Honky Tonk Man rolls into town for Sunday bout
When Wayne Farris walked into Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on June 2, 1987, he had no idea his life would change forever.
It's the night Farris, better known as the Honky Tonk Man, became the World Wrestling Federation's (now World Wrestling Entertainment) Intercontinental Champion by defeating fan favourite Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat.
"Really it's probably the highlight of my career," the Honky Tonk Man said, the Southern twang evident in the 56-year-old Memphis native's speech. "As a professional achievement it catapulted me from a mid-card guy to main event status."
But Honky wasn't originally scheduled to compete in the match. 'The Natural' Butch Reed was to meet the recently crowned 'Dragon' in the ring, but with 10 minutes to go before the tilt, Reed was nowhere to be found.
The Honky Tonk Man happened to walk past WWF commissioner Vince McMahon and wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, who were talking about the dilemma in a hallway.
"Hogan pointed at me and said, 'What about him?' and Vince looked at me and stuck his chest out like he does on TV and said, 'I think that's a good idea' and told me what was going on," Honky Tonk Man said.
Steamboat was to lose the title that night because after winning the belt, he wanted six weeks off. McMahon refused, knowing that a belt needs to be on display night after night. So Honky and manager Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart made their way to the ring under a hail of boos, while Steamboat came out to a boisterous cheer.
After a back-and-forth battle between the two, Steamboat gained the upper hand. But just as he had Honky pinned, Hart distracted the referee. Steamboat came over to regain the official's attention.
When Honky also made his way over, Steamboat dropkicked him into Hart, knocking the manager to the ground. He then grabbed Honky and put him in an inside cradle for the pin. But Honky Tonk Man reversed the move by using the bottom rope for extra leverage and secured the victory.
"He locked me in tight," Honky Tonk Man recalled. "He didn't want to lose the belt to me but in our business you don't pick and choose who you lose to. He wasn't quite happy with it."
Neither was the crowd that initially went into a silent shock after Steamboat was pinned. But as Honky Tonk Man walked to the exit with the belt held high the boos rained down mercilessly.
"They started throwing things and screaming and shouting," Honky Tonk Man said of the fans.
Once he and Hart got behind the curtain it donned on Honky Tonk Man he had finally reached his goal of becoming a main-event wrestler.
"I told Jimmy, 'We're going to run with this now buddy,'" Honky Tonk Man recalled.
And run with it he did. The victory started the Honky Tonk Man's run of one year, two months and 27 days with the belt, which still stands as a record today, and Honky's life changed drastically.
Fans disliked his character so much that no longer did he feel safe going out to eat or to the bar with his fellow wrestlers. He wouldn't even park his car with the other stars at shows.
"I became a little reclusive," he admitted.
But Honky knew playing his gimmick to its fullest was his ticket to staying at the top as WWF management had no intention of giving him a record run with the belt. But McMahon had no choice when fans bought tickets in droves for the chance to see someone finally beat him.
"It wasn't because (management) liked me, it was because I sold tickets," Honky Tonk Man said. "That was my proudest accomplishment, the fact that I could sell out buildings because people wanted to beat me themselves. I had the crowd."
Of course, selling out buildings and being involved in more and more important matches also brought big paycheques Honky's way.
The Honky Tonk Man successfully defended the belt until the inaugural Summerslam on Aug. 29, 1988, when the Ultimate Warrior snapped the streak.
The Honky Tonk Man continued in the WWF until 1991 and has since had off-and-on stints with the company, along with several independent circuits. He recently inducted Koko B. Ware into the Wrestlemania Hall of Fame. He's been all over the continent, but no matter where he goes, the Honky Tonk Man still sees the effects of that life-changing night in Buffalo.
"That stands out in people's minds ... it did for you," he said to this reporter. "People remember that."