Kentucky's roots go deep with professional wrestling

When historians talk of professional wrestling, they talk of states like Georgia, home of the defunct World Championship Wrestling.

They also point to Minnesota, where Mr. Perfect, the Road Warriors and Ravishing Rick Rude, among many others, grew up. And, of course, there's New York, home of Madison Square Garden, famously proclaimed "holy ground" by World Wrestling Entertainment legend Bret "Hit Man" Hart.

But Kentucky also has a role in the rich history of wrestling. As World Wrestling Entertainment returns to Lexington for its Monday Night Raw live telecast, consider what our state has contributed to the wrestling annals.


Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth: "Macho Man" Randy Savage lived and wrestled in Lexington before hitting it big in the mid-1980s with the World Wrestling Federation, as WWE was then known.

His father, Angelo Poffo, promoted wrestling shows in the region under the International Championship Wrestling federation banner. Savage famously fought Tennessee's Jerry "The King" Lawler to a no-contest decision in Rupp Arena in 1984.

Savage, now 57, also once played in the Cincinnati Reds system, advancing to its Class A Tampa, Fla., team before entering professional wrestling. His "Macho Man" nickname came from his prowess as a hitter and not his time in the ring.

Savage met his future wife and wrestling manager, Elizabeth Hulette, known as "the lovely Miss Elizabeth" to wrestling fans, in the area. Hulette, a native of Frankfort, graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in communications. The two married in Frankfort in December 1984 and divorced in 1992. Hulette died in 2003.

Louisville as a training ground: At one time, World Wrestling Entertainment employed Louisville-based Ohio Valley Wrestling to serve as the training ground for its young stars. Among the wrestlers who went through that territory was former WWE Champion and current Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

So, too, did John Morrison, who is among the wrestlers on WWE's Raw brand who will be in Lexington on Monday. Morrison got his start after being a winner of WWE's Tough Enough show in 2003.

"I thought I was going to be this big superstar, but they said now you're going to move to Louisville and OVW ..." Morrison told the Herald-Leader. " When I got there, I realized how badly I needed to be there. I was not ready to be on national TV."

Morrison complimented the dedicated Louisville crowds and said he maintained a home in the city until 2009.

"The wrestling tradition in Louisville is something that a lot of people in the city took pride in," said Morrison, who wrestled in OVW for about 18 months.

While WWE severed its ties with OVW in 2008 in favor of Florida Championship Wrestling, OVW continues to operate.

Lexington's affiliate of The CW airs OVW's weekly program at 11 p.m. Saturdays.

Walton home invasion: The late Brian Pillman, who played football for the Cincinnati Bengals before becoming a mainstay in WCW and the WWF in the 1990s, lived in Northern Kentucky. In fact, segments of an infamous Monday Night Raw in 1996 were filmed at his home in Walton. In that segment, Stone Cold Steve Austin broke into Pillman's house while Pillman brandished a firearm. Pillman died in 1997.

John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Edge: Rupp Arena hosted the 2006 Backlash pay-per-view match in which WWE Champion John Cena retained his championship in a triple-threat bout against Triple H and Edge. The company reported there were 213,000 purchases of the pay-per-view. Cena and Edge are among the wrestlers scheduled to be at Raw.

Thrills in the 'Ville: Louisville hosted an In Your House pay-per-view event in February 1996 in which WWF Champion Bret "Hit Man" Hart retained his title against Diesel, now known as Kevin Nash, in a steel cage match after The Undertaker interfered.

In 1997, Louisville hosted In Your House: Ground Zero, in which Hart retained his championship in a bout against The Patriot. It was Hart's last U.S. pay-per-view defense of his championship before the infamous real-life double cross at Survivor Series in November 1997. WWF owner Vince McMahon changed the outcome of the match without Hart knowing it to have the champion lose his belt instead of forfeiting it before he left for rival WCW.

In 2000, Louisville's Freedom Hall hosted the Judgment Day pay-per-view, in which Triple H defeated WWF Champion The Rock six falls to five in a 60-minute iron man match.

Kentucky Hillbilly: "Hillbilly Jim" Morris, a popular performer during the 1980s, was announced as hailing from Mud Lick, Ky. Today, he lives in Bowling Green and hosts a show on Sirius XM Radio.

An infamous gaffe at Rupp: WCW filmed a live episode of its Thunder program at Rupp Arena in September 1998 that contained production gaffes that plagued the company at the time.

Television Champion Chris Jericho was mocking the elaborate ring entrances of Bill Goldberg (most recently seen on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice), complete with security guards, by having Jericho's own pair of pathetic looking security guards. On this night, though, Jericho, as a joke, was supposed to lock himself outside Rupp Arena.

And then the problems began. Jericho pulled on the door to show it was locked — except it opened. He quickly shut the door and then yelled that it was locked, only to have a production person open a nearby door for him. Jericho pretended not to hear him until he was finally attacked outside the arena by his opponent, Wrath.

Wrath chased Jericho until both thought the segment was finished. But as Wrath ran past a stopped Jericho, the show was still on the air.

You can view the gaffe at by searching for "Chris Jericho botches his mock Goldberg entrance."

A legend in Louisville: Legendary wrestling manager and personality Jim Cornette, famous for his time leading The Midnight Express, hails from Louisville.

Those feudin' Kentuckians: During the 1960s, a tag team called The Kentuckians, consisting of Grizzly Smith and Luke Brown, feuded with teams including Killer Kowalski and Gorilla Monsoon. Smith, who died in June, was the father of wrestlers Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Sam Houston and Rockin' Robin.

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