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Joe Gagne




If you've ever seen an advertisement for an indy wrestling show, you've probably seen the slogan "Tomorrow's Stars Today." The implication here is that the 18 year olds you see in your local high school gym could someday go on to headline a PPV in the Big Two. Of course the statement is a tad hyperbolic; the odds of an indy wrestler someday making any sort of impact in the world of wrestling is very slim at best. But the truth can't be denied: pretty much every wrestler you see on Monday nights started out wrestling in some dank building in front of crowds of maybe a few hundred, but often much less.

Sometimes you can see greatness early I remember Steve Austin's early days in Texas and thinking "This guy's gonna be a star." But much more frequently it's impossible to peg a future main eventer. If you had told me years ago that the Booker T I saw in the Global Wrestling Federation would one day become WCW World Heavyweight Champion, I would've laughed. But I would have sooner believed that Booker would win 20 World titles than Flex Kavana would go on to become the most popular wrestler in the world.

Who the hell is Flex Kavana, you ask? Well, you know him better as the People's Champ and current WWF Champion, The Rock. Y'see, before Rocky made his debut at Survivor Series '96, he spent a few months down in Memphis in Jerry Lawler's USWA to get a little seasoning, using the baffling name of Flex Kavana. It's not a well known fact (The Rock definitely glossed over it in his book), but it is definitely a fact, and one that should be examined. So let's take a look at the Rock/Flex's career in Memphis.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER/DOUG GILBERT VS. CHARLIE LAIRD/KEITH ROBERTSON/ASHLEY HUDSON (6/16/96): Bart was an indy staple, dead ringer for Roddy Piper, and tag partner for Flex during his tenure in Memphis. Doug is the late "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert's brother. Flex is billed as being from Hawaii, and still has the nappy haircut. He really lacks muscle definition, but wears the same black trunks he used when he debuted in the WWF. Flex starts out against Laird and keeps things simple, doing nothing more than a kip up and an armdrag before tagging in Bart. Bart cleans house for a minute, but gets pulled outside and nailed with a boomerang shot from Hudson (who's from Australia so he naturally carries around a boomerang). Beat-on-Bart sequence for a few minutes, then Sawyer fights back and pulls out a DDT on Hudson and makes the hot tag to Gilbert. Doug cleans house, then a pier-six breaks out. Flex comes in and clotheslines Hudson out of the ring, and then hits...well, I guess you could call it a plancha. He just sorta ran and lunged over the top rope. U-G-L-Y. I don't think Flex ever tried that again. Anyway, Bart hits a release German suplex on Laird and Doug gets the pin. (4:02) I should note that all the matches here are filmed in a TV studio with maybe 100 people present, unless noted otherwise.

  • FLEX KAVANA VS KIP MORRIS (6/23/96): Flex goes solo! Kavana with some decent looking-mat wrestling to start. Then he tries to flip out of an hiptoss, but instead ends up landing on his ass. Morris actually holds his own for a while, but he makes a fatal flaw and ducks his head after an Irish Whip, allowing Flex to hit his big move, the devastating SUNSET FLIP. It's gets the pin, naturally. (1:38) We didn't see Flex in too many more singles matches, namely because he was still green as summer grass. Teaming with Bart allowed Flex to get some ring time and not completely embarrass himself.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER VS. BRICKHOUSE BROWN/REGGIE B. FINE (6/30/96): Flex and Bart were the USWA tag champs at this point, having defeated Brown and Fine in a tournament final. Rock and Sock who? Bart takes care of Fine to start, then tags in Flex. Kavana hits the kip up, this time after a shoulderblock. Fine gets tagged in and eats an armdrag and hiptoss from Flex. Quite the moveset, no? He tags Bart back in so not to completely expose himself, then time runs out. (1:49) Yay.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER VS. THE PUNISHER/TONY FAULK (7/7/96): If I remember correctly, the Punisher was one of Mark Callous' old nicknames years ago on the Indy scene. This isn't him, of course, just your standard big man. He's billed as being from the Underworld. Is that the crime sort of underworld, or Land of the Dead underworld? Faulk may have been a Dirty White Boy, but he's pretty fat and nondescript, so maybe not. Flex wears goofy shades before the match for whatever reason. Flex starts off with Punisher and does nothing but hitposses and armdrags, and it's the same thing when Faulk tags in. Sawyer gets tagged in and beats up Faulk for a while, but Faulk blocks a second monkey flip and tags out. Punisher comes in and backflips out of a back bodydrop and then hits a standing 'rana (!). Beat-on-Bart segment, then Sawyer manages to dodge a Faulk fistdrop and make the hot tag to Kavana. Flex comes in and punches everyone (no kissing the fist, tho'). Flex and Bart double clothesline Punisher out of the ring, which should have been a DQ, but whatever. Flex and Bart go for a double DDT on Tony, but the ref escorts Bart out of the ring. This allows Tony to hold Flex as the Punisher comes off the top with a clothesline. However, if you couldn't guess, Flex moves and Tony eats the clothesline. Kavana goes for a cover, and the Punisher just stands there staring at his partner getting pinned. (4:16) I guess it didn't dawn on him to move the six inches to break up the pin. Bart comes off the top with a dropkick on the Punisher, but only after the three count. Oh well.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER [C] VS. JERRY "THE KING" LAWLER/BILL DUNDEE (W/Scott Bowden) [USWA Tag Title match] (7/14/96): Scott Bowden is supposedly Bobby Bowden's nephew, and he's your basic heel manager. Match is JIP from the Big One Expo Center, which sounds like a stadium but looks more like a dining hall. We go to the end as Bowden distracts the ref, allowing Lawler to hit the illegal piledriver on Flex. Flex puts his foot on the ropes, but Bowden knocks it off. Ref counts three, new tag champs. (0:45 shown) Flex pops up IMMEDIATELY to protest, despite just being piledriven by Jerry Lawler in Memphis. Now there's the Rock we all know and love!

