The 8-Ball 02.02.12: Top 8 Gimmicks That Should be Relaunched
Posted by Ryan Byers on 02.02.2012
From the Road Warriors and Jake "The Snake" Roberts to LAX, 411's Ryan Byers takes a look at the top 8 gimmicks that need to make a comeback!
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 8-Ball. My name is Ryan Byers, and I have recently been asked to take over this here column by the 411mania powers that be after its former author flew the coop.
The column, for those of you who may not have read it before today, is essentially a straightforward "Top 8" style column. Some of you may be asking why the site needs another countdown column when we've already got Nick Bazar's Contentious Ten that runs on Mondays and the staff-wide Top 5 that runs at mid-week. To be honest, when I first heard about the opportunity to write this, I thought the same thing. However, the more that I thought about it, the more that I came to the conclusion that there were some things that we could do in order to make this column into something that stands out. They are the following:
1) My opinions. I've been writing for 411mania since 2004, and I think that, in my time here, I've developed a reputation as being a fairly opinionated guy. In writing this column, I'm not going to worry about trying to be objective or taking the feelings of the majority into account. These will be strictly my opinions.
2) Unique topics. Though I can't promise that we're going to be completely without crossover, I am going to do my best to make sure that I'm covering topics that have not and will not be covered by either the Contentious Ten or the staff Top 5. In addition to coming up with my own topics, I want YOU, the readers, to come up with some ideas. I'll try to cover anything that is submitted, within reason.
3) International and historical scope. I don't mean this as a knock, but, from what I can gather, a lot of 411 writers these days are guys who are fairly young and have only been following wrestling for eight or so years and have only been following U.S. wrestling on top of that. My goal with this column is to make sure that this column's lists hit as much of wrestling's history and geographic scope as is applicable to the topic.
So, that's a quick overview of my thoughts on how this column will operate. Your feedback and topic suggestions are welcome. It's time to move on from housekeeping, though, and into the meat of the column.
And, because this is essentially a relaunch of the 8-Ball column, it is only appropriate that our topic for today is . . .
Top 8 Gimmicks that Should be Relaunched
There are very few original concepts in professional wrestling. Everybody steals everything from everybody else, with many moves, characters, and looks that are familiar to fans today having been inherited from a wrestler who was in action ten, twenty, thirty, or even many more years ago. And all this theft is a good thing, because the new versions of a gimmick oftentimes eclipse the old one and give a younger generation their own set of memorable moments. However, it seems like there are several gimmicks which, even though they were successful in their early incarnation(s) still haven't gotten a chance to flourish in the modern environment. Thus, this is my list of the eight gimmicks that should be relaunched with new wrestlers in 2012 . . .
8. Bourne Again: Sick of Being a Joke
One of the things that we can all agree on in professional wrestling is that, like them or not, there are a lot of goofy characters running around. I don't mind the occasional oddball in the ring, but they do need to be balanced out by more serious characters in order for the "sport" to be something that I truly enjoy. One of the big problems with those goofy characters is that, when you've got somebody underneath one of them who turns out to be talented and who you want to use in a serious role, it can be difficult for fans to accept them as anything other than the comedy character that they once were. If you would like to see some examples, take a look at Val Venis, who was hurriedly repackaged into his porn star character when the more serious "Chief Morley" didn't get over and Shane Helms who, once he gained notoriety as the Hurricane, wasn't really of value in any other role. (There's part of me that thinks this same fate will befall Zack Ryder sooner rather than later, too . . . but that's another topic for another day.)
Perhaps the most successful attempt at taking a cornball gimmick and turning the wrestler underneath it back into something that could be taken seriously was Paul Heyman and ECW's reinvention of Doink the Clown, played in the WWF by Matt Borne, as "Borne Again," a man driven off the deep end by the fact that he was forced to portray a clown in the World Wrestling Federation. Borne, in addition to acting like a complete lunatic on the microphone, adopted the practice of wearing a ratty, tattered version of the Doink costume and half his facepaint, and he would follow up on some matches by dressing his downed opponent as the clown that the Fed had forced him to become.
