Sunday, September 22, 2013

TOP TEN GUILTY PLEASURES: The Wide World of Wrestling


I grew up watching 80s wrestling. I was very much aware that Hulkamania was out of control. Wrestling was huge in the 80s! MTV fused with the WWF to create a more cartoonish version of wrestling entertainment. For a while in the late 90s wrestling hit an all time high. The Monday Night wars between The World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling peaked the curiosity of college campuses across the nation.

Wrestling went mainstream. I couldn't ride mass transit without spotting at least one wrestling shirt. Austin 316, The Rock, Degeneration X, Goldberg, the New World Order, you name it, someone was wearing it. Then... it all came crashing down. WCW became a joke. WWF bought WCW, ECW, and the archives for most major federations. Suddenly, wrestling wasn't cool anymore.More than 10 years later it still isn't cool. Once again wrestling is okay to mock. It is the entertainment of the culturally void. The Anti-Culture.

Perfect fodder for Geexplosion!

As a tribute to the 80s (and perhaps early 90s) I would like to list my TOP TEN GUILTY PLEASURES regarding wrestlers. This is a list of those characters with gimmicks that only a few could love. Maybe it was a name, a signature move, or even a snappy retort - for whatever reason these guys have carved out a place in my head. Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair, etc. do not count - they are not guilty pleasures if they were fan favorites.

In no particular order...

1) THE WARLORD

Terry Szopinski was born to play the Warlord. This mother was billed at 6'5" 323lbs and had the physique of a weight lifter. Too bad he sucked at wrestling.

The Warlord was patterned after the Road Warriors, one of the most popular tag teams of all time, who ripped their gimmick from the 1981 Mad Max movie The Road Warrior.

With his height and muscles one would think that The Warlord was practically guaranteed championship gold. Sadly, this was not the case.

Despite having a vast arsenal of wrestling moves such as the Bearhug, the Elbow Drop, and the Forearm Club, Terry just didn't have that certain something that propelled him in to the limelight. By vast I mean limited.

Mr. Szopinski might not have appealed to the masses but to me he will always be... a top ten guilty pleasure.

2) THE RED ROOSTER

Terry Taylor must've really made some enemies in the WWF to be saddled with this gimmick. He was supposed to be a young, unsure wrestler who needed constant instruction from his manager, Bobby Heenan.

I'm not sure why they thought he needed to be a human rooster complete with his haired styled into a comb.

I liked the Red Rooster because he was an early adopter of the high flying style. Whatever top rope antics the Red Rooster performed would seem fundamental by modern standards but at the time they were amazing. You simply did not see wrestlers move around as quickly as the Red Rooster.

This revolutionary (at the time) style makes him stand out in my mind as one of my guilty pleasures.

Maybe I've just got a thing for dudes named Terry?

3) LUDVIG BORGA
When the Soviet Union collapsed and Russian temporarily became our good buddies it was only natural that we could no longer rely on them for great wrestling villains. What evil country could take the place of the Russian Bear?

Finland.


Why did Borga hate American? He despised the "deficiencies in issues such as its environmental laws and educational system." How could this gimmick fail?

The man behind Borga, Tom Halme, by all accounts was a real dick. Naturally, he is one of my guilty pleasures.

Halme shot himself in 2010. Despite the fact that he looks 70 in this picture he was only 47 when he died.

4) THE MOUNTIE
The Mountie was an power hungry Canadian Mountie named Jacques Rougeau. As part of the storyline he became a Mountie to lord his authority over people. Of course he mostly wrestled in the United States and therefore had no power. I guess that's why he carried a cattle prod.

The best part about the Mountie was his penchant to remind you of his name/job by screaming "I AM THE MOUNTIE!" when he probably should have been paying attention to what he was doing in the ring.

Oddly, the real Canadian Mounties did not enjoy this storyline. Rougeau could not portray his character/gimmick while wrestling in Canada lest he face real criminal litigation involving impersonation and defamation. The announcers would have to add that he was not really a Mountie. Kinda defeats the purpose of making him a Mountie, eh?

5) PAPA SHANGO
I love skulls. I love evil Voodoo priests. I love top hats. Naturally I would love Papa Shango the top hat wearing, skull face painted, evil Voodoo priest.

