Watching last night's Raw and the brilliant perfection therein that was the first Bray Wyatt vignette gave me hope that perhaps, even in this era of Hornswoggle, the WWE has decided to explore their darker side. It also brought about a recollection and appreciation for the difficulty of portraying an insane character in a business that has a nearly complete lack of sanity on a daily basis anyway.
With that in mind, I thought we'd take a spin through the past and present roster of the WWE and take a look at some of the more psychotic characters in sports entertainment. For each entry, we'll discuss symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, and even get a little "expert" advice from the headshrinkers themselves. (Not those Headshrinkers, incidentally.) We will also rate each on the level of their delusion, from one straitjacket (perfectly acceptable nutjob) to five straightjackets (hide the butter knife). Will an unhinged reality lead to great things in World Wrestling Entertainment? Let's find out!
Things were zipping along quite nicely for Ron Killings until John Morrison questioned his abilities, leading him to turn on his former friend, hand him a beatdown, and ignore the dangers of secondhand smoke by blowing some right in his face. It wasn't long until R-Truth was taking a break from rapping his way to the ring in order to treat us to grandiose conspiracy theories and displaying an inordinate amount of jealousy and bitterness over being booked properly and spending too much time trying to placate the fans. Eventually we would learn that Truth has a companion named Little Jimmy who is seen only by him, accompanies him to the ring, and has been physically involved in his matches. Think of it like a Quantum Leap episode and you've got the gist. While Jimmy started out as a critique and caricature of the WWE universe (who can forget Truth throwing a soft drink at that guy? Mayor Bloomberg appreciates it!), he has actually stayed with Truth back to the face side of things and is beloved and on merchandise. Who says crazy doesn't sell?
Warning signs: Dressing in a confederate uniform, incessantly asking "What's Up?", mentoring David Otunga
The Clinical Perspective: According to Carl Jung, the personal and collective unconscious are both parts of the human psyche. They must be integrated with the conscious in order to attain true self.
Prognosis: Not great. It certainly hasn't helped his booking any.
Rating: One Straitjacket I'd imagine you have a relative at Thanksgiving that's equally barmy. I know I do.
Marty Wright had a mild case of amnesia when he temporarily forgot his age while trying out for WWE during Tough Enough. Despite that inauspicious start, he rebounded with The Boogeyman gimmick and was brought onto the roster as part of the new talent initiative Palmer Cannon was doing for UPN. (A Palmer Cannon reference AND a UPN reference? I should end the column now!) The scary monster from every fan's nightmares entertained himself by popping out of the shadows and dining on worms. While sparingly used from time to time and still occasionally making appearances on one-off WWE shows, this gimmick never lived up to the madness.
Warning signs: Violence to timepieces, fixation on nursery rhymes, attraction to Jillian Hall
The Clinical Perspective: Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs places growth needs at the top of the pyramid. And I've already mentioned Jillian.
Prognosis: Unfortunately, terminal. Those afflicted with this strain should seek dental care and more training immediately.
Rating: Five Straitjackets When your biggest feud involves Hornswoggle, it speaks for itself.
Jon Heidenreich serves as the poster boy example for what happens when WWE takes a guy whose size they adore and mix it with some silly background story about them in a vain attempt to craft a character. Originally conceived as a George Steele/Al Snow ripoff (wonder if they'll be showing up later?), Heidenreich was controlled by a doll. He eventually discarded that and worked with manager Paul Heyman to torture fans with both his poetry and his matches. I am forced to admit, however, that "Disasterpieces" is quite catchy. Heidenreich survived a face turn but had a less than distinguished run before quietly departing the company in 2006.
Warning signs: Running into matches randomly, accompanying Michael Cole to the restroom, and I did mention that doll, right?
The Clinical Perspective: Solomon Asch and his conformity experiments may explain the societal pressure that led to the new Legion of Doom.
Prognosis: Pick a psychosis and run with it. Failure to do so will lead to worse poetry than Lanny Poffo and the unemployment line.
Rating: Three Straitjackets Not as scary as it wanted to be. The Michael Cole thing definitely ups the ante, however.
Patient: Luna Vachon
With wrestling in her blood and that famous last name, Vachon's trip to the squared circle was an interesting one indeed. Luna brought the crazy to several promotions and had a couple of memorable stints in the WWE, including a battle with Sensational Sherri over the right to walk Shawn Michaels to ringside and a lover's triangle with Bam Bam Bigelow and Bastion Booger (yes, you read that correctly). Luna ended with a very respectable resume overall, including being the first female wrestler to appear in a video game and making PWI's 500 list. While not winning a championship in World Wrestling Entertainment, Vachon was a constant presence and one of the most vocal in a lengthy line of anti-Sable protesters. RIP.
