By Mike Mooneyham
April 15, 2007

The heavily hyped match between Hulk Hogan and Jerry Lawler has been called off.

Less than two weeks before the Hulkster and the self-proclaimed “King of Memphis” were scheduled to meet on a show destined to have drawn one of the biggest gates in recent years for an independent event, Lawler announced that he would be unable to participate on the April 27 show at the FedEx Forum.

Paul Wight, formerly known as The Big Show, was named as Lawler’s replacement.

Lawler said at a press conference Thursday in Memphis that he was told Monday night by WWE that he could not appear on the Memphis Wrestling-affiliated show due to contractual obligations. He said because he was under WWE contract, and the match would be taped for Hogan’s reality show on VH-1, he would not be allowed to wrestle.

Sources, however, say WWE owner Vince McMahon didn’t want the show to go off despite his company – which also runs shows at the Forum – signing off on the venue only a week earlier. Corey Macklin, a longtime Memphis Wrestling announcer who has been helping promote the event, said WWE offered to reimburse his deposit money spent to book the building. Macklin refused to cave in to pressure to cancel the show, he said, because others also were involved in the promotion of the event and the wheels already had been set in motion.

Jerry Lawler and Hulk Hogan

Jerry Lawler and Hulk Hogan

WWE, seemingly drawing a line in the sand, also pulled talent scheduled to work Memphis Wrestling events this weekend. Boogeyman, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas had been advertised on Memphis TV the past month, but were yanked from lineups late last week. The Memphis promotion, which has used WWE talent for a number of years, will no longer be able to book WWE-contracted talent. It was unclear whether Lawler, the face of Memphis Wrestling for three decades, will continue to work on Memphis TV or on area house shows. Unlike most WWE performers, Lawler has an announcer’s contract as opposed to a talent contract, which until now has allowed him to work outside the company.

The Hogan-Lawler match originally had been scheduled for the Mid-South Coliseum, longtime home to Memphis Wrestling, but was switched to the much larger FedEx Forum when the city refused to open the doors to the outdated Mid-South venue. Lawler and Hogan had last wrestled in that building on Feb. 9, 1981, when Lawler won by disqualification due to the interference of Jimmy Hart. Lawler previously had teamed with Hogan in Memphis in 1979 when both worked as babyfaces and Hogan went by the name Terry “The Hulk” Boulder.

Hogan said at the conference that he was disappointed and felt it was a personal shot against him. He said he had a premonition it would happen, but Lawler had assured him he’d leave WWE if the company told him not to do the show.

Wight, Hogan’s new opponent, retired from WWE last December due to lingering injuries. Wight, whose WWE contract expired at the end of February, said he has dropped 60 pounds since leaving WWE and has been doing intense cardio training. He said he took time off due to injuries and mental fatigue from the grind, and feels mentally and physically stronger than he has in the past 10 years.

Wight added that he’s one of the few talents not owned by McMahon anymore. “I renounce my slave name. My name is Paul Wight,” he joked at the conference.

He also said he wanted to build his name and his brand, and that Hogan would help him do it. The South Carolina native took a number of verbal jabs at his former employer, saying he will now get to do what he wants, as opposed to someone else taking 97 percent of the merchandising rights and having to do what someone else thinks is funny or worthwhile.

Hogan is trying to promote his match with the seven-foot-tall Wight as the bout that should have headlined the recent Wrestlemania. A Hogan-Big Show match tentatively had been planned for this year’s extravaganza to mark the 20-year anniversary of the Hulkster slamming Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania 3 at the Pontiac Silverdome. A falling out between Hogan and McMahon, along with Wight’s physical condition at the time, stymied that plan. Hogan claimed the two sides had been in negotiations for the match, but WWE didn’t want to take it “on the straight and narrow.”

Hogan said at the conference that he, not WWE, would decide how to write the end of his legacy, and that Hulkamania was bigger than WWE. He said a loud and clear message would be sent to WWE if they fill the 19,000-seat building for the event.

The financial success of the show, however, remains in doubt. Tickets, priced at $62, $47, $37 and $22, are steep for the market. Although Memphis Wrestling drew nearly 5,000 fans to the Mid-South Coliseum in 2004 for a special legends show featuring Terry Funk, those ticket prices were considerably cheaper, resulting in a gate in the $60,000 range. With the more expensive prices this time around and Hogan on the show, organizers are hoping for a considerably larger gate.

Others on the card include Jim Cornette, The Rock and Roll Express, Bill Dundee, Brutus Beefcake, Brian Christopher, Koko B. Ware, Abdullah the Butcher, Greg Valentine and The Barbarian.