Superstar Bill Dundee became a professional wrestler when he was 19 years old. He would eventually leave his home country of Scotland and wrestle the next 13 years in Australia until meeting fellow wrestler Bobby Shane who was there on a wrestling tour. Shane introduced him to Jerry Jarrett, the booker in the Memphis territory, and in 1975, Bill moved to Tennessee. His epic battles against King Jerry Lawler made the Memphis territory one of the hottest in the business. Together, they sold out arenas and earned money. Today at 73, Dundee is still wrestling. His 40 years in the sport as a wrestler and a booker have made him one of the more knowledgeable legends in the business. I had a chance to talk to him about the Memphis territory, Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, the good old days, and how different wrestling is today.
Q: What do you think was so special about the Memphis territory?
A: At the time, Nick Gulas and Roy Welch were the promoters and Jerry Jarrett was the booker. Jerry was so passionate about the wrestling business. He really had a knack for looking at a guy and knowing what he could do. He knew who to make a heel and who to make a babyface. A lot of the guys over the years never gave Jerry the accolades that he deserved.
When you’re a booker, you get a little heat on yourself because a lot of people think that you’re not doing the right thing. I thought he was good at it, he is very good to me and also to Jerry Lawler. He booked the two of us in Memphis or wherever else we wrestled, and we made a lot of money and that’s what it was all about.
Q: I know that you’ve done a great deal of booking throughout your career. What do you think someone needs to be successful in that role?
A: You have to believe in what you’re doing. I believed that it was real, so I was going to convince the guy in the front row that it was real. We have gotten away from that. I don’t know how to put a TV show together just for it to be a silly TV show and to have some kid flip-flopping all over the place. I have no idea what to do with that. I would have never done this interview 20 years ago and you wouldn’t have been allowed to do it either. But we’ve exposed the business. Why? I don’t know? It’s sad what we did to it.
You’re not talking to a grumpy old man here. I’m 73, but I’m not an old 73. I still work every day and I can still wrestle. I’m not bitter at the wrestling business or really anybody in it. Look at the President of the United States. Donald Trump does wrestling interviews. Politicians didn’t act like that, but that’s just the world that we live in today. You like Trump or you don’t like Trump. You like wrestling or you don’t, but we can’t tell people that it’s real today.
Q: Back in the day, what were some of the things that you guys took into consideration when you were booking matches?
A: Well, it was around 1976. I went to Jerry Jarrett and I asked him to teach me how to be the booker. It’s not as easy as you think it is. Just writing names in a book and putting people in the ring doesn’t mean that it’s all going to work. Jerry, and Eddie Marlin, and I went up and down the roads as we were going to the towns together. We were always talking about the business and what we were going to do. By doing that, you start understanding how this whole thing works.
It’s not a script. I don’t know how they do it today, but I know what we did. Nothing was written down except the TV sheet with the times of the matches. We had an hour and a half to do a live show and then we would make a 40-minute version of it for the rest of the cities like Louisville, Evansville, and all the other towns we did television for. I had to learn it from somebody, and Jerry Jarrett was the one who showed it to me.
Q: With all the people that you worked with throughout your career, who do you think that you’ve learned the most from?
A: Let me put it to you like this. Somebody can teach you the notes and everything when you are singing, but if you don’t have the fundamentals of singing you will never be a singer. If you didn’t have the fundamentals of wrestling back in the day, you weren’t going to be a wrestler. The name of the game is wrestling. It’s not stupidity or high flying. It is wrestling and wrestling is done on a mat, but that’s not what the kids are into today.
These days, I haven’t learned anything from anybody. Hulk Hogan was one of the biggest stars in the wrestling business, but I never learned anything from him. When he was in Memphis, he learned more from me and Jerry Lawler, and then he went off to be a big star. Good for him. I would have to credit Bobby Shane for taking me and George Barnes under his wing before we came to the United States in 1975. He gave us the fundamentals. We did what he said and here we are 40 years later.
Q: What do you think it was about the chemistry that you had when wrestling against Jerry Lawler?
A: It was the best chemistry world. He didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. It was like we were trying to outshine one another when we went into the ring. We respected each other and we knew what we were doing. Did we break bread every day? No, we didn’t. Did we go to the bar at night? No, we didn’t. Did we hang around? No, we didn’t. We showed up in the town and we wrestled one another and then went our separate ways when it was over.
If you have a crown and you’re called the King, it means more than someone wearing a jumpsuit and being called a Superstar. That was how we looked at it. I was quite happy being the second fiddle. He was partners with Jerry Jarrett. It’s not like you’re going to beat the boss. I would have never said things like that 20 years ago and I would have never said that Jerry Lawler owned part of the business.
