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Fired Up for Memphis: The Dustin Starr Interview

If you’re a scholar of the sport of professional wrestling, then you’ll know that the city of Memphis has a massive place in its history. Home to such brilliant promotions as the CWA, USWA and Power Pro Wrestling, amongst others, the Memphis territory was known for its wild, unpredictable action, its colourful characters and ultra-passionate fanbase. Names like Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, Bill Dundee, Austin Idol, Terry Funk, Brian Christopher and Lance Russell are synonymous with the area, as well they should be. As the wrestling industry has changed and evolved, Memphis seemed to be left behind, disregarded, remembered only by those with long enough memories or enough passion to dig deep into the annals of wrestling’s past…

Until now.

Dustin Starr, alongside his wife the lovely Maria, is Memphis born and bred and has been a long time fixture on the city’s wrestling and media scene since the early 2000s. Working alongside David Marquez and the United Wrestling Network, he is bringing local Memphis professional wrestling back to our TV screens with the debut of Championship Wrestling from Memphis on February 27th on CW30 and on YouTube. For those who have much-cherished memories of chaotic studio-wide brawls on Channel 5 on Saturday Mornings, the 27th can’t come soon enough!

I spoke to Dustin to get the low down on Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, as well as talk some Memphis wrestling history.

Sports Obsessive: Thanks very much for your time Dustin, I really appreciate it! First of all, congratulations to you and Maria on the birth of (your son) Reese. How’s everyone doing?

Dustin Starr: Thank you! Oh man, everything is good. It’s like a perfect time to launch a brand new wrestling project and have a brand new baby that’s nine weeks old so yeah, you know, just typical every day (laughs).

SO: It sounds like you’re going to be juggling a lot of things.

DS: Oh man, thank goodness for my Maria, man. A lot of the stuff that you guys actually see is me or Dave Marquez or whatever, out doing the promotion and stuff like that, but behind the scenes, as far as graphics and web design and accounting and bringing logic to our illogical business sometimes, she is the driving force behind all that. Of course, being pregnant through a pandemic, not being able to really leave the house and launching the projects, she’s the MVP for sure.

SO: Absolutely! So, the big exciting news is that televised wrestling is returning to Memphis. Championship Wrestling from Memphis will be airing on (local Memphis TV station) CW30 starting in February. What does that mean to you and what does that mean to the people of Memphis?

DS: I grew up watching Memphis wrestling. I’ve told the story where I was cutting promos in the mirror at a young age, talking to Lance Russell and Dave Brown. Not really Vince McMahon or Jim Ross –  it was Memphis wrestling. That was our professional sports league, before the Grizzlies and before the Tigers and their basketball was as big as it is nowadays.

Memphis wrestling definitely is embedded into the fabric and DNA of Memphis, Tennessee. All the way from the early seventies up until about the year 2000, maybe a little bit past 2000, and then it went away. Corey Maclin, who was the long-time promoter, he passed away. The TV scenario kind of changed a little bit in Memphis to where they weren’t really doing studio-style wrestling anymore. Now it’s kind of the fad. As you know, you see NWA Powerrr and Championship Wrestling From Hollywood and several others are doing kind of a studio setting. But we’ve actually not had a local Memphis wrestling (promotion) in about 15 years, on television, produced locally.

So, with all the rich history, it was kinda like “why?” But now, sitting in this seat, I can tell you why. It’s very, very hard. It’s a lot of work, a lot of sleepless nights. Last week, we made the official announcement of launching Championship Wrestling From Memphis, and I probably didn’t sleep for three days just because I was excited! We relaunched our website, championshipwrestlingmemphis.com, we’ve been constantly booking new talent and figuring out the lighting situation and the production team and just every little detail. And, by the way, sponsorships and money and all that kind of stuff, so (laughs)…woo, I can tell you, it’s been a lot of fun but it’s a learning experience that I know exactly why no one’s been able to pull it off in 15 years and so that makes it even more thrilling for us to just be a part of it.

The Championship Wrestling from Memphis logo
Credit: Championship Wrestling from Memphis

SO: Your enthusiasm and excitement is contagious, I have to say.

DS: I can’t wait! The Memphis wrestling we’ve always had historically, especially the last rendition, that was, gosh, about 15 years ago, that Corey Maclin had, that show really wasn’t for us. It was more for the legends as far as (the) Jerry Lawlers and Bill Dundees and bringing Terry Funk in or Nelson, who was Viscera in WWE.

There was just so many characters that all of us now, us meaning the Derrick Kings, the Alan Steeles, the Dustin Starrs, the guys that were part of that show, we’ve all matured and got plenty of experience now to where we’ll be the main feature. Alan Steele will be the main feature; Derrick King will be the main feature. Of course, we’ll have some of those legends there, but they’re not necessarily wrestling anymore. You know, they’re in their seventies or eighties; they’re not able to compete inside the ring. So this show will be for us, it will be for this generation. But then also showing some love to the heritage of Memphis wrestling.

SO: The last Memphis shows that I can remember are from companies like Power Pro Wrestling, Memphis Championship Wrestling, around 2001. What’s been going down on the Memphis wrestling scene since then? What obstacles have prevented it from getting on TV?

DS: Television has changed. It used to be to where the television station would buy the show, then they would sell the advertisements for the show. Literally, they would just set it up to where all the wrestling company had to do really was show up, set the ring up and do television. They would produce it, shoot it, edit it, put it on live, the whole nine yards, and that kind of changed over the course of the years as the territories kind of went away and more of the focus was on WWE, WCW, stuff like that.

