Professional wrestling, like any other business, is cyclical.
It has its boom times, when performers guest host SNL, manhandle talk show hosts, and appear on the cover of TV Guide.
And after the highs level out, and the parties end, the business has its low moments, when only the faithful tune in out of some masochistic loyalty.
Promoters throw angles and gimmicks at the wall like primates fling their poo, hoping something sticks long enough to draw money.
I grew up a loyal World Wrestling Federation fan, through the ’80s and into the ’90s. World Championship Wrestling was on my radar, but I really didn’t get into it so much.
Honestly, it may have been the ring, which seemed much smaller than WWF’s squared circle.
Then again, it might have been the completely different aesthetic, favoring grittier storylines and mat-based grappling to the WWF’s outsized characters and comic book-styled plots.
A change in management at WCW led to the company trying to ape the WWF’s approach, but with an added layer of camp and ineptitude. Despite access to Ted Turner’s wallet, WCW would be borderline unwatchable until 1996, when some unexpected faces launched a “New World Order” in wrestling.
But by then, I was on the outs with WWF, and wrestling as a whole.
The Federation was reeling from the loss of top stars like Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage to WCW (more would join them, triggering a mass flip-flopping of sides that ended when WCW folded in 2001).
One positive result of this was the pushing of guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who carried the torch for the company through this turbulent period.
But negative effects abounded, most notably in the amount of terrible, wretched gimmicks that came about during this time. Granted, awful gimmicks in wrestling were nothing new, and they continued into the Attitude Era.
Perhaps these just stick out further against a relatively barren landscape, coming in between two veritable Golden Ages.
Bryan Clark bounced around the AWA, WCW and UWF for a few years under the name “The Nightstalker” before he arrived in the WWF in 1993. His character in the Federation was Adam Bomb, a survivor of Three Mile Island who either became a mutant or overcame radiation poisoning. I can’t remember much except his goggles (which were admittedly neat) and his bright red tongue. His manager for at the beginning of his tenure was another shitty ’90s gimmick, the annoying preppy Johnny Polo (Scott Levy, who later became one of the icons of hardcore wrestling as Raven).
Like any big guy with a high-concept gimmick, Clark was put over in a series of squash matches against the WWF’s stable of jobbers–guys whose job it was to lose all the time, before making it to pay-per-view at Survivor Series ’93, when he himself did the job, getting rolled up by Marty Jannetty for a pin. (It wasn’t the first time he’d lose to a smaller guy in that manner.)
After Johnny Polo left the company, Clark was paired with manager Harvey Whippleman–a serviceable, yet hardly memorable heel manager–and later turned face, feuding with Whippleman and his former cohort Kwang. From there, it was a fairly swift descent from midcard status, and he left the company in 1995. He returned in 2001 as one-half of the tag team KroniK, along with Brian “Crush” Adams. (KroniK had been together for a year by then in WCW, before the WWF bought the rival promotion.)
He lasted two months.
Duke “The Dumpster” Droese
Mike Droese came to the WWF from the independent scene in 1994, and was given a garbageman gimmick. Lucky Mike.
“The Dumpster” debuted as a face, and to get him over further, he was placed in a program with Jerry “The King” Lawler. After Droese dumped a load of trash over the King’s head in a confrontation on Superstars, the King invited Droese onto his Monday Night Raw interview segment, “The King’s Court.” After the Dumpster tried to walk away from the King’s taunting, Lawler ambushed him from behind and bashed him over the head repeatedly with his trash can. Watching the clip, one can’t help but see an eerie foreshadowing of the King’s later feud with Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Droese’s next major feud was with another snob, the blue-blooded Hunter Hearst Helmsley (who became a huge star after shortening his name to Triple H). Despite the obvious grab at relating Droese to audiences by pitting the working class hero against a pair of arrogant aristocrats, he didn’t really get over well, mainly because he was pretty unremarkable. He was gone within a couple of years.
That said, the Dumpster was apparently well-remembered enough to be invited back to compete in the nostalgia-driven “Gimmick Battle Royal” at Wrestlemania X-Seven. Recycling in action, ladies and gentlemen.
The late Mike Shaw was a pretty effective heel during his days working out of Calgary at Stampede Wrestling. Shaw was a heavyweight baddie who feuded with the likes of Owen and Bret Hart, and Jim Neidhart. He even has a WCW run of some note, challenging for the World Championship on multiple occasions under the name “Norman the Lunatic.”
But he was utterly wasted as Bastion Booger, wearing a weird harness/singlet with a hump sewn in. His main purpose was to be a gross comedy heel, but the best thing about the character was his t-shirt, which read, “I may be fat, but you’re ugly and I can diet.”
I’m not gonna lie, I really didn’t like the Bastion Booger character, but nowhere near as much as I hated…
Charles Wright wrestled out of Memphis for a while as the Soultaker before his real-life friend Mark Calaway (known to everyone as the Undertaker) suggested he be brought into the WWF. He was packaged for television as Papa Shango, a voodoo priest who cursed his opponents, causing them to vomit. After a high profile run-in at the main event of Wrestlemania VIII, he was thrust into a program with the Ultimate Warrior, then the company’s top face.
I actually stopped watching for a while because of this angle, because I couldn’t handle the increased grossness and gore. (Nowadays, I totally could.) Papa Shango would not only cause Warrior to fall to vomiting spells, but also trigger a round of spontaneous bleeding from Warrior’s forehead.
The angle didn’t get off the ground, thanks to inconsistent booking, then finally Warrior being fired for the second of three times. Wright asked for his release from the company in 1994, but returned the following year as Kama, “The Supreme Fighting Machine”–a Balrog ripoff. It wasn’t until 1998 that he found a gimmick that suited him, as everyone’s favorite partying pimp, the Godfather.
Funny enough, Wright retired from wrestling in 2002 to manage a Las Vegas strip club.
Charles Scaggs found fame as 2 Cold Scorpio, one of the best high-flyers in the business, first in New Japan Pro Wrestling, then in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
In fact, he was part of wrestling history when he lost the final match of an NWA World Heavyweight Championship tournament to Shane Douglas. In a twist that has since become legend, Douglas, after shaking his opponent’s hand, threw down the NWA belt after a blistering promo and declared himself the ECW World Champion.
But none of that mattered to WWF fans at Survivor Series ’96. No, the WWF fans in attendance and watching at home saw Scaggs as Flash Funk, a disco-dancing Dolemite of the squared circle, who was escorted to the ring by his funkettes. The gimmick didn’t last, although Scaggs stuck around for a few years.
The Godfather owes a lot to Flash Funk, although he took the character and added a more overtly sexual edge in keeping with the Attitude Era. But today, in 2012, I don’t think there’s really a place for that sort of charac–
Huh. Yeah…what can I say? It’s a cycle.