Moments in Wrestling History: “The Billy Joe Travis Arrest: USWA 1997”

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Before the WWE was writing scripts that would see “Stone Cold” Steve Austin leaving in handcuffs; another wrestler was part of a similar angle in 1997 to much less acclaim. Even more interesting is the fact that this arrest wasn’t scripted, it was in fact very, very real and amazingly enough thanks to USWA’s lead booker at the time Jerry “The King” Lawler, the arrest footage made it to television as part of a wrestling storyline.

The story goes that wrestler Billy Joe Travis’s ex was seeking overdue child support payments and had tipped off Memphis police that Travis would be on location for saturday tapings at the WMC TV studios in Memphis. Police took this tip seriously and were actually on the scene when Travis arrived. Travis was cuffed and escorted from the building, and brilliantly, everyone worked together to make the actual arrest part of a kayfabe storyline between Billy Joe Travis and Lawler’s real life son, Brian Christopher. In the video (posted below) you can hear Travis screaming for his manager Luther Biggs as he is being escorted away to an awaiting police cruiser, as Biggs in turn goes ballistic to the USWA announce team shouting “Billy Joe Travis is being arrested!”. It is speculated by many that Jerry Lawler had so much pull in the city of Memphis that the police were happy to let Lawler and the crew film the incident for television.

Regardless of how it came to be, it is heralded as the only time in the history of professional wrestling that a man was legitamately arrested on television. Through the years, we have seen our fair share of wrestlers arrested in television storylines, but never quite like this. Unfortunately, Billy Joe Travis passed away of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 41. If anyone involved with this storyline is reading feel free to contact me as I would love to do a lengthier piece on this if at all possible.

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