Founded in 1989, the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) had an 8-year run that came to an end in 1997. In today’s piece, Brian looks at the events that led to the companies demise and the people involved.
2016 saw a very bitter court battle between Dixie Carter and Billy Corgan over control of TNA wrestling. While the verdict went in Dixie’s favor, I can’t help but look back at another bitter, contentious legal battle over the United States Wrestling Association. (The USWA for short) A court battle that spelt doom for the self-proclaimed “last pro wrestling territory.”
Before we go into all the legal issues, let’s first take a look back at the wrestling world before the national emergence of Vince McMahon’s WWF/E. The United States was basically broken up into different areas or territories as they were called. Different promoters had control of different territories. For example, Vince McMahon Sr. controlled the New York region with the WWWF, Florida was controlled by Eddie Graham, Sam Muchnick had St. Louis, Bob Geigel had Kansas, Verne Gagne had Minnesota, Don Owen had Oregon etc. For a wrestler to work in a specific territory, they usually had to make handshake deals with the territories specific promoters.
It was very common for a wrestler to jump from territory to territory and make a good deal of money depending on where he or she went. Then came Vincent Kennedy McMahon who envisioned his WWF becoming a national power. Considering that the WWF was based in the larger, more successful big market of New York, it was much easier for McMahon to gobble up all the smaller territories biggest names and thus killing said promotion. To be fair to McMahon, Jim Crockett Jr. was attempting the same exact thing on a much smaller scale by buying out territories like Bill Watts Mid-South/UWF promotion.
By the time the late 1980’s rolled around, most of the traditional wrestling territories were gone. Whatever territories were left, tried to form an alliance to guard themselves against the two remaining powerhouses of Jim Crockett Promotions and the World Wrestling Federation. Territories like the CWA based in Tennessee, CWF based in Alabama and World Class based in Texas would basically merge and form the USWA. The USWA was initially run by Jerry Jarrett based out of Tennessee. It quickly adopted the moniker of the last remaining wrestling territory in the United States.
The USWA would stay relevant for a few years by becoming a sort of developmental territory for the big two which were WCW and the WWF. Some of the future stars to come out of the USWA were Steve Austin, Mark Calaway and Flex Kavana aka Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The USWA was NXT years before NXT was even thought of. In the mid-1990’s, the promotion helped develop Glenn Jacobs a new character after failing with gimmicks like Dr Isaac Yankem and Fake Diesel. They would put a mask on him and push him as a monster known as ‘Doomsday’ which would later develop into Kane in the WWE.
After a while, Jerry Jarrett decided to walk away from the USWA and sold his half of the company to Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler (already owned half of the USWA ) for an estimated $250,000 giving him 100% ownership. Around this time, a “businessman” named Larry Burton wanted to purchase a portion of the USWA from Lawler with plans to sell the USWA and all of its properties to Vince McMahon for roughly 6 million dollars. Burton brought in a Cleveland business man named Mark Selker to invest in the USWA and buy a stake in it. Selker was under the impression that the USWA was a big national promotion based on all the syndicated TV deals that the company had. Selker would invest over 2 million for 50% ownership of the USWA.
Little did Mark Selker realize that the USWA, by 1996, was a dying promotion. It was losing money due to the increasing popularity of both WCW and the WWF during the famed Monday Night Wars. Seeing that the con was on, Selker filed a lawsuit against both Larry Burton and Jerry Lawler. Both Lawler and Burton were served the lawsuit during television tapings at the WMC TV studios in Memphis, Tennessee.
After a lengthy court battle, Selker won the lawsuit as Larry Burton was found liable for fraud. Mark Selker was awarded roughly 7 million dollars in damages. The USWA did not survive the long court battle as it was eventually shutdown by Selker and his company. As it turned out, Larry Burton wasn’t even his real name. It was, in fact, Larry Bertman. It marked the end of what was the last remaining territory in professional wrestling.