Professional wrestling has given fans some of the most outrageous and unforgettable characters in television history. When a new performer debuts with a fresh new look, some things just click. Sadly, though, that doesn't always translate into long term success and some of the big names we were once introduced to with so much enthusiasm either burnt out or faded away. Here are ten that could have gone much further than they did. Despite their sudden endings, many we still remember today. You know, like...
Half man. Half taur. Everyone remembers Mantuar from his WWF days, although no one really remembers anything notable he did. Why? Because, he didn't do much besides moo.
The stuff that legends are made of, the monstrous man beast had one of wrestling's most unique looks around. Coming to the ring with the head of a bull over his own. Picture a furry version of Vader's smoking entrance mask with a big cow as the centerpiece. That was how Taur rolled. With a big furry Vader cow mask.
Here's the thing, though. Initially, Mantuar - even with the cow head - was pretty cool. Forget the face paint, Jim Cornette, and rib eating that would soon follow. Take a look at this video from his debut. It was before he made an outfit and makeup change to cartoon him up. Initially, Mantuar was just a big dude that messed you up - sort of a King Kong Bundy with a safari theme, if you will.
From there, WWE dressed him up like a Thanksgiving Demon and things sort of fell apart from there. The worst part of this whole thing was that Mantaur was only a few years late to the dance. A character like this would have done crazy things in the 80s. Sadly, he did next to nothing in 1995. Before long Mantuar was put out to pasture with few commentators ever getting the chance to joke about him being "horny" on the way to the ring.
Lives were gonna be in Waylon Mercy's hands. Know what I mean?
Probably not because Waylon Mercy didn't have much time to grab onto lives in the World Wrestling Federation. Debuting in 1995, the black-haired Dan Spivey sported a sword tattoo between his eyes and the entire persona of Robert Deniro in Cape Fear.
Subtract the "come out, come out, wherever you are" for "you know what I mean" and you have Waylon.
The gimmick was so ahead of its time that wrestling may not have even caught up to it yet. Cerebral and different, Mercy was a dark serial-killer character who smiled at you one minute and choked you the next. His white pants and wife beater were a bit unsettling, but all worked to create the mood. This psychotic smiler with a propensity for violence was ready to unleash his wrath on Savio Vega and...
Well, that's about it.
The Mercy Man went after Vega at the third "In Your House" pay-per-view in September 1995, but ultimately lost to the Boricua. Two months later, an injury during a match with Diesel would sideline Mercy mercilessly and lead him down the path of retirement. We never did find out what he meant.
Queasy, Sleazy, and Cheesy
I think Jerry Lawler is the most overlooked star in wrestling history. All around, from top to bottom, he deserves to be near the top of any list. Jerry has been able to work as a hero and a villain with ease.
But it's when he plays the comedy villain that he really amazes me.
It's not easy to get heat with the crowd while still making them laugh, but Lawler has always been able to do that. In 1993, The King embarked on a feud with newly-turned clown Doink. The ironic clown character had been dark and sinister since its debut, but the babyfaced one came with midgets - Dink, Pink, and Wink (yeah). So, when Survivor Series rolled around, the King unveiled some minis of his own:
Amazing. The best part of that video is how sleazy Sleazy seems. Sadly, the little princes only lasted until Survivor Series before being given their royal pink slips. It always seemed a shame too considering that there would just be something insanely awesome about Jerry Lawler having his own band of mini-Kings surrounding him wherever he went. Maybe give them songs to sing about him. The possibilities were endless. The only problem is that it might be a little cheesy. -
Ha! See how great it would be!
High Chief Afi
When Sivi Afa joined me for an interview, everyone remembered his days as Sivi Afi a.k.a. the babyface who looked like Jimmy Snuka only he got pinned a lot.
But his career could have been much more than that. In 1988, the Islanders were hitting their stride. Haku and Tama had their eyes on the prize and just needed some inspiration. That's when Bobby Heenan unveiled the new Afi. No more Sivi.
The High Chief cometh, yup yup...
Now sporting leg ink, High Chief Afi was the new heel leader of the Islander group. Nobody seemed to have told him about it, though, since you can see him slapping ringside fans five on the way to the ring. Old habits die hard and the perennial babyface wasn't exactly bad guy material. Before long, he was gone and that match stands alone as his only televised WWF appearance under the gimmick.
