The lineage of the WWE is a long and storied tradition that can be traced far back into the days of Buddy Rogers through Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, The Rock and more. The list of stars that have had a run with the top prize in the WWE reads like a roll call of wrestlers who have made an indelible mark on professional wrestling. Except a champion is only as good as his challengers. As John Cena recently said on an episode of RAW, the WWE title is so protected politically, that not just anyone can challenge for it. Whilst for many years there has been a fairly stale main event scene in the WWE, with only recent additions like Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins shaking things up a bit, the WWE hasn’t always been as ‘reliable’ with its challengers in the past.
So, this week I looked at the 5 strangest challengers to ever get a shot at the WWE’s top prize on PPV.
Capitol Punishment, June 19, 2011
Ron ‘R-Truth’ Killings is a very entertaining wrestler and is one of a very few collection of stars to win TNA’s top prize before challenging for the WWE’s. However, for all of his good attributes, the fact is R-Truth has been used pretty monotonously by the WWE. Truth comes out, he raps his verse and does his dance. Sometimes he’s enhancement talent other times he gets wins but for many years, WWE hasn’t known what to do with the Truth. Which is why it is so weird that, for a very brief period in the Summer lull of 2011 R-Truth took a break from being in a random tag pairing with John Morrison (they both like breakdancing, I guess?) to turn heel and challenge for John Cena’s WWE title. And what a challenge it was.
In what can only be described as the most breakneck character development ever in WWE history R-Truth seemed to realise that he wasn’t taken very seriously, and this drove Truth crazy. Though unsuccessful, for a scant few weeks it looked like Truth could be given a real raise to main event status, carried by his fantastic promos in the period, but sadly it was not to be. Truth made an offhand comment about not pandering to the ‘Little Jimmys’ in the audience anymore, and that was all the WWE needed to clip his wings. Apparently, Vince was such a fan of the ‘Little Jimmy’ line, that they took what was a genuine sentiment about the poor handling of Truth’s character and turned it into a one note act from which Truth has never recovered.
4: Hardcore Holly
Royal Rumble, January 25 2004
Hardcore Holly has been wrestling in the WWE longer than nearly all of the current roster in 2004 and had never really been considered anything close to a main event player. Having suffered through a slew of terrible gimmicks, including playing the horrible racecar driver Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg, Bob Holly found something of a niche in the WWE’s hardcore division, going so far as to rechristen himself ‘Hardcore Holly’. However, as well known as Holly was for his in ring behaviour, Holly’s demeanour backstage and heavy hand as a disciplinarian on the WWE’s reality show ‘Tough Enough’ garnered Holly a reputation for being a hired hand for Vince McMahon, to handle newer, possibly disrespectful talents and maybe even beat some respect into them.
The problem however, is no matter how big and tough you are, there is always someone much bigger and tougher than you. During a match with Brock Lesnar in 2002, Holly was dropped during a powerbomb attempt, breaking his neck. Now, there are those who blame Holly, saying he didn’t cooperate with Lesnar during the move and there are those (including Holly himself) who say it was just an accident. The match however was set though: Holly wanted revenge on Lesnar for breaking his neck. The match at Royal Rumble though was anything but a Punisher-esque story of vengeance with Lesnar easily besting Holly in under 7 minutes. Though Holly would continue to be employed by WWE for years after, this was the closest he would ever be to the main event.
3: The Big Boss Man
Armageddon, December 12, 1999
Ray Traylor was never the greatest wrestler in the world. As David Shoemaker describes him in his book The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, Traylor was a common man who actually was a prison guard and portrayed one on TV as The Big Boss Man. Traylor would once challenge for Randy Savage’s WWF title, but that is not the challenge I am writing about today.
In 1999, Stone Cold Steve Austin had decided to take time out for his neck problems. It was a around this time that Vince McMahon had the ingenious plan to put the WWF title on The Big Show, using that WWE logic we’ve all grown accustomed to: he’s seven foot tall, he’s five hundred pounds, by GAWD he’s a GIANT. Who could BEAT this MAN? Unfortunately, not many people can relate to life as a gargantuan beast, and so the WWE booked an improbable angle around an dark horse challenger: The Big Boss Man. This whole angle needs to be seen to be believed, but in short, the storyline went: Big Show’s father passes away, Boss Man makes sustained and continued jokes at the expense of Show’s dead father. He interview’s Show’s mother to make her reveal that the Big Show was born out of wedlock and at the funeral of the departed father, Big Boss Man arrived (in the car from the Blues Brothers of all things), hooks the casket to the back of his car and drives off with Big Show hanging on, bawling his eyes out.
I have a confession to make: I love this angle. This is one of the first WWF angles I watched and at the time it didn’t make very much sense to me. Even now it doesn’t make any sense, but the sheer insanity is palpable and Boss Man’s glee throughout the feud is infectious. There’s something almost Shakespearean about how evil Boss Man is in this angle, despite rarely before being given any real main event stage. Why is the Boss Man doing all this? Who cares! Unfortunately, Boss Man would be dispatched in under 4 minutes at the actual match; making this feud ultimately pointless.
2: King Mabel
Summerslam, August 27, 1995
In 1995, the WWF was experiencing it’s worst year in company history. It was hemorrhaging money. One of the reasons for this was a severe lack of talent. Vince McMahon has always had a penchant for big men. It’s become a meme at this point, but it’s true – if you look at the history of the WWE, the talent at the top have generally been ‘big men’. So what happens when you take this fixation of large men and throw away any need for decent in ring action, or skill or really anything resembling entertainment? You get King Mable. King Mable was McMahon’s abortive attempt to create a massive new star. Having won the previously honourable King of the Ring tournament, Mable was afforded a championship opportunity. And it stunk. This is remembered as one of the worst WWE main events in history. Mable’s run in the upper card of the WWE was notable only for a slew of injuries he caused. Though Nelson Frazier Jr would later go on to better things in the WWE, this period is best left forgotten.
1: The Patriot
Ground Zero: In Your House, September 7, 1997
This is a match that should have never happened. It’s lazy booking at its laziest and anyone who actually felt anything resembling patriotism when watching ‘The Patriot’ really needs to take a hard look at themselves. Evil foreign heel booking is the easiest type of booking there is because it plays off of xenophobia and the basest emotions of wrestling fans, and when it’s attempted the booker is pretty much making fun of their audience for being easily led. The story behind this match is so simple a child could have written it, and not a particularly bright child either. Basically, Bret Hart hated America. Well, guess what? America hated him back. However; an entire country couldn’t very well fight Bret Hart, so their representative in this case was the incredibly generic ‘The Patriot‘, a masked American man whose defining traits began at ‘masked’ and ended at ‘American man’. The only other thing worth noting about the Patriot was his ring music which would later be used by Kurt Angle. In 1997 Angle’s debut was still a year away. Can you imagine an Angle vs Bret Hart match? Wouldn’t that have been something absolutely spectacular? Well, too bad. It may sound like I’m being harsh on the Patriot, but that’s only because I am. The Patriot was a so-so wrestler using the ‘American’ gimmick distilled to its purest form. As is the case with Hart matches, the Hitman dragged a passable match out of this feud, but The Patriot would not be a feature in the WWE long after this match.