JG's Columns JG's Ten Good Guy Wrestling Characters Who Would Have Been Great Heels
By James Guttman
Dec 3, 2011 - 12:38 PM
There was once a time when wrestlers didn't turn from good to bad every week. In fact, many characters from years gone by never left one side of the fence. They either always fought for good or always pushed the villainous agenda. But in hindsight, there were more than a few heroes who could have been downright nasty if given the chance. There's a ton of them, but here are ten that I think would have been just fine if they ever decided to switch to the evil dressing rooms…
For years, Hillbilly Jim and his ragtag bunch of overall lovin' hillbillies told the world that you shouldn't go "messing with a country boy." The bad guys from the WWF's 80s roster couldn't help but agree. After all, if you go messing with a country boy, you could wind up getting a big boot to the noggin of maybe even a face full of granny's homemade muskrat pie...
…or, you could get anally raped in the forest while they hold a shotgun to your head.
Don't Go Messing With An Inbred Boy.
That's right. Anyone who loved the Hillbilly's antics in the ring never really thought about him the same way after they saw the film "Deliverance". The flick starring Burt Reynolds featured the Ned Beatty film-stealing scene where poor Ned stripped down and "squealed like a pig" while a Hillbilly Rapist went to town on him.
My first semester of college was spent at the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus. James Dickey, the author of Deliverance, was a professor there and would give passionate readings of his novel to students. You'd sit there in horror while the aging writer gave you a dramatic rundown of inbred sexual assault in the woods. It was rather creepy.
After that, it was hard to watch old videos of Hillbilly Jim smiling without thinking,
"What? What are you smiling about? You wanna kill me? Huh?! You want to kill me?! Stay away from me, Hillbilly Jim!
Keep your mudlickin' hands away from me!"
Sure, country boys are fun-loving locals with horseshoes around their neck and do-si-dos in their hearts. But it only takes one or two taints of the ol' gene pool to go from eating possums to humping them. A slight change to this gimmick and the babyfaces from WWE's Rock-n-Wrestling era would get a whole new idea of what a "Big Bear Hug" feels like.
Koko B. Ware
Ah Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware. The Birdman. The man who reminded us all that sometimes love sounds like a fight. It sounds like an arg-oo-mint. It sound just like a piledriver. Also, he spoke to his bird.
But hey, there's nothing wrong with talking to animals, right?
Son of Sam
Oh yeah. Well except for the Son of Sam David Berkowitz who claimed that his 1977 shooting rampage was caused by a neighbor's dog, who told him to kill.
But this isn't about dogs. This is about birds. Nothing bad ever comes from a grown man who plays with birds all the time.
The Birdman of Alcatraz
Oh yeah. Well except for the "Birdman of Alcatraz" Robert Stroud. Romanticized by films, the Birdman (who actually never kept any birds at Alcatraz, but at Leavenworth prison) knew a great deal about the animals and took pride in canaries, especially. He cared for them and even authored books about them.
Oh, and he killed people. Can't forget that.
But hell. This is just one crazy guy. Birds themselves are docile creatures that cause no trouble to...
Oh yeah, that...
Damnit. Yeah. The Birds movie. When you add that to Berkowitz and Alcatraz, it starts to make you wonder how this gimmick was ever a babyface to begin with.
Well, there was a near turn at one point. In a match that I asked both Ware and Tito Santana about during their ClubWWI.com interviews, Koko nearly went bad-guy on Santana and switched sides. The bout aired on the WWF VHS Supertape and Prime Time Wrestling. No one ever mentioned it again.
So a babyface he would stay, but if only the Birdman of Stamford ever started taking orders from Frankie, who knows how far he could have flown.
For most of us in the United States, Australia brings up images of Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin and that Jacko guy who sold batteries and looked like Heidenreich.
But that's short sighted. I mean, there are crazy people in every culture. In fact, sometimes someone will come along with a whole brand of crazy that works so well within that culture that you wonder if they might be more common than you realize. People like this guy:
Now, if you've never seen the film "Wolf Creek" then you're not only unfamiliar with the character of Mick Taylor. But if you have, you never think of Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee first when picturing Outbackers. You picture Mick.
