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Memphis Memories: Scott Bowden and Kentucky Fried Rasslin’

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Travis Scott Bowden wasn’t your typical wrestling personality or wrestling journalist.

He had long since carved his niche in the hustling and bustling Los Angeles film and advertising world, where his innovation and talent had landed him gigs with the likes of Disney and Universal.

Scott Bowden’s real passion, though, never strayed far from his deep wrestling roots down south, specifically the town of Memphis, where legendary figures such as Jerry “The King” Lawler, Jackie Fargo and Sputnik Monroe had helped make that city one of the most successful and longest-running territories in the business.

His unofficial entry to the wrestling business came a little later, and quite innocently when he befriended Brian and Kevin Lawler, sons of the Memphis mat icon. They were teenagers and lifelong wrestling fans who put together a backyard wrestling show, aptly called the NWA (Neighborhood Wrestling Alliance), in the 1990s.

“They formed what you would call the NWA, which was the Neighborhood Wrestling Association,” Jerry Lawler told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “That was what they did after school and in the evenings and everything. They had their little cameras and they had an entire wrestling promotion. They would make their own TV shows and put them on tape. All those guys stayed close friends, and back then I was booking Memphis Wrestling and I started using every one of those guys in our promotions.”

That friendship would later result in all three eventually landing jobs with the locally based USWA (United States Wrestling Association), where Bowden would be given a crash course by Jerry Lawler after being drafted as a last-minute replacement when full-time referee Jerry Calhoun was fired.

“Jerry Calhoun, who was a longtime referee here for years, stopped doing it and all of a sudden there was this void for a referee,” recalled Kevin Lawler. “And I just remember my dad saying, ‘Hey what about that tall kid that’s always hanging around?’”

The heel ref gig would soon turn into a new and higher-profile role as heel manager. The brainchild of Eddie Gilbert, it was a role written for a guy like Bowden, who loved the colorful world of wrestling, whose personalities often reached larger-than-life dimensions.

Claiming to be the nephew of famous Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, replete with a helmet Bowden had purchased and upon which Lawler had artistically added the FSU logo, Scott played a spoiled, rich college kid who would guide the careers of some of the territory’s top villains, including childhood favorite Lawler.

While still a student at Memphis State University, Bowden found himself booed, even on campus, for the dastardly deeds he had perpetrated the week before at ringside.

But it had been a thrill for Bowden to manage Jerry Lawler, the top star in Memphis at the time, as well as Eddie Gilbert, Tommy Rich, Doug Gilbert, Bam Bigelow and other top heels who would venture through the territory. Befitting his bombastic character, he even did a series of mixed matches with future WWE Hall of Famer “Miss Texas” (Jacqueline Moore, aka Miss Jackie).

Combining humor and charm with a cocky air, Bowden was an instant hit with the audience. Even young up-and-comer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, another Bowden on-air adversary during the mid-‘90s, would years later give props to Bowden when recalling his early days breaking into the business and working in Memphis as Flex Kavana.

Described as a cross between longtime territory managers Jim Cornette and Jimmy Hart, “with a little bit of Paul Heyman thrown in,” Bowden was witty, hilarious and passionate, qualities that served him well in a territory that was still holding on to its old-school roots. Truth be told, had he entered the scene a decade earlier when managers were still in vogue and weren’t a relic of the past, Bowden could have been a major money-drawing talent in the wrestling business.

But a journalism degree propelled him to a different city and different world. He left his hometown for Los Angeles to try acting, but would end up settling into a successful career in advertising.

He never forgot Memphis, though, and continued to write about those special memories with his popular “Kentucky Fried Rasslin’” column.

A truly gifted writer whose unbridled passion for Memphis wrestling never faded, Bowden ventured into the podcasting world several years ago with his KFR show on the Arcadian Vanguard network.

It was on that podcast that I had my final interaction with Scott Bowden. Two months later, his heart would suddenly stop, a week shy of his 49th birthday.

“He had just sent me some of those COVID masks,” Jerry Lawler told the Commercial Appeal. “He was working with an advertising company out there and had some masks made with my picture and ‘The King’ and stuff like that, and he wanted to start marketing those through his Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ thing and we had just been talking back and forth the last few days before he passed.”

Kevin Lawler, Jerry’s son, had talked to Bowden only a day before his childhood friend was found dead in his Los Angeles home.

“We were working on some projects and nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” Lawler said. “We talked and laughed and joked as we always do. So when I got the call the next day I couldn’t understand it. It was a big shock, a major kick in the gut.”

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Scott Bowden’s Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ blog and podcast were old school wrestling favorites. Provided photo

The unmasked truth

“Yello again, everybody,” Bowden would routinely begin his podcasts, with a nod to everyone’s favorite Memphis announcer, the late Lance Russell, with whom Bowden enjoyed some of his finest moments during his managerial days.

