Hank McAllen: Welcome back friends to another edition of Grumpy Old Men of Wrestling with Marc and Hank! I hope you young whipper snappers enjoyed our first venture into moaning and groaning about things we miss in today’s presentation of professional wrestling, oops I mean sports entertainment. This month we dust off the scrapbook while Marc and I reflect on two more things from yesteryear that have seemed to disappear, other than our hairlines.
First, we will look at flamboyant wrestlers. They popped up quite frequently from the 1950’s into the early 1990’s and then, poof, they seemed to vanish. Why though? It seemed like it was a pretty effective gimmick back in the day. Is it political correctness, lazy booking, lack of talent who can pull the gimmick off, or just not wanting to rehash something from the past? I mean where are the Exotic Adrian Street’s of the world?
In our next topic, we attempt to tackle (we’ll do our best with bad backs and knees) an area of the business that is very near and dear to me; what happened to the role of referees? Seems like they are a dying breed. Maybe it was all of the bumps they took back in the day that caught up with the men in stripes. Lord knows I would want to disappear if I got hit as often as one of the Hebner brothers. Speaking of taking bumps, let’s do our best now at taking some swings (with our metal canes of course) at why these two parts of wrestling’s past worked years ago, why they aren’t utilized today, and if we will see them become relevant again.
Topic #1: Who were some of the most flamboyant wrestling characters in history?
Marc: In wrestling, there is a particular type of character that does more than just wrestle. These characters operate in the deep end of the pool and push the boundaries between being confident and managing to grate the gears of those they are in the ring with. We could go as far back as the middle of the 1900s when Gorgeous George would walk to the ring and use his aerosol perfume because the fans at ringside smelled, and had to be disinfected because of how disgusting they were. If we want to talk about a heel generating so much heat from fans they wanted to jump over the guard rails and kill him, it was Gorgeous George.
We fast forward about 30 years and fans of the 1980s will recall that a man by the name of Adrian Adonis would also get under the skin of fans with his brightly colored persona, as he would wear feather boas and makeup, which made a certain segment of the fans uncomfortable. We aren’t talking about kids playing on our lawn type of uncomfortable, but rather behaving in a way that some felt they had to protect their kids from it; that type of uncomfortable. This was the type of fan that didn’t embrace homosexuality or even the thought of it. A popular musician at the time, Liberace, had died of AIDS which has long been viewed, however inaccurately, as only plaguing gay men. However far society has come, what we recently saw on TV was a parody of that character in Aron Rex in Impact Wrestling, before his recent hiatus from the wrestling business. The character was so over the top in nature you would think he was channeling the spirit of the late Gorgeous George.
Hank: Professional wrestling has given us so many various characters from farmers to sailors to dead men, but possibly the type of character that drew the ire of fans most in wrestling’s early days was that of the flamboyant wrestler. Maybe the first who connected with the fans rage was Gorgeous George. George came out in bleach blonde hair, kept in place with hair pins, wearing a long robe with a valet. Now this wouldn’t seem to be so off the wall today, but 50 years ago it was considered outrageous. Later we had more flamboyant wrestlers popping up ranging from the likes of Ric Flair to Adorable Adrian Adonis. It was a safe bet that these characters would connect in some sort of negative fashion to the fans. It seems like this type of character has gone away. I do believe though that, if done properly with the right person, it could work again. Tyler Breeze was successful in this role in NXT, with the nickname “Prince Pretty,” but when he came to the main roster he quickly became a jobber. That’s more a problem on creative’s part though, so maybe the flamboyant character could still work in 2017.
WWE may want to try and bring back the over the top flamboyant wrestler with an established performer who is stuck in neutral, and possibly in need of character change to reinvent themselves. Two guys that I think could pull the character off on the current WWE roster are Dolph Zigler and Zack Ryder. Both men have the in-ring work skills that can pull that character off and to back up their flamboyance. They also possess the mic skills that can connect with the fans.
