Going Ringside Ep. 5: The fascinating story of Jeff Jarrett

Jeff Jarrett (left) and Ric Flair in action during Ric Flair's Last Match at Nashville Municipal Auditorium on July 31, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images) (JASON KEMPIN, 2022 Getty Images)

On the latest episode of “Going Ringside With The Local Station,” we visit with the well-known Jeff Jarrett, whose career in the industry includes a little bit of everything.

“J-E-double-F” is how the golden-haired grappler introduced himself to a national audience in 1993. “J-A-double-R. E-double-T” is how he finished that introduction. If you’re a longtime fan of professional wrestling it has been impossible to miss the name of Jeff Jarrett in the squared circle.

The third-generation talent grew up in the business of steel chairs, heel-turns and backstage politics. And if you’ve watched his career unfold you know this Tennessee-born natural heel has a unique history. A heel who for many years would tell you he was both the “World’s Greatest Wrestler” and “World’s Greatest Entertainer.” That self-styled bravado drew the ire of fans and the notice of promoters in this unusual industry.

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Wrestling was in his blood

His grandfather was Eddie Marlin. A territorial talent in the 1960′s and 1970′s going under various gimmicks as they call it. In one year, Jarrett’s Grandfather was “The Mummy,” in another year he was “Frankenstein.”

But that ghoulish persona was not indicative of his backstage ability. Because Marlin would eventually become a booker. If you’re not familiar, that’s the man in charge behind the scenes scripting the wrestling shows. Vince McMahon is the most famous of all time.

His move toward “booking” came when Jarrett’s father Jerry Jarrett, Marlin’s son-in-law broke away and started a rival territory called the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, Tennessee.

And that was really the moment Jeff Jarrett’s lineage went beyond performing matches in the ring and got into the business of professional wrestling.

His father Jerry became a prominent promoter and that’s the lifestyle Jarrett grew up in. While other contemporaries like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin worked their way into the industry, the now 55-year-old Jeff Jarrett was born into it.

“As a young kid, I got to go to Puerto Rico,” he told us on the podcast. “I got to go to Japan. I got to go to Texas and WCCW. So, I got to experience a lot of things and I chalk that up to … what a great learning experience. If you give it the college analogy, I got to either intern or … soak in a lot.”

Going national as a country music “star”

His first time actively performing came in the late 1980′s working for his father’s promotion. But it was 1993 when the entire nation took notice of the self-styled country “singer.”

Jeff Jarrett was brought into the then dominant WWF and portrayed himself as a country music sensation. Possibly — in his characterization — the greatest Country Music Artist who ever lived. Sorry, Dolly, Willie, Mr. Cash, etc.

His arrival in the Connecticut-based promotion came approximately two years after another heel with a similar gimmick left the company. That was the Honky Tonk Man. Played by Roy Wayne Ferris (Jerry Lawler’s real-life cousin), he also had a Southern singer gimmick. Honky, however, was really an Elvis impersonator who claimed to be a great singer.

In this episode of “Going Ringside With The Local Station” we asked Jarrett about any comparisons with the Honky Tonk Man who did something before Jarrett, that was smash guitars over the heads of opponents.

Jarrett said his father and Jerry Lawler had been business partners and there was no real plan for Jarrett to supplant Honky’s gimmick.

“Wayne was off doing Honky Tonk Man, so there really wasn’t a conversation. Wayne wasn’t the first. I’m certainly not going to be the last by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But no, I just know that Honky Tonk can swing a nice, mean guitar.”

Fans of the industry (when kayfabe was dying) knew something was amiss and they wondered if this cocky young Tennessean could really sing.

And that was the hook of Jarrett’s gimmick. He walked to the ring weekly on national television (early Monday Night Raw) and claimed he was just that good. But he still never sang. In frustration and disbelief fans continued to boo.

But everything changed on that front in 1995 when after countless months of build up a music video was finally released.

Jarrett even “sang” to a live audience. Notice in the previous sentence the word “sang” was in quotation marks. That’s because in classic wrestling heel fashion the audience eventually found out Jarrett lip-synced the whole thing. The real singer was his “Roadie” played by Brian James who fans later knew much better as Road Dogg. Keep in mind this was only a few years after fans learned the R&B music act Milli Vanilli was caught lip syncing. Great heel heat!

Jarrett starts bouncing between territories

Following this, Jarrett’s career becomes more interesting from a historical perspective. Because over the next several years the still young wrestler — with territorial wrestling in his blood — started bouncing around between territories.