Unlike many of today’s wrestling podcasts, with an emphasis on the current wrestling scene, Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ was an intelligent retrospective on Memphis wrestling, one filled with Bowden’s humor and personal experience. For longtime wrestling pundits, it was an entertaining stroll down memory lane.

So when Bowden asked me to be his special guest on a recent edition of “KFR,” I was more than happy to oblige. It was a special show for Bowden; the humorous subject centered on the legitimacy of a Mil Mascaras appearance in Memphis in 1979 that had been clouded by doubt in later years.

Bowden recalled how excited he was when he got the chance to attend his first wrestling show those 41 years ago. Seven years old at the time, he had been clamoring to see Jerry Lawler after Austin Idol beat Lawler on Christmas night for the Southern title. His uncle promised to take Scott to a show in January to see Lawler attempt to regain the title.

“My poor uncle, he didn’t know what he was getting into,” laughed Bowden. “When I saw that Mil Mascaras was going to be there, I called him up and said Mil Mascaras is going to be there on Jan. 29th! You said you’d take me.”

The legendary Mascaras’ penchant for refusing to do jobs was well-known in wrestling circles. But not only did Mascaras drop the fall in a tag-team match where he and Austin Idol were pitted against Lawler and Jackie Fargo, the Mexican superstar did a stretcher job, something unheard of among those who knew him. Especially for a one-and-done appearance in a city that really wasn’t on his radar.

In later years more than a few pundits questioned the authenticity of the masked man’s appearance, with some claiming that the real Mil Mascaras would have never agreed to such humiliation. The truth, however, meant a lot to Bowden, since it marked the first live wrestling show he had ever attended. It was special, and he was determined to get to the truth.

In his search for the facts, Bowden would question those involved in the match. He joked that he even paid 50 bucks to get a chance to come face-to-mask with Mascaras at a wrestling convention. The Mexican legend would only give a nod when queried by Bowden, who took that as an affirmative response, but with little additional information to go by.

“I paid 50 bucks for his autograph, went into this back room that was like the Mafia (with) 300-pound Hispanic dudes just hanging over him. I had my tape recorder going, and I asked him: ‘So this was you?’ And he said, ‘Why not? I wrestle all around the world. I wrestled in Memphis, I wrestled in Amarillo for the Funks.’”

“Yeah, but we’re talking about this night,” Bowden pressed. “He kept talking, really ambiguously, and finally he grabbed another Mark James results book that had a reprint of the lineup that night, and he check-marked next to it. He said something to one of his heavies who handed it back to me and said, ‘The checkmark proves he was there.’”

“The Mil Mascaras Monday Night Mystery” was the theme of this particular podcast, and I was sworn in “to assist the public in unmasking the truth behind one of the greatest mysteries of our time: Who was truly under the silver and black hood on the night in question, Jan. 29, 1979, teaming with the ‘Universal Heartthrob’ Austin Idol and volunteering to do the honors in a stretcher match versus Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and ‘The Fabulous’ Jackie Fargo?”

Bowden acknowledged there were naysayers and certain conspiracy theorists, “who, based on their vast knowledge of Wrestling Observer back issues, the complete catalogue of the Bruce Prichard podcast ‘Something to Wrestle With,’ as well as the audio books of Mick Foley and Chris Jericho’s life stories, which I believe were read by Tom Cruise and Kato Kaelin respectively, say otherwise.”

“They continue to shatter the myth of Memphis Mascaras and his infamous appearance more than 40 years ago,” continued Bowden. “Is this the episode of the KFR podcast … the day we finally unmask the truth?”

I was the first on his witness list. “Is it a coincidence he shares the same initials as Memphis Mascaras. I’ll leave that up to you, the jurors, to decide,” Bowden declared, most assuredly with a wink and a smile.

The show, like most of Bowden’s podcasts, was funny, informative and entertaining. And after being given the royal treatment and introduced by the host as “one of my personal heroes,” I felt even more determined to defend Scott’s case that it was indeed the real Mil Mascaras behind the hood on that first show he attended more than 40 years ago.

Case closed?

A star in the ring and on Mexico’s big screen, Mil Mascaras was a larger-than-life figure, a masked luchador who was flashy, flamboyant and acrobatic. And, to many of his opponents, the descriptive “arrogant” might have applied as well.

But was it arrogance or simply being misunderstood? Probably a little of both, but there’s no denying that this international superhero’s rock-star appeal made him one of the most sought-after performers in the wrestling business.

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Scott Bowden (center) is flanked by famed old school managers Jim Cornette and Jimmy Hart. Provided photo

His reputation spurred debate among those involved with Memphis wrestling for years afterward as to whether it really was Aaron Rodríguez (Mil’s real name) under the mask that night. For years Jim Cornette would jokingly insist the masked man was Pepe Lopez, in spite of the fact that Lopez, a preliminary wrestler and Tennessee mainstay, had died in 1975. Cracked Cornette: “I got news for you — that wasn’t Mil Mascaras. If he wouldn’t put Cactus Jack over on Clash of Champions, there’s no way he’s riding a stretcher in Memphis. That was Pepe Lopez under a Mil Mascaras hood!”