Marc: Hank and I had to be peeking at each other’s poker hand when we were drafting up our initial thoughts, and his thoughts on guys like George and Flair and Adonis couldn’t be more accurate. The character of a model has been used before; Hank mentioned Tyler Breeze with his runway character, but fans may have forgotten one Rick ‘The Model’ Martel, who much like Gorgeous George would spray a bottle of his perfume, often at the expense of his opponent’s vision. We could just ask Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to share his memories of it while rapidly blinking his really creepy eye. There really has to be a concerted effort to make the flamboyant guy or girl work, and they’d have to be so over the top that fans could buy into it.
Ring of Honor fans will note that today’s best example of a flamboyant character is Dalton Castle. As the party peacock struts his way to the ring with his ‘boys,’ his character works because he is given the opportunity to take liberties with it. However, when the match begins, Castle doesn’t mess around and it shows, regardless of who he steps into the ring with. If WWE was to make it work they’d have to go beyond simply giving someone a feathered boa and makeup, and have them state that they are extraordinary. It isn’t a generation that will be as accepting if they are fed crap. It is a more informed population of fans that have access to more content than ever before.
Hank: I completely agree with you Marc on your take on Gorgeous George. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of video on him, but the little that there is shows you he could generate heat from the fans. Whether they were laughing at him or wanted to rush the ring and strangle him, he made a connection. Not many people realize this but George, despite being a good hand in the ring, wasn’t initially over with crowds for one reason or another. He only stood 5’9” tall, so he wasn’t an imposing physical specimen. It was only after he started getting a reaction when he would come to the ring with his new bride that he started to be noticed more. George then did what all great workers do and reinvent himself, and the rest was history.
The Adrian Adonis character I never really bought into, as I remembered him in his time with Jesse Ventura in the East/West Connection and as a tag partner of Dick Murdoch. That said, despite me not connecting with the character, it doesn’t mean it didn’t work. One other wrestler I forgot to mention is Goldust. Who could forget the feud he had with Roddy Piper? I think most people got very uncomfortable with where that feud went at times. I guess, if we were to put him under this category, he would be the most successful flamboyant character since Adonis.
As I mentioned, I really do believe this character can be brought back, but the WWE is so conscious of how they are portrayed, I don’t know if they would take the chance. It would also take the right guy with the right angle to make it work. Another thing to keep in mind is would it be successful now with character based wrestling basically being a thing of the past? With Undertaker now gone and Kane on his way out how many characters are left?
Topic #2: Why do referees today seem like people that just fill space?
Hank: One of the more recognizable figures in professional wrestling used to be the referee. There were so many greats who we got to see over the years. Some of the more famous ones include Tommy Young and Teddy Long in the NWA, Dick Woherle, Dick Kroll, Joey Marella and the Hebner’s in the WWF, Bill Alfonso in ECW, Larry Lisowski and Doug Gilbert in the AWA, Charles Robinson, Nick Patrick and Mark Curtis in WCW and Rudy Charles in TNA. They played an integral part in the match whether it was by keeping order, sometimes getting distracted or getting bumped occasionally. They were the third man in the ring who actually had a name and were announced prior to a match. There were refs you knew would keep control of the match more so than others. You could almost hear the crowd cringe when Danny Davis had his name announced as you knew a heel’s shenanigans would be tolerated more in that given match.
Today the role of the referee has been reduced to the point where (a) we barely ever hear their name, and (b) the rules have been so skewed in wrestling over the years that they barely have anything to enforce. The senior referee in WWE is Mike Chioda. Mike has been the third man in the ring for some of WWE’s biggest matches, yet when he got taken out during the AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon match at WrestleMania 33, his name never gets mentioned. Also, we saw in the NXT Women’s title match Asuka push the referee, yet she didn’t she didn’t get disqualified. In fact, she utilizes this to help her win the match. What a joke! The role of the referee needs to be more established. They’ve almost become faceless and useless.
Marc: Today’s referees are an interesting group. When we think of how referees in wrestling used to be, we can see that they served a purpose. They often would be used to help tell a story and move it along. Fans of the WWF in the 1980s recall the infamous Hebner switch that took place involving twin brothers Earl and Dave Hebner, leading to Andre the Giant defeating Hulk Hogan and capturing the title, after which he gave it to the Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase. It was a fun idea, and besides that big angle, we often saw the story of a match furthered along by a referee bump, or the official getting involved in the action either by being blatantly biased towards the heels like with Dangerous Danny Davis or just being completely oblivious. It was clear that the referees all played a part in helping to further along the story. A little more recently, Nick Patrick and Charles Robinson in WCW were also used to help a storyline along, assisting the nWo and Ric Flair, respectively.