The film attempts to blend reality and fiction by pointing out all the tourists that go missing in the outback. As the film unfolds, we find out that a lot of it could be due to ol' Outback Mick and his propensity for chilling insanity. As this non-spoiler scene will illustrate, Crocodile Dundee isn't DVR'd out in the bush...
A major focus of the film is that no matter how far you escape, you're so removed from society that no one will find you. It's a terrifying thought. Imagine being held captive by someone on their home turf - with nothing but trees, bushes, and whatever tribesman he's friendly with for miles around. Scary. But Outback Jack isn't like that.
My mates are gonna eat you, mate.
Well, that's…uh…yeah. OK. Lucky for us, he's got such a happy disposition. But one piece of advice, when he tells you to tie that Kangaroo down, sport, you best tie that freakin' kangaroo down. FAST!
The Killer Bees
"I don't think Vince McMahon liked the Killer Bees."- Jim Brunzell, ClubWW.com Interview
You said a mouthful there, Jumpin' Jim.
For any fan of wrestling in the 1980s, the Killer Bees tag team is unforgettable. In a gimmick that was unique at the time and has remained that way to this day, Jumpin' Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair would don masks…but only toward the end of their match. They'd freely switch in and out of the ring and called the distraction "Masked Confusion."
In reality, it was Masked Cheating.
But we liked the Bees, so they got away with it. Jesse Ventura screamed for fairness from his broadcast booth, but forget him. The Bees were good and that was that. Cheating and all.
Forget for a moment too that Killer Bees - the bees, not the wrestlers - have been known to cause panic in areas that they're coming to. The Bees kill one to two people in the United States every year and don't have too many fans trying to slap them five. Also known as the Africanized Honey Bee, these little guys cause quite a lot of worry. Heck, if killing people isn't not bad enough - they're destroying the rainforests!
our Bees. They were good guys. Their whole career. Well, until they left. You see, that's when Vince McMahon dressed up two other guys like Killer Bees, put them in a lumberjack match, and let Hulk Hogan beat them up. It used to be on YouTube, but just like the world's honey bees - it disappeared.
This small glimpse of Heelish Killer Bees gave us an idea of what could have been. As what we can guess was a parting shot to hurt their fanbase, WWF managed to heel the Bees without even having them show up. Then again, it only seemed to make sense. Masked cheating - check. Named after a feared creature with "Killer" in the name - check. Attack Hulk Hogan - check. It was all there.
Speaking of attacking Hulk Hogan...
You might remember Zach Gowen as the kid with one leg. You might remember him as…well, that's it. I'm almost positive you remember Zach as the kid with one leg. That was his thing.
But what made him a star was his ability to compete on that one leg. Hopping and bolting about the ring, Gowen seemed to defy gravity and show the world that nothing can hold you down.
Unfortunately, Zach also weighed like 100 pounds - a small stature even when you factor in the missing leg weight. Had Gowen not had his beefed up "Make a Wish" back-story with Hulk Hogan and the wow factor, he would have had a hard time breaking into WWE. Hell, he might have had a hard time even getting his foot in the door.
Didn't meant it like that.
So it was only natural when Zach debuted with huge reaction that he got heat from the locker room. After all, guys saw him as a lucky kid who did nothing but ride a wave of fan curiosity to WWE TV. He went through a lot and despite a few fluke wins, pretty much spent his time getting pummeled and thrown down stairs.
He was an underdog, but let's be honest. An underdog could only go so far in wrestling. The premise is that he's not supposed to be winning, so by definition, he has to lose a lot. On top of it, folks had a hard time believing that a tiny guy could beat WWE's giants…even if he has two legs. How many stairs can we throw him down before people grow tired of the whole thing? At the end of the day, many fans saw Zach the same way some of his fellow wrestlers did - someone who's somewhat undeserving.
But…had Gowen played into that, he'd have been set. Demanding more and more each week, Zach could have turned on his mentor, claimed that Hogan was jealous of him and only uses the leg drop finisher to mock him. Overwhelmed by envy and delusion, Z could have amassed an army behind him and played the evil entitlement icon looking for a free title match. Now you wouldn't have to worry about how it looks when wrestlers twice his size sell his offense - because they'd be half beaten to death by his villainous minions before they even face him.
