Happy Independence Day, America. Today is the fourth of July, 2018. This is Planet Kayfabe here to talk about the gimmicks that are woven in the thread of Americana... and some not so much. So, from sea to shining sea, let's see which gimmicks were rockets red glare and which were just bombs burst of hot air.
"The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes
The common man. The "son of a plumber". The chubby southern boy who would be world champion. Dusty's charisma and now legendary promo ability made him a huge star in 1980's NWA. He represented the "land of opportunity" and that honesty and hard work would prevail. Ric Flair would perhaps be his most memorable feud. The common man who never forgot his roots vs the flashy, arrogant big spender. A simple story and one that will always resonate. Dusty's charisma and character would probe to have cross appeal as well. He wasn't just over with chubby, southern white cowboys. He was popular with everyone that made up this country. He connected with America.
Then Vince McMahon got ahold of him and decided to put him in an unflattering polkadot singlet.
Ahh... Whatever. He got it over anyway which only speaks to his charm.
John "Bradshaw" Layfield
Bradshaw had a few standard redneckish gimmicks in the WWF before landing Ron Simmons as his partner to form the Acolytes, later the Acolyte Protection Agency (APA). It was a popular team, but had a ceiling. Again, they were popular but they weren't young and hip like Edge and Christian or the Hardy Boyz. They weren't 'extreme' like the Dudley Boyz. The APA was the next notch down in a day where the tag division was pretty hot.
After the group split and a mid-card singles run for Bradshaw he would cut his hair, stop dying it black, shave his face and put on a suit to begin working under his real name. A self-made millionaire who achieved 'the American dream' in his own right, but unlike Dusty, JBL would leave his roots as a bad-ass blue collar Texan and bill himself from New York City, be driven to the ring in a limousine and flaunt his heightened status in the fans' faces.
It was a sharp contrast from his previous gimmick, but one that raised his potential and made him a world champion. He would be WWE Champion for 280 days... He developed a loud mouth that I never thought he had, but the run was not great. It's probably most noteworthy for who ended his run as champion. That would be John Cena at Wrestlemania 21. The first of his now 16 world title runs.
"The Real Americans" Jack Swagger and Cesaro managed by Zeb Colter
"We, the people!" The Real Americans formed after Jack Swagger returned after some time off television now with a mentor, Dirty Dutch Mantel, named here "Zeb Colter". The WWE... uhh you could say they aren't shy about digging into political movements, but they aren't shy once those movements have declined a bit. Much like how "Occupy Raw" happened long after all the debris, heroin needles and hackey sacks have been cleared from New York's Wall Street financial district and state parks around the country, the WWE decided to... what is assumed to be their "shot" or "take" on the Tea Party movement.
Zeb Colter would come out and express his feelings on illegal immigration so the feuds would be against babyface foreigners or people who "looked foreign". Yeah... It was kind of lame but it got over. The thing with politically divisive gimmicks like this is that you aren't going to be a heel to a large percentage of your audience. I mean, at least 50% is going to agree with their message depending on what state they are in. So pretty much they were heels to major northeast cities, LA and... babyfaces to the rest of America. Okay then.
It worked for a while, but it didn't turn Jack Swagger into a mega-star of any sorts. Former Fox News host, current... guy... with a show on a website(?) Glenn Beck would talk about this gimmick and pretty much saw Zeb Colter was a shot at conservative commentator Ann Coulter. What? I don't see how one could connect those dots at all. Anyway, Beck gave WWE exactly what they wanted and even made a short video with Zeb and Jack dropping the gimmick to explain its all a show (like Beck didn't know that already) and invite him on Raw. The appearance would have gotten WWE a lot of press on both entertainment shows and political news programs but Beck didn't bite.
Cesaro would later join the group, the explanation being he came to this country legally... This was still a heel faction by the way. I guess to WWE we are supposed to support illegal activity? I don't know. Whatever. The duo once portrayed a xenophobic was tolerant and open minded enough to allow the Swiss born superstar in their club. The problem I had with this was Cesaro was getting over organically. Much like Daniel Bryan and Sandow and Ryder WWE was adamant on ignoring these reactions. Cesaro would win the first ever Andre 'The Giant' Memorial Battle Royal to universal praise. This was the time to turn him babyface.
But they kept him heel and he cooled off.
Great. Way to go. If anyone working there wonders why fans get jaded and "hijack" shows and get vocal on social media its shit like this. The 2010's have been plagued with moments of WWE just flat out ignoring who the fans and instead of listening they TELL them who to like and dislike. Whatever. Swagger was never quite as over (even though it was more Zeb and the 'we the people' catchphrase that was over) and Zeb is gone from WWE because they hate managers. Well, this turned. This was supposed to be a light, happy column.
Born Joe Anoa'i, the son of former professional wrestler Sika of 'The Wild Samoans' this.... Oh. Shit. Oops...
A memorable character who, WWE may like to hide this fact, but was only world champion when he became the heel Iraqi sympathizer. Less said here the better. Always good for a "USA! USA!" pop these days, though. I'm sure most of the later Attitude generation remember him as the WWF Commissioner where his role was to be the straight-man to D-Generation X's sophomoric antics. Robert Remus is his real name and he's going to be 70 years old later this summer, so good for him. Prior to his wrestling career he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps and was a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina.