You actually had Power Pro Wrestling; that was a WWE developmental territory. That’s where I started and cut my teeth, setting up the rings and working with those guys. And then Memphis Championship Wrestling was like the competing show. So at that time, we had two (shows airing). One was owned by Randy Hales and the other was owned by Terry Golden. They were on at the same time on different channels, which is crazy, almost like AEW and NXT but on a lower level. But they would flip flop the developmental territories. Power Pro had it, I can’t remember who had it first, maybe Memphis Championship Wrestling had it, then it went to Power Pro, then it went away. So I got to see all of that backstage, all of that happen.

After Power Pro left, then there was a new rendition that was ‘Memphis Wrestling—The Home of Rhythm and Bruise’, and that’s Corey Maclin, where he came in. And on that show, I was made a champion on that show. So we won the Southern Tag Team Championships two times and the Junior Southern Heavyweight Championship. So that was really cool. I don’t know if I was ready for it, but that’s why I say now, all those guys that were a small part of that show are going to be a big part of ours because it’s 15, 20 years later.

The USWA logo
This logo will always bring back floods of memories for Memphis wrestling fans

Now, before that, you had USWA and CWA. They were packing the Mid-South Coliseum every single Monday night, the ratings were in the fifties; there was nothing else that people were watching in Memphis except for Memphis wrestling. Fast forward to it now. About two years ago, we did the syndicated show of Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, and Memphis wrestling fans are die-hard. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. If we would have said, ‘we’re Championship Wrestling from Memphis’ and nothing was filmed in Memphis, they would call BS! They’d call us out! ‘Come on, that’s not Memphis wrestling!’

So luckily, the Red Birds have had wrestling nights, this championship here (in the background) is the Grind City Wrestling Grizzly-Weight world title from the Memphis Grizzlies games, so all the sports teams and all that kind of stuff, we were fortunate enough to be a part of this, but they kept Memphis wrestling alive. And the idea of this nostalgia, the Grizzlies even had their city gear jerseys with championship medallions on it in honor of Memphis wrestling.

So, fast forward to when we launched. Our main goal was to have Championship Wrestling from Memphis, and we’ve got some big shoes to fill following all of that, leading up to what’s gonna happen on the premiere on February 27th. There are just a few tickets available as far as general admission, so if anybody’s reading this in the States, which I know that they are, tickets are only 10 bucks, you can get them at championshipwrestlingfrommemphis.com.  I do really believe that we are going to sell out—that’s how few tickets we have left, and we only launched (at time of speaking) less than a week ago.

SO: It goes to show that there’s still a real passion for local wrestling in the Memphis community, which is brilliant, because when you think of places like Memphis or perhaps even Philadelphia, you get that sense that wrestling to them is a real community thing, it really does bring people together.

DS: This will be easy to find too. You don’t have to be in the Memphis viewing area for CW30. Of course, you can go to YouTube.com/championshipwrestling. We will live stream all of the broadcasts. We have a live chat, and we even do that currently now, but we’ll keep that. Last week we had Ruby Raze in the chat, Todd Keneley was in the chat, Darwin Finch, Danny Limelight, Papo Esco. A lot of the wrestlers come on and they chat with the fans, and it’s a good feedback session for them too: ‘ok, this is how they reacted when I did that.’ We’ve got a really good following on there so I’m looking forward to seeing these followers and these fans that are from all over. California especially, turning them onto the Memphis wrestling product. I think they’re really going to like it, like they do the Hollywood product. But it will be easy to find, you won’t have to read about it in magazines or tape trade, you’ll be able to find it right there on the web, it’ll be easy (laughs).

SO: I’ll be there every Saturday on YouTube! How long has Championship Wrestling from Memphis been in the pipeline, whose brainchild was that?

DS: A lot of really good questions there. It’s been in the pipeline since day one. I would say about three years ago, David Marquez, to his credit, reached out to me on Facebook. Myself and Maria, we host the CW30 network, so we’re on about twice an hour every hour. Dave was like, ‘wait a second. They have wrestlers hosting the Memphis CW30?’ Which, CW30 in Memphis is the number one CW station in the nation. They have everything from Springer to sports to judge shows to DC and Marvel episodes and stuff, so it’s really good television, and adding wrestling was kind of a no-brainer.

But he reached out when he saw that and he said ‘we need to put on a wrestling show’. And we pinged around a couple of ideas and…you know, also, it’s a little strange having somebody that you’ve never met before reach out and want to do some business, so at first, you’re kinda like ‘who is this guy?’ And we learned each other and all that. But one of the first things that the CW30 asked me when we sat down and were talking about (us) just being employees there in general when they signed us was ‘why is there not any wrestling on in Memphis?’ I’m kinda like, ‘wait, you’re the TV guy, you tell me’, and he’s like, ‘no, you’re the wrestling guy, you tell me!’

Once I knew there was interest, we pitched a couple of ideas and then finally we got one. It was kinda like Shark Tank. I’m a big fan of Shark Tank. So when we said the right thing and we had the right pitch, he just kicked back and he smiled and he just nodded and he said ‘I like it, let’s do it’. That started that, but ever since day one, even before we launched the Championship Wrestling presented by Pro Shingle, the idea was to have a Memphis wrestling program.