Warning signs: Difficulty operating a Flowbee, assaults with medical fluid, relationship with Gangrel
The Clinical Perspective: Karen Horney dismissed Freud's concept of women being envious of men and felt people could act as their own therapists. We saw that on display prominently when Luna Vachon was managing Goldust.
Prognosis: Quite good indeed. Interesting to note that this act might have been the least phony of all.
Rating: Four Straitjackets When you're comfortable and at home as a Human Oddity, nuff said.
Patient: Damien Demento
Blink and you missed Demento's contribution to the WWE. Shuffling through several gimmicks before settling on this one (the name says it all), Demento is best known for appearing in the main event on the debut of Monday Night Raw, where he lost to The Undertaker. One PPV appearance later, he was permanently sidelined after failing to garner much of a reaction. Demento's second phase might have been the scarier symptom, as he posted an endless string of YouTube videos ranting about nothing in particular. Damien is definitely a scarier name than Phil, that much is true.
Warning signs: Borrowing the Berzerker's outfit, hailing from "The Outer Reaches of Your Mind," making really bad art
The Clinical Perspective: Check out those aforementioned videos and feel free to self-diagnose.
Prognosis: Very, very poor. Failure to get noticed when the whole point of your gimmick is standing out is a bitter pill indeed.
Rating: One Straitjacket (In WWE); Three Straitjackets (On the Internet)
Patient: George "The Animal" Steele
Time for some classic crazy. Mistakenly thought to be a buffoon because he played his character so well, George Steele was one of the best examples of a villain becoming a huge fan favorite and never looking back over the course of his career. Recruited by no less than Bruno Sammartino himself, Steele's unique persona during the '80s heyday was a big draw and not like anything seen in that promotion before. Steele's interviews were exercises in futility and he seemed to be the perfect cross between man and beast. Steele would go through a big face turn and retire by the end of the decade after a feud with Randy Savage over the hand of Miss Elizabeth.
Warning signs: Green tongue, severe attachment to stuffed animals, eating turnbuckles
The Clinical Perspective: Ivan Pavlov discovered the conditional reflex with his famous experiments. Also extremely hirsute.
Prognosis: Excellent. Fondness for the character and the angle still goes strong to this day.
Rating: Four Straitjackets Steele's stuff was underrated then, and still is now.
Patient: Brian Pillman
Known as "The Loose Cannon," Pillman took a very fateful right turn during his career at WCW and ended up with a brash, straight-shooting persona that served him well briefly in ECW before bringing it to full display in the WWE. Long known to be difficult backstage, Pillman absolutely deserves credit for helping to usher in the current era of shoot-style interviews and fourth wall breakage. How much of it was an act is anybody's guess. After contentious relationships with Eric Bischoff and Kevin Sullivan, Pillman's most memorable moment came during a 1996 episode of Raw, where he brandished a gun at former partner Steve Austin and used some Pulp Fiction style dialogue. Unfortunately, Brian Pillman passed away before we saw where the Loose Cannon would have fired next. Too soon indeed.
Warning signs: Attacking Bobby Heenan, threatening public urination, respecting the booker man
The Clinical Perspective: Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance states that discord occurs when beliefs do not match behavior. Dissonance would be putting it mildly.
Prognosis: Difficult to forecast, given the unfortunate outcome. Intense and charismatic, this strain leads to one hell of a ride.
Rating: Two Straitjackets The man himself possessed an uncanny intelligence and a desire to cause havoc. Quite the combo. Don't be fooled by the veneer.
Patient: Al Snow
Al Snow is a classic case of someone who kept at it until finally getting a gimmick that stuck, even if that gimmick is an odd one. Snow had gone through various iterations of forgettable characters in the WWE before discovering a styrofoam head in ECW and treating it like a person. Using this prop as inspiration, Snow had a psychotic break due to his time jobbing in the WWE, which led to a bit of a revival for him. Snow eventually replaced Head with Pepper the dog, which also ended poorly when the Big Bossman used the poor beast as dinner. A partnership with Steve Blackman (go Head Cheese!) and a run with the European Title showed Snow was not a one-trick pony.
Warning signs: All of the best Al Snow jokes have already been claimed by Mick Foley
The Clinical Perspective: Sabina Speilrein's transference theories seem right at home with that poor unfortunate head in the corner.
Prognosis: Ultimately, not quite as captivating as Wilson in Cast Away, but a darn good try.
Rating: Three Straitjackets We're talking about a guy who fought himself in a hardcore match.
Patient: Waylon Mercy
A longtime staple on the wrestling scene, Dan Spivey's oddest persona was Waylon Mercy, a short-term character who popped up in the WWE in 1995 and left just as quickly. Spivey's gimmick was meant to channel Robert De Niro's character from Cape Fear, but the result wasn't nearly as good as the movie. Mercy would demonstrate great sportsmanship until the start of the match, and would then launch into a rage until the pinfall, at which point he'd resume the nice-guy routine. Interesting concept, to be sure, but ultimately listless as Spivey's injuries forced him into retirement shortly thereafter.
