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Welding and wrestling

‘King Cobra’ Jimmy Kimble retires, reflects on lifetime of diverse achievements

In this May 25 photo, former pro wrestler Jimmy “King Cobra” Kimble poses at Republic Services welding in Memphis, Tenn. Kimble, who has worked full-time in the welding shop since 1965, also wrestled with the likes of Jerry “The King” Lawler, The Junkyard Dog, and Hulk Hogan in his spare time. He is getting set to retire from his Republic Services welding shop manager position. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — From his office chair in the back-right corner, Jimmy Kimble leaned back and peered through the window into the spacious Republic Services welding complex in South Memphis.

The tool-covered warehouse has been his kingdom for most of his life — 55 years to be exact. Friday the shop manager will work from his captain’s chair for the last time.

“It’s really sad,” Kimble said. “This is my life. I’ve been here since 1965.”

In more than a half-century working in recycling, Kimble missed just one day of work. It’s equal parts remarkable and unbelievable considering his other adventures along the way.

“I came to Memphis for the first time in 1963 to visit my aunt,” Kimble said with his Southern drawl. “While I was here, my parents’ house burned down. I just decided right then that I was going to stay here and get a nice job.”

His quest started with minimum-wage opportunities as a short order cook and a janitor making a little over $1 per hour, but along the way his professions expanded to trips to foreign countries as the widely known wrestler “King Cobra.”

But it’s inside the welding shop where Kimble found he could settle down.

“About six months after doing those (minimum wage) jobs, I decided I was going to start training for welding,” Kimble said.

“The problem was that I couldn’t find anywhere to work because I didn’t have experience,” Kimble added. “I remember going to the guy who owned (Custom Containers) at the time and he said he didn’t need anybody. I walked about a half a block home before I turned around and went back to ask him, ‘How can a guy get a job as a welder if he doesn’t have experience and nobody will hire him to get any?’ At that point I was about to cry. I thought it was my last chance.

“My offer to the manager was to work every day for a year without pay as a welder and I was going to make my money doing another job at night. That was my chance to get some experience.”

One day later, Custom Containers rewarded his ambition and hired him for minimum wage. Two years after that, he was the man in charge.

“They told me after one week I was already better than some of the guys that had been working there for a while,” Kimble said.

It’s the first anecdote that describes the two lessons Kimble wants to share on his way out of the workforce.

The first: Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

The second: Don’t ever turn down an opportunity to work.

“When somebody tells me I can’t do something that just motivates me that much more to prove them wrong,” Kimble said. “I really hate when people say that.”

It’s no wonder he was in the wrestling ring one year after a fan at a show in Memphis told him he would always be too small.

“I started working out and working out and working out until I eventually got there,” Kimble said. “Because I was so skinny, they used to call me ‘The Snake’ in training camp. So, I went to the encyclopedias and told myself, ‘If they’re going to call me a snake, I’m going to find the best snake in this thing.’ I came up with King Cobra because that was the baddest one.”

Kimble’s popularity as King Cobra grew rapidly across the Mid-South, and it wasn’t long before he was traveling to surrounding states on the weekends to wrestle in shows.

In 1990, he defeated Jerry Lawler for the USWA Heavyweight Title.

But once those drives to Louisiana and Arkansas turned into flights to Japan and Puerto Rico, he knew he would have to use vacation time with the recycling company if he wanted to continue wrestling.

“So, that’s exactly what I did,” Kimble said. “I would take a week of vacation and then I’d go wrestle in Japan or another country. … The wrestling shows paid pretty well.”

And he only missed one day of work in 55 years. That was the day after he broke his leg in a match.

“I took off that Monday to have the cast put on, then I was back to work on Tuesday,” Kimble said.

“About five years later I had my other leg broken, and I went to the emergency room and they said I needed a private doctor to put the cast on it. So, Monday morning I went to work on crutches with a broken leg.”

It’s a mindset more than anything else, Kimble claims. It’s based off the idea that he can do anything that he wants to do – weld, wrestle, cook – he hasn’t found anything to stop him yet. It’s been part of his personality since he was a child.

“As a kid in Mississippi I used to put my mind to things and I would just find different ways to make it happen,” Kimble said. “If I wanted a bird, I figured out a way I could trap them. We used to go out into the swamp and go catch alligators. I had baby alligators that we caught when I was like 9 or 10 years old. We found ways to get them, no excuses.”

So, what will newly retired Kimble do next week when there’s no more welding to oversee and no more captain’s chair to man?

“Well, I have a fence that I’m going to build around the back of my house,” Kimble said with a chuckle.

Of course he does.

“People say you can do what you want with your retirement, but I just like to stay busy,” Kimble said. “I’ve never had a problem with working.”

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