By Joe Pollock
You’ve all seen the video. You’ve heard Davey Boy Smith cracking up off-screen and Sid Vicious trying in vain to feign fear of a fat man tripping through a curtain and losing his glittery Stormtrooper helmet in the process. The clearly dubbed-over voice of Ole Anderson hailing impending doom for the team of Vicious and Harlem Heat was unintentional comedy gold. That the debut ever reached viewers of WCW Saturday Night is still a mystery (the shows were PRE-TAPED, for crying out loud!). The former Tugboat and Typhoon, Fred Ottman, deserves at least some credit for not pulling a Maury Povich Show baby-mama routine and running offstage. But, in the words of the late British Bulldog, “He just fell on his f#cking arse!”
The Artist Formerly Known As Emma is an instance in which a wrestler is re-packaged instead of being booked properly. Emma was a comedic force to be reckoned with in NXT, with her imaginary bubble-popping hands encouraging mass hysteria from Full Sail University. Along with Paige, the two built the Women’s Division of developmental, and both have rightful claim to generating the Women’s Evolution in WWE. Upon her untimely call-up to the main-roster, her in-ring skills were forgotten as she became a mere mascot for the ultimate mascot, Santino Marella. A demotion to NXT (for being caught shoplifting) re-cast her as a sort of jaded celebrity, and she really made it work. That role got her called back up, until a back injury took her out of the fold.
The vignettes began, and the makeover of Emmalina began to generate attention. They kept coming. . . and coming. . . for four months. Sure, posing as a supermodel is great and all, but eventually there needed to be an endgame! Apparently, behind the scenes, Emma wanted nothing to do with acting like a “Diva” wrestler during what was supposed to be a Women’s Revolution. On the night of Emmalina’s debut match, she walked out and announced that coming soon would be the return of Emma. Her jaded celebrity role was reprised, and she was fired after being fed to Asuka.
It should have worked. Jones was featured seemingly forever in vignettes, highlighting his prison stint in Australia with a didgeridoo playing behind him as a Hannibal Lector type of monster. Because of his affinity for MMA, The Undertaker was selected as a mentor for Jones. At 6’10”, he towered over the majority of competition, and definitely had an intimidating presence about him. There was just one problem that was evident in his debut against Bill DeMott: He sucked.
Bah Gahd, did Nathan Jones suck! Sure, he ran roughshod over the former Hugh Morrus, but it was as clear as day the man had zero in-ring ability and even less ring psychology. He was pushed as Taker’s protege for a few more weeks, until allegedly even Taker threw his hands up in frustration. A scheduled tag-team match at Wrestlemania was scrapped at the last minute due to the suckitude (hey, spellcheck let me get away with that word, so it fits!) of Jones and The Dead Man dispatched of both Big Show and A-Train by himself, with only a brief interference from The Colossus of Boggo Road. Jones had a very brief run in Team Lesnar being paired up with previous rivals Show and A-Train, but quit the company while the WWE was on tour in Australia, supposedly because Jones did not want to lose in his home land (what a concept!).
Look, it’s hard to rebrand as a wrestler with massive television exposure. Fans are rather stubborn in their acceptance or denial of a gimmick, and it is our right to be so. Matt Bloom had a somewhat signature look as Prince Albert/Albert/A-Train, with his numerous piercings and incredibly hairy back. He was even pushed into a brief feud with Undertaker, culminating with a handicap match with Big Show at Wrestlemania (which was supposed to be a tag-team match against Taker and the aforementioned Nathan Jones). He was solid, not-quite-main-event, talent. He was eventually released, and had large success in Japan as Giant Bernard.
Upon his return to Stamford, all previous mention of his previous work in the “E” was dissolved. In its place stood a hulking samurai led by handler Yamamoto, covered with what was presumed to be facial tattoos. Facial tats were not taboo by any stretch, as Hakushi rocked them in a previous WWF run. But the problem was, they were merely poor head paintings that looked like tire tracks. Alex Riley sold Lord Tensai’s offense like a fish out of water, but nothing was going to save Bloom from the previous chants he received of “Shave Your Back!” and the origin of “You Look Stupid!” Lord Tensai was promptly fed to John Cena, the Lord title was removed from him, and he wound up in a comedy tag team with Brodus Clay until his retirement.
“Braden Walker. And I’m gonna knock your brains out.”
That was the extent of Chris Harris’ debut as “ECW’s Newest Superstar.” It’s been mocked and ridiculed almost as much as it should have been. Harris was once an up-and-coming tag team specialist along with Cowboy James Storm in TNA as America’s Most Wanted. But, as was the case with most TNA products, Harris became complacent with his spot. He was fired soon after the dissolving of AMW, and showed up at WWECW woefully out of shape. Perhaps as a rib gone horribly wrong, Vince McMahon scripted Walker’s promo that a four year old couldn’t have sold without groans. His subsequent match with manager-turned-jobber Armando Estrada proved how far Walker had fallen professionally, and he was immediately fired.
Ah, religion. Vince McMahon has a very short patience level with the genre in the wrestling business. Bruce Prichard’s “Brother Love” televangelist talk show was cancelled repeatedly despite being a top segment on WWE Superstars for years. Friar Ferguson was repackaged as Bastian Booger after his debut because Vince McMahon thinks bodily functions are hilarious. He even told Shawn Michaels to stop lauding his Christianity during occasional appearances. It makes you wonder why he dabbles in the zealot gimmick to begin with.