It didn't hurt that Shango was pitted against one of the top stars of the WWF, The Ultimate Warrior. The Warrior is insane in real life and may not have realized that Papa Shango's magic was a wrestling gimmick. The Warrior's expressions were priceless and helped sell Shango as a legit threat... at least in my eyes.

Shango was later turned into the Godfather, a disco pimp who constantly reminded us that "Pimping ain't easy." Classy, WWF, real classy.



6) NORMAN THE LUNATIC
Norman the Lunatic is my favorite version of Mike Shaw. He is probably better known for his 90s appearance in the WWF as Bastion Booger. I did not care for Bastion but he did make a lasting impression on me. When I realized that he used to be Norman the Lunatic I was stunned that they did not simply make him a lunatic again.

Obviously this gimmick would not work in our more politically correct world because no one would be named Norman. Seriously though, when Norman went from bad guy to good guy they changed his name to Norman the Maniac. 'cause, you know, Lunatics are evil, but maniacs are our friends.

Why did I dig Norman? Who knows. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Unfortunately, Mike Shaw passed away in 2010.



7) EL GIGANTE
El Gigante, also known as Giant Gonzalez in the WWF, was really a mild mannered Argentinian named Jorge Gonzalez.

He just happened to be a legit 7'7".

One should note here that height does not always equate to basketball prowess or proficiency in wrestling. No matter which promotion featured Mr. Gonzalez he stunk up the ring like 3 week old fish.

What I liked about El Gigante wasn't his unintelligible mumbling or his useless, ineffective arm waving instead of wrestling... I liked the dream that was El Gigante. It was the first time that many had witnessed such a towering human being and it was novel. Truly, it was a miracle the man could walk (in later years he could not). It was more impressive to put him next to your biggest big man and let Gonzalez loom over him. He should have been used as a special enforcer and never allowed to wrestle - 'cause that really just killed the moment.Watching him wrestle gave you the idea that even the most slovenly couch potato could kick Gigante in the knee and cripple him for life. Not the man you want to pin your championship on.

Like so many others on my list Jorge passed away in 2010.


8) THE STALKER
Barry Freaking Windham... why would you accept this gimmick? Windham is a 6'5" 250lbs, second generation wrestler. He was a one time member of the Four Horsemen! A possible future WWE Hall of Fame inductee!

The Stalker was supposed to be a good guy but the name The Stalker just screams bad guy. In our society stalking usually involves a man and a woman and the law.

Stalker really should have been named the Confused Casual Hunter because apparently that's what he was. He wasn't a bad ass serial       killer. Hell, he wasn't even a Peeping Tom.

I appreciated him for what I wanted him to be - a walking GI Joe action figure. It didn't matter that he stalked bunnies and squirrels. In my mind there was a good reason he wore that camouflage. It wasn't because he wanted to hide from wombats - he was secretly defending America against the Finnish.


9) HERCULES HERNANDEZ
Hercules Hernandez was actually Ray Fernandez. I sometimes wonder why he was not Hercules Fernandez and then I think how much people love alteration and it all makes perfect sense.

Hercules was another bodybuilder that was coaxed into wrestling because of his awesome physique. He won some titles, mostly in tag teams, but never tasted WCW or WWE gold.

Hercules actually had a brief run against Hogan. He managed to lift Hogan and deliver his Hercules Backbreaker which is quite a surprising feat. Surprising in the fact that Hogan took such a strenous bump. I'm guessing he didn't sell the move and quickly Hulked Up to finish Herc with a big boot and leg drop.

Ray Fernandez passed away in 2004.

10) BATTLE KAT
What do I need to say about Battle Kat?

His inability to spell cat was not a detriment to his career. It was everything else that doomed him to failure.

Battle Kat made his debut in September and was off the roster by December. His catlike agility could not save him from mediocrity and scorn.

Sadly, the man behind the mask, Dean Peters, died in a car wreck in 1998 and will therefore never have the chance to appear in a bad gimmick Battle Royal.






There you have it. Five of my guilty pleasures are dead all are retired or semi-retired. I hope you enjoyed the blog and come back for another look.

31 Days of Halloween will begin soon. I hope you are looking forward to that as much as I am. I will watch at least one horror film every night of October and blog about it the next day.

More gold than he every had in real life.





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