Not long after his music video debut Jarrett left the WWF for the up-and-coming WCW in the beginning of the “Monday Night Wars”. Gone were the days of country music to a more tough talking, guitar-swinging in-ring performer. And while we could chronicle his moving back and forth between companies the overarching theme of his career at this point was that he wasn’t tied to one company.

He still lived that territorial life he was brought up in and had a habit of jumping between companies (WWF & WCW) often when one company was struggling. Possibly knowing that if you go to a struggling organization, you know you can be booked as a top performer and make good money.

And by the year 2000 that paid off to a point. He left WWF at the height of the “Attitude Era” which was its most prolific and profitable point to date and went to the struggling WCW where he became a multi-time heavyweight champion.

“I can’t say I timed everything perfectly or imperfectly. It just happened,” Jarrett said. “When I went up in ‘93, I signed a three-year deal. Things rocked and rolled and I made some bad decisions. They made bad decisions.”

Why does this matter? Well, you see a keen understanding of booking and knowing where you can make money and how to make yourself the face of a company. Jarrett still had a lot of his dad and grandfather in him.

Things worked out. Like I said, I’ve been in this industry a long time,” Jarrett added. “I was born and raised. It’s what you did. You worked for multiple promoters.”

The Jarretts take on a Giant

Following all this WCW finally folded and Jarrett’s ability to return to WWE seemed impossible. This is when the Jarretts became legendary in the industry because by 2002 it all belonged (at least in the United States) to WWE. There was no other rival company really left. WWE had solidified itself as the dominant brand just shy of pro sports leagues like NFL and NBA in brand awareness.

Along with his father, Jeff started a limited-liability company (LLC) to start Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling. They even were able to start a national TV deal in their six-sided ring which set them apart from all other promotions. The venture had considerable success which lasts to this day as “Impact” wrestling is still a viable company.

It showed something to people who still wanted to be in this unique industry but didn’t feel like there were any profitable options beyond WWE.

That company was able to propel new wrestlers like A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe before he brought in more established stars like Booker T, Kurt Angle and Kevin Nash.

Now fast forward nearly 20 years later Jarrett has remained relevant in the wrestling world and spent a lot of time developing a podcast with Conrad Thompson. Thompson has become a fixture in the wrestling world by starting podcasts with Bruce Prichard, Tony Schiavone, Arn Anderson and Jim Ross.

Jarrett’s “My World” Podcast is ongoing, but Jarrett drew attention back to himself again in November of 2022 when he appeared on an episode of AEW Dynamite. Still in his mid-50′s the longtime performer remains in incredible shape. But it appears that Tony Khan isn’t just utilizing Jarrett as a wrestler to build his Jacksonville-based promotion. Jarrett’s considerable knowledge of this business is now being put to use.

Jarrett is now listed as Director of Business Development and will help AEW expand its live events. That’s something Jarrett knows as well as anyone starting way back in the 1980′s. And it’s a critical issue for AEW which was locked into Daily’s Place in Jacksonville for so much of the pandemic. Now that they’re on the road again a guiding hand is needed. Expanding to house shows and live events is important to taking the upstart wrestling company to the next level financially.

And that brings us to finances. We spoke with Jarrett about the difference between AEW and so many other upstart organizations. He says the Khan family’s considerable capital is something that can’t be overlooked. In fact, it may be the most important thing about this company. A quick google search will show you Tony Khan’s father, Shad Khan who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars is worth north of $12 billion (with a B).

“It goes without saying, the Khan family … enormous capital. Those are the biggest things in a lot of ways,” he said. “That’s one factor along with home-grown stars. MJF, Orange Cassidy, the Acclaimed. I could go all the way down with homegrown stars. That’s what it’s all about.”

The future without the McMahons

We couldn’t miss the chance to get Jarrett’s take on the future of the industry with looming rumors that Vince McMahon may sell WWE. Jarrett said he had no first-hand knowledge of what will happen but said he can’t see a professional wrestling world existing without the McMahons being around in some fashion.

“Hard to put into words,” he said. “I think only time will tell but my gut tells me there’s going to be a McMahon in this industry. As long as I’m breathing.”

And as long as he’s breathing (many more decades we hope) Jarrett will continue to make headlines in the world’s most unusual industry.

At the end of this episode Scott and the “Going Ringside” producing team will offer you their picks for the winners in this weekend’s Wrestlemania.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.