Three letters summarized the night when Brodus Clay re-debuted on Vince McMahon’s WWE Monday Night Raw program last week…
Followed by a slew of question marks. Brodus returned to the ring with a new gimmick– a red tracksuit with a red fedora and a pair of fly-girls in red skin-tight outfits, calling himself the “Funkasaurus” and groovin to the P-Funk-inspired theme music blaring over the loudspeakers, all for the enjoyment of “lil’ Jimmy” and the legions of grown men and women at home who still watch this “sport” turned “sports entertainment.”
You don’t believe me? Check out the video in full:
In-ring skills notwithstanding, I personally found this both fun, entertaining and sad all in the same breath. Reasons being (a) I’m still a kid at heart and (2) I’ve seen this movie before. A wrestler with great talent, ability or presence has to “repackage” himself in order to make his way onto the roster, pack the stands and sell merchandise. Thing is, it’s actually working– for now– because Brodus is being discussed and talked about. Whether it’s positive or negative, it’s still buzz.
Be that as it may, here are some similar performers from years past who have walked down this past. More to be added in later edits, so please comment if I miss any:
Ernest “The Cat” Miller
Ernest “The Cat” Miller was a decent performer in WCW in the 90’s– martial arts training, agile and quick in the ring & hilarious on the mic. But for one reason or another he changed his entrance music from some canned Ted Turner rock theme to this number, coming to the ring doing his best “James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub” impersonation:
Oh yeah, forgot to mention, he eventually joined the Golden Lords with the Demolition Man-style dye job. Nothing says late 90s like a peroxide blonde black dude.
Ernest Miller eventually came over to WWF in the “aughts” after WCW had been bought out by Vince and debuted with the same gimmick but a different theme–you guessed it, the same one Brodus Clay is using now. SOMEBODY CALL MY MAMA!
2 Cold Scorpio was a solid competitor in WCW, a high-flier with a decent win-loss record who tagged up with several talents during his run there. But he ends up signing with the WWF and is repackaged as Flash Funk, who is somehow allowed to be a pro wrestler and a pimp all in the same show. Look familiar, anyone?
Give Vince McMahon and his company a lot of credit– they sure know how to recycle…
Rikishi, Too Cool
I don’t have much to say here, will let the video speak for itself…
Apparently Charles Wright wasn’t a talented enough wrestler to be able to use his own name in the business. Best known up until the 90’s as Papa Shango, the voodoo man who was best known for making the Ultimate Warrior puke on television, Wright later resurfaced in the WWF as part of a stable meant to mimic The Nation of Islam called the “Nation of Domination”. He was Kama Mustafa, but was quite forgettable being in a group that featured Ron Simmons and eventually Rocky Maivia (better known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). So not long after, Wright returns again, this time as The Godfather. No, this gimmick wasn’t an Italian themed godfather like in them Marlon Brando & Al Pacino films. This was, once again, another pimp, only this time it was even less veiled than the aforementioned Flash Funk. The Godfather would invite people to come aboard the “Ho Train” and came to the ring with his assortment of “hos”– one time referring to his hos as “restaurant quality”.
This gimmick surprisingly lasted years without protest, but was eventually transformed into “The Goodfather” when Wright joined the uptight stable known as “Right To Censor”
The American Dream Dusty Rhodes
Just so you don’t think this post is all about black wrestlers having to dance to the ring, let’s look back at hall-of-famer Dusty Rhodes, also known as The American Dream. He was a fixture in Jim Crockett promotions as well as NWA, then WCW wrestling at the time he came over to Vince McMahon’s WWF in 1989. His WWF debut was preceded by a number of video packages showing him doing blue collar jobs like plumbing and trash collection, billing himself as “just a common man”, but it was when he finally made it to ring that, well…. just take a look…
Akeem the African Dream
The One Man Gang was a huge fearsome wrestler in his runs across various territories, WCW and eventually WWF in the 1980s. However, aligning himself with a new manager, the self-professed “Doctor of Style” Slick brought about this Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali-like transformation from The One Man Gang to “Akeem the African Dream.”
As a young pre-teen Classick scratched his head to figure out what part of Africa this guy was claiming, I realized that this was just one of a long line of metamorphoses in pro wrestling that were to come. Akeem eventually teamed up with The Big Boss Man to form The Two Towers, a team most notable for feuding with the superteam of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, known as “The Mega Powers” in 1989. It was during one of these matches that aired on Saturday Night’s Main Event that the Mega Powers split up, but that’s another story for another day.
Screamin’ Norman Smiley and “The Big Wiggle”
Norman Smiley trained under Rusty Brooks and Boris and Dean Malenko. Debuting in 1985, Smiley wrestled as “Black Magic” and “Lord Henry Norman”, developing his careeer throughout the rest of the 80s and early 90s. Upon joining World Championship Wrestling in 1997, he appeared mostly on the WCW Saturday Night shows as just plain old jobber Norman Smiley. After a few months off of television, Smiley returned, bringing with him a new gimmick and a new set of moves and taunts, most notably the “Big Wiggle.”
skip ahead to the 5:54 mark for the Big Wiggle dance
Not a huge leap for Smiley, yet this dance somehow made him a fan favorite as it became the highlight of his matches. The wiggle included the spank motion which started to gain popularity as a dance move in the late 90’s, and to have a wrestler who favored NFL quarterback Warren Moon doing it was priceless comedic gold. Norman Smiley would later add screaming like a maniacal banshee to his gimmick, particularly during hardcore matches, which earned him the eventual nickname Screamin’ Norman Smiley. Screamin’ Norman enjoyed a bit of success as a two-time WCW Hardcore Champion before the company was bought by the WWF in 2001. He is currently a trainer in WWE’s FCW territory.
I don’t like disclaimers, but let me be clear here–I don’t have a problem with any of the wrestlers or gimmicks posted above. To each their own as I say and I have enjoyed many of the entertaining wrasslers listed here myself on occasion. These are just observations. Again, if I missed any, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them later.
And a happy 70 years to the G.O.A.T. Muhammad Ali.