Though a lot of folks will never understand why, professional wrestling is one of the joys of my life. I won't bother trying to explain about the morality play nature of it, or the pleasure from being part of "the work," or the fact that, for my son and I, it's always filled the slot that baseball or other sports might for other fathers/sons. The simple fact is, either you "get" wrestling, or you don't, and never the twain shall meet.
In my case, I like my wrestling as big and bold and goofy as possible. I know the trend in recent years has been for a more "real" type of character (a strange phrase when used to describe wrestling), but I've always been a fan of the BIG gimmick. Give me the wrestling fry cooks, the guys dressed in lobster costumes, the spacemen, the cowboys, the clowns.
Even I have to admit that sometimes it...well, it just ain't workin'. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:
Mantaur - In early 1995, the WWF debuted what wrestling had needed for years: a half man, half bull. For the next year or so, he basically charged people in the ring, made bovine noises, and generally stunk up the ring even more than actual cowflop could have. Played by lifetime jobber Mike Hallick, Mantaur failed to catch on with the fans, partially because the WWF missed the boat on the obvious with his character: a feud with El Matador, Tito Santana. Moooooo!
T.L. Hopper - Using professions as wrestling gimmicks is a staple of the form, and over the years we've seen dentists (Isaac Yankem), tax collectors (Irwin R. Schyster, aka IRS), repo men (The Repo Man!), prison guards (the Big Boss Man), and just about anything else you can imagine. T.L. Hopper, however, had 'em all beat. He was a PLUMBER, coming to the ring to the sound of a flushing toilet, his faithful plunger Betsy in hand. Portrayed by Tony Anthony, who'd become something of an institution in the southern feds as "Dirty White Boy," Hopper would show a lot of butt crack, but not much else.
Aldo Montoya, the Portuguese Man O' War - Peter Polaco would go on to greater fame as Justin Credible in ECW, but from 1995-1997 he was forced to wear a jock strap on his head and become a glorified jobber in the WWF. It was a shame, as he's a talented guy and frankly, I always enjoy a masked wrestler. Well, when that mask doesn't require an anti-fungal cream.
Oz - We all know Kevin Nash from his days as Diesel, or in the NWO, or maybe even his movie career (TMNT 3, The Punisher, The Longest Yard, etc.), but for about eight months back in 1991, he was a silver-haired, caped wrestler with a gimmick based on...well, the Wizard of Oz. Ostensibly it was because Turner Broadcasting, which also owned the promotion, had recently bought the rights to show the classic 1939 film, and this was a bit of cross-promotion. Fellow wrestler Kevin Sullivan put on a mask as Oz's manager, Merlin the Wizard (because what character from the Wizard of Oz is more beloved than...Merlin???). There were a lot of special effects and a lot of monkeys flying out of Nash's butt, but it just didn't work.
Seven - It was the gimmick TOO successful to work. In 1999, WCW decided to take Dustin Rhodes, who had done quite well in the WWF as Goldust, and give him another face-painted alter-ego. They filmed a series of video vignettes to launch the character, and boy, were they effective. Unfortunately, the Seven character, who was supposed to be creepy, was shown watching over small children in their sleep as he whispered eerily, and the Standards and Practices folks at Turner thought it made him seem like a child molester. They shelved the gimmick before he'd seen a single match. Eventually he returned and broke kayfabe, talking about all the stupid characters they'd made him portray over the years. But I thought Seven had great potential (I can just see him now, sitting in a kitchen drinking sweet tea and hearing "I'm Chris Hanson...").
More later, 'cause they're endless!