It's a shame considering that the character, when mixed with savage islanders vying for their tribe leader's approval, was pure gold. Think cult leader gimmick with Kamala undertones. Haku and Tama destroy people and then carry them to Afi for his approval. He then throws them raw meat or something. It could have been great. I asked Siva about his quick stint as HCA. It was the same word that always creeps its way into these kinds of lists. Politics:
"It's a lot of political things in the world of wrestling," Siva explained on ClubWWI.com. "Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know counts. You know, like all kinds of business. Maybe I wasn't too happy with the way they handled things so I left the WWF and I went to Europe and England."
But no. Just high fives and what ifs.
There aren't too many "God" gimmicks in wrestling. Sure, Shawn Michaels or Ted DiBiase might talk about their faith, but it's a matter of reaching out to do some good. Help some people out. Not Mordecai, though. He was into old school God. Set your garden on fire and turn your wife into table salt God. That God.
Years before he would become Seven Thorne, Kevin Fetrig was Mordecai, the white-power Santa-style Undertaker. His initial vignettes portrayed him as an old-testament warrior, eager to spread his reign of retribution on all who dare step in his way. Here, let Mordy tell ya...
His quest to rid the WWE of sin didn't last long and before we knew it, he was back in Ohio Valley Wrestling for more training. Years later when he finally returned, Mordecai had become a vampire and the WWE was free to practice sin at its leisure. All hail sinning.
All hail sinning indeed. But hey...I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know.
Those videos were awesome and the ominous way WWE shot them onto the scene only helped the cause. Coupled with Sean O'Haire, one of the hottest young stars in the business, there was no way this thing could fail.
Actually, there were a few and they all seemed to happen. The main problem that seemed to hit O'Haire upon entry was that taped video packages and actual backstage skits are quite different. Without the slick cameras and evil music, the gimmick just falls flat and he becomes nothing more than a guy who wears black suits to work and stands in the locker room. Vignettes give promoters the luxury of setting mood, while live shots are, by their nature, supposed to look fairly raw.
When Kane first debuted, the WWF had his first few matches take place under red lights. At no time were the regular lights turned on and as the monster decimated Mick Foley and others, the lighting stayed the same. That visual helped to set the mood for the Big Red Machine and keep some of his monster persona in our minds. At the time, it was awkward, but long-term, it did the trick. Here, see for yourself:
Sean could have benefited more from that. Something similar to the Boogeyman's eventual backstage arrivals would have worked. Just like Boogey would emerge with music and darkness, O'Haire could have done the same. Any devlish effects added to his presence could have been gold.
Instead, O'Haire became an also-ran, standing by Roddy Piper during his feud with Hulk "Mr. America" Hogan...which people barely remember Piper was a part of, much less Sean. He left WWE in April 2004, but he was gone long before that.
O'Haire's name still pops up now and then in the news but it's never really good. No one in wrestling had the potential that Sean did. Between this gimmick and his natural ability, I wish we should be talking about him for a different list than this one.
Here's why Yoshi Kwan was so awesome. Look at this video:
Is this guy:
Yeah. In the best Caucasian to Asian transformation in wrestling this side of PY Chu Hi, Chris Champion became Yoshi Kwan and it was actually pretty intriguing.
Once again, he's not from Honk Kong. He's one of these two from the 80s...claiming to be from "2002". Note how Champion's partner, the taller Sean Royal, screams about how he doesn't scream. And people wonder why WWE feels the need to script everything today.
Allowing the character to take over every aspect of him from the entrance walk to the wrestling style, Kwan stood out among WCW's meathead brigade. His unique look had limitless potential. -
Of course, by "limitless potential", I mean "one PPV match with Mick Foley." Yoshi, under the tutelage of Harley Race, lost to Cactus Jack at Fall Brawl '93 and was sidelined by an injury shortly thereafter. And so would end WCW's love affair with Yoshi Kwan. Good move too. If he had been there a few years later, Sony Onoo's lawyers would have had a field day.
One of the biggest criticisms that TNA faces is that they don't create new stars. They use old gimmicks from WWE to get their new names over. Perhaps the most frustrating part of it all for critics is that the few times they have created characters, well, they haven't been half bad.
Take Judas Mesias (aka Mexican star Ricky Banderas). In the midst of Abyss's evolution in TNA, Jim Mitchell introduced Mesias as his on-air son. Complete with white contacts and blood dripping mouth, Judas was able to leave a lasting impression strictly from his look alone. In what would be only one of many attempts Mitchell made to take down Abyss, the manager had his "son" attack the monster by rising from underneath the ring at No Surrender 2007.