Warning signs: Fondness for Hawaiian shirts, fake tattoos, asking "if you know what I mean" constantly
The Clinical Perspective: Albert Bandura's social learning theory connected the environment and behaviors. Eerily similar to Vince McMahon watching TV and then making a character.
Prognosis: Poor. A caricature of a caricature is still a ripoff.
Rating: One Straitjacket. Let's hope the tropical shirt is the only thing Bray Wyatt inherits.
Patient: Psycho Sid
An imposing figure, Sid was introduced to WWE fans as Sid Justice, friend of Hulk Hogan before their falling out at the 1992 Royal Rumble, where he dared to eliminate The Hulkster. This would lead to a serious heel turn and repackage as Psycho Sid, complete with interviews said through clenched teeth and attacking wrestlers after they had already wrestled. Sid was never a stranger to criticism or behind-the-scenes chicanery, and injuries as well as those factors prevented him from attaining the main event spotlight one would have thought. He managed to wrest the World Championship from Shawn Michaels before losing it as part of The Streak to Undertaker at Wrestlemania 13 before departing the promotion.
Warning signs: Delusions of grandeur, inappropriate use of scissors, association with Jenny McCarthy
The Clinical Perspective: Not sure I could do it, well, "justice." Sorry.
Prognosis: Briefly effective, but less so over the long haul. Perhaps better served in softball?
Rating: Four Straitjackets. Word of caution: Don't give him the night off.
Say what you will about Kane or his wrestling ability, but he's come a long way from the days of Isaac Yankem, DDS. Brother of the Undertaker, Kane has switched from heel to face and back again at an alarming rate, and is rarely without some sort of strange angle playing off of his mental fragility and violent tendencies. He also is one of the most successful of our list, winning nearly 20 championships, one Money in the Bank, and holding a litany of Royal Rumble records. It would take a full article by itself to totally delve into the Kane character, but the violent madness has been muted in recent years in favor of a kinder, gentler Kane.
Warning signs: Aversion to the date May 19, pyromania, unrequited affection toward pretty much all WWE Divas
The Clinical Perspective: Freud would have a field day with all the family drama, but Dr. Shelby has already handled all of this.
Prognosis: Exceptionally positive. Great backstory and memorable visual presensation (plus the connection to the best character perhaps in WWE history) have ensured that Kane can survive just about anything, even Katie Vick.
Rating: Five Straitjackets. All of that and he impregnated Lita. Admit that you're jealous already.
Mick Foley has had many a persona, but none more frightening than Mankind. Brought in as an attempt by Paul Bearer to further infuriate and incapacitate his former charge The Undertaker, Foley took the early Mankind character and grew into something well-rounded and compelling. Rising from the ashes of those early feuds (literally), Foley would juggle three characters, often times in the same match, but ultimately Mankind received the majority of the face and ring time. To reduce his WWE legacy to a few lines would be foolhardy, but the 1998 Hell in a Cell and his run as World Champion are considered to be seminal moments in the Attitude Era. Truly a Hall of Famer.
Warning signs: Far too many to list, but a small sampling: Tearing out of one's own hair, speaking to rats, hanging out in boiler rooms, wearing an unfastened necktie
The Clinical Perspective: If you brought Mankind to a therapist, they'd toss you out and tell you to have a nice day.
Prognosis: Excellent. Even with a character straight out of a horror movie and a body that might not turn the head of the WWE scouts, Foley carved out a niche for himself as a fearless and ultimately loveable risktaker. That he could do it with this gimmick is nothing short of amazing. And I haven't even mentioned Mr. Socko until now.
Rating: Six Straitjackets. Foley is worth breaking my own rules for.
That wraps it up for the list. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Not sure if those results are scientific, but it certainly appears at first glance that Wyatt and his "family" can be serious keepers and water cooler topics if they are presented right and stuck with. Feel free to let me know in the comments below if there's a favorite madman I've left off the list. And yes, I'm well aware that I skipped Super Crazy.
* Other than the Wyatt vignette, absolutely no one will be surprised to learn the other highlight of Raw for me this week was the interview of Heyman by Chris Jericho. Getting a chance to listen in while two masters of the microphone verbally jousted was worth the price of admission. I loved the references to their history together in ECW (remembering those days fondly as I do) and relish the chance to see CM Punk return to square off against Jericho again. You don't realize the value of a good promo enough until you see one of these. While we're on the topic, nobody does facial expressions the way Heyman does. Hands down the most entertaining thing I saw all night.
That's all I have for this week. I appreciate you taking the time to read it, and look forward to seeing you in this same space next week. I can always be reached on Twitter @coffeyfan77 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Mike Holland saying have a great week and let me know if WWE has an App yet!