Strutting Out a Legacy
Tracing the ancestry of wrestling is a prickly path. Influences have bound wrestlers for generations. All roads can lead back to Gotch vs. Hackenschimdt from 1908 to where we are today in the arena of pro wrestling. It also feels bizarre to have such an emotional impact for someone I never saw compete live in an arena. Hearing that Jackie Fargo passed away today at the age of 85 hit me like a wave of emotion that is uncommon for me in regards to wrestler’s deaths. It was then that I realized that much of my life-long hobby and interest in pro wrestling can be directly traced to this man. Fargo’s death also represented a passing of time. One of the most vivid moments of my life was being at my grandfather’s bestfriend’s funeral. These two men had been friends for 60 years. We were sitting in the funeral home and they delivered a wreath with a sash that had “best friend” written on it. My grandfather wept for the first time I had witnessed. I wept. Through the vessels of time, we feel connected with older individuals, and have a curiosity on how they lived their lives and how they shaped the ones to come after them.
The influences that Jackie left on the wrestling business are numerous. The two longest lasting memories are his mentorship of one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Jerry Lawler, and his introduction of the Fabulous Ones tag team, which represented a paradigm shift in how tag team wrestlers/wrestling were presented. Fargo taking Lawler under his tutelage was critical in Lawler’s establishment as the chosen one in the Memphis territory. Not unlike Bret Hart giving the rub to Steve Austin, Lawler defeating Fargo in 1973 marked his meteoric rise in the promotion that he would carry for the next 25 years. Fargo and Lawler were the two pillars of the Memphis territory and along with Sputnik Monroe, the most recognizable legends of the area.
Fargo retired from active competition in 1980 but was critical in the introduction of the Fabulous Ones tag team. Tag team wrestling had been an integral part of the wrestling landscape by this time, but it was rare to find two attractive looking guys dressed up in wrestling attire and dancing around the ring. The Fabulous revolutionized tag wrestling with this persona along with music videos and they ushered in the era of teams such as The Rock in Roll Express, Midnight Express, The Rockers and The Fantastics. These teams helped shape the next era of tag wrestlers including The Hardy Boyz as well as Edge and Christian. Fargo allowed the Fabs to utilize his trademark strut, but he also mentored them in how to act vicious in the ring. This was the key component in their success. The girls in the arenas would automatically go wild for the Fabs based on their looks and charm, but in order to get the guys on their side, they had to show a mean streak. Bloody battles with the Moondogs erased any doubt that these were tough men and they were able to carry this momentum throughout numerous territories until the team split up.
Showmanship mixed in with brawling is what gives Fargo the most direct comparison to modern day competition. Fargo was using chairs and tables in matches before Paul Heyman was even born. Jim Cornette has consistently cited Fargo in shoot interviews as a pioneer in regards to the hardcore aspects we see in wrestling matches today. Fargo’s strut has also been constantly lifted. Wrestlers may have strutted before Fargo, but it is unlikely that luminaries such as Ric Flair or Jeff Jarrrett strutted for any other reason than to mimic Fargo’s technique. Footage shown from Fargo shows the crowd going absolutely wild for Fargo when he displays his strut. Fargo doesn’t have the household name appeal of Gorgeous George but his influence on modern wrestling may be just as far reaching.
Another thing that is mistaken by Fargo is that he was a regional star only. He predominantly worked Southern Championship Wrestling throughout his career but he also had extended runs in Georgia, Mid-Atlantic, Gulf Coast, IWA in Chicago and the NWA. His overall career highlight may have come on March 30, 1957 when he teamed with partner Don Fargo, (no real relation and then working under the moniker Don Stevens) and lost to Argentina Rocca and Miguel Perez at Madison Square Garden in front of over 20,000 spectators. This shows the wide reach that Fargo had with connecting with numerous audiences. Fargo, throughout his career, was known primarily as a tag wrestler, but this is to not discount his drawing ability as tags were generally the main events on the card unless there was an NWA World Championship match. Fargo won over 20 titles and was seen as a reliable draw in any territory he worked in.
Fargo’s legacy in Memphis remained strong well after his retirement. Part of this was the respect he commanded from Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler, and how he was presented in the promotion with his appearances. I have watched a good amount of USWA television from 1991 recently, and it is astounding how they present Fargo as a returning legend. WWE does some decent tributes with legends, giving them a moment in the sun in a HOF speech or special throwback edition of Raw, but Fargo was still seen as a feared individual. Astoundingly, this didn’t take away from the full-time performers and only added to the intrigue of the matches he was refereeing or the six-man tag special attraction matches he took part in. I also appreciated the fact that heels within the promotion such as Steve Keirn refused to attack Fargo because of the admiration they had for him. Using legends in sporadic appearances like this could be beneficial to the WWE in their current landscape.
Sadly, I don’t expect to see a ton of coverage on Fargo’s passing. His Wikipedia entry feels insanely hollow for someone that accomplished so much and paved the way for so many. It seems unfair that Virgil has more easily readable words written about him than Jackie Fargo. Fargo represented the last glimpse into a world of wrestling that our grandparents witnessed. These memories were ingrained in me as a child and helped form my passion today. The next time you see someone strut in the ring, or see John Cena swing a chair, realize that the view of wrestling you are presently watching in many ways is not all that different from the view your grandparents watched. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Jackie Fargo is to thank for that. Even though I never met Jackie, he is someone I would consider a friend for all he gave to professional wrestling.