But we look at the wrestling business like a real business, not just wrestling. So obviously, you’ve got to get all your ducks in a row because doing a live event is different from doing syndication. Syndication, it’s already filmed, you just do your wrap-arounds. It’s much easier…in April of 2020, we were going to do it live from Autozone park. Then the pandemic hit. So we’ve been literally sitting, waiting on go, for almost a year now. We’re basically in a situation to where we know it’s not perfect to launch in the situation that we’re in. But then also at the same time, there’s interest. We’re doing it at 25% capacity; we’re going to follow all the proper guidelines and rules that they put in place to make sure that we’re safe. But how long do you just sit around and wait? I mean, I would rather go down fighting than go down being stagnant.

And so, the decision was made: ‘Let’s not wait, let’s do it.’ Even at a 25% capacity, that just puts only 75 people in the building. The building is fantastic, it’s a top of the line event hall in Memphis. They seat up to 300 people, and so it will be very, very spacious and hopefully, that comes across on television. And as we continue to go, we’ve already got about, I think it’s 6 months, 8 events, already scheduled for television. So hopefully, as we go, we can allow more people in. We’re technically allowed 125, but we want to stay below what’s allowed, just to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

SO: I imagine that’s one of the added pressures of arranging a new wrestling show now, that there’s all these other safety protocols that you have to follow. But you make an interesting point about how you’d rather go down fighting than be stagnant. There’s an argument to be made with the NWA, for example, that with Powerrr, they’ve lost a lot of talent, they built up a big following and they seem to have lost momentum, which is a big shame for them.

DS: Yeah, hopefully…They did such a great job. They have such just die-hard wrestling fans, that I can’t wait until we launch and then people actually see what we’re doing, and I would just be tickled pink, for lack of a better term, to have a following like what the NWA has for Powerrr. I mean, those fans are so dedicated. And I know why they’re waiting. It’s smart to wait, it really is. It’s just, we’re in a situation to where…we’re not, like, going to go out of business or anything like that, but we’re kind of in a situation that if we don’t progress, how long can we sustain just not doing anything?

I think you’re going to see NWA Powerrr back, I think you’re going to see a bigger following than ever, and I just know for a fact, with working capital and how much stuff is and all that kind of stuff, that they don’t want to just do it at 25% capacity. When they do it, they want to do it right. And that’s not just a wrestling show when you show up to Georgia. I mean, you get Dave Marquez telling stories and it’s a whole experience there. It’s almost like a little fan-fest along with their TV tapings. So, I know why they’re waiting; they’re waiting for the right time. And they’re a much larger company than what we are right now, so there’s a little bit of a difference, we’ve got a little bit more pressure on us to do something and keep our pedal to the metal so to speak.

SO: Who’s booking the show?

DS: I hate to say that I’m booking, but I guess I am. Man! But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of other experienced wrestlers, and of course Dave Marquez. The difference here, though, is that when I first started working with Championship Wrestling from Hollywood and the United Wrestling Network, I wasn’t as 100% familiar with the characters and cast as I am now. So if they would have said, ‘hey Dustin, I need you to help us book this show’, I’d be like, ‘alright, let me do some research,’ because I was brand new to the product.

Dustin and Maria Starr pose on front of the Hollywood sign from Championship Wrestling from Hollywood
Dustin and Maria take Hollywood! (Credit: Dustin Starr)

(On) the flip side, Dave and his team are kind of in the same situation to where they’ve heard of some of the talent, like I had, but they don’t know the talent like we do. So we’re kind of up against it like that to where myself and a couple of others, like Alan Steel, he’s a guy that I’ve talked to quite a bit; my buddy Simon, he’s a guy I’ve talked to quite a bit; Maria gives us a whole different perspective on things.

And it’s not like ‘who likes who,’ it’s more like, ‘ok, this is a cool character—what can we do with it?’ There’s so much talent in the Mid-South and all around. We’ve even gotten quite a few calls from Texas and Florida, where people want to come in and they don’t mind travelling; they want to come in and do it. So I guess the short answer there is, me? (laughs).

So, I think this is a good time to tell people that if you’re interested in getting booked, go to championshipwrestlingmemphis.com and click ‘contact’ and send us a message*.

SO: What can we expect from the show? Are we going to see some of the wild and furious action in the Memphis tradition? What stars should we be looking out for?

DS: Well, I definitely think it’s going to be crazy. We want to continue to follow what the United Wrestling Network is doing and kind of their style of things, but also putting that Memphis flavor in there, because you never know what could happen one week from the next.

A couple of guys to look out for, though; I would definitely say Alan Steel. I’ve mentioned his name a couple of times. He is the very best wrestler in the Mid-South, and if anybody’s reading this and they think they are better than Alan Steel, then please contact me because I need to book you! I mean, he will beat you up; he can talk you out the building; we’re going to have some special plans for Alan.—he’s one of the best.

Derrick King is another guy that you saw on Power Pro Wrestling and you saw on Corey Maclin’s rendition of Championship Wrestling, ‘the home of rhythm and bruise.’ Derrick, he was on WGN with the ‘Wrestling with Death’ show. So Derrick’s another guy you will see quite a bit of. The Posse is a really fun, carefree, fun-loving tag team. They wear spikes on their shoulder pads and wear face paint and all that stuff—sounds kind of like the Road Warriors, but not as badass as the Road Warriors (laughs).

