Date of Award

Spring 3-13-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Andrew Haley

Committee Chair School



In the late 1970s and early 1980s, professional wrestling in the South, buoyed by the South’s economic boom, reached its pinnacle during this period. Traditionally, Southern wrestling, affected by a struggling economy and small population, often struggled compared to other regions. However, as the population of the urban South expanded and became more diverse, a new wave of Southern wrestling promoters, found success by courting both their traditional white Southern working-class audience and attracting new African American fans. To do so, Southern wrestling promotions, Mid-South Wrestling and Continental Wrestling, created masculine heroes, like Junk Yard Dog and Jerry Lawler, who reinforced the importance of traditional Southern manhood while also embracing more equitable racial representation and elements of contemporary national culture. Simultaneously, the Republican Party helped bestow upon the South a political and economic influence it had not enjoyed since the Antebellum era. The effectiveness of this Southern resurgence depended on its acceptance of national corporate and cultural influences as well as the amelioration of race relations. Despite its newfound economic and cultural influence in the region, the success of Southern wrestling was short-lived. Wrestling promoter Vince McMahon capitalized on a changing media and corporate landscape to expand his World Wrestling Federation nationally and overtake regional promotions. Economic collapse, class and racial divisions, and national corporate interests doomed the promise of a Southern renaissance. Local wrestling, and its ability to bring together audiences across racial and generational lines, represents the loss of that promise.

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