The imagery mixed with the new star, unfamiliar to many, made for an shocking and exciting new twist in Father Mitchell's quest. How did Judas celebrate this big moment?
He went to Mexico and fell off a ladder.
Seriously. Less than one week after making his official Impact debut, Banderas returned to AAA in Mexico for the
Verano de Escandalo pay-per-view and promptly got hurt. Doctors insisted he take a few weeks off and by the time he returned in December, the momentum was gone.
Byss and Judas faced at the pay shows for both January and February. Then, in March, Mesias was wished into the cornfield. Gone from the company and gone from the story. Who knows how things would have gone if that initial injury never happened? There was a ton of potential there. Plus, you can't really go wrong with white contacts and a mouth full of food coloring. Everybody knows that.
Reno was bad-ass. Nothing else to it.
His name was Reno because he was from Reno, Nevada. I guess that way, he'll never get lost. But the look that he had was what made him standout. His head was completely shaved except for one long braided tail in the back. He wiggled his tongue and sometimes dressed like Yokozuna.
Above all, though, he was a tough guy with a tougher finisher - The Roll of the Dice.
The Rolling Cutter is nothing new in wrestling. Santino tried doing it for a while. But there were few who could land it like Reno. With his opponent facing the lights, he'd lock them in a facelock position, and then do a mid-air roll before landing back on the mat. It was pretty devastating.
Unfortunately, by and large, Reno's career in WCW was centered on the character-draining Natural Born Thrillers group. While the stable gave these new stars more TV time, it didn't do their gimmicks any favors. Everyone came off far more generic than they needed to and when it all came crashing down, you didn't really know who they were other than wrestlers.
Despite teaming up with Vito and trying some other things, Reno never recaptured the momentum he had lost early on.
Following WCW's demise, the Dice Roller from Nevada joined the WWF. He spent most of his time training in the developmental HWA group and, despite one 2001 dark match as a "WCW Alliance" member against fellow former Thriller Mike Sanders, he was never called up. It's a shame too.
Guess you could say that WCW made their biggest little mistake with Reno.
Some might think this list was made for Muhammad Hassan - WWE's homegrown terrorist sympathizer of 2004. Hassan had always been accepted by his fellow Americans..."but ever since 911", things had gotten rough.
Yes. Hot Button Muhammad, with implied sleeper cell backstory, was done to get under the skins of fans and work a heel angle guaranteed to get heat. It was uncomfortable and, yes, maybe a tad too soon after everything to be doing a gimmick so rooted in reality.
At the time, people compared the character to The Iron Sheik, but that analogy didn't work. Sheik was a genuine Iranian, intent on destroying America for his own country's joy. Hassan was a guy from Detroit who got fed up with being labeled a terrorist...so he became one. The closest wrestling had done to this was Sgt. Slaughter's brief Iraqi lovefest of 1991. Even then, the WWF received lots of negative attention for it. This was no different.
Muhammad (and his ambiguously undefined "partner" Daivari) was on a major roll and before long; it looked like Mo would one day hold the World Title. That is, until timing got the better of him. Remember I said that 2004 may have been too soon after 2001 to do an angle like this? Yeah.
On the July 4th taping of WWE Smackdown, Muhammad launched what can only be described as a terrorist-inspired attack on the Undertaker. He sent masked men to the ring, complete with army pants, to beat him down before carrying freshly beaten Daivari away as a martyr. Once gone, he locked Undertaker in his dreaded Camel Clutch (complete with beheading motion) and screamed into the camera. The problem? This segment was scheduled to air that Thursday. Also happening that Thursday - the London Subway Bombings.
With their steadfast resolve to "let the show go on", WWE aired the segment as-is. With the exception of a scrolling bar warning of graphic content, UPN broadcast a terrorist-style attack in WWE on the same day that many in London were killed. Was it a good decision? Was it a bad decision? Who knows?
Well, we do. It was a bad one. The predictable backlash struck Hassan and sent him packing. UPN demanded the character be dropped and WWE obliged. This video package was the last look at the twists and turns of wrestling's most controversial gimmick ever as MoHa went into his final battle on PPV with Taker...
I think few realize how big of an impact that had on wrestling's future. Up until that moment, Muhammad Hassan was poised to be the next major star in wrestling. Now, years later, we look back on his career as something that could have been. The true irony is that we all scoffed at his on-air claims, but life imitated art. In the end, he ended up being persecuted after all.