We also have some classic stars, like the Humongous character, which was well known historically for Glenn Jacobs, Sid Vicious and Gary Nations; all played that role and so that’s one that we’re gonna kinda repackage and bring back. Sir Mo, former WWF tag team champion, he’s gonna be a part of this as well.

If you go to championshiopwrestlingmemphis.com/roster, or just click the roster tab, we’ve been doing a going job of keeping it updated. And there’s a lot of familiar faces that you might see on there, depending on where you live, but then also, there’s going to be a lot of new faces, and that’s what the beauty of launching a brand new Championship Wrestling from Memphis is, introducing these new characters.

I’ll tell you, Jack Banning is a guy on the Hollywood program that never won a match in two years. And, all of a sudden, he changed and he had this creative idea of this quarantine character and, all of a sudden, just like that, he’s catapulted to the top and working with Jordan Clearwater and making a huge impact. So the beauty of being creative, and that’s what we’ve got to do, is be as creative as we can to help these guys become something bigger than just wrestling matches.

SO: Absolutely. I suppose with the wrestling market nowadays as well, you have to be more creative to stand out. Like Ring of Honor have gone back to, or put an emphasis on, the Pure style, and the interview packages before they actually go into the matches. That’s a way they’re looking to stand out. So it will be very interesting to see what you come up with.

DS: No pressure!

SO: No pressure (laughs). What part will the Memphis legends play in the show? Will they be a regular fixture? How important to you was it to have Memphis legends on the show?

DO: Over the last couple of years, we’ve had the opportunity to book guys like Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee and King Cobra and Dutch Mantell and Jerry Calhoon, who was the legendary referee that refed all those historic matches. Porkchop Cash, you know. We’ve tried to get those guys on television and, not really give them the exposure, so to speak, but we’re all about the heritage and tradition of Memphis wrestling and so, any of those guys who want to be part of what we’re doing, there’s always room for them. And they will play a role; you won’t necessarily see them in the ring wrestling anymore, but you will see them there, you know, being supportive, or maybe being a manager or having some sort of role.

King Cobra has words for Jerry Lawler as Dave Brown looks on
King Cobra has words for Jerry Lawler as Dave Brown looks on

I’ll give you kind of a scoop here that I’ve only mentioned on, I think, one other place—it hasn’t really been released as official yet—so I’ll give you the scoop. King Cobra; he’s a guy who pinned Jerry Lawler to become the first-ever African-African world champion in Memphis. We did some special interviews with him in the very spot inside the Mid-South Coliseum. Well, our first blockbuster spectacular that we’re going to have on the first taping, and those are three-week blockbuster spectaculars, is we’re going to have the Cobra Cup! We’ve got an actual trophy, and we’ll have a tournament that will take place over the course of the first three weeks of TV that will crown our first ever Cobra Cup winner.

Now, it’s very similar to a PP3 cup, but at this point it’s not going to be something that you cash in for a title opportunity, not yet anyway. But just to get us going, and to kind of pay homage to the classic tradition of Memphis wrestling, we want to have King Cobra involved in that and do a tournament in his name. And so, he will be there and we plan for him to not only shake the hand of the winner, but then hand over that first-ever trophy. 

SO: Excellent! That’s really exciting—you heard it here first! What are some of your favorite Memphis wrestling moments? When I think of Memphis, some of the classics to me are Jerry Lawler having his hair cut with Austin Idol and Tommy Rich, Eddie Gilbert running Jerry Lawler down in his car, that’s a classic, or even the WWF invasion in 1993…

DS: Vince!  Vince had the title, that was the first-ever rendition of Mr McMahon.

SO: Exactly! He did such a good job of it, you wonder why he didn’t go heel earlier. What are the real great moments in Memphis wrestling for you? When you think ‘Memphis Wrestling’, what stands out in your head?

DS: You took all the best ones! No, I’m kidding. One that I love involves one of my friends who passed away a couple of years ago, Brian Christopher. Young, cocky, brash Brian Christopher, laughing like a hyena and cheating to win—he had literally won every single championship. And he wheeled out a little red wagon full of championship belts. And if you haven’t seen this, go to YouTube and type in ‘Brian Christopher Little Red Wagon.’

And he literally pulled the championship belts out of his little red wagon—‘I’ve got so much gold, Dave Brown, that I carry around a little red wagon’—and he put the title belts onto a scale, and you could see he had his finger on the scale to make it look like it was heavier, and Dave was like, ‘oh, come on, Brian, come on. Get outta here.’ But it was so cool that he literally brought out a little kid’s little red wagon full of championship belts and for some reason, that just stuck with me, like…that dude, he’s a bad dude. That’s one of my favorites there.

SO: He was so good in Memphis. He could be a complete heat magnet but yet the crowd would love him as well.

DS: That’s true. Me and him rode up and down the roads together for a long time. We knew each other for twenty years and I hated to see what happened. We miss him every day. I know his birthday was just a couple of weeks ago, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Cleveland Browns happened the other day, a couple of weeks ago. The Pittsburgh Steelers was Brian’s absolute favorite team. I mean, he was buried in a Pittsburgh Steelers casket. His dad’s favorite team is the Cleveland Browns—kind of a little touching moment there. But yeah, big, big fan of Brian Christopher.

