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Grumpy Old Men of Wrestling (First Edition) by Hank & Marc

Marc Madison:Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Grumpy Old Men of Wrestling with Hank McAllen and Marc Madison. The much better looking guy who looks identical to Randy Savage (strangely enough the same one in our snazzy banner, curtesy of the Melo Man of TJR) is Hank, and by default that would make me the Hulk Hogan of the group. However, unlike what Gorilla Monsoon would say about Hogan, I do know a wristlock from a wristwatch. Our name came about because the combined age of Hank and I is in the 90s. Being 90 years of age is something I can’t even think about right now though because my sore back, knee and hip are occupying my thoughts. Most of those reading this column probably didn’t think things like the wheel had been invented 90 years ago, let alone modern transportation. However, we’re here to say that us two old dogs can be taught new tricks. Sure, we don’t dab because it looks really stupid, and we don’t do things like the running man or a bottle flip challenge, but we still are pretty hip and trendy…in our own way.

Each month Hank and I will explore something that has either been done before and is being repeated once again, or discuss an angle that isn’t original even though viewers are made to think it is. We may focus on something that allows us to make a connection to an event or scenario from the past. Our plan is to show our appreciation for the past and have a little fun along the way. Fans can expect a little rant every once in a while, from either one of us. It may be to fight over Elizabeth (who is also coincidently in our banner,) or to see who the better old man is. This month Hank and I tackle the old ‘ladies man’ gimmick, wondering if it could ever work again and why it worked in the first place, and explore the cold war’s impact on wrestling, and how wrestling likes to play countries against the United States. Will it work again? Read below to find out and in the meantime, get off our lawn you hooligans!

“The Cold War Factor”

Hank:A guaranteed gimmick that worked for decades in the wrestling business was the “Anti-American” gimmick. Due to the strained relations between the then Soviet Union and The United States, (along with kayfabe being in full force) rarely did a Russia vs. America theme not work. The funny thing was 99% of these “Russian” wrestlers didn’t have a drop of Russian blood in them.

Some of the early anti American characters were Fritz Von Erich, Mr. Saito, and Mr. Fuji, but the first to really pull at the heart strings was the recently departed Ivan Koloff. I mean this man had the audacity to end Bruno’s first WWWF Championship reign! How dare he!! The “Russian Bear” was a great heel character who would later go on to the NWA and align himself with his “nephew” Nikita Koloff where the two would wreak havoc on the likes of the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. Maybe though, nobody drew the ire of the crowds more so than the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.

It was the 1980’s. Cable television was exploding, as was the “rock and wrestling” connection. Ratings were hitting an all time high, and capitalizing on the strained relationships between the United States and Iran and Russia was a perfect combination to draw money. First you had the all American boy Bob Backlund’s five year plus reign as WWF Champion come to an end at the hands of the Sheik. But, less than one month later, Hulkamania was born and we had the arrival of “the real American”.

Fortunately for the world the Cold War came to an end, however unfortunately for the business, it’s a gimmick that just doesn’t work anymore. For instance, let’s look at Rusev. WWE has tried to get him over as this monster, anti-American heel yet you felt bad for the guy because all of the segments had other wrestlers either hitting or his wife or suggesting she was a whore. Another big reason for this gimmick going away, like some others, is the demise of kayfabe. We are constantly reminded that these are athletes who are playing characters who are not real, so as long as the suspension of disbelief is gone, so too is this gimmick.

Marc:Fans today are all familiar with Rusev, and how he first came into WWE as the Bulgarian Brute that resided in Russia. He not only showed affection towards Russia and President Vladamir Putin, he did not only receive a medal from Putin, he also showed complete and utter disdain for everything that is American. He idn’t mind being paid in American dollars though, am I right? It was a fairly successful storyline to tell, and one that WWE used many times in the past. Remember when the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were the most notable heel tag team in the WWF. And while they were running roughshod in the WWF, Ivan and Nikita Koloff were terrorizing the National Wrestling Alliance. They were classic heels that were hated because of their backgrounds, despite living in the United States.