Imagine how successful this character could be if applied to the current wrestling landscape. There's so much comedy and wackiness in pro wrestling and so many guys that need to be elevated beyond it (Jack Swagger, I'm looking at you) that a character the type of Borne Again, frustrated to the point of insanity by being made into a clown, would be a natural fit for somebody looking to become a main eventer.
7. Hippy Jimmy: Political Counterculture
From the 1960s through the 1980s, one of the most popular wrestling promotions in the world was based not in the United States, in Mexico, in Japan, or even in Europe but actually in Argentina. The promotion, referred to as "Titanes in el Ring," featured a variety of nutty characters that would have made the early 1990s WWF with its garbage men, plumbers, and hockey players seem tame by comparison. One of the promotion's acts was a tag team consisting of two hippies, wrestling under the creative names of "Hippy Jimmy" and "Hippy Hair," based on and dressing like they just stepped straight out of the 1960s flower power movement.
Of course, there are now probably some people out there who are saying, "Ryan wants to recreate a hippy gimmick in 2012? He's completely gone off the deep end." I'm not talking about a hippy gimmick, though. I'm talking about a gimmick that would essentially be the modern day equivalent. In the 1960s, hippies were young men and women fed up with conventional politics and societal norms who, in extreme cases, "dropped out" of mainstream culture and lived in a communal environment to protest what they perceived as in injustice in the world. Some people romanticize them as being a movement that lead to meaningful social change. Other people, particularly those who were part of the older generation at the time that the movement was ongoing, found them to be obnoxious young twerps who had unrealistic expectations of the world and who were going to fall in line as soon as they grew up. Sound familiar? Well, if it doesn't, perhaps this image will help you figure out what I'm driving at . . .
The "Occupy" movement has become one of the most polarizing news stories of the last several years, with the conservative end of American politics absolutely loathing these "kids," who they see as nothing more than money grubbers looking for a handout from hard-working Americans. (And, for the record, I'm not saying that's what my opinion is . . . I'm just reporting what the perception of folks like Wes Kirk happens to be.) In other words, the Occupy protestor is essentially the modern day equivalent of the hippy, if not in terms of what their actual goals are then in terms of how popular culture perceives them. Thus, imagine what wrestling could accomplish if it created a character that, even if not an Occupy protestor in name, adopted the ideals of what the movement is perceived as being by the mainstream. Given that wrestling audiences tend to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who are protesting, I imagine that it could be a real lightning rod for heel heat.
6. Jake Roberts: Trust Me
Though we can all agree that he's got his problems outside of the ring, who doesn't love Jake Roberts' performances as a professional wrestler? Perhaps some of Jake's greatest work on the microphone came when he turned heel in the early 1990s, urging the Ultimate Warrior to "trust me." It was here that Jake built on his earlier reputation and established himself as a true master manipulator, a man who played mind games with his opponents to the point that they had no idea what to expect from the snake man next.
Sadly, this sort of cerebral heel seems to have all but died out in professional wrestling. Bad guys these days all seem to be monsters (Mark Henry), Honky Tonk Man-esque undeserving champions (Daniel Bryan), or outright unthreatening jobbers (The Miz). There's nobody left who gets the upper hand over the good guys. They either come out on the winning end of things as a result of physical dominance or they don't come out on the winning end at all. As a result, somebody like Jake the Snake, who could get heat by outsmarting and manipulating fan favorites, would be a breath of fresh air. It seemed that WWE was going to attempt the launch of a similar character in 2003 when Sean O' Haire appeared in a series of vignettes telling us things that we didn't already know, but, sadly, the gimmick was quickly dropped and wound up going nowhere.
The only problem with launching a gimmick of this nature is finding somebody who has the talent on the mic to actually pull it off. Many of WWE's wrestlers coming out of developmental these days aren't seasoned enough to give the sort of nuanced performances that Roberts did, so you would probably need to pull a veteran out of the mothballs in order to do it . . . but there really aren't that many veterans out there who aren't either already under contract to a major promotion who the major promotions are willing to do business with. Perhaps we will have to wait for some younger wrestlers to gain a bit of seasoning before this gimmick takes shape again, but, when and if it does, it will be worth the wait.