Or, he would later amend, “some other Mexican wrestler.” But certainly not Mil Mascaras.

But not so fast. I had, what seemed on the surface, ample proof that it had been Mascaras in Memphis. Some years ago I had engaged in a rather lengthy conversation with Tennessee wrestling legend Jerry Jarrett regarding the same issue. And who better to ask that the man who booked and promoted the show?

I had no dog in the fight, and had no reason not to believe Jarrett. I’d known Jerry for years, and he’d always been a square shooter and as honest as anyone you’d ever want to meet.

Jarrett confirmed that it was, in fact, the real Mil Mascaras, and revealed the back story that he believed might have led to Mascaras’ “benevolence.” I was happy to relate to Bowden what Jarrett had explained to me years earlier.

Salvador Lutteroth, known as the “father of Lucha Libre” and at one time the most powerful man in Mexican wrestling, had helped launch the career of Lucha Libre’s first breakout superstar, El Santo, and transformed the masked star into a national pop-culture phenomenon. “He (Mascaras) knew that Salvador Lutteroth thought very highly of me,” said Jarrett, who had befriended Lutteroth at an NWA convention.

“He (Lutteroth) could have bought and sold me and half the people in the Alliance. We’d always have dinner together. My wife Deborah and I went down and stayed at his house in Acapulco. The manager of the El Presidente Hotel worked for Salvador, and Salvador assigned him as our driver. I think that Mascaras appreciated that relationship, and for that reason liked us.”

Jarrett noted that he had been very impressed with Mascaras’ professionalism.

“Arrogance begets arrogance, and kindness begets kindness. I told him that I appreciated his contributions to the business, and that when he got here that whatever he wanted to do we’d do. I think he saw we respected him and that he had heard the same thing from Salvador. He said he was passing through and that he would like to do something to help us. At the time I didn’t realize how significant it was.”

Bowden had been told a similar story by Jarrett, to the extent that Jarrett would be amused whenever he would hear that some fans didn’t believe it was the real Mil Mascaras that night in Memphis.

“What the fans don’t understand is the power of relationships in the territory days,” said Bowden. “He (Jarrett) has always been forthright about other masked ringers who appeared in Memphis.”

Even more evidence: Mascaras’ V-shaped build was a trademark, and the masked man on that particular night, with the traditional red and black mask, was vintage Mil Mascaras, added Bowden.

Dream realized

Travis Scott Bowden was a talented writer and podcaster, a referee, an on-screen manager and a Memphis wrestling historian. More than anything, though, he was a fan who loved and respected the business.

He lived out a dream when he got the chance to infuriate the thousands of fans who faithfully watched Memphis wrestling every Saturday on television, and exchange verbal jousts with the beloved announcing team of Lance Russell and cohort Dave Brown.

Years later his weekly wrestling column, Kentucky Fried Rasslin’, would become one of the most popular features on Kevin Smith’s pop-culture website Poop Shoot.com.

“Bowden even landed us our first cease-and-desist order, when a certain chicken-frying Colonel decided he didn’t like how the red striped bucket in Bowden’s logo resembled his own,” recalled Scott Tipton, who hired Bowden to work for his advertising agency in 1999.

A comic book historian, Tipton took Bowden with him when he formed his own website based on his Comics 101 column, a site Bowden contributed to for years before spinning off KFR to its own website and later popular podcast, a show described as “finger-breakin’ good.”

“But, most important, Bowden remained a close friend, working with me at the ad agency for 14 years, then leaving to find success as a copywriter at another agency, and in recent years, having grown disenchanted with copywriting, returned to the fold to work for me once more, while still finding an ever-growing audience with his website and podcast and becoming more and more well known as the preeminent historian regarding territory wrestling of the South,” said Tipton.

Bowden was a genuinely funny guy and a very nice guy. “I turned my rasslin’ fandom into a career in the biz and now an expensive hobby,” he’d joke. But he also showed a serious side when he lamented the premature passing of so many wrestling greats.

“Pro wrestling – this childhood fascination of mine – has a death toll that is unreal and has ruined countless lives of the men who have survived long enough to ‘retire’ – and I use that term loosely. It’s tough seeing performers we admired so much over the years – in my case, David Von Erich, Eddie Gilbert, Curt Hennig, Road Warrior Hawk, Rick Rude, Eddy Guerrero – die so young.

“I’ve sometimes wished over the years that I’d fallen in love with a sport like pro football or picked up another hobby I was crazy about as a young man instead of this crazy business. But when it’s in your blood – you’re hooked. I still love it. I’m just not sure the price paid by these men have been worth the memories.”

Bowden, whose managerial antics during his USWA days in Memphis can still be viewed on a number of YouTube videos, will be missed by many who had been touched by his talent and humor. To some, he leaves a void that will never be filled.

Summed up one friend: “The world lost a very rare radiance in its fabric that it can never recover.”

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.

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