I can't help but picture the dramatic scene of Zach slapping Hogan in the face and Hulk using all the power of his Hulkamaniacs to refrain from striking back. The hesitation only makes Gowen angrier as he feels he's being coddled, so he slaps again. Finally Hulk strikes back and Zach's soldiers attack. It would have been different and played into the natural heat he showed up with when he joined the company.
I could only imagine Zach challenging babyfaces to compete in his "ass kicking contest" and then beating them through cheating. Subtleties like that would have kept him over for years.
Grown men don't dress up like Tugboats. It just doesn't happen. I guess maybe if they…no. Actually, no. There is no "maybe if". Grown men don't dress like Tugboats.
But Tugboat Thomas the Shockmasting Typhoon did. Fred Ottman not only put the outfit on, but he jumped into it.
Eventually, when Ottman turned heel, they renamed him Typhoon - a play on his nautical theme. However, that gimmick bared no resemblance to his old one. Had they kept him as-is, it would have changed everything.
You see, when I think of a big man in a tugboat outfit, I also picture him eating a giant lollipop and throwing temper tantrums. By taking the man you see above and making him a portly Momma's Boy in a sailor outfit, it would have been great - and sort of given it all a reason. He could have been wrestling's version of Francis Buxton from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
As you might not know, wrestling did have its version of Francis Buxton. He was in the Global Wrestling Federation. This was him...
..But you might not have realized the connection to the film. After all, it was pretty subtle. The wrestler's name was "Crybaby" Francis Buxton.
But if only Tuggy had the chance, he could have played the Crybaby better than anyone. Nothing says, "That's MY tugboat toy! MOM!" like a 400 pound man in red and white stripes.
American Original Lex Luger
Lex Luger was one of the industry's best bad guys for, if no other reason, his constant look of disdain. Luger always appeared surly and unapproachable on camera. He posed with a look on his face that said, "These are my muscles. I'm flexing. Now go to hell."
So when the WWF signed one of WCW's top characters during the early 1990s, it only made sense that they radically change his gimmick twice. Debuting as "The Narcissist", Lex's short lived persona saw him pose in mirrors before slamming jobbers in the face with his metal-plated forearm.
Not bad. But not long either. Because after Hulk Hogan was unceremoniously dumped from the WWF World Title picture following King of the Ring 1993, Luger was totally repackaged. (Pun Intended) Dressing up in red, white, and blue, the American Original took over Hogan's spot as the All American babyface to wage war on Yokozuna.
The only problem? Hogan was
just there. People remembered him and Lex was coming off like a forced copy. In many ways, the gimmick was a lot like WWF's "Fake Diesel" and "Fake Razor Ramon" years later. The only difference was that he kept his name and actually had credibility already.
Say Hello To Da Fake Guys...
So what happened when fan interest started to fall? WWF kept forcing it. They even teased a heel turn in 1994, but it turned out to be a ruse by Ted DiBiase and Tatanka. The American Original stayed a "hero" until he left.
All it would have taken was a return to his old attitude, while still wearing the U.S. flag all over his trunks. Give him the microphone and let him cut, what would have been remembered as the "I'm Your NEW HOGAN NOW!" promo and it would have been golden. Had they ever let Lex address the elephant in the room and claim that he was the new chosen one following Hulk's departure - it would made sense of it all. After years of Hulkamania, the last things fans wanted was a rehash. But an evil version - played by one of wrestling's natural heels - would have been something new altogether and would have only served to illustrate how WCW was embracing the red and yellow past with old Hulk. Babyfaces could have cut promos about how the WWF didn't need a new Hulk Hogan and condemn Luger for trying to be one.
Instead, they chose to try to recreate the dying Hulkster gimmick they had just lost, never mention they were doing it despite everyone knowing, and wondered what went wrong.
The Von Erichs
Here's a newsflash. The Von Erichs were heels. They were always heels. Circumstances just prevented us from realizing it.
The first thing that confused us was location. The local hometown family made-good, Fritz Von Erich and his boys couldn't help but be cheered. Fans loved seeing how they represented the great state of Texas.