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER VS. CHARLIE LAIRD/YELLOW JACKET (7/14/96): Lawler comes out for commentary. Bart destroys Laird and Jacket to start, 'cause he's pissed about losing the titles, see? Flex comes in and he screws up his half of a double shoulderblock by jumping too early. Flex with a Wattsian dropkick on Yellow Jacket. Lawler is unleashing a barrage of short jokes at Bart ("Hey Bart, I was your size once-when I was two! "I hear when Bart goes camping, he uses a sock for a sleeping bag!"). The King leaves Flex alone, besides for a few jokes about Kavana's intelligence. I guess they didn't want to make the WWF prospect look bad. Kavana whips the Jacket to the ropes and hits a good looking powerslam. Flex goes for a pin, but pulls him up to send Lawler a message. Flex follows up with a back bodydrop and two clotheslines. Really awkward spinning kick follows. Flex tags Bart back in, and they hit a double DDT and their big finisher: Flex suplexes Jacket and Bart comes off the top with a splash for the pin. (3:29) Too bad the name "Total Elimination" was already taken. They challenge the King after the match, but nothing comes of it.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAYWER VS. JERRY "THE KING" LAWLER/BILL DUNDEE [C] (w/Scott Bowden) [USWA Tag Title Match] (7/21/96): This is the rematch, also from the Big One Expo Center. Bowden comes out and helps narrate the action. This one's clipped right to the end too. Flex is cleaning house, but Bowden leaps on the apron and grabs Flex. Lawler goes to pop Flex, but of course hits Bowden, allowing Flex to roll up the King for the pin and the belts. (0:36 shown) Then Bowden gets in referee Phil Rutt face after the match, so he clocks Bowden. The heels then gang up on the hapless ref.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER VS. TONY FAULK/HEDRIC HINES (7/21/96): Bowden's still on commentary, and gets a chuckle from me by referring to Bart and Flex as Bart Simpson and Copa Cobana.. Hines is dressed like New Jack. Bart cleans house on Tony with some basic but crisp stuff. Flex comes in and hits the usual hiptoss and another ugly dropkick. Hines tags in and eats a clothesline. Flex tags in Sawyer, hits a nice powerslam, and Bart comes off the top with a splash for a pin. (2:14)

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER VS. BRICKHOUSE BROWN/REGGIE B. FINE (7/28/96): Brown and Fine are the champs here, having won the tag belts from our heroes under suspicious circumstances. The faces hit the ring and a big brawl breaks out (you know, 'cause the faces are pissed they lost their titles) for a minute, then the Moondogs (Spot and Rover) attack Brown and Fine for the DQ. (0:54) The 'dogs fight with the champs for a while as Bart and Flex disappear. Flex was probably getting ready for a call to the big time, so they were phasing him out of the scene. Never thought you'd hear that about the Rock, huh?