Q: Was there a particular time that something happened in the business that you thought it wouldn’t recover from?
A: Yes. When we lost TV. This is what screwed up the territories. Vince hired all the stars from each territory. Hulk Hogan went with them. If you take the star away from the territory, the territory can’t survive and that’s what happened. Lawler and I both stayed in Memphis and that territory stayed around the longest. Eventually, Lawler went to work for Vince and how can you blame him, he was getting a big paycheck every week. It was just business. The territories eventually died. That’s what happened.
Q: With all the independent promotions coming up in the United States, do you think that the territory system might be coming back?
A: No, it is not coming back. For one thing, you need a TV show. Nobody’s got one except Vince. We just can’t blame Vince for the state that wrestling is in today. It just wasn’t him. There are more millionaire wrestlers today and more billionaire promoters than there were back in the day. We all made a good living, but not what it’s like today. Every time a John Wayne movie comes on TV, I sit down and watch it, but I’ve already seen it a hundred times. It’s John Wayne though, and I like what he did. Without TV you can’t do anything, especially on the local level. Memphis was the most-watched TV show ever on Saturday morning and there was nobody else in the United States that had an hour and a half of live wrestling at the time.
Q: Did you ever think that you would still be wrestling today?
A: I never made it hard on my body. I started off in Judo and the very first thing they teach you in Judo is the break your fall. You learn how to take the bump. I was taught to take the bumps on my feet kind of like the shock absorbers for a car. We were taught to get our legs down first. I have never had any back problems. I trained to have a long career. I am 73, and I am the toughest 73-year old that you will ever meet. David believed he could whoop Goliath before he went out and whooped him. You have to believe in yourself because nobody else is going to unless you do.
Q: Do you think the wrestlers of today are taking more risks than they have to, and as a result, they are suffering more injuries?
A: Yes, because mainly they can’t wrestle. The name of the game is wrestling. It hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. It says wrestling on the marquee. It isn’t called bumps and acrobatics. Wrestling today is a circus act. They all think it’s great, but if you can’t fight, what’s it going to do for you. I’m not saying the kids today aren’t athletic, they are, but what they’re doing has nothing to do with wrestling. Nothing.
Q: Today I know WWE has writers. What are they writing? Are they writing the storylines or are they writing what the wrestlers have to say?
A: I don’t know. If they are writing what the wrestlers are saying, that’s probably why they can’t talk. When I did an interview, I would hit the points that I wanted to say. If I was wrestling the big fat guy, that was part of my interview. “How is that guy going to beat me, he can hardly walk because he weighs 300 pounds.” “He’s so fat he won’t be able to catch me.” “I would run around him so fast that he’ll think he’s surrounded.” It was just stuff that you were coming up with yourself and it was coming from your heart. It didn’t seem like it wasn’t true.
I don’t know how they do it today. I have never been to one of Vince’s shows to see them put it together. The closest I ever got, was the time I went up to Vince’s house about 20 years ago. We talked, but I guess I didn’t talk right to him because now I’m talking to you from Memphis, Tennessee and my job with Vince never materialized. That’s another story. Randy Savage and I never really saw eye to eye back then. The Undertaker and I never really saw eye to eye back then either. They were his top stars, so he wasn’t going to put some little five-foot-seven guy in there to stir up some trouble with them. Do you know what I mean? If they didn’t want you there, you weren’t going to be there.
Q: What do you think it’s going to take to get wrestling back to the way that it was?
A: It’s done. It’s over. John Wayne isn’t coming back. When I was a kid, John Wayne was the man, and then Clint Eastwood came up and started making western movies. After that, the days of the West were over. Wrestling has gone the same way I’m afraid. Promoters like Eddie Graham, Jerry Jarrett, Verne Gagne, and all the people that promoted and loved wrestling are all gone. So, the kids today that are becoming promoters don’t have a clue, and they’ll book anybody to wrestle for ten dollars.
Favorite wrestler: Bill Dundee
Favorite opponent: Jerry Lawler
Career highlight: The 30-foot scaffold match with Koko B. Ware.
Favorite musicians: Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison.
Favorite sports team: Dallas Cowboys
Hobbies: Riding motorcycles
Dog person or cat person: Dog person
A state you have never been to Arizona
Favorite Food: Steak and eggs
A movie you have seen multiple times: Pick any John Wayne movie.
Favorite actor: John Wayne
Favorite color: Pink and black.
Bill Dundee vs Jerry Lawler – Loser leaves town match #3 1986
Bill Dundee Interview from 1979 about Jerry Lawler
Bill Dundee vs Eric Embery in a cage match for the Texas Title – USWA