5. LAX: Revolutionaries
It's been a long time since I watched any TNA wrestling on a regular basis, but, when I was regularly watching the show, my favorite act hands down was the Latin American X-Change or LAX. For the record, I'm not talking about the later, lamer babyface version of the group with Hector Guerrero and Ariel the Vampire running around, nor am I talking about the proto-LAX that included such luminaries as El Gran Apollo and the horrific Machete. I'm talking about the heel tag team of Homicide and Hernandez, managed by the criminally underrated Konnan.
The premise behind LAX was simple. Konnan and company were under the impression that they and their Latin American brethren were being discriminated against throughout the United States and that the discrimination was trickling down to the wrestling promotion that they were a part of. This was all occurring despite the fact that the Latino population is on the rise in the United States and despite the fact that some current projections see them becoming the largest ethnic group in the United States within a few years' time. A lot of wrestlers or wrestling promotions could take similar concepts and turn them into something horribly racially insensitive or otherwise offensive. The folks who put together the segments, however, were able to walk a fine line and prevent things from going too far over the edge.
Some people might find it odd for me to include such a recent gimmick on a list like this one, given that it was occurring in TNA within the past five years. However, when you look at the overall number of professional wrestling fans in the United States, TNA is viewed by a fairly small proportion of them (one and a half million versus Raw's four and a half million) so, even though the gimmick is a recent one, it would still be new material to the vast majority of wrestling fans. Plus, this one has the added benefit of having a group of people right there to do the gimmick, as there's an established grouping of Hunico, Primo, and Epico just waiting for a mouthpiece to come in and play the Konnan role.
4. Kevin Sullivan: Satanic Cult Leader
As noted earlier, wrestling, despite including a ton of violence and sometimes a bit of sexual content, tends to attract audiences who are fairly socially conservative. That's one of the big reasons that Kevin Sullivan was able to so easily freak the hell out of people when he portrayed a Satan worshipper in Championship Wrestling from Florida during the 1980s. In fact, Sullivan's performances with the gimmick were so convincing that, when Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child almost thirty years later, conspiracy theorists who were looking for some explanation as to how Benoit could have been "framed" turned to Kevin Sullivan as the "real killer" and in cited to his supposed past as a Satanist in building their case.
(And, no, I don't believe any of those theories, just for the record. Benoit did it and acted alone.)
Any storyline involving an actual, god's honest follower of Lucifer touches at a cord within the hearts of those who are religious in a way that few other things can. If you want an example, go watch The Exorcist or some similar fare with a hardcore Christian friend. It petrifies them. However, aside from Kevin Sullivan playing with this gimmick in Florida, I honestly cannot think of another person attempting to recreate this schtick at any point in time or in any wrestling promotion. That strikes me as being just flat-out wrong. This character worked so well that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE should have pulled it off again by now.
The only thing that I can think of which would have prevented this character from being relaunched is that, even by the standards of professional wrestling, it can be a little bit too controversial. Though non-Christians tend to have no problem with the supreme evil of Christianity being incorporated into an entertainment genre, some Christians really take offense and would more than likely shut things down. I don't mind subversive content, though, so I would be glad to see a Kevin Sullivan-esque character ride again.
3. Adrian Street: Effeminate Badass
Adrian Street (not to be confused with Adrian Adonis) was not your stereotypical gay pro wrestling character. First of all, he was clearly heterosexual per his relationship with the vivacious Miss Linda. Second of all, while most of the gay stereotypes running around in pro wrestling are portrayed as weasly heels who cheat their way to victory, Adrian was usually seen as one of the toughest guys on any given roster. However, he was still EXTREMELEY effeminate, wearing skin tight, questionable clothing and loads of makeup, which got him all of the homophobic heat that a gay character would while simultaneously allowing him to come across as a legitimate in-ring threat. It was the best of all worlds, and Street turned it into a hell of a career, wrestling as recently as 2005 despite beginning his career in 1957.
