I’m now back on track with watching sports entertainment and I am really enjoying it. I am especially enjoying watching Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and the Dust Brothers but there’s quite a bit of good stuff happening. I really liked Survivor Series as I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Anyway, onto this edition of Why I Like/Hate Pro Wrestling.
There has been a long history of performers who had horrible gimmicks. Now, I could gripe about them (and believe me I do) but that doesn’t get any of us anywhere. Eventually a bad gimmick will disappear and it’s a lot of fun to look back and shake my head at how stupid they were to even think they had a good idea. Here are just a fraction of the black holes of creativity that I’m glad are gone.
I admit it. I used to be a pretty big Hardy Boyz fan in the nineties. Not the mystery solving duo but the two brothers who were billed from the wrong Carolina. The guys who jumped off of ladders and moved with a rugged kind of grace that was probably born from the connection that brothers have. Unfortunately, as time went by the Hardys split up and both went through some really tough times. Jeff Hardy became a huge drug enthusiast and got sloppy and lost a lot of his appeal. It was probably during one of these binges that he came up with Willow the Wisp. At some point Jeff Hardy became known as an Artist with a capital A. It always came off as both really pretentious and kind of rednecky. Willow the Wisp was an idea where Jeff was trying way too hard and it ended up as a really annoying gimmick. Everything about it just seemed stupid. The promos looked like they were filmed behind Jeff’s trailer in the woods and he carried around an umbrella because it was “quirky”.
So imagine you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation who regularly puts on television programming and live shows and your product has carried a social stigma off and on since its inception. You would think that company would refrain from upsetting any special interest groups, wouldn’t you? Well, you would be right but the WWE would neglect that good advice and instead they would help create Eugene, a crime against everyone who watched WWE programming at the time. The storyline was that Eric Bischoff had a nephew and was somehow forced to let him wrestle. His “nephew” was played by Nick Dinsmore who was allowed to fake being somewhere on the autism spectrum. He played the worst stereotype of somebody who is “retarded” even though Dinsmore was not. The worst part was that this was played as an inspirational story. It made me embarrassed to be a fan.
In the history of the WWE (at this point it was the WWF), there have been plenty of moments where the company capitalized on race relations. The Gang Wars of the 90’s, the Nation of Domination, Rodney Mack and so many other regrettable moments. At least those examples made some sort of sense even if they weren’t exactly sensative to our nation’s already tense history with racial issues. Let’s see if you follow the logic on this one and maybe you can see where logic left the building. In the eighties there was a wrestler who went by One Man Gang. Tough name, right? He was a tough guy who came in to the ring and beat the crap out good guys. While this is not an automatic recipe for success, it was a solid gimmick. Now, the One Man Gang was white. I only mention this because at some point they decided to perform an “African ritual” to infuse him with the spirit of Africa (or something) and renamed him Akeem the African Dream. So, basically he operated in blackface without the blackface make up. Awesome idea.
It’s long been a popular practice to combine two great things that go together. Reese’s candies definitely showed this to be true. So why wouldn’t it be a success to combine two things that a lot of people like in the world of sports entertainment? WCW decided to combine mystery and stage magic to create a villain worthy of facing Sting, a guy who had become a huge draw and needed a legit opponent. A mysterious black-clad man suddenly appeared and threatened Sting. Usually when a new character is revealed, they prove that they are a threat by beating a string of opponents or at least beating a bunch of people up. What did they have Black Scorpion do? They had him speak through a really hokey voice distortion device and he also performed pretty lame magic tricks. The other big problem they ended up with was that they never properly planned who was under the mask. It was supposed to be somebody from Sting’s past but that literally could be anybody in the company. They came up with at least three possibilities and none of them were surprising or exciting and the gimmick ended with Ric Flair unmasking. Boring.
Matt Bloom had been with the WWE for years as the unfortunately named Prince Albert and then A-Train. He was a pretty good wrestler but wasn’t really used very well for a big man who had a fair amount of skill in the ring. He was eventually let go probably because the company didn’t really have anything for him to do because they had made him lose too many matches. So Bloom went to Japan and became a huge success as a monster heel and won more belts than he had probably even glimpsed during his time with the WWE. From all reports, the Japanese fans bought into Bloom who had renamed himself Giant Bernard, a name that probably made sense in Japan. With all this success, you’d think that his former employers would sit up and take notice. Well, they did but they decided to screw it up. They brought Bloom back in as Lord Tensai, a Japanese lord with fake face tattoos. Yet again they decided to take a white performer and have him pretend to be a different race. They could have just brought him in and talk up how much he learned in Japan but instead they pretend that we can’t tell who he is anymore. After a couple months he turned from a credible threat into a joke and they abandoned the gimmick.