With the leadership of the Russian Bear Ivan, the Koloffs battled the likes of the Road Warriors. As time passed and Ivan took more of a backseat, KrusherKhruschev joined the Red Army and worked alongside Nikita. What made this union even more peculiar was that none of these men was actually Russian, they just played the part. What made their relationship that much more amusing was that, later on, Nikita teamed with Dusty Rhodes to form what was known as the ‘Super Powers‘. To Nikita’s credit, he learned Russian since he didn’t speak it initially, and ‘uncle’ Ivan did all of their talking to ensure fans couldn’t tell that something was up with the ‘Russian’. Nikita was so dedicated to his character that he legally changed his name to Nikita Koloff nearly 30 years ago.

While the gimmick feels like it has run its course that doesn’t mean that Anti-American gimmicks won’t in some way, shape or form be reinvented time and time again. It may not be Russian or Bulgarian, it could be from anywhere. Although if the political climate remains as it is, villainous Russians could in fact be making a return.

Hank:All valid points Marc. I just wonder though that with the world changing every day how far can WWE take the angle and make it effective? I have four reasons that are jumping to mind;

Pulling off this kind of angle requires using a country in which America has real heat with. I know the whole Hart Foundation/USA feud was popular in the 90’s, but were we as a society worried that the USA was going to be invaded by Canada, or were Canadians in fear of American taking Toronto, then the world? Of course not. That feud felt more like a rivalry to me, than international tension.

As a follow up to my first point, when the other country isn’t Russia, does the crowd seem to care? As it currently stands the US is trying to improve our relationship with Russia, so if the two countries “hug it out” that steam is gone. The only other countries that could generate serious juice to an Anti-American gimmick right now would be Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, I’d be surprised to see WWE go in that direction, since in 2005 they quickly ditched the Mohammed Hassan character after the 2005 London bombings.

The decline in patriotism in the United States right now seems the lowest it’s been since the mid 1970’s. With the country as divided as it is, will there be enough of a swell of pro USA pride in taking on anyone from any country right now?

As I mentioned in my initial comments about this topic, this is another angle that kayfabe destroyed. If the guys aren’t really from the country they are supposed to be from, we will know within seconds that the guy is really John Smith, from Queens, New York.

It’s due to these reasons I feel that a gimmick that was so great back in the day is gone for good.

Marc:What is interesting to note is that being Canadian and on the East Coast, our exposure to the likes of Fritz Von Erich was extremely limited. My knowledge of Fritz, Mr. Saito and Mr. Fuji is unlike those of my friends from the south, or even, Western Canada where the VonErichs had some success. Keep in mind that the WWWF was more of a territory, without the national reach and television exposure that we see today. As long as I can remember, Mr. Fuji had an anti-American gimmick regardless of whether he was walking Yokozuna down to the ring, or accompanying the Magnificent Muraco.

Growing up a child of the 1980s, despite having an affinity for the A-Team and The Goonies, my earliest memories of the foreign menace were related to Nikolai Volkoff, The Iron Sheik and Classie Freddie Blassie, as they spat on the United States and everything it stood for. It’s easy to see how Hulk Hogan and his ‘real American’ persona meant a lot to the WWF, especially in light of the cold war. Although in all fairness, in the midst of Hulkamania the cold war ended, and unless Ivan Drago was coming over to do to Hulk Hogan what he did to Apollo Creed then he had nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately for me, my earliest memories of the WWF start after Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik for the WWF title, long after Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel costing Bob Backlund the title. I do think an Anti-American gimmick can work, however; any time real life scenarios and strife can be linked to a storyline, if it strikes a chord with the viewing audience, then the writers are tapping into the fears of their public. The key writing it effectively, something that isn’t too common a practice.

How often do you recall the Ladies Man gimmick taking place?

Marc:It’s a gimmick that seems to have been done to death. Back when I was younger, a wrestler who bragged that he was better than any other guy was an insult to any guys manhood. Think about ‘The Nature Boy’ RicFlair during his time in WCW, and before that the NWA; he believed he was the man all women wanted. Now, I can’t speak for others, but when I was watching this guy that believed he was so great, I was torn between hating him and wanting to be him. He was meant to be someone you despised because he thought he could take your wife, finance or girlfriend away from you, and you can’t do a thing about. It was infuriating and awesome all at the same time. He thought he was God’s gift to women, and talked often about how all women wanted to ride ‘space mountain,’ which was just clever innuendo that we only wish we could use on our best day and not get slapped.