Kevin Fertig probably wonders why. In the indie circuit, he utilized a gimmick of Seven, punishing opponents for their seven deadly sins. Vince signed him with visions of dollar signs in his head about the idea of a Wrestlemania feud with Undertaker. Vignettes were produced, with Fertig now bleaching his hair and eyebrows and condemning wrestlers for their transgressions. His debut at The Great American Bash, however, absolutely shat a brick. Scotty 2 Hotty was fine in the role as sacrificial lamb to him, but Mordecai was clearly in over his head as the role of monster heel. He had the size and look, but he just didn’t connect with the fans. He didn’t connect behind the scenes, either. Bob Holly sandbagged for him in his next televised appearance, and Mordecai was fired soon after for his involvement in a bar fight.
Diamond Dallas Page (in WWE):
DDP was arguably one of the greatest success stories in wrestling. As a bar owner, he happened to meet up with future legend Kevin Nash, who pushed him into the business as a manager. A surprising career as a wrestler followed (not many enter the business in their 30’s), with legions of fans and title reigns by the score. Chronic pain slowed his momentum toward the end of WCW. and after Vince McMahon bought the sinking ship, it was assumed his career in the ring was coming to a close.
Perhaps it should have. WCW workers had little success in Stamford outside of Booker T, as Vince enjoyed burying Turner talent almost as much as power walking. Page ripped off a ski mask to let the world know that it was him who was stalking The Undertaker’s wife, Sara. While the original reveal was warmly greeted by WWE fans (who just wanted to stop seeing Sara in wrestling angles), the subsequent complete annihilation from Taker destroyed any chance of credibility from that reveal going forward. A great worker had been turned into an afterthought.
Dustin Runnels has had a career trajectory similar to the Dow Jones. As a heralded rookie in his early WCW days teaming with his father Dusty Rhodes, it seemed inevitable he would ascend to the legendary status of The American Dream. But even in his first Atlanta stint, he would show why, as talented as he was (and still is), he could not be trusted enough by bookers to be given a major title push. He was fired after defying WCW “no blood” policy by blading during a hardcore match in the back of a pickup truck (this made sense to someone), and ditched cowboy boots for androgyny as the Bizarre One, Goldust. After spending almost six years in Stamford, personal demons precipitated his exit from WWF. He reluctantly went back to WCW, now booked by former WWF writer Vince Russo.
Russo re-introduced Runnels to the few remaining viewers through creepy vignettes of Runnels seemingly abducting children by floating outside of windows. During a forgettable Monday Nitro, the lights went out, smoke filled the rampway, and a large man with an Undertaker stetson and a black full-length straight jacket floated above the mist and into the ring. Upon landing, Runnels proceeded to grab a microphone and lambast his new persona (the “Uncle Fester” description was spot-on) and authority figures Russo and Eric Bischoff. Seven would never wrestle a match, and Runnels’ return to The Sinking Ship would be short-lived.
Rockstar Spud (in WWE):
This is more of an indictment of Vince McMahon refusing to admit the existence of other wrestling companies in America (or anywhere, for that matter) than the execution of the gimmick. It’s hard to tell as of yet whether or not James Curtin is doomed in the WWE, but the reception of his authority role has not had the intended reaction hoped for. After winning a TNA contract through his participation in British Boot Camp, he had moderate success in the X Division. He excelled on the microphone with his grating persona, riling dozens of fans in the Impact Zone for the past few years. After new management forgot to properly fill out visa papers in 2017, Spud angrily quit the company and signed with WWE.
As news spread of his arrival, fans of 205 Live began to wonder how he would be introduced to the fanbase. Needless to say, a GM role by the moniker of Drake Maverick was not what fans were hoping for. After Daniel Bryan’s introduction of the new general manager, Maverick was cascaded with “SPUD!” chants instead of “WHAT?” chants whenever he completed a sentence. He has since been relegated to pre-taped segments so that WWE can avoid giving TNA relevance, but 205 Live commentators have reluctantly acknowledged Maverick’s former persona. A return to action in the ring may be the only way to save this rebrand.
Look, I’m a huge fan of the entire Hennig wrestling tree. Joe Hennig’s father and grandfather personified traditional heels by making their opponents look like Gerber-esque babyfaces. It’s not as if Joe lacks in ability, but, in what was clearly a malfunction in the WWE Create-A-Wrestler Name System (no more than 4 syllables, easy for 8-year-olds to spell on signs waved at arenas and approved by Kevin Dunn), Hennig had major strikes one and two against him as he joined the “New” Nexus as Michael McGillicutty. Who previously owned the surname McGillicutty in the squared circle? Mrs. Tommy Dreamer, Beulah, in ECW. Granted, Beulah had a tremendous match against referee Bill Alfonso, but her in-ring career basically consisted of the first lesbian scene ever attempted in professional wrestling and being a human rag doll for the likes of The Dudleys and Rhino. But, every man can receive forgiveness for sins never committed, I suppose. Thus, Hennig was handpicked as Paul Heyman’s new protege.
Score! A great wrestling lineage paired with the best mouthpiece since Bobby Heenan packed his bags for Atlanta in 1994! What could possibly go wrong? The moniker chosen for him by Dunn & Co., Curtis Axel, that’s what. Hennig’s father, Curt, had a stupendous gimmick as Mr. Perfect. Sure, Gorilla Monsoon would call him Curt from time to time, but make no mistake, Curt Hennig was Mr. Perfect. So, what chance did his son have coming down to the ring with a new rebrand as Curtis, and the catchphrase “Better Than Perfect?” Aside from a couple of count-out wins against Triple H and a forgettable stint as Intercontinental Champion, none. In fact, only his cosplaying run as Hulk Hogan has gotten Hennig any remarkable notice from WWE fans. In essence, he’s a two-time flopper. Rather sad, eh (he’s from Minnesota; I couldn’t resist)?