Brian Christopher and Dustin Starr pose together backstage
The late, great Brian Christopher and Dustin Starr

There’s so many classic Memphis wrestling moments. I remember another one with ‘Handsome’ Jimmy Valiant and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, on television for the championship. It was a babyface match, and they both had this talk, like, ‘hey, we’re going to do this thing and we’re going to do it right down the middle’. And there came an opportunity where a chain came into play, and you just see Lawler’s face, holding that chain, like, ‘do I do it or do I not?’ And of course, he wrapped his fist up, boom, popped him, tucked it away, and he literally turned heel mid-match to win the title. I think that part stuck out to me because of the theatre of it and the camera shot, and he’s literally thinking about it. Big fan of Handsome Jimmy, big fan of The King, so…

SO: Definitely. Is Championship Wrestling from Memphis part of the United Wrestling Network? Does that mean then that we could see stars from Hollywood and Arizona appear on the show, and could we see stars from Memphis appear on Prime Time Live as and when it comes back?

DS: Yes, yes and yes! Absolutely. We are the next sanctioned, I guess, territory of the United Wrestling Network. So you have the United Wrestling Network as the sanctioning body, you have Championship Wrestling from Hollywood that’s been in business for over 10 years, 500 episodes; Championship Wrestling from Arizona, they have over 150 original episodes; and now it will be Championship Wrestling from Memphis. So on our 100th episode on February 27th, we literally flip the calendar over and we become episode one of Championship Wrestling from Memphis.

United Wrestling Network does have their travelling champions, very similar to the NWA and what they had before. So the United Wrestling Network TV champion; the United Wrestling Network world tag team champions. Soon there will be a United Wrestling Network World champion and women’s champion. So those are travelling titles. We will recognize those titles and they will appear from time to time on our program.

Then also here in Memphis, we’ve had this show going for nearly two years, so a lot of the people that come up to me, they talk about Watts, they talk about Heather Monroe, you know. They’ve grown accustomed to seeing these people. Ray Rosas is another, that we kind of have a little bit of beef with. I would totally say that those guys and gals will come into Memphis, and then hopefully that opens up the door for some of the Memphis talent to appear, not only on Prime Time Live, but on some of the other networks or some of the other programs as well.

We will have our own champions as well. So, just like the Hollywood Heritage champion or Arizona State champion, or really the United Network tag team champions, they kind of travel, but we plan to have our own champions here, not only just a singles title but then also tag team titles as well. And again, if you go to the website, we already have several tag teams…I feel like the division is going to be really, really strong.

SO: I’m really looking forward to that! A quick question about yourself and your relationship to wrestling—what are some of your earliest memories of wrestling? When was the moment when you realized, ‘yeah, wrestling’s for me, I’m a fan, I’m converted’?

DS: Man, we would go out of town every summer to Florida with my grandparents and go to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. And we would tell our parents—I have three sisters and they were even into it too—we would tell them, ‘you gotta record USWA, you gotta record wrestling’. So we were, like, binge watching wrestling before binge watching was the thing on Netflix. So we’d get back from Florida and literally sit there for whatever, six hours or whatever, and watch and get all caught up before the next Saturday.

At a very early age, we were going to Mid-South Colosseum. I remember May 9th 1988, being at Mid-South Colosseum and watching Jerry Lawler pin Curt Henning to be the Unified World Champion, and Jackie Fargo was the special referee that counted four, he actually counted to four on that one. But I’ll never forget my uncle carrying me out with my mom, and I’m watching…I didn’t want to leave until the celebration and stuff was over, but they wanted to beat the traffic. I’m looking over his shoulder, just watching the whole thing go down and the big celebration and all that.

Jerry Lawler takes a swing at Curt Henning
Jerry Lawler takes a swing at Curt Henning, Mid South Coliseum (Credit: WWE.com)

And then fast forward to 1990; I remember watching the Royal Rumble of 1990, and that’s one of the best Royal Rumbles there ever was, and just seeing Ax and Smash in the pre-game, talking about, ‘hey, it’s every man for himself, so if it comes down to me and you, we’re gonna fight it out and see who the man is’, or whatever, you know. And then Toronto Skydome, 1990, WrestleMania VI, ‘THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE’, that was it! So, all that and then watching The Warrior vs. Hogan, title for title; there was nothing else that was ever going to do. Nothing. That was it.

SO: Amazing. I remember being a kid, I started watching wrestling in 1991. WrestleMania VII was my first show, which has got a politically dubious main event now, looking back, but at the time you just saw the blue and red theme and the colors, and Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter going at it…I was converted. Done. Converted.

DS: Oh man, there were death threats with Sgt. Slaughter back then when he was doing the Iraqi…you know, we were at war with those guys. Nowadays, I don’t think they ever could do anything like that. It was so real. Good stuff, man.

SPOBS: How did you make your start in the business? I know you’re known for wrestling and commentary and hosting; what was the original goal? Was it always to be a wrestler?

DS: That was it. 100%. When I was 15, my mom drove me to Jericho, Arkansas to meet The Outlaw Don Bass, who was also the ‘Singing Cowboy’ and he was one of the original Assassins. Actually, Jeff Jarrett has credited Don Bass for, you know, kinda stealing his gimmick, or borrowing his guitar-smash gimmick and stuff. So a lot of what you see from Jeff kinda came from The Outlaw Don Bass.