While very popular as a patriotic babyface in the 80's his early 90's turncoat gimmick at the dawn of the Gulf War made it hard for him to leave his house without looking over his shoulder. Ahh... the days of true heels getting real heat. I'm not sure when the last time a heel in the WWF/E felt threatened for their life in the United States because of their on-screen persona. It's pretty funny to me. Wrestling so so cartoony and tongue-in-cheek in these days yet people took it more serious. Now its more "real" and no one takes it seriously. Sgt. Slaughter would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Our current Raw General Manager and an obvious mention. Kurt Angle is a legitimate Olympic Gold medalist representing the United States in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia... That's just America overload right there. Kurt came in the WWF right in the middle of the hot Attitude Era and because of his real credentials he already had credibility. He came in pretty green but you never would have guessed that. Initially his gimmick was a dorky, overbearing cocky goodie-two-shoes who could out-wrestle anybody. This was the Attitude Era, so a guy going out there fresh off a Wheaties box and into the same ring as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock preaching good morals was about as big a heel you could ask for.
Like many moralist high-horse heels, Kurt came out to talk down the fans managing to be one of few (or only?) wrestlers to get booed in the US while wearing patriotic attire. He had perhaps the best rookie year in the WWF which started with him being the "Euro-Continental Champion" (his name for holding both the European and Intercontinental titles) a King of the Ring crowning and leading to his first WWF Championship victory over The Rock at No Mercy in October of 2000. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 Kurt Angle was a full on patriotic babyface representing the spirit of America. At their Unforgiven PPV, just less than 2 weeks after the attack and included a tribute to the victims, Kurt Angle in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA would defeat Steve Austin for the WWF Championship. While we all remember and perhaps prefer Angle as a heel (which he would turn back to anyway not long after this event) Kurt acted as a hero during a time when America needed a good escape from reality and sit back to watch a timeless tale of a hardworking hero winning in the end.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan
I guess we should bring it down with more light-hearted fluff. The now hall of famer, Jim Duggan is another superstar always good for a USA! pop. Waving the flag proudly and carrying a block of wood... not sure why... but he did and it was cool anyway. Duggan represented the hardworking, every-man attitude in that very Golden Era cheesy cartoony way we all love. Duggan wasn't about flash and fireworks. He was just a brawler proud of his country. Pretty simple. Not that that's a bad thing at all. He remained popular even in later appearances and while he may not be Hogan, Dusty or even Slaughter he's a memorable character of the era.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Even though the stars and bars may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Steve Austin, to me he represented America in a new aged way at the time. Instead of saying your prayers and eating your vitamins he gave the finger and drank beer. He was another common-man like Dusty Rhodes in a way. A blue-collar charismatic Texan the masses could relate to.
Austin's feud with Vince McMahon resonated with everyone who has ever had a boss or a job they hated. We lived through him and he was the hero of that generation. While nothing about his gimmick may be outwardly patriotic, he was still drenched in Americana. A simple working man with a bald head and a goatee who likes to drink beer, hunt deer, ride ATV's and raise hell and takes no shit from nobody. I dare you to tell me that isn't just as f***ing American as apple pie.
Making his way to the ring with a Rick Derringer penned tune entitled "Real American" Hulk Hogan may be the first wrestler people think of when they think of true red, white and blue wrestlers. When you think of Hulk Hogan you probably picture him ripping his shirt open with an image of the American flag waving behind him. He's that woven into the fabric of America and American pop culture.
The comic book hero come to life who told kids to say their prayers and take their vitamins has always been associated with being the American hero. Patriotic angles in wrestling are as old as this great nation itself and Hogan exploded onto the mainstream. While Steve Austin represented everything that was 'real' about the struggles of the average American. Hulk Hogan was a cartoon character who represented everything that was good and wholesome about America. The honest hero who always overcame evil... unless if he had to go film a movie than evil got to dance around a little but... but in the end Hulkamania would always run wild.
When Hogan returned as "Hollywood Hogan" to the WWF in 2002 with the nWo one of the reasons I feel that reunion was snake-bitten from the start is because the WWF fans didn't want to see black-and-white "Hollywood". They wanted to see the red and yellow Hulk Hogan of old coming out to "Real American" and overcome all the evils of the world one more time and eventually he would.
Everyone reading this has their opinions about Terry Bollea, but this television character known as Hulk Hogan is truly the biggest character in wrestling history and meant a lot to many American children and people around the world. Oozing with charisma and an over-the-top personality and massive physique he was the perfect hero for that generation. By the dawn's early light to the twilight's last gleaming, Hulkamania was still running wild.
Thank you for reading this July Fourth edition of Planet Kayfabe. I hope you're having a fun holiday. Enjoy your cook outs, pool parties, fireworks. Wheatever you do. Just don't blow your f***ing dick off or something. Be safe. Enjoy your day.
Follow me over on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe and head over to Pro Wrestling Tees by clicking www.nodq.com/shirts and use the promo code "AMERICA" to get 20% your order and wrap yourself in a nice Kayfabe Candyass shirt for example ;)
For NoDQ, this is Planet Kayfabe, I'm 'KC'. Take care, America.