there were about 20,000 people. I’ve had world title matches against a couple different world champions: Nick Bockwinkel; Curt Hennig, when he was AWA champion; Jerry Lawler; and several other champions. Everybody who gets into wrestling wants to be world champion. You probably wouldn’t be in the sport if not. That’s what I wanted to do, and I got my title shots. Hopefully one day I will be champion. But those are some of my highlights. And I’ve had several others. I got to tag-team with my father, and one time we even had an old-timer’s match in Arkansas. It was with my father and my grandfather, so three generations were in the ring. That was pretty special.
There’s a lot of travel involved, and a lot of miles, and a lot of hours in the gym. You gotta put your whole life into it. If you don’t, you’ll never get anywhere doing it that way. You have to really concentrate, and put everything you got into it, and think about it almost 24 hours a day. It’s not like you can go to the factory and punch a time clock and do eight hours, and after that it’s over. You really gotta put everything into it because you’re almost on the job 24 hours a day, because your appearance, your mannerisms inside the ring, are just as important outside the ring. You have to carry yourself, and if the people don’t look at you and think, “He’s pretty special,” well then not many guys are gonna come buy a ticket to watch you wrestle.
As a good guy, you get to deal with all sorts of different types of people, kids, to guys who get mad because their girlfriend likes you, to old people who come up to you and say, “I remember when….” Most old people don’t like how some of the things in wrestling have changed. Some of the young kids don’t even know what happened in the old days. You have to deal with all types of people, and when you’re in the position I am, a lot of people are gunning for you, to try to get you. So, you just have to deal with that and realize that’s how it goes.
The USWA is the longest-running regional promotion. Back in 1982 or 1983, before Vince McMahon, you know, who runs the WWF, there used to be twenty two different regional promotions across the nation. Now it’s 1992, and we’re the only one left. And I attribute that to the fact that we are a business and we sell a product. To sell a product for this long, when there’s all kinds of competition…you’ve got the glitz and glamour of the WWF, you’ve got the money that’s behind WCW. And them guys come in here monthly and try to run in our same buildings, in the same towns, and we’re still in business. I believe–I don’t want to brag or anything–that just shows how good a product we do have. And we do put out, week in and week out. We don’t have a season, we’re here fifty two weeks a year. We promote wrestling all across Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, and we just give a good product.
There’s a lot of guys who have gotten their start here. Hulk Hogan started here, and the list goes on and on. Literally hundreds of guys. Most of the guys you see in the WWF have been in here one time or another, and learned to wrestle. The fans like our wrestling. Whatever we’re doing, they must like it, because the WWF comes in with snakes and birds and this and that. You’ve got movie stars who are wrestling, and you’ve got entertainers who are wrestling, and athletes, singers, and all different kinds of things. All we have is wrestling. People come to see just our wrestling. I think at some of the other shows, people may come to see, who knows, the special referee, you know, not just the wrestling. But that’s what the come to see at our matches.
I sort of live day-by-day, and I try to improve myself, do everything I can control, because I can’t control the future in wresting. Nobody can. But I know I can control Jeff Jarrett, and what I do. And five years from now I hope to be a better wrestler, know my business better, and hopefully be on top of the wrestling world. You never know. The WWF has contacted me, but right now this is my home. This is where I want to be right now.
Thoughts from 2022: Jarrett eventually did end up in the WWF in the late 1990s, and won the WCW heavyweight championship in 2000. After working for various smaller promotions in the 2000s and 2010s, Jarrett recently appeared as a WWE special referee at SummerSlam 2022, and Jarrett wrestled opposite Ric Flair in Flair’s July 2022 “last match” the next night.