I remember meeting him in a little diner in West Memphis, Arkansas, and then eventually we trained in Jericho, Arkansas, and I was just 15; my mom had to sign the waiver. And I promised her, ‘I’m going to pay my own way’. So I think they helped me with the down payment or whatever, and then I paid my own way and trained for a couple of years.

I think I had my first match, it was either late-sixteen years old or 17 years old, really young having my first match, and I literally grew up in the business in the locker rooms, setting up the ring at Channel 5 Studios, back even with the developmental and all that kind of stuff, so I was there for a lot of that. And little did I know that I would be learning all this that was around me and applying it later.

But there were also other opportunities that, whether it was other TV or radio and stuff, I didn’t really have any interest in because I just had blinders on. That was it. ‘I’m a wrestler; I don’t want to do that, I’m a wrestler.’ And so I eventually signed up with WWE and their Developmental system in 2010. And then when I left there, it was kind of like wrestling was almost secondary because other stuff started happening; working with sports teams and MC’ing events, you know. That’s how we started hosting, and just all this stuff started happening, and then wrestling mixed in (and) is kind of how this all happened.

SO: It’s all starting to come back to wrestling.

DS: But at first it was like, ‘I’m a wrestler, I don’t do that.’ Which was crazy, you know. So when I left the developmental system and came back, I did have a try-out immediately with TNA-Impact, and the word I got from them was, ‘man, there’s no money here, so, like, literally, you’d make more at your real job’. So I was like, ‘alright, I don’t know if I want to get involved in that.’ 

Dustin Starr poses for the Mr. Tennessee bodybuilding competition
The two-time Mr. Tennessee

So I started working for a professional hockey team, and doing radio. More TV opportunities came open, and I started competing in bodybuilding. I won the Mr Tennessee men’s physique championship two years in a row in 2012 and 2013. We signed with a couple of nutrition companies, myself and Maria, and then we’re doing some Fitness Friday’s for live ABC24 here in Memphis, and doing local remotes, or live remotes, and then that kind of transitioned to all the sports stuff, helped us get on with CW30, and now we own the Championship Wrestling—actually, our company’s called Memphis Championship Wrestling LLC, and then we also have Championship Marketing as well.

We work with companies that are interested in wrestling, but then also companies that aren’t interested in wrestling. And so we’ve kind of just made a business—not kind of, we have, we’ve made a business, a legit business, out of this and that’s led us all the way up to right now. A lot of people go from A to B to C or whatever, in a straight line, but I was kinda like, ‘A, B, C, D’, you know, just all over the place to get to the spot. But shout out to Dave Marquez for reaching out and kinda helping this whole thing—again not kinda, literally helping this whole thing kinda come together and be what it’s going to be.

SO: He’s a fascinating man. Such experience, and possibly the best voice in wrestling.

DS: I love it, I’m a big fan of his. I think you’ll see a little bit (of him in) my commentary style, and I only say this because I’ve watched him, I see how animated he is, I see how he reacts. A lot of the characters that you see on some of the larger brands, maybe they’re trained to not really overreact to certain things, but to me, if somebody said something outlandish during an interview, I’m putting that over with my eyes, I’m putting that over with my face. Then I might even say, ‘what are you talking about?’ You know, like, that’s what Dave does, and even during commentary, he makes sure that…I think the way he delivers what he’s saying too is very important. So I’m a big fan of his, not only in front of the camera but the guy knows his stuff better than anybody behind the camera too.

SO: Good stuff, he’s a good man. You mentioned being part of the WWE Developmental System. I wasn’t actually aware that you’d done that. What was that experience like for you?

DS: Oh, it was great. Dr. Tom Prichard was our head coach and, you know, he spent time here in Memphis. Steve Keirn was the owner of Florida Championship Wrestling and he was one of the Fabulous Ones here in Memphis. So immediately, my name was ‘Memphis’, they would call me Memphis.

I remember doing camps and stuff and telling Steve Keirn, ‘hey, this is what I want to do for a living, and I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I’ll even sweep the floors up or whatever.’ So the first day that I reported, he called me into the big arena room, because they kinda had a training room and then an arena ring, and he had a broom in his hand and he handed it over. And he said, ‘remember what you told me?’ ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘well, get started.’ So I swept the floors. Literally everything they need you to do, you do.

Back then and this was ten years ago, eleven years ago, it didn’t really matter how you got there. It didn’t matter what you did previously. It only mattered what you were about to do and what you’re going to do. Literally, they’d break you all the way down and then build you back up or whatever. But I think that they knew, in the end, that I still wanted to entertain in a way that maybe they didn’t have an opportunity for me. At that time, it was kinda being a wrestler. But they literally signed me to be a referee, ring announce, and also broadcast, which I was excited about.

But unfortunately, I only got to really do the refereeing part, and I worked with a lot of great wrestlers, like Roman Reigns, I remember helping him. Big E. was just getting started and now he’s Intercontinental champion and one of the most popular tag team wrestlers in the history of the world. Xavier Woods, Seth Rollins, he was still named Tyler Black back then. It’s literally the who’s who. CM Punk would come in and just literally hold the school. When he came, he was the man at that point; everything stopped and the focus was on him when he was teaching. It would be nothing to be sitting there and, I don’t know, Diamond Dallas Page, X-Pac, Sheamus, who was world champion right around that time—you’d see these guys walk in and start helping out, you know. It was like, ‘wow, this is crazy’.