The second thing is that their opponents were so mean. How could you not cheer a guy battling Skandar Akbar and Kamala? What the hell is wrong with you? The guy eats live chickens for crying out loud!
But when you really get down to it, the Von Erich characters were a family lead by a father figure who pushed them like an overbearing Little League Dad. If you come in second, you lost! You have to succeed! You have to come in first! That's what Fritz demands!
Make sure my boys keep training!
Now, I know people are thinking that this statement is my way of offering a personal commentary on the family behind the scenes. Nope. That statement is a direct observation of the things the family said on TV. Watch this Fritz Von Erich promo at 1:35 with flexing Kevin and Kerry and tell me this is something you'd expect from a babyface group.
You can just picture these guys chasing girls down jogging paths and tying them up in the basement until Fritz comes up and tortures them. It's insane. Nothing about this group says "good guys". However, a lot about this group says, "Crazy Old Man and His Jacked Up Sons".
I'm not the only one who realized this fact. When David Von Erich journeyed to Florida in the early 1980s, he was booked as a bad guy and did pretty well with it. Outside the Texas nest, he didn't seem as heroic...
That's not to say that Von Erich boys weren't popular individually. But when you put them all together with Frightening Fritz, you get a group that doesn't seem likely to have a fun Thanksgiving.
Tom Zenk. They called him the Z-Man. It's because his last name started with the letter Z, not because he made people fall asleep.
But don't quote me on that. I'm only about 75% sure.
The Z-Man came to WCW in the late 1980s fresh from the WWF. As a member of the Can-Am Connection, Tom walked out on his tag team with Rick Martel, forcing the future model to find a new partner. WWF at the time was known for ignoring wrestler departures, but not this time. Portrayed as a deserter, Tom's absence was told to WWF fans and explained as something shameful.
When WCW picked him up, they ignored that and just made him a happy guy in pink trunks. You just accepted it. Who knows? Maybe Tom was just such a nice guy that there was nothing else for him to do. After all, look at that smile. I bet he couldn't say a bad word about anyone. Like if Jim Ross had said something negative about him, he'd be the type of guy to brush it off.
"What's Iceface going to say? It would be like reverse discrimination if I didn't trash Iceface, right? Did you hear about the new doll they have in the WWF? This is just something I saw on the Internet. The story goes that H. Bomb, Jr. fell asleep in the snow and he woke up as Iceface. Yeah, and you can put a buck in his slot and he'll say anything you want. He talks out of both sides of his mouth…" - Tom Zenk
Before shooting online became an art form, Tom Zenk, well, made it an art form. After leaving the business, the former Z-Man spoke out on everyone from Dusty Rhodes to Vince McMahon and did it all with style. Stinging with his words, Tom left fans shocked, stunned, and wondering...
this guy in WCW? I would have paid money to watch this guy.
Look at that picture Bruno Sammartino. See it? He's going to choke you to death.
Yeah and that's not just a onetime pose either. Bruno choked people. See for yourself.
Now that was for a reason. The heroic Bruno was angry that Randy Savage was taking delight in the injury of Ricky Steamboat. But imagine it wasn't. Imagine he was mad because someone didn't give him a title match or someone didn't wear the right wrestling boots.
"Those are wrong boots!
YOU PIECE OF SLIME! AHHHH!"
Are you gonna stop him? No. You're not. I don't care how long it's been since he wrestled. Bruno Sammartino could be 200 years old and still choke out most people reading this.
That alone would have made him a great villain. The basic premise of wrestling bad guys is wondering how the babyface will break through him. Sammartino was unbreakable and with such a long title reign in his resume, it seemed unlikely that good guys could finish him off once and for all. Picture Jason Voorhies from Friday The 13th - only without the hockey mask and more body hair. The amazing thing is that even if that one thing had been different, we'd all still be talking about how Bruno was one of the best of all time - no matter what side he was on.
I'll leave you with a final look at what could have been. Here's a rare heel promo from Bruno in Japan.
JG Note: You can hear my interviews with Hillbilly Jim, Koko B. Ware, Outback Jack, Brian Blair, Jim Brunzell, Bruno Sammartino, Lex Luger, Tugboat, Zach Gowen, and hundreds more on