While Flair was among the most popular to use this gimmick, he wasn’t the only one. In the WWF at the time, Rick Rude was Ravishing. He had the looks of 1980s heartthrob Tom Selleck (star of Magnum P.I at the time,) and his body was chiseled from stone. He would often insult the men in attendance and tell them what he would do to their wives. That carried over into a storyline, as one of the women in the audience he propositioned happened to be the wife of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. The feud was a success, as Rude being put in his place by an infuriated Roberts made for an entertaining storyline.

We have seen this gimmick reincarnated a few times, whether it was early Shawn Michaels, or Tully Blanchard when he was paired with Sunshine, or even Val Venis.Venis definitely took the sexual overtones to a whole new level, and it seemed as though they were really trying to push the envelope that time around.

Hank:One of the most entertaining gimmicks that wrestling had was that of the “ladies man”. There were so many guys whose careers received a boost when it came to playing it up that no woman could resist them. We had Ric Flair showing up with a legion of beautiful women to escort him down the aisle, or joining “The Naitch” in a Learjet heading off to his next destination. There was also Jimmy Garvin in World Class Championship Wrestling with either Sunshine or Precious holding a mirror to make sure Jimmy always looked “gorgeous”. Let’s not forget Rick “The Model” Martel spraying his “arrogance” or the “boy toy” himself, Shawn Michaels with Sensational Sherri by his side. Maybe though the greatest “ladies man” of them all was Ric Rude, who would ridicule a crowd before he took off his robe. However, unlike some gimmicks that can be rehashed with success, I don’t think this approach will work in today’s wrestling world. To be honest, when Bobby Roode showed up with the 8 women in evening gowns at NXT Takeover San Antonio it looked cool, but it just didn’t have the same impact on me when Flair did it. But why though?

I think there two things that point to this gimmick not working today; (1) political correctness, and (2) the role of women in wrestling has changed over the last 25 years. To start with, could you possibly imagine anyone grabbing the microphone today and saying ”What I’d like to have right now, is for all of you fat, ugly, out-of-shape, (insert name of the town/city) sweat hogs to keep the noise down, while I take my robe off, and give the ladies a good look at what a real man looks like.” It seemed harmless back in the day, but if you try to use any stigmas today, you would have creative screaming at you. Then you’d have 20 law suits waiting for you saying you called all the people in whatever city fat and ugly so now they have to go to therapy.

As far as the role of the modern woman is concerned, WWE seems like they’ve had a hard time figuring out how to portray the women in the company. Are they powerful like Chyna, Playboy models like Sable, beautiful brawlers like Trish, pathetic in ring yet beautiful looking women like Kelly Kelly and the entire “Divas” division, or are they the current group of women who are amazing in the ring, yet still attractive and intelligent? I am hoping they stick their current approach. While we still have likes of Maryse with The Miz and Lana with Rusev, they are not portrayed as meek women who hold up mirrors or take off a wrestlers robe.

Marc: Hank points out how Ravishing Rick Rude’s antics were despicable. As a child at the time, I found that it was difficult not to jeer someone who was so comfortable with insulting others. It was also comparable to a train wreck, in that as much as it was easy to dislike Rude, it was impossible to deny that he had charm, and a quality about him that couldn’t be ignored. To add to what Hank pointed out, in today’s day and age men soliciting a woman in the ring, even with their consent, and even knowing that it was staged, would open promotions up for criticism. Every women‘s rights group would have a field day not only voicing what they thought of Rude, but also what they thought of WWE.

One of the personas I had a harder time describing as a chick magnet was ‘The Model’ Rick Martel. It could be that I simply viewed him as someone who believed he was better than everyone else, rather than someone who believed every woman wanted him. However, I could be wrong, Martel may indeed be God’s gift. Then again, I never found ‘the fat chick thilla’ Mike Awesome to be much of a gift to women, and that didn’t stop him from being surrounded by a bevy of women.