We watched Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat with Ricky Steamboat telling us what was going on and what spots were being called and just sharing exactly how they did what they did. It was crazy. Working with Dusty Rhodes was awesome and he just had a way with words man, he was the best. And I remember thinking, ‘man, these guys get showed up to do wrestling. That is awesome. Like, they literally get paid a hefty salary to teach all these guys how to do this’. I was loving that, man.

I worked my butt off there, because I knew it wouldn’t last forever, but immediately, when we kinda came to the agreement to go, they said ‘man, go do your thing. We know you want to entertain, and you can come back any time you want’. And so, a lot of people ask me, ‘well, why haven’t you gone back?’ And literally, I would have to stop everything I’m doing now in order to even try to go back. Like, if they seek me out and come after me and wanna sign me, I wouldn’t be able to work for the Grizzlies; Red Birds; Championship Wrestling from Memphis; CW30; Grind City Media. All the stuff that I have going on now that I love to do, all of that would go away and be exclusive to them. So, it’s a really big type of thing that I don’t know that I’m…I’d never say that I’m not interested in working with WWE or AEW. But literally you have to stop everything you’re currently doing in order to do it.

SO: I suppose it’s a cliché, but maybe that (WWE Developmental) not working out in the way you might have wanted to has led to these opportunities?

DO: Absolutely. And then also, there’s a lot of hard work too. Basically, you don’t wait around. The day that we came to the agreement for me to leave, within 30 minutes of getting that phone call, I had 3 job opportunities available in Memphis and I had a try-out in TNA, just like that. And that wasn’t because they picked up the phone and called me. It was because I was able to pick up the phone and say ‘hey, my situation is changing and there’s going to be some opportunities. Are you interested?’ and they were like, ‘yes, absolutely.’ So to be able to line some stuff up and be ready for that, you know, and keeping a strong work ethic and, you know, never…if I’ve ever gotten down on myself, maybe 24 hours, you know. I remember not getting signed to that one opportunity with WWE, and for the next 24 hours, I was just like (makes sighing sound), you know, just in the pits. But then after that day, it was like ‘alright, what are you going to do about it?’ Then you start working again. And I think some people don’t sometimes start working again. But I try not to sit on it for too long because everything happens for a reason. You gotta work for it. We’ve been very fortunate, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that too. So, everything happens for a reason, but then also your response to what happens is, I think, the main thing.

SO: So, with that in mind, and talking about your wrestling past, could we see you in the ring for Championship Wrestling from Memphis? We know you’ve got a past history with Ray Rosas, and Jack Banning now, I’ve seen on Twitter, was having words with you and Maria.

DS: Yeah! Man, I don’t want any part of that! (laughs) Wow, but man, it’s very humbling and exciting and fun that a lot of people have asked me that question. You know, we wrestled on the Red Carpet Rumble in 2019 and we had plans to do more, and then things happen and things change and all that kind of stuff. But absolutely, are you kidding me? That’s the wild and craziness of Memphis wrestling. Just because I’m sitting at that desk…I mean, at any moment someone might shoot off at the mouth or pick a fight, I mean, it’s happened. And then I’m going to have to say, ‘well, hold on a second, Maria, you hold down the fort right here. Let me tear off this sport coat and this suit and let me go and  kick some butt!’ (laughs)

Derrick King has words for Dustin and Maria
Derrick King has words for Dustin and Maria (Credit: YouTube.com)

SO: It’s exciting. You never saw Lance Russell hit back, but we might see you hit back.

DS: Lance Russell never beat anybody up, I don’t think (laughs). It’s kind of one of those things where (with) our duties, we’re excited to actually be commentating the show together, so we’ll be calling the action, and being a husband and wife combo, I think there’s going to be a different type of vibe and different type of feel, and hopefully, we can live up to the Todd Keneleys and James Kincaid and Blake ‘Bulletproof’ Troop and Alyssa Marino. I’m big fans of all of them and their commentary, so hopefully we can live up to the big shoes that they’re leaving for us to fill on the show. But it will be fun.

First and foremost, we’ll be hosting the show and doing commentary, and then second of all, I think in special situations, if there’s an opportunity to get back in the ring and the people want to see it, that’s the important part. I think a lot of fans nowadays, especially on the California side, I don’t know that they know our history of wrestling and the stuff like that. They see what they see and that’s us hosting. So, the idea there would be…I gotta diet (laughs) so when I do tear off the suit, it’s like, ‘oh, ok!’ But I’m sure there’ll be some instances where we’ll get into a little scuffle.

SO: I hope for your safety you don’t have to fight (laughs) but I’ll be excited to see it if you do. So I know you’re a man of many talents, as we’ve talked about. What other projects do you have on the go at the moment—anything in the pipeline? What’s next for Dustin Starr? Or is Championship Wrestling from Memphis the focus?

DS: Yeah, first and foremost the focus is February 14th, the TV taping. I think we have right around 20 tickets remaining, so we need to get rid of those tickets. And even if there’s somebody that’s reading that’s outside of the viewing area and not in the Mid-South and you do want to support the program, we’ve actually had…shout out to Catherine, ‘Destiny’ on social media, (she) reached out and bought five tickets and she said ‘give this to a family that can use it. We want to support you guys in any way’. And the tickets are only ten dollars, so if that’s the case, shoot me a message and say, ‘hey man, I bought a general admission ticket, give it to one of the kids’, you know, give it to someone who can use it, so you can support us.

