Lance Russell (March 18, 1926-October 3, 2017) was a former professional wrestling announcer in the Memphis region from 1959 to 1997, particularly in NWA Mid-America and its descendant as the dominant promotion in Memphis, the Continental Wrestling Association. As a wrestling announcer, he is best known for a relaxed announcing style, which relied upon sharply or dramatically worded statements during heated moments as opposed to the screaming and shouting preferred by other wrestling announcers; and for his two-decade-plus on-air association with Dave Brown, a college student and disc jockey when the two first teamed in 1967, and later a top weather forecaster on Memphis television for decades. In addition, Russell enjoyed a long career in the television industry in West Tennessee, at stations WDXI (Jackson), WHBQ and WMC (Memphis), mostly as a programming executive.
Professional wrestling career
Continental Wrestling Association
Russell was in a very real sense the central figure of Championship Wrestling for several decades. However, while Russell definitely became a star of sorts due to the job, he never found himself in the position of being a bigger star than the wrestlers he worked with, unlike other wrestling announcers who were based in mid-sized and smaller markets such as Danny Williams and Ed Whalen. This is in no small part due to the strong talent pool he worked with over the years, such as Lou Thesz, Jackie Fargo, Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart.
Russell's banter with Lawler, Bill Dundee and Dutch Mantel extended many years, and covered these individual's frequent turns between heel and babyface. Russell would get up from his chair to conduct interviews, walking around to the front of the desk, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the wrestlers, and using exaggerated facial expressions during the conversation. These interviews were often the highlight of the Saturday morning television broadcast/taping. Russell also literally rang a bell to begin matches, in addition to pounding it loudly in futile attempts to halt out-of-control melees in the ring.
Russell was nicknamed Banana Nose by many of Memphis' heel wrestlers over the years, starting with Lawler. Like with Ric Flair in the Mid-Atlantic territory during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the size and shape of his nose became a frequent conversation point for heels during promos. Russell was able to enjoy a strong run from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s working with Hart, who was in the unique position of being the promotion's top heel in spite of not actually being a wrestler. Hart recorded the song "Lance Russell's Nose" in 1983.
Russell also used the mike to chastise and exhort wrestlers as matches occurred. Particularly brutal attacks elicited dismay and disgust from Russell; he often encouraged other wrestlers to run in from the locker room and offer assistance. An episode from 1981 found Russell being attacked by the Dream Machine after airing a less than flattering music video of him. In a 1985 episode, Russell had a bag of flour dumped on him by Jimmy Hart which led to Hart being suspended. Another angle from 1988, where Curt Hennig attacked a Memphis businessman who had shown his support for Lawler (who at the time had just won the AWA World Championship from Hennig), saw Russell physically inserted into the action, mainly in attempting to separate the two. Other physical attacks and angry verbal confrontations remain either well viewed or remembered.
Russell has also, even to this day, been humorously identified with "Baxter suits." This originally stemmed from a ca. 1977 promo with the heel Lawler, which became more widely known when it was included in a 1980s VHS compilation of classic Memphis wrestling, and later disseminated more widely from there via the Internet. In the promo, Lawler explained to Brown that Russell's absence from the program that day was due to a death in the family - his Baxter suit died. "It shined itself to death, did you know that?"
In addition, he has been known for various one-liners such as "Don't start with that smart stuff!", "What in the Sam Hill is that?" and "Will you guys just stop and get out of here?", usually delivered in the course of trying to restore order in the TV studio following an angle or melee.
Russell and Brown switched together from WHBQ to WMC in 1977 at Lawler's urging, shortly after Jerry Jarrett split with Nick Gulas and the Mid-America promotion and began producing a wrestling program on WMC. After Russell left Memphis for World Championship Wrestling in 1989, Brown continued as the host of the wrestling program, frequently teamed with Corey Maclin and demonstrating a style similar to Russell.
Russell was also the ring announcer and play-by-play announcer for Monday night matches at the Mid-South Coliseum. The 90 minute live program in Memphis was edited for syndication to the rest of the territory, such as Nashville, Louisville, Lexington and Evansville. Russell would also tour the circuit occasionally over the years and cut promos at house shows for those markets. However, Jackson and Tupelo are within the viewing area of Memphis television stations, so an hour-long program of arena matches was produced to air in those markets, in order to maintain kayfabe and still promote house shows in those areas.
Russell also live-announced taped house show matches from Tupelo during the late 1970s, during an era when taping house shows outside of the home arena was unheard of in many wrestling promotions. This had the historic consequence of allowing the original Tupelo concession stand brawl in 1978 to be preserved on tape, as well as other unique moments such as a tug-of-war between Jos LeDuc and numerous members of the audience. The videos offer strong evidence of Russell's work with live play-by-play, as well as his versatility in various announcing roles and situations. The tape of the concession stand brawl shows Russell signing off from the broadcast as the wrestlers move away from the ring, followed by the sound of Russell's voice on a dark screen, as he hurriedly instructs the cameraman to turn his camera back on and turn it around in the "Crow's Nest" position they were taping from, located directly above the concession stand.
Outside of numerous clips found on YouTube and similar places, examples of Russell's work in Memphis wrestling are shown in the 1989 documentary, I'm from Hollywood. He is also interviewed in regards to the film's primary subject, Andy Kaufman. Russell appears in the 1999 Kaufman biographical film Man on the Moon as the Memphis ring announcer. The play-by-play announcer role was given to Jim Ross, the longtime Universal Wrestling Federation, WCW and WWF announcer. Russell's original commentary of the Lawler/Kaufman match can be found on the WWE Home Video DVD release Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80's, as part of the profile of Lawler.
Russell made his debut in World Championship Wrestling on the March 11, 1989 edition of NWA World Wide Wrestling alongside Ross. He left WCW in 1992 and returned to Memphis Wrestling, paired once again with Brown and/or Maclin. He also worked as an announcer for Smoky Mountain Wrestling toward the end of their existence. He went into semi-retirement in 1997.
He has been living in retirement in Florida and makes appearances at wrestling conventions. Russell was married for 67 years to his wife Audrey until her passing on June 28, 2014.
- Memphis Wrestling Hall of Fame (Class of 1994)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Best Television Announcer (1984–1987)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)