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VOL. 130 | NO. 194 | Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Roundhouse Revival 2 Features Mayoral Trash Talk

By Bill Dries

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On the last day of the Mid-South Fair Sunday, Oct. 4, several hundred people gathered at the Mid-South Fairgrounds to listen to live music, watch roller derby, buy souvenirs, cheer on a wrestling exhibition or two and, of course, eat.

Raphael King body slams Jerry Lawler during their exhibition wrestling match Sunday, Oct. 4, outside the Mid-South Coliseum as part of Roundhouse Revival 2.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)


All of that took place outside the mothballed Mid-South Coliseum, even as the fair that formerly was housed in Midtown Memphis for 150-plus years was underway in Southaven, Miss.

The Coliseum Coalition organized Roundhouse Revival 2 specifically to advocate for the modernization and reopening of the 12,000-seat arena.

But coalition cofounder Michael McCarthy said the encore to May’s first revival, which drew several thousand people, did what it was supposed to do.

“I think the coliseum is safe no matter who wins,” he said, referring to the outcome of Thursday’s race for Memphis mayor and all 13 Memphis City Councils seats.

But McCarthy was quick to say he and other Coliseum backers will watch closely as whoever wins puts together a new plan for the arena and the broader fairgrounds district.

McCarthy found a way to frame the coliseum issue in an innately Memphis way: through wrestling

The group set up wrestling ring on Early Maxwell Boulevard, in the shadow of the coliseum, and used the ring as the stage for a morality play. The main event’s wrestling “heel” said what those in Mayor A C Wharton’s administration had said for years when talking of their overall plan. But that message was translated using bad-guy rhetoric.

“I’m going to tear this piece of crap down brick by brick,” Raphael King said to a chorus of boos from the ringside crowd. He vowed to build a recording studio for himself “on the grave” of the coliseum.

Just as he was in May against the masked tag team the “Coliseum Crushers,” Memphis wrestling legend Jerry Lawler was cast as the defender of the city’s honor as well as the coliseum.

“There is no reason that this building shouldn’t have a future,” he told a cheering crowd.

But before Lawler pinned King, he endorsed Wharton. The move drew several boos and some applause from Wharton campaign workers manning a booth at the revival, but mostly silence from the crowd.

“I’m not a big fan of politicians,” said Lawler, who ran for mayor in 1999 and again against Wharton in 2009. “And the people that have all the power in this city are the city council.”

But Lawler said Wharton sought his support. Lawler quoted Wharton as saying, “I’m here to make sure it’s a fair fight,” on the issue of the coliseum’s future.

The two recorded a television ad that will air before election day in which Lawler backs him.

Watching ringside was mayoral challenger Jim Strickland.

“Three people out of 300 clapped,” Strickland said later. “It was deafening silence. … Lawler obviously wanted someone to kiss his ring and go over to his house. He mentioned that twice. … The people are with me.”

Fellow challenger Mike Williams, who was first with unqualified support of restoring the coliseum, was more diplomatic.

“Every one of them have said now they want to save the coliseum,” he said of Wharton, Strickland and Harold Collins, as he urged his supporters via a video to take the support “with a grain of salt.”

“I want you to hold their feet to the fire,” he added.

Williams didn’t leave empty-handed as he received Al Kapone’s endorsement at the end of the rapper’s revival set.

Wharton, in the last of the television debates in September, said that his administration is retooling a fairgrounds renovation plan in which then-Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb called for the arena’s demolition, citing a $30 million estimate to reopen the building.

Wharton had taken the position then that demolition was likely but that he would seek public input before it began.

Strickland has said he wants to know if the $30 million estimate is valid before committing to a renovation.

Collins also supports a coliseum renovation, depending on how much it would cost.

The Coliseum Coalition’s goal is an independent assessment of the building’s condition as well as the cost of renovation to bring the venue back as a 12,000-seat arena. That includes an independent review of the city’s non-compete agreement with FedExForum that was a factor, along with Americans with Disabilities Act provisions, in the city closing the coliseum.

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