Also, it’s nothing to just share, letting people know, like yourself, who’s a long way away from Memphis but just watching, and man, we really appreciate the columns and any kind of attention that keeps Memphis wrestling in the limelight. But that’s first and foremost, the February 14th taping and then leading up to the premiere on February 27th and from there it’s keeping it going.

There’s several venues around Memphis that want to bring Memphis wrestling there. They’re not necessarily able to right now but they will be soon. We have a vaccine that’s going out and I plan to take the vaccine 100%. Like I say, the CDC rules and guidelines, they are a top priority for us, because we can’t do anything if people are sick. But that’s the focus at this point, and then from there, once we premiere, we’ll look at expanding, because there’s all sorts of markets around us, Jonesboro, for instance. They do get our television, but Jonesboro DMA doesn’t get ours. So that’s the bigger picture around Jonesboro, and that’s a really big wrestling town.

So then we’ll focus on expanding the product and of course perfecting the product. Hopefully I’ll be back on the court at FedExForum with the Grizzlies pretty soon. Every time they try to bring the fans back, something happens. You know, it’s just the world that we live in at this point. So the main focus is the TV tapings on the 14th and then the premiere on the 27th, and then from there you’ll probably see a lot of familiar, United Wrestling Network-like events, like the three week blockbusters; we’re gonna do the Cobra Cup as the first one. I know that on down the line we want to do something similar to a Red Carpet Rumble, maybe a Grind City Rumble or something that has a Memphis flavor. United Wrestling Network already has it figured out, so what we have to do is not really copy it, but take it and make it our own under the United Wrestling Network umbrella and then move forward and make wrestling in Memphis a big deal again.

Dustin and Maria Starr on the set of Memphis' edition of Championship Wrestling
Dustin and Maria Starr are your hosts for Championship Wrestling from Memphis!

SO: As somebody who knows the history of Memphis wrestling, I’m very, very excited to hear that. Like I said earlier in the interview, I think it’s crazy that a territory with such a rich history hasn’t had televised wrestling for so long; it’s crazy, it really is.

DS: Yeah. And we live here! We’re not necessarily outsiders moving into Memphis to launch something, I mean, we live here; we were born and raised here; we have friends and family here; we have business here. Anytime that we could use a local artist—I’ll tell you, the designer of our championship belts, the ones that you’ll see in a couple of months debuting, are being designed by a local comic book artist. His name is Martheus Wade. The local production team also produces Red Bird’s baseball, 901FC soccer, and the Memphis MMA on live pay-per-view. So, partnering all the best of Memphis and keeping it as local as we can, with the United Wrestling Network, which I feel is the best of independent wrestling, gosh, it doesn’t get any more Memphis than that. So, everything we’re doing, we’re trying to do on the local Memphis level.

SPOBS: That’s great to hear! Is there anything you’d like to say, any final thoughts, any final comments to make to everyone?

DS: Man, first, thank you for having me on and thanks for writing the columns and the articles, I love those, we love sharing those. I know the boys and the girls on the show, they love it as well; they appreciate any kind of love and exposure. So thanks for that.

And then I just urge everybody to go look at our brand new, relaunched website, championshipwrestlingmemphis.com. Click around on there, I mean, there’s everything from our television schedule to our podcast, which, the podcast will be getting a fresh coat of paint real soon. There’s going to be a new podcast premiering called ‘Rolling into Mempho’, and it’s going to be hosted by Brian Tramel from the STS pod, and then also Ryno JB, which you can check him out at Twitch.tv/rynojb. He has an online interactive wrestling group and, like, Miro has been live streaming with him and stuff. It will premiere on February 27th along with the show.

And click around on the roster page, because the roster, those are some of the names and some of the faces (that will appear), so you can actually kind of see who is going to be appearing on the show before it ever even happens. Keep up to date on that because we update it every single day. There’s just somebody new that we’re adding to that.

If you’re outside of the area and you want to support us monetarily, then just purchase a ticket and send us a message and say, ‘hey, make sure that somebody that needs it’. And that’s really cool too, because there’s a lot of youth groups in Memphis. Big Brother and Big Sister of Mid-South; the Heal the Hood Foundation; gosh, we’ve worked with American Cancer Society, St. Judes. So anytime that we can give back, that’s what we aim to do, so we would make sure those tickets went into good hands.

I said early in the interview that Dustin’s enthusiasm is contagious—I wasn’t kidding. I came away from that interview buzzing and completely excited for Championship Wrestling from Memphis. What’s clear is that the heritage and tradition of Memphis wrestling is close to Dustin’s heart, and not only his; in an age where the territories are a distant memory, Memphis wrestling is completely a community concern to the good people of ‘Bluff City’. From local sports teams helping to keep wrestling running to Dustin working with local charities, wrestling is clearly at the heart of the community. I wish Championship Wrestling from Memphis all the luck and success in the world and thank Dustin for such a great chat about all things Memphis Wrestling.

Championship Wrestling from Memphis premieres at 12pm CST on February 27th on CW30 and at YouTube.com/championshipwrestling.

Written by Chris Flackett

Wrestling obsessed since '91. Lived through the Monday Night Wars and is still here to tell the tale. Major fan of Strong Style, technical and Super Jr. Wrestling, as well as big versatile hosses smacking the hell out of each other. Lives in Manchester, England.

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