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER/THE MOONDOGS VS. REGGIE B. FINE/BRICKHOUSE BROWN/THE PUNISHER/THE CONVICT (8/11/96): Brown and Fine say that they've gone back to the hood and fought some gangs, so they're ready for the Moondogs. Then they accuse commentator Corey Maclin of being jealous of their success, which struck me as being really funny for some reason. You remember the Punisher from earlier in the report, right? The Convict is a guy in a prisoner's uniform, but he's also wearing a mask. I tend to doubt that they allow that in prison. Flex is smiling like an idiot. Match is a big brawl, with the Moondogs fighting the champs on the outside and Flex and Bart fighting Punisher and Convict on the inside. Really boring action. Finally, the Punisher gets dumped to the outside and Flex and Bart hit the suplex-splash combo on Convict for the win. (4:17) Everyone dogpiles on Convict after the match. Flex smiles at the Moondogs' antics, something you'd never see today.

  • FLEX KAVANA/BART SAWYER/KOKO B. WARE VS. BRICKHOUSE BROWN/REGGIE B. FINE/LEON DOWNS (8/18/96): Yep, it's that Koko B. Ware, complete in High Energy huge pants. Flex starts against Brown, and manages to hit another terrible dropkick. Then Kavana gets caught in the wrong corner and triple teamed by the heels, but then decides to no sell and tags in Bart. Bart and Koko beat up Downs, and Flex gets tagged back in and punches Leon a lot. A pier six breaks out, Fine and Brown get tossed, and Koko hits a spinning neckbreaker on Downs for the win. (2:23)

  • Flex on the stick! (9/1/96) He talks with Dave Brown over his upcoming match with Jerry Lawler: "You know, that's right Dave. When they told me earlier this week that I was going to wrestle Jerry "The King" Lawler, I did a little thinking, Dave. And I thought to myself, you know week in and week out, whether it's in the USWA or whether it's Monday Night Raw with the WWF, Jerry Lawler is always running his mouth. Well, I thought about it Dave, and you know what? If Jerry Lawler says he's half the man he thinks he is (?), then he'll give me a title shot. He'll give me a Unified World Title shot. Right here, Saturday morning on TV, right in front of all the good people in the USWA."

    Okay, a few things. I can really appreciate the quantum leap the Mr. Johnson has made on the mic. I mean, "if Lawler says he's half the man he thinks he is?" Oy. Also, we finally get some characterization for Flex-he doesn't like Lawler's evil attitude, so he's going to shut him up. Too bad it had to happen during his last match in Memphis. Oops, gave it away...

    Anyway, Jerry Lawler comes out to rebut. He rightfully points out that if he gives Flex a title shot, he's got everything to lose and nothing to gain. So he'll give Flex a title shot on one condition: if Kavana loses, he's gone from the USWA. Flex, showing a little Rock cockiness, readily agrees.

  • FLEX KAVANA VS. JERRY "THE KING" LALWER [C] (w/Scott Bowden) [Unified World Title Match] (9/1/96): "Let's go Flex" chant from the crowd. Lawler backs Flex into a corner to start, allowing Bowden to hold Kavana so the King can pummel him. Repeat. Flex, wising up, runs to the back and gets Bart Sawyer as we go to commercial. Okay, we're back as Flex throws Lawler into the ropes, and the King rebounds with a shoulderblock. Flex kips up and hits two hiptosses and an armbar on the King. At this point Bowden hops on the apron, and Sawyer yanks him off and starts beating him up on the floor, so the ref (Downtown Bruno, better known as Harvey Whippleman to you and me) tries to break it up. Meanwhile, Flex hits the Sunset Flip OF DOOM, but there's no ref to count. So Flex tries to get the ref's attention, allowing the King to nail him with some brass knucks and hit a piledriver. Bruno turns around, gets back in the ring, counts three, adios Flex, see you at Survivor Series. (2:29) Boy, I wish that Lawler would sneak in an "I chased the Rock out of town" comment someday on Raw.

    Epilogue: And thus ends the story of Flex Kavana in Memphis. I admit that Flex did get better during his tenure down south, but I don't believe he was ready for prime time at the end of his run. It's also interesting that they didn't work on his character at all when he was in Memphis. He was a good guy, and you knew he was a good guy because he hung out with other good guys and fought bad guys. Some would say that problem still plagues him today. Flex didn't work on his selling too much either (I mean, popping up after a Lawler piledriver?), which is a another problem some say still plagues him to this day.

    Still, no matter how green Rock/Flex was, no matter how bad his interviews, no matter how nappy his haircut, you can bet that every person present in that studio for these matches brags that they saw the Rock when he was first starting out.

    I believe Bart Sawyer, despite being talented, still languishes in smaller feds to this day. Do you think the Rock ever talks to Bart anymore? Nah, I don't think so either. But hey, next time you're at a WWF event, try to start up a "Let's Go Flex" chant. Let's see if Mr. Johnson's got a long memory...

    Joe Gagne
    [slash] wrestling

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