It is true that various elements of Adrian Street have been incorporated into various other wrestling characters over the years. However, there hasn't really been anybody who has hit the gimmick dead on with all of the same elements. Rico Constantino claimed that he watched videos of Street when he was developing his over the top gay babyface character for WWE, but in the ring Rico played things up like a comedic stereotype more than he did an Adrian-esque tough guy. There were some parallels with Goldust as well, but, at the end of the day, Goldust was far more overtly sexual than Street ever was, which tended to limit the character's ascension into the main event.
And you know the other great thing about Adrian Street? He SANG. Just watch that music video up above and tell me you wouldn't mark out hard if a modern wrestler adopted that persona and had something similar run for him on Monday Night Raw.
2. The Great Muta: Threat from Abroad
Yes, I know, there are people out there rolling their eyes right now and saying, "Oh, of course, Byers has to pick the Japanese guy." Give me a second, though, and allow me to explain myself. First of all, I'm not talking about anything that Muta has done in Japan. I'm talking exclusively about what he did when he was wrestling in the territories of the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
And I'm not even necessarily talking about somebody doing an exact clone of the Muta gimmick with the facepaint, the elaborate robes, and the mist. That's been attempted, and, typically, nobody does it any better than the original. Instead, I'm talking about a major promotion in the United States employing a heavyweight wrestler from Japan and using him in a role in which he is treated like a serious threat. I'm talking about one guy and only one guy, not an entire roster. Why? Because, instead of having a roster full of wrestlers who all look, act, and wrestle the same, it gives you something that's a little bit DIFFERENT. Even when they're reprogrammed in a different style, Japanese wrestlers in the United States wrestle a little bit differently. Due to cultural differences between the countries, they tend to carry themselves a little bit differently. And, believe it or not, there are plenty of talented guys out there who could work a style that would get over in the United States. Sure, there aren't a ton of them who speak English fluently, but that's one of the reasons that managers exist.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why I would want to see this gimmick revisited is that there have been so many blown opportunities with it in recent years. WWE currently has Yoshi Tatsu under contract, but I literally cannot remember the last time I saw him television. Allegedly he's on Superstars and NXT, but I don't get the channel those shows are on. TNA recently had Kazuchika Okada for a year, but he did nothing . . . and, hell, I can't even remember if Akira Raijin/Kiyoshi still has a deal with them. He might even be wrestling on NXT for all I know. So much talent has been squandered, and it's a shame, whether you want to call me a Japanophile or not.
1. The Road Warriors: People Who, You Know, Win Matches
One thing that drives me crazy about wrestling these days is that there are way too many performers who are locked in vicious parity booking cycles or who are losing more than they're winning despite the fact that they are supposed to be major stars. (For example, I just saw one source for this sort of thing post that Miz's record in televised matches since he lost the WWE Title is fifteen wins and THIRTY-TWO losses.) It used to be that, when somebody was going to be a star, it meant you almost never saw another person get the upper hand on him and, when you did, it was either part of the setup to a major angle or part of the blowoff to a major angle. With the exception of John Cena and, until a month or so ago, Randy Orton, there just aren't that many people who win and win consistently anywhere in American professional wrestling.
There aren't any more Road Warriors. Most of the time, the Road Warriors weren't quite the main event, but they, and just about everybody else at their level on the card, were protected to the extreme. If you saw the Roadies lose . . . for that matter, if you even saw the Roadies doing anything less than absolutely kicking ass . . . you knew that you were seeing something special. It created a more emotionally compelling wrestling product overall, because the majority of a promotion regulars were viewed as stars and, when two of those stars started to feud, it was much more meaningful than what we usually see today, when two regular members of the WWE roster have a rivalry with each other and nobody cares because it's a battle of two guys who previously looked like geeks week in and week out for years.
Simply put, we need more Road Warriors and fewer Mizes. We need people who are booked like superstars, not chumps. We need the big names to win more than they lose, and we need people to not constantly trade wins back and forth. That's the ultimate gimmick that needs to be relaunched.