In regards to how women are used today, Hank is bang on. Women aren’t meek, and are strong of mind and will, and to suggest that a ladies man would sweep them off their feet is also to suggest that they would fall for any line. We aren’t in the era of ‘Casablanca’ anymore, when Humphrey Bogart said ‘here’s lookin at you kid‘. A clever line may have succeeded years ago, but nowadays it’s more than likely a guy wouldn’t get a second look, let alone have women fall ever so helplessly into their arms.

Hank:I agree with you Marc, this gimmick seems to have lost all steam that it used to have. I think to make it work you need to reintroduce valets. Now back in the day you had two kinds of valets; those who were eye candy, and those who got involved more in the matches.

As an example, Randy Savage (Miss Elizabeth) and Diamond Dallas Page (Kimberly) had valets who were there to be seen, not heard. Their part of the ladies man gimmick was that they did what they were told by the wrestler. The valets would hold open the ropes for the wrestler to get in the ring, take off their robes when they got in the ring, and basically sat outside the ring and clapped their hands.

Examples of more involved valets were Woman, Precious and Sensational Sherri. They did the same things that the first group did, but weren’t afraid to scream from the outside of the ring to distract a referee, hit an opponent with a shoe, or spray mist in the eyes of the other wrestler, all to help their man get the win.

Recent attempts have seem to have fallen short in making the ladies man character relevant again. I couldn’t stand the Val Venis character, nor was I a fan of Lita’s when she was with Edge, as they just pushed the envelope too much, especially when they were in the bed in the middle of the ring in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I also never bought into the A.J. and Dolph pairing.

I think it’s time we finally put the ladies man gimmick to rest. It was something that worked well two generations ago, but in order to make it work again seems like it would just too much to do. We all know creative has too many other challenges to produce good wrestling, especially on RAW, to try and make this gimmick relevant again.

Time To Say Goodbye

Hank: There you have it folks, a couple of old curmudgeons reminiscing on days gone by and how things used to be. It doesn’t mean that we agree with how these angles were necessarily done at times, some were good and others were just ok. But, it serves as a reminder that the glory days of wrestling seem to get further and further away every day.

I doubt many of you would disagree that there was nothing cooler than seeing The Naitch, strutting around in an interview segment on TBS bragging about $2,000 watches, $1,500 shoes and $10,000 suits, and him telling you that he was about to hop into a limo with 5 lovely ladies. I also would imagine that you get another rush when you flipped the TV dial to the WWF and saw the crowd booing and pelting Volkoff and Sheif with paper and cups while screaming, “USA, USA, USA!” at tops of their lungs just before a showdown with the U.S. Express.

It was a different time when fans were more passionate about wrestling and lived and died with every match their heroes had. If you are not from the generation Marc and I are from and want to get a better understanding of how passionate the fan base was back in the day, check out a Freebirds vs. Von Erich match during the height of their feud, or when The Rock and Roll Express would have an emotional win over the Midnight Express. Fans would legitimately rush the ring or be left in tears! It’s these moments and emotions that guys our age miss.

Anyway, these are the kinds of topics we will reminisce over in upcoming columns. We will talk about the things we say today that make us want to pull the hair out of our head, scream at the TV and say “are you kidding me!!!”, as well as things that work just as well today as it did years ago that maybe we thought we’d never see again. This initial voyage into the past has been a great time for us, and we hope you enjoyed reading it. Please let us know your thoughts below and until next month here’s the newest tag team on the TJRwrestling.net website, The Gumpy Old Men Of Wrestling saying, whatca ya gonna do when two old dudes come after you!

Check out Jon Curry, Mike Holland, Brandon Lasher and I on TheMemNetwork. We will can be heard every Sunday and live after every WWE pay per view from this week moving forward.

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Did you enjoy what Hank McAllen had to say? Be sure to read his archive here. Be sure to check out his weekly column ‘The Other Turnbuckle” as it explores wrestling outside the WWE.