When we look at referees today in comparison, they often don’t really serve a purpose other than to count three. They swing their arms around in hopes that another wrestler won’t strangle their opposition, but otherwise, they don’t instill any fear or have a real role. At times during a WWE match, they are simply there for no real reason other than there seems to be a need to have the customary third person in the ring, because otherwise…hell would break loose? That’s just the issue: if they aren’t really insisting the rules be followed, then it’s essentially like the match is referred by a ghost. Oh Jimmy Korderas, where are you to help bring the fun back into refereeing?
Hank: As the WWE continues to use a “make it up as you go along” approach to rules, these guys are basically useless. I agree with the swinging their arms around look Marc. They obviously have poor math skills too as it takes them almost 40 seconds to count to 10. In Japan, they still use the 20 second count which is the way it always used to be done. I never caught that update in the rules manual. How about no punches either? I thought we were watching wrestling, but now guys get away with blatantly punching an opponent in front of the striped person in the ring and they are not disqualified.
I think it just goes down to the product becoming more and more about high spots and skits as opposed to two men or women in the ring playing by a strict set of rules that are enforced by the third man in the ring. I know we are constantly reminded by the McMahons that this is not a sport, but what other sport is there that doesn’t have stringent rules? Without any guidance, how can the product be taken seriously? Maybe that’s the problem us OG’s (Old Guys) have, we still want a sense of realism.
Marc: There were so many names mentioned there, but it’s incredible how many of them were known by name because they played a part in the wrestling match story. I completely forgot about the late Joey Marella, who was the son of the late Gorilla Monsoon. On camera, we were never made privy to their relationship but off camera, they were father and son who worked for the same company for several years. For years, fans were aware that if Joey was referring a match than he was going to call it down the middle. He was mild-mannered in his actions, but the result was always the same. What became somewhat odd was how referees would transition from their role to that of a manager. It seems like Bill Alfonso was drinking whatever Teddy Long was because both became managers after playing the part of referees for so long.
That Asuka scenario was strange without question. He was clearly pushed, but do they go with the idea that because he wasn’t pushed to the point of injuring him that it didn’t warrant a disqualification. (Although it is Asuka, and as the fans like to chant, ‘Asuka’s going to kill you.’) In any event, the faces of the referees often seem interchangeable, which is a shame. I think at times they try to play a part, but when they try to stop someone beating someone else down, they usually stand so far away from the camera that not only do the wrestlers not respond to them, they probably don’t see them either. To wave your arms around telling Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens not to beat down Chris Jericho when you are standing ten feet behind them, and not loud enough for the microphone to pick it up, they’d be better off not saying anything at all.
RING THE BELL
Marc: This ends another edition of Grumpy Old Men with Hank and Marc. Good reader, you’ve sat there and listened to us heckle the good, the bad and the ugly of flamboyant characters and referees, and the whole time you didn’t argue….like the good grandchildren that you are! We hope once again you did all that we would like an aging reader may do. Did you drink your Metamucil? Are you making sure you’re using Ben Gay to help with any aches and pains? I can’t speak for Hank, but I’m labouring just typing this sentence, which could mean a few different things: either my arthritic hands are cramping, my legs are cramping and I can’t find my walker, or I haven’t completely taken advantage of that cataract surgery that was suggested for me back around the middle of the last century.
Can you blame us? Hank has managed to be the suaver of us, thus making him more of a Jack Lemmon, and unfortunately, my Walter Matthau like keister would be better off if I just stop complaining. But while all of this complaining may make us curmudgeons, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the good when we see it. But as we still wait to see that happens, even as both Hank and I sit back in our lazy boy recliners reminiscing about the good old days, we thank you for joining us and Melo Man for the snazzy banner above.
For Hank, this is Marc saying the next time I see you crazy punks on my lawn, you’ll be sure to get your comeuppance!
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Did you enjoy what Hank McAllen had to say? Be sure to read his archive here. Be sure to check out his weekly column ‘The Other Turnbuckle” as it explores wrestling outside the WWE.